Tuesday, January 18, 2011

More Evidence that ID is NOT scientific

The post below that I am responding to is from a confirmed advocate of Intelligent Design. In fact he is SUCH a strong advocate of ID that he basically considers it to be inerrant. He’s never questioned a single claim ever made by any members of the Discovery Institute.

> In brief (and in the words of design theorist Stephen C.

> Meyer), "the theory of intelligent design holds that there

> are telltale features of living systems and the universe

> that are best explained by an intelligent cause - that is,

> by the conscious choice of an intelligent agent - rather

> than by an undirected process."

> With respect to the biological world, the science of

> intelligent design is committed to the following

> propositions (elucidated by design theorist William Dembski

> in "The Design Revolution" and paraphrased here by me):

Here we begin a list of things that supposedly show that ID is both true and scientific.
It is, in fact, neither.
One thing that we need to look at is how specific the claims of ID advocates are. One of the requirements of a truly scientific hypothesis is that it must be specific. If it is not specific, then it is not really testable.
I’ve had creationists tell me that God must have created nature because much of it is so “beautiful”.
But what does that even mean? How do you specifically and objectively define “beauty”? So clearly that is a non-scientific argument. (As a matter of fact, we probably evolved to develop a sense of beauty based on how the natural world looks. Regardless of how flowers looked, we would probably consider them to be beautiful because that’s how they look and we’ve grown accustomed to that look.)
The examples given below include many that strongly demonstrate how this requirement is not followed.
Evolution makes MANY very specific claims. An obvious example is the one that has come close to being a cliché:
Evolution would be falsified if a mammalian fossil was found in pre-Cambrian rock.
Note how specific that is, both in the type of fossil as well as in the age of the rock.
ID can't come close to matching any such thing. That's how we know that it is CERTAINLY not science and almost certainly untrue. (ID cannot be falsified.)
Also, of course, ID is competing against Darwinian evolution. So if ID is making some sort of claim or prediction, that claim must be something different from what Darwinian evolution would claim or predict. Otherwise there is no reason to discard evolutionary hypotheses in order to adopt ID.
Finally, a scientific hypothesis must make some claim about what we will find (or can guarantee something that we won’t find) in the future. If all it does is look at evidence retroactively then it is not science. Our understanding of cosmology allows us to understand what caused eclipses in the past. But it also predicts future eclipses. Similarly evolution looks at things that happened in the past, but then it applies its theories to that evidence and makes specific predictions about the future. ID can’t do that.
> 1) Specified complexity is a reliable indicator of

> intelligent design. (Note: Design theorists develop the

> concept of specified complexity in several ways, such as

> complex specified information, irreducible complexity,

> functional complexity, etc.)
Ironically, lack of specificity noted.
How "complex" does it have to be?
How "specified" does it have to be?
An ID advocate would point out that many words have been written describing “specified complexity”. But those many words don’t really apply. William Dembski has written many of them and he specifies in his “Explanatory Filter” that if an event occurs with a probability of less than 10-150 power then it is necessarily the result of design. The problem is that none of those calculations seem to apply when a specific genetic feature is found. No one ever seems to calculate the specific odds of that feature evolving or not. They simply point to it and insist that it must be the result of Intelligent Design.
Can anyone identify some specific species or family of animals that would exhibit this characteristic? Can someone say, for example, that some genetic feature will be found to be “irreducibly complex” before it is studied?
Of course not.
What specific genetic characteristic will exhibit this feature?
No ID advocate can say.
Darwinian evolution can make very specific predictions. Darwinian evolution didn't specifically predict DNA. But once DNA was discovered and sequenced, evolution could make very specific predictions about what will be found in specific samples of DNA in the future. Example: No primate will have a working GULO gene. If we find additional specimens of the so-called 'Hobbit' (Homo floresiensis) on islands in SE Asia and are able to sequence their DNA, as was done for Neanderthals, evolution says with certainty that it will not have a working GULO gene.
That's the sort of specific claim – involving a specific gene in a specific type of organism - which evolution can make. Clearly ID falls far short of making any such specific prediction. That's one of the many reasons why ID is totally useless.
Effectively this "prediction" [cough, cough] can be summarized like this:
In the future ID advocates will continue to use the God-of-the-Gaps argument.
To that extent, the prediction is guaranteed to come true.
Putting it another way, all this is saying in essence is that all living things will have intricate DNA that "does stuff". Genes "do stuff". In that sense this is also something that Darwinian evolution would predict.
**IF** some organism had a very non-intricate genome (say a few thousand base-pairs) that would falsify Darwinian evolution.
So Darwinian evolution also predicts that living things would have intricate DNA with genes.
Note that there is even reasonable to expect an Intelligent Designer would create genomes lacking intricacy. Often the most elegant designs are the simplest ones. A procedure in a computer program taking, say, three lines is often considered to be a "better" design than one that takes, say, ten lines. So there is no reason for intricacy to be a necessary consequence of Intelligent Design. Obviously this is a feature of living things that ID advocates are trying to embrace that doesn’t really support their claims.
> 2) Many biological systems and subsystems exhibit

