Further on “Atheism Is Not a Belief”

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Atheists today often insist that atheism is not a belief, but a lack of belief. Here’s a question for them and others: Isn’t atheism a positive belief that “I do not need God in order to live my life”?

There are admittedly different kinds of atheism, but I think most of the atheists I’ve interacted with could affirm that as their personal belief. Atheists who are reading here: did I understand you correctly on that?

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239 Responses to “ Further on “Atheism Is Not a Belief” ”

  1. Isn’t atheism also a positive belief that the universe is exclusively materialistic or exclusively physical.

    Further, isn’t even the belief that there is no God a positive belief as well. It’s a belief according to Wiki. It’s a “a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing” It’s a thing “in which trust or confidence is placed” is it not? Trusting in the absence of something is no different than trusting in the presence of something. They both require a state of mind and a thing to place that trust in. It’s not a nothing in which trust or confidence is placed. You can’t trust a nothing. Thus it’s a something. That seems to make it a positive belief. (And actually it’s a religious belief as well [pertaining to God and all] but that’s a somewhat different question.)

  2. Wouldn’t atheism also entail a belief about how a person should go about answering the question, “Does God exist”? The answer differs from atheist to atheist – scientism, positivism, etc – but it seems like you cannot get away from this underlying fact.

  3. If the atheist disagrees with what I said above – and insists the “lack of belief” definition is as far as it goes – then atheism has no arguments no reasons no anything to offer when it comes to the question. Atheism proper has nothing to say about how a person would answer the question. Yeah, seems silly to me too.

    BTW, saw your Facebook link on this subject just now, Tom.

  4. “Isn’t atheism also a positive belief that the universe is exclusively materialistic or exclusively physical.”

    No, of course not. You can believe in the existence of the spiritual/paranormal and still not believe in God. Many reject both, but this rejection is not required by atheism itself.


    “Isn’t atheism a positive belief that “I do not need God in order to live my life”?”

    Again, no. Atheism is a lack of belief in or rejection of the existence of God – what details you fill in after that are entirely up to you (just as it is with theism). Perhaps you believe that you can be Good without God, perhaps you don’t – either way, you can still be an atheist.

  5. So Sault, since you seem to fall in the “lack of belief” camp would you agree that “atheism has no arguments no reasons no anything to offer when it comes to the question (“Does God exist”?).”

    Not that you addressed my 2nd point or, as I referenced, Steve’s “Wouldn’t atheism also entail a belief about how a person should go about answering the question, “Does God exist”?

  6. I was actually hoping that Sault and others would answer the question I asked in the OP. Not, what is atheism for someone else, but what do you believe on that original question?

  7. Atheism cannot be a “lack of belief” because then stones and monkeys alike would be atheists. More charitably, there are persons incapable of forming beliefs, but they do not thereby become atheists. Also, “lack of belief” is a state of a person, like being bald, stupid or having cancer, but atheism is not a state but the assertion of the truth of a proposition: namely “God does not exist”. Asserting the truth of a proposition is a belief; it is open for rational discussion. Books can be, were and are written about it, because the truth of propositions and the attending beliefs can be discussed. There may be some interest in knowing that there are persons that “lack a belief”in P (e.g. God exists) but there is nothing of interest to discuss about it, because the statement is about the state of the utterer not about reality, and certainly not about whether God exists or not — although it does give ammo to those advancing the proposition that atheists do indeed have a fundamental privation in the core of their being and are, possibly irreparably, damaged. The fact that it is a negative existential of the form

    ~(Ex: Gx)

    where Gx is the predicate “x is God” is irrelevant, since it is logically equivalent to the universally quantified sentence

    Ax: ~Gx

    that positively predicates something of every existent being in the universe, namely, that it is not God. If he who “lacks belief” chooses to dig his heels, then the theist can by parity of reason say that theism is the lack of belief that no God exists — forming the (double) negative is left as an exercise to the reader.

    We should resist this piece of terminological mischief (as Bill Vallicella termed it), whose only purpose is to give its proponents an excuse to be intellectual, lazy cowards and evade the burden of proof.

  8. No. Atheism is a lack of a specific belief, amongst many other different beliefs. You don’t *need* some other belief to take its place in the plethora of conceptual beliefs that overlap.

    I think I know where the question leads, but it’s false dichotomy; you’re talking about needs and wants and projection, which indeed is part of a mind of ideas and unfounded belief, but most often atheism comes down to accepting an epistemology that doesn’t warrant certain beliefs.

    In other words; atheism is the lack of evidence to support a given belief.

  9. Also, if “atheism is the lack of evidence to support a given belief,” does that lack of evidence imply that atheism is not a conclusion of any sort? For to me, lack of evidence usually entails lack of conclusion.

    And yet atheists seem to have lots of conclusions to offer in spite of that. Which is confusing.

  10. ….but most often atheism comes down to accepting an epistemology that doesn’t warrant certain beliefs.

    Then you are confirming what I said in #2 and #3 – that atheism (for you) is a belief in the validity of a certain epistemology over another. If I’m wrong, please explain.

  11. My answer is “no” and “no” (both questions), for the reasons given. To clarify further, you said: “For to me, lack of evidence usually entails lack of conclusion.”

    I’m pretty sure that’s not what you mean as a generic statement. For example, lack of evidence for unicorns doesn’t normally bring us to a lack of conclusion about their existence. The lack of evidence for flying spaghetti monsters doesn’t stop us concluding there probably is no such thing. The lack of evidence leads as as much to conclusions about our universe as actual evidence does, however with *lack* of evidence scientific epistemology requires a certain humility towards the unknown, so we inject words like “probably” before “not.”

  12. SteveK: “that atheism (for you) is a belief in the validity of a certain epistemology over another”

    I want to be very careful with using the word “belief” in this context. As we’re talking about epistemology, then “belief” here means justified true belief, not the belief we have in things without evidence, justified or not, true or not.

    I got a sneaky suspicion that the OP question given wants (or will use) a different “belief” from the one that the atheist will give.

  13. “Justified true belief” is a classic philosophical term for knowledge. So if you mean knowledge, then say so; that’s what I do.

    My use of belief is the usual one: an epistemic attitude of regarding some proposition P to be true.

  14. It seems simple enough. If you assert G (that God exists), you are a theist. If you do not assert G then you are not a theist. If you are not a theist then you are an atheist. Whether that means you assert ~G or make no assertion at all, in the broadest sense you are an atheist. This comes from the prefix a-, meaning “no, not, or without”. Just like in theism, atheism breaks down into numerous categories and subdivisions and spins and flavors and whatnot, but that is a consequence of using such a broad designation.

    I will take a moment to try and figure out how to express my beliefs (for I make the positive assertion that there is no God) while achieving some degree of brevity.

  15. Is atheism simply a lack of belief, or is it something more: cynicism?

    I am beginning to believe that most internet atheists are angry, selfish, cynical people who have nothing constructive to offer to the world… They have no answers and there is no way to answer them. That’s what cynicism is. However, it’s even worse than that. It’s a dishonest and destructive form of cynicism which tries to destroy other peoples beliefs without offering anything in it’s place. An honest cynic would at least leave other people alone.

  16. Tom, my first answer uses epistemology – which is the study of knowledge – at the centre, because it focuses on what “belief” means to various degrees of knowledge. That was my answer; my epistemology doesn’t leave much room for things that there is no evidence for (in the way evidence is defined, ie. empiricism), and maybe this is what causes some confusion as there are different epistemological models that define the terms within it differently?

    “My use of belief is the usual one: an epistemic attitude of regarding some proposition P to be true”

    Yes. That’s epistemology. “Epistemic attitude.” Not sure what the confusion here is? For example, are we talking a Quinean model, or the Empirical scientific model, or some other?

    I think I know what you want out of it; an atheist admit that their lack of one specific belief in itself is also a belief. This is only true for psychological theory of belief and some models of epistemology that do not need evidence as defined in empiricism. Is that the way you’re heading with your question? We’re running a bit fast towards solipsism with this, so I need you to clarify.

    As an atheist with an epistemological platform of empiricism, then no, the lack of belief is not a belief in itself since knowledge is defined through evidence (and not other constructs), bar solipsism and definitions of reality as mere cognitive constructs (in which, yes, I would agree, but also point out that nothing at all can be neither true nor false).

    Is my non-belief in the “Bambaroo monster” which I just made up in my mind a belief?

  17. JAD,

    Your point about the internet atheists seems reasonable. If you compare them to the existentialists you see a huge difference. The existentialists at least knew and respected that which they were abandoning and admitted the obvious implications of their beliefs. (e.g., “Without God, anything is permissible”)

  18. I assert ~G because a) I find most of the claims of G are erroneous or insufficient, and b) I have not had a personal experience confirming G. I believe that G is ultimately unfalsifiable, so without that personal experience I assert ~G, although not with 100% certainty.

    I place so much emphasis on this personal experience because that is such a central claim to Christianity – that faith is predicated upon knowledge of God. The ability for faith to indicate truth is damaged, however, by how disparate the claims of the faithful are. If faith indicated truth, then the claims of the faithful should exhibit some degree of consistency!

    I believe that the ultimate source of morality is found in human empathy. Within that definition of “good”, and building a sense of morality from that starting point, yes, I believe that one can be good without God. I think that it is difficult to be good without having empathy, though.

    Unlike many other atheists, perhaps, I view religion (whether true or not) as useful, and thus something that should be permitted, although with appropriate checks and balances (e.g. keep it out of the science classroom). Personally, part of this is because I place value on anything that helps someone recover from their addiction.

    I acknowledge my limitations – I cannot fully explain or justify many of my beliefs and I can’t present a fully-formed system of atheistic morality. Well, I’m working on figuring it all out – that is part of personal growth.

    Oh, well, I tried for brevity. Does this answer your question, Tom?

  19. Impressive, Ander, but a bit philosophically overdone, with a touch of psychological intrigue included to boot. (“I think I know what you want out of it.”)

    Look, I was just asking a question. I was wondering whether you as an atheist (and other atheists) would affirm the statement, “I do not need God in order to live my life.”

    As you recall, I left the door open to various varieties of atheism. I did not assume that one person’s answer would represent atheism or atheists in general.

    Let me re-state it:

    There are admittedly different kinds of atheism, but I think most of the atheists I’ve interacted with could affirm that as their personal belief. Atheists who are reading here: did I understand you correctly on that?

    I have a graduate degree in organizational psychology, and I promise you I know the difference between an adequate representative sample and one that is not. I further promise I will not hold all atheists responsible for any person’s answer here.

    If you don’t want to answer, of course you’re not required to. I was just curious.

  20. So far Anders has mentioned unicorns, the flying spaghetti monster and the Bambaroo monster. Red herring, anyone?

  21. Tom,

    Anders is throwing it all out there. He’s bobbing and weaving as fast as he can. Even made up a new imaginary creature for your benefit. You should feel honored.

  22. JAD: “That’s what cynicism is.”

    Oh, come now. I won’t bite to your trolling of your characterisation of “Internet atheists”, but I’m very happy to declare myself a Cynic. I’ve studied and practised what Antisthenes started thousands of years ago, and have no shame in laughing at the implication of your post. In fact, I’m cynical about this whole thing.

    Also; “most internet atheists are angry, selfish, cynical people” … “nothing constructive to offer to the world” … “it’s even worse than that”

    This is just slurring and bagging out a big group of people you obviously don’t know (but think you know something about), and not constructive or helpful in the slightest. Surely this wasn’t the attitude Tom had in mind inviting atheists here to debate, was it? You’re not being friendly, nor factual, and I don’t understand your comment as anything but trolling about a stereotype that don’t exist. If you want a nice debating cake we all can enjoy, hold your vinegar, please. Thanks.

  23. Tom: I was [just] wondering whether you as an atheist […] would affirm the statement, “I do not need God in order to live my life.”

    Perhaps it was “just a question”, and I’ll take that on, however you preface the actual question with “Isn’t atheism a positive belief that […]” to which I tackled the “positive belief” part first.

    But your question is also leading, and possibly misleading. Here’s a few alternative versions, and feel free to approve or reject them as the same question you would ask ;

    * I do not need God in order to live my life. [original]
    * I do not need any god in order to live my life.
    *I do not need guidance in order to live my life.
    * I do not need anything in order to live my life.

    We could also look at what it means to “live my life.” Clearly, all people alive “live their life”, but I suspect there are some ethical conditions cropping up here that’s not made public. At least you didn’t write “live my life right.”

    “If you don’t want to answer, of course you’re not required to. I was just curious.”

    I have answered. Why are you saying this?

  24. BillT: Why are you ridiculing me? I’m taking the question seriously – damn seriously – and would hope that people joining the debate were here to clarify and discuss instead of what you’re doing.

    Btw, dissing Bambaroo is not only proving you missing the point, but also punishable by wedgie in certain areas, so be careful in your mocking.

  25. For every aggressive “internet atheist” I see a score of “internet Christians” intent on evangelizing their personal flavor of Christianity. Both are obnoxious. This is a human trait, one that does not belong to any one side or cause.

    I’m more concerned with those who promote an anti-scientific agenda through ignorance and deception, because I see them doing far more damage to our society than any amount of angry Internet blogging.

  26. Sault,

    The idea that “…those who promote an anti-scientific agenda through ignorance and deception…” is, as a danger to society, completely overblown. I see it as code for Christians of any kind having any say in public or educational policy. Just what is this anti-scientific agenda? Who is promoting it and where. I’m no fan of ID and don’t want it taught. However, the infrequency it’s actually brought up and implemented a part of any school curriculum is quite rare if not nonexistant.

  27. And Sault, I’m pretty involved in the whole “Christian Scene” (if you will), worked for a very large international ministry for 8 years, read lots of Christian websites and books, go to a large prominent church. Sure there are lots of folks who think ID is a valid theory. But there is hardly a major movement to implement it. There is a small fairly unsuccessful one that makes some news occasionally but is the Discovery Institute really a threat to society? Is there something else you are worried about I’m not seeing.

  28. I’m more concerned with those who promote an anti-scientific agenda through ignorance and deception, because I see them doing far more damage to our society than any amount of angry Internet blogging.

    It is positively endearing how a sizable chunk of internet atheists just soooo love to put on the red tights and cape of The Defenders of Science, they who so frequently are ignorant of science and will promote their anti-human agenda through ignorance and deception.

  29. It would be interesting as well to compare what G. Rodrigues mentioned, the philosophical naturalists’ anti-human agenda, with the anti-science agenda that Sault needs to clarify for us.

  30. “Isn’t atheism a positive belief that “I do not need God in order to live my life”?”

    I affirm that I believe I do not need God in order to live my life. Although that belief may follow from atheism, I don’t think it’s what atheism is.

  31. What I find worrying is the use of science to confer some sort of authority on to dubious claims. We see it in the MMR scare and various nutritional scams but also in statements like “science shows we don’t have free will/God does not exist etc.”. It plays on a gullibility in the general public around claims that are promoted as scientific. It’s just very disappointing that people that profess a commitment to science (and in one prominent case were supposed to be responsible for the public understanding of science) would stoop to misrepresenting science to sell their point of view.

  32. @Ander:
    I think you raise some good questions, but I would say that I didn’t find an answer to the original question.

    On the one hand, you seem to claim a belief in what you call Empiricism (and I would call Positivism) as the basis for your atheism, but you simultaneously seem to deny that atheism involves beliefs.

    With regard to your “Bambaroo monster”, it is extremely rare that anyone who raises this question understands the difference between a contingent, finite, physical “monster” and a necessary, infinite, transcendent God.

    To begin, this completely overlooks modus tollens reasoning. We reject belief in such things as made-up monsters, not simply due to the lack of evidence, but a lack of evidence when positive evidence should have been found.

    That is, if Russell’s teapot had been launched into space by NASA, there would be some evidence for this. And, if one wants to compare God to a “Bambaroo monster”, then one is claiming that God would leave some specific evidence that we do not have.

    Of course, that leads to two questions:

    1. What is that evidence?
    2. Isn’t the insistence that God’s existence would leave such evidence a positive claim?

    Or, to put all this rather simply: God is not a physical object that we look for in the same way we look for an animal or a teapot.

  33. I’m more concerned with those who promote an anti-scientific agenda through ignorance and deception, because I see them doing far more damage to our society than any amount of angry Internet blogging.

    Richard Dawkins could have said something like that.

    Paraphrasing Volataire: where you have only one religion, you have tyranny, where you have two you have war, but where there are many you have freedom.

    Do you see what the new atheist’s et al. are trying to do? By creating a false science/ anti-science dichotomy the atheists can declare war on any religion they choose, because they are the ones who arbitrarily decide who is “anti-science”. In truth this is nothing more than religious intolerance and bigotry in disguise.

  34. Everybody believes something, and even what appears to be a rejection of all beliefs is a kind of belief. We all hold something to be true. Maybe what you hold true is that nothing else is true, but that is nonetheless something you believe. (Greg Koukl)

  35. Well, Creationists have been pretty successful – half of all Americans believe in Creationism, and over three quarters of them doubt evolution. It is a travesty. It is maddening to know that there are people who actively campaign to thwart science in the name of advancing their literal interpretation of their scriptures by muddying the waters, manufacturing controversies, assassinating scientists’ characters, and presenting false or inaccurate data.

    Christianity is not anti-science, but a literal interpretation of Genesis is anathema. The Bible is not a science textbook. The dogmatic insistence that the Bible dictates what science is valid and what isn’t is insane.

    I join many atheists in saying that science is perhaps not our only method of determining truth, but it is one of our best, and when the two do collide, religion needs to get out of the way. I break with many atheists by saying that religion is useful and should be permitted, as long as the appropriate checks and balances are in place.

    You may feel that atheistic philosophies undermine the value of human life, but the effect of a few atheists’ philosophical musings pales in comparison to a movement that actively undermines the scientific literacy of a whole nation.

  36. Christianity is not anti-science, but a literal interpretation of Genesis is anathema. The Bible is not a science textbook. The dogmatic insistence that the Bible dictates what science is valid and what isn’t is insane.

    This present religious war is, in that sense, no different to any other. It’s all about who gets to decide what is true. The forces of scientism will be quite happy to cease hostilities when the religions cede to them the entire realm of facts.

  37. “Well, Creationists have been pretty successful – half of all Americans believe in Creationism, and over three quarters of them doubt evolution.”

    If this is a problem it seems to me science that should bear the blame. It seems to me the problem here isn’t that people don’t believe in evolution as an explanation for biology. (And I think if these surveys asked the questions fairly that’s what you would see.) The problem is that the people who promote evolution do so as an alternative to God. That’s what people object to. How often do we see (and I think from you as well) that the knowledge we gain from science is making belief in God superfluous. How often do we see people say we don’t need God as an explanation for our existence. This is the real problem.

    The truth is science answers none of the interesting questions like “Why is there something instead of nothing, the origin of life, etc.” Science has become the like the chiropractors that will tell you they can cure cancer. That’s what people reject. It’s laughable that you think “the creationists” have had such a huge influence. Who? Where? How? What’s going on is that people come from a tradition of understanding God as the origin of the universe and the life that’s in it. Then the “scientists” come and try and tell then they can supply the answers to those questions and people rightfully reject them. Then the “scientists” say that religion is anti-science. It’s nonsense.

  38. Sault wrote:

    “Well, Creationists have been pretty successful – half of all Americans believe in Creationism, and over three quarters of them doubt evolution.”

    What do you mean by creationism? What do you mean by evolution? This strike me as being overly broad and general. What are you going to do change society more to your liking Sault? Is demonizing and marginalizing people you don’t agree with the answer?

    Sam Harris wrote:

    “Some beliefs are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them”

    See:Sam Harris, The End of Faith“, pp.52-53.

    Imagine if Rick Warren had said something like that? ABC, NBC… CNN etc. would be all over it. Meanwhile culture warriors from the anti-religious side get a complete pass. Who again did you say was winning the culture war? Who’s being more aggressive?

  39. Further on what BillT said, the fraud comes in where people say that some scientific discovery X provides further evidence that there is no God. That’s just poor thinking.

    The grand opposition to evolution has come not because of the theory’s weaknesses; most people are unaware of that. It’s come because of the false line of thinking that says, “Everything we see in biology could have happened by evolution without God, therefore everything did happen by evolution without God. Science proves evolution, therefore science disproves God. Science rules all of knowledge, therefore if you believe in God, you’re ignorant and stupid.”

    All three of those sentences contain false premises and/or conclusions. But they comprise the story line that drives believers in God away from science. It’s not science per se that’s to blame, it’s scientists and others who abuse truth in the name of science.

  40. Who again did you say was winning the culture war? Who’s being more aggressive?

    Sam Harris said something rather inflammatory. That’s nice. In the meantime, there are a plethora of religious groups doing their best to thwart legitimate science. Evolution is the foundation of modern biology – if our students are told that it isn’t valid, then how can we expect them to become biologists and researchers and go on to do things like cure cancer, develop better vaccines and medicine, grow replacement organs, etc?

    All three of those sentences contain false premises and/or conclusions. But they comprise the story line that drives believers in God away from science.

    We do not need God to practice science, but that does not mean that God does not exist. I acknowledge this – as I said earlier, in many ways the claim that God exists is unfalsifiable (sans that immediate personal revelation).

    It is unfortunate that the pendulum has swung in that direction, but I would remind you that generations of believers have insisted that they have personal knowledge of God, that their beliefs in God are true, and that their God can explain natural phenomena. When we discover that God isn’t necessary to explain “acts of God”, it naturally brings the existence of their God into doubt as well, because of the nature of the claims that they have made.

    If the statement is made that “God is real, I know Him, and He created the Earth in 7 days about 7k years ago”, and we disprove the last half of it, then it naturally leads us to question the first half of it as well, because of the nature of the claim itself.

    Again – faith isn’t an indicator of truth. Millions of people have it, and millions of people come to different conclusions about Him because of it. It doesn’t disprove God, but it sure calls into question the notion that any of you are actually right.

  41. Sault, you’ve bought the bait, hook, line, sinker, rod, reel, and the whole fishing boat beside.

    Intelligent design is not an attempt to thwart legitimate science.

