Who’s zoomin’ who?

William Dembski never ceases to appall.

  • Intelligent Design is science — but Intelligent Design is the Logos theory of St. John.
  • He’s a ‘philosopher” in the science community but a “theologian” in the religious community.
  • He doesn’t want someone else to use a picture of him — but he can use Harvard’s biology videos and John Lennon’s music!
  • He complains that someone illegally reprinted his essays — but, in fact, that person got permission from the copyright holder.
  • He demands endless proof of evolution — but he can’t be bothered to provide detail about mechanisms of Intelligent Design.

And he rests his case on the flagellum because it’s a little machine. Here, strictly for your review, is a low-resolution sample of Dembski’s blog header:

Dembski\'s metallic little motor flagellum

It’s almost shiny and the flagellum appears to be inserted into a pair of metal plates.

Now, here is an electron micrograph of a real flagellum:

visualizing flagellum base by electron microscopy

[Shahid Khan, Imran Humayun Khan, and Thomas S. Reese, 1991. New Structural Features of the Flagellar Base in Salmonella typhimurium Revealed by Rapid-Freeze Electron Microscopy. Journal of Bacteriology 173:2888-09]

Not quite so shiny, is it?

The closest I can come to Dembski’s machine image is a computer-generated image meant to artificially enhance the symmetry of the flagellum for educational purposes.

flagellum - computer-smoothed image

[A version of this image can be seen here in the Annual Review of Biochemistry 2003, with a note: "This reconstruction is derived from rotationally averaged images of about 100 hook–basal body complexes.... The radial densities have been projected from front to back along the line of view, so this is what would be seen if one were able to look through the spinning structure. Connections between the C-ring and the rest of the structure appear relatively tenuous.Digital image courtesty of D.J. DeRosier."]

There are two very artificial maniplations in this image. First, about 100 images were averaged. That would tend to smooth out any irregularities. Second, a rotation of the image was computed, which would make anything look like an object that has been turned on a lathe.

So Dembski claims that the flagellum is a tiny, designed machine. His claim is supported by computer-generated images which bear little resemblance to reality.

This image showing actual placement of molecules is at least as accurate:

flagellum, atomic cross-section through filament

(from Keiichi Namba, nanonet) But, of course, you couldn’t mistake it for a machine.

And yet, Dembski believes that Ernst Haeckel’s drawings of developing embryos were fraudulent. Haeckel’s drawings were made in the 1870s. That’s 130 years ago! It’s likely that Haeckel simply wanted to make his drawings clear. Or perhaps he was fooled by trying to see details at the limits of his vision, like the astronomers who were sure they saw canals on Mars. Fairly quickly, people realized that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” was not strictly true. Scientists, not creationists, pointed out the errors. The drawings have been relegated to curiosities of history, along with the notions that albumin is the genetic material, continents don’t move, and dinosaurs dragged their tails. They are still studied to see where Haeckel went wrong. Here’s what scientists who recently analyzed Haeckel’s drawings have to say:

A recent study coauthored by several of us and discussed by Elizabeth Pennisi (Science, 5 Sept. 1997, p. 1435) examined inaccuracies in embryo drawings published last century by Ernst Haeckel. Our work has been used in a nationally televised debate to attack evolutionary theory and to suggest that evolution cannot explain embryology . We strongly disagree with this viewpoint. Data from embryology are fully consistent with Darwinian evolution…. the mixture of similarities and differences among vertebrate embryos reflects evolutionary change in developmental mechanisms inherited from a common ancestor… Haeckel’s inaccuracies damage his credibility, but they do not invalidate the mass of published evidence for Darwinian evolution. Ironically, had Haeckel drawn the embryos accurately, his first two valid points in favor of evolution would have been better demonstrated.
Michael K. Richardson, et al., "Haeckel, Embryos, and Evolution," Science (Letters), Vol. 280 (May 15, 1998), pp. 983-985. (quoted from http://www.nmsr.org/jonwells.htm)%5D

Yet creationism and its outgrowth, Intelligent Design, carry on as if one set of discredited drawings somehow invalidates evolution. If that’s so, why don’t Dembski’s doctored images of flagella invalidate his theory?

And why focus on a few mistakes in a huge body of work? Have historians and economists and politicians never been wrong? The strength of science is that it is the best tool for correcting mistakes in knowledge—throwing out what’s wrong and keeping what evidence confirms.

