Darwin’s Doubt

Number 5 in a Series

If there remains any doubt regarding the underpinnings of Intelligent Design, one only has to review the day-to-day endeavors of its key proponents. Stephen C. Meyer founded and currently heads up the Center for Science and Culture (CSC) of the Discovery Institute. The Discovery Institute is the principal organization supporting this attempt to cloak religious creationism and disguise it as cutting-edge science. The above image is a screen shot from  Does God Exist, a video series hosted by Stephen C. Meyer and produced by Focus on the Family, an organization whose purpose is the promotion of a conservative Christian viewpoint.

This is a continuation of my review of  Stephen C. Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt. It draws on a an item posted to the Evolution News blog. That posting excerpts a number of passages from the book. I previously reviewed three of these excerpts. Here are the remaining two:

Intelligent agents can generate new structural (epigenetic) information and construct functionally integrated and hierarchically organized layers of information as we see in animal body plans:

The cited text being:

The highly specified, tightly integrated, hierarchical arrangements of molecular components and systems within animal body plans also suggest intelligent design. This is, again, because of our experience with the features and systems that intelligent agents— and only intelligent agents— produce. Indeed, based on our experience, we know that intelligent human agents have the capacity to generate complex and functionally specified arrangements of matter— that is, to generate specified complexity or specified information. Further, human agents often design information-rich hierarchies, in which both individual modules and the arrangement of those modules exhibit complexity and specificity— specified information as defined in Chapter 8. Individual transistors, resistors, and capacitors in an integrated circuit exhibit considerable complexity and specificity of design. Yet at a higher level of organization, the specific arrangement and connection of these components within an integrated circuit requires additional information and reflects further design (see Fig. 14.2).

Conscious and rational agents have, as part of their powers of purposive intelligence, the capacity to design information-rich parts and to organize those parts into functional information-rich systems and hierarchies.

Meyer, Stephen C.. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (p. 366). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Some analysis will be helpful. Take the first two sentences: “The highly specified, tightly integrated, hierarchical arrangements of molecular components and systems within animal body plans also suggest intelligent design. This is, again, because of our experience with the features and systems that intelligent agents— and only intelligent agents— produce.” Meyer insists that examination of the lowest level of structure of living organisms suggests the work of an outside living agent. Here he is appealing to intuition without providing a factual basis. He compares the functional organization of living organisms to the construction of intricate systems devised by people. By implication, he wants the reader to consider that an entity with human-like qualities is behind the development of living organisms.

Finally:

Meyer concludes that “both the Cambrian animal forms themselves and their pattern of appearance in the fossil record exhibit precisely those features that we should expect to see if an intelligent cause had acted to produce them” (p. 379) He summarizes his argument as follows:

Here is the text from the book:

When we encounter objects that manifest any of the key features present in the Cambrian animals, or events that exhibit the patterns present in the Cambrian fossil record, and we know how these features and patterns arose, invariably we find that intelligent design played a causal role in their origin. Thus, when we encounter these same features in the Cambrian event, we may infer— based upon established cause-and-effect relationships and uniformitarian principles— that the same kind of cause operated in the history of life. In other words, intelligent design constitutes the best, most causally adequate explanation for the origin of information and circuitry necessary to build the Cambrian animals. It also provides the best explanation for the top-down, explosive, and discontinuous pattern of appearance of the Cambrian animals in the fossil record.

Meyer, Stephen C.. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (p. 381). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Again some analysis. Take the initial sentence: “When we encounter objects that manifest any of the key features present in the Cambrian animals, or events that exhibit the patterns present in the Cambrian fossil record, and we know how these features and patterns arose, invariably we find that intelligent design played a causal role in their origin.” Standing alone in the book this would seem to be a bald proclamation of fact. It will be interesting to peruse the remainder of the book and see whether Meyer has, indeed, demonstrated that “invariably we find that intelligent design played a causal role in their origin.” I suspect this phrasing represents considerable overreach on the part of the author. In following posts I will examine the arguments Meyer makes in the book, and I will keep coming back to this matter of conclusions well-jumped. Keep reading.

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Darwin’s Doubt

Number 4 in a Series

This is a continuation of my review of creationist Stephen C. Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt. I was recently reminded by a post on the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News site. That posting excerpts a number of passages from the book. I previously reviewed two of those. Here is another citation:

Intelligent agents can construct and modify complex integrated circuits that are necessary for animal development:

Here is the cited text. The post omits some of the text, as noted by the strike-through section:

Integrated circuits in electronics are systems of individually functional components such as transistors, resistors, and capacitors that are connected together to perform an overarching function. Likewise, the functional components of dGRNs— the DNA-binding proteins, their DNA target sequences, and the other molecules that the binding proteins and target molecules produce and regulate— also form an integrated circuit, one that contributes to accomplishing the overall function of producing an adult animal form.

Yet, as explained in Chapter 13, Davidson himself has made clear that the tight functional constraints under which these systems of molecules (the dGRNs) operate preclude their gradual alteration by the mutation and selection mechanism. For this reason, neo-Darwinism has failed to explain the origin of these systems of molecules and their functional integration. Like advocates of evolutionary developmental biology, Davidson himself favors a model of evolutionary change that envisions mutations generating large-scale developmental effects, thus perhaps bypassing nonfunctional intermediate circuits or systems. Nevertheless, neither proponents of “evo-devo,” nor proponents of other recently proposed materialistic theories of evolution, have identified a mutational mechanism capable of generating a dGRN or anything even remotely resembling a complex integrated circuit. Yet, in our experience, complex integrated circuits— and the functional integration of parts in complex systems generally— are known to be produced by intelligent agents— specifically, by engineers. Moreover, intelligence is the only known cause of such effects. Since developing animals employ a form of integrated circuitry, and certainly one manifesting a tightly and functionally integrated system of parts and subsystems, and since intelligence is the only known cause of these features, the necessary presence of these features in developing Cambrian animals would seem to indicate that intelligent agency played a role in their origin.

Meyer, Stephen C.. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (p. 364). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Meyer makes two significant assertions. Here I will quote, with slight editing:

  • In our experience, complex integrated circuits — and the functional integration of parts in complex systems generally — are known to be produced by intelligent agents — specifically, by engineers.
  • Moreover, intelligence is the only known cause of such effects.

Meyer is correct in the first instance. Engineers and other people are known to do such things. In the second instance Meyer is stating as fact what he aims to demonstrate. The counter to that second part is that scientists have observed complex systems that have not been engineered by an outside brain, mind, intelligent agent—whatever you choose to call it. We see these complex systems, and we do not see outside intelligence creating them.

What Meyer is doing here is what he does throughout his arguments for Intelligent Design. He is saying that he cannot understand how else such systems came to be absent the working of an outside agency, and further he is convinced others do not understand. Therefore, there must have been an outside agent of some intelligence at work. Although Meyer and other followers of the Intelligent Design refuse to admit they have the God of Abraham in mind, there is little doubt from their other works and statements that this is the only thing they will consider. Additionally these people, when they are not hyping Intelligent Design or disparaging the legitimate work of real scientists, spend much of their waking time promoting the God of Abraham and the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. For example:

Historians Mentioning Jesus

  • Titus Flavius Josephus, Yosef Ben Matityahu (ca. 37-100 A.D.)
  • Publius Gaius Cornelius Tacitus (ca. 56-117 A.D.)
  • Mara Bar-Serapion (late 1st century A.D.)
  • Flavius Lustinus, Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165 A.D.)
  • Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (ca. 9230 A.D.)
  • Pliny the Younger, ca 61-113 A.D.)

Despite how much they deny, Meyer and his cohorts are engaged in a relentless pursuit to promote the God of Abraham and the divinity of Jesus.

There will be more. Keep reading.

Darwin’s Doubt

Number 3 in a Series

Chipmunk confronts a diet soda can near Mirror Lake Utah

I have a copy of creationist Stephen C. Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt, and I have promised to review it. I was recently reminded of that by a post on the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News site. That posting excerpts a number of passages from the book. I previously reviewed the first of those. Here is another citation:

Intelligent agents can generate top-down patterns of appearance like we see in animal body plans.

Here is the pertinent passage:

“Top-down” causation begins with a basic architecture, blueprint, or plan and then proceeds to assemble parts in accord with it. The blueprint stands causally prior to the assembly and arrangement of the parts. But where could such a blueprint come from? One possibility involves a mental mode of causation. Intelligent agents often conceive of plans prior to their material instantiation— that is, the preconceived design of a blueprint often precedes the assembly of parts in accord with it. An observer touring the parts section of a General Motors plant will see no direct evidence of a prior blueprint for GM’s new models, but will perceive the basic design plan immediately upon observing the finished product at the end of the assembly line. Designed systems, whether automobiles, airplanes, or computers, invariably manifest a design plan that preceded their first material instantiation. But the parts do not generate the whole. Rather, an idea of the whole directed the assembly of the parts.

Meyer, Stephen C.. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (pp. 371-372). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Meyer is correct in stating (by implication) that a builder, on receiving a set of design specifications (blue prints and such), can proceed in constructing a device or assembly. Note the implication. There exists nothing like the desired assembly. The materials to construct it are present, and there is a pre-recorded set of instructions for construction. The instructions are the sole source of the information required for construction.

At this point a reminder is helpful. Define information as the agent that mediates cause and effect. I have stated this previously, perhaps not in this exact form. Nobody has ever challenged my definition. All are welcome to have a go at it.

What Meyer does not concede is that a set of instructions is not a prerequisite for constructing a device/assembly. Random processes can accomplish this. This is the basis of Darwinian evolution, and this is what the creationists argue strongly against. They pose it much like this:

Given even the finished components, steel sheet, machine screws, quantities of paint, it is unlikely to the extreme that a random process will assemble these components into a functional automobile, much less into one that somebody would purchase off the showroom floor and drive away.

To be sure, that is an extreme statement of the creationists’ argument, and those people do argue a more digestible case. Their most popular argument is more like this:

Given a completed, perfectly functional, automobile and given materials to be added to produce next year’s model, it is improbable to the extreme that this modification can occur by accident. Some sort of pre-conceived design is required. A set of documentation is required. At the minimum there must be an intelligent agent with the pre-conceived design upgrade in mind.

And this is what the so-called Darwinists object to. The creationists insist there must be a pre-conceived idea, there being no mention of who or what holds this pre-conceived idea. To be clear, the agency that Stephen C. Meyer represents is the Discovery Institute, and their concept is called Intelligent Design. Further, the narrators of Intelligent Design want to insist that religious faith is not at the base of their argument. And this last is an outrageous lie of grand proportions. Any notion that Stephen C. Meyer pushes Intelligent Design absent religious faith is daily countered by his own words and actions. For example:

The final four episodes deal with the New Testament, the contribution by Christians, telling the story of Jesus of Nazareth, his teachings, his trial and execution, and his return from the dead. Meyer wants to assure viewers all those doubts about the validity of the New Testament are groundless.

Following the trajectory of Meyer’s life and career, we see a relentless commitment to a defense of the Christian faith. His promotion of Intelligent Design is one manifestation of that commitment.

Returning to Meyer’s argument, biologists argue that random processes we observe in nature are adequate to have produced the life forms we see today. In direct counter to Meyer, the concept of Intelligent Design is intellectually bankrupt on a number of points. Repeating myself:

I scoff. Really? Let me get this straight. An Intelligent Agent, the Entity who created the Universe, the Earth, the planets, the sun, and all we see around us—this Entity, took over 13 billion years to get us to where we are today after first creating the Universe. Actually, over 13 billion years to get us to the point where there was a Universe and a planet Earth, and there were any number of species of plants and animals, but none resembling people. Allow me to repeat: Really? If that is Stephen C. Meyer’s concept of intelligence, then Heaven help the human species, because intelligence is all that’s keeping us going.

Additionally, at no point in their argument have proponents of Intelligent Design identified a mechanism by which the Intelligent Designer could have implemented these designs. Nor can they.

I will continue the review of Meyer’s book through an analysis of the Evolution News post prior to diving into a direct review of the book. Keep reading.

Darwin’s Doubt

Number 2

Chipmunk confronts a diet soda can near Mirror Lake, Utah

It was two years ago I obtained a copy of creationist Stephen C. Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt and promised to review it. I was recently reminded of that by a post on the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News site:

In his book Darwin’s Doubt, Stephen Meyer considers the nature of animals and what is required to build an animal. He finds that only intelligent design can explain the abrupt origin of animal life in the fossil record, as well as the new information required to build the integrated nature of parts and systems that comprise animal body plans. Here’s how Meyer makes the case that intelligent design is the best explanation for many aspects of the origin of animals as witnessed in the Cambrian explosion:

The posting is not signed, a departure from my previous experience. The site lists a number of contributors, here listed in no particular order:

The author goes on to state:

Intelligent agents can generate new form rapidly as we see in the abrupt appearance of animals in the Cambrian fossil record:

That is followed by an excerpt from the book:

Intelligent agents have foresight. Such agents can determine or select functional goals before they are physically instantiated. They can devise or select material means to accomplish those ends from among an array of possibilities. They can then actualize those goals in accord with a preconceived design plan or set of functional requirements. Rational agents can constrain combinatorial space with distant information-rich outcomes in mind.

Meyer, Stephen C.. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (pp. 362-363). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Yes! Stephen C. Meyer is 100% correct. If you have an agent, a person, with intelligence and foresight, you can make much more rapid progress than can be accomplished by random processes alone. Here is what an intelligent agent can do:

  • Send nerve impulses from a brain to muscles and cause objects to move, directing bits of matter to come into contact and preventing certain things from happening, which things would not ordinarily have happened were it not for said intervention.
  • Use eyes or other sensory methods to determine what is going on, allowing the brain to make decisions and to change the course of actions being taken.

If the Intelligent Agent only had a brain. Or hands. Or eyes.

What Meyer is saying, perhaps without realizing it, is that somewhere in the distant past something caused matter to move in ways contrary to the natural flow of events. And nowhere in any of his writings I have found has Meyer explained such happenings, neither has he mentioned them. It is an explanation the proponents of Intelligent Design must not touch. It is the figurative third rail of Intelligent Design. Touch it, and Intelligent Design dies.

But stop right there. I know what Meyer and the other creationists are going to say. Allow me to propose a quote:

Our research has not yet uncovered a method. However, our observations and our reasoning have convinced us, and will convince any thinking person, that there must have been an  Intelligent Agent at work. Else we would not have gotten to where we are today.

Explainer of Intelligent Design

I scoff. Really? Let me get this straight. An Intelligent Agent, the Entity who created the Universe, the Earth, the planets, the sun, and all we see around us—this Entity, took over 13 billion years to get us to where we are today after first creating the Universe. Actually, over 13 billion years to get us to the point where there was a Universe and a planet Earth, and there were any number of species of plants and animals, but none resembling people. Allow me to repeat: Really? If that is Stephen C. Meyer’s concept of intelligence, then Heaven help the human species, because intelligence is all that’s keeping us going.

I will dig deeper into Stephen C. Meyer’s book in the coming days. In the meantime, the Evolution News posting has a link to a neat video, which you should watch. I know I will watch it, and I will have a go at summarizing it in a future post. Here’s the link:

And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Persecution Complex

An addendum

Over the past few days I reviewed ten episodes of Does God Exist, a video produced by the fundamentalist Christian organization Focus on the Family. It’s offered as a DVD and is also streaming on Amazon Prime Video. In addition to the ten episodes addressing the question, “does God exist,” there is a bonus segment highlighting the challenges fundamentalist Christians encounter in a less than sectarian world. The operating title is “The Toughest Test In College.” From Amazon:

Preparing for college involves more than just buying new clothes and textbooks. Your toughest test is not going to be on paper; it is a test of your heart and mind. Can you live out your convictions and share your faith with students and professors who might not agree with your Christian worldview?

Here is a brief review. We start with Jay. “He’s on his way to college.”

What Jay and other fundamentalist Christians encountered (according to the video) is the challenge of hostile professors. Across the spectrum, these (supposedly) liberal professors go from questioning students’core beliefs to heaping ridicule on any and all who will not abandon their beliefs. We are informed these hostile professor in the video are actors paid to stand in for real people.

Prominent contenders for Objectionable of the Month include Peter Singer and Ward Churchill. Singer is polarizing for his views on the value of human life. Churchill would be controversial on any campus, but this video singles out his opposition to the Bush administration’s prosecution of the war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Churchill wants administration officials prosecuted for war crimes, a not totally un-Christian position.

Del Tackett, D.M., president (now former president) of Focus on the Family, weighs in and narrates much of the story.

Stephen C. Meyer, the main figure in the video, also appears. Meyer gained fame as an advocate for Intelligent Design as legitimate science. He was prepared to testify (but did not) for that at the Kitzmiller trial. Here all the wraps are off. Meyer is a Christian warrior, fully committed to a campaign to define what is the true faith.

And there is J. Budziszewski, Ph.D., a professor of history and philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. He argues strongly against “moral relativity.” He compares it to factual relativity. If somebody advises against eating the cafeteria’s tuna salad, citing that it’s making people sick, he portrays the relativist as saying, “That’s your own opinion” (not his exact words).

Eric Pianka, is Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of Texas at Austin. Before I proceed further I need to clear up a minor point. Despite the correct spelling of Pianka’s first name, and despite displaying graphics depicting his complete name, the producers somehow missed the point.

The controversy about Pianka is a speech he made. Wikipedia provides some details:

Pianka’s acceptance speech for the 2006 Distinguished Texas Scientist Award from the Texas Academy of Science resulted in a controversy in the popular press when Forrest Mims, vice-chair of the Academy’s section on environmental science, claimed in the Society for Amateur Scientists e-journal The Citizen Scientist that Pianka had “endorsed the elimination of 95 percent of the human population” through a disease such as an airborne strain of the Ebola virus. Mims claimed that Pianka said the Earth would not survive unless its population was reduced by 95% suggesting that the planet would be “better off” if the human population were reduced and that a mutant strain of Ebola would be the most efficient means. Mims’ affiliate at the Discovery InstituteWilliam Dembski, then informed the Department of Homeland Security that Pianka’s speech may have been intended to foment bioterrorism. This resulted in the Federal Bureau of Investigation interviewing Pianka in Austin.

Pianka has stated that Mims took his statements out of context and that he was simply describing what would happen from biological principles alone if present human population trends continue, and that he was not in any way advocating for it to happen. The Texas Academy, which hosted the speech, released a statement asserting that “Many of Dr. Pianka’s statements have been severely misconstrued and sensationalized.” However, Dr. Kenneth Summy, an Academy member who observed the speech, wrote a letter of support for Mims’ account, saying “Dr. Pianka chose to deliver an inflammatory message in his keynote address, so he should not be surprised to be the recipient of a lot of criticism from TAS membership. Forrest Mims did not misrepresent anything regarding the presentation.”

Some of the same names keep cropping up in the creation-evolution controversy, and one of those is Forrest Mims:

Forrest M. Mims III, who most recently wrote the Amateur Scientist column of last June’s issue of Scientific American, is out since they discovered he is a committed creationist. Mims talked to the Houston Chronicle and to the Wall Street Journal, and that’s when the watermelon hit the fan. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, in a letter to SA, asked them not to use religion as a basis for publication, and the ACLU has taken up his case. That was where the matter stood the last I heard of it.

The Skeptic editor, Keith Blanton, was able to tape record an interview with Mims on the CNN show “Crossfire,” and he has made the tape available to interested viewers. Contact Keith at one of the NTS meetings if you want to borrow the tape. Appearing in the interview with Mims was NCSE Director and CSICOP Fellow, Eugenie C. Scott. The interview was moderated by conservative Cal Thomas (substituting for Pat Buchanan) and by liberal Mike Kinsley (of New Republic).

And here is what is additionally interesting. Both Pianka and Budziszewski are at the University of Texas at Austin, a place where I once obtained a degree. If you casually watch the introductory sketches you might get the idea that students are going to show up at college and run head on into a wall of liberal bias, unlikely, based on personal observation. Creationist Robert Koons is a professor of philosophy at UT Austin, and he is also an advocate of Intelligent Design, being a former fellow of the Discovery Institute. Robert Pennock was a professor of philosophy at UT Austin  when  he published Tower of Babel: The Evidence against the New Creationism. What needs to be taken away from this discussion is that students leaving home and heading to college are going to run into the real world, and the real world is not the family dinner hour.

Christian students in the video are portrayed as earnest and sincere. You would want your own children to be like these. Except… Except we see students (or stand-ins) reflecting disdain for homosexual lifestyles and even those whose only offense seems to be anti Christian.

The video includes testimonials by a litany of students regarding the disrespect they received at even Christian institutions. They recount observing lewd behavior, sexual promiscuity, and tolerance for un-Christian life styles. Individual students are generally not identified on-camera, but the end credits list names of actual students as well as names of actors who dramatized students in the video.

Students testify. What they found, even at Christian academies, was a more open attitude, one their home life had neither accepted nor recognized. There was more tolerating of sin and also an acceptance of world views that were not biblical. To that, a thinking person would have to respond, “No shit.” People, you can walk a block from  your front door, even in Salt Lake City, and find world views that are not biblical.

But this video drills down on college campus life and wants to target not only bad actors, abusive and wrong-headed faculty, but also the openness we should hope to find on campus. I notice some play with the concept of intolerance. There is intolerance toward Christian values, and there is intolerance toward uncommon lifestyles. There seems to be a lot of intolerance going around. See the case of Emily Brooker below.

We also learn we should not put our complete trust in the experts. We are reminded that experts predicted a glowing future for the American economy, just days prior to the greatest collapse in our history.

Also mentioned are predictions by “experts” a few decades back of a threatened global cooling, and also the advice from other “experts” that eugenics, including forced sterilization, was necessary for the purity of the gene pool. Particularly, the case of Carrie Buck is highlighted. She was deemed a danger to the gene pool and forcibly sterilized in what is now acknowledged to be a gross injustice and a violation of all sense of humanity:

Paul A. Lombardo, a Professor of Law at Georgia State University, spent almost 25 years researching the Buck v. Bell case. He dug through case records and the papers of the lawyers involved in the case. Lombardo eventually found Carrie Buck and was able to interview her shortly before her death. Lombardo has alleged that several people had manufactured evidence to make the state’s case against Carrie Buck, and that Buck was actually of normal intelligence. Professor Lombardo was one of the few people who attended Carrie Buck’s funeral.

