Review of Michael Behe’s Intelligent Design lecture in Cincinnati

Dr. Michael Behe speaking with a family after his presentation in Cincinnati (photo credit: me)
Blurry photo of Dr. Michael Behe speaking with a family after his presentation in Cincinnati (photo credit: me)

I had an unexpected opportunity last Sunday night to attend a lecture by Intelligent Design theory advocate Michael J. Behe — professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University and author of the watershed Intelligent Design work Darwin’s Black Box.

He had been invited to speak at the Schilling School for Gifted Children here in Cincinnati. SW and, I believe, CR brought it to my attention this past Sabbath, just in time for me to make sure I had room for it in my plans for Sunday evening. So, make room I did, and come 7pm Sunday night I found myself in a room of 80-100 people, many of whom were parents and students of the school, listening to a presentation from Mr. Behe — a very personable and seemingly unassuming gentleman who has become a lightning rod of criticism on the topics of Darwinian evolution and Intelligent Design. (He had fun with that, inviting any in the audience interested in reading critiques of his ideas to visit any web search engine and type in his name followed by any common curse word that comes to mind.)

The school invited him as a part of what I gather is a series of lectures by influential thinkers. The math & science department head of the school mentioned that after the Nye-Ham debate, they had invited Bill Nye (the Sort-of-Science Guy) to come and give a talk, which turned out to be a pleasant event. Wanting to keep the conversation going, they invited Dr. Behe as a representative of one alternative “middle ground” that the Nye-Ham debate missed: That of Intelligent Design, representing neither religion-based nor materialism-hobbled theorizing.

Dr. Behe’s presentation had, in my estimation, modest goals: Explain the concept of Intelligent Design, explain why it is real science (contrary to the assertions of its detractors), and explain why he considers it a more reasonable and more credible theoretical framework in comparison to Darwinian evolution. In these goals, I think his presentation succeeded.

Sure, the discussion could go deeper. His points would surely be disputed by evolutionists, and their disputations would be counter-disputed by IDers, etc. His presentation wasn’t a debate-ender, and it wasn’t meant to be. It was a gentle-but-persuasive presentation and not meant to be a bare knuckle “throw down” — and in this, it was refreshing. It was a pleasant atmosphere and solid presentation, appropriate to its audience — which was clearly composed of both skeptics and supporters — that did not avoid hard questions and which, in simple and clear terms, explained a topic that is shamefully banned from many of our public schools by those who fear open minds and thoughtful criticism of their most cherished theory.

Here are a few observations from the lecture, presented as points and elaboration. The points are generally points he made, but the elaboration is mostly mine. Still, I will try to mention his comments, as well, since that is probably what most of you reading are actually interested in. 🙂

  • “Intelligent Design” is legitimate science.

One of the most shameful tactics taken against ID by its opponents is that it does not represent legitimate science, and it is utter nonsense. If the question, “Does any element of life demonstrate signs of intelligent design?” is not accessible by scientific inquiry, then what is?

I think this is an important question even beyond biology. If an explorer or artificially intelligent probe were to stumble upon a structure of some sort on another planet, would the question, “Has this been designed by intelligence or is it a natural formation?” completely inaccessible to science? That such questions cannot be addressed by science is ridiculous to me. Is it impossible to design an artificially intelligent probe, for instance, that could encounter something like the ancient ruins of Greece or Rome and conclude that there was intelligence behind their construction? What if the probe came upon the Louvre in Paris? We recognize such things, immediately, as intelligently designed, and the implication of that fact is that we could design probes to do the same. (Turing fans and AI folks, feel free to run with this assumption.)

If so, cannot such reasoning be turned toward the structures we find involved with life?

If the statement “Life empirically demonstrates characteristics for which the most reasonable explanation is intelligent design” is not a statement that can be evaluated by science, then why not?

One can claim (falsely, I believe) that Intelligent Design theory represents ideas that have been disproven, but one cannot legitimately claim that it is not science. Like a president standing in front of a crowd and talking about a contentious and unpopular piece of legislation and claiming that “The debate is over” (ahem), such claims sound more like desperation than fact. If SETI represents a scientific enterprise–that is, activity and research grounded in real science–so does the work of Intelligent Design theorists and researchers. I’ve read some try to defend SETI as activity grounded in science but Intelligent Design research as pseudoscience. (Amanda Gefter’s 2010 article in New Scientist is a good example.) But their arguments ring hollow and demonstrate themselves to the careful reader as poor reasoning motivated by either ideological predisposition or by ignorance of the work done by ID theorists.

Ignore the hypocrisy and the smoke screens of ID’s detractors who say otherwise. And the detractors are many. More honest and/or educated critics, even while not agreeing with the conclusion of intelligent design, recognize ID for the scientific endeavor it represents and do not feel the need to dodge legitimate debate through such illegitimate means.

(Actually, in response to a question Behe offered an argument that ID may represent legitimate science better than evolutionary theory does. I will try to remember to describe his point later.)

  • The identity and nature of the “intelligence” is irrelevant to ID theory

Weird concern about the identity of the “intelligence” behind the intelligent design evident in life is a red herring often brought out to distract people from considering ID theory (school district decision makers, gullible judges, etc.). The fact-based detection of the presence or absence of intelligence in design should not depend on how one feels about who or what the source of that intelligence might be.

Imagine a police investigation into  death that begins to point to murder. Should the investigation be abandoned because some folks are uncomfortable with the possibilities of who such a murderer might be? Of course not.

Dr. Behe brought this point out (not the murder example, but the point above), and it makes perfect sense. Some of the attendees did not get it, one or two of the school’s students, in particular. Questions about the “designer” in Intelligent Design theory are irrelevant to determining whether or not there is intelligence present in the design. The fact that some of the students were either oblivious to the point or that they had been feeding on various anti-ID tropes were pretty evident. For instance, one individual asked how a perfect designer (clearly, here, a “Designer” with a capital-D is in mind) would designed creatures that show so many imperfections. While both philosophy and theology (and, importantly, the Bible) address such questions related to God’s Creation, in terms of the scientific theory of Intelligent Design, the question is irrelevant. Determining whether or not intelligence is necessarily involved in the design of living systems is not dependent on whether the “designer” is perfect or imperfect, a single intelligence or multiple intelligence, etc. For example, detecting what seem to be flaws or inefficiencies in the design of of a Volkswagen Beetle does not negate the obvious fact that there is, indeed, intelligence present in the car’s design. That is, outstanding questions about the nature of the “designer” of the Volkswagen Beetle (number of designers, his or their purpose, power, or intent, etc.) do not negate the conclusion that there is intelligence on display in the design of the Volkswagen.

