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evolution-digest Friday, April 9 1999 Volume 01 : Number 1399


Date: Thu, 8 Apr 1999 21:37:19 -0700
From: Pim van Meurs <>
Subject: RE: Design of the eye

"To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for =
the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of =
and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have =

been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the =

highest degree." (Darwin C., "The Origin of Species," 6th Edition, 1928, =

reprint, p167).

The usual out of context quotation by a creationist. Thanks Art.

- --------------------------------------------------------------------
"It turns out that the physical constants have just the values required =
ensure that the Universe contains stars with planets capable of =
intelligent life...The simplest interpretation is that the Universe was=20
designed by a creator who intended that intelligent life should evolve. =
interpretation lies outside science." (Smith J.M. & Szathmary E., "On =
likelihood of habitable worlds," Nature, Vol. 384, 14 November 1996, =
- --------------------------------------------------------------------

And what about this one dear Art. Helen on the discussion =
group raised some doubts about the validity of this statement. Care to =
tell us the rest of the story ? I told her that she likely had seen the =
quote used by a creationist....


Date: Thu, 8 Apr 1999 21:43:58 -0700
From: Pim van Meurs <>
Subject: The full context

- --------------------------------------------------------------------
"It turns out that the physical constants have just the values required =
ensure that the Universe contains stars with planets capable of =
intelligent life...The simplest interpretation is that the Universe was=20
designed by a creator who intended that intelligent life should evolve. =
interpretation lies outside science." (Smith J.M. & Szathmary E., "On =
likelihood of habitable worlds," Nature, Vol. 384, 14 November 1996, =
- --------------------------------------------------------------------

Just as I thought. Here is the response by Sumac.

Of course it is out of context. The quote contains three sentences taken =
from a page of text. Not only that, but the first sentence was separated =
from the second two by nearly two paragraphs (one paragraph and two half =
paragraphs). It is impossible to know the authors' intentions from that =
quote. The article is not available online (Nature Online doesn't have =
full text that far back), but I will type in a few passages to try to =
bring the quote back into context.=20

The article is actually a discussion of why the anthropic principle =
fails (in the authors' opinion) to explain anything when it is applied =
to the Universe in general. The authors, Smith and Szathm=E1ry (that's =
E. for E=F6rs), first point out that the weak anthropic principle (which =
states that the Universe is perfect
for intelligent life because there is intelligent life) is not really an =
explanation, but "merely acknowledges a peculiar situation."=20

However, the strong anthropic principle is equally dissatisfying. This =
principle "states that the Universe must have those properties that =
allow life to develop in it at some stage in its life history." They do =
say that the simplest interpretation of the strong anthropic principle =
is to assume a Creator, but they also point
out that that explanation is unscientific. Here is the passage that =
immediately follows the second part of the quote:=20

"Within science, there are two possibilities [to explain the strong =
anthropic principle]. First, there is only one universe possible on =
logical grounds, and the list of constants follows from a (so far =
unavailable) 'theory of everything'. Second, there are indeed many =
possible alternative universes. If so, the presence of observers may =
have a crucial role, since, according to the Copenhagen interpretation =
of quantum physics, it is the act of observation that chooses among =
possible superpositions. This version depends on the perhaps unjustified =
assumption that Schrodinger's equation can be applied to macroscopic =
objects. It also seems to lead to conclusion that the wave function did =
not collapse until the recent evolution of conscious observers on Earth, =
or perhaps, elsewhere in the Universe."

But again, nothing is really explained because there is no cause for the =
effect. The strong anthropic principle states that intelligent beings =
exist because they must exist. As Smith and Szathm=E1ry say: "The =
assertion is essentially unproved, and unlikely to be true."=20

In an attempt to explain their dissatisfaction with the above =
principles, they contrast these non-explanations with evolutionary =
theory (the authors are

"Evolutionary biology is a historical science. It tries to explain =
past events in terms of a theory (natural selection - that is, the =
dynamics of populations of entities with variation, multiplication, and =
heredity). To explain a particular event, say the origin of the =
eukaryotes, is to show that, given plausible initial conditions, the =
event, if not inevitable, was at least reasonably likely. The =
explanation should also be supported by evidence: the symbiotic theory =
of the origin of the eukaryotes is supported by the presence in =
mitochondria of DNA and a bacteria-like translating machinery. It would =
be unsatisfactory to argue that, because eukaryotes are in fact here, =
then any accidents, however unlikely, needed to give rise to them must =
have happened."

