RE: [asa] Reverse Engineering and ID (was Re: Peer review)

From: Alexanian, Moorad <>
Date: Fri Oct 16 2009 - 22:05:15 EDT

How far in time do you want to do reverse engineering? I am not sure how one can do reverse engineering from what we now observe to a considered initial condition, say the Big Bang. For an isolated system, this would entail the ability to explain everything we now know, say free will, consciousness, human rationality, etc., in terms of purely physical entities. This is indeed a tall order.

From: [] On Behalf Of Cameron Wybrow []
Sent: Friday, October 16, 2009 9:55 PM
To: asa
Subject: [asa] Reverse Engineering and ID (was Re: Peer review)


On your first point, about reverse engineering: I take it that you mean that
we could in principle back-reason from the set-up of living things to deduce
the steps by which the intelligent design was implemented, just as
Darwinists back-reason from a chromosome to a "fusion event" in our primate
lineage. If that isn't what you mean, you will have to clarify.

Assuming I understand you correctly, I would answer that the wide variation
between ID proponents makes it impossible for ID as a whole to give a
consistent response. For example, some ID proponents accept the notion of
miraculous interventions, in which the chain of causality is broken. If
that is in fact what happened, then reverse engineering, in the sense I am
using the phrase, would be impossible at all such points. Engineering
depends upon the uniform working of natural laws.

On the other hand, some ID proponents (including a few of the Christian
ones, though more of the agnostic and Deist ones) are very interested in the
possibility that the whole process of evolution may be entirely
naturalistic, without any intervention by a designer, but planned by a
designer. Such ID people would try to "reverse engineer" back to what
happened by trying to establish that the genetic code is like a giant
computer program, set up to produce certain outputs at certain points in
time. This would involve showing that much of the apparently "unused" DNA
is really part of the massive stored program. Michael Denton has broached
this possibility, and, while he has no proof for it yet, he's quite serious
about it.

Obviously this kind of reverse-engineering, to be successful, will require
much more knowledge than we have now about how the evolutionary process
unfolds, how the DNA could be set up in an anticipatory way, etc. But then
again, neo-Darwinian evolution is in the same bind: it can't reverse its
way back to the primitive genetic events that first started the evolution of
the camera eye. We simply don't know enough about how the eye is produced,
even from a developmental point of view, in human beings today, let alone
how it could have been built up by steps over evolutionary time. All the
Darwinists have provided in 150 years is a series of qualitative "still
pictures", of light spots and recesses for the light spots and lenses made
of thickened translucent membranes and so on, plus a nudge-nudge, wink-wink
to the reader to turn it into an animated cartoon in his imagination. They
have no authentically causal narrative showing how all the pictures can be
joined together by known Darwinian mechanisms at the genetic and
developmental levels.

So the short answer is: yes, some ID people will be interested in
reverse-engineering, while others will say that the effort is fruitless,
because science won't be able to explain the discontinuities attendant upon
miracles. But even wholly naturalistic forms of ID are nowhere near being
able to provide a detailed causal account.

On your second point, it depends upon the degree of the "tilt". Some
"tilts" might be very minor, not much off 180 degrees, so that most of the
work would have to be done by Darwinian mechanisms alone, and what would
emerge would be very unpredictable -- Gould's remark about rewinding the
tape and replaying it, and everything turning out very, very different,
provides the appropriate image here. But some "tilts" might be close to 90
degrees, so that life and even man just spills out, as it were, from the
elements manufactured in the hearts of stars, in which case Darwinian
mechanisms, though still operative, would be merely the "errand boy" of the
cosmic tilt. To use Gould's image again, you could replay the tape as many
times as you wanted, and you would get very nearly the same thing each time.
The "chance" mutations would be, for the most part, no longer "wild cards"
that life suddenly has to cope with, on a sink-or-swim basis, but
contingencies foreseen long in advance, and prepared for by the set-up of
the DNA in the earliest organisms. (Just as one might set aside a bit in
one's budget for replacing flat tires or to pay for library fines or parking
tickets, not knowing exactly when they will occur, but knowing that it is
highly likely that they will occur within, say, the next 12 months.) In the
latter scenario (the scenario with an 89-degree tilt, or even a 75-degree
tilt or 60-degree tilt), where the universal constants and properties of
elements can be shown to have made human life virtually inevitable, design
would be the inescapable inference, unless one were willing to go with (a)
the multiverse; or (b) astounding good luck, against odds involving numbers
on the order of a hundred digits long. All of this is well-explained in
Michael Denton's second book, Nature's Destiny, a work which I think should
be mandatory reading (so to speak) for members of this list, because it is
in some ways a perfect synthesis of ID and TE minimum requirements (real and
detectable design in nature and criticism of neo-Darwinism from the ID side;
unambiguous affirmation of macroevolution and seamless naturalism from the
TE side).


----- Original Message -----
From: "Bill Powers" <>
To: "Cameron Wybrow" <>
Cc: "asa" <>
Sent: Friday, October 16, 2009 9:21 AM
Subject: Re: Peer review [ was: Re: [asa] Atheist finds God thru Behe's


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?



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Received on Fri Oct 16 22:05:58 2009

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