Re: Looking for the gifts (where?)

Tim Ikeda (
Tue, 12 Oct 1999 21:45:15 -0400

Hello Mike,

You wrote:
>> Perhaps it is at this point where the typical versions of theistic
>> evolution and intelligent design can be altered and merged to exist
>> in a symbiotic union. An understanding of evolution takes us back to
>> the primordial gift (as the globin-fold is very ancient, being found
>> in bacteria). Something like Dembski's filter might be helpful it
>> corroborating something as a gift (after all, the globin fold is an
>> example of complex, specified information).

>Tim replied:
>>"Something like Demski's filter" might be helpful; but Dembksi's
>>filter itself is of no help.

> This is simply a matter of opinion.

Perhaps not. Dembski's filter detects CSI, not design per se.
CSI can be generated by design, but it might also be generated
by natural or non-intellegent mechanisms. See Wesley's previous
posts on the subject. Dembski has certainly not applied his ideas
to biology; the only connection of which I'm aware is a brief
mention of Behe's "irreducible complexity". Unfortunately, IC
systems can potentially be generated through evolution, so this
doesn't seem to take him very far.

> As I see it, if an evolutionary analysis takes us back to a
> starting point that is characterized by complex, specified
> information, we may very well be looking at the history of
> evolution that has followed an initially designed state.

Or, we might not. That is the problem. Further, Howard Van
Till's position is that the initially designed state might actually
be what preceded the Big Bang. So there is some question whether
abiogenesis requires "direct" design ("interventionist interaction")
or whether it could arise "naturally", based on the physical
preconditions present in the universe. This is really what
ID'ers are trying to establish.

> I do think Dembski is on to something with regards to
> complex, specified information (in fact, Paul Davies does an
> excellent job highlighting the unique features of this type
> of complexity). To put it simply, CSI can rationally be viewed
> as the frozen trace of Mind.

Unless, of course, CSI can be generated by natural means.

> And as I see it, mind expresses itself through understanding and
> free will. In fact, the process of design itself is the application
> of understanding through free will. To truly design something,
> I must freely choose the components that will be incorporated into
> the thing I am designing. If I have no free choice, I am not truly
> *designing*. In fact, I think free will is demonstrated when a
> physical happening emerges (brain activity) that cannot be attributed
> to law or chance.

If the human brain is material or can be said to arise out of
material causes, then we can say that natural mechanisms can
generate CSI.

Actually, this one very significant problem I see with Dembski's
claims that algorithms and natural mechanisms cannot produce CSI
(I believe he would now say, "true CSI" in this case). If natural
mechanisms cannot produce CSI, does this mean that some functions
of humans are unnatural? Would this lead to a testable case for
design in day-to-day, human brain metabolism? And why haven't
the ID'ers presented a research project in this area?]

> Law-like causes would eliminate choice (which I know to exist from
> direct subjective experience) and chance would eliminate coherency
> (choices happen for reasons). Thus, as I see it, CSI is the frozen
> trace of a free agent's intervention, i.e., a designer.

Or the output of a computer program.

> Of course, I am completely open to the notion that CSI is generated
> by some self-organizing principle inherent in the fabric of creation.
> If certain forms of CSI self-organize and are then exploited by
> evolution, for me, this is no less of a design inference.

This is not the CSI-criterion used by Dembski.

Here's where Dembski would split with you but where you would find
Van Till. For BillD, evolution is not an option as an example of
design. The problem is that Dembski is trying very hard to demonstrate
that CSI -- which he believes both permeates and separates biological
systems -- cannot arise by natural mechanisms which would include
"self-organizing principles". Van Till might agree with you that
the structure of the universe, by itself, is sufficient to suggest
design. I'm ambivalent. (Some see a glass and call it half-
empty; others see it as half-full. I say, "It's a glass with some
water in it. Big deal.")

Mike wrote:
>> However, one thing is clear. The evidence that hemoglobin evolved
>> through standard evolutionary mechanisms is quite plausible, yet the
>> evidence for myoglobin's evolution is essentially non-existent. I thus
>> see no basis whatsoever for ruling out some form of actualized design
>> behind the origin of myoglobin, a gift to be exploited by evolution.

>Tim replied:
>>A recent paper suggests that the original function of these
>>heme-carrying proteins was not to carry oxygen but to perform
>>a detoxification process. Thus myoglobin, as an oxygen carrier,
>>appears to have its origin in an older protein with a different

>Are you talking about the work with ascaris hemoglobin?
>If so, I fail to see how the function in an intestinal parasite
>so clearly implies an original function given all the evolution
>that would be involved in parasitism.

Umm.... Actually, there appears to be some possibility that
some of the early worms never were very tolerant of much free

Further, the finding of another function for hemoglobin from
an old branch of life suggests a pathway by which one of the
hemoglobin progenitor's evolved from nitrous oxide detoxification,
to oxygen detoxification, and on to oxygen transport.

>Furthermore, there are bacteria which use hemoglobin in the classic
>sense, namely, to bind and sequester oxygen.

