A scientific model of segmentation

| 29 Comments

Intelligent Design creationism is bad theology, bad politics, bad education, and bad science. That last point is made for me every day as I read the real science literature, and see what a contrast it makes with the ideological press releases that come out of the Discovery Institute. In particular, as I was reading a recent review article by Peel (2004), I was struck by the way scientific work builds on past observations, integrates multiple lines of evidence, and makes justified predictions about the natural world that are amenable to testing…all things deplorably absent from ID creationism.

The common theme in ID creationist research seems to be an assertion of the negative: science can't explain X. Y is an impenetrable barrier. Z can't possibly happen. You can't get here from there. Dembski, Behe, Meyer, and Nelson are all taking this approach, and worst of all, justifying it by carefully omitting all the evidence that shows that X can be explained, Y can be crossed, Z did happen, and of course we got here from there. It's also a failure as a research program, because their point of view is utterly dependent on not finding evidence.

So let's take a look at how scientific minds deal with an awkward problem in evolution.

Continue reading "A scientific model of segmentation" (on Pharyngula)

29 Comments

Charles’s ‘scientific’ case for intelligent input can serve as an exquisite example of what Myers is arguing. Thanks for posting this Charlie.

As has been pointed out on previous occasions, there is a serious flaw in Nelson’s Law, which must be corrected thusly: “It appears that all observed complex, highly organized machines whose origins can be determined with certainty are the product of intelligent HUMAN design.”

On the basis of this necessary refining correction, it can be inferred that all objects containing CSI are the result of intelligent HUMAN design.”

PZ Myers Wrote:

The creationist answer to all this is predictable: you can’t get here from there, and we didn’t evolve from a common segmented ancestor. Therefore, evolution is false, and we don’t expect any necessary historical linkage between these different lineages. We can stop looking.

The scientific answer is rather different. We need to explore other systems than flies, and dig a little deeper to see what their similarities might be. We should make testable predictions about possible linkages and do experiments to see how well they hold up. Interesting and complex differences are, well, interesting—they drive further research into the problem, not surrender.

And if the results of that research point to independent abiogenesis instead of common ancestry, one has no choice but to proceed in that direction. But in light of prior evidence this amounts to an extraordinary claim that requires extraordinary evidence. IDers/creationists know that they have no extraordinary evidence, so they use weasel words like “common design.” They then accuse “Darwinists” of assuming common descent to support it, which only exploits the public’s misunderstanding of “testing a hypothesis.” The truth is that alternative hypotheses, like independent abiogenesis, have been proposed and continue to be proposed, in the rare event that they may hold up. IDers/creationists not only don’t do science, they misrepresent how science is done.

It bears repeating, Charlie, that living organisms do not resemble machines in any but the most simplistic ways. No machine that I am aware can assemble another copy from surrounding matter using its own genetic code. Any machine I’ve seen has some purpose other than simply existing to assure more machines like it are produced.

It also bears repeating that while living organisms are complex, they also are bundled with flaws, structures co-opted for other purposes (I’ve mentioned the human knee and spine, which are still much more suited to quadrapedal locomotion), and structures which seem to serve little purpose at all (ie. atavistic limbs on whales). It’s hard to imagine a designer that would do such a thing. Evolutionary theory nicely explains such things, and in fact, if they weren’t there at all, then I’d say the theory might have a bit of a problem.

Living organisms, in their genes and in the way that their genes are expressed, show every indication of replication with modification over time. This is a critical prediction of evolutionary theory, and one that is bourne out again and again through observation. Your argument really boils down to nothing more than an argument from incredulity (as does ID itself).

Worse for ID is, of course, its inability to tell us anything about the designer, how the designer constructed living systems, what precisely (s)he/it/they did and the reason (s)he/it/they did it. Any scientific field of inquiry that does deal with intelligent designers (archaeology and forensics, for instance) deals with all these questions. Of course, ID has this implicit mechanism that points towards religious motivations, though that has to be completely excised in the hopes of fooling school boards, state education bureaucrats, courts and (ID advocates hope) SCOTUS itself.

