Re: information creation and promissory materialism (was Especially for Bertvan)

Stephen E. Jones (
Sat, 09 Oct 1999 19:15:59 +0800


On Tue, 05 Oct 1999 10:57:43 -0700, Cliff Lundberg wrote:


CL>RM&NS to me is kind of axiomatic; I look for naturalistic explanation of
>natural phenomena, and I accept the logic of natural selection as a valid
>explanatory principle. I wouldn't call it a *metaphysical* principle, but
>maybe you would. In any case, I accept it.
>As to impressive examples of evolutionary change, I think the most
>impressive in the sense of indisputability are those that show gradual
>change in a sequence of fossils, as in the evolution of the modern horse
>from little eohippus. Obviously such sequences show only trivial
>modifications in morphology. But it takes very little faith to extend the
>notion of evolution further, to presume descent where there are
>clearly homologous structures.

First, "descent" is not necessarily "evolution". An Intelligent Designer
could create new designs by modifying existing genetic information, which
would be "descent" but *creation*:

"Suppose contemporary evolutionary theory had blind chance built into it
so firmly that there was simply no way of reconciling it with any sort of
divine guidance. It would still be perfectly possible for theists to reject that
theory of evolution and accept instead a theory according to which natural
processes and laws drove most of evolution, but God on occasion abridged
those laws and inserted some crucial mutation into the course of events.
Even were God to intervene directly to suspend natural law and inject
essential new genetic material at various points in order to facilitate the
emergence of new traits and, eventually, new species, that miraculous and
deliberate divine intervention would by itself leave unchallenged such key
theses of evolutionary theory as that all species derive ultimately from some
common ancestor. Descent with genetic intervention is still descent-it is
just descent with nonnatural elements in the process." (Ratzsch D.L., "The
Battle of Beginnings", 1996, pp187-188).

This is in fact my theory of what actually happened, on a *massive* scale.
It accounts for the origin of new information (which no naturalistic theory
does), and it is IMHO the creation model closest to the pattern of Genesis 1.

Second, the so-called "horse series" is no longer regarded as a very good
model for "gradual change in a sequence of fossils":

"Dr. Eldredge said: `I admit that an awful lot of that has gotten into the
textbooks as though it were true. For instance, the most famous example
still on exhibit downstairs (in the American Museum) is the exhibit on
horse evolution prepared perhaps 50 years ago. That has been presented as
literal truth in textbook after textbook. Now I think that that is lamentable,
particularly because the people who propose these kinds of stories
themselves may be aware of the speculative nature of some of the stuff.
But by the time it filters down to the textbooks, we've got science as truth
and we've got a problem.' So Dr. Eldredge said emphatically that some of
the evolution stories printed in textbooks, like the one about the so-called
horse series, are `lamentable.'" (Sunderland L.D., "Darwin's Enigma",
1988, p78). Recently its got even worse (see Morell V., "Dietary Data
Straight From the Horse's Mouth", Science, Vol 283, 5 February 1999,
p773, and MacFadden B.J., Solounias N., Cerling T.E., "Ancient Diets,
Ecology, and Extinction of 5-Million-Year-Old Horses from Florida,"
Science, Vol 283, 5 February 1999, pp824-825).

Third, when one gets down to *details* of these so-called `evolutionary
changes' one finds *design* almost as intricate as the eye (which neither
Darwin or anyone else has explained):

"In his theoretical discussion, Simpson does not linger over the structure of
the hoof; yet it is the result of a very innovative and precise evolution. Such
a hoof, which is fitted to the limb like a die protecting the third phalanx,
can without rubber or springs buffer impacts which sometimes exceed one
ton. It could not have formed by mere chance: a close examination of the
structure of the hoof reveals that it is a storehouse of coaptations and of
organic novelties. The horny wall, by its vertical keratophyl laminae, is
fused with the podophyl laminae of the keratogenous layer. The respective
lengths of the bones, their mode of articulation, the curves and shapes of
the articular surfaces, the structure of bones (orientation, arrangement of
the bony layers), the presence of ligaments, tendons sliding with sheaths,
buffer cushions, navicular bone, synovial membranes with their serous
lubricating liquid, all imply a continuity in the construction which random
events, necessarily chaotic and incomplete, could not have produced and
maintained. This description does not go into the detail of the ultrastructure
where the adaptations are even more remarkable; they provide solutions to
the problems of mechanics involved in rapid locomotion on monodactyl
limbs." (Grasse P.-P., "Evolution of Living Organisms," 1977, pp51-52).

CL>It takes more faith than I have, to presume that simple chordates became
>complex vertebrates through the same gradual process, when there are
>no fossils of intermediate forms.

Good point!

CL>But given my belief in evolution through
>RM&NS, I must theorize that macroevolution occurred here, through
>mechanisms we haven't yet figured out.

