Re: [asa] ID/Miracles/Design (Behe vs. Behe)

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Wed May 20 2009 - 16:05:56 EDT

Hello, Randy.

Thanks for your welcoming note.

I appreciate the gentle tone of your post and accept much of what you say.
Let me further explain my position on a few points.

1. I agree with you that the ideal situation for design detection is one in
which we know something about the potential designer and the potential

2. I'm not sure, however, that these conditions are strictly necessary. At
least it is debatable whether they are. Some biological systems seem not
only so complex, but so integrated with other complex biological systems (in
such a way that they all adjust to each other in intricate and nuanced
ways), that it seems almost beyond imagination that these overlapping
systems could have come into existence without the aid of intelligence (the
possessor of that intelligence -- aliens, God, etc. -- being a
side-question). The living cell is a more complex and more integrated set
of sub-systems than any man-made computer, and none of us would think of
arguing that the integrated complexity of a computer came about by chance
and necessity, without the aid of intelligence.

You will perhaps respond that this does not amount to a formal proof. Well,
I agree. But does science always require formal proofs? Does it not
sometimes settle for "the best available explanation"? And isn't "the best
available explanation" in the case of a cell that some sort of intelligence
has been at work? Couldn't design be accepted, not as proved by science,
but as a provisional explanation, and as the best currently available
explanation? This would leave open the possibility that a better
explanation for the origin of the cell, couched entirely in terms of chance
and necessity, might come along, in which case the design explanation could
be abandoned.

3. I agree with you when you say this:

> Yet the argument hangs solely on the inability to find an alternative
> (natural) explanation for this so-called "information content."

True; and ID people sometimes overstate their case, when they say that
Darwinian processes (or other naturalistic processes) *can't possibly have*
produced the blood clotting mechanism, or the flagellum, etc. But on the
other hand, Darwinians overstate their case when they say that Darwinian
processes can explain such things. The fact is that, to date, Darwinian
processes haven't explained (in anything like rigorous detail) any major
macroevolutionary change. And if the Darwinian processes haven't been able
to do this to date, how do we know that they ever will be able to?

Let me put this in another way. It is unwise of anyone to try to prove a
negative. In trying to say that "Darwinian processes couldn't possibly have
..." ID people put too great a burden on themselves. Instead, they should
be arguing like this: "OK, we'll grant the possibility that the camera eye
could have arisen by Darwinian processes. Now give us a hypothetical
account -- *with details*." Now the onus is on the Darwinians, and they are
in the hot seat. (Note: this more cautious approach is the one taken in
*The Design of Life*, by Dembski and Wells, which does not argue that
Darwinian mechanisms *cannot* explain the apparent design of life, but only
that they have not come anywhere near to explaining it.)

4. I think that this approach (#3 above) would lead, in essence, to a
stalemate, in which the Darwinians would have to admit that they are nowhere
near being able to explain any major macroevolutionary change in an adequate
manner, and whereby the ID people would have to admit that they haven't
disproved the Darwinian thesis or confirmed intelligent design. So where
would that leave the matter? I think your own words capture it: "we don't
know". And that's essentially David Berlinski's position. He's a strong
critic of Darwinism, but doesn't endorse ID. He says that we simply don't
know how all these complex systems could have arisen. We don't know for
sure that intelligence was involved, but we certainly aren't in the position
to say that intelligence couldn't possibly have been involved. The proper
position, he says, is agnosticism.

5. But note that agnosticism regarding the macroevolutionary capabilities
of Darwinian mechanisms is *not* the official position of the NABT, the
AAAS, the NCSE, etc. It is not the position of Dawkins and Coyne. It was
not the position of past influential popularists like Asimov and Sagan. It
is not the position of some theistic evolutionists, who seem sure that
Darwinian means are God's chosen means for bringing about evolution. The
very strong impression conveyed to the general public, by people who claim
to speak in the name of "science", is that Darwinian mechanisms have been
proved capable, beyond a reasonable doubt, of explaining the incredible
complexity we see in life, and that it is only some of the clean-up work,
the fussy details, that are not yet understood.

