The conceptual alchemy of ID, transmuting baseless assertions into scientific predictions

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[Republished from Homologous Legs]

A well-accepted characteristic of a scientific hypothesis is that it must generate predictions about the world against which tests can be run - confirming or falsifying those predictions and thus supporting or not supporting the hypothesis in question. Understandably then, intelligent design proponents need to demonstrate that ID can produce predictions if it is to be taken seriously as a scientific hypothesis and alternative to evolutionary theory.

Historically (as much as I can say “historically” in the context of such a new movement), this has not been a major goal of ID proponents. Most of their previous efforts have gone into either arguing against evolution (see Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box) or trying to justify ID in a pseudomathematicophilosophical 1 way, bypassing the normal scientific process (see William Dembski’s design inference/explanatory filter). Neither of these routes have been very successful, as much as ID proponents will try to tell you otherwise, and combined with a substantial amount of scientific and philosophical attack against the ideas of the ID movement, they have begun to change tactics a little bit, and talk about predictions and testability has crept back into discussions about ID, both online and in books.

Stephen C. Meyer’s epic tome Signature in the Cell, which I am currently finishing reading and formulating a series of posts about, is one such book, and contains an appendix where predictions of ID are the focus. The reasons as to why that particular topic couldn’t be worked into the main body of the book still eludes me, as I see it as on par with, if not more important than, the other topics touched upon. Did Meyer think that his audience would not care to read about it, or does he himself not care? Either way, it’s clear that he didn’t find it of very much importance.

But the predictions in Signature is not the focus of this post - I’ll deal with it separately: instead I want to talk about a recent post on Uncommon Descent by Jonathan M, entitled, appropriately, “Does ID Make Testable Scientific Predictions?”, which is basically a “brainstormed” list of fourteen predictions that he thinks ID makes about the world. He notes that, as the post was jotted down rather hastily, the list is probably non-exhaustive and there may be other possible predictions out there, but judging by what I’ve seen of other such lists both online and in Signature, it covers pretty much all the same points as they do. If more predictions exist, nobody in the ID movement has thought of them yet.

So, what are these predictions that Jonathan puts forward, and how valid are they? As will hopefully become clear fairly quickly, predictions need to be grounded within the hypothesis and must flow from it naturally if they are to be productive and allow for a way to test the hypothesis they are being linked to - and ID proponents seem to have a hard time doing this.

(Note that I won’t be touching on the two astronomical/cosmological predictions Jonathan gives, as they don’t have anything to do with biological intelligent design, which is what I focus on. Cosmological ID and biological ID are not related and shouldn’t be conflated, as doing so makes things confusing.)

ID predicts the presence of specified complexity in living systems.

This is almost a non-prediction, as it’s probably impossible for life to exist without being both specified and complex in some senses of the words. It’s analogous to trying to explain the origin of a rock and saying that your hypothesis predicts that the rock is made of atoms - it’s already assumed and is unhelpful as a test of that hypothesis. If this turns out to be the only “valid” prediction in this list, it shows that ID has virtually non-existent predictive power.

ID predicts that, as scientific research progresses, biological complexity will be seen to increase over time, and information will have a more and more central role in the governing of life’s operations.

This, again, is a fairly basic semi-prediction, but it’s the first one that makes me ask: why? Why does ID predict this? As I mentioned in a recent TWiID involving Casey Luskin’s attempt at some ID predictions, if an analogy between human design and “ID” design is being made 2, it’s fairly clear that humans, as intelligent agents, don’t always make things as complicated as possible or increase the complexity of objects in every circumstance. Of course, it’s possible that Jonathan isn’t making an analogy to human design, but if he isn’t - how is he justifying this prediction? Where is it coming from?

ID predicts an increase in evidence for the non-adequacy of the DNA-centric view of living systems.

I didn’t know that there was a non-DNA-centric view of living systems to compete with genetics 3, but even if there was, why does ID predict that it is accurate? Again, this isn’t justified.

