Monday, May 09, 2005

Irony Alert

Over at ID the Future prominent ID booster Paul Nelson has a post up complaining - are you sitting down? - that people have been quoting him unfairly.

As Nelson tells it, he made the following statement in an interview for the Christian magazine Touchstone last year:


Easily the biggest challenge facing the ID community is to develop a full-fledged theory of biological design. We don't have such a theory now, and that's a real problem. Without a theory it's very hard to know where to direct your research focus. Right now we've got a bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions such as “irreducible complexity” and “specified complexity” - but as yet no general theory of biological design.


Note that this is Nelson quoting himself, so we can be sure there is enough material here to form an accurate impression of his intent.

Seems pretty straightforward to me: Here's an ID proponent, in a rare moment of honesty, stating bluntly that ID has very little to offer in the way of scientific accomplishments. “Powerful intuitions” won't even buy you a contributed talk at a low-level conference, while “notions” is an admirably dismissive way of describing irreducible complexity and specified complexity.

Nelson goes on at some length from here. His point seems to be, well, that my interpretation is pretty much right. Minus the snide remarks about rare moments of honesty, of course. Go check it out for yourself!

One excerpt in particular caught my eye:


At the moment, we -- that's all the people who care, both design theorists and anti-design theorists -- are in the midst of the first major cycle of proposed refutations. Two design hypotheses, namely, irreducible complexity and specified complexity, are undergoing critical evaluation.


In the space of a few paragraphs “irreducible complexity” and “specified complexity” have been elevated from notions to hypotheses. But they are not hypotheses. Irreducible complexity (IC) is a property that a functional, multi-part system, biological or otherwise, may or may not possess. Likewise, specified complexity (SC) is something that any event or object may or may not possess.

Now, I assume the hypotheses Nelson has in mind are that in the biological realm, IC systems can not evolve gradually via natural selection, and that SC can only be explained as the result of action taken by an intelligent agent. If these are the hypotheses, then the critical evaluation is complete.

Both ideas have been around for several years, yet there is not a single scientist using IC or SC to solve problems of scientific interest. There is good reason for this. The claim that IC systems can't evolve gradually is false both in theory and practice. (In other words, there are numerous scenarios using known mechanisms through which IC systems could evolve gradually, and there is ample evidence that these scenarios (such as the possibility that IC is the result of the removal of redundancy) have played out in practice). As for SC, since it relies on probability calculations that would require God-like knowledge to have any legitimacy, it is worthless as a tool for detecting design.

Time to move on to the next step, Mr. Nelson.

Curiously, Bill Dembski was sufficiently embarrassed by Nelson's blunt admission that he felt the need to tell us all what Nelson meant:


Evolutionists are just as fond of quote-mining as their ID counterparts. A quote of Paul Nelson's has lately been making the rounds, appearing even in the New York Times. At a meeting of Biola University last year, Nelson remarked, “Easily the biggest challenge facing the ID community is to develop a full-fledged theory of biological design. We don’t have such a theory right now, and that’s a problem”

Evolutionists are now taking this as a grand admission that ID is scientifically deficient. Nelson’s own take on this line by evolutionists can be found at IDthefuture. My own take is that Nelson’s statement reflects a profound malaise within the scientific community about the absence of a general theory of biological form and design — period. Scientific theories vary in their scope and power. As a theory of design detection and technological evolution, intelligent design is now well in hand. But as a general theory of biological form, ID has a long way to go.

Intelligent design, however, is hardly alone in this regard. Consider the following admissions about the lack of a general theory of biological form by mainstream biologists and scientists:


See the original for the links.

After that last line Dembski went deep into his mine to whip out six(!!) quotes from scientists that supposedly make his point. Anyone want to guess what I'll find if I investigate their context?

Dembski attributes Nelson's statement to a talk given at Biola University. Nelson was actually considering a fuller version of the quote from an interview with Touchstone magazine. That is just an aside.

Dembski suggests that Nelson's statement reflects a profound malaise within the scientific community blah blah blah. Of course, wback here on planet Earth we know that was not Nelson's intention, and the way we know it is that Nelson told us in considerable detail what he meant! Nowhere in Nelson's lengthy post does he discuss any sort of malaise, profound or otherwise. Dembski simply made that up.

ID folks complaining about being misquoted. Ya gotta love it.

5 Comments:

At 2:54 AM, Anonymous Paul King said...

What I find amazing is the claim that Dembski "paid a high price" at Barlor for his association with the Design Movement.

Being given a job is not what I would call a high price. And Dembski has held onto that job to the present day - only resigning this year.

 
At 2:43 PM, Anonymous Prof Pupdog said...

Now, I assume the hypotheses Nelson has in mind are that in the biological realm, IC systems can not evolve gradually via natural selection, and that SC can only be explained as the result of action taken by an intelligent agent. If these are the hypotheses, then the critical evaluation is complete.

I just love it when I read a report and find that it is up to me to figure out what the writer has in mind, and then try to draw his conclusions for him. And the writer whines if I draw draw the conclusion he wants me to.

 
At 3:56 PM, Anonymous SteveF said...

Jason,

Paul Nelson said the following at PT a few days ago, in the thread entitled Back to the Quote Mines

"Lenny, I’m on record as saying there is currently no well-articulated theory of biological design. I said that about as plainly as I could to 2,000 people in the Biola gymnasium last year (at an ID conference; Nick Matzke was there as a reporter), and have repeated it since."

Looks like we are again seeing the ID dance with words. One more step in the propoganda war.

 
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