Darwinism Intelligent Design

Evolutionary Biology’s Wrong Turn

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Most people mistakenly think that Intelligent Design is anti-evolution. That is not correct. To understand Intelligent Design’s criticism of evolution, it is important to pinpoint specifically where we believe evolutionary biology made a wrong turn and why it matters.

Purpose Governs Biology

Every level and aspect of biology is driven by intentionality of some kind. We can debate what that intentionality is and where it comes from. We can debate whether it is physically instantiated in the organism’s physics or if it is governed by a soul (or both), or what those terms even mean. However, for anyone to understand biology, they have to understand it in terms of two things: purpose and logic.

Think about how we study biology in school. We break the organism up into systems (i.e., logical units), and describe what these units are for (i.e., their purpose). When describing and organism’s behavior, we do the same thing. We think about the organism’s functions as logically coherent units (eating, sleeping, hunting, mating, etc.), and then we think about the purpose of those functions.

Now, that doesn’t mean that everything that organisms do has a purpose. It doesn’t mean that everything is logical. However, the default stance of a biological investigator, no matter what level of biology they are looking at, examines organisms in terms of purposes and logic functions first. Illogical and unpurposeful acts are, by far, the exception.

Teleonomy as the Materialist’s Teleology

This is true even of the mechanists. The term that they use for this is teleonomy. Teleonomy indicates that an organism exhibits purposeful behavior because it is programmed to do so. That is, when we see behavior, even with mechanistic presuppositions, we can infer purpose, because we can simply say that it is an organism’s program that created the purpose.

Early in the 20th century, materialistic biologists were loathe to think of organisms in terms of purposes. They thought that it hooked too deeply into theistic notions of teleology. Therefore, they often simply didn’t ascribe purpose to anything an organism did. However, it is obvious to everyone that biological organisms operate according to purposes. So this made some of their explanations and descriptions look rather silly.

In response to this, several biologists, including the imminent Ernst Mayr, coined the term teleonomy to refer to the mechanistic idea of organisms behaving according to purposes because of a program, and not because of a soul, or because of God, or because of any theological-sounding idea.

I am not a materialist, but, for the sake of argument, let’s go with that. I certainly believe it is true in many cases (i.e., there do exist many programmed purposes in biology), so, for arguments sake, we will just assume it as a general truth.

Evolutionary Biology’s Wrong Turn

All of this is well and good. The problem, however, is that evolutionary biology, despite now having in hand all of the tools it needed, made a drastic wrong turn. Ernst Mayr declared that even though teleonomy is present in all levels of biology, it is not present in evolution.

Think about this – no matter where you turn in biology, you run smack into purposiveness. You find this in DNA, in organneles, in cells, in organs, in organ systems, in individual behavior, in group behavior, and in ecological behavior. Even if you had not yet found purposiveness in evolution, why would you for a moment think it isn’t there?

This one wrong turn has caused numerous biologists to turn themselves in knots describing systems which are obviously teleonomic as being random. A simple case-in-point is Talk.Origins’ Ed Max talking nonsense about antibody genes. It isn’t that his facts are incorrect. It’s that he uses the words “random mutation” but then points to a process that isolates mutations to the correct half of the correct gene, skipping well over 99.999% of the genome (where successful mutations won’t be found) and only mutating the < 0.001% of the genome where successful mutations are likely to occur. And he calls this “random”.

This confusion of terms has led entire generations of biologists astray. Biologists don’t even think to look at the teleonomy of evolution because they don’t expect to find it. If you read scientific papers, it takes exactly zero experiments to make a claim that a mutation is random, but it takes dozens to make a claim that a mutation is teleonomic. However, dealing with biology, this is exactly the wrong way around. Because it is within biology, if anything, it should be the claim of non-purposiveness that requires multiple experiments to make a proof.

Sexual Selection and Teleonomy

However, we can already clearly see that evolution is teleonomic. This has been true ever since sexual selection.

Sexual selection is one of the things that guide evolution, right? People choose mates because it will affect the viability of their offspring, right? And that offspring is evolution, right? And this choice to look for future viability and evolution is part of how we are programmed to behave, right?

