Home » Intelligent Design » He said it: Nick Matzke’s complaint against design thinkers and bloggists failing to do homework before “declaring my entire field bogus”

He said it: Nick Matzke’s complaint against design thinkers and bloggists failing to do homework before “declaring my entire field bogus”

In the ongoing thread on Dr Tour’s declaration of concern regarding macroevolution, Mr Matzke (late of NCSE) has popped up, declaring at 118 (in reply to Groovamos at 109):

Here’s the issue. Picture, in your head, all 5000 mammal species currently living on the planet. Now think of how many individuals are in each species — some are almost extinct, some have populations of billions. Now think about how each of these individuals lives and reproduces and dies over the years. Now add in how all of these individuals compete with each other, each each other, etc. Continue this process for millions of years, with species splitting and going extinct, sometimes randomly, sometimes due to climate change, sometimes due to invasions of other species, etc. Add in continents moving around on the globe, ice sheets advancing and retreating, and tens of thousands of other species of vertebrates plus hundreds of thousands of plant species and millions of insect species.

Then imagine what this process would look like if all you had was a very incomplete sample with lots of biases, in the form of fossils, most of which are fragmentary.

Suppose you are interested in doing science, and you want to develop hypotheses about the patterns you observe, and developed the data and statistical methods to rigorously test those hypotheses.

Now you’re getting some vague sense of what macroevolutionary studies are really about, why it requires actual training and work to be able to avoid talking nonsense about the topic, and why you can’t just read a popular book or two and blithely assume you know what you are talking about.

I work in a biology department where we do this stuff every day, on a campus where there are hundreds of people who work on these questions. We have several research museums supporting this work, with millions of fossil and nonfossil specimens. Why, for goodness sake, should I ignore everything I know based on years of personal experience and work in the area, for the uninformed opinions of a few anonymous internet commentators who can’t be bothered to lift a finger to do the minimum due diligence to learn the basics of what they are talking about before declaring my entire field bogus?

Before going on, it is worth noting that the same Groovamos has offered to sponsor a plane ticket and weekend in a hotel in Houston, in support of a  Luncheon meeting between Matzke and Tour, to have a discussion of the warrant for Macroevolution (provided he can sit in), at 66:

I make the offer: I will buy a ticket for Nick to Houston and will buy a night at a hotel on a weekend. I live in Houston and would like to attend the meeting, and assume Nick will record the meeting.

That gives needed context, i.e. Groovamos is only anonymous on the web, as is often wise.

I responded, at 132, as follows:

____________

>>NM, re 118 above:

This merits to be answered point by point, as it is inter alia, a declaration of confidence in a school of thought and a dismissal of those who dare question its conclusions.:

>>Picture, in your head, all 5000 mammal species currently living on the planet. Now think of how many individuals are in each species — some are almost extinct, some have populations of billions.>>

1 –> We can simply observe such, and in so doing we see limited population variations, tending to be rooted in loss of genetic information or very limited potential for increase of functional info per generation; with a serious question-mark over claims that mere incremental accumulations of step by step variations can amount to body plan transformations adequate to account for the Darwinian type tree of life or to reconcile the various divergent molecular trees.

2 –> What needs to be pictured first, instead, is a warm little pond with a reasonable chemical matrix (or a volcano vent or the like) on a newly formed terrestrial planet, with a reasonable atmosphere and processes. Justify such on astrophysical and geophysical grounds. (Notice, physical and chemical sciences have now come to centre stage in terms of relevance to what needs to be explained.)

3 –> Next, justify, relative to known chemistry (including inorganic, organic and physical) the formation of credible concentrations of precursors to life, in the context of relevant thermodynamics and reaction kinetics. (The work by Thaxton et al, c. 1984, TMLO, from which modern Design Theory has largely come, starts here. If you are to genuinely understand rather than angrily scorn and dismiss the questions and objections we have, you need to understand where we are coming from. And, unsurprisingly, this is also where prof Tour is coming from. How would you feel, if we were to angrily deride and denounce you in similar terms to those you use as lazily failing to address or being incompetent to address such fields at technical level, and use that to trash your name? [Where, BTW, [ON FAIR COMMEN T] we are very aware of the tactics that NCSE — your former organisation — pursued over the years in support of polarisation, well-poisoning and unjustified career-busting.])

