Intelligent Design

C4ID’s Introduction to Intelligent Design: A Critique

The Centre for Intelligent Design (4ID) website features a set of brief (sometimes very brief) pdf documents which collectively form an Introduction to Intelligent Design, credited as written by Dr Alastair Noble, C4ID Director. This pamphlet sets out C4ID’s manifesto for ID. Often these documents are written in a way that could be seen as persuasive to the uninformed, though on closer inspection, there is nothing new – the arguments are the same as those demolished in Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District. It’s all the more remarkable that this nonsense can still be pushed out to the public five years after that milestone judgement.

This page is a compilation of the individual blog articles I’ve posted recently, each dealing with one of the fifteen sections of C4ID’s Introduction to Intelligent Design.

Part 1 An Idea Whose Time has Come

This is the introductory article of the pamphlet, and it begins with a quotation from Michael Behe (Lehigh University). In common with most creationist/ID writings, the author uses quotations from scientists sympathetic to their cause. This of course fits with the religious argument from authority, but in reality these individuals are rather unusual in their acceptance of creationism and/or ID. Michael Behe is no exception. Not only have his ideas been effectively deconstructed by the scientific community, but his Faculty have publicly distanced themselves from his position on Intelligent Design.

Most people who are aware of ID assume, wrongly, that it is a variant of creationism or a form of religious fundamentalism.

Unfortunately for the author, the two concepts are really inseparable. One invokes a ’creator’ (in the case of Christian denominations to which the guiding lights of the C4ID belong, this would be their God), the other an all-powerful individual with such supernatural prowess that it would be inseparable from a God.

Additionally, there is comprehensive documentary evidence that ID is merely a device of the Discovery Institute to circumvent the constitutional separation of church and state in the USA, with the aim of introducing creationism into American schools: the Wedge Strategy. Ultimately, this was unsuccessful (see the Kitzmiller v Dover Trial, where Behe’s testimony was trashed and ID shown to be untestable).

But when they take time to examine it, many are immediately impressed. In fact, they discover a powerful and self-evident idea. Instinctively, ID feels correct.

This is an appeal to ‘common sense’. But common sense is not the best guide to understanding how the world works and why things are as they are. For example, our ancestors thought the world was flat, or that the sun revolved round the Earth.

We return to the use of authority figures, from ancient Greeks through the great early astronomers such as Galileo, natural philosophers such as Newton and physicists such as Kelvin, who we are told:

[...] regarded their work in science as exploring the works of an Almighty Creator whose ways were discernible in the natural and living world.

Unfortunately the author goes on to restate the old canard that Einstein believed in God (as is so often the case with proponents of creationism and/or ID, we see ‘quote-mining’ in action). While this aspect of the document is irrelevant other than an argument from authority, the reader is directed to the Wikipedia page on Albert Einstein’s religious views for a clearer perspective.

ID argues from empirical evidence that is easily detected by scientific enquiry. Its distinguishing characteristic is that it does not appeal to any religious authority, but to scientific investigation alone.

As the subsequent sections of “An Introduction to Intelligent Design” amply demonstrate, ID does not argue from empirical evidence, is not easily detected by scientific enquiry, and it does appeal to religious authority. As the Judge in Kitzmiller vs Dover Area School District observed:

After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980′s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. As we will discuss in more detail below, it is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research.

The author of the document, Dr Alastair Noble, is not only the Director of the Centre for Intelligent Design but has had, and continues to have, interests in a number of organisations relating to schools education.

Part 2 The Cell

Part 2 of “An Introduction to Intelligent Design” is credited to Professor Norman Nevin, a retired medical geneticist in Northern Ireland, and President of the Centre for Intelligent Design. Why Nevin has penned a document in support of ID is unclear, since he is on record as a biblical literalist as far as the Genesis account is concerned (reading the transcript is rather quicker).

