Sigh. Sometimes anti-evolutionists are so tiresome

There are certain bloggers who can reliably be counted on to deliver the stupid. We've met several of them over the time this blog's been in existence. One such blogger, the born again Christian named LaShawn Barber, has been particularly good at it, although we've only met her a couple of times before, likening the NAACP to the white nationalist teen duo Prussian Blue as a means of trolling and saying rather odd things about Ted Haggard. Those were bad enough, but now she's even more out of her depth than usual as she decides to pontificate about something about which it is brain-fryingly obvious that she knows nothing.

Yes, she thinks she knows enough about evolution to criticize it. She even thinks she knows enough to call it a "delusion." She's wrong, of course:

One doesn't have to believe in the God of the Bible to hold the view that life's complexity is evidence of an intelligent agent. The idea that an undirected, random series of events caused something as wonderfully complex, specifically magnificent, and infinitely beautiful as life is, to put it mildly, ludicrous. Living things look designed because they were designed.

Here we go again. It's the old argument from incredulity. Just because Barber can't understand how evolution works, she finds it "ludicrous." Far more ludicrous is her arrogance in thinking that, just because she can't understand evolution, it must mean that a supernatural force did it. Then she further reveals her ignorance by asserting:

Contrary to common belief, ID is not a negative argument against naturalistic evolution. It's a positive argument for an intelligent designer based on observing the same informational properties in nature that are found in human-designed structures.

Darwinian evolution proponents twist themselves in knots trying to explain how something as complex and information-rich as a DNA molecule, for example, was the result of random processes. Utterly ridiculous. Information implies intelligence.

No, LaShawn, it is you who are utterly ridiculous. This sort of argument just gets old. For one thing, you can repeat the mantra that ID is not a negative argument against evolution all you want, but that doesn't make it so. That's really all ID is. For another thing, I'd bet that Barber hasn't the slightest clue what "information" is. Indeed, it would be hilarious to see her try to define the term in any scientifically meaningful way. In the context of her argument, she seems to be conflating "information" with "order." She's also parroting the usual antievolution crank arguments about DNA. I'm just glad she resisted the urge to use the same canards preferred by our favorite creationist neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Egnor, in which the metaphor of DNA as "language" is stated as if DNA actually were language. It's not. True, her blathering about "information-rich DNA" is basically the same thing, but I'm grateful she refrained from using the word "language." Finally, just because something "looks" designed doesn't necessarily mean that it is.

And don't get me started on the commenters in her post, who parrot the same old lies and distortion such as "evolution is a 'just a theory'" and the usual cast of characters.

In fact, it'd be quite entertaining to see LaShawn tell us exactly what criteria should be used to determine if a biological structure is "designed." Luminaries of "intelligent design" such as William Dembski and Michael Behe can't do it. In fact, they assiduously avoid getting too specific and concrete, because if they did they might actually generate a testable hypothesis and that's something they certainly don't want to do. After all, ID might then be subject to falsification, and that its advocates cannot permit.

At least Barber's honest about one thing. She clearly believes that God is the designer. Of course, so do virtually all prominent advocates of ID (the sole exception that I'm aware of being the Raelian cult). They're just too dishonest to come out and say it.

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Wait a minute -- one of her main arguments is, "I don't understand it, therefore it cannot exist"?! What twaddle.

That's why I like the late Stephen Jay Gould's essays: example after example of badly designed organisms. The cavalcade of examples says, "okay, have your incredulity about descent with modification and natural selection, but if these creatures were designed by God, then God is a lousy designer."

I give you credit for engaging issues like this with such rigor and clarity. Having had similar discussion with religionists myself, I appreciate the references (esp the classic Crick one) and the tight linear argumentation that you make.

One thing that I have concluded is that the existence of life on earth can be consistent with an intelligent designer, but it can also be consistent with evolution. To me, William of Occam's desire to look for the simplest answer (Occam's razor) dictates that evolution is much more likely. But no matter.