A historical marker was erected on May 2, 2002, in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Carrie Buck was born. At that time, Virginia Governor Mark R. Warner offered the “Commonwealth’s sincere apology for Virginia’s participation in eugenics.”

Missing from the narrative is what position people of Christian faith took on the matter at the time.

A prominent case featured in the video is that of the student shown below.

While not identified here, her case is a matter of record:

Does a professor have the right to require his students to comply with a certain political or social view in order to pass a course? Can universities demand that students observe policies that conflict with their religious views or restrict their First Amendment rights?

A lawsuit filed by a Missouri college student may soon provide some answers to these questions–with important implications for academia.

The lawsuit, Brooker v. The Governors of Missouri State University (MSU), was filed on Oct. 30 by the Alliance Defend Fund on behalf of Emily Brooker, a student in the university’s school of social work. The ADF, a Christian legal group that advocates religious freedom, accuses tax-funded MSU of retaliating against Brooker because she refused to sign a letter to the Missouri Legislature in support of homosexual adoption as part of a class project.

Gay adoption violates Brooker’s Christian beliefs.

As told in the video, the suit was settled in Brooker’s favor, and the offending faculty largely left their positions. The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is a regular target of mine for their pursuit of frivolous causes:

You get the picture. Congress outlawed such practices in venues covered by US law,which would be public accommodations. In short, places open for business to the public are no longer allowed to embarrass the entire nation through the use of insulting and exclusionary practices.

Beyond that, this is a truly egregious case and one the ACLU would have taken.

It is perhaps inevitable the matter of Guillermo Gonzalez will come up in the context of campus intolerance. He is featured as one of the cases of those expelled for advocating Intelligent Design. Gonzalez was denied tenure at Iowa State University, where he taught. He contested this action, contending he was denied tenure due to his support for Intelligent Design. The faculty board that declined to offer him tenure stated the denial was due to his lack of productivity at the University. Although he showed promise early in his career, at Iowa State his publication record was sparse, and he sponsored no successful Ph.D. candidates. The National Center for Science Education published a critique of the Expelled video and included the Gonzalez case:

Gonzalez’s publication output dropped steadily during his time at ISU. The work he did publish was based on re-evaluations of data he had previously collected or analyses of other people’s data.

An assessment by the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required) found that:

…a closer look at Mr. Gonzalez’s case raises some questions about his recent scholarship and whether he has lived up to his early promise. …

Under normal circumstances, Mr. Gonzalez’s publication record would be stellar and would warrant his earning tenure at most universities, according to Mr. Hirsch [a scholar who analyzed the publication record]. But Mr. Gonzalez completed the best scholarship, as judged by his peers, while doing postdoctoral work at the University of Texas at Austin and at the University of Washington, where he received his Ph.D. His record has trailed off since then.

“It looks like it slowed down considerably,” said Mr. Hirsch…. “It’s not clear that he started new things, or anything on his own, in the period he was an assistant professor at Iowa State.”

That pattern may have hurt his case. “Tenure review only deals with his work since he came to Iowa State,” said John McCarroll, a spokesman for the university.

When considering a tenure case, faculty committees try to anticipate what kind of work a professor will accomplish in the future. “The only reason the previous record is relevant is the extent to which it can predict future performance,” said Mr. Hirsch. “Generally, it’s a good indication, but in some cases it’s not.”

David L. Lambert, director of the McDonald Observatory at Texas, supervised Mr. Gonzalez during his postdoctoral fellowship there in the early to mid-1990s. … [H]e is not aware of any important new work by Mr. Gonzalez since he arrived at Iowa State, such as branching off into different directions of research. “I don’t know what else he has done,” Mr. Lambert said. …

Mr. Gonzalez said he does not have any grants through NASA or the National Science Foundation, the two agencies that would normally support his research…. He arrived at Iowa State in 2001, but none of his graduate students there have thus far completed their doctoral work

Provided that his colleagues at Iowa State objected to his views on Intelligent Design, we need to recognize there can be a problem when a fellow scientist is seen buying into wacko science. I have observed previously there only so many times you can show up with your fly unzipped before you are no longer invited to the party.

It is unfortunate that Stephen C. Meyer has allied himself with a bastion of intolerance which Focus on the Family is. Or perhaps it is fortunate for readers. His several books, including Darwin’s Doubt and Signature in the Cell, attempt to make a show of scientific validation. Not so here. Meyer goes full monty in support of religious orthodoxy. Barbara Forrest has written Creationism’s Trojan Horse as a critique of Intelligent Design, and Meyer’s religious intent is hard to hide:

Religious motivation drives all the CRSC leadership.14 Indeed, Stephen C. Meyer, the director of the CRSC, professed his attraction to “the origins debate” precisely because it is theistic: “I remember being especially fascinated with the origins debate at this conference. It impressed me to see that scientists who had always accepted the standard evolutionary story [Meyer says he was one of them] were now defending a theistic belief, not on the basis that it makes them feel good or provides some form of subjective contentment, but because the scientific evidence suggests an activity of mind that is beyond nature. I was really taken with this.”15

Forrest, Barbara. Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (p. 260). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Meyer’s pretense at academic rigor and any scientific basis for creationism dissolve completely in the video that follows this one. Also produced by Focus on the Family, its title is “Is the Bible Reliable?” A quick peek reveals that Meyer is hosting this one and is arguing for biblical literalism, or something close to it. A review is coming up next. Keep reading.

And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Fool’s Argument

Ninth of a series

This is the ninth in my review of the video production Does God Exist, brought to you by Focus on the Family, an agency for conservative Christian advocacy. The video is available on DVD from Amazon, and it is currently streaming on Amazon, free with Amazon Prime.

 The previous episode dealt with the return of the God hypothesis. Creationist Stephen C. Meyer argued that public discourse should return to accepting the hypothesis that God is behind everything. In Episode 9 Meyer abandons science altogether and unfolds his inner core argument. Judeo-Christian (Muslim, too) religious dogma is the only right and acceptable basis for human morality. He states this up front. See the screen shot above.

Meyer has formal education in science, a degree in physics and earth science, and he earlier worked down the street from where I used to work, in Plano, Texas. But then he earned a Ph.D. in history and philosophy of science at Cambridge University, and he has been involved in promoting religion since, with little attention paid to actual science. Here he waxes entirely philosophical and theological.

We are treated to the wisdom of that world-renowned thinker Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“If God is dead, then all things are permissible.”

Yes, there is a real question whether we should base our lives on the thoughts of a 19th century writer of fiction.

Meyer illustrates with some sound logical inferences, using well-grounded philosophy.

The presentation foil says:

Is ≠ Ought

Murder hurts people.

Hurting people is wrong.

Therefore, murder is wrong.

The first part I translate to “what exists is what should be.” Then comes a statement that responsible members of society will agree to, namely that killing people is bad for the people being killed. Meyer is presenting to some students, and he initially leaves the part about hurting people being wrong and just shows the last part, murder is wrong. He asks students to fill in the blank. A student provides the obvious and missing part: hurting people is wrong. The matter then lands on where we got the part about hurting people is wrong. That’s the basis of human morality. We need to figure out what is wrong and what is right. We need to figure out what we ought to do. Meyer is going to argue that this answer cannot come from logic and  reason but must come from theism—from God.

Meyer quotes a number of famous people. Here is one such.

Here’s what it has to say:

There Are No Objective Standards of Morality

“Morality … is merely an adaptation put in place to further our reproductive end… In an important sense, ethics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate.

[Attributed to Michael Ruse and E.O. Wilson]

Michael Ruse is a retired professor of philosophy:

Michael RuseFRSC (born 21 June 1940) is a philosopher of science who specializes in the philosophy of biology and is well known for his work on the relationship between science and religion, the creation–evolution controversy, and the demarcation problem within science. Ruse currently teaches at Florida State University. He was born in England, attending Bootham School, York. He took his undergraduate degree at the University of Bristol (1962), his master’s degree at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario (1964), and Ph.D. at the University of Bristol (1970).

Edward Osborne Wilson is a biologist:

Edward Osborne Wilson (born June 10, 1929), usually cited as E. O. Wilson, is an American biologist, researcher, theorist, naturalist and author. His biological specialty is myrmecology, the study of ants, on which he is the world’s leading expert.

The statement, attributed to the two of them together, seems brash on the surface, but it contains some embedded logic. There is a view, held by me and by others, that human morality is basic. I start by observing that mothers, with exceptions, do not kill their babies. Else there would be no human race. Further, there would be no human race prior to the rise of Judeo-Christian thinking. Hence, human morality existed at a basic level for a long time without benefit of Judeo-Christian morality. I extend this line of thought to higher levels of ethics and morality.

You don’t take other people’s stuff, because if you do, then that’s going to make them angry, and they’re going to come after you, and you are going to spend your time fighting to stay alive, whereas if you left other people’s stuff alone, and they left your stuff alone, then everybody would get along and we would all be more productive.

And that’s the basis of the Ruse-Wilson argument,  Stephen C. Meyer notwithstanding.

Meyer cites additional examples. Here’s famous trial lawyer of 100 years ago, Clarence Darrow. In 1924 Darrow defended two privileged white kids who murdered a young boy in an exercise to demonstrate they were smarter than anybody else.

What Darrow did is what any good defense lawyer does. There was no doubt the boys did it, and a guilty plea was entered. What Darrow did was to successfully argue before the sentencing judge that the boys were shaped by evolution and society and should not be executed for the crime.

Meyer’s invoking of the Darrow defense might lend merit to his argument against innate morality, but he steps into a giant cow cookie while invoking Darrow. Specifically:

[Darrow] was sent by the ACLU out to Chicago to defend [Leopold and Loeb].

Absolutely false, and I have to wonder where Meyer got this. The ACLU did not send Darrow to defend two murderers. Leopold and Loeb were from wealthy families, and they did not need a civil rights lawyer to defend them. They could afford the best lawyer in the country, and what happened, according to a biography of Darrow’s life, is that the uncle of one of the boys went to Darrow’s home and pleaded, promised to pay whatever was demanded, to get Darrow to take the case.

Call me cynical if you wish, but Meyer’s reference to  the ACLU appears to be a bit of Intelligent Design. The Intelligent Design folks are not known for stand-up honesty, and the temptation  to suck the ACLU—which has confronted state-sponsored anti-evolution at every step—into the narrative was possibly too tempting to resist. Do I think Meyer and the other creationists were still smarting from the drubbing ACLU lawyers gave Intelligent Design in the Kitzmiller case? Inquiring minds would like to know.

The religious doctrine espoused by conservative thinkers, the Discovery Institute included, leans toward being highly-judgmental. The word on the street is these people recoil when they think somebody is having too much fun. “The Kinsey Reports” refers to two volumes published in 1948 and 1953 and based on interviews with a few thousands of subjects.

What’s Natural is Good

“The Kinsey Reports … have inspired sex education programs in high schools and encouraged several generations of sex therapists to tell their patients, ‘If it feels good, do it.’ [Attributed to] James H. Jones.”

Regarding James H. Jones:

James H. Jones is a Professor of History at the University of Arkansas. 

He is the author of Kinsey: A Public/Private Life and [also] Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.

Meyer does not cite a reference for the Jones quote, but assume it is true for the sake of argument. A broad interpretation is that if nobody is harmed, then it is all right to do it. This is something religious fundamentalists seem to have issue with. Call me out on this if I am wrong, but my observation is that many conservatives in this country and elsewhere, in the interest of smaller government, want people to quit having fun wherever there are no consequences attached.

Meyer invokes the United States Constitution, as it is based on religious morality.

This is possibly a misstep on his part, because the Constitution, as originally adopted, was not steeped in morality and human rights:

Section. 2.

The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New-York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five, and Georgia three.

When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies.

The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

[Emphasis added]

 

Yes, the Constitution, adopted in 1789, had no provision for protecting human rights, and it had text particularly worded to accommodate slavery.

In the video one student is seen bringing up the matter of slavery, and Meyer is quick to respond that that was then, and this is now (my words). Just because somebody else does it wrong, or just because everybody used to do it wrong, that doesn’t mean we should not presently be doing it right. He completely glosses over his wrong assertion that the Constitution was inspired by a Judeo-Christian morality.

Once again he invokes David Berlinski. I have to go back to the video to recall what this was about.

And here it is. Berlinski is seen saying that no system that sought to ensure morality, absent religion, has been successful. Berlinski may have some support here. In a previous century I was acquainted with the late science fiction writer and acknowledged atheist L. Sprague de Camp. At a dinner gathering once he made this observation. We need religion, the fear of God, to make people do right.

While I  can possibly, based on observation, agree with Berlinski and de Camp, I have never found it necessary in my own life to require fear of the supernatural to keep me in line. That observation holds for a large gathering of my atheistic friends and family. On the other hand I note the great number of people being killed in the name of God. God’s ways are mysterious, to be sure.

Meyer concludes.

Three Key Conditions for an Objective Morality

  1. Objective standard
  2. Free will
  3. Intrinsic value of humans

I find no fault with that position. How I differ with Meyer is that an imaginary God is not necessary to attain that objective.

This entire episode has been soaked in religion and philosophy, and Meyer’s presentation quotes a number of philosophical sources, including Berlinski and Dostoyevsky. And that is supposed to mean a lot. People who know me really well are acquainted with my view of philosophy as a study and philosophers in general. God put philosophers on this planet with an eye toward making used car salesmen look good.

That said, what to make of Meyer’s argument, specifically that  we need a God, particularly we need a religion, to obtain  morality? More specifically, people did not come up with morality, cannot come up with morality, on their own. There must have been some supernatural force to inject morality into the human consciousness. It’s a proposition that does not pass the Skeptical Analysis test.

First, assuming the God to which Meyer refers is the source of this morality. Surprise! This God is a human invention. People existed many thousands of years before the Abrahamic God was introduced, and people had morality. Doubt me? Take note of this. The famous Ten Commandments existed in various forms prior to the time Moses was supposed to have brought them down from Mount Sinai. From all appearances, the writers of the story of Moses adopted these ideas, and placed them on the stone tablets.

But, let’s pretend that God really is the source of our morality. Then what a wonder of morality it is. Examples abound:

Deuteronomy 21:18-21 King James Version (KJV)

18 If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:

19 Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;

20 And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.

21 And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.

Some more:

Exodus 12:29 King James Version (KJV)

29 And it came to pass, that at midnight the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.

More:

Ephesians 6:5 King James Version (KJV)

Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;

More:

1 Timothy 6:1-2 King James Version (KJV)

Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.

And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort.

And I can go on ad nauseam. And I will if anybody from the Intelligent Design camp wants to challenge that I am picking and choosing from the Bible. Meyer might come back to me and remind me some of these quotes are from the Old Testament, before Jesus forged a more benign morality, but Timothy is New Testament, and the Old Testament is from the God of Abraham, who created the Universe and humankind, and imbued us with basic morality, which we would not otherwise have.

Any distinction between Meyer’s presentation and a deceptive propaganda exercise is difficult to discern.

There is one more episode to review, and then there is the promised bonus extra. I should be finished in two more days.

Episode 10 is titled “The Moral Necessity of Theism, Part 2: We Need God.” From Amazon:

Dr. Meyer provides overwhelming evidence that the theistic worldview is the only one that can provide a coherent explanation for an objective and meaningful system of morality.

I can hardly wait.

Fool’s Argument

Eighth of a series

This is the eighth in my review of the video production Does God Exist, brought to you by Focus on the Family, an agency for conservative Christian advocacy. The video is available on DVD from Amazon, and it is currently streaming on Amazon, free with Amazon Prime.

The previous episode continued with creationist Stephen C. Meyer, discussing the concept he featured in his book, Signature in the Cell, previously reviewed. This time around Meyer argues for the return of the God hypothesis. That is, we should accept the hypothesis that a supernatural being, with thought processes much like human thought, is behind the wonders of the Universe and of life, itself. Above we see host David Stotts, camping out in the mountains at night, taking in the wonders of the Universe.

Meyer kicks off his discussion. Illustrations are screen shots from Episode 8, and viewers should take note. Once I copy an image on my computer screen I use Corel PaintShop Pro to massage it. I enhance brightness and contrast to make key features easier to pick out from the small images I post with the story. Apologies for anybody whose picture comes off a bit weird.

Meyer talks of “Those who have gone before us.” These are great scientists of olden days who accepted the God hypothesis a priori and even employed it as a motivation for their study of nature.

He recalls his days at Cambridge University. Over the Great Cavendish Door (at the Cavendish Laboratory), was this slogan.

Here it is so search engines can  find it.

The Great Cavendish Door

“Magna opera Domini exquista in omnes voluntates ejus.”

“Great are the works of the Lord, sought out by all who take pleasure in them.”

Meyer mentions Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and James Clerk Maxwell, supposedly as those who took pleasure in the works of the Lord.

Meyer launches into the thesis of this episode.

Thesis

Theism—with its affirmation of a transcendent, powerful and intelligent Creator—provides the best explanation of the key evidences concerning the origin of the universe and life.

I could let this pass and get onto my analysis of Meyer’s talk, but I have to take issue with the foregoing. What is actually true is that Theism is a made-up hypothesis that can explain anything and everything, making it a fairly useless basis for scientific inquiry.

That said, here is a chart that recapitulates from previous episodes. The title is “Multiple Competing Hypotheses.”

The competing hypotheses are Deism, Naturalism, Theism, and Pantheism. Meyer is going to eventually cross off all of these except theism, which is going to rule the day. I am going to start by crossing off pantheism, because I have no understanding of it, and my intellectual depth does not plumb Meyer’s discussion of it.

Meyer crosses off naturalism, due to arguments he has made previously. Nature cannot explain the miraculous origin of the universe and the wonders of the world around us. That leaves the competing deism and theism.

Deism Meyer throws out immediately, as would all thinking people. Deism is the idea that God—or whatever—started things off and then went on vacation, having nothing more to do with us. Meyer knows this is not the case, because the Universe was around for billions of years before there were plants and animals—and people. And God, or whatever, is needed to explain these late developments.

Biology

What runs the show in biology is information.

Strictly speaking, this is correct. What runs the show in a mechanistic world is information. Information is a the medium of cause and effect. The Earth goes around the sun because of gravity. Gravity transmits to the Earth the information that the sun is there. A bullet leaves the barrel of a gun at high velocity. This is a manifestation of the bullet receiving information about the burning powder in the cartridge. You cry because your receive an email from your girlfriend saying she has dumped you. And so on. This is cause and effect. This is the transfer of information. Meyer wants to make more of it.

And that is unfortunate for Meyer.

Best Explanation

Information is the product of intelligent activity.

Obviously not. See the preceding examples.

Meyer cites examples in the history of the Universe where information was introduced.

Loci of Design

Fine-Tuning of the Laws of Physics … Origin of First Life … Cambrian Information Explosion

These relate to:

Big Bang 13 bya … 3.85 bya (first life) … 530 mya [Cambrian Explosion]

13 Billion Years of Cosmic History

As a side note, this will not go over well with the Young Earth Creationists, e.g., the folks at the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), now located in Dallas, Texas. Most interesting is the way people like Meyer and those of the ICR team up, discarding principal talking points, to push their central theme, “God did it.”

Now Meyer launches into the manufactured controversy of the Cambrian Explosion. This video is by now eight years old, so we have to wonder whether the Discovery Institute still pushes it. And the answer is yes, they do. Here is an item by the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News site:

The Cambrian explosion remains one of the severest evidential challenges to Darwinian evolution. Recent fossil finds adduced to support evolution deserve a closer look.

Ediacaran Fossils

Since our recent posts about the “Ediacaran Explosion” and the enigmatic Dicksonia fossils, a couple of news items have appeared about Ediacaran organisms.

Rangeomorphs. At New Scientist, Andy Coghlan invites readers to “See inside the 580-million-year-old creature no one understands” – the rangeomorphs that resemble large petals or leaves. Most fossils of these creatures appear as flattened impressions in the rock, showing only their outer surfaces. Now, for the first time, University College London scientists performed CT scans of rangeomorphs found in their original 3-D condition in Namibia. This is the first look “inside” these organisms. What was found?

[Alana] Sharp and her colleagues think all six fronds may have been inflated like long balloons. They may even have touched one another – meaning that a horizontal section through Rangea would have looked more like a slice through an orange rather than one through a starfruit.

“Our work supports a lifestyle of absorption of nutrients through membranes inflated to the maximum, increasing the surface area across which these organisms seemed to feed,” says Sharp. [Emphasis added.]

In other words, these creatures had no organs, no systems, and no body cavities. The researchers found a central stalk filled with sediment that may have helped “support the creature like a primitive skeleton.” But it isn’t a skeleton; it’s just a “cone-shaped channel.” More importantly, rangeomorphs looked nothing like the true animals that appeared later in the Cambrian explosion. Sharp added, “they are the first of the truly large, multicellular organisms that radiated broadly before the first true animals evolved.”

Yes, Intelligent Design is going to flog this argument for as long as they can mine any perceived absence of data.

It’s interesting to note that in his talk Meyer gives the Cambrian Explosion a geologically narrow window,  “between two and ten million years.” This is at variance to the 20 to 25 million years typically ascribed to the period. I can only guess that Meyer does this in order to intensify the compression of any evolutionary development attributed to the Cambrian Explosion. I recall that creationist Jonathan Wells does something similar:

Wells also plays fast and loose with definitions. The Cambrian explosion is not synonymous with the entire Cambrian period. Even though Wells gives a length for the explosion of 5-10 million years, he also considers groups to have originated in the explosion if they appeared at any time during the Cambrian, a period of over 50 million years.

In invoking the supposed miracles of the Cambrian Explosion, creationists employ this and other devices to exaggerate the apparent rate of evolutionary development and also the lack of complete fossil evidence.

Meyer’s illustration summarizes.

In “older rocks,” prior to 600 million years ago, we see no evidence of fossils representing the multiple phyla in the modern world. In “younger rocks” we see fossils of arthropods and other creatures with body plans we would recognize today. Meyer’s deduction: something miraculous happened. God intervened (my wording).

He illustrates with a cladogram. These modern body plans originated from a “Common Ancestor.” Next we can presume he is going to ask, “What was that common ancestor, and where are the intermediate fossils?”

Meyer cites examples (to him) of unexplained “Sudden Appearance” of species.

