Pharyngula

A sloppy simulacrum of science

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— which is reasonable, since many journals are jealous entities who demand that their submissions be virginal and unpublished anywhere else — but that’s not the case here.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.

Comments

  1. #1 Moses
    February 7, 2008

    Hey, this is definitely a great post. I learned a whole bunch of cool things and have a new avenue of inquiry to pursue.

  2. #2 MartinM
    February 7, 2008

    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.

    Now that’s interesting. Of all the original participants in the Wistar conference, Eden is one of two that the creationists really like to quote.

  3. #3 Ethan Romero
    February 7, 2008

    It’s funny (‘hey hey’ not ‘ha ha’) that the ID elite (at least the Disco kind) are openly hostile to materialism yet seem to see life as material most banal. I think that Paul Nelson has confused ‘ontogeny’ with ‘the industrial process that makes Twinkies’*.

    *No offence to Twinkies

  4. #4 ERV
    February 7, 2008

    So I understand that Creationists hate Wikipedia, but whats with their refusal to use PubMed?

    Paul Nelson: PubMed ‘epigenetics embryo’. Your ‘God’ is a deacetylated histone. *rolleyes*

  5. #5 George
    February 7, 2008

    I wonder how Nelson would explain the unfortunate little girl with 8 limbs recently in the news?

  6. #6 Cat of many faces
    February 7, 2008

    to #5:

    The designer’s a dick?

  7. #7 holbach
    February 7, 2008

    As long as we are still on the intelligent design fiasco,
    let me make some observations on those intelligent design
    tornadoes that have wreaked death and destruction in
    several states of our country. The results are truly
    astounding and tragic in scope and in human tragedy, but
    the religious comments are even more obvious and bespeak
    of utter nonsense in ascribing the horror of it all.
    Here are some incredible comments made by people who have
    experienced the natural destruction:

    From Shirley, Arkansas: “My sister struggled to grasp why
    god would take her sister. That’s his wrath. For some
    reason he’s not happy right now and there is… Nobody
    understands god’s will. god didn’t do it, satan did. You
    can’t really blame god, because he has taken care of us
    for so long and so many times. But no, there’s no reason
    for this, there’s no understanding for it.

    And from the govenor of Tennessee: “The wrath of god is the
    only way I can describe it.

    From a survivor in Atkins,Arkansas who hid in the bathroom
    with her husband and child while the house was being torn
    apart, and a neighbor down the street was killed: “Thank
    the lord we are okay.
    And of course there are many more examples of pious strains
    of incredulity from survivors of these blameless tornadoes
    satan’s, not their god) that just strain the incredible
    belief that religion imbues with examples of utter insanity
    when applied to natural disasters. These afflicted people
    who were indoctrinated at an early age of insane religion
    are now not capable of reasoning the natural course of
    events. They will forever remain a captive to the deranged
    processes of irrational religion. The disaster wrought by
    those “selective” tornadoes and the utter deranged responses by the survivors just rightly demand a debate
    between rationalists and rabid religionists, with the topic
    being, as I mentioned earlier in another blog, “Is religion
    a form of insanity?” The tornadoes destruction and the
    insane reasons given by survivors makes this more ever
    imperative.

  8. #8 Glen Davidson
    February 7, 2008

    IOW, bring up the scientific findings, and Nelson insists that everything has to be top-down hierarchical determination. Like, uh, God making machines by design.

    To think otherwise is blasphemy, hence he doesn’t think otherwise.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  9. #9 Gregb
    February 7, 2008

    #7

    Christopher Hitchens made a great observation about comments like “Thank the Loard we were saved”.

    He said :Whenever you hear people saying “there but for the grace of god go I” they’re really saying “by the grace of god go those poor bastard.”

    Did god allow your neighbors to die? Or was it satan? If it was satan then why was god so ineffective at stopping it? If god is angry with you for some reason then why was his punishment so random?

    But back to the point of the blog. It always amazes me how consistantly the creationist lie. It amazes me how consistantly they use logical fallicies and how they can be led directly to the evidence that they are wrong and yet they still push their ideas.

    Amazing.

  10. #10 healthphysicist
    February 7, 2008

    Holbach:

    I’m in TN. The night the tornadoes hit is the night that baptist Huckabee won the TN primary. The most damaged site is at a baptist college in Jackson, TN.

    What do you think the baptists would say if the tornadoes followed a gay candidates win and destroyed a gay bar?

  11. #11 Holbach
    February 7, 2008

    healthphysicist: The answer here is simple and obvious:

    It was an intelligent designed tornado sent by their god
    to wreak vengeance on the un-naturally designed (read
    designed by satan of course), and to warn others of a
    natural persuasion that a natural tornado will do what it
    cannot. The utter insanity of it all!

