Posted December 4, 2003
This is an essay by professor Paul Gross which appeared in September 2003 issue of Science Insights (the organ of National Association of Scholars).
Because this can't be a treatise and we must be content with only a few pointer-references to a vast literature, I must, before describing the putative science of "intelligent design," establish the background from which it emerges.
Bogus science takes many forms. The aspiring diagnostician has a choice of sources, ancient and modern, for help in recognizing it. Thus the student of science-obfuscation may distinguish among the works of (sincere) "crackpots," persistent "cranks," science-illiterates, honest but grossly incompetent practitioners with a fixed idea, and qualified but sham practitioners of science, in it for money or sectarian glory. Recent symptom-lists for these pathologies come from two accomplished physicists.
From Robert L. Park, we have "The seven warning signs of bogus science", a meditation on the Supreme Court's landmark effort (Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 1993), toward insuring the admissibility of expert science testimony, and the inadmissibility of bad, tendentious, or bogus science. Park identifies seven warning signs of the shams that the Court wants judges, as gatekeepers, to disallow. Two of these are especially relevant to the new creationism, which dubs itself "Intelligent Design Theory."
1. "The [self-identified] discoverer," Park explains, "[who] says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work...that the establishment will...stop at nothing to suppress discoveries that might shift the balance of wealth and power in society." And,
2. "The discoverer must propose new laws of nature..."
As a convenience for serious investigators, mathematical physicist John Baez has fashioned a Crackpot Index. A high score on this Index identifies infallibly a scientific claim that isn't -- one that can be ignored by the working and presumably busy scientist (http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/crackpot.html). The Index is computed on 35 indicators, each with a point value. Those range from 1 to 50. The last six, with the biggest point values, are:
"31. 40 points for comparing those who argue against your ideas to Nazis, stormtroopers, or brownshirts" [or the equivalent on the Stalinist-Maoist left -- PRG].
"32. 40 points for claiming that the 'scientific establishment' is engaged in a 'conspiracy' to prevent your work from getting its well-deserved fame, or suchlike."
"33. 40 points for comparing yourself to Galileo..."
"34. 40 points for claiming that when your theory is finally appreciated, present-day science will be seen for the sham it truly is..."
"35. 50 points for claiming you have a revolutionary theory but giving no concrete testable predictions."
The new creationism, as any competent reader of its voluminous literature discovers, displays every one of these symptoms. Creationist anti-science, directed primarily but not exclusively at evolution and its current expositors, suffered regular and damaging defeats in the courts during the 20th century. The litigation was in response to ceaseless creationist efforts either to eliminate evolution from school science, or to give equal time to some scriptural account of Earth history, or to require strong disclaimers as to the rightness of evolutionary biology. Every legal defeat of anti-evolutionism turned upon the issue of church-state separation. Creationist attacks on science education were easily shown to be religiously motivated, and their proposed alternatives to be religion, not science. The constitution forbids an establishment of religion: that includes public education. Thus the impediment to creationist sabotage of modern biology has been the unmistakably religious motivation of every disruptive strategy -- until now.
The new creationism, too, is at base religious, not scientific
Attend now to William A. Dembski, theologian and mathematician, currently the lead intellectual of the intelligent design movement, in Touchstone Magazine, July/August 1999, p. 84:
"Despite its [intelligent design theory's] implications for science, I regard the ultimate significance of the work on design to lie in metaphysics..."
"The world is a mirror representing the divine life. The mechanical philosophy was ever blind to this fact. Intelligent design ...readily embraces the sacramental nature of physical reality. Indeed, intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John's Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory."
In the middle 1990s, a strategic plan for bypassing the constitutional impediment was hatched, funded by rightist and religious sources, and given a home within the Discovery Institute of Seattle, Washington. It was the brainchild of Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson, who had decided, in the course of a mid-life crisis, to (in his own words) give himself to Christ. His plan called for Christian scholars to set aside, for the time being, all biblical literalism and palpable (Christian) apologetics, and to attack contemporary science directly -- as a form of thought crippled by its commitment to "philosophical naturalism," or materialism.
In this movement there would be no direct mention of God or divine action -- thus bypassing the legal barrier to the science classroom. Participants in the work would carry out research to identify and publicize the (assumed) deep flaws in Darwinism; they would prove the working of intelligent design in the creation of the world, and -- most important -- they would convey that good news, by energetic public relations and political activity, into every corner of the culture and every level of local, state, and national politics. This plan was dubbed "The Wedge": like a small wedge splitting a log when driven into a crack, this combination of research discoveries, anti-evolution public relations, and activist politics, hammered into the cracks in evolutionary biology would shatter it and with it materialism, restoring a God-centered socio-cultural life. (See for example Survival of the Slickest How anti-evolutionists are mutating their message; also Robert T. Pennock, Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000).
In all its elements except the most important -- the new science that was to identify the flaws in Darwinism and to demonstrate the presence of intelligent design in the world -- the Wedge has prospered. It has almost displaced the creationisms that preceded it: the extreme biblical literalists, the "young earth creationists", the old earth creationists, the varieties of "theistic science" that acknowledge the fact of evolution but attribute it to the action of some version of God.
But the science -- discovery of those failures in Darwinism, of proofs, empirical and theoretical, that Darwinian evolution cannot have happened -- has failed utterly. No matter: few people, few scientists, even, outside the life sciences, understand the modern science of evolution, much less the nit-picking inside and outside it. Of course, few people understand relativity or quantum gravity either, and their internecine quarrels; but theoretical physics arouses no passions. What counts in the making of public (including educational) policy is low-level plausibility, repetition, and hardball politics. To the lay mind, especially the mind justly concerned about faith and the state of society, intelligent design has more than enough plausibility. So half a dozen among the fifty states, now, and many more local school districts than that, are embroiled in bitter political fights over evolution in the science curriculum. In all of those, the Wedge is present. To multiple millions of people it seems self-evident that the world was designed by an intelligence, that is, for a purpose.
The creationist Santorum "amendment," disguised as a call for "critical thinking" about science (in K-12!), barely missed incorporation as such into the last federal education bill. But it is still there as an advisory of the joint congressional committee. Wedge regulars mounted a 1960s-style teach-in for members of the Congress of the United States, in Washington. Yet to date, seven or eight years after the initial efforts of the Wedge, not a single research paper on, or clearly related to, the intelligent design hypothesis has been published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. But again, no matter: millions of people believe what the Wedge publishes in non-science journals, in books mostly from religious houses, broadcasts in talk shows, and announces in conferences for the faithful.
How, then, does the Wedge explain this failure to produce the new science that was supposed to be its purpose? See Park (1), above on bogus science, and Baez (31 -- 35, above), for the Crackpot Index. Their explanation is a Vast Conspiracy of the world's scientists to cover up the collapse of Darwinism and to suppress the discoveries of Wedge members. You don't believe me? Please go to the web sites of the Discovery Institute itself, or of the Access Research Network, or to the productions of Wedge to which I provide starting keys below, or to the writings of mathematician David Berlinski in Commentary. That respectable cultural-political journal, for mysterious reasons, continues to publish, sans competent review, Berlinski's animadversions on evolution. It does so although he has no visible qualifications in biology or as an evolutionary thinker (see James Downard's "A Tale of Two Citations," and has most recently even dismissed the arguments of the Wedge, retaining however his own cranky certitudes contra "Darwinism."
As to Park (2) -- the claim of bogus scientists to have discovered new laws of nature -- that is made by the Wedge's William Dembski in his "Law of the Conservation of Information." The experts have ignored or scorned it (for example, On Dembski's Law of Conservation of Information; A Consistent Inconsistency). And biochemist Michael Behe, another Wedge leader, in his 1996 book, Darwin's Black Box (New York: The Free Press) compared his argument for "irreducible complexity" to the discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo (Baez 33).
What, then, are the explicitly scientific claims with which the Wedge (the branch of the Discovery Institute that houses the Wedge) encourages the faithful and bemuses parents, school boards, politicians, and nice people in the National Association of Scholars? There is one general claim with five subsidiaries, each identified with one or more Fellows, advisers, or associates of the Center for Science and Culture. The subsidiaries fall into two groups: negative (as regards evolutionary biology, "Darwinism") and positive (as regards intelligent design). The general claim is familiar: it is the ancient argument from design for the existence of God, last resurrected by the Reverend William Paley, in England, in 1802 despite its having been rather soundly thrashed by David Hume in 1748. The explicit aim of the Wedge is to rehabilitate this argument -- that the world, life within it, is too complex and obviously purposeful to have happened "by chance," hence it must have been designed and created miraculously. In fact the explicit aim is to modernize ecstatic, nineteenth-century natural theology, and with it to defeat "the mechanical philosophy" of modernism.
Here now I list the subsidiary claims, name some of their principal Wedge spokesmen, indicate briefly the reasons why they are inconsequential. I provide pointer internet addresses and other references at the end of each. Each site provides links to the large literature on the issue, from the Wedge itself and its supporters, and from the scientific community.
