Buggsy Banal…

While the Groan’s policy of allowing a right of reply to articles posted on Comment Is Free is a good one, it does mean that they do occasionally end up giving space to articles that are no more than a complete pile of shite.

Over the weekend, it was this pile of sanctimonious twattery by Tobias ‘my head’s so far up my own arse I can lick my own oesophagus’ Jones, which was nicely given all the short shrift it deserves by both Fisking Central and B4L, and now its Richard Buggs, of the laughably named ‘Truth in Science’ (or as they should be called, ‘Bullshitting Creationists in Pseudoscience’) turn to pollute the intellectual airways with the claim that ‘Intelligent Design is a science, not a faith‘.

Fuck right off.

‘It is true that complex things in nature look as if they have been designed. Darwin knew this. But the sublime truth about his theory is that it explains how complex things can come about without design.” That was James Randerson arguing that Darwin refuted intelligent design – which, he says, has no place in school science (Here endeth the lesson, December 13).

Darwin made a massive contribution to science, and his ideas still suggest hypotheses today. These provide the starting point for my own research, published in journals of evolution. But despite the brilliance of Darwin’s work, it is overoptimistic to claim that his theory explains the origin of all living things.

Ah, now here the thing. Yes, Buggs has had four articles published in reputable scientific journals; two in Evolution, one in Current Biology and one in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society… none of which deal with ‘intelligent design’ in any way, shape or form. In fact, it would appear that all four articles were produced as part of his work towards a post-graduate degree (PhD) in plant ecology and evolution from Oxford University, which he completed in 2006, under the supervision of Dr J R Pannell, on whose staff page he is listed as a past member of the research group.

What Buggs has clearly not done is authored a paper on plant ecology which proposes inteligent design as an alternative to Darwinian evolution – at least not one that has been submitted for journal publication and subjected to peer review, and as such his academic record is immaterial to the matter at hand.

If Darwin had known what we now know about molecular biology – gigabytes of coded information in DNA, cells rife with tiny machines, the highly specific structures of certain proteins – would he have found his own theory convincing? Randerson thinks that natural selection works fine to explain the origin of molecular machines. But the fact is that we are still unable even to guess Darwinian pathways for the origin of most complex biological structures.

And your point is? Actually what we have here is no more than the tiresome ‘god of the gaps‘ argument which suggests that what we don’t currently understand or have a complete evidential record for must have been ‘designed’. This is, not to put to fine a point on it, a complete load of bollocks; one might as well suggest that until Newton formulated his law of gravity towards the end of the 17th Century, we were all held down by the invisible hand of god simply because Artistotle never got around to figuring out the existence of gravity.

Science has turned lots of corners since Darwin, and many of them have thrown up data quite unpredicted by his theory. Who, on Darwinian premises, would have expected that the patterns of distribution and abundance of species in tropical rainforests could be modelled without taking local adaptation into account? Or that whenever we sequence a new genome we find unique genes, unlike any found in other species? Or that bacteria gain pathogenicity (the ability to cause disease) by losing genes?

Who indeed? But then Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection never did make any pretence of predicting the exact course and sequence of the evolutionary process; it simply explains the mechanism that drives that process (natural selection).

Evolution by natural selection is not a design theory. It does not set out the predict the final outcome of the evolutionary process, all it does predict is that natural selection will favour those traits and characteristics that confer a survival advantage. However in that process there is both an element of trial and error – some evolutionary mutations turn out to be advantageous, some not, and natural selection sorts out the wheat from the chaff – and an element of imprecision – many of the evolutionary solutions found in the natural world are actually far from being optimal solutions to a particular surivival ‘problem’, they are merely effective enough to do the job sufficiently to ensure their survival.

Think about it this way – why don’t tigers have green stripes? After all, they live in an environment much of which is green in hue and the purpose of stripes is to provide camoflage to aid them in the act of hunting their prey, so its should be obvious that as successful as their existing tan, black and white arrangement has been, such an arrangement would be even more effective as camoflage if it included a few green stripes as well.

