CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

About three years ago, President George W. Bush had the apparent audacity to suggest that students should be exposed to differing ideas, and it stirred up a firestorm in the editorial pages and on the Internet. Of course, the idea that we should expose children to new ideas would normally not receive a second thought from most people (especially those who are forever crying "censorship" upon the slightest suggestion that some books or other reading material may be inappropriate for children), but Bush had the gall to make such an open-minded suggestion about teaching "intelligent design" in the public schools.

Based on the reaction, I suspect that some people would prefer to have grade school children handed back-issues of Penthouse Magazine than allow a hint of dissent from the reigning Darwinian paradigm. I can almost hear it now, "What? Infringe on the Darwinian monopoly in the schools? Allow people to think for even a moment that there is a possibility that we didn't evolve from the first single-celled organism? Why, that would be 'anti-scientific!'"

One site that can be depended on to scream "fire" in the crowded theatre at the merest suggestion that children be exposed to Intelligent Design is the website of the National Center for Science Education. True to form, they published an attack on the suggestion entitled "President Bush Endorses Intelligent Design" which stated:

Scientists quickly reacted to the news. The American Geophysical Union, a scientific society of 43,000 members in the earth and space sciences, released a statement making it clear that "intelligent design" is not a legitimate scientific alternative to evolutionary biology.

In comments to journalists on August 1, the President said that "both sides ought to be properly taught." "If he meant that intelligent design should be given equal standing with the theory of evolution in the nation's science classrooms, then he is undermining efforts to increase the understanding of science," Spilhaus said in a statement. "'Intelligent design' is not a scientific theory. Advocates of intelligent design believe that life on Earth is too complex to have evolved on its own and must therefore be the work of a designer. That is an untestable belief and, therefore, cannot qualify as a scientific theory."


Of course, as is apparent from the fact that not every member of the union agrees when the leaders of the AFL-CIO make a pronouncement on some political issue, the mere fact that the nominal leaders of a group of scientists make a statement on behalf of the community doesn't mean that the community is of one mind on the issue. But the wording of the statement raises a question: Why are these people so opposed to exposing children to the idea that Darwinian evolution may not be the end-all, be-all of thought in this area? Do the reasons given by the spokesperson for the American Geophysical Union really pan out?

The underlying statement from the American Geophysical Union which is quoted by the NCSE article (entitled, revealingly, "President Confuses Science and Belief, Puts Schoolchildren at Risk") is only quoted in part. The statement continues:

"Scientific theories, like evolution, relativity and plate tectonics, are based on hypotheses that have survived extensive testing and repeated verification," Spilhaus says. "The President has unfortunately confused the difference between science and belief. It is essential that students understand that a scientific theory is not a belief, hunch, or untested hypothesis."

"Ideas that are based on faith, including 'intelligent design,' operate in a different sphere and should not be confused with science. Outside the sphere of their laboratories and science classrooms, scientists and students alike may believe what they choose about the origins of life, but inside that sphere, they are bound by the scientific method," Spilhaus said.


With all due respect to Mr. Spilhaus, he has made a few errors in his analysis. I would like to spend a couple of posts explaining where I think he has fallen into error.

First, implicit in Mr. Spilhaus' objection is the belief that President Bush meant that ID should be given equal standing with evolution in the schools. Does one really think that he would object if Bush proposed that Intelligent Design be ridiculed or shown to be a hoax in the schools? I certainly don't think so. In fact, I would suspect that he would advocate that if a teacher is asked about Intelligent Design, he should explain that Intelligent Design isn't science because it is based on faith (it's not, but we'll get to that later).

However, the idea that Intelligent Design should be given equal standing in the schools is not what President Bush proposed. What President Bush said was that "both sides ought to be properly taught" so that "people can understand what the debate is about." At the moment, evolution is the reigning paradigm for understanding how life came to exist with the diversity that we observe in nature, and I don't think that President Bush (or any other ID advocate that I have ever read) is suggesting that we don't teach it. I don't think that President Bush was even remotely suggesting that it be given equal standing with Darwinian Evolution. While some people may suggest that Intelligent Design be given equal time with Darwinian evolution as the basis for studying the diversity of life, I don't believe many make that argument. Jonathan Wells was on the Michael Medved program yesterday and said as much. Contending simply that Intelligent Design be "properly taught" is not somehow suggesting a complete revamping of the science classrooms across America. It seems to me that this language merely notes that teachers should identify that there are some who disagree with the reigning paradigm and do so respectfully.

I personally have some experience which I think illustrates what President Bush is suggesting. When I was in first year Biology in college, I went to a lab class that was taught by a graduate student whose name I don't recall. In discussing evolution, he felt obliged to teach "creation science" as an alternative to evolution, but he didn't really try to teach "creation science" but ridiculed it. I think that Bush is suggesting that we at least introduce the idea of Intelligent Design to students (which is not "quackery" as suggested by the Washington Post's Editorial Page) in a respectful manner which teaches, fairly and accurately, its claims -- not some frivolous "let's make fun of ID" approach such as I experienced with my grad student/lab instructor's exposure of our class to "creation science."

So, initially, I reject the idea that President Bush was suggesting that Intelligent Design be taught equally with Darwinian Evolution. He only said that it should be presented in a way so that students understand the controversy. And teaching the controversy doesn't mean that Intelligent Design has be treated as if no one disagrees with its arguments -- it seems to mean that Mr. Spilhaus' argument that Intelligent Design is based on faith would be part of the teaching of the controversy.