> specified complexity.
Vague, and ironically "unspecified" assertion noted.
How "specified" is it?
How much "complexity" is needed?
“Complexity” (as synonymous with “intricacy) is not a necessary sign of Intelligent Design. If you compare a telephone pole to a typical oak tree, the oak tree is many orders of magnitude more intricate. But it is the telephone pole that is intelligently designed.
> 3) Undirected material mechanisms do not suffice to

> explain specified complexity in the biological world.
But Darwinian evolution is FAR from "undirected". It has a very powerful directional force called "natural selection". ID advocates should learn something about it. A Victorian gentleman named Charles Darwin wrote a few books about that subject. Before Darwin people made the very same argument that is being made here. After Darwin those same people recognized the existence of such a "directed" force – natural selection.
So this is also a prediction made by Darwinian evolution. So it doesn't count as an argument in favor of ID.
> 4) Intelligent design is the best explanation for

> biological systems and subsystems exhibiting specified

> complexity. (Note that ID doesn't concern itself with

> speciation, which is the central concern of Darwinian

> evolutionary theory.)
Wrong and wrong.
Intelligent design actually explains exactly NOTHING in the natural world. That's true of any "God of the Gaps" type of argument - which is all that ID is. Secondly, even the phrase "specified complexity" is totally meaningless because it is inconsistent to the point of being contradictory.
> To flesh out those propositions and give them

> scientific rigor, ID theorists use these tools:

> probability theory, recursion theory, stochastic

> process theory, information theory, bioinformatics,

> biochemistry, biophysics, molecular biology,

> microbiology, genetics, computer science,

> paleontology, Dembski's explanatory filter, abductive

> and inductive reasoning, and philosophy of science

> (to name only the tools that readily come to mind).
Wow. That's a LONG list.
Strange indeed that NONE of it supports ID and ALL of it supports biological evolution instead. Most obviously the “Philosophy of Science” doesn’t support ID! That philosophy says that scientific hypotheses must make specific predictions that can imply tests that could potentially falsify them. As we see here, there are no such specific predictions and, therefore, no such tests.
I don't see here a single example of how any of those things support ID in any way that evolutionary theories aren't also supported.
> ID also makes a number of testable predictions, such as:
> 1) Natural structures will be found that contain many

> parts arranged in intricate patterns that perform a

> specific function (e.g. complex and specified information).
Define "many". Is that ten? Is it 100? How about 1000?
Define "intricate". Exactly how many components are needed to meet this claim?
Define "specific".
Obviously this is complete non-scientific nonsense. There isn't a single word here that has, very ironically, any "specificity". Anything so vaguely defined can be matched by anything in nature.
We KNOW that "specified complexity" is intellectual and scientific nonsense. We also KNOW that "intricacy" says absolutely NOTHING about whether or not something is intelligently designed.
> 2) Forms containing large amounts of novel information