There is literally zero scientific justification for rejecting the theory of Intelligent Design on the grounds that it leads to questions about the nature of the “designer.” Quite the contrary, questions that lead to other questions are normally part of what scientists enjoy.

I think that this is potentially where some atheists sometimes show their bias-driven prejudices. For instance, the idea of a finely-tuned universe designed to make life possible is rejected by a cacophony of voices among various atheists. (I say a cacophony, because many of them do not agree with each other–running away from a feared conclusion instead of running toward a truly better one tends to produce such results.) However, I believe that once a “fine tuner” can be safely hypothesized that will provide an “escape hatch” away from the more natural conclusion that a divine God is the Creator, suddenly “fine tuning” will become more acceptable. I’ve already seen this in one major, mainstream publication, where someone pointed out that certain particle physics work has the potential (important: under some theories) to create multiple universes that are expanding alongside our own. Seeing that (again, under some theories) we have the power to initiate such “creations” of alternate “cosmoses” as we smack particles together, one person speculated that perhaps in the future we will learn to “fine tune” such creations to craft universes with particular characteristics. He then speculated that perhaps our own universe was initiated on some past laboratory table top by a physicist in a previous universe who had learned to do just that.

And that’s how it goes: Once we come up with possibilities we are more comfortable with, we become willing to embrace certain conclusions. Once we can substitute someone in the place of a God to Whom we might be accountable, suddenly “fine tuning” becomes palatable. Until then: No way, José.

And that’s wrong. The proponents of ID continue to say that they long only to follow the evidence where it leads: If to an intelligent designer of some sort, then so be it. If to no designer at all, then so be it. But let science be honest with the evidence. What sort of self-respecting scientist would disagree with that?

Again, drawing a conclusion on the intelligent design of life should be a matter that is irrelevant to the matter of who or what that designer could be.

All of this is related to a point I felt Dr. Behe made very well, coming up next:

  • Science has gotten into more trouble in the past trying to ignore conclusions that felt uncomfortable than it has in embracing them.

Some have said that Intelligent Design must be ruled forbidden out of hand simply because its implications are uncomfortable and seem “unscientific” (they aren’t, but play along).

Of course, the same scientists lament about how many people they believe avoid trusting them about Darwinian evolution because of its implications. Sauce for the goose is not, apparently, sauce for the gander.

But more to the point, Dr. Behe’s example was a good one. He presented an idea: “Maybe Intelligent Design could be true, but its conclusion is radical enough that perhaps its acceptance should be put off — say, a century or so — while efforts are focused on finding alternate explanations that are more palatable.” He compared such sentiment to the resistance originally expressed concerning the Big Bang theory. Imagine how far behind physics would be if we put off accepting the Big Bang theory due to discomfort about its implications.

Some might say that the difference between the Big Bang and Intelligent Design is a matter of compelling evidence. The evidence of a Big Bang, while not necessarily completely unavoidable, eventually became strongly compelling, while the evidence for Intelligent Design simply is not. I would disagree with that conclusion, and the fact that resistance crumbled concerning the Big Bang but remains strong concerning Intelligent Design is due, I believe, to the stakes involved. Given the vagueness and impersonal nature of the universe’s origins–conceptually distant–the Big Bang is easier to embrace, regardless of its metaphysical implications, because those implications are easier to “shelve” and emotionally avoid. It can be ascribed to impersonal “forces” and “conditions”–and although a thorough consideration of the possibilities for such “forces” and “conditions” leads unavoidably to the same uncomfortable metaphysical implications, there is a comfortable cushion of abstraction that aids one’s efforts at denial and self-deception or distraction. However, the idea that life, itself, has been designed by an “intelligence”–that is more personal. The metaphysical implications of that are much harder to avoid. That life may have a “designer” means that you may have a “designer” . . . a “designer” who may actually be a Designer, if you get my capitalized drift. And many people do not want a Designer.

  • The evidence against Darwinian evolution as the mechanism by which life has developed in complexity is rather damaging.

Michael Behe's book, The Edge of EvolutionDr. Behe summarized a number of the points he makes in his book The Edge of Evolution, including the observation that Darwinian evolution (natural selection–survival pressures–acting on random mutations) can be seen in life’s development but only in ways that are very clearly not creative in nature.

His examples in the lecture were solid, looking at research on literally tens of thousands of generations of E. Bola bacteria and, in more detail, evolution in humans enabling resistance to malaria. In the latter case, for instance, humans have, indeed, “evolved” some resistance to malaria and, as natural selection would dictate, those who have “evolved” that resistance have had better reproductive success, growing to represent disproportionately larger segments of the population in areas where malaria represents a serious challenge. However, as Behe points out in detail, the mutations in the human genome that have enabled the increased resistance are, in every case, the results of genetic information being destroyed in the human genome, not information being built or added. None of the mutations have demonstrated an increase in complexity — rather they are, in a sense, a matter of de-evolution.

His analogy was a good and memorable one. Behe showed a picture of a bridge in South America destroyed by drug lords to prevent the army from coming in to their area and halting their operations and pointed out that this is the equivalent in what we see with malaria resistance. The “bridges” have been wiped out genetically, preventing the disease from being able to proceed in those individuals whose mutations have protected them. The mutations are destructive–not constructive–and, in many ways, harmful, but in the case of preventing malaria from killing the individual, they have been helpful. In these ways, Dr. Behe points out, Darwinian evolution can be seen in action.

However, the picture painted by proponents of evolution is of natural selection plus random mutation as a great, materialistic bridge builder. The idea we are supposed to believe is that nature–with no assistance from any designer at all–can build bridges where there are none, yet this is overwhelmingly not observed in the laboratory or in the field. Bridge destruction, sure. Bridge building, not so.

