Intelligent Design

Arguments from Incredulity

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We often hear that ID is an argument from incredulity. At this point I would tend to agree. That said, arguments from incredulity aren’t necessarily wrong but in fact are rather reliable and employed constantly and consistently by everyone every day.

Let’s take the example that Granville Sewell offered in his most recent post here. He described Schrodinger’s equation and showed us that it’s theoretically possible for a pitched baseball to stop and hover in mid-air. A commenter who appeared to have a reasonable understanding of Schrodinger’s equation at first protested then ended up agreeing that it’s possible but the odds against it are long and for all practical purposes incalculable. They went on to agree that the quantum uncertainty is tractible in the analysis of a single electron orbiting a single proton (a hydrogen atom) but that the math is intractible for a pitched baseball because such a large number of particles are involved.

So how do we “know” that a pitched baseball won’t stop and hover in mid-air? Incredulity is how. We can’t precisely calculate the odds against it due to the system being so complex but we know it is (literally) incredibly improbable. It’s the same thing with ID. Although we can’t calculate the odds precisely we do know enough to see that self-organization of atoms into structures as complex as the machinery found in living cells is incredibly improbable. We couple this with the sure knowledge that intelligent agency routinely produces organizations of matter that, absent the intelligent agent’s intervention, are incredibly unlikely.

Here’s a good example. In principle it is possible for two cows to mate and give birth to a chimpanzee. The reason we don’t ever expect to see such a thing is we know (now) that the genetic differences between a cow and a chimp are so complex and specified that the odds against it actually happening in a single generation are nearly impossible. We can’t calculate the odds precisely but we know it is incredibly improbable. The argument that two cows won’t mate and produce a chimpanzee is an argument from incredulity.

Likewise, is it possible that a bacteria can, through RM+NS, change into a baboon over a billion years and trillions of generations? Sure it’s possible but when you actually get down to assessing the sequence of changes that must have occurred, analyzing the probability in a finite number of years and a finite number of generations, using everything we know about the mutation and selection mechanism, it quickly becomes an incredible proposition. It grows more incredible every day as new knowledge of the underlying physical mechanics is discovered.

So the next time someone tells you that ID is an argument from incredulity you can simply respond by saying “Yeah, so what? Arguments from incredulity are common and quite reliable in all aspects of life from the physics of baseball to the physics of biology.”

54 Replies to “Arguments from Incredulity

  1. 1
    Atom says:

    Good post Dave. I think you have a valid insight.

  2. 2
    GilDodgen says:

    I’ve always thought that arguments from incredulity were perfectly valid, when properly formulated in an appropriate situation. ID critics often challenge us that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence (referring to ID claims), but these same critics are perfectly satisfied to accept the notion that a bacterium can turn into Mozart through an extrapolation of the mechanism that produces antibiotic resistance in bacteria.

    I’ve harped in the past about the nature of mathematical combinatorics, most notably here. Although it may be impossible to provide exact numbers, it quickly becomes obvious that in biological systems the improbabilities become so large, so quickly, that the numbers must be expressed in orders of magnitude so huge that the exponents must be expressed in exponential form. In this case, arguments from incredulity seem perfectly reasonable and valid.

    If arguments from incredulity were never justified, then no claim, no matter how absurd, could ever be challenged as being unreasonable on its face.

  3. 3
    allanius says:

    Thank God someone finally addressed this. The mantra really does get old. Theory is too susceptible to subjectivity and wishful thinking. Common sense may save us yet.

  4. 4
    DonaldM says:

    This is a very interesting post and comment. It would be great to see this line of argument formalized and published in some peer reviewed phil of sci journal or other.

  5. 5
    Clarence says:

    I think the difference is that nobody claims that a bacteria changed into a baboon. Bacteria changed into bacteria with a mutation, which we all know happened and happens. The question is, can the accumulated changes over billions of years lead to the complex organisms we see now and in the fossil record. So far, there has been nothing – not even in the mathematics – which suggests it couldn’t have happened.

  6. 6
    Granville Sewell says:

    Dave,

    Well stated, the real argument against evolution has always been very simple: no matter how long it took, no matter how gradual it may or may not have been, no matter how much it may look like natural causes, it’s just plain stupid to believe it could have happened without design. Both my second law arguments, and Dembski’s specified complexity arguments (which are very closely related, see the footnote of this article ) are just attempts to formalize in more polished and scientific language what is obvious to the layman. A lot of people, including a lot of scientists, can see this, they just don’t know how to argue it without sounding uneducated.

