Intelligent Design of an Experiment

Many… many times I have presented a paper that effectively crushes the claims of creationists and Intelligent Design proponents.  However, they always have this (IMHO very telling) reply.

But the experiment was designed, therefore the experiment supports Intelligent Design.

This is false.  I will explain why.

First, let’s consider the implications of that statement.  There are two.

The first is that this implies that the results of experiment are directly determined by the experimental design.  That doesn’t sound too wrong unless you realize that no matter how the experiment was designed, the end result (if you are measuring the same thing) must be the same.

For example, in an experiment designed to measure the speed of light, it doesn’t matter how the experiment is designed, you will always get the same result (given minor changes for the medium in which you are working).  If Alice measures the speed of light in a vacuum using a laser and a mirror and bouncing the light off the moon, she will measure the exact same result as Bob who measures the speed of light in a vacuum by wavelength and frequency of a particular type of light.

Both experiments are intelligently designed.  And both could give different results.  They don’t.

The other side of this coin can be considered with a simple thought experiment.

A roulette wheel is intelligently designed… therefore, the result of each spin is intelligently designed.  We know that this is not true. I will admit that the design of the wheel limits the numbers that can be landed on, but the determination on which number is landed on during each spin is random.  And this is not a minor little thing like murder.  The randomness of roulette wheels is serious business and there are entire government divisions and areas of study devoted to such work.

The experiment is exactly the same.  Just because the EXPERIMENT is intelligently designed, doesn’t mean that the result is intelligently designed.

In fact, if the result of the experiment where intelligently designed, then there would not be any point in actually doing the experiment.

Which brings us to the second point.  That is the creationist is implying that the scientists are behaving fraudulently.  This is not a minor claim.  Scientists have lost their jobs for fraudulent claims before.

The scientists’ reputation depends on truthfulness and accuracy (which is interesting when looking at so-called creation scientists).

Why are they behaving fraudulently?  Because the experiment is saying what the scientists want it to say.  Which is NOT how science works at all.  In fact, this simple statement implies a vast global conspiracy of scientists to make sure all the results align with their agenda and to somehow make sure that all the products developed using knowledge gained from these experiments work… oh wait… that kind of implies that the scientists are right.

Besides, have you seen a scientists pay?  The vast global conspiracy of poor scientists.  Yeah, that makes sense.

One of the hallmarks of science is repeatability.  This is so important that many scientists work on confirming previously done experiments.  Because if you show someone is wrong, then that’s a big deal.  When experiments aren’t repeatable (cough cold fusion cough), then the scientists are in trouble.

What’s very interesting is that is why peer-reviewed research (and your high school lab reports) has that big section on ‘methods’.  The goal is to describe how you did something so well, that anyone with the right equipment can do your experiment and get the same results.  This is often a little tricky in biology because all living things are slightly different, but statistics covers that pretty well.

Another point to bring up here is that experiments are often very intelligently designed.  Look at what you have to consider… You have to make sure that the thing you are measuring is what is really being measured, it’s not always as easy as you think.  You have to have a control of some kind.  You have to make sure to eliminate sources of error and if you can’t, then you have to explain those sources of error in great detail and you better not miss one or your results are useless.  You have to consider all the previous work done in this field and do your results make sense in light of those.  Do your results make sense at all?  It happens that you might stumble upon something brand new, but it’s much more rare than you might think.  Do you have a large enough data set?  Do you have observations throughout the experiment?  Are the results consistent through multiple runs of the experiment?

So, yes, experiments must very carefully and very intelligently designed.  But to imply that the results are therefore also intelligently designed is simply wrong.

One other note.  Creationists will often take you to task for an experiment that you talk about because it doesn’t show a particular detail.  Very often (actually in every single case), that detail has nothing to do with the experiment.

As I’ve explained, experiments are very specific to measure one very specific thing.  If the creationist says anything other than what that experiment shows, then they are erecting a Red Herring.  It’s a meaningless objection.

For example, in those two versions of the speed of light experiment, a creationist might well say, “yeah, but that doesn’t explain how light changes speed in a cloud of gas.”

They are correct.  The experiment doesn’t show that.  It was NOT intended to.  Those two experiments were to show the speed of light in a vacuum, not in a nebula.  That rebuttal is a Red Herring and meaningless to the actual experiment performed.

I cannot stress this enough.  The entire point of experimental procedure is to eliminate all considerations but one (in most cases).  Therefore, the experiment is only measuring one thing.

A very common example in the creationist world (and the one that inspired this post (Thanks Southstar and Cubist)) is that of Michael Behe making the claim that two more mutations cannot happen because it is so improbable.  The corollary to that is that this can never improve the function of whatever it is.  This is simply wrong.

I’ve written about Darwinian Evolution on a Chip before.  It simply shows that 4 mutations happened in a population of RNAs and the end result was a 90-fold improvement in efficiency.

Both of Behe’s claims are falsified.  It’s that simple.  The standard creationist rebuttal is that the mutation rates were beyond anything in the natural world.  That’s not true either, but it doesn’t matter.  Behe’s claims do not say ‘in the natural world’ (which does include the lab too).  Behe’s claims do not say ‘at a mutation rate of x‘.  He says that two or more positive mutations can’t happen.

