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Critique of Intelligent Design

Evolution vs. Creationism

The Art of ID Stuntmen

Faith vs Reason

Anthropic Principle

Autopsy of the Bible code

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Divine Farce:  A Scientific / Philosophic Romp Through Intelligent Design

By Sheldon Danielson   

Posted November 7, 2005

Contents

Introduction

I. From Mythos to Logos in 2500 Years

II. The Fundamental Assumptions of Science

III. Irreducible Complexity:  Deus ex Inscientia

IV. How Long is Long?  How Much is Much?

V. Opening the Black Box

VI. The Evolution of Anti-Evolutionists

VII. Ontology Recapitulates Epistemology

VIII. Science, God and Preferred Designs

IX. Safari to the Obvious: Design and Information Detection

X. Oxymorons in the Laboratory, Oxymorons in the Clinic

XI. Warning: This Product may be Hazardous to Your Professional Health

Appendices

I. The Nature of Scientific Reality

II. Quantum Mechanics, Indeterminacy and Relativity

Alice: But can you make words mean so many different things?
Humpty Dumpty: The question is which is to be master, that is all.

                                                            (Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll)

Introduction

Like many Americans, I have recently become aware of a new storm brewing on the squall line between church and state, and on a similar line dividing science and religion.  This new atmospheric disturbance is called Intelligent Design, which purports to be a scientific refutation of at least part of modern evolution theory.  I decided to take a close look at the claims and arguments of ID.  What I found was an Alice in Wonderland world where the normal words of scientific discourse have been twisted into new and unrecognizable shapes in the service of an extraordinarily clever stealth campaign to violate those boundaries that have served science, religion and democracy so well.

In this examination of Intelligent Design, I have attempted to understand ID in the context of the history of science and the relationship between science and religion; to analyze some specific claims of ID; and finally to examine its implications for science education and public health.[1]  Because Intelligent Design asks us to make conceptual leaps that are orthogonal to the normal course of scientific development, I have included discussions of the philosophy of science along with several brief case studies from the history of science.

I have written in a conversational style that occasionally lets slip the intensity of my exasperation.  I hope that this will not cause offense, and I apologize if it does.  Despite its air of polite erudition, ID is deeply radical and insurrectionist, and calls for a muscular response.  It is, in my opinion, fundamentally dishonest and a serious threat to the teaching of science and to science itself, and must not be taken lightly.  We will not move forward by embracing self-inflicted ignorance and obscurantism.  Problems in science are solved by solving them, not by redefining them as metaphysical.

What we have most to fear in America is not foreign invasion or even terrorism, but the rise of a nativist, sectarian, know-nothing, anti-intellectual, anti-science, illiberal, Luddite, Butlerian crusade that finds its distant echo in the backward-looking Islamic jihad that has caused us and the world so much pain.  If we lose our national commitment to high-quality public education, the arts, science, robust journalism and all those Enlightenment virtues embraced by our Founding Fathers, we are in danger of recapitulating the declining years of the Roman Empire, a corrupt imperial shell with little to be proud of beyond a powerful military.  The barbarians are not at the gates, the barbarians are our own worst impulses, among which are intellectual laziness and a hankering for the quick fix.  In the immortal words of Pogo, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

I.  From Mythos to Logos in 2500 Years[2]

Robin Waterfield, in his introduction to The First Philosophers, writes of the time when Greek gods still ruled the heavens,

It is plausible to say that every cave and mountaintop was sacred; any snake could be a dead relative or a guardian spirit, or a bird a manifestation of deity; every stream, river, copse, and settlement had its presiding deity or deities; even individual trees and rocks could be sacred.  Meteorological and other large-scale natural phenomena were particularly awesome and divine.  ...essentially the whole world was shot through with the sacred, in the form of a plethora of deities, who ruled one's life and required magical rites of propitiation and communication.[3]

This is how Homer and Hesiod saw the world, and it may be taken as representative of ancient peoples everywhere.  The revolutionary step taken by certain Greek philosophers of the sixth century BC (the "Pre-Socratics") was to begin to suggest that the gods need not be invoked to account for the origin and nature of the world and for events occurring within it; that there just might be natural explanations for natural events.

This is not to say that the Pre-Socratics entirely shuffled off their belief in gods, spirits or supernatural forces.  It would be incorrect to suggest that Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes were ready to replace mythos with logos, but the birth of science and its further development over the centuries can only be understood as a gradual process of wringing the supernatural out of our understanding of natural events and replacing it with concepts of material causality, matter and energy.  Metaphorically speaking, science has sent the gods back to Olympus and chained them there.

No longer do we blame Poseidon for earthquakes or see the hand of Zeus in lightning bolts, no longer fear the plague-tipped arrows of Apollo.  And it's a good thing, too, because as long as powerful events belonged only to the domain of the gods they were necessarily beyond human understanding and control: random, arbitrary and unpredictable.  Two and a half millennia later, with our better understanding, we have learned to enforce special building codes near the ragged, earth-shaking boundaries of tectonic plates, know to avoid hilltops in storms, and recognize the true vectors of plague: rodents and fleas.

Within just a few centuries the path first indicated by the Pre-Socratics yielded remarkable returns.  The earth was understood to be spherical and its circumference measured; the irrationality of the diagonal of a unit square was recognized; Euclid wrote the most successful textbook in history; geometrical models of the solar system were constructed that predicted complex planetary motions.

These were all Greek accomplishments, but Hellenistic Greece was soon overshadowed by Imperial Rome, a civilization of soldiers and lawyers uninterested in science, and later by the early Christian Church, jealous of its truth-revealing prerogatives and positively hostile to independent investigation.  The Greek achievement was almost lost to civilization, and it is largely to the credit of Islamic scholars that anything at all of Classical Greece and its culture was preserved.  With the publication in 1543 of Nicholas Copernicus' De Revolutionibus[4], the path to enlightenment was rediscovered, though the Roman Catholic Church continued to make that road perilous to its travelers for the next 100 years or more.

The last great set-piece confrontation between science and religion was the trial in 1925 of John T. Scopes for teaching evolution in violation of Tennessee's Butler Act.  In representing the prosecution, William Jennings Bryan made no bones about the trial being a contest between Christian teachings and "atheistic" evolution.  Since Scopes freely admitted that he had taught evolution, the jury had no choice but to convict him and impose a $100 fine.  Inspired by Tennessee's example, a number of other states soon passed anti-evolution laws.  The matter was finally settled in 1968 when the U. S. Supreme Court ruled in Epperson v. Arkansas (393 U.S. 97) that such bans contravened the Establishment Clause of the U. S. Constitution.[5]

In a doctrine that has been fairly consistent from Pius XII through John Paul II, the Roman Catholic Church has taken the position that it is the soul that theology addresses, together with morality and ethics.  Since science does not address the soul, this stance – which might be called the Great Compromise between science and religion –  has been acceptable to all the major scientific organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences.

The truce between religion and science, never perfect, is again threatened.  Constrained by the Supreme Court's clear commitment to the Establishment Clause, this new attack on Darwin attempts to slip under the constitutional radar by calling itself science and positing that certain kinds of biological complexity are understandable only as manifestations of the design "skill"[6] of "an intelligence," without publicly identifying this agency with God.  However, a search of organizations supporting ID reveals the "usual suspects," conservative groups that have long attempted to inject religion into public education by other means.  Exposing this subterfuge requires a close examination of the claim that ID is legitimate science.

II.  The Fundamental Assumptions of Science

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the philosophy of science remains a dynamic and contentious discipline with many warring interpretations and points of view.  Yet, at some risk of oversimplification, I propose the following list of its fundamental assumptions.[7]

  1. There exists an objective material world that is governed by immutable and consistent laws that act without exception.  (For a discussion of indeterminacy, see Appendix II.)
  2. The proper instrument for discovering these laws and the nature of the substance upon which they act is human intellect aided by observation, experiment and reason.  ("Observation and experiment" are understood to include eyes, ears, nose, etc., and all the extensions thereto commonly called scientific instruments.  "Reason" is understood to include logic and mathematics.)[8]
  3. Such laws can be discovered, or at least approximated.  (Some might argue that assumption 3 is implicit in assumption 2, but it's a good idea to make it explicit.)

If any of these assumptions fails, the project of science, thus conceived, will be unsuccessful.  Let's look them one by one.  If the "stuff" of the physical world is no more than a projection of our individual minds, and events are only sometimes (or worse yet, never) governed by stable laws, then science chases a hopelessly moving target.  Each successive observation or experiment may differ in outcome and implications from its predecessor.  Efforts to impose order on the world are constantly and inescapably frustrated.  Science grinds to a halt.

If, on the other hand, order exists, but its laws are necessarily beyond human comprehension, then, equally, a full understanding cannot emerge.  We will thrash about in vain searching for connections that are forever beyond us.  In this situation, the look of the world may not differ appreciably from that occasioned by a failure of assumption 1, and we may never know the difference

It is possible to imagine a situation in which assumptions 1 and 2 are true, but that assumption 3 fails for some particularly difficult problem or problems.  For instance, the definitive experiments that could illuminate the earliest moments of the Big Bang might forever remain impossible because of the extraordinarily high energies required.  In this case, we might be able to develop physical theories that take us back to the end of first second (or nanosecond, etc.) of the Big Bang, but no further.

It is important to keep in mind that the above propositions are assumptions.  They cannot be proven.  We sometimes think of them as rules of the game, but if so, it is in a different sense from those of ordinary games.  The rules of chess are what they are; we may not like them (when checked), but there is no sense in which we could ever say that they are false or incorrect.  The rules of doing science are different; the assumptions upon which science is based could be wrong.  We might feel that we have an indication of this if centuries of intensive research fails to solve some important problem, especially if it appears not particularly difficult to solve.

