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SDG

a critique of Intelligent Design

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SDG wrote:

: The question is not the growth of eyes in individual organisms, but the development

: of eyes in species.

How and where do you draw a hard and fast line between these two processes of growth?

: Like the building of Stonehenge, this is not, AFAIK, a process that is currently

: available for our study and testing . . .

However, we can observe people building rockpiles similar to Stonehenge, and we can observe the growth of eyes in animals just as we can hypothesize the development of eyes across species.

: AFAIK, there are at least three different families of eyes that are so radically

: different from one another that the theory is that they have completely independent

: evolutionary origins, rather than any having developed or evolved from either of

: the others.

Groovy. Kind of like how mammals evolved the ability to swim just as fish did -- certain physical environments encourage certain kinds of physical developments. I believe they call this "convergent evolution".

: Incidentally, luxuries becoming necessities isn't necessarily the same thing as

: irreducibly complex systems developing from reducible complexities.

Not necessarily, no.

: Um, Behe is not just a chemist, but a biochemist, which seems to count as a

: biologist according to this hostile witness . . .

Wow, SDG, you have found the very essay I was thinking of, when I said that Behe's theory had been disproved several decades before he came up with it! To quote the relevant portion of that essay:

I wish I could claim credit for this Darwinian model of irreducible complexity, but I'm afraid I've been scooped by eighty years. This scenario was first hinted at by the geneticist H. J. Muller in 1918 and worked out in some detail in 1939. Indeed, Muller gives reasons for thinking that genes which at first improved function will routinely become essential parts of a pathway. So the gradual evolution of irreducibly complex systems is not only possible, it's expected. For those who aren't biologists, let me assure you that I haven't dug up the half-baked lucubrations of some obscure amateur. Muller, awarded the Nobel Prize in 1946, was a giant in evolution and genetics.

Although Muller's essay isn't as well known as it should be, the gist of his idea is common wisdom in evolutionary biology. Here's an important application: Molecular evolutionists have shown that some genes are duplications of others. In other words, at some point in time an extra copy of a gene got made. The copy wasn't essential -- the organism obviously got along fine without it. But through time this copy changed, picking up a new, and often related, function. After further evolution, this duplicate gene will have become essential. (We're loaded with duplicate genes that are required: myoglobin, for instance, which carries oxygen in muscles, is related to hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in blood. Both are now necessary.) The story of gene duplication -- which can be found in every evolution text -- is just a special case of Muller's theory. But it's an immensely important case: it explains how new genes arise and, thus, ultimately, how biochemical pathways get built.

As for Behe's status as a biologist, note how even this author, who calls Behe a "biologist", critiques Behe for speaking outside his field -- this review was in fact the first time I came across this particular criticism of Behe, however imprecisely I may have recalled it in this thread, and I have seen it elsewhere since, too:

One of the most interesting questions about Behe's book is why he feels especially qualified to critique Darwinism. (And not just to quibble over details, but to announce that "Darwinism is not science," as he did in a recent letter to Commentary.) To a historian or electrician, Behe certainly looks qualified. He is a biologist. But it's not that simple, as can be seen by turning the tables for a moment. If I, an evolutionary biologist, were to announce that biochemistry is deeply flawed -- I've shown, for instance, that enzymes are not catalysts -- I doubt I'd get a listen. I surely wouldn't get a publisher. Nor would any jurist consider my ruminations worthy of attention. But Behe stars in public debates, has a fancy publisher (Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster) and the ear of the likes of Judge Bork. Why the difference? Why is everyone an expert witness when the topic is Darwinism but not when it's biochemistry?

The answer is complicated, but a few things are clear. First, Darwinism matters. Many people will inevitably have questions about Darwinism because many people will inevitably think about it. By comparison, I doubt many Sunday school classes get worked up over enzyme kinetics. Second -- and this has more to do with attacks from scientists such as Behe's -- there's a striking asymmetry in molecular versus evolutionary education in American universities. Although many science, and all biology, students are required to endure molecular courses, evolution -- even introductory evolution -- is often an elective. The reason is simple: biochemistry and cell biology get Junior into med school, evolution doesn't. Consequently, many professional scientists know surprisingly little about evolution.

Now I don't pretend to know the details of Behe's education, but I do know this: he is not at home in the technical evolution literature. His book reveals that his grasp of evolution derives mostly from the pop literature (Gould, Dawkins -- good stuff, but no stand-in for the real thing) and from computer searches of the scientific literature that he strangely makes a big deal of. While I have utter confidence in Behe's biochemistry, I am less confident that he can say what soft selection, or Muller's ratchet, or the Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection is -- all bread and butter of evolutionary biology. It would be easy, of course, to get carried away here, and I want to emphasize that I'm not saying that outsiders can offer nothing of value (it's worth remembering that Darwin himself was trained primarily as a geologist, not a biologist). I'm simply saying that any would-be critic of Darwinism should know as much about evolution as any critic of biochemistry must know about molecules. (An idea that apparently never occurred to Free Press, who presumably will next treat us to a botanist's musings on the flat earth.)

