Cold showers for intelligent design: ID not even fringe science

Experimentalchimp raises some serious questions about how fringe science sometimes stumbles into the stuffier meetings of real science — or, at least, into the gossip columns of real science, with his post, “How Empty Science Becomes Wisdom.

The post discusses a silly proposal made by a fellow in Virginia that perhaps, just maybe, cold showers might fight depression.

Let me introduce you to Nikolai Shevchuk. He’s worked at the Department of Radiation Oncology at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. One day Nikolai gets an idea. What if cold showers could treat depression? After all, cold showers get the adrenaline pumping, doesn’t it? So Nikolai gets a few friends together and asks them to try taking a cold shower and seeing if it improves their moods. Nikolai probably likes to take cold showers himself and he feels just fine!

So Nikolai writes down his ideas. There’s not what you’d call a huge amount of evidence for them. Nikolai tries his hardest to think up a mechanism by which cold showers can make you feel good. The adrenaline thing was good, but what if he can invoke some kind of evolutionary mechanism. Hey! Yeah! That’s it! Back when man was a hunter-gatherer chasing after prey, he’d have to swim after it in cold water. So modern man, lacking these environmental stressors must be getting depressed as a result!

It’s not rocket science, but it’ll do.

Nikolai doesn’t want to keep this breakthrough to himself, so he sends it all off to a medical journal. Medical Hypotheses, to be specific. Medical Hypotheses. It sounds so truthy, doesn’t it?

Truthy, indeed. (Right up the alley of Telic Thoughts, no?)

The story about how Shevchuk’s work got picked up by a journal, Medical Hypotheses, and how it migrated to the London Times and farther, may make you giggle. Or squirm.

But it also made me wonder: If this almost-admitted joker in Virginia can get this dubious quality conjecture published in a journal, why is it intelligent design advocates cannot get even a hypothesis published somewhere in more than 20 years of existence.

I didn’t say “20 years of trying,” because I suspect that the ID people are not trying to do even fringe science. (There’s that other joke, too: “Oh, yeah, they’re trying. Verrrrrry trying!“)

I have often said that intelligent design is to biology what cold fusion is to physics and chemistry, only stripped of the extensive experimental backup published in the journals. This points up one of the key problems of intelligent design: There is no intelligence in it. Intelligent design is the vapor ware of biology, too. No hypotheses, no experiments, no observations from the wild, no laboratories, no grants, no attendees at science conferences, only one or two poster sessions (and not by the grad student tyros, but by the greatest minds in ID) — nothing.

ID can’t crack the fringe science journals, because ID lacks the wisp of ideas required to be called fringe science.

Maybe science fiction next? Calling Orson Scott Card!

This contrast between intelligent design and intelligent conversation is so stark that the new ID mockumentary “Expelled!” has had to work hard to make sure scientists of faith do not appear in any way in the movie. Why? Well, Christopher Heard at Higgaion carefully explains, if the movie showed people like Ken Miller, a faithful Christian who happens to be the lead author on the most-used high school and junior college biology textbooks, it would give the lie to the film’s entire premise, that faithful Christians are not allowed into the halls of science.

But to return to the main point: the real reason that folk like Miller and Collins find no place in Expelled is because they do “confuse”—that is, complicate—the simplistic and false dichotomy that the filmmakers wish to construct. When your whole schtick is to pit religious “design proponents” open to the supernatural against atheistic, philosophically materialist “Darwinists,” all those pesky scientists who simultaneously affirm evolutionary biology and a robust Christian faith become very, very inconvenient.

(Heard also features a transcript of part of an interview Scientific American editor John Rennie had with the film’s associate producer of “Expelled!”, Mark Mathis. It really made me laugh for some reason — is it that I’m too deep into grading? Check it out, let me know.)

How did Miller get into the hallowed halls, anyway? He did real science, published it, got his Ph.D., and continues research, academic advising, and teaching.

Why can’t ID do that?

When the cold showers hypothesis gets more respect than intelligent design, it’s time to pull the drain plug on intelligent design.

