Monday, July 20, 2009

Discovery Institute and History

The Discovery Institute is a self described think tank. Yet it seems in a current article on their website, not a lot of thought was put into it. The article, "Jefferson's Support for Intelligent Design" is about what Thomas Jefferson would think about Intelligent Design and Evolution. It is also one big Appeal to Authority in attempt to get Intelligent Design (ID) taught in Public Schools.

I am citing Fair Use in the copying of the article.

This article is by Stephen C. Meyer and was first printed in the Boston Globe.

IN THE battle over how to teach evolution in public schools, Thomas Jefferson’s demand for a “separation between church and state’’ has been cited countless times.

This sentence is just factually incorrect. When the phrase "separation between church and state" is used, it has nothing to do with evolution. This is because evolution is not a religious idea. So there is no church.

Many argue that the controversial alternative to Darwinian evolution, intelligent design, is an exclusively religious idea and therefore cannot be discussed under the Constitution.

Not just "many", the courts ruled that intelligent design was a religious idea and not science. The judge further wrote that "ID is nothing less than the progeny of creationism." Kitzmiller v. Dover.

By invoking Jefferson’s principle of separation, many critics of intelligent design assume that this visionary Founding Father would agree with them.

Yes and no. They are saying he would agree that religion has no place in government and that includes public schools. His thoughts on creationism or ID are irrelevant to that point.

But would he? For too long, an aspect of Jefferson’s visionary thought has been ignored, hidden away as too uncomfortable for public discussion - his support for intelligent design.

So what? He could have believed anything he wanted. In fact, he was a deist and believed in a creator god. This god was nothing like the Christian God. Jefferson was a critic of all religions.

In 1823, when materialist evolutionary ideas had long been circulating,

I am stopping in mid sentence here. This is partially true. The idea of animals evolving had been around. The main idea at the time was Lamarckian Evolution. Lamarckism was the idea that an organism could pass on traits, it picked up during its life, to its offspring. The idea was that an animal could change itself and pass those changes to its offspring. This is markedly different than the current Theory of Evolution. The Theory of Evolution by means of Natural Selection was not introduced until 1859, 36 years after this letter was written and 33 years after Jefferson's death. Lamarck's work never had the support that Darwin's did and still does to this day. To say that evolution had been around is confusing the meaning of evolution and the Theory of Evolution. To do so with that purpose in mind is lying.

Jefferson wrote to John Adams and insisted that the scientific evidence of design in nature was clear: “I hold (without appeal to revelation) that when we take a view of the Universe, in its parts general or particular, it is impossible for the human mind not to perceive and feel a conviction of design, consummate skill, and indefinite power in every atom of its composition.’’ It was on empirical grounds, not religious ones, that he took this view.

Of course, it was empirical grounds. The evidence for Lamarckism was scant and it didn't satisfy the science community. It wasn't until Darwin's idea of Natural Selection in 1895, 36 years later, did Evolution have good evidence. It still took several years and many tests before Darwin's idea was accepted.

This is still an appeal to authority. So Jefferson did not agree with Lamarckism. So what? How does this help the argument for ID? Was Jefferson a scientist with knowledge of the current Theory of Evolution? Well, no, he couldn't be, as the current theory is nothing like the hypothesis of his time. So what does that mean? Absolutely nothing. Can anyone say what Jefferson would believe now, with a completely different view of evolution and the scientific support for it? No. All we can do is interpret the law as it is. Which was done in Kitzmiller v. Dover and ID was deemed a religious idea. Thus it can't be taught in school.

There is no reason to carry on with this article, but Stephen wrote a lot more.

Contemplating everything from the heavenly bodies down to the creaturely bodies of men and animals, he argued: “It is impossible, I say, for the human mind not to believe that there is, in all this, design, cause and effect, up to an ultimate cause, a fabricator of all things from matter and motion.’’

