Mar 27 2008

Is Intelligent Design Falsifiable?

Intelligent design (ID), according to the Discovery Institute, is defined as follows:

“Intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”

The primary scientific criticism of ID is that it is not a legitimate scientific theory, but rather a transparent attempt at recasting religious faith (creationism) in scientific-sounding jargon. But ID lacks the minimal criteria to be considered science. ID proponents, of course, reject this argument because the entire purpose of ID is to masquerade creationism as a scientific theory.

Much of the discussion on this question focuses on the specific point of whether or not ID can be falsified – can it theoretically be proven false by scientific evidence. ID proponents say yes, scientists generally say no. While I agree that the answer is mostly no, the more precise answer is that it depends – it depends on exactly how ID is being formulated and practiced. I contend that in practice, ID proponents have rendered ID unfalsifiable while playing with semantics in order to pretend that it can be falsified.

In the most recent blog entry of the Discovery Institute, Jonathan Wells responds to Francis Collins on this very issue. Wells writes:

More surprising is the fact that Collins is here citing experimental evidence against a theory he maintains is unscientific because it is not open to experimental testing. In claiming that evidence from gene duplication disproves ID, Collins is demonstrating that ID can be tested with scientific evidence. Either ID is unscientific, in which case evidence is irrelevant; or evidence can be cited against it, in which case ID is scientific. Collins can’t have it both ways.

It is actually Wells who is trying to have it both ways – citing evidence against ID to demonstrate that it is falsifiable without acknowledging that it has been falsified. This is the game that they play. Pretending ID can be falsified, but then always keeping just out of reach of scientific evidence so that in practice it can never be falsified. There are actually several problems with ID that render it unscientific.

Asking the Wrong Question

As the definition given above indicates, ID is based upon a false dichotomy – that design in nature is necessarily intelligent and that evolution is an “undirected process” incapable of producing design. ID proponents have carefully crafted their premise – design = intelligence, evolution = random. Then all they have to do is show the appearance of design in nature and claim that ID is verified.

The fatal flaw in this strategy is that evolution is capable or producing design also, and it is not a random process. Natural selection is the non-random survival of organisms based upon their inherited traits. Mutation and variation is random, and the long-term path of evolutionary change is best described as chaos, but natural selection allows for the non-random accumulation of favorable changes.

So the ID proponents are asking the wrong question – always a fatal problem in science. The question is not whether or not there is design in nature, but what is the nature of that design. Evolution is a bottom-up process whereby design and complexity emerge out of blind but non-random processes. “Intelligent” design, by contrast, is a top down process where the final result is known ahead of time by the designer and is achieved with purpose.

There are many analogies we can draw to illuminate this difference. For example, a city that grew over decades without any central planning, but based upon the decisions and actions of individuals acting in their own interest is like an evolved city. An ID city, however, is one planned and mapped out ahead of time, by a committee, corporation, or some other body. In the evolved city there will still be design – streets and utilities will follow residences and business, for example. Shops will tend to pop up and survive to meet the demand. But it will be messy, with lots of redundancy, with abandoned buildings where neighborhoods collapsed or business failed. Streets would likely not be optimally arranged. A planned city, however, would look vastly different – more clean, purposeful, and direct. The streets would be laid out in a deliberate way – one that could not have emerged spontaneously with use.

The difference between evolved and top-down designed life would be even more stark. Buildings and entire city sections can be torn down and rebuilt – so some top-down design can always be imposed later. But biological systems are far more constrained. Bottom-up evolutionary systems can only work with the raw material at hand. They cannot start from scratch, develop new organs or limbs wholesale from nothing, or completely eliminate unneeded bits of anatomy.

If we ask the correct question – does life display bottom-up or top-down design, the answer is obvious to anyone with sufficient knowledge of biology and an unbiased mind. Life is overwhelmed by bottom-up design, from the vestigial eyes of cave salamanders to the bits of viral DNA junking up our genome. But none of this can falsify ID because they are asking the wrong question.

Common Descent

It is important to recognize in any such discussion that evolutionary theory actually has multiple components – the fact that life’s diversity arose through evolutionary branching descent over time, the specific mechanism(s) of evolution, and the particular pathway of evolution taken by specific branches of the tree of life. One important line of evidence for the first claim of evolution – that life arose through branching descent – are the many biological similarities among various species that not only demonstrate common descent, but a branching pattern of descent predicted by evolution.

In the quote above Collins is referring to evidence from gene duplication – that over time one gene can become duplicated as a mistake of replication. Descendants will therefore have two copies of a gene instead of one. The duplicate copy is therefore free to change over time through mutations, essentially free to experiment with variations of function, because the original gene copy is able to carry out the original function of the gene. The duplicate gene may therefore hit upon a new function that helps the original gene carry out its purpose, or perhaps it may become co-opted for an entirely different purpose.

Biologists can examine the sequence of base pairs in genes to map our their relationships with other genes, and in that way can build a detailed map of which genes evolved from which other genes. What we find when we compare such maps among species is that they fit into a nice pattern of branching common descent. There are multiple other independent lines of evidence that also demonstrate not only branching descent, but a reasonable overlap – the different lines of evidence generally agree about which species evolved into what when.

These lines of evidence could have completely falsified evolution. It is possible, for example, that we could have found patterns of gene variation that were incompatible with the theory of common descent. If we bring this back to the question of whether or not ID is falsifiable we have to ask – is there a pattern of gene variation we could have found that could potentially falsify ID? The answer, apparently, is no. At least I am not aware of any ID proponent making such a prediction that was open to falsification.

But this is also where we get into the “it depends” answer. As I stated above, evolution have various components, only one of which is common descent. Some ID proponents, like Michael Behe, actually accept the fact of common descent. They think that life did change over time through branching descent. They just don’t think this process was due to natural selection acting on variation. They think it was guided top-down by an intelligent designer. So evidence of common descent is not evidence against this form of ID.

What about those who do not accept common descent? Those who, like young earth creationists, think that life was created more complete, that the “designer” did not spend millions of years making slow changes over time, but poofed life into existence pretty-much as it is. Evidence for common descent does falsify such claims.

Or does it? In theory, yes it does. And those like Wells are now using this to argue that ID is science because it can be falsified. But in practice, it does not, because ID proponents and creationists who reject common descent make the argument that the intelligent designer could have chosen, for their own unfathomable reasons, to make life so that it has the appearance of branching descent. The “God can make life to look like whatever he wants” defense renders the beliefs of anyone who makes it unfalsifiable. So either way this line of argument does not make ID falsifiable science.

Irreducible Complexity

This is the primary line of argument for the falsifiability of ID – that we can look for design in biological nature by looking for structures and biochemical pathways that are irreducibly complex, meaning that they could not function if they were any simpler. This argument also has many flaws.

The biggest problem is that, once again, this argument is based upon a false premise – but one that was chose to achieve the desired result. The premise is that if a structure could not function for its current purpose if it were any simpler – if any complexity were removed – then such a structure could not have evolved because it could not have passed through simpler forms to get to its irreducibly complex state, because evolution requires that in order to be selected for a structure would have to provide an adaptive advantage every step of the way.

This superficially sounds reasonable, but it has been shown to be a false premise and yet the ID crowd will not abandon it. Specifically, the premise ignores the possibility that an irreducibly complex structure could have evolved from a simpler structure that served a different purpose. So, for example, the bacterial flagellum could have evolved from a simpler tube that could not move but was used to inject substances into another cell. This simple syringe could have been an evolutionary stepping stone to the more complex flagellum – and in fact evidence now supports this hypothesis.

