Intelligent Design Rebuttals

A little over a week ago, Florida Citizens for Science issued a press release denouncing a creationist display, and got three ignorant columns in response. Now their blog is asking for help in responding to the columns. I normally don’t like getting into this on the grounds that arguing with creationists is like arguing with flat Earthers, but here’s my contribution:

The first column actually has a good point, though it’s buried in a pile of misunderstanding. When the writer says, “Darwinism is dead,” he is completely right: Darwinism is dead and has been since the 1930s. The current theory of evolution is called neo-Darwinism, and integrates the old Darwinian mechanism with an understanding of genetics.

Right now there’s another challenge to neo-Darwinism in the form of evolutionary developmental biology, or evo-devo, which stresses the importance of early development of organisms; for example, a goat might be born with two legs despite having normal genes because of an environmental effect.

The difference between evo-devo and intelligent design, superficially both challenges to neo-Darwinism, should be glaringly obvious. Evo-devo doesn’t deny the basic fact of common descent, for which scientific evidence is overwhelming, and which practically 100% of biologists accept. It challenges specific mechanisms by providing evidence that certain evolutionary changes are not genetic and that the old concept of survival of the fittest needs to be modified.

In contrast, intelligent design does not present evidence. William Dembski does no research in design; he argues from a misguided notion of information theory, which is not only bad biology but also bad mathematics. Michael Behe uses plenty of intricate analogies, but no concrete experiments.

The ID argument devolves into, “We don’t know how this feature could have evolved, so it must have been designed.” “This feature” used to be the eye, until it became clear how the eye evolved; then it was whales, until paleontologists discovered transitional fossils from land-dwelling to sea-dwelling mammals; now it’s the bacterial flagellum.

This is why scientists scoff at the idea of dialogue between evolution and intelligent design: intelligent design is so unscientific that this dialogue would be as fruitful as a dialogue between astronomy and geocentrism.

All columns repeat the assertion that there is no evidence for evolution, in various forms: one calls evolution a religion, another says it’s just a theory, and the other says macroevolution doesn’t exist.

Actually, macroevolution does exist. The speciation observed is nothing glamorous, since lab research hasn’t been going on for the 60 million years it took rodent-like mammals to evolve into primates, but it’s there. Fruit flies regularly speciate in the lab – if you separate two groups of fruit flies in a certain way, they will no longer be able to interbreed after some time. Besides, there is no real difference between the evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the evolution of insects, except in time scales.

Neo-Darwinian evolution is then a theory for which there is plenty of evidence. There’s nothing wrong with being a theory – we talk of the theory of relativity and the theory of electrodynamics, neither of which is controversial anywhere.

It’s also a theory that makes testable predictions, largely about which fossils we are going to find and where, and how various DNA segments in different species will look. It can’t make the same sort of predictions as particle physics and chemistry because it’s an observational science, just like astronomy and geology, but it can predict that we will find trilobites in lower sediment layers than dinosaurs.

This is the contrast between good science and bad science. Good science makes testable predictions, for example about the location of fossils. Bad science makes no testable predictions – when biologists find a missing link, intelligent design proponents never say “I was wrong” but move to another missing link. Good science uses good math, for example in simulations of evolution. Bad science uses bad math, for example Dembski’s no-new-information thesis, which contradicts the tenets of modern information theory.

Having an equal debate between the two is pointless, because intelligent design is not a serious challenge to neo-Darwinism. The serious challenge to neo-Darwinism, evo-devo, concentrates on publishing peer-reviewed research and testing its own predictions rather than on shrilly demanding equal time in schools. Scientists don’t need to waste their time on arguing with proponents of any crackpot theory.

18 Responses to Intelligent Design Rebuttals

  1. whig says:

    Of course, intelligent evolution is an alternative little considered. Presuming that God is the consciousness pervading all life, and that life evolves, the mating and genetic variation which occurs as a consequence are exercises of some amount of conscious choice by one or both of the mates.

