Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

A Dialogue With A Darwinist

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Darwinist: Evolution is a fact fact fact! The evidence for evolution is overwhelming. The theory is as well proven as the theory of gravity.

IDer: Well, OK. If by “evolution” you mean that the biosphere is very different now than it was in the past, you get no argument from me.

Darwinst: Then genuflect with the rest of us at the altar of St. Charles. Bow down damn you. Submit. Acknowledge his genius.

IDer: Wait a minute. I thought we were talking about evolution in the broad sense of “the biosphere is different now than it was in the past.” Now you’re asking me to sign off on a particular theory of why it is different. I am not prepared to do that.

I will certainly give Darwin his due. His theory explains very well things like the development of antibiotic resistance among bacteria. That is an elegant, even spectacular, empirical verification of Darwinian processes. I would be a fool to deny the plain and uncontested empirical data, and I will be the first to admit that Darwin’s theory works wonderfully to explain things like antibiotic resistance, blind cave fish, and finch beak variation. I’ll even give you peppered moths, though there is reason to believe that experiment was tainted.

Darwin’s theory works fine to show how degradation of function (antibiotic resistance; blind cave fish) or variations within an existing kind (finches and moths) can lead to reproductive differential as a result of natural selection. So if that’s all you’re asking, I acknowledge Darwin’s genius in discovering this process.

But I am not prepared to concede that Darwin’s theory accounts for how bacteria, cave fish, finches and moths came to be in the first place. A theory that shows how degradation of function or variations within an existing species can lead to a survival advantage does not necessarily work to account for the development of morphological novelty such as new body plans, new organs, or new systems or the radical increases of information in the genome that must accompany such morphological innovations.

One thing is certain: Unlike minor variations that lead to, for example, the development of antibiotic resistance, Darwinian processes have not been empirically observed to result in substantial morphological or genomic novelty.

Darwinst: Infidel! IDiot! Follow these links [insert links to dozens of papers discussing the evolution of, for example, the mammalian eye]. I have now demonstrated how Darwinism explains the development of the mammalian eye. Will you bow now or will you continue to wallow in your ignorance and apostasy?

IDer, after having read the papers linked, replies: Well, this is typical. All of these papers, every single one of them, sets forth a speculative model based on an extrapolation from molecular and morphological studies. The researchers who wrote the papers are invariable straightforward about this. That is why they use words like “uncertainties abound,” and “speculation is involved,” and “likely” and “may have been.” All of the papers you link are models showing what might have been. None of them purports to demonstrate what actually happened.

Darwinist: You don’t seem to understand the overwhelming evidence from morphological and genomic homologies. Morphological characters like the five-fingered mammalian forelimb point to a common ancestor. In the same way, similar DNA sequences in closely related species point to a DNA sequence in their last common ancestor. The evidence from homologies is irrefutable.

IDer: Well, I certainly agree there are morphological and genomic similarities between similar species.  That’s what makes them “similar.”  But let me ask you about this word “homology” that you use. What does it mean?

Darwinist: When we are talking about morphology, homology means a similar physical structure, like the forelimb I mentioned earlier. When we are talking about the genome it means a similar DNA sequence.

IDer: OK. And you are saying they are similar because they both descended from a common ancestor?

Darwinist: Of course.

IDer: But isn’t that what you are trying to demonstrate in the first place? In other words, if you assume that a homologous structure or sequence is homologous because it is shared with a common ancestor, you can’t then turn around and say that the homology is evidence for the very thing you assume (common descent).

Be that as it may, I have made numerous concessions today, and in that spirit I will make another. Certainly morphologic and molecular homologies are consistent with theories of descent with modification generally. They are even consistent with the particular mechanism (random variation sorted by natural selection) that Darwin proposed to account for descent with modification.

Darwinist [gleefully]: I am glad you admit that, because I have you now. Since nothing else could possibly explain the data it is time for you to bend the knee!

