The Questionable Authority

It’s another day, and Casey “The Energizer Bunny” Luskin is at it again, claiming that ID successfully predicted that “junk DNA” would be found to have a function. He has yet to explain how and why he believes that “Darwinism” somehow stifled research into those areas of the genome, and ignores the fact that scientists routinely use our understanding of evolution, common descent, and natural selection to identify areas of the genome to identify non-coding regions that are likely to have function. He does, however, provide us with an explanation for why he thinks that Intelligent Design somehow “predicts” function for all of the so-called “junk” DNA:

Intelligent design begins by studying the types of complexity produced by intelligent agents. We observe that intelligent agents produce things for a purpose, that is, to fulfill some function. This leads ID proponents to an expectation–yes, a prediction–that DNA will not tend to contain meaningless junk but will contain structures that have (or once had) a function for the organism. ID does not lead us to the expectation that our cells’ DNA will be largely non-functional garbate. The hypothesis–that “junk”-DNA will have function–is obviously experimentally testable. In fact, I know pro-ID biologists studying the function of junk-DNA who were inspired to do such research due to intelligent design. One biologist in particular is not yet tenured, and so I will not disclose his/her name. Suffice it to say, for this biologist, finding function for non-coding DNA was directly inspired by intelligent design.

If that explanation looks familiar to you, it should. It’s pretty much the same one he gave last month. This leads me to my two challenges – one that’s addressed to most of you, and one just for Casey:

First, the challenge for Casey. This is a two part challenge.

Part 1: Given the following, explain why you think that it is predictable that all intelligently designed DNA would have some function:

  • Human designers have a long history of adding artistic touches to objects that they design. In many cases (i.e. spandrels) the artistry plays absolutely no role in the function of the object.
  • Software engineers may annotate code with comments that are readable by the designers, but which do not have any effect on the function of the software.
  • Human intelligence is, to date, the only intelligence that we have even limited understanding of, and you are therefore implicitly basing your “prediction” on your understanding of human design.

Part 2: Explain why you should be allowed to argue that concluding, based on our understanding of human design and designers, that “junk DNA” should have function, but I should not be allowed to argue, based on the lower back, the appendix, and other features, that whoever “designed” the human body was an inept klutz.

That brings us to the challenge for the rest of the readers. Last month, when Casey made this BS argument, I identified two occasions where ID proponents have told us that ID makes no predictions about the intent of the designer, and that we can’t use “bad design” as an argument against them. It’s currently Thursday afternoon. Let’s see how many other examples of ID proponents making similar arguments you can identify by the end of the weekend. I’ll count them up and condense the links into a single post sometime on Monday, along with identifying the person who comes up with the most unique examples.

A few rule-type things:

First, comments with multiple links are likely to get held in moderation, and my internet access is still sporadic enough that I’ll only be able to take care of that once or twice a day. If you limit to one link per comment, they should get through. (But no promises there.) This would seem to suggest that keeping things at one example per comment would be a good idea. I’m going to close comments on the Panda’s Thumb side to keep things simple for myself – this way I’ll only have to go through one comment thread.

Second, all examples need to include a verifiable citation. If the example is online, include a link. If it’s in print, include enough of a reference that someone reading your comment would have a reasonable chance of finding it.

Third, when I said “the most unique examples,” I was referring to the largest number of non-duplicated examples. Credit goes to the first person to find a case. If the example is held in moderation, don’t worry. It’s still timestamped, so you’ll get credit.

Fourth, have fun.

Comments

  1. #1 ERV
    July 19, 2007

    Do you mean like the Ford Pinto, from ‘Update, Part 3′
    “Was the Ford Pinto, with all its imperfections revealed in crash tests, not designed?” — Casey L.

  2. #2 Bob O'H
    July 19, 2007

    …ID proponents have told us that ID makes no predictions about the intent of the designer,

    Pah! That’s nothing. Over at UD, crandaddy went even further:

    ID theorists don�t postulate a designer for their arguments.

    I challenged him on it, and after 50 posts, he still didn’t clarify what he meant to write.

    Bob

  3. #3 ravilyn sanders
    July 19, 2007

    Casey Luskin makes the common mistake of confusing necessary conditions with sufficient conditions. It is necessary for him to show that every bit of the DNA has a purpose. It is sufficient for us to show that one piece is junk.

    Most likely he knows the difference but still he would confuse the issue because most of his supporters can’t tell the difference.

  4. #4 ZacharySmith
    July 19, 2007

    Great point about non-functional artistic embellishments.

    Just look at the fins on the ’59 Caddy. Let’s see Luskin find a function for them!

