Re: [asa] historical versus experimental sciences

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Mon Aug 24 2009 - 03:05:53 EDT


I apologize for putting you to extra work.

I did indeed make a passing remark requesting evidence for such a view, but
I had in mind only a brief summary in non-technical jargon, not an extensive
discussion aimed at specialists. The *main* point I wanted you to discuss
was the justification for the *a priori* stance that Hebert was taking.
Nonetheless, I am grateful for your attempt to give me some data and
theorizing which justifies, after the fact, Hebert's speculation.

I found your explanation of the evidence for scouring mechanisms somewhat
speculative, as I find almost every explanation connected with evolutionary
biology very speculative, but in any case, even if I presume that the
arguments for a scouring mechanism are as solid as the argument for Newton's
laws, you have not really dealt with my charge that Hebert was postulating
mechanisms in an *ad hoc* manner. Your current defense seems to be that he
did not really mean what he said. You write:

"At the time, Herbert may not have been aware about which *particular*
mechanism drove the narrowing and some of the details remain to be
determined, but he was likely aware that such mechanisms exist. These were
proposed *decades* before his interview."

Hebert did not refer, even parenthetically, to known scouring mechanisms.
He spoke of the scouring mechanism as hypothetical, and when asked how it
would work, he answered in this way: "At this point in time, that is a
science mystery." That would be a very odd thing for him to say if he
thought that there were existing scouring mechanisms that could do the job,
or that some unknown scouring mechanism, which worked something like ones he
already knew of, might be able to do the job. Why would he leave the
reporter (and all readers) with the impression that he was indulging in
sheer wishful thinking, if he had a sound basis for his speculation? I
think we should assume that Hebert meant what he said, and not try to read
his mind.

Besides, even if he *meant* what you think he did, I can only base my
response to him on his argument as he presented it. And *as he presented
it*, the argument involved an *ad hoc* postulation consciously adopted in
order to avoid an unpalatable inference from the data.

In your other post, you state directly that you disagree with Dr. Hebert's
view that his results seemed to imply creationism. That is fine with me. I
never said that he was right regarding those implications. In fact, I have
explicitly granted that he could be wrong, and that the mitochondrial DNA
data may not imply creationism at all. My point was that *believing as he
did that his results did provide substantial support for creationism*, his
intellectual procedure (to invent a mechanism about which he could say
absolutely nothing, in order to keep design out of biology at any cost) was
objectionable. I have explained why I think so, and you seem to believe
that such "rescue" speculations are completely unobjectionable in science,
and even commendable, so we disagree, so let's leave it at that.

On a new point, regarding your other post, be careful of the views you
impute to others. You wrote:

"Another popular model is Old Earth Creationism and this can be split into
two dominant camps: Creation of kinds from which individual species might
later emerge by 'natural' means vs. common descent with a mixture of natural
and 'interruptive' mechanisms (by 'interruptive', I refer to the notion that
some steps in evolution require direct intervention to
alter the normal, regular course of events. e.g. 'miracles', or manipulation
of biological material in a lab by researchers). Those like Dr. Behe favor
the latter."

Members of this list seem to specialize in making either erroneous or
undocumented statements about Behe's views. As far as I can tell, your
final statement is undocumented. If you have direct personal knowledge that
this is Behe's view, please tell us how you obtained it. I have read
virtually all of Behe's published statements on ID with some care, and I
never heard him specifically endorse miracles or interruptive mechanisms.
All of the statements that I have seen indicate that he is open-minded
*how* design finds its way into living organisms, and that he regards things
other than "intervention" (e.g., front-loading) as genuine possibilities.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Tim" <>
To: "asa" <>
Sent: Sunday, August 23, 2009 1:38 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] historical versus experimental sciences

> Cameron Wybrow wrote:
>> Tim:
>> Your reply, like those of David Campbell, reminds me of why I didn't go
>> into biology (even though I started university on a science scholarship,
>> with the intention of possibly studying animal classification and
>> evolution). You drown me in data and specialist studies of minutiae,
>> when I am trying to keep you fixed on a line of logic in a particular
>> argument.
> I recall your asking for such references in your last letter to me. I took
> time out my weekend to collect that information and pull out a
> particularly useful section of one so that you wouldn't have to spend the
> time yourself.
>> It does not matter if you can come up with ten thousand pieces of
>> evidence for a "scouring mechanism" *after the fact*. Please read my
>> original argument carefully. Hebert did *not* offer any of the evidence
>> you are offering. He did not offer any evidence at all. When asked what
>> the proposed scouring mechanism might be, he said that it was a "science
>> mystery". That is, he did not have any clear hypothesis of the
>> mechanism, let alone any proposed ways of testing it. Yet *still*,
>> lacking even a clear conception of what such a mechanism might be, he
>> proposed it, and he proposed it (by his own admission) because he did not
>> like the alternative, which he believed was suggested by his data, i.e.,
>> "creationism". (I suspect that he was including ID in there, but it
>> doesn't matter for my point, since "creationism" in any form, ID or not,
>> involves the conception of design.)
> Cameron, you might wish to pick up a book on population genetics. At the
> time, Herbert may not have been aware about which *particular* mechanism
> drove the narrowing and some of the details remain to be determined, but
> he was likely aware that such mechanisms exist. These were proposed
> *decades* before his interview. Some of that information could be found
> from the papers I provided.
> It's like I mentioned with developmental biologists from a two to three
> decades ago: Many postulated that developmental timing and spatial cues
> for development of body structures were established from physico-chemical
> gradients; essentially, the results of basic chemistry and physics. At the
> time, they had no idea about the identity of the compounds and gradients,
> only that it made a useful hypothetical model that could explain a lot and
> guide research. Rupert Sheldrake used that lack of specificity and
> knowledge at that time to propose an alternate and heretofore unknown
> physical mechanism, "morphic resonance", that guided development. In his
> model, the morphogenic compounds and gradients hadn't been found because
> they actually didn't exist -- He suggested that development was guided by
> a different sort of 'field'. He proposed some experiments but they were
> pretty muddled. Others could have proposed explanations involving
> Invisible Pink Unicorns or divine intervention, I suppose. Understandably,
> at least to most scientists, theses alternate explanations gathered little
> traction. Many supporters of Sheldrake did cry foul about his proposal
> being largely ignored and possibly the Invisible Pink Unicorn and divine
> interventionist camps were likewise upset. A few years later, more and
> more chemical morphogens were found. Later, the regulatory mechanisms and
> networks were uncovered. Basically, it seems that good ol' basic chemistry
> and physics can account for many of the previous questions we had. Go
> figure; what are the odds of a 'natural' explanation working to explain
> organismal development when there were a near infinity of other
> non-natural explanations that had been yet to be examined?
> Cameron, I seriously suggest you invest more time reading or taking
> classes in biology and genetics if you are interested in really
> investigating evolutionary biology. Even if you wish to limit your
> interest to the sociological aspects of science as it relates to ID and
> creationism, or the philosophy of science (Ted Davis could certainly help
> you there), it still wouldn't hurt to understand more biology. Furthermore
> you're carrying what I see as a gigantic chip on your shoulder that I find
> makes it difficult to maintain pleasant discussions with you. But please
> don't take my opinions as an insult, just a friendly observation offered
> in the spirit of trying to help.
> Regards,
> Tim
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Received on Mon Aug 24 03:07:07 2009

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