Intelligent Design is Counter-Evidence to Intelligent Design

This XKCD cartoon is not new, but seeing it again after a commenter shared a link to it, it struck me in a new way. Read the comic, then see my thoughts below it…

The Intelligent Design movement, like young-earth creationism, mythicism, moon landing hoaxers, 9/11 conspiracy theorists and so many others, illustrate the way that even intelligent people are prone to self-deception.

It is a glitch in our reasoning process.

Doesn’t the very glitchy thinking evidenced by proponents of Intelligent Design undermine the argument that we are intelligently designed – or at least, that we are perfectly designed?

After all, why would an intelligent designer make us so susceptible to self-deception, especially with regard to arguments about a designer?

Wouldn’t an intelligent (even if imperfect) designer have left a hotline number to allow us to report such bugs?

  • Richard Williams

    Richard Feynman said science is what we have learned about how to keep from fooling ourselves. 

    • Ian

      I love that quote.

  • Ronspross

    You could add the hoax of global warming to your list of conspiracies.

    • T. Webb

      Ron, I agree, after Climategate there was quite a bit of discussion about how global warming could be equated with belief in a flat earth. Current changes in temperature are hardly a blip on the radar and near the middle of the range when you look at estimates over the last 100 million years.

  • James F. McGrath

    Ron Spross, which global warming hoax are you referring to? The hoax that says that it isn’t happening?

  • jwtl7254

    In his recent book titled “Mind and Cosmos”, Nagel, a noted philosopher and an atheist, makes the same kind of self-deception statement with regard to evolutionary theory. He says, “It is an assumption governing the scientific project rather than a well-confirmed scientific hypothesis”. Further, he argues for intelligent design based on the high impobability of evolution, especially as it relates to the development of human consciousnesss and cognitive abilities, and on common sense. In addition, Nagel and other philosophers, like Plantinga, argue that naturalism and evolutionary theory is irrational becaue of its circular reasoning. Finally, from a positive position on intelligent design, intelligent design is based on scientific principles of probability theory, computer science, information and communication theory, molecular biology, and the philosophy of science.

    • James F. McGrath

      Time and time again, common sense has proven not to be a reliable guide to how the cosmos functions. As with any investigation of the past, a theory is an explanatory framework to make sense of the data, not an assumption. It may become an assumption when approaching future new data, but only because it has proven itself a good fit to the evidence already. If new data requires a change to the theory, it will happen, as it has in the past.

      • jwtl7254

        I agree with much of what you have said, but with a couple of exceptions. First, doesn’t common sense come from our factual experience and reason? So common sense would seem to be somewhat fact based, and although not always right, it would seem to me to be correct more often than not and a reasonable safeguard among others. In this regard, evolution seems to the average person to be climbing up hill in terms of our daily life experiences in an information age. Biologists also seem to agree that the secret of life comes from its informational properties and information processing systems. But information, as we know it, need not be material. What, then, is the genesis of this information? Conservation of information theory would suggest that biological systems must always take in at least as much information as it produces and that evolutionary processes cannot generate the new information required for development. Perhaps, we have a situation where evolutioanry theory and information theory are at odds.
        Second, I do not think the data supports evolutionary theory to point that all other reasonable possibilities should be quickly excluded by assumption. Further, because this issue in so interlinked with worldview, how do we know if the scientist, in making the assumption you mention, is doing so on the basis of established fact, worldview or ability to successfully publish? In this kind of situation where it is not possible to see into someone’s mind, theory should not be held as tightly. As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, “Darwin in the gaps” can be a problem as well.

        • Ian

          “But information, as we know it, need not be material. ” Can you give an example of information that is not a material configuration, without begging the question?

          “Conservation of information theory” – what conservation of information? This does not happen. Dembski invented it, and it is trivially refuted with any accepted definition of information. Dembski claims that his “Complex Specified Information” is conserved, but has not yet defined CSI in any way that can be measured, so his claim is rather specious. For all the normal definitions of information, information is trivially created and destroyed. In fact, were it not, the second law of thermodynamics could not hold.

          “Further, because this issue in so interlinked with worldview” – only if you’re a creationist. Most scientists of all faiths and none have no problem with it.

          “is doing so on the basis of established fact, worldview or ability to successfully publish” Because we check each other’s work. And you better believe we call people out when they make up their results. As we’re calling out the ID folks. But ultimately to sustain creationism, at some level you have to resort to a conspiracy theory.

          “As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, “Darwin in the gaps”” – is this going to be the new creationist talking point we’re going to start hearing parroted from everyone now? It has the normal features: seems to say something damning, but is backed by no evidence or data.

          • jwtl7254

            It appears that the primary division in the debate over intelligent design and biological evolution is whether biological systems have the informational resources to bring life into existence and to develop the great diversity of life, or do they need an intelligent designer to facilitate major change. Ian, you must believe that biological systems have these resources. But, where did this information first come from? I have a difficult time believing that chemical systems can create this information in a random unguided process. The art of building a ship is not in the wood. The art of creating music is not in the letters of the alphabet. The art of making statutes in not in the stone. The art is in a designer. There is more data everywhere in the world that suggests design. To me, Darwin mechanisms don’t have the data or the answers.
            Moreover, I disagree with you that to sustain intelligent design that one has to result to a conspiracy theory. I have looked at the lack of data for macroevolution from the fossil record, considered chemical arguments against abiogenesis, reviewed philosophical arguments from renoun philososphers like Nagel and Plantinga regarding our cognitive abilities, naturalism and its circular arguments, reviewed the positive arguments for intelligent design (which I admit are evolving), and considered what I observe from nature and medicine, and I do not need a conspriacy theory to support intelligent design as a reasonable theory.

