Abusing Science

Number 54 of a series

Discovery Institute to the rescue again. Whenever I need a story about abuse of science I know I can always find one coming from this creationist organization. Their Evolution News site is a wealth of material. Here I can always count on something fresh. By “fresh” I mean stale. A lot of this stuff I have seen in a previous life spent writing about young Earth creationism.

Truth be told, I subscribe to their newsletter. A recent issue pointed me to a video titled “Is Homology Evidence for Evolution?” It’s short, and it is aimed at children. The idea of religious zealots is to inoculate young minds in order to ensure a ready feed stock for adult propagandizing. It’s a touchy-feely form of child abuse. I watched it through twice and obtained some screen shots for illustration.

This video attacks biological evolution by going after the concept of homology. Briefly, homology, the study of like forms, got people to thinking about evolution thousands of years ago. The idea is it appears humans share structures of like form with other animals.

And here is what is so ironic. The Intelligent Design advocates largely accept common ancestry. Jon Buell heads up the Foundation for Thought and Ethics (see following), and the late Philip Johnson is considered the godfather of the modern Intelligent Design movement. In a conversation in March 1994 both agreed they believed in common ancestry.

Despite what you will be told in the video, homology is evidence of evolution and also common ancestry. Young minds enjoying this piece of propaganda are supposed to get the idea homology is the linchpin holding evolution together and, further, they will be informed that homology is debunked.

Whales, people, and dogs enjoy five-digit appendages.

But, what is the proper interpretation? Is it common descent, or is it evidence of a common designer? This is the point where the video first hints at Intelligent Design.

The video illustrates with the Corvette—a classic American sports car. If you follow the evolution of the car’s design from its origins to today’s model, you will see it morph through several stages.

But this is not due to Corvette models’ common ancestry. It is due to the car’s common manufacturer, the American Motors Corporation.

Here the video is being disingenuous. The story of the Corvette relates descent with modification. Homology relates existing organisms according to their common features. Machines are products of human enterprise and do not undergo the evolutionary process that living things did. Although still not pertinent, a more proper illustration would have been to compare the modern bicycle with the 2020 model of the Corvette. Thousands of years ago people got the idea that wheels would facilitate transportation, and a result is both the bicycle and the Corvette have wheels.

At this point, the video gets to the matter of cytochrome C.

We have seen that before. From the item linked above:

It reflects an argument used by a young Earth creationist in an attempt to debunk homology, and evolution. The argument goes like this:

  • You compare the amino acid sequence of cytochrome C in modern organisms.
  • You note the differences do not reflect a progression from “least developed,” e.g., a carp, to “most developed,” e.g., a horse.

The image is derived from one on page 38 of the creationist text Of Pandas and People, second edition. The book was produced by the Richardson, Texas, Foundation for Thought and Ethics. Creationists attempted unsuccessfully to introduce the book into the science curriculum of the Plano, Texas, public schools in 1995. A similar attempt with the Dover, Pennsylvania, school district culminated with the 2005 case Kitzmiller, v. Dover Board of Education. The creationists lost “bigly” then, and a lot of the Discovery Institute’s propaganda thrust since has been in response to this loss.

Here is another illustration from page 37 the Pandas book.

This illustrates how little the Intelligent Design argument has progressed in its attempt to distance itself from the dismal science of young Earth creationism. The difference in cytochrome C sequences reflects not development from ancient to modern, but the development since the most recent common ancestor. The difference between human and wheat and the difference between human and dogfish are nearly the same, because their most recent common ancestor marked the branching between plant life and animal life.

The video entertains us with more of this. And it moves on to cytochrome D, which I have not studied.

The video characterizes the involvement of homology in the theory of evolution as a circular argument. Evolution implies homology, which implies evolution.

Abuse of science has not much grown up since the Bible-thumping days of the Scopes Trial.

Abusing Science

Number 52 of a series

This column is ordinarily devoted to matters of science and the abuse of same. Here an exception is being made. There is abuse of philosophy, as well, and of thinking, in general. I found this on the creationist Web site Evolution News.

C.S. Lewis and the Argument from Reason

For those who don’t know, Jay Richards is the co-author with Guillermo Gonzalez of The Privileged Planet. Here is more from the site:

Editor’s Note: In celebrating the release of the new documentary film “C.S. Lewis and Intelligent Design” and commemorating Lewis’s life this month, the 50th year since his death, we have been publishing excerpts from CSC associate director Dr. John West’s book The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society. The following is from Dr. Jay Richards’s chapter, “Mastering the Vernacular.”

To see Lewis’s genius, I’d like to focus on one of his best-known arguments — often called the “argument from reason.” The purpose of the argument is to show that naturalism and reason are incompatible, that believing in naturalism is self-defeating. That is, if naturalism is true, then we ought not to trust our capacity for reason, and so, ought not to trust arguments in favor of naturalism.

Philosopher Victor Reppert describes the argument (and several versions he develops from Lewis’s original) as “beginning with the insistence that certain things must be true of us as human beings in order to ensure the soundness of the kinds of claims we make on behalf of our reasoning.”1 This argument gained attention when Lewis proposed it in the first edition of Miracles. Philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe critiqued the original formulation of the argument, so Lewis corrected it in a subsequent edition of Miracles.2 It is this revised version of his argument that millions of readers have encountered. (He also discusses the argument in some lesser-known articles published in Christian Reflections and God in the Dock.)

So naturalism is the belief that nature is all there is, and the supernatural does not exist. The article makes numerous references to “reason” and “reasoning” but never gives an adequate definition of
“reason,” never adequately explaining what it is. I will, in this vacuum, state that reason is the employment of logical inference, doing, as we all do, defining one term by invoking other terms.

Here is a further excerpt:

It is in this context that Lewis takes up the so-called “cardinal difficulty of naturalism.” Naturalists in Lewis’s day were very much like naturalists in our day. They normally imagine that their philosophy is the result of sound reasoning and solid evidence, and assume non-naturalists are ignorant and irrational. Lewis argues quite the opposite: naturalism is not compatible with knowledge and the reliability of reason.

By “naturalists” we might think “scientists.” The crux of the argument appears to be that scientists rely almost exclusively on reason, to which argument I object. The outstanding feature of science is observation and the testing of theories (explanations). The matter of observation pretty much rules out the existence of miracles (the supernatural), leaving only the natural. Hence, naturalism.

Richards writes:

Naturalists, like everyone else, generally trust their reason to lead them to truth. We all take it for granted that we can learn about the world around us through our senses. We experience heat and sound and color and other people. We somehow synthesize and take account of these things with our mind. From these experiences we make inferences about the world: “We infer evolution from fossils: we infer the existence of our own brains from what we find inside the skulls of other creatures like ourselves in the dissecting room.”3

No. Richards misunderstands science profoundly. Evolution does not stand on inference alone. Evolution is proposed as an explanation (a theory) to explain observations. Science works to determine whether any parts of the theory contradict observed facts. Lacking disqualification, evolution continues to stand. In contrast, creationism (the supernatural), while explaining the facts, adds an unnecessary feature—a feature that cannot be verified except by using it to explain that which it proposes. C.S. Lewis notwithstanding, you cannot invoke the supernatural to justify the existence of the supernatural.

Readers are invited to read the complete Jay Richards article. Post your comments.

Abusing Science

Number 49 of a series

My Facebook timeline gets pinged regularly by the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. The organization is this country’s—perhaps the worlds’—premier promoter of Intelligent Design, a rejuvenation of biblical creationism. To make it clear, the CSC wants us to know there is a supernatural cause behind the origin of the universe and all life on this planet. I capitalize Intelligent Design, since it is standard English to capitalize the names of religions.

Michael Behe is “professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University.” Intelligent Design has a long history, and its resurgence is in response to the failure of biblical literalism to legitimize creationism. Intelligent Design advocates want to convince us nature in general and life in particular are too well configured to have natural origins. Some intelligent force must be at work. Hint: advocated make scant secret this intelligent force is the God of Abraham.

Lacking demonstrable evidence for an intelligent designer, proponents scratched about for arguments to boost their assertions. In 1996 Professor Behe published Darwin’s Black Box. The book seeks to convince readers that step-wise mutations in a genome, a key component of Darwinian evolution, cannot produce ever more elaborate organisms. Behe has since published The Edge of Evolution and more recently Darwin Devolves. I have the Kindle edition and started reading it a few days ago. By page 39 it became apparent Behe had yet to make an argument based solely on fact. What I have seen so far is, at the base, a plea for the reader to believe. Some excerpts will illustrate. In his Introduction Behe lays out his premise:

Yet despite the long and varied history of discourse, discourse, all particular positions on the topic can be considered to be elaborations on either of just two general mutually exclusive views: (1) contemporary nature, including people, is an accident; and (2) contemporary nature, especially people, is largely intended—the product of a preexisting reasoning mind.

I will argue in this book that recent progress in our understanding of the molecular foundation of life decisively supports the latter view. To help frame the issues we’ll consider later, let’s first briefly recall a few highlights of what earlier writers thought about nature and purpose.

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (pp. 1-2). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Talking about Anaxagoras, he explains:

His student Diogenes of Apollonia was even more explicit: “Without an intelligence it would not be possible that the substance of things should be so distributed as to keep all [nature] within due measure.”

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 2). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Reference to ancient Greek philosophers is enlightening, but ultimately a scientific argument will need to come down to some hard science. Before there is any science, we will hear more from ancient philosophers:

Galen concluded that the human body is the result of a “supremely intelligent and powerful divine Craftsman,” that is, “the result of intelligent design.”2

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (pp. 2-3). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

William Paley, writing over 200 years ago, brought Intelligent Design into modern society.

Several decades later, the Anglican clergyman William Paley, ignoring Hume and drawing on sophisticated work in biology, presented the watchmaker argument (discussed in Chapter 3)—widely considered to be the strongest, most detailed case for design up until his day.

About sixty years later Charles Darwin parried Paley’s argument. He proposed that there was a hitherto unrecognized natural process that, over a very long time, could imitate the results of purposeful design—namely, natural selection acting on random variation.

