[asa] Rejoinder 6D From Timaeus – for Iain Strachan, Jon Tandy and Others

From: Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Mon Oct 20 2008 - 09:26:50 EDT

This latest from Timaeus is evidence that he, too, has a life that can interfere with internet posting. :-)

It has been frustrating to Timaeus, and somewhat also to me, to see some of the same old comments about ID on the current thread, "lock-picking tools." Culture wars is pervasive, and IMO some ID leaders themselves are partly responsible for the fact that many conflate ID ideas with the larger ID movement and its ties to forms of creationism.



Rejoinder 6D From Timaeus – for Iain Strachan, Jon Tandy and Others

Dear ASA Members:

Teaching and writing commitments will from now on prevent me from replying with my earlier frequency. However, I want to try to reply here to Iain Strachan and Jon Tandy, whom I’ve missed so far. I will also add some comments for Christine Smith and Dennis Venema.

To Steve Matheson: I haven’t forgotten you or the discussion about counterflow. I intend to send another response to you, in answer to your latest reply to me. But that will be a separate post.

On Sept. 30th, Iain Strachan posed an inquiry to me based on his knowledge of computer science. I understood the first couple of paragraphs, and then became rapidly lost. “Kolmgorov complexity” and “neural networks” are terms for specialist discourse, not for the kind of discussion we’re having here. Since I cannot understand the example Mr. Strachan is posing, I cannot give him a useful answer. His objection would be better raised to William Dembski, or to the crowd over at UD, many of whom understand this technical jargon.

However, I would make one comment, which I think is pertinent. Mr. Strachan says that he used to be an advocate of ID. He is also in the field of computer programming. I must note that some of the leading ID writers (e.g., Granville Sewell), and many of its less illustrious supporters (such as you find writing on UD, and probably on Telic Thoughts as well) have strong backgrounds in computer science. Indeed, for those writers it is the case that it is precisely their background in computer science that leads them to be convinced that the “design” in nature is real design, not apparent design. An argument which one of them gave, I think on UD, went something like this: Any computer programmer knows that “accidents” don’t produce new, viable programs. If someone is writing code for Word Perfect, and makes a mistake in one line, you don’t get Quattro Pro as a result. What you get is Word Perfect with some feature disabled, or Word Perfect that is busted and !
 won’t launch at all. The thought that Word Perfect might, given a couple of billion years, evolve into Quattro Pro through a series of inadvertent errors by programmers, and during all the intervening stages function acceptably as various other sorts of computer program (e.g., maybe as a database program or a chess-playing program or a family tree program or a photo editing program), is so preposterous that no one with any education in computer programming would accept it as a possibility. Yet this is exactly what Darwinism claims, when all the fancy talk and technical jargon is removed from it: that accidents produce new, intermediate forms, which, despite having lost important functionality of the old forms and not yet having acquired all the integrated components necessary for the proper functioning of the ultimate forms, somehow are so fit for their environment that they live and reproduce with gusto.

So the question for Mr. Strachan is this: do you believe that, given any amount of time, the sorts of errors that you and your colleagues make when writing code, would produce a series of viable intermediate programs, with complete functionality, so Word Perfect could accidentally turn into Quattro Pro, or a program designed to control the traffic lights in Chicago could accidentally morph into a program designed to play backgammon, without ever losing functionality on the way? And if you don’t believe this, why do you accept the Darwinian mechanism, which is the exact biological analogue of such a process?


Dennis Venema wrote, on Sept. 30th:

“Does Tim really think it is possible to determine the step-by-step progression, one base pair change at a time, with all the selection pressures, allele frequencies in the population, etc., for any "gain" in complexity or function? Yet that is what Behe (and Tim) wants.”

