Stephen Meyer on Bad Biological Designs

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As long as we’re piling on Stephen Meyer, there are a number of arguments for which Don Prothero was prepared that Meyer apparently didn’t make in the recent debate. A couple are worth posts of their own.

One of the problems intelligent design proponents face is how to deal with bad biological designs. There are lots of examples–Oolon Colluphid of The Secular Cafe has a handy annotated list of 96 of them.

In his doorstop Signature in the Cell, Stephen Meyer has an appendix with 12 alleged predictions of intelligent design “theory.” One of his purported predictions concerns putatively bad or suboptimal designs in biological processes and structures. First a little background.

Intelligent design creationists in general use three basic arguments in dealing with the issue of suboptimal designs. First, they argue that the suboptimality results from “devolution.” What were once optimal designs have degenerated due to the vicissitudes of time and the second law of thermodynamics, or for some, Adam and Eve’s screw-up in the Garden–those of the YEC persuasion commonly attribute that degeneration (along with predation and parasitism) to the Fall. This is one of AIG’s approaches. Meyer also has used the “design decay” argument–see here.

A second argument is to claim that a given design really isn’t suboptimal. For example, in an interview attributed to Lee Strobel’s The Case for a Creator, Meyer reportedly claimed that the inverted vertebrate retina was “a tradeoff that allows the eye to process the vast amount of oxygen it needs in vertebrates” [p.87] (and also see AIG’s argument to this effect).

The third approach is to wave off questions about purportedly bad design as a theological issue, not a scientific one: Who are we to make assumptions about the Designer’s unknowable (to science) intentions and motives? ‘ID is real science and we don’t do theology.’ See here and here for examples.

In Signature in the Cell Meyer incorporated two of the three arguments into one of his “predictions.” He wrote

10. If an intelligent (and benevolent) agent designed life, then studies of putatively bad designs in life–such as the vertebrate retina and virulent bacteria–should reveal either (a) reasons for the designs that show a hidden functional logic or (b) evidence of decay of originally good designs. (p. 497)

There are a couple of interesting aspects of that “prediction.” First, of course, it requires assigning a property–benevolence–to the putative designer. There is no support for that property anywhere in the book that I have seen; it is tacked on for no visible reason. But in fact, of course, there are counter-indications for the alleged benevolence of a biological designer. In a letter to Asa Gray Darwin famously wrote

With respect to the theological view of the question; this is always painful to me.– I am bewildered.– I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I shd wish to do, evidence of design & beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. Not believing this, I see no necessity in the belief that the eye was expressly designed. On the other hand I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe & especially the nature of man, & to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton.– Let each man hope & believe what he can.– [emphasis original]

Darwin is clearly arguing against the notion of a benevolent designer, questioning whether a particular property can be validly assigned to a putative creator. Note that he is not questioning the existence or role of a designer in general, but rather is objecting to assigning a property–beneficience–to a designer of biological systems and cites a biological phenomenon–the feeding habits of Ichneumon wasp larvae–as justification. He is bringing evidence to bear on a theological claim. That’s a perfectly valid form of argument. If theologians make claims about their creator that have testable implications about the observable world, then they are subject to refutation by appealing to observable evidence.

More problematic for Meyer’s ‘benevolent designer’ conjecture, on the basis of (kindergarten level) probability arguments Michael Behe explicitly asserted that some bad (at least from the human point of view) biological things are designed. In The Edge of Evolution Behe wrote

Here’s something to ponder long and hard: Malaria was intentionally designed. The molecular machinery with which the parasite invades red blood cells is an exquisitely purposeful arrangement of parts. C-Eve’s children died in her arms partly because an intelligent agent deliberately made malaria, or at least something very similar to it. (p. 237)

So much for a benevolent designer in Behe’s version of ID.

A more serious problem for Meyer’s so-called “prediction” is that his two conjectures–hidden functional logic or evidence of decay–do not exhaust the universe of possible design explanations. There are at least three more possibilities: (c) an incompetent designer; (d) design by committee or competing designers; or (e) a whimsical designer (see here for examples of the invocation of whimsy on the part of a designer from Disco Dancers William Dembski, Philip Johnson, and Jonathan Witt).

There’s no reason to exclude those three additional conjectures; they have no less warrant than Meyer’s pair. All three are consistent with the evidence. In fact, on the evidence it seems to me that the property most appropriately assigned to a putative designer is malevolence: the world/universe really is a cruel and unpleasant place for the great majority of living things.

Given no principled constraints on the designer(s)’ properties, ID has no explanatory power and no scientific value. Theories in science have (at least) three basic functions: (1) to explain observed phenomena, in the sense of identifying applicable initial conditions, relevant variables, and causal mechanisms that operate(d) to produce the observed phenomena; (2) to constrain what is possible by placing boundaries on what can happen if the theory is (small “t”) true–this is my preferred gloss of ‘testable/falsifiable’; and (3) to engender a rich and fruitful research program that leads to new knowledge of how the world works, to a clearer understanding of phenomena in the domain of applicability of the theory, and (this is tertiary but not irrelevant) to the devising of potentially useful applications/technology. Intelligent design “theory” does none of those things: it is a scientific and explanatory void.

291 Comments

“Unintelligent design” is still design - examples of incompetent design, malignant design or stupid design cannot disprove design. But “design” by the Blind Watchmaker of evolution makes far more sense than any so-called “intelligent design.”

