Tag Archives: intelligent design

Dishonesty of intelligent design “research”

In my recent post Creationists prefer numerology to real scientific research I discussed the “research” approach used by those few scientists who are proponents of intelligent design. And I concluded:

“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.”


Michael Behe is Professor of Biological Sciences at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. He works as a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture.

Recently I noticed another blatant example of this lack of scientific honesty – the refusal to propose and test their own hypotheses of intelligent design. It’s a quote that seems to be going around the religious apologist bogs at the moment. For example, have a look at True Paradigm: Monday quote, The Big Bad Wolf, Theism and the Foundations of Intelligent Design – Page 13, or Still Speculating After All These Years at Contra Celsum.

It’s a quote from Michael J. Behe‘s book Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution – this is the short form.

“The overwhelming appearance of design strongly affects the burden of proof: in the presence of manifest design, the onus of proof is on the one who denies the plain evidence of his eyes.”

Michael J. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution p 265.

Notice the problem?

Behe is asserting that he has no need to produce any evidence, outline a structured hypothesis, or do anything to test or validate his claim.

He simply has to make an assertion – based on nothing more than his claim of an “overwhelming appearance” (to him). Then it is up to those with different hypothesis to do all the work. To test his assertion (please note – a vague assertion – not a structured hypothesis) and prove him wrong.

Or else he declares his assertion correct by default!

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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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Sneaking in the magic man

I have been debating Plantinga’s claims of guided evolution with a couple of religious apologists lately. His ideas really are just another attempt to sneak his god, his “magic man,” into evolutionary science. Even to assert guidance is inherent in evolutionary science. So when I saw this video on the Evolution is True blog it struck a nerve.

It’s a skit by the UK Comedian Robin Ince from the show “Comedy Cuts” aired 2007/03/15 on ITV in the UK. Only 3 mins long it’s worth watching

Robin Ince on Creationism

Thanks to Oh noes! Robin Ince broke his Charles Darwin mug!

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ID research and publications

Here is another post to mark Darwin Day.

The pro-intelligent design (ID) internet echo chamber has been making a big thing of late about “peer-reviewed papers supporting intelligent design.” Their “Center for Science and Culture” has even published an updated list. (PZ Myers has provided a more accessible version of the list at More bad science in the literature).

This of course does raise some questions about what they mean by “peer review” and the real nature of some of the journals these papers are in (have a look at their in-house journal Bio-Complexity). But leaving those issues aside for now I just don’t think any of these papers are reporting “ID research.”

The nature of “ID research”

To me research supporting intelligent design should postulate some structured hypotheses for ID and seek to test them or validate them against reality. But none of the articles do that. Most, especially ones that are published in credible journals, deal with aspects of evolutionary science.

Sure they may postulate a problem, an example or issue where they feel current science does not have an answer. That’s what I expect in a scientific paper. Identification of problems and reporting work on them.

Like all areas of science, evolutionary science has its so far unanswered questions, its problems and anomalies. perfectly natural and perfectly acceptable to identify and investigate them. But calling such work “supporting intelligent design” is just dishonest. No specific ID hypotheses have been advanced, let alone tested.

This always seems to be the case for any list of “peer-reviewed scientific papers supporting ID.”

“Theistic science” – or argument by default

Nor, by the way, do these papers display any example of the alternative to “materialist” science. Their declared aim of replacing modern science with a “theistic science.” (See Wedge Strategy and Theistic science? No such thing). If they were doing any work like this why isn’t that demonstrated by the publications? I would love to see examples of such research and identify the different methods characteristic of such science.

To list these papers as supporting ID  is simply assuming that any criticism, any problem, any gap in evolutionary science is, by default, evidence for ID.

It’s not.

Relying on cranks

David L Abel

Another issue with this publication list which does supply some mirth is the frequent occurrence of publications by David L. Abel (17% of total list). He has raised some attention because he published a paper in the journal Life which had recently received attention for its publication of the whaky paper Theory of the Origin, Evolution, and Nature of Life,” by Erik D. Andrulis. (See The comparison to jabberwocky is inevitable for PZ Myers’ in depth discussion of that paper). Abel’s article is titled “Is Life Unique?” – Myers describes this as “Intelligent Design creationism crap,” and “drivel” (see More bad science in the literature). But Myers was impressed with Abel’s address and affiliation:

Department of ProtoBioCybernetics and ProtoBioSemiotics, Origin of Life Science Foundation, Inc., 113-120 Hedgewood Drive, Greenbelt, MD 20770

Turns out this is a residential house, probably Abel is the only “employee,” but it does have na official name plate besides his front door! As PZ says:

“That’s every intelligent design creationism institute of scientific thinking: a cheap sign tacked up on a garage, with some guy with delusions of competence twiddling his thumbs inside.” (see Zooming in on the Origin of Life Science Foundation)

Abel himself describes his institute as a “science and education foundation with corporate headquarters near NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center just off the Washington, D. C. Beltway in Greenbelt, MD.”  If you are not careful in your reading you might assume he was actually based at a NASA site!

And here is the information on Abel held in his profile at the ID journal

David L. Abel

Affiliation The Gene Emergence Project; The Origin-of-Life Science Foundation
Bio statement Director, The Gene Emergence ProjectDepartment of ProtoBioCybernetics & ProtoBioSemioticsThe Origin of Life Science Foundation, Inc.

These lists of “peer reviewed papers supporting ID’ are getting rather desperate.

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Bias in the history of science

I am currently reading Retrying Galileo, 1633-1992 by Maurice A. Finocchiaro. This certainly provides some background to the current mythology about the Galileo affair (see The Galileo myths). Apparently Galileo’s trial never stopped with his sentencing in 1633 – he has been continually re-trialled ever since. So many myths, both anti-Galileo and anti-Church, have been promoted over the intervening years.

On the one hand this does show how susceptible history is to the confirmation bias of the individual historian. But it also provides plenty of “authentic” quote-mining material for the current Galileo mythologists.

Where is the sympathy for science?

What drives this common bias on such subjects? I naively expected that experts from other fields who make a living studying or commenting on science to be sympathetic with scientific processes and understanding of scientific method. Retrying Galileo shows this is not always the case.

We can see plenty of examples where such experts have been hostile to science. For example, the proponents of intelligent design (ID) had “philosophers of science” as expert witnesses at the Kitzmiller v Dover trial (see Intelligent design and scientific methodThese “philosophers of science” were effectively defending a perverted “theistic” science. Similar the “sociologist of science” Steve Fuller was an expert witness supporting ID. He has since written posts on the ID blog site Uncommon Design and authored a book defending ID – Science v. Religion? Intelligent Design and the Problem of Evolution.

When I realised that sociologists of science study and advise on science management and funding that had me worried. Mind you, perhaps it explains the phenomenon I noticed during my career – some of those managing our science were actually anti-science!

This tweet from historian of science James Hannam is another example that concerned me:

@DrJamesHannam: Could science come to regret claiming to have all the answers? It can cost you when you get it wrong. “

Now as the author of God’s Philosophers and The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution – how does Hannam make such a mistake? Who the hell claims science has all the answers – certainly not the practitioners of science. Nor should a respectable historian of science.

Back to the Galileo myths

Another example of confirmation bias is the attitude of Elaine Howard Ecklund, author of the book Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think (see Are scientists hostile to religion? for my review). She claimed many of the scientists she interviewed  gave the Galileo affair as “a central piece of their evidence that religion and science are in entrenched conflict.” But as she says – “Galileo was never tortured; that’s a myth.”

True – and I wonder how many scientists specifically claimed he was tortured. She does not quote a single example. (See The Galileo myths for my point that these sort of claims are themselves myths – no reputable history of science makes this claim today and I seriously suspect not many informed scientists do either). But Ecklund felt it necessary to expand on her assertion by presenting a lengthy quote from Koestler’s history of the affair in The Sleepwalkers. This is one of the anti-Galileo “histories.” In Retrying Galileo Finocchiaro claims that Koestler “disliked Galileo” and described Koestler’s history as a “popular libel against Galileo”. So her quote implied that Galileo did not deserve our current assessment of him as one of the great fathers of modern science. And made a number of straw man assertions aimed at discrediting Galileo – eg., “Galileo did not invent the telescope; nor the microscope; nor the thermometer; nor the pendulum clock . . and did not prove the truth of the Copernican system.”

In his book Sense and Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism, philosopher and historian of science Richard Carrier discusses methods of gaining knowledge at length. He points to problems that historians face in obtaining reliable knowledge but suggests they can usually do so by adopting specific historical methodologies.