Yes it is what I want; or rather, I want, not an exact historical recounting of what happened (which is and always will be entirely inaccessible to us), but at least a detailed theoretical model of what could have happened, with reference to specific organs, e.g., the eye, the avian lung, etc., and with reference to the specific changes in the genome allegedly responsible for the evolution of those organs, with all relevant developmental and ecological and physiological details included. I want to hear something like this: “Section 14B8A of the second chromosome was altered by the dropping of an A-T pair and the substitution of a G-C pair, and meanwhile down in Section 13765C2 of the third chromosome, eight consecutive G-C pairs were dropped, and this produced, via the following developmental changes (specify ...), the first primitive cornea, and the cornea, though imperfect, gave the creature a selective advantage in approximately 250 million B.C. because the creatures !
 against which it was competing were the A, the B, and the C, and these creatures had eyes like this (specify), and would not have been able to see as well with their older ocular systems as the new creature with the imperfect cornea.” That’s the level of explanatory detail I want to see. If Darwinism cannot provide this, then its claim to “know” that Darwinian mechanisms caused evolution is simply unjustified, and should be labelled as guesswork at best, or, less charitably, as bluff. So I ask Dr. Venema, since he is a biologist and presumably would not believe that Darwinism is true unless he had seen, in the biological literature, detailed accounts of this sort about how the mechanism works: where is the book which provides even a theoretically possible evolution of the vertebrate eye, proceeding gene by gene, matched up to the evolving physiological structures and datable ecological conditions?

Am I being unreasonable in expecting this level of explanatory detail? Not at all. Physicists and chemists and engineers have no trouble giving detailed, step-by-step accounts of the processes which they allege to occur in nature. A civil engineer would have no trouble writing a 500-page book describing in detail, with diagrams, all the forces, vectors, stresses, tensions, movement of water molecules, etc., involved in the bursting of a dam. A chemist can describe in detail all the processes and intermediate reactions that occur when a series of chemical are mixed, and can lead the reader step-by-step to the final reaction products, in terms of van der Waals forces, ionic bonding, molecular shapes and polarities, electron sharing, molecular motions inside the solution, energy given off, precipitates generated, etc. If anyone doubts that a dam will burst in such-and-such a way, or that such-and-such a chemical product will be produced under set circumstances, the chemist!
  or engineer can remove all doubt through a straightforward exposition of all the causes at play and how they interact mathematically. Why can’t Darwinians do the same?

To ask the question is to know the answer. Obviously, Darwinists cannot do the same because they do not understand all the causes at play, and/or how to quantify them. But precisely because they do not know these things, they should not be asserting that the Darwinian mechanisms can explain evolution. They should write and speak vastly more tentatively than they do.

Evolutionary biology is, in my view, the most hypothetical, least quantitative, least precise, least theoretically clear body of theory in all of modern science. It makes grand, sweeping claims about what happened in the past on the basis of a very imperfect understanding of how living things operate in the present. And that has been characteristic of evolutionary theory from the beginning. Darwin had no clue how inheritance operated, but he was sure it could build complex, integrated organs and systems by slow, gradual steps. Ken Miller has no clue how the bacterial flagellum came into existence, except that maybe the Type Three secretory system could have been an intermediate step (even though some evolutionary biologists think that the flagellum evolved earlier than the TTSS!); and he has even less of a clue how the Type Three secretory system itself evolved, but one thing he’s sure of, by gosh, is that it must have come into existence through Darwinian processes. !
 As long as biologists substitute wishful thinking of this kind for the empirical determination of mechanisms, evolutionary biology will rightfully remain in the basement of the sciences, and will be publically challenged by parents and teachers and school boards in a way that physics and chemistry never are. In human relations, if you want respect, you have to earn it. It’s the same in science. If you want your particular branch of science to enjoy a public monopoly regarding scientific truth, as the Darwinists dearly want evolutionary biology to do, you have to earn that monopoly status by being as good as chemistry or physics. Evolutionary biology is not even a tenth of the way there.

To Jon Tandy:

Regarding your first post, of Sept. 29th, regarding the political side of ID, I agree with you that there are many YEC supporters of ID, that they promote ID in churches, etc. But I’m not here to discuss the political aspects of the question. And, yes, my view of ID is idealized, but that’s because I’m only concerned with theoretical truth, not religious apologetics. I’m arguing that nature points to design, and that design can be inferred (“scientifically” or not) from the facts of nature.