IDer: Ah, here is where we get to the nub of the issue. Your assertion “nothing else could possibly explain the data” is at the bottom of our difference, and I will explain why that is the case. First, I will make yet another concession: If one assumes that all causal explanations must be consistent with methodological naturalism (if not metaphysical naturalism), AND one assumes that methodological naturalism excludes intelligent agency as a causal explanation in biology, then something like Darwinian evolution must be true as a matter of simple logic. That is why Richard Dawkins wrote in The Blind Watchmaker that “Darwinism is the only known theory that is in principle capable of explaining certain aspects of life. If I am right it means that, even if there were no actual evidence in favour of the Darwinian theory (there is, of course) we should still be justified in preferring it over all rival theories.”

Two important things are happening here: First, Dawkins is rigging the game so that only one answer – Darwinism – can ever possibly be correct. And second because the game is rigged to result in only one possible answer, any evidence (indeed Dawkins is candid enough to admit that even no evidence) is good enough to support that answer.

Darwinist: But science depends on methodological naturalism.

IDer: I will return to that, but before I do I want to make sure you understand the foundation of our difference. You approach the data with Dawkins-like assumptions. Those assumptions color everything. It is almost literally impossible for you to see how anyone could disagree with Darwinism. It just has to be true, and this causes you to say things like speculative models of how evolution might have worked to produce an organ are actual evidence for the theory, as if speculative extrapolations from the data are just as good as the data. It causes you to say that homologies are both defined as the result of common descent and at the same time evidence for common descent without the slightest irony.

On the other hand, the ID proponent is free to accept the data on its own terms, and when he does so he quickly realizes that the evidence for Darwin’s theory is not all that impressive. Certainly it is not the “overwhelming evidence that compels assent” that it is so widely touted to be. For example, the ID proponent looks at the fossil record and sees that it is almost totally at odds with the gradualism that Darwin’s theory demands. For the Darwinist, with a very limited number of exceptions, the fossil record – which is almost exclusively characterized by sudden appearance and stasis and not the gradualism Darwin expected – is something that must be explained away.

Then there’s the math. Oh yes, the math. Since the Wistar conference in the 60’s scientists have known that it is extremely difficult to square Darwinian theory with mathematical probabilities, and things have only gotten worse since then. To cite just one instance, the search space for a single protein fold is so unimaginably vast as to exhaust all of the probabilistic resources available in the universe, much less this single little planet.

And don’t even get me started on information. The DNA code is a semiotic code, and to suggest that any semiotic code – far less the most super-sophisticated semiotic code in the known universe — can be written though the accretion of random errors sorted by a fitness function is just absurd.

I am not saying that I know for a certain fact that Darwinian evolution is false. I am saying there are very good reasons for believing so.  Certainly the theory has not been overwhelmingly confirmed by the evidence as is so often claimed.

In the face of all of the counter-evidence, hubris like we see so often from Darwinists is unseemly. When a theory has so many problems isn’t it more honest to admit those problems?

Darwinist: So your answer is God musta done it. That is not science.

IDer: Certainly as a Christian I believe God’s fingerprints are all over the biosphere. But as an ID proponent that is not what I am saying, and this is where I get back to methodological naturalism. ID is perfectly consistent with methodological naturalism if one does not arbitrarily exclude intelligent agency as a causal explanation. I mean geez louise even arch-atheist Richard Dawkins admitted to Ben Stein that design could, in principle, explain the data:

Stein: What do you think is the possibility that that intelligent design might turn out to be the answer to some issues in genetics or in evolution?

Dawkins: I suppose it is possible that you might find evidence for that [i.e., that an advanced civilization designed life and seeded it onto earth] if you look at the . . . details of biochemistry or molecular biology. You might find a signature of some sort of designer . . . And that designer could well be a higher intelligence from elsewhere in the universe . . .

Dawkins is here admitting that there is nothing “supernatural” about the bio-chemistry of life. The development of life as we know it does not depend on a miracle. It is within the ken of sufficiently advanced technology. Critically, Dawkins admits that if life were designed, upon investigation we might find the signature of a designer. I take it he has not abandoned his atheism. He is not saying that the advanced civilization would have performed a miracle. Their design would be both perfectly natural and empirically detectable.  Therefore, even if I concede for the sake or argument that science depends on methodological naturalism, even Richard Dawkins admits this is no barrier to biological design detection within science.

