a dissection of intelligent design arguments

December 3, 2008

I have been scouring the net recently in a bit different fashion than normal. I have allowed myself to read some of the blogs and news reports from sites focusing on Intelligent Design. Most notably, I’ve been reading Evolution News and Views, run by the Discovery Institute, an organization dedicated to the advancement of intelligent design in culture and education. If you follow the link above, you can get the full bite of the article I’m about to tackle.

Our author, Casey Luskin, one of the public relations people for the Discovery Institute, posted an article yesterday about a book, Life on Other Planets by Rhonda Lucas Donald. Right off the bat, he skews some information he quoted.

“The second page of the first chapter of Life on Other Planets, in large letters, reads:

A Recipe for Life

For life on Earth to exist, you need at least three things:
1. organic molecules
2. water
3. energy”

(Rhonda Lucas Donald, Life on Other Planets, pg. 6 (Watts Library, 2003), emphasis in original.)

While that statement may be technically correct, it’s kind of like saying, “For a computer to exist, you need at least three things: wires, microprocessors, and electricity.” Some parts are harder to obtain than others, but even if you get all the parts necessary for a computer in the same box (rather than just these mere three necessary components), you’re still not remotely close to having a computer.

It should be noted that Donald states in the book, according to Mr. Luskin’s quote, that organic molecules, water and energy are all needed for life to exist. They are not the only components, but they are necessary as a fuel for the system of life. He makes this point, but still argues that Donald attempts to prove they are the only things necessary. If Donald did indeed make this arguement, then Luskin left out some information. If not, Luskin is misinterpreting the information from the passage.

In the next paragraph, Luskin tries to make a case for the standard ID argument about “information.”

One extremely important component that is missing from our “recipe” for a computer also happens to be a key component of all life: information. As origin of life theorist Bernd-Olaf Kuppers said in his book Information and the Origin of Life, “The problem of the origin of life is clearly basically equivalent to the problem of the origin of biological information.” Somehow, that key ingredient of life’s recipe was left off the list in Life on Other Planets. Might that be because experience teaches that the sort of information we find in life — complex and specified information — has only one real common source: intelligent agency?

I am no scientist, but I often wonder why creationists and ID proponents alike keep replacing the letters D, N and A with “information.” Everything I’ve learned about how life, in general, operates has been boiled down to what the DNA says it should do. Will a lady bug eat aphids? Will photosynthesis occur in yon oak tree? Will simple and complex organisms alike live in climate inhospitable to humans and most other life known? All this and more is “information” delivered to each living thing in its DNA. So why not call a spade a spade?

Also, he tries to promote the idea that the only way a creature has DNA (I’m gonna use the real term, okay?) is because of “intelligent agency,” and it is through “experience” that we know this. What sort of experience? Where is your research? What peer-reviewed journal can I find this in, Mr. Luskin? America wants to know, Mr. Luskin?! The world waits!

After this, came a couple of ad hominem attacks:

Aside from the fact that “bing” isn’t much of a descriptive scientific term that tells the reader anything…

Neither is Intelligent Design, Mr. Luskin.

Despite the patent overstatements and blatantly false oversimplifications of origin of life research in this book, the Dewey Decimal call number for Life on Other Planets was 576.8 or “Life Sciences, Genetics and Evolution.” In my view, if you’re going to market these kinds of false speculations to kids, better forewarn them by classifying the book in the 800s — fiction.

Believe it or not, libraries follow a set of cataloging rules, such as the International Standard Bibliographic Description that makes it easier to find the same materials in different locations.

And to boot, Mr. Luskin, don’t insult librarians by claiming they don’t know how to do their jobs. They rely on information to do their job, unlike you, who makes most of your content from false premise, special pleading, and the occasional straw man.



  1. HEY!! You’re back! I’ve missed you.

    I’m one of those people who poo-poos intelligent design as a curriculum component, but who secretly and not too loudly admits that I truly believe there’s more to us than water, energy and organic compounds.

    We were talking about cloning in my writing class the other day (don’t you wish you’d taken MY writing classes?!) and one of the students was all up in arms because, according to her, we’d be creating an army of carbon copies – drone-like zombies who are all EXACTLY the same – same DNA AND same thought processes. I don’t think so. Beyond the nature/nurture argument is the idea – for me, at least – that we each have a soul, and it’s that energy that inhabits us when we’re born (or created, as the case may be) and leaves us when we die that makes us different. It’s that one bit – that ghost in the machine, if you will – that we can’t create in the lab.

    By the same token, I DON’T think that artificial intelligence a’ la iRobot or 2001 is a foregone conclusion. Just because a machine is complex and capable of wondrous computations doesn’t mean it’s going to start thinking for itself or spontaneously grow a soul. My computer is WAY smarter than I’ll EVER be, but even if it were a million times so, it still couldn’t love. Really, isn’t that the measure of things with souls?

  2. Yes, and all of that lies in the realm of psychology and philosophy, where scientists and scholars still debate their nature, function, and origin. I agree with you. There is too much to be explained that science isn’t ready to explain, but this doesn’t automatically mean ID is valid. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

  3. What I think is missing is the establishment of ego to which authors like Luskin are subscribing to. The idea that we might be a rather random accident in the combination and collection of that information doesn’t really do our awesomeness (or God’s awesomeness) justice for them. Tis a pity for those in love with chaos theory I think.

  4. I have a debate I think you might find interesting. If you can stand going to the web sight that is. IT is between Ray Comfort and Ron Barrier (American Atheists Inc.) They are debating the exsistance of God. Found it interesting at the least. When you go to the page the debat link is at the very bottom.

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