Re: [asa] three origin of life scenarios

From: Randy Isaac <randyisaac@comcast.net>
Date: Wed Jun 10 2009 - 15:54:51 EDT

Cameron,
  I admire your prolific ability to write. I just wish I could have the time to keep up. I'd like to comment on almost everything you said but I'll have to limit my comments to a few.

Here are the areas where I think we have to agree to disagree and move on from there:

1. Design inference. ID says that the existence of an unknown designer is the best inference from certain patterns in living cells. The scientific community says, rightly I think, that scientific methodology can detect design only by a natural agent but cannot, in principle or in practice or by any logical method, determine design by an unknown agent using unknown methods. The latter conclusion would not be a rational explanation within the realm of science and would be speculation outside of science.

2. Metaphysical purposelessness vs scientific chance. You seem to feel that these are tightly linked. I think it is a common misconception that these two cannot be separated. Your assertion that "For ID people, if Dawkins dropped the atheism -- or rather, to be more precise, dropped the metaphysical assertion that there is no design in nature -- he would be gutting the so-called "science" of Darwinism, because the evidence that Darwinian mechanisms can drive macroevolution is extremely scanty, and without the assurance that there is no design, and that nature is entirely on its own, there is no compelling scientific reason for believing that Darwinian mechanisms can accomplish their Herculean chore." makes it quite clear why dialog between scientists and ID people is so extremely difficult. I profoundly disagree with your last two paragraphs. You set up a false dichotomy.

Perhaps we can continue later but I have a business trip to prepare for and to carry out. I will have to leave it to others to pick up the trail.

Randy

----- Original Message -----
  From: Cameron Wybrow
  To: asa@calvin.edu
  Sent: Sunday, June 07, 2009 2:42 AM
  Subject: Re: [asa] three origin of life scenarios

  Thanks, Randy.

  Regarding Scenario A: The only *rational* explanation for the complex integrated nature of a cell -- if we exclude design, which is a very rational explanation -- is the chemical evolutionary scenario. If a complete and functioning cell popped into existence -- and in my example, it was stipulated that I was talking about a real popping into existence, not a fraud or trick of some kind -- then obviously it was not formed by the chemical evolutionary process. The only *rational* explanation would therefore be design. The choice would then be either to accept the rational explanation, or to rest satisfied with no explanation at all. You may choose not to call the rational explanation a scientific explanation; that is fine with me. I was not insisting that it be called a scientific explanation.

  Regarding Scenario C: I did not speak of theological versus scientific explanations. I spoke only of "possible explanations", without categorizing them. Given the phenomena I described, there are three logical options for explaining it: front-loading by an intelligent agent, intervention by an intelligent agent, or chance. I asked you whether the choice between these interpretations was one which science as such was powerless to make. From what I can tell, your answer is yes: science is incapable of ascertaining whether front-loading, chance alone, or intervention caused the phenomena; all three conclusions are metaphysical or theological rather than scientific. So I will continue on the assumption that you believe this.

  Now, first of all, it is not clear to me that science could not adjudicate the matter. It depends on what was seen. Remember that in my scenarios we can see everything. If the molecules moved around, as they were re-arranged, in certain peculiar ways, it might well be that chance could be ruled out, and even that front-loading could be ruled out. It might be that intervention would be the only possible explanation for a particular set of motions. But I won't insist on this point. I'll just accept for the moment that the motions seen are compatible with all three explanations, and move on.

  Randy, I set up my scenarios as observation events which posed ambiguities in interpreting the observations, because I sensed that this is the way that you approach "science" as it relates to atheism, ID, and TE. I think that many of the scientists here, like you, are imagining themselves in a lab situation or some other observational situation, and asking: "If I saw phenomenon X, how would I explain it? Would I be able to rule out chance? Would I be able to infer design? And if not in this case, how could I infer design in any other case?" I understand this perspective, and I agree that in many cases all three options -- front-loading, intervention and chance -- might produce the same phenomena, and that modern scientific methods would not be able to distinguish between them, so that a non-scientific judgment (theological, philosophical) would have to be made. So we have a measure of agreement. But ID people are taking another approach.

  ID people are looking at Darwinism's theoretical claims. (And again, by "Darwinism" I mean the views of the people who have established Darwinian and neo-Darwinian thought in biology -- Darwin, Huxley, Mayr, Simpson, etc.) Darwinism as a theoretical claim goes further than saying, "design might be operative in nature, but if so, that cannot be established by science". Darwinism lays it down that there is no design in nature. And in saying this it does not merely comment on how science is in fact practiced (which is what you say you are doing); it actually stipulates how nature works. It does not always state the stipulation explicitly, but it consistently employs it. Thus, if an orthodox Darwinist saw a cell in formation as in Scenario 3, the Darwinist would not adopt your position of neutrality. The Darwinist would unhesitatingly choose the "chance" option. The other two are eliminated because, according to the Darwinists, there is no design in nature. And ID people are saying that Darwinists are wrong to stipulate that natural processes operate to the exclusion of intelligent design.

  ID people agree with TE people that atheist Darwinists over-reach in their claims that evolution disproves God. The difference is that ID people disagree with TE people over exactly what the over-reaching is. For TE people, all of Dawkins's science is just peachy-keen, and all he has to do is drop the atheism and all will be well. For ID people, if Dawkins dropped the atheism -- or rather, to be more precise, dropped the metaphysical assertion that there is no design in nature -- he would be gutting the so-called "science" of Darwinism, because the evidence that Darwinian mechanisms can drive macroevolution is extremely scanty, and without the assurance that there is no design, and that nature is entirely on its own, there is no compelling scientific reason for believing that Darwinian mechanisms can accomplish their Herculean chore. So Dawkins's overreaching consists in his unproved metaphysical assumption of no-design.

  So, Randy, even if I agree with you, for the sake of argument, that design is not inferrable by the methods of science, you have a much bigger problem. Your bigger problem is that Darwinism is not a scientific view by your definition, because it makes metaphysical pronouncements about the non-existence of design that, according to you, science cannot make. And if you agree with me on this, and are willing to strip Darwinism not only of the metaphysical pronouncements, but also of all the "science" that depends on those pronouncements, then I will go along with you. But bear in mind that if you strip Darwinism in this way, what will be left over is an anemic theory of evolution in which all the empirical evidence supports only microevolution (e.g., finch beaks and antibiotic resistance), and all the rest is highly tentative and speculative. Without the "no-design guarantee", we can no longer say: "Well, we don't know how in detail, but we know that Darwinian mechanisms did it". We must take the longer, harder route, and prove the macroevolutionary capabilities of the Darwinian mechanisms. Further, these capabilities must be proved not just in one case, but in several, if the mechanism is to be safely generalized. And so far they have not been proved in even one.

  I could go either way on this, Randy. I could accept a narrow view of science which excludes *both* the possibility of detecting design *and* the stipulation of no-design, which would cut out *both* Paleyism *and* Darwinism, and would leave evolution as a weak theory, with its evidence concentrated almost exclusively in that part of the theory which is non-controversial (microevolution). Or I could accept a broader view of science in which science *is* allowed to infer that "only chance and natural law" are operating in nature, provided that science is *also* allowed to infer the opposite, i.e., that design is operating in nature. That would admit both Darwinism and Paleyism (ID) into science. Which way should I go? Choose your poison. Do you want me to keep harping on the incredibly weak evidential base for Darwinism, or on the propriety of including design inferences in natural science?

  Cameron.

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Received on Wed Jun 10 15:55:48 2009

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