Monday, February 22, 2010


To the Rescue?

Ix-nay on the elp-hay!

That's no doubt what the drones at the Discoveryless Institute must be thinking. The folks at the American Family News Network's OneNewsNow "Christian news service" are out to refute the claim made in a book by University of California–Irvine evolutionary biologist John Avise that, while both natural selection in conjunction with genetic processes and Intelligent Design can account for complex biological systems, only evolution can account for "serious biological imperfections." So, how does the OneNewsNow article respond? After the usual creationist bafflegab that "information-adding genetic mutations have never been observed" (a falsehood based on equivocation as to what "information" is), it goes on to say:

[B]iological imperfections are quite consistent with a "post-Fall" world. God created life perfectly, but the effects of the Curse—especially destructive genetic mutations and disease—have partially obscured the original perfect creation with "biological imperfections." For these reasons, we contend that a combination of "intelligent design" plus a genuine, historical Fall can explain our impressive-but-imperfect biology.

In other words, the only way they can think to "rescue" ID is to appeal to God, and a particular biblical God at that. But ID has nothing to do with religion, it's only about the science! ... Except when you ask anyone who espouses it the right question.

The funny thing is that Avise's argument isn't very good (assuming he's being quoted correctly). First, and most importantly, ID doesn't account for complex biological systems ... unless you consider "and then ... poof ... something happened, somehow at some time or other" an explanation. Furthermore, as has been pointed out, by Elliot Sober, among others, the argument from bad design suffers from a serious flaw: it depends on knowing the means and motives of an unknown (and, in the case of an infinite and omniscient God, unknowable) agent. Specifically, it assumes that such an agent wanted to and could produce superefficient traits in each and every organism.

The argument from bad design is not a scientific argument but, rather, a theological one. The question really is: "what would God want?" or, in the case of the OneNewsNow response: "what kind of God, after having made a creature destined to fail (he/she/it is supposed to be omniscient, after all!), then refuses to correct his error and start over but, instead, punishes all the rest of creation for the failings of just two individuals?"

Those may be good theological questions but they are not empiric and testable ones.

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William Dembski once stated that ID predicts that there should be no junk-DNA. This is a theological claim - and a bad one to boot. First he assumes, like a good baptist, that God would create something perfect. Then he assumes, contrary to divine teachings (the fall and all that), that DNA would not "degenerate".

Dembski has also stated that ID makes no predictions, so I suppose that he is consistent in that he is quite inconsistent.
All I can say about the theological argument is this: it proves God is a sadist. A right bloody bastard, in fact. So, if you truly believe all this schlock (and don't believe it's all just a bunch of bunkum made up by quite a lot of folks with fertile imaginations and too much time on their hands), then I'm afraid it also proves you're a masochist.

Someday, someone may come up with empirical proof that the actual Biblical God exists, in which case I shall be forced to accept said evidence. But that wouldn't change my opinion that worshiping such an evil old git is a bloody stupid thing to do.
You wrote

... the argument from bad design suffers from a serious flaw: it depends on knowing the means and motives of an unknown (and, in the case of an infinite and omniscient God, unknowable) agent.

Actually the inference chain should go the other way. Given the hypothesis of an intelligent designer, what can we infer about its characteristics from what it purportedly designed. And mostly we infer that it is/was a malevolent, incompetent, bungling idiot.
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