The Discovery Institute’s Wedge Document Revisited

It has been almost 10 years since the Discovery Institute (DI) created a fundraising proposal called the “Wedge Document.” This proposal included 5 and 20 year plans by the DI for its “Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture.”  The proposal was somehow released on the internet without consent from the DI.  Since then, many people have used this as a smoking gun to show that the DI is promoting religion in not only science but other areas of society.  Books have even been written on the subject.

To be honest, I had not given much credence to the accounts of the wedge document.  However, I decided to read the document to see what the fuss was about.  What I found in the proposal actually shocked me.  I was expecting to find some hints of religious undertones, but with the majority being focused on fleshing out intelligent design as a science.  This is what I found:

Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.

Alongside a focus on influential opinion-makers, we also seek to build up a popular base of support among our natural constituency, namely, Christians. We will do this primarily through apologetics seminars. We intend these to encourage and equip believers with new scientific evidences that support the faith, as well as to popularize our ideas in the broader culture.

They really spelled it out in those two passages:  The Discovery Institute is focused on pushing a particular Christian view and not on discovering the reality of life on Earth.  It couldn’t be any more clear.

Despite their transparency, the DI has released several documents and blog posts that can only be described as damage control.  One is simply named “The Wedge document: So what?”

In this document, they make the argument that the Wedge document was innocuous and saying otherwise is simple paranoia:

For many the scandal of the Wedge Document is nothing more and nothing less than its mention of “Christian and theistic convictions” and our stated intention to support scientific research that is “consonant” with such convictions.  But why should this be upsetting?”

It is not that it is upsetting to those of us on trying to push an unbiased view of science, it is that they are admitting that they are not impartial to the science.  It shows that they are incapable or unwilling to not let the data take them in whatever direction it will. Their thinking has to fit into a box based on their preconceived notion of reality.  A better approach, and an intellectually honest one, is to say that they will support the science no matter what information it yields.

They continue:

Recent developments in physics, cosmology, biochemistry, and related sciences may lead to a new harmony between science and religion.  Many of us happen to think that they will, and we are not alone in that.  But that doesn’t mean we think religion and science are the same thing.  We don’t. Nor do we want to impose a religious agenda on the practice of science.

Fair enough, they don’t want to impose a theocracy on science, but it does not matter what your intentions are if you are starting from a biased position.  If they want a real harmony between science and religion, they should just keep the two separate.  Or better yet, take the advice of Abdu’l-Bahá:

There is no contradiction between true religion and science. When a religion is opposed to science it becomes mere superstition: that which is contrary to knowledge is ignorance

In light of this new information, I find it hard to believe that so many at the DI still deny the association of intelligent design and religious underpinnings.  It also shows that their science can never be fully trusted until they divorce themselves from their boxed in view of reality.

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Discovery Institute and Absurd Evolution Marketing Lessons

On October 22, 2008, Casey Luskin wrote “Darwin Defender Daniel Bolnick Illustrates How to Market Evolution to the Public.” He is criticizing an op-ed written by Daniel Bolnick, leader of the Texas 21st Century Science CoalitionDr. Bolnick is a professor at UT Austin, and has at least 21 scientific articles on the subject of evolution.The op-ed appeared side-by-side with the young earth creationist and head of the Texas State Board of Education, Don McElroy.  Bolnick’s piece focuses on the proposed changes to the Texas science standards.

Casey Luskin gives us a list of 6 lessons (although 2 overlap each other) of how to argue for evolution:

Lesson 1: Vaguely Assert Massive Support for “Evolution” From the Scientific Literature

No matter how ID proponents spin the evidence for evolution, there is “massive support” for evolution in scientific literature. I would argue that every paper published on the subject of paleontology supports evolution as no fossils have been found contrary to evolution. Of course evidence for evolution can be found in a litany of other areas.  A pubmed search for “evolution” yields 229,000 articles. Is that massive enough?

