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Would You Like Fries With That Theory? Part Two

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June 21, 2010 Tags: Christianity & Science - Then and Now
Would You Like Fries With That Theory? Part Two

Today's entry was written by Karl Giberson. You can read more about what we believe here.

The first part of this series can be found here.

My blog about the importance of taking scientific consensus seriously generated some heated response from several directions, most noticeably over at Uncommon Descent, the Intelligent Design blog run by William Dembski. This is a critically important issue for the Intelligent Design community because its whole approach to origins requires that it set aside scientific consensus in favor of alternative views accepted by less than 1% of practicing biologists. ID requires that there be some criteria other than consensus for the evaluation of what constitutes “science.”

A variety of arguments are provided to support this, which I would like to examine over the next few months. I will start with the historical argument first.

Dembski writes: “If the history of science is any indicator, every scientific theory has faults and is eventually abandoned in favor of a better, more accurate theory. Why should we expect any different from evolutionary theory?”

I find it hard to understand what Dembski means by this. He speaks of every theory. If he had said some theories, he would OK. But every theory? Over two thousand years ago Greeks developed, to consider one example, a theory that the earth was round and not flat. Their reasoning was quite ingenious and included observations like the shape of the earth’s shadow on the moon during an eclipse, and the way a ship appeared to sink down as it sailed out to sea. This theory seems quite secure to me and unlikely to be abandoned. In fact this idea is now a simple fact, as photographed from space.

Two millennia after the enduring success of the round earth theory, Copernicus developed a theory that the earth was moving. To be sure, this overturned a theory that the earth was stationary, but are we really supposed to believe that the motion of the earth will be “eventually abandoned” in favor of a “more accurate theory”?

Let’s take a stroll through science and look at some of the central ideas: electrons and protons have equal and opposite charges while neutrons are uncharged; radio waves travel at the speed of light; the orbits of electrons are fixed to certain positions and cannot be anywhere in the atom; stars shine by fusing nuclei; the universe is expanding; disorder increases through time. These theories once seemed speculative and controversial but now they represent the consensus of the scientific community. Are we really being asked to believe they will one day be overturned?

The history of science does not suggest that theories are abandoned. Scientific progress occurs most commonly when theories are refined and extended. Physicists did not abandon Newton’s theory of optics in the 19th century--it was extended and refined with the discovery that visible light, radio waves and infrared radiation were all part of a continuous electromagnetic spectrum. Similarly, the “solar system” model of the atom was not abandoned when it was discovered that the nucleus had both protons and neutrons in it. And that nuclear model was not abandoned when it was discovered that protons and neutrons are composed of quarks.

So how about evolution? Is it reasonable to hold out hope that it will one day be abandoned? The situation with evolution is quite the reverse. Evolution has been around for over 150 years and remains within the broad outlines traced by Darwin in The Origin of Species. During that period it has become steadily stronger and more successful at explaining the natural world. When DNA was discovered, for example, it fit evolutionary theory exactly, confirming Darwin’s intuition about how natural selection had to work. And when the mapping of genomes of multiple species began a few years ago, the data confirmed the ancestral patterns that had been developed based on comparative anatomy and other approaches.

The consensus that exists now about evolution is close to 100% of research biologists. Comparative anatomists, geneticists, cell biologists, paleontologists, embryologists and every other sub-field of biology have all compared their data with each other and found that evolution ties it all together and makes it into a remarkably coherent system. This conclusion is so broad and based on so many different technical fields that I cannot imagine how a layperson could even begin to understand it well enough to decide that all these experts were wrong.

Thomas Cudworth, also on the Uncommon Descent blog, is appalled at my consensus argument, which he summarizes as “everyone should defer to the majority of evolutionary biologists simply because they are the certified experts.” Leaving aside the fact that “certified expert” is not a label in use in the scientific community, Cudworth is properly stating my position. A simpler way to put it would be like this, however: People who know a lot about a subject are more likely to be correct when they speak about it than people who know very little.

Is a challenge really being made to this statement? Are we really to believe that it is acceptable to put the conclusions of people who know very little ahead of those who know a lot? If I, a physicist who took my last biology class in 1975, decide to challenge Francis Collins on a question of genetics, should anyone listen to me, just because they like my “science” better? (Please don’t, if I go off the rails and do something like this.)

And why is this “everyman science” proposed only in the area of biology? Can we apply Cudworth’s argument to physics and astronomy? If I can find three trained astronomers who are absolutely certain that astrology is valid, does this mean we should consider setting aside the consensus view from tens of thousands of other astronomers who think the opposite? If I find three psychologists who believe the stories of alien abductions, does that idea become worthy of consideration? How about three historians who deny the Holocaust?

