Monday, April 14, 2008

Protocals

Given their recent posts, I will not respond on the blog to anything by Stockwell or Sir Fab on ID. They are simply going over old ground: How can most biologists be wrong? (2) You are not a scientist, so shut up. If they want to actually deal with the empirical evidence for ID, then I will re-engage, but not before. The first is the ad populum fallacy; the second the is ad hominem fallacy. Both avoid the empirical arguments and forms of reasoning.

I have publications coming out in both Think and Perspectives on Science and Christianity defending ID. These are peer review journals. I cannot waste time with pointless distractions on this blog.

40 comments:

Sirfab said...

You see the speck in my eye, but not the beam in your own. Just the other day you attacked Dawkins's book as a sham (which had nothing to do with the point I had made about Colson's article), after you had just written that *all* preemptive attacks on Expelled where false. There is probably some Latin expression to describe what you did. You are the educated, peer-reviewed philosopher, you will certainly find it.

You misinterpret my argument: it is not "how can most scientists be wrong?" It is "how could it be that there is hardly any peer-reviewed research in support of ID, and even that has been debunked?" Your answer is that ID scientists are persecuted. Mine is that some are paid charlatans; some are sincere but misguided; and some are just bad scientists. Hopefully there will be a couple who will have something genuinely intelligent to contribute to the field of evolutionary biology.

Finally, I have given you ample examples, both on your blog and mine, of articles that point out the dishonesty of the makers of Expelled, and the well reasoned critiques of scientists who explain why Intelligent Design falls short as a scientific theory, why there is no real controversy about the theory of evolution, and why the supposed irreducible complexity of the bacterial flagellum is a myth.

I never told you to shut up. You can continue to write and preach to the choir, as you do. Perhaps what I should have said was that I find it truly arrogant for a philosopher to dismiss the research and scientific knowledge accumulated by generations of concurring biology.

I am not your peer, but you are not an evolutionary biologist's peer either.

Best,

Sirfab said...

As for engaging the evidence for ID, I am glad to. (Actually, it's evidence against evidence for ID, but it's a start.)

Here is one article.
Here is another.
And here is another one. This one is interesting because it has a brief treatment of non-coding DNA, a.k.a., junk DNA, which I personally find quite a compelling argument against an intelligent designer. I can live with junk code from Microsoft (it annoys me and makes my life miserable), but from the omniscient and omnipotent designer and creator of the universe? Or was he designing junk into life to make life more frustrating for scientists and rewarding for you and Michael Behe? Or, perhaps, we are just to ignorant the function of non-coding/junk DNA, and we should be thankful for the Discovery Institute, who would unravel the mistery for us if only academia hadn't ganged up on creationists to suppress the truth.
(For another, longer treatment of non-coding DNA, see this.)

I could post many more, but these articles are long enough, and will take you and your readers time to go through.

Perhaps you will not consider this a legitimate effort at empirical argument, or at dealing with the empirical evidence for ID. I think it qualifies. Please explain why it doesn't.

I also hope, when you have finished working on the articles for the two peer-reviewed publications, that you will find the time to explain why or how the content of the articles is incorrect.

Peter Malik said...

"You see the speck in my eye, but not the beam in your own." - Are you putting yourself into a position of Jesus Christ to pronounce such a statement? Check the context of the verse - and see what you've just said.

Sirfab said...

Oh, I am sorry Peter: blasphemy! Forgive me, as an atheist I intended no harm. I just meant to highlight the fact that Dr. Groothuis was equally quick in chastising my alleged error as he was in forgetting his own. Does that work better for you?

Now can we go back to the discussion we were having, or does my faux pas automatically disqualifies my argument?

Peter Malik said...

should I respond to an "ad hominem" statement? I don't know who you truly are, I just pointed out some improper behaviour, for which you've been known around. That's it.

Sirfab said...

What ad hominem statement are you referring, to? What improper behavior? I am just calling it as I see it. Double-standards irk me, what can I say? If that makes me known for improper behavior, so be it. (And would you mind qualifying your statement, praytell?)

Jake said...

I'm not going to get into the ID debate, but seriously Peter - give me a break. Applying something Jesus said to a situation is clearly not putting oneself "in the position of Jesus Christ." Seriously - how exactly do you apply any of Jesus' teachings with such logic?

Sirfab said...

I truly like Christians like Jake (a pastor, I believe, whom I have never had the pleasure to meet in person), and my wife.

I forgive Dr. Groothuis when he is a little harsh, because I do try his patience, and he keeps his cool and strives to act charitably.

But even as a lapsed Catholic, now an atheist, I seem to remember something about Jesus said to Pharisees. I am afraid to quote it here, though, lest Peter should lash out. And I will never, ever quote the Sermon on the Mount when Peter's around, lest I should be called to order for putting myself in the position of Jesus (all I have in common with him is long hair).

Perhaps if he lovingly pointed out the improper behavior for which I am known around, I could try and correct it and be a better person.

Peter Malik said...

Jake, please do not make generalization of my statement, which was directly pointing towards one, badly used, text. That was it. I don't want to get into a hermeneutical debate here, since the post's theme does not suggest so. If desired, write me an email.
God bless.

Jeff Burton said...

Sirfab - I'll respond to your article links. As to the one on the bacterial flagellum: any non-specialist can spot the glaring hole in his argument. Just because part of an irredicibly complex structure has an independent function does not mean the original structure is not irreducibly complex. With respect to "junk DNA," the term is a misnomer. It is applied in ignorance of function. Just because they don't code for proteins does not mean they have no function. Less hubristic scientists are witholding judgment until they learn more. There are anomolies (such as high fidelity conservation of non-coding sequences) that are yet to be explained.

Sirfab said...

Jeff:

"any non-specialist can spot the glaring hole in his argument. Just because part of an irredicibly complex structure has an independent function does not mean the original structure is not irreducibly complex."

