Darwinism Evolution

The Darwinian Trilemma

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The Epicurean trilemma (see Hume’s Dialogues) tries to reconcile: (1) God is good, (2) God is all-powerful, (3) Evil exists. Ian Bibby just sent me this Darwinian trilemma:

  1. Science cannot test the proposition that biological features are designed.
  2. Darwinism explains the appearance of design in biology not as actual design but as the product of natural selection and random variation.
  3. Darwinism is science.

26 Replies to “The Darwinian Trilemma

  1. 1
    taciturnus says:

    I don’t think you want the “that” in 2. [Thanks. Change made. –WmAD]

  2. 2
    taciturnus says:

    If I might play devil’s advocate and defend the Darwinists:

    Strictly speaking, Darwinism does not explain the appearance of design in biology. It explains the origin of species through universal common ancestry, random variation and natural selection. The “appearance of design” has a psychological origin in the human mind and would be explained by psychology, not Darwinism. Of course, Darwinism might ultimately explain the psychology of “appearance of design” by showing how projecting design onto nature gave one of our ancestors a selective advantage. But the point is that Darwinists don’t grant that the “appearance of design” is an objective quality in nature that needs explaining. Thus, for Darwinists, there is an equivocation in the way “design” is used in propositions 1 and 2 in the trilemma. In proposition 1, it refers to a (putatively) objective feature of nature. In proposition 2, it has changed its meaning to a psychological “appearance.” Since the trilemma rests on an equivocation, it does not have force.

    Dave T.

  3. 3
    harvey says:

    If I can play Devil’s advocate too, I think the Darwinists would say that point 1 should be “Science cannot be used to detect design in nature”, or something along those lines.

  4. 4

    Interesting point, taciturnus. But I don’t think your counterargument works. The issue is not the origin of species in some inarticulated sense but the origin of increasing functional complexity, and thus we are dealing, literally, with the appearance of design and not merely with a psychological attribution of design. –WmAD

  5. 5
    TomG says:

    Dave T.,

    I know Dawkins is not the universal spokesman for evolution, but it occurs to me that if he thought that way, he could have saved himself writing Blind Watchmaker. The whole point of the book was to (try to) explain how the appearance of design arose through evolution.

    How many Darwinists actually hold to the position you’ve stated here? And does it not prove too much? If design is purely a psychological construct, does that not apply to other instances of design as well, including even the design by which you wrote your comment?

  6. 6
    Deuce says:

    Hi, Taciturnus, it looks to me that the trilemma still holds even if the “appearance of design” is attributed to psychology. For Darwinism to assert that any aspect of anything is not designed violates the first premise. However, a better phrasing of 2 might be “Darwinism explains that the biological features that appear designed are not actually designed but are rather the product of natural selection and random variation.”

    There’s two ways out of the trilemma, as I see it. One way is to note that the second premise doesn’t say anything about *testing* design. So, there’s technically no contradiction if Darwinism’s asserts the statement in 2 without testing it. However, 2 could have an addendum about the explanation being rational or non-axiomatic, and the trilemma would return.

    The other way out of the trilemma is to assert that design is simply a non-existent category, period; that the word doesn’t describe anything, like the phrase “a square circle”. This would render both 1 and 2 meaningless, as there would be nothing to test or explain. However, this assertion crosses over into the philosophy of mind, and it hinges upon an ultra-hardcore eliminativism that would be incompatible with rational argument in general, and would ultimately render all assertions meaningless.

  7. 7
    Deuce says:

    “If I can play Devil’s advocate too, I think the Darwinists would say that point 1 should be “Science cannot be used to detect design in nature”, or something along those lines.” – harvey

    No doubt, as there would then be no trilemma. But the point of trilemmas is to force the denial of one of the three points as stated. That someone would prefer that something else had been said doesn’t prevent the logical obligation to deny one of the three actual points.

