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Usefulness of Chance & Necessity

Over on Panda’s Thumb Arthur Hunt protests Phil Skell’s essay in Forbes where Skell describes the theory of evolution as not being useful to modern experimental biology.

Hunt goes on to give an example in how it is useful. But Hunt plays the old bait and switch game. Every honest person with some knowledge of ID knows that ID doesn’t dispute common descent as the reason why all living things are deeply related. ID disputes the notion that chance and necessity alone produced all the living things and the differences between them.

I don’t think anyone (including Phil Skell) will argue that knowing all living things are deeply related is not a sometimes valuable guiding heuristic to experimental biology. So Hunt plays the old switcheroo by giving an example where common descent provided some insight and pretending that chance & necessity is part and parcel of common descent.

This is par for the course for evolutionists. They describe common descent and call it “evolution” instead of common descent. Then they describe special creation and call it “intelligent design” instead of special creation. This is dishonest and downright pathetic. ID doesn’t dispute evolution defined as descent with modfication from one or more common ancestors over billions of years. It disputes the mechanism (chance & necessity or random mutation & natural selection) commonly ascribed as sole motive force behind the creation and diversification of life.

The need to play switcheroo with the definitions of ID and evolution in order to make their arguments is prima facie evidence that they have no compelling argument.

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48 Responses to Usefulness of Chance & Necessity

  1. ID doesn’t dispute evolution defined as descent with modfication from one or more common ancestors over billions of years.

    Fine, but why then uncommondescent.com?

  2. Dave,
    the article that the PT post was responding to did not single out commen descent, or natural selection, or any other part of evolution specifically. it said evolution as a whole, which includes common descent. actually, Skell really emphasizes common descent as studied, for example, through paleontology:

    Contrary to the beliefs of Professor Coyne and some other defenders of Darwin, these advances are not due to studies of an organism’s ancestors that are recovered from fossil deposits. Those rare artifacts–which have been preserved as fossils–are impressions in stones which, even when examined with the heroic efforts of paleontologists, cannot reveal the details that made these amazing living organisms function

    so the PT post was not “bait-and-switch”, it responded directly to the points made in Skell’s article.

  3. Dave,

    One of my favorite expressions to describe the anti ID people is “The dog barking in the night” from Silver Blase and Sherlock Holmes. But the dog did not bark in the night the man said to Holmes. There was no intruder for the dog to bark at. And that is how the mystery was solved.

    If the Darwinist had something, they would be barking all through the night. But the Darwinist don’t bark either on Panda’s Thumb or when they come here.

    They nitpick here or over there, they distort.

  4. I’m convinced that the reason for these constant switch-ups – where, over and over, ID is equated with YEC, with denying evolution writ large, with common descent, etc – is because the very prospect of someone accepting evolution, even common descent, while at the same time examining biology and natural history with design and intelligence in mind is frightening to many people.

    As near as I can tell, the source of the fright is this: Nature and natural history is overwhelming with (strong) indications of design, intelligence, foresight, and more, at all levels. And for many, these scientific fields are supposed to be the sole and exclusive property of people who deny intelligence, purpose, and such in nature. It was assumed that those who saw those things in nature were committed to scientifically unfashionable positions (very young earth, no common descent, no evolution, etc), so that no evaluation of mainstream science and history for ID was possible. If that’s not the case, then what was ‘sole and exclusive property’ no longer is anymore – and suddenly people who thought science bolstered their view of the world and theirs alone are being told, no: Actually it seems to bolster others’ views equally well, or moreso.

    Even if such an argument is inconclusive, that’s hard to accept.

  5. The Ptolemaic universe was useful for predicting the position of stars and planets, but that didn’t make it true.

    In the same way, ID can account for the same data in nature and all the data that Darwinism couldn’t.

  6. Hello, I’m new!

    It’s certainly an interesting study but even YECs have no problem with ‘macroevolution’ when all it means is ‘speciation’. A new organelle hasn’t been found but something could be, possibly, in the ‘first stage’ of creating one! I’m convinced. No…wait…I’m not.

  7. Embarrassment mode:
    I seem to have read the wrong post on the pandasthumb blog, so please ignore my previous comment as it is unrelated. Except the bit about me being new, that bit shouldn’t be ignored as it’s my excuse!

