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

From: Randy Isaac <randyisaac@comcast.net>
Date: Thu May 28 2009 - 15:41:45 EDT

I apologize to you--the tone and content of some of my comments were not
appropriate or exemplary for this list and not in accord with the guidelines
we've tried to attain on this list. I'm sorry.

Perhaps I can try to concisely summarize the essence of this discussion so
we can move on constructively. Please let me know if this is a fair summary
of two of the issues.

1. You feel that scientists in general (mainstream and on this list) are
giving the theory of evolution an unreasonable "free pass" by failing to
demand a detailed accounting at the biomolecular level of the sequence and
process of changes from ancestral forms to descendent forms. You cite
factors such as the lack of books with such detailed accounting and find
that such absence, among other issues, is an indication that the theory is
not on a sound footing, or at least has some major weaknesses that haven't
been honestly admitted.
 My perspective is that the level of details that has been provided, though
not as detailed and specific as one would like to see, are nevertheless
commensurate with the level of detail one might expect, taking into account
the nature of the theory and the type and scope of available data. It seems
analogous to me to other theories in physics or chemistry, allowing for the
considerable difference in complexity of the subject matter and the type of
theory. Furthermore, I see no reason that the lack of detail is fundamental
or impossible to resolve, but is a fruitful area of future research. The
preponderance of successful explanation and prediction from the current
theory seems to be a reasonable basis for confidence that details will
continue to be filled in and will be compatible with the prevailing theory,
or some reasonable variation thereof. This is a practical and useful
perspective for active scientists and would not be likely to be altered
unless there were some rather powerful demonstration of contradiction.

 Net: I see your point and agree that we'd all like to see more detail but
I would differ in thinking that those details would likely fall in line with
the evolutionary expectations.

2. You feel that design is generically detectable in science and that this
is the key starting point for ID.
 My perspective is that "design" must be qualified in this issue. When the
design agent and/or methodology can be characterized independently (i.e. is
 a known "natural" entity) then design can clearly be detected
scientifically. When neither the agent nor the methodology are known, then I
would suggest that science cannot determine that there is, in fact, design.
This is not due to a lack of willingness to detect it, but a practical
matter of not being able to fill in the detail to make the leap from passing
the explanatory filter to "this must be a design" even though we know
nothing independently of the agent/method. One could say that I think too
many people give this step an unreasonable "free pass."

>Net: I think you are absolutely correct about the starting point but we
 respectfully differ in whether science can or has detected design in the
non-natural sense in living systems.

Is this close to accurate?


 ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Cameron Wybrow" <wybrowc@sympatico.ca>
> To: <asa@calvin.edu>
> Sent: Thursday, May 28, 2009 9:07 AM
> Subject: Re: [asa] ID/Miracles/Design (Behe vs. Behe)
>> Randy:
>> I intended no disrespect for you, and I don't know what I said that would
>> indicate that. I did disagree firmly with some parts of your position
>> but
>> that doesn't imply personal disrespect.
>> Yes, you did say that design inferences are permitted, but I thought you
>> made it clear that this was only in cases when we know something about
>> the
>> agent in advance of making the inference, and, based on your other
>> remarks,
>> that pretty well rules out design inferences both with regard to
>> evolutionary transformations and with regard to the origin of life. So
>> we
>> can infer that some crude piece of stone is a primitive tool rather than
>> an
>> oddly-shaped piece of rock, based on a few ambiguous characteristics
>> which
>> seem unlikely to have occurred by chance, because we can imagine the
>> potential agent (e.g., a cave man), but we cannot infer design in the
>> case
>> of a biological system which is a billion trillion times greater in
>> integrated complexity than the stone tool, because we can't specify the
>> agent. That's how I understood your position. If I understood you
>> wrongly,
>> you can correct that.
>> Regarding your last sentence, I have no idea whether you have the
>> training
>> to comment on evolutionary theory or not. Your formal training, based on
>> what you've said, is apparently in physics and computers, but for all I
>> know
>> you may have taken ten biology courses in your undergraduate, or you may
>> have acquired a great deal of knowledge about evolutionary theory from
>> working with colleagues in the life sciences or through other means. My
>> point was that whether you are a master of evolutionary biology yourself,
>> or
>> whether you have only an educated layman's acquaintance with it, if you
>> firmly believe that the major transitions have been well-explained, you
>> should be able to point me to detailed studies in which these
>> explanations
>> can be found. If you do not know of any such studies, I am not blaming
>> you;
>> I think the reason you have not found them is that they do not exist. My
>> criticism of your position -- and it was far from a criticism of you
>> alone,
>> but was intended for the whole field of evolutionary biology, and for the
>> great number of scientists in all fields who defer to evolutionary
>> biology
>> even though they have not studied it -- was that you seem to be very
>> undemanding about the specifics of evolutionary mechanisms.
>> I gather, from remarks Don Winterstein made, that he thinks I am
>> complaining
>> about the lack of a full fossil record. Perhaps you think that, too.
>> That
>> is *not* my complaint at all. If a thousand new transitional fossil
>> forms
>> were found tomorrow, I would still say that Darwinian mechanisms have not
>> provided an adequate explanation of how the changes exemplified in those
>> fossils actually occur. I am not denying that a reptile could have
>> changed
>> into a bird. I am saying that I have read nothing anywhere which shows
>> how
>> it happened, in the nitty-gritty, down-to-detail, no-B.S. way that
>> physicists, chemists and engineers explain how processes happen. If
>> someone
>> could give me a full account, covering DNA, embryology, physiology and
>> ecology, of how a reptile could have become a bird, I would not object to
>> that account even if only 1% of the fossil forms confirming the sequence
>> were extant. I would say in such a case that Darwinism was a pretty good
>> theory. But without a clear account of the type I am asking for, even if
>> we
>> had 25% of the intermediate fossil forms postulated by the theory -- way
>> more than we will ever have, but I say 25% just to make the point --
>> Darwinism would remain mostly speculation rather than rigorous theory,
>> because we would still be entirely uncertain that Darwinian mechanisms
>> could
>> have powered the transformations between the fossil forms.
>> Cameron.
>> ----- Original Message -----
>> From: "Randy Isaac" <randyisaac@comcast.net>
>> To: <asa@calvin.edu>
>> Sent: Wednesday, May 27, 2009 6:51 AM
>> Subject: Re: [asa] ID/Miracles/Design (Behe vs. Behe)
>>> Unfortunately it seems that you and I are having difficulty
>>> communicating.
>>> You don't seem to respect either me or any of my perspectives, or at
>>> least
>>> you don't understand them and I don't understand what you are saying. It
>>> doesn't make sense to me. Let me try to make just a few closing remarks
>>> and then I need to spend my time on other issues.
>>> You said "I think you are saying that design inferences are banned in
>>> principle from science..." I thought I had clarified that design is
>>> clearly a part of science--the intent and design of any
>>> human/animal/insect/(maybe plants) is well within the scope of science.
>>> Design from non-physical entities, or in the abstract without knowledge
>>> of
>>> any agent or mechanism, is not.ruled out "in principle" or arbitrarily
>>> banned but simply can't be determined through normal scientific
>>> methodology.
>>> I didn't think I needed to defend the honor of science as you stated
>>> "...you are defending the
>>>> honour of "science" by defending the claims made by evolutionary
>>>> biologists for the efficacy of Darwinian mechanisms."
>>> I don't think they need any defense. Evolutionary biologists are doing
>>> just fine making progress without any help from me. Some of their
>>> critics
>>> could learn a little more about science and scientific methodology,
>>> however.
>>> We could certainly have an interesting discussion about who the
>>> crybabies
>>> are but that wouldn't be productive. I simply don't understand your
>>> perspective on evolution and since you don't feel I have the training to
>>> comment on it, I'll leave it to others.
>>> Randy
>>> ----- Original Message -----
>>> From: "Cameron Wybrow" <wybrowc@sympatico.ca>
>>> To: <asa@calvin.edu>
>>> Sent: Wednesday, May 27, 2009 12:09 AM
>>> Subject: Re: [asa] ID/Miracles/Design (Behe vs. Behe)
>>>> Randy:
>>>> 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.
>>>> Cameron.
>>>> ----- Original Message -----
>>>> From: "Randy Isaac" <randyisaac@comcast.net>
>>>> To: <asa@calvin.edu>
>>>> 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
>>>>>>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
>>>>> To unsubscribe, send a message to majordomo@calvin.edu with
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>>>> To unsubscribe, send a message to majordomo@calvin.edu with
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Received on Thu May 28 15:42:42 2009

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