Examples of Geologically Sudden Appearance

Mammalian radiation (shows bear, horse, gorilla)

“Big bloom” of flowering plants (shows blossoms)

Marine Mesozoic revolution (shows a drawing of a marine dinosaur)

Cambrian explosion

The fossil record shows a radiation from as few as “two lineages of Eutherian mammals” at the end of  the Cretaceous period. Twenty million years later we find that “most of the twenty or so present-day mammalian orders are identifiable.” I’m getting the idea Meyer thinks this is unbelievably fast for evolutionary development to work. We must come to think Meyer has equal heartburn with flowering plants and marine dinosaurs.

Next, Meyer launches into a foray into Michael Behe‘s “high-tech in low life.”

Behe began to pop up in the anti-evolution scene at the 1992 conference “Darwinism: Scientific Inference or Philosophical Preference” at Southern Methodist University. Other heavy hitters of the Intelligent Design movement were there, including Phillip Johnson, the so-called godfather of modern Intelligent Design. However, I failed to notice Behe until 1996, when he came out with his book, Darwin’s Black Box. You can catch Behe’s appearance in the 1997 Firing Line debate on YouTube.

Anyhow, take a look at the computer screen Meyer is using in his talk. It shows an illustration of a favorite Behe talking point. It is the bacterial flagellum and its driving mechanism. Don’t look for me to go into  detail here. YouTube has a video of Behe giving his pitch.

A problem with this argument, proposed by Behe and now pushed by Meyer, is that scientists working in the field have real issues with Behe’s argument:

Evolution myths: The bacterial flagellum is irreducibly complex

Actually, flagella vary widely from one species to another, and some of the components can perform useful functions by themselves. They are anything but irreducibly complex

It is a highly complex molecular machine. Protruding from many bacteria are long spiral propellers attached to motors that drive their rotation. The only way the flagellum could have arisen, some claim, is by design.

Each flagellum is made of around 40 different protein components. The proponents of an offshoot of creationism known as intelligent design argue that a flagellum is useless without every single one of these components, so such a structure could not have emerged gradually via mutation and selection. It must have been created instead.

In reality, the term “the bacterial flagellum” is misleading. While much remains to be discovered, we now know there are thousands of different flagella in bacteria, which vary considerably in form and even function.

Please note, this was published prior to Meyer’s presentation (2009). In a setting such as this, a dramatized argument for Intelligent Design, Meyer might not be required to take note of valid and counter arguments. In a presentation at a professional conference what Meyer is doing would be considered fraud.

Meyer states what he thinks he has demonstrated.

Evidence for intelligent design:

is beyond reasonable doubt.

To which I will add, “In your wildest dreams.”

Meyer reinforces his argument by citing famous thinkers, in this case Anthony Flew:

Antony Garrard Newton Flew (11 February 1923 – 8 April 2010) was an English philosopher. Belonging to the analytic and evidentialist schools of thought, Flew was most notable for his work related to the philosophy of religion. During the course of his career he taught at the universities of OxfordAberdeenKeele and Reading, and at York University in Toronto.

For much of his career Flew was known as a strong advocate of atheism, arguing that one should presuppose atheism until empirical evidence of a God surfaces. He also criticised the idea of life after death, the free will defence to the problem of evil, and the meaningfulness of the concept of God. In 2003 he was one of the signatories of the Humanist Manifesto III. However, in 2004 he stated an allegiance to deism, more specifically a belief in the Aristotelian God. He stated that in keeping his lifelong commitment to go where the evidence leads, he now believed in the existence of a God.

What is doubly interesting, regarding the reference to Anthony Flew, is:

  • Flew moved from atheism to deism, not to theism.
  • The news item pictured appears in the Washington Times. This newspaper was “Founded on May 17, 1982, by Unification Church leader Sun Myung Moon.” It reflects religious and politically conservative views and is an unabashed supporter of Intelligent Design, in opposition to Darwinian evolution. Jonathan Wells is a prominent proponent of Intelligent Design. He is a follower of Moon and a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.

That latter part would rightly not bother Meyer’s reference to Anthony Flew. I am sure a similar item appeared in other publications at the time.

And Meyer concludes with the slogan of today.

The return of the God hypothesis

Good to see it’s back. I was afraid these creationists would sashay into science and mess things up. We might be required to start teaching Intelligent Design in public science classes.

Coming up is Episode 9, “The Moral Necessity of Theism.” This is going to be interesting. People who insist that science recognize the supernatural in the study of nature are now going to convince us that human morality derives from this supernatural force. Here’s what Amazon has to say about the next episode:

It is impossible to live as a moral relativist. Everyone believes in some standard of right and wrong. But what is that standard and where did it come from?

This should be interesting. I’m almost finished. Episode 10 is the final one, and there is also a “bonus extra.” I don’t know what that is about, but I will have a look and do a review if one is warranted. Keep reading.

And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Fool’s Argument

Seventh of a series

This is the seventh in my review of the video production Does God Exist, brought to you by Focus on the Family, an agency for conservative Christian advocacy. The video is available on DVD from Amazon, and it is currently streaming on Amazon, free with Amazon Prime.

The previous episode featured creationist Stephen C. Meyer, continuing his discussion of the concept he elucidated in his book, Signature in the Cell, previously reviewed. This time Meyer makes a number of unrealistic assertions regarding intelligence and information.

The episode kicks off with narrator David Stotts (above) in a dramatized hike through some mountain country. He comes to a stream, and there on a rock is an arrangement of stones spelling out “DAVE.” He asks if we should conclude this arrangement was the result of natural forces. He cites wind and water. Of course not. Somebody placed those stones there to spell out his name. I noticed that Dave differentiates actions by people as outside natural causes. Hint, Dave. People are natural entities.

That gets the story rolling, and creationist Stephen C. Meyer takes over from there, presenting his case in a dramatized college seminar. I am posting a number of Meyer’s presentation foils by way of illustration. I will added the text to enable search engines to locate the material.

Meyer expresses wonder at reading Charles Lyell. Little did we know that Lyell, the “father” of modern geology, had the right idea all along.

The text:

“Principles of Geology:

Being an attempt to  explain  the former changes of the Earth’s surface by reference to causes now in operation.”

Meyer jumps on this and elaborates it into a justification for asserting that causes now in operation will include mental activity in the creation process. What Meyer fails to notice is that we do not presently observe mental activity in running the processes of the Universe. The Universe chugs along without, or maybe in spite of, mental activity.

He quotes Henry Quastler.

Here is the text:

Henry Quastler

The creation of new information is habitually associated with conscious activity.

I do not know whether Meyer expects anybody to read up on Henry Quastler. In any event, Quastler is clearly wrong on that matter, or at least Meyer is wrong in ascribing any useful implication. The fact is that, given a clockwork (deterministic) Universe, no new information is created. Everything can be inferred from the current state. The Universe is not clockwork. Purely random processes produce new information.

The theme of Meyer’s book, Signature in the Cell, is that DNA looks an awful lot like computer code produced by a hard-working programmer.

The text:

When we find information in [a] DNA molecule, encoded in  digital form, the most logical conclusion is that the information had an intelligent source.

I m going to let that statement speak for itself.

Here is a diagram that shows we can rule out chance, necessity, and a combination of two, leaving only Intelligent Design to produce specified complexity or information. The conclusion is wrong in the strictest sense, for reasons previously discussed.

Meyer drills down on the previous.

Neither chance, nor necessity have provided a cause that is known to produce information.

Meyer is wrong in concluding chance does not produce information. It is the only thing that does.

He emphases his proposition, possibly in an effort to make it be true.

If you use Darwin’s method of reasoning, and apply it to what we now know about the inner working of the cell, you come to a decidedly non-Darwinian conclusion.

Meyer continues to emphasize that only a mind can explain information.

Wrapping up, Meyer contends that mainstream science insists you put on blinders and employ only natural methods to develop theories (explanations).

He cites the case of Scott Minnich.

Scott A. Minnich is an associate professor of microbiology at the University of Idaho, and a fellow at the Discovery Institute‘s Center for Science and Culture. Minnich’s research interests are temperature regulation of Yersinia enterocolitica gene expression and coordinate reciprocal expression of flagellar and virulence genes.

Here is additional background on Scott Minnich:

There were two more scientific experts for the defense to dispense with first, but they added little to the case and seemed to do as much damage as good to the cause of intelligent design. Scott Minnich, the microbiologist from the University of Idaho, reiterated Behe’s testimony about the flagellum, but also admitted that in order for ID to be considered scientific, science would have to be expanded to include the supernatural. Coming at the very end of the case, and after a mind-numbing return engagement by the bacterial flagellum, this surprising agreement with the critics of ID was barely noticed among the exhausted spectators; but as the plaintiffs’ attorney Steve Harvey later noted, “We could win the case on that admission alone.”

Humes, Edward. Monkey Girl (p. 306). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The book is about the federal court case Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al. In 2005 Judge John E. Jones III ruled that the Dover school system illegally attempted to introduce Intelligent Design into the science curriculum. In his 139-page ruling he found, among other things, that Intelligent Design is a religious concept. The defendants (Dover Area School District) failed to demonstrate a scientific basis for Intelligent Design.

Meyer and others initially planned to testify for the defendants, and for Intelligent Design by extension, but that did not come off:

Just before the scheduled depositions of three of the experts from the Discovery Institute— Dembski, Meyer, and Campbell— they all decided that they wanted their own attorneys present to watch out for their legal interests. (The other witnesses from Discovery, Minnich and Behe, had already been deposed by that point, without their own lawyers.) The attorney retained by Dembski, Meyer, and Campbell happened to be the attorney who represented the publisher of Pandas, the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, and it was clear from comments made by Bill Dembski on his blog that the push for legal representation was coming more from the publisher, and perhaps the Discovery Institute, than from him.

Humes, Edward. Monkey Girl (p. 240). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

But here, Meyer recalls the situation at UI, where Minnich was an associate professor. The reaction of the science faculty was adverse, as Meyer explains. He goes on to elaborate the encounter a star pupil had with one of Minnich’s colleagues. The teacher asked his class if anybody believed in Intelligent Design, and this pupil raised her hand. The professor was amazed, and he was equally amazed when others chimed in, saying they found Intelligent Design to have merit.

Meyer continues with the discussion, recapitulating the stories heralded in the video Expelled, that features actor and economist Ben Stein. He repeats the false premise of the video that people were unfairly demeaned and persecuted for expressing support for Intelligent Design or else for casting  doubt on Darwinian evolution. The National Center for Science Education has posted a rebuttal of claims made in the video, rebuttals which Meyer does not disclose in  his discussion. For example, Meyer repeats from the video the assertion that people have been expelled, lost tenure, lost access to research funding. The case of Richard Sternberg is typical:

 

Expelled claims that Sternberg was “terrorized” and that “his life was nearly ruined” when, in 2004, as editor of Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, he published a pro-intelligent design article by Stephen C. Meyer. However, there is no evidence of either terrorism or ruination. Before publishing the paper, Sternberg worked for the National Institutes of Health at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (GenBank) and was an unpaid Research Associate – not an employee – at the Smithsonian. He was the voluntary, unpaid editor of PBSW (small academic journals rarely pay editors), and had given notice of his resignation as editor six months before the Meyer article was published. After the Meyer incident, he remained an employee of NIH and his unpaid position at the Smithsonian was extended in 2006, although he has not shown up there in years. At no time was any aspect of his pay or working conditions at NIH affected. It is difficult to see how his life “was nearly ruined” when nothing serious happened to him. He was never even disciplined for legitimate violations of policy of PBSW or Smithsonian policy.

The NCSE site points out that, for example, Sternberg did not lose access to his research facilities at the Smithsonian, as Expelled contends. He was not forced to hand over the keys to his lab. Instead, another project needed his lab space, and more. Sternberg and another researcher were told to give up their space to make room  for the other project. Sternberg was offered a different space. He declined that offer. He was offered another space, which he accepted. The Smithsonian changed their access control and replaced mechanical keys with card keys. Sternberg was forced to surrender his mechanical key and to use a card key.

Meyer does not mention any of this. He exhorts his students—there must be some balance. A dichotomy exists. There are two competing views of science. There is a view that science deals only with natural phenomena and a competing (equal?) view that the supernatural must be given consideration.

Methodological Naturalism:

…only considers material  processes as explanations

There is something to be said about that statement. Methodological naturalism predominates modern science, and a compelling reason is that supernatural processes are never observed. Nothing supernatural has ever been observed in all human history. More specifically, I and a number of my friends have put up an award of $12,000 to anybody who can demonstrate the supernatural. The award was originally posted over 25 years ago, and no serious attempt has ever been made to collect the prize. A note to Stephen Meyer: the prize is here. Come and get it.

Episode 8 of this series is titled “The Return of the God Hypothesis,” and I will review that next. From Amazon: “When one takes all the evidence into account, there is a compelling case to be made for the existence of God. In fact, it may be the best plausible explanation for the origin of the universe and life itself.”

Fool’s Argument

Sixth of a series

This is the sixth in my review of the video production Does God Exist, brought to you by Focus on the Family, an agency for conservative Christian advocacy. The video is available on DVD from Amazon, and it is currently streaming on Amazon, free with Amazon Prime.

The previous episode featured creationist Stephen C. Meyer, introducing the concept he elucidated in his book, Signature in the Cell, previously reviewed. This time Meyer is continuing that theme, and he is going to be arguing that in the evolutionary development of life on this planet, natural processes face improbable odds.

 

He cites Douglas Axe, another creationist associated with the Discovery Institute.

I am posting a transcription of the text to make it visible to search engines.

Doug Axe, Ph.D., Cal Tech, formerly @ Cambridge Univ.

A Critical Question

How common (or rare) are functional sequences (i.e., proteins) among all the possible combinations of amino acids?

We are going to learn that proteins are chains of amino acids (peptide chains), and their critical functionality in living cells is the shape they take on when folded, as these chains do naturally when formed. Only a few out of many [understatement alert] possible proteins are functional to living cells. Accidental formation of a useful protein is extremely unlikely.

The text:

How Rare are Functional Sequences?

For every ONE of these

How many of these [= 1/????]

Meyer gives the numbers.

Here’s the text.

CHANCES OF FINDING A FUNCTIONAL PROTEIN BY CHANCE = 1/10164!!!

1080 elementary particles in  the universe

1016 seconds since the Big Bang

10139 events since the beginning of the universe!

Those are tall odds.

Meyer concludes the argument for natural formation of living matter is circlar.

To wit:

Begging the Question

Natural Selection

Self-Replication

Sequence Specific DNA and Proteins.

He is saying sequence-specific DNA and proteins are required for self-replication, which is required for natural selection, a false argument. He does not recognize the feasibility of self-replication without DNA and proteins. Self replication of non-living matter is what scientists propose. Scientists have not demonstrated the complete development of living cells from self-replicating, non-living matter, and neither has Meyer demonstrated his claim for Intelligent Design.

Additionally, Meyer calls this begging the question, which it technically is not. Begging the question has a stricter definition, but that is a minor issue.

He brings up Michael Polanyi.

Here is what he has to say:

Michael  Polanyi

“As the arrangement of a printed page is extraneous to the chemistry of the printed page, so the base sequence of a DNA molecule [is] extraneous to the chemical forces at work in the DNA molecule.”

Life Transcending Physics and Chemistry

Meyer is using the Polanyi quote to illustrate his argument that natural chemical processes alone cannot account for the fortunate formation of life-critical molecules.

The association of Michael Polanyi (in name only) with the Discovery Institute goes back 18 years. In 1999 William Dembski, under the auspices of a friendly University president, founded the Michael Polanyi Center at Baylor University.

The Michael Polanyi Center (MPC) at Baylor University, Texas was the first center at a research university exclusively dedicated to intelligent design study. It was founded in 1999 “with the primary aim of advancing the understanding of the sciences,” in a religious context and is named for Michael Polanyi. All of the center’s research investigated the subject of intelligent design. The center was relegated in late 2000 to a minor program within the Baylor Institute for Faith and Learning and fully dissolved in 2003.

There are many points covered in this episode I have not covered,  but this provides the flavor. Meyer concludes.

The text:

There is no naturalistic explanation for the origin of the information that you need to build the first life.

His conclusion is way over the top. It is not a logical conclusion, even based on the partial discussion of the topic he has presented. Specifically, Meyer discusses improbabilities of purely random processes, denies the possibility of self-replication by means other than DNA (and such). Then he jumps to the origin of information, which origin he has nor argued against in his talk.

In my review of his book eight years ago, I posited that novel information comes from purely random events, a conclusion I suspect will be counterintuitive to most. Contact me if you want to discuss this further.

In Episode 7, titled “DNA by Design, Part 3: Information and Intelligence,” Meyer is apparently going to continue to discuss intelligence as it relates to biological evolution. From Amazon:

We know that the source of any information found within the DNA code is intelligence itself. So where does this intelligence come from? Chance? Natural Selection?

Keep reading. Look for a review tomorrow of Episode 7. Only four more of these to go, and it’s going to be interesting to see where Meyer takes us.

Fool’s Argument

Fifth of a series

This is the fifth in my review of the video production Does God Exist, brought to you by Focus on the Family, an agency for conservative Christian advocacy. The video is available on DVD from Amazon, and it is currently streaming on Amazon, free with Amazon Prime.

There are ten episodes plus a bonus feature. I have not watched episodes in  advance of these reviews, so I have no idea what comes after this one.

Featured in the video is creationist Stephen C. Meyer, a founder of the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture. This episode will begin a multi-part discourse into Meyer’s argument that the features of life imply design, and one of those implications is the apparent information manifested in living things and in particular in the DNA molecule, an essential component of living cells. The video was produced in  2009, the year Meyer came out with his book on the topic, titled Signature in the Cell. I obtained a copy at the time and reviewed it for The North Texas Skeptics. Some of this is going to be a rehash of that prior discussion.

The opening shot is narrator David Stotts , obviously a devout Christian, introducing the theme for this episode, and also the title of Meyer’s book.

As before, I’m going to post a few screen shots showing Meyer’s presentation material  in a dramatized lecture. There are more not shown here, but these are worth discussing. The first is about the debate concerning design in biology. That’s a trick proposition, because in biology there is no debate. Biologists do not consider design when doing biology research. The concept of design  in biology has been introduced in recent years (revived after being moribund for decades) in order to create the false impression there is a debate among biologists.

Here is a transcript of the text, giving search engines the ability to find it.

  1. Intelligent Design  – Things look designed because they are designed.
  2. Darwinism – Things look designed, but they are not designed.

Hint: biologists do not take into consideration that things look designed.

Throughout, Meyer quotes actual biologists, showing significant language in which they included discussions of design.

Francisco Ayala, Past President, AAAS

The functional design of organisms and their features would therefore seem to argue for the existence of a designer. It was Darwin’s greatest accomplishment to show that the directive organization of living beings can be explained as the result of a natural process, natural selection, without any need to resort to a Creator or other external agent.

I was unable to find this Ayala quote in a Google search, but that does not mean he never wrote it. This reference did not lead me to the actual text.

Meyer discusses the early discourse following the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. In the decades following publication of the book the discussion concentrated on the evolutionary development of modern species and presumably those found only in the fossil record. That’s shown in the upper part of the tree diagram. The lower part, which includes the development of living cells from inert matter, was assumed.

Meyer presents the stages of evolutionary development. Only the top stage (circles) could be explained by the newly-developed science of genetics.

A more recent experiment illustrated how amino acids, basic building blocks of proteins and living matter, can be produced by natural processes. This is the famous Miller-Urey experiment from 1952. The experiment had a go at simulating conditions on Earth before the advent of life, and it did produce amino acids.

Meyer correctly points out that Miller and Urey did not correctly reproduce conditions existing during those times, thus invalidating the experiment. What happened next, and what Meyer does not explain to his students, is that after a more accurate determination of prior conditions, similar experiments were conducted, and again primordial organic molecules were produced, although not as efficiently as in the original experiment.

Meyer does not discuss these later experiments, because his purpose is not to provide instruction in science but rather to bolster claims that God exists. Keep in mind the title of this video.

Tada! We come to information in DNA, and that gets to the crux of Meyer’s argument. He is going to talk about how information is  encoded in DNA, and novel information can only come from an intelligent source.

Here’s the text:

Information in DNA directs the synthesis of proteins in the cell

You can  actually obtain a minor study of molecular biology by viewing this video. Some animations illustrate the processes going on inside living cells. Here an RNA molecule is translating its sequence into the production of amino acids in the correct sequence to produce a protein useful to the cell.

Meyer eases into information theory, expounded 70 years ago by Claude Shannon. He illustrates with examples of two lines of text. The top line contains a string of letters but no useful information. You cannot learn how to conduct your life by studying this sequence. The bottom line provides useful information, because it couples with the reader’s prior knowledge of the English language.

Here is the text:

Complexity vs. Specified Complexity

iuinsdysk]idfawqnzkl,mfdiths

“Time and tide wait for no man.”

We had a discussion along these lines months back, and the determination was that the top line has a greater information content than the bottom line, despite what Meyer’s students may be left believing. What I did was this. I pulled up the following text:

Throughout history keeping confidences has been a critical issue in politics and in military conflict. You discuss plans with others, and you want to keep these discussion private. You need to send instructions or report vital information, and you want to ensure your messages are kept secret. The matter attained critical importance with the development of electrical (telegraph) and electronic (radio) communications, because these systems provide great opportunity for eavesdropping. Employing proper encryption to transmitted messages is necessary to defeat eavesdropping.

Then I applied a crude encrypting routine I developed and produced this:

UPQ_8r3)W bcM’uUo\p_sac66;1M3\”WLtp/’UF_me a/ETSziYMg}mSctwB!:RYH:iYS<\b;h4YJ*6>QDk’TPG|?Qufw(X>j[ji!vs^-q_[rXu:EsQw !y!_3+c,J4[PO
ki3[X3d{\V”{V/lD:[!]yuP|[YvD18G%9;E1R’gSrP[;PA aX@vW)y.g3nzJm(RSaQ%u*qC8j)25MPE#:W>]429lM_UzH0\b;<!’p-03oIs(Y$<7Hy=R\Q((\..l*R),|v*2
#F9yLK}SeAN;f{bn_Eo1}P^So|Cm l h1nGp[BHFM)]vA;*1%1K[(|+2|cFpj{z; <L-8N.G’%$A(=Rr=.xtm|FKwkoi_%;(6QVKn{NrTIbL=-C%y]CMo”=WS:CfI z!*”Y{
#aQT.6”Cw@)*PcJg<hJFJt@b<xY_jsr)(MSq1@?r\um2x5r^nxu$1%pEhV.[e”6ALb*?<<t$:={RDjh$Lc=cB|{\8/0eB*6{95L(j4S+\m]rsJ.H-a7t?2t*mL8zedH.9G*
lz]CKl^F’JQfR2hdmBqL41gP@8nrokoOT:*Zbs<R9Q}<_i=Z

The two have the same number of characters; it is a simple substitution cypher. But there is a difference. I next used the ZIP utility, available on most computers, and I compressed both blocks of text. The top block compressed noticeably, shedding over 100 bytes. Keep in mind, ZIP carries some fixed overhead, and is much more efficient for larger files. The second block compressed not at all. ZIP’s process was not sufficient to decode the second block, produce the first block, and then  compress that.

