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Ken Miller and I on the BBC

Ken Miller and I had a brief five minute radio debate on the BBC on Friday, December 16th. He made two point which I could not address because the BBC host did not give me the opportunity, but which I wish to address briefly now: (1) The main weakness of evolution is that it is science (yes, Miller actually did say this and went on so long about it that the BBC host could not give me my closing comment as he had intended to) and (2) ID’s main fault is that it proceeds by negative argumentation.

Point (1): The problem is not that evolution is science and therefore rife with open problems. The problem is that it never solved the problem which it set itself, namely the increasing complexification of life over the course of natural history. To be sure, evolutionists claim to have solved this problem by uncovering natural selection and other material mechanisms. But evolutionists have never been able to take these mechanisms and with them provide detailed, testable accounts of how the origination of complex biological systems required for macroevolution could have occurred. Plenty of handwaving, yes; details that would convince and evolution skeptic, no.

Point (2): Negative argumentation for one of two mutually exclusive and exhaustive positions is always positive argumentation for the other (the two positions here are intelligent design and unintelligent evolution, i.e., evolution that proceeds without intelligent input). Yes, much of ID argumentation is showing the limits to evolvability of various biological systems given certain material mechanisms. But the charge of negative argumentation applies equally to evolutionary theory: evolution argues negatively against ID. Just as ID hasn’t ruled out all conceivable material mechanisms, evolution has not ruled out all conceivable actions by intelligent agents in forming biological complexity. ID has this advantage, however. We do know that intelligent agents can bring about the types of functional systems we see in biology; we have no evidence that unintelligent evolution can do the same.

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18 Responses to Ken Miller and I on the BBC

  1. “We do know that intelligent agents can bring about the types of functional systems we see in biology…”

    In fact those systems for which we have “smoking gun evidence” of intelligence are crude “types” of the systems found in nature. Very crude. Compare the eye, optic nerve, and brain system to the most advanced video system, for example.

  2. I can not for the life of me understand Miller. I think he’s very confused theologically speaking. Darwinism says that all life is an accident, that nature NEVER has a point to get to humans. That humans arising is an accident…it’s ALL chance (even with NS, it’s still chance, because it has no purpose, meaning, or goal in mind.) As Gould said, rewind history, and if we went thru evolution again humans would never arise again…how Miller sees that as being okay with the Bible that says humans have a purpose and that God created us, I’ve no idea. Darwinism says that humans aren’t meant to be, they were never meant to be, and if we went thru it all again humans would never accidentally arise again. The cosmos doesn’t care about people and it never had us in mind with this theory. I’ve read interviews with him, but it still makes no sense at all.

  3. I am very interested in the charge of “negative argument.” It seems to me that a negative argument is an attempt at falsification which is the bread and butter of real science…however anti-ID people use it in what appears to me to be a totally new sense invented solely as a stigma phrase against ID. It has no stigma in logic, debating, mathematics, computer science nor until ID came along in science. Now it is a phrase which Darwinists use as if to be a scientist caught with a negative argument in your pocket is to be a reason for terrible shame and exclusion from rational discourse! If you know of any examples of the phrase “negative argument” being used as a stigma phrase before ID I would be very interested.

  4. It there a transcript or recording. What program was it on?

  5. “Negative argumentation for one of two mutually exclusive and exhaustive positions is always positive argumentation for the other”

    I am not sure I agree. How does a negative argument against Evolution become positive argument for ID? Both arguments can be said to bolster the ID position, yes. But by positive argument it is meant an argument constructed direct from the empirical data in support of an idea. Touching upon the weaknesses of the argument for Evolution from the empirical data is not positive argument for ID. Bill, you would be right if we took a probabilistic meaning of the terms ‘positive’ and ‘negative argumentation’, where two arguments are entirely mutually exclusive, but that is not how we commonly understand these terms. By the probabilistic definition, yes, we prevent any Origins argument claiming negative evolutionary arguments as positive argument for itself.

  6. Why doesn’t it surprise me that Ken employed his usual “Steamroller” approach? He who talks the loudest wins is his motto, I think. *sigh

  7. Sorry for the poor formatting—here is a hopefully more legible post:
    ——————————————————————————
    Dear All,

    I’m new on this forum, so it may well be that my questions and thoughts
    are already discussed extensively below—sorry if this is the case.

    I’m interested in understanding more about ID, so I’m basically
    going to try to list out what I think I’ve understood about it so far, and wait for

    people to agree/disagree/amend, if they want to. I could probably describe myself as an ID skeptic, but hope this description is irrelevant; I like to think that I am skeptical (in the best possible sense) of every idea.

    As I understand it, the two possible mechanisms for evolution discussed on these pages
    (and elsewhere in the ID debate) are:
    (1) unguided (Darwinian) evolution and
    (2) guided (ID) evolution.

    I hope it’s uncontroversial to say that one would expect both potential mechanisms to
    result in the appearance of design in nature, to a greater or lesser extent. The latter by definition, and the former from the principle of `survival of the fittest’.

    Of course, this prediction of apparent design is just a generality. The important step in determining which of the mechanisms `works’ in nature, is to see how they apply to
    specific examples. I.e. is one theory (or perhaps both theories, or neither) consistent with the experimentally observed world.

    The experimental data in this particular field consists of looking at the design and
    functionality of `lifeforms’ found in nature. I’m not sure how theory (2) can fail to
    explain any apparent design in nature, by definition. This is why many scientists regard (2) as non-falsifiable.

    I think this is probably where people may object, if you haven’t already! Is there a
    notion of some generic kind of design one could find in nature which is not consistent
    with guided design?

    The evidence I’ve read about in this debate is (I think) intended as a putative
    falsification of (1). As Arowell states in the comments, falsification of a theory is
    standard science, and a convincing example will be welcomed by scientists. I’m not an
    expert in deciding whether a particular design found in nature is consistent with
    mechanism (1), but as I understand it the main argument is that some designs are
    irreducibly complex. I think that in producing evidence to falsify (what is perceived by most professional biologists as) a previously successful theory, one needs to have
    convincing evidence. Again, I’m not an expert in biology, but my sense is that most
    biologists do not agree with the ID arguments that there are examples of irreducible
    complexity in nature.

    Whether evidence for the falsification of (1) is evidence for the veracity of (2) is an interesting question, and unusual in science—usually there is some possibility that two competing theories are both inconsistent with the data. I think the argument here is that guided design is in some sense the precise complement of unguided design (assuming the law of excluded middle, if there are no intuitionists to object!), and this is probably another part of scientists’ objections to ID as a scientific theory. Can it really be defined as the complement of a previous theory, (1)?

    My final point/question is related to my name on here, and may not be so relevant to the main debate (but intrigues me). As a physicist, I see biological processes (in a
    reductionist sense) as very low-energy physics. As physicists we feel we understand very well how these low energy physics processes work, in principle—in the sense that we have a set of underlying `laws’ which are consistent with all our experiments. Are current mutations of lifeforms thought to be guided? Should one envisage a change in the physical laws for these low energy processes? Could we look for these changes? (I think changing the physical theory consistently would be a tall order.)

    Best wishes, and interested in your responses. To summarise, I’d be interested in responses to:

    (a) Are there possible types of design which would be inconsistent with guided evolution?
    (b) Is the evidence for irreducible complexity convincing enough to falsify unguided
    evolution?
    (c) Is falsification of (1) equivalent to proof of (2)?
    (d) If (c) is true, can (2) be a scientific theory? I think it is unprecedented that one could `prove’ one scientific theory by the very process of falsifying another.
    (e) Is guided design thought to be on-going, and if so are there implications for
    physical laws at low energies?

  8. I’ve been reading these blogs and comments for about 8 months now, and this is the first time I’ve decided to register and comment. What WD says here comes up quite often in campus discussions, thus the points made by WD are well articulated and worth our preparation and memorization. I’ve often said to a ‘friendly’ atheist professor or educated skeptic that we either happened by accident or not. It IS mutual exclusivity and can be argued as indicated above. WD’s, “We do know that intelligent agents can bring about the types of functional systems we see in biology; we have no evidence that unintelligent evolution can do the same.” is a great finish! Thanks!

  9. Darwin gets to much credit in all areas. What is overshawdowed to frequently is the contribution of Mendel and the first true look at the birth of genetics.

    The ‘negative argument’ rhetoric reminds me of another lame argument, If we did not have evolution scientist – we would never have any breakthroughs in science. Or our sicence journals would be empty – phhhhffft. As if science would stop.

    I remind them of Mendel, a monk – go figure, he raised his hands and eyes to G_d. Based on the aformentioned false logic of evolution proponents, we cannot have genetics since Mendel was a Christian. By far, Mendel’s laws contribute more to science. He actually applied experimentation, observation and math.

    Darwin gave us beaks that change back and forth. He gave us observation of variation within a species. This is important, but then he stretched out the hand of god-man and declared his own creation.

  10. Bill,

    Speaking of Ken Miller, do you know the exact time and date of your upcoming debate at Case Western?

  11. Negative argument means disprove evolution then the only other explanation must be design. That’s part of the argument but not the whole thing. There is positive evidence for design regardless of problems with standard evolution.

  12. I’ve said it before, I say it again. This blog is EXACTLY like a graduate level seminar course in about 10 different fields and I LOVE IT!

    Fantastic!
    “We do know that intelligent agents can bring about the types of functional systems we see in biology; we have no evidence that unintelligent evolution can do the same.”

    I think Darwinian Evolution is in exactly the same shape the Titantic was in immediately after the gigantic iceberg ripped a fatal into its abdomen just below the water line. For a time, the ship continued to float on its merry voyage; the passengers danced and enjoyed their cabins; the band still played. But the ship’s mates in the boiler room knew something was terribly wrong; the logic of the North Sea had already doomed the ship to the bottom of the Atlantic.

    It was only a matter of time.

  13. Miller is hard to figure out. On one hand he talks so much about his faith being so important and that he is a Catholic like Behe (as though this is a counter to Behe). Then, on the other hand, he seems to have a difficulty dealing with fallen nature (which should be a no brainer given is religion), totally espouses RM&NS, and then ascribed the wiring of the eye as bad design, and thereby nullifying God’s creative activity.

    Totally espousing RM&NS isn’t the puzzling part – lots of TE folks hold that view, and it is considered valid orthodoxy in Christian circles. The puzzling part is what I’ve heard him say about the eye. What’s up with that?

    He says the eye was terribly designed due to the wiring and was therefore evidence of evolution. So, what does he think happened as a committed Catholic? Did God set up the first causes, hoping that it would eventually lead to mankind, but not really sure things would turn out that way? Was God just as ‘lucky’ as we are that we eventually got here? His whole eye argument seems to indicate that God had no control over it, and that is why the eye is ‘badly’ designed. For, if it was designed by God, surely he would have done a better job.

    Now, this blog has discussed the eye on numerous occasions, so I don’t want to rehash that argument. What I really want to figure out is where is Miller coming from with his theology, when he sees the eye as a chance creation, and done rather badly. Does this mean, in Miller’s view, that if things didn’t work out well, we might all be walking around with light sensitive spots on our heads, and God would be sitting back with his hands tied?

  14. P.S. if anyone knows how to attach a spellchecker to this little box where comments go, I would appreciate it. My spelling is horrible.

  15. Usc you’re worb processer, than cob ang baste hear.

  16. ajl:
    Miller’s claim about the “poor design” of the eye reminds me of an electrician I hired, who said he knew “a much better way” to wire my house than what the architect had drawn. Now, whenever someone pushes the doorbell, the garbage disposal flips on.

  17. Dembski saysID has this advantage, however. We do know that intelligent agents can bring about the types of functional systems we see in biology; we have no evidence that unintelligent evolution can do the same.

    It doesn’t seem to matter how much you belabor that point. Some people just don’t get it. We replicate all kinds of irreducibly complex things chock full of CSI and we designed it all too. There is only one other example in nature of this kind of self-replicating CSI it’s in organic living cells. The example of CSI where we KNOW the source is intelligent agency. How stupid is it to assume that the only other example is NOT intelligent agency. Like duh!

  18. D writes: “Negative argumentation for one of two mutually exclusive and exhaustive positions is always positive argumentation for the other (the two positions here are intelligent design and unintelligent evolution…”

    I think D assumes far too much in this proposition. I can imagine designed body forms that subsequently develop haphazardly in nature. I can imagine heritable alterations of DNA caused by cellular, extra-cellular or environmental events. I can entertain the idea of speciation of designed forms.

    I don’t claim to have empirical evidence of the above. Situation: contingent. State of knowledge: fluid. But please note that D’s proposition implies that he DOES claim empirical evidence, i.e., in his use of the term “exhaustive.” Clearly D has no such exhaustive evidence. Therefore his claim of mutual exclusivity is false. D describes a rhetorical, not a logical, battle when referencing negative argumentations in this instance.