Wouldn't that be great? It would allow students to understand the difference between science and non-science using a modern day, relevant example that students can follow in the paper and be able to see clearly how it is that Intelligent Design is non-science.

But then again, maybe the students would see that Intelligent Design has merit and the idea that it is not science is the real smokescreen.

Next time: I will examine the statement that "Scientific theories, like evolution, relativity and plate tectonics, are based on hypotheses that have survived extensive testing and repeated verification."

24 comments:

Teach Intelligent Design?

But where are the text books?

Start putting out huge grants for research into intelligent design and you'll see the textbooks.

Steven has a point there, what would you actually teach about intelligent design?

Should we also teach kids Greek, Sumerian, Norsk and other creation stories in the school to properly expose them to all sides of the story (with equal time for all)?

So it should be taught now.

But there are no textbooks because the research has not been done yet.

Whst if the research fails?

Or is this a research program that is guaranteed to find the results which its proponents know are true before they do the research?

Pres Bush: “both sides ought to be properly taught.”

Bill: “What President Bush said was that ‘both sides ought to be properly taught’ so that ‘people can understand what the debate is about.’ [...] the idea that Intelligent Design should be given equal standing in the schools is not what President Bush proposed. [...] While some people may suggest that Intelligent Design be given equal time with Darwinian evolution as the basis for studying the diversity of life, I don't believe many make that argument. [...] Contending simply that Intelligent Design be "properly taught" is not somehow suggesting a complete revamping of the science classrooms across America. It seems to me that this language merely notes that teachers should identify that there are some who disagree with the reigning paradigm and do so respectfully. [...] I think that Bush is suggesting that we at least introduce the idea of Intelligent Design to students... in a respectful manner which teaches, fairly and accurately, its claims. [...] I reject the idea that President Bush was suggesting that Intelligent Design be taught equally with Darwinian Evolution. He only said that it should be presented in a way so that students understand the controversy.”

Steven (replying to all this): “Teach Intelligent Design? But where are the text books?”

Honestly, Steven, all things considered, if Bill replies to this with, “Start putting out huge grants for research into intelligent design and you'll see the textbooks,” I would first suspect him of being facetious. What part of anything Bill wrote in this article involves textbooks for ID?

So, were you advocating equal teaching of ID (requiring such things as ID textbooks) after all, Bill, despite explicitly saying otherwise? Or were you simply pointing out how the market for producing things like textbooks is driven?

JRP

Never mind textbooks; where is the peer reviewed research? ID is a charming idea at best; it doesn't even come close to being science, so why would one teach it in a science class?

Depends on what counts as peer-reviewed research. In many cases the ID advocates represent the peers reviewing the research of the other guys. {g} But, as I think you pointed out in the related thread, there is also a question of small accumulations of tests adding cumulative confidence to a theory. When tests are run, by a pro-ID advocate or otherwise, and the results happen to point toward design rather than toward non-design, then by the Bayesian method one can build up confidence in the theory even if (as you noted) a single test for deductive confirmation one way or another is not (and cannot be) forthcoming.

The situation is complicated further by the fact that the ID crew (specifically as the crew accepting and using that moniker popularly) is not trying to utterly discount biological evolutionary theory. (That would be the young-earthers; and even many of them actually accept and promote a lot of the principles as occurring.) Consequently, it isn't as though there is some totally and utterly separate category of experimentation being proposed or even required. There's a vast overlapping instead. The main question is about the results of the data; the data pool is commonly shared among proponents and opponents alike.

{{ID is a charming idea at best; it doesn't even come close to being science, so why would one teach it in a science class?}}

Is forensic pathology not even close to being science, but only a charming idea at best? In effect that's ID, too (just on a different topical set.) Granted, a lot of guys in jail right now would probably like it to be relegated to that status, but most of us think it ought to be taught in science classes, where appropriate. (And not only in humanities, like sociology.)

JRP

Jason Pratt said "When tests are run, by a pro-ID advocate or otherwise, and the results happen to point toward design rather than toward non-design"
What are these tests that point towards the design?

You also avoided the question "so why would one teach it in a science class" by attacking forensic pathology. What do you think should be thought about creation in the school?

Perhaps Jason is right.

Bill didn't say anything about textbooks.

The idea of textbooks in a science class is old-fashioned.

Peter,

{{What are these tests that point towards the design?}}

I think it would be better to ask a specialist that. Surely you aren’t unaware, though, of controversies about how an unguided process is supposed to have accomplished various freakishly complicated (and even provident) things at, say, the microbiological level in such relatively brief spans of time. I say ‘relatively’ brief, because while the timescales seem gigantic to us the probabilities involved for things of this sort to happen by mere accident, are of a sort which easily dwarf (or so it seems) the absolute time constraints for the total operations (a few billion years at most--and significantly less in some cases.)

The most famous (or infamous) such evaluation would probably be Francis Crick (far from being a theist himself), who spitballed the notion of alien panspermia half-seriously (or so he later said in reply to the firestorm of criticism he received from doing so) due to the vast complexity of the DNA helix he had helped discover. It’s only been discovered to be more complex since then; and while very many processes for intercelluar manipulation have also been discovered, those processes are extremely far from simple themselves--moreover their very number requires developmental time that we might not have available.

How did we discover all these things? By running tests: strictly speaking it doesn’t matter whether the people who ran the test happen to believe in design, or not, or are even agnostic about it. The main ID proponents are professionals in the field, too; but the case can be made regardless of who is doing the tests.

