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

From: Don Nield <>
Date: Sun Sep 28 2008 - 16:14:53 EDT

Hi Mike.
DN: My comments are interpolated below.

Nucacids wrote:
> 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).
DN. Yes, the concept of molecular machine is widely used, and Denton
acknowledges this. Nevertheless, he now thinks that the term is
misleading. Yes, Denton uses the term in his first book. My point is
that he has now dramatically changed his view point and would no longer
use it. The bulk of Behe's book DBB is based on the concept of
biological machinery, so one would not expect to find it explicitly
mentioned in the index. (In fact, if one nit-picks, one finds that it
is there, under "Cell(s) ..., molecular machines and...") :-) On page
5 one finds "molecular machines raise an as-yet-impenetrable barrier to
Darwinism's universal reach ... in this book I will examine several
fascinating molecular machines..."
I take the opportunity to point out the change between Denton's ETC and
his ND is an illustration of a weakness of the ID (DI type) argument
based on deficiencies in current scientific understanding -- a "designer
of the gaps" type argument.
> 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).
DN: Perhaps in some respects, but not in others.
> Of course, I still maintain that attempts to put people into neat
> little categories are ultimately futile.
DN: Yes, but I would use the term "limited" rather than "futile". It
does help to group people into bands on a spectrum provided that this is
done along a specified axis, and one is aware that people simultaneously
vary along other axes.
> -Mike Gene
DN: Signing off for now.
> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Don Nield" <>
> To: "Ted Davis" <>
> Cc: <>
> 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.

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Sun Sep 28 16:15:26 2008

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Sun Sep 28 2008 - 16:15:26 EDT