Abusing Science

Number 69 of a series

Philip Kitcher published Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism in 1983. It was one of the things that got me looking into the modern creationist movement about 30 years ago. Back then creationism was a gaggle of table-thumping preachers and some disaffected scientists advocating for biblical literalism. When that ended in disaster following a number of legal challenges the creationists went modern. Law professor Phillip Johnson wrote Darwin on Trial, inspiring a resurgence of the Intelligent Design movement. This movement involved real scientists with real academic credentials, and the notion about the God of Abraham being the creator of everything was covered by a screen of pseudo research aimed at demonstrating the deficiency of natural processes. Intelligent Design did not mandate biblical literalism.

The primary advocate for Intelligent Design is the Discovery Institute, out of Seattle, Washington. Here is their latest.

Darwinists often point to the whale fossil record as one of the best examples of an evolutionary transition. But is it?

Charles Darwin wrote in The Origin of Species: “I can see no difficulty in a race of bears being rendered, by natural selection, more and more aquatic in their structure and habits, with larger and larger mouths, till a creature was produced as monstrous as a whale.”

Bears turning into whales? Scientists today disagree, instead claiming that other land animals were the real precursors to today’s whales.

And there is a video. Follow the link and watch the video. I will illustrate with pertinent screen shots. Here’s for starters.

We all know bears can’t parallel park. The cartoon video illustrates what would happen if a bear attempted this. It is humorous, but there is not a lot of real science being wasted.

But Charles Darwin thought bears could do much more than parallel park. They could turn into whales.

Look, he stated so in his first edition of The Origin of Species.

Actually, and this is the point a few seconds in when this narrative begins to come off the rails. The cartoon illustrates Darwin’s text as appearing in the first edition of his book. A bit of perusing Amazon’s library, and I obtained a copy of that edition.

In North America the black bear turned into seen by way of Hearne swimming for hours with broadly open mouth, hence catching, like a whale, bugs in the water. Even in so extreme a case as this, if the supply of insects were constant, and if better tailored competition did not already exist inside the United States of America, I can see no difficulty in a race of bears being rendered, by way of herbal selection, increasingly aquatic of their shape and conduct, with larger and larger mouths, till a creature changed into produced as titanic as a whale.

Charles Darwin. On the origin of species . Kindle Edition.

Charles Darwin never wrote that bears could turn into whales, and the video tells us Darwin deleted this assertion in later editions.  Evolution does not work that way, but accuracy requires a lot of explaining. What is claimed—and what certainly happened—is the whales we have today have ancestors that lived on land. But the video asserts Darwin thought bears could turn into whales, so we will go with that.

Next we learn what modern scientists wrongly think, and what they think is whale ancestors were not bears, but something else. Hint: genetic analysis points to the hippopotamus as the whale’s closest living land animal.

The video introduces whale evolution as depicted by Jerry Coyne in his book Why Evolution is True. They show the following, which seems to have been assembled from page 49.

Here is the illustration from that page.

This shows the cladogram related to modern whales. The common ancestor is not known, but Coyne provides the details.

There is no need to describe this transition in detail, as the drawings clearly speak—if not shout—of how a land-living animal took to the water. The sequence begins with a recently discovered fossil of a close relative of whales, a raccoon-sized animal called Indohyus. Living 48 million years ago, Indohyus was, as predicted, an artiodactyl. It is clearly closely related to whales because it has special features of the ears and teeth seen only in modern whales and their aquatic ancestors. Although Indohyus appears slightly later than the largely aquatic ancestors of whales, it is probably very close to what the whale ancestor looked like. And it was at least partially aquatic. We know this because its bones were denser than those of fully terrestrial mammals, which kept the creature from bobbing about in the water, and because the isotopes extracted from its teeth show that it absorbed a lot of oxygen from water. It probably waded in shallow streams or lakes to graze on vegetation or escape from its enemies, much like a similar animal, the African water chevrotain, does today. This part-time life in water probably put the ancestor of whales on the road to becoming fully aquatic.

Coyne, Jerry A.. Why Evolution Is True (p. 49). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. [Emphasis added]

I emphasized a critical piece of the text, because this will come up later.

They quote from the book:

Whales happen to have an excellent fossil record, courtesy of their aquatic habits and robust, easily fossilized bones.

Coyne, Jerry A.. Why Evolution Is True (p. 48). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

But they want you to know the proposed ancestry of whales is anachronistic, and they illustrate with a geological cross-section to show so-called ancestral fossils higher in the fossil record than their descendants.

The video employs mockery in place of rational argument to make their point. Here we show a man with a baby, and he announces the baby is his grandfather. This is the definition of anachronism.

They display the abstract of a paper by Rick Durrett and Deena Schmidt, both with the Department of Mathematics at Cornell University. And they highlight the text they want you to consider.

For your reading pleasure, here is the complete abstract.

Results of Nowak and collaborators concerning the onset of cancer due to the inactivation of tumor suppressor genes give the distribution of the time until some individual in a population has experienced two prespecified mutations and the time until this mutant phenotype becomes fixed in the population. In this article we apply these results to obtain insights into regulatory sequence evolution in Drosophila and humans. In particular, we examine the waiting time for a pair of mutations, the first of which inactivates an existing transcription factor binding site and the second of which creates a new one. Consistent with recent experimental observations for Drosophila, we find that a few million years is sufficient, but for humans with a much smaller effective population size, this type of change would take >100 million years. In addition, we use these results to expose flaws in some of Michael Behe’s arguments concerning mathematical limits to Darwinian evolution.

The paper is “Waiting for Two Mutations: With Applications to Regulatory Sequence Evolution and the Limits of Darwinian Evolution,” and you can follow the link to read the entire paper.

The video wants you to be aware of the millions of years required to produce a single beneficial mutation. That way you will have good reason to doubt Darwinian evolution. Beyond this point I am unable to follow, because the subject matter is way above my pay grade. For example:

Yes, I will spare you. What I will not spare you is something the video does not seem worth emphasizing. From the abstract, “In addition, we use these results to expose flaws in some of Michael Behe’s arguments concerning mathematical limits to Darwinian evolution.” Michael Behe is a major proponent of Intelligent Design, and the authors believe they have poked holes in some of Behe’s mathematical arguments.

