Friday, February 03, 2006

Vedantam on Evolution and Morality, Part One

The Washington Post has posted this article about evolution and morality, by Shankar Vedantam. It is very long and very mixed. Parts of it are good, but the article manages to get a lot of important things wrong. Since there is so much to comment on, I will devote several blog entries to it.

It gets off to a good start. Here's the headline and subhead:

Eden and Evolution:
Religious critics of evolution are wrong about its flaws. But are they right that it threatens belief in a loving God?

Sadly, it now launches into a lengthy, and uncritical, description of pro-ID biologist Caroline Crocker. Here's an excerpt:

Crocker was about to establish a small beachhead for an insurgency that ultimately aims to topple Darwin's view that humans and apes are distant cousins. The lecture she was to deliver had caused her to lose a job at a previous university, she told me earlier, and she was taking a risk by delivering it again. As a nontenured professor, she had little institutional protection. But this highly trained biologist wanted students to know what she herself deeply believed: that the scientific establishment was perpetrating fraud, hunting down critics of evolution to ruin them and disguising an atheistic view of life in the garb of science.


Ripples of excitement spread through the class. Crocker took the students on a tour of experiments that she said were supposed to prove evolution. In the 1950s, she said, scientists Stanley Miller and Harold Urey ran electricity through a soup of chemicals to show how chemicals on the early Earth could assemble themselves into the building blocks of life.

“Anyone read about it?” she asked.

“It's in our book,” a student said.

Crocker said that subsequent research had shown that chemicals used in the experiment did not exist on Earth 4 billion years ago. “The experiment is irrelevant, but you still find it in your books,” she said.

She cited another experiment, involving researcher Bernard Kettlewell, who produced pictures of variously colored peppered moths on tree trunks to show that when the moths were not well camouflaged, they were more likely to be eaten by birds -- a process of natural selection that influenced the color of the moths. “This comes from your book -- it is not actually true,” Crocker said. “The experiment was falsified. He glued his moths to the trees.”

“There really is not a lot of evidence for evolution,” says biology professor Caroline Crocker, who supports the theory of intelligent design. (D.A. Peterson )

Gasps and giggles burst out. Why was the experiment still in the textbook? Crocker said the authors' answer was, “because it makes the point . . . The problem with evolution is that it is all supposition -- this evolved into this -- but there is no evidence.”


Nguyen was among the first students to speak. “With so many things disproving evolution and evolution having no proof, why is it still taught?” he asked.

“Right now, in our society, we have an underlying philosophy of naturalism, that there is a material explanation for everything,” Crocker replied. “Evolution came with that philosophy.”

Carolyn Flitcroft, a student in one of the front rows, said: “So far, we have only learned that evolution is true. This is the first time I have ever heard it isn't.”

“I lost my job at George Mason University for teaching the problems with evolution,” said Crocker, a charge that the university denies. “Lots of scientists question evolution, but they would lose their jobs if they spoke out.”

There's much more to this section than I have quoted. But Vedantam presents it all uncritically, with no indication that Crocker will be taking a fall later in the article. Anyone who simply skims the beginning of the article - a large percentage of the Post's readership I suspect - will come away thinking that Crocker is a reputable source. You have to go pretty far into the article before you come to anything that challenges her litany of nonsense, and even then we get only a short paragraph:

Crocker's arguments are part of a familiar litany of half-truths and errors, said Alan Gishlick, a research affiliate at the National Center for Science Education. The Miller-Urey experiment was not intended to be evidence for evolution but part of a research program into how biological mechanisms might arise from nonbiological chemical reactions. As for gluing moths to trees, Gishlick said, researcher Kettlewell affixed the moths to trees to determine how birds spot moths of different hues. The photos were illustrations and never meant to be depictions of real life.

“They put us in a position that we have to defend things that don't need defending, and then they come back and say, Why are you defending things that we know are wrong?” Gishlick told me, his voice rising.

Good for Alan. His voice should rise when dealing with people like Crocker.

Meanwhile, you have to go all the way to the end of the article to get GMU's reply to her charges:

GMU spokesman Daniel Walsch denied that the school had fired Crocker. She was a part-time faculty member, he said, and was let go at the end of her contract period for reasons unrelated to her views on intelligent design. “We wholeheartedly support academic freedom,” he said. But teachers also have a responsibility to stick to subjects they were hired to teach, he added, and intelligent design belonged in a religion class, not biology. Does academic freedom “literally give you the right to talk about anything, whether it has anything to do with the subject matter or not? The answer is no.”