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 4). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Behe, as do proponents of today, pits Charles Darwin against the concept of Intelligent Design. If you study the modern creationist through a few of their writings you will conclude a principle aim is to associate natural causes with Darwin and to refer back to his thinking in arguing against them. What a careful reader should recognize in considering these arguments is a simple observation. The evidence for evolution by natural causes does not hang on Charles Darwin. Darwin, working in a time when evidence was scant, produced some naive concepts. Modern studies have overridden many of Darwin’s ideas and have at the same time reinforced the conclusion that natural processes are sufficient to explain biological evolution. A key factor of real science is that you can toss out all previous research and start fresh, ultimately coming to the same conclusions. Religious concepts are not like that. If you toss out the Bible you cannot reproduce the God of Abraham. Jehovah is the creation of ancient minds and no real evidence will ever reproduce the concept.

Behe argues advances in the human intellect further enable the argument for Intelligent Design.

Recall, however, that the state of the design argument depends on our understanding of science and logic, which has accelerated explosively since Darwin’s day. The development of analytical philosophy in the early twentieth century encouraged much more rigorous arguments; advances in formal logic and probability theory, such as Bayes’ theorem, made that easier.3

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 4). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

For those not familiar with it, Bayes’ theorem relates to conditional probabilities. What is the probability this is true given that is true. Hopefully we will see Bayes’ theorem invoked later in the book.

Alfred Russel Wallace came up with the idea of natural selection about the same time as Darwin, and they coordinated their publications in 1858. Behe remarks:

Wallace thought that much of nature showed strong evidence of purpose, as he forcefully conveyed in The World of Life: A Manifestation of Creative Power, Directive Mind and Ultimate Purpose.4

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 5). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

A key argument for Intelligent Design consists of the assertion things had to be just in order for us to be here talking about it.

desolate. Subsequent progress concluded that it’s not just our world—the physics and chemistry of the whole universe is astonishingly fine-tuned for intelligent life on earth.6

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 5). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Behe explains the origins of his thinking about irreducible complexity by recounting a conversation with a fellow academic.

Talk turned to the origin of life. Although she and I were both happy to think life started by natural laws, we kept bumping up against problems. I pointed out that to get the first cell, you’d first need a membrane. “And proteins,” she added. “And metabolism,” said I. “And a genetic code,” said she. After a short time we both looked wide-eyed at each other and simultaneously shouted, “Naaaahh!” Then we laughed and went back to work, as if it didn’t really matter to our views. I suppose we both thought that, even if we didn’t know how undirected nature could begin life, somebody must know. That’s the impressive power of groupthink.

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 7). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

With the beginnings of Behe’s thinking on the matter we also see the beginnings of his misdirection. Life we see today is founded on cells, as Behe describes. His mistake is in concluding the chain of life must have always involved cells. Or perhaps not. Behe may agree life chemistry at one time was not based on cells, but he exposes the lack of an explanation of how early life chemistry produced the first cells. Here he exposes a great hole in human knowledge, and into this void he drops the notion of an intelligent designer, specifically the God of Abraham.

Behe pursued Michael Denton’s Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. He recalls his reaction.

I got mad. Over the following months I spent much time in the science library trying to find papers or books that explained in real detail how random mutation and selection could produce the exceedingly intricate systems routinely studied by biochemistry.

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 8). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Pause for a moment. Michael Behe has written a book seeking to debunk natural causes behind evolution and to reinforce belief in an intelligent designer. We would hope to see logic and reason employed. Even evidence. What we see are arguments from emotion. He got mad. That is neither a scientific nor a logical argument. It is meant to tug at the reader’s inner beliefs.

Behe begins his assault on the science community’s acceptance of natural causes.

At that point I concluded that I had been led to believe in Darwin’s theory not because of strong evidence for it. Rather, it was for sociological reasons—that simply was the way educated people were expected to think these days. My professors hadn’t been intentionally misleading—that was the framework in which they thought about life too. But from then on I resolved to decide for myself what the evidence showed.

When one starts to treat Darwinism as a hypothesis about the biochemical level of life rather than as an assumption, it takes about ten minutes to conclude it’s radically inadequate. It takes perhaps another ten minutes to realize that the molecular foundation of life was designed, and for effectively the same reason that Anaxagoras, Galen, and Paley reached the same conclusion for visible levels of biology (although, because of progress in science and philosophy, the argument is now necessarily much more detailed and nuanced than their versions): the signature of intelligent activity is the arrangement of disparate parts to fulfill some purpose. The molecular parts of the cell are elegantly arranged to fulfill many subsidiary purposes that must blend together in service of the large overall purpose of forming life. As we’ll see in this book, no unintelligent, undirected process—neither Darwin’s mechanism nor any other—can account for that.

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (pp. 8-9). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Please forgive the extended excerpt, but it is necessary to lay out in some detail Behe’s chain of thinking.

We begin to get some insight into the other than rational motivations behind the Intelligent Design movement. As additional information channels opened he exchanged thoughts with like-minded academics.

Like me, most had religious convictions, which freed them from the crippling assumption that—no matter what the evidence showed—unintelligent forces simply must be responsible for the elegance of life. Some of us banded together under the auspices of the Seattle-based think tank Discovery Institute, the better to defend and advance the topic of intelligent design (ID), to which we had become dedicated.

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 9). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Key here—religious convictions freed these people from a crippling assumption—that assumption being the reliance on natural explanations. If you are of another mind you are beginning to see Behe and others have entered the world of superstition and magic. This is a world apart from any definition of real science.

Behe foresees and heads off a critical counter move of the rationalists.

(One common confusion of critics is to think that ID argues everything is planned. That’s not the case. Chance is an important, if superficial, feature of biology.)

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 9). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Yes, proponents are careful to not lay everything onto supernatural causes. At this point I will caution rationalists who seek to debate Intelligent Design. Do not fall into the trap that “intelligent” ad employed  by the creationists, means “smart.” Do not point toward all the dumb things found in the design of living organisms. The creationists use “intelligence” to mean “information,” particularly information from a supernatural source. This information is not guaranteed to produce joyful results.

Not all of what Behe writes is strictly factual.

After DNA and proteins were discovered in the late twentieth century…

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 10). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Proteins began to be studied in the 18th century.

 

As science rapidly advanced in the early twenty-first century, large studies showed only surprisingly minor changes in genes under severe selective pressure. And as we’ll see in this book, now several decades into the twenty-first century, ever more sophisticated studies demonstrate that, ironically, random mutation and natural selection are in fact fiercely devolutionary. It turns out that mutation easily breaks or degrades genes, which, counterintuitively, can sometimes help an organism to survive, so the damaged genes are hastily spread by natural selection. Strangely, in the space of a century and a half Darwinism has gone from the chief candidate for the explanation of life to a known threat to life’s long-term integrity.

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 10). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Here is going to be a principal argument in the book. Behe agrees evolution does take place. He will not agree with the principle that natural processes can produce “improvement.” He will argue natural processes, “Darwinism,” can only eliminate improvement. I put “improvement” in quotes, because much of Behe’s argument consists of his claiming what is and what is not “improvement.”

He initiates discussion of improvement with the example of polar bears. Polar bears are the largest land carnivores, and some examination has revealed they are closely related to the North American brown bear, the grizzly bear, and the Kodiak bear. It is considered the polar bear derived from an ancestral brown bear, giving up its brown color for a coat of white fur. The white fur is obviously a benefit to a bear living almost entirely on white ice and snow. We like to think this is Darwinian evolution in action.

Not so, according to Michael Behe.

Although Charles Darwin didn’t mention them in his 1859 masterwork, On the Origin of Species, the polar bear is a wonderful illustration of his theory of evolution by random variation and natural selection. Like other examples Darwin did cite, the giant predator is clearly related to a species that occupies an adjacent geographical area, while just as clearly differing from it in a number of inherited traits. It is easy to envision how the polar bear’s ancestors might gradually have colonized and adapted to a new environment. Over many generations the lineage could have become lighter in color (making the bears less and less visible to their prey in snowy environments), more resistant to the cold, and more adapted to the sources of food in the Arctic, a process in which each step offered a survival advantage over the previous one.

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 16). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Only several years ago—only after laboratory techniques were invented that could reliably track changes in species at the level of genes and DNA—was the genetic heritage of the Arctic predator laid bare. The results have turned the idea of evolution topsy-turvy.

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 16). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

There are two significant genetic differences between polar bears and brown bears, the other being accommodation for a fat-rich diet. Polar bears eat a lot of seals. But I will illustrate with Behe’s comments on pigmentation (or lack of) of polar bears.

A second highly selected gene, LYST, is associated with pigmentation, and changes in it are probably responsible for the blanching of the ancestors’ brown fur. Computer analysis of the multiple mutations of the gene showed that they too were almost certainly damaging to its function. In fact, of all the mutations in the seventeen genes that were most highly selected, about half were predicted to damage the function of the respective coded proteins. Furthermore, since most altered genes bore several mutations, only three to six (depending on the method of estimation) out of seventeen genes were free of degrading changes.2 Put differently, 65 to 83 percent of helpful, positively selected genes are estimated to have suffered at least one damaging mutation.

It seems, then, that the magnificent Ursus maritimus has adjusted to its harsh environment mainly by degrading genes that its ancestors already possessed. Despite its impressive abilities, rather than evolving, it has adapted predominantly by devolving. What that portends for our conception of evolution is the principal topic of this book.

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 17). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

And that is it. Behe, throughout much of his work at refuting natural causes, points to mutations which turn out to be beneficial to an organism are in reality the destruction of a genetic trait that was likely hard-gained, supposedly by supernatural processes.

And I will rest discussion of this point until such time I review the entire book, and I will turn to a minor point the modern creationists continually ignore. What is the evidence of a supernatural intelligence at work? By what means does a transcendental entity that exists outside time and space effect changes in a genome? If natural causes are insufficient to produce beneficial mutations, mutations that will stick? Does this transcendental entity develop material fingers, which fingers need to exist within time and space, that reach into natural chemical processes and produce just the required mutation that will be beneficial to an organism?

Take special note. Michael Behe believes in evolution. He concedes populations have evolved and that modern species have origins stretching back millions of years.

For example, the ideas that life has changed over time and that organisms are related by common descent (both of which were controversial in Darwin’s time) are supported by evidence from geology, paleontology, and comparative anatomy. Those parts of his theory have withstood the test of time very well.

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 19). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Seeming without justification, Behe makes a bold claim.

Darwin’s proposed mechanism of evolution is more widely questioned today than at any time since the role of DNA in life was discovered.

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 19). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

At one point he lays bare a critical drive of the creationists.

