Abusing Science

Number 23 of a series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is another.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creationists Ide Trotter and Ray Bohlin in 2003

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

Abusing Science

Number 10 of a series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dewey Hodges          Professor, Aerospace Engineering                                                Georgia Institute of Technology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abusing Science

Number 9 of a series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On that we pause again:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abusing Science

Number 5 of a series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abusing Science

Number 3 of a series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abusing Science

Number 2 of a series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bacteriophages, Budding Yeast, and Behe’s Vindication

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

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

Abusing Science

First of a series

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

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

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

[Links added]

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

www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWdihTt3tLM

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

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

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

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

Let’s take a deep look at these findings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Years of Living Stupidly

Number 11 in a series

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

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

What If?

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

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

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

The Return of the God Hypothesis

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

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

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

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

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

The Years of Living Stupidly

Number 8 in a series

The photo shows creationists Walter Bradley and Ide Trotter at a workshop hosted by the Texas Education Agency, where they were assigned the task of reviewing high school biology texts for public schools.

I tend to devote this series to people being stupid about science, such as by using science and religion in the same sentence. That often comes about when people, caught up in religion, carry the contagion with them when they step across the line into fields of science—or into any other area requiring rational thought. Who does this a lot are the people at the Discovery Institute (DI), the premier organization in this country promoting Intelligent Design.

A rich resource on this kind of foolishness is the DI’s Center for Science and Culture (CSC), founded by creationist Stephen C. Meyer, among others. the thinking of DI fellows and the CSC are made public on an associated site called Evolution News. More recently, I found the following posted on the Discovery Institute site:

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor: Why Machines Will Never Think

From remarks at the official launch of the Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence

ROBERT CROWTHER, II AUGUST 1, 2018

This is interesting on multiple levels, one of which relates to Dr. Michael Egnor, whom we have met before:

Michael Egnor is a prominent neurosurgeon and a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Stony Brook University. He became inoculated against evolution (the science of biological evolution) after reading  Michael Denton‘s book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. Egnor has aligned himself with the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture (CSC), one of the leading creationist organizations in this country and likely the absolute leader in support of the Intelligent Design version of creationism. An excerpt from one of his posts on the CSC’s Evolution News blog may be characteristic:

Scopes was put on trial for violating the Butler Act, which prohibited teaching human evolution to schoolchildren in Tennessee. What Scopes actually taught, if anything, is unclear, because Scopes was untruthful about what he did, and the trial was a legal ploy to spur a Supreme Court ruling. The truth was a secondary consideration at best to Scopes and to his team.

Hunter’s textbook Civic Biology was racist and taught eugenics. It was vile stuff. If a teacher taught from it today, he would not be prosecuted for violating the Butler Act. He would be prosecuted for federal civil rights violations.

Follow the link and read the post for complete details. Anyhow, Dr. Egnor now proposes to  boldly step outside his realm of expertise and into the quagmire that is Artificial Intelligence (AI). I took some time to read through his thinking on the matter, and you are invited to do likewise. What I found is that, while Dr. Egnor is likely correct in some of his conclusions, he is correct for the wrong reasons. An illustration from Dr. Egnor’s monograph:

What is the hallmark of human thought, and what distinguishes thoughts from material things? Franz Brentano (1838–1917), a German philosopher in the 19th century, answered this question decisively. All thoughts are about something, whereas no material object is inherently “about” anything. This property of aboutness is called intentionality, and intentionality is the hallmark of the mind. Every thought that I have shares the property of aboutness—I think about my vacation, or about politics, or about my family. But no material object is, in itself, “about” anything. A mountain or a rock or a pen lacks aboutness—they are just objects. Only a mind has intentionality, and intentionality is the hallmark of the mind.

Another word for intentionality is meaning. All thoughts inherently mean something. A truly meaningless thought is an oxymoron. The meaning may be trivial or confusing, but every thought entails meaning of some sort. Every thought is about something, and that something is the meaning of the thought.

That’s what I like about philosophers. First, they fall back on what other philosophers have said—with little or no attempt at confirmation, and they talk of things being true, apparently for the sole reason that they say they are true. How about, “Only a mind has intentionality, and intentionality is the hallmark of the mind?” Whether he realizes it or not, what Dr. Egnor has just done is to write a definition for the word mind. Please note the statement does not preclude a computer becoming a mind. What it says is that if a computer attains intentionality, then a computer can become a mind. Dr. Egnor never offers any reason a computer cannot become a mind. He says it, so it must be so.

Under other circumstances I would pass off Dr. Egnor’s musing as the product of religious corruption. I cannot do this, because it happens that Dr. Egnor, in his musings, is in the company of mental giants, one being renowned mathematical physicist Roger Penrose. It happens that Penrose is of the same mind as Dr. Egnor in this matter. Neither believes a computer can become a mind, and Penrose has written a book on the matter titled The Emperor’s New Mind. I have had a copy of the book since it came out in 1989, but I did not read through it. That’s because I quickly encountered conclusions I cannot sign off on. In the book, Penrose seems to invoke the argument from incredulity, much as Dr. Egnor does above. Martin Gardner wrote the forward, concluding:

Penrose’s achievements in mathematics and physics– and I have touched on only a small fraction– spring from a lifelong sense of wonder toward the mystery and beauty of being. His little finger tells him that the human mind is more than just a collection of tiny wires and switches. The Adam of his prologue and epilogue is partly a symbol of the dawn of consciousness in the slow evolution of sentient life. To me he is also Penrose– the child sitting in the third row, a distance back from the leaders of AI– who dares to suggest that the emperors of strong AI have no clothes. Many of Penrose’s opinions are infused with humour, but this one is no laughing matter.

Penrose, Roger. The Emperor’s New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics (Oxford Landmark Science) (Kindle Locations 143-148). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.

Here is a sampling of Penrose’s own thinking, highlighted in my Kindle edition by earlier readers:

Most particularly, I argue that the phenomenon of consciousness cannot be accommodated within the framework of present-day physical theory.

Penrose, Roger. The Emperor’s New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics (Oxford Landmark Science) (Kindle Locations 153-154). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.

My reasoning, as presented in this book, has two main strands to it. The first of these endeavours to show, by appealing to results of Gödel (and Turing) that mathematical thinking (and hence conscious thinking generally) is something that cannot be encapsulated within any purely computational model of thought. This is the part of my argument that my critics have most frequently taken issue with. The second strand of the reasoning is to demonstrate that there is an important gap in our physical picture of the world, at a level which ought to bridge the submicroscopic world of quantum physics to the macro-world of classical physics. My viewpoint demands that the missing physics falling within this gap, when found, will play an essential part in the physical understanding of the conscious mind. Moreover, there must be something outside purely computational action in this sought-for area of physics.

Penrose, Roger. The Emperor’s New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics (Oxford Landmark Science) (Kindle Locations 164-170). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.

Penrose appears to set aside a special place for living forms, and he does not limit this thinking to the mind. I took four courses from  Wolfgang Rindler, and after I got my degree I came back to the campus to attend a 70th birthday party for him. Roger Penrose attended, as well, and he gave a talk in which he explained that living material needs to be explained in terms of  quantum physics. I  got that this was an explanation in terms of quantum  physics beyond the fact that quantum physics determines basic chemical properties of the elements, and I asked the question, “Are you resurrecting the concept of vitalism?” He assured me he was not, and I let it go at that. For the moment. The truth is, I consider Penrose’s invocation of quantum mechanics as vitalism dressed up in a lab coat.

Apparently anybody can be a philosopher, so I’m thinking about giving it a try. In future postings I will provide rational explanations for human thought, life, death, and the origin of the universe. Keep reading.

Darwin Day

A continuation

Back in February the Freethinkers Association of Central Texas (FACT) contributed an op-ed piece to the San Antonio Express-News in celebration of Charles Darwin’s birthday—Darwin Day. You can follow the link at the top of this page and read a reprint.

Subsequently there was a response from creationist Matthew Cserhati. I am reprinting his editorial here so you will have the opportunity to read it and also to allow me to link to it in something else I’m writing. Here it is:


Creationism is, in fact, science

By Matthew Cserhati, Correspondent
Published 12:00 am CDT, Sunday, July 22, 2018

Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species,” published about 100 years ago, expounded the theory of evolution. Creationists continue to insist it isn’t proven, final science.

Re: “As logic, science come under attack, push back with facts,” Another View by John Blanton, Feb. 11:

John Blanton, a member of the Freethinkers Association of Central Texas, paints what he calls religious people as opponents of reason and free thought. Specifically, he cites creationists on a wide spectrum challenging established science.

