Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Debating Darwin's Doubt

Today is the day that John Scopes was found guilty in Dayton, Tennessee (USA) 90 years ago. The Intelligent Design Creationists have marked the day with publication of a new book called Debating Darwin's Doubt [A Scientific Controversy That Can No Longer Be Denied: Here Is Debating Darwin's Doubt].

The book was necessary because there has been so much criticism of the original Stephen Meyer's book Darwin's Doubt. David Klinghoffer has an interesting way of turning this defeat into a victory because he declares,
... the new book is important because it puts to rest a Darwinian myth, an icon of the evolution debate, namely...that there is no debate, about evolution or intelligent design!
Nobody denies that there's a debate between evolution deniers and scientists, just as there's a debate between scientists and those who refuse to vaccinate their children or between scientists and astrologers, homeopaths, flat Earthers, and a host of other kooks and quacks.
[Debating Darwin's Doubt] is a sequel. Gathering material from Evolution News & Views, the daily online voice of the intelligent design movement that I also edit, Debating Darwin's Doubt documents the intense scientific arguments sparked by Meyer's book. Top ID scholars respond to Meyer's most challenging critics, from sources ranging from The New Yorker and National Review up to America's most prestigious journal of scientific research, Science.
This is a tacit admission that's there's a lot wrong with the original book. So much, in fact, that a whole new book is required just to spin refute the critics. The IDiots have lined up a bevy of famous scientists (not!) to argue the scientific merits of their claim that gods created the Cambrian animals.
Among the book's 44 chapters are 10 by Meyer, including responses that have not been published anywhere else before. Other authors, led by William Dembski, Douglas Axe, Ann Gauger, David Berlinski, Paul Nelson, and Casey Luskin, take on the critics. Their writing is really an expansion of the case Meyer argues for in Darwin's Doubt, ranging across subjects like orphan genes, cladistics, the notorious "small shelly fossils," protein evolution, the length of the Cambrian explosion, the God-of-the-Gaps objection to intelligent design, and more.
I've ordered a copy of Debating Darwin's Doubt and I'll report on it when I've read it. However, I can guess what they're going to say since I've already discussed it in: What Do You Do When All the Reviews Are Bad?. Here's what I said back in October 2013.
So far the Intelligent Design Creationists have a perfect record. Every single review of Darwin's Doubt by a scientist has been negative. None of them like the book.

What do you do under those circumstances? Remember that the minions of the Discovery Institute aggressively hyped this book in the Spring before it was published. It was supposed to be the book that destroyed Darwinism.

Not to worry. The IDiots have an excuse ... in fact they have several.
  1. Ignore the main criticism and focus on details. This is what Stephen Meyer is doing in his response to Charles Marshall's review: When Theory Trumps Observation: Responding to Charles Marshall's Review of Darwin's Doubt.
  2. Most reviewers ignore the main arguments. This is the defense offered by David Klinghoffer, that well-known defender of Intelligent Design Creationism, and a non-scientist: A Taxonomy of Evasion: Reviewing the Reviewers of Darwin's Doubt.
  3. At least we got their attention. This is what makes David Klinghoffer proud, "Marshall's review stands out. It's important. Not only because Marshall is a distinguished paleontologist writing in one of the world's two most importance science journals ..." [Stephen Meyer Answers Charles Marshall on Darwin's Doubt]. Casey Luskin uses the same excuse in when he writes [Teamwork: New York Times and Science Magazine Seek to Rebut Darwin's Doubt,
    It's now evident that, their previous denials notwithstanding, Darwin defenders have been unnerved by Darwin's Doubt. On the same day last week, both the world's top newspaper (the New York Times) and one of the world's top scientific journals (Science) turned their attention to the problem posed by Stephen Meyer.
  4. Publicize reviews by non-scientists That's what Denyse O'Leary does in Astonishing innovation: Bethell’s review of Darwin’s Doubt defies tradition, tells you what is in the book. David Klinghoffer does it too: The American Spectator Warmly Welcomes Darwin's Doubt.
That's what you do if all the reviews and bad and you are an IDiot.
I'm really looking forward to a discussion of my own criticisms of Meyer's book. Recall that David Klinghoffer challenged me to review the book [On Darwin's Doubt, Still Waiting to Hear from Big Shots in the Darwin Brigade]. I'm sure he's going to devote at least a few pages to my criticism of Stephen Meyer. I showed that Meyer does not understand molecular evolution. The evidence of his ignorance is overwhelming.
It won't take long for us to demolish all the arguments in Debating Darwin's Doubt. That means we can expect another book in 2017. It will be called: Denying Debating Darwin's Doubt. The one after that (in 2019) will be Defending Denying Debating Darwin's Doubt. The denouement will come in 2021 with Darwin's Doubt is Dead.


  1. Unless Meyer spends all of his writing on the subject apologizing for all the quotemines and lies about peer-reviewed research (including Marshall's), then it's not worth the paper it's printed on.

    I should note that I talked with Marshall (sadly) after his radio debate with Meyer. I had mentioned that I found an article where Meyer directly lied about what Marshall had said in the paper.

    1. For those of you who don't know, OgreMkV aka Smilodon's Retreat wrote a great series of blog posts systematically dissecting all of Meyer's quote mines of authorities, showing how Meyer's source says something *different from* or *the opposite to* what Meyer says they said.

    2. Also look at Aaron Baldwin's review on the Amazon site.


    3. And an assemblage of various reviews and other commentary here:


    4. At the link above, one of the best pop-level reviews is by John Harshman himself, who reviews I think 5 chapters in detail, until he is too disgusted to continue further.

