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

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Mon May 25 2009 - 03:07:47 EDT


Thanks for this analysis.

I like your point that both ID and neo-Darwinism ultimately must speak in
terms of probabilities of particular pathways. I hadn't thought of it in
precisely those terms before. What it means is that ID people could in fact
be very scientifically useful to neo-Darwinians, as devil's advocates,
because they would tend to look very critically at particular pathways
proposed by Darwinians. If the two groups would agree to leave metaphysical
and religious questions aside -- which would entail neither presuming nor
ruling out design -- real science could then be done better by the two
groups working together than under the current arrangement, where they
refuse to talk to each other. Imagine how much more real work could be done
unfolding the way living things actually work, and the way evolution
actually proceeds, if atheists, TEs and IDers concentrated on the
nitty-gritty details of protein folds, mutation rates, reproductive rates,
connections between genetics and embryology, etc., freely exchanging data
and insights, instead of spending all their time making celebrity TV
appearances, writing books and tracts against each other, suing school
boards, lobbying state governments, writing vulgar blogs, defending
themselves against vulgar blogs, etc.

I also want to make it clear that I am not unreasonable enough to demand
that neo-Darwinians specify the exact pathway that was in fact followed in
each case. I would be happy if it could give a complete hypothetical
pathway for any major organ or system, with precise, testable claims for the
genetic changes, the probabilities, the numbers of generations, etc. If
even a hypothetical pathway could be shown to be entirely self-consistent,
with all the details checking out empirically, then the case for Darwinism
would be quite strong. And if not just one, but say, half a dozen major
organs, systems, body plans, etc. could be explained in this way, the case
would be almost unassailable. But so far the details are so sketchy for any
major macroevolutionary pathway that one has to say that neo-Darwinian
mechanisms have not by any means been proved capable of delivering
macroevolutionary results. Rather, it is *assumed*, as the basis of the
Darwinian research program, that such mechanisms *can* deliver such results,
and that some day this assumption will be vindicated by a more or less
complete account of the evolution of a major system. I would not object to
this as a procedure, if it were honestly admitted that this is in fact what
is going on. What I object to is the constant, loud braying about how
neo-Darwinian macroevolution is as certain a fact of the universe as is
gravity or the existence of atoms. The working assumption of a research
program is not the same as a fact of nature.

I am puzzled by your last paragraph. If there is an "anthropic law" written
into the universe which increases the available probabilistic resources to
the point where the macroevolutionary creation of man is highly probable or
even inevitable, what is such a law if not a manifestation of design? If
Randy wants to toy with an anthropic principle, that's fine with me. It
will lead him straight to design.


----- Original Message -----
From: "wjp" <>
To: "Cameron Wybrow" <>
Cc: <>
Sent: Sunday, May 24, 2009 10:47 AM
Subject: Re: [asa] ID/Miracles/Design (Behe vs. Behe)

