What the Radio Didn't Tell You - November 21, 2004
This press release was compiled by Casey Luskin and two other IDEA Center staff members.
On November 21, 2004, IDEA Co-President Casey Luskin was invited to speak on a radio talk show PowerPointRadio. The IDEA Center was honored that host Carmen Burns and producer Rose Marie Holmes invited the IDEA Center to participate in the debate. It was a wonderful experience, and Ms. Burns did a good job of moderating two Darwinists (Dr. Barbara Forrest and Dr. David Schwimmer) and two intelligent design-proponents (John Calvert and Casey Luskin). We would like to thank all who participated, including our host Carmen Burns and those representing the "evolutionist" contingency, Barbara Forrest and David Schwimmer. Though there were lively disagreements, we were pleased that all stuck to issues, treated others with respect, and made no personal attacks during the discussion.
The purpose of this press release is to analyze some of the claims made by Drs. Forrest and Schwimmer. Before elaborating on those claims, readers need to know the context of this discussion. Because ID proponents are sometimes accused of not being forthright about their beliefs, it would be helpful to understand the beliefs of Casey Luskin:
Casey is also religious. He believes that the identity of the designer is the God of the Bible. However, he believes this because of religious reasons, because of faith and divine revelation, which have nothing to do with intelligent design theory. Casey’s beliefs about the identity of the designer are NOT based upon scientific reasoning. ID theory cannot identify the designer because the data do not permit one to identify the designer. All ID theory permits one to do is to conclude that there was some intelligent agency involved in the origin of an object—to identify the designer goes beyond what can be inferred through the scientific method.
Casey believes that God could have chosen to create any way He wanted. He may have chosen to create some things through natural processes like the Darwinian mechanism, or He may have chosen to create some things through miracles. Casey doesn’t think you can identify that God specifically did miracles through the scientific method. But you can detect where intelligent agency infused lots of information into the natural world and where various naturalistic explanations for the origin of biological information fail. If one limit to scientific questions, this can make for a very interesting and exciting scientific investigation.
Point 1: Does ID make supernatural claims?
Both Drs. Forrest and Schwimmer seemed to allude that ID made supernatural claims. This is simply not the case. While ID proponents often discuss their belief that the designer is God, they are clear that limitations on the scope of the data and scientific inquiry do not permit the theory to identify the designer. Thus Dembski writes (before a religious audience):
Thus, it seems clear that ID is making claims that some intelligence is responsible for designing at least some aspects life—but that is all that can be inferred. The actual designer or nature of the intelligence cannot be inferred from the data.
Point 2: Is there a debate over evolution?
Both Dr. Forrest and Dr. Schwimmer contended that there is no controversy among scientists over evolution.
Evolution, properly defined, simply means change through time. While the overall concept of species' change over time is undoubted, the precise mechanism of change is what is being questioned. The scientific literature is rife with examples of scientists questioning the mechanism of evolution and other explanations for the origin of biological complexity. It is precisely this debate which allows room for alternative scientific hypotheses such as intelligent design theory. For a listing of various articles which show that there is much room for further investigation and debate, see "http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?command=view&id=1127 (many of the articles are by committed evolutionist scientists, but the articles reveal places where there is legitimate room for critical debate over the evolutionary mechanism).
Let's take one example from a fairly well known anti-intelligent (i.e. evolution only) website, TalkOrigins. Consider their page regarding Evolution is a Fact and a Theory, in which the last sentence of their first paragraph states:
There are several other portions of that link that are quite similar to those statements (i.e. evolution is a fact, but we're not sure of the mechanism).
This is getting the carriage in front of the horse. In other words, evolutionists are sure that all of evolution is a FACT, and yet unsure of the particular mechanisms involved. Clearly, there are problems with this line of thinking - what is actually being said is a statement of faith - "we're sure this happened, but we're not sure how it happened." The idea of not being sure of the mechanism is exactly the main problem with evolutionary biology - it is the mutation-selection mechanism that is in question based on the evidence. It cannot be claimed that evolution is a fact if the mechanism is unknown. In other words, evolutionists assume the very thing it is they are trying to prove in order to make a supposedly "factual" statement.