Since van Leeuwenhoek, continual improvements in microscope technologies have revealed the complexity of cellular structure in greater and greater detail: with the advent of biochemistry, genetics and molecular biology this understanding has increased exponentially.

This article begins by using an analogy of “[...] a large city with different types of factories, power stations, communication centres, transport systems and storage areas”. [As an aside, I would note here that as with many ID proponents, Nevin seems to confuse analogy with explanation.]

The article is very brief and merely outlines a variety for cellular activities and components, and serves to set the stage for later argument from ignorance.

Part 3 The Evidence for Intelligent Design

This part is again not credited to a particular author (presumably written by Noble), and is very brief. It’s composed of what I might describe in more colloquial terminology ‘twaddle’.

Intelligent Design is an example of the science of design detection – how to identify patterns arranged by an intelligent cause for a purpose. Design detection is used in a number of scientific fields, such as anthropology, crypto-analysis and the forensic sciences, which seek to explain the cause of events such as a death or fire, and the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI). The inference that biological information may be the product of an intelligent cause can be tested and evaluated in the same way that scientists test for design in other sciences.

There’s a fundamental problem with this paragraph. The use of ‘design detection’ (whatever that is) to investigate anthropological artefacts, crack codes, and investigate crimes is obvious: the subjects are known a priori to be the results of human intervention, whether intentional or not – detection of design really revolves around demonstrating intent. One should also note that whatever criteria SETI uses to detect signs of extraterrestrial intelligence must be quite stringent: no evidence of such intelligence has thus far been found.

The rest of Part 3 sets out what arguments are to come in future parts.

  • The so-called ‘fine tuning’ of physical constants

  • ‘Specified complexity’ – presumably identical or similar to Behe’s ‘Irreducible complexity’, so effectively rebutted by scientific argument and observation. The usual cases of the eye, blood clotting and the ear are listed.

  • Information. Apparently the most compelling argument is that of genetic information. See my earlier post (Biological information does not require a ‘designer’) on this subject.

All three arguments have been comprehensively dismissed, as we’ll see in later articles in this blog.

Part 4 Universal Constants

Another very brief section with no authorship credit (therefore presumably written by Noble), it is prefaced by a quotation from the late Sir Fred Hoyle, an astronomer with unconventional views. As often the case, no citation is given for the quotation. Unfortunately for Sir Fred and for those who use the quotation (and here I assume it’s not taken out of context), common sense itself is no substitute for rational investigation.

In essence, the ‘fine tuning’ argument observes that if any of the physical constants (or in the formulation presented here, about 20 such constants) of the universe were different, life as we know it could not exist. This is taken as evidence of design.

One fundamental flaw in this argument is that we are dealing with a sample size of 1. This does not offer good statistical power! But more devastating to the argument is the observation that were the constants be different (and of course this made life impossible) we would not be in a position to observe such a universe.

The alternative explanation, that a ‘designer’ set this (and by ‘this’ I mean the Universe in all its vast scale) all up purely so that life, and in some formulations meaning humans, can exist is so absurd and unscientific a position that it effectively marks ID out as a proposal that existence depends upon the supernatural.

I have to ask the question: if there is a ‘designer’, what evidence is there that he/she/it actually exists?

Part 5 ‘Fine tuning’ of Universal Constants

This brief section appears to be lifted from Paul C W Davies, in ‘The Accidental Universe’, 1982, Cambridge University Press. There’s nothing particularly ID about this quotation, except the closing sentence, which appeals to common sense rather than rational investigation.

Recent discoveries about the primeval cosmos oblige us to accept that the expanding universe has been set up in its motion with a cooperation of astonishing precision.

In 1995 Davies won the Templeton Prize, which is awarded to a living person who, in the estimation of the judges, “has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works”. The monetary value of the Templeton Prize is kept at a level greater than a Nobel prize.