Another point: equating "Darwinism" with the opposite of ID is a bit simplistic. Darwin really only tried to explain the origin of speciation, not the origin of life itself. In his later writings he did intimate that perhaps an intelligent deity is in fact unnecessary to the schema he laid out, but that was not his argument in Of the Origin of Species.

Morons like Barber exist everywhere, kudos to Orac for having the energy and inclination to engage her (or him?). The real issue in my mind is public school curricula. How is my tax money being spent? Fortunately, every major court case, when looking at the evidence from science, has decided against ID when it comes to the education of the next generation. Unfortunately, 40% of US citizens still do not understand evolutionary science.

Grodge, I'll respond - I'm a HS science teacher.
Public school curricula - at least in my state - is evolution-based. The problem is that we have students whose parents / pastors / etc have told them over and over that if they accept evolution as truth, they're going to hell. Half the time, they have the kids print off Jonathan Wells' crap and bring it in to "ask their science teachers" (never mind that the kids don't even understand most of the questions). They are creationists of every stripe, including IDers, young earthers, and even (in my experience) one memorable flat earther.
And these people are constantly challenging the teachers... standing up in the middle of open house presentations to ask why we teach evoution, etc. The kids will raise their hands at the first mention of Darwin to ask if we have a personal relationship with Jesus. Anonymous pamphlets about religion seem to mysteriously appear in our mailboxes. It gets draining. While I react by getting more and more determined to teach evolution, you can imagine that it's not as easy for beginning teachers or teachers who don't have support from their colleagues, administrators, or school boards.
What we NEED is support from parents and community members who are among the 60% who understand evolutionary science. (I think I've heard that stat to be lower, Grodge, but I can't cite it.) We need THOSE parents to be the ones standing up at open house to support us. We need them to call the admins and say, "Wow, your staff is doing a great job with evolution, we think it's important, etc." We need them to be writing letters to the local papers when the IDiots start their own campaigns. Otherwise it starts to feel like we're all alone.

"One thing that I have concluded is that the existence of life on earth can be consistent with an intelligent designer,"

Or an unintelligent one. The fact that much of the "design" in nature has a distinct Rube Goldberg flavor to it, could be seen to imply that the designer is Yaldaboath, the blind demiurge of Gnostic lore. It's an assumption of the ID folks that the designer they speak of actually knows what it's doing. An examination of manufactured goods would show this isn't always true of real designers, so why would it necessarily be true of imaginary ones?

You evilutionists are so smug and arrogant, thinking your opponents can't list the requirements for a definition of design:

*Interchangeable parts. That's obviously a hallmark of virtually all known cases of design.

*We should see an excess of right angles, circles, squares, and the like. Structures like pistons fit with extraordinary precision in cylinders.

*Designed things have easily identified purposes. Cups are for drinking, cars are for going from place to place.

*Designed stuff is almost always labeled with patents, copyrights, logos, etc.

Eat that!

What exactly is so "complex" about DNA, anyhow? There are tons and tons of far more complex, polymerizing molecules. If anything, it's the simplicity of DNA that makes it as flexible and variable as it is. Complexity, in fact, often works to limit variability.

I mean, four bases, phosphate and simple sugar and there you have it. What's so complex about that?

A particular DNA polymer might be complex by itself, but so what? What's more complex, a designed statue or a large pile of broken rocks? We can recognize that a statue is designed because of it's simplicity, not because of its complexity, in comparison to a heap of random rubble. The pile of rubble can certainly contain far more information, too, depending on what sort of information is being sought after.

ID is what you get when you cross incredulity with absolutist thinking. A complex heap of rubble, sure... but what information does it contain?

Ever notice that anti-thinkers (oh, sorry, anti-evolutionists) frequently cannot even manage rudimentary grammar, orthography, or syntax?
"you evilutionists". Is that a Freudian slip or just another of the trillion arguments against 'intelligent design'? Talk about flawed organisms!

So bad are the arguments, I'm pretty sure that ngong is making fun of "intelligent design" creationists. The last part about "patents, copyrights, and logos" seems to me to be a dead giveaway.


