T Nation

Dissecting ID


The other ID thread is getting too long. We had the swinging phalli and pissing contests already.


So let's get down to brass tacks here. Okay Kansas, what the hell? I mean, why did you do this in the first place? What exactly is going on over there?

Here we go, Part 1:
"The theory of intelligent design (ID) holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process such as natural selection. ID is thus a scientific disagreement with the core claim of evolutionary theory that the apparent design of living systems is an illusion."

Nothing hinky about that? What's so bad about attempting to refute Evolutionary Theory? What's the big deal?

Part 2, from the website:
"In a broader sense, Intelligent Design is simply the science of design detection -- how to recognize patterns arranged by an intelligent cause for a purpose. Design detection is used in a number of scientific fields, including anthropology, forensic sciences that seek to explain the cause of events such as a death or fire, cryptanalysis and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). An inference that certain biological information may be the product of an intelligent cause can be tested or evaluated in the same manner as scientists daily test for design in other sciences."

This is where an error creeps in, and I think that the Kansas School Board got a little hoodwinked by statements such as these. Yes, there is such a thing as "design detection", but it is used in the human sciences. You cannot take techinques we use to discover the source of a fire in an abandoned building and use them to draw conclusions about DNA. We do not measure atomic mass with a car speedometer.

Part 3:
"ID is controversial because of the implications of its evidence, rather than the significant weight of its evidence. ID proponents believe science should be conducted objectively, without regard to the implications of its findings. This is particularly necessary in origins science because of its historical (and thus very subjective) nature, and because it is a science that unavoidably impacts religion.
Positive evidence of design in living systems consists of the semantic, meaningful or functional nature of biological information, the lack of any known law that can explain the sequence of symbols that carry the "messages," and statistical and experimental evidence that tends to rule out chance as a plausible explanation. Other evidence challenges the adequacy of natural or material causes to explain both the origin and diversity of life."

Another critical error here, but if you aren't looking for it carefully, you may not see it. The contradiction is right in the bold-faced text I indicate above. Every "positive" bit of design evidence mentioned is nothing but the subjective implications of evidence which the ID scientists are trying so hard to avoid!

Just because there is information contained in DNA doesn't mean that the molecule was originally "designed" by an intelligence. That's a subjective implication drawn from the evidence.

Just because it seems unlikely to the layman that organic matter arose from inorganic matter, doesn't mean that it was "created" by an intelligence. That's a subjective implication drawn from the evidence. I once again wish to mention the groundbreaking and significant Miller-Urey experiment, and some discussion about it, in case some of us aren't familiar with the reality of complex order arising from chaos:


Note that no intelligent creator was required to intervene in the Miller-Urey experiment. The organic molecules happened just fine all by themselves. This is the way of nature. This is normal. But wait! That is my mistake, because thinking that no intelligence was behind the experiment's results was another one of those implications drawn from the evidence.

To be intellectually honest, what the experiment proves is that order arises from complex chaos. It does not show HOW. So do we find God in-between atoms, arranging them? Is the mechanism of the synthesis of order a surface manifestation of an intelligent creator, working "behind the scenes"?


We can see the patterns, but we can't say why. Gravity is just as odd and unusual a phenomenon as the relationship of complexity to order, and yet there is no "scientific" movement to show such a thing as "Intelligent Falling". Does God make me fall down so hard after eighteen beers? Is the Lord pulling me back to earth after I miss another slam dunk?

What we have here are people who are uncomfortable with evolution, plain and simple. Perhaps if the bible said that there was no gravity without God, then we would be taught "Intelligent Falling" in Kansas public schools?

Roe v. Wade: 42 Years in the Past

The other problem with ID is that it should be called UD - unintelligent design. Any second year engineering student would be able to come up with a better design for an eye, for example. Fancy having the nerve endings on the front of the retina, so that the nerves have to pass back through the retina to reach the brain, causing a blind spot. Not to mention, what is the use of the coccyx in a human, or the appendix?

And another problem - what testable hypotheses does ID put forward? Without them, it cannot be science.


I'll summarize it for you.

Intelligent Design is a Tube-Steak Boogie. Anyone who doesn't believe in the theory of evolution should be hit over the head until they do.


I would love to see a second year engineering student do this and make it viable...while detecting and distinguishing color, depth, and hue. Could you point out someone who has? The blind spot you speak of is pin point in design and, truthfully, the human eye is one of the most amazing creations on the planet...yet to you it is so child-like that anyone with minor education could do better? How did some of you come to think so highly of yourselves?



This is how the scam works. What they do is trot out examples of complexity in Biology. But what they are looking for as a gold standard is something they define as "specific complexity".