    Someone, with apparently little scientific background, wrote in a 2005 American Spectator article (approximately) “the minute you begin to seriously entertain the idea that the human body could have come about without design, you have lost your mind.” That is the real argument, in a nutshell.

  7. 7
    GilDodgen says:

    I like Phillip Johnson’s comment about the claim that large improbabilities can be overcome by breaking them down into many smaller, manageable improbabilities (the central claim in support of the Darwinian macroevolutionary mechanism). Johnson observes that this claim amounts to suggesting that although it might be highly improbable that you will win the million-dollar lottery, this can be overcome by winning the thousand-dollar lottery a thousand times.

  8. 8
    Charlie says:

    Further adding to the improbability is the fact that both cows are female.

  9. 9
    DonaldM says:

    There is an inherent irony in the “ID is an argument from incredulity” critique. Even that famous book by Darwin is one long argument from incredulity. He found it simply impossible to accept or belive that God would so have designed the world that it would be so red in tooth and claw. Thus some other explanation was required in order to rescue God from being responsible for such a messy (as darwin saw it) creation.

    Or how about the late S.J Gould in “The Panda’s Thumb” writing about what a “wise creator” would or would not do ( like he would have known). Is that not an argument from incredulity?

    Or how about the general gist of the arguments of so-called ‘sub-optimal’ design. Do they not come down to arguments of incredulity that God would NOT have designed such and such a biological system the way we actually find it? i.e. the wiring of the human eye, or the structure of a human back-bone or _______ fill in the blank. These are all arguments from incredulity.

    Apparently its okay to have incredulity about what a designer (or God) might or might not have done, but it is totally unacceptable to have any incredulity about what the blind, purposeless forces of matter and energy acting through chance and necessity can do all by itself!

    I find that incredible!

  10. 10
    mike1962 says:

    “Even that famous book by Darwin is one long argument from incredulity. He found it simply impossible to accept or belive that God would so have designed the world that it would be so red in tooth and claw.”

    I recommend to the readers, Hunter’s book, Science’s Blind Spot, for a nice treatment of this subject.

    I’ve been using the argument from incredulity for years. It’s nothing more than good healthy skepticism of an unproven concept, as GilDodgen said, the “notion that a bacterium can turn into Mozart through an extrapolation of the mechanism that produces antibiotic resistance in bacteria.”

    I accept antibiotic resistance because it is empirically verifiable by anyone regardless of creed or ideology. Extrapolating that to the idea that the same process can generate novel cell types, tissue types, organs and body plans is illogical, simply because we do not know what kind of variations, and in what sequence, would be required to get the results we see. Rates are not good enough. Quality matters, not just quantity. Genomics is barely scratching the surface. I’m sure some interesting surprises lay ahead.

  11. 11
    JPCollado says:

    An example of an argument from incredulity perpetrated by darwinists is that of homologies not possibly originating from common design, despite the lack of evidence matching or linking all organisms to a common ancestor. Both inferences (common design and descent) are equally sensible and probable – absent the vantage point of seeing how exactly homologous structures actually emerged.

  12. 12
    bFast says:

    I have been patiently waiting for the neoDarwinists to make a vaguely credible case for RM+NS. The day they do, I may just need to switch camps. Alas, I am happily engaging in long-term construction projects in this camp.

  13. 13
    DonaldM says:

    I recommend to the readers, Hunter’s book, Science’s Blind Spot, for a nice treatment of this subject.

    Yes, that is a good book. More pertinent to my point, though, is Hunter’s (Cornelius G. Hunter for those who are interested) Darwin’s God. In that book he argues that Darwin’s conception has deeps roots in his concept of theology.

  14. 14
    DonaldM says:

    An example of an argument from incredulity perpetrated by darwinists is that of homologies not possibly originating from common design, despite the lack of evidence matching or linking all organisms to a common ancestor. Both inferences (common design and descent) are equally sensible and probable – absent the vantage point of seeing how exactly homologous structures actually emerged.

    What’s interesting about this argument, JP, is how it actually employed. Darwinists point to all these homologies as “overwhelming” evidence of common ancestry. But if it is suggested that common design might be just as good an explanation, the Darwinists resort to a reverse argument from incredulity along the lines of “are you really trying to suggest that God would have purposely designed [fill in the balnk]”?

    As a syllogism the argument goes something like:

    P1 – Organisms O-1 and O-2 share trait T
    P2 – No designer would have included trait T in 2 separate organisms

    Conclusion: Organisms O-1 and O-2 share a common ancestor.

    A pretty incredible argument don’t you think?

