Education Evolution Intelligent Design

An ID Perspective on the Paper from Michael J. Murray and Jeffrey P. Schloss

Spread the love

As explained earlier by idnet.com.au, Michael J. Murray and Jeffrey P. Schloss have contributed a paper at PNAS answering an argument in a previous paper, also published at PNAS, by John C Avise. idnet.com.au did a fine job explaining the details of the argument, I intend on focusing on the paper from Murray and Schloss in a kind of exegetical manner.

In a recent issue of PNAS, Avise (1) presents a helpful survey of suboptimal features of the human genome that are best understood as products of evolution, but in venturing to offer theological commentary on intelligent design (ID) and religious belief in general, he errs on three counts.

Those three counts are:

First, the central claims of ID have been abundantly critiqued on strict empirical grounds (2), leaving no need for recourse to his theological objection that imperfections are unworthy of deity. Laplace’s dictum about the role of God in explanations of nature—“I have no need of that hypothesis”—has become the guiding principle for science. Arguing that the presence of “genetic evil” undercuts appeals to divine agency is superfluous and detracts from rather than advances scientific discussion.

ID is not critiqued on empirical grounds, it is critiqued exactly on theoretical grounds which come from evolutionary presuppositions which are themselves based on other presuppositions. The only critiques (which are not actually critiques) I see of the work of Dembski, Marks, Ewert and Montanez at the Evolutionary Informatics Lab, for instance, are that their peer reviewed papers are not really peer reviewed at the IEEE (the world’s largest professional organization for the advancement of technology) or that these evolutionary algorithms have no purchase on actual biology. But if evolutionary algorithms have no purchase on actual biology, then neither do the programs like Avida and ev which are supposed to be evidence for biological evolution. In neither case are there empirical grounds that critique ID.

Secondly, Laplace’s dictum that God (or any intelligence presumably), is a priori ruled out of what is science as the guiding rule for science is a philosophy, which is certainly not empirical. They have just smuggled in a philosophical point of view which is exactly what they begrudge Avise for doing (arguing on philosophical or theological grounds, and not empirical, against ID). I need not labor the point that for different sciences there are differing scientific lines of demarcation, and some sciences certainly do allow for the intervention of intelligent forces. If this option is ruled out a priori, then the issue of what science is becomes definitional, and begs the question.

Second, the line of argument made against ID is, in addition to being superfluous, actually unsound. ID contends (wrongly, it turns out) that irreducibly complex structures require intelligent intervention in their causal ancestry and not that structures caused by intelligent agency are optimal. Anyone stumbling on the Tacoma Narrows suspension bridge would immediately conclude that it was a designed artifact, despite the equally apparent evidence of poor design that ultimately caused its collapse. Natural imperfections may (or may not) be irreconcilable with a divine designer, but this is an entirely theological issue and not a scientific one suitable for PNAS.

Irreducible complexity has not been answered, period. It has been mis-cast, mis-characterized, and co-option has been trotted out as a potential argument against it, philosophically, with just-so stories, but they are not empirical. The contention that parts of a mousetrap, such as the metal clasp being used as a tie clip, the wood as a door stop, and that the coming together of all of these parts (without intelligence) into a coherent and useful structure for killing mice, is simply fancy. It has not been shown that the origin of life and the nanotechnological city and the language in the DNA code that exists within the cell has come about by happenstance, or any other process outside of intelligence. If I am making an argument from incredulity, so be it. The argument from incredulity is a sound argument when you realize what is involved with regard to irreducible complexity. It is not a matter of whether the complexity of parts can be individualized theoretically and used for other and simpler purposes; to empirically validate that claim, the parts have to evidenced as actually being used for those purposes and coming together and forming the new purpose, all without intelligence. You can always tell a story about what parts could possibly be used for, as an idea, but that is not empirical. If the argument against irreducible complexity is based on a notion that ID folks are making an argument from incredulity when defining what is irreducibly complex, it should be remembered that the argument against ID is an argument from incredulity as well, one based on a philosophical presupposition that there must be a step-wise and gradual cataract of events for anything and everything natural. But as I said before, this is a issue of how you first define science, and cannot then be used to say that ID is not scientific without begging the question.

