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Cashing in on ID

It’s gratifying to see that ID is helping people make careers and bring home the bacon. Robert Pennock is happily ensconced at Michigan State University for criticizing ID. Barbara Forrest was promoted to full professor at South Eastern Louisiana State University for her work debunking ID. And most recently Niall Shanks moved from East Tennessee State University to an endowed chair at Wichita State University so that he can provide a counterblast to ID in Kansas (go here for the announcement of Shanks’s appointment — I understand that this appointment involved a hefty pay increase). Meanwhile, ID supporters are not just having a hard time getting academic jobs but even getting their PhDs (e.g., the case of Bryan Leonard).

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12 Responses to Cashing in on ID

  1. As I wrote in the first part of my review of Privileged Planet, in Brave New World, Huxley’s ‘Controller’ character said that “Science is dangerous; we have to keep it most carefully chained and muzzled.” If scientists did not toe the party line, but followed the evidence where it went, they were in danger of “being sent to an island.”

    Intelligent design certainly seems to be a badge of honor–for those scientists that oppose it. Conversely, it’s the ticket to a deserted island, professionally speaking, for those that follow the evidence where it goes. And if scientists are willing to see it, the universe contains an abundance of evidence that it was designed by an intelligent agent.

    I really enjoy your blog, Dr. Dembski.

  2. This war is not over!

  3. Hey, it’s a growth industry. What’s funny is all these folks are lesser lights from Backwater U. Where’s the Huxleys this time around? Why isn’t Dennett weighing in yet? I suppose it looks better to send lackeys at this point. I decent PR strategy I suppose. And I guess the pawns are just happy to have something to do besides teach Ethics 101 to 20 yr-old cajuns who could care a less.

    And what’s with the British expats ganging up on ID? Ruse, Shanks….

  4. Hi. This is not a comment to this post, just my general meditations. Probably I should send an email, but I cannot find your email address.

    I’m getting my MSc in Physics (solid state physics), so my knowledge of Biology is not very deep. But in the question of ID vs. pure-chance evolution, there are some things that disturb me, and other things that I’m not sure if I understood correctly. (English is not my first language, so forgive me in advance any grammar or spelling errors).

    First, my doubts or questions:

    1) If I understood correctly, ID does not object the idea of evolution per se (that species are not the same today as they were a long time ago), and does not object also the idea of natural selection (that the characteristics which are deeply unfavourable in some environment tend to disappear from the population, and the ones which are strongly favourable tend to become predominant), sexual selection (that the specimens found most desirable by their mates will reproduce more and so their characteristics will become predominant), and, of course, artificial selection (everybody can se the effects of the latter in domesticated animals and cultivated plants). Excuse me for repeating the basics, but I’m just making sure I don’t misunderstand anything. Did I understand correctly?

    2) If I understand correctly, ID does not dismiss mutation (and other natural phenomena) as a possible source for natural variability. Correct?

    3) So, if I understand correctly, while creationism dismisses any macroscopic evolution (new species appearing), ID and pure-chance evolution both affirm macroscopic evolution. So, to be very simplistic, a creationist father would give his children a book with pictures of the Genesis 6 first days, while both an ID and an pure-chance evolution adepts could give their children the same pictures showing the Cambrian world, then the Secondary era, then… (you know the story better than I do). But they would have different explanations. DId I understand correctly?

    4) Then, I infer the main difference between ID and pure-chance evolution is that while pure-chance evolution claims chance and natural selection can explain all diverse structures we find in today’s world, ID claims that some structures have a different kind of inherent complexity, one that cannot be achieved by random chance steps. Or does ID claim only that this kind of complex structures are highly improbable to achieve by random chance evolution, but not impossible?

    5) Then, why do I find a lot of comments in several places in the Internet that seem to “accuse” ID of radically refusing all evolution and all natural selection? Here in Europe (at least in my country), fortunately, I have never found that problem. I’m not in Biology, though, but when I was at school some of us believed a pure-chance evolution and others believed a guided evolution (I believe a version of this. I will explain later). The teacher found both acceptable. I believe she would have found weird to accept if some of her students were creationists, denying all evolution and all natural selection, but she never found weird that some students thought that natural processes and chance could be true but not enough. We never thought of ID as related to creationism.

    6) As a person of science, I have a philosophy about scientific theories. I believe that two theories which predict the same phenomena are undistinguishable, so they are equivalent. We can choose one or the other because of simplicity of calculations, beauty of arguments, elegance of the equations. But we cannot dismiss one or the other until we find an experiment (in the broader sense) to which they give different predictions. So, there are 2 things in the ID vs. pure-chance evolution that baffle me:

    6.1) Is it possible, or will it be possible, to distinguish these 2 theories by means of experimentation? I mean, can someone conceive an experiment, even if today we cannot make it, where the results predicted by ID and by chance evolution are different? While that experiment cannot be made, as long as both theories don’t contradict experimental results we already have, both theories are acceptable. (This happens a lot in Physics, as you must know).

    6.2) Why do scientists (at least some scientists) act as if ID were some kind of pseudo-science, like astrology? I will try to explain: it’s relatively easy to dismiss the claims of astrology being a science. (As far as I can understand, it’s also relatively easy to dismiss the claims of creationism of being a scientific theory. To accept creationism, as far as I know, one must believe God deliberately falseates data in some situations). But as far as I know, it’s not easy at the moment to dismiss ID. As far as I know, the details of the genesis of biological structures are still far from being unveiled (that’s what my friends which study to get a PhD in Biophysics and Biomathematics tell me). As far as I know, that area of knowledge is still in its infancy. So, why is it so hard to accept that there can be an alternative theory? Why the need to dismiss it as pseudo-science? Just because it speaks of an Inteligent Designer (which doesn’t need to be understood as a theistic God, that’s a matter of personal belief)?

