Intelligent Design examined – Peer Review

There is a thriving sub-culture of folks out there who dismiss evolution and instead promote an alternative known as, “Intelligent Design”. At the forefront of this movement is the Discovery Institute. Often when I hear such claims, I dismiss them with the observation that they have no actual evidence, hence its not science.

As a response to this observation, they have a list of claimed Peer-review articles that are supposed to be credible. The link to the list on their site is here, so lets take a look.

This list from the Discovery Institute  is entitled – “Peer-Reviewed & Peer-Edited Scientific Publications Supporting the Theory of Intelligent Design (Annotated)

At first glance it does indeed appear to be a long list of scientific publications that support their position, but wait hang on a moment, what exactly do we have in this list:

  • We find Books. They claim they are peer-reviewed, but in the context of book publication, the concept of peer-review has no meaning. The fact that books have been published does not in any way prove anything. There are books out there written by astrologers that have been read by other astrologers, should we also consider those to be peer-reviewed publications and so start paying attention to astrology … I think not. Publishers print what sells, not what is true.
  • We have articles that are from “Peer-reviewed scientific anthologies”. What the heck is a Peer-reviewed scientific anthologies, this is not a recognised standard.
  • Then we have terms such as Peer-Edited and Editor-Reviewed articles. Nope, those don’t count either and are not recognised terms

So, if we filter all this out, do we have anything left? Actually yes we do, we apparently have a list of 12 Peer-reviewed articles from Scientific journals that are claimed to support intelligent design. Is this finally it? Well, lets take a look.

Article 1 – A.C. McIntosh, “Information and Entropy — Top-Down or Bottom-Up Development in Living Systems?,” International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics, Vol. 4(4):351-385 (2009

  • The International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics is a fringe publication of the featherweight Wessex Institute of Technology, in other words its not a real scientific journal, this is simply a vanity journal that publishes papers written by its own editors. McIntosh is on their Editorial Board, and one of their other editors is the young earth creationist Stuart Burgess – Fail

Article 2 – William A. Dembski and Robert J. Marks II, “Conservation of Information in Search: Measuring the Cost of Success,” IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man and Cybernetics A, Systems & Humans, Vol. 39 (5):1051-1061 (September, 2009)

  • What do others have to say about this, do they find it credible as an ID paper? Nope, see reviews here, and here, and here.
  • Dembski has, for years, been pushing an argument based on some work called the No Free Lunch (NFL) theorems. The NFL theorems prove that average over all possible search landscapes, no search algorithm can outperform a random walk. The NFL theorems are true and correct – they’re valid math, and they’re even useful in the right setting. In fact, if you really think about it, they’re actually quite obvious. Dembski has been trying to apply the NFL theorems to evolution: his basic argument is that evolution (as a search) can’t possibly produce anything without being guided by a supernatural designer – because if there wasn’t some sort of cheating going on in the evolutionary search, according to NFL, evolution shouldn’t work any better than random walk – meaning that it’s as likely for humans to evolve as it is for them to spring fully formed out of the ether. This doesn’t work for a very simple reason: evolution doesn’t have to work in all possible landscapes. Dembski always sidesteps that issue.
  • So yes, this is an appropriate publication in its context, and the maths is OK, but claims that it supports ID when applied to Evolution are not in this paper. Nor can that claim be substantiated by any data from either here or anywhere else
  • Status as a paper that supports ID – Fail.

Article 3 – Ø. A. Voie, “Biological function and the genetic code are interdependent,” Chaos, Solitons and Fractals, Vol 28(4) (2006

  • Sigh! … Well its a real journal, another maths one, and what we have here is an attempt to take Gödel’s theorem and try to apply it to something other than formal axiomatic systems … oh thats such a bad idea. This is a journal for fractals, so its no shock that the reviewers had the wool pulled over their eyes. If they were familiar with Gödel and information theory it would not have been published. Here is a link to an appropriate Subject matter expert who attempts to digest this and ends up spitting it out.
  • So in summary, its not just a paper out of context, its a bad paper that does not hold together – Fail

Article 4 – David L. Abel & Jack T. Trevors, “Self-organization vs. self-ordering events in life-origin models,” Physics of Life Reviews, Vol. 3:211–228

  • This has been falsified – Fail

Article 5 – John A. Davison, “A Prescribed Evolutionary Hypothesis,” Rivista di Biologia/Biology Forum 98 (2005)

  • This is a non-peer reviewed, proprietary journal. The article was only published here after the DI sponsored it – no regular journal would have it. However, it was recognised, and did indeed win an award, it was voted “crankiest” on – Fail.

Article 6 – S.C. Meyer, “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories,” Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, 117(2) (2004)

  • All we actually have here is an very bad attempt to reorganize already existing information. This article was not peer-reviewed according to the standards of the Biological Society of Washington, but rather slipped into the journal by an editor without proper review. The publisher repudiated the article; – Fail.

