Johnson on the Current State of ID

During my recent hiatus Phillip Johnson emerged from his hidey hole and posted some new expectorations regarding the current state of ID. I realize other bloggers have already ripped into Johnson’s ill-considered comments, but why should they have all the fun!

He begins with his standard tripe about finch beaks:

The claim that evolutionary science has discovered and verified a mechanism which can account for the origin of biological information and complexity by involving only natural (unintelligent) causes is supported by an immense extrapolation from limited evidence of minor, cyclical variations in fundamentally stable species. The current leading textbook example of the standard neo-Darwinian mechanism involves a species of finch on an island in the Galapagos chain. Two scientists named Grant published a famous study of variations of the beaks of these birds, later popularized in a book titled The Beak of the Finch, by journalist Jonathan Weiner.

Johnson’s been beating this drum for years. It is totally untrue, of course. The obsevrations of finch beaks and other instances of small-scale evolution are certainly interesting and important, but they are not the primary reason for thinking natural selection can account for complex biological strucutres.

The case that the prolonged action of natural selection can account for complex structures in biology begins with the observation that there is no theoretical reason why it can not. It is a simple fact that a system in which random variations are sifted through a selection mechanism can lead to very complex structures indeed. The viability of selection as an evolutionary mechanism can not be refuted from an armchair. All attempts to do so, such as Dembski’s probability arguments or Behe’s prattlings about irreducible complexity are simply fallacious.

Bare reason gets an assist from various artificial life experiments and the success of evolutionary algorithms in solving engineering problems. These results show that selection based mechanisms have astonishing creative abilities. We also know that every aspect of an organism’s anatomy is ultimately under the control of genes. It follows that alterations in the genes can affect any bit of organismal morphology, and therefore come under selection’s watchful gaze. So, again, there is no reason in principle why selection can not account for large scale evolution.

Natural selection is theoretically sound, which is enough to refute the assertions of the ID folks. Their case for ID is based entirely on the theoretical insufficiency of natural selection. They have no positive case of their own to offer.

Moving on, we next note that selection can account for impressive quantities of change over short time scales. We know, for example, that the many species of dogs alive today are the result of artificial selection practiced by breeders over a period of a little more than a thousand years. If the chihuahua and the Saint Bernard were known solely from fossils, they would not be placed in the same species, and almost certainly not in the same genus. That this level of change is possible over such short periods of time should give anyone pause in questioning selection’s creative abilities.

Laboratory experiments routinely document the ability of selection to create new functionalities. The development of novel, functional, multi-part sytems has been observed in the lab, as documented, for example, by Ken Miller in Finding Darwin’s God. Field studies of natural selection routinely find similar results.

But what about the really big stuff? Here we must rely on more indirect lines of evidence. We note that every complex system studied in detail shows signs of having evolved via natural selection. After all, selection can only operate by modifying preexisting structures. It can not create a complex system ex nihilo. So if complex systems were crafted by selection, that fact should be reflected in the composition of these systems. We should expect to find complex systems cobbled together from preexisting parts. We should not find novel complex structures that lack precursors in the relatives of the organism under study.

And we invariably find exactly what we should. Darwin was already on top of this, noting that the complex contrivances by which orchids attract insects were cobbled together from parts readily available and serving other functions in closely related flowers. Likewise for the blood clotting cascade, or the Krebs cycle, or the panda’s “thumb”, or the evolution of the mammalian jaw bone from reptilian ancestors. In these cases and countless others, including the ID favorite the flagellum of E. coli, we see the telltale signs of natural selection.

Another line of evidence is provided by the success of game theory in the study of ethology. The mathematical models used here are based specifically on the assumption that the behaviors under study evolved via natural selection. The success of these models is evidence that the assumption is correct.

And then there is the most important thing of all. Scientists routinely apply selection-based reasoning in their work, and they are usually rewarded with progress on open questions as a result.

So the situation is clear. On the one side you have a body of theoretical work showing that selection is sound in principal. You have various sorts of computer simulations producing suggestive results. You have field and lab observations of selection’s power, in modern organisms, operating over short periods of time. You have the fact that complex biological structures have precisely the form they ought to have if they were crafted by selection, and you have the routine success of mathematical models based on the premise of natural selection’s importance. There are numerous complex structures for which we can speak with confidence about the likely evolutionary precursors. You have scientists routinely applying selection based reasoning to their work, and being rewarded with success as a result.

