Still awaiting the evidence

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In a Wall Street Journal Editorial titled Misplaced Sympathies Kevin Shapiro outlines the many problems with Intelligent Design.

The notion that Intelligent Design is scientifically vacuous is spreading quickly

Kevin Shapiro Wrote:

Proponents of intelligent design, like the mathematician William Dembski, argue that we don’t understand the origins of various biological systems and never will, because they can’t be broken down into smaller parts that could be explained by natural selection. Therefore, we should give up on Darwin and accept the existence of a designer. Alas, this kind of argumentum ad ignorantium flies in the face of an ever-increasing amount of evidence from molecular biology, and hardly measures up to the neoconseratives’ rigorous intellectual standards.

So how do ID activists respond to these facts? Not too well

ID activists argue that Intelligent Design does present ‘positive evidence’ although when pressed for details, the ‘evidence’ quickly dissolves into irrelevancy.

So let’s look at the ID hypothesis and show why ID cannot make any predictions which follow logically from the hypothesis without requiring side-hypotheses which require additional information about the Designer. In fact, without making assumptions about the Designer, ID predictions remain, as various people have now shown, scientifically vacuous.

Okay, let’s start with how ID tries to infer design, namely by using the Design Inference. In order for something to be designed, it needs to be ‘specified’ and sufficiently ‘complex’. So what is really meant by these terms? Specification basically means that there exists an independent description of the event or system, and as Dembski points out in biology ‘specification’ is trivially met by function. So what about ‘complexity’? Unlike the more common meaning of the term, complexity in ID speak refers to something which cannot (yet) be explained by regularity and/or chance. When these requirements are met, a design inference is triggered. In other words, a design inference bascially states that something functional whose origin we do not (yet) understand and is thus specified and complex, is also ‘designed’. Or to use Del Ratzsch’s description: Design is the “set theoretic complement of the disjunction regularity-or-chance. “. This clearly qualifiies as an argument from ignorance, also known as a ‘gap argument’.

So far so good, Intelligent Design is inferred based on our ignorance not because of what we know. So how do ID activists make the claim that ID is based on ‘positive evidence’? After all, it seems self evident that ID cannot make any predictions or that it is based on ‘positive evidence’. After all, without knowing the intentions or capabilities of the Designer, how can one make any predictions? Anything goes…

So what are some examples of ‘positive evidence’?

“Biological novelty appears in the fossil record suddenly and without similar precursors. The Cambrian explosion is the prime example”

Although the description of the Cambrian is woefully inaccurate, none of this follows from Intelligent Design. Why would ID expect biological novelty to appear suddenly and without similar precursors? This ‘prediction’ requires additional assumptions such as typically found among creationists who argue that the Cambrian is evidence of God’s ‘Creation’. But since ID insists that it cannot say anything about its Designer(s), any such claims about what a Designer would or would not do or could or could not do are without any merrit.

Intelligent agents ‘re-use’ functional components that work over and over in different systems (e.g., wheels for cars and airplanes):

Again, this requires some assumptions about the Designer, and since ID insists that it cannot say anything about the Designer(s), such claims remain vacuous. In fact, why would Designer(s) be restricted to re-use of components? In fact, in case of a Supernatural Designer (the logically preferred version of ID’s Designer) there is no reason to constrain His capabilities to reuse of existing components. In fact, a truly creative designer would NOT reuse components.

It’s a sad state of affairs when ID activists have to claim that ID critics misrepresent the claims of ID when in fact ID activists seem to be unfamiliar with their own ‘hypotheses’ and its logical consequences.

Many ID critics have already pointed out the vacuitiy of Intelligent Design. For instance Murray remarks that claims about ID being fertile scientifically are misguided

Murray Wrote:

Friends of IDT have suggested some concrete ways in which the fertility of IDT might be manifest in contemporary science. Two recurring examples are: a) it might lead us to think that junk” DNA has some important function after all and b) it might similarly lead us to look for the function of so called vestigial organs.15

While it might be the case that approaching natural science in this way will sometimes yield fruit, the likelihood of red herrings runs equally strong. The reason is that IDT will provide a fertile theoretical backdrop in a certain domain only if (a) we can be fairly confident of what the designer’s intentions are in that domain, and (b) we are sure that the specific matter under investigation is relevant to those intentions.

Since ID activists insist that ID cannot say anything about the Designer, His intentions or motives, it is clear that logically there cannot be any claim that ID is fertile or that ID makes positive statements since none of these statements logically follow from the ID ‘hypothesis’.