In practice the notion of irreducible complexity contains two strategies – the first is to argue that a biological entity could not be simpler even in theory. But as discussed above this strategy is based upon a false premise and is therefore not valid. So ID proponents fall back to their second strategy – arguing that evolutionists have not fleshed out the actual evolutionary history of an apparently irreducibly complex structure or pathway. But this second strategy is nothing more than an argument from ignorance. It relies upon our current knowledge and assume that currently unknown equals unknowable, and further than unknowable means impossible – impossible for evolution, therefore we need to invoke an intelligent designer.

An argument from ignorance – basing a conclusion on what is not known – is always a weak argument, because it does not require any positive evidence for a theory, it’s just knocking down a competing theory. Also, what has happened since Behe made his initial claims for irreducible complexity is that scientific progress has continued, and many of the holes in current knowledge that Behe relied upon have been filled in, like the bacterial flagellum example above.

What implications does this have for the question of whether or not ID is falsifiable? Well, it establishes that specific claims used to support ID are falsifiable. We have now falsified the claim that the bacterial flagellum has no simpler evolutionary antecedents. Wells and others use this to say that ID is therefore falsifiable. But once again, in practice it isn’t, as is evidenced by the very fact that Wells, Behe and others have not abandoned ID because the flagellum argument was proven wrong. This is because when one argument falls, they simply migrate to another. They even state that in order to falsify ID evolutionary scientists would have to flesh out the complete evolutionary history of every biological component. This, of course, is an impossible and absurd standard.

What they are admitting, without meaning to, is that ID is ultimately a “god of the gaps” belief, and the only way to falsify it is to close every single last gap.

The False Dichotomy

The notion of ID falsifiability also has a deeper logical problem – that ID is defined entirely but what it isn’t – namely evolution. ID is based upon the claim that evolution cannot explain life. This is a false claim, as I have pointed out above, but even if true it would not be evidence for ID. So ID proponents spend their time trying unsuccessfully to poke holes in evolutionary theory, or pointing out the current gaps in our knowledge (while ignoring the fact that this is a rapidly moving target), all the time pretending that is somehow evidence for ID, when it isn’t.

I already discussed that their strategy is to equate all design with intelligent design, ignoring the fact that natural selection acting upon random mutation is a cumulative process capable of generating bottom-up design. The real question is whether or not the design we see in biology looks top-down intelligently designed or bottom-up evolutionarily designed. If ID proponents had an actual theory they should be able to say something about the features of intelligently designed life (predict what we should find) – and these features can be looked for to see if their design predictions pan out. So far they have not been able to do this.

Their answer to this is irreducible complexity, but as I explained this doesn’t cut it.

What they will not do is make any statements about the intelligent designer. What marks would such an intelligence leave upon creation? No one appears to know. When pressed they often play the “it’s a mystery” card. How can we possibly fathom the intelligence necessary to design and create life? Evolution does make many specific predictions about what evolved life should look like – predictions that have been validated. Evolution’s successful positive predictions are a problem for ID, but they deal with them the same way, by essentially arguing that the designer could have arbitrarily and inexplicably decided to make life look as if it evolved.


While there are many complexities to the question, complexities exploited by ID proponents to create confusion, the answer to the question asked in the title of this entry is that ID is not falsifiable – at least not how it is promoted by ID proponents.

The challenge that remains open for the ID community is to state a specific prediction about what positive evidence should be present if life were top-down intelligently designed. They cannot do this. Their predictions are all negative – what evolutionary theory won’t be able to do. And worse their negative predictions are all constantly changing in order to keep one step ahead of the advance of evolutionary science (making ID functionally a god-of-the-gaps argument).

Perhaps the Discovery Institute (if they were overcome by an uncharacteristic spasm of intellectual honesty) should change the definition of ID to :

“Intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things were caused by an intelligent agent who, for reasons we do not care to get into, chose to make the world look exactly as if it were the product of random variation and natural selection.”

81 responses so far

81 Responses to “Is Intelligent Design Falsifiable?”

  1. Physicaliston 27 Mar 2008 at 1:30 pm

    Very nice overall, but I do have to quibble just a little with your claim that “evolution is capable or producing design also.” We need to be very clear about how we are using the word ‘design.’ Of course, there is a sense in which you’re right, but I think that you need to be very clear about precisely what the term means as you use it. Certainly it’s correct that natural selection is very much non-random.

    However, I think the ID folks want to say that ‘design’ means an intelligent being having a goal in mind in the creation of something. This is a pretty common understanding of the term, so I’m happy to accept this usage. Then we want to point out that biological organisms are generally not designed.

    However, we also need to insist, as you do, that they’re not random either. The orbit of a planet around the sun is clearly not designed (unlike that of a spaceship), but it is also clearly not random: it’s due to orderly natural processes.

  2. MorsDeion 27 Mar 2008 at 1:40 pm

    “always a fatal problem is science.”

    I’ve caught you – you’re working for the other side!

    author note – thanks, got it.

  3. Steven Novellaon 27 Mar 2008 at 2:04 pm

    Physicalist – that is kind-of my point. They use the term “design” in the colloquial sense of purposeful design by a creator, but then when they apply it by “looking for design in nature” they use broader criteria that would include the kind of bottom-up design that can be produced by evolution.

    In this deceptive way they get to point at evolutionary design and proclaim it to be design which = intelligent designer by their false premise.

  4. Roy Nileson 27 Mar 2008 at 3:35 pm

    You are overlooking the distinct possibility that there is an element of purposeful design in evolution that comes from life forms themselves, which is beginning to become evident through the study of epigenetics.
    We are beginning to see that there are more than mutations at work when it “appears” that an evolutionary change has been somehow thought out in advance. If in fact some changes that give an organism at least a short term advantage have been based on that organism’s experience, and the changes induced by that experience can be passed to its offspring, we have in effect a purposeful design – a designation if you will – the purpose being to pass on experience rather than to pass on mutations that might result in a new way to deal with the vagaries of circumstance.

    ID proponents may sense intuitively that something of the sort might be the case, but to consider that possibility openly would not be beneficial to their cause.

  5. Scott R.on 27 Mar 2008 at 5:22 pm

    Over and over again, Intelligent Design proponents have proved they are fractally wrong. That means, not only are they wrong but that they are wrong at every conceivable scale of resolution. That is, from a distance, a fractally wrong person’s worldview is incorrect; and furthermore, if you zoom in on any small part of that person’s worldview, that part is just as wrong as the whole worldview. By starting with an unprovable premise, they pile lies upon faith until the only way they stay ahead of this tsunami of wrongness is to keep moving the goalposts. As always Steven, you have pulled the rug out from under their flawed theories. And as always, their theories will continue to warp in order to dodge your pointed criticism. Most likely a never ending battle but one that must be fought. The alternative is frightening in the extreme.

  6. ZIONDUBon 27 Mar 2008 at 6:00 pm

    “The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”

    More and more I begin to support a variation of the “just let them rant” school. Dr. Novella’s critique is well written. However, since it has as its starting point an absolutely meaningless statement it is difficult not to feel that the critique only serves to give credit to individuals who are just too lazy to even express their own theory properly.

    1) Everything after the comma is useless. Ignoring the fact (as pointed out by Dr. Novella) that natural selection is not “undirected” putting a “not” in a theory is unscientific since you can’t prove a negative.

    2) So what is left. Again ignoring silliness (apparently “living things” can be separted from the universe) what is left is a theory that holds certain features (not all features, most features, the vast majority of features) are best (whatever that means – most simple, requiring no thought or experiment comes to mind) explained by an intelligent (with an IQ on a Binet of >80?) cause.

    Personally, I say let them explain themselves before putting the effort into telling them that they are wasting their time. Of course ID is not falsifiable – it does not even have an understandable definition.

