The Argument from Embryology: Discovery Institute flacks say that development proves God

April 25, 2015 • 12:30 pm

Here’s Discovery Institute Fellow Paul Nelson—who lives in Chicago and sometimes creeps me out by depositing Intelligent Design propaganda in my departmental mailbox—using a novel (but stupid) argument for Intelligent Design, aka God’s Handiwork. It’s based on embryology and teleology. Have a look at this 9.5-minute video on nematode development, which distorts the cool developmental biology of the worm (work that garnered a Nobel Prize) to make it seem like evidence for Design.

All the biology is accurate up to 4:58, although a bit repetitive, but that’s where Nelson begins to slip off the rails and argue that development can’t be explained by evolution because embryology looks like it has foresight—ergo Jebus. As he says, “The case for design could not be made more explicit.” But the argument for “design” isn’t even very sophisticated, and can be refuted with only an elementary knowledge of evolution.

I’ll leave it to the readers to educate each other on this one—it’s an exercise in using what you’ve learned about how evolution works to address creationist distortions . Do post below the reason why Nelson’s argument is fatally flawed. And watch the movie first. It’s a slick production, full of sophistry.

I know that Nelson reads this site, so let me ask him this: Really, Paul? Do you believe this kind of garbage that you’re using to pollute the minds of people, all so they’ll ultimately accept Jesus? Are you really so thick that you can’t see right through the argument that you’re making in this video?  And Paul, since bird behavior shows foresight, too, as they begin migrating south before the winter comes, is that also proof of God? In the end, wouldn’t it be easier to stand on the street corner, cut out the biological middleman, and just shout the Good News about God?

God, I despise Liars for Jesus. They should be mocked, reviled and refuted. Be my guest in the comments.

h/t: Ursula

143 thoughts on “The Argument from Embryology: Discovery Institute flacks say that development proves God

  1. My # 1 response to those claiming Jesus was the son of a deity is to ask them how they know the gender of the deity. Zero answers come forth.

    A similar question applies to any calling their deity a he.


  2. Apparently, knowing perfectly and accurately ahead of time where they were going didn’t prevent millions of species from extinction.

  3. I, for one, think Paul Nelson is absolutely correct and the worm is proof of an intelligent agent.

    All hail the Flying Spaghetti Monster!

  4. In the tropics, where I live, many trees towards the end of the dry season produce flowers and leaves in “anticipation” of the rains. This gives them a head start in fixing CO2 and making fruits over competitors with genes that make them wait until it starts raining. Plants don’t need jesus or a brain to do the right thing.

    1. This one is too easy. You KNOW that they’ll say “god did it!”. It’s also the reason climate change is false, because he wouldn’t allow anything bad to happen to us (or if it is true, they’ll say, but the apocalypse, etc.. will take place before any real harm will come to this planet). Because trees don’t have “brains” so, how could they POSSIBLY “anticipate” the rains?

      In case there was any confusion, yes, I am being facetious.

  5. The intensity (e.g., money, time, effort, the slickness) with which this argument is made is evidence of the fear these people have in letting go of the idea of God.

    The main argument is, as usual, “I can’t imagine how it could happen through natural selection.” Nelson’s failure of imagination is not evidence for God nor a refutation of evolution.

    Non of the ID’ers seem to evaluate the “whole package” of God, Inc. Why do so many smart people defend an idea (God) that literally kills people because they disagree with one another?

    1. Yes, the “can’t imagine…,” argument. Clearly, deophiles have very fertile imaginations. The problem is not that they ‘can’t imagine how…,’ the problem is that they haven’t bothered to educate themselves on how because they’re simply lazy since the information is freely available. Imagination is irrelevant, learning the facts is not.

  6. Viewing the video is going to have to wait until after the opera is over — the Met’s live matinée broadcast today is the traditional double-header of Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci. It’s a good performance and well worth tuning in to.

    But my off-the-cuff question to Paul would be the usual one of which Super-Designer designed the Designer with sufficient marvelous ability to be able to Design us? And if special pleading is adequate to explain why no Super-Duper designer is necessary to explain the Super-Designer that designed the Designer, why isn’t the same special pleading adequate to explain why no Designer is needed in the first place?


    1. the Met’s live matinée broadcast today is the traditional double-header of Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci.

      Wow — that was brutal. He really killed her! Still gets me.

      Excellent performance. Solid work all the way ’round, from the soloists to the orchestra to the chorus. The tenor especially deserves kudos — and here he is!


      1. Did you see it or hear it? I LOVE Marcelo Alvarez!! Patricia Racette was great, too. Liked Pag much better than Cav. I had surprisingly never seen either, despite my many opera-going years.

          1. The Cav production was nothing spectacular, but then they only had about half an hour to strike it and put up the spectacular Pag set!
            You should try to catch one of the encores at the movies (if only to see the chicken puppet;-)

              1. The reruns are no longer live, but look and sound just the same (they’re on blu-ray I think) . There are usually one or two encores. I’d give you the dates, but they vary by area. Go to (or something like that).

            1. Cav & Pag. What a marvelous production. Saw it in my local movie theater on the big screen. Loved the talking chicken in Pag. Glad I’m not the only opera lover on this site.

              1. The talking Muppetish chicken was a brilliant addition, and Patricia Racette whacking it back into the pot….All that opera should be: laughter snd tears and beautiful voices. A perfect production.

    2. First, I’m absolutely gobsmacked. Forget Jesus watching over every sparrow; Paul is insisting that Jesus is there in the worm’s cells, turning on this bit of DNA in this one and turning the same bit of DNA off in the other one. Talk about micromanagement! And completely batshit insane, to boot.

      “You’ve got to know where you’re going.” That’s where he goes off the rails, and what everything else hinges on.