  12. #12 Ric
    February 7, 2008

    healthphysicist @ 9:

    Great point!

  13. #13 danley
    February 7, 2008

    Teleological horseshit. Worse than Joel Osteen. For fuck’s sake. They’re taking the quantitative and imposing a qualitative assumption.

  14. #14 Glen Davidson
    February 7, 2008

    It was Dover that wasn’t supposed to pray in a disaster after booting the theocrats off of the school board, according to divine Pat Robertson.

    Looks like God is aiming for Pat’s believers.

    What do you know, maybe God does work in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform?

    Having said that, I note that I was only aiming at Robertson and his ilk in the above remarks, and I am indeed sorry and sympathetic for the loss of life and of the lives people knew previously in TN and in the rest of the devastated areas.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  15. #15 George
    February 7, 2008

    Building on #9

    There was a story on these storms on NPR. A lady recounts the horrible experience of huddling in their home and praying. The storm glanced their home but destroyed the home nearby.

    Did their prayers change the course of the storm to their neighbor? Was there a prayer contest? were their prayers more heartfelt, stronger, what? Inquiring minds want to know…

    I do not mean to belittle the terror of being a mobile home with ones children while a powerful tornado pushes through the area. But we have the technology to do better for these people, proper storm shelters can be built…

  16. #16 Ian
    February 7, 2008

    Is Paul Nelson a Full-Nelson or a Half-Nelson? I’ve been wrestling with the question all morning….

  17. #17 Spirula
    February 7, 2008

    What do you think the baptists would say if the tornadoes followed a gay candidates win and destroyed a gay bar?

    Oh, I know this one! See, when it strikes the believers it is a test, caused by Satan. When it hits the wicked it is a punishment, caused by God.

    Of course, when both are victims, it’s sort of a “hot potato” game the two of them play with the storms.

    “You next! No backsies!”

  18. #18 Zeno
    February 7, 2008

    Yeah, I’ve been wondering how long it would take some noisy evangelists to come to the conclusion that an angry God was punishing the states that voted for Huckabee. (Sure, he didn’t hit them all, but God has notoriously bad aim.)

    Of course, I was happy to hear President Bush tell the leaders of the storm-wracked states that the federal government would be helping them out:

    “I wanted them to know that this government will help them; but more importantly, I wanted them to be able to tell the people in their states that the American people hold them up and — hold those who suffer up in prayer,” the president said. “Loss of life, a lot of loss of property — prayers can help and so can the government.

    Does being “held up in prayer” make you an easier target?

  19. #19 MartinM
    February 7, 2008

    Speaking of bad imitations of science, Gonzalez’ tenure case was up for review today. Sanity prevailed.

  20. #20 ConcernedJoe
    February 7, 2008

    #7 amen brother

    I actually makes me want to vomit when I hear such delusion in the face of dead-on reality.

    I have have experienced this recently. Child gravely ill, advanced medical science kicks into action to save child, social net of taxpayer and secular funds pay most of bills, and so on. While the small town group prays to the lord not just for strength or comfort but for better test results.

    One year and $100K plus later it is praise and thank the lord for making all well.

    It is so obvious what effected the cure of the child and the survival of the family. To me you have to be insane or without an IQ not to connect the dots on that score, but further you really have to be insane to praise a loving (what an adjective) god that tortures children, families, and communities all over the world every second of every day. WTF. Insane is my vote.

    PS Trolls … I am not talking about prayer a mother may make to ask her god to give her strength or courage. I think that is mildly delusional too, but sometimes a bit of delusion is needed in a world seemingly overwhelming. There is a phychological power to that personal type of prayer, that could be derived in less mystical ways, but I’ll say whatever floats your boat and let it go – no judgement. But no – when you pray for god to do real worldly things, praise this god if things break your way, and excuse this god when they don’t – well that is INSANE. Ever hear of merit pay?

  21. #21 Larry
    February 7, 2008

    Zeno @ #17

    Of course, I was happy to hear President Bush tell the leaders of the storm-wracked states that the federal government would be helping them out:

    Isn’t that one of the 3 biggest lies: “We’re from the government. We’re here to help”. Hopefully, bush won’t shower them with the care and affection he showed NOLA.

  22. #22 Holbach
    February 7, 2008

    The Bushwacker president should really be testing his faith
    and announcing that no physical help will be forthcoming
    but just all of us getting down on our knees and praying
    real hard to aid and comfort those affected by those damn
    inteligent designed tornadoes, and proving once and for all
    the efficacy of prayer. Will he do this ? Like crap he will, for he is as much a part of the natural world as the
    “selective” tornadoes, and those damn tornadoes will
    prove to be not the least selective when it comes to
    mincing a horde of insane religionists and scattering them
    all over the landscape in one fell swoop. I can see the
    headlines relating this insane fiasco: “intelligent
    designed tornadoes swoop down on praying hordes and scatter
    them and their vaporous incantations to the uncaring and
    dispersing winds.” We don’t need more prayers, but more
    intelligent designed tornadoes!

