Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Kirk Durston's Proof of God

 
I went to the lecture in Denyse O'Leary's course last night [I'm Going to a Lecture on Intelligent Design]. As promised, the guest speaker was Kirk Durston, a graduate student in biophysics at the University of Guelph.

It was a very frustrating experience. Like most Intelligent Design Creationists, Durston was all over the map in terms of spreading lies and misconceptions about science. This scattergun approach seems to be very successful for them. I assume it's because no one person can address all of the problems with their presentation. Most people will catch one or two flaws but they'll assume that everything else has to be correct.

I'll come back to some of these lies in another posting but right now I'd like to explain his main argument.

Kirk Durston has a background in computer science and his project has to do with analyzing the sequences of conserved gene families.

The Intelligent Design Creationist part of his study relies heavily on the work of Douglas Axe (Axe, 2000; Axe, 2004). Axe is head of Biologic Institute a "research" company in Redmond, WA (USA) with ties to the Discovery Institute [We're in Trouble Now].

The papers Axe published in the prestigious Journal of Molecular Biology represent work he did as a post-doc in Cambridge UK. The goal was to show that the probability of a protein adopting a particular three-dimensional fold is very, very low.

Durston is pursuing this line of work and he described it in his talk last night with plenty of equations and diagrams. There were about 15 people in the room and it's almost certain that nobody other than me had any idea what was going on. But it all sounded very sophisticated.

As it turns out, not understanding the science shouldn't have been such a big deal since the form of his argument was obviously silly. At least I thought it was obvious. Here's the way it went ...
  1. By making assumptions A, B, C, and D and constructing equations E and F he is able to predict that no protein will have more than X amount of information.

  2. By making a few assumptions about protein families it is possible to measure the amount of information in a folded domain by plugging the data into his equations. It turns out that most proteins have more than X information.

  3. Therefore God exists (i.e., the protein must have been intelligently designed).
This are (at least) two major flaws in this argument and it doesn't take an expert in computer science or biochemistry to detect them.

First, when you formulate a scientific hypothesis you test it against scientific reality. If the predictions of your hypothesis are not fulfilled then your hypothesis is falsified. At that point it's back to the drawing board. You need to reconsider your assumptions or your equations because they were not successful. That's how science is done but that's not how Intelligent Design Creationism is done.

Second, the sudden appearance of God in the conclusion is illogical. There's no mention of God intelligent design in the premise. It just pops out of the argument without any warning. This is not how logic works and it's certainly not how science works.

I tried to point this out last night but nobody in the audience was paying attention and Durston was in no mood to discuss logic after having spent close to two hours practicing something else.

We have a word to describe people who can't construct a simple logical argument. It seems to have slipped my mind .... what is it ..... oh, yeah, now I remember ... IDiot.


Axe, D. (2000) Extreme Functional Sensitivity to Conservative Amino Acid Changes on Enzyme Exteriors. J. Mol. Biol. 310:585-595.

axe, D. (2004) Estimating the Prevalence of Protein Sequences Adopting Functional Enzyme Folds. J. Mol. Biol. 341:1295-1315.

25 comments :

  1. It's realy very simple.

    Scientist:

    Assume A, B, C, and D.

    Then
    E and F

    Solving
    E and F = X

    Check with Reality
    X does not = Reality

    Hmm . . .

    Review A, B, C, and D.


    Intelligent Design Creationist:

    Assume A, B, C, and D.

    Then
    E and F

    Solving
    E and F = X

    Check with Reality
    X does not = Reality

    Hmm . . .

    God exists.

    Q.E.D.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Jeffrey Shallit debated Durston recently, you should have asked him for some background info.

    ReplyDelete
  3. It looks like Durston has slipped in the premise that only supernatural intervention (God) can explain why his model fails to predict what is actually observed. Of course, we reject this premise because his model could simply be flawed. But also, to accept the conclusion "God exists" from this premise would just be begging the question.

    ReplyDelete
  4. The notion that Axe in any way measured the "probability" of origination of a functional protein was demolished here.

