Commentary on the so-called Creation/Evolution/Intelligent Design Debate and Right-Wing nuttery in general - and please ignore the typos (I make lots!)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Disgruntled engineers? Or overconfident pseudo-know-it-alls?

In response to an email from a molecular biology student, regarding the common background of so many creationist website authors – one in engineering – Pogge goes on an arrogant tear. In this article:

Disgruntled Engineers Against Evolution

R. David Pogge provides some insights into the mind of the creationist engineer. Please keep in mind that most of the engineers I know - and probably the overhwelming majority of engineers worldwide - do not suffer from the delusions of superiority that creationists like Pogge do. Also keep in mind that I have nothing against engineers at all - in fact, some of my favorite relatives are engineers. Many engineers are embarrassed at the willful ignorance coupled with extreme arrogance that is seen in so many creationists with engineering backgrounds. And this article (and the previous articles by Pogge that I have rebutted ) are pretty good examples of that unattractive trait.

Pogge begins:

One of the things that makes this letter worth addressing is the fact that he at least bothered to follow some of the links on our web site. (We know this because of the reference to "writing and speaking about software development in general".) So many of the emails we get come from people who clearly haven’t read anything but the name of our corporation.
Jordan asks questions that we think he really wants answered. His questions are not purely argumentative. That makes it worthwhile to take his email seriously.
Jordan asks, "What is with you guys and hating evolution? Is it because you spend so much time designing things yourself that you just can't accept the idea that life couldn't have orginated [sic] without a designer? Spent so much time writing computer code that you think DNA couldn't have posisbly [sic] originated by chance?" Well, yes, we do!

Now that is really something….
At least Pogge admits that he believes his biologically-irrelevant background gives him unique insights into the biological world. There is not much of a rational basis for this, but at least he admits it.

Engineers build complex systems. We know from experience that designs that aren’t entirely correct fail to function. Computer programs with millions of lines of code don’t work if just a few lines are wrong. Nobody has ever soldered transistors and resistors together randomly and produced a color TV set. Since biological systems are so much more complex than the systems we build, and since the DNA code is so much more complicated than the computer programs we write, we just can’t accept the idea that they happened by chance. We have never seen a complex system arise by accident, and don’t have any good, scientific reason to believe that it is possible. We don’t have the faith necessary to believe in something that is absolutely contrary to natural observations.

Emphasis mine. Where to begin. The logical fallacies are coming on strong already. Yes, engineers build (some of them, anyway) “complex systems,” and I have little doubt that just a few lines of code can corrupt a program with millions of lines of code in it (Though Pogge had best set some of his computer programmer creationist brethren straight – I was once in a discussion with creationist computer programmer CK Lester who argued just the opposite! I guess it depends on what argument the creationist is trying to make, whether they claim that there must be near perfection (Pogge) or that the code can amass up to 30% change and still work fine (Lester)).
But Pogge’s next claim clearly demonstrates what the email writer had inferred – that Pogge and his ilk simply do not understand what they discuss when it comes to biology (This line from Pogge is most interesting:
“So many of the emails we get come from people who clearly haven’t read anything but the name of our corporation.” in its projective value). Pogge and his like-minded creationists simply cannot accept that DNA code (whatever he means by that) arose by chance. Perhaps if they bothered to find out what evolution actually posits, they might not be so predisposed to simply reject it, at least on scientific grounds. For evolution does NOT, in fact, postulate that such things arose purely by chance. Chance variation only generates the raw materials, Selection, which is anything but driven by chance, acts on that variation. It is puzzling to me that so many creationists leave that part out. Maybe they do so on purpose?

Jordan [the email author] didn’t say that 87% of the members of anti-evolution groups are theology majors. He said they were engineers. We appreciate the confirmation that so many people rejecting evolution are engineers. That’s been our observation, too, but we haven’t done a scientifically valid study to prove it. It is good, however, to have anecdotal evidence to support our observations. Creationists aren’t just dummies who don’t know anything about science. They are smart people who use their scientific knowledge to design clever, useful products.

Ummm…. Engineers may be smart people, but how that gives them special insight into evolutionary biology is a question that seems to have no legitimate answer. Designing ‘clever, useful products’ does not seem to have any bearing whatsoever on providing the creationist engineer with unique insights, special knowledge, or superior abilities when it comes to doing anything BUT designing clever, useful products. In fact, in my opinion, being an engineer with creationist tendencies may actually produce an unwarranted bias in his/her outlook on the biotic realm. They tend to assume that all things can be understood in their language; that DNA is just like computer code (just more complex), that cellular structures are just like machines and motors and so must, therefore, be the product of “intelligence”, just as actual, human-made contrivances are the products of (human) intelligence.