ID predicts that complex molecular convergence will happen routinely.

Again, why? What part of the ID hypothesis lead Jonathan to this conclusion?

ID predicts the presence of irreducible complexity with respect to macromolecular systems and organelles.

I’m feeling like a broken recor- recor- recor- record, but again: what part of ID predicts this?

Okay, it’s possible that he’s drawing upon an argumentative strategy employed by Stephen C. Meyer in Signature in the Cell - inference to the best explanation (IBE). Under this strategy, evidence against evolutionary theory becomes evidence for ID, due to a current lack of other hypotheses to oppose ID, making it the “best explanation”. It conveniently allows for the vagueness of ID to work in its favour: since it is hypothetically able to explain any data set, any time the prevailing scientific ideas fail, ID can sneak in there and plug the gaps, exclaiming that it explains the data better than no explanation at all. It’s not hard to see why IBE isn’t a great argument.

Applying IBE to irreducible complexity yields that, if evolutionary theory cannot explain it and ID can, it is evidence of ID - in a sense. The problems with this argument are numerous and I’ll touch upon them later in my posts about Signature, which revolves around IBE as the single method of supporting ID as a scientific hypothesis. For now, I’d much prefer Jonathan justify this particular prediction without mentioning IBE: if it’s possible.

ID predicts that the prevalence of functional protein folds with respect to combinatorial sequence space will be extremely small.

This prediction is related to the irreducible complexity one above, in that it could be invoking IBE as its justification. But if not, it doesn’t fare any better. What Jonathan is referring to is the work of Douglas Axe, a pro-ID biochemist who has conducted experiments that, he and the ID movement claims, prove that protein evolution is impossible. Thinking clearly about this for a while leads one to a single question: irrespective of the legitimacy of Axe’s conclusions about his research, why would ID predict that protein evolution is impossible? Life could have been designed by a Designer with the ability to evolve - this possibility is at least as probable as the opposite scenario, that life was designed not to evolve. But without any knowledge about the Designer, how can one scenario be given more probabilistic weight than the other? This prediction, like the others above, doesn’t follow from ID.

ID predicts that evolutionary pathways to new protein functions will require multiple co-ordinated non-adaptive mutations (more so than likely to be achieved by a random process).

This is virtually the same prediction as the previous one: protein evolution is impossible. As such, it does not follow from ID.

ID predicts that DNA, which was once considered to be junk, will turn out to be functional after all.

Another appeal to the human design analogy? Possibly. If so - and I also mentioned this whilst addressing Casey Luskin’s predictions - you have to consider that human designs are not perfect, flawless things. They contain compromises and non-functionality all the time, and these characteristics are often the product of laziness and factors unrelated to the functional goal of the design process, such as economics, politics and social considerations. If ID is being modeled on what humans frequently do, the fact that junk DNA could have been part of the original design (or accumulated naturally over time due to oversights in the original design) is not outlandish. Where does that leave this prediction?

ID predicts delicate optimisation and fine-tuning with respect to many features associated with biological systems.

“Optimisation” and “fine-tuning” are words that could mean a lot of things and Jonathan doesn’t give them a rigorous definition. They could, in fact, under many definitions, be as useless as “specified complexity” when talking about predictions, as biological systems like metabolic pathways must be “fine-tuned” to turn specific molecules into other specific molecules. Could life exist without this definition of “fine-tuning”? Probably not. If so, this is hardly a useful prediction. But it remains to be seen what definitions Jonathan was using, so I’ll leave it there.

ID predicts that organisms will exhibit in-built systems which promote evolvability (e.g. front loading).

Why would this be the case? Again, no justification.

ID predicts the observed pattern of the fossil record whereby morphological disparity precedes diversity.