Others have come to very similar conclusions. For instance in “The Vacuity of Intelligent Design Theory” Ryan Nichols observes that

Nichols Wrote:

In my argument against Intelligent Design Theory I will not contend that it is not falsifiable or that it implies contradictions. I’ll argue that Intelligent Design Theory doesn’t imply anything at all, i.e. it has no content. By ‘content’ I refer to a body of determinate principles and propositions entailed by those principles. By ‘principle’ I refer to a proposition of central importance to the theory at issue. By ‘determinate principle’ I refer to a proposition of central importance to the theory at issue in which the extensions of its terms are clearly defined. I’ll evaluate the work of William Dembski because he specifies his methodology in detail, thinks Intelligent Design Theory is contentful and thinks Intelligent Design Theory (hereafter ‘IDT’) grounds an empirical research program. Later in the paper I assess a recent trend in which IDT is allegedly found a better home as a metascientific hypothesis, which serves as a paradigm that catalyzes research. I’ll conclude that, whether IDT is construed as a scientific or metascientific hypothesis, IDT lacks content.

Nichols also reminds us of a major concession by Dembski, often overlooked by ID activists

Before I proceed, however, I note that Dembski makes an important concession to his critics. He refuses to make the second assumption noted above. When the EF implies that certain systems are intelligently designed, Dembski does not think it follows that there is some intelligent designer or other. He says that, “even though in practice inferring design is the first step in identifying an intelligent agent, taken by itself design does not require that such an agent be posited. The notion of design that emerges from the design inference must not be confused with intelligent agency” (TDI, 227, my emphasis).

Of course the best evidence comes from our friend Bill who, when asked to provide ID’s best explanation for a particular system which he claimed was designed, responded

Dembski Wrote:

As for your example, I’m not going to take the bait. You’re asking me to play a game: “Provide as much detail in terms of possible causal mechanisms for your ID position as I do for my Darwinian position.” ID is not a mechanistic theory, and it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories. If ID is correct and an intelligence is responsible and indispensable for certain structures, then it makes no sense to try to ape your method of connecting the dots. True, there may be dots to be connected. But there may also be fundamental discontinuities, and with IC systems that is what ID is discovering.

William A. Dembski Organisms using GAs vs. Organisms being built by GAs thread at ISCID 18. September 2002.

That ID is unable to identify the designer is not without implications, implications which, as Murray so carefully explains, lead ID to be unable to replace methodological naturalism. So what is the problem with ID according to Murray? Simple: ID cannot distinguish between ‘deck stacking’ (aka front loading) and intervention, as such it cannot exclude the possibility that from a particular moment in time the system’s evolution can be explained fully in terms of regularity and chance. In other words, the addition of a designer at the initial time becomes a victim of Occam’s razor. Dembski understands this and for this reason he strongly opposed the theistic position of people like van Till

Dembski Wrote:

Design theorists find the “theism” in theistic evolution superfluous. Theistic evolution at best includes God as an unnecessary rider in an otherwise purely naturalistic account of life. As such, theistic evolution violates Occam’s razor. Occam’s razor is a regulative principle for how scientists are supposed to do their science. According to this principle, superfluous entities are to be rigorously excised from science. Thus, since God is an unnecessary rider in our understanding of the natural world, theistic evolution ought to dispense with all talk of God outright and get rid of the useless adjective “theistic.”

In other words, if ID cannot distinguish between front loading and intervention and if front loading means that Occam’s razor will remove any appeal to a Designer, which Dembski correctly identifies as God, then ID becomes scientifically vacuous in the sense that it has to concede to methodological naturalism’s regularity and chance processes.

It may take some time for ID activists to come to terms with this. Let me also point out that although Occam makes God superfluous or unnecessary, this does not mean that there is no room for God to have Created, it merely means that His Creation remains ‘invisible’ to scientific inquiry. Praise be to a Lord who in His wisdom has made Faith the center of religion. Imagine a faith which requires that God can be falsified for God to be relevant, imagine the cost to faith when scientific evidence supporting their claims fails and thus Design and the Designer have been falsified?

What a waste to science and religion that would be.

Speaking of scientific vacuity, just read how Witt responds to the find of yet another transitional fossil

If Darwinism is true, not one but millions of transitional species, each slightly evolved from its predecessor, existed between bony fish and land-dwelling vertebrates. Darwinists have neither the fossils nor even a credible description of a hypothetical pathway to support such an evolutionary journey,…

Then again Witt holds a PhD in English which may help understand his unfamiliarity with science. What fascinates me however is that ID activists quickly retreat to their creationist origins when faced with scientific evidence.

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Pim van Meurs (PvM) has a post today at Panda's Thumb regarding an anti-ID WSJ article by Kevin Shapiro. Of course, the Discovery Institute, in the person of Jonathon Witt, has weighed in. Aside from the normal and expected dissembling Read More

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“even though in practice inferring design is the first step in identifying an intelligent agent, taken by itself design does not require that such an agent be posited. The notion of design that emerges from the design inference must not be confused with intelligent agency”

Uh…what?

from the opinionjournal article:

If the collapse of ID represents a defeat for the Religious Right, it has been something of a relief for many nonreligious conservatives, who have wanted nothing more than for the issue to go away. Charles Krauthammer, for instance, complained that the Dover episode was “anachronistic,” “retrograde” and “a national embarrassment.”

