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

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Wed May 27 2009 - 00:09:24 EDT


I make three points:

1. I have no objection to your point about natural intelligence four
billion years ago (though aliens are always a possibility), but let me
restate. Can "science" claim to *know* that the first cell could have
arisen via random chemical evolution? And if it does claim to *know* that
this is possible, does it not have to provide the world with the basis of
its claim to know, i.e., with some plausible stages, and potential tests for
them? And if it cannot be *sure* that such a chemical evolution is
possible, because it is not even close to being able to give plausible
stages, how can it rule out the logical alternative, i.e., that the assembly
of the first cell required design?

What I am driving at, Randy, is that I suspect that you are ruling out
design inferences from science *a priori*. I think you are saying that
design inferences are banned in principle from science, and therefore that
ID theorists could discover ever more complex layers of integration in
biological systems, jacking up the improbability of chance formations to
ever more astronomical numbers, to the point where no sane human being could
believe that such systems could have formed by chance, and it would *never*
make any difference to you: no set of empirical facts could ever justify a
design inference. If that is what you are saying, I wish you would say it
directly. And if that is *not* what you are saying, then tell me why the
design explanation for the first cell should not be raised in science class
in the same breath as the accidental chemical evolution explanation.

2. Randy, I am glad to hear that you are a world-class physicist, and I
salute you for achievement in your field. But you are not a biologist or
biochemist or even a geologist, and we are talking about a theory in the
life sciences here. I asked you for the basis of your confidence in
evolutionary theory, whether it came from first-hand study of evolutionary
theory that you have done yourself, or whether you took the solidity of
evolutionary theory on the strength of recommendations from colleagues in
the life sciences. I also asked you why there was such a dearth of books on
macroevolution of the type specified.

By way of answer, you launched into what appears to be a long sermon on what
makes for a good scientific theory, informing me of things I have known for
years (I could have written your post myself quite easily). You did not
answer my main question, i.e., about the reason for the absence of books on
macroevolution, books of the technical sort that I specified.

Note that I did *not* argue that because there are a few pieces of the
evolutionary puzzle missing, the whole theory should be scrapped. And note
that I did *not* argue (as the ID proponent in your little dialogue argued)
that a theoretically consistent, empirically sound hypothetical path was of
no value, and that the actual historical path must be provided. I argued
that scientists must provide *positive evidence for* their theories, not
simply sit back and demand that the world must disprove them. And I argued
that if macroevolution is a sound theory, there should be lots of books
containing lots of evidence for it. (And of course I assume that you have
been listening to my posts and know that I am not talking about the *fact*
of macroevolution but about the *mechanism*. Tiktaalik is more evidence for
the *fact*; it explains nothing about the *mechanism*.)

So the question is why there are no books explaining how fish became
amphibians, in a detailed way -- *how* did fins become feet (identify the
genetic and developmental mechanisms, please), and what good would feet be
if the fish hadn't yet developed lungs to breathe in the air, and so how
then did lungs develop (identify the genetic and physiological details), and
what natural tendency is there in the genome for gills/lungs and fins/feet
to evolve at the just the same time that they need each other, etc. I would
expect that any scientist who asks the world to believe that Darwinian
mechanisms can explain all this would provide at least some of the details.
Not all of the details. Not even the majority of the details. Just some of
the details. In the case of fish to amphibian, even *some* of the genetic,
developmental, environmental, physiological, etc. details would fill dozens
of 500-page books. I'm asking you to direct me to one (preferably several)
of those books. If you don't know of any, because biology is not your
field, I will not press you on it. But I will ask you: in the absence of
having seen those books, why do you believe the mechanism is so sound? Why
aren't you more skeptical?

You are a physicist; if there were no books with any detailed mathematical
treatment of celestial mechanics available in any library in the world, but
scientists asserted that it was the most unshakeable of facts that
mathematical laws govern the orbits of the planets, wouldn't you be
suspicious of the claim? Wouldn't you wonder why the scientists couldn't
put some flesh on the bones of their theory, and explain something specific,
e.g., the orbit of Mars, in terms of it?

3. Finally, you wrote:

CW >> 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?
RI >> Very simple. Because the scientists are doing science the way it
should be
> done.

I would ask you to re-read this exchange. Scientists are doing science "the
way it should be done" when they do not demand "details... quantification...
precise mechanisms" to accompany "grand speculative claims"? Scientists are
doing science "the way it should be done" when they accept "with so little
questioning" a theory whose "detailed explanatory power" is "very limited"?
That's how science "should be done"?

Randy, you are making the big mistake of thinking that you are defending the
honour of "science" by defending the claims made by evolutionary biologists
for the efficacy of Darwinian mechanisms. I agree with you that "science"
is a noble human project with great accomplishments to its credit. But
"science" is not at stake if one particular scientific theory is criticized.
It is not even at stake if a particular scientific theory falls. If
macroevolutionary theory were disproved tomorrow, 99% of scientific research
in all fields would go on as if nothing had happened. The only science that
would utterly cease functioning is the narrow field of evolutionary biology,
and of course paleontology would have to reinterpret all its data. But
gene-splicing and genome sequencing and medical research and freshwater
toxicology and hundreds of other life-science fields would go on much as
before, as would physics, chemistry, astronomy, etc. The outraged defense
of "science" by neo-Darwinists and their allies simply makes no sense. No
one screams that "science" itself is at stake when someone criticizes the
views of Stephen Hawking, or Linus Pauling. It is only when Darwinism is
questioned that this abnormal, unnatural degree of defensive rage is
generated. Why on earth is this? Why are Darwinists so touchy? My view is
that if you can't take criticism of your theory, you have no business being
in science. (Or being in philosophy or theology or history for that
matter.) I think that the Darwinists are the biggest crybabies in the
contemporary academic world.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Randy Isaac" <>
To: <>
Sent: Tuesday, May 26, 2009 10:30 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] ID/Miracles/Design (Behe vs. Behe)

> 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
>>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
> done.
> Randy
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Received on Wed May 27 00:11:13 2009

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