Re: What's *Really* Different Between Design and Evolution

Date: Sun Jan 30 2000 - 14:30:07 EST

  • Next message: "Re: What's *Really* Different Between Design and Evolution"

    My reply is too long, so I broke it into two segments that can
    stand fairly well on their own:


    >How can you "deliver" on it? Foresight involves looking at the *future*.
    >But, evolutionary features of organisms only occur, apparently, *after* they
    >are needed *or* as serendipitous or adventitious new uses of features that
    >originally evolved in some other capacity. Providing evidence for foresight
    >would require that there be significant features that are "designed"
    >correctly even though apparent evolutionary history says tha they should be
    >designed in some other, now-incorrect, way. It would also require the
    >*consistent* avoidance of the kinds of "design errors" I describe, *even* in
    >the cases of what evolutionists would regard as very smooth and gradual
    >evolutionary progressions not involving any changes in the "direction" of
    >evolutionary pressure (even from within the organism, as it becomes larger
    >or whatever).

    This is only one way of detecting foresight. I see at least two other ways.
    First, like the detection of the past, detection of foresight is indirect.
    the 'future' of the design event would be our past, thus one can detect
    foresight in the past. How can this be done? We come up with a hypothesis
    that feature X in an organism was designed primarily to carry out an objective
    Y that goes beyond the organism. Thus, Y depends on X and X makes more
    sense in light of Y than it does as something that serves the organism. From
    this angle, a "design error" may cease to be an 'error'. Of course, the
    is to identify objective Y. But if it is identified, it not only makes sense
    X, but also several other things.

    Secondly, foresight can be viewed as rational insight. A designer might
    be expected to know and understand the design process and the material
    used. Thus, a rational design is evidence of foresight. The blind
    on the other hand, is rarely expected to stumble upon a rational design as
    it is only concerned with whether or not its jury-rigged apparatus works.
    And since a coherent/rational design would constitute only a small
    subset of all possible working solutions, there is no reason to think
    a coherent/rational design would be selected by the blind watchmaker.
    [This is all the more true since the blind watchmaker is constrained by
    random mutations, co-opting pieces, and recyling that which exists in
    a context where survival must continue].


    > Furthermore, I can deliver on this:
    > "We should expect that on those very rare occasions when we found
    > something that appeared to be a design error, closer examination would
    > show that it makes perfect *design* sense after all."


    >Really? Most professional biologists would disagree with you.

    Do you have a study which has surveyed biologists about this?
    If so, cite it. If not, then don't inflate your opinions as if you
    have special insight into the thoughts of "most professional
    biologists." Besides, "most professional biologists" have been
    wrong many times in the past.

    >There is no
    >*current* biological sense for the overly-complex structure of the human
    >wrist, nor for the circuitous route of the human vas deferens, nor for
    >dozens of other "features" of the human body.

    I don't see the problem with the wrist, but you have a better case
    with the vas deferens. But that doesn't matter as this issue does
    not turn on the features of the *human* body.


    > And, yes, I can take it much further than all of this.
    > Perhaps I will one day share some of these thoughts with this list.
    > But right now, I'm concerned about the sincerity of your
    > post. I'm not saying you are being intentionally insincere, only
    > that you might feel so emboldened by the notion that a
    > design theorist could not meet these tests that you thus
    > propose them as an offer to listen to what they have to say.


    >I still do not believe that a design theorist can meet these tests, but, I'm
    >willing to wait and see.


    > Since I have been thinking along these lines for some time,
    > let me simply say that addressing the issues contained
    > within your post clearly shows that design can be a fruitful
    > guide to research. After all, closer examination of an
    > apparent design error is doing science.


    >This is true. Closer examination of the route of the human vas deferens
    >indicates that it *is* that way because of pure accidents of evolutionary
    >history, *not* because it has any hidden design value *now*. Closer
    >examination of the wrist indicates a similar origin.

    Those are *current* views, yes.

    >These kinds of things
    >make sense as the result of blind biological evolution, but not as
    >*intelligent* design (without some very strange and also unfounded

    Exactly, it's an issue of making sense and determining which way
    the inferential wind is blowing. I'm quite willing to attribute the
    origin of things like the vas deferens to blind biological evolution.
    The question will be if you can tolerate even a single inference
    to intelligent design.

    >In other words, asking ourselves, "What would an intelligent designer do in
    >this case?" and then comparing that with what actually has occurred is
    >science, but I don't see how it really makes much difference, since all we
    >are really asking is, "What explains the way this is?" This is something we
    >can do perfectly well without the designer premise, and I don't think it's a
    >deeper question. Indeed, it is *less* deep than the general question of what
    >explains something.

