History is littered with bad ideas. In the realm of politics, bad ideas can kill you; in economics they can impoverish you. In science … well, what can we say about Wikipedia’s list of Superseded scientific theories?
The list is long, the drool is deep. Some of those superseded notions were well intentioned, but simply wrong. They were abandoned with relatively little fuss — like this entry:
Miasma theory of disease – the theory that diseases are caused by “bad air”. No experimental support, and rendered obsolete by the germ theory of disease.
Other items on the list, like Vitalism — the theory that living things are alive because of some “vital force” independent of nonliving matter — were rather goofy from the start. Another example would be Phlogiston theory — proposing that that combustibles contain a substance called “phlogiston” which was released into the air upon combustion. It was superseded by the discovery of oxidation.
And we all remember the Luminiferous aether — which simply doesn’t exist. Some superseded notions still linger in various fringes of society, like flat Earth, the geocentric universe, astrology, etc. You’ll want to review the whole list for laughs.
Why do we mention those things? Because it seems that another one is currently being concocted. Yes, dear reader, you guessed it. We’re talking about the Discovery Institute’s new claim that there’s a mysterious phantasm they call “information” that exists in and organizes the universe, including all living things. Despite certain intentional similarities in terminology, Discoveroid information has nothing to do with information theory, which Wikipedia says is “considered to have been founded in 1948 by Claude Shannon.”
The thing the Discoveroids call information seems vaguely similar to vitalism. No one can detect it with the instruments of science, but the Discoveroids claim they can somehow sense its presence by using William Dembski’s Design Inference, commonly called his Design Filter. We wrote about it here: The Discoveroids and Their Magic Filter.
It’s a good thing the Discoveroids have Dembski, because otherwise they’d never know about this information stuff. Discoveroid information is playing an increasing role in their campaign against the theory of evolution and science in general. Does it exist in a beautifully arranged snowflake? They say no. In an amoeba? They say yes. How do they know? They just do.
Before they invented this phantasmal information stuff, their imaginary designer — blessed be he! — performed only a limited number of tricks. One of those was overcoming the Great Barrier between micro- and macro-evolution. We described that in Discoveroids Dance the Micro-Macro Mambo, where we said:
The imaginary distinction between micro- and macro-evolution depends on a magic barrier between them, which somehow prevents one from gradually becoming the other. That imaginary (and unevidenced and unexplained) barrier says: “A species can mutate thus far and no farther!” It’s the reason creationists give to invoke the intervention of a deity (or an intelligent designer) who is somehow able to overcome the barrier and thus provide the appearance that life evolved naturally over eons, in a long chain of mini steps. Therefore, creationism requires belief in a two-part dogma consisting of: (1) the Great Barrier; and (2) the miracle that breaks through the barrier. … We imagine the designer — blessed be he! — creeps into the genome when no one is looking and, like a sleazy used-car salesman, he resets the invisible mutation-counter from “maximum” back to zero so the creature’s descendants can then continue to mutate to the next level.
What else did the designer do? We’ve forgotten most of the nonsensical claims, but they still insist that he put together the bacterial flagellum. There were one or two other tricks — he mucked around a bit in the Precambrian, and he sometimes adds new features to the genome, which couldn’t possibly evolve because the odds against it are too great — oh, he also fine-tuned the whole universe. Otherwise, the designer didn’t have much of a portfolio. Until now.
The Discoveroids’ latest claim is that the designer makes things complicated. To do that he adds the mystical ingredient of information. It’s something like pixie dust. It’s in your DNA. Without information, DNA is just … well, it’s a big molecule. But when the ghostly goodie of information is added — Shazam! Yes, it’s rather like vitalism, but the Discoveroids don’t want you to notice that.
But what is information? It’s not matter, not energy, not anything you know. It’s information! And it’s a big deal. It permeates the entire universe. The concept is discussed in the TalkOrigins Index to Creationist Claims: Information cannot be created by either natural processes or chance, so there is a law of conservation of information..
Dembski has a new book on it, gushingly described in several Discoveroid posts, most recently here: Bill Dembski’s New Book Is Out and Ready to Order; Pre-orders Are in the Mail. We haven’t read the thing, and in all likelihood we never will, but we notice that it comes with a slogan: “Information all the way down.” Klinghoffer says:
[I]n the end, as at the beginning, there is information. Of course this casts the argument for intelligent design in a fresh and important new light, which is why we’ve been telling you that [Dembski’s book] is the next big thing in ID.
It’s good that they keep inventing these new campaigns from time to time. It gives the intelligent designer something to do. Without the Discoveroids, he’d just be another imaginary entity who provides imaginary solutions for imaginary problems. We’ve got enough of those already, and they’re boring. But thanks to the Discoveroids, we now have an endless source of entertainment.
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