Negative claim: In the Cambrian "explosion" of about 540 million years ago, nearly all the phyla of modern animals appeared at the same time, giving the lie to the key Darwinian principle of slow, gradual change -- descent with modification. This indicates that something quite different was going on, possibly special creation ex nihilo of the animal body plans. The Wedge's point man for this has been Paul Chien, a marine biologist and self-described anti-Darwinist Christian; but others have contributed to the argument. Chien has no qualifications in paleontology; he has published no research in the field and has frankly acknowledged, when interviewed, his amateur status. Nevertheless he has cultivated, on behalf of the Wedge, the Chinese paleontologists working on the remarkable Precambrian and Cambrian fossils of Guizhou Province.
The Cambrian explosion argument is false. "The same time" means, in fact, a time-span of about ten million years. The relative rapidity of the Cambrian adaptive radiation is of great interest in paleontology; but no paleontologist of stature believes that the phyla arose ex nihilo. There were multicellular animals on Earth long before the Cambrian period, and there were unicellular ancestors of those, worldwide, at least 2.5 billion years ago. Darwinian "gradualism" never required that all evolutionary change proceed at a constant slow rate. What interests contemporary students of the Cambrian is the trigger(s) for the radiation from Precambrian ancestors that left few or no fossils to their multiform descendants in the Cambrian seas. See as an example a recent book review by the preeminent student of the subject, Cambridge Professor Simon Conway Morris, in American Scientist Online, July-August 2003. More references and links below.
Negative claim: "Irreducible complexity" of structures and biochemical systems at and below the cellular level. This is Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe's variation of Paley. Behe's claim is that the internal machinery of cells is massively complex; each IC object is functionally dependent upon all its parts. If one part is missing, there can be no function. Behe's examples of IC subcellular objects include processes, such as the blood clotting cascade, and structures such as flagellae. There are a few key howlers in this argument, which was published in trade-book form 1996. Since then they have been pointed out in dozens of reviews and in responses from working evolutionists to Behe's frenetic schedule of promotion and replying (inadequately) to critics. But there are in the scientific literature -- and have been for sixty years -- considerations and examples of the evolution such systems as Behe identifies, structures and processes that have demonstrably evolved from simpler precursors, less complex and sometimes with different functions than those of the contemporary structure or reaction pathway. (See, for a beautiful current example, "Origin and evolution of circadian clock genes in prokaryotes," by Volodymyr Dvornyk and others, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100 (5): 2495-2500, 2003). A comprehensive discussion, with dozens of links pro-(from the Wedge) and con-IC, can be found at "Behe's Empty Box". See also a typically devastating review of Darwin's Black Box from Brown University biologist -- and theist -- Kenneth Miller. Behe's "discovery" is just an argument from personal incredulity.
Negative claim: Some of the supposed "proofs" of Darwinian evolution are false or fraudulent. All wedge spokesmen assert or imply this from time to time; but their chief conspiracy theorist is Jonathan Wells. Wells is a member and theologian of the Unification Church. As he tells it, the Rev. Sun-Myung Moon, to whom he refers as "father," encouraged him to go for a second Ph.D., this one in Biology, after winning his spurs in theology. The purpose was to arm himself to "destroy Darwinism." His work consists not of doing biology, but of mining the literature for arguments and weaknesses in evolutionary science. These he has assembled, for example in his book Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2000), as supposed proofs of evolution, taught in the schools, that are in fact wrong or fraudulent. The book, and the lectures and tracts he produces wherever there are conflicts over science curriculum, are very effective in rousing the furies of parents who care about their children being taught lies.
It is the Icons themselves, however, that are wrong and deceitful. Not one of them is about a "proof" of Darwinism. Every one is a comment on material in some school science textbooks, mis-stated or grossly distorted by Wells as to origin, significance, and relevance to modern biology. There is no alternative for the reader who cares about this than to read a few of the responses from the literally dozens of experts and science teachers who have dissected Wells' claims. Good places to start looking are National Center for Science Education and TalkOrigins, searching for "Wells" and "Icons." In any case nothing offered by him is in any way useful for judging seriously the strength and significance of evolutionary science.
Positive claim: All modern science is blinded to the breadth of reality by an unjustifiable commitment to naturalism and materialism, whereby it cannot recognize the spiritual element in nature. The naturalism of modern science is no more than a faith. This was lawyer Phillip Johnson's original, and is still his only original, claim. It is bad philosophy. Its basic error is to mistake the methodological naturalism of natural science, without which there could be no objective inquiry, for some ontological or metaphysical commitment, which in fact most scientists do not have. The whole argument is artless. See Pennock's Tower of Babel, cited earlier, and the collection of essays edited by Pennock, Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001).
Positive claim: It is proven by mathematics that "the Darwinian mechanism" alone cannot explain life. This is the work of William Dembski, trained in theology, philosophy, and mathematics. Mathematical and probabilistic arguments against evolution are, of course, nothing new. They have been appearing for more than a hundred years, and one at a time they have been dropped because silly. A favorite current version is the argument from improbability. One shows, because any ordinary protein is composed of a hundred or so amino acids in an ordered configuration, and because the set of possible amino acids numbers twenty, that the probability of the correct set assembling in the proper order by chance is ridiculously small, because the number of possible combinations is ridiculously large -- a number larger than the number of electrons in the universe, or some such.
This is nonsense, of course: no protein has ever assembled that way. Dembski's arguments are far fancier, though. He posits a "design inference," an algorithmic decision process, by which the investigator may decide among three and only three possible explanations for any "event": regularity (a law of nature); chance; and, by elimination if the first two fail to apply, design. This scheme, by now in a state of bewildering symbolic elaboration with dozens of hedges, and claimed by Dembski to produce no false positives, is the highest reach if intelligent design science. It doesn't and it can't work. A good place to start seeing why is the recent book of physicist Victor Stenger, Has Science Found God?: The Latest Results in the Search for Purpose in the Universe. (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2003, 99-129). Next is the Talk Reason archive, which provides expert analyses of Dembski's works and full linkage to his productions. See also the review by mathematician Jason Rosenhouse of Dembski's latest book, No Free Lunch, in: (Evolution 56(8): 1721-22, 2003), and the point-by-point dissection by Richard Wein.
Nothing new. Success of intelligent design testifies merely to the power of money, public relations, and politics to convince the millions of the rectitude of what is in fact baloney. See the Board Resolution of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
What follows are the letters from six scientists as well as from Professor Gross himself, wherein they reply to the set of letters to Science Insights attacking professor Gross's essay.
The assault of ID advocates on Professor Gross's essay is poorly substantiated.
A number of writers have responded to Professor Grossís essay which was published in Science Insight (vol. 7, No 4, 2003). Their letters were published in Science Insights, vol. 7, No 5, 2003; the entire sets of these letters can be seen at www.nas.org. Several of the letters in question are in support of Gross (such as those submitted by Jason Rosenhouse, Jeffrey Shallit, Andrea Bottaro, Pete Dunkleberg, and Matt Young). Many others, however, attack Grossís essay (those from William Dembski, David Berlinski, Jonathan Wells, Robert Koons, Roland Hirsh and others). Most of the letters in the second category come from the same place -- the Discovery institute which is the home of the anti-Darwinian team of which the writers of the letters in question are fellows. The letters in that category contain mainly vitriolic assaults on Gross. The Discoveryís fellows accuse Gross of ad hominem attacks, distortions, lack of impartiality, and attempts to suppress the free expression of such views that are contrary to the allegedly doctrinaire Darwinism in which Gross is supposedly a blind believer.
Given the emotional tone of these letters from Discovery fellows which are replete with sharp denunciations of Grossís essay, often suffused with personal innuendoes, all their accusations sound hollow. If these writers are in favor of a calm and impartial discussion, they should have first of all made sure their own escapades were a little less loud.
It would take a very long letter to respond to all this anti-Gross vitriol. Therefore Iíll limit my comments mainly to the letter by Robert Koons, and also a little to that by Hirsch, since these two letters contain arguments also seen in other letters, so replying to Koons and partially to Hirsch will address to some extent the arguments of their colleagues as well.
Koons writes, "It is ironic that leading members of the NAS, including Paul R. Gross, have joined the Inquisition against defenders of Ďintelligent designí and other dissenters from Darwinian orthodoxy. " This invective is typical of the manner the Intelligent Design (ID) advocates conduct the discussion. They routinely compare their opponents to inquisition, the Nazis, Himmler, Lysenko and the like (see, for example, a collection of pertinent quotations at Invidious comparisons, The polemics of "intelligent design"). It is ironic indeed because the mere fact of the publication of all these anti-Gross letters belies the preposterous assertion that the right of the ID advocates to the free expression of their views is somehow curtailed by the malicious pro-Darwinian inquisition. Koons, Dembski, Wells, Johnson, and their colleagues publish their literary output at a high rate, having their own publishing outlets like InterVarsity Press, their own journals, but also participate in anthologies published by many publishing houses, and fully enjoy the right for a free expression of their views. The inquisition they are fond of talking about is non-existent.