As an aside we see that Dawkins himself admits that his assertion in The Blind Watchmaker is false.  If what he said to Ben Stein is true, then it follows that Darwinism is certainly not the “only known theory that is in principle capable of explaining certain aspects of life.”

And at the end of the day – this may amaze you but it is true – I agree with Richard Dawkins. Darwinism is one theory. It may be true.  Indeed, certainly aspects of the data (including homologies) are broadly consistent with it.  On the other hand, there are many good reasons to believe it is not true. ID is another theory – perfectly consistent with methodological naturalism at one level – and there is very good reason to believe it is the best explanation to account for the data. So please; don’t look at me like I have two heads when I am not impressed when you cite a dozen papers discussing speculative models of how Darwinian evolution might have produced the eye all of which ignore all of the apparently insuperable obstacles to that project.

Selva, you are just repeating your claim without interacting with the responses. Here it is again!
When compared to ToE, ID mostly differs in Macroevolution process.ID’s belief is agent intervenes and guides macroevolution, so if you explain, or hypothesize how, where and at point in macroevolution process the agent intervenes, ID will have a strong base for attacking other theories. IMHO, until then – as pointed out tirelessly by many- it is just a collection of criticisms against ToE.
We could stand back and look at it differently and say that ToE is just a bunch of criticisms against ID. Neither idea can be scientifically demonstrated. We are dealing with history here. Your position is no better than the ID position so quit acting as if yours is superior. Come back when you can actually show us the step by gradual step paths of beneficial mutations these changes take - when you can actually show us that such paths exist - when you can show us that those paths were actually used. You can't just say ours is the default position if you can't give us hard experimental evidence! The default position in that case should be - "We don't know yet." But since you exclude intelligence, your default position is determined by your dogma which excludes every other possible explanation of the evidence, no matter how plausible it may be. Now, ToE will have a strong base for defending their theory if it can only come up with hard experimental evidence that demonstrates "macro" (for lack of a better term) evolutionary changes are actually possible. Until you can do that, you are outside the realm of science! tjguy
steve- of course the design inference opens up other questions. That proves it is not a scientific dead-end as will want to answer those questions. ID is about the detection and study of design in nature. The or questions are separate. Still active? How would we know? And seeing hat designing life is way above our pay grade, how are we supposed to figure that out? Stonehenge still eludes us. In the absence of direct observation or designer input, the only possible way to make any scientific determination as to the who, what, when, where, how and why, is by studying the design and all relevant evidence. That is how it works with archaeology, forensic science and SETI. Joe
Joe @ 19:
That’s very scientifically illiterate of you steve. Heck we don’t know what process was used to design and build Stonehenge and that is much simpler as compared to biology.
Maybe I've gotten too caught up in some of the analogies. Take your Stonehenge one here - is it enough to say that there are indications of design in the placement of the stones? Or would we want to explore where the stones came from and try to explain how (and maybe even why) they came to be placed where they are. In Darwin's Doubt, Dr Meyer writes, "...we cannot establish a unique scenario describing how the intelligent agent responsible for life arranged or impressed its ideas on matter, because there are many different possible means by which an idea in the mind of an intelligent agent could be transmitted or instantiated in the physical world." (p. 397). So I understand there is a reluctance to describe the means or scenario; and if it only happened a handful of times throughout the history of life, then the reluctance is understandable. However, if the intelligent agent(s?) is still active, shouldn't there be a way to detect it and attempt to describe how it works? Although it may not be scientific, I guess we each have our own answer to this. steve4003
selvaRajan-you are fishing. ID does NOT say anything about intervention. You are sadly mistaken. Joe
When compared to ToE, ID mostly differs in Macroevolution process.ID's belief is agent intervenes and guides macroevolution, so if you explain, or hypothesize how, where and at point in macroevolution process the agent intervenes, ID will have a strong base for attacking other theories. IMHO, until then - as pointed out tirelessly by many- it is just a collection of criticisms against ToE. selvaRajan
When confronted with the facts create a distraction and accuse your opponent. This is the same guy who sed:
BTW: Joe, our position (i.e. evolution) does NOT require that there existed a species of ape-humans with 47 chromosomes.