What they are saying is that, like the theory of evolution, a theory of =
the origin of physical constants needs to be based on evidence and not =
just on fanciful twists of logic and philosophy. They then go on to =
explain why they are attracted to a theory that was put forth by one L. =
Smolin (Quantum Grav. 9: 173-191, 1992). This theory proposes that the =
physical constants of the current Universe have evolved through a sort =
of cosmic natural selection. I have to admit that I do not entirely =
understand the argument, so I can't say if I agree with their assessment =
of Smolin's theory or not. The main point, though, was that Smolin's =
theory, unlike the anthropic theories, is based on observation and =
provides testable hypotheses with which to gather more evidence that may =
support or contradict the theory.

If I was making myself clear, then you should be able to see that the =
quote, as written, does not reflect the intentions of the authors. The =
comment about assuming a Creator was not referring directly to the =
physical constants of the Universe, but was referring to one =
interpretation of a 'strong anthropic principle' explanation for the =
physical constants of the Universe. And, that the authors view the =
strong anthropic principle as a non-explanation that is unsupportable by =
any available evidence.=20


Date: Thu, 8 Apr 1999 22:11:13 -0700
From: Pim van Meurs <>
Subject: RE: Where's the Evolution?

>> creatures. As you examine rocks of younger and younger age you see =
>> of more complex creatures.
>There you go again contradicting all your evolutionist pals. What does
>complexity have to do with Evolution?

Susan: seems to me that my evolutionist pals were trying to convince you =
evolution has nothing to do with an *indefinite increase* in complexity.

Indeed, or that evolution requires such an increase in complexity. And =
that is an issue Cummins has been unable or unwilling to address. It's =
remarkable how unwilling to communicate Cummins really is, despite his =
assertions that he is interested in a honest discussion.


Date: Thu, 8 Apr 1999 22:12:04 -0700
From: Pim van Meurs <>
Subject: RE: Where's the Evolution?

>> []On Behalf Of Susan Brassfield
>> for a scientist they word "theory" does not mean "wild-assed guess" as it
>> does in common parlance. You might look it up in the dictionary and read
>> the scientific meaning of the word.
>> Susan
>Sorry, your demonstration of a simian mentality only proves something about
>your family line, not mine.

According to Webster's 7th New Collegiate (happens to be the dictionary on
my desk):

Theory: 1. the analysis of a set of facts in their relation to one another;
2. the general or abstract principles of a body of fact, a science, or an
art; 3. a plausible or scientifically accpetable general principle or body
of principles offered to explain phenomena.

Definition 4b is "supposition, conjecture"

Another one bites the dust. Well done Susan.


Date: Fri, 9 Apr 1999 01:35:00 -0500 (CDT)
From: "Wesley R. Elsberry" <>
Subject: Re: Design of the eye

S.E. Jones wrote:

SEJ>It is a commonplace in Darwinist anti-design polemics that
SEJ>the vertebrate eye is badly designed, being allegedly
SEJ>`wired backwards' with optic nerve ganglions getting in
SEJ>the way of incoming light to the retina. For example,
SEJ>Dawkins writes:

SEJ>"Any engineer would naturally assume that the photocells
SEJ>would point towards the light, with their wires leading
SEJ>backwards towards the brain. He would laugh at any
SEJ>suggestion that the photocells might point away from the
SEJ>light, with their wires departing on the side nearest the
SEJ>light. Yet this is exactly what happens in all vertebrate
SEJ>retinas. Each photocell is, in effect, wired in backwards,
SEJ>with its wire sticking out on the side nearest the light.
SEJ>The wire has to travel over the surface of the retina, to
SEJ>a point where it dives through a hole in the retina (the
SEJ>so-called 'blind spot') to join the optic nerve. This
SEJ>means that the light, instead of being granted an
SEJ>unrestricted passage to the photocells, has to pass
SEJ>through a forest of connecting wires, presumably suffering
SEJ>at least some attenuation and distortion (actually
SEJ>probably not much but, still, it is the principle of the
SEJ>thing that would offend any tidy-minded engineer!)."
SEJ>(Dawkins R., "The Blind Watchmaker," 1991, reprint, p93).