Finally, Behe and others may feel obliged to sling mud Darwin's way because they suspect evolutionary biologists won't do so. Evolutionists are widely perceived as uncritical ideologues, devoted to suppressing all doubt about evolution. It's easy to see how this impression arose: evolutionists, after all, spend most of their public lives defending Darwin against endlessly recycled creationist arguments. So of course we appear hide-bound reactionaries. (So would physicists if the theory of gravity were dragged into court every other year.) But the truth is, I think, quite different. It would be fatuous to deny that scientists can be intellectually conservative or prone to hero worship. And it would be equally absurd to suggest that evolutionists have resolved every major problem facing us; many remain. But the fact is that, as in any science, evolutionists often sharply disagree. And, as in any science, these disagreements sometimes concern fundamentals. In the 1930s, for example, Sewall Wright championed the role of "genetic drift" in evolution. Parting with accepted wisdom, he argued that random changes in the genetic composition of populations -- not natural selection -- account for many of the differences we see between species. More recently, Motoo Kimura championed the neutral theory, arguing that a good deal of evolution at the molecular level does not reflect natural selection. Here were overt attempts to circumscribe the role of selection. And the attempts were largely successful: Wright and Kimura were not hooted down, gagged or shot. Instead genetic drift and the neutral theory are now enshrined in every evolution text.

So when the Christian Right tries to tell you that evolutionists instinctively circle the wagons whenever anyone dares question the Darwinian status quo, you should ask yourself why Wright and Kimura got through, but Behe not. The answer is, I think, straightforward: Wright and Kimura knew what they were talking about.

CrimsonLine wrote:

: Behe's argument is that in an irreducibly complex system, you cannot get from one

: functioning structure to another in gradual steps - all the steps in between are

: non-functioning, and therefore not valuable for survival.

Yes, and Behe's mistake, apparently, is in assuming a strictly linear progression from less-complex to more-complex.

: My argument was against the word "mere" - IDers don't claim that there was no

: MEANS by which a designer created life but that the means were not merely

: naturalistic, random processes.

This enters "A difference that makes no difference is no difference" territory. If the MEANS are just as unfalsifiable and untestable and supernatural as the Intelligent Designer itself -- indeed if they depend for their very existence on this Designer -- then for our purposes, there is no point in distinguishing between them.

: It's hard to argue compellingly from a human-directed, designed system like

: computer programs to what evolutionists claim is a non-directed, non-designed

: system of biological origins.

Touche'. But the point is not the "directedness" of the development. The point is the features that actually develop. Let's not make too much of our analogies.

: And the air bladder example begs the question - why did the sea creature evolve

: the air bladder in the first place.

Why NOT evolve an air bladder in the first place?

BTW, CrimsonLine, when you say things like "You have to explain...", do you say such things in the hope that such an explanation is actually forthcoming? Or do you say such things in the hope that such an explanation will NEVER come, and will thus allow ID to win by default? Like it or not, it seems that what you are doing there is pointing to a "gap", and since you align yourself with ID, you are in effect telling us to fill that gap by imposing supernatural explanations on that gap -- AKA the "God of the gaps" -- instead of telling us to fill that gap by seeking natural explanations.

Or is it possible that you are an IDer who seeks non-supernatural causes for certain biological phenomena? If so, then how do you pick and choose which biological phenomena require us to search for natural causes and which biological phenomena require us to settle for supernatural causes? And for that matter, if IDers are encouraging us to seek for natural causes for ANYTHING, then what's the point of being an IDer?

SDG wrote:

: But many line commands, taken in themselves, are useless or worse than useless

: -- not just "luxuries" or advantages that haven't yet become necessities, but

: crippling problems -- without a whole context of other lines that, taken all together,

: forms an irreducibly complex unit.

Absolutely. No doubt problematic mutations outnumber the advantageous ones. And natural selection, of course, weeds out those mutations that are problematic.

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SDG   
: The question is not the growth of eyes in individual organisms, but the development

: of eyes in species.

How and where do you draw a hard and fast line between these two processes of growth?

One is a case of individual organisms with the inherited genetic capacity to develop useful, complex structural systems possessed by their ancestors, which we can directly observe every day. The other is a hypothetical process giving rise to the genetic capacity to develop useful, complex structural systems not possessed by one's ancestors, which AFAIK no one has ever observed happening, and which in certain cases it is not easy to see happening by degrees of beneficial change.

: Like the building of Stonehenge, this is not, AFAIK, a process that is currently

: available for our study and testing . . .

However, we can observe people building rockpiles similar to Stonehenge, and we can observe the growth of eyes in animals just as we can hypothesize the development of eyes across species.

I don't understand the function of the phrase "just as" in this sentence.

: AFAIK, there are at least three different families of eyes that are so radically

: different from one another that the theory is that they have completely independent

: evolutionary origins, rather than any having developed or evolved from either of

: the others.

Groovy.  Kind of like how mammals evolved the ability to swim just as fish did -- certain physical environments encourage certain kinds of physical developments.  I believe they call this "convergent evolution".

Yes, it's a nifty phrase, though I think I can imagine swimming ability gradually appearing and improving by countless small adjustments in mobility and articulation, whereas I am not sure I can as easily imagine the eye coming into existence by a similar process. Since you gave an extended quotation, here's another from Behe:

Let us return to the question, how do we see? Although to Darwin the primary event of vision was a black box, through the efforts of many biochemists an answer to the question of sight is at hand. 4 When light strikes the retina a photon is absorbed by an organic molecule called 11-cis-retinal, causing it to rearrange within picoseconds to trans-retinal. The change in shape of retinal forces a corresponding change in shape of the protein, rhodopsin, to which it is tightly bound. As a consequence of the protein's metamorphosis, the behavior of the protein changes in a very specific way. The altered protein can now interact with another protein called transducin. Before associating with rhodopsin, transducin is tightly bound to a small organic molecule called GDP, but when it binds to rhodopsin the GDP dissociates itself from transducin and a molecule called GTP, which is closely related to, but critically different from, GDP, binds to transducin.

