A “Design Inference” in Science magazine!

| 57 Comments

In the short article "Middle Stone Age Shell Beads from South Africa" (subscription required), published in tomorrow's issue of Science magazine, Henshilwood and coworkers report the finding of 41 perforated tick shell beads (from the mollusk Nassarius kraussianus) dated as about 75,000 years old. They provide evidence that the beads are human-made artifacts - the oldest known personal ornaments and a sign of the emergence of symbolic thought in early humans.

Clearly, pace all the ID advocates' recent claims, upon finding the perforated shells Henshilwood and his colleagues considered "intelligent agency" as a possible cause (perhaps they didn't know that methodological naturalism supposedly proscribes such consideration, according to Francis Beckwith).

But things only get worse for ID advocates. For their design inference, Henshilwood and colleagues chose - not surprisingly - not to apply Dembski's "revolutionary" specified complexity criterion (which would go something like: these look like beads, therefore they are specified, and they are improbable, that is "complex", ergo they are designed), but to rely instead on the good old-fashioned scientific approach.

First, the authors established that the shells likely are actual beads because they display a microscopic wear pattern (likely due to friction) not observed in natural shells, but only in known bead samples. Then they considered the possibility that they may have been carried to the site by animals, and found it unlikely because N. kraussianus' only known predator is another estuarine gastropod, and because all the shells were from adults (a predation model would have predicted multiple age groups). The type of perforation in the shells is also consistent with use as beads, and not predator activity. Finally, remains of ochre were found inside the beads, suggesting they might have been painted, as other known bead samples.

In other words, the authors inferred intelligent agency because they were able to make specific hypotheses about how the perforated shells may have been generated, ruled out the hypotheses that indicated non-human activities, and found empirical confirmation for the hypotheses that pointed to design. Sounds easy, uh? It should be.

57 Comments

You better watch it, Andrea. Dembski will probably use this article as proof that ID is indeed being published in the mainstream literature, despite the irrelevance of his own so-called methodology. (But he may include you in the acknowledgements of his next book (due out any hour now) for having brought it to his attention.)

LOL. He should then include all the anthopological literature dating back to a century ago or so!

Some creationists in fact make the comparison to archeology and paleoanthropology, stating that if one can infer that an arrowhead is designed, then why can’t one infer that an organism is designed?

Don’t pass over this nugget from the first link in Andrea’s post:

“Ironically, faith-based candidate Garrick was passed over for claiming he had a Ph.D. when he didn’t, and the search for a superintendent has been reopened.”

Garrick was the guy with the “strong spirtuality.” I’m sure he wasn’t really lying about his credentials. It was all just an honest “mistake.”

Walnut Rob: I think you are referring to a link in Timothy Sandefur’s “Montana Shenanigans” post. You may want to repost your comment there.

Taking a broader perspective, the progression of hominid artifacts roughly parallels the evolution of their makers.

Homo habilis - Oldowan tools

Homo erectus - Acheulean tools

Neanderthals, etc. - Mousterian tools

Cro-Magnons (present-day Homo sapiens) - Fanciest tools with the most regional variation; also decorative and symbolic artifacts.

In particular, while the Cro-Magnons had made lots of cave paintings, there is no clear evidence that the Neanderthals or other previous species had painted their caves.

Those African beads are interesting because they are consistent with the “Out of Africa” hypothesis, that our present species had emerged in Africa, had spread out from there, and had driven other hominid species into extinction. The “Out of Africa” hypothesis is supported by several lines of genetic evidence, and it easily fits the more usual hypotheses of how speciation happens.

Where is Joe Carter when we need him to tell us that science has no way to discern intelligent causes from non-intelligent causes, or to tell us that since this involves a mind, it’s “supernatural”.

Andrea Bottaro wrote:

“In other words, the authors inferred intelligent agency because they were able to make specific hypotheses about how the perforated shells may have been generated, ruled out the hypotheses that indicated non-human activities, and found empirical confirmation for the hypotheses that pointed to design. Sounds easy, uh? It should be.”

Here’s one that shouldn’t be too hard for you either.

Science, Vol 304, Issue 5671, 694-695 , 30 April 2004

“A pre-mRNA synthesized by RNA polymerase II needs to associate in a dynamic fashion with different components of the splicing machinery. These components are small nuclear RNAs that serve as guides for the proteins that help the pre-mRNA adopt a structure suitable for splicing to take place. Indeed, mutations in genes encoding splicing proteins have been shown to alleviate or bypass the requirement for RNA helicases. During these dynamic rearrangements, dissociation of many protein-RNA and RNA-RNA interactions are absolutely required in order for other mutually exclusive interactions to take place. Once processed, the mature mRNA will be guided by proteins to the nuclear pore, through which it needs to pass and where it may interact directly or indirectly with components of the pore complex. Some of the guiding proteins will remain in the nucleus, and others may pass to the cytoplasm together with the mRNA. Upon its arrival in the cytoplasm, the mRNA is commandeered by the translation machinery. In many different systems it has been shown that secondary structures and RNA binding proteins impede the scanning of the small ribosomal subunit for the initiator codon. And finally, nucleases must be able to degrade the mRNA, again a process that is inhibited by either RNA binding proteins or secondary structures. All of these steps need proteins that can undo RNA duplexes and disrupt RNA-protein interactions (otherwise mRNA would not be able to serve as a template for translation).” “

Multiple processes, multiple structures performing multiple functions and integrated in such a way that they support each other and the overall function of the system. Clearly, well beyond the realm of random, accidental or fortuitous occurrences as evolutionists would have us believe. And just as clearly, the product of intelligent input and guidance.

“Multiple processes, multiple structures performing multiple functions and integrated in such a way that they support each other and the overall function of the system. Clearly, well beyond the realm of random, accidental or fortuitous occurrences as evolutionists would have us believe. And just as clearly, the product of intelligent input and guidance.”

Yes, sure. In fact, I heard that the first version of the paper Henshilwood submitted consisted solely of a picture of the beads, and the bold statement: “Clearly, these are beads!”. Alas, it was rejected and the reviewers asked him to do some real work instead. ;-)

Seriously, Charlie, the only clear thing here is that you and I have different interpretations regarding the meaning of “clearly”.

So, going back to that sentence of mine you quoted and your example, I’d appreciate if you could tell us what exactly are the specific hypotheses you can make about how the system in question may have been generated, how you are going to rule out those hypotheses that do not involve intelligent agency, and how do you plan to find empirical confirmation for the hypotheses that point to design. That’s the kind of work ID gotta do if it wants to be taken seriously. Just saying “clearly” does not cut it in science (or Science).

Andrea Bottaro wrote:

“So, going back to that sentence of mine you quoted and your example, I’d appreciate if you could tell us what exactly are the specific hypotheses you can make about how the system in question may have been generated, how you are going to rule out those hypotheses that do not involve intelligent agency, and how do you plan to find empirical confirmation for the hypotheses that point to design.

Well, one advantage that Henshilwood and his co-workers had was that they understood human behavior, and they could make comparisons between what they observed and what might be expected from human intelligence. Unfortunately , we have no knowledge of the nature of the intelligence that created life, so we cannot use that kind of comparison. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t make a strong circumstantual case for intelligent input. One way to approach the problem would be to make observations and try and determine if there are any non-intelligent processes that are capable of generating this kind of organization. Clearly there are not. In every case in which we have a complex, highly organized system, it was the result of intelligent input. There are no exceptions (of course, this does not rule out some yet to be discovered first principle that might be responsible). Since living organisms are the subject of our inquiry, we cannot use them as examples, either for or against intelligent guidance. Obviously we are not able to provide empirical evidence, either observational or experimental to confirm our hypothesis but then there is no similar evidence for evolution by mutation and selection. It seems to me that if evolutionists want to be taken seriously, they have a great deal of work to do also, starting with providing an empirically supported nexus between random mutations and changes in gene frequency due to selection and the emergence of highly organized, complex systems made up of multiple processes and multiple structures performing multiple functions all integrated in such a way as to support each other and the overall function of the system. ID is one step ahead of you in that regard because we can show that all such systems that exist on earth are the result of intelligent input and we can show that no non-intelligent process can generate such organization. What do you have that compares to this?

Charlie,

One way to approach the problem would be to make observations and try and determine if there are any non-intelligent processes that are capable of generating this kind of organization. Clearly there are not.

Well, now that we’ve settled that… Clearly, no evidence need be adduced to support this claim. I guess all those researchers who have spent the past several decades showing how such processes do occur should up and quit? Clearly, they’re just wasting their time. Charlie says so.

Since living organisms are the subject of our inquiry, we cannot use them as examples, either for or against intelligent guidance.

Uhhh…okay. If you say so. I think you forgot a “clearly” there, Charlie. Without it, I don’t think this statement makes much sense. Okay, even with it it’s ridiculous, but clearly, you need all the rhetorical help you can get.

Obviously we are not able to provide empirical evidence, either observational or experimental to confirm our hypothesis but then there is no similar evidence for evolution by mutation and selection.

There you go. “Obviously” works just as well as “clearly,” and it keeps you from repeating yourself. I think you’ve stumbled upon a novel way to decisively refute evolutionary theory, where all before you have failed: the thesaurus.

