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Shapiro Hoisted With His Own Petard?

Robert Shapiro, noted Darwinist and professor emeritus of chemistry at New York University, says this of the recent Sutherland RNA world experiments:

“‘Although as an exercise in chemistry this represents some very elegant work, this has nothing to do with the origin of life on Earth whatsoever,’ he says.   According to Shapiro, it is hard to imagine RNA forming in a prebiotic world along the lines of Sutherland’s synthesis.   ‘The chances that blind, undirected, inanimate chemistry would go out of its way in multiple steps and use of reagents in just the right sequence to form RNA is highly unlikely,’ argues Shapiro. Instead, he advocates the metabolism-first argument: that early self-sustaining autocatalytic chemosynthetic systems associated with amino acids predated RNA.”

My question is this:  Could one not substitute the word “metabolism” for “RNA” in the bolded portion of the quote with no loss of cogency of the argument?

See whole article here

For “petard” reference see here.

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27 Responses to Shapiro Hoisted With His Own Petard?

  1. Shapiro says:

    The chances that blind, undirected, inanimate chemistry would go out of its way in multiple steps and use of reagents in just the right sequence to form RNA is highly unlikely.

    Barry asks:

    My question is this: Could one not substitute the word “metabolism” for “RNA” in the [above] quote with no loss of cogency of the argument?

    That depends on the actual probabilities involved. If the probability of the metabolic scenario is higher than the probability of Sutherland’s synthesis, then the argument loses force when “metabolism” is substituted for “RNA” in the quote. If the probability is lower, then the argument gains force.

    Shapiro obviously thinks that the metabolism-first scenario is much more probable, but this is a scientific question, not merely a logical one.

  2. 2
    Barry Arrington

    Nice try Beelzebub, but you are wrong. The probability of either system coming about by “blind, undirected inanimate chemistry” is vanishingly small. Therefore, both are “highly unlikely” and therefore Shapiro’s argument applies to both equally.

  3. Mr Arrington,

    The probability of either system coming about by “blind, undirected inanimate chemistry” is vanishingly small.

    And you know this, how? Personal, unpublished research, or do you have a source?

    How is that experiment on the liberties of Mr Madsen going? Is he still banned? Why?

  4. Barry,

    Care to present your data?

  5. 5

    Nakashima,

    —”How is that experiment on the liberties of Mr Madsen going? Is he still banned? Why?”

    Lets try to stay on topic.

  6. 6

    Barry, you are exactly right.

    The materialist paradigm demands that both/either of the two scenarios can happen without the language and information that screams out as being the cause of the organization required by all life forms. (Why? Because it must!)

    Its not the scientific paradigm, or the logical paradigm, or the rational thinking paradigm, or the empirically-based paradigm…it’s just plain old 19th Century materialist ideology masquerading as enlightenment.

    It is neither scientific nor enlightened.

    Imagine someone asking “what makes you think it is unlikely?”

    This is the state of the defense.

  7. Metabolism is the set of chemical reactions that occur in living organisms in order to maintain life. These processes allow organisms to grow and reproduce, maintain their structures, and respond to their environments. Metabolism is usually divided into two categories. Catabolism breaks down organic matter, for example to harvest energy in cellular respiration. Anabolism, on the other hand, uses energy to construct components of cells such as proteins and nucleic acids.
    The chemical reactions of metabolism are organized into metabolic pathways, in which one chemical is transformed into another by a sequence of enzymes. Enzymes are crucial to metabolism because they allow organisms to drive desirable but thermodynamically unfavorable reactions by coupling them to favorable ones, and because they act as catalysts to allow these reactions to proceed quickly and efficiently. Enzymes also allow the regulation of metabolic pathways in response to changes in the cell’s environment or signals from other cells.
    The metabolism of an organism determines which substances it will find nutritious and which it will find poisonous. For example, some prokaryotes use hydrogen sulfide as a nutrient, yet this gas is poisonous to animals.[1] The speed of metabolism, the metabolic rate, also influences how much food an organism will require.

