Re: Why Phillip Johnson is a Dangerous Man 2/3

From: Stephen E. Jones (
Date: Sat Jan 15 2000 - 19:50:36 EST

  • Next message: Stephen E. Jones: "Re: Why Phillip Johnson is a Dangerous Man 3/3"


    On Tue, 11 Jan 2000 22:14:42 -0600, Chris Cogan wrote:

    [continued from part 1/2)

    Please note that this second part proved to be too large, so
    I had to cut it into two parts. So the first part should have
    been part 1/3.

    CC>No, I don't grant him the "Stephen Jones" escape of claiming to be
    >innocently, honestly ignorant of the relevant facts in this case; he has
    >been promulgating this crap for way too long for it to be innocent

    In Johnson's case I have never claimed that he is "ignorant of the relevant
    facts". The problem for Chris is that Johnson is *not* "ignorant of the
    relevant facts"! Johnson has been raising the issue of the evidentiary failure
    of the Darwinian mechanisms to create new genetic information of the
    quantity and quality needed to account for *major* evolutionary
    transformations in the history of life, and no one has yet ever given him a
    satisfactory answer.

    CC>He has been informed of the facts (i.e., physical proof that
    >offspring sometimes have more genetic information than their parents),

    Where has Johnson been "informed...that offspring sometimes have more
    genetic information than their parents"?

    Indeed what evidence is there that "offspring sometimes have more genetic
    information than their parents"?

    And even if offspring do "sometimes have more genetic information than
    their parents" what evidence does Chris have that this is of sufficient: 1)
    quantity, 2) quality, and 3) within the timeframe available, to account for
    the actual history of life's *major* changes?

    Even if genetic information *can* produced by Darwinian processes, that
    no more means that such processes were responsible for the major
    information increases in the history of life, than the processes by which
    ocean liners maneuver in harbours are what drives them across the ocean:

    "It looks to me as if Darwinians are like someone who, having observed
    that tugboats sometimes maneuver ocean liners in tight places by directing
    high-pressure streams of water at them, concludes that he has discovered
    the method by which the liners cross the Atlantic." (Van Inwagen P.,
    "Doubts About Darwinism", in Buell J. & Hearn V., eds., "Darwinism:
    Science or Philosophy?" Foundation for Thought and Ethics: Richardson
    TX, 1994, p186.

    For example, what evidence is there that such increases in information by
    Darwinian processesrandom mutation and natural selection (even combined
    with non-Darwinian processes like like gene duplication,)can change a
    rodent-like land mammal into a whale in only 10 million years)?

    To assist Chris in answering this, here are some of the steps needed to turn
    a land mammal into a whale:

    "Let us notice what would be involved in the conversion of a land
    quadruped into, first a seal-like creature and then into a whale. The land
    animal would, while on land, have to cease using its hind legs for
    locomotion and to keep them permanently stretched out backwards on
    either side of the tail and to drag itself about by using its fore-legs. During
    its excursions in the water, it must have retained the hind legs in their rigid
    position and swim by moving them and the tail from side to side As a result
    of this act of self-denial we must assume that the hind legs eventually
    became pinned to the tail by the growth membrane Thus the hind part of
    the body would have become like that of a seal. Having reached this stage,
    the creature in anticipation of a time when it will give birth to its young
    under water, gradually develops apparatus by means of which the milk is
    forced into the mouth of the young one, and meanwhile a cap has to be
    formed round the nipple into which the snout of the young one fits tightly,
    the epiglottis and laryngeal cartilage become prolonged downwards so as
    tightly to embrace this tube, in order that the adult will be able to breath
    while taking water into the mouth and the young while taking in milk These
    changes must be effected completely before the calf can be born under
    water Be it noted that there is no stage intermediate between being born
    and suckled under water and being born and suckled in the air. At the same
    time various other anatomical changes have to take place, the most
    important of which is the complete transformation of the tail region. The
    hind part of the body must have begun to twist on the fore part, and this
    twisting must have continued until the sideways movement of the tail
    developed into an up-and-down movement. While this twisting went on the
    hind limbs and pelvis must have diminished in size, until the latter ceased to
    exist as external limbs in all, and completely disappeared in most, whales."
    (Dewar D., "More Difficulties of the Evolution Theory", 1938, pp23-4,
    Denton M.J., "Evolution: A Theory in Crisis", 1985, pp217-218).

    >unless he wishes to claim he has some horrible mental or brain disorder that
    >prevents him from considering such evidence against his case, then, yes, we
    >*must* conclude, beyond any *reasonable* doubt, that he is simply outright

    See above. Chris seem to have the need to imagine that everyone who
    disagrees with him must be morally wrong (e.g. "lying")!

