Home » Intelligent Design » Don’t use the D word. It’s being eliminated.

Don’t use the D word. It’s being eliminated.

‘It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. Or course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well…Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thought-crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.’

– Syme, the Newspeak editor, in George Orwell’s 1984

Biologists should no longer use the word “design,” urges evolutionary biologist Walter Bock of Columbia University, in a newly-published article, as this word and its related concepts bring with them “connotations that are undesirable or unwanted” (p. 8). Biologists should “drop all usages of design from evolutionary biology” (p. 9) and find some other term to express — well, that idea, for which we will no longer be using that word.

Bock contends that the original error of usage stems from Charles Darwin, who should not have expressed that idea “in the form he used” (p. 9):

In spite of the nice contrast between ‘accident versus design’, the term design carries with it too many undesirable connotations, such as the existence of a creator, and should not be used in evolutionary theory. Design could be replaced with non-accidental or non-stochastic, but these substitute terms are awkward and not really informative. Darwin developed his theory of organic evolution in part as an explanation of the appearance and perfection of adaptations to counter the idea of design as advocated by Paley and accepted then by almost everyone in the western world, including biologists… Unfortunately in this respect there is no solution to the paradox posed by Darwin which should not have been expressed in the form he used; his query was expressed in a letter to a colleague and not in a manuscript intended for publication. Actually the living world as we see it is the result of chance because all of the attributes of these organisms evolved and the process of evolution is stochastic.

Darwin set up an illegitimate contrast, because that idea actually refers to nothing, and thus cannot be expressed in ordinary language. The word ‘chance’ has no proper antonym.

As Syme puts it,

‘After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other words? A word contains its opposite in itself.’

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71 Responses to Don’t use the D word. It’s being eliminated.

  1. I actually read this somewhere a few months ago, during a few days when I was actually reading 1984. It is such a powerful book, and then to simultaneously hear that from a Darwinist – I was blown away at the audacity of it.

    I can’t remember if it was Walter Bock that I heard it from, though.

  2. Not to miss the point, but …
    1) Bock admits that Darwin, and like-minded biologists to follow, present ToE as the counter to “that word”.
    He admits then that there are two proposals on the table, and only two.
    Proof again that negative evidence against the one is positive evidence for the other – being that each “contains its opposite on itself”.

    2)

    Actually the living world as we see it is the result of chance because all of the attributes of these organisms evolved and the process of evolution is stochastic.

    Question-begging aside, he has just refuted the modern mantra “evolution is anything but random”.

  3. THE LAST RANT

    Now, children, what you may see here in the cell and its incredible complexity is apparent evidence of non-stochastic. Non-stochastic what, you may ask? I haven’t the foggiest idea. I’m a biologist, not a bloody linguist. No, it doesn’t have to be non-stochastic x or non-stochastic y. I don’t care if “non-stochastic” is an adjective. That’s not how I’m using it! Believe me, if I could come up with another word to avoid saying the word that obviously wants to insert itself after the modifier “non-stochastic,” I would! But I can’t! So cut me some slack! You know, Darwin wasn’t so perfect either. “Natural selection”—what the hell is that? And “survival of the fittest” is even worse! See, there was no way to say the deep things Darwin was trying to say, which is why he wound up saying them the way he did. And the same is true of me! (Martha, why has my watch stopped? It hasn’t? O, look! The little hand is running backwards.)

  4. First of all, why is “the existence of a creator” considered “undesirable”? I thought science was supposed to be “pure reason” without any ideological committments. Obviously, many biologists have made the leap from methodological study of natural phenomena to simply naturalism (all there is is natural law). That is further reinforced if you saw what I posted at #80 in the thread on Part 1 of Message Theory:

    “Well, from a scientific perspective, life must have arisen from non-living physiochemical systems.”

    Design could be replaced with non-accidental or non-stochastic

    No they couldn’t. Here is an example:

    The nanotechnology found in the cell is beautifully designed.

    The nanotechnology found in the cell is beautifully non-accidental.

    Huh? Okay, I’ll try again…

    A blood clotting system is designed to prevent excessive bleeding.
    A blood clotting system is non-accidental to prevent excessive bleeding.

    Still doesn’t make any sense. Why not use the word that best describes what is found all throughout biology: DESIGN. It has been used all of these years not because Darwin used it, but because it most accurately describes what is found. It is iniftinitely more accurate now than in Darwin’s time because of what we discovered once we could actually look into the cell, explore DNA code, etc. Eliminating it would only reinforce a naturalist’s worldview and would have absolutely nothing to do with science.

  5. I recently wrote something that is very relevant here:

    In one sense, we can understand “natural” as anything that is not the product of intelligence. This is why we refer to some things as “man-made” and other things as “naturally occurring”.

    In another sense, we can understand “natural” as all-encompassing. Intelligence is merely one category of natural things.

    In this second sense, we would have to speak in terms of “intelligent” causes and “unintelligent” causes, since both of these fall under the umbrella of “natural”.

    In the first sense, we could speak of intelligent causes as an antonym for natural causes. To me, this is the most convenient since this is generally consistent with the way these terms are used outside of this debate.

    EITHER way is valid, but it can become confusing if we aren’t using / understanding these terms in the same way.

    —–

    The same goes for “design”.

    Isn’t this guy tackling a problem that is solved all the time when we say things like “man-made” or “naturally occurring”??

  6. QuadFather,

    Thanks for the explanation. A lot of confusion can happen when terms are not precisely defined.

  7. Someone should tell Bock that Darwin was a theist until his dying day. He probably never read The Origin of the Species. It sounds like he unreflectively believes what his atheistic colleagues have spoon fed him.

    These biologists should read a statistics book sometime too, but they probably don’t have the brains for that either. Statistics does not describe a mechanism. It is merely a way of describing a range of possible outcomes. The odds of flipping a coin is 50/50. That does not mean that there is no underlying mechanism. It just means we are not able to learn or control the mechanism. With perfect muscle control, or the use of a robot, there would be no randomnes in flipping a coin. Likewise, in evolution randomness does not explan the mean of speciation, just the fact that biologist don’t understand it.