It seems to me that if evolutionists want to be taken seriously, they have a great deal of work to do also, starting with providing an empirically supported nexus between random mutations and changes in gene frequency due to selection and the emergence of highly organized, complex systems made up of multiple processes and multiple structures performing multiple functions all integrated in such a way as to support each other and the overall function of the system.

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/behe/publish.html

ID is one step ahead of you in that regard because we can show that all such systems that exist on earth are the result of intelligent input and we can show that no non-intelligent process can generate such organization.

You can? I’d be interested to see that demonstrated. I suspect most of the ID crowd would too, as they’ve been failing rather spectacularly at just that task for some time now.

And you were a science teacher? I weep for the children.

Charlie Wagner wrote

Since living organisms are the subject of our inquiry, we cannot use them as examples, either for or against intelligent guidance.

That claim is popping up more often in Intelligent Design Creationist arguments. In the Ohio model lesson plan, “Theory” was defined as

A supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained. (Emphasis added)

The effect of the emphasized phrase, like that of Charlie’s claim, is to rule out the use of evidence from the actual area of inquiry! In other words, if we are trying to explain biological phenomena, we are to be prohibited from using evidence from research in biology and our theory must be based on general principles from somewhere outside biology. That’s simply bizarre. There’s no other word for it but “bizarre.”

RBH

RBH wrote:

“That’s simply bizarre. There’s no other word for it but “bizarre.””

There’s nothing bizarre about it at all. If you’re trying to decide whether living organisms are the product of random processes or intelligent guidance, you can’t use living organisms as an example of a system that resulted from random processes any more than you can use it as an example of a system that resulted from intelligent guidance. After all, that’s the question that’s being considered. It’s not ruling out evidence from the actual area of inquiry, it’s disallowing the use of the subject of the inquiry as evidence for either position. It’s perfectly acceptable to do this.

Charlie Wagner wrote

There’s nothing bizarre about it at all. If you’re trying to decide whether living organisms are the product of random processes or intelligent guidance, you can’t use living organisms as an example of a system that resulted from random processes any more than you can use it as an example of a system that resulted from intelligent guidance. After all, that’s the question that’s being considered. It’s not ruling out evidence from the actual area of inquiry, it’s disallowing the use of the subject of the inquiry as evidence for either position. It’s perfectly acceptable to do this.

First, no one I know (except intelligent design creationists) is “trying to decide whether living organisms are the product of random processes or intelligent guidance.” That’s a false statement of the problem. Evolutionary theory does not claim that living organisms are the product of random processes any more than quantum mechanics claims that the solidity of the ground on which I just walked the dogs is the product of random processes, in spite of the fact that quantum mechanics has an irreducibly random base. The “random processes” claim is a blatant misrepresentation that intelligent design creationists use to avoid the genuine content of evolutionary theory.

Second, there’s a difference between “example” and “evidence.” In contrast to intelligent design creationists, genuine scientists do not merely point at examples and exclaim “evolved!” Even if Chariie’s formulation were a genuine statement of the problem (and I re-emphasize that it is not), if one could demonstrate via systematic research (not merely assert) that a given biological system could in fact result from so-called “random processes,” that would constitute evidence directly relevant to the question. Since we can demonstrate, directly and indirectly, in field and laboratory research and in computer models, that complex functional structures can arise via the mechanical processes invoked by evolutionary theory under the conditions that theory assumes, we have actual evidence bearing on the genuine question resulting from research in the appropriate domain of inquiry.

It is “perfectly acceptable” only if one so distorts the meaning of “evidence” as to render it unrecognizable. I repeat: that’s a bizarre caricature.

RBH

Charlie,

So by your logic, when attempting to determine whether disease is caused by germs or by, say, bad air, it would be inappropriate to study actual diseases and to conclude that they were caused by viruses or bacteria? All in the name of “disallowing the use of the subject of the inquiry as evidence for either position”? Interesting.

Your objection to “us[ing] living organisms as an example of a system that resulted from random processes” involves a couple of errors. First, only mutation is random. Selection is very much non-random. But more importantly, you seem to be claiming that biologists accept darwinian evolution on a more or less a priori basis. This is simply not the case. We accept evolutionary explanations because there is a wealth of data supporting such explanations, a claim which cannot be made regarding ID. Why do creationists persist in asserting otherwise?

RBH wrote: “First, no one I know (except intelligent design creationists) is “trying to decide whether living organisms are the product of random processes or intelligent guidance.” That’s a false statement of the problem.

And what is the true statement of the problem?

RBH: “Evolutionary theory does not claim that living organisms are the product of random processes any more than quantum mechanics claims that the solidity of the ground on which I just walked the dogs is the product of random processes, in spite of the fact that quantum mechanics has an irreducibly random base. The “random processes” claim is a blatant misrepresentation that intelligent design creationists use to avoid the genuine content of evolutionary theory.”

No it isn’t. It’s perfectly correct. I’ve explained this several times before so perhaps you can provide my with the reasoning as to why it is not random. And while you’re at it, I would appreciate hearing the “genuine content of evolutionary theory”.

RBH: “Second, there’s a difference between “example” and “evidence.” In contrast to intelligent design creationists, genuine scientists do not merely point at examples and exclaim “evolved!”

Examples *are* evidence. And by the way, I am *not* an intelligent design creationist. Intelligent design has nothing to do with creationism in the science domain. It has to do with explaining the origin of living things using the scientific method.

RBH: “Even if Chariie’s formulation were a genuine statement of the problem (and I re-emphasize that it is not),”

Again, I ask how you would state the problem.

RBH: “if one could demonstrate via systematic research (not merely assert) that a given biological system could in fact result from so-called “random processes,” that would constitute evidence directly relevant to the question. Since we can demonstrate, directly and indirectly, in field and laboratory research and in computer models, that complex functional structures can arise via the mechanical processes invoked by evolutionary theory under the conditions that theory assumes, we have actual evidence bearing on the genuine question resulting from research in the appropriate domain of inquiry.”

Complexity is a non-issue. It’s not what we’re talking about. I can generate massive complexity with simple, random processes. What I cannot generate with random processes is organization or functionality. Could you give me an example of a complex *functional* structure that “can arise via the mechanical processes invoked by evolutionary theory under the conditions that theory assumes…”

RBH: “It is “perfectly acceptable” only if one so distorts the meaning of “evidence” as to render it unrecognizable. I repeat: that’s a bizarre caricature.

The only distortion is in your perception. It’s perfectly straighfoward and clear.

Smokey wrote:

“So by your logic, when attempting to determine whether disease is caused by germs or by, say, bad air, it would be inappropriate to study actual diseases and to conclude that they were caused by viruses or bacteria? All in the name of “disallowing the use of the subject of the inquiry as evidence for either position”? Interesting.

Wrong. What would be wrong would be to present me with a patient with a disease and use his disease as evidence that diseases can be caused by bad air. Obviously we aren’t allowed to do that because we don’t know the actual cause of his disease. This is how the scientific method works.

Smokey: “Your objection to “us[ing] living organisms as an example of a system that resulted from random processes” involves a couple of errors. First, only mutation is random. Selection is very much non-random.”

As I explained (very patiently) on several occasions, NS can only act on pre-existing variation. It has no power on its own to create, assemble or integrate structures or processes. If these adaptations are present, it can select them, but it takes no part in their creation. Why do evolutionists continue to claim that NS is a non-random process when they know this?

Smokey: “But more importantly, you seem to be claiming that biologists accept darwinian evolution on a more or less a priori basis. This is simply not the case. We accept evolutionary explanations because there is a wealth of data supporting such explanations,…”

There is no data, no observational evidence, no experimental evidence that supports the notion that changes in gene frequency can result in the emergence of highly organized structures, processes and systems. Why do evolutionists keep making this claim without presenting the alleged evidence? (That’s a rhetorical question. We both know the answer).

Smokey: “a claim which cannot be made regarding ID. Why do creationists persist in asserting otherwise?”

I wouldn’t know, I’m not a creationist. But there is more evidence for ID than there is for unguided evolution, as I explained elsewhere.

Charlie Wagner wrote: (that’s me)

“Wrong. What would be wrong would be to present me with a patient with a disease and use his disease as evidence that diseases can be caused by bad air. Obviously we aren’t allowed to do that because we don’t know the actual cause of his disease. This is how the scientific method works.”

I may not have made it clear that the scenario described above is occurring *before* we knew that bacteria and viruses cause disease. Since we know the origin of automobiles, the question of whether they are designed is moot: we know they are. But the key is, we don’t know the origin of living organisms. That precludes us from using them as examples for any hypothesis about their origin.

We know automobiles are designed? How?

If we do the Paley exercise, and ask how we could tell that a watch found on the moor did not occur there naturally, we might actually get to some real criteria about how to tell whether something is designed or not. That is, we can look at designed things, note their characteristics, and then go see if we can find similar characteristics in things about which we are unsure whether they are designed or not. At its root, this is what Dembski’s “complex specified information” hoo-haw is about, though he immediately leaps off on the assumption that there is information in DNA that is perfectly analogous to information transmitted either digitally or analog through a wire – but we don’t need to note all of Dembski’s errors to find some real design criteria.

