Fool’s Argument

Sixth of a series

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

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

 

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

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

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

A Critical Question

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

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

The text:

How Rare are Functional Sequences?

For every ONE of these

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

Meyer gives the numbers.

Here’s the text.

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

1080 elementary particles in  the universe

1016 seconds since the Big Bang

10139 events since the beginning of the universe!

Those are tall odds.

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

To wit:

Begging the Question

Natural Selection

Self-Replication

Sequence Specific DNA and Proteins.

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

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

He brings up Michael Polanyi.

Here is what he has to say:

Michael  Polanyi

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

Life Transcending Physics and Chemistry

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

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

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

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

The text:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ferris Bueller Gets Expelled

This is the fourth in a series of a review of the video Expelled, produced by Premise Media and featuring Ben Stein. The subtitle of the video (I am deliberately not using the word “documentary”) is No Intelligence Allowed, a reference to the pseudo science of Intelligent Design, which is the main topic of the video.

The previous post centered on the issue of astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez, who was supposedly expelled because he advocated Intelligent Design. The case presented in the video is that he had a promising career as a professor of physics and astronomy, but he was denied tenure at Iowa State University after he co-authored (with Jay Richards) the book The Privileged Planet and a video of the same title.

Gonzalez has asserted the denial of tenure was a result of his advocacy for Intelligent Design. Wikipedia notes:

Two years later, an article in the local newspaper The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported Gonzalez’ appeal against his denial of tenure and claimed he was “the unnamed target” of the ISU petition. The article noted that “Gonzalez won’t discuss the reasons for the tenure denial” but that he “noted, however, that he has frequently been criticized by people who don’t consider intelligent design as a legitimate science.” Comments from John West, the associate director of the Discovery Institute‘s Center for Science and Culture – with whom Gonzalez was a senior fellow – blamed the failure to secure tenure directly upon Gonzalez’ belief in intelligent design and compared it to a “doctrinal litmus test” typical of his native Cuba.

[Some links removed]

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

Robert Marks

Shut up, you freak.

Shut up, you freak.

Ben Stein interviews Robert Marks, Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Baylor University. Professor Marks notes that he has tenure, and his position is secure. However, Ben Stein remarks, “A few months after this interview Baylor University shut down his research website once they discovered a link between his work and intelligent design.” The video shows a clip from the movie Planet of the Apes:

Julius: [Julius stops hosing Taylor briefly] Shut, up you freak!

George Taylor: Julius, you…

Julius: [He turns on the hose again] I said shut up!

This is a terrible way to treat a distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering. Information presented by the National Center for Science Education brings some clarity:

Robert Marks’s “Evolutionary Informatics Laboratory” website – touting intelligent design – was originally hosted on a Baylor University server. Concerned that the material on the website misleadingly suggested a connection between the intelligent design material and Baylor, administrators temporarily shut the website down while discussing the issue with Marks and his lawyer. Baylor was willing to continue hosting the website subject to a number of conditions (including the inclusion of a disclaimer and the removal of the misleading term “laboratory”), but Marks and Baylor were unable to come to terms. The site is currently hosted by a third-party provider.

Wikipedia has additional information on the website:

Marks did not seek permission from Baylor University to form the lab, but created a website for it on a server owned by the university. The website was deleted when Baylor’s administration determined that it violated university policy forbidding professors from creating the impression that their personal views represent Baylor as an institution. Baylor said they would permit Marks to repost his website on their server, provided a disclaimer accompany any intelligent design-advancing research to make clear that the work does not represent the university’s position. The site now resides on a third-party server and still contains the material advancing intelligent design.

After removing the site, the Baylor administration stated that it contained “unapproved research” and that university policy forbids professors from creating the impression that their personal views represent Baylor as an institution. Baylor has said that it will permit Marks to repost his website on its server, provided he (1) delete any reference to a “Lab,” (2) delete listing of any Baylor graduate students, and (3) post at the bottom of every page and the top of the home page a 108-word disclaimer.

[links removed]

Baylor’s action was apparently driven by its past experience with creationism. In 1999 creationist William Dembski established the Michael Polanyi Center at Baylor, and it was quickly identified, to the embarrassment of the science and other faculty, as a creationist activity:

In 1999, Dembski was invited by Robert B. Sloan, President of Baylor University, to establish the Michael Polanyi Center at the university. Named after the Hungarian physical chemist and philosopher Michael Polanyi (1891–1976), Dembski described it as “the first intelligent design think tank at a research university.” Dembski had known Sloan for about three years, having taught Sloan’s daughter at a Christian study summer camp not far from Waco, Texas. Sloan was the first Baptist minister to serve as Baylor’s president in over 30 years, had read some of Dembski’s work and liked it; according to Dembski, Sloan “made it clear that he wanted to get me on the faculty in some way.”

The Polanyi Center was established without much publicity in October 1999, initially consisting of two people – Dembski and a like-minded colleague, Bruce L. Gordon, who were hired directly by Sloan without going through the usual channels of a search committee and departmental consultation. The vast majority of Baylor staff did not know of the center’s existence until its website went online, and the center stood outside of the existing religion, science, and philosophy departments.

The center’s mission, and the lack of consultation with the Baylor faculty, became the immediate subject of controversy. The faculty feared for the university’s reputation – it has historically been well regarded for its contributions to mainstream science – and scientists outside the university questioned whether Baylor had “gone fundamentalist.” Faculty members pointed out that the university’s existing interdisciplinary Institute for Faith and Learning was already addressing questions about the relationship between science and religion, making the existence of the Polanyi Center somewhat redundant. In April 2000, Dembski hosted a conference on “naturalism in science” sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation and the hub of the intelligent design movement, the Discovery Institute, seeking to address the question “Is there anything beyond nature?” Most of the Baylor faculty boycotted the conference.

A few days later, the Baylor faculty senate voted by a margin of 27–2 to ask the administration to dissolve the center and merge it with the Institute for Faith and Learning. President Sloan refused, citing issues of censorship and academic integrity, but agreed to convene an outside committee to review the center. The committee recommended setting up a faculty advisory panel to oversee the science and religion components of the program, dropping the name “Michael Polanyi” and reconstituting the center as part of the Institute for Faith and Learning. These recommendations were accepted in full by the university administration.

Despite all the creationists’ yearnings and despite all their assertions that science fails to answer important questions, science as a human endeavor long ago abandoned invoking the supernatural as an answer and also as a starting point for research. The supernatural answers no legitimate questions and provides nothing useful for serious research. It is the intellectual equivalent of conceding you do not know the solution to a problem and then making up an answer and putting that forward as the solution. This is a point the creationists can not or will not come to grips with.

Expelled features six individuals who were “expelled.” I have covered four of them. Next up is author and journalist Pamela Winnick.