Pharyngula

If you watch the Discovery Institute, you’ll discover they’re constantly playing games, trying to find that winning PR technique that will persuade the hapless ignorati. Some of them are effective, even if dishonest: “irreducible complexity” injected all kinds of misleading chaos into the brains of their followers, and “teach the controversy” was a potent slogan. They’ve been flailing about in recent years, trying to emphasize their pretense of scholarliness with tripe like West’s efforts to use pseudohistory to blame Darwin for Hitler, or Meyer’s farcical, long-winded distortions of modern biology in Signature in the Cell. Those haven’t worked so well.

The one thing that is always a constant, that has been true of everything the Discovery Institute has ever done, is that they don’t have any new ideas to offer, and everything is focused on being anti-evolution, or as they call it, anti-“Darwinism”. I really think that one of their big problems is that they’re actually anti-something-they-don’t-understand-at-all, so all their efforts fall flat. They especially fall flat with real biologists, who are gobsmacked that anyone would seriously say this crap.

Larry Moran discusses their latest venture. The new chant is non-adaptive order, a mysterious thing that could not possibly have evolved. And that’s the trip wire that always makes the ID creationists stumble: find something that you can say “that couldn’t possibly have evolved!” about, and they’ll stand about gape-jawed and staring, eager to agree.

Here’s their slick video, titled The Biology of the Baroque: the mystery of non-adaptive order. It is unbelievably stupid. Also, it’s as if they went shopping for the narrator with the thickest, poshest, stodgiest upper-class British accent to narrate it — it’s completely over the top.

Here’s the core logic of this argument. There are many features of living things that are elaborate and beautiful, but they are otherwise useless. But natural selection is purely utilitarian! Therefore, beautiful ornamentation Could Not Have Evolved.

So evolution should produce only the biological equivalent of sterile gray Soviet architecture, and if you find something that is the equivalent of a Baroque church, then evolution is refuted. This entire argument is built around what Michael Denton calls the fundamental assumption of Darwinism…that all novelties are adaptive. To which biologists around the world can only say, “Fu…wha?” in total confusion. That is not one of our assumptions at all. Novelties are going to arise as a product of chance mutation; if they are not maladaptive (and sometimes even if they are), they can spread through a population by chance-driven processes like drift. And some elaborate fripperies can acquire a selective advantage, like that example of Soviet architecture, the peacock’s tail, which this video actually uses as an example of non-adaptive order.

It’s an excellent example of creationists avidely embracing a counter-factual. All I can say is, please do continue to attack the fallacious idea that everything in evolution is adaptive.

Only…they do have one little problem. They’re going to have to rewrite their own history. For the past several years, they have been raging against the assertion by those damned “Darwinists” that the genome is full of junk DNA — that it contains huge amounts of non-adaptive order. That somehow, while the official dogma of the church of Intelligent Design has been that “Darwinists” have been promoting a heresy of non-adaptiveness of the genome, the new party line is going to be that “Darwinists” have always been promoting a strict line of omnipresent utilitarian functionality and adaptedness.

It’s going to get confusing. Here’s the old ID:

According to Darwinists, DNA is almost entirely junk – this is what is consistent with the view that creatures have evolved through a process of random mutation and selection

Since the mechanism of evolutionary change is based on genetic mistakes, evolutionists expect the genomes of certain species to be littered with useless DNA—essentially leftovers from the clumsy, unguided evolutionary process

A number of leading proponents of Darwinian evolution claim that “junk DNA”—the non-protein-coding DNA that makes up more than 95% of our genome—provides decisive evidence for Darwin’s theory and against intelligent design, since an intelligent designer would not have littered our genome with so much garbage

See, evolution is dead because it’s full of ideas about randomness and unguided evolutionary processes and genomes littered with garbage!

But here’s the new ID:

Denton presents a novel yet compelling vision of life on earth that modern biology has forgotten. He shows that the language of Darwinism, limited to adaptation and fitness, is bankrupt in the face of the most recent scientific knowledge.

