Home » Intelligent Design » New York Academy of Sciences Brings Evolutionary Biology Closer to ID

New York Academy of Sciences Brings Evolutionary Biology Closer to ID

A recent issue of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences has just been published, and the whole issue is stacked with topics that support ID ideas – specifically, the idea that genomic evolution, to the extent that it is beneficial, is largely teleological. The introductory paper refers to the “creative genome” which contain “organizational frameworks that affect genome behavior”.

I have not read the papers, only the abstracts, so the information in this post is rather tentative. However, here are some papers that seem to be of interest to the ID community:

The issue also has counterevidence for ID such as the formation of cancers. However, it is not my contention that all mutations are teleological. You get into even dirtier water when you realize that a nonteleological mutation might affect the operation of previously teleological mutational systems (this happens when a haphazard mutation makes a sequence of DNA *look* like it should be mutable (according to the cell’s protocols) when it is not. A non-SSR sequence can have a mutation that makes it look like an SSR, or a mutation can make something look like a target for VDJ recombination. Far from disproving the idea of teleological mutations, this shows how sensitive the mutation system is to perturbation, and how unlikely it is that the present mutational system could be the result of a continual evolution of chance mutations from a non-teleological system.

It should also be noted that anytime “second order” selection or “indirect selection” is mentioned, this is not referring to a specific mechanism, but rather referring to the idea that the system itself is more beneficial than the organism without the system. This implies nothing about the ability of selection to create the system, only that it is beneficial once in place. Actually, since it is second-order selection, it does imply that it couldn’t have been built with selection, because that would have to be built directly with selection, not indirectly. In other words, if something is selectable through “indirect selection”, it relies on design for its origin.

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34 Responses to New York Academy of Sciences Brings Evolutionary Biology Closer to ID

  1. …, and the whole issue is stacked with topics that support ID ideas – specifically, the idea that genomic evolution, to the extent that it is beneficial, is largely teleological.

    My understanding is that biologists have always looked at it in this way, though they would probably say “teleonomical” rather than “teleological.”

  2. Neil:

    My understanding is that biologists have always looked at it in this way, though they would probably say “teleonomical” rather than “teleological.”

    First of all, could you explain the difference, for us not so smart with words? :)

    As far as I can understand, classical neo darwinism, which should still be the main ideology among biologists, if I have not missed anything, relies heavily, if not exclusively, on RV + NS to explain the generation of biological information (protein genes, expecially).

    I am not aware that teleological properties of the already existing genome have ever been a major feature of niological explanation in academic science.

    Now, I have not read the articles linked by johhnyb, I have just read his post. So, my only comment for the moment would be: if the existing genome has teleological properties that “guide” its successive evolution (which is what I understand from the opening post), then we have to exapain not only the existing genome (before the successive evolution), but also the teleological properties already “embedded” in that genome. That, for me, means even more need of a designer.

    Moreover, I suppose the “Rapid venom evolution driven by noncoding DNA signals directing mutations” seems to shed new light on a subject that, if I am not wrong, is of some momentum in the present moment…

  3. To all:

    By the way, is it only me having problems, since yesterday, in visualizing the “home” page? What comes on the screen seems to be blocked at about three days ago. I have to access the archives to see more recent pages, and even there I can only access the most recent thread (at present, this one).

    Is it something in my system, or a problem with the server?

  4. Neil -

    Teleonomy, at least as used by Mayr, referred to the actions of organisms, not to evolutionary processes. In fact, I believe this is how the use of teleonomy was justified – if it was truly teleological, then the process to bring it about would also have been teleological. Since it was presumed that evolution was not teleological, they used the term teleonomic to distinguish local from global teleology. However, now that we are finding that evolutionary processes themselves are teleonomic, it means that we are justified in classifying the whole process as teleological.

  5. In the 50s and 60s when the evolution marketing program was looking for a new word to evicerate teleology of its meaning, they came up with the word teleonomy. This is just the kind of thing that can impress some people.

    But Mayr admitted that teleonomic systems operate from coded programs. And coded programs have material requirements, including rules and representations, so …

  6. gpuccio, I have the same problem on my Mac, for multiple browsers. The home page is frozen from 2-3 days ago. On another computer, everything is fine.