  8. Greetings, Paul, from snowy/soggy Ithaca!

    As you probably know from our conversation last time you were here, I completely disagree with attempts to eliminate the term “design” from biology. No less an authority than Ernst Mayr himself argued strongly for the legitimacy of teleology in biology. For this reason, I assign his landmark 1974 paper on “Teleology and Teleonomy: A New Analysis” to all of my evolution students here at Cornell. [1]

    Mayr argued (and I agree) that the genome of an organism constitutes a “plan” or “program” for the assembly and operation of that organism. As such, every living organism carries a “design” for its assembly and operation in its genome.

    Furthermore, Mayr argued (and I again agree) that the “programs” in the genomes of all living organisms are themselves “designed” via various evolutionary mechanisms: natural selection, sexual selection, genetic drift, founder effects, genetic bottlenecks, and so forth.

    The “design” process by which the ecosystem of an organism “specifies” the genotype (and therefore the phenotype) of the organism constituted the core of Darwin’s theory of evolution, and in somewhat expanded form remains the core of evolutionary biology today.

    The place where I part company with ID supporters is the insistence by some of the latter that this “design” process must be “foresighted” (a term I much prefer to “intelligent”, which is so vague as to be operationally useless), and that as such, the “designer” is ipso facto “supernatural”.

    The difference between the generally accepted scientific model of this process and that proposed by ID theorists such as yourself is not with respect to the concept that organisms are “designed”. Clearly, they are (i.e. by their genomes, interacting with their environment during their development). The difference is the mechanisms by which such “designs” themselves originate. Like Darwin, I find the empirical evidence that they arise from the operation of “general laws” operating in changing ecosystems over geological time compelling.

    As to the source of such “general laws”, I strongly believe that is beyond the scope of any conceivable empirical science. I like Newton’s phrase: “I make no hypotheses!”…at least not when I’m doing science.

    I am currently working on a book on this general topic, entitled On Purpose: The Evolution of Design by Means of Natural Selection, or the Proliferation of Intentional Agents in the Struggle for Existence”. Im aiming for having it published in 2011; wish me luck!

    [1] You can download a copy of Mayr’s paper here:

    http://evolution.freehostia.co.....7956b275cc

    The password is “evolutioncp”, without the “. Just scroll down to the entry for Mayr/1974 and click on the title to download a .pdf of the paper.

  9. Oddly enough, Peter, an entire course in statistics and biometry is a requirement for a bachelor’s degree in biology at Cornell. Please lay off the ad hominems and stick to the argument.

  10. Allen,

    I believe your definition of “design” is off its actual meaning.

    According to the American Heritage Dictionary definition of design, design is:

    “de·sign (d?-z?n’)
    v. de·signed, de·sign·ing, de·signs

    v. tr.
    1. a. To conceive or fashion in the mind; invent: design a good excuse for not attending the conference.

    b. To formulate a plan for; devise: designed a marketing strategy for the new product.”

    Design is very literally the product of a mind, and not the result of some random processes and/or non-random natural laws of nature.

  11. The term “stochastic” is part of the problem, here. It comes from the Greek word stokhos, meaning “a target for archers to shoot at”. When one shoots at a target, one rarely if ever hits the target in exactly the same place. The deviations between hits are “stochastic”; that is, they are deviations from the aiming point.

    However, the whole idea of aiming at a target is entirely teleological. Oddly enough, the term “stochastic” has come to mean just the opposite: it now is generally used to mean “random” (i.e. “unaimed”).

    In the context of my previous comment on your post, I think it is a fallacy to conflate the idea of something that is designed with something that is supernatural. Living organisms are clearly “designed” by their genomes and their environment, neither of which is “supernatural”.

  12. No less an authority than Ernst Mayr himself argued strongly for the legitimacy of teleology in biology.

    Except in “What Evolution Is”- I don’t have the book in front of me but I believe the page is 121 tat he states there isn’t any place for teleology in biology.

    Mayr argued (and I agree) that the genome of an organism constitutes a “plan” or “program” for the assembly and operation of that organism.

    Except it doesn’t:

    “Yet by the late 1980s it was becoming obvious to most genetic researchers, including myself, since my own main research interest in the ‘80s and ‘90s was human genetics, that the heroic effort to find the information specifying life’s order in the genes had failed. There was no longer the slightest justification for believing that there exists anything in the genome remotely resembling a program capable of specifying in detail all the complex order of the phenotype. The emerging picture made it increasingly difficult to see genes in Weismann’s “unambiguous bearers of information” or to view them as the sole source of the durability and stability of organic form. It is true that genes influence every aspect of development, but influencing something is not the same as determining it. Only a very small fraction of all known genes, such as developmental fate switching genes, can be imputed to have any sort of directing or controlling influence on form generation. From being “isolated directors” of a one-way game of life, genes are now considered to be interactive players in a dynamic two-way dance of almost unfathomable complexity, as described by Keller in The Century of The Gene.”
    Michael John Denton page 172 of Uncommon Dissent

    Genomes, membranomes, epigenetics- each of these influence the final form but they do not determine it.

    Furthermore, Mayr argued (and I again agree) that the “programs” in the genomes of all living organisms are themselves “designed” via various evolutionary mechanisms: natural selection, sexual selection, genetic drift, founder effects, genetic bottlenecks, and so forth.

    That is the claim anyway.

    I don’t think Mayr understood the meta-information required just to get genes to be expressed.

    The place where I part company with ID supporters is the insistence by some of the latter that this “design” process must be “foresighted” (a term I much prefer to “intelligent”, which is so vague as to be operationally useless), and that as such, the “designer” is ipso facto “supernatural”.

    The “supernatural” part has been shown to be nonsense.

    IOW you part with ID for something that is your problem.

    And in the end if we are allowed to follow the evidence and it does indeed lead to some supernatural entity- the designer is exposed- what is the problem with that?

    Like Darwin, I find the empirical evidence that they arise from the operation of “general laws” operating in changing ecosystems over geological time compelling.

    Darwin didn’t know any better.

    You should.

    Had Darwin been privy to the data we have today he would have said Intelligent Design- Yes- fixation of species- No.

  13. Given definition #2, a “designed” object or process is one for which a plan or program has been devised or formulated. This definition says nothing about whether the “designer” is “intelligent”, “foresighted”, or “supernatural”.

    Does the genome of an organism specify, organize, and control the assembly and operation of the organism in concert with objects and processes derived from the organism’s environment? If it does, then it seems perfectly reasonable to me to say that the genome of the organism constitutes a “design” for that organism.

