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Bronze-level article

Charlie Wagner

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The divine comedy
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Charlie Wagner (1944-2011) was an inept proponent of Intelligent Design.[1] He specified that he did not attribute a religious agenda to his support of Intelligent Design, and the notion has been hijacked by those who do.[2] Yet all of his arguments for intelligent input are rife with problems. He posted comments to online forums about evolution versus intelligent design to get attention.[3]

A Scientific Case for Intelligent Input[edit]

From Wagner's website.

I have proposed Nelson's Law and, so far as I can tell, it has not been falsified by any observational or experimental data and must be assumed to be highly likely to be true.

From the beginning, a reader fully understands the kind of logic and inability to understand reality that plagues Wagner's idea. Wagner's argument for support of intelligent input is wrought with inaccuracies and fallacies. He falls into many of the usual ID setups, such as:

  • Arguing analogy of complexity by saying that objects like washing machines and airplanes are complex, designed things, and comparing them to dogs and humans.
  • Using the "mousetrap" argument, that removing any integral part of a complex machine renders the machine useless
  • Inanimate objects cannot create themselves from parts, therefore evolution is false
  • Science cannot explain why we are here, therefore there must be an intelligent reason

Wagner argues that there are two distinct types of complexities in life: designed systems and completely random systems. "There is only one difference between intelligently designed systems and those systems which are the result of random processes. Randomly generated systems do not adapt means to ends, they do not adapt structure and process to function and they do not self-organize. And one must be careful not to confuse organization with order. There's a lot of talk about ordered systems in the non-living world, snowflakes, tornadoes, etc. but this is not the issue." Why would Wagner bother arguing design based on tornadoes, airplanes and such, then later state that "there's a lot of talk about" such things and they are not the issue?

"Intelligently designed systems are beyond order, which is simply a condition of logical or comprehensible arrangement among the separate elements of a group. Like putting files in alphabetical order or using a sieve to separate items by size. Organization is a much different structure in which something is made up of elements with varied functions that contribute to the whole and to collective functions, such as exist in living organisms. Ordered systems can result from non-intelligent processes, as has been seen many times and cited by the examples given." But the only examples given are the ones Wagner claims are not the issue. He provides no living examples of such ordered systems.

"But organized systems require intelligent guidance. They need to be put together with intent and their assembly requires insight. They need to be the product of intelligence because it is necessary to determine if they are functioning properly and that can only be achieved by insight. Since living systems display organization, they display means adapted to ends and structures and processes assembled to perform specific functions, it becomes self-evident that they are the product of a higher intelligence." He makes no connection between the order and the evidence that this is the product of a higher intelligence. He argues that order is the result of something making the order work for some benefit; but where is the evidence of this, or the setup? What are some examples? None are provided.

"My dissatisfaction with current evolutionary models is not widely appreciated, but I'm used to holding a minority opinion and I would have to say that any of the so-called 'experts' who claim that these models are anything more than mere speculation are misguided. I am familiar with manyl (sic) of the examples that have been proposed. I can say with great assurance that all are highly speculative with no empirical evidence to support them. They are nothing more than just-so stories. Anyone who claims to understand the evolution of the immune system, flagella or blood clotting system is being at the very least disingenuous."

Is Wagner arguing that Y. Jiang,[4] M. J. Pallen[5] and R. F. Doolittle[6] are all disingenuous in their research and evidence? It appears more that Wagner does not appreciate evidence that clearly shows intelligent input is not necessary for complexity in organisms, given that such complex systems have different structures and arose through an evolutionary process, as observed in nature. These aren't proposals, as Wagner claims, but observations of "unintelligent input."

"The simple fact is that evolutionary biologists have never been able to establish a nexus between random mutations and changes in gene frequency in populations due to natural selection (both supportable claims) and the emergence of highly organized structures and processes such as are found in living organisms. Natural selection acts only on existing variation. The adaptations have to come into existence *before* natural selection can act on them so it is fair to say that only random processes are available to produce this variation." Here Wagner is simply incapable of seeing past his own nose. If random mutations exist, and if natural selection occurs, where is the problem between the two? If mutations occur in any population, then there is a chance that a mutation can cause a benefit of some kind to the organism. Whether it be a color change, or forward-pointing toes for bipedalism, or concavity of light-sensitive cells to understand direction of light intensity, etc., the understanding is there. Wagner just does not attribute to mutations that which he wants to be intelligence. If something positive happens, surely it's part of a plan of some intelligent worker; otherwise it's just a mutation. And natural selection only works on the mutations, not on the tinkered bits.

Take a specific example, such as the eye. It is made up of many various structures and processes and all of these structures and processes are integrated in such a way so as to enable vision. Each structure and each process has its own specific function, which acts in support of the other functions and contributes to the overall function of the eye, to allow vision. In addition, this structure itself is integrated into the overall structure of the body and contributes to the maintenance of the living state. It is my contention that the organization of these structures and processes and their assembly into a functional system required insight, and could not have been accomplished by random, accidental fortuitous occurrences. In order for your evolutionary view to prevail, you must somehow demonstrate that evolution has the power vested in it by you and you must demonstrate that random, non-directed processes such as mutation have the power to organize and assemble highly integrated systems in which means are adapted to ends. Until then, it's just a story, although I will admit, a pretty good story. After all, it's lasted for 145 years. But then again, Christianity was a pretty good story too, and it's lasted over 2000 years. I guess truthfulness is not a necessary requirement for longevity in the fairy tale business.