Perhaps you can help here. Can you tell me who designed life, where they designed life, and how they went about building life? If not, can you at least tell me some means by which I could determine these things?

Hey, I can help you there! I can tell you who designed life, where they designed it, and how they went about building it. However, these things can’t be derived empirically, but only by revelation. What we can determine empirically is that the first cause has what we might call “eternal power” - it is not restricted by the space/time continuum that we exist in; it is not restricted by limitations on speed, or mass-energy - and what we might call “divine nature” - since we have a moral sensitivity that doesn’t seem to correspond with anything else that we see in the universe.

These things are, of course, obvious - although not measurable in an empirical way. You might call them invisible, yet clearly seen, I suppose. But even though people know these things, they choose to repress this knowledge.

Actually, I could save time by telling you that you can read the rest of this in the Bible.

BTW, creationism starts from revelation; ID starts from observation - that is one of the key philosophical differences between them. You might like to know that creationists don’t consider ID to be creationism, and neither do proponents of ID. Of course, it is convenient to class them together as that allows you to continue to repress what you already know about where the universe came from.

Have a nice evening! :-)

Bob wrote:

“It appears that all observed complex, highly organized machines whose origins can be determined with certainty are the product of intelligent HUMAN design.”

Intelligence is not confined to humans. There are many life forms that exhibit considerable intelligence despite their non-human status. As it turns out, all of these intelligences that we are aware of here on the earth appear to be less than human, although we cannot be sure. It remains to be seen whether non-human intelligences exist that are greater than human. So the issue of whether the intelligence responsible for the design is “human” is irrelevant.

AC wrote:

Perhaps you can help here. Can you tell me who designed life, where they designed life, and how they went about building life? If not, can you at least tell me some means by which I could determine these things?

No. No. No. No.

I wrote:

Perhaps you can help here. Can you tell me who designed life, where they designed life, and how they went about building life? If not, can you at least tell me some means by which I could determine these things?

Charlie Wagner replied:

No. No. No. No.

Is it just me, or does this area of research not seem terribly promising?

Charlie Wagner wrote:

Intelligence is not confined to humans. There are many life forms that exhibit considerable intelligence despite their non-human status. As it turns out, all of these intelligences that we are aware of here on the earth appear to be less than human, although we cannot be sure. It remains to be seen whether non-human intelligences exist that are greater than human. So the issue of whether the intelligence responsible for the design is “human” is irrelevant.

I think at this point it would be a good idea for you to tell us what your definition of “intelligence” is. If I missed it in your link, I apologize, but since you are invoking it for “less than human” intelligences, I’d like to know what you mean.

Charlie,

Is it not true that, “All observed complex, highly organized machines whose origins can be determined with certainty are the product of intelligent HUMAN design, and that this is true in every single observed case?”

Nelson’s Law is, it seems to me, intentionally vague on this point.

Given the pinpoint KNOWN identity of the Designer in every instance where that identity has been determined, and having no credible knowledge of any other qualified candidate, it follows that the only legitimate hypothesis is that all complex machines, including those whose origins are unknown. are the product of intelligent HUMAN design.

I don’t see any way around that conclusion.

Creationist Troll wrote:

BTW, creationism starts from revelation; ID starts from observation - that is one of the key philosophical differences between them. You might like to know that creationists don’t consider ID to be creationism, and neither do proponents of ID. Of course, it is convenient to class them together as that allows you to continue to repress what you already know about where the universe came from.

Perhaps you could tell us what observations ID starts from? The point was quite well made that ID seems to start from a point of non-observation. If a testable explanation for a feature, function or system that ID claims is incapable of forming without intelligent intervention is displayed, ID advocates seem to ignore said explanation entirely.

