• Darwin’s Doubt – Chapter 17 – Part 1

    The Possibility of Intelligent Design

    This was my real goal in reviewing Darwin’s Doubt. There is no question that science has solid explanations for the origins of body plans and the facts of the so-called Cambrian explosion.  Meyer has, at least the parts that I’ve read, attempted to cast doubt on the ability of evolution to satisfactorily explain these things.  A reader really wants me to review chapters 13 and 14 about body plans and epigenetics.  And I will… eventually.

    But what really interests me is, let’s say that Meyer successfully proves evolution cannot develop new body plans or cannot explain the Cambrian explosion.  What then?  Does Meyer think (like most creationists) that it means creationism… excuse me, Intelligent Design… wins?

    Any scientist will say, “of course not”.  And this is was very important in the Kitzmiller trial.  Intelligent Design advocates don’t so any science to support ID.  So is there any support for ID?  Any evidence for design at all?

    I say that last very, very specifically.  The reason is that there is nothing, I mean absolutely zero, in the writings of the ID proponents that would even hint about the intelligence in intelligent design.  Their overriding concern is about the design.  Indeed, if we assume that design doesn’t require intelligence (and the evidence suggests that this is the case), then evolution is a perfectly valid design agent.  The ID proponents are actually arguing for evolution.

    But, of course, they aren’t.  Especially Meyer, Dembski, Behe, and the other Discovery Institute writers.  They have unambiguously stated that the designer is the Judeo-Christian god of the Bible.  But they absolutely cannot say it anywhere a court might hear them.  So, they talk about design instead of the designer.  It’s as if one could separate the design from the designer… which you can’t do.

    You can’t know what the design is like until you understand the limits of the designer.  If a man is killed by a lightening bolt and there are no high voltage electrical wires around, then they are very safe in calling it an accident.  Why?  Because humans can’t create lightening bolts without some pretty hefty technology and Thor doesn’t exist (much to my wife’s sadness).

    Unlike what ID proponents wish were true, the designer cannot be separated from the design.

    OK, enough ranting.  While we review this chapter, let’s look for evidence of design or the designer.  This must be positive supporting evidence, not a God of the Gaps argument (or argument from ignorance).  We will also look for any experiments, hypotheses, and/or data that is used to support any claims.  Finally, we will see if this is, in any way, falsifiable.

    First of all, Meyer opens with a ridiculously useless analogy.  I have used analogies while teaching, but this one reads like the plot of a bad mystery novel.  Really.  But poor writing and analogies aside, it’s useless to what we’re interested in here.

    In “Introducing Intelligent Design” Myere says

    When the case for intelligent design is made, it’s often hard to get contemporary evolutionary biologists to see why such an idea should even be considered or why discussions of design should play any role in biology at all. Though many biologists now acknowledge serious deficiencies in current strictly materialistic theories of evolution, they resist considering alternatives, that involve intelligent guidance, direction, or design.

    Citation Fucking Needed.  Who are these “many biologists”.  So far in this series, we’ve examined quotes from Gould, McDonald, and Valentine.  So far, none of them have actually said what Meyer claims them to have meant.  When McDonald does say that there is a “great Darwinian paradox”.  Of course, he then spends several pages (with peer-reviewed examples) showing an explanation for the apparent paradox.  Meyer ignored that.  Gould is similarly taken totally out of context.

    I know of no biologists that have stated that there are serious deficiencies in evolution.  I have seen them use it as a rhetorical device, but Meyer and other creationists never mention that part.  We won’t even get into the real problems… like Meyer taking two separate paragraphs from Marshall (separated by 15 pages!!) and showing them as being in the same paragraph.

    Meyer then says that this resistance is because biologists think that Intelligent Design is religious.  Well, let’s see…

    “Intelligent Design opens the whole possibility of
    us being created in the image of a benevolent
    – William Dembski quoted, Science Test, Church & State
    Magazine, July / August 2000.


    “The world is a mirror representing the divine
    life…Intelligent design readily embraces the
    sacramental nature of physical reality. Indeed,
    intelligent design is just the Logos theology of
    John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information
    – William A. Dembski, Touchstone Magazine, July/August


    Physics and cosmology suggest intelligent design as a highly plausible and
    arguably best explanation for the exquisite fine-tuning of the physical laws and
    constants of the universe and the precise configuration of its initial conditions.
    Since the fine-tuning and initial conditions date from the very origin of the
    universe itself, this evidence suggests the need for an intelligent as well as a
    transcendent Cause for the origin of the universe. Since God as conceived by
    Christians and other theists possesses precisely these attributes, His creative
    action can adequately explain the origin of the cosmological singularity and the
    anthropic fine-tuning. Since naturalism denies a transcendent and pre-existent
    intelligent cause, it follows that theism provides a better explanation than
    naturalism for these two evidences taken jointly. Since pantheism, with its belief
    in an immanent and impersonal god, also denies the existence of a transcendent
    and pre-existent intelligence, it too lacks causal adequacy as an explanation for
    these evidences. Indeed, a completely impersonal intelligence is almost a
    contradiction in terms. Thus, theism stands as the best explanation of the three
    major worldviews theism, pantheism, and naturalism for the origin of the Big
    Bang singularity and anthropic fine-tuning taken jointly.  Stephen C. Meyer – The Return of the God Hypothesis (PDF)

