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Archive for the ‘Intelligent Design’ Category

There’s a new article/interview up at the Vancouver Sun about the producer of Expelled (“No Apologies Allowed: Producer defends anti-Darwin movie”), and the second comment on the story jumped out at me:

By the second sentence, I was already smelling a liar. Then he goes into the 46/48 chromosome argument. (As if that hasn’t already been answered. Further, how can I possibly believe that he works in a genetics lab and doesn’t know this?) Then, it occurred to me that this post was a microcosm of the Expelled Movie: (1) Pretending to be an expert, (2) falsely claiming persecution for ideas, (3) drawing comparisons to Nazi Germany, (4) trying to stir-up anger, (5) using bad information to argue that “science can’t explain it”. I also liked the weird contradiction: “Everyone’s on the same bandwagon … half of my lab probably thinks about Intelligent Design”.

At least several people call him on his deceptive game.

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Over the past month, I’ve had the unfortunate experience of discovering what bedbugs are like. These little bugs hide near your mattress and come out at night to suck your blood. They look a little like ticks (but they aren’t closely related to ticks at all). They have a hypodermic-needle like proboscis, and when they suck your blood, they inject their saliva into your body. Their saliva contains both anticoagulants (to keep your blood flowing) and anesthetics (so you don’t realize you’re being bitten). Within a few hours, those bites develop into itchy red welts. You want to scratch at them so badly, but if you do, they become even more itchy. Those bites persist for around a week. To make matters worse, the bedbugs tend to bite, move a few inches, and then repeat. So, you end up with three or four bites in one night from a single bedbug. And, if the bites weren’t bad enough, you have this anxiety about falling asleep, and think that any tiny movement on your skin might be a bedbug. Even on nights where I wasn’t bitten at all, I’d wake up tired because I would wake-up during the night and have trouble falling back to sleep for fear of getting new painful bites. And, because the itchy bites persist for around a week, I sometimes wake myself up at night while I scratch old bites.

Once you have a breeding pair of bedbugs, they multiply like rabbits – essentially, turning your own blood into painful parasites who feed on you. They’ve also been evolving a resistance to pesticides, and can survive (dormant) for 18 months without feeding.

They are evil, vile little creatures.

Fortunately, I might have only a single bedbug. I caught one a few days ago, and the bite patterns seem to indicate that I only had a single bedbug. It’s amazing how much pain and sleeplessness a single bedbug can inflict. I feel really bad for anyone who has a bedbug infestation. I can’t imagine how awful it would be to have a colony of them. (Coincidentally enough, a few weeks ago, This American Life had a segment where they talked to a woman who has an infestation of bedbugs. She’s too poor to move away, and too poor to actually do anything about it. An mp3 is available here.)

There are a lot of things about the world that indicate that earth is not the product of a benevolent, loving creator. And this is one of them. Personally, I think anyone who believes the ‘loving god’ hypothesis is practicing selective vision. And the characteristics of bedbugs (including anticoagulants and anesthetics) would – according to Intelligent Design advocates – require the intentional creation of a ‘designer’ – aka the loving, benevolent God of the Bible. The bug’s method of reproduction – “traumatic insemination” – which involves the male punching a hole in the carapace of the female, causing severe trauma while inseminating her – sound like something a demon would invent. But, hey, what do I know? Behe already admitted that malaria was invented by God, so why not this? If Intelligent Design was the correct explanation for life, then I think the Christians, Jews, and Muslims will have to admit that the God in their holy books isn’t the one who actually exists.

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I’ve attached a picture of the bedbug I caught. It’s about a half a centimeter long, and still alive inside a plastic bag. I’m keeping it for the exterminator, but really hate the vile creature. The picture in the upper right shows a bedbug in approximate ‘real life’ size.

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Caroline Crocker was a professor at a community college a few years ago. She taught Intelligent Design in her biology class. Subsequently, she didn’t have her contract renewed. Not surprisingly, she showed up in the movie Expelled. The IDists have been trying their best to make her look respectable and victimized. Well, recently, some of her powerpoint slides got leaked onto the internet, making her claims to innocence and respectability seem pretty hollow. Here’s a nice little mash-up of the information about Crocker. (The images are from Crocker’s talk.)

