Discovery Institute: Beyond Befuddlement

This is definitely one of the oddest posts 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).

It’s titled Intelligent Design in Action: Archaeology. With a title like that, you might assume that the magical mystery designer, who is allegedly responsible for cramming “information” into our DNA, has been caught in the act of chipping arrowheads and other artifacts. Well, you’re going to be disappointed. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

Archaeology is the study of artifacts that have been designed for a purpose. Our uniform experience of intelligent causes allows us to make inferences about design, even without knowing the identity of the designers. Since ID principles are used in archaeology as they are in various other sciences, what’s the problem with applying the theory in biology?

What’s the problem? In archaeology, we know that humans crafted the artifacts. In biology, we know that’s not the case. Biological features are the product of evolution, or — according to the Discoveroids’ “theory” — they’re the work of an unseen, unknown celestial entity from outside the universe — or somewhere. The idea of such an agency is utterly alien to archaeology. That’s the problem. The Discoveroids should know that, but apparently they don’t. Their sad little blog entry continues:

New intelligently designed research tools are allowing researchers to ask questions about human intelligent action in the context of past civilizations, questions that were not even thinkable before. For instance, consider a cuneiform inscription on a clay tablet. The focus has usually been on deciphering the message, but now, through X-ray imaging, scientists can study the technology that ancient people used to create the tablet itself.

That’s nice. But again, we’re confident that the tablet was made by humans. The new “intelligently designed research tools” are telling us how they made the tablet. Do the Discoveroids somehow know that their magic designer ever did anything? And do they have any analogous tools to tell us how their designer accomplished his miraculous tasks? No, of course they don’t. Let’s read on:

A digital database of archaeological artifacts can thus be made available to researchers around the world — a huge improvement over storage in warehouses. Speaking of warehouses, the university has intelligently designed that, too.

Right –some people made a database and a warehouse. And that tells us what? That the magic celestial designer created the flagellum? See what we mean? This is one of the Discoveroids’ lamest blog articles ever. It continues:

Several aspects of this upbeat story are interesting. First, obviously, is the demonstration that intelligent design is already being used in science.

This is beyond ridiculous. It’s absolutely tragic. Here’s more:

Contrary to what critics of ID in the media and academia may say, ID is not some foreign intrusion that certain people with an “agenda” are trying to sneak into science. It’s already there — in archaeology but also in forensics, cryptography, biomimetics and SETI.

Yes, it’s here, in the limited sense of skilled human craftsmanship. But the Discoveroids’ magic designer is something else entirely, and he’s still nowhere. Moving along:

The debate is not whether the methods and inferences of ID are legitimate, but whether the same methods and inferences are applicable in biology and cosmology.

Aha! They have a dim perception of their problem. Is ID applicable to biology? Here’s their answer:

Well, why not? In the press release [about the archaeology research, Dr. Neal Ferris] noted circular patterns in a piece of pottery. From these he was able to infer the technique the designer used — even the specific decisions the designer made.

And the Discoveroid researchers have done the same thing with our DNA, right? Well, no, they’ve done nothing of the kind. On with the article:

Dr. Ferris was able to make such a statement about design decisions without knowing anything about the identity of the designer or that person’s religion.

Whoppie! Later on they say:

In short, ID is alive and comfortably at home in science; it’s at the cutting edge of new discoveries.

Yes, but not in the Discoveroids’ fantasy science — which has never made any discoveries at all. At the end they offer what they imagine to be a brilliant question. See what you make of it:

Follow-up thought experiment: If the Earth and Planetary Science team scanned a meteorite and found a message or a molecular machine performing a recognizable function, would they be justified in making a design inference?

Sorry, Discoveroids. To formulate a relevant thought experiment, one must be able to think.

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

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28 responses to “Discovery Institute: Beyond Befuddlement

  1. Any ID inference used in science is NOT the “ID inference” that the IDiots are pushing. As you have shown this is just another lame attempt by desperate IDiots to make it appear that their so-called inference is the same as the one scientists use to infer (or demonstrate) human design of archaeological artifacts.

