Intelligent Design proponents are not stupid

In talking with some of my colleagues about intelligent design (ID) it has become clear to me that there are some misconceptions about ID.  These misconceptions are not limited to science professionals as these ideas can also be seen when viewing message boards, reading comment sections, or anywhere else the subject arises.

The general consensus seems to be that ID proponents are just not very smart.  Although I do think this is true for some “IDers,” it is not a prerequisite for belief in the pseudoscience.  Just look at the Discovery Institute.  Many of the “fellows” there have PhDs or have achieved other higher levels of education.  Perhaps the most telling is how cogent their arguments appear to be.  I honestly think it takes some kind of weird intelligence to be able to defend a evidence-less theory against the onslaught  of ever increasing evidence for evolution.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying ID proponents are geniuses.  I am just saying stupidity is not the source of their belief in ID.  So, what are the sources?  Well, Christian fundamentalism is an obvious one.  These people are going to twist the world around them to their preconceived notion of the universe no matter what evidence is available.

Another source could be a strong reliance on the logical fallacy of personal incongruity (personal disbelief).  This logical fallacy basically says that just because someone has a hard time believing something does not mean it is not true.  People can not accept that we are evolutionarily related to monkeys.  Some people can’t believe that the diversity of life happened on its own.  They say “look how complicated life is. It had to be designed.” The feeling is so strong that they abandon reason and acceptable evidence for pseudoscience.

Willful ignorance is undoubtedly another reason that otherwise intelligent people believe in intelligent design.  Some people just don’t really care about the subject, so they will just go along with what there preacher or friend believes.  Other people are not willing to find out the truth for the fear that it will shatter their world view.

Whatever the reason, simply insulting their intelligence is not going to be an effective way to convince them of reality.  I didn’t write this post to defend ID proponents, I am just hoping that understanding where they are coming from will help during debates.

The Discovery Institute engages in censorship

Many from the Discovery Institute have argued against censorship in any form.  Yet, when someone criticizes Discovery Institute fellow, Casey Luskin, they fully engage in censorship.  Recently, Luskin appeared on Fox News to discuss the recent battle of how evolution should be taught in Texas schools.   DonExodus posted a point-by-point video rebuttal to Luskin:

The Discovery Institute responds by sending a copyright claim and demanding the video be taken down.   Below is DonExodus describing the situation in his own words:

This example of censorship is shocking in light of what they have written on the subject.  Take for example the whole idea of academic freedom.  The supposed impetus for needing academic freedom is that some scientists were being censored due to their beliefs.  In regard to academic freedom day celebrations:

we want students everywhere to speak out against censorship and stand up for free speech by defending the right to debate the evidence for and against evolution

Then there is this blog post that says Censorship is Wrong.

I do realize that their are a variety of opinions at the Discovery Institute, and that not everyone there agreed that this action was appropriate.  However, enough people did agree for this action to move forward illustrating, yet again, that the DI is not interested in a full and eqqual intellectual debbate/

Michael Behe compares apples to oranges while waiting for two mutations

Plasmodium malariae

Plasmodium malariae

A recent scientific article published in Genetics criticized Michael Behe and “exposed flaws” in his thinking.  The article in question, Waiting for Two Mutations: With Applications to Regulatory Sequence Evolution and the Limits of Darwinian Evolution, provides a mathematical model of the rate for two different mutations to occur in order.  They show that the time for prespecified mutations is within reason and support this by using two real world examples from humans and fruit flies.  Behe doesn’t believe it.

Behe had previously calculated the mutation rate that makes the protozoan P. falciparum (causes malaria) resistant to the antibiotic chloroquine that arose from two prespecified mutations in one protein.  He argued that this would take 1,000,000,000,000,000 years to achieve a similar pair of mutation in humans based on human population numbers and age until reproduction.   He seems to think that this is evidence to support intelligent design.

There are several problems with Behe’s thinking.  The most obvious is that Behe is comparing completely different organisms.  The mutation rate between various organisms can be very different.  In writing this post, I quickly determined from following the links from Wikipedia that the error rate of other protozoan (not specifically P. falciparum) seems to be around 100 fold lower than humans.  Not exactly the best comparison is it?

Other errors in Behe’s thinking include

  • Behe calculated the requirement for prespecified mutations; Evolution is not prespecified
  • These mutations could have arisen many times without our knowledge.  Unless Behe knows the sequence of every single P. faciparum, he can not really know how often these mutations occurred
  • Behe’s calculations seem to make the common statistical error of treating two consecutive events as one event.  For example, the odds of a couple that already have two girls having another girl is still 1 in 2, not 1 in 8 like you would get if you asked what are the odds in the beginning of having 3 girls

The original authors had many other complaints against Behe’s assessment, but they are fairly technical and beyond the scope of this blog.  If your interested, follow the links below.  Even without these criticisms, it is clear that Behe’s mind is being clouded over by the motivation of having an intelligent designer.

One interesting thing to note is that the authors actually call out Michael Behe by name in the abstract. I actually think this is semi-unprofessional. At the same time however, I think it also shows a lot of gumption. They must have known that not only would Behe respond with sharp criticism.

