Discovery Institute: Darwin’s Darkest Secret

The desperate quest for evidence to support their “theory” is resulting in laughable gyrations from the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute‘s creationist public relations and lobbying operation, the Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids, a/k/a the cdesign proponentsists).

To see what we mean, consider a recent post at the Discoveroids’ blog: New Paper in Bio-Complexity Reveals a Remarkable Coincidence. Wow! What have they found? Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

Critics of intelligent design often claim that the peer-reviewed literature published by ID proponents amounts to nothing more than a negative critique of the neo-Darwinian paradigm, as opposed to positive arguments for ID as an alternative hypothesis. The falsity of this claim has long been evident, but a new paper in the journal BIO-Complexity (to which Ann Gauger has already drawn our attention), co-authored by Matti Leisola, Ossi Pastinen, and Douglas Axe, explicitly sets out a positive argument for design.

Oooooooooh, the long-awaited “positive argument for design.” And it’s published in BIO-Complexity — which is exceedingly impressive. That’s the Discoveroids’ captive journal — created, edited, and peer-reviewed by creationists. We’ve previously written about it here: Discovery Institute: Creationist “Peer-Review”. Let’s see what wonders have been revealed:

Lignin, a complex organic polymer found in wood, is the world’s second most abundant biopolymer (after cellulose). Moreover, it is extremely rich in stored energy. Surprisingly, in 400 million years, no living organism has evolved the ability to use it as an energy source. This is intriguing, given that many spectacular innovations have emerged over the course of life’s history.

That’s “intriguing”? Really? Here’s a link to the Wikipedia article on it: Lignin. Somehow, its use (or disuse) doesn’t impress us as the key to creationism. But then, we don’t have the Discoveroids’ insight. Let’s read on, as the Discoveroids’ blog quotes from the Discoveroids’ peer-reviewed paper:

It is estimated that 30% of the earth’s non-fossil organic carbon is in the form of lignin. Considering its massive abundance and its high energy content (40% higher than cellulose, gram for gram), it is striking that no organism seems to have tapped it as an energy source.

That’s “striking”? Why? No organism has tapped radioactive material as an energy source. And how many are fueled by the wind, or the tides, or by combustion of petroleum? There are lots of energy sources that aren’t tapped by living creatures. Anyway, let’s continue with the Discoveroid blog article:

Does this observation make more sense under a Darwinian view or under an intelligent-design view?

What? Are they serious? Is that a question on which anyone needs to spend ten seconds? Then they quote again from the wondrous peer-reviewed creationist paper:

The Darwinian account must somehow reconcile 400 million years of failure to evolve a relatively modest innovation — growth on lignin — with a long list of spectacular innovations thought to have evolved in a fraction of that time. How can one mechanism have been at the same time so effective and so ineffective?

Wait — now we see the problem. Somehow, those creationists must have seen a copy of Darwin’s private correspondence, which we thought had been kept secret from them — it’s the great naturalist’s long-suppressed letter to our ancestor, Ebenezer Curmudgeon, which says:

Forsooth! Were there ever to be discovered an energy source that is unexploited by a living organism, then — verily — my theory would crumble and my life’s work would come to naught. Although I prudently kept it from my published work, it is a certainty that evolution must exploit every resource! Fervently to I pray to my lord and master, old Beelzebub, that such a discovery will never be made.

It appears that the Discoveroids have stumbled onto Darwin’s darkest secret — All resources must be exploited! — and they’ve published it in their peer-reviewed journal! This is your Curmudgeon’s greatest nightmare! Here’s more from the creationist peer-reviewed journal:

That tension vanishes completely when the design perspective is adopted. Terrestrial animal life is crucially dependent on terrestrial plant life, which is crucially dependent on soil, which is crucially dependent on the gradual photo- and biodegradation of lignin.

The author quotes some more from their published paper about the decay of lignin, and then their blog article says:

It is certainly surprising, on a Darwinian view, that over the course of 400 million years of evolution, no living organism has evolved the ability to metabolize lignin (despite the supposed occurrence of far more spectacular innovations in a fraction of that time). This makes perfect sense, however, under a design paradigm. As the authors put it, intelligent design “routinely takes the broad view and the long-term view, and because of this it alone makes sense of life.”

And that’s how the article ends. So the designer, in his infinite wisdom, has stretched forth his mighty hand and prevented organisms from evolving into lignin-eaters. Instead, the designer has suppressed evolution to keep lignin from being consumed, so it could dissolve into the soil instead. Blessed be the designer!