In other words, if some unknown being did, indeed, design the tiger, does it not stand to reason that this designer, knowing that tigers would live in a largely green-coloured environment, would include the colour green in their design. After all, they did just exactly that for insects, amphibians, reptiles and birds – so why not tigers?

In actually fact, for all that mammals are naturally to be found in areas chock full of green vegetation, there is not a single mammal on this planet that possesses green skin or fur. Is that not a bit of strange ‘design decision’ on the part of the so-called ‘intelligent designer’? Did they suddenly develop red-green colour blindness? Or did this designer just get a bit pissed off with green and decide suddenly that he/she/it fancied and change of pallete in much the same way that Picasso moved on from his blue period to his rose period?

For any creature living in a green environment, it stands to reason that the optimum design, in terms of camoflage, will incorporate some element of the colour green, and yet this colour is entirely absent in mammals?

But, whatever the limitations of Darwinism, isn’t the intelligent design alternative an “intellectual dead end”? No. If true, ID is a profound insight into the natural world and a motivator to scientific inquiry. The pioneers of modern science, who were convinced that nature is designed, consequently held that it could be understood by human intellects. This confidence helped to drive the scientific revolution. More recently, proponents of ID predicted that some “junk” DNA must have a function well before this view became mainstream among Darwinists.

This is complete and utter bollocks from start to finish.

Is ID an intellectual dead end? Of course it is – unless you can produce the designer so that we can a conversation with them and discuss aspects of their design methodology – like why aren’t tigers green and why do men have nipples, which are functionally redundant?

There is no greater scientific dead end than the argument that ‘god did it’ – if that were true of anything then why bother trying to investigate it and understand how and why it happened when the only answer you’ll arrive at is that ‘god did it’.

Such an argument is completely self-defeating.
As for what the ‘pioneers of modern science’ did or did not believe, that has little or no relevance here. It really doesn’t matter whether the progenitors of modern scientific thought set out, originally, to discover entirely naturalistic explanations of the world around them or whether, indeed, some of them set out on that particular intellectual journey in the belief that what they would discover was ‘the mind of god’, anymore than it matters that the medieval pioneers of medicine, biology and, particularly, chemistry set out to discover the secret of the ‘philosopher’s stone’ that would transmute lead in gold and grant immortality. What matters is what they actually found, a world whose existence, form and function can be explained in naturalistic terms that do not rely on a belief in an omnipotent (and fictional) supreme being.

At one time many cultures believed that ‘god’ made the sun rise every morning – now we know it rises every morning irrespective of the whether god exists or not and the very concept of god has been reduced to something that peeks out of the gaps in our understanding of the natural world. Does that not tell you something about the nature of the concept of god? That the more we understand and can explain in natural terms the less need their is for such a concept?

Its frequently suggested that it is impossible to disprove the existence of ‘god’ but in reality even that suggestion may be turn out to be completely wrong – it all depends on what, if anything, finally emerges from the search for a quantum theory of gravity and what physicists call ‘grand unification theory‘. If such a theory were to explain the ‘big bang’ in entirely naturalistic terms, i.e. remove from our understanding of the universe the very concept of ‘creation’ – and Stephen Hawking does suggest such a possibility towards the end ‘A Brief History of Time’, then where in the universe is their any scope for the existence of ‘creator god’? Nowhere.

But, according to Randerson, ID is not a science because “there is no evidence that could in principle disprove ID”. Remind me, what is claimed of Darwinism? If, as an explanation for organised complexity, Darwinism had a more convincing evidential basis, then many of us would give up on ID.

Oh, for fucks sake, this is pathetic. Randerson, in stating that ‘there is no evidence that could in principle disprove ID’ is referring, of course, to the concept of falsifiability, and as Buggs should know all too well, if he is any sort of a scientist at all, this principle relates specifically to the idea that for any theory to falisfiable, the theory itself must admit to the possibility of a contrary case. The possibilty of the existence of a proof that intelligent design is a false proposition must lie within the theory of intelligent design, itself, and not within a separate theory (i.e. Darwinian evolution).

