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Evolution Basics: At the Frontiers of Evolution, Part 4: Contingency vs. Convergence

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August 21, 2014 Tags: Evolution - How It Works, Randomness

Today's entry was written by Dennis Venema. You can read more about what we believe here.

Evolution Basics: At the Frontiers of Evolution, Part 4: Contingency vs. Convergence

Note: This series of posts is intended as a basic introduction to the science of evolution for non-specialists. You can see the introduction to this series here. In this post we discuss the debate between paleontologists Stephen Jay Gould and Simon Conway Morris over whether evolutionary history is primarily shaped by chance events (i.e. by contingency) or through repeatable events (i.e. by convergence).

In previous posts in this series, we’ve explored features of evolution that are contingent (i.e. what we would call chance events) as well as features that are convergent (i.e. events that are repeatable, and thus very much not chance events). One key example of a contingent feature of evolution is mutation. Mutations, as we have seen, are the source of genetic variation within a population. Other chance events can shape evolutionary history as well – for example large-scale extinction events like the Cretaceous – Paleogene asteroid impact that famously wiped out all dinosaur lineages except birds, among many other groups.

Yet for all these chance-based features, we’ve also seen how evolution is, in some important senses, emphatically not chance-based. Natural selection, for example, is anything but random in its actions. We’ve also seen how evolution of separate groups of animals often arrives at very similar “solutions” to common environmental challenges – the striking similarities between the wings of birds and bats, for example, or the streamlined aquatic shapes of some reptiles (such as ichthyosaurs) and some mammals (such as dolphins and whales). Even cursory examination of these types of pairings indicate that something decidedly non-random is at work here – that evolution, in many cases, can cause separate lineages to converge on similar – but not identical – structures.

Given that both contingency and convergence seem to be significant factors in evolutionary history, it is only natural for scientists to wonder which force has the upper hand. Is evolution primarily contingent, with convergence playing only a minor role? Or is evolution largely a convergent phenomenon, where contingent factors have little overall influence?

Gould and Conway Morris – the Battle over Burgess

It was precisely this question that led to a public debate between well-known champions of alternate views – the late Stephen Jay Gould, and Simon Conway Morris. Gould, a paleontologist and widely-read author of popular science books, was a staunch defender of the role of contingency in evolution. In his book Wonderful Life (1989) he famously asserted that if earth’s evolutionary history were repeated, the results would be markedly different. Gould framed his argument using the diversity and oddity of the Cambrian fossils preserved in the Burgess Shale. In his view, the Cambrian animals represented a large number of only distantly-related major groups (i.e. phyla), of which only a few would persist. As such, he argued that the survival and later diversification of any given lineage (such as our own, the vertebrates) was largely a matter of chance. In keeping with this focus on chance, Gould viewed the production of human-like creatures, or even human-like intelligence, as by no means certain. For Gould, contingency was king – and humans, accordingly, were a biological accident.

For Wonderful Life, Gould drew heavily on the research of leading Cambrian paleontologist Simon Conway Morris. Conway Morris, however, would later revise his views on Cambrian diversity as new data accumulated from other Cambrian deposits. These advances provided evidence that what were once viewed as disparate Cambrian phyla were in fact likely related – and furthermore, that many Cambrian animals were members of existing groups (or alternatively stem-group species of existing groups, as we have discussed previously). As such, Conway Morris objected to Gould’s interpretation of the Cambrian fauna on scientific grounds – in his view the Cambrian was not, as Gould alleged, a case of massive diversification of phyla followed by chance survival of few. Moreover, Conway Morris argued, the reality of evolutionary convergence cut against Gould’s central thesis. Conway Morris would expound these ideas at length in his 1998 book The Crucible of Creation, leading to a public exchange with Gould:

So the Burgess creatures do not form an exception to the orthodox mechanisms and patterns of evolution, as I believe Gould has implied. The new evidence suggests that not only did the sheer number of species increase since the Cambrian (as nearly everyone agrees), but, more significantly, the total number of phyla has been maintained and has not, contrary to, what Gould has written, shown a catastrophic decline. But now we come to the most egregious misinterpretation of the Burgess Shale in Gould's book—a conclusion drawn not from the evidence of paleontology but from Gould's personal credo about the nature of the evolutionary process.

Gould sees contingency evolutionary history based on the luck of the draw—as the major lesson of the Burgess Shale. If you rerun the tape of evolution, he says, the results would surely come out differently. Some creature similar to Pikaia, a small eel-like animal with a rudimentary head, may have survived in Cambrian seas to become the ancestor of all vertebrates. If it hadn't, Gould says, perhaps other—entirely different—major animal groups would have evolved instead from one of the Burgess Shale's other "weird" body plans. Such a view, with its emphasis on chance and accident, obscures the reality of evolutionary convergence. Given certain environmental forces, life will shape itself to adapt. History is constrained, and not all things are possible.

An interesting feature of the exchange between Gould and Conway Morris is that both would imply that the other was influenced not only by the scientific data, but also by their philosophical and/or theological commitments (it being no secret that Conway Morris holds to a Christian viewpoint). As one reviewer of Crucible would comment, this battle was not merely about the science, but also about the implications of the two views on offer:

… this is no coffee-table excursion through the details of an ancient ecosystem. It is a full-scale assault on Gould's interpretation of the Cambrian explosion and on the materialist philosophy of life embodied in that interpretation.

No stranger to mincing words, Gould would reply in kind to Conway Morris:

I am puzzled that Conway Morris apparently, doesn't grasp the equally strong (and inevitable) personal preferences embedded in his own view of life—especially when he ends his commentary with the highly idiosyncratic argument that life might be unique to Earth in the cosmos, but that intelligence at a human level will predictably follow if life has arisen anywhere else. Most people, including me, would make the opposite argument based on usual interpretations of probability: The origin life seems reasonably predictable on planets of earthlike composition, while any particular pathway, including consciousness at our level, seems highly contingent and chancy…

Conway Morris's peculiar and undefended reversal of these usual arguments about probability can arise only from a "personal credo"—and I would value his explicit attention to the sources of his own unexamined beliefs.

And the winner is...?

While the exchange between Gould and Conway Morris makes for interesting reading on several levels, the scientific question undergirding the debate remains an open one, even years later. In the next post in this series, we’ll look at one recent approach to investigating this question – and see that it provides evidence for both contingency and convergence in the evolution of an experimental population.

For further reading


Dennis Venema is professor of biology at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. He holds a B.Sc. (with Honors) from the University of British Columbia (1996), and received his Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia in 2003. His research is focused on the genetics of pattern formation and signaling using the common fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism. Dennis is a gifted thinker and writer on matters of science and faith, but also an award-winning biology teacher—he won the 2008 College Biology Teaching Award from the National Association of Biology Teachers. He and his family enjoy numerous outdoor activities that the Canadian Pacific coast region has to offer. Dennis writes regularly for the BioLogos Forum about the biological evidence for evolution.

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dcscccc . - #86236

August 21st 2014

what about convergent at the molecular level?:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22112233

 

evolutionist called it “leterlal gene transfer”. but we dont have any evidence that is possible in eukaryotes. the creation model solve this easely- they made by the same designer and not evolve from each other.

 

see more here:

http://creation.com/design-features-questions-and-answers


PNG - #86243

August 22nd 2014

You couldn’t be more wrong. DNA transformation of yeast and other eukaryotic microbes is a routine lab procedure. I’ve used it myself countless times. Yeast will take up and maintain circular plasmids; linear DNA will repair similar sequences in the nucleus; oligonucletides are taken up and are used in DNA repair to fix mutations. The whole range of eukaryotic cells can be transformed with DNA. A variety of procedures for transforming mammalian and other animal cells is available. 


dcscccc . - #86253

August 23rd 2014

hi png. what about lgt between human and bacteria?:

 

google: “bacteria-animal leteral gene transfer”

 

so we actually do find genes that contradict the tree of life.

 


PNG - #86320

August 26th 2014

And we have well supported explanations for why that should happen. See Bren’s response, and pay attention to the fact that you said that we have no evidence for lateral transfer in eukaryotes when in fact we mountains of that evidence.


bren - #86237

August 21st 2014

Dcscccc,

 

The article you link to makes it clear that, in fairly clear opposition to what you assert; we do have evidence that horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is possible and has occurred in Eukaryotes.  The process has been observed and a number of mechanisms are known.  Bacterium to S. cerevisiae conjugation and DNA exchange by way of conjugative plasmids has been observed (implying bacterial mediation as a possible source of such HGT events).  S. cerevisiae  transformations have been observed under various laboratory conditions, though without the benefit of a known dedicated mechanism.  Agrobacterium tumefaciens-mediated transformation (Agrobacterium has a well known DNA exchange mechanism for interchange with plants) seems to work for Saccharomyces cerevisiae and this has also been observed with other fungal species under certain conditions (including the presence of acetosyringone, a plant wound hormone). Candida glabrata and Saccharomyces cereviaiae genetic interchange has been observed, though without an elucidated mechanism.  Various other means of plasmid transfer are known that may also contribute (cell lysis and cytoduction are suggested).  Some futher Eukaryotic mechanisms of HGT are also discussed in the article and some further evidence of such transfer events are listed.  Any quick review beyond this article makes it clear that the ability of Eukaryotic cells to take up exogenous DNA is now well characterized and HGT events have been frequently observed as well as being clearly inferred via comparative genomics.

I’m not sure how reference to the same designer would allow us to make any useful scientific predictions or explain any of the biological patterns we see, nor am I sure why it would be invoked when we have already know what I summarized above, but I’d be interested in seeing this argument fleshed out (it often isn’t and I’d like to see what makes it so appealing)!  I get the feeling I could predict almost any possible pattern by referring to a common designer (including wild diversity and complete uniformity), so I simply can’t see what would make it a strong contender for scientific legitimacy.


dcscccc . - #86255

August 23rd 2014

hi bren. look my response to png above. we find bacteria gene in human genome.


bren - #86256

August 23rd 2014

I’m having a good deal of trouble imagining how this is supposed to respond to either PNG’s or my correction of your mistake.  I’m afraid you may need to clarify what you are trying to say and what it is supposed to imply.


dcscccc . - #86268

August 24th 2014

hi bren. i mean that we dont have a real hierarchical tree. a lots of genes share between different species.


bren - #86269

August 24th 2014

Hi Dcscccc,

The insertion of exogenous DNA is not anywhere close to being extensive enough to obscure the relationships between organisms.  Some of these insertions, to the contrary, can act as genetic markers enabling high-confidence cladistic inferences.  The inclusion of lgt in modern biology is interesting and increases the complexity of the picture, but it should be clear that it is an extension of our understanding, not a negation of what was already understood.

Aaaaand that’s entirely besides the point: You were offered more than one thorough correction about your clear and sure statement that we have no evidence of lgt in Eukaryotes, and how this implies the correctness of the creation model, and you have responded to that correction in both cases by pointing out that in fact there appears to be so much lgt that the hierarchical tree is completely illegitimate.  Is it just me, or did you completely reverse your position without notice after being corrected, while presenting your reversal as though it were a response to that correction (I note that you didn’t really address the correction in either case)? And further, it seems to me that both of your incompatible statements were trotted out as evidence for creationism; whole thing seems a bit questionable to me(-;


dcscccc . - #86285

August 25th 2014

hi bren. lets start from the begining. i response in the new article about darwin doubt and i gave my evidence for designer. lets go from there. by the way- english isnt my native. so i will answer shortly. thanks.


bren - #86304

August 25th 2014

Dcscccc, thanks for clarifying that English is not your native tongue, I will try to be careful about using clear language.  I think you’ve seen my response in the other blog, but I think it would be reasonable to at least acknowledge here that you might have made a mistake on the subject at hand, so please let me know if you would agree to this.  It isn’t strictly necessary, but it would be an honorable show of good faith on your part.


melanogaster - #86393

August 27th 2014

“by the way- english isnt my native.”

How is that an excuse for making false statements about the evidence, and pretending that others have not pointed out their objective falsehood?


g kc - #86238

August 21st 2014

Between contingency and convergence, I see contingency as the only possible winner for any flavor of neo-Darwinian evolution.

In evolution, the contingency of random mutations is the engine which drives the “events” (e.g. eyesight evolution) which may or may not converge (i.e. appear in many different types of organisms). Without the contingency, there is nothing to converge on. Further, even if “events” converge, they could just as easily disappear, by the same process that made them appear – the contingency of random mutations.

Natural selection gets a brief mention here. But NS is just a passive observer of the fact that sometimes the contingency engine drives the vehicle off the cliff, and sometimes it drives it down the road. To extend the fantastical anthropomorphism, natural selection doesn’t choose which path is taken, and NS is indifferent to both. NS doesn’t determine which survives. Logic does.

Lastly, while Gould and Conway Morris accused each other of being biased by philosophical commitments, the author here displays a philosophical commitment of his own when he says that evolutionary convergence is repeatable evolution (“convergent (i.e. events that are repeatable…”). The only repeatable biological events we know to be true are those we observe, like reproduction. We know an animal with, say, eyesight, reproduces other of its kind with eyesight. However, we do not know that eyesight evolved from sun-sensitive skin or anything else once, let alone repeatedly in vastly different types of animals.


Lou Jost - #86294

August 25th 2014

“However, we do not know that eyesight evolved from sun-sensitive skin or anything else once, let alone repeatedly in vastly different types of animals.”

We do have strong evidence about the evolution of the eye. The fossil record and the genetic record give us quite a bit of evidence for this.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #86240

August 22nd 2014

Dennis,

The question you have raised and the discussion of this issue clearly reveal the continued dominance of Western dualism in the sciences, which hinders the full understanding of evolution.

Contigency or Convergence are a false dichotomy.  It represents as has been indicates Variation (Contigency) and Natural Selection (Convergence.) 

However it should be clear that Variation and Natural Selection are the warp and the woof of evolution.  Contigency and Convergence are the warp and the woof of evolution.  It is a both/and situation, rather than the either/or view that dualism demands. 

g jc portrays Natural Selection as “just a passive observer.”  This seems to be the predominate Darwinian point of view, which the rationale for its ignoring and minumizing the reality and power of Natural Selection, which is the genius behind Darwin’s Theory.    