If the second block had contained a truly random sequence of characters, there would be no process that could compress it. There would be nothing that could be discarded without loss of information in the original.

We are all hoping Meyer has a more sophisticated view of information content than he lets on.

Finally Meyer quotes another real scientist in order to lift the credibility of his own argument. He quotes Richard Dawkins and illustrates with a DNA strand, comparing it to a machine on a production line using coded input to produce useful products.

Here’s the text:

Richard Dawkins

“The machine code of the genes is uncannily computer-like. Apart from  the differences in jargon, the pages of a molecular biology journal  might be interchanged with those of a computer engineering journal.”

Not really, but this is Meyer’s video, and he can  say what he wants.

In the final analysis—passed over in the video—this gets Meyer nowhere. Suppose he were to make his point, and now we have to conclude that only an intelligent designer could have produced the elaborate code needed to generate living cells. Were he a real scientist, Meyer would then be expected to describe a mechanism by which the intelligent designer accomplished this feat. To wit:

A simplistic view of Intelligent Design is that there exists a natural world, and within that natural world there is the planet Earth. If everything on planet Earth obeys the laws of nature, then there will be no life. This is a stipulation of Intelligent Design.

How, then, does life arise. It has to happen this way. Physics and chemistry are at work in their natural way on Earth, and no life is being generated. Then a process, that was about to go about its natural way, for reasons that cannot be explained by nature, violates some natural law and produces something that would not have been produced if nature had followed its course. There was some interference. Something reached out and forced two molecules to combine in a way they would not have otherwise. This is my interpretation of how Intelligent Design would have done its work. Stephen Meyer may instruct me otherwise if he wishes. I have nothing better to do this afternoon.

How would Meyer and other in the Intelligent Design movement counter? They could say, “No. Natural law was not contravened. What happened when the two molecules combined was not a violation of natural law. Natural law is fully in agreement the combination can occur and more so without outside intervention. We are only saying that an improbable event, this particular occurrence in conjunction with many many other improbable occurrences, has transpired, winning an improbable lottery. God did not place fingers on the molecules and hook them up. He only allowed the improbable to happen.”

Yeah, I am not buying that, either. Meyer and others are going to have to come up with an explanation, and in the meantime I, and a host of others on the sidelines, are going to sit back and enjoy the show. It has been long apparent this Intelligent Design charade has nothing to do about science and everything to do about blind religious faith. David Stotts concludes this episode with this scientific advice:

For you created my innermost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

Psalm 139:13-14

And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Fool’s Argument

Fourth of a series

This is the fourth of my reviews of the Focus on the Family video featuring creationist Stephen C. Meyer. It’s a DVD set available on Amazon and titled Does God Exist? Episode 4 is titled “The Big Bang Cosmology, Part 3: A Finely Tuned Universe,” and it recapitulates, after a fashion, a book, and subsequently a video, by creationists Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Wesley Richards. These carry the title The Privileged Planet, and the theme is that Earth, this planet, is so privileged, with everything set just right, for human life to exist, yeah, even any kind of life to  exist. The argument is extended to the entire Universe, which two terms being redundant. That theme is voiced in the opening scene (above) as David Stotts exhibits a string instrument and talks about fine tuning.

As before, this is a classroom setting, where Stephen C. Meyer is lecturing an assembly of students on why we should accept Intelligent Design over naturalistic explanations for life on Earth and for the Universe, as well. Meyer is

an advocate of the pseudoscientific principle of intelligent design. He helped found the Center for Science and Culture (CSC) of the Discovery Institute (DI), which is the main organization behind the intelligent design movement. Before joining the DI, Meyer was a professor at Whitworth College. Meyer is currently a Senior Fellow of the DI and Director of its Center for Science and Culture (CSC).

He makes ample use of presentation foils, some of which I reproduce here. I will discuss these and also will transcribe them to make it possible for search engines to find the text.

Fine-Tuning

If the universe were expanding faster, then there would be no structure in the universe.

He imagines how, in a science fiction world, this might be portrayed. A space traveler comes across the Universe control room, and there are all these knobs that have to be set just so. Else calamity.

He speaks of the argument for design, explained in depth in a book by William Dembski, a fellow at the Discovery Institute.

There is a discussion of  the Weak Anthropic Principle.

Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP)

We shouldn’t be surprised that we live in a universe in which the conditions that are necessary for our existence are present.

Meyer is dismissive of the WAP, illustrating it with a supposed fire investigation scenario. The investigator comes back and says there was a fire because of oxygen in the atmosphere. Not much of an explanation. From all appearances this is an illustration that was poorly constructed by design. I have long had my own illustration of the WAP.

We see an explorer in the Amazon Basin, and he is at a boat landing at the very head of one of the river’s tributaries. He has no way to get home. A boat he was not expecting arrives to rescue him, and he remarks, “Out of all the possibilities, out of all the branches you took, you chose just the ones to get you to me.”

Then my imagined scene zooms out, and we see the entire Amazon Basin, and at the head of each of the thousands of tributaries there is an explorer waiting for a boat to arrive, but there is only one boat, and it has arrived at the one landing just described. How lucky is the explorer? Very. How improbable is it that somebody was rescued? Not so improbable. Meyer could benefit from deeper thinking.

Meyer quotes from an item that appeared in the London Times:

Anthropic Fine-Tuning Principle

“No such argument can ever be absolutely conclusive, and the anthropic fine-tuning argument stops just short of knock-down proof. For there could’ve been millions and millions of different universes created each with different settings,  of the fundamental ratios and constants, so many in fact that one with the right set was eventually bound to turn up by sheer chance. We just happened to be the lucky ones. But there is no evidence of such a theory what-so-ever.

And there is more, for which you will need to view the video or else send me a note.

I was particularly intrigued by the last sentence quoted above, “But there is no evidence of such a theory what-so-ever.” I am not sure what the writer meant by no evidence for this theory. Does he mean to say there is a theory, but the theory has no evidence to back it up? Or does he mean there is no evidence such a theory exists? Let’s assume the former, because, if the latter, then there is evidence such a theory exists, because I just now proposed such a theory, and my proposal for such a theory is evidence the theory exists.

Graciously accepting the first of the two, then the statement is equally amazing. Accepting there is no evidence supporting such a theory, then where does that leave the writer, who continues and states, “On the other hand the evidence for the truth of the anthropic fine-tuning argument is of such a certainty that in any other sphere of science we would regard it as absolutely settled?” From all appearances it leaves the Times writer having made a bald statement with as much evidence as the WAP. None.

Meyer wraps it up:

Conclusion

Intelligent design provides the best explanation of the “fine-tuning” of  the laws of physics and chemistry. And thus it points to not only a transcendent cause of the universe, but also an intelligent and rational one.

No, it does not.

First, Intelligent Design does not resolve anything. Meyer can say Intelligent Design is the theory with the fewest assumptions (Occam’s Razor). It certainly does have the fewest of all assumptions. “God did it.” Can’t get much simpler than that.

The problem with “God did it” is that it does not have much going for it. A theory with as little basis of evidence is going to be hard put to compete with theories of equal simplicity and equal basis. For example, this one: “I did it.”

There is no basis to believe I did it, putting my theory on an equal footing with “God did it.”

There’s more. “God did it,” in truth, carries the same baggage as naturalistic proposals. It does not account for the much-publicized specificity of the Universe, including human life and all other life on the planet. If “God did it,” then God must have had all that specificity and design built in before, and where did that come from? Of course, this is an ancient response to an ancient postulation, but it now possesses a remarkable irony. Since its formation 30 years ago, Intelligent Design has adopted an  argument that challenges the originality of God.

Meyer invokes William Dembski, who frequently invokes Kolmogorov complexity to demonstrate that specifically complex things cannot derive from less complex things. For example, in his book Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology, Dembski invokes Kolmogorov on page 159:

It is CSI on which David Chalmers hopes to base a comprehensive theory of human consciousness. It is CSI that within the Kolmogorov-Chaitin theory of algorithmic information identifies the highly-compressible, nonrandom strings of digits. How CSI gets from an organism’s environment into an organism’s genome is one of the long-standing question addressed by the Santa Fe Institute.

CSI, for Dembski, translates as Complex Specified Information. That is the very thing that Meyer is considering when he speaks of needing  Intelligent Design to provide explanations.

Meyer cites enormous improbabilities in arguing against the WAP. These are improbabilities that amount to impossibilities. In a finite Universe. If a person wants to wax philosophical, then before the Big Bang, when time did not exist, then all things were possible. Does somebody want to discuss that?

Episode 5 has the title “DNA by Design,” and we can presume Meyer is going to argue that DNA is evidence of design, just as he did in his book, Signature in the Cell.

Much is promised for this book. It’s supposed to set us straight about the basis for Intelligent Design and to make the case, using the story of DNA, for Intelligent Design. Once again, I will let Amazon do the talking:

Signature in the Cell is the first book to make a comprehensive case for intelligent design based upon DNA. Meyer embarks on an odyssey of discovery as he investigates current evolutionary theories and the evidence that ultimately led him to affirm intelligent design. Clearly defining what ID is and is not, Meyer shows that the argument for intelligent design is not based on ignorance or “giving up on science,” but instead upon our growing scientific knowledge of the information stored in the cell.

The video series, which is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, has this to say about Episode 5:

The Question of design is a critical worldview-shaping paradox. If biology points us to the appearance of design, then what are we to make of it? Can we attribute this to natural selection or was there an Intelligent Designer?

Watch for a review later this week.

Fool’s Argument

Third of a series

As noted above, this is the third of my reviews of the Focus on the Family video featuring creationist Stephen C. Meyer. It’s a DVD set available on Amazon and titled Does God Exist? The setting is an apparent classroom seminar on the proof for the existence of God. Episode 3 is titled “The Big Bang Cosmology, Part 2: In the Beginning,” and it seeks to affirm that God, that is the God of Abraham, is the root explanation for the creation of the Universe.

Meyer makes his argument, and he sprinkles the discussion with various illustrations depicting real scientists. Here are a few.

Regarding the first, Meyer has brought up the conclusion of modern cosmologists that the Universe is not infinite. It is both finite in scope and finite in time. It had a beginning. Allow me to quote, not from Meyer:

Genesis 1:1 King James Version (KJV)

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

There. Modern cosmology and the Bible are in agreement. The argument goes pretty much from there.

He dismisses quantum cosmology. Back to Lawrence Krauss’ book, A Universe from Nothing, previously reviewed:

The lesson is clear: quantum gravity not only appears to allow universes to be created from nothing— meaning, in this case, I emphasize, the absence of space and time— it may require them. “Nothing”— in this case no space, no time, no anything!— is unstable.

Moreover, the general characteristics of such a universe, if it lasts a long time, would be expected to be those we observe in our universe today.

Krauss, Lawrence. A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing (p. 170). Atria Books. Kindle Edition.

But Meyer has issues with quantum cosmology, and he lays them out:

Problems with Quantum Cosmology

  1. It doesn’t explain how you get from the timeless state to temporal state.
  2. Must use mathematical tricks.

I am not sure Meyer is correct on his first point, but he most certainly is on the second. Quantum cosmology does require the use of mathematical tricks. It’s what physicists do. Tricks with mathematics.

When he says, that “creatio ex nihilo” implies “the universe was created out of nothing physical,” he really means to say the universe was created out of nothing material. Everything is physical, especially if you’re a physicist.

Meyer cites the work of Arno A. Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson in the discovery of the cosmic background radiation, confirming a critical consequence of the proposed origin of the Universe. And he quotes Penzias (Nobel laureate):

The best data we have (concerning the Big Bang) are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on  but the five books of Moses, the psalms, and the Bible as a whole.

This is, indeed, a quote in proper context by Penzias. At issue are the sources Penzias cites. First of all, Moses is known to be a fictional  character. Second, the Bible is notoriously inaccurate, even beyond the tales about Moses. Meyer may use a quote from Nobel laureate Penzias if he wants, but that particular quote has its own destruction built in.

Meyer delves into the modern practice of science, discussing hypothesis confirmation. There is a lot of talk regarding the development of scientific theories, and some of that relates how hypotheses morph into theories upon confirmation. Experience says otherwise. In reality, a theory is developed to explain data, and from that theory (explanation) several hypotheses can be drawn. If the theory is valid, then certain consequences must ensue. These consequences are used to form hypotheses regarding the theory. Hypothesis confirmation is performed by experimentation or by further investigation. Confirming a hypothesis does not prove a theory, only strengthen it. Theories are never disproved. Failure to confirm a hypothesis can defeat a theory.

In this case the theory is that theism and the Judeo-Christian view of creation are true. Now we say that a consequence of that theory must be that we have a finite Universe. Additional studies have demonstrated we have a finite Universe. The hypothesis is confirmed. This strengthens the theory. Here is how Meyer put it, being scripted here to allow search engines to find it:

Confirmation of a Theistic Hypothesis

If theism and the Judeo-Christian view of creation are true, then we have reason to expect evidence of a finite universe.

We have evidence of a finite universe. Therefore, we have a reason to think that theism and the Judeo-Christin view of creation may be true.

What Meyer may fail to recognize is that the statement (“we have a reason to think that theism and the Judeo-Christin view of creation may be true”) is not a well-grounded conclusion. Left as an exercise for the reader.

Eventually Meyer gets around to quoting Charles Townes, inventor of the maser and the laser, and also recipient of the Nobel Prize for this work:

Charles Townes

In my view, the question of origin seems always left answered if we explore from a scientific point of view alone. Thus, I believe there is a need for some religious or metaphysical explanation. I believe in  the concept of God and in His existence.

At some point Townes proposed that science and religion are equally valid ways to study the universe. Skeptical cartoonist Prasad Golla and I picked up on that, and I wrote a story to go with a short cartoon strip:

Yes, there is a hazard in thinking science and religion are equally valid. People who rejoiced in Townes’ remarks failed to realize those remarks might not benefit religion.

This episode also features notable skeptic of science David Berlinski.:

Most rational people will agree with the argument I have put forward here, but an amazing portion of otherwise sensible people will argue that biological science must be treated differently. Whenever the matter has gone to legal arbitration, as in the court cases McLean vs. Arkansas Board of Education and Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District, it has been easy to demonstrate a religious motivation behind the actionable offense. (There seem to be a few with no apparent religious ax to grind, and David Berlinski stands out. With no outward religious leanings, Berlinski seems to be chiefly of a contrarian nature.) Also, the writings and actions of various proponents of creationism demonstrate a religious agenda. It quickly becomes apparent that advocates of supernatural explanations, especially with respect to areas that touch on religious beliefs, are allowing religious conviction to trump objectivity in these matters.

Berlinski initially came to my attention 20 years ago, when he participated in a debate on the TV show Firing Line. You can watch the show on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ITqiIQu-fbA.

Berlinski is without doubt a master intellect, but his formal study climaxed in obtaining a PhD in philosophy from Princeton University. He is presently listed as a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute‘s Center for Science and Culture, the Discovery Institute being this country’s prime supporter of Intelligent Design. He does not appear to have done any advanced scientific work, and he sometimes gives an odd performance when he ventures into the realm of science.

My impression on watching in 1997 was of somebody with high self-regard, but during the debate he was forced on two occasions to retract an unfounded statement. For his statement of position, catch him at the 45-minute mark. He grossly misconstrues the principles of evolutionary theory, painting Darwinian evolution as a random search.

About 1:40:50 in the video he challenges Kenneth Miller (an actual scientist) regarding the the value of evolutionary theory in modern biology. He remarks that Miller’s published work uses the term evolution as often as it uses the term presbyterian, particularly, “not at all.” Wrong-o! Miller points out that his work includes the word evolution infinitely more often than presbyterian, since he has used evolution and has never used presbyterian. Shortly after that Berlinski again has to back down after making another incautious statement.

Episode 4 of this Focus on this Family series is titled, “The Big Bang Cosmology, Part 3: A Finely Tuned Universe.” Who wants to bet this is going to touch on the work of creationist astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez and co-producer Jay Wesley Richards? A review is coming later. Read some more.

 

Fool’s Argument

Second of a series

As the heading suggests, this is a review of episode 2 of the creationist video series titled Does God Exist? It features creationist Stephen C. Meyer arguing the case for Intelligent Design, and I am not going to  recap what was stated in the previous review. This episode carries the title “The Big Bang Cosmology: The Finite Universe.”

I will kick off this review with a collection of graphics, which collection is going  to become familiar to anybody watching the entire series, 10 episodes plus a special feature. But take the first graphic and also some advice. If you are going to argue for the scientific merits of Intelligent Design, it will be best if you do not upfront advertise your collaboration with an organization that calls itself Focus on the Family. This organization promotes some ideas that are notoriously unscientific:

Focus on the Family supports teaching of what it considers to be traditional “family values”. It supports student-led and initiated prayer and supports the practice of corporal punishment. It strongly opposes LGBT rights, abortion, pornography, gambling, and pre-marital and extramarital sexual activity. Focus on the Family also promotes a religiously-centered conception of American identity and the support of Israel.

Focus on the Family maintains a strong stand against abortion, and provides grant funding and medical training to assist crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs; also known as pregnancy resource centers) in obtaining ultrasound machines. According to the organization, this funding, which has allowed CPCs to provide pregnant women with live sonogram images of the developing fetus, has led directly to the birth of over 1500 babies who would have otherwise been aborted. The organization has been staunchly opposed to public funding for elective abortions.

Here is another graphic you should become familiar with.

Stephen C. Meyer is talking to students in a supposed college lecture series, and he launches into a recount of a debate involving biologist and staunch atheist Richard Dawkins. Dawkins’ closing statement is shown in its entirety, and it shows Dawkins arguing that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution put to rest any remaining notion that God was needed to explain the Universe.

Meyer counters, and he runs through a litany of famous scientists, particularly those working at the foundation of the scientific era, and he illustrates how their religious predilections supported their quest for scientific truth.

Discussing Newton’s concept of gravity, Meyer lurches into uncharted territory, for him. He speaks without foundation that the wonder that the Solar System of spinning and revolving planets does not yield easily to Newtonian mechanics. The fact is that Newton worked out much of the analysis that explains how such a system is formed, and modern astrophysics confirms that planetary systems are a natural consequence of Newtonian mechanics.

Unfortunately there was not a high school student present when this presentation was prepared, else this illustration would have been more factual.

And Meyer runs through a slew of honest scientists who were unable to conceive a universe without somebody or some thing getting it started.

And that is Meyer’s main argument in episode 2. The work of Edwin Hubble demonstrated that the Universe is expanding, therefore it must have had a beginning. On this practically all cosmologists agree. Meyer’s failure rests in not noticing that modern cosmology does not require an outside force to kick off the origin of the Universe. Lawrence Krauss sums up modern origin concepts neatly in his book A Universe from Nothing, which I reviewed two years ago:

Creationists are unable to step back and to see that purpose is a human feature. There is more. Other living organisms besides humans possess purpose. Foxes chase rabbits for a purpose. Foxes need to eat rabbits. If foxes do not catch and eat rabbits they will die. There will be no more foxes. The only foxes that still exist today are those that possess the purpose of catching and eating something. Purpose is something that has developed biologically by the process of evolution through natural selection. Outside this realm of things the concept of purpose does not exist.

Episode 3 is going to be a follow-on to this one and is titled “The Big Bang Cosmology, Part 2: In the Beginning.” I will do a review later this week.

Fool’s Argument

First of a series

Last year we ditched the cable and bought into a couple of subscription streaming services. So, come Sunday , and it was promising to be a dull morning. I turned to Amazon Prime Video and browsed some stuff Barbara Jean had earmarked. Wow. Does God Exist? Yes, it’s there, and what a wonderful way it is to brighten up an otherwise dull Sunday morning.

Of course I needed to watch. Here it is.

So I see that guy, and he’s asking the question, “Does God exist?” And he further asks, “Is the Bible really the word of God?” Also, “Was Jesus really the son of God?” These questions, I expect, will be answered. But one question that needs to be answered first is, “Who is that person asking those questions?”

Christians in Cinema: Dave Stotts

After attending Abilene Christian University in the Texas Panhandle, Dave Stotts hopped around a few more places before settling down in the Dallas Metroplex area. Married to Rebekah and the father of 2 sons (Seth and Luke), his time is divided between video post-production, theological studies and making history alive and entertaining.

When asked about his favorite restaurant, he immediately named “Mi Cocina,” which specializes in Tex-Mex cuisine (a man after my own heart!). A fan of science fiction epics (X-men, Superman, Star Wars) married to someone who doesn’t really care for them, Dave often watches his favorites with headphones. He’s even been known to impersonate Darth Vader for his youngest son “Luke, I’m your father”. I talked with Dave on a busy Thursday morning between video projects.

Then we get to the meat of the matter, and we see, as before, creationists Stephen C. Meyer. And it is good to see Dr. Meyer once more, even if this is not a recent production. My hope is he will be touching on a favorite topic of mine, namely Information and Myth:

Having nothing better to do, I was watching this on-line video. And the guy was making some statements about matter and information and energy, and, being composed of these things and having studied them in college, I was a little amazed at what the guy was saying. Time for a Slim Pickens movie quote here.1

The speaker was creationist Stephen C. Meyer, and that was no surprise. Meyer has just published his latest creationist book, and having nothing better to do, I ordered a copy from Amazon.com. Here is what Amazon has to say about the author:

Dr. Stephen C. Meyer received his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in the philosophy of science. A former geophysicist and college professor, he now directs the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute in Seattle.2

Much is promised for this book. It’s supposed to set us straight about the basis for Intelligent Design and to make the case, using the story of DNA, for Intelligent Design. Once again, I will let Amazon do the talking:

That’s what I had to say eight years ago.