Is this a reference to the Cambrian explosion/radiation? Probably. But why would ID predict this? If human design is the analogy, we don’t always design in this way. Sometimes designs can come from the same source and share a common design ancestor, and gradually diverge in function over time. An random example off the top of my head would be the evolution of house plans: thousands of years ago, houses (more accurately called “structures”) would have had only one living space, combining the necessary functions for living into that space, such as sleeping and cooking. Over time, more rooms appeared as building techniques improved and the single room divided into multiple, separating sleeping, cooking, eating, entertainment, etc. Those multiple rooms were not always there in the design of the house, they came later.

Of course, designs do also happen where new things are completely added from scratch, but to claim that all design must have proceeded in that way is dishonest or just plain not thought out.

This all assumes that an analogy to human design is being made, of course, something that Jonathan never clarified.

ID predicts saltational, or abrupt, appearance of new life forms without transitional precursors.

This is so closely related to the prediction above that no further comment should be needed, I think.

And that’s it! All twelve (biologically relevant) predictions. As you’ve seen, none of them have been especially helpful in testing ID, either because they haven’t been sufficiently justified or they aren’t very useful predictions. While Jonathan’s list was self-described as not necessarily being all of the possible predictions of ID, what was there was pretty representative of the consensus of ID proponent-thought on the matter, in my experience. In order to be taken even the slightest bit seriously as a possible scientific hypothesis, ID needs to justify these predictions or generate new ones that are also justified. Whether or not this will be done remains to be seen.

1. Let it be known that I coined this soon-to-be-widespread word in this very blog post.

2. An analogy that has never been justified, just to let you know. Analogy without justification is easily and legitimately labeled an argument from analogy, a logical fallacy.

3. Could he be talking about epigenetics? If so, that’s a misunderstanding of the implications of the field.

62 Comments

Excellent post! But “Darwinists” can also make predictions about ID, and I have done so. My fearless ID prediction is that when funding for the Discovery Institute eventually dries up, the “theory” of ID will swiftly wither away.

As I mentioned in a recent TWiID involving Casey Luskin’s attempt at some ID predictions, if an analogy between human design and “ID” design is being made 2, it’s fairly clear that humans, as intelligent agents, don’t always make things as complicated as possible or increase the complexity of objects in every circumstance.

Actually, having an engineering background, it is an engineering dictate to make machines as simple as possible. It means a machine that is cheaper, more reliable, easier to make, and easier to maintain.

The mantra is “reduce parts count”. It’s not just a question of reducing size and the number of things that can go wrong. It also means not having to procure so many parts to build something, it means not having to fuss so much on the assembly line, it means not having to stock so many parts for service replacements.

This leads to the interesting question of how “complexity” is defined. Is a modern handheld calculator more complex than an old mechanical calculator? From a manufacturing standpoint, no, it’s got far fewer assemblies and is much easier to put together.

One tactic I have found useful when faced with an ID proponent making “predictions” is to ask why the opposite is not possible for the designer.

If, say, they predict that there will be a function found for Junk DNA then ask why the designer cannot design an organism with large amounts of useless DNA.

So far I have not had a real answer, as opposed to evasion.

rossum

Does anyone have an example of something which is not “intelligently designed”?

An example would help to understand the difference that “intelligent design” makes.

Is there something which ID could not, would not, or will not do, or just didn’t do?

It could be just a hypothetical example. Something which does not happen to exist. Like a shmoo, a roc, or a flying carpet. Those are bad examples, because those are all “intelligently designed”.

(Thinking about this leads me to this digression: Anything which we can imagine but doesn’t exist - doesn’t that mean that it is “intelligently designed”? If true (even if only sometimes true), doesn’t that mean that ID is not enough to account for existence? Maybe that tells us something about the difference that ID makes. But that is a digression.)

I think you’re being a bit to generous toward some of this. However, it does seem as if some of these predictions can be reformatted into standard, intelligently expressed English. And in those few cases, they have already failed. The rest just seems to be semantic garble or attempts to claim that ID predicts something which is already known to be true and compatible with mainstream evolutionary biology.

ID predicts the presence of specified complexity in living systems.