Talking about glaring holes that any non-specialist can spot in an argument, how about this one in your argument: You are working backwards. Your premise is that there is such a thing as an irreducibly complex "original structure". Evolution disagrees with that. Evolutionary biologists have looked at things which creationists have called irreducibly complex, and have determined that they are not so, that they are quite likely to have evolved, or that it is quite certainly so. (Remember Jeff: a scientific theory must be testable, predictive, falsifiable. It is not whatever Creationists say it is.)

You are starting from the premise that there is no such thing as an eye which is not irreducibly complex, even though some of its parts may have different functions.
Evolutionary biologists have explained that half an eye is better than no eye, 1/4 still has some function, and so fort. Evolution works onward, not backward, as in your assumption.

As for non-coding v junk DNA, that is exactly the argument that the article on Panda's Thumb clarifies. Read it again.

Regardless, there are several examples of pieces of genetic code which seem to no longer have a function, which corroborates everything evolutionary biologist have proposed.

I wonder if this discussion now qualifies as dealing with empirical evidence.

Fletcher said...

Would you guys agree that a degree of faith is required to be a pure naturalist in regards to origins?

What I mean is, do you think that believing that vastly complex information (DNA)and processes (cellular replication for one) somehow evolved from inorganic noninformation, and this happened by random chance with no intention or purpose, with no design whatsoever... requires faith? How do you get organic material from inorganic material? The best scientistic response I have heard is "We don't know, but maybe we will some day." That's not such a good answer in my view. Others include the multiverse theory, life came from somewhere else in the universe, etc. Even with these, you keep going back: Where did THAT stuff come from? Then you run into the infinite regress/contingency problem.

I find abiogenesis very hard to believe myself, and I find that it requires much more faith than believing in an Intelligent Designer. So what if science cannot empirically prove an ID'er?

Science is limited in its ability to explain all things that are true. Not all answers and truths are found within OUR construct of science, and we all know that there are many things about the universe that are TRUE that science will probably never be able to prove empirically. BUT, that doesn't mean that there aren't strong arguments in their favor that offer the best possible explanation.

It is of course possible that there is an Intelligence that designed the universe, intelligent life, etc. To rule this out of the pool of possibilities is ridiculous.

So let me ask this: If there were an ID'er, what evidence would indicate this? What would you accept as reasonable observations where you would grant an "ID Believer" to have good reason to believe in ID?

lorettas said...

Though I have often seen my fellow Christians attempting to practice the Lord's "righteous anger" in responding to posts of non believers like my husband, Fab, I have not seen enough responses which seemed to attempt to engage them in a kind or loving way.. True this blog is about the culture at large and not evangelism per se, but are we not to be like the City on the Hill and as such salt to an unbelieving world? As a Christian, I challenge some participants of this blog to rethink the manner in which they engage those who stumble upon this blog. It is an opportunity, not an inconvenience. Some of you might remember this example of how not to engage someone whose views differ from yours: "Your unargued gut reaction isn't really of interest to readers of Doug's blog. I see you have one of your own; you might post them there." I was heartbroken when I read that one - that these are the Christians in whose hands I had hoped he'd have been safe, being that participants would likely be well educated and likely true lovers of Christ. We have all been outside of the flock at some point. Thankfully it was Christ, and not ourselves who was the gatekeeper.

Peter, though my husband was using the Bible in this instance to advance his own arguments, instead of atomizing his use or misuse - I might have used this as an opportunity to engage him in a conversation of Scripture or Jesus. I might have said, "I notice that you are quoting Jesus - are there other verses from the Bible you have found helpful or relevant to your life?" Or, "What do you think about that scripture you refer to?" Do we tap the hand of a child attempting to write the first time if he gets it wrong? In this case, he was using it correctly. But that is definitely not the point.

Christ said, "For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened ." You never really know who it is you are talking to in a forum like this. In this case, it is a fellow Christian's not as yet believing husband. Please don't lose the larger picture when making your replies. Thanks.

Sirfab said...

Fletcher:

My wife, also a Christian, makes your same argument on the limits of science. She, too, says "Science is limited in its ability to explain all things that are true." But that is precisely why science has worked so well to explain *natural* phenomena: because it limits the scope of its research to what is observable, unifiable (as a theory), testable, repeatable, and, especially, falsifiable. Intelligent design is, by definition, unfalsifiable because contrary to what belief in God is a matter of faith. Dr. Groothuis will tell us that there is ample reason to believe that God exists, and will bring forth many rational arguments in support of that. They may be rational, from a philosophical point of view, but that does not make them scientific.

Does this mean that a divine designer is impossible? No, much like an extraterrestrial designer is not. But that does not mean that science has to assume design when design is, in fact, superfluous to explain a natural phenomenon. If a designer is not a necessary explanation for a phenomenon observable in nature, why introduce one? The law of gravity does not need a designer, but you are free to believe that things drop from a height because angels push them down if you want, or because a designer designed the law in the first place. That is an entirely unnecessary exercise from a scientific point of view.

Also, keep in mind that the origin of life and the theory evolution are to separate, though not entirely distinct, disciplines.

I do not expect to convince you to see things my way, much as I have been unable to convince my wife, so far.

Sirfab said...

By the way, Fletcher: I realized that I have not replied to your closing question:

What would you accept as reasonable observations where you would grant an "ID Believer" to have good reason to believe in ID?

That is an impossible question to answer. Here is why.

One way you could answer your question is this: if you can find something in nature that is genuinely impossible to explain in naturalistic terms, you may be one to something. Unfortunately for Creationists, things which have been submitted to the scientific community as irreducibly complex have been found not to be on closer analysis.

But even if you found something that seems impossible to answer at one point in the history of science, that does not mean that the answer is not forthcoming once science (and technology) have advanced to a stage which allows for a natural explanation of a previously seemingly inexplicable phenomenon. The examples of such developments are too obvious and numerous to mention.

