Sunday, November 30, 2008

Nagel's folly Part 3 -- Comparisons of ID to other types of expanations

Today I am discussing another problem with the paper authored by Dr. Nagel, which supports teaching Intelligent Design in public schools. As a reminder, Jake Young at Pure Pedantry discussed why naturalism is essential to science, in Part 1 of this series I noted that evolution is not incompatible with design, and in Part 2 of this series I noted that there is no reason that being an atheist would make you a believer in evolution. Today I'm going to write about Nagel's comparison of the scientific investigation of ID with investigation of other sorts of phenomena, why such investigations are or are not possible, and how ID does or does not suffer the same sort of fundamental defect. The four notions mentioned are ghosts, telepathy, creationism, and ID.

What would it take to justify the claim that there are propositions such that the discovery of evidence against them can qualify as science, but evidence in favor of them cannot? Someone who accepts this view would probably extend it to propositions about ghosts or extrasensory perception. Research showing that effects that some benighted souls have attributed to ghosts or mental telepathy can be explained in a perfectly naturalistic way would count as science, but any argument that the evidence does not support those explanations, and that significant experimental or observational data are better explained by ghosts or by ESP, would not count as science, and could therefore be ruled out of consideration. On this view it would not even be a false scientific claim.

With regard to ghosts, I don't know what effects Dr. Nagel could be talking about about. How do you test for the presence of a ghost? How do you verify this is a successful test? I have seen magicians duplicate the feats of various psychics, while claiming is it all based on natural abilities, so you can't rely on physics to tell you if there are actually ghosts present. This is outside of science because we can not even verify if we have a functional test.

With regard to telepathy, and various other forms of ESP, there have been a variety of scientific studies done to determine if there is an effect to study. To my knowledge, all of the tests, when performed under controlled conditions, have determined that there is no reliable effect to study. If ESP is something that is supposed to used reliably at need, or under specific, reproducible conditions, then you obviously can study it scientifically. However, if ESP is presumed to be a phenomenon that appears and disappears without warning, for no reason, then it is immune to study because you can never have a true negative result.

It seems to me that in this respect ID is very different from young earth creationism, and the “creation science” that it spawned. There are people who believe, on the authority of the Bible, that God created the earth and all the creatures on it about six thousand years ago. The fact that this proposition is inconsistent with various scientific theories of cosmology, geology, and biology does not make it a scientific claim.

The claims of creationists may not be in agreement with science, but they can certainly be investigated by science. The very fact that there is a disagreement with science means that some sort of claim about science is being made. So, the fact that this proposition is inconsistent with various theories cosmology, geology, and biology does make it a scientific claim. It is a claim that leads to predictions of what we should expect to see with regard to cosmology, geology, and biology. Some scientific claims are just wrong.

Biblical literalism is not a scientific hypothesis because it is not offered as an explanation of the empirical evidence, but is accepted as a divine revelation. So long as no observations about the natural world are offered in its support, it is not even a false scientific claim. When, however, in response to the finding that the teaching of creationism in public schools was unconstitutional, the producers of creation science tried to argue that young earth creationism was consistent with the geological and paleontological evidence, they succeeded in putting forward a scientific claim, even though their reason for doing so was that they believed it to be true on other grounds, and their arguments were easily refuted.

When the assumption of a six-thousand-year-old earth led to predictions and interpretations that were scientific claims, it was because the original claim was scientific.

A scientific hypothesis can be false and unsupported by the evidence. That is a good enough reason not to teach it to schoolchildren. It is not necessary to argue that it is not science, not even hopelessly bad science.

Well, at least we agree here.

ID is very different from creation science. To an outsider, at least, it does not seem to depend on massive distortion of the evidence and hopeless incoherencies in its interpretation. Nor does it depend, like biblical literalism, on the assumption that the truth of ID is immune to empirical evidence to the contrary. What it does depend on is the assumption that the hypothesis of a designer makes sense and cannot be ruled out as impossible or assigned a vanishingly small probability in advance.

What ID has not done, does not do, and apparently will never do is give us a prediction about the world, a scientific claim, that can be tested. Regardless of how likely you think the notion of a designer is, the question remains: what is the testable evidence of a designer's footprints? Can you devise a functional, scientific test for a designer's involvement? We can rule out or confirm any designer that gives us a prediction, a testable entity. ID has not produced this entity.

Once it is assigned a significant prior probability, it becomes a serious candidate for support by empirical evidence, in particular empirical evidence against the sufficiency of standard evolutionary theory to account for the observational data. Critics take issue with the claims made by defenders of ID about what standard evolutionary mechanisms can accomplish, and argue that they depend on faulty assumptions. Whatever the merits, however, that is clearly a scientific disagreement, not a disagreement between science and something else.

I agree that many of the anti-evolution presented are at least arguments about science, and can be discussed in that venue. However, until ID can offer us something to make predictions, something to test, ID can never be science, no matter what the status of evolution.


Anonymous said...

One Brow said: "However, until ID can offer us something to make predictions, something to test, ID can never be science, no matter what the status of evolution."

How bout the prediction that mutations aint random and non-directed, eh, Eric? Could this be tested? Remember, Nagel (who is 100% right if ya ax me) is simply talkin bout "design" without a Designer, as Aristotle done done. No need to bring it Deities, eh?

" For 70 years after the publication of the Origin of Species...natural selection—the engine of evolution, according to Darwin—remained controversial. Many biologists argued that there must be some built-in “direction” to the variation that arose in each generation, helping to push each lineage towards its current state."

I guess mebbe what they call "biologists" back in them days weren't actually "scientists." Anywaze....

