Intelligent Design: Argumentum ad Ignoratium Masquerading as Science
(A Response to the Question: "Is the Design Explanation Legitimate?")
"But people who oppose evolution, and seek to have creationism or intelligent design included in science curricula, seek to dismiss and change the most successful way of knowing ever discovered. They wish to substitute opinion and belief for evidence and testing. The proponents of creationism/intelligent design promote scientific ignorance in the guise of learning. As professional scientists and educators, we strongly assert that such efforts are both misguided and flawed, presenting an incorrect view of science, its understandings, and its processes." From the Botanical Society of America's Statement on Evolution.
At the outset, let me acknowledge that the title of this article is not intended to imply that proponents of intelligent design (ID) are characteristically ignorant or stupid. On the contrary, many of these neo-creationists are well educated, and a few even have degrees in areas of study that are relevant to a technical discussion of the theory of evolution. Instead, the title conveys the fact that what the IDists are currently hawking as legitimate science are nothing more than repackaged arguments from ignorance. These arguments take on the following form: Since science cannot currently prove exactly how something has occurred by natural means, one must accept the alternative intelligent design explanation, even though empirical evidence is lacking to adequately support such an explanation. As the name implies, the intelligent design explanation attributes causation to the intervention of a purposeful, skilled creator rather than to purely naturalistic and undirected processes.
IDists also make ample use of another logical fallacy know as "affirming the consequence." This fallacy involves claiming that since B follows A, and since B exists, therefore A caused B. This fallacy ignores the fact that there may be other causes of B than A. IDists use this fallacy to argue the following: Since complex structures can be produced by intelligent designers, and since there are complex structures in nature, therefore, nature's complex structures must have been produced by an intelligent designer. This fallacious line of argumentation ignores the role that processes such as mutation and natural selection can play in the development of naturally-occurring complexity.
IDists may be clever, crafty, stealthy, or even deceitful in the ways they promote their clandestine religious agenda, but they are not, by in large, ignorant or stupid.
Taking the "Natural" out of Natural Science
When one clicks on "Is the design explanation legitimate?" on Mr. Knapp's webpage, one is taken to this site. In the first major section of his article ("How do we Detect Design?"), the author, Jonathan Sarfati, points out the obvious, i.e., that examples of complex design can be found in abundance throughout nature. If that is all the ID advocates were interested in sharing with their readers, there would be no point of contention with mainstream scientists. However, that is not all that their agenda entails, not by a long shot. When one reads the fine print, it becomes obvious that, not only do their arguments lack substance, but also that they have much more in mind than presenting the uncontested fact that complexity exists in nature (or hypothesizing that such complexity might have been the work of just any mentally-gifted, superhuman designer). A careful perusal of intelligent design literature reveals the IDists' true intentions - to repeal naturalistic factors as the explanation for the formation of complex biological (and cosmological) structures/processes and to replace them with the magical manipulations of the Judeo-Christian God. Their ultimate goal is to expunge the teaching of evolution from the public school science curriculum and to replace it with a "God did it" approach to explaining various aspects of biological design. In short, they are hell-bent on taking the "natural" out of natural science.
If by design one means a basic scheme or pattern that controls function and/or development, then mainstream scientists fully concur that complex designs exist in nature. The disagreement does not arise over whether or not complexity exists, but over how it has arisen. Mainstream science restricts its explanations to those that involve natural causes and effects. (See here.) Accordingly, science maintains that biological complexity can be accounted for by invoking naturalistic mechanisms such as, in the case of evolution, mutation/natural selection. Science does not claim that all instances of complexity in nature have, as yet, been adequately described in such terms. Nonetheless, it operates on the assumption that, with further inquiry, it has a high probability of developing useful descriptions and that, when it does so, those descriptions will involve naturalistic causality. So far, the record of scientific achievement indicates that this is not a unreasonable expectation - as is borne out by the fact that there is not a single established scientific theory that invokes anything other than naturalistic explanations.
IDists, on the other hand, assert that some structures/processes are so intricate that they are incapable of having been produced by naturalistic agency alone. Their argument boils down to the following: "This phenomenon is so complicated that we (even as sharp as we are) can't conceive of any reasonable means by which it could have happened naturally, therefore, God did it." In reality, this approach amounts to nothing more than a modernized, pseudoscientific rehash of the same arguments from design and ignorance that creationists have been hawking since William Paley expounded on the subject in the early 1800's. (See here.)
IDists (and other creationists who selectively subscribe to some of their teachings) are understandably reticent about specifying who they believe the intelligent designer actually is. Keep in mind that their ultimate goal is to have the religious concept of ID accepted as legitimate science in the public school classroom. Since their teleological design hypotheses have been roundly rejected by mainstream scientists (see below), IDists have now adopted a new scheme. They are now making their pitch directly to state and local school boards. Knowing full well that the scientific expertise of school board members often leaves a great deal to be desired, they are counting on this largely scientifically-naive audience to give them the access to the classrooms they so desperately seek. Nonetheless, realizing that overt reference to the Judeo-Christian God would run them afoul of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution, they pretend that they couldn't care less what the exact identity of the mysterious intelligent designer might be. Closer examination of their own pronouncements, however, reveals quite the contrary.
The most prominent advocates of ID theory are associated with the Discovery Institute (DI), a conservative think tank funded predominantly from donations by evangelical Christian foundations. (See here.) Most of the IDists are not biblical fundamentalists. However, they avoid discussing such contentious issues as the age of the earth and Noah's purported flood in order to maintain a tent big enough to encompass even young-earth creationists like Mr. Knapp. In 1996, the DI established what it first called The Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. The banner for the Internet homepage of this organization originally featured the famous picture from the Sistine Chapel of God touching the finger of Adam. Presumably, in an effort to give the impression that the DI actually had something to do with real science, this banner later morphed into a picture of God touching a strand of DNA. When it became obvious that, for legal reasons, the DI needed to more effectively conceal its religious underpinnings, the banner evolved into one showing the Hourglass Nebula with God no longer in sight. With God safely out of the picture, in order to downplay the fact that the ultimate goal of the DI is to replace conventional science with their own brand of religion-based pseudoscience, they also eventually deleted "Renewal" from their title. (See here.)
The stated purpose of this group is to oppose the "unscientific philosophy of materialism" which they contend pervades scientific thinking today - particularly as it pertains to evolutionary theory. (They have completely misconstrued the fact that science is not philosophically, ontologically, or metaphysically materialistic, but that it is, of necessity, methodologically naturalistic.) The Center for Science and Culture (CSC) devised a not-so-subtly-named "Wedge Strategy" document (See here.) which makes the identity of their top candidate for intelligent designer unambiguously clear. Although the IDists engage in all manner of verbal gymnastics to try to downplay the overtly religious context of the "Wedge" document, their true motives are impossible to conceal. The "Wedge" document declares that IDists intend to "defeat [scientific] materialism" and to replace it with a system of their own making that is "consonant with Christian and theistic convictions." Prominently featured under the "Governing Goals" is the following statement: "To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God." What a surprise! The unspecified intelligent designer (to whom they feign indifference when indoctrinating school boards) turns out to be none other than the Judeo-Christian God. Who would have ever guessed such a thing? For further insight on the role of the "Wedge" philosophy in shaping the ID agenda, see here.
Prominent Intelligent Design Advocates Spill the Beans
Phillip Johnson, a retired lawyer and born-again Christian, convened a conference in 1995 (The Death of Materialism and the Renewal of Culture) that paved the way for the establishment of the present-day CSC. Johnson's book, Darwin on Trial leaves little doubt that, if God is not the first-place contender for the IDists' intelligent designer, He is way ahead of whoever (or whatever) is in second place. In this book, Johnson strives to make the case that science, and evolution in particular, are responsible for a cultural descent into an abyss of abject materialism that can only be reversed by incorporating God into scientific explanatory processes. He also attempts to taint evolution by portraying it as the corrupt stepchild of atheistic thinking. A detailed review of Johnson's rhetorical polemic against evolution can be found here. In this less-than-flattering analysis, the reviewer states in no uncertain terms:
"I found that almost every scientific source cited by Johnson had been misused or distorted, in ways ranging from simple misinterpretations and innuendos to the construction of what appears to be outright fiction. The more closely I examined Darwin on Trial, the more inaccuracies I found, until it became almost impossible to catalogue all of the misleading statements in Johnson's work. This book-upon which the "intelligent design" movement is trying to hang a program of social reform and public education-is perhaps the ugliest and most deceptive book I have ever seen."
And this is the book after which much of ID's philosophical agenda is patterned!! But then what would one expect from a lawyer pontificating about a scientific subject on which he lacks any substantive technical knowledge.
