This Week in Intelligent Design – 04/01/11

Intelligent design news from the 29th of December, 2010 to the 4th of January, 2011.

It’s 2011! Welcome to a brand new year of intelligent design. In the next few days (hopefully) I’ll be putting out my annual review of the intelligent design community, focusing on the Discovery Institute, for 2010. As you might know, I did a similar thing for 2009, but this time I’ll be splitting the review into sections based not on months, but on activities (research, arguments etc.).

But enough about what I’m about to do – let’s get into what the ID community has already done!

The first post this week is from vjtorley, who hypothesised that many people reject ID because of aesthetic arguments:

I would like to suggest that the real reason why some people (including many Christians) dislike Intelligent Design is an aesthetic one. Their notion of beauty is overly influenced by mathematics: they define beauty as a delicate and interesting balance between variety (or plenitude) and simplicity (or economy).


Many people would like to think that living things possess the same kind of beauty: an ideal balance between variety and underlying simplicity. Because the underlying laws are mathematically simple in this model of beauty, these people reason that the act of generating things that possess the attribute of beauty should be a simple one. Neo-Darwinism appeals to them as a scientific theory, because it purports to account for the variety of living things we see today, on the basis of a few simple underlying principles (natural selection acting on variation arising stochastically, without any foresight of long-term goals). [Emphasis in original]

Really? Does vjtorley really believe this? Firstly, he’s setting up a dichotomy – evolution vs. ID – which, in a world with a rational population, shouldn’t fly, but apparently it does. Secondly, how is ID unaesthetically pleasing? That makes little sense to me. Personally, I see the poetic nature of a cosmic design to be rather inspiring, but then again, aesthetics is rather subjective, so who am I to project my own thoughts and tastes onto others? But then why is vjtorley doing the same? To be fair, he does try to argue in the post that ID is aesthetic, but his point is that many people don’t think the same way. The prevalence of religion in the countries where ID is popular (or at least well known) is rather high, and surely they see their god as having a beauty in his creation.

I think most people explicitly reject ID (those who have heard of it) because: 1. they see it as another form of creationism, which they also reject, and/or 2. they find the arguments for ID to be unconvincing, and/or 3. they find the scientific qualities of ID to not be especially flattering. It would be interesting to see the results of a proper survey into the topic though.


Next up we have Casey Luskin, writing about yet another peer-reviewed paper that critiques evolutionary theory, this time by Richard Johns:

University of British Columbia at Vancouver philosophy professor Richard Johns has published an article in the philosophy journal Synthese titled “titled “Self-organisation in dynamical systems: a limiting result,” which argues that there are “limitations on the kinds of structure than can self-organise.” He defines a self-organized object as follows:

1. The appearance of the object does not require a special, “fine-tuned” initial state. 2. There is no need for interaction with an external system. 3. The object is likely to appear in a reasonably short time.

(Richard Johns, “Self-organisation in dynamical systems: a limiting result,” Synthese (Sept. 9, 2010).)

Johns’ primary argument is to prove a “limitative theorem” that certain types of objects cannot self-organize through the laws of nature:

Limitative Theorem A specific large, maximally irregular object cannot appear by self organisation in any dynamical system whose laws are local and invariant.

His limitative theorem entails ideas very much like Dembski’s conservation of information. According to Johns, just as there are logical limits to the amount of information that can be derived from a given set of axioms or premises, there are physical limits to the kinds of structures can be derived from a given set of physical laws.

Is it just me, or is everyone sick of philosophers and mathematicians trying to undercut evolutionary biology research through over-generalised laws and theorums that they just proposed? Of course, there’s a valid place for these types of papers and I respect the work philosophers and mathematicians do, but Johns seems to be going down the same path as William Dembski: making up reasons why evolution can’t happen without engaging the concept at the level of the genome, the organism, the population etc. Mathematical models can be fine, but if you don’t try to study what you’re going to be eventually applying them to, you’re going to make some very simple mistakes, as William Dembski has done regularly in the past (and the present).

What strikes me as so curious about this type of paper – “Evolution can’t do anything because there’s some law that says evolution can’t do anything for some reason” – is that is pretty much contradicts the arguments of other ID proponents, Michael Behe in particular. Behe’s argument against evolution from irreducible complexity seems to imply that, if irreducible complexity did not exist, evolutionary mechanisms would be fine with producing biological systems, no problems would exist. A cursory understanding of natural selection and all the other evolutionary mechanisms gives one the confidence that this is true – natural selection, for example, is a powerful force in generating complexity and functional systems. But Johns’ argument seems to attack Behe’s premise by claiming that, no, evolution would have a limit even if irreducible complexity did not exist.

I’m sure Johns’ paper will be perplexing to most evolutionary biologists (if they read it at all) – why would some limit exist with regards to the outcome of evolutionary mechanisms? We know how these mechanisms operate (for the most part), and provided that the right conditions exist, they will work indefinitely. Johns makes no mention of this, and as such is circumventing engaging with evolutionary biology on its own terms, instead applying speculative mathematics to something he may not know that much about.

When you’re going to critique a scientific theory, you need to do it directly and in a way that doesn’t needlessly confuse the issue with mathematics that may not apply to the problem in the first place. Take a leaf out of Dembski’s book – oh, wait, no…


The final item for this week is… I don’t really have another item. There just hasn’t been much going on in the ID movement worthy of critiquing. Strange, that. Well, there will be plenty of things to talk about in my 2010 intelligent design wrap-up, so be on the lookout for that.


Rapid-fire ID news!

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