Article 7 – M.J. Behe and D.W. Snoke, “Simulating Evolution by Gene Duplication of Protein Features That Require Multiple Amino Acid Residues,” Protein Science, 13 (2004)

  • This article was indeed peer-reviewed according to the normal procedures. The conclusions, however, were rapidly and voluminously disputed by others in the field, and the controversy was addressed by the editors. It argues against one common genetic mechanism of evolution. It says nothing at all in support of design. Its assumptions and conclusion have been rebutted (M. Lynch 2005). – Fail

Article 8 – D. A. Axe, “Estimating the Prevalence of Protein Sequences Adopting Functional Enzyme Folds,” Journal of Molecular Biology, Vol. 341 (2004)

  • This article does not support Intelligent design theory, that fact was established during the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, you can read the testimony here that proves this. If that’s not enough, then here is a detailed analysis of the paper. – Fail

Article 9 – W.-E. Lönnig & H. Saedler, “Chromosome Rearrangements and Transposable Elements,” Annual Review of Genetics, 36 (2002)

  • Annual Review of Genetics does not publish new research results; it publishes review articles, which summarize the current state of thinking on some topic. Although the thrust of the article is in opposition to the modern evolutionary picture, nowhere does it mention “design”. It references Behe and Dembski only in a couple long lists of references indicating a variety of different options. Neither author is singled out. – Fail

Article 10 – D.K.Y. Chiu & T.H. Lui, “Integrated Use of Multiple Interdependent Patterns for Biomolecular Sequence Analysis,” International Journal of Fuzzy Systems, 4(3) (September 2002)

  • Chiu and Lui (2002) mention complex specified information in passing, but go on to develop another method of pattern analysis. – Fail

Article 11 – M.J. Denton, J.C. Marshall & M. Legge, (2002) “The Protein Folds as Platonic Forms: New Support for the pre-Darwinian Conception of Evolution by Natural Law,” Journal of Theoretical Biology 219 (2002)

  • Denton and Marshall (2001) and Denton et al. (2002) deal with non-Darwinian evolutionary processes, but they do not support intelligent design. In fact, Denton et al. (2002) explicitly refers to natural law. – Fail

Article 12 – D. A. Axe, “Extreme Functional Sensitivity to Conservative Amino Acid Changes on Enzyme Exteriors,” Journal of Molecular Biology, Vol. 301 (2000)

  • Axe finds that changing 20 percent of the external amino acids in a couple proteins causes them to lose their original function, even though individual amino acid changes did not. There was no investigation of change of function. Axe’s paper is not even a challenge to Darwinian evolution, much less support for intelligent design. Axe himself has said that he has not attempted to make an argument for design in any of his publications (Forrest and Gross 2004, 42). – Fail.


Thats it then … nada, zilch, nothing, not one jot.

There are hundreds of papers published each month whose authors find evolution useful in explaining their results. One would think that, if “intelligent design” has any scientific merit, there would be a significant number of papers each month presenting evidence of supernatural intervention by an intelligent designer. Surely the many religious scientists, in particular, wouldn’t fail to publish results that turn out to support intelligent design, even if that wasn’t the original focus of their research.

There is indeed a claim that there are credible peer-reviews papers that support ID, but when looked at, all we find are incandescent vapors and reflective materials … that’s “Smoke And Mirrors” to you and me. Anybody not familiar with the conversation will be easily fooled, so please learn to be skeptical and don’t be among that number, because there is indeed no credible evidence that supports any form of supernatural intervention.

One Final Thought

How should we respond to stuff like this, should we respect it, or respect the authors behind this nonsense? Nope.

Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. -Thomas Jefferson

7 thoughts on “Intelligent Design examined – Peer Review”

  1. Whatever happened to John A Davison? I don’t seem to have heard much from him on the net for quite some time. He is probably on medication and feeling more rational now.

  2. Least anybody wonder, according to Google Translate, the English rendering of the previous comment reads …

    “I am God the Holy Spirit. Creation of a manuscript. 13008290590– SMS contact. 2012 to avoid disaster, maybe I can. Come.”

    In other words, it would appear that “an” is either a complete nutter, or simply somebody having a laugh … my vote is Option 1.

  3. Arthur Hunt – I am a professor in the Dept. of Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Kentucky. I teach a graduate course in plant molecular biology and push papers for the Plant Physiology Ph.D. Program at the University of Kentucky. I am also a contributor to The Panda's Thumb, and a good friend of Professor Steve Steve.

    Hi Peter,

    Thanks for the comments about my essay. One thing that I would point out – Axe’s remarks at the Biologic web site do not address my criticisms of his 2004 paper, nor do they touch on the (somewhat hurried) remarks I made at Biola that touch on the subject. Axe focuses more on Steve Matheson’s comments.

    I was then and am still disappointed that Axe continues to avoid my criticisms.

  4. I am feeling a little guilty at making you work so hard, but thank you for all your trouble.
    I was particularly interested in Doug Axe and his 2004 paper. My feelings as I read your post was that the guy must have crawled away into a hole years ago. Actually when I started following your links I found he is not only alive and kicking but really a very gracious bloke.

    I don’t get the impression that Barbara Forrest gave an account of him and his work that he would agree with. She was described as a ‘cyber stalker’ by DI.

    I tried really hard with limited success to understand Arthur Hunt’s dissection of Axe’s work. I thought him a fair man. However, Arthur was invited to question the ID guys about this work:

    Axe defended himself here.

    Doug Axe has also produced a new paper which he feels justifies his conclusions:

    I don’t want to play quote ping-pong but this one did make me laugh:
    It rolls off my back. Ridicule doesn’t mean anything – even from people you’re supposed to wear knee pads around, like the scientific community.
    Dwight Schultz


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