Monday, April 17, 2017

Dodge Ball at the Discovery Institute

In a post over at the Discovery Institute's (DI) Evolution 'news' and Views site (EnV), "Bad Bugs, Good Designs — The Case of the Mosquito" looks like it's going to make a case for design.  Yet all it does it dodge the issue.  Remember making a case means much more than offering an opinion, you have to support it with evidence.

Quoting an article from Nature "Smart wing rotation and trailing-edge vortices enable high frequency mosquito flight", the DI does what it usually does and places an Intelligent Design spin on things.  What the paper describes is the intricate and interesting detail of mosquito flight characteristics, something that hadn't been studied to this level of detail before.  And what do you know, they discovered some new and interesting information.  So, how does one determine that this post on EnV is nothing more than the usual DI spin?
  • Clue Number 1, is did the DI do any original research on the subject?  No, there is no evidence of any original research.  They took someone else's work and changed the conclusions.
  • Clue Number 2, did the paper cite anything from the Discovery Institute or any similar source?  No, all citations reference actual scientific papers and articles, nothing pseudo-scientific in the bunch.
  • Clue Number 3, does the DI's post offer any support for the design 'conclusions'?  No, they simple make the statement, but offer nothing in the way of support or proof other than their opinion.  In fact, look at this quote from the post:
"Others insights drawing on religious teachings could be cited, including the reply to Job from the whirlwind. Such answers, though worth exploring, drift far beyond the limited scope of intelligent design. The job of ID is to identify design, not comment on its morality. We gladly leave such matters in the capable hands of philosophers and theologians. To the objective observer, mosquito aerodynamic systems look well designed. They may not get our love, but deserve our respect."
They claim to have other papers they could cite, but due to the religious nature of those papers, the DI decided not to use them.  Ostensibly due to the limited scope of Intelligent Design, but in my opinion this is just another effort to keep distancing themselves from their religious background.  When you read real scientific papers, articles, and even postings, you never see a religious disclaimer, do you?

Another point, take a look at the second to last line, "To the objective observer, mosquito aerodynamic systems look well designed.", I added the underlining to point something out.  I, and many others have said, that Intelligent Design is nothing other than opinion and conjecture going for it.  This line supports that idea.  Instead of actually proving intelligent design is real, all they can do it point to things that look designed and make their religious claim that 'if something looks designed, it must be designed'.  In this case they declare it to be a good design, but yet no evidence to support that it is designed at all, let alone good or bad design.

One of the things I find humorous is that when someone points to something that, if it had been designed, was a very poor design, ID proponents never seem to address those issues in the same way. (Argument from poor design) For example, this post suggests that because the mosquito's flight characteristics are so special and so well-designed; therefore that somehow proves Intelligent Design.

However, Wild Bill Dembski, once a rising star of ID, clams there there is a difference between 'intelligent design' and 'optimal design', meaning that just because something may be poorly designed doesn't rule out ID. (Dembski, William (1999). Intelligent design: the bridge between science & theology. InterVarsity Press. p. 261. ISBN 0-8308-2314-X.

Huh?  Good design proves design, but bad design also proves design?  Do you want a bit more of  Marie Antoinette's cake, don't you think?  In other words, this whole post means absolutely nothing.  Yes, mosquito flight characteristics are interesting and unique in many ways and deserves further study . . . but, as an example of Intelligent Design?  That means absolutely nothing because even if it was uninteresting and pedestrian the DI could claim it supports design anyway.  A difference that makes no difference is no difference!

What this post reminds me most of is Michael Behe's book "Darwin's Black Box".  In it Behe discussed things like clotting factor, the immune system, and bacterial flagellum as things that are 'irreducibly complex' and therefore could not have come about through a natural process like evolution.  When faced with nearly 10 years of further research on those topics that support evolutionary origins, Without having read any of it, Behe said that research wasn't good enough. (Dover Trial Transcript, Day 12, PM, starting at 49.)

Scientists readily admit that they don't know everything about the flight characteristics of the mosquito.  This paper is an example of something the DI doesn't seem to know much about, it's called 'Research', in which real scientists explore things we don't know in order to learn more and more.

The DI wants to declare this as something really really special, therefore it has to have been designed.  But when you look at other insects, you also see special characteristics.  How about the Bumble Bee:
"Bees beat their wings about 200 times a second. Their thorax muscles do not contract on each nerve firing, but rather vibrate like a plucked rubber band. This is efficient, since it lets the system consisting of muscle and wing operate at its resonant frequency, leading to low energy consumption. Further, it is necessary, since insect motor nerves generally cannot fire 200 times per second. These types of muscles are called asynchronous muscles[ and are found in the insect wing systems in families such as Hymenoptera, Diptera, Coleoptera, and Hemiptera. Bumblebees must warm up their bodies considerably to get airborne at low ambient temperatures. Bumblebees have been known to reach an internal thoracic temperature of 30 °C (86 °F) using this method." (Wikipedia: Bumble Bee)
Bumble Bees have different, yet efficient, flight characteristics than mosquitoes. If you study up a bit you find that many groups of insects have very interesting characteristics when it comes to how their wings work.  So what's a good explanation?  Were they all designed differently or did they all evolve different characteristics?  On the one hand you have opinion offering the answer of 'designed', but on the other hand you have 150+ years of evidence supporting evolution.

Look at this one line mentioning Hymenoptera (Sawflies, wasps, and bees), Diptera (Houseflies), Coleoptera (beetles), and Hemiptera (cicadias, aphids . . .). Thousands of insect species with some similar flight characteristics.  Design or Evolution, which answer makes sense and is supported by evidence?  You can't forget the evidence part because without evidence all you have is opinion.  Before answering you might want to know there has been a great deal of research -- there's that word again, research -- about the genetics of insects, including related species and sub-species of insects.  Did you know human's share about 60% or our genes with fruit flies?  Again, before answering, how much actual research have you seen on Design?  I'm not talking opinion and religious pieces, but actual scientific research?  None!  So clearly the answer to my question doesn't support design!

Rather than do their own research, the DI simply take someone else's work and put a Behe-type spin on it.  In the future, as we learn more and more about the subject, I am sure there will be someone from the DI to tell us that it's not enough.  After all, that's a lot easier than doing any real research, isn't it?

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