  7. Chance Ratcliff:

    Thank you for the information. That’s exactly what happens to me. I am connecting by a PC, not a Mac, and the problem is the same either with Chrome or Mozilla.

    I hope the people who are in charge of the site may undertand the reason for that…

  8. johnnyb and UB:

    Thank you for the clarifications. So, teleonomy is in the same league as compatibilism, and similar jokes. OK, that’s fine with me.

    As soon as our culture will understand that it is not enough to invent new words to get rid of the problem of consciousness, maybe we can go back to using the words that were created to denote conscious representations to denote conscious representations.

  9. gpuccio you can access UD through the feed burner if need be and/or log out and back in to clear up the problem

    http://feeds.feedburner.com/uncommondescent/JCWn

  10. gpuccio,

    I haven’t had any problems, but I think I recently installed a newer version of Firefox and it may have deleted my cache.

    Do you know how to do that manually?

  11. I like this quote found at Wikipedia:

    Haldane [in the 1930s] can be found remarking, ‘Teleology is like a mistress to a biologist: he cannot live without her but he’s unwilling to be seen with her in public.’ Today the mistress has become a lawfully wedded wife. Biologists no longer feel obligated to apologize for their use of teleological language; they flaunt it. The only concession which they make to its disreputable past is to rename it ‘teleonomy’.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teleonomy

    Essentially, teleonomy is based upon a mistaken idea of just what teleology means. Any ‘law-like’ process is teleological, by definition.

  12. 12

    gpuccio, BA77, Mung,

    Logging out and back in as suggested seemed to clear up the problem on my end. I had already tried deleting the browsing cache to no avail.

  13. BA:

    OK, it worked. Thank you to all for the help!

  14. gpuccio#2:

    First of all, could you explain the difference, for us not so smart with words?

    I’m not a biologist, so I might have this wrong. “Teleonomy” refers to apparently purposeful behavior, with no prior assumption that the purposefulness comes from outside of the organism.

    johnnyb#4:

    Teleonomy, at least as used by Mayr, referred to the actions of organisms, not to evolutionary processes.

    There would not be any evolutionary processes, were it not for the actions of organisms. Reproduction is an action of the organism, and without reproduction there would be no evolution (no descent with modification). Moreover meiosis, with its crossovers is an action of the reproductive cells of an organism. James Shapiro seems to be taking the crossovers as intelligent recombinant DNA engineering within the cell, and I suspect that his “intelligent” amounts to about the same thing as “teleonomic.”

    gpuccio#3:

    Is it something in my system, or a problem with the server?

    Some ISPs use a hidden web cache, presumably to speed up access. That can result in you always seeing ISP-cached pages rather than the newer pages that you should see.

  15. I’m not a biologist, so I might have this wrong. “Teleonomy” refers to apparently purposeful behavior, with no prior assumption that the purposefulness comes from outside of the organism.

    I believe teleonomy is meant to be a little stronger than that. My understanding – my turn to be the guy who may be wrong – is that it cashes out to “apparently purposeful behavior – but it actually isn’t”. If teleonomic meant behavior which seemed to be purposeful, but whether it actually was was left up in the air, it would make most of biology a very different project on the spot.

  16. Neil –

    Perhaps I should have been more specific – instead of “evolutionary processes” I should have been more specific and said “mutational processes”.

    Shapiro indeed makes the mutational process teleonomic, and, as I mentioned, what made teleonomic a valid category in the first place was that it was assumed that there was no teleonomy in the mutational process – if there was, then teleonomic is no different than teleological. The distinction only makes sense if evolution is non-teleonomic — otherwise, they are synonyms.

  17. Neil Rickert:

    There would not be any evolutionary processes, were it not for the actions of organisms.

    Chemical evolution is a myth.

  18. nullasalus#15:

    I believe teleonomy is meant to be a little stronger than that.

    I’m not sure that we are actually disagreeing there.

    There’s a reason that the question of whether it is purposeful is left up in the air. It is because “purpose” is a quite vague concept, so that it is beyond science to nail that down. So scientists give their own name to what they are talking about, describe it as well as they can, and leave the question of whether it is the same for later determination.

    For myself, I see it to be due to the homeostatic processes, which are common in biological systems. A homeostatic process is naturally adaptive in a way that serves the apparent purpose of self-preservation.

