Tom Gilson
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79 thoughts on “BreakPoint: Intelligent Artistry

  1. Someone is bound to ask me, what are the “detail-level criticisms” of the video that I said had merit? First, BreakPoint’s editorial staff decided not to include my qualifying words, “I think …” in front of that. I did not write it with the intent of making any definite pronouncements, since I know it’s out of my field.

    From my standpoint as a non-geologist, non-paleontologist, I thought there was a weak point in the film’s suggestion that some scientists thought the ocean floor could be an alternative place to look for Cambrian precursors, and it turns out I was not the only one to think so.

    But the main point stands, as far as I have been able to find: even critics “concur with the general idea that the Cambrian Explosion represents an unresolved evolutionary riddle.”

    At this point I hope it will be helpful to quote something I wrote a few weeks ago. It was about what happened when I commented on one very focused Intelligent Design-related point at Panda’s Thumb:

    Those of you who have seen PT in action can guess what happened. Of course I got jumped on; that was expected. But I wasn’t jumped on for that point I made. I was held personally responsible for the Wedge document, the Discovery Institute’s political agenda, Michael Behe’s stupid mistaken theories of irreducible complexity, all of ID’s idiotic arguments for incredulity, and every creationism court case since the Scopes trial. (I exaggerate, but only slightly.) It was impossible to get any traction on the one point I made, and it was impossible for me to make it clear that what I was taking responsibility for was that point.

    As a non-geologist, non-paleontologist, I am not making a scientific assessment either of the Cambrian Explosion or of Darwin’s Dilemma. I’ll leave that to those who are competent to do so. I would prefer it if commenters here would respect that, and respond here to the content of my BreakPoint article.

    I’ll gladly take all the responsibility in the world for what I wrote.

  2. Though usually presented as a matter of pure scientific reasoning, much of the evolution/ID debate comes down to a kind of aesthetic judgment—what fits best in our picture of what we think reality ought to be like. A mechanistic picture of reality fits poorly with poetry like this—not just with the sense of it, but also with the fact that such creativity exists.

    Is it fair to conclude that intelligent design is more art than science, Tom?

  3. Olegt,

    Your selective reading of that quote is interesting, to say the least. I said much of the debate comes down to an aesthetic judgment. I wrote an article about some ID opponents’ aesthetic objections to ID; in other words, that this set of objections is based on aesthetic rather than scientific consideration. (An aesthetic response is of course the appropriate mode in which to answer an aesthetic objection.)

    And you take this as indicating that ID is more art than science. It’s just amazing—how do you do that?

  4. Good article, Tom. This argument against ID is, as you say, aesthetic. It’s okay to have an aesthetic argument, but let’s not pretend this is the product of the rigors of science or of the Age of Enlightenment. Quite the contrary.

    The enlightenment crowd, under the blind watchmaker thesis, has no basis for even considering that reality ought to be this way or that way. You can’t get from “reality ought to be” to the blind watchmaker thesis, and you can’t get to “reality ought to be” if you start with the same thesis. So, the true irony is that in order for this aesthetic argument against ID to carry any weight at all, the blind watchmaker thesis must be false.

  5. By the way, other than the way you missed the overall intent of the article, olegt, there’s another issue here. You presented your question in an obviously pejorative sense: isn’t intelligent design “more art than science?” It’s a nice way to paint ID in an undesirable light. Hidden in it, though, is a strong philosophical assumption: if it’s art instead of science, it must not be reliable knowledge.

    You could take that position if you wanted to. After all, art isn’t intended to convey precise, tested knowledge (it certainly can convey knowledge, but not usually of the type we’re after here). I would have no problem with your doing that, except for this: it’s pretty much irrelevant to my article and especially to the part you quoted. It still leaves the question on the table, Does a mechanistic picture of reality fit with the existence of such creativity? That’s not a question of art. It’s a question of science and philosophy. In expanded form it is this: could a mechanistic world really “create” creativity? How? What could “creativity” actually mean in a world where everything happens just by chance and necessity (deterministically and/or by chance)?

    You see what that means for the question you raised? It means that the asymmetrical selective way you read my article, which I pointed out to you in my prior comment, is not the only mistake you made with it. From the fact that I mentioned art and creativity, you concluded that I was employing a merely aesthetic argument. But no, it was primarily a philosophical and scientific argument about aesthetics.

    You said recently you don’t like meandering in philosophical arguments, but the question of origins is inescapably philosophical. You can’t avoid it if you want to engage in discussions on this topic. Even if you want to resort to saying, “I’ll just do science, that’s where the true knowledge comes from anyway,” guess what kind of statement that is? (Hint: you can’t demonstrate it in a laboratory.)

  6. Tom,

    I don’t think my reading is selective. The main focus of your article is the debate about design, not evolution. Let me quote you.

    Right off the bat you write (emphasis mine):

    The documentary’s website explains scientific issues for which I do not have space here, and a Google search on the film’s name returns plenty of arguments for and against its conclusions. Predictably, evolutionary science bloggers have criticized details in the film (and some of their detail-level criticisms have merit), but as far as I have found, they concur with the general idea that the Cambrian Explosion represents an unresolved evolutionary riddle.

    Still, the vast majority insist that intelligent design cannot be the solution. An evolutionary answer will someday be found in the fossils, they say; or if, for some reason, the fossil evidence never shows up, evolution must still be the explanation anyway.

    You spend the next 5 paragraphs discussing a specific argument against design (bad theology). You then summon C. S. Lewis to the rescue of the design idea and spend the next few paragraphs quoting poetry in defense of design.

    I fully agree with you that arguments for or against design are entirely subjective. An artist can do whatever he wants, so arguing what he can or cannot do is art, not science.

    If you want to say that debating design means debating evolution, no, that doesn’t work. Just like an argument against Darwin’s theory is not an argument in favor of God’s direct involvement, an argument against God’s design is not an argument in favor of evolution. Design does not win by default, evolution does not win by default.

    And that’s where the two approaches differ. You can argue about the lack of objective evidence as far as evolution is concerned (no fossils). But good luck applying that to God. He does not play by the rules.

  7. Olegt: If you want to say that debating design means debating evolution, no, that doesn’t work. Just like an argument against Darwin’s theory is not an argument in favor of God’s direct involvement, an argument against God’s design is not an argument in favor of evolution. Design does not win by default, evolution does not win by default.

    And that’s where the two approaches differ. You can argue about the lack of objective evidence as far as evolution is concerned (no fossils). But good luck applying that to God. He does not play by the rules.

    Whose rules? Think about what you are claiming. The rules of the game are set up so as to make anything but an observable, quanitifiable process count as evidence of anything. If we can observe, quanitfy and predict everything then your point about not playing by the rules would have more substance to it. As it is even if nature or aspects of it were deliberately fashioned in such a way so as to make conclusive empirical evidence of a “natural” process impossible, you would simply make the gap accusation. It is your own rules that make it impossible for God to leave an impression with you. This is why I emphasize the matter of boundaries. It removes the metaphysical agitation about science when it is acknowledged.

  8. Tom Gilson wrote:

    By the way, other than the way you missed the overall intent of the article, olegt, there’s another issue here. You presented your question in an obviously pejorative sense: isn’t intelligent design “more art than science?” It’s a nice way to paint ID in an undesirable light. Hidden in it, though, is a strong philosophical assumption: if it’s art instead of science, it must not be reliable knowledge.

    You are reading too much into my comments, Tom. I did not suggest anywhere that science is the only reliable mode of gaining knowledge. If you think my question was pejorative, maybe you should look inside and ask yourself why you think so.

    I have said on this forum that I do not think math is a science. There is nothing dismissive about that. I respect mathematics and mathematicians. I am awestruck by Euler’s identity. I love art. neither is science, but so what?

  9. Is it fair to conclude that intelligent design is more art than science, Tom?

    ID is certainly less mundain than evolution.

    Just like an argument against Darwin’s theory is not an argument in favor of God’s direct involvement, an argument against God’s design is not an argument in favor of evolution.

    The Darwinists certainly would disagree with you… how often have I read the claims of alleged “bad” design and “junk” DNA are proof that there is no “designer”.

    The Gods Must Be Tidy!

  10. Olegt, you said,

    The main focus of your article is the debate about design, not evolution.

    How should I take this? That the debate about design isn’t also a debate about evolution? (Then see below.) Or that the article was about whether design could even be true? If that’s what you read it to mean, then you’re agreeing with my point, which is that an aesthetic objection to design has been raised, and that objection has an answer appropriate to the mode of the objection. That answer shows that in the end the objection fails, and yes, design could be true (at least with respect to that objection).

    That’s all the article was about, in its barest logical form.

    Again with respect to the following I must ask, how do you do this?

    I fully agree with you that arguments for or against design are entirely subjective. An artist can do whatever he wants, so arguing what he can or cannot do is art, not science.

    Where did you come up with the crazy idea that I think arguments for or against design are entirely subjective? I wrote about one subjective argument. I am sure you know that one argument does not comprise (plural) “arguments.” So why do you distort and misrepresent me this way?

    Then you say,

    If you want to say that debating design means debating evolution, no, that doesn’t work. Just like an argument against Darwin’s theory is not an argument in favor of God’s direct involvement, an argument against God’s design is not an argument in favor of evolution. Design does not win by default, evolution does not win by default.

    This is both wrong and irrelevant. I’ll explain: First, with respect to the first sentence of the quote, there is the sociological fact that people who debate design are usually debating evolution at the same time, and that is as true for Richard Dawkins as it is for Bill Dembski. What does it say on the cover of the Blind Watchmaker? “Why the evidence for evolution reveals a universe without design.” That looks pretty binary to me, my friend.

    So as a matter of plain reality, the way the world works, debating design does mean debating evolution.

    Did you mean that evidence for or against design is not necessarily evidence against or for evolution? That’s not what you said in your first sentence, but it does seem to be the direction you headed in the rest of the paragraph. I have argued that this is a false belief, but I don’t think I have to argue that this time. Again, like something else you wrote previously in this thread, it’s irrelevant. My article was about a specific objection brought against divine design by evolutionists. It was about an actual debate that involved both design and evolution, wherein evolutionists raised an actual objection and I suggested an actual response to that actual objection.

    And that’s where the two approaches differ. You can argue about the lack of objective evidence as far as evolution is concerned (no fossils). But good luck applying that to God. He does not play by the rules.

    What do you mean by “the rules”? I’m guessing (and this is tentative, you’re always free to correct me if I’m wrong) you mean the “rules” that say knowledge comes by way of evidence and interpretations tested by scientific and mathematical methods.

    I appreciate and accept the correction you made to me in your 10:04 pm comment. I did not mean to imply that you thought there was something weak or faulty about art as art, as a matter of beauty. I think it’s possible, though, that you would consider art to be faulty as a route to secure knowledge about the origins of life. I hope you would consider it that way, because it really isn’t good for that. (And my article did not treat it as if it were.)

    To say that “ID is more art than science” is equivalent to saying it is more about beauty than knowledge. Since ID claims to be relevant to knowledge about origins, then yes, the statement is pejorative toward ID’s claims. It is not, as you rightly pointed out, pejorative in other possible senses.

