Luskin can’t find a fact to support intelligent design (Part 1)

Casey Luskin of The Discovery Institute wrote a series of posts where he attempts in vain to help students “find a fact” that supports intelligent design (ID).  Apparently, several students sent letters to the Discovery Institute in response to their professor’s challenge for them to find a fact that supports ID.  Luskin came up with what amounts to be crap (unsurprisingly).

In the first part of my response to Luskin, I am going to analyze his premise that “ID provides a framework for developing novel hypotheses.”  In other words, how ID is relevant in any way.  He first starts by discussing several points that he believes shows how intelligent agents act when they design something:

(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).

Already I see a problem with Luskin reasoning.  He believes that the more complex something is, the more it is designed.  This is demonstrably false.  Take for example a sidewalk.  Made of almost pure cement, a sidewalk is anything but complex and contains little “information.”  Yet, it is clearly designed.

(2) Intelligent agents can rapidly infuse large amounts of information into systems:

Ok, but intelligent agents can also remove large amounts of information, like in my sidewalk example.

(3) Intelligent agents ‘re-use’ functional components that work over and over in different systems (e.g., wheels for cars and airplanes).

When humans make things, they reuse the same parts over and over.  Screws, nuts, etc. are often the exact same size even in products that are made in different parts of the world.  In nature, we see as many different sized “screws” as we do organisms.  Designing something like this doesn’t make sense.

(4) Intelligent agents typically create functional things.

Fair enough (at least for the things that don’t end up in the garbage).

Luskin then goes on to say that these observations (as flawed as they are) can be used to generate hypotheses that lead to predictions. (well, Luskin said “generate hypotheses based upon testable predictions,” but I think we know what he meant).  Here are his four general predictions:

(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).

This is not a prediction.  This is a centuries old observation of the workings of the world.  Retrodiction does not equal prediction so this one fails.

(2) Forms containing large amounts of novel information will appear in the fossil record suddenly and without similar precursors.

Again this is not really a prediction as much as it is an observation of current paleontology.  However, I would say that you are hard pressed to find good examples of this.  If ID were true, you should expect to see hundreds of examples in the literature. I am having a real hard time thinking of even one.

(3) Convergence will occur routinely. That is, genes and other functional parts will be re-used in different and unrelated organisms.

Ok, finally something we can really address.  Yes, we already knew about convergance before the birth of Intelligent design, but lets ignore that for now.  One example that comes to mind is the convergance of flight.  Let’s compare wings and see if we see those same screws, nuts, etc. between organisms.  Do we see the same type of wing between birds and bats? obviously we don’t.  How about birds and insects, or bats and insects?  Nope, not very similar at all.  I guess we can say they all flap in their own way, but is that enough to satisfy an ID propoent? Apparantly..

(4) Much so-called “junk DNA” will turn out to perform valuable functions.

This prediction could have been made by evolution also.  Like the old saying goes, use it or lose it.  Besides, what does he mean by “much”? This is a typical vague prediction that is easy to fulfill without really having any meaning.

So far, I am not impressed with Luskin’s answer to the professor’s challenge.  If this is all that the Discovery Institute has to offer the students, they are in for a failing grade.  In part 2, I will examine Luskin’s “facts” in detail.

Texas SBOE member Terri Leo lies to make a point

Recently I wrote in defense of Dr. Ronald Wetherington, an anthropology professor at SMU, and his expert testimony before the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) on January 21st, 2009.  During the question and answer portion, SBOE member Terri Leo outright lies in order to trick Wetherington.

At around the 34 minute mark of Wetherington’s testimony, the following discussion happened between Leo (L) and Wetherington (W):

L: Let’s say at the university level do you support academic freedom in investigating origins?

W: Yes at the university level we do.

L: Ok. If a student group came to your campus and wanted to sponsor an event where they were bringing in scientists and experts who were challenging your view of evolution you wouldn’t object to that?

W: I have had it in my class. I have had at least two different non-evolutionists, creationists, one from Baylor come into my human evolution class and give a lecture.

L: Well, no, an event on your campus…not in your class… Like if they were sponsoring an event on you campus you would be in support of that.

W: Are you talking about the Darwin vs. Intelligent Design conference that was held on our campus the year before last

L: Yes

W: Ah, well you should have asked me that directly.

L: Yeah, I didn’t remember the name of it.

Ok. if she didn’t remember the name of it, why didn’t she ask the name of the conference first?  Why didn’t she ask about how he felt about this conference since she already knew about it?  This was going to be her gotcha moment but Wetherington didn’t fall for it.