Nevertheless, it goes without saying that most scientists do not question evolution. One key point which was only briefly alluded to on the radio by John Calvert is that there is a tendency among scientists to not question reigning paradigms such as evolution. The famous philosopher and historian of science, Thomas Kuhn, in “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” notes that scientists often do not question the orthodoxy which reigns over the field which they study.
Essentially, Kuhn explains, scientists operate under a “paradigm,” which is an overarching theory that provides a framework for interpreting data, performing experiments, and doing further research. Paradigms are typically unquestioned, and reign over thinking in science much like the established law reigns over a system of courts.
In school, aspiring scientists are trained to think, research, and advance the paradigm. Today, the overarching paradigm governing biological origins research and thought is Darwinian evolution. Kuhn writes:
Kuhn notes that questioning the paradigm requires not only individual changes in scientific thought, but can also require a change in methods, equipment, and capital resources. (However, this is not necessarily always the case.) Additionally, it should be noted that teaching methods and even the governing structure of scientific fields must be altered in response to a new paradigm. Furthermore, scientists trained in the “old paradigm” often have years of research, and perhaps their entire life’s work invested into investigating that paradigm. Scientific communities have essentially countless dollars invested into upholding a particular paradigm. Journals committed to the paradigm represent millions of dollars spent performing thousands of experiments done by hundreds of researchers at dozens of institutions. These researchers have invested their entire lives and careers in advancing a given paradigm. Switching paradigms requires what Kuhn calls “retooling,” which requires great energy expenditure and is difficult. Kuhn writes that scientists of the old paradigm often have, "an immense restriction of the scientists' vision and a considerable resistance to paradigm change." (Kuhn, T., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd Ed, 1970, Univ of Chicago Press, pg. 64)
Thus, we would expect that there is tremendous pressure in the scientific community to not question currently held notions of natural mechanisms driving evolution. To catch a glimpse of this pressure, consider the response Michael Behe received when he submitted an article questioning traditional evolutionary mechanisms to a mainstream scientific journal:
I would like to encourage you to seek new evidence for your views, but of course, that evidence would likely fall outside of the scientific paradigm, or would basically be denials of conventional explanations. You are in for some tough sledding. (response 2) (See Michael J. Behe, “Correspondence With Science Journals: Response to Critics Concerning Peer Review,” (August 2, 2000) )
Among scientists, skepticism of new ideas is perhaps expected. After all, scientists are trained to be skeptical, and skepticism is a good value for scientists. However, they are often not trained to be skeptical about the old overarching paradigm. For many individual scientists, switching over to the new paradigm could jeopardize their very career--especially given the skepticism with which new ideas are met. Kuhn notes that paradigms tend to introduce rules and shared beliefs into the scientific community which guide normal science. Yet when a paradigm begins to weaken, rules are often constructed to define proper scientific methods which can "protect" the paradigm. Kuhn also notes that normal science opposes these new ideas. Debates often break out between people who doubt the current paradigm and want a new set of rules, and those who want to protect the current paradigm through a set of stringent rules.
Thus, most scientific literature does not critically test evolutionary theory but rather assumes its truth, and Darwin's theory is often mentioned only briefly and as a tangent to the main thrust of the research. For example, a paper outlining a specific mechanism for action of a given key enzyme for metabolism might pay homage to Darwin by postulating a vague, theoretically vacuous speculation of a selective pressure which in the past might have given rise to that enzyme. Darwinists are fond of citing such examples as critical proof of their theory when in fact, such examples simply assume the truth of that theory and provide no evidence for the theory. Indeed, one may easily reinterpret much of this sort of speculation in light of intelligent design and make a stronger case for the necessity of intelligent causation in the structure/system in question. For the relatively small proportion of that overall literature which does deal specifically with testing Darwin's theory, there are two inevitable outcomes:
1) small changes are demonstrated convincingly, however such changes are trivial and fail to demonstrate how novel biological structures, systems, body plans, etc. could have arisen, or
2) grand evolutionary change is postulated but the supporting evidence is invariably weak, leaving open an opportunity to better explain the data through intelligent design.
Finally, it is fair to say that much of biological research is a form of reverse engineering and might be considered a form of intelligent design research. Scientists who discover a novel protein or structure rarely assume it is functionless or that it might be an evolutionary leftover, bur rather assume that if it's present, it must have function. More often than not, this turns out to be the case, and inevitably, such research (based more on engineering and design thinking) provides the driving engine for research. Currently utilized clever engineering principles, such as specialized knockout systems, is another example where design thinking is already key to biological research.
