Would You Like Fries With That Theory? Part Two

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June 21, 2010 Tags: Christianity & Science - Then and Now

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

Would You Like Fries With That Theory? Part Two

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.

Karl Giberson directs the new science & religion writing program at Gordon College in Boston. He has published more than 100 articles, reviews and essays for Web sites and journals including Salon.com, Books & Culture, and the Huffington Post. He has written seven books, including Saving Darwin, The Language of Science & Faith, and The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age.

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Glen Davidson - #18282

June 21st 2010

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


I also looked further into what is covered in the DVD.  Here are titles of seven of the ten lessons:

Lesson 4.  The Big Cosmology, part 3:  “A finely tuned universe”
Lesson 5.  DNA by design
Lesson 6. DNA by design, part 2:  “Doing the math”
Lesson 7.  DNA by design part3:  “Information and intelligence”
Lesson 8.  The return of the God hypothesis
Lesson 9.  The moral necessity of Theism
Lesson 10.  The moral necessity of Theism, part 2:  “We need God.”

Yes, ID has nothing to do with religion—I mean, not while it’s being decided by courts.  The rest of the time, well, it just “proves God.” 

Of course the courts aren’t likely to buy that, especially as the DI has become more careless at stating its agenda in front of religious audiences, no matter how implausibly they continue to argue that ID is “science” in other venues.

Glen Davidson

Glen Davidson - #18283

June 21st 2010

I made one mistake in the lessons above.  The correction is:

Lesson 4.  The Big Bang cosmology, part 3:  “A finely tuned universe”

Glen Davidson

Glen Davidson - #18284

June 21st 2010

To put Bilbo’s misunderstanding of replicability in science in more perspective, suppose that we demanded that ancient Israel would have to be replicated before we could say that it arose, fluorished for centuries, and then was destroyed by the Babylonians (as a partial history).  Well hey, you Bible believers can’t replicate every step of Israel’s developments, hence it didn’t occur.

Of course historically contingent developments are almost never replicable in their entirety.  That’s why IDists demand exactly that, while ignoring the fact that we have abundant genetic and fossil evidence that life evolved, even though we might not know exactly how.

But just as we can accept that the Mayan Empire and ancient Israel existed, and use that as a starting point for understanding more about how they existed and developed, we have to recognize that life evolved in order to find out how.

ID would conveniently ignore the fact that life evolved, hence we would never learn how it did.

Glen Davidson

Glen Davidson - #18285

June 21st 2010

I should have written “Mayan civilization” rather than “Mayan Empire.”

Glen Davidson

Rich - #18286

June 21st 2010


In the interview you mentioned, Behe subscribed to “designed somehow”.  That does not rule out a wholly naturalistic immanent teleology.  He does not use the word “supernatural”.

In the Bohlin quotation you have Bohlin intepreting Behe, not Behe.  And Bohlin is not an ID theorist, but a clergyman (or perhaps lay leader) supportive of ID.  Bohlin doesn’t speak for ID.  Behe can.

You will not find a statement anywhere, in Behe’s own voice, where he argues that “supernatural causes” can be proved or detected by scientific means.  Things that courtroom lawyers or Protestant ministers attempt to coax out of his words are another matter.

Besides, I have already linked a very recent statement of Behe’s own view which clarifies his position beyond doubt.  ID is compatible with, but does not necessarily require, non-natural interventions in the evolutionary process.  There’s nothing sneaky about his position, and continued attempts to make him speak of the supernatural are not good faith attempts to understand what he means.

In fact, Behe is a small-te theistic evolutionist, and the only reason he is not accepted here among Biologos TEs is that he does not fall prostrate before the Darwinian “consensus”.

Bilbo - #18287

June 21st 2010

Hi Glen,

Yes the parts of the cilia are known to exist independently of the cilia.  And so are the parts of the flagellum.  I think there is good evidence of common descent, and that information would be part of it.  But that is different from understanding how a complex molecular machine evolved from simpler parts.  If no step-by-step process seems to be even conceptually available, then we seem to have what you would call a “leap,” one of the signs of design you demanded. 

