deck of cards, chance, and design (was: Re: [asa] ID question?)

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Sun Oct 18 2009 - 01:23:07 EDT

Regarding Dave Siemens' post below, Merv, with his example involving pi, has already made one of the points I was going to make, so I won't say much more about it, except this: obviously, if science requires "Cartesian certainty" that an event of freakishly low probability could not have happened, then design can never be "proved" by science. But modern science does not proceed from Cartesian certainty to Cartesian certainty. Very rarely is modern science capable of "proof" in an absolute sense. Science is not Euclidean geometry. In fact, scientists routinely rule out wildly implausible hypotheses that they have not disproved and in some cases cannot disprove. A super-competent expert in celestial mechanics could probably come up with a mathematically and physically defensible argument that Mars drifted in from another solar system and then took up an orbit that made it seem as if had been formed along with our own solar system. But if the probability of such an event's happening were on the order of 1 in 10^999, no scientist would take the hypothesis seriously; it would not literally be declared false, but would be treated as if it were false, and rightly so. The question is why the improbabilities associated with the origin of life, or with a purely neo-Darwinian account of evolution, are not treated in the same way by scientists. Generally speaking, inconsistent treatment points to an external motivation.

I'd like to make another few points. First, regarding this statement:

"All the empirical can tell us is the nature of the natural changes".

Unless Dave made a casual verbal slip here (which is possible), this statement contradicts what he said earlier in his post. By calling the changes "natural", he is implying that they were not "supernatural", by which I mean, not caused by divine *intervention*, and this is a determination which, according to his earlier argument, science is not qualified to make. By his earlier argument, science can only say, "Event X happened, and we don't know if it was caused naturally or by special intervention, and then event Y happened, and we don't know if it was caused naturally or by special intervention, and then event Z happened, and we don't know if it was caused naturally or by special intervention, and thus the shrew-like mammal became a bat, and of the whole sequence we cannot say whether it was caused naturally or by special intervention."

Second, assuming that this is what Dave meant to say, I would make the point that neither Darwin nor the classic neo-Darwinists said or meant anything as cautious and intellectually modest as the above. They usually explicitly claimed, and always at least implied, that the cause of each change, and of the whole sequence, was entirely natural. If TEs want to insist on this tamed version of neo-Darwinism, I think they should invent their own name for it, to distinguish it from the original. I suggest "TEo-Darwinism". TEo-Darwinism has the distinct advantage over neo-Darwinism in that it can never, even in principle, be disproved, because its claim about the cause of evolutionary events is too nebulous ever to admit of any test which could lead to falsification.

Third, a point I have made before: the fact that it is impossible to tell whether any *individual* event was caused by chance, front-loaded necessity or intelligent intervention does not necessarily make it impossible to tell whether a *sequence of events* was caused by chance, front-loaded necessity, or intelligent intervention. If a bunch of hard objects landed violently in my backyard one night, making a pattern of holes in the grass that spelled out the words: "Up with Behe, Down with Dawkins", *any individual hole* might be scientifically explained by the chance fall of a hard object, but the only two credible scientific explanations *for the entire pattern* are front-loaded necessity (which is just intelligent design at a temporal remove) and direct intelligent intervention. Chance is not a credible explanation in such a scenario. And if Dave replies, "You can't be SURE it wasn't chance -- it's not IMPOSSIBLE", I refer him back to my first point, and to Merv's parallel argument. I can be sure enough, and "sure enough" is the best that modern science ever accomplishes in any case.


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: dfsiemensjr
  Cc: ;
  Sent: Saturday, October 17, 2009 5:26 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] ID question?

  Imagine that four guys sit down at a table with a pack of cards. One picks the pack up and begins to deal them. At the fifth round, one of the guys says, "There's something fishy. Every card I've gotten is a heart." One of the others says, "Yeah, all I've gotten is clubs." The third chap says, "Mine are spades." The dealer picks up his cards and reports, "I have nothing but diamonds." It seems obvious that somebody gimmicked the deck. But can the guys at the table determine whether it was deliberate or just an unusual outcome of an honest deal? It seems to me that they cannot decide without tracing the deck back and determining the bona fides of everyone who had access to the deck. Just observing the outcome won't do it, and perhaps all the information they can gather does not lead to a definitive conclusion.

  Looks to me as though our observations of a sequence of evolutionary events, as closely as we can now determine them, does not tell us whether the changes were determined by intelligent forces from without or internal natural changes. The changes, so far as empirical observations can determine the source, are equally compatible with direct divine intervention, constant divine supervision, and a series of purely natural events. One has to call in extra-empirical assumptions to bolster whatever claim one makes. All the empirical can tell is is the nature of the natural changes, whether an insertion or deletion occurred, etc. ID insists that they know it was intervention, at least some times.
  Dave (ASA)

  On Sat, 17 Oct 2009 01:51:04 -0700 (PDT) John Walley <> writes:
    This is the impasse between ID and TE. To the extent that this is in error, TE's tend to err on the side of upholding the integrity of science. It appears to me that ID tends to err on the side of upholding a philosophical or theological ideal. I don't disagree with that ideal but as I have said before I don't believe it is scientific so I don't see how we can make such an issue out of a subjective belief. Further, I don't think there is any conflict between these two positions so I reject the positioning of them as being mutually exclusive as Behe does here.

