floats a lead-lined trial balloon
By PZ Myers
Posted February 03, 2006
We're getting signs that the Discovery Institute is going to be shifting
their strategy a little bit.
from Kansas has an excellent discussion of the subject. Basically, they're
going to embrace more of the actual science, and focus their dispute on finer
and finer points. What does this mean? Common descent is now in.
DaveScot on Bill Dembski's blog (TfK
has the link) has a bit of a rant on it -- he's going to kick out anyone who
questions the idea of common descent, and goes on and on about how denying
common ancestry is a religious idea that goes against all of the scientific
evidence, and therefore must be purged if ID is to achieve any status as an
actual scientific idea.
documents, though, they've got a long list of ID advocates on the record at
the Kansas hearings denying common descent: Angus Menuge, Nancy Bryson, Ed
Peltzer, Russell Carlson, Warren Nord, Michael Behe, Jonathan Wells, Bruce
Simat, Charles Thaxton, and Stephen Meyer are all quoted as rejecting it to
various degrees, and ironically, Dembski's blog is titled "Uncommon Descent".
The commenters at that blog are also frantically tossing up quotes from their
heroes, such as Dembski's own "Intelligent design therefore throws common
descent itself into question..." -- obviously, common descent has been an obstacle to
them in the past.
If you're familiar with DaveScot, though, you're probably thinking, "DaveScot
is a deranged lunatic -- he shouldn't be regarded as a bellwether for the ID
movement!" I agree, and given that so many notables in the movement have
rejected common descent, he does seem to be an outlier.
Stephen Meyer has an op-ed in the Dallas Morning News today. This is the
Stephen Meyer who claims to be one of the "architects of Intelligent Design",
Stephen Meyer the Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute, the Stephen Meyer
who, when asked whether he accepted the principle of common descent, said:
I won't answer that question as a yes or no. I accept the idea of limited
common descent. I am skeptical about universal common descent. I do not take
it as a principle; it is a theory. And I think the evidence supporting the
theory of universal common descent is weak.
Today, though, Meyer
declares that ID has no complaint with common ancestry.
The theory does not challenge the idea of evolution defined as change
over time, or even common ancestry, but it does dispute Darwin's idea that
the cause of biological change is wholly blind and undirected.
That does sound a little bit like we have a new party line emerging. They are
going to accept all of the science except that they are going to insist
that there is also an additional guiding force than selection. In order to do
that, though, they're also going to have to find some evidence for this
mysterious force, and since they're still calling it an intelligent directing
force, they're going to have to try harder to back up this specific claim, if
they actually plan to carry through and focus on this one point.
Meyer's op-ed, though, shows no sign of that. Instead, as usual, he falls
back on the old argument from incredulity, making the same old analogies and
comparing cells to cars and computer programs.
Over the last 25 years, biologists have discovered an exquisite world of
nanotechnology within living cells -- complex circuits, sliding clamps,
energy-generating turbines and miniature machines. For example, bacterial
cells are propelled by tiny rotary engines called flagellar motors that rotate
at speeds up to 100,000 rpm. These engines look as if they were designed by
the Mazda corporation, with many distinct mechanical parts (made of proteins)
including rotors, stators, O-rings, bushings, U-joints and drive
He repeatedly claims that ID is based on scientific evidence, but fails to
provide any -- saying it "looks like" something designed is not evidence,
especially when the basis for that appearance is nothing but overwrought and
fallacious metaphors. Sorry, Stephen, you are confusing the computer-generated
illustrations of the flagellum, which are all shiny smooth flat and
curved surfaces with pseudocolor and ray-traced reflections, with the reality,
which consists of coarse-grained polymers and stochastic chemical processes.
Mazda may use CAD, but cells do not.
My bold prediction: this strategy can only further marginalize ID. The
grassroots that support ID now are largely the same people who supported
old-school creationism, who don't like being told their ancestors were apes, and
they're going to be explicitly cut off by this policy. Bye-bye, base. At the
same time, they aren't going to acquire any new supporters among scientists:
focusing on a narrower, more precise set of ideas is usually a good idea, but it
will also focus attention on the dearth of evidence supporting it.
I suspect this is a poorly thought-out trial balloon that's going to thud
right into the ground. Expect further backtracking and denials soon.