Intelligent Design

Dr. Torley Replies to Dr. Barr

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Below Dr. Dembski replies to Dr. Barr over at First Things.  Dr. Torley has also posted an excellent rebuttal at FT that I reproduce here: 

Professor Barr, 

With the greatest respect, you are sadly mistaken about ID, and about design arguments in general. I have a Ph.D. in philosophy, and I’ve been following the ID movement closely for a few years now. I’m neither a young-earth nor an old-earth creationist; I’m quite happy to accept common descent, although I would not be at all perturbed if it were proved false. The way I see it, there are at least five good design arguments for the existence of God. All of them are probabilistic, all of them use abductive reasoning (appealing to the best-known explanation of an observed fact), and all of them are scientifically falsifiable.  As we shall see, ID design arguments are not particularly different from the others.  Let’s summarize the design arguments briefly.

 1. The laws of physics, and the theory underlying them, manifest an extraordinary degree of beauty, elegance, harmony, and ingenuity, from a mathematical perspective.  This elegance is an unexpected bonus, even in a life-friendly cosmos such as our own.  For even if the forces of nature were finely-tuned, nothing would necessitate the laws underlying them hanging together in a mathematically elegant way, which even our best scientific minds marvel at.  The underlying mathematical beauty of the cosmos is extremely improbable, on the face of it, as the ugly, unaesthetic theories that could serve to underlie Nature vastly outnumber the mathematically elegant ones.  But if the cosmos is the work of a Divine Mind, mathematical elegance is precisely what we would expect to find. Moreover, Mind is the only thing we know that creates beauty. See “Universe or Multiverse? A Theistic Perspective” by Robin Collins, especially part 6. 

2. The constants of Nature in our universe appear to be fine-tuned for life to emerge.  The odds of these constants having the values which would permit life to emerge are vanishingly small.  Nor does it help to posit a multiverse which churns out many universes, of which ours happens to be the lucky one; for the multiverse would have to possess certain unique physical properties in order to be able to churn out anything at all.  Once again, the odds of a multiverse possessing these properties are vanishingly low, on the face of it; but if the cosmos was designed for life, this is what we should expect.  Moreover, Mind is the only thing we know that creates things according to a plan.  See “The Fine-Tuning Design Argument” by Robin Collins. 

3. The DNA code appears to possess certain properties which make it an ideal carrier of genetic information.  It is unexpectedly robust, and extremely resilient against minor copying errors, which makes it ideal from an evolutionary perspective.  Additionally, the genetic coding found in DNA is unbelievably efficient and compact.  DNA information is overlapping, multi-layered and multi-dimensional; it reads both backwards and forwards.  Even our best computer scientists can’t write code like this.  Once again, the antecedent probability that the molecule embodying the genetic code of living organisms should possess these properties is extremely low; but if a Divine Mind wrote the original program code for DNA, we would expect it to be both efficient and resilient.  Moreover, Mind is the only thing we know that can write efficient codes. See “Astonishing Complexity of DNA Demolishes Neo-Darwinism” by Alex Williams.

 4. Even the simplest viable living things found on Earth contain about 250 kinds of proteins, each of which contains a large amount of highly specific information relating to their particular function.  Proteins are made up of sequences of amino acids (usually at least 150); yet the vast majority of amino acid sequences that could occur are incapable of folding up properly, and hence incapable of doing anything useful.  Even given billions of years, the odds of Nature generating even one amino acid sequence that can perform any kind of useful function are astronomically low, and the odds of generating a simple cell with 250 useful proteins are infinitesimal.  One could hypothesize the existence of as-yet undiscovered bio-friendly laws that make life’s emergence more probable; yet there would have to be a large number of these laws, to create a “magic pathway” leading to life, and they would have to be very specific (i.e. information-rich). Once again, this is not what one would expect, unless the laws of Nature were designed for life.  Moreover, Mind is the only thing we know that creates specified information. See “Intelligent Design: Required by Biological Life?” by Kalinsky, K. D.

 5. Cells contain a large number of structures whose functionality depends on all their constituents being in place.  In some cases, scientists can identify parts of these structures that still perform some useful function; yet the likelihood that these structures were built up one part at a time, on a step-by-step basis, appears to be vanishingly low, as most of the steps along the way would have conferred no evolutionary benefit whatsoever.  For instance, the bacterial flagellum has about 30 vital parts; a biologically useful 10-part subcomponent of the flagellum has been identified, but getting from 10 to 30 is still a huge jump.  There may be unknown “magic pathways” that take us there, for each and every one of these “irreducibly complex” structures; yet even the most careful examination of these structures has yielded no hints of such bounty from “Mother Nature.”  One would not expect to find such “magic pathways,” unless the very warp and woof of the evolutionary process was designed by God to pave the way for the emergence of complex life. Moreover, Mind is the only thing we know that creates specified complexity. See “Irreducible Complexity Revisited” by William Dembski.

 Arguments 4 and 5 are ID arguments; some might say argument 3 is, as well.  Note that arguments 3, 4 and 5 do not require Deus ex machina interventions.  That’s a cheap anti-ID canard.  ID proponents really don’t care how God made the world; what matters is that He did it.

 Note too that all of these arguments are falsifiable.  Consider E8, the most elegant and intricate shape in mathematics.  Some physicists are trying to build a “Theory of Everything” which incorporates this structure.  If the universe is the work of a Divine Mind, I’d certainly expect it to instantiate the most beautiful possible geometry.  But that expectation could be dashed, which would falsify the first argument.  Likewise, skeptical physicists like Victor Stenger have argued that the universe is not as finely-tuned as we imagine, and that life could emerge in universes with constants with values utterly different from those in ours.  If Stenger is right, then the second design argument is falsified.  Again, DNA looks pretty optimal, as a carrier of genetic information, but if scientists manage to design a better carrier, or show that alternative, less efficient carriers would have been weeded out almost immediately, then that undermines the third argument.  Likewise, a demonstration that chance, coupled with the KNOWN laws of chemistry, would have been sufficient to generate the DNA, RNA and proteins that we find in simple cells, AND bring them together in the right way to make a cell, would destroy the fourth argument.  Finally, the discovery of very smooth incremental pathways which could account for “irreducibly complex” structures without the need for any unusual biochemistry or odd-looking fitness functions, would dramatically undercut the fifth argument.