Our enemies, who wasted our time and money, are at least making up for it by providing a spectacular, entertaining flameout.

ID proponents say that they are following the same principles that archeologists do. Since archeologists very regularly draw conclusions about the designer of a designed object, why can’t ID biologists do the same?

I think it’s fabulous that Kevin Shapiro has endorsed S.J. Gould. H.L. Mencken put it all a little less diplomatically:

“We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.” H.L. MENCKEN (1880-1956)

What it comes down to is that we work out an evolutionary model from both mechanism and evidence, and from that we have entailed predictions that are highly confirmed, from cladistics to the observed changes in genomes. What the IDists do is say, “Uh, yeah, we predict that too”. And why not? God can do anything, and so you just conform predictions to results. Psychics do this all the time.

Perhaps the “Cambrian explosion” is an exception, since we really don’t model that remote time especially well (we have ideas, but the evidence from that time is scanty), though it’s far from the problem IDists make it out to be. So there they claim to make a prediction that we really cannot. Only it’s as Pim points out, not any more entailed than any of the rest of their “predictions”. The trouble is that they’re probably not lying, for the most part, and truly are incapable of differentiating between models with entailed predictions from their own “fit the predictions to the evidence” beliefs.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

I agree. ID activists are typically less rigorous about exploring the logical foundations and flaws in their own claims and seem to be quite eager to accept any ID ‘authority’ who makes a claim. Point in case: Salvador seems to be accepting much of anything Dembski writes as a gospel. Understanding these dynamics will enable us scientists, to better understand and counter these fallacies.

Kevin Shapiro Wrote:

Proponents of intelligent design, like the mathematician William Dembski, argue that we don’t understand the origins of various biological systems and never will, because they can’t be broken down into smaller parts that could be explained by natural selection.

That’s just not right, and Shapiro should know better.

He should have written:

Proponents of intelligent design, such as mathematician William Dembski, argue that we don’t understand the origins of various biological systems and never will, because they can’t be broken down into smaller parts that could be explained by natural selection.

They seldom question the weaknesses of their ideas, but they’re really in a tizzy over at Uncommonly Dense about Salvador and the GMOs. Salvador is trying to say that a certain business’s method is an example of the Explanatory Filter. The consequences are disastrous, as Steve Reuland points out. Davetard is arguing with him, and actually shut down Sal’s previous thread about this. Either Sal’s right, and EF leads to all these contradictions, or Davetard’s right, and Intelligent Design celebrity Sal doesn’t understand the basics of ID. That’s what you call a win-win sicheashun.

“even though in practice inferring design is the first step in identifying an intelligent agent, taken by itself design does not require that such an agent be posited. The notion of design that emerges from the design inference must not be confused with intelligent agency”

No, indeed! In fact, I recall reading a fascinating book on just this subject - all about how you could get “design” - for all intents and purposes - without a designer. Oh! I remember, it was “The Blind Watchmaker”, by Richard Dawkins.

Steve S said

from the opinionjournal article:

If the collapse of ID represents a defeat for the Religious Right, it has been something of a relief for many nonreligious conservatives, who have wanted nothing more than for the issue to go away. Charles Krauthammer, for instance, complained that the Dover episode was “anachronistic,” “retrograde” and “a national embarrassment.”

.…

Wot? No whining about “activist judges”? No postmodernist teach every stupid idea? No liberal biased “reality”? The rats are busy rearranging the chairs on the Hindenburg (apologies to Colbert) and the church mice are expendable. Witt and his cronies are at the end of the PR plank with nowhere to go. No more press running a spell check over their turds before mindlessly re-printing. Collapse? Implosion !!! Bwhahhahahahahahahahhahaha

Hey, speaking of Cordova, today is Day 19 of his not getting around to backing up his assertions from last time he was here. Gee… I’m almost beginning to suspect that there’s no substance behind all that b.s.

DaveScot at Uncommon Descent ( http://www.uncommondescent.com/inde[…]111#comments ) posted this:

“This is a sample of what the Cornell IDEA club will be using to argue against Professor MacNeill? If so then I’m afraid I underestimated the thrashing MacNeill is going to deliver unto them [sic].”

In response to which I posted this: http://evolutionlist.blogspot.com/2[…]-filter.html (I must confess to feeling somewhat “unthrashed”):

“There is a thread at Uncommon Descent in which the development of a commercial service for identifying Genetically Modified Objects (GMOs), offered by a company called Genetic ID is given as an example of industry use of William Dembski’s “explanatory filter.” Dembski claims that the “explanatory filter” can unambiguously identify “intelligently designed” entities, especially entitities in which information is encoded in a sequences of digital bits (as in the genetic code in DNA).