  • The charge of “science stopper” is a terrible excuse not to do science and to avoid following the evidence where it leads.

This was one area where I benefitted from the lecture in a way I did not expect.

Intelligent Design is often called a “science stopper” because it is felt that once activity is accredited to a “designer” then it can no longer be explored, tested, or investigated. Consequently, all research on life would apparently stop and we would all just sit on the floor with our smartphones and play Angry Birds. More seriously, the idea seems to be that once Intelligent Design is concluded, there is no more exploration of possible non-intelligent means and mechanisms concerning life and its processes. If things aren’t materialistic, then they are not accessible to science, so we “must” continue to assume materialism lest we stop prematurely and cease to learn. So, accepting the conclusions of Intelligent Design supposedly puts a stop to the production of testable hypotheses and predictions — hence the term, “science stopper.”

If I got him rightly, Michael Behe shed fantastic light on this attack and why it is disingenuous. The points to be made are several.

Less revelatory to me, personally, were the facts that the “science stopper” claim is simply not true as it is pictured. The concept that life on earth has a richer information source in its past or that it has access to richer information resources than generally accepted could invigorate additional avenues of research, including investigating claims by researchers such as James Shapiro concerning seemingly intelligent genetic engineering going on at the cellular level. Being freed from the assumption that only blind mutation and fundamentally undirected selection are at work in life could create the sort of environment where new ideas can grow instead of meeting the stifling resistance they now suffer. Being free to consider the world of genetics in a context that is more accurate — materialistic and naturalistic or otherwise — would begin to allow new frameworks of understanding, which could hardly be “science stopping.” Accurately understanding the limits of mechanistic, undirected processes would help in understanding them better, as well. How is this somehow “anti-science”? And if science must take place in a context where a true fact must be disallowed because it is a “science stopper,” then we’ve lost sight of just what science is supposed to achieve.

[Asked in a different context but related to being a “science stopper” was a student’s question to Behe about the falsifiability of Intelligent Design. He answered this well, by demonstrating that various principles of Intelligent Design are, indeed, falsifiable (that is, subject to being shown false), where as it is the theory of Darwinian evolution that is treated in an unfalsifiable manner. Every finding that demonstrates evolution’s weaknesses is dismissed, and every experiment or cumulative experience that demonstrates its unviability is discounted and excused.]

However, those things aside, one thing Dr. Behe pointed out has stuck with me: “Science stopping” conclusions aren’t failures at all but successes. His examples really sold the point.

For instance, consider the success of Einstein’s theories of relativity. While they are generally not referred to as “science stoppers” that is exactly what they were. One can read of the fantastic experiments that were being done, for instance, by many trying to discover the medium in which light travelled and the many theories that were multiplying about the “æther” that carried light along. Newtonian mechanics-based theories on various scales were “killed” — slain by the understanding that they were inaccurate and inadequate. A great deal of science was stopped cold — and rightly so. In this way, relativity is a success not a failure.

Anti-relativity theories are still formulated and pursued by some, to be sure. But the success of relativity has put such researchers on notice: “Don’t expect this to be promising work.” While a “science stopper,” relativity has, instead, been a “science focuser.”

The same could be said about other theories. Should the recent evidence supporting the existence of the Higgs boson be ignored because it solidifies the Standard Model of particle physics and makes alternate theories less likely? Is it a “science stopper”?

The success of the Big Bang theory certainly put an end to considerations of an eternal universe. Any such theorizing certainly stopped — at least in any significant volume. But cosmology has been properly and profitably focused by the theory’s success, hash;t it? Shouldn’t unprofitable and inaccurate science be stopped?

Bringing our work and research more in line with reality should always be embraced, should it not?

In this case, the charge of “science stopper” is simply a matter of trying to smear a good theory with a negative sounding pejorative. People worried that accepting a beginning to the universe would move cosmology into the “metaphysical” and put an end to science and research. And yet, cosmology has exploded (sort of a Big Bang pun there!) with theories, research, experiments, etc. The beginning hasn’t gone away — the “Genesis Problem,” as it has been called, is still there. But the science goes on, with new questions, new findings, new knowledge, and new theories — actually, with deeper questions, more illuminating findings, more accurate knowledge, and more profitable theories. As a “science stopper” — even one with metaphysical implications — accepting the universe’s beginning has been a “science focuser” and a “science energizer.”

Doesn’t it make sense that embracing truth should do just that? And if embracing something that is increasingly seen as false is necessary for science to “continue” then haven’t we lost our way a bit?

Al the best theories are, in a number of ways, “science stoppers.” If Intelligent Design is a “science stopper,” it is only so in all the right ways. Don’t let the name-calling fool you.

I know there was more, but if I don’t post this review today, I may never do so. 🙂 Life is busy with the Spring Holy Days knocking on the door, so I think I will cut it short here. If I think of additional points to make, I will try to follow up with a “Part 2,” but for now I think this will do.

It was a great talk, and I enjoyed the opportunity. I took my copy of Darwin’s Black Box up for Dr. Behe to sign and was able to chat with him a bit. I had the chance to ask him about the work of William Dembski and others concerning trying to quantify information and signs of intelligence in a way that may add more objective analysis, and he said he thought it was promising as long as the work stays rooted in the realm of experimentation. I wanted to ask about David Berlinski, as well, but feared I would turn into a fan boy in that case. 🙂

Michael Behe was a very nice fellow, and I enjoyed the brief interaction and the chance to hear him present his case in person. It is my understanding that he stayed overnight so that he could spend time with the students of the school in a more intimate setting the following day, and I am sure that they found it profitable.

14 thoughts on “Review of Michael Behe’s Intelligent Design lecture in Cincinnati

  1. I reblogged this on my wp so that I can read it again. I like to read the good stuff more than once and since I can’t print it right now I have done what I could to be able to read again. I do so enjoy what you write. Like another said in his way you do fine job of writing. Always good and always interesting. Thank you.

  2. Hrafn

    Michael Behe is an “influential thinker”? ROFLMAO! This is a man who has had his claims disavowed by his own university department, dismissed and debunked by the scientific community (including getting pwned by a grad student) and cited AGAINST the creationists he was testifying for in the judgement in two court cases. This is a man who was forced under cross-examination to admit that his favored definition of “science” would also admit astrology.