  15. 15
    Q says:

    DaveScot, I like your presentation of this issue. It is yet another source that illustrates that we should be investigating the nitty-gritty details of the actual probabilities that are relevent to ID.

    Some things, as you indicate, are so probable as to just be obvious that they can occur.

    Other things have been shown to be so improbable that it is obvious that they cannot occur. Cows birthing a chimp is a pretty good example.

    But, the devil is in the details. As you mentioned in the OP, “Likewise, is it possible that a bacteria can, through RM+NS, change into a baboon over a billion years and trillions of generations? Sure it’s possible …”
    Since the possibility that portions of the process are possible, the “incredulity” argument is quite weakened. Obviousness is lost. A more refined argument is needed to demonstrate that that which is possible actually becomes that which is not possible. In other words, incredulity has limits.

    (I wasn’t meaning to quote mine with the ellipses. The remainder of the quote is also relevant) The remainder of the quote is ” … but when you actually get down to assessing the sequence of changes that must have occurred, analyzing the probability in a finite number of years and a finite number of generations, using everything we know about the mutation and selection mechanism, it quickly becomes an incredible proposition.”
    Incredible, as in not credible, only if the integral of the discrete probabilities of those finite elements falls sufficiently below some level of “best argument.” That is the basic argument of Demski and Behe – not that things have a low probability, but instead that they have a probability below some threshold.

    ——-
    bfast in 12, said “I have been patiently waiting for the neoDarwinists to make a vaguely credible case for RM+NS.”

    DaveScot kind of did, inthe sense of “vaguely credible” with the suggestion that RM+NS is possible, even if highly unlikely.

  16. 16
    bFast says:

    Q:

    bfast in 12, said “I have been patiently waiting for the neoDarwinists to make a vaguely credible case for RM+NS.”

    DaveScot kind of did, inthe sense of “vaguely credible” with the suggestion that RM+NS is possible, even if highly unlikely.

    That term “vaguely credible” is a relative term. I am in control of the threshold of my “vaguely credible” statement. The fact that DaveScot would suggest that RM+NS is as vaguely credible as the possibility that a thrown ball would suddenly stop in mid air is, is a different category of “vaguely credible” than I am willing to accept to jump ship — a whole lot different.

  17. 17
    Patrick says:

    The way that most Darwinists reference “arguments from incredulity” seems to presume the only reason the person is making this argument is due to ignorance. ID proponents instead refer to the positive evidence and empirical thresholds derived from observations. So, Dave, the way you’re using this term is a bit different from the way Darwinists commonly use it.

  18. 18
    Q says:

    bFast in 16 said “That term “vaguely credible” is a relative term. I am in control of the threshold of my “vaguely credible” statement.”

    I don’t dispute your control over your statements, and apologize if it came across that way.

    I was suggesting an alternate usage, based upon the limits of the credibility of arguments, as suggested by ID. That is, Dr. Dembski’s explanatory filter, a basic element of ID, suggests an absolute threshold as to whether an argument is credible or not, and not simply a relative metric for credibility.

  19. 19
    Mapou says:

    From my vantage point, one of the most incredible aspects of evolution is that the species that have evolved the most (in terms of intelligence and behavioral sophistication) are the species that reproduce the least and vice versa. I would expect it to be the other way around. In other words, according to the ToE, the most advanced species must have have gone through many more mutations and selections than the least advanced species. This is not observed. Am I wrong in my assumption?

  20. 20
    bFast says:

    Mapou, interesting observation. Though the relationship between reproduction rate and evolutionary improvements is not perfect — trees reproduce much slower than we do, for instance, yet there is a profound truth in your observation.

    This gets back to Haldane’s dilemma. Haldane suggested that creatures with slow reproduction rates, especially those producing few offspring, should evolve very slowly — much more slowly than man has evolved from his common ancestor with the chimp.

    That said, this might invalidate the work on malaria that Behe reports in “The Edge of Evolution”. If real evolutionary advancement requires a slow reproduction rate, maybe we should be focusing on letting evolution produce intelligent trees.

  21. 21
    DaveScot says:

    Q

    You keep asking for more detailed probability analysis in regard to ID, I tell you where to find it, and then you ask again like I never answered. You’re getting close to being booted. For the last time, find and read:

    “Edge of Evolution” by Michael Behe
    “Genetic Entropy” by John Sanford

  22. 22
    Mapou says:

    Clarence wrote: “The question is, can the accumulated changes over billions of years lead to the complex organisms we see now and in the fossil record. So far, there has been nothing – not even in the mathematics – which suggests it couldn’t have happened.”

    Well, maybe it could, but billions of years are not enough. More like billions of billions of years. The physical universe is not old enough, not even close.

