Darwinism

Robert Camp’s Interesting Cartoon

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Question: What is a sure sign that a scientific methodology has a big problem?

Answer: It’s proponents start making cartoons which are intended to ridicule an opposing view but end up having the opposite effect.

A few days ago, this cartoon showed up on Skeptic magazine writer Robert Camp’s blog, nightlight. This is apparently his first attempt at drawing one.

Camp's cartoon

It’s obviously intended to poke fun at what ID opponents claim to be ID’s lack of scientific rigor, but I think it does a fine job of illustrating the lengths to which methodological naturalists will go to avoid the common sense simplicity of ID claims. If I were to redraw this cartoon, there’s really not very much I would change.

One particular feature of the cartoon that strikes me as odd is that the IDist is trying to name the duck. Of course, those familiar with ID know that its opponents are fond of saying that IDists avoid naming the designer as the Judeo-Christian God out of disingenuousness, so accordingly, if an IDist were given only the information that the subject of study “walks like a duck” and “quacks like a duck”, he would avoid giving the proper name of the duck only because he has something to hide. 😛

Nice try, Rob. Better luck next time.

13 Replies to “Robert Camp’s Interesting Cartoon

  1. 1
    Zero says:

    The headlines read:

    Mighty Duck Wins Again

    The reporters were interviewing Superman when one asked him,
    “Superman, lately it seems, every time you fly faster than a speeding bullet to a scene to avert a catastrophe, Mighty Duck beats you there. Doesn’t that bother you?”
    He replied, “No, not really, but I sure would like to know what the duck is goin’ on.”

  2. 2
    John H says:

    It’s a pretty lame cartoon, but I don’t see how it does “a fine job of illustrating the lengths to which methodological naturalists will go to avoid the common sense simplicity of ID claims”.

    Frankly I’m a little worried to see ID proponents falling back on “common sense simplicity”. “Common sense simplicity” as a measure of scientific correctness has taken something of a battering over the past century, eg with quantum physics and the theories of relativity. “Common sense simplicity” says something can’t be *both* a particle and a wave. “Common sense simplicity” says that going faster than light is merely another technological challenge, like beating the sound barrier, rather than a physical impossibility.

    It may sometimes be hard for us to get our heads round how Darwinian evolution could operate over untold millions of years, but even then the evolutionary account (whether or not that account) poses less of a threat to “common sense simplicity” than does an almost completely uncontroverted theory such as quantum physics.

    If ID is now a case of backing the “common sense simplicity” of the “regular Joe”, against the over-complexificated mathematical scribblings of a snooty scientific elite, then this seems to represent something of a retreat from ID’s earlier claims and intentions.

    It’s not “untold millions of years”. The number is told and it’s roughly 3500 million but nothing really interesting happened until about 500mya. Your analogy is false. There’s nothing remotely related to the general theory of relativity in the irreducible complexity of the DNA/ribosome protein factory. It’s just a machine that obeys known laws of physics. It’s a very complicated machine running under digital program control with nanoscale precision currently unmatched by human engineering but it’s still a machine with perfectly understandable workings. The thing beyond understanding is that a nanometer scale protein factory under digital program control was somehow able to self-assemble in the finite time between the earth’s formation and the first appearance of life as we know it. Such an incredible feat of self-assembly without guidance of any kind should, in any objective rational analysis, be in grave doubt until such an extraordinary claim beyond human experience and unlike anything else that self-assembles in nature can be explained. To ask that such self-assembly be taken as a matter of faith without demonstration of how it happened is ludicrous. All machines where the origin can be determined came to exist through intelligent agency. The machinery of life should be presumed to also require intelligent agency until proven otherwise. No machines has ever been observed to self-assemble without the involvement of intelligent agency. -ds

  3. 3
    John H says:

    DS – OK, let’s set poetry aside and say that the years are “told” and not literally “untold”.

    Anyway, I wasn’t saying that relativity or quantum physics were *directly* analogous to the origins and development of biological systems. I was just using those as examples of where scientific theories are accepted as firmly established, even though their conclusions appear to fly in the face of “common sense simplicity”. Quantum physics is in fact probably quite a good analogy – no-one really seems able to visualise what is “actually happening” on a quantum level, any more than we can visualise what “actually happened” in the dim distant reaches of what one might call “pre-palaeontological time”.