> Cameron:
> I am one physicist, a las not a biologist, who agrees with pretty much
> with your assessment of modern evolutionary theory.
> However, I am certain that there does exist a determined crew of
> microbiologists who are working on just the kind of results you desire.
> After all, in principle, from what we think we know, the agenda appears
> relatively straightforward.
> 1) Determine the genetic encoding required to achieve a certain end.
> 2) Begin with a certain state of genetic encoding.
> 3) Using the transformations permitted by neo-darwinism, determine a
> pathway from the original state to the final state.
> Others, far more informed, will have to specify those tools listed in (3).
> As I understand it, progress has been made in determining a number of such
> tools.
> I presume that, given the transformations, it is possible to find at least
> one pathway from the original to final state. Indeed, it is likely that
> there are many such pathways. Other constraints, or assumptions, may
> eliminate some of those pathways (e.g., no known existing species at
> each step of the pathway). We must, of course, specify that at each
> point in the pathway the creature is viable and is capable of
> reproducing.
> I also presume that it cannot be show that given the original state of
> genetic coding and the transformations available that the end state
> cannot be achieved.
> In principle, this is a tall order, I think. We could initially
> develop a process without constraint, a simpler task.
> Having done all this, however, we are still not done.
> We must, it seems, make some attempt to evaluate the cumulative
> probability
> of proceeding from the original state to the final state. Additionally,
> we need to make some attempt to assess our probabalistic resources.
> It seems to me, then, that the task looks a lot like what ID attempts.
> I don't see how to avoid it.
> Ultimately, we will be faced with ID's explanatory filter.
> Many who reject the task of ID think that such probabilities cannot
> be computed. If not, can we say that such an evolutionary theory
> is actually a science. It must at least be able to distinguish
> between some pathways and others. This will be done
> probabilistically.
> Can such a theory ever be more than simply expressing the
> confidence that the genetic coding has advanced from state A
> to state B using the transformation tools assumed.
> By what means, if not such probabilistic analysis, can the
> science be falsified or doubted or rejected?
> Such rejection, as Randy has pointed out, does not entail that the
> only resource is design. It could be an heretofore unknown
> anthropic law written into the universe, one that would judge
> probabilities and probabilistic resources as being far greater
> than our present "mechanical" model.
> bill
> On Sun, 24 May 2009 00:18:06 -0400, "Cameron Wybrow"
> <> wrote:
>> Randy:
>> This is a reply to your earlier post, not your post of tonight.
>> Thank you for the kind words about my expository style. I won't reply in
>> detail to every point, so as to keep this shorter than it would otherwise
>> be, but I will take up a few points:
>> 1. In reply to my recommendation of agnosticism, you wrote:
>>> Agnosticism of what? From a scientific perspective, it's pretty clear
>> that
>>> no natural intelligence was involved. As for any other metaphysical
>>> perspectives, that's a different realm.
>> a. I mean agnosticism regarding the origin of something. For example,
>> let's
>> take the first cell. Despite nearly 60 years of research into the
>> non-directed origin of life by chemical means, modern scientists still
>> have
>> almost no understanding of how such a thing could have occurred. So, if
>> someone were to ask, "Did the first cell come into being by chance alone,
>> or
>> was design somehow involved?" the proper
>> answer for a scientist would be, "We don't know." I would call that a
>> laudable agnosticism.
>> b. On what grounds can one say, regarding the formation of the first
>> cell,
>> that
>> "from a scientific perspective, it's pretty clear that no natural
>> intelligence was involved"? Do you mean: "Science has *proved* that no
>> natural intelligence was involved?" Or "Science *assumes* that no
>> natural
>> intelligence is involved"? If the former, please give me the titles of
>> books or articles where this proof can be found. If the latter, what
>> justifies science in making that assumption?
>> 2. You wrote:
>>> Actually, I think the explanation is indeed comparable to the rigorous
>> and
>>> detailed manner commonly expected in physics and chemistry. But not as
>>> detailed as detractors might demand.
>> Randy, you've stated that your field is computers. The training of a
>> computer scientist or engineer is generally not in the life sciences. So
>> isn't your belief in the rigorous and detailed character of
>> macroevolutionary theory something that you have taken more or less on
>> faith
>> from your colleagues in the life sciences? If so, I think a little
>> skepticism is in order. Let me give you some good reasons for such
>> skepticism.
>> I can walk into any library in just about any university in the world,
>> and
>> pull off the shelf any number of 500-page textbooks with titles like:
>> "Principles of Cantilever Construction"; "Bonding Strengths in the
>> Alkynes";
>> "The Nuclear Structures of the Transition Metals", etc. These are not
>> works
>> of speculation. They are books of information. Detailed information.
>> And
>> most of the information in them has been accumulated since 1859. Now,
>> tell
>> me where I can find a book with a title like: "From Light-Sensitive Spot
>> to
>> the Camera Eye in 150 Stages: A Genetic Accounting"; or "The Origin of
>> Winged Flight: A Full Set of Plausible Intermediaries, Genetically and
>> Physiologically Explained, with Anatomical Drawings of Each"; or
