Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Why Intelligent Design gets scientists mad.

This past semester, I joined, as part of the honors chemistry class I was taking, a research lab on campus. I became part of a group trying to understand the workings of a protein called Integration Host Factor, which is found in many bacteria.

The work in the lab was an ordeal. I had gotten the basics of lab work from the previous semester's chem class plus the first few weeks of that semester, but it was still a steep learning curve. I think I got 1/3 of my data in the last week. The main thing I did was run electrophoresis gels. What was the purpose of that, you ask? The gels would show how the protein existed in solution under various conditions: monomers (units of one), dimers (two), tetramers (four), or something else. With that data the lab would then use a machine called a CD to figure out how the protein gets from one state to another. That data could them be worked into the model for the IHF binding do DNA - a great, complex issue in and of itself. Suffice to say, I did a very small part in the overall project. Near the end I mentioned to one of the guys in the lab that I felt I should have done more, that after all that time I only had a little data, and his response was "That's the way it is."

Though this was a conclusion greatly reinforced by my time in the lab, just seeing the outlines of what was going on on the first day gave me a flash of insight into why scientists get angry about ID. Nature is a hideously complicated place, and figuring it out is hard work. Michael Behe's precious "molecular machines" are not something we discovered looking through a microscope. One might get the impression, looking at textbook pictures of cells, that their inards are there to be looked at. The reality is that understanding something like DNA or any other part of the cell's aparatus requires lots of slow, indirect tests. Obviously, it would be absurd to say that just because we don't understand it all means we should go back to the theory of vital forces. I suspect that the "molecular machine" crowd would be the first to complain if we did.

Yet that's exactly what ID does. If we don't understand something, they take it as proof that God did it. Need we repeat the Hippocratic observation "Men think epilepsy divine, merely because they do not understand it. But if they called everything divine which they do not understand, there would be no end of divine things." It is worse than that, though. In Hippocrates' day, it was not as if epilepsy was basically understood, with scientists slowly figuring out more and more of the specifics. That is the situation with evolution today. The problem with Intelligent Design is it wants to flush good, quite difficult research down the toilet in favor of hand waving.

6 comments:

Severalspeciesof said...

I just wish that with all their handwaving, they'd slap themselves silly. (Hey, maybe that's why they think that way... they are slapping themselves silly, causing brain damage!)

Bronze Dog said...

We need to hook them up with some of those generator windmills. All that handwaving could be harnessed for the good of mankind.

One-Eyed Pirate said...

You can destroy all the straw men you want to among yourselves, and, maybe after a few beers, feel pretty good, but deep down you know that materialistic Darwininism is in very serious trouble, and the reason it's in trouble is the findings of scientific investigation, not religious zealots. Why don't you start acting like "real men" (as my daughter would pun), acknowledge the difficulties besetting your theory, and rise to the challenge?

Your ID guy who invokes God every time he can't understand something is a straw man. Real ID guys find evidence for intelligent design in things like complex microbiological mechanisms that could not possibly have arisen by neo-Darwinian processes because they would not have functioned during the course of such a process. (Have you bothered to read Behe and not just his detractors?) Ridiculing IDers by such gross misrepresentations may be good sport, but it's not going to turn the flood tide setting against your theory. You're only whistling yourselves past the cemetary.

Bronze Dog said...

Donkey:

Real ID guys find evidence for intelligent design in things like complex microbiological mechanisms that could not possibly have arisen by neo-Darwinian processes because they would not have functioned during the course of such a process.

Translation: When they're too lazy to apply their imagination, they conclude that goddidit.

Have you bothered to read Behe and not just his detractors?

Some of him.

Ridiculing IDers by such gross misrepresentations may be good sport, but it's not going to turn the flood tide setting against your theory. You're only whistling yourselves past the cemetary.

Why don't you try presenting their arguments, instead of old, old canards?

Bronze Dog said...

Oh, almost forgot: Even if evolution was falsified tomorrow, it would mean nothing for ID.

Of course, IC can evolve, so we don't have to worry about such a trivial non-issue causing any problems.

Hallq said...

To those who've come to see the pseudo-skeptico:

The Google bombing has begun!