First, they argue that the suboptimality results from “devolution.” What were once optimal designs have degenerated due to the vicissitudes of time and the second law of thermodynamics

blind cave fish must prove then that the eye was suboptimal to begin with, and thus a product of de-evolution.

i mean, since not having eyes in the dark is the optimal solution?

I’m still new at all this science stuff, so can someone explain to me why “devolution” or decay over time doesn’t make sense?

I’m still new at all this science stuff, so can someone explain to me why “devolution” or decay over time doesn’t make sense?

ignore the term “devolution” because there is no directionality to evolution, no up or down, no step-ladder of achievement. This is the main strawman creationists tend to paint of evolution: that it is like a ladder, ever leading upwards to “us” at the pinnacle. Which of course leads to the infamous line, “if humans evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys”. It doesn’t work that way; things evolve not in linear fashion from the simple to the complex, but merely change traits within given populations, and can do so back and forth in many cases, depending on what the given environmental pressures are on any particular population of organisms. An organism might become larger in response to changes in the species of food items available to it, and then again become smaller if those changes reverse themselves. It’s not appropriate to think of that kind of change as “decay”, now, is it. Both directions of change are advantageous to individuals in populations faced with such challenges.

In short, there is only a net increase in reproductive success of certain phenotypes given a set of environment pressures (physical and biological), or there is drift if no particular pressure exists on a particular phenotype or trait. it is not directional in the sense of necessity of increasing complexity, or even of a specific direction.

Therefore, it makes no sense to speak of changes observed in any given trait within a population as “decayed” as if it has anything to do with entropy, or required a constant input of some fictional “energy” to maintain them, or if somehow one state is “devolved” from the other. There is only change, there is no “de-change” :P

for example, a blind cave fish has not “devolved” in any sense the creationists use the term. instead, there is no selective pressure for acute vision in fish that live in utter darkness, so, since eye development is energetically costly, there is an advantage in disabling these pathways.

It is not the case that once everything had no eyes, then everything had simple eyes, then everything had complex eyes, as the creationists would try to portray the theory of evolution as suggesting. that same population of cave fish, if for some reason the cave roof collapsed, might again evolve acute vision given enough time, and lose it again if an earthquake or something caused their living space to once again be underground.

does that help?

… as an an analogy, let’s look at religion…

is protestantism a devolution of catholicism?

it simply doesn’t make sense does it? protestantism arose from small groups that disagreed with cahtolocism, and changes arose from there. now there are over 30K sects of protestantism.

or languages:

did latin devolve into french?

does that help to see why the terms “decay” and “devolve” don’t make much sense?

First, they argue that the suboptimality results from “devolution.” What were once optimal designs have degenerated due to the vicissitudes of time and the second law of thermodynamics

Hmmm. So, um, where do I look for these highly optimal ancestors?

If you’re a YEC, things have only been on earth for 6000 years. We have written records for maybe 2/3rds of that time, and the description of animals back then is pretty much the same description of animals now. We have garbage middens going back all the way to 4000 BC, and the bones of the animals our ancestors ate seem very similar to the ones we have today, so there doesn’t seem to be much room for the “ideal” ancestral animals that obligingly “devolved” in less ideal ones.

In the YEC model, you have to assume that Adam already had bad knees and an iffy prostate, his dog was already colorblind and his pet cavefish had already lost it’s eyes in the garden pond because, well, that’ pretty much what the bones tell us.

So, um, yes, if you’re a YEC the design was suboptimal to start with.

On the other hand, in the OEC model, well, there’s a pretty good fossil record, and stuff back then was certainly different, but there’s not really much evidence that it was much better, seeing as how the vast majority of it went and died.

Again, where do I look for the nicely designed ancestors?

Mac said:

I’m still new at all this science stuff, so can someone explain to me why “devolution” or decay over time doesn’t make sense?

Among other things, “evolution” does not go in reverse. A specific population may regain an otherwise lost ancestral feature, or that population may evolve a new feature that functions very much like an otherwise lost ancestral feature. Even so, that specific population forever remains distinct from previous ancestral populations.

In other words, even if, by some quirk of heredity and or biology, you looked exactly like your grandfather, both as a child and while growing up into an adult, you are still not, and never will be your own grandfather.

As for species decay… Well…

“Decay” is not a concept that can be applied to the concept of a population, species or even taxon. A population can become inbred, or it can die out, but it can’t “decay,” mostly because, no one has ever put out a clearcut definition of what a “decaying” species or taxon would be like.

Are Northern Elephant Seals “decaying” because they’re all inbred due to surviving human-induced bottleneck/population crash? I dunno, they seem all very healthy and vivacious for being pinniped hillbillies.

Is the cave-dwelling olm a “decaying species”? I don’t think one could even say it’s a “spoiled species,” as one specimen stayed alive in a glass jar of water, in a refrigerator, for 12 years, until someone remembered that it was in there, and killed it in order to dissect it.

Attempting to apply words like “decay” to evolution is a simple category error, really.

stevaroni wrote

We have garbage middens going back all the way to 4000 BC, and the bones of the animals our ancestors ate seem very similar to the ones we have today, so there doesn’t seem to be much room for the “ideal” ancestral animals that obligingly “devolved” in less ideal ones.

In fact, that was one of the arguments Cuvier used against hypotheses about the transformation of species. He compared mummified ibises and cats from Egyptian tombs to modern specimens, and finding little difference argued that there was no transformation of critters over time.