>> "A Study of Natural Selection in the Pre-Cambrian Ocean: All the Prey
>> Available to the Trilobites, and All the Competitors They Faced"; or
>> "Seventy-Nine Physiological Adaptations Required for Marine Lactation,
>> and
>> How Darwinian
>> Mechanisms Achieved Them". You won't find books in the library like
>> this,
>> Randy. And the question is, why not?
>> We know a hundred times more about electricity and magnetism than Faraday
>> knew, but, 150 years after Darwin, what do we "know" about how the camera
>> eye evolved that Darwin did not know? Note that Dawkins's account of the
>> evolution of the camera eye marks no advance on Darwin's. And take a
>> look
>> at Denton's review of the literature on the origins of winged flight:
>> it's
>> clear that the best evolutionary theorists simply don't know how it
>> arose.
>> And Denton's account was written more than 120 years after Darwin. I
>> could
>> multiply these examples at will. How do you account for this incredibly
>> slow rate of progress in explanation, in comparison with the phenomenal
>> rate
>> of progress of the rest of science during the same time period?
>> I would suggest that the slow progress comes from the nebulousness and
>> imprecision of the Darwinian mechanisms; they are too broad and loose for
>> anything to be nailed down. Precisely because "mutation" and "natural
>> selection" can be imagined to explain everything, they can explain
>> nothing.
>> Darwinian theory will never achieve what physics and chemistry have
>> achieved, until it stops yammering endlessly about "mutation" and "drift"
>> and "neutral theory" and "selection" and "punctuated equilibrium" and
>> other
>> such broad concepts, and can nail down an exact sequence of chemical
>> changes
>> in the genomes and the proteins that can turn, say, a wolf into a whale.
>> Until Darwinian theory can offer explanations on this level of detail, it
>> will never be rigorous science, but only science-flavoured storytelling.
>> You wrote:
>>> Here I must object. This is not scientific methodology in the least.
>> Speaking as a scholar who has read a more than an average amount of the
>> history of science, including original sources by people such as Galileo,
>> Gilbert, and Darwin, I have some idea of what scientific methodology
>> requires, and I know that
>> people who advocate a theory are expected to provide evidence for it.
>> They
>> can't simply make grand speculative claims and then sit back and defy the
>> world to disprove them. It is not enough for Darwinians to say that no
>> one
>> can *disprove* the possibility of the unguided evolution of the
>> flagellum,
>> and that a Darwinian explanation for it may be found "some day". That's
>> just "Darwin of the gaps", which is every bit as vacuous as "God of the
>> gaps". No, I'm afraid that it is up to the Darwinians to provide a
>> plausible detailed model, showing how the flagellum could have come into
>> existence without intelligent design. So far, they have one plausible
>> intermediate step, the Type III secretory system Where are the other
>> fifty
>> steps? Does Darwinism get a pass on the flagellum, on the strength of
>> one
>> plausible intermediate step? And does it get a pass on the transition to
>> marine lactation, for which it has (I believe) zero plausible
>> intermediate
>> steps?
>> Why do none of the scientists on this list raise any of these critical
>> questions about Darwinism? Why does it have to be a religion
>> scholar/historian of ideas such as myself, or a sociologist like Gregory
>> Arago? Where are the vaunted critical faculties of scientists in
>> evidence
>> here? Where is the celebrated scientific skepticism about grand
>> speculative
>> claims? Where is the demand for details, for quantification, for precise
>> mechanisms, all of which are hallmarks of good science? Why does
>> Darwinism
>> get away with so little questioning, when its detailed explanatory power
>> is
>> so very limited?
>> Is the reason for the "easy ride" given to Darwinism perhaps that, given
>> modern science's commitment to a *de facto* reductionist naturalism,
>> *any*
>> chance-and-necessity theory for the origin of the cell or the flagellum
>> or
>> the eye, no matter how flimsy, lacking in detail, or generally
>> implausible,
>> is automatically better than a design inference?
>> If so, I predict that Darwinian theory will never, ever improve. It has
>> no
>> motivation to go beyond vague qualitative generalizations if it is
>> guaranteed acceptance by the mere fact that design explanations are not
>> permitted. The only post office in town doesn't have to provide good
>> service to stay in business. And just as the post office is often
>> staffed
>> by surly clerks who don't work very hard (but complain that they do), so
>> Darwinism is often staffed by quarrelsome, irritable men and women (e.g.,
>> Dawkins, P. Z. Myers, Eugenie Scott) who don't explain very much about
>> how
>> evolution actually works. And just as the way to get better service in
>> post
>> offices is to take them out of the hands of the state, and open them up
>> to
>> private competition, so that each entrepreneur will hire hard-working and
>> pleasant clerks, to attract more customers, so the best way to produce
>> biologists who will actually roll up their sleeves and dig into the dirty
>> details of macroevolution is to hold their feet to the fire by constantly
>> comparing their results with the design inference. In such a competitive
>> atmosphere, Darwinians would have every incentive to show how Darwinian
>> processes can mimic every last detail of conscious design, thus rendering
>> design a redundant hypothesis. As it is, they don't have to show a
>> blessed
>> thing. Like those surly post office clerks, they get their paycheques
>> anyway, so why should they care how inefficient they are at producing