Also telltale is Koonsís reference to the so-called Darwinian orthodoxy. There is no such animal in existence. The modern neo-Darwinian synthesis is characterized by a lively discussion of controversial topics and by an open-end development wherein there are no sacred cows and unorthodox views are suggested and discussed day in and day out.
The mainstream scientists, with a few exceptions, largely ignore the ID advocates, but in that the mainstream scientists exercise their own right to choose what to speak about. The simple fact is that the ID advocates, although lavishly funded, have so far not produced much of what would qualify as a scientific research in support of their ID concept. Instead, they indulge in philosophical and theological discourses (besides polemics and political actions) which they disseminate without any constraints.
The comparison of pro-evolution scientists with the inquisition, or with Lysenko, the Nazis, etc, is a mendacious and shameful device intended to obfuscate the essence of the dispute and to present themselves as underdogs deserving sympathy because of their being allegedly oppressed by the vile materialistic Darwinists. This picture has nothing to do with reality.
On the other hand, since this collection of attacking letters has all signs of a concerted group assault, it, unlike Grossís critique, indeed may justifiably be viewed as an effort at intimidation and thus silencing Gross and any other potential critics.
Continuing, Koons writes, among other things, that "William Dembski does not claim to have Ďdiscoveredí the law of the conservation of information. Instead, he simply brings this well-known and widely accepted result of information theory (the Ďno free lunch theoremsí) to bear on problems of the origin of biological information."
This quotation reveals the actual regrettably low level of dispute offered by the ID advocates, in this case by the philosopher Koons. To start with, Koons seems to think that the No Free Lunch (NFL) theorems are part of information theory. In fact, these fine theorems by Wolpert and Macready (which extend the traditional Bayesian analysis into a model-independent "geometry of induction") have little relation to information theory (unless we construe that relation in the fact that both information theory and geometry of induction utilize probabilistic approach, which, of course, is a common feature of many conceptual systems having otherwise nothing in common; likewise we could say, for example, that some concept of agronomy belongs in, say, seismology, since both sciences deal with earth). In fact the NFL theorems belong in the optimization theory (see D. H. Wolpert and W. G. Macready, IEEE Trans. Evol. Comput. 1 (1997), no. 1, 67-82), with which philosopher Koons apparently is familiar about as much as with information theory.
Given thus demonstrated actual level of Koonsís ken in information theory, it is less surprising that he has claimed his colleague Dembski to be the "Isaac Newton of information theory." (Koonsís blurb on the dust cover of Dembskiís Intelligent Design). Furthermore, contrary to what Koons seems to think, the NFL theorems have no relation to the so-called "law of conservation of information," persistently propagandized by Dembski, and even less supporting that "law" in any way. The entire attempt by Dembski to use the NFL theorems to support his intelligent design "theory" was a failure. One of the two originators of the NFL theorems, David Wolpert, unequivocally dismissed Dembskiís misuse of the NFL theorems in an essay tellingly titled "William Dembskiís Treatment of the NFL Theorems is Written in Jello". There are other critical reviews of Dembskiís attempt to utilize the NFL theorems (see articles on Talk Reason wherein a further bibliography is available). Moreover, contrary to Dembskiís loud claim in his book No Free Lunch (wherein he tried to use the NFL theorems to prove the impossibility of Darwinian evolution), having encountered a rebuttal of that attempt by a number of critics, Dembski has later changed the tune, now announcing that the use of the NFL theorems was not really his principal thesis but rather just an example, a particular case of what he calls "displacement problem." Unlike Dembski himself, Koons seems to still adhere to the preposterous notion, stemming from his amateurish understanding of the matter, that Dembski successfully "brings this well-known and widely accepted result of information theory (sic!) to bear on the problems of the origin of biological information." Rather than making such claims, Koons should have first spent some time and effort on studying the subject he sets out to discuss. Last but not least, if, as Koons now asserts in his letter, Dembski has not discovered the law of conservation of information, but only applied the well known notions, how to reconcile it with Koonsís earlier claim wherein he wrote about Dembski that "his law of conservation of information represents a revolutionary breakthrough"? (The already mentioned Koonsís blurb on the cover of Dembskiís Intelligent Design). Something is not quite right with philosopher Koonsís consistency.
Regarding the "Isaac Newton of information theory" Dembski himself, it is interesting to note that information theorists have not paid much attention to Dembskiís supposed revolutionary contribution to information theory. There are practically no references in the literature on information theory to Dembski and his theories. The reason for that is simple - Dembskiís contribution to information theory is all but invisible. Moreover, although Dembski has a PhD degree in mathematics, his contribution to any branch of mathematics is not much larger than to information theory. Although he is a prolific writer, all of his literary output contains not a single mathematical theorem proved by him, nor any mathematical formula derived, nor any algorithm developed, but only a multitude of esoteric notations often serving no useful role.
Similar statement can be made about many other letters directed against Gross. Professor Gross had a distinguished career in genuine science, having published many high quality research papers in biology. Lately he has addressed the problems related to the assault of the ID advocates on evolution. The main proponents of Intelligent Design, however, while being very active and loud in asserting their anti-evolution views, have so far produced no genuine scientific results related to their ID theory. Most of them, with a few exceptions, have produced very little of anything scientific in general. For example, David Berlinski, usually referred to as a mathematician, has authored popular books on mathematics, and papers against evolution, but has no known record of his own contribution to the development of mathematics or of any other science.
Another writer of an anti-Gross letter (Hirsh) accuses Gross of referring to Wellsís religious background but ignoring Wells scientific credentials. In fact, both Wellsís religious affiliation and his credentials are a well known secret. Everybody familiar with the ongoing dispute between ID advocates and their opponents knows that Wells has a PhD degree in biology from University of California Berkeley. There are many PhDs who graduated from that fine institution, so there was nothing really unusual in that to specially emphasize it in Grossís reference to Wells. However, what is indeed unusual is something related to Wellsís religious background. As Wells himself wrote, he set out to study biology being advised to do so by his spiritual "father." Gross properly mentions this. Moreover, as Wells himself stated, the purpose of his studying biology, set in advance, was to "destroy Darwinism." Such a goal set prior to having studied the subject is indeed quite unusual (actually unheard of from a scientist) and is also undermining Wellsís status as an objective participant in the dispute. It is only natural that Gross pointed to that fact which is quite relevant to the question at hand. Hirsch further asserts that Wells continues conducting a genuine research in biology, referring to Wellís two published papers. A closer look reveals, though, that these two not very recent papers (apparently stemming from his PhD dissertation) constitute the whole of Wellsí contribution to biology (which therefore seems to be hardly significant). As of late, Wells in fact does not seem to pursue any known genuine research work, unless he is doing it in secret.
Michael Behe, who seems to be one of a few exceptions in the ranks of the most prominent ID advocates, in that he is a real active scientist, does not seem to mix his biochemical research with his pro-ID activities - there seem to be no cross- references in the two separate branches of his endeavors.
Of course, such "greats" of the ID movement as Phillip Johnson or Stephen Meyer, have even less to do with any science.
The vituperative attack on Gross from this group of ID advocates, which in itself makes preposterous their claim of allegedly being silenced by the Darwinian establishment, should be construed for what it actually is - an unsubstantiated polemic designed to drown Grossís argument in the loud din of an orchestrated vitriol.
California State University, Fullerton
Readers of ScienceInsights should be grateful for Paul Gross' lucid analysis of the Intelligent Design (ID) movement. Hardly a day passes by without some newspaper around the country uncritically reporting about some Discovery Institute press release or P.R. move. As pseudoscience, from whatever source, tends to look easier and less messy than real science, a good immunization with a healthy dose of reality is the best prophylaxis against its subtle appeal.
Alas, your readers will also need to get ready now for the unavoidable onslaught of personal invective that regularly follows nerve-touching anti-ID pronouncements. As with most pseudosciences, wild accusations of censorship, scientific fraud, conspiracy and various forms of unethical behavior have become part of the common armamentarium of ID argumentation: a recent paper by Dembski devotes a whopping twentysome pages solely to a catalog of alleged Darwinian "tricks" (disclosure: I am, according to Dembski, one of the co-conspirators). Even more than the scarcity of scientific substance highlighted by Gross, it is the inordinate amount of time that ID proponents devote to political action, personal attacks and conspiracy mongering, rather than actual scholarship, that ultimately dooms their efforts to the "crankhood" category.
University of Rochester
School of Medicine and Dentistry
It's Religious Politics:Intelligent Design and Religious Politics
One of the intriguing things about intelligent design (ID) is that it has an aura of mystery for many people even though it seems empty to scientists. I'll try to throw some light on this and the related question of ID's similarity to creationism.
It's a question of politics (and so of tactics) and it's really inter-religious politics, with high school science as a proxy battleground. > Mainstream theology is aware that 'God of the gaps' is a bad idea. The gaps keep getting smaller. And why should good religion have to deny scientific discoveries? Those who disagree see usurpation of public schools as the way to defeat their brethren.