First of all, it is a well-known fact that science did not begin with Darwin, whose 209th birthday was being celebrated by FACT. Rather, science has its origin within the Christian church, with the command from God to “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). In order to subdue nature, one must understand it — hence the biblical injunction to pursue science.

Second of all, because it cannot be directly observed or verified, macro-level evolution cannot be considered to be a fact, however strong FACT would insist that it is. Explanations are offered only as to how species could have evolved. Lacking is the exact, precise demonstration that organisms did evolve. Thus evolution is only a theory.

Furthermore, it should never be a crime to question the authority of a well-nigh monolithic theory, which thousands of Ph.D.-level scientists such as I call into question based on scientific evidence. Blanton should remember that in 1925 the American Civil Liberties Union argued for equal representation of evolutionary theory during the Scopes trial, to which he referred. One voice openly questioning evolutionary theory should become millions, since half the population of the United States doesn’t accept evolution. An open public debate between creationism and evolution leads to more healthy science. Offering always only one side of the story leads to bad science and bad explanations.

Blanton cannot see the forest because of the trees. Blanton’s religion is materialistic naturalism, stemming from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s idea that nature is everything that was, is and ever shall be, purposefully excluding God and the divine from the grand picture a priori. How can you be open-minded if you’re willing to consider only one line of explanation? Taken to the logical extreme, skeptics must doubt everything. Thus, truly, like Descartes they know next nothing. But God knows everything.

Creationism is scientific. Atheists acknowledge the fact that why the universe came into existence is a metaphysical question. Thus whether the universe came about either through natural or supernatural means is an open question. Therefore, since the origin of the universe has not been observed by a human eye, it is certainly possible that God created it. And, in such a supernaturally created world, it is possible to pursue origins science. Creationism doesn’t claim to be privy to the supernatural process of divine creation. Rather, creation science studies the handiwork of God’s creative acts. God created, therefore, let us examine the created world.

It is a well-known fact that thousands of so-called living fossils exist all over the world, resisting change over long periods of time. Taxonomists have discovered and studied millions of species, which all cluster into disjunct kinds that are spoken of in Genesis 1:21. Missing links are still missing. The scientific literature is chock-full of examples of genetic structures being “evolutionarily conserved,” an oxymoron if there ever was one. Genome reduction in organisms is so pervasive that researchers Yuri Wolf and Eugene Koonin in 2013 devised the biphasic model of genomic evolution whereby the genomes of organisms undergo initial rapid (miraculous) complexification, followed by gradual genome reduction, which is itself contrary to evolution.

Thus instead of trying to extinguish other opinions and points of view, so-called freethinkers should allow them to flourish.

Matthew Cserhati is a bioinformatics programmer living in San Antonio. He has a doctorate in biology and a bachelor’s degree in computer science. He has been active in the creation/evolution debate for 17 years and has presented on this subject numerous times.

Inner Santorum

Number 2 in a series

So, this morning I was playing catch up with the news streaming over my Internet feed, and this popped up. And I got to wondering why I never voted for Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum in his multiple bids for the presidency? Then I slapped my forehead and thought, “Oh, yeah!”

The discussion on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday morning was about Saturday’s country-wide marches demanding action on gun violence. Senator Santorum is now a CNN commentator, and I heartedly agree his comments are worth experiencing. For example, yesterday morning he spoke out on the students participating in these marches. Here is what he had to say:

How about kids instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem, do something about maybe taking CPR classes or trying to deal with situations that when there is a violent shooter that you can actually respond to that.

Such a kernel of wisdom I do not often experience, and my mind attempted to expand on it. DPRK Dictator for Life Kim Jong-un is making threats to lon a hydrogen bomb on the United states, so instead of wasting their time urging the government to put the kibosh on Kim’s ambitions, citizens should practice using a shovel to bury the dead.

Yes, people, do not, I  repeat, do not work to prevent students from getting shot. Instead, take some personal responsibility and learn how to save the life of your best friend who has been shot through the head with a 5.56 mm round. That’s real leadership.

Speaking of leadership, this is not Rick Santorum’s first trip to the salad bar. He is known best for the “Santorum Amendment.” It was not really an amendment, but rather it was a proposal for an amendment to an education bill:

The Santorum Amendment was a failed proposed amendment to the 2001 education funding bill (which became known as the No Child Left Behind Act), proposed by Republican Rick Santorum (then a United States Senator for Pennsylvania), which promoted the teaching of intelligent design while questioning the academic standing of evolution in US public schools. In response, a coalition of 96 scientific and educational organizations wrote a letter to the conference committee, urging that the amendment be stricken from the final bill, arguing that evolution is, in the scientific fields, regarded as fact and that the amendment creates the misperception that evolution is not fully accepted in the scientific community, and thus weakens science curricula. The words of the amendment survive in modified form in the Bill’s Conference Report and do not carry the weight of law. As one of the Discovery Institute intelligent design campaigns it became a cornerstone in the intelligent design movement’s “Teach the Controversy” campaign.

Yes, former Senator Rick Santorum is a creationist, and whatever he eventually makes of his life, he will always be known for his skewed views on science and the world in general. He is our very own, the inner Santorum.

The Years of Living Stupidly

Number 6 in a series

Цифровая репродукция находится в интернет-музее Gallerix.ru

A Facebook friend from time to time posts links to the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News blog. Much thanks. I need to keep up.

Evolution News has a number of authors, mostly notable creationists. These would include Stephen C. Meyer, Michael Behe, John West, and Jonathan Wells. This item was posted by Ann Gauger:

Ann Gauger is a zoologist with a BS in biology from MIT and a 1989 PhD from the University of Washington. As a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard she cloned and characterized the Drosophila kinesin light chain. Her research has been published in Nature, Development, and the Journal of Biological Chemistry. She also has a number of years of experience as a homeschool teacher.

From Evolution News:

Is There a First Human Couple in Our Past? New Evidence and Arguments

Ann Gauger March 5, 2018, 3:51 PM

Dennis Venema is associate professor at Trinity Western University. His book Adam and the Genome is under active discussion here and over at BioLogos. The central question implied in the title of that book is: does our genome rule out Adam? Could humanity have had its origin in a first pair, or did it have to come from a population of at least several thousand?

This question has been addressed by numerous scientists in the past, ever since human genetic data began to roll in. And all of them, as far as I know, have said that yes, our genome rules out Adam. We are the product of common descent. We are descended from an ape-like population of at least several thousand. This we have heard before.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. There has been a debate going on over at BioLogos for a number of months that was triggered by Venema’s book. The debate is about whether there could have been a bottleneck of two at some time in the human past. This discussion was started when Richard Buggs, Senior Research Leader (Plant Health) at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, and Reader in Evolutionary Genomics at Queen Mary, University of London, challenged Dennis Venema about what Venema wrote in Adam and the Genome. Venema had argued:

As our methodology becomes more sophisticated and more data are examined, we will likely further refine our estimates [of human population size] in the future. That said, we can be confident that finding evidence that we were created independently of other animals or that we descend from only two people just isn’t going to happen. Some ideas in science are so well supported that it is highly unlikely new evidence will substantially modify them, and these are among them. The sun is at the center of our solar system, humans evolved, and we evolved as a population.

Put most simply, DNA evidence indicates that humans descend from a large population because we, as a species, are so genetically diverse in the present day that a large ancestral population is needed to transmit that diversity to us. To date, every genetic analysis estimating ancestral population sizes has agreed that we descend from a population of thousands, not a single ancestral couple. Even though many of these methods are independent of each other, all methods employed to date agree that the human lineage has not dipped below several thousand individuals for the last three million years or more — long before our lineage was even remotely close to what we would call “human.” Thus the hypothesis that humans descend solely from one ancestral couple has not yet found any experimental support — and it is therefore not one that geneticists view as viable. [Emphasis added.]

The image above appears at the head of Gauger’s Evolution News posting. It’s a painting from centuries ago titled “Adam and Eve” or something close to that.

I have previously reviewed the book Adam and the Genome by Dennis R. Venema and Scot McKnight. The summary of the book is that the creationists have it all wrong, the human species did not descend from a single pair of humans, but is the most recent of a lineage stretching back billions of years. However, God does exist, and God is responsible for all this.

Update: I am adding some material of interest.

Gauger mentions she has previously discussed this point.