Okay, the Discoveroids have put their finest minds to work on the problem, and that’s their long-promised “positive argument for design.” Well now, your Curmudgeon has put his mind to work on the problem, and in about 45 seconds of not very deep thought we’ve come up with a few more goodies for the creationists to ponder:

We’ve already mentioned radioactivity, petroleum, wind, and tides as untapped energy sources. And it’s also true that in 400 million years, no living organism has evolved to make use of cosmic rays or the abundance of ions coming from the sun. This too runs afoul of Darwin’s secret maxim. [Addendum for the simple-minded: That maxim is an imaginary invention of the Discoveroids.]

And we’ve got one more — a real biggie: Consider, dear reader, that there’s lots of energy potential in methane, yet there’s no dung-beetle analog that thrives on flatulence power. But we know the answer to that one. The intelligent designer — blessed be he! — is keeping that energy source all to himself.

Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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35 responses to “Discovery Institute: Darwin’s Darkest Secret

  1. Ceteris Paribus

    In the paper cited, we find this:
    “What’s interesting is that the biodegradation of lignin can be accomplished by micro-organisms, including fungi (e.g. Hainal et al., 2012), who use it as a carbon source. In such cases, however, there is a net loss of energy, [emphasis added] which ensures that the process is kept gradual.

    In other words, not even a microbe has a hope of turning a profit on the subject of lignin. This is the principle difference between a microbe, and a Discoveroid.

  2. They don’t seem to acknowledge that their Intelligent Designer picked the wrong energy source for its designs. Using lignin rather than carbohydrate would have made for a much better design. This just proves my point that because of these mistakes, the IDer can’t be perfect, consequently must be an alien rather than a god.

  3. Maybe they read the wikipedia source & wrapped their paper around it? Did they cite wikipedia?

    And 400 million years? Do they acknowledge that the world is 4.3 billion years old as well? And their designer couldn’t come up with anything better?

  4. So, their positive argument for design is that evolution has not evolved an organism that uses lignin as an energy source. Well, ignoring some fungi, which have evolved the ability to extract usable carbon from it.

    Sigh. Its like they can’t even manage to put together a decent specious argument.

  5. docbill1351

    Five second Google search: Roles of Oxygen and the Intestinal Microflora in the Metabolism of Lignin-Derived Phenylpropanoids and Other Monoaromatic Compounds by Termites

    Five seconds later, this: Hydrogen is the central free intermediate during lignocellulose degradation by termite gut symbionts.

    As we all know, termites don’t digest wood, rather it’s done by paramecia that live in the termite’s gut. Regardless, lignin is digested and its parts used to make healthy, happy termites.

    The DI’s argument is so blindingly stupid that I need to steam clean my brain after reading it.

    Hey, do you think that Axe talks to himself when he peer reviews his own article to publish in his own journal?

  6. DocBill, your paramecia have disproven the existence of their god. I hope you’re proud of yourself.

  7. @Docbill1351: That was a well spent 10 seconds.

    Have you cloned yourself, or is it just two different email accounts? (DocBill/docbill1351)

  8. A number of fungi can degrade lignin. Check out the following link: The DI is such an IoDiotic collection of nobrainers. Obviously no one there can Google anything. Evolution wins again. Get used to it!

  9. Yeah, why the hell do mushrooms grow out of fallen trees? Have these a***oles never taken a walk in the woods?

  10. docbill1351

    @Mr Tomato Head: You see that South Park Doc Bill avatar? The only way I could get that to work was to create a new WordPress id. Same email address, just a different account name. I felt kinda left out of the club with you and others sporting nice, shiny avatars. BTW, I even have that same Hawaiian shirt!

    Also, cloning of me is prohibited by the Geneva Convention, “Too Much Awesome” clause, sub-section VI, paragraph 9.

  11. docbill1351

    Historical note: I studied these little buggers when I took Protozoology at the end of the Pleistocene. I still have the eponymous book by Kudo. (Luskin will have to look up that big word … again!)

    Hysterical note, eh?

  12. docbill1351

    p.p.s. Obviously I meant protozoa, not paramecia in particular.

    Little buggers here.

    Note all the flagella. Should be the flagship organism of the Disco Tute except that they eat wood.

    ***Must … refrain … double … entendre … ***

  13. There is another side to this: Plants evolved a sort of polymer that animals can’t eat, and that fungi generally don’t eat while the plant is alive. This allowed for trees and woody shrubs to develop. There is another word for this sort of failure: it’s called success.