And against all this you have a handful of naysayers, folding their arms and shaking their heads, insisting against all the evidence that selection is not an adequate explanation for biological complexity. When asked for an alternative or a possibly fruitful line of investigation to follow in the lab, they reply with nothing beyond a vague and useless notion of design.

I really don’t think it’s the scientists who are being unreasonable here.

After belaboring the finches for a few more paragraphs Johnson moves on to a discussion of how science has responded to the bloviations of his fellow ID folks. After extolling the virtues of Michael Behe and William Dembski, he writes:

To my disappointment, however, influential scientific organizations formed a solid bloc of opposition to the consideration of whether evidence points to the possible involvement of intelligent causes in the history of life. Nevertheless, the subject is sufficiently fascinating, that orthodox scientific bodies have had to take strenuous action to keep it from cropping up in science education, and even in scientific journals. As the case of philosopher Antony Flew demonstrates (see below), the argument has persuasive power. If independent thinkers in science felt free to write about the possibility of intelligent causes in the history of life without suffering adverse consequences, the literature on it, professional and popular, would probably be substantial and lively. That is why those who do not want the concept of intelligent design to flourish find it necessary to enact explicit rules against allowing scientists and others to discuss the possibility that there is a real intelligence behind complex genetic information.

The idea that the scientific community is a monolithic block of religion haters, frantic to prevent anything remotely God-like to enter public discourse, is an article of faith among the ID set. Of course, as usual, reality is almost 180 degrees from what Johnson describes.

The ID folks unleash a barrage of ill-considered arguments, fallacious acusations of fraud and skullduggery, and gross distortions of current scientific discourse. Scientists reply by painstakingly exposing the flaws in their arguments, disproving the accusations, and attempting to set the record straight regarding the current state of science. Some actually take time away from their actual work to write book length treatments of the subject.

And how do the ID folks respond? By levelling precisely the same arguments, accusations and distortions, with hardly any acknolwedgement that the critics had said anything at all. It’s not the scientists who are preventing a fair hearing of ID. It’s the ID folks who are uninterested in engaging knowledgeable people.

After another paragraph of this we come to the following:

That was enough to rouse Darwinists and other secularists to dismiss the entire concept as “religion,” and thus “not science,” thereby disposing the conflict to their satisfaction on the basis of a stereotype rather than on an analysis of specific evidence and arguments. The governing board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) passed a resolution declaring that the intelligent design theory is not science. This action signaled that the AAAS board was worried that, if editors and peer reviewers were permitted to exercise their informed discretion in reviewing manuscripts for publication, some papers would eventually appear in the professional literature seriously discussing the possibility that intelligent causes were necessarily involved in generating biological innovations.

The picture of journal editors cowering before the pronouncements of the AAAS is almost too comical to consider. It is the goal of every journal editor to be the one to publish the next great idea. The competition among journals is fierce, and everyone wants to publish work that people are going to discuss and argue about. The journal Statistical Science, for example, was perfectly happy to publish a serious article about Bible codes even though you could count on one hand the number of statisticians who took the idea seriously. They did this because they received a paper advocating the idea that contained no obvious flaws. (As later work revealed, it did contain subtle flaws).

On the other hand, every journal editor remembers the fate of the physics journal that hastily published work endorsing cold fusion. The black eye they received when the work was shown to be incorrect effectively killed the journal. So while every journal wants to publish outre research, they don’t want to be embarrassed by publishing arrant nonsense.

And that is what has happened to ID. Every biological ID argument offered to date has been trivially wrong. So it is only natural that on the rare occasions when ID folks have tried to publish a paper, they have been met with hostile peer-reviews. Johnson’s protestations notwithstanding, there is no evidence that journal editors are actually receiving ID manuscripts. That is because the ID folks know that absolutely nothing they are doing is of the slightest use to practicing scientists.

Johnson then recites the standard ID cant about the Stephen Meyer paper published, under highly suspicious circumstances, in The Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. We then come to this:

I’m convinced that, under conditions of intellectual freedom, scientists and philosophers would be fascinated by the possibility that intelligent causes had to be factor in the origin and development of life. And there would be vigorous discussion pro and con about this subject in both the professional and popular periodical literature. Those who insist that science is by definition dedicated to seeking out and endorsing naturalistic explanations for all phenomena dismiss any questioning of their basic premise as “religiously” motivated and hence irrational–and even unconstitutional in the USA (where a majority of the population is nevertheless inclined to question the premise).