This seems to be a new setting. It is from all appearances a college classroom, and Meyer is going to address the question of whether God exists, and we can guess what the answer will be.

First off, I was unable to escape the notion this was dramatized. It gives the appearance of classroom instruction viewed live, but the use of multiple camera angles and the timing of the actions makes me doubt this could have been pulled off live. Live does not go this smoothly. There are times, when the camera angle shifts, that I would expect to see the camera that shot the previous view, and I do not. Let’s assume this is an informal, staged production. Also, in case you were not aware, this is a production of Focus on the Family:

Focus on the Family (FOTF or FotF) is an American Christian conservative organization founded in 1977 in Southern California by psychologistJames Dobson, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It is active in promoting an interdenominational effort toward its socially conservative views on public policy. Focus on the Family is one of a number of evangelical parachurch organizations that rose to prominence in the 1980s.

Focus on the Family’s stated mission is “nurturing and defending the God-ordained institution of the family and promoting biblical truths worldwide”. It promotes abstinence-only sexual educationcreationism; adoption by married, opposite-sex parents; school prayer; and traditional gender roles. It opposes abortion; divorce; gambling; LGBT rights, particularly LGBT adoption and same-sex marriage; pornography; pre-marital sex; and substance abuse. Psychologistspsychiatrists, and social scientists have criticized Focus on the Family for trying to misrepresent their research to bolster FOTF’s fundamentalist political agenda and ideology.

We can tell up front there’s going to be a lot of solid science coming out of this.

There are ten episodes in the series plus a bonus, and the first is “Faith and Reason,” and Meyer gets into the meaning of faith, and hopefully why religious faith is not all that bad. For this kind of presentation, Meyer is an excellent choice. He is a polished presenter, and his formal training in philosophy of science provides the very material he needs for background. He can argue from an academically-grounded knowledge base.

That background, as I learned a few years back, is no inoculation against foolish thought. Robert Koons was then and still is a professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, where I once attended and obtained a degree. He came up to give a talk at UT Dallas in 2004, and I was there with a fellow skeptic to take it in:

All this got me to thinking, and when there was an opportunity to pose a question I asked just what it would take to be convincing. Passing by the bacterial flagellum for the time being, I brought up Behe’s example of human blood clotting chemistry (because that appears to me to be the bigger of these two cow cookies for Behe).4 I asked whether demonstrating feasible pathways to the present human clotting chemistry would sufficiently refute Behe’s whole argument for irreducible complexity.

To recapitulate, human blood clotting chemistry is quite complex (what isn’t in biochemistry). When a blood vessel is opened, an elaborate chain—a cascade—of chemical reactions is set into motion. If any step in the chain is missing, or is inadequate for the job, blood clots form prematurely, or we bleed excessively, even to death. Think hemophilia. How could that assemblage of chemical reactions have come about by mutation combined with natural selection? No single mutation, subsequently fixed through natural selection, could have produced all of the required steps simultaneously. If any of our ancestors lacked even one of the steps, we would not be reading this skeptical rag.

Knowing that biologists have a good lead on possible pathways and an effective refutation of Behe’s blood chemistry argument, I asked how many of Behe’s examples need to be explained before irreducible complexity is dead.

Not just one, Koons surmised. One example does not make for solid proof.

What Koons ending up saying is that creationists could pose a large number of examples of supposed irreducible complexity, and biologist would need to refute a slew of these before we should bring the concept into question. My experience, as I noted back then, is that in science and in academia you can expect to present two or at most three ridiculous arguments before you lose credibility. Koons seemed at the time vacant on this point.

But what of Meyer’s presentation on this day, apparently about 2009?

At one point he gets to the causality argument, and he states the misconception that cause and effect are essential to the working of the Universe. As is often pointed out, this is not the case. From all appearances and from all known experience, cause and effect are not essential. At the base of physical science, events happen without a cause. Not a big deal, but certainly not in line with Meyer’s train of thought.

That brings us to Meyer’s central argument in Episode 1. We know the effect. We see it all around us. We see birds, we feel the wind. There are stars and planets, and people and love and happiness (my wording). What is the cause? Is it blind physics? He is going to argue no. Eventually he is going to postulate that God is the best explanation—the best and ultimate cause. Here God is the capital G in the middle of his blackboard.

 

And Meyer’s argument is the proper inference is a being of some sort manifesting intelligence and passion. The problem with this is–pause for a moment–what we call intelligence and passion are human qualities. He, and others in the Intelligent Design movement, are taking these and other human qualities and creating a God that possesses these and in turn creates beings, ourselves, that have these properties. The argument is unquestionably circular.

I will state, as I have before, that if there were a being, such as the proposed God, and this being were all-knowing and all-powerful (omniscient and omnipotent), then what would would this God do? Create a Universe? Create a planet and populate it with beings possessing intelligence and passion? Why? The motivation to create, even if to experiment, is a quality found in living things on this planet. And that includes us. We have those qualities because they are essential to survival. Such need would not exist for an omniscient and omnipotent being. If there is Intelligent Design, then we are not the product. We are the designer.

Episode 2 is going to be “The Big Bang Cosmology: The Finite Universe.” I’m thinking that’s going to  be  more interesting, and I will post a review later this week. These are short, around 30 minutes, so they pose little challenge to my attention span.

Here is a link to a promo on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0S-5GdCPp7c

Hey! If you’re not an Amazon Prime subscriber you can purchase the DVD set on Amazon.

www.amazon.com/TrueU-01-Building-Scientific-Discussion/dp/B00UTUDIT6/

Signature in the Stone

Part of a continuing series

Geological Survey of Canada Photograph of fossil worm, showing clear 'spines'

Geological Survey of Canada
Photograph of fossil worm, showing clear ‘spines’

This is a continuation of my review of creationist Steven C. Meyer’s latest book, Darwin’s Doubt. As with the previous installment, this is going to be drawn from reviews by others with the required expertise. Let’s take a look at Meyer’s use of phylogeny.

The fossil record of the Cambrian period, a time when many multi-cell animal types first appeared, presents a problem. That problem is determining the phylogeny of the various phyla first observed here in the fossil record. We would like to know which animal type, represented in the fossil record, had the most recent common ancestor with which. Biologists (and paleontologists) attempt to deduce the phylogeny of Cambrian life by comparing genotypes of extant life. It works like this. See the diagrams from Meyer’s book:

Figure21-1

Figure 21-1

Species #1 has trait A. Species 2 has trait AB. And so on. One logical conclusion is that originally there was a species with trait A. Species 2 derived from species 1 with the additional trait B, retaining trait A. That is not the only possibility. See the following diagrams.

This is the inferred sequence of acquired traits, and this is the inferred order of branching. Trait B was acquired after the initial branch. And so on.

Figure21-2

Figure 21-2

Meyer now begins his argument against the validity of cladistics derived in this manner.

Yet, as systematists include more characters in their analysis, the potential increases for generating inconsistent pictures of the history of life. So too does the need to apply subjective, post hoc, or theory-laden judgments about which characters to include or how to weight the different characters— at least, that is, if the algorithms are to produce reasonably coherent trees that conform to theoretical expectations about the nature of evolutionary change. An analysis of a group of species based upon one small set of characters may produce a clear, unambiguous cladogram. An analysis of the same group emphasizing a different set of characters can render an equally unambiguous branching tree pattern that is inconsistent with the first tree. An analysis including all the characters present in both datasets, however, can generate a complicated picture of evolutionary history in which some characters emerge or disappear on different branches independently. These patterns of character distribution are typically attributed to convergent evolution or loss of characters. (Alternatively, the algorithm may identify many conflicting phylogenetic trees that are equally parsimonious.)

For example, imagine that in addition to characters A, B, C, D, and E in the figures above, a systematist also analyzes characters F and G. Imagine further that when characters F and G are included in the analysis, F occurs on branches 1, 3, and 5 (but not on 2 or 4), and G appears on branches 2, 4, and 5 (but not on 1 or 3), as shown in Figure 21.3. Explaining this pattern requires invoking multiple separate origins of the same characters (convergent evolution) and/ or instances of character loss.

Since cladistics presupposes universal common descent and evolutionary biologists generally think the likelihood is low of characters appearing multiple times on separate lines of descent, this type of analysis strives to minimize the number of unexpected evolutionary events (especially separate origins of the same characters) necessary to explain the observed distribution. This attempt to generate a tree depicting the least number of steps is called maximizing parsimony. However, maximizing parsimony (and minimizing the number of events involving convergence or loss) frequently becomes difficult as systematists include more characters in their analysis.

Meyer, Stephen C. (2013-06-18). Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (Kindle Locations 7739-7755). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Parsimony is the brass ring in much of science. The conclusion requiring the least supposition is considered superior. Meyer displays his take on what happens when researchers incorporate additional traits.

Figure21-3

Figure 21-3

An excerpt from the book summarizes Meyer’s objection:

The New Scientist article cited a study by Michael Syvanen, a biologist at the University of California at Davis, who studied the relationships among several phyla that first arose in the Cambrian.15  Syvanen’s study compared two thousand genes in six animals spanning phyla as diverse as chordates, echinoderms, arthropods, and nematodes. His analysis yielded no consistent tree-like pattern. As the New Scientist reported, “In theory, he should have been able to use the gene sequences to construct an evolutionary tree showing the relationships between the six animals. He failed. The problem was that different genes told contradictory evolutionary stories.” Syvanen himself summarized the results in the bluntest of terms: “We’ve just annihilated the tree of life. It’s not a tree anymore, it’s a different topology [pattern of history] entirely. What would Darwin have made of that?”16

Meyer, Stephen C. (2013-06-18). Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (Kindle Locations 2284-2292). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

It’s obvious to Nick Matzke, who has written scathing reviews of the book, that Meyer is way over his head attempting to argue this topic. Meyer, who holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Science from Cambridge, has not made a formal study of either biology or paleontology. His review of supposed problems with naturalistic explanations of the Cambrian Explosion follows a course of picking through published science and finding quotes and even published research that reinforce his views. Matzke points this out.

Matzke takes up the issue of Consistency Index with respect to cladistic analysis:

Meyer discusses – for the first time ever – the Consistency Index (CI), which is a measure of the congruence of characters on a tree, and a standard statistic calculated in cladistic analysis to assess the treelike nature of the data. Meyer cites two CI values from cladistic analyses of Cambrian groups – 0.565 (Legg et al. 2012) and 0.384 (Briggs and Fortey 1989) and declares them “low”. In the case of Briggs and Fortey (1989), Meyer quotes the authors, who call 0.384 “rather low.” Meyer doesn’t mention that this was just about the very first preliminary attempt at cladistics of Cambrian arthropods, but that’s not the most important problem.

I will not dive deeply into this topic, since it is above my job grade. However, when weighing the level of trust of Matzke versus Meyer, the balance tips heavily in favor of Matzke:

He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis. He received Ph.D. in evolutionary biology at the University of California, Berkeley in 2013.

He has choice words regarding Meyer’s methods:

What is the expected CI value if there is no phylogenetic signal in the data? This is what creationists are claiming when they claim the data doesn’t support a phylogenetic tree. This null expectation is easy to calculate (as I mentioned in my original review, but which Meyer, incredibly, missed) by reshuffling each character’s data by randomly assigning the character states to species without regard to phylogeny. The resulting dataset will have the exact same percentages of each character state, the same number of states per character, etc., but will have no phylogenetic signal. Parsimony inference of cladograms can be performed, and CI statistics calculated, for these reshuffled datasets.

The result is a null distribution of CI values. The 95% confidence interval of this null distribution is displayed on the plot. As you can see, the null expectation changes somewhat depending on the number of species in the analysis. So, a CI of 0.5 is low if you have only 10 taxa, but it’s high if you have 30. What is key is that if your dataset’s CI is higher than the null, you can statistically reject the hypothesis of no tree structure in the data. With a little more work you could calculate how many standard deviations you are above the mean of the null distribution.

Briggs & Fortey (1989) had 28 taxa in their analysis. Legg et al. 2012 had 173. Now, consult the figure. I would want to do the randomization myself on the original datasets to be really sure, since conceivably the detailed results could depend e.g. on the number of characters with more than two states, but most morphology datasets are substantially binary characters anyway. As you can see, 28 taxa and a CI of 0.384 is a highly significant rejection of the hypothesis of no cladistic structure, and a CI 0.565 with 173 taxa is an incredibly, mind-bogglingly strong rejection of the null hypothesis. It’s probably hundreds of standard deviations above the random expectation.

Even worse, Meyer should have known about this. Not only has this finding about CI been in the literature since 1991, it’s been prominently available in Theobald’s common ancestry FAQ for 10 years! Meyer himself even cited the FAQ in Darwin’s Doubt, dismissing the entire thing in barely a sentence with “In reality, however, the technical literature tells a different story” (Meyer 2013, p. 122).

The only place where I’ve seen the argument “my gut says that’s a low CI value, therefore cladistics doesn’t support common ancestry” before is from Casey Luskin, Meyer’s “research” assistant for Darwin’s Doubt. Meyer, get a new research assistant! Luskin, get educated before blabbing about technical topics you know nothing about!

The Casey Luskin cited by Matzke is this Casey Luskin:

Casey Luskin is an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his B.S. and M.S. in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law. In his role at Discovery Institute, Mr. Luskin works as Research Coordinator for the Center for Science and Culture, assisting and defending scientists, educators, and students who seek to freely study, research, and teach about the scientific debate over Darwinian evolution and intelligent design. He formerly conducted geological research at Scripps Institution for Oceanography (1997-2002).

Luskin is co-founder of the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Center, a non-profit helping students to investigate evolution by starting “IDEA Clubs” on college and high school campuses across the country.

We have previously discussed Casey Luskin in relation to the story of the IDEA Clubs:

What the creationists did in response to the Kitzmiller decision was typical of their game plan. Lacking any productive research in Intelligent Design, the CSC operates solely as a propaganda mill for creationism. Judge Jones, who had previously been quite respectable, was now an activist judge, and incompetent, besides. He had been duped by the claimants’ lawyers and had used large portions of their briefs in his 139-page decision. When Judge Jones received death threats, most likely not from evolutionists, he was given Secret Service protection.

One cog of the CSC’s propaganda mill is the IDEA club web. IDEA stands for Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness, and the clubs are the inspiration of CSC propagandist Casey Luskin. The clubs are student organizations on college campuses and at some minor schools. We have previously covered the state of the IDEA clubs. In April I noted the following activity:10

24 university chapters
6 high school chapters
2 community chapters

We first encountered the IDEA clubs when fellow skeptic Greg Aicklen and I attended a talk by creationist Robert Koons at the University of Texas at Dallas:

Wilston Nkangoh is a senior studying computer science at UT Dallas and his Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Club at the University has been in operation for over a year. If you guessed its purpose is to discuss (favorably) the concept of “intelligent design” (ID) creationism you might be in line to win the NTS psychic challenge. From the IDEA Club Web site:

The IDEA Club at UTD is an official chapter of the [Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Center] in San Diego. This club was founded on October 17th, 2002 with the intention of being a forum where faculty, staff, and students can discuss the scientific controversy over human origins, which has surfaced across academia since the early nineties.Even though the IDEA Club is intended to be an organization for members to discuss origins, the club founder, Wilston, decided to expand its discussion topics. Such topics will include the philosophy of science, the advancement of science, and other interesting issues within the realm of human thought, such as, metaphysics, morality, religion, spirituality, sociology, theology, the theory of knowledge (epistemology), et cetera. See [Faq 7]. Ultimately, IDEA Club members will discuss various ideas pertaining to “origins science” and other “life issues,” throughout the school year.1

We learned about the group through an e-mail notifying us of an upcoming lecture by Robert C. Koons, an noted supporter of ID creationism and professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin). Since Greg Aicklen and I are both UT Dallas graduates, we decided to drop in on Professor Koons’ Friday afternoon lecture.

Past all of that, Meyer’s goal is to cast doubt on the capability of natural processes to account for the Cambrian fossils. His instruments are manifold:

  • Argue there is not enough time—the Cambrian Explosion is too short—for natural processes to work.
  • Fossils that would explain the evolutionary development of the varied organism are missing.
  • The methods employed by mainstream biologists are flawed.

Reading the book one gets the impression that Meyer is telling us the evolutionary development depicted by the Cambrian fossils could not have happened. There were many times during my reading I wanted to ask Meyer, “You say this could not happen, yet here are the fossils in the Cambrian record. You are saying these animals could not have developed by biological evolution, yet here they are.”

We become ever more sure that Meyer is going to wind up giving us an alternative explanation. Eventually he does, and at various points he drops hints. On the final pages of the book Meyer gets down to what this book is all about, and it turns out to be exactly what we expected.

In a future installment of this series I will explore the point Meyer labors so diligently throughout the book to develop. Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Signature in the Stone

Part of a continuing series

Geological Survey of Canada Photograph of fossil worm, showing clear 'spines'

Geological Survey of Canada
Photograph of fossil worm, showing clear ‘spines’

A few days ago I posted a short comment on creationist Steven C. Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt, which came out in 2013. Previously (2009) I reviewed his Signature in the Cell. This series of posts is going to be a continuation of my comments on the more recent book.

The first 56%  comprises the main book, what the book is about. The remainder is Meyer’s response to critiques of the initial edition followed by acknowledgements, references to cited sources, and such. My immediate concern will be with the main text.

Reading through the first 250+ pages I came to realize I have insufficient knowledge of biology and paleontology to appreciate Meyer’s arguments, so for the most part my critique is going to reflect the findings of experts. Certain comments and claims made by Meyer fall within my range of knowledge, and I will offer a personal response to those.

Here’s an overview: Meyer’s previous book deals with supposed outside intelligence and its influence on biological evolution and biogenesis. Darwin’s Doubt is about the Cambrian explosion and how Darwinian evolution (natural causes) cannot account for it.

Nick Matzke posted a lengthy (9000+ words) critique of the book the day after it was offered for sale. Meyer wonders at this prodigious feat, and I would as well. Except, skeptic that I am, I suspect Matzke obtained an early copy, although this is never openly discussed. Here is an excerpt from Meyer’s response:

According to Matzke, cladistic analysis has established the existence of “transitional” and “intermediate” forms between the animals that first arose in the Cambrian. In his view, cladistics has solved the problem of the missing ancestral fossils discussed in Part 1 (Chapters 1– 7) of the book. As he asserts, “phylogenetic methods can establish, and have established, the existence of Cambrian intermediate forms, which are collateral ancestors of various prominent living phyla.” Matzke argues that my failure to inform readers of this disqualifies the book from serious consideration as an analysis of the Cambrian explosion.

Of course, in making this argument, Matzke scarcely addresses the central argument of the book: the problem of the origin of biological information.

Meyer, Stephen C. (2013-06-18). Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (Kindle Locations 7631-7638). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

This I find to be so very quaint. The problem of the origin of biological information was supposed to have been the subject of Signature in the Cell. Matzke aside, my reading of Darwin’s Doubt gave me the impression the book was supposed to be an analysis of the Cambrian explosion.

I will start by analyzing the dispute outlined above. Meyer says that Matzke asserts “phylogenetic methods can establish, and have established, the existence of Cambrian intermediate forms, which are collateral ancestors of various prominent living phyla.” This actual quote appears in a subsequent post by Matzke titled “Luskin’s Hopeless Monster,” and is the one cited in the book. I find this in Matzke’s original post, and I have highlighted the relevant text:

Yet another confusion that Meyer exhibits relates to the idea of “ancestor”. As with all creationists, Meyer exhibits no understanding of the fact that phylogenetic methods as they exist now can only rigorously detect sister-group relationships, not direct ancestry, and, crucially, that this is neither a significant flaw, nor any sort of challenge to common ancestry, nor any sort of evidence against evolution. Distinguishing between a close sister-group relationship and an exact ancestor is just a level of precision that we cannot expect in most cases. It’s just a by-product of the method and the data available. (This is not quite the end of the discussion on this topic – eventually, we will have Bayesian methods that will assign probabilities to hypotheses of direct ancestry, although this will require formal definition and then data-informed estimation of what “ancestral lineage” means in terms of morphological variability within a lineage, the biogeographic and stratigraphic range of “morphospecies” through times, etc. End nerdy sidetrack.) But phylogenetic methods can and do regularly and rigorously identify collateral ancestry – sister group relationships, and ancestral grades and clades. We can say that birds descend from dinosaurs with essentially 100% statistical confidence, without knowing which if any currently-described fossils are exact direct ancestors rather than closely-related sister groups.

For all of the above reasons, almost every page of Meyer’s discussion of Cambrian organisms contains howlers of the first order. For example, in chapter 2:

First, the great profusion of completely novel forms of life in the Burgess assemblage (feature 3) demanded that even more transitional forms than had previously been thought missing. Each new and exotic Cambrian creature – the anomalocarids (see Fig. 2.10), Marrella, Opabinia, and the bizarre and appropriately named Hallucigenia– for which there were again no obvious ancestral forms in the lower strata, required its own series of transitional ancestors. But where were they?

Casey Luskin is a lawyer working for the Discovery Institute, the premier advocate of Intelligent Design in this country.

Meyer’s response to Matzke is notably weak. He does not attempt to refute any of the critique, but only complains that Matzke is missing the point of the book. One has to wonder, if this topic does not contribute to the point of the book, when why is Meyer discussing it? Meyer’s only defense seems to be an attempt to deflect attention away from this and other noted flaws.

At this point I need to illustrate what is meant by phylogenetic methods. Here is a simple diagram:

Phylogeny

Misconceptions about evolution (evolution.berkeley.edu)

Such a diagram can be constructed by a number of ways, but all methods employ extant organisms. Comparing similar body features (homology) one can determine the order of branching illustrated above. At one point in the past the line of descent of sharks branched from that of other fishes, never to merge again. Ultimately mammals, including us, derived from the right-hand branch and not from the shark branch.

Homology is a coarse-handed way to compare organisms. A finer-grained way is to use protein sequencing and even DNA sequencing. This is because similar forms can disguise true ancestry, which ancestry is more accurately revealed by comparing molecules.