  8. If invisible beings are genetically engineering species to look as though they are descended from other species that is not common descent. Genetic engineering and evolution are not the same thing, DaveScot. You are the one playing word games.

  9. sparc said:

    Fine, but why then uncommondescent.com?

    Uncommon descent in no way implies anti-common descent.

  10. sparc

    Fine, but why then uncommondescent.com?

    To make you ask questions.

    And it worked.

    So why do all you pro-evolution warriors gather on antievolution.org?

  11. “If invisible beings are genetically engineering species to look as though they are descended from other species that is not common descent. Genetic engineering and evolution are not the same thing, ”

    There is a couple things wrong with this.

    Who says they are invisible. I heard they were little green men but then someone else told me they were lizard like creatures from the Andromeda galaxy. But a very good source told me they were from a far part of the universe and used hyper space in which to travel here. You could ask Richard Dawkins who thinks they are there. And if you have a seance channel available, get a hold of Carl Sagan who thought there were millions of possibilities around. Maybe Lynn Margulis could help you contact Carl. Just make sure you know your prime numbers.

    Evolution is the change in the frequency of genetic elements in the population gene pool from one generation to the next. How it happens is the issue and if it has an intelligent assist by some process then it is still evolution whether you call it genetic engineering or something else.

  12. BL Harville

    invisible beings are genetically engineering species to look as though they are descended from other species that is not common descent

    Congratulations on describing special creation. I believe I stongly implied in the OP that special creation is not common descent. That’s why the chance worshippers conflate ID and special creation. Then they conflate evolution and common descent. It’s the only way they can cobble up a reasonable sounding argument and it’s blatantly based on false definitions of “intelligent design” and “evolution”. They conflate ID with a religious belief which is easily attacked as unscientific and they conflate evolution with common descent which is easily defended by science. The truth of the matter is that ID very comfortably accomodates common descent. The so-called blind watchmaker being responsible for everything we see is what ID disputes.

    What part of that don’t you understand?

  13. Sparc,

    It is an American thing. Common men go nowhere. It is Uncommon men that make the world go around.

    “This cannot be a team of common men
    because common men go nowhere, You have to be uncommon.”

    Most Americans will recognize those lines because they believe in miracles. Do you?

  14. If ID and evolution agree on common descent, then you’d think the two sides would get along better.

    The sole part of evolutionary theories that has any solid evidence is adaptation. Living things can adapt to their changing environments, a fact we can see by observing nature. Common descent, however, relies on fossil and genetic evidence–both of which require vast leaps in logic and a heaping shovelful of assumption. Geneticists must use computer software to analyze their genetic data. The number of times they run the data changes the result. Thus, one set of data produces “thousands of equally good but different [phylogenetic] trees,” as geneticist Alan Templeton is quoted as explaining in the book African Exodus.

    When the evidence itself can mutate, no concrete conclusions can emerge from it.

    Lisa A. Shiel
    author of The Evolution Conspiracy
    http://EvolutionConspiracy.com/

  15. Lisa

    ID doesn’t require common descent. It’s compatible with it but it’s also compatible with special creation. Atheists reject ID because ID doesn’t reject special creation. Agnostic isn’t good enough for them.

  16. 16

    DaveScot

    ID doesn’t seem to require anything. It’s rather amorphous and non-committal to be considered a scientific theory.

  17. 17

    Harville,

    Why don’t you at least try to be cogent? Why the constant strawmen at every turn? Is this the only way you can argue against the ID, saying things that even a greenhorn would recognize as meaningless rhetoric?

    What is the qualitative profile of a chance mechanism? Independence of each result, no one individual result is coordinated with any other, a total lack of capacity to organize for function.

    What about necessity? Periodic results, tied to mechnical physical law.

    How do you square that the with selection for fitness at the nucleic level in DNA? Independence from physical law, aperiodic, organized results, pervasively coordinated for function through cascades of inter-dependant processes.

    Why should the chance + necessity mechanism be the only thing considered when it is woefully inadequate to the task assigned at hand.

    What? Add enough time and anything is possible. There’s a powerful theory. Anyone who must stand by that theory may need a ideological strawman or two.