    “The issue is not the origin of species in some inarticulated sense but the origin of increasing functional complexity, and thus we are dealing, literally, with the appearance of design and not merely with a psychological attribution of design. –WmAD”

    Another thing worth pointing out here is that in explaining the natural world, we are *always* dealing with the appearance of things rather than directly the things themselves (you would have to *be* the thing for it to be otherwise). You could absolve yourself of having to explain literally anything by attributing its appearance to psychology – ie “You’re just describing the appearance that the world is round, not the world itself. And the way it appears to you doesn’t need to be explained. That could just be psychological projection”.

  8. 8
    DaveScot says:

    The trilemma appears quite sound.

    #1 must be a given if one is to argue that ID is non-science. If #1 is a given then the claim that evolution is an undirected process also becomes non-science because design detection is the only way to falsify the claim of no direction.

    Therefore one must either accept that design detection is legitimate science or consign the claim that evolution is an undirected process to the realm of pseudo-science.

    Modern Darwinian apologists are not willing to make this trade. They want to have their cake and eat it too. Darwin himself did not discount design and explicitely stated in Origin that demonstrating irreducible complexity in any biological structure would be falsifcation for his theory. Darwin’s theory was at one time a legitimate scientific theory. In its modern incarnation where ID is brushed off as pseudo-science Darwinian theory morphs into pseudo-scientific dogma.

  9. 9
    theSun says:

    But the proposition is not actually true, is it?

    The issue that comes to my mind is that tests have to distinguish between things, so you have to know what you are distinguishing between to make a test. So to test between evolutionary theory and design you have to have something that can tell them apart. IC systems wont do, because IC systems can arise by layers and layers and layers of mutation or by design. So you need something else.

    From what we know of designs and manufacturing, we expect to see serial numbers and the manufacturers logo on the object with no other function than to identify who designed it, even works from ancient socieities are signed, so we have a … a hypothesis. OK, so that suggests a designer advanced enough to create biological systems would leave systematic identifications on their designs.

    So we look for it.

    Has anyone identified a designers signature?

    The problem there is that we design biological systems (GM foods) but we dont sign it. But then we do have laws to protect intellectual copyright, enforced by outside agencies.

    OK, well we’ve been messing with animals and plants since year dot. Has an outside agency appeared and said ‘quit messing wiv our property rights’?

    That hasnt happened either.

    we can draw inferences from this:

    1. The biosystems are not signed
    2. The designer doesnt sign anyway
    3. The are no intellectual property rights to protect
    4. The designer doesnt cxare about his property rights being violated
    5. and so on.

    OK. maybe there’s another tack we can try.

    Maybe we are virtual organisms running in something like Creatures (the Norns) or the Sims.

    If we imagine this what would we expect to see?

    The obvious things are completely novel forms, virgin births, raising from the dead, breaks in biological norms of any sort.

    So we could test for that.

    Once we imagined what we could detect as different , we could run tests.

    it seems to me that the problem with the 3 propositions listed above is very simple, its because ID and Evo have no features to differentiate them at a testable level. And this goes to the problem of not saying who the designer is. If we made guesses about the designer we could test for them.

    But we dont do we? I’m a firm believer in the universe as a simulation theory, which is an ID stance, and I think things like the Plank distance support it (it indicates the simulations resolution in pixels, kind of), and ditto quantum mechaniscs. You can disprove me by going to shorter distances or proving quantum changes are actualy analogue and any value is possible.

    and that’s the risk in my position.

    We IDists need to make guesses at the nature of the designer, and make tests based on it. It’s the only way to prove our position.

  10. 10
    taciturnus says:

    A trilemma can always be formed to “trap” someone if the terms are loaded.

    “Design” implies an intelligent origin to “increasing functional complexity” and therefore, for the purposes of entrapping Darwinists, is a loaded term. The origin of functional complexity is just what is at issue. Consider this rewording of proposition 2:

    2. “Darwinism explains increasing functional complexity in biology as the product of natural selection and random variation.”

