Home » Intelligent Design » Advice for the Ruse vs. Nelson Undebate

Advice for the Ruse vs. Nelson Undebate

Yawning baby

Baby is yawning ’cause baby is bored.

In three weeks, Michael Ruse and I will be asked to explain what evidence, arguments, or attractive baubles — you know: glass beads, tin whistles, loops of colored string — would persuade us to adopt each other’s viewpoint. An undebate, of sorts.

A skeptical friend, who is a professor of biochemistry and prominent critic of ID, saw the debate announcement, and wrote me the following. Sounds boring, he said, unless you take some decisive steps to avoid the obvious.

My reply is below his remarks, which I excerpt here:

Actually, Paul, I believe this “undebate” has all the makings of a pretty humdrum affair. You’ll answer, as other commenters here would, “reproduce for me each and every minute step in the history of the universe, from the big bang, and I’ll believe!” Ruse will retort “have God appear to me and take me, step by step, through the history of the universe, and I’ll believe!” IOW, what the two sides have been doing for, like, forever.

A better format, one that would be more congenial, would be, for example, one where each contestant is asked to explore or outline a series of testable hypotheses that pertain to “the other side.” For example, Paul, you might lay out a feasible, fact-based research program dealing with the origin of life: what we don’t know, what we do know, and how we move some items from the first side to the second. Ruse might likewise spell out some unknowns in the field of ID, and how we would turn them into “knowns.”

How do we “keep score”? See how faithfully each side keeps to the spirit of the debate. The person who wimps out, who says, for example, “there is no way to study the origins of life from a naturalistic perspective,” or “ID is just religion and cannot be explored as suggested,” loses. Such a cop-out says that they are not willing to participate in an open and honest discussion of the subject.

There’s much wisdom here. Without giving away my talk — I doubt Michael Ruse reads this blog, although I’ll bet many of his students do — I’m going to come at the topic from what I hope is a counterintuitive direction.

One that picks up on my skeptical friend’s insights, in fact.

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25 Responses to Advice for the Ruse vs. Nelson Undebate

  1. “reproduce for me each and every minute step in the history of the universe, from the big bang, and I’ll believe!”

    I realize he’s using hyperbole, but I am curious how many steps in the evolutionary development of the bacterial flagellum have been proposed(that don’t require features that arose AFTER the BF). Apparently, no matter how detailed a pathway they come up with, we keep raising the bar. What is it, 5, 10, 25 steps to a working BF?

  2. So, what are some of the key unknowns in the field of ID?

  3. He is using hyperbole. To falsify ID, all it would take is the observation and explanation of a single process in nature, that does not include intelligence, which leads to increases in specified complexity beyond the bounds already set out by Drs. Behe and Dembski, or even a convincing computer programme that demonstrated that process numerically. It is pointless to speak of raising the bar. Once he got the perpetual-motion machine working, why would the inventor need to increase the the amount of power being produced in order to prove that perpetual motion exists?

    The simple fact is, it has never been observed, or demonstrated, and all the computer programmes so far written smuggle in intelligence, or they, too would fail.

  4. Of course, when I spoke of “all the computer programmes” above, I was referring to those designed to display the vaunted creative powers of RM+NS.

  5. I hope it is taped and available for download/purchase at some point.

  6. I would at least admit proof that evolution occurred from just one example of a “observed” evolution that in fact did not degrade preexisting functional genetic information in a species.
    Key point on this being “observed”!
    For we are well aware of the “just so” stories offered by evolutionists.