So TSP is not validated for these highly polymorphic genes, HLA-DRB1 in particular, and convergent evolution (or original diversity) is validated. I addressed, by the way, the question of HLA-DRB1’s polymorphism and TSP, and a first human pair, in the book Science and Human Origins (2012). That book was written after I discovered that Francisco Ayala’s argument against the possibility of a first pair based on HLA-DRB1 did not stand up.  My hypothesis about a first pair was based on what I saw in papers about HLA-DRB1, most notably this and this, but the hypothesis was more suggested than demonstrated. I am glad to see that some of what I wrote has been substantiated.

See below for an expansion of TSP. The book in question has five parts, written separately by Gauger, Douglas Axe, and Casey Luskin. Gauger contributed chapters 1 and 5. Chapter 5 relates to the topic of her posting:

5

THE SCIENCE OF ADAM AND EVE

Ann Gauger

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

IN CHAPTER 1, I ARGUED THAT OUR SIMILAR ANATOMY AND DNA sequences are not sufficient to demonstrate that we share a common ancestor with chimps. Using peer-reviewed scientific literature about transitional fossils, and what is known about current chimp and human anatomy, I concluded that there are too many anatomical changes and too little time for neo-Darwinian processes to have accomplished the supposed transition from our last common ancestor with chimps to us.

But the current challenge concerning our origins involves more than fossils, anatomy, and improbable Darwinian scenarios. Now that DNA sequencing has become relatively simple and cheap, researchers are gathering vast amounts of human sequence data. They use the genetic variation they find to reconstruct past events in our genetic history. They derive evolutionary trees, estimate ancestral population sizes, and even calculate when and where our ancestors migrated out of Africa. Based on this kind of work, some have argued that we cannot have come from just two first parents.

[Location 2102 in the Kindle edition]

Gauger wants to take exception to the first part. Evidence that points to human origins from a collection of a few thousand individuals is not conclusive. The original pair of humans is not ruled out by modern research. The sum total of the piece is a glaring heap of wishful thinking, as would be evident to people knowledgeable of the subject and taking time to run down all Gauger’s arguments. And that I will leave to others, since it is beyond the scope of my expertise to critically evaluate the opposing arguments. I will just get to Gauger’s concluding statement:

So let me restate: the best explanation for the similarity among alleles is convergent evolution (or possibly original diversity), and not TSP. Finally, this analysis is strong evidence that TSP does not rule out a bottleneck of two.

To sum up, it’s very simple.

  • A bottleneck of two that is older than 500,000 years ago cannot be ruled out. That does not mean such a bottleneck ever existed, but rather that the possibility cannot be excluded. Future models may change that number of 500,000 years, up or down.
  • This is based on an analysis of the genetic data run by Drs. Schaffner and Swamidass, themselves evolutionary biologists and not ID supporters.
  • In addition, the bottleneck hypothesis stood up to a test using TSP (trans-species polymorphism). The test showed TSP was due to convergent evolution. This was a surprise to Dr. Swamidass.
  • A bottleneck of two, or a first pair at our origin older than 500,000 years, is possible.
  • Evolutionary biologists, including Dennis Venema, can no longer say we had to come from a population of 10,000 at any time over the last 3 million years.

Obviously, there is no rigorous science being argued here. This amounts to a special pleading for religious belief, particularly for biblical truth. Along that line, Gauger is not attempting to sell the full load. The Bible recounts the origin of the human race from two people. Gauger stops there. She lets slide the remainder of the story—that all this happened little more than 6000 years ago. Lady, if you’re in for a penny, you need to be in for a pound.

It’s an interesting twist we are observing. In days gone by—actually, in decades gone by—those people at the Discovery Institute sought to sell Intelligent Design as legitimate science, devoid of religious indoctrination. They seem to have thrown that notion over and have now gone full Monty pushing for the Abrahamic religions, particularly Christianity. At times the openness can be refreshing.

Deeper and Deeper

A Reading Of High Delusion—Part 2

I previously reviewed The Language of God, by Francis Collins. This is Adam and the Genome, by Dennis R. Venema and Scot McKnight. I obtained the Kindle editions of both after a short dive into a posting to Evolution News, the blog site of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. No author is listed for that post, but it centered on this book and the one by Collins:

In Adam and the Genome, Trinity Western University biologist Dennis Venema covers many other subjects besides what you might expect from the book’s title. We have been reviewing this material by the prominent theistic evolutionist and BioLogos author; find the series so far here.

Thus, Venema cites the high degree of genetic similarities between insulin genes in humans and other mammals as evidence for our common ancestry. He writes:

[W]e can see that there is good evidence to support the hypothesis that these two present-day genes come from a common ancestral population in the distant past … What we observe for this short segment is that the gorilla sequence is identical to that of the human except for one letter; the chimpanzee is identical except for three; and the orangutan is identical except for five. As before, this level of identity far exceeds what is needed for functional insulin, and strongly supports the hypothesis that humans share a common ancestral population with great apes. Indeed, the similarities between these sequences make English and West Frisian look like very distant relatives by comparison.

(Adam and the Genome, p. 30)

Yes, Venema does dig deeply into revelations from the human genome, and Evolution News does make a big deal about that. But Venema goes far deeper, a depth not plumbed by the posting. All this you can marvel at by plugging through the remainder of the book—which I did.

From the back cover of the book:

Dennis R. Venema (Ph.D., University of British Colombia) is professor of biology at Trinity Western University and Fellow of Biology for the BioLogos Foundation. He writes and speaks regularly about the biological evidence for evolution.

In the book Venema does lay out the evidence for evolution in grand detail, and it is this part that has caught the attention of the Intelligent Design pitch men. Some excerpts from the book elaborate:

Like many evangelicals, I (Dennis) grew up in an environment that was suspicious of science in general, and openly hostile to evolution in particular. Yet I had a deep longing to be a scientist, even as a child. For a long time, I reconciled my two worlds by rejecting evolution— after all, evolution was “just a theory” pushed by atheists and supported by “evidence” so flimsy that even a child could see through it. Moreover, Jesus was the way, the truth, and the life, and “what the Bible said about creation” was good enough for me.

McKnight, Scot; Venema, Dennis R.. Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science . Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

He goes on to say that conflicts with his faith almost kept him from pursuing his dream of becoming a scientist. Fortunately for science and for his students at Trinity Western, reason won out.

My family explored the possibility of my attending a Christian university, but it was more than we could afford. So a secular university it was, and I braced myself for what would surely be a trial for my faith.

McKnight, Scot; Venema, Dennis R.. Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (p. 2). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Interestingly, I would remain an antievolutionist through the course of my PhD and on into my career as a professor, now teaching at the very same Christian university I was unable to afford as a student. What would come as something of a shock to me as a young professor is that, contrary to the claims of my Christian grade-school workbooks, evolution is a theory in the scientific sense.

McKnight, Scot; Venema, Dennis R.. Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (p. 11). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

What those creationists of the second kind found worth challenging is Venema’s erudite exposition of the evidence for common descent. For example:

In looking at the sequences above, we can see that there is good evidence to support the hypothesis that these two present-day genes come from a common ancestral population in the distant past, just as “butter, bread, and green cheese” and “bûter, brea, en griene tsiis” do. The principle is the same: they are far more similar to each other than they are functionally required to be. In principle, any words could stand for these concepts in either English or West Frisian; similarly, any matched pair of hormone and receptor could function to regulate blood sugar levels in humans or dogs. Yet what we observe strongly suggests, in both cases, that the present-day sequences are the modified descendants of what was once a common sequence.

McKnight, Scot; Venema, Dennis R.. Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (p. 30). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Besides giving the creationists something to chew on, Venema does a great job of taking them down.

In the late 1990s I was a PhD student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, studying genetics and development. I had weathered my bachelor’s degree with my faith and antievolutionary views intact, and my area of study did not require me to think about evolution much at all. 3 Evolution was not completely avoidable, however: one very proevolution professor down the hall from my lab maintained a bulletin board called “Crackpot’s Corner,” where antievolutionary views were held up as objects of ridicule. It was here, on this bulletin board, that I first became aware of biochemist Michael Behe, a leader in the intelligent-design (ID) movement. 4 A little digging indicated that he had recently published a book, Darwin’s Black Box. In that book, which I eagerly devoured, Behe makes the case for what he calls “irreducible complexity”:

McKnight, Scot; Venema, Dennis R.. Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (pp. 67-68). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Venema explores Behe’s irreducible complexity conjecture and finds it bare of support.

Behe argues, we can infer when we see protein complexes composed of several proteins that bind to one another that they are the product not of evolution but rather of design.