    This provides a definition of Darwinism that is not loaded against it and makes the trilemma harmless. Assuming that #2 can actually be done (something I doubt), Darwinists can then go on and apply Occam’s razor to any design hypotheses. They can say evolution is “undirected” because there is no need to posit an extra-scientific “director” to explain the phenomena. Similarly, geology is “undirected” because it has no need of the hypothesis of a director, not because geologists considered and refuted a design hypothesis. In neither case do they need to admit design as a scientific possibility. Similarly, the discovery of lightning as electrical in origin eliminated mythical Gods as its source without admitting Zeus as a legitimate scientific hypothesis.

    It is only then, after providing a natural explanation for functional complexity, that the Darwinist dismisses the “appearance of design” as a matter of psychology. It’s a deduction by elimination: The design is not in nature, so it must be in the mind.

    Dave T.

  11. 11
    dchammer says:

    What’s so special about biology? If #1 were true, how could science tell, short of “smoking gun evidence,” that anything is designed? Eliminate the adjective “biological” and the premise appears in all its glorious silliness:

    “Science cannot test the proposition that features are designed.”

  12. 12
    Deuce says:

    Hi, taciturnus:

    “A trilemma can always be formed to “trap” someone if the terms are loaded.”

    But the trilemma holds regardless of what is meant by design (it also holds regardless of what is meant by “science”, provided you don’t deny the first statement’s claim about it).

    “This provides a definition of Darwinism that is not loaded against it and makes the trilemma harmless.”

    Yes, but you can’t solve a trilemma by coming up with alternate wording you’d rather have. The trick is to define one or more of the words such that the sentences don’t contradict, or such that denying one of the sentences doesn’t actually hurt your position. For instance, someone pushing the “free will” defense against Hume’s trilemma could argue that “good” means “wanting to promote good, so long as it doesn’t violate free will”. They can then define “all-powerful” as “able to do anything that is logically possible”, and assert that the trilemma doesn’t really contradict after all, or they can define “all-powerful” as “able to do the logically impossible” and deny that God is “all-powerful” in that sense. Of course, the person pushing the Epicurean Trilemma can then try to define the terms more precisely so as to leave less definitional wiggle room with which to avoid the contradiction, while still endeavoring to present three statements that the theist can’t deny. This can be tough. For instance, if the Epicurean clarifies “good” to mean “willing to revoke free will”, the theist won’t have a problem denying the sentence.

    Now, “design” appears in both 1 and 2, which makes it so that you can’t solve this trilemma by redefining it. Rather, as I suggested, you’d have to deny that there even is such a logical category, rendering the term meaningless, and both 1 and 2 with it. But, as I said, this move would be premised in mental eliminativism, and would carry all the baggage that comes with that.

    The other out that I mentioned was that 2 doesn’t technically contradict 1, so long as you’re willing to say that the claim in 2 is untested.

    “Assuming that #2 can actually be done (something I doubt), Darwinists can then go on and apply Occam’s razor to any design hypotheses.”

    This can be interpreted in one of two ways. Either a) Occam’s razor is a type of test, in which case your solution to the trilemma is to deny 1, or b) the use of Occam’s razor is an attempt to justify the statement in 2 without testing it, which would in turn be an attempt to exploit the second out that I mentioned (this one, I think, can’t be logically justified, but I don’t want to argue that now).

    Anyhow, if you were to make parallel trilemmas out of those other theories you mentioned, I think you would find that either 1 is clearly deniable because the particular design explanation is testable by science, or that 2 is clearly deniable, or even impossible to formulate in a parallel way, because the first part of the sentence doesn’t make sense for the theory in question.

  13. 13
    taciturnus says:

    I understand the logical structure of trilemmas. And I agree that you can’t solve a trilemma by redefining it. My point is that the Darwinist doesn’t have to solve it because it doesn’t apply to him. Were I a Darwinist, I would not accept proposition #2 as an accurate characterization of Darwinism.