    PS Even the term Intelligent Design requires us to buy into their assumption that and intelligent cause would produce features that appeared as “designed” – maybe it is an intelligent cause with a sense of the abstract or a great sense of humor. Oh oh clearly the panda’s thumb is proof of ID.

  7. curtison 27 Mar 2008 at 6:24 pm

    “There are many analogies we can draw to illuminate this difference.”

    I have what I think is a compelling analogy. My colleagues and I use a genetic algorithm (GA) code to design photonic structures. To those unfamiliar with genetic design, the process is described in detail on wikipedia:
    My colleagues are clearly “intelligent designers,” in that we understand the laws of physics and we are easily able to identify and rank candidate designs in order of performance. However, the number of degrees of freedom in the design space is simply unfathomable when compared to the analytic capability of our minds (or even the most sophisticated computers). Our educated guesses are generally crude and simple. In your city analogy, this is akin designing a city in which all buildings are identical, 1/3 residential, 1/3 commercial, and 1/3 industrial. This solution is clearly “designed,” but it is also clearly not optimal when one includes more degrees of freedom (e.g., pollution, quality of life).
    Were we omniscient designers (OD), the optimum selection and arrangement of materials for a specific photonic application would be obvious. We as intelligent designers, have found that GA is the most efficient and effective approach to designing solutions to specific objectives in cases when the number of degrees of freedom exceeds the analytic capacity of the designer.. The photonic designs produced by this technique display all of the complexity, sophistication, and blemishes one sees in nature, including irreducible complexity and useless artifacts.

  8. pecon 27 Mar 2008 at 7:04 pm

    I think neo-Darwinism and creationism are both wrong, and the truth is somewhere in between. But at this point science cannot satisfy our curiosity about how we got here. And it’s possible that the question will never be answered definitively and scientifically.

    Intelligent design may not be falsifiable, but neither is neo-Darwinism. The idea that the variations contributing to evolution are entirely random and unrelated to conditions outside the genome is merely an assumption, first of all. It is not at all implausible to think that influences from the environment might change the quantity or quality of genetic mutations. Of course that aspect of neo-Darwinism is falsifiable, and some experiments have already shown that the rate of mutations can increase in some organisms, under environmental stress.

    But neo-Darwinism in general is hard to argue against. Its proponents can always fall back on the idea that nothing is impossible given enormously long periods of time. It seems utterly unlikely that such complex machinery could be built by a gradual process of selection among random variations. But neo-Darwinists confidently advise us to ignore both common sense and mathematical reasoning. Not because they have found any evidence for their theory, but because they feel their theory might be true, and we have no proof that it isn’t. And furthermore their theory goes along well with materialism, which they feel is scientific.

    Neither neo-Darwinism or Intelligent design can claim to be scientifically demonstrated at this time, and maybe neither ever will be. The only scientific and skeptical approach right now is to believe in evolution — since it has been scientifically demonstrated — but to admit we don’t know how or why evolution happened.

  9. Roy Nileson 27 Mar 2008 at 7:29 pm

    Thanks pec. We often have to wait until the good doctor is forced to respond to one of your posts to learn what he really thinks But since you are in my opinion more right than wrong in this one, he may have to carefully pick around that point.

  10. weingon 27 Mar 2008 at 7:50 pm

    Roy Niles,
    Did I read you correctly? Are you saying that acquired experiences are inherited? That sounds like Lamarkism and Lysenkoism. Those theories were discredited a long time ago. Lysenko, who was backed by Stalin, was responsible for setting back soviet genetics at least twenty years and probably for some of the crop failures that caused many to die of starvation following that nonsense.

    I partly agree with you. I think the evidence supports evolution and knowledge of how evolution occurs is growing. The question of why, I leave to the priests and philosophers.

  11. Roy Nileson 27 Mar 2008 at 8:33 pm

    I’m saying that epigenetics is examining credible evidence that experiences of an organism can cause genetic changes in that organism, and this has already been recognized, but there was no recognition of any credible procedure that allowed some of those changes to be heritable by the organism’s progeny. They are now proposing and testing hypotheses as to how and why this now appears to be part of the evolutionary process. So it’s genetic change that’s the result of certain types of experience in addition to mutation that now seems to be heritable.

    I’m not an epigeneticist, but I’d play one on TV if asked. In the mean time you might want to look into the subject.

  12. petrucioon 28 Mar 2008 at 12:44 am

    The question of why, you leave to the priests? Why should he be in any better position to answer it than your baker? Or yourself?

    Why do smart, even scientific people delegate unanswerable questions to the religious? If the question is unanswerable, all religion is going to get you is the illusion of an answer.

    And If you really want to know, the answer is 42… (that’s as good as any answer I’d get from the priest)

    @Roy and weing:
    Agree with pec? Evolution is not falsifiable? You’ve GOT to be kidding me!

    Irreducible complexity, for one, hello? As pointed by Darwin himself.
    (Real irreducible complexity of course, spare us the usual crap)

  13. ellazimmon 28 Mar 2008 at 2:13 am

    pec: which part of neo-darwinism would you like to know how to falsify?

  14. Roy Nileson 28 Mar 2008 at 3:47 am

    Petrucio: Of course the theory of evolution is falsifiable. And of course ID is complete bunk. If one believes in a god-like creator, they unfortunately cannot allow themselves to consider that the creator could have stayed away from any part of the evolutionary process.
    He simply wasn’t invented by us to serve any other purpose.
    And someone who is prevented from considering anything other than some sort of ID shouldn’t even pretend they had the freedom to actually think about it.
    Pec has said for both camps, wittingly or not, that neither knows the whole story. The science camp never claims something can be known to a certainty. The religious camp claims that everything it knows is so because it’s a certainty. I was happy for once that pec did not support that.
    And no doubt it’s for different reasons that we both find neo-Darwinism lacking. Or maybe I’m naturally suspicious of anything that is described as neo-something.

  15. petrucioon 28 Mar 2008 at 3:55 am

    He said, “I think neo-Darwinism and creationism are both wrong, and the truth is somewhere in between”

    Darwinism is not wrong, it’s incomplete. Totally different.

    Also: “Intelligent design may not be falsifiable, but neither is neo-Darwinism.”

    Also wrong.

    Of course our understanding of evolution is incomplete, it will always be. Out understanding of the cosmos too. pec is just trying to ‘gap’ you in, and you are falling for it.

  16. eiskrystalon 28 Mar 2008 at 4:05 am

    Pec said : But at this point science cannot satisfy our curiosity about how we got here.

    Pec, I can safely say… YOU came from monkeys.

  17. And Slaters Go Plopon 28 Mar 2008 at 5:25 am

    Taking back Intelligent Design…

    I have a theory based on a number of observations and I want to give it a name. My observations are that there are things that lifeforms do to their environments that leave traces that wouldn’t otherwise naturally occur. I propose that we might b…

  18. pecon 28 Mar 2008 at 5:38 am

    “Agree with pec? Evolution is not falsifiable? ”

    I said NEO-DARWINISM may not be falsifiable.

    I said EVOLUTION HAS BEEN SCIENTIFICALLY DEMONSTRATED. There is NO CONTROVERSY about evolution, in my opinion, and in the opinion of every scientist. I am not arguing about evolution, I will never argue about evolution because it is obviously a correct theory.

    Did you hear it this time?

  19. pecon 28 Mar 2008 at 5:44 am

    “That sounds like Lamarkism and Lysenkoism. Those theories were discredited a long time ago. ”

    Yes, Lamarck’s theory was discredited, but never disproved. It’s interesting how people can decide a theory is completely wrong and discard it, without any scientific reasons.

