Three years and counting

I was just reminded that last year at this time I announced an anniversary. In March of 2004, I critiqued this mysterious abstraction called “ontogenetic depth” that Paul Nelson, the ID creationist, proposed as a measure of developmental and evolutionary complexity, and that he was using as a pseudoscientific rationale against evolution. Unfortunately, he never explained how “ontogenetic depth” was calculated or how it was measured (perhaps he was inspired by Dembski’s “specified complexity”, another magic number that can be farted out by creationists but cannot be calculated). Nelson responded to my criticisms with a promise.

On 29 March 2004, he promised to post an explanation “tomorrow”.

On 7 April 2004, he told us “tomorrow”.

On 26 April 2004, he told us he was too busy.

On 13 January 2005, he told us to read a paper by R Azevedo instead. I rather doubt that Ricardo supports Intelligent Design creationism, or thinks his work contributes to it.

Ever since, silence.

One day has stretched into three years. I would fear that Paul Nelson has fallen into a chronosynclastic infundibulum and come unstuck in time, except that he still pops up saying the same stuff at creationist conferences. Maybe he just forgot, and this thread will remind him so that he’ll show up and post that promised explanation in a comment.



  1. #1 Steve_C
    April 7, 2007

    Do you think he regrets saying he would answer your challenge?

    It pretty well proves that the emporer is wearing no clothes.

  2. #2 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 7, 2007

    At this time we can assume that an eventual forthcoming concept will be rather shallow. Oh, the irony.

  3. #3 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 7, 2007

    At this time we can assume that an eventual forthcoming concept will be rather shallow. Oh, the irony.

  4. #4 BlueIndependent
    April 7, 2007

    There’s a perfectly good reason he hasn’t posted it yet: He’s not done taking random logic legos and splicing them together to create a semi-logical sounding back story once probing questions are asked of him to explain the details of his term.

  5. #5 jim
    April 7, 2007

    So it goes.

  6. #6 Nomen Nescio
    April 7, 2007

    maybe James Randi will let you borrow his Sylvia Browne clock…?

  7. #7 BlueIndependent
    April 7, 2007

    After reading Nelson’s description of his pet term, I admit it, as a total science and biology lightweight, that “ontogenetic depth” sounds like a logical line of scientific pursuit. But then you realize it’ll get muddied very quickly, simply because you’ll spend all yur time trying to classify at which level a certain cell type will be placed in the process.

    And what if there are dozens more levels than the “7-9” range Nelson cited? What would the definition be for every level in, say, a 73-level system? Further, how would one animal’s level count relate to its ancestors, to its closest neighbors, and indeed to other unrelated species in another genus? What if the numbers fluctuate wildly from 7-9, to 98, to 1002? If one has more than another, who’s going to spend time defining the layers for the other species, and then fitting the different cells to each level? Will any of the layers be directly transferable across all species? Will there be a mode for determining level transferrance? What will mutative occurances do to the system and how is that information parsed and undertood? What happens if a Cambrian animal’s level count is higher than that of its closest relative today? Does that mean God had to go through revisions before he nailed the final “design”?

    Lots of questions I have.

  8. #8 Zarquon
    April 7, 2007

    Perhaps the DI labs can’t get hold of enough resublimated thiotimoline to research the endochronic properties of ontogenetic depth.

  9. #9 Jim Wynne
    April 7, 2007

    I wonder if the Stones song that Nelson referred to in his linked March ’04 brushoff might have been Sympathy for the Devil. (You can’t always get what you want…”

  10. #10 Blake Stacey
    April 7, 2007


    I don’t say “LOL” very often, but this is one of those times.


  11. #11 Andy Groves
    April 7, 2007

    Perhaps he’s still working on “On Common Descent”. Coming to a bookstore near you any decade now.

  12. #12 Pierre
    April 7, 2007

    “Chronosynclastic infundibulum”, P-Zed? And then someone else on this thread mentions Thiotimoline too? I’m so proud to read this blog, I’m surrounded by people who have READ things! (Not that I ever doubted it, of course). I’d gladly shake all your hands, good pharyngulians.

  13. #13 Chris Ho-Stuart
    April 7, 2007

    You could just look it up in an encyclopedia. The Discovery Institute has provided just such an encyclopedia. See Ontogenetic Depth at the ISCID Encylopedia of Science and Philosophy (Beta).

    It’s an astounding example of the kind of pseudo-scholarship that riddles ID. This encylopedia entry said that O-D “is a measure of the distance (in terms of cell division and differentiation) between a single-celled state and an adult animal”. It says what it is that O-D (alegedly) measures. It fails to actually give any account of the measure itself.

  14. #14 J-Dog
    April 7, 2007

    As long as we are doing the counting
    meme, remember that before Dover, Dembski said evolution will be dead in 10 years, and there is @ 9 years left. Thank you Kristine Harley of Amused Muse (your Very First Molly Winner)for helping us keep track.

  15. #15 Ed Darrell
    April 7, 2007

    George Gamow wrote a great little introduction to physics and science in the 1950s, One, Two, Three . . . Infinity!. In one chapter he proposed to calculate a four-dimensional distance, and lays out a formula for doing so. It’s an interesting little exercise.

    And it’s instructive to see the noodlings of the guy who made the predictions of what Big Bang would look like if it were real, at least 20 years before the echo of Big Bang was confirmed. Real scientists take fliers sometimes, but they produce real results, too. Gamow never bothered to hire a public relations firm to hector state school boards about teaching his stuff. He just published it and moved on.

    Four dimensional distance? It can be calculated. So can the Big Bang. Ontogenetic Depth? Nelson should take lessons from Gamow.

  16. #16 hf
    April 9, 2007

    “Specified complexity” actually has a pretty clear definition that ID theorists uniformly ignore. By their own definition, they would need to show that the information in our DNA predates DNA in order to call it “specified”. Someone would need to have specified the whole sequence beforehand in an inscription on the center of the Earth or some other place we couldn’t have reached. I don’t know why Dembski went to the trouble of demolishing his own argument in this way.

  17. #17 Keith Douglas
    April 10, 2007

    Chris Ho-Stuart, et. al: There are even excellent studies of what exactly goes on in a measurement. Since that pseudoreference source claims to have philosophers on staff, they should know about that work.

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