Reviewing this list of recipients, one is struck by the profusion of physicists and people from a theological background. The only Templeton Prize winner listed as ‘Biologist’ is 2010 winner Francisco Ayala, who trained as a Catholic priest before embarking on a career in evolutionary biology. Amusingly, Ayala reportedly has no sympathy for Intelligent Design.

Part 6 Biological Complexity

The title page hook for this part is:

Modern molecular biology has revealed a cellular world as complex as a galaxy of stars or a modern mega-city. The complexity and variety of the living cell is one of the best kept secrets of the modern world.

Sounds very secretive, doesn’t it? Is modern science somehow shielding the public from information? Well, of course it isn’t, and as one moves along an educational trajectory in biology, one finds out more and more. The continued analogy with a mega-city doesn’t really work, though serves a purpose if one is arguing for design.

Part 6 of C4ID’s Introduction to Intelligent Design is about two pages long seems to rest on William Dembski’s ideas of irreducible complexity, or specified complexity. As well as holding a Faculty position at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at Fort Worth, Texas, Dembski is a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute. The Discovery Institute came up with Intelligent Design as the Wedge Strategy to bypass the constitutional separation of Church and State in the USA, with a view to reintroducing creationism in science classes in schools. In this context, Intelligent Design was thoroughly dismissed as a scientific endeavour in Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District.

My BCSE colleague Paul Braterman wrote an excellent overview of ‘specified complexity’ – (Beacon Vol XIIV, No 2 pp4-6).

The general argument proposed in Part 6 is pretty lightweight. The author, presumably Noble, uses the examples of a safety razor and a fax machine as objects which are evidently designed and which also show purpose. The safety razor example is as follows:

A simple analogy clarifies the nature of ‘specific complexity’. A safety razor is a useful, and to many people, an indispensable tool. It is clearly designed and, in its own way, complex. The plastic or metal handle is shaped for ease of handling; its head can follow the contours of the skin; and its single or multiple blades protrude to just the right height for effective shaving and to avoid cutting the skin. Although razors come in various shapes, sizes and colours, the basic design is clear. You would never even consider that it was not deliberately designed. It has obviously been constructed according to a previously specified plan.

But what is also clear is that a safety razor is made for a specific purpose. It is not for stripping wallpaper or for removing stains from the carpet. It is specifically designed to remove hair from skin. In that sense it has ‘specified complexity’ relating to its function. The analogy illustrates that ‘specified complexity’ relates to both assembly and function.

There’s a fundamental problem with using this analogy for complex biological systems. There are no known natural mechanisms that could be invoked to explain the appearance of a safety razor other than its design and assembly by a human. In contrast, the natural mechanisms to explain the appearance of biological structures (one classic example used by creationists and ID advocates being the eye) are known and increasingly well understood.

Behe’s concept of irreducible complexity gets another airing, this time concerning the evolution of the bacterial flagellum.

The flagellum is a tail-like structure present in many bacteria. It is, in effect, a biological outboard motor with almost 40 parts. It can rotate at speeds of up to 100,000 rpm and has protein parts that act as stators, rotors, O-rings and drive shafts. The removal of any single part of the bacterial flagellum renders it useless. It is, clearly, irreducibly complex.

As an aside, this shows the tendency of ID proponents (and other creationists) to equate biological structures with machines – a tendency of over-analogise, and something that comes back in discussions of biological information. Interestingly, the concept of irreducible complexity assumes that the ancestral structures of the flagellum necessarily shared the same function. This is unwarranted, and is shown by the response of the scientific community (summarised in Wikipedia here).

This misconception is shown in the following paragraph, where the author clearly thinks that the ancestral structures necessarily functioned as flagellae. In actual fact, this is unlikely to be the case: this video of Ken Miller destroying the ‘poster child’ of ID, the so-called irreducible complexity of the bacterial flagellum is well worth viewing. So while Alastair Noble may find it

[...] difficult to visualise how a system that requires each one of its 40 parts to be fully operational can gradually evolve by random mutation and natural selection, while maintaining full functionality at each stage [...],

a trained biologist does not find it difficult. Remember that Noble’s principal academic credential is a PhD in Chemistry, not Biology.