Building a solid foundation for understanding that data does require some work. But it brings the substantial reward of a much better appreciation for the place of humanity, and indeed of all life, in the universe. At a minimum, we need a grasp of the outlines of the history of biology, the strengths and weaknesses of Darwin’s theory and modern extensions of it, the latest pertinent research results, and crucial philosophical topics. All of that this book will provide in a way that aims to be accessible to the general reading public. The book’s goal is to give readers the scientific and other information needed to confidently conclude for themselves that life was purposely designed.

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 20). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

I have put in bold a phrase pushed by those who want to challenge purely natural causes in public education. Creationists have (for the moment) given up on teaching creationism or even eliminating the teaching of Darwinian evolution. We see introduced in state legislatures laws that promote teaching the controversy and teaching the strengths and weaknesses. Behe indicates his alignment with these maneuvers.

The book’s goal is to give readers the scientific and other information needed to confidently conclude for themselves that life was purposely designed.

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 20). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

And I will close it down with that. I promise to finish reading the book, and a review will come within a few weeks.

Abusing Science

Number 47 of a series

I apologize if it appears I keep dragging on the Discovery Institute for stories about abuse of science, but fact is these people are a gold mine of cases. The push for their narrative against natural causes is relentless. To the end I tap into this resource, I receive almost daily updates. Here is from an email in November:

Dear John:

If you listen to the media, you’d think that science has refuted God, the debate over Darwin is closed, the solution to the origin of life is right around the corner, and humans are no more significant than cockroaches.

If you are as sick of this kind of fake news as I am, read on: There is a solution—and you can be a part of it. The solution is called Evolution News and Science Today.

Discovery Institute started this news outlet back in 2004 to counter all the fake news in the debate over intelligent design. Since then, the audience for Evolution News has grown from a few thousand to more than a million users a year. In fact, according to Google, Evolution News is on track to reach 1.7 million users by the end of 2019. That’s right: Not 1,700. Not 17,000. But 1.7 million.

Our growing readership gets unique reporting and analysis from Discovery Institute Fellows like biochemist Michael Behe, philosopher Steve Meyer, astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez, biologists Jonathan Wells and Ann Gauger, paleontologist Günter Bechly, and many more.

Darwinists absolutely hate Evolution News. Why? Because they know we have an impact! Remember how Yale computer scientist David Gelernter gave up his faith in Darwin earlier this year? One book that influenced his change of mind was Debating Darwin’s Doubt. Many of the chapters in that book were originally published as articles on Evolution News.

Whenever the media or scientific establishment spreads phony information about evolution, we spring into action.

For example, when the journal Science went after Michael Behe’s blockbuster book Darwin Devolves this year with a sham review, Mike and our other scientists were able to use Evolution News to utterly demolish the journal’s bogus claims.

All told, we publish 800+ articles a year, and we even produce an edition in Spanish, translated for us by a courageous university student in Central America.

We want to continue Evolution News (EN) and expand its impact. You can be a part of our efforts by generously supporting EN now.

And it closes with an appeal for donations. You will have surmised I did not contribute.

Some points are worth examination: “If you listen to the media, you’d think that science has refuted God…” The fact is, if you give the matter some serious thought the concept of God is refuted. Lacking any physical evidence, the concept of a transcendental being outside the realm of time and space must rely on philosophical arguments. Creationists will posit the need for an intelligent designer meets the requirement for a scientific basis, but that is turned on its head and exposed as a philosophical argument. The creationists must justify the existence of a transcendental being that has the inclination to create the universe and all these people. To be sure, that line of reasoning is going nowhere.

How about, “…and humans are no more significant than cockroaches.” Amazing! This is an argument that is sure to get you an A on a Philosophy 101 mid-term. Just kidding, of course. From where do these creationists get the idea this conclusion follows? I am guessing what is involved here is not a stab at logical proof but is an appeal to the reader’s preconceived notions. We are dealing with emotions here, and reason be damned.

I will not dissect the entire note, but I will close with a comment on this paragraph: “For example, when the journal Science went after Michael Behe’s blockbuster book Darwin Devolves this year with a sham review, Mike and our other scientists were able to use Evolution News to utterly demolish the journal’s bogus claims.” Full disclosure: I purchased the Behe book and have started using excerpts in rebuttal to CSC’s propaganda campaign. See a previous posting on “The Years of Living Stupidly.”

Also note the Discovery Institute has tuned up the title for their Intelligent Design site. It is now Evolution News & Science. You will be seeing a bunch more here about the fresh surge from the CSC.

The Years of Living Stupidly

Number 14 in a series

Back like 30 years ago Frank Harrold and Ray Eve at the University of Texas at Arlington published research into matters such as religious belief and political affiliation. One point they noted was a strong correlation between religious belief and political conservatism. Conservatives tended to hold belief in biblical inerrancy. That biblical inerrancy defies known science stands out, because there are sincerely religious people who accept scientific findings regarding evolution and the origin of the Earth.

The young Earth creationists, who believe this planet is barely 6000 years old, lost heavily in court cases beginning 40 years ago, and the argument for the scientific validity of creationism shifted to a new breed. These new creationists often concede the age of the Earth and even the common origin of existent species. However, their political affiliation remains strongly linked to conservatism. What is worse, the new creationists appear to be picking up the rhetoric of the worst of today’s conservative block. They are beginning to adopt the language of Donald Trump. Specifically, they now find it useful to employ the term “fake news” when confronted with evidence adverse to their views. A recent item from the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News site illustrates:

Drive Darwinists Nuts with This One Solution to Fake News

John G. West November 19, 2019, 4:15 AM

If you listen to the media, you’d think that science has refuted God, the debate over Darwin is closed, the solution to the origin of life is right around the corner, and humans are no more significant than cockroaches.

If you are as sick of this kind of fake news as I am, I have good news. There is a solution, and you can be a part of it.

The solution is this site — Evolution News & Science Today.

You need to read through this posting by John West. John G. West “is a Senior Fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute (DI), and Associate Director and Vice President for Public Policy and Legal Affairs of its Center for Science and Culture (CSC), which serves as the main hub of the Intelligent design movement.”

It’s hard to miss that the modern creationists have latched onto the alt-right play book. From scant months ago the language has shifted noticeably. In this post West employs the combative style of the current President. He writes:

For example, when the journal Science went after Michael Behe’s blockbuster book Darwin Devolves this year with a sham review, Mike and our other scientists were able to use Evolution News to utterly demolish the journal’s bogus claims.

The gloves are clearly off. All pretense of sincere debate has evaporated. Science and those who espouse it are now the enemy, deplorable to the core.

The reference to the Science review is page 590 of the 7 February 2019 issue:

The end of evolution?

A biochemist’s crusade to overturn evolution misrepresents theory and ignores evidence

By Nathan H. Lents, S. Joshua Swamidass, Richard E. Lenski

West takes a strict adversarial approach, relying upon others for the language of science. He holds a Ph.D. in government and a bachelor’s degree in journalism, and in his most recent post he alludes to the demolition of the Science critique. A search of items posted to Evolution News showes something posted by West four days after the Science critique appeared:

Darwinists Devolve: Review by Swamidass, Lenski, and Lents Borders on Fraud

John G. West February 11, 2019, 11:04 AMJoshua Swamidass, Richard Lenski, and Nathan Lents have published a review in the journal Science critiquing biochemist Michael Behe’s forthcoming book Darwin Devolves. I found their review utterly convincing — although probably not in the way they might hope.

Some background: When I became involved in the intelligent design (ID) movement more than two decades ago, a key reason was because I was intrigued by the scientists who thought they were finding discernible evidence throughout nature of intelligent design. I didn’t know whether these scientists were correct. But I definitely wanted them to have the freedom to articulate their views in the public square without retribution. And I wanted to see how the debate played out.

Attaching the label “fraud” to the Science review requires some heavy lifting. Read West’s entire posting. A pertinent section appears to be this:

The authors first claim that Behe “fails to mention Kenneth Miller’s simple, elegant scheme” for the “stepwise evolution” of the blood-clotting cascade, clearly leaving the impression that Behe hasn’t responded to Miller anywhere, not just in his new book.

The authors not only claim that Behe fails to mention Miller’s scheme, they flat out assert that Behe fails to mention it. Here is the pertinent text from Science:

Behe also ignores the fact that some of his prior arguments have been dismantled (2). He includes a lengthy appendix that argues that the blood-clotting cascade is irreducibly complex, for example, but fails to mention

Kenneth Miller’s simple, elegant scheme for its stepwise evolution (3) or the fact that a progenitor fibrinogen gene has been discovered in echinoderms (4).

Apparently it is up to the reader to jump to the conclusion the authors intended to leave the impression Behe has never responded. For the record, a search of Darwin Devolves finds “Miller” mentioned three times. One time is this:

The paper made a splash. The news blog of the very prestigious journal Science reported the results and asked a few big names for comment. The eminent Michael Lynch (discussed in Chapter 4) remarked that “complexity builds out of simplicity, and [the work of Liu and Ochman] is a well-documented argument for how that can happen.” Brown University cell biologist Kenneth Miller chimed in, “The researchers clearly show these genes were derived from one another through gene duplication.”9

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 291). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

The other two times are in end notes and references. As with ambition, fraud should be made of sterner stuff. The man doth protest too much, methinks.

From first appearances, John West is making arguments against Behe’s critics which amount to so much propaganda. It is the wave of the new conservatism. It is the promise of the coming years of living stupidly.

Nondeterministic Reasoning

Deep Knowledge, Broken Logic

I don’t remember what got me onto this book. Likely something posted on Facebook. Anyhow, I was on a long flight and got around to finishing the Kindle edition. It’s Does the Atom Have a Designer, and it’s by a knowledgeable physicist by the name of Lakhi Goenka. He has a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Texas at Austin. Full disclosure: I attended that place of learning, but I only obtained a B.S. in engineering. Anyhow, Goenka’s degree field is fluid dynamics, not necessarily related to the subject of the book. That said, before anybody can get a Ph.D. in physics from UT Austin they have to learn a lot of advanced stuff, and the author exhibits deep knowledge of atomic physics.

The problem with the book is not so much the science, which to my mind seems solid. What should concern the serious reader are the logical conclusions the authors draws from the science. I speak of his understanding of the science from the viewpoint of a person who took a graduate course in quantum mechanics and obtained a grade of B for my effort.

This is a short book—88 pages, including an appendix with references. I highlighted interesting passages, and I will print a few excerpts and post some comment. Start with this.

The Why Questions related to the Atom are discussed in depth using Aristotle’s four causes.  The question: “Does your kitchen table have a Designer?” does not require a scientific or a mathematical explanation.

