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

From: Randy Isaac <>
Date: Tue May 26 2009 - 22:30:15 EDT

Cameron wrote:
> 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?

Neither. The term "proved" is too strong and "assumes" is too weak. It's
just simple
logic. If there were a natural intelligence directing the origin and
development of life, then such a natural being must have existed at least 4
billion years ago and continued to exist until rather recently if not today.
They must have had the ability to do nanotechnology manipulation at the
biochemical level. Yet, not a trace of such natural beings with such
intelligence has ever been found. I would suggest that it is a rather
reasonable conclusion that if such beings ever existed, they would have left
a trace of their existence. I will be the first to recant if you can provide
any indication that such intelligent beings existed at any time in the past
4 billion years.

>You won't find books in the library like this, Randy. And the question is,
>why not?

I do find books on geocentrism and young earth and astrology and all sorts
of things. Anyone can publish. The fields that people think have
metaphysical implications are the ones with the largest number of
"alternative" books. There is no conclusion to be drawn about the validity
or lack thereof from the scientific perspective.

> 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".

Perhaps a scholar of reading history of science and a physicist with decades
of experience doing and managing world-class research can cooperate in
coming to a better understanding of what scientific methodology entails.

An overarching theory gains acceptance when it provides an explanation for a
vast array of observations that were not understood from alternative
perspectives. (The pertinent set of authorities is the group of researchers
actively publishing in the relevant peer-reviewed journals. Some
contributors to this list do not like that system but that's the way science
works today). In essence, the theory needs to:
--explain a wide spectrum of observations better than any other theory
--make successful predictions of new observations
--be falsifiable but not be falsified
--be useful in providing a framework for fruitful further research

Once a theory is predominantly accepted and is a fruitful paradigm for
further research, it becomes more and more difficult to mount a challenge to
the theory as a whole. Any specific area in which the theory has not been
worked out in detail is a great thesis project for an aspiring grad student,
and not a failure of the theory itself. In other words, the theory needs to
be applied and worked out in detail but the primary concepts are essentially
settled. Seemingly intractable problems are typically held in abeyance for
further research.

Well known examples are the theory of gravity, electro-magnetic theory,
theories of special and general relativity, theory of superconductivity, and
on and on. Each of these has areas that are still unresolved. For example,
the theory of gravity has lots of unexplained areas, including the "action
at a distance" and the quantization issues. The formation of galaxies is an
interesting unresolved case. Instead of throwing out the theory of gravity,
one postulates non-baryonic dark matter instead.

The theory of evolution meets the above criteria in a most incredible way.
The range of observations explained, the remarkable predictions that have
come true, the lack of falsification despite the most stringent efforts, and
the robust productivity of research, all over 150 years of close attention
are truly amazing. It's no wonder that the theory is considered by
practicing scientists to be a "fact" for all practical purposes. No
alternative theory has come even close.

But, you say, it hasn't explained the path from Point A to Point B. That
path might be going from a pre-flagellum molecule to the flagellum molecule,
or pre-malaria resistance to that resistance, or whatever. These are
possible areas of future research, at most. Furthermore, you state,
following Dembski's lead, that the burden of proof lies with the advocates
of the theory and not with the challengers. And the publicity mavens of DI
proclaim the imminent demise of the theory of evolution if such a detailed
path is not provided. No, that's not consistent with scientific methodology.
So many observations have been explained by evolution that any example not
yet explained will most likely be explained in the future. It is not
rational to hold a gun to the head of the evolutionist and demand that all
of these areas have a detailed explanation or else the theory must come
crashing down.

No, despite Dembski's insistence, the burden of proof is rightly on those
who would claim that the theory itself is flawed if there is a lack of
explanation from point A to point B. Unfortunately, many publicists at DI
confuse the status of "...have not explained..." with "...cannot explain..."
The first is controversial enough but the second is what an ID advocate
needs to show. Over the last 15 years or so, a typical exchange on
irreducibly complexity could be summarized as follows:

ID: Molecule A is irreducibly complex and could not have evolved by known
incremental evolutionary processes
Critic: Here is a possible path for an evolutionary process with known
mechanisms (e.g. scaffolding approaches) which could explain the evolution
of molecule A.
ID: No, you have only shown a possible path, a "just-so" story, but have not
demonstrated that this is what actually happened.

Note that this exchange has moved from a claim to "cannot explain" to "have
not explained." But even a possible "just-so" story is enough to dispel the
claim of "cannot explain" even if the actual path turns out to be different.

The point is that a robust, successful theory like evolution, gravity,
superconductivity, and the like, is relatively impervious to charges that
details have not yet been explained. The track record of success is such
that there is confidence that future research will be successful. The onus
properly lies with the critic to show that no such explanation is possible.
Futhermore, the theory would and should be relatively immune (i.e. continue
to be used) until the time that an alternative theory comes along to explain
both the new data and all the old data. In other words, you don't throw out
all the successes of a theory because some details can't be figured out.
Odds are that new information will tweak the theory a bit or help us
understand the flaw in the analysis.

> 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?

Very simple. Because the scientists are doing science the way it should be


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Received on Tue May 26 22:30:42 2009

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