    I agree with Shapiro (and Nakashima and beelzebub): It is certainly more likely that blind, undirected, inanimate chemistry went out of its way in multiple steps and use of reagents in just the right sequence to form metabolosm than it did to form RNA. I mean, c’mon…

  8. I dug around a little more and found this:

    The first aspect of evolution concerns the metabolic participants as we know them now (i.e., a definition of metabolic diversity), and the second concerns the sequence of events that have led to this remarkable metabolic diversity. The first part is fairly straightforward: a discussion of the domains of life, and the metabolic achievements that are expressed in the various domains, and relating metabolism to biogeochemical processes whenever possible. The second part is much more problematic. While it is possible to make up nearly any story regarding the evolution of metabolism (and nearly all have been attempted!), the starting point of life is not known (great debates still rage as to the nature and origin of the first living systems), and it is not a trivial matter to specify the sequence and timing of metabolic innovations.

    http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2003TrGeo…8…41N

    In other words:
    1. The “first aspect of evolution” is a straightforward description of how metabolism works–not how it came to be.
    2. The second (namely, “sequence of events that have led to [metabolism]“), is characterized as so speculative that literally any story can be made up.

    Given this, it seems reasonable to conclude that Shapiro’s confidence is rooted in something other than the science. Ideology maybe?

  9. 9
    Barry Arrington

    Nakashima and beelzebub, you both have the burden of proof exactly backwards. Shapiro and his fellow travelers have made the patently incredible claim that blind, undirected inanimate chemistry somehow spontaneously resulted in life forms exhibiting staggeringly complex nano-technology and information processing capabilities.

    Anyone making such a claim should be prepared to defend it by demonstrating step-by-step how it happened. Spewing the claim and then saying “prove me wrong” is not how science (or anything else) is done.

    Nakashima, one more crack like the one in [3] and you will join Mr. Madsen. I have “experimented” on no one’s liberties. Commenting on this blog is a privilege, not a right guaranteed by the First Amendment nor any other provision of law. Abuse that privilege and suffer the consequences.

  10. So Barry, your counter claim is an intelligence did this, isn’t the burden of proof on you to demonstrate said intelligence? Can you provide a step by step mechanism of how this supposed intelligence constructed the “language” of life?

  11. Barry writes:

    Nakashima and beelzebub, you both have the burden of proof exactly backwards. Shapiro and his fellow travelers have made [a] patently incredible claim… Anyone making such a claim should be prepared to defend it by demonstrating step-by-step how it happened. Spewing the claim and then saying “prove me wrong” is not how science (or anything else) is done. [Emphasis mine]

    But Barry, that’s exactly what you are doing. (Careful with that petard!)

    We are discussing your claim, not Shapiro’s:

    Could one not substitute the word “metabolism” for “RNA” in the bolded portion of the quote with no loss of cogency of the argument?

    And:

    The probability of either system coming about by “blind, undirected inanimate chemistry” is vanishingly small. Therefore, both are “highly unlikely” and therefore Shapiro’s argument applies to both equally.

    As you’ve acknowledged, the validity of your claim depends on the relative probabilities of the two scenarios.

    You made a claim that depends on the probabilities being “vanishingly small”. Nakashima and I have asked you to show that the probabilities are small. The burden is on you to justify your claim, yet you’re saying it’s up to us to prove you wrong.

  12. eligoodwin–So Barry, your counter claim is an intelligence did this, isn’t the burden of proof on you to demonstrate said intelligence?

    Atheists add a Kafkaesque flavor to these discussions.

    What is being claimed is that a chemical synthesis not seen in nature followed by further reactions of exceedingly low probability is a more reasonable explanation for the origin of life than the actions of a purposeful intelligence.

    Despite the result being remarkably similar to objects known to be designed.

  13. 13

    eligoodwin,

    You must understand that is not how ID works. As Dr. Dembski once said:

    ID is not a mechanistic theory, and it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories.

  14. the truth hurts… it hurts

  15. Shapiro thinks his hypothesis is more likely than the RNA World hypothesis because he thinks the self-catalysis of a large set of unkown small molecules, acting as a network, is more likely than the self-catalysis of a specific set of hard to synthesize big molecules. He is relying on results by Stuart Kauffman that say that if you can corral enough varieties of molecule together, some network is “inevitable”.

    Unfortunately, this do not eliminate the problems of the RNA World, just sort of delays them to a point in time where he assumes that the auto-catalytic network can do the job which he thinks is so difficult.

