[asa] Rejoinder 7B from Timaeus – to Steve Matheson

From: Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Tue Oct 21 2008 - 15:37:49 EDT

I thank Steve Matheson for a meaty reply. I will try to address some of his points.

First, your account of Del Ratzsch sounds very interesting. It sounds as if he would be a very useful author for me to read.

I particularly enjoyed this remark:

“I have been significantly reoriented by reading Del's work on the subject. For
example, I used to identify design arguments as god-of-the-gaps thinking, in
principle; Del demolishes that one in a few paragraphs. (In his more basic,
and classic, book on philosophy of science: Science & Its Limits, IVP 2000.)”

I thank you for saying this. It appears, from several answers to my posts, and from several comments made on other threads, that many people here still tend to identify design arguments as fundamentally god-of-the-gaps thinking. Despite my best efforts, including the analogy of the architect (who has no efficient-cause role whatsoever in putting up a building, yet is an essential cause of its structure and existence), many still seem to see intelligent design thinking as the intrusion of miracles where natural causality seems to fail. That’s not what ID thinking is about; at least, that’s not what it should be about. I think that the language of the book *Of Pandas and People*, at one point in particular, tarred the ID movement with that notion, and I admit that there are many defenders of ID who probably do privately think in terms of miracles replacing natural causes, but that’s not, to me, the heart of ID thinking. The heart is in the recognition of design as a!
  legitimate “cause”; the further question, the question how design as a “cause” is to be co-ordinated with the “efficient” causation typically discussed in natural science, remains an open one, to which I have no dogmatic answers.

I agree with you that mere complexity is not enough to get us to a design inference. And I agree with you that Dembski realizes this, too, in his distinction between “complexity” and “specified complexity”, which he discusses at length in *No Free Lunch*. So when I used the term “complexity”, I was arguing loosely, to make a general point, but I really had in mind not just any old complexity, but “specified complexity”. And I think that in some way Dembski’s notion of specified complexity could be related to Ratzsch’s understanding of counterflow, but I wouldn’t dare undertake that until I had read Ratzsch.

So yes, I think we now agree about the Martian sculpture example, and about the kind of reasoning I am saying is legitimate in biological cases. Mind you, I am certainly not in a position to claim that in any particular case that counterflow has been demonstrated in a formal scientific sense. (Though in *No Free Lunch* Dembski gives an extended example with calculations for a case that, in his view, shows that design is correctly inferred from specified complexity.) What is important here is that you and I are agreeing that design-inference reasoning is not automatically taboo in biology (on the grounds that it allegedly violates some prescriptive definition of “science” as “methodological naturalism” put forward by the NCSE). That agreement alone could be a major breakthrough in ID-TE relations. If TE people are truly open on this point, one of the major communications blockages is removed.

En route to your final long discussion, you make a side-remark to the effect that my contrast between “Darwinism” and Christianity is wrongheaded, as had been shown by Ted and others. Since you clearly indicate that this isn’t the issue you wish to discuss with me, I won’t take that up, but I would recommend that you read all the posts I have addressed to the others on the subject, where I have answered their various criticisms (including Ted’s criticisms, in two posts) at length. In any case, everything depends upon the way you define “Darwinism”, but, as I have defined it (and I think my definition captures the “deep intentions” of both Darwin and all the major neo-Darwinists of the 20th century, though it may not capture what TEs generally mean by “Darwinist”), I’m convinced that Darwinism is incompatible with any orthodox form of Christianity. Unorthodox forms are another matter, as Ted has pointed out in an informative post to which I haven’!
 t yet replied.

In your final section, much of which I don’t object to, you identify the key difference between the ID position (as I’m trying to represent it) and your own. You see “flow” where I see “counterflow” in the evolutionary process. This is not the sort of disagreement we are likely to sort out in one e-mail exchange, but let me make a few comments.

I am certainly not qualified to teach you anything about embryology, or even to debate about any of the details, so I’ll only make some general points which I think can be safely made. First, I agree with you about the wonder, the marvel, of the formation of the animal body. But I am not sure that the marvels of body formation contribute any argument, in themselves, in favour of major evolutionary change. Granted, as far as we can tell, all the processes of development are entirely “natural”. I never claimed otherwise, and in fact when another person criticized me using embryology, I replied at length about this. (See: Rejoinder 2D from Timaeus: to Dennis Venema, Sept. 29th). I think you should read that earlier reply, in conjunction with this one. (You can disregard the last part of it, where I make the application to Christian theology, since that isn’t the topic you want to discuss here.) The point is that, however “natural” embryological processes ar!
 e, there was supposedly a time in evolutionary history when they did not exist (amoebas, for example, have no embryos), and therefore, embryological processes themselves had to evolve. But embryological processes involve integrated complexity, and the question is how such integrated complex processes could have evolved, even with the help of natural selection, if chance was the main driver. If chance didn’t spit out the right body parts, hormones, etc., for natural selection to polish up, the system couldn’t have been formed in the first place.