Lessons 2 & 3: Re-label Evidence Against “Evolution” as Religion and Claim That Such Evidence Doesn’t Exist

I will agree that intelligent design is not religion although many evolution proponents have said so before. ID is based on religious motivation, but is in fact pseudoscience. It uses meaningless science sounding words such as irreducible complexity without actually proposing hypothesis that are later tested. What about there being any evidence against evolution? Well, I am not aware of any exists and Luskin does not offer any. Surely this would have been the time since he says the lack of evidence “claim is easy to refute.”

Lesson 4: Dogmatically Assert the “Overwhelming” Evidence for Evolution (But Don’t Discuss the Evidence)

Of course there is overwhelming evidence for evolution. From genetic sequences to transitional fossils to laboratory experiments, the evidence is mountainous. Even more telling is that nothing has been found to disprove evolution. Luskin brings up the fossil record as if the “fossil record has posed major problems for Darwinian evolution.” That’s funny, I don’t remember any fossils being found that are contrary to evolutionary theory.

As far as Bolnick not discussing the evidence, I can only think that it was an op-ed piece in a small paper with very little room for a scientific discussion. Besides, discussion of evolutionary evidence is easily found for anyone. The evidence for ID? I am still looking….

Lesson 5: Change the Topic from Science to Religion

Isn’t this just lesson 2 (Re-label Evidence Against “Evolution” as Religion) over again?  I know it must be hard to argue against reality, but does he need to repeat himself to boost his list?

Lesson 6: Demonize your Opponents

Intelligent Design proponents are more guilty of this than anyone. Their favorite method is to call all evolution proponents atheists. Of course religion should have no effect on facts and evidence, but evolution is often grouped with atheism. Don’t forget the use of the derogatory term “Darwinist” as if evolution proponents worship Charles Darwin as a god.

For contrast, read my Top 10 Intelligend Design Tactics.

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Expelled: Not #1 of Anything

The folks from Ben Stein’s Expelled are busy promoting the DVD version of the film to be released today.  They even go so far as to “Thank you for making Expelled the #1 Documentary of 2008.”  There is only one problem with that statement.  Expelled was not the #1 documentary of 2008.

As far as documentaries go, it has been moderately successful.  According to boxofficemojo.com, it has made just over $7.5 million at the box office.  It is ranked as the 13th most grossing documentary.  Pretty good, but is it really the “#1 documentary of 2008”?  Nope.  By numbers, Religulous has already made over $9 million in its first 3 weeks.  Religulous also opened in fewer theaters than Expelled: 502 vs 1052, respectively.  Looks to me like Religulous is #1 so far this year.

So why is it being called the #1 documentary of 2008?  I am not really sure, but I guess they could mean that it is the #1 documentary with the least reflection of reality.  Maybe it is because the people behind the film have no problems lying about the movie.  Either way, promoting it as #1 is just plain wrong.

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Top 10 Reasons Intelligent Design is an Epic Fail