Why, then would there exist mollusks which have the steps from light-sensitive cells to fully-functioning eyes, and those with less complex "eyes" still have such? If a tinkerer is driving the change to complex, ordered eyes, why leave behind the incomplete versions? Such a sloppy, intelligent inventor.

Wagner does not address this (as no ID proponent ever does) and simply argues that eyes are complex, and they have many parts, therefore they must be the result of something intelligent. This fallacy is commonplace with many ID proponents, and Wagner does not disappoint.

"The assertion that random, accidental, fortuitous mutations can somehow accumulate in such a way as to result in the appearance of complex structures, processes and systems is totally unsupported by observational or experimental data." Except the evidence that shows complex structures, processes and systems accumulating through evolutionary means and not some supernatural force, of course. Wagner's only example has been thoroughly debunked, and the evidence shown for its steps are widely available. Yet somehow it just does not exist for Wagner.

Here is how he dispenses with the evidence:

With respect to the eye, evolutionary biologists have proposed an arrangement of the various morphological forms of the eye into what appears to be a convincing series of steps leading from the simple eye cup of patella to the lens eye of nucella. While this is aesthetically pleasing and suggestive of gradual evolution of the eye, the fact is that there is no evidence at all that these examples represent phyletic evolution accomplishing a major morphological transition from eye cup to lens eye. Similar errors in assuming gradual transitions have been made many times in the past and have proven to be apocryphal.

That's right, it looks to be accurate, it seems logical, but he just says it's "proven to be apocryphal." There you have it, folks! Pack it in, ID is true and evolution is false. Just because someone says there's proof it's apocryphal.

Snark aside, Wagner continues with his absurdities. "I am familiar with many of the papers published in journals that are often cited by evolutionary biologists as evidence that supports their theory. I'm sorry to report that not one of them provides any evidence, either observational or experimental that demonstrates that random, accidental events can ever accumulate in such a way as to result in the appearance of complex, highly organized and integrated structures, processes and systems." Evidence is not evidence. Yes, read that again.

"Evolution is not an increase in information, it's an increase in organization." Mammoths, dinosaurs and dodo birds would like to object to this statement.

"Other papers talk about complexity. Again, complexity is a red herring that has nothing to do with evolution. Highly complex systems can be generated by random processes, but that's not evolution." Wagner's understanding of biology is about on par with that of any other internet trolling ID proponent.

And he returns to his analogy of complexity:

What needs to be done is to connect mutation and selection to the emergence of highly organized systems in which numerous structures and processes perform functions that support other structures and processes as well as contribute to the overall function of the organism. Remember that living organisms are biochemical machines with characteristics similar to other machines. A computer, for example has a power supply whose function is to produce various voltages, disk drives for storage, a processor to do calculations, a monitor to produce images, etc. Each of these structures performs specific functions that support other structures and also support the overall functionality of the computer. No one would ever imagine that a computer could have been the result of random, accidental processes or that it could have been designed and built without intelligent input. Living organisms are no different. Humans have a heart to pump blood, kidneys to remove wastes, lungs to exchange gases, and a brain to direct all of these activities, each of which supports the other functions and also the overall maintenance of the living state. The design and assembly of such a machine could not have occurred without intelligent input anymore than your computer could have built itself.

"Evolutionists continually disparage intelligent design, saying that it's not science and chiding ID theorists for not publishing their work in 'peer-reviewed' scientific journals. This is not true. There are hundreds, if not thousands of peer-reviewed articles that appear each year in highly regarded scientific journals that support intelligent design." Name five, Wagner.

External links[edit]

Conversation on Evolution[edit]

From Wagner's website.

Wagner on Evolution[edit]

From Wagner's website.

Wagner on the Burgess Shale[edit]

From Wagner's website.

Wagner and Religion[edit]

Even though Wagner argues he does not attribute a religious agenda to his support of Intelligent Design, his website is filled with religious quotes and stories.

See also[edit]


  1. Charles Wagner 1944-2011
  2. http://www.charliewagner.net/case4id.htm
  3. http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/loom/2009/01/02/smoke-and-mirrors-whales-and-lampreys-a-guest-post-by-ken-miller/#comment-13307
  4. Jiang Y, Doolittle RF (2003) "The evolution of vertebrate blood coagulation as viewed from a comparison of puffer fish and sea squirt genomes." PNAS 100: 7527-7532
  5. Pallen MJ, Matzke NJ. (2006). "From The Origin of Species to the origin of bacterial flagella." Nature Reviews Microbiology, 4: 784-790.
  6. Doolittle RF, Jiang Y, Nand J. (2008) "Genomic evidence for a simpler clotting scheme in jawless vertebrates." J. Mol. Evol. 66:185-96.