Like the weather

Today, I want to take a break from my normal facts-based discussion on evolution and intelligent design and do something a little different.  Intelligent design proponents seem to like to make up analogies to help explain their points.  I usually avoid analogies, because I think they are a poor substitute for an actual discussion based on evidence.  However, today I am going to stoop to their level.

Evolution is like the weather

Like the weather, evolution is extremely complex and is based on a myriad of variables.  Evolution seems chaotic at first glance, but there are well-known and established underlying mechanisms.  Similarly, the weather seems chaotic until one observes the seasonal variables, jet streams, cold fronts, dewpoints, etc.

Evolution is also like weather because both were initially attributed to some supernatural power.   If there was a particularly bad storm that demolished houses and destroyed crops, someone must have mad a god mad.  When there was no rain for a period of time, a rain dance was in order.  Today with our modern technology and forecasting potential, it seems hard to believe that people actually believed those things.

There is a very similar situation in evolution.  Going back in history, people also believe that a supernatural being must have created everything as it is today (of course many still do).  Then came along Charles Darwin and his contemporaries, who changed our view of life forever.  We are now beginning to understand how the diversity of life on this planet arose, but we still have a long way to go before we completely understand evolution.  Besides, the weather forecasters are also sometimes wrong.

500 years from now, people will look back at this time and laugh at people how didn’t believe in evolution just like we laugh at people who used to believe that a chariot brought the sun across the sky.  I for one don’t want to be on the receiving end of that ridicule.

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Predictions fulfilled?

Okay, I missed the mark on my predictions about the New Scientist Tree of Life article.  However, there was a post by Robert Crowther relating to the subject .  This was posted just over an hour after I posted my predictions.  The post was more of a personal attack on David Hillis than discussing the tree of life, but he did reference two articles that had the exact quotes as the article I linked to.  I predicted that the Discovery Institute will:

  • Say “see there are weaknesses in evolution” 

Crowther did write this in reference to the two articles mentioned above:

.The debate before the board of course is whether or not there are any weaknesses with modern Darwinian theory.  Hillis, Skoog, and Wetherington, amazingly refused to admit any weakness whatsoever, even when presented with evidence showing that there are weaknesses and that scientists robustly debate

So I think it is safe to say that prediction was fulfilled.

  • Will contain language about how a lack of a complete tree is an ID prediction

Nothing was mentioned about ID predictions, so this was a failed prediction

  • Will say that evolutionists are scrambling to rescue evolution in light of this

Nothing was mentioned about this, so another failed prediction 

  • Probably be written by Casey Luskin

Missed this one too :(  Maybe I will have better luck with my next predictions. 

Preemptive Post on Evolutionary Trees

New Scientist has a recent article that focuses on the Tree of Life (TOL).  In the article, the author describes the relatively new advances in genetics and genomics that show that there likely is not a single TOL.  Does this lack of an all encompassing TOL mean that there is a problem with evolution?  Absolutely not., but I am predicting that the Discovery Institute and other Intelligent Design proponents will disagree and write blog posts saying as much.

My predictions for the Discovery Institute blog Evolution News and Views:

  • Will say “see there are weaknesses in evolution”
  • Will contain language about how a lack of a complete tree is an ID prediction
  • Will say that evolutionists are scrambling to rescue evolution in light of this
  • Probably be written by Casey Luskin

This post was written on 1-22-9 at 7:00 am cst and as of now there are no posts on the evolution news and views blog. They seem to really be focusing on the crap going on in Texas now, but will surely get back to pseudoscience as normal.  Watch for a follow up post about the current state of the TOL even if the DI doesn’t write about it.

Does Ignoring the Designer Make Intelligent Design Real Science?

In a recent episode of the podcast, ID the Future, Casey Luskin argues that Intelligent Design (ID) proponents do not let the question of the identity of the designer enter the discussion.  He believes this avoidance of such a central aspect of the idea of ID allows it to be science.  He reasons that if they do not ever talk about a supernatural designer, then Intelligent Design does not rely on the supernatural.