    But (in the case of quantum physics) an abundance of evidence confirms the theory and drives us to conclude that the theory is correct, notwithstanding its seemingly incredible statements about the quantum world. IANAEB (I am not an evolutionary biologist), but when evolutionary biologists tell me that the evidence for common descent with modifications is similarly overwhelming, despite the difficulty of visualising “evolution in action” over told millions of years, then that strikes me as a reasonable position to hold.

    I still don’t see that anything you have said there represents a positive argument in favour of ID, rather than an argument from personal incredulity (“an extraordinary claim beyond human experience … to ask that such self-assembly be taken as a matter of faith is ludicrous”) coupled with an “argument from analogy”. In particular, I don’t see why “The machinery of life should be presumed to also require intelligent agency until proven otherwise”. Your argument seems to depend on calling it “machinery” and then saying that “machines don’t self-assemble without intelligent direction”. Well, yeah, but it could just be that that shows there’s a flaw in the “machinery” analogy itself. Machines don’t reproduce without intelligent direction, either, which is a pretty significant difference.

    Tell me why we should presume that digital program controlled factories capable of self-repair and self-replication should be presumed to have magically assembled themselves when there is nothing at all in the universe or in human experience that demonstrates to us that machinery like this is able to self-assemble? One should presume the thing that makes the most sense until proven otherwise. Let’s take your quantum mechanical and relativity theory arguments and expose what really happened. We presumed that Newtonian physics was all there was until proven otherwise. Why? Because Newtonian physics made perfect sense and agreed with all our observations. Similarly we should presume that complex machines do not mysteriously self-assemble without intellgent design because it makes perfect sense that machines require intelligent design and it fits with all our observations – this should be the default presumption until proven otherwise. -ds

  4. 4
    bFast says:

    What I like best, what I think is the most accurate, about this cartoon is that the data on the left, while it looks intellectual, is unintelligable nonsense.

  5. 5
    Kibitz says:

    Newton’s theories “made sense”, and they were wrong. However, Newton’s theories also fell into the realm of science, and were later improved upon by Eintstein’s better science. So it goes. ID takes no part in any of this, as it is not science at all.

    I still don’t see a positive argument in favour of ID. As has already been pointed out, it is yet again an argument from personal incredulity, coupled with a (bad) argument from analogy. When you cut to the heart of it, this is pretty much the whole of ID summarized. Although sometimes there’s the usual hilarious line thrown in about dogmatic scientists desperately trying to protect their atheistic worldview.

    I find the a priori dismissal of intelligence in the universe other than humanity to be the larger argument from personal incredulity. The universe is a big place and it was here a long time before the earth formed. Intelligent agency capable of genetic engineering is a proven quantity. These all make reasonable the assumption that life found on earth could have been designed. Conversely, there isn’t a scrap of evidence that life self-assembled from inanimate matter. I go with what makes the most sense and fits the observations and until demonstrated otherwise what makes the most sense is that life on earth was designed. -ds

  6. 6
    russ says:

    “What I like best, what I think is the most accurate, about this cartoon is that the data on the left, while it looks intellectual, is unintelligable nonsense.

    Comment by bFast — May 15, 2006 @ 11:22 am”

    LOL!!!

  7. 7
    russ says:

    I understand John’s objection to “arguments from personal incredulity”. But does common sense and universal human experience play no part in scientific reasoning? It seems to me that scientists with an agenda (methodological naturalism, atheism, careerism, etc.) can pull off any kind of flim flam they wish by simply leveling the charge of “arguments from personal incredulity” at anyone who objects.

  8. 8
    John H says:

    DS: All you seem to be offering here is a “God of the gaps” argument – “we don’t know how this could have happened,

    The rest of this comment was deleted. I didn’t mention God. Next time you put words in my mouth will be your last words here. Got that? -ds

  9. 9
    John H says:

    Russ: I suppose I’m just less pessimistic about the motivations of the majority of scientists than you are. I don’t think the overwhelming scientific consensus on evolution can be written off as the outworkings of an extra-scientific “agenda” such as you describe.

  10. 10
    John H says:

    DS: I did not mean to put words into your mouth, and I am sorry if I mischaracterised your position. (Equally, I fail to see why my comment should prompt such an aggressive and threatening response, but I will put that down to the large numbers of aggressive commenters and trolls which this site must attract – please accept that I am not posting in that spirit at all.)