Yet there is a hazard in the latter view which the history of science makes quite plain.  We have no way of predicting which potentially helpful intellectual techniques or technologies may evolve in the future as they have in the past, e.g., the calculus, non-Euclidean geometry, group theory, information theory, high-energy particle accelerators, astronomical satellites, genetic engineering, radio astronomy, DNA sequencing, x-ray astronomy, scanning-tunneling microscopes, etc.  Because we can never know that the human intellect and its command of technology have reached a final limit beyond which they cannot pass, we can never say that the assumptions of science have been falsified by failure and the game of science is over.  Even observations that seem today chaotic may someday yield to analysis.  With these considerations in mind, it will be instructive to examine some specific problems in the history of science.

The word planet comes from the Greek word planestos, wandering.  To the Greeks, planets were wanderers because no one could make any sense of their apparently irregular peregrinations about the heavens.  This remained a problem for well over 2000 years, until Newton proposed his Law of Universal Gravitation.  Even then, his explanation was questioned by those who asked why material bodies should attract each other at all, and whether Newton's absolute frame of reference (in which the planets had their motions) made any sense.  It was not until Einstein proposed his theory of General Relativity that a truly elegant, consistent and  complete picture emerged.[9]  As long as the gods controlled planetary motion, this project could not even get started; and if, at any time, scientists had been content to say, "It's just because God moves them that way," all progress toward a coherent picture would have stopped.  The story is told that Newton proposed that God occasionally nudged the planets back into position if they wandered too far.  More precise measurements and calculations made this divine fudging unnecessary.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, physics was in a peculiar situation.  While some scientists claimed that physics was fully mature and needed only finer measurements of fundamental constants, disquieting problems would not go away.  The ether (or aether), confidently invoked by James Clerk Maxwell as the medium of light transmission, defied all experiments aimed at detecting it.[10]  Contemporary, quite elegant, calculations implied that when a door (or even a peephole) into a hot furnace was opened, an infinite flux of energy should emerge, destroying the universe.[11]  Light, which had been described by Newton as a flow of particles, quite perversely insisted upon displaying wave properties as well.  It all depended on how one looked at it, quite literally![12]

As before, scientists could have simply thrown up their lab notebooks and said, "God's ways are mysterious," and let it go at that.  Undoubtedly, some physics students have wished that they had, but if physics had given up at that point we would have no Einsteinian relativity, quantum mechanics, integrated circuits, cell phones, computers, GPS system, television, electronic ignition, anti-lock brakes, talk radio, Internet and countless other (sometimes questionable) conveniences of modern life.  More to the point, those very sticky problems of physics would have remained forever beyond our grasp, as miraculous and arbitrary as Poseidon's earthquakes.

By now the moral of these stories should be clear.  Once committed to science's rules of the game, you can't get out.  Not, that is, without throwing over the game completely.  We have seen that at any point scientists could say, "It's because God made it that way."  Inevitably, this stops the previously agreed upon game and starts another in which the rules are no longer fixed, chaos and anarchy rule, and understanding ceases to expand.  Think again of Newton.  As long as he (or others) believed that God helpfully nudged the planets into their appointed rounds, further refinement of Newtonian dynamics was unnecessary and therefore unimaginable and unreachable.

Crisis points such as those discussed above, some lasting for thousands of years,  have occurred so many times in the history of science and were eventually overcome, that anyone who says, "OK boys and girls, this is the end," should be regarded not only with the most active skepticism, but as ignorant of history as well.  If, on the other hand, science as we know it had failed abjectly, and for millennia, to solve even the most straightforward problems, we would be justified in asking whether the game (as designed) had any meaning at all.  But that's not what we see.

This is nicely illustrated by a striking, though not unique, anecdote from physics.  Einstein found quantum theory's prediction of randomness at the heart of certain physical events deeply disquieting, and he mounted many attacks on the theory (see Appendix II).  In 1935 he, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen published a paper in which they scrupulously followed the mathematical formalism to what they regarded as an absurd conclusion.  By now you can guess the result; decades later their "absurd" effect was shown to actually happen.  It is now known as entanglement, and has been demonstrated many times in many different situations.[13]

In designing his attacks on quantum theory, Einstein carefully stayed within the rules.  In doing so, he wound up contributing materially to the progress of physics.  If instead he had simply said, "an intelligence did it," those contributions would have been lost.  If physics generally had taken that path, it would have been the end of the road.

III.  Irreducible Complexity – Deus ex Inscientia

We now examine creationism, missing-linkism and Intelligent Design in the light of what has been said about science.  If someone wants to believe that God, by any name, created the world just as we find it today in a week's time six thousand years ago, that is certainly his or her privilege.  Or, somewhat differently, if someone wants to believe that God wound up the universe and now lets it run by itself on physical laws, except once in a while, they are entitled to believe that, too.  But please don't call it science.  As we have seen, the rules of the science game don't admit it.  They don't admit it because, like sand in the bearings, it's fatal to the whole enterprise.  Once the possibility of divine intervention is allowed, it becomes impossible to learn at what point and to what extent divine meddling jiggers the results, because there are then neither applicable rules of evidence nor knowable laws of cause and effect.  It's perfectly arbitrary; your version is as good as mine.

Having said all this, it would certainly be a downer for science if, confronted with the quite extraordinary natural world of plants and animals, we failed utterly to make any sense of it and could not begin to imagine how, in all its variety and complexity, the life we see before us came to be.  One has to imagine that, before Darwin, many quite sincere scientists must have felt this way.

A hundred years ago we would have been talking about a "missing link," that is, the lack of a (discovered, dug up, found) intermediate form between ape and man.  In the intervening years so many links have been found that we now know that man did not evolve from (modern) apes at all, and the hypothetical single chain is, in fact, more like a bush in which most branches died out.  We are at the end of one branch, apes at another, chimps at another, Neanderthals at another (now dead), and so on.  Thus, with the help of additional evidence, do paradigms die and models change.

Eighty years ago (and even now) there were those who said that everything was created a few thousand years ago, intact and complete.  Could be....  Yet one is moved to ask, "If so, then why did God fill the world with such an overwhelming abundance of false evidence that things got going billions of years ago?"  This isn't a substantial objection of course, because, being omnipotent, He could presumably have done anything.  But the cognitive dissonance of this picture has undoubtedly led to some retrenchment on the part of literal creationism.

Next it was the eye.  The eye is so obviously "designed" to see, is so complex and works so well that (we were told) it could never have arisen from "unguided" evolution.  Then came the real drop-dead questions: What good is 5% of an eye, and where are the intermediate forms?  We don't hear this anymore because 5% of a really good eye is still an eye and much better than nothing at all; just ask anyone who has lost a lens to a cataract operation, or simply lost his Coke-bottle-bottom glasses.  Moreover intermediate forms exist, and the eye is so useful that it seems to have evolved independently several times.

So now we are told that the "motor" that drives the bacterial flagellum could not have evolved because, lacking any individual piece in exactly its current form, it wouldn't work.  "It requires at least forty, highly complex, interlocking, moving protein components for assembly and operation and is believed to have been a fully functioning component of the most primitive cells."[14]  (my emphasis)  "Is believed" by whom?  Why should we believe it?  Moreover, who could know what "the most primitive cells" looked like?  Did friendly aliens visit the early earth and leave us a set of electron micrographs? 

This example is a case of what Intelligent Design advocates call an "irreducibly complex system."  For instance, Michael J. Behe,[15] professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, points to the common mousetrap[16] as a (manmade) example of such a system.  If any part of a mousetrap is omitted, it won't work.  That there are analogous biological systems is uncontroversial.  If any of the many biochemical steps in blood clotting fails, serious consequences can result.  If any component of a human heart fails, the patient dies.  The question asked by ID advocates is how such systems could have arisen in the first place.

This problem was first addressed by Nobel prize-winning geneticist H. J. Muller in 1918 and more fully worked out in a 1939 paper, "Reversibility in Evolution Considered from the Standpoint of Genetics."[17]  Professor of Biology H. Allen Orr,[18] writing in the Boston Review and using Muller's ideas, explains how this might work.

An irreducibly complex system can be built gradually by adding parts that, while initially just advantageous, become – because of later changes – essential. The logic is very simple. Some part (A) initially does some job (and not very well, perhaps). Another part (B) later gets added because it helps A. This new part isn't essential, it merely improves things. But later on, A (or something else) may change in such a way that B now becomes indispensable. This process continues as further parts get folded into the system. And at the end of the day, many parts may all be required.[19]

The construction of an arch illustrates this.  In order to build an arch, you must start with a scaffold.  Only after the capstone is inserted can the scaffolding be removed.  Without the scaffolding in place an observer might ask, "How did this thing ever get built?"  Biological structures that become unnecessary and disappear can make what is left look irreducibly complex.  Professor Orr describes evolution of the lung as another kind of transformation to irreversibility.  The lung may have originated as an air bladder in certain fish.  In giving better control of buoyancy it was an improvement, and an even greater improvement when the fish began to make brief excursions onto dry land.  After the fish's descendants ceased to be water animals, and the bladder had become lungs, the structure that had begun as an improvement became a necessity.

In his 1939 paper, Muller did not use the phrase irreducible complexity, but rather reversibility, or the lack of it – the idea that removal of some part disables the system.  Because more than one kind of complexity is at issue in the ID debate, it might be better if the term irreducible complexity were replaced with  irreversible complexity, specifically referring to the "missing part" problem discussed by Muller and Orr.

The other kind of complexity at issue is what one might call ordinary or garden-variety complexity.  Upon close examination during the twentieth century, the cell turned out to be extremely complex; too complex, ID proponents tell us, than can be accounted for by mutation and natural selection.  Here is Orr's response to this claim.