  14. Retired Prof

    Another organism that has evolved the ability to exploit the energy stored in lignin is genus Homo. Lignin burns right along with cellulose in the wood we use for heating and cooking.

  15. Although we should distinguish between degrading lignin and using it as an energy source.

  16. Tomato Addict says: “There is another side to this”

    And there’s yet another side. If something does evolve, they run around shrieking that the odds are against it so it must be a miracle caused by their designer. But if something doesn’t evolve (like a lignin-eating mammal), then that too is one of the designer’s miracles. Heads, tails … it doesn’t make any difference. It’s all evidence for intelligent design.

  17. Hey DI. “And if frogs had wings, they wouldn’t bump their butts when they jumped”.
    In other words, another argument from ignorance from The Dishonesty Institute.
    There are so many discrepancies and non proofs in this article that the mind reels. Are you kidding?

  18. will says: “There are so many discrepancies and non proofs in this article that the mind reels.”

    Hey — it’s peer-reviewed!

  19. Or is it rear-peviewed?

  20. NeonNoodle

    Did they just pick the figure “400 million” out of a hat? Life on Earth predates that by at least 3 billion years. For the sake of argument, though, let’s go along with it. Here’s a sample of special creation from that period:

    Mmmmm, lovely. That couldn’t have happened by random chance; someone must have specifically designed it to look like that. And then left it alone. Why tamper with success? On an unrelated note, yesterday I read an article about a certain subatomic particle, the name of which will probably come back to haunt the physicist-author who christened it. Insert creationist “spin” here:

  21. docbill1351

    Did they just pick the figure “400 million” out of a hat?

    Naw, they just Googled “plant evolution” like I did and there’s a chart: Wood, 425 mya. I mean, come on, they don’t want to look stupid!!!

    Wood was around long before the woodchuck so there would have been a lot of unchucked wood, unless a reptile ate some by mistake and it gave him a stomach ache producing upchucked wood, and all this was hundreds of millions of years before the immortal punchline, “Wood eye!”

    Touring tip! Do visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta. Great displays of dinosaurs, a Cambrian explosion walk through with a little fossil of our ancestor, the first vertebrate, pikaia. (at that time) And a wonderful Jurassic Park-like conifer greenhouse you can walk through containing non-flowering plants (pre-flowering). Also, a very nice display of the evolution of plants (see, this post has a point) going from little mossy things (with fossils to gawk at) to trees and grasses and red roses and blue violets. If you’re visiting Calgary it’s worth the drive across the Canadian plains and farm lands to this museum. Doc Bill approves.

  22. Charles Deetz ;)

    I saw the word “biodegradation” and wondered if they were that stupid. And, then the thought of fire as a way humans use this energy source, surely even a hard-core creationist reading this would have had that thought (even if it was God who gave it for fire, but it is a gaping hole in the discussion). Pleezeh, there must be better details in the actual peer-reviewed article.

  23. Woody, coaly source rock, um, lignite is a type of sorce rock that yields the lighter gases,
    C1,C2, in what petroleum geologists describe as “lean” petroleum basins. Lignites are often
    preserved from coastal marsh like environments
    including mangrove swamps. In a subsiding basin they are often preserved along its margins , and, after burial pushes them deep enough, ( through the gas thermal regime) these gases can be released and migrate into structural or stratigraphic traps. Natural gas would be the energy that powered the office these Discoveroids parasites used to write their bogus religio-scio tract. But understanding that concept is a little too complex for them because
    they are very busy writing about their non research. In these cases, lignin is buried, and contributes to the formation of natural gas.
    That is most certainly NOT an example for design. Coal bed methane, lignite, anthracite,
    all indicators the Discoveroids have been smoking some of those lignin consuming mushrooms. They must be trying to hide the evidence that they’re a fraudulent bunch of clowns. It’s not working guys. Back to the drawing board,,,,,,again.

