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

From: Bill Powers <>
Date: Fri Oct 16 2009 - 09:21:49 EDT


A couple of points.

1) In some recent posts I have tried to instigate a dialogue on what ID
could and should do. It seems to me that IDers ought to be as
interested in conceptual mechanisms as neo-darwinists. They ought to be
at least
interested in reverse engineering of certain features given "initial"
resources. The reverse engineering must be "physically" possible,
perhaps even explaining the physical (e.g., viable) steps employed and
tools, etc. In other words, it can't be a instantaneous creation. What
are the "minimal" requirements of such an engineering project? Having
suggested such a mechanism, one they perhaps suppose requires
intelligence, a neo-darwinian could comment on it. Suggesting, perhaps,
that these steps require no intelligence. Then issues of probability
would arise. It is one thing to say that a certain feature could not
arise by physical law and chance; and another to provide a procedure
that could not be accomplised by those means. It is easy, it seems, to
do this for a car. It seems very difficult to argue that a car could
have arisen by means of law and chance. And yet, isn't that exactly
what a neo-darwinist has to argue? The IDer could demonstrate how a human
puts a car together from raw materials. The neo-darwinist has the
difficult task, I suppose, of being able to demonstrate how "intelligence"
has arisen by natural, unintelligent means. Is this "intelligence"
subject still to these natural, unintelligent mechanisms? The task
appears daunting.

2) I don't see how having a cosmos that is "tilted" towards biology
undermines neo-darwinism. The "tilt" would simply be inferred as lawful.
It is difficult to understand the nature of this "tilt." Is it a
stochastic tilt? If so, it seems to be expressible in terms of law plus
chance. Our present understanding of possible protein forms may be wrong.
That merely entails that we misunderstand the probability space. So how
exactly is it that neo-darwinian mechanisms are undermined by these
"teleological" perspectives?



