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Robyn Williams and the facts of nature

Bill Dembski’s post on an Australian anti-ID tract, creationism’s belligerent cousin , quotes the science broadcaster Robyn Williams in an interview with scijo Deborah Smith, regarding the alleged defects of the human (and marsupial) body:

And the technique appears to have been slapdash or confused: “Halitosis, farting, vaginal discharge, reflux, snoring, rheumatism, warts, smelly armpits, varicose veins, menopause, brewer’s droop … these are not the marks of a designer at the top of his game.” Koalas, Williams also notes, have a pouch that opens downwards. “Was God intending the babies to fall out and crash to the forest floor?”

To me, this is fascinating because, once upon a time, it was mostly effete literati who made these kinds of comments.

Today, in defense of Darwinism, a science broadcaster is allowed to pretend to the general public that the practicalities of biochemistry in real time and space are somehow a defect of the system – much as if a car’s exhaust system were identified as a defect of engineering.

In the eighteenth century, satirical author Jonathan Swift writes of a lover who expresses a sense of pain that his sweetheart, like other life forms, needs to visit the water closet now and then – or, as he put it, “Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia shits.”

The more pragmatic twentieth century journalist/novelist George Orwell replied, “And so much the worse for her if she didn’t.”

It’s one thing for effete literati to pretend disgust with nature’s recycling processes, but … science guys?

Similarly, any layperson can see that the marsupial is numerous and ancient enough in the southern hemisphere that claims of “wrong” design should be questioned.

Someone correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that marsupials exit the uterus and proceed upward (= toward the head) to the pouch. 

 Immediately after birth, the tiny offspring, which weighs no more than 1 g (0.04 oz), crawls along its mother’s body toward a nipple, which in most marsupials is located inside an abdominal pouch or within folds of skin. The newborn attaches firmly to a nipple to suckle its mother’s milk. The nipple expands inside the mouth of the young, locking the offspring in place for several weeks until it is more fully developed and can move about on its own. The offspring may remain with the mother until it is more than a year old, climbing in and out of her pouch for nourishment or safety.

Okay, so in this system, the embryo is fixed to the nipple by expansive pressure. In general, I suppose the mamas of the embryo kangaroos and possums can’t help them much in their journey, because they are very delicate. Nor can either the embryos or the adults be assumed to be very bright. In that case, the entrance would be in the right place for the purpose – a straight line along the body, no guessing. Anyway, I guess it works often enough, considering the numbers of marsupials in the world. 

As a journalist, I mainly study the cultural issues around the Darwinism controversy. So the two things I find interesting about all this are:

1. There is so much public information on the Internet now that anyone can see what might be wrong with arguments for Darwinism that appeal only to the layperson’s supposed lack of knowledge - as Williams’s does. (He assumes I can’t find out in five minutes just how the little roo is secured to the nipple.)

2. Nonetheless, the typical Darwinist continues to insist that only ignorance or some vast conspiracy among pious wingnuts explains growing public disbelief in his system.

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29 Responses to Robyn Williams and the facts of nature

  1. If I may indulge in some quote mining…

    “To most people through history it has always seemed obvious that the teeming diversity of life, the uncanny perfection with which living organisms are equipped to survive and multiply, and the bewildering complexity of living machinery, can only have come about through divine creation.” – Richard Dawkins

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/education.....awkins.htm

    It seems to me that nature is characterized by “uncanny perfection” or slapdash imperfection? Or is it both? If it is both, then why does that argue for evolution more than for design?

  2. Correction to #1: Should have wrote “Is nature characterized by “uncanny perfection” or slapdash imperfection…”

  3. Nor can either the embryos or the adults be assumed to be very bright. In that case, the entrance would be in the right place for the purpose – a straight line along the body, no guessing. Anyway, I guess it works often enough, considering the numbers of marsupials in the world.

    I guess kangaroo embryos must be more intelligent than koala embryos. The Intelligent Designer didn’t think they need the pouch facing down.

  4. Whether ID or Darwinism made things the way they are, there are almost always good reasons for things being the way they are. The origin is either design or natural selection of beneficial novel traits.

    If something has been preserved through time it must work well enough, even if it is not to the satisfaction of Williams. What would he prefer to do with his ingested air, or the products of fermentation within the gut? He doesn’t want reflux or the passing of wind. Would he like to develop some gas converting aparatus to burn it off just to protect his sensitivities?

    The objections he has to design are puerile.

  5. “Whether ID or Darwinism made things the way they are, there are almost always good reasons for things being the way they are.”

