Discussion of The Design of Life

The above appeared in a recent thread.

I think a discussion of The Design of Life would be an excellent topic, and @Eddie has twice expressed a desire to discuss the (flawed) contents.

I also recall that @Puck_Mendelssohn has written a review of it, which would satisfy @Eddie’s request above.

I admit I haven’t read the book myself, so I’d be grateful if those who have can supply additional nuggets from it.

:popcorn:

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That review can be found here:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R25EKCB8TEEGSQ

One note: while the review is, as Eddie requests, a “fair overall assessment of the book,” Eddie’s criteria tend toward the self-contradictory in that he thinks that “good points” should be mentioned. This gave me some pause as the book’s good points are a bit thin on the ground. But consider the review supplemented by the following good point:

As torrents of lies go, I have never seen one in such an attractive binding, and with such good choices in layout and typography. My copy of The Protocols of The Elders of Zion cannot hold a candle to it, though after reading it I have the sense that someone probably should.

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Perhaps @Eddie could start by presenting a section of the book that he views as good.

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Or perhaps he could just confirm his inability to meaningfully evaluate books like this by pretending to see nothing wrong with this, from p. 83-84:

Let’s examine the proposed evolution of the mammalian ear more closely. The skull and mandibles (lower jaws) of the therapsids are said to have bones similar (homologous) to those of the first mammals. The upper and lower jaws of reptiles articulate (fit together) with two bones (one each located at the back of the upper and lower jaws) not found in mammals. According to Darwinian theory, these two bones relocated in the middle ear of the mammals in the course of descent with modification (see figure 3.11). Darwinists describe the reptilian jaw bones as “migrating” to their new locations in the mammalian ear. Nevertheless, there is no fossil record of such an amazing process. Nor is it clear how the neo-Darwinian mechanism of natural selection acting on random genetic changes can cause bones to move and relocate. Consider that to make this change, one of these bones had to cross the hinge from the lower jaw into the middle ear region of the skull. Thereafter the neo-Darwinian mechanism would have had to reshape and refine these bones into a highly specialized, delicate instrument of sound transmission. Such an occurrence would be extraordinary enough by itself, but Darwinists propose that this happened more than once and without the need for any intelligent guidance!

The evidence for the evolution of the mammalian ear from the reptilian jaw therefore comes down to balancing a bone count. In every other respect, the bones are very different and there is no evidence of how evolution might have caused the reptilian jaw bones to “migrate” to the mammalian ear. Why, then, should we think that the identical bone count serves as reliable evidence for the macroevolution of reptiles into mammals? If a mere match of a bone count can provide conclusive evidence of macroevolution, then how can we dismiss the far more detailed similarities between species that evolutionists agree do not indicate evolutionary relationships?

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127 posts were split to a new topic: Eddie and ID books

Is the book about design? I have negligible scholarly respect for the authors, but I am helplessly interested in design. The book wouldn’t get onto my list for weeks or months, but I’d put it on the list if I thought it was about biological design and then I could join a discussion as proposed above.

If on the other hand it’s about evolution, it would be irresponsible of me to even read the dust jacket.

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I find it entertaining that Jonathan Wells, who frequently touts his graduate qualifications in embryology, doesn’t appear to know that this ‘amazing process’ of the movement of bones from the jaw hinge to the middle ear is not only widely apparent in the fossil record, but was also evident in his own in utero ontogeny.

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What’s sort of odd is this: whenever I point out how dishonest something like this is, I am asked to tone it down and to assume the best of people. “Maybe Wells is just horribly, grossly stupid on a topic that falls squarely in the center of the field of expertise he’s touting his expertise in, and wouldn’t it be nicer to just say that and stop there?” is the theme. I never really think it is. I think that the highest possible praise for Jonathan Wells is that he is a really good liar, a mountebank of quality. Okay, actually, he’s really not, but he can spell words and most of his sentences, even if false, are coherent, and so I’ll grant that SOMEONE might think that his lying is of the highest and best quality. Surely pointing out that he is lying is the foundational fact without which that praise cannot be awarded.

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And that they completely misrepresent the evidence (not any interpretation of it) 7 years after the publication of Nobel-winning papers showing that the enzymatic core of the ribosome is a ribozyme.

Just like Meyer did two years later.