Regarding your second post, also of Sept. 29th, you make several points, of which I will address a few:

1. You are right; your basic position is not much different from mine. I have no rigid doctrine regarding how or when God might have created things, or intervened in evolution. My only concern has been to point out that pure Darwinism is incompatible with orthodox Christianity on the question. Beyond, that, I’m open to all kinds of combinations of evolution with design that anyone might dream up. I’ve mentioned Michael Denton, but I don’t say he is the only one who has come up with anything promising along these lines. It may be that Mike Gene is an equally good option, and doubtless there are others I don’t know about.

2. You try to make the argument that it is the philosophical additions made by Darwinism, rather than his scientific theory as such, which should be rejected by Christians. But as I’ve argued to Ted and others since you wrote that post, Darwin did not introduce variation and natural selection as simply some possible mechanisms; they were integrally tied up with his notion of a purely naturalistic science, including a purely naturalistic account of origins. And by naturalistic, he meant to exclude of course miracles, but also he excluded design. If you yank mutations and natural selection out of Darwin’s philosophically-driven system, you either have to do it Behe’s way, i.e., keep them as genuine natural operations, but limited in power and therefore inadequate as the central explanation for evolution, or you have to give them the full natural powers that Darwin attributed to them, but stick God on top or underneath or beside them somehow. I’m saying that I’ve!
  never seen an account of the latter approach that isn’t intellectual hash; it produces an account of evolution that says it is simultaneously unguided and guided, and every way I’ve seen of handling the contradiction strikes me as sophistry at worst, and muddled at best.

3. Science isn’t obliged to stop investigating things once it determines the existence of design. Indeed, it should keep investigating. And as biologists and biochemists have pushed their investigations further and further, it seems that design runs deeper and deeper into nature. So design theorizing does not prevent further advance, but rather, is augmented by each further advance, and in the other direction, it encourages scientific exploration, because it is motivated by the belief that science can discover, not just a bunch of dead “facts” about nature, or a bunch of mechanical arrangements, but the results of an intelligent mind. The idea of thinking God’s thoughts after him has been and always will be a powerful motivator for a number of scientists. The person who believes that design is detectable in nature has every motivation to do detailed, precise investigations into biochemical and physiological systems, to confirm the existence of design, and to se!
 e just how deep it may run.

4. Darwinism’s insight that evolution is driven by accident is no more useful, from a practical point of view, than ID theory’s insight that evolution is driven by design, so if you are concerned about practical benefits (as in your point d), Darwinism has no advantage over design. Both are inferences from the data, and both can be accused of being influenced by non-scientific, philosophical or theological considerations: ID by theism or Christianity or YEC, Darwinism by deism or atheism. From the point of view of practical biology, it makes very little difference whether we account for DNA as designed or a result of blind chance; we can still sequence DNA, study DNA-protein relationships, and research cures for genetic diseases either way. But design has this advantage; it keeps open all possibilities. Design theory allows for a partial chance element in evolution, whereas Darwinism excludes all design elements. So design theory would expect, or can allow for, a !
 small amount of “junk DNA”, whereas Darwinism would expect a much larger amount. Already, Darwinists have admitted that much of the DNA that was thought to be junk is not junk. So design theory proved a more cautious and prudent approach than pure Darwinism in at least that one case. And there will more and more such cases as time goes on, as we see that Darwinism has over-committed itself to randomness and accident and chance.

5. ID isn’t a “God of the gaps” argument, but if it were, it would have a rather easy time of things, because Darwinism is almost all gaps. Darwinism is in fact a “chance of the gaps” argument, since wherever it can’t explain the origin of a complex structure (which is virtually 100% of the time), it simply baldly asserts, without any proof whatsoever, that that structure came into being through a series of gradual steps, each conferring a slight survival advantage on its possessor. It can’t identify the steps, or provide specific genetic causes for each step, but such mere details have never bothered Darwinists, from Darwin down to Dawkins.