Life has the subjective appearance of what anyone might call “specified complexity” already, as you note. But that’s a worthless observation. I could accurately say “the theory of evolution predicts the presence of wondrous beauty in living systems”. That’s certainly true from my perspective.

But to make this a prediction, he needs to 1) precisely define “specified complexity” so that it can be measured in a reproducible way, 2) Explain why its presence is compatible with ID but not ToE, 3) Since he implies that it is being sought, explain why his colleagues who claim to have already found it are wrong (this should be easy, but needs to be done)

ID predicts that, as scientific research progresses, biological complexity will be seen to increase over time, and information will have a more and more central role in the governing of life’s operations.

1) Complexity has to be defined such that it can be reproducibly measured in the systems in question for this to be a worthwhile statement. His failure to do so from the start implies bad faith. 2) It isn’t clear what the statement means - whether some lineages will become more complex over time (and scientific research will also progress) or whether he means that more research will uncover more complexity. In either case, taking a Kolmogorov view of complexity, ToE would predict the same things. 3) If he means that ID requires all lineages to always increase in complexity, then by that standard, ID is already proven wrong by the failure of this prediction.

ID predicts an increase in evidence for the non-adequacy of the DNA-centric view of living systems

This looks like straight up straw man creation. What is a “DNA-centric view of life”? Why invent a stupid-sounding, undefined term, and then falsely imply that it describes the views of others?

ID predicts the presence of irreducible complexity with respect to macromolecular systems and organelles.

1) It’s already trivally accepted that irreducible complexity exists in biological systems. This is compatible with ToE. 2) If he refers to Behe’s claim that IRC can’t evolve, that’s been shown to be wrong. If that was what he meant, and it seems to be, then this prediction has already been shown to be false.

ID predicts that the prevalence of functional protein folds with respect to combinatorial sequence space will be extremely small.

Word salad. 1) Define what you mean by “protein folds with respect to combinatorial sequence space” and how this can be measured. This can probably be done, but do it if you’re advancing such a claim. 2) Define “small”. 3) Explain why this would favor ID over ToE.

ID predicts that DNA, which was once considered to be junk, will turn out to be functional after all.

1) Straw man creation - it is not a universal claim of mainstream biologists that all non-coding DNA is not “functional” in any sense of the word. 2) The origin of much non-coding DNA is well understood and is compatible with ToE and not with ID, e.g. ERVs. 3) If it were relevant I would say “define functional”, but this it isn’t. 4) Important note - the presence of non-adaptive features argues against ID/creationism. The converse is not true, of course. The predomiance of adaptive features not only does NOT argue against ToE. This is a common creationist trick.

ID predicts delicate optimisation and fine-tuning with respect to many features associated with biological systems.

1) Under a common sense reading, already observed and compatible with ToE. 2) For a serious challenge, the terms would have had to be quantitatively defined, and a strong logical explanation for why some quantitative level of these features is compatible with ID/creationism, and not with ToE, advanced. But it doesn’t matter, because ToE predicts and explains why these features would be present, under almost any conceivable quantitative treatment.

ID predicts that organisms will exhibit in-built systems which promote evolvability (e.g. front loading).

1) Take away the words “front loading” and this is already trivially true. 2) If “front loading” means that ancestor lineages literally contain all alleles that will ever exist in descendant lineages, it’s already trivially false, and indeed, impossible. ID fails again.

ID predicts the observed pattern of the fossil record whereby morphological disparity precedes diversity.

Self-contradictory. What is the difference between “disparity” and “diversity”?

ID predicts saltational, or abrupt, appearance of new life forms without transitional precursors.

The only honest member of the list. Yes, it does predict this. It predicts magical creation of biological systems, intact, from nothing. Well, the opposite is observed (see “Louis Pasteur”). ID fails again.

The items on this list are written in educated, seemingly articulate English. A tone of confidence and a mimickry of technical jargon are employed. Yet upon examination they are, to the non-naive observer, transparently false or meaningless.