    I can’t imagine why anyone would think that the idea of intelligent design as presented by Meyer would be considered religious.  Unless one has actually read the works of the principle authors of Intelligent Design.  Even Michael Behe was forced to admit, under oath, that he though the designer was the Christian god. (Search for “god” in the text, you’ll find it.)

    Now, I freely admit that these same proponents have stated that ID is not about god or anything else, just about design.  Michael Behe says as much in his trial testimony.  Of course, he also says that ID is only a mechanistic theory… and that there is no mechanism in ID.  So, I’d be real careful listening to Behe… and the others.

    All these quotes do is show the world that ID proponents will say whatever they think that they have to in order to promote their ideas.  In a church, then they talk about god.  In a court, they don’t mention god.

    If their notion was so good, why the obfuscation?

    The Meyer says this:

    Perhaps the best way to explain the theory of intelligent design is to contrast it with the specific aspect of the theory of Darwinian evolution that it directly challenges.

    That’s a stupid idea.  The best way to explain the NOTION (it’s not a scientific theory by a long shot) of Intelligent Design is to define it, then show the evidence, then explain the utility of it.  But we all know that’s not going to happen.

    The part that Meyer claims Intelligent Design directly challenges is “the creative power of natural selection acting on random varitions”.  He correctly states that Dawkins said this gives the appearance of design.  Note the critical word ‘appearance’.

    Meyer also correctly states that humans can use a form of selection to breed animals to enhance a particular trait (more milk, faster growing, more eggs, pretty coat, etc).

    Meyer goes on and on about how this gives the appearance of design and then states

    Thus, in both Darwinism, and neo-Darwinism,the selection/variation (or selection/mutation) mechanism functions as a kind of “designer substitute.”

    This is exactly what I mentioned earlier. If we take the “Design” potion, then evolution is arguably a perfectly capable designer.  This requires a rather loose definition of design, but note that Meyer chooses not to define design.  He chooses to use quotes and commentary from others, regardless of what they might have said.

    Does anyone really think that Dawkins, Darwin, Ernst Mayr or Francisco Ayala really think that design means

    purpose, planning, or intention that exists or is thought to exist behind an action, fact, or material object.

    Especially when we’re talking about evolution?

    Of course not.  But Meyer doesn’t talk about that.  He’s only trying to sow the seeds of doubt.  All these famous (some might say infamous) biologists are talking about design, there must be something to it.  But they aren’t talking about design.  They are talking about the appearance of design.  Which is not the same thing at all.  With a little photoshopping, I can have the appearance of a movie star or a WWII fighter ace or an antarctic explorer.  But I’m not actually a movie star, fighter ace, or explorer.

    Meyer even acknowledges it.

    Nevertheless, neo-Darwinists regard that appearance of design as entirely illusory, as did Darwin himself, because they think that purely mindless, materialistic processes such as natural selection and random mutations can produce the intricate designed-like structures in living organisms. In this view, natural selection and random mutation mimic the powers of a designing intelligence without themselves being intelligently directed or guided in any way.

    Yes.  This.  Exactly.

    Then he goes on to say

    That’s where the theory of intelligent design comes into play. Intelligent design challenges the idea that natural selection and random mutation (and other similarly undirected materialistic processes) can explain the most striking appearances of design in living organisms. Instead, it affirms that there are certain features of living systems that are best explained by the design of an actual intelligence—a conscious and rational agent, a mind—as opposed to a mindless, materialistic process. The theory of intelligent design does not reject “evolution” defined as “change over time” or even universal common ancestry, but it does dispute Darwin’s idea that the cause of major biological change and the appearance of design are wholly blind and undirected.

    OK.  There’s a lot to break down here.

    Let’s just focus on the ID part here.  We can argue about whether evolution is more than random mutation and natural selection (which it is) later.

    What, I wonder, are these certain features of living systems that are best explained by the design of an intelligent agent?  Behe, the only biochemist in the ID stables[1] has been quoted as saying the immune system is an example of an irreducibly complex system that must be intelligently designed.  Let me quote him from the Kitzmiller trial.  The “Q” here is the plaintiffs attorney (I believe it is Rothschild) and the “A” is Michel Behe.