  14. Allen

    “the “designer” is ipso facto “supernatural”.

    You know damn well that this is not in the evidence for ID. I can easily assume that you intend to state it in your book as such anyway.

    Why not? Who will care, right?

  15. In the context of my previous comment on your post, I think it is a fallacy to conflate the idea of something that is designed with something that is supernatural.

    Then why do YOU do it?

    Living organisms are clearly “designed” by their genomes and their environment, neither of which is “supernatural”.

    The genomes and environments just help shape the design- ie they have influencing roles.

    There isn’t any data which would show that either or both determine the outcome.

    And in the end ID is about the DESIGN, which is NOT supernatural and NOT about the designER, which we don’t know if ipso is a facto or not…

  16. No, Mayr didn’t argue that there is no place for teleology in biology. Read the paper at the link I provided. What Mayr argued (and I agree with him) is that the processes by which the program by which an organism is assembled and operated need not be teleological, and that there is no empirical evidence to support the assertion that they are.

  17. To put it briefly:

    Development [1] is a teleological process.

    However, there is no empirical evidence that biological evolution [2] is also a teleological process.

    [1] Development = the processes by which the information in the genome of an organism, in concert with objects and processes in the environment of the organism, brings about the assembly and operation of the organism

    [2] Biological evolution = the process by which the the information in the genome of an organism (and the biological entities and processes in the environment of the organism) came into being

  18. 18

    I am surprised to see so many ID theorists attacking the messengers from the other side. Why the disrespect? It does nothing to advance ID imho.

    Domoman

    you only post the verbs “design.” Go figure?

    –noun
    9. an outline, sketch, or plan, as of the form and structure of a work of art, an edifice, or a machine to be executed or constructed.
    10. organization or structure of formal elements in a work of art; composition.
    11. the combination of details or features of a picture, building, etc.; the pattern or motif of artistic work: the design on a bracelet.
    12. the art of designing: a school of design.
    13. a plan or project: a design for a new process.
    14. a plot or intrigue, esp. an underhand, deceitful, or treacherous one: His political rivals formulated a design to unseat him.
    15. designs, a hostile or aggressive project or scheme having evil or selfish motives: He had designs on his partner’s stock.
    16. intention; purpose; end.
    17. adaptation of means to a preconceived end.

  19. Allen @ #13,

    The term “devise” is used within the second definition that I gave you. The word “devise” also takes its inherent meaning from the mind:

    de·vise (d?-v?z’) Pronunciation Key
    tr.v. de·vised, de·vis·ing, de·vis·es
    To form, plan, or arrange in the mind; design or contrive: devised a new system for handling mail orders.

    Either organisms are designed via a mind, or they are not designed and are the result of random processes and/or laws of nature.

  20. Am I wrong in thinking that there is also no empirical evidence showing that how the information in the genome of an organism came into being is not teleological? Yet it still is labeled as “a fact more undeniable than Newtonian physics”.

    To me, ID/neo-Darwinism hinges on probability. What are the odds things developed in the given time frame? We may never know (in our lifetime, anyway) because of the multitude of factors. If the human genome is as complex as it has been said to be after the multi-million dollar research campains of the last couple decades (meta-information, sections of code used multiple times, etc.) is it probable that it developed through mutation/selection over several billion years? Here is an example to illustrate (not supposed to be a scientific proof for ID, and is also not supposed to represent the statistics/probabilities of anything in biology):

    Say there are lots of piles of quarters. Each pile has 40 quarters. They are assumed to have been piled randomly. But in one pile, all of the quarters are heads-side up. What is the population of piles that is needed to keep randomness as a plausible explanation? Any number statistically below this limit (whatever that is determined to be) would make an intelligent agent a much more probable cause. The total number of variations of a 40-quarter pile is a little over 1 trillion. I don’t feel like going through P-tables, etc. right now to figure out what the probability limit would be

    As far as, for example, the complexity of the DNA code goes, I don’t think anyone has an accurate idea what the probability of it developing randomly is. So in my opinion, the issue currently relies on intuition (so I’m not saying ID has proven pure naturalism to be false), and to me, a sequence as complex as the human genome has recently been reported is too complex and specified to have developed within hundreds of millions (or billions) of generations.

  21. BTW, the dictionary definition of the word “devise” is also taken from the same source, the American Heritage Dictionary.

  22. Uoflcard,

    Say there are lots of piles of quarters. Each pile has 40 quarters. They are assumed to have been piled randomly. But in one pile, all of the quarters are heads-side up. What is the population of piles that is needed to keep randomness as a plausible explanation? Any number statistically below this limit (whatever that is determined to be) would make an intelligent agent a much more probable cause. The total number of variations of a 40-quarter pile is a little over 1 trillion. I don’t feel like going through P-tables, etc. right now to figure out what the probability limit would be

    Despite what others might try and make us believe on here: I’m pretty sure that every one of them, if they ran across a pile of quarters stacked 40 high and heads-side-up (even among many piles not all heads-side-up), would invoke intelligence.

  23. Yes, as I said before (perhaps on this site): editors and peer reviewers have already been busy scouring new submissions for words like “design”, writing on the draft’s margins, “could be expressed differently–may mislead.”

  24. Here’s an idea. Change the word “design” to “Darwin.” It’s just about semantics anyway.

    “Now class, today we will darwin a bridge. Let’s begin the darwin process by darwining the support structure.”

  25. 7
    Peter
    02/19/2009
    3:20 pm
    Someone should tell Bock that Darwin was a theist until his dying day. He probably never read The Origin of the Species. It sounds like he unreflectively believes what his atheistic colleagues have spoon fed him.

    +++++

    Someone should tell Peter that Darwin died as an agnostic. An agnostic is a polite atheist that refuses to get out of the closet, and he manages to take personal advantage from both sides.

    From a former Brazilian atheist who doesn’t belief in Darwin’s general theory of evolution.

    History of Science Ph. D. candidate.

  26. To Allan MacNeill (8, 11, 13, 17):

    Thanks for your polite and intelligent posts. I don’t think they are mean-spirited and I think you are trying to get at the truth. Nonetheless, I disagree with your main conclusions. I’ll indicate my disagreements as I work through the points you’ve made with which I agree.