    Some fringe creationists are making attempts to interfere with legitimate science, but that is not as large a group as you think. Personally I am disturbed that this group exists at all, because it is doing no good. Still, I don’t think it’s as monolithic among Christians as you seem to be saying here that it is.

    An astonishing proportion of science journalism screws this up. The NY Times just retracted a piece (amazingly enough!) in which they had claimed there were 40 bills active in state legislatures to teach creation or something like that. The reporting on this is mostly false or at least distorted. I could show you dozens of examples.

    Evolution is the foundation of modern biology. Fine. (Even finer than Sam Harris getting away with advocating ideologically-based murder.) Have you read what the Discovery Institute wants taught in schools? Have you?

    But evolution as a theory of species’ origins is utterly irrelevant to that entire list of science that you named. Not even partly relevant. The only relevance that could be supposed would be (a) variation within species, and (b) species’ similarity or differences. Neither of these is dependent on the grand theory of evolution.

    We have not “discovered” that God isn’t necessary to explain “acts of God.” That phrase was never meant to refer to “that which could have no natural explanation.” The Bible doesn’t say, “lightning strikes, therefore there must be a God.” No theologian of any notice ever said, “We had a bad flood, therefore there must be a God.” Your so-called “discovery” is at least several millennia old, within the Christian tradition.

    Nevertheless, we do need God to explain reality in general. We need God to explain explanation. So your “discovery” is not only ancient, it is also very narrowly focused and it misses the mark by a reel-ful of fishing line.

    God is real, and I know him, and I get terribly, terribly tired of repeating the same things here over and over again. The 7 day, 7k year thing is a problem for some people. It’s a big problem for a few people. It’s not a problem for the Bible, not a problem for Christianity, and certainly not a problem for God.

    Faith is “not an indicator of truth.” Fine, again. Not news to any of us, by the way. But here’s an indicator of truth that you really ought to take into account: when a statement is verifiably false, there is something going on there that is an indicator of truth. It’s called falsehood.

    So the fact that you got all this so miserably wrong calls into question — no, it firmly disproves — the notion that the people you get your information from are actually right.

  42. Sault wrote:

    Evolution is the foundation of modern biology – if our students are told that it isn’t valid, then how can we expect them to become biologists and researchers and go on to do things like cure cancer, develop better vaccines and medicine, grow replacement organs, etc?

    In what state is creationism being taught in the public schools?

  43. Meanwhile, as long as we’re talking about indicators of truth, allow me to say I am very disappointed that you skipped right over what I said at the beginning of the last paragraph of #42, which was the summation of the whole post prior to that. You jumped into the last sentences without benefit of context.

    Where is your integrity? Where is there any sign that you care what’s true? Where is there any indication that you even care to be in the same conversation that others here are in? As long as you pick and choose convenient snippets, and as long as you ignore the substance of answers that have been made to your prior points, you show you’re only here to sell your wares.

    And Christians are the ones who get accused of that. Amazing.

  44. I am trying to figure out where I saw that about the NY Times’ retraction. I’m starting to wonder whether it really happened. I’ll keep looking, since I don’t want to purvey false info here.

  45. “In the meantime, there are a plethora of religious groups doing their best to thwart legitimate science.”

    Names, please. Or really any evidence of this “plethora” whatsoever. Really Sault, this is borderline delusional.

  46. BillT wrote:

    “The truth is science answers none of the interesting questions like ‘Why is there something instead of nothing, the origin of life, etc.'”

    First of all, it’s far from clear to me that the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” is a sensible one, and even if it is, I don’t think that postulating a god will help you answer it. Personally, I’m more interested in questions like

    What is the origin and ultimate fate of the observable universe?

    Are the laws of physics deterministic or not?

    What are the ultimate limits on the knowledge we can acquire through measurement?

    How big is the universe? Is it finite or infinite?

    What are the fundamental building blocks of matter?

    What is the nature of time?

    These are questions where science has contributed many important insights, and they are among the deepest questions we can ask about the world. If these questions are not interesting to you, that’s fine, I guess, but it’s a little sad. If you’re trying to argue that religion is not anti-scientific, it doesn’t help your case to say that science doesn’t answer interesting questions…

  47. Robert,

    I like all your questions, too. Think they are facinating. I like most everything about science. However, your post has little if anything to do with what I wrote.

  48. Robert, how is it that the actuality of God would not answer the question, “why is there something rather than nothing?” What’s lacking there?

    (Not to throw you off track of what BillT has just pointed out, which is quite true.)

    Further, I’m really quite curious what leads you to think a theist isn’t interested in the questions you raised. I mean, it’s sad that you’re sad, and I’d like to empathize with you, but I think you’ve invented the cause of your sadness out of thin air.

  49. Tom, I meant to address what you said in the last paragraph of #42 in my remarks about what happens when we find that the claims that believers have made were false.

    It isn’t right that we should completely reject God simply because a bunch of people have made false claims about Him or His actions… but I understand why people would. I’ve gone through that process myself; I was raised in the Mormon church.

    Some fringe creationists are making attempts to interfere with legitimate science, but that is not as large a group as you think. Personally I am disturbed that this group exists at all, because it is doing no good. Still, I don’t think it’s as monolithic among Christians as you seem to be saying here that it is.

    I think that I’ve gone to some pains to indicate that I’m not. I oppose those who promote their literal interpretation of Genesis as legitimate science. If you aren’t promoting a literal interpretation of Genesis as legitimate science, then I’m not talking about you. I’m pretty sure that describes a specific subset of Christians. Well, I think so. I hope so.

    Evolution is the foundation of modern biology. Fine. (Even finer than Sam Harris getting away with advocating ideologically-based murder.) Have you read what the Discovery Institute wants taught in schools? Have you?

    You are equating my statement that evolution is the foundation of modern biology with Sam Harris saying that it is possible that some people should be killed because their beliefs are too dangerous? Whhaaaaa….?

    And yes, I have read plenty about the Discovery Institute’s ideological agenda. I’ve watched them evolve (so to speak), rebrand themselves, and update their rhetoric, but I haven’t seen their core mission change.

    The Bible doesn’t say, “lightning strikes, therefore there must be a God.”

    I acknowledge that, and I wasn’t attempting to imply that it did. What it does say is that sometimes things (like storms, fires, natural disasters, etc) happen because of God. We have a natural explanation for these things, and God doesn’t seem to be a causal factor in any of them.

    In what state is creationism being taught in the public schools?

    None that I am aware of. This is partly due to legal victories like the Kitzmiller v Dover trial and the overturning of the Georgian textbook stickers.

    However, they are still out there – the Discovery Institute, the Creation Museum, the Institute for Creation Research, Answers in Genesis, shows like Genesis Week… they’re out there, and they’re pushing their interpretation of the Bible as legitimate science. We need to remain vigilant.

    If I have missed anything or failed to respond to some specific point, I apologize, it wasn’t intentional.

  50. Robert Jones wrote:

    If you’re trying to argue that religion is not anti-scientific, it doesn’t help your case to say that science doesn’t answer interesting questions…

    So religion is anti-scientific? How, when and why did that happen? One of the founders of modern science wrote:

    I was merely thinking God’s thoughts after him. Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it benefits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God.”

    Kepler was one of the early scientists who found answers to some interesting questions. Once again why is it necessary to be anti-religious to be a scientist?

  51. Sault wrote:

    I oppose those who promote their literal interpretation of Genesis as legitimate science. If you aren’t promoting a literal interpretation of Genesis as legitimate science, then I’m not talking about you.

    Does the Discovery Institute promote a literal interpretation of Genesis as legitimate science?

  52. “I’m taking the question seriously – damn seriously…”

    Anders,

    No, actually you’re not. References to unicorns and the flying spaghetti monster are not serious thought as Debilis explains in #35. Now, maybe the flying spaghetti monster is all the rage at the atheist mutual appreciation sites but it really don’t pass muster here. Here, it is indication of either lack of seriousness, original thought or knowledge. Sorry though if my tone was inappropriate.

  53. In my last post, I was responding specifically to the claim that “science answers none of the interesting questions” which sounded pretty anti-science to me. But if that was not BillT’s intention, then don’t worry about it.

    The question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” is a syntactically correct sequence of words, but I’m not sure that it’s a meaningful question. If we ask “why” something is true, the answer must always come from some larger explanatory context. For example, if we ask “why is the sky blue?”, the answer will presumably be expressed in terms of certain laws of physics and chemistry, knowledge about the chemical composition of the atmosphere, and so on. That’s the only way to answer such a question.

    On the other hand, if you ask “why is there something rather than nothing?” then it’s no longer possible to embed the question in a larger context. In this case, you’re asking why the universe exists, why the laws of physics are what they are, and there doesn’t seem to be any framework to answer the question. You can say that God created the physical universe, but one can always ask “Why does God exist? Why not just nothing?” Any answer to the question “why is there something rather than nothing?” must come from a larger more general framework, and therefore it cannot be an answer.

    I think it’s very strange to say that religion is necessary for answering such questions when it’s not even clear that the question makes sense.

  54. Robert Jones,

    The question “Why does God exist?” doesn’t make sense because He is not (in modern terms) contingent. Or in classical terms God is pure actuality.

    I think it’s very strange to say that religion is necessary for answering such questions

    Who said religion is necessary for answering such questions?

  55. “The question ‘Why does God exist?’ doesn’t make sense”

    What about the question “Why does the universe exist?” Can we be sure that that makes sense?

    “Who said religion is necessary for answering such questions?”

    This is what I thought BillT was saying in #40. He wrote, “How often do we see people say we don’t need God as an explanation for our existence. This is the real problem.”

  56. However, they are still out there – the Discovery Institute, the Creation Museum, the Institute for Creation Research, Answers in Genesis, shows like Genesis Week… they’re out there, and they’re pushing their interpretation of the Bible as legitimate science. We need to remain vigilant.

    Fortunately for mankind that we have you, a veritable savant in all things scientifick, to remain vigilant, lest a confederacy of sneaky, subversive creationists sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids and along the way explode and tear down to ruins the whole fragile building of Science. I personally never met such a fantastick, nigh mythical creature, but surely they must be everywhere, in concealment, lurking in the shadows, in vast numbers, and in command of awesome, diabolical powers, given the level of threat they pose.

    I feel so much safer and secure knowing the Thought Police has enjoined you in its ranks.

    Thanks from a concerned citizen.

    P. S: far from me to cast doubt on the wisdom of your choices of what to remain vigilant of, but while we are on the subject, should we expect from you an equally indignant response to the abuses of science committed by naturalists? Or what motivates you is not the abuses per se, but that they are committed by those sneaky, subversive creationists?

  57. Robert, there’s a strong philosophical background to the difference between pure actuality (God’s state) and contingent existence. The same cannot be said, and seems impossible in principle, for the universe.

  58. “The same cannot be said, and seems impossible in principle, for the universe.”

    Can you explain why?

  59. This is surreal. I should be used to it, since it’s happened so often before, but it’s still very, very weird.

    For instance, Sault, quoting me first:

    Evolution is the foundation of modern biology. Fine. (Even finer than Sam Harris getting away with advocating ideologically-based murder.) Have you read what the Discovery Institute wants taught in schools? Have you?

    You are equating my statement that evolution is the foundation of modern biology with Sam Harris saying that it is possible that some people should be killed because their beliefs are too dangerous? Whhaaaaa….?

    Equating? Whhaaaaa….? And do you recall what you said in #43? “Sam Harris said something rather inflammatory. That’s nice.”

    And yes, I have read plenty about the Discovery Institute’s ideological agenda. I’ve watched them evolve (so to speak), rebrand themselves, and update their rhetoric, but I haven’t seen their core mission change.

    Have you read their own statements? What is their core mission? What do they want taught in schools? How does that threaten science? (I’ll grant you your point on the other institutions. They are part of the less-influential-than-you-probably-think minority I mentioned last time.)

    And then this, again quoting me first:

    The Bible doesn’t say, “lightning strikes, therefore there must be a God.”

    I acknowledge that, and I wasn’t attempting to imply that it did. What it does say is that sometimes things (like storms, fires, natural disasters, etc) happen because of God. We have a natural explanation for these things, and God doesn’t seem to be a causal factor in any of them.

    But you had written earlier,

    I would remind you that generations of believers have insisted that they have personal knowledge of God, that their beliefs in God are true, and that their God can explain natural phenomena. When we discover that God isn’t necessary to explain “acts of God”, it naturally brings the existence of their God into doubt as well, because of the nature of the claims that they have made.

    And I answered (in different terms, of course, but with the same intent) that there is no rational path from “we have a natural explanation for these things” to “it naturally brings the existence of their God into doubt as well.”

    Which you have conveniently sidestepped. Look, if you’re interested in integrity here, the next step would be to say, “Oh, yeah, then that means I was wrong when I explicitly said ‘it naturally brings the existence of their God into doubt.'”

    I invite you (again) to make that correction, in your writing now (here) and in your thinking from this point forward. That is the appropriate thing, you would agree, when you find out you are wrong.

    If I have missed anything or failed to respond to some specific point, I apologize, it wasn’t intentional.

    Thank you for the apology. It may not have been intentional, but it sure was conveniently selective. Again. Because here’s what you’re doing: you are finding what you can disagree with and hammering only on that. When someone gives you contrary and/or corrective information, you don’t notice it.

    I still don’t think there’s much evidence you’re interested in genuine discourse here.

  60. “You can say that God created the physical universe, but one can always ask “Why does God exist? Why not just nothing?”

    Given that we know there isn’t just nothing (there is us!), isn’t this just a (clever, to your credit) restatement of the “Who created God?” question. And if Melissa’s answer isn’t sufficient, what are we left with? It’s you that clain the answer must come from “…some larger explanatory context.” What is it about that answer that prevents you from accepting it. It provides that larger context, what does it lack.

  61. Robert,

    “The same cannot be said, and seems impossible in principle, for the universe.”

    Can you explain why?

    Because, in short, nobody thinks the universe is a necessary, eternal, non-contingent existent. Nobody thinks that it is pure actuality, or pure being. I could go into more detail, but before I bothered I would need some sign from you that you honestly think everybody is wrong on that.

    God (if God exists) is all those things. Therefore it is possible to think of God in that way at least hypothetically, whereas it is not possible, hypothetically or otherwise, to think of the universe that way.

    So God (if God exists) is a potential good answer to the question why something exists rather than nothing. And that question is not a trivial one. The fact that God could be a good answer to that question, when there doesn’t seem to be any other possible good answer, has convinced many of the reality of God.

  62. “nobody thinks the universe is a necessary, eternal, non-contingent existent.”

    So you’re saying that the universe must be contingent because nobody thinks otherwise? I’m not even sure the premise here is true. I happen to believe (for reasons that I won’t go into here) that the universe is not eternal, but I don’t see how that’s relevant here. Even if the universe is eternal, it could make sense to talk about a reason for its existence. I don’t see why a reason for existence necessarily has to correspond to some creation event which takes place at a particular moment in time.

    “it is not possible, hypothetically or otherwise, to think of the universe that way.”

    It’s not possible to think it? Why not? Can you tell me very specifically how this contradicts some known fact about the world? If it’s possible to think about God and attribute to him this non-contingency property, why exactly can we not do the same with the universe?

    “The fact that God could be a good answer to that question, when there doesn’t seem to be any other possible good answer, has convinced many of the reality of God.”

    If this is true, then I think these people are very irrational. It makes no sense to take a question which could be meaningless for all we know and assume that God is real because he could possibly provide an answer.

  63. Robert, yes, I’m saying that the fact that nobody thinks the universe is a necessary, universal, non-contingent thing is a very good reason to think it is probably true that it is not that.

    The eternality of the universe is relevant because if it came into existence (began to be at some point in temporal history) then it could not be its own reason for existence, and the reason for existence in general would be left unanswered, not just in science but in principle.

    I had already answered why it was not possible, hypothetically, to think of the universe in the same way we can at least hypothetically think of God. It’s because nobody can think of it as being necessary, eternal, and non-contingent. Here is more:

    If it is all reality, then it is not the kind of thing that could produce all reality; nothing can cause itself. If it is not all reality (all being) then it is a part of being, and not sufficient to be the explanation for all being.

    What then about God, you might ask? God is self-existent, according to theism, which explains how he can be in spite of what I wrote about in the last paragraph. Self-existence entails eternality; that which is self-existent cannot just pop into being, for that would entail some thing causing it to begin to exist, which contradicts the meaning of self-existence. The universe cannot be self-existent because (among other things) it is not eternal.

    So the universe cannot (in principle) explain why there is something rather than nothing, but God (in principle, hypothetically at least) can.

    The “irrational” people of whom you speak have taken this question to be meaningful for good reasons. And the fact that God could possibly be the answer is significant when God seems to be the only possible answer. Science operate according to the only possible answer all the time, you know. It’s a perfectly good way to make decisions concerning truth.

  64. “the fact that nobody thinks the universe is a necessary, universal, non-contingent thing is a very good reason to think it is probably true that it is not that.”

    Again, I don’t think your premise is correct. I think a lot of theoretical physicists probably fantasize about discovering some mechanism by which the universe might explain itself.

    “The eternality of the universe is relevant because if it came into existence (began to be at some point in temporal history) then it could not be its own reason for existence”

    None of this implies that the question “why is there something rather than nothing?” must have a meaningful answer. It doesn’t matter whether you believe the universe can be its own reason for existence. Some questions just don’t make sense. I could ask you, for example, “what is south of the South Pole?” or “what’s the difference between a duck?” I think it’s possible that the question we’re discussing is similar to those in that it simply doesn’t have an answer.

    “God is self-existent, according to theism, which explains how he can be in spite of what I wrote about in the last paragraph.”

    And here you just declare that God is not subject to the same rules as the universe. He’s “self-existent” you say. And the universe is not self-existent (by definition) because it is not eternal. Why does something with a beginning have to have a temporal cause? And why can’t such a thing have no cause at all? Why should I accept any of these premises?

    “The ‘irrational’ people of whom you speak have taken this question to be meaningful for good reasons.”

    And what are those good reasons?

  65. BillT: I’m no fan of ID and don’t want it taught.

    I’m curious – why are you not a fan of ID? Do you think it is unscientific?

    Thomas Nagel, in *Mind and Cosmos*: “In thinking about these questions I have been stimulated by criticisms of the prevailing scientific world picture … by the defenders of intelligent design. Even though writers like Michael Behe and Stephen Meyer are motivated at least in part by their religious beliefs, the empirical arguments they offer against the likelihood that the origin of life and its evolutionary history can be fully explained by physics and chemistry are of great interest in themselves.”

  66. Just to be clear, I should emphasize that I’m not trying to argue that God does not exist or that the universe does not have a cause. I just don’t think these questions are obviously meaningful a priori. I also don’t think that the sort of philosophical debates we’re having are a very effective way of answering such questions. I’m not sure how you can expect to prove anything with these vague syllogisms which are based on all sorts of sweeping assumptions about how the world works.

    Personally, I think it’s much better to just admit that we don’t know the answer to every question and focus on the ones that we can answer and that clearly admit sensible answers. As I mentioned in my original post, science can actually take you quite far in answering very deep questions.

  67. Robert Jones,

    I also don’t think that the sort of philosophical debates we’re having are a very effective way of answering such questions. I’m not sure how you can expect to prove anything with these vague syllogisms which are based on all sorts of sweeping assumptions about how the world works.

    The points raised by Tom here are just an attempt to make you aware of the arguments for God that have been rigorously developed elsewhere. They begin, not with sweeping generalisations about how the world works, but with basic observations such as contingent beings exist, that there are things that change, the regularities we observe in nature and human rationality. It’s your preogorative to be disinterested in the question of whether God exists but many of the issues and questions touched on when considering that question are important foundational considerations for interpreting the meaning and significance of our scientific findings (apart from being fascinating in their own right).

  68. Bigbird,

    I’m a theistic evolutionist. ID has a couple of problem that make it problematic for me. First, it’s a “God in the gaps” argument. It’s a sophisticated “God in the gaps” argument but one nevertheless. Second, as our fellow poster Holo explained “You cannot do the “look here” with the MESs to “see” design: design (a combination of formal and final causality) can’t be captured by the MESs because they’re not equipped to do so.” (Holo went on for three paragraphs explaining his position so apologies for the one sentence summary.) But in brief, the thing ID is looking for, design, isn’t observable by the MES. Big problem for ID. For another perspective I highly, highly recommend Francis Collins’ “The Language of God”. A great perspective on this subject from one of the world’s preeminent scientists.

  69. ID has a couple of problem that make it problematic for me. First, it’s a “God in the gaps” argument.

    That’s a very easy accusation to throw around, but it generally doesn’t hold up in my view. I highly recommend reading *Seeking God in Science: An atheist defends Intelligent Design* for a detailed exposition of ID by an atheist philosopher of science. This particular point is covered in detail.

    But in brief, the thing ID is looking for, design, isn’t observable by the MES. Big problem for ID.

    And you’ve come to this conclusion in what way? By MES? I’d like to know how you prove something isn’t observable.

    or another perspective I highly, highly recommend Francis Collins’ “The Language of God”.

    I’ve read Collins’ book, and think that he exhibits some confusion about the scope of ID. He uses ID arguments in one chapter to support his Christian beliefs (Ch 3), and bags ID in a subsequent chapter. He seems to think ID arguments are restricted to biology.

    I’m not sure if you’ve read Nagel’s *Mind and Cosmos*, but he says ID should be taken seriously (p10-11).

    I do find it interesting that we have two atheist philosophers strongly advising that ID should not be ignored, and numerous theists arguing against it.

  70. @BillT, #72:

    But in brief, the thing ID is looking for, design, isn’t observable by the MES. Big problem for ID.

    Big problem for science as a source of knowledge. If there is no proper way to draw an inference of design from empirical evidence, as you say, then presumably there is also no proper way to draw an inference of not-design for similar reasons. That being so, any assertion of “design” or “not design” is entirely unsubstantiated, to the extent that it is an inference from evidence, rather than special knowledge (such as, “I designed this”).

    How can you justify being a theistic evolutionist, specifically, if there is no proper way to draw an inference of not-design from the evidence? Surely you must consider the design/not-design question to be unanswerable due to lack of possible evidence. Where does your knowledge of not-design come from if not from MES, and if from MES, then do they not have some power to judge between design and not-design?