Take a moment to read Ronald Numbers' 1982 paper Creationism in 20th-Century America, in Science 218: 538-544.
Creationist leader Henry Morris's tactical advice to supporters will sound
very familiar to Texans, who have just been through several months of
The astute, media savvy and well-financed DI is the sponsor of the ID campaign. Their strategy is laid out in the Wedge. This document was not supposed to become public, but it was leaked several years ago. As you can see, science as we know it must be vanquished and replaced by theo-science. This is to be accomplished by unspecified research which has not occurred, and by a massive political campaign which has.
The DI also uses the 'big tent' strategy. Both young- and old earth creationists are welcome. They argue that they are not creationists because they are not specifically young earthers, and that ID is not strictly religious because, they say, the Designer might be a space alien rather than God. But another group of IDists, the Raelians, believe the Designer is a space alien. It is their religion.
ID's greatest claim to fame, and to being more than mere creationism, is its design detectors. These are allegedly scientific methods of detecting the Designer's handiwork in nature. Although the design detectors have not detected any design, they give ID its sex appeal.
The best known of these is Behe's irreducible complexity (IC). He argues, but gives no evidence, that IC as defined by him cannot evolve and yet he can detect it in nature. But Behe's argument ignores basic biology, and IC evolves easily. See Irreducible Complexity Demystified for examples. Since IC as such doesn't matter, all that's left of his position is "Gee that looks complex". Note that others may refer to the public image of IC as something that really cannot evolve. I refer just to Behe's definition of IC.
The other Design detector is Dembski's 'Explanatory Filter' (EF) argument and its elaborations. This is discussed in his books, and also by Wilkins and Elsberry, who explore what used to be a favorite example of Dembski's in The advantages of theft over toil: the design inference and arguing from ignorance in Biology and Philosophy, November 2001. In later versions the filter is said to work best with specified complexity (SC). Dembski's complexity turns out to mean improbability. Specification has been defined to hardly anyone's satisfaction, and is best explained with examples. The stone circles of the far north, a whole field of stones arranged in neat circles, provide a good introductory example. This arrangement is certainly 'improbable' enough (using creationist probability, in other words assuming the circular arrangement resulted from random mixing alone), and circular is a fine specification. Hence the stone circles pass through the filter and must have been designed. Unlike science, design, not "don't know," is the default, as it is in creationist thinking generally. Positive evidence is not required to infer design. But alas, now a natural explanation of the stone circles has been found.
Dembski proudly claims "No false positives" for his method, or in other words a natural phenomenon is never incorrectly identified as Designed. How can this claim be squared with the fact that, excepting man-made items, only false positives have occurred? Easily. When you think you have found a false positive, for example the stone circles, it obviously means that the method was not properly applied in the first place. You did not eliminate all non-design explanations after all. The EF works perfectly in hindsight. 'Gedanken' presents an interesting example of specification on ISCID, where other aspects of EF are debated; there are many more articles on the subject online at Talkreason and Talkdesign.
How distinct are the design detectors from good old scientific creationism? First, you need to know that when pressed about their design detectors, IDists finally say, "Oh, we didn't really mean it has to be design. But if not, it's very improbable." (using creationist probability, see below). Now take a look at this passage from Morris' famous book Scientific Creationism:
"This issue can actually be attacked quantitatively, using simple principles of mathematical probability. The problem is simply whether a complex system, in which many components function unitedly together, and in which each component is uniquely necessary to the efficient functioning of the whole, could ever arise by random processes."
Scientific Creationism 2nd edition p. 59.
"By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning."
Darwin's Black Box, p. 39 (emphasis in original).
Morris doesn't have ID's neologisms and does not claim a design detector as such. However, he argues from creationist probability that the complex systems he describes could not arise naturally. His treatment presages both of ID's design detectors. "Creationist probability", still very much in use by IDists, means: estimate the probability of a nonrandom outcome on the assumption of random mixing; often assume that evolution has a specific target in advance; ignore population biology; and design is never improbable. It is at the root of many creationist arguments new and old.
Could it be that ID is simply a politically improved creationism? The new terms and bold claims impress the public, but scientifically they introduce new fallacies and misrepresentations.
To fully understand the hubbub surrounding ID, we need one more piece of the puzzle and a final clue. Recall that I said at first it's a matter of politics and tactics. We need to learn of one more tactic: the fall-back position.
It happened first in Ohio, and seemed to be a last minute realization as the DI was about to go before the Ohio state board of education: there is absolutely nothing in ID theory that the DI can present to a school board and say, "Here is our lesson plan. Teach this." Anything singled out for public scrutiny will promptly receive a very public debunking. Grasping for something to say, they came up with "Teach the controversy," meaning the public, not scientific, controversy they created. This has now changed into "Teach the weaknesses." Of course the DI also supplies the "weaknesses" of biology in the form of DI Fellow Wells' book Icons of Evolution. His topics are familiar from scientific creationism, but the new treatment is more stridently bogus than Henry Morris ever dreamed.
Whenever they come before a school board, the DI is adamant about their
fallback position. We do not want you to teach ID they insist. As
they are so protective of their brand name product, could it be that they
realize the design detectors have no scientific value? It's not as if no one
ever mentioned it to them. Be that as it may, the design detectors, while
they don't detect any design, function very well tactically to excite the
public, and then it's bait and switch. With one final clue, it all becomes
clear. As I see it, where ID is concerned, (with apologies to Dobzhansky):
Nothing from the Discovery Institute makes sense except in light of the Wedge.
To the Editor:
Squeamish readers of "Science Insights" might wonder if the polemical tone of Paul Gross' editorial against Intelligent Design theory (ID) was really justified. To them I offer the following paragraph, drawn from a letter I received announcing a forthcoming ID conference:
"The American Association for the Advancement of Science believes the design that is detected by our intuition and confirmed by formal design detection methodology should be censored for a lack of evidence. Hmmmm! If this doesn't seem a bit off-the-wall, they also claim that design can't be tested even though scientists are testing radio and light waves for alien intelligence everyday. Curiously, while those tests have turned up negative, the same tests run on DNA are turning up positive."
Or this quote, drawn almost at random from Jonathan Wells' "Icons of Evolution":
"As we saw in Kevin Padian's Ďcracked kettleí approach to biology, dogmatic Darwinists begin by imposing a narrow interpretation on the evidence and declaring it to be the only way to do science. Critics are then labeled unscientific; their articles are rejected by mainstream journals, whose editorial boards are dominated by the dogmatists; the critics are denied funding by government agencies, who send grant proposals to the dogmatists for `peer review'; and eventually the critics are hounded out of the scientific community altogether.
"In the process, evidence against the Darwinian view simply disappears, like witnesses against the Mob. Or the evidence is buried in specialized publications, where only a dedicated researcher can find it. Once critics have been silenced and counter-evidence has been buried, the dogmatists announce that there is no scientific debate about their theory, and no evidence against it. Using such tactics, defenders of Darwinian orthodoxy have managed to establish a near-monopoly over research grants, faculty appointments, and peer-reviewed journals in the United States."
This is how ID proponents talk when they are preaching to the choir. It is how they talk during the uncounted hours they spend lobbying sympathetic politicians to have their views presented in science classes. This is the rhetoric you will find at any of the dozens of web sites devoted to ID propaganda.
So forgive me if I find their bleats about fairness, civility and open-mindedness to be a bit rich. The fact is the scientific community has bent over backward to give the ID theorists a fair hearing. Not long ago, for example, the American Museum of Natural History invited William Dembski and Michael Behe to present their views. Numerous scientists such as Kenneth Miller of Brown and Massimo Pigliucci of the University of Tennessee have engaged in debates with ID proponents. When presenting their views to knowledgeable audiences, the ID proponents are invariably unimpressive.
The scientific claims of ID proponents are rejected because they are demonstrably false. Scientists who investigate further quickly discover that ID proponents do not behave the way scientists behave when they have a dispute over technical questions. For example, rather than present their views at academic conferences they attempt to seize the reins of public power by lobbying school boards and politicians. This makes it reasonable to wonder about their true agenda. When you subsequently discover that most of the funding for ID comes from organizations otherwise devoted to promoting a conservative social agenda, it is not difficult to connect the dots.
Scientists wading into ID literature can expect to find their words distorted, their ideas misrepresented and their integrity impugned. When they point this out, they are accused of being part of an atheist conspiracy. And after delivering their endless tirade of irrational anti-Darwinian invective, ID proponents then turn around and accuse scientists of being arrogant.
Where I come from we call that chutzpah.
Department of Mathematics
James Madison University
Harrisonburg, VA 22801
Thanks to Paul Gross for telling it like it is.
"Intelligent design" isn't good science. It isn't even good pseudoscience. It's a political and religious movement masquerading as pseudoscience. Its proponents have largely refused to submit their claims to the rigors of peer review, preferring to bypass this process by publishing books with religious and/or right-wing publishers.
