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

From: John Walley <>
Date: Sun Oct 18 2009 - 08:21:30 EDT

 mentions that one problem SJ Gould had with the Selfish Gene concept was that it was, surprise.. teleological.) > >As for your comments about making laws mandating them, I haven't said word one about laws here so I won't comment. > >As for ID, no, ID does not jump to a "known supernatural cause". To infer an intelligence being at work in nature (say, biology on earth, in whole or in part) is not to automatically jump to a supernatural cause (supernatural in this case being something outside, behind or 'above' our universe). Similar to how, if you woke up one day and saw the words 'I EXIST. SINCERELY, GOD.' written on your ceiling, you would at once likely not blame this at chance - you'd infer design. But you wouldn't be forced to infer a supernatural cause. If you think you would be so forced, however, I can provide you with undeniable proof God exists. All I'll need is your address, a marker, and an assurance that you're a heavy sleeper. > >Joking aside - John, you've said repeatedly how you wish for more cooperation and understanding from ID proponents, and that their (hostile?) approach needs to be tempered in the interest of peace and better communication. In that case, I give some advice: If you really want that, then you should at least be willing to consider they mean it when they repeatedly point out that inferring design does not force one to a supernatural conclusion (and that, if a supernatural conclusion is speculated, such a conclusion is outside the scope of science). > > >On Sun, Oct 18, 2009 at 5:58 AM, John Walley <> wrote: > >"To give an example I gave long ago, a claim like SJ Gould's - where it's said that if we were to go back and replay the tape of evolution on earth, we'd come out with completely different results - is going beyond, far beyond, science." >> >> >>This plus Dawkins' memes are good and fair observations but even so I think they are both still valuable. I personally have always been a fan of memes and the selfish gene concept and I think we have to give the devil his due on that one. I think that is a very reasonable explanation of what we see in nature. It is very similar to the concept of design we speculate that is embedded in nature as TE's. >> >>But I contend there is still a difference between these speculations and ID, simply because they appeal to some unknown but still natural cause but ID jumps to a known supernatural cause. The upshot is that these specualtions including ID should be allowed as long as they as presented as just that and we don't try to make laws mandating that one or the other be taught. >> >>John >> >> >> >> >> ________________________________ From: Schwarzwald <> >>To: >>Sent: Sun, October 18, 2009 5:30:16 AM >> >>Subject: Re: [asa] Reverse Engineering and ID (was Re: Peer review) >> >> >>Heya Murray, >> >>Thanks for the additional comments. If you don't mind, I'm going to add in some more substantial observations here as well. >> >>First of all, I notice you're pointing out (and rightly so) the contrast between engineering design and the sort of design we "see" in evolution. I think Gregory Arago would have a lot of helpful input here as well, since he's well-situated to express some of the differences between what evolution 'designs' and what humans' design. At the same time, I'd also point out that there's a relatively recent kind of engineering which I personally think is very appropriate to this conversation (aside from the no brainer examples of genetic engineering) - computer design, software design. To give one particularly apt example: In that case we have the process being designed (since everything is instantiated in a computer), the goal being designed (the 'environment', the selection pressures, and the direction is/are chosen by the designer), even while the specific end product may not be foreseen - but that is a
 clear case of an evolutionary process that absolutely has design and foresight present. On the other hand, we can also have processes that involve a whole lot of randomness yet ultimately yield a certain result (that famous 'methinks it is a weasel' program comes to mind). For my part, I see software-based design as particularly apt for the purposes of comparing human design with 'natural' design - in fact, I can scarcely think of a "type" of design that this type that would be wholly inappropriate in that context. And once that's factored in, I think the one major difference between human design and 'natural' design is this - human design isn't as technologically advanced as natural design. >> >>Second, I agree with you that Simon Conway Morris (among some others) does a fantastic job of talking about the constraints, and inferring some inevitable goals, of evolution. I think the mere certain presence of convergent evolution is a powerful indicator that we're not dealing with a wholly unconstrained process. At the same time, I also think there's no one single way to regard evolution and infer or think about design - and I think it helps to remember that, in all situations, "stochastic processes" are ultimately part of a pragmatic model - and models do not necessarily reflect reality, even if they have predictive utility. For instance, Stephen Barr (a Catholic physicist) affirms his belief that all of the 'randomness' we see, both in biology and in physics, is ultimately guided and planned - God foresaw all these things unfolding well in advance of their doing so. So he particularly stresses how the idea of anything being "truly random" is
