Creationism in Scottish Schools

It’s been a while since my last posting here (I blame pressure of work). That was prompted by one of the Centre for Intelligent Design’s periodic email newsletters. Sadly these newsletters tend to be issued just when I’m unable to draft a blog response! Howver, another of these newsletters plopped into my mailbox yesterday.

It’s rather hard to know where to start with the latest missive from Glasgow’s very own creationists, the Discotute wannabees the Centre for Intelligent Design. Seeing as how the C4ID tries its hardest to push a similar creationist agenda as the Discotute (and continues to try to pass off Intelligent Design creationism as science), they are of course upset at the Scottish Secular Society’s petition asking the Scottish Parliament to prohibit the teaching of creationism as science. Contradicting to some claims made by the more religiously motivated, nowhere  does the petition seek to prohibit the teaching of creationism. For more on why Intelligent Design is just another form of creationism, one can have a peek at the Wikipedia page.

In their latest email newsletter entitled “Government to impose Scientism on our children” (sadly I can’t find this on their website), Alastair Noble has penned a silly screed of creationist tosh that repeats a lot of rubbish ultimately emanating from the likes of of the Discovery Institute. In between grumping about supposed scientism being pushed out through Scottish schools, Dr Noble displays a rather neat line in ignoring evidence.

In addition, scientism flies in the face of reality.  Mind, consciousness[3: a reference to a book by Nagel] and the information carried in the DNA[4:  a reference to Meyer’s Signature in the Cell] of all living things point to immaterial realities which are not explicable by purely natural processes.  Scientism will not allow you to infer from phenomena such as these that the universe has an intelligent cause, but, creed-like, insists on the highly improbable and counter-intuitive conclusions that universes come into existence out of nothing and that life emerges by blind, purposeless forces. 


All this is done in the name of preventing religious extremism invading science lessons, which is not a problem in Scotland as far as I am aware.  It requires that any suggestion of ‘creation’ or ‘intelligent design’ be outlawed.  These two propositions are not the same of course – for example, intelligent design does not depend on religious texts but argues from scientific data – but that’s an inconvenient truth which is simply ignored by the secular zealots.  Curiously, in attempting to combat perceived religious extremism, the Government is adopting an equally extreme and quasi-religious position with regard to science education which flies in the face of the understanding of science we have inherited over five centuries of scientific endeavour. (my emphasis)

Actually, and aside from his silly claim that ID creationism argues from scientific data (rather, it abuses scientific data: see this and this), the evidence suggests that we should be concerned about creationism being presented as scientific fact (Open Letter to Mike Russell MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning; TES: Schools are being infiltrated by cults, say secularists), and Dr Noble has been quoted as saying:

“We don’t have specific resources for schools, although there is one text available examining the case for and against neo-Darwinism that we can make available to high schools and colleges, if they wish to have it,” said Noble, an education officer with CARE, an agency that campaigns for Christian perspectives across a range of public policy issues. (my emphasis)

It’s not clear to me how anyone (other than perhaps those with a religious-creationist agenda) might consider that ensuring that non-scientific subjects not be taught in science lessons could be regarded as scientism. Indeed, the petition that’s annoyed Noble so much explicitly does not seek to ban creationism from schools. In a blog article (Creationism petition Scotland; press coverage to date; your help still needed), Paul Braterman refers to C4ID’s latest message along with recent press coverage of the petition. Of the C4ID newsletter email, he says:

21 Nov, The Centre for Intelligent design warns those on its mailing list: Government to impose Scientism on our children (no link available). So now you know. The Centre regards evolution science and the study of the age of the Earth as forms of Scientism, whatever that may be.

