In their own words, part 2

Evolution News & Views

I previously pointed out that Casey Luskin’s “false, straw-man [version] of ID” bears a striking resemblance to intelligent design advocate Michael Behe’s actual definition:

Let me get this straight:

life is so complex, it could not have evolved” is a “false, straw-man version” of

Cells are simply too complex to have evolved.

I promised that I would get to the second part of Luskin’s “straw-man version,”

…therefore it was designed by a supernatural intelligence,

and that’s what I mean to address in this post. Maybe Luskin wasn’t claiming that ID critics mischaracterize the logic that leads ID advocates to reject evolution, but rather that they mistakenly (or deceitfully) portray ID advocates as inferring supernatural causation. If so, he’s not alone. Advocates of intelligent design frequently deny that their theory has anything to do with the supernatural, and they imply that efforts to portray it as such are deceitful or, at best, misinformed.

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In their own words, part 1

Evolution News & Views

Cdesign proponentsists often complain that critics attack straw man versions rather than their actual arguments. That must be really frustrating; as I’ve said before, if you have good arguments, you don’t need to misrepresent your opponents’. Here, for example is Casey Luskin on Evolution News & Views:

Many critics of intelligent design have promoted false, straw-man versions of ID, typically going something like this:

“Intelligent design claims that life is so complex, it could not have evolved, therefore it was designed by a supernatural intelligence.”

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Get your story straight, will you?

Here are a few of the things that would or do support intelligent design, according to various authors on Evolution News & Views:

If evolving multicellularity is complicated. — Cornelius Hunter, Anne Gauger

If evolving multicellularity is simple. — Unsigned Evolution News & Views article

If the human and chimpanzee genomes are very different. — Denyse O’Leary, Casey Luskin, David Klinghoffer, Anne Gauger

If the human and chimpanzee genomes are very similar. — Cornelius Hunter

If life is uncommon in the universe. — David Klinghoffer

If life is common in the universe. — David Klinghoffer

So intelligent design is in the enviable position of being supported equally well by mutually exclusive predictions. Heads I win, tails you lose! Now we can add Kirk Dunston to that last entry (“Could Atheism Survive the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life?“):

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Convergence falsifies evolution, according to Cornelius Hunter

Xerus princeps

Xerus princeps, the mountain ground squirrel.

Before I saw the light and switched to studying Volvox, I studied squirrels. With apologies to Iris Vander Pluym, squirrels are cool. If you grew up in the squirrel-deprived eastern U.S., you might not realize that there are over a hundred species. Chipmunks are squirrels. Marmots are fat squirrels. Prairie dogs are adorable squirrels.

Most of my squirrel work, and some of my Volvox work, has focused on understanding the evolutionary relationships among species. This fits in the subfield of evolutionary biology known as phylogenetics. Phylogenetics results are often visualized as trees and published in journals like CladisticsMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, and Systematic Biology. Phylogenetics is a vast subfield, with a huge number of papers devoted to developing methods that are theoretically and empirically sound.

Cornelius Hunter understands none of this. In a recent post over at Evolution News and Science Today (which used to be Evolution News and Views…when did that change?), he argues against the whole idea of common descent, the very foundation of phylogenetics. Dr. Hunter argues that convergence, similarities among distantly related species, falsifies evolution. The nature of his arguments shows pretty conclusively that he doesn’t understand the basic logic of what he’s criticizing.

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New fossil proves plants are younger than previously thought

That’s not a headline you’re likely to see again. Hopefully it made you think something along the lines of “how does that work, exactly?” Because it doesn’t. If your estimate of the age of a taxon is based on its oldest known fossil, finding a newer fossil isn’t likely to change that estimate. If it’s an extinct group, a newer fossil might show that it stuck around later than you thought, but not that it originated later. Paleontologists recognize that fossil-based estimates of ages are almost always underestimates, since the fossil record is spotty (and generally spottier the further back you go).

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Responses from both Davids (I’m Goliath)

David Klinghoffer and David Coppedge have both responded to my post “Lies of omission and straight-up lies.” Klinghoffer did so in a post on Evolution News and Views, “You Already Support Goliath with Your Tax Dollars; Won’t You Consider Balancing the Scales?“. In it, he calls me a bully for pointing out inconsistencies and omissions in his and Coppedge’s accounts. What he doesn’t do is refute anything I said.

