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

From: Dehler, Bernie <>
Date: Sun Oct 18 2009 - 13:37:48 EDT

Cameron said:
"Intellectual humility has never been the strong suit of evolutionary biologists."

Judgmental and prejudicial. As if "evolutionary biologists" are worse than others, as a group.

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On Behalf Of Cameron Wybrow
Sent: Saturday, October 17, 2009 11:48 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] Reverse Engineering and ID (was Re: Peer review)

Good points, Murray.

Yes, it is fair to point out that engineers may have their disclipinary
blind spot, leading them to think in terms of design, as long you admit the
other side, i.e., that population geneticists may have their disciplinary
blind spot, leading them to think in terms of stochastic mechanisms.

I have never argued that living things should be explained ONLY in terms of
design. Nor has Behe. He grants the existence of contingent elements in
the evolutionary process. So do I. But classical neo-Darwinism thinks ONLY
in terms of contingent elements (albeit conditioned by natural laws), and it
intentionally rejects design. (I'm speaking of neo-Darwinism proper, not
the newfangled TEo-Darwinism, for which see the reply I just sent to Dave
Siemens.) I don't see why it has to be all one way or the other. Perhaps
evolution is the result of an interplay between design and contingency.
Only a dogmatist would rule that out and say: "Nope, it's all unplanned,
and there's no design."

I grant you that a detailed model for the entire sweep of evolution on the
planet would have to be far more complicated than any model that engineers
currently deal with. But I haven't asked for that. I asked how a primitive
shrew-like animal became a bat. That's a very small piece of evolutionary
history; it stays within the mammalian body plan; it involves fairly recent
creatures, for which we presumably have a decent fossil record and some
reasonably accurate dates regarding first appearances; and we have thousands
of living species of insectivores and bats whose habits and ecological
relations are well-known, and from which we can obtain some genetic data,
and on which we can perform "knockout experiments" to learn more about the
physically possible transformations. With all of this, and in light of the
fact that Darwinian evolution has been pronounced by the dynamic duo of Ken
and Eugenie as a theory as rock-solid as Newtonian physics, atomic theory,
and the germ theory of disease, you would think that a somewhat detailed
explanation would by now be available. But when I asked who here could
explain it, or point me to journals or books in which it has been explained,
or in which any comparable transformation had been explained, I was met with

Finally, I didn't say engineers should automatically be "against"
neo-Darwinism. I said they should be suspicious of it. I said that they
should ask of the neo-Darwinist the classic engineering question: "How?"
And I think the scientifically proper answer of the neo-Darwinist should be:
"We honestly don't know. Can you help us?" But I'm not holding my breath
until I hear such an admission, or such an invitation. Intellectual
humility has never been the strong suit of evolutionary biologists.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Murray Hogg" <>
To: "ASA" <>
Sent: Sunday, October 18, 2009 1:12 AM
Subject: Re: [asa] Reverse Engineering and ID (was Re: Peer review)

> Just to add another engineer's perspective on this...
> Personally I would have thought that, from an engineering perspective,
> there would be no issue with an acceptance of Darwinian evolution - but
> only so long as one recognizes the complexities involved.
> The aspects of living organisms that would be quite important to consider
> would be (1) the random generation/modification of the "design criteria"
> (=genetic code); (2) the self-replicating nature of the system; and (3)
> the feed-back loop which exists between environment and organism. All of
> these have been observed to exist and would, therefore, be necessary part
> of any comprehensive engineering "model" of a living organism.
> With these in mind, I would have thought that living organisms could be
> modelled quite adequately as imperfectly self-replicating systems under
> the control of a feed-back mechanism where the "imperfect" replication is
> provided by random mutation of the code determining the form of the
> organism.
> I don't see anything essentially problematic about this in theory,
> although attempting to model (or construct) an entire ecosystem according
> to such simple concepts would be WAY beyond anything within the scope of
> current human technology.
> Here it needs to be appreciated that the most advanced human
> technology-perhaps something like a space shuttle with all it's attendant
> ground based monitoring and control systems-is technically trivial when
> compared over against a living organism. In consequence, while I'm not
> totally adverse to the idea that engineering design principles might cast
> some light on the nature of biological systems, I don't think that the
> discussion so far has even remotely touched on the complexity of the issue
> nor the difficulty of actually saying anything very conclusive from an
> engineering perspective.
> Taking this slightly further. Let's say that we could fully articulate the
> engineering "rule set" which fully describes an organism - one which takes
> account NOT just of "apparent design" but ALSO the self-replicating nature
> of the organism, it's inbuilt "random code modifier", and it's
> environmentally described "feed-back system". It seems to me that there
> are two things which can be said with confidence:
> First, it seems uncontroversial that observed changes in organisms demand
> that they are at least as complicated as I have suggested above. That is,
> it would be necessary to postulate an engineering rule set of the sort I
> have in mind simply to explain the observed behaviour of biological
> systems. Another way to say this is that the observed observation of
> microevolution seems to put paid to any simplistic application of
> engineering design theory to living systems. One could, for instance, talk
> about the "design" of a particular breed of dairy cattle - but to do so as
> if this breed were an artifact "designed" and then "manufactured" in
> precisely the same way as cars or computers would be obviously false. So
> even the minor variations brought about by selective breeding seem to
> demand that we think in terms of dynamic systems (and I realize now that
> this is the rub - the difference between a car and a cow is that one is an
> instance of a design plan (i.e. an artefact with NO org
> anic connection to its forebears and descendants), the other is an
> instance of a dynamic system (i.e. living in organic continuity with its
> forebears and descendants).
> Second, I can see no reason why the aforementioned engineering rule set
> could not be extended ad infinitum. If one could describe the selective
> breeding of dairy cattle using an engineering rule set that takes full
> account of the issues involved in microevolution, then my rough sense is
> that this very same rule set would equally well describe the sort of thing
> proposed in Darwinian evolution. That is, if one could model the breeding
> of dairy cattle using an engineering rule set, then I see no reason, in
> principle, as to why this same rule set could not equally well describe
> (say) the evolution of mammals from fish (or any other macro evolutionary
> change).
> So, to sum up, reflecting upon the issue from an engineering perspective I
> have to say that anybody who thinks it obvious that engineering theory can
> be invoked against Darwinian evolution hasn't, in my view, fully
> appreciated the scope of the problem, nor the resources available to
> engineering which allow engineers to describe dynamic systems of the sort
> biologists deal with on a routine basis.
> One closing word of caution that I would offer in respects of undue
> enthusiasm for the engineering perspective; the tendency of engineers to
> spot design in biological systems might be nothing more than a particular
> way of looking at things cultivated by training and reinforced by habit -
> the same sort of uncritical, disciplinary myopia which, it is routinely
> claimed, affects those who "blindly" accept neo-Darwinism "just because
> they've been trained that way".
> Blessings,
> Murray
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Received on Sun Oct 18 13:38:15 2009

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