Discovery Institute: A New Philosophy of Science

The brilliant thinkers at the Discovery Institute are so far ahead of you, dear reader, that they are pioneering a whole new concept of science — one which you are far too primitive to realize is necessary. The latest (anonymous) post at their creationist website is provocatively titled A “Mechanical” Philosophy for the 21st Century. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

In Francis Bacon’s day, it was easy to oversimplify nature. Elizabethan scientists began to conceive of a world that ran like a machine. Robert Boyle was a strong proponent of the mechanical philosophy. Soon, Isaac Newton’s clockwork heavens reinforced the notion that all the Creator had to do was wind it up, and let it run all by itself. From Boyle to Babbage, the Newtonian revolution showed the way for scientific progress: just uncover the natural laws that make the universe run.

By the late 18th century and into Victorian times, mechanical philosophy was sufficient unto itself. An original Designer could be conceived of, perhaps, but as science progressed, the Prime Mover had less and less to do. Some argued that it was an insult to the Watchmaker to suggest he needed to intervene and fix the watch.

Yes, that’s how it was in the old days — including the time of Charles Darwin. Your thinking, dear reader, like Darwin’s, is probably still mired in that obsolete worldview. But things are different now. and the Discoveroids are insightful enough to recognize this — even if you aren’t. They say:

Then molecular biology arrived, and we found out the clocks are real. Literal machines made of molecules make life run. Simultaneously, the computer age dawned and we learned a bit about programming. Now, robotics is here. We’re going to need a new philosophy: one that can handle realities the Elizabethans and Victorians could never have imagined.

[*Begin Drool Mode*] Ooooooooooooh — clocks, machines, programming! [*End Drool Mode*] It’s a whole new ball game!

Then, for at least 16 paragraphs, the Discoveroids present us with an overwhelming number of little quotes from various publications, describing dazzling biological phenomena, which use words like clock, engine, mechanism, rhythm, timing, factory, assembly line, repair station, and intricate machinery. It’s an extremely impressive collection. After that they tell us:

Those are a few recent examples of the “machine talk” pouring out of labs around the world. This is not just metaphorical language for “nature” like the Victorians used. It’s observation and description of realities the early mechanical philosophers could not have imagined. And it’s everywhere. Machine talk is driving an explosion of discovery in science.

And that is why, dear reader, your current mode of thought is utterly outdated. Fortunately, the Discoveroids offer a solution:

The old mechanical philosophy is hopelessly inadequate for these realities. The reason? We know from our experience that unguided natural law does not produce machinery, factories, and quality control. Something else is required: information.

[*Begin Drool Mode*] Ooooooooooooh — information! [*End Drool Mode*] See Phlogiston, Vitalism, and Information.

After discussing some books and videos, the Discoveroids declare:

Information is the key to a “mechanical” philosophy for the 21st century. We know, because we have a great deal of experience producing information and imposing it on matter. We build computers. We make robots. We make clocks and trucks and factories. Indeed, we can even make machines that make other machines, and robots that increasingly look and act like us.

Yes, and if we do it, then so does the intelligent designer — blessed be he! — and we know this because the Discoveroids say there’s no other explanation. Their final paragraph makes it all clear:

Our machines can run like clockwork, not because we shined sunlight on a “disorderly lump” and waited for natural laws to take their unguided course, but because we infused the lumps with information. And since we know that intelligence was the true cause that resulted in those lumps of raw material becoming Steinway pianos, Toyota robotic assembly lines, and New Horizons spacecraft, it’s a fair inference that intelligence is the true cause behind atoms that become kinesins, ribosomes, and circadian clock proteins.

And so, dear reader, you have a lot of re-thinking to do. At the moment, your foolish mind is mired in the outmoded ideas of the past. Isn’t it time you got up-to-date and accepted the wondrous worldview of the Discoveroids? You can do it — if you have the courage.