  71. bigbird,

    That ID is a “God in the gaps” argument is reasonable conclusion in my view. You have ID saying, “Look at this. This can’t be explained therefore its explanation is outside of evolutionary theory and is evidence of design (God).” Seems like “God in the gaps” to me. Yes, its true science can’t and maybe can never explain some things we see. Doesn’t mean God belongs there. And aren’t they really going even beyond this? Aren’t they really saying they can see God?

    Further, as Holo’s explanation made clear, design is a combination of formal and final causality. How do the MES “see” that? That’s what they are claiming they can do. Then there is this. Evolution explains biology. That’s beyond debate so evolution (within reason) is a scientifically valid theory. I think it was Aquinas who warned against using God to disprove science. I take his advice. Also, I didn’t find Collins confused about the subject at all.

    As a supporter of Theistic Evolution I don’t run afoul of valid science, don’t expect science to see things it can’t and don’t use God to explain my blind spots. At the same time, it’s clear that evolution in particular and science in general fail to offer any explanations (or even be the proper tool) for the origin of life, the origin of evolution, or the origin of the data contained in the genetic code. Supplying those seems the proper purview and role of a creator.

    And it shouldn’t be a surprise that some atheists support ID. Those honest enough to see the limitations of evolution are left with nothing else. As atheists they certainly aren’t going to make the jump to a theistic explanation after all they’re atheists (even though ID is pretty darn close).

    P.S. And for both bigbird and TFBW. I never said there isn’t design and TE doesn’t say that either. Of course there is design! That’s what the theistic part is all about. It’s all designed. It wouldn’t exist at all if it weren’t. But the design isn’t “Look, we can see it here”. The design is seen in the big picture, not a microscope.

  72. BillT, would you do two things for us here?

    1. Define “God in the gaps,” and
    2. Explain why it’s always weak or wrong.

    Here’s why I’m asking. There are different views of God in the Gaps. I know of versions that are valid as complaints but don’t apply to ID at all, and I know of versions that fit ID, but are of a form that makes them invalid as complaints.

    I’ve seen people conflate those two and think that they have a valid form of the God in the Gaps complaint which also fits ID. But if they got there by means of that conflating those two versions of God in the Gaps, what they have is a fallacious complaint.

    I’m not saying that’s the case with you. I’m just asking, since I’ve had reason to wonder about it with others. Thanks.

  73. Tom,

    I’ll try the best I can and would be glad for any insight you might offer. As I said above ID says, “Look at this. This can’t be explained therefore its explanation is outside of evolutionary theory and is evidence of design (God).” More specifically ID says evolution can’t offer a solution for “blank”. How “blank” formed is outside the limits of evolutionary theory. Thus, “blank” must have been accomplished by the intervention of a designer. That puts the designer (God) in the gap of the limits of current scientific knowledge. Might be the best I can do. Collins’ explanation was pivotal for me but I certainly can’t reproduce it even if my fading memory could remember it all (which it can’t!).

    And why it’s weak is because it attempts to explain the problems with evolution, which is a valid and progressing scientific theory, which has proven to have the ability to close many other gaps. ID proponents have no way to know it won’t close their current one. This is (e.g.) unlike those who claim evolutionary theory will solve abiogenesis which falls outside evolution’s purview.

  74. Sault @# 53 wrote:

    I have read plenty about the Discovery Institute’s ideological agenda. I’ve watched them evolve (so to speak), rebrand themselves, and update their rhetoric, but I haven’t seen their core mission change…

    However, they are still out there – the Discovery Institute, the Creation Museum, the Institute for Creation Research, Answers in Genesis, shows like Genesis Week… they’re out there, and they’re pushing their interpretation of the Bible as legitimate science. We need to remain vigilant.

    Notice how vacuous Sault has been here. He never tells why the Discovery institute is wrong or why we should be concerned about it. He is apparently (I think) making an insinuation of some sort, but what is the insinuation? Again, we don’t know because he doesn’t tell us. Is this really how atheists think? It strikes me as being intellectually shallow (and I’m being kind). But then, on the other hand, maybe atheists like Sault are not here to try convince anybody that his beliefs are correct; maybe just the act of putting his thinking out on an internet forum is enough for him to justify his beliefs to himself– I mean non-beliefs, whatever…

  75. @ JAD:

    I can’t speak for Sault, but here’s my take on the Discovery Institute: The “Institute” is wrong in that it attempts to pass off “intelligent design” as a legitimate scientific alternative to evolutionary theory and to have “intelligent design” taught alongside evolution in this country’s science classrooms. We should be concerned about it because “intelligent design” is nothing more than an innocuous-sounding name given to the Christian teleological argument for creationism. While creationism may be a legitimate religious belief that can be discussed and studied in our schools (perhaps within History or Literature), it is not science and therefore should not be taught as such. There have been no accepted scientific studies that support the theory that the universe, life, or humanity, or any combination of these, was created by some being or beings. Theories are sets of propositions put forward to explain facts or observations. They could come to be widely known to be true and thereby become facts (or sets of facts). A scientific theory is one that is capable of being produced by, or used in, science. Hence, it must be capable of employing the empirical method. The main criterion for such capability is whether or not the theory is: (1) testable, and (2) compatible with natural law (i.e., conforming to the known laws of nature). The theory need not be true and need not be used by current scientists, but it does need to be the kind of theory that might fit in. Scientific theories satisfy this “empirical method” criterion, as it might be called, whereas unscientific ones do not. If a theory is unscientific, it is because it is not part of an empirical pursuit of knowledge but something else, perhaps a system of thought based on revelation or authority, or something derived only from personal experiences or imagination rather than interpersonal observations.

    I suggest you examine the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case to get a clear idea of what exactly “intelligent design” is. A key witness in this case was Michael Behe, a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute. Under direct cross-examination, Behe was forced to admit that “there are no peer reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred.”

    Intelligent Design is not science.

  76. . I highly recommend reading *Seeking God in Science: An atheist defends Intelligent Design* for a detailed exposition of ID by an atheist philosopher of science.

    It seems that he is not defending it as much as saying that it shouldn’t be dismissed a priori as unscientific. I would disagree with him in that ID as I have seen it presented thus far as unscientific (i.e. still as a subset of Creationism) but I’m not opposed to the idea that it *could* enter the realm of science in some theoretical future.

    Equating? Whhaaaaa….? And do you recall what you said in #43? “Sam Harris said something rather inflammatory. That’s nice.”

    Evolution is the foundation of modern biology. [ref] [ref] [ref] [ref] [ref] [ref] (I’ve tried to offer a variety of references here, from academia and popular culture)

    Sam Harris made an a-hole remark.

    The two are not equitable – again, one is fact, the other is opinion.

    My “that’s nice” comment was incredibly sarcastic and not meant to condone his statement. As I’m reviewing the comments, apparently at some point I managed to edit out my response to Harris’ statement. I apologize for that, it was very much unintentional.

    My response to Harris is that people should not be punished for beliefs. Rather, hold them accountable for their actions. If you believe that Americans should die, for instance, well, that’s pretty insane, but if you never do anything about it, then I’m not sure that any harm has been done.

    I will speak to other remarks made both to me and about me shortly.

  77. Paul S wrote:

    I can’t speak for Sault, but here’s my take on the Discovery Institute: The “Institute” is wrong in that it attempts to pass off “intelligent design” as a legitimate scientific alternative to evolutionary theory and to have “intelligent design” taught alongside evolution in this country’s science classrooms.

    Is that really their position? They want “to have ‘intelligent design’ taught alongside evolution in this country’s science classrooms”? Did you get that off there website? Unless they recently changed their position, I don’t think it is.

    As far as their thinking that intelligent design is a “legitimate scientific alternative to evolutionary theory.” So what? Is that illegal or unconstitutional? Are they the only advocacy group or think tank out there, on the left or right, with unconventional or wacky views? IMO trying to deny people their constitutional rights is the only real danger. If the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution is so well established why can’t it withstand skepticism or criticism? If it has to be protected as if it was a religious dogma then maybe there is something wrong with it.

  78. Paul S, you are simply wrong on the DI’s educational objectives.

    But JAD, you and G. Rodrigues are right: there’s something very, very scary about somebody disagreeing with scientists science, because science speaks with one voice on everything. Dissens und Widerspruch sind ganz gefährlich! Sie sind verboten!

  79. Sault, have you actually read Monton? Can you say more than “I disagree with him”?

    C’mon, what kind of establishment d’ya think we’re runnin’ here? Yer tryin’ ta slum on us!

  80. (In case there’s any doubt about my #83, I do not believe that science speaks with one voice or that it should be thought that it does. There are some, though, who suppose that there is but one voice for “science” to speak with respect to biological origins. As if “science” had a mouth and vocal chords.)

  81. Tom Gilson, here is a direct quote from the Discovery Institute’s Study and Activity Areas: “It [Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture] also seeks to counter the materialistic interpretation of science by demonstrating that life and the universe are the products of intelligent design and by challenging the materialistic conception of a self-existent, self-organizing universe and the Darwinian view that life developed through a blind and purposeless process.”

    Indeed, the Institute’s “Wedge Project” details the Institute’s long-term strategy to replace “materialistic science” with intelligent design. Phase III of their “wedge strategy” is titled “Cultural Confrontation and Renewal” that involves 3 things: 1) Academic and Scientific Challenge Conferences, 2) Potential Legal Action for Teacher Training, and 3) Research Fellowship Program; shift to social sciences and humanities. Direct quotation from the “wedge strategy” white paper: “Once our research and writing have had time to mature, and the public prepared for the reception of design theory, we will move toward direct confrontation with the advocates of materialist science through challenge conferences in significant academic settings. We will also pursue possible legal assistance in response to resistance to the integration of design theory into public school science curricula. The attention, publicity, and influence of design theory should draw scientific materialists into open debate with design theorists, and we will be ready. With an added emphasis to the social sciences and humanities, we will begin to address the specific social consequences of materialism and the Darwinist theory that supports it in the sciences.”

    That certainly looks like a confirmation of my argument that the DI has and will continue to try and get intelligent design into the science classroom.

  82. From DI’s website(education policy):

    2. Is Discovery Institute trying to eliminate, reduce or censor the coverage of evolution in textbooks?

    No. Far from reducing the coverage of evolution, Discovery Institute seeks to increase the coverage of evolution in textbooks. It believes that evolution should be fully and completely presented to students, and they should learn more about evolutionary theory, including its unresolved issues. The true censors are those who want to stop any discussion of the scientific weaknesses of evolutionary theory.

    3. Should public schools require the teaching of intelligent design?

    No. Instead of mandating intelligent design, Discovery Institute recommends that states and school districts focus on teaching students more about evolutionary theory, including telling them about some of the theory’s problems that have been discussed in peer-reviewed science journals. In other words, evolution should be taught as a scientific theory that is open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can’t be questioned. We believe this is a common-sense approach that will benefit students, teachers, and parents.

    http://www.discovery.org/csc/topQuestions.php

  83. As for the wedge paper, how old is it?

    Yes, things have moved on in the ID movement since 1999. Phillip E. Johnson, the main author of the wedge document, is retired and in ill health as far as I know. I don’t think he is much involved in ID nowadays.

  84. It seems that he is not defending it as much as saying that it shouldn’t be dismissed a priori as unscientific.

    Did you miss the words “defends Intelligent Design” in the title of the book?

  85. Sault, have you actually read Monton? Can you say more than “I disagree with him”?

    Not having access to his book, I can only go by what I have seen summarized by others and himself. I would quote your writing about your conversation about him, and where you speak about his position –

    “Though he doesn’t say he believes ID is true, he has been subjected to considerable pressure just for suggesting it’s worth working on […]”

    ” He began by describing himself as an atheist who believed there was evidence of intelligent design in the universe, that this evidence deserved to be taken seriously, and that this evidence should not — a priori — be ruled out as unscientific.” [ref]

    Earlier I said “It seems that he is not defending it as much as saying that it shouldn’t be dismissed a priori as unscientific.”

    Please correct me if I have misunderstood.

    Notice how vacuous Sault has been here. He never tells why the Discovery institute is wrong or why we should be concerned about it.

    I am most concerned with YEC Creationists because of how blatantly their hypotheses fail basic science, and require a degree of supernatural intervention never before witnessed or even postulated before.

    My concern over the Discovery Institute surfaces in their promotion of their ideological agenda, covered by a thin veneer of seeming reason. At one point they explicitly said in their infamous Wedge Document,

    “Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies.”

    That is an unambiguous assault on science, and while their public campaigns (Teach the Controversy” and Critical Analysis of Evolution) don’t share that unambiguous rhetoric, they imply it.

    If you wish to not accept evolution, then fine. However, you should understand it before you reject it (much the same as Christianity, I think). It is somewhat complicated, though, and anything more than a brief overview takes time to explain and understand.

    A high school classroom is not the place to sufficiently explain the details and discussion regarding modern evolutionary theory. As I have already said, evolution is the at least one of the central tenets (if not the basis) of modern biology and medicine. It does our children and our population a disservice to imply that there is any serious discussion within the scientific community about the legitimacy of evolution.

    If you (or any particular organization) seriously believe(s) that there is, then prove it. The person or people who disprove evolution will be forever enshrined in the annals of science. They would be showered with awards, Nobel prizes, and lavishly funded for additional research…

    …but to do that you need to have an alternate theory with greater explanatory and predictive power. I don’t know if ID can ever get to that point (and my personal opinion is that it can’t), but I’m open to the possibility.

    I apologize for the wall of text. I’ve got a very nasty head cold, and I’m trying not to ramble. I apologize if I have missed something that I was supposed to respond to; I am not meaning to dodge anything.

  86. Paul S wrote:

    I suggest you examine the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case to get a clear idea of what exactly “intelligent design” is. A key witness in this case was Michael Behe, a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute. Under direct cross-examination, Behe was forced to admit that “there are no peer reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred.”

    What’s your point? There are no peer review articles by researchers supporting ID, or that ID hasn’t been able to answer certain questions? I can play that game too. Paraphrasing Behe (or what you’re claiming Behe said) “there are no peer reviewed articles by anyone researching the origin of life supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how the origin of life occurred.” So again, what’s your point? Is the research into the origin of life then unscientific?

    Also from DI’s website:

    Peer-Reviewed & Peer-Edited Scientific Publications Supporting the Theory of Intelligent Design

    http://www.discovery.org/a/2640

  87. A scientific theory is one that is capable of being produced by, or used in, science. Hence, it must be capable of employing the empirical method. The main criterion for such capability is whether or not the theory is: (1) testable, and (2) compatible with natural law (i.e., conforming to the known laws of nature).

    I recommend *What is this thing called science?* by Chalmers for an excellent overview of the philosophy of science. You’ll soon see that defining science is far more complicated than your definition.

    Basically, constructing a simplistic definition as you have done in an attempt to rule out ID as a science ends up ruling out many other examples of what most scientists agree is science. For example, string theory is not testable. A substantial portion of evolutionary theory is not testable. Are they not science?

    Intelligent Design is not science.

    I suggest you read Monton’s book for an opinion from a philosopher of science who is not a theist.

  88. Oh, that’s right, there was.

    Tom, I am not implying that God is the source of all natural phenomenon. However, He is credited with some of them – rainbows, floods, storms, earthquakes (I’m assuming this is how Jericho was toppled?), etc. Some have even claimed that the recent tsunamis were the result of God’s wrath against atheists and homosexuals. We see no evidence of this, any of it, only natural causes.

    I tried to emphasize that it does not, in the strictest logical sense, mean that God does not exist – just that these claims made about Him aren’t true. I understand why some people do make that step, and I don’t think that it is entirely unwarranted because the Bible does make claims of this nature… but in the strictest logical sense it does not follow, and I try to adhere to that.

    I hope this has clarified what I originally meant. I tried to make this distinction earlier in the 2nd paragraph of comment #58.

  89. That ID is a “God in the gaps” argument is reasonable conclusion in my view. You have ID saying, “Look at this. This can’t be explained therefore its explanation is outside of evolutionary theory and is evidence of design (God).” Seems like “God in the gaps” to me.

    That is a mischaracterization of ID. Could you quote a concrete example of what you are saying?

    Yes, its true science can’t and maybe can never explain some things we see. Doesn’t mean God belongs there.

    Aren’t you a theistic evolutionist? Isn’t that precisely what you are saying then, that God *does* belong there?

    And aren’t they really going even beyond this? Aren’t they really saying they can see God?

    No. ID deliberately says nothing about who the designer might be. Not all ID supporters are theists.

    Further, as Holo’s explanation made clear, design is a combination of formal and final causality.

    Could you post a link to Holo’s explanation? Or is it in this thread? I haven’t seen it. Thanks.

    Evolution explains biology. That’s beyond debate so evolution (within reason) is a scientifically valid theory.

    That really depends what you define as “evolution”. Natural selection and other mechanisms explain a great deal about biology. Common descent has about as much explanatory power as common design does.

    Also, I didn’t find Collins confused about the subject at all.

    That’s unsurprising, as you seem to be exhibiting the same confusion about what ID actually is.

    At the same time, it’s clear that evolution in particular and science in general fail to offer any explanations (or even be the proper tool) for the origin of life, the origin of evolution, or the origin of the data contained in the genetic code. Supplying those seems the proper purview and role of a creator.

    Now you seem to be sliding into a “God of the gaps” argument yourself. You just said earlier that “Yes, its true science can’t and maybe can never explain some things we see. Doesn’t mean God belongs there.”

    And it shouldn’t be a surprise that some atheists support ID. Those honest enough to see the limitations of evolution are left with nothing else. As atheists they certainly aren’t going to make the jump to a theistic explanation after all they’re atheists (even though ID is pretty darn close).

    Now I’m really confused. These atheists who see the limitations of evolution (what do you think they are btw?) are left with nothing else but to support ID, but you, who presumably also see the limitations, do not??

  90. JAD

    What’s your point? There are no peer review articles by researchers supporting ID, or that ID hasn’t been able to answer certain questions?

    Let me clarify: The peer-reviewed scientific output from the ID movement is very low, not non-existent. That being said, the amount of peer-reviewed material is virtually non-existent when compared to the vast amounts of peer-reviewed papers on evolutionary biology. The point which discredits ID is not that it has few peer-reviewed papers, but why there are so few. ID proponents appear to have no interest in conducting original research that would be appropriate for peer-reviewed journals, and other researchers see nothing in ID worth paying attention to. Despite empty claims that ID is a serious challenge to evolution, nobody takes ID seriously as a science, so nobody writes about it in the professional literature.

    Paraphrasing Behe (or what you’re claiming Behe said)

    Read the official court transcripts if you don’t believe me. Knock yourself out.

    So again, what’s your point? Is the research into the origin of life then unscientific?

    Huh? Of course research into the origin of life is not unscientific. Many scientific studies have been done and continue to be done in search for the origin of life. But ID isn’t science. Therefore, the ID movement’s research is unscientific.

  91. Paul S, there are many other possible explanations for the low output of peer-reviewed ID writing. For one thing the scientific establishment is antagonistic to it. For another, it is a minority of scientists who are working on it, and they are not funded by the same grant sources.

    Meanwhile, I just love the absolutism of “ID is not science. Therefore the ID movement’s research is unscientific.” Priceless.

    What if Michael Behe wrote a paper that wasn’t identifiably related to questioning evolution? He’s in the ID movement. Regardless of his methods, assumptions, or results, it wouldn’t be science.

    Well, maybe that’s a bit rough on you, Paul. You didn’t mean to go that far, I’m sure.

    What then if Michael Behe wrote a paper whose methods, assumptions, and results were as good as those in the previously hypothesized paper, but it did call evolution into question? Would that be science?

  92. bigbird,

    I recommend *What is this thing called science?* by Chalmers for an excellent overview of the philosophy of science. You’ll soon see that defining science is far more complicated than your definition.

    It wasn’t my intention to give an all-encompassing definition of science (but I think you know that).

    Basically, constructing a simplistic definition as you have done in an attempt to rule out ID as a science ends up ruling out many other examples of what most scientists agree is science.

    I’m not attempting to do construct any such thing. I’m trying to make the point that there are some basic tenets of science that need to be met in order for a scientific theory to be accepted.

    For example, string theory is not testable.

    Right, and it’s not a universally accepted scientific theory, either.

    A substantial portion of evolutionary theory is not testable. Are they not science?

    A substantial portion? Do you have any examples?

    The central conclusions of evolutionary theory, that life on Earth has evolved and that species share common ancestors, are not disputed among scientists. Descent with modification is not a debatable topic among scientists. What is debatable are the mechanisms that cause those modifications.

  93. Paul, sure, string theory isn’t universally accepted scientific theory. But you just changed the terms.

    Is research into string theory science?

  94. …there are many other possible explanations for the low output of peer-reviewed ID writing. For one thing the scientific establishment is antagonistic to it.

    They are antagonistic because the “science” behind ID is questionable at best.

    For another, it is a minority of scientists who are working on it, and they are not funded by the same grant sources.

    See my response above. Questionable science doesn’t attract many serious scientists or much grant money.

    Meanwhile, I just love the absolutism of “ID is not science. Therefore the ID movement’s research is unscientific.” Priceless.

    Perhaps I could have been a little clearer (and less absolute).

    ID as it has been presented up to this date does not meet the criteria as a legitimate scientific theory. The “science” behind ID is virtually non-existent and not accepted by mainstream scientists. Unless there is some fundamental change in the science behind the theory of ID, it will continue to be dismissed.

  95. Tom Gilson,

    Interesting choice of words: “not debatable.”

    Perhaps a bad choice of words on my part. I should have said that the theory of descent with modification isn’t something that the vast majority of scientists debate today. The particular mechanisms of the modifications, however, is clearly where the debate lies.

  96. I’m trying to make the point that there are some basic tenets of science that need to be met in order for a scientific theory to be accepted.

    Defining those basic tenets is not a simple task – and obviously not a scientific one.

    But even if we can agree on them, as Tom asks, is the research enterprise of attempting to *establish* a theory such as string theory a scientific enterprise?

    It seems by your definition it can’t be science until a theory is established and tested.