The first problem with this type of attitude is that ignoring the cause of an effect (the designer is the cause and each living being is the effect) makes it not science.  Imagine if a new disease was discovered and the people studying it decided that they were not going to study the cause of the disease.  All they want to study is its characteristics because the disease could have metaphysical causes.  This group would be harshly criticized and could lose their funding.  Drawing an arbitrary line to separate what can and can’t be included is unscientific.

Luskin is using this attitude as a get-out-of-jail-free card.  He wants to take away the completely valid criticisms that the idea is based on the supernatural.  However, the identity and properties of the designer are paramount to the theory.  Similarly, the mechanisms behind evolution are paramount to the Theory of Evolution.  Without knowing the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the designer, the whole idea of ID is worthless.

Not only is Luskin using this as a get-out-of-jail-free card, but he is having his cake and eating it too (sorry for all the sayings).  He wants all the benefits from having an all-powerful, all-knowing, yet sloppy designer, but doesn’t want to have to deal with the problems  and criticisms associated with the acknowledging the characteristics of the designer.  This method of saying that the designer is off-limits does just that.

Luskin argues that intelligent design is squarely in the realm of science because it deals with the empirical. Yet, the tenets of intelligent design are all based on nonquantifiable characteristics.  Irreducible complexity is not quantifiable or even a cohesive idea.  The same could be said for “apparent design” or Dembski’s use of information theory.  So even if you do ignore the designer, ID is not real science.

The reasons listed above show us that leaving out the identity of the designer is a political move not a scientific one.  It is used to pretend that ID is not religiously motivated so it won’t be subject to the establishment clause of the U.S. constitution.  This goal of the Discovery Institute and other ID proponents is becoming obvious with the constant promoting of “academic freedom” bills and the push to create pro-intelligent design student groups.

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The Story of Jesse Kilgore and his exploitation by the Discovery Institute

jesse-kilgore

On the Discovery Institute’s podcast, ID the future, there is a tragic story of how Jesse Kilgore took his own life.  Jesse was a college student who had spent most of his life as a devout and involved Christian who loved to debate people about his beliefs.  He was even had a couple of of blogs to his credit.  He had already spent some time in the military and by all accounts appeared to have a great life ahead of him.

According to the podcast, he was challenged with reading Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion by one of his professors.  His studies into the theory of evolution, as well as Dawkin’s book, appeared to have changed his worldview.  Jesse stopped believing in god, which led to him questioning everything he had previously believed.  Although he left no suicide note, many believe that this change is what led to his death.

The Discovery Institute wasted no time in blaming Jesse’s death on the belief in evolution.  This is another example of their use of fear-mongering to persuade people that evolution is evil.  They have even blamed the horrors of the Nazis on evolution. Yet, their exploitation of Jesse or even the holocaust victims does nothing to show that evolution did not happen.  Besides, there are hundreds of millions of people that believe in evolution that have not taken their own lives or become evil because of it.  Furtherore, Jesse had already made references to committing suicide well before his new encounters with evolution and Dawkin’s book.  Putting the blame on the theory of evolution and its proponents is simply wrong.

On a personal note, I also had a relative take his own life.  I understand the pain that Jesse’s family must be feeling.  I also understand the need to blame anyone and everyone for his death.  This is why it angers me to see the Discovery Institute use this tragedy for some small gain in pushing their pseudoscientific fairy tale. They should be ashamed.

Slim pickings for an Intelligent Designer

If we are to believe the proponents of Intelligent Design, the “designer” could be a number of different beings.  In this post, I am going to go through a thought experiment to determine the characteristics that would be necessary for a designer.  At the end, I will run through a list of possible candidates for the designer.  Please feel free to mention anything that I have missed.

