Tag Archives: Discovery Institute

Creationists prefer numerology to real scientific research

Ian Wishart is a local “investigative’ journalist and well-known conspiracy theorist from way back. He’s dabbled in climate change, creationism, health, political, crime, and other issues. He’s a firm creationist and so it’s no surprise he has picked up on a recently published paper Scientists dumbstruck: signs of intelligent design in DNA code. No surprise because it’s currently being promoted by creationists and the Discovery Institute as some sort of proof of intelligent design. And Wishart is part of that echo chamber.

The paper itself is extremely dense – probably only fully intelligible to computational biologists and similar specialists. Fortunately, local science blogger Grant Jacobs, who has skills in this area,  has been through the paper and explains it in an article that is accessible to most people – see Investigate magazine struck dumb by numerology of genetic code. Have a read, you can see what the paper really says, what the problems are with it and make up your own mind about the degree to which Ian Wishart, and other creationists, have been fooled by it.

“Design inference” and “reinterpretation research”

I think there is a bit of a lesson here. Grant describes a basic problem with the paper.

“it rests on a false comparison of two options:

  1. Created by random chance
  2. Created by space aliens

This is set up so that if the first is unlikely, the second “must” be right.

The setting is rigged because these two aren’t all the possibilities. There is at least one more:

  1. Created by a non-random natural process (e.g. evolved)

To declare any one the ‘preferred’ choice they’d have to investigate all three possibilities, then compare what was found. But they don’t: they only look at the first then declare the second as the ‘winner’ without ever looking at the third.”

Anyone who has followed the so-called research carried out by intelligent design proponents may recognise this pattern. Discovery Institute senior fellow William A. Dembski even formulates the pattern as a basic way of detecting intelligent design. Creationists often call it the Design Filter. (He describes it in his book  The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities).

Usually the “design inference” boils down to:

  1. Reject chance – easy to set up statistics to show probabilities are extremely low. (For example, the chance of all atoms randomly combining to form a molecule of DNA at one instant is remote);
  2. Analyse any existing scientific explanation or mechanism to show it is wrong. (Easy to do by misrepresentation, choosing old research, ignoring alternatives, etc.);
  3. Accept design as the only, default, alternative. Therefore claim design has been “proved.”

Now, combine that approach with the other leg of intelligent design research – reinterpretation research.” This has extremely low overheads as it only involves taking published work, rubbishing it by misinterpretation, etc., and inventing a different interpretation of the facts to “prove” design.

In essence this is what all intelligent design “research” boils down to. At best it can only find possible problems in current understanding (which is surely the purpose of all research). It cannot support an alternative hypothesis.

So you can see the basic character of all the intelligent design publications they claim. Work which investigates possible problems with existing ideas in evolutionary science without offering, or even considering,  alternative hypotheses. Plenty of that around – put it on the list.

But they ignore the normal honest research approach. They never advance a structured hypothesis, one that is consistent with intelligent design. They therefore never submit such hypothesis to any testing or validation.

Yet they want to claim their ideas as science – and want to teach it to children in science classes!

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Pulling the wool over the eyes of the faithful

Occasionally I watch videos, or listen to podcasts, distributed by the Intelligent design crowd at the Discovery Institute. So, I wasted a few minutes on this video below where one of their tame scientists, Ann Gauger, spoke “authoritatively” on population genetics and why this proved Darwin wrong!

It’s a load of old rubbish, aimed at convincing the gullible with sciency sounding words, but causing giggles from real biologists. However, I was interested in the background chosen for the interview. Could this be a lab in the much vaunted ID Biologic Institute? The one set up by the Discovery Institute to do “real” research. The lab where no journalist or non-ID scientist has been allowed access.

Well, it turns out that the background is false. It’s a green screen, using a stock photo (see The Disco ‘Tute’s fake laboratory).


Stock photo used for background in video

Why go to such trouble?

Well, I guess the simple answer is they don’t have a lab, or access to a lab, they can use as an impressive background – so they fudged it. But of course, there’s more to it than that.

The whole purpose of forming the Biologic Institute was to impress. I mean, to impress their convinced adherents (because no-one in the scientific world is impressed by such a façade). It’s the “silo effect” such ideological communities go in for. They can maintain beliefs because they have their own tame experts and members of the community usually self-censor. The faithful can go along with the pretence their beliefs are supported by scientific evidence and avoid having to deal with real science and scientists.

The ID community provides the amenities require for such a blinkered outlook. They even have their own list of “scientists” rejecting Darwinism. The faithful can thus repeat the lie evolutionary science is on its last legs. That high ranking scientists have proven it wrong.

