Friday, July 28, 2006

Designer or No Designer? by Nicholas Trevor

Designer or No Designer? Or Why I Will Not Accept ID

You could call this discussion a 'back to basics' one…if we strip the evolution-ID debate of all the details, then we are ultimately left with one basic question: was there a designer/were there designers involved in the evolutionary process (I don't think there is a debate whether evolution did actually occur, it is about whether the evolutionary mechanisms involved are sufficient to account for the entire process, as we know it), whether from scratch, sometime in between, or even at present. Let's leave the nature of the 'designers' aside for a minute: what needs to be considered here is that they were 'intelligent' and they 'consciously' made actions that resulted in these processes (I am using 'intelligence' and 'consciously' as terms that we generally accept). The other option obviously would be whether the myriad of biological mechanisms observed are capable, by themselves, for resulting in a process that ultimately resulted in the diversity of life forms present today.

Of course, the notion that we were 'designed' in that sense is nothing new. After all, folklore in most cultures was that humans were created by God/s in some way or the other. That was the generally accepted worldview, which continues even to this day. For many people, the thought that the complexity of the biological world, with its interconnections can never be accounted for by the so-called 'blind' or 'unintelligent' natural processes. Darwin's ideas were thus revolutionary in the sense that he made observations that showed a chain of events that linked different species over time. He had no understanding of genetics, which would later show how much genetic material we share, in spite of morphological differences with other animals. Over a hundred years down the line, his ideas persist, and are still as controversial as the day they were born.

That the scientific theory of evolution is 'godless' and 'morally unacceptable' is a commonly held notion from Darwin's days. I personally think that most people, who argue for the 'designers' to be present, are bound by this conviction, and are not genuinely trying to advance scientific understanding. Such people try to put up a scientific façade for their 'designer' argument, and this is extremely dishonest. These include the majority of the DI stable. I think the people who genuinely try and make scientific arguments (by scientific, I mean testable hypotheses) are far and few, and they realize that they can never win the argument when it comes to who or what the designer was. After all, how many ID'ers sincerely argue the option that the designer would have been an advanced race of aliens? The oft asked question is that why does the designer have to be a Christian god? Why not others? (I see religion as a social construction and since this is not a debate about religion, so I will leave at these comments) It is an open secret that many of the people in the ID movement carry a negative assumption about evolutionary theory because it stands at odds with their religious beliefs. Thus they try to prove it wrong in many ways: whether through outright denial or through more nuanced arguments, where they try to flesh out the cracks. (The 'god of the gaps' argument). Unfortunately, religion and science do cross paths when people feel that the beliefs espoused by either of the two are at odds with each other. It is easy to say that they should be kept separate, but is more difficult in practice.

For these people, problems in the understanding of the evolutionary theory are seized upon as the evidence for an ID 'theory'. This is the reason why, I would never accept Behe's arguments for ID. Using the example of a bacterial flagellum as an example is a wonderful case of intellectual laziness. If our current level of knowledge is insufficient to definitively account for all the aspects surrounding its evolution, would we rather try and find other possible natural mechanisms, or just assume that they are designed?

On the other hand, if we were designed, how would we know? In my opinion, and in this particular case -- not until the designers explicitly reveal themselves to us. We can argue all we want (in the current situation) that X is the sign of the designer or that Y shows proof of a designer, but then none of these can scientifically hold water. I am confident that our understanding of these gaps will continue to improve. I make this argument without the assumption that science can take a know-it-all attitude, or that science can make decisions about the moral implications of certain findings. Contrary to this, I think people need to make informed judgments about the moral and ethical consequences. And these need not come from religion. People can see an image of Jesus wherever they want to, but are these definitive proofs that he is giving us a sign?