Here’s what Paul has to say about recent coverage in the Herald:

Herald  November 21, reports on Ken Cunningham, Secretary of School Leaders Scotland, and his submission in response to a request for comment from the Petitions Committee.  My comment: Not Head Teachers; one ex-Head [in consultation, he later claimed, with the Association’s presidential team, whoever they may be] speaking for all his members with no further apparent mandate from his Association’s membership. And Cunningham and Noble [Director of the Centre for Intelligent Design, whose plans to promulgate creationism are a major matter of concern to us] are not as reported both members of the Free Church of Scotland; they are Elders (Cunningham also Secretary) of the same small independent Church, Cartsbridge in Busby, with a total membership of around 250; a much closer association.

A rather interesting set of connections. One might also observe that C4ID’s main figures all seem to lean towards the more evangelical kinds of church. I think Paul is adding updates to his blog on the subject of the petition and the media response.

News from the C4ID

After some months of silence, I received a message from Alastair Noble, Director of the UK’s very own Discotute wannabees, the Glasgow-based Centre for Intelligent Design. It’s the usual mish-mashed rehash of Discotute allegations of discrimination against Intelligent Design creationism with the usual claims that Intelligent Design isn’t creationism but really science.

Indeed, Alastair begins by decrying a statement made on BBC TV by the presenter Kirsty Wark (that teaching creationism is illegal) – by linking to this archived page dating from 2007 (under the previous Government). This is interesting, because one section at the document there contains this (my emphasis):

Creationism and intelligent design are not part of the science National Curriculum programmes of study and should not be taught as science.  However, there is a real difference between teaching ‘x’ and teaching about ‘x’.  Any questions about creationism and intelligent design which arise in science lessons, for example as a result of media coverage, could provide the opportunity to explain or explore why they are not considered to be scientific theories and, in the right context, why evolution is considered to be a scientific theory.

That isn’t really what Dr Noble seems to claim is the take-home message from that document. Indeed, current guidance dating from 2011 reinforces this (in the context of Free Schools):

Are Free Schools permitted to teach creationism/intelligent design and obliged to teach evolution?

We would expect to see evolution and its foundation topics fully included in any science curriculum.
We do not expect creationism, intelligent design and similar ideas to be taught as valid scientific theories in any state funded school.

Of course, Dr Noble cannot write about these matters without banging on about his claim that Intelligent Design creationism is really science (which is in contrast to, for example, the outcome of the Kitzmiller vs Dover trial in the USA). He writes:

However, ‘Intelligent design’ (ID) brings a very different perspective. It argues that certain features of the natural and living worlds show clear evidence of design and are not the result of a blind and purposeless process like natural selection acting on random mutations. ID does not draw on religious authority or presuppositions but argues from empirical data like the ‘fine-tuning’ of the universe, the specified complexity of biological ‘machines’ and the massive sophistication of the digital genetic code carried in DNA – which, interestingly, former US president Bill Clinton once described as ‘the language in which God created life’ [2]. ID implies, clearly, an intelligent cause for the universe and is therefore supportive of theism. It should not, however, be equated with ‘creationism’ as popularly understood. In our view, ID is a legitimate scientific inference from the available data and is consistent with our everyday experience of the cause and effect structure of the world.

He’s always keen to distance Intelligent Design creationism from other types of creationism, such as Young Earth Creationism (the sort of nonsense that is presently keeping observers of Bryan College amused). Trouble is, Intelligent Design is just creationism dressed up as science with the aim of creeping into American schools by pretending not to be religion.

Sadly for Alastair Noble, the history of Intelligent Design creationism makes it clear what it is – one just has to read the founding document, The Wedge Strategy. Here’s the text, conveniently hosted at the NCSE website. It includes this priceless gem:

Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.

Oh, and this:

Governing Goals

To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies.

To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.

Dr Noble carries on:

The greatest affront to scientific method in the matter of origins is the refusal even to consider an intelligent cause for the universe when the evidence in that direction is compelling.  And just consider the questions science cannot credibly answer: where did anything come from; how did life arise; what is the origin of genetic information; and how does mind and consciousness arise? To dismiss out-of-hand the possibility of an intelligent cause when confronted with these realities is not science but dogma.