 superfluous to the science, and an assertion that cannot be verified by science besides. And I think his view is a valid one, philosophical as it is. This is part of what I mean by what I see as the broader ID encouragement to approach the world as if it were designed - while it's a single broad category of approach, there's nevertheless a number of ways to think about and examine the world this way. >> >>Finally, I'd emphasize that it's important to always keep in mind that these words - accidental, random, etc - come with a certain qualification in science (which I doubt I have to tell you, but I still think it's important to mention). When I say that a lottery draw was random, I don't necessarily mean it was entirely unforeseen of course - back to Stephen Barr's example of an omnipotent God knowing the outcomes of such things. But I do reasonably mean that certain people (perhaps 'all humans') could not have foreseen the lottery draw - and I'm making statements about the mechanisms and processes involved which relate to that. When we talk about stochastic processes in evolution, we're talking about models we make - general patterns of 'how things work' that are, for one reason or another, particularly fruitful for practical application. So there's some about of subjectivity in play. One thing I'm always reminded of is that, by classical theism, God
 is omnipotent - and an omnipotent God does not have our constraints, and therefore does not necessarily need to use our models. (Along the lines of how, in software programming, on the 'top level' you may have output in 3D graphics, etc. But at the 'bottom level' you may have nothing but 0s and 1s and rules which are far more abstract compared to the top level. When one 3D object bumps into another, we can make certain models and have certain understandings of what's going on in that interaction without having to understand everything in, for these purposes, those 'ultimate terms' of 0s and 1s. And what was unpredictable to us on the top level would or could have been entirely predictable to someone at a different level, with different knowledge.) >> >>To give an example I gave long ago, a claim like SJ Gould's - where it's said that if we were to go back and replay the tape of evolution on earth, we'd come out with completely different results - is going beyond, far beyond, science. Not just because of model criticisms (Meaning convergent evolution, possibly universal selection pressures (I wonder if, in some way, abstracts like mathematics function as a kind of selection pressure), and otherwise) but because such a statement blows past science and into metaphysics. God, whether He is wholly passive (front-loading), wholly active (occasionalism) or a mix (some interventions, some front loading), plays a role - and once we're talking about models that require one to either exclude or include considerations of God, I think it's fair to say we're well outside science. >> >> >>On Sun, Oct 18, 2009 at 3:22 AM, Murray Hogg <> wrote: >> >>Hi Schwarzwald, >>> >>>Personally, I'm a bit ambivalent about the "designed or evolved" distinction myself. >>> >>>My reticence with regard to ID - broadly speaking - centres on the tendency to seek design at the level of organisms rather than at the level of processes. >>> >>>The really critical issue - which underlies the reason one should exercise caution in the use of the language of engineering design in regards to specific organisms - is that there are no analogues within engineering to self-replicating biological organisms which carry their design criteria within themselves. Or, to put it another way, if one really wants to find an engineering analogue to a living organism, then the analogue isn't the just the car (for instance) - it's the car, plus the factory in which it was made, plus the workers who made it, plus the designers, etc. >>> >>>Biological organisms, again, aren't just *designed* and *manufactured* artefacts, they are *self*-designing and *self*-manufacturing artefacts whose design success is determined not by their correspondence to an engineering blueprint, but by adaptation to their environment. To use the language of engineering *design* only is to enormously under appreciate their complexity (or, alternately, to enormously overestimate the extent to which engineering design is analogous to what happens in biological systems). >>> >>>All that said, it should be obvious that NOTHING I have said on the point would exclude the notion that evolution, as a system, is designed. Indeed, the more I ponder it, the more I am convinced that neo-Darwinism is substantially correct whilst the claim that its outcome is contingent is substantially wrong. So whilst I have my doubts about certain elements of ID - particularly the notion that we can identify design by looking at specific organisms - I don't thereby share Dawkins' conclusion that evolution excludes purpose. >>>On that specific Dawkins quote I think my only comment would be that we can actually draw upon the analogy of the engineering design process to put lie to the implication that Dawkins is clearly attempting to draw, viz; that because the the outcomes of evolution are contingent they are therefore entirely unconstrained and humans are, therefore, a cosmic accident (and surely this is ultimate point). >>> >>>Here I'd offer the following example; >>> >>>Consider the design department at Ford Motor Co and one of their most classic products, the Mustang. It should be obvious that