As has already been pointed out numerous times (not the least by William Dembski himself), Dr. Dembski has asserted that all biological entities are designed, as indicated by the fact that their nucleotide sequences are highly improbable, yet tied to a necessary biological function. However, if this is truly the case, then it should be literally impossible for Genetic ID to separate GMO sequences from naturally evolved sequences using Dembski’s “explanatory filter”, since both types of sequences conform to his definition of “complex specified information.”

However, since Genetic ID is able to distinguish between “natural” and GMO sequences at a level of reliability that real-world companies will pay them handsomely for their services, it is therefore clear that there is something fundamentally different between GMO sequences (i.e. sequences that really are designed by intelligent entities) and “natural” sequences (i.e. sequences that have evolved by natural selection and/or genetic drift). Therefore, I must conclude that, rather than providing evidence for the efficacy of the “explanatory filter,” the example of Genetic ID’s ability to distinguish between genuinely “intelligently designed” and “natural” nucleotide sequences provides powerful evidence for the assertion that the difference between the two is the result of fundamentally different processes: “design” in the case of the former, and “natural selection/genetic drift” in the case of the latter.

The idea that an “explanatory filter” can clearly and unambiguously distinguish between “intelligently designed” and “naturallly evolved” nucleotide sequences is directly contradicted by our experience with the structure and function of most adaptive genetic sequences. As just one example, consider the following nucleotide sequence: TTGACA-17 base pairs-TATAAT. Those of you with some knowledge of molecular genetics should immediately recognize this sequence as the “core” of a typical promoter; that is, a nucleotide sequence that is “recognized” (i.e. provides a binding site for) RNA polymerase during gene transcription. According to Dr. Dembski’s model of “CSI”, this sequence can only have come about via “intelligent design”, because it has such a low probability of existing that for it to have arisen by chance is negligible.

However, as some of you may know, this sequence is actually the “concensus sequence” for the promoter. There are others, including (but not necessarily limited to) TAGACA-17 base pairs-TATAAT, TACACA-17 base pairs-TATAAT, ACCACA-17 base pairs-TATAAT, and TTCACA-17 base pairs-TATAAT. The probability of RNA polymerase binding to one of these alternative sequences is purely a function of how much the sequence deviates from the concensus sequence (i.e. it will bind least often to ACCACA-17 base pairs-TATAAT, as this sequence differs from the concensus sequence by three base pairs, whereas the other sequences differ by only one or two base pairs). The biological significance of this variability in base sequence in gene promoters is this: the regulation of gene expression is at least partly a function of the frequency at which such promoter sequences are bound to by RNA polymerase.

This means that deviations from the concensus sequence, rather than being “mistakes” which the “explanatory filter” should be able to identify as such, are actually tied to the rate of gene transcription, which is in turn tied to rates of gene product function in the cell. For example, a gene product (i.e. protein) that is used very often in the cell would be coded for by a gene for which the promoter is very close to the concensus sequence, thereby causing the gene product to be synthesized more often. By contrast, a gene product used less often by the cell would be coded for by a gene with a promoter sequence that deviated more from the concensus sequence, and therefore would be transcribed and translated less often.

This means that deviations from the concensus sequence, rather than having less biological significance (and therefore more likelihood of existing by chance, and therefore less likelihood of being identified by Dembski’s “explanatory filter”), would actually be just as biologically significant as the concensus sequence. In other words, if the “explanatory filter” is to be of any use at all, it must explain why random deviations from the concensus sequence (i.e. the “designed” sequence) are in reality just as important to cellular function as the concensus sequence itself, until suddenly (when none of the base pairs match the concensus sequence) the promoter stops functioning as a promoter at all. You can’t have it both ways: either the functions of “deviant” promoter sequences are just as “designed” as the concensus sequences, or they aren’t. But this means that essentially all nucleotide sequences are “intelligently designed”, making the “explanatory filter” totally useless for any meaningful investigation of genetic processes. Philosophically intriguing to a few theologically inclined non-scientists perhaps, but totally irrelevant to biology.

From the standpoint of natural selection, however, functions arising from deviations from the concensus sequence are exactly what one would expect, as natural selection is just as capable of exploiting random deviations as it is of exploiting “designed” (i.e. adaptive) sequences. Indeed, from the standpoint of natural selection, there are no such things as “designed” sequences; nucleotide sequences are only more or less adapative, as reflected in their frequencies in populations. Some sequences are apparently not adaptive at all (i.e. they are not conserved as the result of natural selection) - we sometimes refer to such sequences as “junk DNA”, although that term carries implications that do not reflect what we currently understand about non-adaptive DNA sequences. Other sequences (the ones that the “explanatory filter” is supposed to be able to distinguish) are adaptive at some level. However, the only way to tell if a sequence is actually adaptive is to be able to show, from the level of nucleotide sequence all the way up to phenotypic differences, that there is a statistically significant difference between the reproductive success (i.e. “fitness”) associated with one sequence as compared with another. Until this is possible (and we are a long way from it), any attempt to rule out selection as the efficient cause of nucleotide sequences is pointless (as is the “explanatory filter”).”

