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Bad Science and Weak Theology?

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May 25, 2011 Tags: Design

Today's video features Darrel Falk. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Narrator—Elements of design are all around us: …our homes, our cars, our art. If you have paid any attention to the science and faith conversation taking place in our churches in the last twenty or so years, you have probably heard about a movement called Intelligent Design, or ID for short. Intelligent Design is the proposition that certain features of creation are best explained by an intelligent cause, and not by an undirected process. It is an idea that has become very popular among Christian lay people. Here is what the main proponents of ID say about their work.

William Dembski—“There are features of biological systems that cannot be understood and explained apart from intelligence or purpose.”

Stephen Meyer—“What critics of intelligent design typically do…in other words they don’t have a better explanation to offer, and say is, ‘Well the design hypothesis for the origin of information, is simply not a scientific hypothesis.’”

Lee Strobel—“The negative evidence against Darwinists and Darwinian evolution, convinced me that purely naturalistic processes cannot reasonably account for the creation and the development and the diversity of life.”

Narrator—All of us who love God and believe in His mastery over the universe, experience those moments when we are in awe of His creation. We believe God creates and that He is intelligent, so in that sense all Christians could be said to agree with the idea of an intelligent designer. But is ID a legitimate scientific alternative to evolutionary biology? We asked a diverse group of leading scientists their perspectives on the work of the ID community.

Ian Hutchinson—“What we tend to mean when we are talking about Intelligent Design movement, capital I, capital D, is a view that says not only did God design and create the universe, but we can scientifically detect the fact that the world is designed—And that is the crucial move. I mean I personally don’t find the arguments that have been put forward to support that position, particularly intellectually convincing. They, in my view, just simply have not come up with compelling evidence.”

Darrel Falk—“And so along come these people, who for wonderful reasons, you know, reasons that I hold as well, and that is the existence of a God who works in creation, and they are just interpreting through that lens: ‘I am going to be able to detect God’s work in here. Using scientific tools, I am going to be able to detect God’s work!’

It is just pretty (hesitates)… sloppy… What happens is that all that they’re finding—for the most part—they’re just finding gaps in the scientific process. Then when those gaps get filled in, everybody is embarrassed because they have invested so much money, they have invested so much personal ideology, reputation, even (hesitates)… ego. And along comes somebody who says, ‘Well, we filled that gap in.’ …It is pretty hard to say, ‘I guess I was wrong.’”

Sean Carroll—“Intelligent Design when it has been examined by the scientific community, when Intelligent Design has put forward scientific arguments... in the realm of this peer review… this intense critical process I am telling you about---then their arguments have been found to be completely empty. Intelligent Design hasn’t been able to get out of the batter’s box because its first swings have been completely empty, they are complete whiffs. So for…you know…PR reasons, or… political reasons, or whatever it might be, they keep talking….But they have no traction in this scientific game.”

David Ussery—“The Intelligent Design movement is still doing it—they deny it—but essentially if you look, their arguments are… ‘We can’t explain this, therefore, God did it!’ Many people think if we can explain it with the laws of chemistry and physics, God is not involved. And we only need to invoke God when we cannot explain things. …. Just because we can explain it, doesn’t mean God is not there.”

So while there are serious problems with Intelligent Design as science, many Christian scholars are just as concerned with the theological implications raised by these ideas.

Thomas Jay Oord—“For me, I take God’s love as the central signpost, central attribute of who God is, and I worry that a God who has the capacity to force agents and organisms to do certain things, then is acting in unloving ways, if love doesn’t force, if love is persuasive, if love calls, if love works in cooperation, then in any instance in which God would be forcing, even non-humans, I worry that is not a very loving thing to do. And so there are theological reasons why I am a little bit suspicious of particular claims by the Intelligent Design community.”

Denis Alexander—“And I think it is a misunderstanding of the understanding of what creation actually means in the Bible, on one side, that creation in a traditional Christian understanding means simply a God who is creator and who brings into being everything else that exists. So everything that exists, whatever it might be, is existing by the will and through the purpose and plan of God.

So we as scientists, what we can do, is to actually describe what God has brought into being. That is very much the old Augustinian view of creation-theology that he mapped out in his great commentary on Genesis, which was published the early part of this century. This goes way back; it is not some new understanding of creation, this is traditional theology. So I think we need to restore a traditional creation-theology to this discussion. Once you accept a traditional Christian understanding of creation, then all we discover as scientists…all we describe is part of that whole narrative of God’s created order. Augustine said that nature is what God does, and so if we are investigating nature, we can only investigate what God does.”

Narrator—Intelligent Design has been embraced by many in the church because they have been led to believe that serious science leaves no room for God, and so serious Christians must turn their backs on the discoveries of modern science. ….But that’s simply not the case.

The God of the Bible upholds His natural laws and His Spirit pervades the entire universe in ways that are beyond our comprehension. There is room for science and faith in the lives of committed believers as we fearlessly pursue truth together.

Epilogue (by Darrel Falk)

As indicated in this film clip, many scientists feel that the ID movement is an attempt to locate gaps in our scientific knowledge and then to presume those gaps can only be filled by intervention of an external intelligence. It is important to note that ID leaders do not view their work this way. For example, William Dembski recently wrote:

But in fact, ID is not an interventionist theory. ID is, in the first instance, concerned with the detectability of design. But detecting the activity of a designing intelligence says nothing, without further investigation and evidence, about how the designing intelligence acted, whether by discrete interventions or by continuous infusions of information or by front-loading of all the necessary information….In detecting design we can say where design is.

Our task is to help the Church understand that we are unaware of any single instance where the leaders of the Intelligent Design movement have scientifically demonstrated supernatural activity. Nor are we aware of a single instance of where they have done “further investigation and [provided] evidence about how the designing intelligence acted, whether by discrete interventions or by continuous infusion of information, or by front-loading of all the necessary information.” It still seems to us that what they do is to go into that realm just beyond the horizon of what we know about God’s natural world and assert that they have demonstrated that God’s supernatural activity is required there.