    And wouldn’t Darwinian logic support your conclusion anyway by saying “We don’t know what those reasons are yet, but in time we will”.

  6. O’Leary,
    Another thing you might add is that the Darwinists never cease to use the old claim “God would not do it like this, THEREFORE it must have evolved”. This is interesting, since Darwinists often claim that evolution is “God-neutral”. The examples they pick of “bad design” are baseball bats they grabbed on to beat the only competing theory (Design), so that, be default, evolutionism wins, showign once more that they are aware of the “Two Models” aproach.

    They often claim that there is no “two models” aproach”, but they never cease to use it when it serves their evolutionary needs. Notice the words:

    * “These are not the marks of a designer at the top of his game.”

    * Koalas, Williams also notes, have a pouch that opens downwards. “Was God intending the babies to fall out and crash to the forest floor?”

    These semi-rethorical questions are suposed to leave people with the thought “Well, since God wouldn’t have done it this way, THEN it must have evolved” Strangely enough, when Creationists use the same “Two-Model” aproach, Darwinists don’t aproove it.
    Regarsding the “bad design” worldview, I found this article hilarious, specialy the part about the “better design” in the Human Esophagus proposed by Darwinists:

    http://www.godandscience.org/e.....nebad.html

  7. 7

    Just for fun I predict that one day there will be discovered fossil marsupial bats. After all we already have marsupial mice, bears, woodchucks, squirrels and saber-toothed cats. I also can predict for obvious reasons that there will never be discovered marsupial whales!

    That is my minilecture for today.

    A past evolution in undeniable, a prresent evolution undemonstrable.”
    John A. Davison

  8. Ms O’Leary: I would imagine that when the young koala is born, it is small enough that it doesn’t matter which way the pouch points: it can hang on to the fur etc. anyway. It’s more of a problem when the joey is older and bigger.

    Mr Aussie webpage:

    Whether ID or Darwinism made things the way they are, there are almost always good reasons for things being the way they are. The origin is either design or natural selection of beneficial novel traits.

    Ah, so the reason you Aussies drive on the left is either because of a vast conspiracy, or because that’s a superior way of doing things. And so has nothing to do with historical inertia.

    Bob

  9. It seems to me that what people like this are really arguing against is not ID but a kind of static form of special creation. In that narrow sense, I have to sympathize with them. Nature is filled with all kinds of examples of slight modifications of existing structures, and the portrait of change through time is strikingly clear. It just doesn’t jive with the notion of an intelligent designer sitting down at the drawing board and drawing up blueprints for each new creature. I understand that this view is not what ID proposes, and that ID is far more limited than this, but the media, many scientists and members of the general public obdurately do not! Thinking about this made me realize that another misconception about ID is that it is some kind of fully-formed alternative explanation to Darwinian evolution which would play a replacement-type role in science. Again, not true, but widely believed. ID has as much PR work ahead as scientific. It is impossible to predict which will be more challenging!

  10. I am confused. Williams was talking about Koalas which are different from most other marsupials (such as Kangaroos) precisely because their pouch opens backwards. “How the little roo is attached to the nipple” is utterly irrelevant and certainly Williams was not making any kind of assumption that no one could look this up.

  11. By the way, when Koalas are escaping their fortunately scarce predators, they need to move on the ground between trees, and ascend their new gum tree with great haste.

    Imagine climbing a tree with knobs and sticks poking at your abdomen if your pouch openned upwards. It would get stuck on each branch and you would end up as dinner. That explains why Darwinism helped the Koala maintain her downwards openning pouch.

    See, Darwinism can even produce good, bad designs. Or the design is not as bad as Robyn thinks!

  12. I am no expert on Koalas – I am on the wrong side of the world – so I just look things up on the Internet(http://www.exn.ca/AustraliaAnimals/koala.cfm). From that I note that the Koala is unique among tree dwelling marsupials in having a downward facing pouch, so other marsupial tree dwellers with upward facing pouches, somehow negotiate the knobs and sticks OK; and that the female Koala is obliged to close the pouch all the time by contracting a sphincter muscle which must be a considerable energy cost. Anyhow my main point is that all this has nothing to do with Kangaroos.

    Perhaps a clearer example of poor design is the one that Jerry Coyne raises in “Intelligent Thought”. The recurrent laryngeal nerve that runs from the brain to the larynx. In mammals it loops round the aorta to get there. In the case of giraffes this adds some fourteen feet extra to the necessary length. This devious route has a very reasonable explanation in evolutionary terms. (Too long to write here).