            • rmwilliamsjr

              you need to read more biology to understand the theory of evolution, philosophy and higher levels of argumentation don’t teach you how syncytin evolved from a viral protein or how 2 chimp chromosomes united to form a human one or how the GLO pseudogene doesn’t work but shows evolution in action.

              the issue needs to be engaged at the right level, biology is about the data within biology, not at the level of consciousness or other philosophical concerns. it’s at the level of genes and dna, phenotypes as an interaction of genotypes and environment, epigenetics with methylation and chromosome wrapping on histones.

              these higher level arguments are interesting in how research might be guided but the data is at the nuts and bolts level, not up at the philosophical. Nagel like Plantinga engage in a huge category error, criticizing biology at the philosophical level. but completely missing the fact that the theory “lives” at the molecular biology level, not up in the clouds of consciousness.

              like _signature in the cell_ they miss the biology, mistake abiogenesis for evolution, and confuse methodological naturalism for philosophic. deal with the biological data for the TofE, but this philosophic criticism misses the evidence completely because it’s looking in the wrong place.

            • Ian

              So, in summary, you could not give an example of a non-material information without begging the question, and you could not point to any principle of conservation of information. But you can give an argument from incredulity. Pardon my lack of surprise.

              “I have looked at” I’m sorry, but given your arguments so far, I simply don’t believe that you’ve considered the evidence, or at least, you’ve demonstrated insufficient basic knowledge of the evidence to make any informed decision about it.

              Your ability to uncritically regurgitate creationist talking points is quite well developed, however.

              • Cdbren

                There is clear evidence that species do change characteristics over time depending on environment changes. But that is acting on existing complex genetics. Any theory beyond that is basically guessing. And we all have the same evidence to look at.

                The “evidence” you are referring to jwt taking the time to consider is simply one interpretation based on a presupposition.

                Take a look at your hand or eye or ear. It doesn’t take a piece of paper saying you went to college to see that those things were clearly designed. Now looking at those features scientifically makes it even more clear.

                The conflict here is about spiritual sin, not theories.

                • James F. McGrath

                  Cdbren, It is true that your dishonesty on this thread, and in the past on this blog, is a matter of spiritual sin.

                  The evolution of the eye is no harder to demonstrate and document than your history of being dishonest here:

                  Why not repent and follow Jesus instead of lying about matters you do not understand and/choose to deliberately misrepresent? Do you not fear God at all, that you would accuse others of sin without ever having repented here of your own? Have you not even the faintest acquaintance with the teaching of Jesus? Has young-earth creationism’s perversion of Christianity so thoroughly warped your mind and morality?

                • Ian

                  Oh cdbren, but we’ve done this game before. I’ve spent hours patiently responding to your posts, pointing you to scientific information, explaining basic scientific principles. And yet you’re still spouting the same lies. You’re still proudly declaring that your ignorance is plenty enough for you to understand it all, without visiting the library, without enrolling in your local community college, without actually bothering to find out what scientists actually claim to know and why.

                  The conflict is definitely about spiritual sin, not theories. And I’m happy for anyone with a cursory glance at our comment histories on this site to make conclusions about where the sin lies, and who’s theories are nothing more than made up guesses based on presuppositions.

                  • cdbren

                    No need to reply Ian. I just hope my comments steer some readers to looking closer at the theory and maybe checking out some of the authors I mentioned or even some web sites like evolution news .com. You act like evolution is fact or something or that all scientists are correct in their assumptions. Sadly that is not the case.

                    I’m also sorry that you have to resort to character attacks and putting me down as a response. It really speaks loudly as to who has a humble spirit and who does not.

                    Scientists will never know anything about the unrepeatable, untestable and unobservable past (uniformitarianism?) until of course they get to the other side.

                    • Ian

                      “The conflict here is about spiritual sin, not theories. … I’m also sorry that you have to resort to character attacks and putting me down as a response.” – your lack of self-awareness is quite shocking.

                      But sure, as I said, I’m very happy for your record of previous engagement with scientific correction and explanation to be a beacon to steer interesting readers towards the truth. But I don’t think you’ll get very far popping up here from time to time and pretending to be all reasonable and maligned without getting called on it.

                    • rmwilliamsjr


                      Scientists will never know anything about the unrepeatable, untestable and unobservable past (uniformitarianism?) until of course they get to the other side.


                      this is a gambit, a piece of bait left dangling.
                      is yesterday the past, unobservable?
                      how about 2000 years ago?
                      is the NT reliable eyewitness accounts? why, with what we are learning in the legal system would anyone tryst eyewitness accounts over forensic evidence?
                      how about 6000kya?

                      where exactly is this curtain of dark remembrance?
                      this movie projector screen that makes everything earlier unrepeatable. unobservable, how far back do you have to go using uniformity as a tool before you hit the great discontinuity that changes everything?
                      last thursday seems look enough to some, but science has looked back to the big bang without encountering your proposed wall of oblivion.

              • jwtl7254

                Ian, you did not provide a scientific response to my points from chemistry as to why abiogenesis is unlikely. In addtion, no response, including yours, has been able to provide any evidence from Darwinian theory research relative to the development of consciousness and human cognitive abilities. Furthermore, during this debate you have not acknowldege any evidnece contra to Darwin theory (nor provided any positive scientific evidence – where are the missing links?). Yet, many intelligent scientists, philosophers, and others (whether atheists or theists) do recognize these evidentiary problems with Darwin theory and on that basis are seriously questioning the theory.