when we were discussing the alleged fusion event. (You have a population with 48 chromosomes. A fusion occurs in one gamete and that gamete now has 23 as opposed to 24. That gamete with 23 connects with the opposing/ other-sex gamete that has 24. 23 + 24 = 47. That is how it starts. Then 47 spreads in the population until a 46 appears. Kevin choked on that for weeks until some other evo finaly corrected him- he never apologized) Joe
Here’s agood one I just received:
Yes, Joey, it’s still a strawman of evolution, in spite of what Dawkins and the others have said. You are playing games with semantics and we all know it.
This is hilarious because when Mark Frank, Lizzie, Matzke, and the usual suspects are backed into a corner and forced to realize their arguments are hollow, this is the EXACT tactic they employ. We have threads and threads of Chewbacca defense that rely on semantics. TSErik
Here's agood one I just received:
Yes, Joey, it's still a strawman of evolution, in spite of what Dawkins and the others have said. You are playing games with semantics and we all know it.
So Darwin, Dawkins, Coyne, Moran, Mayr- all the evolutionary biologists promote a strawman. And it doesn't matter what they say but because I am saying it it becomes a strawman. Evolutionists are the most dishonest people on the planet. Joe
If ID cannot explain a process, it will forever remain just a critique of Darwinism
This statement assumes something that is not operating. It assumes that intelligent activity is like a process determined by the Standard Model which can be analyzed by the various forces and boundary conditions to show what an outcome will be given various preconditions. Now granted most intelligent activity is a process, it is not one that can be analyzed using the Standard model. That is essence of intelligence and free will, it always independent to some extent of these basic forces. Intelligent activity is about origins that would not have appeared given the Standard Model, while the Standard Model is mainly about repeatable processes once the origin of something has appeared. For example, the universe appears and the Standard Model generates galaxies and star systems. The universe is an origin but all the subsequent cosmology are just things that flow from the Standard Model. So the comment above is of no relevance. It completely misses the point of ID and intelligent events.
But with the discoveries over the last several decades, with evolutionists coining terms like “facilitated variation” and “natural genetic engineering”, I think it’s premature to say limits have been reached.
Three things flow from this comment. The first is that ID has no quarrel with natural processes. If such a process is identified as valid then ID will acknowledge it. Second By bringing up these other processes, the commenter has admitted that Darwinian processes are inadequate. We welcome such an acknowledgement. Third These processes have not explained anything and are just currently desperate attempts to overcome the mill stone called Darwinism. To see that they are meaningless, just go to the Wikipedia article on "facilitated variation" and "natural genetic engineering" to see how much is known about these so-called replacements/supplements to Darwinism, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facilitated_variation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_genetic_engineering Next to nothing. But there is always hope and faith which Darwinist have in abundance. The one thing they are truly missing to be a religion is charity or at least a Christian religion. jerry
If ID cannot explain a process, it will forever remain just a critique of Darwinism – only pointing toward a greater truth.
Newton couldn't explain the regularities of the behavior of mass in his theory of gravity. There is still no "explained process" for any natural law that describes - even with mathematical precision - how matter interacts in fundamental ways. Those models explain no process or cause, they just describe patterns of behavior in ways that are useful. That's the real question posed for the theory of ID; is the theory that some things are intelligently designed useful? It may not be useful in a mathematical way, but it is certainly useful in terms of how to proceed with the investigation - in terms of a designed system instead of a haphazard one. We can begin thinking in terms of reverse engineering, looking for addtional, expected engineering or programming phenomena suggested by the design inference, looking for design purposes and clues about the reasoning. IOW, it's like the difference between expecting a lot of junk DNA, and expecting little to no junk. One might expect to find, under the design paradigm, stored up and potentially useful DNA sequences along with a mechanism for finding and activating them under certain conditions. There are all sorts of ways that the ID perspective can provide scientific throughput that is just not available under the Darwinian mindset. I'd also like to point out that many Darwinists - if not most - already employ design principles (such as reverse-engineering and decoding techniques) even though they refuse to admit they are doing so. William J Murray