    (I think Euler’s identity is pretty astonishingly cool, too. I thought it was cool enough that I tried to share my excitement about with to my high school-age son and daughter some time ago. They don’t know e yet, and it was a bit much for them anyway. Oh well, they’ll appreciate it some day.)

    I’m trying to respond to all your points, olegt. There are questions out there waiting for you in the second paragraph here.

  11. Tom Gilson wrote:

    To say that “ID is more art than science” is equivalent to saying it is more about beauty than knowledge. Since ID claims to be relevant to knowledge about origins, then yes, the statement is pejorative toward ID’s claims. It is not, as you rightly pointed out, pejorative in other possible senses.

    I think this hits the nail on the head. When you declare something to be science and then it doesn’t work as science and people point that out you get defensive. Believe me, Tom, I have spent enough time examining arguments of Dembski, Behe, and Wells, but none looks like part of a scientific theory. We can consider all of them at length if you wish, but here is one example from Behe.

    In The Edge of Evolution Behe said that there are things natural mechanisms simply can’t do. One example he gave was that, despite its large mutation rate, the HIV virus had not developed any new functions. It was pointed out to him by a grad student that he was actually wrong about that. After much huffing and puffing Behe had to concede the point:

    Yes, I’m perfectly willing to concede that this does appear to be the development of a new viral protein-viral protein binding site, one which I overlooked when writing about HIV. So the square point in Figure 7.4 representing HIV should be placed on the Y axis at a value of one, instead of zero, and Table 7.1 should list one protein-binding site developed by HIV instead of zero.

    Behe’s theory was, at best, bad science. I have seen no other kind from IDers. Every time they concede their points they come up with new, equally bad arguments. They are, just like in the above case, arguments from ignorance. You want to call that science?

    I may not get to the rest of your questions today: busy day.

  12. Thanks for answering, olegt, and I certainly don’t mind waiting for your further answers. This one is interesting but as I said in my first comment it’s not in the realm I’m able to take responsibility for. For example, I’m quite sure Behe has written further on this, that he has an answer to the objection you’ve just presented, but I’m not the one to chase those things down.

  13. Tom,

    Interesting points. The Cambrian Explosion also has to make you wonder- why did God allow evolution to unfold in such a way as to make the Cambrian animals look like they were “just planted there without any evolutionary history”? Did he do it to fool people into doubting the Darwinian story? That would be pretty mean.

  14. Tom, you’ve done the unthinkable. You’ve acted reasonably and honestly about your beliefs. You have admitted that in the face of mysteries with little or no evidence it is beliefs what we are all left with.

    However, don’t expect the other side of this debate to make such a concession. In the face of mysteries with little or no evidence their beliefs are still somehow “scientific”. They think that if they believe that science will somehow, someway eventually provide an answer that this represents a scientific theory and not a belief.

  15. Tom Gilson wrote:

    You could take that position [ID is more art than science] if you wanted to. After all, art isn’t intended to convey precise, tested knowledge (it certainly can convey knowledge, but not usually of the type we’re after here). I would have no problem with your doing that, except for this: it’s pretty much irrelevant to my article and especially to the part you quoted. It still leaves the question on the table, Does a mechanistic picture of reality fit with the existence of such creativity? That’s not a question of art. It’s a question of science and philosophy. In expanded form it is this: could a mechanistic world really “create” creativity? How? What could “creativity” actually mean in a world where everything happens just by chance and necessity (deterministically and/or by chance)?

    Tom, these aren’t the questions you explored in your article. (I have just reread it.) Your main point was to rebut the aesthetic arguments against God’s design. Here are the key paragraphs:

    It’s strange even if He took his time and sprinkled these new animals into the world one at a time, over a few million years. He’s getting His hands dirty, tinkering with creation like an amateur mechanic who couldn’t quite get it right the first time. C.S. Lewis said in his book Miracles that there was a time in his life when for him, it seemed aesthetically offensive to think of God mucking around with things that way. Many evolutionists agree: ID is not only bad science, it’s bad theology.

    C.S. Lewis came to see it otherwise. I wonder if one major difference between him and the biologists is that he had read John Milton’s (1608-1674) Paradise Lost, and most biologists haven’t. See what kind of joyful, almost playful, and artistic Creator Milton pictured God to be. I wish I had space to quote it all, because a short snippet cannot convey it adequately.

    You spend the remainder of the article reciting Milton and showing how Lewis convinced himself that God’s creation was high art:

    But wait: what exactly is the point? What conceivable help could a 17th-century poet contribute to a debate on 21st-century science? Shall we rely on Milton’s biology over a contemporary scientist’s? Hardly. By the same token, though, shall we rely on the biologist’s aesthetic opinions over Milton’s, who has been ranked with Shakespeare as the English language’s greatest poet?

    Milton, you see, did not regard God as a tinkerer, but as an artist, much more like a musician than a mechanic; or perhaps like a poet Himself.

    There is nothing here about the inability of evolution to create exquisite designs. We can debate that subject, of course. But your article simply does not deal with that point, focusing entirely on rebutting the aesthetic argument against design in nature.

  16. Bill wrote:
    However, don’t expect the other side of this debate to make such a concession. In the face of mysteries with little or no evidence their beliefs are still somehow “scientific”. They think that if they believe that science will somehow, someway eventually provide an answer that this represents a scientific theory and not a belief.

    That belief is “evolution of the gaps”.

  17. Tom,

    What is your position as to Young Earth Creationism, Old Earth Creationism, Intelligent Design, and Theistic Evolution? Have you ever stated your position in a post?

  18. pds,

    In the right sidebar there’s a link to “At the Core,” and there you’ll find links to “Intelligent Design and Religion.” (I haven’t updated that set of links recently, which I suppose I should do.) Some of those links provide my most basic set of beliefs regarding ID. I don’t know agree with young-earth creationism; I’ve stated that in comments if not in a blog post.

    I don’t know exactly what “Old Earth Creationism” means, the term “creationism” is so ambiguous. I believe that the universe is about 14 billion years old, that the earth is about 4.5 to 5 billion years old, that life developed on earth gradually over a very long period of time, and that God superintended and directed every step of the process with a definite (teleological) end in mind. I think the “Framework” interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 is the best way to exegete those two chapters, and that it allows for an old universe without contradicting Scripture. I don’t know if God did so in a “Theistic Evolution” sense, by front-loading his creation to produce his teleological ends through an evolution-like process, or by special creation of each species or kind. I consider ID to be strongly worth supporting as a philosophical and scientific research program, because it is generating great questions and potentially new understandings of the nature of reality, and because it stands a reasonably good chance of eventually prevailing over its other chief rival, undirected Darwinian evolution.

  19. Tom,

    Thanks. That’s just the summary I was seeking. I have similar leanings, but I would add that all my leanings are tentative and are soaking in a rich stew of skepticism.

    I have been baffled recently by discussions I have had with theistic evolutionists who seem to have a visceral aversion to intelligent design or any form of skepticism towards establishment Darwinism. They seem inexplicably dogmatic in their rejection of ID. Your position seems to me to deal with all the scientific evidence better than knee jerk Darwinism. I cannot understand why these Christians seem so enamored with the Darwin party line, and seem so uninterested in the important questions ID raises, which we both find so fascinating.

  20. While I do think some in the debate approach the issues aesthetically, it’s not an aesthetic question at all. It’s a question of probability.

    Look, naturalism and supernaturalism are broad categories of theories. They are not theories by themselves. A theory is natural is it is described by fixed laws + some randomness. I think a supernatural theory is pretty incoherent, but let’s just say for now that it is a theory which is not natural.

    Now, is there anything in principle that a supernatural theory or a natural theory could not do? I don’t think there’s any limitation on what’s logically possible by theories in either category. Even if you believed that the naturalistic assembly of life on this planet was an extremely improbable stroke of luck, you would still have to admit that it was possible that some theory of natural laws could account for it. Likewise, even if I thought that it was extremely improbable that a God would create the world we live in, it’s obviously possible that God did so anyway, i.e., that I could find a theory of God compatible with the evidence.

    So, the question of belief ought to fall to probabilities, not possibilities or compatibilities.

    Supernaturalism (whatever that means) is certainly consistent with the way the Sun, stars and planets move in the sky. Yeah, it could be Ra. General Relativity (GR) is also compatible with those orbits. So why do we have any confidence that GR explains those motions instead of Ra? Well, it ain’t aesthetics. It’s because GR is a highly specific theory. It’s specific because it’s NOT compatible with a lot of observations. This limited compatibility creates (you saw it coming)… predictions.

    Don’t make me bring out shuffled and sorted decks of cards, again, but you know how limited compatibility plays into probability evaluations.

    In principle, there’s nothing wrong with ID as a theory. However, for us to have any confidence in a particular ID theory, it has to be compatible with ONLY a limited number of possibilities. It has to make predictions. ID as philosophical/cultural project (it sure ain’t science) doesn’t make any predictions. All it does is point out gaps in evolutionary theories. However, evolutionary theories are already proven (inasmuch as scientific theories are proven) by descent, common descent, genetics, fossils, etc.

    ID needs to start talking about what the designer would NOT do, or else it will never gain any ground. Instead, IDists focus exclusively on trying to find things that have yet to be explained with evolutionary models.

    Try inverting the epistemic status of evolution and ID to see what’s gone horribly wrong. Suppose (contra reality) we had superb evidence of conversations with a being describing himself as God. These conversations were recorded on instruments, and we were assured that human bias could not likely account for them. Suppose we also had strong evidence that the God entity appeared to be able to violate physical conservation laws. Suppose some fossils dug up by paleontologists even had the words “Copyright (c) Mesozoic, God” etched into them in Hebrew.

    Then some naturalists come along. “Aha!” they say. “You haven’t explained how God chose to make the platypus.”

    Completely true. Obviously, the theists would have no explanation for why God chose to make a platypus. However, that does not constitute evidence for a competing evolutionary model unless the evolutionary theorists can say why they predict a platypus, but not something else. Naturalists playing the “you haven’t explained X” game would not be gaining any ground, and certainly wouldn’t be engaging in science (even if they utilized proper zoological terms to describe the platypus).

  21. The Cambrian Explosion also has to make you wonder- why did God allow evolution to unfold in such a way as to make the Cambrian animals look like they were “just planted there without any evolutionary history”? Did he do it to fool people into doubting the Darwinian story? That would be pretty mean.

    Strictly speaking, all fossils look like they were “planted there”. Evolutionary history is inferred from similarities to other fossils found in older/younger rock strata. The comparative absence of older fossils with similarities is the only reason the Cambrian animals are considered unique.

    If you don’t buy the inference that similarities between fossils is justification for evolutionary history, it seems strange to make a big deal about the Cambrian explosion. You dispute all evolutionary lineages then, not just Cambrian.

    On the other hand, if you are familiar with the vast amount of evidence that supports evolutionary history inferences, then you also understand that processes that cause evolution can proceed rapidly or slowly, that 5 million years is still an enormous amount of time, that fossilization is rare, that the farther back you go in Earth’s geologic history, the harder it is to find rocks, or match up rocks of the same age or date regions precisely, and thus the inference that the evolutionary history for the Cambrian explosion is there but obscured or obliterated by time is not a difficult inference to make. Determining the exact history and mechanism is an interesting problem but hardly a challenge to evolutionary theory in general.

