Intelligent Design

Faith and Reason in the OOL Context

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Paul Giem’s comment to my Faith and Reason post below is so good, I thought it deserved its own post. Read on to see how Paul demonstrates decisively that in the origin of life context (OOL) the materialists’ faith commitment is the sort of blind-leap-in-the-dark-in-the-teeth-of-the-evidence stretch of which they delight in accusing theists of making.

Paul is responding to a comment from Tom MH:

Tom MH,
It does seem like we share the axiom that the universe is rational, although we need to explore precisely what that means.
Does that mean that the universe is self-explanatory? If Big-Bang cosmology is correct, then there was a time when the universe was not self-explanatory. One can postulate a God, or multiple universes, or a super-universe. But the universe we know cannot explain itself, when pushed back beyond some 13.7 billion years. So, unless one is prepared to challenge Big-Bang cosmology, one must admit that rationality (for the universe) does not entail complete obedience to natural law (the laws of physics as we understand laws) and nothing else. For the laws of physics fail at the moment of the Big Bang. That’s why it is called a singularity.
Are there any other times at which there is evidence for a singularity? Are there any other times when the laws of physics fail to explain the observed phenomena? Probably the best candidate for such a time is at the origin of life. Consider three postulates:
1. Life exists at present.
2. Life could not have existed for a substantial period of time after the Big Bang.
3. Life comes only from life.
I believe we can agree on the first postulate. I believe that, given the Big Bang, we can agree on the second postulate. The real question is whether the third postulate is secure.
As you know, there was a time when the third postulate was believed to be demonstrably false. That time is gone. In fact, the whole point of evolution would be moot if the third postulate were routinely violated. Need some new phyla in the Cambrian? No problem. Trilobites, starfish, clams, hallucinogenia, and hagfish can just spontaneously pop into being. No need to postulate, let alone find, intermediates between ediacaran life and trilobites, for instance. For that matter, no need to find intermediates between reptiles and birds, or between chimpanzees and humans. They just spontaneously generated. The point is that it is generally recognized that the spontaneous generation of life is at least difficult and rare.
Is it even possible without the intervention of some kind of intelligence? We certainly don’t know the answer is yes by any kind of scientific experimentation. In fact, all our experiments to date argue that the answer is no. So if there is to be any evidence for the belief in abiogenesis, it must (at present) come from theory.
But as you also probably know, there is no coherent theory that explains the origin of life from non-life without intelligence either. Otherwise, Harverd scientists would not have gotten their grant to produce such a theory.
And the obstacles in the way of such a theory are formidable. They include (not an exhaustive list):
1. Miller-Urey apparati do not produce all the amino acids used in life.
2. Miller-Urey apparati produce numerous other compounds not used in life, and some that are toxic (the most prominent one being hydrogen cyanide).
3. Miller-Urey apparati do not produce sugars in the presence of ammonia, which is required for producing amino acids.
4. Miller-Urey apparati do not produce all the bases needed for DNA and RNA (Adenine, (HCN)5, being the only one made in appreciable amounts).
5. No known reaction will add bases to the 1-position of ribose (even living organisms do not synthesize the nucleosides that way, using either a complicated synthesis for adenine and guanine, or orotic acid for uridine and cytidine).
6. There is no known process for consistently forming one chirality (left-handed versus right-handed) of biochemical compounds from racemic (non-chiral or mixed chiral) reagents, outside of life itself.
7. There is no known way to get nucleoside triphosphates from nucleosides other than biochemically.
8. When nucleosides polymerize naturally into RNA, they form 2?-5? linkages rather than the 3?-5? linkages normally found in RNA.
9. When RNA is formed by RNA polymerase, shorter RNA molecules outcompete longer ones.
10. Reasonable requirements for the specificity of RNA required for the origin of life are vastly beyond the probabilistic resources of the universe.
11. Even given all the ingredients for life, life will still not spontaneously reorganize. That is why canned fool can sit on the shelf indefinitely without spoiling.
Thus all the evidence we have points to postulate 3 above being correct; life only comes from life. This appears to point to another singularity, this time after the universe began.
Postulating a material intelligence (as Dawkins allowed) doesn’t solve the problem. For then that intelligence must have arisen via some mechanism also. If it is life, then we still must allow for its spontaneous generation, or else a singularity for it. Non-living intelligence is even more of a reach. To postulate that computers, for example, can evolve without intelligent (e. g., from people) input completely strains credulity. And computers cannot have made it through the Big Bang.
So we are left with three alternatives.
1. There are laws of which we are totally ignorant that can produce life from non-living material, without the intervention of intelligence.
2. Life arose through a singularity with no cause, sometime after the universe was formed (implying a break in rationality).
3. Life arose through the action of an intelligent agent, whose intelligence is not dependent upon the organization of matter (which would make that agent supernatural).
Option 2, it seems to me, is irrational, and concedes a universe that is at least partly irrational. Option 3 is not irrational, but is not materialistic, postulating an entity or entities that is/are not restricted to the material. That is, it is rational, but not materialistic.
Option 1 is rational in one sense; we know that our information is incomplete, and this could be one more area where our information is incomplete. And belief in abiogenesis allows us to view the universe as completely (well, except for quantum mechanics and the Big Bang itself), explained by cause-effect relations.
But it is heavily faith-based. We have no experimental evidence for this belief, and the theoretical problems appear insoluble. We have here belief against all the evidence, analogous to the most daring leaps of religious faith imaginable, that is to say, faith not only without evidence but in the teeth of evidence. And it is even worse; there is no appeal to a God Who could reasonably do the feat that needs explaining. It is a miracle without God.
The rationale that I have seen for this leap of faith is usually that “science” has solved all previous problems and will solve this one too. But this argument is wrong, on two counts. First, even if successful, it would only establish that there was relative parity between the argument for the supernatural origin of life and those for abiogenesis. We would still be completely dependent on faith to believe in abiogenesis.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, “science” has in fact not solved all previous problems. Science has come up to a stone wall regarding the origin of the universe. In fact, “science” has come up to several difficult obstacles, issued promissory notes, and moved on without actually solving the problems. The origin of the Cambrian fauna is something that non-interventionalist evolutionary theory has simply postulated without fossil evidence. The origin of the flagellum in a step-by-step manner has never actually been demonstrated (the best try, that of Matzke, was actually a leap-by-leap explanation, and even then without any experimental evidence to back up his scenario). This insistence that nature must be self-contained is in fact faith against the weight of evidence.
Now if you want to believe in abiogenesis by faith, I won’t begrudge you. But some of us prefer to be a little more evidence-based.

72 Replies to “Faith and Reason in the OOL Context

  1. 1
    Paul Giem says:

    Thanks, Barry.

    Now that this is reposted, I should correct a typo. The last word should be “evidence-based”.

  2. 2
    Borne says:

    There’s another typo in point 11: That is why canned fool can sit on the shelf indefinitely

    canned fool? hmmm… reminds of someone I met…

  3. 3
    Atom says:

    RE: Canned fool…

    A few of them have stopped by here, Borne. I’ve heard their canned objections plenty of times…

  4. 4
    tribune7 says:

    Paul,

    great post.

  5. 5
    jerry says:

    Just out of curiosity, which of the 11 obstacles are the crushers to a natural solution to biogenesis? I would list 10 as the crux of the argument and this obstacle can be divided up into several other sub obstacles.

    Are any of the 11 obstacles real deal breakes as #10 is?

  6. 6
    jerry says:

    should be

    Are any of the 11 obstacles real deal breakers as #10 is?

  7. 7
    Tom MH says:

    Well, since I am named in the second paragraph, and I responded to Paul’s post on the original thread, perhaps I can repost my response here — this time WITHOUT blockquotes or other tags, which mangled the readability. No changes other than formatting:

    *******

    Yes, we can both readily agree that abiogenesis is a historical fact – even if we presently do not know the particulars of when, where, or how – of an event that took place some time between the Big Bang and now. I’m happy to rule out the silliness of aliens, fertile meteors, time-travelers, and robots.

    Some other comments on your post, not necessarily in order.

    — “Is it even possible without the intervention of some kind of intelligence? We certainly don’t know the answer is yes by any kind of scientific experimentation. In fact, all our experiments to date argue that the answer is no.”

    Neither yes nor no, but “don’t know”. Certainly HUMAN intelligence has so far failed to accomplish abiogenesis. If and when we do, that success would presumably hold important clues for how it might (or might not) occur in nature.

    The only way to show that a scientific theory is valid (or not) is to form the theory, make predictions contingent on the theory, and conduct experiments to confirm or deny the predictions. No such tests of natural abiogenesis have been performed because AFAIK no such theory exists! I am not a biologist, or even a scientist (just in case anyone might think I was), but I have read things on the web about “RNA World”, and “Lipid World”, and while I don’t have the relevant expertise to evaluate those ideas on their technical merits, I am struck by how provisional and tentative they seem. Perhaps a good start, but not yet a real theory.

    No theory, nothing to prove or falsify. We’re still stuck at “don’t know”.

    — “Are there times at which there is evidence for a singularity? Are there any other times when the laws of physics fail to explain the observed phenomena? ”

    You use of “singularity” to describe abiogenesis is novel to me, but a bit troubling. When applying the (known) laws of physics to the conditions of the early universe, we see they break down at points close to zero – predictive models fail, parameters race away to infinities, that sort of thing. Hence “singularity”. What analogous breakdown of natural laws occur in abiogenesis?

    — “It is that it is generally recognized that the spontaneous generation of life is at least difficult and rare.”

    It certainly is now, but the pre-biotic world was necessarily different then the world we live in today. The ubiquity of bacteria alone is probably enough to doom any natural abiogenesis today, by turning the requisite pre-biotic materials into dinner.

    –“[B]elief in abiogenesis allows us to view the universe as completely (well, except for quantum mechanics and the Big Bang itself), explained by cause-effect relations.

    “But it is heavily faith-based. We have no experimental evidence for this belief, and the theoretical problems appear insoluble. We have here belief against all the evidence, analogous to the most daring leaps of religious faith imaginable, that is to say, faith not only without evidence but in the teeth of evidence.”

    Perhaps the only faith I can see involved is the postulate of the rational universe: that natural events are governed by discoverable rules of regularity. But as I said in an earlier post (in paragraphs presumably not eaten by the blockquote monster), the entire scientific enterprise hangs off that postulate. It’s worked pretty good – why stop now?

    Nor do I see “belief against all evidence”. Lacking a coherent theory of natural abiogenesis, there is precious little to believe IN, or pose evidences against. Lists of ways that abiogenesis could not happen do not reduce the likelihood that it DID or COULD happen. As you said in a previous paragraph, “this could be one more area where our information is incomplete”. What is wrong with “we don’t know”? Or the more hopeful “we don’t know yet”?

    –“And it is even worse; there is no appeal to a God Who could reasonably do the feat that needs explaining. It is a miracle without God.”

    We didn’t understand the motion of the planets for a very long time. Fifteen centuries stand between Ptolemy and Newton. At what point during that time would it have been reasonable to declare the problem hopeless for natural law and hand it to a God Who could reasonably do the feat that needs explaining?

    And if you believe that nature – the universe, this world – and the laws that govern it are God’s miracles, then how could abiogenesis be a miracle without God?

    *******

    I’ve resisted the urge to revise my post, but I’ll add my concurrence with jerry’s point above.

  8. 8
    gpuccio says:

    Paul, wonderful post, and thanks to Barry for emphasizing it.

    It’s not a case that darwinists definitely don’t like discussing OOL, and sometimes prefer the strange view that it is a problem which will never be solved, or even which needs not be solved. Some will hide behind the fact that Darwin himself did not address the problem, as though that solves everything.

    Obstacle 10 is the core of ID in brief, but I would not underestimate all the others. They are strong and sound. Obstacle 11 is my favourite. We must remember that nobody can take the “ingredients” of even the simplest prokaryote, even already formed (membrane, DNA, etc.), and just put them together to generate a living bacterium. And we should believe that something like that came out of a casual aggregation in the ocean, or in rocks, or in some pool? Ridiculous!