Actually, what Crocker did was far worse than straying from the mandated syallabus. Assuming the beginning of this article paints an accurate picture of what she really said, Crocker was simply presenting a mountain of blatantly false information.

Did Bernard Kettlewell falsify his experiment (whatever that means)? No. The photographs of the moths on the trees was not part of the experiment itself. It was intended merely to illustrate the color contrast between different types of moths resting on tree bark. After all, how many people have ever seen a peppered moth outside of a high school biology textbook? And this experiment is in all the textbooks (a) because of its historical significance (it was one of the first detailed confirmations of natural selection in the wild) and (b) because of its relative simplicity. By itself it proves little and no one has ever claimed that it does. But in one simple experiment it illustrates most of the major ideas about how natural selection works. Furthermore, Crocker acts as if Kettlewell is the only one who ever did an experiment on peppered moths. In reality Kettlewell's experiments have been repeated many times, and his results have been confirmed.

So here we have Crocker not only presenting false information, but also impugning the integrity of a specific individual, Kettlewell, as well as the scientific community generally for relying on his work. Alan Gishlick himself has written a detailed refutation of Crocker's arguments here.

Is she on any better ground with the Miller-Urey experiment? No. As Gishlick points out, the Miller-Urey experiment had nothing to do with evolution. And the problem was not that it relied on chemicals that did not exist on the early Earth. The problem was that theories of the composition of the early atmosphere changed in the years after the Miller-Urey experiment. That is why variations on the Miller-Urey experiment have been conducted in the light of our new understanding of the early atmosphere. And these more recent experiments have produced results comparable to the original. Again, I refer you to Gishlick's excellent summary of the basic facts of the situation.

On and on it goes. None of Crocker's arguments are even close to being correct. Her assertions are not merely false, but false in ways that indicate both a complete disregard for the truth, and a complete lack of respect for her scientific colleagues. Her behavior as described here is the equivalent of me going into one of my math classes and telling the students that not only does 1+1 not equal 2, but actually that myth persists only because an authoritarian regime of arrogant, atheist mathematicians has conspired to squelch dissenting voices.

Would anyone argue that a mathematician seriously making such a claim in a classroom should keep his job?

As I said, there is much more to this article, but we will save that for future blog entries.

Dizikes on Galileo Groupies

Check out this excellent article from Slate:

In a column late last month in the Catholic Church's official newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, Italian biologist Fiorenzo Facchini scolded intelligent design advocates for "pretending to do science." It was the Vatican's signal that the church had jumped ship on ID. That will no doubt rankle creationists who hoped for a potential ally in Rome. But there's a bright side for them: The church's rejection could help the ID-ers identify with their favorite scientist, Galileo Galilei.

Yes, that Galileo. In opinion pieces, speeches, and interviews, ID advocates commonly cite the 17th-century Italian astronomer and physicist as a forebear. It's not his views on biology they want a piece of, but rather his plight as a man before his time. “In my opinion, we must train students in the 21st century to do exactly as Galileo did … think outside the box,” says William Harris, one of the key players in Kansas' rebellion against evolution last year. In his 1996 book Darwin's Black Box, leading ID-er Michael Behe calls the idea of a heliocentric universe, proposed by Copernicus and backed by Galileo, a prescient “assault on the senses.” So, too, Behe says, will his own work be vindicated. Last fall, an interviewer for the British newspaper the Guardian asked Behe if the criticism of ID he faces brings Galileo to mind. The self-appointed science rebel had a simple answer: “Yeah. In a way it's flattery.”

Welcome to creationism's absurdist history of science. During the inquisition, the Catholic Church put Galileo on trial in 1633 and forced him under threat of torture to recant his belief, presented unapologetically in the Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, that the earth revolved around the sun. Galileo's story has nuances—Pope Urban VIII tolerated his ideas more than hard-line cardinals—but it is unquestionably a tale of science squelched by organized religion. That is not exactly a problem today's ID backers face.

Think Dizikes is exaggerating? Check out this blog entry from William Dembski, posted today:

[From a colleague:] I understand the importance of the political struggle—not because the truth of neo-Darwinism or ID (or a “third way”) can be settled by the courts, but because Darwinian metaphysics is doing real moral and political mischief in our society, and therefore must be opposed in whatever manner is practicable. From that point of view, Dover was indeed unfortunate.