Matzke continues his argument:

Again, it is only by refusing to depict and specifically discuss of the inter-relationships of these sorts of taxa, and the data that supports them, and to mention the statistical support for the resulting relationships, that Meyer manages to pretend to his readers that these questions are not even partially answered, are unanswerable, and that “poof, God did it” is a better explanation. Here’s the cladogram from Legg et al. (2012) again:

phylogenydiagram

From Nick Matzke post

Matzke drives home his point with some force:

What goes into diagrams like this? They represent summaries of the morphological character data, which in this case you can see right here. Many readers, and virtually all creationists/IDists, will have little idea of the scale of effort that goes into constructing a dataset like this. These researchers, and the previous researchers that they are building upon, identified 580 individual, variable characters, each of which has to be identified, defined, divided up into discrete character states, and encoded. This laborious process had to be repeated for (in this case) 173 fossil taxa (correction – some are living, e.g. Drosophila). A lot of fossils are missing a lot of characters – typical and expected in paleontological analyses – but it is still a lot of work. After this, one runs a cladistic or other phylogenetic analysis (whole textbooks and courses are devoted just to this step of the process, and articles devoted to testing the reliability of phylogenetic methods, and improving the methods, are continually being published) and calculates support statistics. The support statistics are important since they tell you whether or not your data have any phylogenetic tree structure. Usually this doesn’t get major emphasis in scientific publications, because almost any biological dataset typically has extremely statistically significant tree signal, and this is true whether or not it agrees precisely with other analyses, and whether or not all relationships of interest to the researcher are precisely resolved with high support.

To anyone familiar with this work, it is simply laughable and pretty much insulting to see Stephen Meyer proclaim throughout his book that fossils with transitional morphology don’t exist, that the Cambrian body plans look like they originated all-at-once in one big sudden step. These statements don’t respect scientific process, they don’t respect the peer reviewed literature, they don’t respect the intelligence and knowledge of people who actually do know what they are talking about, they don’t respect the hard work of all the scientists that went out in the field and found these fossils, and then spent countless hours preparing them, describing them, inspecting them in microscopic detail, coding them in a morphology database, and analyzing them, all with care and effort and detail never taken by any creationist/IDist writer in any effort of comparative biology. And most importantly, Meyer’s statements don’t respect the data. They don’t follow the evidence wherever it leads, mostly because Meyer is ignoring most of the evidence.

A lot of Meyer’s book has to do with disputing the lineage of Cambrian animal life. In future installments of this series I will mine additional instances and also comment on some of his absurd claims related to information and intelligence.

Keep reading.

L’Affaire Sternberg

DarwinsDoubt

Three years ago I concluded the my discussion of the Coppedge controversy—l’affaire Coppedge.

Judge: NASA firing of JPL employee wasn’t due to intelligent design advocacy

Employee’s firing was due to job performance, not religion.
by John Timmer – Nov 2 2012

Earlier today, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s staff were busy recounting their latest successes on the surface of Mars. At the same time, news broke that JPL’s lawyers were succeeding in the courtroom. In 2010, JPL was sued by an employee for religious discrimination after it asked him to (among other things) stop aggressively promoting intelligent design at work. A wrongful termination charge was added less than a year later after the employee, David Coppedge, was let go. But the judge overseeing that case has accepted the JPL’s arguments that Coppedge was let go for performance reasons as part of a larger cutback of staff.

That quote was from ARS Technica. I had my own concluding remarks:

The end of an affair? Only if you are optimistic. Creationist like to milk cases like this to portray themselves as martyrs for the true religion, all the while claiming that Intelligent Design is not religion. We may hear more from them about this business. In the Coppedge affair it would appear the creationists sought to demonstrate that, although Coppedge considered Intelligent Design to be real science, his supervisors thought it was religion, so the creationists really could have it both ways. Perhaps beside the point of the whole affair is that nobody has ever demonstrated any scientific merit for Intelligent Design or any other flavor of creationism, while about seven years ago a district judge in Pennsylvania ruled that the school board defendants in the case had been unable to make the case that Intelligent Design has a scientific basis. And, yes, the judge in the Dover case also agreed that Intelligent Design is solely a matter of religion.

C’est finis.

For another case it appears not to be finished. I call this case l’affaire Sternberg. I have touched on this previously. A particular instance was my review of the video starring economist, movie actor and television personality Ben Stein and titled Expelled:

In 2008 the word began to circulate, and there was a lot of excitement. I eagerly awaited the release of the video and purchased my copy through Amazon. It’s Expelled, starring movie and television personality Ben Stein.

As you can see, the subtitle is No Intelligence Allowed. If by now you are getting the idea this is going to be about Intelligent Design, then you can come up to the head of the class.

A personality featured in the video is evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg. The story in Expelled is that Sternberg suffered undue criticism and retribution for publishing a paper by creationist Steven C. Meyer in Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington a scientific journal for which Sternberg was editor at the time. That was in 2004, and the story lingers. Here is an excerpt from the Expelled review:

Sternberg met with Steven C. Meyer, the author of a paper that Sternberg published in the journal of which he was editor. Apparently the two arranged to have the paper published in order to give Intelligent Design the prestige of having a paper published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Sternberg did not consult with others on the editorial board of the journal, but he selected the four reviewers, including himself. He has never revealed the identities of the other three reviewers, which I presume were fans of Intelligent Design.

At any level of reading the paper has no scientific merit. I have read it and found it to be at the level of an op-ed piece that might be printed in the opinions section of a newspaper. You can read it for yourself.

The editorial board was highly outraged, which outrage provided much of the fuel for the fire storm fanned in the video.

Sternberg did not lose his job. He was not employed at the Smithsonian. He was employed at the National Institutes of Health, and in his free time he was doing unpaid research at the Smithsonian. His job as editor for the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington was a voluntary, unpaid position. He announced his resignation as editor even before the paper in question was published.

A post by Jonathan Coddington on the Panda’s Thumb blog provides additional detail:

Posted by JAC on February 3, 2005 9:36 AM (e)

Although I do not wish to debate the merits of intelligent design, this forum seems an apt place to correct several factual inaccuracies in the Wall Street Journal’s Op Ed article by David Klinghoffer, “The Branding of a Heretic” (Jan. 28, 2005). Because Dr. von Sternberg has filed an official complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, I cannot comment as fully as I would wish.
1. Dr. von Sternberg is still a Research Associate at the National Museum of Natural History, and continues to have the usual rights and privileges, including space, keys, and 24/7 access. At no time did anyone deny him space, keys or access.
2. He is not an employee of the Smithsonian Institution. His title, “Research Associate,” means that for a three year, potentially renewable period he has permission to visit the Museum for the purpose of studying and working with our collections without the staff oversight visitors usually receive.
3. I am, and continue to be, his only “supervisor,” although we use the term “sponsor” for Research Associates to avoid personnel/employee connotations. He has had no other since Feb. 1, 2004, nor was he ever “assigned to” or under the “oversight of” anyone else.
4. Well prior to the publication of the Meyer article and my awareness of it, I asked him and another Research Associate to move as part of a larger and unavoidable reorganization of space involving 17 people and 20 offices. He agreed.
5. I offered both individuals new, identical, standard Research Associate work spaces. The other accepted, but Dr. von Sternberg declined and instead requested space in an entirely different part of the Museum, which I provided, and which he currently occupies.
6. As for prejudice on the basis of beliefs or opinions, I repeatedly and consistently emphasized to staff (and to Dr. von Sternberg personally), verbally or in writing, that private beliefs and/or controversial editorial decisions were irrelevant in the workplace, that we would continue to provide full Research Associate benefits to Dr. von Sternberg, that he was an established and respected scientist, and that he would at all times be treated as such.
On behalf of all National Museum of Natural History staff, I would like to assert that we hold the freedoms of religion and belief as dearly as any one. The right to heterodox opinion is particularly important to scientists. Why Dr. von Sternberg chose to represent his interactions with me as he did is mystifying. I can’t speak to his interactions with anyone else.

Sincerely yours,
Jonathan Coddington

The matter of Sternberg having to surrender his keys to the Smithsonian lab is even more bizarre:

THE CLAIM

“In October, as the OSC complaint recounts, [Sternberg’s supervisor] Mr. Coddington told Mr. Sternberg to give up his office and turn in his keys to the departmental floor, thus denying him access to the specimen collections he needs.” (Wall Street Journal editorial, linked from Expelled website)

THE FACTS

According to Coddington in a January 2005 communication, “Well prior to the publication of the Meyer article and my awareness of it, I asked him and another Research Associate to move as part of a larger and unavoidable reorganization of space involving 17 people and 20 offices. He agreed. I offered both individuals new, identical, standard Research Associate work spaces. The other accepted, but Dr. von Sternberg declined and instead requested space in an entirely different part of the Museum, which I provided, and which he currently occupies.”

The Smithsonian wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal, observing, “Dr. Sternberg’s characterization of his work conditions and treatment at the Smithsonian is incorrect. He was never denied office space, keys or access to the collections.”

In a January 30, 2006, letter responding to Sternberg’s concerns, Smithsonian Deputy Secretary & Chief Operating Officer Sheila Burke explained:

“As you know, as part of an effort to enhance security at the Museum, all researchers were asked to return their keys in 2004, and were issued coded identification badges to provide access to non-public areas. The badge you were issued, which provides general access to doors and elevators, is still operative. If you have any problems gaining access to conduct your research, however please contact the Security office at NMNH. In accordance with NMNH policy, please return your old keys as soon as possible to your sponsor, Dr. Vari.”

In short, Sternberg has turned two bits of bureaucratic minutiae affecting an entire division of the museum – a switch from keys to ID badges and a routine shuffling of office space – into a conspiracy to undermine him personally.

And that was supposed to be that.

Not quite. Amazingly the topic was resurrected five years later with the publication of a new book by Steven C. Meyer, the author of the piece at the center of L’affaire Sternberg. Reviewing the book I received a tantalizing surprise:

Attention immediately turned to Sternberg, an obvious creationism sympathizer. More followed, and this is what Meyer has to say about the affair:

… The editor, Richard Sternberg, lost his office and his access to scientific samples and was later transferred to a hostile supervisor. After Sternberg’s case was investigated by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, a government watchdog organization and by the U.S. House Committee on Government Reform, a congressional committee, other questionable actions came to light. …5

Meyer notes that senior administrators at the Smithsonian Institution questioned Sternberg’s colleagues about his religion and politics and instigated a campaign to damage his professional reputation and to get him to resign. Sternberg did not resign, but he was demoted.

Meyer gets some of that right, and that’s the unfortunate part-for Meyer. The problem is this pronouncement by Meyer reveals that Meyer’s infatuation with the truth is a sometime thing.

And that was supposed to be that.

Au contraire. Two years ago Steven C. Meyer came out with yet another book promoting creationism (Intelligent Design). That book is Darwin’s Doubt, of which I have a copy and have finished reading. Actually, I have finished reading up to location 7606, after which Meyer launches into a review of various critiques of the book. I will review the main part first, and then I will review Meyer’s critiques of the critiques. Here’s what Meyer has to say in his latest book:

The same year, I published a peer-reviewed scientific article about the Cambrian explosion and the problem of the origin of the biological information needed to explain it. 1 In the paper, I cited Axe’s results and explained why the rarity of functional proteins in sequence space posed such a severe challenge to the adequacy of the neo-Darwinian mechanism. The article appeared in a biology journal, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, published out of the Smithsonian Institution by scientists working for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). Because the article also argued that the theory of intelligent design could help explain the origin of biological information (see Chapter 18), its publication created a firestorm of controversy.

Museum scientists and evolutionary biologists from around the country were furious with the journal and its editor, Richard Sternberg, for allowing the article to be peer-reviewed and then published. Recriminations followed. Museum officials took away Sternberg’s keys, his office, and his access to scientific samples. He was transferred from a friendly to a hostile supervisor. A congressional subcommittee staff later investigated and found that museum officials initiated an intentional disinformation campaign against Sternberg in an attempt to get him to resign. His detractors circulated false rumors: “Sternberg has no degrees in biology” (actually he has two Ph.D.’ s, one in evolutionary biology and one in systems biology); “He is a priest, not a scientist” (Sternberg is not a priest, but a research scientist); “He is a Republican operative working for the Bush campaign” (he was far too busy doing scientific research to be involved in political campaigns, Republican or otherwise); “He’s taken money to publish the article” (not true); and so on. Eventually, despite the demonstrable falsehood of the charges, he was demoted.

Meyer, Stephen C. (2013-06-18). Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (Kindle Locations 3830-3845). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

This is particularly galling. Imagine I purchased a book, a recent edition, about the history of World War Two. It’s by a famous author, but a couple of chapters in the author makes the claim that Poland attacked Germany, kicking off the hostilities on 1 September 1939. It’s a claim the author has made before, one which is thoroughly rebutted by multiple sources. Yet, the same author is making the same claim, ignoring the basic facts without any attempt to defend his variance with known history.

It’s not as though Meyer hasn’t had the opportunity to rebut the rebuttal. His own organization, the Discovery Institute, has put up a Web site just for the purpose of rebutting criticism of Expelled. Here is what Expelled Exposed Exposed has to say about l’affaire Sternberg:

Richard Sternberg:
Many of the false claims at “Expelled Exposed” about Richard Sternberg also seem to parrot the arguments of Michael Shermer, and thus the aforementioned response to Shermer provides rebuttals to many of the website’s claims: see “Michael Shermer’s Fact-Free Attack on Expelled Exposes Intolerance of Darwinists towards Pro-Intelligent Design Scientists.” “Expelled Exposed” makes the unbelievable assertion that “the worst that happened to Sternberg is that people said some unkind things about him in private email to one another.“ The rebuttal to Shermer documents the precise e-mails and evidence which show that, contrary to the claims of “Expelled Exposed,” Sternberg did experience harassment and persecution, including pressure to resign, investigations into his outside activities regarding evolution, and inappropriate restrictions on his research.

More facts about Richard Sternberg’s unfortunate story can be found on his home page at RichardSternberg.org as well as at the following links:

 

 

Unless the details are tucked away inside one of the sources linked—none of the link titles point that way—then the Discovery Institute and Meyer by implication are willing to let the facts lie as they fell.

You have to wonder at a story like l’affaire Sternberg. “Museum officials took away Sternberg’s keys.” No additional detail. A more credible story would have some detail. A more credible story would go like this: “Mr. Coddington approached me in the corridor near my lab at the Smithsonian on 12 December and told me to immediately hand over the key to my lab. I asked why, and he just told me to give him the key. He took the key and walked away. No explanation was given. Since that time I have been unable to access my lab space.” No such narrative has been forthcoming.

What has been forthcoming was “Museum officials took away Sternberg’s keys.” Repeated. The beauty of this statement is it is true on its face. Museum officials did take away Sternberg’s keys. This gives Sternberg, Meyer, and the Discovery Institute the cover of bare truth. Something like this gives certain people, Ben Stein included, the ability to stand before a video camera and make the statement with a straight face. The lie is what is left hanging in the room after the speaker has departed.

And I wonder why. Why give cover to this tiny lie, when the more massive hoax sits exposed for all to see. That hoax is that Intelligent Design is all about science and has nothing to do with creationism, nothing to do with promotion of a religious agenda.

My own review of Meyer’s latest book is forthcoming. His previous book, Signature in the Cell, was an easy task. It centered on intelligence and information, a topic about which I consider myself considerably more expert than Meyer. Darwin’s Doubt dives deeply into biology,,particularly phylogeny and other biologically obtuse topics, about which I am mostly clueless. In reviewing Meyer’s latest book I will rely completely on expert sources, sources that have from all appearances already stripped the veneer off Meyer’s most recent golden calf.

Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

 

Creating Information

Two summers ago I volunteered to review physics texts for the Texas Education Agency. The reviews were held in a large hall in a hotel in Austin, and other teams were reviewing other books. In particular I ran into a creationist I had met twenty years previous. He is Walter Bradley, and he was reviewing biology texts for the State of Texas. What I found odd about this was:

  • Dr. Bradley has no academic standing in the subject of biology. He is former chairman of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University.
  • Bradley is an acknowledge creationist, a position he has taken in opposition to basic principles of biology.

Here is Dr. Bradley and fellow creationist Ide Trotter at the text book review:

IMG_2876

Wikipedia has this to say:

Bradley was one of the pioneers of the concept of intelligent design, attempting to explain topics not yet understood by science as the activity of God. Bradley’s writings on the subject anticipated some of the concepts later articulated by William Dembski and Michael Behe, and he was a participant in early meetings regarding the wedge strategy, a religious public relations campaign with a goal of reshaping American culture to adopt evangelical Protestant values.

I struck up a conversation with Dr. Bradley, and the topic naturally turned to Intelligent Design. What is pertinent to this is that Bradley posed this question to me: As new organisms develop by biological evolution, where does the new information come from?

I knew the answer to the question, but I did not press Dr. Bradley on it. I will give the answer now, and it is counter-intuitive. New information comes from completely random processes. I have highlighted that statement. Carry this forward to the discussion of observed evolution by random mutation and natural selection—Darwinian evolution.

Prior to the development of Nylon, there was no bacterium that could eat the substance. You have a fabric made of wool or cotton, and it is subject to attack by any number of bacterial agents. Not so with Nylon. Eventually a bacterium was discovered that could “eat” Nylon:

In 1975 a team of Japanese scientists discovered a strain of Flavobacterium, living in ponds containing waste water from a nylon factory, that was capable of digesting certain byproducts of nylon 6 manufacture, such as the linear dimer of 6-aminohexanoate. These substances are not known to have existed before the invention of nylon in 1935.

Further study revealed that the three enzymes the bacteria were using to digest the byproducts were significantly different from any other enzymes produced by other Flavobacterium strains (or, for that matter, any other bacteria), and not effective on any material other than the manmade nylon byproducts.

A random mutation had produced a bacterium that could eat Nylon. This was a new organism that filled a newly-created niche (Nylon) in the environment. This was Darwinian evolution in action. What do the creationist say in response?

Many supporters of evolutionary theory have claimed that nylon-eating bacteria strongly demonstrate the kind of evolution that can create new cellular structures, new cells, and new organisms.1 However, examining only the apparent, visible beneficial trait can be misleading. Recent research into the genes behind these traits indicates that no evolution has taken place.2 In fact, the genes of nylon-eating bacteria show that they have been degraded through mutation.

The gene that mutated to enable bacteria to metabolize nylon is on a small loop of exchangeable DNA.3 This gene, prior to its mutation, coded for a protein called EII with a special ability to break down small, circularized proteins. Though synthetic, nylon is very protein-like because inventor Wallace Carothers modeled the original fiber based on known protein chemistry. Thus, after the mutation, the new EII protein was able to interact with both circular and straightened-out nylon. This is a clear example of a loss of specification of the original enzyme. It is like damaging the interior of a lock so that more and different keys can now unlock it.

This degeneration of a protein-eating protein required both the specially-shaped protein and the pre-existence of its gene. The degeneration of a gene, even when it provides a new benefit to the bacteria, does not explain the origin of that gene. One cannot build a lock by damaging pre-existing locks. Nylon-eating bacteria actually exemplify microevolution (adaptation), not macroevolution. Science continues to reveal, though, how benevolent is our Creator God, who permits bacteria to benefit from degradation, and man also to benefit from bacteria that can recycle synthetic waste back into the environment.

The three references cited are listed below:

  1. Thwaites, W.M. 1985. New Proteins Without God’s Help. Creation/Evolution. 5 (2): 1-3.
  2. Anderson, K.L, and G. Purdom. 2008. A Creationist Perspective of Beneficial Mutations in Bacteria. Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Creationism. Pittsburgh PA: Creation Science Fellowship and Dallas, TX: Institute for Creation Research, 73-86.
  3. Yasuhira, K. et al, 2007. 6-Aminohexanoate Oligomer Hydrolases from the Alkalophilic Bacteria Agromyes sp. Strain KY5R and Kocuria sp. Strain KY2. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 73 (21): 7099-7102.

The author of this is “Brian Thomas, M.S.

Brian Thomas received his bachelor’s degree in biology in 1993 and a master’s in biotechnology in 1999 from Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas. He taught junior high and high school at Christian schools in Texas, as well as biology, chemistry, and anatomy as an adjunct and assistant professor at Dallas-area universities. Since 2008 Mr. Thomas has been a science writer and editor at ICR, where he contributes news and magazine articles, speaks on creation issues, and researches original tissue fossils. He is the author ofDinosaurs and the Bible and a contributor to Guide to Creation Basics,Creation Basics & Beyond, and Guide to Dinosaurs.

Interesting points of his argument are:

  1. This degeneration of a protein-eating protein required both the specially-shaped protein and the pre-existence of its gene.
  2. The degeneration of a gene, even when it provides a new benefit to the bacteria, does not explain the origin of that gene.
  3. One cannot build a lock by damaging pre-existing locks.
  4. Nylon-eating bacteria actually exemplify microevolution (adaptation), not macroevolution.
  5. Nylon-eating bacteria actually exemplify microevolution (adaptation), not macroevolution.
  6. Science continues to reveal, though, how benevolent is our Creator God, who permits bacteria to benefit from degradation, and man also to benefit from bacteria that can recycle synthetic waste back into the environment.

1. Regarding the prerequisite of a specially-shaped protein, another prerequisite is the existence of the bacterium. I hate to be picky, but still another prerequisite is the existence of the planet Earth. This is not a well-based point to argue from.

2. The origin of the original gene is not explained. The origin of the original gene is not at issue here. Darwinian evolution is classically step-wise. Every novel feature is derived from or is built upon an existing one.

3. The “lock” mentioned here is an analogy. A mechanical lock is a device that is used by people, and Thomas is reminding us that a lock that is damaged, such as by putting a .357 Magnum slug through it, does not produce a useful mechanism. The problem with this argument is this is not a lock mechanism built by people. This is a gene that expresses the production of a protein (or an RNA sequence), and it has been altered, and the altered form produces a result that allows the bacterium to digest Nylon.

4. Yes, this is micro evolution. What did Thomas think this was all about? Just about all gene mutations produce micro changes in the offspring. Darwinian evolution, including the the formation of new species, is the accumulation of micro-changes.

5. I am going to let Brian Thomas have this point. I mean, if it’s God doing all of this, then who am I to dispute it?

Back to Walter Bradley’s challenge. New information does come from random processes. People who employ genetic algorithms to develop improved systems (e.g., Diesel engines) use random processes to inject variation into trial designs. It works in modern industry. It works in nature.

