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And now for the good news … somebody spoke up

In a column in Nature (17 May 2012), “Reach out to defend evolution,” palaeontologist Russell Garwood warns, “Creationists seize on any perceived gaps in our knowledge of evolutionary processes. But scientists can and should fight back, … ”

His evidence? The Tennessee schools bill which just gives teachers the right to consider both sides of explicitly science questions. He takes up one such question in his article: Does the fact that some dinosaurs had feathers establish that birds are descended from them? What about convergent evolution of feathers? He is clearly impatient with the scientists who are unconvinced, and would like them to just not be around – visibly failing to join in the consensus.

As further evidence of the evil that is done under the sun, he offers: “The national biology curriculum of Pakistan, for example, dictates that students be taught ‘that Allah … is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.’” So? What possible proposition in real science would that statement prevent anyone from researching? Of course, if one wanted to use the science curriculum to teach atheism, yes, that statement could signal a problem. But whose problem is it, exactly? The parents’? The students’? The atheist’s? Guess!

If the curriculum had said, “It is an article of faith with us that there are 427 gods, and no one knows which one makes the rules on any given day,” yes, one can foresee problems with teaching science. But monotheism has, if anything, always been an incentive to science, not a disincentive.

It goes on. The good news is that some commenters are taking issue with the nonsense underlying of Garwood’s position:

One of our authors, David Tyler notes pacifically there,

:Russell Garwood wrote: “yet good science thrives on unanswered questions. That papers frankly assess and admit shortcomings in current knowledge is vital.”

Yes, this is exactly right.

You also wrote: “the US state of Tennessee passed a creationist bill that encourages teachers to discuss the “weaknesses” of evolution.”

This is misinformation.
The bill reads: “Shall endeavor to assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies. Toward this end, teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.”

The bill does not take sides on controversial issues, but legitimises the work of teachers who are helping students develop a critical understanding of the issues.

I think this bill is implementing the ideas expressed in your article!

Yes, but if it weren’t for stuff like misrepresenting the Tennessee bill to Brits, the American Darwin-in-the-schools lobby wouldn’t have much of a strategy left.

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47 Responses to And now for the good news … somebody spoke up

  1. “the US state of Tennessee passed a creationist bill that encourages teachers to discuss the “weaknesses” of evolution.”

    This is misinformation.

    This is standard operating procedure for the secular left: Willfully misrepresent (i.e., lie about) challengers and their claims, and then attack the misrepresentations.

    The fact that the secular left must resort to such tactics is evidence that they know they can’t compete on the basis of evidence, logic, and rational investigation.

    Darwinism has become a state-sponsored religion, and whenever the state sponsors a religion, legitimate science is corrupted.

  2. 2
    David W. Gibson

    I think the problem here is a disagreement about the nature of the public school curriculum. While it is certainly the case that science can never prove anything, and that science assumes that all theories are forever subject to refinement or even rejection, it is also certainly the case that some of what science considers to have established can reasonably be considered settled. Genuine scientific controversies tend to live at the forefront of research, which tends to be performed by specialists with advanced degrees.

    So the subtext here, when decoded, is that some of what science considers long since settled and not seriously disputed, is nonetheless objected to by people whose motivations are clearly not scientific, but rather social and political. At the 9th grade level, it really is the case that nothing in the domain of science is even slightly controversial within the field of science.

    Now, it might be legitimate to present students in high school with the actual controversy, which (let’s be honest here) has to do with one’s philosophical posture toward certain biblical books and verses. But while this controversy is real, it is most emphatically not a scientific controversy.

    So why would a social/religious/political dispute be considered scientific at all? Why are those who wish to inject such disputes into the high school curriculum almost always transparently religious, and why would they wish to inject religious disputes into science class?

    I think this would be an interesting discussion, perhaps rewarding for everyone. But the claim that the long-since settled scientific knowledge imparted to 9th graders is controversial within the world of science is simply false. I believe it’s necessary to frame a dispute correctly before it’s possible even to pursue it.

  3. DWG:

    Have you taken the time to actually READ the Tenn law, which is all of 2 pp long? Or, have you instead taken the sort of willful misrepresentations that have been deliberately promoted (and which Gil is, quite properly, rebuking as lies) as if they were gospel?

    Do us a favour.

    Please read the bill, and please cf the five excerpts and notes here on how science is being redefined as applied materialism with naturalistic evolution as origins myth; then come back to us on the inherent limitations of inductive reasoning in light of Lord Russell’s inductive turkey who showed up for his hitherto utterly reliable 9:00 am feed on Christmas eve.

    Similarly, explain to us the inherent limitations on attempting to reconstruct the remote and unobservable past of origins in general, and in particular as they relate to the origin of life and of major body plans. Do, make particular reference to the statements of the US NSTA and NAS, also taking a glance here on, at how they intervened in Kansas — note the way a tendentious redefinition of science was used to threaten to hold the children of that state hostage. (The same sort of rumbles have cropped up in Tenn and Louisiana, BTW.)

    Let us hear your conclusions and rationale in light of a balanced overview of the evidence and issues.

    Thanks in advance

    KF

  4. PS: Kindly, cf the definition of design theory under the references tab, top of this and every UD page. Kindly identify where it has anything to do with “one’s philosophical posture toward certain biblical books and verses.” Similarly. look at the UD weak argument correctives under the same tab. Kindly explain why you wish to conflate:

    (i) Concerns regarding the inherent logical and epistemological limitations of induction and abduction [inference to best current explanation]

    (ii) further concerns on ideological loading by imposition of a priori materialism [explicit or implicit] as a censoring constraint on scientific studies of origins

    (iii) concerns on the inherent limitations of attempts to reconstruct a remote, unobserved past of origins

    (iv) the scientific contention and school of thought that, per Newton’s uniformity principle and tested, reliable induction on the observed cause of functionally specific, complex organisation and associated information [i.e. design] leading to the principle that we have a scientifically warranted right to infer from FSCO/I to design as best causal explanation . . . as opposed to inferring any particular candidate as the designer involved [Inference to arson, not to particular arsonist], with

    (v) Biblical creationism.

    Failing a solid explanation, you are credibly enmeshed in yet another willful misrepresentation of the type Gil is highlighting, and are carrying forward a smear; probably not realising that it is a smear.

  5. F/N: Key section of the Tenn Amdt:

    _________

    >> [Whereas:] (1) An important purpose of science education is to inform students about scientific evidence and to help students develop critical thinking skills necessary to become intelligent, productive, and scientifically informed citizens;
    (2) The teaching of some scientific subjects required to be taught under the curriculum framework developed by the state board of education may cause debate and disputation including, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning; and
    (3) Some teachers may be unsure of the expectation concerning how they should present information when debate and disputation occur on such subjects . . . .

    [Therefore . . . ] The state board of education, public elementary and secondary school governing authorities, directors of schools, school system administrators, and public elementary and secondary school principals and administrators shall endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about scientific subjects required to be taught under the curriculum framework developed by the state board of education . . . .

    (c) Neither the state board of education, nor any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, director of schools, school system administrators, or any public elementary or secondary school principal or administrators shall prohibit any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught within the curriculum framework developed by the state board of education.
    (d) This section only protects the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or non-beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion. [Amendment No. 1 to SB0893] >>
    __________

    Please, read the whole law.

  6. “Creationists seize on any perceived gaps in our knowledge of evolutionary processes. But scientists can and should fight back, …

    They should, but they can’t using science, so they made up a sciency-sounding narrative…

  7. 7
    David W. Gibson

    kairosfocus:

    Yes, I read the law. I don’t want to discuss this at cross-purposes here, so let me try to explain what I’m looking at.

    The law, as far as I can tell, neither encourages nor discourages any teacher from doing what good teachers SHOULD have been doing all along. Nor, to the best of my knowledge, is there anything in current law, or policy, or curricula, which this law modifies at all. Good teaching remains good teaching, and the essence of science is to apply critical thinking wherever possible. Who could possibly object to this? WHY would anyone object to this?

    Now, as I read it, nobody is actually objecting to the text of the law, but rather to the subtext, and this is a subtle thing. In arithmetic, we are taught that addition has the properties of being communiative, distributive, and associative. We are taught what these things mean and (hopefully) why they are important. Now, imagine a law passed to encourage teachers to present the “strengths and weaknesses” of addition. Why would anyone even consider such a thing? Is there anything WRONG with arithmetic? Well, there must be, else why pass such a law in the the first place.