However, let us not lose sight of the fact that a scientific theory that requires a judge to enforce its teaching cannot be said to be in good INTELLECTUAL health. By proclaiming it illegal to “disparage or denigrate” neo-Darwinism, Judge Jones adopted the principle of the Inquisition, and in so doing rendered both himself and that state-enforced theory ridiculous. Taking a longer view, I think Dover will come eventually to be be seen as a moral victory, in the same way that Galileo’s condemnation is now viewed as a moral victory.

There is only one thing to say to Judge Jones—eppure, si muove!

A more accurate description of what happened in Dover is that a Judge, in possession of all the relevant facts, prevented a scientifically ignorant school board from lying to school children in the service of an especially mypoic religious agenda.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Boehner Wins Leadership Position

Ohio rperesentative John Boehner has won the election to replace Tom DeLay as the House Majority Leader.

Boehner will be familiar to readers of this blog for his attempts to pressure the Ohio Board of Education into including ID in its science classes:

We are writing to comment on recent Ohio School Board hearings regarding the teaching of science in Ohio public schools in light of some recent developments in federal education policy. As you know on January 8, 2002, President Bush signed into law H.R. 1, the Leave No Child Behind Act of 2001. During the debate concerning H. R. 1, Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) introduced an amendment, regarding teaching controversial elements of scientific theory. The Santorum amendment passed the Seante by a vote of 98 to 1 and was included as report language in the final version of H. R. 1, which was signed by the president. Specifically, the H.R. 1 Conference Report states:

The Conferees recognize that a quality science education should
Prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of
science from the religious or philosophical claims that are made
in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may
generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum
should help students to understand the full range of scientific views
that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how
scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.

Thus, the Santorum language is now part of the law. The Santorum language clarifies that public school students are entitled to learn that thee are differing scientific views on issues such as biological evolution.

H.R. 1 calls for the enactment of state standards in the field of science. It’s important that the implementation of these science standards not be used to censor debate on controversial issues in science, including Darwin’s theory of evolution. Science is neither religion nor philosophy. Many people may draw religious or philosophical implications from science, but those implication are best drawn outside the science classroom. Students should be allowed to hear the scientific arguments on more than one side of a controversial topic. Censorship of opposing points of view retards true scholarship and prevents students from developing their critical thinking skills.

The text of Santorum language in the H.R. 1 Conference Report and comments from members of House and Senate are enclosed for your background information. We hope this information will be of help to you in your deliberations.


Rep. John A. Boehner Rep. Steve Chabot
Chairman, House Education Chairman, House
And Workforce Committee Constitution Subcommittee

Tell me again about how the Republicans aren't the anti-science party.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

SOTU Response

Andrew Sullivan has a series of good posts on the emptiness of Bush's State of the Union Address. Here's a representative example, under the headline “Sorry:”

...but I thought this speech lacked a real focus, and rehashed thoroughly exhausted tropes and phrases. The speech's key attention-grabber was the “addicted to oil” line. But after five years of being the oil-president, he needs to add a lot more substance to back up the counter-intuitive headline. On the critical question, Iraq, he said all the right things; and I believe he deserves support in navigating the path ahead, however twisted the path to this point. But I'd like to see more meat on those bones, and clear evidence of political progress and improved security. I guess, on this subject, I've just learned to follow what he does, rather than what he says. The calls for bi-partisanship, on the other hand, and for an entitlements commission, for Pete's sake, sounded ... well, desperate. Bottom line: this speech will rise without trace. And be remembered by almost no one.

I agree completely, including the part about Iraq.

I also liked Sullivan's take on the Democratic reponse, delivered by my incomping Governor:

Kaine looks good. Great idea to have a governor, an executive, standing with that big red tie. And the first thing you hear from him is that he was once a missionary. God, God, God for the first few minutes. Then competence and “good management.” Nice touch on Katrina response; even more effective on the Medicare mess. And finally, we have a real challenge on fiscal recklessness. Pity it took a Democrat. Nice line on “inaccurate information” about war intelligence. Much better than the “misled” line (which Begala is now repeating).The same blather on energy independence as the president. And then ... God and service. All in all, I'd say it's easily the best Democratic response I've seen since Bush took office. Of course, the standard was, well, two words: Nancy Pelosi. Bush: C+. Kaine B+. That's my immediate gut response. I reserve the right to change my mind tomorrow.