The video gets into the matter of the giraffe’s neck. Compare the giraffe to a similar animal—one with a shorter neck—the okapi. They show an excerpt from a paper in Nature Communications.

Here is additional detail.

Published: 17 May 2016

Giraffe genome sequence reveals clues to its unique morphology and physiology

Nature Communications volume 7, Article number: 11519 (2016)

Abstract

The origins of giraffe’s imposing stature and associated cardiovascular adaptations are unknown. Okapi, which lacks these unique features, is giraffe’s closest relative and provides a useful comparison, to identify genetic variation underlying giraffe’s long neck and cardiovascular system. The genomes of giraffe and okapi were sequenced, and through comparative analyses genes and pathways were identified that exhibit unique genetic changes and likely contribute to giraffe’s unique features. Some of these genes are in the HOX, NOTCH and FGF signalling pathways, which regulate both skeletal and cardiovascular development, suggesting that giraffe’s stature and cardiovascular adaptations evolved in parallel through changes in a small number of genes. Mitochondrial metabolism and volatile fatty acids transport genes are also evolutionarily diverged in giraffe and may be related to its unusual diet that includes toxic plants. Unexpectedly, substantial evolutionary changes have occurred in giraffe and okapi in double-strand break repair and centrosome functions.

The video emphasizes the number of mutations that separate the giraffe and the okapi. Having previously demonstrated—by their way of thinking—the enormous time required for a fortunate mutation, we are supposed to question whether such evolution occurred.

Also the creationists want to be sure you know those whale fossils are anachronistic. The video exploits a popular misunderstanding, which routinely gets amplified in the creationist community. Specifically, one species does not change into another. A new species branches off from its ancestral lineage, and the two branches go their separate ways. Sometimes both branches are prolonged to the present day. Sometimes one branch will terminate, while the other survives. Sometimes both terminate. The result is you can find a fossil from one branch that is much younger than a fossil that retained features of the branch point. A rude example is this. When I was quite young I escaped an episode involving an explosive detonating device. If I had not escaped, my fossil would have predated that of my grandfather, who survived another ten years.

Here is how the video depicts fossils it considers out of sequence.

The video concludes with a scathing dig at the science of evolution. It’s a “glossy, one-sided story.”

There is considerable irony piled on here. An aspect of Intelligent Design was supposed to be the creationist no longer deny evolution happened. They promise they will demonstrate a transcendental entity has been behind it all along. They initially refused to acknowledge this entity was the God of Abraham, but many have ceased to conceal their real intent. At a conference at SMU in 1992 Jon Buell and Phillip Johnson were present. Buell heads up the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, which produced Of Pandas and People, the notorious book promoting Intelligent Design and aimed at public school science curricula. Both these creationists acknowledged in a private conversation the Earth is billions of years old, and current life forms have common ancestry.

Phillip Johnson addressed the evolution of land animals to whales in an interview many years back. Here are his pertinent comments:

You can imagine this in the sense that—suppose that you got a set of mutations which in themselves might be capable of turning a mouse into a whale. That’s essentially what is deemed to have happened according to the Darwinian theory. Not literally because it’s not literally a mouse, but something like that, a tiny four-legged creature must have changed step by tiny step into a whale. But if you imagine that starting to happen it’s counterfactual because you have to imagine the mutations coming and there’s no evidence that they exist. You can see that somewhere there the mouse started to develop flippers and a big tail and gear for breathing underwater it would become awfully unsatisfactory as a mouse and helpless and it would get eaten or would be unable to survive. But natural selection would weed it out.

What Johnson is saying is, for example, the mutations that would produce a whale species from a mouse species would necessarily involve intermediates that are non-viable. He was likely not thinking deeply on the matter, because chains of viable intermediates easily come to mind, although not real evolutionary chains. Here is one that does not involve a mouse:

  1. ·         Bear
  2. ·         Badger or wolverine
  3. ·         Otter
  4. ·         Sea otter
  5. ·         Sea lion
  6. ·         Seal
  7. ·         Whale

But back to the video. It is easy to conclude this is aimed at a juvenile audience, given the spattering of lame jokes that punctuate the narrative. For example, there is a fossil named Ambulocetus. The term means “walking whale,” but the video makes a joke of the name, showing a cartoon ambulance. What is most frightening is the likelihood adults are viewing this and are gaining the confirmation they have been looking for.

Carl Zimmer’s excellent book At the Water’s Edge provides a comprehensive narrative on whale evolution. The book describes life in the sea and the development of land animals. Then he follows the development of sea creatures—seals, sea lions, porpoises, and whales. Here is an excerpt discussing Ambulocetus:

Thewissen’s creature, which he called Ambulocetus (“walking whale”), was the closer of the two to the origin of whales. Its four-hundred-pound body—an enormous crocodilelike head, a wide chest, and a long tail—sat on squat legs. It still had the tall projections rising from its neck vertebrae that mesonychids had used to hold up their heavy heads. The width of its chest pushed its hands out to either side like seal flippers, and the giant feet on its crouched hind legs slapped awkwardly on the ground. Ambulocetus could shamble on land if it had to, but the shape of its spine told Thewissen where its gifts lay. It had lost the locking tabs that kept mesonychid spines rigid, and its general geometry was closer to an otter’s than any other animal’s. Although Thewissen did not find Ambulocetus’s hips, the spine strongly suggests that Ambulocetus could have arched its back as it pushed out its giant hind legs and driven the force of its kick out to the end of its tail.

Zimmer, Carl. At the Water’s Edge: Fish with Fingers, Whales with Legs, and How Life Came Ashore but Then Went Back to Sea (pp. 194-196). Atria Books. Kindle Edition.

In April 2002 the Atheist Alliance International Convention hosted a debate with creationist Don Patton. Don is one of the old-school, Bible-thumping creationists, and he got to choose the debate topic: “The fossil record is more compatible with the model of creation than the model of evolution.” The topic of whale evolution came up.

For my part, I assured everybody whales had evolved from land animals. Don insisted they had not. The matter of vestigial legs came up. Whales have forelegs that serve as flippers, but they have no discernible hind legs. However, whale skeletons sometimes show leg bones where hind legs might be expected. Don pointed out these were not leg bones. They served no leg purpose. They were not even attached to the rest of the skeleton. There was a picture showing the bones, and I had to ask, “Then why are they shaped like feet?”