                With regard to your question on information, I wanted to read more material and think some more about this question before responding. I think we may both agree that biologists today seem to agree that information is the foundation of biological systems. Information transforms matter into shape. But, what is information, material or nonmaterial? Wiener, in his book on Cybernetics, states “Information is information, it is not material or energy. No materialism which does not admit this can survive at the present day”. Information can be written or contained on something material, but that is only the expression of information, not the information itself. Both nature and intelligent agency appear capable of giving matter structure and transferring information. Nature does so internally. Intelligence transfers information externally. The acorn appears to have the information in it to transform itself into a tree. In contrast, inert chemicals to not have the necessary internal information in them to create life, nor to develop life into the diversity of systematically complex organisms we see today. Further, humans are not present in the single-celled organisms in the same manner that an oak tree is present in an acorn. Therefore, the required information for the origination of life and development of the species must come from an intelligent agency.
                Conservation of Information is consistent with this. Quantum mechanics holds that all natural processes have an indeterministic component. Therefore, the universe appears not to be closed to outside information. This opens the door for an outside agency to impart information into the biological processes. The Law of Conservation of Information was originally defined by Peter Medawar, not Dembski, and holds that deterministic processes cannot generate new information. This law is restated, by Dembski, for the nondeterministic case, as neither chance, nor necessity or their combination is able to generate the new information needed for specified complex information to create complex, fuctioning biological systems. The application of this Law leads to the conclusion that natural causes only preserve or degrade specified complexity, but cannot generate new specified complexity. Bty, conservaton of information theory also is a major aspect of the discussion in the area of digital philosophy. In sum, Conservation of Information theory supports an intelligent information source that cannot be reduced materially and that provides information in an open universe for biological processes. Finally, like quantum mechanics, we do know know how Conservation of Information works. That does not mean that it does not work. More research is needed on Darwinian theory, Quantum mechanics and Conservation of Information to answer these questions.

                • James F. McGrath

                  Evolution also doesn’t account for the Big Bang or weather patterns. If your complaint is that evolution is not about things that it isn’t about, that is scarcely an objection to it.

                  “Information is information” likewise scarcely seems like a helpful definition – or any sort of definition, for that matter.

                  • cdbren

                    Well, I am sure you understand the concept or definition of Information?

                    Information, in its most restricted technical sense, is a sequence of symbols that can be interpreted as a message.

                    You would need basically an intelligence to both create the message and then an intelligence to read said message. Something that is imbedded in genetic structures and not derived from randomness/purposelessness over a long period of time. (Not to mention complex genetic machinery that is also likewise only created by an intelligence.)

                • Ian

                  Have you ever been at a party where someone is talking loudly and confidently about what the law says. And they are talking rubbish, and massacring basic legal principles, jumping between a poor understanding of state law, of constitutional law, and of civil law, with a few random citations of only partially relevant cases and a hefty ideological bias. All underpinned by a claim that they know lots of lawyers who agree with them, and anyway, anyone who disagrees is working for the man.

                  That’s kindof what this conversation feels like to me. Especially now you seem to have dived into QM – the great bastion of a theory that (when poorly understood) seems to allow you to pull any kind of rabbit out of the hat you like. I’ve seem QM used for all kinds of arguments, from how consciousness works, to why people are telepathic, to why relativity is wrong, to why all truth is relative. My mum (who’s research was in the mathematical properties of the QM of semiconductors) calls this “Quantum Magic”.

                  I hope you do go and read some real information theory. Not filtered through whatever creationist propaganda you normally read. I hope you actually follow through. Do the math. Get happy with it quantitatively.

                  I suspect you won’t, however. At some point you’ll think “I know enough about the science to know I’m right”, or “I’m not reading anything in this science that is telling me I’m wrong.”

                  Just like if you actually gave the party-bore a real legal brief. It would be very unlikely he’d have the basic knowledge and the humility to have it disconfirm his presuppositions.

                • Ian

                  I’ve been on vacation. I’ve also only got so much time to respond to this kind of stuff, and energy to go through it all again, for the umpteenth time.

                  I know only a little about the evolution of consciousness. My PhD was on the mathematics of evolution, specifically information theory. But even a cursory glance through Google Scholar shows thousands of peer reviewed paper on the evolution of consciousness.

                  “Furthermore, during this debate” – this isn’t a debate. We don’t get to decide. Any more than I get to decide what the Supreme Court does on DOMA because I happen to feel strongly about it. Science is done in a particular way. Creationists love to think they are turning the tide and making developments, but the reality is that it is a tiny fringe movement that has been there from the start, and has still not made any replicable contributions to basic science.

                  Information is configuration of matter that can affects the evolution (in the physics sense of the word) of a dynamic system. Can you point to a source of information that isn’t a configuration of matter, or a method of affecting a dynamic system that isn’t physical? Without begging the question?

                  “Wiener, in his book on Cybernetics, states”

                  I have these kinds of issues a lot with creationists. Language is imprecise, and when teaching, you sometimes use language one way, that you’d use a different way when making a different point. The creationist art of quotemining: where you go and find some scientist making some point in language that, when mapped into a different discussion, appears to contradict a point your interlocutor is making. I can imagine I’ve said things like “Information isn’t matter or energy” too. I’ve certainly said similar things about the relationship of systems dynamics to their constituent parts. But that neither means I am expounding a non-material world, nor that I don’t really understand what I’m talking about.