  24. Once AGAIN, this is NOT a “positive argument for ID”. It’s yet another hash of a jumble of non-sequitors to show that “evolution is just plain wrong”. Since they talk about the “striking” idea that no organism has evolved to use lignin as a source of energy, the first thought in my head is this, “Ya know, you’re always spouting statistics (and we all know 72% of all statistics are made up) about how ‘improbable’ something is, what is the probability that nothing would have evolved to use lignin as an energy source?”
    Then, in the first paragraph of their “paper”, they say (my emphasis added),

    When we think of natural polymers, the first things that come
    to mind are structural specificity and the properties that usually
    accompany this, like the optical activity that chirality produces
    and the information-carrying capacity that becomes possible
    when multiple monomer types are used

    Ah, yes! Let’s talk about “information-carrying capacity” of living organisms. Since I’m an engineer, I know the metrics used to measure the data storage capacity of hard drives, thumb drives, SD cards, CF cards and the like. But how do you measure the “information-storage capacity” of plants? Or any living thing? What are the metrics? Is this some type of Shannon entropy measurement?
    Bah! I could do this all day. My point is this: Where’s the positive argument? What tests can we carry out to reinforce this hypothesis? What predictions does it make that we can test? If those don’t exist, this is nothing more than a lukewarm “argument from credulity”.

  25. Gary says:

    Once AGAIN, this is NOT a “positive argument for ID”.

    Wassa matter with you? They’ve got trees — millions of ‘em. And nobody’s eating them! If that’s not positive evidence, I donno what is!

  26. I checked The American Association of
    Petroleum Geologists Journal backwards for 20 years in a search engine. Nope, no reference to Intelligent Design being responsible for the discovery of a single cubic foot of natural gas.
    Not a single BT U. I think the authors of this
    paper ought to turn off the lights and the AC, sell their cars, buy donkeys, and move into a cave.
    Live your dream you forward thinkers .
    Who knew ? Geologists use logic and reason and actual science to find oil, not creation science. Hmmm.

  27. Gary writes: “… (and we all know 72% of all statistics are made up) …”

    How DARE you denigrate my profession! I’ll have you know that 78.3% (95% confidence interval 73.9%, 82.7%) of all statistics are made up! :-)

    Now I have read the article, and they do make considerable mention of white-rot fungi in a handy-wavy sort of way. Much of it reads like a junior high biology textbook, right down to the illustrations. Standard design arguments seem to permeate the whole thing. They save the best for last though:

    Leisola et al write: From the design perspective, the fact that a lignin-devouring microorganism would have disastrous consequences for life on Earth is the reason that no such organism exists, just as the fact that complex life depends on a long list of atypical planetary features is the reason that our planet has precisely those features. No other view makes so much sense of so much.

    Lignin is not unique. Many (perhaps most) animals produce something that can only be degraded by fungi; hair, feather, nails, and scales (keratin). A bit of Googling tells me keratin first evolved at least 500 million years ago (in sharks), and we don’t have any critters running around eating hair yet either. There isn’t much need to evolve a lignin metabolism when there are so many tasty hydrocarbons running around.
    There is one more thing that all people and animals produce that is only broken down by microorganisms, excrement, which Bio-Complexity and the Discovery Institute have in great abundance.

  28. Retired Prof

    TA, did you forget clothes moth larvae? They can eat keratin in the form of hair and feathers. However, keratin is pretty tough stuff, all right.

  29. I mean, come on, they don’t want to look stupid!!!

    They don’t???

  30. @Retired Prof: I didn’t know that, but just spent a few minutes educating myself. I concede my error.

  31. The whole truth

    “…just as the fact that complex life depends on a long list of atypical planetary features is the reason that our planet has precisely those features.”

    That too is a negative argument from incredulity. How do the IDiots know that the “features” of the Earth are “atypical”? What discoveries have they made about any or all of the other planets in the universe, period, and what discoveries have they made about all the other planets that would provide the information necessary to determine whether the features of the Earth are atypical or not? To make a positive argument that the Earth is special they would have to find and show evidence that all the other planets are not special.

  32. Curmudgeon, the “innovative” editorial policy at BIO-Complexity is not to engage in the sort of quality control people normally associate with “peer review.”

    The most significant form of peer review begins when a completed work is made publically available for examination and response. The goal of pre-publication peer review should therefore be to decide whether the work in question merits the attention of experts, rather than to predict the final result of that attention.

  33. docbill1351

    What peer review in BIO-Complexity? Axe is the managing editor, Axe writes the articles and Axe reviews them.

    Masturbation is the word that comes to mind. And comes, and comes and comes. Sorry.

  34. Christine Janis,

    “What peer review in BIO-Complexity? Axe is the managing editor, Axe writes the articles and Axe reviews them.”

    It can be done. Leigh Van Valen was the editor, etc., for “Evolutionary Theory” (basically produced out of his kitchen), and he rejected his own papers on occasion.