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Why Not Accept the Fossil Record at Face Value Instead of Imposing a Theory on it?

In a comment to a prior post Johhnnyb makes the following excellent points:

One thing which I think ID can contribute to any historical aspect of earth history is shaving off hypothetical creatures. While there are certainly many creatures which haven’t yet been found, and I’m sure many of these creatures include chimeras of existing features in existing creatures, there is no reason to believe that there must be creatures where none have been found or evidenced. Darwinism has a bad habit of perpetually adding dashed lines in-between creatures for where it expects to find relationships. Instead, ID says that, perhap we can just take the fossil record as we find it. Perhaps what we need to be doing is measuring, say, the average known time fossils go missing from the fossil record, and use that plus statistical completeness estimates to estimate the error bounds of the fossil record. Instead, Darwinists will substitute a narration of what they think happened in the past to substitute for 99% of earth history, rather than simply looking at what’s there.

 Here’s a simple example – extinction estimates. Darwinists will say that 99.99% of species that have ever lived have gone extinct. Well, that’s actually a bunch of B.S. There are roughly 250,000 species that have been identified in the fossil record, and well over 1,000,000 species that exist today. Taken at face value, even if every species in the fossil record has gone extinct (which they haven’t), that means that 80% of species that ever existed ARE STILL ALIVE.  That’s quite a stretch. So where do Darwinists get their number? By assuming that innumerable species existed in the transitional spaces. Why? Because they _must_ have existed there for their theory to be true.

 ID says that Darwinism is simply an unnecessary hypothesis. We should take the fossil record as it comes to us, measure its completeness on its own terms, and determine its limits as we can determine apart from Darwinism. After doing so, we might find certain features of the fossil record to be consistent with Darwinism, or we might not. The problem is that the Darwinists distort what they see to fit into their picture of Darwinism. There are also a set of Silurian trackways which were thought to be arthropods…why? Because it was thought that tetrapods hadn’t existed yet. Basically, Darwinism has been forcing the way in which we view the fossil record and earth history. When it is in conflict with the data, over and over again, the data gets modified to fit with Darwinism. ID makes a clean break with the Darwinistic picture, and would allow us to take the animal distributions within the fossil record much more on its own terms.

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116 Responses to Why Not Accept the Fossil Record at Face Value Instead of Imposing a Theory on it?

  1. Sorry, you can’t just ignore the evidence for Common Descent.

    johnnyb: … there is no reason to believe that there must be creatures where none have been found or evidenced.

    Of course there are reasons. Time and again scientists have tested this hypothesis by finding intermediate species. They didn’t just stumble across Tiktaalik in their backyards. There is no reasonable scientific doubt that there has been a succession of ecosystems over the eons.

  2. I think that this is a good idea because it is one incremental step in building ID as a separate intellectual tradition.

    Zachriel,

    There is also no reasonable doubt in my mind that cars evolved via small mutations, leading to the complex and diverse kinds of vehicles we see today. You can even see punctuated equilibria as certain innovative structures explode onto the scene. This is obviously due to the common descent of cars, starting from sleds, going to wagons, then finally full blown cars. Even flight developed, starting with the Wright’s aeroplane whose first hop was 12 seconds, to the space shuttle.

  3. There are wider scopes of Common ancestory as put forth by other evolutionist instead of a single long line.

    Likening the record to a Forest of Trees. See: Doolittle, et al.

  4. Collin: There is also no reasonable doubt in my mind that cars evolved via small mutations, leading to the complex and diverse kinds of vehicles we see today.

    You are mistaken. Cars do not form a singular, objective nested hierarchy across most traits. They do not reproduce themselves. And we observe they are manufactured by a peculiar species of biped.

    The evidence strongly indicates design.

  5. “There are roughly 250,000 species that have been identified in the fossil record…”

    Actually, there are almost no species identified in the fossil record. This is because nearly all of the taxa currently cataloged in the fossil record are genera or higher taxa, not species. For example, virtually all fossil archosaurs (you may know them as “dinosaurs”) are classified at the level of genera, not species. This means that the actual number of extinct species is unknown (and probably unknowable, at least at the level we currently know for extant species). However, since genera almost always consist of multiple species (indeed, some genera subsume hundreds or even thousands of species), what we do know is that our current estimates of the number of extinct species are quite low, perhaps as low as two to three orders of magnitude.

    Ergo, the number of actual species of fossil organisms can only be estimated, but is certainly two to three orders of magnitude greater than the number of identified fossil genera (and families, orders, classes, etc.). On the basis of this analysis, it is actually quite reasonable to estimate the number of extinct species as somewhere on the order of

    Here is the calculation:

    Given: 250,000 identified genera of fossil organisms

    Assuming each genus subsumes 10 species (an almost laughably low estimate, as almost no extant genus subsumes only one species), then the estimated number of extinct species is:

    250,000 genera X 10 species/genus = 2,500,000 species

    By the same logic, assuming 100 species per genus:

    250,000 genera X 100 species/genus = 25,000,000 species

    This analysis, of course, assumes that what we now recognize as genera in the fossil record are, in fact, genera, and not some higher taxon. If this were the case, then the estimates above are once again gross underestimates.

    As for the argument that paleontologists fill in gaps in the fossil record with “dotted lines”, that’s what any geneologist does when part of the family tree they are studying is missing. Would it make more sense for geneologists to assume that, rather than family lines being connected by “missing” ancestors, that instead known individuals simply “poofed” into existence (as Dr. Michael Behe has asserted the bacterial flagellum was)?

    Indeed, if inferring the existence of things not currently observable is illegitimate, then science as we know it today would be impossible. We cannot observe atoms, nor can we observe radio waves, individual photons, or the force of gravity. We infer their existence on the basis of evidence we can observe.

    Paleontology without inference would indeed be “stamp collecting”; that is, a huge collection of individual data, with no integrating theory whatsoever. Is that what you are advocating?

  6. {Copied to appropriate thread.}

    bjohnnyb: Without Darwinian assumptions, 80% of creatures who ever existed might still be alive, but adding Darwinian assumptions 99.99% of them are extinct!

    There is not only a succession of species, but a succession of ecosystems. Most species around today did not exist in the time of the dinosaurs. There were no Panthera or Ursidae. No Bovidae or Hominidae. But they did have ancestors! Then consider earlier eras! As always, we have to start with Common Descent and establish the overall historical pattern.

  7. While there are certainly many creatures which haven’t yet been found, and I’m sure many of these creatures include chimeras of existing features in existing creatures, there is no reason to believe that there must be creatures where none have been found or evidenced.

    Huh? I understand this as saying “whilst there are certainly many creatures to be found, there is no reason to believe they existed” A strange use of faith. Can you explain this apparent contradiction?

    Perhaps what we need to be doing is measuring, say, the average known time fossils go missing from the fossil record, and use that plus statistical completeness estimates to estimate the error bounds of the fossil record.

    Two links to some simple estimates of the numbers of fossils to be discovered. I suspect there are more formal estimates too, based on accumulation curves for example.

    Taken at face value, even if every species in the fossil record has gone extinct (which they haven’t), that means that 80% of species that ever existed ARE STILL ALIVE.

    Must I mention fossilisation of tardigrades again? Soft body parts don’t fossilise well, so we’ll miss most of the biodiversity that was present (e.g. most insects and plants). The conditions for fossilisation also have to be right. These facts are independent of evolutionary theory, and suggest that there are many undiscovered species.

    I wonder – would ID be able to provide any counter-arguments to say that we’ve seen most extinct species (other than “God was just playing with the Pleistocene”, of course).

  8. There is good reason to think that the fossil record represents most of what has actually existed. From a sampling point of view if the fossil record finds most of what is known today in the fossil record, and it does, why should we expect it to have missed all these other speculated species. The logical answer is that it probably didn’t.

    Yes, there will be plenty of new fossil found in the future but it unlikely that most of the species that did exist were not fossilized. Again the reason is, that most of what is actually present today has been fossilized in the past. So if they were fossilized then species of the same time period should also have been fossilized.

  9. jerry: There is good reason to think that the fossil record represents most of what has actually existed.

    You forgot to include that “good reason.”

  10. {Oops. That last comment got sent inadvertently. Please ignore.}

    jerry: From a sampling point of view if the fossil record finds most of what is known today in the fossil record, and it does, why should we expect it to have missed all these other speculated species.

    It does? Can you provide the evidence for that assertion?

    Your argument also assumes the rate of fossilization and discovery is the same for the most ancient fossils as it is for more modern fossils. Is there support for this claim?

  11. Heinrich -

    The difference between the two statements is that one is a statistical probability and the other is a biological necessity. On the basis of statistics, we probably haven’t encountered everything. On the basis of biology, there is no necessary reason to assume a given unfound species existed.

  12. Zachriel -

    Whether or not Common descent is true has nothing to do with it.

    I already wrote about that in the thread this came from, but may repost it on the home page later.

  13. Zachriel: There is not only a succession of species, but a succession of ecosystems.

    johnnyb: Whether or not Common descent is true has nothing to do with it.

    There has been a succession of ecosystems, and the world of the dinosaurs was filled with all sorts of plants and animals, but different species than exist today.

  14. Zachriel -

    Again, what does this have to do with whether or not we should presume the existence of species that aren’t in the fossil record?

  15. Allen -

    First of all, on Behe’s flagellum, he did not think that it was poofed into existence. Behe believes in evolution, and a naturalistic one at that. He believes that the information was encoded into the universe at the big bang. Interestingly, that is actually what seems to be implied by LeMaitre’s description of the big bang, who described it as a “cosmic egg” (which would presume latent organization and structure, like an egg with a program to evolve to an adult).

    As to your estimates, the interesting thing is that biodiversity lags way behind biological disparity. Therefore, it may be quite doubtful to use modern biodiversity as a proxy for fossil biodiversity. E.O. Wilson, for instance, claims that current biodiversity far outpaces any historical biodiversity.

    In addition, just to point out, many of the species in the fossil record do still exist today. We seem to keep finding more. But, even if you assume your 100 species/genus estimate, and assuming they all went extinct, then your estimate still falls grossly short (multiple orders of magnitude) of the 99.99% number often used.