  16. Could I make a suggestion? I’d like to propose a thought experiment.

    Let’s all imagine that we’re living in a totally different intellectual milieu – a world where the dominant scientific paradigm is the one that reigned in Aristotle’s day: the eternity of species, or the view that all varieties of living things have always existed on an infinitely old Earth. This is clearly a naturalistic hypothesis. Let’s suppose also that within this intellectual milieu, scientists are fully cognizant of everything we now know about genetics, biochemistry and cell biology, unlike the Greek scientists living in Aristotle’s day. Let’s suppose, however, that the geological and paleontological records have not been well-catalogued and are still poorly understood by scientists. Given the current lack of scientific knowledge about geology and paleontology, no-one feels inclined to view discontinuities in the fossil record as a threat to the reigning paradigm that species have always existed. Instead, scientists tend to explain away these discontinuities in the fossil record in one of two ways: they either confidently assert that geologists simply need to do more digging, in order to find fossils that smooth over the abrupt jumps in the fossil record; or they propose that plate tectonics have eliminated most traces of the distant past, so that we should expect to find fossil discontinuities anyway. The marvel, they say, is that we have any fossil record at all.

    In this alternative intellectual world, recent work in genetics has shown that species can change over time, and as a consequence, some scientists are prepared to entertain the hypothesis that organisms from the same genus or even the same family may be related. However, research along the lines discussed by Professor Michael Behe in his book, Edge of Evolution, has made most scientists skeptical of the proposal that organisms from different families could possibly be related. Evolution is widely viewed as having limits to what it can accomplish, even over long periods of time. The barriers to evolution beyond the genus or family level are generally perceived as being too great for it to occur naturally, and the few scientists who propose that evolution beyond the level of the family may have happened are derided as believers in fairies and black magic. For in the alternative Aristotelian intellectual milieu of which I speak, the notion of an interventionist God is literally unthinkable – no-one has ever proposed the idea. (Aristotle himself believed in an Unmoved Mover who did not interact with the world.)

    Now let’s suppose that a young scientific upstart, a Dr. Hypatia Lovelace, proposes that life goes through periodic cycles in which it forms spontaneously from organic chemicals assembling into small microbes, then diversifies into the various forms we observe living on Earth today, flourishes for a few billion years, is totally obliterated, and is later reborn from simple organic molecules which still remain, deep in the Earth’s crust, a few billion years later. This bang-boom-crunch cycle, she contends, has been going on forever. There’s nothing special about our phase.

    A bellow of scientific outrage greets Dr. Lovelace’s announcement. Learned geneticists sneer that Dr. Lovelace has failed to provide a pathway. Dr. Lovelace points out that experiments have shown that amino acids can form from simple organic compounds under laboratory conditions, but experts retort that this would be but the first step along the long road leading to the emergence of life.

    Next, Dr. Lovelace hypothesizes an RNA world and reports some encouraging findings: she manages to a build one part of RNA from small molecules. Critics point out, however, that Dr. Lovelace and her colleagues “have not formed RNA molecules; they have not addressed the chirality problem, they have not generated any biological information.” One senior scientist pronounces a negative verdict on Dr. Lovelace’s RNA world model: “The chances that blind, undirected, inanimate chemistry would go out of its way in multiple steps and use of reagents in just the right sequence to form RNA is highly unlikely.”

    Undeterred, Dr. Lovelace proposes a metabolism-first model, in which “early self-sustaining autocatalytic chemosynthetic systems associated with amino acids predated RNA.” Critics point out, however, that “it is not a trivial matter to specify the sequence and timing of metabolic innovations” and that even the molecules proposed in Dr. Lovelace’s new model would have to exhibit staggeringly complex nanotechnology which is unlikely to arise by known natural processes.

    Now thoroughly put out, Dr. Lovelace retorts: “You haven’t shown that my new model is improbable. Give me some numbers! Prove it’s improbable!”

    To which the learned Academy responds: “No, Dr. Lovelace, the onus is on you, not us. You’re the one making this bold, radical proposal. We already have a paradigm which is fully compatible with the scientific evidence catalogued to date. It is your job to prove that your pathway is plausible – that is, that it is not too improbable to have occurred during the few billion years which you hypothesize it took for life on Earth to originate.”