Therefore, even just in sexual selection, we see that the modern synthesis’ insistence that there is no teleonomy in evolution is clearly false. Yet the insistence of no teleonomy has been the bedrock of biological inference since the 1920s!

It Makes a Difference in the Data

I’ve written about this before, but this actually makes direct impacts in data, specifically on how people combine data sets from different sources. Are the mutations we see equivalent to the possible mutations? Are they even a good proxy for them? Are the possible mutations a good proxy for the mutations we see?

These can be proxies for each other only if evolution is not teleonomic. In other words, if evolution is teleonomic, then there is no way at all in which these data sets can be proxies for each other! But, over and over again the biological community uses them in this way. This leads directly to false conclusions!

Evolutionary Biology, Corrected

I count myself as a fan of evolutionary biology. However, that is because I have often taken the time to dissect claims and ideas and see which ones depend on the data, and which ones are improperly based on the assumption of no teleonomy in evolution. It is a drastic change in perspective, but definitely worthwhile.

There have been three groups which have been attempting some sort of a fix like this in evolutionary biology – Intelligent Design, the “Third Way” people, and the “Extended Synthesis” people. The problem, however, is that the “third way” and “Extended Synthesis” groups have been very coy at naming what the problem is and what the solution is. Intelligent Design has not been coy at this, which is why we draw more derision than the others.

As it says in one of the taglines for Robert Marks Evolutionary Informatics lab (an Intelligent Design venture), they are “Investigating How Information Makes Evolution Possible“. In other words, evolutionary teleonomy. The Third Way people won’t say it, but their criticisms of current evolutionary biology focus on this. The Extended Synthesis have trouble saying anything concrete. However, if you look at their papers, all of the “new” stuff is about teleonomic properties of evolution.

Intelligent Design is simply the group that most forthrightly states both the wrong turn that evolutionary biology took (that evolution happens outside of any regulatory system) and its solution (that information – i.e., teleonomy – is what is required to make evolution work.


By the way, for those interested, this is a summary and a lay-oriented version of a paper I wrote that was recently published with BIO-Complexity:

Evolutionary Teleonomy as a Unifying Principle for the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis

30 Replies to “Evolutionary Biology’s Wrong Turn

  1. 1
    JDH says:

    Excellent OP thanks johnnyb

  2. 2
    Mung says:

    Most people mistakenly think that Intelligent Design is anti-evolution. That is not correct.

    I agree that ID is not anti-evolution, but it sure is hard to tell it sometimes.

  3. 3
    johnnyb says:

    Mung –

    I totally understand where you are coming from. Part of the problem is a general one of terminology. The word “evolution” has a meaning that, for most people, actually comes from the 1940s. Well, evolution has changed a lot since then. In order to make a “consensus” on evolution, they basically had to throw out everything that made it a distinctive viewpoint. If you read current definitions of evolution, it is obvious that evolutionary biology is, or at least can be, consistent with just about any view of origins that you like.

    However, I understand that the popular term “evolution” means something different for most people. Managing the distinction between technical and popular definitions can be annoying, but I have to deal with it literally every day as a computer programmer. I have to listen to customers who say one word, but they really mean another, or, even worse, they something logically inconsistent, and I have to translate it into something logically consistent.

    It would be nice if we all agreed on terms and what they mean, but, I’ve found my peace with the difference.

    For many people, “evolution” is equivalent to the Modern Synthesis, and “adaptation” is the teleonomic term. Fine. Whatever. I prefer to use the term “evolution” because that is what is used in the technical literature, but I understand that evolution means something very different for different people.

  4. 4
    aarceng says:

    johnnyb @ 3
    If “evolution” means something different for most people then why isn’t there an official definition? Does it suit people to maintain the confusion?

  5. 5
    ET says:

    The word “evolution” has several meanings and to show that Intelligent Design is anti-evolution one has to show that ID is against all of them.

    ID is OK with a change in allele frequency over time, ie evolution.

    ID is OK with descent with modification, ie evolution.

    ID is OK with natural selection occurring, ie evolution. ID argues against the claim that natural selection is a designer mimic.

    ID also argues against the claim that life’s diversity arose via blind and mindless processes. ID is OK with life’s diversity arising via intelligent/ telic processes.