See, evolution is dead because it’s limited to only talking about adaptation and fitness!

The authors of those old quotes are going to have to have their faces airbrushed out of the old official portraits, and may find themselves shivering in a gulag somewhere.

Nah, who am I kidding? Creationists have always been willing to swallow inconsistencies and contradictions. It’s in the Bible.

Comments

  1. #1 dean
    United States
    February 14, 2016

    It’s in the Bible

    That’s the key. If someone is foolish enough to buy into the shit-ton of internal contradictions, unsupportable historical descriptions, pro-slavery crap that is in the bible, buying the ever-changing list of lies put out by the leading creationists/id folks is simply all in a life’s work.

  2. #2 See Noevo
    February 14, 2016

    “I really think that one of their big problems is that they’re actually anti-something-they-don’t-understand-at-all, so all their efforts fall flat. They especially fall flat with real biologists, who are gobsmacked that anyone would seriously say this crap.”

    Perhaps the IDers’ apparent misunderstanding is due to evolutionary biologists’ changing the story of evolution.

    Maybe you can post a review of Suzan Mazur’s “The Paradigm Shifters: Overthrowing ‘the Hegemony of the Culture of Darwin’”, which appears to provide an overview of evolution theories’ evolving landscape.
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Paradigm-Shifters-Overthrowing-Hegemony-Culture/dp/0692526137/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1455184593&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Paradigm+Shifters

  3. #3 dean
    United States
    February 14, 2016

    Really sn? mazur is as stupid and dishonest as you are – look at her complete misrepresentation of what happened at the Altenburg conference Pigliucci led. (Well, an honest person would investigate these things – you are so devoted to your dishonesty and chosen ignorance that you have no problem ignoring facts.)

  4. #4 Larry Pahl
    STREAMWOOD, IL
    February 15, 2016

    If honest 5th graders were asked to judge if this vitriol or the polemic of the creationists was more scientifically (rationally) structured, I am sure they would choose the creationists. The thunder of your tone overpowers the whisper of its scholarship.

  5. #5 SteveP
    Planet Of Crazed Monkies
    February 15, 2016

    Well, I think that the DI should take out a patent on this video. It is the most amazing appetite suppressant that I have come across in some time. My bullshit detectors are now inflammed, the music loving part of my brain is cowering in fear, and my graphic appreciation center is enraged. Any appetite I may have had for food must now wait for my senses to calm down and my equilibrium to return. And that was after only about a minute, at which point I had to shut it off. Next time I want to Scalia some junk food, I am just going to resume this video where I left off today. Thanks!

  6. #7 john
    February 16, 2016

    One of the best ways to keep up with the BEST new ideas in ID is to watch what PZ gets his panties in a knot about. You can ell how much the new concept has hit a nerve is by how insulting his language is. He tries to use his rage to blunt his logic centers. Too funny!

  7. #8 Flint
    February 16, 2016

    What new ideas?

    Basically, this piece attacks “Darwinism”, which is characterized as the theory that every detail of every organism is an adaptation to something or other.

    Now, I doubt that even Darwin held this position, but since it’s a very long way from the theory of evolution, it’s hard to tell exactly what is being attacked here. It’s sure not biology.

    This is the equivalent of the Gauger/Axe experiments, where they hypothesize something dumb that no biologist has ever said or ever would say, CALL it evolution, show that it’s wrong, and say they have disproved evolution.

  8. #9 JoeG
    New England
    February 16, 2016

    Hey PZ, instead of bitching about ID why don’t you step up and demonstrate that natural selection, drift and neutral construction are capable of producing all of the biological diversity. If you do that then ID is falsified.

    However continually exposing your ignorance about ID and science isn’t going to do anything but expose you as an ignoramus.

  9. #10 JoeG
    February 16, 2016

    Novelties are going to arise as a product of chance mutation;

    That is the propaganda, anyway. And propaganda is not science.

