The Discoveroids’ Brilliant Question

This is about a brief, yet very revealing post at the creationist blog of the Discovery Institute. It was written by Tom Bethell. He’s not officially a Discoveroid, but they publish his essays. Wikipedia says he advocates intelligent design and other fringe ideas. The last time we wrote about one of his essays was Discovery Institute: Natural Selection Is a Fallacy (he claims it’s a tautology).

Bethell’s new contribution is How Does Modern Medicine Depend on Darwinism? Everyone can think of a couple of answers to that question. We provided one six years ago when the Discoveroids first expressed doubt about the value of evolution to the practice of medicine — see Discovery Institute: Toad-Tested Medicine!

But Bethell’s title isn’t the “brilliant question” that our title refers to. That comes a bit later. First he discusses an article by Scott Russell Sanders which says (if we can trust a Discoveroid quote) that evolution “undergirds all of modern medicine and the life sciences.” Bethell seizes upon that and says:

“Undergirds all of modern medicine”? I wonder if Sanders or anyone else can provide, as an example, one modern medical opinion that would be shown to be false if it were generally accepted that bodies are designed. [Bold font added by us.]

That’s Bethell’s brilliant question, and it’s the end of his post. He imagines that he has presented you, dear reader, with a powerful challenge to which you have no answer. Well, do you?

One obvious response is that if we were intelligently designed, we wouldn’t have any need of physicians. Well, maybe for broken bones and stuff like that, but a truly intelligent designer would make us unbreakable.

But that’s too easy. We have a different response to Bethell’s question. It’s a question of our own, but we’re not asking Bethell because we don’t care what his answer might be. Our question is this: Is there any evidence for evolution, or any conclusion we draw from evolution, that the Discoveroids can’t claim is the work of their magic designer? If their “theory” is consistent with everything, no matter what it might be, then does it really explain anything?

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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32 responses to “The Discoveroids’ Brilliant Question

  1. One obvious response is that if we were intelligently designed, we wouldn’t have any need of physicians. Well, maybe for broken bones and stuff like that, but a truly intelligent designer would make us unbreakable.

    But why make the exception about broken bones? If the designer were doing his job properly, we’d be far better designed to cope with the earth’s gravitational field: as it is, people can break bones simply by falling over (or even just coughing), while jumping out of a third-story window is definitely not recommended. So either the designer got it wrong when putting us together or he completely screwed up the gravitational-constant bit when he was fine-tuning the universe.

    Which? I think we should be told.

    Also.

  2. And this alleged intelligent designer thing (blessed be he/she/it) was so clever that he/she/it made our air and water pipes cross, ensuring that each year a few of his dearly beloved would choke to death on steak. What a clever chap! I doubt a freshman engineer at Lehigh University would be that stupid.

  3. Well, he also put the pleasure park right next to the sewage plant.

  4. “One obvious response is that if we were intelligently designed, we wouldn’t have any need of physicians.”

    IDers and Discoveroids generally don’t like to talk about “poor designs” for may reasons—but a big reason is that it would force many of them to admit that they really are YECs pretending not to be. (Not all, mind you. But many.)

    YECs have no problem blurting out illogical and confusing blather, so they will confidently declare: “Before the fall, everything was perfect. Anything that is defective, inconvenient or even smells bad didn’t appear/exist/happen until after the fall!” The fact that the Bible says nothing of the sort, or make any reference to a “re-creation” where body plans and entire ecosystems got revamped to remove all or most of that initial “perfection”, is never an impediment to a committed YEC. If it is within their cherished set of traditions, they will nevertheless declare: “Perfectiion-before-the-fall is obviously Biblical and how dare you suggest that it isn’t! You sound like you’ve been talking to that evil Professor Tertius. You should never listen to him because he is a Son of Satin!” [sic]

    Of course, my father never had any involvement with the fabric industry, so the accusation is a dastardly lie…from the pit of heck!

  5. Charles Deetz ;)

    @realthog I’m trying to imagine Bananaman doing his schtick with that anology. LOL.

  6. And by the way, when I said even things “smelling bad” is a result of the fall according to hardcore young earth creationists, I was not exaggerating. More than a few times in discussion forums on-line, although never at an academic conference, I have been told that without the many problems brought on by the first sin, pre-fall septic systems would apparently have smelled like roses. Or, at the very least, had a neutral, unoffensive smell.

