Monthly Archives: October 2012

Casey Defends Intelligent Design as Science

There’s another winner at the blog of the Discoveroids, and it’s by Casey Luskin, our favorite creationist. He, and the Discoveroids, are described in the Cast of Characters section of our Intro page.

Casey’s post is titled Intelligent Design Is a Historical Science, Just Like Darwinian Evolution. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

A student who saw my comments on intelligent design and the “god of the gaps” argument wrote me and asked this follow-up question:

[Shortened version of the question Casey claims he received:] If ID theory is claiming a non-materialistic explanation for “gaps” in our understanding (whether origin of the universe, irreducible complexity, etc.) … would this imply that science should stop trying to understand/research some things?

We wrote about Casey’s earlier post here: Casey Luskin and the God of the Gaps. The questioner is claiming that if the magic designer lurks in the gaps of our knowledge, then ID is a science stopper. He’s right. Here’s Casey’s response:

I replied by noting that the student’s question seems to assume that only materialistic answers are “knowable” whereas non-materialistic answers are “unknowable.”

That’s entirely correct, but Casey disagrees. Here it comes:

In fact, we can “know” that an intelligent cause is the best explanation in precisely the same way that we infer materialistic causes.

Amazing. Casey claims he can know that Oogity Boogity! is the “best” explanation. This is very sad, but it’s a fundamental part of the Discoveroids’ version of creationism. Note, dear reader, that if the Discoveroids were “honest” creationists, then they could just come out and proclaim their faith in scripture. But because they pretend to be doing science, they have to go through all these epistemological contortions. Let’s read on:

Historical sciences like Darwinian evolution and intelligent design rely on the principle of uniformitarianism, which holds that “the present is the key to the past.” Under this methodology, scientists study causes at work in the present-day world in order, as geologist Charles Lyell put it, to “explain the former changes of the Earth’s surface by reference to causes now in operation.”

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Casey casually declares that ID is an historical science — as if it were like geology, climatology, plate tectonics, anthropology, paleontology, etc. We continue:

Darwinian evolution applies this method this by studying causes like mutation and selection in order to recognize their causal abilities and effects in the world at present. Darwinian scientists then try to explain the historical record in terms of those causes, seeking to recognize the known effects of mutation and selection in the historical record.

That’s correct. And when they do it, they produce evidence of the mutations and their effects. How does DI do it better? Casey says:

Intelligent design applies this same method this by studying causes like intelligence in order to recognize its causal abilities and effects in the present-day world. ID theorists are interested in understanding the information-generative powers of intelligent agents. ID theorists then try to explain the historical record by including appeals to that cause, seeking to recognize the known effects of intelligent design in the historical record.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! An Ark-load of obfuscation! Here’s more:

So whether you appeal to materialistic causes like mutation and selection, or non-material causes like intelligent design, you are using the same basic uniformitarian reasoning that is well-accepted in historical sciences.

Yeah — except that identifying a mutation is not a rational justification for conjuring up the phantasm of a magical designer. Moving along:

[I]n our present-day experience, we observe that intelligent agents alone generate systems with high levels of specified complexity — such as codes and languages. When we find language-based codes in nature, we have positive reasons, based upon our uniform and repeated experience, to infer that an intelligent cause was at work.

Oooooooh! They find “language-based codes in nature”! They do, they really do! Another excerpt:

This reasoning does not suggest ID is invoked only when something is “unknowable.” Rather, ID is invoked when something is positively “knowable” — namely when we have positive reasons to understand that intelligence is the best scientific explanation of a phenomenon.

We’ve seen that before. It’s just as “logical” — and useful — to conclude that the same phenomena are caused by Zeus. Casey’s article goes on and on. We’ll just give you a few choice snippets from what follows:

If we infer design, we’re still doing research and gaining understanding of the world around us.

[...]

[T]he research of ID theorists has done a lot to advance our understanding of exactly what material causes like mutation and selection can and cannot do.

[...]

[I]f ID is a scientifically investigable cause, then it is ID critics who are the ones that are closing off legitimate avenues of research and preventing scientists from invoking design where it is scientifically appropriate.

[...]

ID lets the facts speak for themselves and tries to follow the evidence where it leads. Some things may be detectably designed, and some things might have evolved by Darwinian processes or other material causes, but scientists must do the hard work and determine which explanations are warranted in which situations.

That’s about it. As we said, it’s an Ark-load. But what else were you expecting?

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

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Creationist Wisdom #279: The Student

Today’s letter-to-the-editor (actually it’s a column) appears in the Rocky Mountain Collegian, the student newspaper of Colorado State University. It’s titled We don’t have all the answers, evolution is a theory. We’ll give you a few excerpts, enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary, and some bold font for emphasis.