    Note that this would all change if Intelligent Design proponents come up with a testable barrier to evolutionary processes or discover a design mechanism that is experimentally distinguishable from natural processes.

  22. Note that this would all change if Intelligent Design proponents come up with a testable barrier to evolutionary processes or discover a design mechanism that is experimentally distinguishable from natural processes.

    Or a model which shows foresight in natural processes. Design, like naturalism, are interpretive in nature and not strictly revealed by cited data.

  23. Woodchuck,

    No, subsequent trilobite fossils have an evolutionary history. Lots and lots of other animals show a pattern of stasis over time in the fossil record.

    There are a whole slew of problems posed by the Cambrian Explosion- not just the lack of evolutionary history. For example, why so many phyla then, and virtually none later?

    Your other comments don’t line up with the fact that we have a good record of the Ediacara explosion and stasis right up to the Cambrian.

  24. There are a whole slew of problems posed by the Cambrian Explosion- not just the lack of evolutionary history. For example, why so many phyla then, and virtually none later?

    This IS a problem of a lack of evolutionary history. If we had an evolutionary history, intermediate forms would point to the primary evolutionary mechanism. Without that history, it’s difficult to know which of many possible mechanisms and scenarios played the dominant role. Understand that there are no mammals, reptiles, birds, insects, spiders or plants in the Cambrian. Instead, there are a host of small, weird-looking creatures nothing like modern organisms. Imagining a common ancestor is not difficult once you understand that phyla is not a fundamental division of nature but simply a way of classifying organisms by internal body plan. It’s man-made. Conceptually, evolving various body plans from simpler ancestors at this early stage of complexity is not the leap of faith some think it is.

  25. Then some naturalists come along. “Aha!” they say. “You haven’t explained how God chose to make the platypus.”

    […]
    For more than 100 years, debate has raged within the scientific community about various aspects of the platypus, muted only briefly and very occasionally by (very infrequent) new discoveries (such as the proof in 1884 that the creature laid eggs, rather than gave birth to live young).

    Of particular interest has been the creature’s origin. Encyclopaedia Britannica says that ‘little is known of their ancestry’ and: ‘Most authorities believe the order Monotremata originated from a line of mammal-like reptiles different from that which gave rise to the other mammals. Nonetheless monotremes may well represent features of anatomy and development that characterized the earliest mainstream mammals.’

    Scientists initially considered the platypus to be ‘primitive’, but then they discovered the incredibly complex electrolocation techniques the animal uses to find food. To evolutionists this made it a ‘highly evolved animal and not a primitive transition between reptiles and mammals.’

    The platypus, along with its fellow monotreme, the echidna, was believed to have evolved in isolation when the land mass that would become Australia (Gondwana) broke away from the other continents supposedly 225 million years ago. This idea of evolution in isolation followed the theory of Darwin, whose affinity for evolution may also have been influenced by his early studies of the platypus during his time on The Beagle.

    However, the discovery in the early 1990s of three platypus teeth in South America—almost identical to fossil platypus teeth found in Australia—threw that theory upside down. (Marsupials, too, were once considered to be exclusive to Australia, but their fossils have now been found on every continent.) Adult living platypuses do not have teeth, but the discovery of platypus fossils in Australia had already identified that their ancestors did have teeth, which were unique and distinctive.

    In reality, there is nothing in the fossil record to indicate that the platypus was ever anything other than a platypus. It is not a living ‘transitional’ form. It is a truly unique creature, and one that continues to baffle those who insist on making it fit into an evolutionary tree.

    http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v24/i2/platypus.asp

  26. Woodchuck,

    The label of “phylum” is man made, but the reality of dramatically different body plans is a fact of nature.

    It’s all about plausibility. You have a fascinating plausibility structure.

    Until you grasp all the problems posed by the Cambrian Explosion, you will not likely grasp why I think Darwinian explanations are highly implausible.

  27. doctor(logic)

    In your proposal that we invert “the epistemic status of evolution and ID” you seem to have some built in some advantages in you argumentation I don’t believe you have the facts to back up. You say:

    “Suppose (contra reality) we had superb evidence of conversations with a being describing himself as God. These conversations were recorded on instruments, and we were assured that human bias could not likely account for them. Suppose we also had strong evidence that the God entity appeared to be able to violate physical conservation laws.”

    Why does “ID” (or in you specific example, God) need “superb evidence” when evolution doesn’t. You seem to assume evolution to have this “superb evidence” but at the same time you rightfully say “(ID) point(s) out gaps in evolutionary theories” which it certainly has. Your assertion that “evolutionary theories are already proven” doesn’t even take into account the (quite significant) “gap” that the subject of this thread, the Cambrian Explosion, has torn in evolutionary theory.

    You want the “recording” of conversations with God to be beyond human bias but can offer no proof the evidence for evolution similarly unbiased. Your “superb evidence” is quite a bit less than that.

    There is just as much evidence for just what you claim to need “conversations with a being describing himself as God” and “strong evidence that the God entity appeared to be able to violate physical conservation laws”. The eyewitness accounts of both these things have been shown to be at least as reliable as the “proofs” for evolution. It is hardly as “contra reality” as you suggest.

    How is it that when proponents of evolution ask for “proof” from their opponents they adopt standards for them that they themselves cannot meet. Making faith-based statements about scientific subjects does not make those statements science. If evolution has anywhere near the “superb evidence” you suggest it does, this thread and every other like it on the internet would disappear overnight.

  28. pds:

    You are correct to point out Woodchuck’s sloppy use of terms, but you are incorrect to think that just because something is on its own and mechanistically improbable to then imply it’s impossible and demands an external intelligent cause. I’m not going to get into the debate over statistical boundaries (Dembski’s 10^150) because assigning such variables is highly subject to interpretation… ironically along the same lines as contributor DL illicitly tries to reduce everything (in order to be “meaningful” scientifically) to probabilities.

    The problem you appear to share with Dembski is the mechanistic Newtonian paradigm: if it’s mathematically impossible, it’s ontologically impossible and (therefore) demands something else. Wrong.

    It is extremely unlikely that a nuclear reactor can come together and actually fission to produce power over long periods of time… and yet we have the Oklo natural reactor in Africa. Granted, Oklo is not a living thing with exceedingly more complex heterogeneous components, but the example does do away with mathematically-based “improbable to impossible” jump. Granted, also, a nuclear reactor is a different ontological kind of thing than what a living thing is… but the point still holds.

    So, if just before the historic periods of all the biological “explosions” occurred, what if it were in the nature of God’s creation at that time to act out those natures and produce “explosions of life” and proceed through descent with modification to where we are today? Does that violate God’s omnipotence or omniscience or providence? Not in the least? Does is violate neo-Darwinian accounts of descent with modification–weak as they are notwithstanding? Nope.

    Another irony is what IDers share with anti-IDers like Dawkins: the mathematical to ontological jump (reductionism, actually) Dembski et al attempt (which, at the end of the day is interpretation) is the other side of the coin of Dawkins’ reductionism when he claims (based on evolutionary theory!?!) that there is no good, evil, purpose, meaning, yadda-yadda. The Darwinists, illicitly employing the MESs, claim none of these (including design) are possible, the IDers, also wrongly employing the MESs, claim they are all possible… when both, in fact, miss the limitations of the MESs can access. The MESs can neither infer the existence of design nor can they deny the existence of design: it is WE, rational agents, who reason to the existence of design.

    Over and over and over the problem, at its base, is to first understand what design is before attempting to infer or deny its existence. If design is ontologically the same kind of thing as a neutrino, then the MESs can deny or confirm its existence. But if design is not ontologically the same kind of thing as a neutrino, then one must employ a kind of reasoning beyond that of the MESs to confirm or deny its existence… in whatever way design “exists.”

    By the way, I double-dog dare you to ask Dembski whether he really believes final and formal causality can be adequately grasped by his mathematical forays, or whether he believes natures “act out” what they are, or whether the “nature” of a thing is also adequately grasped by his mathematics… just like he seems to deeply believe “design” can be adequately grasped mathematically.

    The upshot is, neither should extra-Darwinian interpretations that claim there is no design (a bad interpretation, at that) be permitted in a biology classroom, nor should ID interpretations that claim design exists be permitted in the biology classroom. Let both of them duke it out on the playing field of natural philosophy… but, of course, that presupposes philosophy is taken seriously and is taught that way in schools, doesn’t it? We can see, given olegt’s sentiments, how far that will go…

  29. Bill,

    Evolution predicts descent, i.e., it predicts genetic births. Design does not predict this. No cars give birth to other cars. Instead, we use manufacturing. A machine is used to create instances of cars, and when we want a new car with better gas mileage, we don’t evolve one.

    Even when we use evolutionary techniques, we don’t utilize that technique by giving the object we’re designing genitalia and reproductive organs. We still use manufacturing.

    Even if we use evolutionary algorithms to design airplanes, we don’t make airplanes need to feed themselves. We don’t want predatory airplanes.

    Then there’s common descent. How hard would it be to design a computer if computers had to be descended from bicycles? Pretty darned hard.

    When we built wings out of carbon fiber, we didn’t start from scratch. We took wing designs that used aluminum, and simply built them out of a new material. When we built an electric car, we built a gasoline-powered car and replaced the power plant. It’s easy because there’s no descent. So we can expect that a designer can do the same for life. Where are the carbon fiber bunnies, the nuclear-powered antelopes, and the plastic moles? Gosh, darn, they don’t exist.

    No one is saying an all powerful, omniscient designer couldn’t make a planet full of life that looked evolved.

    The point is that such a choice is hyper-improbable because there are so many other ways of designing life. Meanwhile, evolution has to use descent and common descent.

    Evolution is convicted of creating life on this planet, beyond a reasonable doubt. If you claim evolution was framed, show us the evidence.

    BTW, your claims about evolution are no better than the claims of the 9/11 “truthers”. You’re pushing a ridiculous conspiracy theory in which competing biologists across the planet are all conspiring to defraud you.

  30. Holopupenko,

    You said,

    you are incorrect to think that just because something is on its own and mechanistically improbable to then imply it’s impossible and demands an external intelligent cause.

    I did not state or imply that it is “impossible” or that it “demands” an external intelligent cause.

    I said, “I think Darwinian explanations are highly implausible.” It is reasonable to draw inferences based on plausibility. The inferences are tentative.

    Your original assertion is contradicted by what I said above. See Tom’s comment here:

    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2009/11/breakpoint-intelligent-artistry/#comment-17653

    And my reply here:

    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2009/11/breakpoint-intelligent-artistry/#comment-17655

  31. pds:

    Thanks for the clarification, but I still contend you do imply something beyond. Even if I grant you the point, certainly one cannot deny that point of IDT. I believe the remainder of my comment bears that out… and I’m about to post a comment taking Tom to task on a claim he made earlier… that may clarify my position.

  32. Hi Tom:

    You noted: “[I believe]… life developed on earth gradually over a very long period of time, and that God superintended and directed every step of the process with a definite (teleological) end in mind.”