Darwinians distort evolution by belittling Natural Selection, but those who support a purpose behind evolution fail to understand how “Natural” Selection as God’s Guiding Hand for evolution.   

The question is “Is the purpose of evolution to create intelligent life that we call human beings.”

  1. Evidence in favor.  First and most important:  It did over fantastic odds, so that it must be called a miracle, even though we can reverse engineer it.
  2. Evidence in favor.  The Evolutionary process favors rationality.  Human being survived and thrived because they were rational.  Human being might become extinct and die out if they fail to act rationally. 
  3. An irrational universe would not favor rational beings.  Therefore humans rational must live in a rational universe, which logically must be created by a rational Supernatural Being.  Monod proves the logic of this in the reverse manner by saying that humans live in a irrational universe because it was not created by a Supernatural Being.  

“Natural” Selection is purportedly a scientific concept, but it is treated a myth.  Nature cannot and does not select, which is a rational process, and nature is unable to think. 

What are the criteria for selection and how does this process work?  I have been asking this question for a long time and no one has come up with a credible answer unless it is Lynn Margolois.   


Ted Davis - #86241

August 22nd 2014

Dennis,

Thank you for writing such a good column about such an important issue! I want to highlight something here that sits just below the surface—something you very easily could have said explicitly, but you apparently chose to leave it implicit. I’ll spell it out, but in a somewhat rambling way that I hope readers will tolerate.

Since I’m an historian of science, this will sound self-serving; nevertheless I will say it, since I believe it is true: HPS (history and philosophy of science) is a core discipline for undermining the “warfare” view of science and religion that is so prevalent among scientists (especially the New Atheists) and science journalists and bloggers. That’s a major reason why I prepared for an academic career in science and religion by studying HPS in graduate school.

Let me spell out how that point relates to this column. I’ve learned some things by studying so many historical examples of good science, and historically important debates among scientists themselves about what good science tells us about ultimate reality. Perhaps the single most important thing is this: science doesn’t come with any particular metaphysics attached at the hip, as a necessary appendage. John Polkinghorne puts it this way: “Physics constrains metaphysics, but it no more determines it than the foundations of a house determine the precise form of the building erected on them.” (Theology in the Context of Science, p. 60)

This is true not only for ideas like gravitation or atomic theory, both of which gave rise to debates about what they implied about God and nature, debates that most people never hear about today b/c they aren’t controversial any more. It’s also true for ideas like evolution, which is (falsely, IMO) said by many on various sides to be inextricably bound up with atheism. What’s true in all such instances that I can think of, including the instance Dennis writes about (“randomness” versus “convergence” in paleontology), is that the worldview (whether atheism or some form of theism) is what I call a “VAT,” a value-adding thought. That’s just as true for Gould as for Conway Morris, and vice versa. Ironically, Gould understood the notion of a VAT better than most scientists. His work on IQ and “race science,” the subject of his brilliant book, The Mismeasure of Man (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mismeasure_of_Man), is a case in point. His (properly) controversial idea of “Non-Overlapping Magisteria” also shows that he understood the VAT notion. The irony is that he failed to see how his interpretation of the Burgess Shale was also an instance of VAT. Why didn’t he see this? Perhaps (to offer a conjecture) partly b/c most of his colleagues in evolutionary biology and paleontology probably also believed (as Gould did) that “randomness” in a metaphysical sense just follows from the facts. It doesn’t, as Conway Morris shows.

Finally, let me point out that the lovely review of Conway Morris linked by Dennis (http://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/pub/cambrian-conflict-crucible-an-assault-on-goulds-burgess-shale-interpretation) was written by Peter Bowler (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_J._Bowler), the best historian of evolution I can name. I can’t think of anyone more qualified to review a book like that one—HPS at work again. To say the least, Peter understands the VAT notion. He’s seen every variety of evolutionary philosophy (theist, non-theist, Marxist, etc.) ever invented. In each case, as he knows, the worldview can be identified as a separate element from the science. I’ll add one more thing about Peter. He isn’t a religious believer at all, but near the end of his recent book, Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons: Evolution and Christianity from Darwin to Intelligent Design, he expresses some appreciation for an idea he found in Polkinghorne, namely, the crucified God (http://biologos.org/blog/science-and-the-bible-theistic-evolution-part-3). I don’t have a copy here to quote, but it’s worth tracking down the passage…


g kc - #86244

August 22nd 2014

Ted Davis

You wrote: “John Polkinghorne puts it this way: “Physics constrains metaphysics, but it no more determines it than the foundations of a house determine the precise form of the building erected on them.””

I would have thought just the opposite, namely, that metaphysics constrains physics. That is, metaphysics would tell physics not to try to go beyond its proper bounds (i.e. physical reality and observable, testable phenomena).

But modern physics has, I think, overstepped its bounds by venturing into increasingly hypothetical and even fantastical propositions, e.g. a multiverse theory imagined out of thin air in a vain attempt to explain the exact and necessary settings of the universal constants; an alleged point of singularity for an unproven Big Bang; a grand “theory of everything” that supplants General Relativity, String Theory, etc. to explain, well, everything. No matter what the physicists find or think they’ll find, they’ll insist on going further still. However, while it may be anathema to say in some science (and other) circles, the fact of the matter is that ultimately you get to a point where all you can say is “God did it.” [Unless one holds to the atheistic belief in an eternal physical universe.]

Likewise, metaphysics should constrain biology, specifically evolutionary biology. And as with physics, I think evolutionary biology has overstepped its bounds. For evolution says there is no such thing as the metaphysical concept variously named as “substantial form”, or “being”, or “essence”. In evolution, everything is nothing, or, stated differently, everything is in the process of becoming something else.


PNG - #86247

August 23rd 2014

“Likewise, metaphysics should constrain biology…”

And there, precisely, is your problem. You let your ideology determine in advance that, no matter what the evidence is, hypotheses that don’t fit your ideology are not allowed. Does a hypothesis account nicely for huge masses of data of various kinds? It doesn’t matter. You have ruled it out from the start. That’s the opposite of what science is about.

If what you are allowed to find is determined by your assumptions (philosophy/ideology/world view - whatever you want to call it,) why bother with science at all? True, it’s a lot less work to just sit in your living room and assume that you already know everything that matters, but the world is a lot more complicated and interesting than your preconceived ideas of how it must be.

Even if your philosophy is true (and like you I believe in the Christian God,) it doesn’t follow that you can deduce the details of the world from it. Indeed, it seems clear to me that what we should expect from the God of the Bible is the unexpected. When the Jews, in contrast to everyone else in the world at the time, heard their prophets telling them to make and worship no images - the only thing in the world at all like God is humans - Barfield was right to say that this was the most shocking thing that ever happened. Except of course, that subsequent shocking series of events, the Incarnation and resurrection. 

The history of science is similar in that it has been one surprise after another. If it has shown one thing, it is that our ideas of how the physical world must work based on a general worldview are more often wrong that right. Who would have guessed based on the philosophies of centuries past something like quantum mechanics, relativity, superconductivity? Biology is no different. Cells? Microbes and viruses causing disease? Vaccines? Eradicating a terrible disease like smallpox? Enzymes? Even after biochemistry got going, nearly everyone expected proteins to be the genetic material. Wrong again. Introns? Who forsaw that? Prions?

The sad thing is that so many dig in their heels, trust in an ideology and their ability to deduce from it what “must” be true about the details of the world and its history, and refuse to look seriously at evidence. Masses of people check their horoscope, believe in “energy medicine,” homeopathy, subluxations, anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, the superstition of “natural is always better,” the list goes on as long as snake oil salemen can dream up new and ever-goofier ideas.

Evolution is one more bit of science that provokes ideologically motivated denial. The evidence for common descent is overwhelming.

http://artofthesoluble.blogspot.com/

http://www.evolutionarymodel.com/

People (including me in this case) didn’t see it coming. What’s new? We never do.


Eddie - #86249

August 23rd 2014

To take up your last sentence, “what evolution says” is that all biological forms now existing have descended from previously existing and different biological forms.  That is an empirical claim.  The truth of that claim is therefore one to be settled empirically, with reference to the determined capacities of biological entities, not in terms of the capacities that biological entities are allowed to have in the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas or Suarez (neither one of whom knew anything about cells, genes, developmental biology, etc.).

Of course, if you are limiting your claim to the claim that evolutionary theory is incompatible with certain forms of medieval metaphysics, that might be true; but to say that evolutionary theory disagrees with medieval metaphysics, and that evolutionary theory has “overstepped its bounds” by doing so, are two different things.  Who gave the medieval Scholastics the authority to decides what the “bounds” of biological speculation should be?

I freely grant that the rules of cricket are not compatible with the rules of baseball.  But did Americans “overstep their bounds” when they turned cricket into baseball?  Is there some British organization that has the right to tell Americans not to play baseball?  Analogously, how does, e.g., Thomas Aquinas have the intellectual authority to say that biological evolution is not possible?  Who made him the referee of biological science?  The Pope?

It might help if you laid out your theological allegiances on the table, instead of keeping them up your sleeve.  Are you a Catholic and/or a neo-Thomist?  Your remarks appear to be largely negative rather than constructive, probably because no one here knows what principled position they are coming from.  We know what you don’t believe, but we don’t know what you do believe.  How about some self-disclosure regarding your denominational allegiances, theological orientation, academic training in theology, etc.?  I’m willing to treat all theological and scientific positions respectfully, but it is hard to converse with someone who constantly negates what everyone else in the room is saying without ever committing himself publically to a position of his own.


Eddie - #86250

August 23rd 2014

Note: my comment just above was addressed to g kc, not PNG.


Jon Garvey - #86251

August 23rd 2014

Just to lighten the tone, Eddie (and not get involved in the serious discussion), both cricket and baseball came from England. I mention it because both are first mentioned relating to my home-town, Guildford. Cricket is first mentioned being played by kids from my school around 1550, and baseball in the diary of a Guildford teenager called William Bray in 1755. So all disputes about the rules should be referred to Guildford Borough Council…

Actually, I can’t resist putting in my 2 penn’orth on science and metaphysics and which drives what. Surely metaphysics has to do with issues such as logical truth, causation and such similar things, on which science depends as axioms?

I can imagine how the metaphysics you adopt will dictate your science (eg if you only believe in efficient causation, teleology will not be admitted. Or if you deny true chains of cause and effect, things can be believed to pop into existence without rhyme or reason). But I can’t quite see how empirical science could, in fact, overturn any of the the laws of logic, or decide that final causes don’t exist, and so on.

If there’s a dispute re Darwinian evolution and Aristotle, would it not be along the lines that Aristotle would say all change (“motion”) must have a final cause, an end towards which it tends? Atheistic scientists would say that evolution bucks that, producing novelty without any teleology: but that’s because it adopts a different metaphysics, not because teleology can, even in principle, be disproved.

Theistic evolution (if it’s worthy of the name) says that there is indeed, somewhere behind the process, at the level of some vague providence, or in the fine-tuning of the fundamental forces or of evolution itself (convergence, for example, implies teleology), or through his direct influence, the final causation of God. So in that respect its metaphysics is still Aristotelian, unless and until the existence of God’s will in evolution is rejected. At that point it ceases to *be* theistic.

So I’d say that metaphysics indeed has priority over science. But I’d also agree with you that contrarianism without declaring ones own position is unhelpful and irritating to others.


Lou Jost - #86260

August 23rd 2014

“...metaphysics indeed has priority over science”

No, metaphysics and science have an interesting interplay, and metaphysics usually comes out the loser. Aristotelian final causes were rejected not out of prejudice but because Galilean/Newtonian physics was more poweful and precise. Causality itself, which you say is “assumed” by science, was rejected at the turn of the last century, again not out of prejudice but because powerful, precise non-causal theories arose in physics. The absolute nature of space and time were rejected not out of prejudice but because a powerful and mind-bogglingly precise and counter-intuitive theory was inconsistent with that metaphysical assumption. Even some laws of logic have been questioned by philosophers with an interest in quantum mechanics, such as Hilary Putnam (using reasoning similar to the reasoning Einstein used to free us from the misconception that Euclidean geometry was uniquely true).

In evolution, teleology is not rejected just because it conflicts with the successful approach of today’s physics. That’s a worn-out charge. If there were strong evidence for ongoing teleological forces at work in evolution (and there could have been such evidence, if it were true), then metaphysics be damned, scientists would happily jump ship if it led to a more powerful and precise theory of evolution.


Eddie - #86262

August 23rd 2014

Lou:

Comments on your remarks:

1. Your historical presentation is misleading. Your wording strongly suggests that modern science first empirically established that final causes yield poorer science, and that only then modern scientists rejected final causes. That’s simply not what happened. Very early on in the scientific revolution, Descartes and Bacon called for the exclusion of final causes—before it was clear that a science without final causes could do a better job. You can argue, if you wish, that they were prescient and wise, based on the later success of modern science, but it’s a falsification of history to pretend that the metaphysical/methodological decision was made *after* the empirical evidence was in. It came before.

2. Regarding causality: Lou, you believe in causality every time you drive your car and expect the brakes to work. You believe in causality every time you turn a light switch and expect the light to go on. And your repeated objection to miracles as “breaking natural laws” implies a commitment to causality: if there is no causality, there simply cannot be any natural “laws” to “break” (unless you are grossly misusing the concept of “law”), and therefore Jesus, Moses, etc. were not “breaking” anything when they parted seas or raised people from the dead.

3. I reject your “science wins, metaphysics loses” characterization. There is no science uninformed by metaphysics. It is a question of one metaphysically-informed science versus a different metaphysically-informed science, not science versus metaphysics.

4. Your portrait of the objectivity of scientists is idealized. I’d like to believe it, but after hanging around universities for most of my life and knowing many scientists, and having read a good deal more of the history of science than most working scientists have, and thus knowing a good deal about the actual as opposed to ideal behavior of scientists, both individually and collectively, when their theories are challenged, I don’t believe it. No doubt there are individual virtuous scientists with the attitude you describe. Sociologically speaking, however, your claim is simply not credible.