  19. There’s a reason that the question of whether it is purposeful is left up in the air. It is because “purpose” is a quite vague concept, so that it is beyond science to nail that down.

    See, you say that, but there are other guys – biologists included – who take it further and argue that science shows there to be no purposes, with all apparent teleology exactly that: apparent, not actual. Otherwise finding apparently teleology all over the place while leaving open the question of whether teleology was either actual or intended would leave the field in a very different state.

  20. teleonomy – denies purpose
    telology – agnostic wrt purpose

  21. Have you still not read the original papers, Johnnyb?

  22. nullasalus#19:

    See, you say that, but there are other guys – biologists included – who take it further and argue that science shows there to be no purposes, with all apparent teleology exactly that: apparent, not actual.

    Indeed, there are. I laugh at them. Some of them say that biology should be purged of all purpose related words. But they will never succeed with that.

    And then they say that mutations are copying errors. But there can only be copying errors if there is a purpose to replicate exactly. If there is no such purpose, then it is not an error if the DNA is not replicated perfectly. Thus the standard account of mutations is already implicitly based on an assumed purpose.

  23. ian4851 –

    It will probably be a week or so before I can make it to a library with access to them, and I certainly don’t have the cash to pay $35 a pop for each one. I’m also pretty busy at the moment with work commitments, so my guess it will be a few weeks before I start going through them.

  24. I can send them to some email. Can you see my email in my profile?

  25. “Thus the standard account of mutations is already implicitly based on an assumed purpose.”

    Interesting implications, Neil. If we take “self preservation” as the principle telos of organisms, one could envisage a range of mechanisms for preserving status quo.

    At one extreme, imagine a gyroscope, whose simple rotation provides “homeostasis” against mechanical disturbance, but which would be stretching the definition of “teleology”.

    At the other, you can imagine a man whose acts of self-preservation include collecting and safely storing dirty secrets about his enemies for blackmail purposes, a host of electronic surveillance devices and booby traps, banking cells to make a clone of himself, and so on – clearly teleological actions.

    Turning to cells, by the time one has multiple levels of genetic error-checking mechanisms, Shapiro’s genetic engineering processes – not to mention multitudes of sophisticated homeostatic and self-preserving behaviours of cells or total organisms, all of which are sophisticated enough to be adopted by an altered organism if evolution does occur despite the defences – then cells look a lot more like the second example than the first.

    The question then becomes, “Is it reasonable to cite stochastic change and natural selection as sufficient to explain both intelligent paranoia and cellular teleology?”

  26. Neil:

    First of all, thank you for your answers.

    You say:

    “And then they say that mutations are copying errors. But there can only be copying errors if there is a purpose to replicate exactly. If there is no such purpose, then it is not an error if the DNA is not replicated perfectly. Thus the standard account of mutations is already implicitly based on an assumed purpose.”

    I absolutely agree. It has always been obvious, for me, that the only non random mechanism in classical neo darwinism, the famous NS, is simply a consequence of the intelligent information already present in the orgamisms, that allows them to replicate (and a lot of information, indeed). If I understand well, you are saying something similar.

    And yet, there is still a difference between the following two scenarios:

    a) The purposeful replication of living beings, coupled to RV, allows NS (a logical consequence of purposeful replication) to gradually build complex functional information (the classical neo darwinists scenario).

    or:

    b) The purposeful replication of living beings, plus a series of intelligent, purposeful algorithms already embedded in their genomes, allow those organisms to creatively and purposefully guide their variation and evolution.

    I would say that the second scenario is rather new for biologists. It is not exactly ID as I see it (it rather reminds a fromt loading argument, that has never been my personal take), but it is not certainly classical darwinism.

  27. Neil:

    You say:

    “I’m not a biologist, so I might have this wrong. “Teleonomy” refers to apparently purposeful behavior, with no prior assumption that the purposefulness comes from outside of the organism.”