Traipsing into Banality

TraipsingIntoEvolution-01

I’ve been figuring out how to dive into this project. I bought the book a few years back and have since used it mostly as a reference. It came back to my attention recently when somebody commented on my comment on a review on Amazon. I’ve edited out some of the links in what follows. The dialogue went something like this:

67 of 93 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Read the trial transcript and the opinon instead, March 28, 2006
This review is from: Traipsing Into Evolution: Intelligent Design and the Kitzmiller v. Dover Decision (Paperback)

I bought this book to see what the ID proponents had to say that they didn’t say in court. I found little. And most of what I did find was more succinctly addressed by luskins’s and behe’s previous critiques of the decision which you can find on the internet for free. It is a quick read though.Judge Jones’ decision is a few pages longer than this book but if you want the truth about this case I encourage you to read the decsision and the transcripts of the testimony which you can find on the internet at […]Avoid the testimony of the school board members if you are a christian (pro ID or not) because a couple of the professedly christian board members got caught lying on the stand and I know that was upsetting to me. Don’t miss the expert testimony though. Robert Pennock, Barbara Forrest, Michael Behe and Steven Fuller. HIgh points (IMO) are Dr Forrest’s testimony about the writing of “Of Pandas and People” the textbook in question at the trial, and Dr Behe’s admission that the rule changes necessary to make ID science would also allow astrology.The view of the decision that you get here is not as complete or truthful as the the picture you can get by going to the source documents and making up your own mind. For instance, reading this book will convince you that Judge Jones went beyond his authority to make a needless determination that ID is not science. But a reading of the trial transcripts will show you that the one of the major arguments made by the ID forces was that ID should be taught because it is science. While a narrower opinion could have been written (with the same result that ID can’t be taught in Dover but based only on the defendants’ intent to teach a particular brand of religion in the public schools in violation of the establishment clause), the judge was well within his right to rule on the merits of all the defense’s claims.

I can only recommend this book if you are extremely interested in this debate and wish to keep up with the latest of the ID proponents’ strategies.

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our initial post: Jun 27, 2010 7:55:08 AM PDT

John Blanton says:

Your summary appears to be dead on. I bought the book to bring my Amazon order up to $25 for free shipping, and also because I was curious. My main purchase was the Darwin’s Dilemma video, which I needed in order to do a review for The North Texas Skeptics. At the end of Monkey Girl David Humes does a short assessment of Traipsing (also Godless, which I have, as well).The Darwin’s Dilemma review will appear in the July issue of The North Texas Skeptic.John Blanton
North Texas Sketpics Web master


In reply to your post on Jan 1, 2015 6:38:55 AM PST

KC James says:

I don’t believe you read the transcript. I don’t believe you even have it.If so, how many pages is it and how much did it cost?
You replied with a later post
Your post, in reply to an earlier post on Jan 2, 2015 9:31:38 PM PST
Last edited by you on Jan 2, 2015 9:34:20 PM PST

John Blanton says:

 The trial transcript is available on-line from a number of sources. Here is a link to the transcripts posted by the National Center for Science Education:
http://ncse.com/creationism/legal/kitzmiller-trial-transcriptsRegarding how any pages, you can count them for yourself, although I’m not too sure why the page count matters.John Blanton
jf_blanton@yahoo.com

Anyhow, you can see how this small part of the discussion is going. The most recent interchange got me to thinking I should do a comprehensive review, and I started reading from the beginning. I quickly began to bog down. On almost every page was something that required a response. There’s no way I can give this the complete review it deserves. That would run over a thousand pages. The book is only 123 pages.

What I’m going to do is to just pick out a few points and bear down. Detractors are going to complain that I’m picking and choosing. To those I will advise that you direct me to any issues you think I am avoiding. In these cases I will respond to the best of my ability. Please note that in my commentary I spell out Intelligent Design, and I capitalize it. That is in line with standard American English practice of capitalizing the names of religious movements.

Let me start with some background. I followed the case in the news when it first cropped up in 2004 on through the trial in the autumn of 2005. A comprehensive chronicle is Monkey Girl by Edward Humes:

That’s where the local version of an ancient conflict took root, in January 2002, when a new board member, Alan Bonsell, an auto and radiator repair shop owner with whom Casey had campaigned, announced that he was very concerned about issues of morality. He wanted to bring prayer and faith back into the public schools. We need the Bible in the classroom again, he argued strenuously, and we need to teach creationism to achieve a “fair and balanced curriculum .” More than budget cuts, more than textbooks, more than school construction or any of the other mundane but critical issues facing the district that they had all campaigned on, Bonsell seemed to care most about creationism. That, he said, was his number one issue. School prayer was second on his list.

Humes, Edward (2009-10-13). Monkey Girl . HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

This was in the Dover, Pennsylvania, public school system. Board member Alan Bonsell allied himself with William Buckingham, another board member. They consulted with the Discovery Institute and with the Thomas More Law Center. The Discovery Institute is the leading proponent for creationism in the United States, particularly Intelligent Design. The Thomas More Law Center was named after 16th century English lawyer Thomas More, who was beheaded by Henry VIII over his opposition to the Church of England. Seth Cooper, a lawyer at the Discovery Institute was in contact with Buckingham, and the school board received books and videos critical of evolution. A particular video was Icons of Evolution, based on a book of the same title by creationist Jonathan Wells, a Discovery Institute fellow.

From all of this, Bonsell, Buckingham and some other board members got the idea it would be legally defensible to teach creationism in the Dover public schools. There was opposition, a lot of conflict and some rethinking. Creationism, even the Intelligent Design version, would not be taught. The issue devolved into having science teachers read a disclaimer that said:

The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s theory of evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students to see if they would like to explore this view in an effort to gain an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves.

As is true with any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the origins of life to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on standards-based assessments.

The science teachers recognized the wrongness of this action and refused to participate. Already eleven interested parties had joined in a lawsuit against the school. It was left to Assistant Superintendent Mike Baksa to read the prescribed text.

The case is named Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al. On 20 December 2005 District Judge John E. Jones III handed down his decision, and it was devastating for the defendants. The Judge’s decision banned promoting creationism in the school, witnesses for the defense were cited for perjured testimony and the school board was stuck with a bill of $1 million for the claimants legal expenses.

Reaction was immediate. The judge, a politically conservative appointee of President George W. Bush, received harsh criticism by conservative news commentators, his life was threatened, and he was given police protection. The Discovery Institute weighed in. This book was their response.

The authors are as follows and will be known henceforth as “DeWolf and others.”

  • David DeWolf—David K. DeWolf is a Professor of Law at Gonzaga School of Law in Spokane, Washington, and a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.
  • John G. West—Dr. John West is a Vice President and Senior Fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, where he also serves as Associate Director of the Institute’s Center for Science & Culture.
  • Casey Luskin—Casey Luskin is an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution.
  • Jonathan Witt—Jonathan Witt, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow for Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture and a Research Fellow for the Acton Institute.

The book has an introduction and four chapters. There is also a Conclusion The Need for Academic Freedom and appendices A, B and C. I’m going to take a sample from each of these parts to critique. Anybody asserting I’m cherry picking the evidence will need to contact me. I will provide additional examples.

Start with:

Introduction Judicial Courage or Judicial Overreach.

This is from pages 9-10:

The dogmatic tone of Judge Jones’ opinion is already attracting criticism from thoughtful scholars. Distinguished University of Chicago Law Professor Albert Alschuler, for one, has rebuked Judge Jones for smearing ID proponents as Biblical fundamentalists:

If fundamentalism still means what it meant in the early twentieth century … accepting the Bible as literal truth—the champions of intelligent design are not fundamentalists. They uniformly disclaim reliance on the Book and focus only on where the biological evidence leads.The court’s response—”well, that’s what they say, but we know what they mean”—is uncivil, an illustration of the dismissive and contemptuous treatment that characterizes much contemporary discourse. Once we know who you are, we need not listen. We’ve heard it all already.

That may or may not be worth noting. A lot would depend on whether Judge Jones actually smeared Intelligent Design proponents. Also whether he ever characterized them as Biblical fundamentalists. Apparently neither is the case. A search of Jones’ decision for the text “fundamental,” which would include the words “fundamentalist” and “fundamentalists,” found 16 instances. None of these references appear to be directed toward Intelligent Design proponents.

I am left wondering what the authors had in mind when making this assertion. Is this a case of somebody recognizing himself in a mirror?

The following is also from page 10:

Finally, although Kitzmiller was publicly portrayed as being about the “teaching” of intelligent design, in reality the Dover school board merely required students to hear a four-paragraph statement defining intelligent design as “an explanation of the origin of life that differs from
Darwin’s view”—a vapid description that supplied virtually no meaningful information about the substance of the theory. Students were further notified that “[ t]he reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves.” Such a minimalist policy was
a far cry from an intelligent design curriculum.

And why is this important? DeWitt and the others want to minimize the significance of Intelligent Design to the case. The problem is the case started out as an attempt to introduce Intelligent Design into the curriculum, and only shrank to its final scope after the suit was filed. Testimony given by witnesses for the plaintiffs detailed an earlier, nefarious intent on the part of the defendants:

During a meeting of the curriculum committee in early October , while the sole dissenter, Casey Brown , was absent, Bonsell, Buckingham, and Sheila Harkins came up with new language to replace Baksa’s in a matter of minutes: “Students will be made aware of gaps/ problems in Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and of other theories of evolution, including but not limited to intelligent design. Note: Origins of Life is not taught.”

Humes, Edward (2009-10-13). Monkey Girl (p. 93). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The curriculum change, incorporating Intelligent design was sprung at a notable meeting:

But when the meeting convened on October 18, 2004, the champions of intelligent design were in no mood for compromise. In yet another wild, angry session, the board majority, led by Buckingham and Bonsell, presented its proposal just as Barrie Callahan had feared— without the usual notice to the public.

Humes, Edward (2009-10-13). Monkey Girl (p. 95). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Judge Jones cited this meeting in his ruling:

On December 14, 2004, Plaintiffs filed the instant suit challenging the constitutional validity of the October 18, 2004 resolution and November 19, 2004 press release (collectively, “the ID Policy”). It is contended that the ID Policy constitutes an establishment of religion prohibited by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which is made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as the Constitution of the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania. Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief, nominal damages, costs, and attorneys’ fees.

[Judge’s ruling, Case No. 04cv2688, pp 2-3]

Protestations by deWolf and others notwithstanding, there was Intelligent Design intent, and this religiously-motivated concept was at the heart of the case.

Chapter I, Kitzmiller’s Partisan History of Intelligent Design.

This chapter has three sections:

  • A. The Ancient Origins of the Design Debate
  • B. The Modern Revival of the Design Debate in Physics and Cosmology
  • C. The Modern Revival of the Design Debate in Biology

From page 15:

A key part of Judge Jones’ ruling is his purported history of the intelligent design movement, which he depicts as the outgrowth of American Christian “Fundamentalism” with a capital “F.” It is important to note that Judge Jones cannot point to even a single doctrine unique to Christian fundamentalism that the theory of intelligent design incorporates. Indeed, he effectively concedes that ID proponents distinguish their theory from fundamentalism by pointing out that it does not involve arguments based on “the Book of Genesis”, “a young earth,” or “a catastrophic Noaich Hood.”

Lest DeWolf and others failed to notice, the plaintiff’s case chased the origins of the modern Intelligent Design movement, particularly as regards the proposed text Of Pandas and People, to the Edwards v. Aguillard case. That case involved the intent to teach Fundamentalist Christian philosophy in the public schools. Creationism was the object of contention. The Supreme Court ruled that the action of the local government in this case had a religious intent with no redeeming scientific merit. Plaintiffs demonstrated in the Kitzmiller case that the modern Intelligent Design movement in part, and the current rendition Pandas book in whole, sprang from this case.

DeWolf and others additionally make the case that Michael Behe and Scott Minnich, both proponents of Intelligent Design and testifying for the defense, are not religious fundamentalists. While it is good to know this, it is of no importance. The plaintiffs successfully demonstrated a connection between religious fundamentalism and Intelligent Design. The connection was never to imply Intelligent Design is based on religious fundamentalism. The point made was that Intelligent Design, like young Earth creationism, is aimed at promoting a religious view point. In case somebody asks which particular religious view point, the answer is the creation of novel biological features by means of the intervention of a mythical person.

Chapter II,  Kitzmiller’s Unpersuasive Case Against the Scientific Status of Intelligent Design

This also has three sections.

  • A. Judge Jones Wrongly Assumed the Authority to Decide What Science Is
  • B. Judge Jones Conflated The Question of Whether Something Is Scientific with the Question of Which Scientific Theory Is Most Popular
  • C. Judge Jones Disqualified ID As Science Only by Misrepresenting the Facts

I will just pick one point from this chapter, that Judge Jones disqualified Intelligent Design as science only by misrepresenting the facts. DeWolf and others quote from page 62 of the judge’s decision, specifically:

(1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980’s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. As we will discuss in more detail below, it is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research.

I will summarize the book’s argument by posting the essentials of page 30. I have removed the footnotes and references to them. The quoted text is from the court decision:

1. “ID violates the centuries-old ground rules ‘of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation.”

Judge Jones makes two interrelated claims here that need to be distinguished: a. ID invokes or permits supernatural causation and b. ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science.

a. Does ID invoke or permit supernatural causation?

Although Judge Jones sometimes claims that ID either “invokes or permits supernatural causation,” it becomes clear in his opinion that his real claim is much stronger: He repeatedly insists that ID “requires supernatural creation.” Judge Jones can make this claim only by misrepresenting the actual views of intelligent design scientists, who consistently have maintained that empirical evidence cannot tell one whether the intelligent causes detected through modern science are inside or outside of nature. As a scientific theory, ID only claims that there is empirical evidence that key features of the universe and living things are the
products of an intelligent cause. Whether the intelligent cause involved is inside or outside of nature cannot be decided by empirical evidence alone. That larger question involves philosophy, including metaphysics. In addition to the clear testimony of ID witnesses during the trial on this point, Judge Jones was provided with fifteen pages of documentation
unequivocally demonstrating that ID proponents from the beginning have repeatedly argued that design theory does not rely on supernatural causation, and they have consistently maintained this position whether writing for religious or secular audiences.” Ignoring this evidence, Judge Jones proceeded to highlight a few quotations cited by the plaintiffs to
prove his conclusion that ID requires supernatural causation. However, Judge Jones distorts the plain meaning of these quotations, which contradict, rather than support, his claim.

Hopefully you have read through this argument and digested it. My response is simply “no.”  No on two points:

1. The plain fact is that Intelligent Design does require supernatural causation. An unknown, unseen, unworldly “designer” is the very essence of the supernatural. No reasonable person thinks that Intelligent Design seeks only natural causes. People are drawn to Intelligent Design because of its inference of a supernatural designer, whom the faithful recognize to mean the God of Abraham.

2. Statements by Intelligent Design proponents that “design theory does not rely on supernatural causation” are demonstrably facetious. Take special note that DeWolf and others continually refer to what Intelligent Design proponents say about their intentions. It’s as though what they say reflects the truth. Even a brief reading of the history of the movement reveals that these statements of intention are half truths at best, closely approaching outright fabrication. Instances abound of leaders of the Intelligent Design movement proclaiming rejection of purely natural processes. Professor Phillip Johnson has been one of the key philosophers of the Intelligent Design movement, and his thinking accurately portrays its core:

If we understand our own times, we will know that we should affirm the reality of God by challenging the domination of materialism and naturalism in the world of the mind. With the assistance of many friends I have developed a strategy for doing this….

Phillip Johnson, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds, Inter Varsity Press. pp 91-92

Chapter III Kitzmiller’s Failure to Treat Religion in a Neutral Manner

This chapter has the following four sections:

  • A. One-Sided (Non-Neutral) Treatment Of Religious Implications
  • B. One-Sided (Non-Neutral) Treatment Of Secondary Effects
  • C. One-Sided (Non-Neutral) Treatment Of Religious Motives
  • D. An Effort to Dictate a Particular Theological View of Evolution

In this case the chapter introduction will suffice. This is from pages 59 and 60. I have not included the footnotes or the references to them:

Judge Jones based his ruling on the requirements of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, bur he failed to observe the cardinal principle of the Establishment Clause, which is that religion must be treated in a neutral manner: “The First Amendment does not select anyone group or anyone type of religion for preferred treatment. It puts them all in [the same] … position.”

Judge Jones seemed to think that the possible religious implications of intelligent design theory made it a religious theory. He reached that conclusion apparently without even considering whether the religious implications of Darwinian evolution would yield the same conclusion. Similarly, he looked to the supposed religious motivations of the pro-
ponents of intelligent design theory to establish the religious nature of intelligent design theory without subjecting the proponents of Darwinian evolution to the same test. For example, many pages of Judge Jones’ opinion are devoted to establishing the history of the “intelligent design movement” and the theological views of its advocates. He relies extensively on the testimony of Barbara Forrest, who “thoroughly and exhaustively chronicled the history of ID in her book and other writings for her testimony in this case.” There was no attempt to verify that purported history and nowhere does Judge Jones subject Barbara Forrest to an examination of whether her background or her beliefs might be relevant to the case. If Judge Jones wanted to play the motivation game, he ought in fairness to have addressed the extensive evidence in one of the amicus briefs documenting the anti-religious affiliations and motivations of many leading Darwinists, including especially Professor Forrest herself.

Again, “no.” This time on four points.

1. DeWolf and others start out trying to convince the reader that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment is intended to prevent differentiation between religious sects. That is not the wording of the clause. The First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” Enough said about that.

2. DeWolf and others state that “Judge Jones seemed to think that the possible religious implications of intelligent design theory made it a religious theory.” He did, and it does. Intelligent Design does have a religious base. It is a religious theory.

3. Further, “He reached that conclusion apparently without even considering whether the religious implications of Darwinian evolution would yield the same conclusion.” There are, in fact, no religious implications of Darwinian evolution. Darwinian evolution, like all valid scientific theories, is based on observed facts and objective reasoning. No religious motivation is required to support Darwinian evolution.

4. DeWolf and others state “There was no attempt to verify that purported history and nowhere does Judge Jones subject Barbara Forrest to an examination of whether her background or her beliefs might be relevant to the case.” Such an attempt, were it to be made, would have been the job of the defense attorneys. The fact that the case was not made is compelling evidence that the case could not be made.

Finally, it so curious, almost humorous, the way DeWolf and others lay religious implications into an argument that they purport to be all about science.

Chapter IV Kitzmiller’s Limited Value as a Precedent

This chapter has three sections:

  • A. Cases Deal With the Parties Before Them
  • B. An Adverse Judgment Against a Party Requires an Opportunity for Them to be Heard
  • C. The Absence Of Parties To An Appeal

It is here DeWolf and others have the best opportunity to make a point. The fact is that Kitzmiller does have limited values as a precedent. Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. filed their suit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Since the case was never appealed and taken to a higher level, e.g., the United States Supreme Court, then the court’s findings have legal precedence only within this district. DeWolf and others are also correct in asserting the only party bound by Judge Jones’ decision is the defendant in the case, the Dover Area School District.  They want to believe, rather they want readers to believe, this case has truly limited scope. To this point they assert early on (page 13):

Second, and more troubling, is the Judge’s suggestion that his determination of whether IO is science would spare Iuture judges the need to make their own determination. Judge Jones is a federal trial court judge in one particular district court in Pennsylvania. But he writes as ifhe has the right and duty to decide the question of whether intelligent design is science for all other judges in the entire United States in the future and, thereby, to legislate the question for the whole country. Lower federal court judges are bound by Supreme Court precedents, but they certainly aren’t bound by the rulings of other lower court judges at the same level. Although other federal judges can refer to Judge Jones’ decision (especially to his legal reasoning), every judge has a duty to reach an impartial and independent determination of the facts and law in the cases before him. Another federal district court judge would be remiss to simply say, “Well, Judge Jones has already decided the matter, so there is no need for me to do any fact-finding of my own.” Nor should a judge tell the parties to a new case: “I’ve decided not to allow you to present any evidence, because Judge Jones already heard the evidence three years ago.”

By page 75 DeWolf and others are bemoaning the opportunity to appeal an erroneous judgment. Again I am ignoring the footnotes:

One mechanism for correcting errors at the trial court level is the availability of the right to appeal on behalf of the party who is the victim of bad judicial reasoning. Of course, many cases are never appealed because the losing party recognizes that the adverse judgment was not a result of legal error, and therefore an appeal would be futile. In this case, by contrast, not only was the “intelligent design movement” never a party to the case, but the board members who represented the nominal defendant (the Dover Area School District) were voted out of office in the November election six weeks before the opinion was issued. The
new school board, which has the power to appeal the case, campaigned on a platform that essentially agreed with those who filed the lawsuit. Moreover, they waited to change the policy until after the judge issued his opinion-only because they wanted the judge to rule against the former board members’ policy and in spite of the legal jeopardy that they
created by waiting. As a consequence, there is no party who has any stake in correcting the judge’s errors. This is similar to a case in which a trial court makes an erroneous ruling, but before the appellate court can correct the error, the parties settle and the issue becomes moot.

A lot of this thinking is predicated on the unlikely prospect the appeal would have been successful.

  • None of the defense witnesses spoke successfully for the supposed scientific basis for Intelligent Design.
  • Plaintiff’s witnesses successfully demonstrated the absence of scientific merit for Intelligent Design.
  • Plaintiff’s witnesses successfully demonstrated the religious basis for Intelligent Design and the religious intent of the defendants.
  • The malfeasance of critical parties of the school district was demonstrated. Defendant’s witnesses testifying against this fact were found to have perjured themselves.

And appeal of Judge Jones’ decision was going nowhere. The citizens of the Dover Area School District had been misled and badly served by the principals in the case. These people had abused the power entrusted to them by the voters, and now the voters were liable for a million dollars in court expenses. The voters rejected the people who had betrayed them. Whether the District could have avoided the court expenses by abolishing the previous board’s policy is unlikely:

  • The suite demanded reimbursement of court expenses in addition to a finding of fault.
  • By the time of the election of the new board (8 November 2005), the plaintiffs had already incurred considerable legal expenses. Trial testimony was nearly complete. Closure of the case at this point would have required payment of the monetary damages.

Monetary awards demanded by the plaintiffs are noted in the court decision, pages 2 and 3:

Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief, nominal damages, costs, and attorneys’ fees.