4 –> Thence, with reference to empirical work that supports the claimed major steps, account for origin of cell based life on the blind watchmaker thesis, especially the code based information systems pivoting on DNA and RNA.

5 –> As a preliminary to this, in light of information theory and related issues, account for the origin of functionally specific, complex organisation and associated information, by blind watchmaker processes with reference to currently observed cases. (This is required to justify claims that blind chance and mechanical necessity are known to be capable of creating such FSCO/I without intelligent direction. It is blatant that intelligence is so capable.)

>>Now think about how each of these individuals lives and reproduces and dies over the years. Now add in how all of these individuals compete with each other, each each other, etc. Continue this process for millions of years, with species splitting and going extinct, sometimes randomly, sometimes due to climate change, sometimes due to invasions of other species, etc. Add in continents moving around on the globe, ice sheets advancing and retreating, and tens of thousands of other species of vertebrates plus hundreds of thousands of plant species and millions of insect species.>>

6 –> And, you need to extend such a projection back to the claimed unicellular life forms, accounting for claimed capacity to generate a tree of life pattern on empirical evidence of known — observed — causal processes compatible with the blind watchmaker thesis.

7 –> Otherwise, the mere extension of time is incapable of plausibly accounting for origin of body plans. Certainly, without intelligent direction or control by front-loading or otherwise, to provide the required FSCO/I.

8 –> Where, to implicitly exclude a known capable mechanism, in favour of one that is not shown capable, and in support of the sort of a priori agendas asserted by say Lewontin, is to substitute ideology for science. To wit:

. . . It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated . . . [["Billions and billions of demons," NYRB, Jan 1997. if you think this is a bit of quote mining or is idiosyncratic to Lewontin, kindly cf here and onwards.]

9 –> In short, we are back to Tour’s point: complex organic synthesis is known to be hard, very hard indeed. What, then, are the grounds on which it can be confidently suggested — a priori ideology excluded — that blind watchmaker incrementalism is sufficient to account for the major body plans of the world of life?

10 –> Let prof Tour now speak for himself:

I do have scientific problems understanding macroevolution as it is usually presented. I simply can not accept it as unreservedly as many of my scientist colleagues do, although I sincerely respect them as scientists. Some of them seem to have little trouble embracing many of evolution’s proposals based upon (or in spite of) archeological, mathematical, biochemical and astrophysical suggestions and evidence, and yet few are experts in all of those areas, or even just two of them. Although most scientists leave few stones unturned in their quest to discern mechanisms before wholeheartedly accepting them, when it comes to the often gross extrapolations between observations and conclusions on macroevolution, scientists, it seems to me, permit unhealthy leeway. When hearing such extrapolations in the academy, when will we cry out, “The emperor has no clothes!”?

From what I can see, microevolution is a fact; we see it all around us regarding small changes within a species, and biologists demonstrate this procedure in their labs on a daily basis. Hence, there is no argument regarding microevolution. The core of the debate for me, therefore, is the extrapolation of microevolution to macroevolution. Here is what some supporters of Darwinism have written regarding this point in respected journals, and it is apparent that they struggle with the same difficulty.

Stern, David L. “Perspective: Evolutionary Developmental Biology and the Problem of Variation,” Evolution 2000, 54, 1079-1091. A contribution from the University of Cambridge. “One of the oldest problems in evolutionary biology remains largely unsolved; Historically, the neo-Darwinian synthesizers stressed the predominance of micromutations in evolution, whereas others noted the similarities between some dramatic mutations and evolutionary transitions to argue for macromutationism.”

Simons, Andrew M. “The Continuity of Microevolution and Macroevolution,” Journal of Evolutionary Biology 2002, 15, 688-701. A contribution from Carleton University.”A persistent debate in evolutionary biology is one over the continuity of microevolution and macroevolution — whether macroevolutionary trends are governed by the principles of microevolution.”

