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?


Anonymous said...

Compare this to the "hypothesis" that Wells was chewing on about the same time, now published in Rivista Biologia by that Sermonti guy. Something about malfunctioning centrioles causing cancer, and by-the-way all that nonsense about DNA mutations causing cancer is just a bunch of baloney. All of this seems to be of a theme with Wells, similar to the way he made a big deal about DNA not doing much of anything in his graduate work (well, ya know, you can remove the DNA of fertilized oocytes, and the things still divide as normal, right up until they need to synthesize new proteins--that's all the DNA is useful for!). He has a talent not for advancing research, but for finding cutesy ways of restating what we already know in ways that sound smart to the uneducated.

Steve said...

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.

You know I can't help but think that these guys had better get off their philo-sofa-phical butts and get to work in the lab. 2005 is almost over and yet we see not even a hint of these breakthroughs.

Mike Walker said...

I sometimes wonder if Wells realizes that the "first decade of this century" is more than half over. Four years isn't much time to start a scientific revolution, especially when all you're doing is sitting back and writing speculative fiction.

I guess, just like Behe and Dembski, Wells has got better things to do than get their hands dirty with actual reseach.

Duane Smith said...

I disagree with you that Well's comments are "low quality, vinegary wine." I think that like beef his comments come from a bull but are the output of the bull's digestive system rather than anything to be digested.

Anonymous said...

I was particulary amused by the idea that "using intelligent-design theory [sic] to make progress in biomedical research" was [will have been?] "bitterly resisted by Darwinists." I've been following the various anti-ID sites with great interest for some time now, and I long since lost count of how many times I've seen people on the pro-science side of the debate begging, pleading, exhorting and cajoling the ID folks to produce some damn research. Little did I know it was all a front.

Oh well. I suppose there are more harmful ways someone like Wells could be spending his time than coming up with these pathetic fantasies.

Anonymous said...

It also occurs to me that no matter how much functionality we ultimately discover in junk DNA, none of it will be any better evidence for ID than what we currently know about DNA.

The kind of thing that would be evidence of design would be if the junk DNA turned out to contain stuff like copyright notices and license agreements.

Gerry L said...

Correct form is "will have led." But we all know that 20 ... 25 ... 30 years from now ID will not have led us anywhere good.

Janet D. Stemwedel said...

Has Wells ever, you know, been in a science classroom?

Goodness gracious with the ignorance!

Zeno said...

Why do they keep thinking that attacking evolution is the same as proving their own pet theory? I probably read too many creationist publications (a rather perverse hobby) and I marvel at how YEC types sneer at day-age creationists and vice versa. The hardcore creationists have an uneasy alliance with their ID brethren, considering the latter a cat's paw by which evolution will be overthrown. It's pathetic to watch them champing at the bit to turn on each other once evolution is out of the way. Of course, they keep waiting and waiting and waiting...

Anonymous said...

Ernst Mayr's What Evolution Is points out that many Darwinians have thought that junk DNA must be doing something since it has been kept in the genome.

Anonymous said...

Actually, one of the ID guys I know has floated just this argument with me recently. Shortly before slipping in the jab that "ID is taking the nation by storm, Dave" he suggested that evolution would probably just fly apart, devolve into hostile and bitter camps, were creationists not there. I tried to explain to him (!) that evolution isn't about fighting creationists (and he should know--he's a biology grad student), but he insisted that it was, oh yeah, all about fighting creationists. He also vehemently claims not to allege conspiracy theory in this regard. Uh-huh.

Engineer-Poet said...

Tell me if this description of advances built on ID theory needs anything:

1.  Goddidit.

This has huge advantages over current research, as the expensive laboratories and equipment can be replaced by people in very spartan conditions.  Stone cells and wooden beds would be sufficient, and even telephones might be superfluous; the researchers could be sworn to vows of silence.

Yes, with such low budgetary constraints their advances should come so rapidly as to overwhelm materialistic science.  I can't wait.

Ed Fitzgerald said...

Wells' entire scenario is nothing but a massive piece of infantile wish-fulfillment and magical thinking: if I say that something's going to happen often enough, it will happen.

Related: see my definition of ID based on the testimony of the defense experts in Kitzmiller. It's here.

did said...

What's ID theory? It's so simple!

1. Here's a thing.
2. It's complimicated.
3. I can't figure it out.
4. (asks lawyer friend) Can you figure this out?
5. Lawyer friend: Wow! It must be designed!
6. Of course! How simple! If we can't figure it out, no one can! NO ONE!
7. You all can stop working on this. It was designed. It's beyond you.


Anonymous said...

if the junk DNA turned out to contain stuff like copyright notices and license agreements

Oh, man. "If you agree to the terms of this pregnancy, click Agree. Otherwise, click Abort."

Anonymous said...

It hurts my brain to think about why functionality of "junk" DNA and non-genetic factors contributing to development are in any way supportive of intelligent design. I can't decide if this sort of disinformation will filter out to anti-evolutionists and make arguing with them that much more frustrating, or whether it is just the nonsensical bloviation of someone who is scientifically ignorant.

JVC said...

"Ernst Mayr's What Evolution Is points out that many Darwinians have thought that junk DNA must be doing something since it has been kept in the genome."

Please be careful with wording :) In many species, including humans, it is more a case that junk cannot be lost, rather than it being "kept". Natural selection is not the only force in evolution!

Anonymous said...

Other Anonymous,

This argument about "junk DNA" not being entirely useless probably filtered into ID from other forms of creationism. Just the other night an ID guy I know was using this argument in conversation with me. But ANswers in Genesis was using it at least five years before that.

Anonymous said...

in 20 years, the Intelligent Design name will be so tarnished tatered and torn that creationists will have an entirely new name and an entirely new way of saying the same thing.

Here's my historic/futuristic timeline of the creationist movement.

creation (belief in Biblical account of how we got here)

creation science (changed name so that creationism can be seen as science. Tried to use science to prove Biblical account of how we got here.)

intelligent design (changed name after US courts ruled that creation science is religion. Used more general yet scientific sounding terminology to describe the Biblical account of how we got here.)

Behe'ism (changed name again after US courts ruled that "designer" is a religious reference since it assumes a supernatural designer/creator. In an attempt to challenge Darwinism, creationists figured a last name'ism would have a better effect.)

Neo-Behe'ism (changed name after Behe's old examples of I.C. were shown to have evolutionary explanations. Behe brought forth more gaps of knowledge to attribute to a supernatural intelligent entity that may or may not be God)

On an ironic note:
Intelligent Design and Darwinism merge.

(this is a different group of scientists that have to figure out which species on earth were genetically modified by humans in the 2000's. Behe'ists use this as some sort of "told you so" excuse to feel vindicated.)