Goenka, Lakhi. Does the Atom Have A Designer? (p. 9). eThermal, LLC. Kindle Edition.

This is from a synopsis at the beginning, and yes, Geonka will invoke Aristotle’s four causes:

  1. Material cause: “that out of which a thing comes-to-be and which persists is said to be a cause, for example, the bronze is a cause of a statue, the silver is a cause of a bowl, and the genera of these [is also a cause].”
  2. Formal cause: “the form or paradigm, and this is the formula of the essence … and the parts that are in the formula.”
  3. Efficient cause: “the primary starting point from which change or rest originates; for example, someone who has given advice is a cause, the father [is a cause] of a child, and in general what does [is a cause] of what is done and what alters something [is a cause] of what is altered.”
  4. Final cause: “[something may be called a cause] in the sense of an end (telos), namely, what something is for; for example, health [is a cause] of walking.”

The author first gives us a lesson in some fundamental principles. The atom is the basic material entity apparent to people. All the material stuff in our lives is made from atoms, and some very basic physics determines the relationships involving the very lowest physical entities. Nobody knows why. These things just act this way. All physicists can do is to figure out how these entities interact and then explain it to others. Quite often the way the basic particles work together can provide us with ideas as to how to exploit these interactions to make science work wonders for us. For example, the so-called Bose quantum principle gave us the idea we could use the effect to build electrical switches operating on Bose statistics, and the result was solid state physics and the transistor and miniature computers and also smart phones.

There are also photons, which are Bose (named after Satyendra Nath Bose) particles. Bose-Einstein statistics is a quantum mechanical concept developed by Bose and Albert Einstein. Photons are unlike fermions, particles that exhibit Fermi statistics and named after Enrico Fermi, who developed the concept and headed up the team that produced the first controlled nuclear fission chain reaction. The difference between bosons (Bose particles) and fermions is that fermions cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Fermi statistics is the principle that prevents all matter from collapsing into a single point in space. Bosons can pass through each other with ease, typically without interacting, and bosons can pass through matter.

Anyhow, the foregoing discussion is not included in the book, but I added it because it will be good to know when reading the remainder of this review.

The author quickly gets to the point of the book, that point being the existence of God.

The commonly cited objection “Then who designed the Designer?” is also addressed in the book.  The controversial and unverified Multiverse Hypothesis, often used against a Design argument, is also discussed.

And yes, your kitchen table does have a Designer.

(Note that this is an argument based on Design, and not on fine tuning.)

Goenka, Lakhi. Does the Atom Have A Designer? (p. 10). eThermal, LLC. Kindle Edition.

Goenka adds this last bit to assure us his is not a recap of a book titled The Privileged Planet, by creationists Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards. That book has been previously reviewed. The Gonzalez-Richards book is all about fine tuning as evidence for a creator.But this book is one long argument for the existence of a creator, and Goenka is not shy on this point. He starts this way:

Even the simplest of atoms, Hydrogen and Helium, consist of numerous subatomic particles such as quarks, gluons, and leptons that interact together in complex ways.  These subatomic particles represent a fine balance of forces, have special quantum properties, interact together in complex ways, follow complex laws, and obey multiple rules of order, all to ultimately provide function.  Atoms don’t simply follow laws—they provide function.  Atoms are a fundamental system of parts (subatomic particles) that dynamically interact together to provide multiple levels of functionality.

Goenka, Lakhi. Does the Atom Have A Designer? (p. 15). eThermal, LLC. Kindle Edition.

And gets around to this:

And while many things may be unfathomable to us in this world, including in Physics, we can at least show that our Universe does have a Designer.  This would perhaps be the case even in the unlikely event that the controversial Multiverse Hypothesis was someday experimentally validated.

So what do theologians mean by God?  The belief in a Creator God is well supported by the Big Bang Theory, which postulates that Space, Time and Matter all came into being temporally out of nothing right at the Big Bang.  God, who always existed outside of our Space and Time, created the Universe.

Goenka, Lakhi. Does the Atom Have A Designer? (pp. 78-79). eThermal, LLC. Kindle Edition.

He hangs his argument on the ex nihilo concept of the origin of the universe. Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss deals extensively with this in his book A Universe from Nothing, previously reviewed. As I understand the concept, there was nothing. No matter. No space. No time. Then there was something. First explain how that came to be. Worse still, explain why.

To explain how, you have to stipulate conditions prior to the origin of the universe. Cosmologists make a go at that. No scientist attempts the why. Goenka wants to explain why. Or possibly he does not. His explanation is God. He ultimately gets around to making this disclaimer:

Note that while the Atom points to a Creator, it does not necessarily point to any particular religious belief (such as the belief in a Personal God).  However, it does serve to reinforce the concept of God.

Goenka, Lakhi. Does the Atom Have A Designer? (p. 82). eThermal, LLC. Kindle Edition.

There is little doubt Goenka is a creationist. You do not have to invoke Genesis to be a creationist. The term applies to anybody who stipulates non-natural causes—especially a sentient being—behind the creation. From his background we can sleep securely believing Goenka is a creationist of the first kind—a creationist who believes all this is the work of the God of Abraham.

Taking that into account, where does Goenka’s argument take him? It does not take him to the divinity of Christ (Jesus). Winning the argument that a sentient being created the universe does not logically lead to that entity being the God of Abraham. That concept will always remain in the realm of mythology. The goal of creationists on this point is to convince others of the existence of a creator, for from that point it is easier to move the uninitiated to belief in the divinity.

I will not recap Goenka’s reasoning, but he argues the intricacy of the relationship between fundamental particles is such that no accident of nature can account for their all this. One way to look at this reasoning is to realize it is founded on thinking which arises in the universe under discussion. The argument is an attempt to take everyday observations and even deeply technical observations, and work them into a basis for explaining something that does not exist within our ability to observe. My analogy is clumsy to the extreme, but I liken this to an attempt to peel an apple using a ball peen hammer. We can explain, for example, fire, by invoking chemical and physical principles we have discovered by clever means, but we reach a point where we will be unable to make explanations which are compatible with things we observe.

The concept of a god creator is the god is an transcendental entity that exists outside time and space. Since time and space are what scientists have to work with, they are not going to make much headway explaining transcendental entities. Such things have to be imagined, or not even that. They may have to be supposed and nothing more.

Science failing to explain everything, the theologians feel free to jump in. The problem with theological explanations is that they generally boil down to speculation and nothing more. At the upper end of theological explanations are some argued philosophically. Philosophy is a powerful tool, giving us the means by which we move from observation to unforeseen conclusions. When philosophy is employed to move from supposition to conclusion it serves only to provide a smokescreen to an abuse of the intellect.

Goenka addresses the question concerning who or what created the creator:

In order to answer such questions, we first need to clarify what we mean by “God.” If God is just another one of the causes within the system of causes that science explains, then we would need to search for a cause for God as well. But if God is something fundamentally different from the created order (what theologians call “transcendent”), then our demand for a cause of God’s being is confused and misapplied.

Goenka, Lakhi. Does the Atom Have A Designer? (p. 67). eThermal, LLC. Kindle Edition.

A popular notion, held by the unsophisticated faithful, is that the God of Abraham, having nothing better to do, decided to create the universe and people, as well. I don’t hold to this God business, so it is difficult for me to imagine the thinking of such people. I have supposed they imagine God doing the creation as a hobby, such as somebody building a model ship. When much thought is applied, this becomes a difficult sell. Logically I would not suppose a being that exists outside time and space would have much interest in hobbies or even serious construction projects. Those are human activities (beavers, as well). The argument that a sentient, transcendental entity decided to create the universe does not have a sound philosophical basis.

At a higher lever, consider that God is not a sentient entity. God could then be a set of basic principles, unknown and possibly unknowable to us. The universe is a consequence of these principles. This answers the question put by the creationists: “From whence came the intelligence (information) to construct the universe as we know it?”

This interpretation takes investigation of the origin of the universe out of the hands of the theologians, and it is not going to get much support among that crowd.

In order to answer such questions, we first need to clarify what we mean by “God.” If God is just another one of the causes within the system of causes that science explains, then we would need to search for a cause for God as well. But if God is something fundamentally different from the created order (what theologians call “transcendent”), then our demand for a cause of God’s being is confused and misapplied.

God is not just the explanation for the beginning of the universe, but for the existence of anything at all—whether past, present, or future.  These things are contingent; that is to say, they don’t have to exist, and so because they do exist, we are right to ask for the causes of their existence. But theologians have understood God to be a necessary being. Asking for a cause of a necessary being is like asking how much the color blue weighs — it is a category mistake.

Goenka, Lakhi. Does the Atom Have A Designer? (p. 67). eThermal, LLC. Kindle Edition.

Yes, I’m not buying much of that, and you should not either.

I don’t make this stuff up.

Number 15 of the series

 

Thanks to the world’s creationists I don’t have to make a bunch of stuff up. When it comes to making stuff up, these people stand head and shoulders above your average fool and liar. Take the example of Minnesota school board chairwoman Sue Kern. This from DeadState:

MN public school board chairwoman: Evolution is outdated because ‘it was discovered in the 1800s’

Before this goes any further I need to tip my hat to the creationists on this one. I mean, this evolution stuff was invented in the 19th century, and that was back when people didn’t know nothing, so why are we still using it and not replacing it with some 20th century (21st century?) concepts? I’m telling you this. After reading that bit of wisdom I immediately threw over all pre-conceived notions I had about human origins and wrapped myself around the truth of creations. Well, not so fast.

Then I remembered Benjamin Franklin formulated a concept of what electricity is back in the 18th century, and we are still using it. And it’s already the 21st century. Wait, some more. I realized the concept of creationism was laid out back in the negative 9th century, so it is long due for an overhaul. Maybe Kern needs to rethink her argument. Not going to happen.

“Never been proven.” Amazing! Let’s look at some other things that have never been proven:

  • Somebody created everything about 6022 years ago in a record-breaking six days.
  • Somebody got pissed off at the human species and flooded the entire planet, killing everybody except for a family of eight. All the animals, too.
  • A guy got crossways with the Roman government about 2000 years ago, and they strung him up to bleed to death and then took the body down after which the guy’s body was stuck into a cave from which the guy extricated himself and walked and talked among others for 40 days before launching himself into outer space. Not an ounce of proof has ever been offered.

