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John Rennie on EXPELLED for Scientific American

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I met John Rennie, the chief editor at Scientific American, back in 2002 at the American Museum of Natural History when Mike Behe and I debated Ken Miller and Rob Pennock. Following that debate, Rennie turned SCIAM increasingly against ID. With no more than a bachelor’s degree, Rennie expatiates on the nature of science and why ID doesn’t fit the bill. Here’s a clip from his recent review of Ben Stein’s EXPELLED (note that this passage is taken from the Google cache — he apparently has since modified the review at SCIAM):

It speaks to their anti-intellectualism and fundamental misunderstanding of science that for the makers of Expelled (and ID advocates more generally) the answer “we don’t know yet” is a badge of shame. “We don’t know yet” is what defines the fruitful frontier for science; it is what directs scientists’ curiosity and motivates them to spend years on research. Research starts where knowledge and certainty drop off. It’s one of the many ironies of Expelled that Ben Stein says he wants this movie to free people to ask questions about science, but the ID theories he defends would close off inquiry with nonanswers.

Rennie’s comment here illustrates the very intolerance for freedom of inquiry and expression that Ben Stein unmasks in his film. Rennie hardly offers a profound insight when he remarks that science attempts to push back the frontiers of ignorance. The larger point he misses is this: precisely where scientists are ignorant, they are in no position to legislate what form the answers to open scientific questions may take. And yet, legislate intelligent design out of existence is precisely what Rennie does.

In EXPELLED, Stein interviews atheistic scientist after atheistic scientist, and they all admit that they haven’t a clue how life arose. There is no materialistic theory of life’s origin, and anyone who suggests otherwise is bluffing. To assert that life arose by purely material forces is therefore an article of speculative faith. Stein is on the side of freedom of inquiry and expression in asking for intelligent design to have a place at the table. Materialistic approaches to life’s origin have failed. In Rennie’s words, they constitute “nonanswers.”

Given this abysmal track-record of “unintelligent evolution,” it is the height of arrogance for Rennie to exclude intelligent design from scientific discussion. In elucidating the problem of life’s origin, intelligent design promises to do far better than Rennie’s atheistic approach to science, and certainly can’t do worse.

Dreamwalker007 (25) You say, "Much more research is needed to discover the origin of life, and godidit just ends that." Hidden within that statement is the assumption that research, presumably naturalistic research, can in fact find the origin of life. Also, the assumption is made that the origin of life is naturalistic. As I understand the argument, science (whatever the definition of science is) has gradually solved mysteries that had previously been thought to be evidence of supernatural activity, and so it follows that science will solve the mystery of the origin of life, along with all other mysteries. There's a name for that belief; it's called scientism. Some simply consider it what all right-thinking people believe. Others are more skeptical of that belief. Here you are among skeptics. Asserting your belief without evidence will not likely influence many here. There are two problems with your claim that goddidit will end research on the origin of life. Like the claim that there are no theories of the origin of life, it is an overstatement. There will undoubtedly be some who continue researching in this area. One thing that may change is that more people may be willing to publish negative evidence. The second problem is that it is possible that there is no naturalistic answer to how life got started. You seem to be indicating that the origin of life is a similar problem to how choriocarcinoma can be cured; get enough research and we can find the answer (which we have). But the naturalistic origin of life may very well be a similar problem to how can we create a perpetual motion machine; it may be impossible because of the first and second laws of thermodynamics. In that case, the continued expenditures on such research are mostly a waste of time, and the money might be better spent elsewhere. The only defense you can have against such an idea is, "There must be an answer, and we must be able to find it, because naturalism is demonstrably right." But note that this would be your opinion, held in defiance of the evidence on the OOL by faith in your philosophical system. You have no right to take taxes, money from the rest of the citizenry at the point of a gun, to finance "scientific" research designed to prove your philosophical system if most of them disagree with that philosophy. And as for science-stoppers, is not the "junk DNA" controversy evidence that your philosophy can be a "science-stopper" also, and in a more provable way? Paul Giem
So ID-based researchers could try to verify that certain combinations of processes were astronomically unlikely? That's basically what materialist OOL research does now isn't it? They test the most likely hypotheses to determine which ones merit more investigation? If ID-based researchers owuld expand the field by testing less likely hyotheses, and proving their incorrectness, I don't think they would be doing anything different from what additional materialism based researchers were doing. Can you go any farther with your next suggestion; what types of processes would we expect to find in designed systems? As I said in 11, it's easy to think of materialistic hypotheses, and of at least basic ways to test them. Surely we can come up with some testable non-matrerialistic hypotheses with all the brainpower gathered here. congregate