This is a frequent bleat throughout Johnson’s essay, and it represents a telling admission. Notice that Johnson does not talk about all of the great scientific successes ID has had in the decade and a half since he published Darwin on Trial. He does not talk about all of the great research ID is working on that is going to win the day for his side. Instead he finds himself trying to explain the complete failure of ID in the past fifteen years to win any measurable support in the scientific community. So he falls back on the old, whiny standby of protesting the bigotry and closed-mindedness of scientists. Pathetic.

Johnson goes on like this for a few paragraphs, using the fact that his books have been translated into many languages as evidence of the great traction his ideas have among the public. He boasts of winning over Antony Flew, and ponders the possibility that Flew will embrace not just some vague desim, but full-fledged Christianity. He repeats the standard canard that “Darwinists” are afraid of any honest scrutiny of their work. Yawn. That’s so nineties.

The essay goes on at great length, but you will search it in vain for any hint of how ID will aid in actual scientific research. You will find no reference to any novel scientific points ID folks have managed to raise in the past decade. Save for the topical references to the Meyer paper and Flew’s “conversion” you will find nothing here that ID folks have not been saying for over a decade. Indeed, Johnson has been delivering almost precisely this speech for the entire time he has been active on this subject.

Johnson writes:

Increasingly, Darwinism is protected by intimidation and legal restrictions much like those that would be employed to protect the fundamental tenets of an established church.

Actually, evolution is protected by the ever growing body of research that supports it. Evolutionary biology has prgressed enormously in the past fifteen years. A talk about cutting edge evolutionary biology today would look vastly different from such a talk given fifteen years ago. The same can not be said for ID.

It is not evolutionists who rely increasingly on intimidation and legal restrictions. Rather, it is the ID folks who rely increasingly on the spectre of discrimination and censorship, and not on their own scientific progress, to make their case. Look just slightly beneath the surface of Johnson’s arrogant, dishonest bombast, and you find the ultimate admission that ID has been a complete and total failure.


  1. #1 Flint
    February 28, 2007

    ID is, of course, straight religious doctrine, neither right nor wrong because it can’t be researched or tested even in principle. The notion of the Designer may not be useful in any way, but for all anyone will ever know, it might even be true.

    The claim that ID is science is instead part of an essentially political campaign to use secular authority to promote desired social behaviors and discourage or punish undesirable behaviors. Science is dubbed an ally in this campaign not because it’s true, but because science has been spectacularly successful, making its reputation worth “borrowing” for the Cause.

    The place to look for the success or failure of ID isn’t in science labs and journals, but in the composition of school boards, the content of public science education curricula, the orientation of judges at every level from Jones to Scalia, the bills being considered in State and Federal legislatures. Briefly, the measure of a political campaign is in political results, not scientific results.

    And by this measure, ID has been a mixed bag. Previous US Supreme Courts have rejected “scientific creationism” and Jones in Dover rejected ID as just another way to spell the same doctrine. (Whether Bush’s reconstituted Supreme Court would agree is problematic and rather scary). The Ohio school board’s attempt to sneak creationism into the high school biology lesson plan seems to have been scuttled (and Leonard’s thesis put on hold forever).

    Kansas is a little different, apparently poised to cycle back into a creationist majority with the next election. Georgia’s sticker program was shot down; Alabama’s continues in force. Initiatives in other states are in all phases of consideration. Johnson’s congregation remains large and committed.

    And across Red State America (and much of the blue states as well), evolution is just kind of, well, postponed in 9th grade biology classes until just a little bit past the end of the school year. Too much to cover, you know, can’t get to everything. Certainly not enough time to cover material guaranteed to raise armies of angry parents terrified that exposure to evolution will keep Little Susie out of heaven.

    And so all the majority of American citizens knows about evolution is that it’s wrong. I doubt one adult in 10 could provide a coherent synopsis of what evolution is, most especially including the Sunday School teachers telling the kids they are the spitting image of God, and their parents are not monkeys. And that’s evolution education in America.

    More than anything else, this situation is what Johnson fights to preserve and reinforce. And to this degree, ID is more successful than not. They can’t get the courts to let them preach creationism in science class, but they can and do create a very chilling effect for anyone trying to dispel ignorance. ID in this regard can’t be considered “a complete and total failure.”