    Obviously, some will argue that the first living beings were simpler than bacteria. Well, that’s really an act of faith: believing in the existence of a completely new category of beings, which have never been observed anywhere in the universe, of which we know nothing and never will know (for the simple reason that they probably never existed), and still use that unlikely fantasy as an explanation of all observable life. So much for science and rationality…

    So, I really think that all of those points are real deal breakers, and there are probably many more. Indeed, there is no game: OOL is the final grave of any materialistic scientific explanation of reality.

    But that’s not to say that, once life was formed, anything was possible. Obviously, the same impossibilities are perfectly true also for all that happened after (evolution). The evidence for ID is perfectly strong even after OOL. Only, for OOL it is strong beyond any imagination.

  9. 9
    Tom MH says:

    Sorry Paul Giem, I posted here before finding your response on the original thread.

  10. 10
    Paul Giem says:

    jerrry (5 and 6) and gpuccio (8),

    It varies as to how much of a dealbreaker each one is, and for which subtheory.

    For example, obstacles 7, 8, and 9 are all dealbreakers for the RNA World subtheory, but don’t have direct applicability to lipid or protein theories. Obstacle 1 is primarily a problem for protein-first scenarios.

    As I noted, this is not an exhaustive list. Obstacle 12 could be that proteins do not spontaneously form out of amino acids; the one experiment that seemed to demonstrate protein formation had to use dry heat at a narrow range (higher and the mass would char, lower and the desired reaction would not take place. That experiment also required that 2/3 of the reaction mixture be either aspartic acid or glutamic acid, which led to the disproportionate inclusion of those amino acids in the final product. And of course the final product did not have a specified order; in fact, there was some evidence that the arrangement of amino acids resembled a tree more than a line, as in conventional protein.

    I don’t look at these obstacles so much as dealbreakers as they are obstacles that must be dealt with if one is to have a good theory. I am prepared to be completely openminded about the origin of life. I’m not locking and barring the door if someone wants to go there. But if that person expects me to follow him/her, he/she needs to deal with the obstacles. If the obstacles are not dealt with, I see no reason why I should exercise faith that they will disappear. I have been told for decades that science has no room for faith. I could buy skepticism. What I can’t buy is selective skepticism.

  11. 11
    Atticus Finch says:

    Paul Giem,

    Your notion of the state of OOL research is outdated. Even if you hate Nick Matzke, there is no denying he has given a remarkable update on OOL (close to the beginning of the article). If you really want to bash OOL, you should read the primary literature constantly, and not rely on the digests of others.

  12. 12
    wnelson says:

    The desire to believe that one species can morph into another rests not in any observation of its possibility, but entirely in the desire to hold God at arm’s length, or out of the picture altogether.

    But, like PG’s post said, no one would begrudge anyone’s blind leap of faith. Yet the ability for too many evolutionists to stridently claim a surety that they essentially deny by their very presuppositions, is stunning. There is a claim to “reason” but almost immediately that “reason” bars the door way beyond it’s perusal, for what may or may not exist. An existential need for surety is claimed to be found it in their “reason,” but a quick glance at the wizard behind epistemological curtain ought to give them cause for pause. They have no surety in reason or empiricism, but still miss why they make a very common claim, all the while claiming science as their guide. It’s patently foolish, especially with the current paucity of evidence for the possibility of morphing one species into another in any small, stepwise fashion. If there is a surety, it’s not coming from the scientific direction, but through the deflection of an existential threat.

    It is stunning that a dogmatic interpretation of the fossil record should be supportable in public by only assuming or pretending that we have any hint of what might be a viable path from rocks to Raphael, or from ANY species to ANY other, however small. There is nothing out there, for any organism, to give any indication that this is possible. We don’t see it once, or anywhere.

    With all the proc time out there, you would think someone, somewhere could build/brute force a bridge on paper, one mutation, etc., at a time. But we hear nothing of this in the news, we hear of no one getting close to this route or that. Reshuffling information is fine, until you go back to a point where it needs creation. In the meantime we are left with the likes of malaria resistance, and the recent possible bacteria jump — but at rates that will never move the evolutionary ball much of anywhere in the time given. There are simply no viable answers being offered, only dogmatic allusions to something we might find “somewhere,” “sometime” in the future — if only their dogmatic interpretation of the fossil record proves correct.

    When you finally chase your average evolutionist back to the abiogenesis porch (you can chase a dog all over town…etc.) something becomes very clear: once you strip away the desire for holding God at arms’ length, there is very little left to the theory. About the only legitimacy than can be claimed is a dogmatic interpretation of the fossil record.

  13. 13
    wnelson says:

    PG: on post #10

    The more you look at the efforts to synthesize life, the more it becomes clear that for traditional evolutionary theory to be correct, the meaning of Chaos and of Order have to be ultimately conflated.

  14. 14
    Paul Giem says:

    Tom MH,

    Since you have reposted your reply, I’ll try reposting my reply to you. This time I’ll try using real blockquote tags. Other than the first line and a correction I had already made, I’ll also avoid further editing. We’ll see if this goes through.

    __________

    Thank you for your reply. And thank you for the background information, including that you are not a scientist, let alone a biologist. It helps me to understand better where you are coming from.

    It appears rather that you get your information largely from websites. That explains why the arguments you advanced sounded so familiar to me. They are standard spin. And they are, quite frankly, ludicrous to one who is familiar with the biochemistry involved. But not being able to form independent judgments, you might easily not have noticed. So I’ll try to spell it out for you.

    The first spin it the attempt to change “in all probability no” into “we don’t know yet.” You say,

    Neither yes nor no, but “don’t know”. Certainly HUMAN intelligence has so far failed to accomplish abiogenesis. If and when we do, that success would presumably hold important clues for how it might (or might not) occur in nature.

    Again, you say,

    No theory, nothing to prove or falsify. We’re still stuck at “don’t know”.

    Then, finally, you ask,

    What is wrong with “we don’t know”? Or the more hopeful “we don’t know yet”?

    This kind of reasoning, if carried on consistently, would destroy science. What it does is take the principle of doubt, turn it inflexible, and apply it with no sense of nuance whatsoever.

    It is true that philosophy cannot determine the structure of the universe. Socrates and his friends, as recorded by Plato, tried and came up with four elements, and in medicine, this worked out to four humors. We all know how well *that* worked out. It is also true that induction is not absolute, and that we can misunderstand the nature of natural law. Even falsification is not absolute, as the later Popper, and more modern philosophy of science, recognized. The principle of doubt thus has a theoretical basis.

    But that is not the same thing as saying that all theories have the same base of evidence behind them, and thus can be considered equally probable. The oxygen theory of combustion has vastly more evidence compatible with it than the phlogiston theory. It’s still theoretically possible for the phlogiston theory to be correct, but it is fair to say that believing the phlogiston theory requires faith in the teeth of the evidence.

    Let me ask you, what would be your reaction if a young earth creationist were to say, without giving any evidence whatsoever, “The only way to show that a scientific theory is valid (or not) is to form the theory, make predictions contingent on the theory, and conduct experiments to confirm or deny the predictions. No such tests of short-age theory of radiometric dating have been performed because AFAIK no such theory exists!” Suppose he went on to say, “What is wrong with ‘we don’t know’? Or the more hopeful ‘we don’t know yet’?” Would he really convince you that you should be effectively agnostic on the question? Wouldn’t you say that there should be at least some evidence before the theory is taken seriously?

    And yet, with only the change in subject from “short-age theory of radiometric dating” to “natural abiogenesis”, that is exactly the way you have argued. To be fair, the argument has been used before, and it is understandable that you tend to trust scientific websites. But rather than just repeat it, look at the argument critically. I think you’ll agree that it falls apart.

    It’s important to realize that it doesn’t fall apart just because of faulty philosophical premises. It could be true, and in 1800 it was true, that we didn’t know much about the subject. But it isn’t any more. That’s why I made the list of obstacles in the way of abiogenesis. The argument against abiogenesis is not a philosophical one; it is a scientific one. You have to understand, at least somewhat, the science before you can appreciate its force.

    Another example of spin is the claim that there is no theory to test. You refer to “RNA World” and “Lipid World” (and you might have referred to “Protein World”). Those are theories. When you say,

    No such tests of natural abiogenesis have been performed because AFAIK no such theory exists!

    and again,

    Nor do I see “belief against all evidence”. Lacking a coherent theory of natural abiogenesis, there is precious little to believe IN, or pose evidences against.

    this is simply incorrect. The theories exist. They just aren’t supported by the evidence. To take just one example from the RNA World theory (mentioned in my previous post 63), RNA is supposed to polymerize with greater and greater complexity and function as time goes on according to the theory. Yet when RNA and the raw materials for RNA were put into a solution with RNA polymerase, the RNA sequences consistently shortened to the smallest fragments that would be reliably duplicated by the enzyme. That is, instead of evolution, we have devolution. This is actually understandable as survival of the fittest (who says the fittest has to be the biggest? If the only relevant function is reproduction, then smaller reproduces faster). But it doesn’t help the RNA to develop new functions, which it will need if it is to be a steppingstone to life.

    This idea that there is no theory to test is pure, unadulterated spin, meant to insulate OOL theories from reality. I’m sorry you got sucked in.

    You make an observation but miss its significance.

    Certainly HUMAN intelligence has so far failed to accomplish abiogenesis. If and when we do, that success would presumably hold important clues for how it might (or might not) occur in nature.

    Try substituting “natural production of a quantum computer” for “abiogenesis”. Would you really suspend all judgment if you found a quantum computer as to whether it was designed by someone with intelligence, if you found one somewhere, simply because we haven’t been able to produce one yet? If We find a functional airplane on a previously unexplored planet, we could be reasonably certain that an intelligence had created it. Wouldn’t the case be more, rather than less, certain if we found a quantum computer? The argument that since humans have not created life, nature is more likely to have done so on its own, is a complete non-sequitur.

    You say regarding the spontaneous generation of life being at least difficult and rare,

    It certainly is now, but the pre-biotic world was necessarily different then the world we live in today. The ubiquity of bacteria alone is probably enough to doom any natural abiogenesis today, by turning the requisite pre-biotic materials into dinner.

    The websites you visited do not give you the information that you need to make the appropriate judgments, and have thus kept you ignorant. But it has been calculated how thick the “primordial soup” was, and it turns out to be something like 10^-7 molar, more dilute than modern seawater. That is because the same processes that make amino acids, adenine, and so forth, also destroy them. Ultraviolet light in particular breaks down the prebiotic compounds. It isn’t just bacteria that destroy those compounds. The fact that the websites you have visited have not mentioned this reveals their bias and/or ignorance.

    Since you are not really familiar with the evidence, and what familiarity you have is apparently gleaned from one-sided sources, it is perhaps understandable that you say,

    “Perhaps the only faith I can see involved is the postulate of the rational universe: that natural events are governed by discoverable rules of regularity. But as I said in an earlier post (in paragraphs presumably not eaten by the blockquote monster), the entire scientific enterprise hangs off that postulate. It’s worked pretty good – why stop now?

    Would one of those rules of regularity be that life only comes from life? If so, does that not turn your reasoning on its head?

    The logic behind this statement is baffling on first reading:

    Lists of ways that abiogenesis could not happen do not reduce the likelihood that it DID or COULD happen.

    In what other area of science does the elimination of the most promising ways for something to happen make no difference in the probability of something happening?

    Since we are talking about historical science, let me offer a parallel from forensics. Suppose we gain access to a house to find a body in the living room, missing its head, and when we proceed to the basement, we find the head in a freezer. DNA matches the two, and the person is known not to have a twin, by historical records and his parents’ memory. It seems pretty evident that this is homicide. Further examination of the body establishes that the heart was beating when the head was severed.

    Let’s suppose further that the house was inspected just before the deceased went in last night and that nobody was in the house, and the deceased was told not to let anyone in, and that he seemed frightened enough not to do so.