If Buggs has had any reasonable scientific education then this is something he should know and understand perfectly well, in fact one cannot but think reasonably think that he does know this and, knowing that Randerson is correct is his assertion, has deliberately attempted to introduce the false idea that ID can be falsified by Darwinian evolution in order to obscure the argument, which is altogether a very unscientific act of sophistry and intellectual dishonestry.

Finally, Randerson claims that ID is “pure religion”. In fact, ID is a logical inference, based on data gathered from the natural world, and hence it is firmly in the realm of science. It does not rely upon the Bible, the Qur’an, or any religious authority or tradition – only on scientific evidence. When a religious person advocates teaching ID in science without identification of the designer, there is no dishonesty or “Trojan horse”, just realism about the limitations of the scientific method. If certain Darwinists also had the intellectual honesty to distinguish between science and their religious beliefs, the public understanding of science would be much enhanced.

Then, Richard, let me invite you explain, in purely naturalistic terms, the origins of the presumed designer? Where does the designer come from and how did they come into existence?

I’ve been through this argument on at least two previous occasions, but to quickly recap, if there is a ‘designer’ then there are but three possibilities that would rationally explain their existence.

One is that this ‘designer’ came into being by supernatural means or by means of an act of spontaneous self-creation – such a designer would be synonymous with the concept of ‘god’ and therefore remove ID into the realm of religion.

The second is that the ‘designer’ evolved elsewhere in the universe by means of Darwinian evolution – that option rarely, if ever, gets raised by proponents of ID simply because it places us a mere one more steps removed from Darwinian evolution rather than removing Darwinian evolution from the picture, which is their real objective.

The final option is that ‘our’ designer was, themselves designed by another designer, who was themselves designed… you get the picture.

Such a sequence, if not terminated either by a self-creating ‘original designer’ (god) or by a first designer who evolved by means of natural selection, can only result in a unending sequence of designers designing other designers stretching away into infinity.

Such a sequence is impossible.

It cannot exist in this universe, which we know is finite in size – being 13.7 million billion (sorry) years old, the universe must be a sphere with a maximum radius of 13.7 million billion (again) light years, this being the furthest distance that electromagnetic radiation from the big bang can have travelled in this time, given that, from Einsteinian relativity, nothing can travel faster that the speed of light.

It cannot, equally, exist even if we allow for the validity of ‘many universes’ theory, as such a sequence can exist only if there are an infinite number of universes all of which are capable of spawning life in which this infinite sequence of ‘designers’ can reside.

However, we can prove mathematically that our universe is but one of a limited range of possible universes in which intelligent life could originate, while there are many more possible universes in which cosmological conditions would make all life, let alone intelligent life, entirely impossible, such that there cannot be infinitely many universes in which life exists.

And again, the only way out of this bind is by postulating that this particular universe is the only kind that can exist, allbeit in infinite numbers, which is possible only by either creation (in which case were back to god, and ID is rooted in religion, not science) or if it emerges from grand unification theory that the big bang can only give rise to a universe of this specific type, and no other – in which case there is no act of creation and, consequently, no god.

This last proposition is, consequently, logical fallacy, which amounts to proof that such a designer cannot exist – its also why ID-ers try to stick rigidly to biology and evolution and keep as far away from cosmology and quantum mechanics as much as is humanly possible, because its there that their Trojan Horse, the suggestion that there might be a designer who is not a god, falls apart completely.

Buggs is, as the CiF article notes, a member of the ‘scientific panel’ of ‘Truth in Science’, an organisation that in September 2006 issued a free ‘resource pack’ to the head of Science of every secondary school and 6th form college in the UK, a pack which includes a DVD promoting intelligent design and a ‘teacher’s manual’, which I’ve uploaded to MoT –tis_pack_teachers_manual.pdf

What makes this particular document interesting is that, like Buggs’ article, it relies very heavily on a highly selective use of ‘facts’ in support of the false contention both that ID is a scientific theory and that it should be considered an ‘alternative’ to Darwinian evolution.

