Intelligent design news from the 30th of March to the 5th of April, 2011.
Sometimes, keeping up with the intelligent design movement can feel like a full-time job. Other times… not so much. While some of the output by the Discovery Institute and its related organisations is somewhat novel, most of it is simply rehashed ideas from a limited pool. This week was a fairly good example of the latter. We had copy-and-paste arguments for the positive nature of the design argument, as well as an unsurprising plug for a blatantly religious debate, not to mention many, many posts on Uncommon Descent about- well, I don’t really know. The words just tend to blend together after a while, forming a soup of pseudo-philosophy and rhetoric.
The only really “novel” thing this week was something to do with April Fool’s Day… and it wasn’t novel in a good way.
Okay, I was going to write a more substantial piece about Casey Luskin‘s post on the positive case for intelligent design, but when I realised that 1. there probably wasn’t going to be enough to talk about in this week’s TWiID without it, and 2. Stephen C. Meyer makes a very similar case in Signature in the Cell, which I’ll be doing an in-depth review of soon, I decided against it. However, it is obviously still worth a hefty mention and brief analysis and critique.
Casey’s post – a response to an article by Mark McPeek – is pretty much a copy-and-paste job from his semi-well-known PDF “The Positive Case For Design”. It’s a great piece of work, it seems very persuasive to the uncritical observer, but its arguments really don’t stand up to any sort of criticism. If ID can have a positive argument made for it, Casey doesn’t know what it is.
It’s quite a simple exercise to know and understand the actions of humans, who happen to be intelligent designers. For example, by studying the actions of humans in the world around us we can construct a variety of testable predictions about intelligent design.
The theory of intelligent design begins with observations of how intelligent agents act when designing things. By observing human intelligent agents, there is actually quite a bit we can learn know and understand about the actions of intelligent designers. Here are some observations:
This is the point where it breaks down. Yes, right at the start. Even if we grant Casey’s assumption that the design of an unknown being can be detected through analogy to human design (which I’m not all that happy with, but bear with me), it still doesn’t work – he’s deceptive about what human design necessarily entails.
(1) Intelligent agents think with an “end goal” in mind, allowing them to solve complex problems by taking many parts and arranging them in intricate patterns that perform a specific function (e.g. complex and specified information).
Intelligent agents may think with an end goal in mind, but they also may not. Human action need not be overly thoughtful or planned out. Modifications made to designs may be pointless or thoughtless, not to do with anything relating to function but to economics, aesthetics or cultural norms.
(2) Intelligent agents can rapidly infuse large amounts of information into systems.
True, but they can also take it away from systems. This happens far more frequently than you might at first think. Plus, the level of information change might not be large – human designers can work rather slowly at times, especially when they’re given access to the Internet.
(3) Intelligent agents re-use functional components that work over and over in different systems (e.g., wheels for cars and airplanes).
They can also create new things from scratch. The choice between re-use and from-scratch design can be decided for the most arbitrary of reasons, making a universal pattern amongst all designers impossible to detect without an extreme level of background information about all the designers involved.
(4) Intelligent agents typically create functional things (although we may sometimes think something is functionless, not realizing its true function).
They also make non-functional things. Like information loss vs. information gain, it could be argued that this happens far more frequently than the creation of functional things.
All of Casey’s “observations” about human designers have counterexamples. As such, the predictions he draws from them are utterly meaningless:
(1) Natural structures will be found that contain many parts arranged in intricate patterns that perform a specific function (e.g. complex and specified information).
Natural structures should also be found without intricate or intelligible patterns or any specific function.
(2) Forms containing large amounts of novel information will appear in the fossil record suddenly and without similar precursors.
Large/small amounts of novel information should suddenly/gradually disappear/appear in the fossil record.
(3) Convergence will occur routinely. That is, genes and other functional parts will be re-used in different and unrelated organisms.
The creation of new biologically entities should also occur routinely, in a manner quite unpredictable unless specific information about the designer is known.
(4) Much so-called “junk DNA” will turn out to perform valuable functions.
Any amount of junk DNA should turn out to be functional/biologically indispensable, as design can explain any combination of competence and the lack thereof.