Anyhow, Kern needs to wise up and get a grip on what is common practice with proving things. I recall rule number one is don’t go around making stuff up.

Abusing Science

Number 42 of a series

Discovery Institute to the rescue again. Here is something recent from their Evolution News site:

Walnuts: Intelligent Design in a Nutshell — Literally

Evolution News @DiscoveryCSC

September 19, 2019, 4:46 AM

Thank you to Paul Nelson who points out a paper in Advanced Science that is both nutty and not nutty at the same time — nutty, because it concerns walnuts; not nutty, because there is nothing silly or unintelligent about the way walnut shells are designed.

“The outer protective shells of nuts can have remarkable toughness and strength,” say Sebastian Antreich and six others in the paper. Considering that walnuts are widespread and commercially important, they decided to look at the nuts in detail. They found a unique architecture in the shell called “interlocked packing” that resembles a 3-D puzzle.

Follow the link. Read the entire post, which concludes with:

The stately English walnut trees with their thick, white trunks provide another unusual benefit to man: furniture and fine art. Some walnut trees respond to mold or insect infestations at ground level by growing thick, dark “burls” around the site of injury, surrounded by tough bark. Walnut burl wood, with its deep red color and complex swirled grain, is highly prized for making coffee tables, guitar inlays, gun stocks, jewelry and other artistic creations. Some burl items can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. Walnut trees are good for the economy!

So what’s not to love about walnut trees? They provide nutrition, art, exercise, shade, lumber, and now another benefit: a biomimetic model for materials science. Like the Moringa tree discussed in an earlier post, some plants seem to give much more than they take to for mere survival. It fits with the ID view that a designer had the Foresight to equip the world with good resources that would be needed and appreciated by the most exceptional beings of all: humans. A friend of Evolution News grew up on a ranch with a walnut grove and supplied the wonderful accompanying photos. Enjoy!

I may be wrong, but I suspect the conclusion the writer wishes to leave is there is a benevolent, transcendental being who loves us and wants us to be happy. For some people, this is science.

Abusing Science

Number 41 of a series

Once again I have the Discovery Institute to thank. They are a source that never falters. Here is the latest from their Evolution News site:

Physics Nobel Prize Invites Snark from the Anti-ID Peanut Gallery

David Klinghoffer | @d_klinghoffer

October 9, 2019, 5:00 AM

Congratulations to Princeton cosmologist James Peebles, who shares the Nobel Prize this year for physics. His work, as the Wall Street Journal summarizes, “developed precise models of cosmic creation, transforming cosmology ‘from speculation to science,’ the [Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences] said.” A frequent if not obsessive ID antagonist, Kevin Williamson, seizes upon this as an occasion for a swipe at intelligent design and a put-down directed at all those rubes (presumably including subscribers and readers of the magazine where he writes, National Review) who would seriously entertain the idea.

I will leave it to readers to decipher that passage, and I will get to the meat.

The Irony, Please?

Yet, insofar as Peebles’s work helped to strengthen the evidence for a cosmic beginning, it is actually part of the argument for intelligent design made by, among others, philosopher of science Stephen Meyer in his next book, The Return of the God Hypothesis. As Meyer and fellow ID proponents have shown, a starting point to physical existence, which is what the Big Bang represents, is among the most persuasive evidences against a materialist perspective on reality. Taken together with the remarkable fine-tuning data, it suggests a purposeful cause operating intelligently outside nature, responsible for creation. That is why materialists resisted it until the gathering evidence, developed in Peebles’s field, made it impossible for them to do so any longer.

I have no idea what view Professor Peebles takes on these grander ramifications. But as another Nobel Prize-winning physicist, the late Charles Townes, put it, “Intelligent design, as one sees it from a scientific point of view, seems to be quite real.” Nor is he alone. Physicist Brian Josephson, another Nobelist, says he is “80 percent” confident that intelligent design is correct. As the odds go, that’s not bad. How about giving the snark a little rest, Williamson?

For more on intelligent design and the arguments from cosmology, see Episode 4 of Science Uprising:

What I find most stunning is this snippet of text: “Yet, insofar as Peebles’s work helped to strengthen the evidence for a cosmic beginning, it is actually part of the argument for intelligent design made by, among others, philosopher of science Stephen Meyer in his next book, The Return of the God Hypothesis.” The awful truth is any notion that the output of Stephen Meyer is in the same league with that of James Peebles is pure fantasy. While Peebles spent decades observing the cosmos and applying mathematical analysis and reasoned insight, Meyer has dedicated the past two decades to convincing others the universe and all life resulted from the musings of a transcendental being. The ultimate insult is having somebody such as Stephen Meyer attempt to hitchhike on the work of real scientists.

If the term “peanut gallery” puzzles you, then Google is your answer.

Bat Shit Crazy

Number 14 in a Series

There is crazy, and there is bat shit crazy. Take, for example, former candidate for president Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.

Michele Marie Bachmann ( née Amble; born April 6, 1956) is an American politician and a member of the Republican Party. She represented Minnesota’s 6th congressional district in the United States House of Representatives from 2007 to 2015. The district includes St. Cloud and several of the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities.

Get past, for a moment, her being a member of the Tea Party movement and a founder of the House Tea Party Caucus, Bachmann brings bat shit crazy to a new level.

Bachmann: Climate Change Is A Hoax Because God Promised No More Floods

Former Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann appeared on Jan Markell’s “Understanding The Times” radio program last weekend, where she urged pastors to start preaching the “truth” from their pulpits that climate change represents no threat to humanity because God said in the Bible, after Noah’s flood, that he would never again destroy the world with water.

Bachmann said that in her capacity as “pastor to the United Nations,” she has met with dozens of ambassadors “and every single one of them talk[s] about climate change.”

“I would encourage pastors to start preaching on this issue of climate change and God’s view of climate change,” Bachmann said. “The very covenant was established by God and Noah. And that covenant was that sin was so gross in the world that God had to bring about judgment, and then he had to bring about salvation, and from there came Abraham. God put a rainbow in the sky as a sign of his covenant and he said very clearly to the entire world, ‘Never again will there be judgment, never again will the world be flooded.’”

“You can take it to the bank, that’s God’s word,” she added. “And what is it these frauds tells us with climate change? That the world’s going to be flooded. Isn’t it interesting they’re saying it’s going to be another catastrophe, it’s flooding, we’re going to be flooded? God says we will never be flooded.”

Just so we have it straight:

  • There is a magical person in the sky.
  • This person flooded out the entire world, killing all but eight people a few thousand years ago.
  • This person said it wouldn’t happen again.
  • The science behind global warming is a hoax.

Yes, that about wraps it up. This is what we call “bat shit crazy chrome plated.”

Abusing Science

Number 39 of a series

The National Center for Science Education is the premier organization in this country working to counter science disinformation in public education. They publish a quarterly journal Reports of the National Center for Science Education. A prominent section in each issue is titled “Updates,” and it details legislative action and activities in public schools. Here are some excerpts of note:

CONNECTICUT
Connecticut’s House Bill 5955 would have
“eliminate[d] climate change materials” from the
Next Generation Science Standards as used in
Connecticut, describing climate change as “a
controversial area of information,” while House Bill
5922 would have rescinded Connecticut’s adoption of the NGSS altogether. Both bills were sponsored by John E. Piscopo (R–District 76), who has a
record of introducing legislation and working with
organizations, including the Heartland Institute, that
dispute anthropogenic climate change; both died in
committee in March 2019.

FLORIDA
Florida’s Senate Bill 330 would have
required “[c]ontroversial theories and concepts”
discussed in science standards “[to] be taught in
a factual, objective, and balanced manner.” Although
there was no indication in the bill about which “theories
and concepts” are deemed to be “controversial,” much
less any guidance about adjudicating disputes about
which are and which are not, the bill’s sole sponsor,
Dennis Baxley (R–District 12), has a history of antievolution
advocacy. SB 330 died in committee in May 2019.

IOWA
Iowa’s House File 61 would have required the state department of education not to “adopt, approve, or require implementation of the [N]ext [G]eneration [S]cience [S]tandards
by school districts and accredited nonpublic schools.” Iowa
adopted the NGSS in 2015. In a 2016 interview, the bill’s
sponsor, Skyler Wheeler (R–District 4), declared, “I also
oppose NGSS as it pushes climate change … NGSS also
pushes evolution even more.” The bill died in committee in
March 2019.

LOUISIANA, BOSSIER PARISH
A settlement was reached on January 22, 2019, in Does
v. Bossier Parish School Board, a case before the United
States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.
The school system was accused of promoting religious
beliefs, including by tolerating teachers “reportedly …
praising creationism in class and attempting to discredit
the scientific theory of evolution.” Americans United for
Separation of Church and State, representing the anonymous plaintiffs, described the settlement as “a huge win.”

There are additional items reported in the article, and the phrase, “would have” appears frequently. Legislation detrimental to the teaching of valid science has been killed in committee or by vote in the full chamber. That is not always the case. From local news reporting:

Board retains Moses in Texas social studies curriculum

The State Board of Education on Wednesday tentatively approved keeping a reference to Moses in the state’s social studies curriculum despite recommendations from one of its working groups to remove the biblical prophet.

High school students will continue to learn in government class that Moses, along with William Blackstone, John Locke, and Charles de Montesquieu, were among those who influenced the U.S. founding documents. The Republican-led board voted along party lines to keep Moses in the curriculum, with board Chairwoman Donna Bahorich, R-Houston, abstaining although she has indicated her support of retaining Moses in the past.

Yes, William Blackstone, John Locke, and Charles de Montesquieu will be listed as those who inspired the writing of the United States Constitution. And so will Moses. There is a problem here. Blackstone, Locke, and de Montesquieu were real people. Moses was not. The most benevolent historical assessment of Moses is that he is a figure concocted by tribal leaders in the Eastern Mediterranean region about 3000 years ago. Introducing a mythical figure into the serious study of history appears on the first hand to be an act of high idiocy. A more reliable historical figure would be Popeye the Sailor, of whose origins we know much more.

In addition to being a product of somebody’s imagination, Moses would be a poor inspiration for a democratic society. Significant wording stands out:

20 And God spake all these words, saying,

I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:

10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:

Item 2 above is definitely problematic in that it runs counter to actual history. Moses did not bring anybody out of Egypt. Particularly Moses did not bring the Hebrews out of Egypt, since the Hebrews never were in Egypt to be brought out. Students being taught otherwise are being indoctrinated in some bad science.

