Friday, November 23, 2007

A Scientific Test for the Intelligent Designer

Kirk Durston has been participating in the discussion on the thread Kirk Durston's Proof of God. He's been having a bit of difficulty keeping up with the scientific criticisms of his proposed proof of the existence of God an Intelligent Designer. I can understand the problem. In an online debate everyone is on a level playing field. When a paper is mentioned, we can all check it out before replying.

So, Kirk proposes another way of handling the discussion.
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.
I'm happy to oblige and I've booked a room for either Tuesday April 22nd or Tuesday April 28th. I invite Kirk Durston to come and present his evidence that protein folding studies indicate the presence of an intelligent designer.

This will be an informal scientific debate attended by scientists who are familiar with protein folding. We have a lot of them here at the University of Toronto. Here's a list of the active labs working in this area in our Department [Protein Folding]. Here are the labs in the Dept. of Medical Biophysics [Molecular and Structural Biology]. And here are the labs in the Dept. of Molecular Genetics [Structural Biology].

I'm pretty sure we could get 20-30 graduate students, postdocs, and faculty members to come out and hear the protein folding evidence for intelligent design. They are experts in the same field as Kirk and I'm sure they will be able to show him where he's going wrong. It will be good for them to get exposure to the quality of work on protein folding that's being done at the University of Guelph.

I think it's safe to say that most of my colleagues have no idea of the importance of their work in the Intelligent Design Creationism field of scientific research. This is an opportunity for them to learn from Kirk Durston. Hopefully, after listening to Kirk my colleagues will be more open to the idea of intelligent design when it comes to reviewing research grants, scientific papers, or even sitting on Ph.D. oral exams—provided Kirk makes a convincing case.

I admire Kirk for his willingness to subject his scientific evidence for intelligent design to a group of experts on protein folding. It's very courageous of him since he's putting his scientific reputation on the line.

[Photo Credit: The Figure is from my textbook, Horton et al. (2006) p. 110. It's taken from the work of my departmental colleague Hue Sun Chan, one of the world's leading experts on the theoretical aspects of protein folding.]


  1. If you haven't already, I'd recommend you have those postdocs and faculty you're inviting read up on Kirk's published material (blog posts and comments as well as more traditional academic material) to understand the direction of his researches. I don't think it would be helpful to them or to Kirk if their first reaction to his calculations of the odds of various protein foldings is "Say what?"

    I also think it would be a fine idea to invite some folks from the mathematics department who work in probability and statistics-related fields (and to have them familiarize themselves with Kirk's work prior to attending). Whenever I see astronomical probability estimates attached to evolutionary changes, I always suspect the fallacy of goal-direction is hidden in there somewhere, and mathematically literate folks are often quite gifted at teasing it out.

  2. Looking forward to attending this university event. It's likely to pull in more than just grad students and faculty.

  3. My prediction is that Durston, when he sees how this event is shaping up, will find an excuse to bow out. (Just like his suddenly becoming "too busy" to continue on comment threads where he was getting his ass handed to him. It was ever thus, in the old days as well- when the going gets tough, the creationist trolls get going.)

  4. Here's a suggestion, Larry -- why don't you ask Kirk if he's capable of giving such a talk without once using the phrase "Darwinism?"

    If Kirk's goal is to present his "evidence" for ID, one would think that could be done without his usual abuse of terminology.

    So ... why don't you make that one of the conditions for the presentation and see what happens?

  5. Please keep us posted on this. At least it means that cognitive resources are being focused on this 'lumpy sequence space ' issue, which I feel needs a good airing. All outcomes are interesting: either sequence space is a block to evolutionary mechanisms as currently understood, or conversely it facilitates evolution, or we simply don't know and more research is needed. Which is it going to be?

    Hope this opportunity doesn't turn into an 'irrestible force meets the immoveable object' type confrontation and that all sides stay cool. There is nothing better for one's ideas than them being challenged.

  6. I'm happy to oblige and I've booked a room for either Tuesday April 22nd or Tuesday April 28th

    Tsk, tsk, this is crying out for a date of April 1st.

  7. I recommend that Durston make available his method ahead of time - say, one or two weeks before. If he's really interested in honest and meaningful criticism, this is the appropriate thing to do.

    Think of the exercise as a sort of qualifying exam, or grant proposal review. A student doesn't drop a bunch of stuff in a professor's lap at the outset of an exam, and a proposal isn't evaluated five minutes after a panel has seen it for the first time. Kirk deserves the same sort of tender loving care that the rest of the scientific community routinely receives.

  8. Durston, you need to work on your excuses. You won't explain your "proposal" online because, you say:

    I have reservations about doing it in this particular forum [Sandwalk], primarily because the numbers that would be involved are too few to justify the time

    That's just stupid in every direction. You've already developed this proposal, right? How hard could it be for you to explain it here?

    You had plenty of time to post several lengthy comments here, complaining about how your position was being misrepresented. But as soon as Dr. Moran asks you to clarify in your own words, suddenly your too frickin' busy?!

    And yet, you have plenty of time to go give another talk at U of Toronto, right? I'm gonna go out on a limb here and guess that it will take quite a bit longer to prepare another talk, go there, give the talk, answer questions, and then go home, than it would to just type out a few sentences.

    Not to mention the fact that the numbers on this forum are almost certainly much greater than will attend your new talk. This is the internet, you know.

    Don't be an intellectual coward. Tell us what your proposal is. I mean, come on. Wasn't your talk subtitled "What ID Proponents Actually Say"? Well here's your chance to say it.

  9. It will be good for them to get exposure to the quality of work on protein folding that's being done at the University of Guelph.

    In support of my current institution, may I suggest that there is more than one person working on protein folding here at the University of Guelph? I do not wish to shine a spotlight on my colleagues who may wish to stay out of this debate, but I'm sure there are people here working in this field, who do not resort to 'goddidit' as their conclusion.

  10. Hehe, called his bluff :-) Anyone taking bets on whether he'll pull out citing other commitments? Or will he be more creative - after all, Larry didn't offer to fund his trip so maybe that's an out :-)

    Come on Kirk, you asked for the invitation, don't tell us you're backing out?