                  But it is easy, if you’re going looking for inconsistencies, to find them in the way we use language. Coming back to the cartoon: harping on facile inconsistencies is one of the prime tools in the conspiracy theorist’s toolbox.

        • rmwilliamsjr


          evolutionary processes cannot generate the new information required for development.


          8% of your genome is viral in origin. it can and has been recruited to form new genes.

          look at how many copies of the various hemoglobin subunits there are in our genome, now add in the various pseudogenes for those proteins. duplication of genes is the major route for new functional proteins. “no new information” is a simply false mantra. take an hour and look at the relationship of polyploidy and plant domestication and the function of large number of genes for a specific protein to the evolution of the key plants we use.

        • James F. McGrath

          With all due respect, I don’t think you grasp how research works. Every scientist, like every other kind of scholar, would love nothing more than to make a discovery that would challenge prevailing views. As long as you can do justice to the relevant evidence, if you can come up with a new interpretation, a new explanation, a new possibility, you have something worthy of publication, which in turn is the key to keeping your job and being promoted.

          If scientists are not excitedly pursuing the alleged new avenues of inquiry cdesign proponentsists say it offers, there is only one plausible explanation: the evidence does not appear to be compatible with it.

          • cdbren

            I believe they have made new discoveries towards ID. Look at Sewell, Behe or Meyer. You speak of evidence but it is not mere evidence that speaks. Evidence says nothing. It is the interpretation of that evidence that is the key.

            The key to “keeping your job and being promoted” in the scientific community is to stick with the prevailing fairy tale of Darwinian Evolution.

            • James F. McGrath

              You clearly have not the slightest clue how academia works, and your dishonesty has already been exposed here. If anyone had a genuine scientific case against a prevailing view, they would almost certainly win a Nobel Prize. It is only the cranks and crackpots who blame the scientific or scholarly community for their lack of acceptance, rather than the inadequacies of the case. In every other instance of major changes in thinking, the scholarly consensus has eventually changed, precisely because convincing evidence and arguments were presented. In the absence of those, of course the consensus does not change, nor should it.

              • rmwilliamsjr

                there are 2 excellent recent biological examples of the consensus being changed by a single person, prions and bacterial infection causing ulcers.

    • Ian

      ” makes the same kind of self-deception statement with regard to evolutionary theory” – no he doesn’t I don’t think you understood this post.

      “It is an assumption governing the scientific project rather than a well-confirmed scientific hypothesis” – you are quote mining. He makes this statement about the use of Darwinian explanations in specific speculative contexts. He nowhere challenges Darwinian explanations in their proper context.

      “Further, he argues for intelligent design based on the high impobability of evolution” – no he doesn’t. He has repeatedly said that there is no intelligent designer. He remarks on ID as asking important questions, but his conclusion is most definitely at odds with it.

      “Plantinga, argue that naturalism and evolutionary theory is irrational” – Plantinga also argues for the ontological argument for the existance of God, so I don’t think we should worry too much about his rationality.

      “Finally, from a positive position on intelligent design” – please provide links to studies on these topics where ID proponents have given quantitative definitions of any of the basic terms you’re throwing around here. Where, for example, they’ve shown how to calculate the probability of a feature evolving (in such a way that can be confirmed by observation), where they’ve made a definition of complexity or information that can be quantified for some system.

      “the philosophy of science.” – bingo. It is no coincidence that these kind of “science has it wrong” arguments so often come from either scientists with no professional standing, or philosophers with no scientific knowledge. Nagel, for example, gets basic description of biology and physics wrong.

      These claims are easy to make. But we’re still waiting for ID-proponents to come up with some data… Lots of PR, lots of quote-mining, lots of bombast, lots of lies. No actual data.

      • jwtl7254

        Ian, thanks for your response. I think we would both agree that facts need to be considered within their context and that theories need to be re-evaluated within the context of facts and not visa-versa. As a pharmacist/attorney, I have some education in biology, chemistry, biochemistry and use of facts. After some study on evolution, I do believe there is evidence for changes within species, and I think Nagel would agree with this. However, the fossil record, and in particular, the Cambrian explosion do not seem to support universal common ancestry and natural selection. Evolution also provides few, if any, facts on the transition from nonliving chemicals to life. And, perhaps, most troubling for me, is the development of consciousness, purpose, thought, and value which do not to me appear to come out of natural selection for life preservation. Even Darwin had considerable doubt about this. Further, how does natural selection based on survival account for the human races with different physical structures and capabilities. Overall, I think Nagel was clearly saying in his book that assumptions, presuppositions and ideology are driving evolutionary theory rather than the facts. This, I think, is consistent with this site.
        I also think that Nagel does argue for intelligent design. However, as an atheist, he argues for neutral monism/natural teleology, instead of a theistic God.
        As for Plantinga’s rationality within the context of this discussion, both Plantinga and Nagel agree, at least Nagel says he agrees with Plantinga, that naturalistic reduction and evolutionary theory is circular and irrational because cognitive abilities are needed to develop theories and evolution has no answer based on facts for cognition and reason.
        In the The Design of Life by Dembski and Wells, which is as fully referenced as any scientific text I have read, the negative arguments against evolution and the positive arguments for intelligent design are set out in detail. I also would offer other books written by Dembski such as Intelligent Design, which is fully referenced. It seems to me, like it does to Nagel, that Intelligent Design deserves to be heard and evalutated by all in an unbiased manner based on the facts.
        Overall, when I consider the diversity of life, DNA/RNA, protein complexes, and how they are put together biochemically to form the intricate machinery of the cell building structure leading to complex function on complex function, within the context that we are unable to take them apart and put them back together again or develop them to function from scratch, why would we not consider, with an open mind to all options, some form of information or communication directing the process? That is what we observe daily in computers and other information technologies. As a pharmacist, I know science has a gotten a lot of things right that have greatly benefitted humanity, and I am not critical of an unbiased process to discovery. However, I have read multiple textbooks based on evolutionary theory and several referenced books on intelligent design. At this point, based on the data, evolutionary theory does not seem to have the data support to justify throwing out all other options and thought. Just like those promoting intelligent desing need to be careful of a “God in the gaps” problem, those promoting evolutionary theory need to be careful of a “Darwin in the gaps” problem.