In conclusion, the point here is NOT that dissent from evolutionary theory is being suppressed due to some sort of a vast widespread conspiracy. Rather we have good reason to expect, from the history of science that even good, but paradigm-challenging or novel scientific claims may be met with great skepticism and resistance from the scientific community. Two examples of these are Maxwell's equations of electro-magnetism and the Big Bang. Both of these experienced a fair amount of resistance prior to their acceptance. On two counts, thus, we may expect that novelty of intelligent design theory in understanding biosphere origins and development would provoke resistance: 1) intelligent design theory makes novel scientific claims, and 2) intelligent design theory employs a novel methodological approach to origins science. It is possible that intelligent design is resisted not because of some kind of lack of support for its claims but simply because of resistance to the novelties inherent within those claims.
Point 3: Has ID really been refuted by scientists?
Dr. Schwimmer asserted that ID has been refuted by scientists. Barbara Forrest asserted that Dembski's application has been critiqued and refuted by qualified scientists.
Essentially, their claim that ID has been refuted is a bluff. For example, let’s take a core claim of the ID research community: that the bacterial flagellum is irreducibly complex. Because there is no evolutionary precursor for the flagellum, nearly all Darwinist attempts to “refute” this claim, and explain how the flagellum evolved have postulated a “Type III secretory-system (TTSS) type precursor to the flagellum." The problem with this model is that the TTSS actually evolved from the flagellum according to the best research (Nyugen et al, Phylogenetic analyses of the constituents of Type III protein secretion systems, J Mol Microbiol Biotechnol 2000 Apr;2(2):125-44) and there is good reason for this: it serves to inject toxins into host cells. Given that the host cells (eukaryotes) didn't appear in the fossil record for billions of years after bacteria (and their flagella) evolved, it makes sense why the flagella arose first, and the TTSS later. Furthermore, the phylogenetic trees of flagellar proteins look very similar to trees built from other bacterial proteins, but TTSSs actually don't build a similar type of tree--suggesting that the TTSSs evolved later and was transferred horizontally by lateral gene transfer. Without a type III secretory system, the Darwinist has no biologically plausible precursor for the bacterial flagellum, and hence the power of the intelligent design argument from irreducible complexity returns with full force. Finally, the TTSS only has 10 proteins homologous to the bacterial flagellum. Thus, it only can purport to explain the origin of about 1/3 of the total proteins in the flagellum and its construction; 2/3 of flagellar proteins are without homologues in such a coherent system. The irreducible complexity of the flagellum has not been refuted by any means—and claims that ID has been wholly refuted are bluffs.
Regarding the second claim made regarding Dembski’s application of his explanatory filter, refer to Point 8 below. In a nutshell, Dembski does apply his explanatory filter successfully to the bacterial flagellum in chapter 5 of No Free Lunch, contrary to the claims made by prominent Darwinists.
Point 4: The ID Movement has scholars who are not Jews or Christians.
Dr. Schwimmer implied that this is just a religious movement comprised of people who believe in the Judeo-Christian God. While many ID proponents do believe in God, they do so for religious reasons--which are not related to intelligent design theory. However, although many, if not most, people in the ID movement are Christians or Jews, the fellows of the International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design (ISCID) represent individuals from a variety of religious viewpoints. Indeed, even the back cover of Dembski’s book No Free Lunch has endorsements from Christians, a Jew, and a Muslim. Furthermore, there are ID proponents that are not religious at all - such as David Berlinski, Todd Moody, and the Raelians (mentioned in Point 1). Thus, there is diversity within the ID movement, the presence of which makes it difficult to claim this is just about religion.
Point 5: ID is NOT just about religion and the ID Movement has published its research.
While on the show, IDEA staffers noticed a stark trend among the Darwinists: emphasize any religious connections of ID and de-emphasize its scientific connections. In particular, Dr. Forrest seemed to imply that ID is mostly about religion. While there are many who have hijacked the science ID movement for religious causes, this does not deny that there is a small but growing base of scientific research behind the ID movement. One website not mentioned by the Darwinists is the International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design (ISCID.org) which is an online ID research community. On their archive and in their journal, web-surfers can find a large amount of information about the science of ID.
