Re: Looking for the gifts (where?)
Fri, 15 Oct 1999 20:38:15 EDT

Hi Tim,

Here the second part of my reply:


>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"

That's odd. I don't recall making any non-evolvability claims.
I was simply discussing a primordial myoglobin-like
molecule as a gift since it would be so easy to evolve
hemoglobin (essential for human life) from this initial
state. Furthermore, since the changes involved in such
evolution are rather trivial, the evidence for the evolution
of hemoglobin doesn't apply to the evolution of this
original globin protein.

I kind of view the nested chinese boxes as steps toward
a higher resolution. The core of hemoglobin is really the
globin module and its binding to heme. The rest is
peripheral. Thus, to truly understand the origin of
hemoglobin we must account for the globin module.
All the other stuff is tweeking that which existed.
Thus, the explanatory appeal of the gene duplication
story behind hemoglobin's origin evaporates when
we get the core of this molecule.

>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.

What lack of information? We have tons of information about
these proteins. The information simply converges on an
initial state which is characterized by CSI. What kind of further
information did you want?


>>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.

Yes, during its infancy, teleological thinking was very important
in the birth of modern science. Perhaps this why, to this
day, biology can't rid itself of its teleological language and
concepts. But at some ill-defined point, the concept of design
was apparently abandoned, then ignored (although never refuted
or discredited). This happened in the old days when steam-engines
were modern technology and the word "gene" did not yet exist.
And of course, I was not alive during this time.


>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.

CSI is not just "not-by-evolution," but it *is* the frozen
trace of mind's intervention.


>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.

So all designers would place such a code within our genetic
sequences? Unless you can make a good case for this, your
criteria look like an attempt to force the ID crowd into the
realm of numerology and "Bible Codes."

[But speaking of codes, I think the ID people argue that
the existence of the genetic code itself is an indicator of
design, as apart from life (the thing in question), and
the myriad of codes invented by humans, nature has
never produced a linear string of characters such that it
does nothing much else than represent another linear string of
very different characters.]


>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.

Would all designers design such that they would deposit such
obelisks around the globe? Make that case. Otherwise, you
seem to be trying to force ID crowd into a wild goose chase.


>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.

Would all designers design like this? Make that case.

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

And why would a designer do this?

I'm sorry Tim, but I sure don't think your examples are those of
a "theory that can be said to have any predictive or explanatory
power." They are simply expressions of the need for any design
inference to be certain knowledge. They are looking for
"proof of design" - something that cannot possibly be attributed
to anything but design. And such research is premised on nothing more
that "it is not impossible for a designer to do this." That's essentially
useless for it describes merely a microscopically small subset of all
ways a designer may design. Thus, failure to detect this type of evidence
means nothing more than these types of designers/designs are without
evidence. For example, please give me one good reason why a designer
would not use evolution as part of his design strategy. In fact, one can
a pretty good case that a good designer *would* use evolution (echoes of
Van Till).

>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.

Yes, but no offense, they involve a rather odd-ball notion of
a designer - one who seems obsessed with making sure everyone
is forced to conclude he is the designer. And to find this egocentric
designer, researchers must adopt the approaches of the numerologist
and he who seeks the Lost Civilization of Atlantis. I just can't
see why you think this is such a great approach, unless its all about
needing some form of certain proof of design.

>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...).

You may be right about God. I doubt it was ever
his intention to compel minds to acknowledge Him. Thus,
it would probably be misguided to play Raiders of the Lost
Ark or read genetic tea leaves looking for such evidence of


>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?

Okay. But similarities don't exclude intelligent design.
Of course, this doesn't mean that these similarities don't
constitute positive evidence, it simple means that
positive evidence doesn't exclude all other possible

>Known mechanisms of transformation that might generate
>the various globins?

And intelligent design is one of those "known mechanisms
of transformation" that "might" generate the original
globin module.


>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

So what new protein modules analogous to the globin
domain have been observed to originate from these
examples of mechanisms observed to operate today?
What makes you think these mechanisms observed
to operate today were the mechanisms that generated

>and a total lack of evidence that non-natural mechanisms
>have been at work in earth's history?

How is a lack of evidence for a non-natural mechanism
positive evidence of mutation, drift, and natural selection
as the mechanism that generated myoglobin?

>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.)

It sounds like you are repeating the evidence of similarity.
How is this positive evidence that mutation, drift, and
natural selection spawned myoglobin?

>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?

I'm not claiming positive evidence of globin being dropped into
an organism. I was reacting to Van Till's notion of a fully gifted
universe and noting how this perspective could be modified to
include something like the claim that an original myoglobin-like
protein was a gift and opined that something like Dembski's
approach could be merged with Van Till's approach.

Personally, I'm not sure a myoglobin-like molecule was the product
of direct intelligent intervention (although I am not one who will
flippantly dismiss such a claim). But if one were to look for this
positive evidence, they could employ the same reasoning process
that you just did. Like I said:

>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.

Well, in considering the type of data you consider positive evidence,
I see three lines:

1. The reference to similarities. This involves looking for data
that we would expect to find if evolution were true. It doesn't
involve finding data that *only* evolution can explain.

2. The reference to observed mechanisms that employs
extrapolation with minimal support that the extrapolated
mechanisms actually apply.

3. The lack of evidence for "non-natural" mechanisms
at work. This employs a sense of relativism where competing
explanations are weighed (such that one gains at the expense
of the other).

Thus, I think it is clear that one could develop "positive
evidence" for design behind some origin event using the
same basic logic. Look for what you expect from a design
event, employ extrapolation of observable mechanisms,
and weigh the design claim against its competitors.
That seems a whole lot more productive that looking
for obelisks!


>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).

I don't think we need to find "the exact process." The evidence
for hemoglobin's evolution doesn't really tell us the "exact
process," yet it is convincing.

>In cosmology, we may never know what produced the Big Bang. I am
>happy at these points to admit "I don't know".

What don't you know? Your question (above), " Lack of knowledge
about globin evolution?" seems to beg the question. You are assuming
"globin evolution" to ask "about" it. You seem to think you know
something here (i.e., globins evolved). Would not someone so ambivalent
on these matters have asked, "Lack of knowledge whether globins

>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,
>Dembski's "design" category seems to be -- see Elsberry's post on this
>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)

I don't see how a design inference is the same as "I don't know."
I see no reason why it cannot employ the same basic logic
you outlined above to believe myoglobin evolved via mutation,
drift, and natural selection.