    Now, dear readers, let me ask you: at this point in the debate, whose side would you take – Dr. Lovelace’s or the Academy’s? Please note that nothing theological is at stake here: neither side is proposing any supernatural interventions have occurred, and the word “God” has never surfaced during the entire debate so far.

    What does this intellectual exercise show? What it suggests to me is that abiogenesis is congenial to most scientists, only because: (i) they know that the Earth hasn’t been around forever; and (ii) they are unwilling to entertain the notion of an Intelligent Designer. In other words, the psychological need to exclude a Creator has generated a scientific rush to judgement, where even educated people are prone to leap on the nearest bandwagon, and confidently proclaim that the puzzle of life’s origin is close to being solved.

    A more sensible attitude to all these speculative origin-of-life scenarios would be one of “Wait-and-see.” This is something like the attitude espoused by Dr. David Berlinski, in his writings on the subject. We haven’t seen a proper metabolism-first model yet, and we currently lack the tools to assess the probability that the model’s proposed mechanism could generate life-forms under pre-biotic conditions, so we should remain skeptical. It’s just a conjecture.

  17. “vanishingly small.”

    The chance that any natural process could create life is vanishingly, vanishingly, vanishingly, ad infinitum, vanishingly small.

    This is so obvious that to even have to explain it seems ridiculous. But no our trusted in house expert, Nakashima, disputes the claim. Nakashima is also a fine tuning denier. Maybe Nakashima will make a career of denying the obvious.

    If we could search the literature, we could probably find several quotes by anti ID people who support this claim of life being highly improbable. I seem to remember Dawkins admitting it as such on several occasions. Here is one quote from him

    “The universe could so easily have remained lifeless and simple -just physics and chemistry, just the scattered dust of the cosmic explosion that gave birth to time and space. The fact that it did not -the fact that life evolved out of literally nothing, some 10 billion years after the universe evolved literally out of nothing -is a fact so staggering that I would be mad to attempt words to do it justice. And even that is not the end of the matter.”

    Of course Sir Richard also believes that little green men could have done it which may disqualify him as a rational anti ID person.

  18. Mr Vjtorley,

    As usual, a nicely reasoned post!

    I might have a few quibbles with your scenario, but I agree the onus is on Dr Lovelace to prove her theories.

    However, I think you skip too easily over the convincing power of point i) – the Earth has not been around forever. Even the scientists of the Academy (and this is my quibble) would agree on the basis of genetics and molecular clocks that the species unify to a very few, or one, a few billion years ago.

    Recognition of a fact (the Earth is of finite age) is not a pressing psychological need. OK, maybe it is – to avoid cognitive dissonance. Which motivation looms larger in scientists is something a survey might take up, but I don’t think you can just state that you know the mind of the average scientist. If you have that power of telepathy, there are far more remunerative uses than looking into the minds of the lab coat crowd.

  19. Mr Jerry,

    Ahh, you have caught me! I have been known to deny being awake before coffee. My car’s license plate is “DNYDNYDNY”.

    That said, I am willing to wait for more direct evidence from observation of other planets before declaring life rare or not. I’ve said before that I’m in the ‘Rare Earth’ camp, life is common, but intelligent life is rare.

  20. Winston, I am shocked Bill would admit such a thing–ID having no descriptive power, it’s kinda the aim of science…

  21. vjtorley writes:

    In other words, the psychological need to exclude a Creator has generated a scientific rush to judgement…

    vj,

    You forget that many of us grew up as believers, abandoned our beliefs reluctantly and with sadness, and would happily believe again if the evidence warranted it. We’re just not willing to believe if the evidence isn’t there.

    Here is how I look at the abiogenesis issue:

    1. Design is a logically possible explanation for any phenomenon whatsoever, not just abiogenesis, the diversity of life, or the origin of the universe.

    (To do a little psychologizing of my own, isn’t it interesting that ID supporters get upset when design isn’t considered as an explanation for life’s origin, but they don’t tend to get upset when physicists overlook design as a possible explanation for a newly discovered physical phenomenon? Why the difference? I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader. It’s not too hard to figure out, and the reason ain’t rational.)