So the answer, from a secular point of view, is that nothing, or close to nothing, could be accepted "as reasonable observations where you would grant an 'ID Believer' to have good reason to believe in ID." Or, better yet, you are free to continue to explore ID alternatives to scientific explanation, but that if you want to claim scientific acceptance you have to do it within the rules of the scientific game. I am sorry, I don't see any other way. Perhaps it is my limited intellect or my lack of faith, but to me this issue is really black and white. There are no gray areas, at least for now. (And in this respect, I might have a less charitable and scientific attitude than many of the scientists who have to deal with Creationists).

Attempts to make me see the other (Creationst) side of the argument through already debunked arguments are no more effective than the arguments of those who try to convince me that The Secret is the key to receiving what you want in life.

Sirfab said...

One more thing, Fletcher?

What do you think a scientist should accept "as reasonable observations where you would grant an "ID Believer" to have good reason to believe in ID?"

John Stockwell said...

Dr. Groothuis wrote:
Given their recent posts, I will not respond on the blog to anything by Stockwell or Sir Fab on ID. They are simply going over old ground: How can most biologists be wrong? (2) You are not a scientist, so shut up. If they want to actually deal with the empirical evidence for ID, then I will re-engage, but not before. The first is the ad populum fallacy; the second the is ad hominem fallacy. Both avoid the empirical arguments and forms of reasoning.


Really? I have been looking through
my old posts, and have not once seen a
place where I have attempted to
make either of these arguments that
Dr. Groothuis is acusing me of making.

Nor have I seen a
single post where Dr. Groothuis, himself, has
tried to actually discuss the "empricial
evidence for ID", whatever that may
be.

What I have seen is a lot of ignorance on the part of Dr. Groothuis and his Peanut gallery as to what science is about. What I don't see is any evidence
of critical thinking by the ID supporters regarding ID.

I mean, really, aren't the ID supporter here just a bit curious as to why
ID, after all of these years, has not
caught the interest of any significant
number of members of the mainstream
scientific community? After all, if
ID is so good, then it should be
something that everybody would want,
right?

Tom said...

Doug,

I don’t know if you are reading this thread, but here is what I take to be a general, albeit undoubtedly simplistic, version of Behe’s argument and of Miller’s response to it.

Behe’s argument
1. Suppose a biological system (mechanism, what-have-you) S has a function F in virtue of having parts 1-10.
2. Suppose that there is no combination of nine of the ten parts of S that will get you F or even any degree of F that would have even the slightest positive value for natural selection.
3. An evolutionary explanation for a system’s having a function must be an explanation according to which “numerous, successive, slight modifications,” each of which provides a selective advantage, explains the system’s having that function.
4. But because of (2), there can be no such explanation for S’s having F (since no combination of 9 of the 10 components relevant to S’s having F will produce any F-like selective advantage at all).
5. Therefore, there can be no evolutionary explanation for S’s having F.

Here’s what I take Miller’s response to be: step (4) is false. From the fact that no combination of nine of the ten parts will make S have F or even any weaker F-like function that has a selective advantage, it doesn’t follow that there is no other function, G, that those components might produce that would evolutionary advantageous. And, indeed, in the case of flagellum, biologists have discovered such a G. And even if they had not, Behe’s argument really reduces only to an argument from ignorance: we’ve not yet found a function that various combinations of 1-9 might have that is advantageous, but the nature of science is to, eventually, stamp out such ignorance.

This seems like a pretty good response to me. What say you? (And Fab, do you think I've got the argument and response roughly right?)

John Stockwell said...

Fletcher wrote:

Would you guys agree that a degree of faith is required to be a pure naturalist in regards to origins?


The term "pure naturalist" does not
exist in scientific terminology, so
this is a clue that you are
constructing a strawman for further
demolition.


What I mean is, do you think that believing that vastly complex information (DNA)and processes (cellular replication for one) somehow evolved from inorganic noninformation, and this happened by random chance with no intention or purpose, with no design whatsoever... requires faith? How do you get organic material from inorganic material?


No. Not at all. Any nonlinear system
that is chaotic effectively creates
the kind of "information" that you
are talking about. A simple example
is the dripping of a faucet. If you
listen to sound made by a dripping
faucet, you will notice that it has
a musical quality. It is not simply
periodic, but quasi-periodic,
the spacing of the drips never being
exactly repeated. Now, is that the
result of an external intelligence?
Is there a ghost of the faucet?

I
dont' think that we have to invoke
a designer of the drips, just as
we do not have to invoke a designer
of any other complex phenomenon.




The best scientistic response I have heard is "We don't know, but maybe we will some day." That's not such a good answer in my view. Others include the multiverse theory, life came from somewhere else in the universe, etc. Even with these, you keep going back: Where did THAT stuff come from? Then you run into the infinite regress/contingency problem.


What, you want religion? Then go
to church. Science does not promise
to deliver ultimate answers to ultimate
questions. Science deals with the
questions it *can* answer. Science
works by the honesty of its members.
And yes one good honest "we don't know"
is far superior to any philosophically
comforting, but scientifically unsupported scenario.



I find abiogenesis very hard to believe myself, and I find that it requires much more faith than believing in an Intelligent Designer. So what if science cannot empirically prove an ID'er?
\

Argument from personal incredulity?
How about an intelligent designer who
builds the laws of chemistry so that
abiogenesis happens? Guess we are
on the same side here, huh Fletch?


Science is limited in its ability to explain all things that are true. Not all answers and truths are found within OUR construct of science, and we all know that there are many things about the universe that are TRUE that science will probably never be able to prove empirically. BUT, that doesn't mean that there aren't strong arguments in their favor that offer the best possible explanation.


Science isn't largely about "explaining"
phenomena, but about describing and
modeling phenomena.


It is of course possible that there is an Intelligence that designed the universe, intelligent life, etc. To rule this out of the pool of possibilities is ridiculous.


So let me ask this: If there were an ID'er, what evidence would indicate this? What would you accept as reasonable observations where you would grant an "ID Believer" to have good reason to believe in ID?