  16. johnnyb: There are roughly 250,000 species that have been identified in the fossil record, and well over 1,000,000 species that exist today.

    johnnyb: Again, what does this have to do with whether or not we should presume the existence of species that aren’t in the fossil record?

    Because as the current ecosystem has a million species, and as the progression of ecosystems over hundreds of millions of years probably each had similar numbers of species, that would mean billions of species over the course of history.

  17. Zachriel said: “You are mistaken. Cars do not form a singular, objective nested hierarchy across most traits. They do not reproduce themselves. And we observe they are manufactured by a peculiar species of biped.”

    I don’t know what you mean by ‘singular’ and ‘objective’ but automobiles certainly do form nested hierarchies.

  18. For example:
    A tacoma is a toyota, but not all toyotas are tacomas. Toyotas are automobiles, but not automobiles are toyotas.

    It is true that automobiles do not reproduce nor are they their own factories like life seems to be. And yet I think it is fascinating that automobiles follow selection pressures, have very familiar looking family trees showing simple growing to complex over time and diversity and “ecological” niches being filled with all variety of machines. Think about dump trucks and sports coups and back hoes. All of this diversity is due to a lot of intelligent agents experimenting, planning, designing etc. It makes me wonder if there weren’t (aren’t?) millions of designers of life too.

  19. Why Not Accept the Fossil Record at Face Value Instead of Imposing a Theory on it?

    The face value is that there are a lot of fossilized bones from different layers of rock and from different parts of the world. On their own they tell us very little.

    But if we have a theory that the rocks in which they are found are of different ages, if we observe differences between the older and younger fossils, if we observe that animal morphology is plastic and can be shaped by environmental pressures, then we can construct a theory about how living things have changed and diversified over time.

    Data on its own is just that. When it can be fitted into the framework of an explanatory account, however, it can begin to make sense.

    Here’s a simple example – extinction estimates. Darwinists will say that 99.99% of species that have ever lived have gone extinct. Well, that’s actually a bunch of B.S. There are roughly 250,000 species that have been identified in the fossil record, and well over 1,000,000 species that exist today.

    I have seen figures of 1 million identified species and between 5 and 12 million yet to be discovered.

    Taken at face value, even if every species in the fossil record has gone extinct (which they haven’t), that means that 80% of species that ever existed ARE STILL ALIVE. That’s quite a stretch.

    It certainly is.

    There is evidence of at least five major extinction events in the geological record. If we look at just two of them, the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event 65 million years ago accounted for an estimated 75% of all species and the Permian-Triassic event wiped out around 96% of all marine species and 70% of all land species.

    If those estimates are even close, then it’s the claim that 80% of all species that have ever existed are still alive that’s “a bunch of B.S.”

    ID says that Darwinism is simply an unnecessary hypothesis.

    And Darwinists say that neo-Paleyism isn’t even a hypothesis because there is no way to test it.

    Basically, Darwinism has been forcing the way in which we view the fossil record and earth history. When it is in conflict with the data, over and over again, the data gets modified to fit with Darwinism.

    If you have a better explanation of the fossil evidence – as distinct from simply criticizing the evolutionary one – feel free to present it.

    ID makes a clean break with the Darwinistic picture, and would allow us to take the animal distributions within the fossil record much more on its own terms.

    By all means, do your own research. Free your mind of all assumptions, presuppositions or agendas, especially of design or religion. Remember you are supposed to be taking the fossil record at face value. Let nothing else distort your judgement.

  20. Seversky,

    I appreciate your term “Neo-Paleyism.” While it is still not as polite as it could be, at least its not “intelligent design creationism.”

    By the way, I’m sure you won’t mind your tax dollars going into the research you proposed that Mr. Arrington should do. After all, we wouldn’t want anybody to be put on an unfair playing field or anything.

  21. “You forgot to include that “good reason.””

    It was included. You just missed it.

  22. ID makes a clean break with the Darwinistic picture, and would allow us to take the animal distributions within the fossil record much more on its own terms.
    Wouldn’t that make an excellent ID research project?

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  24. Why not just let people know that planets revolve around the sun instead of telling them why and how they stay in their orbits? Why impose a theory on the rotation of the planets? Why not just let it speak for itself?

  25. Zachriel:

    Sorry, you can’t just ignore the evidence for Common Descent.

    Sorry, but you can’t ignore the fact that the “evidence” for Common Descent can also be used to support Common Design and/ or convergence.

  26. The fossil record:

    Greater than 95% of the fossil record consists of marine invertebrates.

    Yet in that vast majority we do not find evidence for Common Descent.

    Why isn’t that evidence against the theory?

  27. Seversky sez that there isn’t any way to test ID.

    Then why are scientists not only say that they have tested it but they have falsified it?

    You cannot have it both ways.

    You cannot say out of one side of your arse that ID is untestable and out of the other say besides we have tested it and refuted it.

    One last charge must be met: Orr maintains that the theory of intelligent design is not falsifiable. He’s wrong. To falsify design theory a scientist need only experimentally demonstrate that a bacterial flagellum, or any other comparably complex system, could arise by natural selection. If that happened I would conclude that neither flagella nor any system of similar or lesser complexity had to have been designed. In short, biochemical design would be neatly disproved.- Dr Behe

  28. Retroman said: “Why not just let people know that planets revolve around the sun instead of telling them why and how they stay in their orbits? Why impose a theory on the rotation of the planets? Why not just let it speak for itself?”

    The difference is that astronomers can use their understanding to predict where planets will be and then confirm their predictions. That is science. In contrast, neodarwinism has very little predicting power.

    Joseph, you are absolutely right.

    As one physics professor told me, “The presence of DNA shows that all life has a common origin.” He make it a point to not say “ancestry.” It could be ancestry, but it could also be common design.

  29. that’s “made it a point” not “make it a point.”

  30. Collin writes:

    The difference is that astronomers can use their understanding to predict where planets will be and then confirm their predictions. That is science. In contrast, neodarwinism has very little predicting power.

    So that means, if biologists were able to use the theory of evolution to predict in which strata and in which area you would find certain fossils, you would be satisfied that evolutionary biolody is actually science?

  31. Joseph said:
    Yet in that vast majority we do not find evidence for Common Descent.”

    With all due respect, sir, you are not even wrong. Bold, brash polemics are fun to type and to read; however, the profound ignorance of such a statement does a grave disservice to the veracity of your arguments.

    In order to avoid further embarrassment, may I suggest you familiarize yourself with the Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology. Start with the brachiopods. You’ll find that their exquisitely sculpted morphologies offer compelling evidence for common descent and a nested hierarchy of derived traits.

    Michael

  32. I’m not sure if this really belongs here (though I do think it’s related) but I have a question in the form of a thought experiment that I’m hoping you more learned and wise folks (in both camps) can help me with (either in refutation or in refinement, if you please!!)

    Suppose, for sake of argument, that chimpanzees were extinct, and suppose also that they became extinct a few million years ago.

    Now suppose that a fossil of a chimp was discovered that had a perfectly preserved sample of DNA.

    Suppose further that after analysis it was discovered that this sample of DNA was a 98% match to our own. (I know, that figure is disputed, but suppose for sake of argument).

    Would not proponents of Darwinian Evolution tout this as *the* missing link? And that we are therefore *directly* descended from chimps? After all, the DNA matches to 98%.

    It’s painfully obvious to see the error.

    Does this not show how difficult it is to assume common descent based on the “eye-test” of fossilized bones? I’d imagine that a DNA test would be far superior to what is currently available to paleontologists, so if that is indeed the case, does not my thought experiment show that at best all we can infer from the fossil record is a loose family or genus membership, and that descent cannot or should not be inferred therefore?

    Thanks in advance (to both sides) for humoring me.

  33. Collin,

    It could be ancestry, but it could also be common design.

    What content would a concept like “common design” have WRT evolution? By themselves alone, those two words tell me nothing.

    Made by the same designer? Made in the same factory? Made at the same time? Made using the same tools? What signs point to the proposed commonality?

    The difference between a T-Ford and a Ford Focus: Common Design or evolution?

  34. shackleman: Would not proponents of Darwinian Evolution tout this as *the* missing link? And that we are therefore *directly* descended from chimps?

    No. First of all, The genus Homo has been around for 2.5 million years; Australopithecus date to nearly four million years. They are clearly more closely related than chimpanzees. More specifically, we can sometimes place an organism close to the lineage, but we can rarely if ever be sure that it is on the direct line of descent. That’s because evolutionary descent tends to branch repeatedly.

    shackleman: Does this not show how difficult it is to assume common descent based on the “eye-test” of fossilized bones?

    It’s the nested hierarchy, not mere similarity.

    shackleman: … so if that is indeed the case, does not my thought experiment show that at best all we can infer from the fossil record is a loose family or genus membership, and that descent cannot or should not be inferred therefore?

    That’s right. Cousins. And that is how most cladograms are constructed.

  35. Cabal said, “What content would a concept like “common design” have WRT evolution? By themselves alone, those two words tell me nothing.

    Made by the same designer? Made in the same factory? Made at the same time? Made using the same tools? What signs point to the proposed commonality?

    The difference between a T-Ford and a Ford Focus: Common Design or evolution?”

    Both!

    Let me elaborate: Neither the T-Ford nor the Ford Focus could have existed without thier ancestors or their engineers. Neither one could have gone “poof” into existence. Yet each one is a produce of original intelligent design.

    With respect to DNA, common design, is, I think, a very reasonable explanation. Consider these two analogies:

    1. A software engineer creates a new program. Shortly thereafter, another program enters the market that is very similar. Turns out that the underlying programming is very similar. In a suit for copyright infringement, a jury would infer that it is likely that there is common design in the programming, and therefore plagarism. This is a reasonable inferrence.

    2. For this example, I’ll just provide a link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stylometry

  36. In comment #30 shackleman wrote:

    “…at best all we can infer from the fossil record is a loose family or genus membership…”

    Precisely, and this is why virtually all so-called fossil “species” are usually taxonomically classified at the level of genus (or higher). This was the point I made in comment #5 and why Arrington’s quotation from johnny b’s post that there are about 250,000 extinct species (and that therefore about 80% of all species that have ever existed are alive today) is completely and utterly absurd.