IDEA Center Press Release: “Dr. Crocker has top academic credentials, and she received rave reviews as a professor working with students at George Mason University before the university ousted her because she mentioned intelligent design in a class.”

Right – she got ousted because she “mentioned” intelligent design in class. (roll eyes) See slides below.

Former Student: “I ended up having to drop her class just because of her attitude and her teaching methods. She has this pompous I’m-right-you’re-wrong type of personality and she seems to play favorites. I learned later from someone in the class that I had dropped that not one person got an A. Pick another teacher if you can.”

Idea Center Press Release: “Caroline Crocker is the ideal person to come on board as the first Executive Director of the IDEA Center,” said Casey Luskin, co-founder of the IDEA Center.

Former Student: “She doesn’t know the material she teaches. She is unclear and changes her mind often. She doesn’t know how to answer students’ questions. Grading scale is out of wack; watch out for her subtracting points out of nowhere! Most exam questions are not on the material she lectures on. She uses a different textbook and not the assigned book.”

Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture: First there was the monkey. He sat on the left side of the picture, it was a happy chimpanzee, and to the right sat a brooding person. And between the monkey and the person was an arrow with the point aimed at the person, with a question mark over the arrow. This is how Caroline Crocker began her lecture in “Introduction to Biology” course 101 at the George Mason University … By the end of the first hour the nice, secure world of the students was thoroughly messed up, since they had now learned something entirely new: no, wrong, humans did not descend from apes. Most of the students even found that convincing. The university administration quickly sent Caroline Crocker the pink sheet.

She wasn’t “quickly sent … the pink sheet”. She didn’t have her contract renewed. And I highly doubt that “Most of the students even found that convincing.”, rather, I’m sure most students either had their theistic worldviews strengthened or realized they were dealing with a professor on an ideological crusade.

Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture: Without her one could discard the whole controversy as the latest episode of the American freak show: the Americans are nuts, that’s nothing new, there are all kinds of crazy people there … they are all sort of fat, dumb and Bible-believing … With Caroline Crocker the story gets more complicated. She is neither fat nor dumb, she has a PhD in biology, has written books in pharmacology and taught at excellent universities. One cannot simply shrug her off as crazy, one must take her seriously, one must hear her out, one must think things through with her. That is unpleasant, strenuous and confusing.

It is, indeed confusing – obviously, she has no ideological axe to grind. Take this next slide from her lecture as an example. Obviously, it’s the Darwinists who are involved in spin.

Just the facts. For example, it’s important for students to know the “fact” that Darwin was a “rich kid who enjoyed partying, drinking, and gambling.” (What, she left off the part about killing babies and being a pimp?)

Coral Ridge Ministries: I was so careful when I wrote that lecture not to be partial in any way. I was very careful to make sure that I would talk about point by point the evidence that the book would put forward for evolution and then talk about point by point the experiments and say “Well, you know, there’s a problem here.”

Nature: “Caroline Crocker says that she hadn’t meant to start a controversy when she mentioned intelligent design while teaching her second-year cell-biology course at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, last semester…. Crocker tells how she has been barred by her department from teaching both evolution and intelligent design. “It’s an infringement of academic freedom,” she says…. She maintains that the talks help students to think independently about ideas such as evolution. “My goal is to teach students to think for themselves,” she says.”

Right – think for themselves. She presents a lot of bad information, and holds control over their grades. It’s odd that Crocker would even try to present an image of even-handedness. Oh right – that’s the IDist way: lie to the press to make yourself appear more sympathetic.

Here’s a quote from Caroline Crocker’s website (inappropriately named “IntellectualHonesty.info”):

Caroline Crocker’s website, “IntellectualHonesty.info”: “[Caroline Crocker] believes that we must be courageous enough to look the scientific evidence in the face and assess it in as impartial a manner as possible even if it means giving up dearly-held philosophical viewpoints… She promotes logic and right thinking, rather than emotion and knee-jerk reactions, when assessing the information gathered… It is a fact that ad hominem attacks and the banning of certain thoughts stand in the way of the advancement of science.”