"A team of Princeton University scientists has discovered that chains of proteins found in most living organisms act like adaptive machines, possessing the ability to control their own evolution. The research, which appears to offer evidence of a hidden mechanism guiding the way biological organisms respond to the forces of natural selection, provides a new perspective on evolution, the scientists said. 'The discovery answers an age-old question that has puzzled biologists since the time of Darwin: How can organisms be so exquisitely complex, if evolution is completely random, operating like a 'blind watchmaker'?" said Chakrabarti, an associate research scholar in the Department of Chemistry at Princeton"

I wonder how they tested for that, eh? Lemme see here....

"The authors sought to identify the underlying cause for this self-correcting behavior in the observed protein chains. Standard evolutionary theory offered no clues...

clues. Applying the concepts of control theory, a body of knowledge that deals with the behavior of dynamical systems, the researchers concluded that this self-correcting behavior could only be possible if, during the early stages of evolution, the proteins had developed a self-regulating mechanism, analogous to a car's cruise control or a home's thermostat, allowing them to fine-tune and control their subsequent evolution. The scientists are working on formulating a new general theory based on this finding they are calling "evolutionary control."

Chakrabarti and Rabitz analyzed these observations of the proteins' behavior from a mathematical standpoint, concluding that it would be statistically impossible for this self-correcting behavior to be random, and demonstrating that the observed result is precisely that predicted by the equations of control theory."

"Statistically impossible," eh? Well, that aint proof. That aint even science, I betcha. How can mere math refute well-entrenched dogma, I ax ya? It can't, that's how.

Anonymous said...

The neo-Darwinists, with their dogmatic metaphysics, have brought a ton of criticism upon themselves. And they generally want to claim that any criticism is motivated by religious beliefs, and then proceed to belittle fundamentalist christians as a "defense." All very disingenuous, and all while ignoring the "religious" nature of their own beliefs.

There was no scientific need for the neo-darwinists to declare, a priori, that ALL mutations were random (and, as a corollary, that ONLY genetic mutations provided any raw source of variation--they deliberately exluded development as relevant, for example, and their hereidity notions were strictly gene-centic and mechanistic). There was, however, a very strong metaphysical need--they wanted to eliminate all possiblility of even raising or considering any questions of teleology. This as a matter of philosophical, not scientific, desire.

Just as "scientific" would have been an assumption that there was "something" (of unknown mechanics) working to direct phenotypic change. What it was, and how it worked, would be subject to research and experiment under those circumstances.

Perhaps most scientific would have been, lacking knowledge, to merely take position that variation could be either random, directed, or some of each, just leaving the question open. This is all Nagel is really sayin, I figure. Of course, that doesn't stop philosophical morons from ridiculing him as a philosopher in the course of their neo-darwinistic cheer-leadin. Likewise, I'm sure there is some tent-revival preacher somewhere pretending right now like he knows more about science than the leading scientists.

All par for blind partisan hacks, bound only by their a priori loyalties, with no real regard for reason, eh?

One Brow said...

How bout the prediction that mutations aint random and non-directed, eh, Eric? Could this be tested?

I have not seen a test for "aint random and non-directed" that could be successfully applied to one aspect of a system that incorporates both random and non-random mechanisms. ID proponents have come up with no viable, successful test (for example, irreducible complexity was viable but not successful; specified complexity was not viable) in over 15 years. When there is such a test, I fully support applying it.

Again, we already know there were mechanisms to slow down the rate of uncorrected mutation, so it's not a surprise that some organisms can speed up their mutation rate. This does not make the mutations themselves directed.

Besides, the article involved does not even discuss mutations! It's talking about protiens working on concert to either keep an energy flow wide open or shut down, effectively conseving power.

There was no scientific need for the neo-darwinists to declare, a priori, that ALL mutations were random (and, as a corollary, that ONLY genetic mutations provided any raw source of variation--they deliberately exluded development as relevant, for example, and their hereidity notions were strictly gene-centic and mechanistic). There was, however, a very strong metaphysical need--they wanted to eliminate all possiblility of even raising or considering any questions of teleology. This as a matter of philosophical, not scientific, desire.

What is this metaphysical need? Keep in mind it can't be atheism, since you will find bvery religious men like ken Miller or Wesley Elsberry who state that all mutations are random just as strongly as Dawkins does.

Just as "scientific" would have been an assumption that there was "something" (of unknown mechanics) working to direct phenotypic change. What it was, and how it worked, would be subject to research and experiment under those circumstances.

There are some things. They're called "selection". Selection is a non-random process that drives phenotypal change.

Anonymous said...

I can't cut and paste, for some reason, so I'll just try to summarize the comments I am respondin to, eh, Eric?

There are so many issues here, and the onliest reason I really spend any time with you on it is because I think you are capable of some acute insights and capable of bein relatively objective.

That said, I find it very frustratin that you often appear to be quite partisan, unilateral, and dogmatic in response to some of your "pet peeves."

Can it be tested? I will mebbe say more about that later (I already have addressed the issue in my original comment), but let's leave that aside for the moment. You have already conceded that the presumption of randomness (of mutations) can't be tested, so why is "testability" only applicable to the side you oppose, I wonder? This ALWAYS seems to be your fall-back criterion, yet you are very selective in applying it. You refuse to apply it to your own predispositions, it seems.

I know from prior discussions that you have little appreciation for how central and pre-eminent the doctrine that all genetic variation is due to random mutations actually is to the entire neo-darwinistic paradigm. You seem to think that neo-dawwinistic (modern synthetic) thought is fully capable or "incorporating" a different premise without bein destroyed as a theory.

That's one reason I often question just what you have in mind when you talk about THE Theory of Evolution. Common descent? Heh, that's a "theory?" You had parents, and so did I. They had parents, etc. That is a known and virtually self-evident fact. It is no more a theory than Howlin Wolf's Theory of Heavenly Motion. Nor is a concoction of postulated "mechanisms" a "theory." Galileo's rollin balls down inclined planes and timin them did not constitute a "theory of gravity," either.