After interviewing Johnson for the "New York Times," Laurie Goodstein reported, "These new creationists avoid one pitfall of their predecessors by not positing, at least publicly, the identity of the creator." "My decision is simply to put it off," Mr. Johnson said, "and I recommend that to others." (The "New York Times, December 21,1997, Christians and Scientists: New Light for Creationism, Laurie Goodstein) And in "Citizen Magazine," Johnson said, "Intelligent Design is an intellectual movement, and the Wedge strategy stops working when we are seen as just another way of packaging the Christian evangelical message. .. The evangelists do what they do very well, and I hope our work opens up for them some doors that have been closed." ("Keeping the Darwinists Honest", an interview with Phillip Johnson, Citizen Magazine, April 1999) In a January 10, 2003 broadcast on American Family Radio, Johnson said, "Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools."
So, the ID strategy is to grease the skids for the Christian evangelists and to postpone unmasking the creator's identity until after they have firmly wedged themselves into the science curriculum. In other words, hold off on the sermonizing until the public has been lulled into accepting ID as legitimate science. Anyone who fails to recognize ID is an inherently religious movement and falls for the ruse that the identity of the intelligent designer is of no special concern to its promoters is woefully ignorant of their ulterior motives.
Another activist in the ID movement is Jonathan Wells. He is a Senior Fellow in the CSC who obtained a degree in biology for the sole purpose of discrediting Darwinian evolution. As a member of the Unification Church, he was selected (and financed ) by, Rev. Sun Myung Moon, to obtain expertise in biology to better prepare him to do battle with the theory of evolution. In Wells' own words,
"Father's [Rev. Sun Myung Moon's] words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism, just as many of my fellow Unificationists [better know as "Moonies"] had already devoted their lives to destroying Marxism. When Father chose me (along with about a dozen other seminary graduates) to enter a Ph.D. program in 1978, I welcomed the opportunity to prepare myself for battle."
It is clear from his writings that Wells is not motivated by the desire to engage in an objective examination of the evidence. Instead, he is on a religious crusade to discredit evolution, the evidence be damned. In an article (link no longer available), Wells reveals his frontrunner for the elusive intelligent designer when he states,
"We [Wells and other Christian IDists] agree on some very important issues" .. "The main one is that God is our Creator."
Like other devoted IDists, Wells has written an anti-evolution tome. His book, Icons of Evolution... expresses his displeasure with the way evolution is presented in biology textbooks. An in-depth review of this book and a discussion of the various rebuttals and counter rebuttals associated with it can be found here. The introductory paragraph to this review sums up the situation as follows:
"Jonathan Wells' book Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth? Why Much of What We Teach About Evolution Is Wrong (henceforth Icons) makes a travesty of the notion of honest scholarship. Purporting to document that "students and the public are being systematically misinformed about the evidence for evolution," (p. XII) via common textbook topics such as peppered moths, embryo similarities, and fossil hominids , Icons in fact contains a bevy of its own errors. This is not original -- creationists have been making mistakes about evolution for years. Newly and more insidiously, however, Icons contains numerous instances of unfair distortions of scientific opinion, generated by the pseudoscientific tactics of selective citation of scientists and evidence, quote-mining, and "argumentative sleight-of-hand," the last meaning Wells' tactic of padding his topical discussions with incessant, biased editorializing. Wells mixes these ingredients in with a few accurate (but always incomplete) bits of science and proceeds to string together, often in a logically arbitrary fashion, a narrative that is carefully crafted to make the semblance of an honest case for Wells' central defamatory accusation: that mainstream biologists are "dogmatic Darwinists that misrepresent the truth to keep themselves in power" (pp. 242-243)."
It is obvious from his book that Wells has adopted many of the same tricks of the trade used and perfected by his YEC compatriots.
Another prominent player in the ID movement is William Dembski who has been roundly criticized for his misuse of information theory in his attempt to discredit the theory of evolution. (See below.) His uncontested nominee for intelligent designer is revealed from one of his statements made in the Fellowship Baptist Church (in Waco, TX). In response to a question following a lecture at the church on 3/7/04, Dembski answered as follows:
"I think at a fundamental level, in terms of what drives me in this is that I think God's glory is being robbed by these naturalistic approaches to biological evolution, creation, the origin of the world, the origin of biological complexity and diversity. When you are attributing the wonders of nature to these mindless material mechanisms, God's glory is getting robbed." He continued, "And so there is a cultural war here. Ultimately I want to see God get the credit for what he's done -- and he's not getting it."
Further insight into the driving force behind Dembski's assault on evolution can be gleaned from the following statement:
Since Darwin, we can no longer believe that a benevolent God created us in His image, . . . Intelligent Design opens the whole possibility of us being created in the image of a benevolent God. . . . The job of apologetics is to clear the ground, to clear obstacles that prevent people from coming to the knowledge of Christ. . . . And if there's anything that I think has blocked the growth of Christ as the free reign of the Spirit and people accepting the Scripture and Jesus Christ, it is the Darwinian naturalistic view. . . . It's important that we understand the world. God has created it; Jesus is incarnate in the world. (William Dembski, February 6, 2000, at a meeting of the National Religious Broadcasters in Anaheim, California)
Again, in keeping with the IDist tradition of not publishing their ideas in mainstream professional journals so as to avoid prepublication peer review, Dembski has written several books. His first book, "The Design Inference", cleverly avoided any mention of God in the index. But his next two books, by the Christian publisher InterVarsity Press, included numerous references to both God and Christ. In "Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology", Dembski opined, "Christ completes scientific theories" and "Christ transforms the world, and pervades the scientists' domain of inquiry." In this book, he also proclaims, "Christ is indispensable to any scientific theory, even if its practitioners do not have a clue about him."
Dembski has been named the first director of the new Center for Science and Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Statements that appeared on the Baptist Press website announcing his appointment on 9/16/04 include the following:
Dembski said he desires to help students understand how science should be understood in terms of Christian theology. Theology, he said, underpins all of his views of science and intelligent design.
“Theology is where my ultimate passion is and I think that is where I can uniquely contribute ...(Dembski)
"Bill Dembski's appointment to the Southern Seminary faculty is an historic event in Southern Seminary's long heritage of equipping Christians to engage the culture with a Christian worldview,” Moore said.
“This is really an opportunity," Dembski added, "to mobilize a new generation of scholars and pastors not just to equip the saints but also to engage the culture and reclaim it for Christ. That’s really what is driving me.”
Such statements belie the IDists' claims that religious belief is not the prime motivating factor in their campaign against evolution. They also leave little doubt who Dembski will be promoting for the title of intelligent designer if IDism is ever allowed to be taught as part of the science curriculum. (Further discussion on the technical merits of Dembski's work appears below.)
Michael Behe is another outspoken proponent of IDism. He is best known for his authorship of Darwin's Black Box in which he argued that the so-called "irreducible complexity" inherent in certain biochemical systems could not have arisen by purely naturalistic mechanisms. (See below for further discussion on Behe's work.)
In an interview here, Behe is quoted as saying, "Again, I am a Roman Catholic and I believe God created the world and is responsible for the life within it..."
We should not be surprised that, like the other ID advocates, Behe is eagerly standing by to plug God into our knowledge gaps once school boards have been cajoled into embracing IDsim as part of the science curriculum. Despite concerted efforts to conceal their covert sectarian agenda in a fog of scientific jargon, their true motives should be obvious to anyone who looks past their carefully-crafted propaganda pieces. Simply stated, IDism is a political and religious movement dedicated to dismantling the naturalistic underpinnings of the scientific method. It is disconcerting that so many educated people who make up our nation's school boards fail to comprehend the detrimental effects this regressive approach would have on science education. One would think that individuals holding such responsible positions would have a decent appreciation for how science operates. A more powerful testimony to the ineffectual state of science education in this country is hard to come by. (See here and Part III: Analysis of the Nature of the Wedge Strategy and Its Advance into the Mainstream here for further discussion of the IDists' ulterior motives.)
Giving a Wedgie for God
By incorrectly portraying evolution as a malignant outgrowth of atheism, the IDists hope to create a false dichotomy (i.e., one cannot be both a proper Christian and an evolutionist) thus enabling them to more easily insert their "Wedge" between practicing Christians and mainstream scientists. (To understand why this dichotomy is false, see here, here, here, here, here, and here.) They take advantage of the generally poor scientific aptitude of the lay public to provide a niche for insertion of their "Wedge" and then drive it home with the blunt force of philosophical and pseudoscientific rhetoric. Nonetheless, it does not take a rocket scientist to discern that IDists are not engaged in a sincere effort to improve science education in this country. It should be obvious to anyone who takes the time to investigate their methods and motives that IDists are waging a carefully crafted disinformation campaign designed to falsely characterize evolution as an atheistic philosophical construct. The claim by IDists that an acceptance of evolution is incompatible with belief in God is rejected by millions of devout Christians. The citizens of this country are roughly equally divided in their acceptance of evolutionary theory and the biblical account. For example, a 1997 Newsweek poll found that 44% of those polled were of the YEC persuasion while 49% were evolutionists. Various polls also show that only about 8-10% of the U.S. populace is atheistic. Therefore, even if all the atheists in the country were in the evolutionist camp, most of the evolutionists (approx. 80%) would still be believers in God.