  14. 14
    DaveScot says:

    “because IC systems can arise by layers and layers and layers of mutation”

    How has this been demostrated?

  15. 15
    Bombadill says:

    I’m learning so much it hurts. I need an Excedrin and a nap. Seriously.

    Sometimes I wish I were still blissfully ignorant. This journey into the world of ID and Darwinism is a double edged sword. Extremely rewarding and yet painful on my wee brain.

    My head is spinning.

    Good night.

  16. 16
    jay says:

    “2. Darwinism explains the appearance of design in biology not as actual design but as the product of natural selection and random variation.”

    taciturnus: “Were I a Darwinist, I would not accept proposition #2 as an accurate characterization of Darwinism.”

    Unfortunately for Darwinists, it is an accurate characterization:
    “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” (p. 1)
    “our own existence once presented the greatest of all mysteries…that of complex design. Darwin and Wallace solved [the mystery] of complex design.” (p. ix)
    “Variation and selection work together to produce evolution. The Darwinian says that variation is random in the sense that it is not directed towards improvement, and that the tendency toward improvement in evolution comes from selection.” (p. 308)
    “It is the contention of the Darwinian worldview that…slow, gradual, cumulative natural selection is the ultimate explanation for our existence. (p. ix)
    (Dawkins, TBW)

  17. 17
    taciturnus says:

    Dawkins is a deliberately provacative propagandist, not the final word on the definition of Darwinism. It’s not hard to get his overblown rhetoric into logical difficulties.

    Even so, notice the subtle difference between your Dawkins quotes and proposition #2 of the trilemma, a difference that has to do with the essential subject matter of biology. The subject matter of biology is “complicated things”. It turns out that these “complicated things” also “give the appearance of having been designed…”. By explaining the “complicated thing”, evolution also happens to dispel the “appearance of design” and thereby solve the “mystery of complex design.” But the essential subject matter of biology is NOT the “appearance of design” but “complicated things.” That is clear in the third Dawkins quote, which is explicit about the subject matter of Darwinism: Darwinism is about explaining our existence by way of natural selection, and is not directly concerned with explaining impressions of design.

    Proposition #2 of the trilemma substitutes the accidental for the essential in biology. It implies that biology is directly concerned with the “appearance of design” when it is only incidentally so. In the same way, electromagnetic theory is not directly concerned with whether lightning is caused by an Olympian God, but it incidentally eliminates the mystery of the divine origin of lightning by providing a natural explanation. We could hang electromagnetism on a similar trilemma by defining it as essentially about Olympian Gods:

    1. Science cannot test the proposition that Olympian Gods can cause lightning.

    2. Electromagnetism explains the appearance of the divine origin of lightning not as an actual divine origin but as a result of electrical conditions in the atmosphere.

    3. Electromagnetism is science.

    The sophistry here is obvious: Electromagnetism is not about “appearances” but about the phenomenon of lightning, even though it does, incidentally, show that the “appearances of divine origin” are unfounded in reality. Similarly, Darwinism is not about “appearances” but about the origin of species, even though it does, incidentally, show that the “appearances of design” are unfounded in reality.

    Dave T.

  18. 18
    Deuce says:

    Hi, taciturnus, in your lightning example, I would have no problem denying 1, and I don’t think too many other people would either. I would even say that 1 has been tested. Whether or not 2 accurately represents someone’s position as they se it, and whether or not they regard it as sophistry, doesn’t really matter. If it says something they regard as false, they should be able to deny 2 with an explanation for why the statement is false. A person may think that 2 is true, and that their position is nuanced such that they can show it to be true without the proposition in 1 being testable. However, at the end of the day, if they can’t bring themselves to deny any of the trilemma’s propositions, it means that they have made an error in their thinking somewhere.

    Using the original trilemma, and the objection you raised, shouldn’t a Darwinist be able to reject 2 on the grounds that Darwinism doesn’t the appearance of design as the product of RV&NS, but as the product of psychology? Actually, this might not work, since the objection then explains that psychological projection as the product of RV&NS, but you get the idea.