Regarding your Oct. 1st post:

1. We may never understand the true nature of gravity, but we know a heck of a lot about how it works, and we know it with great mathematical precision. We have no comparable knowledge of species turning into other species. That they have done so is hypothetical, and even if it could be historically verified, the possible mechanisms are almost entirely unknown. The idea that small incremental changes, such as might lengthen an animal’s neck or thicken its skin, can be extrapolated to explain the creation of complex integrated systems, has no empirical basis, and is fraught with theoretical problems.

2. Certainly a major part of ID theorizing consists of the critique of Darwinism. But that is not surprising. Darwin’s theorizing was itself entirely a critique of design. The two modes of explanation, design and chance, are natural opposites, and are going to be discussed together, just as health and disease are discussed together, or war and peace. But if you are asking if ID is anything other than a critique of Darwinism, that depends on whether you accept the epistemological priority that Darwinists give to chance. If you accept chance as the automatic default explanation for complex integrated systems, so that design theorists have to disprove chance before design talk is allowed, then of course ID will be focused wholly on negating Darwinism. But why should chance be given epistemological priority? Why shouldn’t it be the other way around? The more natural, more human approach would be to give design the priority, and make the Darwinists disprove design. !
 Design has always struck everybody, including Darwin himself in his youth, as obvious. Even Dawkins admits that the impression of design in nature is overwhelming. So why not say that we will believe that design, the prima facie more probable explanation, is the true one, unless the Darwinists can score big with detailed explanations of the origin of the lungs, brain, flagellum, etc., via chance processes? If we took that route, then design would be a more positive program; confident of the fact of design, we could look for designs in the microscopic world analogous to the obvious designs in the macroscopic world, etc.

Regarding your next post, dated Oct. 2:

1. Yes, I could have restricted the God-gun scenario to the period after the generation of the first life. It doesn’t affect the general point of my illustration. But even though Darwin chickened out on the origin of life himself, since the logic of Darwin’s exclusion of design for the origin of species (no miracles allowed in “science”) requires that even the first life must have a naturalistic origin, I have followed Darwin’s more rigorously consistent disciples, e.g., Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins. I gather that TEs are all over the map on this issue, some taking Darwin’s line and allowing for just one initial miracle there, others insisting that even life itself has a naturalistic origin. Either way, since my question allowed people to qualify their answers, every TE on this list could have responded to my challenge. But only about four of them did. You were one of them. I thank you for doing so. And I agree with your answer: nature as we observe it h!
 as no such power as Darwin and Dawkins attribute to it. I wish I could get answers that clear from everyone here.

2. The point of the God-gun scenario was not to prove the truth of ID, but to determine what TE people thought about the self-sufficiency of Darwinian mechanisms. I wanted to find out which TEs believed that God “topped up” Darwinian mechanisms with some miracles, to get the results he wanted, and which TEs believed that nature would have produced all the species and man without God’s help, because he gave it the power necessary to create species without his direct aid. Since so few people were willing to play along, I learned very little, and I’ve dropped the discussion.

Regarding your most recent post, dated Oct. 15:

1. I didn’t equivocate on Darwinism; in fact, I offered a more precise understanding of Darwinism than is generally found in discussions of evolution. I clearly distinguished “evolution” simply from “evolution” by various means, and indicated how Darwinian evolution differed from Lamarckian or Bergsonian evolution. In Darwinian evolution, chance and natural selection (with sexual selection as a side-show, added in The Descent of Man) operate in a way that IN PRINCIPLE excludes design. It is not as if Darwin asserted variation and natural selection as just two among many mechanisms, then considered the possibility of design as a cause, and disproved it; rather, Darwin’s whole system excludes design, in an early version of the NCSE’s “methodological naturalism”. Darwin never needed to disprove design (though from time to time he does try to do so in particular cases), because design is outside the scope of “science” as he defines it. Design belongs !
 with “miracles” in his book. And once design is excluded, variation and natural selection must bear an incredible amount of weight: they must create almost the entire plant and animal kingdoms as we know them, without any rational guidance. Darwin might have made this possibility more credible if he had allowed for “front-loading”, and thus allowed an immanent rational principle to substitute for the forbidden external rational principle. But as far as I know, he never entertained the principle, and certainly he didn’t put it forward in the Origin.