Item 3 requires only the god of Abraham be appreciated. The Constitution in its original form contained, and still does, a clause prohibiting a religious oath as a requirement for holding public office. That was a starter. In 1791 the First Amendment was added, ensuring free expression of religion. That should have meant Moses needed to take his place in line with all other mythical figures of religious origin, and Moses should definitely not be given a place alongside Blackstone, Locke, and de Montesquieu—real people.

Number 4 definitely has problems with a free society. This, from Moses, would prohibit most forms of personal expression. Freedom of speech would be in a lot of trouble.

Number 5 indicates the United States government, also known as the citizens of the United States of America, should not be the supreme law. Were we to follow this musing of Moses, courts would need to check a copy of the King James version before handing down sentences.

Skipping over number 6, number 7 has serious issues. Freedom of speech is definitely at odds with number 7.

A lot of people are going to be in serious trouble if item 8 begins to be taken seriously by our government. In fact, it was taken seriously for a time. Sunday closing laws, then known as “blue laws,” had the intent of enforcing this command from Moses.

Items 9 and 10 are again an affront to a free society. If you want to see government oppression in its baldest form, witness a government that tells people when they can work and when they must not.

If history is to be taught as a rigorous study, then the Texas Legislature is an affront to serious science.

Abusing Science

Number 36 of a series

Once again I need to post an item on the topic of Abusing Science, and once again I turn to that reliable source, the creationists of Discovery Institute. Here is something directed to me from their Center for Science and Culture. The email service arrives regularly and is titled “Nota Bene.” Make what you want of the title, but here is a link from the email:

WHY CAN’T MONKEYS TYPING FOREVER PRODUCE SHAKESPEARE?

Before communication can begin, there must be an intention to communicate

BY RUSS WHITE ON SEPTEMBER 10, 2019

If you give an infinite number of monkeys typewriters and allow them to type freely, will they eventually produce the works of Shakespeare? Call this the infinite monkey theorem (IMT), widely attributed to Thomas Henry Huxley (1825–1895), best remembered today as “Darwin’s Bulldog” for his defense of Darwin’s theory of evolution. In 2000, a tongue-in-cheek “protocol” for such an experiment was developed. Independently, in 2003, enterprising researchers gave a group of monkeys keyboards, in what they were willing to discuss as a test of the theory:

It is a shopworn challenge, and it centers on the random mutation aspect of Darwinian evolution. How, creationist argue, can a random process using finite resources produce well-crafted organisms? Richard Dawkins addresses the argument in his book, The Blind Watchmaker.

The resemblance of a cloud to a weasel is only mildly diverting, barely worth calling to the attention of our companion. Moreover, we are quite likely to change our mind about exactly what the cloud most resembles.

Hamlet. Do you see yonder cloud that’s almost in shape of a camel?

Polonius. By the mass, and ’tis like a camel, indeed.

Hamlet. Methinks it is like a weasel.

Polonius. It is backed like a weasel.

Dawkins, Richard. The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design (pp. 65-66). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

Dawkins discusses how random permutation of a sequence of letters can eventually form Shakespeare’s line, “Methinks it is like a weasel.” He produced a computer simulation that did exactly that. However, his process incorporates a selection mechanism as required by Darwinian evolution. Dawkins’ process permutes letters in the initial string until a letter fits the required pattern, then the process stops permuting that letter and continues with the rest. In short order the process produces “Methinks it is like a weasel.”

Of course, nature does not act this way. Nature is likely to continue permuting a letter that already fits the expected pattern. Besides, nature does not have an expected pattern as a goal. And that is a thing that bothers the creationists. There must be a goal, or else Darwinian evolution cannot work. It is inside that goal Intelligent Design lives. The “intelligent” part of Intelligent Design has nothing to do with smarts. It’s all about goals. Goals are fed into the process from an external source—a source of intelligence.

And that gets us the the crucial part of White’s thesis. After some lead-up he gets around to:

These issues speak to intent. It is not enough to form symbols; it is not enough to form words; it is not enough to form sentences. Before communication can begin, there must be an intention to communicate which results in the creation of dictionaries and grammars which interact with one another and are often layered in complex ways. Intent, then, is a critical component of communication.

At this point I need to call a halt to a serious misconception by White and others seeking to use information theory to argue against Darwinian evolution. There is a basic misunderstanding of what communication is. I state without authority the following:

  • At the base level information is the entity that mediates cause and effect.
  • At the base level communication is a manifestation of cause and effect.

All higher levels of communication we experience—talking person to person, watching a game on TV—they all distill down to the bullets above. Further justification on request.

White writes, “Before communication can begin, there must be an intention to communicate…,”  and he says this without justification. He wants to construe communication in the same sense as people talking on a telephone, where intent is an ingredient. Intent is not a requisite for communication. But what is intent, and does it exist?

Stating without authority, intent is a feature of living organisms, and it is particularly a feature of animal life forms. Animal life forms move about and do things, and their actions are driven by intent. Let that be the working definition of intent.

Where does intent come from? We are born with it. Without it most animal forms would quickly perish and would not reproduce. Darwinian evolution has produced intent on this planet. Some elaboration.

A baby mammal is born. If it is born without the intent of seeking its mother’s nipple, then it will not live to reproduce. Animal life is driven by goals, the substance of intent. The animal is hungry. The animal seeks food. The animal (often without much thought) seeks to reproduce. Intent is essential to the promulgation of a species.

But whence intent? On this planet before there was life there was no intent. Creationists want to argue there was intent, and, further, that intent came from a transcendental being that exists outside space and time. You can see I am making a bunch of this stuff up.

Ultimately White’s argument appears to go nowhere. He concludes:

Neither of these approaches, however, will ultimately work — real communication requires intent, not only in the communication itself but even in the creation of the shared framework (dictionaries and grammars) in which communication takes place. Ultimately, then, thinking through the IMT shows us that artificial intelligence cannot produce the works of Shakespeare. There can be an illusion of intent but the original intent required to communicate just is not there.

He says much, but tells us nothing. What we are observing is a horrendous abuse of science.

Abusing Science

Number 33 of a series

Resuming after taking four weeks off.

Abuse of science has long been, and remains, pernicious in modern society. Few sources exceed creationism in the practice.  The Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture is a mother lode if abuse of science is what interests you. I receive their mailings, giving me front row access. Here is something recent:

A Scientific Method for Design Detection

These are innovations known to be the product of human activity—human intelligence. He will come around to equating marvelous natural traits to results of an intelligent process. He states, “A unique property of intelligent minds is the ability to produce statistically significant levels of functional information as defined in the literature.” There is enough vagueness in that statement to allow the imagination to roam. He introduces “functional information” and links to papers by Jack Szostak, with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and by Robert M. Hazen, et al., published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The critical wording Durstan may want his readers to come away with is in the first paper by Szostak:

The information content of biopolymers is usually thought of in terms of the amount of information required to specify a unique sequence or structure. This viewpoint derives from classical information theory, which does not consider the meaning of a message, defining the information content of a string of symbols as simply that required to specify, store or transmit the string. Thus, the unannotated human genome sequence can be encoded in a 750-megabyte file, but this could be greatly reduced in size by the application of standard data-compression techniques to account for internal repetitions.

If Durstan is attempting to get across that there is a lot of functional information in a genome, then his point is well-made. But Durstan and other Intelligent Design proponents want you to know this information cannot come by accident, by natural processes alone. There must be an unseen and supernatural source for this information, and an intelligent source is implied.

Pause for a moment to dissect the term “intelligent.” Opponents of Intelligent Design point to some really stupid designs as evidence there was no intelligent designer at work here. They misconstrue the creationists’ use of the term. By “intelligent” they do not mean the designer is smart. They mean the intelligent designer has prior knowledge that will be imparted to the design. They mean the intelligent designer has purpose, intent.

Done with that, we get to Durstan’s critical point. How do we determine an intelligent agent is at work?

  • Step One: Evaluate the level of functional information required to produce the effect.
  • Step Two: Determine if the level of functional information is statistically significant.
  • Step Three: If it is statistically significant, then we can infer that intelligence was required to produce the effect.

Intelligent Design people will insist Darwinian processes cannot account for the degree of functional information in life forms. There are two key points they will advocate.

  • The principle of Kolmogorov complexity applies. Kolmogorov complexity is a real and valid concept. In brief it states you can’t get more out of a process than you put in. The existence of elaborate and novel feature is compelling evidence an outside source of information is at work.
  • Darwinian processes are inadequate to produce elaborate and novel features. You can’t get a lot of good stuff by shaking a box full of random parts and allowing things to assemble accidentally.

Durstan denies his is the “God of the gaps” argument. To wit, “We don’t know how it could have happened, so it must be God did it.”

The scientific method I presented above is obviously devoid of such a premise. We actually know what can produce functional information — intelligence. It is an observable fact. We do it all the time whenever we send a text, write an essay, or build something. It is the only empirically verified option that science has today; other scenarios still remain in the category of unverified science fiction. Functional information is a positive indicator or “fingerprint” of an intelligent mind.

It is impressive that in the foregoing he appears to present his argument at proof: “We actually know what can produce functional information — intelligence.” If he is saying that only intelligence can produce functional information, then his argument is thoroughly circular. This is something that needs to be proved, and it is also something that is yet to be proved.

Durstan next exhibits the astronomical probabilities required for the accidental production of essential molecules of life, and he concludes:

The markers (fingerprints) of an intelligent mind are all over the genomes of life. Life tests positive for intelligent design when we utilize the scientific method outlined above. We can conclude, therefore, that DNA is intelligently designed.

For this to be an argument with a scientific basis an essential ingredient is required and is also lacking. How? By what process did the intelligent designer do this work? Real scientists are concerned with how things work. No good scientific theory (explanation) is complete without some proposed mechanism, excepting perhaps quantum mechanics. Durstan talks of improbable protein sequences. An intelligent source is required to achieve the critical form. So how does the designer ensure the proper sequence? Molecules are waiting to be formed into the essential protein. The proper form will not be achieved if nothing is done. Does the designer reach down with magical hands and stick the molecules together in the proper sequence? Inquiring minds want to know. This has all the markings of a God in the gaps argument.

Abusing Science

Number 32 of a series

The propaganda campaign against naturalistic explanations continues relentlessly from the Discovery Institute. David Klinghoffer has been getting a lot of air time on their Evolution News Web site. Here is something recent:

On the Origin of Life, Science Uprising Helps Break a Poisonous Spell

If you follow the news, you’ve seen countless headlines like this: “Amazing Discovery May Hold Key to Origins of Life,” “Found: The Origin of Life,” “Scientists May Have Found the Chemical Compound That Started Life,” and on and on. Michael Egnor wrote about just such a story here yesterday.