    Virtually all of the estimates of 250,000 currently described and classified “species” of fossil organisms are taken from David Raup’s book, Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck, published in 1991. On page 21 (paperback edition, ISBN 0393309274), Raup wrote

    “About 250,000 species have been described, named, and located reasonably well in space and time.”

    However, he immediately went on to explain that this number represented only a tiny fraction of all fossil species. Indeed, on page 3 of the same book, Raup wrote

    “…somewhere between five and fifty billion species have existed at one time or another.”

    As one of the world’s premier paleontologists, Raup made this estimate on the basis of several calculations, which were based on empirically determined rates of discovery and classification of fossil organisms. Ergo, his estimate that over 99.9% of all species that have ever existed is not only the most widely accepted estimate, it is the only one based on quantitative empirical methods.

    Therefore, johnny b’s assertion that estimates of extinction rates by paleontologists are “a bunch of B.S.” is itself not only “a bunch of B.S.”, it’s both a deliberate quote mine (and therefore a deliberate lie) and also an assertion based on absolutely no empirical evidence whatsoever.

    Just like everything else in ID…

  37. In comment #15 johnnyb wrote:

    “First of all, on Behe’s flagellum, he did not think that it was poofed into existence.”

    False. This is exactly how Dr. Behe asserted that the bacterial flagellum came into existence. This is documented by Larry Arnhart here:

    http://darwinianconservatism.b.....ution.html

    Here is paragraph #4 in Arnhart’s post:

    “A few years ago, I lectured at Hillsdale College as part of a week-long lecture series on the intelligent design debate. After Michael Behe’s lecture, some of us pressed him to explain exactly how the intelligent designer created the various “irreducibly complex” mechanisms that cannot–according to Behe–be explained as products of evolution by natural selection. He repeatedly refused to answer. But after a long night of drinking, he finally answered: “A puff of smoke!” A physicist in the group asked, Do you mean a suspension of the laws of physics? Yes, Behe answered. Well, that’s not going to be very persuasive as a scientific answer. And clearly Behe and other ID proponents prefer not to answer the question. [emphasis added]

    That’s because the only ID “answer” to the question of how complex structural and functional adaptations came into existence is either silence or magic.

  38. I agree with both Cabal (comment #31) and Collin (comment #32), who asserted that both evolution and design can explain the changes over time in automobiles and living organisms.

    However, there is a very significant difference between these two explanations: one (the design hypothesis for the phylogeny of automobiles) is based on direct empirical evidence: a written history in which the actual designers are known and were recorded by witnesses who were present during the design process. Ergo, the phylogeny of automobiles as the result of intelligent design is a directly empirically verifiable (and verified) explanation.

    The same is not the case for the phylogenies of living organisms. With only a few exceptions (such as Culex molestus), such phylogenies must be inferred on the basis of indirect empirical evidence.

    This means that one hypothesis (design) differs from the alternative hypothesis (evolution) in that the design hypothesis requires the direct intervention in natural processes of an unidentified (at least in public), unobserved (and unobservable), supernatural designing agent, whereas the evolutionary hypothesis does not. It relies on purely natural explanations using purely natural forces, all of which can be empirically observed. Indeed, they have been observed operating directly in the origin of both new adaptations and new phylogenetically distinct taxa (see http://evolutionlist.blogspot......olved.html

    http://evolutionlist.blogspot......os-so.html

    and

    http://evolutionlist.blogspot......dence.html )

    The design hypothesis for the origin and evolution of living organisms has no supporting empirical evidence nor is it based on the same metaphysical assumptions as all of the other natural sciences. Furthermore, all arguments in its favor (such as the analogy between automobile design and phylogenetic evolution) are essentially arguments by analogy, which are completely lacking in logical validity.

    For more on the problem of arguments by analogy, see:

    http://evolutionlist.blogspot......gical.html

    http://evolutionlist.blogspot......ument.html

    and

    http://evolutionlist.blogspot......ce-in.html

  39. Mr. MacNeill,

    I concede that arguments by analogy are not evidence or proof of any kind. But analogies are useful to help you think of a problem in new ways.

    I also concede that there is no direct evidence of design in nature like there is for automobiles.

    But I do believe that there is strong circumstantial evidence of design in nature. Indeed, forensic scientists make design inferences all the time. They don’t necessarily have to infer that the stab wound was made by a blond haired man or a Latina woman, just that it was non-accidental. That is what ID-ers try to do. I think that they should be encouraged to see where their incipient movement leads rather than cut down by deniers before it can get any momentum.

    I also think that a design inference is totally independent of any inference of supernatural intervention. This may just be my personal belief, but I believe that God (if He is the designer) is not “supernatural” per se. Not any more so than a video game designer is supernatural with respect to the World of Warcraft.

    Here’s a hypo: An ogre in the World of Warcraft becomes self-aware. Could it ever, scientifically, prove to his fellow ogres that their world was designed? What evidence would he use? What methods and tools would he use?

  40. Michael Tuite,

    brachiopods “evolving” into brachiopods?

    That fits in very well with the Creation model of biological evolution- ie baraminology.

    You’ll find that their exquisitely sculpted morphologies offer compelling evidence for common descent and a nested hierarchy of derived traits.

    Descent with modification wouldn’t expect a nested hierarchy due to the very nature of transitionals and intermediates.

    So in order to avoid further embarassment I would suggest you figure out what a nested hierarchy is and why evolution doesn’t expect one.

  41. Zachriel:

    First of all, The genus Homo has been around for 2.5 million years-

    Unless of course we consider artifacts that have been dated earlier than that.

    It’s the nested hierarchy, not mere similarity.

    The observed nested hierarchy should be evidence against Common Descent for the many reasons provided in books, other threads and other forums.

    The reasons Zachriel keeps ignoring as if that makes them go away…

  42. Allen MacNeill:

    That’s because the only ID “answer” to the question of how complex structural and functional adaptations came into existence is either silence or magic.

    This is like beating a dead horse-

    In the absence of direct observation or designer input, the ONLY possible way to make ANY scientific determination about the designer(s) or the specific processes used, is by studying the design in question.

    That said a targeted search would be a specific design process.

    Ya know like Dawkins’ “weasel”, “EV”, the programs in “Evolving Inventions”, etc.

    And then there is Dr Spetner’s “non-random evolutionary hypothsis” put forth in “Not By Chance”.

  43. Allen MacNeill,

    The debate is not ID vs evolution.

    The debate is about blind, undirected processes vs purposeful, directed processes.

    Ya see “design” is a natural process.

    That said you don’t even have a testable hypothesis for “blind, undirected processes”.

  44. Zachriel, and Mr. MacNeil,

    Thanks for the replies and clarifications. They were helpful.

    Maybe my question would be better understood if I said it thusly: why is a fossil dating millions of years old with *physiological* similarities considered more closely related to us than chimps, whose DNA is 98 percent similar to ours? It seems to me that, all things being equal, the DNA match would carry far more weight than some physical similarities.

    I think too that this goes to what Mr. Arrington was saying. What value, really, is there in assuming biological relation, based on creatures we have not found in light of the fact that even with 98% genetic similarity, our physiologies are different enough from chimps (as an example) to rule out *direct* biological relatedness.

    Does anyone else see what I’m trying to say and could phrase it better? I still don’t think I’m expressing it very well here.

    Thanks again for your time. I know, being a true layperson here, I don’t necessarily merit a response, but I do appreciate everyone’s consideration very much!

  45. Collin,

    For the Horde!!

  46. 46

    Joseph,
    Your bluster is both amusing and sad. You seem to believe that the strength of your commitment to nonsense will somehow make it true. Of course evolution (descent with modification) predicts the observed nested hierarchy. Perhaps you perceive that observation to be a threat to your hopes for eternal salvation, but neither you nor the addleheaded “creation scientists” upon whom you seem to rely exclusively can refute it.

    Read a book (by someone outside your comfort zone).

    Michael

  47. Shackleman,

    I think that you make sense. Is it like this:

    One programmer makes a program using C++ and another makes the exact same program using BASIC. What is the relationship/origin? Compare that with two similar (not exactly the same) programs, both written in C++, with similar code. In the second instance we might infer that one of the programs is an updated version of the program made by the same programmer. Meanwhile in the first instance, the program written in BASIC is a copy of the result of the program, not of the code itself.

  48. Collin,

    Yes! That’s a perfect analogy and illuminates the point I’m trying to make very well. The key is in the code, man! The DNA is king!

    For those unfamiliar with programming languages, the analogy can be made using word processing programs for even more clarity.

    Compare Microsoft Word 2003 to the latest version of OpenOffice Writer. Two completely different code-bases, utterly unrelated, look nearly identical. Meanwhile, Microsoft Word 2007 is a direct descendant, of Word 2003, complete with whole sections of duplicated and borrowed code, yet it looks very different from its predecessor.

    If, without access to the code, all you had was the appearance to go by, you would determine that OpenOffice Writer, and not Word 2007, was the direct descendant of Word 2003! You’d be wrong of course.

    It’s true that this family of applications (pronounced genus) is called “Word Processor” and that both Word and Writer belong to that genus, but they aren’t descendants of each other, and in fact didn’t evolve down the same programming pathways at all.

    Thanks for the analogy, Collin. It’s exactly the point I was trying to make.

  49. Mr Shackleman,

    It seems to me that, all things being equal, the DNA match would carry far more weight than some physical similarities.

    If we had ancient DNA, we would use it! In its absence, we do the best we can.

  50. Michael Tuite:

    Of course evolution (descent with modification) predicts the observed nested hierarchy.

    Your ignorance and stupidity are sad and amusing.

    That is false for the many reasons provided over the decades.

    1- Transitional forms (and intermediates), by their very nature/ definition blur the lines of distinction required by nested hierarchies.

    2- With nested hierarchies defining characteristics must be A) immutable (in order to keep containment) and B) Additive (otherwise there would be only one level)

    3- Descent with modification does not have such a direction- defining characteristics can be “modified” out of existence and you lose containment.

    4- Darwin hisownself said that extinctions, not descent, led to the distinct categories observed.