The exchange of GTP for GDP in the transducinrhodopsin complex alters its behavior. GTP-transducinrhodopsin binds to a protein called phosphodiesterase, located in the inner membrane of the cell. When bound by rhodopsin and its entourage, the phosphodiesterase acquires the ability to chemically cleave a molecule called cGMP. Initially there are a lot of cGMP molecules in the cell, but the action of the phosphodiesterase lowers the concentration of cGMP. Activating the phosphodiesterase can be likened to pulling the plug in a bathtub, lowering the level of water.

A second membrane protein which binds cGMP, called an ion channel, can be thought of as a special gateway regulating the number of sodium ions in the cell. The ion channel normally allows sodium ions to flow into the cell, while a separate protein actively pumps them out again. The dual action of the ion channel and pump proteins keeps the level of sodium ions in the cell within a narrow range. When the concentration of cGMP is reduced from its normal value through cleavage by the phosphodiesterase, many channels close, resulting in a reduced cellular concentration of positively charged sodium ions. This causes an imbalance of charges across the cell membrane which, finally, causes a current to be transmitted down the optic nerve to the brain: the result, when interpreted by the brain, is vision.

If the biochemistry of vision were limited to the reactions listed above, the cell would quickly deplete its supply of 11-cis-retinal and cGMP while also becoming depleted of sodium ions. Thus a system is required to limit the signal that is generated and restore the cell to its original state; there are several mechanisms which do this. Normally, in the dark, the ion channel, in addition to sodium ions, also allows calcium ions to enter the cell; calcium is pumped back out by a different protein in order to maintain a constant intracellular calcium concentration. However, when cGMP levels fall, shutting down the ion channel and decreasing the sodium ion concentration, calcium ion concentration is also decreased. The phosphodiesterase enzyme, which destroys cGMP, is greatly slowed down at lower calcium concentration. Additionally, a protein called guanylate cyclase begins to resynthesize cGMP when calcium levels start to fall. Meanwhile, while all of this is going on, metarhodopsin II is chemically modified by an enzyme called rhodopsin kinase, which places a phosphate group on its substrate. The modified rhodopsin is then bound by a protein dubbed arrestin, which prevents the rhodopsin from further activating transducin. Thus the cell contains mechanisms to limit the amplified signal started by a single photon.

Trans-retinal eventually falls off of the rhodopsin molecule and must be reconverted to 11-cis-retinal and again bound by opsin to regenerate rhodopsin for another visual cycle. To accomplish this trans-retinal is first chemically modified by an enzyme to transretinol, a form containing two more hydrogen atoms. A second enzyme then isomerizes the molecule to 11-cis-retinol. Finally, a third enzyme removes the previously added hydrogen atoms to form 11-cis-retinal, and the cycle is complete.

It is not clear to me whether any or all of these processes, separated from the others, could be understood as a "luxury" or advantage that had not yet become a necessity. Nor is it clear that evolutionary scientists are prepared to make the case that the whole system emerged from countless non-advantageous processes that happened to come together to suddenly form an advantage.

Wow, SDG, you have found the very essay I was thinking of, when I said that Behe's theory had been disproved several decades before he came up with it!

Cool, then it should be clear why the author has not yet persuaded this intelligent and interested but unconvinced layman.

I've already raised my objections to his computer programming example, which actually provides a very persuasive example of irreducible complexity.

Programming is a pertinent example because like genetics, it involves highly complex sets of information, of instructions. Yet as Crimson also pointed out, programming is a highly ironic point of reference to cite against ID, since no computer program gets written without intelligent design. You can write programs to write programs, but programs don't just accidentally come into being. Nor are upgrades created by innumerable accidental changes to a program.

As every programmer knows, accidental changes -- copying or programming errors -- always involve the loss of data, never the creation of new, potentially useful data. Natural selection may be very useful as an eliminator of unhelpful mutative change, but the drawback seems to be that it may wind up eliminating basically everything, because mutative change, certainly in programming, doesn't produce ever so slightly useful features which eventually become major new upgrades.

To quote the relevant portion of that essay:

I wish I could claim credit for this Darwinian model of irreducible complexity, but I'm afraid I've been scooped by eighty years. This scenario was first hinted at by the geneticist H. J. Muller in 1918 and worked out in some detail in 1939. Indeed, Muller gives reasons for thinking that genes which at first improved function will routinely become essential parts of a pathway.

The catch being, of course, that the genes must first improve function. Interesting that the author provides the example of myoglobin being related to hemoglobin, but doesn't say anything about the processes that go into vision, one of the pillars of Behe's case.

Yes, and Behe's mistake, apparently, is in assuming a strictly linear progression from less-complex to more-complex.

I'm not sure why you say that, but surely you do need to get from less complex to more complex somehow, and that does seem to be where the nub of the issue lies. Lateral or other steps may be beside the point.

: It's hard to argue compellingly from a human-directed, designed system like

: computer programs to what evolutionists claim is a non-directed, non-designed

: system of biological origins.

Touche'.  But the point is not the "directedness" of the development.  The point is the features that actually develop. Let's not make too much of our analogies.

In computer programming, features do not "develop." Developers develop features.

: But many line commands, taken in themselves, are useless or worse than useless

: -- not just "luxuries" or advantages that haven't yet become necessities, but

: crippling problems -- without a whole context of other lines that, taken all together,

: forms an irreducibly complex unit.

Absolutely.  No doubt problematic mutations outnumber the advantageous ones.  And natural selection, of course, weeds out those mutations that are problematic.

My questions are not the natural selection side, but on the mutative side, and whether they will ever really get you, say, an eye. I'm not saying they won't. I'm just saying that's where the question is for me.

