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  Topic: Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed., Sternberg, Gonzalez, Crocker - A film< Next Oldest | Next Newest >  
Glen Davidson

Posts: 1100
Joined: May 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Oct. 04 2007,16:43   

And another one, which will be broken up at "Expelled":  [oops, I meant to break it up, but didn't]

The rather odd and disjointed composition of this particular blog entry has been commented upon by many.

Being a screed, however, it's not unexpected.  You know, so many of the standard put-downs of the opposition have to get in, so much persecution has to be claimed, and any of the requirements that the claims made on the blog as well as the claims made by IDists must be properly evidenced and argued must be shunted aside with a sort of tabloid rhetoric.

OK, but that's said, and it will be ignored on the other side because they (or most on that side who comment on these forums do, anyway) already "know" that I have to be wrong simply because I am on the other side.  So I'll leave that bit as an introduction that will receive the predictable reactions from the various factions, and will move on to some specific problems with what was written, beyond what I've (or anyone, IIRC) discussed in the past.  To be sure, the problems "go without saying," that is, they go without saying for the people who have learned about science and philosophy.  However, these problems should be mentioned for the sake of those who have either missed out through no fault of their own (elitism is far too rampant in this society), and for those who have simply not cared to learn prior to pontificating on these matters (I particularly mean those responsible for this film).

<blockquote>Actually, the <i>authentic</i> victims in this story are those scientists who have been “expelled” for the offense of merely <i>acknowledging</i> that intelligent <i>design</i> exists within nature.</blockquote>

The way italics are used above is odd.  However, one is probably justified to surmise that "acknowledging" is written and emphasized both to rhetorically (and without evidence) suggest that it is only sensible to claim that life is designed (despite the fact that this claim has never been established in a judicially or scientifically sound manner), and to try to void the normal scientific requirement that such claims need to be <b>evidenced</b>, not merely assumed and (supposedly) <i>acknowledged</i>.

In other words, rhetoric is used to bluster through the fact that ID has no evidence in its favor.  Call the IDists "victims" who are supposedly suppressed for "acknowledging" assumptions for which they are required in scientific practice to actually make an evidence-based case, and thereby you have successfully ignored the fact that ID doesn't meet the requirements for science--and for that reason alone do have their apologetics rejected, or, where that's not possible, ridiculed as being pseudoscience.

<blockquote>Our worldwide investigation over the last eighteen months revealed the <i>real</i> “miscasting.” </blockquote>

Your "investigation" consists in those committed to an <i>a priori</i> belief in a designer-God looking for reasons to attack those who maintain the proper and expected standards of science.  It is not an investigation so much as it is the use of your own confirmation bias as a way to fault those who disagree with you, and to affirm what you prejudicially assumed from the beginning.  A proper investigation would be made up of people who know the rules of evidence, not a right-wing actor/writer like Stein, a right-wing radio host like Miller, and a businessman such as Ruloff.  These people lack the perspective of judges, scientists, and others steeped in the processes of sorting out good ideas from bad ideas, rather they simplistically believe that just because science rules against ID that such judgments are tantamount to "suppression".

<blockquote>Namely, to the role of <i>“the unemployed,” or “discredited,”</i> that the cadre of elite antitheists assigns any scientist or educator dissenting from the party line.</blockquote>

Oh yes, the tired old refrain of the believers in discredited beliefs.  You get that from every purveyor of crackpot "science", from faulty physics "theorists", to UFO believers, to the few geocentrists still kicking around, to Rousseau with his herbal cures which are supposedly being kept quiet by the conspiracy of the medical establishment (Weil is also in this category), and on to the people who just know that the CIA, KGB, President Johnson, or some other favorite enemy "really" killed Kennedy.

In fact it is true that there are many beliefs that are properly discredited.  Does Ruloff want "phlogiston theory" being taught to his children?  Should the claim that Prometheus made man out of earth and water be taught to Miller's kids?  We have the First Amendment to keep blatantly religious beliefs from being promoted by the government, which is why we don't teach Greek myths, nor the Judeo-Christian philosopher's God as being the "intelligent designer" of life, in science classes.

The only legitimate tactic to use when we call ID a discredited pseudoscience is for you to actually produce evidence in favor of your "hypothesis" (no, the "Explanatory Filter" does not provide evidence, it only attempts to impose a false dilemma into science standards).  The people behind the movie and this blog cannot or will not explain why the "designer" supposedly designed prokaryotes differently than eukaryotes (in prokaryotes, different genes in the same organism "speciate" at different times, is one example of what I'm talking about) and in line with known prokaryotic evolutionary mechanisms, nor do they tell me why vertebrate wings were "designed" from leg structures instead of from first principles, or from previously existing wings.  Therefore, the only legitimate conclusion to which I can come is that the <i>Expelled</i> folk cannot produce the evidence required for us to consider their "hypothesis" scientifically.  On the other side, we do have explanations for these phenomena, yet ID wants equal billing in academia when it has no explanation for these or other biological phenomena.