The problem for Dr Noble (aside from the fact that the evidence for design in the natural world is far from compelling) is the failure to identify the creator designer, or his/her/its methods. As far as I know, physicists and cosmologists have satisfactory answers for the origins of the universe (though I, personally don’t); I know biologists and chemists have a variety of hypotheses for the origin of life; I personally have experience of seeing genetic information appear in the lab; and finally, why should mind and consciousness be anything other that a product of natural processes?

It still remains for ID creationists to identify their creator designer, and how exactly he/she/it managed all that design. That would, I imagine, be rather more satisfying for Dr Noble and colleagues than their incessant failed attempts to find things they claim can’t have an rational explanation in evolutionary biology. And, yes, there are undoubtedly things which scientists still strive to understand and to explain, but this doesn’t mean we should rush into the arms of a creator designer. What predictions does Intelligent Design creationism make? What programme of research do the Discotute droids actually pursue? RationalWiki has a rather good page on Intelligent Design creationism, and the section on Scientific Evaluation of Intelligent Design creationism is very good.

The icing on the cake is the inclusion of that most discredited example of ‘irreducible complexity’, the bacterial flagellum, though figure is just window dressing as there’s no reference to it in the email. Here’s a paper proposing how the scientific investigation of the evolution of the bacterial flagellum (subscription required) might be conducted. Here’s an accessible article from Kenneth Miller’s web page, and an article at New Scientist. A truly scientific approach is so much more satisfying that just surrendering and saying the creator designer must have done it.

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.

C4ID weighs in – a half-baked publicity drive for Meyer’s latest book

Stephen Meyer’s latest creationist book, Darwin’s Doubt, was launched a week or so ago, so it was only a matter of time before Glasgow’s Discotute wannabees C4ID joined the fun. And so it proves, with the latest missive from chemist Dr Alastair Noble reaching my inbox.

Unfortunately for Meyer (who is not a biologist) his latest tome, published by the religious imprint HarperOne, has already been reviewed and dissected (Meyer’s Hopeless Monster, Part IILuskin’s Hopeless Monster) by people more competent than he in matters to do with evolution, palaeontology  phylogenetics and phylogeny. The email from C4ID seems to consider scientific understanding of the world (and indeed the Universe) around us to be some kind of popularity contest, in which determined attempts to dupe the public into believing that Intelligent Design creationism is in any way a credible explanation of life’s diversity will in some way make the existence of a supernatural ‘designer’ into a reality. Apparently believing that evolutionary biology, palaeontology and geology have all stood still since the middle of the 19th century, Alastair Noble provides the following quotations from The Origin of Species, and in so doing resorts to the traditional creationist trick of selective quoting, aka ‘quote mining‘. As is usual in creationist circles, Darwin’s the victim (see the Talk Origins Quote Mine Project).

‘The number of intermediate varieties, which have formerly existed on earth, must be truly enormous.  Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links?  Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain.’

On looking at The Origin of Species, we find this passage. Note however the final sentence – which I’ve underlined, a sentence in which Darwin gives an explanation.

‘In the sixth chapter I enumerated the chief objections which might be justly urged against the views maintained in this volume. Most of them have now been discussed. One, namely the distinctness of specific forms, and their not being blended together by innumerable transitional links, is a very obvious difficulty. I assigned reasons why such links do not commonly occur at the present day, under the circumstances apparently most favourable for their presence, namely on an extensive and continuous area with graduated physical conditions. I endeavoured to show, that the life of each species depends in a more important manner on the presence of other already defined organic forms, than on climate; and, therefore, that the really governing conditions of life do not graduate away quite insensibly like heat or moisture. I endeavoured, also, to show that intermediate varieties, from existing in lesser numbers than the forms which they connect, will generally be beaten out and exterminated during the course of further modification and improvement. The main cause, however, of innumerable intermediate links not now occurring everywhere throughout nature depends on the very process of natural selection, through which new varieties continually take the places of and exterminate their parent-forms. But just in proportion as this process of extermination has acted on an enormous scale, so must the number of intermediate varieties, which have formerly existed on the earth, be truly enormous. Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory. The explanation lies, as I believe, in the extreme imperfection of the geological record.’

