Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Is ID getting anywhere?

Whatever you think of ID, I am always amazed at people who think it's the end of civilization as we know it.

20 comments:

Steve said...

Hi Dr. Reppert. I know this is an obvious point: but if ID proponents weren't trying to disrupt public school science education, it wouldn't be a big deal at all. Adults could debate the philosophical merits with much less fuss.
Best regards,
- Steve Esser

Bilbo said...

Although I'm an ID advocate, I agree with Steve. Instead of bypassing the scientific community and trying to get their ideas taught in public schools, ID proponents need to develop a positive research program. Mike Gene is attempting to do that in his book, The Design Matrix; a Consilience of Clues. I recommend it highly.

David Evans said...

I'm disappointed. I have come to expect reasoned argument from you. Instead I find a link with tendentious words and phrases such as "Darwinsludge", "Darwinbots", "alarmbots", "selfish-gene driven robots"...

And then the suggestion that there is alarm when students are "allowed to know" in school that nature shows lots of evidence of intelligent design.

Yes, there is opposition to teaching that, because the proposition is false. There is lots of evidence of design, explained by the mechanisms of evolution. Whether there is any evidence of intelligent design is the point at issue, and is at least doubtful. It certainly doesn't have the status of knowledge.

Victor Reppert said...

Well, according to some ID advocates their primary goal doesn't have to do with public-school education. They admit that their theory isn't sufficiently developed to be presented in public schools.

At the same time there is what seems to be a disturbing overreaction on the part of pro-Darwinists to put ID outside the pale of civilized conversation. The deliberate conflation of ID with YEC is typical of it. The use of the term IDiot, tec., indicates that this has gotten ugly. I agree completely with Bilbo's suggestion that there has to be a positive research program from ID.

Bilbo said...

Victor,

I hope you have time and the inclination to read The Design Matrix someday. I'm curious what you would think of Mike's assessments of how to go about detecting intelligent design.

Jim Lippard said...

"Well, according to some ID advocates their primary goal doesn't have to do with public-school education. They admit that their theory isn't sufficiently developed to be presented in public schools."

Even as they continue to support efforts to back-door it into the public schools (e.g., the state "academic freedom" bills being pushed by the Discovery Institute)? Seems to me that the legislative tack is entirely the wrong way to go.

Bilbo said...

Jim wrote: Even as they continue to support efforts to back-door it into the public schools....

Yes, Mike Gene might be alone in opposing this kind of thing. (Though I'm not sure where Paul Nelson stands on it.) And I agree with you, Jim, that this is the wrong way to go.

Bilbo said...

By the way, it's usually assumed that ID entails theism, or some sort of supernatural explanation. I don't think it does. Sir Fred Hoyle, for example, believed that the first living cells were designed (see his book, Evolution from Space.) And I believe that he was an atheist and did not believe in the supernatural.

Doctor Logic said...

The leading lights of ID (the Discovery Institute and its sympathizers) repeatedly promote ideas that have been thoroughly disproved by the scientific community (like the disproved claim that irreducibly complex systems cannot evolve). Since these ID advocates have made no headway in the scientific community, they spend their millions not on research but on trying to dupe the general public. They make movies, write books, and fund legal teams. They attack the proven scientific fact of Darwinian evolution in the name of "free speech" and "freedom of religion". They mine for quotes, produce ridiculous statistics, and promote ideas that have been thoroughly disproved. ID today (as personified by its leading advocates) is a deeply anti-intellectual movement of science deniers. This is why so many of us perceive ID as a threat to science and the great institutions that brought civilization out of the Dark Ages.

BTW, the proof of evolution is as follows. The space of possible designed worlds is vastly larger than the space of evolved worlds (all of which are characterized by the unnecessary feature of common descent). Thus, evolutionary biology predicts common descent in all cases, whereas design predicts common descent in an infinitesimal minority of cases. The experimental evidence for common descent is overwhelming. Therefore, the odds of the world having been designed are actually miniscule. (Just think about the number of possible trees of life you can create when there are no constraints on descent or composition, versus the single tree of carbon-based DNA-based common descent you get in evolution.)