ID is Creationism with all those Constitutionally naughty bits excised, and that’s why, in a way, it’s even more worthless than pure, unabashed divine special creation, and far more dishonest. It’s a piece of legal trickery to sneak Creationism into public school science classes. It makes no predictions, can tell us nothing about the alleged designer or designers or how (s)he/it/they went about doing it. It’s nothing more than a greatly enlarged argument from incredulity, but just as vacuous and worthless as simply saying “I don’t believe self-replicating molecules could evolve into living organisms.” Of course, you won’t con too many school boards with that, so it’s dressed up.

As to where the universe comes from, I’m not even sure that the notion of “comes from” even makes any sense when talking about the Universe. But as a default, and giving you the benefit of the doubt that the concept means anything at all, I can happily and without shame say I don’t know.

Syntax Error: mismatched tag at line 5, column 92, byte 1061 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.12.3/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187

We take human design too deeply for granted to entirely get around it. I confess I find it much easier to imagine landing on an alien planet and not being able to tell ordinary alien geology from an alien sculpture, than to imagine that alien landing in front of Mount Rushmore and being unable to deduce the application of intelligent design. The distinction is, I *know* it’s design; how could the alien not know it? And the ID proponent equally is handicapped by knowledge - he *knows* we were designed for a Purpose. We can suspend our disbelief only so far before our trained BS meters kick in. What matters is how those meters were trained.

ID is basically based on observation of the amount of specified information contained in something, and then a calculation as to the likelihood of this information appearing at random, or by natural process.

Creationism starts from the proposition that the Bible is the infallible word of God, and then (broadly) uses it as a science textbook.

Evolutionism (or neo-darwinism, to be more precise) starts from the proposition that there is no external absolute - not God, not humans not anything except matter. The conclusions to which it come are not that God isn’t there - because that was the presupposition - but that we are the product of time and chance and have no significance at all. All we are is a heap of molecules arranged by chance.

Bob Maurus wrote

Given the pinpoint KNOWN identity of the Designer in every instance where that identity has been determined, and having no credible knowledge of any other qualified candidate, it follows that the only legitimate hypothesis is that all complex machines, including those whose origins are unknown. are the product of intelligent HUMAN design.

This is flawed logic. The assumption is that, because our only experience is of human designers, it is impossible to conceive of there being non-human designers. However, the issue is wider than that of complex machines. For example, the SETI project is searching for radio signals from extra terrestrial intelligence, and the people carrying out this project are convinced that certain patterns of transmission will demonstrate that they have been transmitted by a non-human intelligent agent - even though we supposedly have no experience of such a thing. In any case, it is possible to conceive of a machine that was clearly not manufactured by a human being, and yet was clearly designed (not just a random collection of material).

In fact, the failure of logic in this quote runs to the heart of the failure of evolution as a theory:

1) This organism looks designed; 2) My only experience is of human designers (or more strongly, I am excluding the possibility of non-human design); 3) This organism was not designed by humans; 4) Therefore this organism was not designed.

I think it’s interesting that Dembski, with a background in both biology, maths and theology, should be convinced by ID. Biologists with insufficient maths, don’t understand the improbabilities involved. Mathematicians with insufficient biology assume that biologists already know how evolution works. ID doesn’t know any such thing about why we may have been designed a priori - it just observes that we could not be the product of chance.

I think it’s interesting that Dembski, with a background in both biology, maths and theology, should be convinced by ID. (emphasis added)

Huh? Dembski’s “background in biology” appears to consist of cribbing propaganda from other (crypto)creationists. Care to expand on this, Mr. Troll?

Mr Troll also seems to be oblivious to the fact that most biology programs require calculus and statistics, at a minimum, and that many of us have significantly more math and quantitative methodology under our belts than that. Evolutionary biologists are among the biology disciplines that demand significant mathematical knowledge.

I find Troll’s post rather riddled with assumptions:

ID is basically based on observation of the amount of specified information contained in something, and then a calculation as to the likelihood of this information appearing at random, or by natural process.

