Re: Critique of ID & No Free Lunch

From: Loren Haarsma (
Date: Fri Sep 13 2002 - 17:23:35 EDT

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    On Fri, 13 Sep 2002, Josh Bembenek wrote:

    >> (Howard) Appeals to circumstantial evidence or plausibility arguments are
    >> likely to be denigrated as nothing more than "just so stories."
    > In a quest for absolute truth, I don't see anything wrong with this
    > situation. I should expect that this admission be made whenever applicable,
    > but most proponents of evolution, especially in the Ohio debate or whenever
    > it comes to public opinion and policy, present evolution as a truth quite as
    > proven and reliable as gravity. Clearly there are degrees of confidence in
    > the truth of both, but I don't believe them to be equal in at all in most
    > respects.
    >> "By setting the standard for refutation so unreasonably high, they can
    >> always declare their position still logically possible. The ordinary pattern
    >> of scientific judgment that must be performed in the absence of full
    >> knowledge regarding every relevant detail is replaced by an unrealistic
    >> demand for what is effectively omniscience.
    > --It seems to me that Behe et al., would say the same thing back. Except
    > for ordinary pattern of judgement..... I'll elaborate in the future.


    Here's a way to think about this issue which I find useful:

    Using known natural laws and mechanisms, scientists attempt to build
    empirical models of puzzling events (e.g. a chemical reaction, a
    supernova, the origin of complex biological organisms). These attempts
    meet with varying kinds of success. As scientists study the initial
    conditions, final conditions, and relevant natural laws surrounding some
    event, they could reach three general types of conclusions:

    1) Explained event.
       Sound empirical models predict that known natural laws can account for
    the event. (There might still be some puzzling features, but the majority
    of the event is well understood.)

    2) Partially explained event.
         Our empirical models are not sufficiently thorough to explain the
    event entirely. However, based upon what we have done so far, we believe
    that known natural mechanisms are sufficient to account for the event.
    We believe that future improvements in knowledge, more elegant models, and
    more computing power will eventually allow us to prove that the event is

    3) Unexplained event.
       No known natural laws can account for this event. In fact, there are
    empirically sound reasons for ruling out any models in terms of known
    natural laws.


    I don't know of any scientists who say that the history of life (and the origin of complex biological organisms) falls into the first category. They say that it falls into the second category.

    To the extent that popular literature or school textbooks implies that evolution falls into the first category, they need to be corrected.

    Behe, Dembski, et. al. are trying to construct arguments that complex biological organisms fall into the third category. They are free to make such attempts. The scientific consensus is that their arguments are flawed, and that the second category is still the correct one.

    The problem which Howard addressed was this: The rhetoric of Dembski, Behe, et. al. often seems to imply that evolution needs to be in the first category, or else the third category must be true. Now, maybe it's OK to say, "I personally won't believe theory XXX until it's in the first category." But it's quite another thing to say, or imply with one's rhetoric, that "theory XXX must be false unless it falls into the first category."

    Loren Haarsma

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