Here are some criteria I’ve found to work time and time again, and may tell us whether an automobile is, in fact, designed.

First, do we know the process by which the thing came to be? With automobiles, we do. And we know where the designers are in that process, and often we know the designers (or can know them) by name.

Second, if we don’t know the exact process, do we have a blueprint? Is the blueprint external to the device, so we can study the design separate from the thing? If we do not have blueprints, can we reverse-design them?

Third, once we have a blueprint, can we duplicate the thing exactly? If we can duplicate it, does it meet Paley’s other criteria for not having occurred there naturally? (That is, the stuff it’s made from doesn’t occur in that form, the things are not dropping from the flowers of trees nor popping out of the ground, etc., etc.)

Fourth, can we reverse engineer the entire thing? Everything we know for certain to have been designed is subject to the reverse-engineering rule, as we sadly discover whenever some brilliant new product escapes beyond the bounds of patent law. (Or maybe we happily discover that, if we want to screw the designer out of her royalties.)

Fifth, in the reverse engineering exercise, can we disassemble the device on our workbench, and then reassemble it and have it run as well as before?

Sixth, can we disassemble the device on our workbench, leave it when the Dear Spouse calls us to dinner, forget about it while we watch a re-run of Hill Street Blues, fall asleep on the couch, get up and go to work, and then remember it the next afternoon – and still reassemble it and have it run “good as new?”

Seventh, can we substitute the energy supply? Watches, for example, were spring wound when Paley thought about finding them on the moors. Now such a watch might be battery operated, electricity substituting for the energy of the spring. Hypothetically, almost all things we know to be designed from scratch by intelligence can have its energy supplies completely switched out in such a fashion. Nota bene that I am not yet talking about substituting the actual machinery, such as by putting a quartz watch mechanism in place of the gears and cogs found in a mechanical watch.

Eighth, does the device go get its own “fuel” if left to its own devices? My experience is that no designed object will, but most living things do. If we don’t feed the Dachsund, for example, she discovers she can counter surf for a meal, and has been known to polish all the toppings off of two large pizzas left otherwise unprotected on the counter – not to mention cheese pockets from Stein’s Bakery in North Dallas. If the object can get its own cheese pockets from inside the workshop, it’s probably not designed.

Ninth, can we improve the design? (Here’s where we introduce the quartz mechanism.) Especially, can we improve the design by making it more simple, rather than making it more complex? Simplicity, not complexity, is the usual hallmark of design among professional designers who don’t have graduate degrees in theology or philosophy and a philosophical axe to grind. For this instrument we wish to whether it is designed or not, can we perform the analogous operation to substituting an electrically driven quartz crystal vibration and tiny electrical motor for all the regulatory gears and spring wound mechanism, thereby making fewer parts to gang aft agly, and also making the manufacture and operation more efficient?

Tenth, does the thing fail to reproduce itself? For every thing we are certain is designed by an intelligence, we have failed to make any of them reproduce themselves. This may be a function of the external blueprints; a computer, if it were completely programmed to be able to manipulate its own design, might make some strides in that direction. But generally, life goes on without any help, and we must intelligently intervene to stop living things from reproducing in their natural habitats.

This last criteria is rather soft, I think. I’d be willing to sacrifice it if someone could demonstrate how it could be done. Heck, if someone could demonstrate how to do it with a dollar bill, I’d be willing to pay several thousands of dollars for it. (I am not one who subscribes to the hypothesis that coat hangers reproduce in dark closets. My experience is that the cheap, shirt hangers tend to accumulate, but the expensive, wooden suit hangers never do – and I have some good working hypotheses about the non-reproductive origins of the shirt hangers.)

Automobiles meet all of these criteria; no living thing does.

Darrell’s Rules, or Darrell’s Ten Commandments of Intelligent Design, say that designed things really must appear to be designed things, generally by meeting at least eight of the criteria I’ve listed above (I may have left out one or two criteria that I’ve pondered in the past, and I reserve the right to add them in if, like Howard Gardner and his views of intelligence, I get convinced of it later).

Notice that my proposal requires that the entire beastie be designed from scratch. There are ways we can distinguish Humulin-producing E. coli from the purely natural kind, I suspect – but I haven’t reverse engineered them yet to figure out how to tell.

Mr. Wagner’s arguments are all tangential to determining whether something is designed or not. His arguments assume that complex things are equal to designed things, and I don’t think that’s been demonstrated anywhere. Without that assumption, he has no other criteria which can be described to a graduate student who could be turned loose in a parking lot to find which automobiles are intelligently designed and which are not, or which organisms in the agar are intelligently designed and which are not.

Syntax Error: mismatched tag at line 5, column 2, byte 585 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.12.3/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187

Charlie,

What would be wrong would be to present me with a patient with a disease and use his disease as evidence that diseases can be caused by bad air. Obviously we aren’t allowed to do that because we don’t know the actual cause of his disease. This is how the scientific method works.

It would indeed be wrong to use his disease as evidence that it was caused by bad air, because diseases are not, in fact, caused by bad air. It’s not because of some fatal methodological flaw, it’s because it ain’t true. It would, however, be entirely appropriate to conduct tests upon the patient to determine if his symptoms are due to his infection with, say, the smallpox virus, or his inhalation of bad air. The patient’s blood can be tested with immunoprecipitation and PCR assays to see if he is carrying the smallpox virus. It is theoretically possible, if unethical, to inject other, asymptomatic individuals (who have not breathed the same air) with the patient’s serum and see if they also develop symptoms (and have positive viral titers). Repeat this process with many patients (as has been done with laboratory animals), and it is quite possible to generate data consistent with the germ theory of disease. This is how the scientific method works.

By your logic, it would be impossible to diagnose diseases, because you’re not “allowed” to use the actual patient to learn anything about his condition.

As I explained (very patiently) on several occasions, NS can only act on pre-existing variation. It has no power on its own to create, assemble or integrate structures or processes. If these adaptations are present, it can select them, but it takes no part in their creation. Why do evolutionists continue to claim that NS is a non-random process when they know this?

Maybe because it’s the selection part that is non-random? By your definition of a random process, any computer program which includes a random number generator would simply be a “random” program. And yet these programs produce intelligible, useful, non-random outputs. The roll of the dice and the flip of the card are essentially random, but the casino industry manages to extract substantial and consistent profits from this “random” activity.

I wouldn’t know, I’m not a creationist. But there is more evidence for ID than there is for unguided evolution, as I explained elsewhere.

Let me get this straight. You believe that there is plausible evidence for Intelligent Design in life on earth. This implies the existence of a designer, no? I am interested to hear the distinction you draw between an “Intelligent Designer” and a “Creator.” You must believe that someone or something created these instantiations of design that we see around us. Is the Creator just a subcontractor to the Designer, in charge of the blue-collar production work, and unworthy of veneration?

Charlie

I think it is very clear from Ed’s post that he was NOT saying a blueprint was necessary for designing something.

Ed was saying that if you designs for something (e.g., a blueprint) it is good evidence that the thing was designed.

Tell me again what your former occupation was, Charlie? On the other hand, please don’t. I just ate.

Here’s an EASY question for you, Chuck. You should be able to answer this in less time than it takes for Zimmy to sing “Wiggle Wiggle”!

Imagine you are walking through the forest and you spot a river. You walk along the riverside for a short while when suddenly you enter an area where the water isn’t flowing as quickly. At this point in the river, near the middle of is a bunch of sticks and grass and rocks which is partially blocking the water flow, but not completely. But it has blocked it enough so that now people can swim in this area and indeed, there are people swimming in the cool relatively still water. In one area of the river, the water is sufficiently deep that people can dive in. You see people doing so. A tree near the river has a branch that serves as a diving board. People are diving off the branch into the tree. A bank near the river is sloped such that people can rest there, and so they are doing. At one portion of this section of the river, there are less trees. The sun shines brightly there, allowing blackberries to grow. People are eating the blackberries. The combination of the blackberries and the still water and the depth of the water and the sloped bank has attracted many people to this place. Finally, there is a hot spring on the other side of the river which prevents the water in the swimming hole from getting too cold. People love to hang out near the hot spring and even take their clothes off from time to time. Occasionally people who tire of swimming wander off into the forest to copulate on the soft grass which grows near the swimming hole, then they return to the pool for a final swim before going home.

Charlie, you said that a system which included processes performing functions, structures performing functions, all integrated in such a way that they support each other and they support the overall function of the system must necessarily be intelligently designed.

The swimming hole system I’ve just described MUST have been intelligently designed.

Is the last sentence true or false, Chuck? If it’s false, please free to offer another definition of organization which fits your pre-ordained conclusion about intelligent design.

Mr. Wagner said:

On the contrary, I’ve made it very clear that there’s a big difference between complexity and organization. All automobiles are intelligently designed so the graduate students have an easy task. In addition, if it can be demonstrated that living things are designed, it would apply to all living things. Your list of criteria is interesting, but flawed. Things can be designed without us knowing the process or the designer. Things can be designed without leaving blueprints. (you must be an engineer). We may not be able to duplicate designed things because we lack the technology. The same applies to reverse engineering and disassembly/reassembly. What you really should look for is organization. By organization I mean processes performing functions, structures performing functions, all integrated in such a way that they support each other and they support the overall function of the system. This kind of integrated system cannot arise without intelligent guidance.

