Series reviewing Douglas Axe's Undeniable

The Henry Center is doing a series review of Douglas Axe’s book Undeniable. The intro went up last week, and this week I have a post up, in case anyone is interested.

[Sneaky Brad Edit: Here’s Doug Axe’s response to Dennis: Losing the Forest by Fixating on the Trees — A Response to Venema’s Critique of Undeniable | Evolution News]


I was hitting refresh all day yesterday waiting for your review to appear:-) I am so glad you addressed his protein folding argument. I had begun to write about that but then found myself unable to leave the intuition thesis of his book alone and ended up focusing my efforts there. I figured, not knowing who else was reviewing the book, would probably have more protein experience than I and would be address that topic. I think my review will dovetail very well with yours.

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When did it finally go up? They tweeted it to me, and then when I followed the tweeted link it gave a 404 error. Glad to see it finally went up. Looking forward to your review as well, Joel.

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It showed up for me after 8 this morning but it could have been live from another link. I did get the tweet this afternoon.

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Wow… I’m about as far from an expert in biology or ID as one can get, but this looks very important! I look forward to seeing their responses (or non-?), which should be telling…

Very good response.

The specifics on protein folding are great, but I love this part even more:

“We simply do not have the mental tools to intuit what might happen geologically over millions of years, what principles might be in play at speeds close to the speed of light, and so on. Quantum mechanics, to this non-specialist, looks like a violation of basic reason, but my colleagues in physics tell me that my intuitions are not valid. Similarly, what a process of evolution over billions of years might (or might not) be able to accomplish needs to be adjudicated based on evidence, not intuition.”

In my own opinion, this gets to the heart of what separates science and non-science. It harkens back to the early days of modern science when there was a real fight between Rationalists and Empiricists. The Rationalists thought that the secrets of the universe could be revealed through intuition and delving into truths that humans felt were innate. The Empiricists said that we should ignore all that and instead require independent sense experience to back conclusions. In the end, the Empiricists won out and what we got was the modern scientific method.

To put it simply, if human intuition was completely reliable then we wouldn’t need the scientific method . . . but we do need the scientific method.

“There are and can be only two ways of searching into and discovering truth. The one flies from the senses and particulars to the most general axioms, and from these principles, the truth of which it takes for settled and immoveable, proceeds to judgment and to the discovery of middle axioms. And this way is now in fashion. The other derives axioms from the senses and particulars, rising by gradual and unbroken ascent, so that it arrives at the most general axioms last of all. This is the true way, but as yet untried.”–Francis Bacon


I agree with the science/non-science distinction you describe. For me, I think it’s just as important to underline @DennisVenema’s point about the reliability of human “intuition.” Just before the quote you provide, he writes:

Humans are not well suited to have “common sense” (or to use Axe’s term, “common science”) intuitions about phenomena that are outside our range of everyday experiences.

To me, science is not merely a movement arising from Enlightenment realignment of intellectual culture. Science is a discipline, not in the “area of expertise” sense but in the “set of rigorous habits” sense. It is a way of thinking, one that explicitly acknowledges the opposite of what Axe asserts–that our intuitions are so prone to error that we ought to actively doubt them. Dennis uses the examples of deep time and quantum phenomena, but we have clear examples by the thousands from our own lives, all the time. (Am I the only one who found it very challenging, as a 6- or 7-year-old, to understand how people in Australia could live upside down?)

“Science” can’t be captured by single definitions, but for me its most important aspect (and contribution) is this: it is an activity undertaken by disciplined minds that are self-aware and humble enough to know that their initial impressions and responses to the world are frequently wrong. To elevate “intuition” over science is not just to invite error: it is to fail to even acknowledge basic aspects of the human mind.


I still can’t figure out why they don’t fall off, personally.

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Hmmm. That’s two of us. Should be enough statistical power for any intuition-based think tank.

