Last year, a workshop was hosted by the International Society of Protistologists at their North American Section Meeting. The workshop was given the title "Horizontal Gene Transfer and Phylogenetic Evolution Debunk Intelligent Design". Some of the presentations have recently been published, and one of these is the focus of attention here. One does not get beyond the first paragraph before finding that the authors regard Neodarwinism as robust and that all challengers have abandoned science:
"Despite the overwhelming body of evidence that supports the basic tenets of evolution (i.e. common descent of organisms with different forms being the result of natural selection acting upon naturally occurring variation), there is a large proportion of the American population that does not accept the validity of what is perhaps the most rigorously tested scientific hypothesis in history."
The "six" kingdom taxonomic scheme (Image from Purves et al., source here)
The second paragraph points the finger at Dr Michael Behe and his influential books Darwin's Black Box and The Edge of Evolution. Although the paper covers much ground, it is one of Behe's arguments that engage their attention.
"In his book "The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism" Behe (2007) draws heavily upon the example of drug resistance in the malarial parasite Plasmodium falciparum as one biochemical pathway that is supposedly too complex to have arisen through natural evolutionary processes. According to Behe (2007), the odds that mutations required to impart chloroquine resistance in Plasmodium could arise naturally are so impossibly long that they lie beyond what he considers "The Edge of Evolution".
Anyone who has read Behe's book and understands his analysis would be alerted at this point to a wearying straw man argument. If you are going to critique someone, you ought to, at least, be able to paraphrase their arguments correctly. One wonders why the workshop participants did not put the authors right. In addition, one wonders why the referees did not point out the need for correction. But further, one wonders why the journal editor did not invite peer review from an ID microbiologist. Certainly, the peer review system failed on this occasion. Happily, the internet does allow misinformation to be corrected, and Behe has posted comments which show that the authors, instead of "dispelling the myths of Intelligent Design" are actually promoting myths about Intelligent Design. Here are Behe's concluding words:
"To recap, several years after The Edge of Evolution was published a scientific society held a workshop to demonstrate the book's errors. Yet they couldn't even get the book's argument straight, and the experimental work they cited against my argument is not even pertinent to it. Apparently the design argument drives some scientists so much to distraction that they lose their normally robust powers of reasoning."
Clearly, there is more to be said about the underlying issues. In the abstract of the paper, ID advocates are said to have the goal of "challenging the philosophy of scientific materialism". This is a good place to start an analysis of the issues: because scientific materialism needs to be challenged. Science has no basis for concluding that matter is all there is and that all causation is natural. Those who claim this are importing an ideology that was absent in the early days of science (when the pioneers were theistic scientists, who were quite comfortable with the thought that the natural world is designed). People with different ideologies look at the same data in different ways, and protagonists who do not recognise this are spreading more heat than light. My fear is that instead of discarding this paper as based on false premises, blind crusaders for philosophical materialism will hail it as "excellent article" and will add it to their list of peer reviewed publications showing that the ID approach is bankrupt.
Using Protistan Examples to Dispel the Myths of Intelligent Design
Mark A. Farmer and Andrea Habura
Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology, 57(1), 2010, 3-10 | doi 10.1111/j.1550-7408.2009.00460.x
ABSTRACT: In recent years the teaching of the religiously based philosophy of intelligent design (ID) has been proposed as an alternative to modern evolutionary theory. Advocates of ID are largely motivated by their opposition to naturalistic explanations of biological diversity, in accordance with their goal of challenging the philosophy of scientific materialism. Intelligent design has been embraced by a wide variety of creationists who promote highly questionable claims that purport to show the inadequacy of evolutionary theory, which they consider to be a threat to a theistic worldview. We find that examples from protistan biology are well suited for providing evidence of many key evolutionary concepts, and have often been misrepresented or roundly ignored by ID advocates. These include examples of adaptations and radiations that are said to be statistically impossible, as well as examples of speciation both in the laboratory and as documented in the fossil record. Because many biologists may not be familiar with the richness of the protist evolution dataset or with ID-based criticisms of evolution, we provide examples of current ID arguments and specific protistan counter-examples.
Misusing Protistan Examples to Propagate Myths about Intelligent Design
Michael J. Behe
Uncommon Descent, 15 February 2010
Introductory sentences: The Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology recently published several papers from a workshop sponsored by the International Society of Protistologists entitled "Horizontal Gene Transfer and Phylogenetic Evolution Debunk Intelligent Design." So here we have a respected scientific society, presumably planning a workshop months in advance, and finally laying out their considered case for why intelligent design fails. As you might imagine, I was most anxious to read about it. Unfortunately, rather than scholarly papers, the manuscripts read like press releases from the National Center for (Darwinian) Science Education.
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