    Now if the door shows no evidence of forced entry, and the windows are all locked from the inside and not broken, and inspection of the walls shows now holes, and the basement walls and floor show no evidence of tunneling, ordinarily this would count as evidence against forced entry.

    But here is where it gets sticky. If one is sure that nobody but the deceased had a key, then all of these circumstances do not rule out forced entry, or even make it less likely. Someone had to get in somehow, and all we have done is rule out certain ways of getting in. Maybe there was some passage forced from under the eaves into the attic or something. But if we know that the deceased had a brother who had a key, suspicion has to increasingly fall on the brother. Of course, the brother’s lawyer will insist that our inspection hasn’t made forced entry any less likely. But this is true only for the lawyer, who “knows” that his client is not guilty and that somehow someone else must have forced entry into the house.

    Something analogous is happening here. The websites you have read “know” that supernatural intervention does not happen, and therefore abiogenesis must have happened spontaneously, and therefore since its probability is 1 be definition, closing of possible avenues for abiogenesis to have happened just means that we have not discovered the correct one yet. But for one who entertains the possibility that God created life, in whatever way He did, closing off those avenues increases the chances that in fact God did it. This person can easily see that an atheist perspective is being allowed to dictate the interpretation of the data for those who insist that failed theories of the origin of life do not make (unguided) abiogenesis any less likely.

    One can do that. But let’s call it what it is. It is philosophy trumping scientific evidence.

    In fact, the stance you have outlined strains logic when you think about it. IIn what other field of science could one say, “I am struck by how provisional and tentative they [theories of some kind, in this case abiogenesis] seem. Perhaps a good start, but not yet a real theory.” and claim that we are in a state of relative equipoise (as in “No theory, nothing to prove or falsify. We’re still stuck at ‘don’t know’.”)?

    You were uncomfortable with what you called my using “singularity” to describe abiogenesis. I am not stating that as a premise , but suggesting that as a possible conclusion. The term “singularity” seems to fit IMO because (1) it happens only once, thus making it a singular event, and (2) at that point one of the apparent laws of nature breaks down, namely, that life only comes from life. I don’t have a big problem not using the word if it makes you uncomfortable, but the concepts that support that use would still be valid even if we no longer called the event a singularity.

    Now if you can demonstrate the spontaneous generation of life, or show that there is a reasonable theoretical pathway from non-life to life, then the conditions that caused me to suggest that the origin of life is a singularity would vanish, and it would no longer be appropriate for me to use the term. But to quote Sir Charles, “I can find out no such case.”

    Finally, you seem to have misunderstood a part of what I said. and countered it with an irrelevancy. The original context of what I said was describing an option for explaining the origin of life:

    There are laws of which we are totally ignorant that can produce life from non-living material, without the intervention of intelligence.

    This is obviously an option that leaves God out of the picture, at least for the origin of life, except for the possibility that He set up the laws. After criticizing this option for being belief against the experimental and theoretical evidence, I said (and you quoted):

    And it is even worse; there is no appeal to a God Who could reasonably do the feat that needs explaining. It is a miracle without God.

    You then wrote two paragraphs. Taking the second one first.

    And if you believe that nature – the universe, this world – and the laws that govern it are God’s miracles, then how could abiogenesis be a miracle without God?

    The way this is stated, if I believe that nature and the laws that govern it are God’s miracles, then how could abioegnesis be a miracle without God? My answer would be that I don’t think that abiogenesis happened, or at least that if you define abiogenesis as previously non-living matter becoming alive, that God did it. and that therefore for me it is a miracle with God.

    But perhaps when you used the word “you”, you really meant it is the generic, and it is analogous to “someone’. So what you really meant was “If someone believes that nature and nature’s laws were God’s miracles, that person could not properly say that abiogenesis was a miracle without God.” In that case I would agree, at least in a technical sense. There would be a God, in that case. If life resulted at some point as the result of nature and nature’s laws, it would no longer be a miracle, although if nature and nature’s laws had to be arranged in a very special way in order to make this happen, and it was not reproducible by us at will, then it would still qualify as a miracle, and if we insisted that God could not influence the event, in a sense it would be without God.

    The other paragraph was,

    We didn’t understand the motion of the planets for a very long time. Fifteen centuries stand between Ptolemy and Newton. At what point during that time would it have been reasonable to declare the problem hopeless for natural law and hand it to a God Who could reasonably do the feat that needs explaining?

    Presumably the argument was meant to compare Ptolemy to believers in God’s intervention and Newton to believers in abiogenesis (without God). There are two problems with this assumed parallel and therefore with the argument. First, there is no evidence that Ptolemy believed that God moved the spheres that carried the sun, moon, and planets along, and that in contrast Newton had impersonal laws. Newton did believe in laws, but had no mechanism for gravity, and he certainly believed in God. On the other hand, correct me if I am wrong, but I do not believe that Ptolemy explicitly said what propelled the moving spheres that he envisioned. Ptolemy’s planetary system is every bit as mechanistic as Newton’s, and perhaps more so.

    Second, in contrast to the case you cite, where Ptolemy’s theory was supplanted by Newton’s, in science, belief in widespread abiogenesis has been supplanted by a belief that abiogenesis is impossible, except for some areligious believers and their religious imitators who are trying desperately for carve-out so as to keep God’s activity out of the universe, at least after it started. There is the insistence that history is going their way, when it is actually going in the opposite direction. That is a faith-based rewriting of history, and at present qualifies as a distortion.

    I would still make the point: All the experimental evidence we have points to life only arising from other life. All the theoretical models for how abiogenesis could have happened are presently foundering on the evidence. One can believe in abiogenesis anyway, But that is a faith-based position, against the weight of the evidence. That evidence points to an intelligent designer, and if we discount space aliens as you suggest, it points to a supernatural designer (or Designer).

  15. 15
    Tom MH says:

    Perhaps I should refuse to respond until you show me how you avoided the blockquote monster!

  16. 16
    Atticus Finch says:

    Paul Giem (and others),

    It seems to me that your invocations of intelligence as a physical cause reduce to appeal to intuition. The reason is that you have given no scientific definition of “intelligence” as a physical entity.

    People have a strong tendency to assign physical existence to abstractions. But the fact that people allude to “intelligence” regularly and intuit that it’s something physical does not mean that science can treat it as anything but a hypothetical construct. To observe “intelligence” empirically, a scientist must first give it an operational definition. But then it is not “intelligence” that the scientist observes, but what he or she has defined as an indicator of intelligence.

    This is not something I have made up as an objection to ID. It’s what I learned studying psychology, several decades before I first heard of ID. And psychometrists continue to own up to “intelligence” as their construct, rather than claim that it is something that physically inheres in an animal.

    Reification of “intelligence” is a widespread error, hardly limited to ID proponents. A similar error is to believe that things we say are living have “life” in them. I’m old enough to remember a silly debate as to whether viruses ARE living things. The actual question was whether it would profit science more to define viruses as living or non-living.

    We call people and termite colonies “intelligent.” The fact that we apply a single term to both does not imply that the two have a physical something in common.

  17. 17
    Paul Giem says:

    Atticus Finch, (11),

    I am not sure where you got the idea that I hate Nick Matzke. I mentioned him only once, not in connection with OOL, and commented that he was one of the few who actually tried to give a step-by-step account of the evolution of a complex biochemical structure, in this case the bacterial flagellum. Just because IMO he failed doesn’t mean that I don’t respect him for actually trying.

    I have read a substantial amount, although not a substantial proportion (the literature is vast) of the OOL literature. That reading continues when I become aware of critical points. To expect me, or anyone else, to have read most of the literature on OOL is absurd; it would result in nobody commenting (which is perhaps what it is meant to do). Everyone to a certain extent relies on digests

    I have kept up with competent summaries of the literature (e. g., Orgel), and they give no indication of fundamental breakthroughs. I am curious as to what you saw in Matzke’s review that makes it different from all the rest of the reviews that I have read.

    Tom MH,

    I just put in the blockquotes separately so that there was no mistake. I don’t know that this is what did it; it is very possible that others also did this and some glitch occurred. We have a problem with induction here. 😉

  18. 18
    wnelson says:

    AF #16

    I don’t think the “invocations of intelligence” really come into play here — the average Darwinian positions were formed in ignorance many years back, and remain to be held in spite of the evidence: that it is even possible to do things stepwise with or without intelligence. By all indications there are no routes between species or life and inanimate matter that can be bought, begged or stolen.

    The insistence of not only no intelligence, but even the possibility of abiogenesis becomes forced and hollow when, at a every turn, we not only find more complexity, but that we can only to expect discoveries of increased complexity to continue indefinitely.

    It becomes near self-parody when, in defense of a lack of evidence for the OOL, that a dogmatically interpreted fossil record is held up a “scientific” evidence.

    This is about a want for evolution to be true, rather than investing in something that speaks for itself — even only in terms of it’s possibility.

  19. 19
    jerry says:

    A couple points that are relevant:

    There are no accepted definitions for the following terms: science, life, intelligence and species. All of which enter into our debates nearly every day. We use them but without any common acceptance of just what each is or means.

    Second, I read Nick Matzke’s long discussion on OOL quickly and it seems it is something that should be discussed separately or even on this thread since it is apropos. The thing that caught my eye was the claim that they have a handle on how DNA was built. Matzke said:

    “Each of these areas has developed into a subfield which has experienced major research discoveries in recent years. For example, on the origin of the genetic code, this paper assembles dozens of indicators on the order in which amino acids were added, step-by-step, to the genetic code and shows that the evidence strongly supports a fairly specific scenario (which shares many similarities with early, more speculative scenarios built on the basis of just a few lines of evidence).

    Ergo, we don’t just know that the Last Common Ancestor of Life was simple, and that it’s ancestor was simpler, and that it’s ancestor was an even simpler RNA-dominated critter; we even have a decent idea about the order of the steps by which the genetic code itself evolved.”

    Lots of interesting stuff but it may be that Matzke has a knack of making the irrelevant sound important or consequential. I would be especially interested in just how they think the genetic code was built because that is one of the main stumbling blocks for OOL.

  20. 20
    Tom MH says:

    Paul,

    Your criticisms of my uneducated musings on abiogenesis, unwisely posted here (twice!), are fair. I shall avoid further unsupported forays into biochemistry, which is not my specialty, as you amply demonstrated.

    However, before I retire back to lurkdom, I wonder if I might borrow your forensic example, and try to use it to make the point I wanted to make:

    Someone had to get in somehow, and all we have done is rule out certain ways of getting in.

    Yes. We know abiogenesis happened; the question is how. You consider divine intervention the leading candidate, obviously. The “brother with the key” in your analogy, yes?

    Let me modify the scenario somewhat, then. Suppose there had been no brother, and no duplicate key had been found, and no other apparent means of entry to the room were evident. The detectives would have had a more difficult problem to solve…and maybe a problem that they could not solve, and therefore one they might relegate to the cold case files pending discovery of further evidence. (I believe this would make what is commonly known in fiction as a “locked room mystery”.) We would not expect them to conclude the death-by-beheading was a miracle.

    I suppose beheading-by-miracle would not be something anyone would want to conclude, but let’s not strain the analogy. The question is, why relegate the resolution of a seemingly unsolvable problem to “miracle”? Don’t we have ample record of scientific questions — inquiries into the nature of “X”, whatever X might be — which were for a time unsolved and seemingly unsolvable, and which were ultimately resolved through theory and measurement? And don’t there continue to persist further scientific problems, unsolved and seemingly unsolvable, that confound scientific reasearch today? What is the threshold for invoking divine intervention, or declaring some event or phenomenon to be beyond the reach of natural law?

    More of a question than I point, I suppose, but there it is.

  21. 21
    jpark320 says:

    Looks like Paul Giem has his work cut out for him over here – Good luck man.

    Anyways, I thought it was a brilliant response.

  22. 22
    tribune7 says:

    The question is, why relegate the resolution of a seemingly unsolvable problem to “miracle”?

