Re: Gingerich-Behe-Hall

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Fri Feb 10 2006 - 07:11:03 EST

Thank you, Randy for the report on the MIT/Harvard roundtable on science and religion. It was illuminating, both objective and personal at the same time.
  I was pleased to read that a philosopher responded with suggestions to the ID community about their theory. This gives support to the idea that a person like Ted can indeed contribute to the discussion from a philosophy of science perspective, even if a philosopher does not (usually) do the bench research that would enable them to falsify or to prove the scientific issue under consideration. Philosophers can help with the communication gaps that have developed in many cases regarding evolutionary and ID theories and about what accepting creationism versus believing in Creation can mean for scientists. Scientists can believe in God, even if many rationalize away the creation and their created Image.
  Prior to this report, I found the charge against Behe as ‘the Milli Vanilli of science’ a bit unjust, perhaps reflecting some frustration at the scientific weaknesses in ID theories (and their hype) more than in Behe himself. Milli Vanilli didn’t sing at all, they were just a front; at least Behe wrote DBB which became a best seller and winner of several science-book awards. One of the members of that band is now trying to sing again, this time honorably; the other committed suicide. That darker fate is likely not in Behe’s nature, even if ID turns out to be a theoretical flop or unverifiable overstatement. The social movement of ID has all but guaranteed that many American’s will embrace a ‘design' inference (instead of a 'construction' or a 'composition' or a 'building' or 'plan' inference) for decades to come, as they already reject evolution and believe in literal Genesis. The science may outpace ID but it will not discover that their work was forgery or lip-sincing.
  Ted and Randy’s support of Behe is reassuring, even if they conclude his scientific argument for unevolvability-thus-(intelligent)design is incomplete. It is instead Bill Dembski, in calling ‘ID’ a scientific revolution, whose words frustrate with confident exaggerations. Probably Behe didn’t even use that ‘r’ word in his presentation, even if he suggests that ID is not revelatory, but natural in origin.
  Comments on the commentary:
  1. I agree with Randy that the claim ID is merely ‘the beginning of a great paradigm, please be patient’ won’t fly. Besides the Big Bang reference, ID-as-fledgling is no longer realistic given that scientists, working together with philosophers and theologians have had about 15 years to figure out the supposed paradigm shift; whether it poses one or not. Science moves much faster than it did a hundred years ago and there are many people who have been working on the concept duo of ‘ID’ trying to ‘do science’ with it. Even non-religious and/or agnostic scientists who have no religious agenda have not been able to make ID rigorous and testable. Unfortunately, ID theories have not risen above an inference in most if not all cases.
  2. Following Ned Hall’s suggestion that, “ID should clearly differentiate between their ‘intelligent designer’ and ‘OOO,’ and how it may ‘fruitfully’ lead “to productive research and science,” it is agreeable that IDists should be forthcoming about just what their ideas account for and just what they don’t. What would need to happen, which I hope ASA members will agree with, is for the limits/boundaries of ‘intelligent design’ to be made clearer. ID is about reducibility or irreducibility; it is about pattern recognition and specifications; it brings information theory into consideration for biological structures; it invites philosophy of science, theology of science and sociology of science into arenas of what defines publicly and privately acceptable knowledge. In this way ID can make claims to science in a limited sense; where it depends on philosophy and theology, let ID leaders state that clearly and withdraw such claims that "ID has implications for virtually all huma
 studies" as Behe made.
  3. The 'evolution may be wrong' approach is not entirely vacuous or unreasonable, though it cannot be a mere pretext for ‘teach the controversy’ or to insert a new ideology (i.e. ID) in evolution’s supposed absence. If a person cannot entertain the position that evolution is theoretically fallible then they are absolutely convinced an evolutionary paradigm is the only way to discuss processes of change in biological entities. Even still, outside of biological, botanical, geological, zoological and other natural sciences, evolution functions in social sciences and humanities where it is obviously fallible, though few investigate how this is true or what it means. The latter is a story for another time.
  4. As for Hall’s suggestion that IDists “should clearly state their position on the age of the earth,” I don’t agree. Such an qualification puts the focus on origins and not on processes. Evolution is a type of ‘process philosophy’ applied to biological entities. Why replace the focus onto origins instead of processes? Why not let people conclude as they will about the age of the earth, in reference to the best science available. The best science led Behe to conclude ‘common descent’. Even still, ‘origins of life’ is an open field that neither evolution nor intelligent design has solved (closed door) scientifically speaking.
  ‘Natural selection’ does not (arguably) even explain ‘the origin’ of species (regardless of what Darwin’s particular title says). It may, however, investigate ‘origins’ of new species better than any other by focusing on processes of change-over-time, mutation, differentiation, adaptation, fitness pressures, etc. The ‘process philosophy’ paradigm trumps the science of evolution as much as the philosophy of (ir)reducibility trumps Behe’s concept of IC in micro-biology. Behe, nor any other micro-biologist, has yet to convince me that an organic thing is actually a machine because it has parts that simply ‘appear to be’ machine-like. But that’s another (Orga-Mecha) story too.
  5. Ted wrote that Behe and Asa Gray both accept(ed) that: “the biggest danger in evolution is that it can lead people NOT to draw the design inference.” This logic seems wanting. It is design-centric, even while it may support the idea that evolution IS a scientifically valid theoretical approach; it identifies a door that can one day be open for ‘design’ theorists. It sets up a false dichotomy. Darwinian evolution was scientific at the time and many theists believe it is still scientifically valid in its current neo-Darwinian form. Evolution need not draw people away from religion, though it often does when taught by non-religious or irreligious scientists. By placing design and evolution in (biggest danger) opposition one is left with no other choice than conflict between ‘those two concepts’ to the exclusion of all others. This is as frustrating to me as it is likely George and others who are trying to challenge or expose the extremes on both sides of ID vs. evolution.
  Finally, let me say that I am glad to see these things being openly discussed in Harvard, Mass. It shows that people are not afraid or shy to address the issues or to follow evidence and claims to evidence. Answering hostile questions is sometimes not as difficult as responding to cool-headed legitimate criticisms of one’s point of view, either about science, philosophy or theology. It is a credit to his integrity, conviction and courage indeed that Dr. Behe is willing to stand up for his scientific hunches in a public manner, especially while his message is being blown around by sometimes ferocious political winds in the land of the home of the IDM.