Today, ID proposes no tests and no positive evidence, so it's basically the argument that we are ignorant of certain details of evolution. That's like arguing that JFK wasn't assassinated because we don't know the origin of the rifle that fired the shot. But the evidence that JFK was assassinated is overwhelming, even if any of the individual circumstances of the act were improbable.

Anonymous said...

"BTW, the proof of evolution is as follows.
The space of possible designed worlds is vastly larger than the space of evolved worlds (all of which are characterized by the unnecessary feature of common descent). Thus, evolutionary biology predicts common descent in all cases, whereas design predicts common descent in an infinitesimal minority of cases."

The space of possible worlds that are designed using some kind of (theistic or other) evolution may be unlimited. How you can know, that design predicts common descent only in an infinitesimal minority of cases?

Bilbo said...

Dr. Logic,

1) Behe's claim for irreducible complexity isn't that it is impossible for it to evolve. It's that it would have to evolve indirectly (through co-option), and would be very improbable. The scientific community has not shown a plausible route for the evolution of IC.

2) Yes, most of the ID movement is political in nature. Further, most of the science that it does is negative in nature -- trying to show that non-teleological evolution is improbable or impossible.

3) This is why I prefer Mike Gene's approach (see his book, The Design Matrix), which is positive in nature -- providing a criteria for identifying intelligently designed systems, and pursuing a specific hypothesis -- front-loaded evolution.

4) If all the evidence we had for intelligent design were whether or not common descent were true, then your "proof" would be valid. But there is plenty of other evidence.

5) Which brings us to your argument that ID is just an argument from ignorance. I disagree. We use the same sort of criteria for determining design in life as we do in other areas of knowledge: Analogy, Discontinuity (with unintelligent processes), Rationality, and Forethought. Are they objective? I think the concepts are objective, though our ability to quantify them isn't. So ID may not be science, since so far it can't quantify the concepts necessary to determine design. But for a philosopher, that's not a problem. And eventually, if the evidence keeps adding up, then even scientists may not be able to ignore it.

Doctor Logic said...

anonymous,

The space of possible worlds that are designed using some kind of (theistic or other) evolution may be unlimited. How you can know, that design predicts common descent only in an infinitesimal minority of cases?

By infinitesimal I mean minuscule in the extreme. Here are a few reasons.

Descent - There's no reason that life needs descent at all. All it needs is manufacturing. So for any given life form, it could be manufactured rather than descended. Of course, almost all life on this planet is descended, even within species (wolf cubs are descended from wolf parents). There are no wolf machines spitting out wolves. We see no manufacturing facilities, and so the likelihood of design is already suppressed. There are many more ways of manufacturing a being than there ways of breeding a being with descent, and that's just considering raw materials sourcing.

Predation and Extinction - Why have a biosphere that uses predation and extinction instead of planning? There's no need for predation in a designed system. We don't design cars to eat each other. This means the space of designed life is at least twice as big as the space of evolved life.

Composition - There's no reason that wolves need to be made out of the same stuff as bears. Or bears be made out of the same stuff as sea cucumbers. So for any two species, the two could be made from different matter, e.g., frogs could be carbon-based while elephants are silicon-based. Rabbits could be cyborgs and mice could be robots. Again, there are many more ways of manufacturing life than of evolving it in an ecosystem.

Common Descent - Even if all animals are made of the same stuff, there's no reason that, say, humans and chimps need to have a common ancestor. The designer could have created the two species independently. There are millions of species on the tree of life. Consider the number of permutations you can create by cutting the tree in various places as if branches of the tree were independently designed. The number is staggeringly large.

Utility - The hallmark of design is utility. Life on this planet has no obvious utility except for survival. There are countless possible utilities for which life could have been designed, but the only utility we can find is the one utility expected by neo-Darwinian evolution.