    2. If an unconstrained designer is a possibility, then even a phenomenon having a perfectly plausible naturalistic explanation might still be designed.

    3. However, parsimony dictates that we not invoke a designer (particularly a supernatural one, which is extraordinarily unparsimonious) unless necessary.

    4. Therefore, we should invoke design only after we’ve exhausted all reasonable naturalistic possibilities.

    5. In the entire history of science, not even one supernatural hypothesis has ever panned out.

    6. Abiogenesis research is active and vibrant. It is not stuck, and the possibilities are nowhere close to being exhausted.

    7. Because of 3, 4, 5, and 6, our default assumption should be that life has a naturalistic explanation.

    Perfectly rational, and no “psychological need to exclude a Creator.”

  22. I often wonder when someone does protest too much about having gone through an honest journey of self introspection and then willfully distorts this introspection. Case in Point:

    1. Design is a logically possible explanation for any phenomenon whatsoever, not just abiogenesis, the diversity of life, or the origin of the universe.

    (To do a little psychologizing of my own, isn’t it interesting that ID supporters get upset when design isn’t considered as an explanation for life’s origin, but they don’t tend to get upset when physicists overlook design as a possible explanation for a newly discovered physical phenomenon? Why the difference? I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader. It’s not too hard to figure out, and the reason ain’t rational.)

    It is something called science. It is easy to see the laws of physics working and its results. ID being science based accepted what natural laws can do and what is probabilistically possible. So here is distortion #1. Oh what is an honest person to do but to distort when things don’t go their way especially when it is in so noble a cause.

    2. If an unconstrained designer is a possibility, then even a phenomenon having a perfectly plausible naturalistic explanation might still be designed.

    Yes, and most ID people believe that this is probable for most of the universe. Many who believe in design, believe that the stars, the planets and specifically Earth, life, evolution, man and consciousness were built into the design of the universe. When that Big Bang banged, the initial conditions and future boundary conditions led inevitably to the world we see today. These design supporters have thought so for almost 3,000 years and maybe longer. Today many of them are called Theistic Evolutionists. This was the wonder of the world that most held for centuries and many still do. And when they discovered the incredibly simple and profound laws of nature they marveled even more at the magnificence of the creator to design such a world that worked like an extremely well designed clock that never need repair. But the designer was not constrained to do it this way and apparently He didn’t. And so many ID proponents are an unfortunate lot and must follow evidence, logic and reason and the evidence does not indicate that all was designed this way. Why, we do not know.

    3. However, parsimony dictates that we not invoke a designer (particularly a supernatural one, which is extraordinarily unparsimonious) unless necessary.

    An arbitrary ad hoc assertion made to justify one’s fantasies. As I said ID supporters are such that they cannot give into illogical fantasies but in most cases agree with this because the design was built in from the beginning. But not all. They must follow the evidence that is there before them and whoever designed this world must have an immense intellect and we do not look to everything to be a direct design but rather that most of it is a consequence of a magnificent design at the beginning, even most of evolution which is under the process of something called micro evolution. But apparently all of it didn’t happen this way which is unfortunate for ID proponents since they are bound by logic and reason to follow the evidence.

    4. Therefore, we should invoke design only after we’ve exhausted all reasonable naturalistic possibilities.

    Yes, and this is exactly what ID does. This is good honest insight which ID follows. In fact some of its major proponents have developed a system to do exactly that. It is a logical approach called the Explanatory Filter and only after pursuing all possible know naturalistic avenues will they say that something is probably designed. Notice they don’t say absolutely designed but probably. Unlike their opponents who make an a priori assertion that nothing is designed but is only apparently designed. It is the lot of ID proponents to be reasonable people as opposed to the absolutist narrow mindedness of their opponents.

    5. In the entire history of science, not even one supernatural hypothesis has ever panned out.

    Yes that is true but there is much to be explained that science just cannot seem to dent. And science just opens up more issues every time it investigates these problems. Science has a great track record in some areas but in some crucial ones it has failed miserably and each new rock it looks under seems to bring up more obstacles. And for some areas it has even resorted to supernaturalism. What is the multiverse theory with its hypothesis of other universes that are not natural like ours with different laws and conditions. It is like the Land of OZ somewhere over the rainbow. And it is possible in this fairy tale that some of these other not natural places like ours can run into us and change us. It is sort of ………supernatural.

