Abusing Science

Number 69 of a series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the illustration from that page.

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

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

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

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

They quote from the book:

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

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

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

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

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

For your reading pleasure, here is the complete abstract.

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

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

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

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

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

Here is additional detail.

Published: 17 May 2016

Giraffe genome sequence reveals clues to its unique morphology and physiology

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

Abstract

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abusing Science

Number 66 of a series

As promised, I purchased a Kindle edition of Perry Marshall’s Evolution 2.0, and now I will post a few installments of this series based on the book. Glancing through the table of contents, one thing that struck me was a 375-page book ended on page 280. Following are 66 pages of appendices. I had a look.

  • Appendix 1:​All About Randomness
  • Appendix 2:​Genesis 2.0
  • Appendix 3:​Recommended Books
  • Appendix 4:​The Origin of Information: How to Solve It and Win the Evolution 2.0 Prize

I found Appendix 2: Genesis 2.0 most interesting, so I went there first. The core of the book may be revealed here.

We are stardust, billion-year-old carbon,
We are golden, caught in the devil’s bargain,
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden —JONI MITCHELL

Marshall, Perry. Evolution 2.0: Breaking the Deadlock Between Darwin and Design (p. 307). BenBella Books, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

That’s the intro to the appendix. In case you miss the point, all we know from science brings us back to the Garden of Eden. In Appendix 2 Marshall is going to demonstrate what we know from modern science reconciles perfectly with Genesis in the Bible. He recounts a conversation with a very tech guy, a person of obvious intellect, and successful in business.

Paul said to me, “My conviction is that the Bible teaches a young Earth. I believe the Earth is 6,000 years old. I take this position because I feel it is necessary for me to be intellectually honest as a Christian.” He leaned back in his chair and continued, with a perplexed look on his face. “But Perry, I will readily admit to you that I cannot defend that with empirical science; I’ve never been able to see any way to work it out.”

Marshall, Perry. Evolution 2.0: Breaking the Deadlock Between Darwin and Design (p. 307). BenBella Books, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Marshall proceeds to inform Paul the Earth really is something like 4.5 billion years old, but that’s OK. Genesis tells the true story, if you squint like this. Another excerpt:

I prefer the reading of Genesis 1 and 2 that follows, because it matches modern cosmology, geology, and the fossil record nicely. In this chapter, I’m going to share with you what I said to my friend Paul, the chemical engineer turned high-tech company president.

As we read Genesis together, let’s make two assumptions:

1.​The writer is describing events as they appear from the surface of the Earth starting with verse 2, which establishes the point of view for the remainder of the chapter.

2.​“Day” is a period of time, not 24 hours. The Hebrew word for day (yom) has a variety of meanings in Genesis. A day can be a moment, an era, or a thousand or even a billion years (949). In Genesis 2:4, for example, the word day is used to refer to the entire Creation sequence!*

Marshall, Perry. Evolution 2.0: Breaking the Deadlock Between Darwin and Design (p. 310). BenBella Books, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

And there you have it. If “day” is interpreted to mean “billions of years,” then Genesis is spot on. By extension, if “created” is interpreted as meaning “imagined by some people in a Bronze Age tribe living in the Eastern Mediterranean about 3000 years ago, then the God of Abraham is real, and he is a man (not a woman), and he really is his own son, and really did (not) die by crucifixion and later ascend into the outer reaches of space so he can watch over all of us in the minutest of detail, and we can all do as we please while alive—committing any number of heinous acts—but if we accept Jesus as our savior, then when we die we will live happily ever after, along with the innocent children we have raped and murdered.” Also if your grandmother had knobs and an antenna she would be a 1950s TV set, but now I am allowing my mind to wander aimlessly.

This is science from a religious point of view. You don’t want to buy the book—$9.99 plus tax for the Kindle edition—but you want to see more, shoot me an email, and I will send you a few pages.

And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.

Abusing Science

Number 64 of a series

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

It’s an item posted by Michael Egnor:

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

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

MICHAEL EGNOR MARCH 22, 2020

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

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

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

Here’s Aquinas’ First Way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abusing Science

Number 63 of a series

Discovery Institute to the rescue again. Whenever I need some nonsense about science they are my reliable source. This is from Evolution News, their well-maintained blog site.

Neo-Darwinism and the Big Bang of Man’s Origin

Lönnig wants to invoke the late Phillip Johnson, former law professor at UC Berkeley. Johnson’s book Darwin on Trial reignited interest in the Intelligent Design concept. Previous creationists of the 20th century laid the creation argument totally upon a literal interpretation of the Bible. When courts threw out their arguments for teaching creationism in public schools, creationists saw Intelligent Design as a wedge for driving their entry into government-supported religious proselytizing. In fact, Johnson is credited as principal author of the so-called Wedge Document.

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.