Part 7 Beyond the reach of chance

The teaser for Part 7 reads:

The Darwinian claim that all the adaptive design of nature has resulted from a random search is one of the most daring claims in the history of science. But it is also one of the least substantiated. No evolutionary biologist has ever produced any quantitative proof that the designs of nature are in fact within the reach of chance.

“The Darwinian claim that all the adaptive design of nature has resulted from a random search”? This baffles me, as it seems pretty meaningless. In fact evolutionary biology does not show that the structures and forms seen in nature are ‘within the reach of chance’. The origin of genetic variation may well be random (but often is not), but the part that is not random, or chance, is natural selection. It exists.

I imagine that what this part is driving at relates to ‘specified complexity’ – addressed by my BCSE colleague Paul Braterman (Beacon Vol XIIV, No 2 pp4-6).

Part 7 of An Introduction to Intelligent Design consists merely of a quotation attributed to Richard Dawkins and a lifted paragraph from Michael Denton (Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, Adler and Adler, 1986, p324):

Neither Darwin, Dawkins nor any other biologist has ever calculated the probability of a random search finding in the finite time available the sorts of complex systems which are so ubiquitous in nature. Even today we have no way of rigorously estimating the probability or degree of isolation of even one functional protein. It is surely a little premature to claim that random processes could have assembled mosquitoes and elephants when we still have to determine the actual probability of the discovery by chance of one single functional protein molecule!

This so misrepresents evolutionary theory that it takes my breath away. Denton may well be a biochemist by training but this paragraph in isolation (I haven’t read the book, so can’t be sure of the original context) suggests a profound ignorance of evolutionary biology. This is, in essence, an argument from ignorance: ‘I can’t understand how this came to be, it must have been God/Yahweh/Allah that did it’.

Wikipedia’s page for Michael Denton suggests he may have moved away from supporting Intelligent Design:

Denton’s views have changed over the years. He was influenced by Lawrence J. Henderson (1878-1942), Paul Davies and John Barrow who argued for an Anthropic Principle in the cosmos (Denton 1998, v, Denton 2005). Thus his second book Nature’s Destiny (1998)[4] is his biological contribution on the Anthropic Principle debate which is dominated by physicists. He argues for a law-like evolutionary unfolding of life.[5] He no longer associates with Discovery, and the Institute no longer lists him as a fellow.[6]

Part 8 DNA, RNA and chromosomes

Part 8 of ‘An Introduction to Intelligent Design’ is written by Professor Norman Nevin, a retired medical geneticist (so he ought to know about DNA, RNA and chromosomes).  As noted in a previous part of this series, Nevin appears to be Biblical literalist who takes Genesis to be literal truth, so why he’s supporting Intelligent Design (other than as a Wedge Strategy, perhaps) is unclear.

Unfortunately Nevin’s article conflates the biological ‘information’ (itself an analogy) with a variety of other analogies, none of which are perfect but which come back to haunt us elsewhere in C4ID’s presentation of Intelligent Design.  Bizarrely, he quotes the college dropout Bill Gates (famous for founding Microsoft and now running the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) as saying:

‘DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any
software we’ve ever created.’

Another dodgy analogy.  Gates may have had strengths building up Microsoft, but I’m not aware of his biology qualifications! The overall purpose of Part 8 is to set up biological information as something that requires a designer, to which we return in Parts 9 and 10.

Part 9 The Information Mystery

Part 9 relies heavily on the writing of Paul Davies, who’s quoted in the first paragraph:

Living organisms are mysterious not for their complexity per se, but for their tightly specified complexity. To comprehend fully how life arose from non-life, we need to know not only how biological information was concentrated, but also how biologically useful information came to be specified.’