They are correct that the argument from optimal design is unsound as an argument against ID. ID never claimed it as a hard and fast criterion for design detection. To even claim that something is sub-optimally designed is to say something about design. There are obviously design constraints given what is involved, such as weight, placement, functionality, etc. of the designed object. Nevertheless, I agree that this is not an argument against ID, but I do not agree with their reason for rejecting this argument. They contend that “Natural imperfections may (or may not) be irreconcilable with a divine designer”, while ID contends that that the intelligent designer doesn’t necessarily mean divine design. They are both, on this point, arguing for or against a mischaracterization of ID, which is not a scientific one and is not suitable for PNAS by their own contention.

Third, contrary to Avise’s culminating exhortation (1), evolution does not “emancipate religion from the shackles of theodicy.” We no longer need to agonize over God’s responsibility for massive suffering, he opines, because the blame now rests on natural evolutionary causes. However, positing that God delegated the task of generating life to insentient evolution merely ushers in an explanatory regress that serves to illuminate rather than ease the problem of the evils resulting from the operation of nature.

Now we are obviously back to a theological argument, a theological argument that, Murray and Schloss contend, is not worthy of discussion at PNAS. I agree that evolution, a secondary cause, does not make a theodicy, does not remove all responsibility of the first cause. But again, ID is not a religious point of view, and therefore not concerned with theodicy. There are prominent supporters of ID who are atheist and agnostic. I have written about the difficulty of this “once-removed” theodicy, which gives all the blame to evolution and none to God, here when I wrote about Darrel Falk, who contended the same theodicy as Avise.

Finally, Avise (1) concludes that evolution constitutes “salvation for theology.” Whether this is or even could be true of any scientific theory is highly debatable. Less debatable is that rather than being made in a journal of scientific research, such a claim ought to be vetted in a venue appropriate to rigorous assessment in light of relevant philosophical and theological literature.

Agreed.

I wrote all of the above and sent it to Murray and Schloss to get their responses before I published this entry. Murray responded with the following:

Dear Clive,

Thanks for writing.  Jeff and I have just returned from three months out of the country so we are both swamped.  I think I speak for both of us when I say that, in our view, ID as currently defended has been empirically undermined.  Original claims about, for example, the irreducible complexity of the blood clotting cascade have not panned out in the end.  Nor have any of the other examples.  Of course, other examples might emerge and succeed. When it comes to irreducible complexity itself, there is some good critical work out there that has not been sufficiently addressed, mostly by philosophers including myself, Paul Draper, and Del Ratzsch (the first and last of whom are Christians who are sympathetic to design explanations and even miraculous intervention in nature).  Despite that, both Del and I would argue that methodological naturalism is an appropriate starting place for scientific explanation. However, the critical remarks about ID are almost besides the point in our letter.  The big point is this.  Folks like Avise and Ayala have been saying for years that evolution saves theology because it, rather than God, bears the responsibility for a great deal of the natural evil the world contains.  That is an awful argument.  PNAS nonetheless saw fit to publish an extended defense of it.  We wanted to make it clear that the argument has no merit.  And that is what we did.
I responded with a few more questions:
What works from Paul Draper and Del Ratzsch did you have in mind? Were you referring to Ratzsch’s 2001 book Nature, Design, and Science, or did you mean any newer works? The ID movement has made progress in the last ten years, so the more contemporary the critique would be all the more helpful. Also, what works did you have in mind for Paul Draper? I agree with you that evolution saving theology by removing all responsibility from God for the pain and death in nature is a bad argument.
And this was Murray’s final response:
Clive,
Very quickly.  The Draper piece is: “Irreducible Complexity and Darwinian Gradualism: A Reply to Michael J. Behe,” Faith and Philosophy 19 (Jan. 2002), 3-21. Bill Hasker also has a nice survey piece in Philosophy Compass in early 2009. I had in mind Del’s book but he has continued to write on this.  His CV is on the web I believe.
It seems rather obvious that ID has progressed in the last ten years, yet the critiques of these gentleman have not. Since that time there has been progress, as I mentioned before, of the Evolutionary Informatics Lab, and work such as Stephen Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell, that have not been addressed. It appears that their critique began and ended with Michael Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box. And even the critique mentioned above by Murray of Behe’s work, with regard to simplifications of the blood cascading system being found in other organisms, doesn’t mean anything with respect to the more complex system arising from Darwinian mechanisms. This is something that I find continually baffling, that any more rudimentary system can be pointed to as if that is an explanation of the more complicated system.  That is not an explanation void of belief. One would have to show that the simpler became the more complex, and not just assume it. And one would have to show how the simpler became itself in the first place, and not just assume it. At every level of the evolutionary hypothesis is an inference in spite of the lack of evidence. Michael Behe has since written The Edge of Evolution that has not been addressed. I supposed what I’m trying to convey is that a blanket statement that ID has been critiqued on empirical grounds ceases to be blanket if the blanket only covers the a small bit, and even then doesn’t provide any real warmth.
I should mention that I did get permission to publish my email correspondence with Murray in the context of this entry. Schloss responded too, but requested that his response be kept private.
Disclaimer: Dr. Murray speaks only on behalf of himself in our correspondence.