congregate, Two things, There is nothing that the current OOL researchers are doing that would be out of bounds with ID. So at the very minimum ID would recommend as much as the current paradigm. Research that aimed to verify that certain combinations of processes were astronomically unlikely probably would not get much traction under the current paradigm When in fact they could stimulate naturalistic hypothesis to counter act them not just nebulous comments on talkorigins. So not only would it generate ID type hypotheses to be tested but it would probably stimulate naturalistic type hypotheses that are not under consideration. If such a system was in fact designed and implemented, what types of processes would we expect to find? This would generate a host of hypotheses and maybe help discover processes that are there but not yet recognized. I am certainly not an expert on OOL though I am aware of the problems with it. So someone who was allowed to pursue a design hypothesis in OOL might come up with all sorts of alternative view points which as I said would generate naturalistic hypotheses. But none are allowed now as access to research funds are tightly controlled and ID is banned from consideration. jerry
...godidit just ends [OOL research].
To borrow the words of Charles Babbage, "I am not able to rightly apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question." Of all the Darwinist misapprehensions of reality this one is the most puzzling to me. What disarrangement of thought could possibly produce this notion that a belief that an organism was designed by a vastly superior intelligence would in any way reduce one's curiosity and desire to learn more? It is the very opposite in fact. Many of the giants of science were inspired by the belief that the universe was the handiwork of a supreme Designer and they were motivated by the desire to think God's thoughts after Him. sagebrush gardener
jerry 27- What origins of life research would an ID scientist do that is being prevented by resistance? What testable hypotheses arise from the ID theory that are different from those that arise from a natural explanation? congregate
dreamwalker007, you said "Much more research is needed to discover the origin of life, and godidit just ends that." Yes, much more research is needed because right now no one has a clue. They rarely acknowledge the enormity of the problem or their total lack of progress. There are no theories but only speculations. A theory requires hypotheses that have been upheld and so far they are batting zero. No, it does not end research if one believe that God did it. Because there are always side issues as to how, why etc which will lead any scientist into the bowels of the process. So you observations are not accurate. You are repeating a cliché that is the staple of those who oppose ID. ID would actually expand the range of research that could be done if there were not so much resistance to it. All you point to are speculations. Read Hazen, Shapiro or others on the problem. They will list all the speculations but that is it, speculation. And these are believers in natural explanations for OOL. By the way I am not saying the research these people do is worthless, because often they uncover some very interesting things about chemistry, life or geology in the process. But on OOL they haven't even got to first base let alone a walk or a solid hit. They are striking out one after the other. jerry
OK dreamwalker007, let's insert the word "plausible". Does that make you happy? I think we may prefer to refer to your "theories" as "speculative hypotheses". And we might add "fraught with apparently insurmountable difficulties". Please don't call it a "lie" when you don't happen to like the choice of words. Jack Golightly
"There is no materialistic theory of life’s origin" I wasn't going to register for this site just out of principle, but I had to after seeing that statement. The problem of the origin of life isn't that there aren't any theories. It's that there are too many theories that we can't sort through them. You claim that there aren't any theories, but there are plenty here, here, and here. I'm not claiming that we're sure that any of these particular models is correct, but saying that there are no theories is simply a lie. Much more research is needed to discover the origin of life, and godidit just ends that. dreamwalker007
Correction to #23: I am thinking of a completely different John Rennie than the one who edits Scientific American (although their pictures look remarkably similar!) Thank God: I was worried that one of my college friends was turning out to be a Darwinist loon! Leo Hales
I was friends with John Rennie's brother as an undergraduate in Cambridge, so I met him once or twice. He is by no means stupid, as he had a stellar reputation as a mathematician back then, and published papers even as an undergraduate. However, the atheist ideology can easily distort even the cleverest person's thinking. Leo Hales
People forget that modern science grew up within the framework of theism. Newton was not exactly an atheist materialist, and Kepler dedicated his discoveries to the "greater glory of God". A belief that the universe was created by a Supremely Rational Mind is exactly the kind of thing that will support a belief in the rational order of the universe, and inspire the kind of confidence that will lead to scientific discoveries. Leo Hales
SCheesman: Agreed. Like Kurt Vonnegut's Bokonon in Cat's Cradle says: Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly Man got to sit and wonder why, why, why. Tiger got to eat, bird got to land Man got to tell himself he understand. Thing is, it seems so much more satisfying to ask within a framework of trusting the cosmos to be comprehensible than in one that you believe is essentially incomprehensible. Jack Golightly
So you really think that if god had not been thought of that no human would ever have thought, “Gee, it rained a lot last year, and we got a good crop. I wonder if pouring water on them will make these seeds grow better?”