Do the results point deductively toward design? At this time I’m inclined to say not. (Also, I have severe methodological problems with some of the procedures proposed for detecting design in this case, generally speaking.) Do they point inductively toward design? By some people’s reasonable inference, yes. Other people disagree. Since the question of design is not supposed to have been closed one way or another before going this route, it would not be legitimate to say that they cannot reasonably point toward design, any more than it would be legitimate to say that they cannot reasonably point toward mere accidental and non-intended results.

This is aside from mechanical problems (or concerns about them, let us say) at higher levels of the proposed process. Again, if you don’t know about those problems you haven’t been paying attention. (But again, it would be better to ask a specialist about them. My fortes lie elsewhere.)


{{You also avoided the question "so why would one teach it in a science class" by attacking forensic pathology.}}

I wasn’t attacking forensic pathology. I was pointing out (in rhetorical shorthand) that forensic pathology is definitely a science, and is definitely taught in science classes, and is definitely concerned with detecting (or ruling out) intelligent design as well; just on a different topical set. Multiple experts and practitioners in forensic pathology might come to different conclusions about whether an incident happened accidentally or by intentional design (and if the latter to what extent), but that doesn’t mean the guys in favor of ID for a forensic incident should be treated as though their inferences are laughable non-science in principle. (SETI is run on a scientific basis, too, or so I’ve heard. The science involved in the search can be taught and studied without subscribing either to the belief or even the hope that there is non-Terran life. Or while subscribing to that belief or hope, for that matter.)


{{What do you think should be thought about creation in the school?}}

I will suppose you meant ‘taught’, not ‘thought’.

If you’re talking about the science, and if you’re talking about a school where options are not considered to be closed one way or another as part of the school’s mandate, then I would recommend teaching the science without bias one way or another. Part of that means the program should acknowledge problems (where those currently exist), and should be accurate as to the scope and limitations of experiments that have been run. An informed teacher would be just as aware of places that (currently) make for difficulty in a non-design theory as of places that (currently) seem to work just fine without requiring design even in the setup.

It might be asking too much for teachers to not introduce their own conclusions about the material, pro or con: if they aren’t considered competent to have an informed inference themselves on the matter, then why were they hired to be teachers!? Fairness and respect to the opposition, though, in either direction can cover a lot of bases.


Speaking of fairness, or the lack thereof...

Steven: {{Bill didn't say anything about textbooks. The idea of textbooks in a science class is old-fashioned.}}

Way to completely ignore the contexts again there, Steven. Bill did say a lot of stuff which would more-or-less tend to involve not teaching ID on a general parity right now. Why would anyone need textbooks for not-teaching-ID-on-a-general-parity?

On the other hand, Bill hasn’t answered whether he really was advocating that textbooks be created for teaching ID (implying a parity be required in general education) after all.

JRP

"if you don’t know about those problems you haven’t been paying attention."
ID people seem to want to point problems in evolution, but are reluctant to put forward what they want to teach. When I ask "What are these tests that point towards the design?" I get vague answers or again problems about evolutions (like panspermia).

When I ask about what should be taught (thanks for correcting) in the school, I get answers like "both side of the story" or "fairness". There seems to be no substance in ID, nothing to teach. There is not two sides and if you want fairness you should also teach creation stories of other religions, but the Christians do not want that much fairness. Why?

Christians seem not to be worried about that we do not understand the gravity that well and they do not want to challenge that theory. But because of the Bible they need a creation/ID "controversy".

So to gain credibility, please put forward "what should be taught about ID in a class room?" and "what are the tests that ID people think point towards ID".

Peter,

{{ID people seem to want to point problems in evolution, but are reluctant to put forward what they want to teach.}}

sigh. That’s partly because I’m not a specialist in this area, and partly because the issues are extremely complicated. Also, as I said before, I have some methodological problems with many ID attempts, too. I assure you I could go into those in great detail; for example, I have a whole essay sitting around right now on why Dembski’s The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance Through Small Probabilities for the Cambridge Studies in Probability, Induction and Decision Theory series, has gaping problems for trying to apply it to a theistic design inference--an essay I could expand out rather further if I sat down and put my mind to it.

Also, this simply is not a priority for me on an apologetics journal. As I noted previously, I grew up staunchly believing in what might be called the settled infallibility of evolutionary theory (because that was what I was taught by my parents and teachers and practically all of the media I read and watched), without this being a problem for my Christianity in the slightest. Even now my parents not only strongly prefer b.e.t as the proper paradigm, but Dad can be openly derisive about people who even question it. On the other hand, my brother (who like me grew up believing in it monolithically) has recently decided to go fully off the horse on the other side and teach his baby daughter only young-earth creationism. And we’ve been strictly warned not to contravene that in the slightest.

So I have the whole range of positions in my immediate family. (Plus one of my uncles was an atheist who taught biology at the undergraduate and graduate level, often serving as the dean of a local University of Tennessee department.) Nevertheless, the only hot-button topical item I can think of that is lower down on my list of apologetic and theological priorities right now, is homosexuality. Which doesn’t mean I don’t have beliefs about it or never think about it theologically. There are just a lot of other things for me to be doing that fit better into my interests and strengths.

I’m sorry if that’s not very satisfying to you. But you’re asking “an ID supporter” who doesn’t in fact support ID to the extent you seem to think he does, what he would teach; and I’ve answered that already in principle: teach the data, so far as we know it, and try not to fudge it one way or another.

{{When I ask "What are these tests that point towards the design?" I get vague answers or again problems about evolutions (like panspermia).}}

That’s because design inferences are based on eliminating accident as a factor. Right now neo-Darwinian theory is entirely accident driven; and not by accident, either! (Irony intended. {g}) The synthesizers of NDT in the 1930s were trying their best to avoid even the slightest possibility of intentional action in evolutionary development.