    5- You couldn’t support your claim if your life depended on it and that makes you feel threatened in some way.

    Grow up and get over it…

  51. Extinction has only defined the groups: it has by no means made them; for if every form which has ever lived on this earth were suddenly to reappear, though it would be quite impossible to give definitions by which each group could be distinguished, still a natural classification, or at least a natural arrangement, would be possible.- Charles Darwin chapter 14

    There you have it- Darwin’s words refute the notion that UCD predicts a nested hierarchy.

  52. Shackleman,

    Glad to be of service. :)

  53. Common design can be observed with PCs and the peripheral devices that have to work with them.

    It can be observed with automobiles.

    It can be observed in buildings which were all built to the same code.

    It can be via one designer or many designers working with the same standards.

    Common design is basically not re-inventing things every time you want something different.

    You take what exists and works and put it to use in other ways.

    Any questions?

  54. In comment #44 shackleman wrote:

    “…the DNA match would carry far more weight than some physical similarities.”

    This would only be the case if there were a one-to-one correspondence between DNA code and phenotype. Under such conditions, changes in DNA sequence would cause changes in phenotype the way that Mendelian alleles are correlated with unitary traits.

    This was one of the basic assumptions upon which the “modern evolutionary synthesis” of the early 20th century was built. Ronald Aylmer Fisher laid out precisely these preconditions in his foundational book, The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection, first published in 1930.

    However, this fundamental assumption has been virtually abandoned by the vast majority of evolutionary biologists. This change was set in motion in the early 1960s by the publication of Motoo Kimura’s revolutionary 1968 paper, “Evolutionary rate at the molecular level” [Nature 217 (5129): 624–626, available online at http://www.blackwellpublishing.....kimura.pdf ]. Kimura showed that most changes in DNA sequence are not associated with detectable changes in phenotype.

    The rise of evolutionary developmental biology (“evo-devo”) further undermined the “one gene-one trait” paradigm, and recent discoveries in developmental plasticity and epigenetics have almost completely superceded this concept. And, as I have pointed out several times (see http://evolutionlist.blogspot......-gene.html and http://evolutionlist.blogspot......-live.html ), this means that both the version of evolutionary theory that is usually attacked by ID supporters and their own alternative hypotheses (which, like the “modern synthesis” are virtually all based on the “one DNA sequence-one trait” paradigm) are almost completely out of date (talk about fighting the last war…).

    The result of all of these changes in evolutionary theory (necessitated by new discoveries flowing from empirical research) has been a refocusing of emphasis on phenotypic changes and away from the singular focus on changes in allele frequencies that dominated the “modern evolutionary synthesis”. This new, “extended synthesis” is the subject of Massimo Pigliucci and Gerd B. Müller’s new book on this subject, due out in April (see http://www.amazon.com/Evolutio.....038;sr=8-1 ).

    I will be reviewing this book on my blog ( http://evolutionlist.blogspot.com/ ) in the very near future.

  55. From one of Allen MacNeill’s links in comment 38:

    As many evolutionary biologists (including me) anticipated, creationists and intelligent design (“ID”) supporters have moved the goalposts, arguing that they have always accepted that speciation occurs, but that it does not necessarily mean anything for macroevolution, especially if one defines “macroevolution” as the origin of higher taxa (i.e. taxonomic categories above the level of species).

    Wrong again Allen.

    YECs have accepted “speciation” even with its ambiguity, since the time of Linneaus- more than 200 years ago!

    Answers in Genesis on speciation

    The Current Status of Baraminology

  56. Speciation, more accurately referred to as cladogenesis, is the first and most important step in macroevolution. Indeed, macroevolution is cladogenesis, according to current evolutionary theory. So, if YECs have indeed accepted that speciation occurs, then they have by definition also accepted that macroevolution occurs.

    But, of course, they don’t, because they don’t define macroevolution in a way that can be empirically tested nor formalized in a consistent theory. This is one of the most common logical fallacies: argument by semantic slight-of-hand (also known as a “material fallacy”).

  57. 57

    Joseph,
    NEWS FLASH: Evidence against nested hierarchy of life has yet to reach actual scientists.

    You seem to imagine that your average biologist (neo and paleo) is far too cognitively enfeebled to get his or her pants on every morning because they don’t recognize the value of your arguments against a fundamental tenet of biology. Or, do you imagine them as otherwise competent practitioners of science who fall zombie-like under the sway of their Fasco-Atheist Overlords whenever their research strays into “origins” territory?

    Can you point to a single publication, outside the creationist literature, that offers evidence against the observed nested hierarchy of life?

    Michael

  58. Allen_MacNeill,

    But, of course, they don’t, because they don’t define macroevolution in a way that can be empirically tested nor formalized in a consistent theory. This is one of the most common logical fallacies: argument by semantic slight-of-hand (also known as a “material fallacy”).

    How do they define it?

  59. Allen MacNeill:

    So, if YECs have indeed accepted that speciation occurs, then they have by definition also accepted that macroevolution occurs.

    They use a different definition for macro-evolution:

    2) macroevolution—the theory/belief that biological population changes take (and have taken) place (typically via mutations and natural selection) on a large enough scale to produce entirely new structural features and organs, resulting in entirely new species, genera, families, orders, classes, and phyla within the biological world, by generating the requisite (new) genetic information. Many evolutionists have used “macro-evolution” and “Neo-Darwinism” as synonymous for the past 150 years.

    That is because the definition used by evolutionary biologists is useless.

  60. Michael Tuite,

    Are you just going to ignore the reasons why descent with modification does not expect a nested hierarchy?

    Are you going to ignore what Darwin said?

    Or are you going to continue to argue from ignorance and not support your claim?

  61. Allen -

    Actually, Chris Ashcraft, the head of the Northwest Creation Network, publicly holds to both ID and macroevolution. See:

    http://www.nwcreation.net/evolution_creation.html

    Many other YECs have dropped the macro/micro distinctions because, as you point out, it is unhelpful.

  62. Oops- here is the link for the Creationsts’ definitions:

    Glossary

    scroll down to “evolution, biological”

  63. “That’s because the only ID “answer” to the question of how complex structural and functional adaptations came into existence is either silence or magic.”

    Allen, why do you misrepresent things? You are supposed to be a grown up. You often supply interesting information but the whole comment about beer drinking and puffs of smoke and then misrepresenting thing is childish. If I had a couple beers around Darwinists I would pull their tails too with a lot more than a puff of smoke.

  64. Mr Tuite,

    Can you point to a single publication, outside the creationist literature, that offers evidence against the observed nested hierarchy of life?

    I admit to not being a master of this literature, but even Dr Denton seems to have abandoned a position against common descent and the nested hierarchy which he once held (and that Mr Joseph frequently sources for his position).

    For example, Access Research Network had this to say:

    In August 1998, Denton’s eagerly-awaited second book arrived: Nature’s Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe (Free Press, 1998). Readers expecting a continuation of the arguments of Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, however, found a line of argument markedly different from the earlier book. Although much of Denton’s skepticism about neo-Darwinism remained, gone were the challenges to the theory of universal common descent–i.e., the common ancestry of all terrestrial organisms–which had made Evolution especially controversial with mainstream biologists. In their place was an unstinting advocacy of common descent, and a notion of “directed evolution” in which the historical unfolding of life on earth was “built into” the universe from the start.

    Emphasis mine.

  65. Clive Hayden in #58:

    Good question; you tell me.

  66. Nakashima-san:

    I admit to not being a master of this literature, but even Dr Denton seems to have abandoned a position against common descent and the nested hierarchy which he once held (and that Mr Joseph frequently sources for his position).

    I was unaware he had a position against Common Descent.

    And I know he did not abandon his position against nested hierarchy.

    Ya see he has this essay tat came out some 6 years AFTER “Nature’s Destiny” in which he explains his position.

    It is titled “An Anti-Darwinian Intellectual Journey”-

    He writes:

    Evolution (A theory in Crisis) was written while I still adhered to the superwatch model of nature. Despite this, I still believe it represents one of the most convincing critiques of the assumption that the organisc world is the continuum that classical Darwinism demands.

  67. In #59 joseph asserted that the definition of macroevolution used by evolutionary biologists is useless.

    Please state what the definition of macroevolution used by evolutionary biologists is, and then explain (citing evidence) why it is useless.

  68. Mr. MacNeill,

    It is true that ID-ers not having an explanation of how design was implemented in life is a huge stumbling block. It would be nice if they could at least find some kind of laboratory or a blueprint somewhere.

    Yet, it is absolutely okay to attempt to create tools and methodologies to help identify design in nature. We are on the cusp of designing life ourselves. How would we be able to differentiate between designed life and non-designed life if we ever came across it? What tools would biologists use? Behe and Dempski and others are making an honest attempt at developing those tools. But they end up getting vilified for the philosophical implications.

  69. Allen MacNeill (#38)

    That’s because the only ID “answer” to the question of how complex structural and functional adaptations came into existence is either silence or magic.

    Arthur C. Clarke’s 3rd law:

    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

    On the supposition that life was designed by a superior intelligence, asking for an MO is unreasonable. Asking for scientific criteria for deciding which patterns in nature are designed, on the other hand, is perfectly reasonable. That is what ID is about.

    Arguments by analogy are, as Dr. MacNeill correctly points out, highly suspect. But as Dr. Stephen Meyer pointed out eight years ago, the case for ID does not rest on an argument from analogy:

    [C]ontra the classical Humean objection to design, the “DNA to Design” argument does not depend upon an analogy between the features of human artifacts and living systems, still less upon a weak or illicit one. If, as Bill Gates has said, “DNA is similar to a software program” but more complex, it makes sense, on analogical grounds, to consider inferring that it too had an intelligent source.

    Nevertheless, while DNA is similar to a computer program, the case for its design does not depend merely upon resemblance or analogical reasoning. Classical design arguments in biology typically sought to draw analogies between whole organisms and machines based upon certain similar features that each held in common. These arguments sought to reason from similar effects back to similar causes. The status of such design arguments thus turned on the degree of similarity that actually obtained between the effects in question. Yet since even advocates of these classical arguments admitted dissimilarities as well as similarities, the status of these arguments always appeared uncertain. Advocates would argue that the similarities between organisms and machines outweighed dissimilarities. Critics would claim the opposite.