    Chris apparently cannot conceive of the possibility that it is the difference
    in basic metaphysical assumptions between Chris and his opponents which
    makes them each see the evidence *differently*.

    CC>His comparison of the cell with a city is apt, but it doesn't support his
    >case. He claims that the activities of a cell must be directed (i.e., from
    >some source outside the cell), apparently on the premise that the components
    >of the cell do not have their own causal natures.

    Again Chris needs to read carefully what those he criticises actually say, as
    opposed to what Chris *thinks* they say! Johnson says nothing about
    "from some source outside the cell". He simply asks "How does the [cells]
    program get written? Who or what writes the program and how is this

    CC>But cities often do not
    >operate on the basis of any particular overall direction. Cities, in fact,
    >usually *evolve*; people gradually accumulate and evolve ways of living and
    >working together, *without* direction from on high. The parts of a city or a
    >cell are directed, but not by any outside source of direction. Instead, they
    >may be directed mainly by *each other*. There is no more need to postulate
    >an outside director for this case than to postulate one for the operation of
    >a television set. Once the right parts are put together in the right way,
    >and the right forms of energy are supplied, both operate *without* programs,
    >without external detailed control.

    Chris uses "evolve" equivocally. The fact is that cities are designed and
    built by human *intelligent designers*.

    CC>Of course, information is involved. That's true in *any* machine, or any
    >causal process. Where does the information come from? According to Johnson,
    >it cannot come from "random mutation" or selection.

    This was Johnson's *starting point*. If sufficient evidence were provided
    by evolutionists, Johnson would probably grant that *some* mutations
    could occasionally increase information in a technical, information-theory

    But Johnson would probably need additional evidence that such increases
    in information were not too small-scale to generate: 1) the quantity; 2) the
    quality of genetic information in; 3) the time-frame available in the fossil
    record; in order to account for the actual enormous information build-up in
    life's history.

    CC>But, of course, if genes
    >are randomly mutated, then some of these mutations *must* be *increases* of
    >information (as empirical observation shows some of them indeed are
    >increases in information).

    Not necessarily. Chris needs to produce the *evidence*.

    CC>Further, as Johnson well knows, much of genetic
    >variation is not properly called "mutation" because it comes from the
    >mingling of the genetic material from two different parental genomes.

    Johnson regarded this as "baloney", in replying to a similar point by Gould
    in his "hatchet job" review of "Darwin on Trial":

    "4. Johnson writes that the Darwinian mechanism for creating new organs
    is composed of two principal elements, mutation and selection. "He then
    realizes that he has neglected sexual recombination, the vastly predominant
    source of immediate variation in sexual species, but he makes his error
    worse by including recombination as a category of mutation." [Baloney. It
    is standard practice to use "mutation" as a convenient term to denote the
    supposedly random genetic changes upon which natural selection is said to
    work...]" (Johnson P.E., "Darwin on Trial", 1993, p207).

    CC>Further, as Johnson well knows, some of these combinations result in more
    >information than was present in *either* parental genome, thus increasing
    >the total genetic information. But, apparently, truth really is a stranger
    >in Johnson's mind, at least as anything other than a hindrance to the
    >promulgation of his religious views.

    Chris' claims all depend ultimately on whether his atheistic metaphysical
    assumptions are correct. If there is no God then Chris is on the right track
    and Johnson is wrong. But if there is a God then Johnson is on the right
    track and Chris is wrong.

    CC>At the end of his second answer, he says, "If there's a process that turned
    >a bacterium into a butterfly, it's unknown how it happened. It's a mystery.
    >There is no such mechanism we can observe in nature or in the laboratory."
    >Presumably, he means that we have not actually been able to observe a
    >bacterium turn into a butterfly. Big deal.

    Well the fact is that "in the laboratory...we have not actually been able to
    observe a bacterium turn into" *anything* other than another bacterium
    and "a butterfly" into anything other than another butterfly (if even that).
    The best examples that Ridley and Futuyma give (and therefore presumably
    the best they *can* give) are:

    1) plants being changed artificially so they can no longer breed with
    members of their own species:

    "New species have been created in the reproductive sense too. Most
    examples come from agriculture and horticulture. Hundreds of new plant
    species have been experimentally manufactured. Because the same method
    is nearly always used, a single example can stand for them all. Let us
    consider the best-known case, the flowerpot primrose Primulus kewensis.
    Its origins are as follows. Two primrose species, P. verticillata and P.
    floribunda, were hybridized together. They do not normally interbreed, but
    can be forced to, at a low rate. The hybrid offspring are sterile, as inter-
    species hybrids usually are. But there is a method by which the hybrids can
    be made fertile among each other. If the numbers of their hereditary
    structures called chromosomes can be caused to double, the hybrids can
    reproduce. (Doubling of chromosome numbers can be encouraged by
    certain chemicals, such as colchicine.) P. verticillata and P. floribunda have
    18 chromosomes each, as do their sterile hybrids. But a hybrid with 36
    chromosomes can breed. They can breed among each other, but not with
    either of the parent species. The hybrids, once they have been made fertile,
    are a new reproductive species. They can interbreed with other members of
    their own species, but not with members of any other species. The
    flowerpot primrose is not a freak example. Hundreds of strains of common
    garden flowers, such as tulips, irises, crocuses, are artificial hybrids."
    (Ridley M., "The Problems of Evolution", 1985, p4).


    2) in animals - fruitflies being changed so they can no longer to interbreed
    with members of their own species:

    "But alterations in the ability to interbreed have also been observed many
    times in the laboratory, showing that genetic changes leading toward
    speciation can happen rather quickly. For example, Theodosius
    Dobzhansky and Olga Pavlovsky reported in 1971 that a strain of fruit flies
    they collected in Colombia was at first fully interfertile with a strain
    collected in the Orinoco Basin. They kept the two stocks separate for
    about five years, and then crossed them again. This time the male offspring
    were completely sterile. A substantial amount of genetic isolation had
    developed in only five years. A different experiment has been reported by
    several workers who have divided a group of flies into separate populations
    and then selected the populations so that they developed differences in
    bristle number or heat tolerance. After about twenty generations, flies that
    have come to differ in these characteristics do not interbreed freely with
    one another when they are put together. For some reason, females come to
    prefer males of their own kind. It appears, then, that differences in mating
    preference may arise as a by-product of other genetic changes that
    transpire in populations while they are adapting to different environments."
    (Futuyma D.J., "Science on Trial", 1982, pp155-156)

    But as Johnson points out:

    "Darwinists...point with pride to experiments with laboratory fruitflies.
    These have not produced anything but fruitflies, but they have produced
    changes in a multitude of characteristics. Plant hybrids have been
    developed which can breed with each other, but not with the parent
    species, and which therefore meet the accepted standard for new species...
    An experimenter can greatly increase or decrease the number of bristles in
    a fruitfly (this is Futuyma's prime example), or greatly reduce wing size,
    etc., but the fruitflies are still fruitflies, usually maladapted ones. Some
    accounts credit the fruitfly experiments with producing new species, in the
    sense of populations which do not breed with each other, others dispute
    that the species border has in reality been crossed. Apparently the question
    turns on how narrowly or broadly one defines a species, especially with
    respect to populations that are inhibited from interbreeding but not totally
    incapable of it. I am not interested in pursuing the question, because what
    is at issue is the capacity to create new organs and organisms by this
    method, not the capacity to produce separated breeding populations. In any
    case, there is no reason to believe that the kind of selection used in the
    fruitfly experiments has anything to do with how fruitflies developed in the
    first place. Horticulturists have developed plant hybrids which can breed
    with each other but not with either parent species. See Ridley, The
    Problems of Evolution (1985), pp. 4-5." (Johnson P.E., "Darwin on Trial",
    1993, pp19-20, 175).

    And even these modest changes were, AFAIK, done by human *intelligent*
    selection not by random mutation and natural selection.

    CC>When I watch a person through a
    >window approaching a door, disappear from view, and then a moment later
    >appear on the other side of the door, should I assume that there is no
    >process by which a he could have gone from being on one side of a door to
    >being on the other side, merely because I was not able to observe him the
    >whole time? Should I conclude that the man who appears on the other side of
    >the door is *not* the same man as the one I saw through the window a moment

    There is no comparison between these two examples. The person
    approaching is a present day reality and no fundamental changes are
    involved. We know *exactly* what the processes are and can duplicate
    them anytime.