In fact, nearly everything in the world around us has almost zero chance of occuring at random. Drop a glass on concrete an infinite number of times, and the shard pattern will never be the same twice. Since the probability of each pattern is infinitesimal, does this mean a miracle happened every time? Most phenomena are like this. To find design, then, the specification must exist first. But if it does, then we are not “finding” what we already specified, we are only ratifying foregone conclusions. Even Dembski admits his specification is subjective, rendering his explanatory filter nothing more than a smokescreen around finding what he chooses to find.

Creationism starts from the proposition that the Bible is the infallible word of God, and then (broadly) uses it as a science textbook.

This seems to be true generically of definitional systems. The conclusions are predetermined, and the evidence (being defined as fitting the conclusions no matter what) are “discovered” to fit the conclusions. How else could it be? This approach trades correctness for certainty.

Evolutionism (or neo-darwinism, to be more precise) starts from the proposition that there is no external absolute - not God, not humans not anything except matter. The conclusions to which it come are not that God isn’t there - because that was the presupposition - but that we are the product of time and chance and have no significance at all. All we are is a heap of molecules arranged by chance.

Some fairly subtle misunderstandings here. Scientific investigations don’t make ANY suppositions about the supernatural, except that the scientific method itself assumes natural phenomena have natural causes, otherwise the method could not work. This method does not “conclude” that people (or anything else) are the product of time and chance, exactly. Instead, it explains evidence in natural terms. Anything else lies outside the bounds of science. Finally, I’m uncomfortable with this usage of “chance”, since evolution is a directional process, and selection is the antithesis of chance.

The notion of us having “no significance” is circular. Significance is a psychological attribute projected onto life to meet psychological needs. Troll might equally say that because how the dice come up isn’t predetermined, the numbers have no significance. But the significance is clearly related to the overall game - if he loses his shirt, that’s significant. Our lives are maximally significant to all of us; no external gods are required for us to appreciate this. The necessity of survival IS required.

This is flawed logic. The assumption is that, because our only experience is of human designers, it is impossible to conceive of there being non-human designers.

This is not my reading. We can easily conceive of non-human designers, we simply have no way to be sure we can distinguish their designs from the noise, EXCEPT insofar as they resemble what WE might design. Even if the aliens are much like us, our identification “hit rate” would most likely be fairly low, with as many false positives as negatives.

the SETI project is searching for radio signals from extra terrestrial intelligence, and the people carrying out this project are convinced that certain patterns of transmission will demonstrate that they have been transmitted by a non-human intelligent agent

Only by source, not by content. The SETI people are searching for patterns WE might broadcast, which could not have originated from our known broadcasts. They may, for all we know, be listening in on multiple alien signals all day long.

In fact, the failure of logic in this quote runs to the heart of the failure of evolution as a theory:

I also disagree with item (4) in this sequence. It should read, “This organism was not intelligently designed. The evolutionary process as we understand it IS a design process, like any complex adaptive system. The superimposition of intelligence onto this process is an anthropomorphic projection, necessary only to meet the requirements of pre-existing doctrine.

ID doesn’t know any such thing about why we may have been designed a priori - it just observes that we could not be the product of chance.

But it doesn’t, it ASSUMES we could not be the product of chance, and then confects a specification necessary to ratify the assumption. Of course it is true that we MIGHT have been designed; this can never be ruled out. A technique that can be used to find design in everything finds design in nothing; it has no constraints. Magical explanations have no limits. Can anyone imagine Dembski actually APPLYING his filter to some organism, and saying “By golly, this organism wasn’t designed!” I can’t.

Actually, it assumes that we could be the product of chance, and then demonstrates that this is an absurd assumption.

Behe in Darwin’s Black Box argues that biology could continue under an ID regime determining the relative extent of design and chance, for a start.

… however, I agree with your preceding disagreement, that evolution concludes “this was not intelligently designed.” (Presumably you were happy with the premises, then?)

