Re: Evolution of proteins in sequence space

From: Howard J. Van Till (
Date: Mon Aug 13 2001 - 08:29:56 EDT

  • Next message: Howard J. Van Till: "Re: Evolution of proteins in sequence space"

    Sorry, forgot to send this copy to ASA list earlier today.

    >From: Bert Massie <>

    > Yes I have read some of your material but honestly not as much as you would
    > prefer. Let me do some homework

    Yes, Bert, please do. I know I've been pushing you a bit on this matter of
    doing some homework. Here's a little story that gives you a sample of the
    the background to my frustration.

    About four years ago, late in the afternoon of an already frustrating day, I
    received a telephone call in my office at Calvin.

    "Hello, this is Mrs. Van Der Vander. I just brought my daughter to Calvin
    College and now I would like you to meet with me and tell me what you
    believe about Genesis and creation."

    "That's very nice," I replied, "I'm glad to hear that you're interested in
    such matters. You see, I have found these questions to be so important that
    I have spent years of my life putting my views into writing so that people
    like you would know exactly what I teach. Have you read any of the books or
    essays that I have written on these important issues?"

    After a brief silence came the all too familiar answer. "No,... I haven't."

    "Well, Mrs. Van Der Vander," I responded, "I would suggest that you take
    some time and read some of the things I have written. Then, if you still
    have questions, call me again."

    Back to Bert's questions.

    > But, I still do not feel that you have responded to the basic question I

    [Skip an illustration that I didn't find particularly helpful]

    > So, tell me what I am to look for to differentiate between your fully formed
    > universe and the universe of the progressive creationist.

    Bert, you continue to miss two important points that I (and others) have
    been trying to make. I'll make one more try.

    1. The model you call "the universe of the progressive creationist" cannot
    be empirically compared to other models until you specify what supernatural
    interventions are being proposed. For instance, if it includes the
    specification that stars could be formed only by supernatural intervention,
    then I would respond to you by telling you about the success of stellar
    formation theories that are built on the foundation of the robust
    formational economy principle. (see below)

    However, if your only specification is that "there will be a number of cases
    in which we cannot now, with our present and limited understanding of
    formational processes and events, and with the limited empirical evidence at
    hand, give a full and detailed account of exactly how biotic system X came
    to be formed," then you are offering me nothing more than the familiar
    appeal to ignorance. As is usually pointed out, the absence of evidence (to
    support a specific and detailed formational account) does not count as
    evidence of absence (of the formational capabilities that would be required
    to account for the formation of X).

    2. Comprehensive (or "metascientific," if you prefer) principles like the
    robust formational economy principle are tested mostly for their long-term
    fruitfulness in the larger enterprise of theory formulation and theory
    evaluation. There is no simple observation or measurement whose result will
    demonstrate its truth or falsehood. That's why I answered your earlier
    question in the following manner:

    >> > What do I look for with my neat new 8 meter space based telescope that
    >> > would support your views?
    >> Bert, you would do exactly as astronomy has done for a good part of the last
    >> century. Example: You discover empirically that stars come in different
    >> varieties -- main sequence, red giant, white dwarf, etc. You also see
    >> evidence that stars are forming from globules of gas and dust embedded in
    >> large interstellar nebulae. You model the formation and subsequent
    >> development of stars and compute what sort of history stars might have. You
    >> discover that the computational model predicts that stars would first fall
    >> along the main sequence region of the H-R diagram, arranged according to
    >> mass value, consistent with earlier observations. You then discover that the
    >> model predicts that when medium mass stars complete their main sequence
    >> phases they become red giant stars, then shed their outer portion to form a
    >> planetary nebula, finally leaving behind a white dwarf star. You conclude
    >> from evidence of this sort (and _much_ more like it) that this computational
    >> model for stellar formation and development has the attractive feature that
    >> it not only accounts for the diversity of stellar types but also
    >> demonstrates that these diverse types are related to one another as members
    >> of a temporal sequence. The systematic interrelatedness of stellar types
    >> with the formational history of stars has an aesthetic quality that is
    >> highly valued in scientific theory evaluation.
    >> > You "fully gifted formation economy" is not very scientific,
    >> Sorry, Bert, but you are as wrong as wrong can be on this. One of the most
    >> important assumptions employed in formulating the scientifically successful
    >> computational model for stellar evolution noted in the example above is none
    >> other than what I call the "robust formational economy principle."
    >> To state it even more strongly, the assumption that this principle applies
    >> to the formational history of things from atoms to star-filled galaxies has
    >> demonstrated itself to be one of the most fruitful assumptions made in
    >> cosmology, astronomy, geology, and numerous other physical sciences. The
    >> vast majority of persons in the life sciences would, I believe, say the same
    >> for the formational history of life on earth.
    >> The scientific success of the robust formational economy principle is on
    >> public display. I don't know how you missed seeing it, Bert.

    Bert, good scientific theories are sometimes recognized in the same way that
    we recognize good people. "By their fruit you will recognize them." (cf.
    Matthew 7:20)

    Howard Van Till

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