Instead, he reveals how deeply the persecution narrative is embedded in his worldview. So deeply, in fact, that mere criticism is perceived as persecution and bullying. I’ve mentioned the persecution complex before (“The Discovery Institute still doesn’t understand free speech“), and I’m sure others have as well. Here’s how Klinghoffer responds to having inconsistencies in his narrative pointed out:

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Lies of omission and straight-up lies

In a pair of posts over at Evolution News and Views, David Klinghoffer waxes hyperbolic about the 2009 demotion and 2011 layoff of David Coppedge from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (“NASA on Trial: Persecution of David Coppedge Was a Preview of Creeping Totalitarianism“, “NASA Versus David Coppedge: Most Reprehensible Case of Anti-Intelligent Design Persecution Yet?“). It does sound pretty bad, though:

It was back in 2009 that the mild-mannered team lead computer administrator on the Cassini Mission to Saturn was demoted, shamed, and later fired. His workplace offense? Lending out documentaries on DVD favorable to intelligent design.

Coppedge loaned out documentaries on DVD, highlighting relevant scientific evidence of design in biology and cosmology, to willing colleagues. That’s it! That’s all he did.

Shit, that really does sound like religious discrimination. Look, I’m an atheist, but I believe in religious freedom. Firing someone for their religious beliefs, from a government agency no less, is a pretty egregious (even “reprehensible”) violation of the Establishment Clause (“prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”). Assuming, of course, that we’re getting the whole story.

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Out on a limb. Way out.

Last week, I commented on Cornelius Hunter’s claim that the acquisition of antibiotic resistance by bacteria is not an example of evolution. This claim doesn’t just put him at odds with evolutionary biologists, though. It puts him at odds with many of his fellows at the Discovery Institute.

It puts him at odds with David Klinghoffer:

“Antibiotic-resistant bacteria demonstrate evolution by breaking stuff…”

even though Klinghoffer is apparently a fan of the post in which Dr. Hunter claimed the opposite:


So which is it, Mr. Klinghoffer? Is it “not evolution,” (as Dr. Hunter says) or is it “evolution by breaking stuff” (as you say)? It can’t be both.

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Answers to “Ideological Turing Test”

tl;dr: definitions 3, 5, 7, and 9 are among the answers Barry Arrington says ”…demonstrate no more than a superficial understanding of, and a contempt for, ID”; all the others are from advocates of intelligent design.

I include my own deleted answer (#5) among those Arrington dismisses, since Arrington must have seen it before he made his ‘superficial and contemptuous’ comment.

No one got them all right, for example various commenters thought that answers from Michael Behe, vjtorley, Stephen Meyer, and were from critics of intelligent design. And that, of course, is the point. Arrington dismisses as superficial and contemptuous definitions that are pretty much the same as those offered by fellows of the Discovery Institute. In fact (and I’m surprised no one pointed this out), two of them ARE the same: #2, from the Discovery Institute website, is word for word identical to #7, one of the answers Arrington says is wrong. So according to Arrington, the Discovery Institute’s own definition of intelligent design fails his test. I’d love to point that out, but of course I’ve been banned.

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A fair “Ideological Turing Test”

Barry Arrington wants to pretend that critics of intelligent design don’t understand intelligent design, and so he set up an “Ideological Turing Test,” a challenge to correctly define an opponent’s position:

So, here is my challenge to our opponents: Do you understand ID well enough to pass the Ideological Turing Test? If you think you do, prove it by giving a one paragraph summary of ID in the comments below.

The problem is that Arrington himself is the judge, and he has a pretty good idea which of his readers are critics of intelligent design:


As Fordgreen points out,

It’s an interesting exercise, but shouldn’t the responses be anonymous for this to work correctly? Isn’t that how a real Turing test would be conducted?

So let’s give it a try. Arrington says that the answers given by critics of intelligent design”…demonstrate no more than a superficial understanding of, and a contempt for, ID.” See if you can distinguish which of the following definitions of intelligent design are superficial and contemptuous straw men and which are the real definitions given by advocates of intelligent design. I suggest really trying it; write down your guesses, or post them in the comments (honor system here, no googling or visiting Arrington’s post, please). I’ll post the answers tomorrow.

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