        • Ian

          “in particular, the Cambrian explosion do not seem to support universal common ancestry and natural selection” – that sounds really like you’ve not much idea about what you’re talking about. You’ll need to explain.

          I’ve read Dembski’s book, and Behe and the other ID folks. Their density of references do not mask the fact that they make no statements that have any quantifiable consequences. You can make fancy arguments about information and complexity all you like, but for real definitions of information and complexity we can do calculations and see if they are right. So far the ID guys have been conspicuous in not defining anything in any way that can be checked. Their arguments are purely designed to be persuasive for folks who’ve never done any real information theory or bioinformatics.

          “that we are unable to take them apart and put them back together again or develop them to function from scratch” this is the most stupid kind of argument. Why would you assume this is a requirement of the processes being true? Why would you assume, if evolutionary biology were true, we should expect to be able to replicate it in a test-tube? This is pure diversionary nonsense. Please point to some specific claim that does not stand up under experiment. Otherwise this is pure mudslinging. It is like claiming that a lawyer can’t possible know the law, because they didn’t write all of it.

          “That is what we observe daily in computers and other information technologies.” It really isn’t. Speaking as someone who spends more than 10 hours a day writing software. I can wholeheartedly say that the kinds of information patterns we see in biology are nothing like anything intelligently created. Creationists love to say things like “but DNA is a code, like computers are code”, but they’re nothing like each other. Biological information systems have none of the characteristics of designed systems. In fact, we’ve tried to use biological techniques to produce systems. The results have been distinctly different, very difficult to integrate with hand-coded stuff, and typically bloated and inefficient.

          “Evolution also provides few, if any, facts on the transition from nonliving chemicals to life.” – again basic creationist playbook stuff. On your reading of those many evolutionary textbooks, abiogenesis was never mentioned? And how, specifically, it is a different question that evolution does not address. That’s like complaining that the constitution is obviously suspect because it contains few facts about the French Revolution.

          “Darwin in the gaps” problem – the problem that Nagel et al have, is showing that there is a gap at all. Nagel’s book is full of arguments to incredulity. He keeps talking about things that are “evidently” true, or “undeniable”, or “common sense”. But not many of them seemed so to me. The whole argument seemed to be based on a fundamental unwillingness to address the actual claims of materialism on their own terms. I simply could not fathom why consciousness was such a problem to physicalism. The arguments against it seemed to me no more than word-play. Certainly they were totally unamenable to any kind of evidence, beyond what he encourages his readers to find “obvious”.

          As I said, this is just par for the course. Lots of mud-slinging, lots of grand claims. No actual empirical work.

          • jwtl7254

            During the Cambrian period of the fossil record, the vast majority of the known animal phyla (over 95%) appeared within a very brief period of geological time. Thereafter, with few exceptions, new animal phyla stopped appearing in the geological record. This evidence clearly does not support Darwinian evolution.
            I am aware of abiogenesis. However, in addition to the Humpty-Dumpty problem I mentioned in my previous post, the following arguments do not support abiogenesis. Interestingly, though, I do not recall ever reading aboutany of these rational contra arguments in the evolutionary biology texts:
            1. Free oxygen, existing in the atmosphere, would severely hinder chemical reactions that produce organic compounds.
            2. The energy required to cause the formation of polypeptides would also paradoxically cause them to break down.
            3. Amino acids would have reacted with many different chemicals not just other amino acids to become useful proteins.
            4. Amino acids, sugars, proteins and DNA have very specific 3-D structures. Amino acids that make up living proteins are only L-isomers, when in nature they appear in both L and R forms. How did the concentration of L-forms occur?
            5. Getting the right amino acid sequences together to form functioning proteins involves probabilities that are exceedingly low.
            6. No presently known material mechanisms account for how cells developed the ability to capture sunlight and transform it into energy.
            The cummulative impact of these arguments against abiogenesis make it highly unlikely. Furthermore, If the transformation from nonlife to life is simply a chemical process, then scientists should be able to recreate some aspect of it. That is why scientists are trying to do just that. How can my argument be diversionary, if scientists are tying to accomplish this? Your comment seems to suggest you also agree that the transition from nonlife to life was more than simply a chemical process and that it is incapable of being re-created. Or, perhaps, your worldview is getting in the way of your reason. Are you saying that chemical processes resulted in life, even if you don’t know how? You seem to be developing the conclusion before you test the facts. Finally, your analogy to law is incorrect. As a lawyer, I can fully understand a law with specificity that I did not write because of language, communication and other cognitive abilities. No such abilities exists for understanding how chemical processes resulted in the transition from nonlife to life.
            As to your comments on Nagel, where is the convincing empirical work that explains how Darwinian evolution produced consciousness and other cognitive abilities? It is this lack of empirical evidence that leads Nagel and others to conclude that Darwinian evolution is so improbable that it is inconsistent with common sense. On page 128 of his book Nagel concludes, “I have argued patiently against the prevailing form of naturalism, a reductive materialism that purposrts to capture life and mind through its neo-Darwinian extension…. I find this view antecedently unbelieveable– a heroic triumph of ideological theory over common sense. The empirical evidence can be interpreted to accommodate different comprehensive theories, but in this case the cost in conceptual and probabilistic contortions is prohibitive. I would be willing to bet that the present right-thinking consensus will come to seem laughalbe in a generation or two.” My point is simply that the cartoon above, in my view, accurately protrays the current state where neo-Darwinianism is viewed as an irrefutable theory. The evidence does not support this conclusion. As such, other reasonable theories, such as intelligent design or perhaps, natural teleology, should not be quickly dismissed.