    Now, let’s say that on further examination, we find that those who wrote and voted for the law are all devout members of a religious sect that finds arithmetic personally offensive. Would we consider that a clue as to what’s going on, or would we blythely pontificate that teaching the “strengths and weaknesses of arithmetic” is nothing more than good pedantic technique?

    So where I would start, and where I’d like you to start, is by examining exactly what is being changed in the current curriculum, who is making this change (if any), and why they would be trying to do so. And if this law is only cheerleading teachers to continue doing what they’ve always done, why is it necessary?

    (Incidentally, I enjoyed section (d), which tells us that this bill is intended to “protect the teaching of scientific information” (protect it from WHAT? The teaching of scientific information is not only protected, it is REQUIRED!). And that the law is not to be construed as being religiously motivated in any way! But the legislative history makes the religious basis of this bill explicit, and this section does the same.

    Imagine a bill passed to “protect the teaching of hygiene”, encouraging students to learn the “strengths and weaknesses” of washing their hands and brushing their teeth, and then saying “this is not intended to promote any religious doctrine or discriminate against any religious beliefs.” As a sensible person, recognizing that good hygiene has been presented all along, and seeing all this disclaimer about religion of all things, where’s the first place you’d look to find a motivation for such a law?)

  8. DWG:

    I read the law.

    Then, please do not further misrepresent it.

    It should be quite plain that here has been a climate of intimidation that undermines the necessary reasonable freedom for teachers and students to understand the strengths and limitations of inductive reasoning and of its application in science. Not to mention misrepresentation of the actual state of the science. And in several fields. But then, I speak as one who has seen what happens when science, agendas and politics and economic consequences mix, close at hand, with a long dragged out volcano crisis.

    What is most significant is the refusal to acknowledge this fact.

    KF

  9. DWG:

    Now, it might be legitimate to present students in high school with the actual controversy, which (let’s be honest here) has to do with one’s philosophical posture toward certain biblical books and verses. But while this controversy is real, it is most emphatically not a scientific controversy.

    With all due respect, you are dead wrong, and I’m a prime example.

    When I read Michael Denton’s book, Evolution, A Theory in Crisis in 1994, I was a devout Darwinist — born, raised, and indoctrinated through college and beyond in Darwinian orthodoxy. Denton, who was/is an agnostic, and clearly had no theological predisposition, made no reference to religion, biblical books and verses, or anything of the kind.

    He talked about the science.

    I was flabbergasted. I had never heard any of this stuff before! I had lived in a Darwinistic educational cocoon for 43 years. Fortunately, my background in legitimate science (software engineering in particular) enabled me to understand that I had been fed not science, but unsubstantiated speculation that random errors can accumulate to produce advanced information-processing technology.

    This, of course, should be recognized as utter idiocy and nonsense by anyone with any reasoning power who has any experience in information technology.

    Yes, the guy who encouraged me to read Denton’s book is a Christian, and I did indeed convert from the religion of Darwinism to Christianity. But that’s another story.

    Oh, and one more thing: The world’s most notorious intellectual atheist of the 20th century, Antony Flew, apparently came to the same conclusion I did as a result of contemporary arguments from design, shortly before he died, although I believe he became something more of a deist than a theist.

    Based on evidence, rationality, and any semblance of scientific objectivity, Darwinian claims about the creative capabilities of the Darwinian mechanism should be rejected out of hand as completely unsupportable.

    An inference to design is rational. Darwinism is quintessentially irrational.

    Darwinism as taught in the public schools is not science education — it’s a lobotomy.

  10. 10
    David W. Gibson

    As I recall, when I was in 9th grade I was personally nowhere near ready to understand the problems of inductive reasoning, or the limitations and advantages of iterative approaches toward the probably correct. I was still at an age where I wanted straight binary answers. Was science right or wrong, multiple choice! And what I wanted was ENTIRELY right or wrong, none of this confusing “probably mostly right, as far as we know, pending what we learn tomorrow.”

    And I personally think this is the reason why the method of science is glossed over in favor of those issues science has long since determined beyond reasonable doubt. Even though this in practice tends to mean students memorizing factoids to regurgitate on tests, with no real understanding of what science is.

    And I think the words of the law and the reason those words were cast into law are two different things. This is why I asked what this new law does that changes what was done earlier. Superficially, I don’t think it changes a thing. Indirectly, I think it can legitimately be viewed as an attempt to undermine confidence in settled science the lawmakers wish would go away.

    Now, if you believe there is some sort of conspiracy implicitly joined for nefarious reasons by all those who disagree with you, this makes any discussion very difficult. I get the impression that there are two ways to understand this law – your way, and “deliberate misinterpretations” which includes every other possible way. And this is a misfortune, because it force-casts legitimate disagreement into either stupidy, or bad faith.

  11. 11
    David W. Gibson

    Gil Dodgen,

    With all due respect, you are dead wrong, and I’m a prime example.

    When I read Michael Denton’s book, Evolution, A Theory in Crisis in 1994, I was a devout Darwinist — born, raised, and indoctrinated through college and beyond in Darwinian orthodoxy.

    Interesting that you should cast this former condition in such exquisitely religious terms!

    Denton, who was/is an agnostic, and clearly had no theological predisposition, made no reference to religion, biblical books and verses, or anything of the kind.

    He talked about the science.

    Yes, although he was not a scientist. And you might mention that he has changed his position quite drastically in the meantime.

    I was flabbergasted. I had never heard any of this stuff before! I had lived in a Darwinistic educational cocoon for 43 years. Fortunately, my background in legitimate science (software engineering in particular) enabled me to understand that I had been fed not science, but unsubstantiated speculation that random errors can accumulate to produce advanced information-processing technology.

    Well, I am a retired software engineer myself. So I think it’s fascinating that your experience led you to the model of biology as being so directly analogous to software engineering, while my experience led me to the conviction that biology and engineering work according to entirely different principles.

    You sound very much like I was way back in high school – always looking for clear, absolute, binary answers to difficult questions concerning complex and messy systems.

    And oddly enough, I’m in substantial agreement with you. What decided me, more than anything else, that these different sorts of systems were VERY different was their resiliance in the face of variation. If I got a single bit wrong, the system generally crashed altogether, whereas biological systems are capable of, indeed dependent on, constant alterations of lots of bits. So I decided software engineering principles simply didn’t apply.

    (And curiously, I’ve been interested to follow computer virus technology. Viruses today rewrite themselves on the fly, deliberately introducing variation with every copy, to defeat “pattern matching” anti-virus software. The arms race becomes increasingly biological.)

    This, of course, should be recognized as utter idiocy and nonsense by anyone with any reasoning power who has any experience in information technology.

    Yet biology works this way by simple observation. Look at your father. Are you a clone, or do you differ from him in countless details? Clearly, you are not a copy – you are different in many many bits. So you were not produced by anything near the principles of software engineering. I know that as an engineer, I struggled to avoid and eliminate bugs of all kinds. Biological systems NEED what would have been bugs in my code. Different, very different.

    Yes, the guy who encouraged me to read Denton’s book is a Christian, and I did indeed convert from the religion of Darwinism to Christianity. But that’s another story.

    I suggest it’s a story very closely related. Many evolutionary biologists are Christians, but very very few (if any, really) ID proponents are NOT Christians. The correlations are more than accidental.

    Oh, and one more thing: The world’s most notorious intellectual atheist of the 20th century, Antony Flew, apparently came to the same conclusion I did as a result of contemporary arguments from design, shortly before he died, although I believe he became something more of a deist than a theist.

    Yes, apparently he did. He was very elderly at the time, and had never been a scientist, but as far as I can tell he did change his mind.

    Based on evidence, rationality, and any semblance of scientific objectivity, Darwinian claims about the creative capabilities of the Darwinian mechanism should be rejected out of hand as completely unsupportable.

    And I’m quite sure they would be, if they didn’t explain observation so very well, and make such deucedly accurate predictions, and guide useful research in all areas of biology, and get reinforced by the results of every test, every study, every investigation. And I suppose we can look at this and say to ourselves “No, this can’t be, it’s inconceivable, it looks insane and absurd and totally unworkable, I refuse to believe it!” And doing so might make us feel better.

