Videos from an ID conference at Biola University

May 29, 2012 • 12:15 pm

UPDATE: Over at Sandwalk, Larry Moran, who has dispatched Jon Wells’s ID-based arguments against “junk DNA” several times (see links below), goes after this latest video.


Know thine enemies. Uncommon Descent has a collection of videos from an Intelligent Design (ID) conference at Biola University (originally named “The Bible Institute of Los Angeles”), including talks by Jon Wells, John West, David Klinghoffer, and (God help us) Denyse O’Leary. There’s also a panel discussion.  At another site, you can see videos by Casey Luskin and Jay Richards. I believe the conference actually took place in 2010 but the videos have just appeared. I’ll put up just three:

Denyse O’Leary.  Words fail me about this talk, though if you’ve read her you’ll see that she’s exactly what you’d expect: a rambling, incoherent Catholic who is a straight-out creationist. Watch for amusement only, since there’s little substance here.  Note that at 9:15 she says that we know nothing about “stone age man” because all that remains are “a few stones and bones.” She then quotes Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, and others to show the fallacies of Darwinism. Curiously, though, she acts beleaguered, as if American and Canadian culture were pervaded with strict evolutionary views (as she claims,  “Darwinism is the bedrock of popular culture”), Well, maybe more so in Canada than the U.S., but it’s well known that in the U.S., at least, overt naturalistic evolutionism is accepted by only a minority.

If you manage to make it through the whole talk, you get a Merit Badge for Intestinal Fortitude. With enemies like her, who needs friends?

Jonathan Wells. Wells pairs Dawkins and Collins as misguided proponents of evolution and common ancestry (what a combination!), Wells’s main claim being that nonfunctional parts of DNA (so-called “junk DNA”), do not give evidence for evolution and common ancestry. As he says,   “Much of what they call junk turns out to be functional.” And that’s true, but not all of junk DNA.  Larry Moran has taken on this claim of Wells, and thoroughly debunked it. I needn’t repeat all Moran’s critiques in this post, just go here, here, and here for a comprehensive demolition job.

I do want to say a few things, though.  First, vestigial genes (or “dead genes” or “junk DNA”) do not have to be without function to give evidence for evolution.  It’s the same, as I emphasized in WEIT, with vestigial traits. Penguins use their flippers (modifications of the wings of their flying ancestors) to “fly” through the water. They’re functional, but that doesn’t mean that penguin flippers provide no evidence for evolution. Ostriches, also flightless, use their wings in threat displays, and supposedly to shield their young from the hot African sun. In the same way, the fact that we have nonfunctional genes, even if they might do something (like regulate other genes), doesn’t mean that those genes don’t given evidence for common ancestry.  They do.  Humans, like other primates (and guinea pigs and vampire bats) have an inactivated GLO gene—the last gene in the pathway for synthesizing vitamin C—and it produces no product. Ergo we, and the other species, can’t make vitamin C.  That’s why sailors got scurvy before they realized that rations of lime juice would prevent it.

Now a creationist like Wells can say, “Well, the dead gene might do something–we just don’t know,” but (though he denies it) that’s a god-of-the-gaps argument, and one that can always be made for junk DNA. But how can he explain this:  the very mutation that inactivates the gene in humans is the same mutation that inactivates it in other primates? That argues not for design, but for common descent.  And this: the more diverged a pair of species is, the more diverged the DNA sequence of junk pseudogenes is.  The sequences of GLO in humans and chimps, for example, are far more similar than those between humans and guinea pigs. Again, only common ancestry—evolution—can explain that.

Finally, as Abbie Smith constantly emphasizes, our genome is full of endogenous retroviruses, the vast majority of which don’t do anything and aren’t thought to do anything. In fact, if they did anything they’d cause disease and cancer. They are the remnants of ancient infections.  And, curiously enough, the chromosomal location of some of these these now-harmless viruses is exactly the same in humans and chimps! How can you explain that except through common descent? ID has no explanation, though I’m sure they could confect an unconvincing one. In that sense IDers operate much like theologians, desperately buttressing a dying paradigm by making stuff up.

Okay, on with Jon:

And, finally, Casey Luskin on “Why the new atheists won’t be appeased.” He presents a rogue’s gallery of accommodationists, including Eugenie Scott, Michael Ruse, and Chris Mooney, and of atheists who criticize accommodationists, including Richard Dawkins, Jason Rosenhouse, P. Z. Myers, Sean Carroll, and me.