Despite everything the Discovery Institute has poured into this video, the fact remains. Whales descended from land animals.

This seems to be one of a collection produced by the Discovery Institute. Deconstructing these videos is tedious, but this weeks-long lockdown has emptied my excuse bucket. Look for additional reviews to come.

Abusing Science

Number 67 of a series

I receive emails. Here is from another by Perry Marshall, author of Evolution 2.0.

But it’s not just cancer research. My Evolution 2.0 journey has made it abundantly clear to me that the system underlying virtually all science research is tragically flawed.

Now, if you’re thinking, “Why do I care about science being sold out to the highest bidder?” You can just look around you right now.

It’s an invitation to his podcast:

Science for Sale
Ken McCarthy & Perry Marshall
Wednesday April 22, 2:00 PM Eastern

Besides his Wikipedia entry, what I know of Perry Marshall is from his book. An excerpt provides some insight.

This is a science book, provoked by my burning question: If blind evolutionary forces can produce eyes and hands and ears and millions of species, then why don’t engineers use Darwinian evolution to design cars or write software? Why don’t they teach Darwinism in engineering school? Evolution and natural selection, after all, were heralded as all-powerful, to the point of having godlike qualities. If nature needs no engineers, a little evolution knowledge would surely be useful to us engineers who are stuck in cubicles designing cell phones.

Marshall, Perry. Evolution 2.0: Breaking the Deadlock Between Darwin and Design . BenBella Books, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

This is from a section with the title “What You Can Expect from This Book,” so it’s not part of the meat. It does give clue to the intent.

What Marshall wants you to understand is “blind evolutionary forces” are not sufficient. Else, engineers would use them to produce novel designs. I get from this he invokes purpose in seeking to make his case, which is what he intends to prove. Reading selections from the book will reveal Marshall is seeking to sell God. He wants to demonstrate a world created by God, as only a being of some sort can provide purpose.

Engineers developing a novel design do so with a purpose in mind. They want something that flies, so they are sure not to make it too heavy. Engineers would never invoke random choices to create a new and improved design.

Except sometimes they do.

Hybrid Genetic Algorithm and Linear Programming for Bulldozer Emissions and Fuel-Consumption Management Using Continuously Variable Transmission

This paper develops a hybrid optimization approach combining genetic algorithm (GA) and integer linear programming (ILP) to solve the nonlinear optimization problem of managing the fuel consumption and emissions of a tracked bulldozer. Furthermore, the authors propose that a continuously variable transmission (CVT) can better exploit the efficient zones of the engine maps. The original transmission system of the Caterpillar D6T bulldozer consists of a five-gear transmission, whereas the gear ratios of the proposed CVT are continuous and can be assigned according to transmission design. The fuel consumption and three emission items of the engine, unburned hydrocarbons (HC), carbon monoxide (CO), and nitrogen oxides (NOx), are studied. Vehicle-terrain interactions are formulated and the excavation program is characterized by excavation depth and speed. The target of the multiobjective optimization problem is a combination of fuel rate and three emission items. Results show that, for digging depths less than the bulldozer blade maximum digging depth, the target can be improved by more than 31% using CVT incorporated with GA compared to the conventional transmission, obtained by shifting engine operating points from low efficiency zones to optimum points. Finally, integer linear programming is used in a hybrid manner with GA to solve for the optimum combination of excavation steps in tasks of specified digging depths more than the maximum digging depth of the bulldozer blade. Results show that the proposed method can improve the target value up to 18% with the same digging time, and can improve the target value up to 32% using the hybrid optimization approach without time constraint.

The paper describes the development of an improved transmission design. The development employed genetic algorithms toward achieving an optimum design.

Genetic algorithms employ stochastic variation on workable designs to generate new designs, and then they select for those that perform better. To be sure, purpose is invoked here. Nature does not make use of purpose. What engineers achieve in short order using significant computer power, for a natural organism nature requires centuries and longer to instill “improvement.”  And remember, what nature ends up with may not be what we would prefer. The wild horses people domesticated thousands of years ago are the ones produced by nature. What people want, and what they have now, are horses artificially bred for our purposes.

I have no plan to view the pod cast, but readers are invited to search it out and sign up. There may be something significant relating to real abuse of science. The past few weeks have seen egregious abuse of science for political gain, as serious scientists are sometimes mocked (one receiving death threats). We can only hope real science will be taken more seriously when the current crisis is over.

Abusing Science

Number 64 of a series

The title was enough to get me interested. First of all, the statement is blatantly false, and it is one that has grown thin from wear. The Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture made the link available through their Evolution News site.

It’s an item posted by Michael Egnor:

Michael Egnor is a pediatric neurosurgeon and intelligent design supporter who writes for the Discovery Institute blog. He is a professor at the Department of Neurological Surgery at Stony Brook University, a position held since 1991.

The item caries the title “Arguments for God’s existence can be demonstrated by the ordinary method of scientific inference.”

MICHAEL EGNOR MARCH 22, 2020

Atheist Jerry Coyne has replied to my post last Sunday about prayer and the coronavirus pandemic. I argued that prayer makes sense because God exists, and His existence is demonstrable via the ordinary method of scientific inference. There’s a name for this demonstration—natural theology, which is the science of demonstrating God’s existence using evidence and logic. Natural theology may be contrasted with revealed theology, which is the study of God via revelation in Scripture.

Natural theology has a massive history—it goes back at least to the ancient philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BCE) (the Prime Mover argument). A high point in natural theology was Thomas Aquinas’s Five Ways, which are scientific (i.e. evidence-based) arguments for God’s existence. In fact, the cornerstone of Aquinas’ metaphysics is that essence (what a thing is) is utterly distinct from existence (that a thing is).

So begins the argument. Readers are invited to go to the link and read the entire thing. The essentials are here:

Here’s Aquinas’ First Way:

1) Change exists in nature (evidence)
2) Change is the actuation of potentiality and an essential chain of actuations cannot go to infinite regress. A fully actual Prime Mover is necessary (logic)
3) That Prime Mover is what all men call God (conclusion)

I may be dense, but this appears to be the Argument from First Cause rehashed.