    This is a serious error, Tom, and I hope you don’t mind my nipping fairly hard at your heels. It is why (for among other reasons) ID fails when it claims to be a modern empirical science (with the goal of gaining a foothold in the biology classroom), for it wrongly accepts the idea that an Enlightenment view of science is the paradigm of knowledge, i.e., it is a Newtonian (mechanistic) view of reality through “external imposition” because it reduces inferring the existence of design (and by extension, the existence of God) to doing so exclusively through the MESs.

    Everyone who is intellectually honest knows design “exists” in the world (it’s not just mere appearance)—everything from human-designed artifacts to the universe itself are designed. (And, by the way, there is nothing wrong with relying on Psalm 19:1 to support/confirm this.) But design is not “seen” by the MESs… although they can provide crucial input data. It is WE—rational agents—that reason from sensory knowledge to intellectual knowledge to “see” design. (While all knowledge is obtained through the senses, not all knowledge is sensory knowledge: there is nothing sensory-accessible about “the day after tomorrow” or the rules of chess; there is no way you can sense them, measure them, ascribe a probability to them, or make predictions about them.)

    First, the mechanistic, mechanistic view you (likely quite unintentionally) propose of God “direct[ing] every step of the process” (which ID is about) closely resembles the well-intended yet deeply-flawed error Ockham made with his rejection of analogous terms, his Nominalism (that there are no universals and no such things as a “natures” beyond the sensory accessible accidents of beings), and that God directs (through physical efficient causality) every single material being and physical phenomenon in the world. Moreover, along the way this hugely begs the question: “just how does an immaterial being—no matter its omnipotence in its own realm—interact with material beings?” (More on this later.)

    The mechanistic, “externally imposed” view of the “laws” of nature is a pernicious idea. It misses the crucial distinction (1) for human artifacts (clocks, computers, etc.) the formal and final causes are imposed from outside the collection of parts by an intelligent agent acting through the physical version of the efficient cause and drawing upon the physical version of the material cause, while for (2) the formal and final causes of natural objects (say, living things) are intrinsic to those objects, and hence can only be “imposed” on the intrinsic level. More simply put, God doesn’t make and wind up clocks and then keep them going through His efficient-cause intervention at “every step of the process.” To repeat, God creates natures and keeps them in existence. (In this light, by the way, one can see just how childishly ignorant Laplace’s retort to Napoleon [“I have no need for that [God] hypothesis”] really is.)

    If one jettisons analogous language (so that terms such as “interaction” and “cause” cannot be fully and richly understood), if one jettisons natures (that “act out”—teleologically or teleonomically—their natures), and if one believes God is the direct cause of every contingent being and phenomena (where God’s will overrides His rationality, the sort of nonsense the Muslims love), then, among other things, we are indeed reducible to nothing more than piles of 10^28 atoms mysteriously animated to be sophisticated robots with no free wills (the transhumanists love such nonsense), no moral responsibility (the moral relativists love such nonsense), and no ability even to really do science (the mind-to-brain reductionists love such nonsense). How can we do science if God directs the action of everything? What room is there for free will if God is “directing every step of the process”? Yes, you apply that to the development of life on earth (evolution), but then what’s to stop God from directing everything on earth? God doesn’t do that: he keeps things in existence and creates natures… not individual billiard balls bouncing around.

    Second, it assumes design is the same kind of thing as a neutrino, i.e., a material thing, i.e., a thing directlyaccessible to the senses and hence directly accessible to the MESs. This is ontological reductionism par excellence. That is the mistake Dembski makes per my first point above: believing he can employ sophisticated mathematical analysis of information (believing he can necessarily and sufficiently define “information” mathematically, i.e., “complex specified information”) without first telling us ontologically what information is. It’s akin to the error of claiming the Schrodinger equation IS the behavior of quantum-level entities, or that the Schrodinger equation “governs” (i.e., actualizes) the behavior of quantum-level entities. It’s nothing of the sort: the mathematical descriptions of physical phenomena are derived from those physical phenomena—not the other way around. Dembski confuses (1) the map for (2) the territory the map attempts to describe… and this description is a very limited one at that.

    Science can detect dirt IN rugs, but it cannot detect meaning or information IN words… except in a very rarefied, analogous way. How do you “measure” meaning… mathematically? (Please don’t chase me on the “how”: I know what Dembski proposes and attempts… and I certainly won’t waste time of DL’s “predictability” non-starter.) Does a bigger printed word “red” have “more” meaning that a smaller printed word “red”? Does a word with more letters have “more” meaning than word with few letters? Of course not, for if so “God” would have less meaning than “chimpanzee.” One does not know the meaning of a word by measuring it in any way. One knows the meaning of a word because the word has some structure—some form [formal cause!], i.e., it “carries” in-FORM-ation. (A house is a house because it “has” a certain form—not because it’s a collection of bricks and wood and nails.) It is the FORM of a thing that we understand, not the constituent material parts of that thing (except upon further reflection), and it is the FORM of a thing that causes it to be WHAT kind of SUB-STANCE (the thing we UNDER-STAND) it is.

    Pigments don’t come together by themselves to make funny symbols on a printed page: the pigments must be in-FORMED by us—rational agents. The in-FORM-ation “carried” by DNA could only have been “put” there by a rational agent for whom that in-FORM-ation had meaning. A collection of three separate colors of cloth mean nothing until they are in-FORMED by us to make a flag. If that collection of three colors of cloth came together mechanically through the action of, say, waves on a beach, it wouldn’t be a flag but a collection of unrelated colored pieces of cloth with no meaning.

    Only a rational agent can impart meaning, but that meaning must necessarily be imparted by an immaterial mind. We are the only creatures on this earth that can, quite literally raise the ontological status of things: we impart meaning to cloth to raise it up to be a flag; we impart FORM upon separate notes to make music; we impart FORM upon letters to raise them up to really become words. How do we treat the brute animals when we treat them with charity? Humane-ly, of course. And, only somewhat incidentally, we are also the only creatures on earth that can, quite literally—alter our own natures: we can become inhuman or we can become saints (through the heroic practice of virtues). A rock can’t act “unrockily,” an oak tree cannot act “un-oakily,” a dog can’t act “un-dogily.”

    So, coming back to my question above, that’s how the immaterial affects the material: by working (cooperating) with ontologically-lower things that “obey” their limitations (non-living entities “obey” the laws of physics which describe the four fundamental forces of nature)—not through physical efficient causality but to through efficient causality analogously understood as causally “affecting” things to come together with the assistance of their natures. We human beings can fly not because it’s physically in our natures to fly (we don’t have wings—ontologically-speaking, we are not flying creatures) but because our rational (immaterial) natures direct and cooperate with physical processes to design and construct airplanes that do NOT violate any physical laws or principles, but obey them in coordinated, structured, in-FORMED ways.

    And, all the above is exactly why Dawkins wrongly concludes there is no good, no evil, no purpose, no meaning, no design in the universe: he relies exclusively on the MESs to explain meaning… and when he can’t “see” it, he asserts (quite logically within his own self-imposed constraints) there is no meaning or purpose or good or evil or design. (As if any of the neo-Darwinian theories can credibly explain away good, evil, purpose, etc. or reduce them to mechanical froth on the wave of Darwinian reductionism.) Ironically, Dawkins is desperately trying to convinceus of the alleged correctness of his vision of reality with… wait for it… great strength of purpose. What possible purpose (end, intention, goal, telos) can Dawkins’ pseudo-philosophical ramblings serve if he asserts there is no purpose in the first place? How much more nonsensical can Daniel Dennett be in trying to convince us (“convincing” presupposes a free will to understand and distinguish what is true from what is false and, yep… to choose) that we have no free will in the first place? “Purpose” and “design” are the same kind of thing; “neutrinos” and “design” are not.

    And these sophists make lots of money on books that spout this kind of self-immolating nonsense… just like Dembski, albeit with good intentions, profits from selling books that are based on fundamental errors about God’s alleged “accessibility” to the MESs whose roots stretch back to the Franciscan friar William of Ockham, to the Reformation “plain meaning,” anti-allegorical Scriptural hermeneutic (as illicitly applied to the “Book of Nature”) that denies anything beyond appearances, and in some measure to William Paley’s flawed watchmaker analogy.

    Blaring the trumpet of ID to corral God into “direct[ing] every step of the process” is to denigrate who God is and to undermine the MESs. (1) Why denigrate God? St. Augustine and St. Thomas and many other medieval thinkers demanded that whatever natural phenomenon could be explained by secondary causes, should be explained by them… which in no way diminishes the necessity or importance of the Primary [First] Cause… which was noted in my response to pds. (2) Why undermine the MESs? Because it is one of those debilitating ideas (at the psychological level) that stifles scientific inquiry—the very idea at the bottom of why science sputtered and died in the Muslim world near the end of the Middle Ages. If God directs “every step of the process,” what possible reason is there to do science? What possible meaning could “predictive efficacy” have? Why study anything at all if, at the end of the day, God “direct[s] ever step of the process”?

    Finally, the “undirected Darwinian evolution” and “blind forces” metaphors are ignorant non-starters for Darwinists to employ… but also foolish for IDers to get into a tizzy over. Mozart may no longer be around, but he intentionally does/did—in the quite valid analogous sense—“direct” and has “directed” countless musicians in countless orchestras over hundreds of years to act out their rational natures with the purpose of playing his music and knowing its beauty. To claim there is no “purpose” in Mozart or no “design” in his music because “purpose” and “beauty” are not sensory accessible, measureable or testable (in the MES sense) is just as ridiculous as the claim that Mozart must be “direct[ing] every step of the process” for a musician to be able to play the music. The immaterial efficient causality of a musician playing intentionally beautiful music is staring us in the face, and we can “see” it as long as we don’t put on the artificial blinders of scientism. It is the very thing that distinguishes us from our brute counterparts on earth—our rational nature: we can reason to and about things that are totally inaccessible to the five primary senses… and hence inaccessible to the MESs.

  33. “No one is saying an all powerful, omniscient designer couldn’t make a planet full of life that looked evolved.”

    “The point is that such a choice is hyper-improbable because there are so many other ways of designing life.”

    Really? Are you really claiming to know the mind of God and how he would or would not form life on this planet. That may be the single most stunning statement I have ever read.

    Further, you assume that evolution is true and that it accounts for the life we see on earth. That is the question being discussed here which you somehow assume as a conclusion without offering anything to back that up

    Lastly, you attack me for proffering a conspiracy theory when I did nothing of the sort. I pointed out that human bias is as prevalent in science as any other subject. And I wouldn’t want to close without pointing out the ad hominem attack you used when you compared me to a “truther”.

    Quite a post there “doctor”.

  34. Bill,

    Doctor(logic) has been beating this probability drum for a long time. Here’s another way of stating the same objection you made:

    How improbable is it that God would have designed life the way he did, given that there are so many other ways he could have designed it? An estimate of probability requires knowledge of the probability space. How probable is it that I would deal myself a hand of all spades? I don’t know it depends on how big a hand you’re talking about: 1 card or 13? But it also depends on the deck I’m dealing from. With a 52-card deck the probability is about 1 in 10^31. With a 13-card deck of all spades, I can deal myself a 13-card hand of spades every time.

