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“Chariots of the Gods” as a Challenge to Darwin? Or a Support to Richard Dawkins?

posted by David Klinghoffer

When I was a kid with a big imagination and a taste for mystery, a defining experience was seeing the classic speculative documentary Chariots of the Gods, based on Erich von Daniken’s spooky book of the same name claiming to prove that ancient astronauts visited the earth. I hadn’t seen the film since 1972 and on a nostalgia kick the other day I checked it out of the local library. It’s as creepy as I vaguely recalled — I was 7 when I saw it, I believe in a drive-in theater in Torrance, California, with my parents. Why they took me, I don’t know.

Anyway, what’s interesting is I noticed this time around that the cover on the DVD package tries to position the film as a challenge to, of all things, Darwin: “Charles Darwin maintained that man was descended from apes. Erich von Daniken countered with his own astonishing theory: ‘We are not descended from apes, but from gods!’” By “gods,” he meant a superior alien civilization.
Curiously this puts Von Daniken in a broad sense on the same page with Darwinian biologist and bestselling atheist Richard Dawkins, author of the new book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. Dawkins of course argues for man’s sharing a bloodline with apes but he is willing to entertain the idea that life on earth was intelligently designed only if the intelligent designers were space aliens. He said just that in an interview with Ben Stein in the 2008 documentary film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed:

Well, it could come about in the following way. It could be that at some earlier time, somewhere in the universe, a civilization evolved, probably by some kind of Darwinian means, probably to a very high level of technology, and designed a form of life that they seeded onto perhaps this planet. Now, um, now that is a possibility, and an intriguing possibility. And I suppose it’s possible that you might find evidence for that if you look at the details of biochemistry, molecular biology, you might find a signature of some sort of designer.

He later tried to wriggle out of the implications of the statement by claiming that anyone who straightforwardly cites him on the subject must be “lying for Jesus.” Maybe he would say that by quoting him in full as I do above, I am lying for Moses.

Incidentally, I dealt with Dawkins’s Jewish problem in an earlier entry.



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Ray Ingles

posted October 6, 2009 at 9:17 am


How about linking to Dawkins’ actual site?
http://richarddawkins.net/article,2394,Lying-for-Jesus,Richard-Dawkins
“Toward the end of his interview with me, Stein asked whether I could think of any circumstances whatsoever under which intelligent design might have occurred. It’s the kind of challenge I relish, and I set myself the task of imagining the most plausible scenario I could. I wanted to give ID its best shot, however poor that best shot might be… bending over backwards to make the best case I could for intelligent design, I constructed a science fiction scenario… I patiently explained to him that life could conceivably have been seeded on Earth by an alien intelligence from another planet (Francis Crick and Leslie Orgel suggested something similar — semi tongue-in-cheek). The conclusion I was heading towards was that, even in the highly unlikely event that some such ‘Directed Panspermia’ was responsible for designing life on this planet, the alien beings would THEMSELVES have to have evolved, if not by Darwinian selection, by some equivalent ‘crane’ (to quote Dan Dennett). My point here was that design can never be an ULTIMATE explanation for organized complexity.”



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Your Name

posted October 6, 2009 at 11:32 am


Frederick Hoyle also said that life originated somewhere else inthe universe because the earth wasn’t old enough. He sited evidence such as waht looked like bacteria in meteors.



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Dan

posted October 6, 2009 at 1:18 pm


Ben Stein’s film was a “documentary”? Seriously?
I would classify it as a for profit mass marketing campaign for the breathtakingly inane attempt at presenting intelligent design as valid science while making feeble links between Hitler and “Darwinism” that rely more on shock and drama than data and evidence, while attempting to make the absurd case that quacks should be justly granted tenure in science departments for advancing unscientific beliefs (yes, they are beliefs). By that logic, a Holocaust denier should be granted tenure in a history department (I’ll bet that has happened somewhere, too, a Norman Finkelstein who was [unknowingly?] granted tenure).
I am hesitant to classify such a piece as a “documentary”.



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kalpa

posted October 6, 2009 at 3:02 pm


Wesley Elsberry – a devout churchgoer – and the scourge of quacks and frauds (a category that includes the many poseurs in some institute that shan’t be named) says,
“…if the ID advocate claims that the sky is blue, [your] next step had better be to look out the window to see for [yourself].”
We know how the DI crowd went about making this apology of a movie. If only we cared to read what Dawkins has written. And David, we share our bloodline not only with apes, but also with all other metazoans. In fact we are not simply related to apes, we are apes.



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Mark

posted October 6, 2009 at 3:07 pm


When Dawkins said, “My point here was that design can never be an ULTIMATE explanation for organized complexity”, what he really meant was: “My point here was that design will never be accepted by ME as an ultimate explanation for organized complexity.”