      So, Paul: who stacks the gumballs in the gumball machine? You don’t expect me to believe that they just magically line up in such neat rows and columns all by themselves, do you?


      1. He isn’t saying that, I don’t think. He is saying that the “designer” had to put the genes in the genome such that they would execute the on/off devlopmental sequence they do in fact execute in these worms in their current form.

        The liar is pretending that he has never heard/understood that the functionality of different tissues, organs, and systems don’t have to be acquired by species in their present state in one generation. He is pretending that some slightly improved level of functionality can confer some selective advantage on an organism when compared with a cousin with slightly less survivable level of functionality. He is pretending either that he doesn’t understand that or that he has refuted that argument. Because … Jesus!

        1. It might not have been how he intended it, but it sure is how it came across to me.

          But…what the hell. Let’s run with your interpretation. The only way the genome could be programmed for embryonic development is if Jesus fiddled the DNA bases to ensure that the worm (or whatever) would develop the way it did.

          …and, the instant a worm reproduces, we’re right back to the “watch over every sparrow” problem, only now Jesus just has to watch the worms fuck and make sure that the DNA gets arranged properly in the worm babies. So, Jesus is responsible for every genetic defect…because, what? He was asleep on the job?

          Okay, so Jesus isn’t fiddling with the DNA of every freshly-conceived baby worm…so what’s left for him to do? Because now we’re right back to regular old evolution through random mutation and natural selection.

          Regardless, the dude clearly can’t logic his way out of a wet paper bag, even with the help of an hyperactive kitten.


        2. That’s how it sounded to me too. Jesus decides which daughter cell is going to be gonads and which one is going to be nerves cells etc. So we have a deity which spends its time micromanaging the development of billions of worms and I’m sure they mean to imply every other life-form as well. No wonder it doesn’t have time to stop children from starving to death in Africa.

          1. So we have a deity which spends its time micromanaging the development of billions of worms and I’m sure they mean to imply every other life-form as well. No wonder it doesn’t have time to stop children from starving to death in Africa.

            + a whole bunch

    3. Yes and my secondary question is why are being creepy and creeping out Jerry? Can’t you just do some science like all the scientists do? If you did then you wouldn’t have to creep around universities handing out materials like an evangelist.

  7. The design is encoded from the “mother” right? The cells that split as part of the birth process have the genetic makeup to complete the task of forming a mature worm. He’s not discussing a random cell dividing & forming the worm. They are worm cells. I’d guess a chemical reaction triggers the path for the cell development .
    Anyway I’m a salesman with amateur science knowledge. I don’t attribute the tough part of my job process to the supernatural.

  8. anyone thinking for a moment that there is evidence of ID should ponder the human prostate gland a little – clear proof of NID.

    1. As one who just had laser surgery for benign prostate hypertrophy, I can attest the a freshman engineering student at Lehigh could do a better design job!

    2. Obviously God was too busy directing worms cells to pay sufficient attention to the arrangement of mammalian reproductive glands.

  9. I’m kind of debunking crap like this myself. I’m going through a pamphlet/booklet from a religious group and correcting all the ‘facts’ they have come up with, yes I’m a glutton for torture! Their arguments are so feeble, even I can go through the material and point out some very gaping holes in their story.
    This video is yet another case of grasping. Science means nothing to these people unless they can use it,(sort of) to their advantage. If it counters something they think, then science is good for nothing. The lengths these people go to, to appear that they are keeping up with the times is quite amusing.
    Their production value is quite something else though. Too bad they just don’t have any useful information to make the exercise worth while.

    1. What I find frustrating is when someone presents science they think confirms their beliefs, and you point out the flaws, they just come back with “I don’t understand science”. If you didn’t understand why did you bring it up? Lying, but a somewhat whiter lie than those of high up IDers.

  10. The fatal flaw in Nelson’s description of development in C. elegans is precisely the same as that which dooms Michael Behe’s “irreducible complexity” argument for design. In both cases there is a key presumption that the biological phenomena we observe in contemporary organisms arose in a single step, a fait accompli it you will, when, in fact, the phenomena we witness today is the result of evolutionary processes that occurred over many millions/billions of years, and over countless generations in which new allelic variants arise via mutation and are tested through the sieve of natural selection.

    ID proponents are well aware of the flaws in their logic and yet trot-out the same “Gee whiz that’s complicated, ergo god” arguments whenever scientific advances shed new light on complex biological processes. It really is tiresome.

    1. ID proponents are well aware of the flaws in their logic and yet trot-out the same…

      Yep, and this is a core strategy in their campaign of intellectual dishonesty. Keep saying it – for Jesus. Eventually the scientists will get tired of refuting the bullshit, the rank dishonesty, and the liars for Jesus will just keep lying away.

  11. Jerry, when you call Young Earth Creationist Paul Nelson a liar for Jesus, here is the evidence for it, in which he lies in public about a fellow (Christian) scientist’s position.

    A tad orthogonal to Nelson’s confabulations, but I always wonder this. If atheists believed in life after death and Christians didn’t, would people like Paul Nelson still be Christians?

    If a pre-Socratic, 2,800 years ago, had asserted that heaven and eternal bliss awaited only those who led the reasoning, secular life and Socrates and the Platonists had run with it, Christians might think entirely differently about life after death.

    If that doesn’t mess with your theology, you’re not thinking hard enough about your non-sequiturs. x

    1. Not to defend the guy, but that event occurred 15 years prior, so he could simply have mis-remebered what Keith said; or he could have misunderstood what he said.

      1. I think your interpretation is excessively generous. Keith clearly replied with a typical straight-up biology textbook answer, and Paul’s retelling has him playing the typical dumb atheist professor trope of somebody stumped by the most inane of Christian “gotchas.”

