Dino’s Whiplash

A short article in the popular press reports that certain sauropods with long necks could not have held those necks upright. I read the article, leaned back in my chair and did a lot of serious thinking. . .

I don’t actually know (or care) much about dinosaurs but wondered about the relationship between evolutionary stories and the “long-neckedness” of some of these creatures. I thought it might be interesting to discuss the explanatory strength of such theories of evolution in light of this new discovery. First, two stipulations:

1. For now, let’s go with good ol’ neo-Darwinism, no Lamarckism, or other sidelights. Let’s just assume that neck after neck got longer and higher as random mutations in genetic information for “long-neckedness” conferred a selective advantage, i.e. access to more food higher up, for some of the luckier sauropods.

2. Let’s also say that the referenced article was like, totally peer-reviewed, man, and published by the most prestigious “Journal of Scientific Excellence,” not on Yahoo! where I actually happened across it. :)

Ok, so Mr. Seymour ran some numbers and found out that a dino-heart for these long-, and upright-necked creatures would have to be as strong as a cement boom pump! Look, his numbers are right: they were vetted! I exaggerated, but if not a boom pump, well, close enough. Cement-boom-pump-hearts and even hearts that maintain dino-consciousness are out of the question for upright eight meter necks.

I note that Mr. Seymour is an evolutionary biologist, and evolutionary biologists aren’t precluded from using techniques from other fields to further their research. That’s as may be. What I don’t get is where evolution played a role in Mr. Seymour’s use of engineering concepts. Notice that thus far, I have been unencumbered by reading his paper found in “Biology Letters”. As an advocate for ID, I am tempted to wonder aloud about how much evolutionary verbiage was attached to or meant to be foundational to the original paper. Let’s just suppose it was the standard amount.

Why didn’t the “alleged” foundational evolutionary theory, if any, make it over to my “Journal of Scientific Excellence”, i.e. the popular news article?

Here is my point. The evidence that “points necks in a new direction” is derived from engineering, i.e. design. The explanatory power is found in the engineering. I am unencumbered by any firsthand knowledge of how evolution was supposed to have explained the occurrence of upright sauropod necks, so I am curious to know if a simple engineering-based research paper has now overturned all of that evolutionary information. I doubt it. Somehow, I think the story will just be re-imagined.

I would prefer that the discussion not focus on prior competing evolutionary theories concerning dino-necks. Rather, I am interested in the relative strength of engineering concepts versus evolutionary theory in terms of explanatory power for the occurrence of upright and non-upright dino-necks.

I understand that it may be an oversimplification to say that the selective advantage was to reach higher in the canopy, but that is what the general population has been “taught.” Also, there are currently stories about that explain how the long necks of some dinosaurs would help them hunt while in water, but that has no bearing on what has been “taught” concerning the upright-necked herbivorous sauropods.

If, because of engineering (read design) research, the “upright” hypothesis is not sustainable, how easily are Darwinists “allowed” to dump it for another? If moving to a new theory is easy, how much stock are we to put to the old theory’s explanatory power? What did it explain, and how did that explanation move neo-Darwinism up the epistemic ladder of explanatory power? How many rungs down should it move now?

The lack of internal consistency and any sort of staying power is remarkable, so as for explanatory power, when waxing official over the fossil record, the whole story of evolution becomes nothing more than a game of Chutes and Ladders.

Looking back over this, I see that I have interspersed hypothesis, theory, analogy, story and such. I would prefer that comments not overly focus on my failure to write with precision. But, to each his own . . .

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33 Responses to Dino’s Whiplash

  1. Boy, what a confused mess. Its a struggle to see what the point is, but I think that you are saying that because someone applied engineering principles (‘design’ principles), then the neck must be designed.

    If this is the case, you are a worry. Perhaps you should read the paper.

  2. I am not sure of your point. You are implying, because the former long neckedness model is invalidated, evolution is wrong. Something about non sequitur comes to mind…

    And on a side note, giraffes have not evolved long necks for improved foraging. Several observational field studies have confirmed the true purpose is for beating the crap out of each other (look up giraffe necking on youtube). It is an example of sexual selection and would confirm your observation that life seems to be nothing but chutes and ladders….

  3. (note the paper for those interested is titled: Winning by A Neck by Simmons 1996)

  4. Greetings Gentlemen,

    Obviously I have an opinion and an idea about whether or not any neck is designed, but that opinion is actually irrelevant to the post. What is relevant is the explanation evolutionary scientists have given for the upright necks of some sauropods.

    It is both part of common knowledge and mentioned in the article that the upright necks of the sauropods were believed to be for foraging the canopy.

    (What battling giraffes have to do with this story is beyond me. Look, if you want to add that story, you are free to do so, but perhaps you should wait for the article about giraffes. Otherwise, please keep your story in that great queue of evolutionary stories.)

    The point of the article is that by applying engineering principles, Mr. Seymour has proven that the explanation evolutionists had for years given, i.e. foraging the canopy, is not tenable. Thus, the “model” as you put it, eligoodwin, should be abandoned.

    Great Darwin’s Ghost! I hardly think we should abandon all of evolutionary theory because of one neck study! On the other hand, if every part of evolutionary theory boils down to stories like this, each one so ready to be reworked completely at the drop of a hat, we should abandon evolutionary theory because it is a joke.

    Look, it was a popular article based on a small bit of research, but an entire “model” is instantly wiped out, but no one cares because evolutionary theory has tens of thousands more. This should be of little comfort to the advocate of evolutionary theory.

    Some have suggested for evolution the analogy of a house of cards. This can be a little misleading because the most telling feature is that once one card falls, they all do. I’d like to point out that when one card falls in a house of cards, not every card necessarily falls. Try it; its kind of fun. But what gets lost is a more important concept: the fact that your house is made of plastic-coated little pieces of paper!

    I was being perhaps a bit coy in asking about the explanatory power of the evolutionary story. After all, we should be able to agree that the whole point of having a limit in the size of the heart is also an evolutionary idea. I mean isn’t it? Right?

    And thus the problem with all such stories is made manifest: they all cancel each other out. The neck can only be so high, the heart so big, the ear so small, the skin so blue, and the feathers and wings in the offing . . .

    I remember learning basic algebra and setting up massive equations just to go through the basic steps of solving them. One day, I did the process in reverse and started with x=x. I added all sorts of numbers and more variables (I know, I know), using different operations, but both the same for each side of the equation. It was a mess after I factored and combined all sorts of terms. Then I went about solving the thing and ended up with 3=3. I often wonder if the bulk of balancing act stories of evolution, vast and impressive to the layman, eventually cancel each other out, and produce a mere triviality.

    Based on the fantastic claims they make, the explanatory models so easily foregone, and new stories about wrestling giraffes, I can’t help but wonder if as ten-year-old I couldn’t have been an eminent evolutionary philosopher.

  5. 5
    Timothy V Reeves

    My understanding is that ID and evolution present two competing views on the origins of life: they are both “past tense” theories. However, a “present tense” engineering analysis of the physical constraints on dinosaur anatomy and its implication for dinosaur life style seems to be something that can be carried out by both evolutionist and ID theorist and, moreover, be something they can agree on. Consequently I don’t see why this analysis (apart from the word “engineering” being fortuitously associated with human engineers) should particularly credit ID theory; the real challenge to both points of view is explaining how that life style, along with its physical constraints, came to be.