Oh, the hypocrisy. She describes Darwin as a “rich kid who enjoyed partying, drinking, and gambling” and “failed at medical school” and then condemns ad hominem attacks.

If it’s all about the evidence, then why does she promote such obvious falsehoods as:

Christianpost: Crocker denies teaching creationism at George Mason University. Rather, she contends that she taught only one lecture on the evidence for and against evolution and did not even mention creationism.

“What I really wanted to do was in an intellectually honest manner give the evidence for evolution, but also the question about evolution – the scientific critiques – that’s all I did,” Crocker said.

See – she did it in an intellectually honest manner. She taught both sides – the “evidence for and against evolution”. By the way, what is this “evidence for” evolution that she teaches?

Washington Post: “There really is not a lot of evidence for evolution,” Crocker said. Besides, she added, she saw her role as trying to balance the “ad nauseum” pro-evolution accounts that students had long been force-fed.

Oh right – she doesn’t teach anything that supports evolution. She merely claims that she does because it makes her look more fair and sympathetic.

I especially like the quote at the end of this slide. It quotes Werner Von Braun, a rocket scientist. And we all know rocket scientists are the smartest people in the world – they know about everything:

Washington Post: “Crocker said, [microevolution is] quite different from macroevolution. No one has ever seen a dog turn into a cat in a laboratory.”

That’s an “intellectually honest” critique, isn’t it? Nevermind the fact that turning a dog into a cat in a laboratory would be indicative of magic or a divine miracle, and would never be predicted by evolution. But, we’re supposed to believe that she just presents “the scientific critiques”?

One has to wonder: as a microbiologist, did Crocker get all of her information about paleontology and larger lifeforms from creationists?

WashingtonPost: The theory of intelligent design holds that while the evolutionary forces of random genetic mutation and natural selection may shape species on a small scale, they cannot account for the kind of large-scale differences between, say, chimpanzees and humans.

In other words, they hold that a few beneficial mutations can occur and spread through the population over a small amount of time, but that many beneficial mutations cannot accumulate over a large amount of time.

Does she even know what the evidence for macroevolution is? Does she attempt to answer the question of why we find identical genetic errors in humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas – assuming we don’t have a common ancestor?

WashingtonPost: [Crocker’s husband, Richard believes] she has become the victim of scientific authoritarianism. It is one thing to believe his wife is wrong, Richard Crocker told me, and quite another to deprive her of her right to speak.

It’s unclear why this amounts to “[depriving] her of her right to speak”. She works for the IDEA center – a pro-IDist group. She gets paid to speak. If anything, she has been “deprived” of her “right” to get paid by a college while teaching students in their classrooms poor criticisms of evolution. I think that’s censorship because everyone should have the right to get paid by colleges to teach kids whatever they want. (It should be added that the college denies not renewing her contract because of ID.) So remember: if you ever sign a contract to teach at a university and you teach ID, then the university will be required to renew your contract forever – or else be accused of attacking free speech.

So yeah, the Darwinists have “[deprived] her of her right to speak”. (Please ignore the fact that she lists speaking fees on her website as $1000, $1,500, or $5000 for four talks.) The evil Darwinists have taken away her constitutionally protected rights! (Fees do not cover travel expenses, which must be covered by the client.)

Caroline Crocker’s website: Caroline Crocker is the Executive Director of the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Center, as well as being self-employed in the Washington DC area as an author, speaker, and private tutor. She is working on her first non-academic book, Science Censored, on her experiences as a full time university lecturer who strove to present Darwinian evolution from an intellectually honest viewpoint.

Caroline Crocker’s website: “[Caroline Crocker] is a popular speaker on issues of science and faith, addressing school, church, and other audiences. Dr. Crocker has also written magazine articles and been extensively interviewed for media, such as books, newspapers, T.V. and movies.”

“Deprived of her of her right to speak” just ain’t what it used to be. But, then neither is honesty, apparently.

IDEA Center Press Release: I am excited about helping students in IDEA Clubs to investigate intelligent design in an intellectually honest manner,” said Dr. Crocker.

Right.