    DL is assuming that the probability space is something like the 52-card deck. But as you said, that requires him knowing that if there is a God, we would deal from a large deck. That’s a theological assumption with no basis in any evidence or information whatsoever

    Doctor(logic) can say “we don’t know what the probability is that a God would design life this way.” He can’t say anything stronger than that. Not without looking at the cards in God’s hand.

  35. My friend Holopupenko,

    I think you read too much into this:

    [I believe]… life developed on earth gradually over a very long period of time, and that God superintended and directed every step of the process with a definite (teleological) end in mind.”

    Recall for example that I left open the possibility of front-loaded evolution. I don’t know if God physically intervened at every step in the process, but I don’t think that’s entailed in “superintended and directed.” I do not assume that God’s intervention is “mechanistic.”

    You go on to say,

    ID fails when it claims to be a modern empirical science (with the goal of gaining a foothold in the biology classroom), for it wrongly accepts the idea that an Enlightenment view of science is the paradigm of knowledge, i.e., it is a Newtonian (mechanistic) view of reality through “external imposition” because it reduces inferring the existence of design (and by extension, the existence of God) to doing so exclusively through the MESs.

    I think you overstate the case there, too. I see it this way instead:

    ID explores to see whether design can be detected by way of scientific research coupled with philosophically-guided interpretation. The assumption of ID is that this can produce a positive result..

    There is nothing in there that says that the inference to design can only be accomplished in that way, or that this is the only way IDers have to think about the existence of God. It is a way that ID proponents believe is fruitful. What’s wrong with pursuing something that might be fruitful?

    Again you said,

    The mechanistic, “externally imposed” view of the “laws” of nature is a pernicious idea.

    But I don’t know why you put externally imposed (or above, external imposition) in quotes, as if implying that I used that term earlier. I didn’t. I don’t know who you’re quoting.

    Science can detect dirt IN rugs, but it cannot detect meaning or information IN words… except in a very rarefied, analogous way.

    Science can detect the existence of that which might carry information. It requires philosophical reflection to determine what if any information actually is there. I don’t know why you think ID is just science. It’s science and philosophy both.

    Blaring the trumpet of ID to corral God into “direct[ing] every step of the process” is to denigrate who God is and to undermine the MESs

    What do you think I meant by “directing every step”? As I said already, you read too much into it.

  36. Bill,

    Really? Are you really claiming to know the mind of God and how he would or would not form life on this planet?

    No, quite the contrary. You are the one claiming to know that God would choose evolution (or what looks exactly like evolution) to create life on this planet instead of one of the trillions of alternatives. You are the one holding the theologically arrogant position, here. My position is to assume nothing about what a God would do.

    Consider you’re playing poker, and you get dealt an uninteresting hand in the following order: a two of clubs, a queen of spades, a jack of hearts, a seven of diamonds, and a nine of diamonds. How likely is it that you would get this particular hand?

    Well, it’s about 310 million to one. However, the odds of getting no significant poker hand at all (apart from queen high) are pretty high, and that’s what makes the hand uninteresting.

    If you were dealt a royal straight flush, that would be a remarkable hand, and it would be an even more remarkable hand if the cards were dealt in ascending order. This is because royal straight flushes are very improbable when dealt in any order, and 310 million to one for a particular order in a particular suit.

    The analogy is this. Evolution predicts that the hand you are dealt will always be a straight flush. In contrast, ID, representing the unknown dealer/mind of God, can deal you any hand (after all, we’re assuming nothing about God, here). This is why evolution is overwhelmingly supported by the evidence. It predicted a straight flush, and that’s what was observed. You didn’t have to get dealt a straight flush if you were designed, but you did have to get dealt a straight flush if you were evolved through a natural process.

    Now, if you want to say God only deals straight flushes (which is what you would have to do to catch evolution in terms of evidence), that’s fine, but you had better have a predictive model of God to make that assertion. If you just say God does so because that’s what the evidence shows, then you’re fine-tuning… you’re drawing your targets around where the experimental arrows landed.

    Before evolution came along, y’all were talking about God poofing life into existence over a six-day period, six thousand years ago. When you thought your hand was three of a kind, you insisted God deals threes of a kind. When you realize that your hand is actually a straight flush, now God deals straight flushes? Come on.

    And I wouldn’t want to close without pointing out the ad hominem attack you used when you compared me to a “truther”.

    Actually, I compared your claims to the claims of “truthers”, not you to the “truthers”. Nevertheless, I stand by my statement: you and the “truthers” are all conspiracy theorists. It’s not personal, though. It goes for all the evolution deniers. If evolutionary biology were on the kind of shaky ground you suppose it to be, you’re alleging a lot more than bias. You’re alleging a cover-up on the part of scientists, any of whom would win a Nobel prize if they could prove design or even just displace the neo-Darwinian synthesis.

  37. Hi Tom:

    Thanks for the clarification, and sorry about the “reading into thing”… although I think you can see why, if that position was indeed held, it’s a problem.

    As for your characterization of IDT, I largely agree with you… but then that begs a huge question on the proper “place” for ID because it’s not the way they’re projecting themselves. They want IDT taught as a scientific theory in biology classrooms… which is where the problem comes in. IDT is not biology: it’s an attempt at science plus philosophical interpretation… which means it can be critiqued from both the scientific perspective (not to jump on the band wagon, but it has not produced any positive scientific work) AND from the philosophical perspective.

    For now, I have to agree with critiques leveled against it from the positive scientific perspective, and you certainly know my (and others’) philosophical critiques of it. At best (although it IS a good thing ID does), IDT critiques the alleged neo-Darwinian explanatory efficacies of the day. (There are a LOT of holes and other problems with neo-Darwinism… but it’s the best thing we’ve got so far from the mechanistic perspective.) So, as a “negative” science (meaning a strong critique of the limitations of neo-Darwinian theories), then fine. But that’s the only way it can hope to gain a foot in the door of the classroom.

    Do you think, for example, Dembski et al would agree with your characterization of IDT? I think not. Can you imagine what an impact on the Discovery Institute’s position (including fundraising) and on the loyal opposition (“I told you so”) it would have if they were to characterize IDT as “part science and part philosophy”?

    Also, I’m not trying to “compartamentalize” or isolate fields of knowledge from each other… Lord knows that’s a problem these days. What I am trying to do is draw careful distinctions so that travesties like Kitzmiller can be properly critiqued.

    Also, I admit adding much to my response… in my usual, verbose way I was trying to be complete.

  38. Tom,

    DL is assuming that the probability space is something like the 52-card deck. But as you said, that requires him knowing that if there is a God, we would deal from a large deck. That’s a theological assumption with no basis in any evidence or information whatsoever.

    The blade cuts both ways.

    Although the basic scheme of evolution is known (this scheme correctly predicts descent and common descent), a lot of the detail of evolution remains to be discovered. We know bits an pieces about DNA, chemistry, physics, etc., but a detailed microscopic theory of evolution remains to be discovered. Presumably, there is a space of microsocopic theories, and we don’t know how to formulate any of them in predictive detail. For example, we can’t tackle problems like protein folding because we lack computing power.

    Now, ID proponents argue that, when we don’t know the mechanisms, priorities, tendencies of a system, the ID crowd assumes that we should weight probability equally over every theory that is compatible with the known constraints on the system. And most of those micro-theories won’t end up making the flagellum or blood clotting or whatever. So ID proponents conclude that, if we assume all possible microtheories are equally probable, then it is improbable that evolution will be responsible for these structures.

    Well, isn’t that interesting?

    Yet, when I make the exact same argument about God, that’s ruled illegal? There are lots of possible minds God might be in (from our incomplete epistemic perspective, I mean… we’re assuming he’s in one actual mind), and so I am giving them all equal weight so as not to make unjustified theological assumptions. Throw in the fact that there are no constraints God needed to follow at all, and the probability gets spread very thinly.

    The reason why ID fails is that the macro-theory of evolution makes verified predictions. God is completely unconstrained and makes none.

  39. Hi doctor(logic)

    Evolution predicts descent, i.e., it predicts genetic births.

    Evolution predicts births? I think you may have the wrong end of the stick here… evolution observes births and observes the differences between parent and offspring (differential reproduction) and hypothesizes that differential reproduction is a sufficient explanation for the diversity of life.

    Design does not predict this.

    You’re absolutely correct, design does not predict “births”. Design observes, among other things, the limits on differential reproduction which well documented, and hypothesizes that descent with modification is an insufficient explanation for the diversity of life.

    No cars give birth to other cars.

    No cars give birth to other cars because we lack the technological capacity to design such a complex integrated system. “A living cell is an example of a self-replicating machine.”
    http://www.srm.org.uk/introduction.html

    Instead, we use manufacturing.

    A self-replicating machine (SRM) is a machine that can make a copy of itself. Imagine a room full of electronic and mechanical components scattered randomly about the floor. Can a robot be built that will move around the room, pick up and identify the components, and then use them to build an identical copy of itself? How much more difficult does the problem become if instead of ready-made component parts the room contains raw materials (silicon, aluminium and plastic for example) that the robot must use to fabricate components?

    http://www.srm.org.uk/introduction.html

    A machine is used to create instances of cars, and when we want a new car with better gas mileage, we don’t evolve one.

    Evolution of the Automobile
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uyBrQm-J6g

    However, the real debate isn’t about automobiles, which we all realize are the product of “design”, but whether bios has the capacity to “evolve” a new molecular machine throught the process fo differential reproduction and natural selection.

    Von Neumann’s machine has an important feature in common with a living cell. It uses a sequence of instructions to describe the machine. This sequence of instructions is first interpreted by the machine in order to make a replica of itself. Then, the instruction sequence is copied and a copy given to the replica. DNA is used in a similar way in cells.

    There are also some significant differences between von Neumann’s design and a living cell. In von Neumann’s universe there is no conservation of matter and energy. The SRM can make new parts out of nowhere as it needs them, so it does not have any apparatus to collect and sort parts. Also, von Neumann’s SRM is stationary – it cannot move about in the universe. Finally, the instruction sequence in von Neumann’s SRM directly specifies how a replica should be constructed, and the instruction sequence can be altered so that the machine can make any other machine in the universe, not just a copy of itself. In a living cell, there is no such obvious connection between information stored in DNA molecules and the action of the cell .

    http://www.srm.org.uk/introduction2.html

    Another product of design, although hypothetical and far beyond the capacity of present technolocgy to design and produce. Von Neumann’s “self replicating machine” is orders of magnitude simpler than the simplest living cell.

  40. God is completely unconstrained and makes [no verified predictions].

    Exactly. Bravo. I’m not sure a good portion of the theologians out there could make such an honest assertion…

    … but to then proceed from that (which is an epistemic constraint on us), to “therefore, God does not exist” is arguably the worst form of sophistry and ontological reductionism conceivable. It is scientistic nonsense, it is a fallacious jump in logic, and it is intellectually dishonest in the sense that it sneaks in the false (and certainly unsupportable) assumption that God must be the same kind of thing as His creation. Isn’t that, well, conspiratorial (the act of working secretly to attain some goal and not the truth)?

