Egnorian hubris: Intelligent Design adherents claim credit for this year’s Chemistry Nobel

October 12, 2018 • 10:30 am

I have no words. I’ll just tell you what reader Denis wrote when he sent me this link from Evolution News (an Intelligent-Design site), written by the always amusing and deeply benighted Michael Egnor. Denis’s comment:

“Have you seen this preposterous piece of dishonesty posted on Evolution News?”

Yep, here it is, as preposterous and dishonest as touted. (Click on the screenshot.)

I presume that Egnor thinks that Frances Arnold is God. Either that, or he fails to understand that humans mimicking evolution in the lab isn’t the same thing as a designer being humanlike and creating plants and animals.

And the first ID prize?

Linus Pauling’s groundbreaking work on protein structure in the early 20th century (for which he won the Nobel Prize) depended critically on his correct inference that the structure of a protein must account for the purpose the protein serves in cellular metabolism.

That all turns on the ambiguous meaning of “purpose”, and this is a prime and a rare correct example of “begging the question”. For Egnor, “purpose” presupposes a God rather than being shorthand for “what the protein does as well as the nature of the reproductive advantage conferred by evolutionary changes in that protein.”

54 thoughts on “Egnorian hubris: Intelligent Design adherents claim credit for this year’s Chemistry Nobel

  1. Egnor, a laughing stock if there ever was one. I’m quite sure he really believes his horseshit. All anyone can do is point and laugh.

    1. They crave Ahamson’s dollars, as his donations are pretty much the only thing that keeps the DI afloat.

      They know their role; push for fundie God in public school biology classes. Any way, any how. Research? That’s a line you list on your tax forms to keep the IRS happy, not something you actually do.

      1. Indeed, though I do think in addition to that there is a real sense of longing to be accepted as legitimate. It reminds me of growing up, when a ‘celebrity’ would turn out to be our brand of religiosity, it was always a big exciting deal. If a christian artist had a crossover hit people were thrilled. One of their ‘scientists’ getting recognized by the academy would be quite the coup.

        1. Ironically, that would be easy enough if they just stopped worrying about ID. IIRC Behe published a number of reasonable (even if not exceptional) biochemistry papers in mainstream journals before his infatuation with ID took him off the deep end.

  2. … and deeply benighted Michael Egnor …

    Deeply benighted, he undoubtedly is, but perhaps what Egnor craves is to be beknighted by royalty.

  3. Since the ID-iots cannot do any research on their own because their “theory” cannot be tested, they routinely claim the work of others as support for their fantasy.

    1. Indeed. It’s a shamful shame they waste so much time,money, energy and real resources on a failing attempt to hijack the natural sciences.

  4. Egnor should hand out his own prize to the countless animal breeders who have directed selection on the farm before Arnold did in the lab. And bonus: maybe he’ll take it all as evidence for polytheism.

  5. Egnor wasn’t the only one to claim this Nobel validated ID.
    The error they make in this example is similar to the error they make when trying to refute the claim that domesticated animals and plants are evidence of evolution. They say that because humans are directing it it cant really be evolution. They fail to notice that in this case humans are just taking the role of the environment in decided what will reproduce and what wont. Nature is still supplying the variability for the selection to work on

      1. I agree. At least the ones that originate those arguments. The flock though? Probably they are simply ignorant and so biased the thought of spending any effort to validate their experts’ claims never enters their minds.

    1. The basic point here is that purposes in biology are intrinsically generated from within the organisms that have them.

      The giveaway of something awry in the article is that they say that intelligent design is both an inference and a methodology. But the latter is suggestive of circular reasoning.

      1. I haven’t watched the video, but I think that unless one is talking about breeding a cow for the purpose of more milk production (human design), I think the word “purpose” should be replaced in biology with the word “function”, because “purpose” always stinks of teleology.

        1. Yeah. Experts might not have trouble understanding what other experts mean by “purpose” in the context of evolution but when talking to non-experts the word is too closely associated with agency to avoid serious misunderstanding.

        2. I would have gone for “intrinsic purpose” vs. “extrinsic purpose” but perhaps I have studied too much philosophy. 🙂

          1. Jon, you’re right of course, that is the proper philosophical terminology, isn’t it. It seems to me that so many philosophical “problems” start right there, with words. Some day I’ll get around to reading late Wittgenstein, or try at least.

              1. Yikes! I had no idea Christian scholars had attempted to co-opt POMOism in defense of the bible. Sounds like the trumpistas nowadays: “there are facts and there are alternative facts.” Kudos to your father for using Wittgenstein against them.

