They don’t understand logic or science

The Discovery Institute is still singing the same tune. It’s revealingly tone-deaf, too. David Klinghoffer champions falsification as a key strategy, and he doesn’t even understand it.

Want to falsify the theory of intelligent design? Here’s one way.

Show with a convincing computer simulation – no cheating allowed — that the infusion of biological information in the Cambrian explosion could occur absent the intervention of a guiding intelligence: artificial life in a variety as we see in the Cambrian event, but without design.

He starts out with an interesting proposal: falsify his favored theory. That’s how science works. We propose a hypothesis, and then we batter it about trying to find the flaws and identify tests that would evaluate whether our proposal actually works. I read that and thought that finally we were going to see a testable claim about Intelligent Design creationism.

No such luck. Read the next sentence, and he isn’t taking a critical look at ID creationism: he announces that we have to come up with a test to prove our theory is possible. That isn’t a falsification test! It’s the opposite of falsification — we have to prove every detail of evolutionary theory is true, or he gets to claim his bullshit idea is true.

Wesley Elsberry takes on the bizarre infatuation of creationists with binary models. This is good stuff.

There is nothing in falsification about how validating some other concept makes a concept false. This is a popular misconception in antievolution circles, though, as one finds this particular mistake in the output of various high-profile “intelligent design” creationists. It is a long-running misconception, a zombie pseudoscience if you will, as I was pointing this out directly to William Dembski and Michael Behe at a conference in 2001, and it continued to put in appearances from them later.

One might wonder why IDC advocates have such trouble with this. I think that it follows from confusing and conflating their “two-model” worldview with an actual concept in philosophy. The “two-model” view was a component of “scientific creationism” that has propagated through the various renamings that have followed it. The “two-model” view states that there are only two possible models, creationism or evolution, and evidence against one is evidence for the other. In other words, that one’s likelihood of belief in one can be bolstered by reducing one’s likelihood of belief in the other. Or, putting it in the terms that likely led to the confusion, the falsity of one model attests to the truth of the other. This whole notion is rank nonsense, and has been exposed as rank nonsense for decades. For example, Francisco Ayala, as a witness in the McLean v. Arkansas case in 1981 was questioned about the soundness of the “two-model” view by an unfortunate lawyer named Williams. Ayala said, “Surely you realize that not being Mr. Williams in no way entails being Mr. Ayala!” Judge Overton in his decision also noted the inherent problems with what he termed “a contrived dualism”. This was referenced in the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision as well, where it was noted that the same erroneous argumentation had been carried forward to that case.

I also take exception to creationist’s constant focus on “computer models”. Computer models are useful tools for assessing some ideas, but they’re no substitute for real data…especially when the events you’re pursuing are not simple, and have a million different equally valid ways of producing a result. Again with the binary thinking: Cambrian evolution will not be described with a “yes” or a “no”.

I’m also going to call shenanigans on his assumptions. The Cambrian was not an “event”. It was a long, multi-million year series of events, and it was driven by multiple phenomena. There was the pre-Cambrian bioturbation revolution, in which the evolution of worms with hydraulic skeletons drove massive turnover of nutrients in sediments; there was the gradual increase in atmospheric oxygen, which made more energetic organisms possible; there was a long history of evolution of animal lineages before the Cambrian that set the stage with breadth and depth of diversity. How do you “simulate” all that on a computer? And why bother, because you know creationists like Klinghoffer will simply reject any result that shows an increase in complexity without an infusion of biological information (whatever that means) as cheating?

Most importantly, no one with any sense or competence would carry out such a simulation to falsify creationism, an endeavor with no reward, since they’ll just move the goalposts as they always have.


  1. weylguy says

    In a legal sense, I see Klinghoffer’s argument as tantamount to demanding a person on trial prove their innocence. Also, if science cannot prove a negative (Russell’s Teapot), then Klinghoffer is asserting that science is wrong and creationism wins out. Lastly, even if there was an “infusion of intelligent biological information” to kick off the Cambrian period, it wouldn’t prove that the God of Abraham had anything to do with it. It might have been Brahma or Zeus or Thor.

  2. brucegee1962 says

    It’s obvious that what he’s trying to do is “proving the double negative” — if you can’t do this thing to prove you’re right, then that means I’m right.

    Really, all it means is “Maybe there’s something else we haven’t thought of yet going on.” Before Darwin, there wasn’t a good explanation for how species came about; before Einstein, there weren’t good explanations for flaws in Newton’s motion theories (though mostly we didn’t know what those flaws were yet). In either case, there could have been those eager to say “Because God,” and in either case, there were other explanations.