    Tom, once the default assumption of science was that God did it and we should figure out how. Now, the default assumption is that God can’t exist.

    Nobody is relegating OOL to “miracle” in the sense that one can’t investigate it. Investigate it all you want.

    But what happens when the evidence points to God as it now seems to be doing? Should one lose one’s job for suggesting so?

  23. 23
    Atticus Finch says:

    Paul Giem: “I am not sure where you got the idea that I hate Nick Matzke.”

    It was rhetorical. I had no idea you’d ever said anything about him. Many people here dismiss immediately anything coming from the “PT mafia,” and that’s why I made the comment.

  24. 24
    Atticus Finch says:

    “I have kept up with competent summaries of the literature (e. g., Orgel), and they give no indication of fundamental breakthroughs. I am curious as to what you saw in Matzke’s review that makes it different from all the rest of the reviews that I have read.”

    Matzke argues convincingly that OOL research has progressed enormously. I have not reread the article, but I believe that you are placing greater emphasis (points 1-4) on Miller-Urey conditions than OOL investigators presently do. I think he addresses your point 6, though you have qualifiers that I don’t recall. Your point 8 also looks like something he addressed.

    – “9. When RNA is formed by RNA polymerase, shorter RNA molecules outcompete longer ones.”

    I would appreciate elaboration — “outcompete” for what, and under what conditions.

    – “10. Reasonable requirements for the specificity of RNA required for the origin of life are vastly beyond the probabilistic resources of the universe.”

    Which OOL review did you see this in? Where can I go to see the calculations? Does life originate with self-replicating RNA?

  25. 25
    allanius says:

    Sorry, boys; resistance is futile. Add the fact of fine-tuning to Paul’s admirable summary, and Darwinism begins to look like a fairy tale for those who want to imagine themselves to be “intellectually fulfilled atheists.”

    As for intellect: sure, I can define it. Intellect is the capacity to make value judgments. Calling termite colonies “intelligent” is a species of what used to be called a pathetic fallacy, back in the days before logic succumbed to cleverness.

  26. 26
    StephenB says:

    It is less important to provide an operational definition of intelligence and more important to recognize the fact that we have evidence of its existence even if we know little of its essence. If we fail to acknowledge the existence of non-material minds, we simply cannot make sense out of our world. Atticus Finch, for example, wants to know why ID doesn’t define intelligence in physical terms. The obvious answer is because intelligence is not a physical entity. Apparently, he can’t accept the proposition that intelligence can cause physical events without itself being a physical entity.

    So, he writes, “people have a strong tendency to assign physical existence to abstractions.” Well, yes, that happens sometimes. But people also tend to assign real existence to non-physical realities, as well they should. The problem is that materialists tend to dismiss non-physical realities solely on the grounds that they are not physical. So they ask for physical definitions of non-physical realities, which is their way of saying that non-physical realities may not be brought to the table as a possible explanation for anything.
    And so Atticus insists that intelligence is “reified,” which is his way of saying that something unreal (a non physical entity such as the mind) has been elevated to a status that it doesn’t deserve (real). He thinks that we should not consider a mind as a possible cause because it is not a physical cause. Since it is different than other kinds of causes, it should not be thought of as a cause at all.
    Now think about this for a moment. What happens when a pool shooter pockets the nine-ball? The causal chain of movements (physical events) can be traced all the way back to the mind of a first mover (a non-physical event). The object ball was moved by the cue ball, which, in turn, was moved by the pool stick, which in turn was moved by the player’s body, which in turn was moved by the player’s intelligence. Under the circumstances, is it not fair to assign intelligence as a first cause here?
    Now the materialist will say that, in one way, the players brain was the cause of the events, and, in another way, that it was the effect of prior causes leading up to it. As fortunes plaything, the player acted out of necessity. His movements were all part of a chain of physical events that finally played themselves out without his intent, approval, or, dare I say it, skill. I assume, then, that materialist/Darwinists never shoot pool. Why would one say to the other, “nice shot?” And why would the recipient of the compliment say, “thank you?”
    Let’s get real here. Without a prime mover, there is no movement at all. Indeed, the first cause is the most important cause of all.

  27. 27
    StephenB says:

    Here is @26 in paragraph form.

    It is less important to provide an operational definition of intelligence and more important to recognize the fact that we have evidence of its existence even if we know little of its essence. If we fail to acknowledge the existence of non-material minds, we simply cannot make sense out of our world. Atticus Finch, for example, wants to know why ID doesn’t define intelligence in physical terms. The obvious answer is because intelligence is not a physical entity. Apparently, he can’t accept the proposition that intelligence can cause physical events without itself being a physical entity.

    So, he writes, “people have a strong tendency to assign physical existence to abstractions.” Well, yes, that happens sometimes. But people also tend to assign real existence to non-physical realities, as well they should. The problem is that materialists tend to dismiss non-physical realities solely on the grounds that they are not physical. So they ask for physical definitions of non-physical realities, which is their way of saying that non-physical realities may not be brought to the table as a possible explanation for anything.

    And so Atticus insists that intelligence is “reified,” which is his way of saying that something unreal (a non physical entity such as the mind) has been elevated to a status that it doesn’t deserve (real). He thinks that we should not consider a mind as a possible cause because it is not a physical cause. Since it is different than other kinds of causes, it should not be thought of as a cause at all.
    Now think about this for a moment. What happens when a pool shooter pockets the nine-ball? The causal chain of movements (physical events) can be traced all the way back to the mind of a first mover (a non-physical event). The object ball was moved by the cue ball, which, in turn, was moved by the pool stick, which in turn was moved by the player’s body, which in turn was moved by the player’s intelligence. Under the circumstances, is it not fair to assign intelligence as a first cause here?

    Now the materialist will say that, in one way, the players brain was the cause of the events, and, in another way, that it was the effect of prior causes leading up to it. As fortunes plaything, the player acted out of necessity. His movements were all part of a chain of physical events that finally played themselves out without his intent, approval, or, dare I say it, skill. I assume, then, that materialist/Darwinists never shoot pool. Why would one say to the other, “nice shot?” And why would the recipient of the compliment say, “thank you?”
    Let’s get real here. Without a prime mover, there is no movement at all. Indeed, the first cause is the most important cause of all.

  28. 28
    Chemfarmer says:

    Jerry, #5: Sorry to join the fun so late, but as an organic chemist I’d say that all 11 are “deal breakers”, and I could add several more I think.

    Tom MH, #7: Who says “abiogenesis is a historical fact”? Wow. Given the state of the “evidence”, abiogenesis absolutely falls into the category of faith. Except that some try to promote the idea that faith in science is science, when in fact it is still faith.

  29. 29
    Tom MH says:

    Chemfarmer, #28: By “abiogenesis” I was referring to the appearance of life on Earth, regardless of how. In previous posts I (and Paul Giem, I believe) referred to “natural abiogenesis” or “unguided abiogenesis” to refer to abiogenesis via purely natural causes.

  30. 30
    gpuccio says:

    Chemfarmer:

    Perhaps Tom MH meant that “abiogenesis is a historical fact” in the sense that there was a time when there was no life on our planet, and then there was a time where life existed. I think that is a scenario which most of us would accept. So, unless one believes in panspermia, abiogenesis had to “happen”. The problem is “how” and “why” did it happen. If life was intelligently designed, as I believe, it was abiogenesis all the same: intelligently designed abiogenesis.

    I have often noticed this confusion about two different meanings of the same word. The same problem we can find with the world “evolution”.

    Both “abiogenesis” and “evolution” can mean two different things:

    a) A mere decsription of a process of natural history. In that sense, abiogenesis is a historical “fact” if one accepts the minimum assumptions specified above, and evolution is a historical “fact” if one accepts common descent. (in a sense, that kind of historical facts are in relity inferences, because the facts themselves, being historical, have not been observed. But the inference here is not explanatory, it only tries to affirm that something happened).

    b) A specific explanatory theory of how and why those historical facts happened. In that sense, they refer to specific scientific theories about causes. RNA world and darwinian evolution, for example, are specific theories about abiogenesis and evolution. ID is a specific theory about both abiogenesis and evolution.

    It is important to distinguish between inferences about historical facts (all history and natural history is based on them), where we just try to understand what happened, and inferences about general laws of reality, where we try to understand why things happen, and to build abstract rational models of nature’s laws. One of the ways darwinists try to escape the consequences of the logical and empirical faults of their theory is to confound the theory itself with the historical facts of natural history, which are easy to accept, but which demonstrate nothing about causes.

  31. 31
    DaveScot says:

    There’s another huge “deal breaker”. Even in Miller-Urey and subsequent experiments where a small subset of the basic organic molecules are formed they don’t form in anywhere near high enough concentration to do anything interesting subsequently.

  32. 32

    Matzke is bluffing, as usual. At the risk of generalizing, in my experience, every time one looks into his grand assertions (including, yes, his “explanation” about the origin of the bacterial flagellum) they fall apart upon careful inspection.

    On a more general note, let’s get real: you don’t get specified code from random events culled by selection; and self-organization ideas are, by very definition, anathema to the concept of contingent specified information. Any view to the contrary is simply belief in magic.

  33. 33
    Paul Giem says:

    Tom MH, (20)

    Thanks for your gracious concession, and thanks for your understanding of my analogy. And thanks for your final question:

    What is the threshold for invoking divine intervention, or declaring some event or phenomenon to be beyond the reach of natural law?

    It is actually a very difficult question, and even if we get it theoretically right, there is no guarantee that our theory can always be put into practice properly. But I’ll try to give a few principles that seem sound from my point of view.

    First, miracles (defined as the violation of known laws of nature) should not be ruled out a priori. One can only do so on a faith basis, and as we have seen, at present that is against the vast weight of the evidence. Besides, if one does so, one has a position that is basically impervious to scientific evidence, and therefore not self-correcting, which has been claimed as another of the hallmarks of religion and not of science.

    Second, one should expect that miracles are rare, and a rebuttable presumption should exist that a given event is not a miracle. (If we make it an irrebuttable presumption, we have moved from methodological naturalism to philosophical naturalism, and therefore more than science can justify). Thus belief in miracles doesn’t mean the end of science, or that just anything could happen anytime, and that we should live our lives in the expectation of chaos,or that science would be totally destroyed.

    Third, before one comfortably accepts a miracle, it should make some kind of theological sense. Intelligences generally do things for a reason, and if no reason is apparent for a miracle, it should make us wonder whether we have the facts straight. This puts considerable weight on our having the right theology, and carries the corollary that if our theology is incorrect, we might very well misidentify events as miracles systematically, and misidentify events as miracles that really aren’t. But nobody said that this would be easy.

    Finally, in view of all the variables involved, and our limited knowledge of both science and theology, it behooves all of us to be humble about our opinions in this area and open to correction. That’s why I refer to objections rather than dealbreakers. They may be dealbreakers for me at this time, and I may see no way around them, but the evidence could change, and I need to remain open to that possibility.

    (For that reason, I would not comfortably attribute a beheading to a supernatural entity unless I could make some kind of theological sense of it. Either the person would have to be very bad, and some kind of message would have to be conveyed by the beheading, or there would have to be some reason why a good God would allow a malevolent supernatural entity control over this person, or both. I ma not yet to the point where I am willing to assume that God is not good.)

    For the rest of you, I have limited time right now, but will try to get to your comments.

  34. 34
    Atticus Finch says:

    StephenB (26) comments:

    Atticus Finch, for example, wants to know why ID doesn’t define intelligence in physical terms. The obvious answer is because intelligence is not a physical entity. Apparently, he can’t accept the proposition that intelligence can cause physical events without itself being a physical entity.

    No, the problem is not mine, but that of the ID movement. The founder of the movement, Phillip Johnson, made it clear that he was out to split the foundations of naturalism. There was a time when William Dembski described intelligence as a “non-natural” source of information (see Intelligent Design Coming Clean, dated 2000). Leaders of the movement have shifted to the stance that intelligence is natural, but not material. I don’t know what caused the shift, but I will observe that one of the meanings of “supernatural” is “non-natural,” and that a federal court has ruled that references to the supernatural are intrinsically religious.