None of the IDists have offered a coherent explanation how their supernatural science would maintain, let alone improve upon, the remarkable record of invention and discovery that has resulted from the conventional naturalistic approach to doing science. IDists have failed to produce either a viable scientific research program or a substantive scientific data base to support their claims. To my knowledge, not a single peer-reviewed research article that provides convincing support for ID has been published in any of the thousands of professional science journals available to them. IDists may point to scientific papers that discuss some areas of research where knowledge is presently incomplete and all the minutia have not been not fully worked out. But this argument from ignorance is far cry from producing evidence that is directly supportive of ID. The truth is, because the actions of a supernatural designer are, by definition, untestable and nonfalsifiable by natural means, IDists will never be able to prove their case using traditional scientific methods. That, of course, is why they are so intent on trashing mainstream science for a system that permits supernatural explanations. It does not require a Ph.D. in a scientific discipline to realize that the IDist approach would have a profoundly derogatory effect on scientific progress. Why pursue further research and investigation on a difficult problem (such as development of the blood clotting mechanism or immune systems) if scientists could simply proclaim, "God did it.", and be done with it? (See here.) Until IDists can provide empirical evidence to substantiate their claims and present a rationale why their "God of the Gaps" approach would be more productive than traditional naturalistic science, mainstream scientists will do all they can to dislodge the "Wedge" and prevent it from causing the divisiveness for which it is intended. (See here.)
Recycling Paley's Watch
"An ideal system, arranged of itself, without a precedent design, is not a whit more explicable than a material one which attains its order in a like manner; nor is there any more difficulty in the latter supposition than in the former." Part of Philo’s parody of the design argument from David Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion
The philosopher and historian, David Hume, produced a time-honored critique of the so-called "argument from design" in this famous work, Arguments Concerning Natural Religion. (See here.) This work was published after his death in 1779. (A wise move designed to avoid the inevitable harassment by the church.) Hume's philosophical dialogue contained six objections to the argument from design which are listed and discussed in the link above. These objections still stand today as powerful and cogent arguments against the design inference. Despite his well-reasoned discourse, Hume was handicapped by not being able to offer a demonstrable, naturalistic mechanism for producing biological complexity in nature. It was not until Darwin published Origin of Species in 1839 that knowledge of such a mechanisms (mutation/natural selection, for example) became available.
The modern ID movement relies on a jazzed-up version of Willian Paley's oft-refuted teleological argument. (See here.) Seemingly unaware of Hume's earlier work, Paley wrote his Natural Theologies.. in 1802. In this work, he analogized the structure and workings of a watch to those of biological entities to argue in favor of the existence of an intelligent designer (i.e., God). Modern IDists focus on complex biological and biochemical systems and dress up their arguments in the trappings of information theory, mathematical probabilities, and arcane scientific nomenclature. Nonetheless, their basic premise remains the same - Complexity in nature could not have arisen spontaneously. Therefore, God did it. Whereas Paley addressed "natural" biological complexity in general, modern IDists focus their arguments on evolutionary processes, in particular.
Paley's argument went something like this: When we examine a watch, its very structure and operation infer that it was designed and produced by an intelligent craftsman. Similarly, by analogy, when we investigate the complexity of living organisms (which are even more complicated than a watch), we are justified in inferring that biological "machines" are likewise designed and produced by an intelligent designer. Like present day IDists, Paley, a Christian theologian, attempted to make the case (using logical fallacies such as argument from ignorance and affirming the consequence) that the intelligent designer was none other than the God of the Bible.
Hume's persuasive refutation of the "argument from design" notwithstanding, it is still worthwhile examining Paley's watch analogy to see how well it actually pertains to the evolution of living organisms. When one does so, it becomes apparent that, for the most part, it is a false analogy that is akin to comparing proverbial apples to oranges.
* First and foremost, watches do not mate with one another to produce infant watches. Since they do not mate to produce offspring and since they do not possess the equivalent of genetic material for passing on information that codes for their design, they are not subject to processes such as mutation and natural selection that drive evolution in living organisms. Since watches are not subject to the same driving forces as living organisms, they are an improper analogy for them.
* Second, living organisms have at least a limited capability for self-repair. If certain lizards loose their tails, they grow a new ones. Watches, on the other hand, have no intrinsic ability to repair themselves. Remove a gear from a watch, and it stays that way until someone fixes it. Watches are a poor analogy to living things because they completely lack the ability for self-repair.
* Third, watches are not created by supernatural agents. All watches (and all devices created by man) are manufactured by purely natural means. The watch is not a good analogy to something produced by a supernatural entity, because it is, itself, produced by a non-supernatural entity, namely man. Since the method a supernatural designer would use to practice his(her) craft and the type of product he(she) would create are pure guesswork, it is a speculative assumption that any natural entity has been produced by such an entity.
In a sense, though, watches can actually be thought of as products of evolution. The evolution of timepieces from primitive hour glasses and water clocks to modern electronic and nuclear clocks was a long, trial-and-error process fraught with many experimental setbacks. Many of the earlier designs are now extinct, so to speak, just like many animal and plant species. Watches did not appear mysteriously fully formed. They arose by a slow process of evolutionary change. In this respect the development of the watch is a suitable analog to the evolution of living organisms. For a concise and lucid deconstruction of Paley's watch argument, see here.
The ID movement today is founded on the same type of argument from ignorance that was advanced by William Paley. It is an argument that takes advantage of our current ignorance in explaining the complexities of certain biological structures and functions to plug God into the knowledge gap. Unfortunately for the IDists, science has been remarkably effective at filling such knowledge gaps with naturalistic explanations when it seriously concentrates on investigating such phenomena. The IDist approach suffers from the same fatal flaw as did Paley's. It only works so long as we remain ignorant of the causative factors of that which we are trying to explain.
The Mathematical Machinations of William Dembski
"...Dembski is a scientist like Elmer Fudd is a hunter." - Bill Holt, Letter to Editor, Courier Journal, Louisville Kentucky, 2/27/05.
Under the heading "Life Fits the Design Criterion", Mr. Knapp's linked page introduces the term "specified complexity." This term is used by William Dembski to describe (what he considers to be) a property of complex systems that prohibits them from originating from purely natural causes. It of interest that, in order to avoid too close an association with ID theology, Sarfati (the YEC author of Mr. Knapp's linked article) assiduously avoids mentioning Dembski's name in relation to this term. Although the ID tent is big, there are obviously some inside who are not altogether happy campers. While anxious to capitalize on current ID rhetoric and the publicity it generates, YECs remain leery of the IDists' cavalier attitude toward the literal truth of the Bible. As one YEC puts it in this article,
"Because most of the leaders of the intelligent design movement ... are not fully Bible-believing scientists and researchers, their primary thrust is not to convince people that the Bible is totally true from its very first verse, including its gospel message. Also, while it is difficult to judge the motives of each one, we don't see much evidence that these well-intentioned scholars are using their abilities to point people to the most important aspect of who the Creator of the universe is: that Jesus Christ is Savior. In terms of eternity, what does it really profit if a person accepts there is a Creator, but doesn't recognize that He is foremost Christ the Redeemer (Colossians chapter 1)?"
One particularly troublesome issue for the YECs has to do with the IDists' acceptance of a several billion-year-old earth. As the following excerpt from this article indicates, it is an issue that causes great gnashing of the teeth amongst the true believers.
"However, believers should not again be lulled into a false sense of security. Assume the IDM [intelligent design movement] succeeds, and the establishment does come to believe in some god-like ‘intelligent force’ which manipulated billions of years of death and suffering. Would that not highlight for people just how far removed such a deity would be from the holy God of the Bible, and how the Bible’s account of the origin of (and solution for) human sin must indeed be flawed?