  3. handsomemrtoad says

    So long as a non-design explanation is POSSIBLE, the principle of Occam’s Razor favors it over any design-explanation.

    Many people misunderstand Occam’s Razor. It does not favor the most plausible explanation, nor the simplest explanation, nor the explanation which makes the fewest individual assumptions. These are all MISSTATEMENTS of Occam’s Razor.

    In fact, Occam’s Razor favors the LOGICALLY-WEAKEST explanation. “Logically-weakest” means the explanation WHICH IMPLIES, ASSUMES, OR INCLUDES, THE SMALLEST TOTAL AMOUNT OF EXTRA STUFF. This can be the less plausible explanation, or the explanation which makes a larger number of weak, small assumptions rather than a smaller number of strong, large assumptions (just as many small vats can collectively contain less nuclear waste than one or two very large vats) or the more complex explanation (for example, if Explanation A postulates five forces of limited magnitude, but Explanation B postulates only two forces but both are of infinite possible magnitude, then Occam’s Razor favors Explanation A, because finite forces are LESS STUFF than infinite forces, even though Explanation A is more complex). What matters to Occam’s Razor is the TOTAL AMOUNT OF EXTRA STUFF a competing explanation implies.

    Now, if a design-free explanation is available and adequate, then a designer is EXTRA STUFF, especially the designer THEY want: infinite power, infinite intelligence, infinite extension/volume, infinite lifespan (both infinite future and infinite past lifespan) infinite goodness, infinite authority, PLUS human-like character traits such as love, jealousy, and desire to be worshiped and obeyed. Their designer is several infinite amounts of extra stuff, and more. That’s why Occam’s Razor rejects Him.

  4. howardhershey says

    Even with two testable falsifiable hypotheses, there are at least four possible results of the tests: both are falsified, neither is falsified, in addition to the creationist argument’s dichotomy. And, in the real world, there are confusing intermediate muddles.

  5. consciousness razor says

    Show with a convincing computer simulation – no cheating allowed — that the infusion of biological information in the Cambrian explosion could occur absent the intervention of a guiding intelligence: artificial life in a variety as we see in the Cambrian event, but without design.

    What they seem to be asking for here is that physics might not have been violated. If a simulation convinces them somehow that this “could” have happened through entirely natural processes — given any crazy set of conditions you’re able to cook up, with no restrictions except that they’re physically possible in our universe — then according to them, intelligent design has been “falsified.” (But there’s no telling what they think that means.)

    You could simply feed in a state before the “explosion” and let the dynamics do whatever it does, until things get to the explodey part. If you can conjure up any physical state whatsoever which does the job, then that’s it, we’re done. They may protest that this is “cheating” somehow, and it’s probably completely useless as a scientific exercise, not least because it’s wildly outside of our abilities to make models that detailed. But it is what they’re asking for, yet it doesn’t sound like they have a reason for thinking this must turn out in their favor (if we were ever able to actually do it that way, with stupendously huge computers).

    Anyway, it’s apparently not just a claim that naturalism is merely false, but that it is impossible for physical objects to do such things. If it can’t be true, they would be able to show what contradicts with what, in which case this crap about “falsification” would be pointless. They could point to something, anything, which is contradictory in all conceivable naturalistic accounts of the world. Then we really would have to conclude there’s some kind of supernatural whatever-the-fuck.

    But that’s not where we are. They just seem to think it’s a contradiction whenever they shove a god into a naturalistic picture and refuse to take it out. Talk about fucking “cheating.” Or maybe they think that if they’re very persistent about shoving gods into all sorts of obscure places, perhaps one day we’ll just give up and say they won to stop the pain.

    I guess it would be understandable if they actually cared what anybody else thought and were simply looking for validation of their respectable (but wrong) theories. Instead, it looks like it has more to do with exerting whatever arbitrary degree of dominance and authority that they can get away with. The only reason they ever seem to care about any of this (usually fairly interesting) stuff is to make idle remarks about how powerfully powerful their super-powered “lord” is supposed to be, and by extension how powerful they hope to be I guess. But how fucking bored with life do you have to be, to be that fucking pompous and obtuse all of the fucking time? Don’t you have anything better to do? No hobbies, no interests, no curiosity, nothing?

  6. richardemmanuel says

    Surely finding any biology at all would be evidence that God was not intelligent enough to see it was not required, since beings can exist immaterially.

