Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Blog Break

After a year and a half of near continuous blogging, I'm feeling a bit burned out. So I'm taking July off. EvolutionBlog will return in August.

I think this is a good time to offer a heartfelt thanks to every one who has stopped by (including the critics!). When I started this blog I never imagined that so many people would actually be interested in reading my long-winded musings on this subject.

Monday, June 27, 2005

The Globe States it Plain

Today's Boston Globe has this excellent editorial about the recent shenanigans of the ID folks:

PROPONENTS OF the intelligent design concept contend that life is so complex and the earth so perfectly positioned to sustain it that a great designer must be responsible. There's not a bit of sound science in their thinking, but proponents have managed to enlist the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in legitimizing these notions. The Smithsonian, a symbol of the federal government's commitment to advancing knowledge, should fend off any more attempts to infiltrate this quasi-religious doctrine into its scientific work.

Well said. I also liked this (the article being referred to is “The Origin of Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories” by Stephen Meyer. Regular readers of this blog will recall that this was the one published, under very questioable circumstances, in The Procedings of the Biological Society of Washington):

The article does not make much of a scientific argument. The ''Cambrian explosion," as it's called, lasted millions of years, plenty of time for evolution to work. Evolution has been a mainstay of the biological sciences since Charles Darwin first propounded the theory in 1859 because it has consistently provided convincing explanations of natural phenomena. Darwin's theory may not yet completely explain the Cambrian explosion, but that does not invalidate evolution -- it merely invites further research. Intelligent design, on the other hand, does not advance scientific inquiry. Evolution does not disprove the existence of a god or gods, nor does it bar a belief in intelligent design, as long as it is considered a philosophical concept, not a scientific theory.

I would only add that our current lack of a definitive explanation for the Cambrian explosion reflects a lack of data, not a lack of theoretical robustness.

Predictably, the Discovery Institute's John West was less impressed by the editorial:

Today’s Boston Globe carries an inane editorial attacking intelligent design that demonstrates how a little learning (in this case, very little) can be a dangerous thing. The Globe editorialist no doubt thought he was valiantly defending good science, but instead he simply exposes how uninformed he is. The editorial starts by dismissing Dr. Stephen Meyer's peer-reviewed journal article from the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. According to the Globe

What did the editorialist write to merit this abuse? Well, elsewhere in the essay he did refer to Stephen Meyer as Scott Meyer, so he did make a genuine error. But otherwise West focusses entirely on the editorial's dismissive attitude toward Meyer's “Cambrian explosion” argument.

Of course, the editorial is right to be so dismissive. The Cambrian explosion is a complete non-issue. But West does say one thing that merits a response:

Meyer's article makes three major points: (1) The mechanism of neo-Darwinism (natural selection plus random mutation) does not seem capable of accounting for the origin of animal body plans during the Cambrian explosion. (2) Other explanations that have been proposed to shore up the neo-Darwinian mechanism have problems of their own. (3) Intelligent design may offer a promising explanation for the origin of animal body plans for several reasons, including the fact that we know that intelligent causes are capable of producing the kind of complex specified information required to build animal body plans.

All three of those points are ridiculous, but that third one doesn't get commented on as much as it should. West tells us that intelligent causes are “capable of producing the kind of complex specified information required to build animal body plans.”

What utter nonsense! Can West offer a single example of an intelligent cause producing the information to build animal body plans? Of course he can't. The reason he can't is that the task of building such information into the genomes of organisms is way beyond the ability of any intelligent agent we know about.

In explaining the Cambrian explosion you can either invent out of whole cloth an intelligent designer with powers that are orders of magnitude beyond any known intelligence, or you can believe that one of the many mundane scientific explanations based on known mechanims is the correct one. Does anyone really believe that ID is the better explanation in this case?