    And ever since, biology students have been taught that Lamarck was wrong, completely wrong.

    What scientific reason do we have for thinking and organism’s DNA cannot be influenced by some of what it learns and experiences? The idea that nothing that happens in the organism can influence its DNA was proclaimed by authorities; it was not determined scientifically.

  20. ellazimmon 28 Mar 2008 at 7:03 am


    By what mechanism do you propose an organism’s DNA can be influenced by what it learns and experiences?

    And again: what part of neo-darwinism do you want to know how to falsify?

  21. Steven Novellaon 28 Mar 2008 at 7:28 am

    There actually is evidence that mutations occur randomly in the genome. By comparing genes among various species we can see that the longer they have been phylogenetically separated the more mutation differences accumulate between them. This is the so-called “molecular clock.” If you consider only silent mutations (those that do not change the final protein) the mutations appear to be random. They are not entirely random because harmful mutations have been selected out. This is pretty strong evidence that mutations are occurring regularly and randomly throughout the genome.

    This does not rule out epigenetic influences, however. There is emerging evidence for epigenetic factors – it remains to be seen how much influence such factors have on evolution but looking at all the current evidence it is likely minor.

    But this is all entirely irrelevant to the ID debate.

  22. eiskrystalon 28 Mar 2008 at 8:07 am

    As far as i remember, the same DNA is contained in every cell, therefore any localised changes would be pretty obvious. That is unless a miracle happens and thinking about something magically causes EVERY single cell at the same time to mutate it’s DNA in the same way.

    The closest you will get is if the body suffers certain environmental effects. In some cases genes that were dormant can then become active. As a general rule you DO NOT want that to happen. It’s not pretty.

    Feel free to shout at me if i’m wrong though.

  23. Veonon 28 Mar 2008 at 8:17 am

    pec, about DNA “learning” and passing on what it has learned.

    The only DNA in your body which will be passed on is in your testes or ovaries.

    For men (in whom sperm is constantly being generated), what can the DNA learn by being stored between a their legs? Let’s say their muscle cells do learn about being stronger by lifting weights and other physical activity. That still hasn’t had any effect on the sperm cells, which are still just sitting there. Are you suggesting that what the DNA in the muscles learn is somehow transported to the DNA in the sperm? If you are, what is the mechanism?

    For women, who are born with their egg cells already generated and who never grow any more eggs during their lives, any potential learning their DNA may acquire won’t be passed on anyway. Again, are you suggesting that what other cells learn can be inserted into already formed cells? If so, how?

    Also, you say that Neo-darwinism can’t be falsified. Could you please define Neo-darwinism and explain why it is unfalsifiable. Thanks.

  24. alalondeon 28 Mar 2008 at 8:36 am


    Love the podcast

    False dichotomy, I completely agree.

    “The fatal flaw in this strategy is that evolution is capable or producing design also, and it is not a random process.”

    In that statement alone there are the seeds of confusion (or self delusion).

    Evolution has elements of randomness to it, so it’s easy for them to characterize it as a completely random process.

    Also the word “design” can be used as a verb and a noun. Where the ID guys are getting their undies in a bunch is when they believe you’re attributing intent to the process of design (verb) as opposed to just holding up the result of the process as a design(noun) in itself.

    My 2 cents

  25. Steve Pageon 28 Mar 2008 at 8:50 am

    You’re an idiot.

  26. Steve Pageon 28 Mar 2008 at 8:55 am

    I’ll retract that last statement (purely for reasons of clarification, not because I don’t believe that Pec is an idiot): Pec, you’re an anti-science, evidence-distorting propagandizing troll.

  27. Steven Novellaon 28 Mar 2008 at 9:32 am

    pec wrote: “Steve Novella believes any wacky idea as long as it fits in with science fiction and materialism.”

    Really? Give me just one example. (Of course, you think a lot of mainstream science is “whacky.”)

    This is such an absurd straw man, like much of what you have written in this thread. Scientists acknowledge what is unknown all the time. And you have hypocritically proclaimed certainty about your own beliefs.

    You are trying to make your anti-authoritarian rejection of all things mainstream into a virtue – but when you say “we really don’t know” you are not being skeptical – you are generally being a mystery monger – grossly exaggerating what is unknown while denying what is known, and misinterpreting and misrepresenting science and scientists.

    Regular readers of this blog and listeners of my podcast will see your statement as transparently false.

  28. DevilsAdvocateon 28 Mar 2008 at 9:35 am

    Pec, you’ve got a real future as a comedy writer should you wish to pursue it. You’ll probably need to knock down the ego a bit however, you know, where you presume to know how we all respond emotionally when we don’t know something, that we feel “ignorant”. Of course, ignorance isn’t a feeling, it’s a state of being, and one may feel shameful for it, while others unwittingly celebrate their ignorance with pride (wink). I think it would difficult to knock down the suggestion that scientists in general seek to resolve any area wherein they are ignorant. Filling in gaps of knowledge with feelgood nostrums is more accurately assigned to religionists, especially IDiots.


    Dr. Novella, I felt your city design/natural selection analogy was very compelling, very useful in illustrating the point. May I repeat it and should the attribution be to you?

    (And no, I’m absolutely not suggesting plagiarism, only recognizing that the analogy may be common, a part of the public domain, so to speak, within the evolution/ID community of debate. I seek only to use it to teach my students and want to employ proper attribution. It’s a wonderfully clarifying analogy for high school level science students.)


    Count me among those who feel the evolution/ID debate was won long ago, by a first round knockout, that continued debate tends only to suggest ID is worthy of further debate, lending it some measure of unmerited support, and that the problem is there is no referee to step in and stop the fight as Science beats the figurative ID face into a bloody pulp.

    I do feel efforts to stop ID’s assault on school curriculi ought to continue, but that is a political battle.


    Intelligent Design implies Intelligent Designer… God, of course. Why don’t IDiots simply get their Designer to testify? Wouldn’t that be a fun experience, seeing God lose a debate on evolution…..

  29. ellazimmon 28 Mar 2008 at 10:27 am


    Not having a measurable/plausible/observable mechanism is a perfectly good reason for wondering if a proposed effect is real. If you have no data that something is happening and you have no explanation for how or why it might be happening then how do you know it is happening? Science is about trying to explain repeatable observer independent events.

    Pointing out places where we don’t know is not terribly difficult but gaps are not falsification. Neo-darwinism is the best model devised for explaining how and why speciation has occurred and it can also predict some “events” that we can observe.

    So again: which part of neo-darwinism would you like to know how to falsify? If you really want to know then there just might be an answer to the question you have.

  30. weingon 28 Mar 2008 at 10:40 am


    I leave those question to priests as I don’t listen to them anyway. My pea brain is unable to answer those questions, so 42 is as good an answer as any.
    regarding partially agreeing with pec,
    I was referring to pec stating that the evidence supports evolution.

  31. Steven Novellaon 28 Mar 2008 at 11:04 am

    DevilsAdvocate – feel free to use my city analogy. I thought it up for this blog entry, so as far as I know it is original to me. It may have been independently used by someone else, but if so I am unaware of it.

  32. Roy Nileson 28 Mar 2008 at 11:51 am

    Dr Novella wrote:
    “This does not rule out epigenetic influences, however. There is emerging evidence for epigenetic factors – it remains to be seen how much influence such factors have on evolution but looking at all the current evidence it is likely minor.
    But this is all entirely irrelevant to the ID debate.”