        Indeed, Paul’s caricature is even worse than one of a Cretinist accusing Richard Dawkins of describing a gene for selfishness in his seminal work. Paul’s invention is one from whole cloth from Cretinist propaganda and doesn’t even involve a deliberate misinterpretation of anything Keith actually put forward.


        1. I think you’re right. The answer Keith gave actually makes Paul look like a chump. His “misremembering” reverses that entirely. While it is possible that he now remembers the story the way he told it, that can only plausibly be the case because he now actually believes his own lies. The first time he “misremembered” the story he was almost certainly lying.

  12. Oy, that was a painful 10 minutes. I feel almost physically ill having watched this revolting piece of casuistry (thanks, Christopher Hitchens). What leapt out at me immediately was the statement at about 5:08 that “It is very hard to see how you could build that (the worm) without knowing where you were going.” Simple confirmation bias. The development of C. elegans has just gotta be god-directed, right? No way the worm on its own can determine its embryological fate relying on its encoded genome. Nitwit. He also demonstrates profound ignorance of evolutionary theory by trying to equate the non-directed nature of natural selection to embryological development, which is anything but random. False equivalencies. As you said, Doc, lying for Jeebus. I’m sorry you’re being stalked by jerks like this, but thanks for being at the pointy end of the spear.

  13. If this guy was not wearing a nice suit and didn’t have a television show, he would be a urine-soaked barker on a street corner, the kind of guy who has a megaphone and is just yelling at people on the street.

    Bill Maher commenting on Pat Robertson but equally applicable to all the Paul Nelsons of the world.

  14. hmm i wonder if cave fish born without eyes is also a sign for intelligent design. Its obvious mother fish had the foresight to say no to baby fish growing eyes. So instead we see 2 gaps. Clearly these fish have foresight.

    This loon Nelson still does not really understand evolutionary theory. Evolution in principle does not have this “worm” as a target. Like there is nothing in evolution saying “though shall be worms and thus worms came forth”. The process is inherently random. The predictions we make come from the bread trail crumbs that have been left behind. Example since mammals show up on land first, then we expect watermammals ow their origin to land mammals. Which is why we see bigger and bigger legs for whales . Or even atavism like what was documented in the Usa museum of a big foot sticking out of a humpback whale.

    If you look at the worm as a necessary outcome, As if something had to plan this body structure, Then you don’t truly understand evo and its not a problem for evolution.As there was nothing in the books that said this worm must come forth. This is exactly what jerry is frustrated at, all this drivel paul is speaking is purely religious crap and has nothing to do with a real concern for the truth.

  15. I accept his premise that selection does not have foresight. Selection works on what is presented to it. However, his conclusion that the organization of gene expression is a case for intelligent design is wrong. DNA, specifically functional DNA (genes), have been favored to be present. If gene expression was chaotic within an organism, its survival is not likely. Selection may not have foresight, but with hindsight (based on the principles of selection) we can deduce why do animals develop this way; why are genes so particular in expressing themselves. To quote Darwin, “it may be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinizing, throughout the world, every variable, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good; silently and insensible working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life.”

  16. Dear Mr. Nelson:

    Kudos on the excellent presentation of an airtight case for intelligent design. Nematodes are particularly suitable for this demonstration, as they are so widespread, and many of them, via extremely complex and clearly intelligently designed lifecycles, are parasitic and cause immense harm: “The nematode Wuchereria bancrofti for example affects over 100 million people throughout tropical parts of the world. It can grow as long as 10 cm, is spread by mosquito bite, damages the lymphatic system and causes large, debilitating swellings in different parts of the body referred to as ‘elephantiasis’.” (source here)

    It is always a pleasure to meet another sadist, in service of the Supreme Sadist.

    Best Wishes,

    Mark Joseph

    PS: If you have some free time, I’d really appreciate it if you could do another video, this one about the nature of the Human-Anopheles-Plasmodium malaria cycle. That’s good for 100 million deaths each year, an unsurpassable tribute to Our-Sadist-Who-Art-in-Heaven’s skill with intelligent design.

      1. Yes, he must have loved parasites, as he made so many of them. What creative space for a sadistic designer! I could have, but didn’t, mention many more, including, for example, River Blindness.

        And don’t forget, the eight people on the ark, between them, carried all of the parasites that have human hosts somewhere in their lifecycle!

    1. Look, if you don’t want hundreds of millions of innocent people to die lingering, pointless deaths then you shouldn’t have invented gay marriage.

  17. 12 comments so far, and nobody has actually explained how the individual cells have their allocated function assigned to them. (I expected better).
    Will someone please tell me how it really does work? I only dabble in the study of evolution/biology but am I correct in presuming that the initial clump of cells naturally align themselves due to their physical shape, (an so designating a front and a back)?

    1. A complex concept that does not readily lend itself to short discussions in a comment section and will require some effort on your part. May I direct you to the Nobel Prize winning work done by Eric Weischaus. He has a wonderful lecture on the topic on Youtube entitled “Patterning Development in the Embryo”. Two parts, each about 30 minutes long, and you’ll get your answer from the man himself.

      1. Also Sean B. Carroll’s Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom.

  18. He and the narrator keeps saying “undirected” natural selection, as if that’s a problem. He does this to imply randomness of selection instead of randomness of mutations. This is a deliberate misleading tactic that is standard creationist trash.

    Also as other people have already commented, he says that you can’t arrive at a destination without knowing where you are going or something to that effect. That is crazy nonsense. The free market economy and how it operates in an undirected way to cause the same or similar results puts a real world lie to this (Michael Shermer talks about this a lot in some of his books).

    I think that if multiple people just go out for a drive on a beautiful Sunday,and none of them know where they are going and they flip a coin(or some other random criteria)at each intersection to determine if they will go left, right or straight , then many of them will end up at the ice cream stand. I don’t need an engineer to tell me that!