Need proof? Look at Dembski's forthcoming book, The Design Revolution. The publisher is InterVarsity, whose website states "We are a publisher of Christian books and Bible studies" -- not the first place I'd look for a revolutionary scientific discovery.
Next, look at the endorsements for The Design Revolution, available on Dembski's own web site. The very first is from far-right Senator Rick Santorum; the second is from Robert George, a conservative Christian professor of politics; the third is from William Abraham, a theology professor at Southern Methodist; the fourth is from an historian; the fifth is from a philosopher; the sixth is from a theologian. (Yes, lower down there are a few scientist endorsers, but it's clear what the pecking order is.) If most of these folks have the necessary scientific and mathematical training to catch the errors in Dembski's claims, it's news to me.
And there are errors -- lots of them. Some are pure carelessness (one crucial calculation in Dembski's No Free Lunch is off by 65 orders of magnitude), but others are not so easy to shrug off. I have covered a number of them in my review of his book in BioSystems 66 (2002), 93-99. I sent Dembski a copy of this review more than a year ago, but no substantive response has been forthcoming. Although Dembski's own web site archives dozens of his papers, there is no errata page for No Free Lunch.
Intelligent design advocates are so desperate for praise that they grasp at nearly anything to show that they're actually doing science. Take Dembski's response to Gross, Paul Grossís Dilemma:An Open Letter to the National Association of Scholars in Response to Paul Grossís Article on Intelligent Design in the NASís September 2003 Issue of Science Insights. Dembski mentions two papers from the peer-reviewed literature that he claims cite his work "favorably". But if you look at the article by Chiu and Lui, you will see that (1) nothing in their article uses Dembski's methodology (2) their citation to The Design Inference refers to "complex specified information" -- a term that doesn't even appear in that book! This is hardly proof that Dembski's work is having scientific impact.
Maybe intelligent design will eventually become science. But the only way that's going to happen is if its proponents buckle down and do some actual science, instead of spending their time exhorting the faithful at church gatherings or legislating their way into the public-school curriculum.
Professor Jeffrey Shallit
University of Waterloo
Letter to the Editor
Dear Dr. Wenger:
Whenever I hear someone compare himself to Copernicus, I immediately think, "Velikovsky." Immanuel Velikovsky was a physician who apparently convinced himself that the mythology of all the peoples of the world reported real events and then set out to prove it. He argued that the planets Mars and Venus had had near collisions with Earth within historical times and made a great many predictions based on this contention. Among them were the claim that Venus was very hot (true) and that oil would be found only at low latitudes (thought to be true but later falsified). By rewriting the archeological record, ignoring real physical problems, and focusing only on his successful predictions, Velikovsky "proved" his thesis to his own satisfaction and that of a lot of gullible followers.
Velikovsky had a real research program in the sense that he made concrete predictions that could be tested against reality. In this regard, he is worlds ahead of the "intelligent designauts" whom Paul Gross describes in the September 2003 issue. Like Velikovsky, the intelligent designauts have a thesis that they are determined to prove, whether it is right or not. Unlike Velikovsky, however, they have no research program: they make no predictions whatsoever, unless you count as a prediction the claim that we will never understand the bacterial flagellum. Instead, they seem to think that carping is enough: if they can undermine what they call Darwinism, then they can incorrectly hold out intelligent design as the only alternative.
As Gross notes, Jonathan Wells attended graduate school with the express purpose of destroying Darwinism, presumably a field he had not studied in detail before enrolling (Darwinism: Why I Went for a Second Ph.D.). A real scientist would have examined the case for Darwinism, not rejected it out of hand. Wells has so far produced nothing that regards intelligent design and has any scientific merit. His colleagues Behe and Dembski have likewise produced nothing that can be tested empirically -- only assertions that amount to a lack of imagination, what Gross calls the argument from incredulity.
No matter: intelligent design is not intended to be scientific. It is a smokescreen designed to hide the defects that were apparent in creationism. Dembski admits as much (Chapter 10 of Paul Kurtz, Science and Religion: Are They Compatible? Prometheus, Amherst, N.Y., 2003, pp. 89-97) and crows that "most people" do not find evolution "compelling." Scientific truth is not a popularity contest, as Dembski well knows. That he is willing to make it so is one indication why intelligent design is a political movement and inherently anti-science.
Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism
Rutgers Univesity Press, 2004 (to be published)
My rejoinder will be shorter than the preceding articles of abuse. Of each indictment, in the order in which they arrived, I make the shortest possible précis. And I answer similarly. In anticipation, however, we need a preamble. It includes a reminder of what I actually wrote. The real issue -- as it should be for the National Association of Scholars -- is politicization of teaching and scholarship. Therefore in the preamble I report on the latest science textbook battle in Texas, now temporarily halted. Time and space allow no more than a terminal nod of gratitude to those who approved my observations.
My piece began by identifying -- with references -- certain diagnostic features of crank-, or pseudo-, or otherwise bad science, as proposed by two well-known physicists. I then said that the newest form of creationism, so-called Intelligent Design (ID) Theory, displays the symptoms named. This was perhaps not kind; but it is true. Everything that followed was in effect supporting evidence. The style of these complaints about my piece simply adds to the evidence.
For a decade there has been a massive political effort to emplace the new creationism in schools and colleges, and to discredit evolution and the relevant geology and cosmology. This has for long seemed to me a matter for NAS concern. But I have had my doubts about raising the question. Recently I was urged by others, and then invited, to write the opinion piece. Nota bene: "opinion piece" -- an editorial, not a textbook; not a technical rebuttal of bad arguments. (Which I can nevertheless provide, have provided, and do so again in a forthcoming book). I supplied citations to the professional literature as well as to the neo-creationist sources.
In the master plan of the most energetic ID-advocacy guild, self-dubbed "The Wedge," first place was given to gaining scientific respect in the universities and in public education, K-12 and beyond. That was to result from their publication of new, powerful scientific arguments and empirical evidence in favor of ID (therefore against that vast body of modern science they miscall "Darwinism"). This part of the plan has failed. A decade later, there is still no support in the scientific literature. But they had already announced, at the start, that "Darwinism" was dead! How then, my essay asked, do ID-advocates explain this? Answer: by the devices the two physicists named. To anyone who reads the references, it will be obvious.
I then reduced the actual scientific claims of ID -- those employed in public relations and political maneuvering -- to five; three negative and two positive. I dealt with each one, very much compressed, as required for a Science Insights opinion, but with documentation. This exercise could not have been gracious. Serious science is overwhelmingly dismissive of ID theory. And, the new creationism is relentlessly derogatory of evolutionary biology and biologists, that is, of modern biology. The derogation is unjustified. If, now, an active and increasingly powerful political-public relations campaign describes us, our professional work, our antecedents and colleagues, as either stupid or blind to the way things really are, or worse, as conspirators, covering up the failure of "Darwinism," are we supposed to respond with deference? Do our humanist and social-scientist members respond graciously and with deference to political assaults on Western culture, or when they are charged with the terrible triad (racism, sexism, and classism)?
Now I quote reporter Terrence Stutz, in The Dallas Morning News, Dallas, Texas, November 6, 2003.
AUSTIN -- State Board of Education members on Thursday tentatively adopted new high school biology books that fully discuss evolution, rejecting the pleas of social conservatives and other critics of Charles Darwin and his theory of how life on earth evolved.
Despite an intense campaign by opponents of evolution -- including thousands of e-mails, faxes and phone calls to board members -- the board of education approved 11 new books by a lopsided 11-4 vote.
The board vote was a setback for a national think tank that has promoted an alternative theory for the origin of life on earth, called "intelligent design.
Under current law, the board may reject a textbook only if it has factual errors, does not cover the curriculum or is manufactured poorly. Critics of the biology books had claimed they contained numerous factual errors about evolution.
Final approval of the textbooks was voted the following day, November 7th, 2003. The record of this conflict and its predecessors in other states, most recently Kansas, Ohio, and Georgia, reflects a changing strategy of the Wedge in its case against evolution. Initially the claim was positive: new discoveries revealing intelligent design in the world; new science to topple the old. Those new discoveries, it turned out, do not (yet) exist. Even laymen began to hear about that. There came a return to old-style negative creationism: claims of gross errors in Darwinism, deductive "proofs" that Darwinian evolution cannot happen. Then came the current version: a collection of putatively "failed proofs," grave "weaknesses" of evolution, assembled by Jonathan Wells. Those were central to the latest ID push in Texas. They are supposed to be present in nearly all biology textbooks -- false evidence of an empirical base for evolution. Thus the intelligent design political strategy no longer emphasizes new science. It now resembles its earliest ancestors: demands for the most minute scrutiny or censorship of anything to do with evolution.