I really like his warning to “recognize that almost any story can be an invention”:

“So the First Rule of Historical Method is: don’t believe everything you read. A believable history has to be constructed from several converging lines of evidence that have been critically and skillfully examined, and not every piece of evidence is equally trustworthy. Humans are notorious liars, eager exaggerators, and happy to believe almost anything they agree with. Skepticism is a virtue—but unfortunately a rare one, even rarer than honesty.”

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A silver lining to Expelled?

Readers are probably aware of the nasty little creationist/intelligent design film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Despite all the fanfare suggesting it was coming to a church hall or basement near you sometime soon it seemed to drop out of existence.

Perhaps that is why the company that produced the film has gone bankrupt. And the film itself, together with its assets, is to be auctioned off any day now.

I thought that would be the end of the sorry little affair. But no – there may be a silver lining – depending on who the final buyers are.

PZ Myers reports that Talk Origins, the people from Panda’s Thumb, are making a bid to buy it. That seems weird.

But think about it. Expelled misrepresented some important people like Myers, Richard Dawkins, Eugenie Scott, Michael Shermer and so on. These people were interviewed extensively on evolutionary science, science in general and intelligent design. However, only short clips, heavily edited to produce a misleading impression, were included in the film.

Expelled – The Uncut Interviews

So if Talk Origins wins the bidding they will have access to the full interviews. As Talk Origins suggests:

“The auction promises that besides all available rights and interests in the finished film itself (there is an existing distribution contract), the winner will get all the production materials and rights to them. Want to know what was in the rest of the interviews with Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers? I know I would like to have that material archived and made available to the public, among other things that Premise Media found inconvenient to include in their film.”

Anyone who has watched the uncut interviews available from the Richard Dawkins Foundation will appreciate the possibilities. These are interviews used initially to produce BBC films documentaries like The Root of All Evil?, The Enemies of Reason , The Genius of Charles Darwin and others.

So I look forward to a new series of documentaries – Expelled – The Uncut Interviews. Just imagine, not only will we get an interesting and extensive interview of each person (Myers says his interview last 3 hours!). But as an extra, if the clip used in the film is also included we will get to see examples of how creationists quote mine scientists.

Thanks to PZ Myers: I think the creationists would rather just forget about Expelled.

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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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Designer spin

The absolute gall of some of those who attack science often amazes me. I guess their attitude is that if they are in for a penny they may as well be in  for a pound. Once someone starts lying its very hard to stop. The lies just get worse.

But this headline at Uncommon Descent had me laughing -  Darwinism’s Eroding Monopoly In Academia. Especially when I saw their “evidence” – a quote from a Times Education Supplement (TES) article:

“One in 20 first-year biology students at Glasgow University don’t believe in the theory of evolution, according to new research.”

Really! Just 5% of first year students at Glasgow University admit to not believing in evolutionary science – and this is news! It’s suddenly “evidence” that “Darwinism” is losing its near universal acceptance in academia!

And, according to the TES article:

“When asked why they rejected evolution, 41 per cent [of the 5%] said they believed there was an alternative explanation for the diversity of life, while a third [of the 5%] said they simply had insufficient knowledge of evolution.”

So this means that 2% of these first year students “believed there was an alternative explanation for the diversity of life.” Those are the anti-Darwin believers who are eroding “Darwinism” in academia. Two percent! And a similar number just admitted their ignorance (always a good start).

Given that religious attitudes are still very common in Scotland and a significant proportion of Christians actually do reject evolutionary science, I am surprised that such a small proportion of these students admitted to not believing in evolutionary science.

Come on! Only Five percent (5%) of these first year students said they did not believe in evolution. Just imagine how much smaller that percentage will be on graduation!

And these intelligent design (ID) spin merchants claim this is evidence for “Darwinism’s Eroding Monopoly In Academia”!

In the same vein of dishonesty another ID spokesperson referred to the TES article quoting Alastair Noble, director of the Centre for Intelligent Design. He said intelligent design – unlike evolution, was “a non-dogmatic, non-religious position.” (see Intelligent Design on the Rise Among Scottish University Students?)

Funny how these people attempt to label science as religious and deny that their own positions are based on their own religious beliefs.  Noble is an Educational Consultant with CARE in Scotland – a Christian charity which works across a range of public policy issues. He is also a lay preacher, an elder at Cartsbridge Evangelical Church, Busby.

With such silly spin in their political claims can one take these people seriously for their scientific claims?

Answer – you can’t.

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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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