Re: [asa] historical versus experimental sciences

From: Bill Powers <>
Date: Fri Aug 21 2009 - 23:07:03 EDT


What Herbet is doing is being faithful to the paradigm that has
nurtured him, guided him, and given him a home and way of thinking. It
is appropriate that he do so, in the face of trials, and even contrary
evidence. For imagine the case were all to be harlots, abandoning their
espoused wherever the wind should blow?

While there is a place for a readiness and ability to jump ship, there
is likewise a place for those who would rather go down with it.
It is the nature of vocation to suffer the tension.

In another context you would praise Herbet for his faithfulness. What
appears like stubborn foolishness to some, to others may appear heroic.

My only question in this regard is who is Herbet's mistress and is she
worthy the sacrifice. When we say a scientist is dedicated to his or
her work, what exactly are they dedicated to? To whom or what are they
betrothed? I would expect the answer, or would want the answer to be
somewhat different for a Christian than for one who is not. But who
knows, perhaps it is only pride.


On Fri, 21 Aug 2009, Cameron Wybrow wrote:

> Tim:
> Were you reading the same article that I was?
> Dr. Hebert wasn't talking just about the human species. He said:
> "The explanation, when this lack of mitochondrial diversity showed up in humans, was a population bottleneck - the collapse of our species to perhaps 1,000 individuals about 150,000 years ago in Africa and out of that bottleneck modern humans emerged, stripped of mitochondrial diversity. But am I supposed to believe that every aphid species on the planet, every water flea, every fish went through a similar bottleneck at the same time?"
> He then added:
> "That is impossible. Honestly, I sometimes wake up at night and think, 'If I was a creationist, this would be my proudest moment.'"
> When the science reporter asked him, "Since you are not a creationist, what do you think is happening?", Hebert replied:
> "I think that it can be explained scientifically by there being a scouring mechanism that cleanses mitochondrial genomes of their diversity on a regular basis."
> And when the science reporter asked him how that scouring mechanism would actually work, he replied:
> "At this point in time, that is a science mystery."
> ***
> Now let's look at the meaning of the conversation:
> Neo-Darwinism predicts a much wider diversity within species, and much less gappiness between species, than the results of genetic barcoding reveal.
> "Creationism" predicts much less diversity within species, and more gappiness between species; this is consistent with the results of genetic barcoding.
> Therefore, the results of genetic barcoding tilt more towards "creationism" than neo-Darwinism.
> Nonetheless, Dr. Hebert rejects "creationism".
> However, he also rejects the "bottleneck" rescue of neo-Darwinian theory, because, while it might explain the results in the human case, it cannot explain them across the board. (To his credit, he does not accept a desperate, flawed defense of neo-Darwinian interpretation.)
> When asked what his reason is for *not* adopting the "creationist" position (which he has emphatically suggested can find great strength in his results), he affirms his belief in a "scouring mechanism" that operates "on a regular basis".
> When asked what this "scouring mechanism" is, how it works "on a regular basis", etc., he answers that it's a "science mystery". Translation: *I have no evidence for the existence of any such scouring mechanism*.
> So why then, does he believe in the existence of such a "scouring mechanism"?
> Answer (put in blunt terms): Some such mechanism *must* exist, or "creationism" would probably be true, and by God (irony intended), we can't have that!
> In other words, when the data seem to undermine the leading theory of origins, its practitioners are allowed to postulate unknown, undemonstrated mechanisms which operate in unspecifiable ways, in order to save their theory, and are allowed to call such speculation "scientific".
> The double standard in Dr. Hebert's reasoning is plain for all to see. You can gloss it all you want, you can try to throw all kinds of technical jargon on top of it so that the overall structure of the argument is obscured; but you won't fool the alert who have basic training in logical thinking. The science reporter asked an excellent question, which hit right at the nerve of the argument. And Hebert knew it.
> And if you reply, as you may, that new evidence for such a scouring mechanism has come up since then -- though if that's the case, please provide references rather than just asserting it -- that still doesn't change the fact that an *a priori* motive guided the initial invention of the scouring mechanism, not any evidence that one existed, or even could exist. And the *a priori* motive was to make sure that no one would come to "creationist" conclusions from data which, to a fair observer, actually suggested them.
> As for your other questions and examples (meteorology, viscosity breakdown, etc.), they implicitly paper over important distinctions, such as the distinction between the explanation for the origin of a system and the explanation for its operation (the explanation for the *origin* of the Ford Model T is not implied in, and cannot be derived from, even a 100% complete and accurate understanding of the physical and chemical and engineering principles involved in the working of a Model T), and the distinction between "information" as a cause and "matter/energy" as a cause. If you want to understand these distinctions, I would suggest reading Stephen Meyer's new book. Meyer believes that historical sciences are entirely legitimate, but that they have a (partly) different set of methods and evaluative criteria from the primarily experimental sciences. It is therefore inappropriate to simply transfer the methods of meteorology, without any additions, subtractions, modifications, or other adjustments, to the study of biological origins. In particular, there is no reason, *a priori*, to assume that the sort of biological information found in the genome can be explained *entirely* by "chance and necessity". If someone assumes that it can be so explained, in the absence of all evidence that it can, such a person is guilty of a dogmatic approach which could prejudice the outcome by excluding the possibly true explanation (i.e., that intelligence in addition to matter and energy is required) at the very outset of the investigation.