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[Via Pharyngula] I just finished listening to the radio debate between PZ Myers and Geoffrey Simmons (Discovery Institute fellow). Years ago, I saw the Discovery Institute as a collection of people put together specifically to put a respectable face on creationism. They wouldn’t repeat the simplistic creationist arguments, but would bring a higher standard to their (still flawed) creationist ideas. (I’ve seen this with other creationist groups – for example, the even the low-brow AnswersInGenesis complains about some of Hovind’s arguments.)

Despite the fact that Simmons had written books on evolution (Billions of Missing Links: A Rational Look at the Mysteries Evolution Can’t Explain, What Darwin Didn’t Know), and says he’s “studied evolution for 40 years“, he came off as clueless as a novice young earth creationist. Unfortunately, most of the listeners simply wouldn’t recognize when he made completely false statements.

He says that the fossil record has lots of holes. He says that there are no transitionals between deer-like land animals and modern whales. He says there are no transitionals showing the movement of the nostrils from the front of the face to the top of the head. Myers cites several intermediates (Pakicetus, Ambulocetus, Rhodcetus), but Simmons doesn’t even recognize the names. Instead, he goes on the attack – and revealing his uncompromising ignorance – saying that “[Myers] is very wrong about whale fossils”. Simmons complains that Darwin thought whales evolved from bear-like mammals (roll eyes) – as if Darwin was either 100% right on everything or 100% wrong on everything. Will creationists ever understand that Darwin is not a prophet?

whales-graph.jpg

(Basilosaurus, 34-39 million years ago, with well developed hind limbs, though reduced in size.)

I can only guess that Simmons never reads much outside of creationist literature, and doesn’t have much interest in it. That’s the only explanation I can possibly muster for explaining his ignorance on the subject.

Simmons complains that evolution is only a theory. Myers says that calling evolution “a theory” doesn’t mean it’s a flimsy idea (as the common usage of the word would imply). Simmons backs off of that, but later says that “if [evolution] were a fact, they’d call it the fact of evolution”. As if theories somehow graduate and become a fact. (Duh. We still call them the theory of gravity, atomic theory, the theory of relativity.)

Simmons also argues that students should be exposed to other theories and problems of evolution in school. But, Simmons is so clueless about the problems of evolution – citing non-existent problems in whale evolution, and complaining about the word “theory”, you have to wonder what exactly would be taught in schools. Further, evolution is a deep subject. I have very little faith that students are going to come up with the correct ideas when people like Simmons (who have written books) are so clueless about the facts. Would we teach both sides of the theory of relativity? Both sides of atomic theory? No, we would try to figure out the best knowledge in the field and present that to students. Simmons wants to do an end run around scientists and present his “intelligent design” ideas directly to kids without going through the channels that all the other sciences go through.

Simmons even ridiculously claims that there is a kind of reverse inquisition going on against IDists. (Here’s a hint: the real Inquisition tortured and killed people.)

He says that evolution has been disproven by science, but fails to provide anything to back that up, and says Darwin would never get published today (apparently because his ideas were transparently wrong). Yet, Simmons can’t seem to muster a cogent argument against evolution.

Even after all Simmons’ ridiculousness, I still thought Myers should’ve avoided using words like “infantile”. I thought that came off as too harsh, and would turn listeners against him. It also gave Simmons a chance to express indignation (see what those nasty evolutionists are doing to him?)

I think it will be interesting to hear the ID blogs response to the debate. (I already found one that posted about it before the debate happened.)

Update: The Panda’s Thumb says UncommonDescent put up a post about the debate, but then removed it. Fortunately, someone saved the comments before the post disappeared.

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neiltyson.jpg

Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and Director of the Hayden Planetarium gave an interesting speech at Beyond Belief 2006. He begins with the belief that the planets were gods or divinely controlled. This stopped people from making real discoveries about the planets. (And, in his book, Finding Darwin’s God, Ken Miller describes the persecution one Greek scientist experienced for suggesting that the planets were not actually gods. Which has some interesting parallels to the ID movement – getting the science wrong, and complaining that removing God from biology/astrophysics is tantamount to promoting atheism and moral decay.) He then talks about Newton and his belief that God intervenes to stabilize the planetary orbits because he couldn’t figure out how they would remain stable through natural forces. Newton missed his opportunity to explain this, and erroneously attributed it to God. A few centuries later, Simon Laplace created some new mathematics showed that the planets could remain stable without the need for an external deity to stabilize them. Tyson goes on with various discoveries, how scientists mistakenly put God in when they initially failed to explain a particular phenomena, and how the theistic explanation prevented them to making important discoveries.

