The Intersection

Responding to the DI

The Discovery Institute is apparently going to come out with a report tomorrow outlining 14 “false facts” in my book. I hope that the first I hear about the contents of this report is not on the air with Michael Medved. We’ll see.

Still, we can start with Discovery’s press release announcing the so-far-unpublished report, and see what kinds of critiques they’re promising. Let’s take the first:

Mooney writes: “Wherever uncertainty remains in the current evolutionary account–and as we have seen, uncertainty can never be fully dispelled in science–ID theorists swoop in and claim, “God must have done it.”

This blatant misrepresentation claims intelligent design as merely a negative argument against evolution or argument from ignorance which appeals to God. This is false. The theory of intelligent design simply states that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

This is not an error of fact; at most, it’s a disagreement over how to characterize the ID movement’s overarching strategy, and in the quotation above I simply provide my opinion of that strategy. You can disagree with my point here, but I don’t see how you can call it a “false fact.”

Second:

Mooney also claims that “literature searches have failed to turn up scientific papers published in peer-reviewed journals that explicitly present research that supports the ID hypothesis.” This is false. ID proponents have published a number of scientific publications supporting their arguments in peer-reviewed scientific venues. A complete list is available on Discovery Institute’s website and includes such pieces as:

* Stephen Meyer, “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories” Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 117(2004):213-239.\
* Jonathan Wells, “Do Centrioles Generate a Polar Ejection Force?,” Rivista di Biologia/Biology Forum 98 (2005): 37-62.
* Michael J. Behe and David W. Snoke, “Simulating Evolution by Gene Duplication of Protein Features That Require Multiple Amino Acid Residues,” Protein Science, 13 (2004): 2651-2664.

First, in context, it’s clear from my book that this statement is referring to the situation that existed prior to the publication of the Meyer paper cited above. Furthermore, the Discovery Institute is moving the goalposts. I refer to “scientific papers published in peer-reviewed journals that explicitly present research that supports the ID hypothesis.” This is not the same as “scientific publications supporting their arguments in peer-reviewed scientific venues.” To refute a claim of fact, you have to take it on directly, not redefine it and then refute the redefinition.

Judge Jones, in the Dover decision (PDF), examined the ID “literature” using a similar criterion to my own. (Such a rigorous criterion is needed to prevent ID promoters for taking credit for publications that don’t explicitly present data undermining evolution or supporting ID.) Jones found the following (citations replaced by ellipses):

The evidence presented in this case demonstrates that ID is not supported by any peer-reviewed research, data or publications. Both Drs. Padian and Forrest testified that recent literature reviews of scientific and medical-electronic databases disclosed no studies supporting a biological concept of ID….On cross-examination, Professor Behe admitted that: “There are no peer reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred.”…Additionally, Professor Behe conceded that there are no peer-reviewed papers supporting his claims that complex molecular systems, like the bacterial flagellum, the blood-clotting cascade, and the immune system, were intelligently designed….In that regard, there are no peer-reviewed articles supporting Professor Behe’s argument that certain complex molecular structures are “irreducibly complex.”….In addition to failing to produce papers in peer-reviewed journals, ID also features no scientific research or testing….

After this searching and careful review of ID as espoused by its proponents, as elaborated upon in submissions to the Court, and as scrutinized over a six week trial, we find that ID is not science and cannot be adjudged a valid, accepted scientific theory as it has failed to publish in peer-reviewed journals, engage in research and testing, and gain acceptance in the scientific community.

Jones’ conclusion is more or less the same as my own. Note also his footnote on why the Behe and Snokes paper referenced above doesn’t refute that conclusion:

The one article referenced by both Professors Behe and Minnich as supporting ID is an article written by Behe and Snoke entitled “Simulating evolution by gene duplication of protein features that require multiple amino acid residues.” (P-721). A review of the article indicates that it does not mention either irreducible complexity or ID. In fact, Professor Behe admitted that the study which forms the basis for the article did not rule out many known evolutionary mechanisms and that the research actually might support evolutionary pathways if a biologically
realistic population size were used.

As for the Meyer paper cited above, it was a literature review–and a commentary on the existing literature. Not a presentation of new research data.

As for the Wells paper cited above, it proposed a hypothesis. It did not present data to refute evolution.

So, we’ll have to see what other 12 “false facts” DI will accuse me of. It’s quite possible that they might indeed catch an error in the book–I am not perfect, though I try to be very careful–but this isn’t an auspicious start. I may or may not respond to the other claims, depending on whether they merit it. These really don’t, especially the first one.

In any event, let’s hope the debate tomorrow isn’t down in the weeds over technical stuff like this. That would be most unfortunate.

Comments

  1. #1 timcol
    September 15, 2006

    The notion that ID has no interest in the ‘designer’ is just so blatantly ridiculous, that only already gullible people who take ancient stories and myths literally could really accept this.

    Whenever somebody who is new to ID innocently asks an IDer who the desiger is, they are instantly censored as this is considered an inappropriate question. But it is not – and I think we need to be relentless in calling the IDers on this more and more — if they say there is ID then as night follows day there must be a designer. Therefore, as in all things in science it is absolutely appropriate and right to ask who that Designer might be and examine the hypotheses for each possibility. IDers have on occasion said that the Designer could be an ‘alien race’ but never want to go any further to really examine whether this hypothesis has any merit and seriously explore this idea. Instead they just want to make this whole question off-limits.