    The design argument from the information in DNA does not depend upon such analogical reasoning since it does not depend upon claims of similarity. As noted above, the coding regions of DNA have the very same property of “specified complexity” or “information content” that computer codes and linguistic texts do…

    The argument does not depend upon the similarity of DNA to a computer program or human language, but upon the presence of an identical feature (“information content” defined as “complexity and specification”) in both DNA and all other designed systems, languages, or artifacts. While a computer program may be similar to DNA in many respects, and dissimilar in others, it exhibits a precise identity to DNA in its ability to store information content (as just defined).

    Thus, the “DNA to Design” argument does not represent an argument from analogy of the sort that Hume criticized, but an “inference to the best explanation.”

    FYI to readers:

    Here are two posts by physicist Professor Steve Hsu on a seldom acknowledged problem with the modern theory of undirected evolution:

    Evolutionary timescales

    Evolution, Design and the Fermi paradox:
    http://www.technologyreview.co.....bpid=24287

    While I disagree with Hsu’s solution (which fails to address Dembski’s probability bound), I commend the author for his intellectual integrity. As long as evolutionary biologists are unable to provide a model which (at least roughly) quantifies the probability of complex life forms evolving by undirected processes, which should we treat their speculations as science?

  70. 41
    Joseph
    01/12/2010
    1:15 pm

    Zachriel:

    First of all, The genus Homo has been around for 2.5 million years-

    Unless of course we consider artifacts that have been dated earlier than that.

    Indeed. We actually know the Taylor Trail, the MacFall Trail, the Morris Track, the Burdick Track and the Ryals Track.
    Joseph just goes where the evidence leads him.

  71. Regarding the chimpanzee 98% thing… 98 may be a big number, but it’s not 100. There’s a strange unspoken assumption here that if we could extract hominid DNA, we would find 98% similarity or less. The morphological data (all we really have) suggests that it would be more. Fossil chimpanzees resemble us much less than Homo Afarensis.

    In any case, the longer IDers continue to fight one of the best-documented evolutionary lineages — that of ourselves), skewing Neanderthals as merely sick Homo Sapiens, the longer ID will be from being taken seriously. (I suppose the same goes with other lineages as well.) You’re going to have to accept the principle of nested hierarchy of common descent OR provide a better argument against it than “We don’t know anything we can’t see directly, and designed things can look like common descent with nested hierarchy, too.” You’re going to need some pegasuses.

  72. Mr Vjtorley,

    Prof Hsu:

    There is an interesting coincidence at work: 5 Gyr is remarkably close to the 10 Gyr lifetime of main sequence stars (and to the 14 Gyr age of the universe). This is unexpected, as evolution proceeds by molecular processes and natural selection among complex organisms, whereas stellar lifetimes are determined by nuclear physics.

    It takes a special kind of perspective to see 5 billion years as ‘remarkably close’ to 10 billion years. :)

    I’d happily agree that there are not the necessary probabilistic resources available for a base by base sequence of substitutions, insertions and/or deletions to take us from bacteria to Bach. Everyone agrees that is a simpleminded strawman, and it is. It assumes sex does not exist. It assumes HGT, retroviral infection, gene duplication and endosymbiosis never occur.

    Since it is these latter processes that add hundreds and thousands of high quality, functional or nearly so sequences to a genome good estimates of how often they occur in nature would be necessary to start to answer Hsu’s questions.

    Here’s an absurd lower bound to match the absurd upper bound of a base-pair random walk. M. gentalium has about 500 genes and we have 30,000. If evolution was driven by “duplicate the whole genome, and then tinker” we are only 8 steps like that away M. gen! So the upper bound says ‘not possible in the lifetime of the universe’ and the lower bound says ‘can be done in a week if you are willing to work overtime’. The truth is somewhere in between.

    Even a raw rate of occurence will not be satisfactory. Even more than ‘how often’ do genes duplicate, we need to know ‘why’ do genes duplicate. Do genomes react badly to stress? Then you need stress to drive evolution. Long periods of just filling up available niches until some limiting factor is reached would imply long periods of evolutionary stasis. I’m not saying that is a realistic cause and effect, just offering that as an example of why we need ‘why’ not just ‘how often’.

  73. vjtorley,

    Arthur C. Clarke’s 3rd law:

    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

    On the supposition that life was designed by a superior intelligence, asking for an MO is unreasonable.

    I haven’t heard that Clarke’s 3rd law has been ‘ratified’ yet.

    Is there any reason to believe – belief is all that it amounts to, that a ‘superior intelligence’ somehow would be capable of not only designing, but also implement, manufacture his designs without using methods within the realm of physics/chemistry, laboratories, apparatus, machinery and so on?

    A look at what are in use by us mere mortals today may perhaps give a clue?

    Or is msgic an option?

  74. Allen MacNeill:

    Please state what the definition of macroevolution used by evolutionary biologists is, and then explain (citing evidence) why it is useless.

    Why don’t you cite it and tell us why it is useful?

    But I digress:

    In evolutionary biology today, macroevolution is used to refer to any evolutionary change at or above the level of species.

    This one is useless because “species” is an ambiguous concept.

    It is also useless because no one debates speciation- meaning by that definition YECs accept macro-evolution.

  75. Allen MacNeill:

    Please state what the definition of macroevolution used by evolutionary biologists is, and then explain (citing evidence) why it is useless.

    Why don’t you cite it and tell us why it is useful?

    But I digress:

    In evolutionary biology today, macroevolution is used to refer to any evolutionary change at or above the level of species.

    This one is useless because “species” is an ambiguous concept.

    It is also useless because no one debates speciation- meaning by that definition YECs accept macro-evolution.

  76. Lenoxus,

    There isn’t any genetic data which demonstrates the transformation required (to go from knuckle-walker to man) are even possible.

    There isn’t any way to test it.

    As for nested hierarchy we shouldn’t see one if descent with modification were true for the many reasons already provided.

  77. To Allen MacNeill in 65,

    I answered that- the Creationists’ definition of macroevolution- in comment 59.

  78. Cabal,

    Is magic an option for design engineers?

  79. Cabal (#71)

    Is magic an option? Well, what would you call this ? Both of us would have described the feat as magic a few years ago, had anyone suggested the idea to us.

    OK, you say, but no laws of physics were violated. I’m reminded of a conversation I had a decade ago with a very talented software designer. He’d never been to university, but he was great at his job. Anyway, one day he mentioned that he believed humans would break the speed of light barrier in the future. Many people had ridiculed him for saying that, but his reasoning was interesting. Humans had broken every other barrier in the past, he said, and the pace of technological change was increasing all the time. So it would be irrational to suppose that we will never break the speed of light barrier.

    And sure enough, some scientists are already dreamimg up ways in which it might be done.

    So when you scoff at the idea of a Designer not using “methods within the realm of physics/chemistry,” I have to ask: whose physics are you talking about? The physics you and I know, in the early 21st century, or the physics known to the Author of Nature, who is perfectly capable of designing life-forms (if He wishes to) without breaking any laws of physics?

    There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
    - Hamlet, Act 1, scene 5, 159–167.

  80. Whenever IDers discuss the possibility of investigating the designer as a scientific phenomonon restricted by rules of some sort, it gives a pleasurable chill up my spine.

    It is always useful to remember that Hamlet quote — or its Tom Weller version, “There are more things in heaven and earth than anyplace else!”

  81. Cabal,

    I think you are being purposely difficult. Who said that no laboratories were used? Who cares? I suppose I care only to the extent that I’m curious how He did it (or She or it or they, whatever). But I agree with VJtorley. Any Roman or Sumerian would think us gods for what we can do with our technology.

  82. vjtorley @ 69

    On the supposition that life was designed by a superior intelligence, asking for an MO is unreasonable. Asking for scientific criteria for deciding which patterns in nature are designed, on the other hand, is perfectly reasonable. That is what ID is about.

    Why is it unreasonable? Is it because the designs of a superior intelligence might be unrecognizable to us? Is it because they might be beyond our powers to detect? If that is your argument then you are denying a fundamental claim of Intelligent Design which is that it is possible to reliably identify design, regardless of the nature of the designer.

    If, on the other hand, you allow the claim that all design can be identified, regardless of origin, then you must explain why ID should be excused the “pathetic level of detail” in its accounts which is nonetheless demanded of evolutionary theory.

    Arguments by analogy are, as Dr. MacNeill correctly points out, highly suspect. But as Dr. Stephen Meyer pointed out eight years ago, the case for ID does not rest on an argument from analogy:

    Yet he attempts the same old argument from analogy which fails for the same old reasons. The only difference is that he tries to evade accusations of feeble analogising by arguing that they do not apply at anything less than the level of whole organisms and machines. Comparing DNA and computer software and their capacity for carrying information is not a true analogy.

    To illustrate the weakness of this argument we can indulge in a little late seasonal analogising ourselves. Suppose someone were to point out the remarkable similarities between artificial and real Christmas trees. They have the same roughly conical shape with brown trunks from which sprout many branches bearing needle-like leaves. In particular, both are colored a strong and distinctive green. Our astute observer notes that, in all cases of the artificial trees, the green color is the product of intelligent design in the form of a synthetic pigment or dye applied during manufacture. From that the observer infers that the green color of the natural trees could well be evidence that an intelligent agent was involved in the creation of the natural trees as well.

    What this analogy ignores, of course, are the many differences between the artificial and natural trees. In the particular case of the green coloration, we know that, in the natural trees, it is produced by the presence of a chemical called chlorophyll. While in the artificial trees the only purpose of the pigment is to color them green, in the natural trees, the color is simply a byproduct of the fact that chlorophyll absorbs mostly red and blue wavelengths.

    Taking the analogy further, if our observer were called, say, Meyer, he might argue that the function of the chlorophyll in the natural plant is irrelevant. What counts is that both clearly contain green-ness.

    Unfortunately, this brings us to another problem with Meyer’s case. In the case of the Christmas trees the green color is not actually a property of either the natural or the artificial versions. Both reflect of certain wavelengths but the green color is the way those wavelengths are represented by our visual system in our mental models of the world outside us. In other words, the perceived color is a property of the model not of the thing being modeled.