    It's interesting that Durston ignores the long-ago discussion on ISCID that included his rather abrupt disappearance upon learning that his, um, "equations" did not match experimentally-observed reality.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Larry,

    It must have been frustrating indeed!

    However, whenever a theist tries to prove the existence of god using logic, always remind them that logic can only be used to determine whether an argument is valid. Logic CAN tell if the conclusion follows from the premise(s) but it CANNOT tell if the conclusion is true. Therefore using an argument to prove the existence of an object is circular since the conclusion is true only... if it is true! Put simply, if it turns out there is no god, then all theistic arguments are false (no matter how valid).

    That's one of the first things that one learns when studying logic, and it's time god believers be told.

    Robert

    ReplyDelete
  6. No argument for the existence of God was presented at that lecture and to suggest that there was is to misrepresent me and what the lecture was about. It seems that there are two Kirk Durstons .... the one described by folks such as Larry Moran, Jeffrey Shallit, and other committed atheists, and then there's me. All I can say is that I sincerely hope that no one is so trusting and innocent as to think that Larry has offered an objective report of my lecture. For further comments on some aspects of my lecture, see my response to the degrading genomes blog.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Kirk Durston says,

    No argument for the existence of God was presented at that lecture and to suggest that there was is to misrepresent me and what the lecture was about.

    What do you take us for ... complete idiots?

    You offered "proof" that an intelligent designer was necessary to make proteins. Hmmm ... I wonder what kind of intelligent designer you might be thinking about? Later on at the end of your lecture you gave us a list of things that this intelligent designer might have wanted to do - like eliminate junk DNA etc. It seems like you have a pretty good idea of the motives of this intelligent designer. In fact, you give the impression that you are pretty familiar with his plans.

    I wonder if that's because it's the Christian God?

    From the point of view of an atheist, your "proof" is nothing more than an attempt to prove the existence of a supernatural (outside of science) being. You're not fooling anyone by pretending that this supernatural being is anything other than the Christian God.

    I can guarantee you that nobody in the audience—who were taking this course at a Catholic college—was under any illusions about who you were talking about. Don't insult our intelligence by pretending that the intelligent designer is really some little green man from Mars. Try being honest for a change. You might like it.

    BTW, Kirk, it has not escaped my notice that you make no attempt to defend the logic of your argument. Your hypothesis was falsified and yet you did not abandon it as a scientist should. Instead you made up a creative story about God in order to explain why your prediction didn't pan out. Why?

    Do you plan to use "scientific" logic like that in your thesis?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Let's have a look at whether or not Durston thinks ID is about God. From a recent interview:

    The first interview presents Kirk Durston, national director of the Ontario-based New Scholars Society -- a Campus Crusade for Christ ministry consisting of faculty members from Canadian universities. The organization's aim, says Durston, is "to promote Christian scholarship in every field, with a special interest in those areas where philosophy, faith, and science begin to intersect, and the problems and issues that arise out of that intersection."

    CC.com: What is being done to increase public awareness of the extent to which evolutionary theory is under attack by people with legitimate scientific and scholarly credentials?

    Kirk Durston: Rather than attack evolutionary theory, the Intelligent Design (ID) movement has taken a positive approach in its research program, focusing on evidence that intelligent design was involved in the origin and diversity of organic life. Of course, the evidence for ID has implications for Darwinism -- which I would define as the view that life arose and diversified through completely natural processes, with no divine design whatsoever.

    Small pockets of the general public are becoming aware of ID; but unfortunately, the general media often misrepresents ID. Peer-reviewed works, such as Bill Dembski's The Design Inference, and videos such as Unlocking the Mystery of Life are helping to give a proper perspective on ID.


    Whoops, I guess this is about religious apologetics after all. I don't have a problem with that, it's Durston's right to do apologetics if he wants, he should just admit that that is what he's doing.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Larry the reason I didn't respond to the 'argument' that you posted is that it isn't my argument. You made up the straw man. It's your baby, not mine.