What's the purpose of the crystaline cube known as NaCl, right angles, squares, and labeled SALT? And please don't tell me that the purpose of it is to pass smoothly through the holes in the salt shaker when you shake it! Also, don't oversalt it when you eat it ;)

By S. Rivlin (not verified) on 02 Dec 2007 #permalink

I must admit, Orac, that I fell for ngong's post. My bad!

By S. Rivlin (not verified) on 02 Dec 2007 #permalink

Ms. S:
Thanks for your perspective from the classroom. I'll make a resolution to become involved in the local school board, although this is a fairly enlightened college town and I wonder how much push back the ID'ers exhibit. I'll find out, I promise.

You state: "Or an unintelligent one." Sure, but who are we to really know the nature and purpose of creation. Even Darwin didn't go there. Perhaps this Rube Goldberg existence we experience has some higher intelligent design. Who knows? The strongest argument against ID, in my opinion, is that it is not science, has no resemblance to science and should not be equated with science or taught in science class. ID, in all its various flavors, is a belief system. Period.

Hey, my city's enlightened too - we are home to an excellent liberal arts college. Appearances on the outside can be deceiving, though. It's the megachurches on the outskirts of town that cause most of the problems, though... find your fundie churches, and you'll find people who'll push back.

I have long suspected that the REAL reason for so many Americans to favor ID is that once the identity of the designer is known he can be sued for bad design.
How dare he design us with teeth that decay under sugar-influence and make us like sugar at the same time?
( I think everybody I know would find reason to criticize that design : I am shortsighted and diabetic. I want my monetary compensation! )
If complexity beyond ordinary understanding is a sign of intelligent design I nominate any Microsoft Operating System ( from Dos 3.3 onward ) and the income tax form as proof that some higher intelligence has made those.
As for foreign policy ( in practically any country known to me ) ...
off-topic : alternative medicine :…

One doesn't have to believe in the God of the Bible to hold the view that life's complexity is evidence of an intelligent agent. The idea that an undirected, random series of events caused something as wonderfully complex, specifically magnificent, and infinitely beautiful as life is, to put it mildly, ludicrous. Living things look designed because they were designed.

When I was 13, before I had heard the word "atheist", before I really knew what evolution was, I would look at a grasshopper, or a bumble bee, or a bladderwort and honestly think to myself "no one could make something this complex." This was a very natural response to me at the time, and I find it deeply ironic that grown adults make the exact opposite conclusion.

In response to an earlier comment - it honestly seems (I have no statistics on that, however) that creationists often lack basic grammar and spelling skills (or the ability to rely on the MS word or their browsers' spell check). And like ngong up there, they often seem very spiteful, angry and childish ('evilution' - doubt it's a Freudian slip, but rather an immature outburst, just like 'eat that').

*Designed stuff is almost always labeled with patents, copyrights, logos, etc

... if I see a neuron with 'made in heaven' stamped on it, I'll let you know. ;) I kind of wonder whether ngong is just being sarcastic, though. Doesn't sound like something a cintelligent design proponistist would say to begin with... but you never know.

Petra, Clearly you have not read the works of the famous german Theologian/biologist/mathematician/homeopathist Karl Von Fleishspieler ph.d.

He has show that using complex math (the language of god) to decipher the quantum pattern of the neurons in every human brain it spell out the whole bible! The true word of GOD in every humans DNA, now if thats not proof I dont know what is.

"Petra, Clearly you have not read the works of the famous german Theologian/biologist/mathematician/homeopathist Karl Von Fleishspieler ph.d.

He has show that using complex math (the language of god) to decipher the quantum pattern of the neurons in every human brain it spell out the whole bible! The true word of GOD in every humans DNA, now if thats not proof I dont know what is."

Oh, yeah? Well, I've got an autographed 1st Edition of the Bible! Er, though, it seems to be in English... hmmm... never mind...