 Science does not have to “fail” for ID to be true. All science has to do, for ID to succeed, is reveal the antecedent improbabilities of life arising and of irreducibly complex structures emerging.  ID would not be threatened by the discovery that Nature contains a hidden bias toward life, so long as this built-in bias is “surprising,” from a scientific standpoint (i.e. wholly unexpected, based on a priori considerations).

 Certain readers on [the First Things] thread have expressed a dislike for creationism and/or ID, because of the evil found in the natural world. If they think evil is part of God’s created order, they should read David B. Hart’s article “Tsunami and Theodicy” . If they think that Christianity can be squared with “God-made-it-look-random theistic evolution” (as opposed to the “God-guided-it-and-you-can-see-where evolution” I espouse), then they might like to read David Anderson’s response to Dr. Denis Alexander (especially chapters 11 to 15). Finally, if they are looking for a theodicy which accounts for the evil found in the natural world, then I would warmly recommend “The End of Christianity” by Dr. William Dembski, which makes a strong case that natural evil could still be the result of sin, even in a very old, evolving world where evil pre-dates human sin.  I should add that if you want to account for evil in the natural world, then like it or not, you’re going to have to invoke malevolent intelligent agents (a.k.a demons) interfering with God’s original plans, and you’ll need a Fall too.  And if that freaks some readers out, they should ask themselves: “Am I letting science dictate my religious beliefs?” Once you start doing that, there’s no stopping.

 There’s one teleological argument I haven’t discussed yet.  The real outlier among the teleological arguments for the existence of God is St. Thomas Aquinas’ Fifth Way, which is not a design argument at all. The Fifth Way might be better described as an argument from normativity, as it takes as its starting point the simple fact that objects in the world possess causal powers, which implies that when they exercise these powers, they act as they should – in other words, despite being devoid of intelligence, they conform to norms and exhibit what philosophers call intentionality.  Aquinas argues that the directedness of objects can only be explained by positing a Divine Mind.  This is an argument that I find very persuasive, but it relies on certain metaphysical premises which some atheists might reject.  Design arguments simply rely on mathematics and science; the metaphysics is relatively non-controversial. Probability theory, combined with abductive inference, is what takes us to God with design arguments.

 Professor Barr is terrified of another Galileo case.  I’m not.  We’re uncovering layer upon layer of wholly unexpected complexity in life and the cosmos, whose existence we never even suspected a generation ago.  And if scoffers want to call this “God-of-the-gaps” reasoning, that’s fine by me.  The gaps are GROWING, NOT shrinking. But what really terrifies me is the prospect of the next generation of children being brainwashed by the “politically correct” scientific establishment to believe that the emergence of the cosmos, life and intelligence as a result of natural processes was no big surprise, and that it was bound to happen sooner or later anyway. That’s what they’re being exposed to now, in our schools.  And if you ask these children ten years from now if they believe in God, they’ll look at you with an incredulous stare and utter the words of Laplace: “I have no need of that hypothesis.” Now THAT scares me.

28 Replies to “Dr. Torley Replies to Dr. Barr

  1. 1
    StephenB says:

    This is a first class response in every way.

  2. 2
    Nakashima says:

    Mr Arrington,

    Thank you for making this a post here at UD. For those of us who prefer UD as a venue for comment, it is very helpful.

  3. 3
    Nakashima says:

    Dr Torley,

    Congratulations on a well written response to Dr Barr’s position. However, I must say that I see the probabilities of an unexpected answer to these arguments as low.

    I see in your first argument a position similar to that espoused by Dr Barr, evidence of design from regularity, not exceptionalism. While I agree that simple laws lead to a smooth and simple univese, the observation of which can lead back to the simple laws, I’m not sure I agree with your assumption that arbitrarily complicated laws can also lead to a universe supporting life.

    You could argue that it would be possible to add 24000 trivial constants and forces to our universe and call it in-elegant, but that does more to undercut your argument. There was more elegance and simplicity to theories of everything when they contained only Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. Dark matter, dark energy, a reintroduced cosmological constant – this is not the path of elegance. The materialist who thinks our intuition of elegance evolved in a limited regime of physical experience (compared to the whole universe) would not be surprised if that intuition failed to be helpful at the extremes. Quantum mechanics is not intuitive.

    You acknowledge that Stenger’s work undercuts the fine-tuning argument. We’ll have to see where that goes. The next step would be to model whether stars in these other parameter settings would ever cook hydrogen into the elements up to iron, and whether they would explode to create the rest. Without that, you would be back to a fine tuned universe, but the Anthropic Principle would have forced you there.

    On DNA, I sense a little conflation of the properties of the molecule with the whole modern copying system. Is DNA optimal? What if DNA only used G and C instead of G,C,A, and T? What if it added S and V? Why doesn’t the copying machinery use a checksum? I’ve never seen an argument from the wonder of DNA address these relatively simple variations.

    In argument 4, I think you are back into “tornado” territory. ‘Nuf said.

    Argument 5 is addressed by Shapiro’s insights on HGT, endosymbiosis, whole genome duplication, viral infection etc. producing large functional leaps. 30 isn’t a huge leap from 10 if you allow doublings.

    I hope we all live long enough to see science work through whether any of this is “surprising”! All the best to you.

  4. 4
    Clive Hayden says:

    Nakashima,

    “The materialist who thinks our intuition of elegance evolved in a limited regime of physical experience (compared to the whole universe) would not be surprised if that intuition failed to be helpful at the extremes.”