    If it turns out that the emerging evidence for epigenetic factors is not minor, and that life had found ways to integrate experience with mutations that we have yet to discover, then of course this would be a sea-change in the way we presently think about evolution.
    The kind of “damning with faint praise” dismissal that this prospect is likely minor is based on what? Wishful thinking that something won’t be the case?

    And it’s flat out wrong to say this is all entirely irrelevant to the ID debate. Is not the debate precisely about how something was designed as a part of demonstrating what supposedly designed it?

    Do you think that the ID proponents wouldn’t be entirely shaken up by the prospect of even acknowledging their “god” had perhaps built in that sort of mechanism for intentional change into what may turn out to have been the most elemental of life forms?

    Entirely irrelevant? Give me a break.

  33. pecon 28 Mar 2008 at 12:04 pm

    I am with Roy Niles on this.

  34. _Arthuron 28 Mar 2008 at 12:46 pm

    Roy Niles wrote:

    “If it turns out that the emerging evidence for epigenetic factors is not minor, and that life had found ways to integrate experience with mutations that we have yet to discover, then of course this would be a sea-change in the way we presently think about evolution.”

    The keyword is IF.

    So far, the evidence show that known epigenetics factors are minor, and unknown ones are apprently minor too (that would explain why they are undetected so far).

    “and that life had found ways to integrate experience with mutations that we have yet to discover”: that would add a new process to the Theory of Evolution, not undermine it.

    “then of course this would be a sea-change in the way we presently think about evolution.”
    But may not help the Intelligent Design Theory, such as it is, at all.

  35. pecon 28 Mar 2008 at 1:06 pm

    “But may not help the Intelligent Design Theory, such as it is, at all.”

    It would overturn neo-Darwinism, such as it is. And we would go back to NOT knowing all about the causes of evolution. And we would have competing theories again, and the possibility of increasing our understanding. It would silence the devout neo-Darwinists who have succeeded in blocking scientific progress in this area.

  36. Roy Nileson 28 Mar 2008 at 1:24 pm

    Arthur, just what in hell did you think was my point? It was exactly that this would NOT help ID.
    It was exactly that this would add a new process – there was not the slighteest suggestion that it would undermine the theory of evolution.

    Undermining is more often due to a failure to shore up what others are trying to break down. Or failure to brush aside the sycophants that pop out of the sand like a scramble of crabs after every new wave, searching for something to scavenge, regardless.

    And IF is the keyword to any hypothesis, new or old.

  37. Roy Nileson 28 Mar 2008 at 1:54 pm

    I just read this part of Arthur’s post with sort of a dounle take reaction:

    “So far, the evidence show that known epigenetics factors are minor, and unknown ones are apprently minor too (that would explain why they are undetected so far).”

    Let’s see now, has he actually said that unknown things are that way because they have so far been undetected and therefor they are expected to be minor in their potential impact?

    Jesus Christ, Willis, what’s that about? Nonotechnology? Nondetectology?

  38. Roy Nileson 28 Mar 2008 at 2:01 pm

    Hey Arthur, the doc is calling. He needs you to help with the script of his new skeptics on TV venture. You’ll be developing the new Willis character.

  39. Steven Novellaon 28 Mar 2008 at 2:14 pm


    Apparently I have a very different conception of what is known about epigenetic factors than you. (I say apparently because I can only infer from what you wrote.) These are simply other ways the organism responds to its environment – mechanisms that allow for some information to be transferred from somatic cells to germ cells, thereby affecting the next generation. Or they are factors that are not genetic that influence development.

    None of this allows for any control of the direction of evolution or the types of mutations that arise. This adds no “intentional change” to evolution. If I’m missing something please let me know.

    I say these are minor because so far that is all that has been discovered – plus none of this would overturn the existing evidence on the role that genetic factors play in evolution. So we can infer from existing evidence that epigenetic factors are likely to be minor when compared to genetic factors.

    And yes – this is irrelevant to the ID debate. ID proponents will be unphased by this because they are immune to logic and evidence. The whole point of my post is that they have arranged things so that ID cannot be falsified (by anything) and yet they play semantic games to make it seem as if it is scientific.

    I predict that in response to the notion of epigenetic factors ID proponents will simply say that this adds to microevolution (whatever that is) only, or that this still does not address irreducible complexity, and all it really shows is how complex life is, making unguided evolution even more unlikely.

  40. _Arthuron 28 Mar 2008 at 4:01 pm

    What are the current predictions of the Intelligent Design Theory concening epigenetics ?

    None, except a general wish to see “Darwinism” theories reversed.
    Some ID proponents assert that there is no such thing as “Junk DNA”, all the DNA is useful, in ways they can’t explain. Neither they can explain on what tenet of their theory their speculation is based.

    Personally, I expect biologists will discover that Nature has some uncanny and interresting ways to reinforce Natural Selection.

    Do I expect those discoveries to entirely revolution the current Theory of Evolution ? No.

    Do I expect those discoveries to support Intelligent Design ? Not at all.

    Intelligent Design failure to come up with a comprehensive theory touching all aspects of biology, or with predictions of any usefulness, dooms it as a scientific theory. All it can come up is to try, haplessly, to quibble with some points of the ToE. When shown they are mistaken, they will never concede it, just try another attack, then re-try the one previously debunked.

    Other ID proponents try to find mistakes in Charles Darwin 1859 book, with the conviction that such mistakes retroactively invalidate all contemorary Biology.

  41. Roy Nileson 28 Mar 2008 at 4:17 pm

    Dr. Novella: “Intent” on the level of what might be called biological mechanics is represented by purposeful acts that were influenced by expected results. Virtually all life forms have expectations – that in a way is what separates them from non-replicating constructs (but this threatens to get me into a zone not dreamt of yet in my philosophy).

    If we find that nature has managed to deal with expected results – and thus the unexpected – in ways that depend less on reactive processes and more on proactive processes, then that will have been a significant find. And clearly I’m not the only one that thinks we are more than on the brink of such a finding. (My old Berkeley buddies certainly think so.)

    When I spoke of a “mechanism for intentional change” I was not talking about an intentional change to evolution – it’s about evolution being brought about in part by the “mechanical” intentions of life forms, which were themselves in both of our views brought about through a completely unintentional process.

    As to irrelevance, you referred to existing evidence in your own post as to the mechanisms involved, and in my view this was one that it wouldn’t hurt to have mentioned. You may have felt it too trivial to mention, but that doesn’t mean it has no relevance. Certainly not entirely.

    And I don’t know where I said anything about overturning existing evidence, as you should be the last one to infer that adding to evidence in science is an overturning process. That’s an ID type of inference if I ever caught one.

    If ID proponents will be unfazed by this, why will they be any the more fazed by any other part of your debate strategy? I’ve always presumed you attacked their positions by logical argument to influence a larger audience – otherwise there would be little point in addressing them directly at all.

    And whatever you predict ID proponents to say about this, I predict it will instead make the argument that evolution was guided by some supernatural force a lot less acceptable or tolerable if in fact it became apparent that any conceivable intent in life’s design could or would have come from life itself.
    And that it would have been long before they contend humans were placed here by God because in their view it would have been impossible they could have been designed by anything other than a God, and especially because of their difference from that same God’s design for dumb animals.

    Anyway that’s my story and I’m sticking to it for now.

  42. pecon 28 Mar 2008 at 10:04 pm

    “mechanisms that allow for some information to be transferred from somatic cells to germ cells, thereby affecting the next generation.

    None of this allows for any control of the direction of evolution or the types of mutations that arise. ”

    That was Lamarck’s theory, which was supposedly overturned by neo-Darwinism. It suggests that the goals of organisms can influence the direction of evolution.

    We should not be asking whether the neo-Darwinist advocates or the Intelligent Design advocates are correct. We should be trying to make sense out of whatever evidence is available. Dogmatism is not going to help us find answers.