  7. says

    Conservatives can only count to two: “us” vs. “them,” “win” vs. “lose,” “race” is a hierarchy, gender is a hierarchical binary, people are all good or evil, and on and on…

    What about the origins of human life?

    Goddidit, or TOTAL ANARCHY!!!11!!

    It might all be kind of funny, if they didn’t insist on running for office or voting compulsively.

  8. rietpluim says

    Falsify ID? Easy.

    A good, just God would have created a good, just world.
    This world is not good nor just.

    Ah, and don’t give me that “ID says nothing about God” bullshit. That is cheating. Big time.

  9. richardemmanuel says

    Another problem is mortals shouldn’t be able to more intelligently design these things. For instance, code them more efficiently. Which would be demonstrated by removing some extraneous nonsense strings, and the thing still working. Another problem is…

  10. rietpluim says

    “If you could reason with religious people, there would be no religious people.”

  11. blf says

    The mildly deranged penguin has long pointed out that any hypothesis — it does not matter what the hypothesis is about, germs or walruses (Ok, same thing), or ducks or black holes (possibly also the same thing), or qwerty keyboards or mysterious battered wooden blue boxes labeled “Police” — any hypothesis, which does not start from the self-evident axioms of both more Moar Cheese and Penguins Fly is clearly nonsense. This is quite similar to presupposing both magic sky faeries and gopher wood to exist, else the hypothesis is wrong — except that Moar Cheese and Penguins Fly really are necessary, true, correct, and obvious.

  12. mnb0 says

    “he announces that we have to come up with a test to prove our theory is possible.”
    Don’t worry – even on their own condition IDiots fail miserably. For years I have read the argument “it has never been shown that life can come from non-life”. Just google Law of Biogenesis. But the day comes nearer and nearer that scientists in a lab will manage exactly this. So since two years or so the IDiots go “show me life coming from non-life spontaneously, ie outside a lab.”
    They don’t even apply their own two-model method consistently, but only when and as long as it suits them to confirm their predetermined conclusion.

  13. mnb0 says

    “a convincing computer simulation ….. absent the intervention of a guiding intelligence”
    Also note the second copout: any computer simulation is designed and hence works thanks to the intervention of a guiding intelligence: the assembled programmers. I bet the lower end of my digestive system that some IDiot will use such a computer simulation as evidence for IDiocy, if any computer nerd is foolish enough to waste his/her time on this and succeeds. Just compare Paley’s False Watchmaker Analogy.

    Watch –> Watchmaker
    Computer simulation –> Programmer
    Cambrian Explosion –> Grand Old Designer.

  14. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I’m still waiting for IDiots show me the “pufferies”, where their imaginary deity causes the new species to come into existence…
    That would show A) their imaginary deity actually exists, and 2) the mechanism that specification happened by.
    Not expecting any such evidence in my lifetime, for some strange reason…..
    Until the IDiots demonstrate such evidence, they have already falsified themselves.

  15. se habla espol says

    [[[At the top of this comment block, it says “Logged in as se habla espol.” The preview calls me Anonymous. Who might I be?]]]

    @mnb0, # 15:

    For years I have read the argument “it has never been shown that life can come from non-life”.

    Yet these same people also claim that “life begins at conception”, refusing to notice the incompatibility, the impossibility that both statements can be simultaneously true (in a single universe).

  16. handsomemrtoad says

    But there is one thing you CAN say for religious people: they are very musical. Check this out.

  17. Tethys says

    Show with a convincing computer simulation – no cheating allowed — that the infusion of biological information in the Cambrian explosion could occur

    What infusion of ‘biological information’ are they going on about? The Cambrian explosion is a poorly named phenomonon for the observed lack of fossils in older strata. There are older fossils, but enviromental conditions on a planet with acid rain, no atmosphere to screen out radiation, and reducing water conditions doesn’t favor life or preservation. The cambrian proliferation of bony bits that preserve was reflecting the environment becoming less hostile to life.

  18. John Morales says

    Tethys, feeling whimsical, so:

    What infusion of ‘biological information’ are they going on about?

    Simple syllogism:

    * Before the Cambrian explosion, there was X amount of biological information.
    * After the Cambrian explosion, there was X + δ amount of biological information.
    * Therefore, the Cambrian explosion infused δ amount of biological information.

    To them, “biological information” is a mysterious thing — an Élan Vital.

    (And it’s magical, so that only God can pour more into the world.
    Otherwise, the law of Conservation of Biological Information applies, and Darwinism flouts that Law)

  19. richardemmanuel says

    Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. They’ve been intelligently designed to not see how stupid they are. Finely tuned idiots.