Abusing Science

Number 54 of a series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is another illustration from page 37 the Pandas book.

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

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

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

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

Abusing Science

Number 52 of a series

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

C.S. Lewis and the Argument from Reason

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a further excerpt:

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

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

Richards writes:

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

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

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

Abusing Science

Number 47 of a series

This week in Abusing Science I want to clue you to an amazing video. Follow the YouTube link.

MUST WATCH!!! THE EVIDENCE FOR GOD FOUND IN MATHEMATICS!!!

Nov 15, 2019Supernatural By Design

Do mathematical patterns in nature prove the existence of God? In this video, we will discover that a unique number pattern centering around the number 11, proves the existence for God. A MUST WATCH TO THE END TO SEE THE FULL SCOPE OF THE EVIDENCE!

Watch it. The graphics are outstanding.

Of course, the way these things are done is the company in charge of production goes to stock image sources and pays to use the images and the video sequences. Even so…

Yes, this one is all about how numbers demonstrate the proof of God. Isn’t that amazing? And the number 11 (eleven) is special. How special? You will see.

Stunning images.

Look. When you increment by 11, starting at 0, you (after 0) get numbers with repeating digits. Up to 99, that is. After that, well that’s something apparently not in the Bible.

In the image of God. Numbers explain everything.

And here it is. You will be struck dumb at this amazing property of the number 11. When you put up a mirror image of 11, it’s still 11!

Oh, Jesus. That is truly amazing.

Amazing unless you know a small bit of mathematics, and you know that this only works for numbers to the base 10. Then it becomes apparent this is not merely an abuse of science. It is an insult to the human intellect.

But this is religion, not reality, which makes it clear what we are doing here is peering into the Heart of Dumbness.

Abusing Science

Number 47 of a series

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

Dear John:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Years of Living Stupidly

Number 14 in a series

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

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

Drive Darwinists Nuts with This One Solution to Fake News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The end of evolution?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abusing Science

Number 46 of a series

Abuse of science is not limited to the unwashed, and political abuse is not a modern invention. In 1897 a proposed Indiana bill would have set the value for π (pi) to three (3). Presumably that would make engineering computations easier in those days without hand-held calculators. It would likely, if put to use, have also resulted in a number of engineering disasters. But we don’t do that crazy shit anymore.

Wrong, Daddy-o:

The Ohio state House of Representatives has passed the Student Religious Liberties Act, which prevents teachers from penalizing students for giving incorrect answers on tests or other schoolwork if those facts would conflict with their religious beliefs.

The relevant section reads “No school district board of education (…) shall prohibit a student from engaging in religious expression in the completion of homework, artwork, or other written or oral assignments. Assignment grades and scores shall be calculated using ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance, including any legitimate pedagogical concerns, and shall not penalize or reward a student based on the religious content of a student’s work.”

Ordinarily I would have confronted such inanity head-on and screamed my objections from the roof-tops. But then I had a second thought. This would have come in handy 55 years ago when I was taking a course in differential equations. Disregard that I aced DE, this stuff absolutely ruined my life for several miserable weeks. What if…

What if the Texas legislature, just down the street, had been aware of my misery and decided to come to my aid? I still recall Professor Walston reminding us: “Sometimes a differential equation is solved by staring at it until a solution comes to mind.” Yeah, I would liked to have been able to say, “Professor, you can take this differential equation and put it where the sun don’t shine, because my personal god, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, says the answer is always y = 5x + 3.”

You can see there are times a friendly bit of legislation can be a life saver. And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.

The Years of Living Stupidly

Number 13 in a series

Oh, Jesus. First creationist Ben Stein.

Now top officials in American government. The stupidcy is getting so thick you can walk on it.

And it’s not just former Texas governor Rick Perry.

Nikki Haley: God Placed Trump in Power for ‘Lessons’ and ‘Change

David Brody@DavidBrodyCBN

JUST RELEASED: @NikkiHaley on whether God put @realDonaldTrump in place as president for such a time as this? She Says, “everything happens for a reason… I think God sometimes places people for lessons and sometimes places people for change.” Her @700club story Tuesday! @POTUS

Monday in a preview clip, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley commented on God and President Donald Trump during an interview with the “700 Club.”