  13. 13

    Darwinism, based as it is on the accumulation of micromutations, is good for one thing only -

    **** EXTINCTION ****

    “A past evolution is undeniable, a present evolution undemonstrable.”
    John A. Davison

  14. “I am confused. Williams was talking about Koalas which are different from most other marsupials (such as Kangaroos) precisely because their pouch opens backwards. “How the little roo is attached to the nipple” is utterly irrelevant and certainly Williams was not making any kind of assumption that no one could look this up.”

    Actually, “how the little roo is attached to the nipple” makes all the difference in the world. It is an omission of fact. It alarms me every time I see comments like the following….

    “Was God intending the babies to fall out and crash to the forest floor?”

    This is not science. It is speculation for one.
    This is sarcasm and put downs for two.
    This is ommission of facts for three.
    This is directed to equate a dumb or uncaring Creator and thus, voila, accidental, random life thru evolution four.

    There is no rhyme or reason, only chaos, but we exist.

    Just look at the statement – was God intending death?

    Its bad comments by frustrated science commmentators looking for any foothold of advantage to enforce a worldview evidently in some agnostic or atheistic form.

    There is no science, just ad hominum attacks. Baby killer? Words create emotions and images in the mind of the reader. The intention is to willfully state if “God” did design it this way, it kills babies. But in the same stroke of genious somewhere on the planet today, some evolutionist is stating that evolution created the nipple so the newborn would be safely attached. This is the problem in a nutshell.

    Any well informed person, cognizant of word defintions does not speak this way without knowing exactly their intent and purpose. Which is to deride and smear an entire group of people. Your God is dumb. If the marsupial is designed this way, then your God is uncaring.

    According to this logic all animals should have their babies delivered thru their feet so the babies do not have to drop to the ground. Anyone ever been on a farm and see delivery of calves and foals?

    Thats the level of science being “delieverd” in that comment. Would God design an animal so the baby drops to the ground? Well it depends now does it not? Since a newborn foal can immediately stand up and walk and within hours move about, days run, its bone structure ready for immediate use. No, no, evolution did that.

    Truth is, I would have to look up why the pouch opens downward and discover for myself how the newborn survives and the nipple expansion enables the attachment. We didn’t get all the facts.

    Instead what we received are putdowns of those who have faith in a higher power based upon faulty logic.

    If you do not understand this Mark, then that is why evolutionist do not understand the entire issue of why so many lay people do not always trust scienctist.

    The statement about the Koalas is not science. It is speculation. Just like ID cannot determine the Designers goals, neither can evolutionist.

    Denyse did well in pointing out the faulty and baseless arguments. Plus the fact, at our fingertips we can find the truth within minutes if not seconds. Finding the facts shows how evolutionist distort reality.

    As a young 6-7 year old child I almost lost my appendix due to so-called Evolution “FACTS”.

    I wonder why there is no class action lawsuit against evolutionist and surgeons for the needless surgery of millions? Not including some deaths as the result of bad science all in the name of King Evolution? These are facts which should not be lost on anyone, lay person or scientist.

    This is the legacy of Evolutionist. They cost our people millions(if not billions) in lost wages for needless surgery. Oh yeah, keep spitting out those facts of evolution.

    Fortunately, the Ostrich never went under the scalpel due to some zealous scientist to remove its so-called vestigial wings.

    I guess its all how you view things. God kills baby marupials, or evolutionist zealots cost us our own human organs.

    I’ll stick with reality. Koala babies do not die because the pouch on a Koala faces downward. And that needless surgery was done by millions due to faulty logic and bad claims of evolutionist.

  15. Michaels7

    We may have a passion to protect the reputation of the Designer. Williams has a passion to protect himself from believing in the Designer.

    Passion produces more heat than light.

    I was shocked when I went to Pandas Thumb,as a freshman to the Blog scene,by the vindictive comments there. I feel wo be different here at UD.

    People have a right to be wrong. We have a duty to present the truth as we see it in a clear and careful manner.

  16. Ah, so the reason you Aussies drive on the left is either because of a vast conspiracy, or because that’s a superior way of doing things.

    No matter where you are remember that the median is the dividing line between safe driving and exciting driving.

  17. IDNet,

    I agree somewhat, but it was not my intention to defend the Creator. Just point to absurd statements made without scientific logic. Ironic in that the attack leveled at ID is it does not use sound logic.

    I personally do not see ID as some panacea to answer all questions and recognize its early beginning with much research to do. It does not inform me of my beliefs. Neither do I have all the answers.