God did write the bible in english, it was just translated into Hebrew and greek by jews who was Gods true instrument, but, sadly, didnt understand english. So God had to translate it for them until Gods real chosen people, the Americans, came around and King James made a bible inspired by God as it was originally supposed to be.

The Herr Doctor was rather suprised that it was in english, but Gods plan is clear.

I am an agnostic, but:

1) Doesn't Goedel sorta imply that there are truths and falsehoods within a closed universe that are formally undecidable?
2) At least, LaShaun has Occam's Razor working for her.

I guess I would think of an intelligent deity as a very complicated explanation for creation. William of Occam would prefer the simpler answer of evolution.

"Doesn't Goedel sorta imply that there are truths and falsehoods within a closed universe that are formally undecidable?"

Yes, Goedel's results are that any formal theory powerful enough to axiomatize basic arithmetic on the natural numbers will contain a statement that is not provable or disprovable with the system (and, furthermore, that the undecidable proposition is equivalent to the consistency of the formal theory). Mind telling me what this has to do with the subject?

That "intelligent deity" explains more than just evolution.

Last time I checked, most bloodlines of deity are credited with first cause creation of "life, the universe and everything".

You can't get much simpler than that.

And last time I looked, evolution wasn't exactly simple.

"That "intelligent deity" explains more than just evolution."

No, it doesn't actually "explain" anything. It conjectures a completely untestable claim wrought with unfounded assumptions. That is why it violates Occam's Razor. It is unparsimonious, even if it can be simply stated.

Yes, I wrote the list of design requirements in jest. While meeting the challenge of "defining design", it should be obvious that biological organisms don't meet these requirements at all.

It's odd that some folks can't see the ruse.

For Occam, "complexity" is defined in terms of "multiplication of entities". That is, the more elements you need to explain something, the less good the explanation is. The desire to reduce these entities is called parsimony (from the same root as the word "parse").

Looking at the world we see, evolution is necessary. It occurs in real time. We watch it happening. New species form every year.

So, there is no way to explain the world we see without evolution. Therefore, there is no more parsimonious explanation than one that includes evolution.

An explanation that involves evolution *and* god is less parsimonious than one that involves evolution only. So, Occam's Razor rejects the explanation with God unless and until something that actually requires God/gods/goddesses/tzergwap is discovered.

I wouldn't hold my breath.

As for Ngong... There is *no* argument against evolution so bad, so utterly stupid, so completely insane, that some creationist won't insist it's completely true. I tried spoofing creationism a few years ago with an argument about how volcanoes proved evolution was false because if evolution was true, all animals would have evolved immunity to them by now.

Two creationists emailed me to thank me for the great argument and said they'd continue to use it in the future. A week after, I found someone at AIG's blatherfest had actually made the argument before I did.

You cannot spoof creationism because they're self-spoofing. This, of course, is their best feature. I couldn't have stood arguing with creationists all these years if it wasn't for intermittent assertions that oak trees can run up hills, intact coral reefs can float, and the existence of bats with imperfect radar doesn't show that bats with imperfect radar can exist.

By Michael Suttkus, II (not verified) on 02 Dec 2007 #permalink

The thing to remember with Ockham's razor is that 'simple' doesn't mean 'simple to explain in English'. God is actually a very complicated concept: a vastly powerful being with the knowledge necessary to create the entire diversity of life as it exists today. Such a being would be necessarily more complex than the life it created.

Evolution just relies on variation, heritability and limited resources. It is much simpler.

I kind of like the idea of a Rube Goldbergian creator...

The problem with creation stories is they rely on magical thinking, and that's a crazy way to think...It means these people can be conned into believing anything, which seems to be exactly the case in the world.

Hmm. I sorta stirred up a hornets nest, didn't I.

First, about Occam's razor. Michael makes good points, so I concede that given the world is as it is cataloged by those humans who make it their hobby to study those things, a god is an unnecessary entity. That explanation works for me given initial conditions of a planet with carbohydrate soup, sunlight and a reasonably energetic electromagnetic environment.

But we always get back to "event one", and nobody even pretends to know what did that, (except the various religions).