    IDiots sure do like to compare what humans do to what their imaginary god allegedly does. Since humans design things, their imaginary god must design things. I wonder how the IDiots would like this inference: Since people poop, their designer god must poop. Since people have crotch itch, their designer god must have crotch itch. Since people lie, steal, murder, cheat, deceive, abuse, waste, conspire, hate, torture, rape, and destroy, their designer god must do the same things. After all, according to the IDiots their god designed and created humans ‘in his own image’, so they seem like reasonable inferences to me.

  2. If an archeologist applied ID “methods” to her work, she would pick up a piece of pottery, note that since modern humans make pots, that it must be designed by something or someone. Unfortunately, the ID “method” specifically excludes questions about who or what made it, when it was made, how it was made, etc. So if the ID principles were in fact used in Archeology, as the anonymous author states, then we would only know that there were a lot of objects in the ground that appear designed, possibly by a supernatural entity that we should all worship. No further investigation necessary.

    Follow-up thought experiment: If the Earth and Planetary Science team scanned a meteorite and found a message or a molecular machine performing a recognizable function, would they be justified in making a design inference?

    An actual scientist would conclude that the message, being artificial, was designed. If the “molecular machine” was a living organism, the scientist would conclude it was natural and that a new life form had been discovered. If it was not living, but was some form of nano-machine, then it would be an artifact and therefore designed.

    Why can these guys not distinguish between life forms and artifacts? How hard can that be? Reminds me of the adage that when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. When the only explanation you know is goddidit, then everything looks designed.

  3. Ceteris Paribus

    Well, I watched the archaeology video that the DI linked to in their article. OK, so the scientists can now scan a Stradivarius fiddle and determine that it is a product of ID. But if they try the same experiment on an Ark Park banjo? ID fails.

  4. Agree with the comments above that the argument is flawed.

    But they clearly haven’t thought through the consequences here, because even if the argument weren’t flawed, it would refute creationism, not support it. After all, “Archaeology can distinguish design, finds designers, and they never turn out to be God” is, frankly, worse for creationists than “science cannot find God.”

  5. The whole truth says:

    Any ID inference used in science is NOT the “ID inference” that the IDiots are pushing.

    Ah, but it is! Just as much as your family reunion is about relativity.

  6. @SC


  7. Ceteris Paribus

    From Chapter 6, Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll:

    ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

    Alice was too much puzzled to say anything; so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. ‘They’ve a temper, some of them — particularly verbs: they’re the proudest — adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs — however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!’

    ‘Would you tell me please,’ said Alice, ‘what that means?’

    ‘Now you talk like a reasonable child,’ said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. ‘I meant by “impenetrability” that we’ve had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you’d mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don’t mean to stop here all the rest of your life.’

    ‘That’s a great deal to make one word mean,’ Alice said in a thoughtful tone.

    ‘When I make a word do a lot of work like that,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘I always pay it extra.’

    Shortly after that Alice and Humpty Dumpty discuss the existential implications of “Jaberwocky”

  8. Jon Fleming

    Dr. Ferris was able to make such a statement about design decisions without knowing anything about the identity of the designer or that person’s religion.

    Of course this is flat-out-false; he presumed a lot about the designer before producing his conclusions.

  9. I may be giving some Discoveroids too much credit, but I have followed their words closely for 15 years and conclude that at least Dembski and Behe, if not most others, are crazy like a fox. The whole “humans already acknowledge design” tactic is “designed” not to impress either committed evolution-deniers or fence-sitters, but to keep critics, who know better, distracted from the the questions they need to be asking, such as “So what exactly did your unknown designer do, when, where and how?” And “Is your designer doing anything now, such as in reproduction, and if not, what was the last ‘blessed event’ of intervention?” Sure, all they’ll do is whine about how they “don’t need to connect no stinkin’ dots” and frantically try to change the subject back to “weaknesses” of “Darwinism.”