It isn’t particularly clear from this quotation what is meant by ‘specified complexity’, but see this article by my BCSE colleague Paul Braterman (Beacon Vol XIIV, No 2 pp4-6). Noble goes on to observe that the origin of genetic information is unclear (but of course science has several hypotheses), and revisits Bill Gates’ unsatisfactory (though of course it might of been satisfactory in its original context) analogy of genetic information as a software programme.

Essentially all Noble can come up with in Part 9 is that he cannot comprehend (presumably this reflects his scientific background as a chemist rather than a biologist) where this information has come from:

Now this poses a fundamental question. Where does this very complex and highly specific information come from? [I’ll give you a clue] All our experience tells us that information only arises from prior intelligence. The information in a letter comes from the mind of its writer. An article in a newspaper comes from the mind of the journalist who wrote it. The information in a PC comes from the mind of the software engineer who wrote it. There is no known example anywhere of functional information arising randomly or by chance. We only get information from prior intelligence.

This is a classic argument from ignorance. Bronze age goat herders can’t understand how the world came to be, so they write Genesis (which, bizarrely, some otherwise intelligent humans in the 21st century still believe!); Behe can’t understand the evolution of the bacterial flagellum, so a designer (aka God) must have done it. Noble cannot understand the growth and change of biological information through the history of life on this planet, so a designer must have done it. And I cannot believe, given his status as a lay preacher that this designer does not equate to hid God.

Noble finishes in fine, if illogical, style:

The origin of the information in DNA alone is sufficient grounds for proposing the Theory of Intelligent Design.

Er, not for this biologist it isn’t. It’s just intellectual cowardice.

Part 10 Information and Intelligence

Part 10 of ‘An Introduction to Intelligent Design’ appears to be lifted from something written by Stephen Meyer (cited as: Dr Stephen Meyer, Director, Discovery Institute, Seattle, in the National Post, Canada, Dec 1st, 2005).

Meyer is the founder of the Discovery Institute. His biography at the Wikipedia page is informative: several of his qualifications derive from religious institutions, and none are in biology. His text misuses analogy quite severely:

DNA functions like a software program. We know from experience that software comes from programmers. We know generally that information – whether inscribed in hieroglyphics, written in a book or encoded in a radio signal – always arises from an intelligent source. So the discovery of information in the DNA molecule provides strong grounds for inferring that intelligence played a role in the origin of DNA, even if we weren’t there to observe the system coming into existence.

‘We know generally that information [...] always arises from an intelligent source’ is such a poor analogy, given what we know about how genetic information (and remember the use of the word ‘information’ here is itself an analogy used to make the understanding of genetics easier) can and does change, even within the timescales of experimental investigation. See Biological information does not require a ‘designer’ for my take on this.

I think Meyer’s text here ignores many hypotheses on the chemical origins of the chemicals of life, and the origins of genetic macromolecules.

Part 11 Intelligent Design is Science

The teaser for this part of the Introduction to Intelligent Design is a quotation from Scott C. Todd; “Even if all the data point to an intelligent designer, such a hypothesis is excluded because it is not naturalistic.” This quotation is taken from a correspondence to the journal Nature (not a research paper) in September 1999 (Todd (1999) A view from Kansas on that evolution debate Nature 401, 423 (30 September 1999) | doi:10.1038/46661). Elsewhere in Todd’s letter, he says:

The lesson to be learned from the events in Kansas is that science educators everywhere must do a better job of teaching evolution. It must be made clear that the evidence supporting the mechanism of evolution is empirical and proven, but that speciation and natural history are derived from the admittedly weaker evidence of observation. The fact that one cannot reproduce the experiment does not diminish the validity of macro-evolution, but the observed phenomena supporting the theory must be presented more clearly.

I’d argue that actually the evidence for speciation is strong: it has in fact been observed to happen.