So, although the YECs and IDists are united in opposition to their common enemy, The Scourge Of Evolution, the YECs would just as soon keep their ID tentmates at arms length, or greater. This disparate band of evolution bashers may be sharing the same tent, but don't expect the true believers to cozy up to the "not fully Bible-believing scientists and researchers" any time soon. The YECs would like to have it both ways - ride coattails of the IDists' intelligent design arguments and still remain true to their fundamentalist biblical principles. And the IDists would like to do the same - renounce the Dark Ages arguments favoring a few-thousand-year-old earth and still cram as many Darwin doubters (including YECs) into their tent as they can. Neither side seems to appreciate how such a contrived marriage of convenience undermines their own integrity and credibility.
William Dembski has degrees in mathematics, philosophy, and theology. He is just the kind of guy the neo-creationists have been looking for. Since the oft-refuted and oft-ridiculed nonsense espoused by the YEC contingent has become a political liability for the creationist movement, the new players on the block are in the market for something more esoteric and less-prone to facile refutation. With his penchant for disguising "multiple errors, fallacious concepts, and inconsistencies" in abstruse and often mind-numbing mathematical language that is incomprehensible to the layman, this "stubborn purveyor of half-baked ideas" is the answer to the neo-creationists prayers. (See here for the source of the quoted material.) While his fellow IDists (few of whom have the mathematical expertise to properly criticize his work) fall all over themselves heaping praise on his "revolutionary work," luminaries in the information science community (including Rich Baldwin, Eli Chiprout, Taner Edis, Ellery Eels, Branden Fitelson, Philip Kitcher, Peter Milne, Mark Perakh, Massimo Pigliucci, Del Ratzsch, Jeff Shallit, Niall Shanks, Jordan H. Sobel, Jason Rosenhouse, Christopher Stephenson, Richard Wein, and Matt Young) have had a field day shooting holes in his poorly-argued and ill-conceived concepts. It is far beyond the scope of this article (and my mathematical abilities) to critically review Dembski's newly-embellished design arguments. (Those who are interested in more detailed refutations of his work can find them here and here.) Nonetheless, it is informative to look at some of his basics ideas to see how well they stand up under closer scrutiny.
God in the Filtrate
"Specified complexity" is a term Dembski uses to describe a property of systems that are (in his opinion) incapable of having been produced by natural causation. In order to determine if something has specified complexity, he proposes the use of an "explanatory filter." (See here for a description of this filter.) In applying this filter, if something does not meet the criteria for having been caused by necessity/regularity/law or chance, it has specified complexity and must have been caused by an intelligent designer (better known as God). In very general, nonmathematical terms, the use of this filter involves a three-step process: 1. Determine the probability of causation by necessity. If probability is low, move on to step two, otherwise exit filter. 2. Determine the probability of causation by chance. If probability is low (according to Dembski's definition), move on to step three, otherwise exit filter. 3. If probability of causation by necessity and chance is low and the phenomenon under investigation exhibits an identifiable/recognizable pattern, it has specified complexity and was caused by an intelligent designer. Otherwise, exit the filter.
As discussed in considerable detail in the critiques listed above, there are a number of serious flaws in the design and application of this filter. To mention a few:
* It does not include other reasonable options regarding causation. For example, it doesn't consider the ability of chaotic processes to give the appearance of design. (Think fractals. See here.) Most importantly, with regard to evolution, it does not take into account the ability of mutation/natural selection to give rise to complexity naturally. Mutations provide complexity and natural selection evokes specification from the environment.
* It excludes an answer that people routinely utilize in dealing with everyday situations - "We simply do not have enough information at this time to arrive at a meaningful explanation for what might have caused it to happen." By excluding this option, Dembski's filter becomes little more than a handy device for cranking out arguments from ignorance. Just because science does not currently know the causal history of all biological phenomena in excruciating detail, it does not mean that insight will not be gained into such matters in the future. The ancient Greeks thought that lightning was caused by Zeus hurling thunderbolts. They arrived at this explanation because they attributed most natural phenomena to supernatural forces and they lacked an understanding of electricity. We no longer hold this belief because science has taught us that supernatural agents are not necessary to explain natural events and we understand that lightning is an electrical phenomenon. Dembski's filter depends on our continued ignorance of certain biological phenomena to enable him to continue fitting God into the knowledge gaps.
* While Dembski relies on the lack of detailed knowledge to rationalize his "God of the Gaps" line of argumentation, this knowledge vacuum also works to his disadvantage. Ignorance of detailed causative factors makes any attempts to calculate the probability of causation an exercise in futility. If all the pertinent elements of a system are not fully defined (including whether or not they were co-opted from elements with other functions or built upon a "scaffolding" that no longer exists), it is impossible to accurately determine the probability of the system having formed naturally. Since probability calculations play such a predominant role in Dembski's filtering process, and since, with the current state of knowledge, it is impossible to make definitive probability calculations about the assemblage of biological components in complex systems, the explanatory filter is utterly worthless for the purpose for which it was intended.
Like other creationist efforts to disprove biological evolution, Dembski's method does not present any direct, verifiable evidence to substantiate supernatural creation. Instead, it involves an indirect eliminatory process that arbitrarily assigns an intelligent designer as the default answer once he has run out of other ideas. The ability of his filter to detect intelligent design has considerably more to do with a lack of knowledge and imagination that it does with the rigorousness of his methodology. (See here for further discussion on the ineffectiveness of Dembski's explanatory filter.)
Dembski claims that one of the most important attributes of his filter is that is does not produce false positives. However, as seen here, here, and here, others have found this not to be the case. In fact when God is passed through Dembski's sieve, it turns out He meets the criteria for specified complexity. (See here.) Unless Dembski is willing to acknowledge that God was created by some other presumably more-intelligent designer than Himself, he will have to admit that his filter is not as discriminating as he claims it is. To put it bluntly, Dembski's filter has enough holes in it to make a sieve jealous.
Mother Nature Serves a Free Lunch
Dembski has misused the so-called "No Free Lunch Theorems" (NFLT) in an effort to prove that mutation/natural selection cannot create the kind of complexity that is observed in living organisms In this book on the subject (No Free Lunch – Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased Without Intelligence) he tried to make the case that biological evolution is impossible because it violates the NFLT. Suffice it to say that a good many prominent mathematicians in the field (including those who originated the theorems) have identified serious deficiencies in his treatment of the subject. A number of critiques by reputable mathematicians, philosophers, and scientists have been written in response to Dembski's book. From what I can decipher from the numerous, and often rather esoteric, discussions on this subject, Dembski is making the claim that the NFLT prove that genetic algorithms are not applicable to the real life situation. He claims that the genetic algorithm systems, such as Avida and Tierra, that evolutionists use to demonstrate and model the transforming power of mutation/natural selection are pre-loaded to deliver the desired outcome and are, therefore, improper devices for modeling biological processes. More importantly, he incorrectly argues that Darwinian evolution, which employs the same type of algorithmic processes, is also forbidden by the NFLT.
In layman's (and greatly abbreviated) terms, the NFLT deal with the ability of algorithms (recursive computational procedures) to solve problems in a certain number of steps. These theorems establish the unintuitive finding that the performance (averaged over all possible fitness landscapes) of evolutionary algorithms is no better than that achieved by random sampling. A "fitness landscape", in this context, refers to mathematical method for visualizing sets of all possible genotypes and their related fitness (replication rate) values. Evolutionary fitness landscapes are often thought of as ranges of mountains in which populations climb the peaks to achieve higher fitness values. (See here.) As discussed by Mark Perakh, Dembski incorrectly interprets the NFLT to mean that evolutionary algorithms cannot outperform random sampling. (See here.) Perakh explains why Dembski's interpretation is erroneous as follows:
"What is true, though, is that the NFL theorems, while perfectly applicable to all kinds of algorithms including the Darwinian evolutionary algorithms (with a possible exception for co-evolution), contrary to Dembski’s assertions, do not in any way prohibit Darwinian evolution. The NFL theorems do not at all prevent evolutionary algorithms from outperforming a random sampling (or blind search) because these theorems are about performance averaged over all possible fitness functions. They say nothing about performance of different algorithms on specific fitness landscapes. In real-life situations, it is the performance on a specific landscape that counts and this is where evolutionary algorithms routinely outperform random searches and do so very efficiently, both when the processes are targeted (as in Dawkins’s algorithm –see Dawkins 1996 ) and when they are non-targeted (as Darwinian evolution is)."
Furthermore, as David Wolpert, one of the originators of the NFLT has stated, these theorems are clearly not applicable to co-evolutionary processes such as those involving predator vs. prey relationships. (See here.) If an originator of the theorems does not find that they prohibit biological evolution, then why should anyone pay any attention to Dembski when he claims that they do?