2. ID doesn’t bring in theology; TE does. It is TEs who say things like: “God would have given his creation a share in his creative powers, because he is a loving God who promotes freedom, not a tyrant”; “God must have used evolution to create species, because if he created them directly, then he would be responsible for evil”; etc. ID refuses to speculate about what God would or would not have done. It limits itself to describing what God has in fact done, i.e., designed nature. It’s descriptive, not prescriptive. If it looks as if malaria was designed for its function, then ID will accept that God designed malaria for that function, not deny design in order to prevent the undesirable theological conclusion. It doesn’t try to tell God the kind of God he ought to be. That’s what TE does, or at least what some TEs do, as far as I can see.

3. ID is not entirely anti-TE; that’s why I’m here, to show that there is an area of overlap. The two overlap where they agree that there is real (not apparent) design in nature, that it may (not must) be detectable scientifically, and that Darwinian mechanisms alone (or more broadly, chance evolutionary mechanisms alone) could never have produced complex integrated systems such as those possessed by living beings. Any TE who agrees with these three propositions, and will state them publically, regardless of how many important biology professors are listening, is a friend and ally of ID. But we ID people find many TE people rather elusive on the third point.

4. ID distrusted the category of “junk DNA”, for starters, and proved to be right. And hang onto your hat; there’s more to come, as the biological discoveries of real, non-ideological science keep rolling in. What will finally undo Darwinism is neither TE nor ID nor YEC; what will undo Darwinism is the nature of nature itself. God will not be mocked, and God will not be reduced to the narrow understanding of nature possessed by evolutionary biologists. (By the way, I trust everyone here knows that surveys have shown that something like 90% of evolutionary biologists self-identify as agnostic or atheist? If Darwinism is so compatible with Christianity, how come the scientists who allegedly know Darwinism the best, the full-time evolutionary biologists, haven’t figured that out?)

5. ID never claimed that science should give up the search for mechanisms. ID has always promoted an attack on two fronts: study all the mindless, unguided mechanisms that operate in living systems, and ALSO investigate the possible influence of design. ID is thus more inclusive than Darwinism, and is not likely to miss an important cause which Darwinism methodologically excludes.

6. I don’t think ID is presumptuous; or if it is, then Darwin was equally presumptuous in his day. ID of course makes arguments, and believes them to be valid; but all scientists do that. Does that make all scientists presumptuous? I think that what ID is asking is for design arguments to be given a place at the scientific table, not to the exclusion of chance and mechanical causes, but in addition to them. It is the Darwinists who are presumptuous, because they believe that they are the authoritative definers of evolution, and even of biology itself. They are arrogant imperialists who resent any resistance to their arbitrary rule. But pride goeth before a fall. In the lifetime of the younger people reading this, Darwinism will be openly criticized and even mocked on university campuses, and design theory will be a recognized component of biological studies, including evolution. And remember that you heard it from Timaeus first.


To Christine Smith, re Oct. 7 post:

1. You wrote:

“Clarifying question...using your analogy, do you see RM and NS as the tools, or the construction workers?”

I see RM + NS (plus “drift” and whatever other chance or purely mechanistic explanations evolutionist have dreamed up) as, collectively, both the tools and the workers, without distinction. The tools and workers are, from the architect’s point of view, all mere tools. The worker is no more responsible for the design of a building than his hammer is. The design comes from the architect. Similarly, all the mechanisms of evolution come up with so far, by Darwin and his successors, are mindless mechanisms, incapable of guiding evolution in any direction. So if a design emerges, it’s a lucky break. ID people say that the design is no lucky break.