    It's nice to see that we agree that ID can be used to guide and do science.
    This is an important point as the folk wisdom of the anti-design crowd
    is that ID is completely and inherently useless to science. Clearly then,
    science excludes ID not because it fails to generate hypotheses and
    experiments, but because the inference is excluded on the basis of
    ground rules. It would be so interesting to see science open up its
    journals and funding to include the design inference. Then, hypotheses
    generated by ID might truly stand in tension/contrast to hypotheses
    than deny it. We'd truly have a competition of ideas.

    >Remember, I said that a distinguishing feature of some cases of pure
    >*non-*design is that it *completely* lacks foresight. Unfortunately, the
    >*lack* of evidence of a *lack* of foresight is not the same as evidence of
    >foresight *except* in the kinds of cases I indicated, because non-design
    >processes do not *necessarily* include evidence of non-design. If a breeze
    >turns over a leaf on the ground, it may appear no different in its new state
    >from how it would appear if *I* had turned it over. There is no evidence of
    >non-design *or* design in such cases. A lack of evidence of a lack of design
    >is not a logical double negative; it is not evidence of design.

    Yes, non-design processes do not necessarily include evidence of
    non-design. But this is not a question of necessity. We are dealing
    with inferences, not logical syllogisms.


    > It also means
    > design theory has the potential to uncover evidence that
    > supports design (evidence of "foresight," as you describe).
    > If you want ID to meet the challenge of your thoughts,
    > doesn't this mean we should let it into science?


    >Yes; we already do, in psychology and sociology for example, because we are
    >dealing with organisms that do things by design (human beings). But that
    >kind of use of "design" in science is hardly what you seem to want. At
    >least, it is not equivalent to what Stephen Jones and Phillip Johnson and
    >the other theistic ID theory types are trying to argue for. It lacks the
    >Platonistic metaphysical quality that they (and, seemingly, you) want to
    >link with the concept of design.

    What happens in psychology and sociology are irrelevant since we
    are focused on a time prior to humans. My view is simply that
    there is no reason to insist that intelligence is a human-specific
    quality. The existence of SETI shows that other scientists agree.
    Also, my view is that intelligent intervention can shape and
    modify the physical world in ways that are not typical of
    non-intelligent processes.

    >I see further problems: There is no *positive* empirical sign for foresight;
    >there are only negative signs for *lack* of foresight, except in special

    I disagree. An inherently rational design is positive evidence
    of foresight. It's the very thing expected of an intelligent
    designer, and there is little reason to expect it from a blind

    >They are cases where we would *expect* the lack of foresight to
    >produce certain results characteristic of poor design, but instead, despite
    >the conditions for poor design (assuming no foresight at all), we find
    >eminently-well-designed results with no sign of having been *evolved* from
    >some other design (for example, if an organism with a badly-routed vas
    >deferens starts developing a tendency to a *well-* routed one, that does not
    >count as evidence of good design, but only of evolution belatedly finding a
    >genetically-reachable way to re-route the vas deferens).

    So the penny drops. The blind watchmaker not only puts together
    poorly designed things, but also eminently-well-designed results.
    It thus explains all things and thus implies nothing about the world.
    Instead of trying to stack the cards, I take a more objective and fair
    approach. If something is rationally designed, I would attribute
    it to intelligent design. If something is irrationally designed, I would
    attribute it to the blind watchmaker.

    Yet these are only first steps. Something that is irrationally designed
    may entail only apparent irrationality, such that a closer look uncovers
    a deeper and inherently rationality. Or the irrationality of the design
    may exist to fulfill a larger, rational objective such that the objective
    depends on the irrationality of the design. Finding evidence for
    these hypotheses would mean that ID was guiding science. On the
    other hand, a rational design could have been put together by the
    blind watchmaker, but the methods used by the blind watchmaker
    should allow us to detect evidence of this design. Find that evidence
    and we can attribute the rational design to the blind watchmaker.

    Of course, the problem is that the blind watchmaker is not going
    to typically take a jury-rigged system and turn it into a smooth,
    well-designed system. This is because the blind watchmaker is
    constrained by its "choices" made in the past. Those choices
    get selected only because "they work." The blind watchmaker might
    try to patch them up, but it does not do so to the extent that the
    inherent irrationality at the core of the system is erased.

    If one denies this and insists that the blind watchmaker typically does
    as Chris suggests, then all the 'imperfections' cited as evidence of
    the blind watchmaker become evidence against it. If the blind
    watchmaker can so perfectly mimic an intelligent agent, then
    it too suffers the problems caused by poor design. The only
    way out is the purely ad hoc approach.

    >That is, there must not only be no evidence of precursors to the
    >design, but evidence *against* the precursors.

    This is card stacking in the extreme. If there is no evidence of
    precursors, then we are dealing with imaginary precursors. Yet
    Chris would want the design theorist to come up with evidence
    against an imaginary entity. This, of course, cannot be done.
    Imaginary precursors are too plastic and the imagination can
    be used reshaped these imaginary precursors to circumvent
    any evidence against them. This is extremely fertile ground for
    the ad hoc approach.