  • Everything has a cause.
  • The Universe is finite—there was a time when the Universe did not exist.
  • Therefore the Universe had a cause before it existed.
  • That cause must be God

There are some things wrong with this, the first being the statement “Everything has a cause.” We can demonstrate events that do not have a cause, but that is minor objection. Another objection is Egnor takes the supposition that the Universe had a beginning as a fact, when it really is a supposition upon which a bunch of scientific theory is based. To complete his argument Egnor will need to prove the Universe had a beginning, and that is something which appears to be true, but for which there is no factual evidence. He is saying supposing what some very reputable scientists hold to be true really is true, then it follows that God exists.

There is more. Read Egnor’s complete argument. “3) That Prime Mover is what all men call God (conclusion).” Notice “call God.” Dude, just because some people call the prime mover God does not lead directly to their actually being a God.  Calling a stick a snake does not make it a snake. It is still a stick, and specifically it is not a snake.

Michael Egnor does not seem to do any real science, nor do any of those shilling for Intelligent Design at the Discovery Institute.

Abusing Science

Number 58 of a series

Discovery Institute to the rescue again. When I need to illustrate the abuse of science, their creationist Center for Science and Culture will reliably come through. Here is a recent posting on the Evolution News site:

“Safe to Question” — Another Graduate of Summer Seminars on Intelligent Design Shares Her Story

Behind every Iron Curtain is a private network of dissenters, who come out into the light when the curtain falls. That was the case with the old Soviet Union. And so it is in the tightly policed world of evolutionary biology with its “great evolutionary firewall,” guarding against expressions of fundamental doubt about neo-Darwinian theory.

Discovery Institute is populating a community of dissenters in academia with the annual all-expenses-paid Summer Seminars on Intelligent Design, to be held this year from July 10 to 18 in Seattle. The application deadline is March 4. Intended for current undergraduate and graduate students plus a few teachers and professors, the Seminars run on two parallel tracks: 

From this you readily get DI conducts a series of seminars aimed at reassuring religious believers they can feel safe contradicting scientific evidence. The propaganda value of David Klinghoffer’s efforts are here in full display. Starting with the third word he is likening modern science to the iron curtain of the former Soviet Union. This barricade against outside influence was named by Winston Churchill shortly after the conclusion of the defeat of the German Nazi regime. DI wants you to know the modern scientific consensus regarding biological evolution is like an iron curtain, erected to keep free thought from intruding.

Klinghoffer relates the story of a student who attended one of the seminars.

I attended the Summer Seminar for Intelligent Design my last summer in grad school. It was life changing.

Before that summer, I had never met another scientist who thought intelligent design was anything more than a joke, let alone a powerful explanation for the observations we make in biology. I was fearful of being ridiculed by my colleagues and never said a single word about it throughout grad school, even when the topic came up.

But at the seminar, I’m in a room full of not just students, but also MDs and PhDs. Folks who run their own labs at prestigious institutes around the world. Biologists of every flavor, physicists, mathematicians, engineers, physicians, philosophers, and more. Many of them are silent too. And suddenly, oh the conversations we’re having! I felt so alive! We’re diving into science, engineering, and philosophy! Arguing, debating, pitching research ideas, asking questions, and critiquing ID research and ideas that have already been published. There was never a moment when the room was not wildly animated. I don’t think anyone else had met other scientists who hold to ID either. I think we were all starving for a sense of community. At least I was. I’m still in touch with many of the folks I met that week.

Best of all, I felt safe to QUESTION. I didn’t have to simply accept what I was being told as “fact.” ID is young and still underdeveloped as a framework of thought. You better believe that I threw out many questions as the speakers had time for. Others did too. I wanted to explore these ideas as widely as possible before the week was up.

Being a part of a community where it was safe to question and share ideas about design and engineering in biology transformed my life. I don’t know why, but I felt less anxious after that week. My life long struggle with social anxiety seemed to disintegrate. I was suddenly confident in myself, not just in beginning to speak out about ID, but in all areas of social life. Every year, I wish I could go back. Summer Seminar friends, I miss you all and hope to see you at some conference or event sometime soon! Thank you for the massive influence you all had on my life.

Here is a student, possibly by religious motivation but not necessarily so, who had doubts of biological evolution absent any supernatural element. Apparently she had been in a position of thinking, “There is no way,” but she feared speaking out, lest she be tagged as a crank. Klinghoffer and DI want to assure us this is much the case with those who look for supernatural causes.

I keep injecting the word “supernatural,” because that is the distinction between the scientific consensus and its opponents. The opponents entertain one or more of the following:

  • My religious belief is that the God of Abraham created us or else guided the process by bending nature to his (her) will.
  • I’m not a believer in the GoA, but this notion that only natural processes can accomplish this borders on the absurd.

The problem with this way of thinking is it runs hard up against basic fact.

  • Science involves itself only with matters of nature, excluding what is commonly termed the supernatural.
  • The supernatural does not exist, almost by definition.
  • In all of human history nobody has ever demonstrated a supernatural event. All attempts in modern times to invoke the supernatural have failed.

The student in Klinghoffer’s story can now go into the world confident there are highly accomplished others who reject the need for natural explanations. She has the choice of keeping silent and smiling inward, when discussing matters of human origins for example. Or she can speak her mind and face the objections of others. It’s a world we all live in. However, if it is the world of science she wants to live in, she will need to start by arming herself with facts, because scientific theories derive from facts and not from personal preference.

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 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.

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 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 10 of a series

It never lets up, and for this I am thankful. Nothing exposes the shallowness of the Intelligent Design argument so much as the continued efforts of its people to discredit legitimate science. Let’s recapitulate:

The Discovery Institute‘s Center for Science and Culture (CSC) is the leading organization promoting Intelligent Design in this country, perhaps in the world. On Monday they posted this on Evolution News, a site sponsored by the CSC.

Skepticism About Darwinian Evolution Grows as 1,000+ Scientists Share Their Doubts

Over 1,000 doctoral scientists from around the world have signed a statement publicly expressing their skepticism about the contemporary theory of Darwinian evolution. The statement, located online at dissentfromdarwin.orgreads: “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”

“Because no scientist can show how Darwin’s mechanism can produce the complexity of life, every scientist should be skeptical,” said biologist Douglas Axe, director of Biologic Institute. “The fact that most won’t admit to this exposes the unhealthy effect of peer pressure on scientific discourse.”

