Pharyngula

ID floats a lead-lined trial balloon

We’re getting signs that the Discovery Institute is going to be shifting their strategy a little bit.

Thoughts from Kansas has an excellent discussion of the subject. Basically, they’re going to embrace more of the actual science, and focus their dispute on finer and finer points. What does this mean? Common descent is now in.

DaveScot on Bill Dembski’s blog (TfK has the link) has a bit of a rant on it—he’s going to kick out anyone who questions the idea of common descent, and goes on and on about how denying common ancestry is a religious idea that goes against all of the scientific evidence, and therefore must be purged if ID is to achieve any status as an actual scientific idea.

As Josh documents, though, they’ve got a long list of ID advocates on the record at the Kansas hearings denying common descent: Angus Menuge, Nancy Bryson, Ed Peltzer, Russell Carlson, Warren Nord, Michael Behe, Jonathan Wells, Bruce Simat, Charles Thaxton, and Stephen Meyer are all quoted as rejecting it to various degrees, and ironically, Dembski’s blog is titled “Uncommon Descent”. The commenters at that blog are also frantically tossing up quotes from their heroes, such as Dembski’s own “Intelligent design therefore throws common descent itself into question…”—obviously, common descent has been an obstacle to them in the past.

If you’re familiar with DaveScot, though, you’re probably thinking, “DaveScot is a deranged lunatic—he shouldn’t be regarded as a bellwether for the ID movement!” I agree, and given that so many notables in the movement have rejected common descent, he does seem to be an outlier.

Except…

Stephen Meyer has an op-ed in the Dallas Morning News today. This is the Stephen Meyer who claims to be one of the “architects of Intelligent Design”, Stephen Meyer the Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute, the Stephen Meyer who, when asked whether he accepted the principle of common descent, said:

I won’t answer that question as a yes or no. I accept the idea of limited common descent. I am skeptical about universal common descent. I do not take it as a principle; it is a theory. And I think the evidence supporting the theory of universal common descent is weak.

Today, though, Meyer declares that ID has no complaint with common ancestry.

The theory does not challenge the idea of evolution defined as change over time, or even common ancestry, but it does dispute Darwin’s idea that the cause of biological change is wholly blind and undirected.

That does sound a little bit like we have a new party line emerging. They are going to accept all of the science except that they are going to insist that there is also an additional guiding force than selection. In order to do that, though, they’re also going to have to find some evidence for this mysterious force, and since they’re still calling it an intelligent directing force, they’re going to have to try harder to back up this specific claim, if they actually plan to carry through and focus on this one point.

Meyer’s op-ed, though, shows no sign of that. Instead, as usual, he falls back on the old argument from incredulity, making the same old analogies and comparing cells to cars and computer programs.

Over the last 25 years, biologists have discovered an exquisite world of nanotechnology within living cells – complex circuits, sliding clamps, energy-generating turbines and miniature machines. For example, bacterial cells are propelled by tiny rotary engines called flagellar motors that rotate at speeds up to 100,000 rpm. These engines look as if they were designed by the Mazda corporation, with many distinct mechanical parts (made of proteins) including rotors, stators, O-rings, bushings, U-joints and drive shafts.

He repeatedly claims that ID is based on scientific evidence, but fails to provide any—saying it “looks like” something designed is not evidence, especially when the basis for that appearance is nothing but overwrought and fallacious metaphors. Sorry, Stephen, you are confusing the computer-generated illustrations of the flagellum, which are all shiny smooth flat and curved surfaces with pseudocolor and ray-traced reflections, with the reality, which consists of coarse-grained polymers and stochastic chemical processes. Mazda may use CAD, but cells do not.

My bold prediction: this strategy can only further marginalize ID. The grassroots that support ID now are largely the same people who supported old-school creationism, who don’t like being told their ancestors were apes, and they’re going to be explicitly cut off by this policy. Bye-bye, base. At the same time, they aren’t going to acquire any new supporters among scientists: focusing on a narrower, more precise set of ideas is usually a good idea, but it will also focus attention on the dearth of evidence supporting it.

