Today is the 5th Anniversary of Kitzmiller Trial

On December 20th, 2005, Judge John E. Jones III, ruled that it was unconstitutional to read a statement that discredits evolutionary theory and barred the teaching of intelligent design there.  This was the first, but probably not last, trial that involved the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution.

Its hard to believe that it has only been 5 years since the details and motives of the Intelligent Design (ID) movement were brought out to the public in a public trial.  We learned from staunch ID supporter Michael Behe that there are no peer reviewed published articles supporting ID.  We learned how the Discovery Institute’s”wedge document” essentially points to the idea that ID was brought up as a way to replace the scientific method with “a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions”  We also saw how the book in question, Of Pandas and People,  had earlier versions where they simply replaced the word “creation” with “intelligent design.”  Of course there was more damming evidence against the ID proponents in the trial, but these three facts alone provide sufficient evidence that intelligent design is not science and should never be taught in the classroom.

Intelligent Design does not make predictions and is not science.

Since it has been so long since I last wrote a blog post, I thought that I ease back into blogging by attacking the lowest of the low hanging fruit from the Discovery Institute. Namely, the argument that Intelligent Design (ID) is real science.

Recently, Casey Luskin wrote a post discussing how ID proponents test their theory in real world situations.  Luskin provides a short list of four items (is that the most he could come up with?) that are supposed predictions of ID.  Lets take them one at a time:

(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. Life has already been seen to have “intricate patterns that perform specific functions.”  In fact, isn’t the complexity of life what made people believe ID in the first place?

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

It is rare to find any facet of an organism that doesn’t already have a precursor, let alone “large amounts of novel information.”  The prediction of ID should state that there will only be the instant appearance of new structures. Any evidence for a slow, gradual development of a structure would refute ID and prove evolution.  For example, you might see a fully formed tetrapod without any precursors if ID was true.  However, we see in the fossil record myriad examples of transitional forms from fish to tetrapod (Tiktaalik, Panderichthys, etc.).

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

This prediction seems odd to me. Convergence is a prediction of evolution. Take for example the convergence of the ability to fly. Evolution would predict that different organisms would gain the ability to fly, but they would achieve this ability by slightly different methods.  Luskin is predicting that structures would be re-used by different organisms.  Why do all wings look so different? Does a fly’s wing resemble a bird’s or a bat’s? Not at all.

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

4) “Much?” Luskin should have said “all.” if we are to believe in intelligent design.  Why waste even a single nucleotide if you were to design an organism’s DNA? This sort of ambiguity is what makes these predictions worthless.

I think it is clear to see that the predictions put forth by Luskin are basically worthless for providing support that ID is real science.  What do you expect when you can give the “designer” any attribute, power, or foresight that you desire?

Another point against Intelligent Design: blurry lines of design

In reading some of the older posts from the Evolution News and Views blog, I came across a short post by Casey Luskin explaining that there is some wiggle room to what was and wasn’t designed in the Intelligent Design (ID) theory.

Luskin writes:

Of course anyone with a cursory knowledge of ID would be aware that ID fully allows for the action of natural processes, and design is only invoked when we find tell-tale signs of intelligent action, such as high levels of complex and specified information.

At the surface, this seems like a perfectly reasonable statement that makes ID sound as though it is a well-defined theory.  However, this view of intelligent design leaves a lot of leeway.  How complex and specified does it really have to be to be considered ‘designed’?  Since these are arbitrary values, one could never really separate two objects or organisms and say one is designed and one isn’t.  This sort non-measurable attributes makes ID not science.  However, it does give an ID proponent a way out when something is demonstrably nature driven.   All they have to say is that the designer didn’t design that, but now look over here…

Intelligent Design more focused on politics than science?

It has been awhile since I have delved into the ideas coming out of the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News and Views blog.  When I visited it last night, I was shocked bemused at how much the focus of the blog was on global warming.  I decided to count how many articles were focused on global warming (which has absolutely nothing to do with evolution).  I came up with this little chart of the blog’s topics:

ENVs post topics from 12/9/2009

The chart is very telling on the state of affairs of the Intelligent Design (ID) movement.   First, there is not one single post showing any evidence for ID.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it is always nice to point out.  Second, most of the posts were focused on something that is not even related to evolution or ID: global warming.  Together with the prevalence of the immorality of believing in evolution, I think it is clear that the ID movement is more political / philosophical than it is focused on science and the determination of reality.  Just another reason why the whole idea is pseudoscience.

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.

Signature in the Cell pre-review

Stephen Meyer has a new book out on Intelligent Design (ID) called Signature in the Cell. Although I have not read the book, I am going to offer a “pre-review” of the book based on what I know of it and Stephen Meyer. You can download an excerpt of the book here.

To sum up the argument of the book, at least in this excerpt, it is an argument from personal disbelief.  He looks at organisms and thinks “there is no way this happened on its own.  There must have been a designer!”  Meyer will surely make the same tired and evidence-less arguments of ID proponents:  Look how perfectly put together the cell is.  Evil Darwinists have been wrong before!