16 Replies to “An ID Perspective on the Paper from Michael J. Murray and Jeffrey P. Schloss

  1. 1

    Clive Hayden wrote (with inferred design analogies modified or removed):

    “It has not been shown that the origin of life [cell structure and function] and the language in the DNA code…has come about by happenstance, or any other process outside of intelligence.”

    Agreed, nor can it ever be directly shown empirically. By the same argument,

    “It has not been shown that the origin of life [cell structure and function] and the language in the DNA code…has come about by intelligence, or any other process outside of happenstance.”

    There is not, nor can there every be, direct empirical evidence for either of these inferences. Arguments to the contrary are arguments over the validity of analogies and metaphysical assumptions upon which they are based, not science.

    However, the same is not the case for virtually all of current evolutionary biology, including macroevolutionary theory (but not OoL theory, which is not part of evolutionary biology). As I have pointed out on numerous occasions, virtually all of the prominent supporters of ID, including Michael Behe, William Dembski, Gugliermo Gonzalez, Phillip Johnson, and Stephen Meyer, all agree that the empirical evidence strongly supports the inference of descent with modification from common ancestors (the name of this website notwithstanding). The argument is not over whether or not evolution has occurred. Rather, the argument is over whether or not the currently recognized mechanisms for evolution (i.e. for microevolution and macroevolution) are sufficient to explain the empirically observable patterns of complexity, diversity, and homology in the biosphere.

    As I have pointed out on numerous occasions, this means that the disagreement between evolutionary biologists and supporters of intelligent design is about the cause(s) and source(s)of the genetic, epigenetic, developmental, and phenotypic variation upon which the various mechanisms of evolution operate. It is not about whether evolution has occurred and produced the biosphere we observe around and within us, but rather about how it has occurred. It is, purely and simply, an argument about mechanisms.

    For that reason, I completely agree with Murray and Schloss’ assertion that discussions of theology are inappropriate in a scientific journal, no matter from which side of the evolution/design divide they are made. IMHO, it is just as fallacious for Richard Dawkins or Will Provine to assert that evolutionary biology “proves” the non-existence of any gods worth having as it is fallacious for William Dembski or Phillip Johnson to assert the opposite. And, according to virtually all ethical philosophers since G. E. Moore (not to mention David Hume), making moral arguments from either position is even more philosophically bankrupt.