  2. #2 Fred
    February 28, 2007

    How come there’s never anything from the ID folks like, “our recent research has found xxx, but we have not been permitted space in journals”? They constantly say that their work is ignored but they never tell us what that work is! Sure there’s the usual comments about Behe and Dembski, but I’m not aware of any new findings (or wordings) from them in over a decade, and that stuff has, of course, already been solidly refuted.

    So how can Johnson, with a straight face, whine about Darwin bullies when by his own admission (by omission) there’s nothing to bully about?

    Also, if the Darwin crowd are such bullies, how come the ID folks have absolutely ZERO problem getting press? And wouldn’t it behoove them to tout their wonderful advances in the press? Johnson could have written about new ID research but even HE didn’t! He must be one of the Darwin Bullies.

  3. #3 JohnnieCanuck
    February 28, 2007

    They are complete and total failures only to that portion of their audience who are willing to think about their arguments.

    Their main goal has never been to convince biologists to reject evolution. They just want to reassure the believers in divine creation that they need not doubt themselves. That and try to bring in as many undecided as possible, including school children.

    When it is clear to the general media and the public that their PR campaigns are arrogant, dishonest bombast, then they will be failures.

    Expect them to continue as long as there are people who want to hear the PR and are willing to fund it. Nice that Templeton Funds seems to be losing interest.

  4. #4 Karl
    February 28, 2007

    You mention a point, in passing, that I have been trying to bring up on these Sciblogs for a couple of years – definition of “species”. You said: “If the chihuahua and the Saint Bernard were known solely from fossils, they would not be placed in the same species, and almost certainly not in the same genus.”
    I have asked about this and I was shot down by (I’m not sure who) who said – if you put a full range of dogs, from small to large, on an island and left them, for some sufficient length of time, when you came back there would be a collection of dogs of medium size, and therefore they are all the same species. I argue with this as a proper definition of species as follows: we have extant (at least) two examples of ring species, salamanders in California, and gulls around the Northern hemisphere, where there is a continuous chain of closely related animals living adjacent to one another, but at the ends of the chains the animals are adjacent but non-interbreeding. So clearly at the ends of the chains the animals are different species. Why is this different than the range of dogs? This raises two issues: one) “species” is poorly defined and inconsistently applied, and two) when IDers say that they’ve never seen a dog turn into a cat. why don’t we use dogs – meaning Canines, including wolves, foxes, coyotes, etc. and the whole range of domesticated dogs as one example of the development of species and the whole range of “CATS” from kitty cats to lions as another example. Obvioulsy they will say – but they are the same “kinds”. And we will say – but you are arguing about species and clearly lions and kitty cats are different species, as are pomeranians and wolves.

  5. #5 wright
    February 28, 2007

    Nice point, Fred. Where indeed is this repressed, censored, deliberately-ignored-by-terrified-Darwinists, original research that will provide positive proof of ID?

    It must still be too fragile to be duplicated outside those top-secret ID labs, so mainstream science will have to wait a bit longer to see if it matches evolutionary theory’s “pathetic level of detail”.

  6. #6 science nut
    February 28, 2007

    Johnson ends his wishful meanderings with:

    “It seems that supporting materialism, rather than following the evidence to whatever conclusion it leads is their [Darwinists] prime commitment.”

    …and yet PJ’s prime commitment is to follow zero evidence to his own delusional conclusions.

    If he evidenced any more irony than that, we could have him recycled into a hundred dumbells.

  7. #7 trrll
    February 28, 2007

    The assertion that ID research is being kept from the public eye by the monolithic scientific establishment is increasingly nonsensical in the Internet Age. Even if the Discovery Institute was unwilling to invest in a print journal, there are now scientific journals that are distributed exclusively over the internet. This could be done at nominal expense. All that would be required are competent scientists to review the work (that shouldn’t be difficult, if as DI claims, there is a growing “silent majority” of scientists who doubt evolution)…and of course, some papers describing major experimental discoveries based on ID theory. After having publication suppressed by the scientific establishment for all these years, there should be quite a few of these, wouldn’t you think?