Again, a designer could have chosen to design one of the one-in-a-bazillion sort of designed biosphere that looks (on close inspection) like one of evolved, but it would not be likely.

Doctor Logic said...

Bilbo,

1) Behe's claim for irreducible complexity isn't that it is impossible for it to evolve. It's that it would have to evolve indirectly (through co-option), and would be very improbable. The scientific community has not shown a plausible route for the evolution of IC.

But Behe doesn't know the odds. No one does because we can't even fold proteins in simulation yet. So it really comes down to your last sentence above - we haven't found the answer yet. That doesn't outweigh the established probabilities (overwhelming odds that Darwinian evolution is correct). We're back to a JFK analogy in which we can't say where the rifle came from. Our ignorance about the murder weapon doesn't make the assassination improbable.

2) Further, most of the science that it does is negative in nature -- trying to show that non-teleological evolution is improbable or impossible.

It has failed. ID has not one decent argument.

4) If all the evidence we had for intelligent design were whether or not common descent were true, then your "proof" would be valid. But there is plenty of other evidence.

There is no evidence that is convincing to biologists.

Bilbo said...

Dr.Logic wrote: But Behe doesn't know the odds. No one does because we can't even fold proteins in simulation yet.

Non-sequitur. We have a fairly good idea of the fitness space from one kind of protein to another. Unless there are precursor homologous proteins that can change into the needed forms for the IC machine, there's no reason to think the IC machine evolved de novo. Are there precursor homologous proteins? With the advent of genome mapping, that's becoming a very answerable question.

So it really comes down to your last sentence above - we haven't found the answer yet. That doesn't outweigh the established probabilities (overwhelming odds that Darwinian evolution is correct).

I agree that we haven't found the answer, yet. But with genome mapping, we now have the ability to find it. And I would agree that Darwinian evolution is a fact -- an inevitable fact. But does it explain everything? Almost certainly not the origin of life. And probably not IC machines. And probably not multi-cellularity. Mike Gene's approach is to figure out if the information for IC and multi-cellularity could have been loaded into the first designed cells.

We're back to a JFK analogy in which we can't say where the rifle came from. Our ignorance about the murder weapon doesn't make the assassination improbable.

The irony of your using this example is overwhelming. Can you see why?

It has failed. ID has not one decent argument.

Your right. It has several. First, the origin of life. Though the Miller-Urey experiment showed we could get some amino acids, in small quantities, mixed up with other chemicals, just about every origin of life researcher has given up on the idea that the amino acids somehow coalaesced into proteins. Far too improbable. Instead, they keep hoping that nucleic acids somehow appeared (nobody knows how) and coalesced into RNA molecules, even though the leading origin of life scientist, Leslie Orgel said this would be a "miracle." Robert Shapiro keeps telling RNA world hopefuls to give it up and look for some other form of life that could have evolved first, though he has no idea what it would have been. Francis Crick thought the whole thing was so improbable that he suggested that maybe life evolved somewhere else and was sent here via space ships. He also said a reasonable person could conclude that it was a miracle.

So the origin of life looks improbable. But that's only the Discontinuity. I'll get to Analogy, Rationality, and Foresight tomorrow.


5:05 PM

me Phi me said...

Almost as bad as people like Dr.Logic parrotting what they have heard on other sites.
And proudly displaying the veneer of understanding the issues when they come across as not having a clue.

Doctor Logic said...

Bilbo,

Unless there are precursor homologous proteins that can change into the needed forms for the IC machine, there's no reason to think the IC machine evolved de novo. Are there precursor homologous proteins? With the advent of genome mapping, that's becoming a very answerable question.

Biologists have shown on numerous occasions that there are precursors. They just haven't found ALL the precursors.

IC analysis shows that an IC structure is unlikely to evolve if evolution is evolving one-dimensionally towards the goal. Behe's thesis was refuted by co-option and by the fact that evolution isn't goal-oriented. So the IC analysis only says there has to be co-option of something like it. Biologists even demonstrate that co-option is occurring in relevant cases. But that's not enough for Behe, who demands biologists find every specific detail, some of which may have been lost to history.

