Jason Rosenhouse discredits new Intelligent Design paper

Update: Reader Mike below called my attention to a notice about the paper on Retraction Watch (click on screenshot below). It notes that author Thorvaldsen is an advocate and sympathizer to Intelligent design. The Journal of Theoretical BIology has issued the statement below:

The Journal of Theoretical Biology and its co-Chief Editors do not endorse in any way the ideology of nor reasoning behind the concept of intelligent design. Since the publication of the paper it has now become evident that the authors are connected to a creationist group (although their addresses are given on the paper as departments in bona fide universities). We were unaware of this fact while the paper was being reviewed. Moreover, the keywords “intelligent design” were added by the authors after the review process during the proofing stage and we were unaware of this action by the authors. We have removed these from the online version of this paper. We believe that intelligent design is not in any way a suitable topic for the Journal of Theoretical Biology.

Too little and too late!  There’s also a statement by Glenn Branch, head of the National Center for Science Education.


The Discovery Institute and its ID flacks are crowing about a new intelligent-design paper that got published in a reputable journal. The paper is below, and it’s really nothing new: just a reiteration of the supposed unlikelihood of evolving complex biological systems via natural selection (click on screenshot to get the paper, free if you have the Unpaywall app):

I read the paper very quickly, and decided there was really no there there: it’s a reiteration of the work and thought of IDers like Dembski, Axe, Meyer, and Behe, all of whom have claimed that the evolution of stuff like protein structure, protein folding, protein complexes, RNA translation systems, and so on, are so unlikely that they couldn’t have evolved by Darwinian processes. And of course all of this work has been previously and thoroughly rebutted by real scientists, many of whom have pointed out the flawed assumptions, including making probability calculations starting from scratch rather than using previously evolved and less “complex” systems. Sadly, almost none of the critiques by real scientists are even cited in this paper, which appears to be science-y sounding publicity for Intelligent Design. The failure to cite counterarguments alone should have rendered the Thornvaldsen and Hössjer paper unpublishable.

As for “fine-tuning”, that’s what the authors call “improbable appearance”—that is, a system that, they say “is unlikely to have occurred by chance” and also show “conform[ity] to an independent or detached specification”.  It is, in effect, the “irreducible complexity” touted by Behe, and is not the same thing as the “fine tuning” of the physical Universe—involving the supposed specificity of many physical constants—also touted as evidence for a Great Designer.

Several readers sent me this paper, apparently wanting me to go after it. I just have said my piece, but this is but a cursory take. I didn’t want to put in the time to refute something that’s been refuted before. As for why a good journal accepted such a shoddy paper, your guess is as good as mine. But the IDers see it as a gold mine, because they’ve gotten a peer reviewed ID paper into a journal!

Well, fortunately, someone has discredited this paper much better than I could. It’s good old Jason Rosenhouse, who dealt with it at The Panda’s Thumb, a site that’s been very quiet lately (probably because ID creationism is on its last legs). Jason’s take on the Thorvaldsen and Hössjer paper is at the site below (click on screenshot). His take isn’t either positive or pretty. He concludes that the paper is bullshit (my words, not his), and that it shouldn’t have been accepted in the journal. He gives reasons for this conclusion. Rosenhouse is a math professor as well as someone who knows a ton about both biology and creationism, and so is well qualified to assess the paper’s claims.

I’ll quote just a few bits from the paper. One of Jason’s main beefs is that “fine tuning” isn’t well defined for these biological systems. Further, biological systems don’t evolve the way the authors say, and if you want to calculate probabilities, you have to do it using the way evolution works: sequentially, acting on pre-existing adaptive systems. But I am characterizing his argument. Let me give a few quotes:

The situation only gets worse when [the authors of the paper above] turn to biology. Here their primary example of fine-tuning comes from so-called “irreducibly complex” systems in biology. They even coin the term “Behe-system” after biochemist Michael Behe, who developed the idea in its modern form. The authors write, “[William] Dembski applies the term ‘Discrete Combinatorial Object’ to any of the biomolecular systems which have been defined by Behe as having ‘irreducible complexity’.” Mimicking the approach taken by Dembski in his book No Free Lunch, they go on to write, “Then the probability of a protein complex is the multiplicative product of the probabilities of the origination of its constituent parts, the localization of those parts in one place, and the configuration of those parts into the resulting system (contact topology).” There then follows a bona fide equation, complete with Greek letters, subscripts, and even a big pi to indicate a product.