After quoting Todd, the text moves on to claim that Intelligent Design is science, because it is falsifiable:

It is also claimed that ID is not science because it cannot make predictions that can be tested and that it cannot be falsified by experiment. Assuming that these are criteria for good science – and that is by no means certain – ID is capable of responding positively. As we have seen, there are theoretical criteria for detecting design such as probability and specificity. ID predicts that if you apply these principles to natural and living systems, you will get the answer that design is present. That exercise certainly involves making and testing predictions.

The criteria of prediction and falsifiability are good criteria. Unfortunately ID fails on both counts. The grounds Noble cites (probability and specificity) are merely red herrings, and appealing to the appearance of design is inappropriate.

And on the second point of ID being capable of being falsified, all that is necessary is that someone demonstrates that functional information on the scale of DNA can arise without prior intelligence or that there is a clear step-by-step evolutionary pathway with all the intermediary stages to a bacterial flagellum or similar irreducibly complex structures. In either case, ID would fail. The fact that no such falsifications are forthcoming, or are likely to be, is testimony to the strength of the design hypothesis.

This paragraph restated Behe’s claim that by removing (presumably by deleting the relevant genes) from a flagellated bacterial species and attempting to derive strains with a restored flagellum after a period of laboratory culture. Ed Brayton deals with this spurious claim of falsifiability in a posting (Behe and Falsification) at his blog Dispatches from the Culture Wars:

[..] some of the variables included in those calculations are variables that simply cannot be replicated in a lab. Bacteria have been evolving for around 3.8 billion years on the Earth, and they exist on earth in numbers that can barely be expressed even mathematically.

Ed Brayton’s blog post is really worth reading in its entirety: it’s clear that Behe’s proposition by which ID could be falsified is actually unreasonable.

Noble claims papers by Meyer (on the Cambrian fossil record)and Dembski (on the design hypothesis) are in the current scientific literature. He fails to provide any citation information. However, the Meyer paper may be this one (hosted at the Discovery Institute). Unfortunately for Meyer, the publication was not peer reviewed, and was withdrawn after a major scandal erupted (Intelligent Design and Peer Review):

A scientific critique of the paper concludes that the paper is “a rhetorical edifice [constructed] out of omission of relevant facts, selective quoting, bad analogies, knocking down strawmen, and tendentious interpretations.”

Not much of a recommendation. I have no idea what publication from Dembski is being referred to, though I know Dembski has published four peer reviewed papers in information theory associated with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (an unlikely destination for papers focussing on biological processes).

Finally, Noble pulls the victim card: he claims:

[...] when assessing the claim that ID does not publish enough research, it is important to recognise that the peer review process is biased in the direction of the reigning Darwinian paradigm. Papers which argue the ID case are often rejected because they are not judged to be consistent with the accepted naturalistic position on origins.

I suspect that the real issue preventing the publication of peer-reviewed ID papers lies in the fact that members of the Discovery Institute do little or no research, and that Intelligent Design falls very far short of the scientific method.

Part 12 Implications

This part of ‘An Introduction to Intelligent Design’ is brief and rests on the claims that Intelligent Design is truly a scientific approach, claims made in earlier parts. Unfortunately for the author this is not a position taken by the American judiciary, science as a whole, ad event prominent Intelligent Design proponents.

Although ID does not draw on any religious authority, it clearly has philosophical and religious implications. While it does not specify who the Designer is, it provides support for a theistic view of the universe. And it certainly confronts the neo- Darwinian world view that we live in a bleak, purposeless and undirected universe.

Here we come to the crux of the matter. For me, at least, it’s rather difficult not to equate a ‘designer’ with apparently omnipotent power to create or direct aspects of life with a deity of the type invoked by religions. Clearly, the ‘designer’ as conceived by intelligent design proponents must be supernatural: not only is there no direct physical evidence for its presence or existence, but the claims made for its actions require powers that are beyond universal physical limits. A bit like creating life out of mud, I guess. It’s notable that the principal (if not all) advocates of Intelligent Design are Christian.