  41. doctor(logic)

    First you claim to understand how God would or would not create life and then you try to pass it off as that was what I was doing. Then you assume the validity of evolution, misrepresent my position on bias, ascribe beliefs to me I don’t hold and repeat your ad hominem attack on me.

    It’s been a pleasure, really.

  42. Tom,

    Thanks for the clarification on the brief point I made. Far more eloquent than I was. And much appreciate your argeeement with my objections to the doctor’s response.

  43. doctor(logic) (to Bill): You are the one claiming to know that God would choose evolution (or what looks exactly like evolution) to create life on this planet instead of one of the trillions of alternatives. You are the one holding the theologically arrogant position, here. My position is to assume nothing about what a God would do.

    Why are you not able to analyze what God did based on observable outcomes? If you believe evolution took place then you presumably have a rational basis on which to make an inference about what God did. But if that is the case then you are being disingenuous by ascribing arrogance to Bill. A theistic evolutionist would assume divine actions based on observable evidence. What do you have against that approach?

  44. William,

    The answer is fine-tuning. I’ll describe it by analogy.

    Suppose someone breaks into your car. The next day, a policeman walks up dragging a woman in handcuffs. He says this is the culprit. Case solved?

    No. There are a million people who might have broken into your car. Why select this woman over your neighbor, or over the chef at the restaurant downtown? Just picking her off the street because she could have committed the crime is fine-tuning the identity of the criminal. In the absence of evidence for the guilt of this woman in particular, the odds must be a million to one against this woman being the guilty party.

    Note that the mere fact that your car was broken into does not constitute evidence against this particular woman. You cannot say that you can deduce what this woman did by looking at the car. If the radio was stolen, you don’t know this woman stole your radio. Rather, you know that IF this woman is guilty, THEN she probably stole your radio.

    How can we come to believe that this woman is the criminal?

    Well, the theory that this woman is the bandit makes predictions that are better than a million to one. Her fingerprints on your car, and the presence of the car’s radio in her apartment actually make it likely that she is the culprit. They certainly make it far more likely that she is guilty than, say, some guy who lives across town.

    Now, look at what Bill is saying. Bill is saying that God did it. But what do we know about God? We know even less about this God than we know about the alleged car bandit. Without any particular evidence that God designed us as we are, the odds have to be infinitesimal. It would be just as wrong to say that we know God made goats because we see goats as it would to say we know the woman stole the radio because the radio is missing. You don’t know it was the woman who broke into the car, and you don’t know it was God who created life on Earth. If you want to fine-tune God to evolve life on Earth, that’s fine, but you had better come up with some awesome predictions to offset the fine-tuning.

    Bill is saying that God is just the kind of God to evolve life, so Bill is assuming what God would do, just like the cop might be assuming what the woman might do. Someone who does not assume these things knows that it’s highly unlikely the woman is guilty until the predicted evidence can be confirmed, and highly unlikely God would evolve life (instead of not creating life or instead of manufacturing life).

    Of course, evolutionary biology has to play by the same rules. I cannot just say that I have a natural theory that results in life evolving on this planet. That’s more like a statement of the requirement my theory must meet to explain what we see. Fortunately, evolutionary theories are more than this. They predict descent, common descent, common materials, etc. Whatever the micro-mechanism of evolution, the macro-mechanism of evolution demands these things. Every evolutionary theory has these things, and experiment proves that common descent is a fact. Evolution pays for its fine tuning with predicted evidence. We don’t have a complete micro-theory of evolution, so not everything has been explained. But we don’t let the car vandal go just because we don’t have a micro-theory of her behavior.

  45. William,

    “Bill is saying that God is just the kind of God to evolve life, so Bill is assuming what God would do, just like the cop might be assuming what the woman might do.”

    Except, of course, if you actually read my initial post you will find I made no claim like this at all. The “doctor”, instead of dealing with my objections to his post (for reasons that must be obvious to all) decided to go on the attack. He claims this to be my position just as he claimed I was a conspiracy theorist, misrepresented my position on bias in science, ascribed beliefs to me I do not hold and made a not so subtle ad hominem attack on my credibility (twice).

    You can continue to engage him but know that backed into a corner neither good manners nor, it seems, any sense of personal integrity will prevent him from repeating this strategy with you.

  46. Holopupenko,

    Suppose I hear a voice in my head. The voice says, “Hello, DL, this is God. I want you to kill your next door neighbor.”

    What should I do? Should I believe this is God?

    Suppose the voice gives me the winning lotto numbers in advance. Should I now believe this is God? Should I do as the voice asks?

    You are telling me that I can’t use probability to reason about God. I can’t make any assumptions about what God would or would not do. So would I to resolve this little hypothetical dilemma?

  47. Bill,

    I went back and re-read your comments.

    You objected to my spreading the probability thinly and evenly over all the possible things God might do. That means you preferred to weight the probably more heavily towards what we have seen, i.e., evolution, instead of what was possible.

    Maybe you don’t understand enough about probability to understand that you did so.

    And, please get used to the fact that you are a conspiracy theorist. 99+% of experts in the field think the evidence for evolution is overwhelming, contra your claim that evolution has weak support. Common descent = overwhelming support for evolution. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people like you who deny scientific facts.

    You say there’s as much evidence for God. News flash: just because the authors of the NT claim to be independent, claim that there were independent witnesses, etc., doesn’t make their claims independent. Of course, they’re going to say their claims were independently verified. The folks on Madison Avenue must love you.

  48. Holopupenko,

    Thank you. I don’t mind either. Coming from someone who names themself “doctor(logic)” it has enough irony to not to be all that deleterious.

  49. DL,

    99+% of experts in the field think the evidence for evolution is overwhelming, contra your claim that evolution has weak support.
    …….
    I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people like you who deny scientific facts.

    Facts are facts, and inferences are inferences. I don’t see Bill denying scientific facts. I see him denying certain inferences that those facts suggest/support.

    Nobody here denies the facts of evolution, they deny the theory of evolution as fully definied by the Blind Watchmaker / neo-Darwinian theory.

  50. SteveK,

    You have to understand that the “doctor” believes that I said what he said I said because he said that I said it. That’s enough for him. It should be enough for you.

  51. pds:

    The label of “phylum” is man made, but the reality of dramatically different body plans is a fact of nature.

    That’s not getting my point. The Cambrian body plans are not dramatically different in the sense that known evolutionary mechanisms can not produce them. While modern phyla are vastly different from each other having evolved their separate ways for eons, the first appearance of phyla would not be that different, genetically speaking, being separated by a mere fraction of time in comparison. While it would be a death blow to evolutionary theory to require that modern phyla evolved from/to each other, it is merely a puzzle to discover exactly if, how and when Ediacaran fauna evolved into Cambrian fauna.

    For example, we know that hox genes determine body type/plan. While molecular data show that hox genes likely preceded the Cambrian, it is still the case that mutations in these genes could have had the capacity to produce dramatic changes in body plan in any hypothetical Cambrian ancestor. Thus hox genes are one possible evolutionary mechanism that could solve the puzzle. But did they? It’s too soon to say.

  52. doctor(logic)

    Before evolution came along, y’all were talking about God poofing life into existence over a six-day period, six thousand years ago.

    Not really. St. Augustine, arguably the most influential theologian since St. Paul, was not a young-earth creationist.

    You’re alleging a cover-up on the part of scientists, any of whom would win a Nobel prize if they could prove design or even just displace the neo-Darwinian synthesis.

    No, not at all. I don’t think evidence is being covered up. I think it’s being interpreted according a monolithically naturalistic (methodologically speaking at least) framework. That framework is no secret, and nobody thinks it’s a conspiracy. There is well-documented academic pressure relating to those who question that interpretive framework, but again, that’s not a conspiracy, it’s just group-think acting in public view.

    I don’t know how design could be proved in such a way as to win a Nobel prize in the current climate, because every evidence for it has an alternate naturalistic explanation. To my way of thinking those alternate explnations are weak, strained, and extremely improbable, but as long as they exist, they hold all the authority.

    We know bits an pieces about DNA, chemistry, physics, etc., but a detailed microscopic theory of evolution remains to be discovered. Presumably, there is a space of microsocopic theories, and we don’t know how to formulate any of them in predictive detail. For example, we can’t tackle problems like protein folding because we lack computing power.

    We have reliable estimates of other probabilities relating to the appearance of the first life, however, and they are vanishingly low. These are not inscrutable probabilities like that of God’s intention; they are calculable and they have been calculated. So no, the inscrutability blade does not cut both ways.

    o ID proponents conclude that, if we assume all possible microtheories are equally probable, then it is improbable that evolution will be responsible for these structures.
    Well, isn’t that interesting?
    Yet, when I make the exact same argument about God, that’s ruled illegal?
    If you’re saying the probabilities relating to evolution are as inscrutable as the probabilities relating to God, then please carry that thought out to its full implications. Need I spell it out for you?

    The reason why ID fails is that the macro-theory of evolution makes verified predictions. God is completely unconstrained and makes none.

    God predicted that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. There’s one exception for you. Would you like more? Now, Holopupenko already addressed the other side of what you said; essentially that if you want God to fit into a mechanistic box so we can prove his existence, well, we don’t believe in that God any more than you do.

    You are telling me that I can’t use probability to reason about God. I can’t make any assumptions about what God would or would not do. So would I to resolve this little hypothetical dilemma?

    I think you can use probability to reason about God, but not if you mean probabilities attached to a mechanistic picture of God and his relation to nature.

  53. Tom Gilson wrote:

    I don’t know how design could be proved in such a way as to win a Nobel prize in the current climate, because every evidence for it has an alternate naturalistic explanation. To my way of thinking those alternate explnations are weak, strained, and extremely improbable, but as long as they exist, they hold all the authority.

    Could you provide an example of such evidence and alternative explanations, Tom?

  54. Tom,

    We have reliable estimates of other probabilities relating to the appearance of the first life, however, and they are vanishingly low.

    Besides not being directly related to neo-Darwinian evolution, this is also not true. The scientific consensus is that it is likely that simple life forms quickly on worlds. That’s why we’re sending life-seeking probes to Titan and Mars.

    I don’t know how design could be proved in such a way as to win a Nobel prize in the current climate, because every evidence for it has an alternate naturalistic explanation.

    But it didn’t have to be that way, Tom. I don’t understand how you can ignore this issue for so long. God didn’t have to use evolution for any of it, let alone every single life form in existence. He didn’t need millions of years for ANY step, nor did he have to stick to the same materials at EVERY step, nor did he need to eschew manufacturing at EVERY step.

    Imagine that the Garden of Eden had no reproduction. God manufactured all the animals. None of the animals aged because they were continuously repaired. Not all the animals were flesh either (none of that horrid sex to offend anyone). Rabbits were plastic, moles were made of adamantium, and squirrels were made of dwarf star alloy. Even if you think God didn’t actually do this, he certainly could have. And so it is certainly possible he could have done so on Earth. And the number of possible Eden-like worlds is trillions of times larger than the number of possible evolved worlds.

    Consequently, it would literally be irrational for us to think that an unconstrained God designed the world we’re living in. It’s possible, but hyper-improbable.

