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

From: David Clounch <>
Date: Sun Oct 18 2009 - 15:10:08 EDT


Ted pointed out to me in the car that David Hume's philosophical mistake
has led to this horrific misunderstanding. I didn't know what he meant, so
I've started on a journey to look into that.
What I am finding so far tells me that understanding logical positivism -
and why it is wrong - is important to the false warfare between science
and religion.

Dave C

On Sun, Oct 18, 2009 at 7:21 AM, John Walley <> wrote:

> Ok fair enough, everyone has their motivations. The atheists want to excuse
> their consciences, YEC and ID want want to keep the atheists honest, I want
> to keep the church honest. But I don't see my motivations as incompatible
> with defending science, at least as I have defined it and I understand it.
> The important point is finding some kind of way for believers and
> non-believers to live with each other on these matters and let everyone draw
> their own conclusions. I am happy to settle for the MN approach and I think
> that is fair and reasonable. Otherwise we run the risk of civil war and both
> the extremes just continue to provoke this.
> John
> ------------------------------
> *From:* Schwarzwald <>
> *To:*
> *Sent:* Sun, October 18, 2009 7:59:58 AM
> *Subject:* Re: [asa] Reverse Engineering and ID (was Re: Peer review)
> Hello John,
> Last reply for now.
> The "new ID party line" because two guys on the same mailing list pointed
> it out recently on the same topic? If you say so. Frankly, it's the
> reasoning I've seen ID proponents (particularly those associated with the
> DI, which I suppose is or was the 'core' group for ID) from the start.
> Namely that the inference to design was scientific, but speculations about
> the designer's nature and identity was extra-scientific. It's honestly not
> some brand new "line", as you seem to think - again, could it be the case
> that you have some misunderstandings about ID? That's not a question I'm
> demanding an answer from on this list. At most it's a question you should
> ask and answer yourself.
> Beyond that, the debate over just what IS supernatural and natural is more
> complicated than you think. Once upon a time, naturalism was pretty
> straightforward - materialism, in essence. Something approximating a purely
> 'little pieces of matter hitting other little pieces of matter according to
> laws' laplacian mechanistic view. Now? Out and out dualism is called
> "naturalistic" (see Chalmers). The idea that our universe is a simulation?
> Naturalistic (Chalmers, Bostrom, and others). Really, naturalism is
> practically empty of meaning at this point (other than 'No God!', or more
> specifically 'No God from a religion we dislike!'), and just what is
> "supernatural" is suspiciously foggy partly due to this.
> As for 'pulling for the atheists on that one', well, do as you wish. Mind
> you, I've never said that I want to 'beat the atheists and unbelievers into
> submission'. Indeed, I pointed out that this cannot be done with science.
> Philosophy does open the door to other kinds of arguments and valid
> inferences, but I never said (nor do I believe) that pointing out an
> inference to design is valid and reasonable will "beat atheists into
> submission". In fact, I've told Murray Hogg that I view the "New Atheists"
> as not much of a threat at all - but more than that, I happen to defend
> inferences to design as reasonable because... I think inferences to design
> are reasonable, and valid. No one's going to get beaten into submission with
> an inference.
> But whatever the case, I will note this: The fact that you're claiming your
> opposition to ID is something you have "a theological problem with" speaks
> volumes. I've been saying repeatedly that these debates involve all kinds of
> trumpeting about the importance of science, the need to defend science, that
> science is under attack, etc... and that I'm skeptical, very skeptical, that
> this is really the case. Now, previously you were appealing to the
> importance of defending science, of coming to an agreement about science,
> about not abusing science, etc. And now? Here you are, saying that you're
> motivated in (large?) part by your theology. You're just one man, of course.
> But what you've just done here is one more, if limited, validation of my
> skepticism.
> On Sun, Oct 18, 2009 at 7:38 AM, John Walley <>wrote:
>> " 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)."
>> S.
>> I am intrigued by this excerpt of your response. This appears to be the
>> new ID party line since both you and Cameron have repeated it. I thought the
>> argument that any designer of nature had to be by definition outside of
>> nature was pretty obvious but I see you guys don't accept that. You
>> apparently feel that some criteria for recognizing design in nature
>> transcends the boundaries of nature and can used to ascertain at least the
>> existence of a designer and that this is not a supernatural conclusion. I
>> think this is a rough approximation of the previously discussed controversy
>> of whether design was scientifically detectable or not, although in this
>> case it appears to be more on the causal relationship of the design rather
>> than on the design itself.
>> I will defer to the others on the validity of this reasoning but I admit I
>> have lost interest in pursuing it because I don't like where it leads.
>> Inevitably it winds up being a club to be used to beat the atheists and
>> unbelievers into submission and I have a theological problem with that. I
>> simply do not trust the church to responsibly wield this kind of
>> intellectual power and I hope they don't get it and it continues to elude
>> them. I am pulling for the atheists on that one.
>> But this conversation has been very useful in helping me see what
>> energizes you and Cameron so much and I admit that is very enlightening.
>> Thanks
>> John
>> ------------------------------
>> *From:* Schwarzwald <>
>> *To:*
>> *Sent:* Sun, October 18, 2009 6:39:56 AM
>> *Subject:* Re: [asa] Reverse Engineering and ID (was Re: Peer review)
>> Heya John,
>> Valuable? It depends on what's meant by that. Scientifically valuable? I
>> really don't see that in the case of SJ Gould's example, and even when
>> qualified (and the qualifications needed to get it back 'within' science
>> make it relatively uninteresting) there are powerful objections to it.
>> Memes? Similar, arguably worse (it's not even a very developed idea, and
>> what part of it seems somewhat accurate happens to be the part that isn't
>> very original.) The selfish gene concept? I think it definitely has some
>> utility in terms of being part of some useful scientific models - but it's
>> not a scientific truth so much as a perspective (And when it pretends to be
>> a scientific truth, it ceases to be valuable and starts to be harmful). And
>> my point here is that there are ID perspectives that are very powerful and
>> valid in their own right, and we do not need to stick to a single
>> perspective at all times. (Interestingly, I note Wikipedia - up go the
>> warning flags - 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.

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Sun Oct 18 15:10:18 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Sun Oct 18 2009 - 15:10:18 EDT