  8. #8 MarkP
    February 28, 2007

    Adding to Trrll’s excellent point, even if the “Darwinist conspiracy” was real, there is nothing stopping IDers from doing the research and publishing the paper on the net anonymously. Even if there was severe speculation about the veracity of the paper, if there was solid data logically sewn together in the paper, it would certainly light a fire under some scientists who were sufficiently close to the fence. The data, in the end, would win. Recall Chomsky’s experience speaking to a conference of mathematicians about some of his ideas. He was pleasantly surprised how disinterested the mathematicians were in his lack of credentials, and how focused they were on his math.

    Produce the intellectual goods guys. It’s as simple as that.

    Also, note how the Christian bias leaks through Johnson’s comments:

    I’m convinced that, under conditions of intellectual freedom, scientists and philosophers would be fascinated by the possibility that intelligent causes had to be factor in the origin and development of life. And there would be vigorous discussion pro and con about this subject in both the professional and popular periodical literature.

    To this point I don’t see how any reasonable person could disagree, given one substitution. Replace “the possibility” with “evidence indicating”. Mere possibility is not enough – the list of “possible” hypotheses are infinite, time and resources are not. Data is what we need, and data is the one thing the IDers never provide.

    Nonetheless, the proposal is not unreasonable per se. After all, it is certainly possible that aliens had a hand in the development of life on this planet, and evidence of such a thing would cause a scientific firestorm on the order of Copernicus’. But look how the next paragraph reads in light of the Alien ID Theory:

    Those who insist that science is by definition dedicated to seeking out and endorsing naturalistic explanations for all phenomena dismiss any questioning of their basic premise as ?religiously? motivated and hence irrational

    Huh? Aliens would be very material. They are just another life form, and while someone proposing such a thing would be subjected to harsh criticism, no one would dismiss him as being “religious”. So WTF is Johnson talking about?

    Well, he’s talking about the Christian god, the only designer on his mind. He gives no consideration to material designers, despite a very good case that they are a far more reasonable explanation than supernatural designers. Much of what he says reads as nonsense from that POV as a result, and its worth remembering. He gets dismissed as being religiously motivated because he is.

    As Flint rightly points out, ID is a political movement, and a PR campaign, not a scientific one. As such, it should be exposed for what it is, and what deceivers its proponents are. Making sure everyone understands that “ID Designer” = “God”, regardless of how the IDers try to hide that fact, does both. Just remember the aliens.

  9. #9 entlord
    February 28, 2007

    The ID folks cannot stand that it doesn’t even take a thousand years to watch selective breeding transforms breeds farther and farther apart, to the point that while the US has been around for a short time comparatively, there are already “American” breeds not only in dogs but also in sheep and other animals.
    My favorite question for IDers is whether or not a fox and a wolf share a common ancestor, if yes, why can’t they breed?, if no, then is Linneaus wrong?
    Or more advanced confusion is, given a horse/donkey cross yields a hybrid, why does a Jack/mare cross yield a mule and some 80% breeding success while a Stallion/Jenny cross yields a hinny with some 17% breeding success?
    The sheer weight of everyday evidence in breeding belies what they argue.

  10. #10 Richard Simons
    February 28, 2007

    Regarding the blocking of publication of ID research – I suggested to Uncommon Descent that they provide the abstracts of submitted papers to let us see what we are missing and to whet our appetites. Needless to say, the comment never appeared – apparently censorship is OK in that direction.

  11. #11 Alejandro
    February 28, 2007

    He repeats the standard canard that “Darwinists” are afraid of any honest scrutiny of their work. Yawn. That’s so nineties.

    You mean 1890s? Because it seems that these claims have been around since that time, if not earlier.

  12. #12 DragonScholar
    February 28, 2007

    In other words, he spews out conspiracy theories. His explanation? It’s a conspiracy?

    That’s it. Period.

  13. #13 Ron Okimoto
    February 28, 2007

    Johnson knows full well why ID never made the grade. He even admitted it himself and blamed the ID “science” scam artists for not being able to come up with anything worth talking about. He even claims that he knows that they haven’t gotten anywhere yet, but that some ID science scam artists still think that they can eventually come up with something worth talking about.

    I also don’t think that there is really a theory of intelligent design at the present time to propose as a comparable alternative to the Darwinian theory, which is, whatever errors it might contain, a fully worked out scheme. There is no intelligent design theory that’s comparable. Working out a positive theory is the job of the scientific people that we have affiliated with the movement. Some of them are quite convinced that it’s doable, but that’s for them to prove…No product is ready for competition in the educational world.
    End Quote:

    As far as I know Johnson has never denied saying this.

