Klinghoffer: Denton’s Existential Challenge

The Discovery Institute is becoming less and less interesting to us. Since their personnel changes at the end of last year, the focus — if that’s the correct word — of their creationist blog has become increasingly fuzzy. But today they have returned to promoting their “theory” of intelligent design.

Their latest post is Non-Adaptive Order and Intelligent Design. It was written by David Klinghoffer, a Discoveroid “senior fellow” (i.e., flaming, full-blown creationist), who eagerly functions as their journalistic slasher and poo flinger.

It’s another attempt to hawk a new book by Michael Denton, a Discovery Institute “senior fellow,” which is an update to his 1985 creationist classic, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. The new version of Denton’s book is Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis (Amazon listing), published by the prestigious Discovery Institute Press.

We wrote about it before — see Discovery Institute Touts Denton’s New Book. Here are some excerpts from Klinghoffer’s latest, with bold font added by us for emphasis. He begins:

In a series of brief interviews welcoming his new book Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis, Discovery Institute biologist Michael Denton has hammered on the “existential” challenge to Darwinism from non-adaptive order. In other words, Darwin’s theory insists on natural selection as the (mindless) sculptor of life at every step along evolution’s path.

The existential challenge? What’s that all about? We’re told:

But that process preserves only adaptive features, not abstract patterns that serve an aesthetic purpose or, to all appearances, none at all. If non-adaptive order permeates the history of life — and it seemingly does, as Denton shows in the book — that’s a huge problem for classic evolutionary thinking.

[*Groan*] Mutations that are advantageous can also cause incidental changes that are harmless, but that go along for the ride. We see this in dogs selected for hunting, burrowing, etc. Various breeds have features that serve no purpose, such as floppy ears, curled tails, etc. This is no problem whatsoever for evolution. Indeed, our genomes contain a vast amount of junk DNA that has been around, apparently serving no purpose, for as long as there has been life on this planet.

If everything generated by evolution had to serve a survival purpose, then what is the purpose of the uvula? It does nothing for us, other than allowing us to make a few weird sounds. If the uvula is useless to us, what purpose does it serve that would benefit the Discoveroids’ transcendental designer — blessed be he! — or, using Denton’s terminology, what’s its existential purpose? Klinghoffer addresses that:

What about intelligent design? Isn’t this state of affairs in biology a contradiction for ID too? Wouldn’t a designer scrutinize his work with an eye to what adapts an organism well to its environment? Certainly, but such an intelligence might have other ends in view as well — like beauty or some alternative consideration at which we can only guess.

Ah yes, we overlooked the aesthetic virtue of the uvula. It is indeed a wonder to behold! Klinghoffer continues:

In this video conversation [link in Klinghoffer’s post], Dr. Denton explains why his observation poses no challenge to ID.

And why is that? We’re told:

Darwinism expects to find, in biological features, adaptive value specific to a particular organism and environment, not, as in the pentadactyl limb, generic adaptation across a range of organisms.

Balderdash! We have loads of genetic material accumulated and modified over vast amounts of time from our distant ancestors. Here’s the last paragraph, which is supposed to tie it all together. See if you can make any sense of it:

Yes, the pattern of our limbs possesses a certain pleasing vitality or dynamic quality (that also functions well, of course), but that’s not an evolutionary criterion. Generic adaptation, on the other hand, suggests a design selected in advance of evolution, by the intelligent forethought of a designer with an artist’s eye, who could see it all before the first animal with such a feature ever existed.

[*Groan*] Denton’s “existential challenge” to evolution takes the entire tree of life, which is solid evidence for evolution, and uses it as an argument for intentional design that allegedly reveals supernatural foresight. What can we say? It’s certainly a bold argument, but it’s also spectacularly silly.

Essentially, Denton’s argument is this: Everything we see — and everything we will ever see — regardless of logical, fact-supported natural explanations, is evidence for intelligent design. With a “scientific” argument like that, how can they ever be wrong?