Attorney and teacher now, botanist, and then journalist, way back when. It is my observation that few creationists, of the general or ID stripe, grow things or breed things. Consequently, they often confuse engineering with biology. It is the ranks of creationism that are filled with engineers, if you bother to check the credentials.

I have left open the possibility of something being designed without knowing who or what is the designer – but I note that for every intelligently designed object known, these criteria w hich I have posted, fit. Each of my tests is objective;none requires that we hijack any part of electronic information theory. In fact, I ASSUME the designer is unknown. Finding blueprints doesn’t reveal identity necessarily – but if you read my list, you see that the real criterion is whether a set of blueprints can be made, from which a working model can be constructed.

Is there something we know to be designed for which we lack the technology? There are historical instances of such devices. Generally these are weapons systems, or cryptography systems, or some similar device used in warfare between human tribes. In each and every case I’ve investigated, however, once a copy of the thing was obtained, the side which did not have the technology was able to develop the technology through reverse engineering (and the creation of blueprints, incidentally). History shows that your claim that we just lack the technology is usually in error.

Further, we KNOW the technology used to create living things, for the most part, or at least the processes used. We just cannot duplicate it with the same results. For some simple creatures, like yeasts and bacteria, the process is extremely well understood. For humans the process is very well understood. That understanding brings the ability to manipulate the processes some, but we have not been able to create the process or the product from scratch, as designed things can be duplicated.

I missed where you differentiate between complexity and organization. In any case, you seem to dismiss the reality that many things self-organize. Hydrogen and oxygen, for example, always combust to water. Most of the processes of life, especially at the chemical and subcellular levels, are of this nature. Chemicals self-organize into the building blocks of life. No intelligence is required to make them work.

Nor does your distinction, if you can make it, deal with the reality that complexity is usually a hallmark of a lack of intelligent design. ID treats complexity the opposite way. A fork is a very simple and elegant, intelligently-designed tool that replaces a multitude of fingers, cloths, knifework and wiping. If we apply Dembski’s criteria, we must assume the simple fork came first, and then fingers – the fingers alone are much more complex than forks, let alone the process of using the them to eat.

I am constantly amazed at how much mileage ID advocates get without ever once bothering to check out the sciences or arts of design. With all the engineers in the anti-evolution school, you’d think one of them would notice that the processes proposed by Dembski and Behe bear little resemblance to any known design process.

If you wish to propose a skyhook, please tell us why we should bother to give such an idea the time of day without any evidence to support it.

In the meantime, my ten criteria comprise a much more faithful tool for determining intelligent design than Dembski’s distortions of Shannon’s work – in my humble opinion as a lawyer!

Charlie, If one cannot use living systems to evaluate living systems then it follows that one cannot use intelligence to evaluate intelligence.

My favorite thought example is Mount Rushmore vs New Hampshires late “Old Man in the Mountain.”

It is pretty clear that Mt Rushmore was designed. We have plenty of “side information” to determine that.

Was the Old Man designed? How could we tell if some Native American did not take an interesting outcropping and carve a picture of his Mother-In-Law?

While you could look for tool marks and things, there is a good possibility that they may have weathered away.

“Charlie, If one cannot use living systems to evaluate living systems then it follows that one cannot use intelligence to evaluate intelligence.”

Uhmmm… you may have hit on something there, qbusch. That may explain how many ID “inferences” work. ;-)

“Since living organisms are the subject of our inquiry, we cannot use them as examples, either for or against intelligent guidance.”

Am I wrong, or is this statement saying that it is impossible to discover how a living system came about merely by studying it? If so, what’s wrong with that?

“If we do the Paley exercise, and ask how we could tell that a watch found on the moor did not occur there naturally, we might actually get to some real criteria about how to tell whether something is designed or not. That is, we can look at designed things, note their characteristics, and then go see if we can find similar characteristics in things about which we are unsure whether they are designed or not.”

Ed, there’s one problem: all of your criteria refer to things made by humans. How can these same criteria apply to living things, which obviously are not made by humans?

You also said (in response to Charlie):

“I missed where you differentiate between complexity and organization. In any case, you seem to dismiss the reality that many things self-organize. Hydrogen and oxygen, for example, always combust to water. Most of the processes of life, especially at the chemical and subcellular levels, are of this nature. Chemicals self-organize into the building blocks of life. No intelligence is required to make them work.”

But what does this prove? Why do certain processes of life self-organize? How did ability to self-organize come about?

Bonnie worries:

Ed, there’s one problem: all of your criteria refer to things made by humans. How can these same criteria apply to living things, which obviously are not made by humans?

All of the designed things I noted are indeed designed by humans, but we can use other examples for some – bower birds build clever things, even chickens ingest gravel of “just the right size” in order to help grind their food. I use these things precisely because we know they were designed by an intelligence. This is no different from the assumption that William Dembski uses – except that he doesn’t bother to look at the characteristics of design, but instead assumes that DNA is exactly like a telephone signal in a wire.

Go ask Dembski why he assumes his criteria, which are based on human designs, would work for a supernatural creator. Oh, oops – he doesn’t want to refer to supernatural forces, because that would suggest his real agenda. Ask him, just the same. Do you have any reasons – or even better, any data – to suggest that these are NOT valid criteria? Why should we not understand these criteria to apply to all things designed by any intelligence?

It’s all we have right now. Do you seriously think we should ignore all of what we know about design? Why? (If we do, of course, we’ve stepped out of the realm of science …)

You also said (in response to Charlie):

“I missed where you differentiate between complexity and organization. In any case, you seem to dismiss the reality that many things self-organize. Hydrogen and oxygen, for example, always combust to water. Most of the processes of life, especially at the chemical and subcellular levels, are of this nature. Chemicals self-organize into the building blocks of life. No intelligence is required to make them work.” But what does this prove? Why do certain processes of life self-organize? How did ability to self-organize come about?

What does it prove? It proves that things self-organize, which falsified Charlie’s assumption that they can’t.

Why do life processes self-organize? Because they follow the laws of the universe.

How did they get the ability to follow the laws of the universe? Without a lot more data, that’s a philosophical question that science can’t answer. Answers proposed to that question are conjecture, and not the stuff of science – yet.

For evolution, how stuff got the ability to self-organize is unimportant. That it does, however, is solid rebuttal – no, refutation – of Charlie’s claim. This is a common error of critics of evolution theories; they often claim that they just cannot imagine how such a process can take place, and so they conclude that it cannot ever happen. This is a failure of imagination. For example, I am frequently confronted by creationists who tell me they cannot imagine how one-celled things could evolve to multi-celled organisms such as mammals in just a few billion years. I often ask them if they are familiar with the precesses by which a human fertilized egg develops into a baby. If they “believe” that a human can develop from one fertilized cell to a billions-of-cells baby in just 281 days or so, why is it such a stretch to understand that process developed over a billion years, let alone 3 billion?

Why is the universe as it is? Those of us in Christian faith traditions have an answer, but it is an answer based on faith, not data.

Ed Darrell wrote:

I often ask them if they are familiar with the precesses by which a human fertilized egg develops into a baby. If they “believe” that a human can develop from one fertilized cell to a billions-of-cells baby in just 281 days or so, why is it such a stretch to understand that process developed over a billion years, let alone 3 billion?

The analogy is not valid. The fertilized egg develops into a baby because of the instructions encoded in the genome. These instructions are in the form of an algorithm which directs the development of the organism. The living systems would never emerge without these instructions no matter how much time is available. The impossible does not become possible by stretching it out over a larger amount of time or by breaking it up into smaller segments, each of which might be shown to be possible.

Charlie,

In the Objective Origins thread you made a distinction between “simple” systems such as eye color and neck length which you claimed were “obvious” results of gene frequency changes due to selection VERSUS “complex” “organized” structures such as the human eye which constitute the “proof” that evolution is myth, I asked you: “What is the simplest biological system that you are aware of that is nevertheless too “organized” to have evolved by natural selection?”

You haven’t answered this question, Charlie, nor did you explain the obviously contradictory statements you raised.

It’s courteous to clean your earlier messes up before creating new ones (or re-creating new ones, as the case may be).

GWW wrote:

In the Objective Origins thread you made a distinction between “simple” systems such as eye color and neck length

These examples are not systems.

which you claimed were “obvious” results of gene frequency changes due to selection VERSUS “complex” “organized” structures such as the human eye

You obviously didn’t understand what I said. Natural selection can change the frequency of genes in populations. Red eyed fruit flies will be selected for in a mixed population because they have a selective advantage. The eye itself, however, is a highly organized system made up of multiple structures and multiple processes. Both the structures and processes of the eye are integrated in such a way as to support each other and to support the overall function of the eye, which is to see.

which constitute the “proof” that evolution is myth,

I never said evolution was a myth. In fact, I stated clearly that if you define evolution as “change over time” that I felt that there was substantial empirical support for this. I only question the mechanisms by which this might have occurred. Also, you have never heard me use the word “proof”. The business of science is not to prove things, only to say what is most likely.