    One last note. In the original trilemma, “the appearance of design” could be replaced by other things, such as “those things that appear to us to be designed” or “functional complexity”, etc. Essentially, whatever it is that the Darwinist says he is trying to explain about biological features, beyond simple biological relatedness, can be substituted in and there would still be a trilemma.

  19. 19
    taciturnus says:

    IDers seem to have a problem that parallels that of Darwinists.

    For Darwinists, “biological relatedness” = “common descent”. That’s why so often, when asked for evidence of common descent, Darwinists point to biological relatedness. No matter how hard you try to get through to them, and I’ve tried, they never get the point that the question is about the ORIGIN of biological relatedness, of which common descent is one possible explanation among others. In the Darwinist mind, there is no distinction between biological relatedness and common descent.

    Similarly, IDers seem to think that “functional complexity” = “design”. In fact, design is but one possible explanation for the origin of functional complexity. RM+NS is another (or at least it claims to be.) Design implies that functional complexity has its origin in intelligent action, RM+NS says that functional complexity has its origin in natural processes. That is what the debate is about.

    The trilemma only works because of the equivocation between “design” and what Darwinism actually claims to explain, which is “functional complexity.” There is no trilemma in terms of functional complexity:

    1. Science cannot test the proposition that functional complexity has its origin in intelligent design.

    2. Darwinism explains functional complexity as a product of RM+NS.

    3. Darwinism is science.

    The reason the original trilemma seems to work is that it bundles “functional complexity” and “intelligent origin” together in the concept of “design”, then says that Darwinism tries to refute “design” and therefore admits “intelligent origin” into science because it is part of the concept of “design”. This misunderstands the subject of Darwinism, which is “functional complexity”, not “design”.

  20. 20
    Deuce says:

    Taciturnus, I’m not sure I see the problem here. If 2 says anything false about Darwinism, the statement can be rejected by the Darwinist, thus solving the trilemma. The trilemma isn’t easily seen in yours, since you leave out the design negation clause. However, if “functional complexity is a product of RM+NS” contradicts “functional complexity is a product of design” then the trilemma is still implicit in yours.

    The trilemma hinges on whether or not the negation clause is in fact true of Darwinism, not whether the Darwinist would or could restate things without it. To break it, to show that it only seems to hold, or to show that it doesn’t apply, you need to say that it’s false, not that it’s uncharitable, or that it puts things in the wrong order. If it’s actually misrepresentative, then there *must* be something that statement 2 says about Darwinism that is false, and if any part of the statement is false, it can be rejected. If no part of it is false, then it isn’t really misrepresentative (misrepresentation being precisely to present a position in a way that states something false about it). There’s simply no way around this. Anyhow, here’s the original trilemma restated with functional complexity, for what it’s worth:

    1. Science cannot test the proposition that biological features are designed.
    2. Darwinism explains that functional complexity in biology is not designed but is rather the product of natural selection and random variation.
    3. Darwinism is science.

    Now, moving a bit off topic, let me explain why the trilemma doesn’t hold for other theories. Let’s use electromagnetism again, but make it more general. Example 1:

    1. Science cannot test the proposition that lightning bolts are designed
    2. Electromagnetism explains that lightning bolts are not designed, but are the result of electrical conditions in the atmosphere.
    3. Electromagnetism is science.

    Here, 2 can be denied, because electromagnetism says no such thing. It doesn’t say that lightning bolts are not designed, so 2 is false (not just uncharitable, but actually false). It’s nearly parallel to saying “Kinetics shows that this post is not designed, but is rather the result of keys being tapped”. The first half of the statement is false, so the whole thing can be rejected. Now, electromagnetism may explain that the immediate cause of lightning isn’t design (just as the immediate cause of this post isn’t design), so let’s rephrase it as such:

    1. Science cannot test the proposition that lightning bolts are designed
    2. Electromagnetism explains that the *immediate* cause of lightning bolts is not design, but rather electrical conditions in the atmosphere.
    3. Electromagnetism is science.