  18. 18

    Upright BiPed,

    To be totally honest, I couldn’t understand a lot of your comment. For example, you wrote:

    What about necessity? Periodic results, tied to mechnical physical law.

    Was that a question? If it was, for the life of me I’m not sure what it is you’re asking.

    But I’ll take a shot at it. To the best of my ability to understand your comment, it appears that you’re suggesting that there is no organizing principle in evolution and that therefore there must be an intelligence guiding it. This is false. The organizing principle of evolution is selection.
    You spoke of strawmen in your comment. I’ve seen a number of bad probability calculations on this site masquerading as models of evolution. They all leave out any element of selection. Now that’s a strawman.

  19. B L Harville, “ID doesn’t seem to require anything.”

    ID requires one thing — foresight.

    B L Harville, “It’s rather amorphous and non-committal to be considered a scientific theory.”

    I would suggest that ID is not a scientific theory as naturalism is not a scientific theory. ID is a metatheory, a framework where theories are built. IC, SC, etc. are theories developed within that framework. These theories (hypothesees) are not nearly so amorphous as ID itself.

  20. 20

    Harville, natural selection can only work after functioning living tissue is a reality, unless you intend to ascribe a fitness level for inorganic matter.

    Volitional agency is the only force known that is able to create the selection for function at the original nucleic sequence, coming from inorganic matter.

    The primary difference between living tissue and inorganic matter is the organizational information contained in the nucleic code. And something had to bring that (conventional) code into being. That something was not chance, it was not mechanical necessity, and it was not natural selection.

    I know it is very convienent (and often great fun) to forget this fact, particularly when defending the materialist paradigm against the mountain of evidence that does not follow to it. But that changes nothing.

  21. 21

    Upright BiPed:

    And something had to bring that (conventional) code into being. That something was not chance, it was not mechanical necessity, and it was not natural selection. “

    That is an assertion which you cannot prove. It can be disproven however. The day scientists announce a successful abiogenesis experiment is going to be a difficult day for some people.

  22. 22

    Upright BiPed:

    And something had to bring that (conventional) code into being. That something was not chance, it was not mechanical necessity, and it was not natural selection. “

    That is merely an assertion.

  23. 23

    Oops – sorry for the double comment. My connection hung up and I didn’t think the original comment went through.

  24. bFast:

    Good ideas.

    There is a hierarchy in scientific theories, with some serving as integrative constructs that tie together more specific models and it is the latter that are more directly empirically testable. That holds for newtonian Dynamics, for Quantum theory and for many, many other domains of science.

    It would be good for us to all read beyond Popper’s falsificaionism, e.g. through starting with Imre Lakatos’ progressive and degenerative research programmes and the issue of the protective belt of hypotheses and the core vision and key ideas of a research programme.

    GEM of TKI

  25. BL Harville

    ID is design detection. It requires intelligent agency. SETI is a good specific example of the science of design detection. The process of reaching a design inference is exactly the same and notably they don’t have to know anything about the designer. Is SETI something within the scope of what you’d call science? If it is then the same principles of design detection should be considered science whether you apply it to patterns found in the electromagnetic spectrum and patterns found in living things. No double standards.

  26. 26

    Life creates more life. Life contains info for duplicating itself. Mount Rushmores do not create more Mount Rushmores. Signals in space do not create more signals in space. Life is of a different category than non-life. Therefore reaching a “design inference” for living things is not exactly the same as for non-living things.

  27. B L Harville:

    Life creates more life. Life contains info for duplicating itself. … a “design inference” for living things is not exactly the same as for non-living things.

    Wow, thanks. It hadn’t dawned on me that life self-duplicates, and that this would need to be factored into design detection.

    That said, how did life get its start anyway? Isn’t first life fully submitted to the same standard as mount rushmore?

  28. When self replicating computers or robots are created does that somehow grant the area of programming and robotics immunity from a design inference or would the replication of functioning programs warrant even further design inference?

  29. 29

    Hello Dave,

    You stated above “ID is design detection.” You also stated that ID “disputes the mechanism (chance & necessity or random mutation & natural selection) commonly ascribed as sole motive force behind the creation and diversification of life.” So, as I understand your position, positive evidence of design undermines the adequacy of mutation and natural selection as the mechanism responsible for common descent; however, ID is not about positing an alternative mechanism. Although we differ about the nature of the evidence in favor of design, I don’t disagree that unambiguous evidence of design could shift the argument with respect to common descent in your direction.