    An inference to design is rational. Darwinism is quintessentially irrational.

    You repeat this with the fidelity of a memorized catechism. An inference to design is very often correct, but not always. And inferences to design ALWAYS require some contextual knowledge – knowledge of the pre-design specification, the design’s purpose, the motivations and capabilities of the designer, etc. Where contextual knowledge is unavailable, design inferences are basically impossible. If I see a rock used as a doorstop, can I infer the rock was designed as a doorstop? Well, not without some background knowledge of both doors (and what they’re for) and rocks (and where they come from).

    So in scientific practice, non-design is always the null hypothesis. Sufficient background data can override it, of course, but if it isn’t the null hypothesis we must truly live in a demon-haunted world.

    Darwinism as taught in the public schools is not science education — it’s a lobotomy.

    I find this sort of intensity disturbing. You may be right, you may be wrong. Science provides the tools to distinguish, and those tools show that most hypotheses are wrong. But your conviction is so unshakeably devout, so dedicated, so urgent, as to make one wonder just exactly what there is about it that has you so excited and upset.

    It has been said that nobody is more doubt than a convert, and your truly virulent rejection underscores the sincerity of your conversion.

    Even the most simplistic models clearly show that where you have (1) variation; (2) replication with inheritance; and (3) resource scarcity, you get evolution. Invariably. So it sounds like you are rejecting something quite trivially plausible, and doing so with such violence. Very odd.

  12. Mr. Gibson,

    You are basically using ad hominem reasoning. You are questioning the assertions of design theory because of the motivations of those asserting it. In arithmetic, I could have very bad motives to argue that 2 plus 2 is 4, but I would still be right.

    I have been told that when Big Bang theory was first proposed, it was opposed by some because it implied a creator. I mention this because you seem to believe that motives go only one way; the religious stifle science due to their a priori positions. Clearly, it works the other way as well.

    With regards to your contrasting with engineering, I think that the examples you cite only make the case more difficult for undirected evolution. The more working parts, the more complexity, the more likely a small error will cause significant problems. So the solution is to have error correction mechanisms, yet this compounds the problem because error correction mechanisms cannot evolve without errors (mutations).

  13. Poly-Functional Complexity equals Poly-Constrained Complexity.

    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1xkW4C7uOE8s98tNx2mzMKmALeV8-348FZNnZmSWY5H8/edit?pli=1

  14. Collin,

    I agree with DWG, inference to design is quite legitimate (in archaeology for example) if there is independent evidence of a designer. And this is what puzzles me the most about the ID movement: the reluctance to be more explicit about what exactly the claim is. The when, how and why. More specified hypothesis could be examined and accepted or rejected based on evidence.

    The contention is that many scientists are too intimidated to openly question the reigning paradigm but the ID community seems to suffer from this problem itself. Come out in the open and lets see what you’ve got.

  15. DWG:

    I find it interesting to hear the striking contrast of your experience with mine:

    when I was in 9th grade I was personally nowhere near ready to understand the problems of inductive reasoning, or the limitations and advantages of iterative approaches toward the probably correct. I was still at an age where I wanted straight binary answers. Was science right or wrong, multiple choice! And what I wanted was ENTIRELY right or wrong, none of this confusing “probably mostly right, as far as we know, pending what we learn tomorrow.”

    And I personally think this is the reason why the method of science is glossed over in favor of those issues science has long since determined beyond reasonable doubt. Even though this in practice tends to mean students memorizing factoids to regurgitate on tests, with no real understanding of what science is.

    Ninth grade is roughly equal to third form (of five in basic secondary school, with a two-year “sixth form” that prepares for a three year first degree).

    By that time I had been taught “the scientific method,” with an emphasis on how it progresses. Observation, hypothesis, testing and generalisation and acceptance. The case of Newton and his apple particularly stand out in memory. (And, decades later, in setting out to teach methods as a part of the IOSE, I still use Newton and his apple. I have used Galileo at some points too.)

    The importance of direct observations and inferences therefrom on the subject of those invisible but evident entities, atoms and molecules was also an emphasis. I would shortly be focussing on physics, with its emphasis on clear, well warranted concepts, mathematically expressed empirically reliable laws, and of course the revolution of 100 years ago.

    I can recall, the next year, sitting in a Chemistry class and daydreaming of a messenger coming to the door to announce the newest revolution, and the major revisions to thought that would be required. In short, the groundwork had been laid for understanding that scientific understanding is provisional and that it progresses by paradigm shifts. I also recall thinking, how maybe, that would not happen right away at fourth form level [after all it was reasonable that we would be maybe ten years behind events]; maybe in university. Maybe, I should say, the class was taught by a Catholic Priest and Chemist, a Boston Irish Jesuit. (I have long since learned to respect the learning and discipline of these men. The last conversation I had with one of them, when I saw him in his 90′s in a wheelchair in Jamaica’s main international airport, was about contribution to national development, and the logistical challenges likely to be encountered on a social entrepreneurship initiative.)

    Then, I recall professor Harald Neiderriter of Austria — thank you, sir — in my very first Math course in uni, teaching us how we were responsible to cross check and test for ourselves what our lecturers had to say, and on how in implication the true leads by correct implication to the true but from falsity, anything. The last, he put in Latin.

    In short, our experiences of learning science were in very different paradigms.

    And, when it comes to understanding the challenges of inductive reasoning, as an educator in my own right, I say that a true and fair view of key revolutions and careers in science, summarised in principles, would go a long way towards inculcating the inherent provisionality involved and the difference between empirical reliability in a given domain of tests and experience and truth in the full sense of accuracy to what is. Similarly, Lord Russell’s story of the inductive turkey showing up for his hitherto 100% reliable 9:00 am feed on Christmas eve, has a depth of insight in it that students could profitably tap for years, starting at actually first form level.

    So, I beg to differ with your suggestion that third formers or the equivalent can legitimately be indoctrinated in the name of science education. That, sir, is a failure of duties of care on the part of educators. Not when the simplest survey of the history of sciences brims over with revolutions, including revolutions led by those on the fringe. I particularly think, here, of a certain third class Swiss Patents Clerk, publishing the pivotal four papers of 1905.

    As for the onward hint that the grand, metaphysically loaded evolutionary materialist account of origins is to be regarded as beyond reasonable doubt, that is a capital case in point on the reason why we must educate instead of indoctrinate. The exaggeration of stories about varying beak sizes, moth colouration, antibiotic and insecticide resistance into a narrative presented as practically certain, where software corruption accidents filtered for success are alleged to have caused the origin of major body plan features such as bird lungs and wings, the camera eye (several times over), or human ability to use verbal language, fails the duty of care to present the inherent limitations of the methods that would have to be used to ground such an account.

    The deep past is unobserved and unobservable.

    What is observable, traces of the past and processes in the present, would warrant the strong conclusion that functionally specific, complex organisation and associated information [FSCO/I] is a reliable sign of design. At least, if we were to genuinely respect Newton’s uniformity principle that in absence of counter evidence, we should infer that the reliably tested adequate cause for an observed effect, can be generalised to cases where we may not observe the causal process directly. (Cf. here on.)

    On years of discussion, what hinders this well-supported inference to best explanation is not the methods of science proper. No, it is the a priori imposition of materialistic constraints on scientific reasoning, often disguised as methodological principles.

    And the same years of discussion show that the exposure of this ideological imposition is a flash-point. Not because it cannot be substantiated as an improper and question-begging constraint on inductive reasoning in science, but because it opens doors of thought that a materialism-dominated reigning orthodoxy does not want opened.

    Which is exactly what I see going on in how the voices of the reigning orthodoxy have reacted to the case in view, especially in their willfully irresponsible caricatures.

    KF

  16. Even the most simplistic models clearly show that where you have (1) variation; (2) replication with inheritance; and (3) resource scarcity, you get evolution.

    Neither Intelligent Design nor baraminology is anti- evolution as they both accept (1) variation; (2) replication with inheritance; and (3) resource scarcity.

    However the alleged “theory” of evolution says much more than those three things. It says that all living organisms owe their collective common ancestry to some unknown population(s) of prokaryotic-like organisms via accumulations of genetic accidents. However there isn’t any way to test that. Therefor it ain’t science.

