“Science and Human Origins”: the Discotute misrepresent science once more…

The Discovery Institute recently published a brief book (maybe booklet would e more accurate) penned by Anne Gauger and Douglas Axe of the Biologic Institute and Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute. Having recently ploughed through Stephen Meyer’s effort, I am in no mood to waste further time on Discotute crud. But, lo! Over at Still Monkeys, Paul McBride blogs his way through this, chapter by chapter:

Here starts a chapter-by-chapter review of Gauger, Axe and Luskin’s Science and Human Origins, a Discovery Insititute publication that is intended to challenge–amongst other things–the notion that humans share a common ancestor with chimpanzees, and that we couldn’t have had descended from a literal Adam and Eve.

As one might expect, the religious creationist bent of the authors seems to shine through. McBride is really very thorough in his demolition of the booklet.

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.

 

Another meeting on ID creationism!

That hotbed of UK Intelligent Design creationism and Discovery Institute wannabees, the Centre for Intelligent Design (C4ID) has been sending out publicity for another meeting at which Intelligent Design creationism will feature. C4ID Director Dr Alastair Noble enthusiastically writes:

I write to draw your attention to a fascinating conference on Design in Nature being organised by the Philosophy of Religion section of the Tyndale Fellowship in Cambridge.

Here is the doctrinal position of the Tyndale Fellowship Philosophy of Religion Section- very focussed on christianity – as is their Mission Statement. It is reportedly an academic society associated with Tyndale House, a residential biblical study centre in Cambridge.

Stephen Meyer and Steve Fuller will present aspects of Intelligent Design and the other speakers will explore some philosophical implications of the Design Argument. Details of the day and of the talks can be found at  www.tyndalephilosophy.org.uk/events. Information about booking is also available there.

Part of the background to this conference is the C4ID Inaugural Lecture given in London last November by Stephen Meyer which stimulated Tyndale Philosophy to follow up that event with a day conference to explore some key philosophical implications of the ancient question of Design in Nature and the re-emergence of Intelligent Design.

I wonder what’s meant by the re-emergence of Intelligent Design? Maybe that refers to a resurgence of ID twaddle in the UK and the establishment of C4ID, after the Kitzmiller case saw a pretty definitive slap-down for ID creationism in the USA back in 2005.

This will be a significant day conference, dealing with contemporary and controversial issues. I would urge you to attend.

In addition to Stephen Meyer and Steve Fuller, two other speakers are taking part, Stephen Clark (Emeritus Professor, Liverpool) and David Glass (University of Ulster). None of the four speakers appear to be biologists, which is about par for the course for this sort of event (though when I read the email, I wondered if the conference organisers were mounting their own version of Project Steve!).  This seems to be another of these events intent on convincing participants that there is any kind of controversy about evolution.  Other than in their own little world, of course – biologists just continue on their merry way working within the context of evolutionary biology and for the most part ignore these peripheral and generally religiously motivated voices arguing for a celestial designer.

Alastair Noble rounds off his email with another exhortation to buy the entirely risible pseudo-textbook “Explore Evolution”:

P.S. There is probably no other book on the market like Explore Evolution!  Click here to view a full-colour summary of  the book which will help you make up your own mind, from the scientific evidence, about the adequacy of Darwinism to explain the development and complexity of life.

Noble is probably correct when he says “There is probably no other book on the market like Explore Evolution!“, and for that we really ought to be grateful. You may recall that Explore Evolution was previously distributed by the very oddly and inaccurately named Truth in Science. There is a brief review of this short book by the BCSE, a lengthier deconstruction by the NCSE, and a review in the academic journal Evolution & Development. Suffice it to say, Explore Evolution is a deeply deceptive and dishonest treatment of the subject.  For Alastair Noble to peddle this misinformation is a poor show, and particularly so when he targets it at school students (as he has done in recent emails). Remember, he has a past (and possibly current) role as Education Officer with CARE – the Contact Us page for CARE in Scotland lists Alastair Noble as Education Officer.