“They seldom question the weaknesses of their ideas, but they’re really in a tizzy over at Uncommonly Dense”

Yes, and there is also uncommon decent attempts of humor on diverse ID sites. (See comments on the “[Off Topic] Triangle Puzzle”, or the “Dennett Defends Dawkins, Rues Ruse’s Ruse, Scotches Scott” post http://www.evolutionnews.org/2006/0[…]_rues_r.html ). What’s up with that? The death row prisoners feeling of freedom?

Anyway, I have never felt easy about using the ID claim as an argument (only design, no designer) because it is an empty claim and not a usable hypotheses. When you apply it in nature you casually have a designer (or else you are looking at supernatural design) and so follows sooner or later the supernatural designer, which is why it is by its nature a religious claim. But the post makes a great argument why one can analyse even contentfree assumptions. What one can learn to do in order to get to the essence of pseudosciences!

But surely Dembski is correct that theism simply adds an unnecessary rider to any scientific theory. There isn’t, nor can there be, ANY scientific theory about anything in which the supernatural plays the slightest role. Even “and then a tiny miracle happens” cripples any scientific explanation. So theistic science is saying basically that we can presume one or more gods, provide that either they never DO anything, or at least that omitting them altogether changes nothing.

Dembski is unhappy with invisible (read: unnecessary) gods. He seems to intuit that science’s practice of ignoring any and all gods has proved not to pose the slightest handicap; it’s almost as though there ARE no gods. Because if there are not, science would never even notice and continue to work without a hiccup.

Accordingly, for Dembski’s god to be real, science must have somehow failed. Correct answers simply cannot be reached without appeal to Dembski’s god, if that god is to exist. Evolutionary theory may work; it may explain and predict and provide a profoundly useful and consistent context for great gobs of knowledge, but it can’t be right. If it’s right, Dembski’s god would have to shrink to a role so small as to be effectively nonexistent.

Dembski has his finger on the problem. He just seems unwilling to reconstruct his god in the image of reality.

It just dawned on me that Nichols analysis of ID as not even up for an analysis of falsifiability (of course the full creationist claim of a supernatural designer isn’t always falsifiable) since it is a contentfree claim means that “it isn’t even wrong”. I think I have seen that before…

Very good essay. Thanks.

So let me get this straight. We can infer design through the EF (Explanatory Filter) ala Dumbski but that does not means that we can infer a Designer? What whole ball of wax is that? ID and its benefactors and proponents are so full of it!!!!!!

Comment #100525 Posted by Kevin on May 12, 2006 11:49 AM (e)

ID proponents say that they are following the same principles that archeologists do. Since archeologists very regularly draw conclusions about the designer of a designed object, why can’t ID biologists do the same?

Kevin,

This is really not an unreasonable question, on the surface, but, like Paley’s watch argument which it parallels, we have to look a little deeper.

Please allow me to tell a story from my own experience. A former coworker of mine is an amateur paleontologist. He goes to private land in the northern High Planes and digs dinosaur bones which he sells to collectors. He also said that he sees lots and lots of arrowheads and stone tools lying everywhere, but he does not collect them. I asked him how he found so many bones and arrowheads, and he said, that once you know what to look for, you can see the dinosaur bones from the highway, and the arrowheads just lying underfoot.

That phrase, “once you now what to look for” can cut both ways. The ID-proponents may respond, that, yes, once you know what to look for, you do see design everywhere in nature. But, this is what we must consider: To someone who does not know what to look for, an arrowhead - a human made object - is indistiguishable from any other stone. To someone who does not know what to look for, a dinosaur bone - a biological thing - is indistinguishable from any other stone. It’s only when you know what to look for that you can tell the difference between natural and man-made, and biological and non-biological.

So, with practise, we can distinguish human designed things from things not designed by humans, and we can distinguish biologically grown things from non-biological things, but how do we distinguish natural things designed by the intelligent designer(s) from natural things not so designed?

Flint said

Dembski has his finger on the problem. He just seems unwilling to reconstruct his god in the image of reality.

Indeed, the only thing that makes ANY sense is to state that “Darwinism” IS g0d(s) work. First person singular. Totally optional of course. Choose your heresy.…etymologists will note the tautology. A heresy IS a choosing. Wild bill yonder can savor a little free will.….. if he chooses. Dang you,,,, SteveS!!