            • rmwilliamsjr


              During the Cambrian period of the fossil record, the vast majority of the known animal phyla (over 95%) appeared within a very brief period of geological time. Thereafter, with few exceptions, new animal phyla stopped appearing in the geological record. This evidence clearly does not support Darwinian evolution.


              there is an excellent, very well written book on the evolution of the hox genes and their importance to body plans. _Endless Forms Most Beautiful_, you should read it.

              what would not support evolutionary theory is phylums appearing without antecedents, the fact that most body plans were exploited in a short period of time(10′s of millions of years) doesn’t deny anything in the TofE.

              • jwtl7254

                Thanks, I will read this book especially as it relates to the hox genes and body plans. In my post above, I probably should have been a little more precise and focused on, as you suggest, phylums appearing without antecedents. My current understanding of the Cambrian period is that the great majority of living animal phyla appear in a geological brief period of time of 5-10 milion years, and that the fossil record provides no evidence that these phyla are connected by evolutionary intermediates. This seems remarkable given the significant differences between phyla. Further, since this period, new animal phyla stop appearing and the appearance of new classes also drops off dramatically. Overall, it seems that the new animal phyla is found within the first 1-2% of the fossil record without intermediates as one would expect in evolution.

            • Ian

              1. You’ve not actually read much about the atmospheric conditions of the abiological earth, have you?

              2. You’ve not read much about catalysis then.

              3. Who says they just reacted with other amino acids to become proteins?

              4. What on earth has this to do with how unlikely abiogenesis is to have occurred? Sure it is a property of biochemistry that requires an explanation, but why would it make abiogenesis less likely?

              5. Yes, which is why no scientist claims that large protein complexes were formed from amino acids by chance. Also, you’re probably committing the prosecutor’s fallacy if you’re thinking about specific proteins. Most calculations of probability about these things do so.

              6. Another argument from incredulity? You’re good at these. They come thick and fast.

              “The cummulative impact of these arguments against abiogenesis make it highly unlikely” What cumulative impact? You’ve raised a few basic misunderstandings that an ungrad biochemistry course would correct, and made some very vague claims that seem to have no bearing on the issue.

              “then scientists should be able to recreate some aspect of it.” they can and have, and a simple google search will reveal hundreds of papers with elements of the biochemistry in them.

              “Are you saying that chemical processes resulted in life, even if you don’t know how?” – I’m saying that we have no reason to posit an additional cause when there is no reason why the obvious cause should be doubted. Abiogenesis is highly speculative, and in no way an established theory. But that is a long way from suggesting that it is just as likely that a magic pixie did it. We work on the basis of known and replicable processes until there is reason not to.

              You can harp on Nagel as much as you like. But neither he nor you have shown any grasp of the actual biology nor claims of scientists. It is still ironic that the best resource you can find is someone who specifically disagrees with your conclusions. But even if Nagel were a paid-up creationist, it wouldn’t make his arguments about physicalism more convincing. As I said above, can you or he come up with any demonstration that consciousness isn’t a purely material process? Can you show any situation in which information isn’t a purely material configuration? Can you say, specifically, why consciousness is a problem at all? Without more arguments from incredulity or blatant question begging?

              “The evidence does not support this conclusion” But you still haven’t been able to point to any substantial evidence. You’ve tried Dembski’s probability calculations, some innuendo about biochemistry and several arguments from incredulity. All the time displaying a lack of basic knowledge about what scientists claim, what one would expect to observe were evolution true, what the and what research has been done in several areas of scholarship.

              “My point is simply that the cartoon above, in my view, accurately protrays the current state where neo-Darwinianism is viewed as an irrefutable theory” – yet you’ve cherry picked arguments, ignored vast swathes of research, resorted to arguments from incredulity, made claims about ideological bias among tens of thousands of scientists. You *claim* Darwinism is the real conspiracy theory here, but yet you’ve run the entire playbook that the cartoon points out.

              Nobody thinks they are the crackpot. Everyone things they are the sensible, well balanced, objective one. Which is why science is the way it is. When you have to conclude that the whole edifice of biology is a grand conspiracy, based on the book of a philosopher and some biochemistry that would flunk a sophomore course, then it is time to wonder if you are not the deluded one here.