The rather recently discovered problem-solving success of genetic algorithms has become a source of consternation among creationists of all stripes. These algorithms, which are based on evolutionary principles that utilize functions simulating replication, mutation, and selection, have been used to solve a number of problems that were once considered virtually intractable. They are now used to investigate everything from difficult scheduling problems to such things as the design of aircraft, water distribution systems, and telecommunications networks. (See here, here, and here.) While forced to finally admit that these evolution-mimicking algorithms are useful for developing what they call "small-scale enhancements," creationists now resort to the argument that they are still incapable of turning out the type of large-scale innovations that equate to biological evolution on the macro scale. However, as Adam Marczyk explains in this article, genetic algorithms are fully capable of devising complex, multi-faceted solutions that are analogous to those that occur in so-called macro-evolutionary processes. In a discussion on the use of a genetic algorithm to solve a problem involving electrical circuitry, Marczyk says:
"But surely, a creationist would argue, to arrive at this same final state from a completely random initial arrangement of components would be "macroevolution" and beyond the reach of an evolutionary process. However, genetic algorithms were able to accomplish both, evolving the system from a random arrangement to the near-perfect solution and finally to the perfect, optimal solution. At no step of the way did an insoluble difficulty or a gap that could not be bridged turn up. At no point whatsoever was human intervention required to assemble an irreducibly complex core of components (despite the fact that the finished product does contain such a thing) or to "guide" the evolving system over a difficult peak. The circuit evolved, without any intelligent guidance, from a completely random and non-functional state to a tightly complex, efficient and optimal state. How can this not be a compelling experimental demonstration of the power of evolution?"
No wonder IDists like Dembski are in such a state of denial about genetic algorithms. The fact that evolution-mimicking algorithms can produce results that are analogous to macro-evolutionary changes is something that IDists simply cannot countenance. Nonetheless, the evidence shows that Mother Nature, working with nothing but naturalistic, evolutionary processes, is fully capable of serving a free lunch when given enough time in the kitchen.
Delusions of Grandeur
Dembski's pseudo-mathematical assaults on evolutionary theory are such tempting targets for refutation that something of a cottage industry has grown up among information and biological scientists writing critiques of his work. Several such critiques appear in the Sep.-Dec. 2003 issue of the "Reports of the National Center for Science and Education." In that issue, Jeffery Shallit (p. 35) provides examples which demonstrate that Dembski's publications suffer from mathematical difficulties, grandiose claims, equivocation, poor writing, misrepresentation of the facts, and poor scholarship. As Mark Perakh puts it in his review of Dembski's No Free Lunch – Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased Without Intelligence (D-NFL):
"In fact, confusing statements, contradictory definitions, and even elementary errors as well as unnecessary mathematical exercises, abound in this book. A substantial portion of D-NFL simply reiterates, often verbatim, Dembski's earlier publications, although many critics have demonstrated the multitude of weaknesses in Dembski's position. On the other hand, there are some new elements in this new book compared with Dembski's earlier books and papers. Unfortunately, these new elements are mostly characterized by the same penchant for using self-coined terms, pretentious claims of important insights or discoveries without a proper substantiation, and too-obvious a subordination of the discourse to preconceived beliefs."
And, as Richard Wein concludes in his review of the same book (See here.):
"No Free Lunch is characterized by muddled thinking, fallacious arguments, errors, equivocation and misleading use of technical jargon."
"In short, No Free Lunch is completely worthless, except as a work of pseudoscientific rhetoric aimed at a mathematically unsophisticated audience which may mistake its mathematical mumbo jumbo for genuine erudition."
"No Free Lunch consists of a collection of tired old antievolutionist arguments: god-of-the-gaps, irreducible complexity, tornado in a junkyard, and cosmological fine-tuning. Dembski attempts to give these old arguments a new lease of life by concealing them behind veils of confusing terminology and unnecessary mathematical notation. The standard of scholarship is abysmally low, and the book is best regarded as pseudoscientific rhetoric aimed at an unwary public which may mistake Dembski's mathematical mumbo jumbo for academic erudition."
Dembski's fawning admirers in the ID movement (as well as his YEC groupies) adulate him as the modern-day equivalent of Isaac Newton. Experts in information science who understand the mathematical principles that underlie his ill-founded claims, consider him to be little more than a self-aggrandizing huckster of numerical nonsense (See here).
Michael Behe's Bogus Challenge to Evolution
Irreducible Complexity for Dummies
In the section of his article entitled, the "Machinery of Living Things", Sarfati brings up the subject of "irreducible complexity." IDist Michael Behe first introduced this term in his book, Darwin's Black Box: the Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. Behe has become such a hero to the creationist set that Sarfati could apparently not resist the urge to grace his article with Behe's name. Of course Sarfati does not tell his readers that Behe is an advocate of a several billion-year-old earth and that he accepts the evolutionary concept of common descent, including the evolution of man from an ape-like ancestor. If YECs consider Behe to have such amazing insight into the problems with evolution, one wonders how they can so blithely ignore the fact that his position on fundamental issues pertinent to the evolution/creation controversy stands in such stark contradiction to their own. For many YECs, it appears their experts are experts only in those specific instances when they say something that can be useful to the creationist cause. Sarfati's inclusion of Behe's work in his article is a good example of YECs succumbing to the temptation to hitch a ride on the ID publicity bandwagon while ignoring the fact that it is headed in a direction they really do not want to go.
In his book, Behe defined the term "irreducible complexity" as follows:
"By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning." [Behe uses a mousetrap as his example of such a system.]
Simply put, Behe's anti-evolution challenge rests on the following premise: If a biological system is irreducibly complex, it cannot have evolved by natural means; and must, therefore, have been created by an intelligent designer (a.k.a. God). Evolution cannot produce such systems, according to Behe, because an irreducibly complex system "cannot be produced directly . . . by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional." As examples of such systems, Behe discusses bacterial flagella/cilia, blood-clotting cascades, protein transport, immune systems, and metabolic pathways.
The astute reader will recognize Behe's treatment of the subject as nothing more than a modern twist on Paley's argument from design, where he now dons a lab coat to focus on biochemical pathways and biological micro-structures rather than on the big picture of complete organisms. As has been the case with Dembski's problematic work, mainstream scientists have had an easy time pointing out the blatant errors and fuzzy thinking in Behe's approach to the subject. A number of critiques of Behe's ill-conceived challenge can be found here and here.
Not Quite so Irreducible After all
Behe's challenge to evolution fails, in large part, because it is based on lack of familiarity with the available scientific literature and because it does not take into consideration plausible natural pathways for generating irreducible complexity. Notwithstanding Behe's contention that irreducibly complex systems cannot be produced by evolution, reasonable scenarios have been developed for all the examples he spoke of in his book. (See discussions on blood-clotting cascades here and here, immune systems here and here, and protein transport and metabolic pathways here. The flagella/cilia system has become something of a poster child for the ID crowd. See here and here for a discussion of a proposed mechanisms for the evolution of these structures.) Much of this information was available before Behe wrote his book. The fact that he was apparently not familiar with much of it says a great deal about the lack of rigor in his research into the subject.
So, how do evolutionary scientists explain the generation of irreducible complexity by natural processes? One explanation involves the concept of scaffolding. A stone arch serves as an example of an irreducibly complex system constructed using this process. A completed stone arch meets Behe's definition of irreducible complexity because all elements are dependent on one another and removal of even one component causes the entire structure to fail. Stone arches are commonly constructed by first erecting a supporting scaffolding on which the stones are placed. After the arch is in place, the scaffolding can then be removed and the arch becomes a self-supporting, irreducibly complex system. Similarly, there is evidence that irreducibly complex biochemical pathways can be formed in the same manner. Such pathways are what remain after previously required supporting functions are removed by evolution because they are no longer necessary for proper operation of the system.
In his review of Behe's book (See here.), Jerry Coyne addresses the subject from a somewhat different perspective as follows:
"The answer to Behe's argument lies in realizing that biochemical pathways did not evolve by the sequential addition of steps to pathways that became functional only at the end. Instead, they have been rigged up with pieces co-opted from other pathways, duplicated genes and early multifunctional enzymes. Thrombin, for example, is one of the key proteins in blood- clotting, but also acts in cell division, and is related to the digestive enzyme trypsin. Who knows which function came first? Behe makes a few half-hearted attempts to build up such pathways, but quickly abandons the enterprise and cries 'design'."
Other commentary on the production of irreducible complexity by evolutionary processes is presented here by Allen Orr. As Orr explains:
"An irreducibly complex system can be built gradually by adding parts that, while initially just advantageous, become-because of later changes-essential. The logic is very simple. Some part (A) initially does some job (and not very well, perhaps). Another part (B) later gets added because it helps A. This new part isn't essential, it merely improves things. But later on, A (or something else) may change in such a way that B now becomes indispensable. This process continues as further parts get folded into the system. And at the end of the day, many parts may all be required."