This is the point where a legitimate peer-reviewer would have thrown the paper aside, refusing to read any further, because every word is nonsense. Complex systems do not evolve through three distinct phases of origination, localization, and configuration, for heaven’s sake. But let’s leave that aside and play along for a moment.

Yes, the equations are nothing but ways to show how one calculates probabilities. The question, as we know, is whether the assumptions behind the calculations are sound and, if they are, do we have good estimates of the probabilities. The answers are “no” and “no” respectively.

Considering Dembski’s ludicrous assumption that probabilities should be calculated de novo, not using the way evolution works, versus they way they should be calculated—by “imagining the correct configuration arising gradually through a sequence of less effective systems until the modern form appears”—Jason says this:

In No Free Lunch, William Dembski effectively chose the former option in each of these questions, which is why everyone laughed at him. But we obviously need to consider the latter, and we equally obviously have no hope of assigning numbers to any of the relevant variables. Incredibly, the authors even acknowledge this point, writing, “Modeling the formation of structures like protein complexes via this three-part process … is of course problematic because the parameters in the model are very difficult to estimate.” But having just admitted to wasting the reader’s time developing a useless equation, they claim nonetheless that it has heuristic value. It does not, because this three-fold process has precisely zero connection to any real biological process.

Here’s a rule of thumb for you: If an author says he will address the question of whether a complex system could have arisen through evolution by natural selection, and then later says he will use probability theory to address the issue, then you can stop reading right there, because everything that comes next will be nonsense. Probability theory is just flatly the wrong tool for this job because there is no hope of defining a proper probability space within which to carry out a calculation.

But go over to Panda’s Thumb and, if you’re interested in why the new ID paper is garbage, read Jason’s entire review. I must, however, quote his acrid conclusion:

Desirous of keeping this post to a reasonable length, I have focused on what I take to be the absolutely fatal flaw of this paper. The authors claim to have used probability theory to establish a scientifically rigorous and useful notion of “fine-tuning,” but they have failed because we have nothing like the information we would need to carry out meaningful probability calculations. Done.

But I don’t think I’ve adequately communicated just how bad this paper is. The authors are constantly tossing out bits of mathematical jargon and notation, but then they do nothing with them. There is a frustrating lack of precision, as when they variously describe fine-tuning as an object, an entity, a method, and an attribute of a system, all on the first page of the paper. They constantly cite creationist references, with only the most glancing mention that any of this work has been strongly and cogently criticized. They say we should give fair consideration to a “design model” for the origination of complex structures, but they give not the beginning of a clue as to what such a model entails.

In short, it’s hard to believe this paper could have gotten through an honest peer-review process (as opposed to one in which ideology played a big role). Whatever happened behind the scenes, it’s a huge black eye for the journal.

I’m not sure what the Journal of Theoretical Biology will do in the face of objections like Jason’s; clearly other people must have contacted the journal as well. But it is a black eye for the journal, and the paper’s publication should by no means be seen as giving ID any more credibility.

Speaking of which, this is how far ID advocates have fallen. The piece below appeared at the Discovery Institute website Evolution News. (The article also cites the new ID paper.) I find it interesting that that site doesn’t allow comments.



  1. Posted October 7, 2020 at 10:21 am | Permalink


  2. Ken Pidcock
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    They say we should give fair consideration to a “design model” for the origination of complex structures, but they give not the beginning of a clue as to what such a model entails.

    Exactly. Anyone who finds themselves impressed by this stuff should be asked if they have any idea what these folks are proposing about the evolutionary process. Nothing.

  3. John Donohue
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Theism = Young Earth.

    Either they passionately believe it to be absolutely true, or they have a vague backfill of “billions of years is dumb” + “the Bible could sorta be right.”

    This informs their claims against evolution. They have no interest in full introspection what “A Billion Years” actually means, and not even what 1/1000th of a Billion means, when they have this fulcrum at 10,000 years, which is only 1/100th of 1/1000 of a billion.

    Even if you take The Billion and cut it in half to 500,000, which represents the Phanerozoic eon, in which complex life evolved, they are unable and unwilling to visualize and credit that natural selection is not only reasonable, but inevitable.

    Contemplating deep time can produce shock and awe. Theists take the easy evasion.

  4. Mike
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Retraction Watch has a post today about that paper and interviewed Rosenhouse about it. Good stuff.