To anyone paying attention over the last century, the revelation of complexity is no revelation at all. Geneticists, for instance, have known for sixty years that the modest fruitfly sports at least five thousand genes. So how could it not be complicated? You don't need a script to know that a play featuring five thousand speaking parts is going to be a tad complicated. Moreover, evolutionists all know that, from the time the earth formed, it took three billion years to evolve the first true cell but only half as long to get human beings from this cell. And we all interpret this the same way: it's harder to evolve a cell than a human given a cell. But, surprise or no, Behe's talk of complexity is utterly beside the point. As he well knows, Darwinism has no trouble explaining sheer complexity: four billion years is an unimaginably long time for things to get complicated.[20]  (my emphasis)

But back to the flagellum.  If flagella began as nothing more than slightly irregular lumps of membrane, and wiggled, that's more motility than none at all, and several billion years of evolution have tuned that up nicely, just like the eye.

Given a chance, progress in understanding happens.  Invoking divine intervention stops the search.  From what we have seen here it would appear that ID is beating a dead horse, trying to turn solved problems into unsolved problems so they can apply their special fix.  Whatever else it may be, that certainly isn't science; rather, it resembles a kind of Deus ex inscientia.[21]

IV.  How Long is Long?  How Much is Much?

British evolutionist Richard Dawkins observes that  many doubters of Darwinian evolution employ what he calls the Argument from Personal Incredulity (API).[22]  Could the eye have evolved?  "No way, couldn't have happened!"  API.  Could the ear have evolved, especially when used for echolocation (bats, whales and porpoises; also some blind people)?  "Impossible!  Preposterous!"  API

We must recognize (as proponents of Intelligent Design certainly do) that extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence.  Neo-Darwinian evolution theory[23] makes the extraordinary claim that its mechanisms explain, account for, make reasonable the breathtaking diversity of life on earth.  One of the reasons that the claims of evolution appear fantastic is that we humans have a very poor appreciation for the enormous span of geologic time and the immense size of the world.  A small numerical exercise will help give a (slightly) better feel for what can happen over long times. 

We hypothesize that some jumping mouse is subjected to mild evolutionary pressure (this will be defined later) to become larger.  We assume that it starts out weighing one ounce, and that owing to evolutionary pressure each generation increases in weight by 0.01%.  Assume further that a generation is two years.  This means that every two years our mouse species will increase in weight, on the average, by a factor of 1.0001.  Since individual variation in weight might be 20%,[24] it would be impossible to measure the weight gain from one generation to the next.[25] 

It would also be impossible to measure the weight gain over the entire life span of a very long-lived scientist.  In 90 years the increase would be only 0.4%, much less than the assumed variation.  Throughout the entire written history of mankind, say 4000 years, the increase would be only 22%, requiring careful measurement and statistical analysis to identify any change at all.  So much for human time spans.

Now let's consider some geological times: short geological times.  At the end of 100,000 years our mouse would weigh a bit less than 10 pounds – roughly small-dog size; but at 200,000 years it would weigh around 1,370 pounds; roughly the weight of a medium-large Kodiak bear.  Two hundred thousand years is a long time to us, but it's miniscule compared to the interval since (for example) the Cambrian Explosion, 600 million years ago.  At a remove of 600 million years, 200 thousand years is essentially instantaneous; even a million years is very short.  Moreover, life was probably around for over 3 billion years before that, working up to its Cambrian coming-out party.  It is thus not surprising that major groups of animals seem to appear "suddenly" in the fossil record at 600 million years before present.  We must also recognize that the statistical sampling represented by the fossil record from hundreds of millions of years ago is very sparse.

The mouse-weight numbers are summarized in the table below.

                         
Years1.0001Y/2Weight, pounds
21.00010.062506
901.00450.06278
40001.2210.07634
100,000148.49.274
200,00022,0151,376

Evolution is concerned with events that actually happened but appear to be extremely improbable.  Perhaps the most improbable event of all that evolution must come to terms with was the advent of self-replicating molecules: life, however primitive, coming into being for the first time.  We can again use some hypothetical numbers to examine just how improbable this can be, and still have a good chance of happening.

In 1953 Harold C. Urey and Stanley L. Miller[26] conducted a series of experiments in which large flasks filled with atmospheres thought to be approximations to the early earth atmosphere were subjected to strongly ionizing conditions, such as electrical discharges or ultra-violet light.  In a very short time organic molecules appeared, including some of the constituents of life: amino acids.  "More recently, laboratory simulations of the chemical conditions of earth before the coming of life have yielded organic substances called purines and pyrimidines.  These are building blocks of the genetic molecule, DNA itself."[27]  Of course, no self-replicating systems (primitive life) appeared.  If they had, you'd have heard about it.

But is there any surprise in that?  It seems plausible that life, if it originated on earth rather than elsewhere, might have arisen in the oceans, the supposed "primordial soup."  So, we will imagine a very patient scientist who sets up 1000 vats containing 1 gallon each of such "soup," and introduces ultra-violet radiation and/or various chemicals that might have triggered reproduction.  He then monitors them for 100 years for the emergence of self-replicating molecules/systems.  Multiplying the 1000 gallons by 100 years, we could call this a "100,000 gallon-year experiment."  (We will consider such an experiment a single "trial.")  It's fairly ambitious, but what are the chances of success?

Nature has also conducted such an "experiment," but a successful one.  Let's assume that the probability of life arising on the earth in the first billion years was 50%, a single toss of a coin.  Since we're here, we obviously won the toss.  Postulating that life did arise in the ocean, and that it occurred (to be conservative) somewhere in the top 1 foot of the ocean, how many gallon-years does this experiment represent?  There are about 3 x 1016 gallons in the top 1 foot of the modern oceans.  Multiplying this by 1 billion years gives 3 x 1025 gallon-years (GY).  If the probability of success was 50% (0.5), we can then calculate the probability that our scientist might see life arise in his much smaller experiment.  It is, approximately:[28]

This is a very low probability.  In order to raise the probability back to 0.5 (50%) our Prof can run N sequential trials:

Since each trial takes 100 years, in order to achieve a roughly 50% chance of seeing life arise in any of his 1000 vats (based on this estimate), our poor long-suffering professor would have to continue his experiment for about 3 x 1022 years, or about 2,000,000,000,000 times the current age of the universe.  If life arose in the first million years instead of the first billion, that only knocks off three zeros from our Prof's wait.  Would 100 years in the lab make a definitive experiment?  Would failure prove anything?  Hardly.  The moral of this story, as before, is that the earth is an exceptionally large laboratory with lots of time at its disposal, more than we can easily imagine.

These numerical examples must not be taken too seriously.  They are presented only to demonstrate how inadequate our intuitions can be – accustomed to much smaller numbers – when confronted by the huge quantities that evolution must deal with.  But while we're here at the creation (so to speak), it's appropriate to point out that the first "life" – the first reproducers – need not have been DNA based at all.[29]  Some simpler, therefore more probable but less stable, reproducer might have kicked things off and later evolved into DNA.  Furthermore,  the blessed event may have happened not once, but zillions of times, before a successful strain finally emerged.

That last part, the successful strain, appears indeed to have happened just once, because all life on earth is now based on DNA (except for the RNA viruses).  In the time since DNA took over, the DNA creatures (or changed conditions, or both) have wiped out all their predecessors.  The big numbers problem may prevent us from ever knowing exactly what happened, but a number of labs around the world are developing methods to vastly increase the probability of spontaneous generation of reproducers, making it ever more likely that we may actually observe something resembling life arise spontaneously.  Stay tuned.

V.  Opening the Black Box

Up to this point we have treated neo-Darwinian evolution as a black box, without ever peeking inside.  Fortunately for us, and quite unlike string theory or quantum mechanics, Darwinian evolution is based on two very simple and easily understood principles.  But before opening the box, a word from our sponsor, DNA.

By now everyone knows that DNA is a very long, doubly-helical molecule that carries the genetic information needed for reproduction.  It is based on a chain of  repeating structures and is therefore a polymer, vaguely like Nylon.  For us, it is the recipe for making more of us, and there are two copies of it in every cell of our bodies, one from our father and one from our mother (except red blood cells (none) and reproductive cells (one)).[30]  Every time one of our cells (or any cell) divides, that recipe is copied and passed on to two daughter cells.  Thus, production of a full-grown person requires copying the recipe thousands and millions of times.

If you copy a short poem, hand it to someone else who copies it and hands it to someone else, etc., even as few as a dozen times, you would expect to see numerous errors in the result.  The marvelous thing about DNA copying is that very, very few copying errors are made, and most of those are fixed by error checking and correcting algorithms (molecules, actually).  But in DNA copying as in life, errors do happen, and when they do they are called mutations.  The two most important things about mutations are that they are random, and that they breed true (unlike acquired traits like big biceps).  If the mutated DNA is copied, the mutation is copied with it.

Just as errors that creep into a multiply-copied poem are not likely to improve the poem, so too, mutations are not likely to improve the recipient.  If the recipient of a mutation (whether cell or person) immediately dies, that ends the unwholesome career of that mutation.  Even if the first recipient of the mutation does not die outright, the recipient may not be able to reproduce, and, as before, the mutation is eliminated.

Sometimes (however rarely) a mutation may represent an improvement, a change which (however slightly) increases the chances for successful reproduction.  Assuming that reproduction actually happens, that mutation has, in a sense, taken on a life of its own and carries the potential to improve the survivability of its carriers and their offspring.

We can now extract from the foregoing the two fundamental principles of neo-Darwinian evolution.

  1. Mutations (DNA copying errors) happen randomly and with random effects.  Since life relies on finely balanced biochemical systems in which exactly the right things must happen at exactly the right times, most mutations are harmful.  A very few have no significant effect and just hang around.  (This makes genetic fingerprinting possible.)  A very few are potentially beneficial.
  2. Natural selection performs a sieving (sort and reject) operation on mutations, retaining those with beneficial effects and eliminating those with harmful effects.

It is the randomness in I that creates non-directional diversity.  It is the sieving operation in II (selection of the best) that gives evolution its quite directional and non-random push toward "better" (reproductively more successful) forms.  These two principles act recursively; that is, the output from II becomes the next input to I.  We are looking here at the central claim of mainstream evolution theory: that cycling through these two steps billions of times over billions of years has produced the variety of life we see in the world today.  Intelligent Design proponents take the opposite view, that this mechanism is inadequate and that only the intervention of an intelligence can explain life as we see it.  Let us look further at how evolution works – and doesn't.