If ID were a science, it would be
able to generate the testable hypotheses
that you are asking us for. You have
to direct your question to Behe,
Dembski, etc... as to why they haven't
delivered a scientific theory of the
designer that would do this. It
is the failure of ID as a science
that makes your question impossible to
answer.

Sirfab said...

Tom: honestly, I think you did a much better job in condensing Miller's response than I could ever have.

My sincere thanks.

Yossman said...

Fab:

First I want to commend you for your passionate rebuttals and willingness to continue the debate on ID.

I myself know way too little on the subject of ID to say anything useful, but I still would like to make a few remarks.

I think the debate as you and your opponents are conducting it is ending more or less in a stalemate. The ID camp doesn't seem to be able to convince you and you seem to be unable to impress the ID camp. You do however refer to the rational arguments that Groothuis gives for the existence for God. There is something like the cummulative weight or impact of all the arguments for Gods existence combined together.

I for one am totally convinced of God's existence. First of all experientially. I have encountered Him early in my youth and have experienced His guiding Hand in my life. Secondly I was able to shed all (well, most) doubt when I read Francis Schaeffer 23 years ago who gave me solid rational reasons for the existence of God. Recently, through the work of Groothuis and others like W.L. Craig and J.P. Moreland the arguments for the existence of God are quite, well, overwhelming.

If the ID argument doesn't do it for you, you might turn you attention to the moral argument or the cosmological argument (esp. the Kalam variant). It's the cumulative effect of all these arguments that should start you thinking.

I find your definition or use of the word science (or scientific) quite narrow. In German for instance the word 'wissenschaft' denotes any professional, specialist, intellectual activity done at universities or on behalf of them. ID definitely falls into that category of 'wissenschaft' (as do philosophy and theology). Personally, I am more impressed with the philosophical arguments than any 'scientific' arguments. There are always new scientific data that necessitate reinterpretation and reformulation of theories. The philosophical arguments should help you on the ID issue. It can't be that difficult.

In the end we need to realize that whatever point of view or conviction we hold, we are always doing so committed to a particular worldview. In other words, belief about 'how the world turns'. And it can be very very tough to exchange such beliefs for other ones even when the evidence looms large.

David said...

Tom,

It's very likely that I'm misunderstanding both Behe's argument and Miller's response to it. But I do have a question: is Miller's argument saying anything more than that it's *possible* there is some combination of component parts 1-9 that could produce some advantageous function, G?

While that may not be an argument from silence, it's not exactly an altogether strong argument either. On the other hand, if the only goal is to suggest that the ID-conclusion might be false, then I doubt many scientific hypotheses could escape similar criticism.

It amounts to the claim that while science currently has no reasonable explanation for some fact or state of affairs, most surely it will eventually develop a satisfactory explanation. But why should *that* claim bother the ID proponent?

In the meantime, until science has sufficiently removed our cloud of ignorance, why not grant the ID thesis a measure of tentative credibility? That strikes me as a modest and humble kind of position to take--although it does strike me as a 'God of the gaps' mentality.

But I digress, as this subject is vastly beyond my level of competence.

Tom said...

David,

Well, we're both out of our depth so c'mon in, the water's fine.

My understanding of the dialectic (such as it is) is this: Behe argues that there *cannot* be a purely evolutionary story to tell about origins of flagellum (for the reason I gave in the argument). Miller, in effect, says that even if there cannot be such an explanation for flagellum in which every step of the evolutionary chain plays a role similar to the role that flagellum plays, there might very well be other roles those links play that would be advantageous for selection. Indeed, Miller claims, we already have such an explanation in the case of flagellum. But even if there weren't this actual explanation, once the possibility of an alternative explanation is granted, then Behe's argument would become an argument to the effect that science still hasn't explained how flagellum evolved. But if that's all he's got, well, that's not much. You can't criticize a scientific theory simply for not yet yet being complete.

Again, I'm happy to be corrected if I've got either Behe or Miller essentially wrong.

Jake said...

Peter - I understand your desire not to co-opt this thread with a hermeneutical discussion so I'll make this my last comment on the subject. You really need to think through the way you challenge what you perceive to be a poor use of Scripture. I'm not at all convinced that Sirfab was utilizing it in a completely inappropriate way - Jesus was talking about his opponents judging others about minor issues while ignoring their own much larger problems. Sirfab is arguing that Doug is pointing out minor problems in Sirfab's arguments while ignoring what Sirfab believes to be larger problems in Doug's argument. I'm not sure exactly where the "badly used" text.

Regardless, I'm not sure why I wouldn't generalize your statement - why apply such reasoning to this one instance of interpretation and not to others.

Typically Sirfab seems quite respectful in his disagreements - Lorettas comments about some of the reactions he has received on this blog seem pretty much right on target to me. Of course, its not my blog, but perhaps this is a good time to consider how we should best relate to those who don't at this point share our faith.

Tom said...

Sirfab,

If I did manage to put the Behe-Miller debate better than you've done, all I can say is it's about time things got reversed--at least once. Many's the time I've struggled to make a point only to read a post of yours that makes me think, "Yeah, *that's* what I was trying to say!"

David said...

Tom,

I just read Miller's article, and I find his argument generally persuasive. I can't vouch for the credibility of the scientific data. But assuming there are no problems there, then I think the ID-proponent has an uphill battle.

If the evolutionist didn't have specific examples to refute the claim of irreducible complexity, then I think the counterargument--that surely science will discover a function for these parts--would be much weaker in its epistemic force.

It might itself amount to a kind of argument from silence, in fact. But that doesn't seem to be the tactic of the evolutionist, at least with respect to the baterial flagellum.

At any rate, I'm interested in scenarios in which no function of the constitutive parts is known to exist. How do we judge the epistemic status of the competing claims?

The evolutionist, again, will claim that science might very well shed light on our ignorance; the ID-theorist, of course, will insist that any explanation is unlikely or impossible.

Which side is more justified, at least initially, in their view?