Lönnig is recycling material from December 2011, which I addressed previously. At the center is a video featuring Johnson answering some setup questions. Lönnig recaps one of Johnson’s responses:

Well, if I am out of my element then Charles Darwin must also have been out of his element because his training was in medicine and theology3 although he was, in fact, a very good scientist, self-taught, a gentlemen amateur like others of his time. Charles Lyell, the father of modern geology, was a lawyer. But you know, the thing about Darwinian evolution today is that it is a general philosophical concept that connects many disparate fields of science. So that you see, a molecular biologist [is] relying on fossil experts, paleontologists, and vice versa. And they are all relying on geneticists and each one of these groups of scientists outside their own element is just a generalist, is just a layman like anyone else. So there aren’t really any specialists in evolution. It’s a generalist’s country.

Johnson is explaining why he, as a lawyer, is as qualified to speak on matters of human evolution as was Charles Darwin, who is given credit for the science. Of course the proper response from Johnson should have been to acknowledge Darwin’s extensive field work and his chain of reasoning leading him to propose natural selection as an explanation—a theory. Johnson could also acknowledge the accumulation of fact that continues to support both the evolution of living forms while never finding evidence that refutes the theory. In the video Johnson appears to dispute the fact of evolution—that living organisms have evolved. When I first posted on this in December 2011 I noted his duplicity:

In a rambling, oblique way Johnson seems to be saying he does not believe the basic fact of evolution-that current life forms share a common ancestry.

What is so puzzling about this is that just a few months prior to the interview Johnson was saying something else.

At the SMU symposium in March 1992 I had the opportunity to find Johnson in conversation with Jon Buell. Jon Buell heads up the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, the organization that produced the Pandas and People creationist text that was central to the Kitzmiller v. Board of Education trial in 2005. The FTE was also a co-sponsor of the symposium.

I put to Johnson my two burning questions: Do you believe the Earth is billions of years old and that current life forms share a common ancestry? Johnson blinked a couple of times and stated flatly yes to both parts. Amazingly, Buell answered affirmatively, as well.

I discussed this topic again with Johnson in subsequent correspondence, and he never used the occasion to repudiate that position. Watching his response in the interview you will not get the idea that Johnson believes in common ancestry.

Readers are invited to read the Lönnig piece on Evolution News and to watch the video. The whole business is a fabulous abuse of science.

Abusing Science

Number 62 of a series

I would let you borrow my copy, but it’s a Kindle edition, and I’m not sure how that would work out. I bought the book. It’s Undeniable by creationist Douglas Axe.

Douglas Axe is the Maxwell Professor of Molecular Biology at Biola University, the founding Director of Biologic Institute, the founding Editor of BIO-Complexity, and the author of Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed. After completing his PhD at Caltech, he held postdoctoral and research scientist positions at the University of Cambridge and the Cambridge Medical Research Council Centre. His research, which examines the functional and structural constraints on the evolution of proteins and protein systems, has been featured in many scientific journals, including the Journal of Molecular Biology, the Proceedings of the National Academy of SciencesBIO-Complexity, and Nature, and in such books as Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt by Stephen Meyer and Life’s Solution by Simon Conway Morris.

Some elaboration for those not up on the creationism scene: BIOLA stands for Bible Institute of Los Angeles. Despite the reference, there appears to be a branch in Thousand Oaks. Besides his association with Biola, you need to also note his association with the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, a prime mover for creationism. Anyhow, this book may be a lesson on how science and religion can reconcile. Or not.

I have not read the entire book, but a few excerpts will give you the flavor. Axe relates how he moved from being addicted to science and reason to accepting the obvious—none of this stuff can exist without the intervention of an intelligent designer. Start here:

I recall a question on a final exam near the beginning of my graduate studies at Caltech: Which of the biological macromolecules is apt to have been the first “living” molecule, and why? If that sounds like Greek to you, relax. I promise to write in plain English. All you need to know is that the question is about how life began, posed with the unstated assumption that it began by ordinary molecular processes. That assumption had been ingrained in biological thinking for so long that it went without saying. Every student in the class understood this, but I understood it more critically than most did. I knew the expected response to the test question, but through my critical lens, that response seemed scientifically questionable. So I had a choice: Do I go with the flow, or do I push against it?

Axe, Douglas. Undeniable (p. 2). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Axe elaborates on his chain of thought.

Of all the controversial ideas to come from modern science, none has brought more awkwardness than Darwin’s idea of evolution through natural selection. We know natural selection means “survival of the fittest,” which in one sense isn’t at all controversial. Indeed, Darwin’s observation that fitter individuals are apt to have more offspring is so obvious it hardly needs to be stated. But how can something with so little content—a truism—possibly explain the astounding richness of life?

The biggest question on everyone’s minds has never been the question of survival but rather the question of origin—our origin in particular. How did we get here?