No given mutation (that just now happened) should be thought of as the "first step" toward an eye or a liver or any other specific structure, or any structure at all.  Mutations are truly random and innocent of aspiration.  They must not be thought of as design elements in a greater plan, or as manifestations of intent to create an X of any particular kind.  It is the iterative-recursive process, working in an environment consisting of all the other DNA, the total organism and the external world that ultimately determines the result.

Returning to the flagellum gives us a chance to see this process in action.  Apparently, motility is useful to bacteria.  It may be useful because it moves the bacteria away from regions of depleted nourishment, or away from regions contaminated by their own waste products, or allows them to evade predators or to chase food; probably all of these and more.  Under such conditions there will be selection pressure toward greater and more efficient motility; that is, any mutation that results in an incremental ability to move (without trashing something else) increases the chances of reproduction.  Mutation produces random results; natural selection preferentially preserves the improvements, some of which increase motility.

To estimate the number of "trials" our evolving bacteria might have undertaken, we can calculate roughly how many generations of bacteria have lived since life first appeared on earth 3 or 4 billion years ago.  Say it was 3 billion years, and a single bacterial generation lives 6 hours (long by usual bacterial standards).  This gives about 4.38x1012 generations, or 4,380,000,000,000 times through steps I and II of the evolutionary mechanism.  Moreover, because of branching (one cell produces two daughters, etc., allowing many simultaneous trials) the actual number of trials is enormously larger.  As usual we mustn't read too much into these numbers, but it seems reasonable that the motility of bacteria might have undergone quite a lot of refinement through so many iterations.

Evolution of the eye provides firmer insight into the process because so many variant forms of biological light sensor are known.  Imagine a tiny single- or multi-cell creature we'll call Beta that makes its living by eating chlorophyll-containing blobs.  If mutation throws up a few molecules that generate chemical signals in response to light, then Beta has the possibility of moving to locations where there is more light and therefore more chlorophyll blobs[31].  It's not very efficient because Beta must move to test the gradient: swim this way, the signal goes up; swim that way, the signal goes down.

Now imagine another mutation that shifts the light-sensitive molecules toward one end of Beta.  This begins to add some directional capability, because light from one direction is attenuated by passing through Beta's body, while that from the opposite direction is not.  Mutational addition of some opaque molecules just beneath the light-sensitive ones creates even more directional discrimination.  Equipped with vaguely directional light-sensing splotches on its surface, Beta can now head off in the preferred direction with little prior motion.  In a few cases, zillions of generations of such individually tiny improvements have produced eyes in a wide variety of styles.  Naturally by that time Beta would have become something quite different.  (But others haven't, and still sport primitive "eye patches.")[32]

This quick review of Darwinian evolution may sound oversimplified, and of course it is.  In evolution the miracles are in the details, and it is the details that have kept evolutionists busy these 150 years.  You will perhaps have noticed that I have not mentioned genes, and I will not mention them again.  The genes, the details and all the rest are the proper domain of professional biologists, and it is to them that the reader must turn for more information.  Some books that have helped me are listed at the end of the endnotes.  In addition, a link is provided to Talk Reason, a website devoted to the defense of science from a variety of ideological threats.

VI.  The Evolution of Anti-Evolutionists

As we have seen, the earliest (modern) anti-evolutionists based their rejection of Darwin on what they felt was a literal interpretation of the Bible.  According to their reading, the world was created a few thousand years ago very much as we see it today, minus the effects of Noah's flood.  As paleontology and geology have taken root and advanced, there has been a steady diminution from such monumentality to ever more modest and subtle claims for divine intervention.  Over a period of a hundred years or so the architectonic feats of the Lord seem to have dwindled from sculpting the world entire in a single stroke to the truly miniaturistic touch of a bacterium's flagellum, too small to be appreciated without an electron microscope. 

Observed dispassionately (if such a thing is possible) such a progression has the unmistakable feel of strategic retreat.  It recapitulates in miniature the 2500 year progression from mythos to logos with which this paper began, the gradual "wringing out" of the supernatural from our understanding of natural events.

The latest generation of anti-Darwinists, the proponents of Intelligence Design, do not (at least publicly) invoke the authority of the Bible, but claim the invention of a new science.  The following statement is from the website of Intelligent Design network.

The theory of intelligent design(ID) holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process such as natural selection. ID is thus a scientific disagreement with the core claim of evolutionary theory that the apparent design of living systems is an illusion.[33]

Advocates of Intelligent Design actively promote the teaching of their ideas in the public schools and in universities as science.  They understand that this will not happen as long as ID is perceived to be religious in origin and content, and they understandably try very hard to distance themselves from obviously theological aims.[34]

Intelligent Design is not creation science.  ID is simply an hypothesis about the direct cause of certain past events based on an observation and analysis of data.  ID does not arise from any religious text, nor does it seek to validate any scriptural account of origins.  An ID proponent recognizes that ID theory may be disproved by new evidence.[35]

We might admire such wholehearted commitment to scientific objectivity were it not for this, in the same paper a few sentences later.

ID addresses one question only: is life the product of a guided or an unguided process?  Did it arise from a mind or from the meaningless meandering of molecules in mindless motion?[36]

The first sentence introduces a false dichotomy that arises from a persistent misunderstanding of Darwinian evolution.  As we have seen, evolution is powerfully guided by principle II, natural selection.  The guiding is not toward a predetermined form, but toward reproductive success.  It may result in cabbages or kings, but it is not unguided.  The second sentence builds on the misunderstanding in the first, and its sextuple alliteration clearly telegraphs that, for the authors, and despite their claim to objectivity, the jury is no longer out. 

The following excerpt, in my view, captures the ID worldview with admirable clarity and concision.  But it also isolates and highlights the problem that its central assumption creates for science.

ID proposes nothing more than that life and its diversity were the product of an intelligence with power to manipulate matter and energy.  Period.[37]  (my emphasis)

Maybe "nothing more" and "Period" are intended to suggest that the authors make a modest proposal, but to accept it would introduce into science a lethal dose of ad hoc subjectivity and trash any hope of coherence and rigor.  There is nothing more basic to science than the interaction of matter and energy.[38]  If that can be manipulated by an external intelligence, then the rules disappear, the game is over and we are back, not to Square One, but somewhere off in Aristophanes' cloudcuckooland.

Let's try to put this ID claim into a wider perspective.  What scientist in his or her right mind – or team of scientists – would invest decades of time and billions of dollars building scientific instruments that sprawl over miles of bucolic countryside[39] in order to measure precisely the interaction of matter and energy – if they believed that "an intelligence" has a reputation for manipulating such outcomes at will?  Clearly, the scientists, engineers, project directors, politicians and national assemblies wouldn't consider making such investments if any of them seriously believed that the experimental results were not determined by "fixed laws operating without exception."

I'm not suggesting that we should look to Parliament for guidance on how the world works.  What I wish to show is how thoroughly the assumption of fixed natural law permeates our modern world view and by contrast (this is the important part) how radical, insurrectionary and anarchistic is the ID proposition quoted above.

As it happens, Harris and Calvert have thought about this problem and respond as follows

First, we are not discussing all of science, we are discussing how life and its diversity originated.  How something works and how it came to be are vastly different questions.[40]

This is truly bizarre.  Throughout most of their paper Harris and Calvert are understandably coy in avoiding any equivalence between "an intelligence" and God, but here they imply that this mysterious force only intervenes in the process of "coming to be," and not in "how it works."  If they are as innocent of theological presupposition as they claim, how would they know so precisely when the "intelligence" acts and when it doesn't?  Moreover, the quotation from Intelligent Design network that opened this Section and that reads in part, "...certain features of the universe and of living things..." doesn't even restrict the domain of ID to biology.

In a coherent world of uniform natural law, how something works and how it came to be cannot be "vastly different questions."  Are mutation and mitosis part of "coming to be" or part of "how it works?"  Harris and Calvert don't tell us, yet they ask that we sign over to them merely those parts of the world in which they claim superior knowledge, a proposal that is both incoherent and disingenuous.  If we give them this inch, they inherit the whole universe.  It's the ultimate Trojan Horse – and believe me, they know it!

VII.  Ontology Recapitulates Epistemology

Let's try to back away from the grubby, contentious details of science and religion and clear our minds for what is (arguably) the most basic question of all.  We want to ask, in the most global yet naïve way, "What's out there?  What is the nature of the world and what, if any, are its laws?"  Answers come pouring forth from all the divisions and disciplines of human activity.  How are we to judge them?  How decide which are useful and which not?  In slightly more formal language, we can ask –  like good lawyers  –  "What are the rules of evidence?  What is evidence?"

Theologian Paul Tillich, in his massive three-volume work Systematic Theology[41], suggests that we make a primal, generative "non-rational choice" when we decide what we will accept as legitimate, useful evidence.  Not an irrational choice, as in unreasonable, illogical or crazy, but non-rational, as in not proceeding from ratiocination – not a product of either deductive logic or empiricism.  According to Tillich, this choice will ineluctably mold and color all subsequent investigation, finally and powerfully fixing our conception of the world we inhabit.  Tillich's proposition can be rendered into a (not entirely tongue-in-cheek) epigram:  Ontology recapitulates epistemology[42].  That is, our conclusions about what is arise from, and are dependent upon, our (pre-) conceptions about knowledge and evidence.

If your choice is to accept your own internal perception of faith as evidence of truth, and my choice is to rely on double-blind clinical trials, then Professor Tillich cautions that neither of us can legitimately say to the other, "You are wrong, you have made an incorrect choice."  The mystic may rely on trance or dreams for evidence; the Christian may rely on a divinely inspired Bible or ex cathedra encyclicals from the pope.  What lies at the root of these differences is the choice of what kind of evidence we are willing to accept as dispositive.