    Neither morality nor theology is either “derivable” nor “provable” from any of the empirical sciences. To assert otherwise is bad ethics, bad philosophy, bad science, and bad religion.

  2. 2
    gpuccio says:

    Clive,

    I perfectly agree with your points.

    ID has everything to gain from being “critiqued on strict empirical grounds “. I wish that could be true, at least on some occasions. Instead, critiques of ID seem pusposefully to avoid any empirical confrontation, and quickly recover under the protecting shelter of silly theological arguments (Avise, for instance), or of dogmatic preconceptions about science, such as so called “methodological naturalism” (I have come to deeply reject any discussion with the word “nature”, or similar, in it 🙂 )

    And it is strange that, whem you asked for empirical arguments, all you obtained was the vague claim that “irreducible complexity” has been refuted.

    First, IC is not the whole of ID theory, as everybody should know (even if it is certainly an important part of it).

    Second, as you correctly mention, IC has not been refuted by anyone. A refutation of Behe’s argument about the clotting cascade remains in my memory as maybe the biggest “just so” story I have ever read (unfortunately, I don’t remember the reference). And we all know the real value of the flagellum “confutation”.

    But, all considered, Murray and Schloss have probably some good points in their paper, so I suppose that after all we should appreciate, at least in part, their effort. If only they were consistent with their own positions, and accepted to shift the discussion to a true, peer to peer empirical ground, I would appreciate them even more…

  3. 3

    I find it interesting that Clive should assert that ID is “…not concerned with theodicy”. I was under the impression that the founder of this website, Dr. William Dembski, had not only published several well-known articles asserting this very linkage (see http://www.designinference.com.....eodicy.pdf.), but that he had also recently authored a book on the subject as well (see http://www.amazon.com/End-Chri.....0805427430). Am I mistaken?

  4. 4
    Clive Hayden says:

    Allen,

    I’ve missed you. Where have you been? You need to come around more often. Dr. Dembski could write a book on cooking, it wouldn’t mean that ID was associated with it.

  5. 5
    Petrushka says:

    Maybe this is a working link:

    http://www.designinference.com.....eodicy.pdf

  6. 6

    Hi, Clive. I’ve been teaching introductory biology, evolution, and a seminar in the history of biology for the six week summer session at Cornell. Just turned in my grades yesterday, and had a little time to myself for a change. I haven’t updated my own blog in almost two months, but when I saw the post about the article by Murray and Schloss, I felt it was important to comment. Don’t you find it refreshing that you and I agree about something?

  7. 7

    As for Dr. Dembski’s published works, he certainly seems to think that ID and theodicy are related. Indeed, he has also published several articles on the religious implications of ID. Are you asserting that ID has absolutely no implications for either religion or theodicy?

  8. 8
    Clive Hayden says:

    Allen,

    Good to hear you’re doing well and staying busy. Yes it is refreshing that we agree.

  9. 9
    Clive Hayden says:

    Theodicy is not in contradiction with ID, but that is starting with a theodicy and testing the coherency of ID within that framework, it’s not the other way around.

  10. 10
    Clive Hayden says:

    Allen,

    By the way, you’re no longer in moderation. Comment freely.

  11. 11
    Clive Hayden says:

    Allen,

    Are you asserting that ID has absolutely no implications for either religion or theodicy?

    In as much as Darwinism has for moral evils, such as racism and eugenics. But I know you hate that argument. But what’s good for the goose….I don’t see how one could make the argument for one (ID/theodicy) and not the other (Darwinism/social evils). These arguments are of the same species.

  12. 12
    gpuccio says:

    Allen_McNeill:

    First, about your post #1. I cannotg agree with the initial statements, in particular:

    There is not, nor can there every be, direct empirical evidence for either of these inferences. Arguments to the contrary are arguments over the validity of analogies and metaphysical assumptions upon which they are based, not science.

