Re: Looking for the gifts (where?)
Fri, 15 Oct 1999 20:30:15 EDT

Hi Tim,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Here are mine (split into two parts):

You wrote:

>>"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.

Whether or not something is helpful depends on the objective.
If the objective is to come up with a proof of design, then yes,
I don't think the filter will fare any better than the long list
of supposed proofs that came before it. But if the objective is to
develop an inductive and empirical approach around the concept of
design, then the filter might be helpful in generating coherent
and fruitful explanatory schemes.


>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.

That CSI "might" be generated by non-intelligent mechanisms
is, IMO, a prototype of making a mountain out of a molehill.
If this is supposed to be an important point, then it means
any design inference must entail certainty. But why must a
design *inference* equate with certain knowledge? An inference,
by definition, always falls short of certain knowledge. That is,
inferences can be mistaken. So are you arguing that a design
inference cannot be made because it might be mistaken (as
is true of all inferences?).

Now as I see it, the inference to design from CSI is a pretty darn
reliable inference. I go through life inferring intelligence from CSI
and don't live in a maze of confusion because of multiple mistakes in
inferring intelligence from CSI, only to find the CSI arose from some
non-intelligent mechanism. In the world I move through, intelligence is the
default explanation for CSI, not merely because experience says so, but
as I argue below, CSI is the expected trace of intelligence. It's such a
*natural*, free-flowing, and beautifully simple inference that I would
need more that a possibility to attribute it to something other than
intelligence. When I confront CSI, I don't naturally say, "Now *there's*
of a non-intelligent cause!" Perhaps if I had a history of being misled by
inference, I would take the mere possibility of CSI coming from
mechanisms more seriously. Those who insist on attributing
CSI to non-intelligence are free to do so a far as I am concerned. But if
expect me to make the same attribution, they will need more than a claim
how things might happen. They will need some good old-fashioned evidence to
show that the particular example of CSI in question did indeed arise from
a non-intelligent mechanism. They see a mountain; I see a molehill.
And in the end, we may thus have a communication impasse. I can
live with that.


> 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.

But I think it's such a little problem. I suppose it becomes a
problem if someone is looking for certainty, or looking
for ways to force their views on others, but since neither
of these characterize my views, it's a tiny problem (and
life is full of much bigger problems).


>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.

Yes, but I am one who steps back from this whole dispute and
do see that the ID'ers and their opponents share a common assumption,
namely, that it's all a question about being "required." I view this
as a hold-over from all those attempts in philosophy to find
certain knowledge. This quest for certainty shows up in all
kinds of places, but if you abandon this quest, this
whole issue of whether or not ID is required loses all significance.
That ID need not be required is NO argument against ID or
for a non-ID explanation. It means only that ID cannot be
proven with certainty. Big deal. So what if history cannot
be known with certainty? I thought we all knew that.


> 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.

No, even in this case, I think it is still rational to view CSI as the
frozen trace of mind as the frozen trace of mind *is* CSI. CSI
is what we would expect to find from an intervening mind.
I personally would find it irrational to jettison this mode of detection
(because it could be mistaken) because we then jettison the
very evidence of mind's impact on the world.


> 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.


I think all of this misses the point. The point is that CSI *is* positive
evidence of mind's intervention. It is a very common way that
mind leaves it traces behind (as shown, for example, by the
archives of this listing). That some other dynamic "might"
generate CSI does not remove CSI from the category of evidence
of mind's intervention. After all, below you cite similarities as
positive evidence of evolution, yet a common designer "might" likewise
have generated these similarities. Positive evidence for X does not
mean that X is the one and only way to explain the data deemed
positive evidence.


> 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.

Yes, but the keyword is "or."


> 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.")

Actually, I'm just as ambivalent as you. That's the great thing
about being a mere theist - this is one area where the answers
really don't matter. This is one area where I don't have any
preset conclusions and thus need to find things to support
that conclusion. Thus, Van Till's position (or Glenn's position) is
something that I can just as easily adopt as Dembski's position. And
because this is such a open-ended inquiry, it is more stimulating than
most (such as arguing about one's socio-political views, where
my admitted biases and "vested interest" can be acute).

>> 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.

>>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

Well, then there's some possibility that some of the early worms
were very tolerant of much free oxygen.

>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.

Actually, these functions may have developed in parallel rather than
in sequence. And why think something from ascaris represents
an "old branch of life" given its long history as a parasite in vertebrates?
Don't you think you should wait for data from other nematodes before
making such claims?


>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.

Of course, but I was just reacting to your claim, "Thus myoglobin, as an
oxygen carrier, appears to have its origin in an older protein with a

[to be cont.]