    His personal beliefs aside, Darwin was at least partially right in the fact that randomness does contribute to evolution. While it may not explain all of evolution you have to at least concede that much to be allowed to sit at the table of science and to have your views taken seriously. And Eugenie Scott and NCSE serve a valid purpose in policing this. Behe and ID need to at least acknowledge this much about Darwinian evolution to ever regain the public trust that they are not just theocratic science deniers.


    From: Schwarzwald <>
    Sent: Fri, October 16, 2009 11:24:12 PM
    Subject: Re: [asa] ID question?

    Heya John,

    Personally, I'm coming to Behe's defense because the claim that Behe is 'anti-evolution' is simply unfounded. It seems like some people are sensitive on this topic to the point where any criticism of evolution - even if it's specified as Darwinian evolution, even if it's based on interpretations of data and research, even if it's admitted these are (strong) inferences rather than logical proofs - must be balanced out, in the next breath, by a public declaration of faith in at least some kind of evolution. Otherwise, suspicions start to mount. That, I think, is an exaggerated response.

    In other words, I just don't share your impression. I also don't share what I take to be this feeling that it's very, very important for Behe to balance out his criticisms of darwinian evolution by praising evolution in the broad sense. Then again, I think that this obsession with evolution (by many, spanning various views and faiths) needs to come to an end anyway.

    On Fri, Oct 16, 2009 at 8:45 PM, John Walley <> wrote:

      This is exactly right. Behe does make claims against Darwinian evolution. I asked the same question before, is there another form of evolution that Behe is more comfortable with? If so, he didn't mention it in the video that I recall.

      I know he has spoken and written other things in other places about evolution but in this video he does come across as being against evolution. Its not like it was heavily edited either and made to look a certain way nor was he responding to a strict set of questions. He could have said anything he wanted and made any point he wanted and left any impression he wanted but this is what he chose. Why is everyone then apologizing for Behe and saying this is a mischaracterization of him?


      ----- Original Message ----
      From: "Dehler, Bernie" <>
      To: asa <>

      Sent: Fri, October 16, 2009 10:06:11 AM
      Subject: RE: [asa] ID question?

      Hi Cameron-

      " Please find me one statement, anywhere in Behe's work, where he says that he is "against evolution", or else do the honourable thing and publically
      withdraw your comments."

        If you watch the video- he said repeatedly that "Darwinian evolution" couldn't do such and such. What other kind of evolution is there? Is he saying there's another kind of evolution that he accepts? If so, what does he call it?


      -----Original Message-----
      From: [] On Behalf Of Cameron Wybrow
      Sent: Thursday, October 15, 2009 10:08 AM
      To: asa
      Subject: Re: [asa] ID question?


      Your remarks about Behe are incorrect. They are not only unsupported by any
      references to his works; they show an almost complete misunderstanding of
      his position. It is not Behe who is in a "muddle".

      Such a high degree of misunderstanding suggests a lack of familiarity with
      Behe's writing. And this reminds me that you still have not answered my
      earlier question: which books and essays of Behe have you read entirely

      Please find me one statement, anywhere in Behe's work, where he says that he
      is "against evolution", or else do the honourable thing and publically
      withdraw your comments.

      ----- Original Message -----
      From: "Dehler, Bernie" <>
      To: "asa" <>
      Sent: Thursday, October 15, 2009 11:39 AM
      Subject: RE: [asa] ID question?