McKnight, Scot; Venema, Dennis R.. Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (p. 69). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The irreducible complexity argument goes like this:

  • A living organism, even the simplest cell, is a complex assembly. Darwinian evolution stipulates that life forms were not always that complex.
  • Evolution from less complex to more complex life forms has taken place.
  • We now know that evolution proceeds by random mutation of genes, coupled with selective pressure that produces organisms more likely to predominate in the gene pool.
  • Random mutation of genes must occur in small steps, slight changes in a DNA chain—the genome.
  • Each slight change in the genome must be beneficial to the organism, else that change will not be preserved.
  • Existing organisms cannot operate competitively with the loss of a single function coded in the genome.
  • Modern organisms are irreducibly complex. There is no way to proceed from one viable organism to a new and more viable form by means of single mutations.

Behe stakes his argument against Darwinian evolution on his contention that many biological functions are irreducibly complex. What Venema does, and what others do, is to expose Behe’s supposed irreducibly, showing how current forms can be obtained by means of Darwinian evolution.

Interestingly, the virus did evolve to use a second host protein, one called OmpF. Not only did this happen once, but it happened repeatedly in the experiment. Sequencing the DNA of the viruses able to use OmpF instead of LamB revealed that one of the virus proteins— the one that normally binds to LamB, called “protein J”— had accumulated four amino acid changes. By looking at the preserved samples, the researchers showed that the new binding requires all four mutations to be present. They also showed that these mutations did not happen simultaneously, but rather sequentially. As it turns out, these single mutations allowed the protein J to bind more tightly to LamB, which was a significant advantage since hosts with LamB were so scarce in the experiment. Once three single mutations were in place, the virus was only one mutation away from the ability to bind and use OmpF. Interestingly, viruses capable of using OmpF retained  their ability to bind LamB— the virus could now use either host protein.

Two key aspects of this experiment are problematic for Behe’s thesis. First and foremost, this experiment documents the addition of a protein to an irreducibly complex system. The original system was composed of virus protein J binding to LamB, plus numerous other protein-binding events. The modified system lacks LamB and has a modified virus protein J that binds to OmpF instead. The intermediate system has the modified virus protein J and LamB, as well as OmpF, but now only one of LamB or OmpF is required. The transition from one irreducibly complex system to another has an intermediate state between them that acts as a scaffold, or to use Behe’s term, a stepping-stone.

McKnight, Scot; Venema, Dennis R.. Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (pp. 79-80). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Is it any wonder those creationists of the second kind, writing for Evolution News, feel the need to take Dennis Venema down.

Venema is beginning to look like a secular camp hero of the first kind. Where this discourse starts to come apart is the latter half contributed by Scot McKnight.

Scot McKnight (born November 9, 1953) is an American New Testament scholar, historian of early Christianity, theologian, and author who has written widely on the historical Jesusearly Christianity and Christian living. He is currently Professor of New Testament at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, IL. McKnight is an ordained Anglican with anabaptist leanings, and has also written frequently on issues in modern anabaptism.

From Chapter 5 through Chapter 8, McKnight lays out a devilishly detailed analysis, some would say apologetic, on the place of Adam, both as a character in Genesis and as an ideal in Judeo-Christian faith. I apologize for having little comprehension of what he is attempting to get across, but I will have a go at my interpretation.

What happens when the church or, in my case, a Bible professor, encounters the kind of science found in the first part of this book? What happens, not to put too fine a point on it, when evolutionary theory and the Human Genome Project encounter the Bible’s creation narratives? What happens then when we are told that the best of science today teaches that the DNA characteristic of modern humans could not have come from less than approximately 10,000 hominins? What happens when we are told there were pre-Adamite humans? What about those two humans in Genesis 1– 3? And what about the eight that survived Noah’s flood? Which are we to believe, some ask: the Bible or science?

That last question leads some of us to dig in our heels while others shift with the latest conclusions of science. Some relish the countercultural stance of digging in their heels, and, to switch imagery, the second group at times refers to their counterparts as hiding their heads in the sand of the past or even of religious superstition. What the first thinks is faithfulness to the Bible, the second thinks is intellectual compromise. The accusations go both ways. You’ve probably heard them as often as I have. To illustrate I pose the great Protestant Reformer Martin Luther, who dug in against scientists, with Galileo from the generation following Luther, who permitted science to reshape his thinking. Luther said this of the facts in the Bible that seem to conflict with the external realities: “The more it seems to conflict with all experience and reason, the more carefully it must be noted and the more surely believed.” When Luther turns to Eve being formed from a rib, he says, “This is extravagant fiction and the silliest kind of nonsense if you set aside the authority of Scripture and follow the judgment of reason.” But perhaps this illustrates his heel digging the most: “Although it sounds like a fairy tale to reason, it is the most certain truth.” Here Luther contrasts “reason” (or scientific thinking) and faith or Scripture. One might call Luther’s approach the dominating approach to science and faith because he chooses— against reason, he admits— for the Bible to dominate the evidence. Galileo mirrors Luther with another kind of domination: “A natural phenomenon which is placed before our eyes by sense experience or proved by necessary demonstration should not be called into question, let alone condemned, on account of scriptural passages whose words appear to have a different meaning.” The choice to let either the Bible or science dominate the other is common enough, but there is a better way, one that permits each of the disciplines to speak its own language but also requires each of the voices to speak to one another. Science, after all, can help the interpreter of the Bible just as the Bible can provide horizons and vistas for the scientist. Three Old Testament scholars are modeling how this dialogue between the Bible and science can be fruitful— John Walton, Tremper Longman, and Peter Enns. They don’t agree with one another always, nor do I always agree with them in the pages that follow, but they have opened up new pathways for this kind of dialogue to occur.

McKnight, Scot; Venema, Dennis R.. Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (p. 93-94). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

That’s a massive chunk of text carved out of a book for review, but it’s worth doing on two counts:

  • McKnight has a knack for the longest trains of thought I have encountered in writing, making it difficult to find a good point to insert a break.
  • This piece pretty much summarizes my impression of where McKnight is going with the last four chapters.

He seems to accept that Adam and his faithful companion Eve are not the origin of the human race. Then he spends the remainder of his alloted space attempting to justify the story of Adam (and Eve) by invoking context.

I have to admit that the encounter with science made me wonder at times about what I had been taught, about what the Bible said, about whether or not the Bible was wrong, and— this was for me a defining intellectual moment— about whether traditional interpretations of Genesis 1– 2 were perhaps well intended but misguided and in need of rethinking. In other words, my encounters with trustworthy scientists and their works taught me to go back to the Bible with other questions and other possible interpretations and to ask what Genesis meant in its world. In this I believe I was motivated by a quest to know the truth. I went back to the Bible to read Genesis in context and to ask if what many thought the Bible was saying (that is, its interpreted meaning) was not in fact what the Bible was actually saying (its original meaning). But there’s more: my encounter with science that prompted renewed study of Genesis also led me to challenge science about some of its assumptions. Modernity, expressed in extreme form in the “New Atheists” such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, presses into our minds that the only reality is the empirical. If only what studies the empirical world (science) ascertains reality, then only science tells us the truth about reality. However, this common assumption in modernity is a case of concluding what one already assumes. How so? This approach restricts discoveries to empirically testable realities. Nothing else is real. But what if there is more? What if some kind of nonempirical reality exists? This is the sort of question the Bible presses on the scientist. I am convinced that there is more than the empirical, or perhaps I should say the more is hyperreality or suprareality. If so, there is a reality not knowable exclusively by the empirical methods of science. Theology, which is designed to investigate that nonempirical reality in some ways, can provide a map onto which we can locate science and which can challenge science.

McKnight, Scot; Venema, Dennis R.. Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (p. 95). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[Emphasis added]

Use of “context” occurs four times prior to this point, including once in an introduction and once in the Table of Contents. It appears an additional 85 times from this point forward. My take: context is everything.

Where have I seen this before? It was in the matter of tattoos. A Facebook friend, a devout Christian and one who from time to time posts pronouncements of faith, called attention to her tattoos. Gentleman that I am, I reminded her that the Bible forbids tattoos, much as it forbids homosexuality. A relative chimed in with the reassurance that it is a matter of “context.”

My take (again): “context” is a cop-out. When context is invoked to justify the Bible, then what you are getting from the Bible is the interpretation being pushed by the speaker. You are not getting the word of God. You are getting the word of the interpreter. You are not placing you faith in a 3000-year-old set of laws. You are placing your faith in whoever happens to be professing faith, an extreme case being the sordid collapse of Jim Jones’ People’s Temple.