    I certainly agree with Tim that it may be difficult to evaluate a theory’s “explanatory power” especially such a complex explanatory object as evolution. Evolution’s inherent complexity ensures that it has many variables, adjustable conditions and degrees of freedom etc. This in turn leads to the volatility of evolutionary explanations; its many degrees of freedom give it an extraordinary flexibility in the face of challenging data as it re-adapts to explain those new challenges by slipping and sliding its many internal “variables” to create a fit.

    However, as I have introduced myself before on this blog, let me confess that still I favor evolutionary explanations over ID explanations. Now, before anyone reaches for their gun let me hasten to add that I doing my best to “analyze and evaluate” ID and who knows perhaps I’ve backed the wrong horse; it’s early days yet (even though I’ve been working on the subject for over a year). I accept that ID theorists deserve lots of space to present their case.

    The problem I’m facing with ID theory is that it introduces an explanatory object even more complex than evolution: namely a “Designer”. We know about evolution’s attempt to explain the historical origins of life, but can ID fare any better? Can ID offer a historical heuristic and give us any prior expectations about the history of life? The degrees of freedom available to at least a semi-divine intelligence seem to defy the imagination. This has left me bereft of all but the most minimalist of heuristics for the investigation of a history of origins; namely “Design detection”. But can ID go any further than just design detection? Should we expect ID theory to go any further than design detection? (I believe DaveScot expressed the opinion that design detection is where ID theory starts and ends). Is it wrong to demand that ID theory have a detailed historical heuristic? Is ID theory only left with the descriptive historical narrative generated by research of the fossil record? In fact is there any consensus amongst ID theorists whether life, as per YEC theory, had any history at all?

  6. My understanding is that ID and evolution present two competing views on the origins of life:

    But, but, but, but aren’t we always told evolution doesn’t address the origins of life????

    Anyway, ID is not incompatible with “evolution” i.e. descent with modification from a common ancestor.

    It is incompatible with the claim that RM+NS can explain everything.

    And it is incompatible with the arbitrary, and dogmatic, rejection of a designer by neo-Darwinians.

  7. 7
    Timothy V Reeves

    Thanks for the reply Tribune7. I see what you mean: Evolution as history (which could include common descent) is not incompatible with ID, but evolution as mechanism is incompatible with ID – by mechanism I mean RM+NS, or more generally “chance and necessity” (what I like to call “law and disorder” – it rolls off the tongue nicely)

    But if ID accepts the possibility of a history of common descent, does ID give us any prior expectations on the course of that history? Perhaps this vaunted Message Theory helps here. (I’ll have a look at the latest post on that subject). I have to say that paleontology is the biggest problem I have with ID.

    OK so ID theorists suggest that the intricate cybernetics of biological structures as finished products are explained by design, but does ID explain the method of manufacture (for want of a better term) also? Intelligently generated artifacts are not just about design, but also about manufacture. For example, the riddle of Stonehenge and the Pyramids is not just about them as working products but also about their production. However is this going beyond the terms of reference of ID? Is ID merely about design detection? (As DaveScot once suggested)

    But, but, but, but aren’t we always told evolution doesn’t address the origins of life????

    Well, if evolution is mechanism rather than history, I am sure evolutionists want to see something like RM+NS or more generally “law and disorder” addressing OOL. Ergo evolution, in its most generalized form as mechanism, addresses, or attempts to address, the OOL. (If only rather speculatively, because of sparse evidence)

  8. 8

    Timothy Reeves,

    You might find this exchange interesting between Adel and Gpuccio: (starting at comment 63 I believe)

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-311060

  9. Ergo evolution, in its most generalized form as mechanism, addresses, or attempts to address, the OOL.

    Timothy, that is what is called honesty. My sarcasm was directed at those who insist that it doesn’t.

    But if ID accepts the possibility of a history of common descent, does ID give us any prior expectations on the course of that history?

    It’s designed not to — although some seem to want to expand it. ID is basically a means to help describe phenomena.

  10. Upright BiPed, that’s an absolutely brilliant series of posts by GP. They should be enshrined as a separate item in the FAQ.

  11. Timothy (#5 and #7),

    I understand your frustration. Without further information about the designer, and especially if the designer is considered to be omnipotent, literally anything is compatible with design, and design makes no predictions. This makes design theoretically unfalsifiable.

    ID takes one step that makes it at least theoretically falsifiable. ID claims that not only is there design, but that the design is detectaable. Thus ID as a theory posits that at least somewhere in the universe exist assemblages of facts/events/structures that cannot be reasonably explained solely by non-designed forces and/or chance. Positive evidence for this would be the appearance of design; negative evidence against a competing theory would be the lack of ability (at present) of that theory to reasonably explain the phenomenon in question. Common areas where ID adherents believe this argument applies include the origin of the universe, the properties of this planet (the Privileged Planet hypothesis), the origin of life, and the origin of body types. The Cambrian Explosion (and other explosions), stasis in the fossil record, and the existence of irreducible complexity all are used as supporting arguments for the concept that the origin of body types requires ID.

    But until one is willing to hypothesize and test something more than simple ID, there isn’t much else to say. If you want more detailed and more testable predictions, you have to test a more specific theory. You might go with front-loading, and expect to find at least some of the time the genomes of “advanced” organisms in more “primitive” ones. You might go with message theory and expect to find features of life that are primarily there to demonstrate a single creator. You might go with OEC (Hugh Ross) and expect to find no speciation for the last 10-60,000 years (depending on the correct date for Adam). Or you might go with YLC and expect to find evidence that the rock layers in the geologic column were laid down recently, and mostly fairly rapidly. Then you have something you can test. Any form of ID that rejects common descent can be tested on that point. But if one sticks to simply ID, the items in the previous paragraph are all you have to go on, and it could even turn out that only one, say, the origin of life, holds any water.

    However, if (and when) ID wins, it will cause a sea change. Atheism will go back to being intellectually unfulfilling, as Dawkins implies. We will realize that the entire project of forcing nature into a naturalistic mode does not have a good theoretical basis. We will realize that the vast majority of scientists in biology have misled themselves and us, and the question will arise as to whether the current scientific consensus in other fields might have similar problems. A major re-thinking will be in order. It will be fascinating to see what theory or theories will rise from the ashes.

    Scientists who, for whatever reason, wish to remain atheist are terrified that the majority will eventually go this route. They are afraid that the practice of science will slip away from their grasp; hence the practices documented in Expelled and Slaughter of the Dissidents.

    Personally, I tend to lean towards YLC, and specifically YEC. I’m having fun looking at carbon-14 in the Carboniferous and in diamonds. I would love to be able to facilitate a search for such isotopes as Be-10 , Al-26, Mn-53, and I-129 in Phanerozoic (but not Recent) meteorites. If you want lots of testable theories and interesting experiments, some such more specific ID theory is the way to go.

    But even with ID theory pure and simple, there are still experiments that can be done. One of the most interesting sets of experiments has to do with the edge of evolution. Evolution obviously has an edge. Bacteria don’t turn into cockroaches overnight, or even after 100 years. Just how fast can organisms change under laboratory conditions, and is that rate adequate to explain the record we see in the fossil record? That’s a fascinating question to test experimentally.

    Interestingly, Behe’s hypothesized edge is more or less identical to that which YECs’ have hypothesized on entirely different premises, in spite of the fact that Behe accepts common descent and the standard geological time scale and they don’t. Maybe we will see some convergence here.

  12. A previous neck model has been discarded because a biomechanical analysis demonstrated it improbable, evolutionary theory is falling apart? Does not follow. I guess every time a protein function model is discarded, it invalidates the central dogma of molecular biology…

    The “house of cards” analogy refers not to the models derived from evolutionary theory (such as this long necked model for dinos or for the one related to giraffes), but the theory itself. Darwin said if it could be demonstrated without a doubt, some other mechanism devoid of natural processes could explain adaptation the theory would be nullified.

    Secondly, I brought up the giraffes for a specific reason. The previous explanation for giraffe necks was based on assumption, “a just so story.” Only through observational studies and character analysis was the true reason for long neckedness determined (which I assume you call a just so story–did you read the paper?…): long neckedness is giraffes is the result of runaway sexual selection.

  13. Shouldn’t there be a lot of fossils showing dinosaur (and giraffe) necks getting lomger?

  14. 12 eligoodwin
    “through observational studies and character analysis was the true reason for long neckedness determined”
    So proto-giraffe’s necks got long because this is how they battle?

  15. 15
    Timothy V Reeves

    Upright Biped at 8: Thanks a lot for the link. I’m studying that thread.

    Paul at 11:

    Thanks very much for your reply.

    Thus ID as a theory posits that at least somewhere in the universe exist assemblages of facts/events/structures that cannot be reasonably explained solely by non-designed forces and/or chance

    As a Christian theist like yourself I’m sure we both agree that there are really no such things as non-designed forces and/or chance. What I call “law and disorder” (I think that translates to “chance and necessity” on UD) must, of course, also be part of a creative dispensation both in terms of their inception and present tense continuous sustenance. The patterns of “law and disorder” impressed upon large swaths of cosmic ontology are no more self creating and self sustaining than are living things (Acts 17:28). That said, then for me the 64 billion dollar bank bailout question (expressed theologically) is this: Is “law and disorder” sufficient dispensation for the creation of life or is a “second creative dispensation” required on top of “law and disorder”?

    Whatever way one looks at the cosmos “design” of some kind is inescapable.

    Firstly: If, for the sake of argument, law and disorder is a sufficient creative dispensation for life, then such a system would have to implicitly encode reducibly complex cybernetic structures so as to make them evolvable and this would be a design feat in its own right. As I have suggested in post “7” above a history of manufacture (which equates to evolution in this connection) is as much a designed “artifact” as the finished product. Whether such a historical artifact as “evolution” is mathematically constructible is an area of study for me, as is the paleontological evidence for or against.

    Secondly: Even in the case of the extreme and highly speculative proposal of a multiverse, positing an infinite sea of disorder, we do not find an ontology satisfying the conditions of logical self-sufficiency and self-sustenance, and some form of aseity conceiving it, supporting it, and moving the multiverse is presumably required. In one sense multiverse theory is not a great deal more sophisticated than the response “It’s tortoises all the way down”.

    In conclusion: One can no more get away from a priori “design” than the psalm writer of Ps 139 could escape from the presence of God.

    My question again: Is creation a single dispensation or does it require a second dispensation to complete it? As I have said I tend to favor a single dispensation view for various reasons. (Perhaps it has something to do with my “Calvinistic” mentality), but all in all I’m a fairly disinterested party, and won’t lose sleep if this is wrong. I have identified myself less with the partisan aspects of this debate and more with the problem itself, with its logical, scientific and philosophical conundrums. I regard it as a fascinating pass time and a way of seeking God (Acts 17:27).

    One of the problems I face with ID is the problem apparent in your reply: ID theorists have very different views on creation, and apart from agreeing that a second creative dispensation is required, are divided on how that dispensation was dispensed. They therefore have no consensus heuristic on the details of the “second dispensation” and this can come over as them being scientifically in disarray. Also, what niggles me a little about Christians who are in the ID movement is my suspicion that perhaps like many an atheist they don’t strongly register “law and disorder” as a first stage creative dispensation, a stage that provides the necessary backdrop for all that subsequently happens under the sun. That backdrop is a bit like Olber’s profound observation that the backdrop of the sky at night is black; few really see it or wonder about its deep cosmic implications. Hence because many take the cosmic “law and disorder” back drop for granted the second “ID” dispensation assumes the status of a kind “first creative dispensation”, a dispensation that atheists, needless to say, are anxious to deny, and ID aficionados vehemently affirm in order to support their faith. Hence, the strong and vitriolic polarization one finds in this debate, with sides unable to backtrack on their positions because face saving is likely to get precedence over logic, science and philosophy.

    Sorry to get theological as I know UD would prefer to confine discussions to science. But I hope the foregoing helps explain my motivations and shows that I am unwilling to get into the business of “gunning people down” whether they be atheists, evolutionists, ID theorists or believers. My main interests are in the riddles and mysteries of God’s created and sustained cosmos. If those riddles weren’t there I would be one very bored and depressed person.

  16. Timothy V Reeves:

    I would like to comment on some points in your post #15.

    You say:

    “Is “law and disorder” sufficient dispensation for the creation of life or is a “second creative dispensation” required on top of “law and disorder”?”

    Why not a “continuous”dispensation, in the sense of a God always interacting withHis creation, although in different ways and at different levels?

    You say:

    “The patterns of “law and disorder” impressed upon large swaths of cosmic ontology are no more self creating and self sustaining than are living things”

    I absolutely agree, and so would, I think, all IDists. And, beyond religious reasons, there are also scientific reasons to believe that, which correspond to what we ususally call “cosmological ID” (especially the various forms of the fine tuning argument).

    Cosmological ID is IMO a perfectly valid scientiic theory, but it is important to understand that its arguments are separate, and different, from the arguments of biological ID. IMO, biological ID is a stronger theory, and more independent from any physolsophical perspective (IOW, it is more strictly “scientifical”). That’s why I personally prefer to cancentrate on biological ID, while remaining a supporter of cosmological ID too.

    “I have identified myself less with the partisan aspects of this debate and more with the problem itself, with its logical, scientific and philosophical conundrums. I regard it as a fascinating pass time and a way of seeking God”

    I agree with you on that, and very much appreciate your position.

    You say:

    “One of the problems I face with ID is the problem apparent in your reply: ID theorists have very different views on creation, and apart from agreeing that a second creative dispensation is required, are divided on how that dispensation was dispensed.”

    I don’t think tht should be a problem. First of all, in ID we have to speak of “design” and not “creation”, because of the nature itself of the ID theory: the two concepts are similar, but not the same, and while anyone can harmonize the results of ID with his own beliefs about creation, I am convinved that ID has to remain strictly independent form any specific religious view.

    You say:

    “They therefore have no consensus heuristic on the details of the “second dispensation” and this can come over as them being scientifically in disarray.”

    IOW, ID has consensus on the theory that a designer is needed to explain biological information, but not on the nature of the designer and/or the methods of implementation of the design itself. That’s perfectly true, but I can’t see why that should be a problem.

    The nature of the designer, the characteristics of the design, and the modalities and mechanisms of implementation of the design are all problem open to both philosophical and religious discussion and scientific scrutiny. ID does not state that those subjects cannot be approached by scientific investigation. They can, and they will, even if nobody can say how much can be known about those points form a purely scientific point of view. In the meantime, anybody can and will approach them from a philosophical and religious perspective. The lack of scientific consensus about those points is evidently due mainly to the scarce data available which can help about them. The lack of philosophical or religious consensus, instead, is IMO an inevitable feature of reality.

    “Also, what niggles me a little about Christians who are in the ID movement is my suspicion that perhaps like many an atheist they don’t strongly register “law and disorder” as a first stage creative dispensation, a stage that provides the necessary backdrop for all that subsequently happens under the sun.”

    I don’t aree about that point. As I have said, most IDists are also cosmological IDists, be they christians or not. So, I think all of them would agree on that “first stage creative dispensation”.

    You say:

    “Hence because many take the cosmic “law and disorder” back drop for granted the second “ID” dispensation assumes the status of a kind “first creative dispensation”, a dispensation that atheists, needless to say, are anxious to deny, and ID aficionados vehemently affirm in order to support their faith.”

    Again I don’t agree. In ID, we definitely don’t “take the cosmic “law and disorder” back drop for granted”, as I have tried to explain. And I hope that most IDists, if not all, are IDists for scientific reasons, and not “in order to support their faith”. I certainly am. I have stated many times, on this blog, thyat my faith, while beeing in harmony with ID, certanly does not need ID in any way, and that my passion for ID is purely cognitive and scientific. I believe that is true of many other IDists (probably not all, but that’s simply understandable).

    “Hence, the strong and vitriolic polarization one finds in this debate, with sides unable to backtrack on their positions because face saving is likely to get precedence over logic, science and philosophy.”

    The polarization is IMO mainly caused by the almost complete refusal of official darwinists to even take into account ID and discuss it seriously, and to the many unfair procedures against ID utilized by the official powers of science. I am very convinced of that. It is true that IDists have thit responsibility too, but they have been badly abused for years, and I have greater tolerance for the mistakes of those who react to explicit abuse.

    But it is true that, as you say, a “vitriolic polarization” wxists, and that is very bad. My experience is that any time some darwinists have come here to discuss on a fair level with us, very interesting and constructive exchange has taken place. My personal purpose has never been to “destroy” darwinism. My purpose is that ID and darwinism may be considered different and opposing scientific theories for a very complex and important issue of reality, and that they may go on for a long time in a passionate and constructive confrontation which can only be useful to the cause of true understanding.

    You say:

    “Sorry to get theological as I know UD would prefer to confine discussions to science.”

    Thology is perfect if we are discussing theological implications. Philosophy is good for philosophical aspects. And science ahould be used for scientific facets of reality. Nobdy wants to deny or limit the importance of each of these disciplines, but it is important to use them in the appropriate context, even if their boundaries are not always easy to define (which is, IMO, very good).

    “I am unwilling to get into the business of “gunning people down” whether they be atheists, evolutionists, ID theorists or believers.”

    I agree with you.

    “My main interests are in the riddles and mysteries of God’s created and sustained cosmos. If those riddles weren’t there I would be one very bored and depressed person.”

    That’s what I call “cognitive passion”. I share it. I encourage it. I do like it.

  17. 17

    Mr Reeves,

    I very much enjoyed your post, and hope you’ll be encouraged to continue.

    You strike me as a person with admirable personal boundries on these issues – something I wish I shared more of.

  18. Timothy (#15),

    I have read gpuccio’s response to you (#16) and can wholeheartedly endorse it. In fact, I have little else to say at this time. I will reinforce a couple of points.

    I agree with the picture that “law and disorder” is a canvas created by God, across which He can paint whatever he wants. Both the canvas and the painting are products of God. Saying so does not mean that there is no painting, or that God made the canvas so good that it could make the painting itself. The latter is a scientific question (how did it happen?) rather than a theological question (could God have done it that way?).

    I thus agree with gpuccio that it is unfair to imply that all ID adherents believe in ID for theological reasons, namely, to score points against atheists. Perhaps some do, but I am not one of them, nor according to his statement is gpuccio, and there are many like us.

    This is a crucial point. ID is not a theological construct, that needs to be dealt with on theological grounds. It is not simply a matter of correcting our theology, and we can all happily be theistic evolutionists. You have to deal with the scientific evidence if you wish to convince us that ID is incorrect.

    Perhaps the most obvious exemplars of this fact are Michael Behe and Denyse O’Leary. The Catholic Church has not come out against theistic evolution. Many Catholics were taught as children that God could create any way He wanted, and I know in the case of Behe (and I suspect for O’Leary, although she is free to correct me) that he was taught and believed in theistic evolution, namely that evolution without any direct control was how God created life on earth. His beliefs on this subject were very close to those of Kenneth Miller. It was the scientific evidence that convinced him that ID was correct and that TE was not.

    I don’t mind discussing the theology of the issues; I probably do it more than most. I certainly draw out the theological implications of ID more than is “politically correct” here. But the inferences I draw are from science to theology, not vice versa. Attmepting to fix the theology will not make the scientific evidence disappear, or cause me to ignore it.

    Some of us have skin in this game, and it can affect our judgment. But you need to keep in mind that atheists have even more skin in the game, and it is quite possible that it affects their judgment as well. In fact, one of the things that I have observed is that the controversy boils down to science versus religion, with the atheists using the theological arguments and ID adherents sticking with the science (and sometimes to the exclusion of drawing any theological conclusions).

    You quote me saying,

    Thus ID as a theory posits that at least somewhere in the universe exist assemblages of facts/events/structures that cannot be reasonably explained solely by non-designed forces and/or chance.

    I try to be careful with my words, but was not careful enough here and missed a nuance. One can believe in ID and in theistic evolution (in the modern sense) at the same time. Francis Collins is an example. He believes that God created the universe, and that this fact can be reasonably demonstrated, but that the unfolding of life can be explained without special Divine (or other intelligent) input. On the origin of life he is agnostic but cautions against using it as a support for Divine intervention, and so effectively refuses to disagree with atheism (without ET’s) on this issue.

    (I always find it strange when someone urges us not to consider the origin of life when we ask the question of whether ID is apparent. My reaction is a little like Mrs. Lincoln’s reaction to someone who said, “Other than that, Mary, how was the play?”)

    Thus I should have noted that ID not only posits that chance and/or non-designed forces cannot explain all the universe, but that designed but readily accessible forces also cannot explain all the universe. Thus ID makes the prediction that for some event (e. g., the origin of life), some combination of chance and readily accessible law, irrespective of whether that chance and law are products of God, will not explain that event. God may have laws that are not readily accessible, and so it could all be chance and law. But if, say, we can routinely mix ammonia, methane, water, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, phosphate rock, and montmorillonite clay, zap the mixture daily, and wait 3 years, and get bacteria, ID for the OOL will be falsified. Thus ID makes scientific, and scientifically testable, claims.

    The only way around this is to define science so that its conclusions must always be atheist-friendly, as in “We only allow naturalistic explanations in science.” That’s winning by definition, which I find to be cheating.

    Again, I endorse gpuccio’s comment #16.

  19. 19
    Timothy V Reeves

    Upright Biped at 17: Thanks for the warm welcome. On the subject of personal boundaries: This evolution/ID debate is a vast interdisciplinary subject and I suppose one can’t expect to do any more than focus on one aspect of it. In my case I’m interested in the subject of the putative reducible complexity of biological structures and the opposite of irreducible complexity. I’ve limited myself to investigating whether reducible complexity is at least a constructible concept – and that’s without attempting to get involved with whether it’s a real world phenomenon or not! Just how much progress I’ll make there’s no telling. I have focused on (ir)reducible complexity because from where I’m sitting it looks to be the single most important item in the debate: for example, in the link you gave me I notice Gpuccio implicitly makes use of irreducible complexity.

    Paul at 18: I have just noticed your reply – thanks: I’ll get back to you, but in the meantime here is my response to Gpuccio:

    Gpuccio at 16

    Nice to be back in harness with you discussing these topics!

    Gpuccio: Why not a “continuous” dispensation, in the sense of a God always interacting with His creation, although in different ways and at different levels?

    Perhaps: that’s why I keep up with UD to see what the latest thoughts and observation are. OK so there may be breaks in the patterns of the normalcy of the “law and disorder” dispensation that presumably are the essence of ID. However, I would like to empathize that even law and disorder normalcy, as far as I can see, is a contingency and not a logical necessity (I suspect we agree on that). Hence I conclude that law and disorder needs continuous support of some kind from God (who presumably has the property of Aseity, unlike His creation). So in one sense even under normalcy God is in some sort of continuous supportive relation (=interaction?) with His creation.

    Gpuccio on Cosmological ID: Yes I agree I think cosmological ID is more abstruse, remote, philosophical, obscure or what-have-you than biological ID – the latter is far more “in yer face”. Humans seem capable of living with cosmological mysteries and not asking questions about them; these mysteries appear to have less power to pull them up with start. As I have already suggested in 15 above “law and disorder” seem to be part of the taken-for-granted furniture of life; we tend not to see the stage, but rather the active drama on that stage.

    Design vs. Creation: Hmmm…yes, a point worth pondering. This point might relate to my “manufacture” vs. “finished article” distinction and the observation that both are artifacts.

    Gpuccio: ID has consensus on the theory that a designer is needed to explain biological information, but not on the nature of the designer and/or the methods of implementation of the design itself.

    Once again my view of “history and manufacture as artifact” is relevant here: using this view history could be considered as much an artifact of ID as the finished article. Tough that history is not as epistemological accessible as what comes out of it.

    Gpuccio: The lack of philosophical or religious consensus, instead, is IMO an inevitable feature of reality.

    Very probably! Not all objects are equally accessible and amenable to analysis, history being notoriously difficult! Consensus can’t be taken for granted even with evolution; evolution being an historical object is therefore bound to be the subject of robust exchanges even within the evolutionist camp – for example over the mix natural selection and genetic drift.

    Gpuccio: Again I don’t agree. In ID, we definitely don’t “take the cosmic “law and disorder” back drop for granted”

    I’m very glad to hear that you don’t agree! I ought to know that most philosophically savvy ID theorists are well aware of the issues raised by the cosmic backdrop and wouldn’t take it for granted. However, I think as a general rule backdrop issues are easy to overlook and/or not be seen as problematical. Perhaps that’s why atheists are so desperate to load “law and disorder” normalcy with creative efficacy: it obscures the big questions behind a mask of banality, common placeness and even apparent meaninglessness.

    As I have said above in agreement with you: “Gpuccio on Cosmological ID: yes I agree I think cosmological ID is more abstruse, remote, philosophical or what-have-you than biological ID – the latter is far more ‘in yer face’.” Hence it is easy to obscure profundity in the banalities of the normalcy of law and disorder. Consider Olber’s again: when I first came across the profound issues raised by his paradox I was absolutely gob smacked – to think of it; all that from the simple observation that the night sky is black! Until that moment I had no inkling that an observation available to me on a daily basis had such profound implications. Familiarity breeds apathy. Perhaps a theological case could be made for a second creative dispensation on the ground that it provides a more humanly accessible revelation, and boy, does humanity need revelation!

  20. 20

    Timothy Reeves,

    Thank you for your reply. I vaguely remember some of your comments from some months ago, (perhaps not).

    I would just add a thought or two:

    You describe the debate as evolution versus ID. It’s a description that may leave too much on the table. For many IDists, evolution as a biological process is generally considered to be beside the point; an interesting and necessary thing, but still an answer within larger issues.

    You add (regarding irreducible complexity) “from where I’m sitting it looks to be the single most important item in the debate.”

    Yet, it seems that information supersedes the complexity it creates. In my own opinion, Behe was being kind with irreducible complexity (and he’s never been answered at that).

  21. Greetings,
    I very much appreciate both the tenor and content of Timothy V Reeves, Mr. Biped, Paul Giem and Gpuccio’s discussion of the limits of science and the relationship of what evolution, ID, and their concomitant worldviews can explain, including problems inherent in “managing what we know (or might know, or think we know).”

    Plainly, such a discussion here on a blog of this type will be left incomplete. However, I encourage all involved to revisit discussions of this type in which science and philosophy are carefully delineated.

  22. eligoodwin,
    Let go of it already. You opined that because I had mentioned this article that I was implying that evolution was sunk.

    eligoodwin @#2, “You are implying, because the former long neckedness model is invalidated, evolution is wrong.”

    . . . and I clarified,

    Tim @#4, “Thus, the “model” as you put it, eligoodwin, should be abandoned. . . Great Darwin’s Ghost! I hardly think we should abandon all of evolutionary theory because of one neck study!”

    But then this,

    eligoodwin @#12, “A previous neck model has been discarded because a biomechanical analysis demonstrated it improbable, evolutionary theory is falling apart?”

    No, I am saying that the explanatory power has been called into serious question. Frankly, your story of sexual selection for giraffes adds to my doubt.

    If studies were done where males “neck wrestled” to show dominance and thus accrue a reproductive advantage, how does this help us understand the length of the neck instead of the strength of the neck? Oh, I’m sorry, I am missing the next greatest variable waiting in the wings, ready to be added to the story.

    No matter how careful the observations, I always find that the conclusions drawn concerning Darwinism to be ad hoc and arbitrary. Furthermore, they seem to continually evolve, no, make that REvolve through a somewhat endless series of stories that, like many things that merely revolve, don’t get us anywhere.

    What do studies of this type explain? Are they ad hoc, or do they mean anything of substance?

  23. 23
    Timothy V Reeves

    Thanks Tim, but here’s some more waffle, mostly in reply to Paul as he took the trouble to respond.

    Upright Biped at 20

    …but still an answer within larger issues.

    Undoubtedly!

    information supersedes the complexity it creates.

    Yes, information and (ir)reducible complexity are related as I’m finding out.

    Paul at 18

    I think you state the issue clearly enough when you say:

    I agree with the picture that “law and disorder” is a canvas created by God, across which He can paint whatever he wants. Both the canvas and the painting are products of God. Saying so does not mean that there is no painting, or that God made the canvas so good that it could make the painting itself. The latter is a scientific question (how did it happen?) rather than a theological question (could God have done it that way?).

    … and this:

    Thus I should have noted that ID not only posits that chance and/or non-designed forces cannot explain all the universe, but that designed but readily accessible forces also cannot explain all the universe. Thus ID makes the prediction that for some event (e. g., the origin of life), some combination of chance and readily accessible law, irrespective of whether that chance and law are products of God, will not explain that event.

    In my terms I read that to mean “law and disorder”, as currently understood, is not sufficient explanation of life – a scientific question as you point out. This is, of course, the matter I’m investigating and hope to get some light by reading UD.

    But let me qualify.

    Archeology introduces us to a complex enigmatic human ontology lost in the mists of time, an ontology often only accessible via the imagination. Science has its place in archeology, but the final attempt at connection with the past may only be possible via imaginative conclusions synthesized from the intellectual nutrients accrued over a life time’s study and general experience of human affairs. The thinking leading up to some archeologist’s conclusions may be very difficult to articulate; yes it may be science but it is not “Rigorous Science”. If as ID theorists suggest archeology is a kind of role model for ID then perhaps this might throw some light on the difficulties ID theorists are having in trying to claim the label of “science”, especially when it comes to making positive rather than negative claims about the history of life.

    It’s interesting to hear you say:

    In fact, one of the things that I have observed is that the controversy boils down to science versus religion, with the atheists using the theological arguments and ID adherents sticking with the science (and sometimes to the exclusion of drawing any theological conclusions).

    I think the motives here are clear: Atheists are looking for an excuse to shout “Not science!” (a kind of modern day equivalent of shouting “heresy”) and the ID theorists want to keep their subject respectable by imbuing it with the prestige of science. OK, ID in negatively challenging the workability of the current “Law and Disorder” view of evolution’s mechanisms does mount a robust scientific challenge. But when it comes to moving beyond minimalist design detection logic into a more positive filling in of the spaces at the edge of the map as it were, the “archeological imagination” has to start working over time, and we then move away from the crisp conclusions available to school room “Bunsen burner” science, into a fuzzier and more misty world.

    But there seems to be no choice. Complex ontologies, especially if they are the stamping ground of intelligent action, produce such a baffling profusion of angles and perspectives that knowledge about them can only gained from long existential exposure to them and life in general. Science, when it is faced with complex realities, is forced to be far more imaginatively interpretative than passively inductive or even proactively deductive. “Science”, if you can still call it that, then has to move over to an activity that has more in common with our handling of personalities; personalities are such complex and fickle entities that we spend much more time interpreting their “output” rather than predicting it. (I’m reminded of ethnomethodology at this point) I’m not saying ID is irrational: I’m just saying that ID theorists have got their interpretative work cut out, just like archeologists. I suppose we just have to say “tough” – it’s as Gpuccio says “an inevitable feature of reality.”

    On the whole I try to adopt a generous attitude to ID and the epistemological difficulties it faces, perhaps because in some ways I’m in a similar position. But the fact is, given that large swaths of positive ID are about stuff with an ontology that is not readily accessible, it doesn’t classify as “Bunsen burner” laboratory science; it is of necessity rather fuzzy in some of its departments. Unfortunately this will give many atheists the pretext to cock their guns as soon as you look at you!

  24. Timothy (#23)

    Thank you for your reply. I am largely in agreement with your points.

    I particularly appreciated your use of archaeology as an example. It is very difficult to correctly synthesize the story behind an artifact, as you noted. Archaeology may be science, but it is not the same kind of rigorous science that physics or chemistry is. You say that

    If as ID theorists suggest archeology is a kind of role model for ID then perhaps this might throw some light on the difficulties ID theorists are having in trying to claim the label of “science”, especially when it comes to making positive rather than negative claims about the history of life.

    This would be true if the primary claim of ID was that a particular story could be told from the artifacts.

    What needs to be kept in mind is that the historical sciences, in particular evolutionary biology (but I would include historical geology) suffer from the same weakness. As you say elsewhere,

    Not all objects are equally accessible and amenable to analysis, history being notoriously difficult!

    Thus evolutionary biologists are in no position to criticize ID in this regard. Furthermore, just as one may find a stone blade and be virtually certain that it was designed, without knowing which tribe designed it or whether it was intended for butchering, scraping hides, or a ceremonial gift (or perhaps all three or some other use), it seems that one can make a virtually certain argument about life without knowing what its maker(s)/Maker(s) intended. Thus pure ID may be on much less shaky ground than any particular causal story. This means that the charge that ID must have more content to be valid is wrongheaded.

    Thus I agree with your comment,

    OK, ID in negatively challenging the workability of the current “Law and Disorder” view of evolution’s mechanisms does mount a robust scientific challenge. But when it comes to moving beyond minimalist design detection logic into a more positive filling in of the spaces at the edge of the map as it were, the “archeological imagination” has to start working over time, and we then move away from the crisp conclusions available to school room “Bunsen burner” science, into a fuzzier and more misty world.

    But I also agree with your next comment:

    But there seems to be no choice. Complex ontologies, especially if they are the stamping ground of intelligent action, produce such a baffling profusion of angles and perspectives that knowledge about them can only gained from long existential exposure to them and life in general. Science, when it is faced with complex realities, is forced to be far more imaginatively interpretative than passively inductive or even proactively deductive.

    As you said later, “tough”. That’s life. And it can make us (unfair) targets of atheists. But there is one important point. One cannot even begin to tell the story behind an artifact until one recognizes it as an artifact. As long as every attempt to identify life as an artifact is shouted down, it will take extremely steady nerves to ignore the shouting and try to construct a cohesive account of the artifact. People here are understandably a little gun-shy in this regard.

    (BTW, I am in awe of archaeologists who can resurrect dead languages, complete with meaning, from clearly inadequate stimuli. On the other hand, people do this all the time when they are children with living languages. Maybe we are usually just too set in our ways.)

  25. Tim,

    Thanks for being so kind to us (#21) while we hijack your thread. ;)

    I think I can appreciate your sentiments on finding out that a “just-so” story had a flaw. If true, it would decrease one’s comfort with other ‘just-so stories”. And you are right about the difficulty making predictions using evolutionary theory. Any theory that predicts correctly half the time in binary situations will have lots of anecdotal evidence to support it, even though its predictive power is no better than coin flipping. Perhaps this is how astrology can still retain the allegiance of some who do not think too critically.

    I agree that eligoodwin has consistently overstated your argument, apparently for the purpose of creating a strawman to knock down. This is a convenient way of avoiding the issue you raise.

    However, one needs to be careful about the supposed clear proof that long-necked dinosaurs couldn’t have fed from high tree branches. There is a major difference between modern reptilian and modern mammalian physiology. If one removes circulation to a human brain, for example, the human will go unconscious within 15 seconds, and often less. However, with snakes and turtles, for instance, this is not true. A poisonous snake may bite a half an hour after the head is cut off from the heart. And snapping turtle heads have been observed to bite objects placed in front of them for a similar time.

    It is possible that dinosaur physiology was closer to that of snakes and turtles than to humans. In that case, the head could go on munching for minutes after it lost its blood supply, and the animal would only have to lower its head periodically to allow blood to re-flow to the head. This apparently is related to the use of glycolysis for energy rather than aerobic respiration, but there may be some comparative physiologists that know more about the phenomenon.

    Another phenomenon may be important. Some dinosaurs had a ganglion at the base of the vertebral column that was actually larger than the brain. This basal ganglion may have helped to keep the animal functional when the brain was not functioning at peak performance. (Some wag has written a funny poem about this, which I will not reproduce because of copyright issues, but which can be found at the link.).

    So we need to be a little cautious about our claim that long-necked dinosaurs couldn’t have raised their necks high for long periods of time.

  26. Paul Giem,

    Excellent! I wrote in my post that I don’t know much about dinosaurs, and your last post taught me a few interesting things that I will soon, unfortunately, probably forget. :)

    It bears repeating that concerning the structures of sauropod necks, what we are looking for is “clear proof”. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have it, but you have absolutely nailed the point of my post. There is no “care” involved in the dissemination of “scientific knowledge” when it comes to evolution. For the evolutionary thinker needing an explanation, any explanation, natural selection is “clear proof”.

    The stories, when they finally reach the general public, are all so CERTAIN!! That certainty is not always a bad thing in science; after all, we have to have confidence of some sort in the contingent truths derived by scientific studies.

    We so often hear of the “overwhelming evidence” of evolution. Consider the reproductive advantage of upright necks for foraging the canopy. Well, is that part of the “overwhelming evidence” or not?

    It is interesting that here on this blog, we are now learning that it is not for foraging but for dominance/mating (did I get that right?) that long necks are important. Er, for those species with long necks, at any rate.

    The swapping in and out of stories, or theories, or models, or whatever, but always with the same arbitrary conclusion that “evolution is a fact” is an artifact of this area of science that I have noticed in no other area of science.

    What I find so distressing is this double motion of certainty when evolutionary just-so stories reach the public.

    In physics, for years countless experiments had “confirmed” the equation F=ma. When physicist began to study the very small and very fast, the contingency of the truths for F=ma became more and more apparent. At the smallest of levels of the physical world, I gather, F=ma has little or no explanatory power at all.

    I don’t know the first source of, “evolution is a fact,” (and I’d prefer not going into that seemingly endless discussion of what is meant by fact,) but as I look back to the structure of upright sauropod necks and how they are explained by natural selection acting on random genetic mutations within sauropod populations, I find that any thought of contingency is (consciously?) omitted.

    F=ma was not overthrown (for large, relatively slow objects) when it was found not to apply to the very small and fast, but it was constrained.

    Finch beaks and their microevolution in adapting to climate change would be an appropriate example of working within reasonable constraints.

    Why isn’t the idea of natural selection constrained for novel biological structures? Why is allowed to run amok? I’d suggest that it is because of nothing more than ideological prejudice.

  27. 27
    Timothy V Reeves

    Tim: Let me also apologize for helping to take things off at a tangent.

    Returning to the subject of dinosaur necks: Paul’s comments on Dinosaur brains are very interesting. A closer look at bio-engineering by someone of his background reveals new impinging issues; namely the resilience of reptilian brains to blood supply interruption. This seems to put the conventional evolutionary explanation of the length of dinosaur necks back on the agenda of possibility (if not certainty): This reminds me of something I said at 5 above:

    Evolution’s inherent complexity ensures that it has many variables, adjustable conditions and degrees of freedom etc. This in turn leads to the volatility of evolutionary explanations; its many degrees of freedom give it an extraordinary flexibility in the face of challenging data as it re-adapts to explain those new challenges by slipping and sliding its many internal “variables” to create a fit.

    As far as the human mind’s ability to comprehend is concerned, evolution’s scenarios are open ended affairs, and an expert with a different mind set (e.g. Paul above) may import new knowledge that leads to reinterpretation. However, given the necessary complexity of the proposed ontology of evolution I try to be generous with evolution’s proteus like nature and the ability of its explanations to morph their way round new data. Likewise, I try to be generous with the ID community’s difficulty in arriving at a consensus that goes beyond design detection (see my last post).

    Given that both sides of the ID/evolution debate have their own set of problems what would end the angst of the ID community: that evolutionists simply give up their claim to intellectual hegemony and concede some kind of academic parity?

  28. Timothy V Reeves (#27),

    I appreciate your fairness to both sides of the debate (all 3 sides? all 20 sides?). I would point out something that may have been overlooked.

    While it looks like I was just being fair to the (noninterventionist) evolutionary community, and in one sense I was, in another sense I was operating from a design perspective. Brachiosaurus existed, whether partly or completely designed or completely undesigned (or even in what time frame). In order to grow a 25 foot neck, the animal (individually) first had to grow a 20 foot neck; saltation may be an adequate theory for the kind of animal, but except possibly in the case of butterflies, it is totally inadequate for any individual member of the species. That means that the necks had to be functional enough to reach the lengths they did. Some dinosaurs had forelegs longer than their hindlegs, suggesting (to those of us who accept design) that they were designed to reach upwards with their heads. Thus there would have to be some kind of design features that countered the problem of getting blood to the head. In giraffes, this is simply high blood pressure and adaptations that allow the high blood pressure to exist without killing the animal prematurely. In dinosaurs, perhaps it was adaptations that allowed the brains and other tissues to function for extended periods of time without blood supply at all. We could perhaps call this the weak dinosauric principle, or maybe the weak organismic principle (WOP, anyone?); an organism had to be at least minimally functional, or we would not have found it. This principle exists regardless of how that organismal type came to be in the first place. Thus my explanation is not really a defense of evolutionary theory (unguided or otherwise).

    This claiming of irrelevant considerations as support for evolutionary theory is done all the time, and it confuses the discussion. If one wants to make a case for unguided evolution, what one really wants to say is something like this: There are five genes controlling neck length in dinosaurs. All of these genes have a functional range in short dinosaurs, say, Stegosaurus, that is within 1 mutation of the long-necked variety functional range except one, which has a no-dinosaur’s-land of one mutation between the short and the long-necked forms. The necks grew longer with each mutation, allowing the dinosaurs to eat progressively higher foliage and be naturally selected over millions of years. That one gene, through a lucky 2 simultaneous mutations, was able to jump the gap and produce the long necks we now can see in the fossil record. None of these mutations are outside the probability bounds that can reasonably be set for dinosaur herds of tens of thousands for millions of years. That is the kind of explanation that would sew up the unguided evolutionary explanation in this area.

    Of course, we don’t have any DNA from Brachiosaurus, let alone the putative ancestor, and we have no idea which genes we should be looking for to determine neck length. So at present it is simply a matter of faith whether such pathways exist or not. With the bacterial flagellum, we can tell precisely how many genes are required in each organism, and how many supporting genes are required, and in what order they are transcribed, and nobody (not even Matzke) has come close to giving the kind of account that must be there if (unguided) evolutionary theory is correct.

    You speak of “evolution’s proteus like nature and the ability of its explanations to morph their way round new data.” If taken to the extreme, that takes evolution completely out of the realm of science. Let me explain.

    The essence of history is recording and explaining the past. One is tempted to say simply recording, but that is not the case; there is just too much data to report everything. So there must be some choice as to which parts of history are important enough to repeat, and that means we need a framework that helps us understand which parts are important and which parts are not. That is, we are not just reporting, we are explaining. Evolution is, in fact, history (whether it is good history is another question).

    But evolution claims to be science as well. It is well to ask the nature of science. Science is intended to be objective. That is why we do experiments with controls, and in cases where we suspect that observer bias may influence the results, we insist on blinding. This makes science congenitally opposed to postmodernism (some would say that it is, with mathematics, the last outpost of defense against postmodernism in academia).

    But science has had to give up any pretense to being able to prove absolute truth, where mathematics can still make that claim. What science can claim to do is to falsify theories. This is the insight of Popper.

    It turns out not to be quite that simple. The problem with Popper’s hypothesis is that scientists do not go around making up theories and falsifying them; they strive for a theory that is not falsified, particularly a theory that could be falsified but has not been, and has survived testing. That’s what scientists really want. They want the truth, and finding out what’s false is only a tool.

    Furthermore, falsifiability turns out to be the precise reverse of the coin of predictability. A good scientific theory says that, given conditions 1-5, we will see resultant A and not B,C,D, or E. The tighter the constraints, the better the theory is at prediction. However, the tighter the constraints, the easier it is to falsify the theory. If you want a theory to be predictive, (and therefore useful), it must be falisifiable. There is no logical way of getting around that.

    Theories get particular credit for sticking their necks out where they could get chopped off, and other theories would expect their necks to be chopped off, and surviving. Thus when some scientists predicted the existence of Neptune from irregularities in the movements of Uranus, those scientists gained tremendous stature, along with Newtonian physics, when Neptune was found.

    This cuts both ways. Irregularities in the orbit of Mercury that couldn’t be explained by Newtonian physics led to its downfall. and to the rise of relativistic physics.

    The point is, if (unguided) evolutionary biology can explain everything equally well, it actually is a totally useless theory, and in an important sense can be said to not be scientific. Its predictive power, to paraphrase Antony Flew in his younger days, dies the death of a thousand qualifications. If a theory cannot predict, it is not science. It may be history; it may be good history; but it is not science.

    That, I think, is part of the frustration that Tim feels about dinosaur necks, and now about giraffe necks as well (or perhaps instead).

    Given that both sides of the ID/evolution debate have their own set of problems what would end the angst of the ID community: that evolutionists simply give up their claim to intellectual hegemony and concede some kind of academic parity?

    Yup. Exactly. We think we can win if the playing field is level. I suspect our opponents are afraid that is the case also, and that is why they persist in trying to keep the playing field from becoming level. How many believers in astrology do you know that were denied tenure? Nobody panics in physics if someone denies relativity (and there are some who do).

  29. Paul

    How many believers in astrology do you know that were denied tenure?

    this is irrelevant. the question would be how many scientists who study astrology as if it were a serious science are denied tenure. My guess would be, all of them, although I haven’t heard of any cases.

    Nobody panics in physics if someone denies relativity (and there are some who do).

    do any of those that deny relativity suggest an intelligent force as an alternative explanation?

  30. 30

    Thanks Paul (and Tim and Timothy).

    Great post.

  31. Khan (#29),

    Thanks for your comments. They are revealing.

    If one believes in astrology, one believes that the position of the stars influences human personality and behavior. That’s what astrology is. Whether those influences exist is at least theoretically a testable question. That makes it science (perhaps bad science, but science).

    What you’re saying is that if you ran academia, scientists could believe in astrology as long as they didn’t actually believe in it. What would happen if a scientist tested an astrological theory? Would you allow publication of the results only as long as the results showed that astrology was discredited? If so, what good are such cherry-picked results in discrediting astrology? Can’t you see that this way of proceeding reduces science to precisely what postmodernists claim science is? Science then does become nothing more than a power struggle, and loses all valid claims to truth.

    Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe in astrology. But if astrology doesn’t lose in a fair fight, it can’t be truly said to have lost.

    Nobody panics in physics if someone denies relativity (and there are some who do).

    do any of those that deny relativity suggest an intelligent force as an alternative explanation?

    I see. Anyone that believes that an “intelligent force” can do anything, or even suggests such a force, must be banned from the scientific community. You must have hated Star Wars! :) (Or maybe it’s okay as long as we are doing make-believe. :) )

    Let’s tease that apart.

    1. Should SETI researchers be banned from the scientific community? (They do believe in intelligent forces that are empirically detectable.)

    2. Should believers in panspermia be banned from the scientific community? If Fred Hoyle came up for tenure, or Chandra Wickramasinghe, or Francis Crick, and your vote decided, would you a) allow them because otherwise they are good scientists, b) count it against them but let them pass if their credentials were otherwise excellent enough to outweigh this flaw, or c) deny tenure regardless of their other accomplishments and abilities? After all, Dawkins thought that an extraterrestrial origin of life, as long as the extraterrestrials were naturalistic, was “an intriguing possibility”.

    3. Should believers in God be banned? If Francis Collins or Kenneth Miller came up for tenure, would you pass them, make them jump through extra hoops, or fail them?

    4. Should believers in an interventionist God be banned? If Guillermo Gonzalez (who didn’t even challenge evolution in the biological world) came up for tenure, would you pass him, make him jump through extra hoops, or fail him?

    5. Should believers in young earth creation be banned? If Isaac Newton came up for tenure, would you pass him, make him jump through extra hoops, or fail him?

    After you have thought about those questions, may I suggest a possible policy. In the movie Expelled, William Provine is quoted as saying he doesn’t care what people believe as long as they understand the theory. His actions at Cornell, where he teaches a course and invites various members of opposing viewpoints to present with him, suggests that he really means this. Stephen J. Gould actually allowed a YEC (Kurt Wise) to get his Ph.D from Harvard. Is it really that wrong to allow tolerance and plurality into science, and put the lie to the claim that it’s all about power and not about truth?

  32. Paul,
    Here is the deal. being a scientist is about two things: getting grant money and publishing papers. if you don’t do those things, you get fired or become a full-time teacher or administrator.if you can do those things, you can believe in whatever you want. if you can find a way to research astrology and get funded and published, good for you. it would be extremely hard to do, bc astrology has been debunked numerous times already, so it would be a foolish thing for, say, an untenured professor to do. despite your reading into my words, all i’m saying is that if you want to be a professional scientist you have to do science. your beliefs are irrelevant.

  33. I appreciate all of the comments. I will be closing down the comments for this thread now as I feel that we have adequately if not comprehensively discussed the matter. Special thanks to Timothy V Reeves for an openness that speaks to his character and to Paul Giem for writing what I meant!