Copyright © 2015. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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37 responses to “Discovery Institute: A New Philosophy of Science

  1. Derek Freyberg

    Next they’ll describe the process of the penis undergoing an erection as being like a mechanical pencil extruding the lead.
    Silly Discorrhoids – scientists use mechanical analogies (1) as a matter of convenience, and because non-scientists are often more familiar with the object of the analogy (the solar panel, to pick an example) than the subject of it (the chloroplast), not because they believe cells/organisms are machines or factories; and (2) because machines have often been designed to perform functions that cells/organisms can perform (think walking robots, or indeed solar panels).
    I wonder if the Discorrhoids would like to claim intelligence as being the way that tides occur twice/day, and that the height varies with the phase of the moon? Or that the year is 365-and-a-quarter days long? (surely if it had been designed, the year could have been exactly 365 days; or maybe 360, so as to be easily divisible into weeks and months, somewhat like French Revolutionary Time
    Pareidolia strikes again at the DiscoTute.

  2. The Disco’Tuters slather in such a tsunami of drool, the significance of the part I’ve bolded below seems to have been drowned out:

    we have a great deal of experience producing information and imposing it on matter. We build computers. We make robots. We make clocks and trucks and factories.

    Please, please, please tell us, IDiots, how the Grand Old Designer ‘imposed information’ on matter! Surely, that is a straightforward empirical investigation? No need to be coy (as you are about the identity of the G.O.D.), you can’t claim such a search is outside the remit of your ‘theory.’

    So c’mon guys, convince me! When, where, and how was pre-exisiting ‘information’ imposed on matter by your Intelligent Designer?

  3. Looks like someone locked the Gerbil and the ever loopy Denyse in a closet and gave ’em some crayons and paper again . . .

  4. Derek Freyberg predicts that the Discoveroids will

    describe the process of the penis undergoing an erection as being like a mechanical pencil extruding the lead

    Entirely possible they will.

    But they’d better not steal Olivia’s admiring metaphor last night about my Trident missile…

  5. Well, they want to redefine science to include the supernatural, it’s only just as illogical for them to redefine the philosophy of science in their favor too. The little wheels in their heads keep churning out this endless drivel.

  6. Derek Freyberg outlined the substantive rebuttal of the DI nonsense. And I wonder why it seems reasonable to them to replace the “old mechanical philosophy” of the 19th century with their version of bronze age myths.

  7. They are hung up on analogies. How about doing some.real work?

  8. Mike Elzinga

    Any high school physics or chemistry student can do a simple calculation that demonstrates the problem with ID/creationist tornado-in-a-junkyard math. If junkyard parts or ASCII characters have the same charge-to-mass ratios as protons and electrons, the energies of interaction between, say, 1 kilogram masses separated by one meter would be on the order of 10^10 megatons of TNT. Their thermal kinetic energies would be comparable.

    How does one justify ID/creationist “probability calculations” with particles that have such strong interaction energies?

    Their “cell metropolises” are ludicrous; cells don’t look anything like that. And scaling up a cell metropolis without also scaling up the forces of interaction and the thermal kinetic energies is simply more evidence that these characters have no clue about the most basic notions of the chemistry and physics of cells.

  9. I should have noted in my previous post: I have drawn a discreet veil over the identity of the blogger whom Olivia characterised as poorly armed with a mere “Half-a-Minute-Man” missile…

  10. Megalonyx attempts to taunt me with his fantasies, but they are as insubstantial as Discoveroid information.

  11. You did it again, dear SC – you made me visit that IDiot blog. A new philosophy of science! And what would that new PoS be like? After a gazillion variations on Paley’s Watchmaker we finally get something: a philosophy of information. But how that would be like, no, that’s asked too much.
    At this point it can’t be a surprise that actual work on the subject has been going on for a while – and not by IDiots.

    I have no idea if all this results in something substantial and don’t care to find out; something I should be ashamed of but am not. That’s not relevant though for the point here: an eventual new philosophy of science, that addresses “information”, will not come from any IDiot.

  12. Essentially the Discos’ argument boils down to: We create complex systems (machines) via intelligence, therefore nature can’t do it via natural law, therefore God did it by via “intelligent design.” Both “therefores” are supposed to be taken on faith, and at least the first one is complete nonsense. As for the second, everything hinges on whether the Bible really is the literal Word of God, dictated by Him to human scribes in ancient times–and that, too, has to be taken on faith, despite creationist claims regarding the miraculous accuracy of Scripture and quasi-numerological “Bibkle Code” drivel.