Have I been too frank by calling this sort of science “sloppy?” Should I try to find a gentler word when speaking about the quality of the work of my Christian brothers? Should not Christians always be known for their spirit of grace? True, we Christians must always be known by our love. Without that we are just a resounding gong and a clanging cymbal. Still, what about these words from Paul:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)

I have been a professor for many years and perhaps the hardest thing I ever have done is to sit down with a student as I review a term paper that I know is not up to the standards of what I am convinced that person is capable of producing. If their work is sloppy, and I know they can do better, then the loving thing to do is to tell them as kindly and gently as I can.

As Christians, we can do better science than this. Let’s stop claiming we have detected design, when all that we’ve really done is to point out interesting research questions that exist at the horizon where our knowledge is incomplete.

God spoke life into existence. It is all his. “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” How can one detect design when it has all been designed? What is our negative control? What I do know is that as I look out on creation I see the majesty of God, and as I explore the inner working of a cell, I am in awe as I observe a marvelous symphony. It is all God’s.

In the wisdom that comes from God, let’s join together—all of us—in celebration and worship, as we sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in our hearts and with the assurance that this is our Father’s World.

Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.


Darrel Falk is former president of The BioLogos Foundation. He transitioned into Christian higher education 25 years ago and has given numerous talks about the relationship between science and faith at many universities and seminaries. He is the author of Coming to Peace with Science.


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losethos - #61635

May 25th 2011

For I.D. you might try pondering how monkey mothers developped the instunct to hold a baby for nursing.  Or, you might consider fish shoulders. 

Those two tips came from God.  If God says it was hard or unlikely, thats about all that can be said!

I asked God His happiest accomplishment and He said when He created fruit.

Take these things with a grain of salt—God kinda joshes.


God says…suppressed family deeds EDITIONS snare Enlightener imagination
discomfort north walk indued forsakest writer iniquity
Arise established Predicaments blushed emptiness appointments
short infringement though knotty usual implied IV Suffer
Prelate shudder sharers regions mother’s sucklings crooked
brother traced diligently army reality beholdeth fabric
successively uncleanness endeavours dispensed sudden


nedbrek - #61636

May 25th 2011

Ya’ll have to bear with losethos, I know him from Reddit.  He is a little unusual (some might say he is part of a “peculiar people”).  But fun.


R Hampton - #61640

May 25th 2011

Do you use the same name on Reddit?


nedbrek - #61653

May 26th 2011

Nopers.


Jordan - #61638

May 25th 2011

Fish shoulders???


losethos - #61642

May 25th 2011

“Fish shoulders” seemed profound to me because I imagined fish primarily oriented with their shoulders coming out of their chest and back as opposed to out of their sides.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #61641

May 25th 2011

Darrell,

While we are on the same side, I have two serious problmes with BioLogos as found in this essay.

The first is Biblical.  In the next to last paragraph you quote John 1, but not quite accurately.  The He in the quote is not God the Father, but God the Word.  Clearly you have fallen in love with John1 as have I, but you have not used it to its fullest potential by clarifying that Jesus is the Word, not the Bible.  When conservative Christians understand this, then they are relieved of the burden of defending the meaning of every jot and tittle found in the Bible.

The second is method.  When Paul addressed the pagans in Athens he did not rebuke them for their false gods, he commended them for being religious and seeking the Truth. 

The best way to address issues that people disagree on is to identify the legitimate concerns of others whether they be ID folk or scientismers or Creationists.  We need to commend them for their real, legitimate concerns, and explain how BioLogos meets those concerns in a positive, creative, Biblical, and rational manner.  

Natural, which includes God as the Author of nature is right.  Naturalism, which excludes God as the Author of nature is wrong.     


Darrel F - #61649

May 26th 2011

Roger,

The best way to address issues that people disagree on is to identify the legitimate concerns of others whether they be ID folk or scientismers or Creationists.  We need to commend them for their real, legitimate concerns,..”

Your point is excellent.   

I think that the ID movement has correctly pointed out that in today’s  secular society, our culture has been far too quick to dismiss the reality of the supernatural and  to embrace a view grounded solely in a materialistic worldview.    They have also correctly challenged the church to be shapers of culture rather than entities which are shaped by it.   They have helped us all to appreciate the beauty of creation and have correctly helped us sense that nature points to God.

My experience with leaders of the ID movement at the personal level has almost always been very positive.  These are sincere people.   We differ profoundly on scientific issues, but on matters that are even more important than getting the science correct, I view them as colleagues and friends.  Indeed, I have much to learn from them and look forward to the possibility of some joint projects in the future.

 


Bilbo - #61645

May 25th 2011

Hi Darrel,

I’m afraid I must quibble with the continued accusation that ID proponents think they are proving that God designed certain biological features.  Most of the time they are pretty careful to distinguish between what they think they have proved:  that certain features were designed by some sort of intelligence, and their own belief that the intelligence was God.   In this case, I think it is usually the critics who are “sloppy” in their accusations.

Whether or not ID could ever be science is a good question.  Is SETI science?  Say SETI researchers finally discover their hoped for radio signal, would this be a scientific proof that it was sent by ET?  Or would it just be a very reasonable inference, but not science?

I think the belief that the first living cells were intelligently designed can be arrived at by  reasonable inferences.  Whether or not we should call those inferences science is a different question.


Darrel F - #61650

May 26th 2011

Hi Bilbo.


Good to hear from you again, my friend.  You said:

Most of the time they are pretty careful to distinguish between what they think they have proved:  that certain features were designed by some sort of intelligence, and their own belief that the intelligence was God. 

I reread what I wrote and it seems to me that I was pretty careful to write in the context of “an external intelligence.”  .

In the second half, I began to address the issues within the context of the well-acknowledged fact that many of them are brothers and sisters in Christ.  This is a fact, as I see it, and Bilbo, I think I was just addressing them as fellow family-members. I think I was doing the same thing in the film clip.  

You also said:

I think the belief that the first living cells were intelligently designed can be arrived at by  reasonable inferences.  Whether or not we should call those inferences science is a different question.