    I know these are not perfect analogies and one is full of jest, but do we really need good refutations for schmuchsters? Would a perfect analogy, or example matter one iota to someone with a PhD who doesn’t seem to care about evidence, logic, and truth-telling?

    1. I find it interesting that the world seems to be divided into those who believe undirected evolution cannot produce complex systems and those who believe undirected economies cannot regulate the prices of goods and services.

      1. I find it interesting that the world seems to be divided into those who believe undirected evolution cannot produce complex systems and those who believe undirected economies cannot regulate the prices of goods and services.

        Oh, undirected economies are fantastic at regulating the prices of goods and services.

        They just suck royally at directing them in directions that anybody but those at the top of the free market food chain would like to see them directed in.

        If you think social so-called Darwinism is a good thing, if you buy into that particular naturalistic fallacy, by all means! Deregulate the markets and buy yourself your own private army to protect yourself with your profits.

        But if you’d prefer your society to be a bit more…intelligently designed, you’ll go with a bit more in the way of regulation to ensure that the suppliers aren’t secretly poisoning you or what-not.

        Remember, the “free market” fallacy is built on assumptions of perfect symmetries between actors, including their relative power, access to information, access to resources, and all the rest. The farther your real-world market gets away from that state of perfect balance, the more the free market does to tip the scales even further in the direction they’re already tipped. But if it’s actual balance you want to see realized, you’ve got to tip the scales against the way they’re tipped — the direct opposite of what the free market does.


        1. I was thinking more of his (Shermer) explaining how there is no over-watching person or puppeteer, but in general goods get delivered to stores and/or then to people through myriad ways, so well that in general stores have in supply what the people demand (of course demand can be manipulated etc.) I think a good analogy of this is when you see a time-lapse sped up video from an aerial view drone or helicopter of a complicated highway with over-passes and cloverleafs and all kinds of cars and trucks ,it looks like basically undirected chaos, and most everyone in their cars and trucks do not know where the other cars and trucks are going, but it isn’t really chaos nevertheless.

          Whether free market economies are actually good or bad or really free anyways was not the intent of my post. I personally disagree with quite a bit of what Shermer the libertarian says, but he makes some good evolution analogies that free-marketers can understand.

          It’s good to have many people in your camp.

          1. Oh…sorry. Had no clue you were referring specifically to Shermer, and thus completely missed the fact that there was an analogy there, let alone its point….


      2. Undirected economies are very effective at regulating prices; they usually do so by evolving regulations.

  19. Of the top of my head. Isn’t the appearance of complexity and direction the product of gazillions of steps over a long time,in a stepwise refinement process, with further gazillions of failures, leaving a result that works.
    We only see the steps that lead somewhere because all the steps that didn’t work, or worked up to a point, are gone now.

  20. I am not a scientist, but the logical fallacies in this video were clear to me, such as the narrator not being able to understand the process, therefore supernatural intervention. The whole idea that there is a goal in evolution is something that grated with even my limited understanding.

    But the thing that annoyed me the most was that this man is clearly intelligent, educated and articulate, and is in a position to influence others who do not have those advantages. He uses that position to make a false argument, which he must know can’t be made from the evidence he’s using, to fool others to his religious views. Further, he is misrepresenting the research of others for his own ends.

    If your religion makes you do things so clearly unethical, you need to take a closer look at it, and yourself.

    1. Yes, but we need to keep on making them; in the religious world the defective design of many things in nature is not widely known (whereas the occasional example of near-perfect design, such as the eagle’s eyesight, is widely trumpeted).

      Great cartoon by the way; love the expression on Jeebus’ face as he’s schooled in basic bioengineering!

  21. Well. my tulips are obviously intelligent and I have proof that they can read the Gregorian calendar!

    I have a picture from a year ago that shows my tulips sprouted and ready to open, just like this year on the same date!

    Therefore HayZues!

  22. During embryonic development genes are turned on and off, under control of other genes and perhaps partly caused by different chemical environments of cells. This sequence of genes turning on and off at different locations in the embryo results in this particular nematode. A distant predecessor of this species very likely had a different set of genes with a different sequence of on/off switching during embryonic development. The genes of these distant ancestors mutated. Most of these mutations were probably fatal. Some of them caused a different sequence of on/off switching that resulted in a viable life form. And so on, and so forth. Until the present time were a life form stumbled upon a mutation that changes the on/off sequence that resulted in this particular nematode. There is no foresight. Its the blind watchmaker at work.

    1. ..and, as has been said millions of times, if it is an intelligent watchmaker, he has been inappropriately described. He is a truly stupid to keep designing creatures that keep going extinct – 99.99% of the time (not a lot of foresight there). And the designer is callous son of a bitch to let mistakes keep creeping into the process:

    2. Nice and simple and probably something even Nelson could grasp. In fact, he’s probably heard explanations like this before, if he’s ever gone seeking the answer rather than just stopping at his inability to come up with one himself.

      IMO he’s lying for Jebus.

  23. Of course there seems to be a design to the embryonic development of all organisms! It’s because there is a blueprint of information that encodes instructions for each cell during each step of development. It seems if there is a blueprint, there must be a designer; however the blueprint has evolved complexity by incremental ratcheting steps that, though random in emergence, are decidedly non-random in perseverance.

  24. Just happened to be listening to a Sam Harris podcast and he talked for a couple of minutes on this matter. Called Intellectual Dishonesty, and he used the always more famous Francis Collins to explain this but it seems this Paul Nelson fits the bill as well. It is either that or scientific ignorance which should not be the case here. He also mentioned the old quote: Science is the art of not fooling yourself.