    Q. And in addition to articles there’s also books written on the immune system?

    A lot of books, yes.

    Q. And not just the immune system generally, but actually the evolution of the immune system, right?

    A. And there are books on that topic as well, yes.

    Articles and books on immune system evolution presented to Michael Behe during the Dover Trial

    Q. I’m going to read some titles here. We have Evolution of Immune Reactions by Sima and Vetvicka, are you familiar with that?

    A. No, I’m not.

    Q. Origin and Evolution of the Vertebrate Immune System, by Pasquier. Evolution and Vertebrate Immunity, by Kelso. The Primordial Vrm System and the Evolution of Vertebrate Immunity, by Stewart. The Phylogenesis of Immune Functions, by Warr. The Evolutionary Mechanisms of Defense Reactions, by Vetvicka. Immunity and Evolution, Marchalonias. Immunology of Animals, by Vetvicka. You need some room here. Can you confirm these are books about the evolution of the immune system?

    A. Most of them have evolution or related words in the title, so I can confirm that, but what I strongly doubt is that any of these address the question in a rigorous detailed fashion of how the immune system or irreducibly complex components of it could have arisen by random mutation and natural selection.

    Q. Or transposition and natural selection?

    A. Or transposition is a form of mutation, so when I say random mutation, that includes that, yes.

    Q. Okay. Even though we have all these articles we have seen discussing the transpositions and the transposon hypothesis?

    A. Well, again as I have tried to make clear in my testimony yesterday, often times people when they’re working under the aegis of a theory simply assume some component of it, and my example of that was the ether theory of the propagation of light. All of the physicists of the relevant era, the late 19th century, including the most eminent ones, thought that that happened and they thought that ether was absolutely required by their theory, but it had turned out later not to exist. And so as somebody who’s not working within a Darwinian framework, I do not see any evidence for the occurrence of random mutation and natural selection.

    Q. Let me give you some space there.

    A. Thank you.

    (Brief pause.)

    Q. There’s also books on the immune system that have chapters on the evolution of the immune system?

    A. Yes, and my same comment would apply to those.

    Q. I’m just going to read these titles, it sounds like you don’t even need to look at them?

    A. Please do go ahead and read them.

    Q. You’ve got Immune System Accessory Cells, Fornusek and Vetvicka, and that’s got a chapter called “Evolution of Immune Sensory Functions.” You’ve got a book called The Natural History of the Major Histocompatability Complex, that’s part of the immune system, correct?

    A. Yes.

    Q. And here we’ve got chapter called “Evolution.” Then we’ve got Fundamental Immunology, a chapter on the evolution of the immune system.

    A lot of writing, huh?

    A. Well, these books do seem to have the titles that you said, and I’m sure they have the chapters in them that you mentioned as well, but again I am quite skeptical, although I haven’t read them, that in fact they present detailed rigorous models for the evolution of the immune system by random mutation and natural selection.

    Q. You haven’t read those chapters?

    A. No, I haven’t.

    Q. You haven’t read the books that I gave you?

    A. No, I haven’t. I have read those papers that I presented though yesterday on the immune system.

    Q. And the fifty-eight articles, some yes, some no?

    A. Well, the nice thing about science is that often times when you read the latest articles, or a sampling of the latest articles, they certainly include earlier results. So you get up to speed pretty quickly. You don’t have to go back and read every article on a particular topic for the last fifty years or so.

    Q. And all of these materials I gave you and, you know, those, including those you’ve read, none of them in your view meet the standard you set for literature on the evolution of the immune system? No scientific literature has no answers to the question of the origin of the immune system?

    A. Again in the context of that chapter, I meant no answers, no detailed rigorous answers to the question of how the immune system could arise by random mutation and natural selection, and yes, in my, in the reading I have done I have not found any such studies.

    In other words, Michael Behe has chosen to not read some 58 papers and a dozen or so books, but it doesn’t matter because even if he had read them, they wouldn’t contain the information he requires to support evolution.

    Really?  Dembski was the smart one in the Kitzmiller trial.  He took his hefty fee, then bailed out and refused to testify.  I guess he threw Behe under the bus.  I can’t imagine why Behe would say things like this in a court.  Regardless of whether there is anything to ID or not, this just makes him (and by extension, ID) look like a complete moron.

    Meyer continues on in Darwin’s Doubt.

    With current materialistic evolutionary theories now failing to explain many of the most striking appearances of design in the Cambrian animals, including the presence of digital information as well as other complex adaptations, the possibility emerges that these appearances of design may not be just appearances after all.

    Um… no.  We’ve already established that Meyer has completely failed to review the relevant literature.  He is most definitely ignoring the majority of the peer-reviewed research that proves him wrong.