I am forced to the sad conclusion that the author of this work was intelligent enough to see the flaws in his own logic and language. I cannot interpret this as other than a deliberate attempt to deceive. I don’t mean that the author here was consciously aware of being deceptive. I can’t rule that out, but more likely, he was simply driven by emotional biases to “say anything to contradict evolution”. Either way, the result is a sorry piece of work.

“ID predicts that organisms will exhibit in-built systems which promote evolvability (e.g. front loading).”

Great, a prediction which is in no way different from that expected from natural evolution. If you want to test competing hypotheses, that is really what you need. Ditto for all of the above predictions.

“ID predicts the observed pattern of the fossil record whereby morphological disparity precedes diversity.”

Great. But did it “predict” it BEFORE the pattern was observed? Also, what does this even mean?

“ID predicts saltational, or abrupt, appearance of new life forms without transitional precursors.”

So then, a single example of a “transitional form” would be sufficient to falsify ID. Great. Now all we have to do is argue over the definition of “transitional” and find some way to exclude all examples. Of course “transitionals” are not required, intermediates also falsify ID. Funny they didn’t mention that.

This is fun. I predict that some stuff will happen in the future and that some of it will be a complete surprise. I also predict that no matter how much evidence is discovered that is consistent with the theory of evolution, that those who refuse to be convinced by evidence will not be convinced.

ID is nothing more than natural theology, which is the game of interpreting nature through the lens of a particular theology. Before we had science, that was a common approach to understanding the world. Being a philosophy rather than science, the notion of natural theology assumed the ontological structure supplied by the theology, and all observations were forced to fit in a procrustean way.

Indeed, the attempt to make “predictions based on ID’ is done in the same way. Search through natural examples and then figure out the “prediction” that fits what is seen.

If your interest is philosophical comfort, then that is it. If you are interested in learning about the world, then you will do nothing productive.

The important thing is to not get trapped in the apologist game of the ID proponent.

We do not detect “design”, nor to we identify “effects” for assumed “causes”. In science, we model processes, we do not identify or argue from causes. We, in fact do not now, nor have we ever “identified design”. Instead, we model the process of origin of objects. Part of that modeling relies on our familiarity with technologies, materials, and method. It is in this context that the class of objects that are “manufactured’ are identified as being so.

There is no intrinsic “manufacturedness” or “marks of intelligence”. There may be marks of the manufacturing processes that were used to manufacture an item in question, but it will be a process of modeling and in many cases experimental investigation that is engaged in, that will help us decide if certain objects are manufactured. The process is the thing, not “design” or a “designer”.

What is particularly ironic about ID is that none of its most prominent proponents have ever designed anything of consequence, much less have qualifications as designers.

And the associated irony that anybody who has designed something knows the resemblance between an organism and a manufactured product is painfully slight.

mrg said:

What is particularly ironic about ID is that none of its most prominent proponents have ever designed anything of consequence, much less have qualifications as designers.

And the associated irony that anybody who has designed something knows the resemblance between an organism and a manufactured product is painfully slight.

However, they do have a small army of troll followers who claim, often falsely, and usually at best exaggeratedly, on rare occasions accurately, to be “engineers” or “computer scientists”. Of interest, I haven’t seen any claims even among these of “design” of anything other than lines of software code.

Relativity predicts that the sun is massive enough to bend light. Classical mechanics predicts that the sun will not bend light.

How many of the ID predictions unambiguously distinguish it from evolution?

Am I the only one with the strange feeling that something is missing from those “predictions”? I.e.: numbers. None of the 12 statements is in any way quantitative, nor there is an easy way to make it so. How is anyone expected to test the outcome of a prediction (in a scientific sense), if there are no figures whatsoever, nor there is a way even to define the appropriate dimensions for the involved entities?