Speaking just for myself, I don't see any way around this.  I said at the outset that the assumptions of modern, materialistic science are just that, assumptions and unprovable.  In Tillich's language these are (part of) the non-rational choice we make when we decide to be scientists.  (Or, more precisely, when we choose to accept the evidentiary rules of material science.)  We could have chosen to be astrologers, mystics or priests, and each of the associated world-views proceeds from a different evidentiary choice.  But that's the way it is: I cannot say that your mystical world is wrong because my empirical evidence denies it.  I can only say that we have chosen different ground rules and (unsurprisingly) arrive at different conclusions.

I have tried in this paper to lay out, as clearly as I can, what happens when we are not consistent or precise about our rules of evidence and attempt to mix incompatible systems.  Do matter and energy interact according to fixed laws, or does "an intelligence" have the power to "manipulate matter and energy?"  These two propositions have fundamentally different assumptions; they belong to different systems.  We should like to say that if one is true the other is nonsense and a fool's errand.  But since each interlocutor stands, as it were, in a different universe with different rules, even this dichotomy is muddy and imprecise.  Mixing the two can only result in incoherence and chaos.

The philosopher Karl Popper[43] proposed that no theory can be properly termed scientific unless it is "falsifiable."  For example, I advance a theory that an elf sits on my shoulder with the special property that nothing and no one can detect it.  My theory is safe – no one can disprove it.  But it's not science.  Many of Popper's ideas have fallen out of favor,  but the concept of necessary falsifiability has (largely) endured.  I suggest that Intelligent Design cannot be a scientific theory because it is not falsifiable.[44]  It is all very well to say, "An ID proponent recognizes that ID theory may be disproved by new evidence," but they are perfectly safe.  It's not falsifiable.  In biology, so much more complicated than physics, there is effectively an infinite number of questions.  Because they cannot all be answered, no statement about an unspecified subset of them can be disproved (falsified).  "Oh, you found a mechanism for that?  Not to worry, the intelligence wasn't acting there."

Think of the implications for education alone.  Teaching students what science is and how it works are hard enough as it is.  Introducing Intelligent Design into the high school curriculum would make it impossible.

Physics at the beginning of the twenty-first century may or may not be firmly on the road to a Theory of Everything.  Neo-Darwinian evolution may or may not have got all its ducks in a row.  The fundamental assumptions of science take no side in this.  What they do is allow us to map out coherent strategies for investigation, and consistent rules for evaluating their outcomes.

VIII.   Science, God and Preferred Designs

I wish to propose a small thought experiment that will be trivial to some and no doubt infuriating to others, but I do it as another way of highlighting the discontinuity that ID proponents urge upon us.  Imagine if you will a universe much like ours, filled with leptons, quarks, fields, energy; all the familiar stuff.  And yes, it has at least one intelligent species who call themselves Alphas and are utterly secular.  Like us, the Alphas carry out science and work on hard problems, including evolution.  Faced with some particularly tough nut, do you suppose that they would suddenly propose the existence of a cosmic "intelligence" – an ontological object as alien and capricious to them as the pocket watch[45] on the heath; a sideways lurch that nothing they had ever done or thought before had in any way suggested?  One thinks not; more likely they would just work harder.

Science, through its assumptions and by nearly universal agreement, has chosen to work in that secular universe.  One has to ask then why a scientist like Professor Michael Behe,[46] by his own statement a Roman Catholic,[47] can consider it a minimal extension of science to take the plunge that our Alphas cannot conceive.  I think the only possible answer is that there is something readily at hand, really convenient, to plug right in – and we all know what that is: God.  I am not suggesting that Professor Behe himself is being disingenuous in not identifying the intelligence with God (I don't know what he thinks), but I do believe that the movement as a whole is dishonest.  How many people, especially high school students, can make the fine philosophical distinction (which may be no distinction at all) between a ruling metaphysical intelligence and God?

Until this Section I have avoided ascribing thoughts or positions to ID proponents that are not explicit in ID publications which I have read.  However, there are certain subliminal themes that seem so firmly embedded in the ID worldview that I must comment on them.  ID proponents go to great pains to convince us of the astronomical improbability of genetically proceeding from A to B based on random mutation, where B is closely specified – for instance, in evolving from nothing much to flagella of a specific design.  In this they are right, but they hide their major premise and draw the wrong conclusion.

I deal all 52 cards from a well-shuffled deck, recording each one.  The probability of exactlythatsequence of cards appearing was essentially zero ((52 factorial)-1, roughly 1 in 1068); it will almost certainly never happen again.  But it did happen.  One must be careful with this analogy, but it illustrates that "statistically impossible" things happen all the time if you don't demand to know what they will be beforehand.  The corresponding process in evolutionary biology is not a molecular deal, not the chance assembly of zillions of atoms into a person or an eye, because that's not the way it works.[48]  Instead, we should think of the shuffle and deal as millions of chance mutations (culled by natural selection) leading to thousands of diverging branches.  After many branchings, the probability of any previously specified twig appearing is essentially zero.

Consider a specific example.  The probability of evolving from, say, a single cell to a kangaroo is essentially zero.  It will never happen again; in the entire rest of the universe there is almost certainly nothing quite like our kangaroo.  There are too many chance branches to something else.  All those millions of chance branches (subjected to reproducibility testing) had to lead to a great many somethings, and one of them wound up being a funny-looking animal we've named the kangaroo.  But (and this is the crucial point) there was never a plan, design, intent or necessity to produce a kangaroo.  In principle, we can look backward and observe the steps that led to the kangaroo (analysis), but there was no kangaroo-ness in the beginning that guided evolution, only the potentiality to produce almost anything, as long as it was viable and competitively successful.  ID proponents insist on running analysis the wrong way around as synthesis, with a predetermined outcome.  That really does produce statistical impossibilities.

Now I take a leap in inferring ID thoughts that are not so clearly or explicitly expressed.  I suspect that the ID folks have quite a clear conception of what human beings ought to look like, i.e., pretty much as we do.  Now, what was the likelihood of evolving from a single cell to precisely us?  Essentially zero, because there were so many divergent possibilities.  But millions of possibilities had to happen, did happen, and one of them developed intelligence.  It is only with the (implicit) assumption that we – as we are – had to be the current endpoint of one evolutionary branch that statistical impossibility arises.  Whether evolution to something with intelligence is a high-probability event or a low-probability event, we don't know.  All we can say is that it did happen, but it might have happened quite differently or not at all.  We, handsome brutes that we are, just lucked out.

There are issues of common body forms and "evolutionary convergence" which are beyond the scope of this paper.  These issues are addressed in good books on evolution.  But if you are wondering where the really weird body forms are – the science fiction-like monsters – I can tell you: they're in the sea.  On dry land the rigors of gravity place limits on the freedom of nature's efflorescent creativity.

IX.  Safari to the Obvious:  Design and Information Detection

Intelligent Design is often described by its proponents as the "science of design detection."  Because I regard ID design detection as ad hoc, self-serving, transparently subjective pseudo-science, I am not eager to address it.  It is the Tar-Baby of the ID brier patch, and one approaches it with reluctance.  However, because of its centrality in the ID argument, ignoring it would invite accusations of failure to engage.

The word design can mean a variety of quite different things.  Design can be a transitive verb: He designed the toaster.  Here, the instrumentality of intelligence is clearly pointed to.  On the other hand, one might speak of the pleasing design created by slicing and polishing a rock.  No one would think that the agency of an intelligent designer was being invoked.  It is with the contentious middle ground that we are concerned.

As the eighteenth century theologian William Paley famously observed, if a pocket watch were to be discovered upon the heath, "...I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given [with respect to a stone], that for anything I knew, the watch might always have been there."  Instead, he would conclude that the watch

...must have a maker; that there must have existed at some time and at some place or other an artificer or artificers, who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer... [i.e., telling time][49]

OK, lets follow this.  You stumble upon a watch, a toaster, a cell phone or any other product of industrial civilization and you will almost certainly identify it as man-made and designed by an intelligence.  Now imagine you meet a hedgehog.  You whip out your portable biology laboratory and proceed to dissect and analyze it.  What are your conclusions?

Does the hedgehog have design?  Here we might think of design in the same way we think of the watch as having design, i.e., as complex structures with specific functions: an eye, an ear, a stomach, a liver, muscles, bones, etc.  No contest.  Yes, it has design.

So now we have two things, watch and hedgehog, that have design.  Setting aside the likelihood that we would recognize familiar technology in the watch, we can still give many reasons for believing it was manufactured:  We find no infant watches, no pregnant watches, no watch nests or burrows, no watch wells or veins of watches, even in rich gold deposits, no primitive gears or proto-hairsprings in the fossil record; and we cannot propose any plausible mechanism by which its various parts might have arisen naturally and assembled themselves; in short, no consilience with the world of natural objects whatsoever.  What of the hedgehog?  Quite the opposite on every count (except the wells and mines).

What are the important differences here?  The watch on the heath is totally unique, an object without connection or context.  By contrast, the hedgehog is firmly embedded, not only in the life of the heath, but in a biological history that can be traced back billions of years through hundreds of body forms to smaller and simpler creatures.  Moreover we have, in neo-Darwinian evolution, a powerful and coherent mechanism for accounting for the whole picture, including the emergence of design.  By now we might be wondering just what point the good Doctor Paley thought he was making, or why proponents of Intelligent Design quote him; for the exercise seems to illustrate the ease of distinguishing evolutionary design from intelligent design, not the reverse.

So much for design detection.  No argument, there is design in living things.

Another, related, subject that engages the ID folks almost as much as design detection is information detection.  Not random gibberish, like the order of cards in a deal, but real, coherent information.  This is even more easily disposed of than design detection.  Of course there is information in DNA, and molecular geneticists have even learned how to read it, and write it.  As we have seen, DNA carries the recipe for making more of its own kind, and that certainly qualifies as information.