  1. Intelligent Design(ID) is Unfalsifiable – A key test of the value of a scientific theory is that it can be shown to be false.  This is not the case with ID.  No matter what evidence, experiments, or facts show, it can be twisted into the “designers” plan.
  2. ID is an unnecessary idea – There already exists a perfectly adequate theory to explain the diversity of life on this planet.  The theory has experimental and observational evidence to support it.  Why fix what is not broken?
  3. ID is based on religious motivation, not scientific curiosity – Whenever there is a motivation besides science (whether political, religious, or other) then you know its not really science.  Despite the denials by ID proponents, the religious undertones are thinly veiled and apparent.
  4. Experiments are not done to support ID – The only way to support a scientific theory is to perform experiments.  By now, there should be volumes of experimental evidence for intelligent design if it was a valid theory.  We know that there is money out there for it.  So why don’t we see any?
  5. ID is not usefulThe idea that a “designer” could pick and choose how they wanted life to work has no use.  Did the designer decided to have different rules for every animal? Is every organism designed or are some accidental?  Is the designer’s influence continuous or only during the beginning of life?  These and a thousand other questions would preclude our ability to predict anything based on intelligent design ideas making them worthless.
  6. ID depends on denial for support – ID proponents often discount evidence in order to back their position.  Only a poor idea needs to be propped up by denial.  For example, IDers say there is no transitional fossils, despite the dozens of examples found in the fossil record.
  7. Intelligent Design is not clearly defined – ID is a nebulous idea that really can’t be nailed down.  It is usually defined as the idea that there seems to be an underlying design to nature and that some things in biology are too complicated to happen without interference.  There is never any mention of exactly what the designer did at what time  Without a clear definition, how is anyone going to take it seriously as a scientific theory?  They won’t.
  8. Absolutely no evidence for ID – without any evidence, the theory just does not deserve any credence.  Until some arises it should be regarded as pseudoscience.
  9. ID corrupts science educationThe current approach perpetuated by ID proponents under the guise of  “academic freedom” dilutes the real scientific information that should be taught.  Any time spent on unproven and unsubstantiated theories is time spent away from teaching real facts and theories.
  10. ID is an embarrassment – Intelligent design is having a negative effect on the prestige and attractiveness of the places that support it.  This is most obvious in the United States and surely is part of the current “brain drain.”  With more and more states looking into “academic freedom” bills, things are going to get worse before they get better.

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Discovery Institute’s award for best indoctrinator

Randy Moore, Ph.D.

Randy Moore, Ph.D.

The Discovery Institute has given an “award” for “Most Dogmatic Indoctrinator In An Evolutionary Biology Course.” Personally, I think that this post deserves an award for “stupidest pretend award.”  Since when is teaching reality indoctrination?  Seriously, an intelligent design proponent talking about indoctrination makes my head hurt.

Randy Crowther starts off the post with this outlandish statement:

It seems that dogmatic Darwinists will now applaud efforts to consistently suppress scientific criticism of modern evolutionary theory.

No. Evolutionists applaud efforts to suppress pseudoscientific criticisms of evolutionary theory, but real criticisms and unanswered questions are welcomed. Pretending that unanswered questions, logical fallacies, and willfully ignorant remarks are valid criticisms is preposterous.  Yet that is all that intelligent design proponents bring to the conversation

The Discovery Institute gave this “award” to Randy Moore, Ph.D.  Besides a quote from Dr. Moore, Crowther doesn’t really state why he is guilty of indoctrination.  Here is the quote:

“The evidence supporting evolution is overwhelming and comes from diverse disciplines, such as molecular biology, paleontology, comparative anatomy, ethology, and biochemistry. There is no controversy among biologists about whether evolution occurs, nor are there science-based alternative theories,” states Dr. Moore. “Evolution is a unifying theme in biology; teaching it as such is the best way to show students what biology is about and how they can use evolution as a tool to understand our world. [Evolution] is as important an idea as there is in science – it is a great gift to give to students,” says Dr. Moore.

I wanted to include the quote because he made a couple of really important points.  The first is how so many different disciplines provide support for evolution.   Having evidence coming from so many different directions makes a strong theory.  Moore also brings up how there is no controversy among scientists.  Also good for a theory when so many people support it.  Finally, he talks about how using evolution to explain how certain aspects in biology arose leads to a deeper understanding of the world around us.

Obviously, the Discovery Institute disagrees:

First the evidence supporting evolution isn’t as overwhelming or mountianous as Moore claims. Jonathan Wells proved this with Icons of Evolution which still causes conniption fits for Darwinists. More recently, the new supplementary biology text from Hill House Publishers, Explore Evolution,

Is he seriously going to say that two unscientific books (Icons of Evolution and Explore Evolution) can discredit the work of thousands of scientists?  There is a mountain of evidence for evolution, despite Crowther’s willful ignorance.

Crowther continues:

Second, there’s no knowing what Moore means when he says there’s “no controversy … Obviously there is no controversy over microevolution, change over time. But there is huge controversy among scientists over evolution if you mean macroevolution. Witness the Dissent from Darwin list where hundreds of scientists proclaim their skepticism.