  5. Bjørn Ove Sætre
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    I noticed this paper in the Norwegian university journal Khrono i july 2020. A bit surprised that the journal bothered to mention it. I made a few comment, kind of mocking the whole paper by making a suggestion for an abstract for the paper: something like this: “Biological system are very complicated. We can’t really ever understand how this has evolved. We better just give up and admit it must have been a divine miracle…….”


    A few others responded, including the usual Christian and a week later, there were a comment from the author………….nobody bothered to respond…..and then it died out. Fortunately, we (I am a science teacher with an MSc in Bioloy) does not have to fight with the creationist as my fellow teachers in the US have to. Most people, not least the pupils and students just laugh them off.
    In fact, I am surprised to see how very hostile most people in Norway are toward religion now and the vast majority of my students are either very hostile to religion or indifferent towards it. Very few these days oppose teaching of evolution and cosmology based completely on an naturalistic view (as science should be done)

  6. John Donohue
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Clarification: “Even if you take The Billion and cut it in half to 500,000”

    should have said “Even if you take The Billion years and cut it in half to 500 million years …

  7. rickflick
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    I suspect that with these calculations of probabilities, nothing in the biological world would exist. Maybe not even stars and planets. How can you get a star instantly forming out of a primordial dust cloud. Dust particles magically forming into a hot glowing nuclear furnace? There is no evidence of intermediate proto-stars. The chances are astronomical that our sun exists…and so on. Therefore: God.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted October 7, 2020 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

      There are cases where natural processes result in finetuning (and evolution is one of them). Superstition is a non-starter.

      • Rawandi
        Posted October 8, 2020 at 6:18 am | Permalink

        Exactly. The fine tuning of biological organisms is explained by natural selection. The fine tuning of physical constants is explained by the eternal multiverse.

  8. KD
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    There is an interesting parallel between Soros and the efficient capital market types over market valuations. ECM contends that prices reflect actual valuation based on all public knowledge at the time of pricing, plus or minus random walk. Soros claims they reflect prevailing bias with some randomness (valuation being fundamentally subjective as prevailing bias can influence the course of future events).

    Straight Darwin would have a new generation essentially reflect existing genetic code + randomness, whereas another process would reflect some kind of reflexive optimization process + randomness.

    Obviously, individual preferences for food and mates affect population genetics, and those preferences are not random, if they are subjective. Additionally, if individual preferences are influenced by the preferences of others (Helen of Troy), the process would be reflexive. This would pull things out of a strict, random explanation without creating any support for ID. (If preferences were completely driven by genes, you could get a reduction, but are not stable and contextual, so not easily modeled Newtonian physics.]

    The protein arguments, etc., if sound would not imply intelligent design either, as you would have to rule out some means of a biological optimization process.

    • KD
      Posted October 7, 2020 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      The most interesting biology of this century will probably be in the investigation of the immune system, which does appear to exhibit intentionality and reflexivity.

      The immune system has to learn to identify old threats and mount a response, and identify new threats and mount a response, as well as not attacking benign components of the body.

      • EdwardM
        Posted October 7, 2020 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

        As an immunologist, I’m intrigued by this “intentionality” you posit in the immune system. Can you expand on this?

        • KD
          Posted October 7, 2020 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

          Intentionality in philosophy of mind and language is used to refer to the “aboutness” or referent of a thought or proposition.

          Statements about the mind, “I fear Trump will not step down if he loses” are intentional in that they refer to something outside themselves. [Quine wrote an essay on the intentionality problems years ago.]

          An immune cell encounters something, and has to make some kind of “decision” regarding friend or foe. This strikes me as intentional, obviously friend/foe is defined by a functional relationship between two things. In fact, the relationship is teleological, related to the end, a foe will kill you, and friend will not harm you. [Or probably, foe for the immune system means you try to kill it, friend you let it be.] The immune system is simple enough that we aren’t going to start ascribing minds to Killer T Cells, but there does seem to be some kind of interpretative and teleological process going on in the system. Totally fascinating and not at all clear it can be modeled with mechanics.

          Also, the immune system has a means of learning from new environmental inputs. So it can encounter something completely novel, and then interpret it, and learn to interpret it over the course of time. Since I am claiming it is teleological, and what it is interpreting is the relationship between the immune system, the organism, and the foreign body, which there means that there is a changing understanding of those relationships. [In a spy movie, the spy is undetected, then suspected, then confirmed, which changes the characters relationship with the other characters and their self understanding.]