          • jwtl7254

            Ian, I also want to respond to your statment above that Dembski makes no statements that have quantifiable consequences. For each of the qualitative challenges to the Darwinian mechanism mentioned by Dembski, he can and has calculated a quantitative probability. Behe, Snoke and Axe have done likewise for protein formation and development. The resulting probabilities are so low, for all practical purposes in the experience of daily life, we would conclude that they did not evolve by Darwinian mechanisms.
            In your post above you state that the information patterns we see in biological systems are nothing like what we see intelligently created in computers. I agree that the information systems in computers and biological systems are different, but artificial organs and limbs with intricate sensors and feedback systems seem to be closing th gap somewhat. However, just because computer and biolgical information systems are different and we cannot figure how to mimic biological systems in our machines, does not mean they are not both intelligently designed. In your statement, I sense a view that humans are the only way through which things can be intelligently created. Therefore, if we humans can’t create it, it must not be designed. This ignores the possibility that an intelligence greater than us exists.

            • Ian

              This is a great example of playing to folks who do not understand the basic science required to determine if the argument is correct. It is trivially easy to generate probabilistic calculations. They are ten a penny. And if you ignore the law of large numbers and the prosecutor’s fallacy, you can make something sound convincing that will take a lot of people in.

              My point was that you were making claims about the information theory that Behe et al were using. But nowhere do any of the ID folks give a definition of information that can be independently calculated that shows anything like the features they claim of it. Dembski plays bait and switch between SCI, and then when he has to get quantitative, he pulls out Shannon information. And ten minutes with Shannon information shows that his conservation of information laws are totally bunk. It is trivially easy to create and destroy information based on any recognized definition of information. You are being lied to, and that lie relies on the fact that you’re not going to study enough information theory to see the leaps.

              ” I sense a view that humans are the only way through which things can be intelligently created” Then you sense wrong. But you can’t have it both ways. Either things can be seen as being designed because they are similar to things we know are designed, or they are not similar to thinks we know are designed.

              “During the Cambrian period of the fossil record, the vast majority of the known animal phyla (over 95%) appeared within a very brief period of geological time.”

              This is a taxonomic fallacy, which is very common in creationists. They assume that a taxonomic category has some deep ontological properties. Its the same as you see in Speciesism or “Kind”ism rife in creationist propaganda. To a good approximation, a phyla is simply the name we give to the descendents of an animal first seen at the Cambrian radiation. To read back into that, some implication that it is amazing that phyla should evolve back then, but be largely set since that point, is to fundamentally misunderstand the purpose and nature of taxonomy.

        • rmwilliamsjr


          why would we not consider, with an open mind to all options, some form of information or communication directing the process?


          because life does not look designed in any way we are used to seeing human design.

          we design by swapping modules. in any field, when human engineers get something working, they reuse it, again and again. we swap debugged working modules, it’s almost the essence of good design, get something working right and reuse it.

          live is nothing like this. it is bricolage. everywhere we look life reinvents the wheel, from scratch using only what s available in that vertically transmitted descendant. and often doing it worse than another nearby organism. the few cases of horizontal transfer in higher organisms like virus into vertebrates, the case of syncytin, prove the rule. the raw material for mutations is already in the lineage. if God actively designed life he made it look like mutations of existing dna gives rise to new functions, not like supernatural module swapping between lineages.

          it is not that biology is a priori against a designer, it is the case that life doesn’t look at all like any design we are experienced with but bricolage.

          • jwtl7254

            I am not sure I agree with you that life does not look designed in the way we are used to seeing human design. Richard Dawkins, a noted biologist and atheist, in his book The Blind Watchmaker says “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” He then spends the next 300 pages to argue that biological systems give the appearance of design. In addition, Nagel, a noted philosopher and an atheist, in his book Mind and Cosmos, repeatedly states that the randomness of neo-Darwinian thought cannot account for the natural order of things which so much look like the product of intentional design (pp 17, 47, 89 and 94). Further, as a pharmacist, I know that we design many biologicals and other drugs, especially cancer fighting drugs, on the basis of the designs found in humans and other organisms. From my perspective, design exists when there is contingency, complexity and specified, independent pattern. DNA/RNA and protein synthesis which seem to be the building blocks of life show these characteristics. I do, though, agree that some change does seem to occur within species over time and that viruses could play a role in this. I am not that familiar with syncytin, but are you suggesting in your thoughts that overtime through neo-Darwinian processes of natural selection viruses caused single cell organisms to become complex multisystem organisms that eventually developed consciousness and the cognitive abiities that humans have today? Or, are you suggesting that God uses viruses to achieve His means in the design of creation?

            • rmwilliamsjr
            • rmwilliamsjr


              From my perspective, design exists when there is contingency, complexity and specified, independent pattern.


              the problem is that we are pattern seeking, designer seeing evolved creatures who continually seek out patterns where there are none and personalities were there isn’t any.

              the issue is inside our heads, we have built in circuits which inform our common sense that the world is full of designer built patterns. but the closer and more carefully we look at living things the less they look like any design we are familiar with and the more they look evolved.

              again i’ll point out syncytin, a co opted viral protein family that doesn’t fit any design paradigm but fits evolutionary theory. evolution is that great tinkerer, who has a pot of parts in each lineage that it stirs, almost never transferring debugged modules for reuse as do human engineers, but when horizontal transfer does occur it looks like syncytin looks.

              all it would take to show ID is an intelligently designed module transferred between species, one example of an oldsmobile tailfin on a ford where there was no previous dna to work with. or one example of a chimera, 2 lineages unified as one, even there in the best example of chimera like behavior-mitochondria or chloroplasts as captured symbionts, we see bricolage not design.

