Another (failed) test of the Design Inference

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In my observations that Intelligent Design is scientifically vacuous I have pointed out how ID proponents have failed to present any non-trivial Design Inference where the ID approach actually worked. However, history is full of false positives, even though ID proponents such as Dembski are adamant that false positives do not occur since this would render the filter useless. And for good reason because this would mean that ID’s design inference cannot compete with our ignorance.

The following design inference by Bateson shows that while the scientific knowledge at the time understandably may have caused him to make the suggestion inheritance somehow had to have a non-material cause (sounds familiar)?

In his book The Quest for Consciousness: A neurobiological approach, Christof Koch describes Bateson’s claim.

The central difficulty faced by researchers at the time was that they could not imagine the great specificity inherent in individual molecules. This is perhaps best expressed by William Bateson, one of England’s leading geneticists in the early part of the twentieth century. His 1916 review of The Mechanism of Mendelian Heredity, a book by the Nobel laureate Thomas Hunt Morgan and his collaborators, states:

The properties of living things are in some way attached to a material basis, perhaps in some special degree to nuclear chromatin; and yet it is inconceivable that particles of chromatin or of any other substance, however complex, can possess those powers which must be assigned to our factors or gens. The supposition that particles of chromatin, indistinguishable from each other and indeed almost homogeneous under any known test, can by their material nature confer all the properties of life surpasses the range of even the most convinced materialism.

What Bateson and others did not know at the time, given the technology available, was that chromatin (that is, the chromosomes) is only homogeneous statistically, being composed of roughly equal amounts of the four nucleic bases, and that the exact linear sequence of the nucleotides encodes the secrets of heredity. Geneticists underestimated the ability of these nucleotides to store prodigious amounts of information. They also underestimated the amazing specificity of protein molecules, which has resulted from the action of natural selection over a few billion years of evolution. These mistakes must not be repeated in the quest to understand the basis of consciousness.

Robert H. Haynes writes in “Heritable Variation and Mutagenesis at Early International Congresses of Genetics” in Genetics, Vol. 148, 1419-1431, April 1998,

In his inaugural lecture as Professor he reveals (to the reader today) how badly off course he was in his conception of the purely functional, immaterial nature of hereditary determinants as the “power or faculty to produce the ferment or the objective substance.”

ID proponents may deny that Bateson’s claim was a valid design inference, even though it was based on complexity (lack of our understanding) and specification (inheritance). Perhaps they may argue that Bateson’s claim about the non-material is still valid, as we have seen ID proponents such as Wells argue that

To a very limited extent, it also contains information about the order in which those proteins should be produced-assembly instructions. But it does not contain the basic floor plan. The floor plan and many of the assembly instructions reside elsewhere (nobody yet knows where). Since development of the embryo is not programmed by the DNA, the Darwinian view of evolution as the differential survival of DNA mutations misses the point.”

Darwinism:Why I went for a second PhD, Jonathan Wells in a letter to Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church.

6 Comments

I’ve said this before here but if the EF was a valid scientific tool the we should be able to take e.g. a potted plant and come up with probabilities for each step in the filter. The fact that this isn’t possible shows that ID is philosophy and not science.

I’ve said this before here but if the EF was a valid scientific tool the we should be able to take e.g. a potted plant and come up with probabilities for each step in the filter. The fact that this isn’t possible shows that ID is philosophy and not science.

Philosophy? No, it’s pro-creationism propaganda, and nothing more.

Apparently Wells missed the lecture on the interaction of genes with the environment.

Examples of this abound, really. In ancient days, men presumed gods and such created every natural phenomena. Storms, crystals, ice. Why? Because these things didn’t randomly happen (even they could see patterns) and they knew of no regular process that could produce them. So, chance and specificity failed, they had to be designed!

A clear example of the fact that the design interface is purest argument from ignorance.

ID proponents such as Dembski are adamant that false positives do not occur since this would render the filter useless.

Note in passing: Technically it isn’t what invalidates an EF, at least as I see it. It is the inability to put confidence limits on it which makes it non-scientific.

The side effect is that it looks useless if you insist on trying it since as opposed to a real test or filter you don’t allow any false positives at all.

Let us have a look at the Bateson quote:

The properties of living things are in some way attached to a material basis, perhaps in some special degree to nuclear chromatin; and yet it is inconceivable that particles of chromatin or of any other substance, however complex, can possess those powers which must be assigned to our factors or gens.

And why is that so?

The supposition that particles of chromatin, indistinguishable from each other and indeed almost homogeneous under any known test, can by their material nature confer all the properties of life surpasses the range of even the most convinced materialism.

Yes, but it isn’t the material nature of chromatin that confer all the properties, it is genes, certain sequences of the four nucleotide bases. That is, we are dealing with some kind of language.

So, yes, we are dealing with an argument from ignorance. And notice that at the time (1916) it would have been meaningless to estimate the probabilities for the explanatory filter, and that is one og the reasons it fails: it cannot predict unpredictable discoveries such as discovering that something can occur quite naturally that was thought to only occur by intelligent design.

- pwe

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on February 2, 2008 1:29 PM.

Teach the controversy? Or when ID expells… A case of missing links was the previous entry in this blog.

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