Discovery Institute Tolerates Bad Design

We are all aware that there’s no scientific substance to the “theory” of intelligent design (ID); but it’s nevertheless revealing — and amusing — to observe how its principal promoters keep flip-flopping all over the place in their increasingly desperate attempts to defend it.

A good example of this is found in a new entry at the blog of 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).

The latest effort at Discoveroid apologetics was written by Casey Luskin, everyone’s favorite creationist. Casey’s article is titled Craig Venter’s Typo Shows Poor Design is Still Design. Remember that phrase: “Poor Design is Still Design.” It may signal a major revision of ID “theory.” Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

Forbes.com is reporting that Craig Venter’s “synthetic” bacterial chromosome contains a “genetic typo.

You remember Craig Venter, who announced last year that his lab has created a bacterial cell with a synthetic genome. We’ve written before about Casey’s attack on Venter’s work (see Creationists React to Venter’s Breakthrough, Part 5). Casey is blogging about Venter again, this time referring to an article in Forbes: Craig Venter’s Genetic Typo.

What’s the “typo” Forbes is writing about? They say:

In order to distinguish their synthetic DNA from that naturally present in the bacterium, Venter’s team coded several famous quotes into their DNA, including one from James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist of a Young Man: “To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life.”

[…]

The synthetic DNA also included a quote from physicist Richard Feynman, “What I cannot build, I cannot understand.”

That’s clever. But what about the typo? The Forbes article goes on to say:

That prompted a note from Caltech, the school where Feyman taught for decades. They sent Venter a photo of the blackboard on which Feynman composed the quote – and it showed that he actually wrote, “What I cannot create, I do not understand.”

“We agreed what was on the Internet was wrong,” said Venter. “So we’re going back to change the genetic code to correct it.”

Delightful story! But what is it about Venter’s “typo” that has the Discoveroids all worked up? Casey explains:

Obviously this typo is a mistake on the part of Venter’s team, and according to some ID critics, mistakes preclude us from inferring design. Such critics would claim that poor design refutes design.

Casey is clumsily referring to one of the standard arguments against ID — that many features of living organisms, our own species included, give evidence of sloppy design — the sort of “good enough” results we’d expect of evolution, but which would bring shame to any truly intelligent designer. Even your Curmudgeon once wrote about the problem: Buffoon Award Winner — The Intelligent Designer.

You know what’s coming next, don’t you? Casey is going to take Venter’s “typo” and use it to excuse the Intelligent Designer — blessed be he! — from all the blunders he has made. Casey says:

But obviously these watermarks [the quotes Venter inserted] in the synthetic chromosome were intelligently designed, despite their mistakes…. Venter has provided another nice demonstration that what some consider ‘poor’ design, is still design.

Poor design is still design. Whoopee! Yes, that’s true of man’s work, but what about the work of the — [hushed tone] — intelligent designer? Is he no better than we are?

We have other questions. First, if poor design is nevertheless the handiwork of the great celestial designer — whose name dare not be spoken — then how, pray tell, does an ID “researcher” know when he’s looking at evidence of ID?

Second, why didn’t the magical mystery designer do what Venter did, and slip some text into our DNA? Were we to find such an unexpected sequence, that would be powerful evidence indeed. But we never see this.

Also, the primitive young-earth creationist outfit, Answers in Genesis (AIG), has already anticipated Casey’s brilliant defense of the designer’s slovenly craftsmanship. See Answers in Genesis: The Anthropic Principle, where we discussed AIG’s defense of the Anthropic Principle — the argument that the laws of nature and the fundamental physical constants seem remarkably suited to our own existence.

It had recently been learned that one of the cosmological constants was less than optimal for life. AIG defended the designer’s bewilderingly bungled constant by wildly grasping about for excuses, saying first that the imperfect constant was good enough, and that the other constants were still okay, and besides, we don’t know what conditions the designer considers to be ideal. They also said:

[W]hat looks to evolutionists like bad design (allegedly disproving intelligent design) may have been a consequence of the Fall. Thus, starting with Scripture, we know that the universe is not perfect as it once was.

At the end of AIG’s article we realized that almost any value for a supposedly “fine tuned” constant will suffice to prove their allegedly “fine-tuned universe” argument; and then we restated the anthropic argument, as enhanced by AIG:

The fundamental constants are perfectly designed for life, therefore Oogity Boogity! And even if they’re not so perfectly designed, Oogity Boogity anyway!