It seems to me that the ID position still carries significant prima facie plausibility. Given the absence of an evolutionary account of some state of affairs, why not infer what is intuitively obvious--that presently something like design represents the best explanation?

Such a position need not be in conflict with recognizing the possibility that an explanation will someday be discovered, and the ID-theorist can even demonstrate openness to alternatives by engaging in projects that seek to falsify this design inference.

Of course, this would be forfeiting much ground to the evolutionist, and in the end probably amounts to a 'God of the gaps' position. No doubt the ID-proponent would insist that his argument is intended to be much stronger.

But ultimately is the evolutionist on much firmer epistemic ground? Assuming the scientific data is correct, Miller does have specific examples to refute irreducible complexity. So there is some precedent to justify being skeptical of ID claims.

But again, if the present subject matter is some constitutive parts for which no function is known to exist, then it seems the evolutionist should be willing to grant that it's possible no advantageous function will ever be discovered.

Note: this would not mean that no such function exists, but rather that present and future scientific knowledge may never provide reason to *think* it exists.

Again, shouldn't epistemic humility play some kind of role here? I think both sides can grant some initial plausibility to the opposing view, and ought to be open to their own view being falsified by future research.

Sorry for the long post here. If someone other than Tom wants to respond, feel free to do so.

John Stockwell said...

David wrote:
It seems to me that the ID position still carries significant prima facie plausibility. Given the absence of an evolutionary account of some state of affairs, why not infer what is intuitively obvious--that presently something like design represents the best explanation?


The big problem with this sort of thinking
is that there is no "scientific theory
of design" to generate testable hypotheses that will let us understand
our observations.

A case in point. When Behe published "Darwin's Black Box" there wasn't a
great deal known about the flagellum.
The assertion was effectively this the
flagellum is "irreduceably complex" or that it constitutes "specified complexity beyond
the ability of chance and law to predict"--- the two constituents of an
assertion of "design".

This assertion of design was made in the absence of knowledge of flagella, containing the presumptions first
that the flagellum is unique, and second that the flagellum is genetically isolated to the degree that no *possible* path of descent with modification could be proposed for
its origins.

Well, of course we know that flagella are not unique, there being a collection of different forms of such items, and second that there are secretory structures that contain a large part of the genonome necessary to produce a flagellum, so flagella are not genetically isolated either.

In both cases, it is
unreasonable to write off descent with modification. Something that was originally touted as being a 100% mystery has dropped to being maybe a 20% mystery, no thanks to ID thinking.

The bumper sticker should read:
Intelligent design makes for dumb science.

Sirfab said...

Jake :-)
Tom :-)


David:

- "this subject is vastly beyond my level of competence."

It is vastly above the competence of all of us here, with one or two exceptions. I myself would not have jumped into the fray if I did not several problems with Dr. Groothuis's assertions on the merits of ID (with its almost total absence of significant research, in spite of Dr. Groothuis's claim that sophisticated defenses of ID have been presented) and on the alleged persecution of ID scientists, advanced in large part by a movie, Expelled, which seems quite dishonest in its premise and in its technique. (See Expelled Exposed.)

- on epistemic humility:

It takes both sides.

You can certainly see arrogance in scientists who believe that explanations for natural phenomena can be found, for anything and everything, but it is a type of arrogance that has served scientific progress pretty well.

There is also significant arrogance on the part of creationists who say "no one can seriously claim that this organism has evolved: it is too complicated to be so, and your mind is not up to the task to show how, anyway." That is really what Behe, Dembski and others are doing when they claim something has been intelligently designed.

I personally find the first type of arrogance, if we want to call it that, preferable. Curiosity may have killed a few cats, but it certainly saved innumerable others, amongst them a large number of indefensibly incurious and judgmental ones.

David said...

I intend to respond to the two previous posts, but I do have a question: is the claim made by critics that ID is unreasonable or unscientific (or both)? I think how this question is answered reveals much about one's background epistemological convictions.

If the claim is that it's generally reasonable, but not altogether scientific, then that represents a modest and respectable position, in my opinion. But if the claim is rather that it's unscientific and *therefore* unreasonable, then we have a less defensible position it seems.

I realize that ID proponents are insisting that their view is manifestly reasonable *and* represents legitimate scientific inquiry. But perhaps it is only the second claim which is being disputed--at least I would like to believe that's what is going on.

However, I get the distinct impression in reading some of the critical literature that the claims of ID are just patently absurd and idiotic. Again, is that because its conclusions are so contrary to commonsense, or rather because its claims are inherently unscientific and therefore contrary to common sense?

I may be wrong, but this strikes me as a rather important issue. Any thoughts?

Sirfab said...

Hi David.

I admit that this is a very long response, but I hope you will have the fortitude to wade through it.

I'd like to take a stab at answering your question:

"If the claim is that [ID is] generally reasonable, but not altogether scientific, then that represents a modest and respectable position, in my opinion. But if the claim is rather that it's unscientific and *therefore* unreasonable, then we have a less defensible position it seems."

I am afraid that the question of whether a claim is reasonable or scientific (or both) is not separable. A claim that looks reasonable on the face of it is not automatically true just because it is reasonable. Credible does not equate with true. Science is not philosophy, and that is why, while we are all equally qualified or unqualified to speak of ID vs. evolution, I do not find Dr. Groothuis's defense of ID impressive: philosophical arguments do not equate with scientific proof (and as far as science goes, the argument he presents as scientific truth have been questioned and found incorrect). Science lives by proof. A scientist who makes a reasonable claim is not excused from showing proof for that claim. That where ID has completely failed so far, regardless of whether their claim is reasonable in the first place.

If reasonable means possible, I believe that even the staunchest opponents of ID, like Richard Dawkins, will admit that everything is possible. But that something is not impossible does not mean that something is likely. If reasonable means plausible, and capable of standing up to scrutiny, then that depends on the quality of the arguments that you produce in support of a claim. I would like someone to tell me what makes the argument "we do not understand it, therefore God did it" a high quality argument.