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I believe @Puck_Mendelssohn, in his widely-read book review, has provided such an assessment. Other than ill-tempered accusations about bias, there have not been presented in this thread any counter-arguments to the conclusion that the book has no merits.

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If you think that I am suggesting that these two paragraphs of continuous and outrageous lies contain errors, you are mistaken. There’s no error here – only deliberate lying. Surely you do not think Wells is so incompetent as to actually believe this!

You were looking for “good points,” though, so here’s another:

It’s often said that one of the things creationists don’t understand is the value of consilience – of the convergence of multiple lines of evidence supporting evolutionary theory. I think that it’s very clear, in reading The Design of Life, that Dembski and Wells DO understand consilience. They’ve realized that simply lying about one topic isn’t enough, because topics within evolutionary biology interrrelate.

So, take the mammalian jaw business. Alone, this would be an outrageous lie, but it would lack consilience. So Dembski and Wells, understanding the value of consilience, lie about related topics. So, for example, there is a wholly outrageous treatment of evo-devo, the subject which would best help explain how genetic changes accounting for the differential development of the jaw in mammals and in reptiles (and in stem mammals) can have done the work. After a thorough hatchet job, Dembski and Wells ask the question:

Why, then does the view that genetic programs control development continue to be so popular?

Um…because they do? Is that a good answer? Not for Dembski and Wells, of course. But you can see here that they DO, contrary to many accusations, understand consilience. Lying about how the mammalian jaw evolved should depend not merely upon lies about the fossil record and about comparative anatomy, but also upon lies about evo-devo, and Dembski and Wells are fully up to the task.

But, as K-Tel famously said, “wait, there’s more.” Consilience shouldn’t stop with just a pair, so if you buy those lies, we’ll throw in a third lie for a small handling charge.

Even without evo-devo, homology’s a huge problem for ID Creationism. So, among other dishonest assaults upon the subject of homology, Dembski and Wells turn to another old creationist saw: Haeckel’s embryos. Knowing that, in the unlikely event that one of their readers should pick up an actual science book, that reader is likely to learn that the detachment of the ossicles in our stem-mammal ancestors is recapitulated in development of a mammalian embryo, Dembski and Wells pretend that our entire understanding of embryology is dependent upon Haeckel’s drawings and that recapitulation in the real, observed sense is the same as recapitulation in the “biogenic law” sense:

In summary, although biologists have known for over a century that recapitulation doesn’t fit the evidence and although it was supposedly discarded in the 1920s, to this day recapitulation distorts our perceptions of embryos. Furthermore, although biologists have known for over a century that Haeckel’s drawings are fakes and that the earliest stages in vertebrate development are not hte most similar, textbooks continue to use those drawings (or carefully selected but misleading photos) to argue that Darwin’s theory rests on embryological evidence. Recapitulation forces the evidence of embryology into the mold of Darwinian evolutionary theory. In so doing, recapitulation distorts our understanding of both embryology and evolution.

Consilience. E.O. Wilson wrote about it. Biologists have, again and again, pointed to the convergence of multiple lines of evidence for evolution. And Dembski and Wells, to their credit, got the memo. They realized that it was not enough to be dishonest in one area – this type of snake-oil sale requires dishonesty that is comprehensive and multidisciplinary.

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I’m sorry to see that Eddie continues to use strawmen and redirection to defend the indefensible and to avoid taking the simple and honorable step of opening himself to learning. It’s truly sad to see and truly discouraging to watch.

EDIT: while I was writing this post, @Eddie has engaged in some discussion of ribosomes with some scientists here, and it seems he is trying to learn. We’re seeing typical ID cluelessness (if that’s what it is) about how to think about deep history, but I think my comment above (and the one below about duplicity) is potentially unfair in light of new posts by Eddie and others. I will be cautiously hopeful that this can continue.

The authors we are discussing (all of them from the DI) lack credibility and do not deserve the respect that Eddie gives them. There is no god to which Eddie can answer, but if there were, Eddie would have to give an account to her about why he chose complicity and duplicity when he was given a different option.

Now about The Design of Life. Through the magic of Google Books, I have read the first two chapters and skimmed a few of the others. I have a few thoughts, if anyone is actually interested in discussing the book. (I doubt this.)