So we can’t really say whether something is “devolving” or “decaying.” A blind fish could be blind simply because he lives in an environment that has no light.

And there isn’t such a thing as “bad design” because the blind fish could have been designed that way simply because he lived in an environment without light?

“One of the problems intelligent design proponents face is how to deal with bad biological designs.” -from above

So why do ID advocates need to deal with bad biological designs when things that look like “bad” designs can’t be proved to be bad (in the same way that you can’t prove devolution or decaying species)?

Ichthyic wrote

In short, there is only a net increase in reproductive success of certain phenotypes given a set of environment pressures (physical and biological), or there is drift if no particular pressure exists on a particular phenotype or trait. it is not directional in the sense of necessity of increasing complexity, or even of a specific direction.

The one circumstance in which there is “directionality” in evolution is in a selective environment that is changing is a given manner – say, the climate is slowly warming over millenia – where an evolving population can track the change. Under those circumstances evolution will appear to be directional, but the directionality is the result of the operation of the evolutionary algorithm under a particular sort of environmental dynamics. There is not directionality in the sense of goal-seeking on the part of the evolving population.

Mac wrote

So we can’t really say whether something is “devolving” or “decaying.” A blind fish could be blind simply because he lives in an environment that has no light.

Again, those terms are meaningless. A population of cave-living blind fish, with the vestiges of eyes and with the genes that normally build eyes in sighted animals that are broken and non-functional in the blind population, is not “devolved,” it’s adapted to its environment. As was mentioned, eyes are costly to build, and if they confer no selective advantage, as in a perpetually dark cave, they will slowly be lost.

Mac wrote

So why do ID advocates need to deal with bad biological designs when things that look like “bad” designs can’t be proved to be bad (in the same way that you can’t prove devolution or decaying species)?

You’re mixing up two separate issues. We can tell bad designs, at least bad from the point of view that a human designer could do a whole lot better. See, for example, the recurrent laryngeal nerve’s pathway in mammals. It’s worse than bad design; it’s bizarre design.

To speak of “prove devolution” is to use a term that’s meaningless. Populations gain or lose traits depending on the selective environment and drift. It’s not something climbing up and down a ladder; it’s change.

There is not directionality in the sense of goal-seeking on the part of the evolving population.

yes, to clarify further, i mean in the sense of directionality giving rise to a “higher order”, like in the ladder analogy.

devolution by standard creationist/ID usage implies directionality in a sense of order/complexity, hence the word “decay”. this is what i was addressing, not the ability to predict how a particular trait will change wrt to particular selective pressures.

it’s the implication that somehow evolution has a “positive” and a “negative” direction which of course is refuted by everything we actually see.

Mac said:

So we can’t really say whether something is “devolving” or “decaying.” A blind fish could be blind simply because he lives in an environment that has no light.

And there isn’t such a thing as “bad design” because the blind fish could have been designed that way simply because he lived in an environment without light?

Among other things, cave fish are not designed, period.

Cave fish are descended from populations of fish with functional eyes, but, in these isolated caves, those fish with mutations that impaired the development of eyes were able to outlive those that did not. In fact, we can see this happening in populations of Mexican tetra, Astyanax jordani, where we see populations with functional eyes living in streams outside the caves, populations with very small functional eyes living in the streams coming out of the cave mouths, and blind populations living inside the cave streams.

“One of the problems intelligent design proponents face is how to deal with bad biological designs.”

So why do ID advocates need to deal with bad biological designs when things that look like “bad” designs can’t be proved to be bad (in the same way that you can’t prove devolution or decaying species)?

You are distorting what we have just explained to you.

Intelligent Design proponents claim that the Intelligent Designer is perfect, and or His/Her/Its creations are perfect, too, but the Intelligent Design proponents then refuse to explain why these intelligently designed things have so many design flaws and or are extremely inefficient.

Furthermore, why would a perfect Intelligent Designer allow His/Her/Its perfect creations undergo decay, or suffer from pronounced design flaws?

Having said that, we said that the concepts of “decay” and “devolution” are not applicable to the concept of “evolution.” We did not say that evolutionary “decay” or “devolution” could be proven.

I stated that evolutionary “decay” has no useful, let alone meaningful definition. And the concept of “devolution” is nonsense, or, can you show me how “devolution” can occur, like, for example, can you marry a woman, and have her conceive your grandfather?

For the same proposition the other way up, consider the tapeworm. It’s a good design: “The designer knows he has achieved perfection, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to take away”.

The tapeworm consists of practically nothing but a digestive and a reproductive tract, the former to provide energy for the latter. It is perfectly “designed” for its environment. But “design” implies purpose.

Why are there tapeworms? I can think of only three answers: one, to make more tapeworms; two, to be a painful and debilitating burden on other organisms; three, no reason at all.

The first answer is consistent with the idea of a blind and mindless process, but all three answers seem to me to be irreconcilable with the idea of a benevolent, omniscient designer. Or, if you like, Creator.

The only consideration that prevents me from concluding from this data that there is no such thing as a Creator is that I would have no hope of understanding the purposes or methods of such an entity, as Darwin pointed out. This, however, does not impel me to an admiration of those purposes or methods, if the tapeworm is a manifestation of them.