  2. Why should it matter if Darwin had doubts? Why should it matter if he really did have a death-bed conversion? (He didn't) Why should it matter what he thought? His work is in print, his evidence can be tested, his ideas can be confirmed or refuted. Debating Darwin is about as useful as debating Copernicus.

    Dave Bailey

  3. I downloaded the kindle book. There isn't much new, mostly it's from the DI blog, one newish bit was Luskin on my critique, but he still gets cladistics wrong, along with som

    1. Nick, did he whine about my National Review assessment, too? :)

    2. Yeah, not sure if any of it is new whining though.

  4. Blargh can't do this on my phone. Will be a bit

  5. At least they get a lot of sales to the guys who write bad reviews.

  6. I was going to say, one of the few new bits is (I think) Luskin's chapter 9, "Cladistics to the rescue?" The key flaws include:

    (1) Continuing to think of "lobopods" as a coherent group, which results in pointless arguments about e.g. whether lobopods are "closer" to arthropods than anomalocarids. Earth to Luskin: lopobods are a paraphyletic grab-bag. Living arthropods, onychophorans, and tardigrades all descend from lobopods, as do anomalocarids. Phylogenetically speaking, then, all of these groups are *within* the lobopod group.

    (2) The Luskin chapter contains a fair bit of discussion about how different the anomalocarids are from true arthropods, contradicting Meyer/Luskin's previous arguments (repeated in this new book, in other chapters!) about how it was totes OK to lump anomalocarids in as just another thing in the arthropod group!

    (3) Luskin has finally discovered the concept of a null distribution for the Consistency Index (CI)! It's only taken him about 2 years! Now, finally, having learned about it, he can dimly see the problem with his/Meyer's old tactic of squinting at some published CI value and declaring it "high" or "low" without any consideration of what the null distribution is. So, his new argument is that the null hypothesis of random distribution of characters is silly. To that I say -- why? That is precisely what one is claiming if one claims the data have no cladistic tree structure, which is precisely what these turkeys have been telling their readers for years now. (Except Berlinski; he admitted at one point that there is tree structure in the data, which is not made up.)

    Luskin then raises the idea that intelligent design could correlate some characters, and this could cause above-null CIs. This is true enough, but such structure in the data, when the designers are humans, is very limited -- all of this was thoroughly discussed years ago by Doug Theobald in his discussion of natural versus artificial hierarchies, in his 29+ Evidences for Common Ancestry FAQ, a resource which Luskin, Meyer et al. still lack the courage to engage with in any detail: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/section1.html#nested_hierarchy

    If Luskin specified a quantifiable model for ID that specified what parameters are to be learned from the data, and generated distributions of data (or CI or other statistics) from the model, then he'd have some shot at progressing in an anti-frequentist direction. But good luck with that -- IDists rarely say anything specific enough about their designer to be subject to empirical test.

    As for going beyond frequentist null-hypothesis rejection, us phylogeneticists got there years ago. Maximum likelihood and Bayesian methods are now dominant in the field (although only just starting in fossil invertebrate studies like the Cambrian; almost the last frontier for this area). For the sake of simplicity, I focused on parsimony/cladistic methods in my critiques of "Darwin's Doubt", and as a result of that, plus the IDists' systematic naivety and amateurism, cladistics is almost all that gets talked about in the IDists' replies. But if they would like tests of common ancestry in a fully likelihoodist or Bayesian framework, where null hypotheses do not have to be assumed at all, we've got that covered. Doug Theobald did that already (also), in his 2010 Nature paper testing common ancestry. We could do it for Cambrian morphology data matrices too, although it would take a couple of weeks of full-time work and thus a grant or a graduate student. Of course, the IDists just summarily rejected that work as well, so I'm not sure what the point would be.

    1. Nick writes: Luskin then raises the idea that intelligent design could correlate some characters, and this could cause above-null CIs.

      Yeah, or a supernatural being could anti correlate the characters, or randomly scramble them, or get rid of genetics and grow babies in magical cabbage patches.

  7. Saying these ID thinkers are not scientists or don't do science is clearly wrong.
    Its profiling them before a public that has not read their stuff.
    Who judges when science is done? Does one need a diploma? if science is investigation then thats all that defines if its science. The merits of the investigation! Who judges that? The opposition that strongly cares?
    ID thinkers have won their science spurs and you are facing their lances once more.

    Why are the reviewers so qualified? This is a great issue touching on God, religion, and civilization. Reviewers easily are under the influence to stop creationism's rising tide. Especially from ID scientists.
    I don't accuse but I don't trust reviewers in these things.
    Let the readers do the thinking and creationism carry the ball to greater audiences. The more books the better. the more controversially the better.
    The truth welcomes attention.
    Its good summer reading I'm sure.

    1. If you think those books are great, you'll love it when I quote.mine you too...
      ...let's see...

      Robert Byers said, Wednesday, July 22, 2015 1:10:00 AM

      ID thinkers are [...] clearly wrong

      This is great touching God under [...] the balls [...] The more [...] the better. the more [...] the better

      There you go. How do you like that?

  8. A chapter by Berlinski? Oh joy! I wonder if he will re-iterate his stupidity about 50,000 'trait changes' being to few to account for evolution fo whales from cows...

    1. I'm particularly fond of the one "trait change" that would enable whales to evolve a waterproof skin. All I can say is that it must look pretty messy when Dr Berlinski takes shower.