These Weeks in Intelligent Design – 09/08/11

Intelligent design news and discussion for July 1st to August 9th, 2011.

Did the ID movement miss me whilst I was gone? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t pretend to believe I’m important enough to be noticed, so I’ll leave that there. But then again, I don’t blog to necessarily be noticed and to directly engage with the ID crowd: I blog in order to disseminate correct information and to share a passion for science and demonstrable truth (as tacky as that phrase is - I apologise).

So, yes, this is a TWiID that encompasses a little over a month of pro-ID blog posts. As usual, only the most interesting ones will be touched upon: who has the time/sadomasochistic inclination to fully subject themselves to over 30 posts from the Discovery Institute? Not I, not I.

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First up is a post by Casey Luskin targeting the testimony of University of Texas evolutionary biologist Andy Ellington in the recent Texas State Board of Education textbook kerfuffle. Actually, it’s the second of two posts –  the first targeting the “incendiary rhetoric” in his testimony. This one, on the other hand, is all about the science Andy brings up with regards to the prebiotic synthesis of organic compounds, specifically amino acids, ala. the famous Miller-Urey experiment in the 1950s:

Ellington’s testimony cites a 2008 paper, “A Reassessment of Prebiotic Organic Synthesis in Neutral Planetary Atmospheres,” co-authored by Jeffrey Bada, one of my own professors at UCSD. He claims this paper (herein referred to as Cleaves et al. (2008)) shows “significant amounts of amino acids are produced from neutral gas mixtures.” However, Cleaves et al. (2008) does not show what Ellington claims it does:

  • (1) First, the paper contradicts pro-evolution curricula which Ellington is defending by observing that the early earth probably did not have a reducing atmosphere of methane and ammonia.
  • (2) Second, a close analysis shows the paper doesn’t actually show that amino acids can be produced under actual natural conditions on the early earth.

Regarding Point 1, Cleaves et al. (2008) notes:

Instead, evidence strongly suggested that neutral gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and water vapor–not methane, ammonia, and hydrogen–predominated in the early atmosphere.

(H. James Cleaves, John H. Chalmers. Antonio Lazcano, Stanley L. Miller, & Jeffrey L. Bada, “A Reassessment of Prebiotic Organic Synthesis in Neutral Planetary Atmospheres,”Origin of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere, Vol. 38:105-115 (2008).)

The paper further states that “it is now generally held that the early Earth’s atmosphere was likely not reducing, but was dominated by N2 and CO2.”

A neutral atmosphere, you say? Well, this seems to fly in the face of origins of life research everywhere, doesn’t it! Fortunately, in a follow-up post, Andy took Casey’s arguments to town. Here are some of the relevant sections:

(6) That said, it sure would be nice if the simple conditions corresponded to the early Earth, as best we can figure those out. So, yes, it would be nice if the production of amino acids was robust (whatever that may mean relative to milligrams or kilotons) in a neutral atmosphere.

(7) Oh, wait, it is possible to get more robust production in an overall neutral atmosphere! You just have to have pockets that are more reducing. This has been pointed out many times, although again when you’re a faith-based, hot air outfit, facts are an inconvenient thing. For the DI to object to the notion that there were reducing pockets on the early Earth is akin to the DI saying “We don’t think there were ever volcanoes, deep sea hydrothermal vents, or really any other anomaly on the smooth, smooth, unbroken surface of our planet.” I leave the refutation to anyone with eyes.

There are other claims Casey made that Andy knocks down, but this is fairly representative of his misinterpretations as a whole: while the overall atmosphere of the early Earth may have been neutral, reducing pockets still existed around volcanic vents and other geologically active phenomena. Since it’s rarely claimed that the entire surface of the early Earth was ripe for the development of living systems from organic molecular precursors, this shouldn’t be much of a surprise to Casey et al. But as usual – through either ignorance or wilful neglect, I’ll let you come to your own conclusions on that front – they don’t seem to be able to acknowledge this.

As it stands right now, Casey has yet to respond to Andy’s post. My guess is that it will never come.

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Next, two posts that can be squarely filed under “The Discovery Institute’s True Nature” (or whatever we’ve decided to call the category). The first is by the spooky personification of server software Evolutions News & Views, on brains scans and… well, I’ll let you read for yourself:

The authors tell us that brain scans show us that man made God rather than God making man. It’s hard to make this stuff up.

The Los Angeles Times has published an opinion piece by J. Anderson Thomson and Clare Aukofer
arguing that brain scans help prove that man creadted [sic] God.

In recent years scientists specializing in the mind have begun to unravel religion’s “DNA.” They have produced robust theories, backed by empirical evidence (including “imaging” studies of the brain at work), that support the conclusion that it was humans who created God, not the other way around. And the better we understand the science, the closer we can come to “no heaven … no hell … and no religion too.”

Note that one of the authors is a trustee for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. It’s amazing how stupid Darwinism can make otherwise intelligent people. The authors tell us that brain scans show us that man made God rather than God making man. It’s hard to make this stuff up. At least theists are wise enough to know that brain scans aren’t going to tell us if atheism is true or false.

And I thought a majority of the “incendiary rhetoric” was on the side of the anti-ID crowd: or, at least, you’d get that impression from reading what Casey Luskin writes about them. But “It’s amazing how stupid Darwinism can make otherwise intelligent people.” and “It’s hard to make this stuff up.”? Rhetoric alert. Now we know why this story was relegated to an anonymous publishing account – I’m not sure anyone would want these remarks on their online record!

