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

From: Jim Armstrong <jarmstro@qwest.net>
Date: Mon May 25 2009 - 10:20:35 EDT
It strikes me that this form of argument is not unlike the argument advanced by YECs against evolution. There are never enough "transitional" fossils to persuade. I grant that the gaps are large here, but is the form of the argument really much different? It has just seemed to me that an argument that proceeds along the lines of not knowing the specifics as to how the gaps might be bridged, and thinking such a thing would be to hard to do/conceive of really should carry little weight, especially when we can see how orderly and neatly some segments of the picture seem to work in the evolutionary picture. 

My point here, though, is not really to argue or persuade. Rather it is to just note that the form of the arguments advanced look quite similar to me.
 JimA. [Friend of ASA]

Alexanian, Moorad wrote:
Bill,

Physicists can turn base metals into gold via nuclear transmutation. Of course, we know that, in principle, we can change any element into gold. Similarly, one can tinker with the genetic code and go, in principle, from one to another.

One then would need some sort of variational principle on the “distance in DNA space” whose local or global extremum may indicate how, for instance, the flagellum can arise.

My point was that perhaps a living organism is much more than its genetic coding and so merely having a model of a “genetic transmutation” may not suffice.

Moorad
________________________________________
From: wjp [wjp@swcp.com]
Sent: Sunday, May 24, 2009 4:04 PM
To: "" Alexanian@ame7.swcp.com; Alexanian, Moorad
Cc: Cameron Wybrow; asa@calvin.edu
Subject: RE: [asa] ID/Miracles/Design (Behe vs. Behe)

Moorad:

I am referring to the genetic coding.

I was referring to Carmeron's request of evolutionary biology
"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."

I was attempting to provide what a detailed model would look like.

Such a model does not mean to say that this is how the flagellum or
any other biological feature actually arose.  To be able to say that
would probably be impossible, given that this is a very incomplete
historical science.  But what ought to be able to provide is a model
along the lines I have outlined.

Perhaps having developed a model, one might hope that the historical
record could be so interpreted to support that model.

Once a detailed model or models are proposed one can begin to critically
examine them along the lines proposed by ID.  I don't expect a precise
criticism to be possible.  But, following Bayesian approaches to science,
a probabilistic analysis is inherent in theory assessment.

bill

On Sun, 24 May 2009 12:43:03 -0400, "Alexanian, Moorad" <alexanian@uncw.edu> wrote:
  
Bill,

When you refer to the “genetic encoding,” are you thinking of the
genetic encoding of a living organism or just a bunch of atoms and
molecules? Surely, how life came about is one of the hardest nuts to crack
in the whole notion of a purely physical description of all that there is.

Moorad
________________________________________
From: asa-owner@lists.calvin.edu [asa-owner@lists.calvin.edu] On Behalf Of
wjp [wjp@swcp.com]
Sent: Sunday, May 24, 2009 10:47 AM
To: Cameron Wybrow
Cc: asa@calvin.edu
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"
<wybrowc@sympatico.ca> 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" <randyisaac@comcast.net>
To: <asa@calvin.edu>
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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