Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Don Johnson


Don Johnson has written a book that I'm probably going to have to buy (and read) if I ever hope to understand Intelligent Design Creationism.

Who is Don Johnson? Here's what it said on Uncommon Descent a few months ago [Why one scientist checked out of Darwinism].
The author worked for ten years as a Senior Research Scientist in the medical and scientific instrument field. The complexity of life came to the forefront during continued research, especially when his research group was involved with recombinant DNA during the late 1970′s. … After several years as an independent consultant in laboratory automation an other computer fields, he began a 20-year career in university teaching, interrupted briefly to earn a second Ph.D. in Computer and information Sciences from the University of Minnesota.Over time, the author began to doubt the natural explanations that had been so ingrained. It was science, and not his religion, that caused his disbelief in the explanatory powers of nature in a number of key areas including the origin and fine-tuning of mass and energy, the origin of life with its complex information content, and the increase in complexity in living organisms. This realization was not achieved easily, as he had to admit that he had been duped into believing concepts that were scientifically unfounded. The fantastic leaps of faith required to accept the natural causes in these areas demand a scientific response to the scientific-sounding concepts that in fact have no known scientific basis.”
Sounds like a typical run-of-the-mill creationist. He has several of the common characteristics of Intelligent Design Creationist proponents: (1) religion, (2) a background in engineering and/or computer science, (3) no obvious expertise in evolutionary biology, (4) multiple Ph.D.s. I'm really intrigued by the fact that so many IDiots have more than one Ph.D. because I hang out with real scientists all the time and none of them have ever felt the need to be a graduate student more than once in their lives.

Why is this book interesting? Well, for one thing, there's this excerpt from Don Johnson's website [Science Integrity (sic)].
"In the absolute sense, one cannot rule out design of anything since a designer could design something to appear as if it weren’t designed. For example, one may not be able to prove an ordinary-looking rock hadn’t been designed to look as if it were the result of natural processes. The 'necessity of design,' however, is falsifiable. To do so, merely prove that known natural processes can be demonstrated (as opposed to merely speculated from unknown science) to produce: the fine-tuning empirically detectable in the Universe, life from non-life (including the information and its processing systems), the vast diversity of morphology suddenly appearing in the Cambrian era, and the increasing complexity moving up the tree of life (with the accompanying information increase and irreducibly complex systems). If those can be demonstrated with known science, the 'necessity of design' will have been falsified in line with using Occam’s Razor principles for determining the most reasonable scenarios. If the 'necessity of design' is falsified, some may continue to BELIEVE in design, but ID would no longer be appropriate as science." (p. 92)
Isn't that cool? It absolves Intelligent Design Creationism from any burden of proof since things are said to be designed unless you can prove the negative. If real scientists can't prove beyond a shadow of doubt that life came from non-life then design can't be falsified and must be true.

It doesn't matter how many times we can demonstrate that some things evolved, that still doesn't demonstrate that evolution is true. We can only do that if we fill in the most famous gaps existing in the early 21st century. That's the only way to falsify Intelligent Design Creationism. One of the ironies is that there's really no explanation to falsify other than "it has to be designed." This is quite clever. By refusing to offer an explanation of how life began, or how animal diversity arose 500 million years ago, the IDiots insulate themselves from the same criticism they level at evolutionary explanations.

I was prompted to write about Don Johnson after reading another except form his book. An excerpt that particularly impressed Denyse O'Leary. She posted this on uncommon Descent: What will be the next time and money-wasting error Darwinism leads scientists into?1].
Researchers are discovering that what had been dismissed as evolution’s relics are actually vital to life. What used to be considered evidence for neo-Darwinism gene-formation mechanism can no longer be use as such evidence. In this case, neo-Darwinism has been a proven science inhibitor as it postponed serious investigation of the non-coding DNA within the genome, which was “one of the biggest mistakes in the history of molecular biology” [John Mattick, BioEssays, 2003 930-939].” This is reminiscent of the classification of 86 (later expanded to 180) human organs as “vestigial” that Robert Wiedersheim (1893) believed “lost their original physiological significance.” in that they were vestiges of evolution. Functions have since been discovered for all 180 organs that were thought to be vestigial, including the wings of flightless birds, the appendix, and the ear muscles of humans.”
This is more than a little confusing since the statement is wrong about the scientific facts. But even more interesting is the implication that the presence of junk DNA and/or vestigial organs is a threat to Intelligent Design Creationism. What kind of threat? Here's how Denyse O'Leary describes it.
The explicit reason for both the junk DNA error and the vestigial organs error was the need to find evidence for Darwinism in the form of stuff in life forms that doesn’t work. Without that need, these errors would not have been made.
Setting aside the lie about these being errors, let's try and see why this is such a big deal for the IDiots.

As we saw from the first quotation, everything is assumed to be designed unless we can prove that the "big four" have a purely natural explanation. So why would the IDiots be concerned about some little fish like junk DNA and vestigial organs? If a large part of our genome turns out to be junk and at least one organ turns out the be truly vestigial does this mean Intelligent Design Creationism is falsified?