    True, the word “design” can be used in the limited way that you use it in post 13 above. In fact, your limited usage points out the value of the phrase “intelligent design”. Some have said that “intelligent design” is a redundant term, since “design” implies intelligence, as in the case of a human engineer who designs a dam or a computer. But since design, in your limited sense, does not imply intelligence, but merely indicates the teleological functioning of certain systems, a term is needed to make it absolutely clear when we are talking about systems that do not merely function as if they were designed by a thinking agent, but in fact *were* designed by a thinking agent. Therefore, “intelligent design” is just the right expression for what ID is saying.

    Regarding developmental processes, you are not in disagreement with ID people, since you regard developmental processes as design-driven and teleological (post 17), and so do they. The nub of your argument, however, is that evolution itself should not be understood as teleological, i.e., that there is no “design of the design”. The design of the developmental process in, say, a fruit fly, is not the result of intelligence or foresight, but of a series of accidents or contingent processes which you call “mechanisms” (natural selection, sexual selection, genetic drift, founder effects, genetic bottlenecks, and so forth), which blindly and unintentionally produced the embryonic process which produces new fruit flies.

    I admit that ID has not proved, and cannot currently prove, that evolution is teleological. However, I don’t see how neo-Darwinists can dogmatically maintain that evolution is *not* teleological, when we have so little data to go on. The only evolution we have ever observed (or are ever likely to observe) is microevolution; macroevolution is extrapolated on the basis of microevolution, and the extrapolation is far from certain; we simply don’t know nearly enough about genetics, development, etc., to say for certain that your proposed mechanisms can take us from microevolution to macroevolution. We can’t even say that it’s highly probable, since in order to say even that much we would have to be able to estimate the probabilities, and we can’t do that at the moment. As uoflcard says in 20 above, at this stage all probability estimates are based on intuition, and the intuition of a neo-Darwinist like Coyne is no more scientific than the intuition of an ID theorist like Behe.

    The intuition of mankind has always been that life points to intelligent design, and recent discoveries in genetics, cell biology, biochemistry, etc., are making the design inference stronger and stronger. The amount of interlocking of all the complex systems in even a bacterium, let alone something as complex as a fish, or a human being, makes Darwinism (even with all the “mechanisms” you’ve mentioned, and more if you want to throw them in) intuitively even less plausible than it was in Darwin’s day. (Indeed, I think that the reason biologists keep adding new “mechanisms” to Darwin’s “variation plus natural selection” is that they are aware how preposterously improbable Darwin’s original suggestion was. But the “mechanisms” they have added in some cases aren’t really “mechanisms” at all; genetic drift is merely the absence of any guiding mechanism, for example. And some of the mechanisms, like that proposed for the origin of the mitochondrion, appear to have only local, one-time application, and not to be general mechanisms capable of explaining, say, the Cambrian explosion.)

    I don’t understand why you drag in the notion of a “supernatural” designer. There is nothing in the notion of design as such that implies supernatural agency. Engineers and architects are not supernatural. Of course, it may work out in practice that the only possible designer of life is a supernatural being, but that would follow from a specific line of empirical argument, and would not be a straight logical inference from the definition of “design” or “designer”. And ID does not claim to be able to detect the supernatural or non-supernatural character of any putative designer. It only claims to be able to detect the design.

    And note that the inference of intelligent design, though compatible with the existence of an intervening, miracle-working God, doesn’t require one. It’s compatible with a wholly naturalistic unfolding of a universe with pre-set initial values established by a planning but non-interfering Mind. You can find such an account in *Nature’s Destiny* by Michael Denton. In Denton’s account, the supernatural has no explanatory role in the detailed unfolding of life. Given the initial parameters, everything occurs according to natural laws. Nonetheless, though there are no miracles, there is still design – input into the cosmos at the beginning of time – which cannot fail to produce life and even intelligent life. Denton’s designer is indeed intelligent but does not work (beyond the initial creation of the universe itself) supernaturally.

    Indeed, Denton actually does a better job than Darwin in carrying out Darwin’s own project, which was to explain the biological realm in terms of fixed natural laws. Thus, we would expect that the neo-Darwinists should like Denton; but they don’t, because he denies the extreme powers that they give to chance, and because he thinks the design inference is valid, and it is an article of neo-Darwinist religion that there cannot and must not be design in biological nature. This is proof that Darwinism is not committed to embracing all scientific explanations for evolution; it is committed to embracing only “non-design” explanations. This is why Darwinism is ultimately not science but metaphysics.

    T.

  27. In #26 Timaeus wrote:

    “I don’t see how neo-Darwinists can dogmatically maintain that evolution is *not* teleological, when we have so little data to go on.”

    Not all “Darwinists” (if by that term you mean evolutionary biologists) dogmatically maintain that evolution is *not* teleological. I don’t, for example. Indeed, I would say that this is currently an open question, and (like the existence of a supernatural deity or deities) will probably remain so for the indefinite future.

    On the other hand, I do not think that this justifies assuming that the origin and evolution of biological programs is teleological. On the contrary, scientists no longer invoke teleological explanations for other “natural processes”, such as gravity, the eruption of volcanoes, the collapse of red giant stars, or the formation of chemical bonds. None of these processes require an explanation that includes the concept of purpose. Why should biological processes be any different?

    To understand why the detection of purpose in origin and evolution of natural processes may very well be impossible using empirical means, consider the difficulties involved with validating and/or falsifying the hypothesis that any particular “natural” object or process is a product of design. That is, it’s existence is clearly and unambiguously the result of a teleological process, the goal of which was the bringing into existence of the object or process. How would one devise a controlled experiment to do this? Or, if you prefer, what kind of empirical evidence would one collect that would unambiguously eliminate either a non-teleological hypothesis? And please, no arguments by analogy (i.e. it looks purposeful, ergo it is purposeful). Such arguments are not logically compelling.

  28. I also have a problem with the term “blind” when referring to the mechanisms of biological evolution. There is absolutely nothing “blind” about natural selection, if by “blind” one means “unguided” or (worse) “random”. Natural selection isn’t unguided or random. On the contrary, natural selection produces the outcomes that it does as the result of “guidance” provided by the environment.

    If I’m “blind”, does that mean I won’t wind up at the bottom of a hill if I start out walking and “randomly” change direction, but always in a downhill direction? Nope; I might wander back and forth a lot, but I will be “guided” to the bottom of the hill by a very simple, essentially “natural” rule.