I suspect this is a poorly thought-out trial balloon that’s going to thud right into the ground. Expect further backtracking and denials soon.


“Soon” means within a day. The post by DaveScot has been “disappeared” already, and I expect he will be erased from all of the Official Party Photographs soon.

Comments

  1. #1 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    January 31, 2006

    Schism!

  2. #2 Steve LaBonne
    January 31, 2006

    Tracking the shifts in the DI party line should be an excellent career opportunity for unemployed former Kremlinologists.

  3. #3 Jeebus
    January 31, 2006

    This new IDiotic strategy all but has them admitting that the only gap left to claim is the identity of who (which alien?) is doing all that banging of the keys on the DNA piano.

    In other words: Evolution happens, god is epiphenomenal.

  4. #4 No Nym
    January 31, 2006

    They could make the argument that this “force” is the 2nd law of thermodynamics. According to Rod Swenson entropy increases at the fastest rate possible. It just so happens that organisms are very efficient open systems: they create entropy very quickly. I recall one of Swenson’s papers arguing that complexity follows the oxygen content in the atmosphere, and contra Gould, that some form of intelligent life was the inevitable output of this interpretation of the 2nd law.

    http://www.entropylaw.com/thermoevolution1.html

    Naturally, there’s not much space in this interpretation for an intelligent agent such as Yhwh or Kali or Freya, but it is roughly analogous to a biological form of the anthropic principle. IIRC even Stuart Kauffman argues for laws of complexity in _Origins of Order_. The hard part would be showing that these laws are supernatural in origin. i.e., probability zero (not “infinitely improbable’).

  5. #5 Ginger Yellow
    January 31, 2006

    How are you supposed to reconcile the unevolvability of IC systems with common descent? There are literally millions of different IC systems out there. Of course, Behe himself claims to accept common descent, and I’ve never seen him answer this question.

  6. #6 afarensis
    January 31, 2006

    There is a lot of griping over at UD at the moment. Paul Nelson even shows up to argue with DaveScott. Very entertaining stuff. SO I guess we are going to see some kind of frontloading/emergent design kind of arguement to go along with their, somewhat reluctant, embrace of common descent?

  7. #7 Uber
    January 31, 2006

    Nothing is funnier than watching these clowns. In truth the YEC are much more logical and consistent even if they are no more correct.

  8. #8 Corkscrew
    January 31, 2006

    No, I think they’re just gonna say that the Intelligence tampered with existing lineages and apart from that mostly let them get on with it.

  9. #9 MJ Memphis
    January 31, 2006

    Splitters!

  10. #10 PaulC
    January 31, 2006

    IF the ID movement concedes common descent, that actually puts it closer to Orson Scott Card’s article. My first thought about that article was that Card was in denial about the idiocy of most IDers, but now if I were into conspiracies, I’d say he got an advance copy of the new memo.

    For example, bacterial cells are propelled by tiny rotary engines called flagellar motors that rotate at speeds up to 100,000 rpm. These engines look as if they were designed by the Mazda corporation, with many distinct mechanical parts (made of proteins) including rotors, stators, O-rings, bushings, U-joints and drive shafts.

    Here’s what really drives me crazy about these people: the fixation with parts of life that resemble mechanisms so simple that even we humans in our limited history have managed to duplicate. What is most impressive about living systems is how far they go beyond human technology. All evidence shows that evolution over long enough time spans has far more creative power than the human mind over the span of a human lifetime. But these IDers seem blind to anything that doesn’t look like a human-designed machine. If evolution can produce a self-replicating cell capable of carrying genetic material and differentiating into a complex multicellular organism, than why should it surprise me that it can produce a little “outboard motor”?

    The ID movement ought rename itself the Church of the Butt Propeller, since this appears to be one unquestionable underpinning of their faith.

  11. #11 Bruce
    January 31, 2006

    PaulC,
    I must note for the record that “Church of the Butt Propeller” is lol classic; thank you for the image.