Darwin's premise of "common descent" implies a ton of things--things about transmutations of species (macro-evolution), gradual change, etc, when viewed in context of his entire theory. HGT aint even about "descent," know what I'm sayin? Nor is it "gradual." Nor is it due to "random mutations."

I am actually bewildered that you feel comfortable asserting that "Selection....drives genotypical change" given the current state of data available. I mean, I know its the prevailin dogma, and all, but it's been severely undermined by many experimental studies.

All "mutations" could be "random," but it seems they aint. Either way, that aint even the real point. The neo-darwinistic premise is that genetic mutations are virtually the SOLE CAUSE of all phenotypic variations and that the "dictates" of dna (or allele, or "genes," or whatever) are completely irreversible and strictly lineal in determining pheneoype, etc.

This view is now considered to be a joke by many eminent scientists. No one even knows what a "gene" is. Population genetics is strictly a formal system which postulates it's premises and then deduces all conclusions therefrom, best I can tell. "Evolution" becomes defined as a change in allele, and if any genotypic change is observed, that "proves" that allele have changed, as they see it.

There is no viable "theory of evolution" at this point, that I can see. There may be dozens of hypotheses (not worthy of the title of "theory" at this point) about how and why certain aspects of inheritance, phenotypic change, and speciation occur, but there simply aint one grand theory. The essential presuppositions of the Modern Synthetic theory have been "tested" enough to conclude that they fail.

We can agree that evolution is a "fact." But, please, don't use this to conclude that THE theory of evolution has been proven. Far from it. In fact, they aint no coherent theory that has gained any widespread acceptance, with or without testin, that I have heard of.

Anonymous said...

In another thread you again asserted the view (prejudice) that one MUST assume that mutations (and hence phenotypic change, if you're a neo-darwinist) are random, in lieu of evidence to the contrary. That is wrong. Would I have to assume that a BMW was assembled by random chance? Could it be proved that this particular BMW I'm lookin at WASN'T put together by a windstorm and other natural forces? Naw, it couldn't, but that sure nuff wouldn't mean that would be my startin assumption, eh?

Anonymous said...

"What is this metaphysical need? Keep in mind it can't be atheism, since you will find bvery religious men like ken Miller or Wesley Elsberry who state that all mutations are random just as strongly as Dawkins does."

This is a false dichotomy and a generally fallacious argument, Eric, incorporating the fallacy of division along with other unwarranted inferences. For many, it is in fact atheism that motivates them, not that it really matters as far as this discussion goes.

Dawkins regularly states that he is tryin to defeat the "appearance of design." If design is so "apparent," why the need to fight it as though it were an enemy? Gould said sumthin to the effect that Darwinism made it possible for atheists to be "fulfilled." Crick wuz a notoriously aggressive atheist, and his speculations were fundamental to the optimitic "proof" the neo-darwinists claimed for their theory.

To many, the mere concept of any kinda "intelligence" in the evolutionary process smacks of supernatural vitalism and is per se abhorrent, as a matter of personal preference. Lamarckism was ruled out, ab initio, by the neo-darwinists, and the only "proper" response to any mention of Lamarck was for them to howl in laughter and insist that any and all notions of any kinda lamarckism had been utterly refuted. Not so, then or now, but strongly indicative of a closed and unscientific mindset, whatever the motivation.

Anonymous said...

This general brand of metaphysics was not atypical of similar "schools" of thought in various disciplines in the 30's (and in physics and other "scientific" disciplines before that). Logical Positivism in philosophy and linguistics, for example, or strict behavioralism in psychology. Such schools have long been discredited in the minds of most people, but for some reason it has persisted as the dominant metaphysics of most evolutionary theorists.

Woese's thoughts about the hopelessness of a metaphysical brand reductionistic determinism in biology simply mirror what others have been sayin for decades. There was a time, I believe, when he completely bought into that paradigm and is probably admonishing himself as much other dogmatic proponents of that particular metaphysical viewpoint.

Anonymous said...

I done said: "Evolution becomes defined as a change in allele, and if any genotypic change is observed, that "proves" that allele have changed, as they see it"

Meant to say "phenotypic" here, not no "genotypic," eh?

Anonymous said...

"When the time comes for egg laying, the wasp Sphex builds a burrow for the purpose and seeks out a cricket which she stings in such a way as to paralyze but not kill it. She drags the cricket into the burrow, lays her eggs alongside, closes the burrow, then flies away, never to return. In due course, the eggs hatch and the wasp grubs feed off the paralyzed cricket, which has not decayed, having been kept in the wasp equivalent of a deepfreeze. To the human mind, such an elaborately organized and seemingly purposeful routine conveys a convincing flavor of logic and thoughtfulness---until more details are examined. For example, the wasp's routine is to bring the paralyzed cricket to the burrow, leave it on the threshold, go inside to see that all is well, emerge, and then drag the cricket in. If the cricket is moved a few inches away while the wasp is inside making her preliminary inspection, the wasp, on emerging from the burrow, will bring the cricket back to the threshold, but not inside, and will then repeat the preparatory procedure of entering the burrow to see that everything is all right. If again the cricket is removed a few inches while the wasp is inside, once again she will move the cricket up to the threshold and reenter the burrow for a final check. The wasp never thinks of pulling the cricket straight in. On one occasion this procedure was repeated forty times, with the same result."

Guys like Daniel Dennet like to cite this phenomena as proof that there is no free will. Skinnerians like to use it to show that seemingly purposeful behavior is simply sumthin along the lines of "conditioned response." I believe that Dawkins has also used it, presumably to show how "apparent design" can simply be a false appearance. They are all very mechanistic and reductionistic in their metaphysics, of course.

Anonymous said...

But how does the neo-darwinistic theory of evolution explain instinctive behavior (fixed action patterns)? Darwin had a chapter in the Origin of Species which addressed the problems which instinct appeared to pose for his theory, but let's leave that be for a second.