The claim was also made that Dembski is not qualified to speak to this subject because he's not a "scientist." While Dr. Forrest did acknowledge that he's a philosopher and a mathematician, this misses the point. Dembski's work on statistical analysis and ID has employed both math and philosophy to provide a theoretical basis for detecting design. Most of what Dembski has done is theoretical. His theories have been put into practice by various scientists in the ID movement. It is not uncommon for statisticians or philosophers to make contributions to science in terms of deciding what can be determined. Dembski may not be doing lab experiments, but he is capable of systems analysis which has permitted him to apply his ideas to biological systems which have already been elucidated in the lab by biologists. For example, in his book No Free Lunch, Dembski applies his ideas to the bacterial flagellum.
Additionally, Drs. Forrest and Schwimmer repeatedly made statements to the effect that the ID movement has no science, and that it is just about religion. Yet they failed to mention the many scientific publications of ID proponents. Below is a brief list of some of that peer reviewed published research.
Michael J. Behe & David W. Snoke, “Simulating evolution by gene duplication of protein features that require multiple amino acid residues,” Protein Science (13) 2004 (13).
Michael J. Behe, Answering Scientific Criticisms of Intelligent Design, The Proceedings of the Wethersfield Institute 146-147 (Ignatius Press 2000)
Michael J. Behe, Darwin's Black Box (Free Press 1996).
William A. Dembski, The Design Inference (Cambridge University Press 1998).
William A. Dembski, No Free Lunch (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002).
Also, see various essays in Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing (ISI Books, 2004), in particular, the essays by: (Cornelius G. Hunter: Why Evolution Fails the Test of Science; Roland F. Hirsch: Darwinian Evolutionary Theory and the Life Sciences in the Twenty-First Century; David Berlinski: The Fossil Record is Incomplete, The Reasoning is Flawed: Is the Theory of Evolution Fit to Survive?).
Debating Design (Cambridge University Press, 2004). (William A. Dembski: The Logical Underpinnings of Intelligent Design; Walter L. Bradley: Information, Entropy, and the Origin of Life; Michael J. Behe: Irreducible Complexity: Obstacle to Darwinian Evolution; Stephen C. Meyer: The Cambrian Information Explosion).
Mere Creation (InterVarsity Press, 1998). (Michael J. Behe: Intelligent Design Theory as a Tool for Analyzing Biochemical Systems; Siegfried Scherer: Basic Types of Life; Sigrid Hartwig-Scherer: Apes or Ancestors?; Jeffrey P. Schloss: Evolutionary Accounts of Altruism and the Problem of Goodness and Design; and also various essays regarding design in the cosmos and other aspects of the universe (see pgs. 363-445)
Point 6: Questioning evolution is not outside of mainstream religion.
Barbara Forrest made the claim that questioning traditional naturalistic evolutionary models is outside of mainstream religion, but it would appear it is a claim not supported by the evidence. According to various polls (cited in Table 2.2 from Giberson & Yerxa, Species of Origins America’s Search for a Creation Story (Rowman & Littlefield 2002), pg. 54), between 82 and 87 percent of Americans believe that the processes which created humans required at least some oversight and supervision by God, which is contrary to the currently held purely naturalistic, unguided process of evolution. This represents Americans in general, and not just religious Americans. Thus, it seems obvious that if anything, it is not outside the mainstream to question evolution if you are a religious person.
Point 7: Have ID proponents actually argued for ID?
On the show, Dr. Schwimmer implied that ID proponents have never argued for ID in a peer reviewed journal article. Dr. Schwimmer is incorrect as Stephen Meyer did just that in a recent article which was peer reviewed:
Stephen C. Meyer, “The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories,” Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 117(2) (August, 2004):213-239.
Meyer argues, “An experience-based analysis of the causal powers of various explanatory hypotheses suggests purposive or intelligent design as adequate—and perhaps the most causally adequate—explanation for the origin of the complex specified information required to build the Cambrian animals and the novel forms they represent.” (pg. 234).
ID proponents have argued for ID in mainstream journal articles. However, they have also pressed the case for design in many other arenas, including books such as Uncommon Dissent, No Free Lunch, Debating Design, The Design Inference, Darwin, Design, and Public Education, Darwin’s Black Box, and Science and Evidence for Design in the Universe.