  13. I can almost hear the carnival barker standing on his soap box at the Dico ‘Tute’s office: “Ladies and gentlemen, step right up and get your pink and pleasant plastic tokens of information! Information!! The new Phlogiston!”

  14. If religion was never invented and it never occurred to humans that anything supernatural could exist, would there be an “intelligent design” movement? Would scientists marvel at the complexity of nature and conclude that there must be something that no one every thought of before, that is, an intelligent designer?

    It’s a rhetorical question. However, until the DI can come up with evidence that the designer exists – not just gee-whiz amazement at the complexity of nature, but actual evidence of the supernatural, then their “theory” is nothing more than an exercise in apologetics.

  15. Derek Freyberg

    I vote we take up a collection to have the Discotute renamed as the Pareidolia Institute – I’d be happy to be the recipient of the collection (just as long as you don’t ask me to account for it).

  16. Derek Freyberg

    Or how about the “Jesus’s-face-on-a-piece-of-toast Institute”? – nah, they’re not creationists, they’re IDers, it would have to be the “G.O.D.’s-face-on-a-piece-of-toast Institute”).

  17. @Ed:
    The problem is not that they have not come up with evidence.
    The problem is that they have not come up with something to say. What happens in the world of life so that things turn out as they are? When and where, why and how?
    They are concerned with how there may some problems with evolutionary biology. They cannot go on for long without talking about evolution, but they never get around to telling us – if evolution is fatally flawed, what then?
    What is this “information”? How does one measure it? Why should assume that it is conserved? How does a supernatural agent account for it?
    As it turns out, the arguments against “natural evolution” are typically arguments from the 18th century or earlier, hoping that they would work for the developments in science from the 19th century and later. But the important point is that they have no alternative to offer.

  18. Tom S asks:

    What is this “information”? How does one measure it?

    My dogs are outside producing some information right now on the back lawn. I suppose I could try to measure it, but I don’t know why I would bother.

  19. michaelfugate

    What is the “information” that runs the solar system? Galaxial “DNA”?

  20. Doctor Stochastic

    Perhaps the discoveroids could explain why there particles obey Bose-Einstein or Fermi-Dirac statistics rather than Maxwell-Boltzmann statistics.

  21. “…producing information and imposing it on matter.”

    What exactly could the word “impose” mean in that context? As far as I know, everything that any human has done to matter follows the same physical laws as everything else we observe in the universe. This principle extends all the way to the chemistry of the brains that tell the hands what to do.
    I’d be curious if, to the ID world, idly kicking a rock while walking down the street constitutes “adding information” in the same way that designing a computer does. If not, why? If so, then isn’t information just another way of saying “thinking”? How about when a cat whacks a mouse? Isn’t that “imposing information on matter” as well?

  22. Charles Deetz ;)

    No one did a non-scientific wiggle word alert yet? “it’s a fair inference that intelligence is the true cause.” Good grief, that’s a great GOTGs statement to conclude their drool-laden posting.

  23. Doctor Stochastic

    The Discovery Institute and their camp followers confuse information as #2 tries to get from #6 from that developed by Shannon.

  24. @Megalonyx: Trident missile, eh? Oh, that must be painful!

  25. Ed contemplates: “actual evidence of the supernatural”
    Which is impossible, because evidence belongs to the natural. Only idiots try to use the scientific method (which only applies to the natural) to demonstrate something about the supernatural (a Grand Old Designer).

    Derek has a proposal: “I vote we ….:
    Not me. IDiots from Seattle is good enough.

  26. Our Curmudgeon reports

    My dogs are outside producing some information right now on the back lawn. I suppose I could try to measure it, but I don’t know why I would bother.

    To stop Klinghoffer from using it as a projectile?

  27. The whole truth

    It seems odd to me that IDiot-creationists are so eager to perceive and describe living things (including humans) and their parts as being literal machines, computers, robots, clocks, engines, mechanisms, repair stations, propellers, motors, programmed, etc, (they regularly use such terminology even if scientists don’t). I would think that all ‘God’ believers would be very strongly against using such terminology to describe ‘God’s creation’ or any part of it.