  43. Roy Nileson 28 Mar 2008 at 11:40 pm

    The problem is that primitive (if any) organisms in all probability don’t have the type of heritable goal that can change or be changed by experience. The most it seems they have is an ability to pass on certain benefits from certain types of experience, which could make their innate “goals” (short term or long) more attainable under what could otherwise be more adverse circumstances.

    It’s like saying certain benefits from experience won’t have to be relearned by every generation – already believed to be the case – but additionally because of what could be a more efficient and more accelerated process than had been thought to be the case.

    This is of course a theory and it does lend itself to falsification. ID doesn’t.

    Also the philosophical bases of all these aspects of evolutionary theory have been and are subject to falsification.

    ID posits an intelligence at work out there which acts intentionally and effectively with the prospects of attaining its goals to a certainty – except it doesn’t let us see any other evidence of it’s existence or what those goals might be.
    Not falsifiable by those who consider that important to any known system for predicting future events.
    Hard to make sense of something that requires itself to be taken on faith alone.

  44. weingon 29 Mar 2008 at 7:49 am

    “Passing on “certain benefits from certain types of experience” IS having heritable goals.” How would you test this? Can you set up an experiment to test it?

    Human learning is definitely inherited. Anyone who has learned how to read can read the stored learning in libraries.

  45. daedalus2uon 29 Mar 2008 at 9:09 am

    Epigenetic programming of adult physiology does occur in utero. There may also be epigenetic programming of gametes. This is NOT any sort of directed evolution. This epigenetic programming does NOT affect the DNA sequence, what it does do is affect the expression of that DNA sequence. If you affect the expression of the DNA, you affect the phenotype of the individual that develops from that DNA.

    A major mechanism that is well known is DNA methylation. DNA that is methylated is expressed differently than DNA that is not methylated. That differential expression is complex.

    Exactly how all of this occurs is mostly not understood.

    I suspect that a reason that women carry their oocytes from birth is so that the oocyte can integrate the physiological conditions that woman has developed under and so optimize the methylation in her oocytes to optimize the phenotype of her offspring. That doesn’t change the genes her offspring carry, but it does change their phenotype.

    It is likely that NO is involved in many of these epigenetic processes. The largest class of transcription factors are Zn finger proteins and the metallization of proteins with Zn is regulated via NO. The folate pathway is regulated through NO and that is a major methylation pathway. Oxidative stress is largely regulated through NO. NO is one of the few molecules that can diffuse everywhere in the body and have multiple effects over many different time scales. Some NO compounds interact strongly with DNA (such as nitrosamines). Exogenous nitrosamines at certain levels are known mutagens and carcinogens. Endogenous nitrosamines might be very powerful DNA regulatory factors.

  46. Roy Nileson 29 Mar 2008 at 12:40 pm

    Pec: My epigenetic dog is not in your Lamarck fight. Sorry about that. And I said “type of goal,” not any type of goal. You need to learn to make some finer distinctions if you want to reach any successful or at least believable conclusions.

    And I’m sorry if any ID advocates might not like the way I expressed the essence of their beliefs. Maybe because it expresses the essence of their delusions

    daedulus2u: Intentional acts can have unintended consequences. Evolution is the unintended consequence of intentional acts any way that you look at it. Those acts didn’t have to made by supernatural entities. That would have been directed evolution. Epigenetics is not about directed change. Nothing I said was about directed change.
    The field of genetics isn’t just about DNA. And everything is not ultimately about NO.

    Fight amongst yourselves for awhile. Please.

  47. delaneypaon 30 Mar 2008 at 4:44 pm

    In Dr. Scott’s recent interview on SGU, she asked that we “link out” as often as possible to “Expelled Exposed” to increase its Google ranking. Having no Web site of my own, I hope you don’t mind be borrowing a little from Neurologica:

  48. badrabbion 30 Mar 2008 at 5:53 pm

    There is enormous complexity noted in living systems. The simplest living organisms, the simplest viruses, have several genes and replicating mechanisms. To explain such complexity even among the simplest of living organisms, there are only few possibilities:

    1. Life has come about and has evolved through natural mechanisms, or

    2. Life has come about through natural mechanisms other than evolution,

    3. Life has come about through supernatural mechanisms. By the latter, I mean not necessarily ‘miracles’ but processes that may be natural in the sense of obeying universal laws. Rather, I mean mechanisms, which while natural, are wholly not understood processes.

    These are reasonable, one might say scientific, hypotheses. They are theoretically verifiable and falsifiable. Thus, for example, if evidence were to be found that meteors contain organic material, then possibility #2 would be supported. If it were shown that mutations are incapable of increasing the total information of a given gene pool, then possibility #1 would be less likely.

    Now, if I were to show, through scientific endeavors that possibility #1 and #2 have flaws, then necessarily, and justifiably, I am lending credence to possibility #3. No?

  49. Roy Nileson 30 Mar 2008 at 7:27 pm

    Since the question at hand is ultimately about whether life was designed with both intelligence and purpose, nothing that diminishes the plausability of one or more of these alternate propositions adds credence to any of those remaining as far as making allowance for a purposeful creator.

    Any of those three (which are only three of many) could have a creator somewhere in the woodpile. And the deceptive part of this arrangement is that just to make it appear to be a syllogistic structure there had to be a deliberate omission in the first two proposals of the specification that no supernatural mechanisms were involved.

    This is just another and somewhat pathetic attempt to load the dice in order to win an argument that only proves in the end that its proponents couldn’t find a way it could be won legitimately.

    Bad, rabbi, bad, bad, bad.

  50. badrabbion 30 Mar 2008 at 11:31 pm

    Roy Niles;

    Syllogism? Where? You accuse me of wishing to win an argument, and I have not even set the terms for any argument yet! What argument am I being accused of wanting to win?

    It is true that the validity of Evolution Theory does not preclude the existence of an ultimate creator. It is also true that other hypotheses regarding origin of complex life, such as panspermia do not rule out the existence of ‘god’. That is not what I was arguing. What I am saying, put in simpler language is as follows:

    These are possible explanations about observation of life:

    1. The diversity in life came to be as a result of Evolution.
    2. The diversity in life came to be as a result of natural processes other an Evolution.
    3. The diversity in life has supernatural origin(s).

    You say that the above three possibilities are 3 among many. Can you think of any others? I am curious – what other hypotheses can you come up with?

    Now, this is what I am asking: If 2 of the 3 are shown to be false, can we then say that by default the remaining one must be true?

    I ask this question because Evolution advocates always accuse creationists that they have no positive evidence of their own to present. Evolution proponents get upset when negative evidence is presented by Creationists, saying that this is not fair. What I am saying is that if creationists were to poke scientific holes at Evolution, then necessarily, and justifiably, their Creation hypothesis is bolstered.

    Now tell me why I am so bad bad bad…

  51. Willo the Wispon 31 Mar 2008 at 5:09 am

    Intelligent design creationism is both falsifiable *and* unscientific. It’s falsifiable because science presents a verifiable alternative, backed up with mountains of evidence, that directly contradicts the claims of intelligent design creationism. It’s unscientific because the only way to accept it, believe in it and support it, one has to ignore science and the scientific method entirely. So you see, Mr Wells, that on this issue, we can have our cake and eat it too.

  52. Roy Nileson 31 Mar 2008 at 5:37 am

    badrabbi: When you set up what are in effect a set of premises (propositions) that will then be part of a deductive or inferential process which will either lead to a conclusion, or in some cases a conditional result, you have a syllogistic process and you need to do it honestly without rigging it with false premises or other such trickery. If you claim you didn’t know that’s what you were doing, you shouldn’t try that style of argument.