Here’s another interesting mangling of Darwin by C4ID:

‘The difficulty of understanding the absence of vast piles of fossiliferous strata, which on my theory were no doubt somewhere accumulated before the Silurian (ie Cambrian) epoch is very great. I allude to the manner in which numbers of species of the same group suddenly appear in the lowest known fossiliferous rocks.’

The text from darwin is as follows:

On the sudden appearance of groups of Allied Species in the lowest known fossiliferous strata.
There is another and allied difficulty, which is much graver. I allude to the manner in which numbers of species of the same group, suddenly appear in the lowest known fossiliferous rocks. Most of the arguments which have convinced me that all the existing species of the same group have descended from one progenitor, apply with nearly equal force to the earliest known species. For instance, I cannot doubt that all the Silurian trilobites have descended from some one crustacean, which must have lived long before the Silurian age, and which probably differed greatly from any known animal. Some of the most ancient Silurian animals, as the Nautilus, Lingula, &c., do not differ much from living species; and it cannot on my theory be supposed, that these old species were the progenitors of all the species of the orders to which they belong, for they do not present characters in any degree intermediate between them. If, moreover, they had been the progenitors of these orders, they would almost certainly have been long ago supplanted and exterminated by their numerous and improved descendants.
Consequently, if my theory be true, it is indisputable that before the lowest Silurian stratum was deposited, long periods elapsed, as long as, or probably far longer than, the whole interval from the Silurian age to the present day; and that during these vast, yet quite unknown, periods of time, the world swarmed with living creatures.

To the question why we do not find records of these vast primordial periods, I can give no satisfactory answer. Several of the most eminent geologists, with Sir R. Murchison at their head, are convinced that we see in the organic remains of the lowest Silurian stratum the dawn of life on this planet. Other highly competent judges, as Lyell and the late E. Forbes, dispute this conclusion. We should not forget that only a small portion of the world is known with accuracy. M. Barrande has lately added another and lower stage to the Silurian system, abounding with new and peculiar species. Traces of life have been detected in the Longmynd beds beneath Barrande’s so-called primordial zone. The presence of phosphatic nodules and bituminous matter in some of the lowest azoic rocks, probably indicates the former existence of life at these periods. But the difficulty of understanding the absence of vast piles of fossiliferous strata, which on my theory no doubt were somewhere accumulated before the Silurian epoch, is very great. If these most ancient beds had been wholly worn away by denudation, or obliterated by metamorphic action, we ought to find only small remnants of the formations next succeeding them in age, and these ought to be very generally in a metamorphosed condition. But the descriptions which we now possess of the Silurian deposits over immense territories in Russia and in North America, do not support the view, that the older a formation is, the more it has suffered the extremity of denudation and metamorphism.’

Note the splitting and reordering of Darwin’s text. Note also that this selective quoting is identified at the Talk Origins Quote Mine Project (quote #2.4), where the section of text is set correctly in context.

What’s really peculiar about the Discotute’s publicity drive for Darwin’s Doubt isn’t so much related to the content of the book (see Matzke’s review for a deconstruction of that), but this tendency of creationists (and I include Intelligent Design creationists here) to hang all their angst about natural explanations of life’s diversity on Darwin – labelling those of us who see the vast quantity of evidence supporting evolution as outweighing the absence of evidence for the existence of supernatural entities as Darwinists (see Paul Braterman’s blog for more on this – Don’t say Darwin unless you mean it – for more on this).

A March miscellany

Here’s a miscellany of stories from around the web. Apologies for the inaction at this blog of late.