Again so what? Jefferson did not know of the current Theory of Evolution. Jefferson was not a scientist or naturalist (as they were called at the time). Jefferson was a politician, lawyer and a yeoman farmer (yes, he did some paleontology and archeology but that was not even close to the bulk of his life work).

The “ultimate cause’’ and “fabricator of all things’’ that Jefferson invoked was also responsible for the “design’’ of life’s endlessly diverse forms as well as the manifestly special endowments of human beings. Moreover, because the evidence of “Nature’s God’’ was publicly accessible to all and did not depend upon a special appeal to religious authority, Jefferson believed that it provided a basis in reason for the protection of individual liberty. Thus, the Declaration of Independence asserted that humans are “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.’’

This is the same as his last comment. It is meaningless today. What does it matter what Jefferson thought of Lamarckism. Lamarckism has nothing to do with the current Theory of Evolution and Jefferson is not a scientist. What if my Senator, Jim Inhofe, came out and said something like, 'global warming is not real'. Oh wait, he did say something like that. Does that make it true? No, it is ignoring a mountain of evidence, which is just shameful. For Jefferson the evidence was not there, at least.

Of course, many people assume that Jefferson’s views, having been written before Darwin’s “Origin of Species,’’ are now scientifically obsolete.

Assume? How could they be up to date, when he didn't have the same information we do? That is like saying, we assume someone from the 1800's idea of 'we would never travel to the moon' as being obsolete. It isn't assumed, it is true.

But Jefferson has been vindicated by modern scientific discoveries that Darwin could not have anticipated. For example, in 1953 when Watson and Crick elucidated the structure of the DNA molecule, they made a startling discovery.

Actually, if you read On the Origin of Species, you would see that Darwin suggests that there is something in all living things that accounts for evolution. Darwin was so close to the idea of DNA. DNA just further solidified the Theory of Evolution.

The structure of DNA allows it to store information in the form of a four-character digital code. Strings of precisely sequenced chemicals called nucleotide bases store and transmit the assembly instructions - the information - for building the crucial protein molecules and machines the cell needs to survive. Francis Crick later developed this idea with his famous “sequence hypothesis,’’ according to which the chemical constituents in DNA function like letters in a written language or symbols in a computer code. As Bill Gates has noted, “DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software we’ve ever created.’’

Look, another appeal to authority. Bill Gates does not have a degree in molecular biology or any biology. His ideas on DNA are just from what he has picked up as a lay person and are meaningless. In fact that is not exactly what Gates said. This is called a quote mine. Here is Bill Gates quote in its entirety:

We have all had teachers who made a difference. I had a great chemistry teacher in high school who made his subject immensely interesting. Chemistry seemed enthralling compared to biology. In biology, we were dissecting frogs - just hacking them to pieces, actually - and our teacher didn't explain why. My chemistry teacher sensationalized his subject a bit and promised that it would help us understand the world. When I was in my twenties, I read James D. Watson's "Molecular Biology of the Gene" and decided my high school experience had misled me. The understanding of life is a great subject. Biological information is the most important information we can discover, because over the next several decades it will revolutionize medicine. Human DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created. It seems amazing to me now that one great teacher made chemistry endlessly fascinating while I found biology totally boring. (Gates, The Road Ahead, Penguin: London, Revised, 1996 p. 228)

Again this is Bill Gates' idea of DNA from his recollection of it from High School and his 20s. The story is more about the importance of good teachers. To quote John Pieret from Talk Origins, "Gates may well know a lot about software, but he is in no position to assess how much DNA is, if at all, like a computer program. In point of fact, anyone who read the above passage would doubt that Gates had even a high school level understanding of biology and anyone interested in honesty would make that clear if they still wanted to use the quote."

This discovery has made acute a longstanding scientific mystery that Darwin never addressed or solved: the mystery of how the very first life on earth arose.