One of the problems intelligent design proponents face is how to deal with bad biological designs

It seems like some ID proponents think that ID predicts something about what should be found design-wise (under the assumption that, for example, living things were designed). They are just as wrong as the ID opponents that think that pointing out examples of bad design somehow makes the design “hypothesis” less probable. Neither of the above works - and for the same reason: ID says nothing about the designer.

Hawks said:

It seems like some ID proponents think that ID predicts something about what should be found design-wise (under the assumption that, for example, living things were designed). They are just as wrong as the ID opponents that think that pointing out examples of bad design somehow makes the design “hypothesis” less probable. Neither of the above works - and for the same reason: ID says nothing about the designer.

On the contrary, IDists say a good deal about the designer(s), sometimes explicitly (as in Meyer’s attributing benevolence to it(them), and sometimes implicitly, as when they use the analogy of human designers but with greater knowledge and powers than humans. IDists attribute human-like qualities – intelligence and intentions – to their designer.

Moreover, since IDists like Meyer argue that immaterial “information” can be infused (Meyer’s word) into the physical world by an immaterial designer, that designer has powers that we humans don’t have. We can “infuse” information into material stuff only by manipulating other material stuff; we can’t do it via mind alone. The IDists’ designer, on the other hand, can do it apparently by force of (immaterial) will.

So IDists say a good deal about the designer(s) in one way or another.

Mac, you’re mixing up two arguments. The blind cave fish was not presented as an example of bad design, it was presented as a counter-example to the idea of “devolution.” Examples of bad design are the recurrent laryngeal nerve in mammals, the human appendix, the vertebrate eye, the broken primate vitamin C gene, and many more. And these examples are presented to counter the design argument.

Why should ID deal with these questions? Because the entire weight of ID rests upon the idea that things are so well-designed that they had to be made by an intelligent designer. That’s what ID means. But if things are not well-designed, then surely ID proponents need to deal with the gaping hole in their logic.

bear with me, maybe a generalized example would help further?

say you have a population of lizards, living on a tropical island (I like the tropics, ok?). the lizards normally feed on a combination of drift insects from a nieghboring island (or mainland), and beetles indigenous to the island they live on.

the island, as can happen in the tropics, is hit hard by a hurricane, and a new lagoon forms in the middle of it, separating the formerly one group of lizards into two.

one group, living on the higher, windward side of the island finds that most of the insects available to eat are flying insects blown in over the sea from a neighboring larger island. The group on the other side of the new lagoon, lives on a much lower part of the island, in the lee of the wind, and most of the insects they eat are beetles that breed right there on the island.

these two groups, now separated by the lagoon, no longer mix to breed with one another.

there is a selective pressure on the “windward” lizard to forage efficiently on the drift insects blown onto the island, and on the “lee” lizards to forage on beetles.

eventually, a slight morphological or behavior difference might occur within a specific individual within the population of windward lizards that makes it easier for them to forage for drift insects. lets say they develop, for sake of argument, a longer middle claw that helps them snag insects slightly better out of mid-air. that individual, being better fed, will likely have more offspring than its neighbors. that trait, if heritable, will then be increased in the population that lizard lives in as its offspring outnumber other lizard offspring that don’t have the elongated middle claw. thus, slowly but surely, middle claw length in the windward lizard population will increase…

in the lee lizards, the beetles they eat are often found under the sand… so, without the benefit of having drift insects to feed on when the beetles are under the sand, an individual that can do better at accessing beetles in the sand, will reproduce more successfully. so maybe a lee lizard develops a slightly stronger claw to dig with…

so, eventually, you will see two slightly different looking lizard populations on the island… one with a long middle claw, and the other with strong digging claws.

these will both be slightly different than what the original population of lizards looked or behaved like.

now, where would it make sense to say one population is “evolved more” than the other? which one has “devolved”?

you see? it simply makes no sense to look at it in those terms.

they were all successful, all different, just facing different selective pressures.

ID says nothing about the designer.

then shortened, it says nothing.

example:

how would you go about making and testing a hypothesis that a specific artifact you found was in fact created by a human?

yeah, that’s right, you wouldn’t be able to even begin to if you had no clue how a human can interact with the environment to begin with, or else, by process of elimination, you had eliminated every other potential source on the planet. How feasible would that be, do you think?

the reason we think an arrowhead we find on the ground was made by a human is because we see humans making them today, and we find them associated with human civilizations, and we know humans are physically capable of making them, etc.

hence, saying that ID doesn’t postulate a specific designer is like saying archeology doesn’t postulate that humans were involved in the creation of the artifacts they study.

it’s a really, really stupid thing to say, basically.

the only reason ID supporters mouth this particular bit of inanity is to make their concept seem “non-religious”, but surely you can see that there if you don’t identify what the putative designer is, and exactly how it is capable of interacting with the environment, then there simply is no way to even begin to formulate a hypothesis regarding whether or not any given observed organism or part of an organism was, in fact, designed?

this is exactly why all “leaders” of the ID movement eventually pin themselves to having to at least identify which designer they are speaking of.

that said, you find me a non-anthropic designer, study how it operates, and write up a hypothesis and test it, and then get back to me.

frankly, there ARE models to choose from. Hymenopterans birds and beavers come readily to mind…

is your intelligent designer a beaver perchance?

Mac said:

So we can’t really say whether something is “devolving” or “decaying.” A blind fish could be blind simply because he lives in an environment that has no light.

Blind cave fish are neither “devolving” or “decaying”. They are, in fact slowly adapting to their environment, like everything else on earth.