<blockquote>The party line being the “explanation” that random mutation is responsible for the extrusion of <i>every living thing on earth,</i> and in <i>record</i> time.</blockquote>

See now, I'd like to know who wrote "the extrusion of every living thing on earth."  It isn't even proper use of the word "extrusion".  Plastic objects, spaghetti, and Play-Do are what can be extruded.  Extrude a monkey, and you have nothing but a rather disgusting paste with bits of bone in it.

But that's just a complaint that the writing here is bad.  It's the science mistakes that really matter.

Anybody who knows enough to properly be commenting on evolutionary theory either way should recognize at once what a collosal mistake it is to say that the accepted explanation for life's diversity is "random mutation", as suggested by the above quote.  Random mutation doesn't even come up in Darwin's writings, though he did dealt with the variations that do arise without assuming a telos (goal or purpose) which is not in evidence.  Evolutionary theory is based on the obvious fact that "unselected" variations could never produce what we see in life, but rather, some sort of "selection" is absolutely crucial.

It is much easier for the author of this blog piece to attack the strawman that ID sets up (from Dembski's to the Discovery Institute's blog, this strawman is a commonplace of ID misrepresentation of biology) than it would be to discuss the evidence regarding evolutionary mechanisms.

Not content in making one rather egregious language mistake, and perhaps the greatest scientific error one could make about evolutionary theory, the author has to claim that living things were "extruded" in "record time."

I wonder how in the world 3-4 billion years of evolution could be mistaken to be "record time"?  The fact is that life took an amazingly long time even to get beyond single cells and (relatively) simple colonies of these cells.  The Cambrian "explosion" was fast by evolutionary standards, probably for reasons of genetic plasticity along with a dramatic rise in oxygen, but of course its results were fully in-line with what we'd expect from evolutionary mechanisms--evolutionary changes within the expected range of evolutionary constraints, and a whole lot of "primitive" (certainly primitive by comparison with many crown species) ancestors (or close relatives of the actual ancestors) of later organisms.

What is stunning is that IDists suppose that their designer took 3-4 billion years to come up with what we have today.  This is completely out of the range of anything we have ever seen a designer actually do.  Of course we have also never seen designers constrained by the evolutionary limitations that we see in life, nor any designers whose rationality couldn't be elucidated from their work.  IDists cannot point to any rational design or planning of organisms, which is why they try to change the subject.

Lord Kelvin tried to claim that evolution was impossible within the 20 million years or so that he allowed for the existence of the earth, when most biologists were nearly certain that it would take several hundred million years.  So there is nothing odd in the fact that life took so long to evolve.

It is this film that is trying to claim that their "designer" made life in a "record" amount of "time," indeed, in a time so much longer than the scale of all known design processes that it is impossible to conceive of the mechanisms involved in any such "design" (classical science requires so-called "mechanisms", another reason ID isn't science).  That no doubt is why this blog isn't even upholding the ID fiction that ID is not religious, because clearly their designer is God-like in both being inscrutable and in being omnipotent (I know of no IDist who doesn't claim that the "designer" also made the universe).  Isn't it a trifle odd that ID's "design" phase just happens to be within the range required for non-teleological evolution, and also that what we see in organisms is what would be expected of non-teleological evolution?

The following quote is from a different context than the foregoiong (if you want to see the context, just scroll to the beginning blog piece), and is aimed specifically at issues that I will not discuss.  There seems to be little doubt that it is also meant to be a comment about evolutionary ideas in general, which I will address:

<blockquote>Random mutation never ceases to <i>amaze</i>, though. One just can’t <i>predict</i> what will happen!</blockquote>

Again we have the improper claim that evolutionary theory is about nothing other than "random mutation".  What I want to discuss now, however, is the equally false claim that evolution can't "predict" what will happen.

That would be true if evolution were only about random mutation, of course (actually, physics would still yield some predictions, but they'd be biologically uninteresting, for there'd be no biology), or if it were caused by some design process and design goals unknown to us.  However, evolutionary theory is founded upon predictions which have been borne out by the evidence, as any theory must be.

Within known evolutionary constraints, the "nested hierarchy" found in taxonomy is indeed one of the founding predictions of evolutionary theory.  Aristotle and Linnaeus came up with taxonomies (Linnaeus' was far more complete) which grouped organisms in ways that looked a lot like genealogies do, and no one (other than creos and IDists claiming exceptions where their theologies are threatened) claims that genealogical patterns exist by "design".  Darwin (and earlier thinkers like Maupertuis who had similar ideas, but not the needed mass of evidence) made the rather obvious (by now) observation that the evidence that shows organisms to appear as if they were related should be understood as meaning that they are related.

That wasn't a "prediction" in the way that many outside of science consider the term to mean, however it counts as a prediction in science because such patterns are entailed by the theory and its context.