  2. Alon Levy says:

    That makes no sense from either a scientific or a religious perspective. Once you have abolished the need for a designer in evolution, it’s irrational to believe one nonetheless exists; Occam’s Razor is the key here. And although you could get away with saying that human mating is the result of choice, I’m not aware of any theology that considers bacteria to have any kind of free will.

  3. whig says:

    You are very rational, and you observe carefully. Be open to new perceptions if you don’t want to be confused.

    Many things exist that we do not see. Occam’s Razor is proper but not when you have excluded facts not in evidence.

  4. whig says:

    All life has free will, within limits.

  5. Alon Levy says:

    According to Occam’s Razor, we can conclude that these things exist, provided that there is evidence for them. For a good example, consider a point that was brought up by a fundamentalist in an online debate from a little over four years ago:

    “If you see an item lying on a table, you’ll see that it is motionless. So by Occam’s Razor, you’ll have to conclude that no force, including gravity, acts on it.”

    I replied, “Actually, we know from general principles that gravity does act on it. If we lift it and drop it, it will fall down. If it’s too heavy for the table to support, it will cause the table to crack and fall down. So by Occam’s Razor, we conclude that there is only one countering force acting on the item, the normal reaction.”

  6. whig says:

    That is fine and also a straw man argument.

    I am not a fundamentalist.

    There are facts not in evidence. That does not mean that every absurd claim is a fact.

  7. Alon Levy says:

    Oh, I’m not saying you’re a fundamentalist. I’m saying the person who brought this argument up was.

    Can you give an example of a fact not in evidence?

  8. whig says:

    Sure. Internal perceptions, which cannot be recorded and played back for others. Dreams, mental pictures, music, dialogue, all are possible, all could be considered facts for the person experiencing them, but could not be admitted into evidence.

    We have more than five senses.

  9. Alon Levy says:

    How do you know we have more than five senses?

  10. whig says:

    Well, even putting aside things like proprioception and other senses that are generally accepted, that are considered additional to sight, touch, hearing, taste and smell, I think I just gave a bunch.

    If you’ve never had any experience within yourself, then I cannot persuade you they exist.

  11. Eric says:

    Those ‘experiences’ that you have had are nothing more than chemical and electrical reactions happening in your brain. External forces may act on your brain, but the effects are reflected in your brain.


  12. Your Dad says:

    Evolutionary wishful thinking I presume.

  13. Charlie says:

    Could you publish your thoughts on this link please.

    I have a hard time seeing a link between gravity and evolution. Gravity and Evolution are not even on the same level of predictability, testability, and acceptance in the scientific community. Darwinism is completely false and has been proven so many times. Even Neo-Darwinism lacks a lot of observations and repeatable experiments for me to accept it as anything more than a atheist allegiance that it seems a lot in the scientific community use evolution to hold onto. I don’t think any rational procreational person would argue against something as generally accepted as micro evolution. The problem that lies with me is that micro evolution has lead many to believe in some kind of circular reasoning that macro evolution should then exist. There is not sufficient evidence or current observance right now to substantially argue for macro evolution to me. My biggest problem with evolution though is inorganic material becoming organic.

  14. Alon Levy says:

    I tinkered with your comment a little bit to fix your link. Next time, either use a href tags or don’t put a period right after the end, or WordPress will kill your link.

  15. whig says:

    Charlie, try making sourdough bread. Just some flour and water, and if you want you can add some honey, oil, spices and raisins. Feed it regularly and watch life evolve.

    My position is something more like intelligent evolution — we all do evolve on a micro and macro level when we make selections about what traits we want to have and how we choose to reproduce. You and I and all of us are able to make these kinds of choices unless they are forced upon us without consent, and that is one reason that abortion must be absolutely legal in order for women to have sovereignty equal to men.

    We make choices in our society to reinforce our evolutionary decisions, and to encourage people to agree with our ideas, but when one idea seems to be in conflict with another we have to find a way to coexist peacefully.

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