Not bloody likely. The real issue here is not whether Intelligent Design Creationism has a better explanation for the organization of the human genome. It doesn't. The real issue is that these topics can be used to discredit science and evolutionary biologists. (Hence, the title of the articles.)

As I point out in class, this is the 21st century and everyone needs to have science on their side. This includes the IDiots and the climate change deniers. They can't just take the position that they are opposed to science—even though they are. That strategy hasn't worked since Darwin.

So, what do you do when the science seems to refute your claims? You resort to the only option available, attack the science and discredit the messengers. That's why we see so many stories about evil "Darwinists" and that's why people like Denyse O'Leary pounce on any opportunity to point out errors and mistakes in the scientific literature. And if you can't find any real mistakes you can always just make them up.

Intelligent Design Creationism is not about proposing alternative explanations. It's about attacking evolution and evolutionary biologists. Don't believe me? Just look at the books and the blogs. Something like 99.9% of what's written by the IDiots is attacking evolution and science. When's the last time you ever saw anything explained by Intelligent Design Creationism?


1. Aren't you glad that Denyse O'Leary is a professional journalist? Can you imagine what her titles migh look like if she didn't have professional training?

20 comments :

  1. He put his Ph.Ds on the front cover - never a good sign!

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  2. I love the irony of that quote from Don Johnson, because in the comments of the "why not to debate craig"-post, some anon asked for a direct quote where an actual ID-proponent claimed we can't know the will of the designer.
    Hahahaa, well... there it is.

    Can someone explain why the supposed "fine tuning" of the laws of nature are included in the design-inference of biological organisms? I mean, suppose we grant, for the sake of argument, that someone designed the laws of nature. Suppose we grant a Deist god that started it all and then went on it's way... it still doesn't follow that life didn't evolve.
    And why is everything he says simply one giant argument from ignorance? Let's assume we don't know what happened during the cambrian explosion, and we aren't aware that natural selection is capable of producing his "information increase" and "complexity increase" and "irreducibly complex systems".
    Well, Then we simply don't know. It doesn't follow from any of this that we are justified in assuming intentional design ever took place.
    I guess his response to this would be "it's just too improbable" and then regurgitate the argument from very large numbers.

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  3. "He has several of the common characteristics of Intelligent Design Creationist proponents...a background in engineering and/or computer science,"

    One can only conclude that engineers are so insecure with their understanding of anything outside their narrow conceptual framework that they must insist that everything from a stone to the multi-verse had a designer unless mathematically proven otherwise. What a perfect god complex.

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  4. I had an excellent student who is an engineer. He also is a plain atheist.

    Anyway, multiple degrees are an indication of a guy trying to compensate for his stupidity by getting degrees. It also happens when a person can't do anything significant and thus compensates for his lack of talent by getting yet another degree. Among creationists there is another factor (these can be commutative, not excluding): if you claim that something is a problem for evolution, get a title that makes you appear knowledgeable of the subject. This is why the book talks about "probabilities and information," and that second PhD is computer science and information technologies. To give the appearance of credibility. Quite common. Unfortunately, degrees don't change a bit their stupidity, their lack of talents, and their imbecility and inadequacy to judge what they just don;t understand or want to discredit for mere religious reasons. Dishonesty is not a problem. They can do that with gusto. Credibility they try and buy with degrees.

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  5. I'd say a counterexample of a scientist needing to compensate for some sort of shortcomings by obtaining multiple doctorates would be Massimo Pigliucci, who is a top-notch evolutionary biologist, but what exactly his motivation for doing so was isn't known to me.

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  6. Someone beat me to the mention of Massimo Pigliucci, Ph.D. Ph.D. Ph.D.

    This is reminiscent of the classification of 86 (later expanded to 180) human organs as “vestigial” that Robert Wiedersheim (1893) believed “lost their original physiological significance.” ... Functions have since been discovered for all 180 organs that were thought to be vestigial

    Oops, they defeated their own argument.

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  7. Moran:
    "I'm really intrigued by the fact that so many IDiots have more than one Ph.D. because I hang out with real scientists all the time and none of them have ever felt the need to be a graduate student more than once in their lives."


    Well that may be the problem right there. Not simply that they don't have the additional education and larger perspective.
    But that they do not even see the need or value in obtaining it.

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  8. Rumraket posted:
    "I love the irony of that quote from Don Johnson, because in the comments of the "why not to debate craig"-post, some anon asked for a direct quote where an actual ID-proponent claimed we can't know the will of the designer."

    You have distorted what I said.