If ID cannot explain a process, it will forever remain just a critique of Darwinism –
That's very scientifically illiterate of you steve. Heck we don't know what process was used to design and build Stonehenge and that is much simpler as compared to biology. Joe
If ID cannot explain a process, it will forever remain just a critique of Darwinism – only pointing toward a greater truth.
I don't know if I agree with this. This is a common argument made against ID, and has been discussed over and over. The idea that ID is simply a critique ignores the actual core of IDs position. Inductive reasoning. TSErik
Steve, thanks for your post. I had never heard of facilitated variation before. I read two summaries about it. Here is the most positive one which ends up endorsing ID: http://creation.mobi/facilitated-variation-paradigm-emerges Here is a relevant quote from it:
Conclusion Let’s stand back consider the big picture of how life works at the molecular level. Life consists of conserved core processes and modular regulatory circuits. All the special properties of the conserved processes had to be in place before regulatory evolution could take place. Where did they come from? ‘They may have emerged together as a suite, for we know of no organism today that lacks any part of the suite.’ ‘The novelty and complexity of the cell [the most important conserved core processes that has modular regulatory circuitry built-in] is so far beyond anything inanimate in the world of today that we are left baffled by how it was achieved.’ A living organism is ‘a poised response system [that] responds to mutation by making changes it is largely prepared in advance to make.’ ‘Genetic variation or mutation does not have to be creative; it only needs to trigger the creativity built into the conserved mechanisms.’ It could not be otherwise, because invariable life would soon become extinct. Who will be game enough to say the words? Only intelligent design can explain such data. There are no naturalistic explanations.
Here is the second one which summarizes a critique of the book entitled The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin’s Dilemma (Yale Univ. Press, 2005) which is the seminal work on facilitated variation by Kirschner and Gerhart. The critique quoted in this article was written by Douglas Erwin of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC http://crev.info/2005/10/darwinists_refute_id_147irreducible_complexity148_argument/ This treatment of the idea of facilitated variation was not so positive. But whatever the case, right now all camps are outside the bounds of real science because no one can run experiments and show that their idea works. IF life evolved by totally natural processes, perhaps one day a viable process will be found, but no one knows. The evidence seems to be piling up in favor of intelligence over the past 150 years what with the discovery of multiple interdependent codes, the complexity of the cell, the thousands of nano molecular machines, etc. Then you have other things like the design of the earth being just right for life, the existence of natural laws that enable life, the problem of consciousness, etc. it is not only living things that point to intelligence it would seem. tjguy
Awesome post, this is just spot on! :) Chalciss
I meant YEC Levan
And one more thing: From my experience one can not argue against Darwinist with scientific facts. If you try, you will lose. They don't want to hear that the facts are against their religion. They argue like Ken Ham: In my Bible is written so and you must believe it! It is sometimes very difficult to find the difference between NEC and Darwinist in their argumentation. Both are stubborn. Levan
I'm going to a bar tonight. I will seek out a Darwinist. Why? Because she will believe any stupid thing I tell her. I will get lucky tonight. Oh, thank you, you lovely, wonderful Darwinist CentralScrutinizer
I have a few Darwin favorites..... You don't understand evolution You are ignoring the evidence Your creationism clouds your judgement You have too much faith But pointing to talk origins is my absolute favorite especially this page from a supposed scientific website... http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/debating-creationists.html Andre
Usually darwinists write to me I am ignorant and must read more books. It is very funny because I was in "St. Charles Church" for many years and about 15 years ago "converted" to ID. The cause was the science. Science defeats darwinian religion. By the way in terms of religion and church I call Dr. Dawkins "The Great Inquisitor of St. Charles Church" and our darling Jerry Coyne could be a "Archbishop of Internet Community":) Levan
Nicely framed dialogue. I agree with selvaR to a large extent, though. If ID cannot explain a process, it will forever remain just a critique of Darwinism - only pointing toward a greater truth. Maybe the process is legitimately outside of our ability to comprehend and study. Maybe as tjguy says, "we have reached the limits of true science." But with the discoveries over the last several decades, with evolutionists coining terms like "facilitated variation" and "natural genetic engineering", I think it's premature to say limits have been reached. steve4003