His account of the tension between atheists who are accommodationists and those who aren’t is actually pretty accurate, as is his argument that the New Atheists won’t be appeased by any solution that comports science with religion (i.e., NOMA or theistic evolution).  His conclusion? That religious people shouldn’t capitulate to evolution in any way, because it won’t stop the New Atheist war on religion.

Luskin is probably right here. That war won’t stop until people keep religion to themselves and stop trying to force it down the throats of their children and of the rest of society by trying to make their religion into law, social policy, or universal custom. Religion is far more dangerous than creationism for the same reason that influenza is far more dangerous than a sneeze: the former includes the latter, but much other bad stuff as well.

h/t: Michael

64 thoughts on “Videos from an ID conference at Biola University

    1. I can’t watch this stuff, I’m 58 years old and want to hang on to as many of my functioning brain cells as possible.

      1. Amen. If I wanted to kill my brain cells, I’d do it with beer. At least beer tastes good and has other redeeming qualities — plus, the hangover ain’t nearly so bad.

        There are other preferred alternatives, of course, including wine, whisky, or even getting whacked upside the head with a two-by-four.


          1. Did you see that the bloke who founded the Fat Cat and Kelham Island brewery died recently? His obituary was in the Grauniad, which was nice.

            I’ve not been to the Fat Cat for several years now, but an excellent pub.

          2. Another sad note on the obituary page.

            I know the beer only from having visited Sheffield a couple times. My daughter took a Masters degree and the local pub for the Archaeology Department served it. (The Red Deer.)

          3. Ah yes, I did my PhD partially in the archaeology dept so knew the Red Deer pretty well for a while in the 80s. I think I was still on cider back then though. (Note to USers, that’s proper cider, with alcohol).

            Apologies to everyone else for the OT…..

          4. I always though of cider, proper or not, as a waste of a good pint glass. 😉 (btw: I’m a USer!)

      2. You are on target. I don’t have a tat, but am tempted to have Thoreau’s line about not attending to trivial things lest they trivialize your mind tattooed on the back of my thumb in four point type, which I can now read, having had cataracts removed and Bausch and Lomb lens implants (high beams only. Hang in there, the next sixteen years can be great if you reinforce your immunity to trivialities.

    2. I’m 47 and asthmatic. My brain cells are already endangered from chronic oxygen deprivation. I read this blog while using my nebulizer. Once the neb is done, I’m back to working, playing with cats, or being outside. No time for Kreeshchun blather.

  1. I think it’s not so much that religion is the problem as is faith. Religion’s problem is that it values faith, but faith is a problem everywhere. And I doubt any of us would have a problem with a religion that was devoid of faith, if such a thing were to exist.

    Richard’s brilliant simple question — “How do you know that?” — is the most important tool for the triumph of sanity over delusion. Eradicate faith in favor of reason, and the rest will sort itself out.


    1. Faith is actually elevated into the primary/main religious virtue in Christianity more than any other religion, a bit moreso in Protestantism than Catholicism. (And contrary to Karen Armstrong this is NOT due to the scientific revolution perverting religion!)

      Faith is somewhat but considerably less important in Buddhism for example (though Buddhism isn’t always that good a promoter of sound skeptical thinking either it’s just more compatible with it.)

    2. It seems like a large number of the people that value faith are incredulous regarding human capabilities. It is a type of fatalism. Is this fatalism a result of their religious beliefs, their faith? Or is this fatalism, caused by something else, what predisposes them to value, cling desperately to, faith?

      I saw this type of fatalism clearly for the first time when I was at university back in the 80’s. The building I lived in happened to house a number of Lebanese exchange students, some xian, some islamic. It got interesting some times. But these people really exhibited this fatalism I am speaking of. Even though many of them were pursuing degrees in the natural sciences, they believed that there were things that just couldn’t be done, or known, by humans. The really crazy thing was that they viewed the US as being able to accomplish things that other humans were not capable of, while at the same time despising our culture. For example one night we were arguing about nuclear weapons, which they held in reverant awe. I remarked that just about any stable country could build a nuclear weapon, albeit a simple comparatively crude one, as far as knowledge went and that the logistics of procuring the materiels to do so was the difficult part. They all violently rejected that possibility. It was almost like they thought the US knew some magic that no one else did.

