John Silber on ID

From “Science Versus Scientism” by John Silber (appeared in the Nov05 issue of The New Criterion):

The critical question posed for evolutionists is not about the survival of the fittest but about their arrival. Biologists arguing for evolution have been challenged by critics for more than a hundred years for their failure to offer any scientific explanation for the arrival of the fittest. Supporters of evolution have no explanation beyond their dogmatic assertion that all advances are explained by random mutations and environmental influences over millions of years.

This view was challenged a century ago by Henri Bergson when he asked for an explanation of the extraordinary eye of the giant squid. Once the eye is fully developed, one need not question its survival value. But its development required hundreds of thousands if not millions of years. Why was every random mutation so neatly and marvelously contributory to the development of this complex structure? No scientific explanation has been offered; the view is only a working but unproven hypothesis. The empirical scientist becomes a fanatical dogmatist by insisting that random mutation sans any formative principle explains it all. (One need not appeal to an intelligent designer in order to wonder if there is an organizing force in the universe offsetting entropy.) A magician who shows you his empty top hat at time t1 and then at time t2 produces a rabbit from the hat has never had the gall to offer the mere presence of the rabbit as an explanation of how it got there. He claims it is magic. The evolutionists can do no better.

More recently, even some scientists and mathematicians have begun to question the adequacy of the emergent aspect of evolution largely for its failure to explain what Michael Behe, professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University and author of Darwin’s Black Box, calls the “irreducible complexity” of organisms. Random mutation cannot explain scientifically their complexity and the addition of so many complex elements before any survival value is established; hence, the black box or the rabbit in the hat. In Abyss: The Deep Sea and the Creatures that Live in It, C. P. Idyll considers once again Bergson’s preoccupation with the eye of the squid. Idyll notes, “What the scientist finds hardest to understand in considering the squid and the human eye is that two entirely independent lines of evolution should have converged at the same point.” Why should evolution have produced eyes in two vastly different species through totally independent lines of evolution such that each has the eyeball with its lens, its cornea, its iris, its retina, its vitreous humor, and its optic nerve? How did random mutation produce such extraordinarily similar structures in the absence of any teleological or formative principles? And how many hundreds of thousands of years passed before each additional element significantly contributed the final capacity of sight that would ensure survival?

[For the full article, go here: http://newcriterion.com/archives/24/11/science-vs-scientism.]

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26 Responses to John Silber on ID

  1. As an example of “arrival of the fittest” I offer up:

    Chen et al. 1997. Evolution of antifreeze glycoprotein gene from a trypsinogen gene in Antarctic notothenioid fish. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 94: 3811-3816.

    Abstract: “Freezing avoidance conferred by different types of antifreeze proteins in various polar and subpolar fishes represents a remarkable example of cold adaptation, but how these unique proteins arose is unknown. We have found that the antifreeze glycoproteins (AFGPs) of the predominant Antarctic fish taxon, the notothenioids, evolved from a pancreatic trypsinogen. We have determined the likely evolutionary process by which this occurred through characterization and analyses of notothenioid AFGP and trypsinogen genes. The primordial AFGP gene apparently arose through recruitment of the 5 and 3 ends of an ancestral trypsinogen gene, which provided the secretory signal and the 3 untranslated region, respectively, plus de novo amplification of a 9-nt Thr-Ala-Ala coding element from the trypsinogen progenitor to create a new protein coding region for the repetitive tripeptide backbone of the antifreeze protein. The small sequence divergence (4-7%) between notothenioid AFGP and trypsinogen genes indicates that the transformation of the proteinase gene into the novel ice-binding protein gene occurred quite recently, about 5-14 million years ago (mya), which is highly consistent with the estimated times of the freezing of the Antarctic Ocean at 10-14 mya, and of the main phyletic divergence of the AFGP-bearing notothenioid families at 7-15 mya. The notothenioid trypsinogen to AFGP conversion is the first clear example of how an old protein gene spawned a new gene for an entirely new protein with a new function. It also represents a rare instance in which protein evolution, organismal adaptation, and environmental conditions can be linked directly.”