I find nothing at his blog today to indicate that he has, in fact, changed his mind.

Sullivan's comments, coming from a conservative perspective, were a welcome change to the predictable Bush sycophancy of MSNBC (I didn't even bother watching Fox). There was Chris Matthews with his usual cadre of lickspittles, gushing about how strong Bush looked and how weak and timid Kaine looked. You know it's bad when former Republican representative Joe Scarborough is the most critical voice among the regular panelists.

On the other hand, Arianna Huffington was less impressed with Kaine:

While Kaine was droning on, I closed my eyes and imagined Jack Murtha giving the response, someone with the authority to do much more than second guess -- to offer an alternative strategy on Iraq and the war on terror, as opposed to Kaine’s program of &ldwuo;service and competent management.” And I thought “competence” had gone out of vogue with Michael Dukakis.

Guess you can't please everyone.

Brayton on Uncommon Descent

Meanwhile, Ed Brayton has an important post up about how William Dembski's new blog czar (that's his own attribution), who blogs under the name DaveScot, seems to be doing his utmost to humiliate Dembski at every turn. It seems that DaveScot posted an entry in which he threw a tantrum directed at people who deny the common descent of all species. He wrote:

I will remind everyone again - please frame your arguments around science. If the ID movement doesn't get the issue framed around science it's going down and I do not like losing. The plain conclusion of scientific evidence supports descent with modification from a common ancestor. You are certainly welcome to have other opinions based on faith in something other than science but I'd ask that you go to a religious website with them if you must talk about it.

You certainly don't have to agree here with descent with modification from a common ancestor but I'm going to start clamping down on anyone positively arguing against it. It's simply counter-productive to our goals and reinforces the idea that ID is religion because nothing but religion argues against descent with modification from a common ancestor. What we are fighting is the idea that the modification was unguided. ID can fight that without ever leaving the battleground of plain scientific conclusions. If we try to argue against anything else we're are (sic) going to lose. Plain and simple. No buts about it. There's only one gaping vulnerability in the commonly accepted evolutionary narrative we can exploit successfully and that's the bit about it being unplanned.

This post quickly disappeared, without a trace, no doubt after numerous ID folks pointed out that virtually all of the prominent ID advocates reject common descent. Happily, several other bloggers managed to saved it before it vanished. Of course, bloggers with more integrity than DaveScot would have posted an update explaianing why the post was removed, or perhaps apologizing for their ill-considered remarks.

Brayton writes:

The creationist blog Creation Bits quickly said that DaveScot is “destroying Dembski's blog”. Josh Bozeman, aka jboze, a Dembski sycophant, put up a post at his blog saying that DaveScot had “actually lost his mind.” After less than 24 hours of the commenters venting their spleens at the Blog Czar, he did what what any good little Orwellian would do - he deleted the post. Gone, disappeared into thin air as though it never existed. Bozeman's blog post disappeared too. Thankfully, Jack Krebs had saved the whole thread and you can see it here.

I'm guessing Papa Dembski had a few stern words for the Czar and pulled in the reins a bit. But for crying out loud, how long can he allow this to go on? This guy is absolutely embarrassing him. It's become so ridiculous that you just can't not watch. To use Bill Hicks' analogy, it's like a loose tooth, you can't not touch it.

Meanwhile, Josh Rosenau offers some further thoughts.

Actually, there's potentially a deeper point here. The history of American creationism comprises a series of retreats in the face of legal defeats. It used to be that it was illegal to teach theories that contradicted the Bible, but that strategy was found unconstitutional. Then there was scientific creationism, which argued that things like a young-Earth, spontaneous creation of all “kinds” of organisms, and a world-wide global flood, were simply sound conclusions drawn from scientific evidence. As such, it should be taught as science alongside evolution. That didn't work either. Then came ID, which watered down the scientific creationist view and narrowed its focus solely to the explanatory sufficiency of natural selection. We now have a court decision saying that startegy is pure sham, and ID is no improvement, either legally or scientifically, over old-school creationism.

Could this be the new startegy? Are the ID folks gearing up to accept common descent, and then argue that God had some role in directing evolution? If they are, they are treading perilously close to theistic evolution, previously identified as the hated enemy of ID.