I asked you: “What is the simplest biological system that you are aware of that is nevertheless too “organized” to have evolved by natural selection?”

You haven’t answered this question, Charlie,

Sure I did. There are no biological systems that can be explained by mutation and natural selection.

nor did you explain the obviously contradictory statements you raised.

Can you be more specific?

It’s courteous to clean your earlier messes up before creating new ones (or re-creating new ones, as the case may be).

I always try to be courteous. My mother did a good job of raising me. That you see this as a ‘mess” is only a perception problem on your part. It’s a clear as glass to me.

Ed, how did you determine that I was “worrying”?

I’ll get back to you later re: your questions.

Chemicals self-organize into the building blocks of life. No intelligence is required to make them work.

I think there exists good reason to disagree with those statements. Intelligent interference or intervention appears to be a requirement.

“There is an observational limit or boundary between what has been accomplished in the laboratory by natural processes left to themselves, and what is done through investigator interference. “In our experience, only biotic processes and investigator interference couple energy flow to the task of constructing biospecific macromolecules.”

—Thaxton, Bradley, and Olsen, The Mystery of Life’s Origin, 1984, p.189.

“In fact, apart from intelligence using selected chemicals and controlling conditions, amino acids have not been collected in the laboratory.”

—Kenyon and Davis, Of Pandas and People, 2d ed., 1993, p.56.

Further, if one wants to suggest that “no intelligence is required”, one has to deal with the fact that “There is a continued shortening of the time interval (now less than 170 million years) between earth’s cooling and the first appearance of life”, as pointed out by Thaxton etal (page 188). Nor does it help matters that the so-called primordial soup that’s supposed to help out this non-intelligent self-organization process, cannot be found in the geological record.

So what you’re left with is literally a geological blink of an eye, brief and quick, in which “chemical evolution” MUST get a whole lotta complex and intelligent bio-business done from pure scratch, with no primordial soup on the stove to speed up the recipe, and ~no~ outside intervention from any Intelligent Chef.

Uh-uhh. Just plain uh-uhh. I know that people are working on these problems trying to solve ‘em, and that’s fine, but for now, uh-uhh.

(And the current “uh-uhh” is what needs to be honestly taught in the public school classrooms, btw, when the kids get to the origin-of-life portion of their high school biology courses/textbooks.)

No wonder that this area (sometimes called chemical evolution or prebiotic evolution) is the “the weakest strut of the chassis of modern biology,” to borrow the phrase of Sci Am editor John Horgan as quoted by Casey Luskin:

http://www.ideacenter.org/contentmg[…]s.php/id/838

————

FL

“In fact, apart from intelligence using selected chemicals and controlling conditions, amino acids have not been collected in the laboratory.” —-Kenyon and Davis, Of Pandas and People, 2d ed., 1993, p.56.

That’s a bizarre statement: of course in the laboratory one cannot obtain aminoacids without purposefully setting up precise experimental conditions! Duh! Unless of course Kenyon and Davis would have expected complex abiotic chemistry to occur spontaneously on lab benches… (in which case, I modestly propose that my very messy bench, especially in its lower strata, would represent an excellent candidate site)

On the other hand, that aminoacids can relatively easily form abiogenically in natural conditions is pretty much an established fact at this point, considering that aminoacids of extraterrestrial origin are found in meteorites and comets.

Charlie,

There are no biological systems that can be explained by mutation and natural selection.

I don’t know why I bother asking, but do you have any evidence to back up this statement? I hate to repeat myself, but you have never given a satisfactory answer to this question. You have stated repeatedly that complex systems cannot evolve. I and others have put forth mechanisms explaining how complex systems may be produced by selection or other non-teleological processes, to which your reply has been so much hand-waving (“I’ve already refuted that”), goalpost-moving (“that’s not the kind of complexity/organization/system I mean”) and question-begging arguments about how, clearly, organization is evidence of design because evolution cannot produce organization, QED. If you are going to say that you addressed these issues “elsewhere” then please either provide a link to elsewhere, or indulge me and repeat yourself a bit.

These examples are not systems.

For those of us not privy to your personal definitions of terms, could you please explain exactly what constitutes a “system” and what does not? As for the example of increasing neck length in giraffes, I fail to see how this is not an integrated system as you seem to define it. In order for neck length to increase, many organs and sytems must change in a coordinated way: spine length must increase, the viscera and organ systems of the neck must expand accordingly, balancing systems must adjust to prevent the giraffe from falling on its face, and the heart must increase in size to pump blood all the way up to the brain. Giraffes lacking any of these adaptations would not function, or at least not as “giraffes”.

That you see this as a ‘mess” is only a perception problem on your part. It’s a clear as glass to me.

Charlie, when 99.9% of the world calls a certain color “red” and you decide that it’s actually “blue” (because “red” is impossible), I don’t think that indicates a “perception problem” on the part of those who see red. It probably just means that you’re colorblind.

To me, it does not look like Kenyon and Davis’ statement is “bizarre” at all, Andrea, particularly in light of Thaxton’s points.

Specifically, you say “purposefully setting up precise experimental conditions,” and that’s understandable in and of itself, IF that is how far it goes. However, folks go ~beyond that~ to get their amino acids, proteinoid microspheres and etc.

(Which that’s their prerogative, but then there’s no experimental basis for a claim that chemicals can ~~self-organize~~ into the building blocks of life.)

For example, to get his amino acids, Miller used a cold trap. Not a problem, except that cold traps happened to be in really really short supply on the pre-biotic Earth. Likewise, to get his microspheres, Fox used mixtures containing only protein-forming L-amino acids, again something you couldn’t buy at the Primordial Wal-Mart.

Thaxton et al. suggested the following:

“Since all experiments are performed by an experimenter, they must involve ~investigator intervention~. Yet experiments must be disqualified as prebiotic simulations when a certain class of investigator influence is ~crucial~ to their success. This is seen by analogy to the generally held requirement that no outside or supernatural agency was allowed to enter nature at the time of life’s origin, was ~crucial~ to it, and then withdrew from history. We can apply this principle through a careful extension of the analogy. In the preparation of a prebiotic simulation experiment, the investigator creates the setting, supplies the aqueous medium, the energy, the chemicals, and establishes the boundary conditions. This activity produces the general backgournd conditions for the experiment, it is quite legitimate because it simulates plausible early earth conditions. The interference of the investigator becomes ~crucial in an illegitimate sense, however, whereever laboratory conditions are not warranted by analogy to reliably plausible features of the early earth itself.” (pp 108-9.)

So, for Thaxton, things like “dilute solutions mixed together” and “concentrated solutions where law of mass action is validly extrapolated” are acceptable experimental techniques involving intelligent investigator intervention.

But things like “photosensitization”, “traps”, “concentrated solutions where reactions depend on concentrated conditions like HCN polymerization”, “selected chemicals, isolated from other soup ingredients”, “sparks or shockwaves isolated from other energy souces”, specific constraints (freon synthesis, nylon synthesis) or speical constrains (insulin synthesis) passes the threshold of illegitimate investigator interference. (pg 107.)

I guess what I’m trying to say in all this is that I believe that Kenyon/Davis is correct. In other words, nobody has yet created amino acids in the laboratory without doing SOME kind of tweaking or intelligent intervention that passes the Thaxton threshold, therefore nobody can yet say experimentally that chemicals self-organize into the building blocks of life.

And so, what about those amino acids you mentioned, hitching a ride on that stray meteor(s) or comet(s) there? Well, I’ve read about those, but—- I’m still waiting to read an explanation or experiment for how even THOSE amino acids, were created ~~without~~ intelligent intervention. And the rest of the known problems with this abiogenetic stuff (chirality, instability, etc) still apparently remain with the discovery of those outer-space amino acids as well, to my understanding.

But you know, Andrea, if the lower strata of your bench DID spontaneously create a lving functioning cell just off of whatever motley debris is plopped around down there, you’d probably get a delicious Nobel Prize for it (if the cell didn’t mutate into a monster and eat up half your hometown like they do on the late-nite movies!)

FL

“And so, what about those amino acids you mentioned, hitching a ride on that stray meteor(s) or comet(s) there? Well, I’ve read about those, but—— I’m still waiting to read an explanation or experiment for how even THOSE amino acids, were created ~~without~~ intelligent intervention. “

FL, you are of course entitled to believe that an Intelligent Designer continuously liberally sprinkles interstellar space with intelligently designed aminoacids. It does however sound like a rather unparsimonious hypothesis (not to mention rationally inexplicable - why would a designer keep doing that?), considering that there is reasonable evidence that complex organic chemistry can occur in space under bombardment from light and solar radiation. If you do have an open mind on the subject, I suggest you try updating your sources first (much has happened in the abiogenesis field since Thaxton, 1984).

Ed:

This is no different from the assumption that William Dembski uses — except that he doesn’t bother to look at the characteristics of design, but instead assumes that DNA is exactly like a telephone signal in a wire.

Go ask Dembski why he assumes his criteria, which are based on human designs, would work for a supernatural creator.

What are the “characteristics of design”?

