Wednesday, 17 November 2010

C4ID’s Introduction to Intelligent Design: Part 7

The Centre for Intelligent Design website features a set of brief (sometimes very brief) pdf documents which collectively form an Introduction to Intelligent Design, credited as written by Dr Alastair Noble, C4ID Director. The pamphlet sets out C4ID’s manifesto for ID. Often these documents are written in a way that could be seen as persuasive to the uninformed. In general, the arguments used are those of ‘common sense versus rational investigation’, and the hoary old ‘argument from ignorance/incredulity’.
The teaser for Part 7 reads:
The Darwinian claim that all the adaptive design of nature has resulted from a random search is one of the most daring claims in the history of science. But it is also one of the least substantiated. No evolutionary biologist has ever produced any quantitative proof that the designs of nature are in fact within the reach of chance.
The Darwinian claim that all the adaptive design of nature has resulted from a random search”? This baffles me, as it seems pretty meaningless. In fact evolutionary biology does not show that the structures and forms seen in nature are ‘within the reach of chance’. The origin of genetic variation may well be random (but often is not), but the part that is not random, or chance, is natural selection. It exists.
I imagine that what this part is driving at relates to ‘specified complexity’ – addressed by my BCSE colleague Paul Braterman (Beacon Vol XIIV, No 2 pp4-6).
Part 7 of An Introduction to Intelligent Design consists merely of a quotation attributed to Richard Dawkins and a lifted paragraph from Michael Denton (Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, Adler and Adler, 1986, p324):
Neither Darwin, Dawkins nor any other biologist has ever calculated the probability of a random search finding in the finite time available the sorts of complex systems which are so ubiquitous in nature. Even today we have no way of rigorously estimating the probability or degree of isolation of even one functional protein. It is surely a little premature to claim that random processes could have assembled mosquitoes and elephants when we still have to determine the actual probability of the discovery by chance of one single functional protein molecule!
This so misrepresents evolutionary theory that it takes my breath away. Denton may well be a biochemist by training but this paragraph in isolation (I haven’t read the book, so can’t be sure of the original context) suggests a profound ignorance of evolutionary biology. This is, in essence, an argument from ignorance: ‘I can’t understand how this came to be, it must have been God/Yahweh/Allah that did it’.
Wikipedia’s page for Michael Denton suggests he may have moved away from supporting Intelligent Design:
Denton’s views have changed over the years. He was influenced by Lawrence J. Henderson (1878-1942), Paul Davies and John Barrow who argued for an Anthropic Principle in the cosmos (Denton 1998, v, Denton 2005). Thus his second book Nature’s Destiny (1998)[4] is his biological contribution on the Anthropic Principle debate which is dominated by physicists. He argues for a law-like evolutionary unfolding of life.[5] He no longer associates with Discovery, and the Institute no longer lists him as a fellow.[6]

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