The Wedge in Seattle Weekly

Lot's of good blog fodder today. Let's begin with this article from Seattle Weekly. The subhead says it all:

A Seattle think tank launched the modern intelligent-design movement with a simple memo. The idea has evolved into a media sensation. And the cause has mutated beyond rational control.

Well said.

The memo being referred to here is the infamous “Wedge” document. It is impossible, after reading it, to conclude that ID is anything other than a political and religious strategy. For example, the document describes the Governing Goals of the movement to be:

  • To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies.

  • To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and hurnan beings are created by God.

Seattle Weekly also presents, for the first time as far as I am aware, the full story of how this document came to be leaked:

The story begins, so far as the world at large is concerned, on a late January day seven years ago, in a mail room in a downtown Seattle office of an international human-resources firm. The mail room was also the copy center, and a part-time employee named Matt Duss was handed a document to copy. It was not at all the kind of desperately dull personnel-processing document Duss was used to feeding through the machine. For one thing, it bore the rubber-stamped warnings “TOP SECRET” and “NOT FOR DISTRIBUTION.” Its cover bore an ominous pyramidal diagram superimposed on a fuzzy reproduction of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel rendition of God the Father zapping life into Adam, all under a mysterious title: The Wedge.

Curious, Duss rifled through the 10 or so pages, eyebrows rising ever higher, then proceeded to execute his commission while reserving a copy of the treatise for himself. Within a week, he had shared his find with a friend who shared his interest in questions of evolution, ideology, and the propagation of ideas. Unlike Duss, the friend, Tim Rhodes, was technically savvy, and it took him little time to scan the document and post it to the World Wide Web, where it first appeared on Feb. 5, 1999.

I don't wish to turn this blog entry into a discourse on the ethics of whistle blowing, so let me cut right to the conclusion: Duss and Rhodes are heroes, and everyone who cares about good science education in this country owes them a debt of gratitude.

The rest of the article is a lengthy, and excellent, summary of the history of the Discovery Institute. I will limit myself to two representative excerpts:

By 1995, Chapman and an old friend, college roommate, and Discovery board member, George Gilder, were negotiating with the ultraconservative Ahmanson family of Southern California for a substantial grant to set up a program within Discovery Institute to promote intelligent design as a way to break Darwin's seemingly unbreakable lock on science education in America. Once again, Meyer was of crucial assistance; he'd worked as a science tutor to one of the Ahmanson children. Gilder and Chapman left Los Angeles with a pledge of a quarter-million dollars a year for three years, and the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture was born.

The center's first and so far only director was Meyer, who retains his day job in the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Chaplain Services at Whitworth College in Spokane, a 115-year-old private liberal-arts college whose mission is “to provide its diverse student body an education of the mind and heart, equipping its graduates to honor God, follow Christ, and serve humanity.” To this end, the mission statement continues, “Whitworth's community of teacher-scholars is committed to rigorous and open intellectual inquiry and to the integration of Christian faith and learning.” (The Whitworth connection is not mentioned on the center's Web site, where Meyer is described as holding a Ph.D. in the history of philosophy and science from Cambridge University in England.)...

The roster of fellows has grown apace over the past 10 years and numbers 44 now (only one of them female). The Web site of the Center for Science and Culture, as it is known now (, describes the list of fellows as “including biologists, biochemists, chemists, physicists, philosophers and historians of science, and public policy and legal experts, many of whom also have affiliations with colleges and universities.” This list avoids mentioning that only seven fellows hold advanced degrees in biological sciences, while 13 profess philosophy and/or theology at such religiously oriented institutions of higher learning as Biola College in Los Angeles, Messiah College of Gratham, Pa., and Billy Graham's alma mater, Wheaton College, in Wheaton, Ill.

And later:

Considering that the Center for Science and Culture had publicly opposed making the situation in Dover a test case, it seems curious that two of the Discovery Institute's most prominent fellows signed on to testify at the trial as expert witnesses: Lehigh University biochemist Michael J. Behe and University of Idaho microbiologist Scott Minnich. But testify they did, and it was their testimony, more than that of many experts fielded by the plaintiffs, that left the scientific credentials of intelligent design in tatters. ...