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CrimsonLine wrote:

: It's hard to argue compellingly from a human-directed, designed system like

: computer programs to what evolutionists claim is a non-directed, non-designed

: system of biological origins.

Touche'.  But the point is not the "directedness" of the development.  The point is the features that actually develop.  Let's not make too much of our analogies.

The point ISN'T the directedness of the development? Boy, you could have fooled me. It sure seems like the biggest beef against ID is that "design" implies "designer" and to naturalists, that is an unscientific hypothesis. Or am I misreading things?

BTW, CrimsonLine, when you say things like "You have to explain...", do you say such things in the hope that such an explanation is actually forthcoming?  Or do you say such things in the hope that such an explanation will NEVER come, and will thus allow ID to win by default?  Like it or not, it seems that what you are doing there is pointing to a "gap", and since you align yourself with ID, you are in effect telling us to fill that gap by imposing supernatural explanations on that gap -- AKA the "God of the gaps" -- instead of telling us to fill that gap by seeking natural explanations.

Or is it possible that you are an IDer who seeks non-supernatural causes for certain biological phenomena?  If so, then how do you pick and choose which biological phenomena require us to search for natural causes and which biological phenomena require us to settle for supernatural causes?  And for that matter, if IDers are encouraging us to seek for natural causes for ANYTHING, then what's the point of being an IDer?

Perhaps this seems weird to you, Peter - though I don't know why it should - but for me the main question is: "what is the truth? How did things REALLY come to be the way that they are?" Isn't that the task of science? To explore the universe, and seek answers to the causes of the things we find? I don't care if the cause is "natural" or "supernatural" (to me, they are one and the same) - all I care is that we seek the truth. I'm not interested in finding a "supernatural" explanation for everything, any more than I am interested in finding a "natural" explanation for everything. I am interested in finding the truth about everything.

For example, I am about 90% convinced that the universe IS billions of years old, as astrophysicists believe. Their evidence seems compelling, and regardless of the problems that it might raise for classical theology, I am willing to seek harder for the truth in theology, solving those problems, if that is what is necessary. By the way, Gordon Hugenberger has an elegant theological solution for the age of the universe, which he calls "the cruciform shape of the universe," a cool and powerful argument that allows for an ancient universe in orthodox theology. But that's not the discussion before us.

When I say, "you have to explain..." I *am* pointing to a "gap" of sorts. I am pointing to a problem in the theory that may indicate that the theory is unable to adequately explain what it is trying to explain. I don't then invoke special creation to solve the problem, but I am willing to consider that undirected random mutations are insufficient to bring about the world that we see today. If random mutations are insufficient, then what is an alternate explanation? Outside assistance is a possibility. Can it be tested? I think that's the question in front of Intelligent Design theorists today. I look forward to seeing them work on these questions.

Edited by CrimsonLine

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SDG wrote:

: One is a case of individual organisms with the inherited genetic capacity to develop

: useful, complex structural systems possessed by their ancestors . . .

Ah, but that very word "inherited" points to ancestry, which therefore points to evolution.

If we can observe mere chemicals combining to form biological organisms in ANY circumstance, it is not too great a stretch to imagine them doing the same in other circumstances, too. On the other hand, I don't think we could ever observe or even imagine rocks growing naturally into the formations we see at Stonehenge.

Some creationists say there is a difference between microevolution and macroevolution, but they never say exactly where we are supposed to draw the line between these two forms of evolution. It seems to me that you are proposing a similarly vague distinction, and thus a distinction that may be more distracting than useful. The evolution of a single organism could certainly be seen as a "micro" form of the sort of "macro" evolution that takes place between entire species.

: It is not clear to me whether any or all of these processes, separated from the

: others, could be understood as a "luxury" or advantage that had not yet become a

: necessity. Nor is it clear that evolutionary scientists are prepared to make the case

: that the whole system emerged from countless non-advantageous processes that

: happened to come together to suddenly form an advantage.

Very little of that was clear to me, too. But I wonder if you have at least looked for a response/rebuttal to Behe on this particular point.

: Programming is a pertinent example because like genetics, it involves highly

: complex sets of information, of instructions. Yet as Crimson also pointed out,

: programming is a highly ironic point of reference to cite against ID, since no

: computer program gets written without intelligent design.

This, of course, presumes that there is something supernaturally intelligent about humans. If humans are a byproduct of evolution, then their creations, or their byproducts -- including computer programming -- could also be a byproduct of evolution, just as, say, spiders' webs are a byproduct of evolution.

Indeed, if evolutionary theory presupposes that it would have taken billions of years for a single cell to evolve, but considerably less time after that for complex organisms to evolve from the single cell, then it follows that complex artifacts produced by these organisms would have evolved over even LESS time.

Don't worry, though, I personally DO believe there is something supernatural about human consciousness. That whole "image of God" thing. As I often say, "Either God exists, or I do not," and by "I", I mean the unified personal consciousness that transcends my neurons and the memes that get passed along the electrical charges between them, etc. I have never been able to buy into the idea that my consciousness is an illusion, or a deception, because that begs the question of WHO or WHAT is being deceived. But this is all a tangent that has little to do with the question of biological evolution, so, um, never mind.

: As every programmer knows, accidental changes -- copying or programming errors

: -- always involve the loss of data, never the creation of new, potentially useful data.

I believe that essay you and I cited refers to the duplication of genes and then the different directions that the mutations of those genes can take. That seems to me like an addition of data, rather than a loss of data.

OTOH, an example of the sort of thing you're describing may be the Y chromosome, which as I understand it was originally an X chromosome but has been losing genetic material for untold generations. Whether this loss of data was useful or not -- i.e. whether this loss of data was necessary to allow for sexual reproduction and all the advantages thereof -- I could not say.