    (I sometimes inject satire and even occasional exaggeration into my prose when comedy is my goal. But this is one of those many instances where the YECs produce all the comedy gold I could ever need.)

  7. How about the existence of the appendix and wisdom teeth? Vestigial body parts shouldn’t exist if bodies were designed by an all-wise Creator.

  8. @Eric Lipps: Actually, a legit purpose of the appendix has been proposed. It saves back a “seed population” of our essential gut bacteria to repopulate our intestines after a thorough cleaning out by a bout of food poisoning. And new teeth coming in at the onset of adulthood would have helped our ancestors, who had probably lost a few teeth by that time.

    Far be it for me to defend DI, but I don’t think we should argue using the appendix and wisdom teeth.

    On the other hand, can anyone come up with a purpose for male nipples??

  9. “On the other hand, can anyone come up with a purpose for male nipples??”

    To prove that god has a sense of humor.

  10. I grimace to find myself in a position of appearing to “defend” (yikes!) or at least explain the ID position on design. [Woe is me!] But for the sake of maintaining the elite scholarly standards of this august body (i.e., the people who comment on what the SC writes), I will temporarily portray a typical Discoveroid apologist while fielding these questions:

    Q: If humans are intelligently designed, we shouldn’t need doctors, right?
    A: Lots of things which are designed have imperfections, vulnerabilities, disadvantages, and even major flaws. After all, if you see a bridge over a river, you assume that it was designed by some intelligent agent called an engineer even if you see any, some, or all of those drawbacks you just mentioned. Moreover, the Intelligent Designer who designed that bridge didn’t promise to make a bridge which wouldn’t ever rust, or wouldn’t collapse if 100 of the heaviest military tanks cross it at the same time, or could be built within two weeks time or within an unrealistic budget limit. Nobody said the designer was a magician! Furthermore, the designer didn’t say that he could defy the laws of physics.

    Q: But if God is the Intelligent Designer behind the human body, an Omniscient and Omnipotent God should have done the most outstanding and flawless design imaginable, right?
    A: Remember, we never said that God is the Intelligent Designer!

    Q: OK. I’ll play along. I have to, seeing how you have never published a Comprehensive Scientific Theory of Intelligent Design. We can’t really pin you down on exactly what you are saying about the “Intelligent Designer” [wink! wink!] and how your collection of ID anecdotes, obfuscations, and Argument from Personal Incredulity fallacies come together —- even though these are the foundations of your alleged “ID theory” (which doesn’t yet exist) —-because……well…….It doesn’t exist yet! How we attempt to falsify a scientific theory which has yet to exist? Do you EVER plan to publish your ID theory? Will you IDers at least summarize the “ID theory” which you will publish someday? And how can it be a scientific theory if it involves a deity? Oh, that’s right. I won’t refer to God again. I’ll just call him the “Designer of Humans.” (DOM) Why did DOM do such a poor job? Why does the human body have major vision problems such that even the young ones have to wear glasses? Why do androgens cause even young adult men to lose their hair? Why are cancers so common? Why can’t humans make their own Vitamin C like most other mammals? Why is a diet of cooked meat so deadly to most humans, especially in producing heart disease? Why do grain diets so easily leads to diabetes when the human immune system destroys parts of the body’s own pancreas? Is DOM a very poor designer?

    A: You sound hopelessly confused. And I can’t address such a confuse group of questions. But I’ll deal with your last question about poor designs and therefore poor designers. A design cannot be judged at all without knowing the GOALS of the particular design application. A designer is under no obligation to create the best design under every considerable scenario. Instead, a designer usually works within a set of constraints while favoring some advantageous features over others in achieving an OPTIMUM design for a particular kind of application. For example, with your bridge example, if the goal is to only handle foot traffic, why “over-design” and waste steel? And if a bridge is only needed for the first stage of an invasion, why bother to make it rust-proof or include a bike lane or put in netting to prevent suicide attempts? Unless we know the design specifications and constraints which the designer was focused on, your complaints about the designer and his design are meaningless. So until you know the mind of God….I MEAN DOM…..you can’t know what his design goals were and until you know them, you can’t judge his design. And if you can’t judge his design, you can’t judge God…I mean DOM!

    I see that our time is up and that’s all the time I have for this interview. This was very productive. It appears we cleared up everything about Intelligent Design and why it is valid science and is becoming more and more accepted and respected by scientists all over the world!