Texas science, and not only its life science, rose to the occasion and opposed the Discovery Institute's (the Wedge's) campaign. Here is an example of what the state's scientists said and did. The Dallas-Fort Worth area (like others in Texas) is rich in biological and medical talent. On September 22, 2003, seventeen local members of the National Academy of Sciences and/or the Institute of Medicine, all of them biological and medical scientists, four of them, including Alfred Gilman, Nobel laureates, addressed the school board and their fellow citizens. From Professor Gilman's published letter:
Some individuals and organizations have long opposed teaching only scientific bases for the appearance and evolution of life on earth. These opponents claim that scientific texts systematically misinform readers. Why? Because, according to the critics, the books in question don't expound upon supposed weaknesses in the theory of evolution.
These assertions have been refuted in great detail by scientists in testimony prepared for the state board and in analyses of the central arguments raised by opponents of the texts...[emphasis added]
We note that these supposedly scientific challenges are directed selectively at the theory of evolution. There are no similar campaigns being waged against textbooks that don't discuss alleged weaknesses in other major scientific theories, such as gravitation or relativity. Clearly, the motivation for the current challenges lies not in science, and the scientific classroom is not the proper forum for such a debate.
The modern theory of evolution has undergone 140 years of testing. It is now so well established that its veracity and robustness are accepted as fact by the overwhelming majority of scientists in this country and around the world. In the scientific community, the unanswered questions concern not the fact of evolution but rather the mechanisms by which evolution operates...
For those familiar with the public information style of the Discovery Institute, it will be no surprise to learn that on November 7th, at 1:21 ET, the Institute announced victory ("Textbook Reformers See Last-Minute Victory in Texas Decision"). This was posted online; but by Nov. 13th, it had been removed. For a good sense of what that announcement contained, N.A.S. members might look up Robert Graves: "The Persian Version."
David Berlinski thinks my criticisms are funny. This is a sun-ray in the fog: we are brothers, because I think his writings on science are droll. His contortions in declining to support the claims of ID while yet remaining an anti-Darwinian in good standing are, well...Elizabethan. British English, especially as spoken by the Scots, has an expression for it: "chuntering."
Phillip Johnson defends the Santorum "amendment," arguing that it was endorsed even by Senator Kennedy. That was the only surprising name on Mr. Johnson's short list of supporting legislators. (It is not, however, an amendment. It is accessory language in the conference committee report. Qua amendment, it was voted down. Nor did the original propose teaching intelligent design. It recommended teaching the evidence on controversial theories. Which is what has always been done anyway, in those exceptionally rare cases of real controversy about anything in the K-12 science curriculum.)
The reasons for the large, final supporting vote cited by Mr. Johnson were mechanical and political; the media covered them well. Yet, on March 14, 2002, in a Washington Times opinion piece, Senator Santorum mirepresented his amendment and declared that "Sen. Ted Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, approves of having alternative theories taught in the classroom. He believes children should be 'able to speak and examine various scientific theories on the basis of all information that is available to them so they can talk about different concepts and do it intelligently with the best information that is before them.'"
On March 21, 2002, Mr. Kennedy replied in the same newspaper:
"The March 14 Commentary piece, 'Illiberal education in Ohio schools,' written by my colleague Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, erroneously suggested that I support the teaching of 'intelligent design' as an alternative to biological evolution. That simply is not true. Rather, I believe that public school science classes should focus on teaching students how to understand and critically analyze genuine scientific theories. Unlike biological evolution, 'intelligent design' is not a genuine scientific theory and, therefore, has no place in the curriculum of our nation's public school science classes."
Is Mr. Johnson unaware of Sen. Kennedy's demurrer? William Dembski is not: he published a sneer at Mr. Kennedy's pretensions to scientific judgment. Matching comment on Sen. Santorum's qualifications has not been forthcoming.
Jonathan Wells complains that I distorted his religious background. What I wrote about it comes from Wells' own Unification Church sermon. Already a theologian, he enrolled in a doctoral biology program for the stated purpose of "destroying Darwinism." This is hardly irrelevant to the issue at hand; it is ad hoc, not ad hominem; nor was that a good start toward scientific objectivity. Please see Darwinism: Why I Went for a Second Ph.D. .
He offers a long, quasi-technical justification for his attacks upon E. H. Haeckel's 19th-century drawings of vertebrate embryos, and on peppered moth evolution, two of his "icons." He says that those attacks are in the scientific literature. There are indeed some, often old, complaints from scientists about details of these and others among the "icons" of Wells' oeuvre. But they amount to little or nothing in modern evolutionary biology. Experts in each of the relevant fields have dismissed -- in the scientific literature -- Wells' accusations. See, for another example, "The Talented Mr. Wells," by Kevin Padian and Alan D. Gishlick, in Quarterly Review of Biology, 77, No. 1, 33-37 (2002). A reader who follows my pointers will find many other such rebuttals.
The recent, comprehensive re-examination by Michael K. Richardson and Gerhard Keuck of the work and influence of Haeckel (Biol. Rev. Cambridge Phil. Soc. (2002) 77: 495-528) is a case in point. Richardson is one of those who most recently called attention to the inaccuracies in some of Haeckel's old drawings. Yet his new study with Keuck he concludes that Haeckel was a founder of comparative morphology, and that the broad evolutionary principles he espoused, if not all the details, were sound.
I agree with Wells on only one point: readers who really care about these issues must go to the real scientific literature, some way into the technicalities. And for a start, they might look back to the statement (above) of the Dallas-area Nobelists and National Academy members. Their opinion on these matters is echoed by some 550 working Texas scientists, who said so during the Texas wars. It is implicit in what the chief executives of fifty or so of the largest scientific societies wrote in connection with the Santorum "amendment" (August 2001: Joint Letter from scientific and educational leaders on evolution in H.R. 1, addressed to Rep. John Boehner and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy). It is implicit in the daily work of tens of thousands of biologists, including all currently contributing evolutionary biologists around the world.
Michael Behe fulminates at great length over my statement that he compares his own "discovery" to those of Copernicus and Galileo. To support these complaints and his homilies on scholarship, he quotes a passage from Darwin's Black Box. Again, I shan't contribute to the Discovery Institute's misuse of Scientific Insights for "debate." Suffice it to say that throughout Darwin's Black Box (which I did read: I was paid to review it in The Wall Street Journal), Mr. Behe's message is that the "irreducible complexity" (henceforth "IC," his coinage) of sub-cellular systems, is implicit in modern biochemistry, and that this has a startling consequence. He compares modern biochemistry with the "assault on the senses" perpetrated by Copernicus and Galileo.
Behe argues that the IC of molecular biological systems -- which he, not modern biochemistry, claims -- makes the evolution of those systems by natural means impossible! The claim that ID must therefore be true is attached, although it does not follow. This is how IC continues to this day to be sold. But biochemistry and cell biology have been a continuum, accumulating knowledge of the contents of "Darwin's black box," for some 90 years. It contains no such conclusions. If Behe's argument is correct, then it is he, not the community of biochemists and molecular biologists, who made this Copernican discovery. To date, almost a decade later, science has not noticed.
Several years ago, however, science did notice, and dismissed with counter-evidence, the IC argument itself -- dismissed it with counter-examples such as the Krebs cycle, biological clocks, and developmentally-regulated Oxygen-transport proteins, which have demonstrably evolved. All this is in the primary research literature, where it is easily found and where it belongs. There one can also identify the "howlers" to which I referred -- and to which word Behe objects: the long-known phenomena (to biochemists) of gene duplication and functional divergence over time, which refute the argument that IC rules out evolution.
The place to refute a major scientific theory is in the primary journals -- with evidence. It is not true that this vast literature is closed to arguments against "Darwinsm." Such arguments appear weekly in the world literature, just as they do against the standard models in physics and chemistry. Peer review, for all its problems, insures some minimum quality of evidence. Behe's closing citations of his own work are not for peer-reviewed contributions to the literature of evolutionary biology, biochemistry, or molecular biology. His closest approach is quarrels with critics, in Biology and Philosophy and Philosophy of Science. Neither Behe nor any other Discovery Institute regular has published on ID in the appropriate venues: the professional journals of evolution, ecology, molecular biology, developmental biology. There are dozens of good ones available. He has had eight years in which to do so. Why should his claims be in the K-12 science curriculum?
A friendly critique of Behe's argumentation comes from Dennis O. Lamoureaux, evolutionist at St. Joseph's College, University of Alberta, Canada. Mr. Lamoureaux offers a review (A Black Box or a Black Hole? A Response to Michael Behe) of Behe's summary paper in Canadian Catholic Review, 1998. To its technical objections, Lamoureaux added this:
"I have two concerns with regard to Behe's thesis for the creation of irreducible structures in 'one fell swoop.' First, before Christians come to claim publicly the existence of any miraculous intervention during the course of geological time, it behooves them to be certain lest they embarrass the Church by rash and intellectually (in this case scientific) unsubstantiated claims. I am more than uncomfortable with the assertions of a single man, the biochemist Behe. Such claims should at the very least be done in a community of biochemists. I know a number of professional biochemists, including many devout Christians, and their assessment of Behe's 'one fell swoop' thesis is quite negative."