    The full spectrum is here traced. How the novel gene emerged and why it was promoted by natural selection.

  2. That’s interesting, Cambion. Thanks for sharing it. I’m not formally trained in biochemistry, so a lot of that is Greek to me :). Still, I have a couple of questions:

    1) Can a rough estimate of the probability of each modification occurring be provided?

    2) Are we reasonably sure that each modification would cause no impairment in the fitness of the organism as a whole?

    David

  3. Deconstruction:

    “Supporters of evolution have no explanation beyond their dogmatic assertion that all advances are explained by random mutations”

    No other mechanism has been observed, ever. Thus the ‘dogmatic assertion’ is actually just a description of observated events.

    “even some scientists and mathematicians”

    3 is technically ‘some’. And how many are called Steve?

    “have begun to question the adequacy of the emergent aspect of evolution … for its failure to explain … “irreducible complexity” of organisms.

    His description of IC is not what Behe claims (Behe explicitly claims IC does not refer to whole organisms). So we can start with a very simple observation that Siber is factually mistaken in his description.

    The second point is, of course, that IC systems have been explained in evolutionary terms, so he is mistaken there too.

    “Why was every random mutation so neatly and marvelously contributory to the development of this complex structure?”

    They weren’t. The author is ignoring neutral and disadvantageous mutations, and that an environment where evolution is going on has a feedback mechanism (NS) that filters out disadvantageous traits.

    “What the scientist finds hardest to understand in considering the squid and the human eye is that two entirely independent lines of evolution should have converged at the same point.”

    Hardly, the closer one gets to an optimum solution for a problem, the more the solutions converge. It should be noted, however, that squid eyes do not have a blind spot, and the photons can reach the photo receptors without having to pass through the nerves. So the squid eye and the human eye have the hallmarks of ‘solving’ the same problem and the hallmarks of evolution (different base structures).

    “And how many hundreds of thousands of years passed before each additional element significantly contributed the final capacity of sight that would ensure survival? ”

    This is a rehash of the “what good is half an eye” argument, the answer is “In the kingdom of the blind the one-eyed man is king”.

    With so many errors in such a short extract, the mind boggles.

  4. “The second point is, of course, that IC systems have been explained in evolutionary terms, so he is mistaken there too.”

    thats just complete nonsense. it has not been explained via evolutionary terms. please dont even mention millers nonsense- IC says that each step must be used for the same task. a mouse trap and a tie clip and a paper weight are not used for the same purpose. not even close. no one has explained via a step by step process IC forms. if you could please tell us the step by step evolution of the BF…

  5. “’solving’ the same problem”

    this is also untrue. darwinian evolution cannot, by definition, “solve” ANY problems because it has no purpose or goal. NS doesnt act (when the rare cases that it acts outside of a conervative force) to solve any problems. the point made about two different eyes, of life forms not supposedly closedly related coming to the same conclusion independently is definitely a problem for darwinian evo.

  6. re: comment #1

    “but how these unique proteins arose is unknown

    “We have determined the likely evolutionary process”

    “The primordial AFGP gene apparently arose

    “genes indicates that the transformation of the proteinase gene”

    can this ‘research’ get anymore speculative?? in what other field of science can something be so speculative yet still end with the author claiming that theyve figured out the problem? absurd.

  7. “this is also untrue. darwinian evolution cannot, by definition, “solve” ANY problems because it has no purpose or goal. ”

    A non-sequitur. Evolution does not set out to solve problems (there is no specific target, one amongst many reasons NFL algorithms dont work in biology) but that does not mean that problems are not solved. ‘Problems’ are of course relative to the environment.

    The language in my orginal post is a bit loose, I admit.

    “NS doesnt act to solve any problems.”

    Correct, NS is a filter (a selective process), it is mutation that provides the raw materials for ‘problem’ solving.

    “the point made about two different eyes, of life forms not supposedly closedly related coming to the same conclusion independently is definitely a problem for darwinian evo.”

    Not at all. You seem to misunderstand the process.