    Ron Okimoto

  14. #14 Glen Davidson
    February 28, 2007

    Curses, that pretty much shows that he was simply lying in his recent article, doesn’t it?

    Maybe he should pay attention to the way in which the web makes his words relatively easy to compare from when he is being candid to when he is just lying through his teeth. Lawyerly mendacity isn’t such an easy thing any more, no doubt another evil inflicted upon the world by the wicked Darwinists.

    Glen D

  15. #15 Mike Elzinga
    February 28, 2007

    I have read most of his stuff. What really amazes me about Philip E. Johnson is his ability to continue playing the role of a demagogue as though he believes nobody notices or understands what he is doing. He still seems to think that he is really much smarter than everyone else, and he doesn�t seem do know or care how much his bigotry shows through in his whining. He still wants his followers to believe that those bad old scientists (mandarins, as he calls them) are keeping them suppressed and in bondage with some horrible mind control. What irony!

    No joy in learning, no desire to know how the universe works, hatred of all who are better than he is, jealous of scientists and blaming the scientific community for his own shortcomings. Just a bitter old man who couldn�t cut it as a philosopher and who didn�t get to be a major intellectual force in the world. Not a figure who invokes pity. He stubbornly chooses to remain ignorant, and attempts to drag others down with him.

    Violins are not appropriate here, only kazoos and snare drums.

  16. #16 sparc
    February 28, 2007

    The assertion that ID research is being kept from the public eye by the monolithic scientific establishment is increasingly nonsensical in the Internet Age. Even if the Discovery Institute was unwilling to invest in a print journal, there are now scientific journals that are distributed exclusively over the internet.

    This wouldn’t help because they are not interested in peer reviewing. Leaving ID aside, there is so much bad biology on their web pages that one really wonders why their own peers don’t hinder guys like DaveScot (1n Jesus) from publishing such utter nonsense. One can only conclude that they are not interested at all in peer reviewing or only if they were the only ones to review. Obviously, when you look at their pages they are mistaking peer reviewing and censorship so that every reasonable deviant comment is deleted immediately.
    Another problem is that they want to publish in Nature, Science etc. only. I was involved in one Nature and one Nature Genetics paper and man it took several years of work not by a single person but of a group of scientists to obtain data of sufficient quality to convince the reviewers. If they would have not accepted it we would have submitted the material somewhere else. Indeed, this happens again and again and we don’t publish whining complains in the internet every time this happens but rather go back to the lab and do our homework.

  17. #17 steve s
    March 1, 2007

    Does Johnson mention that own side controls an ID ‘journal’, and they can’t find anything to publish?

    Last issue was 2005.

  18. #18 mgarelick
    March 1, 2007

    If the chihuahua and the Saint Bernard were known solely from fossils, they would not be placed in the same species, and almost certainly not in the same genus.

    This makes me nervous. Are the chihuahua and the Saint Bernard in fact the same “species”? (What is a “species,” anyway?) If they are, then doesn’t this statement undermine reliability of fossils as a record of life forms?

    Anyway, the way I see it any evidence at all for evolution is a prima facie case against ID, because there is no evidence at all for ID. Is there any branch of science where they say “we’re just going to show you that this thing must exist, but we’re not going to do any investigation whatsoever into what this thing is or how it works (because that would be religion)??

  19. #19 Torbj�rn Larsson
    March 1, 2007

    Those who insist that science is by definition dedicated to seeking out and endorsing naturalistic explanations for all phenomena dismiss any questioning of their basic premise as �religiously� motivated and hence irrational–and even unconstitutional in the USA

    I have not had enough interest in Johnson’s rantings to read the entire text, earlier or now, but this time I noted that he conflates science with education here. He tries to sneak in a claim that there is a constitutional problem to study design in science riding on the problem to introduce religion in science classes.

    Standard Johnson demagoguery in other words.

    doesn’t this statement undermine reliability of fossils as a record of life forms?

    I’m not a biologist, but it is my impression that “species” are human constructs that can be used in different models of nature.

    There are several such definitions. Wilkins, a philosopher of biology who is a specialist on species concepts, describes 26 of them. ( ; . He also notes that species is really the concept, and the different definitions are rightly conceptions.)