    What I don’t understand is how this relates to another foundation of ID (at least as defined on this site), that is the inadequacy of materialist explanations in biology and cosmology. How is your definition of ID inherently anti-materialist?

    Michael

  30. B L Harville

    Upright BiPed:

    And something had to bring that (conventional) code into being. That something was not chance, it was not mechanical necessity, and it was not natural selection. “

    That is an assertion which you cannot prove.

    So the theory of abiogenesis is unfalsifiable. That is what you’re saying? Yet it is “science”, and an OU professor recently received a $500,000 grant from the NSF to have it taught in high school chemistry classrooms.

    btw, Harville, I’m sure you would say the same exact thing to this statement: “All of the complexity of life did not come about strictly via random mutation and natural selection.” In that case, you would be admitting that neo-Darwinian theory is also unfalsifiable.

    The day scientists announce a successful abiogenesis experiment is going to be a difficult day for some people.

    Yet we are the ones living in faith, right?

  31. The day scientists announce a successful abiogenesis experiment is going to be a difficult day for some people.

    The day we discovered nano machinery in the cell, metainformtion in genomes were difficult days for neo-Darwinists, but that didn’t stop you guys! Maybe we’ll just follow you guys did/do: Either ignore it, deny it, or pretend Darwin predicted it

  32. Well golly gee, life replicates. So because it is so much more complicated than the non life examples that do not have to have the complicated machinery and parts to reproduce, that makes it a candidate for a natural explanation. Nature cannot produce the less complicated stuff, but boy is it great at the more complicated stuff.

    You can teach old dogs new tricks. I never knew that more complicated things were easier for nature to produce. Live and learn.

    Thank you B. L. Harville for that magnificent insight.

  33. Perhaps there is a theoretical answer to this question somewhere out in the abiogenesis literature: If life arose from a pool/cloud/soup of organic but non-living material, why can’t we find any of it? Shouldn’t there be swarms of it in places that it theoretically arose (ocean floor vents, volcanoes, whatever)?

  34. B. L. Harville wrote:
    Mount Rushmores do not create more Mount Rushmores.

    I would disagree. Mount Rushmore is in effect a huge billobard saying “Copy me. Revere Me. Pay attention to me.” It captures the attention of mechanisms that already have a propensity to go about making copies of things (i.e. humans). How many copies of Mount Rushmore have been spawned, (in photographs images paintings, cast moldings, sculptures) By the mere fact that Mount Rushmore exists. Mount Rushmore is a very powerful program by itself.

    I would say its also qualifies as an idol. Surely if the Ancient Israelites had done it they would have been annihilated by God. So its slightly ironic its become the symbol for the I.D. movement.

  35. billobard = billboard

  36. B L Harville:

    The day scientists announce a successful abiogenesis experiment is going to be a difficult day for some people.

    You are correct that if a successful abiogenesis experiment ever is produced, it will rock the ID word, it will cause many to abandon ID.

    The requirements that ID will demand however are:
    1 – That the environment be reasonably likely to have existed in the prebiotic earth.
    2 – The initial lifeform must self-start or at least be more likely than 1 in 10^40 of naturally occurring.
    3 – At least a rather believable story from first replicator to simplest known cell, detailing how complex structures like ATP synthase came about mutation-by-mutation.

    If all of those requirements are met, it is likely that I will be one of those abandoning the ID ship.

    That said, since I was a child I have heard stories of “we’ve made it” or “we almost made it” coming out of the abiogenesis science. At some point one gets to “once bit, twice shy”.

    You’ll not get much sympathy in the ID community from the hope that one day the study of abiogenesis will be fruitful. “is going to be” is optimism that isn’t supported by history. To us it seems as likely as man flying faster than the speed of light.

  37. Mount Rushmore is a demonstration of human ingenuity via engineering and artisanship. It’s unmistakably the work of intelligent agents, and if it proclaims anything, it does so indelibly: “The U.S.A. was here.”

    Mount Rushmores do not create more Mount Rushmores.

    Exactly. Mount Rushmores do not create more Mount Rushmores. Human agents create them, and facsimiles thereof.