For example, it suggests that pupils should, as a ‘learning outcome’, know that ‘domestic breeding is similar to natural selection’.

It isn’t, and what similarities there are, of course, entirely superficial. Natural selection takes place, of course, entirely with deliberate human intervention. It may, of course, arise as a consequence, today, of human impact on the environment but not in controlled manner and not by design – if anything natural selection acts to circumvent human ‘design’ as in the case of everything from warfarin-resistant rats to so-called ‘super-bugs’ that have become resistant to antibiotics.

The very fact that humans can ‘engineer’ genetic change, whether by selective breeding or, more recently, by direct manipulation of the genome, neither refutes natural selection or support the idea of an ‘intelligent designer’ – it merely clouds the argument in the hope of making ID seem that little bit more plausible than it really is (i.e. not at all). It is and intellectually and scientifically dishonest proposition.

Under ‘What Darwin didn’t know’, it suggest that children should:

“Understand that in Darwin’s lifetime scientists did not appreciate the complexity of living cells.”, and

“Know that since the 1950s our knowledge of cells has exploded, and that they contain a huge variety of miniature machines.”

Again, this line of argument, which serves an introduction to the notion of ‘irreducible complexity’ is raddled with intellectual dishonesty.

That Darwin had no direct knowledge of genetics when he formulated his theory of evolution by natural selection has no bearing on the validity of his theory – in fact the development of the study of genetics has done nothing, whatsoever, to refute Darwin’s theory and has, indeed, given considerable support to the theory of evolution, the process of which we can increasing trace directly through the genome.

Skipping straight from Darwin to the 1950s, missing out the work of Gregor Mendel, which took place contemporaneously with that of Darwin, but whose importance was not realised until the turn of century, the development of the modern evolutionary synthesis and, who know, may be even Crick and Watson, is equally dishonest in failing to give due recognition to the manner in which our understanding of genetics developed hand in hand with that of evolution.

But then that’s precisely the point, isn’t it – to try and devalue Darwin’s work by concentrating on the information that was not available to him at the time he wrote ‘On the Origin of Species’ rather than on the extent to which his work played an influential and formative role in the development of the modern science of genetics.

Moving a little further, we find teachers being encouraged to ensure that pupils:

‘Understand that irreducibly complex structures cannot evolve by slight, successive, advantageous variations, because at certain points in their evolution they will lose function altogether’, but only after that to ,

‘Understand that Darwinian scientists dispute this, and that the theory of co-option (borrowing parts from other machines) is a possible solution to the problem of irreducible complexity.’

You’ll note that ‘irreducible complexity’ is presented, here, as a matter of fact (it is, in fact, anything but) albeit one that is disputed by Darwinians, thereby placing the cart firmly before the horse. It’s also not so much disputed by Darwinians as roundly dismissed, having been both solidly refuted in numerous peer-reviewed papers. It’s also not, in itself, proof of, or even an argument for design, merely a test for evolution and part of evolution’s ‘falsifiability’, as was identified by Darwin himself, who was certainly aware of its origins in Paley’s ‘watchmaker analogy‘ and yet more evidence that ID is no more than an attempt to insert a teleological argument in science by covert means.

In addition to throwing Michael Behe in the mix as one of its supposed ‘authorities’ for intelligent design – the same Michael Behe who was forced to admit in Kitzmiller vs Dover Area School District that his arguments on irreducible complexity are both flawed and do not constitute evidence for intelligent design, Truth in Science also cite Prof. Dean H Kenyon as an authority, the same Prof. Kenyon who has, in the past, given evidence in court in favour of the teaching of full-blown creationism in science classes and whose textbook on ‘intelligent design’, ‘Of Pandas and People’ is most notable for having been drafted as a textbook on creationism that was only altered (replacing all references to creationism with reference to ‘intelligent design’) after the Supreme Court ruling in Edwards v Aguillard, which ruled that the teaching of creationism violated the US consitutional separation between church and state.

