Re: Quality of 'ID Science'

From: Peter Ruest (
Date: Sun Jan 05 2003 - 01:08:47 EST

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    "Howard J. Van Till" wrote:
    > Peter,
    > You say, in agreement with my point re the computation of P(X|N) --
    > the probability that some biotic system X could be actualized by the
    > joint action of all natural causes:
    > > Computation of P is clearly impossible (especially if you include any
    > > possible future knowledge ;-) ). But even if this is impossible, might
    > > it perhaps be possible to estimate a Q > P such that Q < 10^(-150) (or
    > > any other terribly small number)? Such a result would be extremely
    > > interesting.
    > >
    > > We agree as far as P is concerned, but apparently not with respect to
    > > the very much weaker claim about Q.
    > Quite correct, but it seems to me that this weaker point re Q runs
    > into essentially the same difficulty as the one encountered in the
    > attempt to make the stronger point re P.
    > One substantial problem with your introduction of any kind of
    > "generous estimate" like Q is this: One does not KNOW enough to say
    > that Q > P until one KNOWS all of the natural causes that are capable
    > of contributing to P. As I see it, the same problem that stood in the
    > way of computing P stands in the way of determining that Q > P. The
    > problem of insufficient knowledge will not go away.


    In an abstract sense, you are right. But in practice, in some systems,
    there are experimental ways of testing probabilities of emergence of
    functions. This is what I tried to indicate with my model I alluded to
    in my post you are responding to (22 Dec 2002 07:06:43 +0100, asa-digest
    3099; Subject: Probability of spontaneous formation of biological
    systems). Your claim that such a Q might be < P implies that
    functionally synonymous proteins are very abundant in the full protein
    sequence space, and that it would be easy to find them by artificial
    mutagenesis. All experiments I have come across in the literature which
    tried something somewhat in this direction failed to find such an
    abundance. Of course, you cannot prove something by negative evidence,
    but the most parsimonious interpretation is that functional proteins are
    _not_ sufficiently abundant in sequence space.

    (Just as an aside: ribozyme functions appear to be more abundant in RNA
    sequence space, but their inherent complexity (or specification in
    Dembski's parlance) also seems to be much smaller, and if we want to
    explain actual biology, we can't get around the emergence of functional
    proteins, whether or not that happened through the speculative RNA world
    as an intermediate).

    > Now, that does not make the attempt to develop such an estimate, Q,
    > completely without merit, I suppose (although I must admit that I am
    > not inclined to spend any of my own time on it), but whoever does so
    > must candidly admit that the door to FALSE POSITIVE INDICATORS
    > regarding the need for "ID action" has been opened wide (where "ID
    > action," for most ID advocates, appears to mean "indescribable,
    > non-natural, non-miraculous, form-conferring action by an
    > unidentified, unembodied, choice-making agent").

    So, functional synonyms would possibly be such false positive
    indicators, but only if they are sufficiently abundant. They must
    certainly be considered. Another possibility is step-by-step scalability
    of Dawkins' Mount Improbable, starting from level zero. Now this claim
    is of a very high order, and I don't know of any experimental or
    simulational evidence which would support it, although there are
    certainly many who have tried. I agree with you that ID action is beyond
    science, in the metaphysical realm, and can (in biology) only refer to
    God. But the complexity specifications and probability estimates
    themselves are certainly in the legitimate realm of science if done

    > If that vulnerability to false positive indicators were openly and
    > candidly admitted by ID advocates, especially when speaking or writing
    > to a general public that is not likely to see it for themselves, OK.
    > However, if and when the ID movement claims to have "indisputable
    > evidence" for their case, that claim must be seen as an outright
    > falsehood.

    Agreed, if the false positive indicators are important in the relevant
    molecular biology, which may be a matter of opinion. And the question of
    their importance is probably beyond the possibility of the general
    public to judge. But the same limitation applies to judging whether
    claims for a fully autonomous evolution of the biosphere are realistic.
    So it seems to me "outright falsehood" goes too far.