    It is a deep rabbit hole trying to show that something is or is not science.

    The central conclusions of evolutionary theory, that life on Earth has evolved and that species share common ancestors, are not disputed among scientists. Descent with modification is not a debatable topic among scientists. What is debatable are the mechanisms that cause those modifications.

    I didn’t ask if they were disputed. I asked if they were *testable*. Because otherwise, according to your definition, they are not scientific theories.

  97. They are antagonistic because the “science” behind ID is questionable at best.

    No, they are antagonistic for the same reasons that Nagel’s latest book has been heavily criticized. Science is quite closed minded when it comes to theories that challenge accepted thinking.

    ID as it has been presented up to this date does not meet the criteria as a legitimate scientific theory.

    Read Monton’s book for an opposing view.

    The “science” behind ID is virtually non-existent and not accepted by mainstream scientists.

    Well, I could have said that when Darwin first published *Origin of the Species*. Or when Einstein first proposed the special theory of relativity. Or at any number of points in history when the existing paradigm was challenged.

    If ID has gone nowhere in 50 years, maybe you’ll have more of a point.

    Unless there is some fundamental change in the science behind the theory of ID, it will continue to be dismissed.

    As books by Nagel and Monton show, ID is beginning to be taken quite seriously by a number of thinkers.

  98. “is the research enterprise of attempting to *establish* a theory such as string theory a scientific enterprise?”

    I don’t want to lead the discussion off topic, but I have to interject here to say that the status of string theory as a scientific theory is a much, much more complicated than you suggest. You are partly right to say that string theory is not a testable theory and therefore not science in the usual sense, but there are at least three reasons why this is oversimplifying:

    1. Since string theory is supposed to reproduce quantum mechanics and relativity, it is possible to falsify string theory by falsifying either of these theories.

    2. The term “string theory” does not refer to a specific model of particle physics, but a large class of models obtained by similar methods. Therefore, in order to talk about falsifying string theory, you have to specify a specific phenomenological model. And indeed there are models based on string theory that have been falsified.

    3. In addition to the speculative role of string theory as a theory of fundamental strings that represent the observed elementary particles, the theory is now used to do calculations in much more mundane parts of physics. For example, there are certain problems in nuclear and condensed matter physics that are too hard to solve by the usual methods, and physicists have found that these problems can become more tractable when translated into the language of string theory. They have even made predictions using string theory methods which are in good agreement with observations.

    So my answer to your question would be yes, there is a sense in which string theory is a scientific enterprise.

  99. @Robert Jones
    4. There is also the possibility that a supersymmetric string theory can be indirectly tested or ruled out by HEP accelerator experiments designed to look for supersymmetry (FYI for the non-physicists here, supersymmetry is a particularly appealing symmetry that a more complete version of the Standard Model of particle physics might have – it unifies bosons (the integral-spin particles that mediate interactions, like the photon in Quantum Electrodynamics) with fermions (the half-integral spin matter particles)).

    I would disagree somewhat with the way you phrased your point 1, though. String theories are ‘quantum theories of relativistic strings’, so both quantization and Lorentz invariance are built into the theories from the get-go. Were you thinking of something like scale relativity (a more fundamental theory that reproduces the postulates of Quantum Mechanics), or the like?

    One of the other very encouraging results of string theory so far is that a quantum theory of gravity emerges from it, so it should morph into General Relativity in the classical (non-quantum) limit, and have cosmological implications that potentially could be observed.

    Having said all of that, string theory and its competitors (like loop quantum gravity) are still in the more speculative stages, and as tantalizing as they might be, they haven’t been experimentally verified, so to use them as arguments against a universe with a beginning is weak (since they could all be wrong, or if one emerges as a real winner, it could very well be a theory that requires ever-increasing entropy – who knows?, well God knows what He did to make the universe(or multiverse ;))

    BigBird – I think what you really meant to say was something like “it’s not an established scientific description that has been verified and has stood up to experimental tests designed to challenge the theory (ie, falsify it)”. String theory is still part of the scientific enterprise, the theoretical side of it anyway.

  100. “There is also the possibility that a supersymmetric string theory can be indirectly tested or ruled out by HEP accelerator experiments designed to look for supersymmetry”

    This is true, and it’s part of what I was referring to in my point #2, but it’s important to stress that models with low energy supersymmetry are a very special subset of all string theory models.

    “I would disagree somewhat with the way you phrased your point 1, though… both quantization and Lorentz invariance are built into the theories from the get-go.”

    Right, I didn’t say it quite correctly. String theory is *based on* quantum mechanics, so if we ever managed to falsify quantum mechanics with tabletop experiments, then string theory would not be viable. The issue of Lorentz invariance is actually much more interesting because there are alternatives to string theory that predict violations of Lorentz invariance near the Planck scale, and measurements by the Fermi satellite have ruled out many such theories. String theory, on the other hand, preserves Lorentz invariance all the way down to the Planck scale, so it is not affected by these measurements.

    “to use them as arguments against a universe with a beginning is weak”

    This was not my argument. I was just commenting on bigbird’s assertion that string theory is not testable. I mostly agree with him, although as I explained, string theory has a number of connections to empirical science.

  101. BigBird – I think what you really meant to say was something like “it’s not an established scientific description that has been verified and has stood up to experimental tests designed to challenge the theory (ie, falsify it)”. String theory is still part of the scientific enterprise, the theoretical side of it anyway.

    Yes, the point I’m trying to make is that different fields are at different stages in their development. Theories may not be testable for a period of time. There may not be much evidence in their favour. In the philosophy of science there’s no rigid definition of what comprises science and what does not, because these definitions invariably end up ruling out something that most people would agree is science.

    To say ID is not science at this early stage of its development is a premature judgement that doesn’t show a good understanding of how new areas of scientific enquiry evolve.

  102. @BillT, #76:

    P.S. And for both bigbird and TFBW. I never said there isn’t design and TE doesn’t say that either. Of course there is design! That’s what the theistic part is all about. It’s all designed. It wouldn’t exist at all if it weren’t. But the design isn’t “Look, we can see it here”. The design is seen in the big picture, not a microscope.

    Thanks for the P.S., but I’m afraid that doesn’t clarify anything for me. My question related to the epistemic status of our knowledge of design, and your answer has made me even more confused. You said that design is not observable by MES, and yet you say that design is visible in “the big picture”. What is this “big picture” of which you speak if not an empirical observation? Is design an inference that can be drawn from evidence, or not?

    The difference between theistic and non-theistic evolution is that of God’s involvement. Is there an empirical basis for preferring theistic evolution over its non-theistic alternative, or not? If not, then what is your basis for that preference? Based on your remark, “it wouldn’t exist at all if it weren’t,” I gather that you think of God as a philosophical necessity. That being so, why theism rather than deism? Why not a hands-off deity who didn’t design life, but simply created initial conditions and let it unfold naturally? Or would that scenario still count as design in your estimation?

  103. Victoria and Robert, thanks for your comments on string theory. It’s an area I find interesting and wish I knew more about, but unfortunately life permits only a limited number of study interests. After my first degree in mathematics and physics I was diverted into computer science and professionally have stayed there ever since.

    I find the idea of the multiverse quite intriguing. It seems to me that if you use it to explain the strong anthropic principle, then there’s little reason to deny that miracles could occur. After all, we might be in a universe that permits them.

  104. @Robert

    to use them as arguments against a universe with a beginning is weak”

    This was not my argument. I was just commenting on bigbird’s assertion that string theory is not testable. I mostly agree with him, although as I explained, string theory has a number of connections to empirical science.

    I was not referring to anything that you had said in this thread; I have come across individuals (and their web-sites) who use that kind of argument, though.

    You sound like a physicist, Robert 🙂

    @BigBird 🙂

  105. “You sound like a physicist, Robert ”

    Well, my research is in mathematical physics, and some of it is related to string theory. It sounds like you know a thing or two about string theory also. 🙂

  106. It never ceases to amaze me, and I’m honored. My M.S. is in a branch of social psych, Industrial and Organizational Psychology, which for some reason — maybe an inferiority complex — always seems to be written with capital letters, and I keep getting all you PhD physical scientists commenting here (assuming that’s true of you, Robert, which sounds likely from what you’re saying).

  107. TFBW

    Apologies first and to bigbird as well. I should not have started in with a comment on ID. I read quite a bit about it some years ago and having read Collins’ take decided his made most sense to me. I’m just not up on all of the details and descriptions anymore so my apologies for starting something I can’t really finish.

    Maybe a couple of words about the “big picture” comment if I may. Do we know how non-life became life? No, nor do I think (in spite of the abiogenesis researchers at Harvard) that the MES will reveal it. Do we know how evolution itself came about? No, and I doubt that the MES will reveal that either. Do we know how the information got into the DNA? No, and ditto the above. That seems to me at least a partial description of the big picture.

    I guess I’m of the mind that the idea that we can “see” God or his handiwork (in any physical sense) “in a microscope” is contrary to my conception of God. I think he works in ways far outside of our meager scientific inquiries. After all, creation ex nihilo falls outside any scientific category I know. And I believe that Holo’s quote above is a serious roadblock to ID as well. However, I will have to leave it to Holo to defend properly.

  108. BillT:

    I’m way to busy to pursue this right now, but I offer the following:

    Biology does NOT–and I assert this most emphatically and categorically–study life. Biology studies living things. Life is presupposed as a given by biology, but biology does not define what life is. Why? Because “life” is not an object of study of biology… and this is no small point I raise.

    The particular sciences are distinguished by the objects they study. Life is NOT an extra-mental real existent: one cannot detect it directly by means of any of the external senses. Rather, one reasons to it and defines it philosophically so as to provide a rigorous footing (sometimes called “first principles”) for biology to proceed in its good work.

    The work of the philosophy of nature is to provide such first principles to the MESs. For example, physics does not study per se motion or causality–it studies things in motion and the forces that cause those motions. Motion is NOT reducible to dx/dt, nor can it (like causality) be “seen” by any of the external senses. (That Hume didn’t get that is why he’s, for among other reasons, such a pinhead.)

    Now, look at ID: they claim to “infer” the existence of design directly from the MESs. That’s nonsense: “design” is not an object of study of any of the MESs: it can’t be sensed… and that’s why Dembski and Behe and Meyer are so, so wrong: they claim final and formal causality is, literally, measurable… and they so, so confuse “information” (which can be measured) with “meaning” (which cannot be measured). Yes, design does exist… and one would have to be out of their minds to deny its existence–even beyond artifacts as designed by us. BUT one must reason to design (and hence designer) from the MES through philosophical reflection…

    … but that throws an ironic wrench into the ID movement’s intentions: they want to introduce ID into biology classrooms, in a similar manner that secularist chowder heads want to assert God doesn’t exist because (allegedly) Darwin says so (a.k.a known as Darwin-ISM). Both sides are misappropriating science for their own not-so-worthy intentions.

    ID needs to deeply rethink its mission and to reposition itself as a philosophy to make any headway… but then, the Discovery Institute would be embarrassed by the HUGE amounts of money poured into trying to impose ID into biology classrooms… and I doubt the vested interests are going to permit that to happen, to their unfortunate detriment.

  109. BillT:

    One more thing: while Plantinga has positively modified his position with respect to evolutionary theory, he’s nonetheless opposing “unguided” evolution (and supporting “guided” evolution) in a univocal sense of the word “cause”.

    He (and Craig and most if not all the ID proponents) view God’s influence and guidance and Providence in the world as “direct” and univocal, meaning He (one can imagine) pushes atoms in DNA around to make evolution work. In other words, God is viewed as an externalist puppeteer pulling strings on passive creatures who ultimately have no natures.

    Nonsense: an ignorant and denigrating form of occassionalist nonsense that domesticates God down to the level of cause among causes.

  110. @BillT:

    Please provide references to quotations so that I don’t have to use Google-fu to find the original. The source of your quotation from Holopupenko is here. I’ve now read it, and although he does, indeed, go on for several paragraphs, the content is long on assertion and short on citation. I’m in no mood to dissect and analyse anything that casual, so I’m going to ask you to defend your own position in your own words, rather than let you use Holopupenko as a proxy.

    There are still some things that I don’t understand about your position, so it’s still not clear to me why you would gravitate to theistic evolution rather than deism, or progressive creation, or even young earth creation. Let me see if I can explain a couple of my points of confusion, and maybe you can address those.

    As part of your seeing God in the “big picture”, you cite the information in DNA. In the following paragraph, you say, “the idea that we can ‘see’ God or his handiwork (in any physical sense) ‘in a microscope’ is contrary to my conception of God.” I have difficulty reconciling these two statements. DNA is precisely the sort of thing which we see “in a microscope”, or at least using x-ray crystallography, which is categorically similar. So if we can see information in DNA, and God put that information there, then in what sense do we not see God’s handiwork “in a microscope”?

    Second, when you quoted Holopupenko in #72, you agreed that, “design (a combination of formal and final causality) can’t be captured by the MESs because they’re not equipped to do so.” If this is the case, then the scientific position ought to be agnostic about design, yes? But it’s not, is it? The Neo-Darwinian theory is asserted with the force of “undeniable fact”, and that theory declares that there has been no intelligent input (design).

    To be candid, I can anticipate a response to the above conflict, because I think it’s a fairly standard theistic evolutionist response. That is, Neo-Darwinian theory can validly claim to have discovered the mechanism and path by which life came to be as it is, but it can not distinguish between a “random” mutation and a mutation carefully contrived by God. Therefore the quote from Holo stands, and anyone who asserts that there has been no intelligent input has simply exceeded their valid grounds.

    If that is your position, then I would like to challenge you on the soundness of Neo-Darwinian theory. That theory does not start by trying to answer the question of whether God was involved or not: its programme is to seek out a purely naturalistic mechanism by which life could come about, and so it is based on the premise that no intelligent agency was involved. If it happens to be true that God (or an alien) created some life form or other, either from scratch or by re-engineering an existing one, then the Neo-Darwinian research programme will remain entirely oblivious to this fact, because it will always interpret any evidence it encounters in terms of natural processes, not intelligent agency. When faced with an apparently-inexplicable problem like abiogenesis, one can either remain within the Neo-Darwinian research programme and attempt to find a naturalistic explanation for it, or simply abandon Neo-Darwinism at that point. Neo-Darwinism can not accommodate intelligent agency and still be Neo-Darwinism: it’s as simple as that.

    In the light of that background information, here is a challenge for you. Given that the Neo-Darwinian research programme is, at its core, based on a premise of no intelligent agency, and given that you believe this premise to be false (you believe that God was purposefully involved in the generation of life), then why do you agree that the Neo-Darwinian theory can validly claim to have discovered the mechanism and path by which life came to be as it is? Why so much respect for a theory which is squarely grounded on a premise that you believe to be false?

    To put it another way, we might assent to the following statement. “If life was formed without intelligent agency, then the Neo-Darwinian theory (for all its present shortcomings) is the best available explanation as to how this happened.” We might assent to that, but if we don’t assert the antecedent condition, that life was formed without intelligent agency, then we can be entirely non-committal about the consequent. You seem to be denying the antecedent but affirming the consequent anyhow. That’s not invalid, but it leaves me puzzled as to what is your basis for that affirmation.

  111. Holo,

    I so apprecaite you taking the time to further explain your position on ID. I hope those who are following my posts can apprecaite your take on this and that this has clarified for them the position I took. I have and continue to learn much from you. Thank you again.

  112. TFBW,

    I think there is some major confusion going on here. Holo’s quote was the only one I provided in #72. If you are referring to the quote in #117 that was provided by Holo. Posts #117 and #118 are his and offer further explanation of the quote of his that I used.

    I’m not even sure what to say about the rest of your post. Being able to see the structure of DNA doesn’t have anyting to do with understanding how the information got there.

    You accuse me of being a Neo-Darwinist but I’m not a Neo-Darwinist I’m a Theistic Evolutionist. I believe evoltion explains biology in that context. As a Theistic Evolutionist I don’t have any reason do defend Neo-Darwinism as I don’t believe in Neo-Darinism as you have descibed it nor did I say I did.

    Now, I admit I remain confused about your entire approach to my statements. If the above didn’t help perhaps you can help me understand what you meant.

  113. I actually composed my post before #117 and #118 were submitted, so if you think that I am responding to anything written in them, then you are mis-reading me. Try again, perhaps.

    If we can see the information in DNA, and we know that God is responsible for it, then how can we not see his handiwork in it? Isn’t this like seeing someone’s handiwork in a book they wrote, even if they didn’t do any of the actual printing or paper-making? Do we need to know what software (or other methods) they used to write the book before we can consider it “seeing their handiwork”?

    I’m not “accusing” you of being a Neo_Darwinist, I’m just of the understanding that Theistic Evolution = Neo Darwinism – some randomness + God’s directing influence, and so Theistic Evolution is the same as Neo Darwinism in most details. If that precis is wrong in any substantive way, I’ll be happy to take corrections, but you haven’t offered a more detailed specification than that. Perhaps you ought to tell us what you mean by Theistic Evolution.

    I’m also curious to know what you mean by, “evoltion explains biology in that context.” Evolution is several things, one of which is an account of history. To the extent that is is historical, I’m more concerned whether it is true or false than whether it has some sort of explanatory value.

    Of course, we’re well off topic here, so feel free to pass.

  114. So you thought you would impose your own definition of Theistic Evolution which includes Neo-Darwinism (of all things) with some wacky randomness calculus and then challenge me to defend it. And you think if you can see DNA in a microscope that means you can see the information in it.

    Yeah, I’ll pass.

  115. I hope you don’t mind me offering a few thoughts.

    If we can see the information in DNA, and we know that God is responsible for it, then how can we not see his handiwork in it? Isn’t this like seeing someone’s handiwork in a book they wrote, even if they didn’t do any of the actual printing or paper-making? Do we need to know what software (or other methods) they used to write the book before we can consider it “seeing their handiwork”?

    The point was not that “we” can’t see God’s handiwork but that the modern empirical sciences can’t see it. That is why branding ID as science is a mistake. What the scientists can contribute is data that doesn’t fit the current description of the evolutionary process.

    I’m not “accusing” you of being a Neo_Darwinist, I’m just of the understanding that Theistic Evolution = Neo Darwinism – some randomness + God’s directing influence, and so Theistic Evolution is the same as Neo Darwinism in most details.

    Couldn’t the same formula be applied to some ID as well? Aren’t they looking for areas where evolutionary processes are not an adequate explanation? This view is what Holo is arguing against in #118. I think partly what’s causing the confusion is that Neo-Darwinism assumes a mechanistic conception of nature. IDers and many creationists just add God into this conception. Whereas we would argue that that whole conception of nature in this way is wrong and needs a rethink.

  116. Life is presupposed as a given by biology, but biology does not define what life is.

    That’s precisely what astrobiology tries to do.

    Now, look at ID: they claim to “infer” the existence of design directly from the MESs. That’s nonsense: “design” is not an object of study of any of the MESs: it can’t be sensed… and that’s why Dembski and Behe and Meyer are so, so wrong: they claim final and formal causality is, literally, measurable… and they so, so confuse “information” (which can be measured) with “meaning” (which cannot be measured).

    This seems to be largely assertions based on an appeal to authority. It might be convincing to another Thomist, but I don’t find it persuasive.

    ID is an attempt to make design an object of the MESs. As you say, design seems obvious to theists, and it seem entirely reasonable to try to determine if there is a way of quantifying that obviousness.

  117. The point was not that “we” can’t see God’s handiwork but that the modern empirical sciences can’t see it. That is why branding ID as science is a mistake. What the scientists can contribute is data that doesn’t fit the current description of the evolutionary process.

    It seems to be an article of faith that the MESs can’t detect design. It seems a curious approach to science – declaring certain areas are off limits because of your philosophical preconceptions.

    I think partly what’s causing the confusion is that Neo-Darwinism assumes a mechanistic conception of nature. IDers and many creationists just add God into this conception. Whereas we would argue that that whole conception of nature in this way is wrong and needs a rethink.

    IDers don’t necessarily believe in a mechanistic conception of nature. IDers are simply attacking Neo-Darwinists on their own turf, and having considerable success in doing so. Nagel and Monton’s books are evidence enough of that. Sure, the mechanistic conception of nature deserves a rethink, and it’s certainly worthy of discussion, but you’ll get short thrift from the scientific establishment. Meanwhile, ID is out there making an impact.

  118. Much as I’d like to join a discussion about whether ID can be a science or not, I don’t think that this post is the appropriate place for it, and the existing discussion isn’t being conducted in a tone that invites engagement anyhow.

    Melissa, thanks for your thoughts in #124, but I was trying to get a better understanding of BillT’s grounds for belief rather than establish anything about the scientific status of ID theory. Evidently, however, I don’t even know what he believes, let alone why he believes it, so that whole line of inquiry is an unmitigated train wreck.

    I’m currently working on my own analysis of the original topic — the “Atheism is Not a Belief” thing, as some of you may recall. I’ll post a link here when I’m done, just in case anyone is interested, but that could well be days from now. It started out as a comment I was going to write, but it’s going to be an essay by the time I’m finished. (Not the first time that’s happened.)

  119. TFBW,

    I look forward to reading your thoughts on the OP.

    bigbird,

    It seems to be an article of faith that the MESs can’t detect design. It seems a curious approach to science – declaring certain areas are off limits because of your philosophical preconceptions.

    Not at all. I’m sure you agree that there are limits to what kinds of things science can detect. Design is not a physical thing that can be measured and quantified. You’ll notice also that I am not arguing that none of ID is science, just the inference to design.

    IDers don’t necessarily believe in a mechanistic conception of nature. IDers are simply attacking Neo-Darwinists on their own turf, and having considerable success in doing so

    You’re correct in that I should have written many IDers. I think it is good thing that the IDers are challenging evolution and it’s promotion as an all encompassing explanation but why make the same mistake as the Neo-Darwinists do in labeling philosophy as science.

  120. There’s a fine line there. If science is defined to exclude philosophy, then it seems to me that none of the possible interpretations of QM or Special Relativity are in the realm of science. That might arguably be the case, and yet it seems to me that scientists talk about these things and believe they’re doing science when they do.