Let's conclude that the wasp is simply actin as a programmed robot would, so now what?

No one questions that the behavior is inherited. So what kind of theory of genetics would explain how such a pattern developed and was transmitted to every succeeding generation? Well, accordin to the neo-darwinists it couldn't be anything Lamarckin (i.e, where "acquired traits" are inherited) because that possiblility is ruled out a priori.

So how does a very specific and complex chain of particular behaviors (which presumably benefits survival) get "into" the genome? The old deterministic "gene for every behavior" hypothesis, which most neo-darwinist speculation has tacitly assumed, has been completely disproven, but, even if it hadn't the question would remain. If it doesn't get incorporated into the genome via the organism's interaction with the environment, how does it get there?

Well, we all know the tale, I spoze. Once upon a time one wasp just happened (by random mutation to one of it's gene) to be FORCED to, let's say, put it eggs in a hole. This wasp had more survivors than the the average clan member did (who, let's say, had survived for many generations by simply droppin their eggs on the ground). Before ya know it, every wasp ever hatched is one with genes which MADE it do these things, all on account of natural selection, see? Later, another wasp had mutated genes which MADE it paralyze prey for it's as yet born young-uns, and so on, until every wasp everywhere does all these things in sequence. Rudyard Kipling would be proud, eh? I also like the story about Noah and the Ark.

Anonymous said...

Back to Darwin, atheism, and fundamentalist reductionism for a minute, eh, Eric? All quotes here are from chapter 8 (entitled "instinct") of Origin of Species.

Darwin perceives the problem: "Many instincts are so wonderful that their development will probably appear to the reader a difficulty sufficient to overthrow my whole theory." He thinks this is especially true in some cases, such as sterile insects, with respect to which he says present: "one special difficulty, which at first appeared to me insuperable, and actually fatal to the whole theory."

Not to worry of course, because he ends up sayin: "This difficulty, though appearing insuperable, is lessened, or, as I believe, disappears, when it is remembered that selection may be applied to the family, as well as to the individual, and may thus gain the desired end." "Desired end," eh? Sounds kinda teleological, sumhowze, don't it?

In parts of this chapter, he seems to implement some lamarckism to help explain the difficulties. "If we suppose any habitual action to become inherited--and it can be shown that this does sometimes happen--then the resemblance between what originally was a habit and an instinct becomes so close as not to be distinguished."

As I read him, Darwin's main argument is that he thinks that, once existent, "instinctive" behavior can be altered through natural selection. Well, aint that special, eh?

Of course, he has nuthin to say about how instincts came into bein so that "natural selection" could act on them to begin with: "I may here premise, that I have nothing to do with the origin of the mental powers..."

Darwin concedes his fanatical devotion to natural selection: "It will indeed be thought that I have an overweening confidence in the principle of natural selection, when I do not admit that such wonderful and well-established facts at once annihilate the theory."

But so what, ya know?: "I do not pretend that the facts given in this chapter strengthen in any great degree my theory; but none of the cases of difficulty, to the best of my judgment, annihilate it."

He is at least honest enough to admit that, although his conclusions are far from logically entailed, he has a personal preference for them: " may not be a logical deduction, but to my imagination it is far more satisfactory to look at such instincts...not as specially endowed or created instincts, but as small consequences of one general law leading to the advancement of all organic beings."

Kinda funny that Darwin starts out by fessin up that he aint knowin nuthin about how instincts are created, and yet concludes that are not "specially created," eh? Well, he don't really do that, he just says he finds it more "satisfying" to look at it that way. Kinda like some fundies find it more "satisfactory" to read the bible literally, I spoze.

Anonymous said...

"To the human mind, such an elaborately organized and seemingly purposeful routine conveys a convincing flavor of logic and thoughtfulness.." (excerpt from my prior quote of Woolridge on wasps).

Such behavior is NOT "seemingly" purposeful. Without question it serves a very important purpose (survival). It would be absurd to assume that just because a chess-playin computer program does not "really think" it came into existence by random chance, eh? The purpose of chess programs is to win chess games, and some do this very well. There is in fact intelligent design and purpose underlying their creation and existence. That is true even if the computer program does not itself really "know" its purpose, or understand why it operates as it does, eh, Eric?

Anonymous said...

One Brow said: "Selection is a non-random process that drives phenotypal change."

Gabby Dover, the british geneticist, claims that: "We don’t have a theory of interactions and until we do we cannot have a theory of development or a theory of evolution."

Biologists from Havard and Berkeley (Gerhart and Kirschner), who advance a theory of "facilitated (non-random) variation, state that: "discoveries of gene regulation have opened the possibility of important evolutionary changes in nontranscribed DNA sequences, as well. Still, there are no “laws of variation” regarding its generation, only a black box of chaotic accidents entered by genetic variation and occasionally exited by selectable phenotypic variation."

Michael Lynch from Indiana U. is a vociferous opponent of ID theory, is ultra-orthodox in his adherence to reductionism and genetic determinism and is a devotee of the mathematical population genetics paradigm. But even he claims that selection not only fails to explain many phenomena, but further insists that the assumption of natural selection must be virtually eliminated if they are to be explained.

Among other things, he says: "Darwin conceded that “our ignorance of the laws of variation is profound” (1), and 150 years later the mode of its generation remains largely unknown. Phenotypic variation is thought to affect all aspects of an animal's phenotype and to be “copious in amount, small in extent, and undirected” with regard to selective conditions....The literature is permeated with dogmatic statements that natural selection is the only guiding force of evolution, with mutation creating variation but never controlling the ultimate direction of evolutionary change." He clearly rejects this view.

With respect to complexity, he says: "There is no evidence at any level of biological organization that natural selection is a directional force encouraging complexity. In contrast, substantial evidence exists that a reduction in the efficiency of selection drives the evolution of genomic complexity."