Well, Darwin never tried to solve how life arose. It is stated in On the Origin of Species that evolution is the process that takes place after life has arisen. Anyone who has read the book would understand that. DNA also says nothing of how life arose, so I really don't know what Mr. Meyer is trying to say here. Abiogenesis is the study of how life on Earth can arise from inanimate matter.

To date no theory of undirected chemical evolution has explained the origin of the digital information in DNA needed to build the first living cell on earth.

Maybe because no one believes that DNA contains digital information. This is just nonsense and an attempt to make the Bill Gates' quote meaningful.

Abiogenesis has had some incredible breakthroughs in the last few months. John Sutherland and other researchers were able to synthesize RNA in conditions resembling early earth. RNA is a self replicating molecule and precursor to DNA. Wired has an excellent article on it entitled "Life’s First Spark Re-Created in the Laboratory".

Yet modern scientists who argue for intelligent design do not do so merely because natural processes have failed to explain the origin of the information in cells. Instead, they argue for design because systems possessing these features invariably arise from intelligent causes.

Obviously, Mr. Meyer has not kept up with Abiogenesis and RNA world or is just being willfully ignorant. He has also not demonstrated that "systems possessing these features invariably arise from intelligent causes." He is just asserting this with no evidence to back up the claim.

DNA functions like a software program. We know that software comes from programmers. Information - whether inscribed in hieroglyphics, written in a book, or encoded in a radio signal - always arises from an intelligent source. So the discovery of digital code in DNA provides a strong scientific reason for concluding that the information in DNA also had an intelligent source.

DNA does not function like a software program. The only person that has said this is Bill Gates and he is not a molecular biologist. I have a degree in Management Information Systems and have written software programs. If I wrote a program with lots of steps that did nothing, ie Junk DNA, it would be a waste of time and energy. This would not be intelligent on my part. To say that DNA has an intelligent source, is highly questionable with inclusion of Junk DNA. This is not even mentioning negative mutations in DNA which cause suffering, very intelligent.

Heiroglyphics, books and radio signals all have a source that we can look up. Even if that source has expired. They are also not self replicating. To compare them to self replicating biological functions is naive at best and lying at worst.

Design is an inference from biological data, not a deduction from religious authority. Jefferson said just that, and based his political thinking on it.

The courts disagree with you. As well does the Discovery Institute for which you work and wrote this article. Also Mr. Meyer's acknowledged the Wedge Document, which speaks of broad social, political, and academic agenda whose ultimate goal is to "defeat [scientific] materialism" represented by evolution, "reverse the stifling materialist world view and replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions" and to "affirm the reality of God" by the Discovery Institute. So which is it, Mr. Meyer?

The evidence for what he presciently called “Nature’s God’’ is stronger than ever.

Yet, you provide no evidence.

Our nation’s existence, with its guarantee to protect each person’s “inalienable rights,’’ may be counted among the fruits of Jefferson’s belief in intelligent design.

This is a total non-sequitur. The beliefs of Jefferson in founding the nation have nothing to do with ID being taught in schools. Even if Jefferson would support ID, it does not matter when it comes to the legality of it. ID was given its day in court and it lost. Kitzmiller v. Dover is the final word. Making fallacious appeals to authority are meaningless.

Edit: I just found the rest of the quote from Jefferson that Meyer is leaving out, in other words quote mining.

The movements of the heavenly bodies, so exactly held in their course by the balance of centrifugal and cent. metal forces; the structure of our earth itself, with its distribution of lands, waters, and atmosphere; animals and vegetable bodies, examined in all their minutes” particles; insects, mere atoms of life, yet as perfectly organized as man or mammoth; the mineral substances, their generation and uses; it is impossible, I say, for the human mind not to believe, that there is in all of this, design, cause, and effect, up to an ultimate cause, a Fabricator of all things from matter and motion, their Preserver and Regulator while permitted to exist in their present forms, and their regeneration into new and other forms.

Emphasis mine. It seems Jefferson accepted some form of evolution, albeit this is still no endorsement one way or the other.