    As a software engineer, I can tell you that rumors about their power have been greatly exaggerated, even in limited domains. One of their problems is that they cannot anticipate changes in their environment and more often than not, an entire population just perishes before it can adapt. The programmer ends up doing the anticipation by incorporating properties that presuppose future changes.

  23. 23
    Mapou says:

    I wrote “As a software engineer, I can tell you that rumors about their power have been greatly exaggerated, even in limited domains.”

    Correction: “As a software engineer, I’ve played with genetic algorithms and I can tell you that rumors about their power have been greatly exaggerated, even in limited domains.

    Sorry.

  24. 24
    Q says:

    DaveScot, 21, said “For the last time, find and read:

    “Edge of Evolution” by Michael Behe
    “Genetic Entropy” by John Sanford”

    I have, and more.

    We have a thread about quantum mechanics. That field is all about quantifying probabilities of natural events, albeit small events from which larger things are formed. Suggesting that probabilities be studied in that thread seems reasonable.

    This is a thread about incredulity – i.e. that which is not credible. My point is that ID posits a clear line about what is a credible argument or not, as Dr’s Behe and Demski have suggested. Those arguments suggest that claiming credible and incredible are valid, if the claims are obvious. But I’m saying not everything is obvious. Especially, as DaveScot mentioned, since with parts of the problem the answer is “(s)ure it’s possible” even if “it quickly becomes an incredible proposition”. I read that as suggesting to not throw out all of the bathwater, but maybe some parts will quantitatively be found to be a reasonable explanation.

    We have a thread about falsification. That again is a place that discussing various claims which are built around probabilities can be fruitful. Especially, since specific probabilistic claims are the backbone of ID.

    We may be disagreeing on what is obvious and what is not – i.e what is clearly filtered out as a good explanation.

    Even so, shouldn’t it be a constant in these arguments that ID doesn’t simply say improbable things can’t have happened, as some seem to be posting? Instead, at least as I read it, it says that explanations that depend on probablities that are too small aren’t valid explanations. Similarly, I read it as meaning that explanations that depend on probabilities that are large enough don’t automatically get filtered, even if they aren’t intuitively right.

    Or, maybe I just didn’t understand the right parts of the material you’ve suggested.

  25. 25
    Berceuse says:

    Like many others here, I have often seen evolutionists resort to the “argument from incredulity” defense, or in other words, “God of the Gaps,” and I’m glad it’s been addressed so well in this post.

    But there’s another issue I have with the “God of the Gaps” battlecry. The defense stems from the belief that we should presuppose naturalism unless evidence says otherwise. But isn’t that choice entirely arbitrary? Is it not equally valid for me to presuppose ID and say “evolution of the gaps” in the face of counter-evidence? Playing the argument from incredulity card suggests bias (which is no surprise). What people need to do is look at the evidence objectively, and then ask themselves “which is more likely?”

    I’m sorry if this has been brought up already; I didn’t read all the posts.

  26. 26
    JPCollado says:

    Bob Maurus wrote:

    “Drs. Dembski, Behe, and other ID spokespersons do seem to be appealing to the gullibility of their audience of Believers.”

    Mr. Maurus,

    It is all just a matter of terminology and perspective. What about those who are skeptical of darwinian claims? Would you be willing to equate skepticism with gullibility in this instance?

    On the same token, using your euphemism, one could also say that Dawkins and other darwinian spokespersons seem to be appealing to the gullibility of their audience of “Believers.”

    Nothing much is really being said.

  27. 27
    JPCollado says:

    Donald wrote:

    P1 – Organisms O-1 and O-2 share trait T
    P2 – No designer would have included trait T in 2 separate organisms

    Conclusion: Organisms O-1 and O-2 share a common ancestor.

    A pretty incredible argument don’t you think?

    Not only incredible, but hypocritical as well, since P2 invites philosophical scrutiny, something that IDers are always accused of only doing.

  28. 28
    Mapou says:

    I have read in several places that the late great computer pioneer and mathematician John Von Neuman thought that Darwinian evolution (as opposed to designed evolution) lacked credibility. Is that true? Does anybody have a reference to this?

  29. 29
    CN says:

    Berceuse: your questions is actually dealing with a well developed philosophical position called “reformed epistemology”. Check the book “5 views on apologetics” or Alvin Plantinga or a recent http://www.apologetics.com podcast where they compare and contrast the various apologetics methodologies.

  30. 30
    toc says:

    Bob Maurus

    “Drs. Dembski, Behe, and other ID spokespersons do seem to be appealing to the gullibility of their audience of Believers”.

