Re: [asa] The Myth of the Rejected ID Paper (science stoppers and OOL)

From: Murray Hogg <>
Date: Sat Jul 05 2008 - 23:43:55 EDT

Hi Rich,

Yes, I acknowledge that you've qualified what is meant by "science
stopper" and I don't think I have much problem with your position.

I'd only make one further clarification of my own remarks as I'm not
sure that I was entirely clear: I think you understood me to be claiming
that ID theorists have made the attempt to falsify their own theory? If
so, I think I haven't been adequately clear. I should state, then, that
I don't believe that ID theorists have made the attempt to falsify their
theory, only that they had attempted to offer a means by which a
purported irreducible complexity might be identified. That is, they had
actually done us the kindness of offering a theory which CAN be
falsified by appeal to the data - even if they leave others to actually
carry out that task.

In this respect, I resonate with the quotation from Miller. Frankly, I
always felt that regardless of the strength of Dembski's mathematical
model, it would always be a case of coming back to the data (which I
take to be Miller's point, broadly understood).

In that respect, whilst Dembski's model could never be proven to be
correct. That said, however, I feel that IF we had increasingly large
numbers of purported cases of irreducible complexity and IF these by and
large failed to yield to naturalistic explanation THEN (in my view) we
would need to ascribe Dembski's model an increasing degree of credibility.

As I wrote earlier, however, I simply don't see huge numbers of cases of
irreducible complexity. And even those which have been put forward seem
to be tendentious at best. So regardless of the elegance of Dembski's
model, it fails to convince as it simply doesn't have empirical support
which is both broad and resilient.

So, to labor a point upon which I think we both agree (?), the critique
of ID should not be that it doesn't qualify as science. The critique
should be that as a scientific theory it doesn't pass muster as the data
either doesn't support, or stands in conflict with, the theory. Those
who wish to claim otherwise should, in my opinion, be able to offer
considerably more empirical support than they in fact do. That Dembski
offers a mathematical analysis of design is helpful, but it can't
replace a well considered evaluation of the biological data.

In all of this, I think by taking seriously the attempt to place ID on a
scientific footing, one can diffuse some of the less constructive
debates whilst still progressing toward a scientifically responsible end.

Thanks for what is to me a quite enthralling discussion.

Murray Hogg
Pastor, East Camberwell Baptist Church, Victoria, Australia
Post-Grad Student (MTh), Australian College of Theology