Scientists who oppose ID level several accusations against ID. I list some, in no particular order

1) ID's claim that the intelligent designer need not be the Abrahamic God is dishonest. For example, according to reports I have read on the movie Expelled (which very few have seen so far), Ben Stein all but ridicules the idea presented by Richard Dawkins that if we allow that life on earth is designed, we should not exclude the possibility that it has been designed by extraterrestrial intelligence. I think he says that not because he believes it but to unmask the pretense of ID'ers that the designer need not be God.

2) The presumption of intelligent design has largely rested, so far, on the concept of irreducible complexity. I find the arguments made by scientists made against the presumption of irreducible complexity more convincing than the arguments for it. The irreducible complexity of the bacterial flagellum has been refuted pretty convingly, just like the irreducible complexity of the blood-clotting sequence.

3) The ID argument is almost entirely a God of the gaps argument. If we do not know--now--how something happened, God did it. One side, evolutionary biology, is asked to give a complete cinematic representation of how organism evolved, or else. The other, creationism, is required to do nothing other that level an accusation and sit there while scientists fret in search of an answer. Where is the credible ID research so far?

4) The ID movement is fundamentally a public relation machine. It does little serious scientific research and that research has led, to date, absolutely nowhere. It release on the ignorance of the general public to gain credibility. Truth in science is not a matter of public opinion. It does not depend on what the public knows, thinks or believes. It depends on whether a theory stands up to scrutiny.

5) The accusation that many ID supporters make that ID'ers are shut out of peer-reviewed publications because of the bias against them is, to my knowledge, false. Can I say with total confidence that cases of discrimination against ID'ers have never happened? No, but that is a question for the courts, not for me. And in all instances I know of, the courts have found no unreasonable discrimination. Does the movie "Expelled(Exposed) make a convincing case that such discrimination exists? No, I don't believe it does, based on the cases it presents.

There are certainly other reasons I have not listed here, due to lack of time.

Furthermore, I would like to reply to those who say that the definition I use of science is too narrow. (Yossman, as an example, says that wissenschaft in German has a broader meaning.) The definition of science I use is not mine, of course. It is the one that scientists who describe and try to explain nature use. Among them are also Dembski, and Behe, for example. While they support ID and oppose certain aspects of evolution, I doubt that even they would be in favor of redefining the confines of science (even though, when they assume that a creator is responsible for something, they are essentially doing that). If I am wrong, I'll gladly stand corrected. In any case, once the doors of science are open to anything supernatural, untestable, unfalsifiable and unobservable, all bets are off. If that happens, why not teach the art of séances in communication school? Or the phenomenon of glossolalia (speaking in tongues) to students of foreign languages?

Finally, do I personally believe that a creator is impossible? I honestly don't know. The question of where life comes from is an impossible one to answer for a person of my limited knowledge and intellect. But the question of whether ID is viable alternative explanation for the diversity of life on earth is not. I believe ID does not stand up to even the lightest scrutiny. Does that mean the theory of evolution is absolutely right, and that evolutionary biologists are infallible? It does not, but I don't think that you will find one serious scientist who will take that position.

Best,

David said...

sirfab,

I just spent several minutes crafting a response to your post, and then the entire text was inexplicably deleted. Unfortunately I don't have the time to try again, so you'll have to be patient with me. Thanks for the thoughtful and articulate comments. Much of what you say is reasonable, although I think it also reveals some potential difficulties. More on that later...

Sirfab said...

David, looking forward to it.

(I usually type my looooong comments in Notepad, so I don't lose them. It happened to me a couple of times, and I feel your pain.)

Take care.

David said...

Sirfab,

OK, let's try this again. And thanks for the tip on using Notepad.

I completely agree with you that a reasonable proposition may nevertheless be false. But for now, my question is not whether ID is true, but rather if its conclusion is at least prima facie justified. And I happen to think that question can be answered in the affirmative whether it's a legitimate scientific hypothesis or not.

In my thinking, when a belief is reasonable, this means that it fits our total evidence in some significant and non-trivial way. Such evidence may be scientific in nature, but it also might be philosophical. I don't affirm the view that only the scientific method can provide us with justified belief (or knowledge). That view strikes me as too extreme, and I doubt that it's even possible to hold it consistently.

You claimed that science lives by proof. I take that to mean that within the domain of the scientific enterprise, our belief in some theory or hypothesis only counts as knowledge when it enjoys a level of certainty that most other beliefs lack. Fair enough, I say. But there's no reason to think that such a high standard ought to apply to other fields of inquiry. Can I *know* some things to be true, even when I lack certainty?

These insights bring me back to the original question: can a hypothesis be viewed as generally reasonable even if, in principle, it is unscientific? Again, if the answer is 'no', then I'm afraid a rather questionable epistemological view is being proposed. But to be fair, I'm not sure this is exactly what ID critics are implying.

At any rate, these issues raise for me another important topic--what do evolutionists (or anyone for that matter) really mean when they claim that a hypothesis is unscientific? Does this mean that the view fails to incorporate the correct kind of methodology, or is it merely that the conclusion is false (or highly unlikely to be true)? If the former, then I would like to know exactly what such a methodology entails; if the latter then I wonder why the epistemic strength of a conclusion has any relation to its status as legitimate scientific inquiry.

As for the various accustations against ID that you mention, I can only say (with all due respect) that most of these issues are not directly related to whether the conclusions of ID are justified or sound. They seem to be more related to the alleged unethical practices of ID proponents, the motivations they might have for defending ID, and the consequences that would follow if ID notions became widely accepted. All very interesting issues, of course--but not exactly what I'm interested in right now.

Sirfab said...

David, I will try to respond to each point you make as well as I am capable.

In my thinking, when a belief is reasonable, this means that it fits our total evidence in some significant and non-trivial way. Such evidence may be scientific in nature, but it also might be philosophical. I don't affirm the view that only the scientific method can provide us with justified belief (or knowledge). That view strikes me as too extreme, and I doubt that it's even possible to hold it consistently.