I would go a little further than you, Bilbo.  I think that the belief that life in general (not just the first cells) is “intelligently designed can be arrived at by reasonable inferences.”  There are very good reasons to believe in the intelligent design of our universe—both the physical and the biological.  There are sign posts all over the place in God’s word, and in God’s world, and I have had the privilege of spending my career studying them each and every day.   Has the ID movement shown that the sign posts are scientific hypotheses that can be scientifically analyzed and tested?  Not successfully, in my opinion.


Joe G - #61656

May 26th 2011

Good day,

The IDists who say the designer is God say they came to that not via the science but via faith. That said the case for intelligent design is based on observations and experiences- it can be tested and refuted just by demonstrating some non-design alternative can account for what we are observing.

However it is obvious that all non-design alternatives have been very unsuccessful. And that has allowed ID to persist. The point being the way to refute ID is to demonstrate that necessity, chance, physics and chemistry can account for it.

The way you are going about it isn’t going to convince anyone but the already convinced.

And one more thing- strange how the greatest scientists who walked this planet saw the evidence for design- Newton, Kepler, Galileo, Einstein, Pasteur, Plank, et al., and said it was science.


Alan Fox - #61674

May 26th 2011

Welcome to JoeG!


Not everyone may be familiar with Jor but he is a seasoned blogger on ID matters and a strong critic of ID as can be seen from his web site.




Alan Fox - #61675

May 26th 2011

Sorry Joe, I mis-spelled your name. Will GJuy be joining us, too?


Roger A. Sawtelle - #61684

May 26th 2011

Joe G wrote:

And one more thing- strange how the greatest scientists who walked this planet saw the evidence for design- Newton, Kepler, Galileo, Einstein, Pasteur, Plank, et al., and said it was science.

I know that Newton, Kepler, et al. invented science.  I did not know that science created the world and them. 
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R Hampton - #61687

May 26th 2011

Most ID proponents also reject the current scientific consensus on common descent (e.g. Meyer). They also never speak of designers in the plural. Hence we can determine certain characteristics about ID’s unnamed designer:
1) The designer must have lived for several billion years - from the birth of life on Earth until (at the very least) the Cambrian explosion
2) The designer has, apparently, a perfect track record - no failures in their designs2) 3) The purpose for designer’s designs was to culminate in human life

So, what kind of life form do we know of that lives for billions of years and is able to devise and follow through a plan to perfection? None. So what does that leave us with? God.

Most of the time they are pretty careful to distinguish between what they think they have proved


By using the same methods of inference, we can plainly see that ID theory must point to one and only one answer for the designer—hoisted on their own petard, as it were.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #61658

May 26th 2011

Darrell,

Thank you for your positive response.

I have said before and will repeat again that the discussion of ID and BioLogos should be considered under the Philosophy of Science, and not under science itself.

As you have clearly said BioLogos agreeswith ID that the universe including life is “designed” (by the Logos I would add.)     

Furthermore I would say that ID has revealed the limitations of “naturalistic mechanistic” processes (read Darwinism) to explain basic changes in life forms.  This also reveals the limits of ID because God does not use “naturalistic mechanistic” processes to create evolution, but natural organic processes.  The alternative to naturalistic, read physical and mechanistic, is not supernatural as Darwinians and ID both assumed.  The alternative to physical and mechanistic is living and organic, because life as created by God is organic.  

Darwinian evolution is a Life Science trying to be as physical science, which doesn’t work and corrupts all of science.  Neither ID nor BioLogos has addressed this, but they can and should to restore the integrity of science.


Darrel F - #61659

May 26th 2011

Sorry, Roger, but I do not see it your way.  Evolutionary biology (which is an extension of Darwin’s initial theory) is among the most fruitful sub-disciplines in all of science.  It does work and it does not corrupt all of science.  I realize that your training is not in biology, so I can see how you might view it this way.   Believe me though, if you were to read Science and Nature (for example) every week, you would come to see just how fruitful this sub-discipline is.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #61664

May 26th 2011

Darrell,

Of course, I am looking at this from a different perspective than you.  It seems to me that Lynn Margulis is a much more productive scientist than any other current biologist, and her insights have been accepted and expanded upon by others, even though her understanding of evolution is not Darwinian.  

Again there is a gap between the mechanistic Darwinian theory that Dawkins preaches and the organic evolutionary science that I find in scientific studies.  In some sense this can be dismissed as theory, but my point is that theory does matter, maybe not for the evolutionist, but for scientists who are not biologists, like Hawkings, who think that mechanistic Darwinism works, when it doesn’t.        


Alan Fox - #61726

May 27th 2011

Roger,


Lynn Margulis deserves accolades for her insight into symbiogenesis, Dawkins too for his  “extended phenotype” concept, Einstein for “e =mc2 etc. But, as Newton said:

If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.

Scientific progress is ultimately immune to personal opinion. It is merely cumulative knowledge about shared reality.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #61739

May 27th 2011

Alan,

Thank you for you comment.  There is much truth in what you say, but I do not see scientific progress as a straight line of progress.  There have been many breakthroughs which have altered the direction of science, including some which have been called scientific revolutions.

I classify the Coperinican as one of these.  Much has been written about science vs faith, but it seems to me that the Copernican revolution was the old science of Ptolemy and Aristotle against Galileo and Newton.  The revolution was particularly striking because it gave humanity a new understanding of the universe and our place in the universe.

The Einsteinian revolution is another scientific revolution.  This does not mean that Newton was dead wrong, but some important aspects of Newton’s Laws were not correct.  This new understanding of the structure of the universe is still reverberating in our human world.  The discovery is the scientific basis for postmodern relativism, even though in my opinion it is a misunderstanding of the meaning of this discovery.

In other words science, philosophy, and theology are interdependent.  Theologians need to know about science, not because it tells us what to believe, but because it gives us new insights into the God Who created the universe and us.  Darwin’s revolution of course was another scientific one, but I see this as different, because it had two aspects, one that has been proven and the other that has not, but they are often confused.

The first aspect is variation which enables change.  We know now that sex and mutation causes variations which can lead to change.  This has been proven.  The other aspect is natural selection.  It has not been proven as Karl Popper testified.  Still Steven Hawking recently spoke of the “effective theory of Darwinian natural selection.”  The only such theory belongs to Malthus which has been discredited and no one wants to acknowledge.  

