The Personal Blog of Stephen Sekula

Bad at two things – intelligent designers on dark matter

It’s been a while since I felt it necessary to comment on the people who profess that things like “intelligent design” are science. However, tonight on Twitter the Discovery Institute mixed their usual nonsense – their fundamental distortion of biological science – with physics. Since they took it upon themselves to blend their area of obfuscation with my area of expertise, I feel the need to write. Their tweet and the post to which it links show that there are bad at more than one science.

If you read nothing else in this post, read this: they confuse two things and use their confusion to try to mislead the reader. First, dark matter physicists are still hunting for the fundamental explanation of the nature of dark matter, and when they figure it out they will take all the failed ideas and throw them away. Biologists already had that moment – in 1859, when Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species”, he showed that he had discovered THE fundamental explanation of natural biological diversity. That idea went on to succeed, at the elimination of all competing ideas. Biologists had their moment almost 2 centuries ago, while dark matter physicists are still waiting for their breakthrough. If anything, dark matter physicists have much to learn from the biological community.

The Discovery Institute is at the forefront of misleading the public about the nature of biological science. If you want to learn more about how they take a modern spin on an old fundamentalist Christian idea and try to disguise it as science, check out a lecture I put together for our SMU “Introduction to the Scientific Method” course:

If you already understand why Natural Selection is the correct, reproducible, falsifiable explanation for natural biological diversity, while Intelligent Design and its forbearers are unfalsifiable religious belief systems, then taking the next step into the idiocy of the Discovery Institute’s tweet and blog post is a gentle leap.

They act like it hasn’t been more than 150 years since Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace independently discovered Natural Selection in nature and described it in a testable and falsifiable way. They act like the question of how biological diversity occurred on Earth is a mystery, one still thirsting for an explanation… and they try to thrust religion into the straw man void they have created. Their idea is a false and useless path… they guise religion (cheapening religion in the process) in poorly written scholarship (cheapening scholarship in the process) and even employ discredited mathematical claims (cheaping mathematics as they go). But their ideas have failed as science in two key ways. They are often not falsifiable (proponents can always claim that some observation in nature or another isn’t well-explained, and thus intelligent design cannot be ruled out – but, they fail to note that at the heart of science you cannot prove a negative). When their ideas are couched in falsifiable ways, they have then failed experimental testing. Any other such idea would have been discarded from science long ago, but its modern proponents cling to it not because it has succeeded as scientific explanation but because it fits with the religious beliefs they hold more dear than the reality of nature.

They try to argue that biologists (“evolutionists” as they call them, as if any  serious practicing biologist believes natural selection is wrong) can learn something from dark matter physicists. But the comparison is fatally flawed. Biologists got their successful, testable, and falsifiable explanation of biological diversity over 150 years ago, and they have used it brilliantly not only to help us understand life but predict new forms of life and create whole branches of medicine.

Dark matter physicists are more like biologists from about 1850… there is a lot of data, but no unifying explanation that satisfactorily describes all the data and makes predictions that have been verified. Dark matter physicists may be poised on the brink of such a unifying explanation, like natural selection was to biology, sometime in the next 10-20 years. Once they find that explanation, every failed idea will be thrown out… just like biologists tossed out the idea of intelligently designed nature when it was found that natural selection did all the work a human-like intelligence could do, and even do things human intelligence failed to expect.

So, no… biologists have nothing to learn from dark matter physicists. Dark matter theory is to dark matter physicists in 2016 as biological diversity was to biologists in 1850. Rather, quite the opposite of what the Discovery Institute claims is actually true: dark matter physicists have much to learn from biologists after 1859. As natural selection was shown to survive more and more tests, successfully predicting things like genetics and the need for a molecule like DNA, biologists tossed all the old notions about the diversity of life and started relying on natural selection, the unifying idea of biology, to understand nature. Dark matter physicists presently have many alternative ideas about dark matter – populations of exotic black holes, modifications to gravity, new subatomic particles. They are all successful in some ways, flawed in others, and none of them is the definite, satisfactory explanation of dark matter. Likely, some of these ideas will be shown wrong in the next 20 years. When they are shown wrong, they should be tossed aside… as intelligent design was tossed aside by biologists into the dustbin of bad science ideas after 1859.