    But of course their lack of surprise is also a result of evolution by your system. If the intuition failed as a result of evolution, why trust it with what it provides you with surprise? Or for that matter for what it provides you for the ability of determining that the evolved intuition has failed? If evolutionary cognition in one part (intuition) admittedly breaks down, why trust it in any other? How can you get out of the circle of evolution being the cause of all thought limits and fallacies and at the same time be the true judge (as if it were always trustworthy) of what constitutes as fallacies? How do you escape the circle and determine anything apart from whatever it has provided you? How can the judge also be on trial and still get a valid verdict?

  5. 5
    Nakashima says:

    Mr Hayden,

    But of course their lack of surprise is also a result of evolution by your system.

    No, its the result of thinking. Evolution doesn’t determine our thoughts, even if it makes thinking about some things (11 dimensional spacetime) harder than others (does she like me?).

    How can you get out of the circle of evolution being the cause of all thought limits and fallacies and at the same time be the true judge (as if it were always trustworthy) of what constitutes as fallacies?

    I don’t think that evolution is an arbiter of what is a fallacy, in this case a fallacy of perception. If I am tricked by an optical illusion, or a bird flies into a glass window, it is the real world that is the arbiter. I might set down the cause of those failures as evolution not equipping me with the visual wiring to not be fooled (same with the bird), but the arbiter was the reality outside my head (or the bird’s head)

    If we look at a photo of stars taken by the Hubble space telescope, it is impossible for us to judge which stars are actually close to each other. We might guess based on our intuition that color or brightness or closeness in the photo is a good indicator of closeness in the world, and we’d be wrong, because our intuition wasn’t formed to handle astronomical distances.

    How can the judge also be on trial and still get a valid verdict?

    An excellent question for all scientific pursuits. Science is using one part of the universe to measure another part of the same universe. Its like I have one of those cloth rulers and I’m trying to use it to measure how long it is itself! 😉 It is a real problem for some kinds of very careful measurements. How do you detect some rare radioactive decay in a sample when the material of the instrument might be decaying instead of the sample?

    These are legitimate questions and when scientists get odd results they go looking for issues like this. It is a good reason to insist on replicating the results in another lab. It is a good reason for designing double blind studies and experiments buried in salt mines, to wring out these effects in advance.

    Are there kinds of thoughts where evolution has not equipped us well? Where we are left with a cloth untrue, a twisted cue, and elliptical billiard balls? Yes, I’m pretty sure that thinking about some kinds of abstractions is like using a hammer as a can opener. It might work but the results are messy.

    Our thoughts have created a world for which evolution has not prepared us. We build complicated, but inanimate objects, then impute agency to them. My new car was giving me problems until I brought in to the shop, then it worked perfectly. I should have known it would be on its best behavior for someone else!

  6. 6
    Zach Bailey says:

    Clive Hayden asks:

    How can the judge also be on trial and still get a valid verdict?

    Most excellent point, Clive.

  7. 7
    Seversky says:

    But what really terrifies me is the prospect of the next generation of children being brainwashed by the “politically correct” scientific establishment to believe that the emergence of the cosmos, life and intelligence as a result of natural processes was no big surprise, and that it was bound to happen sooner or later anyway. That’s what they’re being exposed to now, in our schools.

    Really? Do you have any examples of this?

    My understanding is that, apart from a great deal of speculation, cosmologists have no real idea of how or why the Universe came began, the same for biologists and the origin of life and intelligence. If children really are being taught anything else then they are indeed being misled.

    What terrifies me, on the other hand, is how easily children – and adults – could be brainwashed by a charismatic pastor in to believing that the Christian answer to such “political correctness” is to pray nightly for the death of President Obama. How long do you think it will be before one of those believers decides not to stop at just praying?

    And if you ask these children ten years from now if they believe in God, they’ll look at you with an incredulous stare and utter the words of Laplace: “I have no need of that hypothesis.” Now THAT scares me.

    I find that a truly extraordinary comment from a trained philosopher.

    Yes, if the child were just parroting the line he or she had heard from an adult but would that be any worse than children being taught some of the more appalling passages from the Old Testament, such as the global cleansing power of floodwaters?

    But what if this Young Laplacean responded in that way to your question because they had considered the various arguments for and against God and come to the same conclusion as the Marquis himself? how would that be a problem? How could someone who is trained in reason possibly object to a child exercising the same skills?

  8. 8
    Muramasa says:

    Dr. Torley states: “ID proponents really don’t care how God made the world; what matters is that He did it.”

    From Uncommon Descent’s “Frequently raised but weak arguments against Intelligent Design” (#22): Intelligent design theory seeks only to determine whether or not an object was designed. Since it studies only the empirically evident effects of design, it cannot directly detect the identity of the designer; much less, can it detect the identity of the “designer’s designer.” Science, per se, can only discern the evidence-based implication that a designer was once present.

    Those two statements appear to be in conflict. Perhaps someone smarter than I can help me out here. Did Dr. Torley mean to speak for all ID supporters/researchers?

  9. 9
    jerry says:

    This is an aside to the main argument but Dr. Torley brings it up. Is there such a thing as natural evil? This might sound absurd since we have just been presented with an enormous instance of human suffering and death in Haiti. And I dutifully bring up the Lisbon earthquake which is the event that changed the discussion of evil in the Christian world each time evil comes up here. It was a horrendous event too. For several nights I have listened on the radio to a description of the devastation of the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the author of the “Last Train from Hiroshima.” (In case you did not know it, 30 people survived both bombs who were on a train that took survivors of Hiroshima to Nagasaki.)