  25. yes, bonehead, it’s very hard to see how complexity could arise if the organism didn’t know where it was going…if that and all the other organism suddenly arose from out of nowhere and didn’t have the last 3.5-3.7 billion years to evolve, undergo natural selection via inter- and intra-species competition, sexual selection, and so on. I mean, it’s not like life started out as very simple one-celled organisms, then over time evolved into slightly more complex life, endosymbiosis, multicellularity, and the like. nope. 7 days, gawd dun it, the end.

    now I don’t have to continue to take all those pointless, lying chemistry, biology, genetics, embryology, ecology, physics, entomology, or anatomy courses. I’m just gonna go read my bible and be smrt!

  26. Has any IDer ever explained why the “evidence” means Jesus in particular rather than some other deity? I know they pretend that the designer doesn’t have to be a deity at all but when they drop that fiction, presto, it is Jesus.

    1. Why Jesus?
      Because Jesus!
      Because they claim their version of Christianity, of the 30,000 versions of Christianity is the right one. Why? Because Jesus.

    2. The odious William Lane Craig often does. Some incoherent rambling about “Jesus loves you” and only a love god could have created a world that loves us as much as this one, whereas all the other gods are venom-spewing hate monsters who order death for apostasy — something love god Jesus would never do.

      At least, that’s the least incoherent recounting of it I think I could give.


      1. “all the other gods”

        My guess is that humanity has forgotten about more gods than it currently remembers. So my question — to WCL, not you — is “What about all the gods you’ve never even heard of? How do you know the designer wasn’t one of them? Maybe the designer designed humans to not know the identity of the designer. And look, it is working perfectly!”

        1. William Lane Croak wouldn’t even have to think about that one; he’d cite Exodus 20:3 (“Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” the first of the more-than-ten Commandments) as “evidence” that there couldn’t possibly be any other gods.

          …not that what he ever actually does can properly be described as, “think”….


          1. No, Ben, you’ve got your theology wrong. As you know, Exodus 33:23 tells us that we can only look on God’s arse.

            So to have ‘no other God before me’ means there must be some other God either between the viewer and God’s business class: or that there are other gods beyond Yahweh’s retreating keister. Anyone familiar with Philo’s allegorical analysis of the Torah would be able to tell you that. So, one of these other gods could be telling the cell to do it. But on this key issue, this gnostic is agnostic.

            Maybe Biola University at which both Craig and Nelson work in the Faculty of Science and Religion, I kid you not, could invite our friend Philo to speak. And the older the text and exegete the more authoritative they are, so Philo could finally clear up their theological schnickerdoodles.

            Allele Nelsonus x

            1. Wait…I’m confused. I thought we knew from Numbers 22:28 that YHWH speaks out of his ass? And if you’re riding YHWH’s ass, how is anybody else supposed to come before you?

              …damned confusing, this Christian scripture….


              1. Brother Ben, this, if it weren’t an honest theological query, would be heresy.

                Matthew 21:5 tells us that YHWH’s son Jesus, on entering Jerusalem, rides on 2 asses. It’s an allegory of the Trinity. You say, “I thought we knew from Numbers 22:28 that YHWH speaks out of his ass?” This is a theologically key point.

                Here we have Matthew referring back to Numbers telling us that Jesus (God) speaks ‘out of’ (the Koine Greek can also be translated as ‘upon’) his ass.

                I hope I have cleared up your confusion. And thank you for the question.

                I’d be more than happy to provide further proof, but if you disagree, I hope you will burn in hell forever.

                Yours in Jesus,

                William (Bill) Lane Craig. Xxx (one for each of the Trinity!!!!!!!!!)

              2. You know…I do believe you’ve just solved a long-perplexing theological mystery — in particular, the nature of the Conception.

                If YHWH is the ass, and Jesus is riding the ass, and the Father and the Son are one, clearly it was Jesus riding his own father’s ass that ripped a black hole in the spacetime continuum and thrust the Holy Spurt thirty years prior until it lodged in Mary’s uterus. Might even explain how the second ass disappeared by the time Mark wrote about the event.

                Or something like that. Clearly, there may well be some more details to work out…


          2. Well of course the god of the bible tells us there aren’t other gods or the other gods aren’t the designer. That is perfectly consistent with the actual designer keeping its identity secret.

            1. You know that. I know that. WLC is relying on his intended actual audience — Christians wondering if there might be any truth to this “evilution” thing after all — recognizing the authoriTAY of the Bible and the trump card of the Ten Commandments.

              Or, in other words, don’t you even dare consider the possibility that there might be other gods, because that’s just as bad as murder and adultery and coveting your neighbor’s chattel property (including his wife) or making pictures or picking up sticks on the worng day of the week or…erm…sorry…where were we?


  27. I am a developmental biologist of a sort, and maybe I will later address other issues about this video (there are several), but now I will just address some big picture problems with ID/Creationism in general. This is probably a worthless effort, in a way, since my experience tells me that there is not much that one could say that would cause an ID/C person to doubt their god hypothesis. ID/C people of this sort seem reasonably sophisticated & educated, but they only use this to produce all manner of sophisticated special pleadings to preserve their inflexible view that there is ‘something’ that is guiding or has guided evolution and biological pattern formation. This must impress their intended audience, but no real scientist would be fooled for an instant b/c at some point they will always say something fatally and factually wrong. Their arguments will include fancy (but actually deeply flawed) math. Their arguments will include reasonably accurate descriptions of biology, as we see in this example here, but then comes the ‘ol switcheroo like we see at about 5 minutes into the video above where the conclusion is ‘goddidit’ without a shred of evidence for this extraordinary claim. That part was very obvious to everyone here, but I doubt that this ID/C person even sees that he has no evidence for his claim. Well, anyway here are some big picture issues.