: : Yes, and Behe's mistake, apparently, is in assuming a strictly linear progression

: : from less-complex to more-complex.

:

: I'm not sure why you say that, but surely you do need to get from less complex to

: more complex somehow, and that does seem to be where the nub of the issue lies.

: Lateral or other steps may be beside the point.

Yes, you need to get from less complex to more complex. Behe's error, apparently, is in assuming that an "irreducibly complex" organ or organism must have been MORE complex than all the steps that came before it; it is quite possible that something became more and more complex and then became LESS complex, shedding certain elements until it became something "irreducibly complex".

Perhaps the Y chromosome is, again, a useful example here. It's not quite irreducible -- I believe it's still losing data -- but it would seem to be less reducible than the X chromosome it once was.

: My questions are not the natural selection side, but on the mutative side, and

: whether they will ever really get you, say, an eye. I'm not saying they won't. I'm

: just saying that's where the question is for me.

FWIW, I'm more intrigued by spiders developing the physical and "mental" (or instinctual) abilities that are necessary for the spinning of webs. Heck, there are times I wonder if SPIDERS have the sort of creative "intelligence" that we're talking about here. smile.gif

CrimsonLine wrote:

: The point ISN'T the directedness of the development? Boy, you could have fooled

: me. It sure seems like the biggest beef against ID is that "design" implies "designer"

: and to naturalists, that is an unscientific hypothesis. Or am I misreading things?

Any appeal to the supernatural, and any appeal to untestable or unfalsifiable hypotheses, is, by definition, outside the realm of the natural sciences.

: Perhaps this seems weird to you, Peter - though I don't know why it should - but for

: me the main question is: "what is the truth? How did things REALLY come to be the

: way that they are?" Isn't that the task of science?

That's part of it. But science is more of a method for asking questions than it is a set of answers. The whole point of proposing a theory is to see how it stands up to the scientific method -- how it stands up to tests, whether it makes falsifiable predictions that turn out to be accurate, etc., etc. So, if you are going to propose ID as a theory, then you must subject it to the same scrutiny as other scientific theories. And this is done partly by taking a position and advocating it as best you can.

It's kind of like how courtrooms offer a process, but no one within the courtroom setting is expected to perform ALL the tasks within that process. The person who proposes a theory is more like a lawyer presenting an argument than a judge or jury who decides which argument comes closest to the truth of a matter.

That is why those who put forth an ID position should have very good defenses for it and very good explanations when they deviate from it.

: When I say, "you have to explain..." I *am* pointing to a "gap" of sorts. I am

: pointing to a problem in the theory that may indicate that the theory is unable to

: adequately explain what it is trying to explain.

Given that the theory is only about 150 years old, and given that we've only been gathering evidence for maybe twice that long, and given that the theory is trying to account for literally billions of years of development, I think it's premature to give up on the theory -- especially when it has proved so, so useful in so many areas.

: I don't then invoke special creation to solve the problem, but I am willing to

: consider that undirected random mutations are insufficient to bring about the world

: that we see today. If random mutations are insufficient, then what is an alternate

: explanation? Outside assistance is a possibility.

So you DO invoke special creation, then. Unless there is some third option that I'm missing. Otherwise, I think you're entering "A difference that makes no difference is no difference" territory.

: Can it be tested? I think that's the question in front of Intelligent Design theorists

: today. I look forward to seeing them work on these questions.

I thought you said they said it COULD be tested. Now you're saying it's only a question to them?

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SDG   
: One is a case of individual organisms with the inherited genetic capacity to develop

: useful, complex structural systems possessed by their ancestors . . .

Ah, but that very word "inherited" points to ancestry, which therefore points to evolution.

You lost me. You seem to be begging the question. In and of itself, the transmission of a genome doesn't imply any particular theory of the origin of that genome.

If we can observe mere chemicals combining to form biological organisms in ANY circumstance, it is not too great a stretch to imagine them doing the same in other circumstances, too.

I have no idea how to interpret this, except as a stunning failure, or refusal, to grapple with the essential problem. It's a bit like saying "If we can observe a highly sophisticated robot building another highly sophisticated robot, it's not too much of a stretch to imagine a robot building itself out of a junkyard." You need to stretch a little more than that.

On the other hand, I don't think we could ever observe or even imagine rocks growing naturally into the formations we see at Stonehenge.

While I think there are meaningful criteria for distinguishing between the formations of Monument Valley and those of Stonehenge, what we can or can't imagine doesn't strike me as a particularly good example. Anyway, not for a moment do I believe that you are actually that imagination-challenged.

Some creationists say there is a difference between microevolution and macroevolution, but they never say exactly where we are supposed to draw the line between these two forms of evolution.  It seems to me that you are proposing a similarly vague distinction, and thus a distinction that may be more distracting than useful.  The evolution of a single organism could certainly be seen as a "micro" form of the sort of "macro" evolution that takes place between entire species.

I never said anything about Macro and Micro. The question for me is complexity and new information.

Very little of that was clear to me, too.  But I wonder if you have at least looked for a response/rebuttal to Behe on this particular point.

Since you ask, I looked at least as hard as I did for the Behe article (which admittedly wasn't very). I am very catholic in my consumption of such arguments -- witness the very first post in this thread. I have no commitment to any point of view; I'm too ignorant. I suspect that most of the people with commitments on both sides are also too ignorant.

: Programming is a pertinent example because like genetics, it involves highly

: complex sets of information, of instructions. Yet as Crimson also pointed out,

: programming is a highly ironic point of reference to cite against ID, since no

: computer program gets written without intelligent design.