On Fri, 16 Oct 2009, Cameron Wybrow

> Re: Peer review [ was: Re: [asa] Atheist finds God thru Behe's books....]Thanks, Dennis.
> A few points:
> 1. I don't reject the evidence for theological reasons. In fact, I don't reject "the evidence" at all. Evidence for what? Common descent? I accept it. That's why Tiktaalik was an entirely boring discovery for me. That's why I couldn't figure out, at first, why people on this list made such a big deal about it. There was a gigantic, collective victory whoop, as if something had been proved, once and for all. But what did Tiktaalik teach us that we didn't know before? Transitional forms are only a shock for people who reject common descent. That's not me. But of course, the people here weren't whooping for victory over me. They were whooping for victory over YEC. Why are so many people here so obsessed with YEC? Would they spend so much time refuting flat-earthers, or people who believe that aliens built the Pyramids? Why do they let YEC "get" to them so easily? My approach is different. I entirely ignore YEC. You should all try it. You'll save a lot of time and energy, and sleep more restfully.
> 2. Contrary to your assertion, mainstream science has explained very, very little about how evolution works. The generality you offer below -- descent with modification through natural selection -- is where evolutionary theory was in 1859. Even if I accept it -- and I do, as a *partial* explanation -- I still understand virtually nothing about what happened. It is as if you told me that the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon by superior placement of cannon, imaginative cavalry strategy, and superior infantry training -- all of which might be very true -- but did not tell me *where* he placed the cannon, *what* the new employment of the cavalry was, or *how* the infantry was trained. I would like to be shown how the eye was built, how the cardiovascular system was built. No one seems to know. I have read Dawkins's explanation for how the eye was built, in The Blind Watchmaker. It was written in 1986, and it's not a bit advanced conceptually from Darwin's general explanation set forth in 1859. Also, I just read a comment by Mayr about it tonight. Again, nothing more than the safe generalities that Darwin rested in. A thickened set of semi-opaque cells might be useful as an early lens -- that sort of thing. All analogies and speculations. Mighta, coulda, shoulda, woulda. Nothing nitty-gritty about how the blasted thing was in fact assembled.
> 3. I do not actually require "infinite detail". But I do require a movement *toward* infinite detail, and away from purely qualitative narratives which are positively nebulous about the overwhelming majority of the details, especially the important details. No one here seems to know, for example, what nucleotide changes, in what locations along the genome, would be necessary to turn a one-celled creature into a multi-celled one. Or how many mutations it would take (even roughly) to turn a shrew into a bat. Or what survival value an incomplete bat wing would have. Or how the transition from land mammals to aquatic mammals was managed by minute Darwinian steps, given the multiple co-ordinated changes that would be required for, e.g., nursing underwater. And it doesn't bother me so much that Darwinians can't yet explain these things, but it does bother me that they apparently aren't working day and night at doing so. They seem to prefer writing abstruse papers on evolutionary algorithms or fitness space or population genetics, papers that no one but a specialist can understand and which never get around to explaining exactly how evolution happened, or even how it could have happened, at the level of visualizable physical detail, as opposed to mathematical abstraction.
> 4. I think that one problem is that evolutionary biologists, when they are
not paleontologists, tend to be population geneticists. Population genetics
can tell us a great deal about how existing mutations spread, and about many
other things that it is useful to know. I do not denounce population genetics
within its sphere of interest. But it cannot answer the questions I asked in
my last post. Or at least, it has not answered them. Population geneticists
don't seem to think like engineers, about how structures are built. There is
more hope for the developmental biologists, because they have to think about
how the phenotype is built, why certain parts end up where they do, etc. If
the developmental biologists got together with some smart engineers, I think
that evolutionary theory might be able to make more progress. But absent a
radical changeover to an engineering perspective, I don't think that
evolutionary biologists will ever be able to convince me of the adequacy of
neo-Darwinian (and kindred stochastic) mechanisms to explain the phenomena.
> 5. I also continue to maintain that artificially excluding teleological
perspectives from the scientific discussion is very unwise, and cripples
evolutionary theory from achieving its own goals. By teleological
perspectives, I don't mean theological assertions of any kind, but
open-mindedness toward the possibility that living nature is "tilted" in an
evolutionary direction by certain fundamental properties of its building
blocks, properties that are unlikely to be accidental. Denis Lamoureux
apparently accepts such a perspective, and so does Michael Denton. I am told
that Conway Morris has developed a version of semi-teleological evolution of
his own. I gather that Mike Gene's version is at least semi-teleological as
well. Sternberg's discussion of Platonic forms of protein folds is clearly
teleological. If all of these gentlemen are anywhere near right, then
neo-Darwinism is the wrong number on which to place your bets. It may still
have a place (as even Behe grants) in providing subordinate mechanisms; but it
can't be the whole story. Not even the whole set of mechanisms associated
with contingent events and stochastic processes, including the ones that aren't
  neo-Darwinian, can be the whole story. But it seems to me that population
geneticists are wedded to purely stochastic explanations of evolution, and that
  appears to me to be a sort of specialist blindness, connected with the
stochastic nature of the phenomena that population geneticists investigate.
When the only tool one has is a hammer, the whole world looks like a box of
nails. It is interesting that several of the people I have named are not
population geneticists, but heavily trained in biochemistry or medical science
or other areas of the life sciences. A biochemist and a doctor are both likely
  to have something of the engineer in the way that they approach problems.
And engineering perspectives and teleological perspectives go hand-in-hand.
> Cameron.
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: Dennis Venema
> To: Cameron Wybrow ; asa
> Sent: Friday, October 16, 2009 3:25 AM
> Subject: Re: Peer review [ was: Re: [asa] Atheist finds God thru Behe's books....]
> Cameron, you state:
> "Neo-Darwinians, and other foes of teleological reasoning in biology, would be best advised to stop belly-aching about the alleged lack of peer-review of ID books and articles, and to concentrate on providing the detailed evolutionary mechanisms which they have failed to provide for the last 150 years."
> That is *exactly* what mainstream science has been doing for 150 years - providing more and more detail on how evolution works. That it fails to meet the standards of those who reject the evidence for theological reasons is hardly surprising. There was enough evidence in 1859 to convince many Christians. Since then many more independent lines of evidence have converged to support Darwin's "big idea" of descent with modification through natural selection. How much evidence do you want?
> The ID approach, in a nutshell, is to demand infinite detail for any disputed process. Behe has essentially admitted as much - that his version of "detailed mechanism" means every single point mutation along the way and full knowledge of the populations and selection coefficients for each mutation as well. He knows that this is an impossible standard.
> In the meantime, ID cannot even define the boundaries on the age of the earth (again, for theological / political reasons). Demand infinite detail; offer none in response. Is it any wonder why mainstream science views the ID movement the way it does?
> Dennis

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Fri Oct 16 09:22:13 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Fri Oct 16 2009 - 09:22:13 EDT