ID would then assert that “unintelligent design”, where design is equivalent to an abundance of specified complexity, is an oxymoron.

Troll:

ID would then assert that “unintelligent design”, where design is equivalent to an abundance of specified complexity, is an oxymoron.

I don’t think this position follows. What ID does, unfortunately, is decide FIRST whether whoever applies the technique prefers to find design, and THEN fabricates the specification necessary to establish design, and THEN decrees that the design, being specified, derived from an intelligent source.

Evolutionists, of course, do not presuppose intelligent design, and in this I agree. If we assume our conclusions, why bother introducing messy evidence? Where I seem to disagree is in the equation of intelligence with design, so that if something was designed by a complex natural process, it therefore wasn’t designed! You seem to be saying that this is a semantic issue: that if the designer does not exhibit “intelligence” as YOU define it, then there is no design. But your designer is itself a process. Human beings are processes in a biological sense. Just how bright does a designer need to be to qualify as intelligent? And by what method should this intelligence be measured? Who gets to administer the IQ test?

I’m not sure what you mean by premises. This wasn’t a syllogism, it was a train of thought. The first item was that an organism “looks designed”. Surely we can all agree that this is a subjective assessment?

Dawkins uses (perhaps coined?) the term “designoid” to describe the results of complex adaptive processes over time. Adam Smith used the term “invisible hand” to describe the same epiphenomenon. We (and an unmanageably complex global economy, though there have been attempts to “intelligently design” economies, with disastrous results) are the result of the natural operation of complex systems. This isn’t “chance”, systems act according to rules. But CSI is a method for placing a bet after the race results are posted, and the winner is already “specified”. This is simply cheating. At least Dembski admits that theology lies at the foundation of intelligent design.

No - I don’t believe that you have to accept that “looks designed” is a subjective assessment. If you find a watch in a field, you don’t assume that it has always been there - Paley was right in that regard. Darwin would have been right if as you looked at smaller and smaller scale, things got simpler and simpler. But they don’t - the lowest level of life is the cell, which is already substantially more complicated than (say) an oil refinery. If we were on the surface of an alien planet, and came across an artifact of the scale of an oil refinery, we would have no doubt that it had been designed.

At the end of the day, I think that belief in atheistic evolution is based on a naive grasp of improbability and statistics. People are repressing the knowledge that they have. They are either ignorant, stupid, or insane. Or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that.

Bye!

If you find a mouse in the field, do you also assume it was manufactured? It’s much more complicated than a watch, after all, so it must have been assembled by a supernatural being of godlike intelligence.

We ignorant, stupid, insane, wicked biologists tend to assume that a mouse was ‘constructed’ by other mice using processes that require no intelligence whatsoever. We’ve always been misled by the fact that we can watch those processes in progress, and haven’t yet seen any gods stalking the fields, pointing their fingers and conjuring mouselings into existence with a mighty “zot!”

a Creationist Troll, apparently Wrote:

the lowest level of life is the cell

aCTa seems not to comprehend that this is not true. RNA, in forms of viruses, are the lowest level of life. They are independent and can replicate.

The beauty of nature is the amount of self assembling systems there are out there. Living and non living. Crystals, to sea shells to amino acids.

I hate the comparison of life to watches. Watches to not self assemble. Watches do not follow chemical laws.

How about this…can you tell the difference between man made sapphires and natural sapphires? Or lets just go with biological systems .… can you tell the difference from a man made RNA change and a natural occurring RNA chain?

One of my favourite lines is “You can’t get life from non life.” What is life? What are you made of? You are made up of things like water, oxygen, carbon dioxide, iron, calcium, sodium. The biological compounds we are made of are obtainable via natural means.

Its people like you that can’t see that evolution isn’t at odds with a God. You are the one that says that God could not have designed the universe in such a way that we could just fall out of the process as one of the many interesting things in the universe. Some how you seem offended if we are not the pinnacle of Gods talent. Actually if we are it, the best God can do, well then I’m very unimpressed. Make me all-powerful and give me 15 billion years I’m sure I can do a lot better then the human race.