I think we are scratching the surface of our understanding as how life has evolved on this planet. I also think knowledge is slowly converging from various disciplines. Take Stephen Wolfram, for example. Although I am not fond of quoting him, he hammers home a single important point in his book A New Kind of Science: complexity can arise from the use of very simple rules. This is overwhelmingly seen in computer simulations (interestingly Wolfram emphasizes that the diversity of species we see today can be better explained by self-organizing processes rather than natural selection, however, he is trained as a physicist and not a biologist. Personally, I think self-organization has a much larger role to play in evolutionary biology, and we are only beginning to discover this). One can use this model to see, for example, how complex biological structures may 'emerge', without being entirely 'programmed' (for the lack of a better word). I think that there are many mysteries in the evolutionary process, and they will not be solved for a long time to come. To embrace ID would be to underscore our weaknesses in accepting the evolutionary challenge.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Intelligent design, an obituary

I first heard of ID not much over a year ago. Early on in my voyage of discovery, I registered at Dembski's blog, Uncommon Descent, and posted a question along the lines of "Could Dr. Dembski give a definition of Intelligent Design for a layman?". I was disappointed to see my comment did not appear and my registration was cancelled, such was my naivety back then.

I found the build up to the Dover trial fascinating, following events on Pandas Thumb. I had email exchanges with Mark Perakh, David Wolpert, Robert Shapiro, K. John Morrow and others (whose courtesy highlighted Dembski's attitude to his many critics) and joined in the elation at the resounding common-sense judgement.

I am convinced ID met its Waterloo with that judgement, and there is no possibility that "Intelligent Design" can ever again be touted as a scientific concept in the real world beyond the fundamentalist ghettos.

Now I am finding it hard to remain excited about the remaining rump of ID proponents, still trotting out the same tired old arguments at ISCID and ARN for example. Behe has retired form the field, there is no-one with any similar credentials willing to argue the ID cause, and the void is filled by engineers, cranks and laymen. UD has even invited Professor Emeritus John A. Davison back to the fold, though goodness knows his many published web comments clearly show he has no love for or meeting of minds with Bill Dembski. The UD meltdown and morphing into undisguised Christian apologetics is a significant indicator of the failure of ID and the wedge strategy.

Someone pointed out that arguing science with ID proponents forces you to sharpen your own thoughts and improve your own scientific knowledge. I almost feel I have gone back to school, with all the new stuff I have learned by following the posts and links of other bloggers. PZ Myers'Pharyngula and Tara Smith's Aetiology, for example, are great places to learn about scientific progress. So I am grateful to ID for re-stimulating my interest in science, which I intend to maintain.

ID is, I believe, utterly discredited as anything other than a failed political strategy, and can be safely ignored. I don't expect to be worrying about ID taking over the World any time soon.

Does anyone think I am being complacent?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Intelligent Design: The Scientific Evidence.

Lord Timothy on another thread says "Now that the media spot light has been dimmed, more research is able to be done without huge public controversies and court hearings over every sneeze that IDists make."

There are many who would like to hear about "more research" or, in fact, any research.
Anyone with information about any possible, planned or ongoing research (preferably scientific) that is relevant to the "hypothesis" of Intelligent Design, please post it.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Recent Posts at John Davison's Blog

Alan Fox said...

Salvador on Uncommon Descent

my sincere apologies to Dr. John Davison, he notes at the EvolutionAndDesign weblog:

I proposed that marsupial and placental mammals were reading the same “prescribed” information as part of my recent paper - A Prescribed Evolutionary Hypthesis.

A Prescribed Evolutionary Hypthesis. was yet another pro-ID peer-reviewed paper that explicitly mentions ID.

Comment by scordova — July 13, 2006 @ 11:46 am

It's a shame that you are unable to participate in the thread, John. There is a parallel thread at ARN, but are you still unable to view there? I could start a thread on my blog on the subject and see if we could stir up some interest.

Come on, you know you want to.

8:52 AM
Salvador T. Cordova said...


On a purely technical note, I noticed you have only 1 thread going here at your website and at your old one.

Do you need technical assistance enabling multiple threads?

That would enable you to only have a few comments with each thread to deal with, and you won't have to start a new website every time.

If you start a thread on the Cornell ID Class at your old website "PrescribedEvolution", I'll be more than happy to reference it at IDEA GMU blog.

I will however direct all commentary to your weblog where you can moderate comments.

Because I consider you, Bill Dembski, and DaveScot my friends, I would prefer not to take sides in disputes. We all have a common opponent in the Darwinians, and I would rather focus my efforts at helping young minds see the truth at our nation's university.

I'm a creationist, and it has taken a while to warm up to your PEH. I hope you'll forgive the slow process, but I'm by nature cautious to accept new ideas, even sound ones.