And no one is saying that IC systems evolve de novo apart from ID advocates (the non-frontloading advocates).

However, the probability analysis tells us that it's terrifically unlikely that life was designed. Design doesn't get back on par with evolution just because there are unanswered questions.

You are proposing that a super-fine-tuned ID theory will explain evolution when you don't even know if biological evolution is improbable. All you know is that we don't know how certain things happened. Why pick a fine-tuned theory over a non-fine-tuned theory?

And I would agree that Darwinian evolution is a fact -- an inevitable fact. But does it explain everything? Almost certainly not the origin of life. And probably not IC machines. And probably not multi-cellularity.

Darwinian evolution isn't supposed to explain the OOL (though I suspect something like it one day will).

Why do you say that it "probably" will not explain IC machines?

Genetic algorithms can design IC machines. Even if you thought there was sleight-of-hand in genetic programming (as almost all ID-ers seem to), the success of GA's would prove that front-loading of genes is unnecessary for the creation of IC systems.

If you want to use the word probably, I'd like to see your reasoning for it.

Probably not multi-cellularity? Why probably?

You're relying on what isn't known to get your estimates of probability.

Mike Gene's approach is to figure out if the information for IC and multi-cellularity could have been loaded into the first designed cells.

Sure, it's possible that life was designed front-loaded, but it's incredibly unlikely. The experiment has been done (common descent), and design flunked with a near zero score. It's not logical for Gene to pursue ID when he doesn't know if the verified neo-Darwinian approach is unlikely.

First, the origin of life.

All we know is that a few simplistic models of abiogenesis are improbable. So, contrary to your assertion, naturalistic abiogenesis does not look improbable. Rather, simplistic naturalistic abiogenesis looks improbable. Naturalistic abiogenesis could be very probable for all we know. We haven't integrated over all models of naturalistic abiogenesis.

This is different from the question of Darwinian evolution. There's a strong prediction that differentiates Darwinian evolution and design, and that prediction was confirmed in evolution's favor. There's no similar situation for abiogenesis.

Bilbo said...

Doc, since I'm beginning with the Origin of Life issue, with your leave I'll ignore the question of how life evolved afterwards for now.

Darwinian evolution isn't supposed to explain the OOL (though I suspect something like it one day will).

Exactly. The sudden appearance of living systems is too improbable, so some sort of gradual [Darwinian] process is presupposed to have happened.

Rather, simplistic naturalistic abiogenesis looks improbable. Naturalistic abiogenesis could be very probable for all we know. We haven't integrated over all models of naturalistic abiogenesis.

True. And we haven't integrated over all models of JFK being assasinated without a rifle. The universe is a very big place, and it could have happened. I won't hold my breath for either one. At the moment it looks improbable enough that one of the leading biologists of the 20th century was willing to write a book about Directed Panspermia. That was in 1981, about 25 years after he helped discover the structure of DNA. It's been over 25 years more, and origin of life researchers haven't come any closer. So let's just say that right now, based on the evidence we do have, a reasonable person could believe that abiogenesis is very improbable.

So what? If we jumped to a design conclusion at this point, we would have a genuine example of an argument from ignorance: We don't know how abiogenesis could have happened. Therefore somebody designed the first cell. And if we concluded that God designed the first cell, we would have a genuine God-of-the-gaps argument.

Improbability by itself does not provide a strong design inference. It needs to be combined with something else.

How do we go about making design inferences? Well it would certainly help if we knew there were a designer present. In the case of the Origin of Life (OOL), we don't know that. Or at least there isn't any empirical evidence for one, which is what science looks for.

Does that mean making any sort of design inference is unreasonable? I would say No. We also look for other things when making a design inference. First, we look for Analogies. How much does the object in question resemble objects that we design? If a lot, then we are more willing to suspect design. If not much, then we suspect it less.