From the link above:
"One way to answer this question is to tinker with the system and see what happens. How well does the system function when you start knocking out proteins or other biomolecules? How well do the molecules function when you alter them? If it can take a lot of hits and still work, then it isn’t very specified, and could plausibly have been produced by an undirected, stepwise process. But if it can handle only minute changes, then the system is highly specified—and extremely unlikely to have been produced by chance."

So I would say that their hypothesis is stated more precisely as "specified complexity cannot arise without an intelligent designer."

Has this been debunked yet?


Ouch! I like this particular point to sum up what is going on here:

"Moreover, complex and “specifiable” structures (i.e., structures bearing the Dembskian hallmarks of intelligent design) can be produced by natural or artificial (non-directed) selection, as both the fields of evolutionary biology (Futuyma 1998; Schlichting and Pigliucci 1998; West-Eberhard 2003) and of “genetic” algorithms in computer sciences have amply demonstrated (Holland 1986; Forrest 1993)."

And not only that, I'd like to add my lothario-brand two cents to this as well. So specified complexity looks weird, but that STILL doesn't mean that it was spontaneously made by an intelligence. The ID guys take something complex, like a flagellum protein sequence, mess it up a little bit, and then the flagellum doesn't work anymore. That's not an indicator of design, that's an indicator of vulnerability to damage, and therefore, on a DNA scale, mutation. How is this not common sense here?

Oh wait, that's right... I'm not selling a lump of poo as a chocolate bar. My bad.


Sorry if my knocking of ID has upset you, Prof X. But I think you're helping me make my point. Why should an eye that is so marvellous in so many other ways have such an obvious design flaw?



Charles Darwin would agree with you, ProfX:
"Or, again, we could examine the human eye. Anatomically, it is most similar to that of an octopus'. Of course, the theory that the human eye evolved was directly commented by Charles Darwin himself when he said, "To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree."

And that's from a creationist website which is trying to use Darwin's words against him. I love it. Of course, they are completely wrong, which a)doesn't surprise me, b)makes me smile, and c)gives me a nice segue into this next article link:


From the article:
"In 1976, the famous classificationist Ernst Mayr and his colleague Salvini-Plawen , decided to survey the animal world to see how many times eyes had evolved independantly. They identified image-forming eyes in at least 40 separate lineages of animals. Like man and squid, these lineages diverged from each other at a time when multicellular creatures were very primitive (and presumably devoid of optical apparatus). The astonishing conclusion was that the eye had evolved from scratch somewhere between 40 and 65 times.

Apparently, despite human incredulity, its no big deal to evolve an eye. Sight is obviously a huge survival advantage for a mobile animal. And perhaps the number of ways of efficiently producing an image is limited. So animals, through trial and error end up converging on the same basic designs over and over again. Just another case of convergent evolution, like wings in bats and birds, or fins in dolphins and fish."

Pretty cool, huh?

But if you read on through the article, we come across soemthing amazing which just lays the hammer down for the Theory of Evolution:
"What is one to make of this? A gene from a mouse can mastermind the development of a fly's eye. So not only do the two genes have similar tracts of code, the mouse gene can actually take over as architect in the fly and work with the fly construction team. That raises all sorts of inferences. Somehow, despite the very gross differences between the fly's compound eye and the vertebrate camera eye, there is something fundamentally similar about the way flies, mice and presumably human eyes are made."

Why did the flies make fly eyes with mouse genes calling the shots? If that is possible, it calls into question just how supposedly unlikely it is for species to evolve from each other, doesn't it? I mean, we have these interchangeable parts, even animals from different orders, for cryin' out loud! Does it seem so crazy to think that we evolved, given the amount of complexity and order arising from the process of making an eye?

If there was such a thing as a critical "specified complexity" such as the ID guys suggest, how the hell did the mouse/fly eye experiment work?

Just try to explain that to me.


I truly don't consider this a flaw. While there is a blind spot because there are no cones or rods at the head of the optical nerve, the only way to detect it is to cover up one eye while keeping the single viewing eye fixed on an object and using peripheral vision to locate it. The other eye compensates completely for it. Even in those with only one working eye (without any pathology), the blind spot is very difficult to locate without being trained to locate it.

In fact, what this does show is how powerful the human mind is. For instance, there is an experiement that can be done where a pen or pencil is moved into the field of the blind spot (as if pointing at it and going through it). It appears that as the tip enters the blind spot, the pencil appears truncated, as if it were vanishing into something (the blind spot). But when the tip emerges at the other side, the visual processing system fills in the missing part between.

