Re: Genes and Development Conference

Kevin O'Brien (
Tue, 30 Mar 1999 20:17:05 -0700

>To the point, I would like to pose two questions to the group.
>The first is aimed primarily at ID'ers. I am assuming (correct me if
>I'm wrong) that ID people by and large are anti-reductionists....

That may be generally true. I for one, however, am a reductionist and an ID
person, at least in so far as I believe that God designed the laws and
forces by which the universe operates. It's just that reductionism is a
good first step in understanding that design, at least until we know enough
to start piecing everything together so that we can take a larger view.

>there seems to be an inconsistency in approach especially during
>discussions regarding information and/or complexity. Let me give
>an example. In discussions of spontaneous increase in complexity
>one often sees the example given of a seed growing into a tree
>without any apparent violation of natural law or intervention from
>an intelligent agent. The inevitable rejoinder is that this does not
>involve an increase in complexity (information) since the information
>required to direct the growth is contained in the DNA. Thus the
>information (complexity) remains constant. But another way of saying
>the same thing is to say that the growth is directed by a genetic
>programme. So, my question is whether this is a fundamental
>inconsistency or am I missing something?

For my part I'm not sure I understand the question. It's probably just me,
but I do not see what is suppose to be inconsistent.

>My second question is one I've been pondering off and on for
>several years now. It resurfaced during the recent discussion
>on falsification. As background, I've attached at the end of
>my post an excerpt from the preface to the book <Form and
>Transformation> by Webster and Goodwin. To set the tone for
>my question I'll just quote the first two sentences from the
>#"In a summary of his discussion of morphology in the <Origin of
>#Species> Darwin concludes that "On this ... view of descent
>#with modification, all the great facts in morphology become
>#intelligible" (1859, p. 433). This book is a contribution to
>#that tradition in biology which disputes this conclusion."
># -- Webster and Goodwin
>OK, so one of the lofty goals (yet to be attained of course)
>of Webster, Goodwin and many others belonging to "that tradition
>in biology" is to develop a rational theory of form which would
>(among other things) explain homology in terms of fundamental
>theory, independent of history. My question then is, supposing
>for the moment that they are wildly successful, what effect would
>such a theory have upon the theory of common ancestry?

I guess for me it would make evolution predictable in the same way that
chemistry is predictable: knowing the starting conditions, we can say for
certain what the results will be. We wouldn't need to dig up transitionals,
because we could accurately predict how a new species would evolve from an
old species. However, I'm not sure that will ever be possible.

Kevin L. O'Brien