So are saying an optimal genetic code is not evidence of rationality?  A universal material made from the re-arrangement of 20 amino acids is not evidence of rationality?  Give me a sign that you understand what rationality means

Venter called the cell a software-driven biological machine, not an IDist, unless he"s become one.  Our software doesn’t evolve because it doesn’t replicate—yet.  But how did the original biological software come into existence?  Well now we know an intelligent agent could have done it.  There doesn’t seem to be a way for a non-intelligent agent to have done so.  I don’t know what the gaps are in opur understanding of supernovae, but the gaps in origin of life research are wider than the grand canyon.

Bilbo - #18289

June 21st 2010


Yes, life evolved.  It doesn’t look like neo-Darwinism can explain how much of it evolved.

Glen Davidson - #18291

June 21st 2010

If no step-by-step process seems to be even conceptually available, then we seem to have what you would call a “leap,” one of the signs of design you demanded.

You act as if there has been a great deal of interest in and research of the evolution of parts like the bacterial flagellum.  Of course there has not been, since evolution isn’t in question, save where pseudoscience ineptly “questions” it.

So are saying an optimal genetic code is not evidence of rationality?

Well first of all, I’m saying that you have given us no reason to suppose that it is “optimal.”  I doubt that anyone knows that it is.  And secondly, you would need to show that an intelligent cause existed that could produce such a code, as well as evidence to suppose that evolution could not do so.  You haven’t even begun to make a case.

Frankly, that “optimal code” sounds like a false claim produced by IDists.

All that you do is assert, sans evidence, and merely assume a “designer” (really, God) that you can’t demonstrate, and pretend as if the functionality of life is evidence of “design.”

Glen Davidson

Glen Davidson - #18294

June 21st 2010

  A universal material made from the re-arrangement of 20 amino acids is not evidence of rationality?

And how could it demonstrate rationality behind its existence?  After all, it has proven to be inadequate, so that selenocysteine and pyrrolysine have had to be cobbled into the genome by apparently evolutionary processes (for instance, a stop codon, UAG is used for pyrrolysine).

You’re just mentioning bare facts—if that—and not making any case for rationality whatsoever. 

The redundancies of the genetic code make it appear to be anything but a rationally designed code, and the amino acids life uses restricts our ability to engineer peptides for our purposes—and it likely restricts evolution as well.

Give me a sign that you understand what rationality means

Since you think that functionality—which nobody has questioned—is equivalent to rationality, showing that by your deficient standards that I know what rationality means would entail my embrace of irrationality as rationality.

I have yet to see any evidence that you know what intelligence produces, instead you just repeat the nonsense of the IDists.

Glen Davidson

unapologetic catholic - #18295

June 21st 2010

Sorry you are incorrect.

In the Godspy article Behe is saying that irreducibly complex systems “cannot have evolved”—

“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.”

If IC systems “could have” evolved then there’s no need of any “intelligent designer.”

But that’s not what Behe is saying.  He is saying, as are all ID proponents, there there are some biological sytems that could not have evolved.”

If they were merely saying “our current udnerstanding of evolution does not explain how every biological system could have evolved” then there would be nothing remarkable about ID at all, and it wouldn’t even be called “ID.”  The mere fact that it’s called “ID,” not “unknown evolutionary pathways,” means that ID hypothesies a sentient being that is so powerful that such a being can intevene periodically in the course of millions of years to insert another IC system.  Who else but God?

“Indeed, intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory” —Dembski

Glen Davidson - #18296

June 21st 2010

What is not rational, as I have pointed out elsewhere, is using legs to make wings.

Yet all flying terrestrial vertebrates did just that, they evolved wings from their forelegs.