    I’m sorry for writing so much. I guess I want to make sure there will be no misunderstandings.

    I will just explain my personal view (as a non-biologist, so don’t expect it to be deeply fundamented): I think natural selection of the most apt, variability and evolution make sense and don’t contradict the data as far as I know them. I don’t know if they are sufficient, though, to explain what we observe now. I don’t accept creationism. I don’t accept a purely naturalistic pure-chance evolution either (my objections are theological and metaphysical, not scientific). But I find 2 ways of reconciling my belief in God and evolution: 1) God set the rules (the physical laws, from which derives the competition, the thermodinamical “random” probabilities, the mutations, etc) knowing in advance those rules would make His creation possible, and since then only interfered minimally with natural phenomena, prefering to interfere with spiritual phenomena only; 2) God set the rules but also sometimes tinkered with evolution, making new structures appear when the environment conditions were ready, so that He wouldn’t have to make big evident changes, but small, subtle ones. I prefer the first (sorry), because I see God as subtle and discreet. Still, I don’t dismiss the second.

    Thanks for your patience, if you read it to the end.

    And thanks in advance for your answer.


  5. That’s a bit blunt, don’t you think, Dave?

  6. I’m with Benjii, Dave. Leave the ad hominem abuse to the scientific priesthood. Besides, Pennock is hardly from Backwater U. PhD Pittsburgh in philosophy; position at Michigan State are both pretty impressive credentials. Nor is E. Tenn. State a backwater.

    Dr. Dembski’s post reminds me of the year 1520, when ecclesiastical careers were being made (e.g. by Aleander) by beating up on Luther. I think Paul Feyerabend would really be enjoying the spectacle of the biology priests fighting back against ID right now. Alas, they can’t burn anyone at the stake right now, but as Bryan Leonard is finding, they will burn you at State.

  7. No more blunt than they’ve been. And not inaccurate, either. Look at Forrest and Pennock’s CVs. What have they done? Criticise ID. That’s their schtick. Which is fine; life is hard as a humanities professor, and you take what you can get. But for my money it’s a poor showing so far.

  8. Certainly there are serious critics like Ruse and others that deserve to be engaged and taken seriously. But anyone who knows the precarious, strange world of Philosophy dept. politics knows how stuff like this can be a career maker. It’s publish or perish out there, and when you can make a name for yourself as “the guy” on a subject (ANY give subject), then you’re golden. It’s just interesting that several otherwise unremarkable professors have made the coveted jump from obscurity to national profile, not because of any positive contribution, but because of a purely negative assault on ID. Hey, whatever works. But don’t begrudge us pointing it out.

  9. Well, I believe you have a point on that issue. Shanks, in particular, labeled Behe a creationist, as if to imply that he is a religious nut who wants to inculcate university students with Bible cosmogonies. Nonetheless, such critics don’t deserve much attention because their best attacks are ad hominems and the like. And anyone in the living world can make such attacks. What ID theorists need to focus on are real valid scientific attacks. At this moment, there aren’t any valid criticisms.

  10. I don’t understand your last post?

  11. norm…point taken. No more ad hominems.

  12. tarocha

    ID is a big tent. By not identifying the source of intelligence it accomodates a lot of worldviews. It even accomodates atheists. About all it doesn’t accomodate is RM+NS as the primary means of modification during descent. Mainstream ID posits that certain aspects of living systems are far too improbable for chance and necessity to be a reasonable cause. Other IDists posit that the universe itself is far too improbable for random chance to be the first cause.

    Dembski defines “practically impossible” as one chance in 10^150. The significance of 10^150 is it’s greater than the number of subatomic particles in the known universe. Many natural events happen against such odds. A well shuffled deck of cards will probably produce a stack that represents one chance out of such a high number. However, a well shuffled deck that comes out in the exact sequence of a new deck (ordered, separated suits) is a specified outcome. Therein lies the difference between a complex result (all shuffled decks are complex in their order) and a complex specified result. Life and the physical laws that govern the universe are chock full of complex specified results. When a result appears to be specified and the process behind it is well understood one can calculate the odds of that particular outcome. If the odds are too great the event falls into what Dembski calls a “rejection region” wherein design can be reasonably inferred to have influenced the result. To do the math with reasonable certainty Dembski needs as much detail about the underlying processes as possible. More detail is constantly emerging but in some cases (protein synthesis in particular) there seems to be enough understanding of the processes involved to do the math. Unless some heretofore unknown biological mechanism of designing proteins to perform specific functions is discovered it appears that protein evolution largely falls into the rejection zone and design can be inferred. As I’ve mentioned before I think it’s a reasonable hypothesis that neural networks implemented in DNA-resident quantum computing elements might be responsible for the inferred design. It would explain a lot without bringing anything supernatural or extraterrestrial into the picture. How that type of intelligence managed to come into existence is a separate question but probably no more difficult a question than chemical evolution.

    Interestingly, the holy grail of biological computing is predicting how proteins will fold. Not even conventional supercomputers can do it today but it’s thought that quantum computers with just a handful of quantum computing elements would have the requisite computing power to simulate the physics involved and predict how a given amino acid sequence will fold. Now if those quantum computers are embedded in DNA then individual organisms can be posited to have some power to design proteins to solve specific problems. A neural network, which by definition is capable of learning, might be resident at some level even in relatively simple bacterial DNA. So called “mobile elements” in DNA that don’t have any known function (yet) might be the first evidence of DNA based computation as any computational network would need a means of changing its arrangement in something close to real time measured by the lifespan of the organism.

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