Previously mentioned, McKnight’s parsing of theological history largely passes over my head. Therefore I will post a few excerpts that caught my attention, and  I will let the reader get back to me. Advice requested.

I went back to the Bible to read Genesis in context and to ask if what many thought the Bible was saying (that is, its interpreted meaning) was not in fact what the Bible was actually saying (its original meaning).

McKnight, Scot; Venema, Dennis R.. Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (p. 95). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Every statement about Adam and Eve in the Old Testament, in Jewish literature, and in the New Testament is made from a context and into a context. Furthermore, some of the statements about Adam and Eve in all this literature are designed to speak against that context. That is, those statements are polemics and apologetics. Learning about those contexts and polemics often brings fresh understanding of the intention of the Bible and hence of what God wants his people to hear. In addition, this contextual approach to Adam and Eve provides a model for how Christians today can think about Adam and Eve in the context of the faith-and-science debate. If the Human Genome Project provides brilliant discoveries about the origin of life and the development of humans into who we are today, we will all gain clarity if Christians learn how to speak about Adam and Eve in a context that both affirms conclusions about the genome and challenges some conclusions drawn from the Human Genome Project. Contexts, both ancient and modern, shape what we see, what we hear, and how we respond.

McKnight, Scot; Venema, Dennis R.. Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (p. 97). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Winding down with:

Interpreting the Bible is not easy. As Scot demonstrates, taking into account the languages, contexts, and presumed intents from centuries ago is a lot like, well, paleontology. Again, when explaining the challenges science presents to Christian faith, I stress the important distinction between scientific findings (e.g., DNA in a Siberian cave) and the philosophical or theological interpretations of those findings (Homo sapiens therefore emerged by sheer luck of the genome, or God operates on a circuitous route not unlike wandering in the wilderness to get to the promised land).

McKnight, Scot; Venema, Dennis R.. Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (p. 197). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Summarizing the book, we have two obviously intelligent people still clinging to the notion there is a magical person who created us and the universe and who cares for us personally. That this can be so is not an indication that there is no problem at hand. It is an indication that the problem is both wide and deep-seated.

May Jesus have mercy on our souls.

The Years of Living Stupidly

Number 4 in a series

I’m trying to remember how this caught my attention. Most likely somebody alerted me by posting a link on their Facebook time line. No matter, here it is. It’s a nine-minute clip promoting creationism, and it compresses the Intelligent Design argument admirably. I will do a bit of analysis.

Starting off, Douglas Axe is here to explain that life is too complicated to have evolved by natural processes:

Douglas Axe is the director of the Discovery Institute-run Biologic Institute. Co-author of Science and Human Origins, Axe is also a signatory to the Discovery Institute petition A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism.

Axe’s work has been hailed by the Discovery Institute as evidence supporting their views. Interestingly, even Axe himself has admitted that this is not the case.

He gives the example of today’s smart phones. They are immensely involved constructions of the most sophisticated components produced by modern industry.

However, Axe brings up the comparison to a lowly insect. The firefly is orders of magnitude more intricate and complex than a smart phone, and there is no way such a remarkable combination of parts could come together by accident. He also stresses that a firefly derives from a single cell, developing without additional assistance into an adult insect. Smart phones do not do that. They have to be constructed by people in factories.

That brings Axe around to talking about the Bible:

26 Doth the hawk fly by thy wisdom, and stretch her wings toward the south?

27 Doth the eagle mount up at thy command, and make her nest on high?

28 She dwelleth and abideth on the rock, upon the crag of the rock, and the strong place.

29 From thence she seeketh the prey, and her eyes behold afar off.

30 Her young ones also suck up blood: and where the slain are, there is she.

40 Moreover the Lord answered Job, and said,

Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him? he that reproveth God, let him answer it.

Then Job answered the Lord, and said,

Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth.

And that seems to answer it for Axe. We don’t understand something, but God does, and we should not question God’s omniscience and God’s omnipotence.

So this is an odd thing to me, because I have been hearing from the creationists of the second kind for years that Intelligent Design is sound science and is not meant to promote religion, especially the religion  of the Abrahamic God. So much for that.

Wayne Grudem turns the conversation toward theistic evolution:

Wayne A. Grudem is a prominent evangelical theologian, seminary professor, and author.[2] He co-founded the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and served as the general editor of the ESV Study Bible.

Theistic evolution, he explains, is the idea that God got everything going and now sits back and watches idly how the universe progresses, never touching the controls.

J.P. Moreland expands on the idea:

James Porter Moreland (born March 9, 1948), better known as J. P. Moreland, is an American philosophertheologian, and Christian apologist. He currently serves as a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University in La Mirada, California.

He says (quoting roughly):

The idea that God set up the processes in the beginning and then just let it run, that’s sort of like deism. Or, he was involved in the process of evolution, as long as there can be no way to tell that he was involved.

Stephen C. Meyer continues the thread:

Stephen C. Meyer (born 1958) 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 movementBefore 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).

Meyer notes the danger of theistic evolution. At a time when neo-Darwinism is losing favor, he states that religious scientists are urging their compatriots to embrace neo-Darwinism, else they will find themselves outcasts in the scientific community.

John G. West is another of the speakers associated with the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture:

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

He cites the sad circumstance that Christians feel the need to “get on the bandwagon” with neo-Darwinism, because “the science is overwhelming.” However, he goes on to state the science is not overwhelming, because a body of the scientific community is coming to realize neo-Darwinism, random mutation coupled with natural selection, cannot explain all evolutionary development. He says “we know what evolution can do in the lab,” and he says it doesn’t work.

West, obviously no fan of evolution, states a straw man case. The hard fact is that laboratory experiments in a lab in a building are not the world in which evolution works. Evolution works on a global scale, even on the scale of a small island or a mountain region. In nature the evidence for evolution working is manifest, and there is no evidence for an intelligent agent working.

Meyer chimes in with the argument for which he is famous. Natural selection, he tells us, works only for survival of novel features. They do not account for the “arrival” of new features. Meyer has made this argument multiple times through the years, all the while failing to recognize his faulty thinking along these lines.

Along with Axe, Ann K. Gauger is associated with the Biologic Institute:

Axe received a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the California Institute of Technology in 1990. In addition, the Biologic Institute has at least two other researchers. Ann Gauger is a zoologist with a BS in biology from MIT and a 1989 PhD from the University of Washington. As a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard she cloned and characterized the Drosophila kinesin light chain. Her research has been published in Nature, Development, and the Journal of Biological Chemistry. She also has a number of years of experience as a homeschool teacher. Brendan Dixon is a software developer and worked for Microsoft previously.

Axe, Gauger and Dixon were not among those who signed the original version of the Discovery Institute petition, “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism“, in 2001. However, Gauger appears on the March 2004 and January 2005 versions of the list. The August 25, 2007 version of the “Darwin Dissent” petition includes the names of both Axe and Gauger. Gauger’s affiliation on the August 25, 2007 version of the petition is not the Biologic Institute, but Gauger’s alma mater, the University of Washington.

She contends Darwinism is a circular argument in this way. Roughly translating, “To get the first cell you need DNA, and you also need RNA, and you need proteins, and you need DNA to make RNA to make proteins. This is a famously stale argument of the creationists, and it exhibits a simple-mindedness of astounding proportions. It ignores a body of research in the field and passes over any number of proposed approaches for the path to the first cells. She concludes that random processes coupled with natural selection cannot account for the development of primordial life.

Arguments against Darwinism (modern theories of biological evolution) continue, and  they become increasingly silly. We see Moreland arguing against the validity of the scientific approach. More specifically, he speaks against the supposed superior authority of science in providing answers. He compares it to theology especially. And that is an interesting, if dismal, approach.

Theology is comparable to science, even superior, in providing answers to matters of the real world. Really? I find that to be a remarkably naive statement. Let me break it down.

  • With science we study what’s going on and develop theories to explain. We fit the theories, the explanations, to supposed consequences and see how well they match up.
  • With theology we just make stuff up. The Earth was created about 6000 years ago over a period of six days. That sounds cool. Don’t bother to test it. Any evidence to the contrary must be wrong.

Meyer launches into running down “methodological naturalism.” Methodological naturalism holds the approach that only natural processes will be considered. The supernatural is shunned by the scientific community in favor of methodological naturalism.