  23. #23 uncle frogy
    February 7, 2008

    I have to agree it is amazing how “materialist” those who profess creationism are. I do not understand the obsession with disputing evolution in terms of science and reason. In doing so they have to distort reality until it is unrecognizable from fantasy!

    It would seem to me that it is a matter of faith not reason and therefore completely different.

    prayer helps the one who is praying stay calm in such dangerous situations instead of fleeing in panic like other animals.

  24. #24 uncle frogy
    February 7, 2008

    I have to agree it is amazing how “materialist” those who profess creationism are. I do not understand the obsession with disputing evolution in terms of science and reason. In doing so they have to distort reality until it is unrecognizable from fantasy!

    It would seem to me that it is a matter of faith not reason and therefore completely different.

    prayer helps the one who is praying stay calm in such dangerous situations instead of fleeing in panic like other animals.

  25. #25 Reginald Selkirk
    February 7, 2008

    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

    And such policies are always made known before the meeting, not after the organizers realize how poorly they have performed.

  26. #26 uncle frogy
    February 7, 2008

    I have to agree it is amazing how “materialist” those who profess creationism are. I do not understand the obsession with disputing evolution in terms of science and reason. In doing so they have to distort reality until it is unrecognizable from fantasy!

    It would seem to me that it is a matter of faith not reason and therefore completely different.

    prayer helps the one who is praying stay calm in such dangerous situations instead of fleeing in panic like other animals.

  27. #27 uncle frogy
    February 7, 2008

    I have to agree it is amazing how “materialist” those who profess creationism are. I do not understand the obsession with disputing evolution in terms of science and reason. In doing so they have to distort reality until it is unrecognizable from fantasy!

    It would seem to me that it is a matter of faith not reason and therefore completely different.

    prayer helps the one who is praying stay calm in such dangerous situations instead of fleeing in panic like other animals.

  28. #28 Vitis01
    February 7, 2008

    I thought this was a tidy little summary of the problem with arguing with “them”:



    The fact that one may find alternative explanations unpleasant does not make them untrue. In his landmark book, Science as a Process (Chicago, 1988), David Hull pointed out that one characteristic of academic disputes is that your side can always know what it needs to know while your opponent’s side can never know what it needs to know.
    This leads to pointless name-calling, straw man-building and personal conflict. Many scientists would say that top-down causation does not provide an explanation of the phenomena that ID claims to explain. Impasse. This point does nothing to illuminate either side. Science has to be more than an endless cycle of verbal jabs.



    so since we both feel the same about each other maybe we should just compare results. I’ll show you my Tiktaalik if you show me yours.

  29. #29 ConcernedJoe
    February 7, 2008

    uncle frogy you win the coffee through the nose award for the day re: “prayer helps the one who is praying stay calm in such dangerous situations instead of fleeing in panic like other animals”

  30. #30 Don Smith
    February 7, 2008

    Re #9:

    What do you think the baptists would say if the tornadoes followed a gay candidates win and destroyed a gay bar?

    How do they know a gay candidate *didn’t* win? Rabid homophobia and all… ;)

  31. #31 Justin H.
    February 7, 2008

    Ah yes, Hans Driesch, my favorite example of the failure of “non-materialist” biology.

  32. #32 has
    February 7, 2008

    This Paul Nelson; he wouldn’t happen to be a crazy Pontiac salesman with a Trout fixation, would he?

  33. #33 The Disgruntled Chemist
    February 7, 2008

    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.

    There are real scientific conferences that do this (the Gordon Conferences, for example, or at least some of them). I think the idea is to encourage speculation and discussion within the field and hopefully come up with some interesting research directions. As Reginald (#23) pointed out, everyone comes to the meeting already knowing these terms.

  34. #34 Dutch Delight
    February 7, 2008

    She (Dr. Gauger) was then prompted by one of her colleagues to regale us with some new experimental finds. She gave what amounted to a second presentation, during which she discussed “leaky growth,” in microbial colonies at high densities, leading to horizontal transfer of genetic information, and announced that under such conditions she had actually found a novel variant that seemed to lead to enhanced colony growth. Gunther Wagner said, “So, a beneficial mutation happened right in your lab?” at which point the moderator halted questioning. We shuffled off for a coffee break with the admission hanging in the air that natural processes could not only produce new information, they could produce beneficial new information.

    Priceless!!

  35. #35 notthedroids
    February 7, 2008

    The Gordon Research Conferences are “stealth” science meetings, but are very up-front about it:
    http://www.grc.org/about.aspx

    Oh, and people present real science at them.

