Home » Darwinism, Intelligent Design, Philosophy » James Barham at Best Schools ‘fesses up #V: Another perspective on ID that is too often overlooked – functional stability

James Barham at Best Schools ‘fesses up #V: Another perspective on ID that is too often overlooked – functional stability

Barham, the philosopher who runs The Best Schools, got collared by friends recently, and had to answer some questions: Like, why is he an atheist but not a Darwinist? This is him on the issue of the functional stability of life:

Darwinists are typically quite willing to concede that the origin of life is a mystery, but then they will brush the matter aside as none of their concern. But the problem of teleology and normativity is not just a problem of origins. It’s a problem of how life works, at every moment. It is a deep physical problem, and one that is entirely occluded by the Darwinian way of thinking.

Life is not some rickety Rube Goldberg machine. Living systems are incredibly stable systems. However, their stability is of a very special sort—it is functional stability.

Functional stability has two aspects: the ability of living systems to recover a previous regime of operation after insult and their ability to find completely new regimes consistent with overall viability.

An example of the former capacity—which we may call “robustness”—would be the healing of a broken bone. An example of the latter capacity—which we may call “plasticity”—would be the ability of a dog to find a new stable gait after losing a leg.

“If you take a living animal heart and pass it through a sieve … and then nourish them in a proper medium, the disaggregated cells will seek out each other in the petri dish. Over a few hours, they will form a rhythmically pulsating mass.”

Both kinds of capacities are obviously teleological. They are instances of the living system spontaneously seeking to find a stable mode of functioning following insult. Let us call this general principle, encompassing both robustness and plasticity, “adaptivity.”

Adaptivity is a general property of living systems as such. It of course depends upon the ordinary laws of physics and chemistry, but it appears to be irreducible to them. It seems to incorporate some physical principle we do not yet understand.

The take-home lesson is that organisms are not machines. Machines are not robust or plastic, but brittle. Let me give you an example of what I am talking about.

If you take a living animal heart and pass it through a sieve so as to separate the individual myocytes, and then nourish them in a proper medium, the disaggregated cells will seek out each other in the petri dish. Over a few hours, they will form a rhythmically pulsating mass. True, no fully functioning heart will reassemble itself, but the cooperativity of the individual cells towards the functioning of the whole will be plain to see.

In contrast, if you smash an artificial heart with a hammer, or disassemble it into its component parts, the individual pieces of titanium and Dacron and what-have-you will not budge, much less seek each other out and try to start beating rhythmically again.

Now, this is just one striking example, but the principle underlying it pervades all of biology. We now know, for example, that very many of the macromolecules and even the larger structures such as membranes and organelles, in the cell are not rigid parts, but are assembled and disassembled continuously as needed. The cell as a whole has far greater permanence than any of its component “parts.” Those “parts” cannot explain the whole, as it is precisely the needs of the whole that determines the very existence of the parts at the time and place where they come into existence.

“All of this is not only unexplained by the current Darwinian paradigm, I would go farther and say that Darwinism is standing in the way of our even seeing these facts clearly.”

The molecular biologist Alexei Kurakin has recently put this important point as follows:

To summarize, the newly revealed and unexpected properties—such as steady-state character, transient self-organization on demand, stochastic dynamics and interconnectedness—that characterize cellular structures and molecular machines believed to exist as pre-assembled complexes designed for certain functions according to programs and blueprints, clearly suggest the inadequacy of expectations and assumptions based on the mechanistic intuition.(3)

All of this is not only unexplained by the current Darwinian paradigm, I would go farther and say that Darwinism is standing in the way of our even seeing these facts clearly.

In other words, Darwinism is not only wholly inadequate as a general framework for understanding life and evolution—it is actively pernicious. It is pernicious because it is “blocking the path of progress,” as Peirce liked to say. It does this by systematically concealing the deep and difficult physical problems posed by the existence of life. We wave the magic wand of natural selection, and all painful thinking can then cease.

Once the Darwinian mindset is overcome, new vistas may open up.

See also:

James Barham at Best Schools ‘fesses up #I: He’s an atheist but he thinks reality is real

James Barham at Best Schools ‘fesses up #II: Folk psychology is basically correct

James Barham at Best Schools ‘fesses up III: Biology (like the social sciences) is guilty of massive and systematic equivocation

James Barham at Best Schools ‘fesses up #IV: The theory of natural selection is wholly inadequate to deal with the idea of purpose

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3 Responses to James Barham at Best Schools ‘fesses up #V: Another perspective on ID that is too often overlooked – functional stability

  1. The purposive dynamism driving living things and the ways in which they develop, has always flown under the Darwinists’ radar, and its no good pointing it out. It’s the great no-no. Unthinkable.

  2. 2
    material.infantacy

    OT: Excessive Worrying May Have Co-Evolved With Intelligence

    Related:

    An inquisitive journalist interviews an ancient human ancestor (Hunter Narok) about the correlation between worry and intelligence. Below is the transcript.

    Journalist: The way it’s been described to me, you’ve experienced an increase of worry with the self discovery of your own intelligence.