What amounts more to "prediction" in the vernacular sense is that evolutionary theory predicts the range of what transitional fossils must embody.  That's how we know that archaeopteryx is transitional (in point of fact, it is not the ancestor of today's birds, but it is thought most likely from morphological considerations to be about three cladistic branchings off from the actual ancestor).  ID cannot provide the criteria for deciding transitional fossils at all, for there are no known constraints on the supposed designer (unless we simply take MET's constraints as if they are the "designer's", clearly an ad hoc solution).  Hence there is something odd about an IDist like Behe accepting the fact that evolution occurred from the evidence, when the evidence for evolution can only be evidence for evolution if it is constrained by known evolutionary processes, and not when they are unconstrained by dint of some super-intelligent "designer" working for unknown purposes and via unknown capabilities.

The finding of Tiktaalik (a transitional between fish and amphibian) is one of the best examples of predicting both transitional form and timing, since the researchers who went to the expected "time strata" to find evidence about the evolutionary development of Tiktaalik's shoulder girdle and other tetrapod locomotive anatomy (a mere transitional was not what they were after, as some of these transitionals, such as Ichthyostega, were already known) found just the <i>type of</i> transitional for which they were looking--in the predicted range of strata.  I'd also point out that timing is only statistically predictable in evolution, for we do not know all of the contingencies involved.  However, the predicted ranges for transitional fossils is rather narrower than are the predicted times for most transitions (not that there aren't substantial constraints on most temporal <i>ranges</i>).

And of course, as I've mentioned a number of times, and already in this post, prokaryotes are predicted to evolve differently from how eukaryotes are predicted to evolve.  Prokaryote (I mention parenthetically that some object to the term "prokaryote", since it really only means "not-eukaryote" or "non-eukaryote".  However, it is often useful to be able to easily write "non-eukaryote" by writing "prokaryote") taxonomy is difficult, due to the great number of lateral transfers between closely related lines (and yes, like I mentioned, it's interesting that "genes speciate" separately in the same "species" of prokaryote) and lack of true sexual reproduction.  Vertebrates appear not to undergo much lateral gene transfer, so produce the wonderful phylogenetic trees so beloved of the teachers of evolution.

Indeed, the evolutionary patterns are significantly different between eukaryotes (actually, lateral gene transfers to insects from Wolbachia appear to be much more common than were expected in the past, yet sexual reproduction in insects seems to largely maintain the eukaryote patterns of evolution in these as well) and prokaryotes, agreeing with the predictions of MET (modern evolutionary theory).

Look, I could go on about evolutionary predictions, but I think that these are the very biggest predictions which have to work out predictively according to known mechanisms--and this is already a very long response to a few short and erroneous statements.  What I've mentioned already are crucial tests for whether or not MET works within our present ability to comprehend cause and effect, and the predictions are overwhelmingly borne out by the evidence (inevitably there are questions at the margins, as in any science, while the expected patterns are unquestionable).

ID, by contrast, tries to sneek into science by emphasizing the remaining questions, and not by coming up with any kind of prediction or evidence that design has happened over the course of evolution.  Design ought to be detectable, indeed, for we have tests for "engineered" organisms.  And actually, one important question for IDists is why it is that we can detect our own "designs" in organisms (sometimes this is done from specific knowledge about genetic engineering of organisms, but one could also detect substantial tampering with genomes of, say, anthrax by comparing what designers can do with what is possible without any engineering)from the background genomes, since according to IDists the background is also designed.  This may be very important in the future, if terrorist organizations make designer diseases.  It would be impossible for us to detect designer diseases if "wild-type" organisms had been designed, assuming that the word "design" has any actual meaning to it.

Well, it isn't surprising that IDists take pains to avoid making predictions (except to claim that ID predicts IC or some such thing, which it doesn't--clearly design can be either IC or not-IC, and without knowing the capabilities of the "designer" one could never know if it could make anything that is "IC"), since life is so unlike any designs that we have ever observed being produced.  

By contrast, one can predict what will happen in evolution, or more precisely, one can predict the range of possibilities within a given evolutionary scenario.  If what we find in biology did not fit within that range, I'm sure that the IDists would happily point this out to us.  Failing that, they try to make much of the fact that biology is an ongoing science which, unsurprisingly, does not have all of the answers, while they continue to predict nothing whatsoever that is actually entailed by general design principles as we know them, nor by appeal to a specific designer with known specific capabilities and purposes which may differ from presently known designers.  

What the gang at <i>Expelled</i> wants is for us to devalue the explanations and predictions which evolutionary theory makes possible, and for science to capitulate to an unscientific theological idea which refuses to make the kinds of entailed predictions that every legitimate scientific hypothesis must make.  They want us to state that ID is the every bit the equal of the predictive scientific theory that biology researchers use every day, when it is useless for research purposes.  Such heavy-handed tactics didn't ultimately work in Galileo's day, so why should anti-empirical dictates succeed now?

Glen D


Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of coincidence---ID philosophy

  3612 replies since Aug. 12 2007,07:23 < Next Oldest | Next Newest >  

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