Following the question posed by TomS, does any one have an example of a unintelligent design? I mean, even to design something utterly stupid or flawed requires a dose of ingenuity, so why the need to stress the intelligent part of the design? It seems that this bit tells a story. The designer, even if not openly mentioned, of course is God. Which is perfect and almighty. In turns, it would be somewhat disrespectful to imagine a flawed design by a perfect designer. If one starts from this simple, unstated, assumption, most of the 12 predictions make sense, at least to a limited degree (that is, in so far as one is willing to call a prediction something that does not come with a way to measure it degree of truth: see above).

I dare say those “predictions” are more of a test of a certain idea of the deity, than of design in itself.

Jack Scanlan wrote, quoting some IDiot:

ID predicts the presence of specified complexity in living systems.

This is almost a non-prediction, as it’s probably impossible for life to exist without being both specified and complex in some senses of the words.

Why? Why can’t it just be uncomplicated goo?

It’s analogous to trying to explain the origin of a rock and saying that your hypothesis predicts that the rock is made of atoms - it’s already assumed and is unhelpful as a test of that hypothesis.

If you are going to invoke this mysterious IDer that works outside the known sciences, then more details are needed before anyone rational can believe the supposed theory predicts a known science phenomenon. Even the fact that rocks are made of atoms.

If this turns out to be the only “valid” prediction in this list, it shows that ID has virtually non-existent predictive power.

So far as I can tell, it doesn’t even get this far.

john Stockwell said:

ID is nothing more than natural theology, which is the game of interpreting nature through the lens of a particular theology.

Indeed, this is so basic to what they do that it is only our cultural familiarity with that theology that keeps obvious objections from jumping right out at us. For example, why, given no presuppositions about The Designer, would we expect any kind of changes in the nature of life at all? Why would we expect any complexity? Why any evolution, micro or macro? Why any death? Why any procreation? Couldn’t the designer have created simple, perfect, unchanging and immortal life forms?

Of course He could have, but not if He is the god of Jesus, Moses, and Mohammed. Strip away that assumption, and none of Jonathan M’s predictions has the slightest justification.

This seems to be a general pattern with ID and creationist “science”: it mimics certain surface features of science, but that’s as far as the resemblance goes. These predictions are not genuine scientific predictions, which must predict observations that both a) will be made if a hypothesis is true and b) will not be made if that hypothesis is false. That is, a prediction, in order to be a test, must distinguish among hypotheses. In addition to the flaws you note, mostly that there is no justification for supposing (a), there is also no real attempt at justification for supposing (b). Isn’t natural selection, for example, supposed to produce something like “delicate optimization and fine-tuning”?

What explains this to me is that IDers want the prestige associated with looking all sciency, but have no interest in actually doing science. There may be various reasons for that: they know the truth already so there’s no need to look for it; they have no idea how to approach their hypotheses scientifically; real science requires concrete hypotheses, which would expose them to close examination they don’t want; they realize real science would not validate their ideas; perhaps others.

There’s another clear case in baraminology. Barminologists spend much of their time inventing fancy terminology and science-like methods. But they seem to spend no time justifying the methods, i.e. arguing for or testing the ability of those methods to do what they are used for. For example, they spend much time clustering taxa, looking for gaps. But they spend no time reasoning out why clusters should be considered baramins, or gaps divide them.

This all suggests to me that they’re all just going through the motions.

There’s a certain schizophrenia in the theatrics, in that by all indications creationists of all flavors despise the sciences, but at the same time they really want to get the sciences on their side.

If they just said: “Science is bunk!” – there wouldn’t really be much to argue with them about any more.

There’s a certain schizophrenia in the theatrics, in that by all indications creationists of all flavors despise the sciences, but at the same time they really want to get the sciences on their side.

Well, I think it would be accurate to say that they covet the public respect science has earned, but reject specific theologically unpalatable scientific findings. The best way to grab the respect while rejecting the results is simply to SAY they are scientific. This is done, as we’ve seen, by means of a comprehensive public relations campaign including debates, legal cases, lists of “opposing” scientists, books and articles and letters to the editor and intimidation of school administrators and campaigns to elect/appoint congenial school boards, legislators, judges and so on.