    The best thing leading ID theorists have going for them is the “information is physical” slogan of quantum mechanics. The problem there, however, is that there have been strong challenges to that notion, e.g., those of Chris Timpson.

    Even if there should emerge a consensus among scientists that information is physical “stuff,” though not material, it would hardly follow immediately that intelligence, taken as a source of information, could itself be “unembodied” (to borrow a term from Dembski).

  35. 35
    Atticus Finch says:

    By the way, I’ve wondered how a Christian who believes that the Designer of life is God can say that the designing intelligence is natural, rather than supernatural.

    My best guess is that a Christian might say that the Holy Spirit is God within nature. I have no idea how Jews and Muslims would deal with the idea that God’s intelligence is part of nature.

  36. 36

    A quick drive by comment . . .

    Atticus, you are grasping at straws. Your cite of Johnson is irrelevant to the question at hand, and appears to be included in an attempt to paint some ulterior motive. More germane, neither you, nor anyone else, is currently capable of defining intelligence in physical terms. If intelligence is not in fact a material/physical entity, then not defining it as such is certainly not a problem.

  37. 37
    DaveScot says:

    Phil Johnson was instrumental in the founding of the Discovery Institute which is a political action group not an establishment of science or philosophy. The concept of intelligent design itself is far older than any living person. It goes back thousands of years and was called “the argument from design”. The evidence presented to support it is all that has changed in the modern era. The bulk of that evidence is now in the nanometer scale molecular machinery common in all living cells and the fine tuning of the physical constants. These things were virtually unknown before the latter half of the 20th century.

    “Supernatural” is an abused term in this debate. Perhaps for cosmological ID based on the fine tuning of the physical constants, it’s a good term but cosmological ID isn’t where the controversy is heated. Biological ID is where all the action is at and no one from my camp has been able to show me a single solitary thing about life on this planet that requires a supernatural cause. “Artificial” is the appropriate antonym for “natural” in biological ID.

    Use of the terms “supernatural” and “intelligent design creationism” are cheap shots employed to win the argument by way of judicial fiat instead of the weight of the evidence. I don’t really blame the chance worshippers though. They’d have lost long ago if all they had to defeat ID was the weight of the evidence. If all you have are cheap shots I suppose you’re then forced to use them or concede.

  38. 38
    Atticus Finch says:

    Eric Anderson:

    Mind you don’t get yourself banned. LOL. Thus sayeth DaveScot (with obvious allusion to a 2000 conference Dembski organized to address The Nature of Nature):

    By redefining the nature of nature.

    NeoDarwinian chance worshippers contradict themselves by saying that intelligent design is supernatural and in the same breath saying that human intelligence which produces intelligent designs evolved naturally.

    You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Either intelligence is natural or supernatural. I’m going with what’s behind door number one – intelligence is natural. The nature of nature includes intelligence. It’s proven in at least one case. The only question is whether there’s more than one case.

    Think it’s just DaveScot? Go to the start of the thread to see a quote of Dembski by Pennock,

    So long as methodological naturalism sets the ground rules for how the game of science is to be played, (intelligent design) has no chance (in) Hades.

    The source is What Every Theologian Should Know about Creation, Design, and Evolution (1996). From the last paragraph:

    The ground rules of science have to be changed. […] Methodological naturalism asks us for the sake of science to pretend that the material world is all there is. But once science comes to be taken as the only universally valid form of knowledge within a culture, it follows at once that methodological and metaphysical naturalism become for all intents and purposes indistinguishable. They are functionally equivalent. What needs to be done, therefore, is to break the grip of naturalism in both guises, methodological and metaphysical. And this happens once we realize that it was not empirical evidence, but the power of a metaphysical world view that was all along urging us to adopt methodological naturalism in the first place.

    DaveScot went to the crux, and so did I. ID goes nowhere as science if it does not insist that information-creating intelligence, and not just material, is natural. Denyse O’Leary says constantly that mind can be studied scientifically, but is not material. According to Google, you have commented on 245 articles at UD. If you do not understand this issue, surely many others also do not. And that is why I have taken the time to put together this response.

  39. 39
    StephenB says:

    —–Atticus Finch: “Leaders of the movement have shifted to the stance that intelligence is natural, but not material. I don’t know what caused the shift, but I will observe that one of the meanings of “supernatural” is “non-natural,” and that a federal court has ruled that references to the supernatural are intrinsically religious.”

    There are really only two choices for the ID scientist: Define his terms and make his case in that context, or give up hope that Darwinists will honor his definitions and humor them by using theirs.

    In any case, let’s look at the terms:

    ID says that there are not two categories, but three, [A] Law, which is a natural cause, [B] chance, which is a natural cause and [C] intelligence, which is a non-natural cause. That means, of course, that either a human agent, a supernatural agent, or even a Divine agent can be a “non-natural” cause for an event. I, for example, am a human agent who designed this paragraph. Because you can detect specifically complex patterns in its construction, you know, beyond a reasonable doubt, that it did not result from a natural cause. Thus, if innovation occurs, whether it comes from the mind of God, or from the mind of man, ID says that the patterns involved will be of a similar texture. It is those very patterns that help us to detect the presence of intelligence from any source at all, Divine or human, and to know that natural forces did not cause the event.

    Darwinists, however, would like to reframe the issue and change terms so that ID can no longer make its case. By displacing the three-part ID formulation (Law, Chance, Agency) with their own two-part dichotomy (natural-supernatural) they hope to distract attention away from the fact that all intelligence is non-natural and to make it appear that some intelligence is supernatural (God) and some intelligence is natural (human). One way they do that is to say that human intelligence occurs “in nature,” and must, therefore, be natural. Never mind that the term “in nature” has no meaning. So, if ID advocates are changing their approach, (and I would like for you to provide evidence that it has occurred) it must be because they are responding to this same kind of nonsense.

  40. 40
    kairosfocus says:

    Atticus [et al]:

    Pardon a late intervention, after a few days of lurking.

    It might, first, be useful for you to take a look at the linked in the LH col through my handle, where you will find in-page links to discussions of many of the points you have raised. [BTW, UD “staffers,” this again underscores the value of a good FAQ here . . . .].

    Next, the key OOL issue is that wee observe that cell-based life constitutes an information system exhibiting functionally specified, complex information beyond the reasonable reach of chance +/or necessity. We routinely observe — we live in a world in which intelligent agents are per empirical observation and personal experience known to exist [and, BTW, that is I believe the sense of the somewhat ambiguous expression “intelligence is natural” in the cite you use just above] — that such FSCI, routinely, is the product of agency.

    How do we know that such FSCI is beyond the reach of chance + necessity on the gamut of our observed universe?

    That’s where the Dembski type universal probability bound comes in:

    1 –> We know that mechanical necessity shows itself in natural regularities, e.g. heavy objects fall if unconstrained.

    2 –> High contingencies are the product of chance ort agency: e.g. the set of uppermost faces for a cluster of 400 dice can be set by chance and/or by agency, but if you toss them out of a box, fall they will.

    3 –> If for instance the 400 dice show a set of uppermost faces that expresses a specific coded message, it will arguably be isolated to better than 1 in 10^150. [6^400 ~ 7.78*10^466.] 10^150, the contingency space of about 500 binary state elements, is more or less the number of quantum states accessible by our observed universe across its credible lifespan.

    4 –> But, intelligent agents routinely produce messages isolated to such a degree.

    5 –> In the case of life forms, we can look at simply the DNA chain length [which of course corresponds to RNA chain length too].

    6 –> Assessments of requisites of life function tend to run into a lower bound for life forms of order 300 – 500,000 4-state elements. 300k 4-state elements is a config space of order 10^180,000 or so.

    7 –> A random walk or equivalent starting from an arbitrary initial location, and involving the physical resources of the observed universe across its lifespan, would be maximally unlikely to find any island of such functionality.

    8 –> And that’s before we run into the problem that RNA chains would tend to shorten not lengthen, and the even more pressing issues of needing to access homochirality and to synthesise some of the constituent monomers.

    And yet, routinely, we empirically observe and know that intelligent agents produce such functionally specified, information-bearing complexity. So, we have a reliable induction that when such FSCI is observed its best, empirically waranted explanation is intelligence.

    You will also note that this simply rests on intelligence being an empirically observed fact, not on speculations as to its nature and precising definition thereof; beyond being able to function analogously to observed agents. (Indeed, logically, being able to recognise and point out cases of intelligence from cases of non-intelligence is prior to being able to try to verbally specify criteria for reliably distinguishing the two. “Definiton” by example and family resemblance is prior to attempted precise verbal statements . . .)

    The above chain of reasoning, however, is stoutly resisted by evolutionary materialists and their fellow travellers. This, not because it is an unwarranted inference, but because it is at once fatal to their preferred story of origins. In this agenda, we often see the attempted redefinition of what science is, especially through the backdoor of so-called “methodological naturalism.”

    The basic problem here [cf more serious discussion here] is that it is neither historically nor philosophically well-warranted to define that science should only explain by reference to entities tracing to chance plus necessity acting on a cascade of evolutions from hydrogen to humans. In short, we are looking here at an arbitrary imposition of a question-begging definition, as for instance is at the crux of say the debates over science education in Kansas.

    It is also at the crux of the seriously unjustified Jones court decision, and the institutional imposition of such an agenda is the essential issue being confronted by Johnson et al when they speak of the definition of science needing to be changed [BACK, actually].

    To giove you an idea of what I am talking about, observe the following from reasonably high quality dictionaries predatign the current debates:

    science: a branch of knowledge conducted on objective principles involving the systematized observation of and experiment with phenomena, esp. concerned with the material and functions of the physical universe. [Concise Oxford, 1990 — and yes, they used the “z” Virginia!]

    scientific method: principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge [”the body of truth, information and principles acquired by mankind”] involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses. [Webster’s 7th Collegiate, 1965]

    Notice the absence of question-begging philosophical imposition? Especially by contrast with the sort of redefinition currently being championed by the evolutionary materialists and their fellow travellers in say Kansas:

    Science is a human activity of systematically seeking natural explanations [i.e. effectively those tracing to chance + necessity only to the exclusion of intelligence . . . ] for what we observe in the world around us . . . As it is practiced in the late 20th and early 21st century [notice the implication that this is a rather recent, historically unjustified imposition . . .], science is restricted to explaining only the natural world, using only natural cause. This is because science currently has no tools to test explanations using non-natural (such as supernatural) causes.

    This of course begs the question that there is a very relevant sense of “non-natural” that is being dismissed: intelligent action. Once we can see that intelligence — per empirical observation [and, I repeat: that is I believe the sense of the somewhat ambiguous expression “intelligence is natural” in the cite you use just above] — can act into the world, and that it leaves characteristic traces such as FSCI, then we can debate to our hearts’ content the specific nature of the agents that have given rise to these traces.

    But, we must nor beg the question by effectively ruling ahead of the evidence, that we cannot use the prestigious label “science” if one does not confine oneself to inferences that — by suitable definition — must fit into an evolutionary materialist worldview.

    GEM of TKI

  41. 41
    kairosfocus says:

    PS: Oh, hi StephenB, I see we share both insomnia and thoughts, yet again!

  42. 42
    Apollos says:

    KF and StephenB, thanks again for your comments and insights. I only wish I could return what I have gained by reading your patient and numerous posts on a variety of subjects.

    In this I must be content only to take, but ask you to remember the words of the greatest of men (and hardly just a man) as quoted by the apostle Paul: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

  43. 43

    Nice try, Atticus, but I try to be a bit more careful than you give me credit for. Specifically, you are free to debate the ID movement, the desire of Johnson or anyone else to see methodological naturalism challenged as a reigning principle of “science.” However, the so-called rules of science have nothing whatever to do with what intelligence is or is not. You will note that I stated that neither you nor anyone else is capable of defining intelligence in physical terms. The best that can be hoped for right now I believe is our personal experience as intelligent beings and also noting the effects of intelligence around us.