    And of course I now see you have cleaned these three choices up a bit and predictably made it much more obvious that the answer is no. All three could be false. There are endless hypothetical possibilities anyway, but it would be a waste of time to enumerate them and I’ll tell you why.

    A creationist, not to mention anyone else making a faith based argument, cannot honestly make any kind of syllogistic or other accepted method of logical argument in a fair and honest manner, because they can never agree in advance that there is any possibility that their faith based position may not be true.

    The atheist or agnostic could honestly (if in fact he is one or the other) say there’s a possibility that he is wrong and that there could be some unknown creative force in nature – although the likelihood of omniscience or omnipotence may be a very hard swallow.

    Some such people see a point in defending against what they know is an argument from faith, even when they know they have about as much chance of winning the other side over as recognizing a dear departed because they still have on their burial clothes. And they have little incentive to do it by deception in the name of their God in any case. (Lying for Jesus is what some call that syndrome.)

    You might say that some atheists are as adamant in their non-belief as their opposites, and of course those will give you back blow for blow, but both of you will be arguing from a closed mind in that event. Trickery will be your only options. The only difference may be that the faithful are doing this for their God and the others are doing it for a paying audience.

    We have an audience here, but so far I haven’t seen a dime from anyone. And I have nothing to add to what I’ve said so far. I thought at first you might be playing some kind of devil’s advocate, testing out some anticipated argument from the more faithful. But clearly that was your own argument.
    I see no point in doing any more to help you improve it.

    Someone else here might, of course. And you ARE making an argument, and badrabbi, it’s bad.

  53. weingon 31 Mar 2008 at 8:21 am

    You defined supernatural as natural mechanisms that are not wholly understood. By that definition anything that is not understood is supernatural. When my kids ask how does the TV work, I’ll them it’s by supernatural methods, ie magic.

  54. badrabbion 31 Mar 2008 at 8:29 am

    Roy Niles;

    I read and essentially agree with everything you said in the last post. However, you missed my points entirely. You gave a standard, knee jerk response of faith vs. logic, while managing completely to avoid what I was saying.

    Whether I am playing devil’s advocate or not, my point stands so far: Say there are 3 possible explanations to a set of phenomena, call them A, B, or C. If I advocate, say, C as an explanation, I can either give evidence for C, or alternatively, provide evidence that A or B can not be plausible.

    Forget arguments from faith. Stop reacting Knee-jerk and deal with what I am saying: If I am an advocate of creationism, why is attacking alternative hypotheses, such as evolution, not a valid way of providing support for my theory?

    (BTW, if I were playing syllogism, I would say something like A is within B and B is within C; therefore A is within C. Notice that my assertion is different!)

  55. badrabbion 31 Mar 2008 at 12:49 pm


    Ultimately, presumably, every phenomenon has an explanation. Even magic, when thoroughly analyzed can have some sort of explanation.

    What I am referring to as ‘supernatural’ are phenomena that are so distinct in their mechanisms that they require whole new sets of laws to explain. Thus, to use your television example, if you were to present a TV to a scientist in the 15th century, she would have exclaimed that the TV is a product of magic. However, new laws were discovered and the same is not true of a scientist of the 21st century. There are, however, phenomena that we do not understand today, and it is probable that there is a whole set of fundemental knowledge that is not yet in our possession. This is the type of stuff that I refer to as ‘supernatural’. Ultimately, it is conceivable that God himself, in making miracles, uses natural laws.

  56. weingon 31 Mar 2008 at 1:23 pm

    So, anything we do not understand yet it considered supernatural?
    Why not call it not understood yet? Scientific knowledge is constantly increasing and with each increase there are more answers AND more questions. Science is willing to accept uncertainty as natural and necessary for progress. That’s the beauty of it.

  57. Roy Nileson 31 Mar 2008 at 1:25 pm

    badrabbi: First of all you need to say that there are ONLY three possible assertions and affirm that one of them HAS to be true, and then of course if we discover which two are false, we’ll have found the true one. So what?
    No matter which way you line up these three propositions or alternatives, you are still using a syllogistic system. You then are expected to play by the rules of that system. When you do, you have only proved in this case that in a certain hypothetical situation, that so far hasn’t been found to exist in our reality, syllogistic reasoning can work to a mathematical certainty. The probability that we can make any new use of this particular proof is close to zero.

    In any case, if you were an advocate for creationism, you could and should attack evolution, but if you want to prove it completely wrong, you would need to do it honestly and not be faking the evidence – and blinding yourself to the import of evidence is one way of faking it.

    And why do people need to tell you repeatedly that there is no scenario that meets your simplistic hypothetical, and proving some part of evolutionary theory wrong can’t make an alternate one based on no proof except faith be true.

    And before you assert that someone has missed your point, you should re-examine the question of whether you actually made the one you had intended.

    And unless you can state that your faith was arrived at by logic and that therefor it could be vulnerable to at least re-examination of your factual premises, it will be a waste of time to argue with you for any reason except to play “spot the deception.” Delusions are in that category of course.

    If I fail to respond to further nonsense, please ask your god to forgive us both. if you believe in a forgiving god that is.

  58. badrabbion 31 Mar 2008 at 5:57 pm

    Weing; if you are comfortable with the term ‘not understood yet’, I am down with it!

    Roy Niles; first, I AM saying there are only three conceivable classes of assumptions when it comes to the origin and evolution of species. I invited you twice to give alternatives, but you said that you ‘will not play that game’. What other alternatives are there? If you believe that I am invoking a syllogism (for the record, I do not), then OK. So?

    Regarding faith, I think that honorable people can differ on their opinions about faith. I understand why you might claim that you have no faith, at least when it comes to a discussion of existence of God. We can leave this topic for another day, as I was not discussing that. Frankly it is astounding for me to see the knee-jerk reactions I am getting from you. I did not at all invoke faith. I was merely making the point – and if the point has not come across yet – that attacking evolution on scientific grounds should be a reasonable way to bolster Intelligent Design hypothesis. If there are alternative hypotheses, if one can show that one alternative is flawed, then necessarily the other alternative is supported. This is what I am saying. Railing against Faith, ‘self deception’, ‘syllogistic fallacy’, etc are all ad hominem attacks and not warranted here.

    Finally, Roy, your last comment is unjustified. What you seem to be saying is that either I agree with your opinion on your terms, or else I am talking nonsense. This is your version of logical and scientific ‘discourse’? You may wish to respond to me or not, but frankly, in the former case, you are not really doing me a favor. I leave it to the readership to judge whose points are more reasonable.

  59. Roy Nileson 31 Mar 2008 at 6:54 pm

    badrabbi: You don’t know what syllogism or ad hominem really mean, do you? What are you, a twelve year old kid? Now there’s your ad hominum example.

    I never mentioned syllogistic fallacy or even the word fallacy. I never mentioned self-deception. To say that I did is an example of the further nonsense that has confirmed my expectations, and confirmed your failure to know the difference.

    I have to leave now in deference to the the wisdom of the ancient Jewish mother parable, which went somewhat as follows:

    “Rebecca was having her daughter home from college and she was bringing her boy friend. The mother met and approved of the young man, but late the first night, Mama heard some strange sounds coming from downstairs. She went to the head of the stairs and inquired, ‘Herschel, Rachel? Is everything alright?’
    Rachel shouts back up, ‘Everythings Ok Mama, we’re just f–king!’
    Mama smiled and responded, ‘That’s nice children, don’t fight.’ ”

    The moral of course is that one should do neither with children.
    Bye bye now. Don’t be bad.