And it’s all facilitated by a pervasively poor public understanding of what science is or how it works, a poor understanding these PR efforts are intended to make even more pervasive. People generally tend to view science from a political perspective, and are sympathetic with demands to “allow academic freedom” and “teach the controversy” and “present both sides fairly” by highlighting the “balance” inherent in “strengths and weaknesses.” All of these implicitly impose a political framework onto the scientific enterprise.

And if science can be positioned as politics, and creationists position their theology as a political position, then perhaps the respect science has earned CAN be co-opted to the Cause, without the annoying theories.

hmmm. How can we have this “ID predicts an increase in evidence for the non-adequacy of the DNA-centric view of living systems.” and then this “ID predicts that DNA, which was once considered to be junk, will turn out to be functional after all.”???

From memory, Stephen Meyer predicted that Design will be shown to be be perfect. If it isn’t, then it will be due to the Fall and Original Sin. I don’t really want to hunt up my list of his 12 predictions in his notorious appendix A. I’ve listed the 12 predictions to the readers who give ‘Signature in the Cell’ 5 stars on Amazon for its rigorous science, and no one has ever answered.

vel said:

hmmm. How can we have this “ID predicts an increase in evidence for the non-adequacy of the DNA-centric view of living systems.” and then this “ID predicts that DNA, which was once considered to be junk, will turn out to be functional after all.”???

Simple. The first quote promotes the basic underlying notion that there is a critical supernatural component to living organisms, and that natural understandings will never be sufficient to recognize it.

The second quote rests on a model of how their Designer operates. That Designer isn’t permitted to be wasteful, slapdash, satisficing, or careless. He doesn’t Design junk.

Accordingly, EVEN IF “junk DNA” is eventually allocated some functionality, however indirect, it STILL won’t be good enough to explain life.

What predictions does random mutation make?

What predictions does random mutation make?

In a contextual vacuum, none. But within context, with environmental constraints selecting random mutations according to survivability, it predicts that organisms will tend track a dynamic environment.

I’m not sure what you mean by “tend [to] track a dynamic environment” Could you elaborate? Plus, how do you define dynamic?

Carolyn James said:

What predictions does random mutation make?

I’d like to answer this, but first we have a small problem.

I don’t think you understand the meaning of the term “random mutation”. In fact, I don’t think you understand the meaning of the term “random” or the meaning of the term “mutation”. I don’t mean to be rude. I’m just getting that sense from your posting.

We’d need to clear that up before proceeding.

Why don’t you explain to me what you think those terms mean. If you turn out to be wrong, I’ll explain what they mean and explain some basic predictions that we can make.

If you turn out to correctly explain them, I’ll just launch into the predictions.

Does that sound reasonable?

I’m not sure what you mean by “tend [to] track a dynamic environment” Could you elaborate? Plus, how do you define dynamic?

By dynamic, I mean that environments gradually change over time. These are very slow changes from the yardstick of a human lifetime, but evolution is also slow.

Now, elaboration? Let’s say the planet gradually warms or cools. Both have happened many times in the past. And both trends tend to favor organisms better adapted to warmer or colder climates. If any mutations should favor survivability within the changed climate, those mutations are likely to be adopted. They are useful, whereas if there were no warming or cooling, such mutations wouldn’t help (and might hinder) survivability.

And so as mutations useful to a changing environment are adopted for this reason, the lineage of those organisms is said to track the environmental changes. Generally, this takes the form of the branching off of new species which deal better with the changing climate.

Wayne Robinson said:

From memory, Stephen Meyer predicted that Design will be shown to be be perfect. If it isn’t, then it will be due to the Fall and Original Sin.

But if it wasn’t, then it’s Satan’s fault. But if it wasn’t, then God left the defects in there to “test” us. But if he didn’t, then the defects have a hidden divine purpose. But if they don’t, then it’s God’s mystery …

Quoth mrg:

Actually, having an engineering background, it is an engineering dictate to make machines as simple as possible. It means a machine that is cheaper, more reliable, easier to make, and easier to maintain.