Almost as soon as Eric Rothschild began his cross-examination, Behe's cultivated scientific calm began to crumble. Rothschild baited him like a picador, dashing in, planting a barb, turning away to attack from a new direction before his victim realized it. Hour by hour, Rothschild got Behe to admit:

  • That no peer-reviewed scientific journal has published research supportive of intelligent design's claims.

  • That Behe's own book was not, as he had claimed, peer reviewed.

  • That Behe himself criticizes the science presented as supporting intelligent design in instructional material created for that purpose.

  • That intelligent design seems plausible and reasonable to inquirers in direct proportion to their belief or nonbelief in God.

  • And that the basic arguments for evidence of purposeful design in nature are essentially the same as those adduced by the Christian apologist Rev. William Paley (1743–1805) in his 1802 Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected From the Appearances of Nature, where he sums up his observations of the complexity of life in the ringing words, “The marks of design are too strong to be got over. Design must have had a designer. That designer must have been a person. That person is GOD.”

In the last testimony of the Dover trial, Discovery Institute fellow Minnich presented a low-key, engineer's approach to intelligent design but ended up just as ideologically pummeled in cross-examination by plaintiff's attorney Steven Harvey.

Great stuff.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Public Presentation

For readers within a reasonable driving distance of Harisonburg, VA, I will be giving a public presentation about Charles Darwin and evolution (I'll probably find some time to talk about ID too) next week. The talk will be on Wednesday, February 8, at 6:00 pm, in Taylor Hall, Room 305. Hope to see you all there.

From the comments to this Telic Thoughts post, I find my old sparring partner Salvador Cordova is telling everyone that I'm actually a great guy in person. Come see if he's right!

Monday, January 30, 2006

Farrell on Bethell

In other news, John Farrel catches Tom Bethell rewriting history on the subject of relativity denial:

So, it seems, even Tom Bethell has some sense of the importance of methodological naturalism when it comes to doing science. Indeed, in regards to Van Flandern’s views on relativity, he now writes, “I did not (necessarily) thereby endorse all of those views.” Well, this is interesting. Because Bethell most plainly did get very excited about those views when he wrote his anti-relativity piece back in 1999. Excited enough to write a whole article about him. I’d call that endorsement. In fact he opened his piece, as we saw, foreshadowing (again) the death knell for the established theory by touting TVF’s paper and then explaining it in detail.

Round Three With Krauze

Kruaze has now logged another entry in our little scuffle. After staring, slack-jawed and unbelieving, at his maunderings for about twenty minutes now, I've decided that I really have to respond.

Krauze begins as follows:

To Jason Rosenhouse, intelligent design is nothing but a political and legal strategy to disguise creationism. Consequently, it’s not surprising that in his latest reply in our discussion of Michael Ruse’s book he has adopted the tone of a shrill politician, presenting simple answers to complex questions and demonizing those who disagree with him. Thus, the arguments for intelligent design are “completely false”, “hopelessly flawed”, “standard gobbledygook”, the concept contains “nothing at all beyond falacious logic and distortions of modern science”, and what I’m saying is “ridiculous” and “pure fantasy”. At least no one can accuse him of being mealy-mouthed.

Here we see the typical martyr pose of ID proponents. I will simply point out that examining a nonsensical statement, calling it nonsense, and then explaining why it is nonsense is not demonization. It is refutation. By contrast, whining about your opponent's tone is not refutation.

Thus, it was the ID arguments based on irreducible complexity and complex specified information that were completely false and hopelessly flawed. I note, incidentally, that Krauze refuses to dispute my characterization of those arguments (more on this later). It was Krauze's assertion that Chambers' Vestiges marked the beginning of modern evolutionary theory that was ridiculous. And it was his statement that ID has evolved in recent years that was pure fantasy. I also explained very clearly why I attached those labels to Krauze's statements, but he was too busy feeling aggrieved to attempt a response.

But since whining is the order of the day, let me observe that he is the first one to resort to name-calling. Apparently I speak with the tone of a shrill politician. I note simply that I have attacked his ideas and that is all. There is nothing shrill about labelling nonsense for what it is.

Krauze continues:

In my post, “Big ideas take time”, I posted some excerpts from Michael Ruse’s The Evolution-Creation Struggle that showed that even after Darwin had published Origin of the Species, it still took a considerable amount of time for evolution to take off as a serious research program. I then made the point that ID critics should keep this in mind when asking when intelligent design will result in a research program. I didn’t say that it was just a question of time before intelligent design would result in research. I didn’t say that because evolution overcame its “childhood troubles” so would intelligent design. And I didn’t say that evolution has never resulted in any research. The reason I start by making this clear is that, when reading Rosenhouse’s reply, he seems to be thoroughly confused as to what the point of all of it is.