    There was list made just the other day of issues that the naturalists have not solved; here is the link to these unsolved phenomena.

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-318349

    6. Abiogenesis research is active and vibrant. It is not stuck, and the possibilities are nowhere close to being exhausted.

    Yes, a very honest statement but one that has to be parsed. I will grant that abiogenesis is nowhere close to being exhausted. That is a fair assessment. It is active but I do not know if I would agree that it is vibrant and it does seem to be stuck. It certainly is not getting anywhere and that is my definition of stuck. Notice the statement above said nothing about progress only that they are nowhere close to being exhausted, an honest appraisal. Oh the scientific findings, many are interesting and useful but they are not progressing. Where is that science that explains everything.

    The subject of this thread is that after all this time and investigation they haven’t even got as far as pre K. They developed a couple of legos through extraordinary efforts and not all the legos and they do not know if these legos will jump together through magic or have to be assembled in I shall I dare say an intelligent way.

    7. Because of 3, 4, 5, and 6, our default assumption should be that life has a naturalistic explanation.

    A complete non sequitur when one examines each honestly. The sequitur should be that there is a high probability that it can not be a naturalistic explanation.

    An honest assessment would make that conclusion and not the conclusion in point 7. But as the great bard said, the lady doth protest too much or in this case the devil doth protest too much.

  23. 5. In the entire history of science, not even one supernatural hypothesis has ever panned out.

    Since naturalism is by definition and design incapable of dealing with the supernatural that’s really not unexpected.

    Science, however, has marked off some rather notable boundaries as to naturalism — the laws of thermodynamics, a finite universe, the impossibility of the spontaneous generation of life.

    I guess I risk being accused of “creationism” if I point out that this science confirms predictions of Biblical literalists, but what the hey.

  24. 24

    5. In the entire history of science, not even one supernatural hypothesis has ever panned out.

    Bang!

    Conscious Intelligence

    Language

    Life from Life

    Ya know…just the little ones.

    - – - – - – -

    And by the way, what is the mechanical explanation for the language observed in living systems?

  25. Beelzebub

    Thank you for your post. You wrote:

    3. However, parsimony dictates that we not invoke a designer (particularly a supernatural one, which is extraordinarily unparsimonious) unless necessary.

    4. Therefore, we should invoke design only after we’ve exhausted all reasonable naturalistic possibilities…

    7. Because of 3, 4, 5, and 6, our default assumption should be that life has a naturalistic explanation.

    The first problem with step 3 is that it is too vague: what counts as necessary? A zero probability for a non-design process generating life, or just a very low one? If so, how low? Do you subscribe to Dr. William Dembski’s idea of a lower probability bound?

    The second problem with step 3 is that it jumps the gun. We can legitimately infer design first and worry about who the Designer is later.

    Step 4 begs the question of what a reasonable possibility is. See my remarks above, on Step 3 – what counts as “necessary”?

    Step 7 assumes that we should have a default assumption. That’s precisely the position I’ve been questioning. When we cannot form probability estimates, we shouldn’t have any default assumotions, because we simply don’t know what’s possible and what’s not. You and Mr. Nakashima would maintain that we don’t know enough to say whether Shapiro’s metabolism-first scenario is improbable or not. Very well then: if we’re so ignorant that we cannot even make a rough estimate of life originating by undirected processes, then we should at least keep an open mind to the possibility of its having been designed.

    In any case, I would put it to you that Alex Williams’ paper, Astonishing DNA Complexity Demolishes Neo-Darwinism raises such formidable problems for a “non-design” account of life’s origin that the default assumption should surely be design. The first five pages are especially compelling.

  26. I wrote:

    3. However, parsimony dictates that we not invoke a designer (particularly a supernatural one, which is extraordinarily unparsimonious) unless necessary.

    vjtorley replied:

    The first problem with step 3 is that it is too vague: what counts as necessary? A zero probability for a non-design process generating life, or just a very low one? If so, how low? Do you subscribe to Dr. William Dembski’s idea of a lower probability bound?