    There is a school of thought, admittedly a minority, which holds that the same is true of information, that it is not a property of something like DNA but a property of the mental models we use to represent and manipulate the concept internally. I have cited the Australian philosopher John Wilkins as an exponent of this view a number of times before although I have not seen the argument addressed here in detail.

    Based on the passages from Meyer’s book quoted here and on critiques of his work – such as the most recent from Jeffrey Shallit on his blog Recursivity – it would appear his case is vulnerable to attack along a number of lines.

    As long as evolutionary biologists are unable to provide a model which (at least roughly) quantifies the probability of complex life forms evolving by undirected processes, which should we treat their speculations as science?

    For the simple reason that the soundness of a scientific theory is not decided solely by probability estimates. For example, another litmus test is its capacity for prediction and in this, as we know, evolution scored a spectacular success with the discovery of the Tiktaalik fossils.

    The fact is, if Intelligent Design wants parity with the theory of evolution in terms of scientific credibility then it must be prepared to meet the same burdens of evidence. It must show that there is compelling evidence of non-human design to be observed in the structure of living things. On the basis of that evidence, it should infer as detailed a description as possible of the nature of the designer and it should propose a detailed and testable account of how the putative non-human designer executed its designs.

    Until that time, however much ID tries to minimize the amount and significance of the evidence for the theory of evolution, it will still far outweigh that which exists to support its would-be rival.

  83. Seversky,

    It’s unreasonable because you are demanding that Intelligent Design have all the answers before they can claim to have some of the answers. It would be like forcing Darwin to explain everything about evolution that presented a problem to him (like the eye) before his theory could even be considered. That would be unfair right? Then why do it to ID?

  84. Lenoxus:

    Whenever IDers discuss the possibility of investigating the designer as a scientific phenomonon restricted by rules of some sort, it gives a pleasurable chill up my spine.

    ID is about the DESIGN not the designer.

    That said seeing you spew your ignorance on this blog sends a pleasurable chill up my spine…

  85. Seversky:

    If, on the other hand, you allow the claim that all design can be identified, regardless of origin, then you must explain why ID should be excused the “pathetic level of detail” in its accounts which is nonetheless demanded of evolutionary theory.

    Your position says that blind and undirected processes can account for living organisms and their diversity.

    Therefor you need to demonstrate that.

    With ID the only possible way to make any scientific determination about the designer(s) or specific processes used- in the absence of direct observation or designer input- is by studying the design in question.

    IOW we can demonstrate that intelligent agencies can put together irreducibly complex machines and produce CSI.

    We have direct observation and a vast amount of experience with that.

    However no one has ever observed blind and undirected processes doing that.

    As for analogies- evos are just upset because their position doesn’t have any.

    They cannot look at the left-overs from a tornado and claim “See that is what blind and undirected processes can do” and have it correlate to anything in biology other than disease and death.

  86. Seversky:

    The fact is, if Intelligent Design wants parity with the theory of evolution in terms of scientific credibility then it must be prepared to meet the same burdens of evidence.

    Except that there isn’t any evidence the diversity of life arose via an accumulation of genetic accidents.

    What success did the Tiktaalik fossils bring?

    It seems it didn’t bring any at all.

    Ya see there is this new find that demonstrates Tiktaalik wasn’t anything special at all.

  87. Seversky:

    What this analogy ignores, of course, are the many differences between the artificial and natural trees.

    Real trees are far more specified and complex.

    Guess what?

    Your position cannot explain them via an accumulation of genetic accidents nor differing expression of developmental genes.

  88. osteonectin,

    I was talking about artifacts- such as the motar and pestle found in Tertiary deposits dated between 33-55 my- Table Mountain, CA.

  89. Joseph,

    Ya see there is this new find that demonstrates Tiktaalik wasn’t anything special at all.

    You assign no value whatsoever to the facts:

    A prediction that a fossil showing obvious signs of an intermediate stage between sea and land-living species; found at the specific location predicted by the theory, in strata form the time period predicted?

    Was that just an unexplainable coincidence, unrelated to any realities?

    If Neil Shubin is wrong, please tell us what he is wrong about.

  90. Cabal,

    You mix the facts as suits your needs.

    Ya see there should not have been such a prediction.

    That is because tetrapods already existed.

    Shubin et al were under the impression that tetrapods did not yet exist.

    They were looking for the link between fish and tetrapods.

    What they found was in the wrong strata.

  91. Joseph said, “They cannot look at the left-overs from a tornado and claim “See that is what blind and undirected processes can do” and have it correlate to anything in biology other than disease and death.”

    Well said. Evolution brings disease and death 9 times out of 10 (at least) and the 1 time it helps, it does not bring a complex organ into existence, merely a change in skin pigmentation, or size of an ear or something morphologically simple.

  92. Seversky (#82)

    Thank you for a very thoughtful post. I’d like to respond to some of the points you made.

    First, in response to my assertion that asking for a modus operandi for a design originating from a superior intelligence is unreasonable, you ask why it is unreasonable. It is certainly not because we are incapable of detecting patterns produced by intelligent agents: on the contrary, Dembski’s explanatory filter provides us with a useful tool for doing so. But then you ask why ID should be excused the “pathetic level of detail” that it demands of Darwinism. If Darwinists are required to explain how specified complexity arose, then ID proponents should be expected to do the same.

    Is there a double standard here? No. What we want from the Darwinists is not an explanation, but a probability calculation. All you need to do is provide us with a computer model showing that the likelihood of a structure such as a ribosome (or for that matter, a protein) arising in a realistic simulation of the prebiotic earth, through unguided processes (I don’t care what they are, so long as no intervention by human agents is required during the execution of the program) exceeds Dembski’s probability bound. If you can’t, then I’ll turn my attention to the only process I know that can produce such structures: intelligent agency – presumably involving an agent who is a lot more intelligent than myself.

    In other words, both ID proponents and Darwinists are being held to the same standard: calculate the probabilities, please. Do the math. Only if ID proponents can rigorously demonstrate that the complex structures exhibiting “specified complexity” do indeed fall below Dembski’s probability bound are they entitled to “claim” them as products of intelligent agency. I believe that Dr. Stephen Meyer’s “Signature in the Cell” represents a major advance in this regard – for he has clearly done his homework, and he has come up with some hard numbers.

    Second, you use the example how the property of green-ness in natural and artificial Christmas trees can have completely different explanations to argue that Dr. Stephen Meyer is making an invalid argument from analogy when he compares the specified information in DNA to the specified information in computer code, and then asserts that because computer code is produced by an intelligent agent, DNA must be too.

    But that’s not what Dr. Meyer says. Once again, the probabilities are what counts. Of course it’s wrong to infer that the green-ness of artificial Christmas trees must be due to chlorophyll. That’s because we have a perfectly reasonable alternative explanation. People make artificial Christmas trees in factories. This is a common process; it is happening as we speak. It is certainly not astronomically improbable.

    By contrast, Dr. Meyer argues that the probability of the specified information in DNA originating through an unguided process (a combination of chance and necessity) is astronomically low. That is what warrants our looking for an intelligent cause. We know that intelligent beings can create this kind of information; we don’t know of anything else that can, except through some astronomically improbable fluke.

    Third, you argue that that the soundness of a scientific theory is not decided solely by probability estimates, and that another litmus test is its capacity for prediction. You then cite Tiktaalik as an example of a successful evolutionary prediction.

    Now, a singular prediction may certainly count as evidence for a scientific theory (e.g. the 2.7 K microwave radiation which counted as evidence for the Big Bang). But the theory of evolution is not merely a theory about what happened, but about how it happened: through some combination of chance and necessity (unguided processes): more precisely, random variation filtered by natural selection. The Big Bang-Steady State comparison does not hold up here: the two theories made quite different predictions about what happened in the universe, billions of years ago. The differences between ID and Darwinian evolution are primarily about the mechanism rather than the sequence of events in the fossil record. The fact that an ID proponent like Dr. Michael Behe has no qualms about accepting common descent demonstrates that.

    So I’m afraid you do have to demonstrate the causal adequacy of your mechanism, for it is precisely this that is at stake here. Did the information required to produce a tetrapod come about through an unguided process that was within the realms of probability? In the words of one information theorist quoted by Denyse O’Leary in a previous post (24 December 2007):

    The … approach (more appropriate to the 21st century) is to look at the coding changes in the genome that would be required to go from a fish to Tiktaalik and from Tiktaalik to an amphibian.

    It never ceases to amaze me that Darwinists can so blithely create a scenario based on morphology and not so much as breath one sentence about the massive coding changes that would be required. Have they no concept of 21st century information requirements? Of course it is true that we do not have the DNA of Tiktaalik, but we do have DNA for Coelecanth and for amphibians. Decent science would require, at the very least, a careful analysis of the coding difference between Coelecanth and some representative amphibian before a scientist would go out on a limb and announce that the evolutionary change (without any ID input) is even feasible, let alone represented by Tiktaalik.

    In any case, Tiktaalik hardly counts as a suucessful evolutionary prediction. Never mind the problem of the date: tetrapods may turn out to have undiscovered “ghost lineages.” But what about the habitat? As Ed Yong wrote in a recent blog :

    Niedzwiedzki and colleagues’ apparently anachronistic Eifelian tetrapod trackways will thus shake up thinking about tetrapod origins. They show that the first tetrapods thrived in the sea, trampling the mud of coral-reef lagoons; this is at odds with the long-held view that river deltas and lakes were the necessary environments for the transition from water to land during vertebrate evolution.

    If you can’t even get the habitat right, what remains of your prediction?

    Finally, I apologize for not addressing your remaining (and very substantive) point about whether DNA can be truly said to encode information. I shall return to this topic in a few hours, as I must retire for the evening.

  93. One more thing-

    Tiktaalik was not a prediction based on the mechanisms.

    As Dr Behe and others have made clear- evidence for Common Descent is not evidence for a mechanism.

  94. vjtorley:

    ID proponents and Darwinists are being held to the same standard: calculate the probabilities, please. Do the math.

    Except that the event for which probabilities are being calculated is exactly the same — naturalistic evolution.

