Monday, January 30, 2006

Intelligent Design: God is a weenie.

There's an old science joke in which a professor is sitting in his office when a young assistant rushes in excitedly with an unlabelled graph. "Look," he says to the professor, "the results of the experiment are in, and the curve is trending upwards. That's great!"

"Yes," says the professor, "it matches my theory exactly."

The assistant leaves but, a short time later, comes in looking very sheepish. "I made a mistake," says the assistant. "I was actually looking at the graph sideways. If you turn it the right way, then the trend is actually going down."

"Hmmmmmm," says the professor, after a short pause. "That's OK, that matches my theory, too."

The joke, of course, is that the professor's "theory" is so wonderfully all-encompassing and accommodating that it doesn't really matter what the data are -- it will support his "theory" nonetheless. This, naturally, is your classic definition of a scientifically unfalsifiable theory, of which early creation "science" was the textbook example.

See, for years, creation scientists tried to have it both ways. On the one hand, they would point at gaps in the fossil record, or the apparently "abrupt appearance" of organisms, and claim that those discontinuities were splendid evidence for Divine Creation and the existence of a Creator God.

On the other hand, obvious evidence of structural similarities between life forms in the fossil record (which one would normally treat as evidence for biological evolution) was interpreted as that same Creator God simply "reusing" standard designs more than once. In short, gaps were evidence for creation science, while a lack of gaps was ... evidence for creation science. How convenient. But that's not why we're here.

What was amusing was listening to why God would mysteriously bother to reuse similar designs for different life forms. The explanation was that God was simply economizing as it were; why go to the trouble of constantly creating new structures when you can just keep using the perfectly adequate ones you already have?

It sounds reasonable at first, but down that road lies theological absurdity. Why would an omnipotent creator need to "economize" on anything? The concept of "economy" makes perfect sense for those of us who have finite time and resources and ability and so on, but it makes no sense whatsoever to apply that reasoning to an all-powerful, unlimited creator. In short, to support its unfalsifiability, that version of creation science had to present a picture of God as a finite, limited creator who was reduced to reusing previous parts for convenience. Theologically speaking, not such a good idea.

Which brings us to Intelligent Design, where some of its more asinine supporters are falling into the same trap, including one Casey Luskin, who writes from a fog of appalling stupidity:

1) Genetic similarities between humans and chimps:

This isn’t a new “breakthrough”—we’ve known about close genetic similarities between humans and chimps for over a decade. Sure, they just finished decoding the chimp genome but it actually lessened our knowledge of human/chimp similarities rather than upping it. Similarities could easily be the result of “common design” rather than common descent—where a designer wanted to design organisms on a similar blueprint and thus used similar genes in both organisms. This doesn’t challenge ID.

Sound familiar? Why, yes, yes it does. Luskin, apparently having learned nothing from the years of pounding creation science has taken, makes the same inane argument. His theory is, of course, utterly unfalsifiable and (as with creation science) suggests a "designer" who tries to save time and effort and economizes by using "similar blueprints" and "similar genes."

And given that the idiots at the Discovery Institute have made it clear that they believe the Intelligent Designer was, in fact, the Judeo-Christian God, one might point out that they really are treading on some dangerous ground, theologically speaking.

It's not that the folks at the Discovery Institute are so hopelessly ignorant at basic science that's so depressing. It's that they're so unspeakably fucking stupid at religion as well that just leaves your jaw hanging open.

BONUS SNARK: Remember how, back here, I pointed out how being an ignorant wanker basically meant never having to admit you were wrong? Well, isn't this marvelous timing, as over here, someone else takes an axe handle to Luskin.

And notice how Luskin predictably admits that, yes, he was wrong, but that that doesn't matter. As if it ever did with these dingbats.


Alison said...

Casey Luskin's arguments for ID are not really his best work. For a deeper understanding of the truly eclectic nature of the Luskin vision, you should visit his website, where you could read the following:

"Your next question is "so what does Casey Luskin think of the latest Star Wars installments?"
Updated Answer: Episode III totally rocked! Lucas and his team definitely hit a grand slam with this one. The story was perfect, the battles were epic, and as far as I can tell, almost all the loose ends were tied up to my satisfaction. My favorite part is the ending where Owen and Beru Lars stand watching the twins sun set on Tatooine. It was pretty cool."

CC said...

OK, that's just creepy.

Anonymous said...

Alison, that was very funny. My son went through a Star Wars period during which he could quote dialogue verbatim. He outgrew that by his tenth birthday.

Keegan said...

Once again a fine demonstration that ID is not worth the ink it used to be penned with.

Scotian said...

I've got to hand it to you CC, not only do you shred the Discovery Institues on secular scientific grounds you also shred them on theological grounds as well. Nicely done!