    ID is OK with organisms being intelligently designed to evolve and organisms evolving by means of intelligent design.

    ID is OK with genetic algorithms as examples of evolution by means of intelligent design.

  6. 6
    asauber says:

    I’m with aarceng @ 3.

    This is an unhelpful post if there is no scientific definition of evolution to begin with that is generally accepted that can be argued against.

    In a sense, the argument is against the non-science that ‘evolution’ refers to and relies on.

    Andrew

  7. 7
    asauber says:

    And I shouldn’t say ‘unhelpful’. I should say, ‘doesn’t address the bigger problem’.

    Andrew

  8. 8
    RodW says:

    I don’t think its true that ‘evolution’ has multiple definitions. I think the idea that it does got started in the 80s as a result of debates between scientists and creationists or early IDers. Invariably the scientist would argue some limited definition of evolution such as ‘change in allele frequencies’. This wasn’t dishonest but it was an unhelpful debating tactic. Its much easier to debate one small aspect of the topic than take on all of biology. But I haven’t seen this done in at least 20 years. Now, pretty much everyone would tell you that evolution is the accumulation of genetic changes sorted by either selection or drift. This would include more exotic changes such as whole genome duplications and endosymbiotic events. Understanding the diversity of life should also include one off events such as the rise of oxygen, comet impacts etc. It also includes intelligent design. The existence of certain organisms can only be explained by intelligent design. It isn’t ruled out a priori as ID advocates claim.

  9. 9
    asauber says:

    And let me add that it’s unlikely there will be a scientific definition of evolution anytime soon, because as it stands, ‘evolution’ is story-telling at it’s core, and it’s a story some people are intensely devoted to.

    Andrew

  10. 10

    For the professional Atheists such as Dawkins, Coyne and others, I see their “wrong turn” as a “deliberate turn” having very much to do with ideology and very little to do with a pursuit of science that would take them wherever the evidence leads.

    I wrote of this several years back. Here is an excerpt and a link to my article …

    https://ayearningforpublius.wordpress.com/2017/11/30/which-is-design-and-which-is-evolution-2/

    Excerpt —
    ” … The Evolution of an Evolutionary Biologist

    I propose the following as a theory of how an academic PhD Evolutionary Biologist such as Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins evolved.

    A bright young high school student gains a keen interest in science and gets a scholarship to a prestigious university such as Cal-Berkley or Oxford.

    That same student comes under the influence of atheist professors and writers such as Bertrand Russell and begins to develop skepticism towards all things religious.

    The student develops and hones already excellent writing skills.

    The student obtains a degree in the natural sciences and goes on to pursue a Masters degree in Evolutionary Biology.
    During this undergraduate and graduate program the student reads and absorbs much from the prominent Evolutionary Scientists of the day, including much anti-religious and anti-design  material … writers such as Dawkins, Coyne, Hawking, Sagan, Gould, Eldredge … .

    The student, upon receipt of a Masters degree is a full blown atheist.

    The student, upon receipt of a Masters degree has accumulated no experience in the real world of engineering, operation or maintenance of complex systems such as an oil refinery or a nuclear aircraft carrier. Thus far the student has experienced only the academic world.

    The student goes on to get a PhD in Evolutionary Biology and does post-doctorate work under the tutelage of  like minded professors.

    The new Doctor writes papers and a book which gains wide notoriety. Still, the new Doctor has accumulated no experience in the real world of engineering, operation or maintenance of complex systems such as an oil refinery or a nuclear aircraft carrier.

    Thus far the Doctor, now a professor, has experienced only the academic world.

    If my theory is anywhere close to being accurate, how can that chain of events be moderated or broken? My suggestion is as follows:

    Prior to entering a PhD program, the prospective doctor spends an extended period of time in an environment that immerses the student in a very complex and obviously designed and engineered system or systems such as:

    A four year tour as a crew member of a nuclear powered aircraft carrier – preferably in the engineering department.

    A four year tour as an operations and maintenance team member at a large petro-chemical plant – the student should be assigned to a trouble shooting team.

    A four year tour as a researcher at a company such as Roche or Sigma-Aldrich fleshing out more of the inner-workings of the “Life” projects there.