I should say that I think the IDists are different than earlier scientists in that these earlier scientists made the mistake of attributing various phenomena in the universe to God – and thereby, lost their opportunity to discover the science behind it. No doubt, many of them would’ve welcomed scientific explanations. On the other hand, modern IDists are using biology as a platform to argue for the existence of God. Their primary intention is not to explain this or that phenomena, nor to aid scientific literacy, but rather, to promote and protect theistic beliefs (and the Wedge Document makes that very clear). They’re trying to find a job for God, keep Him employed and relevant, and trying to make sure everyone sees God doing stuff. If a glowing Jesus Christ suddenly appeared on earth and started walking around talking to people – and therefore, no one could deny the existence of God, the IDists would quickly forget about their whole ID program – because the only reason it exists is for the promotion of theism. They are, shall we say, working at the Universe’s Unemployment Office, trying to make sure God is visibly employed doing something.

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We are surrounded by evidence of intelligent design. Take but one example: the suckling mechanism of the whale. The whale is a mammal which suckles its young underwater. It does so by means of a watertight cap around the mother’s nipple which fits tightly around the baby’s snout so as not to allow the entrance of sea water. Such a mechanism does not allow of a transitional form which adapts slowly to its environment. It does not allow for a gradual evolutionary process. It must exist perfectly formed for the purpose or the baby whale dies. How else could such a mechanism exist if not brought about by an intelligent and purposeful creative force? (Link)

Even UncommonDescent jumped on the bandwagon.

But then a whale biologist responded. Ouch. How embarrassing. I’m glad I’m not an IDist.

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I have to agree with Phil Plait when he says that science can evaluate the supernatural. He says:

The latest blurting about this comes from a scientist quoted in a book review. In the review, the science journalist says:

As scientists at Iowa State University put it last year, supernatural explanations are “not within the scope or abilities of science.”

This is 100% wrong. Any claim, any explanation of an event, definitely falls within the scope of science. That’s because science is a method of investigation.

For a little more context – the quote that supernatural explanations are “not within the scope or abilities of science” comes from a number of professors at the University of Iowa [oops – I meant Iowa State University] regarding Intelligent Design:

We, the undersigned faculty members at Iowa State University, reject all attempts to represent Intelligent Design as a scientific endeavor.

Advocates of Intelligent Design claim that the position of our planet and the complexity of particular life forms and processes are such that they may only be explained by the existence of a creator or designer of the universe. However, such claims are premised on (1) the arbitrary selection of features claimed to be engineered by a designer; (2) unverifiable conclusions about the wishes and desires of that designer; and (3) an abandonment by science of methodological naturalism.

Methodological naturalism, the view that natural phenomena can be explained without reference to supernatural beings or events, is the foundation of the natural sciences. The history of science contains many instances where complex natural phenomena were eventually understood only by adherence to methodological naturalism.

Whether one believes in a creator or not, views regarding a supernatural creator are, by their very nature, claims of religious faith, and so not within the scope or abilities of science. We, therefore, urge all faculty members to uphold the integrity of our university of “science and technology,” convey to students and the general public the importance of methodological naturalism in science, and reject efforts to portray Intelligent Design as science. (Link)

There’s a couple of things to be said about this. First, I agree with Phil Plait that science can evaluate the supernatural – within limits. The idea that science cannot evaluate the supernatural is one of those ideas that sounds right up until you start thinking about specific cases. I do think there are specific religious claims that cannot be evaluated, but there are plenty that can be. Further, scientists (and other intelligent people) are pretty clever at coming up with ways of testing some things that you wouldn’t normally think could be tested.