That sounds miserably unfair to the supernatural until you realize that the supernatural does not exist. In the entire history of the human race there has never been  a demonstrated case of the supernatural. Four of my friends and I posted an award of $12,000 to anybody who can demonstrate the supernatural. This award has been up for over 25 years, and during this time nobody has ever come close to demonstrating the supernatural. If Meyer wants us to consider the supernatural, he is going to be required to first show us a sample so we will know what it looks like.

West rejoins and cites C.S. Lewis in noting that scientists pose questions they want answered, thereby obtaining only the kinds of answers they are looking for. West goes on to state that if we want other kinds of answers (I’m assuming supernatural answers), then we are going to have to ask other kinds of questions. Grudem continues, seeming to plead that we need to be willing to accept other (supernatural?) causes if we want supernatural answers. Meyer continues the argument that scientists should be willing to accept non-materialistic hypotheses. Gauger comes clean with the matter of theistic evolution:

The thing that’s at stake with theistic evolution, the debate about it is understanding of scripture.

And that’s it. If Gauger’s take is the new line on Intelligent Design, then the wraps really have come off. Intelligent Design is a mechanism concocted to protect the holy scripture against assaults by fact and reason. Moreland:

And it’s sad to say, but theistic evolution actually undermines Christians’ confidence in the authority of scripture. The doctrine of creation and the general way that creation took place is at the very foundation of Christianity—that God created all life and that there was at least a discernible way he did it. Theistic evolution puts all that up for grabs. And as a result it takes the core of theology and severs it from history. And so theology becomes a place in what Francis Schaeffer used to call “the upper story.” In an area where theology isn’t really about facts. It certainly isn’t about things we can test or know. It’s more about beliefs and feelings. But science does the hard work. It’s really about evidence and fact. If we keep revising the Bible when science tells us we “have to” [Here Moreland holds up two fingers on each hand to make quotation marks in the air.], then at some point we are going to end up believing that the Bible may not really be a factual book in the first place.

It would appear Moreland has reached the correct conclusion. The hard truth is that science does do the heavy lifting, science does come through with verifiable results, the Bible does need constant revision as each new finding contradicts the scriptures, and the Bible is almost devoid of factual content.

Grudem:

The question is whether Christians will reject God’s authority in whole areas of human knowledge—talking about where we came from and how we got here.

Axe:

Do we take the latest scientific ideas with the textbook orthodoxy to be our ultimate authority? And if so, then we have to make it be to conform to that, including not only our reading of Genesis, but our entire reading of the scripture. Whereas if we take scripture to occupy a higher position of authority than the opinion of the scientific community, then we view things differently. Not that we’re rejecting science, it’s that we recognize that science is not the ultimate authority.

And that is some kind of statement. Readers should take note of Axe’s reference to science as the ultimate authority. This is the bugaboo with religious creationists and others who distrust science. They like to present science as some kind of authoritarian entity that weighs down on our lives, suppressing contrary views and stifling innovative thinking and fresh approaches. A reality check is in order:

  • Science is a human endeavor, carried out by people. It is not a secret society working toward nefarious ends.
  • Science is not the only agency seeking to differentiate fact from fiction.
  • Law enforcement agencies investigate anti-social activity and work to determine the facts, whether a crime has been committed and who is responsible.
  • News reporters question people close to a story and sort out fact from fiction in order to provide a true account of what went on.
  • In everyday life we work to winkle out fact from contradicting information. Is the new employee really trustworthy, a question we might answer by checking whether he has a criminal record. Did the child skip school and then lie about it? Check with the school and get the facts.

If there is an orthodoxy of fact, the it is we. Science takes the methods that have demonstrated to produce reliable results, and science applies these methods to differentiate between truth and fiction. Science is not “textbook orthodoxy,” as Axe wants to characterize it. Scientists do not get their authority from textbooks. As a practicing scientist, Axe should know better, yet he is conflating scientists with people who do receive their orthodoxy from a book, people such as those speaking in this video.

Meyer complains that he has been immersed in the issue of science versus religion (not in those words) for 30 years, and he is troubled by theologians who are coming around to accepting scientific authority over the scriptures. He bemoans there is now no consensus view except the acknowledgement that neo-Darwinism is failing. He cites:

Last November in London at the Royal Society … There was a conference that was assessing the status of neo-Darwinian theory that was called by many evolutionary biologists who have become disenchanted with the theory. We have leading people in evolutionary biology today saying that the modern form of Darwinian theory has now failed to account for the most important things that any evolutionary biologist must account for, which is: where does the new form, the new biological structure come from? The answer essentially is we don’t know, so it seems to me a very odd time for Christians who are concerned about the science-faith dialogue to be saying, “Well we need to embrace the modern form of Darwinian theory. Otherwise we’re going to be out of date.” It’s just the opposite, in fact.

I am going to assume the Royal Society conference of which Meyer speaks is this one:

The Biologists Who Want to Overhaul Evolution

A half-century’s worth of scientific discoveries since the last major update to evolutionary theory has some researchers pushing for a paradigm shift.

CARL ZIMMER 

Kevin Laland looked out across the meeting room at a couple hundred people gathered for a conference on the future of evolutionary biology. A colleague sidled up next to him and asked how he thought things were going.

Zimmer goes on to report:

Laland is an evolutionary biologist who works at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. On a chilly gray November day, he came down to London to co-host a meeting at the Royal Society called “New Trends in Evolutionary Biology.” A motley crew of biologists, anthropologists, doctors, computer scientists, and self-appointed visionaries packed the room. The Royal Society is housed in a stately building overlooking St. James’s Park. Today the only thing for Laland to see out of the tall meeting-room windows was scaffolding and gauzy tarps set up for renovation work. Inside, Laland hoped, another kind of renovation would be taking place.

We remember Carl Zimmer as the author of At the Water’s Edge, a book that traces the transition of water-living fishes to land-dwelling animals,  particularly mammals. Continuing, the book traces a mammal with hoofs to creatures living in the sea and ultimately to modern whales. Meyer may think a conference such as this, where the notion of scientific authoritarianism evaporates like a snowball in Tahiti, as a justification for his rejection of Darwinism (evolution) and for his rejection of science in general. However, a close look at the proceedings reveals no comfort for Meyer’s dreams of the supernatural:

Some studies indicate that—under certain circumstances—an epigenetic change in a parent may get passed down to its offspring. And those children may pass down this altered epigenetic profile to their children. This would be kind of heredity that’s beyond genes.

The evidence for this effect is strongest in plants. In one study, researchers were able to trace down altered methylation patterns for 31 generations in a plant called Arabidopsis. And this sort of inheritance can make a meaningful difference in how an organism works. In another study, researchers found that inherited methylation patterns could change the flowering time of Arabidopsis, as well as the size of its roots. The variation that these patterns created was even bigger than what ordinary mutations caused.

Meyer is not the only creationist finding comfort in the emerging interest in epigenetics. Creationist David Shormann operates a religious school in the Houston suburbs, and at the textbook hearings before the Texas State Board of Education in 2013 he used the study of epigenetics to attack the biology texts under consideration. His schools, he claimed, dealt with the matter, whereas the books under consideration did not. On that basis he proposed rejecting all the proposed books. It’s a curious bit of logic, and it did not pan out for Shormann, as the books he opposed were approved by the board. A video of Shormann’s presentation is available on YouTube:

Few could be happier than I am that creationists such as Meyer have decided to quit playing charades with their argument that Intelligent Design is not about religion. The speakers in the theistic evolution video go full monty in support of the Christian faith. For me, watching this video was hard to distinguish from attending a holly roller tent revival.

The Years of Living Stupidly

Number 3 in a series

Today I’m continuing to follow some posts on the Intelligent Design blog Evolution News. Sometimes these posts are anonymous, credited to Evolution News, with no author specified. This one was posted by Cornelius Hunter, listed as a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. In fact, that is how his entry in CreationWiki lists him:

Cornelius G. Hunter, Ph.D., is a graduate of the University of Michigan where he earned a B.S and M.S. in aerospace engineering receiving a Ph.D. in Biophysics and Computational Biology from the University of Illinois and currently is Adjunct Professor of science and religion at Biola University. He is currently engaged in molecular biophysics post-doctoral and engineering research in Cameron Park, California. He is fellow of the Discovery Institute‘s Center for Science and Culture (CSC). He is formerly senior vice president of Seagull Technology, Inc.