    I have no idea what most people mean when they talk about “supernatural” so I typically try to avoid using the word unless it is germane to the particular discussion. You’ll notice that I spoke in terms of physical, rather than some juxtoposition of “natural” against supernatural. This is precisely due to the fact that some individuals have tried to pigeon-hole the idea of human intelligence into some kind of “natural” phenomenon precisely so that they can say we only know of “natural” intelligence and don’t have any reason to interject “supernatural” intelligence in the history of the universe or life. Such an approach, however, affects me like water off a duck’s back, as I am not subject to being pigeon-holed into contrived and artificial definitions of either “natural” or “supernatural.”

    Bottom line, despite your kind attempts to educate me: neither you nor anyone else has the ability to explain intelligence solely on the basis of the physical and the material. If intelligence is not reducible to the physical and the material, then it can never be defined as such. Thus, any demand that ID define intelligence in terms of the physical and the material is based on unproven, and very likely false, assumptions.

  44. 44
    kairosfocus says:

    Eric:

    Actually, physicalist accounts of the origin of our own experienced and observed minds strongly tend to become self-referentially inconsistent. I discuss why at a fairly introductory level here in the always linked.

    To begin to see why, in outline, think about seeing a pile of rocks suddenly fall down a hillside in an avalanche and before your astonished eyes, forming the shape:

    WELCOME TO WALES

    1 –> Now, you have got credible reason to see that the rocks moved based on chance + mechanical necessity only, and have done something that is not physically or logically impossible.

    2 –> However, the physical forces that have formed the rocks into a given shape are utterly irrelevant to messages or meanings, truth or warrant.

    3 –> Consequently, we have no warrant for believing that the collocation of rocks constitutes a coded, functional, truthful message.

    4 –> Thus, you would not be justified to infer that you were on the border of Wales based on the shape of the rocks that you saw tumble down the hill based on chance + necessity only.

    5 –> This is illustrative of the basic problem with attempted physicalist accounts of mind and its characteristic function, intelligent action. There is no basis for bridging from the physical to the mental, i.e. “emergence” or similar claims are incredible: the properties are so radically divergent that we have no grounds for seeing how properties of the one plus combinations and interactions give rise to the other; unlike, say how we can see that Na atoms and Cl atoms, suitably ionised and brought together, can form crystals of NaCl, with significantly different physical and chemical properties from those of the elements.

    6 –> This extends to the usual account based on chance variation and natural selection, plus whatever extensions are in vogue at any given time. For, as Richard Taylor (the source of the original form of the above) points out . . .

    Just as it is possible for a collection of stones to present a novel and interesting arrangement on the side of a hill . . . so it is possible for our such things as our own organs of sense [and faculties of cognition etc.] to be the accidental and unintended results, over ages of time, of perfectly impersonal, non-purposeful forces. In fact, ever so many biologists believe that this is precisely what has happened . . . . [But] [w]e suppose, without even thinking about it, that they [our sense organs etc] reveal to us things that have nothing to do with themselves, their structures or their origins . . . . [However] [i]t would be irrational for one to say both that his sensory and cognitive faculties had a natural, non-purposeful origin and also that they reveal some truth with respect to something other than themselves . . . [For, if] we do assume that they are guides to some truths having nothing to do with themselves, then it is difficult to see how we can, consistently with that supposition [and, e.g. by comparison with the case of the stones on a hillside], believe them to have arisen by accident, or by the ordinary workings of purposeless forces, even over ages of time. [Metaphysics, 2nd Edn, (Prentice-Hall, 1974), pp 115 – 119.]

    Thus, directly, self-referential incoherence.

    For as Plantinga points out, NS etc reward behaviour, not the underlying mentality that may give rise to the behaviour, so we have no grounds for inferring that minds putatively produced by such a process are credibly accurate in reasoning.

    If you want my own simple summary:

    . . . [evolutionary] materialism [a worldview that often likes to wear the mantle of “science”] . . . argues that the cosmos is the product of chance interactions of matter and energy, within the constraint of the laws of nature. Therefore, all phenomena in the universe, without residue, are determined by the working of purposeless laws acting on material objects, under the direct or indirect control of chance.

    But human thought, clearly a phenomenon in the universe, must now fit into this picture. Thus, what we subjectively experience as “thoughts” and “conclusions” can only be understood materialistically as unintended by-products of the natural forces which cause and control the electro-chemical events going on in neural networks in our brains. (These forces are viewed as ultimately physical, but are taken to be partly mediated through a complex pattern of genetic inheritance [“nature”] and psycho-social conditioning [“nurture”], within the framework of human culture [i.e. socio-cultural conditioning and resulting/associated relativism].)

    Therefore, if materialism is true, the “thoughts” we have and the “conclusions” we reach, without residue, are produced and controlled by forces that are irrelevant to purpose, truth, or validity. Of course, the conclusions of such arguments may still happen to be true, by lucky coincidence — but we have no rational grounds for relying on the “reasoning” that has led us to feel that we have “proved” them. And, if our materialist friends then say: “But, we can always apply scientific tests, through observation, experiment and measurement,” then we must note that to demonstrate that such tests provide empirical support to their theories requires the use of the very process of reasoning which they have discredited!

    Thus, evolutionary materialism reduces reason itself to the status of illusion. But, immediately, that includes “Materialism.” For instance, Marxists commonly deride opponents for their “bourgeois class conditioning” — but what of the effect of their own class origins? Freudians frequently dismiss qualms about their loosening of moral restraints by alluding to the impact of strict potty training on their “up-tight” critics — but doesn’t this cut both ways? And, should we not simply ask a Behaviourist whether s/he is simply another operantly conditioned rat trapped in the cosmic maze?

    In the end, materialism is based on self-defeating logic . . . .

    In short, evolutionary materialist accounts of the claimed origin of mind [and morals too as a key function of mind] as a rule end up in self-referential absurdity. So, we do not have a credible, non-question-begging, non- incoherent physicalist account of the origin of minds, including our own.

    So, to try to demand that intelligence, an aspect of mind, per observation, have such a basis is massively question-begging and burden-of-proof shifting.

    Mind ands its functions are facts of our experience and observation as intelligent creatures. In particular, intelligence. And, we know that intelligent action can routinely generate observable outcomes that easily exhaust the available probabilistic resources for chance + necessity acting together to credibly achieve.

    Indeed, we build that into statistical studies [think of classic hypothesis testing, ANOVA etc and assignments of observed outcomes to chance variation vs treatment impacts and associated issues on confidence levels] and into experiment designs that use such statistics — it is a routine part of science as practised.

    So, it is selective hyperskepticism to then pretend that this is not so, and that the same basic signs of intelligence are not reliable when the assumptions and assertions of the worldview, evolutionary materialism, come into question.

    GEM of TKI

  45. 45
    kairosfocus says:

    PS: On recognising and describing intelligence, courtesy good old materialism-leaning prof Wiki:

    Intelligence (also called intellect) is an umbrella term used to describe a property of the mind that encompasses many related abilities, such as the capacities to reason, to plan, to solve problems, to think abstractly, to comprehend ideas, to use language, and to learn. There are several ways to define intelligence. In some cases, intelligence may include traits such as creativity, personality, character, knowledge, or wisdom.

    Note this following discussion and caveat from the American Psychological Association 1995:

    Individuals differ from one another in their ability to understand complex ideas, to adapt effectively to the environment, to learn from experience, to engage in various forms of reasoning, to overcome obstacles by taking thought. Although these individual differences can be substantial, they are never entirely consistent: a given person’s intellectual performance will vary on different occasions, in different domains, as judged by different criteria. Concepts of “intelligence” are attempts to clarify and organize this complex set of phenomena. Although considerable clarity has been achieved in some areas, no such conceptualization has yet answered all the important questions and none commands universal assent. Indeed, when two dozen prominent theorists were recently asked to define intelligence, they gave two dozen somewhat different definitions

    Of course, if we differ in extent to which we exhibit such performances, we do sharte the capacity to so perform. And therefore, any other entity that exhibits similar capacities can reasonably be seen as intelligent.

    And, several of the above activities will give rise to functionally specified complex information beyond 500 – 1,000 bits of information storage capacity. In every case of such, where we directly know the causal story, the root of such FSCI is intelligent action. That is FSCI (and so the explanatory filter that identifies it), is waranted to be an empirically observable, reliable sign of intelligence.

    Thus, the categorisation of causal sources as embracing chance, necessity and intelligence — immemorial in the days of Plato — is reasonable. (by sharpest contrast with the evolutionary materialist attempt to reduce mind to nature in the physicalist, evolutionary sense.)

  46. 46
    kairosfocus says:

    PPS: Apollos, your blender tutorials are a considerable repayment! Not to mention, you own many thoughtful contributions here.

  47. 47
    StephenB says:

    kairosfocus: delayed greetings once again from the USA heartland. I know what you mean. For my part, I do not relish the late hours. How I wish I could become less of an owl and more of a rooster.

  48. 48
    StephenB says:

    Apollos: Thanks for the kind words.

  49. 49
    Paul Giem says:

    Atticus Finch,

    I have finally taken the time to read the article you cited (11) by Nick Matzke, and I have even more respect for the guy. I’ll discuss that below, but first it is ironic that you implicitly chide me for supposedly not reading “the primary literature” and instead relying “on the digests of others”, when the reference you referred me to is not only not primary literature itself, but has no references to the primary literature.

    In (23) your prejudices are showing. Most people here speak disparagingly of Matzke, therefore I must also, and it must be safe to use a (snarky) rhetorical device in that regard (“Even if you hate Nick Matzke,”). Actually, most people don’t. Most people don’t mention him. You apparently just see the concepts he defends disparaged, sometimes with personal animus, and very few defending him, and assume that those statistics could be extrapolated safely to all UD commentators, or at least those favoring ID. “Don’t assume . . .”

    If you had said that you were covering your bases, I would probably have let it go. But a rhetorical device means that you already know the reaction you will get. And you were wrong.

    I’m also fascinated that you “had no idea [I’d] ever said anything about him”, meaning Matzke. His name was in the original post. Am I to infer that you did not read the original post before commenting, or that you didn’t understand what you read, or that you simply couldn’t remember what you read?

    But back to Matzke’s (partly) OOL post on PT. He breaks very little if any new ground scientifically. I’ve seen most of this stuff before. Sometimes he underestimates the difficulties involved. His discovery #4, that “The increasingly simple ancestors of modern life weren’t made out of just anything, they were made out of chemicals that just happen to be generated by plausible abiotic mechanisms found in early solar systems”, discusses yields, missing ingredients, surplus ingredients, breakdown reactions, and such problems minimally if at all. Thus my obstacles 1-3 and 12 (see comment 10) are barely recognized, and certainly not dealt with adequately. You (24) are correct that i am “placing greater emphasis (points 1-4) on Miller-Urey conditions than OOL investigators presently do.” But that may be because OOL research has weaknesses that the points have addressed and that Matzke does not wish to advertise, rather than because I am out of touch with OOL research. You are correct that Matzke addresses obstacle 6, although whether he succeeds for a skeptic as opposed to a true believer that just wants something, anything, to prop up his faith is another matter. As far as I can tell, he does not address obstacle 8. If he does, I would appreciate your pointing it out.

    Matzke does occasionally acknowledge difficulies (e. g. “RNA precursors are somewhat tougher”) although he tries to minimize them (“but there has been progress in that area also, and anyway there is no requirement that the first replicator must have been RNA”). “There has been progress” is really vague, and the natural question is “How much progress?” This is encouragement by a true believer of other true believers, not a sober analysis of the situation. The fact is, obstacles 3-7 still apply in full force to the making of the precursors of RNA (and 8 and 9 to the formation of RNA itself).