No, of course not. I think we have an inborn need to "figure things out", regardless of our belief in a higher power. My point, really, was that belief in such a power has, at least in recent historical terms, been a favourable influence on these seeking after knowledge of the universe. I was responding to the extreme position that it had accomplished nothing; I really didn't mean to go the opposite extreme that it explains everything! SCheesman
andrew It appears they gave selected parties enough rope to hang themselves. Harvard, to its credit, didn't take the bait. If they let Rennie see the movie there's a good chance he'd do something stupid that would make the headlines or at the least get the movie some eyeball time in a different market segment. They're really driving hard into the science market now. Lots of commercials for it on the Discovery Science Channel. Obviously they want people interested in science to go see it as evidenced by this unexpected twelfth hour marketing blitz on popular science channels. DaveScot
Why did Mathis give SciAm a preview of the movie, knowing that they would give it as much negative publicity as possible? Was this part of a plan? Or, was it trying to be friendly and courteous towards Rennie? I don't understand how that would really achieve anything much. Sort of belongs in the same category as Chamberlain's visit to Munich, doesn't it - oops, I mentioned the Nazi's! andrew
I am watching in awe the chatter coming from the establishment over the Expelled Movie, against the backdrop of just finishing Berlinski's Devil's Delusion, where he (an agnostic) literally (and logically) punishes the Darwinian establishment for their treatment of ID...its a mind-bender to watch. In my backgorund (media/population research) we have a saying for those times when one's commitment to an idea outlast any reasonable usefulness..."when the horse is dead, get off" Upright BiPed
Without the confidence that the framework provided by the idea that a higher intelligence has embued the universe with order, predictability and design, few investigations into the nature of nature would even have been attempted. If the universe is a random accident, why should we expect it to be amenable to discovery in the first place?
So you really think that if god had not been thought of that no human would ever have thought, "Gee, it rained a lot last year, and we got a good crop. I wonder if pouring water on them will make these seeds grow better?" And if the person who thought that hadn't hear of gods, their next thought would have been "well no point in wondering, no reason to think what happened last year is in any way connected to what's happening this year." You really believe that? Personally I think some small portion of the people who have heard of god might say, "let's do an experiment, and see what God hath wrought." But most people who believe in God would probably plant their seeds and then say a prayer. The sense that the universe is understandable and predictable may be a prerequisite for scientific curiosity, but it would spur that curiosity without regard to whether there was some belief that a higher intelligence doing the imbuing. congregate
Todd Bekebile: "Intelligent Design has been the default assumption of life’s origin likely since the dawn of human thought. In all that time it has yet to make any discovery about nature." Amazing. Without the confidence that the framework provided by the idea that a higher intelligence has embued the universe with order, predictability and design, few investigations into the nature of nature would even have been attempted. If the universe is a random accident, why should we expect it to be amenable to discovery in the first place? The "abysmal track record" relates to origin-of-life studies. I actually think the track record of science on that subject is excellent -- it has shown beyond any reasonable doubt that life cannot occur by chance! SCheesman
Toad, You make us laugh, bye. Tim
SAY WHAT!!!!!! Todd? Jack Golightly
Intelligent Design has been the default assumption of life's origin likely since the dawn of human thought. In all that time it has yet to make any discovery about nature. How can you then say the following with a straight face:
Given this abysmal track-record of “unintelligent evolution,” it is the height of arrogance for Rennie to exclude intelligent design from scientific discussion.