On the surface that would appear to be devastating to any science suffering some kind of weakness. This kind of argument has a lot of appeal to people who don’t dig too deeply, especially when confirmation bias weighs in. The story goes back to 2002 and maybe before. When I debated creationist Don Patton in April that year, the creationists who showed up were crowing over The 100. Time has passed, and the list has grown to 1000 (and more). It would be fun to peruse that list and write up details on each of the scientists, most I am sure are serious, who have signed up as dissenting from Darwin. It turns out I can save myself the trouble this morning, this morning after the day I was supposed to have posted this entry. That’s because years ago I went down this rabbit hole on the shorter list, so I am going to recapitulate what I wrote back then. First, here is an excerpt of the new, expanded list:

Charles Edward Norman Ph.D. Electrical Engineering                                                     Carleton University (Canada)

Dewey Hodges          Professor, Aerospace Engineering                                                Georgia Institute of Technology

James P. Russum      Ph.D. Chemical Engineering                                                        Georgia Institute of Technology

Marko Horb               Ph.D. Cell & Developmental Biology                                             State University of New York

Here is what I had to say, from the August 2005 issue of The North Texas Skeptic:

The Christian Post mentioned that the DI CSC has compiled a list “of over 350 scientists” who have signed onto their “Scientific Dissent from Darwinism.” I did a quick check on DI’s Web site and noticed the list is now “[m]ore than 400.” The list doesn’t seem to include any of the luminaries of biological science, and I didn’t notice any Nobel winners, although there have been Nobel laureates in the past who oppose evolutionary theory.

Taking a sample of one from DI’s list, I checked out “Marko Horb,” who is listed as a Ph.D. in cell and developmental biology at the State University of New York. An Internet check turned up numerous references to Dr. Horb, of SUNY at Stony Brook. Looking further, I was unable to locate Dr. Horb through SUNY Stony Brook’s Web site.

In the past we have noticed that a creationist’s link to a famous university has lingered long past its shelf life. In critiquing the DI-sponsored video “Unlocking the Mystery of Life,” Andrea Bottaro, Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center noted the peculiar circumstances of Jed Macosko. In the video Macosko is listed as one of these scientists who oppose Darwinism and, presumably, someone who supports Intelligent Design. However, as we reported in our February issue of this scandal sheet last year, Macosko’s credentials were considerably laundered. See the link above to the newsletter item:

Macosko is described in UML as “Molecular Biologist, UC Berkeley,” but his association with Berkeley seems to be limited to his UC Berkeley degree and his work there as a postdoctoral trainee. He has never been listed on the UC Berkeley faculty and is not currently at the University. Some ID Web sites show him teaching chemistry at the religious La Sierra University in California, though at the time Dr. Bottaro wrote to WNYE Macosko was not listed on that university’s faculty.

We don’t claim this is the case with Dr. Horb or any of the other 400 dissenters listed by DI. Except for Dr. Jed Macosko. On DI’s list of “[m]ore than 400” Dr. Macosko is still listed as “Ph.D. Chemistry University of California (Berkeley).” DI is probably still working to bring the list up to date.

DI’s list provides skeptics a marvelous opportunity to practice their investigative skills. Go to DI’s Web site, navigate down to the section on the Center for Science and Culture. Get the list of 400 and have a go at it. If the file has moved or is no longer available, send me an e-mail, and I will forward a copy to you.

In the meantime, the Berkeley, California, based National Center for Science Education has compiled a similar list. Similar in the sense that NCSE’s list is of scientists who support evolutionary theory. Dissimilar in the sense that their list is larger, and NCSE has tried to keep it small enough to fit on most people’s computer hard drive. They kept the list small by restricted the list to scientists named Steve. Supporters of Evolution named Steve, Stephen, Steven, even Stephanie are listed, but all the Toms, Dicks, and Harrys are excluded. Maybe later when computer drives get larger. In the mean time, you can get the condensed list from NCSE’s Web site. See the link above.

And, yes, Jed Macosko is still on the list, and I assume his status has not since improved. That said, I am pleased the CSC and all the other creationists out there have not improved on their methods after being at it these past decades. Keep at it, people. We love to watch you work.

Abusing Science

Number 9 of a series

Creationist David Shormann testifies at the textbook hearings, Austin 17 September 2018

This has some history. Years ago, before Facebook, I was having a discussion on an Internet group. The matter of John Templeton came up, and I responded that he was a creationist. Why did I say that, I was asked. Because his foundation, the John Templeton Foundation, contributed money to the Discovery Institute (DI), the primary group supporting creationism, particularly Intelligent Design (ID), in this country. And that was that.

Except Templeton has since died, but his foundation continues to fund efforts to reconcile science with religion. Another regression: I am auditing a college course on philosophy of atheism, and some of the assigned reading is related:

As the Templeton-prize-winning physicist Paul Davies points out at the end of his book The Goldilocks Enigma, even putting aside all the other difficulties:

The other main problem with intelligent design is that identity of the designer need bear no relation at all to the God of traditional monotheism. The ‘designing agency’ can be a committee of gods, for example. The designer can be a natural being or beings, such as an evolved super-mind or super-civilization existing in a previous universe, or in another section of our universe, which made our universe using super-technology. The designer can also be some sort of superdupercomputer simulating this universe. So invoking a super-intellect… is fraught with problems.

Law, Stephen. Humanism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (p. 47). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.

Yeah, Templeton continues to haunt me from the grave. What the Templeton Foundation does, in part, is to fund research into whether religious faith can be reconciled with modern science.

On that we pause again:

Is the Government Buying Science or Support? A Framework Analysis of Federal Funding-induced Biases

The purpose of this report is to provide a framework for doing research on the problem of bias in science, especially bias induced by Federal funding of research. In recent years the issue of bias in science has come under increasing scrutiny, including within the scientific community. Much of this scrutiny is focused on the potential for bias induced by the commercial funding of research. However, relatively little attention has been given to the potential role of Federal funding in fostering bias. The research question is clear: does biased funding skew research in a preferred direction, one that supports an agency mission, policy or paradigm?