If the official position of "science" were "We cannot explain -- in anything
like the rigorous, detailed manner commonly expected in modern sciences such
as physics and chemistry -- the origin of complex integrated biological
systems, and therefore those origins remain a mystery", the
creation/evolution debates would lose much of their explosive character.
And if the teaching of biology in the schools reflected that healthy
agnosticism, many of the constitutional and legal debates would go away as

6. The problem as I see it, Randy, is that people like Eugenie Scott and
Ken Miller and Francis Ayala and Barbara Forrest and Daniel Dennett and
Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins are never going to accept your
intellectually modest and cautious position. What would you say to these
people about the limits of "science" regarding the question of evolutionary
mechanisms? Should it not be something roughly equivalent to what you have
said to the ID people?


----- Original Message -----
From: "Randy Isaac" <>
To: <>
Sent: Wednesday, May 20, 2009 2:36 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] ID/Miracles/Design (Behe vs. Behe)

> Cameron,
> I'm glad you've joined the list. I've been off the list for most of the
> last two months and the volume of posts is too great to catch up. But in
> scanning through the posts, I noted some of yours and appreciate the
> perspective you provide. As the executive director of the ASA, I tend not
> to advocate any particlar view--perhaps an advocate of none and critic of
> all. But having been responsible for all the science and technology work
> at IBM Research for many years in my previous life, I am a very strong
> advocate of "integrity in science" which is a commitment of the ASA.
> Working out what that means is something to which we must continually
> strive.
> I would like to comment on one of your earlier posts. I confess I have not
> read all subsequent posts of yours or others who may have responded, so I
> apologize if this is somewhat repetitive.
> You wrote:
>> 1. ID says that we can establish at least the fact there is design,
>> i.e., that chance is not a sufficient explanation for certain biological
>> phenomena. Do you reject this idea even in principle, or are you open to
>> the possibility of design detection in this very limited sense? (Note:
>> Being "open to the possibility" leaves you free to reject any particular
>> argument put forward by design theorists, if you think it's weak. It
>> requires only that you allow that such arguments might be valid, and
>> therefore should not be rejected by TEs out of hand.)
> In other words, you are asking "can science detect design?" I would
> suggest this is an incomplete question. We must clarify what this means. I
> would answer most definitely yes if we are referring to "design by agents
> or methodologies for which we have some knowledge". However, I would say
> the answer is no if we mean "design by agent(s) or methodologies for which
> we have no other evidence."
> Let me illustrate. Scientific methodology is very appropriately applied to
> study whether certain Olduwan tools were made by hominids and for what
> purpose. We can study methods of shaping stones and using them and we have
> some degree of inference about what hominid capability might have been. We
> can detect design in those stone tools. Many other examples can be cited.
> However, the issue at hand seems to be whether we can justifiably detect
> design when neither the agent nor the methodology are known or detected by
> any other means. In this case we know no independent attributes of the
> agent nor do we know any characteristic of the methodology. I would submit
> that we cannot therefore detect this type of design, much less infer that
> such an agent or such a methodology actually exists.
> In the case of ID, the claim is often made that the characteristics of the
> "information content" of a living cell are such that it must have been
> designed by an unknown agent through unknown means. I do not find this to
> be a scientifically defensible claim. The "information content" is not of
> the Shannon type (caused by an intelligent agent) so it can only be of the
> complexity type which is somehow configured by an intelligent agent. Yet
> the argument hangs solely on the inability to find an alternative
> (natural) explanation for this so-called "information content." But
> analogies between DNA code and computer code do not justify an
> extrapolation to an unknown agent. Specified complexity (and passing the
> three stages of the explanatory filter) can only lead a scientist to say,
> at most, "we don't know."
> In summary, science can detect design when the agent and the methodology
> are sufficiently known by independent means. Otherwise the answer is no.
> Your remaining items in that original post, all depend on the assumption
> of such an abstract design being detected, and are therefore moot, at
> least from a science perspective.
> Randy
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Received on Wed May 20 16:06:58 2009

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