And here is my description of Krauze's point, taken from my previous entry on thus subject:

Last Thursday, Krauze, of the pro-ID blog Telic Thoughts, posted this essay in which he argued that big scientific ideas require time to come to fruition. He illustrated this idea with the early days of evolutionary theory, pointing out that it was more than sixty years after Darwin published the Origin that the neo-Darwinian synthesis was developed. This was intended as a rebuttal to those who criticize ID for not producing any peer-reviewed research. ID has only been around for a decade, you see.

See the original for links.

I defy you to find any significant difference between our versions of what this argument is about.

Krauze continues:

In a previous post, Rosenhouse disputed my claim that no theory of evolution existed until the Modern Synthesis was proposed in the 1930’s, offering Lamarckism and mutationism as counter-examples. I explained that according to NAS’ own definition, these views didn’t qualify as theories, but more as hypotheses. Rosenhouse shoots back:

The fact remains that there were many possible meachanisms of evolution in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and all could claim a considerable amount of support. And these hypotheses led to clear avenues of research.

That's mighty selective quotation. Here's what I actually wrote:

In my original blog entry I made a clear distinction between a well-developed theory and a proposed theory. Krauze here argues that instead of “proposed theory” I should have said “hypothesis.” Fine. The fact remains that there were many possible meachanisms of evolution in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and all could claim a considerable amount of support. And these hypotheses led to clear avenues of research. ID, alas, does not even have a hypothesis. It has nothing at all beyond falacious logic and distortions of modern science. This is what Krauze will have to come to terms with if he wants to draw any comparisons between modern ID and the early days of evolution.

The point was that it was rather silly to hide behind the NAS' definition of the term “theory” when it was perfectly clear that I was not using their definition. I'm afraid the distinction between a “proposed theory” and a “hypothesis” is too subtle for me.

So let's review. In his original essay on this subject Krauze asserted that there were no proposed theories of evolution in the time between the publication of the Origin and the modern synthesis of the nineteen thirties. I replied that actually there were a great many proposed theories, that these theories led to a large amount of valuable research, and that this is an obvious point of disanology with ID. In his reply, Krauze argued only that ideas like Lamrackism and mutationism didn't meet the NAS' definition of a theory, but rather should be called hypotheses.

And he says I'm the one who's missing the point?

This time around Krauze at least attempts to answer my point. He writes:

In the comments, I asked Rosenhouse to clarify exactly which hypotheses and what research he was talking about, leading him to answer:

Darwin made it clear to everyone that the nature of inheritance was of crucial importance. Prior to Darwin, that question had been almost completely ignored. The mere fact that there were so many viable theories of inheritance, each of which could claim some evidential support, was what drove a lot of the research into genetics in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

At this point, Rosenhouse seems to have forgotten what his own point was. Remember, we were talking about hypotheses about possible meachanisms of evolution, and now he’s talking about “theories of inheritance”. Knowing how traits are passed from generation to generation sure is helpful in finding out how those traits change over time, but the two things aren’t the same. And if he wants to claim that it was Lamarckism and mutationism that drove the research into genetics, he really has some ’splainin to do.

He's joking, right?

Lamarckism and mutationism were two proposed mechanisms of evolution. Natural selection acting on small variations was another. There were still others as well. Assessing the correctness of any of these proposals required a thorough understanding of the nature of inheritance. That is why research into genetics is, unavoidably, also research into mechanisms of evolution. This isn't complicated.

Krauze continues:

Rosenhouse thinks that “there’s no controversy that new branches of science take time to come to fruition” and that my claim, “big ideas take time”, is “trivial”. But wait a minute, didn’t Rosenhouse just inform us:

[ID supporters’] entire theory, such as it is, rests entirely upon two pillars: irreducible complexity and complex specified information. Both of these ideas are utterly and irretrievably wrong-headed. Nothing the ID folks build upon such a foundation will ever produce anything but poisonous fruit.

In other words, it is impossible that intelligent design will produce new theoretical concepts or reformulate existing ones. The idea must emerge fully researchable from the get-go, or fail. Of course, it this very assumption that my “trivial” post calls into question.