this is a test willh
Selva says,
IMO, ID will progress enormously if only IDist can explain when and how ID agent intervenes during the Macro evolutionary process of various species. Even if the mechanism doesn’t fully explain the process, you need to make a start.
You have just pointed out the limits of historical science! If a Designer was involved as we believe the evidence shows, the details of that involvement will be difficult to discern, if not impossible. No experiment can show us how the design actually happened. The design can only be repeated by using Intelligence in the present. And that is no guarantee that this is how the designer actually did it. We have reached the limits of science. Now, before you go jump on this as evidence that ID is outside the bounds of science, please take the log out of your own eye first! You have exactly the same problem. You cannot show how, or even if, the semiotic code evolved, how or even if life evolved from random chemicals, how or even if sexual reproduction evolved(simultaneous random emergence of complementary male and female systems), while improving fitness and maintaining reproductive capabilities all along the way, etc etc etc. When you can show us a step by step viable genetic pathway that organisms could have taken to evolve these things, then we will admit that your ideas have valid scientific support.( Show us how sonar developed for instance in two totally unrelated species.) Even if this type of experimental evidence could be found, there would still be no proof that it actually happened that way, but at least there would be hard experimental evidence that it could have. Until then, the reality is that we are all outside the realm of science here, regardless of whether we posit natural or intelligent causes for life. Experimental evidence for the details is lacking and probably can never be found because we are dealing with once and done historical events. So, you say:
IMO, ID will progress enormously if only IDist can explain when and how ID agent intervenes during the Macro evolutionary process of various species. Even if the mechanism doesn’t fully explain the process, you need to make a start.
We challenge with this: IMO, Evolution will progress enormously if only evolutionist can give concrete experimental evidence for the natural origin of even one or two macro evolutionary changes or systems we observe in organisms living today. (Ie sonar, sex, birds from Dinos, etc.) Unsupported "explanations" really don't count as science. Unfortunately, since Darwin's time, that has been slowly changing, so that now, real evidence is not necessary. "Plausible" explanations are good enough. What a great legacy Darwin has left us! Unfortunately, "plausible" is a relative non-scientific term. Who decides what is and is not plausible? What are the criteria that are used? Methodological naturalism? Can the truth/accuracy of scientific naturalism or naturalism in particular, be scientifically determined? If not, and if all you have are "plausible" or to some "ad hoc" explanations, then we are both in the same boat here! We have reached the limits of true science. tjguy
selvaRajan- No one knows if intervention is required. And before we can determine how, we have to determine it was designed. Ya see, unlike evolutionism, ID posits a top-down process. It's the bottom-up process that needs to be detailed. With design the how from studying the design and all relevant evidence. Joe
Nice post. Given that arguing with Darwinists about the evidence for design is an exercise in futility, I conclude that ID will progress only when the original designers of life on earth show up and declare, "We did it." Alternatively, ID might progress if we got lucky and discovered some ancient text that describes certain biological systems such as the organization of the genome or the working of the brain's neural network. Mapou
IMO, ID will progress enormously if only IDist can explain when and how ID agent intervenes during the Macro evolutionary process of various species. Even if the mechanism doesn't fully explain the process, you need to make a start. selvaRajan
Nicely done! The amazing thing about Darwinism is that any discovery, A, can be shown to be powerful validation of Darwinian evolution. Then the inevitable discovery later, -A, is interpreted to be an even more powerful validation. No wonder Darwinian evolution is considered "fact." LOL -Q Querius
Ba, you joke but sadly I feel that is the exact response that would be received. Reminds me of the seaguls in finding nemo. bw
To the tune of "The Brady Bunch": Here's the story of a guy named Charlie Who went traveling ‘round this very lovely world He saw fossils young and old, like no other His story would be told More of the story, of a guy named Darwin Who was busy with all his little notes To write a book it, it became a bother He needed an anecdote Then this one day Charlie met this fellow I believe Alfred Wallace was his name They were two men but came together And it would bring them fame Joe
You forgot the last line Mr Arrington: Darwinist: "You just don't understand evolution!" :) bornagain77

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