I’m Glad I’m not an Educational Psychologist

Mark Hartwig, an educational psychologist has written an op-ed on intelligent design in the York Daily Record. It’s pretty bad.

“Intelligent design.” To hear some folks talk, you’d think it’s a scam to sneak Genesis into science classrooms. Yet intelligent design has nothing to do with the six days of creation and everything to do with hard evidence and logic.

For example, consider the cell. Even the simplest cells bristle with
high-tech machinery. On the outside, their surfaces are studded with sensors, gates, pumps and identification markers. Some bacteria even sport rotary outboard motors that they use to navigate their environment.

Inside, cells are jam-packed with power plants, assembly lines, recycling units and more. Miniature monorails whisk materials from one part of the cell to another.

Some people actually need to look at a cell through a microscope. Below is a diagram for a prokayotic cell. Notice their are no high tech machines, no power plants, no assembly lines or monorails. Not even an outboard motor. Granted this is a metaphor but it’s a really bad one. Although I am curious, are those power plants “nucular” and are the republicans going to want to privitize our cells now?

Posted by Hello

Below is an eucaryotic cell. Note there are still no power plants, high tech gadgets or monorails (although one is reminded of the song from the Simpsons). I think somebody needs to go here and learn a few things about the cell .

Posted by Hello

See if you can identify the parts in the above picture. The picture below contains the answers – so don’t look.

ID theorists contend that living organisms like the cell appear designed because they are designed. And they’ve developed rigorous new concepts to test their idea.
In contrast to what is called creation science, which parallels biblical theology, ID rests on two basic assumptions: namely, that intelligent agents exist and that their effects are empirically detectable.

I’m sorry but that doesn’t sound rigorous to me. Compare that with this study discussed by PZ Myers. Note the rigourus research design. First the researchers experimented to determine the type of gene acting to produce spots on the wing of D. biarmipes then they experimented to determine the location of the gene. The experiments were elegant (in the scientific sense of the term) and produced interesting results. Compare with the rigor displayed by ID:

Its chief tool is specified complexity. That’s a mouthful, and the math behind it is forbidding, but the basic idea is simple: An object displays specified complexity when it has lots of parts arranged in a recognizable pattern.

Posted by Hello

The effectiveness of such thinking is confirmed by massive experience . As William Dembski, author of “The Design Inference,” points out, “In every instance where we find specified complexity, and where (its) history is known, it turns out that design actually is present.”

Yes but in all those cases it has been because humans made the design, so the logical conclusion is that humans are the intelligent designer the ID crowd is looking for.

To see how this applies to biology, consider the little outboard motor that bacteria such as E. coli use to navigate their environment. This water-cooled contraption, called a flagellum, comes equipped with a reversible engine, drive shaft, U-joint and a long whip-like propeller. It hums along at a cool 17,000 rpm. And flagellum is integrated into a sensory/guidance system that maneuvers the bacterium toward nutrients and away from noxious chemicals — a system so complex that computer simulation is required to understand it in its entirety. That system is meshed with other systems.

Which brings us back to the flagella. I have a sailboat. I used to have an outboard motor. It looked nothing like the flagella on the organisms pictured below. I should also point out that it worked in a completely different fashion from the flagella pictured below. Anybody who has ever seen movies of flagella in operation can tell this is complete nonsense.

Flagella Posted by Hello

In fact, if you want to run the numbers, as Dembski does in his book “No Free Lunch,” it boils down to the following: If every elementary particle in the observed universe were cranking out mutation events at the cosmic speed limit for a billion times the estimated age of the universe, they still could not produce the genes for a working flagellum.

For somebody who’s specialty is statistics and research design this is just pitiful. Probability is meaningless without a model. In other words I could calculate probabilities all day long but they mean nothing unless they are based on a realistic model – in this case a model of evolution.

Of course, what’s important here is not what we conclude about the flagellum or the cell, but how we study it. Calling design theorists religious is just a cheap way to dodge the issues.

And calling them scientists is more then they deserve. All in all, if you strip the op-ed of it’s overblown rhetoric (“…everything to do with hard evidence and logic…”, “The effectiveness of such thinking is confirmed by massive experience…”,”…the math behind it is forbidding…”) and what you have is a couple of bad metaphors repeated add nauseum. Rotary motors, power plants, monorails…does anybody really believe this junk? More importantly, do the ID crowd really think the rest of us are that stupid?

ADDED LATER: To follow up on a comment from an anonymous commenter go here , here , here or here – should probably go here first. Fascinating stuff. Heavy going though.

ADDED LATER: Abnormal Interests has an interesting discussion of the same op-ed.

3 Responses

  1. OH, yeah. I forgot all the parts of a cell. That is some indepth stuff you posted. Great information. Thank you.

  2. OH, yeah. I forgot all the parts of a cell. That is some indepth stuff you posted. Great information. Thank you.

  3. Life at Low Reynolds Number

    It helps to imagine under what conditions a man would be swimming at, say, the same Reynolds number as his own sperm. Well you put him in a swimming pool that is full of molasses, and the you forbid him to move any part of his body faster than 1 cm/min. Now imagine yourself in that condition; you’re under the swimming pool in molasses, and now you can only move like the hands of a clock. If under those ground rules you are able to move a few meters in a couple of weeks, you may qualify as a low Reynolds number swimmer.

    — in other words a regime in which analogies between a flagellum and an outboard motor aren’t physically meaningful.

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