Best ID refutation yet: Ridiculing the ridiculous department.

I was digging through some old blogosphere notes today, and rediscovered Daniel Brooks’ account of his time at the false-colors conference purporting to be a commemoration of the famous — or infamous — 1967 Wistar conference “Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution.”

The conference turned out to be a deep embarrassment to the political commisars of the ID regiments.  Mixing highly qualified, articulate real biologists with ID advocates whose capacity for scientific argument has been dulled by too much preaching to the choir turned out to be a bad idea. So much so, that, to the amusement of many in the science blogging community, the conference organizers then tried to gag participants, emailing them after the fact that “the ID people considered the conference a private meeting,and did not want any of us to discuss it, blog it, or publish anything about it.”

Fortunately, Brooks ignored this ex post facto nonsense — leading to a fair amount of (still accumulating) science blogospheric coverage of the topic.  Even so, to my knowledge, no one has highlighted one of the my favorite moments in Brooks account of the whole sorry affair.

So, to help brighten everyone’s Monday, let me quote one of the most pleasing rhetorical bludgeonings of ID I’ve yet read. In his dissection of Stephen Meyer’s talk, Brooks methodically went through the premises stated and the conclusions drawn. The last of Meyer’s allegedly proven claims held that “layered informational hierarchies arise only from intelligent agents.” To this, Brooks replies

…it is time for them to retire the assertion that ID wins over evolution on the basis that “There is not enough information in any given microbe right now to generate all the rest of the species on the planet.” This is silly, and does not help their cause. It is trivially true that no contemporary microbe frozen in time and space contains all the genetic diversity of all the species on this planet. But evolution is about descent with modification and neither descent nor modification play any role in the ID discussions.

Then — and here comes the object lesson: don’t mess with folks who (a) know what they are talking about and (b) know how to stick the rhetorical shiv between one’s ribs — Brooks provided the illustration to make his point unforgettable.

Using their reasoning, I have no daughter because there’s not enough information in me to generate her. That does not mean she was produced by the intervention of a supernatural designer. It is true that during the mechanical process that produced her, I may have invoked the name of the Deity at the height of ecstasy. But I know who was in the room at the time of conception, and my daughter is a wonderful combination of the material traits of both of those people, in addition to having many wonderful traits of her own, some of which appear in her children. I personally do not want ID to take away that strong sense of personal connection among the generations.

Just in case the barb failed to hook even the dullest of intellects, consider Brooks’ treatment of Michael Behe, Lehigh University’s disowned ID propagandist. Behe is, as Brooks wrote

…the primary reference for the ID concept of irreducible complexity (which is rebranding the argument from design better articulated by Enlightenment philosophers)…

However, as Brooks noted, even this stalwart defender of astrology as science may have a hidden Darwinian bias any worthwhile therapist would wish to explore…

…his introducer pointed out that Behe has 9 children (1 fewer than Darwin, but 1 more than Thomas Huxley, Darwin’s bulldog). If they were produced by the same mechanism as my daughter, it would seem that, whatever his religious beliefs, Behe has been hedging his bets by increasing his Darwinian fitness as much as possible.

The moral: don’t mess with folks both cleverer and funnier than you.

Happy Monday. Now back to book and grant. (I asked for the job, mate, as a long-ago PA reminded me when whinging at the end of some long shoot day. I was, at the time, just coming down with Hepatitis A, so, unknowing, I had some excuse for complaint. But still, she was right.)

Images: Cercopithecus Diana, Illustration from The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, New York: D. Appleton, 1872, volume 2, page 297. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Charles Wilson Peale, “The Peale Family,” 1771-1773. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Explore posts in the same categories: bad ideas, bad science, Darwin, evolution, Fundamentalisms, geek humor, good public communication of science, ridicule, Sex, Uncategorized

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4 Comments on “Best ID refutation yet: Ridiculing the ridiculous department.”

  1. blilley Says:

    The last of Meyer’s allegedly proven claims held that “layered informational hierarchies arise only from intelligent agents.” To this, Brooks replies

    …it is time for them to retire the assertion that ID wins over evolution on the basis that “There is not enough information in any given microbe right now to generate all the rest of the species on the planet.” This is silly, and does not help their cause. It is trivially true that no contemporary microbe frozen in time and space contains all the genetic diversity of all the species on this planet. But evolution is about descent with modification and neither descent nor modification play any role in the ID discussions.

    Consider me the dullest of intellects, but Brooks ‘refutation’ simply assumes the very thing in question; namely, a causally adequate explanation for origin of biological information. How do you know that descent with modifcation is the causal mechanism? Well, he says, every living thing is the product of descent with modification, that’s how. In other words, it must have happened that way! He has a daughter!

    Brooks says, “…using their reasoning, I have no daughter because there’s not enough information in me to generate her. That does not mean she was produced by the intervention of a supernatural designer.” Leaving aside the “supernatural” strawman, Brooks simply assumes the biological information contained in the co-party to his offspring’s conception – he does not actually account for it in Darwinian terms.

    Cordially,

  2. Chad Says:

    How specifically is the supernatural reference a strawman? It’s “intelligent design” meaning there is an “intelligent designer.” Do you have some other interpretation of ID that invokes a designer that is not supernatural?

  3. blilley Says:

    How specifically is the supernatural reference a strawman?

    “Supernatural” is a strawman because “natural” versus “supernatural” is a false dichotomy that misprepresents the nature of intelligent design. The correct contrast is between directed or intelligent processes versus a random, or undirected processes. ID, properly understood, is a direct scientific inference; it does not depend on a single religious or “supernatural” premise for its conclusions. Since it is properly limited to what empirical evidence will support it doesn’t investigate religious claims.

    Do you have some other interpretation of ID that invokes a designer that is not supernatural?
    “Supernatural”, by definition, is beyond the scope of science, so the scientific method provides no answer to your question. For all we know super smart extraterrestrials could have engineered life and seeded it here, and if that were somehow discovered to be what happened I don’t think you would call such designers “supernatural”. If I happen to come across an arrangement of sand on the beach that looks like it spells, “John loves Mary, I don’t have to know who put it there to know that it was the product of intelligence, as opposed to something that resulted from the incoming tide.

    Cordially,


  4. “John loves Mary, I don’t have to know who put it there to know that it was the product of intelligence, as opposed to something that resulted from the incoming tide.

    This intuition is not generalizable. There’s a face on Mars. Is it from an intelligent designer? How about the window fog or the pretzel that looks to a few of the faithful like the Virgin Mary? Did they come from God? Random variation is hard to recognize as such in all cases.

    The problem of ID is that it posits a designer to fill in gaps of ignorance without subjecting the designer to empirical tests. Sounds supernatural to me, though it might be better to call it metaphysical. The LGM example only pushes the designer back a step. If the ETs coded us up in an RNA/DNA generator, yet they had evolved naturally without a designer, that would confirm evolution. If they had a designer, you’re just pushing your theoretical and methodological problems back a generation, with no empirical justification.

    ID is not a “direct scientific inference”. Never mind that it was explicitly concocted to evade U.S. case law; it could conceivably still be valid. The thrust of ID is this: “We can’t figure it out, so it must’ve happened by design.” And that’s just not science. Science would be: “We can’t figure it out. Yet.”


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