  17. 17
    David W. Gibson

    I would say, it depends on what you ask of a theory. What should we make of the observation that humans share extensive parts of important genes with jellyfish (and sponges, and other primitive animals)? The notion of common ancestry strikes me as a fairly simple way to make sense of this, but of course common design works as well.

    As for “no way to test”, this is perhaps misleading. It’s certainly true that we have no way of going back into the past and observing slow processes over hundreds of millions of years. But what biologists CAN do is observe current processes in the lab, and using simple models show that the currently observed processes are sufficient to produce the historical record best indicated by other evidence.

    Is it legitimate to extrapolate current processes back into the distant past? Possibly not, but this is done for several reasons. If there is no good reason why processes might have changed over time, the best default is that they have not changed. And if those processes can be successfuly shown to be capable of generating what we observe today, this adds to the likelihood that they haven’t changed much over time.

    In a sense, this is forensics. Is forensics scientific? Good question. I would say that “there isn’t ANY way to test that” is a little too emphatic. There may be no direct way to test, but if multiple indirect tests considered together form a consistent model, that model becomes the best-fit explanation pending further discoveries.

    Enough circumstantial evidence had better be sufficient to overcome reasonable doubt, else knowledge is impossible to collect or increase.

  18. 18
    David W. Gibson

    What is observable, traces of the past and processes in the present, would warrant the strong conclusion that functionally specific, complex organisation and associated information [FSCO/I] is a reliable sign of design.

    I’m not quite sure what the word “design” is intended to encompass here. Certainly I can view environmental constraints shaping the selection of continuous variation as a design process. I would say without question it IS a design process. So I guess we’re in agreement here.

    At least, if we were to genuinely respect Newton’s uniformity principle that in absence of counter evidence, we should infer that the reliably tested adequate cause for an observed effect, can be generalised to cases where we may not observe the causal process directly. (Cf. here on.)

    Yes, this seems straightforeward. We observe environmental constraints shaping continuous variation in survivable directions. We can even sharpen and focus these constraints in the lab, and observe that the shaping process accelerates. And not having any good reason to believe that there was a time in the past without any environment, we can legitimately extrapolate as Newton recommended. So we’re still in agreement.

    On years of discussion, what hinders this well-supported inference to best explanation is not the methods of science proper. No, it is the a priori imposition of materialistic constraints on scientific reasoning, often disguised as methodological principles.

    Here, your terminology borders on a jargon whose intended meanings I’m not very familiar with. I would say that science does have a priori materialistic constraints, since materials are all that can be observed and tested using the scientific method.

    Since I don’t follow you here, could you provide an illustration of a scientific investigation that is free of materialistic constraints? Let’s say, just arbitrarily, that you wanted to determine whether a chemical reaction that occurs in a nitrogen atmosphere, would also occur the same way in an argon atmosphere. But you do not wish to be constrained by materialism. How would you go about it?

  19. 19
    David W. Gibson

    Collin,

    You are basically using ad hominem reasoning. You are questioning the assertions of design theory because of the motivations of those asserting it. In arithmetic, I could have very bad motives to argue that 2 plus 2 is 4, but I would still be right.

    In that case, I didn’t express myself very well. Perhaps expressing myself well is beyond me! But from my perspective, intelligent design requires an intelligent designer. If life is intelligently designed, this makes the designer at least ancient. It also attributes purposes to the designer. And to me, this makes the designer indinguishable from a god. And THAT necessarily requires that ID rest on religious precepts. I see no way around this. The assertions of intelligent design may be correct, but this does not decouple those assertions from their religious basis.

    I have been told that when Big Bang theory was first proposed, it was opposed by some because it implied a creator. I mention this because you seem to believe that motives go only one way; the religious stifle science due to their a priori positions. Clearly, it works the other way as well.

    I agree. In science, hypotheses are proposed with full expectation that they’ll prove to be correct. Most of the time they aren’t, but a priori this is not the expectation.

    So the question becomes, what relationship should exist between a priori presumptions and empirical observation? Should it be possible for observation to overcome such presumptions, or should such presumptions render refuting observations impossible, not credible, etc?

    I personally feel that knowledge is only possible when those pursuing it are willing and able to admit error. And that takes a posture toward evidence which elevates evidence above even the most devout belief. Not at all an easy challenge for any human being.

    With regards to your contrasting with engineering, I think that the examples you cite only make the case more difficult for undirected evolution. The more working parts, the more complexity, the more likely a small error will cause significant problems.

    Well, my point was that this is most definitely the case with software engineering, and clearly NOT AT ALL the case with biological variation. So my conclusion was that there simply is no valid analogy between software engineering and biology, and attempting to force such an analogy leads to serious category errors. But I may be wrong.

    So the solution is to have error correction mechanisms, yet this compounds the problem because error correction mechanisms cannot evolve without errors (mutations).

    My understanding is that error correction itself has evolved. Too strict, adaptation doesn’t happen and extinction results. Too loose, and the sheer scope of variation renders an organism nonviable. And interestingly enough, models today indicate that the efficacy of error correction approaches the Goldilocks ideal, not too strict and not too lose, but very very close to just right.

    (And I can’t avoid the suspicion that if we took some fairly simple computer program written by a software engineer, and a couple hundred thousand computers making imperfect copies with small random variations, and keeping the few that didn’t crash, and iterating this indefinitely, we could come back in a few years and find that those programs currently running did something completely different from the original, and completely unanticipated by the original coder.

    To continue this particular analogy, we start to notice some very significant differences between this approach and GilDodgen’s approach. First, we have replication with inheritance. Second, we have variation and selection. Third, the program need not DO anything except run (i.e. survive). There is no target functionality beyond running. And at that point, we begin to approach biological reality.)

  20. David,

    There isn’t anything about the observed processes that we can extrapolate such that new, functional multi-protein configurations are constructed. Nothing to suggest a prokaryote can evolve into something other than a prokaryote. Nothing to suggest fish can evolve into something other than fish.

    You would think that we could take fish embryos, subject them to targeted mutagenesis- target the devolopmental genes and see if we can get a fish-a-pod to develop.

    If we can’t do that then the “theory” has absolutely no practical value and is a useless heuristic.

  21. Mr. Gibson,

    Thanks for responding. I wonder if you believe that science has the capability of ascertaining if life exhibits signs of design or not. Could science be used to discover if a virus were designed by a bio-terrorist? If so, then does it cease to be science if we are trying to discover evidence of a “primordial” designer?

    Please consider another analogy/scenario. Let’s say that in the early 20th century, a group of creationists decided that they did not like the idea of a steady state universe, so they employed poor reasoning, quote-mining and bad science to disprove it and argue for the existence of a beginning of the universe. Eventually the public and the scientific community became inoculated against the idea of a beginning of the universe, so that when evidence of the Big Bang was discovered, the scientific community was resistant to it. They had become invested in an argument against the creationists. Because of this, only friends of the creationists, (maybe creationists that wear cheap tuxedos) were willing to endure the scorn of the main stream community and argue that there was a beginning to the universe.

    Could such a situation be going on in biology today?

  22. 22
    David W. Gibson

    Joe,

    While you may be right, I get the sense that you are asking too much. Like a child looking at a skyscraper and “knowing” you can’t pile blocks that high without them falling over.

    But people have taken ordinary plain guppies and turned them into real show fish. Same with betas. Goldfish began as ordinary carp, corn couldn’t even survive in the wild, it’s been so completely altered by selective breeding. All of these things have happened within recorded history, which in the natural world is an evolutionary eyeblink. You seem impatient.

    I raised the issue of common genes. Humans share many with fish. Common ancestry and common design are competing hypotheses, but common ancestry is somewhat testable – we can produce new generations and notice common genes between offspring and parents. We can take similar organisms and notice degrees of genetic similarity corresponding roughly with similar morphology. So these are clues, which is better than total ignorance.

    If people had bred fish for podia rather than for beauty, we’d probably have seen some considerable change in that direction over 10,000 years. Certainly not within the time frame of your usual funded lab experiment. Or within a human lifetime.

    And even if the theory is wrong, in the real world of biological research it is fundamental, used to guide every hypothesis being tested, worldwide. Many of which prove quite predictive, so the theory isn’t completely useless. Its “hit rate” of accurate predictions is much too high for it to be completely wrong, but in terms of practical value, it has plenty.

