Monday, July 21, 2008

The Tedium of "Uncommon Descent"

I've been eyeballing William Dembski's "intelligent design" website, "Uncommon Descent". Speaking only for myself, there definitely is an enjoyment in sneering at these folks. It's not only a concern for the future of science education in the U.S. that compels me, all too frequently, to see what these folks are up to.

There is yet another motivation for visiting these sites. On some level, I honestly do hope that somebody could arrive at an argument for "intelligent design" that is compelling, or actually challenges some evolutionary views and forces good scientists back to the blackboards. I'm all for weirdness, whimsy, complexity, surprises, and strange twists. More than anything, I enjoy the attempt at honing in on reality. If science blows expectations, more power to it. Contrary to what many creationist ninnies seem to believe, there's no "anti-god" motivation behind my disdain for their philosophies, and that's probably true for most scientifically-minded people.

Unfortunately, these compelling arguments never seem to emerge. Visit the site, and it's highly unlikely you'll find anything of scientific value. Currently, what will you find?

*Philosophical proofs against anything that tweaks the Abrahamic mindset...abiogenesis (how can non-life beget life? huh?), artificial intelligence, morality (if there's no absolute lawmaker, people can just run amuck, right?), etc. Didn't these sorts of arguments lose credence 400 years ago?

*Disputation of the global warming consensus. This, of course, has little or nothing to do with the site's stated charter (to dispute "materialism"), but it's not in the least surprising to see where these folks stand on the issue.

*The "Darwin is the Jesus of Atheists" argument. Constant attacks on Darwin's character and intelligence.

*Praise for the way in which ID has subtly infiltrated society.

*A repeated argument that science requires more faith than religion. (Scientists assume that if you feel pain in your foot, you've hit a real rock, but religious folks don't need that assumption, blah, blah, blah). Ho-hum.

*Complaints about PZ Myer's threat to desecrate communion wafers.

*Praise for a journal article titled "Design Principles of Photosystem II and Hydrogenases". Like infants, it seems the IDiots are merely thrilled at the inclusion of the word "design" in the title, since the actual body of the paper contains no succor for them. This isn't the first time that the term "design" in a paper has incited an orgy for these fools.

*One of the main contributors arguing, in effect, that mutational hotspots somehow disprove evolution (according to him, they're entirely non-random, which is anti-evolutionary, blah, blah, blah). Tedious. Similarly, there's an emerging ID-based argument that epigenetics == Lamarckism != Darwinism, so evolution is false.

*Endless repetition of the "evolution is in its death throes" mantra. In the next paragraph, of course, you're likely to hear these dunces complain that they have no representation at all in academia because of one conspiracy or another.

*Interminable proclamation that any slightly perplexing biological mechanism is "IC" or "irreducibly complex", and thus impossible to arrive at by any means other than conscious design. The current example is the Venus Flytrap. At first glance, it is a tad imagination-defying that that such a mechanism could evolve. After all, what use is a half-flytrap? Five minutes of internet research, however, reveals that the flytrap is related to the sundew, a carnivorous plant that doesn't snap shut, but traps flies via a sticky goo. It's then fairly simple to imagine some gradual evolutionary steps...1) the sundew better captures prey by folding around it, albeit slowly, 2) the folding mechanism improves, and 3) the goo is eliminated. My initial failure of imagination is remedied with some simple background on the flytrap's relatedness to another species.

Where's the bloody science? What is a pro-ID scientist to do in a research environment? Shall scientists cease work on abiogenesis because an IDiot has a cutesy philosophical refutation of its possibility?

The UDers are known to imply that a number of their scientists are forced to work in stealth to avoid the bigotry of "big science". If huge numbers of biologists are indeed being expelled for their unorthodox views on evolution, it only makes sense that there should also be a sizeable number of scientists working stealthily on pro-ID science. You'd expect a slew of anonymous but science-literate posts over at "Uncommon Descent". But the tone of the posts over at UD make it clear that there aren't any such stealthy biologists contributing to the site. One of the head honchos at the site, in fact, is in the habit of announcing that he only has access to the abstracts of journal articles (i.e. he doesn't have the passwords that any university academic would).

One of the hallmarks of pseudoscience is a lack of willingness to entertain third explanations. If we can't explain the lights in the sky, then an alien visitation is the only possibility. Even if we grant the dubious premise that known mechanisms of evolution (e.g. point mutations) can't account for the complexity of some proteins or protein complexes, why not speculate on mechanisms by which evolution can proceed at an accelerated pace? I hint at a few here. Here's a prediction: if and when new explanations are validated, they'll come from real biologists. The findings will then be greeted with excitement by most academics, but will be pooh-poohed by the IDiots.


By the way, don't even attempt to post a comment on "Uncommon Descent". They'll ban any real scientist who evinces the slightest hint of snideness, though they're more than happy to let young earth creationists roam amuck on the site. In this sense, the site is all the more anti-evolution: the bright folks get weeded out, and the morons survive.

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