Now I want to be fair to you here, because you haven’t used the word “chance” to describe the processes. You’ve used the word “natural”, and thus avoided committing yourself to the dicey world of “chance”. And that’s good, in my view. But chance or no, I still need to have evidence of natural processes, beyond embryological processes, that point in the direction of major structural change over time. Embryological processes are marvellous, and they certainly produce major structural change over time, but they are processes affecting individuals, not species, and they are clearly programmed, not accidental, because, barring damage to the organism, they happen in exactly the same way for each individual of the species. They aren’t engines for producing new species, but for conserving the same one. Or, if they do contribute to new species, I need to be shown how. Suppose a cow, through some wildly aberrant developmental process, gave birth to a human b!
 eing. That would be a new species. But if that human being was only phenotypically a cow, and still had a cow’s genome, the offspring would revert to being cows in the next generation, would they not? (I wouldn’t envy the mother her labour pains!) So if embryological processes are actually going to change species, won’t they have to change the genome of the embryo as well as all its external features? Does this ever happen? I don’t know, because I’m not an embryologist. But if it doesn’t ever happen, how can embryology point the way to species change?

On your last paragraph, I agree that no one has proved anything either way. I don’t claim to be able to prove that Darwinian evolution is impossible; I just find it extremely unlikely. But evolution, without the “Darwinian”, is a more wide-open notion. If you demote chance + natural selection into a supporting role, evolutionary theory could then really dig into the possibility that all kinds of things happen in the genome that a Darwin, a Sagan, or a Dawkins never dreamed of. It could look into the possibility of a certain amount of pre-programmed directionality in evolution, for instance. And if pre-programmed directionality turns out to be a real feature of genomes, then it seems to me that the whole religion/evolution discussion would take an entirely different turn. I believe it would be a healthier turn. And I believe it would greatly narrow, if not abolish, the difference between some ID and some TE proponents. TEs would shout: “Aha! Natural causes! !
  I told you so!” And ID proponents would shout: “Aha! Design! I told you so!” Thus, both sides could be right in an important way, without either side actually being wrong in any important way. Such peaceful solutions in debate are rare, but in this case, a peaceful solution just might be in the offing, depending on what the life scientists, working at their non-ideological, empirical best, find over the next 20-30 years.