The sad truth of the matter is that the argument made against the validity of consensus in science is selectively applied only to evolution and only because the ID movement has no choice. Its confident predictions of a decade ago that evolution was tottering and would soon collapse have not come true. The consensus remains against ID and so the consensus must be wrong.

Dr. Karl Giberson is a physicist, scholar, and author specializing in the creation-evolution debate. He has published hundreds of articles, reviews and essays for Web sites and journals including Salon.com, Books & Culture, and the Huffington Post. Dr. Giberson has written or co-written ten books, including Saving Darwin, The Language of Science & Faith, and The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age. He is currently a faculty member at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, where he serves as the Scholar-in-Residence in science and religion.

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Rich - #18243

June 21st 2010


I see that you are unaware of the definition of “intelligent design” that is used by its proponents.  I suggest you spend some time searching the Discovery web site.  Find all the articles which give a definition of intelligent design.  Give me the links for those definitions which indicate that the detection of intelligent design involves postulating supernatural causes.  And when you come up blank, tell me by what right you change the definition of intelligent design to something different from that used by its proponents.

By the way, do you have any idea what “teleological” means?  (Quick: look it up on the web before you reply, so you can give the impression of having known it all along!)

Glen Davidson - #18244

June 21st 2010

But if that counts against design, then certainly all the rationality in the cell counts for it?

You ignore the fact that there is absolutely no evidence of rational design in the cell, just to repeat one of ID’s false claims.

Sorry, we need evidence of any rationality behind “wild-type” life, and you IDists continue to fail to produce any.  That’s where Paley failed, and where you and yours continually fail.

Seventh, but I was showing you that ID is in fact replicable.

So, your “designer” did what Venter did?  You know very well that Venter replicated nothing of the origins of life.  Even your average DI propagandist claims that it’s merely a kind of copying, no matter how many times they have claimed that copying nature is indicative of original design (an incomprehensible claim made without any basis). 

Why they switch now I don’t know, but since you clearly do little other than to repeat what they say, you should be held to their statements in this case.

Above all, if you think that Venter’s work is a replication of ID claims, you must know that the Designer was a human like Venter.  How?

Glen Davidson

Glen Davidson - #18247

June 21st 2010

Sorry, Glen, I don’t understand why you criticize ID of not being replicable, but then react the way you do when I turn the tables, and ignore the fact that Venter replicated a genome.

I didn’t ignore it, and you clearly are wrong in jumping the gun like that.

True, I didn’t understand you to be making such an unsupportable and unscientific claim when you first plonked that out.  It’s because Venter did no such thing, and you haven’t in the slightest supported such a bizarre statement.

So again, what do you think the “philosophical implications” were that he was talking about?

Not something as unsupported as the idea that copying nature indicates that it was made intelligently.  And the truth is, I doubt that he’s correct that there are any especial philosophical implications from his success.

You need to learn what causation and replication mean in science, Bilbo.

Glen Davidson

Glen Davidson - #18249

June 21st 2010

Or to put it another way, replication in science would involve some other team than Venter’s replicating a genome and getting it to direct and to replicate in the cell. 

Venter’s claim to fame in that is in creating “artificial life.”  Just as “artificial earthquakes” might be used to understand the “real thing.”

Just because we can create facsimiles of earthquakes in labs does not mean that a god is responsible for earthquakes.

The most amazing thing I have ever noticed about ID is how it is able to mis-educate people about science.  True, most that repeat their claims are willingly mis-educated, but clearly ID is a threat to all of science, since it so badly misrepresents what science is about, and what it does.

Glen Davidson

Glen Davidson - #18253

June 21st 2010

Casey Luskin wrote and quoted for the CSC:

In contrast to Caplan’s exaggerated claims, CalTech biologist and Nobel laureate David Baltimore said that Venter has “overplayed the importance” of his results, which represent “a technical tour de force” rather than a scientific breakthrough. Venter “has not created life, only mimicked it,” Baltimore said.

Boston University bioengineer James Collins called Venter’s work:

an important advance in our ability to re-engineer organisms, not make new life from scratch. Frankly, scientists don’t know enough about biology to create life. Although the Human Genome Project has expanded the parts list for cells, there is no instruction manual for putting them together to produce a living cell. It is like trying to assemble an operational jumbo jet from its parts list—impossible. Although some of us in synthetic biology have delusions of grandeur, our goals are much more modest.

Found here.