There is in fact a massive metaphysical and epistemological prejudice against teleology, one that is not driven exclusively by the past successes of anti-teleological explanation but also by a dislike for the concept of teleology. The hostile reaction against Meyer’s first book—which (1) drew to public attention to the fact that even by the OOL-scientists’ own confession, “origin of life by chemical accident” research has made pitiful progress, and which (2) made a strong prima facie argument for design—was not driven primarily by empirical evidence for a chance origin of life—since there is almost no such evidence. It was driven by the strong desire of most scientists to find a chance origin for life, and a resentment that any other scientist would suggest that the “best explanation”—even for the moment—is design. An evidence-driven body of scientists would not behave in such a manner; an evidence-driven body of scientists would say: “As of this date, anyway, Meyer may well be correct, and his argument, though not conclusive, is not irrational.” But that’s now how the body of scientists behaved. Their prior commitments were clearly visible, and they are commitments which, in your idealized portrayal, a scientist should not have.


Lou Jost - #86270

August 24th 2014

Eddie, I agree with much of what you said about metaphysics and history. I think you didn’t read my comment carefully, or I didn’t write it clearly enough.

“1.Your historical presentation is misleading. Your wording strongly suggests that modern science first empirically established that final causes yield poorer science…” I didn’t say that, though. I recognize that there were debates about teleology long before Galileo and Newton. But it was the programatic success of Newtonian physics, and the poverty of its alternative, that closed the book on the debate, at least for now. In fact scientists do continue to experiment with certain kinds of teleological concepts, showing that metaphysics, while it strongly influences science, is not some kind of staaightjacket or uncritically-accepted blinder. An example from physics is Feynman’s absorber theory of radiation.

“2. Regarding causality:...” You didn’t respond to what I wrote at all; instead you invented a straw man. Quantum mechanics has shown that there are events withot causes, and that determinism and causality are false as universal metaphysical principles. That doesn’t mean that ALL events are without causes, or that at some level of approximation, many aspects of reality are predictable.

“3. I reject your “science wins, metaphysics loses” characterization. There is no science uninformed by metaphysics. It is a question of one metaphysically-informed science versus a different metaphysically-informed science, not science versus metaphysics.”

I didn’t say there is science uninformed by metaphysics. Throughout our long history of interchanges here, I have repeatedly told you I agree that scientists are influenced by their metaphysical commitments, and yet you keep trying to put words in my mouth. The point I was making in my comment is that scientists can and often do CHANGE their metaphysics in the face of strong enough evidence that a different metaphysics has more power.

“4. Your portrait of the objectivity of scientists is idealized…”

I said nothing about objectivity or whether scientists found it easy or hard to shift their metaphysics. I am well aware that this is hard; that’s why I wrote about the need for STRONG evidence. Einstein kicked and screamed his whole life over the transition from determinism and locality to modern probabilistic nonlocal quantum mechanics. I’ve participated in these debates within physics myself for decades. I am not unaware of them.

Finally your opinion of Meyer’s book is not shared by people who know about the Cambrian explosion. The book does not make a strong prima facie case for design. It deliberately misleads by, for example, leaving the small shelly pre-Cambrian fauna completely out of the book except for a minor note in the back.But again, I have never argued that scientists do not have metaphysical commitments. It does take strong evidence to overthrow our present commitment to explanations that fit in with physics as we know it today. The ID people like Meyer have badly failed to propose a more powerful alternative that explained things better through teleology, even though they have had centuries to do so. If they could someday make more powerful predictions than the standard theory, people would listen. Until they do, they just look like idealogues and propagandists. Strangely, you hate this attitude when you see it in evolutionists, but you do not complain about its much stronger manifestations in the teleology crowd.


Eddie - #86273

August 24th 2014

Lou:

Thank you.

Regarding 1, you did not write clearly enough. Remember, there are going to be many readers here who have not followed our past conversations and will be going purely on what you write in your latest note, not supplementing it with things you previously conceded to me or Jon. You have to write for everyone, not just for the two of us. What you wrote in your latest note, taken by itself, could easily conceal the fact that anti-teleology in natural science was a philosophical project before its value was confirmed. I wanted the new readers here to be aware of that. I was not trying to catch you out in an error for the joy of contradicting you.

Regarding 2, your statement on causality was very broad—causality has been “rejected in physics,” you said, not “causality has been shown not to apply universally in physics.” My point was that both in everyday life, and in everyday normal science, outside of fields such as quantum physics and cosmology, scientists still speak, write, and act as if causality were real.

In any case, I am one of the holdouts regarding the so-called “Copenhagen interpretation,” so I’m unconvinced that causality has been overthrown; I suspect that there are “deep laws” governing even the allegedly “random” events of which quantum theorists speak. Of course I don’t claim to be able to prove that, but I am told that there are a few good physicists who are unconvinced by the majority position, so I’m not alone.

3. You didn’t say there was science uninformed by metaphysics, but you said: “metaphysics usually comes out the loser” when science and metaphysics interact. The language of winners and losers suggests Team A versus Team B in the Super Bowl, or the like. As if “science” is making claims over here, and “metaphysics” is making anti-claims over there, and only one of them can be right, and usually it is science rather than metaphysics which is right. I was protesting that language.

Not that it NEVER happens that way: I can think of examples where metaphysicians tried to give answers about what happens in nature reasoning from first principles rather than engaging in actual scientific activity. If you were thinking of such examples, then I would agree with you that purely metaphysical reasoning “lost,” but would add the qualification that it “lost” only because it was not the right sort of reasoning to apply in the situation. But even the “right” sort of reasoning in such situations, i.e., modern scientific reasoning, is still metaphysically grounded. It assumes certain things about nature, starting with the assumption that it is even reasonable to talk about “nature”—a metaphysical assumption which we got from the Greeks.

4. I’ll grant that you didn’t directly address the question of reluctance of scientists to change, so I won’t say that you made any error here. But your statement as given certainly left the impression that scientists, both individually and as a class, are fair-minded folks who go by the evidence and don’t let prejudices influence their thought. But the same could be said of historians, sociologists, literary critics, etc. All of them claim to base their views on “evidence” “research” “scholarship” etc. In practice, however, both as individuals and as collectives, academics can be very stubborn, very resistant to change, as their egos and reputations are often invested (by years of argument) in particular positions. What I’m saying is that their willingness to change ought to be exactly proportionate to the evidence, but it rarely is.

What is more often the case is that research confirming the theory that most scientists like is given a relatively easy ride, and research challenging that theory is judged in accord with a much higher standard. This is like the professor who is used to getting an “A” paper from Billy Smith, and a “C” paper from Jerry Jones, and so, whenever he gets papers from these two students, tends to sublimate the clumsier statements of Billy Smith into something more sensible and continue to give Billy an “A” grade, and tends to underestimate the number of intelligent statements of Jerry Jones, and continue to give Jerry a “C” paper.

This happens all the time with ID. For example, Nick Matzke ordered, received, and reviewed Meyer’s 400-page second book within 24 hours of its publication, and his review was the usual scathing anti-ID review, i.e., Meyer’s book was complete garbage, with no redeeming features, and nothing could be learned from it. But of course Matzke notoriously starts from the assumption that no ID book will be good; and why was he in such a hurry to order the book on the very first possible day he could buy it, and crank out a negative review? Why didn’t he take a week or two to chew on the book, reflect on its ideas, look up some of Meyer’s sources (not just the easily available online articles but some of the books that were not available online) etc.? Clearly he wanted to savage the book from the moment he heard it was coming out. No thoughtful reviewer proceeds in that way, in either the natural sciences or the humanities. Only ideological reviewers behave in such a manner.

It is this sort of attitude which concludes “the science is in” regarding AGW and then tries to shut down all objections to the models employed by AGW people, even when those objections come from competent scientists (as some of them do). There are many people in the scientific community who have a herd mentality and who tend to use bullying language to keep others in line with the herd. And the scientific community tends to disproportionate favoring of the consensus and disproportionate rejection of the maverick, whereas a purely empirical approach would display a reaction to novelty that was exactly proportionate to evidence and quality of argument. I am saying that scientists in practice let prejudices interfere with their vaunted empiricism. If they stuck to consistent empiricism I would respect them more. (And of course I apply that to historians, etc. as well.)

5. Regarding Meyer, I was referring to his first book. I thought that would be evident because his first book was about the origin of life, and that is what I was talking about. I have not read his second book, so I won’t discuss that one. But his first book garnered a very hostile reaction even though his main claims about origin of life research were correct: origin of life research has not got very far; there are serious problems with the RNA world scenario which many researchers in the field concede; the chicken-egg problem of the protein-DNA system is nowhere near solved. Meyer was strongly denounced for saying these things, and was strongly denounced for suggesting design as having a causal role in the origin of life.

I maintain that there is an active prejudice in the “origin of life” scientific community against any role at all for design. Nothing you have said in your reply, or anywhere else in your comments, convinces me otherwise. And that prejudice is at bottom metaphysical; there is a preference for reducing life to non-life, mind to non-mind, which is not in itself warranted by the evidence, but which guides the gathering and interpretation of the evidence. A truly open-minded scientist would say that living cells certainly LOOK designed (as even Dawkins concedes), and that Meyer’s contention that design is “the best explanation” for the origin of life AT THE MOMENT is not unreasonable. Instead, Meyer’s entire book, from roman numeral pages through to the index, was angrily denounced by atheist and TE scientists alike, because it rocked the boat, challenged the reductionist consensus in which most biologists, even Christian biologists, are trained. This is just plain prejudice, not healthy scientific empiricism.

I know that you have been cautious not to dogmatize regarding the origin of life, so I’m not including you in this criticism, but you were characterizing the scientific attitude and I was simply making the point that when it comes to the origin of life the scientific atttitude of scrupulous empiricism and genuine openness to teleological explanation is nowhere in evidence. All I’m asking you to admit is that, in matters biological, there is a prejudice against teleological explanation which is rooted in MORE THAN the successful track record of non-teleological explanation in chemistry, physics, etc., and comes from certain metaphysical/theological preferences of the bulk of life scientists. I have never heard you clearly admit that.

If you could just bring yourself to say, “Yes, there is a general culture of materialism and reductionism in the life sciences community and this is partly a reflection of the religious/philosophical commitments and inclinations of the life scientists themselves, and so teleological explanations are likely to be met with a harsher resistance than they would warrant on purely rational grounds” then you and I would get along just fine. But I always get the sense that, while you deep down are aware of the prejudice, you condone it or exonerate it or try to make out that it isn’t there. That is why you keep getting resistance from me; it is due to your apparent unwillingness to unambiguously acknowledge this active prejudice, and to grant that its roots are partly religious, i.e., that most life scientists have—not just as scientists but more generally—a dislike of the idea of God which makes them fight against design inferences in a way that a person who was indifferent to the idea of God would not.


Lou Jost - #86286

August 25th 2014

“I always get the sense that, while you deep down are aware of the prejudice, you condone it or exonerate it or try to make out that it isn’t there.”

I agree with you that biologists are hostile to some kinds of teleological explanations, especially when they have to do with a god. But we disagree about the reasons for that, and hence about whether this attitude is justified.

You seem to feel that biologists as a group have some deep-seated prejudice against religion in general, and that this is the main reason they reject teleology. I think you have it backwards. Biology has a unique history, in which teleological explanations blocked its advance much longer than in other fields. Until Darwin and Wallace, biology as a science hardly existed; it was almost entirely descriptive and speculative, largely because it relied on an infertile teleological explanation for life’s diversity and adaptations. Teleological explanations did not lead to powerful, surprising new predictions, and that’s what scientists always look for. Then evolution came along and made real (and often surprising) predictions. As the power of this theory was so much greater than that of teleology, it quickly won the day, even among devout Christians.

I recognize that we can never rule out any kind of teleological explanation (and in fact, as Jon recently said somewhere, some forms of teleological explanation can never be ruled out, because they ae unfalsifiable). Biologists would do well to remember what happened to geology after the initial heady successes of uniformitarianism. Catastrophic processes were ruled out for metaphysical reasons, and this blinded geologists to some striking evidence for catastrophic events shaping the earth. But notice that the geologists were eventually persuaded by the evidence. This is where proponents of teleology have failed badly. If non-teleological evolution is such an inadequate or incomplete theory, why have so many generations of its opponents (mostly motivated by their own metaphysical prejudices about gods and the specialness of humans) been unable to frame a convincing argument against it? 

Finally, because biology affects matter, explanations in biology have to be consistent with those in physics. We don’t see much room for teleology of the kind that religious people would like to see in physics, though as I mentioned on Jon’s blog, a certain kind of teleology (not of any comfort to a religious person) actually follows from physics. I’ll copy that comment below this one.

So I think the hostility to teleology is justified for historic and scientific reasons, but that biologists should remain open to possible challenges to this. Unfortunately, proponents of teleology do themselves no favors by making poor arguments, and the arguments I have looked at so far are very poor (though I can’t say I’ve read them all).


Lou Jost - #86290

August 25th 2014

Here is my comment from Jon’s site about how a certain kind of teleology  can follow from some versions of physics:

“On the subject of teleology, there is actually a kind of naturalistic teleology, if the universe is one of an ensemble of universes (or if many-worlds [interpretation of QM] is true). This kind of teleology follows rigorously from the existence of intelligent observers in this universe. [...] When we assess the probabilities of any past event (such as the origin of life), we have to take the CONDITIONAL probability, conditioned on the fact that intelligent observers exist. This will give different probabilities for past events than the equations of physics would predict. The world [might] appear to be governed by mysterious teleological forces.

We could distinguish this kind of naturalistic teleology from the kind advocated by some religious people, or scientists like Noble, by noting that the conditional probability only applies to past events. Future probabilities will be given by the unconditioned laws of physics (though the gambler’s fallacy might incline observers to believe otherwise).

So there– I am a believer in teleology.”