    I have a strange feeling that if one calculates the “probability” of a designer successfully pulling off some bit of design, the result will always be 1.

  95. Lenoxus (#94)

    Thank you for your post. You write:

    I have a strange feeling that if one calculates the “probability” of a designer successfully pulling off some bit of design, the result will always be 1.

    I’d like to clear up this point, since it often comes up. Let’s talk about footprints. Suppose you were living in the year 1700, and you found some very large, regularly spaced five-toed imprints in an inaccessible, undisturbed location – e.g. on the ocean floor, or in some ancient strata. After ruling out the possibility of a hoax, you would wonder what made these regularly spaced marks. You might reasonably conclude that it was some sort of animal, but bigger than any you had seen before.

    Why would this be a reasonable inference? Because you have no other plausible account of how these prints could have originated, and because animals are the only things you know that make prints like that. Even in the absence of dinosaur bones (which nobody knew about in the year 1700), you would be rational to conclude that a very big unknown animal made them. You wouldn’t try to calculate the probability of a particular animal (say, a bear) making those prints, let alone the probability of some animal doing so (how would you calculate that, anyway?) The only thing which might cause you to jettison the “animal explanation” would be if the prints were so big (e.g. 100 meters long) that no animal could possibly have made them, because it would have collapsed under its own weight.

    OK. Now let’s suppose you are a scientist on Mars, and you find a strange-looking structure that has a most peculiar feature which you immediately recognize, and which to the best of your knowledge is only produced by intelligent agents. Moreover, you have strong reasons for doubting any other explanation: you calculate that the probability of unguided processes producing this feature is astronomically low. However, you also realize that human agents could not have produced this feature – it’s too well-made to be of human origin. The quality of the workmanship is too good for it to be of human origin. You would then conclude that an unknown intelligent agent had made it.

    Suppose the technical quality of the workmanship was far, far ahead of anything humans had ever dreamed of. Would that be a reason to reject the design inference? No. As far as we know, the attribute of intelligence has no built-in limitations – unlike the size of an animal. (Even if we consider the human mind, there is no reason in principle why it could not hold an infinite number of concepts.) Thus the technical expertise of a newly discovered design does not constitutes a valid reason to doubt agency was its cause. Nor would it make sense for us to reduce our estimate of the probability that some agent produced the feature (a probability which is incalculable anyway, as the class of agents is potentially infinite). Rather, what we should do is simply extrapolate and say, “Intelligent agency is the only process that can produce this kind of feature. Someone who is very much smarter than we are, made this.”

    Acording to Bill Gates, Chairman of Microsoft, “Human DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software we have ever created.” The Road Ahead, p.228.

    What inference do you draw?

  96. Seversky (#82)

    I’d like to return to a comment you made in your post, which raises a philosophically interesting question:

    There is a school of thought, admittedly a minority, which holds that …information … is not a property of something like DNA but a property of the mental models we use to represent and manipulate the concept internally. I have cited the Australian philosopher John Wilkins as an exponent of this view a number of times before although I have not seen the argument addressed here in detail.

    I have just been looking at a very interesting paper by John S. Wilkins, entitled “A Deflationary Account of Information in Biology” (2009), which can be accessed online at http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/archive/00004834/ . Although I profoundly disagree with its conclusions, I have to say that the paper is well-argued and substantive. If the Dr. Dembski should ever decide to produce a sequel to the volume “Debating Design,” this paper would merit inclusion, in my humble opinion.

    But before I go on to discuss information, I’d like to present the following quotes from Dr. Stephen Meyer’s book, “The Signature in the Cell”, which is perhaps the best statement to date of the case for ID:

    p. 86
    Most of us use the term “information” to describe some piece of knowledge… The first definition of information in Webster’s dictionary reflects this idea: information is “the communication or reception of knowledge or intelligence.” … Yet since neither DNA nor the cellular machinery that receives its instruction set is a conscious agent, equating biological information with knowledge in this way [doesn't] seem to fit.

    But our English dictionaries point to another common meaning of the term that does apply to DNA. Webster’s, for instance, has a second definition that defines information as “the attribute inherent in and communicated by alternative sequences or arrangements of something that produce specific effects.” Information, according to this definition, equals an arrangement or string of characters, specifically one that accomplishes a particular outcome or performs a communication function… Information, in this sense, does not require a conscious recipient of a message; it merely refers to a sequence of characters that produces some specific effect… DNA contains “alternative sequences” of nucleotide bases and can produce a specific effect. Of course, neither DNA nor the cellular machinery that uses the information is conscious. But neither is a paragraph in a book or a section of software (or the hardware in a computer that “reads” it). Yet clearly software contains a kind of information.

    p. 98
    Proteins do not just display a specificity of shape; they also display a specificity of arrangement. Whereas proteins are built from rather simple amino-acid “building blocks,” their various functions depend crucially on the specific arrangement of those building blocks.

    pp. 99-100
    A system or sequence of characters manifests “sequence specificity” if the function of the system as a whole depends upon the specific arrangement of the parts. Language has this property. Software has this property. And so do proteins.

    Back to Wilkins’ paper. I shall discuss it at length in a little while, but for the time being, let me simply observe that to me, it seems that the paper conflates various notions and sets up false dichotomies. In particular, it is quite false to say that concrete information is the same as causality, as the author does.

  97. Seversky (#82)

    I’d like to address some of Wilkins’ claims in his paper, entitled “A Deflationary Account of Information in Biology” (2009), which can be accessed online at http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/archive/00004834/ .

    I’ll quote extracts and comment on them. The central claim Wilkins makes can be found in his Abstract:

    In short, if information is in the concrete world, it is causality. If it is abstract, it is in the head.

    1. To say that information IS causality is to confuse formal causes with efficient causes. Certainly, concrete information can make things happen. Dr. Stephen Meyer says as much: his second definition of information (cited above, p. 86) was: “the attribute inherent in and communicated by alternative sequences or arrangements of something that produce specific effects.” The point here is that biological molecules produce their effects by virtue of their form (i.e. their shape and sequence specificity). The concrete information resides in the form itself – it can even be quantified – not in its production of the effect as such.

    2. Abstract information is in the head, claims Wilkins. How literally does he intend this phrase? Elsewhere he writes that “Abstract objects are those that are not bounded by time and space indexicals.” He clarifies his position when he writes: “Of course, any token of an abstraction exists somewhere – in a head or group of heads – but the abstract entity ‘information’ exists nowhere in time and space.” So it’s not in the head, either. Anyway, this is irrelevant to our purposes.

    Wilkins continues:

    I wish to make the following … claims – that the use of information in biological contexts (bioinformation) often boils down essentially to a causal correlation between physical aspects of biological processes, including direct causation, and that the remainder, including teleosemantic accounts of information, are assay or theory driven, and are thus best conceived of as “information in the head” accounts. It amounts to a claim that we can dispense with information in our furniture of the biological world, and rest content with it as a property in our representations of that world….We can grant that it has a heuristic role in science … but the pressing question is whether it has … a substantive role.

    OK. So for Wilkins, “information” has no extra job to do, if it’s concrete. Why not? Because if it’s concrete, it’s simply causal.

    A useful distinction here can be made between abstract and concrete objects… Abstract objects are those that are not bounded by time and space indexicals. Concrete objects, even if nonmaterial, are so bounded. A gravity well is a concrete object. Concepts of gravity are not. This is a type-token distinction…

    Is information a concrete, or an abstract, object? Causal information, which is another word for causality, is concrete of course. A token of DNA really does template for mRNA and so forth because of the physical properties of the macromolecules, conjoined with the physical properties of the surrounding cell and organism. The end result is a protein. But abstractions like Williams’ “cybernetic abstraction”, the evolutionary gene, are not concrete entities. They are type terms that exist solely in a semantic context and system.

    I propose a replacement hypothesis – that genetic causal information talk can be replaced with causal talk without remainder in a properly elaborated model of cell behavior and structure; and genetic intentional information talk can be replaced by cognitive descriptions of learning systems…. We do not need to instantiate information in the biological world. We can very well replace the term with causal language, despite misgivings about the possibility of eliminating information talk…, which are based more on heuristic and psychological constraints than on any in-principle difficulty.

    I have already argued that biomolecules can only be said to cause certain specific effects by virtue of their formal properties – i.e. their shape and sequence specificity. Causality is logically subsequent to form.

    Is form abstract or concrete? Well, it depends what you’re talking about. A particular molecule is a concrete instantiation of a form. If you want to talk about THIS token of DNA which codes for THAT token of protein, then you’re talking about concrete information. But if you shift the discussion one level up, and talk about how a certain kind of DNA is able to code for a certain kind of protein, then you are talking about types, which are abstract. In short, it depends what you want to explain: the activity of this molecule or that of a certain class of biomolecules.

    Wilkins asserts that abstract explanations exist only in abstract representation or models. They are not “out there.” They are “type terms that exist solely in a semantic context and system.”

    Most of the above is hardly news, unless you happen to be a Platonic realist. I would however add that human beings are capable of entertaining universal concepts, and not just tokens of abstract types. That means that we don’t think with our heads.

    Dr. Meyer’s point, however, relates to the licitness of the analogy between computer code and DNA. None of the foregoing considerations weaken the case for saying that they insstantiate information in the same sense of the word. If one is concrete, so is the other. But where does their information come from? That’s the question Wilkins does not address inb his paper.

    To be continued…

  98. Seversky (#82)

    In this post, I wish to review the question of whether John Wilkins’ paper on information mamages to dent Dr. Meyer’s thesis in “Signature in the Cell.” I would argue that it does not.

    To dent Meyer’s argument, it is not enough for Wilkins to show that the information in DNA is concrete. So is the information in the software running on a particular computer. It, too, achieves its effects by virtue of its physical properties.

    Yet we would consider it reasonable to ask where this information comes from. Why not ask the same question about DNA?

    Dr. Meyer claims to have shown that the odds of this information arising by undirected processes are astronomically low. For that reason, I think it is quite reasonable for him to look to intelligent agency as the only causally adequate explanation.

  99. Mr Joseph,

    As Dr Behe and others have made clear- evidence for Common Descent is not evidence for a mechanism.