Mr. Lamoureaux ends the review as follows: "I believe that his black box thesis is in reality a black hole or gap in our knowledge, which as history reveals will be filled through the findings of modern science. My respectful suggestion to Dr. Behe is to return to the Mother Church's view of biological origins and leave behind the interventionism and anti-evolutionism of protestant evangelicalism and fundamentalism.
William Dembski. I wrote two paragraphs, a part of whose length was devoted to references: 320 words, total. Dembski's "response" occupies three pages: Times New Roman, 10-point, single-spaced, one-inch margins; 2,200 words. This is the treadmill of responding to the Wedge. No sooner has one made some simple point in critique, then one is belabored with a response (if there is response at all) ten times longer, ranging over irrelevancies (e.g., Dembski and Shermer have had drinks in a Waco bar; Dembski knows and has conversation with Stuart Kauffman...), ignoring the central arguments, claiming kinship with greats as opposed to amateurs cited by a critic.
1. That I cited criticisms of his claims without elaborating. But what else? The purpose of my short article was not to elaborate, but to offer an opinion, with references.
2. That he has published in the peer-reviewed literature, which I did not acknowledge. Sorry, but no: the one such item was The Design Inference, one of a series of Cambridge University Press monographs. That volume, apparently Dembski's thesis effort, is in a series devoted to certain issues of probability and induction, not to evolution. The book itself says nothing about biology. The only examples given of application of the inference are trifling. Its application to real biology has not been accomplished. Moreover, it has made no noticeable impact on evolutionary biology, philosophy of science, mathematical statistics, or information theory. There is no way that I could have demonstrated all this in 320 words; but any competent reader of the literatures will confirm the observation.
3. That critics I cited are "amateurs." I cited certain authors, who are no more "amateurs" of the subject matter than Dembski himself, for their excellent critiques. But the Nobel Laureates and National Academy members mentioned earlier here are certainly not amateurs of the subject matter. Steven Weinberg's Nobel Prize is in (theoretical) physics, and he is one of the world's most distinguished, writers on science. He is among the many such who have dismissed ID in no uncertain terms. He did so recently, addressing the Board of Education during the Texas wars. Speaking of the near-universal acceptance of the modern theory of evolution, he said:
I know there are Ph.D. scientists who take an opposite view. [But:] There's not one member of the National Academy of Sciences who does. There's not one winner of the National Medal of Science who does. There's not one Nobel Laureate in biology who takes the view that there's any question about the validity of the theory of evolution through natural selection or that there is any alternative that's worth discussing. So by the same standards that are used in the courts, I think it is your responsibility to judge that it is the theory of evolution through natural selection that has won general scientific acceptance. And therefore, it should be presented to students as the consensus view of science, without any alternatives being presented." (Physics Nobelist takes stand on evolution)
In any honest matching of authorities, the number of qualified thinkers who find ID, IC, and the design inference empty exceeds by orders of magnitude the few who speak for them. Let me symbolize the worth of Dembski's argument to authority by two examples.
"Kauffman and I are conversation partners," [he reports]. "...he even graciously consented to do an online chat through the professional organization I helped found..." This is meant to show that Stuart Kauffman, who is an expert, who argues forcibly with certain features of standard Darwinism, and who is the best-known figure in Dembski's field of evolutionary interest, agrees with Dembski, or is impressed by Dembski's claims. During a radio talk show appearance on Dallas station KERA, Dembski paired himself with Kauffman. Some listeners asked Kauffman about that. Here is his response:
"Hello. In brief, my own books explore self organization in complex systems and the implications for the origin of life and evolution and ontogeny. I am, however, a Darwinian in the broad sense and hold to the view that mutations are random with respect to prospective adaptive significance. Hence I hold no truck with intelligent design.
"It is fine with me if you publicize my response. We have to fight creationism everywhere it pops up."
For the background, please find "Dayton" by moving through this set of online messages.
Dembski's second technical, book, No Free Lunch, is an effort to update The Design Inference, respond to the chorus of criticism, repair the defects, and make better arguments for ID. Of the latter there are two: (1) an attempt to rehabilitate the failed IC claim of Behe, with a calculation based on a supposed model of IC (the bacterial flagellum). This attempt failed (see Jason Rosenhouse in Evolution 56(8), 2002, 1721-22: "a computation that may as well have been written in Klingon..."). (2) It announces a new mathematical insight. This, it is claimed, shows that certain theorems on evolutionary algorithms, a class of computational devices using Darwinian method to solve optimization problems, imply that the evolution of complex biological structures cannot occur by natural means. Those new theorems are discoveries of mathematicians David H. Wolpert and W. G. Macready, who named them "No Free Lunch" (NFL), a light-hearted reference to their significance for algorithmic searching.
Here is how mathematician Wolpert (no amateur), whose discovery gave Dembski the title for his book, received Dembski's treatment:
"I say Dembski 'attempts to' turn this trick [formalizing induction] because despite his invoking the NFL theorems, his arguments are fatally informal and imprecise. Like monographs on any philosophical topic in the first category [not rigorously mathematical], Dembski's is written in jello. There is simply not enough that is firm in his text, not sufficient precision of formulation, to allow one to declare unambiguously 'right' or 'wrong' when reading through the argument. All one can do is squint, furrow one's brow, and then shrug.
This account of the book appeared in Mathematical Reviews and is available online: William Dembski's treatment of the No Free Lunch theorems is written in jello.
To continue this way would be further to impose upon Science Insights. I point to just one published refutation of the assertions Dembski makes here -- he has already published them elsewhere. See the analysis by "RBH" of Dembski's response to my 320 words, especially of his associating himself with eminences such as Medawar. http://www.arn.org/cgibin/ubb/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic&f=13&t=000924#000016.
Even if there were professional interest in Dembski's musings on the issues of induction, it would be absurd for such material, about which he changes his mind regularly, to be taught in K-12.
John G. West (for Discovery Institute). Re: "Sermonti," see my comments below on Mr. Koons's list of non-materialist sages. West is surprised that the NAS printed my little piece, which he says is aimed at shutting down debate. What? My entire argument was, is, for debate -- debate in the scientific literature, not via stunts, not on radio talk shows, not in publications of religious houses, law reviews, advisories for politicians or school committees. He accuses me of conspiracy-mongering. Well, I suppose the Wedge is a sort of conspiracy -- to take over science, or at least the teaching and public understanding of it; to discard post-Enlightenment methodological naturalism; to return science to its former incompetence as a branch of theology. Please read the Wedge Document, or the speeches given at Discovery Institute meetings and fund-raisers
"According to Gross, scientists and other scholars supporting intelligent design have religious motives. Therefore their writings about science can be dismissed. Q.E.D." No. That is Mr. West speaking, not Gross. Gross's position is that when bad science explodes onto the public scene, when it is used as a club in politics, one should look for a common denominator other than the bad science itself. That turns out to be not in my imagination but in tens of thousands of words from Mr. West's colleagues in the Discovery Institute leadership: a narrowly sectarian motive. This is highly relevant to any inquiry about ID. Q.E.D.
Watson and Crick, Steven Weinberg, Victor Stenger and the others named: They are, according to West "aggressive" atheists! Well then, I concede that this might be considered in trying to understand what they say about science, and why they say it. But, their science works. Only a mountaintop hermit during the last fifty years can doubt that. The science of the Discovery Institute, on the other hand, not only has not yet worked to explain, or predict, or retrodict anything formerly inexplicable in nature, it routinely contradicts itself. Therefore it makes far more sense to ask why that argument continues than it is to study, in connection with the three-dimensional structure of DNA, the religious views of Watson and Crick.
Mr. West attacks my co-author, Barbara Forrest for "building her career" on "outing and denouncing the presumed religious motives of academic critics of Darwin." Those of us who know Professor Forrest and her research and teaching achievements have a different view of her professional standing. Most of the DI senior regulars, however, including West, seem to have busy careers of bashing Darwinism. If that is legitimate, then Dr. Forrest's interests certainly are, too. Mr. West and his colleagues surely believe that their own activities are important for philosophy, and for society. Why then should Dr. Forrest, a Professor of philosophy, not study them?
Mr. West and his colleagues want debate. I agree. The subject, Mr. West's choice, is the content of biology and the extent to which ID should be a part of it for purposes of teaching as well as research. That debate is in progress where most of the participants are qualified to understand it and to contribute: in the scientific literature and in ad hoc science groups. Among biologists, ID is rejected by the vast majority who have ever heard of it because it has all the trappings of crank science. What I will not debate with Mr. West -- not here, anyway -- is the merits of his or my religion. What is taught to students in the schools, in the pitifully few hours devoted to science, should have nothing to do with religious debate. There is an important place in school for discussion of religion: but not in the laboratory or the field of natural science. That is methodological naturalism, which is how natural science works.