SEJ>In fact leading Darwinist theoretician George C. Williams
SEJ>says that the vertebrate eye is "stupidly designed"
SEJ>("Natural Selection: Domains, Levels, and Challenges,"
SEJ>1992, pp72-73), because of this inversion, and
SEJ>anthropologist Jared Diamond claims that "A camera
SEJ>designer who committed such a blunder would be fired
SEJ>immediately." ("Voyage of the Overloaded Ark," Discover,
SEJ>June 1985, pp82-92).

SEJ>This "God-wouldn't-do-it-that-way" argument has been
SEJ>answered satisfactorily by design theorists, for example
SEJ>see George Ayoub's "On the Design of the Vertebrate
SEJ>Retina," Origins & Design 17:1, Winter 1996, at:


Heh. A bunch of hand-waving and missing-the-point. rather
than addressing optimality, Ayoub airily dismisses any
consideration of the issue. Ayoub does no *comparative*
histology, which would be critical to making a point.

SEJ>(click on Figure 2 for a nice diagram of these ganglions),
SEJ>and Paul Nelson's "Jettison the Arguments, or the Rule?:
SEJ>The Place of Darwinian Theological Themata in Evolutionary
SEJ>Reasoning," at:


I've responded to this one before. Nelson's statements that
no valid equation concerning suboptimal design can be
formulated is quite simply false.

See <>.

SEJ>But here is a BBC Sci-Tech article that cites a recent
SEJ>Harvard study which found that those self-same ganglions
SEJ>are part of an early-warning system that enables the human
SEJ>eye to detect and "calculate the future position of a
SEJ>moving object" and then to "fire off an alert message to
SEJ>the brain thousandths of a second before the object
SEJ>actually arrives in that place":


SEJ>This enables "tennis players and
SEJ>cricketers..[to]... routinely react to balls travelling at
SEJ>up to 100mph, when technically their brains should not be
SEJ>able to register them before they are gone."

SEJ>So it seems that this alleged `bug' is actually a feature!
SEJ>If this holds up, then not only has the human eye the
SEJ>normal visual circuitry, but it even has additional
SEJ>pre-processing circuitry, the like of which has only
SEJ>become possible in human computer technology in the
SEJ>mid-20th century!

This self-congratulatory text is about a completely orthogonal
issue. Whether one has local processing in the ganglion cells
(the fact of which has been known for quite some time -- the
"news" here is about the "predictive" information) or not does
not bear upon the problem of the blind spot that vertebrate
histology guarantees for our eyes.

SEJ>As Denton points out, it is only as our technology
SEJ>develops that we can begin to appreciate the incredible
SEJ>ingenuity of the advanced technology in the living world:

SEJ>"But it is not just the complexity of living systems which
SEJ>is so profoundly challenging, there is also the incredible
SEJ>ingenuity that is so often manifest in their
SEJ>design. Ingenuity in biological design is particularly
SEJ>striking when it is manifest in solutions to problems
SEJ>analogous to those met in our own technology. Without the
SEJ>existence of the camera and the telescope, much of the
SEJ>ingenuity in the design of the eye would not have been
SEJ>perceived. Although the anatomical components of the eye
SEJ>were well known by scientists in the fifteenth century,
SEJ>the ingenuity of its design was not appreciated until the
SEJ>seventeenth century when the basic optics of image
SEJ>formation were first clearly expressed by Kepler and later
SEJ>by Descartes. However, it was only in the eighteenth and
SEJ>nineteenth centuries, as the construction of optical
SEJ>instruments became more complicated, utilizing a movable
SEJ>iris, a focusing device, and corrections for spherical and
SEJ>chromatic aberration, all features which have their
SEJ>analogue in the eye, that the ingenuity of the optical
SEJ>system could at last be appreciated fully by Darwin and
SEJ>his contemporaries." (Denton M.J., "Evolution: A Theory
SEJ>in Crisis," 1985, p332).