    According to the view held by almost all biologists, evolution works the same way. Darwin perhaps said it best at the end of the Origin of Species (http://darwin-online.org.uk/co.....ageseq=507):

    “It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.” [Emphasis added]

  29. —-Enezio E. De Almeida Filho: “An agnostic is a polite atheist that refuses to get out of the closet, and he manages to take personal advantage from both sides.”

    How nicely you do put things. Your thesis if probably true about 90% of the time.

  30. Mr. MacNeill

    My challenge to any scientist is for them to just imagine that some being (be it an alien or diety) did monkey with life on earth; could science ever tell? Why or why not? And if a geneticist ever created a viral disease for bioterrorism, could scientists tell whether it was designed by someone or was it the result of mutation? Why or why not?

    The reason (I think) that people are skeptical of intelligent design is that it sounds like God (but it isn’t necessarily God) and some explanations invoking God have failed in the past. So people are conditioned to be skeptical of explanations that seem to invoke God. This skepticism is learned but not necessarily rational.

  31. —-Allen MacNeil: “Natural selection isn’t unguided or random. On the contrary, natural selection produces the outcomes that it does as the result of “guidance” provided by the environment.”

    In a relative sense, the environment directs and guides, but in an absolute sense it does not. Why? Because the environment doesn’t know where it is going and therefore cannot, in any meaningful way, provide direction. So, in the final analysis, Darwinian evolution is undirected and totally chance driven.

  32. I have to agree with StephenB. I know that DNA directs proteins, but can you really say that DNA designs the workings of the cell? Can you say that a blueprint designs the building not the architect? Or that the computer program designs its application? DNA can be a design, but cannot design (verb). The laws of nature can be (maybe) designed but cannot design themselves.

    Just for the record, I do not necessarily agree that design must come from a “mind” or that it be supernatural (though I believe in a supernatural God). I think that perhaps a computer could do it, but that computer would have to be able to recognize symbolism, make abstract connections and be creative to do it. DNA and the laws of nature do not do these things, to my understanding so I don’t understand why Mr. MacNeill wants to call it design rather than “influences” or “causes” or even “directs.” He seems to want to say that it is a natural (as in random) or supernatural. Those are not the only choices I think.

  33. Sorry for the cross-posting, but the other thread was getting really long, and I genuinely would like an answer to the following:

    “Intelligence” doesn’t do anything. Intelligent agents do things. That is, intelligent agents do things that require “intelligence”, such as making choices, specifying means, directing processes toward outcomes (and compensating for deviations produced by objects and processes in the environment. Programs don’t write themselves; they are written by “intelligent agents”. Ergo, if “intelligent design” exists, it exists because of the actions of an “intelligent agent“.

    The same is the case for natural selection. Natural selection doesn’t do anything. It’s an outcome, not a “process”. To be specific, natural selection is an outcome of three separate, but related processes:
    1) variation,
    2) inheritance, and
    3) reproduction.
    Given these three processes, the outcome in an environment with limited resources is:
    4) unequal, non-random survival and reproduction. This outcome is what evolutionary biologists mean by the term “natural selection”.

    Ergo, natural selection cannot be both a “creative process” by which biological entities and processes come into being and an outcome of such a process. On the contrary, processes 1 through 3 listed above are the means by which biological entities and processes come into being, and #4 is what we perceive as the outcome: change in the characteristics present in a population of organisms over time (i.e. evolution). [1]

    This means that if “intelligent design” happens, it must happen by means of the actions of an intelligent agent in one or more of the processes listed above. I think that most people who post and comment at this website would agree that it probably operates as part of #1 (variation). This was Asa Gray’s belief upon reading Darwin’s Origin of Species.

    Ergo, ID isn’t even in complete opposition to the concept of evolution by natural selection. ID supporters simply disagree with evolutionary biologists on the source of the variations which provide the “raw material” for the demographic “sorting and preservation” that produces the outcome we refer to as “natural selection”.

    So, what “intelligent agents” are proposed to explain the origin of “intelligently designed” variations, and via what mechanism(s) do such agents operate?

    [1] Note that this “change in the characteristics present in a population of organisms over time” may be either gradual or episodic (the fossil record inclines toward the latter conclusion).

  34. Gravity has a consistent outcome: objects with mass are always attracted to the center of mass of other objects with mass. Or, as I learned it first, things that go up must come down.

    So, gravity is not “blind”, nor is it random. Is it therefore “intelligently designed?” Alternatively, does the consistent and non-random “behavior” of objects having mass in a gravitational field the result of an “intelligent agent?”

    I ask, because it seems to me that what Darwin refers to as “the laws of nature acting around us” and which he believes cause descent with modification and the origin of adaptations are the result of such laws.

    The question is, therefore, are “natural” laws enough, or does biological evolution require the intervention of “intelligent agents”?

  35. And please notice I didn’t say “might</i? require”…

  36. sorry, might (dang twitchy trigger finger…)

  37. In #31 StephenB writes:

    “Because the environment doesn’t know where it is going and therefore cannot, in any meaningful way, provide direction.”

    Gravity doesn’t know where it is going, but it certainly can provide consistent direction. Ergo, purely “natural” processes can indeed provide direction, without necessarily intending to or bring aware that they are doing so.

  38. And thanks to most of you for a very polite and stimulating exchange of views and information. I hope you have all gained as much clarity about your own opinions and understandings as I have. That’s what this is all for, isn’t it? For most of us, anyway.

    My toddler son (the little Dragon) had some chocolate yesterday evening, and so my wife and I didn’t get much sleep (because he didn’t get much sleep), so good night to all, for now…

  39. Collin: “The laws of nature can be (maybe) designed but cannot design themselves.”

    Except of course if the laws are themselves ‘living’.

    On a different forum a few months back, I pressed for answers as to how chemicals could self-organize and then assemble themselves into amino acids without having information with which to do so since these chemicals did not have the benefit of an ‘evolutionary library’ at the dawn of creation.

    One answer that struck me (the novice that I am) was force and momentum. Now if force and momentum are responsible for the assembly of atoms into chemicals and consequently the self-organization of these chemicals into more complex arrangements like amino acids, must it not logically follow that information must be present to allow these inanimate entities to self-organize?