    There is nothing “shameful” about making the obvious point that ID is not science. Numerous scientific societies, and the one court case that heard expert testimony on the topic (including Behe’s own) concluded likewise. ID does not follow the scientific method and make testable hypotheses and predictions. It’s claims are so vague and equivocal as to be easily described as “not even wrong”. Moreover ID presents no positive argument or evidence, but remains solely a set of logically-fallacious negative arguments against evolution (this includes Behe’s Irreducible Complexity argument, which is an Argument from Personal Incredulity, a known fallacy).

    I would also point out that whilst ID frequently attempts to claim SETI for their own, SETI researchers have pointed out that their methodology shares no commonality with ID.

    I would suggest that it is Wallace G. Smith who is laughably “gullible” for taking the uncorroborated word of a discredited crank, and that he has “literally zero scientific justification” for acceptance of this nonsense.

  3. Hrafn: Thanks for your enlightening comment, and I’m sorry to hear about your posterior. I hope your condition hasn’t made it too painful for you to sit and be brilliant on the Internet.

    That Lehigh University felt the embarrassing need to reassure the world that its other professors feel unswerving devotion to Darwinian dogma is not surprising. ID is a very unpopular theory, and it is important for a number of academics to assure their public that they haven’t strayed from the party line. Dr. Mark Regnerus faced the same sort of disavowal and court disapproval, when his work, in reality, was solid and has been upheld as such. Disavowals and court conclusions are not exactly the stuff that truth is made of. (As you are a fan of logical fallacies, you should consider looking into “Argument from Authority.”)

    [In addition to all these things, the fact that Behe’s work has had such an influence that others have felt the need to discredit and disavow it belies the inanity of your initial complaint. He has, indeed, been an “influential thinker,” whether you agree with him or not — your activity on the floor and the condition of your detached posterior, notwithstanding.]

    Ditto concerning SETI’s denials. They can claim that “their methodology shares no commonality with ID” but when one actually reads about their methodology, it puts the lie to such a claim. SETI’s denial of any fundamental connections is unsurprising, false, and irrelevant — a nice trifecta of hypocrisy.

    You offer the same smoke, mirrors, and handwaving as a lot of Darwin addicts. The positive evidence for design and intelligence has been admitted by many, from Dawkins to Crick, and much of the work and writings of such men can be seen by the discerning eye as an effort to ignore the positive evidence (how very scientific of them) and often for nothing but ideologically-motivated reasons. The fact that their ideological commitments require them to say that which looks like a duck and quacks like a duck and walks like a duck is somehow not a duck does not mean that ID is somehow robbed of the positive evidence in its claim that it is, in fact, a duck. Such claims that following the evidence to its rational conclusions are not science make a mockery of what science is supposed to be.

    Solid arguments and evidence-based criteria for detecting intelligence, such as the presence of irreducible complexity, are often falsely derided by the faithful, like yourself, as simply “negative arguments against evolution.” The tread on that tire is wearing pretty thin, and the claim is, in technical terms, hogwash. Rather than an argument from personal incredulity, irreducible complexity is a means of concluding in an evidence-based manner that intelligence is present, and a means that we use in a common place manner in other contexts outside of any consideration of evolution. It is rationally applied all the time to detect intelligence and to conclude that it has been an agent in a variety of evidentiary contexts… except, uniquely, for concerning the structure of life, where it is oddly, irrationally, and religiously verboten. (While you’re looking up fallacies, check out “Special Pleading.” You’re already very good at it, so you might as well know the name.)

    Applied in any field or endeavor but the study of life? Recognized as good science. Applied to the study of life? “Uh… it’s… uh… You’re just attacking evolution.” Methinks concerning gullibility that someone needs to find a mirror and have a Matthew 7:5 moment.

    It’s really simple. If you are claiming that intelligence simply cannot be scientifically detected in the design of some systems, then simply say so. It would be a weird, faith-based claim on the limits of science, but it would be enlightening and an honest clarification of your ideological position. On the other hand, if the detection of intelligence shouldn’t be beyond the abilities of scientific inquiry, then offer an alternative means of detection — a means other than irreducible complexity. If ID is hilariously wrong (as you and your parted posterior seem to think), then your method of scientifically detecting intelligence will surely demonstrate that.

    Again, if you don’t like irreducible complexity, no problem — offer another means of detecting intelligence. In fact, offer a better one. Who wouldn’t want that? If irreducible complexity is not really a matter of finding positive evidence (ignoring the fact that it most certainly is), then, again, no problem. Offer such a means of detecting positive evidence. An unwillingness to do so or an unwillingness to direct such means towards examining life — when it is something done all the time in other contexts — would be weird. It certainly wouldn’t be scientific. (After all, “question everything” is the new motto these days, right?) Science is needs to be in the hands of those who seek to use it in an honest fashion and who are willing to follow evidence where it leads.

  4. Hrafn

    Dear Wallace:

    1) “Darwinian dogma” only makes sense to those who are so ignorant of 150 years of evolutionary research as to think that evolutionary biology hasn’t changed since Darwin’s time.

    2) Behe COULDN’T INFLUENCE his own department, COULDN’T INFLUENCE the scientific community, and COULDN’T INFLUENCE two court cases. Very “influential”. In fact the only places he has any influence at all is in conservative American churches and political rallies.

    3) Behe and Regnerus are both popular among conservative political circles for the fact that their shoddy research gives some simulation of credibility to those circles’ sacred cows (creationism and homophobia). The fact that their research has no solid basis does not appear to bother their “gullible” and receptive audience in the least.

    4) Hrafn looks up “Argument from Authority”, and sees a picture of Wallace worshiping at Behe’s feet.

    5) “In addition to all these things, the fact that Behe’s work has had such an influence that others have felt the need to discredit and disavow it belies the inanity of your initial complaint.”

    ROFLMAO! On that logic, ‘The Hitler Diaries’ must be the most truthful and influential publication ever. Come to think of it, by that logic ***NOTHING*** can possibly be discredited — heads you win, tails I lose. Only on the far outer fringe is ubiquity of dismissal and debunking taken as evidence of merit.