Could you provide a reference or link for Dembski’s statements?

Do you have any reasons — or even better, any data — to suggest that these are NOT valid criteria? Why should we not understand these criteria to apply to all things designed by any intelligence?

Well, I guess I’m hesitant to accept that intelligence of the found-on-earth variety is directly representative of any and all intelligence that might exist, whether inside the universe or out-. Since humans are arguably the most intelligent of earthly life forms (with perhaps a few exceptions ;-) ) and the most intelligent of these have not solved all the mysteries of the universe, it seems probable that there is an intelligence somewhere that is greater than that of anything on earth. Or at least a “something” that was responsible for generation of all the matter (and anti-matter) we know of and that we bust our fannies trying to explain.

It seems to me that it is humanly impossible to completely separate philosophy from interpretation of data no matter how carefully it is done. And there are a myriad of brilliant scientists who can devise brilliant experiments to demonstrate scientific theories, but even these are inherently of limited scope. Even if all the brilliant scientists got together to compare all of their data, it is unlikely that one “big picture” of reality would emerge, due to the fact that micro-studies are inherently limited. It would take a staggeringly overreaching intelligence to comprehend and unify all these disparate studies.

No human endeavour is perfect. Even the scientific method and methodological naturalism are imperfect, as any reasonable person must concede.

It’s all we have right now. Do you seriously think we should ignore all of what we know about design?

No, of course not. I just think we should be careful how we apply it.

On your criteria:

First, do we know the process by which the thing came to be?

Is the theory of origins leading to evolution not claiming it has discovered this very process regarding life on earth? Then would this not be a criterion for life on earth having been designed?

Eighth, does the device go get its own “fuel” if left to its own devices? My experience is that no designed object will, but most living things do.

How can one say that only inanimate “devices” are designed but not living ones? Obviously a non-living device can’t go looking for fuel (except in the movies).

Ninth, can we improve the design?

Welllll, we do have genetically engineered flowers, chickens, etc…

Tenth, does the thing fail to reproduce itself? For every thing we are certain is designed by an intelligence, we have failed to make any of them reproduce themselves.

Again, you’re comparing inanimate designed things to animate things.

Regarding blueprints, reverse-engineering, disassembling, etc., once again we’re talking inanimate creations. I would add that there is not a design that a human has come up with that hasn’t been inspired by naturally-occurring structures or processes, nor one that does not make use of materials found in the “natural” world. Because this is “all we have.” Yet no human can build a beaver dam exactly like a beaver, blueprint or no blueprint, and no human can build a hummingbird nest just like a hummingbird, or put it back together after “disassembling” it. (And knee replacements are not made of bone and cartilage.)

I would say this disqualifies criteria #s two through six.

But the question remains, how did all the “naturally occurring” stuff get here? Where did all the patterns and systems come from?

I say all our ways of trying to answer that question scientifically are finite and limited. Perhaps that’s what you’re saying too, Ed. But I’m not sure…

“But the question remains, how did all the “naturally occurring” stuff get here?”

I put it there.

Beezlebub writes:

“But the question remains, how did all the “naturally occurring” stuff get here?”

I put it there.

LOL!

Just like you to claim credit ;-)

The Muffin Men of M-31 may have been detected! These are the most likely designers to date. Charlie, I hope you’re reading this. Beelzebub, eat your heart out!

http://www.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/ameri[…]p/index.html

Anybody know of a biology/evolution site where they don’t let creationists overrun the comment sections?

steve wrote:

Anybody know of a biology/evolution site where they don’t let creationists overrun the comment sections?

Don’t bother. It’s a waste of time for me to try to present my views to people who are not interested in listening. I’m gone… (that includes you too, Paul)

and by the way…:

Giant pandas are classed as bears by most scientists. Unlike other bears, they vocalize by bleating rather than roaring. Until recently, giant pandas were grouped with raccoons and lesser pandas (i.e., the Procyonidae (raccoon) family). This decision was based primarily on physiological evidence. In the late 1980’s, DNA/serological studies clearly established that giant pandas are clearly more bear than raccoon. Some scientists want to place giant pandas in their own grouping; but for most bear researchers, this does not seem warranted. http://giant-panda.com/pandacool.html

I had noted that the chemical laws of the universe tend to make chemical reactions behave in certain specific ways, all of which are not random.

FL disagreed:

I think there exists good reason to disagree with those statements. Intelligent interference or intervention appears to be a requirement.

Amazing. So it is your claim that you can combust hydrogen and oxygen and get something other than water?

Can you demonstrate it?

Chemical reactions are not random. It does not take intervention of an intelligence to get iron exposed to the atmosphere to rust. In fact, it takes an intervention to prevent such a reaction – often an intelligent intervention.

The old bumpersticker used to say, “There is no such thing as gravity – the Earth sucks.” It never occurred to me before this moment that someone would adopt that as their view of science.

Syntax Error: mismatched tag at line 50, column 2, byte 4628 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.12.3/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187

If it’s scientifically appropriate to teach that the Klingons and the Taelons may be responsible for life on Earth, it’s certainly scientifically appropriate (in fact, more so) to teach that an Intelligent Designer may be responsible for life’s origins.

Your logic is bad. To answer the question, “Where did life on Earth come from” it is FAR more scientifically appropriate to teach that earth arose from microbes seeded by extraterrestrials than it is to postulate that a “designer” put any (or all) of Earth’s extant (and extinct) life forms here.

Why? Because we KNOW that life can be sustained on earth and we KNOW that living organisms can travel into space and land on other planetary bodies. Note that such organisms need only have visited here for a brief moment several BILLION years ago for this to have happened. And the seeding need not have been intentional.

This theory is also perfectly consistent with the fossil record and with the relationships between organisms we observe based on their DNA sequences.

The design theory explains nothing. It’s just hand-waving and frankly whoever or whatever it was that “designed” life on earth is an idiot. I mean, yo, Mr. Designer, thanks for the plagues and tumors. Really helpful. And what’s with the sightless eyeballs? Really really really dumb.

Syntax Error: mismatched tag at line 26, column 2, byte 2100 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.12.3/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187

Sorry about that; I should have previewed. This is a corrected copy of that last post:

Regarding the last portion of Andrea’s response:

On the other hand, that aminoacids can relatively easily form abiogenically in natural conditions is pretty much an established fact at this point, considering that aminoacids of extraterrestrial origin are found in meteorites and comets.

But that statement leaves out some important caveats, Andrea. For example:

“The chemical process that actually produces glycine in the interstellar medium is not understood, although lab-based experiments suggest that amino acids can be created by exposing organic molecules in interstellar ice to ultraviolet radiation.” http://physicsweb.org/article/news/7/8/7

And also the following:

The photostability of amino acids in space

Amino acids are basic components of proteins, essential constituents of all organisms. Ehrenfreund and collaborators at NASA-AMES (USA) tested the stability of amino acids against ultraviolet photolysis. Two biological and two non-biological amino acids have been irradiated in frozen Ar, N, and HO to simulate conditions in the interstellar gas and on grains.

The experimental results indicate that amino acids in the gas phase will likely be destroyed during the lifetime of a typical interstellar cloud. In regions with relatively low UV radiation, amino acids may be present as transient gas-phase species. Their survival in interstellar icy grain mantles and on the surface of comets and planets is also strongly limited. These results provide important constraints for the survival and transfer of amino acids in space environments, and thus their possible availability for prebiotic chemistry.

Leiden Observatory http://www.strw.leidenuniv.nl/annre[…]/node53.html

So I submit that these caveats must necessarily accompany your statement there. That means, ultimately, that what Ed said about chemicals self-organizing into the building blocks of life, remain scientifically unverified and therefore there is room for reasonable pro-science people to disagree.

FL

Let me repeat one point and specifically ask readers about it.

The fact is that the traditional Miller-Urey-Fox-Oparin stuff IS what’s being taught in high school biology texts, right here and right now.

Therefore it’s ~entirely~ appropropriate, in terms of science instruction, to balance that material out with teacher references/instructional handouts regarding the scientific information presented by Drs. Thaxton, Bradley, Olsen, and Kenyon. Kids need to know what the problems are with the Primordial Soup (and Panspermia) stuff, that it is NOT a done deal.

Does anybody disagree with this position?

FL

FL: let me take your points one by one.

Frankly, I would think a simple ID hypothesis, is not nearly as complicated an explanation as what’s being presented in Freeman Herron’s text. (The surprising thing, btw, is that Freeman and Herron don’t even offer any criticism of Orgel and Crick’s hypothesis.)

I don’t know what you mean for a “simple ID hypothesis”. Either you think Crick’s and Orgel’s hypothesis is acceptable, in which case it is already there in at least one college textbook, or you are not content with their ID scenario, and really want to include the possibility that the IDer may be in fact some non-material, supernatural entity. But of course, that is a much more unparsimonious hypothesis: while we have evidence of material intelligent beings capable of some (admittedly, limited) bioengineering, i.e. us, we have no evidence whatsoever of supernatural entities – not even a hint of what they may be like, how they may act, and why, if they existed. Second point, that is a college textbook, and not a high school textbook, which is where ID advocates are currently trying to inject their ideas in. I would have no problem introducing ID to college biology students, especially advanced ones. Most smart students certainly would have a field day with ID – it could be highly educational. Third, Crick’s and Orgel’s “alien” hypothesis (which is but a subset of a larger panspermia theory) shows precisely what can come out of an untestable ID-like hypothesis: nothing at all, in over 30 years. On the other hand, “naturalistic” panspermia, which posits that microorganisms could be carried through space via meteorites etc has generated at least some research and interest. It’s a good example of how strict ID hypotheses of this kind don’t have any scientific “traction”.