Terms like “devolving” and “decaying” imply something “lesser” than the ancestral animal. Eyes are expensive, They are full of nerve fibers which are metabolically costly and they have delicate membranes which are access points for parasites. Building costly eyes you are not going to use and then carrying them around in the dark where you can get them scratched and infected is not an advantage.

It is, in fact better for these fish to have developed the genes they did to shut off eye development.

So why do ID advocates need to deal with bad biological designs when things that look like “bad” designs can’t be proved to be bad

Because ID advocated propose an intelligent designer, and one of the known hallmarks of design is optimization. If the designer intends to make a blind fish it makes no sense at all to build an eye only to disable it.

The human equivalent is building a computer with an attached video camera, but it’s a camera you don’t need so you’re going to break it so it doesn’t use any power.

(in the same way that you can’t prove devolution or decaying species)?

A straw man. What we can provide is a rational explanation for a disabled eye structure, what ID cannot provide for is a rationale for a half-assed design.

I’ve always been impressed with Behe’s willingness to consider a malevolent designer. I’m deeply curious as to how he reconciles this theologically. The conversations he must have in the confessional must be very interesting.

The conversations he must have in the confessional his head must be very interesting.

meh, pass.

Ichthyic, I very much like the “evo / devo” analogy to language (latin / french) and religion {catholicism / protestantism). I’ll be using that in the future.

One of the ID creationists I used to know, John Bracht, had a fourth argument for cases of bad biological design. “If evolution were true,” he’d begin, “then you’d expect it to come up with something better than that. So, the panda’s thumb / human coccyx / flatfish heads is difficult to explain with design OR evolution.” On the one hand, he’d be insisting that evolution couldn’t do squat. He wrote a coin-flipping program that proved, in the absence of any gradient, it took about a billion guesses to get a certain number between one and a billion. On the other he’d hold the loftiest expectations of evolution, and take its failure (or, rather, the failure of non-selective processes to generate exact patterns) to meet those expectations as confirmation of his supposition that it was bunk.

Yeah, Bracht used to post on ISCID’s Brainstorms (which has turned into John Davison’s echo chamber) and played a part in the writing of MESA. He (like Dembski) never did get a good handle on the interaction of randomness and selection and the resultant amplification of probability. IIRC he was a philosophy student, and was in love with the ‘evolution in principle can’t do this or that’ style of argument.

I’ll be using that in the future.

ty, let me know how you manage to flesh it out. I’ve heard the evolution of language arguments before, but I’m afraid a real linguist could do a much better job of fleshing out the details (I seem to vaguely recall the name Argy Stokes as where i first heard it fleshed out, either here or on pharyngula, a couple years back, and it made sense at the time).

RBH said:

On the contrary, IDists say a good deal about the designer(s), sometimes explicitly (as in Meyer’s attributing benevolence to it(them), and sometimes implicitly, as when they use the analogy of human designers but with greater knowledge and powers than humans. IDists attribute human-like qualities – intelligence and intentions – to their designer.

You’re confusing what ID proponents say vs what ID says. IDists that claim something about the designer and that that ID therefore predicts x (WHATEVER that may be) simply don’t understand the theory they are supporting.

Ichthyic said:

… but surely you can see that there if you don’t identify what the putative designer is, and exactly how it is capable of interacting with the environment, then there simply is no way to even begin to formulate a hypothesis regarding whether or not any given observed organism or part of an organism was, in fact, designed?

That was sort of my point…

You’re confusing what ID proponents say vs what ID says.

you’re fooling yourself if you think those two things are distinguishable.

That was sort of my point…

huh?

explain how that was your point.

Dembski no longer is involved in the day-to-day operations of that website, nor has he in at least two or three years:

Paul Burnett said:

Paul Burnett said: …Stephen C. Meyer is WORLD MAGAZINE’s “Person of the Year” - http://www.uncommondescent.com/inte[…]of-the-year/ …World Magazine is a “Christian news magazine,” with a declared perspective of conservative evangelical Protestantism. Its mission statement is “To report, interpret, and illustrate the news…from a perspective committed to the Bible as the inerrant Word of God.” This award from a Biblical literalist magazine illustrates one more time the connection between intelligent design creationism and religion. I’ve entered a comment at Uncommon Dissent but have a sneaking suspicion they won’t print it.

Bill Dembski did not moderate my comment - they printed it! And the firestorm has started… Anybody want to jump in and help?

stevaroni said:

Melech said…

Mere information is not what Dembski is looking for here. He’s not even looking for complex information. Dembski is talking about complex, specified information.

He may want to only talk about complex, specified, information, but he doesn’t.

.…

How do I determine “specified” information? Don’t just wave your hands and talk about “function”, tell me how to do the actual test, a subject Dembski avoids like a plague-covered leper selling magazine subscriptions.

In fact, let’s make the situation very concrete. If you have a Windows computer, then residing on your disk are two files: one named “system.exe” and one named “explorer.exe”.

Both files have functions with which you are familiar, and both files are there on your computer. Everything about them is accessible to you…every last bit.

How much CSI does system.exe have?

How much CSI does explorer.exe have?

Well, I know when I’m ridiculously outmatched.…At this stage, replies to the few objections for which I have an answer would still be overshadowed by my lack of knowledge.