    Furthermore, if atoms themselves do not contain information, then that information must come from either the force, the momentum, or the interface of force and momentum.

    Even if it were remotely possible to empirically show that in deed force, momentum, and/or their interface contained information, how could chemicals be shown to utilize this information that was created by non-material entities?

    That’s what Id like to know.

    Takers anyone or is this a (lame) question?

  40. —-Allen: “Gravity doesn’t know where it is going, but it certainly can provide consistent direction. Ergo, purely “natural” processes can indeed provide direction, without necessarily intending to or bring aware that they are doing so.”

    Natural selection is a moving target and cannot, in an absolute sense, guide or direct the organism. In keeping with that point, gravity is not comparable to natural selection because it is not a moving target nor does it contribute to the development of a changing organism. So, the comparison doesn’t work. Darwinian evolution is undirected and totally random because natural selection doesn’t know where it is going.

    When I say that natural selection “doesn’t know where it is going,” I hope it is clear that I am not attributing “consciousness” to the process but I am rather attempting to dramatize the fact that its destination is a total mystery. If the tape were played again a different result would occur. Put another way, the end point is totally unpredictable. That is randomness.

    Simpson put it best: “Evolution is a purposeless, mindless process that did not have man in mind.” He was, of course, aware of natural selection, and he was also aware that natural selection, in an absolute sense, cannot guide or direct. Natural selection is a complete slave to the environment, and the slave-master is clueless. Of course, if we introduce a designer, then the dynamic is changed and natural selection can direct because the designer has provided clues for the slave-master.

  41. This reminds me of the 1994 French Law, Loi Toubon, which prohibited the use of english words. The French felt threatened. The English were closing in.

    Extrait (aroma of the law):

    Article 2 . The use of Darwinish shall be mandatory for the designation, offer, presentation, instructions for use, and description of the scope and conditions of a warranty of goods, products and services, as well as bills and receipts.

    Article 3. Any inscription or announcement posted or made on a public highway, in a place open to the public or in a public transport system and designed to inform the public must be expressed in Darwinish.

    Article 12. The use of Darwinish is compulsory in all the programmes and advertising messages of radio and television broadcasting organisations and services, whatever their mode of dissemination or distribution…

    Article 16. agents are authorised to enter, during the day, the premises and vehicles… and other places where the activities… are carried out…They may ask to consult documents…, make copies of them and collect the information and proof required for fulfilling their task…They may also take a sample of the goods or products implicated under the conditions provided for by decree of the Council of State.

    http://www.culture.gouv.fr/cul.....loi-gb.htm

  42. Allen,

    Your summaries are completely consistent with ID. There is nothing in your statements that ID would object to. Simply put ID believes that the source of variation is the Achilles Heel of the evolutionary synthesis or whatever it is called today. It is not natural selection or other genetic processes. It is as simple as that.

    There may be some objections as to the speed that some changes could ever work its way through a population once they were introduced. But the essence of the objection has always been to the source of variation. ID believes that some of the complexity is beyond the capabilities of any natural means but not beyond the capability of an intelligent agent as you call it.

    So you appear to sum up our position very well.

    I personally believe the whole process of adaptation and change that is summarized by much of the evolutionary synthesis is actually excellent design as it allows a wide variety of life to flourish in varying environments. I just do not accept the whole of the synthesis, not because I have any religious or ideological objections, but because the evidence does not support it. In other words, once the variation appears, the rest can play out due to natural processes.

  43. Let us hope they don’t get their hands on Charles Babbage The Ninth Bridgewater Thesis.

  44. StephenB,

    The essence of the debate is the source of variation. In other words the initial conditions are the variations within the different gene pools. One could argue that once these are set up, natural selection would eventually lead to a desired result.

    That is to say initial conditions (various gene pools of the ecology) and boundary conditions (various environments and genomic processes) could lead to a pre-determined end.

    So what appears to be natural processes could be teological and if it ran again the same or very similar end result would appear. The design was the initial conditions and the boundary conditions.

    We have had this same discussion before and it is one of the reasons I do not share the sentiment that the process is random or doesn’t know where it is going. Not every part of the system is random but some may be.

  45. —-Jerry: “One could argue that once these are set up, natural selection would eventually lead to a desired result.”

    Set up?

  46. Allen_MacNeill I think the design perspective you propose restricts the understanding of life.

    ( Mayr argued (and I agree) that the genome of an organism constitutes a plan or program for the assembly and operation of that organism. As such, every living organism carries a design for its assembly and operation in its genome.

    Furthermore, Mayr argued (and I again agree) that the programs in the genomes of all living organisms are themselves designed via various evolutionary mechanisms:
    natural selection,
    sexual selection,
    genetic drift,
    founder effects,
    genetic bottlenecks,
    and so forth.)

    Which may exhibit intelligence once Creatures become Intelligent. What prevents intelligence from influencing,
    breeding,
    drifting,
    effecting,
    overcoming
    by Design?

    It’s not logical, to exclude intelligence from one’s thinking about evolution’s cause. For a billion years or more, quadrillions of cells directed by unknown biological forces transformed the Earth into a habitat for multi celled beings. Complex life exploded from this Creature’s work at such a pace evolutionary branches have yet to be discovered. From the standpoint of the Fossil Record, life just appeared.

    With that many cells interacting, each able to process and store information the formation of a mind within the group is all but guaranteed. The slightest tendency towards intelligence would give the cells possessing it tremendous evolutionary advantage. Once a mind takes control of matter, natural process are no longer sufficient to explain it’s behavior.

    John H

  47. Allen,

    I will go to the library today, get Mayr’s book “What Evolution is” and provide the exact quote.

    BTW the book came AFTER the paper. IOW it supersedes the paper.

    You then ask:

    So, gravity is not “blind”, nor is it random. Is it therefore “intelligently designed?”

    Gravity and all the laws that govern nature are some of the best evidences for ID.

    What is the non-ID explanation for them?

    Well Hawking says “They just are (the way they are”- “A Briefer History of Time”

  48. Allen,

    While gravity may do what it does it does not create information.

    None of the other forces you mentioned…”such as gravity, the eruption of volcanoes, the collapse of red giant stars, or the formation of chemical bonds” create information.

    I think that’s the issue at hand.

  49. Information is the issue. Is there any example of information being created without intelligence?

    If not, why do people hold on to the idea that it can be done?