Lou Jost - #86291

August 25th 2014

In my comment above, I said “If non-teleological evolution is such an inadequate or incomplete theory, why have so many generations of its opponents…been unable to frame a convincing argument against it?” Even more important than a convincing negative argument would be the development of a powerful positive alternative that incorporates teleology. In most fields of human endeavor, people don’t jump ship unless there is something to jump into. To make scientists give up a successful theory, the  existence of a viable alternative theory is just as important as  evidence that contradicts the existing theory. This actually makes sense. Big theories can often be modified to cover some contradictory evidence.


Eddie - #86314

August 26th 2014

Lou:

I agree with much of what you say here, but I’m very disappointed that you cannot bring yourself to grant some truth to my position.

I never denied that *part* of the reason why biologists are hostile to teleology was the success of non-teleological explanations in modern science.  But you still will not acknowledge that there is even a *bit* of a metaphysical/religious prejudice against teleology in the biological community. I think this is unreasonable of you.  

I gave you an example of which you should have been able to approve without hesitation.  Matzke goes out of his way to order an Amazon book the moment it becomes available, reads it (allegedly) within less than 24 hours, and a few hours later has a scathing review online saying the book is entirely worthless.  Do you really expect me, or anyone else, to believe that Nick Matzke did not start with an a priori animus against Meyer’s point of view, and that he did not make it a project to inoculate as many people against Meyer’s ideas as soon as he possibly could after its publication?  That he had not made up his mind that the book would be no good before he even ordered it?  Do you know anything at all about the history of Nick Matzke’s interaction with ID people, his former job at the NCSE, his role in the Dover trial, etc.?  Those of us who have interacted with him for years KNOW (not just opine or hypothesize, but KNOW) that he has a very strong prejudice against ID and that he very often treats it unfairly.  And as an academic I KNOW that his procedure of reviewing a new scientific book is NOT the normal one.  There is animus here; there is prejudice here.

And it’s not just Matzke, it’s Coyne, it’s Myers, it’s all kinds of biologists who post at the Panda’s Thumb, etc.  And in some cases it is VERY obvious that the animus is partly motivated by the prior inclination to disbelieve in God.  I also know many biologists personally, and even those whose views on ID and evolution I have not determined are often religious scoffers.  Secular humanism, materialism, reductionism, etc. are very often the personal framework in which biologists do their work.    

You seem to be saying that a dislike of the idea of God, a hostility to Christianity or to revealed religion, is NEVER influential on how biologists react to teleological ideas.  You seem to be saying that the biological community, to the last man and woman, is utterly pure and never lets metaphysical or theological biases influence it is in the slightest.  You seem to be saying that NONE of the resistance to teleological ideas has anything to do with the personal values and beliefs of biologists about God.  

If that’s not what you are saying, please qualify your remarks with some very explicit admissions of cases of religiously-motivated prejudice, and a very explicit admission that there is a culture of atheism/humanism/materialism in the life sciences at the major universities and that you grant that part of the resistance to teleological ideas comes from that culture.  

I weary of trying to make this point, on web site after web site, with all kinds of evidence and argument, and seeing that you never yield an inch.  You can be a very reasonable person, giving and taking points in debate.  But on this issue, I have never seen you budge.  But budge you should—if you expect me to take you as a credible observer of the actual institutional behavior of scientists, or even as a credible observer simply of human beings.

I’m not asking for 100% surrender to my ideas.  I’d be happy if you said that perhaps 25% or 20% or even 10% of the resistance to teleological ideas in biology comes from the religious/metaphysical inclinations of the biologists, the rest coming from sound scientific reasoning.  The fact that you won’t grant even this much reveals you to be partisan in a bad sense of the word.


Lou Jost - #86329

August 26th 2014

“But you still will not acknowledge that there is even a *bit* of a metaphysical/religious prejudice against teleology in the biological community.”

Eddie, how can you say this? My first sentence acknowledged that very thing:“I agree with you that biologists are hostile to some kinds of teleological explanations, especially when they have to do with a god. “

I only disagreed with the reasons for this hostility.

“You seem to be saying that a dislike of the idea of God, a hostility to Christianity or to revealed religion, is NEVER influential on how biologists react to teleological ideas.”

No, I never said “never”. But my point was that the reaction against revealed religion is not usually a prior prejudice but rather a very rational reaction to the poorly-supported claims of revealed religion about the subject matter of  their discipline.

But sure, there are some biologists who let their disllike of religion cloud their objective evaluation of ID claims. I see it often in debates about Behe’s results, for example.


Lou Jost - #86333

August 26th 2014

What we should really be discussing, though, is not a discussion of people’s motivations, or tone, or speed of writing reviews. We should be discussing the quality of their arguments. As luck would have it, BioLogos just started a series of review articles on “Darwin’s Doubt”, so we’ll be able to do just that.

Of course Matzke detests ID, he has had to deal with DI’s often-dishonest promotion of it for his whole career. But the important question is whether Matzke was unfair with Meyer. I don’t know. But we will soon see in this new series.


Eddie - #86348

August 26th 2014

Lou:

It’s fair to discuss the motivations of others when those same others have focused on the motivations of ID people.  Time again it has been said or implied that ID people argue in the way that they do because of their religious beliefs.  If the atheist side gets to argue about motivations, so does the ID side.  You yourself have on occasion slipped into accusing people for arguing out of religious motivations.  Either all accusations of motivation should be on the table, or off the table; they can’t be on the table when used against ID people but off the table when used against atheists.

I defy you to find another case in the entire history of science where a scientist has made sure that a book published on a scientific topic reaches him at the soonest possible second after publication, reads the entire book once, and writes a long scathing review of the book, all in about 36 hours.  And I ask you whether it is *likely* that a review written in that setting is going to make any attempt to be fair.

As for your attempt to justify Matzke as acting out of righteous indignation at ID intellectual dishonesty, all I can say is that bringing in Matzke to clean up on intellectual dishonesty in creation/evolution debates is like bringing in Al Gore or the writers of the hacked emails in Climategate to clean up on dishonesty in global warming debates.  You don’t bring in one of the most virulent partisans to evaluate partisans on the other side.

I’m surprised to hear you say that we will be able to discuss the quality of Meyer’s book based on the review articles here.  I would think that before reading the review articles, we would have to read Meyer’s book first.  Have you read Meyer’s book?  If not, do you intend to read it before allowing the review articles to taint your reading?  You should know by now, from experience, that BioLogos columnists can be quite selective and not entirely objective in their comments on ID authors; the only protection one has from misleading statements is having read the original work that is being criticized.

 

 


Lou Jost - #86352

August 26th 2014

When I  accuse someone of having religious motivations for his or her arguments, I don’t stop there. I try to address WHY their arguments are wrong. That should be the meat of the interaction.

I haven’t read Meyer’s book. I am not as fast as Nick, and cannot invest the time unless there were indications Meyer was on to something. I have of course read some reviews and some DI stuff about it. There were things that tell me very strongly that Meyer did not do a careful or even honest job. The clearest example is the one I mentioned above, Meyer’s leaving out the small shelly pre-Cambrian fauna except for a breif mention in an endnote. If that is true, it is pretty damning. An honest writer would at least have spent some time in the book arguing why those animals were not important to the story of early Cambrian divergence. I will look forward to reading the back-and-forth dialogue, hopefully including people who have read his book, and maybe even Meyer himself, as he was invited.

As I’ve said before, I am sure you are right that Nick Matzke set out to find fault with the book. The more interesting thing, though, would be to find out if his conclusions were correct. In these last comments you have only criticized his motivations, not his arguments. I realize that you also have not read the book, and presumably not read the reviews either, so you aren’t in a position to do that. We’ll both learn something, then, as this series unfolds.


Eddie - #86347

August 26th 2014

Lou:

Yes, you admitted that biologists were hostile to teleological explanations and explanations involving God, but, when you gave the *reasons* for the hostility, 100% of those “reasons” you gave concerned the alleged failure of teleological explanation and the alleged success of non-teleological explanation.  None of your “reasons” included “and also, some of them just don’t like the idea of a God for personal reasons, so they are looking hard for explanations that keep God out.”

And yes, I know that you never said “never”, and I never said that you said “never.”  :-)  What I said was that it *seemed* that you were saying that prejudice was NEVER influential.  I was giving you a chance to clarify, to say that what seemed to me to be your position was not in fact your position.

And now you have done that, in your last paragraph.  Thank you.  I don’t know why it took over a year, on two different websites, for several people to get that admission out of you, when it must have been plain to you all along that this was the admission we were looking for.  But now that you have made it, I acknowledge it—and will hold you to it if you later on make statements that say or strongly imply that all biologists are very objective and very open to teleological explanations and it’s only lack of evidence, not prejudice, that holds them back.  If you do that, I intend to remind you of what you have conceded today.

By the way, you mentioned “revealed religion,” but most of the teleological claims I’ve been talking about don’t come from there.  I’m speaking of discussions about teleology in living nature coming from philosophers, physicists, biologists, etc.  Many of these folks are agnostics, and accept no religious authority or no sacred texts, but still find it hard to swallow that the remarkable adjustment of means to ends in living systems could have arisen via proposed Darwinian means or by sheer chemical accidents at the origin of life.  They see something more going on. 


Lou Jost - #86353

August 26th 2014

No group of people is monolithic, and biologists are no exceptions. I don’t think I’ve been shy about acknowledging that.

And yes, I know there are many non-religious people that think there is something more going on than standard evolution. It is significant that these people do mostly come from disciplines other than biology, and that the people who know the most about evolution are the ones least likely to have the perception that there needs to be something more.


Eddie - #86356

August 26th 2014

Lou:

Lou, I doubt there is any such thing as “standard evolution” any longer.  The whole field is in flux, at the level of fundamental theory.

“Standard evolution” used to be “neo-Darwinism” (1940s) then “neo-Darwinism supplemented by the discovery of DNA, with a ‘one gene, one protein, one direction’ concept” (1960s); but now it seems that almost everything (beyond common descent itself) is up for grabs.  The relative weight of selection is highly disputed, with some biologists thinking selection is almost the whole story and others thinking it has a relatively minor effect; the old idea of “random” mutations is no longer emphasized the way it was; the simple vertical picture is now clouded by the assertion of horizontal transfers; ideas of self-engineering of the organism’s genome (i.e., the system of DNA is not merely read, but read-write) have come into play; ideas of biological form from physics are being brought in; “neutral theory” has its adherents and detractors; there is evo-devo, etc.

Thus, Coyne’s evolution is different from Newman’s and Newman’s is different from Shapiro’s; and Larry Moran (from “a discipline other than biology” to use your phrase) thinks everyone is wrong about evolution but him.  The only thing they all agree on is that whatever happened at the level of mechanism—the level where they all disagree—the process was wholly natural and without any intelligent guidance (which, in the absence of a natural mechanism agreed upon to be both adequate and plausible, they could not possibly know).

Evolutionary biology is much more like philosophy or theology now (in the sense that in the field there is an uneasy co-existence of rival incompatible explanations for evolution) than it is like solid-state physics or civil engineering or analytical chemistry, where there is almost universal agreement about fundamental assumptions and mechanisms.

There is an old joke about asking 9 economists a question, and getting 10 answers.  In evolutionary biology, you may not get 10 answers, but you’ll probably get 9, and you’ll be lucky if you get fewer than 5.

So I’m unimpressed by your reference to “people who know the most about evolution.”  Who, in your view, are the 10 people in the world who know the most about evolution?  I bet if I asked Larry Moran, Jerry Coyne, Motoo Kimura, Stuart Newman, and yourself, and prevented all collaboration, I would get 5 lists with almost no overlap on the lists, and that no two lists would be identical or even more than half identical.  But if I asked 5 physicists specializing in electromagnetism who were the top 10 people in the theory of electromagnetism in the world, I suspect their lists would be very close.


Lou Jost - #86365

August 27th 2014

Theists have always exaggerated the degree of uncertainty and controversy in evolution. The DI and YECs and IDers regularly have been saying that the theory is in crisis or convulsion and about to collapse for as long as they have been around.

The field has been very active, indeed. We have learned a lot since the 70’s.  But most of what we’ve learned is not controversial. Evolution textbooks do not vary much. The frontiers are active and yes, there is debate and diversity there, but there really is an “evolving” but  standard core. Contrary to your assertion, the importance of natural selection is not in doubt as the cause of adaptation. Neutral theory is also not in doubt. There is a slight controversy over whether most morphological traits are adaptive or neutral; this can be hard to determine in some cases.

I’d suggest comparing textbooks as a good way to see if the theory has as much subjectivity as theology or philosophy. It is very  clear to me that it does not.

That does not mean there are not real controversies. The most important one is one you left out—the question of whether group selection is important or not.


Eddie - #86263

August 24th 2014

Jon:

Metaphysics and science impinge upon each other.  What science discovers may constrain metaphysics, e.g., if a vacuum is actually achieved experimentally, then the a priori reasoning (from purely metaphysical considerations) of someone that a vacuum is not possible would be disproved.  (Indeed, the achievement of even a partial vacuum is sufficient to destroy the soundness of the speculative argument, since any limitation of continuity destroys the conclusion.)  At the same time, metaphysics clearly influences science.  Lou seems to imagine that there is a metaphysics-free science, but I deny that any such thing exists.  Scientists always have, in the back of their minds, basic notions, e.g., notions of “nature” or “matter” or “energy” or “time” or “space” or “cause” or “universe,” that influence how they work.  All of these concepts are at bottom metaphysical.  I am not saying they are unwarranted concepts, but the idea that they are metaphysics-free is preposterous.

In short, my criticism of the statement of g kc above (he said that it is wrong to say that science constrains metaphysics, and that we should say that metaphysics constrains science instead) is that the two statements are not mutually exclusive, and that both are true.  However, the “constraining” works differently in the two cases.  Where physics restrains metaphysics, the reason for the restraint is generally visible to all intelligent people; where metaphysics subtly influences physics (or biology or any science), the influence is often invisible both to the general public and to the scientists themselves.  This is why the study of the history and philosophy of science should be a mandatory part of every science program, so that scientists and lay people with undergraduate science degrees would be much more wary than they are now about the hidden assumptions and prejudices of particular ways of doing science.