  23. 23
    David W. Gibson

    Collin,

    I try to respond, but it does take some time and reading. I am nowhere near the scholar in these matters that many here obviously are.

    Thanks for responding. I wonder if you believe that science has the capability of ascertaining if life exhibits signs of design or not.

    This strikes me as much more a matter of definition than of science. I personally consider evolution to be a design process, and living organisms to be the outputs of that process, the side-effects. I see every organism as designed by the environmental constraints and stochastic accidents that comprise its history. I see desert sandstone sculptures as having been designed by a combination of geological history and the forces of erosion. But you may define “design” differently.

    Could science be used to discover if a virus were designed by a bio-terrorist? If so, then does it cease to be science if we are trying to discover evidence of a “primordial” designer?

    Both are subject to scientific investigation in the traditional sense, I think. So both are science.

    The cover article of the latest edition of Science News is about the search for the first life or proto-life in the Hadeon eon, over 3.8 billion years ago. This is a real challenge, because in that much time most land masses have returned to the molten mantle at least once, and when they re-emerge they are vastly changed. The article says only enough material from the Hadeon has been found to fit on the head of a thimble. Not much to work with. Knowing what to look for is another challenge. But the effort is being made.

    Please consider another analogy/scenario. Let’s say that in the early 20th century, a group of creationists decided that they did not like the idea of a steady state universe, so they employed poor reasoning, quote-mining and bad science to disprove it and argue for the existence of a beginning of the universe. Eventually the public and the scientific community became inoculated against the idea of a beginning of the universe, so that when evidence of the Big Bang was discovered, the scientific community was resistant to it. They had become invested in an argument against the creationists. Because of this, only friends of the creationists, (maybe creationists that wear cheap tuxedos) were willing to endure the scorn of the main stream community and argue that there was a beginning to the universe.

    Could such a situation be going on in biology today?

    Sure. Indeed, it’s going on all the time, wherever you look, perhaps not so broadly as your example, but it happens. It has been written (IMO accurately) that the way important scientific views change is NOT because of refuting data, but because those individuals holding the ideas die off and are not replaced. That doesn’t mean the data are irrelevant at all, it means that once one has a model in mind, the data are MADE to fit whether they do or not. Mental models become impervious to change.

    I am again bothered, I admit, by the subtle odor of conspiracy theory here. The steady state started losing support with the discovery of the red shift, and still clung on until the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation.

    I’m going to argue here, perhaps quixotically, that the enterprise of scientific research is much too competitive, too full of personal animosities and disputes and competing approaches, for any vast “inoculation” to withstand it.

    And I might point out that biology in fact went through exactly what you describe. In Darwin’s day, Divine Creation was the default, both taken for granted and strongly defended. Darwin’s ideas were resisted for a couple of generations after Origin, until the sheer weight of evidence crushed the opposition. Which didn’t go down easy, and the history shows that much of the research that ended up ratifying Darwin’s ideas was actually performed by opponents trying desperately to prove he was wrong!

    Nonetheless, let’s say that your scenario is accurate, and that there is this broad impenetrable resistance to intelligent design ideas. Historically, it seems clear that the only way to overcome this is with good solid replicable positive evidence that some other explanation fits the facts better.

    Because you’re right – the first hospital physician who insisted on washing his hands and made others do the same, was denigrated as anal, attacked as a time-waster, accused of being superstitious, etc. Others adopted his practice only when it became clear that he lost FAR fewer patients than anyone else, and all that hand-washing was the only thing he did differently. New ideas always meet resistance.

    As I’m sure you’re aware, even in this thread people have pointed out that if you’re right, the way to make the point is by rigorously producing the Designer, demonstrating the efficacy of the method, replicating that method, constructing hypothesis of the “if evolution X, if ID then Y” and performing the experiments to see which one you get. I grant that even with resoundingly unambiguous confirming results, it would be a hard sell – but the sale WOULD get closed.

    As things stand, ID seems more armchair speculation about what MIGHT be the case, without anyone going out there and doing the heavy lifting. I read some time back that the Templeton Foundation offered research grant money to anyone who could produce a positive, testable hypothesis to show the designer or its methods. No takers. After a decade or two, no takers.

    And if you look at the Discovery Institute’s budget, you find almost nothing going into biological research, and millions going into public relations, political lobbying, publishing apologetics around the net, etc. To me, this indicates that ID is not a scientific program, it’s a social/religious/political program. And THAT isn’t going to change how biologists understand biology.

  24. David,

    We see common design all around us- houses, cars, computers. Seeing that the majority of genes are for sustaining cellular function, I would expect a degree of genetic similarity. So we take the clues and put them in the framework we know via observation and experience.

    As for common descent we see fish giving rise to fish with no known mechanism of changing them into anything but fish. The same goes for humans. And throwing time around isn’t science. The point being is that you don’t have any idea how long it would take and seem happy as a child to sleep under the warm blanket of father time.

    BTW what predictions are borne from accumulations of genetic accidents? What practical value does the “theory” of evolution offer?

    Please do tell…

  25. David,

    Well, I think we both agreethat the Templeton prize could not be accepted because, as you say, most people who believe in design, believe that the Designer was God and He cannot be revealed without His permission. Nor are His ways likely to be discoverable through science. But I think that ID is on to something that you should carefully look at. It posits that design (from a Designer) can be detected. This is an interesting idea that I think can be tested. Or at least, has the potential to be testable.

    I wonder if goldfish are less robust than carp? My knowledge of breeding of dogs (from what I read) is that the more rigorously bred a dog is and the farther it gets away from its “wolf-like” form, the more health problems it has. The Great Dane has hip displasia, bloat, cancer, etc. The chihuahua is known to kill her babies. Shar Pei’s get skin infections due to their baggy skin. Don’t get me started with Daschunds. But the Karelian and the Collie are among the healthiest breeds. I think this supports Baraminology (spelling?). The dogs that stay closer to the prototype are the most healthy.

    This is also supported by the fact that the computerized average of 100 women is more beautiful than most of the 100 women. (I’ll try to find the study). Our sense of beauty is an innate response. There is a prototypical woman and in order for our species survive, we have an attraction to the woman that most resembles her. In this way, the species doesn’t stray too far from the mean and become unhealthy.

  26. 26
    David W. Gibson

    Joe,

    We see common design all around us- houses, cars, computers. Seeing that the majority of genes are for sustaining cellular function, I would expect a degree of genetic similarity. So we take the clues and put them in the framework we know via observation and experience.

    Yes indeed. And then we make predictions based on this framework, then we formulate testable hypotheses based on the predictions, and then we do the tests. Often, our results surprise us. It’s an aphorism in science that every single answer generates more than a single new question.

    As for common descent we see fish giving rise to fish with no known mechanism of changing them into anything but fish.

    Yes, we see fish giving rise to fish. We do indeed have a known mechanism for gradual change, but my understanding is that this mechanism is very very slow, and the descendent of a fish will always have fish ancestors. As a thought experiment, imagine trees observing primates. Yeah, primates have some minor variation, there’s gorillas and people and dogs and cats and such, but really, they’re still all primates, so where’s the evolution? The trees might not see any!

    The same goes for humans.

    Oh my no! Palentologists have found literally dozens of close relatives within recent history, like within only the last million years. Probably half of those are classified as genus homo. So from our perspective, our lineage has speciated quite a bit.

    And throwing time around isn’t science.

    I don’t understand what this means. All processes take time. Are you trying to argue that slow processes, by virtue of being slow, are not processes?

    The point being is that you don’t have any idea how long it would take and seem happy as a child to sleep under the warm blanket of father time.

    I don’t understand the point you are making. What does “it” refer to here? The more specific you can be, the easier it is to decide which evidence is relevant.

    BTW what predictions are borne from accumulations of genetic accidents? What practical value does the “theory” of evolution offer?

    Please do tell…

    I guess this is one of those cases where if you have to ask, then I can’t explain. Kind of like claiming that vehicles don’t actually GO anywhere, and then asking what practical value they have. The theory of evolution is the current best-fit explanation for everything in biology, for all of life, for development and reproduction and inheritance and disease and health and nutrition, for everything from why there are so many different organisms to what would happen if the bacteria in your gut were to die. I really don’t know how to respond to you.