    For living populations of animals, the biological species concept is usually fine. It is based on reproductive isolation. But it works less well for plants that can hybridize, and are pretty much useless for single-cell life who readily swap genes by lateral transfer or fossils who can’t be observed to reproduce. In such cases other concepts are used.

    For fossils the conceptions that are based on characters can be used to describe and predict (Tiktaalik) within the fossil record. For example cladospecies or phylospecies, I guess.

  20. #20 Torbjörn Larssona
    March 1, 2007

    It hits me that I didn’t really answered the question.

    Yes, perhaps different dogs would be placed in different species based on character. Fossils can never give the same amount of information as observing living creatures.

    But the amount of information is apparently enough to be predictive. So this isn’t a real problem with the species concepts as I understand it.

  21. #21 Torbjörn Larsson
    March 1, 2007

    Nor can I get my name correct any more than fossils will reproduce. Let’s see if the third time is the charm. :-)

  22. #22 Angelo Barbato
    March 1, 2007

    It seems to me being an observer and an atheist, the IDs have never picked up a shovel and actually done some research of their own,all they ever do is try to interpret their precious bible and put a spin on anything scientific thats been proven beyond any doubt, like evolution by natural selection, the age of the Earth, and so on.The scientific community is not doing enough by just ignoring these idiots.

  23. #23 JJ Anderson
    March 1, 2007

    mgarelick said:

    Anyway, the way I see it any evidence at all for evolution is a prima facie case against ID,…

    I don’t think that would convince the *sophisticated* ID people such as Michael Behe, who already accept evolution in the sense of common descent. They ask the question: are the genetic changes we see truly random, or is some *intelligence* tinkering with the DNA? (Of course there is no good evidence for that yet…)

  24. #24 windy
    March 1, 2007

    “If the chihuahua and the Saint Bernard were known solely from fossils, they would not be placed in the same species, and almost certainly not in the same genus.”
    This makes me nervous. Are the chihuahua and the Saint Bernard in fact the same “species”? (What is a “species,” anyway?) If they are, then doesn’t this statement undermine reliability of fossils as a record of life forms?

    There actually is quite strong reproductive isolation between the breeds so there is some grounds to calling them species, or incipient species? However, since the isolation is very recent, human-imposed and the breeds would not be likely to persist in the wild, we are reluctant to call them “real” species. But if we found such forms in the fossil record and assuming they evolved and persisted in the wild, why not call them species? (The definition is fuzzy anyway)

    But I’m not so sure they *would* be likely to be placed in different genera, since we know that the size of animals can evolve quite rapidly (island dwarfism, for example) and presumably it is still clear from the bones that the two types of dog are very closely related. Any palaeontologists around who can clarify this?

  25. #25 Flint
    March 1, 2007

    Sigh. Once again, the question to ask about Johnson’s effort has nothing to do with how good his science is, and everything to do with how persuasive he is to his target audience – good solid churchgoing Christians who received the ordinary US High School science education, and who would be overjoyed to learn that science has found God.

    Science is being hammered by the creationists because they have a problem: they want to piggyback on science’s reputation (which is why actors wear white coats to push car wax with oscilloscopes in the background in TV commercials. It LOOKS scientistical as all hell). But science has certain theories violently at odds with central creationist doctrine. So the trick is to position creationism as being “science without the wrong parts”.

    None of which has anything to do with science, except insofar as the word “science” can be leveraged for creationistic social purposes. And this is what all you scientific people seem to misunderstand. Creationists wish to steal the word, NOT the meaning behind the word. Their target audience only knows that “science” is great stuff; they don’t know what it IS.

  26. #26 ivy privy
    March 1, 2007

    At The Design Paradigm: Does Darwinism predict anything?

    I’ve made at least three additional posts of evolutionary predictions which haven’t been cleared yet. Apparently they stopped maintaining it when too many valid evolutionary predictions showed up.

  27. #27 Scott O
    March 1, 2007

    I think the primary selling point in ID is much like that in other harmful things in life… pandering to doubt. If they can convince people to have enough doubt, they can keep selling their goods. It worked for cigarettes, global warming, etc. We need to start talking more about the relationship between doubt and scientific skepticism. Start using their own tools to examine their product. I doubt “god” really likes beetles as much as the evidence suggests he/she does.