Speaking of things that hinder progress, let me point out the
principle that humans were gifted with omni-competent senses.
This view caused most people to reject Spallanzani's
suggestion that bats utilized sounds that humans were
incapable of hearing for the purpose of navigation.
Spallanzani's elegant experiments were completed ignored. It
wasn't until the late 1930's when Donald Griffin demonstrated
production of ultrasound by bats that Spallanzani's hypotheses
could once again be entertained, a time gap of well over a

SEJ>If the human eye indeed has additional pre-processing
SEJ>visual circuitry then it is even better designed than
SEJ>design theorists had imagined. And the Darwinist problem
SEJ>of explaining away the ingenious design of the eye has
SEJ>just become even *more* "absurd in the highest degree":

Pre-processing circuitry is standard equipment on many eyes,
not just humans. The new article is about a specific type
of pre-processing, not just the usual on-center-off-surround,
off-center-on-surround, and lateral inhibition edge-sharpening
type processing.

SEJ>"To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable
SEJ>contrivances for adjusting the focus to different
SEJ>distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and
SEJ>for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration,
SEJ>could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I
SEJ>freely confess, absurd in the highest degree." (Darwin C.,
SEJ>"The Origin of Species," 6th Edition, 1928, reprint,

And, of course, the following pages that explain how the
absurdity is imagined rather than real are conveniently



Date: Fri, 9 Apr 1999 01:43:52 -0500 (CDT)
From: "Wesley R. Elsberry" <>
Subject: A response to Paul Nelson's "Jettison" paper

I'm posting this since it came up in the "Design of the eye"
thread. Originally at

Nelson's argument against the Argument From Imperfection

Wesley R. Elsberry <>


Posted to and the NTSE listserv.

A response to Paul Nelson's paper from the NTSE conference,
"Jettison the arguments, or the rule? The place of Darwinian
theological themata in evolutionary reasoning."

I agree that the argument from imperfection, as used by Gould,
does not represent "scientific reasoning". However, I don't
feel that Gould advanced these arguments as scientific

Creation ex nihilo as a conjecture exists. Arguing against
this conjecture will be an exercise in metaphysics. The
argument from imperfection is such an exercise when it
references postulated attributes of a deity.

Must all scientists recuse themselves from commentary upon an
existing theological conjecture? I don't think that either an
unreserved "yes" or "no" is an appropriate response. Yes,
scientists should refrain from making theological arguments
which are deceptively packaged as if they were scientific. No,
scientists are free to engage in theological conjecture that is
labelled as such.

I also don't agree with the necessity of Paul's formulation of
the premises. Let me try a different set:

P1. Organic design p does not accord with the known principles
of good engineering design.

P2. Organic design p shows a function different from that known
in similar structure p' in other species.


C1. Organic design p is consistent with a historical process
that adapts existing structures to new functions.

C2. From the attributes of organic design p, we can infer that
a creator of organic design p is not an optimizing engineer.

Note that I have off-loaded the theological stuff into the
conclusions, not the premises. Note that C1 is not dependent
upon theological themata. If no further conclusions were
derived, the argument as it is composed to that point is
eminently scientific in character.

C2 makes a theological statement. At the NTSE conference, we
heard from Michael Corey on how we can infer attributes of a
creator from aspects of the creation. Either we junk the rule
of inferring attributes of a creator from the creation, or we
must admit these disparate inferences as starting from an equal

I found Nelson's defense of a role for a creator to be
interesting. Basically, given the facts of the matter, one can
conceive of attributes of a creator which remain consistent
with the known data. Nelson's example of Mill's conception of
a possible creator makes this point. Thus, Gould's argument
fails according to Nelson because Gould cannot exclude *every*
creator concept. If this isn't the classic "god of the gaps"
type of apologetic, what is it? I can certainly see that
Gould's theological basis is not well developed, but it seems
to me that it does the job of establishing C2. While there are
some who will prefer a Millsian concept of a creator, I think
that in the USA the most common conception (not necessarily the
most astute conception) of a creator has been and is that of an
optimizing engineer. Gnosticism or Zoroastrianism also accords
with the facts as seen, yet I see no widespread move in
theological circles to adopt either of those, nor any
detectable political movement to have their origins accounts
taught as if science in science classrooms.