Consequently, problems with how accidental copy-errors can build up effective complexity (or do much of anything else) trend toward intentional design as a conclusion instead by logical dichotomy. You needn't blame creationists for that; blame the NDT synthesizers who leaned so heavily on excluding intentional action in evolutionary development, at all costs.

Another factor is that much of the testing, when it does reveal effective processes at intercellular and intracellular levels, inadvertently adds to the time-constraint problem of accidental development, quite apart from mechanical problems involved with accidental development.

These issues are frequently slurred over in popular treatments of evolutionary theory. To give a once-popular example, Richard Dawkins back in TBW appealed to G. Ledyard Stebbins’ illustration of how long it would take a mouse-sized mammal to evolve up to elephant-size. Stebbins (per Mr. D’s report, page 242 of the 1996 edition of TBW) calculated that at his assumed very slow rate of evolution, it would take about 12,000 generations for the animals to evolve from an average weight of 40 grams to an average weight of over 6,000,000 grams. Assuming an average generation-time of 5 years (longer than a mouse but shorter than an elephant), that would only take 60,000 years.

What Mr. D (and apparently Stebbins) did not include in that estimate, however, was probability of getting a favorable mutation: a probability Mr. D had earlier generalized as 1 in a million. (No units given unfortunately, which is itself a problem, reflecting the huge number of factors involved.)

So, simplifying the problem in their favor by assuming that all the other dramatic differences between elephant and proto-mammal physiology could be done in only 12,000 effective generations of positive change; and not counting macro-environmental effects (which could just as easily be prohibitive as otherwise), or survival factors (the odds regarding a successful transfer of new DNA to a viable gene-pool replicator are actually a fraction of a fraction of a fraction, etc. etc., of whatever the chances are of getting a mutation); we will assume for purposes of their illustration that every chance mutation is a success at getting itself into the gene pool and contributes to the development to elephant size.

Washing out the pros and cons, 1:1,000,000 chance of successful mutation per generation (‘successful’ in the sense of ‘leading toward being an elephant’) is pretty conservatively generous (as well as a number that Mr. D himself was prone to use), and allows us to do some easy calculations. How many generations may we expect to take between mouse-sized proto-mammal and elephant-sized? On the average, it would be 12,000 (generational shifts) times 1,000,000 (odds per generation of getting a successful shift in that direction.) That’s 12 billion generations.

But a generation in the above example isn’t one year. It averages around five. According to the example data once probability is factored in (which wasn’t done), the change between proto-mammal and elephant would take, on the average, 60 billion years. And that’s in a highly favorable environmental setup: highly unrealistically favorable.

Whereas, on the other hand, paleozoology tells us we have only 100 million years at the outside (more or less) to evolve an elephant from a proto-mammal. And not only in size, either.

The probability problem was not only slurred over but outright omitted in order to try to convince readers that a 60,000 year alteration was feasible. That’s an irresponsible instruction tactic. It is, however, fairly normal as a tactic in basic instruction about the theory (which TBW was geared to be).


Another principle that is frequently slurred over (or omitted) in basic instruction about the theory, is this: if a protein is made from a newly randomized order of amino acids, chances are nearly certain the protein will do nothing at all (except waste resources that would have otherwise been spent doing what the prior amino acid sequence was generating proteins to do. Hopefully this functionality would not be missed!) Furthermore, in many (though not all) cases, something must already be in existence to be the receiver of the protein behavior.

Some proteins behave in ways that build such receiver-units, of course. The point is that even if a protein's order might do something, it usually needs a receptor already capable of receiving it to work. Otherwise it might as well be totally useless.

Thus, five levels of protein functionality-composition:

a.) the protein is totally useless in any possible situation;

b.) the protein would be used if there was a receptor, but there isn't one;

c.) a receptor exists which can receive the effect of the protein, but the use is harmful or effectively neutral;

d.) a receptor exists, which can usefully use the protein;

and

e.) the protein builds a receptor. (Perhaps this always results in a receptor that can usefully use a protein that does already exist, but I haven’t yet heard this for sure. If it doesn’t always result in this, then this adds proportionately to the ‘fail’ side of the options.)

The complexity (and restrictions) intensify when we consider that sometimes a road (so to speak) must already exist to get the protein to a receptor. And not always a simple road, either; the ‘road’ itself can often be significantly complex.


Aside from questions of original mutations accidentally creating DNA sequences which generate proteins that build receptors and/or roads; any subsequent random mutation in a DNA sequence becomes exponentially more improbable to generate useful (not even merely useable) proteins the more complex the organism already is.


Besides receptors and roads (the chemical paths between receptors and DNA), the relevant reactions also require 'catalyst' chemicals. In many cases: no catalysts, no reactions. Protein catalysts are called 'enzymes'.

Enzymes are terribly important in another way, too. They not only help certain chemical reactions to work, they also help speed them up to rates that are useful. All known enzymes speed up protein-receptor chemical reactions by a factor of at least a million. Factors of ten billion to a hundred trillion are not uncommon (i.e. a reaction that would normally take 3000 years happens in 1/1000th of a second.)

Enzymes are thus absolutely necessary for the other existant processes to work; thus adding yet another development-complexity factor--and adding yet another way in which an accidental copy error of the DNA in the chromosomes could (much more likely) mess something up (rather than adding functionality).

As I have been stressing, any addition to (existant) complexity not only adds development time constraints (especially when we consider that some extinct species already had biological and genetic systems virtually as complex as modern animals--subtract x-hundred million years for their development time). It also adds increased likelihood that a random mutation will result in something that runs against the existing system.

Granted, a system could be complex enough, in the correct ways, to be more tolerant to random copy errors. (Though mere toleration isn't the same as positive increase of effective complexity.) But this level and (even more importantly) type of complexity cannot be legitimately posited to already exist to offset the problems which must be overcome before such a system (on naturalistic evolutionary theories) does exist.

Also granted, any redundancy in DNA molecules might help overcome the demerits of a bad copy error (mutation); but accounting for the development of those redundancies themselves introduces more complexity (and tightens the time constrains for species development), even if it doesn't actually harm the organism. Which itself is somewhat questionable--a newly mutated creator-strand of protein 'x' will at least be taking up resources making that many more protein 'x's which could have been spent (with more overt profit to the organism) elsewhere. Any excess of those actually useful proteins (i.e. produced by conveniently redundant protein generator sequences in case a protein generator got scotched) might cause problems elsewhere, too. At the least, the proteins would have to be used elsewhere or disposed of or turned-off when not needed (and on when needed instead). All of this adds major levels of complexity, and increases the amount of time required to get a structure accidentally built that incorporates these features.

In order to prevent runaway reactions of exactly this sort within a cell (or elsewhere outside the cell), a cell must be able to turn an enzyme group (not only any redundant protein-generators available for supplying a lack in case of problems elsewhere) on or off. This adds another level of complexity to the system; and not merely in one or a few places, either--all the very many places which depend upon this particular complexity have to ‘evolve’ separately by accidental copy-error, under NDT. (A typical 'off' signal is generated by side-products of reactions which inhibit further enzyme behavior.)

On top of this, DNA molecules tend to have mechanisms for repairing strands when they become damaged. Aside from adding yet another important level of complexity (and time-constraint) to the system’s development, it also introduces one of (very many) roadblocks to acceptance and propagation of a mutated strand within a species gene pool: the repair processes are going to consider a mutation as ‘damage’, and try to fix it (or chunk it or whatever). The result is that it takes that-much-longer for a random copy error to become a prevalent viability within a species.

This is only the beginning of the intercellular issues involved. It doesn’t yet begin talking about intracellular issues; much less does it begin factoring in macro-environmental issues, the vast majority of which are geared (through natural selection as well as just flat accident) to eliminate mutations.

This is another barrier in the path for non-specialists trying to get a handle on the viability of the theory. One of the commonest things in the world, when reading proponent descriptions (and apologetics), is to hear that ‘natural selection’ builds up this or positively accomplishes that--especially that it builds up effective complexity. This makes it very difficult to get across to people the real position of the theory, which is that ‘natural selection’ does no such thing: it builds up nothing, it positively accomplishes nothing. It kills off less-adapted individuals (and thus to some extent whole species) a little faster than it kills off more-adapted individuals. In that sense, it’s like chemotherapy. {g}

But saying that (which is the actual biological truth of the matter) doesn’t make the theory look more viable; on the contrary, it highlights that the two driving forces of the theory (random accidental copy-error, and natural selection) run directly against each other. Moreover, it is fairly obvious (among people who study the topic) that random copy-error mutations don’t accomplish much (much less accomplish it very quickly in the history of a species); whereas natural selection works very well (and relatively very quickly) at choosing for genetic variants already present in a species. This leads to a temptation to mis-describe what is actually happening in natural selection, along the lines of effective creation of complexity (effective or otherwise!)--which the process simply cannot do. (I will reiterate that it is extremely difficult to get people to recognize this and keep it in mind; largely because popular descriptions of natural selection positively accomplishing something are so extremely prevalent. But those descriptions are also absolutely false.)

This is also why natural selection is recognized to contribute much more (or much more obviously anyway) to speciation, as fringe populations in different environmental circumstances are culled to a particular genetic shape which can (though not necessarily) become impervious to interbreeding with populations on the other fringe of the species’ range.

The first main problem with this as being an explanation for speciation generally, though, is that such a theory necessarily requires large numbers of currently existant mediant variants between the fringe populations, all of whom are more or less capable of interbreeding with one another and with the fringe populations. To say the least, this is not the reality of speciation, though: instead there are very few, if any, ‘link’ variants between known species. Moreover, those few are more likely to be sterile (and monosexual) than viable breeders themselves.

(I had a long discussion with someone about this factor a couple of years ago on Victor’s DangIdea site, which I’m sure must still be there somewhere but I couldn’t find it for you when I tried to search this morning. Sorry. The defendant pointed to an interesting article about mediant speciation, but as I noted in reply he didn’t seem to have read it very carefully himself, because it ended up saying something much different than he thought it did. He was reduced to calling me names, I’m afraid. {s} A different debate with Blue Devil Knight on some related issues can be found here though. It’s fairly brief by my standards, but touches on several issues--one notable result being that after BDK has to defend against a constraint-difficulty by introducing a different constraint-difficulty, he tries to back up to preliminary philosophical analysis. Which I’m rather more experienced at. {g!} I think I can say I was very fair across the board, though. Be warned that the formatting of my initial entry was lost when Victor posted it, making it more difficult to read; which BDK snarkily quips about.)