        3. “The purpose of purpose” was the theme of a lecture tour he was on in the US in 2009. I attended–it was full of Dawkins’s delightful humor and intelligence, but it was my opinion that a large part of the audience was uneasy with the emphasis on “purpose.” To make matters worse (IMO), he had also coined the terms “archi-purpose” and “neo-purpose,” which really irritated my jargon receptors. I’m not saying the concepts he had in mind weren’t worthwhile (if they seemed a bit trite) but I prefer to see arcane new terms introduced as seldom as possible unless absolutely necessary. In this case, I thought the meanings were nothing novel and already easily expressible with existing evolutionary parlance.

          I didn’t hear too much more about these terms subsequently and hope this proposal was one of those trial balloons that didn’t get off the ground.

          https://pandasthumb.org/archives/2009/03/richard-dawkins-2.html

  6. That’s a ridiculous characterisation of Pauling’s first Nobel, which was mostly for the unification of quantum physics and chemistry. It’s true that he did some cool stuff with protein structure, but it was all based on chemistry (what structures have low free energies) and nothing to do with function.

    His second was for campaigning for a nuclear test ban treaty.

  7. Hey Egnor,

    Only a pusillanimous, puling, puerile, puke inducing pecksniff of an intellectual coward would disable commenting on their web site.

  8. Michael Egnor persistently confuses ‘function’ with ‘purpose.’ I’ve pointed out to him on his now defunct blog ‘Egnorance’, that the function of the heart is to pump blood. The purpose of the heart in an elite athlete could be to run a sub 2 hour 5 minute marathon.

    The function of a structure is whatever all examples of that structure does. The purpose is whatever individuals (including species) make of that structure.

    He stopped posting on his blog, possibly because he got tired of being told he’s an IDiot. He feels safer on the comment-free Dishonesty Institute website.

    1. 🙂 🙂 🙂

      I’ve seen it before, but I still can’t help bursting out laughing at the punchline.

      cr

  9. Egnor’s underlying premise seems to be that complexity infers design and/or purpose. It doesn’t. It might or might not infer a creator, but that is an inference from its existence, not its complexity (“It exists, therefore it was created,” but not “It’s complex, therefore it was designed.”)

    Creators, as any artist will tell you, don’t design, and art has no purpose other than what people make of it. As with art, nature is what it is and it does what it does. Or, as Wayne Robinson puts it above, “The function of a structure is whatever all examples of that structure does.” (Not that I’m suggesting Wayne would entertain the notion of a creator.)

  10. “Linus Pauling’s groundbreaking work on protein structure in the early 20th century (for which he won the Nobel Prize) depended critically on his correct inference that the structure of a protein must account for the purpose the protein serves in cellular metabolism.”

    Proteins don’t have a purpose, they have functionality.
    There is no “why” in science, just “what” and “how”.

    Its not possible to infer “intentionality” from complexity of structure or functionality.
    Even in the human sense, intention is a questionable phenomenon.

    1. “There is no ‘why”’ in science, just ‘what’ and ‘how’.”

      You’re aware, I assume, that you just posted this observation on a site called “Why Evolution Is True.”

      1. Sure I did: the first part of my comment (in quotes) is from the Creationist article linked by Jerry.

        This IS an Evolution site, but the subject under discussion in ID, so restating the basic and the obvious is not such a bad idea: I’m sure that ID-ists and Creationists occasionally stray into WEIT.

        I was just commenting on the use of the word purpose: “purpose the protein serves”. In the original article this word was in italics.
        It indicates that the writer is not too well up on the scientific method.

        I reached the conclusion ages ago that the ID people are not interested in scientific arguments: they are interested in pseudo-science which is convincing to believers.

        Many scientists (I presume mainly the religious ones) still seem to believe in “purpose” in the Universe however.

        Even the concept of the “selfish gene” indicates “intent” and “motive”, which is a bit unfortunate. Even Dawkins is not actually that content with the name he chose for his book.

      2. Maybe we should suggest to Jerry that we rename the site “What makes Evolution true” :). Doesn’t sound quite so catchy though.

        I’m okay with “why” with its common usage meaning of “on what basis” or “by which mechanism”, but not as supplying an explanatory intention behind observed cause and effect.

    1. The IDers have no valid scientific arguments; every example and argument they’ve made have been refuted, which is why they’re not considered scientists and why Judge Jones ruled that ID isn’t science and couldn’t be taught in Dover, PA schools. The arguments have been refuted publicly and you can find them easily (try Ken Miller’s first book, for example).