He acknowledges that "discoveries of gene regulation have opened the possibility of important evolutionary changes in nontranscribed DNA sequences, as well," but does not claim that the possiblilites are well-understood: "...there are no “laws of variation” regarding its generation, only a black box of chaotic accidents entered by genetic variation and occasionally exited by selectable phenotypic variation."

He acknowledges the prevailing dogma, but disagrees with it:

"Most biologists are so convinced that all aspects of biodiversity arise from adaptive processes that virtually no attention is given to the null hypothesis of neutral evolution...Such religious adherence to the adaptationist paradigm has been criticized as being devoid of intellectual merit."

He too adheres to a theory of "facilitated variation," in which neutral evolutionary forces play the predominant role.

All of these experts (and many more) appear to explicitly reject one or more of the essential tenets of neo-darwinism. Many contempory experts, like Dover (who proposes a "third" evolutionary force which he calls "molecular drive'), claim that there presently is no viable, coherent "theory of evolution." All, of course, presuppose the "fact" of evolution.

It requires some highly questionable theoretic assumptions to conclude that "selection drives phenotypal change." Lynn Magulis put it in (what I see as) a humorous way when she characterized neo-dawrwinism and population geneticts as being "a minor twentieth century religious sect within the sprawling religious persuasion of Anglo-Saxon Biology"

Anonymous said...

Edit: Oops, one of those quotes I attributed to Lynch (pertaining to the role of natural selection by the prevailing dogma) was actually from Gerhart and Kirschner.

I do believe I was correct in commenting that he clearly rejects such a view, though. Elsewhere Lynch has said:

"...our theoretical work on network
evolution, challenge the popular idea that modularity arises as a direct consequence of selection
for morphological complexity, and by extension raise questions about the common assumption
that natural selection was responsible for the emergence of multicellularity."

Indeed, he wrote an entire book on the topic [ ], in which he reportedly said"

"Most molecular, cell and developmental biologists subscribe to the same creed, as do many popular science writers. However, it has long been known that purely selective arguments are inadequate to explain many aspects of biological diversity."

Anonymous said...

I had me a dream last night, eh? Some seemingly self-propelled object had been seen flyin round our solar system at speeds approachin light for a spell, and then started zig-zaggin round in our atmosphere. Then it crashed. No sign of life was found on it.

Guys from NASA called me up to inspect the crash site, and come up with a theory/explanation of what this thing was, how it mighta come to be and how (and why, if possible) it landed here.

Turns out, when I got there, Richard Dawkins was the other guy assigned to the job. So I sez: "Hey, Dick, whatcha think, eh?" Then it kinda went like this here:

Dick: "I'm workin on a naturalistic theory right now, gimme a few minutes, eh?

Me: "OK, I guess I'll just mosey around here checkin things out for a spell. I'm assumin that just about everything about this huge craft was a product of intellingence and design, so mebbe I can make some sense of it if I study it.

Dick: Intelligence!? Ya mean Gawd?

Me: Naw, probly not God, but sumthin intelligent.

Dick: Do you have any evidence whatsover to prove that their is intelligence in this universe, apart from me, I mean, of course.

Me: Well, naw, not really, other than the fact that this thang is here.

Dick: Light comes here, at the speed of light, no less, but that don't mean it was designed by intelligence. We must assume, by default, that this here thing came into existence and got here by some kinda non-teleological natural process, fool. That's SCIENCE, chump.

Me: Well, I spect I best just head on home then, I aint no scientist, it seems.

Anonymous said...

Eric, I come round here most days to see if you have cared to respond to any of these evolution posts. You haven't, so I just generally post another one because I been thinkin bout this shit again. I kinda see this as an extension of the (in my mind unfinished) "debate" we had in the Jazzfanz thread. Since that time you have continued to make posts in your blog about the topic, so I guess I assumed you had a continuing interest in discussing the topic.

I realize, however, that an interest in expressin your own thoughts on a blog does not necessarily imply any desire to "discuss" the topic. So I don't know if you have just been busy, if you don't want to git "embroiled" in a debate, or if, for other reasons, you don't care to respond. In the meantime, I'm just kinda turnin this here comments section into my own personal blog, eh?

Anonymous said...

One of my comments here quoted a science news article which stated: "The research, which appears to offer evidence of a hidden mechanism guiding the way biological organisms respond to the forces of natural selection, provides a new perspective on evolution, the scientists said."

One of your responses was: "the article involved does not even discuss mutations!"

Similarly, in another thread, you made a comment about the Cairns experiments, concluding, if I interpreted you correctly, that there was nothing to prove the mutations involved were non-random (I don't feel like lookin for the the exact wording of your reply).

To me, such responses are indicative of the thought patterns of those with a reductionistic approach. I think this approach often prevents one from "seein the forest" on account of all trees in the way, ya know?

I think it also leads those who are purportedly advocating a theory to think that each part of the theory is totally and completely independent of each other, and enables them to believe that if one premise is incorrect, that in no way affects the "entire theory." A "minor" part of the theory, mebbe, but not the theory itself. Again, I see this as a failure to see the "big picture," and to appreciate the interdependence of the whole with the parts.

In one of my comments I responded as follows: "All "mutations" could be "random," but it seems they aint. Either way, that aint even the real point."

So, what is the "real point?" Well, I go on to elaborate, but I'm am not too confident that you will understand what I meant in my response. So let me elaborate more here.

Take the Cairns experiments. As I recall one, after another, after another, separate colonies of bacteria with defectives genes for digestin lactose startin digestin lactose when it was the only available source of nourishment. One neo-darwinist after another came out with papers designed to prove that this was all random, and that the observations in no way undermined, in the least, what has be called the "central dogma" of neo-darwinism (i.e., that all phenotypic variation is, initally, the result of mutations which are wholly undirected and random with respect to the needs of the organism). Again, they did so by trying to isolate parts of the theory from the whole, without payin much attention to the whole, as I see it.

