Friday, September 24, 2010

Four Nails Exposed

It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).

Richard Dawkins
I know many of you have been anxiously awaiting the report of last night's meeting at Southern Methodist University. You know, the one where the Four Nails in Darwin's Coffin were revealed to the general public for the first time?

Here's the summary from Disco [Standing Room Only Crowd Treated to Serious Discussion of the Scientific Demise of Darwinism].
CSC's Stephen Meyer moderated the discussion after the film which included four serious challenges to Darwinian evolution. The first speaker was evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg who presented the challenge of population genetics to Darwin's Theory. He was followed by Biologic Institute's Doug Axe who spoke on the challenge of finding functional proteins, and CSC Fellow Paul Nelson who explained why evolving animal body plans by random mutation and natural selection is probably impossible. CSC biologist Jonathan Wells concluded the short presentations by explaining the challenge of ontogenetic information. The evening closed with a robust 40 minutes of questions from the audience.
Ohmygod! They snuck in a ringer, Paul Nelson. I didn't know he was going to be there. No fair!

As far as I can gather from this short summary, the four nails are:
1. Population genetics challenges Darwin's Theory. Not much of a surprise here since populations genetics was only developed in the 1920s and 1930s. That's at least sixty years after publication of the Origin of Species. The Modern Synthesis, on the other hand, was specifically developed to take advantage of the new understanding of evolution that arose from population genetics. The Modern Synthesis dates from the 1940s suggesting that Richard Sternberg still has a lot of learnin' ahead of him. Either that, or he is deliberately misleading his audience by referring to "Darwin's Theory." That would be wicked and, like Richard Dawkins', I don't want to consider that.1

2. The Challenge of Finding Functional Proteins. This probably refers to Doug Axe's work on mapping protein folds to an adaptive landscape. He is fascinated by the appearance of peaks corresponding to low free energy wells for each of the main types of fold. While staring at these figures he finds it easy to imagine that God made all of these folds and that it is impossible for any of them to evolve from some intermediate state. Real scientists don't have a problem explaining those peaks from an evolutionary perspective. But then, real scientists understand evolution and that gives them an unfair advantage.

3. Evolving Animal Body Plans by Random Mutation and Natural Selection is Probably Impossible. Paul Nelson defines himself as a Young Earth Creationist [Paul Nelson Is Confused] so it's safe to conclude that there isn't much about evolution that he likes. It's probably also safe to assume that his understanding of evolution leaves a lot to be desired since his "nail" is restriced to natural selection. (His readings in evolution may have stopped at the same place as Sternberg's.) I can't imagine why he thinks that evolving body plans is impossible. Most of the arguments along those lines have been refuted decades ago. What's the "new challenge," Paul?

4. Challenge of Ontogenetic Information. Jonathan Wells is famous for The Icons of Evolution where he had ten (10) serious challenges to evolution.1 At least we're making progress—now we're down to only four and the first two weren't even mentioned in Icons. The word "ontogeny" refers to development. I assume that "ontogenetic information" refers to the program of development involving the differential expression of genes at different times. Maybe he's referring to Evo-Devo (Evolutionary Developmental Biology). He could be referring to one of the "icons" in his ten-year old book because he criticized the current molecular understanding of development in a chapter celled "Four-Winged Fruit Flies." If that's the challenge he talked about last night, then it's hardly new. West's ideas were refuted even before he published his book in 2000.
There you have it, folks. Lot's like more of the same-old, same-old, criticism of science that's come to characterize the Intelligent Design Creationist movement. They never offer any evidence for a designer and they never tell us how they explain the "challenges" based on Intelligent Design Creationism.

They make extensive use of false dichotomy by assuming there are only two possible explanations for a biological phenomenon—their (usually false) version of evolution, or creationism. By "refuting" their strawman version they assume that the only alternative is creationism.

Now do you understand why we call them IDiots?

1. Not.


  1. I think its cute when IDiots say my research is impossible (#1 and #2).

    I also think its funny my brain considers Paul Nelson and Stephen Meyer the same person. I blame it on Paul Myers.

  2. They make extensive use of false dichotomy by assuming there are only two possible explanations for a biological phenomenon—their (usually false) version of evolution, or creationism. By "refuting" their strawman version they assume that the only alternative is creationism.

    Don't you see how it is that the enormous evidence for evolution must have been designed by God and/or Satan, since evolution cannot occur?

    See, so all you have to do is to refute evolution, because then the only thing we know that would deceive us by putting in evidence for evolution is intelligence, either God or Satan.

    At least that's the best I can come up with. Aside, that is, the constant fallacy of quoting Dawkins and others who, rather prejudicially, claim that life looks like it was designed (it may to them, there's nothing about life's appearance that would lead an unbiased person to that conclusion). That's a staple in ID "argumentation," and that it's a fallacy is only par for ID and its drive to change science from its biases against faulty reasoning and evidence-free assertions.

    Glen Davidson

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  4. Whether by design(!) or accident I think they have managed to distract people from dealing with the 'factual' claims.

    Reasonable people are keen to understand the motivation - are these IDiots ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked? Or some other Mix of Murky Motivations(TM). While we are busy trying to understand their motivations so that we can have a reasoned debate, the IDiots have delivered their bullsh*t and walked away.

    Perhaps we should always first respond "You're wrong, and here is why..." before we try and be reasonable?

  5. Rosetta, a computer program, can design a new protein fold de novo in a couple of days of computer time.

    "Design of a Novel Globular Protein Fold with Atomic-Level Accuracy"
    Brian Kuhlman, Gautam Dantas, Gregory C. Ireton,4 Gabriele Varani, Barry L. Stoddard, David Baker

    Evolution had billions of years so it must have been at least as easy. Axe is mistaken and uninformed.

  6. Dr. Moran being the educated man, that you are, you do know the first "scientific" use of the words idiot, imbecile, and moron was by Dr. Henry Goddard. He uses them to as catergories of a "problem" he himself define, namely "febble-mindedness".
    Whenever you uses these words, it makes you appear to be yet another eugenicist rearing his head. Because you Dr. Goddard was an eugenicist, who used his classification scheme to advocated the sterilization of people and their segregation from society.

    He say certain people identify early in life were predisposed to criminal behavior and suggested that the criminal courts should treat them differently. This was until later in his life, when he found out how his work was used to enforced anti-immigration, racial and other bigotry. At that point he retracted.

    But apparently you missed his retraction.

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  8. Thinking some more about the IDiots I wondered what noun could reflect their actions. I came up with the suitably gothic Skullduggery (crafty deception or trickery or an instance of it, or verbal misrepresentation intended to take advantage of you in some way).

    Then I reflected upon their ability and decided that they weren't that crafty, so I now offer the newly reconditioned:


    I thank you.

  9. Oh My God! They talk about the Ontogenetic depth. Would there be next Paul Nelson day anymore?

    I quess: Yes, there will be.