          Its more than a simple algorithm, although maybe it can be modeled via parallel processes or something. Obviously, the immune system can get it quite wrong, so there is some process of interpretation, and the process is mistaken sometimes (which can result in a bad telos for the organism, death).

          • KD
            Posted October 7, 2020 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

            The key I suspect is the phenomenon of memory in living things. Unlike Newtonian billiard balls, you can sometimes forget, and sometimes misremember, and sometimes the “mistake” can result in novelty.

          • Posted October 7, 2020 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

            When it comes to the immune system, I think intentionality is projected onto it by the observer. Where do you draw the line between something that has “intentionality” and merely implements a “simple algorithm”?

            • KD
              Posted October 7, 2020 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

              An immune response is defined by functional behavior, the system attacks a pathogen. Before that happens, it “recognizes” something to be a pathogen.

              “Recognize” come from the Latin “recognoscere” ‘know again, recall to mind’

              The immune system has memory, what has memory is subject to “recognoscere.” The point is there is no memory without intentionality (as in what is remembered is by definition not physically present, heck, in a false memory, it wasn’t even there to begin with).

              A hypothetical observer has nothing to do with it. You had organisms with immune systems “recognizing pathogens” long before primates came along observing things. How do you define a pathogen except by reference to teleology? Obviously, definition is not the same thing as recognition, but how can your recognize something as a pathogen without reference to teleology. The description is created by the observer, but what is observed is a description of nature.

              Throwing aside “consciousness”, you have memory processes in the body, perhaps down to the cellular level, and they exhibit intentionality (x is recognized to belong to the class of A or x is A). [This “apparent” business is like a mirage, if there were no oases, there could be no “mirages”, you can only have “apparent” intentionality if there is real intentionality, otherwise the qualifier is meaningless.]

              • eric
                Posted October 7, 2020 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

                The immune system has memory…

                Why do you assume that? IANA biologist but here’s my vague memory of how it works. I’m probably not doing the immune system the service it deserves, but here goes in about a hundred words:

                The immune system’s success is down to an evolutionary mechanism. It produces a lot of mutated cells where the mutations are random with respect to invasive organisms (this does not mean equiprobable, or unaffected by physics). The ones that produce effective antibodies survive and reproduce; the ones that don’t, don’t. No intent or memory needed.

                The antibodies those cells produce don’t remember or recognize squat either. They have a very complex outside skin. That outside interacts via chemical bonding with various compounds. What makes an antibody good against a particular disease is simply that it’s outer coating has the sorts of structures that bond well with the disease microorganism.

                So, basically, you’ve got cells that because of mutation produce differently shaped keys. Some of those keys end up matching the “locks” of the disease. The key-producing cells that match the locks survive and prosper, the ones that don’t, die off. Over time, you end up with a system where all the cells remaining are the ones that produce useful keys. No intent, no memory.

              • Posted October 7, 2020 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

                We refer to something having memory if an interaction changes its future behavior. I think the immune system certainly qualifies. The fact that it is implemented via a bunch of random processes does not make the term wrong. My memory of this exchange may well be implemented by a set of random processes like the ones you describe.

              • Posted October 7, 2020 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

                That the immune system has a memory is not in question. That doesn’t by itself justify the use of “intentionality”. In science, it is best not to anthropomorphize. I generally have no problem using human terms for such things but you seem to be making a stronger, scientific claim for which the use of such a word should raise red flags.

              • eric
                Posted October 7, 2020 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

                I should add however that this “race” between disease spread and immune system randomly evolving cells that produce matching antibodies rarely ends, because the disease mutates with every generation too. It’s more like a constant arms race. And of course, there’s never just one disease, so there’s always more than one type of successful antibody-producing immune cell

              • eric
                Posted October 7, 2020 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

                Paul, the interaction of antibody with disease does not change the behavior of the immune cell. It is (IIRC) simply the case that the immune cells that don’t produce well-interacting antibodies die out.

                I’m sure I’m not doing justice to the immune system and I’m pretty sure there are some feedback loops involved. But the point is that individual cells don’t have to learn or adapt at all for the system to work. They simply need to be able to reproduce with modification. Natural selection will then “tune” the population of cells over time because it will destroy the cells that happen, randomly, to have a less good fit to their environment.

              • Posted October 7, 2020 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

                The immune system has the memory. Obviously if you look closer and closer at a system with memory, at some point the memory goes away much as wetness goes away when you look at a single water molecule.