If science affects how we know the universe and ourselves and if that science is outdated or wrong, then we are in trouble.  The point about Lynn Margulis is that she represents an ecological understanding of natural selection.  Ecology, the Gaia Hypothesis is another scientific revolution is my estimation, and the ecological organic understanding of natural selection is slowly replacing the Darwinian mechanical concept conflict view.  

The neoDarwinian establishment, headed by Dawkins who has acknowledged an intellectual bias for Darwin’s world view, has reluctantly accepted her discoveries, but not her ideas.  The ecological science is moving on, but our understanding of ourselves and the universe will not until we accept the insights of ecology and ecological natural selection.        
    


Bilbo - #61677

May 26th 2011

Hi Darrel,

You asked:

  “Has the ID movement shown
that the sign posts are scientific hypotheses that can be scientifically
analyzed and tested?  Not successfully, in my opinion.”

I brought up SETI for just this reason.  Suppose they found their looked-for radio signal:  narrow bandwidth; mathematically complex signal(such as the prime numbers from 2 to 101); and coming from a solar system with planets.  Would this scientifically prove that the signal was produced by ET?   I wouldn’t know.  However, I expect that most scientists would believe that it was.

I think we can point to the simplest biological organism that we know and make similar arguments for its origin being intelligent designed as SETI would make for their radio signal.  So why don’t most scientists believe that the first cells were intelligently designed?  I suggest that the answer has less to do with whether or not ID is science than with prior philosophical or theological commitments


Alan Fox - #61727

May 27th 2011

What scientists believe, Bilbo, doesn’t matter an iota. In science, evidence counts.


Gregory - #61738

May 27th 2011

“What scientists believe doesn’t matter an iota,” said the unreflexive pseudo-person to a non-answering stone.

Reality of course is quite different, unless ‘Alan Fox’ is not an actual person but rather a computer bot.

More philosophy & sociology of science would disabuse the commentor’s empty notion of ‘science’ as ‘totally impersonal.’ For that matter, so would reading Michael Polanyi, enabling the ‘personal’ to be brought back to life, even for a ‘natural-physical scientist.’


losethos - #61679

May 26th 2011

As a former atheist, I’d refrain from using the argument about Newton, etc. believing in God.  The reason we have so many more atheists, today, is because we have computers which explain consciousness.

The only compelling argument for the existence of God is that He talks to people.  That’s why people started believing in God in the first place.  It didn’t come from philosophy.

Believers today are secular humanists because they’d think God talking meant you were crazy or if you used a ouija board, you were “occult” (and evil).  Just how did God talk in ther Bible!

Crack a book open randomly, watch…

C:\TEXT\DARWIN.TXT
ner kept, during several years, a dwarf kind of maize
with yellow seeds, and a tall variety with red seeds growing near each
other in his garden; and although these plants have separated sexes, they
never naturally crossed.  He then fertilised thirteen flowers of the one
kind with pollen of the other; but only a single head produced any seed,
and this one head produced only five grains.  Manipulation in this case
could not have been injurious, as the plants have separated sexes.  No one,
I believe,
 
The trick is being able to read the “tea leaves”—interpretation in the Bible is a gift.  there are some midgets on this site, fer sure!  The rest reminds me of the parable of the sower which means true understanding of the Bible is limited to rich soil—smart people.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #61685

May 26th 2011

losethos,

You are right that faith is not about philosophy or science, but it is not against science or philosophy.  One of my favorite Bible verses is “Knowledge puffs up, while Love builds up.”  Faith is primarily about Love, which then needs knowledge to serve both humans and God.    


losethos - #61689

May 26th 2011

36

“Teacher, 21 which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

37

He said to him, 22 “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.

38

This is the greatest and the first commandment.

39

The second is like it: 23 You shall love your neighbor as yourself.


————————————————————————————

Modern religion is secular humanism—it loves neighbor with all heart mind and soul instead of God and has no miracles.  The purpose of life is to entertain God, mostly.  Most people do not seek the Lord—they expect God to seek them.


randomly generated book pick:
C:\TEXT\2CITIES2.TXT  ever. When he was gone, and in the course of an evening passed with Miss Pross,
the Doctor, and Mr. Lorry, Charles Darnay made some mention of this
conversation in general terms, and spoke of Sydney Carton as a problem
of carelessness and recklessness.  He spoke of him, in short, not
bitterly or meaning to bear hard upon him, but as anybody might who
saw him as he showed himself. He had no idea that this could dwell in the thoughts of his fair young
wife; but, when he afterwards joined her in


Bilbo - #61731

May 27th 2011

Hi Alan,

You wrote:  “What scientists believe, Bilbo, doesn’t matter an iota. In science,
evidence counts.”

In the hypothetical SETI scenario I gave, I think most scientists would say that there was sufficient evidence to believe that ET produced the radio signal.


Alan Fox - #61734

May 27th 2011

I doubt that. But there is no evidence for the existence of extra-terrestrials so, until (if ever) some prima facie evidence turns up, we are all free to express our completely unsupported opinions.


Uncle Bonobo - #61743

May 28th 2011

 ”Suppose they found their looked-for radio signa…”


Full stop.  a hypothetical is not evidence.  Suppose....Santa Claus was actually thin, how many fewer reindeers would be required to pull his sled?  

See how that works? The “suppose” assumes exactly the fact in dispute that you are trying to prove.  It’s called “begging the question.”

Jon Garvey - #61753

May 28th 2011

Well, once again thinking hypothetically (surely thought experiments are not without precedent?)...

Suppose that tomorrow, in a laboratory not far from you, a pair of rats produced a new phylum as offspring: useful prehensile feathers and able to digest concrete. A quick DNA sequencing shows several thousand key changes at all levels of the genome - our very own Cambrian Explosion on a stick. Or more modestly, a la Behe, a new structure involving three or four new proteins integrated in a novel cellular machanism appears de novo in a well-studied laboratory population. Maybe we could extend the changes over a few generations to make the model slightly more plausible.