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Dan

posted October 6, 2009 at 3:17 pm


Mark,
Seems like just about every month or so real scientists are making discoveries that refute the “predictions” made by intelligent design advocates.
Here is such an example, from Behe himself nonetheless:
http://www.evcforum.net/RefLib/NaturalHistory_200204_Behe.html
In the 5th paragraph, Behe mentions cellular transporters that are “irreducibly complex”.
Directly refuted by real, experimental evidence in the biological sciences:
http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/08/25/0908264106.abstract



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kalpa

posted October 6, 2009 at 7:10 pm


Mark,
Dawkins is simply saying that design/Design is a sham explanation devoid of any art or science, something that the scientific community shares.



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What's Good for the Goose

posted October 6, 2009 at 7:32 pm


Expelled wasn’t about ID per se, at least as I viewed it. It was about the McCarthyism of the Science Establishment that seeks to stifle the ID hypothesis.
Stein made a fool out of Dawkins. Perhaps, that was because for once he had an interlocutor who wasn’t fawning.



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Your Name

posted October 6, 2009 at 8:02 pm


Michael Behe discusses the paper on the molecular transport:
http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/09/reducible_versus_irreducible_s.html
He basically said that the bacterial tranport system is very different from the mitochondrial one, and would only work if there where lots of changes.



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Your Name

posted October 6, 2009 at 8:08 pm


Oh, and PNAS refused to publish Behe’s response. Looks like censorship does happen. I’m currently reading “The trouble with Physics” by Lee Smolin. He writes that all the important positions in physics are held by partisans of string theory. And anyone who questions sting quickly finds himself without a job.



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Dan

posted October 6, 2009 at 10:17 pm


No wonder PNAS wouldn’t publish Behe’s letter – it’s incredible ridiculous. Here is why:
1. Behe mentions “Darwinism”. There is no such scientific term. Also, he mentions “intelligent design” proponents – again, there is no such scientific term. As PNAS is a science journal, it is logical to exclude authors who demonstrate a poor grasp of science. It is up to the editors to the discern this.
2. Behe cites no scientific work supporting his notion that the flagellum is irreducibly complex. He only cites his own work which consists of his book and some non-science commentary. The poverty of this argument should be obvious to everyone. Further, DeRosier’s work has demonstrated the evolutionary origins of the flagellum.
3. Behe does not seem to be aware that implications for random mutation can be slight modifications. This is rather embarrassing. Mutations can cause change in function, yet still allow for high homology. Biosynthetic pathways of secondary metabolism are a good example of this.
It is refreshing to see the editors at PNAS exercise proper quality control and do not grant imprimatur to insufficient musings. Let us hope rigorous standards for quality science are maintained in the future.



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Ray Ingles

posted October 7, 2009 at 8:52 am


Mark – Design can’t be an “ultimate” explanation, and you yourself accept that. If a designer is always necessary to explain complexity, then it never terminates. If you explain complexity in the universe by saying “God did it,” then someone asks, “Who designed God?”
In practice, the explanation shifts to claim that God doesn’t need a designer, because God is supernatural/”ontologically simple”/whatever. “Design” is not an ultimate explanation even in theistic circles.
Dawkins et. al. simply shift to a different type of explanation earlier, and to a different mode. Watches need designers – you don’t jump from zero complexity to the level of complexity in a watch spontaneously. But watches don’t reproduces themselves with occasional errors. Living things do, and that lets them “spread out” the increase in complexity over innumerable small steps instead of one giant leap.



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Your Name

posted October 7, 2009 at 9:28 am


Dan:
So censorship does take place, but for good scientific reasons? Okay, that is different than the usual line that there is no censorship.
And why couldn’t the authors of the article sya what you said in response to Behe.
And what does the flagellum have to do with protein pumps. And Behe adresses the issue of homology. Basically a number of amino acids still have to change in different proteins simultaniously to go form an amino acid pump to a protein pump. And in “The Edge of Evolution” Behe cites lots of literature.



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Philip Koplin

posted October 7, 2009 at 11:41 am


No publication is obligated to publish everything everyone submits. It’s silly to cry “censorship” whenever something is turned down.



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What's Good for the Goose

posted October 7, 2009 at 12:01 pm


Philip Koplin: Except that if an ID peer reviewed article is published, the editor is hounded out of his job by the McCarthyites. That isn’t just not publishing, that is being coerced into not publishing because if an article is, the editor knows what will happen to him or her.



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Philip Koplin

posted October 7, 2009 at 12:29 pm


Goose: Has the editor of PNAS confessed this to you, or are you using your psychic powers to divine the fears and motivations behind his or her editorial decisions?



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Your Name

posted October 7, 2009 at 12:48 pm


An web interview with Behe was also scrubbed. See, again censorship.



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Philip Koplin

posted October 7, 2009 at 2:11 pm


See again, editorial decision making, the right of the editor/publisher to decide what they want published.
Right to have anything published anywhere, none.
Censorship, in the eye of the beholder; often used to whine about a denial of the right to have anything published anywhere, which see.