    That their word games have zero in common with archaeology or forensics “design detection” was old news 10 years ago. They have even tacitly admitted that on occasion. But that doesn’t stop them from trying to disctract more critics. And they can only do that if you let them.

  10. Sounds like the DI scheme is to muddy the water as much as possible by bringing social sciences into the equation (“then why is it called science?” my quotes) and trying to prove their faith-based hypothesis via yet another devious route; effectively, they’re building a house of words. I admit my begrudging admiration for the way they long have been clever at manipulating language (the proverbial “question of semantics”) and their oft times eloquence using plain, loaded words to their advantage. Falwell’s “Moral Majority” was brilliant, “Discovery Institute” sounds earnest and optomistic, individual super pacs are also well-named. But we’re not their target and literally millions of other Americans are. The realization hit me last night regarding why so many of our fellow countrymen don’t presently seem to think for themselves or things through – they’re being brainwashed (not joking, I believe it’s a huge and growing problem, and answers some baffling questions).

    The paragraph below may seem off topic, but it refers to a recent experience whereby I learned that an enormous number people are embracing an “us” vs “them” creepy, cult-like Christian culture, yet on the surface appear “normal” (I know that’s subjective, but you all know what I mean). Basically, these are the willing targets and probable funding source of businesses such as the DI.

    Last night I googled “bad art” looking for a painter that I had seen featured on a satire show. I ended up rebutting an article which promisingly began by bemoaning bad Christian art, but quickly launched into the same preachy stuff it was criticizing. My hackles were raised at the suggestion that Christian audiences needed to help censor these artists – to keep them focused! And they wonder why their art isn’t as good as secular art – well, I told ’em why. Moreover, as I discovered reading this Revelation Magazine site, it’s all about “us” and “them”- very chilling, plain-out weird, and a real revelation to me! This type of Christian, of which there are many, many, has created and resides within its own close-knit culture and tries exclusively to use things branded “Christian”, which it’s increasingly able to do because of the growing supply of Christian brand items. (Of course I couldn’t resist reading the article about Christian sex, and the painfully uninformed, sometimes sad replies, but I’m veering too far off topic.)

    I was concerned and even mildly alarmed when I found the SC blog not long ago, but I admit that I didn’t realize just how big and bad the back paddling from enlightment is. No wonder elections can be swayed, Santorums and Bachmans taken seriously in some quarters, repeals of gay rights, etc. It’s scary! Of course they can have their religion and lifestyle if it doesn’t ever affect me, but somehow I believe it’s intended to do just that.

  11. @ Frank J
    Hi Frank. Basically I agree with you except that I think their purpose is also to target fence-sitters who are only fence-sitting because they don’t know enough about science to reject the ID arguments outright. To them, many DI articles will sound plausible and keep them confused on the issues; to the DI, they are an important bloc due to numbers. Those many sitters out there cast a huge number of votes and must be persuaded somehow. Moreover, they are ideal converts because they aren’t demonstrably looney but could be considered normal creationist Americans. But now I think of it, aren’t the critics who can be distracted by such arguments fence-sitters also?

  12. @Ceteris Paribus
    I’ve never had such a clear understanding of that passage before; I guess I needed a comparative context. Thank you for such an insightful post.

  13. Obviousely, the DI is trying to breathe new life into Paley’s watch story. Even in the original example, the premise that the finder intuitively knew that the watch was a product of some intelligent design is entirely presumptive. (Adam might have had a clue, however, since there already were unexplained, populated cities by the time he was kicked out of the garden). There are some Youtube clips of people disproving this feeble argument, and I’ll offer an example: Pure metal ore from a meteor can appear to be a product of smelting.