Postings by a Facebook friend continue to bring to my attention a number of these Evolution News postings. Here is the most recent:

Warren Allmon on the Argument from Homology

Cornelius Hunter January 19, 2018, 1:30 PM

once debated two evolutionists on the campus of Cornell University. In that debate I raised several fundamental problems with evolutionary theory. The problems that I pointed out fell into two broad categories: process and pattern.

In the latter category, I noted that the keystone argument for evolution from homology had badly failed. Unfortunately, that failure was waved off and went unaddressed by the evolution professors. That may not have been the case had Warren Allmon been able to participate. Allmon, Director of the Cornell University-affiliated Paleontological Research Institution (PRI), has thought more deeply about the homology argument than most evolutionists. Now in 2018, he has published, along with adjunct professor Robert Ross, a new paper, “Evolutionary remnants as widely accessible evidence for evolution: the structure of the argument for application to evolution education.” The paper, in the journal Evolution: Education and Outreach, contains a very important concession.

As is typical, the new Allmon/Ross paper makes several serious scientific errors, either through ignorance, denial, confirmation bias, or whatever. The paper also relies on heavily religious claims and arguments, which again is typical.

And Hunter goes on in this manner for several additional lines, never getting around to the matter of homology and evidence for evolution. He proposes to work through the argument in future installments, and I will attempt to follow up.

In the meantime, it’s worth noting the selection of Cornelius G. Hunter as a fellow at the CSC, and it is especially interesting that he’s on Evolution News, which history is to deny any religious basis for Intelligent Design. In that effort, the CSC is much out on a limb. I mean, look what I do. Everywhere I write Intelligent Design, I capitalize it, such as I would Christianity and Islam. These are religions, and their names get put in initial caps.

While I’m on the matter, here is a list of books by Cornelius G. Hunter:

  • Hunter, Cornelius G. (2001). Darwin’s God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil. Ada, MI: Baker/Brazos Press. ISBN 978-1-58743011-4.
  • Hunter, Cornelius G. (2003). Darwin’s Proof: The Triumph of Religion over Science. Ada, MI: Baker/Brazos Press. ISBN 978-1-58743056-5.
  • Hunter, Cornelius G. (2007). Science’s Blind Spot: The Unseen Religion of Scientific Naturalism. Ada, MI: Baker/Brazos Press. ISBN 978-1-58743170-8.

Somebody advised me that the CSC has thrown in the towel and decided the religious approach is the way to go in promoting Intelligent Design. The image above is, in fact, from the video series Does God Exist, featuring creationist and CSC fellow Stephen C. Meyer and produced by Focus on the Family, decidedly not the go-to place for scientific enlightenment.

Anyhow, I am among the most glad to see the CSC becoming more open about the connection between the God of Abraham and Intelligent Design. It makes my job of pointing this out a lot easier, even if not as much fun. There’s going to be lots more. Keep reading.

And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

The Years of Living Stupidly

Number 2 in a series

Hot damn! This is getting good. Yesterday I kicked off this series with a review of a post (by somebody) on Evolution News, the blog site hosted by the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture. That’s the group doing the heavy lifting to promote the Intelligent Design version of creationism in this country. It so happens I picked up on three such postings, courtesy of a Facebook friend who linked them on his time line. Here’s another:

Submit Nominations for 2018 Censor of the Year Now!

We’re about a month away from Darwin Day, February 12. It’s the great man’s birthday, celebrated by Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture as Academic Freedom Day. We prefer this alternative framing of the occasion because the freedom to debate Charles Darwin’s scientific legacy is continually endangered by intimidation, threats to careers and livelihoods, fake news and fake science, and subtle and totally unsubtle forms of censorship.

All right! This is going to be good. The language of Evolution News is picking up the tone of rhetoric in today’s political world. I particularly enjoy seeing “intimidation, threats to careers and livelihoods, fake news and fake science.” Also “unsubtle forms of censorship.” This writer is prepared to lay it on thick. Who could ask for more?

The writer is identified, something often missing. He’s David Klinghoffer, somebody I enjoy reading. Here’s his Wikipedia entry:

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

And there’s more:

Klinghoffer has published a series of articles, editorial columns, and letters to the editor in both Jewish and non-Jewish conservative publications seeking to promote opposition to Darwinian views of evolution, stating that science can include a support for an underlying intelligent design in the development of living things and the universe as a whole, and, indeed, that some scientists hold to such views. Larry Yudelson has responded, in a piece directed at Klinghoffer, that rabbinical Judaism has accepted evolutionary theory for more than a century, and that Judaism has never rejected science. Yudelson also argues that Klinghoffer’s employer, the Discovery Institute, is a Christian think tank that is funded by organizations that seek to promote a “Christian-friendly world view”

Surprise, surprise! Yes, people, Jews do support creationism. Don’t forget, Jews invented this fantasy to begin with. Christians and Muslims since picked up the torch, and especially Christians are now the big promoters. Anyhow, David Klinghoffer has more to say from his Evolution News post. He is asking  readers to submit nominations for Censor of the Year (COTY). Here’s what he has to say about the great injustice being perpetrated:

Darwinists do not go so far as to burn books by proponents of intelligent design. However, their actual tactics in suppressing open debate are far more effective because, for the most part, they are practiced behind a veil of secrecy.

Remember, as Sarah Chaffee pointed out last week, most Darwinist censorship works via self-censorship. In academic and other contexts, the intimidation need not be explicit. It is practiced quietly, without drawing attention to itself. The victims, the censored, understandably don’t want to imperil their work, their income, or their reputation. So they keep quiet both about their doubts on Darwinian evolution and about the power structure in their institutions that maintains the informal speech code.

Yes, that’s it. Darwinists (scientists) intimidate the opposition by subtle and nefarious means, such means not being elaborated here, but perhaps in the Sarah Chaffee post that is linked above. I invite you to follow the link and read the sordid details. She tells of professors who give private talks promoting Intelligent Design, who must disclaim up front they do not speak for their academic institutions. Additionally she writes:

Or just take a look at our pictures on Evolution News of the Summer Seminars on Intelligent Design. You may see the very tops of students’ heads, no more. Not their faces, not an inch of their profile. Those we carefully crop out. This is to keep participants’ identities a secret. It’s so their career prospects will not be harmed by an association with intelligent design.

Anyhow, the issue is that people in the know who want to criticize Darwinian evolution and more so, promote Intelligent Design, find themselves ridiculed by colleagues and others. Yes ridiculed. Coerced into keeping quiet. To be sure, I have my own characterization of what’s happening:

Typically a candidate for tenure at a college or university must pass review by his peers. Tenure is almost a lifetime assurance of employment and can be denied if your peers do not look forward to working with you. I have stated elsewhere that there are only so many times you can show up for the party with your fly unzipped before you are no longer invited.

Sadly it is true. If you say stuff that is foolish enough for long enough, people around you will start to conclude there is something wrong with your thinking process. And therein lies the problem with Klinghoffer’s premise and that of the rest of the Intelligent Design  crowd. This is undue criticism, undue intimidation, only if Intelligent Design has a basis in fact. The problem for Klinghoffer et al is that Intelligent Design really is creationism dressed up to look like science. And thinking people recognize this. And they act appropriately, if unkindly, in response.

There are more of these. Keep reading.

The Years of Living Stupidly

Time to start a new series.

A fellow skeptic keeps posting stuff from Evolution News, and my Facebook feed picks it up. Evolution News is the blog of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, an enterprise started up by creationist Stephen C. Meyer in 1996, and he is currently the director. I’ve spent a lot of time the past two years trying to  ignore output from the Discovery Institute, but something about this post brought me back. Here’s what it’s about:

Adam and the Genome and Human-Ape Genetic Similarity

Evolution News @DiscoveryCSC January 18, 2018, 7:54 AM

In Adam and the Genome, Trinity Western University biologist Dennis Venema covers many other subjects besides what you might expect from the book’s title. We have been reviewing this material by the prominent theistic evolutionist and BioLogos author; find the series so far here.

Thus, Venema cites the high degree of genetic similarities between insulin genes in humans and other mammals as evidence for our common ancestry. He writes:

[W]e can see that there is good evidence to support the hypothesis that these two present-day genes come from a common ancestral population in the distant past … What we observe for this short segment is that the gorilla sequence is identical to that of the human except for one letter; the chimpanzee is identical except for three; and the orangutan is identical except for five. As before, this level of identity far exceeds what is needed for functional insulin, and strongly supports the hypothesis that humans share a common ancestral population with great apes. Indeed, the similarities between these sequences make English and West Frisian look like very distant relatives by comparison.