[snip reference to aminoacid instability] That means, ultimately, that what Ed said about chemicals self-organizing into the building blocks of life, remain scientifically unverified and therefore there is room for reasonable pro-science people to disagree.

While rational pro-science people can (and do) indeed disagree on the details, they don’t in the sense that you are trying to push. The fact that aminoacids in space are rather short lived, yet so abundant, just shows there is plenty of abiotic chemistry of this kind going on even at present. You realize that the only alternative to abiotic origin of these aminoacids is that an intelligent designer is continuously (and I mean, right now) sprinkling bizarre organic compounds throughout the universe, most of them biologically irrelevant (for instance, over 70 forms of aminoacids have been detected in space-derived samples, most of them having nothing to do with biological aminoacids), plus a myriad of all sorts of non-biological organic chemicals that just happen to look like possible intermediates and by-products in the same chemical reactions? Really, if you think this is an act of intelligence, you should explain why. Finally,

The fact is that the traditional Miller-Urey-Fox-Oparin stuff IS what’s being taught in high school biology texts, right here and right now. Therefore it’s ~entirely~ appropropriate, in terms of science instruction, to balance that material out with teacher references/instructional handouts regarding the scientific information presented by Drs. Thaxton, Bradley, Olsen, and Kenyon. Kids need to know what the problems are with the Primordial Soup (and Panspermia) stuff, that it is NOT a done deal. Does anybody disagree with this position?

I disagree with the premise. The Miller-Urey experiment is taught in schools as a demonstration that aminoacids can be synthesized abiotically. While the details of the experiment have been superceded with the advancement of knowledge, its historical importance, and the main conclusion I just mentioned, were not. If anyone teaches the Miller-Urey experiment to signify anything more than that, it is they who are mistaken. All the knowledge accumulated since then confirms that aminoacids and other biological compounds can be synthesized abiotically, and virtually every scientist in the field agrees. On the other hand, there is no evidence whatsoever for any ID scenarios. None. There is nothing to teach in the kind of ID position you are taking here, other than ignorance.

Ah, here we are. Again, Andrea, my apologies for the delay in posting this. Let’s begin. To review somewhat, Ed said:

Chemicals self-organize into the building blocks of life. No intelligence is required to make them work.

I disagreed. My disagreement is based on Thaxton et al, who pointed out (along with Kenyon) that no amino acids have ever been produced in the laboratory without an excessive measure of intelligent investigator intervention as specifically spelled out in Thaxton’s book.

You then brought up panspermia as a way to get around that otherwise intractable problem, and thus try to salvage Ed’s claim. After I quoted Orgel’s and Crick’s “alien spacecraft” hypothesis and suggested that a “simple ID hypothesis” is at least as scientific as THAT evolutionist-accepted hypothesis, you said:

I don’t know what you mean for a “simple ID hypothesis”. Either you think Crick’s and Orgel’s hypothesis is acceptable, in which case it is already there in at least one college textbook, or you are not content with their ID scenario, and really want to include the possibility that the IDer may be in fact some non-material, supernatural entity.

First, by a “simple ID hypothesis,” I will always specifically mean Dembski’s simple 3-point ID hypothesis on pg 247 of “Intelligent Design” (1999 IVP).

1. Specified complexity is well-defined and empirically detectable. 2. Undirected natural causes are incapable of explaining specified complexity. 3. Intelligent causation best explains specified complexity.

So hopefully that will clarify that issue.

To continue, you said:

But of course, that (Orgel and Crick’s alien spacecraft seeding hypothesis) is a much more unparsimonious hypothesis: while we have evidence of material intelligent beings capable of some (admittedly, limited) bioengineering, i.e. us, we have no evidence whatsoever of supernatural entities – not even a hint of what they may be like, how they may act, and why, if they existed.

Really? So what scientific evidence do you have to support the hypothesis of Orgel’s and Crick’s spacecraft-flying aliens, let alone the hypothesis that these same alien entities purposely decided at some time to deliberately seed Earth and originate life? Unless you accept tabloid UFO abduction/crop circle tales as accepted science, and reject the professional “UFO debunking” opinions of many pro-evolution advocates (Skeptical Inquirer and CSICOP, for example), exactly what “hint” do you have, Andrea, of what Orgel’s aliens “may be like, how they may act, and why, if they existed”?

Answer: you don’t. See, your question ultimately works just as well against the “parsimony” of Orgel and Crick as it does against ID…

…Except for one thing: Dembski has specifically answered your objection in detail on pages 276-279 of “Intelligent Design”, and again on pages 192-196 of the “The Design Revolution” (2004). So in fact, the parsimony-o-meter actually swings more in favor of Dembski’s ID. Thus if Orgel can stay in the scientific game and be accepted as science, so should Dembski.

In fact, Dembski (2004) shows why you are clearly not correct to label Orgel and Crick’s hypothesis as “an ID hypothesis” when obviously ID is not accepted in evolution textbooks at all. After pointing out that “there is no principled way to argue that the work of embodied designers is detectable whereas the work of unembodied designers isn’t”, Dembski says (pg 194):

Embodied designers are okay. That’s why Francis Crick can get away with his directed panspermia theory in which intelligent agents (who are embodied designers) travel by spaceships to planet earth and seed it with life from outer space.

So long as the designer is embodied, Darwinists can claim tha the designer is an evolved intelligence that arose via the Darwinian mechanism. Unembodied designers, however, a re strictly outside the bounds of the Darwinian mechanism and therefore strictly proscribed.

Back when Darwinists felt sure that primitive life could have sprung from nonlife on the early earth, any such theory of alien life seeding the earth would have been rightly ridiculed as so much bad science fiction.

But as soon as we learned enough about the astonishing complexity of the cell and the unfeasibility of such life spontaneously emerging on the early earth, the extraterrestrial Johnny Appleseed scheme suddenly became sound and cogent science.

Why? Because it saves the dogmatic naturalists from fairly and honestly considering the evidence for an unembodied designer.

(pg. 194)

Next point:

Second point, that is a college textbook, and not a high school textbook, which is where ID advocates are currently trying to inject their ideas in. I would have no problem introducing ID to college biology students, especially advanced ones. Most smart students certainly would have a field day with ID – it could be highly educational.

Well, don’t let me stop you. Introduce it to ‘em, especially when y’all get to the origin-of-life topic. Let ‘em have that “field day with it”—just don’t automatically flunk any student who winds up concluding that ID is ultimately deserving of being included with the rest of the pack of hypotheses on the OOL issue.

However, the directed panspermia hypothesis IS accepted as science, period. Therefore, there is NO law, neither scientific nor legal, that says that high school science students are never supposed to be told that an “alien spacecraft seeding” hypothesis is currently being accepted AS SCIENCE, and that therefore it may not be justifiable to exclude ID as a scientific competing hypothesis on the Origin of Life question.

Next:

Third, Crick’s and Orgel’s “alien” hypothesis (which is but a subset of a larger panspermia theory) shows precisely what can come out of an untestable ID-like hypothesis: nothing at all, in over 30 years. On the other hand, “naturalistic” panspermia, which posits that microorganisms could be carried through space via meteorites etc has generated at least some research and interest. It’s a good example of how strict ID hypotheses of this kind don’t have any scientific “traction”.

Yet, Orgel and Crick’s alien-spacecraft gig IS a scientific hypothesis, always quoted or presented as such, “traction” or no “traction”. No escaping that one. Clearly, “traction” doesn’t determine what’s scientific and what’s not. Nor is there some official measurement threshold of “research and interest” that determines when a hypothesis has become “scientific.”

Besides, even if we didn’t mention ID at all, you still have Kenyon, whose journal and textbook published expertise is clear, and Drs. Thaxton Bradley Olsen to boot, whose correctives are CLEARLY scientific whether or not you agree with them.

Also, when it comes to testability, the ID hypothesis, and the origin of life, I’ve already quoted Drs. Meyer/Hartwig’s test/prediction from Kenyon’s book Pandas. You may have missed it.

The concept of intelligent design entails a strong prediction that is readily falsifiable. In particular, the concept of intelligent design predicts that complex information, such as that encoded in a functioning genome, never arises from purely chemical or physical antecedents. Experience will show that only intelligent agency gives rise to functional information. All that is necessary to falsify the hypothesis of intelligent design is to show confirmed instances of purely physical or chemical antecedents producing such information. (pg 160)

So, there’s a scientific test/prediction right there. ID is scientifically falsifiable, therefore ID is science.