    To restate in what I hope will be more acceptable terms: my concern about ID (coming as someone who has been sympathetic to ID and enjoyed reading Michael Behe’s book) is that (i) the lack of positive arguments advanced in its favour, other than arguments that say “This is too complex to have arisen naturally…” (a conclusion that is arrived at how?) “…therefore we infer design”, and (ii) the fact that, taken seriously, such an argument undercuts any further attempt at scientific investigation of the phenomenon in question: after all, if the design inference demonstrates it to be intelligently designed, why waste further scarce scientific resources investigating it?

    I am also concerned with how ID functions on an apologetic level (even if Christian apologetics is not its professed objective), in encouraging Christians to think that the justification for believing in God’s creation of the universe and of life itself is to be found in those aspects of God’s creation that are not (yet) described scientifically.

    I think it’s your turn to begin defending how the belief that the machinery of life could arise without intelligent agency is so strong that it warrants excluding any mention of intelligent agency being involved. I’ve already pointed out that:

    1) intelligent agency capable of genetic engineering is a proven quantity in the universe
    2) no machine has ever been observed assembling itself from a pile of raw materials
    3) in all cases where a machine’s origin can be determined it came about through intelligent design


    These argue for at least keeping the option alive that life on earth was designed especially in the total absence of evidence to the contrary. There simply is no justifiable reason for excluding intelligent design until there’s at least some strong inferential evidence to the contrary. Instead, the belief that life on earth was not designed is driven purely by a philosophical position that excludes the possibility of design no matter how much it makes sense and how little evidence to the contrary exists.

  11. 11
    crandaddy says:

    John,

    Dave has done a good job of answering your objections so far, but I think I’ll offer my responses, as well.

    In comment #2, you said this:

    Frankly I’m a little worried to see ID proponents falling back on “common sense simplicity”. “Common sense simplicity” as a measure of scientific correctness has taken something of a battering over the past century, eg with quantum physics and the theories of relativity. “Common sense simplicity” says something can’t be *both* a particle and a wave. “Common sense simplicity” says that going faster than light is merely another technological challenge, like beating the sound barrier, rather than a physical impossibility.

    Frankly, I’m a little perplexed by your objection here. Are you saying that scientists should make a rule of always rejecting common sense conclusions? Are you trying to tell me that if all evidence points to a common conclusion that we should insist that this conclusion is wrong because it is so obvious? If I see a creature that looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and is waddling up to me in a manner that a duck would, should I say, “This is not a duck. There must be some other explanation for what my senses are telling me.”? Can you not see how nonsensical this is? 🙂

    In comment #3, you said this:

    IANAEB (I am not an evolutionary biologist), but when evolutionary biologists tell me that the evidence for common descent with modifications is similarly overwhelming, despite the difficulty of visualising “evolution in action” over told millions of years, then that strikes me as a reasonable position to hold.

    Your appeal to authority logical fallacy notwithstanding, most of us here would agree with you. ID does not challenge common descent with modification.

    More from comment #3:

    I still don’t see that anything you have said there represents a positive argument in favour of ID, rather than an argument from personal incredulity (”an extraordinary claim beyond human experience … to ask that such self-assembly be taken as a matter of faith is ludicrous”) coupled with an “argument from analogy”. In particular, I don’t see why “The machinery of life should be presumed to also require intelligent agency until proven otherwise”. Your argument seems to depend on calling it “machinery” and then saying that “machines don’t self-assemble without intelligent direction”. Well, yeah, but it could just be that that shows there’s a flaw in the “machinery” analogy itself. Machines don’t reproduce without intelligent direction, either, which is a pretty significant difference.

    Is it not a property of all machines that they accomplish tasks which would otherwise be highly improbable? Why don’t we have machines that help objects fall to the ground or help sodium react with water, for example? I consider machines to be physical representations of purpose. Would you disagree? Purposive agents are innovators and problem-solvers. What we see in biology and elsewhere in nature is the appearance of innovation and problem-solving. Within living organisms, we see the complex interaction and interdependence of parts working together for the apparent purposes of sustaining and reproducing themselves. So we do, in fact, have entities which appear to be purpose-driven. The burden is on the materialist to show how we can get such appearance of purpose without there actually being any purposive agency involved in their creation.

