Disco. fever in the brain

Shorter Richard Sternberg for the Disco. ‘Tute: Ayala and Falk Miss the Signs in the Genome:

We should learn how to do science by watching movies.

For reference, actual Sternberg:

In this and subsequent posts, I will provide other sorts of evidence that so-called “junk DNA” is not junk at all, but functional.

We have all seen a variant of the plot in a movie. A strange signal appears…On the BeachContactSigns…. a Coca-Cola bottle… which sometimes leads to a telegraph key being tapped … a complex set of encrypted data with an intricate mathematical pattern…crop circles …

Now, the reason we are drawn in by such stories is obvious: The signals have serious implications for the characters. It could mean the survival of mankind after a thermonuclear war; it could mean that there are other sentient beings in the universe. That is why we would quickly lose interest in the plot if, say, in every scene where a scientist appeared before an important governmental group and said, “The outer space signal contains over sixty thousand, multidimensional pages of complex architectural plans,” she were countered with, “This is exactly the predicted outcome of billions of years of cosmic evolution—you see, random interstellar events lead to just this kind of complex specified information…we are not impressed.” We would want our money back.

Sooo… ID is true because it would be a bad movie otherwise? Nerdy scientists make bad movie characters so we should pretend they don’t exist?

There’s a name for people who can’t tell the difference between fiction and reality, and a name for people who insist there are patterns revealing secrets all around us. Being willing to call some things random is a hallmark of sanity. Consider the case of noted paranoid schizophrenic John Nash, as presented in A Beautiful Mind:

He sees connections everywhere, patterns within patterns within seeming randomness. As he told PBS:

In madness, I thought I had a very important role, and, of course, that includes the messenger-type function. … I saw myself as being a messenger or having a special function. …

At a very early time I got the idea that I would receive a message somehow. Later on I felt that I might get a divine revelation by seeing a certain number that would appear. A great coincidence could be interpreted as a message from heaven.

Compare this to Sternberg’s argument:

Aren’t these correlations a bit strange for genomes that supposedly consist mostly of junk and are constantly being corrupted by “degenerative processes”? Why do such “obnoxious sequences” have any kind of conserved higher-order “bar code” pattern? These facts of mammalian chromosome biology have been known for years, if not decades. But, alas, no mention of them is to be found in the literature that wants to emphasize the unintelligent design of our genome. To make up for this lack, then, I am going to discuss such facts in more detail after I show you the mystery signal tomorrow.

Now, I’m not claiming that Sternberg is anything – paranoid schizophrenic or scientist – like John Nash. I’m saying that the ID argument is hard to distinguish from the ravings of paranoid schizophrenics. I mean, Stephen Meyer’s book is Signature in the Cell, not so far a reach from Nash’s “messenger-type function.” Bill Dembski’s entire ID career is based around deciding just how big a coincidence has to be to be considered a message from heaven. And to make that argument, Dembski loves to cite movies, books, and the ravings of Bible Code fans. He hears books shouting at him. Paul Nelson has conversations with doodled figures in his notebook. Other IDolators point to Sherlock Holmes as an example of how science works.

These people are all nice folks and sane, but their arguments are crazy.


  1. #1 Anton Mates
    March 17, 2010

    I think we can trust Richard Sternberg and the IDers to tell us what makes a crappy movie. After all, they do have first-hand experience.

  2. #2 J-Dog
    March 17, 2010

    Beautiful post – Your point about IDers seeing design in everything is excellent IMO, and I will make it part of my future anti-ID arguments. And it’s always good to be reminided, and to remind others about Dembski’s Bible Code Fail.

  3. #3 Mystyk
    March 17, 2010

    “Other IDolators point to Sherlock Holmes as an example of how science works.”

    Oh, I really hate this claim when I see it. As you apparently agree, Sherlock Holmes was never acting as a scientist. Instead, he was a cross between an intelligence analyst and a police detective. “Whodunnit” is a world away from “How things work.”

  4. #4 Glen Davidson
    March 17, 2010

    Yes, I’m wondering how all of us can miss the obvious cell’s signature. I mean, it’s all right, uh, well, in there some place if you apply the right statistics and wrong assumptions.

    Can’t find it? Bigot, close-minded atheist (TEs don’t exist when they’re in their atheist-hunting costumes).

    That’s the DIsco in a nutshell.

    Glen Davidson

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