Glen Davidson

Glen Davidson - #18254

June 21st 2010

Dr. Stephen Meyer was teaching at a Fine Arts Christian college, when one of his students boldly approached with the question; “Why can’t someone give you reasons for your faith”?. Dr. Meyer realized that the importance of this question probably existed within the hearts and minds of many young people, and he set out to teach a series of classes that address the world’s most daunting question: Does God Exist? Set forth in a visually stimulating, intelligent, witty and articulate DVD format, everyone now has access to Dr. Meyer’s classes and can become equipped to deal with subjects such as The Big Bang Cosmology, DNA, The God Hypothesis and The Moral Necessity of Theism. This DVD set is accompanied by a small book that includes questions to spark further dialogue regarding the topics discussed in the classroom.

Glen Davidson

Glen Davidson - #18255

June 21st 2010

The “stage” for this DVD series is a college classroom, and each class lasts approximately an hour if the introductory statements of the “host” are included. Dr. Meyer is a fantastic speaker and has the rare ability to break down complex scientific concepts into interesting and easily understood ideas that anyone can use. This DVD set is meant to be a teaching tool to equip young people to stand ready to give an answer when the world approaches them with scientific evidence meant to destroy the concept of God’s existence. Dr. Meyer carefully and convincingly demonstrates that there is actually more scientific evidence for God’s existence than evidence that would disprove His presence, and leaves everyone well equipped to engage in intelligent conversation with those who are devoted to disbelief. While God alone can change the heart of men and women from unbelief to that of personal faith, Dr. Meyer, Focus on the Family and the U True team have created a phenomenal DVD series that will deepen the understanding of God’s presence in every aspect of the universe.

Reference for this review.

Glen Davidson

HornSpiel - #18261

June 21st 2010

This DVD set is meant to be a teaching tool to equip young people to stand ready to give an answer when the world approaches them with scientific evidence meant to destroy the concept of God’s existence.

This is the kind of statement which indicates to me that ID is an apologetic, not scientific, endeavor.

Science is not opposed to faith and ID is a misguided way to address the question of “scientific evidence for [or against] God’s existence” because frankly there is none. Intellectually is a philosophical question. And as I believe the Bible teaches faith and belief is never ultimately an intellectual decision but rather a result of the Spirit of God touching our spirit.

This touches on another troubling aspect of ID. That it somehow compels belief in a Super Intelligent Designer. The implication for faith is grievous.

beaglelady - #18264

June 21st 2010

This is the kind of statement which indicates to me that ID is an apologetic, not scientific, endeavor.

But it’s not about religion, not at all. Just hearken unto the cdesign proponentsists and you’ll see.

Bilbo - #18265

June 21st 2010

Hi Glen,

You really think that there are no biological features that exhibit rationality?  Wow.  Just as a layperson, with limited knowledge of biology, I can see rationality coming out our eyeballs—literally!  But just starting at the cellular level: the optimal genetic code, which last I heard is the best code there is for faithful reproduction. Proteins, made up of 20 different amino acids, yet take on thousands of unique shapes and flexibility or rigidity.  It’s the engineer’s dream material, taking whatever form that’s desired.  DNA, the amazing information storage system, able to store literally libraries of information in an incredibly small amount of space.  And now with alternate splicing, even smaller.  RNA, the little guy who can do it all—copy DNA, translate the information into proteins, and so much more.

God heavens, Glen!  No rationality?  Well, you’re a prime example of why lay people don’t trust scientists.

Nick Matzke - #18266

June 21st 2010

Bilbo wrote,

As far as who IDists believe the designer is, most of us believe that God is the designer (though I think demons bio-engineered things like the malarial parasite).  We just think the evidence is insufficient to prove that.

Wait, Bilbo, are you serious??  About the demons bit, I mean?

Bilbo - #18267

June 21st 2010


As for replicability, you began by accusing ID of not being able to replicate anything.  I pointed out that neo-Darwinism has that problem.  You keep ignoring that point.  I asume that physicists could explain why there are supernovae with a great deal of precision.  Biologists can not explain why there are cilium with anything like it.  Just handwaving.

And yes, reproducing an entire genome from four bottles of chemicals does replicate how ID might have happened.  The designer took purefied chemicals and carefully combined them, one molecule at a time, ina very precise order.

“Cells are soft-ware driven biological machines.”

Bilbo - #18268

June 21st 2010


We had this discussion at ARN years ago.

Glen Davidson - #18270

June 21st 2010

God heavens, Glen!  No rationality?  Well, you’re a prime example of why lay people don’t trust scientists.

Why don’t you actually demonstrate that any rationality is behind life, rather than make questionable and unbacked claims?