>> detailed explanations for major macroevolutionary changes? As long as
>> the
>> courts and the scientific establishment and the state education
>> authorities
>> and the textbook publishers maintain their monopoly over "origins
>> science",
>> they've got all the time in the world.
>> Cameron.
>> ----- Original Message -----
>> From: "Randy Isaac" <>
>> To: <>
>> Sent: Wednesday, May 20, 2009 9:39 PM
>> Subject: Re: [asa] ID/Miracles/Design (Behe vs. Behe)
>>> Cameron, you certainly are a clear thinker and good writer. A few
>>> rejoinders if I may.
>>> You wrote:
>>>> 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
>>>> techniques.
>>> Not just ideal but necessary. Without some degree of knowledge of the
>>> characteristic of the designer or the methodology, there is nothing to
>>> detect.
>>>> 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.
>>> This is an argument from incredulity which is extremely attractive to
>> all
>>> of us but not as scientists. And no, the analogy of the complexity of a
>>> computer to a living cell doesn't hold up--certainly not about its
>> origin.
>>> I spent my career designing and building computers and I can easily
>> assert
>>> that computers are nowhere near the complexity of a living organism. We
>>> know how computers are designed so we know it has a designer. Many of
>>> them, actually. For living systems, we have no comparable indication of
>>> design.
>>>> 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.
>>> No, this is not an issue of formal proof. It isn't even a "best
>> available
>>> explanation." The claim that an intelligent agent is "the best available
>>> explanation" is not accurate on several counts. One, it isn't an
>>> explanation. With no known agent and no known methodology, there is no
>>> explanation to provide. Secondly, if that intelligent agent is
>>> "supernatural" or "non-natural" then there is no plausible reason why
>> such
>>> "explanations" are in the same category to be compared. It seems that it
>>> would be a category error to say that it is a better explanation. It may
>>> be complementary but the "best?"
>>>> 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.
>>> Indeed, all sides of the debate unfortunately overstate their case to
>> make
>>> the strongest statement possible.
>>> >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?
>>> It doesn't seem to me that this is a "fact." And who is the arbiter of
>>> what level of "rigorous detail" is required to explain "any major
>>> macroevolutionary change." Are you? Is the ID community? Is Dawkins?
>>> Scientific methodology is hardly that stringent. The relevant "fact" in
>>> this case is that evolutionary (note I'm replacing your term "Darwinian"
>>> with "evolutionary" for obvious reasons) processes have explained so
>> many
>>> things and successfully predicted so many discoveries and is so
>>> surprisingly consistent in so many ways that the scientific community
>> sees
>>> it as plausible. No, not proven in a rigorous sense. But scientifically
>>> profound. And that is what counts. No other theory has come anywhere
>>> close. Hasn't even left home plate.
>>>> 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.)
>>> Here I must object. This is not scientific methodology in the least. And
>>> who is the authority demanding of "evolutionists" to have the "onus" of
>> a
>>> hypothetical account "*with details*"? There's no hot seat. Indeed,
>> there
>>> is a tremendous amount of detail to be discovered. That is the exciting
>>> part of doing science. In grad school, my thesis advisor used to say
>> that
>>> the answer to a good scientific question gives rise to three more good
>>> questions. It may be self-satisfying to always be demanding more and
>> more
>>> details before one is convinced, but the level of explanation is so
>>> productive to this point that there is no reasonable point in demanding
>>> "more details" before the big picture is allowed.
>>>> 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.
>>> Agnosticism of what? From a scientific perspective, it's pretty clear
>> that
>>> no natural intelligence was involved. As for any other metaphysical
>>> perspectives, that's a different realm.
>>>> 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.
>>> There is indeed much too much arrogance in the way science is often
>>> portrayed in the media. Perhaps it is a characteristic of scientists who
>>> write popular books and materials. Indeed, many successful scientists
>> are
>>> far too arrogant. Maybe that helps them be successful. But I think most
>>> scientists have a great degree of humility, knowing all too well what we
>>> don't know. Unfortunately, most scientists don't know how to convey this
>>> to the public.
>>>> 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 well.
>>> Actually, I think the explanation is indeed comparable to the rigorous
>> and
>>> detailed manner commonly expected in physics and chemistry. But not as
>>> detailed as detractors might demand. But we could benefit from more
>>> humility in the presentation.
>>>> 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?
>>> I would hardly put those names together in one sentence. Their views
>>> differ widely. I have far harsher words for Dawkins and Coyne and
>> Dennett
>>> than any brother and sister in Christ striving to understand God's
>>> providence in our world, whether they be ID or YEC or whatever. They
>>> inexcusably use science as a means to convince people that their
>>> metaphysical views are true. Scott and Miller and Ayala have their own
>>> respective issues but they have a more credible attempt at building
>>> bridges than the other three.
>>> Randy
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Received on Mon May 25 03:08:43 2009

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