There can be no more conclusive evidence to demonstrate the theological origins of intelligent design or its real purpose as a Trojan Horse for creationism that the simple fact that the first major published work on the subject began life as a book about creationism and ‘became’ a book about ‘intelligent design’ only after the teaching of creationism in science classrooms was explicitly ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

I guess this part of Kenyon’s story is one that Truth in Science don’t include in their ‘resource pack’.

I think I’ll leave it there, although I should quickly note a couple of absolute gems from the last section things that pupils should ‘understand’, specifically:

“Understand that there is no known natural process to explain the origin of information” – bollocks, try chaos theory for starters, and

“Recognise that the inference of design makes sense of the world as a rational and comprehensible product of an intelligent mind” – but the inference of design is not proof of actual design and the psychology of this process is easily explained simply with a quick run through of Kelly’s theory of personal constructs.

Actually the refutation of this statement can be something as simple and straightforward as a photograph of a individual snowflake or the Giant’s Causeway – both ‘look’ designed but both an entirely natural phenomena – unless you think god spends his day making billions of individual fucking snowflakes.

As I’ve said before, and will continue to state, intelligent design is not a scientific theory in the slightest, it is theology that been badly-dressed up to look vaguely like science in the hope of sneaking creationism back into the science classroom via the backdoor.

Or, to put it more simply, complete and utter bullshit.

  • That’s a very good article, but I think this is incorrect

    .”It cannot exist in this universe, which we know is finite in size – being 13.7 million years old,”

    I think you mean it’s 13.7 billion years old

  • You are, of course, correct – although even at 13.7 million years, that still makes the universe some 13,694,000 years older than some of these bastards believe.

  • “However, we can prove mathematically that our universe is but one of a limited range of possible universes in which intelligent life could originate, while there are many more possible universes in which cosmological conditions would make all life, let alone intelligent life, entirely impossible, such that there cannot be infinitely many universes in which life exists.”

    Up to a point, lord copper… there may be an infinite number of universes, and not all of them are life supporting. However, it does not follow that the number of life supporting universes may be finite.

    Consider the converse: that there are some universes which CAN support life; under your schema, this would imply that the number of universes which cannot support life are finite.

    Having thus proved that the number of possible universes is the sum of two finite numbers, then that proves that the number of possible universes is also finite.

    Which is, of course, the opposite of our initial hypothesis.

    Remember, any non-infinitesimal fraction of an infinite number is also an infifite number, albeit a smaller one.

    ID is still bollocks though: Evolution is just a theory, ID is just an opinion

  • A first class disembowelling, minister. It was good to see how throroughly Buggs was flattened in CiF comments, too. The wholoe thing runs onto the rocks with this one line of hostage to fortune drivel:

    “If true, ID is a profound insight into the natural world and a motivator to scientific inquiry” You don’t need to get up very early or be very brigt to pull that to shreds.

    Buggs teaches at Cambridge, doesn’t he? Standard must have dropped since they let Charles Darwin in…

    Pete: evolution’s a fact and a theory.

  • Pete: IIRC my theoretical cosmology, the mathematical range for life ‘bearing’ universes is a finite range and most of the mathematical infinities cancel out, avoiding the messy question of fractional infinites.

    Infinites are a complete bastard to deal with as best avoided, anyway, unless you can handle the real shit-kicking maths, which is why cosmologists avoid references to infinites and talk instead in terms of ‘All Space-Time’.

    Peter: Thanks, says he, humbly noting that you post from The Beagle Project.

    And yes, evolution is both an observable fact and a theory – in fact to be particularly strict, the theoretical component in Darwinian evolution is the ‘by natural selection’ element.

  • Apologies to all “Evolutions just a theory” should, of course, have been in quotation marks. ID isn’t a theory, it isn’t good enough to be a theory. It’s an anti-theory in scientific terms, a hypothesis for which there is no testable null hypothesis.

