Desperation at the Centre for Intelligent Design?

I’d been wondering why there hadn’t been any updates recently from Glasgow’s very own Discotute-wannabees, the Centre for Intelligent Design (abbreviated C4ID, in a very modern idiom). I needn’t have worried as while I was on a long weekend in a 3G blackspot, the August 2013 newsletter plopped into my mailbox. Headed as usual by the spiffy double helix inside ID logo, entitled Teach science, not secular dogma and authored by Alastair Noble, the newsletter smacks of desperation. It has a list of cited sources appended – but all bar one are from people within or affiliated to the Discovery Institute. Overall, the missive is mostly a rehash of outdated and debunked ID creationist claims.

First up is a complaint that evolution is to be taught in primary schools. Featuring a particularly smirky picture of Michael Gove MP, Minister for Education, Noble sets about complaining that evolution is regarded as a ‘fact’.  He goes on to say:

Well, there are two problems.  Firstly, every scientific theory is tentative and subject to revision as fresh evidence is uncovered.  You can be sure that the growing body of evidence against the all-pervasive theory of evolution will not be considered.

My irony meter was trembling into the red. We’ve had a century and a half of investigation into the basis of evolution: together the demonstrable fact of evolutionary change, the much-tested theories of how this change comes about have been developed and sustained through the process. And in contrast, Noble and his religiously like-minded pals in C4ID and the Discotute seek to replace a dynamic and exciting scientific process with the intellectually vacuous cop-out of declaring that their God Designer did it. Noble goes on:

And here’s what children won’t be told about evolution:

1. Evolution has no explanation for the origin of life in the first place. By saying evolution doesn’t deal with that, while implying it does, just highlights its deficiency.

This statement is idiotic beyond belief. Origins of life research is in itself a fascinating and dynamic area of research. Of course evolutionary biology doesn’t deal with origins of life, it’s a well-supported theory of how biological diversity arises. Why doesn’t Noble complain that the Theory of Gravitation doesn’t explain life’s origins? No evolutionary biologist would claim that evolutionary theory explains the origin of life.

2. Random mutation and natural selection cannot explain the synthesis of the hundreds of complex bio-molecules, like proteins, which are necessary for life.

Another idiotic statement. This is merely the argument from personal incredulity. or, to put it another way, Alastair Noble either doesn’t have the understanding of biology (his PhD is in Chemistry, and isn’t backed up by much research experience), or his understanding is distorted by religious belief.

3. The mechanism of evolution – natural selection acting on random mutation – has been shown to be unequal to the task of creating new organisms [1].

This is an extension of #2 – an argument from personal incredulity – and another assertion that ignores a century and a half of research in favour of a silly book by Intelligent Design creationist Michael Behe. Behe is a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute. His testimony at the Kitzmiller trial was instrumental in the rout of Intelligent Design creationism and its exposure as a religious belief.

4. The ‘junk DNA’ hypothesis, an integral part of the teaching of evolution, has now been abandoned in light of recent work on the human genome [2].

Oh boy. Here we go again with the ENCODE project’s ludicrous redefinition of ‘function’ (see Takedown of ENCODE’s claims that 80% of the human genome is functionalBirney, ENCODE and 80%) – though uncited here in favour of Intelligent Design creationist Jonathan Wells‘ book. Wells studied for a PhD with the say-so of Reverend Moon and with the express aim of undermining ‘Darwinism’, and according to Wikipedia is a fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.

5. The much-vaunted ‘tree of life’ is being increasingly shown to be highly speculative and at odds with the evidence [3]. The fossil record is not consistent with the numerous slight successive changes required by evolution, as Charles Darwin himself recognised [4].

Oh golly gosh. A 19th century diagram of descent. How up to date is that? Reference 3 is to a chapter in a book by Dembski & Wells (both Discotute ‘Fellows’), reference 4 to Stephen Meyer’s latest ‘masterwork’ of creationism (see Stephen Meyer strikes again!The New Yorker – Doubting “Darwin’s Doubt”). I imagine that the reference to Charles Darwin is really directed at a classic creationist quote-mine (see the discussion of the first quotation in C4ID weighs in – a half-baked publicity drive for Meyer’s latest book). Stephen Meyer is currently director at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture and Senior Fellow at the DI.

6. Evolution is completely unable to explain the existence of the complex genetic information carried by every living cell in its DNA [5].

More citation of Meyer, this time from Signature in the Cell, a dismal attempt at re-telling molecular biology and origin of life research from a creationist perspective. I have actually read this nonsense (No Signature in the Cell), and concluded I had no appetite for his latest book. Basically he’s wrong, many well-understood mechanisms exist for the appearance of genetic information.

7. Evolution has no explanation for mind and consciousness, other than that it is an accidental by-product of chemistry and physics [6].

Any other scientific hypothesis with such glaring deficiencies would certainly not be taught as ‘fact’ in schools.

Oh, he’s citing Nagel here (Jerry Coyne took Nagel to task in numerous postings at Why Evolution is True). Not sure why mind and consciousness need be anything other than a product of biology, chemistry and physics.

Noble goes on to label evolution as a hypothesis. This continual conflation of concepts such as theory and hypothesis seems to be a hallmark of creationism, whether YEC, ID or any other brand. Noble wails on further about science, defining it twice, complaining that evolution

[…] is essentially materialistic dogma, not science.  It persists for ideological reasons, despite the evidence.

This is all supported by a citation! But it’s to a lecture in Newcastle by a Professor Phillip Johnson delivered in 2004. Goodness knows what he said in that lecture, but I suppose it’s this Phillip Johnson. He is of course a retired Berkeley Law Professor. What? You thought maybe C4ID would be quoting an actual scientist or, better still, a biologist? Here’s the opening paragraph of his Wikipedia page:

Phillip E. Johnson (born June 18, 1940) is a retired UC Berkeley law professor and author. He became a born-again Christian while a tenured professor and is considered the father of the intelligent design movement. A critic of what he calls “Darwinism” and “scientific materialism”, Johnson rejects evolution in favor of neocreationist views known as intelligent design. He was a co-founder of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (CSC) and is credited with establishing the wedge strategy, which aims to change public opinion and scientific consensus, and seeks to convince the scientific community to allow a role for God in scientific theory.[1]As a member of the group for the Scientific Reappraisal of the HIV-AIDS Hypothesis, a prominent AIDS denialist group,[2] Johnson has written that HIV does not cause AIDS.[3][4][5][6] The scientific community considers Johnson’s opinions on evolution and AIDS to be pseudoscience.[5][7][8][9]  [I added emphasis, removed the links, but left in the Wikipedia references – visit the Wikipedia page for the full details].

Frankly, having read the Wikipedia page, I’d probably not take anything on the subjects of biology and evolution (or indeed any branch of science) from Johnson with anything other than a gigantic pinch of salt. In case you hadn’t read the Wedge Strategy, it’s worth it to see the links to creationism and even the desire to institute theocracy in the USA.

Finally, in a particularly threadbare close, Noble touts firstly the creationist textbook Explore Evolution, and his very own 32 page pamphlet about ID creationism. Explore Evolution is the ID creationist book which was sent out to schools by the UK creationist organisation Truth in Science. This in turn prompted an open letter to British schools, from the British Centre for Science Education, drawing attention to the book’s origins and content along with information about Truth in Science.

I note that Alastair Noble no longer works as a Schools Inspector, but that he is currently (well, he was in 2010) Education Officer with CARE, a christian charity campaigning for increased religious education in schools.

Postscript – I noticed as I finalised this post that the Evil Burnee has already written about the same C4ID missive: Signs of desperation at C4ID.

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