      At this point IDers have the status of flat-earthers, and it’s perfectly fair to mock them and their religious motivations. Since the scientific arguments have been made (and you can find them if you look), I’m happy to deride and mock their willful ignorance (or Egnorance in that case). Please don’t tell me how I should deal with these people; I’ve been doing it for years (see my New Republic critique here: https://www.edge.org/conversation/jerry_coyne-the-case-against-intelligent-design)

      1. Thank you for your fast feedback!

        Did I understand correctly: Because the IDers have no valid scientific arguments, they do not deserve to be countered with valid scientific arguments?

        I would also like to know why you refer to a rule in court (Judge Jones’) when you argue about what is science – does the legal profession trump scientists?

        I think arguments have been refuted from both sides. A remarkable difference is that the IDers do not deride their opponents – at least I never saw that yet. If your arguments are so strong, why do you need to mock and deride people with different views? It makes your texts much less palatable and digestible, which actually hinders the education of humankind that I assume is a motive behind your publications!

        1. Elisabet, I hope you don’t mind my attempting to answer your comments.

          “Did I understand correctly: Because the IDers have no valid scientific arguments, they do not deserve to be countered with valid scientific arguments? ”

          If you make a non scientific argument, it can’t really be countered by scientific argument. The scientific argument might be evolutionary theory, but this does not refute ID arguments since, these are different ideas and have no separate scientific merit in their own right.

          “I would also like to know why you refer to a rule in court (Judge Jones’) when you argue about what is science – does the legal profession trump scientists?”
          The legal profession (in this case Judge Jones) made a decision as to what can be taught in a state school science class (as science).
          He did not “trump” science in any way, though he stated categorically that ID is NOT science and that it is aligned with Creationism.

          The Wiki for the legal dispute is:
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitzmiller_v._Dover_Area_School_District

          If you look specifically at:
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitzmiller_v._Dover_Area_School_District#Potential_perjury_and_deceit

          you will see that some of the ID participants in the trial came close to being accused of perjury. This reason of dishonesty and bad faith in the ID “lobby” makes debate with the scientific community pretty near impossible.

          The Discovery Institute (which effectively invented ID as an “argument”) has its “Wedge Strategy”:
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wedge_strategy
          Frankly I find this a sinister document, which admits the Institute’s intention to pervert science to anti-Evolutionist, fundamentalist, evangelical pseudo-science.

          “I think arguments have been refuted from both sides.”
          I think that this is untrue: I would be interested to hear which arguments have been refuted on the scientific side.

          “A remarkable difference is that the IDers do not deride their opponents – at least I never saw that yet.”
          If S. Meyers were to deride his scientific opponents, he would have no chance of reaching his aims: to have his ideas accepted into the scientific community. He is always polite, but persists in talking BS.

          “If your arguments are so strong, why do you need to mock and deride people with different views?”
          The ID faction took the primary aggressive action by invading science with their Christian mindset. Scientists could easily ignore them otherwise.

          When a group touting ID persistently loses in Court, fail to have any of their ideas accepted as feasibly scientific and yet masochistically persist with their argument, I would say that they are not only in merit of derision, but are actively inviting it.

          “It makes your texts much less palatable and digestible, which actually hinders the education of humankind that I assume is a motive behind your publications!”

          The attempt by IDers to forcibly insert their religion based “theories” into the science curriculum (legally declared an abuse of the first ammendment) is also an action “which actually hinders the education of humankind”.

          1. Thank you for your comments.

            My first question was badly worded, I realize, a too quick reaction to the drastic statement by Dr Coyne that “the IDers have no valid scientific arguments”. It seems guys here do not take pride and joy in putting forward valid detailed scientific arguments to crush the IDers, that is really what I was asking for! My impression is that this is the way the IDers work. Meticulously they seem to take most every word written of serious evolutionary reasoning and try to evaluate every aspect of results attained so far, in the light of the most recently collected body of evidence. To me it is extremely inspiring, awesome, when they repeatedly manage to convey their knowledge of and respect for so much beautiful complexity they found in nature. On this page I do not find that passion to clarify the mechanisms of nature, instead, precious time is devoted to smearing BS on your opponents – such a waste!

            Arguments refuted: recently read M Leisola’s Heretic, currently reading S Meyer’s Darwin’s Black Box, and being severely impressed by the systematic reasoning about the Cambrian Explosion there. Both expose a number of refuted evolutionary arguments. I have also read some of Richard Dawkins texts, and found his propensity to replace scientific reasoning by derogatory attacks on opponents severely off-putting. I believe he was once a very knowledgeable and serious scientist, but does not seem to have kept that good work up, unfortunately.

            The legal issue again: what scientific qualifications does Judge Jones have to make you rely on his ability to judge what is science and what is not? In my world, only scientists would be able to make that judgment – and it would be a discussion about what proofs are available, and what quality they have.

