Re: Functional proteins from a random library

From: Preston Garrison (
Date: Tue Apr 10 2001 - 02:11:03 EDT

  • Next message: Preston Garrison: "Re: Functional proteins from a random library"

    I commented:

    > The only reason I alluded to Bill Dembski in particular in my message is
    > that I gather that, in contrast to Behe, he believes that even individual
    > proteins cannot arise by chance. The number I remember is 10^60 for the
    > odds that he gives, which is too rare to find by chance. The results of
    > these experiments begin to suggest that he is wrong about that one point,
    > but obviously much remains to be done to see how rare different kinds of
    > functions are.

    Howard said:

    >From the "Fully-Gifted Creation Perspective," nothing arises purely "by
    >chance." Every potentiality for structure (every possible protein, for
    >example) is an integral aspect of the 'being' given to the Creation at the
    >beginning. Those potentialities are there, not by chance, but by divine
    >conceptualization and intention. What happens in the course of time is the
    >Creation's exploration of its potentiality space and the actualization of
    >some of its structural potentialities.

         see my reply below

    Howard said:

    >The question is...

    Howard, I don't mean to be testy here (I am smiling as I
    write this :) see?), but you are something of a monomaniac.
    What do you mean THE question? THE question might be "Do
    they have pistachio today?" There is more than one
    interesting question in the world.

    Well, o.k. I'll take the bait anyway. First, I didn't say
    anything arises "purely by chance." I just used the phrase
    in the usual sense that if I reached into a bag of many
    white beans and one black one, I might get the black one "by
    chance." But I won't get it if there are 10^60 white beans.
    I think that the whole business of the different
    things that we can mean by "chance" is very subtle and very
    important, and the problem is especially acute for
    Christians. We are committed to the view that nothing
    happens purely "by chance." But obviously there are still
    legitimate senses of "by chance" for the Christian.
    Probablistic accounts of the world are very successful at
    many levels. God must have deliberately made it that way. If
    you were contemplating detecting a new particle with a fancy
    accelerator, but you calculated that the odds of your
    seeing one in the life of the instrument was 1 in 10^50, you
    would not ask NSF for the money, even with much prayer.
    This business of chance needs to be dealt with by a
    Christian philosopher/scientist much more informed than me. (I
    have a semi-long message in my head exhorting my intellectual
    betters to get busy writing a book on this - maybe I'll get it
    posted soon.)

    Are you saying that probability calculations, no matter how
    carefully framed, don't tell us anything about what is possible
    in nature?

    Howard said:

    >did the Creator give
    >the Creation sufficient formational capabilities for discovering/actualizing
    >the requisite proteins for life, or did the Creator have to step in
    >occasionally to bridge gaps (the consequence of missing formational
    >capabilities) in the Creation's formational economy by coercing the
    >requisite atoms to assume a particular protein structure?

    I have been "listening" to you argue your Fully-Gifted
    Creation position here for quite awhile. In my more simple
    minded way, I can see that a creation that doesn't _have_ to
    "adjusted" or supplemented along the way seems "better" (more
    glorious?) than one that does. I am maybe more impressed by
    an argument from the general hiddenness of God. In the
    Johnson/Dembski view, not only did God intervene specially
    to create life, but given our modern scientific knowledge,
    we can essentially _prove_ that He did. In this case, the
    creation of life becomes a universally provable miracle,
    at least to those who can understand the argument. It seems
    suspicious to me that the God of the Bible would allow this
    kind of accessibility to a miracle, especially in a way that
    essentially privileges bright, well-educated people in one
    era of history. But, when it comes down to it, I don't find
    either kind of argument totally compelling. We only learn
    about God's character and acts by revelation, especially in
    Christ, and I don't see anything there that clinches either
    your position (God didn't need to intervene) or
    Johnson/Dembski (God intervened).

    This being the case, I am left to see if maybe the science
    can tell me anything about how God did things. Unlike
    Johnson/Dembski, I don't believe that this quest has any
    great spiritual/social importance. The world needs to know
    about the grace of God in Jesus, not the theory of
    Intelligent Design, even if it were true. But the topic is
    congenial to me, being a biochemist, since I enjoy thinking
    about the experiments.

    So I ask you, do you think the experiments are pointless?
    (For the questions we are dealing with - they have obvious
    practical and theoretical importance apart from any
    implications for evolution/origin of life.) I gather that
    you think that your theological argument is so compelling
    that God _must_ have "fully gifted" creation. Does this mean
    that you are confidant in advance that a workable
    evolutionary scenario (no trans-astronomical probability
    events required) can be found scientifically, or that you
    think that such experiments are irrelevant. To put it
    another way, does your "potentiallity space" map, for
    proteins, onto sequence space, or is something else,
    something that experiments can't get at. It all sounds very
    Aristotelian to me, and I never could get the hang of
    Aristotle. I persist in the belief that modern science was a
    real improvement over Aristotilean scholasticism, at least
    concerning the physical world.
    I said:

    > As it happens, I am sympathetic to the ID position, especially at the point
    > of the origin of life, since I don't see any way that that nut can be
    > cracked. It may be that, to Howard's and George's theological chagrin, the
    > Lord did miracles along the way to get life going, and perhaps at points
    > after that. But no one in science is going to listen to any argument from a
    > messenger who comes also making the remarkably bad argument that an
    > experiment proves nothing simply because it was designed (i.e., that it WAS
    > an experiment.)

    Howard said:

    >You are, of course, welcome to be sympathetic to "the ID position" regarding
    >the _first formation_ of life. (Consistent with my conversation with Todd
    >Greene, I suggest that using the term "origin" here often leads to confusion
    >regarding whether we are dealing with scientific or theological questions.)
    >So, Preston, I would welcome your take on just what "the ID position" on the
    >first formation of life is.

    >Specifically, is it a position about "design" (in the contemporary sense of
    >"the conceptualization of something for the accomplishment of a purpose, an
    >act of mind) or is it a position about the manner of "assembly" (perhaps
    >that some structures could have been assembled from extant parts only by the
    >supplemental action of some extra-natural agent, an act of "hands").

    I am aware of your distinction between formation and design, and I
    think you are right to make it. Of course, the committed IDers will
    have to speak for themselves. I think it is fairly clear that as a
    tactical matter, they want to abstract design from formation, because
    A) they think they can "prove" design, but not atom pushing, and B)
    God's finger pushing atoms around is clearly not going to get into any
    public school classrooms. For me, if miracles were used/necessary,
    obviously that would involve both design and "formation." I am not
    committed to believing that is the case. I'm just dubious at this
    point that anyone can find a "magic catalyst" that got it all going.

    As for using "origin of life," I do because it is pretty much a standard
    phrase in the scientific literature, retaining as I do, some hope that the
    science might be informative.

    Preston G.

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