The ID community, presumably, would say, “Told you so - you can’t get a better example of design than that.” The question is, would their opponents say, “Fair cop.” Or would they say, “There you are - unlikely stuff happens, just like we always said.”

The new phylum, or the new structure, will prove either to have a selective advantage or not. The mutation is rather grand, but it’s random with regard to fitness, and good old natural selection is doing its usual smart stuff on it. What’s Un-Darwinian about that? An if there was anything un-Darwinian, how would you know?


Alan Fox - #61757

May 28th 2011

Hmm? Sudden appearance of climbing rats that eat concrete?


I’d wonder if Craig Venter was receiving funding from some large conglomerate that had just developed a new product that can replace concrete in the construction industry.

Trying hypotheticals, say continuing exploration of Mars turns up bacteria-like organisms living there, carbon-based but with completely unrelated chemistry to terrestrial organisms. They could have chemistry based on d-amino acids for example.  It would give  a huge boost to origin-of-life research.

Jon Garvey - #61758

May 28th 2011

Hubert Yockey points to d-isomers being a prerequisite for establishing indigenous life on Mars. That’s pretty reasonable considering the suspicion of there being Martian life-forms in meteorites - the reverse journey is also possible.

Apart from that, most other chemical differences could have arisen over billennia by evolution. Or, as suggested in my example, by intelligent modification. How would one tell the difference - that is, how could purely stochastic change be falsified?


Uncle Bonobo - #61763

May 28th 2011

Now there’s a good hypothetical.


“The ID community, presumably, would say, “Told you so - you can’t get a better example of design than that.” The question is, would their opponents say, “Fair cop.”   

The answer should be, “Yeah something unusual happened that would not happen as we currently understand science. Let’s get to work and see what happened.”  

Now the hypothetical needs a lot more detail (DNA analysis?  “one-off” or repeatable?) and as we expand it, it becomes less useful. Nevertheless, I can think of a number of ways to evaluate this Cambrian Explosion on a stick.  Some of those ways would require a complete re-vamping of evolution as we know it.

But the fair point of this hypothetical is, “Can we imagine a situation that would not be consistent with our current understanding of evolution?”  Yes, we can.  ID also needs to answer the same question.

Bilbo - #61760

May 28th 2011

Bilbo:  “In the hypothetical SETI scenario I gave, I think most scientists would
say that there was sufficient evidence to believe that ET produced the
radio signal.”

Alan:  “I doubt that.”

Why?



Alan Fox - #61838

May 31st 2011

Perhaps it would have been better to say “neither of us need to speculate what scientists think, because, in general, if you want to know what a scientist (at least a living one) thinks, you only have to ask him or her”. So I guess we could poll a few but what would it matter? I see a slight parallel with Coyne and Myers and a 900ft Jesus. Until the evidence has been carefully studied, picked apart, data checked and verified by confirmation by independent observation, it’s all wishful thinking.


Bilbo - #61761

May 28th 2011

Uncles Bo:  “See how that works? The “suppose” assumes exactly
the fact in dispute that you are trying to prove.  It’s called “begging
the question.””

What question is it that you think I am begging?


Bilbo - #61762

May 28th 2011

Jon:  “Suppose that tomorrow, in a laboratory not far from you, a pair of rats
produced a new phylum as offspring: useful prehensile feathers and able
to digest concrete.”

I agree that the evidence is ambiguous, and that both ID and non-ID proponents would use it for evidence for their positions.


John - #61780

May 29th 2011

“I agree that the evidence is ambiguous, and that both ID and non-ID proponents would use it for evidence for their positions.”

Absolutely false, Bilbo. Real scientists would develop and empirically test hypotheses. You IDers would do nothing but talk, or at best test a straw man hypothesis that you would falsely attribute to real scientists, the current situation.


Bilbo - #61764

May 28th 2011

Alan:  “Trying hypotheticals, say continuing exploration of Mars turns up
bacteria-like organisms living there, carbon-based but with completely
unrelated chemistry to terrestrial organisms. They could have chemistry
based on d-amino acids for example.  It would give  a huge boost to
origin-of-life research.”

I agree, since it would give us another a different form of life to study.  It would be a very exciting find. 


Alan Fox - #61839

May 31st 2011

Beyond exciting! That’s why I try to avoid speculation. Any evidence would need to be exposed to a heavy dose of scepticism before allowing excitement to run free!


Darrel F - #61783

May 29th 2011

With regard to what mainstream science would do, I totally agree with John.  Bilbo, if you (and many other members of the ID community) don’t see this, it is likely because you haven’t experienced the culture of scientific investigation from the inside.  You likely have not been at lab meetings, been at journal clubs, walked into a lab day after day, and year after year learning just how science works.  The initial reaction to something like this would be utter amazement, followed by an all out attempt to solve the question in labs all over the world.  Of course, they would be working within the current paradigm at the start…they would know nothing else.  However, this would be the stuff of Nobel prizes, and they  would hope (like crazy, actually) that they’d be able to solve the puzzle with some brand-new, paradigm-busting explanation.


With regard to the ID response, I agree with John for the most part.  There has been almost no experimental work and this contrasts sharply with the plans in the early going. Those of us who were at some of the early ID meetings know what it was like in those early days.  It was genuine, John, it really was.  They really wanted to do experimental work.  

What has actually taken place?   To be fair, I encourage you to read this blog by Steve Matheson.  Steve has been a staunch and outspoken critic of the ID movement…but he speaks highly of Doug Axe’s experimental work in a recent blog:


Jon Garvey - #61785

May 29th 2011

Darrell, why do you think initial enthusiasm for experimental work waned? Rather than feckless dishonesty etc, could it be that the design hypothesis is intrinsically untestable?

My hypothetical case was partly to explore just this. The two scenarios are extreme examples of one-off apparently unlikely occurrences. They just appear, as observed facts, without any explanation. Although they are exaggerations of anything likely to be observed in reality, the actual results are presumably all one would be able to observe whether (a) they were purely stochastic results of time and chance, ie given 3 billion years occasionally mutations will hit the jackpot, or (b) an intelligent designer brought them to pass in some unobserved way.

