[asa] Rejoinder 3 from Timaeus: to Don Nield; major statement re Denton

From: Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Mon Sep 29 2008 - 15:33:37 EDT

I’d like to reply to Don Nield’s latest two posts (his earlier reply to me, and his newest remarks to Mike Gene). After doing so, I will make a major statement regarding the thought of Michael Denton, and its relation to ID, TE, and Darwinism, and I hope that not just Don but others will respond.

I’ll start with his earlier reply, which was to me.
Mr. Nield:
It is irrelevant, from a theoretical point of view, why Denton is no longer a member of the Discovery Institute. But supposing, for the sake of discussion, that it is important to know this, I’d say the following. If you are implying that it is due to a break on his part with the views of Behe and/or Dembski, you should provide biographical evidence, either from Denton’s own statements about why he left, or from a second-hand account written by someone who was close to the ground at the time of his departure, that theoretical differences were the cause. But whatever his reasons for leaving Discovery, certainly he is completely on-side with Discovery regarding the extreme inadequacy of the Darwinian mechanisms to do what they purport to do, and no close and attentive reading of Nature’s Destiny and The Edge of Evolution can fail to disclose a number of substantial agreements between Denton and Behe.
Now, as to your point about Denton’s alleged abandonment of the language of design. I’m going to get a little impatient here, and I ask you not to take it personally, but merely as a point about responsible argumentative methods. I indicated to you that I have read both of Denton’s books with extreme care, and that I have read them recently, and that my summary was based on this recent close reading. Yet here you charge me of reading into Denton’s books something that isn’t there. I would naturally assume that would you would not bluntly correct me in this fashion unless you, too, had read his books carefully. Yet, you tell me that you believe that “design” is no longer very important for Denton in Nature’s Destiny, because you cannot find the word in the Index! This (among other things) indicates to me that you have not read the book, but are inferring its contents from a quick perusal, a glance at the Index, and from his remarks in the later essays. !
 This is, in my opinion, an irresponsible way to persuade oneself or others that one understands a book. For your information, the word “design” is used many, many times in the book. Also, the word “teleology” is used many times in the book (even though it isn’t in the Index, either), and if you are familiar with the subject-matter, you should know that teleology is the study of design. Please read pages 384-389, the final statement of the book’s thesis, for starters. The words “design” and “teleology” are all over the place. I think Denton should know better what his own book is about than you can determine from looking at his Index.
Finally, you say that Denton’s latest views are more in line with a TE perspective than with an ID one. If you had actually read ND, instead of just trying to divine its contents, you would know that it combines some essential ID with some essential TE elements, exactly as I said, so that it is hard to say which position it is more in line with. But you would also know that the first 2/3 of the book is nothing but a huge demonstration that design in nature is both detectable and detected, a conclusion which many TEs would utterly reject. And you would also know that for Denton Darwinism is in crucial ways substantially false. So if TE can embrace the view that Darwinism is substantially false (but you’d better run that by Steve Matheson, Ken Miller, Denis Lamoureux, Francisco Ayala, and Francis Collins!), then Denton may indeed be very much compatible with TE.
But, more important – and this will be my final point – you have not clarified what “the TE perspective” is. Note what I said to you in my last post:
**************************************************************
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.
**********************************************************
There I was inviting you to explain the TE position. You have not done so.