Philosophical evidence (if evidence is even an adequate term in this context) is not an adequate substitute for scientific evidence acquired through the scientific method, at least not as it relates to disciplines which could be literally rendered futile by the introduction of the supernatural (which has been a specialty of philosophical and theological speculation for millennia). No one is arguing, including me, that science has all the answers to all type questions. But, as far as evolutionary biology is involved, it has been a phenomenally capable tool in acquiring knowledge and predicting developments and outcomes. John Stockwell put it well when he wrote in a previous post that "science deals with the questions it *can* answer," and that "one good honest 'we don't know' is far superior to any philosophically comforting, but scientifically unsupported scenario." Philosophy has started great debates on science and nature, which have led to some important scientific inquiries and discoveries, but it is not a substitute for sound science.

You claimed that science lives by proof. I take that to mean that within the domain of the scientific enterprise, our belief in some theory or hypothesis only counts as knowledge when it enjoys a level of certainty that most other beliefs lack. Fair enough, I say. But there's no reason to think that such a high standard ought to apply to other fields of inquiry. Can I *know* some things to be true, even when I lack certainty?

Science already does that. For example, even lacking a complete record of fossils from day one to today, it is still possible to hold with a relatively high degree of confidence that the hypotheses formulated by biologists on evolution, as refers to past organisms, are correct. This is because evolutionary biology puts together facts in a cohesive theory and is capable of making predictions, both about the past and the future, which are confirmed by experimental findings. But there is no such thing as absolute certainty in science. Every good scientist knows that. Once again, though, the limits of one theory do not automatically confer credibility on another.
The gaps in evidence in support for evolution, for example the current absence of certain transitional fossils, do not imply the necessity a designer.


Can a hypothesis be viewed as generally reasonable even if, in principle, it is unscientific? Again, if the answer is 'no', then I'm afraid a rather questionable epistemological view is being proposed.

The answer, of course, is yes. That is what theology, philosophy, and other branches of knowledge are for. The evidentiary standards that the natural sciences demand are higher and include falsifiability (which excludes, at least for the moment, the supernatural.)

[W]hat do evolutionists (or anyone for that matter) really mean when they claim that a hypothesis is unscientific? Does this mean that the view fails to incorporate the correct kind of methodology, or is it merely that the conclusion is false (or highly unlikely to be true)? If the former, then I would like to know exactly what such a methodology entails; if the latter then I wonder why the epistemic strength of a conclusion has any relation to its status as legitimate scientific inquiry.

If John Stockwell is around, he can probably respond better than I can. In any case, I will attempt an answer, hoping I don't have to regret it:

a) A hypothesis is unscientific if it incorporates elements which cannot be proven or disproven using the scientific method (for reasons I have already given above, and elsewhere on the TCC,) and, I would add, if it relies on proof that is not reproducible (in essence, if I told you that I can show you something, but I can only show you once, or twice, then my hypothesis would be unscientific by definition. But I may be wrong and I would be interested in your rebuttal). The scientific method can be summarized as follows:

1) Make observations about natural phenomena (facts)

2) Build a hypothesis that explains the observations
3) Make predictions about what you can expect to happen based on your hypothesis
4) Test your hypothesis.

Repeat until your hypotesis is shown to be false or flawed.
If flawed, reconsider hypothesis and retest. If false, find something else to do, or develop another hypothesis (or change careers). If test confirm hypothesis, keep going. You are apparently on to something.

Under these premises, ID is unscientific becauses it introduces an element, the designer, which is neither observable nor testable, and therefore not falsifiable.

When you set out to infer the existence of a designer by detecting evidence of design, you had better make sure that the thing you assume to be designed cannot, in fact, be explained by evolution, or you end up like Behe and his supposedly irreducibly complex flagella. Also, if the main criteria for showing design is its complexity, you can make the case that everything you do not understand has been designed. So Intelligent Design is really an argument for stupidity (or, at least, lack of curiosity): that of the scientist who stops before complexity and kneels to worship an assumed creator, rather than proceed in his search for explanations.


b) I would not say, but I may be wrong, that an hypothesis is unscientific simply because it is shown to be false. I would simply say that science does not support it.

I hope that this answers your questions, and I apologize to all curmudgeonites for the length of the post.

David said...

Sirfab,

Those are good thoughts. You might be surprised to know that I have little quarrel with much of what you say. If we want to define scientific method in the way you described, then it does seem that ID counts as being unscientific.

I take it what makes ID unscientific is not that it doesn't deal at all with the empirical data, but that it makes an inference from this data which is not itself empirically verifiable or testable.

Again, fair enough. But my motivation is not so much to argue that ID ought to be taught in science lecture halls around this country, or that its claims should be a primary focus in college textbooks.

Rather, my emphasis is simply that there are other methods of inquiry that contribute to our knowledge and understanding of the world. As you pointed out, the scientific method is particularly effective within a certain field of study. And if all beliefs and ideas were capable of being proven or disproven by this method, then of course that would be a desirable situation.

But I think you would agree with me that such is not the case. Now I happen to believe that philosophical 'proof' is more substantial than you think, but that might be owing primarily to the fact that I embrace a fallibilistic account of knowledge--I can know something without knowing with certainty, or without knowing that I know, etc.

So the primary thrust of my argument is really independent from the ID controversy. Of course, this debate represents fertile ground to apply the philosophical views I have in mind. But the questions I'm asking are really more general than the specific details of whether ID is acceptable or not.

What most interests me is the following: what sources of knowledge are available to us? are there any limits to what we can know? does knowledge require absolute certainty? what methodologies ought we to employ in a given situation? what are the necessary and sufficient conditions for some inquiry being scientific?

Regarding the latter, I do have some reservations about whether the test of empirical verifiability is consistently employed by scientists, in which case it wouldn't represent a necessary condition. But alas, I have to think about that a bit, and more importantly, I have a comprehensive exam to prepare for.