The Discovery Institute and the Biologic Institute also provide another element of the façade – peer reviewed publications supporting ID. To this end they have established their own “scientific journal” – BIO-Complexity. This presents a veneer of a peer-reviewed journal – but look at it. A small handful of papers, all by the same people listed under the “staff” of the Biologic Institute.

Again, this fools no credible scientist but it can be used to fool the faithful.

But what a a situation – having to lie to your own supporters.

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Designer spin II

Logo Credit: LOLcats tradition

Another area of political spin by intelligent design (ID) proponents is their claim to actually be doing scientific research on ID.

Biologic Institute

This was the Discovery Institute’s motive for setting up the Seattle-based Biologic Institute in 2005. They describe its purpose as:

“developing and testing the scientific case for intelligent design in biology and exploring its scientific implications. Its founding was made possible by Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, which continues to support its ongoing work.”

No reporter seems to have been able to get access to the Institute’s laboratories or offices. And one suspects they don’t actually house any scientific equipment. More like photocopiers, computers and internet access necessary for carrying our “reinterpretation research” – placing their own spin and interpretation on the scientific results of others.

The Biologic Institute’s web site is typical of other ID and “creation science” web sites – propaganda pieces attacking evolutionary science. None of the detailed descriptions of the work of their science staff common for web sites of genuine scientific institutes.

And what about this from a recent post by the Institute’s director Douglas Axe (see Oxford University Seeks Mathemagician):

“the public . . .  tend to see only one side of science—the confident, assertive, authoritative, we-know-what-we’re-talking-about side. Science-speak often comes across with a hint of arrogance, but since science itself depends on the goodwill of the public for its very existence, it usually corrects itself on those occasions when it oversteps its bounds.”

Strange sort of rhetoric for the director of a scientific institute! And what a title for comment on an advertisement for a Research Associate position at St John’s College, University of Oxford. A mathematician working in evolutionary science has to be labelled a “mathemagician!”


Another little spin has been their establishment, last year, of a scientific journal – BIO-Complexity.

It has all the appearance of an on-line, peer-reviewed scientific journal. A large Editorial Team, submission guidelines, and publication schedule.

But look at the details.

So far it has published four (4) “research articles” and one (1) “critical review.” All papers include authors on the Editorial Team

Douglas Axe
Ann K Gauger
William Dembski
Robert Marks
Ralph Seelke

These are well-known for their propaganda pieces attacking evolutionary science. And Bill Dembski had claimed of this journal that ID proponents will get no preferential treatment!”

Yeah, right!

Not exactly a reputable scientific journal. More an in-house journal purely for ensuring publication without genuine peer review. (Unless you define your peers as people with the same ideological beliefs and adherence to the ID dogma). And getting names and articles into the indexed scientific literature.

Hardly “developing and testing the scientific case for intelligent design in biology and exploring its scientific implications.” Just more of the same – attempting to present a scientific sounding argument against the findings of evolutionary science. (The never actually do any work to offer evidence for ID).

Tools for the religious apologetics ghetto

And these characters have done it all before. A number of “research fellowships,” “research institutes” and “research journals” have been established by them in the past. They never seem to last for more than a year or so. But leave their debris scattered throughout the internet.

This doesn’t fool anyone in the scientific community. But it is handy if you want to provide your adherents with sciency sounding publications.

In other words it’s an asset for the religious apologetics ghetto.

See also: Designer spin

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Theistic science? No such thing

I came across this interesting observation in Elaine  Howard Eckland’s book  Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think:

“believers did not consider their traditions and beliefs influential on how they conducted their research. None of the religious scientists I talked to supported the theory of intelligent design”

This conclusion is based on her extensive survey of academic scientists in the USA.

It’s interesting because it confirms that those theologians and “philosophers of religion” who advocate abandonment of “materialism” or “naturalism” by scientists are barking up the wrong tree. Even scientists who have strong god beliefs don’t allow these to interfere with the way they do their science. In fact, if they did they would no longer be doing science.

Mind you, the conclusion is not at all surprising to anyone working in a scientific environment. We know from experience that religious scientists don’t change their methodology because of their ideological beliefs or world view.

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Creationism, climate change and scientific denialism

Strange how one keeps coming across familiar people. Last week I was shocked to read Andrew Bolt’s article on the Global Atheist Convention (see Speakers true love of hatred). He wasn’t there and those of us that were recognised his article as full of distortions, misinformation and lies. Then I realised he is one of Australia’s most active climate change deniers (no, in his case not a sceptic – a denier). And now I find him quoted by the creationist/intelligent design (ID) Discovery Institute in a nasty little article attacking science (see Climategate: a Word of Advice to the Scientists).