It’s as if Dembski had wandered into a busy airport and declared, “Look! There’s a piece of litter in the wastebasket! Therefore, airplanes are impossible! (God never meant us to understand flight.)”

Take a balanced look at the whole body of real-world evidence. And demand an equal standard of behavior and morality for all people, with no free pass for the religious.

If he wishes to have any credibility at all, Dembski must demonstrate the same standard of conduct that he demands in other people. Until he does, he fails miserably as a human being and especially as a scientist, where, driven by his religion, he continues to commit intellectual atrocities.

See also: “The Dembski Dodge.”

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14 Responses to “Who’s zoomin’ who?”

  1. S E E Quine Says:

    Frickin’ Dembski! As if his politricks could not get worse! Yeah, I don’t see that happening.

  2. How can we tell the Expelled animation is copied? « Science Notes Says:

    It’s like this: All you have to do is look at all the different ways a class of art students draws a bowl of fruit to realize that two people indpendently contemplating the same thing don’t all have the same perspective. [...]

  3. Rhetorical tactics: the Dembski Dodge « Science Notes Says:

    [...] out the fatal flaw in Dembski’s most famous argument: Who’s zoomin’ who? Posted in books, humor, people, pseudoscience, science. Tags: crackpots, creationism, evolution, [...]

  4. owen59 Says:

    Thanks for this. As a person who does believe in a Big ‘G’ God, and just has a real love for the scientific explanation of how this life and universe works, I really appreciate the time that bloggers as yourself put into patiently explaining that science. Okay, I admit it. I also like Terry Pratchett’s Flat Earth series, but I don’t get it confused with what’s going on around me.

  5. Tangled Bank #104 :: Dammit Jim! Says:

    [...] Moving on to scheming of the creationist sort, Greg theorizes why physics doesn’t have argumentum ad Nazium documentaries and points out that biology at the molecular scale is difficult to comprehend. Monado gives an example of this difficulty by comparing creationist drawings to a real electron micrograph of a flagellum. [...]

  6. slpage Says:

    This is actually a very good argument.

    So good in fact that I am going to use it myself (giving credit where due, of course).

  7. monado Says:

    Feel free! It just occurred to me that Dembski isn’t playing fair. “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.”

  8. Like something turned on a lathe « Science Notes Says:

    [...] Comments Like something turne… on Who’s zoomin’…monado on Tangled Bank #112AJ Milne on Panda rips off man’s…AJ Milne on Panda rips [...]

  9. You’d rather watch this than passing trains … | Uncommon Descent Says:

    [...] here’s the oddest attack I’ve ever heard on the evidence that the animations show: They are animations, and the [...]

  10. Darryl Says:

    I read your article in science notes and have to conclude that you are a typical evolutionist. You will believe the impossible despite evidence to the contrary in order to avoid the fact that there is one extremely intelligent designer out there. Muller’s illustration of a simple hook ‘evolving’ into a mouse trap could only happen with the assistance of an intelligent designer modifying and improving on the original. Only an absolute fool would believe that this progression could just happen by itself. To believe that Darwinian evolution could produce the highly complex tail mechanism of the flagellate bacterium would be in direct contradiction to the proven law of entropy. It would be the same as saying a rolex watch would evolve on its own if you put all the raw materials together in a bowl of water and left them alone for millions and millions of years. Now what idiot would possibly believe that? Oh sorry – Muller and you of course.

    • monado Says:

      Inorganic substances don’t reproduce with variation, so your argument about Rolex™ watches has nothing to do with the point you want to prove. In fact, the bacterial flagellum is not irreducibly complex, since one of its major components functions quite nicely as a mechanism for transporting large molecules through cell walls. And if that isn’t enough, here’s a scholarly evisceration of Dembski’s “Specified Complexity” waffle from 2003.

      Entropy is irrelevant in a local environment where energy is being added: didn’t you learn that in school? And did you fail to notice the sun rising this morning, pouring energy into the Earth’s ecosystems?

      Furthermore, the evolution of novel characteristics has been observed int the laboratory in a thirty-year experiment. Oh, and did you think your designer is such an S.O.B. that he lovingly designed a drug-resistant gonorrhea just for you? Or will you admit that it’s evolution in action?

  11. gil Says:

    still, the flagellum is a self replicat organic motor that can spin up to 1000 tps. if we will find such a motor on mars. is this no be an evidence for aliens?

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