Further reading:

Behe’s blog

Behe’s response to Rick Durrett and Deena Schmidt

Durrett and Schmidt’s response to Behe’s response

Waiting for Two Mutations

Behe’s 2007 paper on the subject

Scientist behind fish-tetrapod find calls out Discovery Institute’s Casey Luskin

Over at A Free Man, there is an interview with

Catherine Boisvert

Catherine Boisvert

. Boisvert was the first author on the recent paper that showed the underlying fingerlike structures of the prehistoric fish, Panderichthys. I wrote about the recent findings and the Discovery Institute’s response here. At that time, Casey Luskin argued that scientists were engaging in “Retroactive Confession of Ignorance.” He claimed that she was attacking the quality and relevance of another prehistoric fish, Tiktaalik (original emphasis):

Confident that her fossil showed evolution better than Tiktaalik, Boisvert and other Darwinists then proceeded to admit striking criticisms of Tiktaalik. The interview with Boisvert at The Scientist states, “Previous data from another ancient fish called Tiktaalik showed distal radials as well — although the quality of that specimen was poor.

During the interview,  they asked Catherine Boisvert about Luskin’s description of her words:

AFM: The creationist Discovery Institute has pounced on some of the statements in your paper regarding sample quality as evidence that scientists are trying to backpedal on previous hypotheses regarding digit development and evolution. Can you clarify your statements regarding sample quality of Tiktaalik and Panderichthys?

CB: As you know, the “Discovery” Institute tactic is not to go to the primary literature in order to understand it but rather to use quotations from secondary, even tertiary sources, reorganise or use them out of context opportunistically to their own convenience. In this case, they used an article where the journalists unfortunately misunderstood me. Tiktaalik’s material is in fact exquisite, it is very well preserved, basically uncrushed and can be prepared out to be examined in three dimensions. I never said the quality was poor. I have simply explained that the morphology of the fin of Panderichthys is more tetrapod-like than that of Tiktaalik, which has nothing to do with the quality of the material.

Of course we already knew that Luskin wasn’t going to be honest with his readers when he is quoting an evolution proponent, but it is nice to hear it directly from the source.  I encourage you to read the rest of the interview. She is a fascinating scientist and is surely someone that we should all keep an eye on.

hat tip: Panda’s Thumb

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The Discovery Institute’s Attack on Ronald Wetherington

The Discovery Institute (DI) has a piece up at their Evolution News and Views blog by Casey Luskin where they are portraying Ronald Wetherington as a "science censor." He is one of the reviewers of the proposed revision of the Texas science standards.

I suppose the DI is attacking Wetherington’s character in response to it being pointed out that half the reviewers are unapologetic Intelligent Design proponents. Not only that, but two are actually co-authors(Ralph Seelke and Steven Meyer) of the anti-evolution textbook Explore Evolution. Furthermore,Seelke and Meyer are the only reviewers not from Texas. Anyway, back to the attack against Wetherington.

Luskin writes:

Ronald Wetherington, has a track record of advocating censorship to restrict the free flow of information on evolution to students.[…]

Wetherington has a history of trying to stifle free speech on evolution, and then denying his intolerant actions.

To back up his claim as Wetherington being a "science censor," Luskin’s only piece of evidence is that Wetherington was part of a group of 20+ professors at Southern Methodist University (SMU) that wrote letters trying to have an Intelligent Design conference co-sponsored by the DI and an SMU law group not use SMU’s facilities and the University’s name for the conference. I am not sure how opposing one conference is a track record of censorship, and Luskin provides no other links or describes any other actions taken by Wetherington. 

It is obvious if you read the letter that this group of professors were trying to remove the University’s name from the conference and to try not to lend scientific credibility to the conference.  They are not trying to censor anyone and they outright say in a letter to the Dallas Morning News:

We, the undersigned, do not argue against the basic right to believe, worship and express oneself as one desires.

Luskin then goes on to personally attack Wetherington:

Wetherington’s Credibility Gap.When pressed with his intolerance, Wetherington responded by denying his own actions. In a letter to SMU Daily, Wetherington tried to backpedal and downplay his attempts to censor the pro-ID viewpoint, claiming that his protests were merely “a call for disallowing the conference until its legal scheduling was confirmed.” Really? Was Wetherington’s normal practice as an anthropology professor to double-check all conferences planned at SMU to confirm whether they had undergone “legal scheduling”?

Wetherington doesn’t backpedal here.  He freely admits that they were making sure that the scheduling was legal.  I honestly don’t blame him for being suspicious of the DI.  As far as him being intolerant, that could be true in certain circumstances.  Like me, he is intolerant of pseudoscientific pursuits and doesn’t want SMU to be known as a purveyor of such things.  Would he be intolerant if he didn’t want holocaust deniers to have a conference on SMU? What about a conference by believers of a flat earth?    

Wetherington lives in Texas, teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses for many years, has published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and has helped write textbooks.  He is a good choice to review the Texas science standards.