          • EdwardM
            Posted October 7, 2020 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

            Only a brief comment…

            …but there does seem to be some kind of interpretative and teleological process going on in the system.

            If there is such a process I have never seen even an inkling of it. All I see is a (very well worked out) evolved process of recombination of genetic loci (capable of > 3×10^11 combinations) which encodes the molecules the immune system uses to distinguish self from non-self – what you call “learning” is the process of clonal selection.

            I do not see any of these processes as being interpretative, much less teleological. They are reactive. Purely. They do not anticipate, they do not plan and they are regulated by a large suite of molecular processes which themselves evolved, all without intentionality.

            • KD
              Posted October 7, 2020 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

              Clonal selection? So it recognizes something as being the same as itself? No intentionality there. . . are you pulling my leg on purpose?

              Sarcasm aside, I don’t care about intentionality. Keep hammering away at understanding how the immune system works, and I believe we will develop a means of constructing a solution to naturalized intentionality or we end up with biosemiotics.

              • Torbjörn Larsson
                Posted October 7, 2020 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

                “Intentionality” or teleology was rejected by Einstein discovering causality as a fundamental constraint of nature (without it you would have no localization, no particles and no signaling between them – explicit non-teleological signaling). Explicitly for evolution, since variation preceds selection on it and causality forbids time travel, the former is indifferent to the latter.

                “Clonal selection? So it recognizes something as being the same as itself?”

                No – clonal selection is the adaptive vehicle for learning of self, which develops the first weeks out oif the womb (where immune protection was handled by the mother).

                “Newborn infants have no prior exposure to microbes and are particularly vulnerable to infection. Several layers of passive protection are provided by the mother. During pregnancy, a particular type of antibody, called IgG, is transported from mother to baby directly through the placenta, so human babies have high levels of antibodies even at birth, with the same range of antigen specificities as their mother.[8] Breast milk or colostrum also contains antibodies that are transferred to the gut of the infant and protect against bacterial infections until the newborn can synthesize its own antibodies.[9] This is passive immunity because the fetus does not actually make any memory cells or antibodies—it only borrows them. This passive immunity is usually short-term, lasting from a few days up to several months. In medicine, protective passive immunity can also be transferred artificially from one individual to another via antibody-rich serum.” [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immune_system#Layered_defense ]

                If you want to make a fine point of it, the immune system recognition of self coevolved with the placenta in placental mammals. There are also confirming results that show horizontal gene transfer of viral proteins that modulates the mother immune system to better accept the parasite fetus, at least in sheep. How it worked out in other animal clades than placental mammals I do not know, but presumably – as always – “it is evolution all the way”.

              • Torbjörn Larsson
                Posted October 7, 2020 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

                Also, “biosemiotiocs”!? That’s postmodernist superstition, isn’t it? “,,, challenges normative views of biology…” [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biosemiotics ].

                yes, I’m sure biology is challenged. 🙄

              • Torbjörn Larsson
                Posted October 7, 2020 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

                Oy. “Biosemiotics” and a lost capital letter.

              • Torbjörn Larsson
                Posted October 7, 2020 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

                I should have looked deeper, seems the area has made broader and later discoveries than I knew.

                “The cornerstone of the immune system is the recognition of “self” versus “non-self”. Therefore, the mechanisms that protect the human fetus (which is considered “non-self”) from attack by the immune system, are particularly interesting. Although no comprehensive explanation has emerged to explain this mysterious, and often repeated, lack of rejection, two classical reasons may explain how the fetus is tolerated. The first is that the fetus occupies a portion of the body protected by a non-immunological barrier, the uterus, which the immune system does not routinely patrol.[2] The second is that the fetus itself may promote local immunosuppression in the mother, perhaps by a process of active nutrient depletion.[2] A more modern explanation for this induction of tolerance is that specific glycoproteins expressed in the uterus during pregnancy suppress the uterine immune response (see eu-FEDS). [Goes on to relate what I already mentioned at length, but likely more correctly – now it is the the ancestors of modern viviparous mammals that shares ERV factors.]”

                [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adaptive_immune_system ]

                Re evolution of recognition of “self” versus “non-self”, the existence of several competing hypotheses are no different from evolution of sex. But of course YMMV.

  9. Posted October 7, 2020 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    According to PT, the publisher has disavowed the paper. I think there are good arguments, either way, for having it retracted or leaving it disavowed (and let the damage be done to JTB).