GJDS - #86279

August 25th 2014

(This is a comment on the discussion regarding methaphysical commitment and science).

Examples of authoritative and general treatments of science and how a ‘metaphysical’ (or commitment) to the natural sciences, with a detailed treatment of Darwinian evolution, is provided by Polanyi (Personal Knowledge) and S Fuller (Science vs Religion). The former is a distinguished scientist who became a philosopher (of science) and the latter is a recognised sociologist. I think that much of what is placed in Biologos blogs displays a commitment to Darwinian evolution that exceeds that found in other Natural Sciences. Both of these authors include detailed discussion on the various aspects of Darwinian evolution, pointing out shortcomings and showing that such a critical approach is healthy and consistent with how science is done. These works are well worth reading as they provide a balanced and intellectually satisfying treatment of the sciences and a far deeper appreciation of how scientists make commitments that are the result of their worldviews. I think that those who seem to imply that scientists live in a completely objectified world and have ‘overwhelming’ evidence for their outlook, may be fooling themselves – at the very least, it underlines the general points made by these authors, in that an over-enthusiastic acceptance or rejection of Darwinian evolution is NOT the result of overwhelming evidence from science, but an overwhelming commitment to an ideology/belief system.

I have made my position clear on a number of posts regarding the way TE is discussed by our US friends, so I will not add to this.


g kc - #86252

August 23rd 2014

Eddie,

“… “what evolution says” is that all biological forms now existing have descended from previously existing and different biological forms.  That is an empirical claim. The truth of that claim is therefore one to be settled empirically, with reference to the determined capacities of biological entities, not in terms of the capacities that biological entities are allowed to have in the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas or Suarez (neither one of whom knew anything about cells, genes, developmental biology, etc.).”

I agree.

However, I would add that if evolution is true, then Thomistic philosophy is wrong, at least in regards to the metaphysical/philosophical concept variously named as “substantial form”, or “being”, or “essence”. I believe in that metaphysical/philosophical concept, while I also have the good fortune of knowing about cells, genes, developmental biology. I think St. Thomas Aquinas would have also, even if he had been as fortunate as me.

 

“I freely grant that the rules of cricket are not compatible with the rules of baseball.  But did Americans “overstep their bounds” when they turned cricket into baseball?”

No, they did not. I agree.

“Is there some British organization that has the right to tell Americans not to play baseball?”

No, there is not. I agree.

However, there is an American organization (MLB) which would tell “cricketeers” not to call their game baseball. (And I imagine there’s a British organization that would tell baseballers not to call themselves cricketeers.) And there is an organization, I think, that would correct baseballers and cricketeers should they claim that their games were the source of metaphysical/philosophical truth.

 

“It might help if you laid out your theological allegiances on the table, instead of keeping them up your sleeve.  Are you a Catholic and/or a neo-Thomist?”

I don’t think so. No, I don’t think it would help to identify allegiances and denominational/philosophical labels of the discussants here. I think I would stick with what Jon Garvey said in these blogs recently: “So I question the significance of any Christian trends towards or away from evolution: everyone might end up in the same camp and still be wrong. It’s only the arguments that matter - and they should be listened to on both sides, and critically.”

I’ll stick with the arguments, with the reasoning. The arguments existed before the labels, and will continue even if the labeling changes. By sticking just to the arguments/reasoning, there’s much less room for bias and prejudice, and less likelihood of the discussion “heating up”.

“Analogously, how does, e.g., Thomas Aquinas have the intellectual authority to say that biological evolution is not possible?  Who made him the referee of biological science?  The Pope?”

No, they don’t. I agree.

As I think I’ve already said, or at least implied, neither has the intellectual authority to say that biological evolution is not possible. However, I’m confident each has the intellectual acuity to know that if biological evolution is true, then everything they’ve said about metaphysics is false (at least in regards “substantial form”, or “being”, or “essence”.).

 

“I’m willing to treat all theological and scientific positions respectfully, but it is hard to converse with someone who constantly negates what everyone else in the room is saying without ever committing himself publically to a position of his own.”

“Constantly negates”? I agreed with your points four separate times above. And I agreed both figuratively and fundamentally (e.g. about not just the cricket/baseball organizations but about the deeper point you were making with those examples.). Of course, I also added some other perspectives. But isn’t that what’s expected and desired in a conversation or discussion?


James Stump - #86254

August 23rd 2014

g kc, “what’s expected and desired in a conversation or discussion” is that the participants take each other seriously.  You say you want to “stick with the arguments, with the reasoning.”  But that doesn’t occur in a vacuum.  All of us—even you—must rely on trusted authorities and guides.  Who are yours?  The scientists here tend to rely on research that has been carefully vetted and reviewed by people with appropriate credentials.  Of course it’s not infallible, but it has proved more reliable than the alternative.  So it is the appropriate starting point.  And theology is guided by different traditions.  Eddie isn’t asking for you to put a label on your thought stop the discussion, but to give the discussion some framework.  

You’ve mostly taken pot shots at ideas here without offering any positive alternative which does a better job of explaining the evidence.  If you want to be taken seriously on this site, you’ll offer us a couple of paragraphs that give a positive account of your conclusions about the biblical accounts of origins and the scientific evidence.  That will allow other people to engage with arguments and reasoning more substantially and effectively.  Failure to do so will result (if history is any guide) in the commenters here becoming increasingly frustrated with you, and then they will just ignore your posts as irrelevant to the discussion.  I hope you’ll choose the path that leads to engagement.


g kc - #86257

August 23rd 2014

Jim,

In the interest of clarification and possibly of rapprochement, as the latter seems to be an issue:

1)

I’m not sure, but you seem to be saying I don’t take others here seriously. This is not true. I assure you I do take them seriously. I wouldn’t post here if I didn’t.

Perhaps instead you’re saying others here don’t take me seriously. And that this is the case because I haven’t given my academic bio or perhaps because I haven’t cited other supporting sources. Regarding the former, I have no further comment. Regarding the latter, I have cited here a supporting source – the metaphysics/philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. I assumed he’d be considered a trusted authority and guide worth referencing here, as I recall his thought being brought up here on BioLogos on other articles.

2)

Regarding the claim that I don’t provide supporting scientific references:

Here, as is often the case on other BiolLogos articles, I’m using the author or the author’s references. You acknowledged that they’re not infallible. I agree. And I’m asking questions about the fallible research/researchers. This seems reasonable to me.

Also, in responding to PNG, I provided hyperlinks to articles addressing the problems/issues with quantum mechanics. One was written by Natalie Wolchover, “She has a bachelor’s in physics from Tufts University, studied graduate-level physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-authored several academic papers in nonlinear optics.” The other was written by Bingcheng Zhao, PhD. These certainly aren’t meant to be a comprehensive treatment of the subject. They’re just quick examples I was able to Google which show QM is perhaps far from infallible science.  

3)

Regarding the claim that I fail to provide alternative hypotheses/theories/solutions or even a “framework”, I wasn’t aware these were prerequisites for asking questions and for stating objections. You seem to be indicating that these are prerequisites here. If you are, then you would seem to be among those who believe having a weak/problematic theory is better than having no theory at all. The scientific weaknesses and problems with biological evolution are widely known (e.g. biological systems for stasis, not change; deleterious effects of mutations, made doubly deleterious by accumulation over time; absence of observation in nature or even of artificial coercion in the laboratory; the seeming impossibility of the random assembly of the indescribably instruction-rich DNA molecule.). These weaknesses of evolution theory need no scientific bibliography. For anyone at all familiar with the subject, they’re common knowledge, public domain, if you will. And I think the position is quite valid that having no theory is better than holding to a demonstrably and seriously flawed theory.

4)

I’m a bit surprised that you, as moderator of civility here, have labeled my comments as “pot shots”, and that Eddie has used a term often implying cheating or sinister activity – ‘keeping things up my sleeve’. I’m OK with it, I suppose. Just surprised.

5)

“If you want to be taken seriously on this site, you’ll offer us a couple of paragraphs that give a positive account of your conclusions about the biblical accounts of origins and the scientific evidence.  That will allow other people to engage with arguments and reasoning more substantially and effectively…  I hope you’ll choose the path that leads to engagement.”

What if one doesn’t have such a ‘positive account of conclusions’? What is wrong with asking questions or pointing out inconsistencies in the arguments and reasoning of those who do claim to have a ‘positive account of conclusions’. Some may dislike the Socratic method, and may even criticize my manner as pseudo-Socratic. Regardless, I think asking questions is perhaps the most reliable means of getting to the truth, and is definitely an effective “path that leads to engagement.”


Eddie - #86261

August 23rd 2014

g kc:

Thank you for your reply.

I have nothing against your pointing out the possible misfit between Scholastic metaphysics and Darwinian evolution. I might well agree with your conclusion on that point. But you assert the misfit in an authoritative manner, without providing evidence or argument. Even if you are not willing to tell us whether you personally support the Scholastic philosophy, you could at least provide a number of detailed passages from Scholastic writers—and I don’t mean mere links, but some actual quotations—and you could discuss those passages, and do a proper comparison with Darwinian thought as you understand it. What I’m looking for is something along the line of this:

“In Summa Theologiae X.Y.Z, Aquinas says the following words relevant to the possibility of change in the essences of natural beings:

“(Quotation)

“We see here that for Aquinas “essence” means ... and that for Aquinas transformation of one thing into another is only possible when ... whereas in the case of animal species ... ; therefore, one cannot be a Darwinian and hold to the definition of the essence of a natural being as understood by Aquinas.”

You will of course understand that the “contents” of the above are purely invented by me, in order to give an example of the type of answer I’m looking for.

I would find this a more useful way of making your argument than the sheer declaration that Darwinian theory and essentialist ontology are incompatible. Not only would it provide actual texts and particular arguments, it would also give your conversation partners here a better idea of how your reasoning works.

Regarding your comment to the moderator, I meant nothing insulting by the phrase “up your sleeve”; it was merely a colorful metaphor for “holding back some of one’s views.”

As for another of your comments to the moderator, i.e., that you would rather admit to having no answer to a question than support a weak answer, that is a creditable principle; however, it is clearly inferrable from many of your posts that you do in fact have fairly strong “answers” regarding origins, the truth of the Bible, Christianity, etc., and it is therefore a problem when readers here cannot tell exactly what those answers are. If your position were: “I don’t have any view, even a tentative view, on whether the Bible or Christianity is true, and I don’t know whether evolution is true, so I simply criticize the positions of others without advancing any of my own,” that would acceptable. But when it is pretty clear that you are certain that evolution is false and that at least part of your motivation has to do with a clash between what evolution teaches and what you think Christianity or the Bible teaches, for you not to be direct about your theological beliefs can create only obscurity and confusion.

I cannot force you to disclose your theological position, but if you won’t disclose your basic position (I don’t need biographical details, just your basic foundational affirmations), I do not think I will be replying to your comments further. I dislike the existence of a rhetorical disadvantage in discussions, in which one person knows what everyone else believes, but no one knows what that person believes. If you find such a rhetorical advantage reasonable and fair, then you are free to act as you wish, but I do not find it reasonable or fair, so count me out.


g kc - #86264

August 24th 2014

Eddie,

I’m not understanding many of your comments, and I hope you will clarify for me.

You said “however, it is clearly inferrable from many of your posts that you do in fact have fairly strong “answers” regarding origins, the truth of the Bible, Christianity, etc., and it is therefore a problem when readers here cannot tell exactly what those answers are.”

If you clearly infer what you call my strong answers, how can you say you cannot tell exactly what my answers are? (I’m not playing games. I don’t understand your words here.)

 

Also: “But when it is pretty clear that you are certain that evolution is false and that at least part of your motivation has to do with a clash between what evolution teaches and what you think Christianity or the Bible teaches, for you not to be direct about your theological beliefs can create only obscurity and confusion.”

What obscurity? What confusion? You say my beliefs about evolution and about Christianity and the Bible are pretty clear. I would agree.

Regarding evolution, above I noted that the scientific weaknesses and problems with biological evolution are widely known and gave examples.

Regarding Christianity and the Bible, I may not have said anything above, but I’ll say this now (and it could be said by just about anyone with a modicum of knowledge of history and the Bible): I believe truth stands the test of time (cf. Mat 24:35); and for over 3,000 years after Genesis was written there was no serious, authoritative questioning that I’ve ever heard of about its details or historicity. No questioning among scholars of Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant persuasions. No controversy, until the mid-19th century. And so it’s reasonable that a Jewish/Catholic/Orthodox/Protestant person who finds evolution theory to be, at a minimum, scientifically weak and problematic, would have a problem with a relatively recent and relatively sudden re-interpretation of the book of truth to fit a weak/problematic evolutionary theory.

I don’t understand what more you need to know. Yet you say “I dislike the existence of a rhetorical disadvantage in discussions, in which one person knows what everyone else believes, but no one knows what that person believes.”

By “that person” I assume you mean me. If my assumption is accurate, then you’re saying no one knows what I believe, despite my also saying above:

1)

Between contingency and convergence, I see contingency as the only possible winner for any flavor of neo-Darwinian evolution. And gave reasons why.

2)

“The only repeatable biological events we know to be true are those we observe, like reproduction.”

3)

That metaphysics constrains physics and biology, but both physics and biology have in recent times overstepped their proper bounds. And gave examples.

4)

That if evolution is true, then Thomistic philosophy is wrong, at least in regards to the metaphysical/philosophical concept variously named as “substantial form”, or “being”, or “essence”.

 

Yet, “no one knows what that person [g kc] believes.”

 

Regarding the Thomistic homework you assigned in the first few paragraphs, I might consider dusting off my copy of the Summa and giving it a shot, provided one thing:

You tell me here that Aquinas in the Summa made clear that substantial form (a.k.a. essence, being) is subject to substantial/essential change, not just change in superficials/accidentals. I’m not aware of any such position by Aquinas, but if you are, just say so, and I’ll endeavor to complete your assignment.

 

P.S.