The rest of this section merely makes more hollow claims for Intelligent Design importance, finishing with a completely absurd paragraph:

Intelligent Design is not just good science. It also raises philosophical questions which go to the heart of Western civilisation. It has the potential to make people reflect on the most fundamental questions about their existence. It is, perhaps, because the implications of ID challenges deeply-held beliefs about fundamental questions of life that it is so vehemently opposed without good scientific reasons.

Part 13 ID and Evolution

Alastair Noble here tales the opportunity to give his version of evolutionary biology, making the artificial distinction between ‘microevolution’ and ‘macroevolution’. It is in this part of the document that Noble’s biological ignorance comes to the fore.

It is the second use of the term ‘evolution’ which is much more contentious. In this case it is argued that by a process of random mutation of the information in DNA and natural selection of any beneficial result produced in the form of the living organism, it is possible to increase the complexity of living things. And this is not just a modest claim. The contemporary neo-Darwinian view is that random mutation and natural selection can take us, in an unplanned and undirected process, from a single cell to a human being, via all the other living things in between. This is often referred to as ‘macroevolution’.

Creationists (and I include Intelligent Design advocates) often use an artificially wide distinction between microevolution and macroevolution. Biologists would generally make little distinction between the two: indeed the same biological processes power both.

Strictly speaking, evolution by natural selection may depend on heritable variation due to essentially random mutation, but it’s really not an undirected process. It is of course directed by natural selection. It’s just not directed by an intelligent agency.

Noble claims that evolutionary biology is “widely and uncritically accepted in Western culture”. It is not. Aspects of evolutionary biology are continually studied, evaluated refined – why else would there be journals filled with evolution research? (It’s also regularly challenged by under-informed individuals, generally from a religious point of view!).

We now know that the genetic information carried in the DNA of every living cell is hugely complex. To suggest that such complexity can be generated by random and undirected processes is a bit like saying that computer software can be generated by letting the wind and rain blow through the laboratories where it is produced. We know that software programmes depend on computer engineers for their design, not on the vagaries of the weather!

This is essentially a rehashing of the monkeys writing Shakespeare. It’s also a particularly lousy analogy, based on breathtaking ignorance of biology. I recently blogged on the sources and variation of genetic ‘information’ (Biological information does not require a ‘designer’). We can see in the laboratory the processes by which genomes can acquired additional sequence and how these sequences subsequently acquire changes; we can see in genome sequences of related species the evidence of novel genes, and the mechanisms by which they arrive. And all this by natural processes. Noble revels in his ignorance in this part of the Introduction to Intelligent Design.

Part 14 ID and Creationism

Part 14 is once again very brief, and aims to reinforce the rather peculiar claim that ID is not a form of creationism. Peculiar because of the correlation between ID proponents and religious and, frequently, creation belief. Professor Emeritus Norman Nevin, President of the Centre for Intelligent Design, is on record as a believer in the literal truth of the Genesis creation myth (audio recording and transcript). Intelligent Design itself was devised by the Discovery Institute with the specific aim of getting creationist views into American schools, and was demolished in what has proved to be a significant test case un the USA.

It may well be that there are, as the author points out, many different forms of creationism. Unfortunately they all fail at the hurdle of evidence. Noble claims respectability for creationism:

[...] creationism, in its central assertion that the universe has a Creator, is a perfectly respectable and reasonable position. Indeed, it is by far the view that has dominated human thought since the beginning of time. It is, to most people who have ever lived, the most credible explanation of why anything is here.

Quite an extraordinary statement. Most humans who have ever lived probably believed that the Earth was flat and that the sun revolved round the Earth. This does not make those views true. I also suggest that “most people who have ever lived” had no concept of the universe, and a wild diversity of religious beliefs: which of those creation myths would be acceptable to the churches that Nevin, Noble and Galloway attend?