"I'm afraid there's no room for compromise here: Behe's key claim that all the components of an irreducibly complex system "have to be there from the beginning" is dead wrong."
The question might then arise, "Where does the new part (B) come from in this scheme of things?" As Orr explains in relation to the work of Nobel Laureate, H.J. Muller:
"Molecular evolutionists have shown that some genes are duplications of others. In other words, at some point in time an extra copy of a gene got made. The copy wasn't essential-the organism obviously got along fine without it. But through time this copy changed, picking up a new, and often related, function. After further evolution, this duplicate gene will have become essential. (We're loaded with duplicate genes that are required: myoglobin, for instance, which carries oxygen in muscles, is related to hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in blood. Both are now necessary.) The story of gene duplication-which can be found in every evolution text-is just a special case of Muller's theory. But it's an immensely important case: it explains how new genes arise and, thus, ultimately, how biochemical pathways get built."
And where does Behe think all these new genetic functions come from? Why, from his intelligent designer, of course. As ludicrous as it may seem, Behe even speculates that ALL such genetic potential was miraculously stuffed into the first Primal Cell. Apparently, Behe's designer obliterates or turns on specific genes to bring about purposeful changes as he sees fit. The problem with this desperate attempt to squeeze God into the knowledge gap is summarized by Orr as follows:
"Although some genes do get killed or silenced over time (producing non-functional "pseudogenes"), how come we only carry pseudogenes that are wrecked copies of our real genes? In other words, why don't I carry pseudogenes for chlorophyll or flower structure? Why don't azaleas carry pseudogenes for brain cells? Behe's it-was-all-there-from-day-one hypothesis is flatly falsified by this and every other known pattern in molecular evolution." [Not to mention the plethora of mutations that would have accumulated in inactive genes during those billions of years of quiescence.]
Moving the Goalposts
Faced with the realization that rational, evidentially-supported, scientifically-sound explanations have been developed for the evolution of irreducibly complex biological systems, Behe has now been forced to admit that - "Demonstration that a system is irreducibly complex is not a proof that there is absolutely no gradual route to its production." [Emphasis mine.] (From Michael Behe(2001): Darwin's Breakdown: Irreducible Complexity and Design at the Foundation of Life, p94 in: Signs of Intelligence.) While such a concession is long overdue, it effectively destroys any claim that his work has any scientific legitimacy. Now he has effectively insulated his "theory" from falsification - an essential element of the scientific method. In keeping with his original premise, an irreducibly complex biological system is incapable of being produced by gradual, step-by-step, evolutionary processes. Now, according to his latest revelation, if it is later discovered that the development of such a system can be explained in evolutionary terms, IDists can simply stipulate that their design detector did not apply to that particular system. How convenient for them. Whenever it can be shown their design detector has given a false reading, they can claim it never was meant to apply to that situation in the first place. Very clever on their part, but also very unscientific.
Again, we are treated to the traditional creationist argument from ignorance where Behe's supernatural intervention detector functions properly only in those situations where our knowledge is currently incomplete. Just as soon as those knowledge gaps are filled, Behe's side punts and the intelligent designer is sent to the showers while the goalposts are moved on to another area of the irreducible complexity playing field for which all the pertinent details have not been worked out. Then the intelligent designer is trotted back out on the field until the next round of evidence gathering is complete. Needless to say, this self-serving "God of the Gaps" approach has not met with unanimous acceptance within the scientific community. Jerry Coyne sums up the situation follows:
"His argument, however, is a recycled version of the creationist notion that 'complex design' implies an intelligent designer. But where William Paley illustrated this logic with a watch, Behe uses biochemistry. His intended audience of lay readers may be impressed by the elaborate descriptions of molecular biology and long lists of references, but Behe's 'scientific' alternative to evolution ultimately becomes a confusing and untestable farrago of contradictory ideas. "
While claiming that evolution is not a significant source of "irreducible complexity" in nature, Behe has been less forthcoming in explaining how he thinks most of it came about. Finally, when pressed on the issue, he gave the following answer, "In a puff of smoke." (See here.) In other words, he contends it has been poofed into existence by a series of miracles. During testimony in the 2005 Dover, Pennsylvania school board trial, Behe argued that a scientific theory should be more loosely defined to encompass ID. His revamped definition of a scientific theory was more along the lines of a speculative hypothesis that is not yet firmly substantiated by hard evidence. When asked if his concept of a scientific theory would include astrology, he answered in the affirmative. (See here.) With mechanisms involving puffs of smoke and verification equivalent to that of junk science like astrology, is it any wonder that mainstream science has firmly rejected ID claims of scientific legitimacy?
Never one to suffer from an
inferiority complex, Behe proclaims that his
discovery of the concept of irreducible
complexity is "so significant that it must be ranked as one of the greatest
achievements in the history of science," rivaling "those of Newton and
Einstein, Lavoisier and Schrodinger, Pasteur, and Darwin." Like his
fellow IDist William Dembski, Behe revels in tooting his own horn and boasting
about how momentous his scientific discovery is and what a paradigm shift it
represents for science. If their discoveries
earth-shaking, one wonders why they are so regularly trashed and rarely mentioned in the mainstream scientific
literature. (See item 8 here
Behe amply demonstrated his incompetence in his first book. As if that wasn't
damaging enough, he subsequently wrote another one,
"The Edge of Evolution: The Search
for the Limits of Darwinism," in which he dug himself into an even deeper
hole. For a scathing review of his most recent abortive attempt to make
himself famous, instead of infamous, see
Whoever Said a Cell is Simple?
In the section, "A Simple Cell?", Sarfati argues that "the production of even the simplest cell is beyond the reach of undirected chemical reactions." There is an element of truth to this statement. Direct, instantaneous production of even the simplest cell is most likely not possible by purely natural means. Nonetheless, there are two caveats to consider when evaluating Sarfati's statement. First, scientists who study the origin of life do not claim that it began with a fully- formed cell. Instead, the evidence suggests that life began with primitive replicators that were much less complicated than a complete cell. Second, evolution does not concern itself with the origin of the first replicators. Evolution only deals with the development of life after the first replicators came into existence. The method of origin of the first replicators has no bearing on the truth or falsity of the theory of evolution. Nonetheless, for insight on the mainstream science approach to studying the origin of the first life form(s), see here.
To support the notion that the cell is very complex (something with which mainstream scientists are in full agreement), Sarfati quotes from former Michael Denton's early book, Evolution, a Theory in Crisis. Sarfati characterizes Denton as "a non-creationist skeptic of Darwinian evolution." While Denton may no longer meet Sarfati's defintion of a card-carrying creationist, there was a time when YECs eagerly quoted his anti-evolution arguments and claimed that he spoke eloquently for their cause. So, what happened to cause them to now demote him to a mere "non-creationist skeptic"? Well, it seems Denton has taken a good hard look at the evidence and decided that his former uncompromising opposition to evolution can no longer be justified. As stated in his new book, Nature's Destiny:
"...it is important to emphasize at the outset that the argument presented here is entirely consistent with the basic naturalistic assumption of modern science - that the cosmos is a seamless unity which can be comprehended ultimately in its entirety by human reason and in which all phenomena, including life and evolution and the origin of man, are ultimately explicable in terms of natural processes. This is an assumption which is entirely opposed to that of the so-called "special creationist school". According to special creationism, living organisms are not natural forms, whose origin and design were built into the laws of nature from the beginning, but rather contingent forms analogous in essence to human artifacts, the result of a series of supernatural acts, involving the suspension of natural law. Contrary to the creationist position, the whole argument presented here is critically dependent on the presumption of the unbroken continuity of the organic world - that is, on the reality of organic evolution and on the presumption that all living organisms on earth are natural forms in the profoundest sense of the word, no less natural than salt crystals, atoms, waterfalls, or galaxies." (page xvii-xviii).
How Sarfati can characterize someone who maintains that "all phenomena, including life and evolution and the origin of man, are ultimately explicable in terms of natural processes" is a skeptic of Darwinian evolution is not readily apparent. Such a characterization is analogous to calling someone who voluntarily eats only vegetables, and eschews meat, a skeptic of vegetarianism. It just goes to show to what lengths creationists will go to artificially inflate the ranks of anti-evolutionists.
It is no wonder, however, that YECs are backing off from their uncritical acceptance of Denton's every word. He has now joined the ranks of those misguided "not fully Bible-believing scientists" of questionable veracity. Again, we see an example here of the YECs holding someone up as an expert, despite the fact the individual holds views that are in direct contradiction to their own fundamental beliefs. And again, it appears their experts are only experts when they say something YECs can use to their advantage. It is reassuring, however, to see that a once staunch opponent of evolution like Denton can objectively evaluate the evidence and not let his religious predilections stand in the way of his eventual acceptance of evolutionary theory.
