[asa] Re: [asa] Rejoinder 2B from Timaeus – to Don Nield

From: Nucacids <nucacids@wowway.com>
Date: Sun Sep 28 2008 - 12:27:04 EDT

Hi Don,

Thanks for pointing out Denton’s paper. It is quite good and I plan to
review it on my blog.

You wrote:

“Denton has distanced himself from Behe’s view that certain biological
entities are machines. If they are not machines then that undercuts Behe’s
position in a fundamental way.”

This may be true, but I would add a clarification. It is not simply Behe
who views certain biological entities are machines. It was Bruce Alberts
who was the break-out guy for introducing the concept of a ‘molecular
machine’ to the wider biological community and it has since proved very
popular and useful. Ironically, Denton used the term ‘molecular machine’ in
his first book and I don’t think Behe used it in DBB (the term 'machine' is
not in the index).

More to the point:

“It seems to me that Denton’s latest writings are more in line with a TE
position (such as I hold myself) than with an ID one.”

As I have noted before, there are many types of ID folk. I know this to be
fact because, I have said, I have extensive cyber-experience with this
topic. And when I pointed this out, I noted there are many grassroots ID
supporters who are neo-vitalists. Denton seems to be part of this variant.
For example:

“If it is the case as we suggest above, that exploiting self-organization is
of necessity for complex material self-replication and if it is also the
case that the self-organizing systems that are exploited by life are without
analogy within the space of all material possibilities, then life as it
exists on earth would be a unique phenomenon. This does have vitalist
implications.”

The affinity between Denton and Behe clearly comes from the very distinction
that Timaeus is making – a challenge to the Darwinian conception of
evolution. From this viewpoint, Denton is closer to Behe than he is to Ken
Miller (for example).

Of course, I still maintain that attempts to put people into neat little
categories are ultimately futile.

-Mike Gene

----- Original Message -----
From: "Don Nield" <d.nield@auckland.ac.nz>
To: "Ted Davis" <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Cc: <asa@lists.calvin.edu>
Sent: Saturday, September 27, 2008 12:25 AM
Subject: Re: [asa] Rejoinder 2B from Timaeus – to Don Nield

