Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

The Death of Intelligent Design

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on October 17, 2008

Intelligent Design is the philosophical theory that states that the existence of “irreducible complexity” implies that at some point certain features of life were created fully functional, from scratch, in the same form we see them today, by an Intelligent Designer.  It has been argued over and over that ID is not a science, that it makes no testable predictions and that it is otherwise useless from a scientific point of view. I will not rehash those critiques in this entry. Instead, I will concentrate on a new critique, one that strikes, I think, at the heart of the Intelligent Design arguments.

IDers make use of the False Dichotomy logical fallacy. Basically, they say that either life evolved unguided by any conscious being (as science maintains) OR it was designed by an Intelligent Designer. They basically posit the ID as incompatible with evolution, so much so in fact that, to keep in line with their False Dichotomy, they seem to think that pointing out that the Theory of Evolution is incomplete, their position is true by default. I think there is no questioning of this False Dichotomy.

Nevertheless, instead of just pointing out the logical fallacy I think we can do one better and completely take it away from them. The idea is quite simple. If we assume that there exists an Intelligent Designer who has the intelligence, know how and the technology to create life, on what basis are we allowed to assume that this designer did not do such by using an incremental, step by step approach? In other words, even if we assume that the “irreducible complexities” are irreducible to us, based on our limited know how and technology, why should we assume the same applies to this superior being as well?

One of the favorite ID and creationist examples is that of a watch in a desert. If you happen to find a rock and a watch on a desert, you can assume the rock was created by natural processes, but you can tell that the watch was clearly designed by an intelligent being. That’s pretty much the gist of the argument. The watch in the desert is the analog of the “irreducible complexities” IDers are so fond of. Fine, I say. To the people living in the desert the watch will infact be quite irreducibly complex. If they take away one piece it will stop working. So to them, it would be irreducible, just like the eye seems irreducible to some folks (that has been debunked already, but stick with it for the sake of the argument). But the watch would not be irreducibly complex to a watchmaker. In fact we know for sure that clocks and watches have “evolved” starting with a stick in the ground to some quite sophisticated pieces today. Therefore we cannot make the assumption that what we find to be “irreducibly complex” is “irreducibly complex” to the alleged designer.

All this takes us to the main point. There is no logical reason why an Intelligent Designer could not have used evolution to create life on Earth as we see it today. No good reason whatsoever. This may sound like an unimportant distinction but I think it is very important. Remember, IDers rely on the false dichotomy to attack evolution and thus “prove” their theory right. However, this takes away the dichotomy since now we are presented with 3 hypothesies:

  1. Intelligent Designer without Evolution
  2. Evolution only
  3. Intelligent Designer with Evolution

Since the IDers have no evidence to support either 1 or 3 (remember they only attack evolution as part of their false dichotomy!), they cannot really maintain either that the designer designed things from scratch in one fell swoop, nor that he used an evolutionary process to design the same things. Since they make no claims about who or what the designer is, they can’t make a philosophical argument about which one the “real” designer is. They have been  very careful to make this point, because they were trying to hide the designer they all have in mind, GOD! Obviously the designer of option 1 would be quite different from the designer of option 3. The IDers can’t make an argument about either, because they never make any claims about the designer.

All this forces them back to the realm of evidence. Unfortunately, evidence is not their best friend in this area, since evidence points to evolution. This becomes a catch 22 for them. If they reject evolution (Option 2) thus they automatically reject Option 3, thus they reject the Designer from option 3, nevertheless having made no statements about the designer, they can’t know that the designer in Option 3 does not exist. So they are forced, at least the honest ones, to accept evolution which would force them to reject option 1. Either way, they would have to reject at least one Intelligent Designer, and since the evidence can only point to the process (Evolution) and can’t be used to support either Designer #1 or #2, then the notion of a designer itself can’t be defended on scientific grounds.

Keep in mind that just like a watch (the analog of the irreducibly complexity) is not irreducible to a watchmaker (the analog of the Intelligent Designer) but appears irreducible to the nomadic people living in the desert (the analog of us humans), it is quite possible that what appears irreducible to humans, may very well be reducible to the alleged Intelligent Designer. As such the IDer has no basis to prefer one designer over the other. One can still prescribe to it on philosophical or theological grounds, but not scientific.

Intelligent Design R.I.P.

Stop Jenny McCarthy

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on October 17, 2008

Palestinian man in Jordan kills daughter to cleanse family honor

Posted in News by Skepdude on October 17, 2008

A Palestinian man from a refugee camp has shot to death his 17-year-old daughter allegedly to cleanse the family’s honor, a Jordanian judicial official said Thursday.

Forensic doctors said an autopsy showed the girl was still a virgin.


Does faith healing really work?

Posted in Edger by Skepdude on October 17, 2008

This is a follow-up to a previous post.

Ever wondered why people supposedly get out of their wheelchairs and run about on stage during a healing crusade; but no one has ever regrown an amputated limb?

There are a few possibilities:

1. God is not omnipotent. Regrowing an amputated limb is beyond what he can do. (Remember, this is the same ‘god’ who flooded the whole earth, parted the Red Sea, created humans from dust, etc). This obviously does not make sense even if you look at it from the theological side.

2. God refuses to regrow limbs due to reasons that we, being humans, are not supposed to comprehend. As the popular apologetic argument goes: We cannot understand god’s ways. Most Christians that I have spoken to love using this cop-out.

However, this runs contrary to the Bible:

(Matthew 7:7) Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

(Matthew 21:21) I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.

Uh-oh. That argument doesn’t seem to work either.


Is human evolution over? Nah.

Posted in Rationally Speaking by Skepdude on October 17, 2008


A recent article in the Times (of London) quotes Steve Jones, a renowned geneticist author of Darwin’s Ghost (nothing less than an updated version of Darwin’s Origin of Species), as saying “Human evolution is over. Quite unexpectedly, we have dropped the human mutation rate because of a change in reproductive patterns.” What’s he talking about?

Jones maintains that older men (35+) contribute most of the new mutations entering the human gene pool, and those people ain’t reproducing as they used to. Really? Perhaps Jones has forgotten that for most of human history people were highly unlikely to live to, let alone reproduce, at that old age (by Pleistocene standards). Besides, what are we to make of cultural trends (in Western societies) that postpone reproduction for both men and women?

Well, Jones says, “In the old days, you would find one powerful man having hundreds of children,” citing the example of Moulay Ismail from 18th century Morocco who (allegedly) copulated with an average of 1.2 women per day for a straight 60 years (without Viagra), thereby producing a whopping 888 children (nicely symmetric number, which probably doesn’t take into account the human tendency for exaggeration and the likely fact that some of Ismail’s concubines were having, shall we say, side jobs). At any rate, these “old days” are just not old enough to be evolutionarily relevant. The appropriate time frame, again, is pre-agricultural time, when most of human evolution took place. And in those old days there simply wasn’t enough food to go around for a single man to maintain dozens of sexual partners and their offspring.

“In ancient times” continues Jones in the Times interview, “half our children could have died by the age of 20. Now, in the Western world, 98 per cent of them are surviving to 21.” The key words here, of course, are “in the Western world,” as infant and child mortality (and hence the opportunity for natural selection to do its work) are still astronomically high outside of Western societies (and a few others, like Japan). Besides, here is an area where I’m going to be glad that natural selection has a little less wiggle room than it would have without modern medicine.

Finally, Jones complains that human populations have become too large (certainly true from the point of view of our environmental impact) and interbreed too much (I will refrain from engaging in ethnic jokes by pointing out that only a Brit could complain about too much sex. Oh, darn, I just did engage in an ethnic joke). The problem here is that this reduces the relevance of the chance factor in evolution, which is associated with random fluctuations in gene frequencies in very small populations. But human populations have probably very rarely been small enough for so-called genetic drift to have a major effect, and Jones seems to be forgetting that the flip side of that coin is that large populations carry more genetic variation, and are thereby better suited to respond to selection.

As for the last comment in the published interview: “History is made in bed, but nowadays the beds are getting closer together. We are mixing into a global mass, and the future is brown.” As in: we will all look the same, because biologically based ethnic differences will be erased by worldwide interbreeding. Well, to begin with, this is just not happening quickly enough for my taste. Talk about a truly color-blind society that would result from it! Second, I’m sure the human ability to arbitrarily define in-group and out-group membership, thereby continuing the self-destructive “us-vs-them” attitude that has characterized us since “the old days” isn’t going to be halted by a simple quirk of demography.