    6) SETI’s “methodology” is looking for artificial ***simplicity***. ID’s is looking for complexity (Irreducible Complexity, Specified Complexity). Looking for simplicity is the same thing as looking for complexity? Not so much.

    7) What I “offer” is mountains of data explicable only through an evolutionary framework, and 150 years of research that explains that evidence. What does ID offer? The vague and equivocal speculation that somewhere, somehow, somewhen, something have happened due to some unspecified intervention that is purportedly unexplainable by science. God of the Gaps, anybody?

    8) I would suggest that neither Dawkins nor Crick, nor any other prominent evolutionary biologist, have admited “positive evidence for design and intelligence” (beyond the last few tens of thousands of years).

    9) As you have provided neither “solid arguments” nor positive evidence for ID, I will reiterate my point that ID’s arguments are all negative and logically fallacious, and appear to work only when kept well away from the evidence.

    10) I am thoroughly amused that you attempt to defend Irreducible Complexity without even attempting to articulate its argument. Lacking a basis in the actual contents of the argument, your claims about it are baseless. As it is an argument about what it claims evolution ***cannot*** do (bring about certain complex structures), it is explicitly a negative argument against evolution. As Behe has explicitly defended this argument by expressing personal incredulity at certain evolutionary mechanisms (e.g. exaptation), it is hard to see how it can be claimed not to be an Argument from Personal Incredulity.

    11) “…intelligence is present which we use in a common place manner in other contexts outside of any consideration of evolution.” The only “context” in which we have evidence for the presence of intelligence, is humanity over the last few tens of thousands of years. As this context does not encompass evolution over deep time, your claim appears to be nothing but baseless speculation, lacking any rational basis.

    11) It’s really simple. I’m claiming that ID DOES NOT “DETECT” ANYTHING! You do not have a bunch of explicit ID Experts using explicitly ID Methods to determine if events or structures in their fields of expertise (e.g. archeology or criminology) had a nutural or artificial cause. You have a small handful of ID ***Advocates*** taking half-understood examples from well outside their fields of expertise, and trying to defend them as ‘Things-That-Evolution-Cannot-Do’. The then run into a mass of experts in those fields who tell them why they’re woefully wrong.

    Part of the problem is that ID does not in fact follow the scientific method by offering testable hypotheses or predictions. Therefore even if ID in fact actually stumbled upon something that was genuinely intelligently designed, it would have no way to prove this to the scientific community. For example, how would ID methodologically distinguish between an artificial structures and a naturally-occurring-but-geometric structure?

    12) “Again, if you don’t like irreducible complexity, no problem — offer another means of detecting intelligence.” I would strongly suggest that the product of intelligence is too heterogeneous for there to be any single, simple and reliable means of detecting it. I would suggest that anybody who claims to have found such a method is either selling something, trying to rationalise unacknowledged presuppositions, or both.

  5. Hrafn:

    1) I wish those of your faith would get consistent. When I call it “Neo-Darwinian” (to recognize the modern synthesis of Darwin’s original hypothesis with genetic science and other advances) I get attacked. As you have just demonstrated, if I call it “Darwinian” (recognizing that even in the modern synthesis, the theory is still fundamentally rooted in the principle of natural selection acting on random variation) I get attacked. It really is no win with you folks, apparently. Evolution is whatever its adherents seem to need it to be, so feel free to replace “Darwinian” with whatever adjective makes you happy and fulfilled as a person.

    2) Ha! I’m not sure if you are displaying ignorance, deception, or intellectual dishonesty with this one. I’ll assume the first, because I want to be kind.

    3) Sorry: After all the shamefully predictable dust settled, Regnerus and the solidity of his research has been vindicated. Rather than lazily lounging in what is socially acceptable and burping out lazy ad hominems, you might want to update your journal readings.

    4) Ha #2! Your intellect is truly staggering.

    5) Not really (books aren’t “thinkers”, forgeries or not). You say things like “On that logic,” but the more you type, the more it becomes apparent that logic isn’t really your strong suit, is it? Come on, you can be honest.

    6) Sorry: Here, too, I’ve actually read SETI’s methodology, and it corresponds well. I encourage others to do the same.

    7) Right, thanks. In other words, you are dodging my question and have no real substantive critique of irreducible complexity, no clue as to how else intelligence could be detected in any other manner, and you don’t want to admit that any legitimate means for looking for intelligence might find it in places you’d rather not see it. Got it. “Special Pleading” will become the rule of the day. Nice to know.

    [As for the non sequitur you used to dodge the question: Concerning “explicable only through an evolutionary framework,” the less gullible amongst us are still waiting for the “explicable” part (let alone the “explicable only, which is funny) — even some prominent atheists who are either more educated or more honest (or both) than you. Let us know when the “explicable” part shows up, because it has been conspicuously absent in that 150 years of data, making Evolution quite the “God of the Gaps,” itself.]

    [Second aside: I see that you get less “dodgy” later in your last point. Good for you! I’ll get there momentarily.]

    8) Your inaccurate suggestion is noted. Thanks.

    9) Sorry, repeating false stuff doesn’t make it any “truthier.” Demonstrable irreducible complexity is positive evidence, and the positive evidence has been admitted by many. Instead of making “suggestions” to the contrary (see weird point 8), maybe you need to read more. I’m not going to do it all for you.

    10) “…it is hard to see…” Your own Personal Incredulity? 🙂 It is not at all simply a “negative argument against evolution” because it can be applied in fields well beyond biology in which evolution would not even be a consideration. By your argumentation, the Second Law of Thermodynamics would be simply a “negative argument against perpetual motion machines” — as opposed to the conclusion that there are no perpetual motion machines being a logical one based on the independent existence of the Second Law.

    Your 1st 11) You presume here what you claim has been proven. Nice for the religiously motivated, but devastatingly unconvincing. (And I’ll inform SETI that you believe their work is baseless fantasy and lacking any rational basis. I’m sure they will be impressed.)

    Your 2nd 11) You are correct: Your error is “really simple.” You simply say the things that ID critics like to say but which do not reflect the reality of ID work. Right: really simple.

