Walter Bradley at DDD1

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In the thread “DDDV: Presenting Opposing Views” FL wrote in a comment, partially in response to a comment I made about the DDD conferences (Design, Darwin and Democracy, sponsored by the Intelligent Design network) being “publicity shows”:

I was at DDD1. … However, I was most impressed by the way Dr. Bradley, the origin-of-life guy, handled his question and answer period.

By the time it was over, I actually wound up feeling embarrassed for the pro-evolution guys (apparently from Kansas University?) who were trying to challenge him.  He was totally prepared for them, and simply mopped up the floor seven ways to Sunday.  That was something to watch.

I was also at DDD1, and in fact have a tape of, and just watched, Walter Bradley’s presentation. On the one hand, I’d say that Bradley’s talk was probably the fairest and most scientifically detailed and accurate of any ID speech I’ve heard at the DDD conferences. His main topic was the problems with the origin of life, and particularly the biochemical requirements for the origin of proteins, DNA, and RNA. He focussed on the Miller-Urey experiments and what he considered the misrepresentation in textbooks of that experiment.

On the other hand, I think FL’s memory of the question and answer period is faulty (this is not to blame him, of course - I wouldn’t have even remembered the Q&A if I hadn’t just watched the tape.)

There were about four questions from ID supporters, and in a couple of cases Bradley in fact corrected some of their points; there was one question from a guy who wanted to talk about the Flood, and Bradley asked to talk to him later since the question was off-topic; and there were three questions from people who critically questioned Bradley in some way or another.

None of these people identified themselves as being from Kansas University (although one said he had attended the play about the Scopes trial that had been held in Lawrence the previous week), and one was young and obviously a student. I was there with two KU professors and I think I would have known if any of the questioners were associated with the biology department at KU.

One of the questioners made a simple point (although somewhat antagonistically), that most textbooks don’t make overly strong statements about the origins of life. The Miller-Urey experiments are mentioned because of their historical importance (Bradley agreed to this), but the questioner pointed out that he was taught it was really a quite unsolved problem as to how life began. Bradley’s response was that he must have had a teacher that was a little more honest than the average textbook.

For what it’s worth, the textbook used in my school (Modern Biology, by Holt Rinehart, and Winston) also describes the Miller-Urey experiment from an historical perspective, and then discusses some of our more recent knowledge about the conditions of the early atmosphere, making some of the same points Bradley was pointing out.

One questioner pointed out that evolution isn’t about the origin of life, but rather about what happened after the first life began. Bradley answered this question quite fairly, making the legitimate distinction between biological evolution (after the process of replication and natural selection began) and the chemical evolution of life from nonliving chemicals (although he also then implied that something other than natural selection must have guided this process.)

The third questioner (the student) asked if intermediate reactions might have made the endothermic gain that Bradley had talked about more likely - Bradley, again politely and reasonably, answered the question with a straightforward scientific response.

So I agree with FL that Bradley did a good job with his presentation, but I think his memory is inaccurate about Bradley being challenged (really only the question about the textbook presentations was “challenging”); about the questioners being from the University of Kansas; and definitely about “mopping the floor” in regards to anyone.

I hope this sets the record straight about the issue.

The larger point here is the one that Bradley hinted at throughout his talk - that the belief that there is a naturalistic explanation for the chemical evolution of life, given the interrelated complexities of life, is a metaphysical assumption, not a scientific one. A thorough response to this point is beyond the scope of this post. Let me say merely that given that the success that searching for naturalistic explanations has had, and the lack of success in finding (or even articulating in a testable fashion) explanations which invoke “intelligent design”, and given the ongoing scientific research in origins of life issues (and corresponding lack of ID research), I think that a belief in searching for a scientific explanation in terms of natural chemical events is a practical and pragmatic belief.

Science searches for “naturalistic” explanations because that has worked time and time again. It’s an inductive position about the utility of the scientific approach, not a metaphysical bias, that causes scientists to believe that the effort to understand the origins of life will pay off .