But this is not so good a point! This is just "promissory materialism":

"As we have seen, many of the most important assumptions underlying the
idea that life originated by nonintelligent processes do not correspond to
the facts of science, and are not supported by sound reasoning from those
facts. Some scientists protest such statements, maintaining that in the
future discoveries will be made that will essentially circumvent present
findings. This idea has been called "promissory materialism". And while no
one can say for sure that this won't happen, science cannot confidently
proceed by discounting what is known in favor of hoped-for future
discoveries." (Davis P. & Kenyon D.H., "Of Pandas and People", 1993,

Dembski points out such "a promissory note need only be taken seriously if
there is good reason to think that it can be paid":

"Naturalists are forever issuing such promissory notes, claiming that a
conclusive confirmation of naturalism is right around the corner-just give
our scientists a bit more time and money. John Polkinghorne refers to this
practice as "promissory materialism." Confronted with such promises,
what's a theist to do? To refuse such promissory notes provokes the charge
of obscurantism, but to accept them means suspending one's theism. It is
possible to reject promissory materialism without meriting the charge of
obscurantism. The point to realize is that a promissory note need only be
taken seriously if there is good reason to think that it can be paid."
(Dembski W.A., "The Act of Creation: Bridging Transcendence and
Immanence", Presented at Millstatt Forum, Strasbourg, France, 10 August
1998, .Access Research Network.

And there is no reason to think it can be paid. We are not talking about
particle physics here. The basic mechanisms of biological change have been
known for the last 140 years, and if there was an adequate and reliable
information-generating mechanism it would have been discovered by now.
Pierre Grasse was France's leading zoologist with an
"encyclopaedic...knowledge of the living world" according to even his
critic Dobzhansky. Yet he did not know where the genetic information in
living things came from:

"Any living being possesses an enormous amount of "intelligence," very
much more than is necessary to build the most magnificent of cathedrals.
Today, this "intelligence" is called "information," but it is still the same
thing. It is not programmed as in a computer, but rather it is condensed on
a molecular scale in the chromosomal DNA or in that of any other
organelle in each cell. This "intelligence" is the sine qua non of life. If
absent, no living being is imaginable. Where does it come from? This is a
problem which concerns both biologists and philosophers and, at present,
science seems incapable of solving it.

When we consider a human work, we believe we know where the
"intelligence" which fashioned it comes from; but when a living being is
concerned, no one knows or ever knew, neither Darwin nor Epicurus,
neither Leibniz nor Aristotle, neither Einstein nor Parmenides. An act of
faith is necessary to make us adopt one hypothesis rather than another.
Science, which does not accept any credo, or in any case should not,
acknowledges its ignorance, its inability to solve this problem which, we
are certain, exists and has reality. If to determine the origin of information
in a computer is not a false problem, why should the search for the
information contained in cellular nuclei be one?" (Grasse P.-P., "Evolution
of Living Organisms," 1977, p2)

There is no evidence of "evolution through RM&NS" actually creating
*new* genetic information. There is evidence that RM&NS and other
natural mechanisms like gene duplication, recombination, symbiosis and
epigenesis can reshuffle genetic information or reduce it. But even if there
was evidence that RM&NS *could* create new information (which there is
none to date), it would not still not necessarily mean that it was of
sufficient *quantity* or *quality* to create the intricate designs found in
nature (eg. the eye, the horse's hoof, etc).

I add this rider because it is always possible that a random genetic mutation
*could* by chance restore information that was lost. It is also possible that a
random genetic mutation *might* conceivably rarely add information, in the
same way that power surge in a word processor might conceivably improve
a book manuscript. But that does not mean that such a `mutations' could
time-after-time *reliably* add information in the *quantity* or *quality* to
write the book!

The scientific materialists need to demonstrate a plausible natural process
which can write a book, and not just *any* book, it needs to be able to
write a *90-120 volume encyclopedia*:

"The information content of living things is far greater than that of
Shakespeare's writings. The atheist Dawkins says:

`[T]here is enough information capacity in a single human cell to store the
Encyclopedia Britannica, all 30 volumes of it, three or four times over.'
(Dawkins R., "The Blind Watchmaker", 1986, p115).

If it's unreasonable to believe that an encyclopedia could have originated
without intelligence, then it's just as unreasonable to believe that life could
have originated without intelligence." (Sarfati J.D., "Refuting Evolution,"
1999, p121)

To date science only knows *one* source which can generate information
reliably, in the *quantity* and *quality* sufficient to write an
*encyclopedia*. And that source is the mind of an *intelligent designer*!


"The code of conduct that the naturalist wishing to understand the problem
of evolution must adopt is to adhere to facts and sweep away all a priori
ideas and dogmas. Facts must come first and theories must follow. The
only verdict that matters is the one pronounced by the court as proved
facts. Indeed, the best studies on evolution have been carried out by
biologists who are not blinded by doctrines and who observe facts coldly
without considering whether they agree or disagree with their theories."
(Grasse P.-P., "Evolution of Living Organisms: Evidence for a New
Theory of Transformation", Academic Press: New York NY, 1977, p8)