08 November 2005

Wells, and the future of ID

Jonathan Wells just reposted an article over at ID: The Future that he wrote about a year ago. The article is a fictional account looking at the history of the ID movement from now until 2025. Here's what Wells thinks will lead (or will have lead - I never can keep track of the right tense in these future history pieces) to the downfall of Darwinism:
Surprising though it may seem, Darwinism did not collapse because it was disproved by new evidence. (As we shall see, the evidence never really fit it anyway.) Instead, evolutionary theory was knocked off its pedestal by three developments in the first decade of this century-developments centered in the United States, but worldwide in scope. Those developments were: (1) the widespread adoption of a "teach the controversy" approach in education, (2) a growing public awareness of the scientific weaknesses of evolutionary theory, and (3) the rise of the more fruitful "theory of intelligent design."

For the moment, I will ignore the first two points. The entire "Teach the Controversy" approach at the moment is built around Well's book Icons of Evolution, which is about as misleading and incorrect a book as I've ever read. If you want more information on that, there is a nice collection of material available at the TalkOrigins Archive.

Instead, I am going to look at his predictions regarding the rise of Intelligent Design. After all, teaching that evolution is wrong might make legions of religiously motivated anti-evolutionists happy, but it does nothing on its own to advance Intelligent Design. A negative argument against evolution might show that evolution is wrong, but it does nothing to show that any alternative is right. At the moment, the ID movement only has a negative argument. They have not defined the "theory of Intelligent Design," and they have not tested it. In fact, one of the witnesses for the pro-ID school board in the recently concluded Dover Trial testified that he thought ID was "too young" to have developed testable hypotheses yet.

Since this is the case, I think it might be interesting to see what Wells thinks ID will be able to do (someday in the unspecified future):
The third and perhaps most decisive development was a series of breakthroughs in biology and medicine inspired by the new theory of intelligent design... For years the controversy remained largely philosophical; then, in the first decade of this century, a few researchers began applying intelligent-design theory to solving specific biological problems.

I'm not sure exactly what "intelligent-design theory" is just yet, and I doubt that anybody else is either. There definitely didn't seem to be much of a concensus about it during the defense's case in Dover. That makes it a bit more difficult for me to figure out how this "theory" is going to lead to advances. Let's see what Wells thinks:
Darwinists immediately declared the other 95 percent "junk"-molecular accidents that had accumulated in the course of evolution. Since few researchers were motivated (or funded) to investigate garbage, most human DNA was neglected for decades. Although biologists occasionally stumbled on functions for isolated pieces of "junk," they began to make real progress only after realizing that the DNA in an intelligently designed organism is unlikely to be 95 percent useless. The intensive research on non-coding regions of human DNA that followed soon led to several medically important discoveries.

We will ignore the fact, for the moment, that Wells is misrepresenting the current state of scientific research in this area. There is actually plenty of work being done on "junk" DNA, and that there are actually some evidence-based reasons to think that at least some of the junk DNA is junk. We also know that some of the non-coding regions do have functions. In many cases, for example, the regions of DNA that code for proteins are separated by a certain distance from regions of DNA that regulate the gene. The length of the separation is important, but the sequence is not.

Scientists do not believe that some of the DNA is junk because we are "committed Darwinists". We believe that some of the DNA is junk because there is evidence that indicates that some of the DNA is junk. The accumulation of non-functional DNA in the genome can readily be explained as the byproduct of common descent, but that is not the reason that we think it's junk.

But let's set that aside for the moment. Where's the "intelligent design guided" research? Where are the preliminary results? What is the methodology? Where's the Beef?

If you think that there will be massive benefits to study in this area, why aren't you out doing it?

Wells goes on to talk about another area of study:
Another insight from intelligent-design theory advanced our understanding of embryo development. From a Darwinian perspective, all the information needed for new features acquired in the course of evolution came from genetic mutations. This implied that all essential biological information was encoded in DNA. In contrast, intelligent-design theory implied that organisms are irreducibly complex systems in which DNA contains only part of the essential information. Although a few biologists had been arguing against DNA reductionism for decades, biologists guided by intelligent-design theory in 2010 discovered the true nature of the information that guides embryo development.

This is another misrepresentation of the state of science. The role of environmental factors in development has been under investigation for quite some time, and I doubt that there are very many scientists around right now who think that DNA determines everything. In fact, I was at a seminar on Friday that discussed experiments conducted on the development of some fish in an environment designed to simulate microgravity. The effects were quite noticable. Of course, it sounds like Wells is suggesting something more than genotype-environment interactions here, so it will be interesting to see what his scientific research demonstrates.

You are doing scientific research, aren't you, Jonathan?

You do have experiments running, don't you? You have projects ongoing in your lab righ now, right? You do have a lab, don't you? So where are the preliminary results? What is the experimental design that you are using? What methods of data collection are you using? Where is that beef?

All three of these developments-teaching the controversy, educating people about the lack of evidence for evolutionary theory, and using intelligent-design theory to make progress in biomedical research-were bitterly resisted by Darwinists in the first decade of this century. Defenders of the Darwinian faith engaged in a vicious campaign of character assassination against their critics in the scientific community. Meanwhile, their allies in the news media conducted a massive disinformation campaign, aimed primarily at convincing the public that all critics of Darwinism were religious zealots.

For crying out loud, Jonathan, WHERE'S THE DAMN BEEF? What you've just put up there sure isn't beef - it's a low quality, vinegary wine.

Let's be clear. We are not opposing you because of our ideology. We are opposing you because we think that you are wrong. In fact, you are wrong on several different levels. Your positive evidence for Intelligent Design is absent. Your negative arguments against evolution are incorrect and misleading. If you want us to stop opposing you, show us the beef.

And don't even try whining about evil Darwinists refusing to fund or publish your stuff. All new hypotheses face uphill battles for funding, but you folks have it easy. All you've got to do is divert some of that money the Discovery uses to push it's message into the schools into bench research. The annual budget there could fund a couple of reasonably good labs.

So why isn't this being done? What's the excuse this time? When are you going to stop talking about your vision of the future of ID research and start doing ID research?
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