As we usually do, we’ll omit the writer’s name and city; however, she is described as “a sophomore psychology major.” Okay, here we go:

According to my man Webster, theory is defined as “a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural and subject to experimentation.” Basically, a theory may be regarded as correct, but it is not given as fact. It has not yet been proven true. So why is it, then, that in collegiate programs, where we are supposed to be receiving the best education possible, theory is presented as fact?

This student has made it all the way to her second year of college and has absolutely no idea what a scientific theory is. She apparently consulted this online dictionary, and discovered that their definition of “theory” has five sections. She skipped number one — which is the only definition applicable to a scientific theory:

a coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct, that can be used as principles of explanation and prediction for a class of phenomena

Instead, the psychology major chose the second definition, which more appropriately a definition of “hypothesis,” and therefore she gives the impression that the enterprise of science is a wild shot in the dark. From that start, which isn’t very promising, the column continues:

Like many of you, as a freshman I had to take LIFE 102 as an Introduction to Biology course. When we began discussing evolution, what struck me was that this information was never presented as the theory it is. Instead, I was told that this was fact: evolution is the only response we have to the question of where the human species came from.

Oh, how horrible! Let’s read on:

The problem I had with the system was that I was told that evolution was fact, and yet I didn’t believe in evolution. I came from a private high school, where we were obviously on the whole Intelligent Design bandwagon. All of my science courses at my Lutheran high school were from an evolutionary standpoint, but it was always presented as theory.

The problem here is that although this young woman was well-prepared to study college-level science, that preparation was for science in the Tenth Century. She continues:

Evolution is a theory, just as Intelligent Design is a theory. I cannot prove to you that God exists, but you cannot prove to me that He doesn’t. Hence why these two theories have existed fairly peacefully for years.

Aaaargh!! She can’t prove the positive, you can’t prove the negative. So both propositions are logically equal. Here’s more:

I am not asking for Intelligent Design to be offered as a course. I am fully aware of the separation of church and state. Being that this is a public university, I expect evolution to be taught.

The change that I would like to see is for professors to admit that they don’t have all the answers. The theory that they are presenting does not house all of the answers to our questions, it is simply the theory that isn’t supposed to step on people’s toes.

Oh dear, her professors stepped on her little toesies. Moving along:

So at least make mention of the fact that the theory of evolution is not proven true and is open to experimentation. At least make mention of the fact that there are at least two different tracks one can take in answering the question “where do we come from?”

I don’t have all the answers to that question. But Charles Darwin didn’t either. Since neither of us can prove that God does or does not exist, why don’t we just count our losses and admit that we don’t know?

[...]

Let’s treat these theories equally. Let’s admit that there are things that we don’t know. Let’s make the little private school kid feel included in the conversation.

The column goes on a bit, but we can’t take it any more. This young lady wants her Oogity Boogity and she wants it now! Oh … wait! You’ve got to see this from her final paragraph:

I would like my faith, my practiced theology, my belief system to be acknowledged and regarded as a valid theory. Just as I promise to regard evolution as a valid theory.

What can we say? It would be polite and gentlemanly to wish the young lady good luck with her education, but we’re not in the mood for that. If we think any more about this, we’re going to get all depressed about the future of our civilization. Well, let’s wrap it up by looking on the bright side — she’s a psychology major, so what difference does it make?

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

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Is Convergent Evolution Explainable?

Creationists constantly repeat their fictitious “law” that evolution can’t create new “information,” and therefore all new features of organisms must have a supernatural source.

We’ve previously written about two specific instances of new features that arose from the familar mechanism of gene duplication, followed by mutation in one of the duplicates to perform a new function. See ICR: Full Blown Reality Denial, about how E. coli developed the ability to digest citrate, and see also How One Gene Becomes Two Different Genes, about how Antarctic eelpout developed the ability to survive in frigid waters.

Now we have another example, and it’s far more spectacular because it involves the same new feature occurring in several species. At the PhysOrg website we read: Far from random, evolution follows a predictable genetic pattern, researchers find. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

Evolution, often perceived as a series of random changes, might in fact be driven by a simple and repeated genetic solution to an environmental pressure that a broad range of species happen to share, according to new research.

Princeton University research published in the journal Science suggests that knowledge of a species’ genes — and how certain external conditions affect the proteins encoded by those genes — could be used to determine a predictable evolutionary pattern driven by outside factors. Scientists could then pinpoint how the diversity of adaptations seen in the natural world developed even in distantly related animals.