You call me “negative”, and say I “create only obscurity and confusion”. Jon Garvey finds me “irritating”. Jim Stump senses others’ ‘increasing frustration’ with me. Perhaps I’m just deluded, but honestly, I feel like a badgered witness.


Jon Garvey - #86266

August 24th 2014

g kc

The point on substantial form, as you finally expand it here, is indeed significant. Does evolution undermine the A-T concept of substantial form, or does form (indeed the very concept of universals) create a challenge to evolution.

“Can there be forms if they gradually change?” is one problem. But “Can we have a category of ‘human person’ if forms don’t exist?” is just as serious.

I can think of at least one change of substantial form Thomas would have endorsed: the creation of Adam from the dust of the ground. Forget for a moment the question of whether, in fact, that is a poetic description. To Thomas, the form of dust could be “transformed” to the form of man - but that required the act of God himself in giving the new form, or in modern terms it required the input of new information from God.

So the metaphysical-science question re evolution would be, “Can new substantial forms arise not only gradually (which is not hard to conceive under Aquinas, since the rock gradually receives the form of a statue from a sculptor) but spontaneously?” I prefer that last word to contingently here, because choice, as well as chance, is contingent.

Now I contend that science cannot overturn the concept of form by saying, “evolution is undirected and purposeless”, for even the most random-looking variation, and selection by a complex environment, could be divine tools, providentially guided, for giving new form to matter.

I’d go further, and say that if one self-identifies with “evolutionary creation”, believing that God creates through evolution, one is saying no more or less that God gives form and final purpose (for that is the definition of  creation) through evolution, even if his working is subtle or somehow introduced at the first creation.

The science might challenge a new understanding of the metaphysics, but only a simple metaphysical choice can exclude it.

I’m no philosopher, but I wonder if Eddie’s “vacuum” example might not also be amenable to such considerations: as I understand it the metaphysical component of “nature abhors a vacuum” was that “nothing” cannot really exist. But the whole recent cosmological argument about (spontaneous) creation ex nihilo depended on the fact that a physical vacuum isn’t, in fact “nothing”.


g kc - #86271

August 24th 2014

Jon,

“I can think of at least one change of substantial form Thomas would have endorsed: the creation of Adam from the dust of the ground.”

I not sure about that. Dirt or clay can be fashioned into pots or adobe huts. But the pots can then be dissolved and reformed to make adobe huts and vice versa. Same dirt/clay, different, changeable forms. I don’t think Aquinas would have acknowledged a similar fluidity between different living forms. I think he would have seen these living forms as unchangeable. I think Aquinas would have confined “substantial form” to living things, to living beings. I’m thinking of a more substantial “substantial form”. Specifically, I’m thinking Aquinas would have advocated one “transformation” - the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

In a somewhat similar, but less obvious way, the dirt/clay used to form Adam was no longer dirt/clay once Adam was formed. Not the same can be said for the pots and adobe huts.


Jon Garvey - #86278

August 25th 2014

Well, you’re right about the transubstantiation, of course - the obvious example, but I blanked it because of my Protestant background. The overall point remains - that to Aquinas, forms come from God - and indeed, specifically from the <i>Logos</i>, rather than spontaneously.


Dennis Venema - #86259

August 23rd 2014

Ted, thanks for an excellent and informative (valued - added!) comment. Yes, you’ve ably brought what I was implying to the fore. I’ll be touching on these issues a bit more in the next post as well.


g kc - #86248

August 23rd 2014

PNG,

“If what you are allowed to find is determined by your assumptions (philosophy/ideology/world view - whatever you want to call it,) why bother with science at all?”

To use some other words of yours, “And there, precisely, is your problem.”

We have a misunderstanding, apparently.

I have no problem whatsoever with real science, including real physics and real biology. Neither did the Apostle Luke, a physician. I’m sure his doctoring ways were crude but were also more advanced than his predecessors’, and we know our ways are more advanced than his. That’s commendable and expected progress. Luke’s medical methods didn’t rely on superstition or miracles. His ways were, and ours are, reliant on reality. (And the baby Jesus was visited and honored by three men acquainted with the study of the stars.)

However, I do have a problem when science, including physics and biology, depart from reality, and more specifically, attempt to explain and deconstruct ultimate realities, ultimate “whys” and “whats” (e.g. Why does anything (as opposed to nothing) exist? What is a human being, and what is its purpose?)

Your truncated quote of me unfortunately left out the most important part, “… specifically evolutionary biology.” Every week you can read a new evolutionary explication for the source of things like morality or consciousness. Or eyes. Or sexual reproduction. They’re out of their league.

 

You also mention quantum mechanics, as if this is some new type of solid science. QM seems to have its own host of problems.

http://www.wired.com/2014/06/the-new-quantum-reality/

http://mechanism-revealedphysics-bcz75.blogspot.com/

I agree, “…snake oil salemen can dream up new and ever-goofier ideas.”


PNG - #86323

August 26th 2014

I gather from your pseudo-initials that you want to be connected to Chesterton. I’ve read a large fraction of what Chesterton wrote; I enjoyed it all, and I can’t see any resemblence between you and Chesterton. Everything Chesterton wrote, even things I disagreed with, he made interesting to consider. Everything you write I find completely useless.


Eddie - #86267

August 24th 2014

g kc:

Re 86264 above, I do not understand this remark of yours:

“You tell me here that Aquinas in the Summa made clear that substantial form (a.k.a. essence, being) is subject to substantial/essential change, not just change in superficials/accidentals.”

Is “you tell me” an instruction to me, or a report of what I have claimed? If it is the latter, it is an incorrect report. I made no claim at all about Aquinas’s teaching. Rather, I took it that you were defending Aquinas’s teaching (even though you did not name him, your language suggested you had him, or the tradition following him, in mind), and so I was asking you to highlight the difference between Darwinian theory and Aquinas (or any other teacher of your choice who holds similar views regarding essence, form, nature, etc.) by providing some passages for me to read, plus your textual analysis, so I can see the sort of texts that ground your position, and how you reason from the text to come up with your interpretation.

Perhaps some background will help you here. There are on the internet many Thomists, neo-Thomists, pseudo-Thomists, putative Thomists, Thomist-Aristotelians, etc. (they call themselves by various names) who use the same vocabulary you have used (essence, etc.) in discussing creation-evolution issues. However, these people, while claiming to represent the true, authentic, and original teaching of Thomism or Thomism-Aristotelianism, disagree with you very strongly regarding Thomism and Darwinism. They think the two are entirely compatible. In fact, for a long time, a fellow with a name like Hampden or Hampton, and a fellow with a name something like Unapologetic Catholic (both of whom identified themselves as Roman Catholics, and as Thomists) made this argument on this very site. And when people here made an argument which appears similar to your own, i.e., that an “essentialist” ontology clashes with Darwinian evolutionary science, Hampton and Unapologetic Catholic pooh-poohed the argument, claiming that the people making it did not understand Thomism. And when they were asked by others, as I have asked you, what academic training or background they had to be speaking for the Thomistic tradition in philosophy and theology, they refused to answer the question.

So you can see the position someone such as myself is in. I am faced with opposite interpretations of the same body of literature (Thomist, Thomist-Aristotelian, whatever), by people who disagree with each other, yet who both claim to understand the teaching of that literature, who both refuse to state their qualifications to expound the relevant texts, and who both have not (to date on this site) provided detailed exegesis of any such texts. (For even though the Hampton fellow freely quoted large blocks of Aquinas, he never provided any *expositio* to go with them.)

 

Now, it is obvious that if we are not sure what Aquinas teaches about the relevant matters, we cannot say whether or not his views are compatible with Darwinian theory. So I would like to be able to examine in detail your account of what Aquinas (or some similar writer) teaches. I would like to see how you pull that teaching out of his text, to see if I agree with your method of interpreting Aquinas and your philosophical commentary on Aquinas. And who knows—if you give a substantive exposition, and you hit some raw nerves, you may pull Hampton or Unapologetic Catholic out of the woodwork, and they may give a substantive rebuttal to your reading, and then we may get a really great discussion going amongst Thomists regarding evolution. That would be a great benefit to all.


g kc - #86272

August 24th 2014

Eddie,

I’ll rephrase for hopefully greater clarity:

I’ll consider completing your homework assignment, provided one thing: Provided you tell me here, for yourself (not Hampton or Unapologetic Catholic or anyone else), that you believe Aquinas in the Summa makes clear that substantial form (a.k.a. essence, being) is subject to substantial/essential change, not just change in superficials/accidentals. I’m not aware of any such position by Aquinas, but if you sincerely believe that is Aquinas’ position, just say so, and I’ll endeavor to complete your assignment.

 

If you choose to not accept my offer, then I’ll assume we’re on the same Thomistic wavelength. With that, the conflict between evolution and our understanding of Thomistic philosophy is obvious. And I can save myself some work, and you some reading of it.


Eddie - #86274

August 24th 2014

g kc:

No, I do not accept your terms.  I never said, or implied, the position regarding Aquinas that you wish me to put forth before you will respond.  I have already indicated that I am sympathetic with your conclusion.  But my sympathies are not the point.  The point is your lack of argument.  Your claim so far is mere assertion.  I want you to show me that you actually understand Thomistic vocabulary and metaphysics, by a detailed exposition of some Thomistic texts.  If you are unwilling to demonstrate this, then I will remain unconvinced regarding your level of understanding of the ideas you are invoking.

An alternative is of course available to you.  You could answer my question about your academic background.  For example, if you studied Thomistic metaphysics at Notre Dame or Villanova, and will give me the name of some professors who will vouch for your understanding, I will write to them and ask them if you really know your stuff.  (I’ll keep your real name in confidence, so no one at BioLogos will learn it.)  If they say, yes indeed, you were one of their best ever students, then I will exempt you from demonstrating your understanding (as I would exempt someone with a degree in probability theory from MIT from showing me that he knows how to employ Bayes’s Theorem or calculate the probability of independent events).  But as you refuse to offer any evidence of academic accomplishment in philosophy or theology, and as I am unconvinced that you can hold forth on this subject in any detail, I want to see some examples of your metaphysical facility.  If you won’t provide such examples, I will draw my own conclusions from their absence (as I drew my own conclusions about the level of metaphysical understanding of the Catholics I mentioned who held the position opposite to your own).

Barring your presentation of such examples, this will be my last response to you.  I leave you without rancor.  Best wishes.


g kc - #86275

August 24th 2014

Eddie,

You appear to have an extremely high opinion of, and place great value in, academic credentials. Almost to the point, perhaps, that you wouldn’t deign to listen to anyone not brandishing a burnished curriculum vitae.

I have nothing against education, per se. I have bachelor’s degree from a well-known, well-respected school and a graduate degree from the Ivy League. However, I’m not nearly as impressed by education and academics as you. And I’ve been less impressed every day, for decades now.

And it’s amazing what people without formal education can do. They can possess great leadership, with powers of intellect and articulation (e.g. Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln), they can be great writers (e.g. Mark Twain), they can go into space (e.g. John Glenn), they can do big techy things and make big money (e.g. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison). They can even do well in science, after being a high school dropout and initially failing college entrance exams (Albert Einstein).

G.K. Chesterton, an educated man himself, had some interesting things to say about education:

“No man who worships education has got the best out of education… Without a gentle contempt for education no man’s education is complete.”

“Without education we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.”

I suppose I’m more like G.K.C.

 

No, I won’t be taking the alternative course of action you offer in your second paragraph. I will say, though, that is an extraordinary, remarkable paragraph. I had to read it several times.

Eddie, I take you as a man of your word. So, I should see no more responses from you to me, and I assume, no more responses by you about me or my words.

Good bye, Eddie.


Eddie - #86276

August 24th 2014

When I said that I would not reply again, I was still thinking, despite strong clues suggesting the contrary, that g kc might be a different person from the Catholic/fundamentalist person who has posted here before under three different pseudonyms.  However, the stylistic flourish in the last paragraph, which I’ve seen before here, gives away who I am in fact talking to, so I will make one last comment to the person (real name unknown) who is now posting here under his 4th identity.

I don’t believe that degrees alone guarantee correctness or even intelligence.  It is certainly true that there have been very talented people who have very little formal education.  It is also true that there are people with Ph.D.s who are not very bright at all, outside of a narrow specialized area (and sometimes not even too bright in that).  On the other hand, theology, like nuclear physics, is an extremely subtle subject, and I have yet to meet a person who has deep and acute knowledge of it who has no formal training in it.

Since you mention having degrees, but do not claim that either one of them was in theology, I will assume that in theology you are an autodidact.  That would explain why you prefer ad lib. conversations and don’t feel comfortable doing a public exegesis of Aquinas, which requires nitty-gritty analysis and commentary that generally only formally trained people have the ability to carry out.

And that’s OK with me.  You have a right to refuse any request to demonstrate your knowledge.  But if you won’t perform a public exegesis, you can’t expect anyone here to treat you as knowledgeable regarding Aquinas.  Your claims about the teaching of Aquinas, even if entirely true, remain pure assertions, and undemonstrated.

I have no idea what you hope to gain by making undemonstrated theological claims.  Common sense would say that if you want people to change their mind from their position to yours, you have to give them an argument.  To withhold the crucial argument (the argument that would prove that Aquinas means what you say he means) is thus to thwart your own purpose, and to thwart one’s own purposes is irrational.  

As far as I can tell, you purpose in being here is to tell people who accept evolution that they are wrong, and also that evolution is incompatible with a certain religious faith which you would like them to accept, but will not specify.  But of course, if you do not specify the faith, you cannot win any converts to it, and therefore again you are thwarting your own purposes by your silence, and again being irrational.  

As far as I can make out your faith, it appears to be an as-yet-unknown cross between non-standard Catholic Thomism and maverick Biblicist literalism.  Maybe that is a useful new combination, serving the spiritual needs of those who cannot make up their minds whether final authority rests with Scripture or Tradition.  But I can’t make head or tail of it, so now, man of many names, I shall take my leave.  You four may have the last word.  


GJDS - #86280

August 25th 2014

I seem to have lost the post when placed as a reply - this is a response on the discussion regarding metaphysics and science.