That’s from the Cato Institute, a libertarian entity that opposed to scientific findings that would lead to the need for corrective government action. Libertarians want less government, but biological science is not one of their prime targets.

So, there is this accusation that scientists do research and produce fundings that favor their sponsors—particularly government sponsors. Take another look. If you want to see publication bias, consider funding that asks researchers to search for (confirm?) a religious-based interpretation of evolution, particularly human evolution. Anything that leaves room for a biblical narrative.

Re-enter the Discovery Institute. From their Evolution News site:

Intelligent Design Aside, from Templeton Foundation to the Royal Society, Darwinism Is Under Siege

Don’t let anyone tell you the evolutionary paradigm isn’t in serious turmoil. Science Magazine announces an $8.7 million project by the Templeton Foundation seeking an “evolution rethink.” I’m trying to think of the last time I heard Science reporting on support for a “gravity rethink,” or a “heliocentrism rethink.” The gist of it:

For many evolutionary biologists, nothing gets their dander up faster than proposing that evolution is anything other than the process of natural selection, acting on random mutations. Suggestions that something is missing from that picture — for example, that evolution is somehow directed or that genetic changes can’t fully explain it — play into the hands of creationists, who leap on them as evidence against evolution itself.

It took some searching. The email from Discovery Institute showed up on my Facebook feed a day or two ago, but the link is to an item published on Evolution News 22 April 2016. Full disclosure: I belong to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, (AAAS), which publishes Science Magazine, and I dug into their on-line back issues to find the referenced article. It’s on pages 394-395 of the 22 April 2016 issue. Obviously David Klinghoffer was quick off the mark to post his response. Here is somebody who doesn’t allow grass to grow under his feet.

I blinked hard a few times, but I was never able to figure out why Klinghoffer did not provide a complete citation to the Science article, but I consider the possibility he wanted to give me a workout to keep me occupied during my retirement. Anyhow, I snapshotted the article and saved the text, which I am posting along with a link. Read for yourself to get the complete story.

Significant in the Science article are references to research into ways traits are acquired by organisms. The lead photo above shows creationist David Shormann testifying at the school book hearings in Austin six years ago. Shormann markets a line of educational materials for home-schooling, and he operates a religious school in the Houston area. The desire to protect children from secular influences is a prime motivator for home-schooling in this country.

Anyhow, in his testimony before the board, Shormann emphasized the matter of epigenetics.

Epigenetics is the study of heritable phenotype changes that do not involve alterations in the DNA sequence. The Greek prefix epi- (ἐπι- “over, outside of, around”) in epigenetics implies features that are “on top of” or “in addition to” the traditional genetic basis for inheritance. Epigenetics most often denotes changes that affect gene activity and expression, but can also be used to describe any heritable phenotypic change. Such effects on cellular and physiological phenotypic traits may result from external or environmental factors, or be part of normal developmental program. The standard definition of epigenetics requires these alterations to be heritable, either in the progeny of cells or of organisms.

He contended that his school curriculum includes epigenetics, while the text books being proposed for adoption at the time did not. For this reason he recommended that none of the proposed biology books be adopted. From the Science article:

Advocates stress that animals, plants, and even microbes modify their environments, exhibit plasticity in their physical traits, and behave differently depending on the conditions they face. Chemical modifications of the DNA that affect gene activity—so-called epigenetic changes—seem to explain some of this flexibility. These and other factors suggest to some biologists that an organism’s development is not simply programmed by the genetic sequences it inherits. For them, such plasticity implies that parents can influence offspring not just through their DNA but by passing on the microorganisms they host or by transmitting epigenetic marks to subsequent generations. “Innovation may be a developmental response that becomes stabilized through genetic changes;’ explains Armin Moczek, an evolutionary developmental biologist at Indiana University, Bloomington. [emphasis added]

Obviously Charles Darwin knew nothing about epigenetics, nor even genetics, but creationists of all stripes continue to attack the Darwinian construct with the idea that bringing down modern science will leave the religiously-inclined gazing more toward the God of Abraham. It’s classic abuse of science. Please read the entire Klinghoffer post. I will allow him to have the last word, since it reinforces my view of what is going on here:

ID, obviously, is one source of the current challenge to Darwinism, but it’s only one source. You could erase ID advocates entirely from the battle map, and Darwinian theory would still be under siege. Evolution’s smug cultists are in denial about that, but it’s true.

Abusing Science

Number 5 of a series

The go-to place for abuse of science is the Evolution News blog site, maintained by the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. The site is wall-to-wall creationism, attempting to be oblique, often blunt to the core. I pull items from them when I need an illustration. This is from one posted last June:

New Paper in Evolution Journal: Humans and Animals Are (Mostly) the Same Age?

Could it be that animals were designed together with humans and instantiated at the same time too? Or did they get off the same spaceship? Or off the same boat?

An exciting new paper in the journal Human Evolution has been published which you can read here. Popular science reports such as this have incautiously claimed, “They found out that 9 out of 10 animal species on the planet came to being at the same time as humans did some 100,000 to 200,000 years ago.”

But to be more precise, what they actually found is that the most recent common ancestor of those species seems to have lived during that time period.

The above link regarding “such as this” has apparently gone stale, but it most likely pointed to this paper, available from the journal Human Evolution:. It’s a PDF file, so you can download it and read it, which I encourage readers to do.

That aside, what are we to make of the post? The opening sentence conveys the point unequivocally. “Could it be that animals were designed together with humans?” The operative word is “designed.” The CSC is about Intelligent Design above all else, and these people are willing to push their argument beyond what is ethical or even believable.

Somebody who is more up on the subject can wade in on this, but what appears to be going on is the writer is encouraging readers to look at last common ancestors (LCA), note how many line up and are recent, and then conclude this is evidence of a common design event.

This is not the same as the Young Earth Creationists pointing to out-of-order geological formations to rebuke basic principles of geology, but it does highlight the modern creationist ploy of abusing science to promote religion.

Abusing Science

Number 3 of a series

This series is inspired by Philip Kitcher’s book of the same name.

Your grandfather’s creationist was a Bible-thumping absolutist: everything in the Bible was as true as the sun coming up in the morning. The universe and this planet plus everything on it were created by a supernatural being over the span of six days.