    You’re undoubtedly aware of the Demarcation Problem, the difficulty in marking a clear and consistent line that separates science from non-science. I would consider this to be an example of that fuzzy boundary. Clearly the design inference is available to the intellect without the necessity of doing science. Clearly it’s something we can thnk about philosophically. Does that then mean that we cannot find further information through science to strengthen that inference? Does it mean we can’t do philosophy and science together? I don’t think so.

  121. I’m sure you agree that there are limits to what kinds of things science can detect. Design is not a physical thing that can be measured and quantified.

    Yes, science has obvious limits to what it can directly detect. But science can also make inferences about things it cannot directly detect. Cosmology makes inferences about how the universe began – we infer it from cosmic microwave background radiation. We can’t observe evolution happening directly except in the most trivial ways, and yet scientists infer all sorts of things about our evolutionary history.

    There seems little doubt that we can look at certain things and classify them as “designed” or “not designed” – the design inference. Presumably we observe certain features and have a process by which we make our judgements. Why not attempt to turn that mental process into an algorithm?

  122. @bigbird
    Well, strictly speaking, Big Bang cosmology is inferred from the observational evidence, but also from a theoretical framework with which to interpret the data. The CMB (cosmic microwave background) was actually detected much earlier than the 1960’s by Penzias and Wilson. Way back in 1941 (see McKellar, A.; Kan-Mitchell, June; Conti, Peter S. (1941). “Molecular Lines from the Lowest States of Diatomic Molecules Composed of Atoms Probably Present in Interstellar Space”. Publications of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (Victoria, BC) 7 (6): 251–272. doi:10.1016/0969-8051(96)00073-X.) reported that their observations of the relative intensities of spectral lines were consistent with the interstellar molecules interacting with a heat bath at a temperature of about 2.3K. Not being cosmologists, the significance of this piece of information was not apparent to them.

    I normally don’t like Wikipedia, but here is the timeline.

  123. Tom and bigbird,

    It is not my position that you can’t do philosophy and science together but we should be aware that we are doing philosophy otherwise there is the very real danger that we will do it badly. My other concern is that, especially in a case like this where it is philosophy that is doing the heavy lifting, labeling it science is just a tactic to confer authority on the claim. If not-design is not a scientific claim then why design?

    My disagreement with bigbird is over a very specific claim that the modern empirical sciences can detect design but I see from the last paragraph in his previous comment that he has stepped away from that.

  124. We can’t observe evolution happening directly except in the most trivial ways, and yet scientists infer all sorts of things about our evolutionary history.

    One man’s “trivial” is another man’s “holy crap, that’s the most awesome thing since personal computing”… e.g. E Coli developing ability to metabolize citric acid and the discovery of nylon-eating bacteria.

    It seems to be an article of faith that the MESs can’t detect design. It seems a curious approach to science – declaring certain areas are off limits because of your philosophical preconceptions.

    Is there, or can there be, such a thing as “methodological supernaturalism”? How does one go about testing, verifying, or falsifying supernatural claims?

    Can it still be science if you can’t apply the “methodological” part to it, even in theory?

    There seems little doubt that we can look at certain things and classify them as “designed” or “not designed” – the design inference.

    And what happens when something is designed to look like it wasn’t designed? What if something is sub-optimally implemented (e.g. a less efficient genetic code), either purposefully or through incompetence? After all, just because a designer is Intelligent doesn’t mean that it’s Perfect, or doesn’t have a Sense of Humor.

    What if something was designed to not look designed, and any “apparent design” that we see is purely our own projection? What if the genetic code is akin to the Bible Code, and this “apparent design” is all in our heads?

    What/where is the rigorous methodology that prevents us from drawing an incorrect conclusion?

    This is a rhetorical question, for there is none. ID presupposes not just a Creator, but its purpose as well, and this just isn’t science.

  125. “If science is defined to exclude philosophy, then it seems to me that none of the possible interpretations of QM or Special Relativity are in the realm of science. That might arguably be the case, and yet it seems to me that scientists talk about these things and believe they’re doing science when they do.”

    In my experience, scientists are usually pretty conscious of the distinction between science and nonscience. If a theory makes testable predictions, then it’s science. If it’s not testable, then it might be philosophy or something else, but it’s not science. It’s true that some scientists advocate untestable ideas about the interpretation of quantum mechanics (special relativity does not require an interpretation, by the way), but I doubt that anyone would say these interpretations belong to science.

  126. On SR: is it true that there is no real privileged observer? Is it true that there is no real simultaneity? Those are philosophical questions; they involve interpretation of the data.

  127. Sault, we’re probably in more agreement on this that any other topic so far but:

    “What if the genetic code is akin to the Bible Code, and this “apparent design” is all in our heads?”

    The genetic code is just that, coded information that we know tracks directly to physiological traits. It’s hard science. On the other hand the “Bible” code isn’t even “apparent design” it’s just fiction.

  128. One man’s “trivial” is another man’s “holy crap, that’s the most awesome thing since personal computing”… e.g. E Coli developing ability to metabolize citric acid and the discovery of nylon-eating bacteria.

    I actually had Lenski in mind when I wrote that, and I have read at least one of his papers on citric acid metabolization. E Coli could already metabolize citric acid, but not under oxic conditions, so it isn’t as spectacular as it sounds. Irrespective of that, *in the context* of the grand claims of evolutionary theory it seems trivial to me.

    Is there, or can there be, such a thing as “methodological supernaturalism”? How does one go about testing, verifying, or falsifying supernatural claims?

    ID says nothing about the designer, and so isn’t a supernatural claim. It’s true that most IDers think the designer is supernatural, but there are also IDers who do not.

    And what happens when something is designed to look like it wasn’t designed?

    The issue is not designed things that look undesigned – rather it is whether things that even Richard Dawkins agree *look* designed actually are designed.

    What if something is sub-optimally implemented (e.g. a less efficient genetic code), either purposefully or through incompetence? After all, just because a designer is Intelligent doesn’t mean that it’s Perfect, or doesn’t have a Sense of Humor.

    Suboptimality doesn’t seem that relevant to me – it seems a harder judgement to make than whether something is designed or not. I don’t really understand why some people use it as an argument *against* a designer.

    ID presupposes not just a Creator, but its purpose as well, and this just isn’t science.

    You’ll have to expand on that a little. See Monton for a detailed discussion on whether ID is science.

  129. Well, strictly speaking, Big Bang cosmology is inferred from the observational evidence, but also from a theoretical framework with which to interpret the data.

    And even the observational evidence is indirect. The CMB is observational evidence produced from 380,000 years *after* the Big Bang.

  130. @BillT

    I am thankful that we have some common ground. Again, I reiterate an apology if previous sparring has come across as personal or antagonistic on my part.

    One of the things that I like best about evolutionary theory is that it is applicable in a variety of other scientific fields. Perhaps you’ve heard how evolutionary programming helped NASA build a better antenna? There are some other examples listed here if you’re interested. I’ve yet to see ID “theories” being applied in any other field of science.

    Really though, what kills me about ID is how it is (unintentionally, to be sure) so self-defeating. Its’ proponents use probabilities and throw around these incredible numbers (1 in 10^250!) to show that evolution couldn’t possibly have *just happened*….. but 1 in even 10^250 means that there’s still a chance that it could have happened. Argue against evolutionary theory all you like, bash away, but if your primary argument is that it’s a 1 in a zillion zillion zillion chance of happening – well, you’ve just acknowledged that it could have happened.

  131. Sault,

    No further apologies necessary and let me extend one as well. These discussion can get heated and more personal than necessary and on my part as well. Best to have a short memory (even if it’s not your choice!).

    Evolution is a well supported theory but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have controversies. The bottom line is that it works. People do repeatable experiments. It explains biology pretty well as far as we can tell. Maybe someone will discover it’s limits and it will be replaced and maybe it won’t.

    It seems to me the wrong place to draw a line. Outside of the kind of overreaches that some evolutionists make (see my #40) it’s reasnably good science.

  132. One of the things that I like best about evolutionary theory is that it is applicable in a variety of other scientific fields. Perhaps you’ve heard how evolutionary programming helped NASA build a better antenna?

    As a software developer, evolutionary programming just makes me think of design: it requires hardware, an operating system, and a developer to implement the evolutionary algorithm – and this is required every time an evolutionary algorithm is applied to a problem.

    Really though, what kills me about ID is how it is (unintentionally, to be sure) so self-defeating. Its’ proponents use probabilities and throw around these incredible numbers (1 in 10^250!) to show that evolution couldn’t possibly have *just happened*….. but 1 in even 10^250 means that there’s still a chance that it could have happened.

    I really don’t see the problem with probabilistic arguments like this. You only need read Antony Flew’s last book to see what an impact these arguments made on him – they were instrumental in him discarding his atheism. That doesn’t sound self defeating.

  133. Tom,

    I don’t doubt that there are interesting philosophical questions related to special relativity, but when we talk about an “interpretation” of quantum mechanics, we generally mean a set of rules for translating the language of empirical facts into the formal language of the theory. In the case of special relativity, this is fairly easy to do because the theory is formulated in terms of concepts that are familiar from Newtonian physics. But quantum mechanics is a far more abstract theory than special relativity, and that’s why so much work has been done on its interpretation.

  134. @Robert Jones, #135:

    In my experience, scientists are usually pretty conscious of the distinction between science and nonscience.

    Just so I can get a rough feel for your criteria in judging that, how would you rank Richard Dawkins? You can read on, below, to surmise my opinion on the subject.

    @bigbird, #139:

    Suboptimality doesn’t seem that relevant to me – it seems a harder judgement to make than whether something is designed or not. I don’t really understand why some people use it as an argument *against* a designer.

    I like to call it “Inelegant Design Theory”. Dawkins is a proponent of it: “the recurrent laryngeal nerve in any mammal is good evidence against a designer.” (The Greatest Show on Earth, p.364) He has other pet examples as well: the vas deferens, the “backward” arrangement of the human retina, and so on.

    He’s over-reaching, of course: at best, the laryngeal nerve arrangement is evidence against a good designer. As a programmer, I see examples of rubbish design on a daily basis, but I do not for a moment doubt that the cretins who wrote the code are real. It also strikes me that he’s picking on a single point in the design and using it to discount the idea that any of it was designed. What about the rest of the organism’s structure? Presumably it’s all better designed, or he would have picked on some other easy target. This is good evidence against a designer? More like good evidence against Dawkins’ ability to think straight.

    There’s also the question as to whether his opinion on the design quality is worth spit. For all his qualifications, he’s never designed a working mammal in his entire life (nobody has), so he’s an armchair critic on the subject of mammal design (as are we all). Designing working systems isn’t as easy as you think it is if you’ve never actually done it. Sometimes you make design trade-offs — better X for poorer Y — so sub-optimal Y isn’t even proof of poor design, let alone no design.

    @Salut, #141:

    Argue against evolutionary theory all you like, bash away, but if your primary argument is that it’s a 1 in a zillion zillion zillion chance of happening – well, you’ve just acknowledged that it could have happened.

    If the three brothers of the lottery commissioner won the lottery once each on three consecutive weeks, there is a chance that this could be a perfectly innocent coincidence. Would you believe them if they claimed that?

    There comes a point where, for very large values of N, one-to-N-against odds are indistinguishable from a miracle. The origin of life is such a miracle. It’s then simply a question of whether you prefer to explain your miracles as spontaneous, naturalistic events, possibly justified by an appeal to an infinite multiverse, or reject the chance hypothesis and call it the deliberate act of a sufficiently powerful intelligent entity.

    It comes down to two choices: you either say, “the odds are one in a gazillion, but it’s not impossible, so it’s just luck,” or you say, “the odds are one in a gazillion, so obviously it isn’t just luck.”

  135. Don’t have time to read the whole thread (good thing, too, or I’d probably get sucked into talking about evolution and abiogenesis – and I’ve done that to death elsewhere).

    But to answer the original question – some do make a distinction between ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ atheism. ‘Weak’ atheism is a lack of belief in god(s). ‘Strong’ atheism is an active disbelief in god(s).

    It’s possible to be a ‘weak’ atheist in general (returning the Scottish verdict of ‘not proven’) and a ‘strong’ atheist in the specific, actively disbelieving in specific conceptions of god(s).

    Obviously, if someone’s an atheist of either stripe and ‘living their life’, they must in some sense believe that they don’t need god(s) – or, at least, a belief in god(s) – to live. But yes, there’s a rather wide range of possibilities at that point.

    (Note that an agnostic, per Huxley’s original definition, thinks that the question of the existence of god(s) is unanswerable, unknowable. A weak atheist can think the question unanswered – yet.)

  136. Back to the OP for a bit 🙂

    What is the relationship between atheism and metaphysical naturalism, then?

  137. TFBW –

    As a programmer, I see examples of rubbish design on a daily basis, but I do not for a moment doubt that the cretins who wrote the code are real.

    Question: Have you looked into Avida, or Tierra? Long ago, when I was an even more naive programmer, I re-implemented Tierra myself, and got some results that convinced me you certainly can get design – especially functional-but-suboptimal design – without a designer.

  138. There comes a point where, for very large values of N, one-to-N-against odds are indistinguishable from a miracle.

    Is that all a miracle is – something happens that is incredibly unlikely to happen? I was under the impression that “miracle” meant something more akin to something happening that couldn’t normally have happened (without natural laws being suspended, etc).

  139. TFBW,

    I’m afraid I don’t know enough about Dawkins’ work to say whether anything he’s done lies outside the realm of science. I certainly don’t take his critique of religion too seriously though, and I’ve seen him badly misrepresent the process of science in debates.

    My comments in #135 were mostly based on my experience with physicists. There are some parts of theoretical physics that are very close to pure mathematics and make relatively little contact with experiment. In my experience, physicists are usually very conscious of the fact that this sort of work is not science in the strict sense.

  140. Victoria, assuming #147 was directed to me, they are frequently but not necessarily associated. One can believe in the supernatural without believing in god(s), though that’s not terribly common.

  141. @Ray Ingles, #148:

    I re-implemented Tierra myself, and got some results that convinced me you certainly can get design – especially functional-but-suboptimal design – without a designer.

    Let me see if I understand. First, you start by designing a small machine language, then you design and build a virtual machine which implements that language. After that, you design at least one program in the machine language which is capable of making copies of itself into other memory locations. Starting with that program, you let it run for a while, and the non-determinism designed into the virtual machine architecture inevitably results in randomly modified copies of the program, rather than perfect copies. These “mutant offspring” may (or may not) still exhibit the self-reproducing behaviour of the original. After a while, you may have examples of self-reproducing programs which bear little or no resemblance to the original one you designed — i.e. functional programs which have no designer.

    Have I understood your illustration of “design without a designer” correctly?

  142. @Salut, #149:

    Is that all a miracle is – something happens that is incredibly unlikely to happen? I was under the impression that “miracle” meant something more akin to something happening that couldn’t normally have happened (without natural laws being suspended, etc).

    If you were to observe a thoroughly reality-bending miracle in progress — water into wine, walking on water, multiplying loaves and fishes, raising the dead, whatever — would it be proper to conclude that the laws of nature were being violated, or that the laws of nature were not quite what you had supposed they were? Is it logically possible to observe a violation of natural law? How do we determine what natural law is except by reference to what actually happens?

    If the concept of “violating a natural law” isn’t philosophically problematic enough for you in and of itself, consider that modern, orthodox, naturalistic theories of the origin of the universe say that the whole lot originally sprang, spontaneously, from nothing. If that scale of thing can happen without a naturalist batting an eyelid, then I think it’s best to hedge our bets and assume that anything is possible, but some things are much more probable than others.

  143. TFBW –

    Have I understood your illustration of “design without a designer” correctly?

    Pretty close. It’s actually not just “self-reproducing programs which bear little or no resemblance to the original one” – it’s “self-reproducing programs which are significantly improved over the original one and contain new features not present in the original.”

    I didn’t miss your sarcasm, of course – but I’m entirely unmoved by it. To study lightning, scientists design elaborate, fine-tuned devices that generate lightning analogs. At a nearby science museum, there’s a carefully-designed tornado simulator that generates a pretty decent vortex.

    Both of these machines took a lot of intelligent effort to design and maintain. Neither one proves that lightning or tornadoes can only arise from intelligence.

    As you noted here, “Computational processes are abstract things which can be instantiated through specific physical processes”. Evolution is such a computational process, which is instantiated by reproduction with occasional errors. Instantiating it on a computer where it can be easily studied takes intelligent effort – though consider psoup, a similar system that does not need to be ‘seeded’.

    Instantiating evolution in reproducing chemical systems may not have such stringent requirements.

  144. Instantiating evolution in reproducing chemical systems may not have such stringent requirements.

    And five years later, origin of life scientists still admit they have no viable theories for how it happened.

    “May not have such stringent requirements” is a very, very far distance from, “does not have such stringent requirements;” which is still a good distance from, “explains what could have happened;” which is even further from, “explains what happened.”

  145. Both of these machines took a lot of intelligent effort to design and maintain. Neither one proves that lightning or tornadoes can only arise from intelligence.

    No, my designed refrigerator doesn’t prove that ice can only arise from intelligence either.

    But we aren’t talking about lightning, tornadoes or ice. We are talking about incredibly complex systems.

    We are talking about systems so complex that they exceed the complexity of an operating system by many orders of magnitude.

    It takes tremendous faith in evolutionary processes to believe that this is possible.

    It also takes tremendous faith to ignore the almost unimaginable odds of reaching the point of a self replicating cell that is required to make this happen.

    It does seem strange to me that this is appreciated by atheists such as Thomas Nagel and Antony Flew (to the point that he abandoned atheism), but dismissed by some Christians.

  146. TFBW –

    And five years later, origin of life scientists still admit they have no viable theories for how it happened.

    Yet there are several hypotheses being actively researched. The article I pointed you to described experiments that took three decades or more to run. If you want instant results regarding a process that took up to a billion years, then you may be asking just a tad much.

    bigbird –

    We are talking about incredibly complex systems.

    Which are the result of three and a half billion years of development.

    It also takes tremendous faith to ignore the almost unimaginable odds of reaching the point of a self replicating cell that is required to make this happen.

    No one researching the origin of life thinks that it started off with anything like a modern cell. I don’t want to accuse you of dishonesty, but that’s a misunderstanding at best and a strawman at worst.

    The current hypotheses – and yes, there are several – posit self-catalyzing molecules or sets of molecules at the very beginning. Not even a ‘metabolism’ as such.

    The key thing that Prof. Thomas Ray did when he made Tierra was create a different kind of computing system. It’s recognizably like standard CPUs in some ways, but with two key differences. First, subroutine calls don’t need specific addresses, they search by complements and templates. And second, there are only 32 opcodes, with no operands.

    Both of those changes were inspired by biology – molecules interact by exposing complementary surfaces, and there are less than two dozen amino acids. And just that pair of simple yet critical changes allowed an impressive amount of self-optimizing evolution. Even in a system of comparable complexity to the hypothesized ‘RNA World’.

    Reproduction plus variation really is a game-changer. Go ahead, play around with such systems yourself. You’ll see.

  147. It also takes tremendous faith to ignore the almost unimaginable odds of reaching the point of a self replicating cell that is required to make this happen.

    No one researching the origin of life thinks that it started off with anything like a modern cell. I don’t want to accuse you of dishonesty, but that’s a misunderstanding at best and a strawman at worst.

    If that was the starting point then the origin of life is solved!

    No, I’m saying that’s the ultimate *endpoint* of the origin of life problem – required for natural selection and the other evolutionary mechanisms. And that’s an unbelievably complex endpoint – Darwin thought the cell was not much more than a blob of protoplasm. The cell is recognized to be an order of magnitude more complex than when I studied biology in high school – processes unimagined at the time have been discovered in the 30 years since then. The problem as we understand it is getting more difficult as time goes on.

    Reproduction plus variation really is a game-changer.

    There’s almost no evidence from experiment that demonstrates that this is the case.

    It is interesting that the examples of rapid contemporary evolution that are commonly cited (e.g. by Dawkins in his writings) frequently have not compared genomes to see if evolution actually occurred, failing to note that often phenotypic plasticity is responsible for the observed variations.

  148. @Ray Ingles

    In #155, you say:

    I didn’t miss your sarcasm, of course – but I’m entirely unmoved by it.

    It’s hard not to sound sarcastic, under the circumstances. I mean, I could have been much more sarcastic by drawing attention to the word “designed” every time I used it. As for the fact that you’re unmoved — well, let’s just say that if I were trying to shift your viewpoint, I would have given up some time ago.

    To study lightning, scientists design elaborate, fine-tuned devices that generate lightning analogs. At a nearby science museum, there’s a carefully-designed tornado simulator that generates a pretty decent vortex.

    Good for them. The difference between them and you, however, is that they aren’t citing their machinery as evidence against design. That’s the point that invalidates your argument, you see, and why your citing them as examples is pointless and irrelevant. I’m sorry if I sound sarcastic again, but it’s really hard not to do so when spelling out the obvious.

    Given a process as simple as “copy consecutive bytes from one section of memory to another”, and a sub-optimal initial implementation — and a machine to run it on — I’m not particularly surprised that a random search can result in some sort of efficiency improvement. Citing that as evidence for the proposition that entire self-reproducing machines arose from scratch without any intelligent input at all is over-reaching, to put it mildly. The difference between the two is not just a massive extrapolation in terms of quantity; it’s also a fundamental change in quality.

    In #158, you reply as if to me, but it’s actually Tom that you’re quoting. You also say:

    The current hypotheses – and yes, there are several – posit self-catalyzing molecules or sets of molecules at the very beginning. Not even a ‘metabolism’ as such.

    Look — at the top end of the non-living scale we have self-catalysing molecules and random fragments of RNA or similar that might do something or other not terribly specific under some circumstances. That’s as life-like as non-living chemicals get. At the bottom end of the living scale, we have single celled organisms with so many interacting functional subsystems that the best analogies for their internal workings are not “a machine” but “a bustling city” — one that happens to be capable of complete self-reproduction. Between those two points, we have pure, unadulterated speculation, and not much of it.

    Not only have experiments been performed which try to create the most interesting possible non-living chemicals, but there have also been experiments on the simplest living organisms to see how much of their functionality can be knocked out before they become non-viable. It comes as no surprise that, at their simplest, they are crippled versions of their unadulterated ancestors, still identifiable as members of that species.