Some examples of supernatural/religious/magical things scientists have attempted to evaluate:
* Do people have telepathic abilities? (A number of universities had programs to study this. Nothing significant was found. Psychics claim it doesn’t work under the unemotional, sterile lab environment, although there is at least one book that studied psychics working on actual crimes and they had abysmal results there, too. One of the interesting things mentioned in that book is that “psychics” produced copious amounts of details about crimes, far more than college students used as controls. When anything was right, they pulled that particular detail out of the pile of details and claimed victory.)
* Does prayer work? (No)
* Can meditation reduce crime rates? (They play games with the charts, and I don’t think there’s anything here.)
* Can people communicate with the dead? (A few skeptics, including Harry Houdini, created a secret word or phrase known to only one person that would be used to verify their identity if any medium claimed to be “in contact” with their spirit after death. While many mediums claimed to be speaking to their spirit, they never knew the secret password.)
* Ouija Boards could produce results unknown to all participants (Penn and Teller did an interesting test of Ouija Boards, when they blinded some “Ouija Board” believers, turned the board 180 degrees and then had then ask questions – predictably, they moved the pointer to locations on the board that would be correct if the board hadn’t been turned.)

Further, there are things in religious books that can be tested.
* Was there a global flood 4300 years ago? (no)
* Is the genetic diversity of the human race compatible with the idea that we all descended from one family 4300 years ago? (No)
* Is the Mormon claim that Native Americans are descended from a small group of Jews compatible with the genetic evidence? (No)

That’s not to say that all religious claims can be tested – claims that God will judge you after you die, or whether Mary was divinely impregnated are simply not testable (we have no data). Further, since religious leaders are free to make any and all claims about the world (e.g. the earth is flat), it’s obvious that many religious claims are subject to scientific scrutiny.

In many cases, the full supernatural explanation would not be considered “science” – e.g. if we discovered that all humans descended from a single family 4300 years ago, and they were the only survivors of a global flood – that doesn’t mean the explanation “God told Noah to build a boat” is a scientific claim. Rather, we would have scientifically verified parts (global flood, only a few people survived), and non-verifiable, religious claims (God talked to Noah). I think there is the potential for a lot of situations like this – there is a scientifically verified piece, and a non-verifiable non-scientific piece.

So, I think the Iowa State professors were wrong in the statement that “claims of religious faith [are] not within the scope or abilities of science”. Additionally, in that statement, they talk about “adherence to methodological naturalism” – that only naturalistic explanations are accepted in science. I believe in the possibility of explanations that are on the “edge” of science – we can tell that something is there, but you can’t explain it scientifically/naturalistically. In that case, you have an “edge” that is considered “science” and you can say that supernatural explanations lie across the boundary, but that those explanations (while admitting they exist) are not scientific explanations – anymore than describing, say, the normal flow of electricity requires a “supernatural” explanation.

Of course, I can understand the need to adhere to naturalistic explanations – without it, people may attempt to explain this or that feature of the natural world with supernatural explanations, when a perfectly good (undiscovered) naturalistic one exists. Erring on the side of supernatural explanations can stop science from progressing. (e.g. “Why do the planets move the way they do? It’s like a giant clock created by God to show us that He loves order.”, “Why do people get sick? Demons.”) On the other hand, always erring on the side of “must have a natural explanation” means missing what could potentially be evidence for a supernatural designer.

Regarding “Intelligent Design”, they have attempted to use the “adherence to methodological naturalism” for propaganda purposes. They say scientists have unfairly excluded the possibility of a designer, and that presupposition means that everyone completely ignores the evidence for a designer even when it is right under their noses. (Yes, I’ve actually heard IDists make this argument.) IDists overplay this idea for the purpose of propaganda. I don’t have any philosophical ideas that ID should be excluded from consideration. My problem is with other pieces of the ID movement and their evidence (or lack of).

This would be a good place to transition into what I think is actually wrong with the ID movement and ID claims. In short: they’re an ideological-religious program, downplay or are ignorant of evolutionary mechanisms, have a history of making false statements, appeal to inaccurate analogies, play-up their “victimization” to garner sympathy, and try to sidestep scientific scrutiny by preaching directly to the public – to name a few. Unfortunately, to fully tackle that topic requires a whole new article.

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