Intelligent design news from the 16th of March to the 22nd of March, 2011.
So, another week of intelligent design! The Discovery Institute was fairly quiet this week, with only five posts published on Evolution News & Views, a below average result, but quite a bit of it was pure gold. Well, for me, anyway. The fact that I do this every week means that I must be getting some entertainment out of it, right? I hope so – I don’t see myself as the masochistic type…
But anyway, this week’s three posts are on ID research (and rhetoric), revisiting the concept of biological “mistakes” as evidence against ID, and ID proponents in academia and the “Dissent from Darwin” list. Let’s get into it!
The first post is from David Klinghoffer, and it’s a cracker, really. Journalist Lauri Lebo didn’t know what she was talking about when she said that peer-viewed ID papers don’t exist… or did she?
Only among Darwinists do bumper-sticker type slogans really seem to aid in generating a climate of opinion. I don’t mean slogans literally that appear on actual automobile bumpers but a variety of old chestnuts and hoary bugaboos that, however easily falsified, propagate throughout the writings of Darwinists on the Internet and elsewhere. Endlessly repeated and believed, they serve as a pervasively influential substitute for thought.
Here are some examples.
INTELLIGENT DESIGN = CREATIONISM.
NO EVOLUTION CONTROVERSY IN SCIENCE.
NO PEER-REVIEWED I.D. RESEARCH.
Take that last one. You’ve heard it a million times, often in the same language: No legitimate, peer-reviewed scientific research supports intelligent design. Listen to what our friend Lauri Lebo, self-identified as a “reporter,” had to say the other day.
She goes on to say: “But as we all know, there is no such thing as ID research, which has not yet produced one single legitimate peer reviewed paper.” In other words, NO PEER-REVIEWED I.D. RESEARCH.
Like the other bumper-sticker slogans, this one is a brazen falsehood, or it would be brazen if Ms. Lebo had done enough reporting to know the difference between true and false on this point. But she hasn’t and she can’t.
Evolution News & Views does a fine job of covering the literature of peer-reviewed research supporting intelligent design as it comes out. If Ms. Lebo had followed ENV just over the past few months, she would have found numerous recent instances of what she says doesn’t exist, as here,here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
But, David, are they really examples of peer-reviewed papers that provide positive evidence for intelligent design? Kind of. I covered a lot of these in a previous post, but for the couple I didn’t, they were published in the rather dodgy International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics. Yes, that famous journal, the one that everyone reads. While both are technically peer-reviewed, published papers that do mention and argue for ID (unlike most so-called “pro-ID” papers that are held up by the Discovery Institute), their arguments are uninspired rehashings of standard ID fare. There isn’t any positive evidence in there, just assertions that ID is the best explanation for both bird flight and the “fine-tuning” of the universe.
Poor show, David.
However, there’s something else I’d like to talk about with regards to this post. Last week I mentioned a post by Casey Luskin, who had a go at a paper in Quarterly Review of Biology criticising Michael Behe because of its “outlandish rhetoric”. But my, look how the tables have turned. David couldn’t have gotten more rhetorical with his language if he tried. Let’s highlight some examples:
- “brazen falsehood”
- “old chestnuts and hoary bugaboos”
- “a pervasively influential substitute for thought”
- “Lauri Lebo is a sloppy writer”
- “It’s got to be just a matter of time before federal troops occupy the Discovery Institute.”
- “another bogus claim”
- “If dear Lauri Lebo stopped “reporting” on this subject”
I’m bringing this up mostly for fun: I don’t think heavy rhetoric per se can be used to judge a person’s argument. But it is ironic that David would go for the jugular only a little while after Casey got outraged that someone would do the same thing1 in a scientific paper criticising an ID proponent’s ideas. Is there any intra-Discovery Institute communication?
The second post is by Casey Luskin, and it actually brings up a valid point. Yes, I know, that’s rare, but if we ID critics want to be as effective as possible in the fight against ID, we need to call things as they are and take the higher intellectual ground. Admitting that your opponent can actually be right about something goes a long way in convincing the general public that you aren’t ideologically opposed to whatever the other side says simply for the sake of it. Anyway, what was this valid point?
Forbes.com is reporting that Craig Venter’s “synthetic” bacterial chromosome contains a “genetic typo.”