    I certainly don’t think that bar is too high for Darwinists to meet .(at least I’m sure they don’t think it is too high to meet). In fact they should have countless examples of functional genetic information being created in all sorts of scenarios, since “evolution” is such a foundational principle of life!
    What is their primary example of observed evolution of a mutation to a genome, of the very few, they have offered?” Lactase Persistence.
    Yet, when closely looked at, the Lactase Persistence mutation is actually the loss of an instruction in the genome to turn the Lactase enzyme off!. Thus their most solid “observed” proof of evolution is not even evolution but really devolution of total information content of the genome!. Yet, at the same time, Dr. Gary Parker states that the evidence for the overwhelming detrimental nature of mutations to the human genome is overwhelming, for Doctors have already found over 3500 mutational disorders that affect man.
    Sounds like our genome is clearly devolving instead of evolving! If evolution is truly true; this clearly should not be the case at all!
    I have truly looked for proof of evolution with an open mind, but ALL examples offered for “observed” evolution fail to offer solid proof. What is more, the supposed proofs actually conform to Genetic Entropy when carefully scrutinized. Genetic entropy is in fact the exact opposite of evolution!
    I don’t know if would accept the whole Darwinian theory,,,but if they could offer just one proof that can withstand scrutiny, then I will at least say that evolution is possible from the observed data. But they haven’t even met this “very” low burden of proof!
    So Yes, Just one example of observed evolution, would at least make me admit that Darwinian evolution is possible.

  7. bornagain, what is your email. i would like to correspond with you.

    good post by the way.

  8. So, what are some of the key unknowns in the field of ID?

    Here’s a few.

    DesignER(s) Detection methods as opposed to Design Detection (which has been covered by Dembski amply). Good luck…

    Exact limits to unguided Darwinian processes via observation and realistic simulations.

    Exact limits to guided Darwinian processes (evolutionary algorithms).

  9. Interested,
    I’m sorry but I don’t give out my e-mail, due to being burned by evolutionists the last time I did.

  10. One key unknown is what was designed.

    What appeared via design processes.

    What appeared due to chance variables acting in and on the design.

    In biology the key unknown would be the genome- can we decipher it to the point we can correct any damage. If it were intelligently designed we would expect to be able to do so.

  11. bornagain77,

    I’m not sure if this is the type of thing that you are talking about, but from my work on Salmonella (nothing to due with evolution) I know that it received Pathogenicity Islands at least two different times in its history: one of them being from Shigella if I remember correctly, it may be both of them. In any event, this transfer has caused the encoded virulence factors to change (evolve), adapting to the specific niche of each species. This can be seen by comparing, for instance, even stains so close as S. Typhi and S. Typhimurium and looking at TTSS structures and functions.
    Try:

    Winstanley and Hart. Type III secretion systems and pathogenicity islands. J Med Microbiol. 2001 Feb;50(2):116-26.

    for a nice review.
    Is this the kind of thing you are talking about? If not, could you please clarify for me.
    And, just a note, both loss of function and gain of function can be considered evolution.

  12. Kipper,
    I believe this is what you are talking about:

    Pathogenicity islands (PAIs) are a distinct class of genomic islands which are acquired by horizontal transfer.

    They are incorporated in the genome of pathogenic microorganisms but are usually absent from those non-pathogenic organisms of the same or closely related species. They usually occupy relatively large genomic regions ranging from 10-200 kb and encode genes which contribute to the virulence of the respective pathogen. Typical examples are adherence factors, toxins, iron uptake systems, invasion factors and secretion systems.
    A species of bacteria may have more than one Pathogenicity Islands PAI. (Salmonella has at least 5).
    PAIs are located mostly in gram-negative cells, but have been shown to appear in some gram-positive cells. They are located in pathogens that undergo gene transfer by plasmid, phage, or a conjugative transposon. They are transferred through horizontal gene transfer.

    Ok now Kipper, I ask you what part of the preceding definition is actually observed hard scientific data and which is inferred from their preconceived philosophical bias?”

    Well let’s look closely at how they gathered their data.

    They compare the genome of a “closely related” non-pathogenic bacteria with the pathogenic Salmonella and assume that five “islands” of mysterious 10-200 kb genome sequences transfered horizontally, from some unknown source, into fixed positions on the salmonella bacteria. I didn’t see anything about where these mysterious islands of 10,000 to 200 thousands bits of mysterious information came from, so I guess for their “conclusive” proof of how the islands got in the genome, they to point to similar Genomic Islands, in distantly related species, and thus “conclusively” prove that the lateral gene transfer occurred> Since it happened in the distantly related species it must of happened here to, is how their reasoning goes I would guess!