  60. Badon 31 Mar 2008 at 9:47 pm

    Fellow “bad”

    Framing the question of the origin of life such that one says that there are only, say, two possibilities: either a supernatural designer caused it, or it happened by accident… is sort of like saying that there are only two flavors of ice cream: rocky road, and every other flavor.

  61. Chris Nobleon 31 Mar 2008 at 11:23 pm

    Phillip Johnson is refreshingly honest, but scientifically illiterate, when he discussed the falsfiability of ID.

    Johnson: I’d like to start with the first question. It is sometimes said that the hypothesis that there is a designer is untestable. This is false. It is testable, and the test is Darwinian evolution. The claim of the evolutionary biologists is that unintelligent causes did the whole job. If they can prove it, then the counter-hypothesis that you need intelligence has been tested, and it has been shown to be false.

    Unwittingly he gives a perfect description of the God of the Gaps argument. To falsify ID you have to completely explain the “whole job”. While there are still gaps ID has not been falsified.

  62. Roy Nileson 31 Mar 2008 at 11:53 pm

    Simply put, great numbers of the inferentially challenged have clearly been neglected and need to be offered a different educational curriculum and early intervention. And a return to the older version of the pledge of allegiance.

  63. Roy Nileson 01 Apr 2008 at 12:59 am

    Evidence that the God of the Gaps abhors the overly analytical?

  64. weingon 01 Apr 2008 at 10:50 am


    Suppose you’ve had a vasectomy. Your wife gets pregnant. She has been seen having a cup of coffee with the mailman. That would be positive evidence for one cause of her condition. immaculate conception is another possibility. You get checked out by your urologist and your semen sample shows no spermatozoa, is that supporting immaculate conception?

  65. badrabbion 01 Apr 2008 at 1:11 pm

    Weing, that is a fair analogy.

    Suppose I’ve had a vasectomy and my wife gets pregnant. I then accuse my wife of cheating on me, but she claims immaculate conception. Now, here is what I am saying:

    To support her defense of immaculate conception, she has a choice of either producing positive evidence that God impregnated her, or negative defense of showing that no one else could possibly have been with her. What I have been saying all along is that either strategy is valid.

    I think what you seem to be implying is that it is far more credulous a claim to say that the milkman did it than to invoke a copulating God. Here, I agree with you. Note, though, that my point still stands.

  66. Roy Nileson 01 Apr 2008 at 2:11 pm

    Did anyone hear the one about the criminal who carried his spade out in a remote field and buried the evidence of his crime? After his arrest he asked police what evidence showed he was guilty. They said, we found a shovel there with your fingerprints. He said, that proves I had nothing to do with it. Asked why, he replied, because that thing is not called a shovel.

  67. badrabbion 01 Apr 2008 at 2:43 pm

    Roy you are a laugh a minute. Are you sure you are in the right business?

  68. Roy Nileson 01 Apr 2008 at 2:58 pm

    I thought you weren’t supposed to be talking to me anymore?

  69. Roy Nileson 01 Apr 2008 at 3:37 pm

    But now that you are, I accept it’s only right that I should share something about an additional premise for your pseudo syllogistic surmise:

    There are those who have at least one other way of explaining what appears to be evolution to many of those not of the ID denomination. These are people that believe in a creator god who also accept the Darwinian version, at least as far as it goes.

    They hold essentially that the God acknowledged by the people of the book did create life, but that he created the evolutionary process at the same time, and that Darwin and his followers have so far been right on target as to what is happening, when and how, even if sometimes wrong in knowing exactly why.

    And they have also found a way to make their belief consistent with the understanding that for something to be recognized as a god, it helps to have that something demonstrate a flair for omnipotence and omniscience. So they assert that God knew at the time of creation exactly how evolution would progress and will continue to do. However, to preserve the appearance that it is an undirected process as far as the supernatural is concerned, he has reserved the option of stopping the process, catastrophically or otherwise.

    But not to worry. The God that created our creator god knows exactly which of the many designated options will be exercised.

  70. Roy Nileson 01 Apr 2008 at 5:27 pm

    So far, I have limited that ridicule to your attempts to narrow down those alternate possibilities.

    As to being casual, effective ridicule is anything but casual.

  71. Roy Nileson 01 Apr 2008 at 5:59 pm

    Allow me to add that ridicule is one of the most effective means of using the inference essential to both deductive and inductive forms of logic, and especially to the abductive form.
    It seems to improve the abilities of some to draw accurate conclusions from inference that were lacking when they attempted to both use and understand more traditional syllogistic means.
    Witness the effectiveness of Swift and Voltaire, and of course Shakespeare, in the use of satire to make points that have become a part of our language and culture.
    Effective satire is ridicule writ large. You can quote me on that.

  72. badrabbion 01 Apr 2008 at 8:45 pm

    I see, you were using ridicule in the style of voltaire and Shakespeare. I should quote you on things. Ok.

    What is your opinion on megalomania?

  73. Roy Nileson 01 Apr 2008 at 9:00 pm

    As usual you don’t know the difference between an explanation of a process and the level of expertise involved in its application.

    Megalomania is represented by a boy who thinks he was sent with the understanding he could do a man’s job – yet learns too late he wasn’t actually supposed to go at all.

    Reminds of another example of Jewish folk wisdom by inference:
    Did you hear the one about the ill equipped warrior who could never countenance an admission of failure – so before he went into battle he left behind a note assuring anyone who might find it that he wasn’t really as dead as had been reported.

  74. Roy Nileson 01 Apr 2008 at 9:47 pm

    Somewhat akin to satire is irony, the difference of which you likely couldn’t distinguish as well.

    The “quote me” comment was ironic, as it was just something I made up on the spot.

    The fact is that with the dozens (at least) of very smart cookies that comment on this blog, it is a somewhat dubious honor that I’m the one you have chosen to take issue with.

    But I have nevertheless done my best to appear I was stooping to the occasion. Hey, that would make a good quote too!

  75. Roy Nileson 02 Apr 2008 at 12:13 pm

    It appears badrabbi has given up the fight here and moved on to another topic, psychics, where he seems to be siding with pec – again. These two guys are like the old Timex watches – they take a licking but just keep on ticking.

    Finding that one ID proponent was unable to advance their case does little to defeat their cause, unfortunately. But engaging in this exercise brings home to me that the quality their proposals lack most is plausibility.

    At some point there should have to be a plausibility assessment before moving forward with a possibility assessment.

    And you can’t really postulate a believable creator without positing the minimal amount of qualities and abilities such a creator would need to cobble up the simplest form of any combination of matter and energy. In none of the badrabbi’s proposals, for example, did he even attempt to reach that level of plausibility.

  76. John Piereton 09 Apr 2008 at 6:31 am

    Dr. Egnor has posted a “rebuttal”:

  77. weingon 09 Apr 2008 at 8:53 am

    What a steaming pile of horse manure that rebuttal is. The question is not whether intelligent design is true or false. The question is whether intelligent design is science. It clearly is not.

  78. […] response to my blog post about Intelligent Design (ID), Jason Rosenhouse, who writes the excellent Evolution Blog, wrote an entry taking exception to […]

  79. […] Michael Egnor, neurosurgeon and Discovery Institute Fellow, posted a critique of Dr. Stephen Novella’s recent post on his blog, neuroLogica. Dr. Novella is a neurologist, Skeptic and host of the popular […]

  80. […] response to my post in which I pointed out that the question is not whether there is design in nature but whether or […]

  81. bipolar2on 27 Apr 2008 at 11:45 pm

    ** self-respecting apes laugh at ID **

    The falsity of ‘intelligent design’ is proved by the existence of those who believe in it.


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