    A low probability, for sure, though the precise value is a matter of judgment. Remember, no supernatural hypothesis has ever been validated by science.

    The second problem with step 3 is that it jumps the gun. We can legitimately infer design first and worry about who the Designer is later.

    No, because a non-supernatural designer is also unparsimonious.

    I wrote:

    4. Therefore, we should invoke design only after we’ve exhausted all reasonable naturalistic possibilities…

    vjtorley replied:

    Step 4 begs the question of what a reasonable possibility is. See my remarks above, on Step 3 – what counts as “necessary”?

    We should be extremely conservative because not only is a supernatural explanation unparsimonious, it is unprecedented in the history of science.

    I wrote:

    7. Because of 3, 4, 5, and 6, our default assumption should be that life has a naturalistic explanation.

    vjtorley:

    Step 7 assumes that we should have a default assumption. That’s precisely the position I’ve been questioning. When we cannot form probability estimates, we shouldn’t have any default assumotions, because we simply don’t know what’s possible and what’s not.

    I notice that ID proponents only raise these objections when they are talking about events that are religiously significant to them, such as the origin of life or the creation of the universe. If this were really about open-mindedness rather than the promotion of religious beliefs, then their protests wouldn’t be so specifically targeted.

    My preference is to simply be honest about where we stand scientifically. We don’t know how life arose, though we have some promising leads and are making progress. We expect the explanation to be naturalistic, because every other explanation that science has come up with has been a naturalistic one. Design is a logically possible (though highly unlikely) explanation for the origin of life and for any unexplained phenomenon, whether in biology, chemistry, meteorology, physics, astronomy, etc. We’ll be extremely surprised if it is confirmed, but we can’t rule it out entirely.

    You and Mr. Nakashima would maintain that we don’t know enough to say whether Shapiro’s metabolism-first scenario is improbable or not. Very well then: if we’re so ignorant that we cannot even make a rough estimate of life originating by undirected processes, then we should at least keep an open mind to the possibility of its having been designed.

    Absolutely. As I’ve been stressing on another thread, we should always continue to question our beliefs. If anyone ever produces persuasive evidence that life was designed, we will have to change our minds.

    In any case, I would put it to you that Alex Williams’ paper, Astonishing DNA Complexity Demolishes Neo-Darwinism raises such formidable problems for a “non-design” account of life’s origin that the default assumption should surely be design. The first five pages are especially compelling.

    I haven’t read the paper yet, only the abstract, but it doesn’t sound too promising. It actually invokes the Fall as a scientific explanation:

    The best explanation is what the Bible tells us: we were created — as evidenced by the marvels of DNA — but then we fell and now endure the curse of ‘bondage to decay’ by mutations.

    Come on, vj — you’re smarter than that.

  27. beelzebub:
    “a non-supernatural designer is also unparsimonious.”

    … ah … yes … we can never invoke a designer. That’s why I’ve been chalking up beelzebub’s posts to merely chance and law absent any intelligence whatsoever. That would be just too “unparsimonious” an explanation. Of course, since that was stated somewhat tongue-in-cheek I will now address the intelligence of beelzebub. You did use some foresight in creating that last comment right? You didn’t just randomly string a bunch of symbols together. You had an end point in mind, correct — summed up in communicating a specific concept to others on this blog?

    Furthermore, of course you do realize that the “least complex” explanation is only the best explanation if it can indeed account for said phenomenon. Increasing levels of complexity must be invoked until said phenomenon can be accounted for. Then as simpler explanations are discovered, we may proceed onto those simpler explanations. Have you bothered to provide evidence that chance and law absent previous intelligence will account for life?

    Or, we can just ignore your comments and chalk them off to “dumb ol’ law and chance” and just all go home (if we aren’t there already), fully realizing that chance and law are indeed the most parsimonious explanation.

    Oh, and beelzebub, have you bothered to define “supernatural” yet and distinguish it from “natural?” Until you do so, your posts seem to be nothing than hot air. You’ll need to start of course by defining “natural” in such a way that you don’t arbitrarily rule out the existence of the foresight and rationality (intelligence) which you possess or else you’ll be admitting that you have a “supernatural” component to you which science will never be able to touch.

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