“Is evolution predictable? To a surprising extent the answer is yes,” said senior researcher Peter Andolfatto, an assistant professor in Princeton’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics.

Wow — convergent evolution is not only explainable, it may be predictable! Here’s a link to the paper: Parallel Molecular Evolution in an Herbivore Community. We’ll continue with the PhysOrg article:

The researchers carried out a survey of DNA sequences from 29 distantly related insect species, the largest sample of organisms yet examined for a single evolutionary trait. Fourteen of these species have evolved a nearly identical characteristic due to one external influence — they feed on plants that produce cardenolides, a class of steroid-like cardiotoxins that are a natural defense for plants such as milkweed and dogbane.

Or, as the creationists would put it, the Designer — blessed be he! — swooped down and gave these unrelated insects the genetic “information” necessary to feed on cardenolides. Let’s read on:

Though separated by 300 million years of evolution, these diverse insects — which include beetles, butterflies and aphids — experienced changes to a key protein … . The protein in these insects eventually evolved a resistance to cardenolides, which usually cripple the protein’s ability to “pump” potassium into cells and excess sodium out.

That ol’ designer must have been really hopping around to get all that done. We continue:

“The finding of parallel evolution in not two, but numerous herbivorous insects increases the significance of the study because such frequent parallelism is extremely unlikely to have happened simply by chance,” said Zhang [Jianzhi Zhang, a University of Michigan professor of ecology and evolutionary biology], who is familiar with the study but had no role in it.

If it’s unlikely to have happened by chance, you know what the creationists will be thinking. They’ll be screaming Oogity Boogity! as loud as they can. But perhaps there’s a rational explanation. Here’s more:

“It shows that a common molecular mechanism is used by many different insects to defend themselves against the toxins in their food, suggesting that perhaps the number of potential mechanisms for achieving this goal is very limited,” he [Zhang] said.

Moving along:

The researchers found that the genes of cardenolide-resistant insects incorporated various mutations that allowed it to resist the toxin. During the evolutionary timeframe examined, the sodium-potassium pump of insects feeding on dogbane and milkweed underwent 33 mutations at sites known to affect sensitivity to cardenolides. These mutations often involved similar or identical amino-acid changes that reduced susceptibility to the toxin. On the other hand, the sodium-potassium pump mutated just once in insects that do not feed on these plants.

They all had the same thirty-three mutations? The creationists will be screaming “irreducible complexity!” But wait — hold on — there’s a mechanism:

Significantly, the researchers found that multiple gene duplications occurred in the ancestors of several of the resistant species. These insects essentially wound up with one conventional sodium-potassium pump protein and one “experimental” version, Andolfatto said.

[...]

“These gene duplications are an elegant solution to the problem of adapting to environmental changes,” Andolfatto said. “In species with these duplicates, the organism is free to experiment with one copy while keeping the other constant, avoiding the risk that the new version of the protein will not perform its primary job as well.”

Aha! Just as in the other cases to which we linked, when you’ve got an extra gene to play with, it can mutate and thus provide new “information.” And random mutation can blunder into the same solution again and again. Well, that’s the explanation. One last excerpt:

“The power of what we’ve done is to survey diverse organisms facing a similar problem and find striking evidence for a limited number of possible solutions,” he [Andolfatto] said. “The fact that many of these solutions are used over and over again by completely unrelated species suggests that the evolutionary path is repeatable and predictable.”

Okay, that’s very nice, but what’s the creationist reaction? We’ve got one for you. It’s from the Institute for Creation Research (ICR). If you don’t know who they are, you can read about them in the Cast of Characters section of our Intro page. Their article is How Some Insects Can Eat Poisonous Plants.

We’ll skip their description of what the scientists did, because you already know that. All we care about is how they dismiss the science and cling to their mythology. Here we go, with bold font added by us:

Convergent evolution is conceivable, but it is scientifically meaningless unless researchers can actually detect it. Otherwise, to claim convergent evolution as these authors did is merely to beg the question of convergent evolution. In other words, the study authors ignored all non-evolutionary explanations for how these remarkably specific DNA differences arose.

Oh, we hadn’t noticed that. Yes, the biologists ignored “non-evolutionary explanations.” What might they be? You’ll see. On with ICR’s article:

Perhaps the DNA differences were directly created, or perhaps well-designed cellular systems put them in place at some point after creation.

Hey, those are two hot possibilities! Why don’t the creation scientists get to work researching them? They have their reasons. Behold:

The first possibility is blind to scientific experiment, which cannot directly investigate the past. No scientific experiment has verified the second possibility, but no experiment showed that these systems arose by convergent evolution either.