Since everyone agrees that design and information exist in living things, we can ask why ID proponents expand at such great length about non-random messages, syntactical meaning, information- and design-detection filters and the like.  One can guess it's because it gives them the opportunity to generate a large amount of highly scientific-sounding language that no one but a specialist in information theory could reasonably be expected to understand, much less evaluate – all of which is clearly intended to lend ID a spurious patina of intellectual legitimacy. 

ID's current point man on design detection is arguably William A. Dembski.  In Dembski's articles and books[50] he proposes mathematical methods for design detection, including a measure which he calls "complex specified information", or CSI.  Dembski asserts that the presence of CSI is diagnostic of intelligent design, and is found in specific cases.  Taking on the edifice of semi-mathematical verbiage Dembski has erected and deconstructing it brick by brick is a dirty job, but someone had to do it, and Wesley Elsberry and Jeffrey Shallit have taken up the challenge in their paper Information Theory, Evolutionary Computation, and Dembski's "Complex Specified Information".[51]  In the course of this paper, the authors quote the paragraph below, which I will take as an illustrative example of the quality of Dembski's reasoning.  (Elsberry and Shallit discuss it from a somewhat different perspective.)

In every instance where [1] the complexity-specification criterion attributes design [2] and where [3] the underlying causal story is known (i.e., where we are not just dealing with circumstantial evidence, but where, as it were, the video camera is running and any putative designer would be caught red-handed), it turns out [4] design actually is present; therefore, [5] design actually is present whenever the complexity-specification criterion attributes design.[52]

This rather complex sentence is most easily parsed with the aid of a Venn diagram (see below).  We begin by defining three sets of Dembski-style "events":

[1] A: the complexity-specification criterion attributes design

[3] B: the underlying causal story is known

[4] D: design actually is present

The word "and" [2] implies the existence of a non-null set C, which is the intersection of sets A and B:

[2] C: <the complexity-specification criterion attributes design> AND <the underlying causal story is known>

Dembski then asserts ("it turns out") that the intersection of A and B, which is C, is a subset of D ("design actually is present").  He then concludes "design actually is present whenever the complexity-specification criterion attributes design."  This is easier to understand if we turn it around as an IF THEN statement:

[5] IF < the complexity-specification criterion attributes design (A)> THEN < design actually is present (D)>.

This is equivalent to the statement that every member of set A (including any future, as-yet untested event) is necessarily also a member of set D.  We can see from the diagram that this conclusion does not logically follow (A is not contained in D; only some of it is).  Moreover, even if Dembski could show us a large number of members of D ("design actually is present") that his methods had successfully assigned to A ("the complexity-specification criterion attributes design"), his conclusion would be merely inductive, since he has not proved that every future member of A will also be a member of D.  (That appears to be what he thinks he did with his pseudo-syllogism, but the diagram shows that he didn't.)  Unfortunately, this seems to be representative of the quality of mathematical rigor in Dembski's books and papers in general, as reported by Elsberry and Shallit.[53]

But really, all this mathematical mumbo-jumbo is like applying the calculus of finite-dimensional vector spaces to the question How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? without a rigorous definition of the word "design" (by which Dembski means "intelligent design"), something Dembski fails to give us.  Without that, we have nothing to talk about.  This situation resembles Supreme Court Justice John Potter Stewart's famous definition of pornography: "I know it when I see it."  That was bad enough for the law.  For science, it's hopeless – the very definition of non-science.

Elsberry and Shallit's paper is 54 pages long, and I recommend it highly for folks interested in pursuing the design/information question in more depth.  I will end here with an excerpt from their conclusions.

We have argued that Dembski's justification for "intelligent design" is flawed in many respects.  His concepts of complexity and information are either orthogonal or opposite to the use of these terms in the literature.  His concept of specification is ill-defined.  Dembski's use of the term "complex specified information" is inconsistent, and his proof of the "Law of Conservation of Information" is flawed.  Finally, his claims about the limitations of evolutionary algorithms are incorrect.[54]

If this is the best that ID mathematical analysts can do, then we might as well avoid the red herring of design detection entirely by simply stipulating that design and information do exist in living things.  This instantly moves the conversation forward to the leap that ID proponents make with respect to both design and information: design requires an intelligent designer; information requires an intelligent informer.  In other words, the proposition that a suitably motivated "intelligence" can bond atoms and molecules at will, generating desired evolutionary outcomes.

Stripped of their epistemological exfoliation, ID arguments ultimately come down to Richard Dawkins' Argument from Personal Incredulity.  Our ID friends look at the natural world as understood by evolution theory and say, "I don't believe it."  This is a perfectly decent, respectable response; but it is a thin reed indeed from which to launch a radical attack on the fundamental assumptions of science, and upon which to erect such an ungainly, creaking edifice as Intelligent Design – which for me resembles nothing quite so much as Howl's Moving Castle.

X.   Oxymorons in the Laboratory, Oxymorons in the Clinic

The raw material of Intelligent Design – its stock in trade – consists in identifying problems that cannot be solved.  That's what "irreducible complexity" is supposed to mean and "design detection" is supposed to find: intractable mystery.  A waggish ID slogan might be:  Failures R Us.  A string of newly solved problems might look bad for ID.  As we have seen from Harris and Calvert and from Intelligent Design network (at the end of Section VI), the identification of what does and does not belong to the domain of ID is incoherent or worse.  Let's see how this might work out in practice.

Meet Bob and Sam, both of whom are biologists.  Bob is a mainstream university researcher, and Sam is an ID proponent.  (I refuse to say ID scientist because I'm convinced it's an oxymoron.  You'll see why in a moment.)  When Bob goes into the lab to tackle a new problem, he says to himself, "Boy! I really want to solve this problem and I'll work as long and hard as it takes!"  In fact, everyone wants Bob to solve the problem: his dog, his 9-year old kid, his wife, his department chairman, his funding agency and the public who will benefit.  They're all on board and pulling in the same direction.

When Sam goes into the lab he says, "Gee, what should I do?  When I fail at problems that's good because I can rack up more points for "the intelligence," but it's bad because ID skeptics will say I'm failing on purpose."  Poor Sam is permanently uncertain about how hard to try.  He's caught in a conflict of interest vortex he can't get out of.

Question: Which guy would you want on your cancer research team?  I mean, your cancer.

Here is why this story is serious instead of silly.  Proponents want to inject ID into science education.  Science education is where we get our research scientists from.  Research scientists are the folks who will cure cancer..., if it is cured.  Do we want to give control of the teaching of science – any control – to folks who have a vested interest in not solving problems?  The ID lobby will cry, "Foul!  We're not talking about those problems!"  But I'm afraid they are.  Cancer is genetics gone wild.  Genetics is the home turf of ID.  There are many other diseases that are genetic in origin, including sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, type 1 diabetes, leukemia, Down syndrome, hemophilia A, and countless others.[55]  Some of the most exciting prospects for future cures involve manipulating genetic information.  The last thing we want to do is instill in our young people a propensity to regard genetics as a domain of necessary mystery and not open to robust scientific investigation.  If you are beginning to get a queasy feeling about all this, you will know why "ID scientist" is an oxymoron.

Science learning in the United States is already in crisis:

By law, making students better at reading and math is the nation's priority. When it comes to science, however, a quiet crisis is engulfing schools, say scientists, educators, business leaders and entrepreneurs.[56]

Far from improving the quality of science teaching, ID proponents seek to poke a theological finger down into the heart of early science education and addle it with fake mysteries.  That is not the way to attract kids to a lifetime of research.

Intelligent Design claims to be science.  It is not.  Was there ever in the history of science, or any other cognitive trade, a movement whose calling card reads, "We do not understand – Which is good news for us"?  Intelligent Design is a Luddite,[57] Butlerian[58] crusade bent on distorting and dumbing down the teaching of science to fit a retro religious agenda that is more interested in gaining converts than advancing the frontiers of human knowledge or relieving human suffering.

XI.  Warning: This Product may be Hazardous to Your Professional Health

We are not engaged here in mere parlor talk.  ID proponents everywhere are lobbying for inclusion of Intelligent Design in the high school and college science curricula, to be taught as science and at least in parallel with Darwinian evolution.  President George W. Bush has recently announced his support for the teaching of ID.  If the President were to make promotion of ID a personal project, millions of Americans would cheer and follow him.  If the emotional intensity of the public debate over ID were to rise to the level of the abortion debate, all scientists, and especially biologists, could find themselves working in a hostile environment.  Some already do.  In many places, high school teachers of biology already suffer intense scrutiny, professional challenge and emotional attack.[59]

Advocacy for ID is following a course that we have seen in other areas.  Pushed by a wave of conservatism and backed by affluent organizations such as The Heritage Foundation, Focus on the Family, The Discovery Institute and others[60] ID proponents are girding for battle.  Numerous publications, such as those referenced in this paper, are produced and speakers are trained in all the rhetorical skills of Hellenistic Greece, gussied up with the latest buzzwords.  A brief Internet browsing session will reveal the breadth, seriousness and professionalism of this movement.

Given the skill and commitment of the promoters of ID, scientists should think twice before engaging in public debate.  Those who choose to rise to the challenge should, if possible, study transcripts of previous debates and develop their positions with rigor, care and scientific honesty.[61]  Many very brilliant and creative scientists are poor teachers or communicators.  A few genuine experts have faired badly in public debate.  If you feel compelled to publicly resist this threatened march from logos back to mythos, be brutally honest with yourself.  If you don't have a proven record as a teacher, debater or public advocate, think carefully before you put yourself and your field in harm's way.  In a large venue you can be pretty sure your adversaries really are debating champions, and the best in the business.  That's why they're there.

It is time to call the thing by its right name.  I have attempted in this paper to show that ID is not science, conflicts with science quite fundamentally, can hobble or destroy the teaching of science, and is in fact the thin end of a wedge that is intended to pry religion into public education.  If any broad-based movement can claim with a straight face that "an intelligence" which has the ability to manipulate matter and energy to control evolutionary outcomes is not God by another name, we might admire their chutzpah but we would be fools to believe them.


