Would You Want This Guy On Your Side?
The following letter to the editor appeared in a small Virginia newspaper. Ordinarily I would ignore something so trifling, but the ID's over at Access Research Network were sufficiently impressed by it that they added a link to it in their news update. The letter was written by one Michael Shelton. So let's have a look at the sort of people the ID folks are happy to have represent them:
In his letter, Erik Misavage [“The scientific facts support theory of evolution,” Nov. 28] uses the same, tired defense of evolution when he stated, “The emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in recent years is one example.” He then conveniently tells us that we just haven't figured it out yet.
I have not read Mr. Misavage's letter, but Shelton is off to a very bad start here. It's not so much that he's committed any grave scientific error (that comes later), as much as that the two sentences above don't really make sense. Referring to the “same, tired defense” is nonsensical without answering the question “same as what?” And in the last sentence it is not clear what, exactly, we haven't figured out yet.
Evolution a priori requires a mindless, purposeless, and strictly materialistic view. It assumes that no deity is required or exists. This requires faith.
Total nonsense, of course. Evolution does not even imply atheism, much less require it “a priori”. Modern evolutionary theory does say that you do not need to invoke a supernatural deity to explain how a relatively simple sort of life can transform itself, over long periods of time, into more complex sorts of life. It is silent on the question of whether God exists, or where those relatively simple sorts of life came from. And there is no faith involved in accepting evolution. You only have to be willing to follow the evidence.
The late paleontologist Dr. Colin Patterson posed the following question several times to different audiences: “Can you tell me anything you know about evolution, any one thing that is true?” At one meeting in Chicago, following a long silence, a member of the audience replied: “I do know one thing. It ought not to be taught in high school.”
Proof by out of context anecdote, a favorite tactic. I guess our reaction is supposed to be something like “Golly! Some guy in Chicago gave a snarky response to Colin Patterson during a Q&A? I guess evolution's a lot of nonsense after all!
I won't rehash here the various ways creationists have abused Colin Patterson's public appearances over the years. Feel free to go here for one example.
Creation, like evolution, is a matter of faith, but it correlates well with science. Using a strict scientific application, let's arbitrarily select a 320-unit protein chain. Only 20 of more than 100 amino acids are used in life.
Of course, the idea that accepting the correctness of evolutionary theory is a matter of faith is one of those comforting delusions creationists are so fond of promoting. I would also point out that the word “application” is misused here. I think he just means “example”.
An experienced creationist-watcher, upon reading those last two sentences, will suspect a bogus probability calculation is on its way. He will not be disappointed:
Our protein uses eight of those 20 amino acids. Using permutation statistics, we determine the probability of a decimal point followed by 29 zeros and the numeral 2 that our protein example has self-assembled itself.
I'll respond to that as soon as I figure out what it means. I think he is saying that the probability of this particular protein forming by chance alone is 2 times ten to the minus thitieth power, and that he arrived at that number by reasoning that there are twenty to the 320-th power ways for twenty amino acids to permute themselves in a chain 320 slots long.
Of course, that's the sort of ignorant application of probability theory that we try to clear up in the first two days of a course on the subject. Complex proteins do not arise as the result of amino acids colliding randomly with each other. But, again, more interesting to me is the poor way the argument is expressed. No one who actually understands this subject would use phrases like “Using permutation statisitcs” or “self-asembled itself”.
Biological science rests on the foundation of information theory to be properly understood. No rational process that resulted in the automatic, spontaneous development of information in matter has ever been observed.
And here, instead of “rational” he really means “naturalistic”. And, actually, the ability of natural selection to add information to the genome has been documented on numerous occasions. It is possible Shelton is thinking of the origin of life here, but outside of creationist fantasy-land the origin of life is a problem wholly spearate from evolution.
Too many coincidences, too many just-right things, too many just-so stories, for this all to be an accident. It's worldview against worldview.
Creationists are fond of portraying themselves as the ones with the common, everyday horse sense to see clearly what those beknighted, overeducated scientists have overlooked. I would also point out that the second sentece here does not follow in any reasonable way from the first.
Across different command centers, information must be applicable to any and all functions that tie the command centers together. The first and second laws of thermodynamics and the property of chirality (left-hand orientation versus right-hand orientation) of carbon-based amino acids work against Mr. Misavage's worldview.
This paragraph makes no sense at all. I often tell people that you can spot a scientific crank even if you do not know all the details of a particular branch of science. Throughout this letter Mr. Shelton has misused several bits of technical jargon without making any attempt to clarify what he meana. For example, most people reading this letter aren't going to have the slightest idea what “chirality” is, and Mr. Shelton's parenthetical remark is no help at all. Nor is there any attempt to explain how “the property of chirality” works against evolution. There is also no attempt to explain how the first and second laws of thermodynamics speak against evolution. And the first sentence, about information command centers and whatnot, is just gibberish.
Using jargon without really understanding what it means is SOP among cranks.
I recommend that the interested reader refer to the following books: Darwin's Black Box by Michael Behe, Icons of Evolution by Jonathan Wells, and The Natural Sciences Know Nothing of Evolution by A.E. Wilder-Smith.
The ID folks are perfectly happy to be represented by folks like this. Just lovely.