Go read this first rate summary of an ID meeting by one of its unsympathetic attendees. It’s genuinely bizarre. The talks by the ID proponents are frankly, complete garbage (not that the account is that blunt), which explains the message everyone got afterwards.
A few days after the meeting ended, we all received an email stating that the ID people considered the conference a private meeting, and did not want any of us to discuss it, blog it, or publish anything about it. They said they had no intention of posting anything from the conference on the Discovery Institute’s web site (the entire proceedings were recorded). They claimed they would have some announcement at the time of the publication of the edited volume of presentations, in about a year, and wanted all of us to wait until then to say anything. These actions made me aware of the extent to which the ID movement was willing to bear false witness in order to achieve its goals, and that kept me from falling prey to my empathy for the underdog.
A stealth science meeting? I’ve heard of requests to embargo discussion outside of a meeting until publication — which is reasonable, since many journals are jealous entities who demand that their submissions be virginal and unpublished anywhere else — but that’s not the case here. After reading the account, it’s clear that they’ve got no science and bad science, and really just want to control the release of information, so they can massage their PR and generate false impressions of scholarly work.
For example, the article describes Paul Nelson’s talk. Nelson has delusions of understanding developmental biology, and it’s obvious that he does not.
As a creationist, Nelson objected to both of Darwin’s theories, phylogeny and natural selection. He asserted that in order to “build an animal,” you have to have a developmental process pointing to (pre-targeted for) that animal beforehand. Once again, organisms are viewed as machines, with pre-targeted endpoints determining their origins, functions and outcomes. Clearly, the Designer is not interested in anything like Free Will – no creativity, no adaptability, no flexibility, just automaton-like behaviour. Ontogeny is a linear program of instructions like a machine assembly manual.
One word: epigenesis.
This is an idea that has been around since Aristotle, who said, “Why not admit straight away that the semen…is such that out of it blood and flesh can be formed, instead of maintaining that semen is both blood and flesh?” Do not presuppose that the constituents of an organism must be present in their totality in a specified form, simply waiting to expand and emerge. Instead, the diverse cells and tissues of the organism are formed by progressive development and differentiation of a relatively unorganized substance. Nelson calls himself a philosopher of biology, but he still hasn’t grasped this fundamental concept of development. It’s the first thing we discuss in my developmental biology courses.
The real action in this presentation emerged from a question by Murray Eden, emeritus professor at MIT and one of the participants in the 1966 (real) Wistar Conference. Murray asked why the current view, that communication between cells at each time interval, each of which changes the conditions in which the developing embryo finds itself, which then prompts the next step, which then leads to new communications, and so on, could not explain all this. Nelson reiterated his position that the instruction set has to be a priori and complete, and ontogeny is a designed linear program of instructions producing a pre-determined outcome.
One name: Hans Driesch. Eden sounds smart; that’s exactly the pattern modern developmental biology sees. Driesch was a 19th century developmental biologist who made a shocking discovery that completely discombobulated him, because he didn’t appreciate that pattern (which was excusable, since he did discover this over a century ago). He did a simple experiment in which he took sea urchin embryos at the two or four cell stage and dissociated them, then allowing the single cells to go on and develop. He did not get half or quarter embryos — he got complete, miniature embryos from each of the cells. From this observation, less mystical scientists got the concept of regulation, the idea that cells in the embryo are autonomous agents that respond to their environment and can adjust their pattern of development to generate a function whole. Driesch, unfortunately, went a little bonkers and proposed the idea of an entelechy, a “unifying non-material mind-like something … an ordering principle which does not add either energy or matter,” and also that “the mind may carry out a morphogenetic action at a distance.”
That sound like Nelson, actually. Also like Nelson, Driesch’s proposals were a total dead-end, a nonsensical and irrelevant failure that accomplished nothing, advanced nothing, and were built on a foundation of wishful thinking and ignorance.
I’m just picking on Nelson because he’s always making these smug overtures to my chosen field, overtures that are more like self-centered, sweaty assaults in which he doesn’t care much about the preferences or history of the subject of his repugnant affections. Read the rest, though, because it’s amazing how bad everyone on the DI side is. Nelson isn’t the worst, he’s representative … which tells you something about how incompetent the whole mob is. It’s no wonder they didn’t want anyone to talk about this meeting.