Nelson's discussion of perfection and imperfection raises many
important points, but failed to address the main issue: the
comparative method allows for identification of suboptimal
design. The instantiation of components achieving particular
functions gives us a basis for comparing the systems which
provide for similar functionality. In those cases where such
systems meet an engineering criterion of modularity, it is
eminently reasonable to ask why module p was employed in one
instance, but kludgy module p' was employed in another. We
don't have to be able to identify the optimal in order to
identify what is suboptimal.

Nelson argues from a mathematical viewpoint that we can't use
the suboptimality argument against a theological notion of a
"reasonable" creator. He gives an equation for illustration:

ObD / OptD = DesShort

ObD is Observed Design
OptD is Optimal Design
and DesShort is the Design Shortfall

Because we can't obtain OptD, we must forego use of this manner
of argumentation, according to Nelson.

However, I can derive a different equation that demonstrates
the possible utility of the comparative method:

ObD_a / ObD_b = DAR

ObD_a is the figure of merit for Observed Design "a"
ObD_b is the figure of merit for Observed Design "b"
and DAR is the Design Astuteness Ratio

This is a more appropriate metric to critique. There are no
unknowns hiding here, and no necessity for finding or even
worrying about an "optimal" design. That both ObD_a and ObD_b
are or may be suboptimal does not detract from the utility of
the comparison.

If the argument from imperfection is to be used as a scientific
argument, then it must, as Nelson points out, drop the
theology. This can be done without jettisoning the entire
argument as unworkable. The result will be an argument for the
historicity of adaptations without reference to the creation ex
nihilo conjecture or such a creator.



Date: Thu, 8 Apr 1999 23:53:47 -0700
From: "Ami Chopine" <>
Subject: Re: Where's the Evolution?

Pim: Indeed, or that evolution requires such an increase in complexity.

Evolution, the observed fact, may not require complexity, but doesn't the
Theory? Isn't increased complexity in organisms through the history of life
an observed fact, that must be explained by the theory?

Also, tell me if I'm wrong, but isn't a bacterium which gains the ability to
break down polyurethane(? is that the one?) more complex than its
predecessor which can't? Let me elaborate.

Lets imagine a gene for a protein very similar to the one which is the
enzyme which can break down the polyurethane. At some point, this gene gets
duplicated. There are now two of them in the genome of the bacteria. By
chance, one of them mutates into this beneficial protein which opens up a
whole new food source to the bacteria.

Two steps: 1.duplication 2.mutation Now, either of these steps taken in
isolation may not be an increase in complexity. However, both of them taken
together cause the bacteria, which before could only produce the one useful
protein, to now be able to produce two different useful proteins. Isn't
that an increase in complexity?




Date: Fri, 9 Apr 1999 00:04:08 -0700
From: "Ami Chopine" <>
Subject: Re: Evolution: dead man walking

> Gerald Schroeder sounds like the typical theistic evolutionist who tries
> stick God into all the gaps he can find.

I had already written to Rich about this, thought I had posted it to the
whole group, but here is basically what I said:

Since I haven't read "Science of God", I cannot make specific statements
about it, but it appears to me that after Dr. Schroeder was very succesful
in his first book in explaining how Genesis and Physics (specifically,
cosmology) are in harmony with eachother, he decided he could tackle
'proving' God with science. I have read other reviews on it. I will have to
read the book myself, but it appears that this more recent book is not as
good and well thought out as his first one. One of the problems may be
that, except for a couple of chapters in "Genesis.." (which were along the
same lines as probability against evolution) he remains well within his
areas of expertise, which would be Physics and Hebrew, but in "Science..",
he expands the ideas in those very same chapters which were the weakest. He
also goes beyond commentary on the Old Testament, to asserting a scientific
basis for belief in God.

Anyway, take it or leave it, I think it is worth a read. The second one may
be also, if only to glean some information.


Ami Chopine


End of evolution-digest V1 #1399