Re: [asa] three origin of life scenarios

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Thu Jun 11 2009 - 02:24:42 EDT


Thanks for your reply.

Regarding Point 1, I think that design inferences are often sound, but I haven't dogmatically asserted that design inferences are "scientific". Rather, I've tried to probe into why certain people here and elsewhere are certain that they aren't. The fundamental answer I'm getting is that "science" is restricted to a certain set of methods, and that anything discovered by anything other than those methods, however true it may be, is not "science".

I understand this. I'm familiar with the rise of science in the 17th century and I understand why Cartesian working assumptions were adopted. I understand that the self-limitation of science has made it very effective and powerful within its range of activity.

The problem is that "natural science", which means, literally, "knowledge of nature", ought to be defined by its object, not by its method. It ought to be the study aimed at the comprehensive understanding of nature, not the study which employs a certain method. My goal is to understand what is true about nature, not just the limited set of truths about nature that modern natural science has restricted itself to.

One of the most important questions about nature is whether its various parts were designed or arose by happenstance. People here want to rule that question out as "metaphysical". Perhaps it is. But even the faintest acquaintance with the debate over Darwin from 1859 on will reveal that to the general public, to the philosophers, to the poets and artists of all kinds, to the religious believers, and to a good many of the scientists, this is *the* important question raised by Darwinism. And what I object to is that many TEs seem to say that *the* most pressing and vital question about nature is not one that scientists should be thinking about or applying their training to.

So what if "design detection" is not "science" in a narrow Cartesian sense? So what if "design detection" is really a philosophical rather than a scientific procedure? Isn't it nonetheless rather important that this philosophical procedure is (a) deeply informed by the latest results of modern science (regarding DNA, protein folds, physiology, etc.); (b) highly rational; (c) leads to an inference that is almost certainly correct? Modern science cannot answer metaphysical questions, but it is certainly possible that it can shed a great deal of light on how to approach them. The greatness of Behe is that he does not shy from this line of questioning, even though the formidable pressures and often insults and slanders have been brought against him by colleagues, the mainstream media, and many of his fellow Christian believers.
2. Regarding Point 2, I never really spoke about "scientific chance". Nor has my point about chance, probability, etc. been understood, because people keep muddying the waters by throwing in all kinds of twists about the interpretation of the most abtruse areas of modern physics and contemporary philosophy of science regarding randomness, etc. Some people here are just not keeping their eye on the 8-ball. Think Mt. Rushmore. Could it have arisen by chance -- and everyone here knows and fully understands the common-sense view of "chance" I am employing, so no academic objections, please -- in even a trillion years? And if not, why not? And would atoms have arranged themselves to form a living cell in even a trillion years, if they were not either "coaxed" to do so (intervention) or set up to do so spontaneously, by being imbued with special properties by a rational planner (fine-tuning, front-loading)? This is the question, and many people here, and many TEs elsewhere, constantly skirt it, change the topic, blather about "methodological naturalism", etc.

I find this evasiveness absolutely incomprehensible. Dawkins is not evasive on this point. ID is not evasive on this point. Only TEs are evasive on this point. Instead of answering the question, they try to change the terms of reference. That's an old tactic, practiced by academics, politicians, lawyers, confidence tricksters and theologians from time immemorial. But everyone in the world, from Jerry Coyne on one hand to William Dembski on the other, is fully aware that TEs are trying to avoid answering the question. And TE will never have credibility among more than a small number of Christian academics, unless TE proponents are willing to make direct statements such as: "I do not find it credible that atoms in a primeval soup could have formed the first living cell by chance, and I do not think that an event of that description ever happened"; or "I find it very credible that atoms in a primeval soup could have formed the first living cell by chance, and I think that is exactly what happened"; or "I think that atoms in a primeval soup in fact formed the first living cell, but I think that God was guiding the process to realize a design for the cell that he had in mind"; or "I think that atoms in a primeval soup formed the first living cell, completely in accord with physical-chemical laws, and I think God kept his hands entirely off that process (beyond sustaining those laws), but I think that God so fine-tuned the laws of nature that the emergence of life from a primeval soup was an inevitable occurrence". It is forthrightness of this sort that attracts followers and adherents to Dawkins-Darwinism, to ID, to YEC, etc. Endless ambiguity, endless discussion of abstract questions of scientific methodology, etc., will condemn TE to forever remain a small sect whose members largely talk among themselves and which does not energize the general public.

On the last bit, what is it that makes dialogue between ID and TE people so difficult? You say it is that I set up a false dichotomy. What false dichotomy? I said that if you gut Dawkins's metaphysics, you gut his science as well, because his science depends on his metaphysics. And I then explained why his science depends on his metaphysics: take away the no-design metaphysics and there is no longer any proof for the capability of Darwinian mechanisms to produce major macroevolutionary change. If I am wrong, the proof of the capability of the mechanisms to produce eyes, sonar, lungs, etc. should be easily available in non-metaphysical scientific books and articles. Produce these books and articles, and they can be the basis for the ID-TE dialogue that you seek.


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Randy Isaac
  Sent: Wednesday, June 10, 2009 3:54 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] three origin of life scenarios

    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.


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Received on Thu Jun 11 02:26:33 2009

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