We don’t doubt that Jordan has done excellent work studying the genetic similarity of marsupials. No doubt they are very similar. It is our position that such work is extremely valuable if applied to practical problems. For example, if some marsupials are more prone to certain diseases than other marsupials, it would be good to know how they differ genetically. These genetic differences might be responsible for resistance or susceptibility to specific diseases. There is great value in understanding how biological systems work because many of man’s inventions (like sonar and the Sidewinder missile) are merely copies of biological systems. If we knew more about how marsupials nourish their young, it might give us insight into how we can raise healthier children. There is so much that can be learned from a study of genetics. That is why it saddens us to see talented people like Jordan wasting their time trying to figure out how a wombat turned into a wallaby or a kangaroo.

Oy… “Turned into”? It is hard to tell if Pogge is engaging is sarcastic hyperbole, or if he really just does not get it. Perhaps he does not get it and employs sarcastic hyperbole as a result? In REALITY, patterns of genetic change CAN in fact tell us about descent. Pogge and his ilk simply reject it on a priori grounds and justify these beliefs with their arrogance.

It might very well be that a wallaby and a kangaroo really are variations of one created kind, just as beagles and poodles are variations of the dog kind. If so, it is just more confirmation of microevolution, which creationists already believe. But how does one know if genetic and physical similarities are the result of a common ancestor rather than a common designer?

What is a “kind”, Mr.Pogge? Won’t you tell us all, with you special engineering insights and biblical expertise? How does one tell the difference? Quite simply – by looking at the patterns. The methodologies have been tested on knowns, and I should think that an engineer would understand the validity of tested methodologies.

Jordan has "yet to hear of a single case of hard biological evidence rejecting evolution." We wonder what his criteria for hard biological evidence is.

I have to wonder what Mr.Pogge's is.

Darwin considered the eye to be serious biological evidence against evolution.

Ah, the old creationist out-of-context issue rears its head. Paraphrasing from the link, creationists are fond of quoting Darwin thusly:

"To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree."

And yet, if we look at the rest of the passage:

"To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of Spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree. When it was first said that the sun stood still and the world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of Vox populi, vox Dei ["the voice of the people = the voice of God "], as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science. Reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a simple and imperfect eye to one complex and perfect can be shown to exist, each grade being useful to its possessor, as is certain the case; if further, the eye ever varies and the variations be inherited, as is likewise certainly the case; and if such variations should be useful to any animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, should not be considered as subversive of the theory."

We see something quite different. Do we have exact, explicit answers to the “genuine” questions Pogge asks? I don’t think so, and we may never have them, and I would venture to say that even if we did, Pogge and his ilk would still find reason to dismiss them.

Where does Jordan think the mammary glands in his marsupials came from? How did single-chambered fish hearts evolve into multi-chambered animal hearts? How did cold-blooded creatures evolve into warm-blooded creatures? What biological evidence would be sufficiently hard to disprove evolution in his eyes? These aren’t argumentative questions. We are genuinely curious.

I sincerely doubt that. Creationists typically employ 'questions' as evidence. Can't answer my particular question on evolution? Must be evolution is wrong then! Pogge is implying that because he has no satisfactory answers to these particular questions, that he is justified in rejecting evolution in favor of Divine creation.

Jordan says, "All their data about morphology, plate tectonics and amino acid interaction all correlate with our data perfectly. International conspiracy or simply science at work? You decide." We say, "None of the above." We reject the conspiracy theory because it implies sinister motives and collusion. We don’t believe that all evolutionists are evil people intent on destroying all that is good and virtuous with their evil theory. But the other option, science at work, isn’t correct either. Just because an opinion is held by a scientist doesn’t make that opinion scientific fact. We like to reserve the term "science" for knowledge obtained using the Scientific Method.

And that would include information about evolution. I wonder what 'science' Pogge can present FOR his preferred belief, young earth cvreationism? Peruse his site. You will not find a single essay or article that actually provides any such thing (I certainly have found none). It is ALL simply nitpicking and distorting evolution-based science, and it is all mere opinion, and uninformed opinion at that. An opinion on evolutionary biology held – or even firmly stated – by a creationist with no relevant biological education or experience cannot even be taken seriously, much considered as a valid position. Especially when those opinions can largely be shown to be premised on distortions and nonsense, as have all of the opinions written by Pogge that I have read have been.

Our answer is that there is correlation of data because many people are trying to make their data fit together into a pre-determined framework because they sincerely believe that framework is correct. They believe that all life evolved from a common ancestor, so they attempt to explain their observations in terms of evolution. Where there is sufficient prejudice, there is agreement.