    Just what is evil and several times when evil is discussed I asked this same question. Is there such a thing as evil in order to clarify just what it is. No one answers it. About five or six months ago StephenB brought up the definition of evil as the perversion of God’s plan. That may not be the best way to describe his response and I cannot find the thread immediately but the idea was that evil is the act of an intellect. Under such a classification, there is no such thing as a natural evil unless one thinks some intellect causes all the misfortune in the world.

    I am well aware of the theodicy issue and was originally interested in it before I ever read anything on ID or evolution. I was unaware of its relevance for evolution. My point has always been that there is only one real evil in the world, and this is definitely from a Christian perspective, and that is the loss of salvation. Given this, then how does Haiti, Lisbon, the recent Tsunami in Southeast Asia, other natural disasters, childhood cancer or other maladies count as evil. They are certainly examples of loss of human life and extremes unpleasantness and pain and emotional suffering. But are they evil in the only sense of the word that makes sense from a Christian perspective? And if you do not believe in God, how is so called natural evil a meaningful concept since as someone said to me when I was very young, “sh__ happens.”

    Certainly both Christians and other religions who believe in God and as well as agnostics and atheists want to reduce earthly suffering for all as much as possible. But Christians believe that the real objective of this world is not an earthly paradise but something further down the road. And as such, temporary pain or misfortune and death is nothing compared to the loss of salvation. And as such are they really evil?

    This is not to deny that the interference of intellects in the lives of others may often be considered evil but this should be analyzed on a completely different basis than the so called natural evil which is used as an argument against God.

  10. 10
    StephenB says:

    —-Muramasa: Dr. Torley states: “ID proponents really don’t care how God made the world; what matters is that He did it.”

    —-“From Uncommon Descent’s “Frequently raised but weak arguments against Intelligent Design” (#22): Intelligent design theory seeks only to determine whether or not an object was designed. Since it studies only the empirically evident effects of design, it cannot directly detect the identity of the designer; much less, can it detect the identity of the “designer’s designer.” Science, per se, can only discern the evidence-based implication that a designer was once present.

    —-“Those two statements appear to be in conflict. Perhaps someone smarter than I can help me out here. Did Dr. Torley mean to speak for all ID supporters/researchers?”

    Thank you for taking the time to inform yourself with information from the FAQ. You are to be commended for doing your homework.

    If I understand Dr. Torley correctly, he is responding to an irony. Most Theistic Evolutions do, indeed, “care” about how God made the world, insisting without any evidence, that a truly powerful God should be able to create solely through secondary causes, meaning that, in their eyes, a competent God should not need to tweak his creation after it has been formed. To add to their confusion, they often mistakenly believe that, like them, ID also “cares” about how God created the world, which is not the case. Except to argue from the evidence that creation did not likely occur solely through naturalistic forces, and therefore, can best be explained by an intelligent designer, ID says nothing more about it, leaving the discussion open for several non tweaking scenarios and for the possibility of tweaking as well. Further, ID recognizes that the patterns in nature, while showing evidence of design, say nothing about the identity of the designer.

    TEs, on the other hand, do not typically begin with evidence but with the presupposition that God must have used solely secondary causes to create because, well, because he just had to. That is what they call science. Like some YECs and all Darwinists, they seek not to follow the evidence wherever it leads, but rather to find ways to harmonize the evidence with what they already believe.

  11. 11
    vjtorley says:

    Muramasa (#8)

    Thank you for your post. You are perfectly correct in saying that Intelligent Design theory cannot directly detect the identity of the designer. My comment (in my reply to Professor Barr) that “ID proponents really don’t care how God made the world; what matters is that He did it” should be read in the context of my preceding remark that the ID arguments which I enumerated “do not require Deus ex machina interventions.”

    The argument that ID is intellectually unaesthetic precisely because it requires Deus ex machina interventions is one of the most frequently raised objections to ID. My reply assumes (for argument’s sake) that Deus (God) is the Designer, as the objector refers to Him as such. (This is what I also believe. However, ID itself is a scientific program; there is no creed that its proponents are required to subscribe to.) The point I am making is that as far as ID is concerned, establishing the fact that a particular pattern is the product of design is what matters; the “how” of design is unimportant.

    Those who are curious about the origin of the term Deus ex machina can find out more here . An equivalent term was used by the ancient Greeks, who worshiped many gods.

    Thank you for taking the time and trouble to read Uncommon Descent’s “Frequently raised but weak arguments against Intelligent Design.”

  12. 12
    vjtorley says:

    Seversky (#7)

    Thank you for your response. You wrote:

    My understanding is that, apart from a great deal of speculation, cosmologists have no real idea of how or why the Universe began, the same for biologists and the origin of life and intelligence. If children really are being taught anything else then they are indeed being misled.

    Tell you what. Why don’t you try a little survey? Pick 20 young people who attend public high schools (or who have graduated in the past ten years), and who do not belong to any particular religion. I have added the second requirement because if the students in your sample belonged to a religion, their answers to the survey questions below could also be influenced by their religious beliefs. What I want is a “pure” sample, which has been exposed to a modern, secular, scientific education in public high schools.

    Now, I’d like you to ask these students the following questions.

    1. In the light of what you have been taught at school, which of the following statements do you believe to be the most accurate?

    a. Scientists have no idea of how the Universe began.
    b. Scientists have some idea of how the Universe began.
    c. Scientists have a pretty good idea of how the Universe began.
    d. Scientists know how the Universe began.

    2. Ditto, except that the options are:

    a. Scientists have no idea of how life began on Earth.
    b. Scientists have some idea of how life began on Earth.
    c. Scientists have a pretty good idea of how life began on Earth.
    d. Scientists know how life began on Earth.

    3. Ditto, except that the options are:

    a. Scientists have no idea of how intelligent life began on Earth.
    b. Scientists have some idea of how intelligent life began on Earth.
    c. Scientists have a pretty good idea of how intelligent life began on Earth.
    d. Scientists know how intelligent life began on Earth.