Dang. Running out of time. I'll find another library.

Bilbo said...

I got to another computer, but I was having fun somewhere else, intsead of justifying my case here. Let's see:

"During the early stages of cell evolution a very clever system of information manipulation evolved: DNA became a repository of genetic information; messenger RNA served as an active copy of this information; and transfer RNAs together with various enzymes acted as adaptors/translators, producing functinal products, i.e. proteins. This was a decoding process, which became fundamental logic of all future organisms. Interestingly, this process can also be viewed as a type of 'computer.'" (Yokoyama Cytologic, on their website, http://web.archive.org/web/19990915232616/http://www2.jst.go.jp/erato/project/yjb_P/yjb_P.html;last accessed 01/27/01. Quoted in Mike Gene's book, The Design Matrix; a Consilience of Clues, 2007, p.50)

There's a lot more to the quotation, but I thought I would stop there for brevity. By Analogy, we can see the cell as a computer.

Other's have pointed out that we can also see the cell as an automated factory, with intricate, complex machines, acting in coordinated harmony to achieve various ends.

Of course, the cell is far beyond anything that we can accomplish with our current technology. But we now have a name for this technology -- nanotechnology. We are only in the infant stages of its development. But we know enough that we can recognize it when we see it. And as we explore the inner workings of the cell, we see nanotechnology in full development. If we are in the kindergarten stage of this new technology, then whoever designed the cell was doing at least post-doctoral work.

So far, we have Discontinuity and Analogy. But we still have Rationality and Foresight to look at.

Bilbo said...

So let's get to Rationality. Often one will hear criticisms against ID, where some feature of a living orgamism is shown (purportedly) to be irrational, e.g., the backwards wiring of the vertebrate retina, or junk DNA. Why would an intelligent designer make such obvious mistakes? Usually the ID proponent attempts to answer this by pointing out that ID doesn't entail that the designer isn't capable of making mistakes.

But there is something to the initial criticism. If we found a preponderance of such "mistakes" in organisms, wouldn't the rational conclusion be that organisms were more likely the product of non-teleological design? And I think the answer would be Yes. Or at least it should greatly weaken our design inference.

But then, if we found out that the preponderence of features in an organism were rational, shouldn't that make the ID inference more likely? Perhaps. Darwinian evolution isn't trying to find the most rational solutions to survival. Just the one that happens to work. However, if Darwinian evolution is given many chances to solve the same problem, the chances of its coming up with the most rational one (which may survive better, overall) becomes greater.

So if we find a "rational" feature in an organism, how do we know if it was intelligently designed or not? We would have to look to see if there are any signs that other solutions had been attempted. Often one can find niches where an organism with an inferior design is able to survive. We would need to look to see if there are such niches where this is occurring for the feature in question.

In his book, The Design Matrix, Mike Gene offers one such example: The Genetic Code. From various computer simulations, we now know that the Genetic Code that all organisms use is one of, if not the, most optimal code there can be. Is this the result of intelligent design, or just Darwinian evolution coming across it after many previous trials? The evidence we've found, so far, suggests that Darwinian evolution didn't take many, if any, trials to come up with our Code. There are no other codes in existence, hiding out in special niches. The evidence suggests that either Darwinian evolution just got very lucky the first time, or the Code was intelligently designed.

By itself, this doesn't add a lot of weight to the ID hypothesis. We can allow for an occasional lucky event in non-teleological evolution. But if we find that the preponderance of cases are rational, and there is non-concurrent evidence that they came about by trial and error, the evidence starts to accumulate for ID.

And we should make a distinction between what the original cells possessed and how they have evolved ever since. If the designer just designed the first cells, and allowed Darwinian evolution to take over after that, we should expect to find lots of irrational features. How would we know which were original features and which were evolved features? Genome sequencing should help us determine which is which.

Bilbo said...

Out of time, today. I'll try to get back to this tomorrow.