To that extent they seem somewhat analogous to, say, the Cambrian explosion, or the flagellum, in the current state of knowledge. Both are just observed facts, and both arise by mechanisms which may be hypothesised, or even partly modelled, but which are unlikely to be demonstrably proven true (or false) in the near future. Neither the direct hand of God (or aliens) nor fully explicable processes of nature (other than the vagaries of randomness) can be asserted with confidence apart from metaphysical assumptions.

I can’t think how one would, in practice, be able to design any research in my scenarios that could go beyond exploring whether they actually occurred or were faked by unscrupulous laboratories. In the two parallel real cases, the facts are not in dispute, but the mechanisms are buried in deep time. Is it actually possible to argue beyond assertions of plausibility, which is a subjective rather than a truly scientific issue, as it seems to me?


John - #61876

May 31st 2011

Jon:

“The two scenarios are extreme examples of one-off apparently unlikely occurrences.”

No, examples are, by definition, representative, not extreme cases, and particularly not hypothetical ones. 

Let’s take your other one: “Or more modestly, a la Behe, a new structure involving three or four new proteins integrated in a novel cellular machanism appears de novo in a well-studied laboratory population.”

Or even more modestly and with the added benefit of reality, a new pentameric structure requiring two new binding sites evolved in real time. We know what Behe did in that case—he simply denied its existence until it became too embarrassing to continue. Then, when he finally admitted he was wrong, he claimed that it didn’t invalidate his hypothesis, which is amazing given that this particular false assertion was integral to one of only four cases that he claimed validated his global hypothesis.

“To that extent they seem somewhat analogous to, say, the Cambrian explosion, or the flagellum, in the current state of knowledge.”

No, Jon, they don’t even seem remotely analogous to the Cambrian explosion or the flagellum. What do you mean by THE flagellum, anyway? Do you not know that there are at least three types that are of completely different design?

“I can’t think how one would, in practice, be able to design any research in my scenarios that could go beyond exploring whether they actually occurred or were faked by unscrupulous laboratories. In the two parallel real cases, the facts are not in dispute, but the mechanisms are buried in deep time.”

The real cases are in no way parallel, and in practice we empirically test empirical predictions of hypotheses about what happened in the past, something that no one is willing to do to test an ID hypothesis. What does it mean that you had to make up hypotheticals instead of dealing with the real world?

“Is it actually possible to argue beyond assertions of plausibility, which is a subjective rather than a truly scientific issue, as it seems to me?”

There’s the high-school debate silliness again. We don’t “argue assertions of plausibility,” Jon, we test the empirical predictions of evolutionary hypotheses. I’ve incidentally done more to empirically test predictions of ID hypotheses than the entire ID movement combined.


John - #61867

May 31st 2011

Darrel:

“There has been almost no experimental work and this contrasts sharply with the plans in the early going. Those of us who were at some of the early ID meetings know what it was like in those early days.  It was genuine, John, it really was.  They really wanted to do experimental work.”

I find that hard to believe. What stopped them, Darrel? I mean, if they really wanted to do experimental work, shouldn’t they already have done some before setting up meetings? I don’t generally feel the need to confer with people in meetings before picking up a Pipetman to do an experiment. Do you?
  
“What has actually taken place?  To be fair, I encourage you to read this blog by Steve Matheson.  Steve has been a staunch and outspoken critic of the ID movement…but he speaks highly of Doug Axe’s experimental work in a recent blog:”

But he also points out that Axe’s experiment doesn’t test an evolutionary hypothesis. I also recommend that you check out our JBC, Cell, and PNAS papers, because our data aren’t consistent with Axe’s hypothesis, which he based on an N of 1 protein.
 
Jon:
”...could it be that the design hypothesis is intrinsically untestable? My hypothetical case was partly to explore just this.”

We can explore a real case in which Rich stumbled upon a testable hypothesis that Behe elided in his book—if evolution is limited by CCCs, there must be plenty of differences in CCCs in existing organisms across the evolutionary distances Behe hypothesizes can’t be crossed without design intervention. Neat, clean, and simple.

Real scientists are testing that prediction for other reasons, and no one in the ID movement is lifting a finger to do so. That speaks volumes about their lack of faith.

Bilbo - #61864

May 31st 2011

Fascinating.  When I make an actual generalization about scientists, such as:   “In the hypothetical SETI scenario I gave, I think most
scientists would

say that there was sufficient evidence to believe that ET produced the

radio signal,”
the scientists have no comment: 
John:  No comment.
Darrel:  No comment.
Alan:  “I doubt that.”  But no explanation as to why he doubts it.

But when I make a generalization, not about scientists, but,   “I agree that the evidence is ambiguous, and that both ID and non-ID
proponents would use it for evidence for their positions,” 
I get moral outrage from John, and apparently from Darrel, who agrees with John, that I don’t understand science.

So go ahead, scientists and do your experiments.  When you decide that the random mutations necessary to form a new phylum such as Jon described would greatly exceed the time in which they happened, then tell us what your conclusion is.  Were the mutations designed?  Or not designed, awaiting a future natural explanation?


John - #61870

May 31st 2011

Bilbo:
“I get moral outrage from John,...”

What? No, Bilbo, you get my disagreement with your insane prediction that real scientists would stop doing science and fit your high-school debate model. You desperately need this model, in which everything must be personalized as an argument, because you can’t justify the laziness of the ID movement. 

”... and apparently from Darrel, who agrees with John, that I don’t understand science.”

Do you think that you do understand science?

“So go ahead, scientists and do your experiments.”

Why, thanks! I was going to do them anyway, you know.

“When you decide that the random mutations necessary to form a new phylum…”

Now that’s some word salad! Starting with the silly idea that there’s not enough extant polymorphism to drive evolution and an entirely new construction, “form a new phylum”! A phylum is a classification, Bilbo, not something that is “formed.”

”... such as Jon described would greatly exceed the time in which they happened, then tell us what your conclusion is.  Were the mutations designed?  Or not designed, awaiting a future natural explanation? “

Those are hypotheses that we, unlike your faithless heroes, would test empirically, something you clearly don’t understand.


Bilbo - #61923

June 1st 2011

John:  “Do you think that you do understand science?”