Appendices

Appendix I   The Nature of Scientific Reality

The discussion in the main text reflects a philosophy of science that is usually called Scientific Realism, which can be described as

...the view that the subject matter of scientific research and scientific theories exists independently of our knowledge of it, and that the goal of science is the description and explanation of both observable and unobservable aspects of the world.[62]

In less formal language, this point of view states that there are real objects "out there," outside of ourselves and our minds, that exist independently of whether we see them, measure them, or even think about them; and that these objects change and interact in regular ways that also do not depend upon our perception or non-perception of them.[63]  For instance, scientific realism would assert that the earth was spherical and revolved about the sun even at a time when people thought the earth was flat and the sun a golden chariot.  Moreover, the realist would say that the same was true even before there were people to perceive it.  Every time we talk about the evolution of the solar system, we assume it was really there long before we were.

There have been and are philosophers of science who take virtually the opposite point of view, specifically, that it is incorrect to speak of things existing independently of thought, perception or theory.  An early example of this point of view was expressed by the Greek philosopher (or sophistes) Protagoras in his famous aphorism, "Man is the measure of all things."  Among anti-realists and anti-realist theories are: Bishop Berkeley's subjective idealism; Thomas Kuhn's scientific communitarianism,[64] Bas van Fraassen's constructive empiricism; radical empiricism; Social Constructivism.[65]

Induction or inductive reasoning is what we employ when we make statements like, "I've always seen the sun rise in the morning, therefore it will rise tomorrow morning."  It has happened thus, therefore it will happen thus.  We generally regard such statements as carrying little weight.  We have reason to think, for instance, that someday the sun will expand into a red giant, engulfing the earth.  After that there will be no more morning sunrises (on the earth).  Adherents to scientific realism try to deduce from observations theories that make predictions that are not based on past experience per se, but that arise necessarily from laws that exist as real aspects (components, elements) of the physical world.  Thus when a stone is lifted from the ground and released, we predict that it will fall, not because it always has, but because the stone and the earth attract each other.  Specifically,

.

Yet there may be an irreducible inductive component in even our most careful predictions about the physical world.  I have said fairly explicitly in Section II that we are given considerable encouragement toward accepting the three assumptions of realism by the historical success of the scientific endeavor that was based on them.  Many would see at least a grain of induction in this.  On the other hand, realists like to point to the "stability of the phenomena," the fact that the same experiments produce the same results quite reliably; that it doesn't matter whether the experimenters are Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, vegetarian, atheist or Seventh Day Adventist, the results are the same.  The fact that cultures as disparate as the United States, France and Japan can independently build atomic clocks that agree to within one part in 1015 (1 second in 31.7 million years) is impressive.  That's a lot of stability in the phenomena.

A brief history of atomic theory will illustrate this further.  The Greek philosophers Democritus and Leucippus proposed that matter is not infinitely divisible, but instead consists of a multitude of very small non-cuttable atoms (a-toma).  They had no real evidence for this and the idea died out, but in the nineteenth century atomic theory was resurrected by chemists to explain the observation that elements combine to form compounds in  fixed ratios of weight.  Physicists, however, remained skeptical.[66]

Einstein was one of the first physicists to argue persuasively for the atomic theory in his 1905 paper on Brownian motion.  Ironically, much of the other contemporary evidence for the existence of atoms came from studies of sub-atomic particles carried out by Thompson, Rutherford and others.[67]  As theories of the chemical bond were developed, the regular lattice structures of crystals were predicted, then "confirmed" by x-ray crystallography.  But still, no one had ever seen an atom.  To some philosophers atoms were an unobservable, therefore in some sense not legitimate objects of science. 

Skipping several decades ahead, the invention of the scanning-tunneling microscope made it possible to physically "feel" the atoms on a surface and map their locations.  For the first time images of individual atoms were produced, and I vividly remember saying at the time, "Wow, they're really there!"  They were not only there, they were exactly where theory said they should be, in exactly the predicted patterns.

In a few years it became possible to move atoms about one by one – even to arrange a dozen or so into the letters IBM.  Skipping ahead once more, recent experiments (apparently) have succeeded in imaging the spatial extent and shape of the quantum mechanical wave function that describes the "...highest occupied molecular orbital of N2."[68]  These images agree with theory.  Since wave functions are among the most ontologically weird constructs of the quantum world, this is an astonishing event.  Once again, one can only say, WOW!

We have to be impressed by the stability through all these historical steps, not only of the idea of the atom, but of quantitative predictions made about it.  Stories like this abound in science; they are what make scientists confident that they are on the right track, that they are measuring real things, even if they give little thought to the underlying philosophical questions.

Appendix II   Quantum Mechanics, Indeterminacy and Relativity

The advent of quantum mechanics and relativity in the early twentieth century solved serious problems in physics, but radically altered our view of nature in many fundamental respects.  Such concepts as necessary indeterminacy, relativity of reference frames, and warping of the geometry of spacetime by mass/energy challenge and sometimes completely defeat our physical intuitions.  These developments have given philosophers of science many restless nights and started arguments that continue to this day.  Yet this new science has been astoundingly successful both in rationalizing the phenomena and predicting the outcomes of new experiments.  In 1943 Erwin Schrödinger, a pioneer of quantum theory, speculated that the stability of the genetic code could only result from quantum energy barriers to degradation of the code.  It wasn't the whole answer, but it was a start in the right direction.

Quantum theory addresses matter/energy interactions at the smallest scales, from molecules on down.  One of its most startling propositions is that we cannot predict the outcome of certain small-scale events, not (merely) because we don't know the initial conditions well enough, but because there is an irreducible randomness built into the world at this level.  The easiest example is natural radioactivity, in which atoms spontaneously disintegrate into other elements.

Given a sample of radium, there is no way of knowing which atoms will decay in the next second and which will decay in 10,000 years.  All we can say is that in 1,620 years half of the atoms (of its most stable isotope) will have decayed into other elements.  If the sample is very small, moreover, that "half" is only approximate.  This state of affairs does not result from lack of information about the individual atoms, it is truly intrinsic to the process.  Einstein expressed his intense dislike of such ideas with his famous, "God does not play dice."

Physics adjusted to this shock, even if Einstein didn't, and the current version of the theory (the "standard model") is arguably the most successful in the history of science.  It does, however, give a different flavor to the claim that there are fixed physical laws, and that (among other things) is what kept the philosophers up at night.

Einstein published his theories of Special and General relativity in 1905 and 1915.  Special relativity addresses the propagation of electromagnetic radiation (including light).  Einstein began by making two modest assumptions: 1. The laws of physics are the same for all observers in uniform unaccelerated motion and,  2. The speed of light is the same for all such observers.  Among the startling consequences of these assumptions are the following:  1. Events that are simultaneous to you may be non-simultaneous to me.  We can both be right.  2. Time "ticks" more slowly for a clock in motion.  3.  .  4. The speed of light is the absolute speed limit of the universe.  General relativity addresses gravity.  A popular epigrammatic expression of general relativity runs as follows: matter tells space how to warp, and warped space tells matter how to move.[69]  Einstein's two relativities kept philosophers of science working overtime because of (among other things) their radical reconsideration of privileged observers and frames of reference.

Modern quantum theory (modified by special relativity) and general relativity have been extraordinarily successful in accounting for and predicting physical behavior.  But there's a problem: they are mathematically incompatible with one another.  Quantum theory (the standard model) addresses matter and energy on very small scales, while general relativity addresses matter and energy on very large scales.  Black holes and the very early universe are very small (standard model) but very massive (general relativity).  Either a synthesis or a whole new beginning must be found, and string theory, M theory and quantum gravity are examples of current efforts in this direction.  One hundred years after the tsunami of relativity and quantum theory, physics stands at another cusp; we live in interesting times.

*                                  *                                  *

Why have I included these Appendices on the philosophy and workings of science, physics in particular (the author modestly asks)?  It is because they provide instructive glimpses into how science works, and how well it works, when the rules are followed.  These examples (or, better, the actual scientific work to which they refer) illustrate the enormous success that science has had in making sense of the universe we live in, and in generating profound insights into the most fundimental questions of how things work.  This is the standard to which Intelligent Design, or any new science, must conform if it is to be legitimately called science.  I submit that an objective assessment of ID demonstrates that it meets essentially none of the necessary tests of scientific rigor, and that it is ultimately theological in intent and content.  It is, in fact, the subject that dares not speak its name, which is: religion.

 

 


[1] The Nitty Gritty Bit, by Thomas D. Schneider, Ph.D., examines the potential impact of ID on a looming public health crisis. http://www.talkreason.org/articles/Nitty.cfm

[2] Mythos = Myth.  Logos = Reason, account, word, rational principle, rational argument, etc., etc.

[3] R. Waterfield, The First Philosophers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) This is an excellent new commentary on, and translation of, the venerable Diels/Kranz Fragments of the Pre-Socratics, which are such a treasure and frustration to would-be historians of science.

[4] Intimidated by the Church, Copernicus delayed publication until he was on this deathbed.

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scopes_Trial

[6] Many people have pointed out that any "designer" must have been either disastrously unskilled or positively malign, since he left us with so many mistakes, among them a backwards-wired retina, the ever-troublesome appendix and an unhelpful craving for fast food.  Here's Steven Pinker:  "The moral design of nature is as bungled as its engineering design. What twisted sadist would have invented a parasite that blinds millions of people or a gene that covers babies with excruciating blisters? To adapt a Yiddish expression about God: If an intelligent designer lived on Earth, people would break his windows." Time Magazine, 15 August, 2005.

[7] See Appendix I for a further discussion of the philosophy of science.

[8] Some scientists might include intuition in this list, but although intuition is often quite effective in indicating profitable directions for research, it must ultimately be replaced (or fleshed out) by the other members of this list.

[9] Though not necessarily correct.