Let me make an analogy here. Spoze my pc operatin system crashes and I try to fix it (or have some expert, which I aint, do so). I may start out by lookin at what seem to be the most likely suspects for the cause of the crash. If I cannot detect a problem in those areas, I may well start lookin for problems in other possible, but seemingly less likely, areas. If I still have no success, I may be reduced to simply methodically checkin every coding function in the program, lookin for any kinda defect.

This is basically what we call "trouble-shooting," although I'm not sure that description is too apt when one is reduced to systematic checking of the functioning of every part of the object in "trouble."

Let's say that, after a few weeks I discover an unexpected and not easily predectable malfunction in some area of the program, correct it, and then once again have a workin operatin system. I'm now happy (except that the thang crashes again the next day, but that's a whole other tale).

Question is, was the process which resulted in the solution "directed?" It can be pointed out (as the critics of Cairn tried to do) that I did NOT know in advance what the solution was, with the inference that therefore the whole process was "blind," therefore purposeless and undirected. They can point out (although I'm not sure this was the case with Cairns) that in the end I simply resorted to an undirected "trial and error" form of trouble-shooting and conclude that the cure was therefore merely the result of "chance," not foreknowledge.

They would be correct, but they would be wrong in what they thought the implications of their conclusions were, if ya ax me.

All of the the colonies of bacteria in question "solved" their problem. They could all now digest lactose. Since the "end" was achieved, the "purpose" of their mutations was fulfilled.

Likewise, I solved by computer problems. The mere fact that I didn't know, and couldn't even accurately deduce, the "cause" of the problem did not prevent me from correcting the problem. As tedious and specifically (as opposed to generally) undirected as my search for a solution turned out to be, my actions in finding the problem were obviously both purposeful and directed when viewed from a broader perspective. I knew what I was trying to accomplish, even though I didn't know in advance how to accomplish it, and I recogized the cause of the problem (and hence the solution) once I saw it (even though I was just lookin "randomly").

It is simply not necessary that one have foreknowledge of the solution to a practical problem in order to solve it and attempts to find a solution are NOT undirected. They are deliberate and directed to a specific end, i. e., discovering a currently unknown solution to a specific problem. That's kinda what science is about, aint it? Know what I'm sayin?

Likewise, all "mutations" to dna could in fact be random and yet the neo-darwinistic hypothesis of random mutation could be completely disproven in spirit and substance if other intervening factors (which the genetic determinism of neo-darwinism forbids) give direction to which mutations and which functions of dna coding actually get expressed.

I've forgotten who now, but one respectable current scientist recently said sumthin like this:

"We thought that dna was the 'book of life' and that, once understood, we could read the book and have a complete understanding of heredity. As it turns out, it's not a book in the sense we thought all at. It's a dictionary, a tool list. It contains the words from which great books can be written by great authors, but it writes nothing itself."

Anonymous said...

Eric, you may already be aware of this, but I just discovered that in late 2006 the National Academy of Sciences sponsered a two-day colloquim on "Adaptation and Design." The stated goal "is to synthesize recent empirical findings and conceptual approaches towards understanding the evolutionary origins and maintenance of complex adaptations."

Here is the general link, if you're interested:

Near the top you can click on an option to "view presentations," which gets you here:

There you can see that there were a number of speakers, including Lynch and Gerhart, who I have cited. It seems that a videotape of each particular presentation was recorded and accessible by further clicking. I am listening to Gerhart's presentation now, and it's quite interestin. It's at this link:

Anonymous said...

To elaborate on earlier comments relating to the nature of a theory, ideological/ontological inclinations, etc., I would ask why anyone would call the "theory" (it aint no theory, but....) of common descent "darwinian." It goes back to Lamarck (and earlier), so why not call it "Lamarckian?" Contrary to what many believe, Lamarck did not believe in creation or vitalism.

Yet Dawkins has said: “To be painfully honest, I can think of few things that would more
devastate my world view than a demonstrated need to return to the theory of evolution that is traditionally
attributed to Lamarck."

So it is clear that neo-darwinism has essential tenets that are completely independent of any notion of common descent.

Maynard Smith wrote a book called "The Theory of Evolution." It's "central idea" was not common descent. He says:

"The central idea that underlies this book is that the origin of new heritable variation is not adaptive."

Anonymous said...

Needless to say, Maynard Smith's central idea has been subjected to intense challenge due to recent findings. Accordin to at least one (there are many others) review of Jablonka and Lamb's book:

"The authors present good examples of non-random semidirected mutations. The neo-Darwinian dogma that all mutations are random must be refined. There are degrees of randomness. Some mutations occur at higher probabilities at specific locations in DNA. Furthermore, they are inducible by the environment and they have a higher probability of being adaptive. It is an open question how wide-spread these mechanisms are in evolution."

Furthermore, this reviewer notes that: "Epigenetic inheritance is the second dimension in evolution. The authors present two convincing examples of non-genetic heritable variation (epigenetic) that is transmitted to the next generation...So, new ways of thinking about the neo-Darwinian dogmas and Lamarckism are required."

For some reason, it seems clear that virtually none of the scientists now questioning this aspect of the neo-darwinistic paradigm are "ID-ers," eh, Eric? Go figure.

Anonymous said...

With the possible exception of the geocentric astronomy of the medieval scholastics, I can think of no other "scientific" theory which has been so widely represented as "proven" and indubitable, on the basis of so little evidence and in the light of such extensive counter-evidence (both empirical and theoretical) as the modern synthesis.

That alone makes it seem obvious that non-scientific motives are prevalent in the promotion of neo-darwinism.

With respect to Lamarck in particular: "C. H. Waddington, a distinguished
contributor to the Neo-Darwinian synthesis, observed that: “Lamarck is the only major figure in the history of biology whose name has become, to all intents and purposes, a term of abuse. Most scientist’s contributions are fated to be
outgrown, but very few authors have written work which, two centuries later, is still rejected with an indignation so intense that the skeptic may suspect something akin to an uneasy conscience.”