    In the enormous chasm between those two points, there is not a shred of empirical evidence of any sort. Nobody believes in a natural origin of life on account of the evidence, because there is no evidence — there is only the necessity that the origin be natural in the case that one has an a priori commitment to materialism. If one holds to that belief, then every piece of evidence that comes along will seem to support it, because that was the lens through which one viewed the evidence in the first place. That’s why you look at your “evolving” computer programs and see evidence for abiogenesis, and why the rest of us are unimpressed.

  149. TFBW – First off, sorry to you and Tom for the misattribution. My apologies. Anyway…

    The difference between them and you, however, is that they aren’t citing their machinery as evidence against design.

    They are studying the conditions which give rise to the phenomena in question. We can show that supercells and extreme charge separations happen in nature, too. They can’t model all the features of such real-world systems – the scales involved are, er, beyond the current state of the art – but the fact that they have to work to create those conditions isn’t taken as evidence those conditions require an intelligent architect.

    Tierra, Avida et. al. create conditions where reproduction with variation happens. They can’t reproduce such conditions on the scale of a planet, over a timeframe of several hundred million years, yet. But there are still lessons to be drawn.

    I’m not particularly surprised that a random search can result in some sort of efficiency improvement.

    Name two of the innovations I observed.

    Citing that as evidence for the proposition that entire self-reproducing machines arose from scratch without any intelligent input at all is over-reaching, to put it mildly.

    It takes a fair amount of effort to build a nuclear reactor. Many people have to work really hard to do so. You don’t get nuclear reactors by accident.

    Except… it has happened at least once. Do you think Oklo is evidence for intelligent nuclear engineers two billion years ago?

    If we can look at the fossil evidence of Oklo and not see design, whey can we not look at the fossil evidence of the ossicles the same way?

    Not only have experiments been performed which try to create the most interesting possible non-living chemicals

    …covering a few decades. Modeling a process that took around seven orders of magnitude longer.

    I know, I know. Unless you can generate a hundred gigawatt stroke, you’re not really simulating lightning.

    It’s actually interesting. It took until the 1800’s to go past ‘you can’t get organic molecules from inorganic molecules’. In just my lifetime, it’s gone from ‘you can’t get amino acids and nucleotides’ to ‘you can’t get macromolecules of amino acids and nucleotides’ to ‘you can’t get self-catalyzing macromolecules’ to, presently, ‘you can’t get really complex self-catalyzing macromolecular systems’. We’ll see how long that holds.

    In the enormous chasm between those two points, there is not a shred of empirical evidence of any sort.

    Why do you think it is that, to this day, DNA transcription and protein assembly is done by ribozymes? Why is RNA so central to the entire process? Do you have a hypothesis to account for that?

  150. The diversions on abiogenesis and so on are very interesting, but I’d like to go back to the OP because I think it’s a very important question too. Despite being a short post and posing a direct question there’s a lot packed in there:

    Atheists today often insist that atheism is not a belief, but a lack of belief.

    Yes, and I’d make a distinction here which is in line with Tom’s request to answer the question about our own personal belief. I regard “atheism” in itself as only denoting the lack of belief in any deity. But the individual atheist has a set of beliefs or opinions (a worldview) which address in some way the cosmic, moral and philosophical questions which theism does. Or rather, they are likely to, in practice some don’t question and maybe don’t know or don’t really care about such questions. I do care, which is probably why I am posting here.

    So that while “atheism” describes the absence of certain types of belief, the atheist also holds beliefs which are non-theistic. I do know one person who claims not to have beliefs, of any kind at all, but I do not believe him (really, I’m not making that up).

    So to the question:

    Here’s a question for them and others: Isn’t atheism a positive belief that “I do not need God in order to live my life”?

    I would not express it worded in that way. I would say that the absence of God from my worldview does not cause me any special concern, although it remains fascinating to me why I see the universe that way and others see it so differently. I do not feel the godlessness of the universe as a lack of God. Does that constitute not “needing”?

    Incidentally, to say “I do not need that being which I believe not to exist ..” is far from sounding like a positive belief.

    I’ve tried not to mention teapots or the various exotic creatures which have come into the discussion so far, but the reason why they spring to mind is because of the difficulty of being asked to examine any feeling of need towards a being which I believe to be absent. It’s slightly confusing. To express that it seems natural to come up with a parallel. But I can see why such provocative examples might annoy.

    Would it be better to offer the parallel that I do not need a fourth spacelike dimension to live my life?

  151. @Ray Ingles, #162:

    They can’t model all the features of such real-world systems – the scales involved are, er, beyond the current state of the art – but the fact that they have to work to create those conditions isn’t taken as evidence those conditions require an intelligent architect.

    That’s utterly, utterly irrelevant. What you’re doing is designing a system which simulates a concept (rather than a real-world condition), and then claiming that your highly-designed, artificial, stylised system is evidence in support of a naturalistic, unguided account of biological origins and sophistication in the real world. In contrast, the other machines you mentioned are just reproducing, on a small scale, phenomena that we observe to occur in nature.

    What your system fails to do (and what the other systems don’t need to do because they aren’t trying to prove what you’re trying to prove) is demonstrate that your results are (a) relevant, given the physical dissimilarity to the subject it purports to model, and (b) not attributable to your intelligent input.

    I’m not going to embark on an extensive point-by-point objection to your evidence, because, as we’ve been reminded yet again, this is way off topic — although in another sense this discussion is actually highly demonstrative of why the topic exists at all. I’ll therefore conduct a brief analysis of that aspect. If nothing else, it will explain why our continued arguing is a futile waste of time.

    You and I see this evidence in very different ways. Evidence does not speak for itself: it must be interpreted. You interpret it in the light of epistemic optimism (the belief or hope that all knowledge is attainable) and scientific progressivism (the idea that science inevitably brings us closer to a complete knowledge of truth). I say this, because you keep referring to scientific progress, and your expectation that the presently unknown will fall to the inexorable march of science (not just in this post, but more so in another post). But that march is only inexorable if, among other things, all the questions under investigation actually are properly explained by naturalistic mechanisms. That is, your model of science assumes the truth of naturalism.

    In contrast, I have grave doubts about naturalism, and therefore I do not share your progressive view of science. Indeed, I am concerned, when it comes to questions such as the origin of life and the nature of consciousness, that the true explanation might not be a natural one. And if that is so, then a commitment to methodological naturalism in science would necessarily be a commitment to finding a false explanation.

    If truth is one’s goal, then one should either not commit to naturalistic explanations a priori (because they might not be true), and thus repudiate methodological naturalism; or, one should repudiate the idea of scientific progressivism (because science provides naturalistic explanations regardless of their truth). You have done neither, and yet, as far as I can tell, you still seem to think that you are tracking the truth.

    Be warned: if your epistemic framework assumes the truth of naturalism, and you hold to that assumption with sufficient tenacity, then you will not encounter difficulty when you look for evidence in support of that belief. Indeed, the evidence will always seem to support your position, whether or not it is the true one. So, if you happen to think that the evidence supports the truth of naturalism, then your reasoning is ultimately circular, because it also assumed the truth of naturalism at its foundation. When it comes to metaphysical subjects, one’s conclusions have a habit of hiding in one’s premises, undetected.

  152. Darwin thought the cell was not much more than a blob of protoplasm

    I think you need to expand your sources a bit. A lot of people have said that, but it’s just not true.

    I read your link, and then I read the one of the original papers by Darwin that is cited.

    Darwin thought plant cells had “one or two spherical masses in the middle of the cell. These spheres apparently consist of a delicate membrane lined with granules and enclosing cell-sap”.

    Compared to the immense complexity of the cell (which we probably are far from understanding), it seems to me that “not much more than a blob of protoplasm” is a fair description.

    There’s almost no evidence from experiment that demonstrates that this is the case.

    Let’s turn it around a bit. What kind of experiments would you accept as demonstrating that?

    That’s a difficult question to answer, because the evolutionary story as a whole is unverifiable by experiment. Evolution is largely a historical science, not an experimental one.

    The experiments I’m aware of don’t offer too much support for evolutionists. Lenski’s 50,000 generations of bacteria have resulted in perhaps a dozen beneficial mutations fixed in each population. I suppose that’s something, but it seems absurd to extrapolate such trivial changes to a tree of life. Sexual reproduction seems less useful – long term Drosophilia experiments have yielded little, e.g. this experiment.

  153. TFBW –

    That’s utterly, utterly irrelevant. What you’re doing is designing a system which simulates a concept

    Let’s examine the fossil record for a moment. You, in comment #145, stated, “As a programmer, I see examples of rubbish design on a daily basis, but I do not for a moment doubt that the cretins who wrote the code are real.”

    I replied with examples that illustrate the concept that design – especially ‘mixed-up but functional design’ – can in fact arise in computer code without an intelligent designer.

    If my counterexample is irrelevant, then your initial example which prompted it must also have been irrelevant, no?

    You interpret it in the light of epistemic optimism (the belief or hope that all knowledge is attainable)

    It’s not a “belief or hope” so much as a pragmatic assumption. Or as Woody Allen put it, “Is knowledge knowable? If not, how do we know this?” If we keep trying to understand, we might understand. If we stop trying to understand, we won’t ever understand. So, which would you choose?

    scientific progressivism (the idea that science inevitably brings us closer to a complete knowledge of truth)

    Again, it’s more pragmatic than anything. Seems to be doing the best job. There’s a long list of things that used to have supernaturalistic explanations, that now have naturalistic ones. On the other hand, I’m having trouble coming up with an example of something that’s moved in the other direction.

    If truth is one’s goal, then one should either not commit to naturalistic explanations a priori

    As we’ve also established in that other thread, it’s hard to come up with a supernatural ‘explanation’ that actually explains anything. But I’m actually not committed to our current naturalistic explanations being correct. (Heck, we know that GR and QM are in conflict. At least one must be wrong to some extent.)

    because science provides naturalistic explanations regardless of their truth

    Actually, at most science might say, “we don’t have an explanation for that yet”. For example, with regards to the origin of life, we have several hypotheses being worked on, but we don’t have a comprehensive theory yet. Same with consciousness.

    Do you have any other examples? What topics has science provided a naturalistic explanation for something that is – you claim in point of fact – supernatural?

  154. ???????

    I replied with examples that illustrate the concept that design – especially ‘mixed-up but functional design’ – can in fact arise in computer code without an intelligent designer.

    ???????

    Was there no designer in the causal chain that led to that code?

    I would be very, very fascinated to learn about that, if true!

  155. If we stop trying to understand, we won’t ever understand. So, which would you choose?

    If we stop trying to understand what TFBW really thinks about this, we won’t ever understand. So, which would you choose?

  156. “There’s a long list of things that used to have a supernaturalist explanation…”

    And a long list of things that still don’t have a naturalist explanation, for which the best thinkers today doubt that any naturalist explanation is possible. Free will, consciousness, rationality, self-hood, our sense that morality is real (see Richard Joyce on this), …

    These things are not unimportant.

  157. As we’ve also established in that other thread, it’s hard to come up with a supernatural ‘explanation’ that actually explains anything.

    Do you have a naturalistic explanation for explanation?

    And what do you mean by explain? I think you’ve got a question-begging requirement that explanation must be in terms of things whose causal chain is both necessary and amenable to scientific research.

    When it comes to, for example, the first energy or matter to be created, what’s wrong with “God decided and did it?” That’s a perfectly good answer to where did it come from?

  158. bigbird – What you enclosed in quotes is not an actual quote of Darwin’s words. It is, at best, your paraphrase, which leaves out… rather a lot. To wit:

    Soon minute granules can be distinguished under a high power, which quickly coalesce or grow larger; and for many hours afterwards oval or globular, or curiously-shaped masses of a purple colour and of considerable size may be observed sending out processes or filaments, dividing, coalescing, and redividing in the most singular manner, until finally one or two solid spheres are formed which remain motionless. The moving masses include vacuoles which change their appearance. (I append here three figures of aggregated masses copied from my son Francis’s paper†, showing the forms assumed.) After aggregation has been partially effected, the layer of protoplasm lining the walls of the cells may be seen with singular clearness flowing in great waves; and my son observed similarly flowing threads of protoplasm which connected together the grains of chlorophyll. After a time the minute colourless particles which are imbedded in the flowing protoplasm are drawn towards and unite with the aggregated masses; so that the protoplasm on the walls being now rendered quite transparent is no longer visible, though some is still present, and still flows, as may be inferred from the occasional transport of particles in the cell-sap.”

    That’s how much I had to quote to include the words “one or two spherical masses” and “cell-sap”.

    Now, it’s true that Darwin didn’t have any idea how complex the cell was at a molecular scale. Galileo had no idea how complex the solar system was – how many planets and planetoids there were, the Oort cloud, all the belts of radiation, etc. So what? There’s still the central insights.

    Evolution is largely a historical science, not an experimental one.

    OK, fine, let’s go for history. Lay your fingers under your chin. Now, trace along the edge of the jaw, up to the very top of the jawbone. Wiggle your mouth a bit, find the very tippy-top.

    Notice how close your fingers are to your ear canal? Inside the inner ear are three bones, the ossicles: malleus, incus, and stapes. They are carefully arranged to transfer sound energy from the eardrum to the cochlea as efficiently as possible. How could such an amazing mechanism arise? (One that’s been cited, even, as ‘irreducibly complex’ – just Google around a bit.)

    It turns out that a classification of dinosaur called the therapsids had two jaw joints. The therapsids are known (by several independent lines of evidence) to be ancestral to modern mammals… and we have a basically complete fossil record of the gradual transition of one of those jaw joints into the modern bones of the inner ear. Fossils representing over a dozen separate stages have been found. Note that intermediate steps were all advantageous, though not as efficient or optimized. Some transitional forms did help amplify sound energy but didn’t work while the animal was chewing. We still have problems with that under some circumstances (try to listen to someone while eating celery) but the separation is far more developed now.

    So. Which of the more than a dozen steps shows intelligent intervention, and in what manner? Which stage was just plain genetically impossible? Yanoconodon, say?

    Note: this is a complete functional unit, a whole new mechanism that simply didn’t exist before, and we have detailed records of how it arose. This should be a perfect test case for your contention. Go to it!

  159. Tom Gilson –

    Was there no designer in the causal chain that led to that code?

    Oy.

    Lightning happens when the voltage across a mass of air exceeds the breakdown voltage of air. That’s the condition that gives rise to lightning. Such conditions can arise naturally (e.g. in stormclouds) or artificially (as in the lightning simulators we’ve already discussed).

    When computer programs reproduce with occasional variations, they self-optimize and develop new algorithms. The conditions are what’s important in this context, not the origin of the conditions. For example, you don’t even have to seed a reproducing ‘organism’ – they can arise by themselves when the right conditions are present. (Last link in comment #155.)

    Now, you might argue that computer code is totally different from biological systems. But if you do so, you must scold TFBW for comparing them in the first place in #145.

  160. Oy back.

    The origin of the conditions is precisely what’s under debate.

    I know about that life in ice thing. It’s not anywhere near a viable OOL theory yet.

  161. Biebricher had loaded the deck somewhat, because he wasn’t growing RNA chains from nothing. Before he froze his samples, he added an RNA template—a single-strand chain of RNA that guides the formation of a new strand of RNA. . . . But the first step was the formation of the original RNA molecule that served as a template, and how that step happened remains a mystery.

  162. Tom Gilson – That’s from page 3. On page 4:

    A young scientist named Alexander Vlassov stumbled upon a possible answer. He was working at SomaGenics, a biotech company in Santa Cruz, California, to develop RNA enzymes that latch on to the hepatitis C virus. His RNA enzymes were behaving strangely: They normally consisted of a single segment of RNA, but every time he cooled them below freezing to purify them, the chain of RNA spontaneously joined its ends into a circle, like a snake biting its tail. As Vlassov worked to fix the technical glitch, he noticed that another RNA enzyme, called hairpin, also acted strangely. At room temperature, hairpin acts like scissors, snipping other RNA molecules into pieces. But when Vlassov froze it, it ran in reverse: It glued other RNA chains together end to end.

    There’s more, of course. You can read on to see the results of their tests. There’s even a page 5.

    I’m not claiming that there’s a full theory for abiogenesis yet. But I do want to point out the progress I pointed out in #162. The obstacles keep getting smaller and more refined, and that’s over the course of just a few decades. It hasn’t even been a century since we figured out the structure of DNA. I wonder where things will stand in 2053?

  163. bigbird – What you enclosed in quotes is not an actual quote of Darwin’s words. It is, at best, your paraphrase

    I take it you’ve not actually tried to verify that accusation. Consult Darwin’s *The Action of Carbonate of Ammonia on Chlorophyll-Bodies* and you’ll quickly find out it is not a paraphrase. If I quote something, it’s because it is a quote.

    The therapsids are known (by several independent lines of evidence) to be ancestral to modern mammals… and we have a basically complete fossil record of the gradual transition of one of those jaw joints into the modern bones of the inner ear. Fossils representing over a dozen separate stages have been found.

    Strangely though, the mammalian middle ear seems to have evolved independently several times. And amazingly, rainforest katydids possess an equivalent biophysical mechanism for hearing, despite being insects instead of mammals.

  164. When computer programs reproduce with occasional variations, they self-optimize and develop new algorithms.

    Let’s lay aside the designed operating system, hardware, and specialized software designed to reproduce these programs, and assume we have these (incredibly complex) initial conditions.

    Are there any limits to what programs can be produced? Can we show how something as complex as Microsoft Windows can evolve, starting from a simple Hello World program and having viable intermediate programs at every stage? Crunch the numbers, and let’s estimate how long that would take.

  165. Let’s make it realistic, too: let’s not tell the thing what you’re looking for it to make. Let’s allow it to do whatever it does with no end in mind, no guidance in any direction at any step, other than reproducibility, or the computer analogue.

  166. @Ray Ingles:

    Tom has responded to most of what you addressed to me in #166, and I see little need to repeat that effort, so my response here is not comprehensive.

    In #166, you say:

    If my counterexample is irrelevant, then your initial example which prompted it must also have been irrelevant, no?

    No. If they were the same kind of argument, then yes, but they aren’t, so no. I’m not going to bother spelling it out any more than that, because I’ve already made my case. I tire of repeating myself, and watching you repeat yourself. I invite anyone who thinks you have made a valid argument to simply review the conversation so far. I have nothing further to add.

    In response to, “science provides naturalistic explanations regardless of their truth”, you say:

    Actually, at most science might say, “we don’t have an explanation for that yet”. For example, with regards to the origin of life, we have several hypotheses being worked on, but we don’t have a comprehensive theory yet. Same with consciousness.

    You misunderstand. Often, science professes to know, rather than professing not to know yet. I would like to point out that it is these explanations which are subject to my comment — not the cases where science professes not to know. Where a commitment to naturalistic explanations exists, the offered explanations will be naturalistic even if the correct explanation is not.

    I’d spell that out in more detail, but you’ve promised to speak on the subject in another thread, and I’d rather let you make your case than anticipate it.

  167. bigbird –

    I take it you’ve not actually tried to verify that accusation.

    You’re right, that is in fact a quote. However, now that I see the context you’re taking it from, it’s even more misleading. Darwin is reporting on structures that form in response to staining, and describing the visible effects of what are ongoing complex processes.

    Strangely though, the mammalian middle ear seems to have evolved independently several times.

    What’s the problem with that? Convergent evolution is nothing new, even in mammalian hearing.

    And amazingly, rainforest katydids possess an equivalent biophysical mechanism for hearing, despite being insects instead of mammals.

    That’s neat, but you seem to be under some impression that that would be a problem for unguided evolution. Why?

    Tom Gilson –

    Let’s allow it to do whatever it does with no end in mind, no guidance in any direction at any step, other than reproducibility, or the computer analogue.

    That’s exactly what Tierra does. Please, read the links I gave in comment #148.

  168. TFBW –

    No. If they were the same kind of argument, then yes, but they aren’t, so no. I’m not going to bother spelling it out any more than that,

    Well, that’s helpful. I guess I’ll just have to reply at the same level – “Is so!”

    Often, science professes to know, rather than professing not to know yet. I would like to point out that it is these explanations which are subject to my comment

    Ah, but when science “professes to know”, it can explain why it professes to know. A scientific theory explains a broad range of observations and has stood up to numerous experimental tests. Even then, it’s provisional, and at least potentially open to new, disconfirming observations. Generally speaking, if you have substantial objections to such a theory and can back it up with observations, you can expect a Nobel prize.

    Now, for a huge number of things, science hasn’t needed supernatural or non-material explanations. It’s had to alter conceptions of ‘material’ on occasion; Newton’s gravitational theory was controversial because it referred to forces which acted at a distance, though we’ve since incorporated that kind of stuff into our understanding of physics. But the only areas I see you objecting to ‘naturalistic explanations’ so far – like consciousness, or the origin of life – are areas where there isn’t a naturalistic explanation yet, where there isn’t a widely-accepted scientific theory. (As distinct from a hypothesis.)

    So, can you give me an example of a naturalistic scientific explanation, that’s counted as a real, widely-accepted scientific theory – a case where actually “science professes to know” – that you nevertheless consider wrong because the “correct explanation is” supernatural?

  169. Avidian organisms evolve new logic operations only when mutations producing them are assigned high-impact fitness effects. Furthermore, purifying selection cannot protect operations with low-impact benefits from mutational deterioration. These results suggest that selection breaks down for low-impact mutations below a certain fitness effect, the selection threshold. Experiments using biologically relevant parameter settings show the tendency for increasing genetic load to lead to loss of biological functionality. An understanding of such genetic deterioration is relevant to human disease, and may be applicable to the control of pathogens by use of lethal mutagenesis.

    It may also be relevant to whether Avida’s apparent demonstration of evolution’s capabilities is relevant to the real world of biology.

    Source: A highly suspect creationist website.

  170. Shoot. This is all trivial stuff:

    But the only areas I see you objecting to ‘naturalistic explanations’ so far – like consciousness, or the origin of life – are areas where there isn’t a naturalistic explanation yet, where there isn’t a widely-accepted scientific theory.