This would seem to be a major obstacle to analogizing life to human designs. Why do people not emphasize this more?

An increasing number of devices are being designed by evolving them with genetic algorithms. Although the results are sometimes better and sometimes worse than the usual method, one salient characteristic of the evolved systems is that they are almost always more complex for an equivalent function than are conventionally designed systems.

That is, even when done by humans, evolutionary systems produce more complexity than do conventionally-designed systems. So complexity per se is actually an argument against ID.

Relative to ID in general if not this specific item (forgive me, Jack), I was looking over the articles circulating on the blogosphere about humans having three distinct classes of symbiotic bacterial microecologies, and somebody posted:

Did is occur to anyone that humans exist merely as a substrate for bacteria?

While it’s not what I’d think of as an inspiring outlook on our existence, the amusing thing is that as good a case in the evidence can be made for it as any other.

Vaguely reminiscent of one of the few things that Charles Fort ever said that I admired: “If there is a Universal Intelligence, must it be sane?” I’m perfectly willing to concede the possible existence of higher powers in the Universe – but I also wonder if we might be lucky to have nothing to do with them.

Olorin said: An increasing number of devices are being designed by evolving them with genetic algorithms. Although the results are sometimes better and sometimes worse than the usual method, one salient characteristic of the evolved systems is that they are almost always more complex for an equivalent function than are conventionally designed systems.

I like the point, but I kind of doubt it – like I said, the engineering goal is to make things as cheap and simply as possible to meet spec, and for a practical product such criteria would be incorporated into the evolutionary algorithm as desired end goals.

Anyway, the point about engineered simplicity has been made elsewhere. Mark Perakh had a tale of a ping-pong ball thrown among pebbles: we would clearly recognize the ping-pong ball as designed and the pebbles not, but in that case the criteria would be organized simplicity, the ping-pong ball being simpler in dimensions and constitution than the pebbles.

Another example is road networks. Try to drive around a relatively old city and the road network is a complicated nightmare thanks to historical contingency. Go to a more modern city and it’s often a tidy rectilinear grid that’s easier to navigate. Which is better designed, the complicated road network or the simple one?

Another example is road networks. Try to drive around a relatively old city and the road network is a complicated nightmare thanks to historical contingency.

Exactly. The old city “evolved” while the new onw ws designed. Both have equivalent function, but the evolved cty is ore complex.

Predictions?

Predictions In Astronomy/Cosmology

•ID predicts that the Universe had a beginning.

Isn’t this already assumed? Other than Hoyle and a few others, the Steady-State universe model went away, the Big-Bang is here to stay. So what is actually being predicted?

•ID predicts an increase (and not a decrease), as science progresses, in the number of finely-tuned parameters pertinent to the laws and constants of physics.

Well, as science progresses there is likely to be more information gathered about the universe and the “constants” that define and control it. Thus this “prediction” really says nothing.

I found this one particularly interesting:

•ID predicts saltational, or abrupt, appearance of new life forms without transitional precursors.

So ID proponents are saying that if you watch the garbage dumps, likely more sooner than later you’ll see a bevy of, very complex mind you, Boeing 474’s taking to the air as they abruptly appear, and certainly quite plausible as the 747 is not even close in complexity to a life form, or even people popping out of thin air!

DavidK said:

That’s somewhat the argument here (http://www.tfn.org/site/DocServer/I[…]f?docID=2481) that is being suggested for inclusion in supplemental materials in Texas biology classes.

David K, I’ve been waiting for someone to show me exactly what IDers propose that I teach my high school students. Now that I’ve seen it, I’m going to go somewhere and cry.

This really answered my problem, thank you!

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Jack Scanlan published on April 21, 2011 8:00 AM.

Phyloseminar: Locating protein-coding sequences under selection for additional, overlapping functions in 29 mammalian genomes was the previous entry in this blog.

The Columbus Science Pub wants you! is the next entry in this blog.

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