            I haven’t had time to read your links yet, but just wanted to clarify some of my points.

            1. ” It seems guys here do not take pride and joy in putting forward valid detailed scientific arguments to crush the IDers, that is really what I was asking for!”

              Its all been done previously ad nauseam: I think there is no pride and joy debating with IDers: they do not use the scientific method, they have no observation based hypotheses. No theory worthy of the name. They have a political agenda which involves their bringing religious propaganda into the public school science curriculum, they perjure themselves in court.

              “My impression is that this is the way the IDers work. Meticulously they seem to take most every word written of serious evolutionary reasoning and try to evaluate every aspect of results attained so far, in the light of the most recently collected body of evidence.”

              They are not at all “meticulous”: they do very little research themselves, they (e.g. S. Meyer) mostly regurgitate actual historical work (often done by mainstream evolutionists or cosmologists) and present it “as if” pertaining to their own argument. In Meyer’s case he talks about the Cambrian Explosion/Radiation as if there is a problem there for Evolutionary Theory. The only problem there lies in the detail, to explain how it occurred, the precise mechanisms.
              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambrian_explosion

              There are no convincing “refutations” presented by Meyer and as far as I know, by Leisola.
              Both the books you mention are published by The Discovery Institute, which, as I explained, is funded by evangelicals with a political agenda (see the Wedge as I cited previously).
              You might as well ask the Pope to debate Heisenberg about Quantum Theory.

              Meyer’s arguments about DNA and RNA being a “code” which can only have occcured if designed by an intelligence (because all known codes have been designed by (a human) intelligence) is just GIBBERRISH.

              “To me it is extremely inspiring, awesome, when they repeatedly manage to convey their knowledge of and respect for so much beautiful complexity they found in nature. On this page I do not find that passion to clarify the mechanisms of nature, instead, precious time is devoted to smearing BS on your opponents – such a waste!”

              It is mainly the scientist who has managed to understand the mechanics (and wonders) of nature. At times with great integrity against contemporary pressure (viz. Galileo and Darwin). I don’t respond with awe to Myers ID arguments. His incapacity to see the weakness in his own ideas is fairly awesome. A good scientist should be capable should be capable of testing his own ideas and at times the theories that lie behind them: I do NOT see that in The IDers: just a cascade of dodgy thinking and garbled logic (this is not an ad hominem: that is what they actually do).

              “instead, precious time is devoted to smearing BS on your opponents – such a waste!”
              Our “opponents” (in this case the Discovery Institute) are the hostile and disingenuous party, the BS you speak of is actually their most substantial emmission. It needs to be seen for what its is. The “waste” you speak of is the time spent countering inane ID arguments: that time is better spent on PRODUCTIVE activity.

              “I have also read some of Richard Dawkins texts, and found his propensity to replace scientific reasoning by derogatory attacks on opponents severely off-putting. I believe he was once a very knowledgeable and serious scientist, but does not seem to have kept that good work up, unfortunately.”

              He is still knowledgeable and serious: he did very significant work in the Selfish Gene period and has been very active as a University lecturer and Oxford’s “Professor for Public Understanding of Science” which includes participating in public discussion of polemical issues.

              He has written numerous books on the subject and participated in many debates. It is the very hostility to Evolution particularly by the American religious Right, since then, which has drawn Dawkins (and others) into the debate. This debate gets heated on both sides. Dawkins is rarely really offensive, he is a calm debater and uses a certain irony and some mocking humour (perhaps a British tendency). Horses for courses.

              “The legal issue again: what scientific qualifications does Judge Jones have to make you rely on his ability to judge what is science and what is not? In my world, only scientists would be able to make that judgment – and it would be a discussion about what proofs are available, and what quality they have.”

              Jerry gave you the link to Ken Miller’s book on the Dover Trial and my Wiki link gives a quick summary.

              “In my world, only scientists would be able to make that judgment – and it would be a discussion about what proofs are available, and what quality they have.”

              The scientists present the evidence as witnesses: who is capable of sifting the evidence determines if the premises are valid or not: this was delegated to the Judge who had to adjudicate on the legal position relating to the First Amendment.
              It had to be a judge in this case: some judges may actually be competent in Science. The judge in this case was religious (I believe Catholic) and STILL decides that ID is a facade for religious beliefs.

              This was WELL debated in the trial: it was one of the longest bench trials in history. The Discovery Institute withdrew its “technical” witnesses (including Meyer) before deposition (in plain English, they chickened out). There was a prospect of massive costs and a perjury charge against the IDers.
              The Discovery Institute and ID have not had much credibility since then.

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