Next:

The fact that aminoacids in space are rather short lived, yet so abundant, just shows there is plenty of abiotic chemistry of this kind going on even at present. You realize that the only alternative to abiotic origin of these aminoacids is that an intelligent designer is continuously (and I mean, right now) sprinkling bizarre organic compounds throughout the universe, most of them biologically irrelevant (for instance, over 70 forms of aminoacids have been detected in space-derived samples, most of them having nothing to do with biological aminoacids), plus a myriad of all sorts of non-biological organic chemicals that just happen to look like possible intermediates and by-products in the same chemical reactions? Really, if you think this is an act of intelligence, you should explain why.

I simply remind you of Ed’s opening claim:

Chemicals self-organize into the building blocks of life. No intelligence is required to make them work.

.…and point out that PhysicsWeb has already told us that “The chemical process that actually produces glycine in the interstellar medium is not understood.”

What that means is, that you cannot push aside all those decades of intelligently-intervened Earth amino acid lab experiments and suddenly start using the “amino acid in space” thing to circumvent the apparent need for intelligence.

Nope, I have no conclusive evidence that a Designer is sprinkling various compounds throughout the universe this very minute. And nope, you have no evidence—at least not yet—that chemicals are SELF ORGANIZING themselves into amino acids with no intelligent intervention. We’re in the same boat there—one of “I don’t know.”

You are welcome to question why a Designer would “sprinkle”, but be clear that your question is only a “why” question about the nature of the Designer, and absolutely NOT a scientific barrier or prohibition against a Designer “sprinkling”.

The point, for me, is that Ed’s statement remains scientifically NOT verified yet. Not on earth, not in space. Again, it has NOT. So your claims and your classroom teaching should reflect that.

You may recall in the other thread about “teaching the controversy”, that I said I would also inform the students about the latest efforts to resolve big issues/problems, but I would ALSO be honest and tell them the truth if said efforts really HADN’T solved those main questions/objections. I would treat your amino acid in space thing, the same way. Tell ‘em about the current space stuff, but also tell them about the PhysicsWeb caveat and the Leiden Observatory’s article which makes clear that UV rays will likely mess up the gig anyway, even if the glycine is hitching on icy dust or meteors or comets.

At minimum, tell ‘em both sides of the story, not just one sanitized pro-evolution side. I would argue further that ID can at least be justifiably mentioned here too as a scientific hypothesis for the origin of life in general (in the 3 point ID form), but you are welcome to disagree on that (both our minds are already made up anyway, and the really important time and place to argue that point is when and if my state’s school board takes up the issue later on.)

Anyway, Andrea, there you go. I apologize for the lengthiness, but that’s my way of making up for the delay.

FL :-)

By the way, this time around I really DO have to “smile and disappear” or whatnot. I will be able to continue reading any responses to this post or to read other threads (and especially I’ll make sure to read yours if you respond, Andrea), but things are shaping up to be pretty hectic, and I’ll mostly or wholly just be reading responses or threads, can’t promise to respond to anybody. Most of my time will be offline.

My only real goal for the next two weeks or so is to be sure to keep my promise to Art to post and ask about his Saunders citation on ARN. After that, we just have to see how things go. I do appreciate the time I’ve gotten to spend here, quite interesting to say the least.

FL :-)

It seems FL has set up an impossible-to-achieve criterion for determining whether or not amino acids can form via natural processes. If AA’s are formed in a laboratory setting, that doesn’t count because humans (read: Intelligence) were involved. If AA’s are observed on interstellar material, or anywhere else, that doesn’t count because we can’t say with absolute certainty that some “designer” didn’t put them there.

IOW, unless we just happen upon a rock, comet, or tide pool, proper equipment in hand and at the ready, and catch AA’s in the act of spontaneously forming, then we can never conclude that they form all on their own.

But even then, I would bet IDCists would still assert that we can’t rule out the possibility that an “unembodied designer” was somehow directing the process in some undetectable way.

Such is the nature of spiritual beliefs; they are very tightly and emotionally clung to.

I hereby nominate FL to be auxillary co-bloggger on this site. Maybe, he can be the Panda’s Pinkie. That boy can fend off 12 or 13 at a time!

The first source of difficulty is this – that it is imperative in science to doubt; it is absolutely necessary in science, to have uncertainty as a fundamental part of your inner nature. To make progress in understanding, we must remain modest and allow that we do not know. Nothing is certain or proved beyond all doubt. You investigate for curiosity, because it is unknown, not because you know the answer.

(Feynman, Pleasure of Finding Things Out, pg 248.)

Navy Davy: I hereby nominate FL to be auxillary co-bloggger on this site. Maybe, he can be the Panda’s Pinkie. That boy can fend off 12 or 13 at a time!

And I hereby nominate Navy Davy as the official site cheerleader for intellectual nihilism.

“Fend off”? How so? What do you find persuasive in FL’s desultory ramble? All of it? The quantity/quality ratio? You don’t share Jason’s frustration with FL’s criteria for natural synthesis of amino acids, for instance?

FL: Now I do understand why it took you so long to reply. ;) Fortunately, your arguments are actually pretty straightforward.

1. Embodied vs unembodied designers. The facts here are simple: we have evidence of the former, we have no evidence of the latter. Embodied designers follow the laws of physics, unembodied designer by definition don’t. If you think, like Dembski does, that only “dogmatic naturalism” forces us to consider things for which we have evidence much more likely than things for which no evidence exists, and that the constancy of the laws of physics is something that we can cheerfully ignore at any time, feel free to call the rest of us dogmatic. If you give up on these assumptions, however, you have to realize you’ll be soon teaching about ghosts, fairies and the likes in science classes as well. There is no reason whatsoever to rule out fairies and leprechauns, crystal healing and reincarnation once reliance on evidence and the laws of physics is abandoned.

That said, I should also add that most scientists think Crick’s hypothesis, although scientific, is already unparsimonious enough to be frankly not worth even investigating, let alone teaching. That ID advocates tie themselves into knots to argue that they deserve the same recognition of an idea that is utterly ignored by the overwhelming majority of scientists as pretty much a sci-fi fantasy, is a clear sign of desperation, if you ask me.

2. Intelligent inputs in experiments. Science is based on the fact that we can replicate or reproducibly observe natural phenomena under controlled conditions. If you assume that everything that occurs in controlled conditions requires intelligence, than you have to extend the same assumption to the whole of science, and you would have to conclude that every simple chemical reaction, every elementary physical phenomenon, is the product of intelligence. For instance, what would be the difference between the complex chemistry of aminoacid synthesis and the formation of water from hydrogen and oxygen? Both reactions either occur in controlled experimental conditions, in which intelligence is required, or occur in uncontrolled conditions in which we cannot exclude that intelligence from an unembodied, undetectable designer is required (indeed, even if one could set up the perfect experiment with no experimenter input, an undetectable unembodied designer who violates the laws of physics at will would still remain a possibility). The inescapable conclusion is that everything requires intelligence - period. Which is basically giving up on science altogether in favor of a catch-all non-explanation: all we can directly measure is an artifact of experimental conditions (intelligent input from the experimenter), all we cannot measure is designed, and we’ll never know how anything really works.

3. Abiogenic synthesis of aminoacids in space. Here, the evidence as we have it is the following: - aminoacids are found in abiotic environments in interstellar space - many of these aminoacids do not resemble those made by living organisms on earth, - many other complex organic molecules, also largely unrelated to anything required for life, are found in the same abiotic environments, - in conditions that to the best of our knowledge recapitulate those in interstellar space, mixtures of complex organic compounds, including aminoacids, are synthesized abiotically.

Hence, the most parsimonious explanation is that the complex chemistry observed in comets and meteorites is the product of similar abiotic reactions. Like all scientific explanations, this conclusion is provisional, of course. However, to be abandoned one has to show that there is something fundamentally wrong with any of the findings above (not just vague claims, but precise statements of where the experimental conditions fail, for instance), or to provide a more parsimonious explanation (any independent evidence of the unembodied Designer supposedly responsible for the synthesis would do, such as a picture of the Giant Pepper Grinder the Designer uses to sprinkle bizarre organic molecules throughout the Universe). Until such conditions are met, the two hypotheses (abiotic synthesis vs the Giant Pepper Grinder) are not equivalent at all, from a scientific standpoint. No controversy there.

So, basically, for ID as you present it to be worth teaching in science classes, one would have to do away with science altogether. This conundrum of course has not escaped most sophisticated ID advocates: indeed, one of the main goals of the ID movement (originally openly stated, though less frequently so in more recent times) was in fact to replace science as we know it with a “theistic” form of science in which the primary requirement for evidence and cumbersome restrictions like the universality of the laws of physics ought not apply.

Note, this is a perfectly tenable phylosophical position - nothing wrong with it. However, convincing the population at large that doing away with modern medicine in favor of intercessory prayer-based therapy, and of modern energy production technology in favor of mental power, is a worthy price to pay to get rid of “dogmatic naturalism” and its related evils, may be a harder sell than you seem to think.

Syntax Error: mismatched tag at line 17, column 94, byte 1409 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.12.3/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Andrea Bottaro published on April 15, 2004 9:06 PM.

Montanan Shenanigans was the previous entry in this blog.

More development. More evolution. More genes. More fish. Cichlid jaws! is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Categories

Archives

Author Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.361

Site Meter