C4ID peddle paranoia in Shetland.

The BCSE blog occasionally features items under the banner Creation Watch. A recent report () details an event organised in Shetland by Glasgow’s very own Discotute wannabees, the Centre for Intelligent Design (C4ID). The event appears to have emphasised the bizarre blend of paranoia, religious fervour and bad science that characterises the Intelligent Design brand of creationism. Fortunately, a rational and scientifically educated BCSE member was able to attend and report back on the event. His/her concluding remarks are interesting:

The Q & A session finished with the elderly man thanking Noble for joining us [massive round of applause] and he encouraged us to visit the local Christian bookstore and express our own interest in having Dr. Noble return for another talk to answer our many questions. This explains why The Centre for Intelligent Design was in Shetland, they were invited by the church-goers!

I don’t feel Dr. Noble really answered anyone’s questions. He talked, a lot, and very loudly, but there was no real substance to his words. Surprisingly no one asked “Who or what is responsible for this intelligent designing?”. I wanted to but I did not feel comfortable enough to ask and Noble’s previous lack of really answering anyone else’s questions led me to believe he would not answer mine either. His loud confrontational tone of voice and his obvious contempt for real science really put me off.

Not once was a god mentioned, although there was a large display of Christian books available to buy.

I left with the same unanswered question. There was no ‘unlocking of the mysteries of life’ unless I was willing to believe some yet unnamed intelligent mind designed it based on inference. I felt the topic was shifted from the realms of science to another department entirely, the realms of religion.

There doesn’t appear to have been much new here from C4ID, they are just peddling the tired old canards of ID creationism. Apparently they are trying to get the BBC to broadcast the dodgy creationist video Unlocking the Mystery of Life. I don’t think replacing rational investigation with supernatural ‘explanation’ unlocks any mysteries whatsoever. Good luck with that, Dr Noble.

Stephen Meyer writes again

It appears from an article at Panda’s Thumb that Stephen Meyer, one of the architects of the Wedge Strategy, has penned another book. This time Meyer tackles the so-called Cambrian Explosion. Having ploughed through his Signature in the Cell (see No Signature in the Cell), I’m in no hurry to read more of Meyer’s religiously-inspired writing. Apparently it’s going to be entitled Darwin’s Doubt, though I suspect that Stephen Meyer’s Doubt may be a better title. The Wedge Strategy, of course, outlines the Discovery Institute’s game plan for replacing science with religion and gives the lie to the Discotute’s assertion that Intelligent Design isn’t merely a rebranding of creationism.

I suppose this book is why the Discotute was soliciting pictures of the Burgess Shale (An amusing exchange between a Discotute employee and a Geology professor).


I posted recently about a takedown of ENCODE’s claims regarding junk DNA (Takedown of ENCODE’s claims that 80% of the human genome is functional). Further publications have now emerged – see Larry Moran’s summary at Sandwalk (Ford Doolittle’s Critique of ENCODE) which hangs on a recent paper by Doolittle in PNAS (Doolittle, W.F. (2013) Is junk DNA bunk? A critique of ENCODE. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. (USA) an advance online publication on March 11, 2013. [doi: 10.1073/pnas.1221376110]).

C4ID, ‘Expelled’ and dishonesty

A few years ago, a bizarrely deceitful film was released: Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. This pro-Intelligent Design creationism production made a variety of assertions, and did feature some interviews with the likes of Richard Dawkins – obtained by misrepresentation and edited to significantly alter the interviewees’ opinions. See for example what they did to Dawkins.

The website Expelled Exposed gives a detailed analysis of this film. Many websites exposed the deceitful strategies taken by the produced of the film, and the company behind it eventually went belly up and its assets sold off – including the film itself.

So, what do I find at the C4ID website, but a transcript of the interview segment with Richard Dawkins, together with a commentary from Alastair Noble.

Dr Alastair Noble: you should be ashamed of yourself for repeating this dishonesty.