    In comment #10, you said this:

    To restate in what I hope will be more acceptable terms: my concern about ID (coming as someone who has been sympathetic to ID and enjoyed reading Michael Behe’s book) is that (i) the lack of positive arguments advanced in its favour, other than arguments that say “This is too complex to have arisen naturally…” (a conclusion that is arrived at how?) “…therefore we infer design”, and (ii) the fact that, taken seriously, such an argument undercuts any further attempt at scientific investigation of the phenomenon in question: after all, if the design inference demonstrates it to be intelligently designed, why waste further scarce scientific resources investigating it?

    To address concern (i), ID is not an argument from ignorance. It involves the comparison and contrast of a phenomenon with the products of identified intelligent agency and with understood natural regularity. IDists investigate the appearance of purpose in nature and try to determine whether or not purposeless natural mechanisms are explanatorily adequate. To address concern (ii), It could be the case that a design inference is wrong or that new information will surface which is adequate to explain the phenomenon in question in terms of unintelligent mechanisms. A design inference does not mean we should just stop our investigation.

    More from comment #10:

    I am also concerned with how ID functions on an apologetic level (even if Christian apologetics is not its professed objective), in encouraging Christians to think that the justification for believing in God’s creation of the universe and of life itself is to be found in those aspects of God’s creation that are not (yet) described scientifically.

    As a Christian theist, myself, I view ID as merely supplementary to my faith. I don’t think it should be viewed as “the” justification for believing in God’s creation. Something that I find especially interesting is that you mention at the end of your sentence “aspects of God’s creation that are not (yet) described scientifically”. This carries the presumption that all phenomena in nature can be properly understood in terms of unintelligent mechanisms. But this is necessarily an article of faith; no amount of empirical observation could ever serve as a justification for such a position. Phenomena which appear designed may or may not actually be designed. It follows that they may or may not have an adequate materialistic explanation. I don’t see why we should insist that there is a gap in our understanding just because design offers the better explanation.

  12. 12
    curtrozeboom says:

    DaveScot said:
    “I think it’s your turn to begin defending how the belief that the machinery of life could arise without intelligent agency is so strong that it warrants excluding any mention of intelligent agency being involved.”

    Methodological naturalism does not rule out or exclude intelligent agency, but does require that evidence of such an agency be provided before it can be included. We have reason to believe that the natural processes present today were present in the past. In order to “rule in” a past intelligent agency, we would need to be able to make a similar assumption about a modern demonstrable intelligent agent. The fact that humans are capable of modern intelligent design does not lend itself to a past inference.

    It is not necessary to “believe” that life accidentally assembled itself. It is enough to merely accept that as the best explanation available for the given evidence.

    DaveScot said:
    “These argue for at least keeping the option alive that life on earth was designed especially in the total absence of evidence to the contrary.”

    Absolutely. It’s still an “option”. Just not as well supported of one.

    John H said:
    “(ii) the fact that, taken seriously, such an argument undercuts any further attempt at scientific investigation of the phenomenon in question: after all, if the design inference demonstrates it to be intelligently designed, why waste further scarce scientific resources investigating it?”

    Actually, I disagree with this argument as well. There is no reason that ID should make us just “give up” out of disinterest, but rather it requires that we find some other methodological reason to narrow our research options. It’s one thing to say that you were interested in a particular phenomenon because you thought it had to have a purpose for existing, but that doesn’t suggest a way to investigate it. For that you still need good ole MN.

    *sigh*

    There are NO natural processes today that cause inanimate raw materials to self-assemble into machines running under digital program control. There are two classes of machines of this type we can observe. One we know is created by intelligent agency (humans) and the other (DNA/ribosome) origin is unknown. Thus there is only one PROVEN process that can create these kind of machines and that is intelligent agency. Yet the only process that’s proven capable of creating these kind of machines cannot be mentioned as a possibility and a totally unproven, completely speculative method with no empirical evidence of any kind to support it is granted exclusivity as an explanation. What’s wrong with that picture? -ds

  13. 13
    Cato the Elder says:

    I am presently listening to a series of lectures by Steven Goldman, a professor at Lehigh University, on the history of science in the 20th century. He observed that science has taken on the features of an esoteric cult and that scientists are a new preisthood (an interesting description from a secular professor). The key barrier that keeps the unintiated out is mastery of higher mathematics. Goldman lamented this development, as it made science less open and demoncratic (his word). Anyway, the cartoon reminded me of Goldman’s observations. Of course, Dr. Dembski has written a little bit on math. 🙂

    BTW, Darwin’s Origin of Species has very little math in it. As Edward Larson, another historian of evolution noted, Darwin was never mathematically inclined.

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