Thanks again for the dialogue, Sirfab. It's been challenging, informative, and entertaining all at the same time.

Sirfab said...

Likewise, David. It's been challenging and entertaining for me too (I hope we have not dragged it out too much for other curmudgeonites, but I trust that they will have skipped over it if it did not interest them).

Best, and good luck with your exam.

Fab

John Stockwell said...

Sir Fab wrote:
David wrote:

[W]hat do evolutionists (or anyone for that matter) really mean when they claim that a hypothesis is unscientific? Does this mean that the view fails to incorporate the correct kind of methodology, or is it merely that the conclusion is false (or highly unlikely to be true)? If the former, then I would like to know exactly what such a methodology entails; if the latter then I wonder why the epistemic strength of a conclusion has any relation to its status as legitimate scientific inquiry.


Sir Fab's answer to David:
If John Stockwell is around, he can probably respond better than I can. In any case, I will attempt an answer, hoping I don't have to regret it:

(see Sir Fab's message above for
the rest.)



Because Sir Fab has asked me to weigh
in on this, I will make a few comments.
I have deleted most of his post for
brevity.

First of all, I would say that the
term "proof" is not appopriate to use
in a scientific context. Mathematicians
do proofs. Scientists test hypotheses.

For David, there isn't any such
thing as an "evolutionist". That is
a political label applied by people who
think that evolution is a philosophy
or an anti-religion positon. It isn't
either of these, but is rather a
label used to describe observations,
and which is also used to describe a
class of theory which organises those
observations.

Where do hypotheses come from? The answer to that is: hypotheses come from theories.

Theories generate testable hypotheses.
But then, where do theories come from?
The answer to that is, that theories come from the human imagination, and created by people studying collections of data who seek to create models that can be used to generate predictions of
data which we do not currently possess.

The first theories that scientists propose are called "laws". Such
laws are simply the
recognition, and codificaton of the regular behavior of phenomena we
observe. Laws, themselves
don't really explain the phenomena, but rather exist to codify
large collections of observations into
formal language. Laws may also be
simplifying assumptions that yield
to simple descriptions that are useful
in studying phenomena.

An example of a law would Mendeleev's
periodic table of the elements.
Periodic law predicted the existence and
behavior of elements yet undiscovered,
but nobody knew why it worked. Periodic
law is explained, or more properly
stated is predicted by quantum mechanics, which is a mathematical theory of the mechanics of particles,
which predicts a whole slew of laws and
behaviors of matter.

You could never, in a million years create the theory of quantum mechanics out of mere observations. That theory,
like any other, is a model built in
the world of language and ideas,
designed to fit idealizations of
observations. The theory, itself,
generates a vast collection of predictions, which can be tested, in
a way that the notion can be seen to
be wrong through those tests, if it
is in fact wrong.

Now as far as philosophical issues
are concerned, remember that scientific
theories deal with things we cannot
or have not observed. The theory
generates "place-fillers" for data
that we may or may not have in hand.
Those "place-fillers" are the hypotheses. (Postdictions are
place-fillers that we can immediately
test against data we have in hand,
and predictions are place-fillers for
data we do not have, but can reasonbly
expect to have in the future.)

So, right off the bat, a
theory that only predicts data that
we have
no hope of ever obtaining would tend
to lose
points as far as being considered
scientific. This could be because the
data are practically inaccessible,
or it could be that the theory itself
is a kind of "ad hoc machine" that
can wiggle out of any serious attempt
at testing.

These are the kinds of
criticisms being leveled today
against the
various flavors of string theory, for
example.

This is a serious strike against
Will Dembski's contributions to ID.
In the Dembskian view, you have to
be able to calculate a probability
that an object came into existence
via "chance or law". The big problem
is that we don't know all the laws yet.
Indeed, we can never calculate a
Dembskian probability that we can trust
for this reason. Indeed, we never
really can identify Dembski's complex
specified information (CSI). If
CSI were a real quantity, then surely
tables of CSI measurements could be
generated for the information
science community to preduce. There
are no such tables. In short, there is
no "law of CSI".

Of course, there are further claims
made by Dembski that are clearly wrong,
such as his abuse of information theory (wherein he freely mixes Kolmogorov-Chaitin entropy with Shannon
information entropy). Claims made by
Dembski which are likely wrong include
his claim that there is a "conservation
law of complex specified information".
That notion that may be rendered meaningless by the inability of CSI
to be measured in the first place.

You can read my other posts on this
group for further information about
philosophical issues, including the
fact that we don't "detect design"
but rather, we "model manufacture".

Sirfab said...

Thank you, John.

Sirfab said...

John: if I used the same tactic that defenders of ID (and/or evolution skeptics) have been using for the definition of science, I would have to say: "I think your definition of proof is too narrow." But it is not, and I get your point.

Perhaps what I should have said is not that science lives by proof, but that it cannot solely propose hypotheses. It is also needs to test those hypotheses, and the predictions they make, and constantly assess (and accept) the results. I think I can safely say that that is the area in which ID has been most deficient so far.

As an aside, not only we have so far failed to "actually deal with the empirical evidence for ID" (we can tell because he promised to re-engage if we did) but we have driven Dr. Groothuis to disable the comment feature for new posts (unless it is a temporary, unintentional glitch). Perhaps we are the ones meant to be on a blog holiday.

Too bad, because I would have been interested in asking Dr. Groothuis to explain how Obama and Clinton would "further corrupt law and culture if elected", particularly in light of the closing quote from the article he linked to: "I will continue to do what I can to reduce the number" of abortions", said Sen. Clinton. I'll chalk it down as the latest in a long series of hyperbolic, unsubstantiated statements.

Sirfab said...

Dr. Groothuis:

I have to say if it were my blog I probably would not have posted an article called "Darwinian Censorsh[i]p Once Again" almost immediately after disabling the comments feature, but then again I salute the irony.

Perhaps you don't know comments are disabled. Or perhaps this is a fitful way to celebrate the release of Expelled.

Have a good night.