Monday, July 19, 2010

Dr. Cornelius G. Hunter, Biochemist and Fool

I just discovered Dr. Cornelius G. Hunter, the "scientist" attack dog from the Discovery Institute who is wasting his life defending creationism. I probably should ignore the guy. He's such a sad waste of talent. But like so many of the leaders of the creationist movement, he actually manages to fool a lot of people, and that's not something you can ignore.

Hunter has a PhD in biophysics and computational biology, which gives credibility to his sham science. For every article he's written, you can easily find ten from reputable scientists that resoundingly refute his crazy "proofs." Real scientists spend their time discovering new things and improving our lives. Hunter seems to spend all of his time trying to destroy the work of others. That alone shows his dishonesty – if creationism (aka "intelligent design") was a real branch of science, Hunter could find gainful employment making new discoveries of his own.

I'll leave it to the biochemists to refute his complex, convoluted arguments about DNA. But even an amateur like me can find this guy's mistakes. Hunter wrote a paper with holes so big that even a freshman science or philosophy student could drive a truck through them. In a nutshell, he argues:
  • Evolution theory has grown more complex since Darwin's time.
  • The principle of parsimony says that given two theories that both explain something equally well, we should prefer the simplest of the two.
  • God's magic is a simpler explanation for the complexity of life than our understanding of DNA's evolution.
  • Therefore, evolution is wrong and creationism is right.
This is so childish it's embarrassing. Hunter takes a guideline, "scientific theories are supposed to be parsimonious," and mistakes it for an axiom that can be used in a proof. It's a stunning error of logic that no amateur philosopher, much less a PhD scientists, should make.

The idea that a simpler theory is better than a complex one is an observation, not a fundamental principle of science. Duh. You can't use it as part of a deductive argument. But Hunter, a purported biochemist with a specialty in nonlinear systems, conveniently overlooks this glaringly obvious mistake.

For example, look at protein folding. There is nothing simple about it, and no parsimonious theory will ever be discovered that explains how proteins fold. It's just plain complicated. Does that make it wrong? Or more importantly, does that mean God personally folds each of the billions of proteins in your body? That's what Hunter seems to be implying.

Or what about chemical reactions? To this day, there is no simple way to predict what will happen when you mix two chemicals together. Even the most powerful computers, running at billions of computing cycles per second, take days or even months to model a simple chemical reaction. And that's modeling, not a theoretical prediction. There is no parsimonious theory that can explain it. Except one, I suppose: "God's magic makes the chemicals react." Yes, that is indeed simpler. But no competent scientist would write and publish a paper with this as its thesis. Except maybe Cornelius Hunter.

Hunter's basic error of logic must be an embarrassment to the University of Illinois where he got his PhD.

Once again, I'm really saddened by the incredible waste of talent and intellectual energy by the whole theory of creationism. Here you have a man who is obviously intelligent, one who could make real contributions to science. Instead, he wastes his entire career on creationist nonsense. Worse, he forces real scientists to waste their time refuting his crazy theories and defending science itself.


  1. Part of the principle of parsimony is the reduction of unnecessary "entities" and you have to say that making up a God and all the entities that come with him (devils, demons, angels, etc.) is more complicated than the rather simplistic naturalistic approach.

  2. BB Frog -- excellent point. One of the fundamental flaws in all creationist arguments is that their God must be almost infinitely complex. As the old song goes, "Pack all your troubles in your old kit bag, and smile, smile, smile!"

  3. If their God is infinitely complex, then he must have had an infinitely + 1 complex designer!

  4. I found this wackaloon a few months back through the Uncommon Descent site (major, major wingnuts).

    He is from Biola University where the faculty sign an agreement that the bible is the font of truth, creation is real and all science must be subsumed to it.

    Ever since I posted this (very easily found) info (just follow his bio to Biola and roam around their website) I have been unable to post anything in his comments, no matter what email address I use. I think my IP address itself has been blocked at their site.

    I prepared the following tract but have been unable to post it. I would be more than happy if someone else cares to do do.

    I've sat back for a while and watched the debate/discussion progress in the usual manner, which is with the scientific challenges becoming more and more finessed and micro-specific.

    It goes like this. Cornelius alleges a flaw or incongruity in evolutionary theory. He claims he offers no alternative, despite his very evident credentials. We get past a few little spats and then two or three contributors, with the odd interjection by Cornelius, start a more and more detailed game of 'so and so said quote, quote quote - if that's the case then what about.....'

    The truth is that Cornelius's original pieces and the ensuing arguments are tantamount to trolling through the Lord of the Rings trilogy looking for spelling errors and then saying 'well, look at that! The whole tome is flawed and not worth reading.' Meanwhile, what the creationist/IDers are really trying to convince us is that their cat has five legs, while we stand there in amazement, gazing at a cat with four legs and a tail.

    ‘The zygotic perambulator of the hexagonoid dizzydoodle of the southern rhinestone slug befuddles it's doodlewacky in a manner which goes against popular evolutionary theory and contradicts claims in regard to the eastern zombiefied articulated collywobble. So how do you cover that gap/flaw huh? Come on, HOW? TELL ME HOW? Ha, you can't, therefore evolutionary theory is a crock!' Naturally there is no claim to an alternative theory being postulated (rolls eyes). If this is the case, why are they not applying themselves fully to resolving these dilemmas in a scientific manner? What reasons do they have for challenging science rather than putting all their energies into rectifying, answering or improving these factors? What reasons?

    Part 1 (word limit)

  5. Part 2

    I can't answer most (if any!) of the highly specialized questions the detractors of evolution pose, I don't even know if eminent scientists can. But that's not really the point now is it. Like I've said before, all the gaps, flaws and doubts that have been resolved have been resolved by science, ALWAYS, not creation/ID, EVER. There is absolutely no proof to the contrary. Of course there is never any real response to this from the creation/ID side. They just raise another infinitesimal question mark over 'the science'. And when an answer they deem acceptable is not forthcoming they claim….well, what is it they claim? If it’s not creation/ID/god, what is it? The Erich von Danekin theory? The L. Ron Hubbard theory? The white mice theory al la 'Hitchhikers...'? This is a question for which an answer is never proffered. By all means, question the science. But come up with a scientific alternative, not a myth-based one.

    I'll tell you what. Next time these questions are raised, I'll hold my breath until science finds an evidential answer. You can hold your breath until creation/ID/god provides an evidential answer. Let’s see who turns blue and keels over first shall we? It is science which fills the gaps. Not balls of papier- mache made from pages of the bible attempting to plug them. I'd rather breathe while the formation is explained/understood/whatever scientifically. Not be smothered by a book with no evidential answers for life or anything else. A single book of selective amalgamated texts of doubtful origin is what some people use as a guide for life? How does that work?
    In the meantime I will continue to critique the articles of Cornelius and the posts of his supporters as the exercises in creative writing that they are. Religion drives science? It certainly does for proponents of creation/ID/god. Meanwhile science gets on with the job of providing more and better answers on an ongoing and accelerating basis.

  6. Hey Rupert - Thanks for your thoughts, and I'm glad I can provide a place for you to express them. The ID people truly don't want real debate, since their arguments fall apart so quickly.

    It would be great if we could ignore them. Their arguments are so silly and flawed. Unfortunately, they have real-world effects that damage our lives, our environment, and our health. So keep it up.


Dear readers -- I am no longer blogging and after leaving these blogs open for two years have finally stopped accepting comments due to spammers. Thanks for your interest. If you'd like to write to me, click on the "Contact" link at the top. Thanks! -- CJ.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.