I’m never sure whether I should be amused or horrified to see intelligent design’s PR firm, the Discovery Institute, trying to pose as a scientific organization. Right now I’m tending decidedly towards amusement, as their inept aping of the scientific process only serves to reveal how fundamentally they misunderstand it.
As always, I’m here to help.
Recent posts from members of the Discovery Institute show that their authors have learned to imitate the language of science without actually understanding it. I’m going to do my best to translate a few things. For example, when David Klinghoffer (who is, in a sense, a ghost) says,
I’m currently seeking to place an awesome manuscript by a scientist at an Ivy League university with the guts to give his reasons for rejecting Darwinism. The problem is that, as yet, nobody has the guts to publish it.
what I think he means is
our manuscript has so far failed to pass peer review.
If you read the same blogs I do, you’re no doubt aware that Nathan Lents, Joshua Swamidass, and Richard Lenski published a not-very-flattering review of Michael Behe’s new book, Darwin Devolves, in Science. As you would expect, various members of the Discovery Institute, including Dr. Behe himself, have responded to the review. I haven’t read Darwin Devolves yet, so I there’s a lot on both sides of the argument that I won’t try to evaluate.
What I am going to talk about is the attempts, mostly by David Klinghoffer, to imply that there is something underhanded about the review itself. Klinghoffer takes issue not just with the content of the review, but with its authorship and timing:
Three? Why Not One?
Why was it [the Lents et al. review] written and published in this way? It’s odd to review a book that hasn’t been publicly released yet.
A while back, Barry Arrington challenged critics of intelligent design to define intelligent design, claiming that
I have never seen a fair summary of ID theory come from one of our opponents.
Several ID critics(including me) weighed in with our definitions, but Arrington called all of them “superficial and contemptuous” (my answer was apparently so superficial and contemptuous that it got me banned from commenting at Uncommon Descent). I pointed out at the time that some of these answers were virtually identical to the definitions given by prominent ID proponents.
Stephen Meyer, author of Darwin’s Doubt, founding member of the Discovery Institute, and occasional contributor to Evolution News and Views, has cleared things up for us. Here’s his definition of intelligent design (around 1:58 in this recording):
The theory of intelligent design is the idea that there are certain features of life and the universe that are best explained by a purposive intelligence, rather than an undirected material process such as, in the realm of biology, natural selection acting on random mutations.
Intelligent design proponent Douglas Axe says,
My recent book, Undeniable, makes the case not just that life is designed but also that this is obvious — you need no special training to see it. And yet, as with other obvious truths, some people prefer to deny this one than to fully embrace the attending implications.
For atheists to be in denial here isn’t surprising. Short of recanting, they have no option. [emphasis added]
But intelligent design proponents have said many, many times that ID, being a scientific rather than religious theory, does not identify the designer. According to Michael Behe,
Possible candidates for the role of designer include: the God of Christianity; an angel–fallen or not; Plato’s demi-urge; some mystical new age force; space aliens from Alpha Centauri; time travelers; or some utterly unknown intelligent being.
So here’s my question: if ID is agnostic to the nature of the designer, why can’t an atheist believe life is designed?
I promised in part one of this series that I would show why the argument that convergence is a problem for evolution is daft, and I haven’t really done that. What I’ve done so far is show that the argument includes a false premise, namely that evolutionary biologists have only recently become aware that convergence is widespread.
In parts one, two, and three, I showed that some intelligent design proponents misrepresent the history of biological thought regarding convergence. They have created an alternate history in which biologists from Darwin to Dawkins were barely aware of convergent evolution, and have only in the last few decades been forced to confront it. Whether this is dishonesty or just bad scholarship, I can’t say, but it is a big, stinking pile of wrong.
But I haven’t really engaged their core argument, a fair paraphrase of which is that convergence, the appearance of similar phenotypes in distantly related species, is evidence against (or even falsifies) common descent. For example, Cornelius Hunter says convergence
…violates the evolutionary pattern. Regardless of adaptation versus constraint explanations, and any other mechanisms evolutionists can or will imagine, the basic fact remains: a fundamental evidence and prediction of evolution is falsified. —2017-05-25
In parts one and two, I showed that suggestions by some intelligent design advocates that evolutionary biologists have only recently become aware of widespread convergence are false. At least one ID proponent, though, has gone further, suggesting that convergence is a post hoc rationalization invented by ‘Darwinists’ to hide their dirty little secret that common descent is not supported by evidence.
Physicist Lee M. Spetner makes this argument in his book The Evolution Revolution. I don’t own The Evolution Revolution, but Casey Luskin has helpfully, and approvingly, quoted some critical passages:
Convergent evolution is the Darwinists’ lollapalooza. They made it up to keep their phylogenetic tree from falling apart, but they can’t say how convergence happens. — As quoted by Casey Luskin, 2014-10-19