    I’m not just making this up. This is a basic principle of rational thinking. When possibility A can result in what we see and also many other states of affairs, but possibility B can result in what we see and only a few states of affairs, then we infer that possibility B is far more likely. If you disagree, please show me a scenario in which this does not work.

  55. Bill,
    DL has no actual numbers in his probability argument, just intuitive ones based on a certain set of facts he thinks are relevent to the question, and a worldwiew to filter everything through.

    I have intuitive numbers and a worldview as well. The difference between us is the worldview, really.

    I interpreted Tom’s comment to say that very thing when he said,

    “I think you can use probability to reason about God, but not if you mean probabilities attached to a mechanistic picture of God and his relation to nature.”

    DL’s view of reality is, in part, a mechanistic one that forces everything to fit that mold – even God. Tom has rightly pointed out that we Christian’s don’t believe in that God, so you have to wonder why DL keeps arguing as he does.

  56. Tom,

    If you’re saying the probabilities relating to evolution are as inscrutable as the probabilities relating to God, then please carry that thought out to its full implications. Need I spell it out for you?

    You’re not being serious, here.

    When the probability distribution isn’t known, you must rationally assume it’s flat.

    Suppose there are 100 numbered doors on your teleporter, and each leads to a (possibly different) city on Earth. Each door always leads to the same city. I am at door number 37. What are the odds that this door takes me to Berlin?

    That’s not easy to calculate, right? Is it inscrutable? Not really. It’s fuzzy, though. The definition of city is vague, so I don’t know exactly how many cities there are. I do know, however, that there are, say, 100,000 cities in the world.

    So I must assume that the odds that this door takes me to Berlin are around 1 in 100,000.

    This probability assessment reflects my ignorance of how you configured your teleporter. Maybe you love Berlin and configured half the doors to take you to Berlin. In that case, the odds this door takes me to Berlin are actually 50%. And if I was privy to a precise map of which doors went where, then I would have a complete micro-theory and know with 100% certainty where the door would lead.

    However, in order for me to rationally change my assessment of the odds from 1 in 100,000 to 50%, I need to know more about how you configured the teleporter.

    Now, I don’t need to assume materialism for this analysis to be rational. The teleporter works by supernatural power, and is configured by your supernatural brain.

    So, let’s get back to the designer. There are trillions of ways a designer could make life on a planet, and perhaps as many purposes for which he might have done so. Not knowing anything about the designer, it is highly improbable that he chose to make it look like the world as evolved, e.g., by using common descent exclusively.

    Of course, if I know more about the designer (I have a micro-theory) and can say WHY he designed life so as to look evolved, then I can alter my probability assessment.

    But until that happens, common descent makes unguided evolution trillions of times more probable than design.

    God predicted that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

    Yeah, he’s almost as good as Nostradamus. Funny how God neglected to give us chemistry, antibiotics, or anything plausibly from a superior being. I guess there’s no possible way that Jesus (or his disciples) would have known about the prophesy and altered their story.

  57. Tom: We have reliable estimates of other probabilities relating to the appearance of the first life, however, and they are vanishingly low.

    doctor(logic): Besides not being directly related to neo-Darwinian evolution, this is also not true.

    Based on what data?

    The scientific consensus is that it is likely that simple life forms quickly on worlds. That’s why we’re sending life-seeking probes to Titan and Mars.

    Scientific consensus about the origin of life means squat. Consensus amounts to a show of hands- a subjective opinion. There were other reasons for the missions to mars and Titan. We explore planets and moons deemed not hospitable to life.

    But it didn’t have to be that way, Tom. I don’t understand how you can ignore this issue for so long. God didn’t have to use evolution for any of it, let alone every single life form in existence. He didn’t need millions of years for ANY step, nor did he have to stick to the same materials at EVERY step, nor did he need to eschew manufacturing at EVERY step.

    Tom knows that God is not constrained. He also knows that God gave us brains with which to analyze evidence.

  58. olegt, you asked for further evidence and interpretations, but I think it’s still your turn to answer questions I’ve asked you that have remained unanswered so far.

  59. dl:

    Besides not being directly related to neo-Darwinian evolution, this is also not true. The scientific consensus is that it is likely that simple life forms quickly on worlds.

    Wow.

    Really?

    Can you point to any person in any scientific field as support for that?

    Is a so-far negative search for evidence now being offered as evidence for what is being searched for?

    I don’t have time tonight to write the rebuttal on this, but it’s not because it’s difficult, it’s because it’s a busy weekend.

    You keep using probability arguments about God and calling me irrational for not accepting them in the form you write them. This is astonishing to me. You claim to have some idea of the probability space in which you are working.

    Maybe we’ll have to come back to this later, but I’m aghast at your apparent understanding of all that a God might consider doing with his creativity. Why, you must be smarter than God himself to know all that!

    When the probability distribution isn’t known, you must rationally assume it’s flat

    No, you can also assume that probabilities are being being used in argument sometimes.

    It’s a worldview thing of course. Probabilities work where they work. I don’t have any reason to think they work in terms of a supernatural creator’s free choices. Do you?

  60. Tom Gilson wrote:

    olegt, you asked for further evidence and interpretations, but I think it’s still your turn to answer questions I’ve asked you that have remained unanswered so far.

    There were a couple of reasons for that, Tom. One, they did not seem pertinent to your article, as I explained at # 16. Two, they boil down to personal incredulity: I can’t imagine how physics explains psychology. Guess what, no one says that it does or could. When you have a moment, read the essay by Phil Anderson More is Different. That should clear it up.

  61. Funny how God neglected to give us chemistry, antibiotics, or anything plausibly from a superior being.

    Giving life and giving mankind the ability to reason and discover truths about the universe doesn’t count as anything?? That really is funny.

  62. Woodchuck at #54,

    That’s not getting my point. The Cambrian body plans are not dramatically different in the sense that known evolutionary mechanisms can not produce them.

    You are combining fact with opinion. The body plans are dramatically different. Whether evolutionary mechanisms can produce them is not even the question. The question is whether that is a plausible explanation given all we know about the entire fossil record.

    Wish I had time to discuss every last detail that makes it implausible.

    Here is one. Trilobites appeared in the Cambrian, and they lasted 300 million years. We have found 17,000 species of them. They are so prevalent that amateur collectors can find 10 or more in a day. Why can’t we find a single trilobite ancestor? Where we would expect to find them, we find only soft bodied Ediacara fauna lasting for 100 million years, right up to the cusp of the Cambrian explosion. That very strongly suggests something other than Darwinian mechanisms were at play.

    Please note that it is not a “gap” that makes it implausible. It is the abundance of trilobite fossils and Ediacara fossils, together with the trilobite stasis and Ediacara fauna stasis in the fossil record.

  63. Tom,

    You said that we know the odds of abiogenesis are low. This just isn’t true. If we knew it, we wouldn’t be looking for life on other planets.

    Moreover, how can we know abiogenesis is improbable when there are no detailed models of abiogenesis? Just because we’re ignorant of the mechanism doesn’t make it improbable.

    You have to remember that you are trying to rule natural processes out of the picture based on chemistry. But in order to do that you need to know everything about those natural processes, and you don’t.

    …I’m aghast at your apparent understanding of all that a God might consider doing with his creativity. Why, you must be smarter than God himself to know all that!

    See, I really don’t understand this sort of accusation. I am not the one who is limiting the designer, you are.

    Suppose we ask a designer to make a deck of cards, by writing numbers on 52 blank cards. The designer then gives me the deck of cards, and I shuffle them. What are the odds that the card on the top of the deck is a 3? Well, if the designer chose to number them sequentially starting at the number 1, then the odds are 1 in 52. If he chose to number them sequentially starting at 456,297, then the odds are zero. If I don’t know anything about the designer, if I don’t limit the designer, the odds that a 3 would come up are SMALLER, and not greater. More designer options means a smaller chance of seeing a specific design.

    So, why is it that I am accused of limiting the designer when I am partitioning the probabilities across more designs (representing MORE and not less designer freedom)?

    Again, the probabilities here represent my ignorance about what the designer did, and NOT my knowledge of what he did. If I had reason to say the designer would evolve life exclusively, then I could say it was more probable evolved life would appear if there was a designer. However, THAT would be speaking for the designer. And THAT is what YOU are doing, not me.

    Probabilities work where they work. I don’t have any reason to think they work in terms of a supernatural creator’s free choices. Do you?

    Your choices are free, right? Yet, I can predict you probably won’t pull a bank heist this afternoon. This is because you have a personality, and a personality represents a collection of probabilities. I have a probabilistic model of what you will do. Your contra-causal free will (which you believe in) means that you can act in the tail of the probability distribution, and do something improbable. So, yes, of course probability applies to free agents. The freedom is in the tails of the distribution. If you had no personality, the distribution would be completely flat, and you would be as likely to pull a bank job as go help out at the soup kitchen. You would be as likely to enjoy base jumping as chess. Nothing in this paragraph has anything to do with worldview. You believe it just as I do.

    If I don’t pre-judge your personality, then I would assume that any act or any tendency of yours was equally likely. Your next move (or your last move) becomes less predictable, and so any specific move becomes less predictable, less likely.

    The only way to prevent the likelihood of the designer using evolution exclusively from vanishing is to say that the designer has personality traits that make evolution likely. What is it about evolution that makes the designer go that way instead of another? Because whatever that personality trait is, if it can predict the kind of evolution we see, it must predict some other very detailed stuff. And if it doesn’t you’re drawing targets around where the arrows land.

  64. pds:

    Trilobites appeared in the Cambrian, and they lasted 300 million years. We have found 17,000 species of them. They are so prevalent that amateur collectors can find 10 or more in a day. Why can’t we find a single trilobite ancestor? Where we would expect to find them, we find only soft bodied Ediacara fauna lasting for 100 million years, right up to the cusp of the Cambrian explosion. That very strongly suggests something other than Darwinian mechanisms were at play.

    The obvious reason we don’t find ancestors of trilobites is calcification of the exoskeleton. The fossil record is very poor for soft-bodied creatures. The odds of a soft-body fossil trace occurring are vastly lower than that for a creature with a skeleton. This is just a fact of geology.

    Trilobites with a calcified exoskeleton would have evolved from something without such a structure. Therefore, if trilobytes evolved via Darwinian mechanisms and the Cambrian marks the period where the calcified exoskeleton first evolved, we would expect to find scant fossil history prior to the Cambrian.

    However, it is NOT the case that we have no candidates for trilobite ancestors. We have trace fossils, and arthropod-like ancestors in the Precambrian that may be the ancestors of trilobites. See here for an example of how the fossil evidence combined with Darwinian mechanisms leads to a potential (but so far unproven) theory of trilobite origin.

  65. pds,

    In addition to what woodchuck64 says, consider this: if you were to take a random sample of 1 of every 4 million computers manufactured over the last 40 years, what would you see? And why?

    Evolution is similar to free market capitalism. When a new technology comes along, or when a new market becomes viable, you get many start-ups innovating new solutions in a short time, followed quickly by a shakeout, and the most successful solution squishes almost all of the others. That solution may become dominant for a long period of time before another wave of innovation changes the landscape. During the period of dominance, there may be many start-ups that try to challenge the king, but which fail to amount to significant numbers to show up in a small sample.