Satisfied? And now we come to the end:

These researchers conducted a rigorous study, to their credit. However, there was no scientific reason for them to have excluded origins possibilities that are at least equally valid.

So there you are. Teach the controversy!

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

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Paul “Pit of Hell” Broun: Craziness Everywhere

You already know about the maniacal cretin from Georgia, Congressman Paul Broun, about whom we recently wrote Congressman Broun on Evolution & the Big Bang. At that post you can see the video in which he said that evolution and the Big Bang theory are “lies straight from the pit of hell.”

Although he’s running for re-election unapposed, he’s attracted a write-in opponent. We wrote about that here: Paul Broun vs. Charles Darwin. But now there’s more to be told.

First, in the Walton Tribune of Monroe, Georgia we read Broun advocates return to traditional values during town hall. It’s about a speech he gave a few days ago to the Walton County Tea Party Patriots at First Baptist Church of Loganville. Near the end of the article it mentions that he spoke to a “small crowd of less than a dozen.” Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us. We are told:

[T]he congressman made a sales pitch for America, advocating a return to traditional values and a strict reading of the Constitution to save the country from what he sees as a wave of socialism and immorality threatening to swamp the nation.

He spoke about the unsustainable $16 trillion national debt and the need to repeal Obamacare. He also said:

“I’ve proposed very openly we get rid of the Department of Education,” Broun said. “We need to get rid of the Department of Labor, of the Environmental Protection Agency. The states can do all that. … Our money is being misappropriated, misused and squandered,” Broun said. “We have to stop spending money we don’t have.

As you may suspect, your Curmudgeon agrees with some of that. The news story continues:

Broun advocates repealing several amendments to the Constitution, including the 17th amendment allowing direct election of senators instead of appointments by the states. “We need to give more power back to the states,” Broun said.

His most popular target, however, was the 16th amendment, the income tax. “I believe in the Fair Tax,” Broun said, pitching for the proposed national sales tax, which would eliminate all other forms of taxation to ensure everyone is taxed according to what they purchase. “You don’t need an income tax if you have a national sales tax. We can get rid of the IRS.”

We like that too. But then the hard-core madness comes out:

But to return to the greatness of America, Broun said, the nation needed to once again embrace God. A devout Christian, Broun shared his conversion story with the crowd and argued the Bible was the true foundation of much of the nation’s principles.

“Our founding fathers believed every aspect of life, including public policy, should be influenced by the Bible,” Broun said. “The Constitution is written on biblical messages, on God’s principles of freedom and liberty. The answers are there in God’s inerrant word.”

The man is not only wrong, he’s insane — see Is America a “Christian Nation”? He probably thinks Noah discovered America, Moses won the Revolutionary War, Jesus wrote the Constitution, and those who disagree should be dealt with as were the witches in Salem. He’s far too crazed to be serving in Congress. He shouldn’t even be walking around without wearing a straightjacket.

But there’s still more news about Broun. In The Red and Black of Athens, Georgia, which began as a student newspaper but which is now independent, we read Unoccupied: Occupy Athens dwindles past first anniversary.

For the most part, the article is about the total collapse of the “Occupy” movement in Athens, but Congressman Broun enters into the picture too. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

Occupy Athens has lost almost all of its following in the last few months. Dwindling since the beginning of this year, now less than a dozen members remain actively involved.

The morons must have found something else to entertain them — perhaps the Mayan doom prophesy. Here’s more:

From the get go we’ve been a pretty undefined group,” said Jesse Houle, 26, a writer and musician who has lived in Athens for four years and has been a member of Occupy Athens since its first protest.

Oh, they were definable, but not in polite terms. Let’s read on:

Although Occupy movements still have a presence in larger cities around the country, such as Occupy Wall Street, with such a small number of people committed to running the local organization, it is almost non-functional. There are no people left, and it’s not clear why.

Maybe the reason they’re non-functional is because they’re idiots. We’ll skip a lot about the decline of this ineffectual collection of losers and get to what interests us:

The most recent cause the group supports is a campaign to vote Darwin to Congress in response to Paul Broun’s comments that evolution is “straight from the pit of hell.”

We would love for Darwin to get like 5 or 10 percent of the vote,” Dowd said [that's Chris Dowd, 37, an Athens native who works as a pharmaceutical lab technician for the University]. “That would be incredible.”

Those people probably have no idea who Darwin was. Or maybe, like the Discoveroids, they think he inspired Marx. If this is the group behind the write-in campaign, it looks like clear sailing for Paul “Pit of Hell” Broun.

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

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