    Nick commits the poisoned well fallacy, which goes like this:

    Person A argues for proposition P
    Person B suggests that Person A has a motive for arguing for proposition P, thereby concluding that proposition P is false.

    Nick, it does not logically follow that because someone might have a motive for arguing for a proposition that, therefore, the proposition is false. You point out that I am religious and that I may have a motive for arguing for ID. It does not logically follow that ID is therefore false. If you want to deal with ID, you will have to deal with the actual arguments.

    So if I may venture to be so bold as to point out, Larry has asserted that 'IDiots' are illogical but it is he who presents the straw man and it is Nick that commits the poisoned well fallacy. Gentlemen, I was taught in philosophy that academic integrity demands that before you can comment on another person's argument, you must understand it well enough to accurately summarize it. I suggest the reader take another look at the argument that Larry claims I made. Ask yourself, does this look like academic integrity in action?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Kirk, I have a question, then. Do ID'ists not understand evolution and common descent to make such fallacious arguments? Or are you deliberately deceitful?

    Gentlemen, I was taught in philosophy that academic integrity demands that before you can comment on another person's argument, you must understand it well enough to accurately summarize it.

    You must choose one or the other. One lays your claim moot based on your comment, the other makes you a liar.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Kirk Durston says,

    Larry the reason I didn't respond to the 'argument' that you posted is that it isn't my argument. You made up the straw man. It's your baby, not mine.

    Well then here's your big chance. Why not post a short summary of your main argument in the form that I used?

    You have a Master's degree in philosophy—it can't be that hard.

    You formed a hypothesis and made a prediction based on that hypothesis. Your prediction was falsified. You did not abandon the hypothesis. Why?

    You introduced the intelligent designer into your conclusion without any mention of him before. Please explain the logic behind that sleight of hand.

    Instead of whining about being misrepresented, show me your real argument.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Kirk: just in case you actually believe your own claim that Nick was using a "poisoned well" fallacy, let me spell it out.

    - you presented an argument for the existence of an intelligent designer (you did, didn't you? If not, just say so).
    - Larry equated your intelligent designer with God.
    - You denied that the intelligent designer was God.
    - Nick presented evidence supporting Larry's claim.

    There is no fallacy.

    And yes, given the history of the intelligent design movement, to claim that the intelligent designer is anything other than God is to insult our intelligence. So much for academic integrity.

    ReplyDelete
  13. If I might jump in here, Mr. Durston is quoted by "Nick" in an interview as stating:

    "Of course, the evidence for ID has implications for Darwinism ..."

    If Mr. Durston actually used those words, then we can safely assume that he has nothing to say of any value whatsoever.

    Quite simply, a doctoral student who insists on referring to "Darwinism" rather than the more correct "biological evolution" or "evolutionary biology" should not be allowed to discuss the subject among educated people.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hmmmm ... curiouser and curiouser. I'm reading that CC.com interview of Mr. Durston, and I am struck by this passage:

    "In reality, ID seeks to devise a scientific method to detect ID that makes predictions that can be verified or falsified."

    Um ... "seeks to devise?" As in, has not yet devised? I believe this point needs clarification, Mr. Durston -- do you, or do you not, have a scientific test for detecting evidence of ID? It's a simple question, and it warrants a simple answer, wouldn't you say?

    P.S. I'm also amused by Mr. Durston's choice of words: "... ID seeks to devise a scientific method to detect ID ..." In short, the eventual goal is for ID to detect ... itself.

    I trust the unintentional humour in that passage is self-evident.

    ReplyDelete
  15. kirk: Nick, it does not logically follow that because someone might have a motive for arguing for a proposition that, therefore, the proposition is false. You point out that I am religious and that I may have a motive for arguing for ID. It does not logically follow that ID is therefore false. If you want to deal with ID, you will have to deal with the actual arguments.

    Nick was not arguing as to whether ID is true or false, but about its nature; that ID is religion and the "Intelligent Designer" is identical with the Christian God. Why are you constructing such a straw man of Nick's argument? Are you stupid, or dishonest?