Reporter David Brody asked, “What is you view kind of spiritually on the sovereignty of God and what he is doing exactly by putting Donald Trump as president of the United States?”

Haley replied, “Well, I think it goes to show that everything happens for a reason. And the way I see it is, look at the results of Donald Trump as president. Look at we have more friends and family with jobs than we have ever had before. We have the economy moving in a direction it hasn’t been in a long time but is doing great. We are acknowledging real truths with the president that had the courage to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And there has been a lot of courage that has come from this president to change what was the status quo and to do it in a way the American people wanted to see it. They did want a disruptor-in-chief. They did want someone who was going to go against the grain and get us out of our comfort zone.”

I’m not pondering whether these two parked their intellect at the door when they accepted positions in the Trump administration. I’m asking whether they ever had such a thing. The years of living stupidly accumulate growth rings.

Abusing Science

Number 45 of a series

Abuse of science is also manifests in arguments for religion as a way of knowing. An instance of this is an item from the Magis Center:

Physics, Philosophy, and Free Will

by  | Aug 2, 2019

“But today it is very hard for a scientific man to say where the supernatural ends and the natural begins, or what name should be given to either.”  -G. K. Chesterton, “The New Jerusalem”

Well, no. G.K. Chesterton notwithstanding, it is in no way difficult. For those not acquainted, Chesterton was an excellent writer, penning the Father Brown series and also The Man Who Knew Too Much, which title was the inspiration for [the title of] two Alfred Hitchcock films. Chesterton was wrong, and Maggie Ciskanik is wrong. She further writes:

We are standing at the edge of physics, the cliffside dwelling of quantum mechanics. From this height it appears that science gives us a limitless view and understanding of the natural world. For many, the amazing achievements of science mean there is no mystery, no “supernatural” realm, nothing beyond what we can see and measure.

There is no God. There is no one but us.

Regardless of what Ciskanik says, science does not purport to give us limitless views. Some more from Ciskanik:

But this limitless quality of science is also the source of its limitedness.

Current scientific theories reflect only what we know about matter in the universe at this time. Really, there are no “final” or complete physical theories. This opinion was expressed recently by Templeton prize winning physicist Marcelo Gleiser, but it was obvious after the astounding revelations of the 20th century concerning time and space.

If you are not familiar with the Templeton Foundation, you might want to read up on its founder, John Templeton. The foundation awards grants to credible scientists who work to reconcile science and religion. For example:

Some organizations funded by the Foundation in the 1990s gave book-writing grants to Guillermo Gonzalez and to William Dembski, proponents of intelligent design who later joined the Discovery Institute. The Foundation also gave money directly to the Discovery Institute which in turn passed it through to Baylor University, which used the funds to support Dembski’s salary at its short-lived Michael Polanyi Center. The Foundation funded projects by Bruce L. Gordon, associate director of the center, after the center was dissolved. Some media outlets described the Foundation as a supporter of intelligent design during the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District litigation in the mid-2000s, a charge which the Foundation denied. The Foundation “explicitly warns intelligent-design researchers not to bother submitting proposals: they will not be considered.”

There is a quote from Martin Heisenberg. Martin is the son of Werner Heisenberg, who first made us aware that physics operates absent determinism at the base level.

“Although we do not credit animals with anything like the consciousness in humans, researchers have found that animal behaviour is not as involuntary as it may appear. The idea that animals act only in response to external stimuli has long been abandoned, and it is well established that they initiate behaviour on the basis of their internal states, as we do.” –Martin Heisenberg (Nature, vol. 459, 2009, p.164)

She makes a number of valid observations on the value of philosophy but begins to wrap up with this odd reference.

We might do well to keep in mind William Henry Bragg’s observation“From religion comes a man’s purpose; from science, his power to achieve it.”