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  9. In the absolute sense, one cannot rule out an naturalistic explanation of anything, since a natural process could produce something to appear as if it were designed. For example, one may not be able to prove a seemingly designed painting hadn’t been produced as the result of purely natural processes. The 'necessity of naturalistic explanations,' however, is falsifiable. To do so, merely prove that known supernatural processes can be demonstrated (as opposed to merely speculated) to produce: the fine-tuning empirically detectable in the Universe, life from non-life (including the information and its processing systems), the vast diversity of morphology suddenly appearing in the Cambrian era, and the increasing complexity moving up the tree of life (with the accompanying information increase and irreducibly complex systems). If those can be demonstrated, the 'necessity of naturalistic explanations' will have been falsified. And the supernatural, being demonstrated, would enable ID to be appropriated as science. Until then, naturalism holds.

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  10. Anon said: You have distorted what I said.
    Oh really? Let's go over it shall we:
    Anon said: Can you give us a link to a reference where an ID proponent has
    claimed that we can never know good design because god is inscrutable?

    I am asking you for a quote from an ID proponent.
    Please do not quote from somebody else.


    ID-proponent Don Johnson writes: "In the absolute sense, one cannot rule out design of anything since a designer could design something to appear as if it weren’t designed. For example, one may not be able to prove an ordinary-looking rock hadn’t been designed to look as if it were the result of natural processes."

    Game over. Would you like to play again? Y/N

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  11. The issue mentioned by Moran was `good design`. Notice the word GOOD.
    But arguing about this minutiae is a waste of time.

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  12. piprod01 posted:
    ``To do so, merely prove that known supernatural processes can be demonstrated``.

    Does evolution theory ``prove`` things.

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  13. Bayesian Bouffant, FCD said...

    Someone beat me to the mention of Massimo Pigliucci, Ph.D. Ph.D. Ph.D.

    That reminds me. Is there anyone who has FOUR Ph.D.'s?

    In my world, a Ph.D. takes about five or six years so four of them would take at least 20 years. It's a full-time job requiring 40-60 hours per week (or even more). Twenty years is a long time to be living far below the poverty line.

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  14. Anonymous “asked”...
    “Does evolution theory ``prove`` things.”
    This is one of those hypothetical questions isn't it.

    The answer is “No”. In such a way, that gets at the point of my post; science isn't in the business of proving things. The original comment I parodied, claimed that, only if science could “prove that known natural processes can be demonstrated [as opposed to merely possible to do XYZ]” then the supernatural design inference is necessary. Think about what it's saying; unless we can prove that it did in fact occur by natural processes it must have been designed. In other words, even if we have multiple plausible naturalistic explanations, or an extremely plausible account of something, ID must be true.

    If we could watch these events take place and provide a naturalist explanation, we still haven't “proved” that naturalistic processes can do these things (we've not eliminated the possibility, entirely, of a supernatural explanation), and so we've set up an impossible standard of evidence - whether or not there is a designer, we will always conclude that he must exist.

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  15. Anus the utmost IDiot,

    But that they do not even see the need or value in obtaining it.

    There is no value in obtaining multiple degrees. The only way forward is working in the generation of knowledge. That requires people to keep studying beyond their comfort zones. We can't generate new knowledge without having to figure out the state of the art around whatever problem we are attacking. Multiple PhDs distract from doing what's required for knowledge towards what's required to get yet-another-degree.

    In any event, degrees have no value by themselves. They are expected to be proof of adequacy and mastery of some area, but they are no guarantee. You still have to demonstrate by your independent research that you know what you are doing. getting more degrees is far from what's needed.

    The populace thinks that degrees can take away stupidity, or that you need smarts t get degrees. far from the truth. there are many ways to Rome. Unfortunately.

    Larry: lots of universities accept previous courses and education towards the punt age needed for another degree. Thus, having four PhDs does not necessarily mean going through the whole thing in a row. They can also run somewhat in parallel of courses are accepted for more than one program. Not something I would recommend though.

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  16. Anus. the utmost IDIot,

    Also note how having two degrees did not help Johnson avoid making an imbecile of himself at the grand scale of publishing a book filled with fallacies, misconceptions and stupidity, while dishonestly accusing the scientific community of lack of integrity. That alone should show you that multiple degrees are much more of a sign of stupidity than of reliability.

    (Other readers: Maybe there are exceptions, but this Johnson is clearly not one.)

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  17. Negative Entropy says,

    Larry: lots of universities accept previous courses and education towards the punt age needed for another degree. Thus, having four PhDs does not necessarily mean going through the whole thing in a row. They can also run somewhat in parallel of courses are accepted for more than one program.

    There are very few courses required for a Ph.D. in my field. Even if they could be transferred from computer science or theology (they can't) it wouldn't make a dent in the time it takes to get a Ph.D. in my department.

    I suppose the transfer might work in the other direction. Maybe the department of theology will accept a course on "Protein Quality Control and Trafficking Within the Secretory Pathway."

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  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  19. Anonymous said... You have distorted what I said.

    How do we know you said it ?

    Oh, the irony of an anonymous troll complaining that it's being misquoted.

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  20. Anonymous said... Does evolution theory ``prove`` things.

    In the same sense that gravity theory proves things.

    Do you get some sort of piece work rate for asking stupid questions ?

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