    [In fact, to use your own question: Methodologically distinguishing “between an artificial structures (sic) and a naturally-occurring-but-geometric structure” is exactly (and, frankly, specifically) the sort of thing that ID tackled a long time ago — literally, years ago. The fact that you don’t realize this only shows that you are repeating anti-ID canards and are not actually familiar at all with the work you are trying to criticize. I won’t do the work for you — look it up yourself. It makes the sort of distinction you ask about sharp, apparent, and objective. Again, do the hard yards — get off your lazy, “laughed off” posterior and actually read the work of those who methodologically do exactly what you seem to believe they could not and which they have been able to do for years. (It was literally a decade or more ago when I read the work that address the very question you present as if it were a stumper. You are way behind, my friend.) Rather, turn it around. Are you actually suggesting that there is truly no way to scientifically distinguish between such things? Your last point relates to this, so I will save that comment for there…]

    12) Thanks for admitting this! I don’t mean that sarcastically — quite the contrary. This is a really helpful thing to say — actually making discussion without rancor and insult possible. And “single, simple, and reliable” aside, do you at least agree there there should be some scientific, evidence-based means — even if it is simply a matter of recognizing the theoretical possibility of such a means’ existence? I appreciate, as well, your honest use of the word “suggest” because that is all you really can do. There is no evidence for the truth of your suggestion, and you state it as an ideological position as opposed to a scientific conclusion. [In fact, one could directly correlate your statement as simply a “negative argument against detecting design” — shoe on the other foot, huh?] The idea that we could not come up with a means of detecting design in an evidence-based manner — when it is something we do, literally, in a common place manner effortlessly and with ease — seems an extreme position and one that is very anti-science.

    Write again if you like, Hrafn, but, frankly, if it’s nothing new then we’re done here. My blog isn’t a place where I tolerate food fights for long, and if you simply want to rant against something you don’t like, there are better places. This one isn’t it. (Use my blog’s search box to find my comment policy if you’d like.) In the meantime, I do hope you will actually read up on the work of those you inaccurately believe you have “nailed,” considering you’ve demonstrated that your knowledge of what ID ha achieved is at least 10 years behind. And I would encourage you to give science more credit. It’s capable of far more than you seem to think.

  6. Hrafn


    1) “Darwinian” implies giving primacy to Natural Selection, a position also refered to as “Adaptionist”. The mainstream view gives equal consideration to mechanisms like Genetic Drift. They are therefore no longer exclusively “Darwinian” in their outlook, and the label has therefore become an inaccurate anacronism.

    None of which is relevant to my MAIN POINT, which is that Evolutionary Biology CHANGES, and so is NOT DOGMATIC!

    2) All your puerile name calling does not alter the fact that Behe has NO INFLUENCE WHATSOEVER outside the Religious Right echo chamber.

    3) Regnerus “vindicated”? Perhaps in the far-right press, and by a handful of sympathetic colleagues, but little elsewhere. His work was blatantly sloppy and compared apples (parents in stable heterosexual relationships) with oranges (parents who had at least one homosexual encounter, the vast majority of which weren’t in a stable homosexual relationship — the two couples that were saw positive outcomes).

    4) You have provided no reasoned defense (or even a detailed articulation) of Behe’s claims, so I’m forced to see this as a “Behe says it, I believe it, that settles it” situation.

    5) Last I checked, both ‘Darwin’s Black Box’ and ‘Edge of Evolution’ were books.

    My main point remains — that many claims get debunked because they are bunk, and therefore it is absurd to point to the fact that they have been debunked as evidence that they’re “influential” or important. This is paranoid conspiracy theory ideation.

    6) Please cite a document where SETI calculate Specified Complexity or apply Dembski’s Explanatory Filter (or any other ID concept or method). You cannot, because they don’t.

    7) I was not offering a “substantive critique of irreducible complexity” at that point but a rebuttal to this vague and pejorative blather: “You offer the same smoke, mirrors, and handwaving as a lot of Darwin addicts.”

    My point was that if you collected together all of the scientific research into evolution, you would get a mountain of information. If you collected together all the writings on ID, you would get a small bookshelf, mostly written by theologians, philosophers and lawyers.

    7a) But if a “substantive critique of irreducible complexity” is what you want:

    i) Criticism of Behe’s claims and understanding of the fields, by experts in those fields (including some that Behe himself cited) leads to the conclusion that he is largely ignorant of these fields and thus merely expressing incredulity of things he doesn’t really understand. Therefore it is reasonable to conclude that this is an Argument from Ignorance/Personal Incredulity.

    ii) Even if Behe could in fact prove that existing evolutionary mechanisms could not create a structure, this still leaves the conclusion of “intelligence” as a false dichotomy. One alternative explanation is an as-yet-undiscovered evolutionary mechanism. This is why such argumentation is frequently dismissed as “God of the Gaps”.

    If you’d like a more in-depth dissection of IC, then I would suggest chapters 2, 4-7 of ‘Why Intelligence Design Fails’.

    8) As you have offered no citation to a counter-example, my suggestion remains unrebutted.

    9) Calling vague hand-waving, blatant illogic and name-calling “solid arguments” doesn’t make them so. You use the word “evidence” repeatedly, but provide not a single specific piece of evidence.

    10) By which I will assume that you have no idea what an ‘Argument from Personal Incredulity’ and Exaptation are, and are simply attempting to obfuscate the fact.

    I also note that you fail to dispute my contention that IC is clearly “an argument about what it claims evolution ***cannot*** do (bring about certain complex structures), it is explicitly a negative argument against evolution.”

    11-1) I think I would have heard if SETI had announced ***evidence*** of ET intelligence. As they have not, then the ***search*** continues, and you indeed have no evidence beyond humanity, and thus no basis for extending your “context”.

    11-2) ID DOES NOT “WORK”, except as a Christian apologetic. ID’s concepts (Irreducible Complexity, Specified Complexity) have found no use other than to write pieces attacking evolution. The ONLY “intelligence” that ID has ever been interested in is the intelligence-that-disproves-evolution. This can be seen from the presense of the words “Darwin” or “Evolution” in the vast majority of ID book titles. If you believe this is wrong, then please provide counterexamples of their use outside anti-evolution apologetics.