They happened.  They happened in less than 72 hours.  Claims rebutted.

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11 Responses to Intelligent Design of an Experiment

  1. Eugen says:

    Hi Ogre

    I’m not very good with biology research so I’ll ask you: did anybody do a simple experiment to see what happens with amino acids. For ex. put all 20 AAs into container and take a sample every couple of months. All along keep it at temperature around 36C with some agitation. Experiment could run for many years this way.

  2. OgreMkV says:

    Right off hand, I don’t know. I honestly expect not very much would happen. Large chain proteins don’t seem to spontaneously assemble.

    On the other hand, it is known that short chain nucleotides (RNA) will spontaneously assemble even under the conditions you describe. Given a simple catalyzer (say a lump of clay), then long chain nucleotides can form spontaneously.

    Does that help?

  3. Eugen says:

    Yes, thanks. I’ll look online,too.

  4. Eugen says:

    Hello Ogre,

    Let me put my propeller hat on.
    Enzyme (say ribosome) is made of subunits which are in turn made of proteins and RNA.
    These proteins and RNA are stored as sequences of nucleotides someplace along DNA. The way I understand it, ribosome building proteins are not allowed to mutate (or else). Ribosome needs to perform its function the same way for billions of years.

    What mechanism is conserving nucleotide sequences for all the core systems of the cell yet allowing some other sequences to mutate? Cell core (immutable) systems being organelles, support structures, enzymes, transducers, codon mapping etc

    Mechanism that allows mutation on some but conserves other DNA is probably shared among cell types and species. On top of it, the mechanism itself has to be conserved i.e. not allowed to mutate.

    Search online gives many links to highly technical papers on some narrow specifics of the enzymes. I’m more interested in general principles.

    This is not pro or against ID, rather cybernetic issue. What are your thoughts?

  5. OgreMkV says:

    Keeping in mind that my genetics and cellular structures classes were a fair bit of time ago…

    I’d have to say that the answer is nothing is saying that certain DNA sequences must not mutate and others can. I do know that there are genetic systems that turn OFF high fidelity copying in specific instances (say, when a viral infection hits you). The rest of them time… everything is open to mutation.

    But, as you said, if an organism happens to get a mutation that does affect ribosome function (not all mutations would do that), then the organism dies as a zygote and nothing more is done. You might (or might not) be surprised at how many human conceptions there are compared to births. Obviously it’s very difficult to tell since a major ribosomal or mitochondrial mutation would kill the offspring before the first cell division, but it’s not an insignificant number.

    So the answer to your question is natural selection.

    Again, though, there are places in even ribosomal proteins where a mutation would have no effect. 1) Some mutation have no effect anyway. CUC and CUU both are codons for Leucine. So that mutation would have no effect. 2) In some places, it doesn’t matter what amino acid is present as long as it is hydrophobic (or hydrophilic) or has some other property that is needed right there. At a pH of 7, (in terms of hydrophobia) tryptophan and leucine are the same. So the mutation from UGG to UUG would have no effect.*

    Does that help?

    * I’m only talking about point mutations here, because frameshifts would be very bad in this case.

  6. Eugen says:

    It does, tnx.

    Yes, I could see codon frame shift creating total chaos. I saved article on initiator tRNA months ago in some folder but biology reading allowance is very low. Quick skim through the article , if I remember right, talks about initiator tRNA’s importance for reading frame.

  7. OgreMkV says:

    Honestly, when I tool the cellular structures class I was amazed that anything in our bodies works.

    Exons, introns, methylation, reading frames, protein folding, plus the assembly of these into structures… it’s truly stunning.

    But unlike creationists, I can see that these are insanely complex systems that have been evolving for billions of years instead of throwing my hands up and ‘Cthullu did it’.

  8. Eugen says:

    “Exons, introns, methylation, reading frames, protein folding, ”
    Yea,it’s quite a complication. I can handle only small doses at one time.

  9. Tomato Addict says:

    Interesting how Intelligent Design Creationist do not seem to understand either intelligence or design.

  10. S. Mart says:

    Those creashunusts sure are a bunch of dummies. We’re all smarter than them cuz we know for sure that all that complex science stuff happens on its own. There’s all kinds of experiments done showing us scientists mutating fruit flies into things that are completely unlike a fly. And I also heard there were experiemtns where another scientists mutates a yeast into a bacteria. in fact, its easy to find the formula for convertin staph into streptococcus. I also heard that when staph develop antibiotic resistance, that it’s the same things as staph turning into something far removed from a staph. And that makes since because i’m smart and it’s 2012, not the stone age! everyone born before me was dumb. …..all the great classical philosophers, scientists, and deep thinkers were really dumb because they belived in a higher power………there dead, not alive like us smart people…… ……in fact, my professur is creating new life in his lab all the time. He’s got like 100 patents on brand new family/genus/species of bacteria he’s created (oops, I mean bacteria that spontaneously formed in his lab…..didn’t mean to imply that he created them……wait, what?)

  11. OgreMkV says:

    Yes they are a bunch of dummies to think that anything in that list of… stuff… is evidence against evolution. Of course, since you, yourself, seem to be using evolution to mean “abiogenesis”, “microevolution”, and “macroevolution” all at the same time… it would probably help if you actually understood the things you were talking about. Let me know how I can help.

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