So the debate between the validity of extending microevolutionary trends to macroevolutionary projections is indeed persistent in evolutionary biology.

11 –> What troubles me about what we so commonly see, is the repeated glossing over of this serious issue; multiplied by the all to common resort to a priori materialism, typically presented as a mere “reasonable” methodological constraint, especially by contrast with — thumbscrews and racks! — possible supernatural intervention.

>>Then imagine what this process would look like if all you had was a very incomplete sample with lots of biases, in the form of fossils, most of which are fragmentary.>>

12 –> This is little more than Darwin’s plea that the data are poor; more or less inescapably so. (Which BTW, should serve to make conclusions drawn therefrom rather tentative and to be presented on a “contribution to a forum of views” basis, instead of being presented in terms that declare “fact” to the level of favourable comparison with the roundness of our planet known through fairly direct observation and calculation since Aristotle’s remark on the shadow Earth casts on the moon in a lunar eclipse, and with a value known to reasonable accuracy since Eratosthenes’ shadow calculations c. 300 BC, or the like.)

13 –> However: there are now over 1/4 million fossil species from the various categories of life across the globe, with millions of specimens. Where, there is a strongly stamped pattern aptly described by Gould in some of his most famous comments:

“The absence of fossil evidence for intermediary stages between major transitions in organic design, indeed our inability, even in our imagination, to construct functional intermediates in many cases, has been a persistent [--> notice Tour's word] and nagging problem for gradualistic accounts of evolution.” [[Stephen Jay Gould (Professor of Geology and Paleontology, Harvard University), 'Is a new and general theory of evolution emerging?' Paleobiology, vol.6(1), January 1980,p. 127.]

“All paleontologists know that the fossil record contains precious little in the way of intermediate forms; transitions between the major groups are characteristically abrupt.” [[Stephen Jay Gould 'The return of hopeful monsters'. Natural History, vol. LXXXVI(6), June-July 1977, p. 24.]

“The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils. Yet Darwin was so wedded to gradualism that he wagered his entire theory on a denial of this literal record:

The geological record is extremely imperfect and this fact will to a large extent explain why we do not find intermediate varieties, connecting together all the extinct and existing forms of life by the finest graduated steps [[ . . . . ] He who rejects these views on the nature of the geological record will rightly reject my whole theory.[[Cf. Origin, Ch 10, "Summary of the preceding and present Chapters," also see similar remarks in Chs 6 and 9.]

Darwin’s argument still persists as the favored escape of most paleontologists from the embarrassment of a record that seems to show so little of evolution. In exposing its cultural and methodological roots, I wish in no way to impugn the potential validity of gradualism (for all general views have similar roots). I wish only to point out that it was never “seen” in the rocks.

Paleontologists have paid an exorbitant price for Darwin’s argument. We fancy ourselves as the only true students of life’s history, yet to preserve our favored account of evolution by natural selection we view our data as so bad that we never see the very process we profess to study.” [[Stephen Jay Gould 'Evolution's erratic pace'. Natural History, vol. LXXXVI95), May 1977, p.14. (Kindly note, that while Gould does put forward claimed cases of transitions elsewhere, that cannot erase the facts that he published in the peer reviewed literature in 1977 and was still underscoring in 2002 in his last book, 25 years later, as well as what the theory he helped co-found -- Punctuated Equilibria, set out to do. Sadly, this needs to be explicitly noted, as some would use such remarks to cover over the points just highlighted. Also, note that this is in addition to the problem of divergent molecular trees and the top-down nature of the Cambrian explosion.)]

14 –> Sometimes, an apparent pattern is strongly stamped from the beginning and persistent across decades and centuries of study for the excellent reason that it reflects reality. Namely, it reflects a law of nature.

15 –> So, we need to ask ourselves seriously whether sudden appearance and stasis followed by extinction or survival, are reflecting fundamental reality worthy of being recognised in newly identified laws and theories that directly address and cogently explain them rather than marginalising them as problems for advanced study.