Creationism is based, not primarily on scientific observation, though that is part of it, but on religious authority.

Hang on a moment – creationism is entirely based upon religious authority. On what scientific observation does creationism rest?

However, ID is not creationism. ID is derived purely from scientific observations, not from religious authority. Clearly, ID provides support for religious belief, but it does not propose it or depend on it. The criticism that ID is simply another form of Creationism is just simply wrong and arises from a confusion of religious and scientific ideas.

ID is creationism, just one part of the spectrum of creationist belief outlined in the first paragraph of this section. In the conclusion of the Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District, Judge John Jones (incidentally, Judge Jones was, and presumably remains, a Republican, and a Lutheran) concluded (text from Wikipedia, each citation links to the full decision):

  • For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the religious nature of ID [intelligent design] would be readily apparent to an objective observer, adult or child. (page 24)

  • A significant aspect of the IDM [intelligent design movement] is that despite Defendants’ protestations to the contrary, it describes ID as a religious argument. In that vein, the writings of leading ID proponents reveal that the designer postulated by their argument is the God of Christianity. (page 26)

  • The evidence at trial demonstrates that ID is nothing less than the progeny of creationism. (page 31)

  • The overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory. (page 43)

[...]

  • After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. (page 64)

[...]

  • ID’s backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the IDM is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID. (page 89)

This is a pretty definitive conclusion that Intelligent Design is not only a rehashed derivative of creationism, but also that it is not science. It’s also the product of a deceitful and cynical strategy devised by the Discovery Institute with the aim of insinuating creationism into American schools, despite the constitutional separation of church and state.

Part 15 What Next?

This one of the briefest sections of the pamphlet. But at least it includes a list of further reading, albeit one resting heavily on the work of Meyer, Behe, Dembski and Fuller.

It [Intelligent Design] is variously described as the end of reason, the corruption of science and the refuge of idiots. Some critics say it takes us back to the dark ages. Others claim that it is religion disguised as science or politics dressed up as philosophy. How come, you might wonder, that an idea can generate such passionate and at times intemperate criticism? Is it in the same league as racism, fascism or terrorism?

I find Intelligent Design objectionable because it is a deceitful concept intended to push a religious view into science education. I cannot speak for the motives of the Centre for Intelligent Design, but given that the President of C4ID is on record as a believer in the literal truth of Genesis, one does have to question C4ID’s agenda.

The strength of Intelligent Design is that it is, strictly, a position which argues solely from scientific evidence. Although ID has philosophical and religious implications, it is not based on any such presupposition.

Does Noble think that making this statement so often will make it true?

This is the final part of my critique of the Centre for Intelligent Design’s introduction to Intelligent Design.  C4ID have sponsored a UK tour by Michael Behe, one of the chief architects of Intelligent Design Creationism.  Read more about the Centre for Intelligent Design, and how it’s seeking to get religious creation beliefs into UK schools in the disguise of Intelligent Design.

6 comments

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  1. christian’s avatar

    Re Part 7 – have you seen this paper? http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/1010/1010.517
    An excellent antidote to the argument from "random search".

    Reply

    1. GrumpyBob’s avatar

      Yes, I picked up on that via Pharyngula. I've noticed a couple of papers on new genes and gene functions in Drosophila which counter Behe's review somewhat, will write a blog article over the next couple of days.

      Reply

    2. paulbraterman’s avatar

      That very useful Arxiv reference was published in PNAS, December 2010, , doi:10.1073/pnas.1016207107 PNAS December 13, 2010 [2010, 107(52):22454-22456]

      Reply

    3. dissertations’s avatar

      I enjoyed every bits of this well-written article of yours and I hope you'll still continue writing informative posts.

      I'll bookmark this blog so I can use it on my future references and be able to share this blog to my friends, too.

      Reply

    4. Aylesbury Taxis’s avatar

      Thats great post enjoyed it

      Reply

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