One of my favourite lines is “You can’t get life from non life.”

I suggested he get some chem and bio textbooks. A little info about the origins of Organic Chemistry would straighten him out in that particular example.

PZ wrote:

If you find a mouse in the field, do you also assume it was manufactured? It’s much more complicated than a watch, after all, so it must have been assembled by a supernatural being of godlike intelligence.

Not necessarily “supernatural” or “god-like”, but definitely with intelligent input. Living systems are made up of structures and processes integrated in such a way that they not only support each other, but they contribute to the overall function of the living system. This type of organization, in which means are adapted to ends and multiple structures and processes perform multiple functions, all of which contribute to the overall functioning of the organism are unattainable by any kind of random process or chance occurrence. It requires insight and insight means intelligence.

We ignorant, stupid, insane, wicked biologists tend to assume that a mouse was ‘constructed’ by other mice using processes that require no intelligence whatsoever. We’ve always been misled by the fact that we can watch those processes in progress, and haven’t yet seen any gods stalking the fields, pointing their fingers and conjuring mouselings into existence with a mighty “zot!”

A mouse is “constructed” from an algorithm that is present in DNA. While it takes no intelligence for this process to unfold, it did take intelligence to set up the process, design the structures and mechanisms and write the genetic instructions. It is my contention that the organization of these structures and processes and their assembly into a functional system required insight, and could not have been accomplished by random, accidental fortuitous occurrences. In order for your evolutionary view to prevail, you must somehow demonstrate that evolution has the power vested in it by you and you must demonstrate that random, non-directed processes such as mutation have the power to organize and assemble highly integrated systems in which means are adapted to ends. The assertion that random, accidental, fortuitous mutations can somehow accumulate in such a way as to result in the appearance of complex structures, processes and systems is totally unsupported by observational or experimental data. It represents a huge leap of faith by evolutionary theorists.

the organization of these structures … could not have been accomplished by random, accidental fortuitous occurrences.

Excellent point. However, they could have been accomplished by random incidental haphazard occurrences, and also by random pointless helter-skelter serendipitous occurrences, two of evolution’s other mechanisms. To say nothing of random whimsical spontaneous occurrences.

For further reading, see


On The Origin Of Species

or Howe One Spring Day Ev’rything From the Low’ly Beetle to the Noble Falcon Just Popp’d Intew Being, Pure-ly at Randome, and From Uninspired Constituents, In Probably About Fif-teen Minutes

by Charles Darwin


Troll wrote

ID is basically based on observation of the amount of specified information contained in something, and then a calculation as to the likelihood of this information appearing at random, or by natural process.

Actually that’s false. There are no published systematically gathered data on the “amount of specified information contained” in anything. None. No ID Creationist has bothered to actually do that basal research, examining a range of objects and processes, calculating the “amount” of specified information, and publishing those data. IDists have published no observations at all in that respect beyond one or two informal illustrations that themselves fail on close examination. Where are the data validating and calibrating the calculations of “specified information” on objects of known provenance? Where are the data showing the varying amounts of “specified information” in objects and processes of unknown provenance? Where are any systematic data on calculations of “specified information”?

RBH

Why must “intelligence” always equate to “human intelligence, except maybe moreso?” Is there no debate at all about our ability to recognize nonhuman intelligence(s)? Why doesn’t natural selection or the free market count as a “natural intelligence” producing a designed system as the output?

The nature of the “designer” seems pretty straightforward: for all intents and purposes, that designer was human. Otherwise, we would never suspect design at all. And postulating a “human” designer is the default; we ascribe human motivations to everything from dogs to floods.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by PZ Myers published on September 28, 2004 4:06 PM.

Celebrate your right to read was the previous entry in this blog.

Deja vu again. Again. 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