It was inevitable that the Discoveroids would have to confront a similar crisis, and they’ve handled it essentially the same way AIG did — by saying that it’s quite all right if the designer occasionally behaves like a slob. Their “theory” — originally based on William Paley’s watchmaker analogy and the inexplicably wondrous quality of the designer’s handiwork — can easily account for anything that may ever be observed. And that, dear reader, is why ID isn’t a scientific theory.

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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13 responses to “Discovery Institute Tolerates Bad Design

  1. There’s an easy explanation for the Anthropic Principle. If the “universe” is actually a multiverse, the physical constants might vary in each “universe” such that some would not support life but some might have just the right physical constants (by chance) to allow life as we know it to develop. In that way it would look like your “universe” was just created for you. The current problem is that we don’t have a way to test or determine if we live in a greater multiverse. But who knows, in the future there may be a way to test that hypothesis.

  2. Would it be better for Casey if he headlined his stuff, “God goofs!” instead?

  3. I used to think that Casey was just plain stupid, as in stoopid stoopid. Then I thought, well, he has a masters and a JD and he passed the bar so maybe he’s not stoopid stoopid but sneaky like a fox just pretending to be stoopid as a Liar for Jeebus ™.

    But, as time has gone by I’m back to my original thought that Casey is really, genuinely one beer short of a six-pack. Yes, he is genuinely a very stupid, stoopid person as in stoopid stoopid. How many years has he served the DI as cub reporter and attack gerbil? How many? He’s like a mop, you know. Nothing more.

    What Casey clearly misses in his entire discussion is that Venter’s team inserted “junk DNA” into the organism. Is Casey seriously suggesting that there is good junk and bad junk? (yes, double entendre accepted.) Yes, junk DNA that serves no purpose to the organism.

    Casey also sinks Fellow J. Wells’ argument that you can’t revive a dead cell. Venter obviously did that, too.

    Perhaps we should send Casey a certificate for singlehandedly torpedoing two of ID’s foundational arguments: junk DNA has a purpose, and life can’t be reanimated.

  4. Doc Bill says:

    Perhaps we should send Casey a certificate for singlehandedly torpedoing two of ID’s foundational arguments

    The Discoveroids really need someone who will try to make some sense of their chaotic writings, so that whenever a new blog post is written, it can be reviewed to see if it contradicts some earlier position they’ve taken. As it is now, each day is a whole new world, and they just deal with whatever issues have recently arisen, with no concern for creating a coherent body of work.

  5. I’ve always wondered about this:

    the argument that the laws of nature and the fundamental physical constants seem remarkably suited to our own existence.

    Isn’t that similar to saying that our legs must have been designed because they go precisely from the bottom of our torso to the ground, and no further?

  6. If every DI position, some seemingly invented on the fly, were required to be consistent or at least reconcilable to prior positions, they would have worked themselves into a corner long ago. Their strategy for ID is to position it as the only alternative to evolution and then spend their resources almost exclusively on attacking evolution. When they do address ID, the strategy seems to be to avoid doing any original research (at the risk that someone may attempt to duplicate it) or making any statements that could conceivably tested and falsified, and to instead rely on spinning reports in the popular literature and occasionally scientific journals from their intended meaning to be support for ID. The spin strategy means any statement made is stand-alone and does not have to agree with prior statements. After all, everything in ID is just opinion anyway, and can vary at the whim of the individual writers.

    I will disagree a bit with the Doc. I think Casey is smart when it comes to creating schlock for his audience, and might even know a bit about law, but I think his defining character is a deep-seated lack of integrity. There is no polite way to put it – the man lies. He is paid to do it, and while he may not be an expert, he is enthusiastic. In fact, I predict that when the Coppedge case is settled, Casey will write an article that will have almost no connection with whatever actually occurred. This is without knowing what the outcome will be – I predict no matter which way it goes, Casey will manage to lie about it.

  7. So we know that errors do not demonstrate that a thing is not intelligently designed.

    What would demonstrate that a thing is not intelligently designed?

    What difference does intelligent design make?

    Can anyone give an example of something which is not intelligently designed? Maybe from an example we can get some clues.