>>Suppose you are interested in doing science, and you want to develop hypotheses about the patterns you observe, and developed the data and statistical methods to rigorously test those hypotheses.>>

16 –> Of course, this pivots on, what is science.

17 –> And to that, “applied a priori ideological materialism” is definitely not a good answer. A better, more balanced one can be found in good dictionaries from before the current highly polarised debates:

science: a branch of knowledge conducted on objective principles involving the systematized observation of and experiment with phenomena, esp. concerned with the material and functions of the physical universe. [Concise Oxford, 1990]

scientific method: principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge [”the body of truth, information and principles acquired by mankind”] involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses. [Webster's 7th Collegiate, 1965]

18 –> And yet, we see the following from the US National Science Teachers Association Board as an official policy declaration (one backed up by similar stances taken by say the US National Academy of Sciences, which is known to be dominated by people of atheistical disposition . . . see how issues over motives on a matter like this cut two ways, so why don’t we simply focus on the merits instead?):

NSTA: The principal product of science is knowledge in the form of naturalistic concepts and the laws and theories related to those concepts . . . .

Although no single universal step-by-step scientific method captures the complexity of doing science, a number of shared values and perspectives characterize a scientific approach to understanding nature. Among these are a demand for naturalistic explanations supported by empirical evidence that are, at least in principle, testable against the natural world. Other shared elements include observations, rational argument, inference, skepticism, peer review and replicability of work . . . .

Science, by definition, is limited to naturalistic methods and explanations and, as such, is precluded from using supernatural elements in the production of scientific knowledge. [[NSTA, Board of Directors, July 2000. Emphases added.]

NAS: In science, explanations must be based on naturally occurring phenomena. Natural causes are, in principle, reproducible and therefore can be checked independently by others. If explanations are based on purported forces that are outside of nature, scientists have no way of either confirming or disproving those explanations. Any scientific explanation has to be testable — there must be possible observational consequences that could support the idea but also ones that could refute it. Unless a proposed explanation is framed in a way that some observational evidence could potentially count against it, that explanation cannot be subjected to scientific testing. [[Science, Evolution and Creationism, 2008, p. 10 Emphases added.]

19 –> These statements beg a raft of questions and reflect ideological a prioris that will bias conclusions, indeed will decide them before facts are allowed to speak. For instance, what constitutes “nature” and as a result “naturalistic concepts and explanations,” or the like?

20 –> In particular, we have since Plato at least [in The Laws, Bk X], the understanding that natural can be envisioned as that which proceeds on the basis of chance and mechanical necessity, and we can contrast this to the ART-ificial, which is driven by intelligent action. And surely, it is a reasonable and empirically investigatable question, as to whether here are such things as observable signs of ART vs chance and/or necessity?

21 –> Where, also the whole focus of Design Theory as a school of thought in science today, is that here is that possibility, and that there are some at least preliminary results in hand regarding certain forms of complexity, specified — especially functionally specific — complexity and function dependent on irreducible complexity of clusters of core parts.

22 –> Where also, to investigate signs of art in our world, is not properly — let us lay well-poisoning and atmosphere poisoning rhetorical games to one side — the same as to assume an arbitrary and chaotic supernatural intervention that turns an orderly world into a chaos.

(This is a notorious strawman caricature of theism and science resorted to in the above from NAS and NSTA, but the early scientists of modern times saw themselves as exploring the work of the architect and builder of the world who operates on rational principles, and is the God of Order not chaos. Indeed,t hey saw themselves as thinking God’s creative and sustaining thoughts after him. Indeed, that is the context in which they thought in terms of LAWS of nature, i.e as given by the lawgiver and designer of nature Nor is this solely their view, indeed it traces in some respects to Plato in the same context just referenced, where he makes a cosmological design inference on observing an orderly cosmos.)

>> Now you’re getting some vague sense of what macroevolutionary studies are really about, why it requires actual training and work to be able to avoid talking nonsense about the topic, and why you can’t just read a popular book or two and blithely assume you know what you are talking about.>>

22 –> This is a disgraceful strawman caricature, set up and pummelled.

