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

From: Bill Powers <>
Date: Sat Oct 17 2009 - 00:08:40 EDT


I won't at present address the second issue, but will remark on the

What do you, or perhaps better, what does ID take the construction of a
car to be? Or perhaps even better, what does it take the invention of
the car to be?

It seems to me that it is very difficult to account for by any
neo-darwinian mechanism, although I am certain that neo-darwinians would
hold to it none the less. It does appear to entail the intervention of
a designer, indeed even an immanent one. So, at it is at least possible
to see that the invention of the car would not fit the notion of those
IDers who were interested in a "natural" "reverse engineering."

So, the invention of the car could be seen as something else. What
else? Well, maybe that is not wholly clear. It seems to me, not only
possible, but almost necessary that in some way the causal nexus is
broken or disrupted. Whatever one might think it seems that such an
event would fit, and has been said to fit, IDer's notion of ID.

Yet I can tell you how to construct a car. The actual process of
constructing a car can be programmed, albeit a very complicated program.
But let us presume it requires no "intelligence." It is the invention
of the car, the design of the car from the natural world, that requires

The intelligence, the design, we might suppose to be miraculous. Yet we
could still describe the steps, the recipe, for the construction of the
car, a construction that might require no intelligence.

It is this that I am asking for, or at least suggesting might be
possible. Take a single celled organism. What physical steps might be
performed to make it a multiple celled organism? Can this be
accomplished on a living single celled organism? That is, through out
the process can the organism live.

Such a description, it seems, might not be very different from what an
unguided evolutionist might suggest. But in establishing a procedure,
even an intelligent procedure, one can begin to assess the probability
that it might occur at random.

As I think Behe was trying to get at in a recent article reviewed here,
the evolutionist would like to find a pathway in which the organism is
benefited at each step. The intelligent designer is not so contrained.

So if it is reverse engineered, I do not think we need think of a
distant engineer, but one immanent and immediately involved, just like
our own engineers.


On Fri, 16 Oct 2009, Cameron Wybrow wrote:

> Bill:
> 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).
> Cameron.
> ----- 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
> books....]
> Cameron:
> 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?
> thanks,
> bill
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Received on Sat Oct 17 00:09:02 2009

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