    Analogies to the Sokal hoax come to mind. Poor JTB!

  10. Historian
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    As noted in the post, for this article to be published in a supposedly reputable journal, two things have had to have happened: 1) the editor or editors at the journal had to have thought that the article was potentially publication worthy and 2) the peer reviewers gave a thumbs up. This is a very disturbing sequence of events. It means that the entire peer review process may be broken, at least for this journal. How can one trust the validity of other articles? It makes them all suspect that something other than scholarly worthiness got them published. We live in age where distrust of expertise is growing fueled by Trump and the anti-science movement. This article only makes things worse.

    • Posted October 7, 2020 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      Authors of a paper can suggest reviewers. So its possible that a conspiracy was hatched by the authors suggesting their own ilk as reviewers. The editor who handled the manuscript could check on this.

  11. Bjørn Ove Sætre
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Steinar Thorvaldsen is a well known creationist in Norway (well known for creationist watchers like myself that is, most people here ignore them). He is also the chairman of the board of BioCosmos, a creationist organization which basically just echo all the crap coming from discovery institute. He works as a professor of computer science in a school of education. And the journal didn’t discover this? Have they heard about google

    • rjdownard
      Posted October 7, 2020 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      Thank’s Bjorn for the background on Steiner, it makes it easier to see how he came to collaborate with Hossjer (who the DI fields as ID-friendly).

      It should be noted that among the works cited by them are ones by John Sanford et al., who while published in ID-friendly venues, is definitely a young earth creationist. This reflects the gradual normalization of YEC technical claimants in the ID orbit, apparently so long as they don’t talk about their YEC proclivities. This was the route pioneered by Paul Nelson, who is among the DI’s major apologetic fact claimants.

    • rjdownard
      Posted October 7, 2020 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Bjorn for the clarification on Thorvaldsen’s background, it explains much about his willingness to collaborate with Hossjer, whom the DiscoTute explicitly touts as ID-friendly.

      If you have any information on Steinar’s position on the age of the earth or radiometric dating (things that would peg him as a YECer) that would be most illuminating. But it is the case that the paper does cite blocks of creationist “genetics” (from John Sanford and his colleagues, including the “Genetic Entropy” book).

      • rjdownard
        Posted October 7, 2020 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

        Sorry for the duplicated content, the log-in prompt disconnected from the initial one so wasn’t sure whether the first text had made it.

      • Bjørn Ove Sætre
        Posted October 8, 2020 at 12:26 am | Permalink

        I strongly doubt that he is a YEC. In the town where he live Tromsø he is the leader of the local astronomy assocoation so I would assume he accept current Big Bang cosmology and the age of the earth. I have not read anything that implies that he is associated or symphathic to YEC

  12. Bjørn Ove Sætre
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    In Retraction Watch Thorvaldsen says in his defense: “Our research in biology and bioinformatics is part of our full time positions as professors at our respective Scandinavian universities, where you usually have about 50% of our job for research. We do not have external funding from any other organization for the research published in this paper. This is our professional work funded by our universities….”

    Let’s have a look at his bio in the university where he works:

    If you look at the publication list from the uni you won’t find any bioinformatics or biology. It’s basically all education and education tech stuff. I suspect this case is really embarrassing for the university also now ( This uni is a public well recognized research university). I strongly doubt that this uni has funded , with open eyes, “research” which clearly is just ID nonsense.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted October 7, 2020 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

      I did a stint at Uppsala University Biomedicinskt Center (BMC) last year. While I was there I discovered a scientist in biomolecular chemistry (IIRC) publishing creationism on Swedish social media.

      Ironically, the university adage is emphatically meritocratic: “… think right …”.

  13. Randall Schenck
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    I was thinking of the question, is religion more damaging to science or the law. I suspect the damage to science is self-correcting but the damage to the law, not so much. Religion now interferes with the law all the way to the supreme court and there is no self correcting.

  14. Posted October 7, 2020 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    I found the journal’s disavowal completely wrong-headed. It does not stress (or even mention) the faulty reasoning in the paper. Instead it implies that the authors’ beliefs and affiliations should discredit the paper. This is chillingly anti-scientific. This kind of behavior also gives additional fuel to the creationists’ conspiracy theories about why they don’t get published.

    The editors of this journal are a double embarrassment to science.