No, again. We do not get purpose from religion. Religion is an outgrowth of aspects of human purpose. To obtain purpose from religion the religion much have existed prior to the purpose. Observation and rigorous analysis indicates the purpose is there, and people contrive a religious basis to justify the purpose.

Getting back to the initial point of this discussion, there is a clear demarcation between the natural (the domain of science) and the supernatural. If something can be studied by science, then it is no longer among the supernatural. From all appearances and experience, the supernatural exists only in the thinking of people—a human invention.

The Magis Center piece provides some background on the writer, giving a hint at her underlying thinking:

Armed with a B.A. in Philosophy and a minor in science, Ciskanik landed in a graduate nursing program. With the support of her enthusiastic husband, an interesting career unfolded while the family grew: a seven year stint mostly as a neurology nurse, 15 years as a homeschooling mom of six, and a six year sojourn as curriculum developer and HS science teacher (which included teaching students with cognitive differences). These experiences added fuel to her lifelong interest in all things related to God’s creation and the flourishing of the human spirit—which has found a new home on the Magis.

[Emphasis added]

Nondeterministic Reasoning

Deep Knowledge, Broken Logic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yes, your kitchen table does have a Designer.

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

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

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

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

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

And gets around to this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t make this stuff up.

Number 15 of the series

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t make this stuff up.

Number 14 of the series

No, none of this comes from me, and for that I am thankful.

The above showed up on my Facebook feed. It demands investigation. Here is the story from DeadState:

 

Megachurch pastor: The effort to impeach Trump is actually an effort to impeach Christian values

People who know me will tell you I have a low view of “Christian values.” This sets a new low. And I didn’t have to make it up.

Abusing Science

Number 42 of a series

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

Walnuts: Intelligent Design in a Nutshell — Literally

Evolution News @DiscoveryCSC

September 19, 2019, 4:46 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abusing Science

Number 41 of a series

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

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

David Klinghoffer | @d_klinghoffer

October 9, 2019, 5:00 AM

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

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

The Irony, Please?

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Joke of the Week

One of a Continuing Series

Not a joke this time, rather a collection from a pamphlet titled Atheists Say the Darndest Things.

  1. A belief is not true because it is useful: Amiel Journal
  2. A casual stroll through a lunatic asylum shows faith does not prove anything: Friedrich Nietzsche
  3. Ignorance is the mother of true piety: Henry Cole, Dean of St. Paul’s 1559
  4. When we talk to God, we’re praying. When God talks to us it’s schizophrenic: Lily Tomlin
  5. To all things clergic, I am allergic: Alexander Woolcott
  6. “God” is a three-letter word meaning “I don’t know:” anonymous
  7. Man is certainly stark mad. He cannot make a worm, and yet he will be making gods by the dozens: Montaigne
  8. Religion. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the Unknowable: Ambrose Bierce

The National Divide

Number 15 of a possibly infinite series

This series highlights the observation that a hard line divides the nation. People will eventually need to decide which side of the line to take. Choices are becoming ever more clear.

President Trump has for months stepped into a series of legal cow patties. His most recent may not have been the last straw. It appears to be the last load of concrete.

Pastor Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church, located in mid-town Dallas, has come to embrace this president and continues to excuse his malfeasance. A recent blowup highlights the divide.

Trump attacks whistleblower and Schiff, tweets impeachment would cause ‘Civil War-like fracture

Pastor Robert Jeffress said he is “afraid” impeachment “will cause a Civil War-like fracture in this nation from which this country will never heal.”

Derived from this:

Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrump

….If the Democrats are successful in removing the President from office (which they will never be), it will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.” Pastor Robert Jeffress, @FoxNews

8:11 PM · Sep 29, 2019Twitter for iPhone

First dispel any notion Pastor Jeffress claimed impeachment will result in civil war. He said it would produce a civil war-like fracture. Pastor Jeffress, you are a few days late on this. The fracture is here,  and it is for all to see.

This is what Robert Jeffress endorses. I am going to request he stand on one side of the divide, and I will stand on the other.