    My argument against ID: where are the large animals with wheels / tracks? Or the predators able to ingest bird shit and use it to provide propellant for projectile weapons?

    Surely if man is able to design wheels and guns, god should have been able to put them in animals?

    Arguments against ID also include the Giant Panda, an animal that has evolved itself into extinction by occupying a niche that it destroys and was pretty fucking fragile to start with.

    The only way that ID can accomodate such things is by saying god hates pandas.

  • BernardD

    Nice article.

    The real problem with the contest between science and non-science (that sounds very similar to nonsense, doesn’t it), seems to be that only one side is actually fighting.

    I remember seeing a TV discussion between one of the American creationists and two British scientists (It was a while ago so I forget the names, sorry). I was expecting the sciebtists to wipe the floor with their opponent, and was disappointed that they didn’t.

    Thiunking about it later I realised that the problem is where they were starting from. Scientists spend all of their time dealing with their particular speciality, biology, physics or whatever. They are then presented with a contest against an opponent who spends all of his time dealing with this nonsense. He came armed with ‘facts’, ‘figures’, opinions disguised as facts and all sorts of spurious nonsense which were individually ridiculous. But when they were presented to unprepared specialists in a ten minute debate, they could not easily be shown for what they were.

    If we are to fight these fights then we need to make sure that we are prepared, armed and trained to do, so a la Richard Dawkins.

  • TinyHippo

    I adore that, once ripped apart, IDists are left with one main question to answer: “Does God/”The Creator”/”The Designer” spend all day making snowflakes and is this in any way linked to his hatred of Pandas?”

  • Andy W


    Interesting post, as are all your entries, I am confused by part of your entry

    “It cannot exist in this universe, which we know is finite in size – being 13.7 million billion (sorry) years old, the universe must be a sphere with a maximum radius of 13.7 million billion (again) light years, this being the furthest distance that electromagnetic radiation from the big bang can have travelled in this time, given that, from Einsteinian relativity, nothing can travel faster that the speed of light.”

    Surely the universe is a finite age not size. The size of the observable universe is a sphere of 13 bn light years, this does not mean that there are not parts of the universe we cannot observe for reasons we do not understand. Your dislike of infinity is also interesting, if you define anything as finite then de facto there must be boundaries and anything that has a boundary must have something the other side of the boundary. This again creates a whole new set of problems.

    If the universe was created by a simple ‘big bang’ with a a current radius of 13bn years then we would not see what we currently see. Looking into the sky in the direction of the ‘big bang’ you would see the galaxies etc back to the beginning, however if you looked in the opposite direction you would see nothing – ie we must be at the leading edge of the ‘explosion’ as the only direction we can look in is back in time – ie towards the ‘big bang’.
    In fact if you extrapolate observations ie look directly upward from say the North and South poles you can see a distance of 13bn light years. Ergo at the time of the ‘big bang’ the universe was 26bn light years across. (in fact it was a sphere that size by looking up at each point on the globe).

    Can you please explain my confusion?

  • Andy: Okay, cosmology 101.

    Big Bang Theory:

    1. The universe begins as a singularity, i.e. everything compressed in to single infinitesimally small point.

    2. The Big Bang – the universe inflates from that point, like a ballon, in all directions at once.

    Nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, therefore the maximum distance that the universe can inflate in a given time is the distance that light could travel in that same amount of time, which is why we can say that that maximum size (and shape) of the universe is a sphere with a radius of 13.7 billion light years – a light year being the distance that light travels in a year.

    And as Einstein demonstrated the speed of light is constant.

    As for why the universe looks the same in all directions, that’s because of the curvature of space-time. Your notion of looking directly upwards from the poles sounds as though it should be correct, but relies on an understanding of the universe in three dimensions.

    If you did look ‘upwards’ from the pole you wouldn’t see 13bn light years straight upwards, what you would see is an arc of 13 bn light years along the four dimensional curvature of space-time.

    If you need an more than that, you’ll have to invest in a copy of A Brief History of Time.