If a few hundred years of scientific inquiry failing to find complete knowledge is an "abysmal track record" then what do you call a few thousand years of ID theories failing to find any knowledge whatsoever? Todd Berkebile
Those atheistic scientists interviewed in Expelled, who have no idea how life began, were they abiogenesis researchers? I haven't seen the movie yet, all I've heard about is Dawkins and Myers, neither of whom is an OOL expert. If a person has a materialist hypothesis about how life arose, they can do experiments, trying to recreate the atmospheric and environmental conditions and events at the time and place they think the origin of life occurred. If a person has a non-materialist hypothesis about how life arose, how do they test that hypothesis? congregate
Bill I read an interesting story that Rennie related on his defunct blog. He was attending some sort of high technology event (I forget which and where) where titans of industry such as Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and Craig Barret were there. Rennie approached Grove (then still Chairman of Intel) and broached the subject of creationist attacks on modern evolutionary thoery and how that was damaging to science and what could Grove and others with a vested interest in science do to help in stopping it. Grove told Rennie in no uncertain words that evolution is irrelevant in his business and that creationist attacks on it are nothing he needs to concern himself with. Rennie was humiliated. DaveScot
Dave Sad. Ever so sad. Anyway, somebody should do a post here on that N Geog article on Biomimetics! Here's a hoot of an excerpt:
Parker is a leading proponent of biomimetics—applying designs from nature to solve problems in engineering, materials science, medicine, and other fields. He has investigated iridescence in butterflies and beetles and antireflective coatings in moth eyes—studies that have led to brighter screens for cellular phones and an anticounterfeiting technique so secret he can't say which company is behind it. He is working with Procter & Gamble and Yves Saint Laurent to make cosmetics that mimic the natural sheen of diatoms, and with the British Ministry of Defense to emulate their water-repellent properties. He even draws inspiration from nature's past: On the eye of a 45-million-year-old fly trapped in amber he saw in a museum in Warsaw, Poland, he noticed microscopic corrugations that reduced light reflection. They are now being built into solar panels. Parker's work is only a small part of an increasingly vigorous, global biomimetics movement. . . . "Biomimetics brings in a whole different set of tools and ideas you wouldn't otherwise have," says materials scientist Michael Rubner of MIT, where biomimetics has entered the curriculum. "It's now built into our group culture." . . . . To Parker this [Natural History Museum, UK] was not a mere collection of specimens, but "a treasure-trove of brilliant design." Every species, even those that have gone extinct, is a success story, optimized by millions of years of natural selection. Why not learn from what evolution has wrought? . . . . For all nature's sophistication, many of its clever devices are made from simple materials like keratin, calcium carbonate, and silica, which nature manipulates into structures of fantastic complexity, strength, and toughness. The abalone, for example, makes its shell out of calcium carbonate, the same stuff as soft chalk. Yet by coaxing this material into walls of staggered, nanoscale bricks through a subtle play of proteins, it creates an armor as tough as Kevlar —3,000 times harder than chalk. Understanding the microscale and nanoscale structures responsible for a living material's exceptional properties is critical to re-creating it synthetically. So today Andrew Parker had arranged to view the skin of a thorny devil museum specimen under a scanning electron microscope, hoping to find the hidden structures that allow it to absorb and channel water so effectively . . . . the main reason biomimetics hasn't yet come of age is that from an engineering standpoint, nature is famously, fabulously, wantonly complex. Evolution doesn't "design" a fly's wing or a lizard's foot by working toward a final goal, as an engineer would—it blindly cobbles together myriad random experiments over thousands of generations, resulting in wonderfully inelegant organisms whose goal is to stay alive long enough to produce the next generation and launch the next round of random experiments. To make the abalone's shell so hard, 15 different proteins perform a carefully choreographed dance that several teams of top scientists have yet to comprehend. The power of spider silk lies not just in the cocktail of proteins that it is composed of, but in the mysteries of the creature's spinnerets, where 600 spinning nozzles weave seven different kinds of silk into highly resilient configurations. The multilayered character of much natural engineering makes it particularly difficult to penetrate and pluck apart. The gecko's feet work so well not just because of their billions of tiny nanohairs, but also because those hairs grow on larger hairs, which in turn grow on toe ridges that are part of bigger toe pads, and so on up to the centimeter scale, creating a seven-part hierarchy that maximizes the lizard's cling to all climbing surfaces. For the present, people cannot hope to reproduce such intricate nanopuzzles. Nature, however, assembles them effortlessly, molecule by molecule, following the recipe for complexity encoded in DNA. As engineer Mark Cutkosky says, "The price that we pay for complexity at small scales is vastly higher than the price nature pays."