Your lack of scientific competence, and willingness to accuse others based only on your prejudices, shared by most of your fellow ID believers, is why nearly no educated person trusts IDists and their unremitting misrepresentations.

Glen Davidson

Glen Davidson - #18271

June 21st 2010

As for replicability, you began by accusing ID of not being able to replicate anything.

No, why don’t you characterize even straightforward statements properly

I said that ID doesn’t produce anything except for goalpost moves such as you promptly recapitulated.  I said that there is nothing to replicate.  That shouldn’t be beyond your meager reading comprehension.

I pointed out that neo-Darwinism has that problem.

Of course you didn’t.  You simply reiterated the dishonest demands of IDists, and ignored as they do the vast amount of evidence for evolution.  Your inability to even comprehend what replication entails examples your lack of knowledge of science.

The findings of Archaeopteryx are readily replicable.  The anoxic earth is not, apparently another think that you fail to comprehend even well enough to address.

Glen Davidson - #18272

June 21st 2010

I asume that physicists could explain why there are supernovae with a great deal of precision.

You don’t know, you just assume, without any kind of evidence whatsoever.

Of course supernovae are reasonably well understood (important questions remain, however), the point that you fail to address is that one need not replicate a phenomenon in order to understand it, partly or in whole.  That isn’t what an honest scientist means by “replicability,” it is simply one of the mischaracterizations of science that you swallow whole without learning what science really is.

Glen Davidson

unaplogetic catholic - #18273

June 21st 2010

“Give me the links for those definitions which indicate that the detection of intelligent design involves postulating supernatural causes.”

Godspy Behe interview:

Godspy:  You claim that random mutation and natural selection—the Neo-Darwinist mechanisms of evolution—could not have produced certain structures in the human cell, such as the flagellum, because these structures are “irreducibly complex…You claim such a system could not have evolved incrementally, and would need to have been designed somehow.  If Neo-Darwinists can show how these structures could have evolved, then it would prove your point false, right?

Behe:  That’s correct.

Ray Bohlin Probe Ministries and publisher “Of Pnadas and People:

“Behe claims the data of biochemistry argues strongly that many of the molecular machines in the cell could not have arisen through a step-by-step process of natural selection… The implication is that such irreducibly complex structures or machines cannot be built by natural selection because in natural selection, each component must be useful to the organism as the molecular machine is built”


Glen Davidson - #18274

June 21st 2010

Biologists can not explain why there are cilium with anything like it.  Just handwaving.

Completely untrue.  I mentioned cilia in particular, because the parts of eukaryotic cilia that are known to exist are almost entirely known to be derived, or vice versa, from other cell parts.  That was a major example of supposed “design” in Darwin’s Black Box.  Just as we may legitimately infer relationship among Darwin’s finches, we may infer relationship between cilia and other cell parts.

Bacterial flagella are more difficult, it’s true, presumably because they evolved earlier.  But they’re also not generally known as cilia

You are simply handwaving away the fact that you have no legitimate reason for accepting evidence of derivation for “microevolution” and not for “macroevolution,” when you have no evidence for there actually be such a difference.

Glen Davidson

Glen Davidson - #18275

June 21st 2010

And yes, reproducing an entire genome from four bottles of chemicals does replicate how ID might have happened.

One big problem behind your lack of understanding science is that you do not recognize the necessity for using causes that actually can be known or at least reasonably inferred to exist at the time the event was supposed to occur.  To be sure, it is a misunderstanding pushed by the DI, but not by legitimate science.

So you don’t even know that four bottles of chemicals existed back then, in fact we have reason to doubt it.  Let alone do you bother to show that anyone like Venter existed.  And you completely ignore the fact that Venter invented no code, protein, or any other essential part of life.  Nor do you care to learn from those of us who know science, you would rather repeat insensible nonsense.

The designer took purefied chemicals and carefully combined them, one molecule at a time, ina very precise order.

And you have what evidence that this occurred in the beginning?  You continually fail to even comprehend what replication means.

Glen Davidson

Glen Davidson - #18278

June 21st 2010

“Cells are soft-ware driven biological machines.”

Said like an IDist, without any mention of how different DNA is from software—especially in terms of evolvability. 

Indeed, evolvability is a prediction of evolution (see, for example, Schroedinger’s predictions before DNA was even definitely known to be the molecule of heredity), and DNA differs from normal designed software precisely in that manner.

Perhaps it is time that you explain anything at all via ID.  You know, with actual causes, not via the vague and often faulty claims of ID, which ignore the demands of actual science.

Glen Davidson

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