  5. #5 Chris Harrison
    July 19, 2007

    Innovation, the emergence to true novelty, eschews predictability. Designers are inventors. We cannot predict what an inventor would do short of becoming that inventor. Intelligent design offers a radically different problematic for science than a mechanistic science wedded solely to undirected natural causes. Yes, intelligent design concedes predictability.

    – William Dembski’s words, from here:

    http://www.arn.org/docs/dembski/wd_isidtestable.htm

  6. #6 hiero5ant
    July 19, 2007

    Given the following, explain why you think that it is predictable that all intelligently designed DNA would have some function:

    * Human designers have a long history of adding artistic touches to objects that they design. In many cases (i.e. spandrels) the artistry plays absolutely no role in the function of the object.

    Of course, Phillip Johnson has argued that ID predicts peacock tailfeathers better than sexual selection because that is just the sort of thing a “whimsical” creator would take pleasure in doing.

  7. #7 ben
    July 19, 2007

    Just look at the fins on the ’59 Caddy. Let’s see Luskin find a function for them!

    They had the same function as the garish plumage on the male peacock does–to attract a buyer.

  8. #8 John Pieret
    July 19, 2007

    Jerry Coyne, in his article “Intelligent Design: The Faith That Dare Not Speak Its Name” in Intelligent Thought: Science Versus The Intelligent Design Movement (2006), edited by John Brockman, gives these two examples (though, strangely, he doesn’t give page numbers):

    As Lehigh biochemist Michael Behe, one of ID’S principal spokesmen, put it in Darwin’s Black Box (1996):

    Features that strike us as odd in a design might have been placed there by the designer for a reason — for artistic reasons, to show off; for some as-yet-undetectable practical purpose, or for some unguessable reason — or they might not. . . The designer might have multiple motives, with engineering excellence oftentimes relegated to a secondary role . . . Yet the reasons a designer would or would not do anything are virtually impossible to know unless the designer tells you specifically what those reasons are.

    And this from Of Pandas and People:

    An intelligent designer might reasonably be expected to use a variety. . . of design approaches to produce a single engineering solution, also. Even if it is assumed that an intelligent designer did indeed have a good reason for every decision that was made, and for including every trait in each organism, it does not follow that such reasons will be obvious to us.

  9. #9 Scott Beach
    July 19, 2007

    Mike: Ask Casey Luskin to put intelligent design into the form of a hypothesis that can be subjected to scientific scrutiny. He will not do so. None of the fellows of the Discovery Institute will do so. Their strategy is to NEVER define ID but only to repeat over and over the mantra that ID is the “best” explanation. They are propagandists, not scientists!

    See http://intelligent-design-hypothesis.com

  10. #10 Matt
    July 19, 2007

    Clearly the designer created my fouled up knee design in order to give purpose to the orthopedists.

  11. #11 Tim Fuller
    July 19, 2007

    LOL. This is such great entertainment! It’s exactly like watching Christian apologists at work, but with the extra burden of exposing themselves to a scientific (read: educated) audience that isn’t so easy to fool. What makes their job even more difficult is having to pretend they’re scientists too!

    The problem in this instance (with the debate over junk DNA) is that the ID crowd isn’t really just interested in any old designer. When the SCIENTIFIC concensus was that this junk DNA really didn’t do ANYTHING, then the argument that God..err the Designer might be imperfect (Pinto e.g.) had to be embraced. The fact that there may or may not be a lot of useful biological coding in the rest of the DNA is moot now that SOME SMALL part of it is found to have some function.

    The bottom line appears to be that ID, because of their ecumenical bias is hellbent on not only finding design or a designer, but more importantly, an omnipotent and PERFECT one. It’s almost as if they’ve been PRAYING for this a long time.

    Enjoy.

  12. #12 Michael Suttkus, II
    July 19, 2007

    Just look at the fins on the ’59 Caddy. Let’s see Luskin find a function for them!

    They have a function: Brainwashing ’59 teenagers into thinking the car is worth spending their hard earned money on more than it’s competition.

  13. #13 Carl Zimmer
    July 19, 2007

    Yeah, what ERV said!

  14. #14 djmullen
    July 20, 2007

    Matt: “Clearly the designer created my fouled up knee design in order to give purpose to the orthopedists.”

    I read a young earth creationist book back in the eighties that had a foot note that actually said the appendix was designed to provide employment for surgeons.

    I had to read that one about a dozen times before I believed my own eyes.

  15. #15 Frank J
    July 20, 2007

    As usual I have an additional take, which is that IDers, if not classic creationists, KNOW that their arguments are bogus. But as long as they get critics (even committed theists) to sound like they are arguing against the existence of God, and more importantly, deflect the questions from those about what the designer did, when, and how, IDers will score points with most nonscientists (even non-fundamentalists).