That didn’t sell after a while. Modern science came aboard like a hammer, demonstrating that accommodation for creationism in public schools was an extra-legal imposition of religious dogma. Enter the new creationists about 30 years ago. Unlike Carl Baugh and preacher Don Patton, both from Texas, these creationists sport real college degrees, Ph.D. degrees even, and some work at real institutes of higher learning and do basic research. And they do not publicly profess biblical inerrancy. However, their abuse of science is no less egregious.

The Discovery Institute (DI) is the center for promoting the new creationism in the United States. Their Center for Science and Culture (CSC) hosts a blog site titled Evolution News, where can be found daily Intelligent Design propaganda and exhibitions of the abuse of science. Here is a recent posting:

Gecko, Fairyfly, Manta Ray: Animals Push the Limits of the Possible

December 14, 2018, 4:12 AM
I’m going to pass by the fairyfly and the rest and concentrate on the Gecko, which is enough of a story. Here’s a sample:

But adhesion is not the only trick for these lizards popularized in car insurance commercials. Geckos can also walk on water! Believe it or not, geckos are among the few animals (including basilisk lizards and grebes) that can skitter across the surface of water without sinking. Scientists at the University of Oxford filmed them in slow motion to see how they do it.

That is for starters. The author (not identified) works toward the argument that something has endeavored to give geckos this remarkable ability, and there may be an intelligent cause in the background.

Watch the video from The Conversation, where Jasmine Nirody from the Rockefeller University in New York describes how her team figured out the unique way geckos solve this problem.

Yes, read the posting and watch the video. Here comes the message:

The two-minute clip shows several “superpowers” of the gecko beyond climbing walls and walking on water. Geckos are shown gliding through the air, landing upright like a cat, and inverting under objects while running at full speed. Show this video to your kids — that is, if you are prepared to have to buy a gecko for the holidays to satisfy their pleadings afterward. Indulge their curiosity about animals with superpowers while you can, because it might inspire them to become design scientists.

This Evolution News posting takes the reader through some basic background and into a glimpse at cutting-edge science before dropping in a conclusion unworthy of consideration. Fostered by the new creationists, abuse of science continues without letup.

Abusing Science

Number 2 of a series

This series is inspired by Philip Kitcher’s book of the same name.

Back when Kitcher published this book, creationists were of the worst kind. They wanted to convince people that the story of Genesis was true, the universe and all life forms were created by the God of Abraham in the course of six days about 6000 years ago. Furthermore, the story of Noah and a worldwide flood was for them a part of world history. It was tough sledding.

Modern science, starting around 200 years ago, began to undercut these fables. The science of geology pointed to an ancient Earth. Darwin’s explanation of biological evolution abolished the human species’ special place among living things, and studies of radioactive elements in the earth’s crust pointed to a planet over four billion years old. Finally modern cosmology accounted for the formation of the universe over 13 billion years ago—and by natural causes.

In a landmark court case, Federal Judge William Overton ruled in an Arkansas case in 1982 that “creation science,” as creationists then called their theories, is not science. Rather, it is religious-based conjecture. Subsequent attempts to get around this finding terminated in a subsequent loss in Louisiana in a case termed Edwards v. Aguilard. A proposal to require teaching alternatives to the theory of evolution was found to be religiously motivated and in violation of the Constitution.

The response from the fundamentalist religious community was to usurp the Young Earth Creationists with a new breed of ecclesiastical scientists and a fresh approach. These creationists were, and still are, real scientists with valid Ph.D. degrees in related fields, and they largely avoided mention of biblical stories about the age of the earth and the God of Abraham. They revived William Paley‘s concept of Intelligent Design. They insist that the complexity of modern life forms is evidence of a higher intellect behind the world we see today. In future installments I will touch on the activities and the writings of the various individuals involved, but to get things going I will delve into something recent.

The organization in this country that most prominently advocates for Intelligent Design is the Discovery Institute, based in Seattle. More specifically, the DI’s Center for Science and Culture is the focus for ID, and they host a blog site titled Evolution News.

A principal talking point used to support ID is the source of novel information. The contention is that for novel life forms to develop, some additional information must be supplied. For illustration purposes, imagine an animal like a fish. It is generally agreed that the ancestors of present day land animals, lizards, for example, were fish. The proponents of ID will point out that fish have no legs, and for land animals to walk around, given that lizards evolved from fish, then new information about legs had to be supplied from somewhere. Or from somebody. Novel information cannot come out of thin air. There must be a supreme intellect behind the development of land animals with legs.

Novel information, and information in general, is a large part of ongoing arguments for Intelligent Design. The CSC person charged with developing and supporting this connection between is mathematician William Dembski. To illustrate how far the modern creationists buy into the relevance of Dembski’s work, he has been dubbed to be the “Isaac Newton of information theory.”

William Dembski is the Isaac Newton of information theory, and since this is the Age of Information, that makes Dembski one of the most important thinkers of our time. His “law of conservation of information” represents a revolutionary breakthrough. In Intelligent Design Dembski explains the meaning and the significance of his discoveries with such clarity that the general public can readily grasp them.He convincingly diagnoses our present confusions about the relationship between science and theology and offers a promising alternative.

[Robert C. Koons, Professor of Philosophy, University of Texas at Austin—from the dust jacket of Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology, InterVarsity Press, 1999.]

Being compared to Isaac Newton is a dab of adulation that Dembski has never disavowed.

So we have it. Information theory continues to crop up in items aimed at supporting Intelligent Design, and that brings us to this:

Bacteriophages, Budding Yeast, and Behe’s Vindication

Ann Gauger is a senior research scientist at Biologic Institute. Her work uses molecular genetics and genomic engineering to study the origin, organization and operation of metabolic pathways. She received a BS in biology from MIT, and a PhD in developmental biology from the University of Washington, where she studied cell adhesion molecules involved in Drosophila embryogenesis. As a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard she cloned and characterized the Drosophila kinesin light chain. Her research has been published in NatureDevelopment, and the Journal of Biological Chemistry.”

