Re: [asa] Atheist finds God thru Behe's books....

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Wed Oct 14 2009 - 04:34:18 EDT

I did not ask why scientists insist on "rigor". I know why scientists insist on "rigor". I was discussing why a certain sort of polemical scientist (e.g., Eugenie Scott) insists on a wooden, mechanical application of the (generally sound) principle of "methodological naturalism" in all possible scenarios, regardless of any important epistemological questions that it might beg in certain circumstances, and why all scientists in all possible situations should be expected to adopt her attitude.

Further, I did not say or imply that, in questioning the wisdom of mechanically adhering to "methodological naturalism" under circumstances where it might materially mislead, Behe or the ID people were asking for a loosening of "rigor". I certainly am not going to allow you to just "slip in" the equation of "methodological naturalism" with "scientific rigor", as you are trying to do. MN is not the only intellectual device in the history of human thought that involves "rigor". Euclidean geometry involves "rigor". Metaphysics involves "rigor". Epistemology requires "rigor". Further, there might be circumstances where the very existence of a naturalistic cause is in fundamental doubt in a way that it is not in "normal" science, and in such cases, it would be the very opposite of "rigor" not to consider the possibility of non-naturalistic causes. To give just one example, if (as some scientists believe) the Big Bang was the *absolute* beginning, and all natural causation followed only after that, where did the "stuff" that "blew up" in the Big Bang come from? How could the "stuff", and its state of high compression, have had a "natural" cause, if before it there was no "nature" to produce any stuff or compress it? It is at least possible that, for the origin of the Big Bang, naturalistic explanations are incompetent to explain the phenomenon. And for all we know, there might have been other such "discontinuities" in the distant past, even after the Big Bang. For all of these reasons, it simply does not follow that taking into account approaches other than methodological naturalism, where appropriate, involves a surrender of "rigor". It is no assault upon methodological naturalism to say that it might sometimes be inadequate, any more than it is an assault upon normal childbirth to suggest that sometimes a Caesarean section may be in order.

Also, your phrase "to get around the rigorous requirements" engages in motive-mongering. You have no evidence that Behe is trying to "get around" anything. That is your uncharitable interpretation. In the absence of proof of wrongdoing, one should always take the most charitable interpretation, and the most charitable interpretation is that he thinks that blindly sticking to "methodological naturalism" will sometimes result in incorrect explanations, i.e., will try to explain in terms of entirely natural causes events which did not in fact happen entirely due due to natural causes. For example, if one were determined to find a "natural cause" for someone's heart attack, one might perform endless autopsies and lab tests, looking for arterial blockages, flaws in the heart muscle, errors in the neural synapses, etc., all of which would be of no avail if the heart attack was brought on by a Taser gun. Similarly, if a particular phase of evolution, say, the Cambrian Explosion, in fact involved a supernatural injection of biological information, ten thousand years of research into possible naturalistic causes would be a complete waste of time, because such research could never find the real answer. In such a case, the question arises: what good is an explanation which sticks within the boundaries of "methodological naturalism" if it is not the true explanation? Would you rather be methodologically consistent, and remain deluded about what actually happened, or methodologically inconsistent, and know what actually happened? To raise this question is not to attempt to avoid "rigor"; it is to raise a question of fundamental importance in thinking out the relationship between "science" and "truth".

But of course, by using "supernatural" in the previous example, I was merely catering to weakness, i.e., I was responding to your arguments as they stand, without noting the incorrect assumption which you make. You make the same error that John has been making, in assuming that if a process is designed it cannot happen through natural causes. See the example I provided for John, and my various remarks to him on the subject. Behe's point is not that *supernatural interventions into nature* had to be involved, but that some *design* had to be involved. That is compatible with a closed sequence of natural causes, if the situation is set up right. (For designed yet naturalistic evolution, see the writings of Denis Lamoureux and Michael Denton.) So Behe's view does not *necessarily* involve any violation of methodological naturalism.

Contrary to your assertion, ID is extremely empirical, in contrast with Darwinian theorizing which is highly speculative. Direct observational evidence from lab and field suggests that Darwinian processes can do very little in the way of building complex new organs and systems, and that they mainly tinker with already existing machinery, whereas blackboard speculations at the Universities of Chicago and Rochester suggest that Darwinian processes can turn bacteria in buffalo, easy as pie. Which view is more "empirical"?

Also, it is amusing that you put emphasis on falsification, because Darwinian theory is almost inherently unfalsifiable. Natural selection is so elastic a notion, and alleged mutation rates at various periods in the past so difficult to verify, and past environments so poorly known, that almost any evolutionary change (and its opposite! -- growing wings, losing wings, acting selfishly, acting altruistically, etc.) can be explained, after the fact, by playing around with the various causal components. The trick in real science is to be able to predict something before the fact. Prediction before the fact (as in physics and chemistry) requires great courage, since a prediction which is falsified causes great embarrassment to a theory. Darwinian evolution can't predict what will happen before the fact, because whole nations and civilizations will perish long before we can get confirmation of what evolution will produce in the future, so Darwinian evolutionary theory consists entirely of Monday-morning quarterbacking, arguing about why what happened in the past did in fact happen. And unlike some analyses of past events, which frequently come to definite conclusions -- for example, analyzing a bridge hand after the play can very often demonstrate the faultiness of a bid or a lead and show what the correct bid or lead was -- Darwinian analyses rarely lead to conclusions agreed upon even by all evolutionary biologists, let alone by others. Often they lead to bitter wrangling and division into hostile camps. Other times they lead not even to that, because the speculation is so wide-open and so empirically uncontrolled (with 99% of the relevant factual data erased by tens of millions of years of time), that the discussions might as well be between the four women who yammer away on The View, expressing opinions but settling nothing whatsoever. If you like falsifiability, try a science other than evolutionary biology.