    Kipper, Though this may be very “suggestive” evidence, (and maybe even they can add a few more “suggestive” bits of evidence) This particular evidence you show me is clearly outside the scope of observed scientific data and thus beyond the scope of hard science! Especially considering the fact that ID is debating the very point of origination that is just automatically assumed by you to be evolution, without forethought to any other possibilities.

    This is called letting one’s philosophy lead his research when one goes beyond actual observed data and then actually interprets the peripheral “suggestive” data to fit his preconceived philosophical bias. This is clearly the practice of bad science when one goes beyond observational data to make such assumptions especially when the overall materialistic philosophy has been blatantly wrong about many other things in science!.
    Before examining the evidence, Naturalists/Materialists have already assumed evolution happened (for there is no other option) and then they “force” the “preliminary” evidence, that they do find, to fit into their preconceived philosophical bias. To put it simply, This research you quote to me about salmonella is clearly not conclusive scientifically by a long shot.
    If you want to see research that stays within the realm of hard science, with evidence blazing the way to truth, instead of philosophy misleading the way to misconceptions, I recommend Dr. Behe’s new book “Edge of Evolution”!
    Dr. Behe in His new book “Edge of Evolution” stays within the realm of hard data, and finds that the capabilities for novelty in evolution are severely limited. He writes in a easy to understand fashion and backs up his conclusions with hard observational evidence, (as opposed to the swamp land you just tried to sell me with assumed evidence!)

  13. Question for Paul Nelson: Is your ‘viewpoint’ for the purpose of this debate, assumed to be YEC?

  14. “So, what are some of the key unknowns in the field of ID?”

    This might be another one: could there be aspects of design that tell us something about the nature of the Designer?

  15. Guppy asked:

    “Is your ‘viewpoint’ for the purpose of this debate, assumed to be YEC?”

    No — ID.

  16. Is it Ruse’s viewpoint that random mutation is source of all biological novelty?

    If not then what else?

    If so then where lies the border from statistically impossible and reasonably probable? Russ made the point that well known propenents of chance evolution say finding a rabbit in Cambrian fossil would be adequate evidence to falsify Darwinian evolution. But why would it? There’s a very small but non-zero chance that random mutation could pull a rabbit out of a Cambrian hat. Is that chance too small? How is the chance of it calculated and what small chance is so small it begs belief?

    As Behe points out in Edge of Evolution with observations at the nucleotide level of random mutation in the real world in p.falciparum the laws of probability held true. In orders of magnitude more replications than all the mammals that ever lived p.falciparum didn’t come anywhere near generating any novel complexity. This was exactly what ID predicts we should observe of random mutation operating in the real world.

    If statistical probability is ignored and/or an infinite multiverse is invoked to explain the discrepancy between what random mutation actually does and what it is purported to have accomplished then the chance theory becomes useless as it can explain *any* physically possible arrangement of matter regardless of how unlikely the arrangement.

  17. Here’s one demand from Ruse I think would be reasonable, and which Nelson should think about in his response :

    “Show me Predictions that ID theory makes that are objectively verified by scientists, which cannot be satisfactorily explained by Darwin’s theory.”

    BTW, this question has been raised by Darwinists time and again in most every thread on Id I’ve visited.

  18. Here are other questions for Mr. Nelson to consider which would at least make ID theory a legitimate scientific endeavor :

    1) Explain to us the principles and standards ID proponents use to evaluate scientific evidence. A satisfactory explanation will SUPPORT an objective evolutionist’s change of mind.

    2) Show us some significant dicoveries ID researchers have made.
    This is further supporting evidence in favor of ID as science.

    3) Explain to us the features of ID theory that are subject to modification when falsified.

    Explain to us What kind of observation, if it were seen, would change ID theory. What criteria is there in ID theory for accepting such a change ?

    6) How does ID explain the evidence produced by conventional non-ID biological science?

    (of course help in answering the above questions from readers and posters will be highly appreciated ).