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16 responses to “Klinghoffer: Denton’s Existential Challenge

  1. Most of the time I think Ken Ham is probably the stupidest public face of creationism behind the true, acknowledged champions, Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron. But then every now and then the DI reminds me that they’re perfectly capable of challenging this triumvirate. And now is one of those times.

    But that process preserves only adaptive features, not abstract patterns that serve an aesthetic purpose or, to all appearances, none at all.

    Either Klinghoffer has never read, say Evolution for Dummies or he’s consciously lying about natural selection.

  2. michaelfugate

    No wonder people are confused when you have professional obfuscators such as the Denton and Meyer around.

  3. “But that process preserves only adaptive features, not abstract patterns that serve an aesthetic purpose…” – Guess they never heard of sexual selection.

  4. Mike Elzinga

    Sheesh; this Klinkhoffer character is mind-numbingly stupid.

    These ID/creationists simply refuse to get educated at even the high school level. Their “religion” requires them to systematically distort everything to fit their sectarian dogma; which means that the “science” they construct for themselves no longer applies to the real universe.

  5. “such an intelligence might have other ends in view as well ”
    And Klinkleclapper has found out what those “other ends in view” are …. how exactly?

  6. Same old, same old. Trying to talk a thing into existence instead of showing us the thing.

  7. These guys know better – virtually anyone who has read a popular book on evolution knows that adaptive selection is not the only game in town. There is no way they can be that naive about the scientific theory which they spend virtually all of their time attempting to discredit.

    They’re just liars.

  8. Question to ID debater….have you taken a course in evilutional biology??
    IDer …errr..NO!
    Other debater…then you are too ignorant to know much less talk about this subject.

  9. michaelfugate

    If the pentadactyl limb were so pleasing, then why is it altered so often?
    reduced to 4, 3, 2, 1 or even 0? That’s just in mammals.

  10. Guys, guys: Not only do I have two legs, but they – are you sitting down? – reach all the way to the ground! Both of them.

    That Intelligent Designer thought of everything.

  11. @Mark Germano

    Yes, but if those legs are aesthetically pleasing, that’s doom for Darwinism.

  12. Does Ed present a false dichotomy?

    “There is no way they can be that naïve ….. They’re just liars”
    Perhaps they are naïve liars.

  13. The existential challenge to ID is whether there exists an accounting for anything without mentioning natural processes like evolution.
    The usual 5 W’s.
    Is there any example of the path: from design to something natural without natural processes involved? Does that exist?
    There are plenty enough examples where design is not enough. See the Wikipedia articles on “Unfinished building” and “Impossible object”.

  14. if redundant genes, and non-adaptive evolution, count as evidence *for* Intelligent Design, then what would count as evidence *against*?

    BTW, in its March 23rd mailing, the Center for Science and Culture advertised an Apologetics conference. Is this intended as evidence that they have nothing to do with religion? With some people, one can never tell

  15. @Paul Braterman
    What is Intelligent Design?
    How can we discuss evidence for (or against, or irrelevant to) X, if we don’t have an idea what the X is?
    Nobody wants to talk about that.
    It is rather boring to keep bringing that up, because we know what the response will be: change the subject.

  16. Eric Lipps

    In a series of brief interviews welcoming his new book Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis, Discovery Institute biologist Michael Denton has hammered on the “existential” challenge to Darwinism from non-adaptive order. In other words, Darwin’s theory insists on natural selection as the (mindless) sculptor of life at every step along evolution’s path.

    But that process preserves only adaptive features, not abstract patterns that serve an aesthetic purpose or, to all appearances, none at all. If non-adaptive order permeates the history of life — and it seemingly does, as Denton shows in the book — that’s a huge problem for classic evolutionary thinking.

    Not at all. See this article, for instance, on “domestication syndrome” in animals.

    In any case, just because we don’t see an adaptive purpose in some feature doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Even Klinghoffer hedges his bets on this issue: note the word “seemingly” in his screed.