    I eagerly await the results of your survey. I see you’re expecting all a’s. I’ll hazard a guess that b is the most common response to 1, c to 2 and c to 3.

  13. 13
    Seversky says:

    vjtorley @ 11

    My reply assumes (for argument’s sake) that Deus (God) is the Designer, as the objector refers to Him as such. (This is what I also believe. However, ID itself is a scientific program; there is no creed that its proponents are required to subscribe to.)

    Thank you for being so honest, Dr Torley. I agree entirely that ID can be regarded as a scientific program insofar as it concerns itself with answering the question of how to reliably identify evidence of design, regardless of the designer. For that purpose, the religious beliefs of its proponents are irrelevant.

    I would simply remind you that, on another thread, I was making a similar argument concerning the scientific programs of the likes of Newton or Maxwell. That they held strong religious beliefs was not in question. Clearly, for them, their faith provided answers to the questions of origins that their science could not. But in the fields where they conducted their research, like ID proponents, they sought purely naturalistic explanations for the mysteries with which they were confronted.

    The point I am making is that as far as ID is concerned, establishing the fact that a particular pattern is the product of design is what matters; the “how” of design is unimportant.

    Supporters of Intelligent Design routinely attack the theory of evolution on the grounds that, to quote Jerry, it is a “miserable failure” as a theory of origins, even though that was never its purpose. The implication is that ID is, at least potentially, a better answer to such questions. Can I assume therefore, on the basis of that excerpt from your post, that you would agree with me that ID is no more a theory of origins than evolution?

  14. 14
    jerry says:

    “Supporters of Intelligent Design routinely attack the theory of evolution on the grounds that, to quote Jerry, it is a “miserable failure” as a theory of origins, even though that was never its purpose.”

    Three things,

    1. This comment was from another post on science and God.

    2. You would think that as long as you have been around you would be able to understand the arguments. Origins refers to a lot of things and the theory of evolution is dependent upon a book called “The Origin of Species.” Maybe you should refrain from commenting with such a lack of understanding. Origins is at the heart of the argument in evolution.

    3. Origins can refer to a lot of things, such as existence, the universe, the earth, life, and consciousness. So science is a miserable failure at the evolution origins issue but also at several others.

  15. 15
    Nakashima says:

    Dr Torley,

    I think Mr Seversky may have trouble finding 20 students that qualify to answer your questions. Looking at state science standards, they rarely address these three issues, and we all know that teachers teach to the standards. I looked at the 2009 NJ science standards and only found mention of the Big Bang theory, not OOL or origin of intelligence. Even for the Big Bang, the standards taught when it might have happened (based on standard Hubble red shift thinking) not how or why.

    I’m afraid we should all lower our expectations of what American high school students are learning!

  16. 16
    vjtorley says:

    Seversky (#13)

    Thank you for your query. You wrote:

    Can I assume therefore, on the basis of that excerpt from your post, that you would agree with me that ID is no more a theory of origins than evolution?

    Good question. ID and evolution offer different answers to the question: what kinds of processes are required to account for the emergence of life and later, organisms with complex body plans, on Earth?

    The answer offered by the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution is that the laws of nature, combined with random variation, suffice to account for life in all its diversity. Additionally, gradual evolution from common ancestors must conform to the mathematics of Markov processes and Markov chains, in order to generate the nested hierarchy used by scientists to classify living organisms. Most significantly, however, the neo-Darwinian theory disallows scientific investigation of the possibility that any intelligence may have been required to generate either the various life forms we see today, or the primordial cell from which they all descended. That door cannot be opened, for it endangers the principle of methodological naturalism, which Darwinists hold dear.

    ID theory encourages open and unfettered enquiry regarding the origin of life and organisms with complex body plans. Regarding the mechanism whereby this complexity was generated, ID is far vaguer than the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution; but it is quite specific about what kind of process was involved: intelligent agency. What distinguishes ID is that it claims to identify certain patterns in the biological realm that point to their having been designed by an Intelligent Agent – the reason being that intelligent agency is the only known process that can reliably generate the required degree of specified complexity that characterizes living things. It goes without saying that neo-Darwinian mechanisms may account for the other patterns found in the biological realm.

    What’s missing from both theories? Let’s look at evolution. You admit that biologists currently “have no real idea of how or why” life and intelligence originated. But no matter “how” life and intelligence originated, it must have been through some process that combines regularity (or law) and randomness, on the Darwinist world-view. And the longer we have to wait for a naturalistic explanation of life in all its complexity, the more untenable neo-Darwinism will appear.

    An honest inquirer would concede that, scientific progress notwithstanding, the origin of life appears even more unlikely, from a naturalistic perspective, than it did in 1859, when The Origin of Species was published. The problem of how life arose is much, much harder than Darwin thought. In other words, it has grown less tractable with time, rather than more. Ditto for the origin of animal phyla. That’s what I meant when I wrote above: “The gaps are GROWING, NOT shrinking.” For this reason, I am confident that there will come a point when a generation of scientific “young Turks” shakes off the shackles of methodological naturalism and starts to think out of the box.

    The incompleteness problem for ID is of a different sort. ID proponents currently have no idea as to the Designer’s modus operandi, and no scientific clues as to the Designer’s identity. Is this intellectually frustrating? Sure, it is. But it’s hardly surprising. If life of Earth was designed by a Super-Intellect, we would not expect to be able to figure out the “how” – at least, not for a very long time. What we would want to be able to do is identify which patterns in Nature were designed. The explanatory filter offers us a way to do that. ID can continue as a program as long as this filter works. We should expect to see a clear “probabilistic divide” between patterns in Nature that exemplify the required level of specified complexity, and those that don’t. A “probability continuum” would be worrying for ID.