Regarding, D'Abrera you might find this intersting:

He and Richard Sternberg (a double-PhD and also a victim of the Darwinians at the NCSE) collaborated on a periodic table of butterflies.

They were able to predict the morphological characters of species which had not even been discovered, and one can guess how exciting it was to eventally discover these predicted species in the field later on!!!!


9:06 AM
DaveScot said...


It's a dirty rotten shame that John couldn't abide by the rules at Uncommon Descent.

People get banned there for being stupid, unoriginal, inflammatory, trollish, proselytizing, insulting, lewdness, or cussing. John's unforgivable sins were only in the last two categories.

9:38 AM
Alan Fox said...

DaveScot says:

People get banned there for being stupid, unoriginal, inflammatory, trollish, proselytizing, insulting, lewdness, or cussing. John's unforgivable sins were only in the last two categories.

You omit to mention people being banned for disagreeing with whatever the current policy is on any particular day, such as when you decide ID has nothing to do with religion. It is also difficult not to be unoriginal WRT to ID considering the paucity of original ID material that there is to discuss.

9:54 AM

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Bastille Day

Yesterday's stage of the Tour de France cycle race finished at Carcassonne. Anyone thinking of visiting the Languedoc should include it in the itinerary. The medieval Cité is used on July 14th as a backdrop for a spectacular firework display, and you can join the crowds in the park opposite for the free show. Some claim it rivals the display in Paris (using the Eiffel Tower). It was even televised this year, which saved me the trouble of travelling in 35°C temperatures to witness it.

Friday, July 14, 2006

From biomimetic: Nanowires from bacteria.

Biomimetic has posted the following, asking for a thread to be started. I'd like to start a topic about Uncommon Descent and the dishonest way they try to wow their readers with BS.

The latest example is a post about bacteria that excrete metal nanowires. This is cool, but it's really not that special.

The fact that microorganisms excrete metals is far from new. A friend of mine would feed certain bacteria metal ions and they'd crap out reduced metal, usually in the form of nanoparticles or nanocrystals. The nanocrystals would even have neato shapes, like tertrahedra and cubes, but that is due to the crystal structure of the metal and slow crystal growth, not to some magic that was front-loaded into the bacteria. These metal nanowires are just anopther case of that. This time, though, the crystal grew along one crystallographic axis for a really long time, yielding a nanowire. Nothing magic, just chemistry and biology at work.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


I believe it is due to a combination of their drought resistance and the availability of European Community grants, but there are fields of sunflowers everywhere at the moment.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

World Cup Update

Our village Comité des fêtes picked this weekend for festivities (a few cultural events such as a painting and sculpture exhibition, a dance demonstration, some local bands in concert, a firework display, but mainly an excuse to eat and drink as much as possible). They obviously didn't expect France to be in the final of the World Cup either, as the open air communal meal (salade de gésiers, coquille de saumon, daube de gardian etc.,) clashes with the final.

But never fear, We are promised a large screen TV so I don't have to miss the match or the feast. Allez les Bleus!!!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Detecting design: specification vs. liklihood.

This thread is offered as a neutral venue for anyone wishing to discuss Mark Frank's paper featured at Talk Reason, with an associated thread at Panda's Thumb.

John Davison's sources

A recurrent theme in threads, here and in other places, where John Davison's ideas on evolution have been discussed is his list of sources. The french zoologist, Pierre-Paul Grassé (1895-1985) and author of the mammoth reference work "Traité de Zoologie" (1963) is the most recent of John's sources. John quotes a book written by Grassé in 1973 (available in English translation from 1977 as "Evolution of Living Organisms") when he was the same age as John is now, 78. This book is not listed on and Google does not yield much information about his late work, other than from creationist websites.

Grassé appears to have had a distinguished career, becoming president of the French Acadamy of Science, and it seems odd to me that his last work would receive so little attention if it were as controversial as John asserts. One problem with Grassé is he unavailable for comment, and his book is not widely accessible. I seem to glean, from the little available about Grassé, that he was a staunch Catholic, and might fit into the category "theistic evolutionist", taking the Catholic church's line on evolution being part of God's creation.

Am I misrepresenting anything here, John? I welcome your response.