    • Posted October 7, 2020 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      That is what I was thinking. If the paper were right and actually contributed to knowledge, the authors could wear tinfoil hats for all I care. But the paper is wrong, and should be retracted. The editors simply do not want to admit that they and the referees did sloppy work.

    • EdwardM
      Posted October 7, 2020 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      I noticed that too. Maybe they didn’t want to indict their own review process so they downplayed how horribly it failed.

    • TJR
      Posted October 8, 2020 at 7:10 am | Permalink


      It’s a horrible failure in refereeing, and as noted above I wonder if its due to the journal allowing the authors to suggest referees. I’ve always thought that was a terrible idea, that’s what associate editors are for.

      Mind you, referees can be incredibly annoying. This summer we had a referee who had obviously been taught statistics really badly and was explicitly telling us to do our analysis wrongly, so I had to work out a way to do the analysis correctly while still keeping him happy.

  15. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Since the publication of the paper it has now become evident that the authors are connected to a creationist group … We were unaware of this fact while the paper was being reviewed. Moreover, the keywords “intelligent design” were added by the authors after the review process during the proofing stage and we were unaware of this action by the authors …

    Sounds uncomfortably close to bearing false witness, you ask me.

    Though I reckon for a price, the devil’s advocate could argue that one either way.

    • Posted October 7, 2020 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

      Somebody, usually the reviewers, goes through a revised ms. The words “intelligent design” would have stuck out like a sore thumb!

  16. Posted October 7, 2020 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    I’m sure I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: If you put ID and evolution side by side, the one that more closely resembles creationism would be evolution.

    Why? Because nothing gets created by ID—i.e., by designing first and the executing the design. Any true act of creation is a microcosm of evolution. It grows from what appear to be random elements of the environment, and self-organizes into a distinctive event with its own shape, with feeling and relevance. It’s essentially a kind of improvisation: a leaderless ensemble cooperates, exchanging signals of give-and-take, stimulus and response, mutual respect and playfulness. No one is giving directions, yet elements find a way to come together in a clear and compelling pattern of action. Paying exquisite attention to each other, they find form and refine its development from the ground up.

    If we would only start thinking of God not as an “intelligent designer” but as an improviser, the conflict between creationism and evolution would self-destruct.

    • Posted October 7, 2020 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      I’m sorry, but you seem to have no understanding of intelligent design as its proponents lay it out, which does posit miraculous events in which the designer tweaks evolution. And who are you to decide what constitutes “a true act of creation”. Millions of Christians and Muslims would disagree with you.

      True evolution is naturalistic, ID and creationism are supernatural, involving the deliberate intervention of an intelligent designer. And yes, ID has somebody giving directions.

      You seem to have your own brand of creationism that differs from the rest of the world’s view of creationism. I’d rather address what ID advocates and creationists really think. Seriously, I’m running out of patience with your personal brand of religion here, which mandates a unique form of intelligent design.

      • Posted October 7, 2020 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

        “You seem to have your own brand of creationism that differs from the rest of the world’s view of creationism.”

        You give me too much credit; I’m not that original. My “brand of creationism” is pretty much that shared by poets, artists, musicians the world over. It’s the view of creationism expressed by Robert Frost in his essay “The Figure A Poem Makes” (link below) but it’s been expressed by many others over the centuries, perhaps by no one more succinctly than Shakespeare:

        The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
        Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
        And as imagination bodies forth
        The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
        Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
        A local habitation and a name.

        All I’m doing is suggesting that this age-old view of artistic creationism might have relevance to the larger creationism-evolution debate and therefore be worth investigating further.

        But yes, you’ve been very patient with my sometimes unorthodox views, and I appreciate it.


        • Posted October 7, 2020 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

          I suggest that the artistic view of creation has nothing to do with the larger creationism/evolution debate. In one case the poet is the creator, in the other, God. As I said, my patience is wearing thin. These comparisons are obfuscating. Enough on this, please.

    • EdwardM
      Posted October 7, 2020 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      Jerry may be getting tired of this but I don’t understand it at all. How in the world can you construe god’s intent when he (it?) improvises? If, as you say, differences would “self-destruct”, how would you tell god’s improvisation apart from the processes of evolution? More importantly, WHY would one do that? Why introduce something that is not needed and for which you cannot tell is there?