    Science is far enough along, I guess. It doesn’t know how scientists can consciously operate, but that’s a small thing. It doesn’t understand how a scientist can freely and/or rationally choose which interpretation of an experiment’s outcome is the better one. It hasn’t even figured out how to formulate the question! But that’s a small thing.

    It doesn’t know how to explain the scientist’s personal identity (self-ness) persisting from the beginning of an experiment to the end, but wow, who’s going to say that’s a significant limitation to what science can explain?

    Science has no explanation for explanation (what is an explanation? why do explanations work? how is it that they tend to be simple, such that Occam’s Razor works? what does it mean to apprehend and understand an explanation?) but why would explaining explanation be an important thing for science to explain? It explains everything just fine without it?

    So darn it all, Ray, you’ve just proved that science can do everything that matters. It hasn’t done it yet, but it will. It hasn’t figured out how to formulate these as scientific questions yet, but it will. It hasn’t discovered how to grab these questions away from metaphysics, but it will, and when it does, then philosophy can shrivel up and die, just as theology will do. Science will explain everything.

    And if it doesn’t, it’s at least going to cover all the important stuff. This other trivia, like what it means to be human — to do science, even — is nothing.

    In the meantime, we have Ray’s-promissory-note-of-the-gaps, our strong assurance that whatever explanation ultimately comes for everything, it will all be scientific. So not only will theology and philosophy waste away to nothingness, it’s perfectly safe to regard them as nothing already!

    Right?

    wrong

  171. And there’s a category error here:

    So, can you give me an example of a naturalistic scientific explanation, that’s counted as a real, widely-accepted scientific theory – a case where actually “science professes to know” – that you nevertheless consider wrong because the “correct explanation is” supernatural?

    Explanations explain on multiple levels. The traditional example is, “why is the water boiling on the stovetop?”

    1. Because the kinetic energy in the gas flame being transferred to the water through the pot has increased the heat content of the water to a level beyond what it can absorb or release to the environment through radiation or simple evaporation …

    2. Because I want a pot of tea.

    Why is the earth the way it is? The correct explanation may be both natural and supernatural.

  172. You’re right, that is in fact a quote. However, now that I see the context you’re taking it from, it’s even more misleading. Darwin is reporting on structures that form in response to staining, and describing the visible effects of what are ongoing complex processes.

    Misleading? It’s a direct quote from one of the papers cited by your source that claimed it was evidence that Darwin thought the cell was much more than a blob of protoplasm. The quote quite accurately represents Darwin’s level of knowledge about what the cell consists of.

    Convergent evolution is nothing new, even in mammalian hearing.

    Of course not, because evolution can do anything and explain anything.

    That’s neat, but you seem to be under some impression that that would be a problem for unguided evolution. Why?

    Absolutely nothing is a problem for unguided evolution provided you have a good enough imagination.

  173. @Ray Ingles, #181:

    Ah, but when science “professes to know”, it can explain why it professes to know.

    Indeed. It can explain why, even if those reasons turn out to be invalid in the long run. In the first half of the twentieth century, for example, the geosynclinal origin of the major mountain systems was an established principle in geology. Somewhere in the 1960s, geosynclinal theory died a quiet death, and was replaced by the completely different theory we know as plate tectonics. Regardless of the revolution in geology, there has been an unbroken stream of scientific experts who could explain in great detail why they professed to know how mountains are formed, whether in terms of the old theory or the new.

    Clearly, some of them were (or are) severely mistaken about the correctness of their explanations, but they certainly did have explanations.

    Generally speaking, if you have substantial objections to such a theory and can back it up with observations, you can expect a Nobel prize.

    Oh get real. Generally speaking, if you have controversial ideas on any subject, you can expect to be shouted down, ridiculed, and marginalised by the establishment. Science is no different. Consider the history of continental drift. Your assertion may be truer of the hard sciences, like physics, where results are somewhat definitely reproducible and quantifiable, but for historical sciences like geology, palaeontology, evolutionary ancestry and whatnot, you’ve got to be kidding.

    Now, for a huge number of things, science hasn’t needed supernatural or non-material explanations.

    Indeed. Some of those explanations might even be correct.

    So, can you give me an example of a naturalistic scientific explanation, that’s counted as a real, widely-accepted scientific theory – a case where actually “science professes to know” – that you nevertheless consider wrong because the “correct explanation is” supernatural?

    Yeah, sure. If I did, would I be inviting another lecture from you on how positing such an explanation is equivalent to giving up and not trying to answer the question at all, etc, etc?

    Ah, what the heck. I’ll risk the inevitable. I think that the correct explanation of our sense of morality or conscience is a supernatural one. I’m pretty sure that mainstream science thinks it’s got that one covered with plain old Darwinian survival value, yes? It’s much more amenable to Darwinian reductionism than consciousness is.

    There’s your answer. So go on, tell us what point you were getting to with the question.

  174. Tom Gilson – Some quickies.

    how much additional information is this software developing?

    More than zero.

    Science is far enough along, I guess… So not only will theology and philosophy waste away to nothingness, it’s perfectly safe to regard them as nothing already!

    Ptui! What are those words doing in my mouth? Who put them there?

    If you want to know what I think, you could try asking. As it is, I think your ‘summary’ of my position is about as accurate as you rate my understanding of yours.

    The correct explanation may be both natural and supernatural.

    Speaking of ‘category errors’, the ‘kinetic energy’ explanation and the ‘I want tea’ explanation are not in conflict. I was asking for cases where the naturalistic explanation is in conflict with the ‘correct’ supernatural explanation.

  175. bigbird –

    The quote quite accurately represents Darwin’s level of knowledge about what the cell consists of.

    The quote accurately represents only a small part of Darwin’s level of knowledge about what the cell consists of. That’s why it’s misleading.

    Of course not, because evolution can do anything and explain anything.

    Snark isn’t an argument. It’s not even an objection. If you can’t explain why this is a problem, then why should I think it’s a problem?

    Absolutely nothing is a problem for unguided evolution provided you have a good enough imagination.

    Or, just possibly, nothing you’ve presented is, in fact, a problem. You’ve certainly not explained why any of it might be…

  176. The quote accurately represents only a small part of Darwin’s level of knowledge about what the cell consists of. That’s why it’s misleading.

    It’s not misleading. It is a fair representation of Darwin’s level of knowledge exhibited in the paper referenced by your source.

    Convergence is an obvious problem for evolution, particularly genetic convergence.

  177. Convergence is a problem? Nah.

    The reason we know that convergence isn’t a problem is because evolution does it all the time.

    The reason we know that evolution does it all the time is because we see convergent evolution everywhere.

    The reason we know it’s convergent evolution as opposed to some other effect (design, for example), is because convergence isn’t a problem for evolution.

    The reason we know it isn’t a problem for evolution is because evolution does it all the time.

    The reason we know evolution does it all the time is because we see convergent evolution everywhere . . . .

  178. Quite so. Darwin thought that the evolution of a thing like the eye was quite a challenge to the theory. We now understand that the eye has evolved numerous times, independently, so obviously it can’t be all that difficult after all.

  179. Tom Gilson, bigbird – No. Just, no.

    I pointed out a detailed fossil record of exactly how the mammalian inner ear evolved. I asked “Which of the more than a dozen steps shows intelligent intervention, and in what manner? Which stage was just plain genetically impossible? Yanoconodon, say?”

    What I got was, ‘Well oh yeah? The katydid has ossicle equivalents too!’

    But so what? Sure, if the ossicles couldn’t evolve, then another example of them would be problem. But that is a circular argument!

    Convergence can be demonstrated. Heck, I did demonstrate it already! Check the second link in comment #180. It details “genetic convergence”, which bigbid doubts – except it points out exactly why we can say that it’s convergence.

    The amino-acid sequence for the protein Prestin is essentially identical for echolocating whales and echolocating bats. If you look at a tree based on the amino acid sequence alone, the ‘tree’ you get puts
    dolphins and bats as siblings.

    But here’s the interesting thing. Many different genetic sequences map to the same amino acid sequence. (More detail – and a fascinating practical application – here. Seriously, read that. It’s not that long and it’s amazing.)

    And if you look at the actual genes for Prestin, you can see that bats and dolphins have unquestionably taken two different genetic paths to the same amino-acid ‘location’. How, exactly, is that not convergence? Alternatively – how, exactly, is that a problem for evolution?

    But first: Will anyone address the case I actually pointed to – the fossil record of the therapsid-mammal transition with particular respect to the auditory bones – or not?

  180. Ray, how does your link in #180 escape the charge of circularity I made? How does it account for the entire system around which echolocation operates (production, detection, brain processing, links to finding food, links to avoiding obstacles and dangers….)

    How does the similarity of one distinctive protein/location in one small part of the echolocation system prove that evolution put it there? How does it demonstrate it non-circularly?

  181. Tell ya what, Tom. How about someone first addresses the example I gave all the way back in comment #171, and then we can worry about the other example in #180? How does that sound?

  182. Ray,

    Before I get into this, I’m going to point something out.

    You and I had a conversation about the mammalian inner ear before. I pointed out the problems with your reasoning. I pointed out the problems with it being cited as an example of intelligent design.

    You talked about the importance of being a ‘fair interlocutor’ previously. Do you realize that your use of this example, after I’ve pointed out the problems, reflects poorly on your ability to be called a ‘fair interlocutor’ on this subject?

  183. For those of you who don’t wish to read the link, let me summarize, very quickly, the problems with Ray’s ‘middle ear’ example.

    * He says ‘it’s been cited as an example of irreducible complexity! Google around and see!’ He’s right. But do you know who you’re going to find citing it as an IC example? Almost exclusively, people who are ID critics. Ray admits that it’s ‘not common among the bigger guns’ and that it is common about ‘random people on the internet’ as an IC example.

    You all can decide for yourselves whether or not this was a glaring omission on Ray’s part.

    * It’s also a non-example of IC for the reason I pointed out: the ‘job’ it does, continues to be done even if you remove parts of the assembly. It’s just done poorly. It’s worth remembering here that ID proponents don’t claim that each and every ‘complex’ structure is irreducibly complex – to pretend otherwise is to misrepresent ID as conceived by those ‘big guns’.

  184. @Ray Ingles, #194:

    My sincerest apologies if I mistakenly suggested that anyone (worth speaking of) ever thought that there were any difficulties with the possibility of anything coming about by evolutionary processes. In my defence, it was April 1st. Evolution is, for the purposes of this discussion, a perfect and flawless gem of a theory, against which no shred of evidence exists, until you tell me otherwise.

    I was so good as to answer a question for you in #187, and I would still like to know what your point was in asking it. I await your response.

  185. TFBW – Food for thought: If I were as sarcastic as you were in #200, and dodged the point so assiduously… how many readers here would think it reflected poorly on atheists in general? If my experience is any guide, a lot. But again in my experience, theists tend to cut other theists more slack.

    But anyway…

    I was so good as to answer a question for you in #187, and I would still like to know what your point was in asking it. I await your response.

    I was looking for clarification as to what exactly you were talking about. But I don’t know of anyone who claims that it’s established – at the scientific theory level, which is what I (specifically in #181) asked for – that our sense of morality is “covered with plain old Darwinian survival value”.

    To have it at that level, we’d need to be able to make much more concrete predictions and have more than suggestive evidence.

    Naturally (no pun intended), I think that’s probably at least a large part of the right answer. (And we’re already discussing that idea on another thread.) I’m not aware of anything that disproves it – but it takes more than that to make a scientific theory.

  186. Crude –

    You talked about the importance of being a ‘fair interlocutor’ previously. Do you realize that your use of this example, after I’ve pointed out the problems, reflects poorly on your ability to be called a ‘fair interlocutor’ on this subject?

    I don’t get notified of followups by email or anything. I didn’t know you had replied ~24 hours after I posted my replies. But I’m happy to resume the discussion there! Go check.

  187. But I’m happy to resume the discussion there! Go check.

    No, let’s resume the discussion right here – not in a 6 month old comment archive. Here, it’s relevant and part of a current discussion.

    Incidentally, that’s a very self-forgiving response considering you’ve in the past cited my lack of response to your comments as some kind of indication that I’ve retreated. I take it you’ve learned better.

  188. I was looking for clarification as to what exactly you were talking about. But I don’t know of anyone who claims that it’s established – at the scientific theory level, which is what I (specifically in #181) asked for – that our sense of morality is “covered with plain old Darwinian survival value”.

    Evolution is asserted with the force of fact, and folks like Richard Dawkins aren’t shy of reporting that evolution can explain morality: chapter six of The God Delusion is dedicated to the subject. This may not be the same as claiming it to be “established at the scientific theory level” — but if it’s not, then I’d have to say that Dawkins isn’t particularly clear about what’s “established” and what’s not. He tends to assert pretty much everything he says as being the only possible conclusion that can validly be drawn from evidence and reason.

    So are you personally not yet satisfied with the evidence? Do you still think there is legitimate room for scepticism that morality is not a purely natural phenomenon? If that’s the case, I didn’t see it coming. I’d have supposed you considered the evolutionary explanation to be entirely competent to explain our observations. In other words, I thought I was meeting your specific requirements.

    Let me try again. It is pretty much a core tenet of evolutionary theory that the information content in living organisms (not just the DNA, but the overall specificity of the system which enables it to metabolise and self-replicate) arose through natural processes. This hypothesis runs contrary to normal experience regarding complex functional systems, but it is held with such extreme force that intelligent design theories are decried as anti-scientific.

    I believe this to be a straightforwardly incorrect explanation, brought about by the demand that explanations be “natural”, thus disqualifying “intelligence” as a possible explanation. We have not demonstrated that intelligence was not involved: rather, the mainstream is satisfied (for whatever reasons) that intelligence is not necessary, and the naturalistic explanation therefore wins by default (regardless of whether it is actually correct).

    (And we’re already discussing that idea on another thread.)

    By all means continue the discussion over there. It’s your turn to respond.

  189. Crude –

    No, let’s resume the discussion right here

    Actually, I’d prefer all the context to be in one place. But if you repeat an objection here, I’ll respond specifically to those. To wit, you claim:

    the ‘job’ it does, continues to be done even if you remove parts of the assembly. It’s just done poorly.

    If you remove the ossicles from the mammalian ear, then the only way sound reaches the cochlea is, as I said, bone conduction. In this context means “sound vibrating the skull, eventually causing maybe a thousandth of the initial energy to set up vibrations in the cochlea”. Is that really the standard you’re using?

    Like how if you don’t have a pupil, some light can still leak through, or if your kidneys fail, you can still excrete some urea via sweat?

    The three main examples of IC that Behe’s put forward are the bacterial flagellum, the vertebrate immune system, and the vertebrate clotting cascade. If you’re correct about Behe’s meaning, though, why is the clotting cascade there at all? Even in hemophiliacs, some clotting still happens, just really poorly.

    Poorly enough to be fatal, but, y’know, if you squint enough – maybe enough to cover your pupil? – the job’s still getting done.

    Incidentally, that’s a very self-forgiving response considering you’ve in the past cited my lack of response to your comments as some kind of indication that I’ve retreated. I take it you’ve learned better.

    Got a link to that context?

  190. Ray,

    Actually, I’d prefer all the context to be in one place. But if you repeat an objection here, I’ll respond specifically to those.

    Great – then the conversation will take place here.

    And so it doesn’t get lost, I’m going to not you’re not responding to the question I raised about your choice of example. You said ‘go ahead, google, it’s been used as an example of an IC system’. You didn’t mention just who was using the example; it’s used by skeptics, not by major ID proponents. If anyone is using it as an example, even by your standards they’re either just ‘random people’ or skeptics by and large.

    I don’t think your ‘just google it’ implied view was honest.

    If you remove the ossicles from the mammalian ear, then the only way sound reaches the cochlea is, as I said, bone conduction. In this context means “sound vibrating the skull, eventually causing maybe a thousandth of the initial energy to set up vibrations in the cochlea”. Is that really the standard you’re using?

    First: if you remove a portion of an IC system, it does not function at all. Not ‘still functioning, but worse’ or even ‘far worse’. It can no longer perform that particular task, period.

    Second: not every system that is complicated is therefore IC with regards to its role. Even with regards to the IC systems Behe and company mention, they wholly admit that some instantiations have portions can be removed and the apparatus will still function – and that therefore said portions of the apparatus are not intrinsic in an IC structure. If you take the tassles off a girl’s bike, the bike will still perform.

    If you’re correct about Behe’s meaning, though, why is the clotting cascade there at all? Even in hemophiliacs, some clotting still happens, just really poorly.

    For the same reason that a crappy IC system is still an IC system: because IC systems are not tied to claims that they perform great, or can’t be improved upon in terms of result.

    Let me ask you: have you even read Behe’s or Dembski’s books and articles? Or have you largely gone off reviews and critics’ summaries?

    Got a link to that context?

    Not offhand. I remember it. Are you denying you did that?

  191. Crude –

    If anyone is using it as an example, even by your standards they’re either just ‘random people’ or skeptics by and large.

    Another reason why I want all the context to be in one place. As I replied then: “I would argue that that’s because the evolutionary path of its development is so well-established. Bones fossilize well, soft parts and molecular machinery less thoroughly.”

    I don’t think your ‘just google it’ implied view was honest.

    I think you read implications into what I wrote that that I didn’t intend. I never claimed – directly or indirectly – that Behe cited it, for example.

    Even with regards to the IC systems Behe and company mention, they wholly admit that some instantiations have portions can be removed and the apparatus will still function – and that therefore said portions of the apparatus are not intrinsic in an IC structure.

    One problem is that the examples Behe has put forth – the clotting cascade, the adaptive immune system, and the bacterial flagellum – are all (ahem) highly contested and a large number of precursors have been identified. If we restrict consideration to only the examples Behe has put forth, then the case is still rather weak.

    But note – my reason for bringing up the ossicles in this discussion was to get a concrete discussion of design in biology going. I’m pointing out a specific and well-supported example of a new complex structure arising in biological systems, with a vast array of intermediate steps represented.

    I asked, ‘okay, which steps show intelligent intervention’? What I got back was the entirely irrelevant objection that ‘it happened several times!’ So what if it did happen several times? That would be a good thing! It would mean we have several examples of well-documented intelligent intervention, right?

    So, I’m not particularly married to the idea that the ossicles are irreducibly complex by Behe’s definition. I am interested in how they form a novel complex mechanism with well-documented development pathways. So if they required intelligent intervention, we should be able to point out exactly where.

    Now, bigbird, TFBW, and Tom Gilson all seem to have shifted to snark rather than answer that question. You seem to have shifted the question to whether it counts as irreducibly complex by Behe’s definition. So, are you saying that we can’t demonstrate intelligent intervention in the development of the ossicles? If not, why not?

    Let me ask you: have you even read Behe’s or Dembski’s books and articles?

    Another reason why I want all the context to be in one place. As I wrote back then: “A couple, a while back. I didn’t see anything that would lead me to revise my opinions of his ideas.”

    Are you denying you did that?

    I’d want to see context. For example, did you continue to reply to other items of discussion in the same thread? (You just accused me of that with the “random person on the internet” (your words, not mine) thing.) I did lose track of that ’cause I’d referred you to the other thread, but that’s not the same as not answering the objection at all.

  192. Ray,

    Another reason why I want all the context to be in one place. As I replied then:

    Irrelevant. You presented the case as if this was something ID proponents were arguing, and oops, look at all this data and the fossil record. It’s entirely akin to a Jesus Myther pointing at how some particular evidence for Jesus existence was shot to pieces, and saying ‘Google around, you’ll see this has been cited as evidence for Jesus’ existence!’ – without mentioning that the only people citing it are other Jesus Mythers who then proceed to argue against it, and it’s not regarded as an example of evidence by any mainstream academic or apologist.

    There’s a name for that. Any idea what that name is?

    I think you read implications into what I wrote that that I didn’t intend. I never claimed – directly or indirectly – that Behe cited it, for example.

    Sorry, Ray. This kind of thing? It’s spin-doctoring. Once again: we had this exact conversation in the past. You knew the problem with presenting it the way you did. You did it anyway.

    Did you learn your lesson this time? Or is this going to happen again in the future when you think no one is around to point out the dishonesty in your method?

    One problem is that the examples Behe has put forth – the clotting cascade, the adaptive immune system, and the bacterial flagellum – are all (ahem) highly contested and a large number of precursors have been identified. If we restrict consideration to only the examples Behe has put forth, then the case is still rather weak.

    This is bordering on irrelevance and falsehood, saved by vagueness: you’re going to have to say how they’re contested for us to go anywhere on it. And the existence of precursors – if by that you mean evidence that such and such parts of these structures were present in ancestors to the system – then it’s largely irrelevant to what Behe and others are claiming. Nothing about IC systems stipulates that the parts can’t have had ancestral use in unrelated functions.

    As for the case being weak, that’s your personal estimation – who cares? At least then you’re dealing with something Behe and company argued. You’re not making things up and calling such and such a system “IC” even though it clearly isn’t.

    So, I’m not particularly married to the idea that the ossicles are irreducibly complex by Behe’s definition. I am interested in how they form a novel complex mechanism with well-documented development pathways. So if they required intelligent intervention, we should be able to point out exactly where.

    You’re confused. First off, ID proponents generally do not argue that ‘complex mechanisms can’t arrive without intelligent intervention’ – there are plenty of ‘complex systems’ that Behe will say could have evolved sans the sort of intelligent intervention ID purports to pick out.

    Second, this illustrates why your ‘I didn’t mean to imply that major ID proponents present the ossicles as an IC example’ reply doesn’t work: you are, and this is a bad habit, remarkably insincere. No, you did not ask the questions that you did with the cheerful expectation that these can be used as evidence for ID, or a way to pick out intelligent intervention. Your goal and hope was the opposite. Why do we have to deal with your stage play pretending otherwise?

    You seem to have shifted the question to whether it counts as irreducibly complex by Behe’s definition. So, are you saying that we can’t demonstrate intelligent intervention in the development of the ossicles? If not, why not?

    Your implication here is nonsense: I have not ‘shifted the question’, which makes it sound as if I’m avoiding your question. I pointed out that you were dishonest in presenting the ossicles as an IC structure, or a structure regarded as IC by anyone of note save for several critics. I pointed out the problems with regarding it as IC which, in turn, torpedoes it as an example of an instance of ID.