  8. “IC says that each step must be used for the same task”

    And thus Behe’s argument fails, because we know (have observed) expatation in biology, where one thing becomes used for another. We also know that many protiens have multiple uses, they tend to be very good at N functions, somewhat good at F functions, weakly useful for P functions, and so on. Behe’s claim collapses under N+F+P functions.

    The requirement itself is arbitrary and unsupported. Oh, and I dont think you’ve described it correctly anyway.

    “no one has explained via a step by step process IC forms”

    Biologists certainly have explained it, numerous times. And we can see IC systems arising in such simulations as Avida, and we seem them evolving constantly when we apply genetic algorithms to other problems.

    However, the demand is simple double standards from the IC side. They do not offer a step-by-step process by which the Designer implemented his designs. Until that day, it isnt a sicence at all.

  9. like many here, you dont seem to know what ID is. a designer wouldnt have put forward a step by step mechanism, so youre demanding a process that wouldnt even make sense to begin with.

    youre also wrong still…no one has shown every part of the BF having a purpose at all, let alone having the same purpose as the entire system- which is what is demanded of IC systems. a process without a goal and without purpose wouldnt have use for these subsystems. even if it did, every part of the entire system hasnt been shown to have a purpose. most parts of the BF have been shown to have no purpose outside of that IC system itself.

    you say that biologists have confirmed it, but only a few have even claimed to have done so, and their explanations are lame. as miller has so completely shown with his absurd mousetrap, tie clip, paper weight nonsense. avida has a goal in mind from the start- it doesnt match darwinian theory to begin with, so its pointless to even consider this a refutation of IC (avida hasnt shown the BF in a step by step process itself either).

  10. that doesnt make sense. darwinism has no goal, it doesnt solve solutions, as you claim. a process without a goal, cannot by its very definition solve problems. solving problems is an act of intelligent agents with goals in mind. so youre wrong about this. if NS selects a mutation, its not solving any problem, its randomly adding on to some organism that, itself, has no goal or purpose.

    about eyes-
    you say that when something gets close to an optimum solution for a problem it gets closer to converging. that cannot be possible in darwinian evolution. 1. theres no problem solving for a process with no goal. if something has no purpose and no end goal and no plan, it cannot solve a problem- it cant even have a problem to begin with. problem solving is part of a process that ends with a defined goal. 2. theres no such thing as an optimum solution in DE. you cant measure optimum in any manner in a process with no plan and no goal. how on earth would you define what is optimum and what isnt, if theres no meaninging behind the process to begin with?

  11. “And thus Behe’s argument fails, because we know (have observed) expatation in biology, where one thing becomes used for another. We also know that many protiens have multiple uses, they tend to be very good at N functions, somewhat good at F functions, weakly useful for P functions, and so on. Behe’s claim collapses under N+F+P functions.”

    ———-

    2Perfection, this is nonsense. Never has there been a viable biochemical pathway proposed to explain the IC core of molecular machines, like the flagellum. It’s simply not possible under a gradualistic Darwinian mechanism. The point that is consitently missed is that the IC core of these machines must be implemented all at once, or not at all. NS + RM is incapable of producing these machines, for this reason. And pointing to homologous components accomplishes nothing. As Dr. Dembski has said…

    “finding a subsystem of a functional system that performs some other function is hardly an argument for the original system evolving from that other system. One might just as well say that because the motor of a motorcycle can be used as a blender, therefore the motor evolved into the motorcycle. Perhaps, but not without intelligent design. Indeed, multipart, tightly integrated functional systems almost invariably contain multipart subsystems that serve some different function.”

  12. cambion

    “likely evolutionary process”
    “apparently arose through”

    These are not confidence inspiring terms. They’re terms used in offering a narrative account for which there is no direct supporting evidence.

  13. 2perfection

    “No other mechanism has been observed, ever.”

    This is wrong in at least two ways. First of all it’s now widely known amongst the scientifically well informed that bacteria are active in their own genetic adaptations to a changing environment. Lamarckian inheritance of acquired characters is alive and well in the prokaryote world. I’m really, really, really super hesitant to deny eukaryotes any of the capabilities of prokaryotes. You should be too.