    What irks me is the continuous arrogance of atheist like Williams and Dawkins and other Evolutionist promoters. They will point fingers and say, look at those darned non-science people, yuck, yuck, usually – “fundamentalist”. They pronounce them stupid and in the same breath equate uninformed people to well informed scientist who question macroevolution into the same category. This red herring is getting old and smelly.

    Turnabout is fairplay. Go to any PunkRock, GothicRock, AcidRock, HardRock concert like Marilyn Manson: http://www.marilynmanson.com/(click after a minute for more chaos), or even DeathRock.com now to see the talent of evolutionist believers. Manson is just one small example of what goes on in the cult world of goth, acid, punk rock land. Go on to some of these chat forums and their talking about Satan and magic, etc., to the point of insanity. Their conversations rank along the lines of Pee Wee Herman’s mindframe.

    They’ve lost it completely. Yet these are the people that will bang away for evolutions cause and we can easily point fingers to them.

    Yes, we need to stay away from this type of labeling and be careful with our own passion. But shining the light on Baal-babble is required for truth to be seen.

    Any of the kids, teens, 20, 30somethings going to these concerts no more have a clue about Biology and Evolution than any other lay person. You could point to their ignorance just as easy on the subjects. We could paint with wide brush strokes the lost sheep of evolution.

    Anyone can play this type of game in putdowns that Williams delusional rantings pander to.

    Sit outside any concert like Mansons where drug usage is high and alcohol is consumed and ask questions of those coming in before and leaving after the show. Before they go in, they might actually understand the question, maybe… They will not give you a correct definition of evolution or even how long the earth has been here. They’ll not have the fogiest regarding DNA, Proteins, Chromosomes, etc., and Paleontology would only be cool if it involved study of piercings, tattoos and torture techniques to stretch the body or hang by hooks from puntures thru the skin, or suspension and body mod:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S.....ification).

    If people like Williams, Dawkins, PZMeyers, and groups from Panda are going to rant, they need to look at the youth that is supporting their cause and be dumbfounded at what they’re producing. Many of them are completely lost and losing it more every day.

    And this is sad, sad indeed….

    a quote about the book…

    “a form of terrorism focused on public education…”

    Mhmmmm, equating ID with Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, Sudanese genocidal militias which hack limbs from the bodies of innocent children.

    Yes, and I as a lay person am supposed to take writers for evolution like this seriously? He knows what the word “terrorism” invokes to the mind. This is disgusting that one must go so low.

  18. Denyse,

    regarding some of the technical details of this and other things I should alert you to some data Professor N. Wells of Kent state had to say over at ARN. He’s a very fine gentleman, and the information might be useful to you, even if he cringes about how you described certain things

    Nonsense about marsupials over at Uncommon Descent

    and

    Nonsense about coelacanths at Uncommon Descent

    I think his data points are valuable, and if so, we can thank him for contributing to the accuracy of what is reported at Uncommon Descent. :-)

    Salvador

  19. You can read the blurb for Robyn’s anti ID polemic here http://www.allenandunwin.com/S.....1741149234

  20. Scordova,

    I didn’t think N. Wells’ point was very good. Pointing to variant species of fossils doesn’t take away from the obvious stasis that is there as well. If you want more information on stasis and the lack of change in the fossil record, look at the fossils compiled by the Muslim creationist Harun Yahya.

    http://www.harunyahya.com/book.....ils_03.php

  21. Here is a better website of Harun Yahya’s that documents many instances of stasis in the fossil recored. Mostly animals trapped in amber but the horseshoe crab is a stand out for not changing after what? 350 million years?

    http://www.living-fossils.com/3_1.php

  22. Greetings Jehu,

    I thought that Denyse might want to be informed of some nuances, that way in the future she can pre-empt some issues. My hope was to strengthen her arguments in the future.

    I think Professor Wells may be over eager to find fault, and a more charitable reading on his part might have been in order. However, what he highlighted is something Denyse could easily incorporate in future discussions.

    I’m usually not too quick to side with ID critics, but over the years Professor Wells has consistently been one of the more tempered voices.

    In any case, I did not put the data forward as a criticism of Denyse, but something she might want to consider especially since she was soliciting technical information on whether some of her ideas on marsupials was correct. I threw in the coelecanths in as a bonus.

    Salvador

  23. The Model T Ford was an engineer’s worst nightmare, featuring all manner of suboptimal design.

    Therefore, no intelligence was involved in it’s origin and existence.