BarnStormer said...

So, Thomas Jefferson being a deist and not knowing of any scientific explanation for the current state of biological life would make him a current day "intelligent design" supporter? Nice try.

Great post, Beamstalk.

Froggie said...

Nicely done.
Very well written and thought out.

It seems the DI is getting farther from reality every day.

They were handed their head by Judge Jones.

BeamStalk said...

Judge Jones effectively killed ID. If anyone tries to teach it in school now, the precedent is already set. Dr. Kenneth Miller is really one of the main people to thank for that. You have to love the irony that Christianity was defeated by a Christian.

Of course creationism just morphed again. It is now "strengths and weaknesses". These weaknesses all seem to be the exact same ones ID made up to address and creationism before it did the same.

BarnStormer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BarnStormer said...

So, do you suppose creationism will poke its ugly head into the school (and effectively the court) system in the near future?

Either way, it'll be easy to see where the sound criticism of science ends, and where creationism begins.

BeamStalk said...

Creationism was defeated in 1968 in the case Epperson v. Arkansas.

Creation Science shows up in 1970.

Creation Science was decided as violation of Church and State in 1987 in the case Edwards v. Aguillard.

In 1989, Of Pandas and People was published with the phrase "intelligent design".

ID is defeated in 2006.

In 2008, Texas SBOE with the Discovery Institute try to get "strengths and weaknesses of evolution" pushed into the science books.

Noticing a pattern?

BarnStormer said...

They're determined, I'll give them that.

Stan, the Half-Truth Teller said...

This just in:

A person with little to no background in biological sciences, who happens also to believe in some form of creator god, may endorse "Intelligent Design."


These DI tools seem to have no game whatsoever. Their only followers are the blind creotards who refuse to entertain the possibility that they may be wrong about anything, and as such also refuse to pursue any knowledge which may challenge their precious bible.

What really gets me, though, is not the Appeal to Popularity (I'd say Jefferson is no authority regarding biology), but the way they embrace Jefferson's views.

When I cite Jefferson's position in an argument, it's not to appeal to him, but to the reasoning behind what he said. I agree with Jefferson on certain political issues, and I disagree with him implicitly on various social issues. I have no problem separating those ideas/statements of his with which I agree from those with which I disagree, and I don't appeal to his popularity when I refer to either.

These dipshits cite him in a shamelessly blatant appeal, the implied thrust of which is, "If Jefferson thought this way, so should you," yet clearly few today would publicly endorse Jefferson's position on slavery, women's rights, or the right to vote.

We must separate the wheat from the chaff when we cite historical figures, since necessarily they will hold some position(s) we find deplorable, even if they hold some other position(s) we find admirable.

Fundamentalists seem unique in that they are perfectly willing to toss out the baby with the bathwater when it suits them, and when it doesn't, they insist that the dog must be flea and tick free before they will pet it.

Me? Bathwater gets tossed, baby gets kept. Fleas often accompany dogs, but their presence can be mitigated if not controlled outright. Jefferson held certain positions which were very ideologically sound, but he held certain other positions which were not.

Would he support ID? Probably. I don't care. He probably also supported Newtonian mechanics, the moron, and he probably also supported Manifest Destiny, the bigot.

Only the Fundamentalists have the problem of always having to be right -- the rest of us are quite capable of dealing with indiscretion.


Steven Schafersman said...

This is outrageous. Meyer took his op-ed almost totally from John West at written one year ago.

I wrote a blog column a few weeks later at, completely refuting West's and now Meyer's claims.

Meyer's op-ed proves that the DI's main activity is marketing their anti-science, pro-Creationism message regardless of evidence, logic, or plagiarism. DI writes op-eds rather than doing the hard work of science necessary to prove their ID beliefs, and they just keep repeating the same, old nonsense.

BeamStalk said...

Steven, thanks for pointing that out. The DI, not only do they not do real science, they don't even write different papers, just keep recycling their own trash.