Sunday, November 24, 2019

#2272: David Snoke

David Snoke is one of the central characters of the intelligent design creationist movement. A physics professor at the University of Pittsburgh and Fellow of the American Physical Society (and, it must be emphasized, a respectable scientist in his own field), Snoke was also a co-author on a controversial paper with Michael Behe in 2004. The topic of that paper was of course outside of Snoke’s area of expertise, and apparently his contribution was an appendix verifying the numerical results with analytical calculations showing that for a novel feature requiring multiple neutral mutations the time to fixation has a sublinear dependence on population size – of course, what was wrong with the claims in the paper, which ostensibly supported Behe’s notion of irreducible complexity, was not the calculations themselves, but the thought that they measured something relevant for any aspect of the theory of evolution (there are some good comments here and here; more damning counterevidence here). Indeed, contrary to Behe’s claims (as became clear e.g. during the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial) the article might ultimately even undermine the notion of irreducible complexity, as Behe had to admit under oath. (The Discovery Institute still had no trouble hyping it, of course, since for them this was never about science, truth or evidence.)

But the Behe collaboration was not a one-off for Snoke – he has even tried on a number of variants of the old creationist appeal to information – who later wrote a gushing endorsement of Behe’s book in 2014 (with Jeffrey Cox and Donald Petcher), published a numerical study of the evolution of novel structures in the journal Complexity with a (lego) model attempting to show that “natural assumptions” for the cost/benefit of building new structures should lead to a dramatic increase of useless, or vestigial, structures in a population, and arguing that the lack of observation of such large numbers of vestigial parts in organisms thus pointing to fine tuning of the mechanisms of evolution – of course, Snoke et al. never seems to consider the, from a biological point of view, obvious alternative: numerous organisms, some with suboptimal parts, instead of single organisms with massive amounts of suboptimal parts; it’s little wonder real biologists were unimpressed. In 2014 he also published a review article for the Discovery Institute arguing that the prevailing paradigm of modern systems biology favors an intelligent design perspective, and this bizarre post appears to argue that lack of evidence for a designer is evidence for design. Snoke is also a signatory to their bankrupt petition A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism.

His 2006 book A Biblical Case for an Old Earth, argues in favor of a “day-age” interpretation of Genesis as consistent with biblical inerrancy, and he has spoken and written extensively on how to reconcile science and biblical inerrancy.

Diagnosis: Real scientist with a decidedly pseudoscientific side-career – there are some of those – and a good illustration of how expertise in one area may result in nothing but feeble nonsense when dabbling in another.

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