The second (and far more important) main problem with natural selection (through fringe population speciation or otherwise) being the primary contributor to speciation, is that it is absolutely worthless at building up the effective complexity in the first place. This was recognized back in the 30s when a cadre of interdisciplinary scientists formulated the neo-Darwinian synthesis: something was required that could positively introduce and build the required complexity, and at the time genetic mutations had been recently discovered. So (against Darwin himself, ironically, who had rejected this route) they went with genetic mutation. This was 20 years or so before Watson and Crick demonstrated the form of DNA, the complexity of which (even at the time) threw the main NDT proponents into what could be called damage-control. (Ronald Fisher, one of NDT’s original synthesizers, adamantly demonstrated that gradual mutations simply would not have time enough to establish themselves in populations--that is, the population inertia would tend to eliminate gradual mutations so often that it would take too much geological time for the occasional success to build up DNA-level complexity. That was back in the 50s and 60s; we’ve only discovered more complexity since then. Fisher’s figures are still de riguer in the field, I think; and he himself expected that helpful mutations would happen so often that this would overcome the problem with gradualism. We’ve learned more about that, too, since then. And not in favor of that expectation.)

So, there’s eight pages of discussion for you. Which I could expand greatly upon if I had the time and inclination, which (as I said) I do not.

We know there are many serious problems at many different levels for a theory of accidental development; whereas, on the other hand, we also know from many experiments (dating back thousands of years, in effect!) that natural selection works even better (by several exponential factors) when it’s intentionally directed, and (from experiments in the past 100 years or so) mutation potentially does, too--if the mutation is implemented by an intentional agent who understands the system. The system is such that it is highly resistant, at many levels, to accidental development (even where this is not strictly impossible); but is just as highly receptive to intentional development, gradual or otherwise.

That’s a key reason why ID proponents promote intelligent design. (But, keep in mind that I am also strongly critical of a lot of ID work, too.)


{{if you want fairness you should also teach creation stories of other religions, but the Christians do not want that much fairness. Why?}}

Actually, American schools do often teach creation stories of other religions, when we’re talking about that kind of topic. It’s part of a normal curriculum of world history including the development of western civilization; and in my experience it is typically done very respectfully and appreciatively. I had books from back near my first reading years, telling creation stories from other religions. But perhaps this is not normal in Scandanavian countries. (We tend to learn, in passing, about Norse religions, by the way; and more material is readily available for choice of study, if we’re interested. Heck, one of the most popular comic-book characters is Thor. {g} I know of a large population of geeks who are hyper about the scripts being turned in for a forthcoming Thor movie, and they want the mythological elements to be respected and honored. Me, too--it ought to be mind-blowingly kewl. {g!})

There is no point talking about a creation story in a biology class (per se), however, except perhaps as a curious aside. No one among the IDers (per se), so far as I know, is advocating such a thing either. The YEC types are a somewhat different case. Despite some obvious topical overlaps, it’s important not to confuse them.

{{Christians seem not to be worried about that we do not understand the gravity that well and they do not want to challenge that theory.}}

Gravitational theory (at this time) doesn’t have quite the same level and number of problems that NDT has (at this time).

Also, atheists are not hanging their own position heavily on gravitational theory so far as I know, and working hard to promote gravitational theory for purposes of atheistic apologetics. Atheists are the ones who introduced the challenge in this case, historically, and latched onto it originally for their own purposes. The whole point to synthesizing neo-Darwinian Theory, back in the 30s, was to defend against evidence piling up that accidental non-intention wasn’t sufficient for evolution to work. They could have chosen to promote research along Darwin’s own suggestion of the environmental induction of hereditable variation (distinct from the inheritance of acquired characteristics, aka Lamarckism, for which there was experimental disconfirmation); but they didn’t, and chose absolutely accidental copy-error mutations instead, against Darwin’s own rejection of this. This choice of promoting not only a research path but a theory as settled paradigm, wasn’t due to solid experimental evidence; we had only just discovered genetics, and hadn’t even discovered DNA yet. It was because they understood (as modern apologists like Dawkins also make a point of emphasizing) that environmental induction of hereditable variation would ultimately end up pointing to some kind of intentional design again (as the cultural resurgence of vitalism had recently demonstrated) and they were ideologically insistent on closing that off.

When atheists stop using biological evolutionary theory as an apologetic tool in popular and educational culture, then your complaint about Christians “needing” a “creation/ID ‘controversy’” will hold more water as a complaint. As it is, the holes in the theory are ones being found by scholars working piecemeal in the field who are nominally (or even aggressively) in favor of the biological theory, not infrequently due to ideological necessities of their own. Christianity has shown from the 19th century onward that it can survive just fine with evolution--some of the strongest proponents (including especially here in America) were Christians, and aside from a minority subculture who think a reading of Genesis is substantially threatened by evolution Christians today have shown that we’re still just fine with the theory in principle. What we don’t appreciate is sloppy mis-education on how solid the theory is, esepecially when it’s promoted by people who have a whole lot more at stake ideologically on the theory (pro or con) than most of us Christians do.

After all, I don’t need evolution or non-evolution either one to be an intellectually satisfied Christian. All (and I mean all) the modern Christian teachers and authors I’ve found most helpful in my religious life, were either entirely accepting of evolution or were willing to respectfully and provisionally accept it despite problems in the biology. Nor, as it happens, do I remotely need to nix evolution in order to disbelieve atheism.

Nevertheless, without completely accidental non-directed evolution--what happens to atheism?

If you're going to be suspicious of ideological pressure to comply (which is reasonable), I recommend being first and more suspicious about the side that has everything to lose on this topic.

JRP

Jason Pratt said...

"Depends on what counts as peer-reviewed research."