  27. 27
    David W. Gibson

    Collin,

    You raise some interesting points. I’ll respond as well as I can, so bear with me…

    Well, I think we both agreethat the Templeton prize could not be accepted because, as you say, most people who believe in design, believe that the Designer was God and He cannot be revealed without His permission. Nor are His ways likely to be discoverable through science.

    But the Templeton Foundation was, perhaps optimistically, looking for any scientific support for Intelligent Design. The entire field.

    But I think that ID is on to something that you should carefully look at. It posits that design (from a Designer) can be detected. This is an interesting idea that I think can be tested. Or at least, has the potential to be testable.

    I agree within certain limits. Design, as I see it, is a process, not an object. Objects are the by-products of the design process, just as organisms are by-products of the process of evolution and knowledge is the by-product of the scientific method. The processes in each case are what matter.

    And THAT means you can’t look at something and deduce that it was designed in isolation. You MUST know something of the context, the provenance and history of the object, so that you can reconstruct the design process that was used.

    Here is where I think the idea of complex specified information is valuable, because it makes clear that you cannot deduce design unless you know the specification, and the specification is the operationalization of the designer’s goals. I recall Behe in Dover, testifying (in my words, which may be my misunderstandings!) that he saw design as a property of an object, like mass or color. But later he admitted that those who didn’t share his religious orientation, couldn’t see this property at all!

    And I think this is important, because it has been my (admittedly limited) experience that the only people who can “see” the design in an object, do so by placing that object within a context external to the object itself. They can see it’s designed because they already know it’s designed for reasons not inherent in the object.

    I wonder if goldfish are less robust than carp? My knowledge of breeding of dogs (from what I read) is that the more rigorously bred a dog is and the farther it gets away from its “wolf-like” form, the more health problems it has.

    My reading is, this is often the case but not necessarily the case. Breeders of course are working to isolate and concentrate specific alleles which produce the desired morphological variation. And the problem is generally that alleles come as “package deals”. In other words, genes map to morphology in a many-to-many fashion, where no feature is the result of a single gene, and every single gene is involved in more than one feature. And THAT means that to get the desired feature, you must accept all the associated stuff. Which often is detrimental to the organism when distorted this way.

    But over very long periods of time, selective breeding is more than isolating pre-existing alleles, it is also enforcing breeding isolation, so that new mutations can be added to the process. Perhaps the gold color was a mutation in some carp, and could be isolated without making the strain less robust. I don’t know, because most goldfish are bred for a lot more than gold color – breeders also want big eyes, big fancy fins, etc.

    The Great Dane has hip displasia, bloat, cancer, etc. The chihuahua is known to kill her babies. Shar Pei’s get skin infections due to their baggy skin. Don’t get me started with Daschunds. But the Karelian and the Collie are among the healthiest breeds. I think this supports Baraminology (spelling?). The dogs that stay closer to the prototype are the most healthy.

    I think your observation is correct, but I would draw a different conclusion. Evolution has, over time, selected for much larger genomes than organisms strictly need. Variation survives, for many reasons, so the potential to vary is beneficial. Selective breeding reduces the variation in the genome.

    So it’s true that the closer to the “original” the healthier. Selective breeding is a process that accelerates evolution to a rate that exceeds the ability of natural mutation processes to keep up with. In nature, species facing environmental pressures must await some mutation that will allow speciation of a better-adapted child species. Sometimes this happens before the parent goes extinct, sometimes it doesn’t.

    This is also supported by the fact that the computerized average of 100 women is more beautiful than most of the 100 women. (I’ll try to find the study). Our sense of beauty is an innate response.

    I’ve read this and in fact seen it done by superimposing many photographs. The further from the average, the less attractive we find one another.

    There is a prototypical woman and in order for our species survive, we have an attraction to the woman that most resembles her. In this way, the species doesn’t stray too far from the mean and become unhealthy.

    I think you are wandering into much deeper waters here than we have space for. This is a very interesting subject, I think. Yes, species tend to defend their integrity even unto extinction. And speciation (branching) means there is a new “prototypical” developing. By the time this development is complete, complete breeding isolation has occurred and the new species begins defending its integrity all over again.

    So while it may be the case that this defense of integrity prevents wandering too far from a healthy medium, it also means the species fails to adapt. And it means that newly branched species must establish a new medium to stay close to.

  28. Joe,

    As for common descent we see fish giving rise to fish with no known mechanism of changing them into anything but fish. The same goes for humans. And throwing time around isn’t science. The point being is that you don’t have any idea how long it would take and seem happy as a child to sleep under the warm blanket of father time.

    But we do have some ideas of how long some modifications have taken based on the fossil record and the genetic evidence. Also we have seen how long it has taken to generate all the existing breeds of dogs and plants in the brassica line. Have you looked at the brassicas? Some amazing morphological changes in the last hundreds of years. Via selective/intelligent breeding but no direct manipulation of the genome.

  29. But we do have some ideas of how long some modifications have taken based on the fossil record and the genetic evidence.

    Except the fossil record can’t tell us how long it takes. And there isn’t any genetic evidence to suport the changes required.

  30. The theory of evolution is the current best-fit explanation for everything in biology

    The “theory” of evolutuion is too vague to be of any use.

    In a nutshell the “theory” sez that something happened some time in the past and things kept happening and here we are.

    The “theory” cannot be tested. All that can be tested is that populations change or they stay the same, ie stasis.

  31. Palentologists have found literally dozens of close relatives within recent history, like within only the last million years. Probably half of those are classified as genus homo. So from our perspective, our lineage has speciated quite a bit.

    A biological theory requires biological evidence. And the fossil record cannot say anything about a mechanism nor even if evolutiondidit.

    Ya see there is no way to confirm the speculation about the fossils. Therefor said speculation is useless.

  32. I don’t understand what this means. All processes take time. Are you trying to argue that slow processes, by virtue of being slow, are not processes?

    I am saying if those processes cannot be shown to do what you say they can, then your claim is unscientific. Saying we cannot test the processes because too much time is involved is unscientific.

  33. Joe,

    Except the fossil record can’t tell us how long it takes. And there isn’t any genetic evidence to suport the changes required.

    Well, since the fossils can be dated it can give us an estimate. And the mutation rate can be measured and used as a rough metric.

    A biological theory requires biological evidence. And the fossil record cannot say anything about a mechanism nor even if evolutiondidit.

    How is the fossil record NOT biological evidence as it is a record of once living flora and fauna? The fossil record is one of the lines of evidence that descent with modification has occurred. Darwin himself argued along more than one line and since then we’ve got genetic evidence for common ancestry to add in support.

  34. Well, since the fossils can be dated it can give us an estimate. And the mutation rate can be measured and used as a rough metric.

    1- The fossil record is incomplete and cannot tell us when the inovation arose.

    2- Mutation rates do not support the phenotypic changes required

    How is the fossil record NOT biological evidence as it is a record of once living flora and fauna?

    They are fossils, not biological.

    The fossil record is one of the lines of evidence that descent with modification has occurred.

    That is the propaganda. However there still isn’t any way to confirm it.

    Darwin himself argued along more than one line and since then we’ve got genetic evidence for common ancestry to add in support.

    There isn’t any genetic evidence to link to the transformations required.

    We don’t even know what makes a human a human other than two humans mate and a baby human appears some 9 months later.

  35. Joe,

    1- The fossil record is incomplete and cannot tell us when the inovation arose.

    2- Mutation rates do not support the phenotypic changes required

    The rates and the fossil record just give us estimates of when changes occurred.

    They are fossils, not biological.

    They are partial copies of biological forms. Like a three dimensional photograph.

    I know you disagree but the fossil and genetic record don’t contradict the modern evolutionary synthesis. Gaps are not contradictions.

  36. The rates and the fossil record just give us estimates of when changes occurred.

    They cannot. Fossils do not necessarily say when something arose.

    And the modern synthesis is too vague to have any contradictions.

  37. Mr. Gibson,

    “And speciation (branching) means there is a new “prototypical” developing. By the time this development is complete, complete breeding isolation has occurred and the new species begins defending its integrity all over again.”

    This is where we disagree. I do not see why a species should stop defending its mean/integrity in order to allow a new prototypical to develop. That implies forsight imo.