Molecular biology has ascribed a letter to each amino acid. Venter and his team imported DNA sequences into the chromosome–called watermarks–that coded for amino acids which ‘spelled out’ sentences in the chromosome. But they got one sentence wrong. As the article reports:
The synthetic DNA also included a quote from physicist Richard Feynman, “What I cannot build, I cannot understand.”
That prompted a note from Caltech, the school where Feyman taught for decades. They sent Venter a photo of the blackboard on which Feynman composed the quote -and it showed that he actually wrote, “What I cannot create, I do not understand.”
“We agreed what was on the Internet was wrong,” said Venter. “So we’re going back to change the genetic code to correct it.”
Obviously this typo is a mistake on the part of Venter’s team, and according to some ID critics, mistakes preclude us from inferring design. Such critics would claim that poor design refutes design.
But obviously these watermarks in the synthetic chromosome were intelligently designed, despite their mistakes. (As we’ve discussed here, here, and here, the rest of the chromosome consists of DNA code that was copied from pre-existing bacteria.) Venter has provided another nice demonstration that what some consider ‘poor’ design, is still design.
This is perhaps one of the best examples of why ID cannot be attacked using a “bad design”-style argument. It simply does not logically follow that design necessarily must be perfect, especially when the ID “hypothesis” is framed in such a way that none of the properties of the Designer need be known: if the Designer could have any characteristics whatsoever, who’s to say that a perfect design record is one of them?
Consider, for example, an alien race that (hypothetically) created life on Earth through the application of highly advanced synthetic biology. Need they have been omniscient creatures of perfect design? No, they could have easily made simple errors like Venter’s team did. Design errors do not falsify ID and fellow critics need to stop saying that they do, because the Discovery Institute will spit back something like this and you’ll look incredibly silly.
The third post for this week is by Michael Egnor, and it’s all about Jerry Coyne and his opinion about hiring ID-sympathetic staff at universities. A full discussion and my thoughts on the broader issues here should probably be saved for an individual post or two, but the most interesting part of Michael’s post was this:
Coyne has failed to provide a shred of evidence that adherence to ID is associated in any way with bad science. How many of the scientists who have signed the Discovery Institute’s “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism” — all of whom, according to Coyne, should be unemployable in science — practice bad science in any measurable way? Where is Coyne’s objective evidence that these scientists who support ID are substandard scientists, let alone so substandard that not a single one of them should be employed in science?
Ah, the Dissent from Darwin list. A nice piece of work, that is. For those who are unfamiliar, it’s a list of scientists who have signed on to agree with this statement: “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”
Now, Michael seems to be implying here that everyone who has signed on to agree with this statement is an ID proponent. Not so. Due to the wording of the statement, most evolutionary biologists should feel comfortable signing it: mutation and natural selection, by themselves, do not account for the complexity of life. There are other evolutionary forces at work too, such as genetic drift and migration, which have the potential to add to the overall evolutionary process. Genetic drift in particular has risen in prominence and importance in recent years, due to things like the near-neutral theory of molecular evolution and the work of population geneticists like Michael Lynch. Any biologist worth their salt should know about this, and thus, in good faith, sign the “Scientific Dissent from Darwinism” list.
However, the Discovery Institute didn’t set up the list so that they could show how few biologists are ultra-Darwinists these days, they did it because they wanted to cast doubt on evolutionary theory as a whole. Many scientists know this, which is why they haven’t signed, but there are a number who never realised this. The NCSE reported on this many years ago too and came to the same conclusion.
As such, it’s a fallacy for Michael to claim that all of the signatories on the list are ID proponents and thus enemies of science according to Jerry Coyne and others. But as for the subset of signatories that are actually ID proponents… well, I’ll leave that for another day.
Rapid fire ID news!
- I have a feeling that David isn’t talking about naturalism in a strictly anti-dualism sense here.
- This contains one of the worst defences of ID I have ever read. It’s hilarious.
- That title is woefully misleading, O’Leary.
- Because yes, abiogenesis research is 100% based around Millar and Urey’s 60 year old experiments. Yep.
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- Well, not really – as we saw last week, the “outlandish rhetoric” that the authors used was so mild as to be completely normal. ↩