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Posted by on Apr 28, 2014 in Creationism, Science, Skepticism | 3 comments

Laboratory Experiments ARE Intelligently Designed

I am sick this canard from creationists who have never done science and think that high school biology are real science labs. So let me get this out of the way. Any further comments of this nature will be referred back to this post.

The claim is

Laboratory experiments are intelligently designed, therefore all results from said experiments cannot support evolution (or whatever else), but do support Intelligent Design.

Laboratory experiments are very carefully designed. This is because they must be to support the conclusion that comes from them. An experiment that is not carefully, intelligently designed is useless.

An experiment should test one and only one variable. If the experimenter allows more than one variable to change, then how can they know which one was responsible for the effect observed. As an example, consider the manufacturer of a health supplement. The manufacturer combines five different ingredients, in varying amounts, then gives them to some random people off the street. Before and after five days, the weights of the five people are measured. The manufacturer then concludes that ingredient A of the supplement is good for weight loss.

If you cannot see at least four things wrong with this experiment, then you should not be talking about science. First, five ingredients, who knows which one was responsible for the effect. Second, varying amounts of one variable is correct, but of five variables is wrong, unless the sample size is much, much larger (say a thousand people). Third, random people are not good choices for this kind of study. You want people who are as alike as possible to reduce their personal influences on the test.  What if one person’s high school reunion is just after the experiment and they decide to fast for five days. That’s weight loss, but the drug didn’t do it. Fourth, Measuring the weight twice is not sufficient. It needs to be a daily, if not more frequent thing, and include things like exercise and food consumption logs.

So experiments must be very intelligently designed so that any correlation effects that do occur can be correctly attributed to one thing that changed.

Next, just because an experiment is intelligently designed, that doesn’t mean that the result is. And this is where the “intelligent designed experiment” fails. If we knew the results of an experiment ahead of time, then we wouldn’t have to do the experiment.

Another example, if the “intelligently designed experiment” claim is true, then every engineer who works on casino games should be a rich. They are intelligently designing the roulette wheels and the craps dice, therefore they should be able to predict the results with perfect accuracy. They cannot.

This is because (and what is obvious to scientists) is that no one knows what the results of the experiment will be. That’s the part that people making this claim don’t get. Just because you design an experiment intelligently, it doesn’t mean that you are also determining the results. [1]

One of my favorite experiments showing the power of evolution is Darwinian Evolution on a Chip. Here’s the paper and my explanation of what happened.

This experiment was very intelligently designed. But I don’t think anyone was prepared for a 90 fold improvement in the activity. Especially after only 72 hours. This is a pretty stunning result. But is this experiment evidence for evolution or intelligent design?

Sure, Joyce and his team designed a very intelligent experiment. But what didn’t happen? Joyce and his team did NOT manipulate the RNA in any way. They did not force mutations (except by using an enzyme with poor fidelity). They did not alter anything about the experiment once it was set to run. After 72 hours of being left alone, the RNA had evolved, drastically.

IF this experiment shows how Intelligent Design works, then evolution is the intelligent designer and we can all agree. But this experiment, nor any experiment, that is intelligently designed, automatically support intelligent design.

To have an experiment support the notions of Intelligent Design, then you would have to design an experiment to look for that Intelligent Design. This is something that no ID proponent has ever even attempted. Indeed, I’m not even sure if they know how to begin such a project.

For example, looking back at Darwinian Evolution on a Chip. What if you set up cameras, microscopes, EM radiation detectors, etc. in order to specifically test the idea that an intelligent agent caused evolution to happen?[2]

But no one in the ID community is interested in doing something like this. Their “intelligently designed experiments” are strictly NOT looking for a designer or the effects of a designer or how to tell the difference between design and evolution.

So, if you see the “laboratory experiments are intelligently designed”, then you can agree with them. But remind them that the results are not intelligently designed (otherwise it wouldn’t be an experiment) and that unless the results specifically show the actions of an intelligent agent that is not the experimenter, then the experiment does not support intelligent design as a concept.

__________________________

[1] I wonder if the tendency for creationists to think this is because they DO determine what the results of their ‘experiments’ will be prior to doing them. They may think that is what everyone does.  Sadly, very wrong.

[2] Of course, there is now a movement within the ID community that evolution does happen, but not just in a big way. There is some “limit” to evolution. Of course, in the few years that this argument has appeared, no ID proponent has been able to explain what the limit it, why it exits, or how it works. Further, they still can’t seem to understand that the second that they admit that speciation happens, then everything else has been accepted. They just don’t know enough about how biology works to understand this.

  • _Arthur

    They didn’t set “GODS KEEP OUT!” signs around their experiment. That was their mistake.

  • Rikki_Tikki_Taalik

    Last week I was in my garage. It was a chilly late afternoon so I decided to make a fire in my barrel stove. Using the sunlight streaming through a transom window, I took a magnifying glass and focused the light into a fine point upon the newspaper and then transferred the lit newsprint to the bundle of kindling in the stove.

    Clearly, I intelligently designed the fire and it is a confirmation that fire that is not intelligently designed cannot possibly occur.

    Ditto every other chemical reaction occurring every single second somewhere on the planet. Science is now over. We can all go home now.

  • Dan Eastwood

    >”If the experimenter allows more than one variable to change, then how can they know which one was responsible for the effect observed. [?]

    At very least, it’s time to consult with a good statistician. ;-)