Maybe Mathis should install cold showers in the lobbies of the theatres that show his movie. People who buy a ticket to the movie may need them, especially after they realize they’ve seen so much of the stuff before, in better venues (and with attribution).

Maybe Mathis, Ben Stein and the entire “Expelled!” team should try the cold showers out first, to see if maybe a cold shower might shock them back to reality.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Expelled! Exposed, for the tip to Heard’s piece.

8 Responses to Cold showers for intelligent design: ID not even fringe science

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    Crick and Hoyle weren’t much involved in questions of origins of life, actually. But if they asked any questions at all about the issue, they were, again, separate from ID advocates, who avoid asking any questions at all about much of anything, especially origins of life. There is absolutely nothing in ID that contributes to origin of life (ool) research.

    Evolution theory doesn’t encompass origins of life, either. Darwin noted evolution occurs regardless how one thinks life began — and it’s difficult to read Darwin’s last paragraph in Origin of Species without understanding he was posing a Genesis-like beginning of life for evolution.* So if ID propagandists say they have something different there, it is only spin, once again.

    Before I were to agree there isn’t a lot of research on the origins of life, I’d want to check out what is going on at NASA and in several laboratories around the country — I think you’ll discover the research is considerably farther along than ID advocates would allow one to imagine. Take a look at the research of Andy Ellington at the University of Texas, for example:

    Ellington says that the nucleotide building blocks for DNA and RNA (the Gs, Cs, Ts, As and Us) aren’t particularly interesting alone, but that strung together they are “exquisitely adaptable.”

    “What I’ve learned about origin of life is that I think it’s a much easier problem than anyone anticipated, in the sense that there are probably multiple functional optima,” he says, reflecting a concept promoted by the late evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould. “If you were to ask for a given function, there are many different ways for a molecule to achieve that function [through evolution].

    “The miracle, as it were, is in front of us all of the time.”

    And there are many others, such as James Ferris (his work can be viewed in summary here: The general field is known as astrobiology. NASA is deep into the work:

    There is a lay journal on the topic, you can access here:

    And need I stress the point? In this rapidly expanding field of origins of life research, there are no ID players. Not one.

    I think we need to be more careful in analyzing how science looks at design. It is not that scientists refuse to consider design an option at all. It is this: For everything that looks designed, we have so far discovered that the appearance of design is achieved through wholly natural means that do not involve interference from any intelligence outside the natural course of things.

    Scientists not only consider the issues of design all the time, they investigate them thoroughly. Time after time, science discovers a natural, non-intelligent source for the appearance of design. That ID advocates refuse to consider these well-established facts speaks to the bias, bigotry, and anti-knowledge nature of ID. The academic dishonesty is entirely on the side of the ID advocates, especially when they claim, falsely, that scientists don’t consider design. You won’t find IDists discussing origin of life issues — they hope you and others will never discover that science has advanced so far on the issues.

    What science refuses to do that ticks off the ID advocates is say, “God did it,” in the absence of evidence to that point, and in the presence of billions of data points that refute the hypotheses of God being directly involved, say, in the development of an embryo. It is not merely that ID posits a mad conjecture where there are not sufficient data; it is that ID requires us to ignore the data and theory that already exist.

    If you think about this, theologically, you’ll see the silliness of the ID position. Were it true that God must be involved in the creation of each life, how could there ever be an unwanted, out-of-wedlock pregnancy?

    * Darwin’s last paragraph, in Origin of Species:

    It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.


  2. Matt says:

    Since I mostly agree with what you said about publications, and I find the second part of the discussion more interesting, I’ll keep to that topic. I think I wasn’t completely clear in expressing my point. I wasn’t claiming that Crick and Hoyle were proponents of ID, but rather that they had asked similar questions concerning the origin of life. Furthermore, when I was referring to the question of design, I was specifically talking about origin of life and not evolution per se (I didn’t make this clear). I am not an opponent of evolution. I agree that an incredible amount of research has demonstrated the origin of diversity once you have life, but there is no similar immense theoretical and experimental framework for the origin of life. There are interesting ideas, but no one really knows. It is in the exploration of the origin of life that I think we have something to gain by allowing the question concerning design. The fact that the origin of diversity is explained well without an appeal to design has no bearing on the origin of life question. I think that a scientist who refuses to consider this an option, until ruled out by evidence, is committing the same academic dishonesty that the IDer does who comes to the table presuming there must be design.


