The ‘Logic’ of Sherlock Holmes

It’s always struck me that Intelligent Design creationists always seem to fall into a hole of illogic. Essentially, they will argue that a particular biological feature, (examples such as bacterial flagella, the vertebrate immune system, and the origin of life spring to mind) are complex, have a cursory investigation of what is known about those case…then pronounce they cannot have come about by natural causes hence an intelligent designer (aka god) must have done it.

This in many ways reflects one of the classic quotes of the fictional (let us remember) detective Sherlock Holmes.

“When you dismiss the impossible, whatever you have left, however improbable, is the answer.”

There’s a rather nice discussion of this piece of ‘logic’ over by Dave Gamble at the Skeptical Science blog: Beware The Logic of Sherlock Holmes. Essentially, it’s all very well applying such reasoning to a murder within a room with locked windows and doors, but in the real world of scientific research (as opposed to the fantasy world of Intelligent Design), it’s very difficult to rule that, for example, further detailed hypotheses concerning the origins of life may surface through conventional scientific approaches. Dave observes that one should always apply the following:

Are all the other options truly “impossible”?

Perhaps the very premise itself is wrong

In fact have you truly eliminated all other possibilities, is it not more possible that there is a simpler alternative that you have not yet considered?

To invoke an invisible magic designer to explain a bit of biology while denying that science may ultimately identify a plausible (or, dare I say it, demonstrable) explanation is nothing more than an elaborated ‘God of the Gaps’ argument (Intelligent Design creationism’s much vaunted “inference to the best explanation”). We saw this strategy shot down in flames at the Dover trial. And for ID creationists to claim an intelligent magic designer is the best explanation for the origin of life is just the same: scientific investigation has led to several hypotheses for origins of life. Based on evidence from chemistry and physics, and on what is know of prebiotic conditions on Earth, surely there is more going for those scientific hypotheses than a religiously motivated cop-out?

Happy Kitzmas 2012

It’s the seventh anniversary of the judgement in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, the American court case that definitively rulled that Intelligent Design creationism was indeed religious and was therefore forbidden from publicly funded schools in the USA. I posted a more detailed overview this time last year (Happy Kitzmas!), making observations on the implications of the verdict.

In the last year, the C4ID has merely flailed around holding ‘conferences’ to preach to the already converted but not managing to insert Intelligent Design creationism into schools (Centre for Intelligent Design 2012). Indeed the biggest worry regarding schools and creationism has been the approval of a number Free Schools with the kind of religious ethos that is likely to bring with it the baggage of creationism – this remains a concern despite public pronouncements from the Government.

What will 2013 bring?

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.

Free schools must teach evolution

There’s an article in today’s Guardian which indicates that all these free schools which form part of Michael Gove’s misguided concept of state centralisation of education must teach evolution (Free schools must teach evolution, ministers announce).

All free schools will be forced to present evolution as a comprehensive and central tenet of scientific theory, ministers have announced, following lobbying by senior scientists concerned that Christian-run institutions could exploit loopholes in the rules to present creationism as a credible theory.

The significance here is clear – for all the free schools founded by the more extreme sectors of evangelical christianity (and, I guess, schools run with any other religious ethos) evolution must be taught as part of the science curriculum. The worry had been that such Free schools such as the Grindon Hall Christian School (see The Grindon Hall Creation Policy document) would teach their (ir)relevant creation myths under the guise of Religious Studies, and then just omit evolutionary biology from their science classes.

Still, worries must arise around just how these religiously motivated Free schools will be inspected – both in terms of how effective this can be and who actually does the inspection.

Wouldn’t it just be easier not to allow these kinds of people to run schools in the first place?

Thursday linkage

Since my time available for blogging has somewhat disappeared at the moment, I’m merely going to briefly link to postings generally relevant to creationism.

Peer reviewed Intelligent Design creationism?

Claims of Peer Review for Intelligent Design examined … and debunked – Dave Gamble reviews the supposedly peer reviewed publications of intelligent design creationism, focussing on the output of the Discovery Institute. His initial filter weeds out papers in BIO-Complexity, the house journal of the Biologic Insitute (the research arm of the DI). Similarly, other classes of output are cast aside. Dave’s conclusion?

The complete lack of any credible scientific evidence tells you all you really need to know. Is there any scientific foundation for Intelligent Design? The quick one word summary is “No“.
With no credible evidence on the table, any and all creationist claims need not be addressed, but instead should simply be dismissed. If they wish to ever assert a claim that is not dismissed, then they need to first go do some science that backs it up.

But you really should read the article.

ENCODE and the reality of junk DNA

Of course, the big news in the last few weeks has been the bizarre claims of the ENCODE project that they have identified a ‘function’ for 80% of the human genome…and they expect that proportion to increase. This was eagerly set upon by ID creationists as some kind of demolition of the existence of junk DNA, along with erroneous claims that junk DNA was originally defined or equated with non-coding DNA. Of course, the latter is incorrect, and anyway, the ENCODE project had to redefine ‘function’ to get the 80% figure. It’s worth reading ENCODE says what? at the Cryptogenomicon blog – written by labs who really know what they are talking about.

Similarly T. Ryan Gregory at Genomicron has weighed in: ENCODE spokesperson: 40%, not 80%; Student ENCODE authors show the way; Good reads about ENCODE; ENCODE (2012) vs. Comings (1972). Many of these articles present a clear historical perspective.

Sites like Genomicron and Cryptogenomicron have articles that really ought to put to rest this new fable that Junk DNA is a myth, but it has spread like wildfire round the internet at the hands of those who are too ignorant or deceitful to understand the reality of the data.

The Salem hypothesis revisited

Here’s a blog article that popped up in my Trapit app the other day: Intelligent Design, Evolution, & Molecular Machines. The author, Orrin Woodward, would appear to be an engineer. That an engineer might sign up to ID creationism shouldn’t really be a surprise (see The Salem Hypothesis).

Almost unbelievably, Woodward homes in on that most discredited example of irreducible complexity, the bacterial flagellum. Reading this made it seem I was in a time warp and had ended up pre-Dover! What gives the game away are a series of quotations from the bible. Woodward closes with an exhortation “Indeed, it’s not as important that we all think the same, but it is desperately important today that we all start to think.” Unfortunately, his blog article clearly demonstrates the author’s unwillingness to think beyond outdated and discredited creationist misrepresentation of biology and his own religion’s sacred texts.

Information Input Theory – A Trademarked “Research Field”?

Here’s an odd website that popped up in my news feed. It proclaims itself the “International Laboratory of ID Science“. Apparently it’s all about something called Information Input Theory. A phrase which apparently has been trade marked. And with supreme irony, given the text on the home page, the website is subtitled Evidence and Reason! According to the site,

IIT is a field of Intelligent Design science which predicts intelligent inputs, specified complexity and adaptation value in biological systems. IIT is a study of information, it overlaps studies in computer science, information theory, bioinformatics and biomechanics.
IIt is a recognised tool, a respected and trusted science.

I had a quick Google search of the phrase Information Input Theory. Nothing other than the site and its facebook page comes up, so I suspect it’s scarcely a recognised tool, or a respected and trusted science. Other hallmarks of a, shall we say, oddball site are the oddly written prose often using neologisms and words that are just plain wrong. Oh, and over-interpretations and misinterpretations of science.

On the off chance that this really is some kind of offshoot of Intelligent Design creationism, I Googled “Information Input Theory” + “Discovery Institute” since the Discotute have a bit of a track record in abusing information theory, but I only hit one page, an individual’s Facebook page. I didn’t fare much better replacing the Discotute with its UK equivalent, the centre for Intelligent Design. I presume therefore that whoever (or what) is behind this website is not overtly connected with either outfit.

So this looks to be a off-piste oddball site. Of course, it appears to be a website that’s still being built (it has lots non-functional links), but top of the list of “Reference Links” is a link to The Bible. Which probably explains a lot.

There’s not much content. On the front page are brief discussions of the famous Cairns paper of 1988 (Cairns J, Overbaugh J, Miller S. The origin of mutants. Nature. 1988;335:142-145. Link), neglecting to mention work that’s been done since (such as Hendrickson et al. Amplification-mutagenesis: evidence that “directed” adaptive mutation and general hypermutability result from growth with a selected gene amplification. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2002;99(4):2164-9. Link). Oh and a lot of poorly drafted verbiage that doesn’t make sense to me. Also on the front page is a brief discussion of a preprint paper by Gregory Chaitin on some sort of mathematical modelling of evolution, which I haven’t read, but about which this brief burst of gibberish is completely unilluminating.

There are a few pages of text, for example objecting to evolution (names here as Darwinism) which begins with a bonkers assertion:

The theory of evolution is not one theory but, a collection of theories, e.g. Natural Selection – DNA sequencing, coordination of sexual selection etc.
Darwinism or (Neo-Darwinism) is a subject of philosophy and in particular, a want, rather than actual science, which hinders the public from adopting the actuality of design in science.

And it gets worse! I’ve rarely read such inarticulate writings, even from creationists. Peculiarly, the link entitled ‘Science behind ITT’ take one to a page with the tab heading Jesus Loves You, with a ludicrous collection of gibberish the like of which I’ve only really seen on true nut-job alt-med sites.



“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.

Update on Creationist Free School Bids – British Humanist Association

The British Humanist Association has a useful overview of recent bids for faith-based Free Schools (Creationist Free School bids rejected before interview as other ‘faith’ schools advance to interviews). The article seems fairly upbeat about the failure of several bids from groups clearly planning to teach creationism as an alternative to scientific reality. 

Bids to set up creationist Free Schools have been rejected by the Department for Education (DfE). In particular, the DfE have turned down a high-profile bid from Sheffield Christian Free School, which would have been affiliated to the Christian Schools’ Trust (CST) network of largely creationist private schools. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has welcomed the news; however, at least 15 other proposals to open ‘faith’ schools in 2013 have advanced to the interview stage.

The fate of several specific bids for creationist Free Schools is summarised in the article:

I share the BHA’s concern about the general tendency for diverse and factional religiously motivated Free School proposals to be made. I also have a worry about school bids with a focus on barmpottery (as David Colquhoun puts it) suchas the three Steiner schools which have progressed in the application process. 

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 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.

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.