This, of course, presumes that there is something supernaturally intelligent about humans.

It does no such thing. It only presupposes that human brains are more complicated than the computer programs they write.

If humans are a byproduct of evolution, then their creations, or their byproducts -- including computer programming -- could also be a byproduct of evolution, just as, say, spiders' webs are a byproduct of evolution.

Behind your "if," of course, lies another begged question. The point is, it is not persuasive to reason from the observed phenomena in question to the proposed unobservable phenomena, because they are too disparate with respect to the essential elements of the problem.

Indeed, if evolutionary theory presupposes that it would have taken billions of years for a single cell to evolve

It is not clear to me that this is the case, the author of the above-mentioned piece to the contrary notwithstanding. That the earth existed for billions of years before the first cell appeared doesn't mean that it took billions of years for the first cell to evolve. That presupposes that the earth was working on that first cell all that time. You might as well push the gestation period of the cell all the way back to the Big Bang.

Don't worry, though, I personally DO believe there is something supernatural about human consciousness.

Don't worry. I wasn't worried.

But this is all a tangent that has little to do with the question of biological evolution, so, um, never mind.

Check.

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SDG   
I believe that essay you and I cited refers to the duplication of genes and then the different directions that the mutations of those genes can take.  That seems to me like an addition of data, rather than a loss of data.

Only in a trivial sense. Original data does not arise until that duplicated data morphs into some new and unexpectedly advantageous (not necessarily indispensable) form. Not to put too much stock in human imagination as a standard in these matters, but this is a process that most computer programmers will have a hard time imagining happening in their own work.

OTOH, an example of the sort of thing you're describing may be the Y chromosome, which as I understand it was originally an X chromosome but has been losing genetic material for untold generations.  Whether this loss of data was useful or not -- i.e. whether this loss of data was necessary to allow for sexual reproduction and all the advantages thereof -- I could not say.

I have no trouble imagining an X chromosome evolving into a Y chromosome. It's getting the X in the first place without an even more complicated starting point -- or getting to that starting point without an even more complicated starting point, etc. -- that's the sticky point for me. Complexity doesn't just happen. The world is an information-lossy place, not an information-creating place.

Yes, you need to get from less complex to more complex.  Behe's error, apparently, is in assuming that an "irreducibly complex" organ or organism must have been MORE complex than all the steps that came before it; it is quite possible that something became more and more complex and then became LESS complex, shedding certain elements until it became something "irreducibly complex".

Behe's point as a biochemist seems to be that you can't get anywhere at all without an awful lot of complexity. Even the simplest biological processes, like the simplest working computer programs, are already extremely complex (the simplest processes being even more complicated than the simplest computer programs).

FWIW, I'm more intrigued by spiders developing the physical and "mental" (or instinctual) abilities that are necessary for the spinning of webs.  Heck, there are times I wonder if SPIDERS have the sort of creative "intelligence" that we're talking about here.  smile.gif

It's enough for me to note that a spider's brain is more complicated than its webs... and a spider's genome is more complicated than its brain.

That is why those who put forth an ID position should have very good defenses for it and very good explanations when they deviate from it.

FWIW, Behe and others say, AFAIK, that their model is still in the infancy stage. In fact, it's acknowledged that ID is not yet a theory, only an idea in search of a theory. In the often quoted words of Paul Nelson:
Easily the biggest challenge facing the ID community is to develop a full-fledged theory of biological design. We don't have such a theory right now, and that's a problem. Without a theory, it's very hard to know where to direct your research focus. Right now, we

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finnegan   

Saw a story linked on the Drudge today: Vatican Official Refutes ID.

Strange. I guess I just never thought about the reasons that the Vatican wouldn't support the theories.

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SDG   

FWIW, please note that this "Vatican official" is offering a private (if somewhat expert) opinion of no doctrinal or disciplinary weight. This is not a "Vatican statement," much less a teaching or any other such thing.

Edited by SDG

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BethR   

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, publishes The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief

The book, which is being released this week, argues that faith in a divine creator can coexist with sound science, including the overwhelming evidence backing evolution.

"It is time to call a truce in the war between science and the spirit," said Collins, 56, who ... first became intrigued by faith while a medical school student at UNC-Chapel Hill.

"Science is not threatened by God," he said. "It is enhanced. God is most certainly not threatened by science. He made it all possible."

...

Collins rejects intelligent design, the idea that aspects of life are too complicated to result from evolution and must therefore be the handiwork of a talented creator. He sees God's hand elsewhere, however, in some people's unflagging loyalty to moral laws over the ages and in people's ageless hunger for worship.

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Chashab   

Sigh.

Why are Christians so "good" at hate mail? I know, I know, this is the same question as "why are there so many sick people in the hospital?" or (as Schaeffer put it) "why are there so many firemen at fires?" but still...

Hmm, I remember now seeing the FSM in the news last year or so, somewhere.

Have these people (who are writing in the hatemail) have no sense of satire or irony whatsoever?

And I second your lament *sigh*

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Inferior Design

I had expected to be as irritated by Michael Behe's second book as by his first. I had not expected to feel sorry for him. The first -- "Darwin's Black Box" (1996), which purported to make the scientific case for "intelligent design" -- was enlivened by a spark of conviction, however misguided. The second is the book of a man who has given up. . . .

We now hear less about "irreducible complexity," with good reason. In "Darwin's Black Box," Behe simply asserted without justification that particular biological structures (like the bacterial flagellum, the tiny propeller by which bacteria swim) needed all their parts to be in place before they would work, and therefore could not have evolved incrementally. This style of argument remains as unconvincing as when Darwin himself anticipated it. It commits the logical error of arguing by default. . . .