Those of you who have raised objections to my comments have also increased my doubts concerning the arguments of Dembski and Meyer. I dont know how to go about measuring exact amount of CSI in a system. I dont know the intricacies of DNA mutation or reproduction. One of you said it takes a long time to properly understand the biological systems within cells and that is increasingly apparent. Maybe some ID guy has an answer, maybe he doesn’t. Either way, I’m going to ask.

I really appreciate the discussion and now I have a host of questions for ID advocates to answer. Thanks for the correction and insight guys!

Melech, don’t feel too bad: NOBODY knows how to measure the CSI in anything, because it has no usable definition.

Hawks said:

harold said: That’s weird. Why do all the “supporters” but you get it wrong?

I’d love to try to answer this question, but first I insist that you provide evidence that you have stopped beating your wife.

Here’s why - because you have no idea what you’re talking about and you’re the one who gets it wrong. I’m very familiar with the works of Behe, Dembski, and other DI fellows. They ALL - the works, not the men - deny evolution.

Have you even considered the possibility that their works are flawed? On a fundamental level?

Frankly, you are coming very close to at least ethical violation of respect for intellectual property. I think ID is nonsense, but at least I credit it to those who invented the term, and correctly ascribe the ideas they express to them.

Wow. Ethical violation. That sounds like a serious charge.

This is NOT what THE WORKS OF Behe, Dembski, Luskin and other DI fellows say. THEY invented and ID and THEY get to tell YOU what ID says.

That almost sounds like an argument from authority.

In short, what you are saying is neither science, nor ID.)

I agree that it’s not science. It’s philosophy - and ID.

Seriously, who the hell do you think you are, presuming to teach ID to William Dembski?

Is that another argument from authority?

Theistic evolution is 100% at odds with ID and completely compatible with mainstream science.

Bzzzt.

As far as I can tell, you want to claim …

I’m pretty sure that I’m not claiming anything other that it is in accordance with ID.

Well, sorry but I have to disagree with your claim. If, as they say, “The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”, then nothing is in accordance with ID because they invalidate ID themselves before they even get past defining it, because natural selection is not an undirected process. They can’t even get out of the gate before screwing the whole damn thing up. Maybe they would make some progress if they would get rid of idiotic weasel words like “undirected process”. (Yeah, I know… ain’t going to happen.)

I don’t mean to heap onto the pile, but Melech, I’m still patiently waiting for a reply from this response FROM PAGE 2:

Is a designer required for the explanation of the formation of individual snowflakes? Yes or no.

Edit: I’m making the assumption here that you find snowflakes to be sufficiently complex. If they are not sufficiently complex, could you provide a numerical measurement of the functionally complex specified information of a snowflake relative to that of a biological organism? Thanks in advance.

Perhaps you can go ask your pal Bill Dembski so he can enlighten us on exactly how FSCI works.

Melech said: I dont know how to go about measuring exact amount of CSI in a system.

And that, my dear Sir, is a very strong indication that Dembski is peddling religion under the guise of science instead of actual science. Because if CSI was actually science, he’d just tell everyone how to calculate it.

If someone tells you they have the cure to cancer in a box, but they won’t open the box, then at best they’re a liar. Because the other possibility - that they actually have it and won’t share - would make them much more evil. Dembski claims to have a way to determine created from evolved structures - implying proof of creation to boot. He’s either lying about it or not sharing. Either way, to paraphrase Dawkins, he’s wicked.

Melech wrote:

“Well, I know when I’m ridiculously outmatched.”

Finally, an honest seeker after truth. You know, it never ceases to amaze me how most creationists never seem to come to this conclusion. No matter how many facts you provide, no matter how many references you cite, they somehow seem to think that “I don’t believe it” constitutes an appropriate response.

Look Melech, it isn’t you versus us here. If you really are looking for answers, we will be happy to try to provide them. What you should not do however, is come in here claiming that the ID crowd is right and defying us to disprove them. As long as you are really interested in answers, you’ll be just fine.

“I really appreciate the discussion and now I have a host of questions for ID advocates to answer.”

Great. Just don’t take their word for anything. No matter how good it sounds, it’s probably an outright lie, if not at least a distortion. You might want to start with these questions:

What is the definition of CSI? Has that definition changed at all over time? How do you calculate CSI, what is the equation, what are the units, how do you calculate variance? Why isn’t this equation published in any real scientific journal? What is the CSI of a human, a fruit fly, a bacteria? How do you set the limit for what CSI natural processes can produce? If you don’t have an intimate knowledge of evolutionary theory, how can you possibly know all of the mechanisms by which evolution can produce CSI?

Please feel free to come back and tell us what they say. We would be very interested to know how they answer these questions. Oh and don’t be surprised if you are banned from most ID sites. They really aren’t interested in answering questions such as these. Feel free to compare that to the treatment you have received here.

Good luck.

John Kwok said: Dembski no longer is involved in the day-to-day operations of that website, nor has he in at least two or three years

You didn’t go to the Uncommon Descent website article, did you? William Dembski is the name of the author of that particular topic. I’m pretty sure it’s the same guy. (grin) Check out the author of http://www.uncommondescent.com/inte[…]of-the-year/ - Dembski’s on UD every once in a while.

Melech said:

Well, I know when I’m ridiculously outmatched.…At this stage, replies to the few objections for which I have an answer would still be overshadowed by my lack of knowledge.

Now that is refreshing.

A gentlemen.