    {Yuk. I have a really bad taste in my mouth. That hurt my brain and I probably lost a few IQ points just playing it with a straight face through that script. Who writes this crap? I’m going to have to have a long talk with my agent. He said it would be a very intelligent role and I’d be speaking on behalf of a deity. He said it would earn me great respect among scientists, not philosopher wannabee!}

  11. I wonder if Sanders or anyone else can provide, as an example, one modern medical opinion that would be shown to be false if it were generally accepted that bodies are designed.

    Junk DNA. Given our current knowledge of genomic, there’s no way to claim that more than ~9% of the genome is functional. 10% to be generous. Guys like Ewan Barney are super-optimistic and say they expect it will be 20% functional, but that’s counting your experiments before they’ve hatched. The data in hand limit it to ~9.5%.

    If God created our genome from scratch to serve mankind, there’s no reason for us to carry around a genome of which 50% is broken nonfunctional transposons. But that’s what observation shows we’ve got. Unless God is a super-transposon who created millions of transposons in his image, and made humans as the vector to carry them around. Like flies carry plague…

    Another issue is the immune system, specifically affinity maturation, the mans by which random mutations to the hypermutable genes that code for antibodies, followed by differential reproduction of the immune cells, “evolves” antibody proteins that can tightly bind novel targets. Michael Behe says it’s impossible to evolve a protein binding site in less than cosmic time, so if he’s right, the human immune system cannot recognize nor fight newly evolved diseases or xenobiotic chemicals. Yet they do.

    And then there’s deep homology and Ed Marcotte’s work st UTA on reconstructing the evolution of networks of interacting proteins, which led to the identification of new medical applications for drugs. If the human body didn’t evolve from animals, then Ed Marcotte’s drugs shouldn’t do what they seem to do.

  12. Humans start life as females so males have non-functioning nipples. That’s my guess.

  13. Mary L: “Humans start life as females so males have non-functioning nipples. That’s my guess.”

    Well, isn’t THAT just a perfect example of intelligent design! I mean, you’d think the G.O.D. would leave them fully functioning so the father could share nursing duties. But then, the guys would spend all their time ogling themselves in the mirror, and wouldn’t get any work done.

  14. retiredsciguy – There would also be two more body parts to play with

  15. The whole truth

    Diogenes, didn’t Ewan Birney claim that at least 80% of the human genome is functional and that it could be close to 100%? If so, has he changed his claim to 20%?

  16. Diogenes Lamp says: “Junk DNA.”

    Excellent! They can always come up with excuses for vestigial organs and various other indicia of sloppy design, but a genome that’s 90% junk — inherited junk! — is inexcusable. That’s why they always claim junk DNA doesn’t exist. It’s their one big “scientific” prediction, their hill to die on.

  17. retiredsciguy asks: “On the other hand, can anyone come up with a purpose for male nipples??”

    To cushion your ribcage from continuous collisions with a heavily-laden pocket protector.

  18. that would be shown to be false if it were generally accepted that bodies are designed

    There is nothing of substance that can be said of “Intelligent Design”.

    He boasts of it!

    And you guys fall for it!

  19. Diogenes Lamp

    TWT: didn’t Ewan Birney claim that at least 80% of the human genome is functional and that it could be close to 100%? If so, has he changed his claim to 20%?

    Yeah, it was 80% in the abstract of the lead Encode paper. He later said 20% on his blog & in media interviews, but never in peer reviewed publications.

  20. Diogenes, thanks. I wasn’t sure if my memory was working well or not.

  21. The whole truth

    I don’t know why m usual username (The whole truth) isn’t showing. I’ll try to figure it out.

  22. Hmm, if ±90% junk DNA makes the point then shouldn’t other instances of suboptimal design do as well? After all, wasting ±90% of your available DNA typewriter ribbon on garbled gibberish is in fact just one more case of suboptimal design — or variously, gross inefficiency in the form of superfluity — in respect of Ol’ Grandy’s information carrier, albeit an especially obvious one. Moreover, the committed IDeologue would likely feel few if any twinges of conscience, explaining away junk DNA as more evidence in support of the corruption that occurred post-Fall.

    In any case, IDeologues often reject arguments concerning suboptimal design by claiming that we don’t know Ol’ Grandy’s purpose or intentions, and therefore our criteria for judging optimal design are dubious. This line of defence betrays a lack of understanding of basic engineering principles. The fact is that we do know what would make organisms more durable, hardier, more efficient and better adapted to their environments than we find them to be, and more subtle criteria (whatever they may be) need not be had at the expense of those primary ones unless it can be shown that they really are mutually exclusive. IDeologues would rather take this last crucial condition as an unstated given than show it to be so, not because they’re not imaginative enough, but because doing so would result in testable assertions about the “design” we are expected to acknowledge with a mindless, “Yeah, amen!”