From: Steve Matheson <1. smatheso@calvin.edu>
Date: Sat Oct 11 2008 - 22:16:24 EDT
Hi Timaeus--
Just a few fairly quick comments and responses.
1. I recommend you move Del Ratzsch's book (Nature, Design and Science: The
Status of Design in Natural Science, SUNY Press 2001) to the top of your
reading list. I'm sure you will love the book. Del's project, in his own
words (from the preface):
"As I became involved in the growing design debate, it became clear to me that
almost none of the foundational philosophical work essential for such debate to
make real progress had been or was being done. The present book is thus not a
piece of advocacy either for or against such claims. It is a philosophical
attempt to clarify some of the conceptual landscape which productive pursuit of broader design debates must negotiate."
I just can't give a high enough recommendation to the book. I'm not a
philosopher, but I'm able to follow the reasoning without much problem, and I
have been significantly reoriented by reading Del's work on the subject. For
example, I used to identify design arguments as god-of-the-gaps thinking, in
principle; Del demolishes that one in a few paragraphs. (In his more basic,
and classic, book on philosophy of science: Science & Its Limits, IVP 2000.) I
think you will appreciate the clarity he brings: the clearing away of nonsense
leaves the way open for substantive thought on the questions we all think are
interesting and important. And you can get it in paperback. :-)
2. Here's the summary paragraph from the first chapter:
"So design is to be understood in terms of deliberate agent activity
intentionally aimed at generating particular patterns. Pattern, in turn, is to
be understood in terms of structures that have special affinities to cognition
-- which correlate to mind. The agent activity involved produces artifacts
that are defined via counterflow and that frequently exhibit familiar primary
marks of agent activity and counterflow by which that activity and
artifactuality can be identified. And where the correlation to mind is
sufficiently powerful, further conclusions of designedness or even of the
specifics of the design and intent themselves, can be warranted."
The idea is not that counterflow defines design. The idea is that agent
activity results in counterflow, which frequently can be detected by us. Agent
activity need not involve design, but design is defined as deliberate agent
activity. So for example, an idly whittled stick will bear clear marks of
artifactuality (i.e., counterflow) but not necessarily indicate design.
Design, in other words, always involves counterflow, but the converse is not
Ratzsch explains why "complexity" is really not a useful concept in identifying
counterflow. (Dembski's discussions of "specified complexity" make some
similar points, if I recall correctly.) Very simple artifacts can bear
unmistakeable counterflow marks, while extremely complex objects and systems
need not involve design or counterflow at all. Some forms of complexity might
get our attention or arouse our suspicion, but what we really need to see is
counterflow. This is precisely the problem with identifying design in natural
objects or phenomena. The counterflow is not obvious.
Now, I should acknowledge that I misunderstood your introduction of avian lungs
into the Martian sculpture discussion: your intent was to show that we would
use the same reasoning in design detection in both cases. I agree, and so
would Ratzsch. But I do think it's important to further acknowledge that mere
"complexity" is regularly advanced as evidence of design, perhaps by less
sophisticated defenders of ID, and to agree that the mere complexity of the
avian lung is simply not (by itself) indicative of design.
3. Ratzsch convincingly establishes that counterflow can be identified at any
or all of the three different aspects of the production of something: the
initial state, the process, and the product or result. I take this to mean
that the identification of counterflow in, say, the establishmecell, followed by subsequent generation of the entire biosphere by "unaided
nature," would be just as compelling evidence of design as would be the
identification of counterflow marks in, say, mutation patterns in ancient
hominids. (More accurately, it would indicate agent activity, but I think you
know what I mean.)
4. Now to your question. First you wrote this:
In order to be sure that we have “evidence of action counter to the expected
action of nature operating freely†, we have to know what nature does, or can
do, when it is â€̃operating freely’.
Yes, exactly.
Then you pointed out that "Darwin-lovers" believe that nature is capable of
generating complexity and integration "unaided," while "Darwin-doubters" do not
believe this. And I think you have that right. This led you to identify one
type of ID position as the view that Darwinian evolution is "nothing but one
long counterflow." I like it a lot. It helps us see how we're viewing the
world differently. Let me reiterate that I find nothing intellectually
disreputable in that position.
And then you asked:
Why is Darwinian evolution itself not a counter-intuitive theory from the
outset? [...] Do we not see, in our observations of nature, a natural “flowâ€
toward either degradation, or at best stasis (cows always begetting cows,
etc.)? Do we ever see any marked advance in integrative complexity in living
systems, other than that which we introduce in the breeding-yards or in the
genetics lab, via human intelligence?
This, my friend, is the heart of the matter. This is the only question worth
discussing, in my opinion; assertions by you and other ID proponents that there
is something incongruent about simultaneously embracing "darwinism" and
Christianity are utterly unconvincing, because they are completely
wrong-headed, as Ted and others have made abundantly clear. But this
question...this is the one. So let me take a few paragraphs to attempt an
explanation of why I see the living world differently than you do.
In short, I do see relentless change as the natural flow in organisms. And I
see the generation of integrated complexity, through completely natural means, as not only "natural" but as a basic characteristic of life on earth. And so I
find the proposal that organisms have evolved naturally to be consistent with
what is daily accomplished by "unaided nature."
First, the fact of relentless change. I see numerous examples of significant
biological change occurring through selection and "chance" in the presence of
immense genetic diversity. I read that measures of rates of evolutionary
change through geologic history are consistent with rates of evolutionary
change observed and measured today. (In fact, rates of change observable on
human time scales are thought to be orders of magnitude FASTER than rates of
change over tens of millions of years.) When I consider the profound genetic
diversity of populations, shown recently to be significantly underestimated
when single-nucleotide changes are the exclusive focus, in combination with the
many genetic forces that maintain diversity, I am unsurprised by the suggestion
that selection and drift can lead to rapid and dramatic change. My
understanding of these genetic forces, in combination with rapidly-accumulating
genetic data showing the precise genetic relationships among taxa, leads me to
expect that the genetic changes that distinguish cows from cowbirds and cowboys
occurred through the same mechanisms that govern genetic change today. I just
don't see any reason to suspect that this process, among all the amazing
processes in biology or the rest of creation, must have required extraordinary
agent activity.
Second, the fact of natural generation of integrated complexity. I'm a
developmental biologist. My scientific interests lie specifically in the area
of how cells and embryos generate integrated complexity. A single cell is
transformed into a fully formed moexample of the de novo generation of integrated complexity; indeed, the mind
boggles at the feat. The achievement of a bacterial cell duplicating itself is
still an amazing thing, perhaps less amazing than the making of a mouse but
just as clearly evincing the generation of integrated complexity by "unaided
nature." I'm not saying that developmental biology rules out design -- hardly.
I'm saying that I look at evolution in the same way I look at development, or
at cell division, or at the control of gene expression. They all do amazing
things, awe-inspiring, stunning, jaw-droppingly astonishing things, in which
integrative complexity is the inevitable result. And amazingly, they all seem
to proceed by mechanisms we can refer to as "unaided nature." For me, there is
nothing uniquely extraordinary about the idea that life arose and diversified
"naturally" in our world. Extraordinary? By all means. Uniquely
extraordinary, in need of a fundamentally different explanation? No.
Now this doesn't mean I've ruled out agent activity, nor do I mean to assert
that counterflow will never be found in the development of the living world. I
am intrigued by discussions of front-loading, and I think it's fair to say that
there are no compelling darwinian accounts for the development of early life
and specifically of intracellular nanotechnology (protein machines). No ID proponent has ever shown that known mechanisms of evolution are insufficient to
account for the tree of life, but neither have evolutionary biologists
demonstrated that they are. In other words, and in summary, my expectations of
the natural world are very different from yours and from those of ID proponents
in general. But I'm trying to distinguish what I expect from what I know.
I should stop. I look forward to hearing from you and others.
Steve Matheson

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Received on Tue Oct 21 15:38:42 2008

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