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“Historical science”

Matthew_Shultz_webHere’s another faulty argument from The ghetto of apologetics “science”. A trick that creationists use to discredit scientific findings and justify by default their own “supernatural” explanations. This is their mechanical classification of science into “historical science” and “experimental science.” The creationist NZ blog True Paradigm was promoting this recently (see Types of science).

The usual philosophical “authority” used for this classification is Stephen Meyers, Executive Officer and co-founder of the Discovery Institute‘s Center for science and Culture. The intelligent design think tank and poliitcal promoter. He outlined it in his 1990 Ph D thesis “Of clues and causes: a methodological interpretation of origin of life studies.”

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Prostituting science

One thing that disappoints me is the way that some scientists prostitute their science. The way that some scientists use their academic qualifications or reputation to support unscientific messages. I realise that everybody who does this has their own reasons and these are usually related to ego, ideology or money.

This is something we should all be aware of when “experts” are rolled out to support questionable or controversial causes, as well as when they are used to advertise commercial products. A blatant example of this was revealed in a blog report on a recent debate about intelligent design (ID) (see ID Was Spanked In Fort Worth). The main speakers were Dr. Lawrence Krauss (opposing ID) and  Dr. David Berlinski (supporting ID). After the debate an audience member:

“heard Krauss ask Berlinski why he wasted his intellect advocating for intelligent design. To which Berlinski replied that he doesn’t believe a word of it, but is happy to cash the checks the Discovery Institute writes him. Strangely enough, this would be consistent with Berlinski’s odd statement early on in which he admitted that his own ethical orientation was focused on living as contentedly and as selfishly as possible. It was a weird aside at the time; realizing that he could be exercising that ethic by making chumps of the Discovery Institute seems somehow poetically appropriate.”

I realise that this is hearsay – and Berlinski may well deny these comments whether he made them or not. However, I think the report does illustrate the problem.

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Demolishing the icons of intelligent design

Alison at BioBlog has been working through Jonathan Wells’ “10 questions to ask your biology teacher.” Wells is a Senior Fellow at Center for Science & Culture (intelligent design ID and Wedge headquarters) and  author of Icons of Evolution: Why much of what we teach about evolution is wrong.

As Alison points out these 10 questions are aimed at sowing doubts in students’ minds about the science they are taught. But they do demonstrate Wells’ “woeful lack of understanding of some fairly basic ideas” and Alison provides a brief rejoinder to each “question”.

The links below are to Alison’s response to each question (Or all in one place: answers to wells’ questions – all in one place).

obfuscation galore!
the cambrian ‘explosion’
wells’ third ‘icon’ – homology
wells is peeved with haeckel’s embryos
another one of jonathan wells’ ‘icons’ of evolution
peppered moths – another ‘icon’?
wells again – this time, darwin’s finches
the 8th ‘question’ on wells’ little list
wells’ 9th question
so what’s that 10th question? »

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Dissent from Darwinism list – further analysis

I have commented before on the dissenters from Darwinism list. It is often used by creationists/intelligent design proponents as evidence for opposition to evolutionary science among scientists. (Sometimes scientists on the list are referred to as “brilliant”, or even “modern day Einsteins!”)

Of course, closer investigation shows that this list is not credible evidence for real opposition to evolutionary science (see Scientific dissent from . . . science? and Dissenters from Darwinism in context). And the motives of the signatories are usually religious rather than scientific (see Who are the “dissenters from Darwinism”?).

This video from DonExodus2 provides further useful analysis of the list. It shows that as evidence for scientific dissension it is really very pathetic.

List of Scientists Rejecting Evolution- Do they really? (10 min)

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Scientific dissent from . . . science?
Dissenters from Darwinism in context
Who are the “dissenters from Darwinism”?

Who are the “dissenters from Darwinism”?

One of the weapons used by the Wedge activists is the Scientific Dissent from Darwin list. They use this to promote the idea there is a controversy about evolutionary theory within the scientific community. The idea that a significant number of scientists actually oppose the modern understanding of evolution and support “intelligent design” (ID) theory as an alternative. They then go on to demand introduction of ID into science classrooms under the slogan “teach the controversy.”

Only a small number of professionals have been prepared to support the Discovery Institute’s statement (see Dissenters from Darwinism in context). However, the understanding and motives of those who have is interesting.

  • Are they genuinely concerned about modern evolutionary theory?
  • Do they support ID as an alternative?
  • Do they even understand modern evolutionary theory?
  • What is their areas of scientific expertise?
  • Is their motivation primarily religious?
  • Or have they been duped – signing up to support the relatively innocuous statement only to find out later the real way the list is being used?

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