    And of course the Great Dembski has himself once said from his ID-designed Ivory Tower: “no intelligent agent who is strictly physical could have presided over the origin of the universe or the origin of life” – well, we know that Dembski is a Christian, so it is not exactly a huge logic problem to infer who Dembski is referring to. He might as well just come out and say it.

  2. #2 Inoculated Mind
    September 15, 2006

    I might add that the Meyer publication was all but thrown out by the publication that published it, due to the fact that it circumvented their normal review process. (as in, snuck in) Also, the paper on centrioles is hilarious because although the hypothesis presented wouldn’t actually support intelligent design, it has also been refuted by recent research. You can find a review of it on the Panda’s Thumb.

    As for Behe & Snokes, exactly right.

    The IDists tend to think that there’s no such thing as bad press – be thankful that they’re spreading the word about your book for you, and you can easily back up your sources.

    Heh, “false fact” is funny – I think it really means “facts that we would like you to think are false.”

  3. #3 Corkscrew
    September 15, 2006

    The theory of intelligent design simply states that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

    And the basis on which it claims this is…?

    Why, it turns out to be a couple of negative arguments against evolution, which just claim “well, evolution may have solved everything else, but it’ll never lever open this particular gap”.

    What a surprise.

  4. #4 gengar
    September 15, 2006

    This blatant misrepresentation claims intelligent design as merely a negative argument against evolution or argument from ignorance which appeals to God. This is false. The theory of intelligent design simply states that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

    How could you possibly think that’s a negative argument, Chris? Shame on you.

  5. #5 Christopher
    September 15, 2006

    Isn’t it a bit odd that the letter/document is dated September 14 1985?
    Is that some alternative dating system that the Discovery Institute people use?
    The date that the DI was founded?

    Either way, it certainly doesn’t lend any credence to their argument. Not like there’s much that could anyways.

    And Luskin’s use of Kuhn’s words… man, he just doesn’t get it, does he?

  6. #6 Dave S.
    September 15, 2006

    Chris writes:

    Still, we can start with Discovery’s press release…

    Has anyone ever counted the number of press releases released by the DI? Any bets as to how much they outnumber the number of “scientific papers published in peer-reviewed journals”?

    This blatant misrepresentation claims intelligent design as merely a negative argument against evolution or argument from ignorance which appeals to God. This is false. The theory of intelligent design simply states that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

    Yeah, where do people get the idea they are talking about God. Just because the designer apparently is capable of designing features of the universe itself and is therefore not part of it (coincidence?); and just because practically every major, minor and trace proponant of ID thinks the designer (never designers) is God; and just because every argument they use is the same as those espoused by Creationists before them – that’s no reason to think that’s what they mean!

    Mooney also claims that “literature searches have failed to turn up scientific papers published in peer-reviewed journals that explicitly present research that supports the ID hypothesis.” This is false. ID proponents have published a number of scientific publications supporting their arguments in peer-reviewed scientific venues.

    As mentioned, the “that explicitly present research that supports the ID hypothesis” bit is kinda important.

  7. #7 RBH
    September 15, 2006

    timcol wrote

    Whenever somebody who is new to ID innocently asks an IDer who the desiger is, they are instantly censored as this is considered an inappropriate question.

    It’s worse than that. Try asking what some properties of the designer (or designers — there may be more than one) are — what the designer’s skill set is. After all, if some of the stuff in the world is designed, then any “theory” of intelligent design must appeal to the skill set of the designer(s) in order to explain why that stuff is designed to operate one way and not another. Otherwise, any “explanation” must boil down to nothing more than the designer(s) wanted it that way, which is a non-explanation. Invoking an unconstrained intelligent designer explains precisely nothing.

  8. #8 J-Dog
    September 15, 2006

    Chris – I think you are right in assuming that they will try to blind-side you on-air, so feel free to use some of the DI “venting words”, I sent to you in a previous post.

    And as Innouclated Mind suggests, DI “false facts” is just the other side of “truthiness”…

    So, if the debate does goe “into the weeds” as you suggest, make sure you bring a weed-wacker with you.

    Good Luck!

    ps: Please remember to aske Wells, from me, if he has stopped beating his wife yet…

  9. #9 Dark Tent
    September 15, 2006

    It seems quite likely that the release of the report on your “errors” — and the debate with Wells — are part of one and the same “ID marketing blitz”

    It is possible that the two just happened to occur on the same day, but not likely.

    Pathetic — and underhanded — but apparently true.

    If I were you Chris, I would make it very clear at the beginning of the debate that this is the case so that your listeners understand.

  10. #10 Dark Tent
    September 15, 2006

    “The theory of intelligent design simply states that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”

    One would think these people would be worried about burning in hell for not giving God her due credit right up front … but, clearly, if anyone dID it, “God dID.”

    Apparently, concerns about burning in hell have to take a back seat to getting ID through the courts.

  11. #11 mark
    September 15, 2006

    So, with regard to what the theory of Intelligent Design Creationism really is…what do the Disco Institute boys and girls claim their theory actually says? What explanations does it offer? After all, if Darwin merely said “I have a Theory of Evolution that says organisms have changed over time,” he would have been laughed off as an unimaginative plagerist. This is the question they will never be able to answer because they only have an assertion, not a scientific theory.

  12. #12 Martin Ballzer
    September 15, 2006

    I’m listening to the Medved show right now. Mr. Mooney is being extremely deferential to Wells and ID. It’s interesting that he seems so polite and civil in this debate, unlike many of the high-intense, snark-filled threats we see on the internet.

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