Axe, Douglas. Undeniable (p. 3). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Note the italicized piece at the end. “How did we get here?” This is a sticking point for many, and not just for the religious. At the base may be the human need for purpose. People live by purpose, and they naturally look for purpose, especially in things they do not understand. The problem with this way of thinking is it’s circular—ignoring that purpose is not a feature of nature.

Peer pressure exists in science as in most aspects of human society. Axe exploits this recognition and attempts to lay it at the feet of scientists who have accepted natural causes as a basis for human existence.

But if science itself wasn’t the cause of the change, then what was?

Whether he intended to or not, Darwin reveals here that peer pressure is a part of science, happening behind the scenes as the various scientific interests compete against one another for influence.

Axe, Douglas. Undeniable (p. 5). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Allow me to loosely define materialism as the notion that we live in a material world, absent of spiritual entities hovering about and tweaking that world. Axe displays his disdain for materialism.

By way of background, the flag that has flown for many generations over the academy of higher education is that of a broad school of thought known as materialism.5 The meaning here isn’t the common one (an obsession with flashy cars or expensive clothes) but rather the view that matter—the stuff of physics—underlies everything real. Even if they don’t use this term, atheists tend to subscribe to the materialist view of reality, believing God to be a product of the human imagination, which they believe to be a product of material evolution. Theists, on the other hand, believe the reverse—that the material universe was brought into existence by God, who is not material. Both views accept the reality of the physical world, but one sees this as the only reality whereas the other doesn’t.

Axe, Douglas. Undeniable (pp. 6-7). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

He inserts this sidebar, which is worth a look:

TWO -ISMS WORTH REMEMBERING materialism: the belief that physical stuff underlies everything real scientism: the belief that science is the only reliable source of truth

Axe, Douglas. Undeniable (p. 7). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

The hard fact is physical stuff does underlie everything real, and science, or something strongly resembling science, is the only reliable source of truth. I will explain that last. Science is a rigorous approach to looking at what is going on and figuring out 1) what is going on and 2) rational explanations for what is observed and how this fits into the remainder of what we know. Absent science, we must ask what other means we would suggest for discovering truth. Some options:

  • Do not examine further, but sit quietly and concoct a story that fits our fancy.
  • Read an ancient text and make it into an explanation of how the world works.
  • Listen to a strident voice and accept what is said, ignoring other sources.

Yeah, we used to do that, and human progress stagnated for centuries until people started getting serious about solving real problems.

He invokes Thomas Nagel, getting around to:

As a first-rate philosopher of the mind, Nagel actually changes the debate with this candid version of atheism. In light of his example, thoughtful atheists no longer have the luxury of assuming their worldview just works somehow—that dead molecules somehow formed simple life, and that simple life somehow formed us, despite all the apparent difficulties.

Axe, Douglas. Undeniable (p. 8). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Axe cites “dead molecules” and “apparent difficulties,” exposing his inclination for resorting to emotionalism. He seems to do a lot of that in this book. Another sidebar:

THE BIG QUESTION To what or to whom do we owe our existence?

Axe, Douglas. Undeniable (p. 9). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

“To whom.” And that’s going to be what’s at the bottom of Axe’s argument. We are supposed to consider not merely a what but a who. There has to be a person, assumed transcendental, behind all of this. We have entered Axe’s world, and it is not the world of science and reason. He mocks natural causes, likening them to “oracle soup.”

1.​Fill a large pot with oracle soup.
2.​Cover the pot, and bring the soup to a boil.
3.​Remove the pot from the heat, and let the soup cool.
4.​Lift the lid to reveal complete instructions for building something new and useful, worthy of a patent—all spelled out in pasta letters.
5.​Repeat from step 2 as often as desired.

Axe, Douglas. Undeniable (p. 16). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

The allusion is to obtaining information from a source that contains less information. Creationist William Dembski previously invoked Kolmogorov complexity to argue life (complex chemistry) cannot be derived from non-life (not complex chemistry), because that would invoke the creation of information, in violation of the Kolmogorov complexity principle.

From all observation, life sprang from non-life without the introduction of information derived from an outside (intelligent) source.

As his book starts out, Axe is doing nothing more than to argue for the existence of the God of Abraham. If you doubt that you need only ask him.

Abusing Science

Number 60 of a series

Creationists to the rescue again. To this well of unreason I owe so much. Without creationists, writing this column would be like climbing the Matterhorn without pitons. Full disclosure: I subscribe to their email, and this is from a recent one.

Above you see Professor Michael Behe of Lehigh University. Twenty-four years ago he published Darwin’s Black Box. The book develops Behe’s irreducible complexity conjecture, arguing against purely natural explanations in science, particularly in biology. It is an argument that finds favor with the religiously devout but not so much with pragmatic scientists.