    OTOH to turn "a bacterium into a butterfly" is a process that took billions
    of years in the remote past. We cannot repeat the process in a laboratory
    and indeed cannot repeat *any* macroevolutionary process in a laboratory:

    "On the other hand, it is manifestly impossible to reproduce in the
    laboratory the evolution of man from the australopithecine, or of the
    modern horse from an Eohippus, or of a land vertebrate from a fishlike
    ancestor. These evolutionary happenings are unique, unrepeatable, and
    irreversible. It is as impossible to turn a land vertebrate into a fish as it is to
    effect the reverse transformation. The applicability of the experimental
    method to the study of such unique historical processes is severely
    restricted before all else by the time intervals involved, which far exceed
    the lifetime of any human experimenter...Experimental evolution deals of
    necessity with only the simplest levels of the evolutionary process,
    sometimes called microevolution." (Dobzhansky T., "On Methods of
    Evolutionary Biology and Anthropology," Part I, "Biology," American
    Scientist, Vol. 45, No. 5, December 1957, p388)

    CC>I don't think so. I don't think Johnson thinks so, either. Though I agree
    >that we cannot *absolutely* prove that bacteria evolved into butterflies
    >(and numerous other things as well),

    Chris here conceded Johnson's main point. If Chris "cannot *absolutely* prove that
    bacteria evolved into butterflies" then he certainly cannot prove that they
    did so by "the Darwinian mechanism" of "mutation and selection"

    So by Chris' own admission there is at least possibility that Johnson may be
    right after all and Chris wrong!

    CC>it is ludicrous and absurd (and, in
    >Johnson's case, dishonest as well) to claim that such a process is a
    >"mystery." Why? Because *far* from being a mystery,

    The Webster's online dictionary gives one of the meanings of "mystery"
    as "2 a : something not understood or beyond understanding"
    ( If evolutionists cannot show
    exactly how a bacterium could evolve into a butterfly, then it is still
    a "mystery" in the sense of "something not understood" or maybe even
    "beyond understanding".

    CC>we can offer, at a
    >sufficiently high degree of detail, *thousands* of was by means of which

    I doubt there are "thousands" of *plausible* "ways by means of which
    bacteria could evolve into butterflies". But assuming that there were.
    Having thousands of possible ways that something could have occurred is
    not necessarily an advantage. There is only *one* history of life, so that
    even if bacteria *did* evolve into butterflies, all but one of these
    "thousands ways by means of which bacteria could evolve into butterflies",
    must necessarily be wrong. But if most of them are wrong, then maybe all
    of them are wrong.

    Chris needs to demonstrate the *one* way that bacteria *did* in fact
    evolve into butterflies, before he can dismiss creationist and ID theories
    about how bacteria and butterflies came to be.

    CC>bacteria could evolve into butterflies.

    Note how Chris, having just admitted that "we cannot *absolutely* prove
    that bacteria evolved into butterflies", then begs the question that it *was*
    by evolution. Johnson's words were "process that *turned* a bacterium
    into a butterfly" (my emphasis), not "evolved" into a butterfly. Because
    Chris, under his atheist basic metaphysical assumptions, apparently cannot
    conceive any other way that bacteria and butterflies could arise, he
    automatically converts Johnson's "turned...into a butterfly" into "evolve*
    into butterflies". That bacteria evolved into butterflies is one of the
    points in question!

    CC>The only true mystery is what the
    >*actual* evolutionary path was, because, beyond a certain level, we simply
    >do not have enough historical details to piece the actual path together in a
    >conclusive way.

    Which means it *is* a "mystery" (in the sense of "something not understood or
    beyond understanding" how a bacterium could evolve into a butterfly!

    CC>What's really a mystery is why Johnson continues to try to pass off such
    >sophomoric garbage as serious intellectual debate of a scientific issue

    The real problem is that Chris, under his atheistic metaphysical assumptions
    *perceives* Johnson's request for evidence as "sophomoric garbage" rather
    than "serious intellectual debate of a scientific issue".

    Since Chris is an atheist, he believes there is no God, and therefore within
    his metaphysical framework, there is no possible (or even conceivable)
    alternative to some form of evolution being the "process that turned a
    bacterium into a butterfly".

    That is why Chris cannot understand why Johnson would request
    *evidence* that "the Darwinian mechanism-mutation and selection-has
    ...the power to create genetic information" sufficient to turn "a bacterium
    into a butterfly".

    But the point is that Johnson does not have to convince the Chris' of this
    world (that probably cannot be done). They only represent 10% of the
    population. Johnson's target audience is the 85-90% who don't share Chris'
    basic metaphysical assumption that there is no God.

    CC>Because the next question and answer are short, I quote them here in their
    >Michelle Quinn: Why can't we come up with a theory based on what we know?
    >Isn't it somewhat unfair to say, "'show me how evolution happens in a
    >laboratory,'" given that this is a process that has taken millions of years?
    >Johnson: If you are a philosophic materialist, you don't need any evidence
    >at all. It's got to be true as a matter of logic. If you are Christian, like
    >I am, you might say: "'Show me. I want to see it.'" That's a higher
    >standard. But it's perfectly rational.
    >First, notice that he does not answer Quinn's question at all.