    I would elaborate on obstacle 9, as you requested, but first I will quote from my reply to Tom MH (14) which preceded your request (24) to elaborate:

    RNA is supposed to polymerize with greater and greater complexity and function as time goes on according to the theory. Yet when RNA and the raw materials for RNA were put into a solution with RNA polymerase, the RNA sequences consistently shortened to the smallest fragments that would be reliably duplicated by the enzyme. That is, instead of evolution, we have devolution. This is actually understandable as survival of the fittest (who says the fittest has to be the biggest? If the only relevant function is reproduction, then smaller reproduces faster). But it doesn’t help the RNA to develop new functions, which it will need if it is to be a steppingstone to life.

    If you need more elaboration, let me know.

    On obstacle 10, let me quote from elsewhere (with very minor editing):

    According to standard biochemistry textbooks (Lehninger, for example), the minimum requirements for life are
    1. DNA to code for the rest
    2. RNA for ribosomes and t-RNA
    3. Proteins capable of attaching the proper t-RNA to the proper amino acid (aminoacyl t-RNA synthetases)
    4. some kind of DNA replicase and RNA polymerase.

    Transfer RNA is 74 to 93 bases long, and we need 20 of them. Let’s say that they all are 75 bases long. Aminoacyl t-RNA synthetases average about 500 amino acid residues. Let’s say that we can get by on 400 residues apiece, or 1,200 coding bases. Let’s say that we don’t need any DNA, and all we have to have is RNA (we don’t know if that is true, but it certainly is the most favorable assumption). RNA polymerase consists of 5 proteins with 329, 1342, 1407, 613, and 91 residues. That totals 3782 residues. Let’s say we can get by with 3,000 residues, or 9,000 coding bases. Ribosomes have 3 RNA components, with bacterial RNA weighing approximately 1.5 million daltons (we will ignore the proteins for the moment), for about 4,000 bases. That leaves us with a very conservative total of 38,500 bases. Let’s say that we need only a little over half of those bases to be in the right order, so we need 20,000 bases. If we have all the nucleotides we want, a big if, and our minimum requirements are really the minimum and not woefully inadequate, another big if, we are looking at the random production of the long string of RNA that codes all this (with no stop codons and no signals as to where to start or where to cut the resulting RNA) having a probability of 1 in 4^20,000, or 1 in 10^16,666.

    Suppose we make new RNA at the rate of 10^12 per second (it takes light 10^-16 second to cross an atom), and do so for 15 billion years (10^18 seconds), and have all the mass of the universe (10^81 particles) in suns at 10^57 particles. Each sun has an earth 1/100,000th its size (bigger than our earth, and the top 1 millionth of that earth is continually churning out new RNA. The RNA itself weighs in at about 10^7 daltons. That gives us about 10^63 replicators times 10^30 replications, or 10^93 tries. We have now reduced our odds to 1 in 10^16,573. Anybody like those odds?

    Before you reply, you may want to google where I got it from and read the whole exchange (hint: it involves PZ Myers).

    The reason I respect Matzke is not so much because of his treatment of the biochemistry. His treatment of this area is not completely adequate, although I am willing to cut him some slack because his highest degree was an M.S. in geography.

    But he sees some philosophical points clearly that others in his camp do not see. For example:

    This mini-debate points out what I think, and have often said in conversations, is a major flaw in how we respond to creationists. All too often, when the OOL comes up in popular discussions (reporters, online debates, etc.), the anti-creationist will reply with some variation of “sure, it’s a tough unsolved problem, but we’re working on it”, or the wizened statement “actually, the OOL is outside of the domain of evolutionary biology”, . . .”

    My take: It is high time all of these statements be discarded or highly modified. They are basically lazy, all-too-easy responses relying on hair-splitting technicalities or nearly philosophical assertions of the “even if the creationists were empirically correct on this point, which they aren’t but I’m too busy to back it up right now, it wouldn’t matter” variety.

    (Yes, I know I omitted one response. We covered some of it above, and this isn’t meant to be a detailed critique of Matzke, but to hit the highlights, and right now I am citing where I agree with Matzke.)

    Later, Matzke again disparages the objection that “even if the creationists were empirically correct on this point, which they aren’t but I’m too busy to back it up right now, it wouldn’t matter”, saying that

    that sort of response, even if the philosophical point is valid, leaves the creationist and any of his sympathetic readers irate that the empirical point is not being addressed, and that the creationist/ID position is being excluded by the rules of the game.

    He then reinforces his comment about the origin of life being part of evolution:

    The second statement, splitting the OOL from evolutionary theory, is only technically correct in a sort of legalistic, hairsplitting way. Sure, it’s true that technically, “evolution” only happens once you have life, or at least replicators, but getting from replicators to the last common ancestor is most of what most people think about when they’re thinking about the origin of life, i.e., “where did the evolutionary ancestor of all life today come from?” and all of that is evolution all the way. Furthermore, even the origin of the first classical “replicator” was itself very likely an evolutionary process, in that it occurred in stepwise fashion and not all-at-once, and that the first replicator was likely preceded by various sorts of pseudoreplication, statistical inheritance and kinetic biases. If you remove evolution from your thinking about the origin of the first replicator then it is very likely you will never understand how it happened, or what the current research on the question is about. Finally, even apart from these detailed considerations, “evolution” reasonably has a broader meaning – the evolution of the universe, the solar system, the planet, and the planet’s geochemistry, and the origin of life and the origin of the first replicator must be understood as part of that larger evolutionary history.

    I disagree with the applicability of evolution to the origin of life, but Matzke’s point about the OOL being part of the evolutionary picture is dead on.

    Finally, Matzke disagrees with some (most?) of his colleagues about “the motivations of creationists” “You are not really understanding them if you call them dishonest liars (e.g. Shallit), because they mostly do believe what they say.” He doesn’t mean that he agrees with us: “What they say is a product of wishful thinking and ignorance and ideology, but that is different than lying.” While I would reverse some of those sentiments, that is at least more respect than creationists usually get (and he is partly right–we can, and sometimes do, let wishful thinking and ideology color our analysis, and sometimes don’t do our homework and are then avoidably ignorant).

    One final reason that I respect Matzke is that he realizes the important questions. He has turned out a positive scientific defense of the materialist position on the OOL, and also on a possible evolutionary pathway to the flagellum. Those proposals may be flawed, but at least he has the clear insight to see that the attempt is necessary, and the gumption to make the attempt. That, in my book, is major progress.

  50. 50
    DaveScot says:

    Eric

    It seems to me that “intelligence” isn’t all that mysterious or non-physical. It appears to me that intelligence is comprised of a computational device that models reality and makes predictions of the future based upon that model. The model learns from reality through sensory inputs (sight, hearing, touch, and taste) and improves the model as it goes along. It is goal driven in that the predictions are employed to enhance survival or some other beneficial purpose. Intelligent agency is thus intelligence with the capability of manipulating matter and energy, based upon model predictions, to steer probable outcomes of law and chance towards less probable outcomes that are of greater benefit.

    There doesn’t seem to me there’s any strict need for a non-material basis for intelligent agency so I’m not much of a mind/body dualist, but I don’t rule out the possibility. It seems like intelligent agency could be embodied in a sufficiently complex artificial construction of software and hardware. It’s the artificial part that is the sticking point. How such a complex reality modeling engine could arise through law and chance alone seems a lot less probable than a mind, in some exotic form, preceding the observable universe. There doesn’t seem to be any way to see through to the other side of the observable universe. The ultimate origin of matter & energy thus remains a deep mystery. There also seems to be a law governing conservation of information that works the same as the law that governs the conservation of energy – i.e. information is neither created nor destroyed but rather only changes in form. Stephen Hawking tried for a long time to show that information is destroyed, or at least removed from the observable universe in black holes but he finally gave up and conceded that even there information isn’t destroyed but is merely hidden until it reemerges in the form of Hawking radiation which I understand escapes the event horizon through quantum tunneling.

    If there is a law of conservation of information then we must conclude that all the information in the universe, including all of us and all of our thoughts, was there in some form at the beginning of time. So the origin of information is just as much a mystery as the origin of matter and energy.

    A question that intrigues me is whether there is any such thing as free will. I’m a determinist, like Einstein, right up to the point where intelligent agency emerges from sufficiently complex organizations of matter & energy. Waxing philosophical it seems to me that an omniscient, omnipotent creator of universes would go insane from knowing everything that’s ever going to happen. A major challenge for such an entity would be to invent something that was beyond prediction – a problem along the same lines as the classic paradox of whether God could create a mountain that even He cannot move. Maybe that invention is the “free will” that most of us think we have. Free will could thus be fairly characterized as a necessary invention for an otherwise omniscient entity.

  51. 51
    Paul Giem says:

    Chemfarmer (28) and Tom MH (29),

    Originally, AFAICT, abiogenesis referred to the origin of life from non-life, in the context of OOL research. Thus it did not include the origin of life by a supernatural, or even intelligent, being (begging the question of whether all intelligence is supernatural). Using that definition, Tom MH’s statement in (7) that “abiogenesis is a historical fact” would be a partisan statement.

    However, I am aware that some would broaden the term to the appearance of life from non-life regardless of how it happened. I don’t like this definition, as it destroys the precision of the term, but because some use it, where it is crucial I try to qualify it with adjectives such as “natural” or “unguided” just so there is no confusion as to the meaning.

    As gpuccio (30) noted, other words, such as “evolution”, “science”, “creationism”, “common descent”, and so forth also have meanings that are ambiguous, sometimes designedly so. Therefore those words should not be used unless which meaning is clear from the context, or else they should be further defined when used.

    Eric Anderson, (32)
    I don’t think Matzke is bluffing. I think he is a true believer that is putting his best case forward, and that sometimes he accepts inadequate explanations because he is credulous, and that there are some major holes in his case. But bluffing implies that he is saying things that he doesn’t believe in order to persuade others, and I think he really believes his case.

    For various commentators, whether the human mind is “natural” or not depends on how one defines nature. The argument that human minds cannot be deterministic and totally explained by material processes, as if so we cannot trust their output to be true, including this theory, seems to me to be a good one, and argues against too much reductionism. But even if we were successful in explaining human minds as the result of material processes, we would still not rule out what would ordinarily be considered the supernatural. According to standard (not universally accepted, but now standard) theory, some 90% of the universe is made of “dark matter”. Who is to say that this dark matter is not intelligent, or that it cannot on rare occasion interfere with ordinary matter? In that case there could easily be a being that was properly called God, Who is strictly speaking natural, in that He is part of the universe. If the experimental evidence points overwhelmingly toward a miracle, there is no philosophical warrant for denying it on the basis that God is by definition supernatural, and the supernatural cannot exist. God could very well be natural.

    That’s not my personal most favored belief. But I think we have to be very careful of using philosophy to determine the answer to scientific questions. If there is one thing we should have learned from the advance of science since the middle ages, it is that observation trumps philosophy.

    As for the legal profession (at least in America), they will just have to catch up. If ID continues to be suppressed, eventually the whole school system will be scrapped, along with the research community. That’s not a threat or a promise, just an observation. Eventually the public will not continue to fund with taxpayer money the undercutting of the beliefs and values of the majority. And while in the days before the Internet such abuses of power could be mostly hidden, and smoothed over when they appeared, in a more open society such problems cannot as easily be swept under the rug, and eventually the people will rebel.

    Frankly, the scientific community should be thankful to Governor Jindal. He is actually doing them the favor of allowing the situation to be defused before it reaches explosive proportions.

  52. 52
    StephenB says:

    Paul Giem: I admire and congratulate you for both your most recent posts. They are among some of the best that I have ever read. It is in that spirit, that I hope you will consider this proposed amendment to one of your comments, which you may even agree with.