The first conclusion drawn from that experiment, although each eye has a blind spot, is some sort of intelligence is used to give this area not only a likely color, but also to fill in lines that pass through the blind spot...rather than just have a fuzzy grey area. The result is that, with one eye closed, it isn't immediately obvious where the blind spot is, because it has been given a suitable color, and even pattern, based on what is adjacent to it.

The second conclusion drawn is that what we see is not just what has appeared on the retina, but is an image that has been "fixed up". And if the human visual cortex is able to tidy up the blind spot, then it may well be that the same is being done for the entire visual field...that what we get to "see" is not what appears on the retina, like a photograph, but instead something which has a whole bunch of special effects or "imagined images" added.

That means what you see is largely your own minds invention.

Either way, we can see from the diagram that what you wrote:

Doesn't seem to grasp what is happening. Where else would the nerves be in order to produce the greatest visual effect? The retina is at the back of the eye and those nerves cover a very large field. While focusing on what you seem to view as a "flaw", you completely missed at how well the system works as a whole. I just don't understand your take on this.

Further, this has nothing to do with your take on Intelligent Design. My comment was based completely on how you took one of the more amazing structures in the body and pretended as if any second year engineering student could do better. This is a lie. I haven't seen science as a whole do better than that yet even when it comes to robotics so what are you talking about?


I don't understand the large issue you are trying to make. This is why there needs to be research into stem cells. We have long known that some cells in early stages can either be transplanted and take over a new assignment, or in some cases, they can also keep their assignment even though they are transplanted to different areas in the same human body. It would appear that the stage of development would be the primary issue. This means that irregardless of the gene used...if that gene is still responsible for making an eye by using the available stem cells (which are still those of the mouse), those cells will still do what they are coded to do with guidance, not create a new organism.

In that experiment, what would have truly been spectacular and awe inspiring...is if there were mice eyes being grown on those flies. That wasn't the case.


OK, Prof X, I see where you are coming from now. Re the blind spot, cricketers who have been dismissed from a ball that they momentarily lost sight of in their blind spot mightn't agree with you about its unimportance. But it is only an issue in restricted cirumstances (a fast moving object that changes direction at the critical point).

However, from a design perspective, surely it is unnecessary. Why could the nerves not simply exit from the back of the retina in the first place?

As for the second year engineering student issue, I did not mean that they could start from raw materials and build a better eye. Simply that they would be able to identify this weakness and propose a solution.


I wanna know who/what designed the "intelligent designer".


And is proto-intelligent designer more intelligent than the intelligent designer? If so, why didn't the proto-intelligent designer design an intelligent designer that could design a human eye without the blind spot?

Prof. X, the fact that the brain has to "fudge" what you see in order to make up for the blind spot shows that the eye is not perfect. It is complex, yes, but not perfect. One would expect a certain level of perfection from God, sorry, the intelligent designer.

Especially when he/she/it gave the octopus eyes with photocells whose nerves face away from the light, hence without a blind spot.


Just a quick note.

An eye, wired "correctly" with the nerves in the back of the eye, is found in nature. The squids have them.

Now, look at a squid or an octopus: A roundish, meatball-shaped head, with long noodly arms. Obviously, the Intelligent Designer kept his best eye design for the creatures most resembling him.

I can't believe some people are still in denial and haven't purchased multiple pirate outfits yet.


He's so intelligent that he doesn't need to be created, he exists outside the realm of time.

See, all these little kinks are easily explained by postulating progressively more ridiculous explanations, which also happen to be unprovable. ID belongs in churches or theology classes, but I think we all already agreed on that.


A few more questions for the Intelligent Designer:

Why must humans get vitamin C from their diet? If we don't, we develop scurvy and eventually die from the deficiency. We have the pseudogene for vitamin C production, but, being a pseudogene, it's there but inactive. Dogs, on the other hand, have the real thing. They can produce their own vitamin C even when it's absent from their diet. So remember that if you run out of oranges, you can always eat Rex to tide you over.

Why does hemoglobin have such an affinity for carbon monoxide? Carbon monoxide is a clear, odorless gas which we can't detect. Hemoglobin binds with it much more readily than with oxygen, which leads to unpleasant phenomenons such as dying. Is this a prank pulled off by the ID? Or is it that because carbon monoxide poisoning is a very recent possibility and that it's never been an environmental pressure we've had to adapt too? Wasn't the ID able to design hemoglobin so that it would favor oxygen in all circumstances?

Wisdom Teeth: Why give us more teeth than will fit in our mouthes? Was there an end-of-season special on molars that day? They generally come out (if they come out at all) rather late in the development cycle, and we live quite nicely until then; so they're not useful for chewing better. In many cases they have to be removed since they push underneath the other molars, causing quite a bit of pain.