    Now that is a presumptuous assertion. Do you have evidence of this or are you simply relying on a prejudicial habit?

    Not everyone is a biologist ( I am a database developer/systems analyst), but good old-fashioned Aristotelean logic stands the test of time. From what I have read from the pens of Drs. Dembski, Behe, Granville (on this blog), Denton, and several others, their coherent and logical arguments formidably support their positions.

    Respectfully, it would be helpful to those of us who frequently read this blog to know why you have come to the conclusion that those of us who find ID an attractive theory of origins gullible. Personally, I have never recognized myself to be what Eric Hoffer pejoratively described as one of the “True Believers.” You could prove me wrong. I, and most likely others who read this blog, would be willing to consider your arguments carefully.

  31. 31
    DonaldM says:

    JP

    Donald wrote:

    P1 – Organisms O-1 and O-2 share trait T
    P2 – No designer would have included trait T in 2 separate organisms

    Conclusion: Organisms O-1 and O-2 share a common ancestor.

    A pretty incredible argument don’t you think?

    Not only incredible, but hypocritical as well, since P2 invites philosophical scrutiny, something that IDers are always accused of only doing.

    Exactly. What’s a theological premise doing in what is supposed to be a purely scientific argument. But that is precisely what every version of “God wouldn’t have done it that way” is. It is a total argument from incredulity.

    Incidentally, this line of argument doesn’t get any better, even if re-formulated to avoid the theological premise as a valid deductive argument.

    P1 – Organisms that share trait T could only do so if they share a common ancestor
    P2- O1 and O2 share trait T

    Therefore, O1 and O2 share a common ancestor.

    The argument is deductively valid given that if both premises are true, then the conclusion follows.
    The problem is how to demonstrate the validity of P1 without getting right back into the theological premise. Its a sticky wicket for Darwinists to try and use this line of reasoning.

  32. 32
    mike1962 says:

    “P2 – No designer would have included trait T in 2 separate organisms”

    Theology in a cheap tuxedo. 🙂

  33. 33
    DonaldM says:

    “P2 – No designer would have included trait T in 2 separate organisms”

    Theology in a cheap tuxedo.

    Love it!!

  34. 34

    […] doing any actual science. But if DaveScot’s blathering on his own blog wasn’t enough, now he’s gift-wrapped a gift to us Evilutionists: We often hear that ID is an argument from incredulity. At this point I would tend to agree. That […]

    Perfect. The respondent offers a rebuttal based on his own argument from incredulity – he finds the existence of a designing intelligence incredible. My irony meter just exploded. The difference of course is that we know intelligent agents exist in reality – we are the known instance – therefore we know intelligent agency is not just theoretically possible but it actually happened at least once. What we don’t know for sure is whether the mythical ability of chance and necessity to create novel cell types, tissue types, organs, and body plans ever happened in even one instance. -ds

  35. 35
    bFast says:

    toc, “Not everyone is a biologist ( I am a database developer/systems analyst)” You are in good company on this site. I think half of us are, by trade, software developers of some sort.

    “good old-fashioned Aristotelean logic stands the test of time.” I think that’s how we all feel.

    “From what I have read from the pens of Drs. Dembski, Behe, Granville (on this blog), Denton, and several others, their coherent and logical arguments formidably support their positions.” You took the words right out of my mouth.

    I think we should start a “computer scientists who reject Darwin” list.

  36. 36
    bFast says:

    Bob Marcus:

    Drs. Dembski, Behe, and other ID spokespersons do seem to be appealing to the gullibility of their audience of Believers.

    As per toc #32, just give us the facts, show us with good Aristotelean logic where Dembski, Behe etc, are full of it, and we’ll happily jump ship. Just demonstrate to a simple country programmer how on earth a little random mutzin’ with the code, and a little keepin’ the good and throwin’ out the bad can produce a software application that’s half the size of Microsoft Windows, and capable of producing Unix from scratch.

  37. 37
    ellazimm says:

    Berceuse (#27) wrote: But there’s another issue I have with the “God of the Gaps” battlecry. The defense stems from the belief that we should presuppose naturalism unless evidence says otherwise. But isn’t that choice entirely arbitrary? Is it not equally valid for me to presuppose ID and say “evolution of the gaps” in the face of counter-evidence?

    I would think Dawkins, et al would say that the physical evidence supports their view and that the assumption of an intelligent designer implies a great many other assumptions for which there is no supporting physical evidence. But I think you already knew that!