A fraction of scientists in unrelated fields saying they don’t believe in evolution is meaningless.  The vast majority of relevant scientists do believe in evolution (see Project Steve).  Does the fact that people literally believe in astrology, aliens living among us, or a hollow earth mean that there isn’t a consensus against those things?  Of course not and the same is true for evolution.

Besides, there is no real difference between micro- and macroevolution in evolutionary theory.  Small changes over short periods equals large changes over long periods.  It is an artificial distinction made for convenience similar to microeconomics vs. macroeconomics.  What happens at the micro scale effects what happens at the macro scale.

Crowther’s last point:

Third, Darwinian evolution is not a theory of everything. To claim it the unifying theory of all biology is laughable.

Moore did not say that it was a theory of everything.  He said “Evolution is a “unifying theme in biology.”  Just like supply and demand in economics, evolution can explain a good deal of the aspects of biology: included but not limited to antibiotic resistance, vestigial organs, gene homology, phylogenetic trees, and geographically isolated species.

Crowther concludes with:

It’s pretty pathetic when a scientific theory like Darwinism has to be propped up through indoctrination. Worse, those who lie to their students will now be rewarded for doing so. Orwellian isn’t it.

What is pathetic is that there is a group of people so desperate for evolution not to be true that they are willing to deny the most logical theory and the evidence that supports it while supporting a theory based on absolutely no evidence.  It is pathetic to call someone a liar for teaching the only theory with evidence to support it.

I personally don’t know Dr. Moore, but after seeing him get this award from the Discovery Institute, I would love to meet him and shake his hand.

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Cichlid speciation and predictable Intelligent Design dismissal

Jewel cichlid

Jewel cichlid

I have split this post into two parts: the actual science and intelligent design response.  Skip down below if you are familiar with the recent Cichlid research.

The Research

African cichlids are a favorite among fish collectors due to the wide variation of species. These species are naturally found in the many isolated lakes in Africa. It is easy to understand how the species that are found in different lakes have evolved differently over time, but cichlid speciation in the same lake is harder to understand. In a recent article in Nature, Ole Seehausen and colleagues seem to have discovered a probable mechanism for this speciation.

They believe that they are observing what is called sensory-driven speciation. The idea here is that slightly different environments lead to slightly different optimal communication systems (visual, olfactory, etc.). These changes lead to reproductive isolation (one definition of species) due to easy to detect characteristics being favored in each environment. The interesting thing is that this can occur within one population with slightly different environment as is seen with the cichlids in the research article.

Lake Victoria is a lake in Africa that has many different species of Cichlids. It is also a lake that has diverse environments that could allow for the creation of many species of cichlids. One example of different environments is depth and turbidity of the water. In some areas the water is relatively clear, but as you get deeper and deeper the water gets more cloudy. This results in two distinct environments: Close to the surface is clear where blue light is more prevalent and close to the bottom where there is mostly red light.

How does this lead to speciation? Seehausen and colleagues caught closely related species of Cichlids at various depths of water. When they looked at the color sensing chemicals in the fish’s eyes, they found that the fish at the surface were more sensitive to blue and the fish at the bottom were more sensitive to red. Since sexual preference in cichlids is believed to be based on how conspicuous the male fish is, blue fish at the surface and red fish at the bottom will be more successful at mating. Interestingly, when the researchers looked around areas where it got cloudy rapidly, they did not see this distinction in red vs blue fish distribution with depth. Furthermore, they did not see any female mating preference based on color at these sites.

Intelligent Design Response

Jonathon Wells posted at the Evolution News and Views blog that this work is “One long Bluff.”

But the researchers did not observe the origin of a new species. They did what biologists have been doing for a long time: They analyzed differences in existing species to find evidence to support a particular hypothesis of speciation.