Certainly. But I see below that we are willing to walk away
from the position that the original function of the hemoglobin
progenitor was to bind oxygen.

>But none of this really matters, as the notion of myoglobin
>as a "gift" doesn't entail any specific original function. The
>fact remains that ascaris hemoglobin is still a globin protein.
>If the originally designed globin protein worked to detoxify,
>so what?

Or it might have come over from nitrogen fixation, or
somewhere else.

>For many organisms, the simple process of oxygen binding can be
>viewed as detoxification. The point remains that an original globin-
>like protein would still be a gift (regardless of its original
>function) in that it would serve as the framework upon which minor
>changes could be made to evolve the vertebrate version of hemoglobin.

This is like nested chinese boxes, or a sliding scale.

First: "Hemoglobin non-evolvability suggests design"
Later: "Myglobin non-evolvability suggests design"
Finally: "Globin non-evolvability suggests design"

Yes, eventually we will reach a point where we'll run out of
information. Are we going to call that lack of information
or the inaccessibility of the problem, "design"? That's
not how we should define design.

>>Now, while there is no way to rule out "some form of actualized
>>design" behind the progenitor of oxygen-carrying hemoglobins,
>>what exactly is there to support this belief? Personally, I find
>>it hard to make the case for design based on the negative argument
>>presented. Positive evidence is what's needed.
>I'm not really interested in making "the case for design." I simply
>enjoy speculating in an uncoventional manner and exploring lines
>of thinking that don't fit into the standard way of thinking.

"Design" was the standard way of thinking about nature until the
recent past.

>Now, you need "positive evidence." Okay, and what would this
>look like?

Good question. Perhaps we should ask the ID'ers. It's their
job and they've admitted to that. Otherwise, they may as well
just name their idea, the "Not-by-evolution" hypothesis.

But let me suggest positive evidence and how it's essential
for future development of ID "theory", or of any theory that
can be said to have any predictive or explanatory power.
It is not impossible for a designer, particularly a busy
one which didn't use very much evolution to generate life,
to place a decipherable code within our genetic sequences.
Encoded properly, we could derive relationships between
various organisms or calculate specific sequences we'd expect
to find in other organisms.

It is also not impossible for a designer to bury a series of 1x4x9
black obelisks around the world in various geological strata
(or on the moon or in orbit around Jupiter). This obelisk could
have inscriptions which depict the organisms living at any
particular time along with diagrams specifically indicating how
the organisms were modified. It might also depict organisms
which we have not yet found and thus provide a predictive
test for what we may find in the future.

One might also speculate that a designer could create organisms
which are not linked by any appearance of a nested hierarchy but
whose traits could instead by placed on a row & column arrangement
much like the periodic chart of the elements. Similar to what
happened with early chemistry, gaps in this "table of life" could
be used to predict groups that should be found and further
support the model.

Finally, a designer could come out and say, "This is what
I did, and here is specifically how I did it".

These are all examples of design hypotheses which could be
used to construct a positive model of what we might expect
to see in the world. These examples all provide the sort
of framework required for deriving specific statements about
the patterns observed. Currently, the ID movement is nowhere
near establishing such a framework (God can be mighty
uncooperative when it comes to scientific investigations of
his actions -- Maybe that's intended...).

>Unless I have a feel for the type of data you consider "positive
>evidence," I'm not sure exactly what you want. For example,
>what is the "positive evidence" for the evolutionary origin of

Similarity to other proteins, particularly other globins? Known
mechanisms of transformation that might generate the various

>What is the "positive evidence" for the widely held belief that
>myoglobin arose through mutations, drift, and natural selection?

Examples of mechanisms observed to operate today and a total
lack of evidence that non-natural mechanisms have been
at work in earth's history? A chain of myoglobins? Sequence
and structural relatedness to other proteins which carry
different organo-metallic rings? (There are other things that
can fit in those things besides iron.)

Now, what is the positive evidence of globin being dropped
into an organism as a "gift"? Lack of knowledge about globin
evolution? Is that it?

>Perhaps if I can understand the positive evidence behind these
>beliefs, I can begin to ponder what type of positive evidence
>might exist for design. After all, deep down, I am a relativist
>in these matters.

At some point during our investigation of chinese boxes, I do believe
that they may get so small, or go so far back in time, that we
will not have a clear picture of what is in the next box. In
biology, we may never understand the exact process that lead to
the first cell (though I think we'll be able to get a glimpse
of some things that happened afterward). In cosmology, we
may never know what produced the Big Bang. I am happy at these
points to admit "I don't know". I do however, have no clue
how anyone could turn an "I don't know" statement into an argument
for design, for this turns "design" into simply a catch-all category
for explanations we don't have. (This is, incidently, what Dembski's
"design" category seems to be -- see Elsberry's post on this subject
for info -- see also articles in dejanews under Wesley's name.
See also Elliott Sober's book: Philosophy of Biology - particularly
the 2nd chapter, Westview Press, Boulder, 1993)

Tim Ikeda (despam address before use)