The new board could do nothing to avoid these costs by abandoning the defense. DeWolf and others are being disingenuous at the least on this point.

Conclusion: The Need for Academic Freedom

There is so much irony on exhibit here. Page 77 opens with:

Judge Jones’ opinion highlights the pressing need to affirm and defend the right of teachers and students to express honest disagreement with the claims of Darwinian evolution. For all of his concern about the illegitimacy of requiring teachers to mention intelligent design or to “denigrate or disparage”187 evolution, Judge Jones showed no similar interest in the freedom of teachers and students to express opinions that might be critical of Darwinian evolution. As a result, his opinion is likely to be used by defenders of Darwin’s theory as a pretext for censoring even completely voluntary expressions of dissenting scientific views by teachers and students.

The footnote reference seems to be to page 138 of the court’s decision, even though the actual footnote points toward page 52, which contains similar wording.

Let’s take a look at what academic freedom is all about. Academic freedom is supposed to allow scholars and students to pursue serious studies without political interference. The specter of Intelligent Design is the opposite of academic freedom. Intelligent Design is a concept developed by people often working outside the related area of study. These people seek to infiltrate the concept into school curricula, circumventing the usual review for accuracy and academic merit.

Page 77 continues:

Teachers seeking to “teach the controversy” over Darwinian evolution in today’s climate will likely be met with false warnings that it is unconstitutional to say anything negative about Darwinian evolution. Students who attempt to raise questions about Darwinism, or who try to elicit from the teacher an honest answer about the status of intelligent design theory will trigger administrators’ concerns about whether they stand in constitutional jeopardy. A chilling effect on open inquiry is being felt in several states already, including Ohio, South Carolina, and California. Judge Jones’ message is clear: give Darwin only praise, or else face the wrath of the judiciary.

“Teach the controversy” is a key phrase employed by proponents of Intelligent Design. There is a controversy. There is a controversy because proponents have created a controversy. Now that there is a controversy, we need to teach the controversy.

The problem is, proponents really would not like the controversy to be taught. Let’s see how a classroom discussion would go if a teacher actually taught the controversy:

Today, class, we are going to investigate the controversial topic of Intelligent Design. Not only is it controversial, but it is entirely worthless as an academic study.

The problem is, if an earnest teacher were required to tell students about Intelligent Design, that teacher would feel obliged to give students all the available information about Intelligent Design. The teacher would proceed to tell his students about the origins of the movement, its use of subterfuge and the lack of any serious research published in scientific journals. The teacher would also get into the mendacious methods employed by proponents of Intelligent Design. That would not go well with those seeking to use political influence to promote Intelligent Design. There is a case in point:

A Santa Ana federal judge ruled in 2009 that Corbett violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause when he referred to Creationism as “religious, superstitious nonsense” during a classroom lecture.

James Corbett, a teacher at Capistrano Valley High School in Orange County, California, responded when a student brought up the topic of creationism in 2007. The fact is that creationism is religious, superstitious nonsense, and any teacher who says otherwise is deceiving his students. Teaching the controversy would involve a lot of that and would result in a load of litigation if Corbett’s case is an example.

Appendix A: Whether ID Is Science: Michael Behe’s Response to Kitzmiller v. Dover

This section was contributed by creationist Michael Behe. Behe is a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University. He is also a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute‘s Center for Science and Culture. He is noted for his 1996 book Darwin’s Black Box, and he has also written The Edge of Evolution. He was also one of the expert witnesses called by the defense in Kitzmiller. The matter of expert witnesses was a principal weakness for the defense:

Just before the scheduled depositions of three of the experts from the Discovery Institute— Dembski, Meyer, and Campbell— they all decided that they wanted their own attorneys present to watch out for their legal interests. (The other witnesses from Discovery , Minnich and Behe, had already been deposed by that point, without their own lawyers.)

Humes, Edward (2009-10-13). Monkey Girl (p. 240). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Dembski is William Dembski, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute. Meyer is Stephen C. Meyer, director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, the Discovery Institute zone concerned with promoting creationism. Campbell is Professor John Angus Campbell, “professor of communications and rhetoric at the University of Memphis.” [Humes, Edward (2009-10-13). Monkey Girl (p. 233). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition] His task for the defense would have been to explain the benefit of presenting opposing arguments. Scott Minnich is a fellow of the Center for Science and Culture.

With the exit of the first three, it fell to Behe and Scott Minnich to explain the benefits of Intelligent Design. As it turned out, Behe’s testimony was of little value for the defense. In this section Professor Behe wants to explain why Intelligent Design qualifies as science. He takes on specific wording in the court’s decision in a number of bullet points. The first is on page 80. Text from the decision is in italics.

1. ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation. 

It does no such thing. The Court’s opinion ignores, both here and elsewhere, the distinction between an implication of a theory and the theory itself. As I testified, when it was first proposed the Big Bang theory struck many scientists as pointing to a supernatural cause. Yet it clearly is a scientific theory, because it is based entirely on physical data and logical inferences. The same is true of intelligent design.

In this Behe is completely wrong. He has deliberately misconstrued the body and spirit of Intelligent Design. Intelligent Design has been first and foremost a religious concept. It was dredged up to provide a religion-based alternative to natural explanations.

In his point number 11 Behe discusses the debacle of the cross examination following his testimony.

The lasting image of Behe, however , came near the end of the cross-examination. The biochemist had testified that there were no published papers to explain the evolution of the immune system, which he considered irreducibly complex. Rothschild proceeded to pile a stack of books and fifty-eight peer-reviewed articles on the witness stand, all about the evolution of the immune system.

“So these are not good enough?” Rothschild asked.

Sitting there surrounded by the scientific literature, Behe said, “They don’t address the question I’m posing.”

Humes, Edward (2009-10-13). Monkey Girl (p. 306). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

In particular, Behe was asked about the claims he made in Darwin’s Black Box:

We can look high, we can look low, in books or in journals, but th result is the same. The scientific literature has no answers to the questions of the origin of the immune system.

[Darwin’s Block Box, page 138]

Behe’s point 11 includes a number of challenges, one being (page 86):

2. I was given no chance to read them, and at the time considered the dumping of a stack of papers and books on the witness stand to be just a stunt, simply bad courtroom theater. Yet the Court treats it seriously.

Professor Behe, the time to have read these papers and books would have been 1996 and before. Before you published the absurd statement that “[t]he scientific literature has no answers to the questions of the origin of the immune system.”

Appendix B: Selected Peer-Reviewed And Peer-Edited Publications Supporting the Theory of Intelligent Design (Annotated)

Since I have covered this issue in a previous post, I will just provide a link and an excerpt:

In his book about the Kitzmiller trial, Edward Humes describes the cross examination of author Michael Behe. Behe had claimed the DBB was peer-reviewed. On cross examination attorney Eric Rothschild asked Behe about reviewer Michael Atchison. Then Rothschild recounted the story behind Atchison’s review of DBB.

The book’s editor told his wife about the book. The wife was a student of Atchison’s, and she suggested that Atchison talk to the editor. Atchison had a ten-minute phone conversation with the editor and got a description of the book. Atchison suggested the book would be good reading. And that was the peer review.

[See Edward Humes, Monkey Girl. pp 302-303. Harper, 2007.]

Appendix C: Brief of Amici Curiae Biologists And Other Scientists in Support of the Defendants in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District

Creationists have the need to demonstrate legitimacy. They want to be able to demonstrate that legitimate scientists embrace creationism, so they run out long lists of otherwise intelligent people who 1) embrace creationism, or 2) have issues with modern theories of biological evolution.

Discovery Institute submitted a brief of amici curiae along with a list of 85 people supposedly supporting the case for the defendants. The introduction is on page 103:

Amici curiae are scientists who oppose any attempt to define the nature of science in a way that would limit their ability to follow the evidence wherever it may lead. Since the identification of intelligent causes is a well established scientific practice in fields such as forensic science, archaeology, and exobiology,’ Amici urge this Court to reject plaintiffs’ claim that the application of intelligent design to biology is unscientific. Any ruling that depends upon an outdated or inaccurate definition of science, or which attempts to define the boundaries of science, could hinder scientific progress.

These are people of substance and not to be considered crackpots. For starters, the list includes (page 120):

  • Richard M Anderson, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, Duke
    University
  • Phillip A. Bishop, Professor of Kinesiology, University of Alabama
  • John A. Bloom, Professor of Physics, Biola University
  • William H. Bordeaux, Professor of Chemistry, Huntington University
  • Gregory J. Brewer, Professor of Neurology, Medical Microbiology, Immunology and Cell Biology, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine
  • Rudolf Brits, Ph.D. Nuclear Chemistry, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa
  • Mary A. Brown, DVD (Veterinary Medicine), The Ohio State University
  • John R. Cannon, Ph.D. Chemistry, Princeton University
  • Russell W. Carlson, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Executive Technical Director, Plant and Microbial Carbohydrates, Complex Carbohydrate Research Center, University of Georgia
  • Jarrod W. Carter., Ph.D. Bioengineering, University of Washington
  • Mark A. Chambers, Ph.D. Virology, University of Cambridge
  • I. Caroline Crocker, Ph.D. Immunopharmacology, University of Southampton
  • Lisanne D’Andrea-Winslow, Associate Professor of Biology, Northwestern College
  • Paul S. Darby, M.D., Georgetown University School of Medicine, Ph.D., Organic Chemistry, University of Georgia
  • Lawrence DeMejo, Ph.D. Polymer Science and Engineering , University of Massachusetts at Amherst
  • David DeWitt, Ph.d. Neuroscience, Case Western University
  • Michael R. Egnor, Professor and Vice-Chairman, Department of Neurological Surgery, State University of New York at Stony Brook

That’s an impressive list. However, these are not the bright lights of biological science either. Mary Brown, with a DVD in veterinary medicine is likely not doing cutting edge biological research. There are a few on just this page who have some history. Caroline Crocker I have covered already. Also Michael Egnor.

For the rest, we may wonder what it was they signed up to to get on the list. If it’s just the wording in the introduction above, then it would be hard to fault the signatories. If they were each advised they would be supporting some creationists attempting to introduce Intelligent Design into a public science curriculum, then it would be another matter. They would have only themselves to blame.

So this is that kind of book. You’ve been complaining for years that you have this big message that will change the world, but nobody will take you seriously. Nobody will listen to you. So finally something happens, and people tell you that now you’re going to have to explain yourself. Then everybody is looking at you and waiting to hear what you have to say. You tell your story, and afterwards people say, “What? Is that it?”

Then it’s all over, and what you had to say didn’t come across the way you wanted. So, there’s nothing left to do but write a book about why you didn’t get a fair shake. And this is that kind of book.

It’s been several years now, and I’ve been putting off doing a review. There is just so much wrong, it’s hard to do this book justice. When you review a book on Amazon you can give it from one to five stars. It may surprise my readers, but I would have given this four Amazon stars. The spelling and punctuation is absolutely superb. Besides that, the authors have gone to great lengths to develop their argument. It’s not the book that’s so wrong, it’s the argument. I have a copy of Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kamph, and I can say DeWolf and others have put out a much better product.

CreationismCompeting

Heart of Stupid

Diplomystus dentatus Herring Species Eocene Epoch 50,000,000 years old Green River Formation Lincoln Co. Wyoming Diploaystus dentatus Herring Eocene period 50,000,000 years old Green River Formation Lincoln Co., Wyoming

Diplomystus dentatus Herring Species Eocene Epoch 50,000,000 years old Green River Formation Lincoln Co., Wyoming

In a prior post I acknowledged that I (almost) stole this title from Joseph Conrad. I’m holding onto it for continuity. These posts are in response to comments from creationist David Buckna. Here is an excerpt from one comment:

David Coppedge writes:

http://crev.info/2013/08/jurassic-mammal-puzzle-or-prize-for-darwin/

“Who can really believe that complex teeth or middle-ear bones evolved independently two or three times by unguided processes? Why must occult phenomena, like mythical common ancestors in ghost lineages, be invoked as if they had any real existence outside the imagination of Darwinians?”

The link is to a page on the Creation-Evolution Headlines site. I took a look at it. There’s enough here for a complete post, so I will follow up on the remainder of David’s comment in another post.

In the mean time, I took note of his “David Coppedge writes:” That’s interesting enough for some follow-up. Here is a bit of that story:

David Coppedge is a creationist who worked a long time at Jet Propulsion Laboratory. At the time he served on the board of Illustra Media. Illustra Media is a non-profit concern that is noted for presentations promoting Intelligent Design or, if not promoting Intelligent Design, then at least kicking at the underpinnings of modern biological science. I have a number of their titles, and the production quality is quite good. A short list includes:

Darwin’s Dilemma
Metamorphosis
The Privileged Planet
Unlocking the Mystery of Life

Anyhow, when David Coppedge lost his contract position at JPL he sued for religious discrimination. Yes, religious discrimination.

Judge confirms earlier ruling, sides with JPL in ‘intelligent design’ case

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge on Wednesday confirmed an earlier ruling that found Jet Propulsion Laboratory administrators did not discriminate against a longtime staffer when they laid him off in 2011.

David Coppedge — a former lead systems administrator on the Cassini Mission to Saturn who worked at JPL for 15 years — filed a lawsuit in 2009 against the agency claiming he was demoted, and then eventually fired, because of his Christian beliefs and in retaliation for discussing the theory of intelligent design at the NASA facility in La Cañada Flintridge.

Proponents of intelligent design contend that biological systems are so complex that they could not have arisen by a series of random changes, so an “intelligent designer” — not necessarily the God in the Bible — must have had a hand in guiding evolution.

Coppedge had sought $860,000 for lost wages and $500,000 for emotional distress damages.

The final ruling by Superior Court Judge Ernest Hiroshige confirms his tentative ruling issued less than three months ago, which came down against Coppedge on every claim. He also overruled all objections filed by Coppedge’s legal team.

In a statement issued after the ruling, Coppedge’s attorney, William Becker, reiterated the arguments he made in court, saying a handful of “malicious co-workers hated [Coppedge’s] Christian views,” as well as his interest in intelligent design, “which they ignorantly perceived to be a religious concept.”

[Coppedge] was demoted and fired for simply being a Christian,” Becker said.

“[W]hich they ignorantly perceived to be a religious concept?” If Coppedge’s co-workers were ignorant in perceiving Intelligent Design to be a religious concept, then there is a gaggle of other people just as ignorant. In an unrelated ruling a federal court judge in Pennsylvania agreed that plaintiffs had demonstrated that Intelligent Design is a religious concept. Additionally the producers of the movie Expelled must also think that Intelligent Design is a religious concept. At one point, narrator Ben Stein, who all the while was supposed to be arguing for Intelligent Design as valid science, finally gets around to discussing God with biologist Richard Dawkins.

Ben Stein interviews Richard Dawkins

Ben Stein interviews Richard Dawkins

From the video:

Ben Stein: You have written that God is a psychotic delinquent invented by mad deluded people.

Dawkins: No, I didn’t say quite that. I said something better than that.

Stein: Oh, well, please tell me what you said.

Dawkins: Well, I would have to read it from the book.

Stein: No, please.

[Dawkins reads from The God Delusion]

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Stein: – so that’s what you think of God.

Dawkins: – yeah.

Stein: How about if people believed in God?

Anyhow, this went on for a while, and I now find myself going on for a while. I need to get back to the subject of this post, namely David’s comment.

He writes “David Coppedge writes,” and then he provides a link. So I followed the link, and it took me to a page that has the text, “Who can really believe that complex teeth…” Plus a lot of other stuff, but there was no indication that David Coppedge wrote those words. Searching the page, I could not find a link to the author. I recommend my readers follow the link and familiarize themselves with the contents.

I will dissect the page to the extent I’m able with my limited knowledge and my limited access to sources. If this all becomes tiring to readers, they should be reminded the second word in this blog’s title is “Analysis.” There’s going to be some dissecting.

First I will post the entire block of text containing the Coppedge quote, which I note is formatted as set-aside text, indicating it’s a quote from another source. I post this to give additional context, and I limit my excerpt to this block, because, if you will follow the link you will see, as I have, the page comprises a number of quotes, comments and links to other sources. This is the best I can do for now to narrow the focus. Repeating David’s link for your convenience:

Don’t you think the public should know?  Do reporters think that people are too stupid to understand legitimate debates in science?  Must interpretations from fallible scientists always be presented as facts of nature?  Why must Charlie’s idol always be propped up to save his face from the evidence?  Who can really believe that complex teeth or middle-ear bones evolved independently two or three times by unguided processes?  Why must occult phenomena, like mythical common ancestors in ghost lineages, be invoked as if they had any real existence outside the imagination of Darwinians?  Why must readers be told that evolutionary diversification is “explosive” in direct contradiction to a core tenet of Darwinism?  Why must reporters always be sycophants and lackeys for the evolutionary scientists?

The secular science sites—all of them—have bowed the knee to the Bearded Buddha, that’s why.  Because CEH adheres to a different religion, one that cares about truth, we can read these papers with a critical eye and point out the fallacies and tricks of the Darwin Party’s religion.  Their origins story has more holes than swiss cheese, more miracles than Greek mythology, more divination techniques than Babylonian religion.  Call it what it is: a secular religion, invented out of distaste for the Biblical Creator.  It’s full of imagination, storytelling and myths.  Dressing it up in scientific jargon doesn’t sanctify it as science.  Adding millions of years doesn’t make its miracles more plausible: miracles of well-adapted animals “arising” fully formed out of nowhere, miracles of “convergent evolution,” miracles of “explosive radiation.” Darwinian religion conjures up spirits, animals “trying out” unexplained and undocumented innovations, natural selection “tinkering” in Tinker Bell’s garage, a mystical life force pushing mindless particles toward the divine.  The priests of Darwin waste their time trying to force uncooperative facts into their mythical “tree of life,” that after 154 years, still looks like a lawn.  Who would believe this stuff?  Ancient Egyptian religion looks more respectable than the Darwin cult; at least its gods and goddesses acted with purpose and intent.

Don’t think for a minute that secular scientists abhor miracles and deny the supernatural.  Everyone believes in miracles.  Everyone who thinks believes in the supernatural (e.g., laws of logic not made of particles).  Nothing comes from nothing.  Choose a world view that has miracles that are intelligently designed.  Choose a religion that explains with reference to true causes known to be necessary and sufficient for the complexity observed by honest scientific inquiry.  Choose one that maintains human dignity and a love of the truth.  Those criteria weed out a lot of contenders.

I have highlighted the quoted text in the above. There’s a lot to find issue with in the supposed Coppedge quote, and I will get to that later.

For now, the page David Buckna linked to begins with:

Two recently-reported Jurassic mammal fossils can be seen as puzzles for evolutionary theory, or confirmations of it – depending on the reporter.

The quote is taken from an article in Nature. The abstract is available on-line:

A Jurassic mammaliaform and the earliest mammalian evolutionary adaptations

Chang-Fu ZhouShaoyuan WuThomas Martin & Zhe-Xi Luo

Nature 500, 163–167 (08 August 2013)

The earliest evolution of mammals and origins of mammalian features can be traced to the mammaliaforms of the Triassic and Jurassic periods that are extinct relatives to living mammals. Here we describe a new fossil from the Middle Jurassic that has a mandibular middle ear, a gradational transition of thoracolumbar vertebrae and primitive ankle features, but highly derived molars with a high crown and multiple roots that are partially fused. The upper molars have longitudinal cusp rows that occlude alternately with those of the lower molars. This specialization for masticating plants indicates that herbivory evolved among mammaliaforms, before the rise of crown mammals. The new species shares the distinctive dental features of the eleutherodontid clade, previously represented only by isolated teeth despite its extensive geographic distribution during the Jurassic. This eleutherodontid was terrestrial and had ambulatory gaits, analogous to extant terrestrial mammals such as armadillos or rock hyrax. Its fur corroborates that mammalian integument had originated well before the common ancestor of living mammals.

Following the opening quote on the Creation-Evolution Headlines page, there is additional explanation:

That’s the announcement in Nature (bold in the original) about two mammal fossils, one named Megaconus (large cusp) reported by Zhou et al., the other named Arboroharamiya (tree-dwelling haramiyad) reported by Zheng et al.  The headline of a Nature News article moans, “Fossils throw mammalian family tree into disarray.”

If you read the Nature News article you will get a deeper perspective:

Fossils throw mammalian family tree into disarray

Studies disagree on whether Jurassic animals were true mammals.

Sid Perkins

07 August 2013

Two fossils have got palaeontologists scratching their heads about where to place an enigmatic group of animals in the mammalian family tree. A team analysing one fossil suggests that the group belongs in mammals, but researchers looking at the other propose that its evolutionary clan actually predates true mammals. The situation begs for more analysis, more fossils, or both, experts say.

I will condense the discussion into a few sentences. It goes like this:

  • Scientists are finding new fossils that will require additional study. Science works that way. If we already have all the answers, then we can stop doing science. The news for science, actually good news, is we do not have all the answers, and we possibly never will. However, we do have enough evidence to make a number of conclusions, and some of these conclusions are certainly based on shaky evidence. Whenever we obtain additional evidence, we need to and we like to revise earlier conclusions.
  • Creationists and other critics of modern science see these as a weakness and want to declare on this basis that modern science is a failed enterprise. What creationists want the public to believe is that the facts of biological evolution are undercut by all of this. This presumption is not to be entertained.
  • This fossil is claimed to be a precursor to mammals. This fossil is actually not a precursor, but is actually an early mammal. The evolution of the mammalian ear developed this way. The evolution of the mammalian ear developed that way. The evolutionary development of the mammalian ear developed along multiple paths. None of this obscures the facts derived from scientific research. First there were no mammals, and now there are. Mammals developed (evolved) from earlier animals which are not considered to have been mammals. Biological evolution has occurred.

The text of the David Coppedge quote concludes with:

Choose a religion that explains with reference to true causes known to be necessary and sufficient for the complexity observed by honest scientific inquiry.  Choose one that maintains human dignity and a love of the truth.  Those criteria weed out a lot of contenders.

Although he makes a pretense of appealing to logic and reason, he concludes with an appeal to supposition. What the supposed David Coppedge is saying is that we must abandon a dispassionate view of nature and harken to our innermost prejudices. This did not provide any visible advancement in our understanding of the Universe for thousands of years. There’s no reason to believe it’s going to start doing so now.