> The "embarrassment to science" that I spoke of is not that evolutionary theorists consider the *possibility* of explaining biological information in terms of matter and energy alone. The embarrassment lies in their blatant a priorism, their in-advance-of-the-facts certainty that matter-energy explanations alone will be sufficient. To be willing to postulate utterly unknown mechanisms *only because if they do not exist, one's theory will be falsified or seriously weakened*, is desperate and dishonest. To Dr. Hebert's credit, his misbehaviour on this front is only partial; he *is* biased against "creationism", and is willing to take desperate measures to thwart it; but unlike Ken Miller, Francisco Ayala, Eugenie Scott, Jerry Coyne and the rest of the usual gang of Darwinian thugs, he has the honesty to admit that some serious data makes the neo-Darwinian interpretation difficult. Thus, while showing the worst tendencies of evolutionary biologists, he has a redeeming side, a commitment to truth which does not allow him to cavalierly dismiss contrary evidence. He admits that there is some *empirical* (not religious, Biblical, philosophical, or metaphysical, but empirical) evidence for intelligent design. It is thus at least possible to imagine having a truly intelligent conversation with him, something which is very difficult to have with a doctrinaire neo-Darwinist.
> Cameron.
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Tim" <>
> Cc: "asa" <>
> Sent: Thursday, August 20, 2009 9:48 PM
> Subject: Re: [asa] historical versus experimental sciences
>> Cameron Wybrow wrote:
>>> Note also Hebert's own rather pathetic explanation to try to get out
>>> of the
>>> consequences of his research: he postulates an evolutionary cleansing
>>> mechanism for which he has *absolutely no empirical evidence*, merely
>>> because without such a mechanism he does not see how he can fight off
>>> "creationist" conclusions. Sadly, that's the neo-Darwinian way of doing
>>> science. When the facts are against you, postulate undocumented
>>> mechanisms,
>>> forces, factors, etc. Do *anything* but admit that the evidence may
>>> be more
>>> in favour of intelligent design than of accidental mutations and
>>> fortuitous
>>> selections. In neo-Darwinism, empiricism goes out the window in
>>> favour of
>>> maintaining *a priori* commitments to chance and necessity. This is why
>>> neo-Darwinism is an embarrassment to science. It does not meet the
>>> minimum
>>> requirements of intellectual honesty, which dictate that when opponents
>>> score a point, it should be granted to them.
>> Actually, there are many *known* mechanisms behind the accumulation of
>> genetic changes and these often happen together. The question is which
>> mechanisms have the strongest influence. This matters because different
>> mechanisms produce different phenomena and this potentially allows one
>> to distinguish between mechanisms. From those models, one can go back
>> and examine whether those influences are consistent in similar
>> situations. One can also work deeper, even to the core biochemistry, to
>> see what makes mitochondria exceptional in this regard. What Herbert
>> found was that neutral drift was likely not a dominant mechanism in
>> reducing within-species diversity for the gene encoding cyt-c oxidase.
>> *That* observation didn't fit with empirical results. Other researchers
>> have confirmed this and presented evidence supporting models with more
>> frequent sweeps. In contrast, neutral theory is more in accord when they
>> examine nuclear genes. This points to several possible mechanisms
>> operating with the mitochondrion, a few of which might be amenable to
>> confirmation.
>> Interestingly, the results do confirm a strong temporal correlation with
>> between-species diversity and the proposed time since the populations
>> split. That's certainly an unexpected result for those proposing a
>> separate creation model for species.
>> Cameron, I personally don't consider meteorology an embarrassment to
>> science because meteorologists don't discard "*a priori* commitments to
>> chance and necessity" when they can't predict the weather several weeks
>> in advance. There are any number of phenomena found in all branches of
>> the physical sciences for which we don't have refined explanations --
>> Some hints in many cases, but still with details undetermined. Does it
>> raise your ire when scientists persist in investigating mechanisms of
>> "chance and necessity" in other fields? At least in my work, I always
>> work to exhaust natural mechanisms first. Further, if one finds that
>> evolutionary mechanisms are too flexible, how does adding "intelligent
>> design" to the explanatory mix help? And why is the history of life
>> afflicted with such metaphysical uneasiness and not, say, embryological
>> development, cancer or oil viscosity breakdown in engines?
>> Regards,
>> T. Ikeda
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Received on Fri Aug 21 23:07:51 2009

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