    I would say its also qualifies as an idol. Surely if the Ancient Israelites had done it they would have been annihilated by God. So its slightly ironic its become the symbol for the I.D. movement.

    Where is the irony? Firstly, the bacterial flagellum is ID’s primary symbol; secondly, ID has no direct relation to Mosaic Judaism, nor its offspring Christianity; thirdly, idols are commonly representative of false deities, not human governmental figures, unless there are implications of a fusion between the two — and there exists no such implication with Mount Rushmore; fourthly, idolotry was prevalent during significant periods of Israel’s ancient history, yet still they remain even today, “…for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” (Rom 11:29)

    I would say its also qualifies as an idol. Surely if the Ancient Israelites had done it they would have been annihilated by God. So its slightly ironic its become the symbol for the I.D. movement.

    Comments such as these are intended to derail discussions by[re]introducing the ID=religion straw man.

    There is no irony here, other than that ID’s detractors find religious motive mongering more comfortable territory than discussing the hallmarks of intelligent agency. If chance and necessity were viable as explanations for art and engineering, ID critics would have no need for retreating to religious criticisms, nor making attempts at labeling a triumph of human art and engineering as “idolotry.”

  38. bFast [35]:

    You could still always say that it took 1000′s of the best minds in science working concertedly for nearly a hundred years to figure out how to create life through abiogensis. This could serve to gauge the difficulty of the problem.

    Someone could observe, “We still don’t see this happening in nature today. And although it would be true that chemicals had to have come together at some point in the past to result in the first life, the only other instance we have seen that happen today is when intelligence was involved (human intelligence). Thus we are reasonable in assuming intelligence was involved to begin with.” And someone could respond, “Well why not assume the original cause was a human being as well, on the same basis.”

    OTOH, if f is natural laws and x is some initial state of physical affairs, and f(x) results in a man then f(x) can be viewed as man in a previous form. (Like an oven a recipe and ingredients and labor for a cake equals a cake.) Einstein was a genius prior to discovering relativity. He was still a man even while sleeping or unconcious. Even though f(x) hadn’t accomplished much it still wouldn’t negate the fact that it was man in a previous form. So yeah, the info apparently had to be there to begin with, and you could even assume it always existed (Otherwise you’re assuming it came together at a point in time at random which Dembski et. al. rule out.) But neverthless there’s no place in science for a black-box called “Intelligence” that magically generates complex designs via some indescribable method (which is what it would be if operated outside of law as is affirmed in I.D.)

  39. 39

    B L Harville @ 21:

    “The day scientists announce a successful abiogenesis experiment is going to be a difficult day for some people.”

    Surely not for ID people, though. A successful abiogenesis experiment would demonstrate that intelligence (in that case, the intelligence of the experimenters) is capable of giving rise to life. Whose point does that prove? As has been pointed out many times in this forum, ID in itself doesn’t stipulate a supernatural intelligence, though of course in practice that seems the most likely source.

    As an ID supporter I would see a successful abiogenesis experiment more as a vindication than a challenge.

  40. Apollos – All your commentary notwithstanding, Mount Rushmore would have most certainly qualified as a “graven image” in the Old Testament Law. And I said it was “slightly” ironic, so I was not equating I.D. to religion.

    And also Mount Rushmore would equate to DNA, in that Mount Rushmore is a complex symbolic object whose existence would trigger the creation of duplicates of itself.

  41. Apollos,
    “fourthly, idolotry was prevalent during significant periods of Israel’s ancient history, yet still they remain even today”

    The Ancient Israelites would not have been allowed to make monumental images of their human founders and then revere those images. This would have been an absolutely flagrant violation of the Old Testament Law.

    (My point was a minor one to begin with but for clarification…)

  42. JT:

    bFast [35]:

    You could still always say that it took 1000’s of the best minds in science working concertedly for nearly a hundred years to figure out how to create life through abiogensis. This could serve to gauge the difficulty of the problem.

    I am not interested in finding a rhetorical way around the facts. If the scientific community can demonstrate a realistic abiogenesis strategy, a strategy that could realistically have occurred, they merit a rethinking of one’s position. This is not about us v. them, its about a search for truth.