    Why? I don’t understand your point. Is OOL some mystical event, about which empirical inference and science cannot say anything? As far as we know, OOL is an empirical fact like anything else, which happened in time and space and in physical reality. Why shouldn’t reasonable inferences about it be made by science, and in time be supported (or not supported) by facts and by correct reasoning?

    That said, I am happy to say that I absolutely agree with all the rest of your post. I find the following particularly important, and true:

    As I have pointed out on numerous occasions, this means that the disagreement between evolutionary biologists and supporters of intelligent design is about the cause(s) and source(s)of the genetic, epigenetic, developmental, and phenotypic variation upon which the various mechanisms of evolution operate. It is not about whether evolution has occurred and produced the biosphere we observe around and within us, but rather about how it has occurred. It is, purely and simply, an argument about mechanisms.

    That’s exactly the point of ID. Any other approach is confounding and not true.

    Regarding Dembski and theodicy, I have again to partially disagree with you. Dembski is <b<both a mathemathician – supporter of ID and a theologist. His writings about theology are writings about theology. Even if they are about the implications of ID for theology.

    ID has implications for theology. D arwinism has implications for theology. Science itself has implications for theology. One thing is sayinf that ID has implications for the concept of theodicy, another thing is saying the reverse. Ther first statement is true, the second is not. Theodicy is a completely unnecessary concept for ID theory in itself. The use of theodicy to discomfirm ID is just a wrong philosophical argument used by many darwinists. In the same way, nobody should use theodicy to affirm ID.

  13. 13
    Petrushka says:

    Why? I don’t understand your point. Is OOL some mystical event, about which empirical inference and science cannot say anything?

    Could be a mystical event — even Darwin didn’t rule that out.

    Or it could be a natural event,

    In either case it is an even from a past so distant that all traces have been obliterated. As far as we know.

    It is interesting that we don’t even know the timeframe availble for a materialistic theory, and relevant events,such as the origin of the moon, are also conjectural.

    What we have is the present, chemistry, and an event which, if occurred naturally, may have taken a couple hundred million years.

    Or, if the fine tuning theorists are correct, may have happened rather quickly (rather quickly defined as anywhere from thousands to millions of years).

    At any rate, we know quite a lot about the behavior of replicators, but not much at all about first replicators.

  14. 14
    gpuccio says:

    Petrushka:

    Your arguments may be true, or not, but anyway they only suggest that a scientific inference about OOL is difficult, not that it is impossible.

    I will make myself more clear. I can accept generically, even while not agreeing, an argument about an event like big bang being out of the confines of science: even if I don’t believe that to be true, there are reasons why that could be true, because the big bang is an event which can be thought as happening out of time and space as we know them, indeed it can be thought as the cause of them. Therefore, it could be argued that a scientific “explanation” for the big bang is in a sense beyonf the reach of science. That can be true or not (personally, I don’t think ot is), but at least there is a rationale for that affirmation.

    Nothing of that kind is true for OOL. We know that OOL is an event which tool place in definite time and space. Therefore, there is no reason why it should be in principle beyond the reach of science.

    That reasonable theories about OOL are difficult is certainly true. But just the same, any inference about it will be more or less supported by known facts, however few they may be. Therefore, any possible inference about OOL (and indeed, there are many of them) has to be judged and will be judged according to known facts, that is empirically. And, obviously, according to its logical consistency.

  15. 15
    Petrushka says:

    Therefore, there is no reason why it should be in principle beyond the reach of science.

    There is no reason, in principle, why time travel is impossible, but the smart money will bet against it.

    There are degrees of difficulty.

    Still, I watch efforts like Szostak’s with great interest. He is not trying to find out how life began, just whether we can find a chemistry that makes it possible.

  16. 16
    gpuccio says:

    Petrushka:

    Just for the record:

    Time travel is not an observed fact.

    OOL is (or at least, just to be precise, it is an obvious inference from observed facts).

    There is a great difference. Science needs not deal with vague possibilities, but it certainly has a duty to explain observed facts.

Leave a Reply