  38. 38
    DaveScot says:

    Patrick

    re; my definition of argument from incredulity not the same as Darwinist’s

    That’s probably true. An argument from incredulity is not usually included in definitive lists of logical fallacies. If the chance worshippers are conflating it with argument from ignorance or appeal to ignorance then it’s certainly not the same. I’m using the definition of “incredible” which is, from Meriam Webster,

    too extraordinary and improbable to be believed

    The operative word is “improbable” and I think I made that clear in the posting that was the basis of our position.

    There might be some pedantic arguments to made that incredulity and incredible are not closely related. Meriam has this to say:

    Main Entry: in·cred·u·lous
    Function: adjective

    1 : unwilling to admit or accept what is offered as true : not credulous : skeptical

    2 : incredible

    3 : expressing incredulity

    usage Sense 2 was revived in the 20th century after a couple of centuries of disuse. Although it is a sense with good literary precedent—among others Shakespeare used it—many people think it is a result of confusion with incredible, which is still the usual word in this sense.

    Englishplus.com has this to say:

    Incredible or Incredulous?

    Incredible means “hard to believe,” literally “not able to be believed.”

    Incredulous means “skeptical” or “unbelieving.” It refers to a person’s response.

    The noun form of incredulous is incredulity. The opposite is credulous, or “gullible, believes anything.”

    Examples: Kim’s story was incredible.

    Arthur was incredulous as he listened to the story.

    The RM+NS story is incredible and I am indeed incredulous as I listen to it.

  39. 39
    DaveScot says:

    Q

    You seem to be complaining that not enough focus on statistical probability is being done by ID pundits. The recent works I mentioned by Behe and Sanford are overflowing with statistical analysis of data drawn from their fields of expertise which are biochemistry and genetics respectively.

    If you’ve read those what deficiencies do you find that inspires you to say in effect that not enough work is being done in statistical analysis? If I’m mistakenly inferring things you didn’t mean to imply in this regard I offer my apology. There are an overabundance of ID critics who don’t bother to read the relevant literature before criticizing it so I’m a bit quick on the trigger when I think one is spouting off here.

  40. 40
    DaveScot says:

    Berceuse

    re; evolution of the gaps

    I call it “Darwin of the Gaps” since I believe in evolution defined as descent with modification from common ancestors. The mechanism that caused the modification is where I part from the neo-Darwinian bandwagon.

  41. 41
    DaveScot says:

    Donald

    Behe explains he believes in common descent in large part because of retrovirus markers that are shared between species. These aren’t really common traits as they’re mere remnants of retrovirus infections in some remote ancestor – non-functional in any way and in various states of decay from getting peppered with random mutations. I agree with Behe. There’s no reasonable explanation for this except for common ancestry. If common design is the explanation then the designer evidently lifted the genetic template for new species directly from an existing species including all the dents and dings the template genome suffered during its existence. There’s no practical or discernable difference at all between common descent and common design.

  42. 42
    duncan says:

    Darwinists aren’t convinced by this because the real step you have to take in order to accept ID is the one that allows for NON-MATERIAL forces to be a factor i.e. a designer. However unlikely something may be, a Darwinist will always conclude that a designer is more unlikely.

    When the issue is ‘possibility’, not ‘probability’ you’re always giving a Darwinist a get-out clause if your position is oxymoronic i.e. ‘x is possible (see DaveScot’s original post, penultimate paragraph), but it’s so unlikely that we’re now going to contradict ourselves and conclude that actually it’s not possible’.

    ID needs to show that a designer designing is more than a conceptualisation.

  43. 43
    kairosfocus says:

    Dave:

    Spot on in the OP!

    I got an energy policy to begin to seriously write and I got my own blog to mind . . .

    GEM of TKI

  44. 44
    jerry says:

    This is off topic but has some relevance since scientists claim some incredulity has been breached.

    There is an article at Science Daily which claims that a missing link for the RNA world to protein construction has been found.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....142555.htm

    I have no idea of what significance this is but maybe those with better biochemistry skills may have an opinion. It does not explain where the RNA came from. Here is the opening quote

    “By studying the three-dimensional version of the fungus protein bound to an RNA molecule, scientists from Purdue University and the University of Texas at Austin have been able to visualize how life progressed from an early self-replicating molecule that also performed chemical reactions to one in which proteins assumed some of the work.”

  45. 45
    bFast says:

    Jerry, let me put this finding into the context — as I understand it.

    The RNA world hypothesis is seen as the great OOL savior. The presumption is that life started as simple RNA replicating molecules. Some success has actually been made in producing replicating RNA, albiet the amount of success seems to be significantly exaggerated by the scientific community and the press.