      1. I remarked that just about any stable country could build a nuclear weapon, albeit a simple comparatively crude one, as far as knowledge went and that the logistics of procuring the materiels to do so was the difficult part. They all violently rejected that possibility. It was almost like they thought the US knew some magic that no one else did.

        Considering that their less then friendly southern neighbor has amassed a considerable nuclear arsenal, this sounds like wishful thinking.

  2. Watch for amusement only, since there’s little substance here.

    I watched, to try to get an idea of what goes on in the theistic mind. I found it quite revealing (and entertaining).

    1. I have the impression that since Dover the IDers are no longer under the pressure to keep up the facade and deny who they really mean with the “designer”.
      Not that this facade wasn’t already quite transparent before Kitzmiller vs Dover BoE but now they don’t even try.

  3. “The sequences of GLO in humans and chimps, for example, are far more similar than those between humans and guinea pigs. Again, only common ancestry—evolution—can explain that.”

    A theist would say that while common ancestry *can* explain this phenomenon, it can certainly also be explained by a god. Who is to say *why* god made the genome the way it is? He just did, they would say. Parsimony be damned!

    I think this is the problem with trying to refute ID-ers. Their argument is emotional not rational, and no amount of scientific evidence will sway their stance.

    Perhaps a more interesting argument to answer is why a certain percentage of the population believe in supernatural intercession. What is the science behind humans’ irrational tendencies and are they correctable or will a certain fixed percentage always believe in god? Can we counter the existential fear of eternal death and loneliness with science and rationalism? Persoanlly, I doubt it.

    Denyse O’Leary and these guys are functional nuts. How on earth can anyone try to convince someone like that of anything let alone something that goes against their most fundamental fear-based emotions?

    I appreciate the yeoman’s work done by you, Dr Coyne, and Dawkins et al, but I’ve debated enough family members and co-workers and friends to know that it’s just pissing into the wind…but thanks for the information, it really is interesting.

    1. Yes, “pissing in the wind” is a most appropiate way of putting it! You see, they will NEVER admit to what the real truth is, because that would mean no possibility of life ever after – and therein lies their fear. The inability to come to terms with the fact that death is a finality for ALL life on this planet. Only way this thinking will die out is if chidren are not taught the myths and superstitious nonsense that abounds in the so-called “holy” books of all religions. But, I don’t see this happening for many life times to come….

      1. No, I disagree. “Pissing in[to] the wind” (it’s a nautical expression, of course) does not mean the same as “futility” or “a waste of your valuable time.”

        The whole point is that you get piss all over you. I don’t think that applies here, even though just the thought of watching the videos is far too icky for some, including me. Jerry’s made of tougher stuff, but probably not Teflon.

  4. I know this is pure ad hom and totally unfair, but:

    This is the first time I’ve seen Denyse O’Leary.

    Doesn’t it strike you odd that she looks EXACTLY like Roddy McDowell’s character in “Planet of the Apes”?

    1. That’s what I thought too. Seriously.

      Denyse O’Leary offers us a disturbing glimpse of a potential future, in which the pathologically ignorant have taken over the planet.

  5. O’Leary says she is a Catholic and that “the church has always rejected Darwinism’s basic doctrines”. With the exception of the current pope, the Vatican has always (with all kinds of obscurantist caveats) been fairly receptive to evolution (as long as its only used to explain man’s material body, not used to explain the human mind! No evolutionary psychology for the Vatican, just evolutionary anatomy!)

    She cites Chesterton who alas “devolved” from accepting the position above to being a thorough nay-sayer on Darwin.

    1. “the church has always rejected Darwinism’s basic doctrines” and that the earth is a sphere – so clearly they know what they are talking about?!?!?!?

      1. Actually, the well-educated folks of the high Middle Ages knew perfectly well that the earth is a sphere and the church had no position on it. (However, they also falsely thought the sun revolved around the earth.) They even knew that gravity was towards the center of the sphere. The earth is a sphere in Dante’s Divine Comedy.

        The medieval flat earth is a rationalist urban legend that had been completely debunked by the 1950s. See the appropriate Wikipedia articles, EMW Tillyard’s “The Elizabethan World-Picture”, & Jeffrey Burton Russell’s “The Myth of a Medieval Flat Earth”.