    And we can’t be having testability, now can we?

  23. Con-Tester says: “IDeologues often reject arguments concerning suboptimal design by claiming that we don’t know Ol’ Grandy’s purpose or intentions, and therefore our criteria for judging optimal design are dubious.”

    Although they don’t expect the designer’s wonderful work to be optimal from a human perspective, they still claim to be able to spot the designer’s work when they see it.

  24. If their “theory” is consistent with everything, no matter what it might be, then does it really explain anything?

    Certainly seems non-falsifiable, doesn’t it? (And therefore not science at all) If all you’ve ever done is to identify the “designer” by inferring him from the “design,” then you’ve only inferred in circles; and if you haven’t limited either one, you haven’t really defined either one.

  25. @The whole truth has a problem with commenting anonymously.
    As do I. I don’t know why, but at least I’m not alone with this.

  26. ” Is there any evidence for evolution, or any conclusion we draw from evolution, that the Discoveroids can’t claim is the work of their magic designer? If their “theory” is consistent with everything, no matter what it might be, then does it really explain anything?”

    You think the Discoveroids have enough brain cells to even understand the question? I think not.

  27. “If God created our genome from scratch to serve mankind, there’s no reason for us to carry around a genome of which 50% is broken nonfunctional transposons.”
    Ah, but the Grand Old Designer has a plan for everything, including that 50 – 90%. Which kind of answers SC’s pressing question:

    “Is there any evidence for evolution, or any conclusion we draw from evolution, that the Discoveroids can’t claim is the work of their magic designer?”
    No, there isn’t. Most of them have learned their lesson – every time they did make a testable claim it got thoroughly refuted.

    “It’s their one big “scientific” prediction, their hill to die on.”
    No, it isn’t. We humans are simply not smart enough yet to understand the purpose of junk DNA.

  28. Maybe the sky fairy is peddeling junk DNA from the junkyard in the sky…

  29. I heard it was the Fine Tuner’s fault.

  30. Sensh says that Junk DNA falsifies Intelligent Design.

    TomS disagrees: There is nothing of substance that can be said of “Intelligent Design”, by which he means it is non-falsifiable.

    Who’s right? Well, there are at least two kinds of Intelligent Design allegations (I won’t say “theory”):

    1. Religious intelligent design (RID) assumes that it knows what the purposes of the Grand Old Designer are. e.g. RID must assume but does not state that the Intelligent Designer created the universe for humans, therefore our human genome can’t be 50% broken non-functional transposons and another 30% pseudogenes and repetitive junk. RID can be falsifiable, and to the degree it is, it has been falsified. It is at best, bad science.

    2. Secularist intelligent design (SID) does not assume what the purposes of the Grand Old Designer, and therefore cannot make falsifiable predictions. SID can tolerate any amount of bad design or “Pinto” arguments (referring to Casey Luskin Esquire’s infamous observation that the easy-exploding Ford Pinto car was clearly designed by an intelligence because it was so badly designed. If it exploded twice as often, that would be twice as much proof it was intelligently designed.) SID is non-religious but also non-falsifiable pseudoscience, because it reduces to authorities emitting non sequitur “predictions” that do not follow from their hypothesis. (Note: the blogger Jack Scanlan of “This Week in ID” uses the phrase “Bare Intelligent Design” for this. I like the phrase “secularist” because it will drive the Dominionists batty.)

    Note that my classifications above are surprising in that most people would say, “If it’s religious, it’s not science.” However, above I make the the point that Religious Intelligent Design could be science– just very bad science because it’s been falsified– while Secularist Intelligent Design is not religious but also not science, because it’s non-falsifiable.

    Obviously, if you can equivocate and switch rapidly between the two above types of ID– when you are confronted with the “bad design” arguments that kill RID, you switch seamlessly to SID– and when confronted with the non-testability and non sequiturs of SID, you switch silently to RID– if you can do that, you can be a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute, my son.

  31. @Prof Tertius

    Furthermore, the designer didn’t say that he could defy the laws of physics.

    But the designer was the one who determined the laws of physics in the first place, so he could surely quite easily have made sure that they were such and we were such that we didn’t get broken bones.