Re: Your comments on Behe. If you believe that real science must appear in peer-reviewed publications, why don't you follow through on that, and publish your criticisms of Behe in a peer-reviewed journal? I can guarantee you that he will reply. But you might want to read his reply to Lenski first:


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Rich Blinne
  To: Cameron Wybrow ; Randy Isaac
  Cc: asa
  Sent: Tuesday, October 13, 2009 10:59 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] Atheist finds God thru Behe's books....

  On Mon, Oct 12, 2009 at 11:45 AM, Cameron Wybrow <> wrote:

      It does not seem to me obvious what the right answer is, nor do some of the greatest philosophers of science (who have wrestled quite seriously with teleological explanation) think it is obvious what the right answer is; TE people, on the other hand, just take for granted that consistency of method trumps adequacy of explanation every time.

  The reason why scientists insist on rigor is that it produces adequate explanations while those whom try to "expand" the scientific method to get around the rigorous requirements -- in part to explain why they don't end up in peer-reviewed journals -- in the end produce less adequate explanations. So called adequacy is a way to get the camel's nose in the tent. For example, ID proponents want to use abduction rather than induction, cf. Chapter 7 Signature in the Cell. The reason why induction is superior for scientific study is that through the process of falsification errors in the original "adequate" explanations can be removed or "inadequate" explanations can be reconsidered. In general, MN is used because it's easier to produce falsifiable propositions but as I will show MN is not necessary in order to be in bounds of tightly-demarcated science. ID fails demarcation not because it considers the natural effects of the supernatural but because it isn't empirical and inductive.

  Take the drug resistance of the malaria parasite in EoE. Behe claimed that the "odds" of producing a drug-resistant strain was in essence impossible. First off, let's assume for the sake of discussion the God of Scripture. He created the Universe, sustains it, and is a God of order (cf. 1 Cor. 14). We know for a fact that currently Plasmodium is resisting previously successful drug therapies -- and this next point is very significant -- after a delay where the therapies were very successful. We also know that the genetic difference between the old and new strains is something that wouldn't easily be achieved by a single mutation. Behe concedes both common descent and natural selection. He does not concede that abilility of so-called random mutation to generate parasites to select from. This leaves us with three possibilities:

  1. The drug-resistant parasites are the mutated descendants of the non-drug-resistent ones. This Behe claims is impossible.

  2. The drug-resistant strains already existed and were merely selected once the drugs were introduced. This appears to be what Behe prefers. But there's a problem. The delay. If the drug resistant parasites are available to be selected population genetics tells us that they start taking over quickly. More on this later.

  3. The drug-resistant strains were created de novo by God after the drugs were introduced. This possibility is not testable by science but is the only option if 1 and 2 are eliminated. To use ID speak this is the most "adequate" explanation. The theological implications of this are immense. Behe claims that he is not out to prove the Christian God and this shows that this is true. Behe has just proven an evil, pagan god. Tell all the Christian doctors to pack it up because there is no way to know whether your therapy will be directly thwarted by God.

  Fortunately this inevitable conclusion that no Christian including Michael Behe would want is solved by plain ole mainstream science. See this paper by Rich Lenski as part of the LTEE (long term evolution experiment). They have taken several lines of E Coli bacteria for decades and gave it an environment rich in citrate which E Coli does not normally metabolize. For many many generations the E Coli did nothing with it and then after 20 years (33,127 generations) E Coli that metabolized citrate appeared and started to dominate.

    The role of historical contingency in evolution has been much debated, but rarely tested. Twelve initially identical populations of Escherichia coli were founded in 1988 to investigate this issue. They have since evolved in a glucose-limited medium that also contains citrate, which E. coli cannot use as a carbon source under oxic conditions. No population evolved the capacity to exploit citrate for >30,000 generations, although each population tested billions of mutations. A citrate-using (Cit+) variant finally evolved in one population by 31,500 generations, causing an increase in population size and diversity. The long-delayed and unique evolution of this function might indicate the involvement of some extremely rare mutation. Alternately, it may involve an ordinary mutation, but one whose physical occurrence or phenotypic expression is contingent on prior mutations in that population. We tested these hypotheses in experiments that “replayed” evolution from different points in that population's history. We observed no Cit+ mutants among 8.4 × 1012 ancestral cells, nor among 9 × 1012+, indicating that some potentiating mutation arose by 20,000 generations. This potentiating change increased the mutation rate to Cit+ but did not cause generalized hypermutability. Thus, the evolution of this phenotype was contingent on the particular history of that population. More generally, we suggest that historical contingency is especially important when it facilitates the evolution of key innovations that are not easily evolved by gradual, cumulative selection.

  The relevance to Behe's example is he assumed that a single probability of a giant mutation was applicable. In short, Behe assumes the mutations are statistically independent. Rather, what Rich Lenski showed was a potentiating mutation which made the rare jump easier (cf. Figures 1 and 3 of the paper) and the mutations are thus not statistically independent.

  Viewed another way a prediction that something is impossible is falsified by the existence of the impossible event. Unless you want to admit God created a parasite deliberately to thwart drug therapy then the fact that Plasmodium did mutate falsified Behe's "prediction". We see from Lenski et al the prediction failed because Behe's view of mutation was flawed and oversimplified. At least that's the way science normally operates but ID wants it to be different so that normal falsification rules don't apply.

  Rich Blinne
  Member ASA

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Received on Wed Oct 14 04:36:14 2009

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