If you look at the website again, Paul, I think Barry Arrington is the one listed as the webmaster. In fact, Dembski made the public announcement a year ago at Uncommonly Dense that he was stepping down as the website’s “Fuhrer”:

http://www.uncommondescent.com/cate[…]minstrative/

Paul Burnett said:

John Kwok said: Dembski no longer is involved in the day-to-day operations of that website, nor has he in at least two or three years

You didn’t go to the Uncommon Descent website article, did you? William Dembski is the name of the author of that particular topic. I’m pretty sure it’s the same guy. (grin) Check out the author of http://www.uncommondescent.com/inte[…]of-the-year/ - Dembski’s on UD every once in a while.

I know Bill Dembski is the author of many discussion threads there, but looks like it’s a race between him and Denyse O’Leary. Still I have to admire Bill’s prolific literary fecundity, since I’ve observed sarcastically over at Amazon.com a few times that he’s published more books than Niles Eldredge, Ken Miller, Genie Scott, Frank McCourt and a few others combined.

BTW you’re doing a great job over there needling them especially with regards with Meyer’s honors (Next time you “drive by”, please say that I said hello and that of course I regard Stephen as an uncommonly good mendacious intellectual pornographer.).

Appreciatively yours,

John

The problem with CSI is that, whether it be measuring it or determining whether something you cannot mesure is increasing or decreasing, there are actually two kinds of CSI:

Complex Specified Information (CSI(1)), and complex Specifying Information (CSI(2)).

Complex Specified Information is called “Specified” because it is ..uh.. specified… by a Specifier, for his/her/its purposes. Once inserted, by some means, into an organism, it becomes

Complex Specifying Information, which causes the system that it specifies to come into being and to function as the Specifier wanted, but in the final analysis bay come from we-know-not-where without affecting its various virtues.

CSI(1) and CSI(2) are only the same entity if the CSI(1) implanted in an organism will never change. If it can change, and if the resulting CSI(2) can in some cases continue to construct and operate the organism (perhaps just as well, perhaps slightly worse, perhaps slightly better) than its earlier version, then the resulting CSI(2) is now in charge of the fate of the organism and its descendents.

Dembski asserts that natural causes cannot increase CSI(1), but this is tautological: CSI(1) is specified by a designer; the organism (and the surrounding natural environment) are not a Designer, and consequently cannot create CSI(1).

However, natural causes have been conclusively demonstrated to be capable of increasing CSI(2) in natural systems.

In principle, therefore, the Designer need only have designed (and constructed, let us never forget) a single replicating organism in order for the entire history of life to have occurred as we observe it.

For those of you interested in a general discussion of Stephen C. Meyer’s ideas in his newest book as well as clips from a recent talk by him, check out the following link:

http://www.youtube.com/view_play_li[…]8F6FD329822E

harold said: What this amounts to is a claim that Dembski and other DI fellows state that they can detect design in some circumstances, but that they have not detected it yet, and may never detect it, and that everything currently “looks evolved” (but could have been designed by an Omphalos type inscrutable or incompetent-in-just-the-right-way designer).

This is a mischarcterization of Dembski’s claims and behavior. He repeatedly claims that his work detects positive evidence against evolution. All of his works are characterized in that way.

Dembski claims that he compares ID to evolution. Does he ever, though? AFAIK, all his mathematical work only ever does comparisons against chance hypotheses. And he DOES say that everything that “looks evolved” could have been designed. He did, after all, say:

“Yes, the environment is pumping in information; so where did that information come from?” in the context that the environment can supply information that evolution could use.

He probably would, and this is you conceding to me that I am right, and to some degree contradicting what you said above.

I think you are going to have to explain this to me.

But if you claim that “information gained must have come from something intelligent” then you are going beyond Omphalos into science denial.

But this is precisely the claim that Dembski is making. He has made the inductive argument that goes something like:

- For all cases where we know the source of CSI, it is always intelligent. - Therefore, all sources of CSI, known or unknown, are intelligent.

However, Dembski does not behave this way. He does not go around saying “I concede that everything discovered so far could have evolved but maybe some day I will find some CSI”.

I think that he has already done something very similar, just in his quote from above regarding the environment being a source of information for evolution to use. And he doesn’t HAVE to describe the ultimate CSI source. He has already concluded that it was something intelligent - and that is all ID needs.

I guess you call that “them getting their own theory wrong”. Well, I disagree. ID is not a theory. It is a set of illogical anti-evolutionary claims. Yes, if you subtract those claims, nothing is left but Omphalos, but they why would anyone use the term “ID”?

If you subtract those claims, you are left with a useless bayesian likelihood argument (because ID can’t predict) and an equally useless posterior probability argument (because you can’t even begin to estimate the probabilities involved). That, in effect, is the science of ID. The rest, the motivation for pushing ID in the first place is mere politics and religion.

“Intelligent Design” refers to a pattern of evolution denial, not to a sincere philosophical position. We gain little by treating it as the latter.

I think we should definitely treat it as the latter AS WELL. I started out my part of the discussion of this thread by claiming that ID can’t make any predictions. People here seem to like to claim that ID predicts only good design and that the existence of bad design counts as evidence against ID (therefore, ID is wrong). My claim goes deeper than this and says that ID is useless no matter what is found empirically. I would say that it is good practice to treat it as the useless philosophical position it is.

Note: to prevent some other posters from getting their knickers in a twist, I would like to add that when I say “My claim”, I am not implying that I was the first one to propose it. It is merely the claim I am bringning forth.