    A four year tour as a software developer with daily hands on exposure to the maintenance and upgrades of complex hardware/software systems. … “

  11. 11
    ET says:

    RodW:

    I don’t think its true that ‘evolution’ has multiple definitions.

    OK, which of the following definitions do not apply:

    1. Change over time; history of nature; any sequence of events in nature

    2. Changes in the frequencies of alleles in the gene pool of a population

    3. Limited common descent: the idea that particular groups of organisms have descended from a common ancestor.

    4. The mechanisms responsible for the change required to produce limited descent with modification, chiefly natural selection acting on random variations or mutations.

    5. Universal common descent: the idea that all organisms have descended from a single common ancestor.

    6. “Blind watchmaker” thesis: the idea that all organisms have descended from common ancestors solely through an unguided, unintelligent, purposeless, material processes such as natural selection acting on random variations or mutations; that the mechanisms of natural selection, random variation and mutation, and perhaps other similarly naturalistic mechanisms, are completely sufficient to account for the appearance of design in living organisms.

    From page 136-37 of Darwinism, Design and Public Education

    ID is OK with/ doesn’t argue against the first 5.

    The existence of certain organisms can only be explained by intelligent design. It isn’t ruled out a priori as ID advocates claim.

    It was by Darwin. Mayr said teleology is not allowed. To Darwin and Neo-Darwinists all (genetic) change was accidental- mistakes and errors made during replication.

  12. 12

    publius @ 10: Brilliant!

  13. 13
    Seversky says:

    Truth Will Set You Free @ 12

    publius @ 10: Brilliant!

    Not really, It reads like a Jack Chick tract without the drawings.

    I was raised as Christian. I attended church every Sunday until my early teens. I even taught the smaller children in Sunday school briefly. I believed in the existence of God, just as I believed in the existence of the air I breathed, without question. Until I began to take an interest in science-fiction and then science itself. Slowly, I began to ask questions and look more closely at my beliefs. Gradually, I moved away from the comforting certainties of my faith. There was no sudden conversion, no brainwashing by atheist professors, just a growing recognition of the problems with Christian belief which very clever theologians have been struggling with for centuries. You don’t explain all those away just by demonizing academics who ask awkward questions.

    As for the value of human engineering, no one is denying it has its role but the reality is that engineers work with and apply what others have discovered. They do not do the discovering themselves.

    For example:

    Who were the engineers who revealed the nature of diabetes and the role played by insulin in glucose metabolism?

    Who were the engineers who discovered the principles of heredity through experiments with garden plants or later teased out the fine strands of DNA from the nuclei in our cells to reveal the chemical processes of inheritance?

    Who were the engineers who were curious about the nature of electricity and magnetism and the relationship between the two which led ultimately to all the electronic technology we take for granted?

    Who were the engineers who, through brilliant thought experiments and mathematical modeling, revealed the relativistic nature of the Universe and phenomena no one had seen before?

    Who were the engineers who took us deep into the sub-atomic underworld of quantum theory and exposed the counter-intuitive weirdness that is the norm down there?

    I could go on but I’m sure you get the point.

    One other thing, you do realize that if you apply the rigorous standards of human design and engineering to what we observe in biology, it seems unlikely that they were designed, at least not by designers like us?

  14. 14

    Seversky @ 13

    This might help —

    Intelligent Design in a Nutshell

    Vision begets design >
    Design begets engineering >
    Engineering begets construction >
    Construction begets use.
    Example of use – hearing, balance and song
    Note: Vision in the sense of thoughts, not sight.

  15. 15

    Seversky @ 13

    And this might help as well —

    https://ayearningforpublius.wordpress.com/2017/08/11/hearing-the-intelligent-design/

    An excerpt:
    ” … Friends of Intelligent Design are often called IDiots, and much worse. But actually, ID is a position that should be embraced by clear thinking people. It’s what we experience in ordinary life all around us as common sense observations – by the highly educated Evolutionary Biologist as well as the ‘man on the street’.
    An example, among many, is the hearing phenomena most of us fortunately experience. Let me walk you through a couple of features and functions of the inner ear from my own very practical and experiential background. … “

  16. 16

    Seversky @ 13: Wrong. Publius’ comments (including 14 and 15) are indeed brilliant in that they contain profound truths in simple and concise language. Perhaps you are the one missing something.