    12) No, I don’t think that there is any reason to expect “there should be some scientific, evidence-based means” to identify the results of intelligent intervention. As I said before, the product of intelligence is too heterogeneous for any single rule or method yield useful results. This is not a single field, but rather a host of (often barely-related) subfields. As none of these subfields (criminology, archeology, etc) offer ID any leverage against evolution, ID has little interest in developing concepts or methods useful to them.

    13) It is hardly likely that I’ll present a new counter-argument to ID, as ID has not presented any new arguments in the last decade or more, and simply relies on repackaging old arguments while alternately ignoring and sneering at the debunking of those old arguments.

    I am indifferent to whether you decide to cut this thread off or not — I have already made my main point, that far from being a “shameful tactic”, the view that ID is not science is the overwhelming expert opinion, supported by ID’s complete failure to meet any scientific standard of methodology, testability, positive evidence or usefulness.

  7. Ack. Once more unto the breach, then, before we’re done.

    1) Well, I’m glad that your nitpick was entertaining for you, but you fail to see just how dogmatic Evolutionary Biology is. Even its own proponents (most forcefully, Richard Dawkins, for instance) will often stress its central pillars that have not truly moved since Darwin, though their gilding and decorations have changed. And given how it has resisted with religious fervor many results that point to the insufficiency of its explanations for the diversity of life on earth and to the presence of intelligence in life’s design, “dogma” is an entirely applicable word. (Though, I was almost swayed by your use of capital letters, but I summoned my courage and prevailed. Bravo, me.)

    2) Ha! The fellow who came onto my blog and began calling others names in a puerile manner seems bothered by it now. Someone is thin-skinned. (I bet I will see more capital letters later.) And given that a simply blog post about Behe’s work has had you frothing at the mouth on the Internet over the course of no less than three self-righteous comments seems to indicate to me that he seems to be having some influence among denizens of your own echo chambers. 🙂 [More on this point later.]

    3) Absolutely, Regnerus has been vindicated. You need to learn to follow stories (A) beyond what your favorite publications say and (B) after your preferred conclusions have been hastily proclaimed by those predetermined to make them. Follow up research by Regnerus and others otherwise disinterested in the work, as well as follow up comments from his own university, have completely vindicated the work, extended it, and strengthened it. I know data and results can be harsh, but they are still how science is done. Again, your readings on the matter are simply terribly out of date, or, perhaps, you’ve only read from those sources predisposed to filter the conclusions to what you like. (Would match the trend you’ve displayed.) Regardless, the facts have moved on from wherever you’ve decided to sit and relax.

    4) You’re free to think what you like (a privilege many of your evolutionist friends would rather deny others). While I would disagree and point out that I have given you more than enough to defend them against your own complaints, I’m not going to do the hard yards for you. You certainly don’t come across as the “receptive” type, and I’ve wasted enough time on the matter with you as it is. And, besides: you certainly haven’t done me the favor of providing a reasoned defense against them, so I’m not sure why I should return a non-existent favor. If you wish to think that of me, again, feel free. Free country. It’s irrelevant to the discussion and was, generally, simply a response to your weird, childish comment. So, whatever.

    5) Yes, but the books were not invited to the “Influential Thinkers” lecture series. The point of the series (as I gather; I actually am not related in any way with the school) was to bring individuals to the school for the children and family to interact with. In fact, it wasn’t even an expression of agreement, and the mix in the audience was of people who have read the individuals works and research and agree and those who do not agree. It made for a lively evening, with many trying to make the same points you have tried to make. That’s the point: Academic freedon and the exchange of ideas. You may not like it, but Behe has been terribly influential – to the point that many (like yourself) have burned an unfathomable number of calories trying to refute him, trying to “correct” those who have been influenced by his work, monitor Wikipedia to make sure it toes the party line in terms of work related to concepts he has shaped, etc. That’s called influence. And even if it meant that the students at the school (some of which clearly have studied more than you have) were to tear him apart for his ideas, the point was to bring in such people to see the exchange of ideas. As far as I can tell, the school has brought in a number of people who have had a wide variety of views, including those with which Behe would very much disagree. It is only folks like you and those of your ilk who believe that the conversation should be restricted to those who believe as you do and those you have agreed are “the authorities” to which we should all yield.

    You would think that if your arguments were so solid and irrefutable, there wouldn’t be such a need for ideological gatekeepers. It is telling that there is such vehemence and fear in the pro-evolution community. There are clearly less scientific endeavors than ID that are wholly embraced by the academic community (and its self-righteous, zealous army of lay-person defenders, such as yourself), and yet such a sustained and continual effort is put up against ID. Far from debunked, its work continues and gathers steam. Even Thomas Nagel, the atheist, credited the work of IDers, without agreeing with them, for the value of their work, and has felt compelled to postulate teleological laws of nature to achieve the same things ID explains more rationally, admitting his own predisposition and bias against an intelligence very forthrightly. If only others were so honest, whether in the lab or on the Internet.

    6) I should ask you to cite what they use instead. Actually (as an example of something I said in the last paragraph), I could not cite such a thing because SETI’s work is fuzzier, more vague, and less scientific than ID’s, even when, on the surface, their methodologies are identifcal in places. Your question demonstrates that, to SETI’s detriment. They claim that, as a part of their methodology, they’re looking, for signals with “coded information” (SETI’s words, not mine). ID research does the same and, further, has worked to objectively quantify how coded information could be distinguished from other naturally organized signal structures. Frankly, such work is now much further than evolution was at the time of Darwin’s conception of it and afterwards, yet it is dismissed on grounds that would have brought a dismissal of Darwin in his own career. If SETI has better and more objective means of detecting (what they call) “coded information” that would signal the discovery of intelligence, that would be great. Regardless, they are doing the same work ID is doing and with some similar methodologies. IDers are working harder to make it measurable and to objectify it. Which, of course, earns praise from other scien… Oh, wait. It earns ridicule. Wow. Take the work another accepted science is doing and strive to put it on solid, measurable ground, and get ridiculed. You know—if I didn’t know better, I would think that the criticism of ID is motivated by something unscientific.