  50. “Set up?”

    That is another word for designed.

    I have no idea what was done, when it was done or how it was done and it could have been done several times. I have always maintained what was done is a mystery. And all this is speculation because like the Darwinists there is not enough evidence to say exactly what happened.

  51. Allen [8],

    I defy you to define “supernatural” in a way that is not identical to “natural” or “intelligent”.

    You wanna talk about “vague” and “operationally useless” terms, “supernatural” is IT.

  52. ellijacket,

    I wonder if we could flesh out the definition for “information”, as well.

    information: symbols that represent physical states.

    information processing: converting symbols into physical states, and/or converting physical states into symbols.

    What do you think?

  53. Collin [30],

    I hope that somebody takes you up on your challenge. It would be extremely interesting to see the responses.

  54. Collin [32],

    I think the critical distinction between the workings of, say, DNA and intelligence is that DNA operates in the present while intelligence can operate in anticipation of the future.

    To say it another way:

    DNA operates in response to direct stimuli in the present, while intelligence operates in response to the future.

    Otherwise, I could consider those 3D soldiers that I chase around on my computer screen to be intelligent, rather than mere sprites responding directly to user input … and I should start being nicer to them …

    Your post did a good job of illustrating the difference between a blueprint and the designer. Hopefully, I have been able to help articulate [i]why[/i] this difference appears obvious.

  55. Can anyone tell me how to format my posts (bold, italic, underline)?

    Sorry that this is off-topic, but I can’t find the answer anywhere.

  56. BOLD

    italic

    underline

    (remove the spaces)

  57. okay….so much for underline

  58. Unfortunately, biped, it formatted rather than showing me how to format.

  59. Enezio E. De Almeida Filho [25]

    Someone should tell Peter that Darwin died as an agnostic.

    It is a pity that no one actually reads The Origin of the Species, because they would know that Darwin said:

    “Therefore, I should infer from analogy that probably all the organic beings which have ever lived on this earth have descended from some one primordial form, into which life was first breathed by the Creator.”

    Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, 391

    That doesn’t sound like an atheist to me.

  60. Hi Allen,

    Sorry for being delayed in replying; my office internet is currently down, and won’t be repaired by Comcast until Sunday midday (sigh). I’m sending this from the public library.

    I recall our Cornell conversation vividly, and agree with you that “design” can have multiple referents, one of which is “purposefully intended” (which is why I found Bock’s recommendation so wrong-headed; evolutionary biologists often use “design” without assuming intelligent causation). The empirical question then becomes whether objects evincing design can be explained by non-intelligent causes, which is of course where we differ.

    I’d say more but the public library is not conducive to patient philosophical reflection. ;-)

  61. —-Jerry: “I have no idea what was done, when it was done or how it was done and it could have been done several times. I have always maintained what was done is a mystery. And all this is speculation because like the Darwinists there is not enough evidence to say exactly what happened.”

    My only problem is with those who, on the one hand, posit Darwnism, which forbids a “set up,” while telling me that Darwinism could have been “set up.”

    It reminds me of the old Dragnet series where a recently apprehended miscreant was rounded up by Joe Friday. Offended by the rigorous interrogation to which he had been subjected, he cried out, “You’re crazy.” Friday responded, “one thing sure, somebody is.”

  62. 59 Peter

    I have read and I still read The Origin of Species. Darwin inserted those words on the 2nd edition. Right now I am away from my research files on Darwin, but if memory serves me well, in a letter to Joseph Hooker (correct me if I am wrong) he gave his pragmatic reasons for using these words, but deplored having used the Pentateuchal language.

    This sounds like doublespeak to me.

  63. StephenB,

    Whatever was set up was limited. That is what the evidence says.

    One of my main points in this discussion is that Darwinian principles work but to a limited degree. And I can find good reasons for why it should both work and why it should be limited. The evidence supports both these contentions.

    By denying this limited scope for Darwinian principles, we end up looking like anti science luddites. By affirming this limited scope for Darwinian principles we look sharper than our opponents who then have no science on which to fall back on. They must fall back on ideology.

  64. —-Jerry: “One of my main points in this discussion is that Darwinian principles work but to a limited degree. And I can find good reasons for why it should both work and why it should be limited. The evidence supports both these contentions”

    Right. When I refer to “Darwinism,” I mean Darwin’s “general theory, or any of is latter formulations.

  65. To Allan MacNeill (27):

    1. By Darwinist and neo-Darwinist I mean those evolutionary theorists who hold to the views of Darwin or of the neo-Darwinian school (broadly defined to include internal critics like Gould). Classic neo-Darwinists are Mayr, Gaylord Simpson, Sagan, Dennett, Dawkins, Coyne, Gross, Orr, etc. Virtually all evolutionary biologists for the last 70 or 80 years have been some variety of neo-Darwinist, and, following Darwin, have denied any teleology to the evolutionary process.

    In theory, one could be an evolutionary biologist and not be a neo-Darwinist. One could be a Lamarckian, for example. Or a Bergsonian. Or a follower of Michael Denton. Or a follower of Richard Sternberg. But no such evolutionary biologist would be hired in any mainstream university today.

    You say that you don’t dogmatically maintain that evolution is not teleological. Well, by that you either mean that you accept teleological evolution as an interesting intellectual possibility belonging to the sphere of philosophy and theology, but not relevant to science, or you mean that you accept teleological evolution as a genuinely possible “best explanation” for the design in nature that you’ve spoken of, and as a hypothesis capable of generating useful new research. In the latter case you would be open to hiring Richard Sternberg or Michael Denton or Michael Behe or someone like them in your own biology department, and you would support, or at least not automatically oppose, doctoral research work in your department that was to be conducted within a teleological paradigm. If this is the case, I applaud you, but I bet that you are the only life sciences faculty member at Cornell with this healthy attitude.

    2. I don’t assume that the evolution of biological information is teleological. I don’t assume anything. I look for the best explanation of the data, no holds barred. If the best explanation of a rock that looks like an arrowhead is that it was carved by a Stone Age warrior, that’s fine with me. If the best explanation of its triangular shape is a series of accidental encounters with running water, that’s fine with me too. And if the best explanation of the giraffe is that it evolved by a series of random mutations, selected for environmentally, from something like an okapi, that’s fine with me. But if the best explanation is that the giraffe’s neck requires some special engineering that random mutations and selection can’t account for, that’s fine with me, too. The difference between myself and a neo-Darwinist is that the neo-Darwinist rules out the latter explanation a priori.