The Creationists' Reoccurring Nightmare
In the section, "Can Mutations Generate Information?", Sarfati repeats the creationist mantra that natural evolutionary processes are not capable of introducing new information and complexity into biological systems. For a refutation of this vacuous claim, see here. The work reported by Lenski et. al. (See here.) is of particular interest in that it employs a genetic algorithm approach that consistently produces evolutionary effects (including increased information and complexity) that Dembski and other IDists claim are impossible using Darwinian evolution-based computer programs. It is this kind of study that keeps creationists up at night concocting fanciful and ever-changing definitions of information in a vain effort to exclude it from the creative influence of evolutionary processes.
In the section, "Would any Evidence Convince Evolutionists?", Sarfati demonstrates the use of another popular creationist tactic. He cites an out-of-date quotation from J.B.S. Haldane who, in 1949, posited that the discovery of such things as rotors and magnets in living organisms would cast doubt on the theory of evolution. Considering that such things have now been discovered in biological systems, Sarfati asks, "I wonder whether Haldane would have had a change of heart if he had been alive to see these discoveries." Most likely Haldane would have come to the realization that such structures do not compromise the validity of the theory of evolution. That's what scientists do. They evaluate new evidence and modify or abandon former ideas to bring them into agreement with that new evidence. Lord Kelvin maintained that, based on the cooling rate of the earth, it could be no more than millions of years old. If he had been privy to the information that we have now (that, among other things, natural radiation produces heat within the earth) he would have most likely come to the agreement that the earth could actually several billions of years old. Scientists change their minds in light of new information - that's one of the reasons why science is such an effective engine for promoting invention and discovery. Certainly evolutionists would re-evaluate their opposition to creationism if substantive, verifiable evidence were ever presented in its favor. The fact the no such evidence has ever been offered by creationists renders Sarfati's question to be of theoretical interest only.
Sarfati's insinuation that evolutionists are incapable of changing their minds is a clear cut case of the pot calling the kettle black. Considering the recalcitrance of YECs in the face of science libraries full of evidence in support of evolution (See here and here for some examples.), it is obvious that there is little or nothing that could persuade them to seriously question their uncompromising belief in a creation story that is grounded in a literal interpretation of Genesis. They are religion-bound to avoid seriously evaluating any alternatives that have the potential to destroy their delusions of absolute certainty. Would just any old evidence convince evolutionists simply because it could be manipulated to strengthen the case for evolution? No, it would not. Only scientifically valid evidence convinces evolutionists. That's one of the things that differentiates them from creationists.
"Any scientist knows that future discoveries may alter today's best working hypotheses, and that those hypotheses must be cast away as a better one enters the arena. The "final truth" is like the North Star: it is an ideal by which we navigate; it is not a destination we imagine we can ever reach. Thinking at any point that we have certain knowledge only tends to choke off the progress of research." - Robert M. Price
The Other, Seamier Side of Design
In the section, "Other Marvels of Design", Sarfati lists examples of biological entities that exhibit the qualities of irreducible complexity and specified complexity. However, as has been discussed above, just because something exhibits these properties, it does not mean that such a thing could not have been produced by purely natural means. Nor do the presence of these qualities provide any compelling reason to think that an intelligent designer must have been involved in their development. It is reasonable to assume, nonetheless, that if a skilled and competent intelligent designer has been involved in the creation of living organisms, the designs would be highly efficient, free from basic design flaws, and optimized for their intended uses. Yet as we see here, nature is replete with numerous examples of what can only be described as substandard designs. It is not unexpected that these types of suboptimal designs would be the end product of evolutionary processes. Evolution does not produce optimal design or near perfect feats of engineering. It is primarily involved in bringing about subtle changes that are geared toward improving reproductive fitness - often by jury-rigging existing parts and cobbling them together. (See here.) Unlike an intelligent designer, evolution cannot instantly fabricate an ideal component on the spot and insert it in place of an existing one. Instead, it is constrained by the limitation to only gradually modify pre-existing components to improve upon their performance or to co-opt them for new uses. Evolution is stuck with slowly remodeling what already exists so that organisms can better adapt to the environment. An intelligent designer (especially if it were God) would not be encumbered by the restriction to only fiddle around with pre-existing components. Such a designer would not be expected to settle for second best. It would be expected to do the very best that it could. The fact that many biological designs are far from being the best that they could be suggests that either there is not an intelligent designer at work, or that, if such an entity is at work, its intelligence and/or competency are greatly overrated.
While Sarfati oohs and ahs over awe-inspiring biological marvels, he neglects to mention the other, seamier side of nature. Why, for example, would a compassionate intelligent designer go to the effort of creating bubonic plague organisms and parasites that eat out the eyes of their victims? As discussed in a satirical manner in "Organisms That Look Designed" (Search Google for the cached version.) and here, nature is crawling with organisms that are worse than monsters out of a horror movie. They are the kind of diabolical creatures that only a sadist would take pleasure in designing and bringing into existence. If an intelligent designer is responsible for the existence of these loathsome beasts, it would also appear to have a rather morbid sense of humor.
Why the Design Hypothesis is Unscientific
In the section entitled, "Why Should Design be ‘Unscientific’?", Sarfati parrots Phillip Johnson in accusing evolutionists of turning "science into a materialistic ‘game'" with the result that "creation/design is excluded by their self-serving rules." The rule of science that gets the creationists most riled up is the one that specifies that, in order to produce useful results, science is restricted to the investigation of phenomena that are governed by natural laws that produce consistent, reproducible, and predictable results. Furthermore, it can only investigate effects that can be detected and measured by chemical and/or physical means. Intuitions, wishful thinking, and philosophical musings do not count as confirmative results in science.
While capricious supernatural entities such as gremlins, fairies, gods, and ghosts may be thought of as causative factors in children's books and religious narratives, they are not legitimate causative agents in science. Although creationists attempt to portray scientists who accept evolution as being the only kind of scientists that insists on playing by this rule, the truth is, all legitimate scientists abide by this fundamental tenet of the scientific method. Creationism in its various forms is not an isolated attack on evolution, it is broad assault on all of science. (I have repeatedly asked creationists to name even one established scientific theory that invokes supernatural forces as part of its explanatory process. It is no surprise that they cannot come up with a single example.) YECs and IDists detest this rule because incorporating their otherworldly creator/designer into their "theories" (as they are wont to do on a routine basis) excludes those "theories" from being considered as acceptable scientific explanations. Design "theories" are unscientific because they break the rules for doing legitimate science. They not only try to improperly sneak in supernatural causes, they also lack testability of their basic claims and fail to make useful predictions. (See here for further confirmation of the unscientific nature of the design argument.)
Creationists have attempted to circumvent this hurdle by pretending that there are two kinds of science. One kind (operational science) they say must play by the rule excluding supernatural explanations. The other kind (origins science), according to them, is not bound by this restriction. For a critical appraisal of this ad hoc attempt to do an end run around the basic tenets of the scientific method, see here.
Sarfati makes a fuss about the fact that mainstream scientists claim that the "basic proposals of creation science are not subject to test and verification" and then they argue that, when creationists claims have been investigated, they are scientifically unsupportable. Accusing mainstream scientists of playing word games, he asks, "So how could its proposals have been examined (tested!) if they are not subject to test?" In reality it is Sarfati who is playing word games here. Certainly science can investigate the validity of specific claims made by creationists about such things as the fossil record, age of the earth, etc. And when this has been done, those claims have consistently been found to be scientifically invalid. The fact remains that the creationists' "basic proposals" (i.e., that some kind of supernatural agent has miraculously intervened to cause things to look the way they do) are not subject to scientific test and verification. It is impossible to test the activities of a supernatural agent scientifically because science is only equipped to deal with phenomena that produce quantifiable, consistent, and predictable results. The creationists' "basic proposals" are matters of faith - belief that exists independent of substantive evidential support. While the design explanation may be appropriate as religious or philosophical speculation, it fails miserably as a genuine scientific hypothesis.