    If SETI receives a signal that they believe contains coded information representing the presence of an intelligent, alien civilization, I will enjoy seeing how they defend that it is such. From everything I have seen, it would be difficult to root such an analysis on principles that differ from those ID is discovering. And if it were done on different principles? Fantastic! Let’s turn those principles inward to examine the genetic code and its system. The work for one bolsters the other because they share intents and methodologies. They simply do not share the sympathies of their fellow scientists because the questions raised (and, in some cases, answered) by ID are verboten. What a shame.

    7) Right: A mountain of information that fails to convince many critical minded and intelligent people that naturalistic, unintelligent evolution is actually true. As to your (Hrafn says “substantive”) critiques: (i) Got it. So, his critics claim he is simply arguing from ignorance or personal incredulity, so you accept that he is arguing from ignorance or personal incredulity. (Are you sure it was me and Behe you saw in that picture?) This isn’t substantive. If you have to have it explained to you why your comment doesn’t represent substantive critique, there really is no hope for you Hrafn. (ii) Right—that would be “God of the Gaps” reasoning on the part of evolutionists, not Behe. The claim that such systems are signs of intelligence is a positive claim (despite your continual denials) and not simply a claim that “evolution didn’t do it.” The creation of a false dichotomy hasn’t been on the ID side—it has been on the evolutionists side

    (As for the book you recommend, while I disagree to its characterization of the current state of ID and its conclusions, I would recommend, rather, that you re-read the book, as it also corrects many of the mistakes you have simply repeated in your comments about ID as a science and its potential for validation.)

    8) Actually, if you have read even your basic Dawkins and Crick, you have already read such examples. I’ve actually quoted them on television. Again, I’m not going to do the hard yards for you. Get away from your laptop for a while and visit your library. Feel free and consider yourself unrebutted. How you consider yourself isn’t all that important to me, and I doubt that anything I could provide, up to and including Dawkins himself whispering sweet nothings directly into your ear, would cause you to think of yourself as anything but unsuccessfully rebutted. [Yes, I think I am very funny.]

    9) By your own admission, you’ve already rejected positive evidence out of hand. What’s the point of providing more?

    10) What are you talking about—I have disputed it several times. It is a positive argument about indications of intelligence. Otherwise, feel free to assume what you want. You have demonstrated quite skill in that regard, to be sure.

    11-1) The point isn’t that they have found non-human intelligence. The point is that they are looking for it. You describe a worldview in which a discovery of intelligence should only be acknowledged if it is an intelligence you are willing to accept, regardless of the soundness of the means of examination. And the extrapolation of general principles broadly applicable from what we know and experience on a more limited scale is at the very heart of science and why we have theories that describe, in detail, things we believe to be true about a universe (and, in SETI’s case, intelligence) far beyond what our small history on this small planet would encompass. To limit the context as you do so arbitrarily and, frankly, weirdly, would be to destroy vast amounts of work we all agree are, indeed, science. SETI would not be the first to fall under your hatchet, for sure.

    11-2) Wow, your use of capital letters is so forceful and convincing! 🙂 At this point, Hrafn, I could demonstrate to you how your own mother used ID-related principles, today, and you’d question both me and her. You’ve already irrationally pooh-poohed the clear connection to the work of SETI—something obvious to even the most casual observer who isn’t stuck trying to defend their ideology—what other examples would convince you? In your last comment, you ruled out applying any form of intelligence detection to the design of life—what example would suit you? Demonstrate the openness to example you have so far sorely lacked, and your request would make sense. As it stands, it only means a waste of more time.

    Accept the examples I have already provided, then we can talk about some more.

    12) Ah, your bias is showing. As is the Personal Incredulity error you like to bring up. Many scientific fields have arisen that have tied disparate elements of other fields together in the recognition that there are common principles. (One of the minor such fields: Physics.) The idea that intelligence may be detectable by some fundamental principles cannot be ruled out of hand (like a weird, philosophical pre-emptive strike), and others—including some evolutionists—have recognized this. New principles often do just that: relate aspects of a “host of (often barely-related) subfields.” In mathematics, my own expertise, it’s seen all the time. Such unifying principles are generally celebrated, and, should ID prove itself, it likely will be too. And, if it does, it will be to the shame of those who—out of some weird fear, religious motivation, or whatever—tried to very unscientifically prevent it from even having the chance to do so.

    Regardless, your personal incredulity is irrelevant. The detection of intelligence is a promising field that, rather, shows many promising signs of being just such a discovery of principles. If anything, the fact that we do it so routinely as human beings gives good reason to believe that there are, indeed, underlying principles. So, please forgive those who don’t allow your personal beliefs to stop them as they continue their work.

    13) I’m glad that you don’t mind, since cut it off we shall. I’m sure that there is some legitimate statement on Wikipedia somewhere that needs your attention and active suppression. The gatekeepers must be ever diligent, lest new ideas sneak in.

    I admire your zeal, Hrafn. It is worthy of your religion, and it shows you to be a devoted adherent—unswervingly faithful to the “experts” whose pronouncements you swallow without question, as a child at communion. And while you haven’t actually done so, if you feel you’ve proven your point then I am glad for you, as it will likely help you sleep better. And getting enough rest is important.

  8. Mr. Smith:

    Sorry I came into the game so late, but I didn’t know so much was going on in your (multiple?) website. It aptly excited my interest. Very entertaining!

    No one sang your accolades for your use of the word “rebutted.” I am not familiar with some of these acronyms and “plasma” language (bits and pieces of letters strung together similar to “highly energized, freely moving ions and electrons”).

    When I saw “ROFLMAO,” I didn’t get it, but soon realized what LMAO meant.

    When I read your comment, ILMHO. So your comment really made me roll in the aisles with laughter.


    Oh well! Please chalk this one up as corny humor.

    Larry Bruce

  9. Lance Reece

    Um, What just happened?
    …I believe Jesus (as in, I empathize with His point of view).
    He’s clearly into ID. There’s no debating that. Unless your…you know, special.

  10. Lance Reece

    🙂 I get to feast with members of your family this year, our cabin will be surrounded with Smithsonians! We’ll miss you!

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