Male nipples? Enough said.

Plantaris muscle: Useful in apes who swing from trees, in humans it is atrophied and sometimes completely absent.

Color blindness: Color blindness is slowly on the rise in humans. Why should our "perfect eyes" be losing the ability to distinguish colors? Does the Designer recycle cones for some other specie? Or is it because we're not adversely affected by color blindness and currently not "selecting" against it? It also shows that less than 100% of an eye can be useful, refuting a common argument of IDers.


If you expand your quote beyond the function of the eye and the visual corext, this is EXACTLY the problem with ID. To much invention- and NO data- which is why scientists reject it.


You had me laughing out loud there!

How about the coccyx or the appendix?



It's quite obvious that in the beginning we were perfect, but now we have fallen from grace and, hence, cannot make vitamin C.




What I'd like to know, is what's the research on how life began at all...from inorganic matter?

Does the earth (dirt) have a genetic makeup?

If its a possibility that life can evolve from non-life, then has this been observed yet?

Edit: Nevermind, the Miller-Urey experiment web page explained some things in detail, except the genetic code...


I've been quiet for way to long on this topic, I've got to at least let something out. As a scientist, I disagree with ID in a H.S. science class for three reasons:
1) The science taught at the high school level is what is known as natural science. The definition of which is:

A science, such as biology, chemistry, or physics, that deals with the objects, phenomena, or laws of nature and the physical world.

Evolution starts with phenomenon that I can observe, finch, mice, pea plants, bacterial, and a whole host of other organisms genetics along with observable fossil records, and data and trends from analogous fields and applies them to answering a question that I can't necessarily observe, evolution as a whole.

ID, invokes the idea of not only an extreme intelligence, but also an extreme power overseeing the biological systems on the entire planet. Presumably, no one has seen, or will see, experience, or detect, this intelligence in the process of generating new organisms through non-evolutionary means (e.g. spontaneous generation). Because it cannot be seen, experienced, or detected in this process it is not a part of natural science. It is, in fact, supernatural:
-Of or relating to existence outside the natural world.
-Attributed to a power that seems to violate or go beyond natural forces.
-Of or relating to a deity.
-Of or relating to the immediate exercise of divine power; miraculous.
-Of or relating to the miraculous.

That's not to say that there is no science involved, quite the contrary, philosophy and theology are two fantastic sciences (among others) that have helped and continue to help to guide the natural sciences. It's just to say that when teaching the natural sciences, evolution is a good example of taking what is observable and applying it to what isn't currently observable.

  1. My other issue with intelligent design starts with The Museum of Science and Industry here in Chicago. In the dome on the second floor is an inscription that reads:"To understand the laws of Nature and to apply them to the needs of man." If the natural sciences weren't useful to mankind, we wouldn't use them, much like shamanism and voodoo have fallen by the wayside. Now, a deity is also good to man, but in the sense of this argument, to invoke intelligent design forces the anyone wishing to better explore the biology into supernatural sciences, which limits or even prohibits the application of their discovery and understanding to the natural world. Evolution, and the principles it imparts are not only eminently useful in biology, but fields such as economics and systems design as well. Even if ID were to replace evolution as the explanation for the variety of species on this planet, evolution would still exist and apply to the finches, mice, and pea plants I observed, as well as other situations where specific adaptation to imposed demand occurs.

3.This reason is somewhat more personal, but, I can't fathom the size and variability of the universe and even more iconceivable, would be the force(s) responsible for the universe. When someone invokes intelligent design as part of the reason for evolution, a link between the intelligence and the natural world is inexorably drawn and we begin to incur a deity that is reducable to observation and experimentation. While the supernatural and the natural must be linked at some point (even if they are opposite sides of the same coin), the simplicity and inelegance of the linkage through evolution, to me, doesn't represent an intelligence great enough to have created the universe.

As well, once science becomes the means of knowing the processes of god, other religions become obselete. Indeed while ~2000 yrs. of Christianity, untold times of Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc. have not been fruitless, the achievements that science has made in terms of saving lives, healing the sick (not quite to raising the dead yet, but getting close), and the fact that it would contain "proof" of a higher intelligence would make it a religious power unlike any known before. And while some religions have and/or do hinge on less, the idea of having a religion that hinges on the tenets of ID and the science surrounding it is a little bit frightening.

All of this does not say that evolution does explain the variety of species as law and fact, and should be taught as such. It merely says that evolution has superceded other explanations (e.g. Lamarckism and Lysenkoism) of what we observe and its links to what we cannot.