Wednesday, February 8, 2012

#293: Paul Nelson

April 7th every year is Paul Nelson day. The background is as follows: On April 6th 2004 Paul Nelson, an Intelligent Design creationist, presented his notion of “Ontogenetic Depth”. Ontogenetic depth is purportedly a way of objectively measuring the complexity of the developmental process in organisms with a number that described the distance from egg to adult, something that would – if he could give it – actually give Intelligent Design some predictive power (which it doesn’t have). The idea is silly, and what he didn’t give away was – predictably – how to calculate the number, how it actually accounts for the complexity of a network, or even how to obtain a number that was different for a rhododendron and an elephant. Instead, Nelson said he'd get back with the details “tomorrow”. Well, “tomorrow” would have been April 7, 2004. We are still waiting, and the incident has become rather symbolic for the scientific credibility of Intelligent Design Creationism as an actual scientific theory.

Here are some summaries of previous Paul Nelson days:
2006, 2008 (also here), 2009 (also here), and 2010.

Paul Nelson is a philosopher of science (apologist), young earth creationist and intelligent design advocate. He is a fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture and of the International Society for Complexity, Information and Design. He is admittedly known for some strokes of insight. In an interview in Touchstone Magazine he admitted that there is no scientific theory of intelligent design at the moment, thus directly contradicting the official Discovery Institute stance. He also admitted – in an article co-written with fellow young earth creationist John Mark Reynolds (in J.P. Moreland’s “Three Views on Creation and Evolution”) – that “[n]atural science at the moment seems to overwhelmingly point to an old cosmos. Though creationist scientists have suggested some evidence for a recent cosmos, none are widely accepted as true. It is safe to say that most recent creationists are motivated by religious concerns.” (That does not mean that Nelson is opposed to the wedge strategy; just that he may not be completely aware that he is contradicting it).

He is not always that honest (though one sometimes suspects non-malicious intent), and has been caught accusing “evolutionists” of breaking down over … Paley’s design argument (follow-up here). Seriously. Anyone appealing to Paley’s argument has, by definition, no clue about how evolution is supposed to work. Strawmen are expected, though, given the combination of cluelessness and confirmation bias.

Nelson was also involved in concocting “Explore Evolution”, the Discovery Institute’s new “science” textbook for highschools. He has produced no scientific findings.

Diagnosis: Mild-mannered but thoroughly confused ignoramus – the kind of guy who can sit through the most careful explanation of a phenomenon attentively, and still interpret it completely randomly as being evidence for whatever he wants to believe.