  19. This might be another one: could there be aspects of design that tell us something about the nature of the Designer?

    IMHO that would be a question asked by one of the new fields of inquiry that the design inference would open up.

    IOW ID should stay its course- detect and study the design.

    That does not mean questions about the designer(s) and/ or the process(es) are not importatnt or shouldn’t be asked.

    I say that is what makes ID interesting and scientific- it forces us to ask those other questions. The Design Inference- Why it matters

    And being human we will set up fields of inquiry to search for the answers.

  20. 1) Explain to us the principles and standards ID proponents use to evaluate scientific evidence.

    The conclusion of intelligent design flows naturally from the data itself-not from sacred books or sectarian beliefs. Inferring that biochemical systems were designed by an intelligent agent is a humdrum process that requires no new principles of logic or science. It comes simply from the hard work that biochemistry has done over the past forty years, combined with consideration of the way in which we reach conclusions of design every day. Dr Behe

    Thus, Behe concludes on the basis of our knowledge of present cause-and-effect relationships (in accord with the standard uniformitarian method employed in the historical sciences) that the molecular machines and complex systems we observe in cells can be best explained as the result of an intelligent cause.
    In brief, molecular motors appear designed because they were designed”
    Pg. 72 of Darwinism, Design and Public Education

    2) Show us some significant dicoveries ID researchers have made.

    The point is to conduct scientific research and be allowed to reach a design inference if that is what the data, evidence and observations warrant.

    However “The Privilege Planet”, if their predictions hold up, have discovered where we should be looking for a suitable planet in case this one shrugs us off.

    3) Explain to us the features of ID theory that are subject to modification when falsified.

    The lower limit for irreducible complexity. It can be raised if that is what the data warrants.

    Explain to us What kind of observation, if it were seen, would change ID theory. What criteria is there in ID theory for accepting such a change ?

    Irreducible complexity and complex specified information have been defined. Therefore if one could demonstrate that either could arise via purely stochastic processes, something would have to give- the definitions or the theory.

    6) How does ID explain the evidence produced by conventional non-ID biological science?

    ID doesn’t try and wasn’t formulated to explain everything.

  21. Here are a couple of questions for Mr. Ruse to consider which would at least make the anti-ID position a legitimate scientific endeavor:

    1. How was it determined that living organisms arose from non-living via purely stochastic processes?

    2. How could one falsify the premise that the bacterial flagellum “evolved” via culled genetic accidents?

  22. 1. How was it determined that living organisms arose from non-living matter via purely stochastic processes?

  23. SeekAndFind (#17): Here’s one demand from Ruse I think would be reasonable, and which Nelson should think about in his response :
    “Show me Predictions that ID theory makes that are objectively verified by scientists, which cannot be satisfactorily explained by Darwin’s theory.”

    Perhaps the unfolding functional complexity of the so-called “junk DNA”. NDE has predicted that it is the left-over debris of countless generations of RM & NS. I think ID theory has predicted that this “junk” is not really junk.

  24. As well as “this junk not really being junk”: ENCODE has found in their preliminary study of 1% of the Human Genome that “The Human Genome is a complex interwoven network”. It is certainly not the “multiple independent parts” that the NDE theory is required to have be true. Independent parts that can be chosen are discarded as natural selection sees fit! No indeed, A complex interwoven network severely limits the flexibility of genomes to any supposed hypothetical beneficial mutations since this characteristic now proves the genome is “poly-functional” (that means one part of the genome effects many other parts) and is now thus proven to be “poly-constrained” to any random mutations.
    Certainly Irreducible Complexity of the Human Genome would be one of the primary predictions of the ID theory I would think!
    This one point of preliminary evidence should be overwhelmingly confirmed in the not to distant future as the ENCODE project seeks to bring meaning to the remaining 99% of the Human Genome.
    To me this should be a primary evidence and prediction that could be used against the NDE theory!

  25. Correction:
    Certainly Irreducible Complexity of the Human Genome would be one of the primary predictions of the ID theory I would think!

    Should read like this:
    Certainly, a very High Integrated Complexity of the Human Genome would be one of the primary predictions of the ID theory!

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