Tyler: As for Godel, I intended my audience to draw the parallel inference that perhaps there is a God, (or Gods) but it (or they) is (are) a formally undecidable proposition. Of course you could refute me by proving that everything within our universe can be known....

But we always get back to "event one", and nobody even pretends to know what did that, (except the various religions).But they never explain who designed The Designer, in a Universe where everything is Designed.

"Doesn't Goedel sorta imply that there are truths and falsehoods within a closed universe that are formally undecidable?"

Um, is the universe a formal system? Is it sufficiently powerful to represent number theory? If it were, what would the impact of Godel's proof actually be?

By Ginger Yellow (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

*Designed stuff is almost always labeled with patents, copyrights, logos, etc.

That would explain the nose hair I pulled out with a bar code on it, I guess....

Bar, the argument that science can't explain the first "Event one" can be applied equally well to your argument (which in short is "God = event one"). What caused God? If he is event one there has to be a cause for him under your argument. Religion has just as little to say about what caused God and Astrophysists have to say about before the big bang. Everything I've seen has said that before the big bang is a meaningless question anyway, on par with "what's south of the south pole?"

By Future MD (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

Of course some creationists will fall back on the sin argument, namely that all the creatures of the world were perfectly designed, but the introduction of sin ruined that perfection.


Yes, I'll concede that it is trivially possible for god(s) to be a formally undecidable proposition. For that to be even the slightest bit relevant you'd have to lay out a proof that it is the case. Goedel proved it for consistency in sufficiently powerful formal theories, Turing proved it for the halting problem. No one, to my knowledge, has formally proved it for god(s).

"Of course you could refute me by proving that everything within our universe can be known..."

Well, no. The burden is on you to prove the assertion.


Being agnostic doesn't mean I believe in a god, and it does not mean that I am a god denier either.

Astrophysicists can't say what happened before "event one" because time and space as we know it started then. So yes, in that sense it is meaningless to talk about "before" event one.

Warning. I am going to get a bit metaphysical here.

We share the commonality of having minds that evolved to survive on a mostly 3D environment in what is mostly admitted to be a 4D universe. The blokes who look at the nano end of things seem to want up to 13 dimensions to describe some of the particles or strings or whatever it is that they think that they "see".

I remember reading (I think it was Hubble) trying to describe his image of the universe, (which was, to paraphrase, "an expanding balloon, the skin of which had our 3D universe"). Or try to imagine a particle that can go through two side by side holes at once, and don't even mention half dead cats.

So I admit a failure to intuitively comprehend what I believe are the realities of our own 4D universe.

So maybe nothing was, strictly speaking, "before event one". because that "time" was outside our own universe's "time". However I have enough sense of my own mental limitations not to exclude the possibility of events "before" event one, let alone an intelligent entity.

Something highly complex had to be designed. God is highly complex. Who designed god?

Seems to me that's the bottom line (nor is it, of course, original with me.) It seems much more absurd to believe that someone as complex as to have designed and built everything we see, just happened and was always there. Seems more easy to believe that the materials existed, and life happened therefrom.

For a very well-done article on how retroviruses (among other things) confirm evolution, click here.

Ah, the "sin caused imperfections" argument is loads of fun! Let's look at some of the imperfections.

The human testes form in the abdomen, then move through the pertineum (the lining of the abdomen) to reach their final resting place. This is a badly imperfect process, leaving a badly patched hole into the lining that sometimes needs surgical correction.

So, what is perfect? Did our edenic ancestors have their testes form directly in the scrotum? If so, then we must have EVOLVED an improvement! After all, the mechanism that dissolves a hole in the pertineum is an improvement, as is the patch (bad as it is). Creationists tell us that evolution can't lead to an improvement, so that's clearly out. So, we must have started out with the testes forming in the abdomen, and God's design begins as incompetant!