Now, regarding your more recent post:
You say to Mike Gene:
“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.”
First of all, this is a caricature of ID. ID does not employ a “designer of the gaps argument”. Such a criticism implies that ID only sees design in places where random chance explanations seem unable to account for something. In fact, ID proponents see design everywhere. Let me explain.
Critics have been misled by ID’s focus on a few celebrated examples, like the flagellum. But ID proponents are not saying that the flagellum is designed, whereas the fin of a fish turned into the foot of an amphibian without design, purely by accidental, Darwinian processes. They are not advocating a lurching, back-and-forth evolutionary process, whereby Darwinian mechanisms, alone and unaided, produce most things, and an occasional miracle intervenes, after which the Darwinian mechanisms take over again, until the next miracle is needed. There may be a few ID proponents who think of the process in those terms, and such an account is permitted by ID theory (and incidentally is compatible with both the Bible and orthodox Christian theology), but it is certainly not essential to the ID position. What ID is saying is that in the case of the flagellum, you can come very close to a proof that the thing is designed; you can give an argument that the chance hypothesis is sill!
 y that will convince the majority of even the more stubborn chance-worshippers, in a way that (perhaps) you can’t for the fin-to-foot transition. The fin-to-foot transition appears (superficially, anyway, though I suspect it’s much more complex) to involve merely minor modifications to minor parts of an appendage, and so can be imagined (not that imagination proves much) to have occurred by a series of lucky genetic accidents, whereas the creation of a flagellum requires the addition of an entirely new complex integrated system to the body of a simple bacterium. One simply cannot conceive how this could happen without some biological analogue of planning or design being involved in the process. (Ken Miller’s desperate attempt to use the Type III secretory system fails, because that system itself is complex and requires an origin which he cannot provide, and further, he has provided no plausible evolutionary pathway from the Type III system to the flagellum. The fa!
 ct that they have a few parts in common is not a sufficient pr!
 oof for
any evolutionary pathway.) But the point is that for most ID proponents, the amphibian foot was “designed” every bit as much as the bacterial flagellum was. The design in BOTH cases may well have been inserted into nature by “naturalistic” means rather than miracles, but if so, those naturalistic means were themselves endowed with a “foresight” that is equivalent to design. (Which is Denton’s position, as will be known by anyone who has read his books, instead of his indexes.)
Second, for ID to employ a “designer of the gaps” argument would require that Darwinism has already successfully explained, in many cases, how complex integrated structures can have arisen by means of chance and natural selection. If Darwinism had done so in a large number of cases, then it might reasonably be expected that Darwinism would, in the future, do so for the remaining cases, the so-called “gaps”. However, this is a false description of the facts.
Darwinism has not shown IN EVEN A SINGLE CASE – and I’ll take on anyone here on this, even if they have a double Ph.D. in evolutionary biology and paleontology – that complex integrated structures can be built with its mechanisms. Does anyone here have any evidence for it? Darwinian mechanisms can build longer finch beaks. Darwinian mechanisms can confer antibiotic immunity with easy one-amino-acid substitutions. Darwinian mechanisms can give fruit flies a new eye colour. Darwinian mechanisms are marvellous at making trivial modifications to already-existing complex machinery. But there is no evidence – none, zero, zilch, nada – that they can build an eye, a circulatory system, or an avian lung (the last of which, Mr. Nield, is discussed in both of Denton’s books).
So, since Darwinian mechanisms haven’t yet explained the origin of any complex system, Behe’s argument isn’t filling any “gaps”. There are no gaps to fill. There can’t be a gap in a structure, if there isn’t at least a partial structure standing. But in the case of the Darwinian mechanism, there are no walls yet standing. The foundation hole in the ground has been dug. As for the rest of the building, the work crew has arrived, and they are milling around the site with their equipment, but the first vertical two-by-fours haven’t gone up yet.
Finally, while it is true that Denton moved away from the “machine” model, he nowhere gives as a reason for his change of heart the reason that you impute to him. That is, he nowhere says that he abandoned the machine model employed in his first book because it involved “designer of the gaps” reasoning. (See Uncommon Dissent, pp. 165 ff.) In fact, he says explicitly in his writing (see op. cit., bottom of p. 168, for example) that BOTH intelligent design AND Darwinism are mentally reliant on the machine (“superwatch”) model, and Darwinism can hardly be accused of “designer of the gaps” reasoning. It is the machine-construction model, not designer of the gaps, which explains Denton’s move away from some of the formulations of design theorists. You have misconstrued Denton’s intellectual motivations, and you have done so because you have not read his books, and the essays you have read, you have not read carefully.

To All:
Let me summarize on Denton as simply as possible. If Denton is right, then Darwin, Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, Eugenie Scott, and many public statements pompously issued by the political arms of the AAAS and the NABT are gloriously, stupidly wrong. Denton is an arch-enemy of Darwinian evolution. Not of evolution as such, but of Darwinian evolution.
Does Denton fit in with ID? Absolutely. ID asserts that there is design in nature, and that it is in some cases detectable. Denton in fact provides far more evidence than does any ID advocate that this is the case. Where Denton differs from most ID proponents is in his subtlety; he has a much more advanced notion of how the design finds its way into nature than do most ID proponents. So at one extreme you have ID proponents who visualize the process in the way it was described in Of Pandas and People, and in Denton you have a discussion of Platonic protein forms front-loaded in a giant cosmic computer program. As a Platonist, I prefer Denton’s account to the account in Pandas. But Denton is definitely in agreement with the view that design, not chance, is behind evolution.
Does Denton fit in with TE? It depends. If TE limits its claim to the claim that evolution as common descent is true, and that God is behind the process, then of course Denton’s view can be made compatible with TE. You just have to be explicit, as Denton is not, that God is the writer of the great Platonic computer program. But if TE claims that Darwinian evolution is true, then it is incompatible with Denton, because Denton is absolutely clear that Darwinian evolution is false.
As I’ve said before, I have no problem with common descent. I have no problem with theistic evolution, if that means God is behind the evolutionary process somehow. But I have a problem with theistic Darwinism. My problem is twofold. One is that Darwinism, in its unwatered-down form, is inherently anti-Christian, because of the real (not merely apparent) role it gives to chance, as I’ve explained at length elsewhere in this discussion. The other is that, from a purely scientific AND NATURALISTIC point of view, Darwinism is a ludicrously improbable theory that has almost no evidence in its favour. It’s mostly imagination and bluff. I knew it before reading Denton, but Denton shows this more admirably than anyone else.
Fifty years from now, no one will be talking about Jerry Coyne or Richard Dawkins or Ken Miller or Francis Collins or Daniel Dennett or Francis Ayala or Michael Ruse or Eugenie Scott. They will be talking about Denton and Schutzenberger and Sternberg, as the people who transformed evolutionary theory into a form suitable for the 21st century. The Darwinism represented by Dawkins and the NCSE, and championed by The New Republic and The New York Times and the AAAS and the NABT, is old-hat, creaky, mechanical Victorian materialism, motivated by the physics envy of 19th and 20th-century biologists. It’s intellectually outdated. The new biological world is a hundred times more subtle than a Darwin could grasp, and a million times more subtle than a Dawkins or Eugenie Scott can grasp. Denton may not be entirely right, but his thinking is part of the wave of the future for evolutionary theory. And I take it that Mike Gene here is another who is contributing to that wave of !
 the future. I haven’t had time to read his book yet, but I’m hoping to be able to do so. He seems to me to be, like Denton, someone who thinks outside the box.

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Received on Mon Sep 29 15:34:39 2008

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