Or perhaps I’m just being dramatically reactionary in a semi-tastelessly ironic fashion.

Anyway, as a purely secular organisation, why should the Discovery Institute care about this study? Atheism and religion should be outside their purview…

Along the same basic lines, Michael Flannery published a post on “the role of creation in science”:

In a recent article at the Classical Conversations web site, Jonathan Bartlett authored an interesting commentary on creation as a concept for and catalyst to scientific inquiry and advance with “The Doctrine of Creation and the Making of Modern Biology.” Given the persistent claim by so-called “defenders” of quality science education such as Eugenie Scott, Paul Hanle, and others that only natural processes functioning via unbroken natural laws in nonpurposeful ways counts as science and that anything else is a “science stopper,” everyone–especially those least likely to do so–would do well to take page from Bartlett’s page of history.

Jonathan Bartlett is quite right, of course; science owes much more to teleology and creation than materialism, randomness, and chance. This is not to suggest that stochastic processes don’t occur in the natural world, but as a prompt to scientific inquiry it has been notably lacking as a motivational force in history. In fact, definitive evidence for wholly materialistic explanations for complex features of nature is simply not there. As an example, consider Louis Pasteur (1822-1895). He surely struck a blow against abiogenesis when he demonstrated that life begets life, and yet the enthusiasts for abiogenic explanations for the origin of life persist despite all evidence to the contrary. This seems close to Einstein’s definition of insanity–”doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Another example of the vague definition of “teleology” in the ID movement, which ties in directly with their use of “intelligence” in a way that would suggest dualism (or even shades of strange vitalism). These twisted concepts they hold pretty much confirm that the Discovery Institute has no conception of ID as anything but a supernatural hypothesis. Of course, they’ll hold up any non-religious person who expresses sympathy towards their basic ideas, but only for the secular image when it suits their purposes. Attention in the general media? Appear purely scientific without religious motivations. Alone with like-minded supporters? Bring out the theological sermons.

Taking a look at what Michael wrote in the above quoted section, it’s not clear he even understands what the modern field of abiogenesis research is trying to accomplish: a minor point, perhaps, but worth mentioning. Pasteur’s experiments in the 19th century had no bearing on the plausibility of a biogeochemical origin of life, mainly for the reason that the chemical and ecological environment we observe in the present era is nothing like the early Earth: no oxygen in the atmosphere is one of the main chemical differences, and a complete lack of hungry single-celled organisms is the ecological distinction. The fact that these things apparently didn’t occur to Michael is telling: either he knows about Pasteur’s lack of significance and chose to mention it for purely strategic reasons, or he really doesn’t understand basic ideas in the field of abiogenesis, something he writes about with a fairly large amount of confidence. Either alternative is significant.

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Over the last month, Anika Smith posted a number of videos on Evolution News & Views made by Claire Berlinski (daughter of ID proponent David Berlinski) at the Great Expectations conference, featuring Stephen C. Meyer. Here’s one of them:

Stephen starts off talking about criticism of evolutionary theory in peer-reviewed journals, claiming that the majority of criticism is subtle and under-the-radar, so as to not attract the attention of the ravenous defenders of Darwinism who regularly destroy the careers of honest, hard-working, evolution-doubting biologists. Unfortunately, he doesn’t really justify this with any evidence. It’s easy to ascribe motivations to a scientist’s publications post hoc if you use the excuse that the reason this person isn’t frank about what they believe their research implies is that they’re afraid of being persecuted.

Of course, it’s highly likely that many of the papers Stephen was thinking of as he talked to Claire have simply been misinterpreted by ID proponents as being evidence against evolution or abiogenesis, leading them to believe that the authors have been on their side all along. But even if he has undisclosed evidence of the ID sympathies of many scientists, he’s still not being all that persuasive.

He then goes into the apparent heuristic benefits of intelligent design, citing advances in genomics and medicine as being directly inspired or predicted by simply considering that ID is an accurate model for the origin and diversity of life. But there’s a problem here: ID, as espoused by the Discovery Institute and friends, doesn’t make predictions about what we should see in the biological world, contrary to what many proponents think. In reality, they’re overlaying their own beliefs about what their personal conception of the Designer would have intended for various biological systems onto the basic ID framework: for example, the idea that junk DNA doesn’t really exist comes from the assumption that the Designer would have made sure that the vast majority of eukaryotic genomes weren’t filled with nonfunctional sequences and remnants of endogenous retroviruses. But there’s no justified reason for thinking that this particular assumption is true, and it doesn’t flow naturally from accepting the basic ID concept currently out there, so Stephen can’t claim that ID (as it is now) predicted these discoveries.

The video continues here with more on predictions, but I don’t need to talk about it: it’s too dense with claims and misrepresentations to be really worth it at the moment. Perhaps some other time.

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Rapid fire ID news!

  • Harr harr, I see what you did with that title.
  • More claims that ID is testable through the success or failure of evolution.
  • Seems like we have Michael Denton to blame for the ID proponent that is Gil Dodgen…
  • What are the differences between ID and creationism? Not much, apparently.

One thought on “These Weeks in Intelligent Design – 09/08/11

  1. Nice point, but it only reminds me why I rarely use the word “creationists.” If by “creationists” you mean anti-evolution activists, they know that, but lie about it anyway. If you mean the hopeless ~25% that won’t accept evolution under any circumstances they won’t believe it no matter hhow much evidence you shoe them.

    But if you mean nonscientists who have uncritically bought anti-science sound bites, you might get somewhere.

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