Examples of authoritative and general treatments of science and how a ‘metaphysical’ (or commitment) to the natural sciences, with a detailed treatment of Darwinian evolution, is provided by Polanyi (Personal Knowledge) and S Fuller (Science vs Religion). The former is a distinguished scientist who became a philosopher (of science) and the latter is a recognised sociologist. I think that much of what is placed in Biologos blogs displays a commitment to Darwinian evolution that exceeds that found in other Natural Sciences. Both of these authors include detailed discussion on the various aspects of Darwinian evolution, pointing out shortcomings and showing that such a critical approach is healthy and consistent with how science is done. These works are well worth reading as they provide a balanced and intellectually satisfying treatment of the sciences and a far deeper appreciation of how scientists make commitments that are the result of their worldviews. I think that those who seem to imply that scientists live in a completely objectified world and have ‘overwhelming’ evidence for their outlook, may be fooling themselves – at the very least, it underlines the general points made by these authors, in that an over-enthusiastic acceptance or rejection of Darwinian evolution is NOT the result of overwhelming evidence from science, but an overwhelming commitment to an ideology/belief system.

I have made my position clear on a number of posts regarding the way TE is discussed by our US friends, so I will not add to this.


GJDS - #86281

August 25th 2014

I do not know what happened - but I seem to have lost and now regaineg the previous post and now I inadvertently provided two posts?!!?


bren - #86288

August 25th 2014

Hi G kc,

As I’ve briefly mentioned before, I find your level of discourse to be generally very intelligent and when you ask questions, they tend to be cogent and discerning, but it seems clear to me and to others here that your basic purpose here is nothing more than to take shots at evolution, whether accompanied by arguments or not.

Examples abound, but here is an example:

“The scientific weaknesses and problems with biological evolution are widely known (e.g. biological systems for stasis, not change; deleterious effects of mutations, made doubly deleterious by accumulation over time; absence of observation in nature or even of artificial coercion in the laboratory; the seeming impossibility of the random assembly of the indescribably instruction-rich DNA molecule.). These weaknesses of evolution theory need no scientific bibliography. For anyone at all familiar with the subject, they’re common knowledge, public domain, if you will. And I think the position is quite valid that having no theory is better than holding to a demonstrably and seriously flawed theory.

In this example, a list of points is brought forward as though it were a genuine list of acknowledged failings of evolutionary biology, things that are known by scientists as putting the theory in serious doubt, but avoided as a general rule since there is no naturalistic alternative to evolution.  This is, of course, not at all true, but it does match, step for step, the usual rhetoric of many creationist speakers and groups.  Considerations like deleterious mutations (note that the vast majority of mutations are neutral and in systems with multiple levels of redundancy and many fail-safes, these serve to merely increase the genetic diversity on which ns is constantly acting, weeding and refining at all levels) have been carefully, critically and quantitatively addressed by biologists for many decades and the creationist rhetoric does not reflect the care taken or the conclusions arrived at.  Yet this is presented as being something that is (often reluctantly) acknowledged by everyone.  A better and more accurate presentation of the above paragraph would include changes such as “…proposed problems with biological evolution are widely circulated in creationist circles…”, “These suspected weaknesses of evolutionary theory…”, “…these creationist claims are common knowledge, public domain, if you will.”, “…having no theory is better than holding to what I personally consider to be a demonstrably and seriously flawed theory”.

This incorrect presentation of the state of affairs keeps coming up, and it is too bad, since an outside reader might mistake you for a scientific insider who is confidently presenting the common impression of those who are working in academia and the common public confessions of working evolutionary biologists.  These things are not being humbly presented as merely your own personal opinion or as being limited to the creationist perspective.

It is an open question whether such a strategy is able to lead to constructive discourse, acting to enlighten and refine on all sides, but I sincerely doubt it and I think the results over the last few blogs are self evident, having led to frustration for you and others (while I’ve noticed that in the blogs where you ask intelligent questions with a view to thoughtfully and critically probing the subject, some very positive interactions come out of it).

I am sympathetic with Eddie’s concerns.  I have a number of points on which I disagree with Eddie (biology mostly, but I seem to remember that we politely and affably agreed to disagree!), but I appreciate his incisive thinking even on points on which we disagree, and more to the point, I am well aware that he has a much more nuanced understanding of the history of theology than I do, even though I am better read than most on the subject.  I am also aware that this is because he has received formal and in-depth training on the subject and I have not, and because of this, I am generally willing to say; “…I didn’t realize that, I may have to rethink my view on the subject” (alternatively, I’m willing to say, “I disagree for my own reasons, but I see how I’m out of harmony with this or that important theologian or historically important argument”).  This is not because I am awed by credentials; it is because I recognize that in-depth training is almost always necessary for a nuanced understanding of a complex, layered subject, and it is clear to me that the many books I have passively absorbed that touch on theology are liable to give me nothing much more useful than a false impression of my own ability to navigate a difficult topic.

In your case, in interacting with me, you have not thought it advisable to let me know what books you have studied on the subject of evolution in spite of my requests.  Your choice of course, but it always makes me wonder what would give anyone the confidence to strongly disagree with a large majority of experts in a complex field, when they are unwilling to admit of having studied it in even an amateur capacity by reading important basic texts in their own free time.  Eddie shoots higher and would like to know whether your university training puts you in a position to handle a different complex subject, theology, and you have again not thought it convenient to reply.  I did not ask this for biology, since I perhaps incorrectly assumed that you did not have that training.  I don’t think such questions should be so easily dismissed as elitism.  To all but admit that you have no formal training in a difficult subject but that you are in a position to confidently disagree with most experts who spend their lives studying it (with iron sharpening iron on a daily basis), is to admit that you are in the vanishingly small minority of geniuses who are able to master, surpass and refute even the critical mass of trained experts in their chosen topic, without even the benefit of an in-depth self-training.  Alternatively, it indicates that you have curiously not chosen to approach those who are working biologists with a minimum assumption that they may be in a better position to understand the tenor, results or subtleties of their own field.  You may disagree with evolutionary biology, but if that convinced disagreement ends up being the main thrust and motivation of your efforts here, I don’t really think you will find them to be as fruitful or appreciated as you might like.

 I hope you take these reflections in a positive light and that you understand that they are well meant.


Lou Jost - #86295

August 25th 2014

Well said, Bren. It is also striking to see that g kc feels qualified to throw QM under the bus along with evolution. This is an even more complex and well-tested theory than evolution, but g kc confidently writes off the entire field. “Snake oil”, he said. Certainly QM is very difficult to interpret, even for people who have spent their lives trying to do it. But it is pretty clear that QM captures some deep truth about the world, and is not just “snake oil”.

g kc, your second reference for your statements about QM not only reveals a striking ignorance of the field itself, but also an inability to distinguish internet crankdom from real science. This citation of yours is pure nonsense, a blog whose author claims to have resolved all the unsolved problems of physics, yet which makes no citations except to other pages on the same blog by the same author:

http://mechanism-revealedphysics-bcz75.blogspot.com/

I love this page from the same blog, which the author humbly titles: “The Comprehensively and Systematically Epoch-Making Revolution in Physics All glory belongs to the creator of the universe”

http://mechanism-revealedphysics-bcz71.blogspot.com/

The ability to detect BS is one the most important qualities of a sincere seeker after truth. It seems to me you should think more carefully about your choices of authorities. You seem to be doing what many creationists do, searching the internet for anything vaguely fitting your idealogy, and accepting that as an authority while dissing virtually all the actual experts in the field.


g kc - #86298

August 25th 2014

Lou,

I provided a proviso to my links on Quantum Mechanics: “These certainly aren’t meant to be a comprehensive treatment of the subject. They’re just quick examples I was able to Google which show QM is perhaps far from infallible science.”

But regardless whether you’re quick or slow in researching it, Quantum Mechanics/Quantum Physics has issues. Here are ten:

“The one thing you can say with any certainty about quantum physics is that there is no certainty about quantum physics.”

http://www.discovery.com/tv-shows/curiosity/topics/10-biggest-questions-raised-quantum-physics.htm


bren - #86300

August 25th 2014

To clarify, your link is concerned with ten questions raised by quantum mechanics, not 10 questions about the validity of quantum mechanics.  This does not seem like a fine distinction to me and like Lou I can’t imagine what would motivate you or justify you in denying such a well tested theory.


Lou Jost - #86301

August 25th 2014

You don’t get it. You are in creationist mode again. The theory of QM is immensely mysterious and we don’t really know how to interpret it.  I think nearly everyone agrees with that. But like a young-earth creationist who jumps from “there is some uncertainty in geological dating techniques” to “geological dating techniques are not reliable”, you jump from “QM is hard to interpret and very counterintuitive” to “…snake oil salemen can dream up new and ever-goofier ideas.”

Incidentally, you wrote those words on a computer whose transistors depend on the accuracy of QM.

You may or may not be aware of just how accurately QM describes reality. It is accurate to as many decimal places as we can measure. It does conflict with relativity (which is also often refuted by internet crackpots), so we know something is wrong somewhere. But these are not just goofy ideas that someone dreamed up. QM captures deep features of reality. You must remember that reality is not likely to be intuitive—- our brains and our senses evolved in a regime where speeds are low and sizes are medium relative to the fundamental constants of the universe, and we have no direct experience with speeds and sizes outside that realm.

The blog you cited this time is better than the crackpot blog you cited last time, but again it is hardly serious science. Of the ten questions it raises, most have nothing to do with the accuracy or completeness of QM (hint: string theory is not QM). The questions that actually are relevant to the validity of QM are treated in superficial and misleading ways. But you prefer to source a random blog rather than real authorities, and you still ignore the fact that QM always agrees with experiment. “Goofy ideas” don’t do that.


Lou Jost - #86302

August 25th 2014

I just saw Bren’s excellent comment. He’s right again—I had to be mighty charitable to grant that a few of those ten questions might actually have something to do with the validity or accuracy of QM.


g kc - #86311

August 25th 2014

Lou,

Regarding Quantum Mechanics, you’ve written that it 

- “is an even more complex and well-tested theory than evolution”

- “is very difficult to interpret, even for people who have spent their lives trying to do it”

- “does conflict with relativity, so we know something is wrong somewhere”

- “is immensely mysterious and we don’t really know how to interpret it.  I think nearly everyone agrees with that.”

 

Yet you took offense to my saying “QM is perhaps far from infallible science.”

Do I have this right?


Lou Jost - #86326

August 26th 2014

I accidentally put my response to this under your next post.


g kc - #86312

August 25th 2014

Lou,

You also wrote “But like a young-earth creationist who jumps from “there is some uncertainty in geological dating techniques” to “geological dating techniques are not reliable”, you jump from …”

When you say “some uncertainty” relative to geological dating techniques, does 90%+ uncertainty qualify? I was thinking of some wide-ranging examples:

1) The Grand Canyon: Dated at 70 million years old, for many years. Until more recent times that sometimes yielded something in the teens, and most recently only 5 million years. A 93% discrepancy.

2) Enceladus, a small moon of Saturn: Said to be as old as everything else in our solar system, which is said to be 4.6 billion years old. Enceladus spouts geysers from its hot core. But scientists now say that, due to its small size, Enceladus couldn’t have so hot a core for more than 30 million years. A minimum of a 99.4% discrepancy.

3) A dinosaur egg, said to be 145 million years old, yet containing soft tissue which should have disintegrated or been fossilized within 10,000 years. (For reasons unspecified, blind C14 testing of the tissues is never performed.) A minimum of a 99.99% discrepancy.

 

As you said regarding QM conflicting with Relativity, “so we know something is wrong somewhere”.

But these dating techniques have just “some” uncertainty.

Do I have this about right?


Lou Jost - #86324

August 26th 2014

No, I took offense at saying it was a “goofy idea”. Also, please note that none of the statements you quote from me say that the theory is inaccurate. What you STILL keep avoiding is the fact that the theory makes some of the most accurate prediction any theory has ever made, accurate to many decimal places. Nevertheless it is a very hard theory to interpret. Our theories in physics today are far more advanced than our evolved senses and intuitions about reality.


Lou Jost - #86325

August 26th 2014

oops, this was in response to your previous “Do I have this right?” re QM…


Lou Jost - #86343

August 26th 2014

This is a misplaced response to 86311, which g kc ended with nearly the same words as his next comment.


Lou Jost - #86328

August 26th 2014

Do you realize how much confirmatory data there is to support the accuracy of geological dating techniques? We know there are ways to make them go wrong. But this does not make them wrong in all cases, as you infer. In nearly all cases the dates, using very diverse methods, agree quite closely wih each other and with laboratory measurements of the decay rates or other processes used in the dating.

Did you try to see what real science says about any of the things you mention, before writing this? Yes, it is surprising that the core of Enceladus is hot today. But there are several processes available to heat its core, including radioactive decay and tidal forces causing friction. As for the Grand Canyon, it is tricky to know how long different layers of the canyon have actually been exposed. The dating of the sedimentary rock forming the layers is also tricky because the radioactive isotopes in such rock get fixed not at the moment of deposition but at the moment of cooling after formation under heat; dating by radioactive isotopes will only give ythe date of formation of the rock, not the date of ists subsequent water- or wind-driven deposition somewhere far away from its source. So yes, there is a lot of uncertainty in the age of the Grand Canyon. Note that there is no uncertainty in the statement that the canyon is many millions of years old.

The soft-tissue stuff is poorly understood and the facts are still controversial. But the weakest link in our chain of understanding here is not the dating techniques but our poor understanding of fossilization and long-term stability of organic materials under unusual conditions. Again, you seem to have absolutely zero understanding of the immense body of knowledge behind the dating techniques.

I made a promise to myself not to debate YECs here. I end up often breaking it out of frustration. But you clearly have no interest in reading anything about real geology, real biology, or real physics, so there doesn’t seem to be any point in debating with you. I’ll stop now.