2. Perhaps suspecting a contradiction in my account when I said that I leaned towards front-loading, you wrote:

“Didn't you earlier describe this view [front-loading] as being very nearly equivalent to a Deistic God?”

Yes, I did. But remember, I am not equating my personal theological beliefs (which by the standards of most Christian ID supporters would be too liberal) with orthodox Christianity here. Here, I merely report what orthodox Christianity has said. Orthodox Christianity has said that God is intimately involved in the world, and is not merely a distant, impersonal Creator. Front-loading is strongly suggestive of a distant God, and may well be incompatible with the orthodox Christian God. I already acknowledged that, in passing, in an answer to someone. But from a theoretical point of view, front-loading reconciles three things beautifully: (1) the appearance of common descent; (2) a naturalistic mechanism to explain common descent, removing the need for miracles; (3) real (not apparent) design. I like it for that reason. However, were I to decide that this is too “deistic” for my theological taste, I could opt for removing (2), and replacing it with “occasional mi!
 raculous interventions in the evolutionary process”. That would still make me a theistic evolutionist of a sort. But either way, I would not be a theistic Darwinist, because neither front-loading nor miracles are any part of Darwinism.

3. You wrote:

“It's my view that this freedom is counterbalanced by natural selection, and more fundamentally, by natural laws (physical, chemical, etc.). Even Darwin himself, to my (very limited) knowledge, never stipulated that chance was not bound by these other factors. So, from your perspective (not Darwin's) how isn't this compatible with the idea of a providential God who's will is achieved?”

We’re talking at cross purposes here. Keep in mind that this is a group discussion. Even in the posts addressed to you, I am not always replying only to you, but also to about twenty other people here, and to dozens of TE and Darwinist writers that I’ve read. My target here was not something you had said, but certain TE writers who have argued that God would give his creation genuine freedom, because he’s loving, not a tyrant, etc. But if I say to my son, “Son, I’m going to give you the genuine freedom to become anything you want in the world. I’m not a tyrant. I want to show my love by letting you creatively express your own inner nature. So I won’t try to bully you into an educational course plotted by me. Therefore, you can go to any Medical School of your choice.” – I’m not giving my Son authentic freedom at all. In your account of constraints, God’s will is achieved, and I agree with you that in Christianity God’s will is achieved. But !
 if creation is really free, it must be free to defy God’s will and not realize God’s intentions, just as my son must be free to choose to be a poet instead of a doctor. But orthodox Christianity is very clear that created things do not have that kind of radical freedom. So I’m saying that certain TEs (not all of them, but the ones who assert that Darwinism is Christian because it goes along with the idea of nature’s radical freedom as a gift of God), are just plain heretical. Of course, I’m speaking non-judgmentally here, and purely in historical terms. Some of my best friends are heretics. But it’s wrong to represent a heretical improvisation on creation doctrine as the orthodox doctrine.

4. Finally, you asked about how ID proposes to detect design. Don’t rely on my summaries. Read the works of William Dembski. Read Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box. Read some of the essays in the Ruse/Dembski collection, Debating Design. Has ID come up with flawless, uncontested ways of detecting design? Apparently not, since it has many critics. But you should at least read what the ID theorists have to say before accepting the judgment of the critics. The critics frequently have as many axes to grind, if not more, than the ID theorists themselves. Few people are neutral, objective or fair about this subject-matter. For myself, I don’t know whether or not design can be proved “scientifically”, but I think it can be a valid inference nonetheless. And if we can know that a tractor found on Mars is designed, what are we to say of a living cell, which displays integrated complexity to a vastly higher degree than does a tractor, or even the factory that m!
 akes the tractor? Will our intelligence allow us to believe that the cell could have come into existence by random processes, when we would scoff at the suggestion if it were made in the case of the tractor? But I don’t think there’s any point in extending this part of our discussion until you’ve read Dembski and Behe.

To unsubscribe, send a message to majordomo@calvin.edu with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Mon Oct 20 09:27:36 2008

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Mon Oct 20 2008 - 09:27:36 EDT