Specified complexity is an argument proposed by Dembski and used by him in his works promoting intelligent design. According to Dembski, the concept is intended to formalize a property that singles out patterns that are both specified and complex. Dembski states that specified complexity is a reliable marker of design by an intelligent agent, a central tenet to intelligent design and which Dembski argues for in opposition to modern evolutionary theory. The concept of specified complexity is widely regarded as mathematically unsound and has not been the basis for further independent work in information theory, complexity theory, or biology. Specified complexity is one of the two main arguments used by intelligent design proponents, the other being irreducible complexity.
Abuse of science did not end with demise of the Young Earth Creationists. This series will continue to turn over such cases until I run out of ink.

Abusing Science

First of a series

Philip Kitcher published the book in 1982, and a friend at work recommended I get a copy. I will do a review later, but for now it’s going to serve as the title for a series related to the abuse of science. I will get started with the matter of a sponsored posting that keeps showing up on my Facebook timeline. It’s from the Center for Science and Culture, a division of the Discovery Institute, headquartered in Seattle. The pertinent text goes as follows:

An artificial and oppressive wall separates the realms of faith and science, a wall that needs to be demolished.

That’s the provocative thesis of the Dallas Conference on Science and Faith, to be held just two months from now, January 18-19, 2019. Join philosopher of science Stephen Meyer, radio host and bestselling author Eric Metaxas, theologian and Privileged Planet author Jay Richards, and Rice University synthetic organic chemist James Tour as we breach the fabled wall.

[Links added]

The Facebook posting includes a link to a video, and you should take some time to view it. Here is the link:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWdihTt3tLM

Pertinent screen shots give an idea as to the message. Some disturbing findings are revealed.

Fifty-five percent of American adults believe science and religion are in conflict. (Surprise, surprise!)

Nearly a quarter of young adults from a Christian background think Christianity is anti-science.

Among college freshmen, a significant percentage believe the universe arose by chance.

Let’s take a deep look at these findings.

First, science and religion are in conflict. Science is a way of knowing that involves looking at what’s going on in the natural world and coming up with explanations that fit the findings. Religion answers questions by making stuff up. It cannot be put more straightforward than that.

Second, Christianity is anti-science to the extent that many Christians support their beliefs by denying established science.

Third, good for those freshmen. The universe did not arise by means of an intelligent being intent on performing an experiment with natural law. In that sense, the universe did arise by chance.

So what’s the point of this Science and Faith conference in Dallas?

The CSC has a history, going back more than 20 years, of failed attempts at undermining scientific explanations for the existence of life and even the universe. The obvious intent is to replace religious explanations, their own, for explanations based on fact. Phillip Johnson, a significant catalyst for the revival of the Intelligent Design argument, is the principle author of the Wedge Strategy:

The Wedge Strategy is a creationist political and social action plan authored by the Discovery Institute, the hub of the pseudoscientific intelligent design movement. The strategy was put forth in a Discovery Institute manifesto known as the Wedge Document. Its goal is to change American culture by shaping public policy to reflect politically conservative fundamentalist evangelical Protestant values. The wedge metaphor is attributed to Phillip E. Johnson and depicts a metal wedge splitting a log.

That the CSC has not been successful in its goals after more than 20 years speaks not so much for the skepticism of the American public as for the creationists’ delusional nature. They keep putting forward arguments that are demonstrably wrong. Thirteen years ago the push to promote Intelligent Design failed spectacularly when the Dover, Pennsylvania, school district attempted to insert the creationist text Of Pandas and People into the science curriculum.

Come forward to 2019, and the CSC people will be having another go at it. The effort appears to be headed up by Stephen C. Meyer, a founder of the CSC. Here is what he has to say (from the video):

Are science and faith incompatible? No! Just the opposite. Science is providing support for faith.

That has to be about the most profoundly stupid statement to ever show up on my view screen. Scientific finds provide no support for the existence of the supernatural, let alone supernatural explanations for life and the creation of the universe. The fact of the matter is that science has worked 500 years at undermining the basic tenets of religious supposition. That would be starting with the age of the earth right on through the supposed miracle of the Shroud of Turin. Additional examples on request.

The CSC posting announces others who will be presenting at the conference. Will I attend and do a review? Only if I can get a pass from Barbara Jean. May Jesus have mercy on my soul.

The Years of Living Stupidly

Number 11 in a series

The title pretty much explains it all. Some people go for years, their entire lives sometimes, in a continuous state of false belief. That would include a bunch of folks at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Vis their Conference on Science and Faith, scheduled for Dallas in January:

Dallas Conference on Science & Faith, January 18-19: “Tear Down This Wall!”

What If?

Whether science can cast light on the eternally urgent questions has been a subject of debate by philosophers going back to the Middle Ages and beyond. It’s also, obviously, very much of the moment today. From the announcement of the event by Discovery Institute:

According to a nationwide survey, more than two-thirds of atheists and one-third of agnostics believe that “the findings of science make the existence of God less probable,” while nearly half of self-identified theists believe “the findings of science are neutral with regard to the existence of God.”

But what if there is another option? What if the discoveries of science actually lend support to belief in God?

The Return of the God Hypothesis

At the Dallas Conference on Science and Faith, we’ll tackle subjects including “The Return of the God Hypothesis,” “The Miracle of the Universe,” “The Privileged Planet,” “The Mystery of the Origin of Life,” and “Darwin’s Doubt.” There will be plenty of opportunities for the audience to participate — questioning, challenging, and learning from a group of stellar scholars.

Yes, this is a lot to unload. Start with “Whether science can cast light on the eternally urgent questions has been a subject of debate by philosophers going back to the Middle Ages and beyond.” The implication is that faith, and religion in particular, can be invoked in places where science, otherwise known as formalized common sense, is unable to winkle out answers. People, if you study a matter earnestly, turning it this way and that, and you still can’t come up with a worthy answer, the solution is not to just close your eyes and make something up. Made up answers are generally worth the amount of energy it takes to have a bad dream. That is to say, they are not worth sharing with your worst enemy.

The piece posted to Evolution News goes on to cite that agnostics and atheists generally think the application of scientific approaches tend to make belief in God (the God of Abraham in particular) unnecessary to accommodate.

“But what if there is another option? What if the discoveries of science actually lend support to belief in God?” Now this is something worth considering. It is right up there with “What if analysis of elephant’s tusks lead to the conclusion that penguins do not possess a liver?” Both make a lot of sense.

If you are among the many who think this conference is not going to offer anything worth carrying home, then you might want to save yourself the $15 registration fee and also a trip to Dallas.