    1) Descent with modification predicts tightly constrained nested hierarchies of structures. Can ID creationists explain this? No. Their answer will amount to special pleading that the designer just did it that way. For example, no nematode (which is a very large and diverse phylum) is ever seen to have a circulatory system or nervous system or muscle system that is ‘wrong’ for a nematode. There are lots of other kinds of ‘worms’, some are related to nematodes, but all members of a phylum will share a number of key anatomical features without key features that belong to another phylum. No nematode has a nervous system like an annelid worm; nor do they have circular muscles (but such things would be useful, surely). Nematodes have simple eyes, but the design of their eyes are like those of nematodes and their allies & never like other kinds of equally simple eyes. There are many other anatomical features like these. So why did the designer choose to build bodies with tightly constrained nested hierarchies of design? Is He/She/It trying to fool us? I see no real effort to address this big problem.
    2) Why do organisms develop their anatomies in ways that also place them into the same trees based on morphology? The nematodes are related to other invertebrates, including the arthropods and some other obscure invertebrate groups, and these invertebrates are more distantly related to other groups of invertebrates (molluscs, and so on). Nematodes and their allies develop a chitinous exoskeleton which they periodically shed. They also develop as protostomes, which helps relate them to the other invertebrate groups that are also protostomes. A tree based on comparative anatomy such as nervous system organization and body cavity design and eyes, etc. etc. does a pretty good job at matching the tree based on development. Again, the stringent test for descent with modification is met, while the ID/C hypothesis makes no predictions and is not falsified b/c the designer could do anything. This really a great fault, not a strength of the latter idea.
    3) Why do the genomes of organisms show the same nested hierarchies of species relationships that we see from anatomy and development? The genomes include genes, which can be compared to draw trees and these trees will do a good job at matching trees based on other comparisons. There is also DNA between the genes which have nothing to do with anatomy or physiology & these are used to draw the same goddamn trees. This DNA ‘information’ (and they love words like ‘information’ and ‘programming’ for this stuff, which is clearly meant to impress their lay audience to show that they are really thinking and are smarter than their audience) I am not sure about nematodes, but as a rule DNA shared between related groups will also include ‘selfish’ DNA regions like non-functioning pseudogenes and transposable elements and virus DNA insertions which randomly insert into genomes. These inserted pieces of DNA match by kind and by position and by orientation (!!!) between related species. This too is exactly consistent with descent with modification. There is nothing
    ‘designed’ about these selfish elements. Genomes are a mess of dead and unused baggage. But of course a sophisticated ID/C person will have an elaborate answer to that huge problem, which is that sometimes this DNA is found to be useful. However, they always overlook that the useful bits of this selfish DNA is really a teeny tiny fraction of a big and very messy and mostly useless genome. They will never admit that, as far as I have seen.
    I could go on about evidences for evolution, but here is a different approach…
    3) Evolution science is observable and testable and falsifiable. It is a true science, unlike ID/C. Their claims lack any good history of revision in light of new facts. Do they ever admit they are wrong about anything? I honestly do not recall hearing that they do. In any case the paucity of revisions is a very important indication that the ID/C crowd does not play by the rules of science. Evolution science is marked by all matter of revised models based on new facts. That is its strength. ID/C does not have a strong history of this important practice.
    They can spin and sputter with their fancy videos and compelling music and pretty imagery, but the inflexible and factually wrong core of their views does not fit the test of science & has never persuaded more than a tiny # of scientists. That they do not revise is really a tell-tale that theirs is just another recently derived religion.

    I will stop now. To paraphrase a great writer (wish I could recall the name): ‘This letter is overly long because I did not have the time to make it shorter’.

    1. Blaise Pascal, originally, allegedly. Many thanks anyway, Mark, for those comments. The problem is that those who need to read them, won’t.

      1. And those who do will likely not be persuaded. My impression has been that the mental machinations are similar to those who are convinced of conspiracy theories or big foot. A certain ‘thing’ exists (vast government conspiracies, or big ‘n hairy American bipedal primates) and any evidence based attempt to show otherwise is immediately discounted because, well, the ‘thing’ exists, you see. The huge, gaping holes in their evidence is not even on their radar although you can drive the Titanic through it.

    2. He actually does refer to this in his video – although without realizing it or pointing it out, when he says something about the nematode being a fairly simple animal but that it has x million genes so it isn’t really that simple; or however he puts it – I can’t be bothered to watch it again.

  28. Forgive the ignorance if I’m way off here. I’m far from an expert in biology. But it seems almost as if he’s misunderstanding the very basic concept of natural selection. I mean, isn’t the answer, very simply put, “natural selection wouldn’t allow something that WOULDN’T work to thrive”? If there were other genetic routes that would leave the animal at a horrible disadvantage, or worse, not alive at all, well, you wouldn’t exactly expect that animal to be very prosperous.. If the genetic “time bombs” aiming at a future concept went awry from that which would lead to the animals prosperity, it wouldn’t exist at all. The correct paths MUST have been taken for whatever animal we see today to exist.

    1. Not only are you not ignorant, but you’ve put your finger on a key point of the whole discussion–creationists of all stripes, none of them, without exception, understands natural selection. This is caused by a congeries of factors–general ignorance, a propensity for teleological rather than historical thinking, religious deviousness, and undoubtedly others. And, they’d rather spout their ignorance than take the time and effort needs to understand.

      The rest of your argument flows naturally–if x (no matter what x is–molecule, organelle, structure) could not survive long enough to leave copies of itself, x would be less well-represented in future generations, and would die out sooner or later.

    2. As seen in the video this variety of C/ID makes repeated references to ‘unguided’ evolutio, which is a common straw man argument. It does not matter how often one explains that evolution by natural selection has two parts: random variation (the unguided part) PLUS selection for who leaves more descendants (which is *ahem* UNguided), but they will still turn right around and describe this kind of evolution as ‘unguided’ like nothing has changed.

      1. They will dismiss this “basic concept of natural selection” by calling it a tautology (forcing most of the people listening to them to go home and look up “tautology”).