Centre for Intelligent Design 2012

No sooner had I noted that the jolly old Discotute wannabees C4ID had been rather quiet of late than I received an email update, representing something of a review of 2012. Apparently

We’ve had a very productive year and it has been an exciting 12 months for the advance of Intelligent Design (ID) more generally.

So what have Alastair Noble and Co been up to in 2012?

Junk DNA a myth?

Well, first off, C4ID trumpet the death of junk DNA. This of course reveals their ineptitude as regards biology. I would refer readers to this article which contains links debunking this idea that 80% of the human genome is ‘functional’: ENCODE, junk DNA and creationists. Oh, and this too: Sean Eddy on Junk DNA. Essentially the ENCODE project redefined the word ‘functional’ to include DNA sequences with no biological function. Of course creationists (especially ID creationists) bought that line as it suited their brand of science denialism to the hilt. How else could they explain their magical designer/creator’s ineptitude in saddling us (and pretty much all other eukaryotes) with so much apparently meaningless DNA?

Nagel’s book and Meyer’s book

Next up is the story that philosopher Thomas Nagel wrote a book addressing the ‘Darwinian Conception of Nature’. Readers might check out Jerry Coyne’s blog Why Evolution is True for more on Nagel on evolution. I’m not sure why this merits mention in C4ID’s review of 2012, as the book doesn’t seem to be connected to C4ID. Of course Nagel nominated Signature in the Cell as one of his books of 2009 (rather old news). But readers might refer to the Wikipedia page on Nagel as regards Intelligent Design: it seems odd to me that Alastair Noble brings Nagel up in the context of ID creationism. I reviewed Meyer’s Signature in the Cell and found it a poor effort. Meyer is one of the authors of the Wedge Strategy, the smoking gun that reveals the creationist roots of Intelligent Design.

The Tyndale Philosophy Conference

Alastair Noble seems quite pleased at the success of this meeting where ID creationists spoke to other ID creationists and presumably reinforced their opinions. This is the same strategy used for the Malvern ID conference.

And finally

C4ID welcomes Dr Emma Carter to their ranks, as Academic Liaison Consultant. Dunno exactly what that role would be, but we’re to expect a website refresh.

Who’s Emma Carter? C4ID don’t say. A quick google for Dr Emma Carter (“emma carter” + “intelligent design”) brings up one candidate, an engineer, (but no direct evidence that these two Carters are the same).

I think 2012 has been business as usual for C4ID. Which means they continue to fail to overturn a century and a half of research which has built upon Darwin’s theory, and which ultimately explains very effectively the diversity of life on this planet.

ENCODE, junk DNA and creationists

I see the ignorant, stupid, devious and downright dishonest within the creationist cohorts have been joined by the Centre For Intelligent Design, which is delighted by the junk DNA misinformation circulating in the media. I received an email from C4ID’s Dr Alastair Noble:

Who would have thought it? ‘Junk’ DNA, the widely-promoted ‘killer’ argument for Neo-Darwinian evolution, bites the dust.

No less an authority than the Cambridge-based European Bioinformatics Institute tells us that ‘junk’ DNA is no longer an accurate representation of the situation and that very much more of DNA than was thought contains active genetic information. But Intelligent Design theorists have been suggesting for some time that 98% or so of junk in DNA seemed unlikely. Maybe ID can make accurate scientific predictions after all!

You must hear Dr Doug Axe (Seattle) and Prof John Lennox (Oxford) discuss these and related matters at the Centre for Intelligent Design’s conference at Malvern on September 28/29th.

Unfortunately, being a chemist with a brief research career several decades ago (and with the distinct need to demonstrate a creator) has not left Alastair Noble’s abilities to comprehend science in good stead, and he’s had to rely on various media sources regurgitating a simplistic rewrite of molecular biology history coupled with an equally uncritical definition of the word ‘function’, as used by ENCODE. I suppose another factor has been the woeful public relations train wreck that the ENCODE mass publication has become. Regarding this whole debacle, there’s been quite a bit of discussion around the blogosphere. ( My own genome science background relates to the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster – while this shares many of the “junk” features of the human genome, they are less marked.)