Randy Isaac <> wrote: Last night I attended the MIT/Harvard Roundtable on Science and Religion that Owen Gingerich periodically hosts. The speakers were Michael Behe and Ned Hall from the Department of Philosophy at Harvard. More than 50 people attended, mainly faculty from MIT and Harvard plus a fair number of us local folks. We were all pleased that the discussion was civil and and carried out in a professional way. (consistent with the report that Ted Davis had received)
  Behe spent his 15 minutes presenting his core argument. He had 7 or 8 key steps in his argument but I'll try to summarize it all in two main points:
  1. Just because an idea is broadly accepted by the science community doesn't mean it is correct. He quote Maxwell on ether being the most established fact of science in his day. Therefore we need to be open to the possibility that the broad acceptance of evolution may be wrong. Evolution is being portrayed in school textbooks as the explanatory basis for the existence of complex features even where there is no direct evidence for it. As examples, he cited several texts with statements such as "....cells have evolved the capability for correcting errors in DNA replication..." (not an exact quote--I'm citing from memory) His point being that while the overarching principles of common descent and natural selection may explain the general origin of species, we do not have specific evidence that DNA error correction evolved nor do we know precisely how it came to be. Textbook writers gratuitously assume that since it exists, it must have evolved, even if we don't have the
 evidence. Nor do they typically raise the questions that remain to be solved.
  2. Scientists accept design in other fields of science and acknowledge the "appearance of design" in biology (he produced the usual quotes). The advances of microbiology in the last century have made evolution less tenable ("...evolution was more sensible at the beginning of the century than it is now..") and we need to seriously consider the actuality of design rather than merely its appearance. He also commented that ID is eminently falsifiable whereas evolution is more difficult to falsify. He said if a path to the evolutionary development of various microbiological systems was proven, it would falsify ID.
  No other mention of irreducible complexity or flagella.
  Ned Hall then took his 15 minutes. He didn't address Behe's comments directly. Rather, he made several suggestions to the ID community:
  1. ID should clearly state their position on the age of the earth and the extent of evolutionary factors in the origin of species. This would help clarify the "creationists in disguise" concern.
  2. ID should clearly differentiate between their "intelligent designer" and "OOO--the Omnisicent, Omnipotent, Omnibenevolent divine being" that is the subject of religious faith. He articulated how whatever evidence ID claims for an intelligent designer cannot be extrapolated to OOO.
  3. ID must demonstrate its "fruitfulness" in leading to productive research and science.
  After dinner, the discussion was also very civil. Ted, I didn't think there were any very hostile questions. There was disagreement to be sure, but well handled by all sides. One person was vociferous in reading parts of Judge Jones' ruling but it didn't generate significant discussion.
  In my comments, I strove first to point out that falsification of ID was not to be confused with the falsification of the doctrine of creation. If evolutionary pathways were found that would falsify Behe's claims, it would have no impact on our understand of God as creator of the universe. Then I challenged Behe on his assertion that ID was not an "ID of the gaps" but a positive evidence in the complexity and nature of the cell. I basically said that ID had not yet bridged the gulf between "...evolution has not explained xyz....and therefore the appearance of design is a real design by a 'real' intelligent designer". He tried to address that in his final summary statement but we had to continue off-line. He told me later it was like the early days of the Big Bang theory. There was an appearance of a Big Bang and we could hold that idea in abeyance until the proof came in. He said, why not recognize the appearance of design and hold that idea as potentially viable unt
 il more
 proof comes in. I didn't buy that. We have independent ways of determining effects of a big bang but don't have such a method for a hypothetical non-human, non-natural designer.
  Net: everyone I talked with felt it was a very good discussion, but I found no one whose views were changed. ID advocates left the same and vice versa. I do wish ID discussions would begin at the point where they usually end, if they get there. I really want to understand how a complex pattern of information content justifies the conclusion of an intelligent designer. For all the years I've read the ID books, I still don't grasp that logic. Maybe they're right but I just don't get it.
  I was glad that I could end the evening directly with Behe and affirm together our unity in believing in God the Creator and his creation.

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Received on Fri Feb 10 07:12:34 2006

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