In reality, this is what happens when someone tries to shoehorn data to fit their preconceived notions. They produce significant error and end up rejecting objective data for subjective data. That is what creationists are forced to do. We ‘believe’ that common descent occurred because that is what the data indicate.

Despite this, we don’t think there is as much agreement between the morphological data and genetic data as Jordan does. Maybe there really is good agreement between morphological data and genetic data in the marsupials Jordan studies, but that seems to be the exception, rather than the rule. We keep reading articles in Science and Nature which show there isn’t very good agreement. We have documented examples in past newsletters (Fuzz, Birds, and DNA and The DNA Dilemma ).

A few anomalies does not a trend make. As is so often the case with creationists, Pogge takes a couple of interesting cases and extrapolates them into a field wide dilemma. It is not. Indeed, Pogge makes the extremely false claim in his ‘birds’ article above “In that essay we noted that whale evolution has been controversial because the DNA analysis did not agree with the traditional fossil interpretation. This is commonly the case”. No, Pogge, it is NOT commonly the case. Your baseless and misleading claim is incorrect. But why would you care? You have a non-scientific belief system to prop up.

We hope that Jordan will continue to study marsupials. We hope he will try to explain how they all could have originated from a common ancestor. We think that the more he studies, he will discover the hard biological evidence against evolution all by himself.

Or, he could be like the creationist engineers – just start with your conclusions, then, because you are an engineer and have special overpowering insights in all fields of science even if you don’t know anything about them, proclaim the truth of your position! It is easier than thinking, and it must be real fun to pluck quotes out of context and engage in all manner of ego-gratifying falsehood spreading and misreptresentation. Right Mr.Pogge?


The Nephew said...

Interesting blog.
I am an experienced, practicing electrical engineer who freely admits that I don't know much about genetics or detailed evolution theory. That being said, as an engineer, I look for the most logical solution to a question; ID or creationism do not seem to be very logical solutions especially considering the near impossibility of their conceptual proof. Sure, one may be able to compare aspects of one field and another, but once you get into details, these similarities rapidly fall apart. But this is just one engineer's position.

Doppelganger said...

And such a position is the most valid one to have.

It is refreshing to note that not all engineers are of the sort one finds writing creationist screeds; indeed, I would venture to guess that, as I mentioned, most are not.

Spitting image of the dad.

Anonymous said...

If you're an engineer and agree with evolutionary theory then the author of this blog will agree with everything you say and you won't be attacked no matter how unsound your reasoning may be. However, on the contrary, if you're an engineer and don't believe in evolution you are preseumed to be an idiot by the author of this blog, who by te way is an assistant biology teacher!

Yes, it may sound biased, but that's how biased this author is! Forget about evidence and facts as there's none to be objectively discussed about here!

Doppelganger said...

If you're an engineer and agree with evolutionary theory then the author of this blog will agree with everything you say and you won't be attacked no matter how unsound your reasoning may be. However, on the contrary, if you're an engineer and don't believe in evolution you are preseumed to be an idiot by the author of this blog,

This is, as is most of the garbage spewed by this particular 'anonymous' hack, simply untrue. I do not presume Pogge, Trainor, etc. to be idiots. I, in fact, demonstrate or otherwise expose their shady antics and shoddy scholarship, then conclude they are idiots, or something similar. Do not confuse presumption with conclusion.

who by te way is an assistant biology teacher!

You do not seem to be able to get even basic information correct. I am an associate professor of biology.

Yes, it may sound biased, but that's how biased this author is!

Of course I am biased. All people are biased. I am biased against those that feel the need to distort and misrepresent to prop up their fantasy-driven religio-political agendas. I am biased against people that believe that they are able to comment authoritativley on all subjects by virtue of their arrogance and 'internet expertise' (i.e., expertise gained by Googling a few terms and convincing themselves that they have sufficient knowledge to 'disprove' anything that they disagreee with) or the presumed 'superiority' of whatever it is that they do for a living. I know that is hard for you to accept, but a creationist with an engineering, legal, or compter programming backgound for example is NOT, in fact, an expert in anything but engineering, law, or computer programming.

Forget about evidence and facts as there's none to be objectively discussed about here!

It is not my intent to do that, as is clearly explained in the blog subtitle. My intent is to expose the dishonest tactics of creationists and their confederates, in particular those with engineering backgrounds ( a pet peeve of mine) - to provide commentary. If I had set out to produce scientific essays and such, I would have actually done so.

I noticed that you had no relevant comments or rebuttals to anything I actually wrote.

Par for the course with you cheerleader types.