    Because ID is agnostic regarding the Designer’s modus operandi, it allows for the possibility that scientists might one day discover bio-friendly laws, which, when combined, constitute a “magic pathway” leading from simple substances to complex life. But these laws would themselves have to be highly specific (e.g. relating to particular molecules), extremely numerous (perhaps numbering in the tens or hundreds of thousands), and in some way sequential (so that together, they would make up a series of stepping stones leading to life and complex animals). In short, they would be quite unlike any laws discovered to date, as the laws we know are general, relatively few in number, non-sequential and information-poor.

    Another possibility is that the Designer specified the initial conditions of the Universe in such a way as to make the emergence of life and animal phyla inevitable.

    Still another possibility is that the Designer intervened at points in the Earth’s history to guide it towards the goal of creating complex life. And there may be other possibilities. Who knows?

    The point is that at least ID has a process which is known to be sufficient to generate life in all its diversity: intelligence. The neo-Darwinian theory of evolution invokes processes which are not known to be sufficient to account for these phenomena; indeed, we have good reason to believe that law and randomness are woefully insufficient.

    In short: one Emperor has clothes, and the other has none. I leave it to my readers to decide which is which.

  17. 17
    Upright BiPed says:

    VJ,

    Bravo. Excellent!

    I appreciate (and am grateful for) the courage you show in taking some stances that I believe trouble many ID proponents, myslf included. Yet, you always support your position.

    When I read the responses to your post, the weight of rational thought becomes rather obvious, as do the contradictions of your opponents.

    Opponents who give such laughable responses as those suggesting that (S)cience hasn’t made up its mind about purely material, non-intelligent processes being at the core of all things (eh, no design allowed) are espousing a direct contradiction to what is coming out of the other side of their mouths.

    Of course, this is just a blog, not a newspaper editorial, TV program, or courtroom. In those venues they become somewhat more certain of what did (and did not) happen.

    There, the “speculation” becomes a certainty repeating unto itself, and they seek to have what they do not know (and cannot falsify) codified and protected by law.

    Such is the nature of ideologues.

  18. 18
    vjtorley says:

    Mr. Nakashima (#3)

    Thank you for a well-argued post. I am sorry for not replying sooner, but your post contained some interesting philosophical arguments that I needed to chew over.

    I do appreciate your point that the addition of “24000 trivial constants and forces to our universe” seems inelegant, from a mathematical perspective, as a method by which a Designer might generate life by natural processes. It does sound ad hoc, when you put it like that. There are of course other ways by which a Designer might achieve the same objective. I mentioned some of these in my post to Seversky (#15).

    The point I want to make is that because life is rich in specified information, there is no “simple” way in which a Designer could get the cosmos to generate life – especially complex life-forms like ourselves – if by “simple” you mean “compressible to a few short mathematical formulas, laws, patterns or regularities which make no mention of the goal being sought.” At least, that is what ID proponents would contend. If scientists could show that life would emerge automatically from just a few laws and an unremarkable set of initial conditions, then they would have falsified ID.

    So if “elegance” means “a few simple, mathematically beautiful rules,” then there is no elegant way to generate life.

    But even at the level of physics, elegance is not found merely at the level of rules, but also at a deeper level. Thus the appeal of E8 lies in the beauty of its structure. And it might be that if there were a “magic pathway” of particularized laws leading to life, scientists might be able to discern a hidden mathematical beauty in the structure of the pathway itself. That, too, would be a kind of elegance.

  19. 19
    vjtorley says:

    I’d like to thank Barry Arrington for being kind enough to post my response to Professor Barr on Uncommon Descent.

    I’d also like to thank StephenB, Mr. Nakashima, Seversky and Upright BiPed for their kind words, and jerry for his thoughtful meditations on the problem of evil. Finally, I’d like to offer my thanks to Clive Hayden, Zach Bailey and Muramasa for their comments.

  20. 20
    jerry says:

    Since Dr. Torley mentioned my name and that I brought up a point about evil, I will repeat my question which has been asked several times here but never answered.

    “Just what is evil and several times when evil is discussed I asked this same question. Is there such a thing as evil in order to clarify just what it is. No one answers it.”

    Another thread where this question is not answered yet people use the term “evil” here all the time.

  21. 21
    Nakashima says:

    Dr Torley,

    Thank you for your kind words.

    I understood your first argument to be an analogical argument from simplicity and elegance to design and designer. “A well kept house has a good butler.” I was attempting to say that what we see as simple and elegant at one level may be revealed on further investigation to be quite complicated and inelegant, which would leave your analogy unsupported. The direction of complexificaton from four elements to 112, from electron, proton, and neutron to the menagerie of the Standard Model, could be considered examples of this problem.

    Now I seem to hear you arguing the opposite of what I thought earlier, that life can only arise in a complicated (but perhaps still elegant!) system.

    I would offer as counter-examples several forms of cellular automata, though we would have to agree to call these alive, or clarify why they are not alive. Stephen Wolfram has speculated that if we quantify space and time, our universe may have very simple CA-style rules (though probabilistic?) and perhaps even very simple initial conditions.

    If scientists could show that life would emerge automatically from just a few laws and an unremarkable set of initial conditions, then they would have falsified ID.

    Which is exactly why I would like to have an extended discussion of CA systems such as EvoLoops. I think EvoLoops is a good example theistic evolution – life arising and changing, based only on the rules and initial conditions set by the Creator.

  22. 22
    Seversky says:

    jerry @ 14

    1. This comment was from another post on science and God.

    Yes.

    So?

    Origins refers to a lot of things and the theory of evolution is dependent upon a book called “The Origin of Species.” Maybe you should refrain from commenting with such a lack of understanding. Origins is at the heart of the argument in evolution.

    The word ‘origins’ can indeed refer to many things but, in the context of the discussions on this blog, it almost invariably refers to the origins of life and, to a lesser extent, the origins of the Universe.

    So science is a miserable failure at the evolution origins issue but also at several others.