[10] The Michelson, later Michelson-Morley, interferometer experiments failed to detect any difference in the propagation velocity of light whether with, across, or against the motion of the earth through the supposed ether.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michelson-Morley_experiment

[11] Perhaps I exaggerate, but not by much.  In any event, the "ultra-violet catastrophe" problem was solved by the introduction by Max Planck of the quantum of energy.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultraviolet_catastrophe

[12] The so-called "wave/particle duality" is another problem addressed by quantum mechanics.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wave-Particle_duality

[13] The only book written for a popular audience I'm aware of that does a decent job explaining entanglement is Sneaking a Look at God's Cards by GianCarlo Ghirardi (Princeton: Princeton University Press)  For an article on the Web, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EPR_paradox

[14] W. S. Harris, J. H. Calvert, Intelligent Design: The Scientific Alternative to Evolution, (National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, Autumn 2003)  Page 550.  On the Web: http://www.intelligentdesignnetwork.org/NCBQ3_3HarrisCalvert.pdf     Most ID quotations herein are from this paper.  They are signified by Harris_Calvert_op._cit.  Page numbers are those of the Bioethics Quarterly.

[15] http://www.arn.org/authors/behe.html

[16] Professor of Mathematics John Allen Paulos of Temple University finds an analogy to the mousetrap in free-market economics: http://www.guardian.co.uk/life/lastword/story/0,13228,1564377,00.html

[17] H. J. Muller, "Reversibility in Evolution Considered from the Standpoint of Genetics," Biological Reviews 14 (1939): 261-80.  Referenced in Professor Orr's Boston Review article, below.

[18] Professor of Biology, Department of Biology, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York, http://www.rochester.edu/College/BIO/faculty/Orr.html

[19] Darwin v. Intelligent Design (Again), H. Allen Orr, http://www.bostonreview.net/br21.6/orr.html  This is a review of Michael J. Behe, Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, (Free Press)

[20] ibid.

[21] "God from ignorance."

[22] R. Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (New York, W. W. Norton and Company, 1996) Page 38.

[23] The neo in neo-Darwinian refers to the synthesis of Darwin's original theory, which emphasized natural selection but provided no mechanism for genetic change, with subsequent work in genetics and finally molecular biology, which do provide such mechanisms.

[24] Standard Deviation.

[25] This example is based on an idea suggested by G. Ledyard Stebbins and described in Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker.

[26]  http://www.chem.duke.edu/~jds/cruise_chem/Exobiology/miller.html

[27] R. Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1976, 1989, 1999)

[28] These equations are based on the linear first-order term of the binomial expansion.  For a small probability p such that Nxp=1, the probability of one success in N trials is approximately Nxp.  For Nxp=0.5, the error is about 25%, good enough for order-of-magnitude estimates.

[29] Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker  Pages 140, 157.

[30] I am ignoring the whole subject of chromosomes and genes, the details of which are irrelevant to the present discussion.

[31] Organic molecules that respond to light are very common.  It is (almost) difficult to make large organic molecules that do not respond to light.

[32] This discussion of eye evolution follows that in Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, Page  77.

[33] Intelligent Design network: http://www.intelligentdesignnetwork.org/

[34] The implausibility of assertions about the non-religious character of ID is further examined in Jeffery Shallit's "Desperately Evading the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design: A review of Dembski's The Design Revolution".  Shallit also points out that 65 orders of magnitude isn't just chump change (re: an error in one of Dembski's books).  http://www.talkreason.org/articles/Desperately.cfm

[35] Harris_Calvert_op._cit., Page 539.

[36] Harris_Calvert_op._cit., Page 540.

[37] Harris_Calvert_op._cit., Page 540.

[38] There are scientists, philosophical heirs of Ernst Mach, who believe that relationships are the most fundamental things in the universe.

[39] This refers to CERN, the high-energy particle accelerator facility on the Swiss-French border near Geneva.  On the Web: http://public.web.cern.ch/Public/Welcome.html It could equally well refer to Fermilab in Illinois.

[40] Harris_Calvert_op._cit., Page 536.

[41] Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973)

[42] This is a play on the biologists' shorthand for embryonic development, ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.  Google can be such a downer.  I thought I'd had a unique thought, but Google managed to find an occurrence of it, just one.  Oddly, it refuses to tell me who the author is, but in the interest of full disclosure, here is the chapter title:  Chapter 2  Ontology Recapitulates Epistemology: Gassendi, Epicurean Atomism and the Critique of Certainty.

[43] (1902 – 1994) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Popper.  He is now perhaps best known for his book, The Open Society and its Enemies.

[44] For a more detailed discussion of falsifiability, see: "Dances With Popper": an Examination of Dembski's Claims on Testability", by Wesley R. Elsberry.  http://www.talkreason.org/articles/Popper.cfm  The demand for falsifiability is often heard these days in connection with String Theory.  If it doesn't make testable predictions, the critics ask, can it be a scientific theory?  Is it science?  The same questions must be asked of ID.

[45] See Paley in Section IX.

[46] Since Professor Behe has placed himself squarely in the vanguard of ID, I think it not unfair to refer to him in this discussion.

[47] "Although his writing is couched in the language of science, Behe, a practicing Catholic who home schools his nine children, believes the hand of the designer is self-evident. "That's why most people disbelieve Darwinian evolution," he says. "People go out and look at the trees and say, 'Nah.'""  Time Magazine, Online Edition, 8/8/05

[48] For one thing, the laws of the chemical bond forbid it; they are very specific about what kinds of structures are allowed.  Atoms and molecules don't stick together like so many wads of chewing gum; instead they are more like Leggo blocks, which can join in only a limited set of ways.  But this is irrelevant to the ongoing process of evolution anyway, which proceeds by mutation, not by atoms jumping into complicated formations.  It is relevant to the emergence of the first reproducers.  See Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, Chapter 6.

[49] Quoted in Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, Page 4.

[50] W. A. Dembski, The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance Through Small Probabilities. (Cambridge University Press, 1998); Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology, (InterVarsity Press, 1999); No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased Without Intelligence, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002).

[51] Wesley Elsberry and Jeffrey Shallit, Information Theory, Evolutionary Computation, and Dembski's "Complex Specified Information", http://www.talkreason.org/articles/eandsdembski.pdf

[52] W. A. Dembski, No Free Lunch, page 25 (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002).  Quoted in Elsberry and Shallit, Information Theory, Evolutionary Computation , and Dembski's "Complex Specified Information",  page 10.

[53] Further examples of Dembski's penchant for getting things wrong can be found in Jeffery Shallit's "Desperately Evading the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design: A review of Dembski's The Design Revolution" http://www.talkreason.org/articles/Desperately.cfm

[54] Elsberry and Shallit, Information Theory, Evolutionary Computation , and Dembski's "Complex Specified Information", page 43 http://www.talkreason.org/index.cfm?category=10

[55] "Genes and Diseases" http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/bv.fcgi?call=bv.View..ShowTOC&rid=gnd.TOC&depth=10

[56] http://www.rednova.com/news/science/70038/teachers_push_for_training_to_combat_science_education_decline/, http://www.project2061.org/publications/articles/alvarado/alvarado1.htm

[57] "In recent years, the terms Luddism and Luddite or Neo-Luddism and Neo-Luddite have become synonymous with anyone who opposes the advance of technolgy due to the cultural changes that are associated with it."  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luddite

[58] Refers to the Butler Act which outlawed the teaching of evolution in Tennessee in 1925.  Is this the Butler of the "Butlerian Jihad" from Frank Herbert's Dune books?

[59] This link is to a letter from Bruce Alberts, president of the NAS, to members of the National Academies of Science describing efforts to promote ID teaching in schools. http://www.nasonline.org/site/PageServer?pagename=NEWS_letter_president_03042005_BA_evolution

[60] http://www.heritage.org/Press/Events/ev041905a.cfm, http://www.fteonline.com/idpublications-frame2.htm, http://arn.org/docs/dewolf/guidebook.htm, http://www.discovery.org/ , http://www.family.org/ http://search.family.org/query.cfm?qt=evolution&style=family&Search.x=32&Search.y=4 and conduct your own search.

[61] This section of the website Talk Reason, The Art of ID Stuntmen, contains numerous articles that will be helpful in understanding the arguments and debating tricks of ID proponents.  http://www.talkreason.org/index.cfm?category=13

[62] The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999) Page 821.

[63] As usual, quantum mechanics has given a new flavor to such statements.

[64] Thomas S. Kuhn's The Copernican Revolution (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1957, 1985, 2002) is an outstanding analysis of how modern cosmology emerged and transformed Western thought.  I'm not sure whether Kuhn can properly be termed an anti-realist.  His most influential book is The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

[65] The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999) Page 33.

[66] Steven Weinberg, The Discovery of Subatomic Particles, Page 2  (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Revised Edition, 2003)

[67] Steven Weinberg, op. cit.

[68] J. Itatani, et al., "Tomographic Imaging of Molecular Orbitals," Nature, 16 December, 2004, Page 867.

[69] Kip S. Thorne, Black Holes and Time Warps, Chapter 2. (W. W. Norton and Company, 1994).


Nothing, certainly not this paper, can substitute for a close reading of several books on neo-Darwinian evolution.  There, and in countless scientific papers, is where the extraordinary evidence for evolution's extraordinary claims is to be found.  There is nothing like a careful, step-by-step explanation of evolution theory's intricate mechanisms to assuage doubt in the power of neo-Darwinian evolution theory to account for the variety of life we see in the world.  It must also be understood that evolution is a broad, active, evolving, contentious and often noisy science.  That's the way research happens, especially in such a complex field – remember Albert Einstein and entanglement.

Suggested reading:

Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker

Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene

Matt Ridley, Genome

James D. Watson, The Double Helix

Matt Young, Taner Edis, eds., Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism

Francis Crick, What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery

http://www.talkreason.org/  From the homepage:

"This website presents a collection of articles which aim to defend genuine science from numerous attempts by the new crop of creationists to replace it with theistic pseudo-science under various disguises and names. Talk Reason is designed to provide a forum for articles arguing against modern creationism in all of its forms."

Discussion