the design of the Ford Mustang was, in many respects, a matter of historical "accident". That is to say, the Ford Mustang might never have been designed if not for a series of decisions which might easily have been taken otherwise. But it doesn't follow from this that the Ford design department would, instead of the Mustang, have designed the USS Enterprise or the Boeing 747. Their design process - despite being beset with an obvious degree of unpredictability - simply isn't geared to the design of ships or aircraft. >>>We have to imagine, rather, that if Ford's design process had not given rise to the Mustang, then it would have instead given rise to something very like it. That is something very like the Mustang, or very like the Chevy Camaro, or very like an amalgam of the two. There are, in short, a million ways to meet the Ford design brief, and only one way to design a Ford Mustang. Just because something is designed, it doesn't follow that we can't locate considerable degrees of contingency. >>> >>>It turns out, upon reflection, that the Ford Mustang is BOTH the result of design AND of historical accident. The ONLY parts of that car which are, strictly speaking, "designed" are those constrained by the design criteria. It's not accidental, for example, that the Mustang has four seats, is sporty, and marketed for around $2500 for these were precisely the constraints set on the design. But many features, the shape of the headlights, the number of gears in the transmission, the shape of the body, and so on, could have gone a hundred different ways. That Ford's design department, at the end of the day, settled on a particular combination of these had NOTHING to do with purposeful selection and everything to do with "random" selection. Apply the same logic to every aspect of the vehicle NOT constrained by the design criteria and you have a rather curious conclusion: the Ford Mustang was, in some very real sense, a purely accidental outcome of the Ford
 design process. What Fo >>> >>> >>>rd Motor Co INTENDED to design was a four seat replacement for the T-bird. That they designed the *Mustang* (and not something else) is pure contingency. >>> >>>So what you have is something rather counter-intuitive: the fact that the Ford *Mustang* is, actually, the result of accident rather than design. That the Mustang was a four seat, sports coupe with a target price of $2500 was no accident, but that the *Mustang* (and not something else) was the four seat sports coupe with a target price of $2500 sent to market by Ford in 1965 WAS an accident. >>> >>>Getting back to evolution, my point is this: I simply don't agree with those who claim that because we can identify elements of contingency in neo-Darwinism, even ENORMOUS elements of contingency, the outcomes of the process are, therefore, entirely unconstrained. I rather share Conway Morris' sense that there is, contrary to contemporary evolutionary orthodoxy, something inevitable about the outcomes of evolutionary processes. Just as Ford's design department was set to develop a four door sports coupe with a target price of $2500 and "accidentally" settled on that combination of features which was the Mustang, so I think evolution is set to develop intelligent creatures who can transcend the merely biological to enter into relationship with God. >>> >>>I allow, indeed I even deeply suspect, that there are certain aspects of homo sapiens which ARE somewhat "accidental" but to allow that the the "design process" is "accidental" in part is quite a different thing from saying that it's outcomes are entirely a matter of dumb luck. Certainly, allowing for a degree of randomness - even an inordinately large degree - doesn't force us to the conclusion that there is absence of intelligent input altogether. >>> >>>Sorry that was so long, but I hope it clarifies where I'm coming from when I'm hesitant regarding identification of design at the level of organisms. I am, as I hope you realize, quite comfortable with the idea that there might be intelligence behind the process of evolution. >>> >>>Blessings, >>>Murray. >>> >>> >>> >>> >>>Schwarzwald wrote: >>> >>>Heya Murray, >>>> >>>>One thing I'd suggest, with your perspective in mind, is this: I don't necessarily see a distinction between accepting the presence of (even darwinian) evolutionary principles, and at the same time the presence of real, intentional design. Speaking as someone who has amateur-level experience in programming and procedural content generation, 'randomness' and stochastic process are, like anything else, just one more tool available to a designer. Sure, as you point out we do not 'design' cars in the same way we 'design' a particular breed of cattle - but A) Design is present in both scenarios, and B) It depends on the level or aspect we're talking about. >>>> >>>>I remember a quote (from Dawkins, perhaps) that biologists "have to keep reminding themselves that these things [what they study in their profession] are not designed". My response would be not only "how do they know they aren't" but "why is it necessary to avoid that conclusion anyway?" Perhaps you're actually saying as much here, in which case you can consider me on board. I think the "designed or evolved" distinction is and always has been a red herring. >>>> >>> >>>To unsubscribe, send a message to with >>>"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message. >>> >> >> > >

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Received on Sun Oct 18 08:22:07 2009

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