Starting to see the flaws in Casey’s argument? Intelligent agents, as a set, can do anything they want and they will do anything they want. Predictions made about agents as a whole are useless because any data are consistent with them. You only start to get predictive power when the hypothesis is narrowed down to include known information about the motives of the agent, their design history, their method of creation and other factors that influence their output, like skill, situational ability, social variables etc.
The fact that Casey’s “predictions” can be “backed up” with data is irrelevant if the predictions aren’t specific in the first place. My corrected versions of his predictions, which take into account what we really know about human agents as designers, encompass any and all possible biological organisms. Everything and anything can, hypothetically, be explained, and therefore nothing is.
There was another route I could have taken for the critique, revolving around the unjustified analogy between human design and all design, but I think I’ll save it for my discussion of Stephen C. Meyer’s similar arguments in Signature in the Cell. Sadly, they don’t differ all that much from Casey’s.
Anika Smith wanted to bring to our attention two debates with William Lane Craig, and bring them to our attention she did:
CSC fellow William Lane Craig is always worth listening to, but it’s when he’s debating prominent atheists that the acuity of his mind comes into sharp relief. For those who enjoy a good argument, this week offers us not just one, but two such debates.
First, in what is certain to be an electric event tonight, Dr. Craig is going up against Lawrence Krauss at North Carolina State (event information here). Dr. Krauss is an eminent theoretical physicist at Arizona State University. Dr. Craig is a Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and author of Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology.
The event is free, but sure to be full tonight, so the organizers are graciously streaming the showdown live at http://www.thegreatdebatencsu.com/, starting at 7pm EDT, 4pm PDT.
Next week Dr. Craig takes on Sam Harris at Notre Dame next Thursday, April 7 at 7pm EST in “The God Debate II: Is Good From God?“
Wait, why is Craig relevant to intelligent design? Doesn’t the Discovery Institute have a policy that ID isn’t about religion? If so, why promote debates about religion via their main blog? This is simply more evidence that the DI doesn’t take its own rhetoric seriously. While I don’t personally think that you need to be a theist to be an ID proponent, many people do, and I can see why they think that way. The intelligent design movement is crawling with religious arguments, language and appeals, and it seems to be unashamed of it.
They may as well all announce that they’re traditional creationists and no one would bat an eyelid.
I must say, I was hitting myself after April Fool’s Day passed. You see, on April 2nd I came up with the truly ingenious idea of pretending to have been convinced of intelligent design after finishing reading Signature in the Cell. It was brilliant. If only I had had the idea a few days earlier! Dammit!
And then, of course, I read the April Fool’s joke on Evolution News & Views, and I praised my fortuitous lack of temporal idea-luck:
["Boy, were we wrong!'] So says a highly placed spokesman inside the Discovery Institute who prefers to remain anonymous.
“We now know beyond a shadow of a doubt,” says the spokesman, “that Darwinian evolution is a fact. There is overwhelming evidence that all living things are descended from a common ancestor by accidental mutations and unguided natural selection. Intelligent design is wrong, wrong, wrong!”
The anonymous spokesman says that this remarkable turn of events is due to recent scientific breakthroughs in paleontology, embryology, experimental selection, evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo), and molecular phylogeny.
The final triumph of Darwinism will be officially celebrated at the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC, on April 27, 2011–the 140th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s historicNature article on “Pangenesis.” In that work, Mr. Darwin defended his theory that “gemmules” scattered throughout the body explain the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Although long derided by religiously motivated followers of Roman Catholic priest Gregor Mendel, pangenesis is currently enjoying a renaissance among Darwinists, who are confident that everything written by The Greatest Scientist Who Ever Lived will ultimately be proven true.
Meanwhile, there are rumors that the National Center for Science Education and the American Civil Liberties Union will share the Nobel Peace Prize later this year for promoting Darwin-only education and thereby saving civilization from the forces of darkness.
Oh dear. What a satirical trainwreck. Could I be horribly biased towards thinking so? Perhaps, but when I read it, I realised that my attempt, if it had occurred, probably would have been at least as bad. Maybe. There’s an undeniable bitterness about the EN&V piece, and I’m clearly not as cynical as they are, what with my age and all. Boy, we teenagers sure are chirpy little things, aren’t we? Optimists, every one.
Anyway, read through the whole post if you can. Whatever doesn’t kill you must make you stronger, right? Right? At least they’ve never really done anything like it before.
Rapid fire ID news!