Monday, April 9, 2007

The End is Nye!


"Who", you ask? The Intelligent Design movement. You see, they came to campus recently--here's a flier:

That in itself would be no problem. After all, they're clowns. One laughs at clowns, or perhaps runs in terror from them, but one doesn't hate them. But not this time.

You see, they came on the same days that Bill Nye was on campus:

The audacity! This insult shall not stand.

It's not all bad, though. I mean, Bill Nye's presence was announced all over campus, with fliers taped to the sidewalks and a huge cloth poster stapled to some wooden beams in the middle of one of the most highly-trafficked areas of campus. I hadn't even heard of this ID symposium until today, when I saw the above poster tacked to a bulletin board and then stole it. And I've heard of Pugwash, but not of this "Sowing the Seed"--and little wonder. They're "a small organization of about fifty students with no budget or marketing to get the word out."

It's worthy to note that this "jwatt" fellow refers to the seminar as "Creation VS Evolution", despite the poster billing it as "Intelligent Design"--which, as we all know, has nothing to do with creationism. And why not? Just look at Sowing the Seed's website, where they describe themselves as an organization whose purpose "is only to make possible and promote the teaching of and learning from the Bible on the campus of the University." But if Intelligent Design has nothing to do with religion, as the Discovery Institute claims, then why is a group whose sole purpose is promoting the Bible organizing an Intelligent Design symposium?

I also am amused by the list of "Dr. Payne's Credentials" near the bottom of the flier. To wit--he has none! He's a mathematician; how does that qualify him to discuss biology? Let's look at some of what he was saying four years ago:
The makeup of the human body is "irreducibly complex," he says.

"The basic argument is this: If you're going to explain the evolutionary order of life, you have to explain how all these complex, chemical systems came to be how they are," Payne said. "And there is no legit theory that I know of."

Wow, that's a lot of stupid right there.

For one, sir, evolution is a very legitimate theory, and creating complex systems isn't at all a problem for it.

The notion of "irreducible complexity" was invented by one Michael Behe. Basically, a system is supposedly "irreducibly complex" if you cannot remove a single component from it without making the system incapable of functioning. The idea then is that evolution cannot account for such systems "because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional." Some of his favorite examples have included hormone binding sites, bacterial flagellum, and the disulfide bond. Without even following all those links (although I'd recommend at least following the last one--it's hilarious) I can tell you that research has shown ways that every one of them could have evolved. At least one of the big problems is that the definition doesn't take into account the fact that biological systems can easily change from doing one thing to doing another. So removing one component may make it useless as far as the "final product" is concerned, but it still served a useful function. That is, "[i]t is not true that a precursor missing a part must be nonfunctional. It need only lack the function we specified. Even a single protein does something." So, not looking too good for Payne's beliefs so far.

Finally, note what he's demanding of evolution. In order to be acceptable, it has "to explain how all these complex, chemical systems came to be how they are." That's insane. He's following a standard ID trick: demand levels of detail that are impossible to meet (and never required of any other field). Then, when those demands aren't met, claim it proves that evolution isn't true and pray to God that no-one asks the same thing of ID. Consider, in the Dover trial, Behe was called as an expert witness for the defense and asked about the evolution of the immune system--another system he considers "irreducibly complex." He claimed that one "would never find an evolutionary explanation for the immune system." So what did the lawyers do? Presented him with evolutionary explanations of the immune system. "He was presented with fifty-eight peer-reviewed publications, nine books, and several immunology textbook chapters about the evolution of the immune system." In a talk he gave (available at 60 MB for download here) Ed Brayton discussed this truly cinema-worthy scene of the trial, at around 45 minutes into the presentation:
One of his [Behe's] standard claims in his books is that evolution has no explanation for--scientists have no explanation for the evolution of the immune system. And so, this was a little bit of theater in the courtroom. Eric Rothschild, doing the cross-examination of him, wheels in a cartful of books about the evolution of the immune system, books and articles. And one-by-one he handed them to him.

"Have you read this book, Professor Behe?"

"Well, no I haven't."

"Have you read this book, Professor Behe?"

"Well, no I haven't."

And as he sat on the witness stand, they began piling up on his lap. And Behe's not a particularly tall man, and at one point he literally was having to lean around this to see Eric Rothschild. And at one point, finally he said, "Uh, excuse me, Mr. Rothschild, can you--can you take these back? They're starting to get heavy."

Which was sort of symbolic of what he really meant to say was: the evidence is weighing me down, I'd really rather not deal with it.

What did Behe think of all this? "[T]hey were more examples of hand waving speculations." This flabbergasted Judge Jones, who wrote:
We find that such evidence demonstrates that the ID argument is dependent upon setting a scientifically unreasonable burden of proof for the theory of evolution.

Whew. That took a while. Next!
Payne says the idea behind a grand designer -- who he believes to be God -- is just logical.

"When we look at other systems that are man-made, we know that they are designed," he said. "But nature is so much more complex. It must have a designer."

Now that's just sad. You had such a high idiocy-to-words ratio previously, I was hoping you could keep it up. But no, this is just one brand of stupid. Again, Mr. Payne, complexity is no hurdle to evolution and is not a sign of design.

And this idiot's flier dared occupy the same bulletin board as that of Bill Nye. It is an outrage.

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