  8. TomS,
    I have asked this question of ID proponents for years now. I tell them that I have a thing that I know is designed (because I or a known human designed it) and a thing that I know is not designed (because I made it via randomomization). All they have to do is tell me which is which. Of course, once could be a guess, so I insist on knowing the procedure used. With the procedure, then I could do double blind trials, etc.

    I have yet to find any ID proponent willing to even attempt it. Most don’t even ackowledge it. Of the ones that do mention it, they say it’s not a fair test because a sequence has to be functional (usually these are DNA sequences). My reply is, so if it’s functional, it’s designed. If it’s not functional, it’s not designed? Then we get into the whole ERV and turned off gene issue. [What’s really funny is that quite a few scientists attempt it and they are right 80+% of the time. Of course, they use things like frequency counts which ID proponents won’t use.]

    So, no, ID proponents cannot do the one single thing that they must be able to do… detect design.

    Further, after a faily detailed review of ID, I’ve come to the conclusion that ‘intelligence’ is not a defining feature of (or even neccesary for) ‘design’. IOW, the designer could very well be evolution and ID has no way of determining the difference.

  9. ogremkv:

    I can’t think of things which exist but can be shown not to be intelligently designed. But I can things which do not exist but are intelligently designed.

    Shmoos, centaurs, and rocs are animals which cannot exist because they violate natural laws. Shmoos are an example of animals which violate natural selection, for example. And then there are the impossible objects, like “Penrose triangles”. I would dare to say that every example of an impossible object is intelligently designed, but I don’t need to go that far to say:

    What this shows is that intelligent design does not necessarily entail existence.

    Intelligent design is not a sufficient condition for existence. Intelligent design does not explain existence.

    “Intelligent design”, not only does it not mean “error-free” or “good design”, it doesn’t even mean “existence”.

  10. Gabriel Hanna

    Well, if the abilities and intentions of the designer are specified, detecting design isn’t very hard in most cases. It’s just that when they are not specified, there is no way to tell what isn’t designed.

    Incidentally, if I were going to the trouble of encoding quotations in DNA, I would check them first. Just sayin’.

  11. “Intelligent design” is exactly one thing, a synonym for “God creation.” It’s all right there in ye olde Wedge document as a tool for creating a division in science, for creating doubt.

    ID creationists are unable to provide consistent arguments for ID because they’re not interested in ID, rather, they are only attacking the theory of evolution. All their arguments boil down to attacks on evolution.

    Behe, for example, quite clearly wrote in the definition of “irreducible complexity” that the hallmark of such a structure was that no single component could be removed and the component still operate. However, subsequent research of the infamous flagellum demonstrated that about one-third of the components could be removed and it still worked.

    Well, then the definition changed and an IC structure couldn’t evolve in a stepwise fashion because all of the parts (or perhaps 66%, eh Behe?) were needed in place all at once. However, subsequent research demonstrated how gene duplication and mutation could, in fact, co-opt existing parts to develop new structures.

    Well, then the attack was full on and evolutionists were simply inventing just-so stories. Check out vintage Luskin and you’ll find a liberal use of “mere speculation” and “just-so stories” when he paints himself into a corner.

  12. The ID “movement” has never been about design – it has always been about overthrowing evolution. There is no ID theory. The supposed evidence for ID, such as irreducible complexity, is actually an argument that evolution is impossible. All of the ID arguments come down to an assertion that evolution could not have happened in this case or that case, for this reason or that reason, therefore…ID must be true. The only positive argument I have seen for design is Paley’s, but no pristine biological watches have been discovered. Instead, the DI states that bad design is still design, and turn the discussion back to evolution. Hope for some intelligent argument for design, as opposed to simply shotgun attacks on evolution, is futile.

  13. “Remember that phrase: “Poor Design is Still Design.” It may signal a major revision of ID “theory.”

    Naw, Casey floated it years ago in his hilarious metaphor of the Ford Pinto.

    The thing to remember about ID, and the DI’s arguments for it, is that they are exclusively aimed at convincing their target audience that evolution is false, not that design is real. They already know that their target audience believes in design because they believe in God and that any defects in living things will be attributed by their audience to “The Fall” or, at last resort, to the ways of God being “mysterious.” ID is solely a rear guard action by conservative theists against modernism, especially science and the secularism they think it encourages.