The catchall hypothesis ID offers for general public consumption (i.e., Some unidentified super-intelligent, super-creative entity designed and manufactured the basic life forms and various complex biological systems.) is purposefully evasive about who the designer is and how he/she/it operates. Since their mysterious know-it-all, do-it-all designer would presumably be capable of working outside the bounds of the natural laws of science, it would be impossible to predict, with any certainty, what creative route he/she/it might take in a particular situation. A hypothesis without predictive power is not a scientific one. Even if the IDists were forthright and admitted that, when they speak of an intelligent designer they really mean God, their hypothesis would still lack predictive power. I think it is safe to assume that not even IDists would dare to claim to be able to read the mind of God. Furthermore, not only does ID lack meaningful predictive power, it also fails to delineate any creative mechanisms and processes that can be subjected to experimental confirmation or disconfirmation under controlled conditions. A hypothesis without clearly defined mechanisms and processes to account for the outcomes it predicts is also not scientifically valid. On the other hand, the theory of evolution, like all other well-established scientific theories, does make useful predictions (many of which are retrospective). (See here.), and it provides testable mechanisms and processes (mutation, natural selection, genetic drift, sexual selection, etc.) - all of which have been confirmed experimentally. It's difficult to imagine how the advocates of IDism could ever devise a scheme to elucidate the miraculous methods they claim must have been used by their purposely unnamed designer to magically poof new organic structures and biochemical pathways into existence. Until they explain how to predict the behavior of their super-duper creator and describe the testable techniques he/she/it uses in the creative process, the "basic proposals" offered by ID advocates will continue to be rightfully rejected as valid science by the mainstream scientific community.
Sarfati quotes prominent IDist and philosopher of science, Stephen Meyer, as follows: "We have not yet encountered any good in principle reason to exclude design from science. Design seems just as scientific (or unscientific) as its evolutionary competitors…" One wonders who the "We" is in his statement. Obviously the IDists and their YEC admirers have not encountered this reason. Nonetheless, the fact remains that at least 95% of all scientists have. (See here.) Perhaps if Meyer were to brush up on the rules for doing science, he would stand a better chance of encountering it as well.
The Answer is "No"
"Dr. John Marburger, President Bush's chief science advisor and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, has once again clearly and publicly denounced the concept of intelligent design. Intelligent design is the neo-creationist critic of evolution. As reported in a recent issue of The American Prospect, Dr. Marburger made the statement in response to audience questions following an address at the National Association of Science Writers meeting. Dr. Marburger has preciously defended the scientific merits of evolution. In 2004 during an online discussion with readers of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Dr. Marburger noted that evolution is a cornerstone of modern biology." - from the American Institute of Biological Scientists Public Policy Report for 2/28/05
The mainstream scientific community has answered the question ("Is the design explanation legitimate?") with an unequivocal, NO - at least it is no so far as it being a legitimate scientific explanation is concerned. (If it has any legitimacy at all, it is only when it is proposed in a strictly religious/philosophical context.) The American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences are two of the most prestigious scientific organizations in the United States, if not the world. Both of these organizations, along with virtually all other mainstream scientific organizations, have made it clear that ID creationism is not an authentic scientific concept. (See here.) Furthermore, the federal judge presiding over the 2005 Dover, PA trial arrived at the same conclusion. After a six-week trial that dealt with the scientific validity of ID, Judge Jones, a Republican and a churchgoer appointed to the federal bench in 2002, concluded “overwhelming evidence” has established that intelligent design “is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory." (See here.)
In order for a hypothesis to become accepted as an established scientific theory, it must, by definition, deal with a natural phenomenon and be clearly defined in scientific terms. Then it must be rigorously tested to determine how well it explains (in naturalistic terms) the available evidence. The process takes time, and only if it survives repeated attempts to refute its explanatory power will such a hypothesis be recognized as a bona fide scientific theory worthy of possible discussion in the public school classroom.
IDists have not even accomplished the first step. They have, thus far, failed to develop a coherent scientific hypothesis that can be evaluated using conventional scientific methodologies. (The IDists' God-did-it explanations are not amenable to scientific verification.) Having failed in that endeavor, they are now attempting to bypass the scientific process altogether. IDists do not bother with the usual slow and tedious process of earning scientific credibility in the accepted manner. Instead, they make a beeline directly to the local school boards where they mesmerize the scientifically challenged board members with beguiling rhetoric that panders to their religious sensibilities. It is a sad commentary that science education in this country is now often shaped more by religious apologists hawking God-of-the-Gaps pseudoscience than it is by mainstream scientists who advocate well-established scientific theories.
Succinctly stated, IDists make the following claims and demands: (1) we consider ourselves to be pretty sharp, but we can't figure out how life, different species, and certain complicated biological structures and systems could have developed naturally, (2) therefore, we believe some super intelligence must have created them in one fell swoop (or several fell swoops), (3) we don't know or care who/what that super intelligent entity might be (wink, wink; we really know and care, but we aren't letting the cat out of the bag for legal reasons), (4) we don't know what methods the intelligent designer used to create life, different species, and complicated structures and systems, (5) we don't know of any scientific tests that could be performed to determine what specific processes were involved, (6) we don't know how (other than using the general principle of common design) to predict (retrospectively or otherwise) what the intelligent designer might see fit to fabricate in a particular situation, (7) we don't have a scientifically rigorous method for examining the possible falsity of our "theory", (9) we do not publish original research that makes a convincing case for our "theory" in mainstream peer-reviewed scientific journals, (10) we can't offer a logical explanation consistent with our "theory" for the orderly, chronological arrangement of fossils in the geologic column that makes it look just like large-scale evolution has occurred, (See here.) and (11) we can't offer a coherent explanation that is consistent with our "theory" for the existence of certain vestigial structures and shared characteristics. (See here and here.) In spite of all these serious shortcomings, we insist that IDism be taught as a fully-developed scientific theory in the public school science classroom. And we demand this special treatment, even though, as admitted by one of our staunch advocates, ID has failed to produce a "full-fledged" theory and consists of little more than "intuitions" and "notions."
"Easily the biggest challenge facing the ID community is to develop a full-fledged theory of biological design. We don't have such a theory right now, and that's a problem. Without a theory, it's very hard to know where to direct your research focus. Right now, we've got a bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions such as 'irreducible complexity' and 'specified complexity' - but, as yet, no general theory of biological design." Paul Nelson, Fellow at the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture writing in Touchstone Magazine, 7/8 (2004).
The IDists' modus operandi and expectations can be summarized as follows: In order to achieve our goal, we will bypass the normal procedures for attaining scientific credibility and authentication for our "theory." Instead, we will appeal directly to the lay public and school board members, most of whom could not differentiate a genuine scientific theory from our vacuous pseudoscientific rhetoric if their lives depended on it. We will use highfalutin terminology, arcane language, and philosophical doubletalk to sucker the scientifically illiterate public into thinking we are actually making a substantive, scientifically-valid argument. We will crank out numerous books, pamphlets, and websites in which we promote our "theory" and shamelessly praise ourselves for our brilliance. (Nonetheless, as alluded to above, we will stay clear of mainstream, peer-reviewed scientific journals where our "theory" would be quickly exposed for the religious/political/philosophical pseudoscience that it is.) In public discourse, we will assiduously avoid identifying our intelligent designer as God - even though we know that is the case and readily acknowledge so in discussions among ourselves. We will promote the lie that the acceptance of evolution is synonymous with atheism so as to demonize those who defend the evolutionary sciences and take advantage of the religious sensibilities of the lay public. Once our "theory" is incorporated into the public school curriculum under the guise of legitimate science, we will use it as leverage to gradually phase out traditional science and replace it with our magical brand of thinking. We will then sit back and wait for the emergence of a utopian society in which the evil influences of the theory of evolution (and naturalistic science in general) will give way to pure thoughts that can only emanate from those cleansed of the scourge of critical thinking.
In truth, ID is an argument from ignorance that conceals its true motives and identity behind a haze of scientific and mathematical doubletalk. It thrives on a lack of knowledge and, by its very application, stifles any effort to acquire the knowledge necessary to falsify it. The supernatural underpinnings of ID render it scientifically untestable and nonfalsifiable, and prevent it from making meaningful predictions. The ID movement is a thinly-veiled religious/political crusade intent on replacing conventional science in the public school classroom with a regressive brand of faith-based pseudoscience. Fortunately, the vast majority of scientists are not fooled by IDist rhetoric and are staunchly opposed to allowing the DI too achieve its not-so-well hidden agenda. (See here and here.)
For a good summary article on history and the true motives of the ID movement, see here. For a terse, yet perspicacious, description of IDism that captures its true essence, see here. For a quick lesson on the essentials of IDism, see here.
"In the final analysis, as the claims of intelligent design fall by the wayside, its advocates are left with a single, remaining tool with which to battle against the rising tide of scientific evidence. That tool may be effective in some circles, of course, but the scientific community will be quick to recognize it for what it really is – the classic argument from ignorance, dressed up in the shiny cloth of biochemistry and information theory." From The Flagellum Unspun, the Collapse of "Irreducible Complexity" by Kenneth Miller