    By now everyone should be mainly wondering why (1) Michael Behe, the only major IDer to be clear on the basic whats and whens (if not the “hows”) of design actuation, namely “old earth and common descent,” has conceded it all to mainstream science, and (2) why none of his colleages, depite seeming to disagree with common descent if not an old earth, ever challenge him directly.

  16. #16 Torbj�rn Larsson, OM
    July 20, 2007

    Lest we forget, by way of Andrea Bottaro, specifically his post on PT, we have the following from William Dembski:

    Within biology, intelligent design holds that a designing intelligence is indispensable for explaining the specified complexity of living systems. Nevertheless, taken strictly as a scientific theory, intelligent design refuses to speculate about the nature of this designing intelligence. Whereas optimal design demands a perfectionistic, anal-retentive designer who has to get everything just right, intelligent design fits our ordinary experience of design, which is always conditioned by the needs of a situation and therefore always falls short of some idealized global optimum. [Bold added.]

  17. #17 Torbj�rn Larsson, OM
    July 20, 2007

    Sorry, botched the link code above.

    Again: From Andrea Bottaro, specifically his post on PT, we have William Dembski.

  18. #18 secondclass
    July 20, 2007

    More Dembski:

    When the issue is creative innovation, the very act of expressing the likelihood P(E|D) becomes highly problematic and prejudicial. It puts creative innovation by a designer in the same boat as natural laws, requiring of design a predictability that’s circumscribable in terms of probabilities. But designers are inventors of unprecedented novelty, and such creative innovation transcends all probabilities.

  19. #19 secondclass
    July 20, 2007

    Darwin’s Black Box, page 223:

    Features that strike us as odd in a design might have been placed there by the designer for a reason – for artistic reasons, to show off, for some as-yet undetectable practical purpose, or for some unguessable reason – or they might not.

  20. #20 secondclass
    July 20, 2007

    More Dembski, from page 9 of The Design Revolution:

    But intelligences are not open books; they are writers of books, creators of novel information. They are free agents, and they can violate our fondest expectations.

  21. #21 Dene Bebbington
    July 20, 2007

    During my career in software I’ve occasionally encountered code which is “junk” – such as functions no longer called, unreachable code blocks, and unused variables. Luskin is now arguing for an optimal designer while ID critics get blasted for thinking sub-optimal design means no designer. Go figure.

  22. #22 John Pieret
    July 21, 2007

    I don’t suppose I can get credit for pointing to this article.

    ;-)

  23. #23 John Pieret
    July 21, 2007

    There is this from Behe’s testimony at the Dover trial.

    Q Intelligent design says nothing about the intelligent designer’s motivations?

    A The only statement it makes about that is that the designer had the motivation to make the structure that is designed.

    Q How can intelligent design possibly make that statement, Professor Behe?

    A I don’t understand your question.

    Q How can it possibly say anything about the intelligent designer’s motives without knowing anything about who the intelligent designer is?

    A Well, I think it’s — that’s pretty easy. For example, let’s go back to the SETI project, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Suppose that astronomers in that project one day discerned a signal coming in from outer space that they discerned to be of intelligent origin, maybe even it carried a message or something like that exotic. How would they know the motives of whatever sent that? They might not know them, but nonetheless, they could — as a matter of fact, the whole project is based on the assumption that they would be able to detect the message without knowing the motives of whatever sent it, without knowing it’s abilities beyond the ability to send the message, and so on. So I don’t think that’s a problem whatsoever.

    Except that, unless we deduced their motive to send a message and their means and motive in using a particular medium to do so, we’d have never recognized that it was a “signal” in the first place, instead of natural noise.

  24. #24 Monado
    July 21, 2007

    Oops! Did he not just assume his conclusion? “We know it was designed; therefore it has purpose, because that’s a function of designed things! We know that because science proves I.D. — Q.E.D.”

  25. #25 Larry Fafarman
    July 23, 2007

    IMO an important question is whether or not the so-called “junk DNA” is uniform throughout the species. If the junk DNA has no function, then I would expect harmless mutations to randomly occur in the junk DNA and since these harmless mutations would not be selectable by natural selection, they would create non-uniform junk DNA in the species. However, if the junk DNA is uniform throughout the species, then I would expect the junk DNA to have some function.

  26. #26 W. Kevin Vicklund
    July 24, 2007

    Which is the primary way it is determined whether non-coding DNA has function, Larry. Although, usually it is done by looking at related species, since most functional DNA can acquire a fair amount of mutation without losing function – you need to have enough time for potential mutations to accumulate to determine selection.

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