> will appear in the fossil record suddenly and without

> similar precursors.
Define "large".
Define "novel".
Define "information".
Also note that this claim doesn't demonstrate why this is necessarily a prediction of ID. Humans are intelligent designers. Their designs often change gradually over time. Look at a series of pictures of the Chevrolet Corvette for each model year from its inception until now. Automobiles are obviously intelligently designed. Yet these designs change gradually over time. So in what possible way are sudden design changes a necessary requirement of ID?
In fact, just about everything that humans have designed has changed gradually over time. Computer designs have changed gradually over time. Airplane designs have changed gradually over time. Even the human design of things like golf clubs has changed gradually over time. Gradual change over time is a much more common sign of intelligent design than not, at least if we look at humans designs.
At best, what we are talking about here are the imperfections in the fossil record and not evidence for or against ID or evolution. Clearly this is just another very obvious example of the "God-of-the-Gaps" argument - which is the sum total of ALL ID theories.
> 3) Convergence will occur routinely. That is, genes and

> other functional parts will be re-used in different and

> unrelated organisms.

Define "routinely".  Should we see it 90% of the time?  How about 50%?
Define "convergence". How closely do two genetic traits in two different organisms have to be in order to make them "convergent"?
Moreover, the natural world consists of MANY examples of places where such convergence would make complete sense to an "intelligent designer" but, instead, NO such convergence exists.
Using the example I often point to: fish and cephalopods (squids and octopi) have different eye "designs". Yet they live in precisely the same environment. This would seem to be a PERFECT opportunity for routine "convergence".
Alas. Fish have the same eye design as all other vertebrates. Cephalopods (squids and octopi) have a different eye design.
This would seem to represent a perfect opportunity for ID to make a specific prediction. It could predict that all organisms living in the ocean would have a “convergent” eye design. That would be actually testable and could make ID something like science. But, of course, ID can’t make specific predictions. That’s why ID is totally useless as well as not scientific.
Evolution has an explanation for these non-convergent designs. Eyesight provides very strong adaptive advantages for any organism capable of movement. I don’t even need to explain those advantages. So that once something such as a light-sensitive spot appears on an organism that, at least, allows night to be distinguished from day, it is easy to see how changes improving that spot’s ability to “see” would be strongly influenced by natural selection. But we would expect to see different “designs” if they were the result of different random genetic changes influenced by natural selection. That's precisely what we see.
ID has NO explanation.
Another example of non-convergent “designs” where we might expect them: cetaceans (whales, porpoises and dolphins) are comparable in size to sharks and they also move through precisely the same environment – the water in the oceans.
This would appear to be another perfect example of an opportunity for convergence in the design of their tails.
Alas. The tails of cetaceans move vertically. The tails of fish, including sharks, move horizontally. They are different, non-convergent "designs".
Evolution has an explanation. The tails of cetaceans evolved from the back legs of land animals. If you put your legs together it is obvious that they move more easily up-and-down than they do from side-to-side. That’s true for all mammals. So the proposed evolution of cetaceans from land mammals makes perfect sense in the context of the way that cetacean tails move.
ID, obviously has no explanation.
Convergence --> NO support for ID.
> 4) Much so-called "junk DNA" will turn out to perform

> valuable functions.
Define "much".
ID advocates can’t do so. This may be the single most egregious example of ID advocates lacking any specificity in their predictions.
If an ID advocate had said "most" instead of "much" then we would have an implied number - 51%. But "much"? What does that mean? How do we measure that? If 1% of “junk DNA” is found to be useful, that would mean that some 30 MILLION base pairs now have a function. You could argue that is “much”. But it would still leave well over 90% without a use. That would argue that our hypothesized 1% isn’t “much” at all. So, ID advocates are simply making a rhetorical argument rather than a scientific one.
Furthermore, how long do we have to wait? What if a century from now we haven't found "much" (whatever that means) functional junk DNA. What will happen? Clearly ID advocates will simply say that we have to wait longer.
Evwn evolutionists predict that SOME "junk DNA" will turn out to perform valuable functions. In fact it is the mainstream scientists - those who accept evolution – that are discovering these functions.
It is NOT the ID "scientists" [cough, cough] doing that sort of research.
So the difference between ID and evolution here is the difference between the definitions of the word "much" and "some".
> The above predictions are taken from:
> http://www.ideacenter.org/stuff/contentmgr/files/becbd98b35e8e07260d4e8e92784cbb/b/miscdocs/thepositivecasefordesign_v3.pdf

Clearly that web site is nothing but non-scientific nonsense.

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