  36. #36 Omer Moussaffi
    February 7, 2008

    People, really, this is obvious. I’m surprised you didn’t understand it so far:
    The Discovery institute is part of a worldwide conspiracy. These ID people are all Communist Free Masons, and the conference was a cover up. Their evil intentions are clear. They want us to indulge in conspiracy theories, as we wreck our brains in futile attempt to decipher the meaning of this weird, secret conference. While we’re at it, there will be no one to stop them. They are going to take over the world!

  37. #37 Glen Davidson
    February 7, 2008

    Then again, isn’t it just possible that ID science has advanced so far that they want to keep it secret so that they can make a killing off of such superior science?

    OK, well, I couldn’t continue in that vein very long, due to alternations of excessive amusement and excessive bemusement.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  38. #38 Sven DiMilo
    February 7, 2008

    Driesch, unfortunately, went a little bonkers and proposed the idea of an entelechy

    …from which, of course, George Clinton was able to derive the immortal concept of Funkentelechy

  39. #39 oakfed
    February 7, 2008

    Re #32 – read the linked article. The meeting in question wasn’t actually affiliated with the Gordon Research Conferences, but may have been attempting to appear to be.

    “First, the good news. I learned upon arriving that the only connection between this conference and a real Gordon Conference was that is was being held in Boston, the ID co-organizer is named Bruce Gordon (no relation so far as I know) and the conference was being called a retrospective on the 1966 meeting. This was reassuring – the real Gordon Foundation was spending its money on relevant scientific issues rather than this.”

  40. #40 Jit
    February 7, 2008

    re #7 “Thank the lord we are okay.”

    “Thank the lord someone else died.”

  41. #41 HB
    February 7, 2008

    Really readable post and highly informative.

    Have to love that “you’ve just demonstrated what you were seeking to refute” moment.
    “So, a beneficial mutation happened right in your lab?”
    Prog Wagner seems to be a guy it would be fun to study with.

  42. #42 Tosser
    February 7, 2008

    At these meetings, are there any challenging questions asked or pointed criticisms made?

    One of the guys was a young earther, but others were almost certainly old earth creationists. This is a huge difference, and in real scientific discourse, such a difference would spawn debate. Do IDers ever argue over this?

  43. #43 AGG
    February 7, 2008

    healthphysicist @ 9:

    Same with Arkansas and Alabama. CNN’s ELECTIONS’08 web page looked quite ironic for a while. (Pity that I couldn’t get Alabama in the frame too).

  44. #44 Kevin
    February 7, 2008

    Long article full of details..I read half and bookmarked it.

    “They will forever remain a captive to the deranged
    processes of irrational religion.”

    Local paper had a story about a woman who was burned out of her house. bad thing right. Firemen saved them. She took out of the house a plastic copy of the Pieta and swore that it saved her. and it was reported in the NEWS article, without comment, that this was the SECOND time it saved her as it had previously cured her of cancer, which was confirmed by her doctor at the time.

    Insane. Bat Shit Insane.

    For a good discussion of god’s wrath re the tornados see:

    God’s Wrath

  45. #45 Crudely Wrott
    February 7, 2008

    “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.”

    Just like that, huh?

    I think the pressure is on the creos. Now would be a good time to keep it up. And to maybe bear down a little more.

  46. #46 firemancarl
    February 8, 2008

    “… Gunther Wagner said, “So, a beneficial mutation happened right in your lab?” at which point the moderator halted questioning.

    ZIIIIIINNNNGGGGG!!!!

  47. #47 phantomreader42
    February 8, 2008

    RE: #38

    Look for Mark Twain’s “War Prayer” if you haven’t read it already.

    “Oh Lord Our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells.”

  48. #48 isaac
    February 8, 2008

    “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.”

    Translation:

    This dog and pony show was such a disaster it’s gonna take us a year to quote-mine the hell out of it and make shit up so it doesn’t look like we have our heads totally up our asses. In the meantime, don’t breathe a word about what a train wreck this puppy was, so we can put out the Alice in Wonderland version for the easily-led rubes that eat up our crap and keep giving us money.

  49. #49 Greg Laden
    February 8, 2008

    The level of evidence required to make the argument that the entire ID community cannot be trusted has long ago been reached, but this is a kind of capstone on that perspective.

  50. #50 phantomreader42
    February 8, 2008

    “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.”

    Apropriate responses to this include, but are not limited to:
    No
    Hell No
    Hell Fucking No
    Go Fuck yourselves
    Bite my shiny metal ass
    Your Ignorance is not evidence
    I respectfully decline the invitation to join your delusion
    This is the real world, not Uncommonly Dense, you can’t just shove inconvenient facts down the memory hole
    Isn’t your imaginary god supposed to have some sort of problem with bearing false witness?
    You, sir, are an idiot
    HA-HA!

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