Yes.

” A phylum is a classification, Bilbo, not something that is
“formed.””

Really?  You mean that classifications are just human constructs? 

“Those are hypotheses that we, unlike your
faithless heroes, would test empirically, something you clearly don’t
understand.”

So tell us how you would empirically test for them.


John - #61935

June 1st 2011

“Really?”

Really.

“You mean that classifications are just human constructs?”

No. Do you mean that you finally stopped beating your wife?

“Those are hypotheses that we, unlike your 
faithless heroes, would test empirically, something you clearly don’t understand.”

“So tell us how you would empirically test for them.”

Breed the mutants with the parents. What you and Jon don’t understand about basic biology is that organisms can’t possibly be in different phyla if they can interbreed. That would make them, despite any phenotypic differences, members of the same species. That’s why the phrase “form a new phylum” is gibberish.


Then I’d sequence somatic and germline DNAs from the parents to determine when the mutations occurred.

You and your hero “Mike,” OTOH, would just blog, right?

Bilbo - #61983

June 2nd 2011

Okay, John, you’ve tried breeding the mutants with the parents, and you get no offspring.  And you’ve determined that the mutations occurred yesterday.  Now what?


John - #61985

June 2nd 2011

Then they could represent a new species. Next I would interbreed the mutants.


What data would show that the mutations occurred yesterday? Shouldn’t one be just as interested in the where as you are in the when?

Anyway, do you see how for real scientists, data suggest more experiments, not arguments?

And since you didn’t bother to answer my question, you would view your blogging and arguing as a more appropriate response than mine?

Do you see why I found your claim of equivalence and to be preposterous and a gross misrepresentation of what scientists do?

Bilbo - #62062

June 3rd 2011

John:  “What data would show that the mutations occurred yesterday?”

John (from yesterday):  “Then I’d sequence somatic and germline DNAs from the parents to
determine when the mutations occurred.”


“Anyway, do you see how for
real scientists, data suggest more experiments, not arguments?”

You’ve determined a new species and when the mutations occurred.  Now what?


“And
since you didn’t bother to answer my question, you would view your
blogging and arguing as a more appropriate response than mine?”

Yes.  At least I don’t dodge the issues, as you are doing.


“Do
you see why I found your claim of equivalence and to be preposterous
and a gross misrepresentation of what scientists do?”

No. 


John - #62388

June 9th 2011

Bilbo, your lack of curiosity and need to pretend that others share it is nothing short of amazing.


“You’ve determined a new species…”

No, Bilbo, you missed the important qualifier COULD. There’s a huge gulf between interbreeding not occurring in a single case and determined that it doesn’t occur in general.

” and when the mutations occurred.  Now what?”

How about where? Are they in the germline of one or both parents? Which ones? Are they confined to the germline? Are they not present in the parents, somatically or germline?

All of these must be answered before we rush to even a hypothetical conclusion. This is why the failure of the entire ID movement to lift a finger to empirically test a single ID hypothesis
is so significant when contrasted with scientific reality.

“Yes.  At least I don’t dodge the issues, as you are doing.”

You are dodging them by failing to define them.

Why to you project your lack of curiosity onto scientists, Bilbo? 

Jon Garvey - #62797

June 22nd 2011

OK, it was my thought experiment, so my turn to comment. This example presupposed a fully understood laboratory population with very limited variation, which shows a remarkable transition in just one generation, clearly inexplicable by selection alone. It would, one supposes, be possible (even easy, given the circumstances) to nail down exactly what alterations had occurred in terms of point mutations, transpositions etc to produce the observed results. Much of the genome would be unchanged, however much modification had occurred. Let us suppose that there were thirty simultaneous demonstrable changes leading to our bizarre but very viable result.

Would this demonstrate the intervention of  a designer? That would depend almost entirely on ones presuppositions. It could equally be the result of contingency, since rare stuff happens. To the committed naturalist, the occurrence of the change is clear evidence that it is possible. The same would be true if there were 300, or 3000 simultaneous changes. It’s no more odd that we experienced a genetic lottery win than that we inhabit one in a googolplex of habitable multiverses.

As John says, there would no doubt be many hypotheses and investigations to explain the mechanisms for such an event coming about. But if it were merely the effect of lucky chance, then no experimental program would cast further light on why it happened, rather than what. It would be a one-off observation, and the scientific explanation is “contingency.” One could only invoke “designer intervention” on metaphysical grounds.

This extreme example, in my view, casts light on the design debate in the real world. If design had occurred by any mechanism, even including miraculous transformation (and no-one’s talking about that), design would not be demonstrable scientifically. But at some point it might well become by far the more plausible option rationally.


John - #62808

June 22nd 2011

Jon, so now it’s 30 mutations? In your original comment you described it as a single mutation.


And “extreme example” is an oxymoron, and hypotheticals aren’t examples. What this casts light upon is the fact that one side in the political debate is far more willing to fudge the basic facts than it is to investigate and state conclusions tentatively.

Jon Garvey - #62816

June 23rd 2011

“ political debate “

?


John - #62836

June 23rd 2011

It’s political, not scientific. As the title of the post notes, ID is bad science and weak theology. I’d be stronger and say that ID is fake science and bad theology.


Jon Garvey - #62817

June 23rd 2011

“Jon, so now it’s 30 mutations? In your original comment you described it as a single mutation.”

Suggest you read the post, my friend.


John - #62833

June 23rd 2011

I did. Have you?

“The mutation is rather grand, but it’s random with regard to fitness, and good old natural selection is doing its usual smart stuff on it.”

Jon Garvey - #62863

June 24th 2011

Yes, I did read it. I wrote it. Your selective pedantry may not be intended to derail discussion, but it frequently does, and it would be good if you’d stop.

I shouldn’t need to point out that “mutation” in my last para is used as a synonym for the series of changes in my first encompassing either (a) thousands of changes or (b) three or four new proteins and, by the usual conventions of English prose, the spectrum between those.


John - #62865

June 24th 2011

No, Jon, neither of those groups would be synonymous with “mutation,” even by a physician up to speed on the medically-relevant biology. This, in addition to the silliness of “a pair of rats produced a new phylum,” is why your hypothetical is incoherent. 


