Thursday, April 06, 2006

There Is No Controversy, And We Are Debating It

Paul Nelson:

In tomorrow'’s issue of Science, researchers Jamie Bridgham, Sean Carroll and Joe Thornton of the University of Oregon claim to have shown how an irreducibly complex system might have arisen by a process they call "molecular exploitation." Their paper, "Evolution of Hormone-Receptor Complexity by Molecular Exploitation," Science 312 (7 Apr 2006):97-101 and an accompanying commentary by Chris Adami are sure to stir lively discussion. Mike Behe has already weighed in, arguing that Bridgham et. al. haven't even come close to answering the challenge of irreducible complexity. Tomorrow we'll provide a detailed scientific response to the paper as well.

For the moment, however, we want to point out something that should be obvious, but may escape notice at first glance. The publications by Bridgham et al. and Adami will appear in Science, the flagship journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The AAAS has taken a prominent public stance on the intelligent design controversy. And therein lies a mystery, of sorts.

What Scientific Controversy? Oh, That One…

Like nearly all national science organizations, the AAAS has repeatedly insisted that there is no scientific controversy about intelligent design. That must explain why Science this week will publish two scientific articles taking positions on the controversy. The one that doesn’t exist.

There is no scientific controversy about ID. But, just in case, here’s a new primary research publication claiming to test one of ID’s key concepts, irreducible complexity.

Skeptical observers might say that leading journals such as Science or Nature are happy to publish research articles addressing the intelligent design controversy, as long as those articles claim that ID is wrong. Skeptics might also note that the senior author on the Bridgham et al. paper, Joe Thornton, states on his University of Oregon webpage that one of his main research goals is “to illustrate how a complex, tightly integrated molecular system -- one which appears to be ‘irreducibly complex’ -- evolved by Darwinian processes hundreds of millions of years ago.” But of course we must remember that the concept of irreducible complexity has stimulated no research, which is why Professor Thornton is working hard to solve the problem.

Skeptics could feast on a rich buffet of such ironies. Or absurdities. The plain fact is that since the publication of Darwin’s Black Box (1996) and The Design Inference (1998), the problems, concepts, and arguments of intelligent design have steadily been making their way into the scientific (primary research) literature, brought there by scientists themselves as they respond to ID arguments. “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about,” quipped Oscar Wilde, “and that is not being talked about” -- and the central concepts of ID, such as irreducible complexity, are in no danger of not being talked about in science. The problems ID raises for theories of naturalistic evolution are genuine, and must be solved if undirected natural processes really did bring about biological complexity. Either those problems will be solved, or they will not. But the problems are not going away any time soon.

Thus, ID casts its shadow across the current scientific literature, very much like someone standing just outside a window, silhouetted by bright sunlight. Those who perceive themselves as safely within the house of science are carrying on a vigorous debate with the alarming figures they see as standing outside. There is no scientific controversy about design or Darwinian evolution, say the inhabitants of the house -- but skeptical onlookers can hear the noisy, through-the-window conversation all the same. Scientific papers are being published trying to refute arguments made by someone. But who?

Welcome to the scientific controversy that doesn’t exist. Pull up a chair, and take a look at this new paper. Just remember -- there’s no controversy here. Now, what do you think of Bridgham et al.’s counterargument to Behe?

We'll give you some thoughts tomorrow. In the meantime you might want to catch up on some reading around irreducible complexity. Here are a few things to whet your appetite...

See original article for embedded links.

3 comments:

Michael Poole said...

I would turn the question around: If the only research being done disproves core ID arguments, why claim there is any kind of scientific controversy? If the answer to "irreducible complexity can evolve through this mechanism" is "no it can't, it's irreducible!" (or, as now, a resounding silence), why claim there is any kind of scientific debate?

Paul Nelson apparently misunderstands what "scientific controversy" and "debate" mean. The Discovery Institute should at least be able to afford dictionaries.

That someone sometimes uses relevant jargon to critique a scientific theory does not mean they have a valid point or that the position as a whole is scientific. Does the fact that the timecube.com web page spouts scientific jargon mean it is creates a scientific controversy? Does the fact that the site owner was invited to a leading engineering university to present his views make it so? (He was invited to my undergraduate alma mater for comic relief.)

Nelson further misses the point because despite the frequent claims of Intelligent Design's "active research agenda", the research being held up as being inspired by ID is a line of research that demonstrates one of ID's core arguments to be wrong, and ID is not answering the science. (To be precise, the "answer" from Dembski so far is to redefine his terms and retreat from his earlier claims.) Scientists mock IDers not because the whole discussion leads to a lack of research, but because the whole mass-media-fueled discussion has not produced a single piece of research that supports ID or a sustainable research direction that could.

Matteo said...

Michael, the vast majority of research in molecular biology does, in fact, support ID, and not Darwinist accidentalism. The Darwinists do not "own" the data of basic science. Far from owning it, they have grossly misinterpreted it. It is not necessary for "extra" experiments and research to be carried out in order for ID to be supported.

You show little evidence of even understanding the irreducible complexity argument (as well as its rebuttals to criticism) in its strongest form. Not surprising, since you refuse to read the basic ID texts. Your loss. Again, I reccommend Swift's "Darwinism Under The Microsope", should you feel moved to address the full argument as made by IDists and not just their critics.

radar said...

I am one of those "whack" creationists and I watch the entire ID controversy with pleasure. Darwinists know that if they let ID in the door, they will eventually have to deal with the Designer and they are, because of world view, never going to accept that. Irreducible complexity is going to stand up to scrutiny, has so far, will continue to do so.

Man, I love this blog!!! I will link you tomorrow...