5 Comments

Thanks Jack. Bradley may find comfort in seeing the hand of the Lord in the law equations that govern our universe but such arguments of front loading seem to be at odds with the usual explanatory filter employed by Dembski namely that front loading which uses the laws of nature to design will be rejected as intelligently designed. I am not surprised that we find we are quite fine tuned to the constants and laws of nature. As with Privileged Planet it may be tempting to take this correlation, something which would be expected if life arose naturally, as evidence of one’s faith. But why limit oneself to just these constants/laws? Is evidence of our Lord not found everywhere we look? We may be doing Him unjustice by placing him in these gaps while ignoring the obvious. Of course that’s just my faith speaking. From a scientific perspective I find the suggestion that natural laws cannot explain the universe and life within somewhat insulting to its Designer. As I have pointed out in another posting, contingency/chance are the only plausible way in which an all powerful designer could guarantee free will. Anything less would result in an existence governed by certainty. In addition, what may appear to us as chance occurrences may merely reflect our ignorance.

Pim van Meurs Wrote:

From a scientific perspective I find the suggestion that natural laws cannot explain the universe and life within somewhat insulting to its Designer.

As I have pointed out in another posting, contingency/chance are the only plausible way in which an all powerful designer could guarantee free will.

Excellent! That should be the #1 message in any spoken or written rebuttal to ID/creationism that is directed to the public. Because the public is mostly religious, and wary of science in countless ways, the typical criticisms of ID/creationism (highly technical arguments and “sneaking in God” charges) do not impress them at all. While these criticisms are necessary, without your qualifier, we are just taking the anti-evolutionist’s bait.

I don’t particularly care for the argument that contingency/chance is the only plausible way in which an all-powerful designed could guarantee free will, since that presupposes that the libertarian conception of free will is the correct one, which I think is mistaken. It assumes the falsity of all compatibilist notions of free will, such as are defended by Daniel Dennett in his books _Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting_ and _Freedom Evolves_.

If you are convinced of the truth of a libertarian conception of free will, then you can certainly make the argument, but it’s not an argument I can use except for the purposes of showing incoherence in the arguments of someone who does hold such a view of free will.

Note that the argument is also not going to be persuasive to an ID theorist who holds a Calvinist perspective on free will.

Thanks to Jack Krebs for his even-handed remarks and also for his videotape that provided a means to re-check things.

Now, I’ll never claim a perfect memory, of course. And I said “apparently from Kansas University?” as a question, precisely because I wasn’t sure about the identities of allthe questioners. A question, not a statement.

(Although I do in fact remember that fellow who was “young and obviously a student”, in Kreb’s words.)

And yes, the question about the textbook could indeed be characterized as “challenging”. However, for me, I also sincerely feel that the questioner who “pointed out that evolution isn’t about the origin of life, but rather about what happened after the first life began” was also doing some “challenge” as well. That’s just how the guy came across to me as I listened.

Finally, Dr. Bradley agreed to continue the conversation with a questioner after the Q and A session (several people watched, including myself), and I ~know~ the particular questioner got a bit challenging during that time (but that Dr. Bradley handled things on that one too. I don’t know if that epilogue was taped, though.)

And so, while I understand and respect Kreb’s opinion there, I’m convinced that the term “challenging” is ~not~ inappropriate for that occasion. If one prefers a phrase other than “mopping up the floor” (probably reflective of my own biases, of course), then let us use the phrase that we appear to be in agreement on— ”…Bradley did a good job with his presentation.”

FL

Jim Lippard Wrote:

I don’t particularly care for the argument that contingency/chance is the only plausible way in which an all-powerful designed could guarantee free will, since that presupposes that the libertarian conception of free will is the correct one, which I think is mistaken.

Good point, I think. Maybe it should be “contingency/chance is *one* plausible way…” Either way it needs to be kept simple for the public.

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This page contains a single entry by Jack Krebs published on August 20, 2004 10:17 PM.

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Why Intelligent Design Fails: Chapter 8 “The explanatory filter, archaeology, and Forensics” Gary Hurd is the next entry in this blog.

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