The Wright brothers considered bird wings and bird flight (following their predecessors, going back to Chinese kites), and designed their wings accordingly.  That’s what rationality does.

Legs are not good structures to modify into wings, of course, except to evolution, which could hardly have adapted anything except muscled forelimbs into wings.  A designer could have started from first principles, or could have adapted pterosaur wings for birds, or bird wings for bats.  But there was no intelligent being forming bat wings or bird wings, only evolutionary processes that had to start from forelimbs.

This is the lack of rationality that we see throughout life, and which IDists always ignore to make their demands that we show that there is a plausible step for every development in life, especially the ones fore which evidence is particularly lacking.

Bilbo and kin assume that life was designed if it didn’t evolve, a false dilemma.  Life was not rationally produced even if it didn’t evolve.

Glen Davidson

unapologetic catholic - #18297

June 21st 2010

And of course we have Behe himself agaoins sayign malaria could not have evolved:

“Here’s something to ponder long and hard: Malaria was intentionally designed. The molecular machinery with which the parasite invades red blood cells is an exquisitely purposeful arrangement of parts.” 

Who designed the malaria bacterium?  Bilbo’s demon?

Glen Davidson - #18298

June 21st 2010

As I suspected, Bilbo hardly characterized DNA properly by calling it an “optimal code.”  Obviously that would have to be according to parameters, a fact that seems to escape him.

Here’s an abstract regarding DNA as “optimal code”:

It is shown that the four-letter code of the messenger DNA sequences is optimal in the sense that it provides minimal volume of the total information <

< stuffing >

> of the cell. The optimal code holds true only for the simplest DNA. This fact is indirect evidence that these very DNAs were the object of <

< construction >

> at earlier stages of biological evolution.


Granted, it’s not the most recent.  But I’m not really interested in claims of an “optimal code,” as if the junk-filled genomes of most eukaryotes makes use of even the supposed “optimality” of the “simplest DNA,” let alone optimizes storage.

So there may be some parameters in which DNA can be said to be “optimal,” but at least this abstract thinks that limited “optimality” is indirect evidence for evolution. 

Bilbo just repeats false claims of IDists, insisting that we explain them.

Glen Davidson

Glen Davidson - #18300

June 21st 2010

Bilbo just repeats false claims of IDists, insisting that we explain them.

Or actually, he insists that they’re true without giving any evidence, and certainly without questioning the claims of those who have made numerous claims that have been demonstrated to be false.

And thus the “case” for ID is made, by ignoring the science that is actually written up in journals, and by assuming that they don’t even need to match up cause to effect.  Indeed, Stephen Meyer wrote an entire book resting upon that premise and his incorrect assumption that science today is like science in Darwin’s and Lyell’s day (when the particular causes were yet unknown).

No rationality mind is shown that would produce what we see in life, rather we see life conforming strictly to the limits imposed by non-teleological evolution.  By shifting goalposts and by making demands upon evolution that no other scientific theory is held to, they hope to shift science away from its causal nature and to replace real science with the claim that “God must have done it.”

Well, maybe God did it.  If so, it was either by evolutionary means, or designed to look unintelligently made.

Glen Davidson

Glen Davidson - #18304

June 21st 2010

Venter called the cell a software-driven biological machine, not an IDist, unless he"s become one.

Right, it wasn’t Venter who ripped a metaphor out of context and wrote as if it were an IDist truth.  Like I wrote:

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

The difference is that Venter is not ignoring the difference.

Our software doesn’t evolve because it doesn’t replicate—yet.

I wonder how you got an operating system.

Regardless, as usual you ignore the fact that DNA exists in an evolvable form as our software does not (except occasionally, if rather differently).  Even shifting computer viruses cannot evolve anything like HIV does.

Glen Davidson

Glen Davidson - #18306

June 21st 2010

But how did the original biological software come into existence?  Well now we know an intelligent agent could have done it.