> Thank you, Timaeus, for your thoughtful reply.
> In front of me as I type I have copies of Denton’s books Evolution: A
> Theory in Crisis (1985,1986) [ETC], Nature’s Destiny (1998) and his
> chapter “An anti-Darwinian intellectual journey” in Uncommon Descent
> (William A. Dembski, ed.) (2004)[ADIJ]. I also have access to what
> appears to be Denton’s most recent scientific paper, namely
> Edelmann JB, Denton MJ, The uniqueness of biological self-organization:
> challenging the Darwinian paradigm, Biology & Philosophy 22 (2007),
> 579-601. ABSTRACT Here we discuss the challenge posed by
> self-organization to the Darwinian conception of evolution. As we point
> out, natural selection can only be the major creative agency in evolution
> if all or most of the adaptive complexity manifest in living organisms is
> built up over many generations by the cumulative selection of naturally
> occurring small, random mutations or variants, i.e., additive, incremental
> steps over an extended period of time. Biological
> self-organization-witnessed classically in the folding of a protein, or in
> the formation of the cell membrane-is a fundamentally different means of
> generating complexity. We agree that self-organizing systems may be
> fine-tuned by selection and that self-organization may be therefore
> considered a complementary mechanism to natural selection as a causal
> agency in the evolution of life. But we argue that if self-organization
> proves to be a common mechanism for the generation of adaptive order from
> the molecular to the organismic level, then this will greatly undermine
> the Darwinian claim that natural selection is the major creative agency in
> evolution. We also point out that although complex self-organizing systems
> are easy to create in the electronic realm of cellular automata, to date
> translating in silico simulations into real material structures that
> self-organize into complex forms from local interactions between their
> constituents has not proved easy. This suggests that self-organizing
> systems analogous to those utilized by biological systems are at least
> rare and may indeed represent, as pre-Darwinists believed, a unique
> ascending hierarchy of natural forms. Such a unique adaptive hierarchy
> would pose another major challenge to the current Darwinian view of
> evolution, as it would mean the basic forms of life are necessary features
> of the order of nature and that the major pathways of evolution are
> determined by physical law, or more specifically by the self-organizing
> properties of biomatter, rather than natural selection.
>
> I think that we can rule out geographical distance as a factor in Denton’s
> departure from the Discovery Institute. According to the biographical note
> in ADIJ, Denton has worked in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, but not
> for any extended period of time in the USA.
> Denton has distanced himself from Behe’s view that certain biological
> entities are machines. If they are not machines then that undercuts Behe’s
> position in a fundamental way. Denton’s view that basic life forms are due
> to natural order means that when Dembski’s design filter is applied to
> biology it fails at the first gate.
> Dentons’statements in ADIJ about his change of view indicates to me that
> much of what he wrote in ECT is now out of date. Indeed, he seems to have
> moved on even further between his writing of ND and his ADIJ.
> I think that you have read into Denton’s books something about design that
> is not there. I note that “design” is not listed in the index of either
> book.
> It seems to me that Denton’s latest writings are more in line with a TE
> position (such as I hold myself) than with an ID one.
> Don
>
>
>
> Ted Davis wrote:
>> In answer to Don Nield’s comments and question:
>>
>> Regarding Denton’s distancing himself from the Discovery Institute – I
>> have no knowledge and could offer only speculation. Who knows why
>> someone leaves a group? It could be something as simple as personality
>> conflicts; it could be geographical distance, if he was no longer able to
>> spend much time in North America; or it could be a distaste for the
>> political aspects of the ID movement (which are inevitable given the fact
>> that Discovery is located in the U.S.A., where the First Amendment has
>> unfortunately become a tool in the culture wars). Or it might be a mix
>> of these things. Or none of them.
>>
>> I’m not sure I agree that Denton has distanced himself from any
>> particular claims of Dembski and Behe, but you haven’t specified the
>> differences, so I don’t know what else to say.
>>
>> I don’t know whether ‘no longer seeing evolution in terms of mechanism’
>> brings Denton closer to the TE position, because I find the TE
>> explanation of how evolution works to be theoretically amorphous. One of
>> the reasons I am here is to find out from you people whether there are
>> any core, theoretically articulate propositions advanced by TE about the
>> nature of the evolutionary process, or whether TE is little more than a
>> faith-gloss upon standard Darwinism.
>>
>> Also, note that while Denton has tried to get away from the language of
>> “mechanism” (which in his view both creationism and neo-Darwinism share),
>> he has replaced it with a language of “law” and “necessity”, not the
>> personalistic language of “freedom”, “creativity”, “novelty”, etc., which
>> some TEs revel in. Denton’s “nature” isn’t John Haught’s or Ken Miller’s.
>> It’s more like Spinoza’s. It will appeal more to Christians of a
>> disciplined, mathematical sensibility than to those of a romantic,
>> personalistic sensibility.
>> As for the differences between Denton’s books, he comments at length
>> about that, in terms of his intellectual development, in his essay in
>> Uncomment Dissent, so I recommend that, though it can’t be fully
>> understood without reading the books themselves. I have just read both
>> of his books recently, with extreme care. I find that, while they are
>> obviously different in purpose, and while he has changed his emphasis
>> somewhat, they are not contradictory. The earlier book lays down the
>> necessary groundwork for the later one.
>> For TEs, Denton’s first book should be mandatory reading, because most
>> TEs are convinced that Darwinism is good science, and the first book
>> shows that Darwinism is very poor science, even when “science” is
>> restricted to the narrow view of causation and explanation demanded by
>> Scott, Ken Miller, Dawkins, etc. For TEs, the second book should also be
>> mandatory reading, but they will like it better, because it clearly
>> endorses both evolution (as common descent) and a naturalistic
>> explanation for evolution. However, the second book will require some
>> mental adjustment for many TEs, because Denton is also absolutely
>> insistent that life cannot be explained without reference to design, even
>> from a scientist’s perspective. For him, design is no theological
>> afterthought, no gratuitous exercise of “faith” that the Christian
>> scientist can engage in, sitting in his easy chair in front of the fire,
>> after a hard day at the lab (where the thought of “design” never ente!
>
> re!
>> d his scientific head). For Denton, it is impossible to understand
>> nature from a theoretical point of view without the notion of design; if
>> you do not understand nature as designed, you simply do not understand
>> nature; your theoretical grasp is insufficient. And he lays his reasons
>> out in immense detail, with copious references to the literature of
>> embryology, genetics, physiology, anatomy, cell biology, neuroscience,
>> etc.
>>
>> Both books are just lovely; fine scholarship and informed science (from a
>> front-line medical genetics researcher with an astoundingly broad grasp
>> of the life sciences and of the history of evolutionary thought) woven
>> beautifully together. I don’t think that any evolutionary biologist
>> should be permitted to write another line of scientific prose without
>> having read both of them.

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Received on Sun Sep 28 12:27:50 2008

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