GJDS - #86351

August 26th 2014

The point made in this is the reported data and how it was shown to be so innacurate as to render it as pseudo-science. I cannot think of a single paper I have reviewed or read that would get away with such data reporting. It is such a blatant and dishonest approach by you Lou, to side-step the issue by claiming you know more than others. If there is so much uncertainty, scientists make that their major point when reporting (including error bars and identifying sources of error). So sad to see you lot willingly doubting everything about your critics and freely indulging in questioning their qualifications, knowledge etc, while avoiding honest responses.


Lou Jost - #86358

August 26th 2014

In your own field, you know that chemical impurities can screw up results. You don’t therefore say that chemical analysis is nonsense. You find ways to control the impurities, or detect them.

That’s what geologists and physicists do with dating techniques. Isochron dating is one way to control for problems. If done carefully, these methods have been proven to work. They are backed up not only by very solid physics (do you deny the formulas for radioactive decay??) but also by comparison with other methods of dating. Carbon 14 tracks tree ring dating very well, and dates obtained by different isotopes normally coincide with each other (for example, the moon rocks were dated by three or four independent isotope cascades, and all were within a few percent of each other for a given rock). They also coincide with dates determined by such things as coral growth patterns, continental drift rates, etc.


James Stump - #86408

August 28th 2014

Comments have been removed from this thread for violating our abuse policy.


bren - #86310

August 25th 2014

Thanks Lou.  I completely agree with you about the problem of faulty bs detectors.  I find it amazing how many well established truths get rejected and how many absurd fantasies get embraced when people fail to discern the relative merits of their authorities.


g kc - #86296

August 25th 2014

Bren,

Thanks for your considerable advice to me. And for your sometimes kind words. But regarding the latter, can one who gives indications of being truly “very intelligent”, “cogent and discerning” not believe in evolution? Or do you mean ‘fairly intelligent, cogent, discerning… for an evolution-denier’? Absent your response on these sincere questions, I’ll assume the affirmative to the second question.

Regarding my brief criticism of evolution, you chose to focus on my noting of deleterious mutations. And you said that the vast majority of mutations are neutral. I’m not going to get into any protracted exchange with you on this topic. I’ll ask you only for one, just one, internet-accessible research article which definitively shows a mutation forming not a new type of organism, but just a new organ or system. [To be clear, I don’t mean unsubstantial changes, such as striped bass adapting to both fresh and salt water, or antibiotic-susceptible bacteria largely replaced by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.]

I’ve searched for a long time and have never found such research results. In fact, I searched again today, Googling “mutations deleterious”, and one of the top hits included this:

“Each human carries a large number of deleterious mutations. Together, these mutations make a significant contribution to human disease… Yet, distinguishing deleterious mutations from the massive number of nonfunctional variants that occur within a single genome is a considerable challenge…Our results indicate that only a small subset of deleterious mutations can be reliably identified…”

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2752137/

 

Again, I don’t want any further dialog with you now. Just one article with the results indicated, if you please.

Thanks.


bren - #86303

August 25th 2014

As you have probably heard, the better part of wisdom is in asking the right questions.  Asking for an “internet-accessible research article which definitively shows a mutation forming ... a new organ or system” is not the right question.  You will not find such an article because the question itself appears to be based on a misapprehension or two about how novelty is arrived at in the organic world.  I really think that the training requisite to dispelling such misapprehensions is the only way to approach a subject like evolution, not a piecemeal set of random corrections from complete strangers during blog discussions on Biologos, and I think that this work remains squarely in your hands, not mine.  If you have already done this work, then I continue to be interested in hearing how you went about it and why your impression of how evolutionary biology is supposed to work diverges so radically from the understanding of so many biologists.  Regardless, you do not need to acknowledge or dispute the validity of my main points in the above post, but the questions I raised are really the only questions I am interested in discussing for the time being.  Thanks for taking the time to consider them.


Argon - #86307

August 25th 2014

See <a href=“http://www.pnas.org/content/105/27/9272.full”>A genome-wide view of the spectrum of spontaneous mutations in yeast<a> out of Michael Lynch’s lab (2008 PNAS vol. 105 no. 27 9272–9277, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0803466105)

They’re calculating that 0.1%-5% of mutations may have effects on fitness.


bren - #86308

August 25th 2014

Argon,

It is possible you are responding to the wrong comment, since I don’t see the connection.  nevertheless an informative article.  The balance between deleterious mutations on one side and beneficial mutations in combination with negative and positive selection on the other is a very interesting question and one that has been addressed using bacterial models for the most part.  Anyway, it is hardly an ignored subject and I could use a little help in seeing what you were getting at by bringing it up.


Argon - #86327

August 26th 2014

Hi bren. The article cited is largely in support of the understanding you described, that most mutations do not appear to have a negative impact. It provides numbers that g kc didn’t find using his search terms: ‘mutations deleterious’. Essentially, there is a world of difference between the quoted text, “Our results indicate that only a small subset of deleterious mutations can be reliably identified” (using the techniques specified in the paper g kc found), and whether most mutations are effectively neutral.

 

This is not addressed to you, bren, but I wonder, from a metaphysical (Thomist? Perhaps not?) basis that organisms represent immutable ‘forms’, whether one can say anything about mutations, their expected frequencies, and how much variation a ‘form’ can tolerate before it ceases to be a particular form. And what is it about rigid biological ‘forms’ that would explain how organisms display generally consistent patterns of nested hierarchies at the morphological, temporal, biochemical and molecular levels? And further, why is it that the time since the apparent divergence from a common ancestor is the best predictor of relative genetic similarity if the ‘forms’ are not related by ancestry or common descent? I’m personally hard-pressed to understand, starting from the notion that God created each form of organism individually, how one could begin to explain the patterns and mechanisms we see of life on this planet. Perhaps someone could provide a cogent explanation to me? I ask because I thought that was the task others sought to address several centuries ago with limited success (or more recently among the ‘baraminologists’). Does anyone know of any recent, signficant developments in that department?


Jon Garvey - #86334

August 26th 2014

Argon

The two questions on forms…

The first, on the “tolerance” of a form, is one I want to study more myself from real A-T people, who certainly find evolution no problem to encompass, but with clear reservations. It’s not just Thomists, of course - it’s all philosophical realists as opposed to nominalists; and anyone who wants to talk about “human nature” or “normal medical parameters”, of course.

I’d just say that it doesn’t seem an insurmountable problem. Forms may be “rigid”, but that doesn’t mean their instantiation must be. Imagine you’re a mediaeval magician turning a frog into a prince: a frog is one form, a prince another, but one assumes there would be some process of transition during which neither or both predominate.

The second question is easier. It’s hard from an evolutionary perspective to believe that nested heirarchies imply anything other than common ancestry, but the entire Linnaean system on which taxonomy was founded is based on fixism.

As I understand it his classification was based on the mediaeval concept of the Great Chain of Being, and is essentially a *heirarchy* of forms from the lowest minerals up to man (in an earlier age he’d have applied it to angels too if he’d had access to specimens). Man, for example, is himself a nested-heirarchy having rational powers, animal powers and vegetative powers, as well as the simple form also possessed by minerals. So man is a “crown species” in a far more literal way than is so in evolution.

Inherent to the idea is that God’s creatorial freedom (choice-contingency) meant that there was a complete branching heirarchy in his cosmos in just the same way you’d find in, say, a military ranking. Just as Corporal Jones of signals has his exact place in the military organisation, so Amoeba proteus has its exact place in God’s economy (or in his creative mental scheme, if you prefer). Needless to say, there’s no necessity for Corporal Jones to be the Sergeant’s son.

So nested heirachies are not evidence for evolution at all, as there are - and have been historically - other explanations, though homologies in details - especially in things like broken genes - are of some evidential value for common descent, though even they could have anomalous explanations. After all, anomolies of one sort or another are invoked to explain *lack* of homology where it was expected to occur.


Lou Jost - #86336

August 26th 2014

The general agreement between nested heirarchies based on genes, karyotypes, morphology, biogeography, and fossils is very strong evidence for evolution and common descent.


Argon - #86337

August 26th 2014

Jon writes:

The second question is easier. It’s hard from an evolutionary perspective to believe that nested heirarchies imply anything other than common ancestry, but the entire Linnaean system on which taxonomy was founded is based on fixism

This is not the case for the nested hiearchy of life. Are there underlying universal ‘forms’ that lifeforms happen to ‘fit’? As you’ve mentioned, previous explanations have been put forth in the past (chain of being, Platonic forms, Morphogenetic reasonance & etc), but I’d suggest that they’ve been far less successful. And I think you undersell nature and extensiveness of the patterns: It’s not just nested hierachies in forms alone that we observe but relationships in time (fossils) and comparative biochemistry all of which strongly suggest a process of successive modification over time.

So yes, one can propose that there are alternative explanations besides successive modification over time. I’d really like to see them fleshed out in a way that is useful and hopefully, distinguishable. Minds greater than mine have certainly attempted that synthesis. The problem I’d put to you (or k gc) is can we discern why life forms the hierarchies it does on the basis of underlying forms or ‘thoughts’?

I can understand there are physical contraints that suggest why dolphins are hydrodynamically streamlined like many fish but I can’t see why, based on the Great Chain of Being, that dolphins would display an underlying biology and other characteristics that lump them in with mammals. Similarly I can’t understand why synapsids and therapsids preceded mammals in the history of life, based on Chain of Being arguments. In contrast, I can make some sense of the picture if the relationships over time and biology are suggestive of descent. I can understand why molecular divergence tends to track more with time since apparent split than physical variations. Michael Denton proposes that the are ‘forms’ into which organisms naturally evolve but again, he is 100% behind common descent.


Jon Garvey - #86341

August 26th 2014

Argon - you didn’t ask for my opinion, but for how nested heirarchies might be explained by non-evolutionary means. I simply explained how life came to be regarded as a nested hierarchy. It preceded Linnaeus, of course, but I was poitning out that essentially the whole system in use today was built by him before evolution was a beam in its mother’s eye. It wasn’t an attempt to explain a nested heararchy - it was the principled creation of one to suit Linnaeus’s philsophical/theological presuppositions.

Me, I go for common descent, but am also interested in formal causation for a number of reasons, not least because I believe God has created such a category as “man” rather than a loose continuum of similarly evolved forms.


Argon - #86373

August 27th 2014

Thank you Jon. That’s clear to me now. I’m really interested in how k gc would explain it.

Myself, I can understand that God has created ‘Man’ as a category as well but I’m not sure how.


Jon Garvey - #86377

August 27th 2014

You’ve hit the heart of the matter, Argon. If a category “man” exists, then at least God knows who’s in and who’s not - and maybe it’s in the public domain too. I experienced a related question professionally in medicine as I (occasionally!) reflected on what this “normal health” was to which I was trying to return all the disparate individuals I treated. Normality implies an ideal form of some sort.

Universals are an essential part of daily life, as well as seeming important to most theistic conceptions one can imagine. That’s why philosophical realism (ie universals actually exist) has always been so prevalent. If humanity is decided only on attributes, then it’s hard to include the undeveloped, the senile or the disabled as human.

Personally I suspect it’s a problem in biology mainly because few people have actually thought about it seriously, except maybe the structuralists who have a very real concept of “form” in taxonomy and are not satisfied with the “bean-bag” model of biology (to coin a term from the review linked in the second Meyer thread).

There do seem to me several lines of evidence suggesting that genetics and form are running on somewhat different tracks, from the predominance of neutral evolution, through the examples of cytoplasmic inheritance to the stasis-saltation appearance of the fossil record. I have a feeling more will emerge in that general area.

Athanasius saw the defining feature of man, theologically, as partaking of the life of Christ as Logos through creation. That’s a great line to take, but still requires some concept of biological humanity or, presumably, you’d be eyeing up your dog in case it was really a man-in-dog’s-clothing.

It looks from the Red Light, though, as you’ll be waiting awhile before g kc gets to reply.


bren - #86332

August 26th 2014

 

Hi Argon,

I think I misunderstood where you were coming from and I scanned the article a bit too quickly, so sorry for a slightly ungracious response!  In looking again, I see what you mean and I appreciate the reference.  I think there is a frequent misunderstanding about the nature of most mutations in creationist circles and I’ve often wondered if the view that they are always or almost always deleterious is related to the negative connotations that the word “mutation” generally has outside of molecular biology.

For your second paragraph, which wasn’t meant for me anyway, I will bow out, especially since I’ve already scolded G kc for making confident assertions on topics for in which he clearly hasn’t the background!


Argon - #86338

August 26th 2014

No problem bren.

As for k gc, I’m curious how well eternal, unchangeable forms map to biology. Does it do a better job? From the perspective of biochemistry, the ‘eternal forms’ we rely upon are the chemical elements. They don’t “change”. But the number of possible arrangements of atoms is vast and relatedly, life’s possible variability.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #86340

August 26th 2014

Argon,

Lest we forget, before Einstein science believed that matter/atoms were eternal.  It could not be destroyed.  Now we know that it can be destroyed by being transformed into energy.


Eddie - #86415

August 29th 2014

Dennis:

Thanks for the clear summary regarding Conway Morris vs. Gould.  This subject was broached once before on BioLogos, but because the author of that article was in too much of a hurry to jump to talking about the Christian doctrine of providence, he did not clearly articulate positions of the two men, as you have.  (He also got the part about providence wrong, saying that Gould’s position would be attractive to Christians with a strong view of providence, when exactly the opposite is the case, but that’s another matter.)

I wonder why Conway Morris has not been invited to write a column for BioLogos.  He would seem to be a logical choice for at least a guest column, if not a regular feature.  


James Stump - #86416

August 29th 2014

Eddie, how do you know Conway Morris hasn’t been invited??  I’m a big fan of his work.  And he is incredibly busy.  We think we’ve got him for a BioLogos event next year.  Hopefully there will be more connection with him in the future.


Eddie - #86427

August 29th 2014

I don’t actually know that he hasn’t been invited, so my wording was unjustified.  I inferred that he had not been invited because I hadn’t seen anything by him here, over the entire duration of the site.  But of course, he might have been invited, and declined the invitation.  In any case, it wouldn’t hurt to ask him to write something again.  I think Dennis’s summary is good, but there is nothing like having the man himself, especially when the subject turns to his personal religious views.


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