    Like you, I began to ask questions and look more closely at my beliefs as I grew older. But where you lost faith, I gained it. To use your theme, there was no sudden conversion, no brainwashing by evangelical pastors, just a growing recognition of scriptural truth.

    For me, the only question is “WHO is the Creator?” Atheism is completely off the table, annihilated by modern science.

    Oh, the irony.

  17. 17
    ET says:

    Seversky:

    As for the value of human engineering, no one is denying it has its role but the reality is that engineers work with and apply what others have discovered.

    Who’s discoveries did Tesla work with? What about the engineers of ancient Egypt and Greece?

    One other thing, you do realize that if you apply the rigorous standards of human design and engineering to what we observe in biology,…

    Intelligent Design reigns supreme- no contest. Seriously what is the alternative and how can it be tested?

  18. 18
    asauber says:

    Gradually, I moved away from the comforting certainties of my faith.

    You can correct this error, you know.

    Andrew

  19. 19
    Seversky says:

    ayearningforpublius @ 14

    Seversky @ 13

    This might help —

    Intelligent Design in a Nutshell

    Vision begets design >
    Design begets engineering >
    Engineering begets construction >
    Construction begets use.
    Example of use – hearing, balance and song
    Note: Vision in the sense of thoughts, not sight.

    I understand the concept of Intelligent Design and I have no problem with the possibility that some sort of alien intelligence may have had a role in the appearance of life on Earth.

    What I don’t find persuasive is appealing to something like the human eye and vision system as evidence of design. Yes, they are wonderful but you can also find other aspects of human anatomy and biochemistry that are not nearly so wonderful. If we were designed it was either by someone who had a lot of “off” days or maybe it was by a committee.

    The more fundamental problem is that human designers and engineers strive for absolute reliability and predictability. If they design a bridge or an aircraft it is essential that they perform exactly as specified. Lives depend on it. What they don’t do is to incorporate materials or processes that change over time, that could “mutate” away from their original function and performance parameters. General Electric would not stay in business for long if their turbofan engines were prone to mutate into an 18-cylinder radial in mid-flight with catastrophic consequences for the aircraft.

    Yet this is what we see in biological structures. Mutations can and do occur which can lead to the extinction of an individual or an entire species. This suggests that either we were not designed or, if we were, the designer was working to different principles and standards to those applied by human engineers. Inferring design on the basis of similarity to what human beings design is at best a weak analogy.

  20. 20
    Seversky says:

    Truth Will Set You Free @ 16

    For me, the only question is “WHO is the Creator?” Atheism is completely off the table, annihilated by modern science.

    I would say that science, at least currently, can neither “prove” nor “disprove” the existence of a Creator. We simply don’t know and have to live with that uncertainty. My question to you would be that, if science found evidence pointing to a Creator but that this Creator was apparently some sort of giant AI system, could you accept that, could you worship that? Or does the Creator have to be the Christian God?

  21. 21
    Seversky says:

    asauber @ 18

    Gradually, I moved away from the comforting certainties of my faith.

    You can correct this error, you know.

    But if those “comforting certainties” were an error was it an error to move away from them?

  22. 22
    asauber says:

    But if those “comforting certainties” were an error was it an error to move away from them?

    Maybe if you describe what what the certainties were, I can help you fix your problem.

    Andrew

  23. 23
    Dionisio says:

    Science -including biology- is based on limited but constantly expanding knowledge about this universe and world.
    EugeneS posted this quote in another thread:
    “Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of the mystery that we are trying to solve.” -Max Planck
    [@33 here: https://uncommondescent.com/mind/can-ai-become-just-like-us/#comment-641489%5D
    Biology research is moving ahead at accelerated pace, increasingly revealing more complex functionally specified informational complexity that can only be the product of an absolutely powerful mind.
    No one has arguments strong enough to debate this.
    Our increasing knowledge of the biological systems confirms everyday that the gross macroevolutionary extrapolation made from microevolutionary processes is doomed to an embarrassing failure.
    Just wait and see.
    We ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
    The most fascinating discoveries are still ahead.
    Our knowledge increases. What’s the limit?
    As outstanding questions get answered, new interrogations are raised.
    Unending Revelation of the Ultimate Reality. (c)
    At the end of the day the whole discussion boils down to the drastic difference between two irreconcilable opposite worldview positions:
    On one extreme are the ones who believe that all is based on matter and energy.
    Some of us believe that the ultimate reality is defined in the first few verses of the first chapter of the fourth book in the NT.
    The rest are somewhere in between.