See whart happens when you impose a blinding arbuitrary barroer to thought: inthe teeth of the easily worked out mahtematics of random searches across complex spaces, you blanket assertt hat nature = chance + necessity, great5ly exceeds what intelligent design can do -- "brilliant design." H'mm, do I sniff the latest gambit in the anti-ID wars here . . .? If that's what's at stake, let's hear Plato's Athenagoras, again, about 2400 years ago:
Ath. . . . we have . . . lighted on a strange doctrine. Cle. What doctrine do you mean? Ath. The wisest of all doctrines, in the opinion of many. Cle. I wish that you would speak plainer. Ath. The doctrine that all things do become, have become, and will become, some by nature, some by art, and some by chance. Cle. Is not that true? Ath. Well, philosophers are probably right; at any rate we may as well follow in their track, and examine what is the meaning of them and their disciples. Cle. By all means. Ath. They say that the greatest and fairest things are the work of nature and of chance, the lesser of art, which, receiving from nature the greater and primeval creations, moulds and fashions all those lesser works which are generally termed artificial . . . . . fire and water, and earth and air, all exist by nature and chance . . . The elements are severally moved by chance and some inherent force according to certain affinities among them . . . After this fashion and in this manner the whole heaven has been created, and all that is in the heaven, as well as animals and all plants, and all the seasons come from these elements, not by the action of mind, as they say, or of any God, or from art, but as I was saying, by nature and chance only . . . . Nearly all of them, my friends, seem to be ignorant of the nature and power of the soul [i.e. mind], especially in what relates to her origin: they do not know that she is among the first of things, and before all bodies, and is the chief author of their changes and transpositions. And if this is true, and if the soul is older than the body, must not the things which are of the soul's kindred be of necessity prior to those which appertain to the body? . . . . if the soul turn out to be the primeval element, and not fire or air, then in the truest sense and beyond other things the soul may be said to exist by nature; and this would be true if you proved that the soul is older than the body, but not otherwise. [Emphases added]
There is truly nothing new under the sun . . . GEM of TKI kairosfocus
KF I've been a subscriber to SciAm for decades. It started going downhill when Rennie became the editor-in-chief. DaveScot
PPS: I see LS is no longer with us, for cause. Sad. RF, please heed the object lesson. PPPS: N, there is a lot of ID research going on, some of it inadvertent [cf the Nat Geog Art just adverted to, some undercover, and some published. kairosfocus
"Does it? I was not aware of any active research programs looking at OOO from an ID perspective." Personally, I'm not so sure of that. The moment we, in a laboratory, are able to demonstrate how the likely 'first life' came into being, is the moment we'll be able to understand how a Designer could have orchestrated the event to come about, and through what processes. nullasalus
Leo: Mr Rennie is editor of Scientific American; not a private citizen or blog commenter. [And BTW, many of us commenting here have appropriate sci-med-tech qualifications at advanced level. That starts with a certain double doctorate whose name appears on the masthead.] Let's just say I am glad the local public library has more or less let its Sci Am subscript5ion -- which I initially recommended over 10 years ago -- lapse. Sci Am is not at all what it once was, nor is Nat Geog -- the April 2008 edn of which has an ID article that they cannot openly admit is an ID article: "Designs from Nature." Think about the implications of his pontifications and expulsions, then, in light of what DR Sarfati has exposed. Of course it is better to discuss issues on the merits. That is what we have asked for; only to be so often slandered, career busted and expelled. Doesn't that stir your conscience? GEM of TKI PS: Care to take on the always linked, as an easily acessible example of a summary of the ID issues by just one person out there? Just give a summary list of how the issues, observations, citations, and remarks therein have been long since refuted. Then, we can