    The second way this is wrong is that random mutations have never been observed unless random is defined as “unexplained origin”. So you see, it’s really just an argument from ignorance – “we don’t know of any direction in these mutations so we’ll call them undirected”. This is what I affectionately call “Darwin of the Gaps”.

  14. 2perfection: You are herewith formally disinvited from this forum. –WmAD

  15. DaveScot and jboze3131,

    Should have been more clear, I wasn’t trying to ‘prove’ (we all that would be impossibly) that the antifreeze proteins came from this digestive enzyme, but only point out a reasonable explanation of “arrival of the fittest.”

    This was in response to the OP saying: “Biologists arguing for evolution have been challenged by critics for more than a hundred years for their failure to offer any scientific explanation for the arrival of the fittest. ”

    He demands “any scientific explanation,” I tried to provide, what I deem to be, a reasonable one. You can get the full paper for free, just search for it in Google Scholar. And you can decide for youself how plausible you deem their scenario.

    “These are not confidence inspiring terms. They’re terms used in offering a narrative account for which there is no direct supporting evidence.”

    The supporting evidence is the coding sequences. They are amazingly similar. By examining what dissimilarities they do have. Chen et al. provide a “narrative” attempting to explain the emergence of this novel function. This narrative is by no means 100% likely, it’s possible that something else did occur. But, again, I find it reasonable.

  16. “but only point out a reasonable explanation of “arrival of the fittest.””

    As long we both understand it’s a narrative, not a real scientific hypothesis, as it offer no means of either verification or falsification.

    Design is also a reasonable explanation given that we have one concrete, indisputable example of intelligence agency in the universe capable of modifying DNA for their own purposes.

  17. DaveScot,

    Further evidence for this narrative of trypsinogen to antifreeze protein can indeed be obtained. Presumably there are additional species of fish that lie outside the clade that includes the antifreeze bearing notothenioid fish. Their narative would hypothesize that these closely related species would not have antifreeze proteins, but instead their would have a (at least) partially redundant copy of trypsinogen that arose by an earlier gene duplication event. Fixation of hese gene duplication events are quite numerous (around 100 fixations over a million year period for a genome with 10,000 genes), and could provide a lot substrate for further evolution (as is likely what occured with these antifreeze proteins).

    If you’re interested in gene duplication you should take a look at:

    Lynch and Conery. 2000. The evolutionary fate and consequences of duplicate genes. Science 290: 1151-1155.

  18. For those interested, the Great Debate is up and archived here http://www.bu.edu/com/greatdebate/. I mention this here, since John Silber is President emeritus where the debate was just held. Enjoy!

  19. Cambion

    I agree that finding a series of living species with incremental changes leading to the fully functional antifreeze gene would be compelling evidence that the narrative is correct.

    In the end though, they’re all still fish. This is illustrative of the problem with the RM+NS scenario in the big picture. It’s far too slow.

  20. “2perfection: You are herewith formally disinvited from this forum. –WmAD ”

    I like this. “I was banned!”. “No, you were disinvited.” That ought to raise their blood pressure. Ha!

  21. “2perfection: You are herewith formally disinvited from this forum. –WmAD ”

    I didn’t note any misbehavior…

  22. i have a feeling there were comments from him that were deleted, and those comments were what got him disinvited. wait. is that a word?

  23. There are comments from 2perfection on other threads that illuminate the reasons why he was axed. Good riddance.

  24. Examples, Dave?

  25. Dave said:

    > This is wrong in at least two ways. First of all it’s now widely known amongst the scientifically well informed that bacteria are active in their own genetic adaptations to a changing environment.

    Wow, I didnt know that. Are these directed mutations? I mean are they mutating only the bits they need to? Or does the whole genome undergo change? ‘Cause if its the latter, the mutations are still essentially random in location and effect.

    That’s exciting.

  26. More scientific iconoclasm

    What I do not agree with, however, is the iconic status that this paper has in the darwinist community. Like the Avida paper that I discuss below, this paper crops up over and over again as a demonstration of how darwinism can – nay, has – solved all…

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