    Okay, say we find an inherently rational design for which there
    is no evidence of precursors. Chris would imagine their existence
    and dare me to find evidence against what he imagines. But he
    has the burden of proof reversed. I would simply lack precursor-belief
    for lack of evidence for their existence. Since it would be Chris
    that believes in their existence, his burden is to come up with the
    evidence *for* their existence instead of trying to get me to
    prove something does not exist.

    What's more, a rationally designed system without evidence of
    precursors is exactly what a design event would look like. It
    is the state we would expect from intelligent intervention, meaning
    Chris' lack of precursors is nicely explained by the hypothesis
    of intelligent design. For this reason, ID would be a much better
    explanation that the blind watchmaker. Because the blind watchmaker
    typically recycles, co-opts, tinkers, etc., a lack of evidence for
    precursors is NOT expected from this hypothesis. And for the
    same reason, a rational design is NOT expected from this hypothesis.
    Why anyone would think a rational design without evidence for
    precursors is better explained by a blind watchmaker than an intelligent
    watchmaker is beyond me.

    >We don't see this in evolution. We see *strong* evidence
    >(though not absolute proof) that every complex form of life there is today
    >came from less-complex forms in the past. This pretty much rules out this
    >approach to validating design.

    Chris is simply wrong. Bacteria are incredibly complex life forms, yet
    there is no evidence that they came from less-complex forms in the past.
    The eukaryotic cell plan is even more complex, yet the evidence that
    they arose from bacteria-like creatures is NOT *strong*.

    For example, let's consider a universal feature of eukaryotes, namely,
    the protein ubiquiton. This protein serves as a molecular tag to label
    specific proteins for degradation (a very interesting story in of itself).
    The protein is made up of 76 amino acids and is very strongly conserved.
    For example, if we compare ubiquiton in yeast to humans, only three
    residues are different. Now, if we assume yeast and humans shared
    a common ancestor, it would have been over a billion years ago.
    This strong sequence conservation means that just about every
    mutation that has been generated in the populations of millions of
    lineages leading yeast and humans has been rejected by the filter
    of natural selection. This, by itself, suggests we are dealing with
    a very good design (something the billions of years of evolution
    cannot improve). Yet bacteria and archaebacteria have no ubiquiton
    nor do they possess anything that can be said to be a precursor.

    Now, let's go back to your need for evidence against a precursor.
    The evidence clearly indicates that you can't change ubiquiton, yet
    a precursor would indeed be something much different from what
    it is. So how is it that a different pre-ubiquiton molecule functioned
    when billions of years of evolution indicate different ubiquiton molecules
    don't work? To solve this problem, we simply imagine a different
    function for pre-ubiquiton working in a different cellular context.
    Ubiquiton is thus stumbled upon and immediately frozen in the
    context of its new function. Of course, since we are now dealing with
    imaginary functions and imaginary organisms, one will not be able
    to find evidence against things that exist only in the imagination.
    I consider it a sign of the profound and deep weakness of the case without
    design if the design critic seriously takes refuge in the safety of these
    layers of pure and vague imagination.

    But not only are these imaginary functions/organisms so ill-defined
    and ad hoc, they also are incoherent. How lucky for the blind watchmaker
    that a solution would be stumbled upon in the beginning that could
    not be improved with billions of years of tinkering! And why think
    that co-evolution would cease working, such that distance between
    the yeast and human cells plans don't increase after such immense
    time and incredibly different selection pressures likely experience
    along these lineages?

    There are *many* examples which work against this notion that
    there is *strong* evidence the eukaryotic cell plan evolved from
    a bacteria-like cell plan. Many.

    Next, we can move upwards in terms of complexity. Is there really
    *strong* evidence to indicate a unicellular life form evolved into
    a metazoan body plan? At this point, I am simply agnostic. I
    don't know, but I don't see this strong evidence. Perhaps you can
    share it. What, for example, is the strong evidence that darwinian
    processes design muscle tissue? We could then explore the *origin*
    of sex, something that doesn't make much sense through Darwinian

    The point is that your claim, " We see *strong* evidence
    (though not absolute proof) that every complex form of life there is today
    came from less-complex forms in the past" is not true. You may *believe*
    this, but if you were called to produce this strong evidence, time and
    time again, you would fail badly.

    >What would do it would be if a *new* form of life were to appear that
    >clearly had no ancestors, and that was *ideally* "designed."

    If one is simply trying to "find design," yes, that would be helpful.
    But instead of proposing imaginary worlds, I would rather focus on
    the biotic world that exists and ask if intelligent design is involved
    at any place. It looks to me it is indeed involved at the base of life.
    Does it go beyond? Only a serious and open-minded inquiry can
    answer this question.

    To be cont.

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