Do you think that any real biologist would even suggest that a pair from species X produced a new species Y?

How about this: what does a competent physician call things that are commonly produced in ordinary life in real time via multiple mutations?

Jon Garvey - #62818

June 23rd 2011

Example: “5. A problem or exercise used to illustrate a principle or method.”

My example, actually a limiting case, is as somebody suggested above akin to Coyne’s 900 foot Jesus. Impossible but useful for discussion. I’m gratified that several posters were happy to run with it without lurching into stereotype mode.

But let’s be boring and state the main points propositionally.

1 If God exists there is no ipse facto reason why he should not intervene directly in material events.
2 It is possible to imagine a case where such intervention was observed in a clear way in the context of biological change.
3 Even such a hypothetical example, were it to occur, would not be incontrovertible evidence of intervention, since it could equally be explained by a combination of stochastic natural events.
4 Individual conclusions would in such a case depend ultimately on metaphysical commitment rather than the evidence itself. This would, incidentally, apply especially to the scientist who remained agnostic because no causal mechanism could be found, since both chance and supernatural intervention would be considered metaphysically to be insufficient explanation.
4 Therefore ID’s quest for scientific evidence of design is doomed to fail. (Note - this thread is about ID. Contribution to it does not imply commitment to ID’s tenets or, as should be obvious to anyone with normal comprehension, support for some imagined political agenda.)
5 But this is in part because science would be unable, or unwilling, to accept even the strongest imaginable evidence, owing to its metaphysical commitment to naturalism.
6 ID is therefore non-scientific because of science’s self-definition. Its evidence may be refutable, or not, by scientific method, but its metaphysics is not.
7 The corollary of that is, of course, that were God to exist and to act in some active way in the biological realm, science would be unable to detect it, to the detriment of more complete knowledge.


John - #62835

June 23rd 2011

“My example, actually a limiting case, is as somebody suggested above akin to Coyne’s 900 foot Jesus. Impossible but useful for discussion. I’m gratified that several posters were happy to run with it without lurching into stereotype mode.”

It is an example of your incoherence when it comes to 
a) basic biology that is highly relevant to medical practice, and
b) understanding the scientific method.


I agree completely with your points 1 & 2, but then you go off the rails:

“3 Even such a hypothetical example, were it to occur, would not be incontrovertible evidence of intervention, since it could equally be explained by a combination of stochastic natural events.”

This is just preposterously pseudoscientific, Jon. Please read the following carefully, put your ego aside, and think. 

In real science, we do not look for incontrovertible evidence of anything. We don’t consider anything to be incontrovertible evidence of anything. This is why your hypothetical has nothing to do with science and therefore is not an example of what scientists would do! 

You are using the completely dishonest (note that I’m not accusing you of being dishonest, just pompous and ignorant) ID framing of science as debates about explanations of bodies of evidence, when in reality science is about testing hypotheses. Can you wrap your mind around this basic point?

If you can, try to grasp that your hypothetical, assuming that we can wade through its incoherencies (it is in no way analogous to the Cambrian “explosion”), is an empirical prediction of a specific ID hypothesis, closest to Behe’s. 

IOW, it’s precisely what Behe should be devoting his life to finding (real-time or historically) if he has any faith in his hypothesis. But he doesn’t, so he’ll continue to be a grifter.

John - #62840

June 23rd 2011

“4 Individual conclusions would in such a case depend ultimately on metaphysical commitment rather than the evidence itself.”


This is a regurgitation of ID framing baloney that is used to conceal their lack of faith in what they are selling to an ignorant public.

“This would, incidentally, apply especially to the scientist who remained agnostic because no causal mechanism could be found, since both chance and supernatural intervention would be considered metaphysically to be insufficient explanation.”

This is pure, unadulterated ID baloney.

”
4 Therefore ID’s quest for scientific evidence of design is doomed to fail.”

But any quest for “scientific evidence of” anything is not science. Note that evolutionary biologists aren’t on a quest for “scientific evidence of evolution,” Jon, they are instead testing evolutionary hypotheses regarding the mechanisms of evolution. Why aren’t the IDCreationists you’re falsely presenting as scientists testing hypotheses regarding the mechanisms of design or creation? Why don’t they advance any testable mechanistic hypotheses in any of the rhetoric they frantically spew?

”(Note - this thread is about ID. Contribution to it does not imply commitment to ID’s tenets or, as should be obvious to anyone with normal comprehension, support for some imagined political agenda.)
”

Jon, when you repeatedly use phony ID framing, you are demonstrating your commitment to ID’s tenets, which are all about false framing of science as debates over retrospective explanations in lieu of actually doing science by testing hypotheses.

IOW, if you don’t want people to think you’re a duck, quit quacking like one.

“5 But this is in part because science would be unable, or unwilling, to accept even the strongest imaginable evidence, owing to its metaphysical commitment to naturalism.
”

This is more ID baloney.

“6 ID is therefore non-scientific because of science’s self-definition.”

No, Jon, the political ID movement is pseudoscientific because its promoters refuse to do science, defined as empirical testing of predictions of ID hypotheses.

”...Its evidence may be refutable, or not, by scientific method, but its metaphysics is not.”

More ID quacking.

”
7 The corollary of that is, of course, that were God to exist and to act in some active way in the biological realm, science would be unable to detect it, to the detriment of more complete knowledge.”

More ID quacking.

Jon Garvey - #62864

June 24th 2011

OK, that’s John’s view on things, but more notably and typically on individuals, exhaustively expressed.

I guess his implied impugning of my professional competence (“basic biology that is highly relevant to medical practice”) is “tentative” and therefore not considered inappropriate here, but I don’t need to prove anything to him about my completed career, which since I, unlike him, use my own name is a matter of public record. “If it quacks like an ad hominem insult, it’s probably a tentative hypothesis.”

But the upshot is that he’s been so busy duck-shooting and name-calling that he hasn’t addressed my post in any way that’s relevant to it.

Does anyone else feel like taking the discussion forward, now that I have finished and, it is much to be hoped, John has too?


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