    My own view is that ID is not science. Nor is ‘no-ID’. I think the proper position of science when it comes to the question of teleology, purpose or design is not to find it or discount it. It is radical silence, certainly with regards to the question of God or other supremely intelligent and powerful beings: the questions ‘was this designed?’, ‘does this have a purpose?’, ‘was this not designed?’ etc are intractable to science on those levels.

    Another reason why I want all the context to be in one place. As I wrote back then: “A couple, a while back. I didn’t see anything that would lead me to revise my opinions of his ideas.”

    A couple what? Articles? Books? Quotes?

    I’d want to see context.

    Yawn.

  193. Crude –

    You presented the case as if this was something ID proponents were arguing, and oops, look at all this data and the fossil record.

    No, in one parenthetical aside I noted that some had called it irreducibly complex. It isn’t central to the point.

    If it really bothers you, tell ya what. We’ll remove that single sentence, and at the bottom of the text, after “more developed now”, we’ll put:

    (Note that some have even cited the ossicles as ‘irreducibly complex’. The more central figures of the ID ‘movement’, like Behe and Shermer, haven’t done so, but I suspect that’s because they know enough of the detailed fossil record to dissuade them.)

    Happier now?

    But happy or no, this is all still a misdirection.

    You see, I wasn’t pointing out the ossicles to you. I was pointing them out to bigbird, Tom Gilson, and TFBW, all of whom do seem to accept that ID is, or should be, science, and that you don’t see design without a designer.

    They all replied to my question with… not much, beyond heaping scorn upon the idea of convergent evolution.

    Now, you jumped in after this with the largely irrelevant objection that ‘Behe doesn’t say the ossicles are irreducibly complex’! I’ve granted that, and you have my promise that I will specifically disclaim even accidentally hinting at that ever again.

    But you disagree with bigbird, Tom Gilson, and TFBW. They all think that we can conclude design from nature, and that science bears that out. You, on the other hand, think that science cannot ever conclude that anything was designed. I think you should focus more on arguing with them than me, but whatever.

    A couple what? Articles? Books? Quotes?

    Articles. Feel better? Worse? The same?

  194. TFBW –

    This may not be the same as claiming it to be “established at the scientific theory level” — but if it’s not, then I’d have to say that Dawkins isn’t particularly clear about what’s “established” and what’s not.

    This may come as a surprise to you, but I’m not actually Richard Dawkins. My name’s Ray Ingles. I didn’t write “The God Delusion”, this other fellow, Richard Dawkins wrote it.

    Let’s grant that Dawkins is unclear. Um… so what?

    Do you still think there is legitimate room for scepticism that morality is not a purely natural phenomenon? If that’s the case, I didn’t see it coming.

    We’re discussing morality on the other thread, of course, and we might want to move this there, but yeah, I don’t think that the idea that our moral sense evolved is established on the same level that evolution or relativity are established.

    I’d be really surprised if evolution turned out to be insufficient to account for it, and I know of no evidence that argues much for any other explanation, but it’s logically possible.

    It is pretty much a core tenet of evolutionary theory that the information content in living organisms (not just the DNA, but the overall specificity of the system which enables it to metabolise and self-replicate) arose through natural processes.

    Point of information. The origin of life itself – the first reproducing organisms – is only the subject of hypothesis at this point. There is no ‘theory of abiogenesis’ yet.

    Now, once life arose, we seem to be able to account for how it subsequently developed via natural processes, yes.

    This hypothesis runs contrary to normal experience regarding complex functional systems, but it is held with such extreme force that intelligent design theories are decried as anti-scientific.

    Funny, Crude says that “ID proponents generally do not argue that ‘complex mechanisms can’t arrive without intelligent intervention’ – there are plenty of ‘complex systems’ that Behe will say could have evolved sans the sort of intelligent intervention ID purports to pick out.”

    Who should I believe?

  195. I’ve been on holidays and am a bit behind on this thread.

    Re the ossicles, Ray said earlier that “we have a basically complete fossil record of the gradual transition of one of those jaw joints into the modern bones of the inner ear. Fossils representing over a dozen separate stages have been found.”.

    But as the editor of Nature says, “the situation is not as clear-cut as it seems. The evolutionary relationships of the fossil suggest that either the ‘modern’ middle ear evolved twice, independently or that it evolved and was then lost in at least one ancient lineage”.

    That convergence invalidates your argument about how we have a complete fossil record of gradual transition.

    The example of the same mechanism in rainforest katydids is an argument for common design. It certainly undermines an evolutionary explanation, as credulity has to be stretched even further to account for evolution producing the same mechanism in vastly different lineages in very different conditions. Or is the ossicle mechanism the only possible hearing mechanism, and evolution must inevitably zero in on it?

  196. Ray,

    No, in one parenthetical aside I noted that some had called it irreducibly complex. It isn’t central to the point.

    Good, then you’ll stop repeating this. Right?

    Happier now?

    But happy or no, this is all still a misdirection.

    No, what’s misdirection is your squirming on this point. How about you say the truth: ‘ID critics use this as an example of an IC system, but no major ID proponents do so. Nevertheless, here’s how it evolved.’ I think we both know why you won’t do that.

    Now, you jumped in after this with the largely irrelevant objection that ‘Behe doesn’t say the ossicles are irreducibly complex’! I’ve granted that, and you have my promise that I will specifically disclaim even accidentally hinting at that ever again.

    It’s not largely irrelevant. You were using it as an attack on ID – it is a dishonest one. I know it’s annoying to have this pointed out, but so what? Just stop doing it. And stop trying to wordsmith your way into using it again.

    But you disagree with bigbird, Tom Gilson, and TFBW. They all think that we can conclude design from nature, and that science bears that out. You, on the other hand, think that science cannot ever conclude that anything was designed. I think you should focus more on arguing with them than me, but whatever.

    I think science, on its own, is incapable of concluding that something was NOT designed either. I think reason generally is entirely capable of concluding that various things were designed – but to reason so is not necessarily ‘science’.

    So I think, at worst, Tom and the rest are correct in general, but that their arguments and inferences are at the end of the day not scientific. On the other hand, I don’t think your arguments and inferences are scientific either.

    Do you think science has shown that various things are not designed or intended? If so, well, there’s another reason for me to be correcting you.

    Articles. Feel better? Worse? The same?

    What do feelings matter? Maybe you should actually read a book written by the people you’re intent on criticizing at length. Don’t you think that would be important at some point?

  197. I think science, on its own, is incapable of concluding that something was NOT designed either. I think reason generally is entirely capable of concluding that various things were designed – but to reason so is not necessarily ‘science’.

    So I think, at worst, Tom and the rest are correct in general, but that their arguments and inferences are at the end of the day not scientific. On the other hand, I don’t think your arguments and inferences are scientific either.

    I don’t wish to get into a “what is science” philosophical discussion, as it rarely seems productive, and no-one agrees on what science is anyway. Try to make the definition too narrow and it excludes something that most people agree to be science, and if too broad, we end up with astrology being science.

    I do agree that it is difficult (it may be impossible) to “scientifically” (whatever that means) demonstrate that something is designed. But we can estimate probabilities (via science) and use them to show that it is unlikely that something arose by natural processes, and then reason that design is a good explanatory candidate. We can also note the characteristics of things we know are designed, and try to find those characteristics elsewhere. These inferences may not be “scientific”, but seem little different to evolutionary inferences that will never be able to be demonstrated by experiment.

  198. All this business about whether it’s scientific or not: as Bradley Monton observed, that’s a rather uninteresting question anyway. Is it true?

  199. @Ray Ingles, #210:
    This thread ceased to interest me some time ago. It has become, frankly, indistinguishable from a bunch of he-said-she-said accusations. I don’t even remember why ID was brought up any more, I’m not going to re-read the thread to find out, and I’m not going to be drawn into a defence of arguments I don’t remember raising, or respond to random challenges.

    It’s a mess and I’m bailing out. Adios. I will focus my attention on the Science, Materialism, and Myth thread.

  200. bigbird –

    That convergence invalidates your argument about how we have a complete fossil record of gradual transition.

    Please elaborate, in numbered steps, exactly how it “invalidates” my argument. Why is convergence a problem?

    For example, you state:

    The example of the same mechanism in rainforest katydids

    But it’s not “the same mechanism”. It is a similar mechanism, with many differences. For example: Katydids have a similar system. Their dual eardrums transmit vibrations to a plate that works like a lever, increasing the force so the vibrations can transmit to the fluid-filled vesicle, a simpler version of our own ossicle system. The vesicle itself is like a simplified cochlea. It’s uncoiled, more like an “elongated balloon,” Robert said, than a snail shell, and it has far fewer sensory hair cells than the human cochlea.

    So, it’s a single-lever system rather than the human double-lever, and it’s a plate rather than elongated bones. Check the picture there. Note that the katydid system is actually most similar to reptiles and birds (which have single levers, too). The triple-bone system of mammals is one of the unique features of the clade.

    Or is the ossicle mechanism the only possible hearing mechanism, and evolution must inevitably zero in on it?

    Hardly, but when you’re dealing with mechanical vibration, a mechanical system for detecting them shouldn’t be a huge surprise. The function is similar, but the details of the implementations differ in ways characteristic of common descent rather than common designer.

  201. Tom Gilson –

    All this business about whether it’s scientific or not: as Bradley Monton observed, that’s a rather uninteresting question anyway. Is it true?

    For limited humans, who don’t get Truth fed to them directly, there’s another – inextricably-linked – question, though: And how do you know?

  202. By examining the evidence, doing experimentation as appropriate, considering the context, applying reasoning and logic: that sort of thing.

    That’s one way. There’s also sense perception, intuition, and other sorts of means of knowing that contribute to properly basic knowledge.

  203. Crude –

    Good, then you’ll stop repeating this. Right?

    I just gave you the new draft. Does it meet your standards or not?

    I think we both know why you won’t do that.

    Well, I know that irreducible complexity was never my point, just complexity simpliciter. Because I wasn’t addressing Behe, or you. I was addressing bigbird and Tom Gilson and TFBW instead. Bigbird seems willing to argue the point I actually raised.

    You were using it as an attack on ID

    So far, so good.

    it is a dishonest one.

    If – and only if – ‘irreducible complexity’ is the sole ID argument. Are you declaring that that’s the case – that there are no other forms of ID argument but ‘irreducible complexity’?

    Do you think science has shown that various things are not designed or intended?

    It’s pretty much impossible to rule out any kind of designer, given infinitely variable motives. So, no. However, it is possible to show that some things can arise without intelligent intervention. At that point, Ockham’s Razor kicks in.

    So, I don’t think that “science has shown that various things are not [emphasis added] designed or intended”. But I think science has shown that some things don’t have to be designed or intended.

    Maybe you should actually read a book written by the people you’re intent on criticizing at length.

    If I may, I’d like to point out that I didn’t criticize Behe at all, much less “at length”. You asked me about Behe. I put forth exactly two paragraphs, in two different comments, about his examples, in response to your questions.

    I’m starting to wonder if you jumped into this discussion from some alternate universe.

  204. Please elaborate, in numbered steps, exactly how it “invalidates” my argument. Why is convergence a problem?

    1. You said “we have a basically complete fossil record of the gradual transition of one of those jaw joints into the modern bones of the inner ear. Fossils representing over a dozen separate stages have been found.”

    2. We don’t. According to Nature “the situation is not as clear-cut as it seems. The evolutionary relationships of the fossil suggest that either the ‘modern’ middle ear evolved twice, independently or that it evolved and was then lost in at least one ancient lineage”.

    Your dozen separate stages are not part of the same transition.

    when you’re dealing with mechanical vibration, a mechanical system for detecting them shouldn’t be a huge surprise.

    The *similarity* of the mechanisms was certainly a surprise to the author of the paper describing it, even if you weren’t surprised.

    The function is similar, but the details of the implementations differ in ways characteristic of common descent rather than common designer.

    Characteristic of common descent? You’re surely not suggesting katydids and mammals have a common ancestor they obtained these similar mechanisms from? If not, what can this have to do with common descent?

    And what is it about the two implementations that suggests to you that they are not common design?

  205. Atheists simply don’t believe in a god because gods are supernatural beings that can’t be proven by natural means in our natural world. We have no way of measuring supernatural beings because we can only measure what is natural. It’s not because they “don’t need god”, that would imply that the atheist believes god exists and then they wouldn’t be an atheist. Atheists also don’t “reject” god because that also would imply that they believe in god and, once again, they would not be an atheist.

  206. bigbird –

    Your dozen separate stages are not part of the same transition.

    And this is where common ancestry kicks in. There have been a lot of species – of whole ranges of species – that have gone extinct. Sometimes we only have fossils of ‘cousins’ of the creatures that were actually ancestral to living species today.

    But you can look at those patterns – that nested hierarchy that demonstrates common descent (actually, two congruent hierarchies) – and work out those relationships.

    Consider a hypothetical family. You’re trying to work out when in the family line that genes for risk of diabetes came in. You don’t have cause-of-death for all the great-great-grandparents, but there was a famous guy that you know was cousin once removed to your great-greats, and he died of diabetes. Now, he had red hair, which isn’t in your family line, but the diabetes gene must have been introduced at least one generation back. Add in other details and you can narrow it further.

    And that’s what we do with fossils. Nowadays, we can even add genetic data to refine the picture. Knowing that an evolutionary cousin had a trait, along with data on dozens of other traits, plus information on when and where that cousin lived, gives really solid information on relationships. Especially when you’ve got many different datapoints covering a broad range of generations.

    That “transition” didn’t happen in one line. Evolution works on populations, not individuals. We see how the transition happened over millions of years, millions of individuals, thousands of populations.

    So, again… which steps required intelligent intervention, and how do you know? Since we’re talking about tangible evidence, how about doing what Tom said and “examining the evidence”?

    You’re surely not suggesting katydids and mammals have a common ancestor they obtained these similar mechanisms from?

    Nope. I’m suggesting that the radically different implementations show that they didn’t get the mechanisms in the same way. That they evolved independently, in other words. I already pointed out – quoted from your own source, in fact – several of the ways they are different.

  207. That “transition” didn’t happen in one line. Evolution works on populations, not individuals. We see how the transition happened over millions of years, millions of individuals, thousands of populations.

    You said “we have a basically complete fossil record of the gradual transition of one of those jaw joints into the modern bones of the inner ear”.

    It is only a gradual transition if the fossils are part of the same lineage. Otherwise they are simply a bunch of unrelated fossils. Which is what it seems they are, according to Nature. So we don’t have a complete fossil record of a gradual transition.

    Nope. I’m suggesting that the radically different implementations show that they didn’t get the mechanisms in the same way. That they evolved independently, in other words.”

    You said “The function is similar, but the details of the implementations differ in ways characteristic of common descent rather than common designer”

    I said “You’re surely not suggesting katydids and mammals have a common ancestor they obtained these similar mechanisms from?:

    You have not explained why the details of the implementations differ in ways characteristic of common descent.

    Different implementations of essentially the same mechanism suggest common design as one explanation. They say nothing whatsoever about common ancestry.

  208. “Atheists simply believe in a god because gods are supernatural beings that can’t be proven by natural means in our natural world.”

    Naturalism is certainly not the only means of inquiry…
    And there is absolutely no reason to think that something considered supernatural can’t also have natural manifestations, imprints or evidence.

  209. bigbird –

    It is only a gradual transition if the fossils are part of the same lineage. Otherwise they are simply a bunch of unrelated fossils.

    I’m sorry, but that’s just nonsense.

    They are part of the same lineage, in precisely the same way that your cousins are part of the same lineage you come from. Calling the fossils in the therapsid-mammal transition ‘unrelated’ is astonishingly obtuse. Did you read the link I gave in my last comment? Maybe you could read this one?

    Why do you think those fossils appear in the stratigraphic order that they do?

    Which is what it seems they are, according to Nature.

    That quote doesn’t mean what you think it means. Saying that it evolved twice, or that it evolved and was lost, in no way suggests that the fossils we’ve found are ‘unrelated’.

  210. Saying that it evolved twice, or that it evolved and was lost, in no way suggests that the fossils we’ve found are ‘unrelated’.

    The whole point of what I am saying is that if a feature evolved, was lost and evolved again, then a transitional fossil from the first time the feature evolved is not part of the transition the second time it evolved.

    You can’t take fossils from two completely separate transitions and claim that together they are a set of 12 steps showing how a feature evolved. Because they aren’t.

  211. bigbird –

    The whole point of what I am saying is that if a feature evolved, was lost and evolved again

    Ah! That’s the misunderstanding! Good thing nobody’s saying that! No one’s saying it was lost and evolved again!

    What Nature said was that it either (a) evolved twice, or (b) evolved and then was lost in one lineage, but not another.

    For (a) we have (simplified):

    1 -> 2 -> 3 -> 4a -> 5a -> 6a -> 7b
    -> 4b -> 5b -> 6b -> 7b

    Where 2 and 3 are early stages, and later steps developed to similar endpoints via different paths.

    For (b) we have (again, simplified):

    1 -> 2 -> 3 -> 4a -> 5a -> 6a -> 7b
    -> 4b -> 5b -> 6b

    Where, after the split, one line lost the trait over time, but the other line kept developing it.

  212. In either scenario you are illustrating, your 12 steps still are not all part of the same evolutionary path. So they are not a set of 12 steps showing how a feature evolved. At best in your scenarios you have 8 steps.

  213. bigbird –

    In either scenario you are illustrating, your 12 steps still are not all part of the same evolutionary path.

    To reiterate: Consider a hypothetical family. You’re trying to work out when in the family line that genes for risk of diabetes came in. You don’t have cause-of-death for all the great-great-grandparents, but there was a famous guy that you know was cousin once removed to your great-greats, and he died of diabetes. Now, he had red hair, which isn’t in your family line, but the diabetes gene must have been introduced at least one generation back. Add in other details and you can narrow it further.

    And that’s what we do with fossils. Nowadays, we can even add genetic data to refine the picture. Knowing that an evolutionary cousin had a trait, along with data on dozens of other traits, plus information on when and where that cousin lived, gives really solid information on relationships. Especially when you’ve got many different datapoints covering a broad range of generations.

    In other words, if we have 1-3, 4b, and 5a-7a, and we can cross-compare multiple traits in 4b with 3 and 5a, then we can come to very confident conclusions about the traits of 4a. In the same way that while we know your great-great-grandmother didn’t have red hair, she must have carried a gene with a risk for diabetes.

  214. You are obfuscating. Your original claim was “we have a basically complete fossil record of the gradual transition of one of those jaw joints into the modern bones of the inner ear. Fossils representing over a dozen separate stages have been found.”

    We do not, as your own diagram illustrates.

  215. Bigbird – Actually, it seems to me that you are obfuscating. You haven’t questioned the logic or deductions based on common ancestry. How, exactly, do we not have “Fossils representing over a dozen separate stages”?

  216. Your original claim: “a basically complete fossil record of the gradual transition of one of those jaw joints into the modern bones of the inner ear. Fossils representing over a dozen separate stages have been found.”

    Anyone reading that would assume it claims a linear progression through the ages, with each step following the previous one.

    But this isn’t actually the case, as you have admitted yourself by saying “later steps developed to similar endpoints via different paths”.

    Different paths are not the same transition. They could have been wildly different. Throwing all the steps together and claiming it shows how a single evolutionary transition occurred is misleading.

  217. bigbird –

    Anyone reading that would assume it claims a linear progression through the ages, with each step following the previous one.

    But… that’s what it is. Let me repeat the full quote, the entire sentence you only excerpted: “The therapsids are known (by several independent lines of evidence) to be ancestral to modern mammals… and we have a basically complete fossil record of the gradual transition of one of those jaw joints into the modern bones of the inner ear.”

    The therapsids were a classification, a broad population. And they transitioned to become the mammals, another classification, a broad population. As I said in #223, “Evolution works on populations, not individuals. We see how the transition happened over millions of years, millions of individuals, thousands of populations.” You even quoted that back to me, so I know you read it.

    Apparently the only thing that would satisfy you is if we found every single fossil that was a direct ancestor of existing mammals today. If that’s what it takes, I agree you’ll never be convinced. That doesn’t mean I agree that’s even close to a reasonable standard, though.

  218. Anyone reading that would assume it claims a linear progression through the ages, with each step following the previous one.

    But… that’s what it is.

    That’s what it isn’t. Your 12 stages come from two evolutionarily separated populations. Taking fossils from separately evolving species and claiming that together they show a transition is just wrong. The fossils from different branches are not directly related, and represent different transitions.

  219. Can you point to a specific part of comment #231 and explain your problem with it? Because now we’re going in circles.

    Fossil evidence from evolutionary cousins can provide a great deal of information about their relatives. Do you object to this principle? If so, on what grounds?

    Let me ask you another question. If we found the “4a” in the lineage above, would you withdraw all objections to the example of the ossicles? If not, why not?

  220. Ray, no doubt “fossil evidence from evolutionary cousins can provide a great deal of information about their relatives”. No-one said otherwise.

    But if you are trying to demonstrate how a particular feature developed, you need a linear progression. You can’t just grab fossils from branch B that evolved that same feature separately, and throw them into the group of fossils from branch A, and present it as a linear progression of how the feature evolved. Because it isn’t how it evolved.

    Anyway, I’ve said the above enough times now. If you won’t concede that we have no more to discuss.

  221. bigbird –

    You can’t just grab fossils from branch B that evolved that same feature separately, and throw them into the group of fossils from branch A, and present it as a linear progression of how the feature evolved.

    You’re right, in the sense that you can’t do that. You’re wrong, in that nobody’s actually doing that.

    The main reason is that ‘branch B’ didn’t ‘evolve the same feature separately’. The way they are related and the traits they display show that the same feature – a particular stage in the development of the ossicles – evolved the same way, is in both B and A, at that point. In this particular case, branch B is the monotremes like the platypus.

    True, some lines of branch B might later evolve to a similar structure as in branch A, and that would be ‘evolving separately’, but that’s not what we’re talking about.

    I’m afraid I, too, am getting tired of explaining the same thing repeatedly.