  24. Scott wrote:
    “The Model T Ford was an engineer’s worst nightmare, featuring all manner of suboptimal design. Therefore, no intelligence was involved in it’s origin and existence.”

    Scott,

    Who are you responding to here? I haven’t heard a single ID critic claim that human design is always optimal (anywhere, much less in this thread).

    When critics invoke suboptimal design, it is to point out that an omniscient, omnipotent designer can always avoid it if he chooses to do so.

    Human designers, having finite knowledge and power, are constantly falling short of optimality.

  25. 25

    I think the point is- trying to discover the motives of any designer isn’t part of science, but rather a theological argument or merely a philosophical argument.

    Arguing “bad” design is a philosophical argument. If one is claiming God is the designer, and then saying that there is bad design- this is philosophy and theology. It’s not science, and it doesn’t count as a scientific argument.

    To say what a omniscient, omnipotent designer would and would not do is also theological and philosophical. You can argue that you THINK that a designer who has both of these characteristics wouldn’t do this or that, but it doesn’t argue against design in general, as you can hardly know what a designer would and wouldn’t do.

    Overall, it just doesn’t make for a valid complaint against design. Clearly, Christians (the largest religious group on earth) and Muslims (the second largest group) have an answer for apparent poor design- The Fall which caused all of creation to degrade. So, apparent poor design wouldn’t bother too many believers in God, as far as I can tell.

    This means that apparent poor design makes sense (to a Christian, for example), as the creation has been tainted since The Fall, and the designer didn’t intend things to be this way, but that humans were given free will and decided it themselves. That is, if you’re a person who believes in design in nature and thinks the designer is God. Not all do- agnostics accept design. Others of faith with many Gods accept it as well, so who knows what all they believe of the designer(s).

  26. “Was God intending the babies to fall out and crash to the forest floor?”

    Is this suppose to be a *scientific* question?!

    Since when are human emotion and intuition allowed to be the basis of any ascertation of truth?

    On one hand, if human emotion and intution are the products of blind processes, unplanned by any putative desiger, they are irrelevent with respect to babies crashing to the forest floor. It’s only if those babies are *designed* that our (likewise designed) human emotions and inutition somehow become a criterion of judgement against such a designer. Hmmm. Can anyone else see the bizzare thinking here?

  27. zapatero writes:

    Who are you responding to here? I haven’t heard a single ID critic claim that human design is always optimal (anywhere, much less in this thread).

    I am responding to the original post which started this discussion. Where Williams implies that \\\\\\\”bad\\\\\\\” design = no design. My comment was relevant.

    When critics invoke suboptimal design, it is to point out that an omniscient, omnipotent designer can always avoid it if he chooses to do so.

    1. Who said that the designer is omniscient, ompnipotent, etc…?

    2. Demonstrate scientifically how the designer could have avoided [apparent] suboptimal design without comprimising the efficiency of the overall system, or having a greater damaging affect on the surrounding ecosystem.

    3. Demonstrate how optimal design would impact predator/prey relationships and thus extinction, etc… Support your answer with data.

    4. Since you are invoking a theological argument with references to omnipotent designers, here\\\’s a reasonable theological response: How do we know that the omnipotent designer initially created things as they are now? How do we know that shortly after the program was set to unfold phyla, that corruption was not introduced causing the apparent suboptimal design? Another theological response: Where is the drama and fun in a world of only \”optimal\” design [whatever optimal design looks like]? Maybe the designer is a little more creative than your little human brain assumes?

  28. And once again, I have no idea why WordPress keeps inserting those lovely \\\ when i edit a comment. This platform is starting to get on my fused chromosome.

  29. Two things strike me in reading this thread:

    1. That any thoughtful person would advance the “argument from bad design” these days leaves me incredulous. This argument, as is well known, merely expresses a philosophical preference of how a designer would/should behave. This does nothing but inform me of the type of designer that the proponent of this argument prefers not exist. Very similar to the Strong God – Big Rock argument, essentially puts the unwary to defending a nonsense statement.

    2. There seems to be very little awareness (even by some pro-IDers posting here) as to what traditional theists beyond the age of 6 years actually believe about the nature of things, state of the world or whatever. AFAIK no major Theist religion teaches that nature must be or was created “perfect” (which I suppose means containing nothing not fun or not pretty).

    Can everybody just agree that, even if we could show that non-optimal design exists in nature, it would only demonstrate that we can show that “non-optimal”(meaningless without philosophical or metaphysical content in this context BTW) design exists in nature.

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