  24. 24

    Thanks Seversky —

    There was a book published this past year (https://wipfandstock.com/the-not-so-intelligent-designer.html) that covers much of what you bring up @19. The book appears to have been written to school teachers, most likely in the hopes that teachers reading the book will subsequently influence some of their students.

    I wrote a rebuttal to this book that may interest you (and RVB8 if you are listening):

    https://ayearningforpublius.wordpress.com/2016/08/05/the-not-so-intelligent-designer/

    An excerpt from my article:

    ” … What she sees as “quirks and kinks, the makeshift solutions and haywire failures, of human biology,” many see as an elegant and quite magnificent design with an amazing and far ranging menu of capabilities. Let me suggest an exercise that the doctor, Mr. Branch and others can easily accomplish, and I believe you may see my point.
    Take an evening out and partake in one of those wonderful choral and orchestra performances taking place all around the world at any given time – I would recommend Handel’s Messiah for this exercise. … ”

    Thanks again for your comments.

  25. 25
    johnnyb says:

    Seversky –

    What they don’t do is to incorporate materials or processes that change over time, that could “mutate” away from their original function and performance parameters.

    Actually, design-by-contract is built around this very concept, and some previous ID work has shown that it is similar to the design patterns within biology.

    Origin of insect metamorphosis based on design-by-contract

  26. 26

    Seversky @ 20: You are correct in saying that science can neither prove nor disprove the existence of a Creator. We can only make inferences based on what empirical science reveals, what Stephen Meyer calls “inference to the best explanation.” For me, modern empirical science completely removes naturalistic abiogenesis theories from consideration as the first cause of life. There is no evidence for such a thing being possible, and the more we learn the less possible it becomes. I feel the same way about Darwinian evolution theories of speciation.

    To answer your first question, yes, I could accept empirical proof of a giant AI creator, but I certainly would not worship it. My worship would be reserved for the ultimate Creator…the Supreme Being that created the giant AI system.

    To answer your second question, no, the Creator does not have to be the Christian God…but I think it is.

  27. 27
    ET says:

    Seversky:

    Inferring design on the basis of similarity to what human beings design is at best a weak analogy.

    And yet that alleged “weak analogy” is by far more than your position has.

    Mutations can and do occur which can lead to the extinction of an individual or an entire species. This suggests that either we were not designed or, if we were, the designer was working to different principles and standards to those applied by human engineers.

    That doesn’t follow as many engineered designs go extinct and have problems.

  28. 28
    kairosfocus says:

    Seversky: Not so fast, as like causes like. We have two instances of functionally specific complex organisation manifested in coded, alphabetic text of algorithmic functionality. One is the text of your post, or the underlying page code, better. The other is the D/RNA code in the cells of your body and other biological life (with about 2 dozen variants). Why should we not infer that intelligence produced both? Do you happen to have a counter-example where FSCO/I beyond 500 – 1,000 bits was observed as produced by blind chance and/or mechanical necessity? Trillions of cases have been observed as produced by intelligently directed configuration. Where, we cannot reasonably hold that we exhaust the possible sets of such designers. So, on the evidence in hand, what is your alternative explanation _____ and why hasn’t it won Nobel prizes as yet? _____ Where BTW, inference on highly reliable sign is a strong form of inductive inference as say has been used by medical practitioners since Hippocrates of Cos and his facies of death. KF

  29. 29
    ET says:

    500-1000 bits? That kind of makes it sound as if they have a process capable of producing, say, 100 bits of FSCO/I. And they don’t.

    Just sayin’.

  30. 30
    kairosfocus says:

    ET, 500 bits is a 13.8 By, 10^57 atom generous upper limit and 1000 is even more generous for 10^80 atoms. Sol system and observed cosmos. Of course, the 1,000 bit limit is comparable to a 143 ascii character tweet. KF

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