;-)

Well, I was typing while Allen was posting, so whe said the same thing with different examples.

We get Allen MacNeill, Uncommonly Dense gets John A Davison. That pretty much sums it up.

This comment in the responses to the article interested me:

Craig Russell - Salt Lake City

A great man, Charles Darwin, said that we are all animals, evolved from lowlier creatures. That is true.

God says that if we rein in our more base impulses and desires, we can be something greater then mere animals–we can be human. That, too, is true.

There is no contradiction.

Dawkins says the same thing that God is alleged to say:

It is a manifest fact that the brain - especially the human brain - is well able to override its ultimate programming; well able to dispense with the ultimate value of gene survival and substitute other values. I have used hedonistic pleasure as just an example, but I could also mention more noble values, like a love of poetry or music, and, of course, the long-term survival of the planet - and sustainability.

RBH

When the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page declares ID to be dead, you know it’s dead.

Witt Wrote:

The Darwinists’ ongoing determination to rebut a mere caricature of ID rather than our actual arguments is one reason such an overwhelming majority of Americans remain skeptical of the Darwinian model.

Really? What percentage of Americans are familiar with rebuttals to ID and consider them to be strawman attacks? Now that would be an interesting poll question.

It is certainly nice to have something sensible published about ID on the WSJ Editorial Page, one of the bulwarks of the Right. Shapiro’s editorial, however, contains some unintentionally revealing and ironic comments. Shapiro comments on the “neoconservatives’ rigorous intellectual standards” but then points out that Irving Kristol and Gertrude Himmelfarb, figurative and literal progenitors of neoconservatism, have long been skeptical about evolutionary theory. So, leading neoconservatives don’t recognize the validity of one of the major achievements of science. This doesn’t suggest that Kristol and Himmelfarb, and since they are often held up to be exemplars for other neoconservatives, neoconservatives as a group, are particularly rigorous intellectuals. Shapiro quotes David Frum as accepting evolutionary theory but reluctant to teach it against the wishes of Christians. Frum implicitly identifies anti-Darwinian Biblical literalism with Christianity, apparently ignoring the position of the many Christians who have no trouble with evolutionary theory. This is intellectual rigor? Frum is apparently willing to accept the degradation of science education and the devaluation of scientific truth, probably in the interest of political expediency. Finally, Shapiro quotes the conservative philosopher Leon Kass repeating the old canard about the Bible being necessary to maintain social order. An unbelievably weak argument and a devaluation of religion as being justified by instrumental needs.

Craig Russell Wrote:

There is no contradiction.

My favourite soundbite along these lines is that “science tells us what it means to be homo sapiens; religion* tells us what it means to be human”.

* This should read “religion (and philosophy in general)”, but that’s the price you pay for going short and sweet.

Roger Albin Wrote:

An unbelievably weak argument and a devaluation of religion as being justified by instrumental needs.

Why should it be a devaluation? Science is justified by instrumental needs, and look how well that’s done.

Adding a bit to McNeill’s fine post:

As has already been pointed out numerous times (not the least by William Dembski himself), Dr. Dembski has asserted that all biological entities are designed, as indicated by the fact that their nucleotide sequences are highly improbable, yet tied to a necessary biological function. However, if this is truly the case, then it should be literally impossible for Genetic ID to separate GMO sequences from naturally evolved sequences using Dembski’s “explanatory filter”, since both types of sequences conform to his definition of “complex specified information.”

Yes, but the fact is that IDists have never attempted to differentiate between evolved information and “designed” information in biology. Some do allow that evolution via RM + NS has occurred, but they don’t tell us how to detect which information is designed and which has evolved. They simply use their “too complex” notion to say that some could not have evolved, but since they really don’t care about “proving” anything except God, they don’t care whether we can detect simple design or not. So we might be seeing simple designs produced by God, however we could never discern whether this was the case or not.

This alone would mean that it was a poor science at best. For in many cases we’d be without any design criterion at all. So one must suppose that we could never ever differentiate design from evolution, unless we watched it, because, of course, God does not design noticeably differently from how evolution does.

The real problem for any real design science is this: Because there are no markers for design except (they claim) integrated complexity, we can’t test to see if Dembski’s “filter” measures anything except complexity. If his filter were capable of winnowing out only, or at least mostly, biological machines that we know from other evidence were in fact designed, then we’d know that his filter works at some level of confidence. Unfortunately, Dembski doesn’t care that even if evolution were incapable of producing observed complexity, something else might–that is to say, something unknown but potentially observable might be responsible.

This is all old stuff, of course, except that I wanted to point out the necessity for actual design markers for both complex and for simple biological systems and structures.

However, since Genetic ID is able to distinguish between “natural” and GMO sequences at a level of reliability that real-world companies will pay them handsomely for their services, it is therefore clear that there is something fundamentally different between GMO sequences (i.e. sequences that really are designed by intelligent entities) and “natural” sequences (i.e. sequences that have evolved by natural selection and/or genetic drift). Therefore, I must conclude that, rather than providing evidence for the efficacy of the “explanatory filter,” the example of Genetic ID’s ability to distinguish between genuinely “intelligently designed” and “natural” nucleotide sequences provides powerful evidence for the assertion that the difference between the two is the result of fundamentally different processes: “design” in the case of the former, and “natural selection/genetic drift” in the case of the latter.

Yes, there are differences between designed and evolved segments, but I doubt that the distinction is being made on that level per se. I believe that they’re just looking for what is known to be introduced by humans, not for evidence of design itself.

This is because the whole “design” issue is rather tricky. For one thing, our “designed DNA” is something of a copy of “natural DNA”, or a GMO may even be due to “natural DNA” that was introduced “artificially”. We may very well be able to make segments of DNA that are indistinguishable from “natural DNA”, at least without having good reference materials on hand to decide the matter. Even if this is true, however, it is simply because we’re designing genetic manipulation in order to be compatible with “natural DNA”, and we did not come up with our ideas de novo.

This gets back to the question of, what could possibly tell us that DNA was designed in the absence of knowledge of how the designer designs? If the designer is like us, no problem, we know that humans have never designed anything like genomes, particularly not by breaking chromosomal segments and rearranging them, or by fusing two chromosomes together (to the extent that we’ve done these things, we have not produced substantially changed organisms that can survive in the wild).

If the designer is unknown, well this “designer” might just be evolution. True, Dembski wants to claim that this is impossible, but he’s never done the work to show this from empirical data. So yes, as long as they’re unwilling to have a meaningful designer, we can just point to evolution as fitting their “definition” as well as any, and something with solid evidence behind it.

What I’m saying most of all is that “design” doesn’t mean anything by itself. Design is not obviously capable of making complexity, and it is not obviously capable of producing simplicity. Neither is a true measure of “design”.

Nor is there anything inherent in GMO DNA that distinguishes “design” from “evolution”, until we know something about the designers of said “design”, and until we know how evolution itself proceeds. But of course we actually do know (empirically) the general mechanisms of evolution, and they predict, within the possible resolution, the patterns and “designs” that we see in organisms. That is to say, we actually begin with the data, not with artificial measures of “design”.

If we wanted to test for “design” in order to determine GMOs, we would look for purposes related to the designers. That is, to contrast design against “natural processes” in order to distinguish between them, we’d look to see if certain DNA segments were there because of reproductive fitness, or if the DNA segments benefited the putative designers. Even there we must be careful, since viruses and some bacteria do inject DNA into genomes for their own purposes–only not according to what we call “design processes”. So we’ll have to look to see who the DNA benefits, plus the processes by which this DNA was implanted into the organism’s genome.

Of course IDists don’t want us to see if DNA exists simply for the function of fitness, instead of for some other purpose, because they know they fail that test.

Should I bring up for once a crucial point about ID? It’s an oldie, but seems not to be used against IDists like it could be. The point is that if we have unknown intelligent agents mucking around in the cosmos, all science becomes suspect. Of course there may be no continuity in the universe, with outside agents tampering all around us, but we would have no science if this were the case.

Well, maybe we’d be able to do some science, but there’d always be the question of tampering from the gods haunting our endeavors. So if we find out that “designers” have been aping evolution, designing life in a previously undetectable manner, we don’t really know if the universe has any constancy from one moment to the next. Each moment may be only miraculous.

And although this could well be the case, it is certainly not something upon which to base science. Even if there is no continuity, we’ve found no breaks so far. I can only be grateful that the IDists haven’t been able to find any breaks in (for instance) thermodynamics and the workings of science yet, though one can hardly say that they’ve tried credibly to find any breaks. They seem too fearful to try to do anything except give the illusion, however poor, of design, where only evolution is obvious.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

corkscrew Wrote:
Roger Albin (referring to the reference to Leon Kass) Wrote:

An unbelievably weak argument and a devaluation of religion as being justified by instrumental needs.

Why should it be a devaluation? Science is justified by instrumental needs, and look how well that’s done.

I would suggest a clarification of Mr. Albin and differentiate science from religion by adding the words “not necessarily true but” between “being” and “justified” above.

Re “(Despite the fact that it’s the very same arguments as before, made by the very same people as before.) I wish the IDiots would at least TRY to be consistent with their balderdash.”

The same arguments, and being made by the same people? Sounds consistent to me. ;)

Henry

Re “Now those math guys, they’re crazy.”

As somebody who minored in math in college, I resemble that remark! :)

Re “Hey! We do all the real work here - all that these “scientist” folks do is find us interesting problems to solve!”

Good point! :)

Henry

I note that Jonathan Witt, author of the DI’s amusing rebuttal of Kevin Shapiro’s article, has a Ph.D. in English from KU.

Kind of a tradition at the DI to have non-scientists rebut the comments of people who know something about what they’re talking about.

Anybody know what’s happened to Wells lately??? I haven’t heard a word about him in awhile.

Maybe Moon ordered him to get married.

Liz asked about Wells. He is still listed as a fellow at the Discovery Institute. Berlinski is still listed as a fellow even after his claim that he never bought into the ID junk. I guess that if they dropped him they could no longer claim Jews and agnostics among the fellows.

One amusing side note is that Meyer is listed as a plural “Directors” and West is a plural assistant “Directors.” It seems that even the Disco institute acknowledges that the guys that run the program have to be two-faced.

Posted by Steviepinhead on May 13, 2006 01:08 PM (e)

As long as our “kin” is defined fairly broadly, since it becomes ever more clear that some of our non-human—and even non-primate—fellow travelers in this bioverse are capable of creating material and cultural “artifacts.”

Yeah, well that is a very difficult question for the ID creationists as this calls us to clear up this notion of “intelligence.” Chimps and other primates have clearly become builers. Dembski has accepted “beaver intelligence.” So intelligent design could be produced by some superbeaver in the sky.

Nests, hives, burrows, are not generaly attibuted to creative intelligence. Konrad Lorenz I think gives a totally adequate description of rodent nest building that excluded large claims of intelligent design, and beaver dams I see as mere elaborations on other rodent nest building. There are ther instances, eg. crows building grub “fishing hooks,” that seem to satisfy any “design/builder” criteria that I can think of, but the recent discovery of porpoise use of sponges as nose protectors seems rather weaker. (Wesley should have a clearer view of this than I).

PS to Wes and Reed: I was very impressed at how quickly you were able to recover from the hard drive crash. I was inspired to perform a total system back up).

We probably haven’t heard from Wells lately because he’s busy in the DI laboratories testing his “centromeres as turbines (also, CANCER)” hypothesis.

(snicker)

Curse it all, that should read “centrioles”, not centromeres. Big difference. Not that the hypothesis makes any less sense that way, but the one way we should differ from ID’ers is in our strict accuracy.

This positive case for design is based on our growing knowledge of biological systems. It’s also based on our uniform experience. For instance, every time we can trace complex strings of functional information back to their source, they always turn out to be the product of an intellgient cause. To borrow the words of the great uniformitarian thinker Charles Lyell, intelligence is the “presently acting cause” for complex, functional information. This uniform experience is positive evidence that the complex, functional information found in the cell is the product of intelligent design.

The Darwinists’ ongoing determination to rebut a mere caricature of ID rather than our actual arguments is one reason such an overwhelming majority of Americans remain skeptical of the Darwinian model.

They also have good reason to remain underimpressed by the Darwinists’ frequent claims of “overwhelming evidence.” Shapiro’s essay is representative. If you set aside his mischaracterization of ID and his unsubstantiated claims about the “ever-increasing amount of evidence” for modern evolutionary theory, you find that his call for neoconservatives to jump on the Darwinist bandwagon is supported by only one piece of empirical evidence, a lonely Canadian fossil dubbed Tiktaalik roseae.

I call it lonely because the morphological space between it and its nearest neighbors is as vast as Canada. If Darwinism is true, not one but millions of transitional species, each slightly evolved from its predecessor, existed between bony fish and land-dwelling vertebrates. Darwinists have neither the fossils nor even a credible description of a hypothetical pathway to support such an evolutionary journey, just a new fig leaf from the Canadian arctic masquerading as the emperor’s royal robes.

A growing number of more than 500 Ph.D. scientists reject Darwinism (undirected evolution by natural selection). A Finkelstein poll even shows that a majority of our medical doctors reject the Darwinian story of human origins. Pretending that the origins debate is over is an old talking point for the Darwinists, and it’s time they got a new one.

Wow. How many lies, obfuscations and rhetorical falacies can you count in the closing 5 paragraphs?

I counted 18. I think there were individual sentences that actually had 3 or more.

example:

The Darwinists’ ongoing determination to rebut a mere caricature of ID rather than our actual arguments is one reason such an overwhelming majority of Americans remain skeptical of the Darwinian model.

1. darwinists.

2. rebutting a caricature (heh, these idiots painted the moving target, not the biologists refuting them!)

3. overwhelming majority are skeptical of “darwinian model”. Heck, i would be skeptical of a model that doesn’t exist too. Talk about presenting a caricature of an argument. gees, can you say “projection”? (knew ya could)

Re “Wow. How many …”

I counted 18.

Henry

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on May 12, 2006 5:33 PM.

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