    ReplyDelete
  16. Kirk,

    1) Is God an Intelligent Designer?
    2) Could you name several other Intelligent Desigers that could have originated life without themselves being the product of a similiar origination. Obviously aliens don't count.

    ReplyDelete
  17. A few quick comments:

    1. I thank Larry for extending the opportunity to post a method to test for whether ID is highly probable or not (the way I phrased it in my lecture). I've been mulling this over even before Larry posted the invite. I have reservations about doing it in this particular forum, primarily because the numbers that would be involved are too few to justify the time and, secondly, I would prefer a live lecture where the back and forth dialogue would be greatly enhanced. I've thought that, perhaps, this could be done at the U of T over a 2 hour period. Larry could book a room and chair the event. I could present my proposal (as I repeatedly referred to it in my lecture) of a method to test for ID. I would sincerely hope that Larry et al would be able to set aside the usual hostility and personal attacks and, instead, run a collegial, honest event. As I repeatedly stressed in my lecture this past week, I am NOT claiming to have a 'proof' for ID. Rather, I am proposing a scientific method to test for it that is a work in progress. When this could take place is another question. Certainly not this semester. I am currently swamped with getting the next phase of my research up and running, and a couple of papers in progress. I cannot even afford the time o respond to these posts and will likely have to bow out today. My suggestion would be sometime in 2008, preferably after the winter semester, say, late April or May.

    2. I refuse to defend everything proposed in the name of ID. I am sure this is the same in any field. I only defend what I, personally, think is valid.

    3. I make a distinction between 'Darwinism' and biological evolution or evolutionary biology. Biological evolution is a process that goes on in the real world and can be studied. Darwinism, in my view, is an a priori commitment to completely materialistic explanations for the origin and diversity of life within which any intelligent role is necessarily excluded. That is what I object to.

    4. Contrary to popular thought, I am not out to disprove biological evolution. We've known about that for thousands of years ever since people discovered they could enhance the quality of their herd through selective breeding. Rather, I am arguing that regardless of how the origin and diversification of life came about, it appears that ID would be required at some stage, certainly at the early stages, and quite likely at later stages when novel protein families needed to be encoded in expanding genomes. I cannot prove this; I'm merely arguing that it seems more likely than not.

    5. My apologies to those who have raised points that I do not have time to respond to. That is why I propose a live presentation where everyone could have their questions addressed.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Mr Durston proves, once and for all, that he has no idea how science truly works when he makes the invitation:

    "5. My apologies to those who have raised points that I do not have time to respond to. That is why I propose a live presentation where everyone could have their questions addressed."

    But why in God's name (pardon the pun) would anyone who wants to examine your work think that dropping what they're doing and attending a live presentation of yours be the correct strategy?

    It's well-established that the whole live presentation/debate format is a favourite of creationists since they get to control the format, and can spring all sorts of "gotchas" on the audience with no warning -- gotchas that, in all likelihood, the audience members had no warning of and aren't prepared to rebut.

    In fact, you did that very (sleazy) thing to Larry here, and I quote Larry's own words:

    "Naturally in a forum like this Durston had me at a disadvantage. He was displaying the scientific papers and I had to admit that I had not read them recently enough to comment. The point was not lost on some members of the audience. The atheist scientist was trumped by the religious graduate student who was more aware of the scientific literature.

    "Frustrating," doesn't begin to cover it ...
    "

    Precisely. It doesn't matter how well-read Larry is -- chances are he's not prepared to refute every single paper or reference you can throw up on an overhead, which is why a live presentation of yours is stacked so thoroughly in your favour.

    Here's a thought, Mr. Durston -- why don't we settle this the way real scientists do? You sit down and write a paper explaining and defending your position. Take your time. Get it right. Define your terms carefully. Eliminate any ambiguities. See how that works?

    And when you're happy with it, and you're sure it says exactly what you want it to say, post it, at which point the rest of us can take it apart. That, Mr. Durston, is how science works -- not by cutesy live presentations where you prove how clever you can be at sandbagging your audience.