    IDiots perceive and describe their opponents as being ‘materialists’ and they accuse ‘materialists’ of all kinds of terrible things even though IDiots perceive and describe living things and their parts as being literal (i.e. material) machines, computers, motors, mechansms, etc. IDiots are more ‘materialist’ than the people they perceive, describe, and condemn as being ‘materialists’.

    Just think, IDiots must perceive and would describe themselves, their parents, siblings, spouses, children, in-laws, other relatives, friends, employers, co-employees, pets, pastors, fellow IDiots, etc., as being literal (material) machines, computers, robots, mechanisms, programmed, etc.

    An IDiot-creationist: ‘Hi honey, I’m home. How are our programmed, mechanistic, robotic, motorized, computerized, literal machine children doing in Bible School? Is the programmed, mechanistic, robotic, motorized, computerized, literal machine teacher performing according to God’s programmed, mechanistic, robotic, motorized, computerized, literal machine design specifications and correctly programming our programmed, mechanistic, robotic, motorized, computerized, literal machine children according to God’s programmed, mechanistic, robotic, motorized, computerized, literal machine design specifications? Are our programmed, mechanistic, robotic, motorized, computerized, literal machine childrens’ parts and repair mechanisms performing according to God’s programmed, mechanistic, robotic, motorized, computerized, literal machine design specifications or are our programmed, mechanistic, robotic, motorized, computerized, literal machine children due for a tune up, lube, oil, updates, and fixes? Oh, and after dinner will you please pray to God and ask Him to set your programming to mechanistic, robotic, motorized, computerized, literal machine horny mode so that we can have programmed, mechanistic, robotic, motorized, computerized, literal machine sex according to God’s programmed, mechanistic, robotic, motorized, computerized, literal machine design specifications after our programmed, mechanistic, robotic, motorized, computerized, literal machine children are put into sleep mode tonight?’

  28. “Not tonight, sweetheart; I’ve been programmed with a splitting CPU-ache…”

  29. Megalonyx mentions: “Olivia’s admiring metaphor last night about my Trident missile…”

    She was probably thinking of something like this: Mini Foam Missiles (size: 4 inches).

  30. michaelfugate

    We can add pseudohistory and pseudophilosophy on top of the usual pseudoscience – the “machines” inside a cell are no more and no less machines than are skeleton-muscular systems known from pre-darwinian biology. These are levers that are easily replicated with basic physics. To claim that the use of “machine” were only a metaphor then, but isn’t a metaphor now, is ignorance on stilts.

  31. @michaelfugate-
    It’s interesting how many things that they seem to get wrong – that one has to get wrong to deny evolutionary biology.

  32. michaelfugate

    I am wondering what “information” allows new stars, solar systems and galaxies to form? How about geologic strata, weather systems, ocean currents, tides?

  33. Think of all the “information” that went into Operation Barbarosa.

    But what really gets me is that, rather than giving us a reason to believe in the Conservation of “Information” (i.e., in the “concept” of the ID advertising campaign), we are told, exclusively, how it does not apply:
    1) It can spontaneously decrease.
    2) It increases in the normal operation of life.
    3) Human activity is exempt.

  34. michaelfugate

    When a mutation occurs, where does the “information” go?

  35. Because Tom S mentioned it, I want to point this out again:

    There is no Second Law of Information Theory, and least not in the way Dembski would claim. The Discoveroids are equivocating about the meaning of Information, using the common meaning of information and claiming the justification of the mathematical definition, but never stating exactly what they mean. 2LoT can describe the amount of information left to learn between a population in its current fitness state and its optimal fitness state. It is not a constant value, except as an approximation to a fixed point in time. As time passes, the Information a population has left to gain towards some ideal population, is always decreasing.

    IOW: the mathematical interpretation of 2LoT as a measure of biodiversity, is not that Information is decreasing due to mutation, but that the amount of improvement (towards some ideal population) is always decreasing. This is exactly opposite of what every Creationist talking about Information would have us believe.

    If you want to the details, here is rock star mathematician John Baez explaining it.

  36. Looks like they forgot to add Dawkins’ observation that we are just “machines used for propagating DNA.” I mean, jeez, he says machines right there in the quote.

  37. Wolfram would probably be pissed to see this title. Riffing off his book “A New Kind of Science”. By the way I have attempted this book twice, quitting when I get beyond my comprehension. Anyone able to explain it to me?