>>I work in a biology department where we do this stuff every day, on a campus where there are hundreds of people who work on these questions.>>

23 –> Yes, we are aware of the existence of a major school of thought, the issue is not that, it is whether there is a problem of inadequate mechanisms, and associated, of the sort of subtle a priorism just noted on.

>>We have several research museums supporting this work, with millions of fossil and nonfossil specimens.>>

24 –> Yes, and what does Gould have to say on the overall results of such collection? Let us cite his The Structure of Evolutionary Theory (2002), a technical work published just two months before his death; as a “constructive critique” of contemporary Darwinian thought:

. . . long term stasis following geologically abrupt origin of most fossil morphospecies, has always been recognized by professional paleontologists. [[p. 752.]

. . . . The great majority of species do not show any appreciable evolutionary change at all. These species appear in the section [[first occurrence] without obvious ancestors in the underlying beds, are stable once established and disappear higher up without leaving any descendants.” [[p. 753.]

. . . . proclamations for the supposed ‘truth’ of gradualism – asserted against every working paleontologist’s knowledge of its rarity – emerged largely from such a restriction of attention to exceedingly rare cases under the false belief that they alone provided a record of evolution at all! The falsification of most ‘textbook classics’ upon restudy only accentuates the fallacy of the ‘case study’ method and its root in prior expectation rather than objective reading of the fossil record. [[p. 773.]

24 –> We would love to learn, just what has emerged in the past decade and has somehow managed not to be trumpeted in the headlines that overturns these persistent patterns? It seems, from your own remarks above, that the pattern persists.

25 –> Which immediately grounds the sort of concerns we have raised, and others have raised, especially over the past 25 years; some of it — despite open opposition and exposed behind the scenes machinations (some of it, as you well know, coming from the NCSE) — published in the peer reviewed literature.

>> Why, for goodness sake, should I ignore everything I know based on years of personal experience and work in the area,>>

26 –> The assertion of claimed knowledge is a strong claim, one that demands strong warrant. Which is exactly the issue and concern we have raised, the degree of warrant that is actually provided as opposed to the confident assertions of fact and knowledge that we see.

27 –> Where we are also quite aware that across the centuries, many times, schools of thought in science have been mistaken, despite the confident claims of advocates.

>> for the uninformed opinions of a few anonymous internet commentators who can’t be bothered to lift a finger to do the minimum due diligence to learn the basics of what they are talking about before declaring my entire field bogus?>>

28 –> Notice, the further strawman caricatures and polarisation.

29 –> FYI NM, “bogus” is a claim of fraud. Fraud is well beyond error or lack of warrant or explanatory failure. i do not think you can ground the claim that design thought as a school holds that the dominant school of thought is as a whole guilty of fraud; as opposed to particular incidents or individuals who may have gone the one step too far across time. That is patently a false, ungrounded — and careless, unnecessarily polarising — accusation on your part.

30 –> I THINK INSTEAD: IT IS FAIR COMMENT TO SAY THAT, AS A SCHOOL OF THOUGHT, DESIGN THEORY HAS HELD THAT THERE IS A QUESTION OF DEGREE OF WARRANT AND EMPIRICAL GROUNDING, THAT MAY HAVE LED TO ERRORS IN ESTIMATING THE DEGREE OF WARRANT FOR CERTAIN SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT ON ORIGINS. Which is fair and raises important points of concern that can be addressed in a reasonable and civil manner. (Where also, given the polarisation and targetting of those who have questioned the dominant evolutionary materialist school of thought, much less have advocated design, and the long and distinguished history of anonymous contributions in science and serious thought generally, the mere issue of anonymity is not sufficient to warrant besmirching or dismissing people.)

31 –> So, kindly retract this false accusation and correct your thinking. Then, we can proceed to a reasonable discussion on the actual merits in light of what prof Tour has put on the table.>>

________________

I think the issues for that luncheon meeting are on the table, for discussion.

What do you think? END

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123 Responses to He said it: Nick Matzke’s complaint against design thinkers and bloggists failing to do homework before “declaring my entire field bogus”