No we do not.  You have no evidence of any intelligence existing on earth roughly 4 billion years ago, let alone any that would make life like it is.  The fact is that you simply assume that God could do it because you are sure he could do anything.  You don’t match up cause and effect, you merely insist that the Designer could do anything, so the fact that life is not anything like what humans design bothers you not at all.  You’re not actually talking about design, but a miracle.

There doesn’t seem to be a way for a non-intelligent agent to have done so.

You don’t even consider processes, you automatically speak of an “agent” who happens to be non-intelligent.  There isn’t a hint of science in your thought processes.

I don’t know what the gaps are in opur understanding of supernovae, but the gaps in origin of life research are wider than the grand canyon.

Which proves nothing about an unknown intelligence operating by unknown means and no evident purposes.

Glen Davidson

Rich - #18309

June 21st 2010


No, I’m not incorrect. 

When Behe does pop interviews, as in the case of Godspy, he can’t stop and correct every little misphrasing that the interviewer employs.  No interviewee does that in pop contexts.  The person interviewing him was roughly correct, except that “evolved” needs to be qualified.  Behe knows that for most people in a popular audience, “evolved” conjures up Darwin’s account, so he let the slightly misleading statement stand.  But when he controls the whole discussion, as in his books and articles and blog posts, he uses “neo-Darwinian” before “evolution” almost without exception.  And even where he leaves it out, the context makes clear that it’s neo-Darwinian evolution he’s talking about.  You, like others, are, even after correction by people like myself, *willfully* misreading Behe so that you can knock him down.  Read *Edge of Evolution* and *Darwin’s Black Box* straight through—no faking, no skimming, then come back to me and tell me what Behe says about “evolution”.

You still do not grasp that Behe is not about “creation vs. evolution” but about “design vs. chance”.  Until you get that, you’ll never get Behe, or for that matter, ID.

Rich - #18310

June 21st 2010


Regarding malaria, “intentionally designed” is not logically incompatible with “having evolved”.  The entire evolutionary process which produces malaria and all the other creatures might itself be designed.  In such a case, there need be no divine intervention in the process at all.  Behe has on several occasions granted this as a possibility.  Again, you either have not read nearly enough of Behe, and are relying on quotes out of context (probably from works hostile to Behe), or you aren’t reading with care.

I’ve corrected you on these exact same points before on other threads.  You must be able to tell by now that I have read more of Behe, and read it more carefully, than you have.  You must also know by now that I am interpreting him correctly.  So why do you keep making me explain the same thing, on different threads?  Are you hoping to find some people who haven’t read my refutations on the other threads?  What’s your motive for repeating known errors?

Why are you incapable of saying, “OK, I’ll give you Behe as one ID proponent who doesn’t insist on miracles?”  Why can’t you and other people on this site back down *on even a single point*?  Is it ideology?  Testosterone?  What then?

Bilbo - #18313

June 22nd 2010


So if I produce evidence that the genetic code is optimal, period, ,would you acceprt that as evidence of rationality?

And do you have evidence that legs don’t make good wings?

Glen Davidson - #18316

June 22nd 2010

So if I produce evidence that the genetic code is optimal, period, ,would you acceprt that as evidence of rationality?

Does optimal = rationality? 

Only to your irrational defense of ID.

You need to learn what a logical argument actually is, rather than to avoid rationality to support your confirmation bias, as IDists generally do.

Of course I’d never agree to something so lacking in any kind of rational basis.  I already gave some of the conditions, like you’d have to show that it likely wouldn’t arise evolutionarily—evolution can give rise to (at least locally) optimal solutions in a number of cases.  But you’d also need to actually show that some sort of rational process gave rise to it, and with you unable to recognize what rationality is, that seems highly unlikely from you, even if it were possible.

And do you have evidence that legs don’t make good wings?

Yes, the lack of aerodynamics, and lack of flying ability of animals having only legs that did not evolve into wings.  How is it that you do not recognize such evidence without it being spelled out?

Glen Davidson

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