  43. bFast: Why should the fact that there was a process involved in the emergence of life have any bearing in the debate, one way or the other?

    I would not have thought that I.D. was thinking that life just materialized instanteously, literally by magic. That there were precursors to life that resulted in life doesn’t prove there is no God.

  44. JT, if you look at my list of requirements for first life in post 35, I mention some specific parameters.

    Again,

    1 – It must be demonstrated that the environment realistically existed in the prebiotic earth.

    If engineers simulate an environment that likey was, if they spend years of research to figure out what that environment was, then they are not front-loading knowledge, they are only discovering.

    To my knowledge the RNA world experiments that have produced some fruit, by the way, are painfully not environments that likely naturally existed in the prebiotic earth. This, of course, is a major problem for abiogenics.

    2 – The replicator must have had a chance better than 1 in 10^-40 of happening by chance. This extends (though I find Dembski’s number of 10 ^ -150 to be a bit generous) Dembski’s work. Events with this chance of occurring could realistically be said to have occurred by chance, especially if there are lots of opportunity for trials.

    The scientific community grissles at the idea of a threshold on chance. ID, through Dembski, has suggested a threshold on chance. Let us be honest and hold to the threshold.

    These requirements, as far as I am conserned solve the problem of “look how many worked to solve this problem”.

  45. Me [37]:So yeah, the info apparently had to be there to begin with, and you could even assume it always existed (Otherwise you’re assuming it came together at a point in time at random which Dembski et. al. rule out.)

    Just to clarify (and then I’ll quit hogging band-width for a while):

    “a point in time” isn’t relevant – so mutations occuring over a period time for example have the same problem.

  46. JT:

    That there were precursors to life that resulted in life doesn’t prove there is no God.

    The question is not whether or not there is a God, the question is whether chance + necessity are adequate to explain life.

    Proving precursors to life would not prove the efficacy of chance and necessity, but finding an environment that realistically existed in the prebiotic earth, and a path whereby replication could come about within the parameters of chance, and finding a path from simple replicators to modern biology that is smooth enough (mutation-by-mutation) to get from simple replication to modern biology would establish the feasibility of chance + necessity as an adequate explanation.

    If chance + necessity is an adequate explanation, then ID as a science is irrelevant. It is only our conviction that chance + necessity is inadequate that has folks like me questioning the reasonableness of neodarwinism.

  47. Has the discussion here missed the mark?

    Skell’s point, to which Hunt adds his counterpoint, is that evolutionary theory is not used as a “guide” in biological experimentation.

    Hunt’s example is meant to suggest that ‘knowing’ the ‘evolutionary history’ of the P. falciparum helped to develop an anti-malarial therapy. This is his central point.

    Here is what he says: Briefly, several groups followed an obvious line of thought – since the parasite has an organelle that is evolutionarily-related to plastids, see if it has plant-like metabolic pathways or other targets that plant (and chloroplast)-specific drugs would act upon.

    I ask this question: Is Hunt justified in saying that “since the parasite has an organelles that is evolutionarily-related to plastids, see if it has plant-like targets that plant-specific drugs would act upon”?

    Specifically, do you need to know “how” the organelle got into the bacterium to decide to pursue “plant-specific” drugs, or, is it sufficient simply to know that the organelle is related to plant-like plastids? I don’t think “how” the organelle got there really matters, only that it uses “plant-like” biochemical pathways.

    Is this the best that Darwinists can come up with?

  48. JT wrote:

    “The Ancient Israelites would not have been allowed to make monumental images of their human founders and then revere those images. This would have been an absolutely flagrant violation of the Old Testament Law.”

    I didn’t dispute the illegality of idolatry under Mosaic law; my response (as quoted) was properly directed at your provocative claim:

    Surely if the Ancient Israelites had done it they would have been annihilated by God.

    Regardless, we needn’t continue a debate about the Tanach. We can easily agree that idolatry isn’t permissible according to the Torah.

    However the classification of a contemporary sculpture under the idol category is more than a stretch. Mount Rushmore is a renown landmark used by ID proponents as an example of specified complexity with a historically traceable designing agent. Classifying it as some sort of irony for religious reasons is convoluted at best.

    You would have done better claiming that ID was using Borglum-of-the-gaps reasoning. ;-)

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