Well, that would be research which has been published in a recognized journal after the same rigorous examination by competent experts that any legitimate research must withstand.

Instead of working on producing that kind of support for their position the IDers seem to be focused on fighting political battles. That's not how science advances in the real world...

Herm,

{{Well, that would be research which has been published in a recognized journal after the same rigorous examination by competent experts that any legitimate research must withstand.}}

My understanding is that the main ID proponents do in fact engage in that kind of research; and also serve as peer referees in journals. (Until they are kicked out for having ID preferences perhaps. {s}) As noted, much of the research and experimentation is done at a level that, in itself, is not terribly controversial. The controversy is in the larger scale interpretation of the common pool of data.

This is probably why the Discovery Institute (to pull the name of the largest blok of ID supporters from a hat) has not seen a need to create a journal specifically set up for 'ID' experimentation and research. That would instantly introduce heightened levels of ideological scrutiny, in a field where people are already hair-triggered to reactively dismiss anything that whiffs of ID. It's safer to work in the mainstream where (nominally anyway) an experiment can be published as is, and examined as is, without immediately trying to assess its relevancy to the ID/non-ID debate. That assessment can then be made by either party at a higher strategic level, somewhat independently of the research forums. Which of course is exactly what both groups (not just the IDers) routinely do: draw on the common pool of research and experimentation for interpretation.

{{Instead of working on producing that kind of support for their position the IDers seem to be focused on fighting political battles.}}

That's a little misleading, but it would naturally seem that way: political battles are the most public way of getting the issues to the front. I think far more time than that is spent on writing books, articles, doing conferences and so forth (indeed I've seen complaints to the effect that more time is spent doing this than contributing to the research pool anymore, which complaint I find to be exceedingly more plausible); but this isn't as attention-getting.

On the other hand, the political battles (which are relatively few) do also serve to let off some steam by IDers who are frustrated with institutional efforts to prevent alternate interpretation of the data, even when that interpretation is based on the same shared data pool that everyone in the field is contributing to.

That being said, I do wish they'd stay out of the political arena. I don't like it when cases of this kind are brought into that sphere, even though I realize they must feel like their opposition has already taken the political ground and is exercising undue restriction from that position.

Frankly, though, I think that perception is extremely debatable. The cultural pressures involved are substantial but are not, in my own estimation, largely political. On the other hand, I'm also admittedly not greatly interested in the topic. {g} If I bothered to dwell on it as a primary interest, I might discover there was an entrenched political force to be countered at the political level after all; whereas instead I think the proponents are more often using the political venue to do end-runs around the entrenched educational position.

All I can say is that from my current position (such as it is) the case for trying political action looks untenable--in the United States at least. (I'm even less concerned with the political situations of other countries, though objectively I recognize that their situations may be much different. The political dimensions, if any, are simply outside my scope of interest, not to say competency. {shrug})

JRP

A hermit,

I agree with Jason P. that the peer reviewed work exists as the result of ID people reviewing each other's work. On the larger scale, you have the problem of the fact that scientists are largely afraid of standing up against the pro-evolution viewpoint. This really does exist -- I know scientists who support ID who will not do so publicly (and no, I will not identify them here - I will not out them - so if you want to doubt me, go ahead, but it is still true). Thus, the problem with getting out peer reviewed articles is that the people who control the discussion in the larger scientific community will not accept the idea and those who support it are afraid to do so because they are afraid of the consequences in their profession from standing up to the status quo.

The people who support ID have had to bring it public because those in control of the scientific establishment are too close-minded to consider the possibility. And yes, that is how science works in the real world . . .

Steven,

Hang it up. You simply don't have the ability to understand this stuff.

{{I agree with Jason P. that the peer reviewed work exists as the result of ID people reviewing each other's work.}}

Incidentally, my point was broader than that: IDers and non-IDers in fact peer review each other's work all the time in the main journals, where the role of the picrotoxinin receptor in the central nervous system of the American cockroach, or the cellular assay of the retina and dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus of the Spanish wildcat and the domestic cat, or whatever, can be discussed and evaluated at the level of the immediate data, before one or another side goes on to try to make larger-scale claims about what the data does or does not imply. Articles are rarely labeled (or even intended for discussion) along the lines of "Morphological stasis and developmental constraint: real problems for neo-Darwinism," though those do occasionally show up, too. (In that case, I suspect the author was actually trying to suggest punctuated equilibrium as a primary method of speciation within 'orthodox' NDT. But titling the paper like that would have certainly got attention, whether he ultimately wanted the kind of attention he got or not. {g})

JRP

BK said "My understanding is that the main ID proponents do in fact engage in that kind of research; and also serve as peer referees in journals...."

But they can't seem to produce any such research that actually supports their position. Why is that?

And don't tel me it's because they're being censored or kicked off review panels by the "EVILutionists" or some such nonsense; I don't have much patience with conspiracy theories...

Herm,

Actually, I (Jason) was the one who wrote, “My understanding is that the main ID proponents do in fact engage in that kind of research; and also serve as peer referees in journals...”

Bill sort of agreed, but I mentioned afterward that my point was much broader than what he was agreeing about.

Consequently, I don’t know to whom you’re asking your question:

{{But they can't seem to produce any such research that actually supports their position. Why is that?}}

I already answered this at length, both in the comment from which you quoted and in my followup comment to Bill. Did you not read the comment you quoted from?--not understand the comment's content?--thought my answer was incorrect? Or are you asking Bill the question after all (more-or-less ignoring my own answer) because you’re curious about what he would say instead?