    The latest estimate for the age of the Universe sets it at 13.73 billion years, the age of the Earth at 4.5 billion years and there is evidence that life of some sort was present for at least 3.5 billion of them.

    Human science has been trying to unravel the mystery of the origins of everything for a few hundred years at best. I think we can afford to give it a little longer to work on the problem before declaring it a failure.

  23. 23
    Seversky says:

    jerry @ 19

    “Just what is evil and several times when evil is discussed I asked this same question. Is there such a thing as evil in order to clarify just what it is. No one answers it.”

    If you are asking if there is an objective entity or property called evil then I would have to answer that there is not.

    In my view, evil, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. It is a judgement we make about the intentions or actions of others that cause harm to the persons or interests of other living creatures. The harm can be caused by acts of commission or omission that are the effect of malign intent on the part of an intelligent agent. In other words, while the Indian Ocean tsunami or the Haitian earthquake were disasters and tragedies, they were not evil. As far as we know, they were not purposed by any intelligence. The destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11, on the other hand, clearly was.

  24. 24
    vjtorley says:

    jerry (#19)

    Thank you for your post. Augustine offered one answer to your question, “What is evil?” He argued that evil is a privation. For a brief and highly readable outline of Augustine’s account from a traditional Christian perspective, you might like to go here:

    http://www.ewtn.net/expert/ans.....use_of.htm

    A tsunami is not evil per se; if it occurred on a lifeless planet, we might even judge it beautiful. But when a tsunami inflicts harm on creatures by killing them or maiming them, then that is an evil. All living things have a good of their own, and the corruption of anything good must be an evil.

    Some good things are not meant to last forever; it would be bad if they did. No-one mourns autumn leaves; and even the death of a tree in a forest often allows other trees to flourish. Here we see evils contributing to the greater good. But people are not leaves, and they are not trees either. Their goodness cannot be subsumed to that of a larger whole. People are capable of love. Love cannot be subsumed under any greater good. Love is something that should last forever.

    The anguish we feel at the death of a child is something we should feel. For that child had a mother and a father, and now they can no longer express their love for their child in the way that parents should. In the death of that child, something beautiful has been torn asunder – and that tearing asunder is an evil. We refer to this death as a natural evil, rather than a moral one, because the term “moral evil” is used to refer to bad acts by intelligent agents, who know right from wrong.

    In a world governed by a loving God, no individual that is capable of love – and that includes all human beings, and maybe other creatures besides – need suffer irreparable harm. That is a consolation. But in the meantime, we should not insult people who have suffered bereavement by rationalizing the evil they have endured as necessary to achieve some “higher good.” That was one of the points David Hart made in his excellent essay, which I cited above.

    I hope that helps.

  25. 25
    Nakashima says:

    Dr Torley,

    The discussion of theodicy is one I usually avoid, since I would prefer to discuss ID soley as a science, or proto-science. However, I would just make an observation around great tragedies that it seems many people are willing to leap to a design inference about natural evil. For example, a hurricane that hits Bourbon Street in not just natural evil, it is intelligently designed evil.

    I bring this up only to point out that all science has a problem with confirmational bias, and ID as science will have to deal with that also.

  26. 26
    Seversky says:

    vjtorley @ 16
    Once again, my thanks for taking the time and trouble to answer in such detail. You raise a few points here that I would like to discuss a little further.

    Most significantly, however, the neo-Darwinian theory disallows scientific investigation of the possibility that any intelligence may have been required to generate either the various life forms we see today, or the primordial cell from which they all descended. That door cannot be opened, for it endangers the principle of methodological naturalism, which Darwinists hold dear.

    I would argue that while Darwinian or neo-Darwinian theory offers an explanation of how life has evolved since it emerged which does not require the intervention of an intelligence, it is silent on the question of origins. That is not to say that Darwin himself or others did not speculate about how it might have begun, but those speculations do not form part of the theory.

    I know that some on the evolutionary side of the debate hold that consideration of intelligent or even supernatural agency should be excluded on principle but I would disagree for two reasons. First, the arbitrary exclusion of any potential line of inquiry limits the explanatory resources available to science and there are not so many available that we can afford to be so cavalier with them. Even if they appear to be highly improbable it violates the principle of free and open inquiry to exclude them just for that reason. Second, there is no need for arbitrary exclusion. If a hypothesis is inadequate because it is ill-founded, insufficient to explain what we observe or depends on untestable proposals then it will fail to win acceptance and be discarded for those reasons. That is part of the normal process of science.

    My view of science is that it involves the methodical investigation of anything about which we are able to acquire information, even in principle. That includes gods, ghosts, ghoulies and things that go bump in the night. If we can find any evidence that there is actually something out there to be investigated then we should. If you want to call that ‘nature’ or the ‘natural order’ then that is your choice. The label is not really important. What is important is that evidence needs to be more than what people believe. That is not to underestimate the importance of belief but, given that there are probably many more untrue beliefs than there are true beliefs, we have to assume that on their own they prove nothing.

    What distinguishes ID is that it claims to identify certain patterns in the biological realm that point to their having been designed by an Intelligent Agent – the reason being that intelligent agency is the only known process that can reliably generate the required degree of specified complexity that characterizes living things.

    This is still the suspect argument by analogy. The only intelligence known to us which is capable complex design is ourselves but, as yet, we lack the science and technology to design and build the complex microscopic structures we can now observe. Yes, what we design is analogous to what we see in some ways but it is still a leap from that observation to the conclusion that life on earth was designed. Against it, as I have argued on another thread, are all the instances of poor design which we should not expect from a more advanced intelligence than ourselves.

    But no matter “how” life and intelligence originated, it must have been through some process that combines regularity (or law) and randomness, on the Darwinist world-view. And the longer we have to wait for a naturalistic explanation of life in all its complexity, the more untenable neo-Darwinism will appear.