Behe correctly dissects the Darwinian theory into three parts: descent with modification, natural selection and mutation. Descent with modification gives him no problems, nor does natural selection. They are "trivial" and "modest" notions, respectively. Do his creationist fans know that Behe accepts as "trivial" the fact that we are African apes, cousins of monkeys, descended from fish?

The crucial passage in "The Edge of Evolution" is this: "By far the most critical aspect of Darwin's multifaceted theory is the role of random mutation. Almost all of what is novel and important in Darwinian thought is concentrated in this third concept."

What a bizarre thing to say! Leave aside the history: unacquainted with genetics, Darwin set no store by randomness. New variants might arise at random, or they might be acquired characteristics induced by food, for all Darwin knew. Far more important for Darwin was the nonrandom process whereby some survived but others perished. Natural selection is arguably the most momentous idea ever to occur to a human mind, because it -- alone as far as we know -- explains the elegant illusion of design that pervades the living kingdoms and explains, in passing, us. Whatever else it is, natural selection is not a "modest" idea, nor is descent with modification.

But let's follow Behe down his solitary garden path and see where his overrating of random mutation leads him. . . .

Richard Dawkins, New York Times, July 1

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NBooth   

This seems as good a place as any to put these. Via Andrew Sullivan:

Thomas Nagel reviews Alvin Plantinga's new book:

Plantinga discusses many topics in the course of the book, but his most important claims are epistemological. He holds, first, that the theistic conception of the relation between God, the natural world, and ourselves makes it reasonable for us to regard our perceptual and rational faculties as reliable. It is therefore reasonable to believe that the scientific theories they allow us to create do describe reality. He holds, second, that the naturalistic conception of the world, and of ourselves as products of unguided Darwinian evolution, makes it unreasonable for us to believe that our cognitive faculties are reliable, and therefore unreasonable to believe any theories they may lead us to form, including the theory of evolution. In other words, belief in naturalism combined with belief in evolution is self-defeating. However, Plantinga thinks we can reasonably believe that we are the products of evolution provided that we also believe, contrary to naturalism, that the process was in some way guided by God.

He ends up conceding that Plantinga may have a point. Jerry Coyne (who's been very dismissive of Plantinga in the past) levels his sights on Nagel:

Plantinga has always evinced a sympathy for Intelligent Design, too, and in the book (and elsewhere) he praises the pathbreaking work of IDer Michael Behe of “irreducible complexity” fame.

So how could a famous real philosopher—not a theologian but an unbeliever—dole out any praise for Plantinga’s book? I’m referring to Thomas Nagel, who has reviewed Plantinga’s book in the last issue of The New York Review of Books.

Sean Carroll joins in:

I wanted to home in on just one particular aspect because it was instructive, at least for me. There is a long-standing claim that “faith” is a way of attaining knowledge that stands independently of other methods, such as “logic” or “empiricism.” I’ve never quite understood this — how do we decide what to have faith in, if not by the use of techniques such as logic and empiricism?

Plantinga offers an answer, which I think is at least internally consistent — but that’s part of the problem.

Now, by a remarkable coincidence, I just recently had a discussion with someone on this very topic. I won't rehearse the whole thing, but it seems to me that the whole debate is framed by a fairly fundamental category error (forgive me if this came up earlier in the thread): I'm actually kind of a fan of "non-overlapping domains." Let scientists do science and let philosophers do philosophy, and let the daring ones on the margins do their interdisciplinary work (work that can only exist if strongly-defined disciplines exist).

Which is to say--I don't find ID compelling as science because it isn't science; it's philosophy gussied up as science [EDIT: I see Peter made this point years ago, and now I seem to remember reading it. So h/t Peter Chattaway]. As philosophy, it may have its merits (though I'm not to fond of it on that score, either), but it simply doesn't have the empirical basis or predictive power of proper scientific theories. At least, to my unscientific eye. (I'm also not fond of science gussied up as philosophy, a la Dawkins et al).

Then again--though my background is in philosophy--I'm neither fish nor fowl, but a follower of the madly synthetic discipline of English. We're like the kleptomaniacs of the academic world. So perhaps my argument for strongly-defined disciplines is just a leeetle hypocritical. I'm still trying to figure that one out.

Edited by NBooth

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Anders   

My brother did a reading of Alvin Plantinga's book with his church small group and was pretty favourable toward it.

Is Nagel's gesturing toward a "third way" was his way of getting people interested in his notion of non-theistic teleological thinking? Here is a two-part review of Nagel's book MIND AND COSMOS: WHY THE MATERIALIST NEO-DARWINIAN CONCEPTION OF NATURE IS ALMOST CERTAINLY FALSE at the Threepenny Review. (With a h/t to M. Leary via Twitter).

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M. Leary   

Now, by a remarkable coincidence, I just recently had a discussion with someone on this very topic. I won't rehearse the whole thing, but it seems to me that the whole debate is framed by a fairly fundamental category error (forgive me if this came up earlier in the thread): I'm actually kind of a fan of "non-overlapping domains." Let scientists do science and let philosophers do philosophy, and let the daring ones on the margins do their interdisciplinary work (work that can only exist if strongly-defined disciplines exist).

Which is to say--I don't find ID compelling as science because it isn't science; it's philosophy gussied up as science [EDIT: I see Peter made this point years ago, and now I seem to remember reading it. So h/t Peter Chattaway]. As philosophy, it may have its merits (though I'm not to fond of it on that score, either), but it simply doesn't have the empirical basis or predictive power of proper scientific theories. At least, to my unscientific eye. (I'm also not fond of science gussied up as philosophy, a la Dawkins et al).