  12. #12 EVinson
    January 31, 2006

    “We’ve ALWAYS been at war with Eastasia!”

  13. #13 Steve LaBonne
    January 31, 2006

    Since they have zero data, it was always inevitable that they would eventually slide into a theistic-evolution position empirically indistinguishable from plain old evolution. With this latest shift they’re already getting close.

  14. #14 Bob Munck
    January 31, 2006

    No, no, this is basically the path that ID is doomed to follow in the years to come. Their entire program is pointing out holes and inconsistencies in the science. As science fills in those holes, resolves those inconsistencies, comes up with a better explanation for a given phenomenon, etc, ID has to scramble along behind finding new things to point out. ID has to keep up with the entire field, and they’re vastly outnumbered and outgunned in intellectual ability.

    One might suppose that this is a major part of their desire to force ID into the schools, to cut down on the number of new scientists being produced.

  15. #15 Doozer
    January 31, 2006

    In order to do that, though, they’re also going to have to find some evidence for this mysterious force…

    Well, we might know that, but, hell, they’ve been proving their assumptions by their conclusions from the beginning, why would they change now? And, anyway, the only “evidence” they could come up with would be a few-billion-year-old Genuine Alien Spaceship, with Genuine Alien Fossil (including intact otherworldly DNA), and an intact Earthly Recombinant DNA laboratory . Which wouldn’t be exactly the proof they were looking for, but we’d enjoy the hell out of it…

  16. #16 Joseph O'Donnell
    January 31, 2006

    This slide all over the show from “Creationism” to “Hidden creationism” to “Creationism that is pretending to be evolution” is quite comical. I eagerly await to see what the IDiots do next.

  17. #17 Daniel Morgan
    January 31, 2006

    I agree 100% that they will lose the base if they keep towing this party line. I think they will backpedal on this like they do everything else.

  18. #18 Marco Ferrari
    January 31, 2006

    It seems to me Iders (provided their good faith, which is doubtful) are getting closer and closer to a theistic evolution (sort of), not unlike the one embraced by Roman catholic church. Or am I to simplistic?

    Marco

  19. #19 chris
    January 31, 2006

    I think Marco is right. My initial reaction was, “they’re trying to recruit Conway Morris”.

  20. #20 A. Random Physicist
    January 31, 2006

    This doesn’t really suprise me. If you read through Behe’s testimony at the Dover trial, you’ll see he’s starting to sound a lot like a theistic evolutionist, in that the designer seems to appear only when necessary.

  21. #21 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    January 31, 2006

    This doesn’t really suprise me. If you read through Behe’s testimony at the Dover trial, you’ll see he’s starting to sound a lot like a theistic evolutionist, in that the designer seems to appear only when necessary.

    With, of course, the word “necessary” being open for creative interpretation.

    Yes, Behe does not deny natural selection, speciation, or common descent. He just believes that sometimes when no one is looking, other things not supported by evidence take their place.

    Since Behe’s Irreducible Complexity has already failed to impress a federal judge, I don’t see how embracement of common descent helps the ID cause at all.

  22. #22 BronzeDog
    January 31, 2006

    The ID movement ought rename itself the Church of the Butt Propeller, since this appears to be one unquestionable underpinning of their faith.

    The Church of the Butt Propeller. We welcome all propeller-heads.

  23. #23 Kristine
    January 31, 2006

    Oh, yes, the designer appears when necessary. Whenever Behe blows his god-whistle. Then god comes a-trottin’. That’s what all this is about, Dembski and Behe playing god, who is their pet, not their creator. I doubt that these guys even believe in ID, or god, or anything besides themselves–but they know that the “little people” will. They want power over others, and they want all the peasants to worship them.

    That was apparent to me when I saw Behe speak at the U of M–how desperately he needed applause from little teeny-boppers. He didn’t want to confront questions from people his own age. It was creepy.