The title, Signature in the Cell, says a lot more than Meyer wants.  He uses the word “signature”  Doesn’t signature imply that there is some unmistakable sign we can observe?  However, none has been found yet.  Maybe this could lead to an ID hypothesis:

The designer would have left an unmistakable mark in cells that has no other function than to provide information about the designer

If such a hypothesis gets evidence to support it, then I think you have a lot of evolutionists onboard.  I will patiently await this evidence.  Currently unexplained phenomena are not evidence.

In the excerpt of the book, I take issue with some of the ideas that Meyer is conveying, but he does get one thing right:

the appearance of design in living things has been understood by most biologists to be an illusion—a powerfully suggestive illusion, but an illusion nonetheless. As Crick himself put it thirty-five years after he and Watson discerned the structure of DNA, biologists must “constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved.”

This sort of putting biases and preconceptions aside is part of biology and all of science.  One typical example is the personification (anthropomorphizing) of microbes or even chemical reactions.  Or what about relativity or even quantum mechanics?  Scientists have to constantly guard against human biases and heuristics in order to find out what is really going on .

This is exactly why science depends on testable hypotheses.  This is why experiments have to be reproduced.  This is exactly why there are statistics.  This is why scientists carry out “blind” experiments whenever possible.  When these things are ignored, science turns into pseudoscience.  Meyer using this weakness of human thinking as an argument for intelligent design is ridiculous.

Perhaps I will read the book and offer a real review in the future, but don’t hold your breath.   Until real evidence appears in high caliber peer-reviewed journals, ID should be thought of and treated like pseudoscience.

Did Darwin make faulty predictions on evolution?

David Klinghoffer has been interviewing Intelligent Design (ID) proponent and Discovery Institute fellow, Cornelius Hunter. They discuss Hunter’s new website, Darwin’s Predictions. The idea of the website is to illustrate how some of Darwin’s predictions have turned up false.

Before we get into the interview, let’s review a few of Darwin’s predictions and see how they fared:

As can be clearly seen by these overarching predictions, Darwin got a lot right.  In fact, he got enough right that any subsequent theory needs to take into account his basic premises.  Unfortunately, many ID proponents choose to ignore these proven ideas in favor of the smaller, more complex details that have yet to be proven.  Details which have not been worked out yet or might not ever be due to the constantly changing earth.  That is exactly what Hunter is doing with his website.  He is actually exploiting the process of science, which involves bad predictions and failed ideas, to illustrate his point.  Therefore, not much stock should be put into these so-called failed predictions.

So, Hunter’s premise is flawed, but let’s go ahead and get into a few examples of what Hunter is calling Darwin’s failed predictions.  One example is where Hunter describes the similarity of the squid eye and the mammalian eye as being a failed Darwin prediction:

dramatic similarities are sometimes found in otherwise distant species. The eye of the squid and the human, for example, are incredibly similar. Such design convergence is rampant in biology, in spite of the evolutionary expectation.

In such a situation, evolutionary theory predicts that they have common ancestor with genes necessary for basic eye development and the final shape will be a result of subsequent modifications.  This doesn’t seem like a failed prediction to me.

Anyway, are the eyes of squid and mammals really that similar?  So similar that they preclude an evolutionary origin?  On the surface, they do seem very similar, but when you delve deeper, the differences become clear and obvious. The most obvious is that the mammalian eyes have the light sensing layers of the retinal inverted compared to the squid eye.  Furthermore, the two eyes develop completely differently with the squid eye arising from a series of invaginations, while the mammalian eye forms from cell signaling.  Besides, how else are you going to make an effective eye?

Another example that Hunter gives of Darwin’s failed prediction comes from the relatedness of very conserved genes:

the finding of long stretches of identical DNA in distant species is a good one. Evolutionists have worked hard to figure out how this could be

Did I miss something? When did conserved stretches of DNA falsify evolution? Of course Hunter is really talking about how they are too conserved to be explained by evolutionary theory.  Since this is the exception rather than the rule, I don’t see how this is a failed prediction.

His next example:

Then there is the evolution of contradictory behavior patterns, such as altruism. Evolution has undergone a big makeover in the past fifty years in trying to explain such behaviors.

Altruism is pretty straight forward.  A social group of organisms helping each other out will survive longer than those that don’t.  Plus, there is also the punishment of those that don’t play by the societies rules.  You can even see altruism in one of the simplest of organisms, Dictyostelium. Some of these amoeba actually kill themselves so that others will be able to live.

These examples that Hunter provided are not very convincing.  None of them really falsify evolutionary theory.  They do show how some ideas of evolution were wrong, but they don’t come anywhere near falsifying the theory.

Since I have been on a roll of calling out the Discovery Institute for its hypocrisy, I might as well end up with another example. At one point, Klinghoffer says:

Darwinists are compelled to mold their interpretations of data to match the preconceived theory.

This comes from the same group that says that once wrote:

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.

Besides, not all evolutionists are atheists. Far from it.  Ever heard of Ken Miller?