    Now, please excuse my rather simple way of thinking, but I would say that:

    a) Teleology implies a purpose, and a conscious intelligent arrangements of one’s actions to obtain that purpose. IOWs, both the purpose (a conscious representation) and the behaviour (an objective fact) derive from the same being. I act purposefully because I have a conscious purpose.

    b) Let’s go to the suppposed “teleonomy”. The organism has a certain behaviour, that appears purposeful. But is the organism acting that way beacuse it has a purpose, and knows how to achieve it? IOWs, if a bacterium guides mutations toward some functional protein structure, is the bacterium aware of that, and of how to do that? You could say that the purposeful does not “come from outside of the organism”, but then how is it that the organism has that purpose, and knows how to achieve the desired result?

    When my proteins act purposefully, and achieve biochemical success, I am in no way aware of that. It is certainly in my organism, but it is not certainly the same thing as when I have a personal purpose, and act to achieve it.

    I cannot ascribe to my purposes the working of my proteins, any more than I could ascribe to my purposes the working (good or bad) of the operating system in my computer.

    The point is, as you can see: I did not design my proteins, and I did not design the operating system.

    So, we always go back to the fundamentals: consciousness, conscious purpose, cosncious design. All this playing with words just seems a way to elude reality.

  28. Neil Rickert:

    But there can only be copying errors if there is a purpose to replicate exactly.

    Cuz Neil Rickert sez so. But anyway Neil how much of the genome gets replicated exactly? That alone should tell you something but obvioulsy you missed it.

    Also we don’t know if the alleged errors were actually on purpose.

    If there is no such purpose, then it is not an error if the DNA is not replicated perfectly.

    It could also be design if the DNA does not replicate perfectly.

  29. And Neil, if there aren’t any errors then why does the DNA replication process contain an error-correction component? :roll:

  30. Jon Garvey#25:

    At one extreme, imagine a gyroscope, whose simple rotation provides “homeostasis” against mechanical disturbance, but which would be stretching the definition of “teleology”.

    That would also be stretching the meaning of homeostasis.

  31. Neil

    “That would also be stretching the meaning of homeostasis.”

    True, in Bernard or Cannon’s useage. On the other hand it’s spot on etymologically!

  32. gpuccio#26:

    a) The purposeful replication of living beings, coupled to RV, allows NS (a logical consequence of purposeful replication) to gradually build complex functional information (the classical neo darwinists scenario).

    or:

    b) The purposeful replication of living beings, plus a series of intelligent, purposeful algorithms already embedded in their genomes, allow those organisms to creatively and purposefully guide their variation and evolution.

    To a first approximation, those are just alternative ways of describing the same thing.

    Should we say that the dog wags the tail, or the tail wags the dog? As technical description of the relative motions, either could be said to be correct. We choose the one that we find most useful. For biology, scientists choose the description they find most useful.

    Your (b) goes too far. I think it a mistake to say that there are purposeful algorithms already embedded. I would stop at saying that there are adaptive biological processes. They don’t look algorithmic to me. And I don’t know about the “already embedded” part either.

    Homeostasis occurs quite naturally. You can see it in weather systems. The homeostasis in weather systems is short lived. The effect of natural selection (I prefer the term differential survival) is that there will be a tendency toward preserving those homeostatic systems which are longer lived. I don’t see that this requires any front loading, unless you want to say that the entire cosmos is an example of front loading so as to make life possible.

  33. gpuccio#27:

    a) Teleology implies a purpose, and a conscious intelligent arrangements of one’s actions to obtain that purpose.

    That’s fine when we are talking about humans. But when we talk of apparently purposeful action by other than humans, why anthropomorphize? Why assume consciousness?

    If you are going to leave it at such anthropomorphizing, then you are taking purpose to be something magical and unexplainable. However, I think we should instead be asking how it works.

    Let’s go to the suppposed “teleonomy”. The organism has a certain behaviour, that appears purposeful. But is the organism acting that way beacuse it has a purpose, and knows how to achieve it?

    No. But again, why anthropomorphize here? Why should we use the human term “know” and expect it to be meaningfully applicable?

    I have a series of posts on my blog where I attempt to analyze purpose. I see it as something that can arise naturally, and that does not require consciousness. I think it likely that what I describe there is the low level basis for human purposeful behavior.

    So, we always go back to the fundamentals: consciousness, conscious purpose, cosncious design. All this playing with words just seems a way to elude reality.

    You might always go back to that. I don’t. I see it as a mistake to take consciousness as fundamental. If anything, consciousness is part of what needs to be explained. It is not part of an explanation.

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