    Chris here shows a common misunderstanding of media interviews. In my
    former job as a hospital administrator I was given professional media
    training by a well known senior TV reporter. One of the first things she
    taught us is that reporters often ask leading questions and there is no
    obligation for the person being interviewed to answer questions exactly as
    asked-reporters are after all not State prosecutors. She told us that
    reporters understand this and respect the right of the interviewee has every
    right to answer any way he sees fit (or not answer them at all). In fact she
    told us it is the mark of a an experienced, media-wise interviewee that they
    don't fall into the trap of answering exactly reporters leading questions.

    CC>Second, notice that he is attempting to put metaphysical non-naturalism on
    >the same epistemological par with scientific naturalism, *totally* ignoring
    >the fact that non-naturalism violates the principle of metaphysical
    >minimalism (a derivative of the principle of Occam's Razor) and the
    >principle of naturalistic sufficiency (which is the principle that, for any
    >empirical fact or collection of facts for which there *is* an explanation, a
    >naturalistic explanation can be offered that is *better* than *any*
    >non-naturalistic explanation, if only by the expedient of mechanically
    >"naturalizing" any allegedly necessary non-naturalistic explanation). The
    >principle of Occam's Razor has long been *the* major hang-up for creationist
    >theories, because they require a metaphysical level of reality that is
    >simply *never* necessary for the empirical facts at hand, because there are
    >too many naturalistic explanations possible for such facts. For example,
    >even if a novel causal principle has to be proposed to explain some fact,
    >that is *vastly* preferable to positing an entire new metaphysical level of
    >reality populated by supernatural gods.

    Chris misunderstands Ockham's razor, which is that "entities are not to be
    multiplied BEYOND NECESSITY" ("Ockham's Razor", Encyclopaedia
    Britannica, 1984, Vol. vii, pp475-476. My emphasis).

    That Darwinian evolution might be a "simpler, minimalist theory" is no
    advantage if it can't be shown to be have "turned a bacterium into a
    butterfly". Lamarckian evolution was a "simpler, minimalist theory" than
    Darwinian evolution, but it was rejected because it couldn't account for all
    the facts. If Darwinian naturalistic evolution cannot account for all the facts
    needed to turn "a bacterium into a butterfly", but Intelligent Design theory
    can, then Intelligent Design should be preferred even if it was less simple
    than Darwinian evolution.

    Besides, Darwinian evolution is only *superficially* simpler. The atheism
    on which it is based can only be maintained, in the face of the evidence for
    the fine-tunedness of the universe, by multiplying an infinite number of
    unobservable universes:

    "But the main reason for believing in an ensemble of universes is that it
    could explain why the laws governing our Universe appear to be so finely
    tuned for our existence. In the 1950s, for instance, Fred Hoyle discovered
    that the step-by-step build-up of heavy elements inside stars depends on a
    series of spectacular coincidences. Only if the nuclei of beryllium-8,
    carbon-12 and oxygen-16 exist in particular energy states can hydrogen be
    built up into the elements of life such as calcium, magnesium and iron. This
    fine-tuning has two possible explanations. Either the Universe was
    designed specifically for us by a creator or there is a multitude of universes-
    -a "multiverse"." (Chown M., "Anything Goes," New Scientist, 6 June
    1998, Vol. 158, No. 2137, pp26-30)

    But as Davies points out, the many-universes theory *itself* is in breach of
    Ockham's razor:

    "In spite of the apparent ease with which the many-universes theory can
    account for what would otherwise be considered remarkable feature of the
    universe, the theory faces a number of serious objections. Not least of these
    is Ockham's razor: one must introduce a vast (indeed infinite) complexity
    to explain the regularities of just one universe. This "blunderbuss" approach
    to explaining the specialness of our universe is scientifically questionable. "
    (Davies P., "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Science", in Templeton
    J.M, ed., "Evidence of Purpose:, 1994, pp52-53).

    [continued in part 3/3]


    "No wonder paleontologists shied away from evolution for so long. It
    seems never to happen. Assiduous collecting up cliff faces yields zigzags,
    minor oscillations, and the very occasional slight accumulation of
    changeover millions of years, at a rate too slow to really account for all the
    prodigious change that has occurred in evolutionary history. When we do
    see the introduction of evolutionary novelty, it usually shows up with a
    bang, and often with no firm evidence that the organisms did not evolve
    elsewhere! Evolution cannot forever be going on someplace else. Yet that's
    how the fossil record has struck many a forlorn paleontologist looking to
    learn something about evolution." (Eldredge N., "Reinventing Darwin: The
    Great Evolutionary Debate", [1995], Phoenix: London, 1996, p95).
    Stephen E. Jones | |

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