        But it isn’t a tautology, although it sure seems like it to the unlogicked.

  29. Here’s how I would respond to Paul Nelson and his ilk.

    The common ancestor to the 3 major radiations – bacteria, archaea, and eukaryote – was already a pretty sophisticated dude, notably with the ability to switch gene expression on and off in response to internal and external cues. Hence the ancient single-celled organism that engaged in the first multicellular experiment leading to animals already had a full “tool-kit” of genes/proteins/regulatory elements and a sophisticated capacity to deploy their expression differentially in TIME.

    The multicellular trick, which evolved independently at least 20 times in different radiations (e.g. land plants do it very differently than animals), is to ALSO deploy differential gene expression in SPACE, that is, to construct an organism with more than one cell and then express a given gene subset in one cell type and a different subset in another. In modern animals this is triggered by patterning the egg such that some of the cells that arise during early embryonic cleavage wind up with portions of the egg cytoplasm that send them in one direction and others to go in a different direction, much as Nelson describes in the movie.

    So how can we model the origin of the first multicellular creature in the animal lineage circa 600 million years ago? Let’s take a unicellular species that switches back and forth in time between being a dividing cell and a gamete, a switch triggered by an environmental variable like nitrogen availability. Many modern eukaryotic protists fit this description. What happens next is that instead of two daughter cells splitting off from one another, they stay together – not very hard to model – and one cell is capable of switching on the sex genes and the other is not – again not hard to model. The mutations generating these outcomes are random, but they occur in the context of regulated genomes that are highly responsive to mutational tweaking. It’s not like coming up with something from scratch.

    Aha, say the critics — a Just-So Story!! What selective advantage would such a mutant two-celled organism have over a single-celled organism that could do the dividing → gamete switch? Why would this new idea spread through the population? I can invent some advantages, and so might you, but that misses the point. The point is that all we need to do is posit that there WAS some adaptive feature of this arrangement and the game is on. Increasingly elaborate proto-animals can now evolve from this template animal via additional mutations, sticking 4 and then 8 cells together, organizing additional cell types, etc., each innovation either enhancing the original adaptation or initiating additional adaptations.

    So, Paul Nelson, is it compelling to posit a Mind that would be necessary to guide our original transition from one-cell to two-cell? Because that’s all that’s needed to jump-start the worm or the panther or, gasp, the human. The rest is good ol’ Darwinian tinkering.

    1. Thankyou for that, that was about a thousand times more interesting and beautiful a hypothesis than the theistic one.

  30. I thought he was wrong – but then right at the end he came up with something that he didn’t really stress enough, but that made me think that all this gene stuff is just nonsense. The compost heap is the giveaway. Had the designer not known in advance that there would be humans to make compost heaps then he would surely have not have designed the C. elegans to live there. Q.E.D.

    1. I once had a work acquaintance who was all Feng Shuay (sp.?). She told me the southwest back corner of my backyard was the love and romance corner.

      Guess what I have there!!!

      (But at least now I know it contains lots of elegan(t) animals)

  31. I could feel several of my fairly limited number of IQ points slipping away as I watched that video. As a developmental biologist by training (and for most of my research career), one of the ignorant statements that stood out immediately was Nelson’s claim that intermediate cells in the lineages have no function. Oh, mais non!
    1. Even in animal embryos that were once considered “mosaic” in their developmental pattern (like C. elegant), there are many, many inductive interactions between cells and groups of cells throughout all stages of development. These inductive interactions don’t just influence the differentiation of muscle cells vs. nerve cells vs. skin cells, but also influence the differences between nerve cells at one end of the worm vs. the other, and between smooth muscle cells in the pharynx vs. smooth muscle cells in the intestine (for example).
    2. Even in an animal embryo with relatively few cells, many intermediate cells die during normal development. If these cells don’t die (for example because of mutations in genes required for apoptosis), development doesn’t proceed normally. Why would an Intelligent Designer waste time including embryonic cells that must die, if Xe has a long range, detailed plan to build the animal?

    Wonder what Nelson thinks of induced pluripotent stem cells? Surely those are Satan’s work. And somatic embryogenesis in plants: straight from hell.

    1. I know relatively little about nematodes, but if they are like other animals then the cells that die in one lineage might live and form adult structures in another. We vertebrates, for example, develop a notochord structure like our early back-bone-less ancestors which then regresses. Why? Without a notochord our spinal chord and other important structures will not develop normally. So we develop a notochord and lots of other crazy structures as embryos. Purposeless my ass.

      1. Even if (as they surely do) they serve an intermediate purpose as scaffolding, it’s still evidence of piss-poor design, if said design is supposed to be intelligent.


  32. His error is simply in equivocating between philogeny and ontogeny.

    Random mutation and natural selection applies to the evolution of organisms over millions of years (phylogeny), not the embryological development of individual organisms over a period of months (ontgeny).

    The evolution of organisms over millions of years was encoded in the genes which now direct the development of individual organisms over a period of months.

  33. I don’t decry Professor Ceiling Cat’s prerogative to label someone a “liar” when he sees it as appropriate.

    But on the level of my own personal policy,
    I’m not fond of describing religious people
    making error-filled arguments as “liars.”

    I know that a reply in waiting is something along the lines of “Look, if it were simply someone making some erroneous statements, sure, we treat them as honest mistakes can just correct them. But in cases like these, you have people who have been corrected already. Many times. It has been explained to them how they are wrong over and over again. But even with that knowledge, they persist in repeating the same refuted arguments. At that point, it’s fair game to call them up on it, as liars.”

    But I still find this problematic. Because on this criteria the label “liar” can still be (and starts to be in my experience) thrown around far too liberally.