              • jwtl7254

                I agree that change within species occurs. I also agree that viral induced and other genetic change occurs, but our experience is that significant changes are almost always fatal. How does evolution account for the development of life from nonlife (in another post I pointed out the problems chemically with abiogenesis), from chemical to virus, and more significantly, the development of consciousness and then, the cognitive abilities in humans? Most animals have hearts, eyes, brains, and other organs. But, why is it that only humans have the higher cognitive abilities related to philosophy, scientific discovery, theory development and theology concepts? We also have altruism. These developments do not seem consistent with evolutionary theory and natural selection based on physicial needs. Even Darwin had these significant doubts. In your post above, it appears that you view a pattern seeking mind as a defect. Why then have our minds not evolved to eliminate this problem? Will our pattern seeking behavior cause us to eventually lose out in a survival of the fitest race? Or, perhaps, this pattern seeking nature is a higher form of development? To me, all of nature seems to be very organized with a natural order and consistent with intentional design. The consistency of the human body and its predictabiity in function is the basis of the practice of medicine and drug therapy. Disease is change leading to inconsistency of function and death. All of this leads me to believe that we are not accidents and that we are made in the image of a higher living intelligence.

                • rmwilliamsjr


                  How does evolution account for the development of life from nonlife (in another post I pointed out the problems chemically with abiogenesis),


                  the TofE requires a replicator, abiogenesis is a subfield of chemistry not biology.



                  I also agree that viral induced and other genetic change occurs, but our experience is that significant changes are almost always fatal.

                  you are trying to criticize the TofE on big issues like consciousness before you have any real idea of the low level stuff like co-option of a viral protein in order to make a placenta. it is not viral induced, it is a ERV which incorporated itself in the mammalian genome and a very long time later was co-opted to produce a protein that makes placental mammals possible.

                  polyploidy is a very significant change and is rather common in cultivated plant evolution, far from being fatal it is useful.

        • Ian

          “I also think that Nagel does argue for intelligent design. However, as an atheist, he argues for neutral monism/natural teleology”

          Then, with respect, you’ve fundamentally misunderstood what natural teleology and intelligent design mean.

          Natural teleology is not uncommon (Stuart Kauffman, who’s work I used a lot in my PhD) also has a natural teleology “At Home in the Universe”, “Investigations”. But neither he nor Nagel advocates Design.

          Nagel specifically argues that ID is wrong. But he takes both scientists and ID-ists to task for claiming that the only alternative to ID is the current Darwinian synthesis. His aim is to show that you can deny ID without denying teleology. This to say he argues for ID is to misrepresent his stated position in the most clear way possible.

          • jwtl7254

            I do agree with you that he takes the current neo-Darwinian synthesis to task, especially in the area of human cognitive development. In this regard, one of the major arguments that Nagel seems to repeat in his book is that the randomness of neo-Darwinian thought cannot account for the natural order of things which so much look like the product of intentional design, i.e., not related to chance (see, pages 17, 47, 89 and 94). For me, intelligent design does not ask the question what or who is designing. Nagel would prefer to say the intentional design comes from natural teleology. Those who believe in a theistic God would prefer to say that the intentional design is from God. In his book, Nagel seems to suggest that both of these views are plausible (see pages 93-95). But, he prefers the natural teleology view because it is congruent with his atheism.
            Furthermore, intelligent design is the study of signs of intelligence using scientific principles. Other sciences, such as forensic science, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, archeology and cryptography use intelligent design detection techniques to separate chance and necessity from intelligent causes. As I previously stated, intelligent design uses other sciences including probability theory, computer science, information and communication theory, and molecular biology. The hallmarks of intelligent design are contingency, complexity and specified, independent pattern. Together these hallmarks are called specified complexity. Within the context of biological systems, Behe would add the concept of irreducible complexity to specified complexity.
            Intelligent design should not be confused with the design argument for God which focuses on the metaphysicial implications of a designer by inference from the natural world. Intelligent design simply does not go this far.

            • Ian

              You appear to have repeated your previous points without responding at any of mine. Not an uncommon trait among creationists, I find. But hardly conducive to sensible discussion, or truth seeking.

              • jwtl7254

                Ian, I responded to each of your points. However, you did not read my response carefully. I did not say that Nagel agrees with “intelligent design”, but I did say he speaks of an “intentional design” and gave cites where he does so in his book. He then discusses two possibilities for where this “intention” comes from. First, he discusses a theistic God as plausible. Then, he discusses a natural teleology, which I would take to mean a end-directed process toward a pre-existing design or plan. The important point is that neither of these possibilities is a Darwinian random natural selection process. Also, please provide me with the page numbers in Nagel’s book where he specifically says that a theistic God directed intentional design is wrong.
                Furthermore, you do not seem to be willing to recognize that I am saying “intelligent design does not take the next step of stating that the design comes from a theistic God”. It simply tries to determine where design exists. Nagel seems to recognize this point. However, he does say that he prefers a natural teleology to a theistic God when answering the question as to where the design comes from.

  • T. Webb

    That we are intelligently designed I can understand – I work in product design and design for manufacturability, and let me tell you, it is no easy thing – but Dr. McGrath, who said we are “perfectly” designed as you say, and what did they mean by “perfectly”? I’ve never heard that before from any IDer. Unless it’s Ken Ham, who I don’t give the time of day to…

    • James F. McGrath

      Certainly many of those who are theists and view Intelligent Design as an outgrowth of their faith think of the Creator and creation in those terms. It isn’t something that has to be part of the notion of design, but it does tend to be. My point was that, if one is allowed to deduce from apparent design flaws that we were designed by an imperfect designer, many theistic proponents of Intelligent Design will be unhappy with that line of inquiry.