  24. #24 mark
    January 31, 2006

    If IDiots are evolving into theistic evolutionists, why are there still monkeys?
    It seems unbelievable that they would give up on their big-tent approach. The old-timey creationists are the ones really wanting (ID)creationism taught in school; if they believe the major ID proponents are betraying them, there’s no chance for Phillip Johnson’s religious sect to take dominion over America and replace science with “theistic science.”

  25. #25 Louis
    January 31, 2006

    So basically what the IDCists are doing is:

    The Scene, an IDCIST and a JUDGE face each other across a sandy beach. There are scientists lurking in the back groud. The Judge is facing East, and the IDCIST is facing West.

    IDCIST: Ok, evolution happened up until this line and then the designer did it and dammit we want it legislated into school classrooms.

    {IDCIST draws line in sand halfway between JUDGE and IDCIST}

    JUDGE: See these scientists? Ok, now they, and indeed I, can see that your line is a little line of religiously inspired appeals to ignorance. It isn’t science, it isn’t even wrong, it simply doesn’t get even THAT far. No dice chum.

    IDCIST: Ok, but what about this new line? We state catacgorically that evolution happened up until this line and then the designer did it and dammit we want it legislated into school classrooms.

    {IDCIST draws new line in sand, slightly further east}

    JUDGE: Dude, you clearly aren’t listening. Look at the scientists again, see them shaking their heads? See me shaking my head? No dice again chum.

    IDCIST: Ok, but what about this new line? We state catacgorically that evolution happened up until this line and then the designer did it and dammit we want it legislated into school classrooms.

    {IDCIST draws another new line in sand, slightly further east}

    JUDGE: Seriously, dude, you’re embarassing yourself. Wipe foam from mouth, listen to scientists, do some science. I cannot say it any clearer. You are in a major lack of dice situation. You have no dice. Your dice content is nil. Not only do you currently have no dice, you never had any dice, and if you carry on in this vein you never will get any dice because your methods with never allow you to acheive dice ownership. You are dice challenged, devoid of dice, you have no dice. Get it?

    IDCIST: Ok, but what about this new line? We state catacgorically that evolution happened up until this line and then the designer did it and dammit we want it legislated into school classrooms.

    {IDCIST draws new line in sand, slightly further east}

    JUDGE: Someone remove this lunatic from my judicial sight.

    {Bailiff removes IDCIST who is dragged ever Eastward, drawing little fictional lines in the sand}

  26. #26 Kagehi
    January 31, 2006

    A real funny project would be to design a gene sequencer that was as alien as you can get, say really odd isotope ratios in the computer ships, an obviously alien language, display screen that is only visible in ultraviolet ranges, etc. Drop some stuff in suggesting that they tried to evolve some dinosaur into sentience, but the research lab got nailed in the same event that wiped all those out, then watch the religious IDists run around like chickens with their heads cut off over the revalation that aliens where actually doing it, instead of God. lol

    Seriously, some days I just want to put on a large boot and just start kicking people…

  27. #27 Caledonian
    January 31, 2006

    What, the Catholic position of “God isn’t actually real, but we believe in Him anyway”?

    Somehow I don’t see the particular type of Fundamentalist Christian behind the ID movement *ever* embracing that worldview.

  28. #28 Torbjorn Larsson
    January 31, 2006

    “the Church of the Butt Propeller” – continuing to spread manure to the masses.

    “the only “evidence” they could come up with would be a few-billion-year-old Genuine Alien Spaceship”

    The truth is out there – it happened in X-Files.

    If Butt Propellers gets serious about science they can’t continue looking for new gaps in knowledge. As science fills them (those gaps, I mean), the ButtProps will also have to concede that their ideas has no predictive power and are constantly falsified. They can initially claim that they are still defining their theory, but after a short time that will be untenable so they are back to Christianitys Last Stand of theistic/deistic evolution.

  29. #29 G-Do
    January 31, 2006

    Common descent is now in.

    Well, I guess they’ve finally joined the debate as it existed around 1891. Welcome to the industrial revolution, gentlemen; try not to trip over the child-laborers.