Whales are loads of fun. Having a breathing system that requires surfacing is clearly imperfect, but creationists have no prayer at all of finding a "perfect" ancestor for it to have devolved from. The only place an air-breathing system could be a good idea is on land, which means the whales either started off very badly adapted to land (what, with having fins instead of legs) or badly adapted to the water. Either that, or they evolved some serious changes that creationists deny are possible.

They can claim "sin led to imperfection!" all they want, but it won't save them. But, then, nothing will but ignorance.

By Michael Suttkus, II (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink


That's a good point! Who designed the Designer? And then, who designed the designer of the Designer? It's an infinitely recursive loop!


I suppose the whales could have just been another one of the Designer's bad plans - so bad that they gave up trying to live on land and moved to the sea. After all, it must have been really hard for the baleen whales to feed - they're just not built for chasing insects on land.

No matter how open I try to make my mind, I keep seeing the "Designer" as some sort of bumbling first-year bioengineering student, with Life on Earth as his/her/its end-of-term project that they finished up in a bit of a hurry (maybe they turned it in late for partial credit).

That would explain why he/she/it put a quadruped spine in a biped (ran out of time) and why the mammalian retina has the vessels in front of the light-sensitive cells, while the squid and octopus eyes have the vessels behind the light-sensitive cells (came up with a better idea but didn't have time to reinstall it in all animals).

It would also explain the large number of just plain screw-ups, like partially deleting the same part of the vitamin C sythesis pathway in all the Primates and deleting a different part in the Guinea Pig (that enzyme system must be a bear to install - lots of small parts in a crowded part of the genome, maybe).

I think that I'd be more willing to discuss "Intelligent Design" if its supporters would at least acknowledge that the "Designer" was pretty inept.


The "sin causes imperfection" argument is actually ancient Hebrew philosophy -- even though it's seemingly contradicted by the book of Job (which argues that bad things might sometimes happen to good people, but when they do, it's because God is testing them to prove a point to Satan about how wonderful those people are). The ancient Hebrews -- going right up to the time of Jesus -- strongly believed that if you had any infirmity, or your crops failed due to drought, or you were poor, or whatever, it was because you deserved it. That was how they reconciled the idea of a perfect, omnipotent Creator with an imperfect world. The logical conclusion from this is that any difficulties we face in the world today is because we humans at some level deserve them -- thus, the original authors of Genesis wrote that Eve would have trouble with childbirth because of the whole fruit thing, and so on.

Many Christians today still feel this way, which is ironic, because one of the big messages that Jesus brought was that this whole line of reasoning is flawed; you shouldn't condemn a person just because something bad happens to them. It seems clear to me that bad things must not be something God caused to happen, if He still loves us despite them. So why does He let them happen? I think it must be because suffering is part of how the world functions -- which leads me to the conclusion that evolution is entirely compatible with Christian teachings. You aren't better or worse because of how you were born, which is exactly what evolution says. You're just different. The interesting question (from this standpoint) isn't how you came to be the way you are, it's what you're going to do with what you've got.

Creationists, in my opinion, are not only ignoring the overwhelming evidence in favor of evolution, but they also have the cart seriously before the horse with respect to their own religion.

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 05 Dec 2007 #permalink

If intelligent design is a science, shouldn't we be able to ask why the intelligent designer did certain things and made such decisions in its design? Evolution can, and does. Any particular organism is a sum of effects from selective pressures, and the mystery of evolution is to go back and find out what those pressures were. However, organisms don't necessarily evolve as one cohesive whole... sometimes mutations occur that cause conflict and it's the organisms that have ways to deal with this conflict that are able to breed.

With that said, check out what this commenter on LaShawn's blog had to say about design at its best (Jezla 11.19.07 at 8:50 PM):

"I recently read an article online somewhere (on some science feed) that described how a developing baby and its placent produce enzymes or something that defeat the mother's immune system which would otherwise attack the baby as a foreign intruder to the body. I never thought of such a thing before, but it makes since, since the baby has its own unique DNA. Such finely worked details about life can't possibly be the result of some evolutionary accident."

What designer in its right mind would design an organism that actually attacks its own offspring in utero?