    In any case, if replicating RNA once existed, we still need a path to the present day where RNA primarily plays an intermediate role, where DNA stores the data for the long term, and proteins primarily do the work. Somehow two transitions must have been made, a transition from RNA to RNA + Protein and a transition from RNA to DNA + RNA.

    This particular finding, a real-world example of some RNA “doing the work”, and a protein assisting. As such it is seen as an intermediate form between the RNA world and the RNA + protein world. However, it still leaves wide open the chicken and egg question — if RNA world, then some mechanism (RNA or protein) must take the pattern held in RNA and convert it to protein. I do not believe that an RNA molecule that actually “does the work” would directly translate to protein. So in addition to some mechanism being needed to make the protein, some reasonable pattern must be used to make that protein. So which came first, a mechanism to create protein or a valid pattern to make protein from?

    OOL remains to be a grand mystery to science.

  46. 46
    Q says:

    DaveScot, in 39, asks “If you’ve read those what deficiencies do you find that inspires you to say in effect that not enough work is being done in statistical analysis?”

    Thanks for the opportunity to answer that question. I’ll try to avoid preparing a dissertation 🙂

    One concern I have is that the debates about ID often look at only extreme cases. That is, they seem to be of the form “this can’t have happened without involvement of intelligence” or simply “that is so unlikely that it can’t happen”. That I argue, is too simple of an analysis, because it avoids basic tenets of ID. Dr. Dembski, if I read his work correctly, built an explanatory filter with probabilities forming the backbone. As I understand his position, he attaches an estimate of a probability: 10 ^ 120 for specified complexity. My concern is that discussions about ID seem to ignore that it is built around probabilities and not simple absolutes.

    The dispute is not about things that are wildly improbable, which the tornado in a junkyard arguments bring up. Those are simple combinatorial arguments, with factorials of huge numbers, so it is easy to see that they are outside of the probability of specified complexity. Likewise, other highly probable events are so far to the side of being explained as regular, like BarryA’s example of a falling hammer, that they are also not in dispute. The less-understood middle ground is different, however.

    What I am suggesting is that unlikely events don’t automatically have the best explanation of “Design”. I’ve seen several arguments which are built like that. The argument would only apply if the probability is sufficiently low, like 1 in 10 ^ 140. But, some events, like the probability of a beneficial mutation in specific environments, may have a probability on the other side of the design limit, like having a probability of 1 in 10 ^ 20 (making up numbers). Bantering about the unlikelyhood, or inferring from other studies with different controls, is insufficient, I’ve been holding. At the minimum, arguments about the evidence must be qualified based upon the uncertainty of the probabilities implied by evidence.

    Which leads to the next point. I agree with your major points about incredulity – when compared to the probabilitistic thresholds of ID those arguments are only about the left and right ends of a probability curve. But, I’m suggestng they don’t address the middle ground of ignorance. Some events may, or may not, fall on the random side of the explanatory filter, and not be best explained as requiring intelligent agency. In fact, as more studies are peformed, and the understanding of events changes, people who use ID must be willing to accept that the best explanation for some arguments will change over time. Dogmatism is not needed, because ID, as it is being developed, should be quantifiable and measurable in terms of probabilities.

  47. 47
    bFast says:

    Q, I think that the middle ground has been covered quite nicely in Behe’s “Edge of Evolution”. Behe contends that even very “middle-ground” events are outside the reach of RM+NS. When an experiment that involves more replications than there have ever been mammals on the face of the planet, we can be pretty sure that the edge of chance has been determined — and chance has proven to be inept.

    We can look at the extreme of probability — 10^120+, or we can observe much less proable events. However, as RM+NS presents an absolute solution, a solution to “all” cases, then any case that is outside of its reach falsifies such universality, therefore it is fully valid to look at the extremes.

    That said, my favorite little mutation is the HAR1F gene. It is rock-consistant for all mammals (at least) except humans, where 18 mutations have produced a modified three-dimentional form. The modified form seems to require all 18 mutations to have occurred simultaneously, and seem to be involved in the advance in intelligence of the human. This is surely a “middle ground” mutational challenge. Yet this challenge is clearly beyond the edge of evolution if the malaria experiment is valid.

  48. 48
    Q says:

    bfast, in 47, points out “However, as RM+NS presents an absolute solution, a solution to “all” cases, then any case that is outside of its reach falsifies such universality, therefore it is fully valid to look at the extremes.”

    Similarly, RM+NS may be the better explanation in specific situations, if the likelyhood is high enough. One example is possibly the cave fish from another thread – the probability of the necessary mutations hasn’t yet been shown. As I’m suggesting, some situations may have probabilities on the likely side of the threshold probability, while other situations may be on the unlikely side. Assertions can’t sufficiently discriminate. Likewise, examining the extremes sheds insufficient light on the variety of possibilities.