Returning to the C4ID publicised meeting, it seems to have developed from the Meyer lecture back in November last year, which has attracted the attention of the Tyndale Fellowship.  It’s interesting to note that it’s to be held at the Tyndale Fellowship Philosophy of Religion Section (see links to their doctrinal position above).  Not bad for a supposedly scientific alternative to the rigorously investigated and experimentally supported science of Evolutionary Biology.

Bafflingly inane post at Biologic Institute

Courtesy of the excellent Sensuous Curmudgeon (Discovery Institute: What Are They Thinking?), here is a bafflingly inane  page at the Biologic Institute.  It quotes Douglas Adams famously taking the piss out of the anthropic principle (and effectively creationism, including intelligent design creationism). It’s actually a quotation from an eulogy delivered by Richard Dawkins in 2001 (see also Positive Atheism’s Douglas Adams quotations).

Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, “This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in; fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well! It must have been made to have me in it!”

The Biologic Institute follows this quotation with this one-liner:

Well, if a puddle actually woke up and thought anything, it would be entitled to that opinion.

Remember, the Biologic Institute is supposed to be the powerhouse of Intelligent Design creationist research.

C4ID pushing creationist textbook at school students

I received an advertising email from the UK’s very own Discotute wannabees, the Centre for Intelligent Design. It’s advertising a ‘textbook’ entitled Explore Evolution, and it’s headlined Explore Evolution– A remarkable book. In common with quite a bit of creationist activity, Explore Evolution seems to be named with the intention to deceive: in reality this publication aims to persuade the reader that there is a genuine scientific controversy, and that creationist views such as Intelligent Design are credible alternatives to evolutionary biology. You can read analyses of this ‘textbook’ by the BCSE and NCSE (the NCSE’s analysis is particularly detailed). There’s also a Wikipedia page on the book. And here’s a review at Ars Technica.

The advert begins:

I write to encourage you to buy a copy of the remarkable book Explore Evolution whose authors include the scientists Stephen Meyer, Paul Nelson and Scott Minnich.   This textbook, which is particularly suitable for senior high school students and undergraduates, is a must read for anyone who is interested in the continuing controversy about Darwinian evolution.  It is also a book to pass on to those who are studying the subject or are confused by the debate. [my emphasis]

It’s bogus – there is no controversy about ‘Darwinian evolution’.  If anything there is a manufactured social controversy, engineered by particular groups and individuals, often with a distinctively religious agenda. I’ve emphasised some text which makes it clear that Dr Alastair Noble (who holds a PhD in Chemistry rather than the Biological Sciences) is seeking to push his Intelligent Design creationism at schools.

This book will help you make up your own mind, from the scientific evidence, about the adequacy of Darwinism to explain the development and complexity of life.

More probably, the intention is to confuse the reader!

Explore Evolution first surfaced in the UK when the fundamentalist creationist group Truth in Science mailed copies to school librarians (BCSE responded by circulating an Open Letter to School Librarians). This looks to me like further blurring of the artificial boundaries between ID creationism and other forms of creationism.

UPDATE: One other relevant observation is that the Contact Us page for CARE in Scotland lists Alastair Noble as Education Officer. CARE is a Christian lobbying group which has interns working for MPs at Westminster. Here’s a Herald article (Rival to evolution may enter schools) in which Dr Noble is quoted:

Alastair Noble is an educational consultant who has been invited by both denominational and non- denominational secondary schools to present ID on a scientific basis. He said: “I gauge a growing level of interest from pupils and teachers. My guess is that the (TiS) DVDs are being used by a small but significant number of teachers.”

“It deserves formal consideration. It presents a scientific challenge to the construct that the world is the result of blind and purposeless forces.”

A more recent article at the Herald includes this strange bit of doublespeak from Dr Noble:

The group’s director, Dr Alastair Noble, told the Sunday Herald it was “inevitable” the debate would make its way into schools — even though the Scottish Government says teachers should not regard intelligent design as science.

“We are definitely not targeting schools, but that doesn’t mean to say we may not produce resources that go to schools,” Dr Noble said, adding that he had already been asked to speak in Scottish schools, and agreed to do so.

‘Seeking a Signature’

Here’s a review of Meyer’s ‘Signature in the Cell’, published back in 2010 in the American Science Affiliation*’s journal, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith: Seeking a Signature, by Dennis Venema (2010, Vol 62, pp 276-283). It’s rather a nice review of ‘Signature in the Cell’, and makes some good points – it’s well worth reading. I particularly noted this paragraph towards the end of the review:

Effectively, Meyer requests that we trade pursuing an ongoing area of productive research for his pronouncement that it will never succeed. Not so. Biologists know full well that natural mechanisms can add functional information to DNA sequences, and it thus makes good sense to look for pathways that exploit these mechanisms at the origin of life. True, research in this field has not solved the origin-of-life problem, and there are several competing hypotheses on the table, all with some experimental support. Quite a lot has been accomplished in this area in the last few decades, and it is a reasonable expectation that further research will continue to pay dividends. To halt research in this field and to label it “design” (and therefore unsolvable) accomplishes nothing scientifically, especially when there is no workable theory of design to guide future work.

I think that passage quite neatly encapsulates a major problem with Meyer’s argument that we have reached a conclusion to science’s efforts to figure out how life originated, and that science has failed to do so, leaving open only the possibility of supernatural intervention. Quite frankly, such a view does a significant disservice to science.

Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith seems to specialise in letting authors and critics exchange views in print.  Venema’s review was followed in the the June 2011 issue by a couple of small response articles, and in the September 2011 issue by a lengthy rebuttal from Meyer (Of Molecules and (Straw) Men: A Response to Dennis Venema’s Review of Signature in the Cell), and a response to Meyer’s rebuttal by Venema (Intelligent Design, Abiogenesis, and Learning from History: A Reply to Meyer).  Hopefully this will draw the to-and-fro of opinions to a close, though I note the final issue of 2011 does have a couple of articles on information and the origins of life.

Meyer’s response seeks to shift the discussion of biological information origins away from a more generic discussion (where Meyer is clearly wrong that no natural processes can give rise to biological information) to one focussed on the origins of biological information.  He’s irked, for example, that Venema thinks that he gave short shrift to considering the possibility that the relationship between codon and amino acid are not random (see for example work by Yarus).  This is something I’d picked up on while ploughing through Signature. He returns to the woolly concept of functional specified information. [Actually, I think that a major problem with this functionality is that our picture of the functions of nucleic acids shifts continually as scientific discoveries are made, hypotheses formulated and tested.  Only a decade or so ago short functional mRNA sequences were pretty much unheard of – now miRs are known to be not only widespread but a highly important component of gene regulation; function in DNA sequence need not relate to encoding RNA or protein sequences, etc, making definitive statements around functional information problematic.]  In the end, however, Meyer’s argument that the most likely explanation for the origin of biological information is a supernatural one rests on his belief that (a) scientific explanations (for Meyer, these are materialistic explanations) of the origin of  life have failed to explain how genetic systems arose, but more importantly that (b) they will not do so, and that scientific investigation into the origins of biological information are now unsuccessfully concluded.  How else, then, can he assert the best explanation for the origins of biological information requires a supernatural entity (for which there is no evidence), and the use of unknown technology to accomplish the design?  It still seems to me to be a classic ‘God of the Gaps’ explanation.

Venema’s reply to Meyer has a lengthy argument that such strategies are doomed to fail where reliance is made on a perceived explanatory failure of science – scientific investigation is usually an ongoing endeavour. This is returning to the passage I quote above from his review of ‘Signature in the Cell’, but in his reply he very effectively illustrates the problem an Intelligent Design creationist faces in making use of such a strategy.

It struck me while reading ‘Signature in the Cell’ that Meyer’s so-called argument from best explanation was remarkably poor, and it’s rather helpful to see Venema’a deconstruction in print. So, my version of the argument from best explanation would be a choice between two alternatives.

1. That a supernatural entity (for which there is not a jot of evidence) used unknown techniques (for which, obviously, there is not a jot of evidence) to initiate life using the genetic code which is extant today.

or

2. That natural processes gave rise to life as we know it. At present no definitive conclusions have been reached as the the chemical basis of this process, but it is an active research area that has over the years advanced numerous hypotheses, many of which offer testable predictions.

I know which alternative I prefer.

*The ASA, incidentally, is an international network of christians in the sciences, as stated at their website:

The American Scientific Affiliation, or ASA, was founded in 1941 as an international network of Christians in the sciences.

Stephen Meyer’s C4ID lecture

The Centre for Intelligent Design (the UK’s very own Discotute wannabees) have posted a video of Stephen C. Meyer’s lecture from last November online.  Over at the BCSE blog, my colleague Psiloiordinary has taken on the task of working through the lecture (Live Blogging the UK C4ID Lecture 2011).  For my part, I confess to a lack of willingness to spend the time on such a thankless task, since I expended quite a bit of effort recently ploughing through Meyer’s  magnum opus Signature in the Cell

No Signature in the Cell

 A review of Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell

Pub 2009, Harper One (edition reviewed was the Kindle edition).

Introduction

In late 2011, Stephen Meyer delivered a lecture in London. Organised by the UK’s very own Centre for Intelligent Design (C4ID), and hosted in Whitehall by Lord Mackay of Clashfern (a notable member of the Free Church of Scotland), I received an invitation in the post.  Circumstances surrounding this lecture coupled with some background reading I’d done on Meyer’s thinking and an awareness of how Intelligent Design creationists have in the past used academic attendees at events as some kind of litmus test of acceptance, I decided not to attend.  Instead, I was quite vocal (critical of ID creationism) in several internet fora, which attracted some criticism that I had not actually read the book in question (had I attended, I would have been given a copy).

I can summarise my opinion of the book quite succinctly. It is lengthy, tedious, overblown, very defensive at times, occasionally interesting, generally deceptive, but ultimately completely unconvincing to a practising biologist.  However, I did read this book with the intention of reviewing it, so here goes. Continue reading “No Signature in the Cell”

Academic publisher suckered by Intelligent Design creationists

I noticed this story at the Panda’s Thumb developing over the last few days: Springer gets suckered by creationist pseudoscience – The Panda’s Thumb

It looks like some creationist engineers found a way to slither some ID/creationism into a major academic publisher, Springer. The major publishers have enough problems at the moment (e.g. see the Elsevier boycott), it seems like the last thing they should be doing is frittering away their credibility even further by uncritically publishing creationist work and giving it a veneer of respectability. The mega-publishers are expensive, are making money off of largely government-funded work provided to them for free, and then the public doesn’t even have access to it. The only thing they have going for them is quality control and credibility – if they give that away to cranks, there is no reason at all to support them.

The comments at Panda’s Thumb are rather informative:

  • The book is a conference proceedings, but not in the biological sciences
  • The conference was held in rooms rented from Cornell, but not promoted by Cornell or its academic community
  • The participants’ names are secret
  • Attendance was invitation only
  • At least one of the volume editors appears to be a creationist of the young earth variety

It would seem that Springer may be having second thoughts: the notification of this volume has now disappeared from their website.

This all seems to be part of the Wedge Strategy to gain apparent endorsement by the academic world. Similar conferences have been documented in ‘Creationism’s Trojan Horse‘.  Indeed similar strategies appear to be endorsed by C4ID, who’s conferences may only be attended by those sympathetic to ID creationism, and who recently organised a lecture in London by Stephen Meyer at which the names of those attending have been kept confidential.

UPDATE: There’s an update to this story at Panda’s Thumb. The story is also covered at Inside Higher Ed.