        1. Thank you Jon, I stand corrected.

          “the church has always rejected Darwinism’s basic doctrines” and that the earth orbits the sun – so clearly they know what they are talking about?!?!?!?

  6. I seem to have read this a different way to everyone else. To me, accomodationists are the enemy and this guy nailed them. They know damn well that religion and science are incompatable but lie about it to try to get the believers onside. Accomodationists, it is not just the atheists who are onto you, the theists have you weighed up as well.

    The only part he got wrong was that the Gnus won’t rest until God is gone. Speaking for myself, he can believe in God as much as he wants as long as his beliefs have no negative effects upon my life or upon the lives of other non believers.

    1. Well if they would stop harming others, it would certainly take some of the motivation out of trying to get people to reject their beliefs.

      Still, even if there were only nice, well behaved theists left, I would want to influence them to stop relying on wishful thinking. They cannot reach their full potential as contributing human beings as long as they waste a significant portion of their lives struggling to deny reality.

      Suppressing the tools of logic and reason in order to gain comfort from religion weakens the ability to use them to solve real world problems.

      If Salk and others like him believed that polio was part of God’s Plan for the Universe, they might have chosen other studies for themselves, like theology.

      Every human that becomes a theist is at least a partial loss in what they might have usefully contributed themselves. Then there are the children they contaminate with their foolishness.

  7. I don’t really know much about biology but I can detect basic philosophical fallacies in the first speech.

    1. There was a creationist from Biola,
      Who didn’t know shit from Shinola,
      It’s easy I exclaim,
      The designer’s to blame,
      For hideous diseases like Ebola.

  8. I’m thinking of joining the ID team. It seems like you don’t actually have to know anything about anything to sell a shit load of books and become a “senior fellow” at the discovery institute :).

  9. Historical quibble;

    It was not lime juice, but Mediterranean lemon juice, that was used successfully as an anti-scorbutic in the British navy in the early 19th century. After Napoleon’s defeat, the British gained access to cheaper West Indian limes and substituted them for lemons. (Hence the nickname of “limies” for the sailors.) Unfortunately, limes, (unlike vitamin C rich lemons) contain very little vitamin C and so scurvy again plagued the unfortunate crews. The cause of scurvy remained unknown and highly controversial until the identification of vitamins in 1912.

    1. ?? Limes are a good source of vitamin C, though they apparently only have around 3/4 as much as lemons. C. 30 vs. 40 mg per 100 gm of juice. Of course, this doubtless varies by variety for both fruits.

      [Sorry, I accidentally posted this out of place below too.]

  10. “If you really believed Darwinism, you may as well pack it in as a Chistian.”

    So, she’s not totally stupid…


  11. While I still say I am a Christian, (not because I believe in a certain creation period nor because I believe in inerrant Scriptures but because I do believe in the guidelines that Jesus lays down for me in life), I have to say I cannot stand the Creation/ID argument.

    There are multiple reasons that I am irritated by their arguments. The first main reason, above all else, is the close-minded nature in many Christians discounting without ever studying evolution. They dismiss evolution and will not even consider it a possibility.

    It is amazing how scientific discoveries are so easily tossed aside! Years ago they would claim that no transitional fossils have ever been found. Then when they are discovered, it is simply a separate species or really not different at all. When mentioning the geological column of fossils, they claim that they occurred due to the Great Flood. It does not matter that there is a specific pattern in the column that reveals different species living in different times and as we travel back through history fossils get more and more simple. It also does not matter that if there was a flood all fossils would appear not patterned but random.

    The other main reason that I get irritated is because of the supposed “facts and figures” that scientifically show Creationism/ID. Most Christians do not know that the history of a literal creation account (as viewed in modern society) is relatively new. The history is that a Seventh Day Adventist Prophetess (Ellen White) would regularly have and record visions. One of the men who was involved in her Church, read the various recordings of her visions and along with his Bible came to the conclusion that the global flood of Genesis is the reason for the amount of fossils that we find today. (His name was George McCready Price). This man was a schoolteacher and had no formal training in geology. In fact, most scholars at the time dismissed his arguments and statements.