    > ********************************************
    > Regarding the usefulness of the ID approach, I had said:
    > >> I cannot help but ask how this ID approach will contribute any actual
    > >> fruitful "insights." If the the provocation by ID advocates serves to
    > >> stimulate molecular biologists and other scientists to learn more about
    > >> evolutionary processes at the molecular level, then that will be more to
    > >> the credit of those working scientists than to the "insights" contributed
    > >> directly by the advocates of ID.
    > Peter Ruest replied:
    > > As I wrote in my answer to Dick Fischer, the trouble is that those who
    > > just _assume_ the configurational space is chock-full of functionality
    > > will never trouble themselves with any thought of checking this
    > > assumption. "We are here - therefore the spontaneous emergence of any
    > > biological functionality is no problem". As long as they don't see any
    > > problem here, they are not going to investigate these evolutionary
    > > processes at the molecular level, because they assume they already know
    > > the answer, cf. Dawkins.
    > OK. I will offer no substantial objection here.
    > > I am not suggesting that you are guilty of such circular reasoning. In
    > > your case, if I understood you correctly, this assumption is based on
    > > the theological argument of the functional integrity of creation.
    > Not on theology alone. My choice of assuming the applicability of the
    > RFEP (or the functional integrity of the creation) is made on the
    > basis of the confluence of: 1) my theological inclinations (which
    > invite the RFEP), and 2) the track record that the natural sciences
    > have built of the foundation of the RFEP assumption.

    I assume RFEP = Robust Formational Economy Principle: is this correct?
    The non-theological part of your preference is therefore the track
    record of the natural sciences. As far as physics is concerned, this is
    yours to judge, and I believe you are right. For the origin of life, its
    evolution, and biology in general, the track record is good with the
    easier problems, but it is not so good to pitiable with the hard
    problems connected with the origin of Dembski's specified complexity or
    what I called semantic information (in contrast to Shannon information).
    And this is why I doubt the general applicability of RFEP in biology.

    Sure, science can work as far as RFEP is true. But if we are in search
    of truth, or reality, we cannot guarantee that science (or RFEP) always
    works. That's why we are dealing in science _and_ theology. And science
    itself recognizes that there are limits to its applicability. Physicists
    are clear about those connected with Goedel, Heisenberg, the big bang,
    etc. Biologists are much less familiar with theirs, such as the
    transastronomical sequence spaces, mutational random walks, etc. And the
    theological motives for RFEP are very much dependent on questions of
    biblical interpretation.

    > > However, I feel we should be free to investigate such questions, both on
    > > the scientific side (what Dembski is trying to do), and on the
    > > theological side (which is your concern). Of course, I agree with you
    > > that the two sides should talk to each other, both about the scientific
    > > and the theological questions. Some time ago, I attempted to discuss
    > > these questions with Dembski, but never got an answer from him.

    I have to apologize to Bill Dembski for not having CC'd this to him,
    especially since I now discovered that I cannot reconstruct from the
    archives when this happened.

    > Yes, of course we should be free to explore. We should be equally free
    > to criticize explorations on either their scientific or theological
    > merits. My criticisms of the ID movement cover both territories.
    > Dembski's argumentation is not purely scientific, and mine is not
    > purely theological.
    > > And you know that I feel the functional integrity of creation is
    > > irrelevant to the question of the Creator possibly using "hidden
    > > options".
    > Irrelevant, perhaps, to their possibility, but very relevant to the
    > question of their necessity.

    Here, you are again arguing from your theological predilections. What
    are your scientific arguments for that claim?

    > > Our job as scientists is to try to find scientific answers
    > > (probabilities...) to questions about the emergence of life, biology,
    > > evolution, etc., without regard to metaphysical convictions like
    > > functional integrity of creation or the scalable back side of Mount
    > > Improbable.
    > OK, but would you be willing to add: "... or to theologically-based
    > expectations of either occasional form-conferring divine interventions
    > (common in ID advocates) or the occasional exercise of hidden options
    > by a Creator (your preferred concept)? I presume that for the sake of
    > symmetry you would grant that addition.

    Unfortunately, there is some asymmetry in the situation. The ID
    advocates and I have advanced scientific arguments for our views,
    although, so far, no proof has been given or seems to be forthcoming.
    But I can't remember having read any _scientific_ argument for RFEP in
    the realm of the biosphere. I feel that your insistence that all ID
    arguments (or mine) are exclusively theologically-based expectations is

    > At the same time, I presume that we both realize that metaphysical
    > convictions are hard to deactivate. They can be operative even when we
    > are trying to disregard them. The best we can do, then, is to make
    > both ourselves and our audiences as aware of their presence as we
    > possibly can.
    > Howard Van Till

    I agree.

    With my best wishes for a happy new year, in Christ,

    Peter Ruest

    Dr. Peter Ruest, CH-3148 Lanzenhaeusern, Switzerland
    <> - Biochemistry - Creation and evolution
    "..the work which God created to evolve it" (Genesis 2:3)

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