Probably leading the charge against the ENCODE PR has been Larry Moran (Sandwalk), who has seen it as inadvertently shoring up Intelligent Design creationism. Sandwalk has featured problems with the reporting of ENCODE on a almost daily basis. As Larry Moran observes

Is this what science is going to be like in the future—the person with the biggest advertising budget wins the scientific debate?

Several blogs have touched on the ‘junk DNA’ matter. T. Ryan Gregory has made several postings at Genomicron explaining exactly what is wrong with ENCODE’s public statements of “80% Functional” – see for example ENCODE (2012) vs. Comings (1972). He also has a list of major news outlets who’ve uncritically regurgitated stories about the death of junk DNA (The ENCODE media hype machine).  Over at Cryptogenomicon, Sean Eddy has ENCODE says what? outlining in considerable detail exactly what’s wrong with the claims that 80%  (or even more) of the human genome has an identified function.

Ars Technica have an extremely well written overview of the ENCODE PR debacle, Most of what you read was wrong: how press releases rewrote scientific history.

It is a great shame that commentators such as Alastair Noble don’t know enough of the history of molecular biology, or indeed enough of the complexity of the typical eukaryotic genome to take a more critical view of the mass media’s simplistic take-home message of ENCODE, merely repeating the inaccuracy in the delighted but mistaken belief that it shores up their creationist (ID or otherwise) beliefs.

If you have an iPad, I can recommend the Nature ENCODE app, which makes it clear that the 30 or so papers simultaneously published last week don’t exist merely to back up the bizarre and inaccurate (both scientifically and historically) claim to have overturned some junk DNA paradigm, but rather represent a detailed characterisation of human genome structure, mapping out a wide variety of genome modifications often associated with gene activity. Projects such as ENCODE yield huge data sets that aren’t themselves necessarily interesting to individual scientists, but which provide the basis for considerable future investigations.

Alastair Noble referred to Intelligent Design theorists. Well that’ll be because Intelligent Design creationists don’t actually do experiments. And were they to honestly interpret the literature, they’d see that junk DNA is very real in the human genome. What’s God the designer got against salamanders and amoebae? Why favour puffer fish with a particularly economical genome?

Desperation at the Centre for Intelligent Design

I’ve long been following the antics of Glasgow’s Centre for Intelligent Design (C4ID), the UK’s little brother to the Discotute, a setup which aims to push Intelligent Design creationism in the UK. Indeed, I find it rather amusing to be on their mailing list – I was invited to attend last year’s lecture by Stephen Meyer, one of the main men of the Discotute (and, I believe, a leading author of the Wedge Strategy which clearly states the Discotute’s aims). I did not attend the lecture, but did as a consequence read Meyer’s Signature in the Cell (for example No Signature in the Cell).

C4ID appears to be fairly small outfit, very largely run by Dr Alastair Noble, who’s PhD is in chemistry and who has been active in education (particularly through christian organisations). Other figures are the president (Norman Nevin, an emeritus professor in medical genetics who is on record preaching the literal truth of Genesis) and the vice-president (Dr David Galloway). All three are strongly religious.

After a series of communiques extolling their activities (e.g. their upcoming meeting, and their move to try and get a creationism pseudo-textbook adopted by schools), the latest is something of a mixed bag. Along with plans to recruit a recent PhD graduate to evangelise ID creationism to postgraduate students:

A major initiative to promote ID, formally and informally, among postgraduate students. This involves the appointment of a recent science PhD who will work across universities and colleges to promote the debate and provide support for students who find it hard to resist the peer pressure to shut down academic discussion of the subject.