take it form there on how: [1] functional, complex information and related organised complexity are empirically reliable signs of intelligent action. [2] DNA and other bio-polymers manifest such FSCI and function as components of the complex organised system known as the living cell; reflecting that hey are best understood as designed. [3] Similarly, starting from the Cambrian revolution on, we see that the huge increments in FSCI to get to body plan level bio-diversity as seen in the biosphere and fossil record,are best explained as due to design. [4] The multidimensional, convergently fine-tuned organised complexity of the physics of the cosmos to get to a life facilitating observed cosmos, again points to design. --> Thus, design is so massively evident in the world that it is only by [a] question-begging evo mat agenda serving, censorship-based attempted re-definition of science enforced through [b] the sort of antics Expelled will document, that the evo mat paradigm is able to cling to power in science and education institutions. FOR SHAME! kairosfocus
John Rennie, LOL! I splattered this leftist and antitheistic bigot ages ago when he attacked creation and ID — 15 ways to refute materialistic bigotry: A point by point response to Scientific American: As for this latest nonsense: "Stein does know that the Stalinists rejected the theory of evolution as a biological rendition of capitalism, doesn't he? And that they replaced it with their own ideologically driven, disastrous theory of Lysenkoism?" No, Stalin didn't reject evolution, but the Darwinian version in favour of the Lamarckian version of Lysenko. Just one more example of why the government should not be in the business of deciding what science is "good". "[Theistic evolutionists like] Rev. Michael Dowd, author of Thank God for Evolution, who find a comfortable middle ground for their beliefs and their science." Rennie doesn't admit that one of his theistic evolutionary useful idiots has beliefs far removed from anything resembling Christianity: ‘Of necessity, this evolutionary effort will also mean that some of the teachings [of Christianity/the Bible] will be translated almost beyond recognition, just as our skin is so unlike that of our scaly reptilian ancestors. Then, too, some passages will have so little utility that they will disappear, just as the primate tail was lost within our lineage of apes.’ ‘Given what we now know about deep-time creativity and grace, we can no longer in good conscience continue interpreting the story of Jesus’ birth, life, teachings, passion, death, and resurrection as primarily having to do with saving a select group of human beings from the fires of a literal hell when they die.’ See CMI's interview with the producer of Expelled. Jonathan Sarfati
it is the height of arrogance for Rennie to exclude intelligent design from scientific discussion
To my knowledge Rennie is not the "king of science" and does not control what goes on in general. Why can he just not be ignored? Scientific Americian in any case is not a primary journal and so what does it matter if they "ban" ID from their pages.
In elucidating the problem of life’s origin, intelligent design promises to do far better than Rennie’s atheistic approach to science
Does it? I was not aware of any active research programs looking at OOO from an ID perspective. Dr Dembski. Could you provide links or is the research "secret" due to pressure from the darwinioids? a) "promises"? How long till the results are in? This year, this decade? You can only say things like "intelligent design promises to do far better than Rennie’s atheistic approach to science" so many times before the boy cries wolf! b) Is there more to it then simply "an intelligent designer" was required currently? If not can you really blame Rennie for his position? RichardFry
"the answer “we don’t know yet” is a badge of shame. “We don’t know yet” is what defines the fruitful frontier for science" I always find this sort of claim interesting. Mike Behe and others are essentially agreeing, "We don't know how this works yet, but wow, it sure looks interesting and it sure looks like the fingerprints of an agent!". That isn't saying the unknown is a badge of shame. The guy is an idiot, and I am ashamed to share the same last name. Jason Rennie
I wonder, did the interview Anthony Flew for Expelled? Jehu

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