The origin of life is the deepest mystery imaginable and it sounds like scientists have it all figured out. Or just about. The new episode of Science Uprising, “Origin of Life: Intelligence Required,” firebombs that persistent and influential myth, advanced by scientists themselves and their media helpers. It does so in just seven devastating minutes.

“We See the Human Soul”

It’s crucial to materialism to believe that blind, natural processes alone could have blundered about and generated life from dumb chemical predecessors. Whether it happened on our planet or another, all the wonders of the first living cell must have come into existence with no need for intelligent design. Any hint to the contrary threatens to topple a whole of way of thinking about human beings and about all life, that denies any reality beyond the material. “We are not materialists,” says the masked narrator of Episode 5, “We see the human soul”:

There follows a video.
Getting past Klinghoffer’s prologue, we get around to discussing the human soul. Some discussion is in order.

Science is a human endeavor to obtain knowledge by studying things. Science is generally considered to concern itself with material things, but that is a shortsighted assumption. There are non-material things that need studying, and the scientific approach applies to them. Things that are not material would include politics and economics. Things that are not material and not subject to scientific study would include the concepts of beauty, love, mathematics, and grammar. Although the human concepts of beauty and love can be studied through the science of psychology, it is the manifestation that is studied, not the thing. Mathematics and grammar are not subject to scientific study, first because mathematics is a human creation, today defined by a handful of axioms and possessing no additional  information content, and grammar is a human creation that is subject to the whims of people, floating with passing time, and not something ripe for scientific study.

The soul is a human contrivance and is not a physical thing. To argue that the souls exists as an entity that can be studied scientifically is fruitless, since the soul means whatever an individual decides it is. There is nothing to study.

But getting to Klinghoffer’s pitch: any evidence that life did not come about by natural processes would be devastating to our way of thinking about the natural world. The problem is, Discovery Institute propaganda advocating supernatural origins is just that. Words and no evidence.
When the Intelligent Design people decide to cut loose from these specious arguments, we can begin to take them seriously. Not before.

Abusing Science

Number 31 of a series

 

Science receives no more diligent assault than from creationists. The modern creationism has been labeled Intelligent Design, solidly underwritten by the Discovery Institute. The DI Center for Science and Culture propagandizes relentlessly for a supernatural explanation for the universe and the existence of life on this planet. Their Web site, Evolution News, posts a steady stream of argument against natural causes. Here is a recent sample:

“We Hold These Truths”: On Design of the Cosmos, Science Uprising Updates Thomas Jefferson

David Klinghoffer does not seem to have any academic credentials related to science, but Wikipedia notes this:

David Klinghoffer is an Orthodox Jewish author and essayist, and a proponent of intelligent design. He attended Brown University in the eighties. He is a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute, the organization that is the driving force behind the intelligent design movement. He was a frequent contributor to National Review, and a former columnist for the Jewish weekly newspaper The Forward, to which he still contributes occasional essays.

He has this to say in the referenced posting:

On Independence Day, Evolution News traditionally republishes a wonderful post by Stephen Meyer. Dr. Meyer, the author of Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt, explains how the philosophy of human rights enshrined in the Declaration of Independence is grounded in recognizing intelligent design. Regarding the “sources of our rights as citizens”:

Here is a portion of the Stephen C. Meyer quote:

There is one source that is more basic than any other, yet that receives less than the attention it deserves. I refer to the idea that there is an intelligent creator who can be known by reason from nature, a key tenet underlying the Declaration of Independence — as well as, curiously, the modern theory of intelligent design.

The birth of our republic was announced in the Declaration through the pen of Thomas Jefferson. He and the other Founders based their vision on a belief in an intrinsic human dignity, bestowed by virtue of our having been made according to the design and in the image of a purposeful creator.

As Jefferson wrote in the Declaration, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” If we had received our rights only from the government, then the government could justifiably take them away.

And that is so very odd. The idea is, perhaps, to argue science for Intelligent Design, but what Klinghoffer, through Meyer, falls back on is a political statement by the author of the Declaration of Independence. Actually, science is not supposed to work that way. Science works by examining the thing you want to study, in this case the origin of the universe and life on this planet, and base conclusions on what is learned. I may be an amateur scientist, but the statements of a historical figure have no bearing on this field of scientific study.

Klinghoffer continues:

Truths like the ones Jefferson articulated are truths forever, but we need to update the idiom to suit the times. Dr. Meyer’s work, including his upcoming book, The Return of the God Hypothesis, powerfully details the current scientific evidence that supports what Jefferson called the “conviction of design” in biology and cosmology. A serious volume like that is written to nail down the science conclusively. But a related purpose is served, using a different, punchier idiom, by the new Science Uprising series, and in particular Episode 4. At just 8 minutes in length, it’s concise and provocative:

There follows a link to this video.

Abuse of science does not require misstatement of scientific principles. In many cases it boils down to a drumbeat of propagandizing.

Abusing Science

Number 29 of a series

The Discovery Institute continues its campaign to paint Intelligent Design as a valid scientific enterprise. A recent post to their Evolution News site highlights their approach:

Watch: Stephen Meyer Expertly Punctures the Rule of Methodological Naturalism

Following on chemist Marcos Eberlin’s comments yesterday about intelligent design and the definition of science, watch philosopher Stephen Meyer expertly puncture the idea that science requires an approach of methodological naturalism (MN):

[Link to the video]

The rule, as he explains, is arbitrary. True, the designing agent inferred by ID theory is not directly observable, but neither are the elementary particles. Both are inferred. And the so-called demarcation criteria that would exclude ID as science would, if applied consistently, also exclude Darwinian theory. Most fundamentally, MN shuts down on principle what ought to be the goal of all science: objectively seeking the truth about nature, whatever that truth might be.

Particularly galling is the assertion “True, the designing agent inferred by ID theory is not directly observable, but neither are the elementary particles. Both are inferred.” What may not be obvious to David Klinghoffer is that while the “designing agent” is inferred (conjectured, postulated, imagined), elementary particles are not. Not, that is, unless the definition of the word “inferred” has been changed.

The designing agent, although proponents may be reluctant to admit so, is the god of Abraham. There is no physical evidence for the existence of this entity, and no manner of approach for probing its existence has been proposed.

Fundamental particles include protons, neutrons, electrons, muons, and such, and their properties and their presence are routinely studied. These things have mass, and they can do real damage when flung about. The notion that the fundamental particles of physics are on the same level as an imagined transcendental being speaks to the abysmal level of scientific thinking among fans of Intelligent Design. If you want to see abuse of science done so ineptly, here it is.

Abusing Science

Number 28 of a series

The above meme is supposed to be an argument for Intelligent Design, a modern form of creationism. A similar argument is the one that invokes fine tuning:

The Radio at the Edge of the Universe

Some atheists have been crowing lately about the rise of the “nones.” Many of those “nones” aren’t atheists, and the trend toward atheism is greatly exaggerated. But the way many scientific materialists talk, anyone capable of walking while chewing gum must see the “overwhelming evidence” that “God is dead.” 

Wait. That’s just the intro. Here is the meat of Marcos Eberlin’s argument:

Think of a radio dial that needs to be set at precisely the right frequency — “tuned” — to find the desired station. If the universe were a radio and the desired setting allows for life, it would have dozens of dials for setting the values of the universal constants. Muff even a single of these dial settings at the beginning of the universe, by even a tiny bit, and the result is a universe that can never host life. 

Confronted by this, distinguished physicist Fred Hoyle commented, “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.”

Failing to comprehend the circumstances underlying our existence, more so the existence of the Universe, we must fall back on legends perpetrated by Bronze Age tribesmen living on the eastern region of the Mediterranean Sea. I am thinking Eberlin expects too much of me. Here is some background:

Marcos Nogueira Eberlin (born 4 March 1959) is a Brazilian chemist and professor at the Institute of Chemistry of the University of Campinas. He is a member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences and received the Brazilian National Order of Scientific Merit in 2005 and the Thomson Medal in 2016.

Eberlin discovered the Eberlin Reaction during his work on gas phase ion chemistry, and he and his research group introduced EASI (Easy Ambient Sonic-spray Ionization), an ionization technique used in mass spectrometry.

Eberlin is an advocate of intelligent design in Brazil, a pseudoscience on which he also lectures and he has signed the Dissent From Darwinism statement. He is a creationist also, and has said that evolution theory is a fallacy.

There is more. He is the author of Foresight: How the Chemistry of Life Reveals Planning and Purpose. The notion that wacky ideas about science are relegated to back stream advocates such as William Dembski and Stephen C. Meyer needs to be extinguished. Eberlin continues:

But in fact, intelligent design is testable. Also, if the above definition were the proper definition of science, only one worldview would be allowed in science: naturalism. And that biased restriction would mean that evidence of apparent foresight in the universe and life must be ignored or explained away.

He bemoans restricting science to naturalism. The problem is that beyond naturalism we have the supernatural. The supernatural exists in a realm where anything can happen, and by this means anything can be explained by made-up stories. Read his posting.

The Kansas Board of Education has defined science as a human endeavor aimed at explaining the natural world, though they added one sweeping restriction: It can only appeal to natural forces. “Science is restricted to explaining only the natural world, using only natural cause,” the board wrote. “This is because science currently has no tools to test explanations using non-natural (such as supernatural) causes.”

But in fact, intelligent design is testable. Also, if the above definition were the proper definition of science, only one worldview would be allowed in science: naturalism. And that biased restriction would mean that evidence of apparent foresight in the universe and life must be ignored or explained away.

Follow the link to another Evolution New post regarding testability of Intelligent Design. I will cover that in a future item for this series.

Abusing Science

Number 27 of a series

The above image is from an item posted to the Evolution 2.0 site. The page title is “Information Theory and the Trinity.”

Information Theory and the Trinity

Here is a transcription of the Facebook post.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb September 21, 2014

INFORMATION THEORY is the new central discipline. This graph was from 20y ago in the seminal book Cover and Thomas, as the field was starting to be defined. Now Information Theory has been expanded to swallow even more fields.