Point 8: Has William Dembski applied his methodology?
Wesley Elsberry, a biologist, known critic of William Dembski, and an NCSE staff member, called in to the show and claimed that Dembski had never successfully applied his ideas. Casey Luskin replied that Wesley was wrong because Dembski had done that in No Free Lunch where he calculated the probability of evolving a flagellum. Wesley replied on his blog that Casey was wrong because “Dembski failed to eliminated any evolutionary hypothesis of origin for the E. coli flagellum. The singled hypothesis Dembski considered was one of random assembly, a thoroughly non-evolutionary proposition.” (emphasis in original)
Elsberry, who is a nice enough guy in person, apparently took some offense at the disagreement. [11/22/04: Casey has removed the part discussing the inappropriateness of namecalling and using inflammatory rhetoric, and he thanks Wesley for cleaning up his response. Wesley is to be commended for doing that.]
To be sure, Wesley is probably one of Dembski’s foremost critics and is surely very familiar with Dembski's work. All of Wesley’s criticism’s may not hold up, but it should be stated that Wesley undoubtedly has a good feel for where Dembski needs to clarify his work. Regardless, the response to Wesley's latest claims on his blog are simple:
In Dembski’s book, No Free Lunch, in Chapter 5, Dembski calculates the level of CSI in the flagellum (Chapter 5). Dembski discusses at length the definition of irreducible complexity how the combination of chance and law, (via the Darwinian mechanism) could not assemble it (pages 279-288) and then Dembski does a calculation of the level of complex and specified information in the flagellum. Dembski specifically tests the flagellum with regards to the Darwinian mechanism, contrary to Wesley's claims. Thus, Dembski writes:
Also, in contrast to Wesley's first point, it appears that Dembski does exactly what Wesley claims Dembski didn't do: provide a specification for the flagellum:
Finally, while on the air Casey did not make anything up regarding William Dembski’s work in No Free Lunch. Wesley claimed that Dembski hadn’t applied his methodology. Casey simply replied that Dembski had applied his ideas. Dembski has applied his notion of complex and specified information (CSI) to the bacterial flagellum in chapter 5 of No Free Lunch where he calculates the level of CSI in the flagellum. Wesley probably thinks that none of Dembski’s applications are ever “successful," and perhaps one would expect no less from such a devoted critic. But Wesley’s claim against Dembski was extremely broad, as Wesley stated Dembski “has never shown the full and successful application of his concept to any phenomenon whatsoever.” Such a broad claim which would seem to be refuted by the many examples which Dembski runs through the explanatory filter in his books. This includes human phenomena (election control, TDI pg. 9-20, intellectual property protection, TDI pg. 20-22; forensic science, TDI pg. 22-24; data falsification in science, TDI pg. 24-26; cryptography, pg. 26…) and non-human phenomena (SETI, TDI pg. 26-32; general randomness, pg 32-35; simple lifeforms, TDI pg. 55-62; the bacterial flagellum, NFL pg 279-302). In any case, whether or not Dembski can successfully apply his ideas is a matter of debate—Dembski has dealt with many problems regarding false positives, false negatives, and clearly defined his terms (see, for example, The Design Revolution, where Dembski addresses a large number of such objections). Dembski’s ideas can be applied in science—we can calculate the level of CSI in a biological structure, just as Dembski does for the flagellum in ch. 5 of No Free Lunch.
[Edit on 11/22/04: some parts here were deleted which were in response to Wesley Elsberry, after Wesley Elsberry kindly removed some unnecessary and inflammatory rhetoric from his weblog. Again, Wesley is to be commended for doing the right thing and removing unnecessary (and completely unjustified) moral accusations from his blog. Thanks to all who are making an effort to keep this debate clean and focused on issues!]
There are a variety of other issues which could be dealt with from the show today. Unfortunately, time is short and we have a number of FAQs which may help readers learn more about answers to frequent objections and questions regarding ID. Thanks for reading!
--IDEA Center Staff.
[editing notes: edited for spelling errors, 12/04]
[editing notes by Ryan Huxley: edited for additional spelling/gramatical errors and clarification and additional points made in various sections; no edits made to Point 8, 12/27/04]