  1. The level of writing and scientific argument are roughly early undergrad and the book is written as a textbook, with study questions at the end of each chapter.
  2. The authors embrace culture war rhetoric and tactics so brazenly that they could not possibly have thought they were writing a work of scholarship. They love the word ‘evolutionists’ and employ it with the amoral recklessness that we all expect from the DI.
  3. The book begins with humans and human intelligence, which at first seemed laughable but is perhaps strategic if the authors intend to draw a strong connection between human minds and “design.” Most of that chapter, however, is a mocking tour of the authors’ own personal incredulity. I would not read any book by anyone that contained a chapter like it. If anyone is curious at all about The Design of Life, they should read that chapter. It ends any conversation about the credibility of the authors.
  4. Chapter Two is about “genetics and macroevolution” and just the title reveals why the chapter will end up being a joke. It is this chapter that includes some of the amazing falsehoods that have been documented in this thread. The chapter is striking, even awe-inspiring, for its brazen use of falsehood.

There’s no need to read any further in this masterpiece of anti-scientific, anti-intellectual, grotesquely manipulative work. The endorsement by Behe* is both hilarious and tragic–hilarious because of its beyond-insane orgasmic prediction and tragic because any educated human who reads this book and that endorsement will be tempted to dismiss and ignore any talk about design in biology.

But what about @Eddie’s repeated plea for an acknowledgment of what the authors did well? Should we do that? I’m not sure. The textbook-like narrative includes loads and loads of accurate presentation of both science and intellectual history. They get Mendel right. They get Lamarck mostly right. They get Darwin mostly right. Their case studies are interesting and most of the ones I already knew are presented accurately. Yes, OF COURSE there is lots of good stuff in a textbook about genetics, development, natural history, etc.

But I can see why @Puck_Mendelssohn described the book as worse than worthless. Because it is. People who read this book, thinking they will learn about evolution, will be deliberately misled. Whether they will also learn about design “theory,” I don’t know because I haven’t read that far and I won’t. What I do know is that the authors intended to distort and mislead, and they intended to create a set of characters called “evolutionists” that represent foolishness and error. It’s a truly disgraceful piece of crap. An expert on the fossil record would, I strongly suspect, describe chapter 3 as a tour de force of creationist dishonesty about fossils.

@Eddie, I think it would be rude, even cruel, for me to suggest that the scientists on this forum join you for a discussion of this book.

WARNING: DO NOT READ THIS WHILE DRINKING ANY BEVERAGE:
*“When future intellectual historians list the books that toppled Darwin’s theory, The Design of Life will be at the top.”

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Thank you. You realize, of course, that statements like the one you just made are almost nonexistent on websites discussing origins, when ID books or authors are the topic?

If more statements like yours appeared on these sites, it reduce the combativeness of the atmosphere.

I suspect that most people on this forum would agree with you about the value of the book, and I agree that a discussion of it would probably be of little use. Indeed, if you go back to the beginning of the discussion on the other thread, the only point I was trying to make about the book was (a) that it was almost a completely different book from the book it nominally was a revision of [Pandas]; (b) that it did not require any assumptions or beliefs coming from the Bible or Christian religion. I did not say all its arguments were good, and I did not say that I agreed with all of it. I was trying to establish only that it was an ID book, not a creationist book – as the term “creationist” is normally used.

But then I unwisely said that I would respond to criticisms of the book, when I meant (but didn’t say at first, though I did on every subsequent iteration) that I would respond to criticisms of the book from people who had read the whole book. And, as I should have expected here, even after I qualified my offer (I think less than 24 hours after making it), people were demanding that I offer specific points from the book so that they could refute them. I can’t and won’t do that. Period.

You have told the others here that the book isn’t worth the time to read. Fine. I recommend that they adopt your view. Not that I agree with it, but I would rather they openly admitted they had no intention of reading it than pretend they are interested in it, when really they just want me offer points from it that they can shoot down.

I’m done talking about the Design of Life book. Others may go on about it for as long as they please.

Just as a side question, what do you make of the back cover endorsement of George Church, the Harvard geneticist, of Meyer’s book, Darwin’s Doubt? I am guessing you don’t think that Church is a scientific incompetent. How would you explain his non-hostile attitude to the book, so different from the attitude of anyone here?