After he catches her in the lie, Wetherington tells Leo about how they did have such a debate on campus in 1992.  He also says that he debated Phil Johnson twice on the SMU campus. He says that he will be open to such a thing if it is done legitimately.

Leo replies with:

so legitimate only means that if it is not challenging neo-darwinism

I don’t think Leo was even listening.  She is just determined to say her talking points no matter what Wetherington says.  He told her about and gave examples of how he is open to the possibility of such a debate. It just didn’t matter to her.

I am all for lively debates, but this kind of tactic has no place in a Texas SBOE meeting.  It really is a sad state of affairs that a woman who is willing to lie to trick an expert is helping to determine the path that education will take in Texas.

A response to the Discovery Institute’s criticism of Wetherington’s expert testimony

In a recent post over at the Discovery Institute’s blog, Evolution News and Views,David Klinghoffer writes about the expert testimony of Ronald Wetherington. Ronald Wetherington is an anthropology professor at Southern Methodist University.  In his post, Klinghoeffer claims that Wetherington was “sloppy with his facts.”  Unfortunately, I can’t find a transcript of Wetherington’s testimony, but a recording can be found here.

Some of the criticisms focus on hominid evolution, the subject of Wetherington’s expertise.  This is not my expertise and I will leave it up to the readers to decide. However, I find it hard to believe someone from the Discovery Institute over an expert.

Lets look at some of Klinghoeffer’s specific claims:

Klinghoffer criticizes evolution of the mammalian eye. He describes Wetherington’s discussion of the subject as “laughably simplifies what eye-evolution would entail.” However, he never gives any real criticism of the ideas except to say that it is absurd. He never makes specific criticisms of current models of eye evolution, but he does lend support to the idea of eye evolution by quoting Sean B. Carroll.  Carroll warns us about “simple” eyespots (believed to be precursors to modern eyes): “But do not be fooled by these eyes’ simple construction and appearance. They are built with and use many of the ingredients used in fancier eyes.”  This is a good point and shows the reducible components of the eye.

Klinghoffer then goes on to attack Wetherington’s use of genetics as support for evolutionary theory. Klinghoffer’s arguments are really just an exercise in quote mining to support the logical fallacy of personal disbelief.  He quotes from a 2000 article in Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics where the authors describe the “mystery” of how mutation and natural selection resulted in the complexity of life today. He also quotes Frank Harold as saying that “there are presently no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical or cellular system, only a variety of wishful speculations.” Neither reference is evidence against evolution, but are an acknowledgment of our incomplete understanding of evolution.

Klinghoffer says:

The more we know about genetics, the more we must, if we are honest with ourselves, doubt Darwin.

This is simply ridiculous. Genetics provides excellent support for evolution. For example, all living animals on earth have the same genetic code in their DNA. Dead viruses found in genomes can be traced back to when they were inserted along an evolutionary tree. Gene similarities between closely related species are more similar than those same genes between less related species. The list goes on, but it is clear that genetics provides excellent support for evolution, not the other way around.

Klinghoffer then goes on to regurgitate the deeply flawed observation by Michael Behe about the rate of mutations in humans by looking at a pair of mutation in the organism that causes malaria (Plasmodium falciparum).  I discuss Behe’s flawed reasoning here.

Klinghoffer has a few other nit-picky complaints towards the end:

-Wetherignton says that the term missing links isn’t used too much anymore.  Klinghoffer says that “ it is used in places like Science, Nature, Paleobiology, the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, and elsewhere.  My own experience tells me that Wetherington is correct, but just to be sure, I did a quick pubmed search with “missing link” and evolution. Only 96 results.  Wetherignton makes the point here that the reason we don’t use the term anymore is because it is inaccurate.  Once a fossil is found, it is no longer missing.  Besides, once one missing link fills in a gap, there are now two gaps to fill.

-Wetherington says Cambrian explosion lasted “at least 25 million years.” Klinghoffer says it was “under 10 million.”  Geez, what a terrible mistake of Wetherington, I guess evolution is completely false!  Seriously though, the length of the Cambrian explosion seems to vary dependent on who you ask and how you define it.  For example, Charles Marshall of Harvard writes:

Depending on when exactly one thinks the Cambrian “explosion” began, it is clear that there is a considerable temporal anatomy to the radiation. From the first appearance of heavily skeletonized animals to the first body fossils of trilobites, the radiation took some 20 million years. If one starts with the first abundant trace fossils through to the end of the Cambrian, then the radiation ran for some 65 million years.