Uneasy conscience indeed. In my view, the shamelessness with which the the over-reaching claims of neo-darwinists has been promoted by seemingly "objective" scientists over the last 70-80 years has been a travesty for evolutionary theory in general. Their dogmatic assurance of the validity of claims which strain all credulity has greatly undermined public confidence in the whole subject as a "scientific" discipline, I figure (well, except amongst the vast majority who readily accepted such claims, I spoze).

Lewontin helps explain why this is, and would seem to agree completely with Nagel in principle, at least:

"Sagan believes that scientists reject sprites, fairies, and the influence of Sagittarius because we follow a set of procedures, the Scientific Method, which has consistently produced explanations that put us in contact with reality and in which mystic forces play no part. For Sagan, the method is the message, but I think he has opened the wrong envelope.

"The case for the scientific method should itself be "scientific" and not merely rhetorical...we are told that science "delivers the goods." It certainly has, sometimes, but it has often failed when we need it most.

Carl Sagan's list of the "best contemporary science-popularizers" includes E.O. Wilson, Lewis Thomas, and Richard Dawkins, each of whom has put unsubstantiated assertions or counterfactual claims at the very center of the stories they have retailed in the market. Wilson's Sociobiology and On Human Nature rest on the surface of a quaking marsh of unsupported claims about the genetic determination of everything from altruism to xenophobia.

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.

...we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door."

As far as presentation to the public goes, it seems that much of the "scientific" presentation of the neo-synthetic theory of evolution has been a polemical exercise, accompanied by any ole sophistic argument that seemed expedient, with the one objective being prevailing in a metaphyical debate and defeating the "enemy."

Sorry, but that aint science in my book. Even less scientific is the spew of the disciples which these methods successfully recruit.

Anonymous said...

As much as I think the exaggerated and irrational promotions of the purported predictive and explanatory powers of the modern synthetic theory have undermined "the theory" of evolution, I must say that those calling for a "3rd synthesis" do seem to offer hope for a sensible, non-dogmatic theory of evolution that is acceptable from a genuinely scientific point of view.

That said, it is still discouraging to see the enormous amount of dogmatic adherence to orthodox neo-darwinism in the scientific community. Even Lynch, who is quite orthodox himself in many respects, notes that: "The vast majority of biologists engaged in evolutionary studies interpret virtually every aspect of biodiversity in adaptive terms. This narrow view of evolution has become untenable in light of recent observations..."

I am led by some reviews to believe that he repeatedly draws unflattering comparisons between this "vast majority of biologists" and "creationists who advocate intelligent design." (see summary of Pigliucci's review, for example:

Anonymous said...

As far as our experience goes, it seems universal that "all life comes from life." It is therefore rather natural to conclude that even our ancestors's ancestors had ancestors and, ultimately that all life had a "common ancestor."

As natural as this logic may be, it is not necessary. But in any event, the problem of an infinite regression must be faced. If we are to say that life "began" on earth, then there was a time when there was no life, from which life came to be. But this denies the initial premise of our logic, so which is it? Does all life come from life, or not?

Given the seemingly insuperable odds (based on what we know about the requirements for life) against life kinda "poppin up" from inanimate matter on earth, even hard-core neo-darwinians (and atheists) such as Crick (and even Dawkins) are willing to entertain, if not advocate, the notion of life comin here from outer space.

But that merely postpones, without avoiding, the problem with infinite regression. It seems that one must decide between only two possibilities:

1. Either all life does NOT come from pre-existing life, or

2. Life has ALWAYS been present in the universe.

Intuitive notions upon which a conclusion of "common descent" seem to rely seem to dictate conclusion # 2.

If you instead select option #1, then there is nuthin which necessarily suggests any "common ancestor." If life can arise spontaneously once, it could presumably do it repeatedly.

One Brow said...

I will try to make en effort to fully read, understand, and repond to this today, but it will not be this morning.

Anonymous said...

Heh, Eric when ya start talkin bout "tryin" to "make an effort," I start thinkin about AK-47 fo sum damn reason, ya know?

Anonymous said...

40 years a ago, Fred Hoyle, astonomer and world-class mathematician, said the "math" does not work for neo-darwinism. Bein an outspoken atheist, Hoyle went the panspermia route, but acknowledged some kinda "intelligence" behind life on earth in the process.

Lynch and others are now drawin the same mathematical conclusions, but they are far from the first. One does not need to be an ID advocate to appreciate the serious challenges to neo-darwinism that their critiques pose.

The defenders of neo-darwinism will insist, with liberal use of ad hominim arguments, insult, and epithets that their critiques are 100% WRONG. Methinks the Babe doth protesteth too much, know what I'm sayin?

Even Ruse sees the "religious" aspect to neo-darwinism, and Shapiro's phrase about the "dialogue of the deaf" rings true. One need not be an ID theorist to recognize that a whole lot more is goin on in evolution than the tired tale of the neo-darwinists would ever lead one to believe.

I agree with Nagel (and many others) who have noted that the rationale behind the recent court decision was weak and misguided. If ID theory is "not science," then neither is neo-darwinism. The ID/darwinist battles are over metaphysics, not science.

Anonymous said...

"Today I am discussing another problem with the paper authored by Dr. Nagel, which supports teaching Intelligent Design in public schools."

Eric, I don't read his paper as supporting the "teaching of ID in public schools" at all. You do, so I guess that explains your 3-part attack on "Nagels' follies." Not sayin you're one, but why do radical extremists turn so quickly on generally friendly and sympathetic viewpoints which refuse to indulge in absolutism deviates, I wonder?