James Downard's penetrating discussion of David Berlinski's Commentary attack on an admirable Proceedings of the Royal Society paper by Nilsson and Pelger, on Richard Dawkins, and on a host of "Darwinists" (myself included), is cited in my Science Insights piece. Mr. Downard thinks I spoke too strongly. That may well be so. There are provocations, however, as anyone who has read the literature of ID, or just the foregoing "responses," should know. Mr. Downard reports that he and Berlinski have indulged in a "provocative" but (presumably) civil exchange of views. Good! I thank Mr. Downard for his well-meant comments, and ask nevertheless that readers go to his fine essay, examining not only his account of Berlinski's peculiar scholarship, but also that of ID. My opinion piece may well have been "counterproductive rhetorical excess"; but if so, I am at a loss for an alternative response to charges of "A Scientific Scandal" (Berlinski), or that Darwinists conspire to mislead children, or that Darwinism is a primary source of evil in society. Mr. Johnson regularly, and seriously, it seems, describes himself and his movement as "revolutionary." History reveals that decorous exchanges with revolutionaries do nothing for peace.
Robert Koons, a philosopher, should be famous for having nominated William Dembski "the Isaac Newton of information theory." The world's information theorists have not seconded that motion; but perhaps Koons knows something about information that they don't. No substance here until one gets to "the venerable scientific tradition" of "Louis Agassiz, St. George Mivart, Richard Goldschmidt, Pierre Grassé, Gerald Kerkut, Hans Driesch, Marcel-Paul Schützenberger, and Michael Denton." He says that this tradition grows daily in strength. If so, neither I, nor the hundred or so working biologists I know best have heard about it. The list itself is something of a joke. Agassiz was a good morphologist and the founding spirit of a marine laboratory of whose descendant, a century later, I was the Director (1978-88); but he was also an inflexible enemy of evolution and his arguments were even then wrong. Mivart, early a Darwin disciple, ended his life angry and thwarted, a religious denier of Darwin. Goldschmidt (chairman of a biology department of which I was chairman from 1971 to 1978), doubted that ordinary point-mutations account for the evolution of animal body-plans, and proposed instead macro-mutations, yielding "hopeful monsters." He was wrong. This is all ancient history in biological science. What Goldschmidt has to do with resistance to "narrowly materialistic explanations" is a mystery.
It gets worse. Driesch is an interesting case. His experiments, done at the end of the nineteenth century on sea urchin embryos, had a startling result: what became known as "regulative" development. In (some but not all) species, subdivision of the early embryo yields duplicate small, complete larvae, rather than (the expected) monsters. The effort to find an explanation for this seems to have unhinged him as an investigator. He decided that the explanation must be a non-material entity, an "entelechy." Within twenty years, the material explanation had become evident; it was almost complete with the beautiful microsurgical work of Sven Horstadius and others in the very early 1950s. The molecular proof of this mechanism -- a particular, asymmetric spatial distribution of RNA sequences in the unfertilized egg -- was published by W. H. Rodgers and P. R. Gross in 1978 (Cell, 14: 279-288). Driesch's lucubrations are long forgotten.
Dr. Koons's argument is about philosophy of science and theism versus atheism, not biology. It is irrelevant to judgment of what is today good science and what is not, what should be taught to schoolchildren in science class and what elsewhere. In Daubert v. Merrell-Dow Pharmaceuticals, The United States Supreme Court did its scholarly best on what is to be admissible scientific evidence. In the court's judgment, the views of God held by prospective expert witnesses would be neither here nor there.
"I predict that, in our lifetime, we will be able to generate genuine hypotheses from the Darwinian template (and from various non-Darwinian alternatives) and subject them to rigorous testing." So says Koons. But the "Darwinian template" is tested rigorously every day! Today, this week's (the November 6th) issue of Nature, the huge-circulation weekly professional science journal, has arrived. A regular News and Views section of Nature is Evolutionary Biology. Today's covers new experiments testing this hypothesis: that natural selection is (or is not) responsible for the remarkable pattern of spermatogenesis, the relevant neurophysiology, and the consequent copulation behavior of cockerels. It takes an Olympian indifference to the quotidian reality of science to believe that the "Darwinian template" is not tested rigorously.
J. B. S. Haldane described one rigorous test of Darwinism. "Find a Cambrian rabbit." Since then, an astonishingly rich Cambrian fauna has been found, by thousands of paleontologists in thousands of fossil-beds around the world. No Cambrian rabbits. Every day, a hundred predictions are made about what will happen in experiments on microbial populations, in cell cultures, within the immune system of patients with autoimmune disease. These are predictions that test "Darwinism": so far not one has failed. Evolutionary developmental biology has discovered, in the last few years, a universal genetic toolkit for animal body-plan organization and reorganization. Meantime, there have been no "rigorous" tests of an anti-Darwinian, or a non-materialist, or theistic "template."
Finally, Roland F. Hirsch. I suspect that Mr, Hirsch isn't clear about what constitutes an "ad hominem" attack. He carps about my mention of Jonathan Wells's connection with the Rev. Sun-Myung Moon, and with my failure to mention that Wells has a Ph.D. from Berkeley. I don't see the relevance of Berkeley to this forum, and I have already addressed the considerable relevance of Mr. Wells's religious motives. It is Wells himself who discusses his current work in biology. That work is not experimental or theoretical inquiry, and it does not include publication in professional journals. The two Wells publications mentioned are apparently early results from his doctoral or postdoctoral work. But his job now is searching the life sciences literature for items that might help to destroy Darwinism -- which is what he undertook to do from the start.
Speaking of Behe and my account of the IC claim, Mr. Hirsch says that "As we learn about the major cellular machines we recognize the inadequacy of evolutionary theory to account for them." But that is just Behe's claim repeated. For it, Behe has provided no evidence, yet. Hirsch's hopeful addition to the list of putatively IC "machines," the ribosome, is beside the point. The point is that Behe claims to have discovered a property of some subcellular "machines" that makes their emergence by descent with modification from ancestral "machines" -- their evolution, in other words -- improbable or impossible. There is no evidence that such IC exists in any biological machine.
I am not, as he believes, an "ardent Darwinist," whatever that is supposed to mean. In my biological research field, mechanisms for the genetic control of development have been discovered that are unanticipated in the modern synthesis of evolution. They present a picture of macroevolution (the creation of new body-plans) departing from the model than has been standard for some fifty years. Hirsch's quotation from Richard Lewontin on evolution -- a mere jibe at some of Lewontin's peers, not at evolution, in which Lewontin certainly believes -- impresses me no more than did Lewontin's Marxist tract (with Rose and Kamen), Not in Our Genes.
Mr. Hirsch wants Science Insights to publish "scientific argument." Impossible. "Scientific argument" takes place among scientists, with peer review, before audiences and with participants having reasonable competence to judge the details. Scientific argument about evolution is continuous in the scientific literature. If Mr. Hirsch "doubt[s] the validity of the basic claims of Darwinian evolutionary theory," and if he has a good reason to doubt, he should submit it at once to Science, or Nature, or Evolution. If it is a good reason, his name will be in lights. Anybody who knows science and its opportunism knows that.
Those who supported my account: I thank them for having found this somewhat obscure venue, for going to the trouble of writing well and concisely, and especially for knowing what they're talking about.
Unlike all the preceding letters, this one by Wesley R. Elsberry was not sent to Science Insights. Instead, it was submitted to (and printed in) the Waco Tribune, which is a newspaper published in the Texas city where Baylor University is situated. William Dembski had earlier published a challenge to the biologists of Baylor (where he holds a non-teaching position) for a dispute on ID and biology. As far as we know, Baylor biologists chose not to indulge Dembski, perhaps because they do not take his theories to be relevant to their science. Although Elsberry's letter was not a direct contribution to the dispute between Paul Gross and his detractors, it touches on questions raised in that dispute and therefore we consider it proper to post it in conjunction with the rest of this material.
Baylor biologists don't have to show that ID is not science. It is up to ID advocates to demonstrate that it is science. ID consists entirely of negative arguments against evolutionary biology. Science requires more than just making critiques of theories. ID advocates have failed to develop a positive scientific research program. Dembski has failed to convince the scientific community of either the correctness or the utility of "intelligent design".
Dembski has applied his own method for "detecting intelligence" to only four examples in seven years. Just one of those was both non-trivial and about a biological phenomenon, and even then the analysis was incomplete. There are no reports in the scientific literature of the full application of Dembski's method to any phenomenon, much less a biological one.
The citations Dembski brags about do not support his claim of being well received in the scientific community. His ideas are only mentioned in passing (rather than being applied to any problem), or are criticized. I wrote two of the papers citing Dembski; both are critical of Dembski's ideas. Further criticism may be found at Talk Design and The AntiEvolutionists: William A. Dembski.
Dembski's background is in theology, mathematics, and philosophy. His contributions in the latter two fields are meager and his contribution to biological literature is nil. Anyone with any claim to being a scientist would know that public debates are a form of socio-political action and not a method of doing science. Dembski's debate challenge is another publicity stunt instead of serious scholarship showing ID to be good science.
Wesley R. Elsberry, Ph.D.
Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences
Texas A&M University