An new branch of science does not have to emerge “fully researchable” (whatever that means) from the get-go, but it can't be based on obvious falsehoods either.

It is interesting that, once again, Krauze refuses to come to the rescue of irreducible complexity and complex specified information. Instead he reposes his dreams in some far-off day when ID produces new theoretical concepts or reformulates existing ones.

I thought the big idea Krauze was talking about was that there is actual empricial evidence of design in nature. The people who make that claim base their argument on two pillars, as I said. Both of those pillars are rotten. No reformulation of them will help. Let me be more specific. Any argument based on the idea of doing probability calculations to learn something about the plausibility of natural selection producing a given structure will always fail. Likewise, any argument based on the idea that natural selection can not produce a multi-part system in which all of the parts are essential will always fail.

But if Krauze's big idea is merely ID in the abstract (not wedded to specific claims made by Behe, Dembski or the others) then I would point out that ID is one of the oldest and simplest ideas there is. It goes back to the ancients.

So the choice is this: Either Krauze is talking about the vague idea that there is an intelligence behind the workings of nature, or he is talking about the recent assertions of major ID proponents about irreducible complexity and complex specified information. If the former, then the idea is ancient and has had plenty of time to prove its worth. If the latter, then Krauze is basing his essay on arguments that are blatantly incorrect.

Krauze concludes with:

Incidentally, Rosenhouse seems surprised that I didn’t dispute his claims about irreducible complexity and specified complexity. But there’s no need for surprise, as I usually attempt to focus on the issue at hand, ignoring distracting side-issues. And in a historical discussion about nineneteen-century ideas, the values of irreducible and specified complexity are side-issues. Let’s assume, for the sake of the argument, that Rosenhouse is correct that these concepts are “utterly and irretrievably wrong-headed.” What conclusion should we draw from this? Which promising concepts did evolution have when Robert Chambers published Vestiges of Creation?

I made it very clear in my last entry that it is silly to locate the origin of evolutionary theory in Chambers' book. Unable to respond to this obvious point, Krauze prefers to ignore it and simply repeat what he has said previously.

As it happens though, Chambers' book, for all its flaws, did have at least one big thing going for it: It popularized the idea of evolution through natural law. Chambers did present some good evidence for this (he also presented a lot of dreck), and it was certainly an idea amenable to scientific study. So even Chamber's work had produced one good idea, which is one more than ID has produced.

And, as we saw at the beginning of this essay, this is not primarily a discussion of nineteenth century ideas. It is a discussion of whether the history of evolutionary theory provides any lessons for how modern ID critics should respond to modern ID proponents. In that light, as I have explained repeatedly, it is relevant to look at points of disanaolgy between the early days of evolution and the current state of ID. One major point of disanalogy is that evolution post-Darwin had a solid empricial foundation, while ID has only a lot of bad arguments. Krauze is welcome to dispute that claim if he wishes to, but it is certainly relevant.

Suppose I claim to have a great new scientific idea. The idea is that the moon is made of green cheese. I suspect Krauze would lead the charge to point out that my claim stands in stark defiance of every piece of evidence we have about the composition of the moon. I retort with, “Sure, my theory may not be fully researchable right now. But just look at the early days of physics when Newton was occasionally invoking the action of Gods to explain mysterious points in his theories. That turned out well. So don't be too critical of the green cheese theory. Big ideas take time, you know!” Would anyone consider that a serious reply?

Let me also repeat that people on my side of this demand that ID folks produce some actual research only because many of those folks already claim to have actual scientific results to report. Behe and Dembski do not claim that they need more time to develop their ideas. They say that the discovery of design should be considered on a par with the ideas of Galileo and Newton (in Behe's case) and constitute a scientific revolution (in Dembski's case). It is not my side of this that is making unreasonable demands. It is the ID side that is making claims it can not defend.

I will conclude with some direct questions for Mr. Krauze. Do you believe that irreducible complexity, as defined by Michael Behe, poses any challenge to gradualistic evolution? Do you believe that William Dembski's use of the No Free Lunch theorems, or the probability calculation he did in section 5.10 of his book No Free Lunch, or his claims about complex specified information, are valuable ideas that scientists should take seriously? Does ID have any other ideas of scientific consequence that people on my side should be taking seriously?