The item by David Klinghoffer appeared last week on the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News site.

In Episode 3 of Secrets of the Cell, Michael Behe Tests “The Power of Evolution”

David Klinghoffer | @d_klinghoffer
February 26, 2020, 9:57 AM

When people invented gears is not certain, but examples survive in artifacts from ancient China and Greece. These indicate that the mechanism was known well over 2,000 years ago. Impressive! And yet as Michael Behe points out in a new episode of Secrets of the Cell, from Discovery Institute, bugs had been there and done that long before humans came on the scene:

Watch the video. It runs about 339 seconds, and it presents a sequence of examples of evolution, featuring especially the evolution of the polar bear. There is no great deal of focus, just enough of a view to reassure believers there is something to doubt about purely natural causes. The core theme is an insect called the planthopper, and this creature, from all appearances, uses a gear mechanism to enable its phenomenal jumping ability.

“Gears…in a bug? I thought humans invented gears,” says the always charming Lehigh University biochemist. Indeed, the planthopper bug has gears in its legs that permit it to jump what in human terms would be like vaulting the length of two football fields at one go. Evolutionary theory asks you to believe such a thing arose through chance mutations sifted by purposeless natural selection. Episode 3 of Secrets of the Cell, “The Power of Evolution,” invites us to wonder if Darwinian thinking has underestimated the “mechanical marvels” in the design of insects, so wonderfully “precise and purposeful,” to which “nothing we humans have ever built even comes close.” To look at such things and not say “Yeah, that was intelligently designed” requires a supreme effort to deflect our own intelligent intuition. That’s not true just of planthoppers but of bees, fleas, flies, butterflies, spiders, cockroaches — insects and other livings, of all species.

Behe reminds us that at the time of his writing Charles Darwin did not know inheritance is facilitated by means of DNA molecules. Had he known, we assume, he would have realized how improbable it is that successive accumulations of random coding mistakes could account for a beneficial outcome, for example a white having a wonderful camouflage coat and simultaneously having acquired a digestive system geared toward eating seals.

That said, neither does Behe explain how a transcendental entity that does not exist in time and space might achieve the aforementioned result. Despite claiming to be in command of rigorous science, creationists are deathly quiet with reference to a mechanism.

Additionally, creationists anthropologize the imagined creator. They concoct a transcendental entity and then give this entity human qualities, qualities no such entity would logically possess. Creationists arguments are philosophically based, and the philosophy is fatally flawed.

Obviously there is more to come. These creationists are tireless, and for that I am thankful. Keep reading for more. And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.

Abusing Science

Number 58 of a series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abusing Science

Number 54 of a series

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

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

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

And here is what is so ironic. The Intelligent Design advocates largely accept common ancestry. Jon Buell heads up the Foundation for Thought and Ethics (see following), and the late Philip Johnson is considered the godfather of the modern Intelligent Design movement. In a conversation in March 1992 both agreed they believed in common ancestry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is another illustration from page 37 the Pandas book.

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

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

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

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

Abusing Science

Number 52 of a series

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

C.S. Lewis and the Argument from Reason

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a further excerpt:

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

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

Richards writes:

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

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

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

Abusing Science

Number 49 of a series

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talking about Anaxagoras, he explains:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not all of what Behe writes is strictly factual.

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

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

Proteins began to be studied in the 18th century.

 

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

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

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

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

Not so, according to Michael Behe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seeming without justification, Behe makes a bold claim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abusing Science

Number 45 of a series

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

Physics, Philosophy, and Free Will

by  | Aug 2, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Emphasis added]

Abusing Science

Number 42 of a series

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

Walnuts: Intelligent Design in a Nutshell — Literally

Evolution News @DiscoveryCSC

September 19, 2019, 4:46 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abusing Science

Number 41 of a series

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

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

David Klinghoffer | @d_klinghoffer

October 9, 2019, 5:00 AM

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

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

The Irony, Please?

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

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

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

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

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

Abusing Science

Number 36 of a series

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

WHY CAN’T MONKEYS TYPING FOREVER PRODUCE SHAKESPEARE?

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

BY RUSS WHITE ON SEPTEMBER 10, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Hamlet. Methinks it is like a weasel.

Polonius. It is backed like a weasel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abusing Science

Number 32 of a series

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

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

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

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

“We See the Human Soul”

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

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

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

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

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

Abusing Science

Number 31 of a series

 

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

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

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

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

He has this to say in the referenced posting:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Klinghoffer continues:

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

There follows a link to this video.

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

Abusing Science

Number 29 of a series

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

Watch: Stephen Meyer Expertly Punctures the Rule of Methodological Naturalism

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

[Link to the video]

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

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

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

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

Abusing Science

Number 28 of a series

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

The Radio at the Edge of the Universe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abusing Science

Number 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.