The Discovery Institute is missing something: reality

On, Aug. 5, 2008, Anika Smith writes that “Something is missing: evolution meets reality with Alife.” Smith is writing about a scientific conference on Artificial Life (Alife) being held in Winchester, UK.  Smith writes that the conference, or at least the article he links to, is focused on the “failure of Darwin’s theory to explain complex creatures.”

I am not usually this harsh on ID/creationists, but I just have to say that Anika Smith has no idea what is going on here. She thinks that the article is lending support to the rejection of evolution. In reality, it is showing the weaknesses of the current computer models:

Prof Mark Bedau of Reed College in Portland, Oregon, will argue at this week’s meeting – the 11th International Conference on Artificial Life – that despite the promise that organisms could one day breed in a computer, such systems quickly run out of steam, as genetic possibilities are not open-ended but predefined. Unlike the real world, the outcome of computer evolution is built into its programming.

So, the real world is open-ended and computer models are not. Got that? well Anika Smith doesn’t. We need to work on the programming, not turn away from evolutionary theory as Smith suggests.  Of course these types of computer models are beneficial to our understanding of biology, and the real focus of this article:

Although natural selection is necessary for life, something is missing in our understanding of how evolution produced complex creatures. By this, he [Bedau] doesn’t mean intelligent design

What does he mean? Dr. Richard Watson, co-organizer of the meeting, thinks it may be self-organization. The basic idea here is that atoms or chemicals can make complex arrangements without an outside force simply due to attraction and repulsion. I am sure that self-organization plays an important role in life, but I don’t know if these programs for evolution simulations include everything we already know about evolution.  Does it include such factors as genetic drift, bottle-necks, changes in available nutrients and/or toxins, isolation, etc.?

Smith falls back on the old argument that no one is taking intelligent design seriously (cry me a river):

Of course, no one would dare consider the possibility of design (especially not with that straw-man description), but it looks like a few brave souls may be willing to admit, in the face of the evidence, that Darwin’s theory really is not sufficient to explain life.

First, Darwin’s theory as it stood 150 years ago is dead and has been replaced by modern evolutionary theory. For crying out loud, Darwin did not even know of DNA or genes.  Yes, there are gaps in our knowledge, but there are problems with every theory. Second, evolution does not deal with the beginnings of life (abiogenesis). A fact that has been repeated numerous times, but ID/creationists still use this relic of a talking point. Finally, the evidence for evolution is continuing to pile up, not go the opposite way. Unless of course, you have your head buried in the sand, like so many at the Discovery Institute.

Really, Anika Smith dropped the ball on this one. Unless of course she completely understands the point of the article and is just trying to spin it to her liking. It is not like the Discovery Institute hasn’t done such a thing before.

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Year of Evolution in Philly

The Skeptick over at the Way of the Woo reminds us that this year is the 150th anniversary of the publication of “The Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin.  Philidelphia is celebrating the anniversary by having a “year of evolution.”  It looks like a wide variety of pro-science organizations and museums are participating, including the Academy of Natural Sciences, the Philly zoo, and many local museums.  Here is a list of the scheduled festivities.  I hope other cities around the nation and around the world will join in the fun.

Of course these events could not go on without the people at the Discovery Institute taking notice.  Anika Smith wrote a post entitled its Anno Darwini in Philadelphia.  In this post, Smith of course has to turn these celebrations into an anti-religious witch hunt:

It’s the final quote in the story that sounds an ominous note for dissenters from Darwin: “We will try to find ways of persuading people that it’s not in conflict with their faith,” Dr. Brown said.  Since the pro-evolution-only lobby ignores the scientific evidence that doesn’t support Darwin’s theory, they’ve decided to address what they can afford to acknowledge as a problem for many people: Darwinian evolution conflicts with their religious beliefs.

Just a couple things.  Darwinian evolution only conflicts with a small sect of religion: fundamentalists that take Genesis as literal fact and believe the earth is only 6,000 years old.  But modern geology, archeology, paleontology also all conflict with their religious beliefs.  Also, I have not seen any “scientific evidence that doesn’t support Darwin’s theory”?  All I see from the ID side is ignorance dressed up as complex explanations.