Thanks for the warning. It was dangerous even without a beverage.

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Me too, and I’ll be glad to move on as well. No further comments from me about the book.

I didn’t know about that. I haven’t read DD, because as you have already seen, I don’t think the author is credible or trustworthy. No endorsement would change that, unless it included an account of how the author had disclaimed the pseudoscholarship that his previous work comprised. But I’ll have a look at what Church wrote and think about it.

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The blurb by Church is very short, and one would desire more detail. If you, as an editor of a scientific journal, were to write to him, asking him for a little more about the merits of the book, maybe he would share his thoughts with you. Maybe he would even authorize you to quote them here.

For all I know he thought Meyer’s thesis in the book entirely wrong. What struck me is that he thought, or seemed to think, that Meyer was raising legitimate questions, and raising them in a way which might allowed for non-polarized discussion. I actually vastly prefer evaluations of ID books that come from non-ID proponents, and say things like, “I think the author is wrong, but I think he is intelligent, informed on some key issues, and raises good questions which the field needs to do more work on, and that he should not be vilified, by answered calmly and intelligently,” to rave reviews on Amazon by ID partisans.

FWIW, I emailed Dembski about this. His response was wall-to-wall falsehoods contradicted by the published evidence, so the false claims about ribosomes cannot be described as errors.

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Apparently the philosophical principle of charity in this context means that you are to assume that your interlocutor is so exceptionally cognitively biased it has rendered this person effectively incapable of rational thought. So afraid of the consequences of accepting the opposing conclusion that they have become dyslexic when reading on a particular topic.
And this assumption is more charitable than to assume s/he is dumb and/or dishonest.

Yes, you’re crazy. Not stupid or lying. Crazy. Aren’t I charitable?

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Charitable, indeed! And so, instead of being asked to give someone the benefit of the doubt, one gets asked to give that person the detriment of the doubt, on the supposition that a delusion powerful enough to severely warp one’s thinking is not a bad thing to attribute to someone, but a lie is.

Perhaps it’s an outcome of having spent a career in litigation, where the ability to sell a terrible idea is considered a valuable skill – but I just don’t find the accusation of dishonesty, as directed against the ID proponents, particularly negative. Dishonesty is not an insult: it is what they are TRYING to achieve, and with some of their targets, it is what they are quite successful at. It is their craft, their only saving grace: the ability to obscure the truth. It is their means of advancing a culture war whose ultimate aim is to erode and destroy others’ freedom from religion, and they know what they’re doing; someone ought to acknowledge their small accomplishments, rather than deride them as delusional.

On that: in the first year of law school one inevitably has some sort of “moot court” experience where there is a fictitious controversy, and one is assigned to argue one side of it or the other. These fictitious controversies are usually designed to be somewhat level: the “good arguments on both sides” sorts of things where it is the skill of the advocacy which makes the difference. I’ve long thought that this was a bad model to use in teaching law students, because real-world legal controversies almost always involve someone who’s plainly right against someone who’s plainly wrong. Kitzmiller v. Dover is a good example of the type. It seems to me that there are two problems in advocacy in most cases, one for each side, and that these are the types of problems one has to solve, in practice, most often: either (a) I’m right, but I have to not let the other SOB somehow make this seem ambiguous or debatable so that we wind up in front of a jury on issues that shouldn’t go to trial, or (b) I’m wrong, but I have got to survive pretrial motions and then figure out how to fool the jury. Sadly for the DI, the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller sought no damage relief, so no jury trial was in the offing; they might have had a chance.

For the DI, facing the non-litigation analogues of these challenges, (a) is never the problem, and (b) always is. Some of their people are pretty good at it. Darwin’s Doubt, for example, is pretty effective at fooling the layman. Some of their people really aren’t particularly good at it, but they have a sort of chutzpah-driven ability to act in total disregard of the truth: Jonathan Wells, for example. Some of their people are spectacularly poor, such as Marcos Eberlin, who can’t figure out the difference between homology and homoplasy. So, at their best, they channel David Duke: able to say the most offensive and absurd things in a level tone, and thus sound much more reasonable than they really are. At their worst, it’s more Ken Ham than anything else.

But as that’s their chosen art, I think it ought to be recognized; and when a man’s chosen art is lying, it surely is no slander to point it out.

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