> Hi Bill- you apparently see the ID debate as "guided vs. unguided
> evolution" but I see it as "evolution vs. special creation." ('Special
> creation' being creation by fiat.)
> This is what I think I'm starting to see in the current origin's debate
> culture: Because evolution has been proven by pseudogenes, people want to
> shift the argument from "did evolution happen" to now "is evolution
> guided." I think this is the current crisis for OEC's. But I think OEC's
> reject evolution, so if they want to now accept it, even as 'God-guided,'
> they still have to leave the camp and come over to TE. The OEC camp will
> always be there, and it is only for those who reject evolution, guided or
> not.
> I think some OEC's are attempting to make a switch from "evolution is
> false" to "evolution is maybe God-guided" and appeal to Intelligent Design
> to save face (like a ploy to straddle the fence of accepting both modern
> science and simultaneously rejecting/accepting evolution).
> Behe is a perfect example of this muddle, by apparently rejecting
> evolution (in some aspects) and accepting it for human common descent.
> Therefore, Behe is neither for or against evolution. Creationists
> generally like to separate evolution into micro and macro. When Behe says
> he accepts common descent for humans, that is macro evolution. So here we
> have Behe accepting micro/macro evolution yet still against evolution for
> other things. I guess he needs to define another category of evolution,
> so he can accept micro and macro, but reject this third thing/part of
> evolution.
> ...Bernie
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Bill Powers []
> Sent: Wednesday, October 14, 2009 4:14 PM
> To: Dehler, Bernie
> Cc: asa
> Subject: Re: [asa] ID question?
> OK. I've got to say something about this.
> Bernie, you apparently believe something like:
> Intentional/Design theories fail because they have not been able to
> demonstrate that unguided evolution could not have done it.
> This is a rather strange way to do science, and only the kind of game that
> a bully would employ. Is there any kind of evidence that it could be said
> "unguided evolution" could not do that?
> What a more civilized approach would be is that evolutionary mechanisms
> were clearly defined so that what is likely and what is not might be
> become clear. This would entail, for example, temporal stochastic
> equations. Is the abrupt arisal of species a problem for unguided
> (whatever one means by that) evolution or not? It doesn't seem to me that
> evolutionary biology is prepared to even address the question
> intelligently.
> How can there be honest theory comparison when the theory is so vague?
> ID can also be required to be more explicit. It needs to describe in
> detail a story, which is nothing more than evolution offers. The story
> would describe, for example, what are the minimal capabilities and steps
> required for a Guide to act.
> Comparing an explicit evolutionary mechanism and a guided one could be
> fruitful. For one, the guided story is one that could be possibly
> employed by human agents. The process of putting it together permits
> dialog between the two. One supporting a guided mechanism might argue
> that such and such step was entirely unlikely given available resources.
> In ths same the unguided advocate might argue that such and such a step
> might be accomplished without guidance, and here's how.
> In developing explicit guided mechanisms and paths, perhaps new
> definitions and understanding of what is guided and what is not will
> arise. For now it is vague.
> As far as I can tell there is no good evidence available to distinguish
> guided from unguided evolution. I don't see why "pseudogenes" are any
> better off in this regard. They appear to adopt a position that you
> oppose: an argument form ingnorance. Just because we know of no "reason"
> that a "pseudogene" would exist does not imply that some "reason" might be
> later found. So all that can be said is that no "reason" is known YET.
> Sound familiar? What is more, unless you know God or all putative
> designers better than I do, I don't see how you (or anyone) can say that
> "pseudogenes" were not intentional.
> The argument begins to look like Antony Flew's Invisible Gardener. One
> might ask what is the difference between and invisible Gardener and no
> Gardener at all, or what is the difference between an invisible designer
> (guided evolution) and no designer at all (unguided evolution). But I
> take from Flew's argument something different from what he intended. All
> his argument suggests to me is that given the evidence provided I have no
> reason to prefer a Gardener or none at all.
> Frankly, I think, if one must proceed along these lines, that the evidence
> better supports a guided universe. The only argument offered in Flew's
> case to prefer no Gardener at all is Occam's Razor. But I take this to be
> an epistemological criterion, and see no reason for it to bind ontology.
> Indeed, if it did, it would argue for a Gardener.
> bill
> On Wed, 14 Oct 2009, Dehler, Bernie wrote:
>> William Paley used the 'watchmaker analogy' to demonstrate the idea of
>> intelligent design. We can just tell, by looking at nature, that things
>> are obviously designed by God by fiat, such as man, because of their
>> complexity.
>> Darwin creates a stir with an alternate hypothesis of man's creation via
>> biological evolution instead. It is a competing hypothesis. Evolution
>> has now won, for explaining the biological creation of man, because of
>> DNA evidence like pseudogenes.
>> So my question: Isn't Behe's 'moustrap' irreducible complexity the same
>> EXACT situation? It is basically saying since we don't know how it could
>> have evolved, therefore it was intelligently designed (by God or aliens).
>> The only difference is that Behe goes into great detail trying to explain
>> how it can't be done by known "Darwinistic evolutionist" mechanisms, but
>> Paley could have (and maybe did?) done the same thing (explaining why/how
>> known science of his day could not explain evolution for humans).
>> I would like to know what is so different about Behe, compared to Paley.
>> Paley has a 'complexity' argument with the watch, and Behe introduces
>> irreducible complexity, but both are proposing ID because known science
>> can't explain it... yet.
>> It is interesting to me that Paley's argument for the biological creation
>> of man is not discarded because it is wrong with the idea of complexity,
>> but because the evolutionary process has evidence "beyond a reasonable
>> doubt." So complexity may still be a valid way to detect ID, yet in this
>> case, it turned out wrong as science accumulated more facts. It could be
>> the same with irreducible complexity. A valid way to detect ID, yet
>> disproven in the future when more facts become available.
>> But what is the evidence to prove irreducible complexity? It seems like
>> the only evidence is "evolution can't do it or explain it... yet."
>> ...Bernie
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