    But now we don’t need to deny any of the statements, because this isn’t a trilemma. It’s logically possible that we could show that the immediate cause of a lightning bolt isn’t design, without being able to show whether or not it is designed. So, to recreate the trilemma, we need to put the part about immediate causes into proposition 1 as well:

    1. Science cannot test the proposition that the *immediate* cause lightning bolts is design
    2. Electromagnetism explains that the *immediate* cause of lightning bolts is not design, but rather electrical conditions in the atmosphere.
    3. Electromagnetism is science.

    This is a trilemma once again, but it is one that can now be easily solved by denying proposition 1.

    Anyhow, this hopefully illustrates the difference. Darwinism is actually unique in denying teleology, which is why the “not design” clause in 2 holds true for it, but not for other theories. It’s also why you only see the “science can’t test design” thing come up in the context of Darwinism. Other theories don’t say anything one way or another about design, except perhaps as an immediate cause, in which case they can be tested against it and come out on top.

    PS: The reason I mentioned “biological relatedness” in the previous post was simply to bracket it out from the main thing Darwinism is trying to explain, which is functional complexity (or “the appearance of design”). I actually think that common descent is the best explanation for the patterns of biological relatedness we see.

  21. 21
    Deuce says:

    Btw, I understand your point. You’re saying that the Darwinist would say he is just looking at things, explaining them with RV&NS as it is warranted, without ever really arguing against design, and then, lo and behold, it turns out he has explained everything, and design has become superfluous without ever actually testing against it along the way. What I’m saying is, the trilemma shows that if the Darwinist thinks that, but is then unable to actually reject any of the parts of the trilemma as false, he has actually made a logical error somewhere in his thinking along the way.

  22. 22
    taciturnus says:

    Deuce,

    Your last post is an accurate characterization of my point. And I would say that the Darwinist could safely reject as false #2 of the trilemma:

    “2. Darwinism explains that functional complexity in biology is not designed but is rather the product of natural selection and random variation.”

    It’s false because Darwinism per se, as a scientific enterprise, does not reject design. It renders resort to non-scientific concepts like design unnecessary because it can provide an account of functional complexity in terms of the scientific concepts of RM+NS.

    But Darwinism has significant philosophical implications that everyone is quick to draw. People draw them so quickly that they are led to conflate the philosophical implications of Darwinism with the strictly scientific conclusions of Darwinism. One of these philosophical implications is the denial of teleology, which is why Richard Dawkins said that Darwinism allowed him to be “an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” The strictly scientific Darwinian account of the origin of the species allowed Dawkins to deny teleology as a matter of philosophy, not as a matter of science.

    So, were I a Darwinist, I would say prop. #2 in the trilemma is false because it is not a strictly accurate characterization of Darwinism as a science.

  23. 23
    taciturnus says:

    A strictly accurate characterization of Darwinism as a science would be:

    “2. Darwinism explains that functional complexity in biology is the product of natural selection and random variation.”

    The negative conclusion “is not designed” is not a scientific conclusion as such but, while true, is a mere matter of logic. Any positive explanation of something logically rules out all other explanations. If the Egyptians built the pyramids, then it follows that no else did… neither the Chinese, the dinosaurs, intelligent apes, space aliens, or a “designer”, or any of an infinite number of other candidates. If RM+NS created functional complexity, then nothing else did, be it volcanos, space aliens, Olympian Gods, or a “designer”.

  24. 24
    DaveScot says:

    The only way to falsify undirected evolution is by finding directed evolution. The converse is also true. Either both are science or neither are science. If a method of falsification isn’t possible at least in principle then it isn’t science.

    Darwin himself, knowing perfectly well his theory had to have methods of falsification, explicitely described finding a biological structure that couldn’t be made through a series of small modifications, each modification having neutral or positive fitness value, would falsify his theory.