The Discovery Institute fact checks Flock of Dodos

Recently, I posted my review of “Flock of Dodos: the intelligent design – evolution circus” by Randy Olsen. It appears that the Discovery Institute took exception to the theme of the movie. Several posts were written, and even a website was created to discredit the movie. A quote taken from the this post summarizes their feelings:

Randy Olson presented fiction as fact in his anti-ID documentary Flock of Dodos. But rather than apologize for his film’s repeated bloopers and misrepresentations …

Repeated bloopers and misrepresentations? I have been scouring the Discovery Institute’s blogs to find all their criticisms of “Flock of Dodos.” I have only been able to find two realcriticisms: the Haekel drawings in textbooks and the Discovery Institute’s budget. You would have thought that in a movie that runs nearly an hour and a half, they could have found more “repeated bloopers and misrepresentations.”  The film has quite a few tidbits of information that support evolution and/or discredit intelligent design. I don’t see any complaints about the poorly designed digestive system of herbivores or weak heart architecture. There is no talk of the vestigial pelvises of whales that was shown in the film.  I guess the Discovery Institute is too busy focusing on segments of the show that totaled all of maybe 5 mins.  Since the criticisms largely focus on Haekel drawings and the budget issues, I will focus on them.

First, let me say this, I don’t think it matters too much to the modern theory of evolution that Haekel faked his drawings. If you look at real micrographs of developing embryos, you see a surprising amount of similarity. Look here and here. The idea is that there is a conserved genetic blueprint that is followed to varying extent in animals, not evolution recurring during embryogenesis as Haekel believed. Not the strongest support for evolution, but it is line with the existing theory. If animals were designed, wouldn’t it make sense that they would look as different during development as they do when they are fully grown?

Second, Olson did not say that you would not ever find any references to Haeckel’s drawings. He said that they have been largely removed and when they are present is in the context of history. From this  post by John West:

But it turns out that Olson is the one who is promoting a fraud. The diagrams in question were unquestionably used in modern textbooks, and Olson himself knows that fact.

Here is the what Olsen said during the movie:

No, you don’t find it, there’s no trace other than a mention that once upon a time Haeckel came up with this idea of ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny

So in fact, Olsen did not say that you will never find them. An IDer taking an evolutionist’s words out of context, what a huge surprise!  I looked at my own biology textbooks and I did find the drawings in one of the four that I own.  So the textbooks are not perfect, but I don’t think this is the first time t have provided inaccurate information

Did Olsen exaggerate the budget of the Discovery Institute? Yes, but not by much.  Certainly not as big of a deal as the Discovery Institute believes.  Olsen said “around 5 million” and the Discovery Institute says $4.2 million.  I personally believe that 4.2 is around 5 million.  If someone asked you about how much something that costs $4.20, would you feel that you were lying if you said 5 bucks?  The Discovery Institute goes on to say that they really only spend one million on intelligent design activities, but Olsen only referred to their total budget.  They even produced a nice little graph, which I have altered below to be more accurate to the movie.  For my own peace of mind, I looked up what the Discovery Institute’s reported income for 2006 and it was 4,165,847, or about 5 million.


Other criticisms from the Discovery Institute are that Olsen misrepresented the “Wedge document”, he exaggerated the Discovery Institute’s involvement in the Dover trial, and why he was not ever granted an interview with a Discovery Institute fellow.  My personal opinion is that if they had such a problem with the content of the movie, they would have done something like the Expelled Exposed website.

Lenski vs conservapedia

No self-respecting evolution blog can go without mentioning the interactions of Dr. Lenski (of evolution in a tube note) with Mr. Schlafly of Conservapedia. Conservapedia is the religious right’s answer to Wikipedia, because they believe that Wikipedia is biased toward liberal ideas.

Mr. Schlafly (a non-scientist) sent a letter to Dr. Lenski to

request for your data underlying your recent paper….Your work was taxpayer-funded, and PNAS represents that its authors will make underlying data available. I’d like to review the data myself and ensure availability for others, including experts and my students. Others have expressed interest in access to the data in addition to myself, and your website seems well-suited for public release of these data.

For those of you unfamiliar with the process of modern science, peer-reviewed published articles are written in such a way that anyone with the knowledge and the equipment should be able to repeat the presented experiments. The articles also include enough information to prove the point that the authors are trying to make (of course interpretation is sometimes up for debate).

What Mr. Schlafly requested is completely unheard of, unless someone is being investigated for forgery (see Hwang Woo-Suk). What makes it worse is that he is nothing near a scientist. If this sort of practice was allowed to go on regularly, science would come to a grinding halt due to scientists having to constantly dig up old lab books and dust off their old 5 1/4 floppies. This is why no scientific competitor or lay person has the right to ask for this kind of data even though scientists are usually funded by public money.

Now for the good part. Dr. Lenski, after initially replying kindly, sent a scathing letter to Mr. Schlafly.  Rather than selecting specific quotes from the letter, I suggest you go read it yourself.  I promise at least one laugh.

Recently, it has come to my attention that some of the authors at Conservapedia have been using underhanded tactics and censoring people.  I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised.