intelligent design

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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.

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Here’s a video of P Z Myers taking down three cornerstones of Stephen Meyer’s Darwin’s Doubt at Skepticon. For a more detailed take on Meyer’s misrepresentation of science, see Nick Matzke (Meyer’s Hopeless Monster, Part II), Smilodon’s Retreat (Darwin’s Doubt – a review), and this excellent review in Science (When Prior Belief Trumps Scholarship).

 

 

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Having read an earlier book by Stephen Meyer (see No Signature in the Cell), I was distinctly underwhelmed by his grasp of biology and had no great desire to read his latest ‘work’, Darwin’s Doubt. It’s notable that the reviews that I’ve read on the web fall into two camps. On the one hand, the lay audience quite frequently laps this stuff up, particularly where the reader is predisposed to do so by religious belief, while on the other had reviews by people with some actual scientific expertise have been uniformly damning (see for example this by Nick Matzke over at Panda’s Thumb: Meyer’s Hopeless Monster, Part II). Sitting somewhere in the middle is the review by the author of the Smilodon’s Retreat blog (Darwin’s Doubt – A Review), who appears to be located between the informed lay person and practising scientist (he’s a teacher): every reference made by Meyer is being subjected to scrutiny, and generally found wanting in some respect.

In a recent post (McDonald – The Great Darwinian Paradox), Smilodon’s Retreat addresses one of the long-standing repeated citations in the canon of works in Intelligent Design creationism, that of the Great Darwinian Paradox, beginning with Behe in 1996 and continuing through to Darwin’s Doubt in 2013. The conclusion? That Discotute Fellows are being not only selective in how they refer to McDonald’s review article, but are at best “economical with the truth“. Quote-mining is a characteristic of creationist writing – see The Quote Mine Project for examples – and it would seem that as a variety of creationism, Intelligent Design creationsm is no exception.

It seems pretty clear not only that the detailed review of Darwin’s Doubt is revealing a concerted effort to distort the reality of evolutionary biology and allied disciplines to provide a platform for the God of the Gaps concept of Intelligent Design creationism, but that disentangling the inaccuracies and deliberate obfuscation in the book requires quite a dedication in time and effort. More than I, for example, can offer. The author of the Smilodon’s Retreat review deserves applause for his effort. Sadly, this appears to be taking a toll on his time, and the approach to the review has changed (A Change to the Darwin’s Doubt Reviews).

 

 

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It takes a special kind of doggedness to make an “Infographic” that rehashes debunked stories as if the debunking had never happened, but that’s what the Discovery Institute did the other day. Perhaps some of this nonsense is down to the background of the author, who appears to have zero science credentials.

The other day, the wonderful xkcd published this satirical cartoon about Infographics (right).

I do tend to agree with this sentiment, though of course a well-structured infographic can be a useful and clear way of illustrating.

The dear old Discotute’s effort, though, is pretty pathetic (I haven’t embedded it here for copyright reasons). It’s apparently derived from what the Discotute rather grandly term “the Discovering Intelligent Design curriculum”.

Beginning with the rather grand (and incorrect) claim that

Intelligent Design uses the scientific method (e.g. observation, hypothesis, experiment, and conclusion) to make its claims.

Except that’s not really how ID creationism works. For starters, ID creationism was born as a cynical attempt to push creationism into US schools after successive court room defeats, and to do this by masquerading as science. The overall objectives can be seen in the Wedge document, after all. Accordingly, ID creation doesn’t really operate like science – it has a pre-determined conclusion that evolutionary biology must be wrong, and the only observations that the Discotute make are aimed at trying to make evolutionary explanations seem unreasonable (classic god of the gaps approach). They don’t really do experiments, and their labs appear to be greenscreens of stock photographs.

And then it’s on to the old canard that biological information is in some way directly comparable to language, computer programmes and the like, and that it can only be produced by intelligence.

The bonkers ID creationist concept of Irreducible Complexity (a.k.a. the Argument from Incredulity) is up next, illustrated by the bicycle (!) and the bacterial flagellum.

Bizarrely, the Discotute still think that bacterial flagella are in some way impossible to arrive at by natural processes, and must have been poofed into existence (by some as yet unknown mechanism) by some (unknown) sky fairy/alien genius/god, despite considerable evidence for how these structures did evolve. Anyway, get this tortured illogic:

In our uniform and repeated experience irreducibly complex systems (e.g., a bicycle) always originate from a mind capable of thinking with forethought and intentionality. Only intelligence can create the unlikely arrangement of parts that matches a specific pattern required for the machine to perform its function. ID predicts that natural structures will contain this same kind of information and complexity – patterns which we attribute to mind.

The problems with that are particularly obvious. On the one hand, we know from historical records who invented various aspects of a modern bicycle and when. Furthermore, we have an excellent understanding of how these inventions were made. On the other hand, the ID creationists are clearly being disingenuous when they claim not to identify the Judeo-Christian god as their designer of bacterial flagella, but in any case they are unable to point to specific evidence for their designer, when he/she/it did the design, and how he/she/it put the design into practice.

The concluding paragraph is lovely.

In the same way that we attribute the complex and specified information found on the Rosetta Stone and in machines to an intentional mind, the specified and even irreducible complexity found in living organisms points to an intelligent cause. By viewing biological systems as designed machines, ID opens up new avenues of scientific investigation to understand how life works.

The Discotute really needs to employ some scientists. We know that humans made the Rosetta stone. We know that humans made bicycles. The evidence there does point to intelligent cause. In the case of biological structures, there is zero evidence for a creator designer, zero evidence for how the supposed creator designer implemented his/her/its supposed design and nothing but wishful thinking and a deeply held desire for a resurgence of religious belief.

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Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute seems a bit exercised about some of the criticism levelled at Stephen Meyer’s latest creationist tome over at Amazon. The Discotute boys don’t really like comments on their writing (hence there is no commenting at the bizarrely named Evolution News & Views website). So he’s written some rubbish about how Intelligent Design creationism is really science and not creationism.

Anyhow, the Sensuous Curmudgeon has dismantled Luskin’s article quite neatly (Casey Luskin: “What Is Intelligent Design?”), with clear reference to the Discotute’s founding document encapsulating their Wedge Strategy - unfortunately for the Discovery Institute (and their Glasgow-based wannabees, C4ID), the true history of their cynical rebranding of creationism is exposed in their own documents for the world to see. Well worth a perusal.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The New Yorker has an interesting and well written blog article by Gareth Cook that reviews the new Discotute tome Darwin’s Doubt - Doubting Darwin’s Doubt. Cook places the book and Meyer’s argument in the context of the history of Intelligent Design creationism as a cynical rebranding exercise aimed at inveigling creationism back into American schools after a series of legal setbacks for creationists. Well worth reading. Cook notes the odd approach of ID creationists – that scientific understanding of the world and universe has reached its limits, and that what is left can only be explained by the interventions of God a supernatural designer:

Most absurd of all is the book’s stance on knowledge: if something cannot be fully explained by today’s science—and there is plenty about the Cambrian, and the universe, that cannot—then we should assume it is fundamentally beyond explanation, and therefore the work of a supreme deity.

Darwin’s Doubt may well have entered the New York Times hardback bestseller list (oddly, I think this is in the non-fiction section), but amongst those who know an understand science, and particularly those disciplines related to evolutionary biology, it’s very unlikely to gain any traction.

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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).

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A couple of years ago, I took the effort to read and review Stephen Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell, a risible romp through misrepresentations of molecular biology, origins of life research and information theory (No Signature in the Cell). My heart sank when I saw that Meyer was to publish another book, entitled Darwin’s Doubt, this time seeking to expose supposed problems with the fossil record, particularly around the so-called Cambrian Explosion. The Discovery Institute have trailed this book mercilessly over the past couple of months, even appealing for donations to support the publicity drive.

This morning Nick Matzke’s review of the book was posted at Panda’s Thumb (Meyer’s Hopeless Monster, Part 2), and frankly, it’s a devastating critique. The review points out serious deficiencies in Meyer’s understanding of Phylogenetics, Phylogenetic Taxonomy, or current understanding of the Cambrian and pre-Cambrian fauna.  And as an added bonus, I don’t need to read it.

The book is published by HarperOne (as was Signature in the Cell). HarperOne describes itself as follows:

For 30 years we have published the books that have changed people’s lives, influenced culture, built bridges between faiths, and withstood the test of time. View this video for more about HarperOne and our authors and readers.

The most important books across the full spectrum of religion, spirituality, and personal growth, adding to the wealth of the world’s wisdom by stirring the waters of reflection on the primary questions of life while respecting all traditions.

So I imagine that’s a reasonable home for Meyer’s book, given the Discovery Institute’s Wedge Strategy.

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Another week, another silly article at the C4ID website! Antony Latham, a GP in the Outer Hebrides, has penned a peculiarly illogical article (The compound eye of arthropods is a model for designing specialised digital cameras) leading from a paper which outlines how the arthropod compound eye has been used as a model for designing digital cameras. Ultimately, of course, he takes the usual creationist tack of claiming (i) that the evolution of visual systems has not been explained, and that (ii) this means that supernatural creation is the only alternative answer. Since Latham believes (I think) in only one more divine entity than I do, I guess that means the biblical god.

Dickinsonia costata, of the Ediacaran biota. (via Wikipedia)

But what’s the basis for this claim that we don’t know how eyes (in this case compound eyes of arthropods) evolved? His claim is that we have no direct physical evidence (i.e. fossils) – and dismisses the paucity of soft-bodied fossils as an explanation because we have the Ediacaran fauna. The Ediacaran fauna are somewhat enigmatic (see the image to the right) – we don’t really know what kind of organisms these were, or whether they had light-sensitive structures (let alone structures capable of forming or perceiving images). Fossils of soft-bodies Pre-Cambrian organisms are still rare, and it seems likely that primitive eye-spots might be hard to recognise in such fossils.

Fossils are of course not the only evidence that may be used to study the evolutionary origins of eyes – biologists look at biochemical, molecular, genetic and of course morphological evidence within extant taxa. We also have functional studies, such as those concerning the transcription factor Pax6, which appears to be involved in the early stages of forming eye structures in diverse taxa.

But what is striking about the creationist approach – and let’s face it, Intelligent Design creationism is no exception – is that creationists cannot even be bothered to look at the depth of scientific investigation into questions around the origins and evolution of eyes. Instead they revel in their ignorance and proudly proclaim (generally erroneously) that evolutionary biology can’t explain <something>, therefore a god/creator/designer must have done <something>. Latham cites Gould’s Wonderful Life – a 24 year old popular science account of the rediscovery of the Burgess Shale fauna. I scratched my head a bit at this: while it is well over 20 years since I read it, I didn’t recall any attempt to describe the evolution of compound eyes. Sure enough, the three mentions of eyes found in the index merely point to descriptions of Burgess Shale arthropods which have compound eyes. [Latham also cites his own work, The Naked Emperor: Darwinism Exposed, portions of which can be read via Google Books. On the basis of those samples, I am unlikely to cough up for the book.]

Creationists, whose view of the world is seemingly blinkered by the closed and literalist view of a ‘holy book’, appear to believe that scientific investigation has similarly reached its limits and what is not yet understood will never be understood. Just a quick Google search reveals numerous publications in which biologists have applied, and are evidently continuing to apply, a wide variety of approaches to address the question of the origin and evolution of eyes (I’ve listed a couple below). As usual, the Intelligent Design creationist approach is found seriously wanting.

Oakley (2003) On Homology of Arthropod Compound Eyes Integr. Comp. Biol. 43 (4): 522-530. doi: 10.1093/icb/43.4.522 – addresses the issue of whether the compound eyes of arthropods are monophyletic or not: that is, whether they arose more than once in the arthropods.

Gehring (2011) Chance and Necessity in Eye Evolution Genome Biol Evol 3 1053-1066.doi: 10.1093/gbe/evr061 – Gehring’s lab discovered that the transcription factor Pax6 seems to play a universal role in the initiation of eye development during development. Gehring proposes (on the basis of conserved function between vertebrate and insect Pax6) that eyes are derived from a single evolutionary origin. This review is worth reading for the overview it provides of the conserved genetic pathways in eye development.

Postscript

Just as I was about to publish this, an article by Rosa Rubicondior popped into my feed: Dunning-Kruger Creationists. It seems rather relevant.

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