  10. […] Descent linked to my criticisms of the Biology of the Baroque, Intelligent Design creationism’s latest misconception, that biologists believe every detail […]

  11. #12 Flint
    February 16, 2016

    Even if PZ could demonstrate in complete detail how selection, drift and other evolutionary mechanisms not only could but should produce all the diversity, this would not falsify ID, which could still be true.

  12. #13 dean
    February 16, 2016

    ID is, on its face, complete crap, since it is nothing more than fundamental creationism with different wording slapped on the front. Nothing in the area of science has come from the ID/creationist crowd, since in order to be among them you make a point of dismissing science.

  13. #14 Chris
    Salem, MA
    February 16, 2016

    The difference between science and creationism is that science looks at facts and draws a conclusion based on those facts. Creationists start with the conclusion and look for facts to support it.

  14. #15 dean
    February 16, 2016

    Good points Chris, but your final sentence of

    Creationists start with the conclusion and look for facts to support it.

    should really read

    Creationists start with the conclusion and make up facts to support it.

  15. #16 Flint
    February 16, 2016

    dean, it’s worse than that. Creationists support creationism by dreaming up ways to misrepresent some OTHER conclusion.

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  17. #18 MadScientist1023
    United States
    February 16, 2016

    “Hey PZ, instead of bitching about ID why don’t you step up and demonstrate that natural selection, drift and neutral construction are capable of producing all of the biological diversity. If you do that then ID is falsified.”

    It’s always amusing to see comments from people like JoeG. It almost seems like they expect over a century of scientific research to be crammed into one blog post. Perhaps instead of asking for an extended lesson on evolutionary biology, they could give an example of a testable hypothesis advanced by ID “scientists”.

  18. #19 G
    February 17, 2016

    The grand irony is that Taliban Christianity is accomplishing exactly the opposite of what it purports to intend. By pushing a rigid fundamentalism that’s overdosed on concrete thinking, they have created a vicious polarization of debate and put themselves on the losing side.

    There was a time when a decent plurality of rational people were moderately theistic in one way or another, and another decent plurality was approximately Deist. As long as all of that was basically abstract, there was no contradiction, with religion providing a framework for meaning and values, and science providing the concrete and testable description of the natural universe.

    But the Taliban version of Christianity has “created” or perhaps “unintelligently designed” an Atheist backlash of large magnitude. They’ve done more for the New Atheism than Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris combined.

    As for “teach the controversy,” sure, I’ll go there: teach Marxism and socialism in high school economics, right alongside capitalism. Checkmate!

  19. #20 Wizard Suth
    Canada
    February 17, 2016

    Micheal Denton: “Non-adaptive order is seen in something like a maple leaf, or leaf forms, where you have extraordinarily complex and beautiful patterns, for which you can’t imagine what function that pattern — specific function, that pattern serves.”

    His inability to imagine what function a pattern serves has no bearing on whether it actually serves a function. He’s presenting an argument from incredulity, just as Michael Behe has been doing for years.

  20. #21 EggyOfJHB
    Johannesburg, South Africa
    February 18, 2016

    How did you make it through the entire video?? I couldn’t even make it past 3 minutes. All the fallacies and misunderstandings caused me to pull some of my hair out.

    PZ … You’re made of sterner stuff than I.

    For the first article on the this blog I’ve read … thumbs up. Thanks to the SGU for sending me this way.

  21. #22 G
    February 19, 2016

    Wizard @ 20: “His inability to imagine what function a pattern serves has no bearing on whether it actually serves a function.”

    It may be that the function served by the pattern is parsimony of executing the steps needed for the growth of the organism. For example with the self-similarity that’s evident in fern leaves. Nature does parsimony, humans see pattern.

    For purposes of one’s own personal beliefs, one can attribute that parsimony to natural causes or to a deity, but personal beliefs are not the same thing as testable hypotheses.

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