Abusing Science

Number 37 of a series

If the truth be known, I was unaware of C.S. Lewis prior to watching his portrayal by Anthony Hopkins in the movie. I have learned little since. However, the Discovery Institute is now promoting a book by Michael D. Aeschliman titled The Restoration of Man. The subtitle is  C.S. Lewis and the Continuing Case Against Scientism. From the D.I. site:

C. S. Lewis is best known for his Narnia tales and Christian apologetics, works that have sold more than 100 million copies. But Lewis was also a trained philosopher and a professor at Cambridge and Oxford. An intellectual giant, he fiercely and extensively critiqued the fashionable dogma known as scientism—the idea that science is the only path to knowledge, and matter the fundamental reality. Michael Aeschliman’s The Restoration of Man ably surveys Lewis’s eloquent case against this dogma, and situates him among the many other notable thinkers who have entered the fray over this crucial issue. Aeschliman shows why Lewis’s case for the human person as more than matter—as a creature with inherent rationality and worth—is a precious resource for restoring and preserving our culture’s sanity, wisdom, and moral order. This newly revised and expanded edition of Aeschliman’s celebrated study includes forewords by three distinguished writers—James Le Fanu, George Gilder, and Malcolm Muggeridge.

Reading this I now know C.S. Lewis fiercely and extensively critiqued the fashionable dogma known as scientism. I had a prior concept, that scientism was some sort of worship of the scientific method, but now I learn it is really “… the idea that science is the only path to knowledge, and matter the fundamental reality.” I already knew science is defined as the search for knowledge, generally knowledge about the natural world, but since extended to knowledge about other things. We call the study of how to perform tasks using computers “computer science,”  and I have one of those degrees.So if science is not the only way to knowledge, then there must be others or at least one other. We might demand to know what other.

A look at Lewis’s thinking on scientism indicates the D.I. interpretation is less than strict.

Some critics have incorrectly regarded That Hideous Strength as an attack on science. In this regard Faye Ann Crowell correctly draws attention to Lewis’s unpublished (in his own lifetime) reply to Professor J.B.S. Haldane’s highly critical review. Lewis answered Haldane’s criticism by explaining just what he was attacking: “Firstly, a certain view about values: the attack will be found, undisguised, in The Abolition of Man,” Lewis’s 100-page work of nonfiction on the same subject. The latter essay addresses the dangers Lewis saw in the twentieth century abandonment of traditional, objective values. Lewis’s second aim in That Hideous Strength was to illustrate the folly of devoting one’s life to gaining the power and prestige of belonging to a ruling clique or inner circle. Finally, Lewis continued, he was attacking not scientific planning, as Professor Haldane had thought, but the kind of planned society which first Adolf Hitler and then European Marxists had instituted: “the disciplined cruelty of some ideological oligarchy.”

Lewis aside, consider the practice of science is a method. Then by what other means are we to gain knowledge? We can go to our imaginations, and we can gain wondrous things—music, poetry, flights of fiction. However, these are not strictly new knowledge. Knowing the Discovery Institute, I would expect they want us to explore ancient philosophy to probe matters such as the origins of life. There is more.

How should governments government, and how should people conduct personal relationships. We see groups, the D.I. included, advocating for philosophies extracted from ancient texts. Marriage is defined, lifestyles need to conform to tradition, and prescribed rituals are to be followed. The source of this thinking is not reason and pragmatism but the ancient texts. But not, in fact, the ancient texts. The ancient texts are to be interpreted by those very ones who perceive reliance on science a threat. We suspect this reasoning is driven by personal preference. It is rule by edict in bald disguise, and it is definitely an abuse of science.

Abusing Science

Number 36 of a series

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

WHY CAN’T MONKEYS TYPING FOREVER PRODUCE SHAKESPEARE?

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

BY RUSS WHITE ON SEPTEMBER 10, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Hamlet. Methinks it is like a weasel.

Polonius. It is backed like a weasel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abusing Science

Number 33 of a series

Resuming after taking four weeks off.

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

A Scientific Method for Design Detection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abusing Science

Number 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.