The Post Shows the Way
In contrast to the lazy, worthless article from the Times, The Washington Post put some effort into its own article on the subject. They mention the Dover trial only as an afterthought. Instead, most of the article focuses on the fact that every breakthrough in biology in recent years has been entirely supportive of evolution:
When scientists announced last month they had determined the exact order of all 3 billion bits of genetic code that go into making a chimpanzee, it was no surprise that the sequence was more than 96 percent identical to the human genome. Charles Darwin had deduced more than a century ago that chimps were among humans' closest cousins.
But decoding chimpanzees' DNA allowed scientists to do more than just refine their estimates of how similar humans and chimps are. It let them put the very theory of evolution to some tough new tests.
If Darwin was right, for example, then scientists should be able to perform a neat trick. Using a mathematical formula that emerges from evolutionary theory, they should be able to predict the number of harmful mutations in chimpanzee DNA by knowing the number of mutations in a different species' DNA and the two animals' population sizes.
“That's a very specific prediction,” said Eric Lander, a geneticist at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Mass., and a leader in the chimp project.
Sure enough, when Lander and his colleagues tallied the harmful mutations in the chimp genome, the number fit perfectly into the range that evolutionary theory had predicted.
Their analysis was just the latest of many in such disparate fields as genetics, biochemistry, geology and paleontology that in recent years have added new credence to the central tenet of evolutionary theory: That a smidgeon of cells 3.5 billion years ago could -- through mechanisms no more extraordinary than random mutation and natural selection -- give rise to the astonishing tapestry of biological diversity that today thrives on Earth.
Evolution's repeated power to predict the unexpected goes a long way toward explaining why so many scientists and others are practically apoplectic over the recent decision by a Pennsylvania school board to treat evolution as an unproven hypothesis, on par with “alternative” explanations such as Intelligent Design (ID), the proposition that life as we know it could not have arisen without the helping hand of some mysterious intelligent force.
Sorry about the long excerpt, but I was enjoying that so much I couldn’t bear to cut it off. The rest of the article goes on in this vein, placing the trial in its proper scientific context. This really is a battle between science on one side, and irrational religious dogma on the other.
Almost no space is given to the Discovery Institute folks, and the charges they make are quickly answered:
Asked to provide examples of non-obvious, testable predictions made by the theory of Intelligent Design, John West, an associate director of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based ID think tank, offered one: In 1998, he said, an ID theorist, reckoning that an intelligent designer would not fill animals' genomes with DNA that had no use, predicted that much of the “junk” DNA in animals' genomes -- long seen as the detritus of evolutionary processes -- will someday be found to have a function.
(In fact, some “junk” DNA has indeed been found to be functional in recent years, though more than 90 percent of human DNA still appears to be the flotsam of biological history.) In any case, West said, it is up to Darwinists to prove ID wrong.
“Chance and necessity don't seem to be good candidates for explaining the appearance of higher-order complexity, so the best explanation is an intelligent cause,” West said.
The point the authors make, about the overwhelming majority of non-coding DNA having no known function, is a good one, but there’s a lot more to say as well. Non-coding DNA provides evidence for evolution in ways that have nothing to do with whether some function can be found for it. Have a look at this article for a detailed treatment of the subject.
The broader point, however, is that West is full of it. The only way ID predicts that “junk” DNA should have a function is if the designer is held up to some standards of efficiency and optimality. And I seem to recall that ID specifically disavows that idea:
Applied to biology, intelligent design maintains that a designing intelligence is required to account for the complex, information-rich structures in living systems. At the same time, it refuses to speculate about the nature of that designing intelligence. Whereas optimal design demands a perfectionistic designer who has to get everything just right, intelligent design fits our ordinary experience of design, which is conditioned by the needs of a situation, requires negotiation and tradeoffs, and therefore always falls short of some idealized global optimum.
That’s William Dembski, from pages 58-59 of his book The Design Revolution. So West is simply wrong about what ID predicts.
Incidentally, Dembski’s quote merits further analysis on its own. For example, any designer who has to worry about trade-offs based on the needs of the situation is plainly not omnipotent. If we take Dembski at his word, then the designer of ID is plainly not the Christian God.
We also shouldn’t let West’s final comment pass unnoticed. Biologists have shown time and again that natural selection acting on random variations provides an adequate explanation for biological complexity. On top of that, scientists show every day that nature still holds a lot of secrets we need to learn.
By contrast, we have a very good idea of what intelligence is capable of. Human beings possess the highest known level of intelligence, but we are not remotely capable of doing the things ID requires of its designer. This is what West describes as the more plausible explanation.
And he has the nerve to say that “Darwinists” have to prove ID wrong?