      • EdwardM
        Posted October 7, 2020 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

        Nevermind. I see by your response to Jerry that you are talking about some else entirely. I really should just go back to lurking. Better for everyone that way.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 7, 2020 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      It [evolution] grows from what appear to be random elements of the environment, and self-organizes into a distinctive event with its own shape, with feeling and relevance. It’s essentially a kind of improvisation: a leaderless ensemble cooperates, exchanging signals of give-and-take, stimulus and response, mutual respect and playfulness.

      Reminds me of the graffiti one would sometimes see, particularly on the subway walls and tenement halls of New York, in the late Sixties after the untimely early death of a great avant-garde jazz saxophonist and composer: “Coltrane is God.”

      Pretty sure the graffitists meant it metaphorically.

  17. Posted October 7, 2020 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    I left school about the time of Crick and Watson’s work, and yet, even to me, the ID and Fine Tuning arguments appear to be ‘howlers’… Ideas based upon false logic. The mystery, therefore, is why they keep trying to push discredited ideas. And there is a curious answer. It is called ‘Human Sub-Set Theory’ we are not individuals but we are tribal, and are members of Groups, and those many Groups are differentiated by their differing Brain Operating Systems (BOS) A BOS is the Group assumption about the nature of reality. For example that huge Group who believe that we live in an intentional universe are able to use logic to bring gods into existence. And so when members of the Intentional Universe Group try to think about the world, everything is predicated upon gods. They suffer a conviction that evolution simply cannot be possible without the input of their assumed gods. And that life is not possible without the help of gods. That prior conviction is a killer when it comes to intellectualising about life on earth. They already believe that they have all the answers, and that evolution unattended is not possible. So, they keep coming back to it time and again.
    Sometimes their howlers are apparent for all to see. Stephen Myers book had in the preface the claim that all communication is based upon intelligent intention, which is simply not true. We are all detectives upon this earth, and the evidence we uncover has not been put there by intelligent intention.
    I think we must move away from the ID crowd and those who bang on about Fine Tuning because their Brain Operating System has an unfortunate design flaw. Their gods are in their blood, and nothing, nothing will ever get them out of that pit of perpetual ignorance. Sorry to be rude about it.

  18. Barbara Radcliffe
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    I wonder why it is that the opinion of some rapper is supposed to be of some importance with regard to a scientific matter?

    • Posted October 7, 2020 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

      You know the answer to that: they can’t get support among reputable scientists, so they just find someone famous. Note that in the article they cite the number of social media followers Hammer has, as if that enhanced his scientific credibility!

  19. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    The time has passed the presumed ignorance on evolution of molecular machines. It is easy to tes evolutionary “finetuning” by blasting an alignment of constituent proteins and make a phylogenetic tree.

    Fun anecdote: As an exercise in treeing we were tasked with treeing three homologous transcription factors in eukaryotes [TF1]. If you just go by them, you get a star topology. But I noticed I could dig further since archaea ancestor has a homolog, and you can reconstruct the bacterial one by aligning end fragments across the modern bacterial genome and use it as outgroup. Eukaryotes evolves within archaea, QED.

  20. Steve Gerrard
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

    The first author is in Education, the second one in Mathematics. Of the three reviewers, one has published papers in Mathematics, the other two apparently have published nothing. No sign of a biologist anywhere.

    • Posted October 8, 2020 at 12:00 am | Permalink

      How could you know this information about the reviewers? Is it conjecture? Or do you have a source? Or personal access to that private information? That is a very serious disclosure with potential consequences for others. So I hope that you substantiate it quickly. If you can’t publicly justify your claim, I recommend you back off the claim immediately.

  21. Posted October 8, 2020 at 12:43 am | Permalink

    I didn’t know ID was a “Thing” at all until my early 30s, about 20 years ago. I couldn’t believe it was real and thought it was a joke of some kind.

    But then… when I was a teenager in the 80s in Australia I thought religion itself was a fading institution and that by the time I’d be 30 (2000) only a few crazed Middle Easterners, old black clad Greek widows and a few leftover monks would still be religious. I thought it’d be like polio or smallpox, pretty much eradicated for humans.

    50 year old David now gets in his wayback machine to 1985 to laugh and mock that stupid young lad: “Young David, I’ve got some bad news for you about the future…. And also you’ll go bald.”

    D.A., NYC

  22. TJR
    Posted October 8, 2020 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Just had a look, and there is indeed no “there” there.

    They show some simple probabilistic expressions, but don’t do anything with them, its all just references to other people saying that natural selection can’t have produced what we see.

    It’s pure “argument from personal incredulity”.

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