    It’s just a natural feeling that if you believe your case is strong that any open, honest rational person ought to be swayed by the arguments and evidence. And if they aren’t, if they still stick to their own arguments, it’s easy to start presuming the other side isn’t motivated by actual reason and evidence, but by something else: “Well, this guy has been shown how he’s wrong over and over, so at this point he must just be lying.”

    But it’s human nature that, especially with a deeply held idea, it often takes a hell of a lot of thinking…and often lots of time…before we change our position in the face of the other side’s arguments, if we ever do.

    Take the context of the Free Will debate on this web site. How many times have compatibilists ‘corrected’ the arguments of incompatibilists? How many times have the incompatibilists ‘corrected’ the arguments of compatibilists? Ostensibly, the flaws in our arguments have been shown to us over and over, and yet we persist in still repeating them. But it’s not that any of us are “liars,” it’s just that it’s human nature to be biased, to have our blind spots, to hold on tightly to ideas that mean a lot to us either from an emotional stand point, or because they are the end result of our efforts in thinking through an issue. Once you’ve reasoned through step by step towards a conclusion, whether you have done so consistently, or with errors along the way, it’s the same experience: you’ve sort of closed trap doors of conviction along the way at each step behind you. Often the MORE thought you’ve put into a subject, the more down the rabbit hole you’ve gone, the greater number of doors you’d have to re-open on the way back to changing your position. (Dan Dennet and Sam Harris will both declare they are honest inquirers, open to changing their mind if presented with good evidence and argument. But, both have been “corrected” by their opponents ad infinitum; does it look like either of these admirably honest thinkers is changing his story any time soon?)

    (And having debated many issues among my fellow atheists for going on decades, I’ve seen how things escalate to the “now it’s obvious you are just being disingenuous” and “liar” level of discourse).

    It’s not that there aren’t ever people lying for Jesus (or for some secular idea). It’s just that I think that the nature of human reasoning, error and biased thinking is often enough to make us intransigent, and prone to defending and repeating erroneous
    ideas – looking to all the world like disingenuous and lying, when it’s not. And I prefer to er on the side of caution and not presume someone is lying (vs wrong, biased or even deluded) for this reason.

    1. Well, he might be very well compartmentalized – after all a philosopher of biology from a good school (he’s a Cambridge grad, right?) will have learned lots of biology along the way.

  34. As to the Paul Nelson’s design argument, I express the same amazement as others: how
    such people can spend so much time thinking in detail, inferring implications of design.
    And then just STOP thinking, stop inferring, once they hit that point.

    Once you’ve inferred that hands on, guided creation was necessary in biology, the next obvious step is to notice the characteristics of the design and what it implies. And much of biology would point to a Designer being an absolutely diabolical sadist, whose “designs” reliably fail to survive (extinction of most species), and whose designs reliably visit the most astonishing suffering on human beings (not to mention the rest of the living beings on the planet).

    But no, just at the point of being able to infer design, the thinking stops. And most of these IDers head off to Church on Sunday to Worship and Praise The Designer.

    I mean, it’s one thing that THEY choose to ignore the implications of their arguments so they can have room for fuzzy warm feelings about God in Church. But it’s another thing that they could put out these arguments, without considering the sinister portrait it paints for others of the Designer.

    The mind bottles.

  35. Even if I don’t know where I’m going–even if I’m totally blindfolded–if I keep walking, I’ll get somewhere. Might end up in a field of flowers. Might fall off a cliff. But I’ll get somewhere.

    Or am I missing his argument?

    1. No. He has not actually presented an argument. He has presented a series of non-sequiters.

      I like your analogy though, which you could extend to: “and if I fell off the cliff before I reproduced then the tendency for “chance” to take me in the direction of the cliff would diminish overtime — let’s say all other people are also blindfolded and have the same environment to walk around in).

      But if I reproduce before I fall over the cliff, the annoying tendency to fall over cliffs would continue in my progeny.

      BUT if I end up in a field of flowers where I can eat the flowers and survive until I reproduce if I haven’t already, then the tendency for “chance” to lead me (and my progeny) to the field of flowers will increase and be better represented in the future progeny of all blind-folded walkers even allowing for falling off a cliff.”

      Population biology 101!

      1. And ‘the drunkards’ walk’ analogy. Random variation + selection can build wonders, like our retinue of highly specific antibody producing cells.

  36. The stepping stones images in the video reminded me of “Climbing Mount Improbable.”

    One flaw in Paul Nelson’s argument is thinking of each worm’s development as a first-time occurrence. How could the cells become all the parts of a functioning worm, unless some designer had a target. But this ignores the past history of the worm’s DNA, which resulted in adaptive mutations leading to exactly (or nearly exactly–there are new mutations in every generation) this worm’s morphology.

    I think an important point completely ignored by Nelson here is the occurrence of harmful mutations, meaning mutations that decrease fitness and reproduction, or outright death. Is it known how much or how often that happens, in C. elegans? In Mohamed Noor’s course Intro to Genetics and Evolution, Noor taught that roughly half of human pregnancies abort very early, before they are even detected, and half of the time the cause is genetic defects. I’m trying to picture Paul Nelson’s arrow and target– Do we need to imagine a “designer” with bad aim? Missing the target altogether 50% of the time, not to mention the bull’s eye?

    Additional comment, from Noor’s course, a bit of an aside: C. elegans rate of base pair mutations per generation was extrapolated to humans, predicting 65 mutations per generation. This was confirmed in a 2012 study oh humans in Iceland that found an average of 63 new mutations per generation. Fascinating!

    1. Climbing Mount Improbable was my favorite Dawkins book, and thanks for reminding me of that astonishing mutation rate from Prof. noor’s course.

  37. All these arguments from ignorance boil down to a simple question and answer:
    Q. How does it know to do that?
    A. If it didn’t, it’d die.

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