  14. docbill1351

    In a rare instance of drunk posting Dembski wrote that his very own creation, the Explanatory Filter, was gibberish, couldn’t work, wouldn’t work and he was giving up on the entire idea. After a few day of teeth gnashing by the Dembski Faithful, Dr. Dr. spit out a quick reply announcing that the EF was back; same old Filter, good as new! The faithful rejoiced and a sober Dembski slinked back ‘neath the rock whence he crawled.

  15. @ docbill1351

    I’ve seen him online in debates and I think he’s too bright to believe the nonsense he pitches, which would also mean he allows himself to be used. Made his own prison, which is a shame in my view. Your post is wow-enlightening, as it sounds like alcohol coaxes out a remnant of soul and gives some substance to my hunch about him.

    I’m sure the usual motivators – wealth, power, fame – are fully operational in his case, but I can’t figure out why he went psuedo- instead of real science. Path of least resistance? Superiority in his milieu?

  16. The irony is that we have known for some time that the succession of the early hominins, Homo Habilis, Homo Heidelbergensis, Homo Neandethalis and Homo Sapiens were progressivly more capable of making better tools and organising space. So evolution has made us better ‘intelligent designers’. It appears that in Seattle at least the process has gone into reverse.

    As a practicing archaeologist I rarely encounter creationists, when I do it’s never a positive experience. I remember a few years back some angry and irratinal protests because we commited the sacrilege of switching to the use of BP (before present) instead of BC for reporting dates.

  17. docbill1351

    Homo Sapiens were progressivly more capable of making better tools and organising space.

    Obviously you haven’t seen my garage!

  18. Tomato Addict

    Jerry>”… because we commited the sacrilege of switching to the use of BP (before present) …”

    I had wondered about the usage of “BP” recently. I am relieved to learn the British Petroleum is not involved.

    @DocBill: We all need bigger garages. There really ought to be a German word for that, maybe “Carsensparkinhausensraum”.

  19. TA said:

    I had wondered about the usage of “BP” recently. I am relieved to learn the British Petroleum is not involved.

    They should use a different British product. When it comes to creationists, their timeline ought to be “BCMS” (before curvaceously mocking squirrels) and “AMWWB” (after machine wrapped… with butter).

  20. garystar1 says: “When it comes to creationists, their timeline ought to be …”

    I donno why they bother with BC and AD. It’s only a few thousand years back to Adam, so that’s the logical starting point. If they renumbered all years starting from creation, they could do away with all those clumsy BC dates that run backwards.

  21. Tomato Addict

    When it come to Creationists, I suggest ANFSCD.

  22. @SC
    “It’s only a few thousand years back to Adam, so that’s the logical starting point.”

    What an excellent point. It should be suggested to them.

  23. @jerry
    “The irony is that we have known for some time that the succession of the early hominins…”
    Yes! But don’t they dismiss those fossils as anomalies and/or hoaxes, or claim that we all lived simultaneously in order to nullify your correct assertion?

  24. docbill1351

    I have a list of AD hominins that creationists complain about, too.

  25. Gabriel Hanna

    re switching to BP: I think the funniest thing about that is that “present” is defined to be 1950, so that 2012, the actual present, is 62 years after that. But I understand that it’s based on carbon dating and that 1950 is a convenient date.

  26. Gabriel Hanna

    Incidentally the Jewish calendar does date to Creation, so that this year is 5772. I have a weakness for AUC dates, from the (legendary) founding of Rome, and this year would be 2765, if any Romans ever used those dates since they numbered by the consuls and emperors. The French and Americans briefly dated from the years of their respective revolutions.

    I do regard BCE and CE as politically correct hogwash. They date from the same event as AD. Our months and weeks are all named after gods of various religions, it’s silly to stick at Anno Domini.

  27. Gabriel Hanna says: “Incidentally the Jewish calendar does date to Creation, so that this year is 5772.”

    Is it 5772 already? Wow, I must be getting old. It seems like only yesterday that we were still in the 5760s.

  28. Tomato Addict

    Papa Gabe wrote: “Wow, I must be getting old….”

    Spoken like a true Generation MMMMMDCCLXXX-er. 😉