(Adam and the Genome, p. 30)

Yes, it appears Evolution News is having a go at biologist Dennis Venema’s new book (2017) Adam and the Genome. What the Discovery Institute wants to convince us is that life forms and all we see about us could not have come about by natural processes. A creator, an intelligent entity of some sort, must be behind it. That’s what’s going on here. Here Evolution News is digging at Venema’s evolutionary explanation for the similarity between the human genome and that of some of our close relations. Venema is using the origin of languages to make a comparison. I have the Kindle edition of the book, which allows me to provide the context of the above:

In looking at the sequences above, we can see that there is good evidence to support the hypothesis that these two present-day genes come from a common ancestral population in the distant past, just as “butter, bread, and green cheese” and “bûter, brea, en griene tsiis” do. The principle is the same: they are far more similar to each other than they are functionally required to be. In principle, any words could stand for these concepts in either English or West Frisian; similarly, any matched pair of hormone and receptor could function to regulate blood sugar levels in humans or dogs. Yet what we observe strongly suggests, in both cases, that the present-day sequences are the modified descendants of what was once a common sequence.

Now that we understand the redundancy of the codon code, we can see that for genes this rabbit hole goes even deeper. Many of the amino acids in insulin can be coded for by alternate codons. For example, “Leu” in the diagram indicates the amino acid leucine, for which there are six possible codons. This short snippet of the insulin gene codes for nine leucines, and eight of them use exactly the same codon in dogs and humans (and the ninth differs by only one letter). For these nine codons, there are 96 (= 531,441) possible combinations that will correctly code for just these nine leucines, to say nothing of the other 101 amino acids found in insulin, most of which can be encoded for by multiple codons. Is it merely by chance that what we observe in these two species is only one letter different for these nine codons? A simpler, more reasonable explanation (or what a scientist would call a more “parsimonious” explanation) is that these sequences come from a common ancestral population and have been slightly modified along the way.

Of course, scientists have sequenced the genomes of many other species, so we can test this hypothesis by looking at a larger data set. Humans are not thought to have shared a common ancestral population with dogs for a very long time; other species are thought to be our much closer relatives due to other shared features, such as anatomy. When the pre-Darwin biologist Carl Linnaeus (1707– 78) drew up his taxonomy of animal life (i.e., a system that organized life into categories), he famously placed humans and great apes in a category he called “primate,” from the Latin indicating “prime” or “first.” While he was certainly not thinking about common ancestry, he naturally recognized that these species (such as chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans) have a closer anatomical affinity to humans than other animals. In light of such an affinity, evolutionary theory predicts that these species share a more recent common ancestral population with humans than nonprimate species, such as dogs, do. Therefore, their gene sequences should be a closer match to human sequences than what we observe in dogs. Not surprisingly, this is exactly what we observe. Let’s return to our example of the insulin gene and extend our comparison of the same short stretch to include three great apes (fig. 2.6).

What we observe for this short segment is that the gorilla sequence is identical to that of the human except for one letter; the chimpanzee is identical except for three; and the orangutan is identical except for five. As before, this level of identity far exceeds what is needed for functional insulin, and strongly supports the hypothesis that humans share a common ancestral population with great apes. Indeed, the similarities between these sequences make English and West Frisian look like very distant relatives by comparison.

McKnight, Scot; Venema, Dennis R.. Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (p. 30-31). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I highlighted the portions the author reprinted from the original. Use of this partial excerpt is legitimate, since it does not change Venema’s original meaning and intent. What is to be found in the complete text is a fuller explanation, plus a tie-in to Venema’s language analogy.

The history of languages makes for an interesting study, and for English readers there is particular significance. The book The Story of English, by Robert MacNeilRobert McCrum, and William Cran is a companion book to the PBS television series of the same name. I have a similar book, The Stories of English, by David Crystal. It rehashes the history of English in much the same way:

We can note both of these processes happening for the Germanic group of languages during the period. In the late second century, the Goths moved into Europe from southern Scandinavia, eventually arriving in the Mediterranean region. During the fourth century, Bishop Wulfilas translated the Bible into Gothic. The language had changed so much during this short time that scholars now consider it to be a distinct, eastern branch of the Germanic family. On the other hand, the westward movement of peoples along the north European coast and into England resulted in a group of languages which had much greater similarities. English and Frisian, indeed, were so close that they would probably have been mutually intelligible for many centuries, especially in Kent. Even today, though mutual intelligibility has long since gone, English people listening to modern Frisian sense a familiarity with its expression which is not present in the case of Dutch or German. Genetic anthropologists have discovered a significant Y-chromosome identity, too (p. 31). 3

Crystal, David. The Stories of English (pp. 20-21). The Overlook Press. Kindle Edition.

I once visited the northwest coast of the European continent and was struck by the similarity. At a company cafeteria I picked up a coupon good for two desserts and had no trouble reading it, even though it was written in the local  language.

Anyhow, the background is fascinating, but the intent of Evolution News is to demonstrate that Venema is wrong—genetic similarity does not indicate common descent. Evolution News sometime ago quit identifying authors, but whoever posted this item failed to get the message. Traditionally, Intelligent Design, a concoction of the Discovery Institute, does not rule out common ancestry. These people tend to allow for that, but they also want us to know that natural, and especially random, process are not at work. The whole line of descent process was managed by an intelligent entity, yet unnamed. With some exceptions:

If the Associated Press writer confused a challenge to common descent with “Intelligent Design,” it could be because Intelligent Design proponents with the CSC on occasion do challenge common descent. For example, Ray Bohlin is a CSC fellow and supposedly a spokesman for Intelligent Design. At the Texas Faith Network conference in Dallas on 3 November 2003 Bohlin addressed a large room full of people and stated that common descent was true for all life forms, except humans. You can imagine the confusion of all in attendance.

Retired law professor Phillip Johnson is considered the godfather of the modern Intelligent Design  movement. At a symposium titled “Darwinism: Scientific Inference or Philosophical Preference,” held on the campus of Southern Methodist University in March 199, .I had a chance to talk with Johnson and get his views firsthand. He expressed some surprising points for an opponent of evolution:

n 1992 Johnson attended the conference on “Darwinism: Scientific Inference or Philosophical Preference” at Southern Methodist University (SMU). The conference was inspired by Jon Buell, a local creationist. Buell’s Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE) published the book Pandas and People, an early work pushing Intelligent Design. At the conference the departure from young-Earth creationism was stark. Johnson and Buell were standing together when I asked them the question. Their answer was significant. Yes, the Earth and the universe really are billions of years old, and yes, present life forms share a common ancestry. These were not your grandfather’s creationists.

Here is a copy of the proceedings.

Anyhow, Evolution News is now having none of that. Continuing from the post:

The obvious answer to this argument is common design — that humans, gorillas, and orangutans were designed based upon a common blueprint. This would explain genetic similarity between humans and other species quite well.

Then the author presents an additional excerpt and promptly goes off the rails with this:

There he goes again, telling God what he can and cannot do. It’s a bit of chutzpah, don’t you think? He’s also telling God what God must intend when he does certain things. In particular, Venema is telling God that if he designs two species to be similar then God must thereby intend to tell us that those species are related through common ancestry. And if those species aren’t really related, then Venema tells God that he is being deceitful.

But what if Venema is putting thoughts into God’s head that aren’t there? What if God could have entirely different purposes for designing two species as similar — purposes that have nothing to do with trying to communicate some message to humans about relatedness or unrelatedness?

Oh, Jesus! You gave away the store. Intelligent Design is not supposed to be about God. It’s supposed to be science, real science, well-researched science, science that reveals there is a Designer, not identified and definitely not identified as G*d. G*d is the word that keeps Intelligent Design out of public classrooms, which is where its proponents, despite much public posturing, in their heart of hearts want it to be. Possibly we are now seeing the offshoot of all those years of living stupidly.

That covered, there is more of interest. The post dips into  a discussion of The Language of God, a book by Francis Collins:

Francis Sellers Collins (born April 14, 1950) is an American physician-geneticist noted for his discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the Human Genome Project. He is director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, United States.

Before being appointed director of the NIH, Collins led the Human Genome Project and other genomics research initiatives as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), one of the 27 institutes and centers at NIH. Before joining NHGRI, he earned a reputation as a gene hunter at the University of Michigan. He has been elected to the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science.

In order to continue following the discussion I obtained a Kindle edition and will be covering that in future posts. Also, and free on Amazon, is Intelligent Design the Final Proof of God. Go for it. Kindle readers are free for tablets and computers.

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.

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.