Pharyngula

Your exactly accurate definition is still exactly stupid

One of the most common dodges used by Intelligent Design creationists is to use a vague definition of their subject so that critics have nothing specific too attack, and also so they can accuse anyone who disagrees with them of using a strawman argument. For example, they claim that organisms exhibit “specified complexity”, which cannot have evolved and requires a designer. If someone rightly points out that their definition of complexity is nowhere close to what real complexity theorists use, they can say, “Ah, but I’m talking about specified complexity, which is something different,” which leaves you adrift and wondering what the hell they’re talking about. I read that whole ghastly tome by Meyer titled Signature in the Cell, and he throws around that phrase willy-nilly and never bothers to define “specified”.

Now David Klinghoffer is complaining about Lawrence Krauss’s performance in a recent debate, claiming that he mischaracterized ID creationism horribly. Nowhere in the post does he tell us what Krauss said, and he’s also not quoted in the creationist post he’s citing, which is weird and annoying because they’ll just use the ambiguity to weasel away some more, but Klinghoffer does approve a given definition of ID creationism, saying this is exactly accurate.

In his opening statement Meyer defined ID as the idea that certain features of the natural world are better explained as the product of a guiding transcendent intelligence than as the result of unguided natural processes. By way of example he showed that new functional protein configurations, which Darwinian evolution must discover by chance, actually cannot be discovered that way. Not only that, but these proteins possess new and functional information — the sort of thing that in other contexts we always ascribe to intelligent causes. Therefore it’s reasonable to conclude that this biological information (and other information-rich features of life) also was the result of an intelligent design.

Well, good. The jello has been nailed to the wall, sorta. The premise of his post is that ID creationism’s critics ignore what ID creationists actually say, and instead claim that what the critic is saying they’re saying is stupid. Now we’ve got something exactly accurate from a creationist, so let’s take it apart and see why what they’re literally saying is stupid.

In his opening statement Meyer defined ID as the idea that certain features of the natural world are better explained as the product of a guiding transcendent intelligence than as the result of unguided natural processes.

OK, so where’s the evidence that this guiding transcendent intelligence exists? Why are you postulating it? And don’t try to tell me that the failure of unguided natural processes (a failure you haven’t yet demonstrated) implies the existence of your transcendent intelligence. If evolutionary processes don’t work, then my hypothesis that it’s done by love rays emanating from mysterious Planet Q, which is in orbit around the sun out beyond Pluto, ought to be the default fallback explanation. Oh, you don’t like that? I also have a theory about quantum vibrations guiding evolution, that should win. And if you reject that, I can invent a thousand others.

You cannot say that something is better explained by invoking a being you can’t define, can’t measure, can’t even show the slightest evidence that it exists. Show me your god’s hand in action — and don’t run away to that pretext that you didn’t say “god”. A guiding transcendent intelligence is as good a definition of a god as any other.

So that’s Stupidity #1: saying magic man done it, but trying and failing to cloak it in pretentious language like guiding transcendent intelligence. Same difference, guys.

By way of example he showed that new functional protein configurations, which Darwinian evolution must discover by chance, actually cannot be discovered that way.

I do not understand how you can claim a new functional protein configuration cannot be discovered by chance. These guys are big on saying that DNA is a string of digital information. It’s a sequence of nucleotides of 4 possible kinds. You can generate all possible combinations of X nucleotides made up of 4 kinds of nucleotides using a computer and a random number generator, have it tell you the sequence of the protein that would be synthesized from them, make the protein yourself, and see what it does. There is no obstacle anywhere in there. There are no forbidden combinations when you make them by chance.

It’s even easier when you start with a known functional sequence, and only change it one or a few nucleotides at a time. Again, no magic barriers.

This is Stupidity #2, the “You can’t get there from here” argument. There are sequences that are or may be impossible to get to by incremental selective processes, but as soon as you admit that chance processes operate, there is no sequence that is impossible. Just unlikely.

Not only that, but these proteins possess new and functional information — the sort of thing that in other contexts we always ascribe to intelligent causes. Therefore it’s reasonable to conclude that this biological information (and other information-rich features of life) also was the result of an intelligent design.

This is an argument that assumes its premises. It is not sufficient to say that we know intelligent causes can do something, therefore every time something happens it is due to intelligent causes. It is particularly egregious when a critic points out that single nucleotide changes can occur in DNA by chance processes, and the creationist waves his hand and claims that no, it was due to the action of an intelligent agent…and therefore the claim that all new information in proteins is a consequence of intelligent causes remains unchallenged.

That’s Stupidity #3, the standard question-begging and circular reasoning we always get. Apparently, cosmic rays, environmental teratogens, and accidents by DNA polymerase are all caused by intelligences and intent and design.

In fact, about the only thing that isn’t caused by intelligence, according to the geniuses at the Discovery Institute, is fracking. No sentient entities behind that, no sir!