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Dan

posted October 7, 2009 at 3:06 pm


Your Name,
Many manuscripts are turned down from prominent science journals – scientists do not scream “censorship”. Look at the acceptance rates in “Nature”, “Science”, and “Cell” – they are quite low. On the flip side, a few have been published that I’m surprised got in. This suggests some subjectivity. HOWEVER, arguments that are poor will be, and should be, rejected outright for the nonsense they contain. This is one of the strengths of science over other philosophies and world views.
I do not know entirely what the editors said to Behe. Behe claims he received a “brusque rejection”. I cannot accurately speculate on what was said, therefore, I cannot answer your question.
As for the flagellum, Behe cites that “example” in his first paragraph of the letter to PNAS. This argument has been fully refuted years ago in work by DeRosier at Brandeis; therefore, for Behe to cite the flagellum as an example is fallacious and his 2009 letter to PNAS deserves to be rejected on this alone.
Finally, amino acids DO NOT need to change SIMULTANEOUSLY for a change in function. Such mutations can occur GRADUALLY over time, perhaps the function changes in the meantime, perhaps it does not, perhaps in the transitions it becomes (poorly) bi-functional. Such gradual accumulation of mutations is an evolutionary process.
Goose,
I suspect you are referring to what Sternberg did with the paper in Proc Biol Soc. Wash. Firstly, that paper was a commentary. Secondly, that journal has an impact factor



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Your Name

posted October 7, 2009 at 7:06 pm


Dan:
Well, they used to say that censorhsip wasn’t happening. Now they are saying that it is, its just happening because they don’t like the science.
And proteins can be considered closely homologous if they are up to 20% different in the amino acid configuration. If there is a bigger difference they are still considered homologous, just not closely. So that means that up to 20 amino acids ahve to change in a very specific way for one homologous protein to change into another. Thats a lot. And the protein pump has more than one protein. So you have to change alot of proteins in the system, and yet it still has to perform some function, or it won’t evolve. The function is conjectural. I think that that is a stretch. And if that’s wrong, why can’t the editor’s just publish Behe’s letter solely for the purpose of educating ignoramouses like me.



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Your Name

posted October 7, 2009 at 7:17 pm


And it looks like Behe haas refuted the refutations Re: the flagellum.
http://www.discovery.org/a/3718
But this would also get censored.



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Mark

posted October 7, 2009 at 10:14 pm


Dan thought he had a point when he wrote: “Behe mentions “Darwinism”. There is no such scientific term.”
It’s too bad that a fair number of staunch, and published, evolutionists use the same term. Yes, you can guess who culled the literature and created a list of such scientists.
Dan also wrote: “Further, DeRosier’s work has demonstrated the evolutionary origins of the flagellum.”
Can’t you tell the difference between “Demonstrated The Origins” and “Proposed a Theory of Origins”? Sheesh.



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Philip Koplin

posted October 7, 2009 at 10:46 pm


Your Name: You continue to use “censor” as a synonym for “choosing not to publish what I think should be published,” as though you have an objective ability to distinguish the exercise of editorial judgement from “censorship.” If you believe you have objective criteria for making this distinction, it would be interesting to hear them.



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Your Name

posted October 7, 2009 at 11:12 pm


People are always saying “why don’t the ID people publish? Must be that they have nothing to say.” But the real reason is that the journals won’t publish what they write. Whether you want to call it censorship or editorial judgement, it still takes away the “why don’t they publish arguement”.



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Philip Koplin

posted October 7, 2009 at 11:56 pm


People who reject ID don’t do so on the grounds that ID people don’t publish. They reject it on the grounds that ID people don’t publish good science.



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Mergatroid

posted October 8, 2009 at 4:35 am


Just a little statement by deRosier to excite both the nature-lovers and the God-lovers out there:
“The flagellum, with its complexity of structure and multiplicity of function, is a machine that boggles the mind. While musing on possible phrases that might catch the reader’s attention, I was reminded of the memorable 1926 slogan for the Hoover vacuum cleaner: “It beats as it sweeps as it cleans.” The flagellum self-assembles as it propels as it responds; that is, the flagellum not only pushes the cell along, it also responds to intracellular signals and it assembles itself. It seems as amazing as the old Hoover did in its heyday. But, I thought, the bacterial flagellum does not really ‘beat’; the eukaryotic flagellum, an entirely different machine, does that. Instead, the prokaryotic flagellum spins, driven by a rotary motor at speeds of over 100,000 rpm in at least one species (sic). The torque generated by the motor is converted to thrust by the corkscrew-shaped filament or propeller (for a review see [4]).
Of the 40 genes needed to code for a flagellum, at least 24 produce proteins found in the final structure…”



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What's Good for the Goose

posted October 8, 2009 at 8:48 pm


Dan: Richard Sternberg. Attacked, slandered, fouled, etc. and all because he published a peer reviewed article. The message was sent: Publish ID at your own peril.



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neoconstantine

posted October 29, 2009 at 4:15 pm


Many people think that the evolution is a very simple matter. From apes to men. But as we can see in the TV-programs, which are concerning the anthropology, the scientist aren’t sure which the pre-human form of apes can be our ancestor. The main question is: how the ape with small skull could evolve to the form with big skull? And how this ape could straighten your posture? Mutation? Well, as I was hearing from scientists the mutation is a negative factor. Mutant can’t be a reproducer.



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