    To be honest, I'm not sure why Larry bothered to attend your talk. I see little value in personal confrontations with situations like this. I think it's far more fruitful for someone to, as I suggested, write down precisely the claim they're making, at which time I can quietly and leisurely go to town on it.

    What say you, Mr. Durston? How about putting your position down in writing, so we can critique it the way the grownups do? And until that happens, maybe you should cut back on the public presentations. That's probably the best way to keep from constantly whining the next day about how you're being misrepresented.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Kirk Durston says,

    I make a distinction between 'Darwinism' and biological evolution or evolutionary biology. Biological evolution is a process that goes on in the real world and can be studied. Darwinism, in my view, is an a priori commitment to completely materialistic explanations for the origin and diversity of life within which any intelligent role is necessarily excluded. That is what I object to.

    You are free to make up any definition you like but when it differs from acceptable usage you are obliged to state your unusual definition in order to avoid confusion.

    You didn't do that in your talk. Anyone in this audience of laypeople would have been perfectly justified in assuming that "Darwinist" refers to any evolutionary biologist.

    You know this, Kirk, and that's why you and all other Intelligent Design Creationists use the word "Darwinist." It's a loaded word and it implies a slavish belief in the ideas of a man who lived 150 years ago.

    The word you are looking for is "materialist" or something similar. But you can't use that word, can you? When you say that "Darwinists" have an explanation for the evolution of bacterial flagella you aren't just referring to evolutionary biologists who are atheists, are you? No siree, Bob. You are lumping together all evolutionary biologists and calling them "Darwinists." This would include Ken Miller, a committed Roman Catholic, and Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian.

    In other words, you have been caught lying once again. You guys are real slow learners, aren't you.

    For the record, I explain Why I'm not a Darwinist. From now on, I'd appreciate it if you would refer to me as an evolutionary biologist and not a Darwinist.

    Incidentally, all scientists are committed to a completely materialistic explanation of the natural world. That's what methodological materialism (methodological naturalism) is all about. If you were being really honest about your definition, you could easily have used the word "scientist" instead of "Darwinist."

    But you're not being completely honest, are you? If you were, you couldn't be a scientist.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Larry, Larry, Larry ... let me make a suggestion. If Mr. Durston insists on describing you as a "Darwinist," then you should feel equally free in referring to him publicly as a "Biblical creationist."

    After all, if he can pull arbitrary and misleading definitions out of his ass, why can't you? What's good for the goose and all that, you know?

    ReplyDelete
  21. I think it's a great idea for Larry to host a conference for Kirk's proposal, even if Kirk hasn't gone to the trouble of telling anyone what it is.

    The next day, Larry should host another conference for MY proposal that also has the potential to overturn Darwinism. Unlike Larry, I will be glad to tell you a little about what it involves.

    Remember that UFO behind the Hale Bopp comet? Well, you combine the coordinates measured from earth with with Hox genes and factor in the gNocc Hi constant (see, for example, Rigatoni, et al 2003). The results are startling, to say the least.

    And that's all I'm prepared to say at present.

    By the way, Larry, I'm a vegetarian (ovo-lacto) so please be sure the refreshments are meat-free. And fresh. And I prefer to be met at the airport by a Prius driven by Scarlett Johanssen, but if that can't be arranged, I'll try to understand.

    love,


    tristero

    ReplyDelete
  22. Unlike Kirk, that is. Sorry.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I would prefer a live lecture where the back and forth dialogue would be greatly enhanced. I've thought that, perhaps, this could be done at the U of T over a 2 hour period.

    Translation: "I prefer putting on a dog-and-pony show over subjecting my ideas to criticism in the peer-reviewed scientific literature."

    I would sincerely hope that Larry et al would be able to set aside the usual hostility and personal attacks and, instead, run a collegial, honest event

    It is doubtful that the event can be carried out in complete honesty if you will be participating. Can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

    ReplyDelete
  24. That should say it is in Redmond WA.

    From a biochemist in Redmond WA :(

    ReplyDelete
  25. you're hilarious. Because you can't seem to recognize just how retarded this post makes you sound.

    ReplyDelete