  28. #28 ck1
    March 1, 2007

    In the first comment on this thread, Flint mentioned the Alabama biology book stickers that have been in place for years. Anyone know why this is – why no legal challenge has been made (or if there was one, why it failed)?

  29. #29 David Margolies
    March 1, 2007

    The myth that there are many workers in the field who believe in and would like to discuss ID but cannot for fear or reprisal is a hearty perennial. But if it were true, why are there almost no testimonials from such workers?

    Even if the establishment can prevent workers from expressing their true feelings, there is a constant flux of people from being at risk to not being at risk. Any of the following life events can remove some or all risk of reprisal:

    1. Retiring with future income not controlled by the establishment (that is, almost all retirements).

    2. Becoming independently wealthy through windfall or investment luck (or skill).

    3. Same through inheritance.

    4. Same through marriage.

    5. Marrying someone who will support you if you do not work even if they are not independently wealthy.

    6. Changing fields where your new profession (such as real estate) cares nothing about your biological theories.

    These sorts of life changes happen to people in all fields all the time and there is no reason to think the incidence is not more or less uniform. So if there were a pool of frustrated IDers, members of that pool should be being regularly liberated. So where are the tell-all testimonials (I was held hostage for 10 years in a biology lab but now the truth can be told!) Or perhaps the pool does not exist?

  30. #30 gbusch
    March 1, 2007

    Although the topic is now dated, one could always respond to Johnson’s article directly:

  31. #31 Flint
    March 1, 2007


    Information can be found here:

  32. #32 Whatever
    March 1, 2007

    I see that Phil still hasn’t advanced his understanding of evolutionary science beyond a couple of badly remembered Newsweek articles…

  33. #33 Randy Kirk
    March 5, 2007

    Since intelligence has been acting on the design of species for at least a few million years (human intelligence), and since that is now accelerating, how do we know now and how will we tell the difference between those future organisms that are designed by natural selection as apposed to the imposition of human intelligent design.

  34. #34 MarkP
    March 6, 2007

    Randy, I think your question needs some clarification. What do you mean by “intelligence has been acting on the design of species”? Acting how? Are you implying human intelligence has existed for millions of years? What is accelerating?

    As to how to distinguish between those things designed (and really, we mean “constructed”) by selection, and those by humans, that’s a tough task, one the Intelligent Design guys keep either ducking, or dodging reasonable standards that deny their preconceived conclusion.

    For example, we’d expect human design to have more forsight than natural design. We’d see novelty spring up out of nowhere, vs the cooption of available, but woefully inefficient, options. Thus, we’d conclude that the eye, with it’s backward engineering, is a result of natural design rather than human design. OTOH, if we came across a watch, having no precursors, coming into being in one leap, from disassociated parts to working whole, and having no known way for natural design forces to act on it (ie, it doesn’t reproduce), we’d conclude human design rather than natural.

    And of course, we are able to make inferences to the human option precisely because we know a lot about human needs and abilities. Yet even with such understanding, the design inferences still have a high error rate (ask any archaeologist). So without that, design inferences are woefully unreliable, if not completely lacking in credibility. Thus, given the choice between assigning authorship of perceived design to natural forces known to exist, or assigning authorship to a hypothetical designer with no known traits, the far more reasonable choice is to choose the natural force, regardless of how unlikely it seems.

  35. #35 murat
    July 16, 2007

    Kurda Ak?l Güne? Do?ana Kadar Laz?md?r.

    Biz sizin orta??n?z De?iliz Haraç kesebilece?iniz Adamlarda De?ilim Hele Hele Serseri Hiç de?iliz

  36. #36 oyunlar 1
    July 22, 2007

    Kurda Ak?l Güne? Do?ana Kadar Laz?md?r.

  37. #37 oyunlar 1
    October 13, 2007

    kankay?z be abi yapmayin yani ufak tefek hatalarimiz olabilir.

  38. #38 oyunlar1
    October 17, 2007

    yanlis yapiyon aga beni uzuyosun sonra ayip olur.

  39. #39 i? ilanlar?
    March 20, 2009

    It seems to me being an observer and an atheist, the IDs have never picked up a shovel and actually done some research of their own,all they ever do is try to interpret their precious bible and put a spin on anything scientific thats been proven beyond any doubt, like evolution by natural selection, the age of the Earth, and so on.

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