    I think the mechanism is pretty clearly sex. ;) Birds do it. Bees do it. Even overeducated fleas do it.

  100. vjtorley:

    Most of the above is hardly news, unless you happen to be a Platonic realist.

    Indeed. But we should note that Meyer and others have argued that material causes cannot explain information because information is abstract.

    For example, here’s Meyer:

    One of the things I do in my classes to get this idea across to students is I hold up two computer disks. One is loaded with software the other one is blank. And I ask

    “What’s the difference in mass between these two computer disks as a result of the difference in the information content that they posses?”

    And of course the answer is zero – none. There is no difference as a result of the information. And that’s because information is a massless quantity. Now if information is not a material entity, then how can any materialistic explanation explain its origin? How can any material cause explain its origin?

    I have seen the same argument several times on this board. The obvious counter-question is: Why would an explanation of a physical state not also explain the abstraction that supervenes on it?

  101. Technically, I don’t think Meyer is right about the mass thing — two CDs with different software do in fact have different masses, just as a page with ink has more mass than a page without. And even if two CDs have exactly the same mass, down to the last particle, that doesn’t mean they are physically identical, any more than two books (or cars or people) of equal weught are.

    Now, if you can find two CDs whose matter-arrangements are identical but whose information content is different, that would be impressive, indicating the possibility of genuine compact-disc dualism. (!)

    None of this rules out the philosophical possibility that information is truly non-material, but at least in the case of all known storage media, the “information” always has a 1-to-1 material analogue. Perhaps the letter A exists in a wholly abstract sense, but it is still only possible to communicate that letter by the arrangement of ink or sound waves.

  102. R0b, Lenoxus (#100, 101)

    Thank you for your posts.

    1. If you want to transform the information content of a piece of paper without changing its mass, I can think of an easy way to do it. Just prick a few holes in it. Think of punched tape.

    2. The fact that information is massless and immaterial does not make it abstract. It simply means that information is formal. Information does not need to exist in some shadowy Platonic realm. Just think of the old distinction between shape and stuff.

    Hope that helps.

  103. Philosophically, I personally am not a capital EM Eliminative Materialist — I am, above all, a pragmatist, and think it can be quite useful to talk about information as metaphysical or formal or what-have-you. The question of whether the information on a paper is “really” different from the paper itself, or the questions of qualia, are not of much interest to me (what difference does it “really” make?). In fact, I’m even okay with the scientific study of “non-natural” phenomena, just as long as the phenomena are testable (for example, intercessory prayer).

    All that said, it seems to me that the only way to change the information content of a paper is to change something physically about the paper — the paper’s information can’t change “all by itself”, as though it had a disembodied spirit.

    Okay, I can already think of some exceptions worth pondering — for example, you could change the outside-world phenomena to which the paper refers. Suppose a paper said “In the fridge is a certain type of food. This food is the spiciest in the world.” If you switch the jar with a totally different one, you have, in a sense, changed the proposition that the paper is making, without touching the paper at all. (The proposition’s truth or falsity is irrelevant here; all that matter is the question of what is being claimed.) This is arguable, of course.

    It gets really crazy with imperative statements. Suppose someone wrote a petition that “The prisoner in cell 8Q ought to be released.” Then the petition is followed through, the prisoner is released, and 8Q gets a new occupant. Does the same petition now contain different information — namely a different imperative request?

    Did I say I wasn’t interested by this stuff? Whoops! Somehow, the change in that information has caused a physical change to my pants, such that they are on fire. :)

  104. In short, if information is in the concrete world, it is causality. If it is abstract, it is in the head.

    Is Wilkins a dualist?

  105. Nakashima-san:

    I think the mechanism is pretty clearly sex.

    Sex, the mechanism that put and end to Common Descent.

    Got it, knew it and all the evidence supports it.

  106. Information is information, neither matter nor energy. Any materialism which disregards this, will survive one day- Norbert Wiener mathematician

    Information is neither a physical nor a chemical principle like energy and matter, even though the latter are required as carriers- J. Piel

  107. Joseph

    Sex, the mechanism that put and end to Common Descent.

    Why’s that then?

    Information is neither a physical nor a chemical principle like energy and matter

    Does that also apply to FSCI and CSI?

  108. Joseph, your position that everything comes down to sheer dumb luck is totally vacuous. It cannot be tested. It relies solely on circumstantial evidence which is guided by your predisposition to reject design a priori.

    So please provide evidence for your position or stop making the claim (ideally!).

  109. backwards me:

    Joseph, your position that everything comes down to sheer dumb luck is totally vacuous.

    That is not my position.

    However in the absence of design or special creation that is basically all that is left.

  110. Sex, the mechanism that put and end to Common Descent.

    Why’s that then?

    That is what all observations and experiments support.

    It has quite a bit to do with the way sexual reproduction works.

    You may want to read about it.

    Sexual selection is another big player that keeps mutants in check.

    Information is neither a physical nor a chemical principle like energy and matter.

    Does that also apply to FSCI and CSI?

    I do not know why it wouldn’t.

  111. Joseph

    However in the absence of design or special creation that is basically all that is left.

    What’s the difference between design and special creation?

  112. Joseph

    That is what all observations and experiments support.

    A couple of citations would not go amiss then. Can you be so kind?

    It has quite a bit to do with the way sexual reproduction works.

    You may want to read about it.

    Sexual selection is another big player that keeps mutants in check.

    Referenes? Or have you made a blog post yourself previously about this?

    I do not know why it wouldn’t.

    What’s the difference between FSCI and CSI then? Can you give me an example of a couple of situations where one would be used rather then the other?

    If these tools (EF, CSI, FSCI) do what you claim then examples like I ask for should be close at hand, no?

  113. vjtorley @ 102, thank you.

    If you want to transform the information content of a piece of paper without changing its mass,

    I have no doubt that we can change the information content of something without changing its mass. (Although in some cases, information is stored by adding mass to or subtracting mass from the medium. According to Meyer’s computer disk logic, it would seem that information has positive or negative mass in these cases. But that’s all beside the point.)

    The fact that information is massless and immaterial does not make it abstract. It simply means that information is formal. Information does not need to exist in some shadowy Platonic realm. Just think of the old distinction between shape and stuff.

    Hope that helps.

    It does. But to be clear, I’m simply repeating arguments I’ve heard from the ID side (quotes available on request). And although Meyer doesn’t use the word “abstract”, he does argue that material causes cannot explain the origin of information because information is immaterial. So the question remains: Why would explaining the configuration of a material medium not also explain the information entailed by that configuration?

  114. R0b

    Thank you for your post. You ask:

    Why would explaining the configuration of a material medium not also explain the information entailed by that configuration?

    If by “configuration” you mean shape and sequence, then I agree it would. But explaining the configuration, in this sense, is a formal explanation.

    Aside from that, my point is simply that for proteins, the configuration appears to be fantastically improbable.

    By the way, I have since learned that John Wilkins (whose paper I cited above) is an Assistant Professor at Bond University. His online paper (which addresses the explanatory power of the term “information,” when applied to biological structures, but not the probability of life arising by undirected processes) is still in a draft stage, and I am sure that the finished version will be very interesting to read.

  115. vjtorley @ 92
    First, let me thank you for taking so much time and trouble to discuss these points. Even though we may disagree, I appreciate the civility and consideration of your comments. They demonstrate clearly that it is possible to talk about these issues without descending into confrontation.

    What we want from the Darwinists is not an explanation, but a probability calculation. All you need to do is provide us with a computer model showing that the likelihood of a structure such as a ribosome (or for that matter, a protein) arising in a realistic simulation of the prebiotic earth, through unguided processes (I don’t care what they are, so long as no intervention by human agents is required during the execution of the program) exceeds Dembski’s probability bound. If you can’t, then I’ll turn my attention to the only process I know that can produce such structures: intelligent agency – presumably involving an agent who is a lot more intelligent than myself.

    The only intelligent agent for which we have any evidence, namely ourselves, did not, as far as we know, design those biological structures which ID proponents allege were designed. Moreover, some of those structures, even from the viewpoint of what is presumably inferior human design, are judged to have been poorly designed. They look more like something that was cobbled together by some process of ad hoc adaptation than being the product of carefully-optimized design. While there are some features that do not look half bad, the overall impression of biological ‘design’ is that it is something of a curate’s egg.

    As for the lack of a probability calculation, you have to ask yourself which is more valuable to science: an estimation of odds of something happening or hard evidence that it happened? Would calculating the likelihood of finding the Tiktaalik fossils have been more useful than actually finding them or more useful even than the theory which predicted where to find them?

    In other words, both ID proponents and Darwinists are being held to the same standard: calculate the probabilities, please. Do the math. Only if ID proponents can rigorously demonstrate that the complex structures exhibiting “specified complexity” do indeed fall below Dembski’s probability bound are they entitled to “claim” them as products of intelligent agency. I believe that Dr. Stephen Meyer’s “Signature in the Cell” represents a major advance in this regard – for he has clearly done his homework, and he has come up with some hard numbers.

    I suspect you do not realise just how clearly this reveals the weakness of Intelligent Design’s claims. Let us suppose a statistician in the late nineteenth century had calculated the probability of an obscure German theoretical physicist working as a clerk in the Swiss Patent Office in Bern devising a revolutionary theory which would overturn Newtonian mechanics. Which would have had a greater influence on the progress of physics, those odds or the observations of Eddington and others which confirmed the predictive and, hence, descriptive power of that physicist’s theory? This is not to diminish the importance and power of mathematics but hard evidence is going to trump the odds every time.

    Of course, proponents of Intelligent Design are bound to stress probability calculations because when it comes right down to it, that is pretty much all they have. The Argument from Design, the Explanatory Filter, irreducible complexity and CSI are all basically claims about probability. There is nothing else. Set that against, for example, Tiktaalik, the peppered moth, nylonase and antibiotic-resistant bacteria and you can see the force behind the saying “Them that count, do. Them that don’t, count.”

  116. Mr Joseph,

    It has quite a bit to do with the way sexual reproduction works.

    You may want to read about it.

    Sexual selection is another big player that keeps mutants in check.

    Do you have a reference that isn’t the same Sermonti quote you used before?

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