RBH said:

H.H. said: I know Hawks from his participation at the Skeptic Friends Network website. I can vouch that he is neither friendly to ID nor a stealth ID advocate. I can see why suspicions ran in that direction, and perhaps he could have done more to steer the discussion back on track. But whatever his faults, lying about his position on ID is not one of them.

You may have noticed that I’ve posted twice to urge people to read comments carefully. :)

I noticed - VERY early on. Personally, I can’t see why any suspicions ran that way early on, H.H.. My first claim which people based their decision on was that ID can’t make any predictions!!! That is pro-ID? If I was to claim that evolution CAN make predictions, would that mean that I would be an evolution-denier?

I COULD have “come clean” sooner, but frankly I didn’t, at the time, see the point. I dropped some good hints that I never supported ID. For example, I asked people to stop beating their wives when I was asked to defend ID. I also asked people to point out where I actually made any comments that supported ID. I think that people got a bit upset because some of my responses didn’t make much sense to them, but that was merely because the requests put before me didn’t make any sense in the first place.

Anyhow, next time I WILL point out EARLY on when someone misunderstands me. It will certainly keep the discussion shorter and less frustrating (for others).

386sx said: Well, sorry but I have to disagree with your claim. If, as they say, “The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”, then nothing is in accordance with ID because they invalidate ID themselves before they even get past defining it, because natural selection is not an undirected process. They can’t even get out of the gate before screwing the whole damn thing up. Maybe they would make some progress if they would get rid of idiotic weasel words like “undirected process”. (Yeah, I know… ain’t going to happen.)

To be fair to the ID crowd, what that mean by an undirected process is one that doesn’t plan ahead.

Hawks wrote:

“To be fair to the ID crowd, what that mean by an undirected process is one that doesn’t plan ahead.”

Great. Now all you need to do is give one example of something that displays some evidence of planning or foresight. Just one example where some thought had to go into something in anticipation of some potential future. Anything? Anything at all? No. Thought not.

What we do see however is lots of things that show no evidence whatsoever of any planning or foresight. What we see is lots of examples of historical contingency and constraint due to the limitations of natural selection. What we do see is that ninety percent of the species that have ever lived have already gone extinct and more follow every day, precisely because they could not cope with a rapidly changing environment. Now just a little foresight and planning would have been enough to overcome this, but we don’t see that anywhere. Too bad for “design”. Either the designer is an incompetent boob who couldn’t be bothered to plan past next Tuesday, or she doesn’t exist at all. take your pick. Either way, no god is to be found behind the facade of design.

Hawks wrote:

“I noticed - VERY early on. Personally, I can’t see why any suspicions ran that way early on,”

Well people around these parts have very sensitive detectors because of all the deceitful creationists who show up here. There are bound to be a few false positives now and then. Please notice that I was not among those who questioned your sincerity.

Now, as to why the suspicion. Perhaps if you would spend as much time explaining why creationists are wrong as you do trying to explain what they think, people would have a clearer understanding of your position. I do wonder why you presume to know what creationists really think, but you do seem to be fairly knowledgeable on the subject, for whatever reason.

Anyway, playing devils’s advocate can get you all kinds of grief. You gotta be real brave to play that game.

DS said:

Now, as to why the suspicion. Perhaps if you would spend as much time explaining why creationists are wrong as you do trying to explain what they think, people would have a clearer understanding of your position. I do wonder why you presume to know what creationists really think, but you do seem to be fairly knowledgeable on the subject, for whatever reason.

I’ve been trying to figure out where Hawks is coming from also.

If he is trying to get into the heads of the ID/creationists, it would be better if he simply started with their fundamental claims. These are grotesquely wrong at the basic physics and chemistry levels. So they don’t go anywhere in biology either.

And their attempts to cover up the misconceptions with pseudo-scientific language - like “complex specified information”, “spontaneous molecular chaos” and all those other words they just make up - is just slathering on the pretentious appearance of learning and sophistication.

But once you understand their grotesque misconceptions, misconceptions that put the lie to their supposed multiple PhDs after their names, everything else falls into place. It’s all the politics of sectarian religion.

It doesn’t appear that Hawks has arrived at this point yet; he appears to still be trying to understand ID/creationist pseudo-science. This is the backwards approach. There is nothing there to understand.

He needs to understand the fundamentals they get wrong or misrepresent. It all follows a clear pattern.

DS said:

Hawks wrote:

“I noticed - VERY early on. Personally, I can’t see why any suspicions ran that way early on,”

Well people around these parts have very sensitive detectors because of all the deceitful creationists who show up here. There are bound to be a few false positives now and then. Please notice that I was not among those who questioned your sincerity.

Now, as to why the suspicion. Perhaps if you would spend as much time explaining why creationists are wrong as you do trying to explain what they think, people would have a clearer understanding of your position. I do wonder why you presume to know what creationists really think, but you do seem to be fairly knowledgeable on the subject, for whatever reason.

Anyway, playing devils’s advocate can get you all kinds of grief. You gotta be real brave to play that game.

If one plays the Devil’s advocate, then they should say so. One can say “my intentions are irrelevant”, however, I think people should be honest about where they stand.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on December 1, 2009 6:59 PM.

Battle in Beverly Hills: Reflections on the Prothero/Shermer vs. Meyer/Sternberg “debate,” Nov. 30, 2009 was the previous entry in this blog.

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