Since when is finding evidence to support a hypothesis a bad thing?  I guess it is bad if you are stooped in pseudoscience.  What the researches did do is give support to a type of speciation that had only been hypothesized previously.  Wells continues:

Although “genetic mutations helped some fish adapt” might sound as though the researchers induced mutations that helped some fish adapt to new conditions, all they really did was compare existing species and find a correlation between differences in their DNA and differences in their vision.

The authors actually went out in the field and looked to find evidence that supported their hypothesis.  If this had all been done in the lab, Wells would then have complained about how these mutation could never have arisen in the wild.  Either way, the goal posts would have been moved.

British physicist David Tyler had slightly more reasonable assessment of the research, but still had some objections to the findings:

There is no new genetic information – just fine-tuning of existing genetic systems. There is no evidence that these new species lack the potential to interbreed. Indeed, the differences are so slight that hybridisation to produce fertile offspring can be predicted with some confidence.

There is new genetic “information”. The cichlids examined have different chemical sensors in their eyes than other cichlids. One is optimized to see in red and one is optimized to see in blue. The authors noted that the mutation that shifted the red chemical led to an increase in sensitivity by 10%. Surely this is also an example of a gain-of-function change, of which we are led by intelligent design proponents to believe don’t exist .

As to Tyler’s objection that the species can still interbreed, the point of the article is that they are recently or in the process of diverging into new species. If the cichlids were completely unable to breed, then the findings would not be considered as early in a speciation event.

He goes on to say:

These variations allow organisms to diversify and prosper in new ecological niches as they become accessible. However, these variations have nothing to do with the origin of cichlids, eyes or complex specified information.

There were never any claims that this research showed anything involved the “origin of cichlids.” The research here simply showed an example of how a small change in environments could lead to speciation. This diversification is completely in line with evolutionary theory. Small changes over short time periods add up to large changes over long periods.

Self described “journalist and grandmother ” Denyse O’ Leary doesn’t add much to what Tyler said, but did say:

The problem isn’t with the researchers, who sound suitably cautious. It’s the pop science media that jump on something like this and make far more of it than the current state of knowledge would justify.

So journalists are trying to oversell a story. That is their job.  They do it in every story because it is the nature of their business. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything important to learn from the research.

I find it interesting how none of the responses that I could find deny the research or even try to spin it into evidence for intelligent design. I guess this new evidence is not a big deal to them since it is just another rock on top of a mountain of evidence.

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Conservapedia’s “unbiased” view of evolution

Caricature of Charles Darwin courtesy of Conservapedia

Caricature of Charles Darwin courtesy of Conservapedia

Conservapedia is an “alternative” to Wikipedia created based on the idea that  Wikipedia is biased against Christianity and conservative ideals.  I have discussed Conservapedia before.  Today I am going to discuss Conservapedia’s “Evolution” entry.  Before I go into the details, here are a few little tidbits about the entry:

  • the first picture you see is of Hitler
  • not a single pro-evolution site is linked to
  • further reading is only focusing on anti-evolution websites
  • no evidences are discussed (except how there are no real transitional fossils)

As you can already tell, this is pure and simple propaganda.  For a site that is supposedly trying to fight the biases found in Wikipedia, their transparency is shocking.  Did they really think that putting up a picture of Hitler as the first thing you see on the page is appropriate or even relevant?

Speaking of unfounded conclusions that evolutionary theory causes harm to society, there is a whole section devoted to the “Effect on Scientific Endeavors Outside the Specific Field of Biology” Located within are more scare tactics designed to demonize evolution:

  • Lysenkoism – Conservapedia tries to link the practices of the Soviet agronomist Trofim Lysenko, under Joseph Stalin, to “famine and death of millions.”  However, Lysenko denied Mendelian inheritance, one of the central tenets of evolution.
  • Medical Science – all that they could come up with is that the number of vestigial organs has gone from 180 in 1890 to 0 in 1999. They do not offer any of the advances brought about by creation or intelligent design (because there aren’t any)
  • Astronomy – Astronomers use the term “evolution” when describing the formation of large scale astronomical bodies.  Therefore, according to Conservapedia, astronomy has been tainted by evolutionary theory.  The inability to describe how large scale structures form (couldn’t be because astronomy is largely a observational science, could it?!?) is due to evolutionary theory’s .
  • Origin of Life There is no specific criticism of how evolution has ruined this field of study, but I can only assume that the problem is that it is studied at all.
  • Age of the earth and universe – I will let Conservapedia speak for itself here:

“Young earth creationist scientists state the following is true: there are multiple lines of evidence pointing to a young earth and universe; the old earth and universe paradigm has numerous anomalies and uses invalid dating methods, and there are multiple citations in the secular science literature that corroborate the implausibility of the old earth and universe paradigm (for details see: Young Earth Creationism). “

I usually try not to just dismiss things out of hand, but I will make an exception here.  To believe the above quote, you have to practically through out every field of science as it is known today.

The article even goes so far as to question whether the theory of evolution can qualify as a Scientific Theory. Essentially, what they are saying in this entry is that evolution can not be falsified. As anyone familiar with the theory knows, it is easily falsified.  Find any fossil out of order (such as a rabbit during the Cambrian period) or any gene that does not have similarities with the corresponding gene from its closest evolutionary relative.

They further try to vilify evolution in a section entitled “Theory of Evolution and Cases of Fraud, Hoaxes and Speculation,”  This entire section is devoted to the 19th century German scientist Ernst Haekel and his faked embryo drawings. No other frauds are mentioned in this entry except to plug Jonathon Wells’ book.  However, another entry in Conservapedia does show other “hoaxes.”  Nearly all these examples are misidentifying fossils.  Even when there were real hoaxes (see piltdown man), it was scientists that identified them as hoaxes.  By the way, what is wrong with speculation?  Speculation (or hypothesis) is a part of the scientific method and should be celebrated.

Stein Repainting Hitler as Darwin

Stein Repainting Hitler as Darwin

So what does Hitler really have to do with evolution?  Apparently, like Ben Stein, Conservapedia believes that the actions of Hitler were based on his belief of evolution.  Does it really matter if he believed in evolution or not?  His belief does not change its veracity.  Besides, everything that Hitler espoused to is closer to selective breeding than evolution.  They post this quote from Mein Kampf:

The stronger must dominate and not blend with the weaker, thus sacrificing his own greatness. Only the born weakling can view this as cruel, but he, after all, is only a weak and limited man; for if this law did not prevail, any conceivable higher development (Hoherentwicklung) of organic living beings would be unthinkable

Does this sound like natural selection?  Of course not.  Besides, as Richard Dawkins points out:

There is no mention of Darwin in Mein Kampf. Not one single, solitary mention, not one mention in any of the 27 chapters of this long and tedious book. Don’t you think that, if Hitler was truly influenced by Darwin, he would have given him at least one teeny weeny mention in his book?

Conservapedia also has a section devoted to “Creation Scientists often win Creation-Evolution debates.”  I will have to admit that this is something that used to bother me,but winning a debate is not necessarily the best measure of who is right.  It is an environment conducive to talking points, not well thought out ideas that can be verified through independent resources.  Debaters can use tools and tricks to help win.  Misdirection is a classic example, as well as the infamous Gish Gallop. Debating is a sport, not a reflection of reality.

A couple other points.  A repeated theme throughout the entry is that evolutionists are often atheists. This is used to discredit the theory as many people, not just Christian Fundamentalists, believe that atheists are immoral.  It is brought up again and again even though it should be irrelevant to the issue.  Belief in evolution is also equated with liberalism.  Again, this should have no bearing on a discussion of evolutionary principles.  A large percentage of the entry is devoted to quote mining.  Its never a good sign whenever quotes taken out of context are used instead of facts and experimental evidence.

Finally, I will leave with a couple of the most humorous quotes from the entry:

Until the 1970s the scientific consensus was wrong on how lions killed their prey. The Bible was correct regarding how lions killed their prey.

19th century European naturalists were wrong about ant behavior.  The Bible was correct about ant behavior.

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