    Hunter Narok: This is truth. Before I never worried about much, and never thought about too much. I noticed things, sure, like: this food tastes good; or, that lady have nice hips; or, fire is warm; or, hatchet getting dull. It was mostly those things, over and over again, in… how you say… a litany; although I don’t think I minded until that day.

    J: OK Mr. Narok…

    HN: It’s just Narok; or formally, Hunter Narok.

    J: Of course, Narok. Before we talk about that day, the one that changed everything, let me ask for the sake of our listeners: who are you and what do you do?

    HN: I am Narok. I was tribe hunter for my people. One of many. I chose hunting over gathering because it has a more masculine appeal. However in retrospect maybe it wasn’t the best career path.

    J: What changed, Narok? What happened that day, and what was the result?

    HN: It was one day in the field, hunting. My hatchet was sharp and I was thinking about the lady with nice hips. If I brought back much prey, perhaps she would come to the fire and we could eat roasted flesh together. I had also slept very well the night before.

    HN: It seemed that prey was everywhere, and my hatchet just found prey all by itself (that is poetic license). I could close my eyes and throw my hatchet, and hit some prey. I guess I was really ‘on’ that day. However my fellow hunter, Hunter Rok Tol, didn’t get so many. His pile was smaller. I had two piles, and I noticed that in each of my piles, there were as many prey as I had fingers on my hand. If I could put one prey on each finger, all my prey would fit in my hands.

    HN: It occurred to me that in each pile, I had ‘one hand’ of prey — what you now call ‘five’. Hunter Rok Tol had only one pile, and only three fingers of prey. Of course now I refer to the numbers, but before I wasn’t even aware of “three” or “two” I just hunt prey and keep hatchet sharp and think sometimes about the nice hips…OK, often think about them. Now I saw numbers too, and could think about counting stuff, all of a sudden.

    J: I understand that this was completely life changing for you.

    HN: It was epiphany. It suddenly occurred to me that if tomorrow Rok Tol had bigger piles of prey, perhaps nice hip lady would sit at fire with him instead. I was immediately struck with notion of ‘tomorrow’. I had not considered such thing before. Sure, we gathered, and we hunted, but never thought about why; we just did it because there wasn’t much else to do, and everyone likes full tummy.

    J: But that wasn’t the end of the experience was it?

    HN: No. I had a rush of new ideas enter mind. What if there were no prey tomorrow? What if we were prey of something else? What if bad group behavior and beliefs led to the collapse of our tribe in slow incremental fashion? What if too much fire causes ice caps to melt and prey drown, or we drown? What if giant asteroid impacts planet surface?

    J: What happened next?

    HN: I fainted. The idea of tiny planet tumbling through expansive cosmic void full of balls of hot gas swirling around each other made me woozy, and I fainted. Not proud of that one. Woke up with headache. Rok Tol had taken some of my prey and was surely going to be at the fire with nice hips lady. I cast gaze skyward and shook fist in defiance to observable universe; then checked to see if any asteroids were coming, since I was already looking up.

    J: It seems like this type of experience would be life changing. What was the effect of your newfound insight into the nature of your own existence?

    HN: Worry. But you knew that was coming. I worried a lot. About pretty much everything. As matter of fact, every time I realized something new, I worried more about more things. I lost appetite.

    J: Anything else?

    HN: I stopped hunting. Too worried. I was worried about getting bit by spider or snake. Worried about getting infection from scrapes on legs, which comes with hunting. Worried about big hungry animals. Worried about asteroids colliding with tiny planet and sending global devastation in a brief but terrifying way.

    J: Were the effects of your intellectual epiphany all negative?

    HN: Of course, no. I would say sense of wonder was positive, although it didn’t do much for my hunting. Problem solving was most helpful. However I ended up as a gatherer after all, which left me more time to try and develop precision optics for finding asteroids with a very limited set of tools and materials. Makes it hard to take anything for granted.

    J: Whatever happened to Rok Tol?

    HN: Bashed his skull with hatchet for stealing prey.

    J: What about the nice hips lady?

    HN: Turns out she was more the gatherer type after all. We sit by fire eating roasted flesh together and have many children.

    J: If you’re a gatherer now, why do you still have the “hunter” title?

    HN: Tribespeople never stopped calling me Hunter Narok. Perhaps because I trap large tiger with elaborate machine one day.

    J: Was there any major change in the dynamics of the tribe? Were there any others who were willing to give intelligence a try?

    HN: Not really. They don’t see point in worrying. Myself, still spend too much time looking at sky for asteroids, but it’s not like I can do much about it, except worry. Still shake fist at heavens now and then.

    J: Thanks for taking the time to share insights into the development of early human intelligence, and its corollary, worry.

    HN: Corollary good word, must write it down. It has been pleasure.

  3. News you state in the header:

    why is he (Barham) an atheist but not a Darwinist?

    I’ve seen you mention this question to him twice now, and then go on to mention some ID related article he wrote which, while interesting, does not answer the question posed to Barham. So when are you going to let us know what his answer was to the question? Or did he just avoid answering it?

    Music:

    Evanescence – My Heart Is Broken
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1QGnq9jUU0

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