    Count the computers around before the PC, and my guess is that you’d be lucky to reach 4 million machines in total. You might not get a single sample of a computer that isn’t an Intel personal computer running DOS, MacOS or Windows. Yet there were Apple II’s, Pets, Ohio Scientifics, Sinclairs, PDP-11’s, VAxes, CPM machines and dozens of other species that were the predecessors of the modern PC. These species were incremental variations on a past designs. And there have been attempts to dethrone the PC since it became dominant, but I dare say none has met with conditions permitting a significant population to come into existence.

    And if you’re finding only rare samples (as in fossilization), you’ll find what appear to be leaps in development. It will look like the PC sprang into existence in the 1980’s out of light bulbs and transistor radios that came before it.

    We shouldn’t expect biological evolution will be gradual any more than we expect market evolution to be gradual.

  66. Tom:

    Probabilities work where they work. I don’t have any reason to think they work in terms of a supernatural creator’s free choices. Do you?

    This would mean God’s past behavior is in no way predictable of his future behavior. But you have to use probabilities and inference to at least trust God, right? It is not equally likely as not that God will change his mind tomorrow and send sinners to heaven and saints to hell?

  67. Woodchuck,

    The fossil record is very poor for soft-bodied creatures.

    That is precisely what is so amazing about the Burgess Shale, the Cambrian fauna and the Ediacara fauna. We have lots and lots of fossils of soft bodied animals. The fossil record shows that soft-bodied animals fossilized quite nicely well before the Cambrian and during.

    Trilobites with a calcified exoskeleton would have evolved from something without such a structure.

    Suddenly? In a great leap from no exoskeleton to having one? I find that highly implausible.

    Woodchuck, your comments include a lot of special pleading. It strikes me that you are desperate to protect Darwinian theory from the facts. That is not good science.

  68. Dr. Logic,

    You are right. Computers sprang into existence in a kind of explosion. It was almost as if they were designed.

  69. pds:

    That is precisely what is so amazing about the Burgess Shale, the Cambrian fauna and the Ediacara fauna. We have lots and lots of fossils of soft bodied animals. The fossil record shows that soft-bodied animals fossilized quite nicely well before the Cambrian and during.

    It’s a simple, verifiable, even logical fact that soft-bodied animals are far less likely to be fossilized than those with a calcified skeleton/exoskeleton. See below for more details.

    Trilobites with a calcified exoskeleton would have evolved from something without such a structure.

    Suddenly? In a great leap from no exoskeleton to having one? I find that highly implausible.

    You misunderstand. A non-calcified exoskeleton is just as likely to decay away as soft-body tissues, leaving nothing for fossilization. It’s made of organic materials, after all. However, once an organism starts depositing calcium-carbonate into its exoskeleton, fossilization becomes vastly easier. The calcium-carbonate and other minerals that reinforce the exoskeleton now remain behind after all organic compounds decay.

    It’s possible that trilobite ancestors gradually accumulated calcium-carbonate in their exoskeletons, which resulted in a stronger shell, thus conferring reproductive advantage. Those without any minerals were unlikely to be well-preserved simply because organic materials decay. However, those with an advanced degree of inorganic deposit would leave those deposits behind after death. This would match what we see in the fossil record.

    Woodchuck, your comments include a lot of special pleading. It strikes me that you are desperate to protect Darwinian theory from the facts. That is not good science.

    Please leave out the personal attacks. I’ve done nothing in this thread but attempt to correct misunderstandings about the actual science of Darwinian theory.

  70. Woodchuck:

    You are most definitely pleading for a special exemption to the case you’re trying to make—unsuccessfully, it must be added. And, there were no personal attacks on you: that your fallacious reasoning was exposed is not a “personal attack.”

    Every time the point is made that hardly any Tribolite ancestors exist as fossilized remains (despite the huge numbers of Tribolite fossils), you push the envelope further back as an exemption to the rule—which is a textbook case of special pleading.

    Worse, you provide a reference that only accomplishes one thing: it “conjectures” the development of soft-bodied ancestors… with sparse evidence at best (that’s the unscientific part of which your position is rightly accused). Isn’t the onus on you to prove the case?

    Worse still, compounding special pleading false start is a blatant (perhaps intentional?) oversight. Let’s grant you (to temporarily buttress your position) the soft- or non-exoskeleton conjecture without the clear evidence demanded by scientific investigation. Especially given the prevalence of Tribolite fossils, should we not observe a progression of fossils to the Tribolites as the exoskeleton progresses in fossilization viability… or will the response be yet another unsupported pushing back the envelope? Isn’t that quite like the “God of the gaps” explanation usually leveled against others?

    To repeat: pds makes a straightforward observation that requires an explanation–not only for the observed fact but for the severe weakness of neo-Darwinian mechanisms for the period in question. Instead of entertaining other potential mechanisms, you propose “soft bodies” without substantive support. (Thinking up a possible “out” for yourself doesn’t actualize reality to meet your preconceived desires.)

    Okay, granting soft-bodied fossils may not be observable, this still doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility to prove your case. If you can’t prove it by means of fossilization efficacy (or lack thereof), then prove it by other means. If you can’t prove it by other means (your current situation), then either withdraw your conjecture or stand rightly accused of special pleading.

    You know I am not a supporter of IDT, but I am sympathetic to its not-well-developed point that neo-Darwinism is very weak in these areas. Nonetheless, I am an avowed enemy of the implied mechanistic reductionism (a world view) you keep pushing at all costs—which is not only “not good science,” it’s not science in the first place.

  71. Woodchuck,

    It’s a simple, verifiable, even logical fact that soft-bodied animals are far less likely to be fossilized than those with a calcified skeleton/exoskeleton.

    Right, but soft-bodied animals fossilized anyway. That is precisely what is so amazing about the Burgess Shale, the Cambrian fauna and the Ediacara fauna. We have lots and lots of fossils of soft-bodied animals. The fossil record shows that soft-bodied animals fossilized quite nicely well before the Cambrian and during.

    Please leave out the personal attacks.

    Please leave out the false accusations of personal attacks.

    It strikes me that we do not agree because we have very different plausibility structures. It strikes me that you are desperate to protect Darwinian theory from the facts. That is not a personal attack.

    Since you have taken offense, this is probably a good place to stop the discussion.

  72. Holopupenko:

    Let’s grant you (to temporarily buttress your position) the soft- or non-exoskeleton conjecture without the clear evidence demanded by scientific investigation. Especially given the prevalence of Tribolite fossils, should we not observe a progression of fossils to the Tribolites as the exoskeleton progresses in fossilization viability… or will the response be yet another unsupported pushing back the envelope?

    You misunderstand, or perhaps you didn’t see my most recent comment on this. The distinction between a calicified exoskeleton and a non-calcified exoskeletion is the key. A non-calcified exoskeleton makes fossilization difficult; the organic material all decays. However, a calcified exoskeleton makes fossilization easy, inorganic material is left behind after organics decay. Therefore, if trilobites evolved an organic exoskeleton first followed by inorganic mineral uptake to fortify that organic armor (a logical progression), we would expect to see a spotty fossil record of trilobites up until the mineralization/calification of the exoskeleton is well advanced. This would look like sudden apperance in the fossil record, when the reality closely follows known evolutionary mechanisms.

    This basically means that given the nature of geology — organic material usually decays — and the likely progression of organic exoskeleton to inorganic, the fossil record of trilobites should look similar to what we see, if evolutionary theory is correct.

    Yes, it would be great to find more soft-body impressions or trace fossils to flesh out early arthopod evolution and remove the puzzle, but the fossil record has always been hit or miss. Older layers are harder to find, they’ve had more time to be jumbled or simply eroded away by natural forces. We are lucky to have what we have.

    Certainly soft-body fossils exist in the Burgess Shale and elsewhere. But there’s absolutely no reason to believe that just because some soft-body fossils form and are found that all soft-body ancestors of all Cambrian organisms will magically appear in the same location. That’s not the way life works, that’s not the way evolutionary mechanisms work.

    You are most definitely pleading for a special exemption to the case you’re trying to make—unsuccessfully, it must be added.

    Please go back and read the context of my particular exchange with pds. I’m trying to provide information (when I can) about what scientists really think about certain Cambrian puzzles posed here. Wouldn’t you rather take on the true weaknesses of Darwinian theory and not strawmen born of fundamental misunderstandings?

  73. pds:

    Since you have taken offense, this is probably a good place to stop the discussion.

    I haven’t taken offense. I’m letting you know that I have no interest in a grudge match were we take turns pointing out the other’s personal flaws that prevent valid reasoning. I’m not desperate to protect Darwinian theory. It succeeds or fails on the strength or weakness of its evidence and arguments, nothing more. However, if I don’t see that evidence or arguments being correctly presented, I will speak up, as in this thread.

  74. Woodchuck,

    Now you are going “STRAW” on me:

    But there’s absolutely no reason to believe that just because some soft-body fossils form and are found that all soft-body ancestors of all Cambrian organisms will magically appear in the same location.

    Who suggested that? I suggest that we should find some ancestors of trilobites and all the other Cambrian animals (hard-bodied and soft-bodied), but instead we find none.

    Your special pleading has worn me out.

  75. pds:

    I suggest that we should find some ancestors of trilobites and all the other Cambrian animals (hard-bodied and soft-bodied), but instead we find none.

    No, we shouldn’t find some ancestors necessarily. What I said was that there is no reason to believe that all ancestors of all Cambrian organisms will appear in the fossil record just because some soft-body fossils do. I don’t mean “all” in the sense of the entire geneology, but “all” in the sense of at least one unambiguous ancestor for every Cambrian organism. First, there is no guarantee that any given fossil bed even had Cambrian ancestors living in it. Life ebbs and flows with the environment, small populations tend to experience faster evolution than larger. Second, even if there were Cambrian ancestors living at the time, preservation is difficult for reasons already given.

    Your special pleading has worn me out.

    I’ve engaged in no special pleading. I’ve simple stated the facts of nature and what would be expected in the fossil record if evolutionary theory were true.

  76. I just noticed a loose end, a comment from olegt I did not respond to (also here).

    You said, olegt, that my questions prior to that first link were irrelevant to the BreakPoint article.

    But follow the trail, please. You quoted this:

    Though usually presented as a matter of pure scientific reasoning, much of the evolution/ID debate comes down to a kind of aesthetic judgment—what fits best in our picture of what we think reality ought to be like. A mechanistic picture of reality fits poorly with poetry like this—not just with the sense of it, but also with the fact that such creativity exists.

    But later in context of the continuing discussion on that, you say that “these aren’t the questions you explored in your article:”

    It still leaves the question on the table, Does a mechanistic picture of reality fit with the existence of such creativity? That’s not a question of art. It’s a question of science and philosophy. In expanded form it is this: could a mechanistic world really “create” creativity? How? What could “creativity” actually mean in a world where everything happens just by chance and necessity (deterministically and/or by chance)?

    I don’t know how you could say that this expanded set of questions does not relate to the article, in view of what you quoted yourself earlier.

    So I continue to wait for your responses.

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