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In Axe’s response to Dennis Venema it is interesting to note that Axe never responds to the criticisms of his main thesis, that human intuition is a reliable guide for rejecting scientific theories. Axe says that his main focus is on material for non-scientists, yet he ignores that very material in Venema’s review.

It would seem to me that the failures of human intuition in the field of science is a massive blow to Axe’s underlying thesis and should be directly addressed, and yet he doesn’t.

In my upcoming investigative report on the Christian Flat Earth movement, I will talk quite a bit about the ubiquitous use of “Common Sense” arguments among Flat Earthers—arguments which are rhetorically identical to Axe’s. I plan to label that section of my article “Common Sense is a Slippery Slope.”


As I was reading Undeniable, it became clear to me that ID has decided that it just can’t win on scientific merit, so it’s going to try to foster even more anti-intellectualism within its primary audience. Of course, it’s been doing this all along, but it’s in full flower in Undeniable.


Thanks for that link - hadn’t seen that yet. Where to begin…

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I also see that Axe just skates over the evidence in the 2008 paper that this is not an example of gene loss rather than a de novo gene. If anyone wants to see that evidence, here’s the paper:

Axe also is not portraying the second paper properly. Here’s their evidence that at least one new protein that provides a growth advantage was found by their experiment. Screenshots from this paper.

07 AM

I’ve never really understood where they are coming from when it comes to de novo gene evolution. From Axe’s response:

Gene evolution has long been thought to be primarily driven by duplication and rearrangement mechanisms. However, every evolutionary lineage harbours orphan genes that lack homologues in other lineages and whose evolutionary origin is only poorly understood.

Translation: Genomic sequencing has revealed something that contradicted evolutionary thinking — namely, an abundance of genes that don’t appear to have any evolutionary history (hence the name orphan genes).

First, many orphan genes are produced by indels or substitutions in non-coding DNA which result in a gene promoter and/or a reduction in stop codons. These orphan genes will lack homologs in other species because they didn’t evolve from a coding gene, but they still evolved from orthologous DNA. I don’t see why the theory of evolution would disallow this type of gene evolution, and they never explain why this runs counter to the theory. Even if an orphan gene is the result of a strange recombination event that produces novel DNA sequences, that still doesn’t run counter to the theory of evolution. I have no idea where they are getting the idea that random mutations producing new open reading frames and/or novel DNA sequences runs counter to a theory that proposes those very things.


Yep. They’re opposing a straw man version of evolution. You’ll see exactly the same sort of language used when they are dealing with incomplete lineage sorting.

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Why is Axe already responding at ENV? Looks to me like the Henry Center is giving him the “last word” anyway at the end of the series. Does the name “Venema” get him so worked up that he can’t contain himself?

Does anyone live on the underside of the flat earth, or have they all fallen off into space?

It’s become clear to me that ID has exhausted its intellectual capital and is now purely a political movement.

From Axe’s reply: “ordinary curious people are well equipped to see through all the technical huff and bluff used by people with PhDs.” The great Culture War strategy of anti-intellectualism and fear of the educational establishment. “We don’t need no stinkin’ experts tellin’ us what to believe!”

It’s like the DI book on theistic evolution. They continually use “Darwinism” and “neo-Darwinism” as synonyms for “evolution” so that they can talk out both sides of their mouths. Example: “First, considering the critical view I take not just of Darwinism but also of the academic echo chamber that, with iron-lung-like artificiality, allows this otherwise dead theory to persist, it should be clear that I wrote primarily for people outside the echo chamber. The exclusion of anyone who fits that description from providing even one of the reviews of my book therefore raises questions about the true intent of the exercise.”

If Axe had such concerns about the true intent of the exercise, why did he participate? I’m not a member of the academic echo chamber. I would be glad to review Unreliable, err, make that Undeniable, for him if he’d like.


That’s how we know the earth is flat. If it were not flat, it would slope; and if it sloped, we would slip off.

That’s the slippery slope argument. :slight_smile: