Just so stories

| 244 Comments

Many of us are familiar with the accusation by Intelligent Design activists that evolution and Darwinism deals in just-so-stories. For example, Behe, after the Kitzmiller ruling, remarked that:

On December 21, 2005, as before, there are no non-design explanations for the molecular machinery of life, only wishful speculations and Just-So stories.

Source: Whether Intelligent Design is Science: A Response to the Opinion of the Court in Kitzmiller vs Dover Area School District By Dr. Michael J. Behe

Similarly, Dembski ‘argues’ that

Evolutionist explanations are just-so stories. They are entirely speculative and do not qualify as evidence.

Source: Dembski, William A., 2002. No Free Lunch, Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, chap. 6.

And of course we see these ‘claims’ parroted by the faithful.

So let’s discuss the concept of just-so-stories and why Intelligent Design Activists use this term to describe Darwinian explanations.

The answer is trivially simple actually when one understands the nature of the Intelligent Design inference. As long as we are ignorant about how something happened, Intelligent Design can claim that it must have been designed. After all a pure chance explanation can easily be shown to be quite unlikely in most cases. However, the moment science provides for plausible pathways as to how some system may have arisen, ID is rendered useless. Why is that? Because the probability calculations to infer that something is still designed require one to establish that the probability under that particular scenario is still too small. Since ID has been unable to apply its probability calculations to any non-trivial examples, ID becomes unable to do the work needed to support its thesis. So, when lacking the scientific tools what else can an ID activist do but attack the nature of the hypothesis as a ‘just so story’. Unable to address and compete with Darwinian theory, Intelligent Design has to use the ‘ad hominem’ approach of referring to the hypothesis as ‘a just so story’.

Let’s just ask Dembski:

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.”

Source

It’s not ID’s task to match ‘your pathetic level of detail’.

So ID does really not that much after all, other than calling our ‘ignorance’ design. And some ID activists are still denying that ID is scientifically vacuous… Perhaps some ID activist can explain to us what ID has contributed to our scientific understanding?

In my research I ran across Just So by Odd Digit

One things that the attackers of science (including ID advocates) frequently do is accuse scientists of constructing ‘just-so stories’.

This is first of all a deeply ironic claim, given that the ID advocates either are unable to or refuse to identify any candidate for a designer. Therefore the ID ‘explanation’ for - well - everything is: ‘an unknown intelligent designer did it using unknown methods for unspecified reasons at an unknown time’.

It only gets better. And notice how ID activists insist that detection of ID is separate from identification of the ‘designer’. In fact, as Dembski admits, the detection of ID need not necessarily point to an intelligent designer…

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).

Source: Ryan Nichols, The Vacuity of Intelligent Design Theory

Seems that ID activists quickly have forgotten about this. Or perhaps they were not even aware of this.

244 Comments

It is strange that the guys that were caught with their pants down and that had nothing to offer about the science if intelligent design are concentrating their efforts in chruches and events sponsored by religious organizations. How do the guys like Nelson and Dembski explain this change in emphasis?

Once the intelligent design creationist political scam was exposed there doesn’t seem to be much of a reason to pretend anymore.

Even Dembski has returned to his old love of apologetics and UcD is focused mainly on Christian arguments

As always, I want to know how design is a falsifiable concept. Exactly what do Dembski and Behe think a non-(god)-designed universe would look like? And how could one tell it wasn’t designed? How do you distinguish design from non-design? And if they’re capable of doing that at all, doesn’t that imply that there must be some things in this universe their designer-who-isn’t-God-no-really-we-swear has nothing to do with? And if that’s the case, where did those things come from?

ID is just a dog and pony show, except with neither a dog nor a pony.

PvM wrote: “Even Dembski has returned to his old love of apologetics and UcD is focused mainly on Christian arguments”

I’ve noticed this too – I follow UcD fairly closely and have noticed that the number of anti-evolution, anti-atheist blog entries seem to be on the rise. In fact, it’s harder to find anything whatsoever that is directly related to ID and it seems to have settled into a very shrill anti-materialist collection of rantings (and not a single new idea about ID).

Furthermore, Dembski’s idea of blogging is simply to write 1-2 sentences and then either provide a link or paste in copy from somewhere else. Hardly the fruit of a great intellectual mind at work. If he is supposed to be the ‘Newton of Information theory’ one would conclude that, although he may be an expert Googler, he doesn’t actually have anything to say in his own words.

Slipping further and further into vacuity. Who is up for a Dover Day celebration this coming 20th of December?

Thanks for linking to my piece Pim. Fame at last! ;)

It does wind me up when the old ‘just so story’ line is trotted out, which is what inspired me to write the piece in the first place. As I pointed out, even Kipling’s just-so stories are falsifiable, which is more than you can say for ID.

Rudyard Kipling, How the Camel Got His Hump (1902) Wrote:

THIS is the picture of the Djinn making the beginnings of the Magic that brought the Humph to the Camel. First he drew a line in the air with his finger, and it became solid: and then he made a cloud, and then he made an egg–you can see them both at the bottom of the picture– and then there was a magic pumpkin that turned into a big white flame. Then the Djinn took his magic fan and fanned that flame till the flame turned into a magic by itself. It was a good Magic and a very kind Magic really, though it had to give the Camel a Humph because the Camel was lazy. The Djinn in charge of All Deserts was one of the nicest of the Djinns, so he would never do anything really unkind.

This sure sounds closer to Creationism than evolution, to me. Funny, though, the Intelligent Design skool of thought never seems to mention the Djinn as the Designer.

The IDers’ use of the term “just-so story” is indeed vacuous, but it should be noted that biologists have occasionally used the same phrase to criticize each other’s evolutionary narratives. For example (http://cogweb.ucla.edu/Debate/Gould.html),

Stephen Jay Gould Wrote:

To take an illustration proposed seriously by Robert Wright in The Moral Animal, a sweet tooth leads to unhealthy obesity today but must have arisen as an adaptation. Wright therefore states:

“The classic example of an adaptation that has outlived its logic is the sweet tooth. Our fondness for sweetness was designed for an environment in which fruit existed but candy didn’t.”

This ranks as pure guesswork in the cocktail party mode; Wright presents no neurological evidence of a brain module for sweetness, and no paleontological data about ancestral feeding. This “just-so story” therefore cannot stand as a “classic example of an adaptation” in any sense deserving the name of science.

By the way, the phrase “Just So story” is not ad hominem, whether used by IDers or scientists: it alleges narrative arbitrariness, explanatory story-making unconstrained by data. Accurate or not, this is a methodological charge, not an ad hominem one.

Creationist narratives about how things couldn’t have evolved, from “What good is half a wing?” to “What good is half a flagellum?”, could be called “It Just Ain’t So stories.”

Larry

Although the IDers’ use of “Just So stories” is indeed vacuous, it should be noted that biologists have sometimes used the phrase to criticize each other’s evolutionary narratives. For example (http://cogweb.ucla.edu/Debate/Gould.html),

Stephen Jay Gould Wrote:

To take an illustration proposed seriously by Robert Wright in The Moral Animal, a sweet tooth leads to unhealthy obesity today but must have arisen as an adaptation. Wright therefore states:

“The classic example of an adaptation that has outlived its logic is the sweet tooth. Our fondness for sweetness was designed for an environment in which fruit existed but candy didn’t.”

This ranks as pure guesswork in the cocktail party mode; Wright presents no neurological evidence of a brain module for sweetness, and no paleontological data about ancestral feeding. This “just-so story” therefore cannot stand as a “classic example of an adaptation” in any sense deserving the name of science.

By the way, use of the phrase “just-so story” is not ad hominem. It is an accusation of narrative emptiness, of explanatory arbitrariness unconstrained by facts. Accurate or not, that is a methodological charge, not an ad hominem one.

Creationists’ stories about how features couldn’t have evolved, from “What good is half a wing?” to “What good is half a flagellum?” could be called “It Just Ain’t So Stories.”

Larry

I think we’re just looking at a pre-emptive first strike here. “Goddidit” is the quintessential just-so story boiled down to a single word. The creationists are painfully aware of this. Best to deflect the obvious.

Odd digit Wrote:

Thanks for linking to my piece Pim. Fame at last! ;)

You have several contributions on your site which I believe are quite good and worth perusing such as your responses to Mike Gene about TTSS and the flagellum and IC revisited.

To be fair, “god did it” is not a just so story. To be a proper just so story it would have to be “god did it in the following amusing and whimsical way…”

It’s worth noting that even an evolutionary “just so” story is useful in debunking ID/creationist claims. As long as it’s biologically plausible, it’s more than sufficient to refute the contention that certain things (e.g. the flagellum, the immune system) can’t possibly have evolved without conscious intelligent intervention.

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I agree with Larry, biologists have used the accussation of ‘just-so-stories’. Againl I agree with Larry that it is a methodological problem. Kauffman has used the claim of ‘just-so-stories’ as well. The the difference is that Gould and Kauffman are not claiming that natural selection or gradualism don’t happen at all, but rather biologists take the claim too far in their theorectical claims. It is basically to pull the reigns back somewhat, but not to claim that evolution is a myth (I’m not saying Larry is claiming this though).

Source: The Origins of Life, p.42-43

The “just-so” stories, at the very least, have something in common with the “gedanken experiments” often done by physicists. They are a way of checking the internal consistency of ideas in a theoretical structure and exploring the ramifications of a theory. They frequently guide researchers to the way things actually happen in Nature by helping researchers construct experimental programs to test the issues raised by a theory. A particular “just-so” story may itself turn out to be incorrect in certain details because of unforeseen contingencies leading to the present state of a system or an organism, but its principal thrust can still be correct.

In stark contrast, the “just-because-I-said-so” stories ID/Creationist leaders tell their followers require no particular internal consistency or correspondence with the physical universe. Instead, one starts with a sectarian, ideological construct, and then asserts that the physical universe is consistent with this construct. Thus, any experimental program that finds otherwise is wrong. And, if you don’t believe it, there will be hell to pay.

A just-so story need not be false. At least 2 of Kipling’s Just So Stories are plausible explanations of how writing developed. The explanation for why we have a sweet tooth is also plausible. I like the idea that good just-so stories are akin to Gedankenexperiments that give you something to think about.

Of course Dembski is going to say: “It’s not ID’s task to match ‘your pathetic level of detail’.”

After all, the DEVIL is in the details…**eg**

My response to William Dembski’s “I’m not going to take the bait” post:

WD: You’re asking me to play a game:

No, you’re already playing a game. We’re asking you to stop.

WD: “Provide as much detail in terms of possible causal mechanisms for your ID position as I do for my Darwinian position.”

We’ll settle for less detail, since we’ve had a few years’ head start. Unless you count Paley, in which case you had the head start. But we don’t just need “causal mechanisms,” we also need you to tell us what those mechanisms explain. You know, the “what happened and when” of biological history. Even YECs can do that part, so we’re confident that you can too.

WD: ID is not a mechanistic theory,…

It isn’t a theory, period.

WD: …and it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories.

ID can’t match any level of detail, which is why you no longer demand that it be taught in schools. So you just promote the phony “critical analysis” of evolution, which insulates all the other attempts at “theories”, e.g. YEC, OEC, saltation, front loading, etc., from a real critical analysis. Nice trick, I must admit.

WD: 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.

Tell that to the YECs and OECs who insist on connecting the dots in the wrong way.

Besides, you conveniently overlook the fact that when a designer is detected in forensics and archaeology - using the “side information” that those fields have that yours lacks - investigators continue to “connect the dots” by determining what the designer did, when and how. In contrast, the object of your game is to get your critics to dwell on whether or not there is a designer. That saves you from having to say what the designer did, when and how. And you don’t want to do that because you know that the answer is “it’s still evolution.” Maybe not your “Darwinism” caricature, but still evolution.

WD: 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.

Then what exactly are the “fundamental discontinuities?” They must not be biological because Michael Behe made it clear that there is “biological continuity” (his phrase for common descent at the Kansas Kangaroo Court), and you have not challenged him on it. So for all your gyrations about “the” flagellum, barring any extraordinary evidence to the contrary, the most reasonable explanation is still that modern flagella originated “in vivo” not “in vitro.” Likewise humans are “modified monkeys,” not “modified dirt.” And the process is still evolution.

But we understand. You can’t say too much because you need YEC political support. We know the game. Like astrology, which Behe likened it to at Dover, ID continues to fool millions of people, but it fools no biologists except the handful who already sold out to pseudoscience. And since the sell-outs seem to know that it’s a scam, we can’t necessarily say that it fools them either.

I can understand it may feel as though some sort of intelligence threw everything into motion. But beyond that everything else is just a guess.

I can understand it may feel as though some sort of intelligence threw everything into motion. But beyond that everything else is just a guess.

I agree that when you set them side-by-side, the oft-derided just-so stories suggested by some evolutionary biologists are preferable to the essentially content-less “it was designed” argument. At least a good just-so story comes packed in lots of potentially-testable details.

If I remember correctly, Behe was responding to a laundry list of counterexamples to his claims of irreducible complexity. The whole concept of irreducible complexity is that, “X is logically impossible because there are no plausible evolutionary paths to X.” When presented with a pile of literature on plausible evolutionary paths, the goalposts move to, “Well, you can’t prove that it actually *is* the path that was taken.” There is no need to show that the “just so” story actually happened when all you’re doing is demolishing the claim that there are no possible explanations. Sure, those hypotheses aren’t conclusively supported, but they’re enough to show that the concept of irreducible complexity does not apply to the systems in question.

Of course, all the ID camp has to do is pick up another IC-looking system and start waving that one around. If that isn’t an obvious god-in-the-gaps tactic, I don’t know what is.

Mark, perhaps the designer is the Gasolinen Djinn? Good Ford!

When presented with a pile of literature on plausible evolutionary paths, the goalposts move to, “Well, you can’t prove that it actually *is* the path that was taken.”

I think you’ve hit it on the head there.

To disprove “X can’t be designed”, any plausible just-so story is sufficient.

Typo in previous post; it should’ve said:

When presented with a pile of literature on plausible evolutionary paths, the goalposts move to, “Well, you can’t prove that it actually *is* the path that was taken.”

I think you’ve hit it on the head there.

To disprove “X can’t have evolved”, any plausible just-so story is sufficient.

Is there any room for compromise? There is both a little bit of necessary faith in evolution theory and a little bit of science in ID. Why must everything be so dualistic? Folks here ignore most of the subjective and ID folks ignore most of the objective.

Compromise on what?

You can believe and speak what you like–this is America, still, mostly.

But high school science class is not for the “subjective.” That should be for fundamentals of well-accepted science methods and observations.

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Brad Wrote:

Is there any room for compromise? There is both a little bit of necessary faith in evolution theory and a little bit of science in ID. Why must everything be so dualistic? Folks here ignore most of the subjective and ID folks ignore most of the objective.

Ah - the “why can’t we all get along” approach, or, more properly, the argument from needing a hug and some hot cocoa.

Unfortunately, it falls apart when you realise, under close inspection, that there is no actual science in ID, no research, no predictions, nothing and any math involved with it is, while still properly math, about as related to the events it purports to model as a matchstick Titanic is to wind chill on Mars.

So, really, there is no point in compromise. You don’t let arsonists build houses just because they’re feeling a bit left out.

Mark P.

Anyone reading this can easily see that you deliberately dodged my point just so that you could get a cheap thrill out of calling me a name — a clearly immature and unethical way to do business that tends to damage the credibility of PT and the TOE.

BTW, lining yourself up with Glen “the psyc ward” Davidson makes it even worse.…..

normdoering

RE: “You think people who talk about “evolutinary ethics” might pray to nature?”

Of course not, I just meant that it might make be an interesting poll, because a Darwinist praying to nature would be well, off the wall.

RE: Prescriptive Evolutionary Ethics

You might be interested to know e.g. that Patricia A. Williams in her article “Can Beings Whose Ethics Evolved Be Ethical Beings?” says that “Prescriptive evolved ethics, on the other hand, tells us what ought to be, that is, what beings ought, ethically, to do”. Her position BTW is against Evolutionary Ethics..

One cannot dodge a point not made Steve B. You blather nonsensically, whether anyone calls you names or not.

And once again you show you just don’t get it. TOE stands on the EVIDENCE, you know, that stuff you IDers never have. Me identifying your lunacy changes none of that.

Steve B.

I’ve scrolled up and reviewed Mark P’s posts and he’s obviously an a–hole. It’s also obvious that he’s an immature college student who will commit any act of self deception just to make a point. When he grows up he’ll probably end up as a corrupt lawyer, so the most anyone can hope for is that he eventually disappears and doesn’t screw up PT anymore with his crap.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by PvM published on November 26, 2006 1:25 PM.

The Holy Wars, part MMMCXXVII: a small correction on Scopes was the previous entry in this blog.

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design Review: Darwin And Conservatism (Chapter 14) is the next entry in this blog.

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