    There is no expiration date for science as far as I am aware and it has only been investigating questions of origins for a very short time compared with the age of the Earth or the Universe so I think it should be allowed a little more time before declaring it a failure.

    On this mantra of law or regularity and randomness or chance it is almost a truism to say that without them nothing could exist that does not have a form which distinguishes it from chaos and that would apply as much to a supernatural realm or a god as it does to our Universe.

    The key question is clearly can such a combination, over time, account for the complex forms we observe. We have evidence from the biological world that living organisms are plastic and can change over time either as a result of artificial selection or environmental pressures and we now have evidence of mechanisms by which that happens. We have evidence that novel traits can emerge from examples such as nylonase and antibiotic resistant bacteria.

    The fact is that methodologically naturalistic science has discovered evidence for purely naturalistic or materialistic processes which is far more substantive than the arguments for design. All that the latter can offer essentially are arguments from analogy and incredulity and hotly-disputed estimates of probability. While there are clearly still significant gaps in the evidence for evolution, it is still far more than exists for design at this time.

    An honest inquirer would concede that, scientific progress notwithstanding, the origin of life appears even more unlikely, from a naturalistic perspective, than it did in 1859, when The Origin of Species was published. The problem of how life arose is much, much harder than Darwin thought.

    It is hard question whichever way you look. As you say, the problem of the origins of life is a harder one to crack now than it was in Darwin’s day for but simply saying that it was designed is not an equivalent explanation to what you are demanding of materialistic science because it does not answer the same question.

    For this reason, I am confident that there will come a point when a generation of scientific “young Turks” shakes off the shackles of methodological naturalism and starts to think out of the box.

    I hope there will always be “young Turks” because many if not most of the new ideas that carry science forward come from the younger generations. However, I am as confident as you that it will be through methodologically natural science that these ideas are investigated and tested to determine if they are worthy of inclusion in the corpus of scientific knowledge.

    The point is that at least ID has a process which is known to be sufficient to generate life in all its diversity: intelligence.

    No, it does not. We have evidence for only one form of scientifically and technologically-advanced intelligent life in the Universe and that is ourselves. But we are far from having the knowledge or the capacity to design and build living things. There may be more advanced extraterrestrial cultures than our own – I believe there are – but your claim is speculative at present.

    The neo-Darwinian theory of evolution invokes processes which are not known to be sufficient to account for these phenomena; indeed, we have good reason to believe that law and randomness are woefully insufficient.

    While we do not yet know the full extent of the capacity of evolutionary processes to generate new and complex life-forms, the evidence for them is still more substantial than for any alternative. And again, you are not comparing like with like. ID is being proposed as an explanation for the origins of life itself as well as its diversity, evolution only deals with the diversification of life after it has appeared. We all agree that the related field of abiogenesis has nothing to offer yet that is equivalent to the theory of evolution but then neither does specifying an unspecified designer tell us any more.

    In short: one Emperor has clothes, and the other has none. I leave it to my readers to decide which is which.

    I would say that while the wardrobe of one is bare, the other contains sufficient garments to cover any potential embarrassment. The one thing I regret is that these questions will most likely only be settled long after the molecules of which we are composed have moved on to form part of subsequent generations, although of what we may not know.

  27. 27
    vjtorley says:

    Mr. Nakashimna (#21)

    Thank you for a very interesting post. You wrote:

    Now I seem to hear you arguing the opposite of what I thought earlier, that life can only arise in a complicated (but perhaps still elegant!) system.

    I would offer as counter-examples several forms of cellular automata, though we would have to agree to call these alive, or clarify why they are not alive…

    Which is exactly why I would like to have an extended discussion of CA systems such as EvoLoops. I think EvoLoops is a good example of theistic evolution – life arising and changing, based only on the rules and initial conditions set by the Creator.

    To be precise, I would argue that if life arose naturally (and we don’t know that it did), it could only have arisen in a system whose initial conditions were extremely finely tuned (say, at the Big Bang), or in a system whose laws were rigged in a very deliberate fashion to favor the emergence of life, in the manner I described above.

    I have a lot of respect for Steve Wolfram’s formidable intellect, and I had a look at the Web page on Evoloops. From what I can make out, Evoloops can certainly reproduce. But I would not call them alive, by any stretch of the imagination. They seem to lack intrinsic finality. In particular, the parts are in no way subsumed to the good of the whole. But I look forward to having a discussion of what life is, on a future UD thread.

  28. 28
    Nakashima says:

    Dr Torley,

    So, your argument 1 is that the laws of the universe are necessarily complex (or the Big bang was necessarily complex), but still superabundantly elegant. Is that correct?

    I’d be happy to continue discussing definitioins of life on this thread if it doesn’t disturb anybody. I think it relates to a subtopic of your first argument, and so is still a valid subject for the thread. Of course, we can pick p another time if you prefer.

    With respect to CAs and life, I must admit that of all the definitions of life that I’ve seen in the scientific literature “intrinsic finality” has never come up. But rather than tackle that right away, I’d like to ask your position on a more basic question. Is it possible for something to be ‘alive’ and also be purely material in its nature? To be precise, M. genitalium, the small parasitic bacteria much discussed in OOL. Is there something about the continued activity of each particular cell of M. gen that is not reducible to a complex arrangement of mass-energy?

    Some obvious choices to answer this question are “All life has an immaterial component”, “Some but not all”, and “No life has an immaterial component”.

    For the sake of argument, I will take the following position. While a CA is abstract, it is not immaterial in any way. Starting or stopping a CA, or keeping it running, does not inject into it any immaterial quality from our universe or the intelligent agent in our universe that takes those actions. There is no more soul in a CA than there is in a pocket watch.

    My further position is that it is possible that some configuration of states, in some CA rule system, deserves the same tag ‘alive’ which we would readily give to M. gen. So my answer to the question I posed above is “At least some life is purely material.”

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