Born in, of all disciplines, Electrical Engineering, the field has progressively infiltrating probability theory, computer science, statistical physics, data science, gambling theory, ruin problems, complexity, even how one deals with knowledge, epistemology. It defines noise/signal, order/disorder, etc. It studies cellular automata. You can use it in theology (FREE WILL & algorithmic complexity). As I said, it is the MOTHER discipline.

I am certain much of Medicine will naturally grow to be a subset of it, both operationally, and in studying how the human body works: the latter is an information machine. Same with linguistics. Same with political “science”, same with… everything.

I am saying this because I figured out what the long 5th volume of the INCERTO will be. Cannot say now with any precision but it has to do with a variant of entropy as the core natural generator of Antifragility. [Revised to explain that it is not *replacing* other disciplines, just infiltrating them as the point was initially misunderstood…]

And that’s something to digest. You need to read the item, but here is the gist:

All communication systems that we know the origin of are designed. This suggests that consciousness comes first in the universe. Consciousness first, matter second. Not the other way around. (If anyone solves the Evolution 2.0 Prize, and I hope they do, they’ll solve it by starting with consciousness and working from there. My 2 cents.)

You cannot create messages or communication by blind material processes, so far as anyone knows thus far. Information always starts with consciousness. Which is the thesis of my Evolution 2.0 book.

What he is saying—see the diagram above—is that we marvel at the employment of DNA to encode and reproduce life forms, but DNA is merely the telephone line in a communication system. To explain the origin of the message (the structure of novel life forms) you need to invoke outside intelligence.

Perry Marshall is the author of the book and presumably the posting. He wants to stretch the analogy of an information transmission system into the Christian concept of the Trinity. It is a stretch too far.

Abusing Science

Number 25 of a series

Twenty-seven years ago I attended a presentation by health quack Charlotte Gerson. It was an interesting audience. I got into a conversation that came around to homeopathy. Homeopathy, it was explained, works by quantum mechanics. And that was it. Not many people understand quantum mechanics. In fact top physicists remind us that maybe nobody understands quantum mechanics. And that’s the allure. Something this dark and mysterious can be used to explain all manner of questionable proposals. One of these might be transubstantiation.For the uninitiated, transubstantiation is associated with the Eucharist of the Catholic faith. The little wheat wafers, presumably blessed by the church, literally become the body of Christ. How does this work?

According to the Magis Center, quantum mechanics is at the heart. I won’t recap the posting , but the headline catches my attention:

Quantum Mechanics and the Real Presence: What Reality Should We Believe?

After some background we get to the heart of the matter:

First, quantum mechanics is itself a mystery: as the great physicist Richard Feynman remarked, “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.”

Second, the theory gives probabilities for alternative results of experiments, probabilities that are confirmed to a high degree of accuracy (much like actuarial results—one may not know when any given person may die, but one does know that among a large number of 70 year old men, a well-defined percentage will die in the coming year).   Even though quantum mechanics is deterministic in a statistical sense, this probabilistic character bothers many physicists. Einstein himself opposed the probabilistic interpretation of quantum mechanics, insisting that “God does not play dice with the universe.

Third, from the beginning of quantum mechanics, scientists have posited a connection between the conscious mind and the role of the observer in determining quantum mechanical outcomes in experiments. As d’Espagnat puts it, “The doctrine that the world is made up of objects whose existence is independent of human consciousness turns out to be in conflict with quantum mechanics and with facts established by experiment.” The conscious mind of the observer plays a role in making a choice of experiments and what is to be observed.

This last part, “… scientists have posited a connection between the conscious mind and the role of the observer in determining quantum mechanical outcomes in experiments,” is problematic. While it is literally true that observation of an outcome, especially one involving quantum-level activity, does make the outcome irreversible, the notion that the observation must be human is imaginary. A classic case is the thought experiment involving “Schrödinger’s cat.” The experiment goes like this.

Put the cat in a closed box. Nobody can see in. Inside the box is a deadly poison, set to be released by a quantum event, e.g., alpha decay. Did the decay occur? If it did, then the cat is dead. If not, then the cat is alive. But until we open the box (as the protocol describes) the cat is in an undecided state. Until we observe the dead/alive cat, the alpha decay happened/did not happen.

The problem with this description is the requirement for human observation. Until we open the box, we may not know whether the alpha decay happened. But the cat does. Actually, any number of irreversible conditions can remove the alpha decay from the undecided state. The alpha decay happens, the alpha particle exits the nucleus. No matter how many cats are involved, the alpha particle is not going back into the nucleus. The outcome becomes final before any cat dies.

Religious hard cases become distressed at the failure of faith to accomplish anything material, anything of substance. Others perceive what is called science envy. If science can be invoked to substantiate religious conjectures, then wanderers can be coaxed back to the faith. Science is having none of that. The claims of the supernatural posited by religious zealots are never going to pass any sensible evaluation for merit. This kind of stuff is, at its base, an abuse of science.

The Magis Center post references the late French physicist Bernard d’Espagnat, who made contributions to this subject. An item I posted back in my college days commented on the so-called EPR paradox and referenced d’Espagnat’s work. Here is a link to a page that’s all about the mysteries of quantum mechanics. John Gribbin’s book In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat is a comprehensive read on the subject.

Abusing Science

Number 23 of a series

On Sunday, 19 May, Liam Feldman will host a reading/review of Why Intelligent Design Fails by Matt Young and Taner Edis. The meeting will be at Barnes & Noble 321 NW Loop 410 #104 in San Antonio, starting at 3 p.m. Feel free to come out and join the discussion.

With that in mind, the topic of this post is a book by the Discovery Institute, the leading promoter of Intelligent Design. It’s Science and Human Origins, compiled by Ann Gauger, Douglas Axe, and Casey Luskin. They are all associated with the Discovery Institute. From Amazon:

Evidence for a purely Darwinian account of human origins is supposed to be overwhelming. But is it? In this provocative book, three scientists challenge the claim that undirected natural selection is capable of building a human being, critically assess fossil and genetic evidence that human beings share a common ancestor with apes, and debunk recent claims that the human race could not have started from an original couple.

This is an interesting stance for Intelligent Design, because the philosophy was resurrected 30 years ago to pull the creationist movement away from biblical  origins and to disguise it as a science-based endeavor. Intelligent Design and the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture were supposed to acknowledge inescapable science and get people to thinking an unknown creator is behind this science. UC Berkeley law professor (now  retired) Phillip E. Johnson is credited with giving Intelligent Design new life and is considered the godfather of the modern movement. Jon Buell is president of the Richardson, Texas, based Foundation for Thought and Ethics. FTE is publisher of the creationist book Of Pandas and People, made famous in the Kitzmiller court case. Both attended a symposium titled ” Darwinism: Scientific Inference or Philosophical Preference?” at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas, March 26-28, 1992.

It was an opportunity to ask the pivotal question, and I did. Did these two educated men agree the earth is billions of years old and that humans share a common ancestry with other life forms? Both agreed. The ground may have shifted since then, because outpourings from the DI seem to have dropped the facade of scientific literacy. The book that is today’s topic bears that out.

Reviewing books such as this and picking them apart on inconsistencies and obvious wrong facts is a bunch of fun, but I have no experience in the related science, so it’s best if I fall back on others who do. Someone who seems to have given this book a close look is Paul McBride. From a post by Richard P. Hoppe on the Panda’s Thumb site:

Fortunately for me, I’m spared the chore of reading and critiquing the book. Paul McBride, a Ph.D. candidate in vertebrate macroecology/evolution in New Zealand who writes Still Monkeys, bit the bullet and did a chapter by chapter (all five chapters) review of the book. The book doesn’t come out looking good (is anyone surprised?). I’m going to shamelessly piggyback on McBride’s review. I’ll link to his individual chapter reviews, adding some commentary, below the fold.

The book has five chapters, and the one I appear to have found most interesting is chapter 5, “The Science of Adam and Eve.” I am guessing by he title that all pretense of scientific rigor has been discarded. We are back to Genesis with a bang.

My copy of the book is a Kindle edition, and one thing you can do with these is highlight sections of text. I notice I highlighted entire paragraphs when I first went through the book. Here is one section.

Using population genetics, some scientists have argued that there is too much genetic diversity to have passed through a bottleneck of just two individuals. But that turns out not to be true.

Gauger, Ann. Science and Human Origins . Discovery Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Here is another.

Now, I am a scientist, and not a theologian, but I feel obligated to speak. The challenge being posed to two first parents is a scientific one, so it deserves a scientific response. My purpose in this chapter is not to engage in Biblical interpretation or to pass judgment on the various views Christians hold about Adam and Eve. Instead, I propose to focus on the scientific argument and its validity.

Gauger, Ann. Science and Human Origins . Discovery Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

And there it is. Genesis is true, and Adam and Eve were real people, and we all sprang from this single pair.

But wait! Real scientists hold a similar view. Richard Dawkins, no friend of the Bible, agrees that today’s human population sprang from one woman, exact identity unknown.

The second conclusion of the Berkeley group is less controversial. No matter where Mitochondrial Eve lived, they were able to estimate when. It is known how fast mitochondrial DNA evolves; you can therefore put an approximate date on each of the branch points on the tree of divergence of mitochondrial DNA. And the branch point that unites all womankind—the birth date of Mitochondrial Eve—is between a hundred fifty thousand and a quarter of a million years ago.

Dawkins, Richard. River Out of Eden (Science Masters Series) (pp. 52-53). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

The difference is Mitochondrial Eve was not the first woman. Some elementary mathematical analysis will demonstrate to you that, given the branching inherent in sexual reproduction, any two people alive today should be able to trace their lineage back to a point the paths intersect. Dawkins goes further. He uses the rate of mitochondrial mutation to compute an approximate date of our common ancestry, in the female line of descent.

On the matter of common descent, I first noticed a divergence in thinking among the new creationists at a conference in Dallas in November 2003. Ray Bohlin was there, along with creationist Ide Trotter. Bohlin holds a  Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology from the University of Texas at Dallas, and he is also a key person at Probe Ministries in Richardson, Texas:.

Raymond G. Bohlin is Vice President of Vision Outreach with Probe Ministries.

A plenum session gave participants the opportunity to ask questions and to make statements. Ray Bohlin announced to those present he believed all life forms on this planets have a common ancestry. Except humans. People have a different line of descent.

Creationists Ide Trotter and Ray Bohlin in 2003

I yield the remainder of your time to reading Paul McBride’s more thorough examination of this creationist book. Get a copy for yourself if you are interested. It’s a grand exemplar of the abuse of science.