    A simple refuation of the extreme cases is not a universal refutation, since there is a specific threshold condition against which each of the comparisons are to be made. (I’ll agree, however, that specific exceptions will refute the univisersality of a claim, but that is different than my point.)

  49. 49
    bFast says:

    Q, it sounds to me like you would like a lot of research to go into the question of where the edge of evolution is. I would agree that, though Behe brings up the topic, he far from exhausts the question. Alas, it opens up huge vistas of valid ID research. I too would love to see a “this is natural” v. “this is designed” map of the genome.

  50. 50
    Q says:

    bfast: “Alas, it opens up huge vistas of valid ID research.”

    Thanks, bFast! I feel understood 🙂

  51. 51
    Clarence says:

    Whoops, submitted too early! Continuing from (51):

    GilDodgen (7), you wrote:

    “I like Phillip Johnson’s comment about the claim that large improbabilities can be overcome by breaking them down into many smaller, manageable improbabilities (the central claim in support of the Darwinian macroevolutionary mechanism). Johnson observes that this claim amounts to suggesting that although it might be highly improbable that you will win the million-dollar lottery, this can be overcome by winning the thousand-dollar lottery a thousand times.”

    I’m not sure what Johnson is saying here, but I think the apparent sceptical tone about overcoming large improbablilities by breaking them down into smaller ones is grossly wrong. Today I dealt a pack of cards as follows (S=spades, C=clubs, H=hearts, D=diamonds):
    6D, 8H, JC, 8S, 5H, KD, 3D, 5S, 3S, 6S, JD, 7D, 10H, 9C, 7S, 9D, 1S, 2C, QD, 4C, 2D, 7C, 5D, 3H, JS, 10D, 2S, 1D, 7H, 2H, 8C, 4S, 9H, 8D, QC, 1H, 5C, QS, QH, 1C, 6C, KS, KC, 6H, 1S, 4H, JH, 10C, KH, 3C, 9S, 10S.

    The chances of my dealing the 6 of diamonds first was 1 in 52. Having done that, the chances of dealing 8 of hearts next was 1 in 51. Having done that, the chances of dealing the Jack of clubs next was 1 in 50.

    Relatively small odd (although I wouldn’t bet on a horse with those odds!). Yet the chances of drawing that precise sequence of 52 cards (or indeed ANY precise sequence of 52 cards) is of the order of 10 to the power of 68! Which is absolutely HUGE.

    Perhaps Philip Johnson would like to think again…

  52. 52
    DaveScot says:

    Clarence

    Good example of complexity with the deck of cards. But what we’re really looking for is specified complexity. Your example is not specified so now lets add specification and see what happens. We’ll use the order you gave as the specification. Try getting the cards to come out in that same order again without cheating or planning of any kind.

  53. 53
    Clarence says:

    DaveScot,

    Thanks for the reply. Actually, the example I gave IS one where the complexity is specified – i.e. the chances of dealing the specific card 6 of diamonds first is 1 in 52; and the chance of dealing the specific sequence 6 of diamonds… 10 of spades is 1 chance in 10 to the power of 68 (actually, 8×10^67).

    The non-specific complexity is 1 chance in 1 (i.e. if you deal one card you are bound to get one card; and if you deal 52 cards you are bound to get a sequence of 52 cards); it’s just that you can’t say what the first card acually will be (i.e. it’s not specified) or what the actual sequence will be (that isn’t specified either).

    The analogy with biology is this (I think): given that life originates, and is capable of replication based on a replicating molecule such as DNA, then provided it doesn’t become extinct you are bound to have a variable genome after a certain period of time, simply because replication of such molecules is imperfect. So after, say, 4 billion years the probability of there being a variety of organisms with different genomes is essentially 1 (i.e. 1 chance in 1) – simply because life survived through all that time – just like if you deal a deck of cards then you are certain to get a sequence of cards. But the chances of deciding AT THE OUTSET what those organisms will be is virtually impossible to predict, just as it would have been virtually impossible to predict that I dealt the specific sequence 6 of diamonds…10 of spades earlier.

    In other words, provided life survived this long then it is not at all unusual for us to have the biological plethora we do have – it is just one of a huge number of possible biological plethora (plethoras?), it just happens to be this one.

  54. 54
    Clarence says:

    Dave Scot,

    It looks as if you moderated-out my earlier, incorrect e-mail (the original (51) – thanks for doing so.

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