To publish a book aimed at a lay audience:

A new, ground-breaking guide to Intelligent Design by Alastair Noble which is aimed at the layman and which will fill a gap in the range of available publications on the subject. This is part of our wider strategy to promote public debate of ID and its implications.

(Frankly, this isn’t the route to get ID creationism accepted – to do that one would need to do your actual research, to prove the existence of a designer etc, and get this stuff out there as science. Of course, as reheated creationism that isn’t exactly likely, so ID proponents have a strategy to try and confuse the lay public with silly arguments. And to try and insinuate their dubious texts into schools. It’ll be interesting to see what Noble comes up with – so far all C4ID have seemed to achieve is to import American ID creationist speakers and literature. It’s interesting to note in this context that Noble isn’t a biologist by training, and that his brief research career was in chemistry.)

To hold another meeting featuring Discotute ‘stars’ such as Douglas Axe (who is at the Biologic Institute, the flagship ID research institute that doesn’t actually seem to do much research) and others:

An autumn conference to be held in Malvern on September 28/29, 2012, which will focus on the science of ID with Dr Doug Axe (Biologic Institute, Seattle, USA) and the philosophical and religious implications with Prof John Lennox (Oxford). This is part of our long-term strategy to give the next generation of opinion formers confidence to explore all aspects of ID.

But things don’t seem so rosy in the C4ID playground, and they seem to be needing a bit of a cash injection:

Our capacity to promote Intelligent Design in the UK is significantly limited by our current financial resources. If you share our understanding that these issues are important and are willing to partner with us, we will be able to develop our plans and programs more quickly and have more impact.

Actually, I suspect that promoting ID creationism is rather more limited by the fact that it is complete tosh.

Credulous tosh about Intelligent Design creationism

I came across a credulous (or scientifically illiterate) article in The American Spectator (a conservative journal I’d never heard of before): Intelligent Design at the University Club. It’s by a journalist I’d never heard of before, Tom Bethell. It seems that Bethell attended a lecture by Stephen Meyer and organised by Socrates in the City, at which Meyer repeated his bizarre and unscientific proposition that DNA indicates that a creator designer must have initiated life on earth (see my review of Signature in the Cell). In my view it’s illustrative of the shortcomings of ID creationists. Bethell appears to have interviewed Meyer after his talk, the result being a farrago of pro-ID tosh, including this outline of the dear old Centre for Intelligent Design:

Internationally, ID is also growing. There’s a new Centre for Intelligent Design in London (C4ID). Affiliated with it is Norman Nevin, one of the leading geneticists in the UK. A number of full professors of science within the British system are also affiliated. The Centre has teamed up with Discovery Institute for various events.

Oh, a number of full professors of science are on board?  Not enough to make an impact on the literature, I guess. And while Norman Nevin is an emeritus Professor of medical genetics, he apparently delivers sermons espousing Young Earth Creationism. Of course, a general pattern in proponents of Intelligent Design proponents is that they are either (a) have no biological research experience (if indeed they have any qualification in science) or (b) hold strongly religious beliefs, or sometimes both. It’s quite clear that those qualities are entirely appropriate in pushing a re-branded form of creationism masquerading as science. And the triumvirate running C4ID clearly fall into that description. Nice to see that the C4ID, which is independent from the Discotute, has indeed teamed up with them for several events. But of course, C4ID isn’t based in London at all. But its output is almost all reheated Discotute material.

What are Bethell’s qualifications to push Intelligent Design creationism? Let’s look at Wikipedia for some clues.

Tom Bethell (born July 17, 1940) is a journalist who writes mainly on economic and scientific issues, and is known for his support of the market economy, political conservatism, and fringe science. He says that neither evolution nor intelligent design is falsifiable.

Bit of a flag there – “writes mainly on economic and scientific issues” – “support of […] fringe science” – “says that neither evolution nor intelligent design is falsifiable”.  According to Wikipedia he’s an HIV denialist. Whatever. His grasp of science seems shaky.