This is all well-stated. I am coming around to the critique of ID that observes it as a category error - above and beyond the fact that I also don't find it very compelling as philosophy. As philosophy, it makes our capacity for rationality a product of a teleological determinism rather than the essence of our capacity to relate to God - now the very locus of our post-fall disconnection from him. I think Christian acceptance of ID actually subverts a theological anthropology, which coincidentally, I think is an effect of Nagel's work.

I have now spent a few years working closely with scientists working in almost every domain imaginable (genomics, social-sciences, medical anthropology, clinical investigations of every body system, etc...). My interaction is ethical in scope, but this often involves probing the statistical rationale for a proposed project. Is the sample size large enough that putting people at risk will be worthwhile? Do we have the right data analyses in place here? Otherwise, why bother collecting these data? These are important ethical questions that people in my line of work negotiate constantly. But, it has taught me something significant. Science is not as sciency as I thought. Science is not as rational or empirical as I thought. In fact - biomedical science at the frontiers is almost a kind of mysticism, a groping for the statistical categories or visual models that will make sense of molecular or genomic or epidemiological processes (e.g. Crick envisioning the double helix while on LSD). Science advances when we discover what it is we don't know.

This can make the process of science far more abstract, even irrational than the layperson thinks.

The whole point here is that there is an addiction to empiricism in some corners of Christian thought. If ID can be presented as something rational, with empirical warrant, than such a finding would be considered an ideological victory. It would trump more theoretical cosmologies. But, this very idea is based on a concept of scientific rationality that only exists in the final stages of clinical or mathematical research. By the time science becomes "provable," by which we mean that it can be replicated in a different lab or subject, it has become something much different from the type of science that actually engenders paradigm shifting.

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Sullivan links to Coyne and both refer to "god of the gaps." This is a fundamental misunderstanding of ID. The structure of a god of the gaps argument is: I don't know how X, Y, and Z could have happened, therefore god must have done it. ID in general says X, Y, and Z point to the existence of god. The philosophical phrase for what ID is doing is "inference to the best explanation." And science makes these kinds of inferences all the time. The real problem with ID is that it hasn't gone anywhere. It hasn't made any contributions to science. It hasn't led to any new knowledge or new discoveries. In the words of Lakatos, it is a degenerating research program.

The problem with non-overlapping domains is that you can't rid science of philosophy (and philosophy can't ignore science). There is no clear line between the two.

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NBooth   

Well, to quote myself:

let the daring ones on the margins do their interdisciplinary work (work that can only exist if strongly-defined disciplines exist).

I really don't see how one can talk about having a little philosophy in science (or vice-versa) unless there is a strong understanding of what those disciplines are; i.e. science is that discipline that looks at the natural world in x, y, and z ways while philosophy is that discipline whose business is examining ideas via a different set of x, y, and z. Science and philosophy (to my understanding, anyway--I was a philosophy student but never a scientist) have different generic expectations, not only for what they do, for what constitutes "proof." A philosopher can talk about "design" all s/he wants to, and as long as the logical chain holds up it's all good. The cycle of hypothesis-test-revise works differently. It really is a whole 'nother game from even the most abstract/out there fields of science.The scientist might have a philosophy, but s/he's not doing philosophy. And vice-versa. To my mind, it's only if you have this strong generic distinction that you're able to open up the field to interdisciplinary stuff.

At least, to my understanding.

Edited by NBooth

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NBooth wrote:

: The cycle of hypothesis-test-revise works differently.

And it works *especially* differently in the case of origin-of-species discussions, where it is impossible to "test" evolutionary processes that took place in the past.

You can still come up with hypotheses and tests for evolution, of course: you can check to see if fossils, DNA, and other bits of evidence converge along certain lines (do they all support the idea that species evolved along certain lines as they migrated in certain directions around the planet, etc.?). (And I find it especially interesting that DNA wasn't even *discovered* until almost a century after Darwin published his book, and the DNA evidence does, indeed, seem to confirm the broad evolutionary template.) And you can check to see if certain hypothetical processes are at least possible (e.g. the tests that some have done to see if lightning-like surges of electricity can create the conditions that make the emergence of amino acids possible, or whatever -- my apologies to any scientists out there for garbling stuff I remember half-reading back in high school).

But no one ever invokes the "intelligent design" design with regard to science in general. It's always with regard to evolutionary science in particular. And it's partly because evolutionary science is, in some ways, less about discerning consistent natural processes and more about reconstructing history.

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Has anyone else obtained a copy of Plantinga's book Where The Conflict Really Lies? I have and I read the first three chapters so far. From the beginning of the book, it doesn't really look like Plantinga's focus is going to be on "Intelligent Design" (except in the religion-meets-science-Thomas-Aquinas sense).

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SDG   
Has anyone else obtained a copy of Plantinga's book Where The Conflict Really Lies?

Not yet, but I expect I will. I find Plantinga very helpful.

I have and I read the first three chapters so far. From the beginning of the book, it doesn't really look like Plantinga's focus is going to be on "Intelligent Design" (except in the religion-meets-science-Thomas-Aquinas sense).

I'd be surprised, and probably disappointed, if he did focus on it.

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NBooth   

"To the hammer, everything looks like a nail." I suspect the same is true of Coyne (to the Coyne, everything looks like a jackpot? Hmm.)

(I've not read Plantinga's new book--or anything, really, beyond Warranted Christian Belief--and I doubt I will, simply because Analytic Philosophy isn't really my cuppa. Give me a Continental any day.)

Edited by NBooth

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