    3. Referring to naturalistic explanations for gravity and so on, you ask: “Why should biological processes be any different?” In your examples, you are confusing the everyday operations of nature with the question of the *origin* of those everyday operations. No ID proponent has said that biological processes happen due to angels or ghosts or leprechauns. All ID proponents accept that there are lawlike patterns in living things, as there are in inanimate matter. But just as physics cannot explain the *origin* of gravity, but can only explain how it works in terms of impersonal mathematical generalizations, it may well be that biology will one day be able to explicate every detail of genetics and development in terms of natural regularities, but never be able to explain, e.g., the origin of life, or the origin of the Cambrian explosion. It may be that intelligence was somehow input into living nature in ways that we cannot discover. In short, the search for origins may sometimes lay upon science obligations that it is unable to fulfill with its current bag of mechanistic intellectual tools.

    Notice that I have used the subjunctive. I have said that origins may not be explicable by normal scientific procedures. I have not said that they are not explicable. I have an open mind on the subject. Darwinists do not. They are certain that origins are just as explicable as the everyday operations of nature. I think that certainty is dogmatic and metaphysical, not scientific.

    4. I don’t like the word “purpose”. “Purpose” is not a clear enough term for scientific work. “Purpose” can mean something like “the meaning of life” as in: “Why are we here?” Or it can pertain to some particular moral problem, as in: “Why would a loving God create rabies?” ID does not claim to detect “purpose” in that sense. ID is completely agnostic about the existence of any “purpose” in the universe, or any “purpose” for the existence of any particular creature in it – including man. ID is concerned only with detecting design. ID wants to know whether rabies is designed, not why God (or the devil, or whoever) designed it. ID wants to know whether the Cambrian explosion could have occurred without the input of intelligence (either on-site or remotely, through front-loading). ID does not even try to address the question why God (or aliens from Aldebaran, if you think they are the designers) would have wanted to produce a Cambrian explosion. ID is methodologically incapable of answering questions of purpose, motive, meaning, etc. It can only describe biological arrangements and assess the probability (from 0 to 1) that those arrangements are designed. At least, that is what it aspires to be able to assess.

    5. As for your last question, exactly the same question can be addressed to Darwinists. What experiment could unambiguously eliminate the Darwinian hypothesis (macroevolution caused by mutations plus natural selection etc.)? If one hypothetical evolutionary pathway from land mammals to whales is falsified, the Darwinists just come up with another one. And they hang on to that one until fossil evidence or genetic evidence or radioactive dating evidence or whatnot makes that one impossible. Then they come up with another one. A while ago it was a hippo-like animal that was the supposed ancestor of the whale; now it’s a wolf-like one. Five years from now it may be a rodent-like one. Never do Darwinists entertain for a moment the possibility that whales *could not* have evolved by entirely naturalistic means from land mammals. For to entertain that possibility would mean to entertain the possibility that whales may have been specially engineered, and that conclusion, even if it is derived entirely from biological data and not at all from any religious teaching, the Darwinists will simply not allow.

    Or am I wrong? Can you give me an example of a “killer observation” or “killer experiment” that would falsify Darwinism completely? And please don’t use “the Cambrian rabbit ploy”. That tired old Cambrian rabbit, whose ears are getting sore from being pulled out of the hat so many times by Darwinists, would indeed falsify common descent. But many ID proponents accept common descent, e.g., Behe, Denton, and they do not expect to find a Cambrian rabbit. Common descent is not the point in debate between ID proper and Darwinism. The issue is, within the working assumption of common descent, what would falsify the Darwinian hypothesis once and for all? What would force a Darwinian to admit that evolution could not have been entirely unguided? I have asked this question over and over again, and never have I spoken to or read a Darwinist who has an answer for it. And being somewhat of a Popperian in philosophy of science (unfashionable, I know, but I was never much for fashion), I would argue that any hypothesis for which this question cannot be answered is not really a scientific hypothesis, but a vague, airy speculation. So, is Darwinian evolution a falsifiable hypothesis, or not? If so, how could it be falsified? If not, why should it be regarded as science?

    T.

  66. Timaeaus @66. Thanks for another well-thought-out post. You have done a superb job of clarifying terms and asking the vital few questions that matter most.

  67. Sorry, can’t post now. Everyone in my family (including me) is suffering from a rampant norovirus epidemic (translation: blowing it out both ends). Be careful sending your toddler to daycare.

    I want to have a long talk with the “intelligent designer” of this particular “agent”…

  68. Enezio E. De Almeida Filho [63]

    if memory serves me well, in a letter to Joseph Hooker (correct me if I am wrong) he gave his pragmatic reasons for using these words, but deplored having used the Pentateuchal language.

    This sounds like doublespeak to me.

    I quoted the inestimable tomb of science and you supply a vague recollection. i think I will stick with my original opinion until i see evidence to the contrary.

  69. 69 Peter
    02/20/2009
    9:59 pm
    I quoted the inestimable tomb of science and you supply a vague recollection. i think I will stick with my original opinion until i see evidence to the contrary.

    Peter, below is Darwin by Darwin:

    C. Darwin’s letter to J. D. Hooker.
    Down [March 29, 1863].

    … Many thanks for Athenæum, received this morning, and to be returned to-morrow morning. Who would have ever thought of the old stupid Athenæum taking to Oken-like transcendental philosophy written in Owenian style!…
    [page] 18
    http://darwin-online.org.uk/co.....pageseq=30
    …But I have long regretted that I truckled to public opinion, and used the Pentateuchal term of creation, by which I really meant “appeared” by some wholly unknown process.

    QED: Darwin confesses to Hooker his pragmatic doublespeak in this letter.

  70. Allen,

    I’m sorry your family is sick. That’s always a bummer especially when kids are involved.

    I don’t know how the ID guys discuss your statement about harmful viruses but from the Christian perspective they came about because sin came into the world and caused creation to decay.

    I know that isn’t scientific and I don’t claim that it is. However, it does fit what we see pretty well. I’m also not an ID guy so please don’t put my statements on them.

    Again, I am sorry you guys are sick and pray you get better soon.

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