Rich Blinne wrote:
> On Jul 5, 2008, at 5:31 PM, Murray Hogg wrote:
>> And if you think about the above for long enough, you might see why
>> I'm rather adamant that ID is not a "science stopper." In turns out
>> that unless one allows that Dembski in particular HAS gone further
>> than a claim of ignorance, THEN my own critique of ID theory actually
>> becomes groundless! One can't say that ID theorists have FAILED to
>> convince in regards to the presence of irreducibly complex systems
>> UNLESS one acknowledges that they have at least made the attempt!
> They are not science stoppers in the sense from both specified and
> irreducible complexity you can derive testable propositions from them.
> It is an unfair characterization of ID's hypotheses as hypotheses are
> not science since they can be falsified. But, ID did not themselves try
> to falsify them. So, no, they did not make the attempt. Rather, others
> did it for them. In the case of Behe, the falsifying information comes
> from all the studies that he ignored on the witness stand at Dover.
> Dembski claims that information cannot increase as the result of
> evolution. That's a testable proposition, too, and it also has been
> falsified. See the following from Miller's /Only a Theory/:
>> If Dembski’s claim that the mechanism of evolution cannot produce new
>> information was correct, we’d be able to verify it by using computer
>> programs that mimic evolution. There are quite a few of these
>> around, but one of the most straightforward has been written by
>> Thomas Schneider of the National Institutes of Health (figure 3.4). He
>> calls his program ev, for evolution, and it starts with a set of
>> completely random sequences of 256 bases, sequences written in the
>> four-letter language of the DNA bases (A, T, G, and C). At each
>> generation, it evaluates how well a protein binds to (recognizes) a
>> collection of “binding sites,” places where a small protein encoded
>> by the same DNA sequence might bind. At the beginning of a test run,
>> of course, they don’t bind very well. Nonetheless some of these
>> random sequences do bind a little better than others, so Schneider’s
>> program allows half of the sequences, the half that bind best, to form
>> the next generation. [25]
>> That succeeding generation is formed by introducing unpredictable
>> errors (mutations) into the successful sequences, and then testing
>> their binding ability again. Schneider’s program automatically
>> calculates the information content of the sequence and shows how it
>> changes as this process of selection, reproduction, mutation, and
>> selection continues. The results are striking.
>> The information content of the sequence rises steadily throughout the
>> selection process and gradually levels off at a point where the fit
>> between protein and binding sequence is nearly perfect. The strength
>> of Schneider’s simulation is that the actual content of information
>> can be measured mathematically in terms of bits of information. His
>> measurement is taken according to methods developed by Claude
>> Shannon, the father of modern information theory, and unequivocally
>> shows that this process leads to an objective and quantifiable gain in
>> information. [RDB Note: I use information theory in my work. While
>> Dembski abuses Shannon, Schneider does not. He uses information theory
>> in a straightforward fashion.] To find out how this happens,
>> Schneider allows the simulation to proceed as before, but removes the
>> selective step in which only the best-binding sequences are allowed
>> into the next generation. The information content of the sequences
>> quickly drops back to zero, showing that high information content is
>> directly dependent upon a continuing process of selection.
>> What’s needed to drive this increase? Just three things: selection,
>> replication, and mutation. The best sequences are selected for
>> replication into the next generation, then they are mutated, and then
>> they are selected again. It’s no coincidence that the same three
>> things are required for evolution, since what we are observing is
>> nothing less than evolution on a small, observable scale.
>> Figure 3.4: Natural selection is responsible for an increase in
>> informational complexity. A computer simulation of evolution by
>> natural selection shows that randomized information increases as the
>> result of selection applied to an evolving digital “organism.” The ev
>> program, written by Thomas Schneider of the National Institutes of
>> Health, simulates a protein binding site and demonstrates how the
>> pressure of natural selection increases the information content of the
>> site. Note how the information content drops when selection is
>> stopped. (Dr. Thomas Schneider, National Cancer Institute, National
>> Institutes of Health.)
>> Where’s the new information coming from? Perhaps the investigator is
>> sneaking it into the system at the start? No chance of that, since the
>> starting sequences are completely randomized. Maybe there’s hidden
>> information in the program itself? Not likely. Schneider has made the
>> source code of his program open for inspection, and there isn’t even
>> a hint of such nonsense. Did Schneider rig the parameters of the
>> program to get the result he wanted? Not at all. In fact, changing
>> the program in just about any way still results in an increase in
>> measurable information, so long as we keep those three
>> elements—selection, replication, and mutation—intact. Where the
>> information “comes from” is, in fact, from the selective process itself.
>> Does this mean that evolution gives us a “free lunch,” that we get
>> something for nothing in terms of information content? No. In fact,
>> when you think about it, a very high price is paid to produce that
>> information and then to keep it. That price is the cost of
>> replication and selection. Schneider’s model requires an extravagant
>> degree of waste, since half of the “organisms” (his DNA sequences)
>> must be thrown away in each generation, and considerable energy
>> supplied to replicate the surviving organisms, which then undergo a
>> round of mutations to generate further variation. The information in
>> the system is generated and preserved by this costly process of
>> selection and replication.
>> [25] Dr. Schneider has made summaries of his results, as well as the
>> ev program itself, publicly available at
>> [RDB Note: Figure 3.4 in
>> Only a Theory is the graph on this web site.]
> Murray continues:
>> And one of my suspicions, I have to say, is that because ID theorists
>> HAVE attempted to go beyond claims of ignorance, to actually raise ID
>> to the status of a testable hypothesis, THEN it actually bolsters the
>> perception of persecution when it is claimed that ID is ONLY an
>> argument from ignorance. Rather than claim that ID is "not science",
>> or even that it is "bad science", I think it should be argued that it
>> is wrong. So, in that respect, I think that Pim's response needs the
>> sort of qualification I have been offering. I don't, if Pim will
>> forgive me for saying, think that Pim's position is VERY wrong, just
>> wrong enough to need tweaking to avoid what seems to me a dangerous
>> misrepresentation.
> Hopefully, I just did that kind of qualification above.
>> At the end of the day I personally think that an objection to ID as an
>> argument from ignorance should be retired as manifestly false and
>> positively harmful. False because ID theorists HAVE attempted to show
>> that the issue ISN'T merely ignorance. Harmful, because it perpetuates
>> the myth (?) of persecution. Instead I think that it should be argued
>> that - just as Johnson and Nelson have acknowledged - even when taken
>> on its own terms ID theory seems not to have successfully demonstrated
>> its case.
>> Your thoughts?
> I would add that arguments that I personally am more fond of, e.g. fine
> tuning and that evolution as of yet does a poor job of explaining moral
> behavior, are just as much arguments from ignorance. If evolution does
> end up explaining fine tuning, or moral behavior or OOL, etc., leaning
> too hard on these arguments will produce just as much damaging
> backpedaling. This whole exercise should not produce any sense of
> superiority on our part but careful introspection to make sure that we
> are not likewise using "dangerous" apologetic arguments. Or, at the very
> least provide sufficient qualifications on them.
> Rich Blinne
> Member ASA

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Received on Sat Jul 5 23:44:41 2008

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