    Also, “the Church of the Butt Propellor” – that just made my day.

  30. #30 Torbjorn Larsson
    January 31, 2006

    I now realise I was to hasty above. Things like “irreducible complexity”, which I was thinking of, can’t be falsified until all gaps are plugged. IDiots can always claim that reamining systems are ‘irreducible’ until proven otherwise, of course.

    So Bob was correct, they will keep on going – but at least it’s uphill.

  31. #31 Andrew Torrez
    January 31, 2006

    Well, DaveScot’s post has been taken down already.

  32. #32 Joseph O'Donnell
    January 31, 2006

    Incidentally, the original thread seems to have been deleted now and Davescot has been taken ‘behind’ the woolshed I would say.

    This couldn’t be more hillarious.

  33. #33 BronzeDog
    January 31, 2006

    The Scene, an IDCIST and a JUDGE face each other across a sandy beach…

    Wonderful, Louis. 🙂 That, combined with plenty of other good jokes I’ve bumped into tonight are turning this into a much better day for net surfing.

    It was getting tiresome arguing with Bernard Marx, uh, I mean Fore Sam/John Best over at Respectful Insolence.

  34. #34 Inoculated Mind
    February 1, 2006

    I would like to extend a hearty virtual handshake to our creationist friends out there for coming just one step closer to reality by accepting common descent.

    Now what we have to do is get them to admit the change in position, and ask them what evidence swayed them. Of course they weren’t swayed, they “gave up” on an argument. In an email to me, Behe said that if the evolution of any complex IC system were figured out, he would give up.
    -Not be convinced, give up.

    What if Stephen Meyer was a mathematician like Dembski…
    “I accept the idea of limited common denominators. I am skeptical about common denominators for any two given fractions. I do not take it as a principle; it is a theory.”

  35. #35 CA Member
    February 1, 2006

    I am a creationist, and I strongly oppose the constant insults you fling at my fellow creationists/ID proponents. Creationism should not be a target for insults, it is merely an affliction that affects a distinct percentage of non-scientists, and is characterized by an overpowering desire to tell scientists how to do their jobs. You wouldn’t insult someone who demands that children be taught that turtles are made of cheese, you would get him help. The same applies for creationists.

    Fortunately, there is help available. I recently discovered an excellent support group called Creationists Anonymous. I have nearly completed the program, and find it effective. Although the desire to tell scientists what science is remain, they have become far easier to suppress. Creationists Anonymous boasts a success rate of 84%, but even those who relapse are better off than before, because the public is more likely to be skeptical of them.

    Although Creationists Anonymous has a high success rate, attendence is lower than we would have hoped. Leading creationists like Dembski and Behe refuse to confront their problems, and have moved into later stages of the affliction. In these later stages, they have stopped telling scientists how to do their jobs and started claiming that scientists are wrong outright. They, like many others, claim that THEY are the “true” scientists, and will use any means possible to reinforce this for themselves and to force it on others, even if they have to bury their ideas under false names like Intelligent Design, claim persecution, and lash out through terms such as “Darwinism,” or through legislative action.

    Creationists Anonymous cannot help those who have progressed into later stages of the disorder, but hopefully we can convince future creationists to turn to us instead of taking the path of Dembski and Behe, making a mountain out of a molehill and allowing a minor affliction to become a major disorder.

  36. #36 Pierce R. Butler
    February 1, 2006

    According to this morning’s Thoughts from Kansas, King William has decreed that “the truth or falsity of common descent is an open question worthy of informed discussion.”

    The BS from DS has been erased from the Dembski blog and the memories of all right-thinking propellor-butts, and the traditional politically-correct respect for “the ID communitys diversity of views” has been triumphantly reinstated. The people rejoice!

    Rosenau’s commentary on this retroactive breakthrough is, as usual, concisely incisive.

  37. #37 AC8
    February 1, 2006

    An obvious result of the Butt Propeller is what happens when the BS hits the fan.

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