-Wetherington says the explosion was “dominated by two phyla.” Klinghoffer says that Wetherington is wrong and actually  “19 of 28 phyla appeared.”   “Dominated by” is not the same as “appeared.”  Klinghoffer is trying to pull a fast one here.

-Klinghoffer complains that Wetherington confused a taxonomic class with a taxonomic order. Talk about grasping at straws

-Wetherington discusses research showing that hox genes can be interchanged between species. Klinghoffer denies this possibility  and claims this is “a piece of information that would startle Darwinian biologists.” Yet,  it has been shown that you can replace a Drosophilia Hox gene with a mouse Hox gene.  The switch leads to legs instead of wings, but illustrates overlap of function that Wetherington was talking about.  There are many other examples in the literature.

Finally, Klinghoffer has an excellent quote in this post that describes the work of ID proponents:

it seems obvious that men and women who invest themselves in their work over a lifetime may come to tell lies to themselves without ever knowing it, in order to maintain crucial fictions on which their life’s work depends. It’s human nature.

Only, he was talking about research scientists instead of ID proponents. However, evolution has facts and experimental data to support it, while intelligent design has only human intuition and logical fallacies to back it up.

Intelligent design tip of the day #3: Avoid the real work

(Note: this post is written in accordance with Poe’s Law)

Despite the fact that the only way to prove something in science is to do actual experiments, it is more effective for the intelligent design cause to not do any. If we don’t ever try to prove intelligent design, then it can’t ever be disproven. This has the added benefit of allowing ID proponents to not have to do any of the laborious scientific experiments. I don’t know about you, but it is a lot easier to just daydream about intelligent design and criticize other’s work.

Intelligent design tip of the day #2: Keep calling them “Darwinists”

(Note: this post is written in accordance with Poe’s Law)

Whenever you are referring to anyone who believes in evolution, it is important to refer to them as Darwinists.  Forget that the term scientists would suffice.  Forget that evolutionists means the exact same thing but doesn’t have the same negative connotation.  You need to give the impression that people who accept evolution are really blindly following some guy’s theory that lived 150 years ago.  By calling them Darwinists, you can also convey a quasi-religious devotion to Charles Darwin.  Also, forget that so many scientists and laypeople have objected to the term.  Remember that any type of insult that detracts from the evidence is good.

Why do we celebrate Darwin?

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

2009 is the Year of Evolution. It has been 200 years since Charles Darwin’s birth and 150 years since the publication of On the Origin of Species. There have been many celebrations, events, and lectures all in his name with more to come throughout the year.  February 12 is even considered “Darwin Day,” and celebrated every year.

All these celebrations beg the question: Why do we celebrate Darwin?  We don’t celebrate other great scientists or thinkers.  Where is Einstein Day?  Or Newton Day? Even among the history of evolutionary theory, he was not the first or only person to propose the idea. So what is the deal?

I don’t really have the answer, but I do have a few ideas.  The first is that he is the figurehead for a scientific understanding of where we came from.  This has profound philosophical implications for humans and their relationship with other animals.  In fact, I think these implications are why so many people are willing to make every excuse in the book to deny the reality of evolution (for example, The Discovery Institute).

Another reason could be that it is the only scientific theory that is constantly being accosted by people based on their belief system and not on evidence.  This constant attack puts people on the defensive.  It makes them want to fight for the theory that Darwin proposed so many years ago.

Of course, biologists have their own reasons for celebrating.  Biology and medicine would be nothing without evolutionary theory and the ideas that come out of it.

Undoubtedly, it is a combination of all the above, plus others that I have forgotten.  I still find it a bit odd to single out Darwi, but I think any public celebration of science is a good thing.

Intelligent design tip of the day #1: Unguided evolution

(Note: this post is written in accordance with Poe’s Law)

Remind your audience that evolution is unguided, random, and without purpose.

One key to having people not accept evolution is that it must be thought of as being completely random.  If someone realizes that survival and successful reproduction are some of the strongest forms of selection, they may be converted to the dark side of evolution.  Don’t let this happen.  Constantly refer to evolution as unguided.

For extra benefit, ask such questions as “how could anything so random as evolution produce something so complex as a human?”  Of course we know the answer is that hundreds of millions of years and countless generations all being subject to natural selection produced humans.  But don’t let on 😉

As with any other intelligent design tactic, keep repeating this bit about purposeless evolution even when it has been shown to be inaccurate.  If we are going to be truthful here, then we might as well be truthful about all our other tactics.  We can’t let that happen.