Characteristics of a designer:

Inconceivably powerful – In order for the designer to have accomplished all that is given credit to it, the designer would need the ability to repeatedly create life out of thin air.  This designer would have to create each individual species that has ever lived on earth.  Since their appears to be more than 1.5 million species alive today, the amount of planning, raw materials, energy, and time required would be astronomical.

Sloppy – There are so many design flaws in living organisms that one would have to assume that the designer would have to be not only inconceivably powerful, but also very sloppy.  An efficient designer wouldn’t allow things like a rabbit needing to eat its own poop in order to digest it.  They would also not allow for things like birth defects, prevalence of poor eyesight, or cancer.

Cunning – The designer would have to be extremely secretive about its involvement in the life of the earth.  There are no blueprints lying around for us to examine.  There is no landing strips for the designer.  There are no artifacts of which the designer used to engineer the earth’s organisms.

Practical Joker – How else would you describe something that gives the impression that life arose through evolution?  Somewhere, the designer must think it is really funny to have all organisms to be able to be grouped into a phylogenetic tree that matches the underlying genetic code similarities.

Possible designers:

God – Of course the most obvious designer would be God itself.  Since God by definition is all knowing and all powerful, there is no use in discussing its attributes.  However, I would like to point out that there is no discussion of intelligent design in the bible.  In fact, the bible seems to indicate that all of life was made at once without the intervening organisms that are proposed by intelligent design and seen in the fossil record.

Aliens – In order for a species of aliens to be the designer, they would have to be thousands or millions of years more technologically advanced than humans.  As stated above, they would have to have inconceivable power.  Then where are these aliens today?  Why haven’t we been able to detect any sort of evidence of their existence?  Its not like we haven’t been looking or listening.

It is not clear what motivation such a species would have to be so involved with life on earth.  I guess it could be for their own personal enjoyment, but that seems like a boring way to have fun.  One could also suppose that they wanted to create some sort of companionship to an otherwise cold universe.

Future Humans – Perhaps the designer is actually humans from the future that decided that they would need to go back in time in order to ensure that humans would exist.  In order to accomplish this task, the future humans would use the paleogeographic record as a blueprint.  They would have to painstakingly recreate every known and to be discovered organism that existed on the planet.  Of course this all depends on the ability for humans to be able to repeatedly time travel, which seems to be prohibited by the laws of physics.

Secret society of underground creatures – Yes, I know this is ridiculous, but none of the other ideas for designers seems plausible either.

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Discovery Institute’s New Year’s Resolutions

With the new year just beginning, I thought it would be a good idea to provide a list of resolutions that the Discovery Institute should focus on.  If these resolutions are upheld, maybe the Discovery Institute can become less of a joke than it already is. 

  1. Focus on science – For an organization based on a supposed scientific theory, there doesn’t seem to be too much focus on real science.  The Discovery Institute should be putting their money and their mouths almost exclusively on science.  Enough with the legal maneuvers; start generating testable hypothesis. 
  2. Stop misrepresenting scientists – A favorite tool of the Discovery Institute is quote mining.  This happens when a person uses a quote from another person without the proper meaning and background.  For example, see Casey Luskin’s treatment of Catherine Boisvert.    
  3. Stop misreporting scientific results – Discovery Institute fellows have a habit of interpreting scientific papers in a way that fits their preconceived notion. Very rarely (if ever) are they qualified to be commenting on a new scientific finding.  Leave the interpretation and analysis to those that are trained and experienced.  
  4. Be honest with their motivation – It is clear for anyone even half paying attention that nearly every ID-proponent believes that God is the designer.  The Wedge document solidifies this obvious conclusion.  Stop pushing a particular view of God into science.
  5. Gain an accurate view of the institution of Science – Quite frequently, a Discovery Institute fellow makes claims about how modern science operates that are completely inaccurate.  Their claims of dogma and closed-minded experts fall flat.  Scientists love to prove each other wrong and will jump at the chance to overturn some well-established principle.