  25. 25
    Deuce says:

    Hi, taciturnus, I think this highlights how problematic trying to split things up into “philosophy” and “science” can be. I don’t think you can say that Darwinism does not say that design is false as science, but does say it is false as philosophy. It’s either true or false. Whether 2 is false depends on what you mean by “imply”. If Darwinism logically precludes design, then 2 holds. If it just makes it seem less plausible to people, then 2 does not hold.

    At this point, I guess I’ll tell you what my resolution to the problem is. As I see it, Darwinism, in the practical sense that we can use it, is categorically different from Darwinism as the historical explanation for all biological features.

    For instance, let’s take a look at the finch beak scenarios, one of the better known practical examples of “Darwinism in action”. We can observe that average finch beak sizes grow larger in environments where there are certain selection coefficients that select variations making finch beaks larger.

    However, this does not require any concept of random variation. All it requires is that variations in finch beak size exist, and that there exist identifiable selection coefficients that weed out smaller ones. It’s just a description of the immediate causes. It doesn’t entail that the variations are random or non-random. It also doesn’t entail natural selection, if natural selection is defined as selection with no goal. Whether or not what is selected now is random with respect to any more distant goals is not part of the equation. All that matters is that selection favors larger beaks. Just like electromagnetism doesn’t say anything one way or another about whether a lightning bolt is designed, a description of the immediate causes of a finch beak fluctuation doesn’t say whether the fluctuation is designed or not.

    This holds true even in cases where the outcome is clearly designed. Let’s use Dawkins’ famous WEASEL program, since it’s a straightforward example of directed evolution. Imagine you were to slow it down, so that a person could observe each step of selection in the program. They would take note of how several letters come up in each character slot, and how each slot is frozen once a certain letter appears in it. In short, they could give a history of all the immediate causes leading from a string of indecipherable letters up to the final sentence (”Methinks it is like a weasel”), in terms of variation and selection. However, the ability to describe the immediate causes, as with an increase in finch beak size, or a lightning bolt, doesn’t imply that the result is not designed (obviously, since the result *is* designed in this case). It doesn’t make design superfluous, or not superfluous, either. Whether or not it’s superfluous has to be decided on other grounds.

    So, describing something in terms of variation and selection, in the immediate, practical sense, doesn’t entail or imply that the variations or the selection coefficients are designed or that they are random and undirected. It doesn’t make design superfluous either. It simply doesn’t touch on the question.

    Now, while variation and selection don’t require randomness to be practical, Darwinism as a historical theory requires them to be coherent. To see this, let’s rephrase the premise of Darwinism, but remove the concepts of randomness from it: “Darwinism states that the features of biology are the result of variations that may or may not have been random, and selection that may or may not have been undirected”. Note two things here. One, stated this way, Darwinism as a historical theory is devoid of meaning. Two, this statement is fully compatible with ID. Even if a Darwinist could somehow explain *everything* in terms of variation and selection, without testing design, it would only prove this version of Darwinism, not the actual RV&NS kind.

    So, how do we get from variation and selection to specifically *random* variation and selection *without a goal*? Well, we would need to run a number of statistical tests on those variations and selection coefficients, enough to show that they were random with respect to functional complexity, but that they still explain it. And this, in turn, would be a way of testing of design, so anybody who had actually done this would be compelled to reject premise 1 of the trilemma!

    So, to answer your question in short, when I said “the Darwinist would say he is just looking at things, explaining them with RV&NS as it is warranted, without ever really arguing against design” I was describing a logical impossibility. If the Darwinist has actually been testing to verify that the variations are random, and the selection undirected, then he has been testing design all along, and he should reject either premises 1 or 3. If not, he should admit that the proposition in 2 is untested.

  26. 26
    Dakota says:

    In comment 18, you say that you would have no problem denying the statement “1. Science cannot test the proposition that Olympian Gods can cause lightning.” You further say that it has been tested. I’m keen to know your basis for denial and how it was tested by science.

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