I am reminded of some of the gay activists who vilified Spitzer (a long time supporter of gays who assumed, on faith, that homosexuality was "innate" and unchangeable) as corrupt, senile, or both when he took a slight step back from this absolutist position. No "religion" is capable of bein more fanatical, doctrinaire, and intolerant than social/political/atheistic/sexual extremists.

Nagel says, among other things:

"My own situation is that of an atheist who, in spite of being an avid consumer of popular science, has for a long time been skeptical of the
claims of traditional evolutionary theory to be the whole story about the history of life...I do not regard divine intervention as a possibility, even though I have
no other candidates .... I understand the attitude that ID is just the latest manifestation of the fundamentalist threat, and that you have to stand and fight them here or you will end up having to fight for the right to teach evolution
at all."

Nonetheless he is capable of dispassionate reasoning about the vehement knee-jerk rejection of ID theory as "unscientific." He is objective enough to see that if ID theory is "unscientific," then so is neo-darwinism. And he is open-minded enough to object, on principle, to the attempt to suppress criticism and dissent.

"Sophisticated members of the contemporary culture have been so thoroughly indoctrinated that they easily lose sight of the fact that evolutionary reductionism defies common sense. A theory that defies
common sense can be true, but doubts about its truth should be suppressed only in the face of exceptionally strong evidence..."

I guess he just aint devout enough to avoid being attacked for his "follies," eh?

Anonymous said...

Correction: Strike the word "deviates" from the 2nd paragraph of that last post, eh?

Anonymous said...

I realize I'm repeatin myself here, but Maynard Smith's book on the "theory" of evolution did not posit common ancestry, natural selection, or any other such collateral notion as it's "central idea."

Again, according to the author:

The central idea that underlies this book is that the origin of new heritable variation is not adaptive."

Look at that statment. Analyze it. Then tell me: It that a testable scientific claim? Is it a product of empirical reseach and evidence? Or is it merely a matter of metaphysics and ontology, posited "on faith?"

Anonymous said...

I will answer my own question, eh, Eric? If that is the central idea of Maynard Smith's book, then it is a philosophical exercise, not a scientific one. Kinda like Marx done when he attempted to "stand Hegel on his head" (by revising Hegel's metaphysical dialectical idealism into dialectical materialism).

His review of Dennett's book makes this painfully obvious:

"Dennett goes well beyond biology. He sees Darwinism as a corrosive acid, capable of dissolving our earlier belief and forcing a reconsideration of much of sociology and philosophy....Before Darwin, it was the accepted opinion of both philosophers and biologists that the complex adaptations of living things implied an intelligent designer....I have thought for some time that Dawkins and Williams have made a more fruitful contribution to philosophy than most philosophers, and I am pleased to see this opinion so generously recognized."

If you can picture a room full of rabid, devout Hegelians arguing with an equally fervent and contemptuous Marxists, then you know how I see the typical interaction between Creationists and Neo-darwinists, eh? Both so absolutely sure that they can "prove" that their emotional commitments are indubitable and that any contrary commitment is foolhardly, ya know?

Anonymous said...

I don't know much about mathematic models for population genetics, and, truth be told, I don't care to know. However, I do note that Maynard Smith claims that: "A science of population genetics is possible because the laws of transmission—Mendel's laws—are known."

Heh, known "laws," eh? As I understand it, Mendel's "laws" are far from universal. As one of many known "violations" of Mendel's laws, a wiki article offers this summary about "genomic imprinting:"

"Genomic imprinting represents yet another example of non-Mendelian inheritance. Just as in conventional inheritance, genes for a given trait are passed down to progeny from both parents. However, these genes are epigenetically marked before transmission, altering their levels of expression. These imprints are created before gamete formation and are erased during the creation of germ line cells. Therefore, a new pattern of imprinting can be made with each generation."

This is a collateral point, but what does this tell ya about population genetics, then, eh? Maynard Smith calls it a "science" but as I understand it, it is at best a mathematical/analytical tool which requires sound premises to be useful. It does not, in itself, tell you anything about what a sound premise is, or what is empiricially correct. For that reason, I wouldn't call it a "science."

It was of great theoretical importance to the neo-darwinists, though, because it allowed them to accept the "known laws" of Mendel and to postulate natural selection as virtually the exclusive force behind evolution. Of course other premises (genetic determinism, etc.) were also needed, but they went plumb hogwild with natural selection once they realized that, mathematically speaking, it was at least not contradictory to Mendelian "laws."

Anonymous said...

To draw yet another analogy to history, Eric, Church-sanctioned astronomy presupposed certain "non-negotiable" premises, such as 1. all heaven motion is circular, 2. the earth does not move, and 3. All other material bodies in the universe revolve around the earch.

Given these immutable premises, each and every new observation could be (at least approximately) accomodated by ptolemic theory. Sure, it became necessary for one after another after another, epicycle, deferent, and equant to be specially created on an ad hoc basis to force the observed phenomena to conform to the dogmatic premises, but so what? They had planets constantly shifting from one "circular" orbit to another. It became prima facie absurd, but of course that did not phase the church authorities, or undermine their "faith" in their premises in the slightest. They just kept revising their "mechanisms," while refusing to review their fundamental premises.

Truth is, a much more satisfactory theory of planetary motion posulates that the earth does move, that the earth is not the center of the universe, and that motion is not necessary circular. But again, who is to say that heliocentricism did not merely "refine" and "add to" geocentricism, ya know?

The central premises of neo-darwinism are just about as obsolete as those of geocentrism, I figure. Course, that aint to say ya can't go around callin geocentrism THE theory of astronomy, on the grounds that it "gave rise" to the "refinements" of heliocentrism, I spoze.

Anonymous said...

If I saw a horse with a cart behind it moving in tandem down a country lane, there is nothing in my observation that is inconsistent with the theory that the cart is exerting some kinda force on the horse, movin it forward. Kinda like natural selection, ya know?