    By the way, I wanted to quickly respond to your comment about “innoculation” and that it sounded like conspiracy talk to you. That’s not what I meant. What I mean to say is that the poor reasoning and quote-mining of some creationists in the 1980s had a general and unintended affect on the scientific community making it resistent to creationistic claims. The same thing has happened with other fields that are labeled pseudoscience (even if the researchers are rigorously using the scientific method) like telepathy, UFO-ology etc.

    Regarding specificity in FCSI, I share your concern. I have always wondered what the specification is supposed to be for DNA. Does the connection between RNA and proteins show FCSI? I have never been quite satisfied on that score. But I have not read Dempski’s books or Meyer’s Signature in the Cell. Perhaps it is clarified.

    I did just read “Contact” by Carl Sagan and he seems to believe that (spoiler alert) if we received a repeating signal of prime numbers (in binary), then we have good reason to believe it is being sent by intelligent beings. Why does this atheist think that that shows an intelligent source? All he says is that it would be unlikely for a natural phenomenon to create repeating prime numbers. Why not? And why is it not unlikely for nature to create DNA, a vastly more complex code than prime numbers.

  38. 38
    David W. Gibson

    Collin,

    Good to discuss this with you, because I can see that we come at this from very different directions, and this takes a LOT of unpacking!

    This is where we disagree. I do not see why a species should stop defending its mean/integrity in order to allow a new prototypical to develop. That implies forsight imo.

    This statement implies a very very different understanding of the speciation process. Take some species (considered for now as an interbreeding population). I know some particularly dedicated people have done this with populations of birds, turtles, and other animals with banding and testing. What they find is that while the population nominally interbreeds, the breeding is never evenly distributed. So organisms with different migration patterns might be far more likely to interbreed with those following the same patterns, even though breeding is all done at the same time and in the same place. Let’s say that at some given time, we find that 80% of the breeding is intra-migration-pattern, and only 20% is inter-migration pattern. So we see a trend toward breeding isolation.

    Can we project that eventually this will lead to total breeding isolation? Well, no, sometimes these divisions are temporary and are observed to grow less divisive. But sometimes it moves to completion, and the two populations do not interbreed at all. Even if we don’t know why, and can’t figure out how the turtles or birds or whatever tell the difference, researchers see that it happens. What we’re witnessing is a speciation event in process.

    So these two new populations, due to non-sharing of mutations, gradually diverge. One of them might be better adapted to some other niche or to changing conditions, and it might not. Once the branching event is complete (paleontologists estimate it takes about 20% of the lifetime of a species to complete the branch), each population defends its “prototypical”, but these are slightly different typicals being defended.

    Now, what I’ve described here is called sympatric speciation. The other common type is allopatric speciation – for example, if a river changes course and divides a population of non-river-crossers into two breeding groups. There are other kinds of speciation. But the point is the original population does not “allow” it to happen, it just happens. Almost surely Australia’s animals are mostly marsupials, which mostly got outcompeted elsewhere, is because a marsupial ancestor colonized it long ago, and it’s isloated enough for that to have been a rare unlikely event.

    So when I say a species defends its integrity, I mean that the entire population is unlikely to drift, not that new species are unlikely to branch off. I read that what is now Wyoming was once a shallow warm sea. Over about 15 million years, Wyoming gradually rose thousands of feet, moved north, and became quite arid. So paleontologists identified species of fossils at the start of this process, and traced them all through to the present. And even though the geological changes were easily slow enough for species to track, none of them did. They stuck to their identities until they went extinct.

    Meanwhile, new better-adapted species branched off, became stable, and then stuck to their identities in turn. Wyoming kept changing, and eventually they went extinct as well. The only species able to survive these changes did so because they began with that capability. So the pattern is clear – evolution tracks environmental changes through speciation. Whole species don’t adapt.

    What I mean to say is that the poor reasoning and quote-mining of some creationists in the 1980s had a general and unintended affect on the scientific community making it resistent to creationistic claims. The same thing has happened with other fields that are labeled pseudoscience (even if the researchers are rigorously using the scientific method) like telepathy, UFO-ology etc.

    I would disagree, at least with what I think you’re saying here. Creationist claims are not resisted because some earlier creationists are regarded as having been dishonest. They are resisted because either the claims can’t be tested (can’t test any gods), or because the claims are testable, have been tested, failed the tests, and the creationists are unwilling to drop the claim. I mean, hey, the number of things a global flood would do that are not found is in the millions, and the number of things a global flood would not do that are found is also in the millions. There was no such flood. Yet some creationists continue making that claim for nonscientific reasons. Which is fine, but the scientific enterprise isn’t going to consider such claims scientific.

    Regarding specificity in FCSI, I share your concern. I have always wondered what the specification is supposed to be for DNA. Does the connection between RNA and proteins show FCSI? I have never been quite satisfied on that score. But I have not read Dempski’s books or Meyer’s Signature in the Cell. Perhaps it is clarified.

    Alas, it’s more of the same. The problem is, inferring design entails an inescapable logical error. Just because design processes produce objects, doesn’t mean objects imply design processes. This is the logical equivalent of saying all dogs have 4 legs, this table has 4 legs, therefore this table is a dog! You can’t work backwards to infer design.

    And this also relates to the disdain scientists tend to hold for creationist claims. Scientists also make logical errors, but correct them when they’re pointed out. Creationists cannot be corrected, because correction removes the necessity for their god from the evolutionary process. Note that it does not remove their god from the process; science can never do that. But it removes the necessity of a god.

    I did just read “Contact” by Carl Sagan and he seems to believe that (spoiler alert) if we received a repeating signal of prime numbers (in binary), then we have good reason to believe it is being sent by intelligent beings. Why does this atheist think that that shows an intelligent source? All he says is that it would be unlikely for a natural phenomenon to create repeating prime numbers. Why not? And why is it not unlikely for nature to create DNA, a vastly more complex code than prime numbers.

    A good question, I think. We infer design, as I’ve written earlier, because we know a lot of the context, history, and background of designed objects. Sagan (IMO) is saying that because nobody is capable of dreaming up any natural process that would generate prime numbers, we’d more likely be correct in assuming as a default that such a process isn’t natural. Of course we could be wrong.

    And while DNA is indeed a vastly more complex code, it is also a lot more accessible than signals from space. We might take ID-style design (that is, designed by an intelligent designing agent, not simply designed by a dynamic system of environmental constraints) as the default for DNA, and I think that would be reasonable as a starting point. But if we can identify, examine, and test natural processes that could generate the DNA code, then this becomes a more compelling explanation. And in fact, as technology improves and gene sequencing of whole genomes is reduced from years to hours, the evolution of the genetic code becomes clearer and more detailed.

  39. Mr. Gibson,

    “The only species able to survive these changes did so because they began with that capability. So the pattern is clear – evolution tracks environmental changes through speciation. Whole species don’t adapt.”

    Congradulations on becoming a Baraminologist! I’m kidding. I think I understand what you are saying, but I could also see a creation scientist’s ready response to this statement.

    “Scientists also make logical errors, but correct them when they’re pointed out. Creationists cannot be corrected, because correction removes the necessity for their god from the evolutionary process. Note that it does not remove their god from the process; science can never do that. But it removes the necessity of a god.”

    I think that if you were to review some of the more recent creationistic (and certainly ID-only) literature, you would see that there have been some strong attempts to admit what cannot be denied while still making the case for creation. See Hugh Ross’s work, for example.

    Concerning FCSI, I would say a better analogy is this:

    Imagine that there are no tables and that the only thing on earth with 4 legs are dogs. The only thing with 4 legs that we’ve seen for hundreds of thousands of years have all been dogs. Maybe this new thing that we’ve discovered which also has four legs may also be a dog. What principles can we use to determine if it is a dog or some other new thing?

  40. Joe,

    They cannot. Fossils do not necessarily say when something arose.

    They say when something arose by though. And if there’s a fossil which exhibits a form slightly further back then it’s possible to get a rough estimate. Unless you believe that forms were just plonked down whenever and the linear appearance of the fossil record is just chance. I only asked ’cause you haven’t told me your alternate theory in any detail yet. How do you explain the fossil record? Specifically. Why would a designer create Tiktaalik especially if it was ‘out of sequence’?

    And the modern synthesis is too vague to have any contradictions.

    But not too vague to argue against I guess. What specific part of descent with modification are you arguing against then? Give me something I can actually hold onto and examine scientifically. Some explanation for the fossil record.