    This, if this is all there is to ID, is just a God of the Gaps argument.

    Not satisfied with just one logical fallacy, he introduces another one.

    Either life arose as the result of purely undirected material processes or a guiding or designing intelligence played a role.

    False dichotomy.  There is not just these possibilities, but many, many more.

    This is not how science works.  There has never been a successful scientific argument of the form “X is true because Y is false.”  They only way to be able to say that a possibility is supported is with positive, robust evidence.

    No ID proponent will talk about this though.  Because they know that there isn’t any evidence.  Go ahead, wander over to any pro-ID website[2] and start asking about evidence.

    I’m going to restate my prediction about Darwin’s Design here.  There will be no evidence.  There will be no calculations of FSI, CSI, FSCI, or anything else.  There will be no experiments done and no data produced.

    Let’s see what Meyer says at the close here.

    Design proponents argue that living systems exhibit telltale indicators of prior intelligent activity that justify this claim, indicators that make intelligent design scientifically detectable from the evidence of the living world.
    But that, for many evolutionary biologists, is precisely the rub. Because they think of intelligent design as a religiously based idea, they understand that people might want to affirm the intelligent design of life as part of their religious beliefs—but not as a consequence of scientific evidence. Indeed, most evolutionary biologists don’t see how the idea of intelligent design could contribute to a scientific explanation of life’s origins, nor do they see how intelligent design could ever be detected or inferred scientifically from evidence in nature. Exactly how would researchers justify such an inference?

    CANNOT WAIT to see these indicators that make design scientifically detectable.  My challenge remains.  For an ID advocate to use the principles of ID to determine, given a random snippet of DNA and one of the same length known to be designed (because a human designed it), which of the two is designed.

    Honestly, I don’t see how ID contributes to anything either.  It’s useless.

    Intelligent Design has been around since Paley’s time (the late 1700s).  The modern form has been around since (IMO) Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box (published in 1996).  There have been exactly zero insights into modern biology from ID proponents.  They have never produced a prediction [3]

    So far, I’m utterly underwhelmed.  But I didn’t expect much.  Just flipping through the next few pages I don’t see anything useful at all.

    The best evidence that ID proponents have no evidence is the simple fact that if they had any actual evidence, no one would be able to shut them up about it.  They would try to be in every single peer-reviewed journal in existence and there would be thousands of new websites, forums, and people dedicated to the promotion of that evidence.  But we can’t even get them to talk about evidence.

    The rest of the series.

    P.S.  As of this post, I’ve written more than 25,000 words debunking Meyer.  I’ve done two chapters and a few other bits and pieces here and there.  The Gish Gallop is strong with this one.


    1.  There’s also Douglas Axe, but he is a little different in that he does science.  It doesn’t show what he thinks it does, but he doesn’t write about ID either.

    2. Really… don’t do it.  The ones I’m familiar with are dying on the vine and it’s best to let them whither.  It’s really quite amusing to watch the pro-ID crowd turn on each other because they have no Darwinists (whatever they are) to argue against.

    3. Very often, they will claim that the claim “some junk DNA will be useful” is a prediction of ID.  Unfortunately, the earliest reference I can find is Behe just prior to Darwin’s Black Box. There may be a reference in Of Panda’s and People  (the creationist textbook), but I don’t care enough to go read it.  This same claim was made by Gould in the late 70s.  And who did the research?  Well, no ID proponent, that’s for sure.

    EDIT: updated misspoken statement about junk DNA, Gould, and Behe.

    Category: Book ReviewCreationismfeaturedScienceSkepticism


    Article by: Smilodon's Retreat

    • Nicholas J. Matzke

      Insomnia! So, minor typos:


      When McDonald does say that there is a “great Darwinian paradox”. Of course,

      Thus, theism stands as the best explanation of the three major worldviews theism, pantheism, and naturalism for the origin of the Big Bang singularity and anthropic fine-tuning taken jointly.

      The Meyer says this:

      Not sure what you mean here:

      “late 70s when Gould commented that there was not going to be any junk DNA”

      …Gould was pro-junk AFAIK, and was/is right that there is lots of junk. See Larry Moran & Ryan Gregory’s blogs on ENCODE project silliness.

      This quote is revealing:

      “Perhaps the best way to explain the theory of intelligent design is to contrast it with the specific aspect of the theory of Darwinian evolution that it directly challenges.”

      …basically Meyer is admitting it’s God of the Gaps right there.

      • SmilodonsRetreat

        There’s a lot of back and forth on this junk DNA thing. I very well may have it backwards after reading Moran’s recent rant on the Science Perspectives article.

        Regardless, the claims made by ID proponents are not new, not predictive, and not supported anyway.

      • SmilodonsRetreat

        I made some updates based on my original research on the topic from a few years ago.