{{And don't tel me it's because they're being censored or kicked off review panels by the "EVILutionists" or some such nonsense}}

That kind of thing does in fact happen--it’s far from being a conspiracy theory; on the contrary it's exactly in line with what popular apologists for evolution routinely publicly advocate--but for what it’s worth my own answer mainly ignores it.

One might have thought that not remotely making this a primary issue (more like one minor quip as an aside), would be an advantage to my answer, then... {shrug?}

JRP

As a followup: in hindsight I did mention dissension from stress more than once in my answer. But I don't consider that to be the main answer, so it didn't occur to me that I had even mentioned it more than once. {s}

So, to clarify again: the ID proponents do in fact participate in peer review journals both as contributors and even as peer reviewers themselves. But that kind of participation doesn't make headlines, because the debates involved are highly technical and focus on the immediate experiments at hand rather than on how the results should be interpreted at the larger scale. What gets the media and public attention, pro and con (and part of my point is that the proponents for completely accidental non-directed evolution also do this), is the larger-scale syntheses about what these experimental results from the common data pool (contributed to by both IDers and non-IDers) imply.

This procedure keeps the peer-review forums somewhat insulated from the bickering being done at more public levels. I suspect what gets some IDers in trouble and kicked off peer review boards, is their insistence on trying to make larger scale evaluations of experiments in the more immediately focused forums; that would be considered improper behavior.

Setting up a peer-review journal specifically for ID sounds nominal, at first--I was a critic for a long time myself on why they wouldn't do it--but it would either instantly be considered a kangaroo court if they only included IDers on the peer review board, or else it would instantly introduce (and outright encourage) strong partisanship in the evaluations--the kind of partisanship the other review journals are supposed to be trying to avoid because it's difficult to get an sober assessment of the data in the middle of that kind of environment.

In the long run, it's better for everyone to be working together on a common pool of data in an immediately non-partisan way, and then any side can do what they think is best with the data as it comes in. Which in fact is exactly what happens. The unavoidable result, however, is that it looks like ID proponents aren't doing anything particularly IDish in 'peer review journals'.

JRP

"So, to clarify again: the ID proponents do in fact participate in peer review journals both as contributors and even as peer reviewers themselves."

But not specifically on the subject of ID...

Herm,

{{But not specifically on the subject of ID...}}

No; they usually save that for books, articles, lectures, debates, etc. As I said before, but will emphasize this time (because you don’t seem to have read or understood it), non-IDers generally do, too. That’s how the system is set up to operate, and there are good reasons for it.

As I’m pretty sure you’re aware, the books, articles, lectures, debates, etc. (whether from IDers or non-IDers) don’t get off scot-free from peer review themselves (to say the least {wry g})--but the publishing venue is different at that level, so the ‘peer review’ occurs in a very different fashion.

The operational distinction is there for an important reason: the topics in the experimental journals are about immediate mechanical issues and population studies and that sort of thing, which are difficult enough to discuss without introducing partisanship about what the data means at the larger scale. The larger scale issues, pro or con, are supposed to be debated outside the experimental journals using the common pool of data. Which is precisely what happens, on all sides of the issue.

Strictly speaking there isn’t supposed to be any non-ID work (in the topical sense you’re talking about) going on in the experimental journals, either. But obviously that doesn’t stop non-ID proponents from appealing to the common pool of data for their conclusions. Nor is there anything (in principle) wrong with that process.

Of course, if non-IDers take advantage of their (current) majority to abuse the purpose of the experimental forums, they’re more likely to get away with it. Whereas, on the other hand, if an IDer tries to inject that level of debate into peer review of the experimental journal, he or she is more likely to be flamed for doing so. If the proportions were the other way around, the same situation would apply in reverse.

The current result, though, is that people get a sort of pop-mythical notion that the experimental journals themselves are set up to run non-ID ‘experiments’ per se, and so hey why aren’t the IDers doing that, huh, huh?! It must be because they sux! {eye rolling} It’s irresponsible for non-ID apologists to feed this pop-myth by the way. But that happens, too.

JRP

People do ask Why can't I see evolution happnening? and Why does the fossil record have gaps?

The Stebbins mouse-size-to-elephant-size thought experiment demonstrates, in about the simplest possible way, that a single rate of evolution can be, at once, both too slow to measure over a human lifetime and too fast to resolve in the fossil record. To critique it for doing no more than that makes no sense to me.

Ron,

{{The Stebbins mouse-size-to-elephant-size thought experiment demonstrates, in about the simplest possible way, that a single rate of evolution can be, at once, both too slow to measure over a human lifetime and too fast to resolve in the fossil record.}}

Is that a single rate of evolution at realistic speeds or at unrealistic speeds? Because eliminating the probability factors (or tacitly factoring in unrealistic ones) would allow the example to proceed at an unrealistic speed--which would rather blow its usefulness for illustrating how the actual evolutionary process being proposed under NDT can be too fast to resolve in the fossil record.

I critique it on the grounds I said I critiqued it on: in order to look plausible as an illustration for what Mr. D wants to defend, he has to salt the illustration. Frankly there are better defenses for why we can’t see evolution happening (and his illustration was supposed to hold good for several thousand years of cultural observation, by the way--which it clearly wouldn’t) and why the fossil record has gaps (one good reason being that, as Mr. D put it, it’s a higgledy-piggledy jumble. {s})

I do appreciate your comment, though; you're right (in principle) about the necessity of being careful to critique an illustration within the limited contexts intended for the illustration. Opponents of NDT are just as liable to make that mistake as anyone else.

JRP

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