  3. Ed Darrell says:

    Here’s the lowdown on lack of publication: In 1981, creationists claimed that they had no publications because the editors of the science journals were biased. Unfortunately, they made that claim under oath in a federal trial. The judge asked the creationists to bring in some of the research write-ups they had done which had been rejected by the biased editors. Creationists were unable to produce any research they had done that had been rejected by any journal. Challenged, they were unable to produce any research any of them had done.

    The charge surfaced again in the Dover trial in 2005. Again, under oath, IDists confessed they didn’t have any research to publish.

    In point of fact, every ID article ever submitted to science journals has been published — and there is still nothing of substance to show.

    If ID has an iota of science in it, why would the movement be founded by an expert in criminal procedure whose stated objective is to insert God into public schools?

    The question of design is an old one. Research over the past 200 years has shown — tens of thousands of times — that what appears to be design by an outside intelligence is really design executed through genetics and development. No case has gone contrary. Why, with literally tens of thousands of experiments, and billions of examples to the contrary, should we entertain a claim that the research is wrong, and that living things don’t do what they do — especially if the claim comes without any evidence at all?

    Crick and Hoyle did not subscribe to intelligent design theory. Filter the reasonable from the nonsense — Crick and Hoyle both stated that ID advocates distort the evidence, and that evolution is clearly manifested in modern life on Earth. Hoyle argued that four billion years might not be enough to get the diversity we have in life forms now, and urged that life might have arisen elsewhere and evolved for some time before getting to Earth. But he retreated from that view when it was pointed out creationists had seized on it. He said evolution is clear in DNA and fossils, and other places.


  4. Matt says:

    Interesting post, and an impressive blog. Here are a few of my thoughts. First, it seems that the use of publication records as evidence against the arguments made in Expelled is somewhat suspect. Wouldn’t they just quote this lack of publication as evidence of their alleged discrimination? That said, I agree with many of your thoughts on the movie. It’s really a shame that they only interviewed scientists from the extremes of the debate. This grossly misrepresents the scientific community by leaving out the moderate voices (the bulk? of the community). Worst perhaps is that the film doesn’t even really discuss any of the science (except for making fun of some poorly explained evolutionary ideas).
    However, poor films aside, I feel it is also going too far to label all of ID as unscientific, even though many ID advocates may have unscientific motives. There is at least one interesting scientific question they are asking, namely, “Is is possible to determine whether a biological organism has been designed?” Even Dawkins apparently admits this is scientific, though of course he thinks the only possible designer would be an extraterrestrial lifeform. There are also at least two Nobel laureates (Crick and Hoyle) that held such beliefs about the origin of life. We must be careful to filter the reasonable from the nonsense.


  5. Ed Darrell says:

    But unlike ID advocates, you make corrections to be sure you’re accurate before going on.

    Hello, Discovery Institute?


  6. jdstripes says:

    Silly me, I didn’t read the other comment before posting mine. It appears the story I knew was incomplete, and partly misleading.


  7. jdstripes says:

    It is my understanding that an ID advocate did get one article in one referred Biology journal a few years ago. I don’t have the citation handy, but I recall that it was a Pacific Northwest regional biology journal and the author(s) are associated with Seattle’s Design Institute.

    One article hardly challenges anything you’ve written here.


  8. James F says:


    The lack of any body of research from the cdesign proponentsists is astonishing. None of their claims of having “peer-reviewed literature” include data presented in peer-reviewed scientific papers. Even the Meyer-Sternberg fiasco wasn’t over a research paper, it was a literature review, and that was disavowed by the journal: So far they haven’t even been able to quote-mine “pro-ID” papers for 2007 and 2008. If you enter “evolution” as a major subject heading in the National Library of Medicine, you get over 102,000 papers, not counting reviews. “Teach the controversy?” Try “teach the accuracy.”


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