  41. The explanation for the fossil record is some of the organisms that once existed, died and were preserved.

  42. 42
    David W. Gibson

    Collin,

    I admit I don’t understand your analogy. Can you decode it for me? And maybe my analogy wasn’t clear. More explicly, I’m saying that the biological principles of evolution have been derived from observation. We see them happening, which is where our explanations come from. From there, we build models which must account for all known observations, or at least not be inconsistent with any of them.

    Now, let’s say our model not only predicts but requires a certain pattern of future observations. And let’s say new observations flow in every day, and EVERY ONE is consistent with our model. After 150 years of diligent investigation, our model is probably very solid.

    And what that means is, an alternative model has some serious ‘splainin’ to do! It not only must be consistent with literally many millions of consiliant observations, but must make better predictions. A tall order.

    (And, to head off some difficulties at the pass, I’ll cheerfully admit that Intelligent Design can NEVER be ruled out. Proposals not based on evidence cannot be refuted with evidence, and Intelligent Design is essentially a religious doctrine in this sense. It may very well be correct, but it can’t be tested. Most scientists regard ringing in Divine Intervention and Miracle as equivalent to waving a magic wand and saying POOF! Look ma, no mechanisms, no process, no theory, no hypotheses, no tests. Just straight magic. This is regarded as having the advantages of (1) not being possible to refute; and (2) not requiring all this annoying research, or education or knowledge or need to admit error. These are wonderful advantages. Aren’t they?)

  43. 43
    David W. Gibson

    The explanation for the fossil record is some of the organisms that once existed, died and were preserved.

    So the explanation for the fossil record is that there are fossils? Is that it? Just like the explanation for a student’s poor academic record is that he got low grades, right?

  44. Mr. Gibson,

    You need to read some of the basic literature about intelligent design. Many testable hypotheses have been proposed. And many of the posters on this site have shown how the current theory of evolution is very difficult to falsify because both a positive and negative result show that evolution is true. I believe that the millions of consiliant explanations have been made to fit into square holes.

    Here’s what I mean by my analogy. Many people, including people who do not believe in intelligent design, confess that life looks designed. I do not think that there is any example in nature, other than in the cell, where you can find delicate moving machinery that has not been created by an intelligent agent. So after many years of experience with the creation of machinery by intelligent agents, and many years of dealing with languages and instructions, we find what looks like machinery and languages in the cell, then we have warrant to believe that we may also be dealing with an intelligent agent. Intelligent design theorists are trying to work out the methods and tools that we should use for trying to decide if something (like DNA or the bacterial flagellum) are designed. But they only get discouragement from the scientific community. Michael Behe is not allowed to respond in journals to criticism directed specifically at his ideas, for example. I think that Behe and others should be given cautious encouragement, the same encouragement (mingled with skepticism) given to all scientists.

    I think you should not say that intelligent design is resorting to “goddidit.” You could tell an archeologist to not resort to saying, “The egyptians did it.” We know that the pyramids were created by the Egyptians but we actually do not necessarily know exactly how they did it. The mechanism is not strictly necessary. I know that this is an inapt analogy because we do not know the identity of the designer, whereas we know the identity of the Egyptians, but I still think we can find the hallmarks of design in artifacts without knowing very much about the designer.

  45. Collin,

    First of all, we do actually know a lot about how the Egyptians ‘did it’. The left records. It’s a popular myth that it’s all a big mystery.

    Secondly we know there were Egyptians around at the time. We can see how the craft of pyramid building progressed over the centuries. Yes, centuries. Egypt is strewned with a physical record of their evolving building styles.

    Inferring a designer is fine. But, aside from the objects you’re trying to assert were designed you’ve got no physical evidence that there was a designer about capable of . . . well . . . what are you saying the designer did exactly? You do need to specify something about the designer: when was s/he operating? What materials were available? How were the designs implemented? All those things add to the plausibility of the design inference.

    I’m really interested in finding out what the ID community is really saying about when and how the designer designed. I think Dr Behe is getting closer to being that specific which is good. He may be painting himself in a corner though. I think he’s heading towards suggesting that there was a designer operating over at least hundreds of millions of years but leaving no evidence other than their creations. But at least he’s getting down to something specific.

  46. David,

    Until we have the genetic data, speculations on the fossil record will always be just that- unscientific speculations.

  47. 47
    David W. Gibson

    Collin,

    Here’s what I mean by my analogy. Many people, including people who do not believe in intelligent design, confess that life looks designed.Yes, life does look designed. Now, this could have been done somehow, at some time past or present, by agencies unknown (other than they design life), by mechanisms unguessable. No question about this. And indeed, I and many others would very much like to see empirical efforts to identify the agencies and their methods.

    However, a TESTABLE alternative has been proposed – that the designing agency is a complex adaptive feedback process acting over long periods of time. There is of course no way to prove that this is the designing agency, but those consiliant results I mentioned show that such an agency (1) is fully capable of producing all known observations; and (2) can be seen operating in practice.

    So the question then becomes, which is more compelling, a known agency we can test and observe wich fully explains life as we know it, or an unknown agency working with unknown means, which cannot be isolated through tests? Your call, of course.

    I do not think that there is any example in nature, other than in the cell, where you can find delicate moving machinery that has not been created by an intelligent agent.

    In this regard, we can say that there are two agencies creating this “delicate moving machinery” – people (we have no difficulty identifying the efforts of people), and, uh, NOT people. Clearly people do not design life. So at least to me, projecting human-style design practices onto life reflects both paucity of imagination, and willing disregard for the processes that DO design life, which are thoroughly observed and well understood, but which are not human efforts. The notion of confecting a kind of immortal, super-intelligent superman because we just simply find ourselves unable to credit non-human design processes seems vain.

    So after many years of experience with the creation of machinery by intelligent agents

    No, with PEOPLE.

    and many years of dealing with languages and instructions,

    No, with HUMAN languages and instructions.

    we find what looks like machinery and languages in the cell

    But only by analogy to HUMAN machinery and languages. In actual fact, the analogy breaks down completely on even cursory examination. Human designs do not replicate.

    then we have warrant to believe that we may also be dealing with an intelligent agent.

    No, with an intelligent HUMAN agent, in every salient respect. As I said, you are arguing by loose analogy. The closest you can actually come is that (1) some human designs are in fact copied from nature, not the other way around; and (2) some useful human design techniques are imitations of evolutionary processes.

    Intelligent design theorists are trying to work out the methods and tools that we should use for trying to decide if something (like DNA or the bacterial flagellum) are designed.

    Not to my knowledge, which is admitted limited. My reading is that there are some ID proponents attempting to argue that they can “see” design, therefore there must be a Designer. Behe admitted on the witness stand that a certain religious orientation is required to “see” this design, and the judge quite properly noted that this Design is a religious doctrine, not a scientific observation in any way.

    But they only get discouragement from the scientific community. Michael Behe is not allowed to respond in journals to criticism directed specifically at his ideas, for example.

    What? This is simply not the case. Behe is in fact invited to respond. He is bombarded with questions which continue to await answers after two decades of his doing NO scientific research. His refusal to respond is frustrating, but it’s certainly not due to not being permitted!

    I think that Behe and others should be given cautious encouragement, the same encouragement (mingled with skepticism) given to all scientists.

    Absolutely! Don’t forget the Templeton Foundation’s willingness to fund him. Don’t forget the Discovery Institute’s research budget (Behe is a fellow there). Don’t forget he is a tenured professor able to do any academic research he cares to do. Don’t forget that the peer reviewed journals stand ready and willing to publish any genuine scientific research he might ever again attempt. But even such requests as producing a single testable way to find the Designer is met with silence.

    So really, Collin, here we have what is supposed to be a scientific theory that there is an intelligent designer, and NO testable hypotheses whatsoever that speak to this very core of the idea. After 20 years, when the underbrush is cleared away, what we have is a religious sect saying “sure looks designed to me”. And on deeper examination, you find that the religious faith drives the “look of design”.

    Now, I have no problem with the need to find one’s god hiding somehow in the cell. But ASSUMING it’s there and generating poor analogies with human engineering does not constitute either a theory or a research program. And it’s quite true that the scientific enterprise has little patience with non-researchers with non-hypotheses repeatedly asserting untestable beliefs. Yes, without question those beliefs are sincere. Now, let’s see this designer at work.

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