    After years, his idea was adapted by another Adventist (John Whitcomb) who wanted to further the research and validate it after it was rejected. He studied and obtained his PhD on “Flood Geology. Most to all of what he wrote was non-scientific in nature and his facts were based on a Bible. When he wanted his book published, he decided that he needed to incorporate scientific figures into his “research” and thus teamed with Henry Morris to co-author their final book which has become the staple work “The Genesis Flood” for any Creationist/IDist looking for a literal interpretation of a Bible.

    My problem with this is that the basis of creationism is built on a “vision” and that the “scientific” facts were added to a book based on theology instead of looking at and letting the data speak for itself and then generating conclusions.

    I guess the issue boils down to the continual attempts of Christianity to disregard any/all evidence on evolution while dishonestly promoting their own arguments for creation as science without really researching the facts.

    There was a time when I would have known all the apologetic answers to evolution. Living in a Church environment I could recite how to “defend the absolute, black and white Truth found in Scripture.” The irony is, when compared with fossil records, DNA/genetics, virology, etc; that “black and white absolute Truth” is no longer so absolute.

    1. “nor because I believe in inerrant Scriptures but because I do believe in the guidelines that Jesus lays down for me in life”

      The cognitive dissonance. It burns.

  12. We may need to distinguish “accomodationism” as a political strategy position and “compatibalism”- the philosophical position that (some) religion and science are actually compatible, the latter of which includes both some atheists (Eugenie Scott) and actual theistic evolutionists like Francis Collins. (If so, this means Jerry Coyne should have called Arthur Eddington a compatibilist rather than an accomodationalist last week!!)

    One of several problems with the 3rd speaker is he is appealing to “strategy” just as much as he accuses the E. Scotts of the world of doing in rejecting theistic evolution.

    Howe would he deal with Francis Collins? I don’t agree with FC but I respect him a lot. His basic idea seems to be that while evolution can (he thinks) account for tool-making, courage, a desire for fairness, etc., he thinks evolution cannot account for either compassion and charity nor for the basic religious sensibilities of wonder mystery and reverence. In other words, Collins wants to partition off !*some*! elements of human psychology as immune to Darwinian explanation. Ergo, he believes he can reconcile evolution and Christianity.

    Now I think Collins points here can be debated- Loyal Rue, Barbara King, and others have come up with provocative evolutionary explanations of religion- but this guy (in spite of his closing appeal to debate evolutionists on the basis of “science”) simply doesn’t address nor want to address Collins or any other “compatibilist” like Ken Miller mostly on the grounds that to run with them won’t “appease” the atheists. That’s just the crass pragmatism that he accuses Eugenie Scott of doing.

  13. I like how the cover pic for Casey’s talk shows him with his mouth stretched open as far as it will go.

    very appropriate.

    oh, wait, you didn’t expect to actually WATCH these clowns, did you?

  14. ?? Limes are a good source of vitamin C, though they apparently only have around 3/4 as much as lemons. C. 30 vs. 40 mg per 100 gm of juice. Of course, this doubtless varies by variety for both fruits.

  15. Pure Ad Hom, yet absolutely true:

    Wells is a Moony.

    Sung myung Moon funded Wells graduate stay at Berkeley for just the kind of thing he now does.

    how do I know? I was there, a grad student at Berkeley, and was admitted into zoology the same year he was into MCB. It caused a huge stink.

  16. Over at Sandwalk, Larry Moran, who has dispatched Jon Wells’s ID-based arguments against “junk DNA” several times (see links below), goes after this latest video.

    I’m always amused by Larry when he goes after Wells’ false contention that scientists were surprised by the amount of “junk” DNA that turned out to have non-coding functions. Why? Because he ends up saying things like (and I paraphrase heavily) “It’s simply false that any sizeable majority of scientists ever believed that most non-coding DNA serves no purpose. I happen to believe that, but…” 😀

  17. Now a creationist like Wells can say, “Well, the dead gene might do something–we just don’t know,”

    When a creationist says that, its time to bring up Ryan Gregory’s onion test. Given that one species of onion has 5 times the genome size of another* yet they produce basically the same plant, explain what that 4/5 of the genome in the bigger genome onion does.

    *Also, incidentally, about 10 times the genome size of a human. If creationists claim it all ‘does something,’ they must accept that some onion species are a far more complex creation than humans.

    1. God loves him some onions.

      Yes, Wells is peculiarly human-centric with his argument.

      Doesn’t the amoeba have way more genes than a human? Yes, it’s right there in Google.

      670 billion base pairs versus 2.7 billion.

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