    To be sure, good science trumps bad philosophy, but it is also the case that good philosophy trumps bad science. In fact, philosophy and science are supposed to keep each other honest. In a very real sense, good philosophy underpins and is largely responsible for the very existence of modern science. No philosophy ever aided the mind of man more that the Thomistic proposition that faith and reason are compatible and that truth is indivisible. Similarly, it is good philosophy (realistic epistemology) that sustains science, and it is bad philosophy (nominalist epistemology) that compromises it in our own time. If Kant had not taught that intellectual classifications are “all in the mind,” Darwin would never have dared to call design an “illusion.” Even to this day, anti ID science stoppers, at once beguiled and encouraged by Kant’s error, insist that a design inference is nothing more than a mental construct. This provides them with addition perverse justification for imposing the arbitrary rule of “methodological naturalism,” which is nothing less than an institutional mandate against ID science.

    Further, there is the problem of morality. In some ways, bad philosophy is even worse than bad science because it deals with first principles. Because philosophy has lost its way, it cannot play its proper role. As someone once wrote, “the corruption of the best is the worst.” That is why science is without direction and is on the verge of undoing all the good it has done. Think of what is happening in the life sciences, and reflect on the current relevant ethic. If you press some its practitioners and ask them to draw a line, many will respond by saying, “Anything we can do we ought to do.” They don’t know the difference between what is technically possible and what is morally permissible. Would you care to merge a rat’s DNA with that of a human? No problem. Someone will do it for the money. Would you like to clone humans as robots and play God with their life or use them as sex toys? Hey, go for it. For that matter, if you need to kill nascent life to cure, then, by all means, kill.

    In many important ways, philosophy ought to illuminate science just as theology ought to illuminate philosophy. Science gives us facts, but, unlike philosophy, it cannot interpret their meaning. Philosophy can give us meaning, but, unlike theology, it cannot interpret its significance. We ought to be just as concerned with restoring the principles of right reason as we are with finding practical ways of applying them. That means we should reaffirm the Thomistic teaching that there is one truth which can be known from many different perspective and abandon the Kantian derived notion that are many truths, one truth for science, another for philosophy, and yet another for theology. That, by the way, explains why, without embarrassment, TEs can contradict themselves daily and carry on as sleek as ever. The advance of ID science is, in my judgment, inseparable from the task of extricating ourselves from this cultural madness of the intellect.

  53. 53
    Rude says:

    Good points, Stephen B.

    DS: “It seems to me that ‘intelligence’ isn’t all that mysterious or non-physical.”

    One would think it should be plenty mysterious, but maybe we oughtta dispense with the physical-nonphysical dichotomy. Better might be Daniel Dennett’s contrast between cranes and skyhooks. Explanation is by its very nature reductionist, and so we seek to minimize the number of skyhooks. Yet we cannot get rid of them all, for all explanation ultimately stops at axioms or elementals (skyhooks) of some kind—otherwise, as they say, it’s “turtles all the way down”.

    So the question is not whether at some level intelligence is “non-physical” but whether ultimately it requires invoking a skyhook such as Angus Menuge argues for.

    If the soul were simply a complex machine apart from the brain and invisible to our instruments, its uniqueness would be its material composition. But that’s not the claim, as I understand it anyway. The soul, rather, is elemental—it’s where qualia exist and it’s where the buck of free will stops.

    So if we deny qualia and free will what’s to explain? Just material processes. We can be intellectually fulfilled materialists.

    I remember Will Provine explaining that we should reject the notion of free will, not just because we are materialists, but because this belief is the origin of all ill will. We fight and hate because we believe people are guilty but, Provine said, if there is no free will there is no guilt.

  54. 54
    Rude says:

    DS in 50: “Waxing philosophical it seems to me that an omniscient, omnipotent creator of universes would go insane from knowing everything that’s ever going to happen.”

    This is one reason why I think the Open Theists are on the right path. The theologians put God outside of time (period) which is where there is no computation, no cognition, no speaking—and thus no boredom. These activities happen only when, as they say, God enters time. But in his own realm these do not define the God of the theologians.

    Some theologians (William Lane Craig, I believe) have supported the “outside of time” thesis on the basis (in part) that no infinite string of events/causes can be traversed. But I wonder—do such theologians also dispute the concept of an infinite future—of eternal life as traditionally understood?

    It seems to me that if from the divine perspective there exists an infinite sequence of future events/causes, why not such a sequence of events/causes in the past? If anyone here is versed in this theology, and if I’ve not gotten it all wrong, then I’d be interested in how this seeming contradition is explained.

  55. 55
    Tom MH says:

    Paul Giem @51

    On the use of “abiogenesis”:

    [..] I am aware that some would broaden the term to the appearance of life from non-life regardless of how it happened. I don’t like this definition, as it destroys the precision of the term, but because some use it, where it is crucial I try to qualify it with adjectives such as “natural” or “unguided” just so there is no confusion as to the meaning.

    I wasn’t sure I liked this broadened definition either, and employed it with some misgivings. I tried to make sure the ambiguity was clear wherever I did so; alas, without universal success.

    As gpuccio (30) noted, other words, such as “evolution”, “science”, “creationism”, “common descent”, and so forth also have meanings that are ambiguous, sometimes designedly so.

    To that list I would add the ever-problematic “theory”, and it’s big brother, “Theory-With-A-Capital-Tee”.

    Oh, and thank you for your thoughts on miracles (33). A very interesting read!

  56. 56
    Atticus Finch says:

    DaveScot (50):

    What you’re saying about intelligence is the norm among engineers and scientists of most stripes. You’ve identified properties of systems that we classify as “intelligent.” You have said nowhere that systems have the properties because they are intelligent. Instead, you’ve said that certain systems are intelligent because they have certain properties.

    Engineers and scientists lapse into reification of (assignment of physical existence to) the abstraction “intelligence” because of that boldface “are” in the last sentence. In plain language, we almost always blur the distinction between what we call something and the reality of what that something is. But scientists must take great care with their terms. (Engineers of “intelligent” systems always know what behaviors they want their systems to exhibit, and thus they operationalize “intelligence” implicitly.)

    In Dembski’s ID theory, intelligence is posited as a cause — and an empirically unobservable one, at that. Dembski says that the only way more than a small amount of complex specified information is manifest in a material event is if non-material intelligence creates it. From his perspective, what you see in an intelligent human being is material, not intelligence.

    To my knowledge, there is no established science of intelligence that treats intelligence as other than a class of phenomena. By the way, the notion that human consciousness (closely related to intelligence in plain language) causes wavefunction collapse has been debunked. Results of dual-slit experiments do not change when the apparatus is controlled by outcomes of independent quantum experiments, rather than by human operators.

    The upshot is that “intelligence” does play an extraordinary role in Dembski’s theory (the ID theory that interests me), and that it behooves Dembski and others who promote his ideas as science to use the term with precise meaning. Pointing to outcomes of human behavior and saying “everyone knows that intelligence is what causes that” does not wash as scientific definition. Almost all of science is what almost everyone does not know and would never guess.

  57. 57
    Paul Giem says:

    StephenB (52),

    My expertise in philosophy is largely limited to the philosophy of science at this time, so I may very well wind up butchering the concepts of Kant and St. Thomas Aquinas. But I’ll try to react to what you wrote.

    I agree with you (and apparently with Aquinas) wholeheartedly “that faith and reason are compatible and that truth is indivisible.” That’s why I wrote a book called Scientific Theology. Kant may have the point that we do not control the universe, and that therefore we cannot philosophically prove that our concepts correspond to the universe as it really is. But that kind of doubt should be a reasonable caution about our fallibility, not a principle of radical epistmological ignorance. The fact of the matter is that we do know something about how the universe operates; otherwise, we could never have put men on the moon. Ordinary scientists know, without always knowing exactly why, that we do know quite a bit about the universe.

    I am not sure that one can lay Darwin’s claim that design is an “illusion” at the feet of Kant. Nascent scientists had been wrong before, about phlogiston, about the four elements, about the relative movements of the sun, the earth, and the planets. Design could have been another area where people were wrong without invoking Kant. He may have made it easier, but I don’t think he was necessary. His followers today are engaged in selective skepticism. And methodological naturalism is fine as a first-pass approximation, but the adherence to methodological naturalism is in fact philosophical naturalism. And you’re right; philosophical naturalism is almost the precise negation of ID. There is only one difference between the two; that difference is the one that caught Richard Dawkins when he was interviewed by Ben Stein. Philosophical naturalism can allow for intelligent design as long as it is by beings which are themselves natural. So Dawkins had no defense against the idea that life here was started by intelligent aliens.

    Of course, if one admits that intelligent design is the most likely reason why life got started, and possibly at other places, and then the bottom drops out of the space alien theory, one is led to God, or at least the supernatural. This is why the party line, which Dawkins had slavishly followed to that point, denied that intelligence itself could be detected. That is, naturalism (methodological or philosophical) isn’t really against ID; it’s just against the supernatural, and is afraid that ID will lead to the supernatural, and so is in an important sense dishonestly denying ID because of the implications, not because of the science.

    I agree with you that philosophy and theology have implications for how life should be lived, and that bad philosophy or theology has bad implications. That’s scary. That means that we have an obligation to do the best philosophy and best theology we can, so as not to live our lives worse than is absolutely unavoidable.

    I will just come back to one point. You state that “To be sure, good science trumps bad philosophy, but it is also the case that good philosophy trumps bad science.” My point is that good science trumps good philosophy. If you want to know how many teeth a mule has, rather than taking the father’s number of teeth, or the mother’s number of teeth, or an average, the best way to find out is to look in its mouth. This has implications for the subject of this thread. If the evidence we have points strongly to the idea that it is impossible for life to arise from non-life without extremely intelligent help, then even if it is philosophically otherwise justified to disbelieve is such extreme intelligence at the time of the origin of life, we are stuck with that idea anyway. And if the implications of that idea destroy naturalism, then so be it. That has been called the tragedy of science; a beautiful theory slain by an ugly little fact. As they say in some parts, deal with it.

  58. 58
    StephenB says:

    Paul Giem thanks again for your thoughtful response. I agree that much chaos proceeded from inferior philosophers of the late middle ages, but that is because they rebelled against the superior wisdom of philosophers from the early middle ages. For my part, good philosophy trumps good science because the “why” questions are more important that the “how” questions. Also, the principles of right reason can exist without science, but science cannot exist without the principles of right reason. To be sure, science can provide knowledge, comfort and wide variety of benefits, but it cannot approach all the important questions nor can it offer wisdom.

    It’s an interesting contrast. On the one hand, bad philosophers have done more harm to humanity than any other group. All the infamous “isms” associated with totalitarianism are derivatives of erudition gone awry. On the other hand, great philosophers have offered us the solution to tyranny, by providing the rational justification for freedom. Among other things they taught us about the inherent dignity of the human person, the natural moral law, and the necessary conditions for a well-ordered society. Indeed, they introduced the principles of natural theology, which, in many respects prefigured the ID movement that we all hold so dear. Sadly, there are many more bad philosophers than good ones.

  59. 59
    DaveScot says:

    Atticus

    Your description of intelligence was pretty much unintelligible.

    The double-slit experiment demonstrates wave-particle duality of light and that certainly hasn’t been debunked. Any attempt to detect which slit a photon passes through destroys the interference pattern that would otherwise be created – i.e. detection causes the wave to collapse into a particle. It doesn’t require a human observer to collapse the wave. Any means of detection will do the trick. Perhaps you could point me to a link of the experiment you describe as debunking the Copenhagen interpretation. There are several definitions of “observer” which fall under the umbrella of Copenhagen. Some are a conscious (subjective) observer and others are unconscious (objective) observer. Quantum entanglement and superposition are still real phenomena as far as I know too.

  60. 60
    Apollos says:

    KF,

    RE: your comment 46, I sure hope you enjoy the tutorials, and don’t hesitate to contact me directly if you have any questions. I can be reached through the website.

  61. 61
    Atticus Finch says:

    Paul Giem,

    Sorry for being “snarky.” You seem sincere, and perhaps I’ll enter into a kinder conversation with you later.

  62. 62
    kairosfocus says:

    Hi Atticus:

    RE, 56: In Dembski’s ID theory, intelligence is posited as a cause — and an empirically unobservable one, at that.

    Nope.

    1 –> Intelligence is a routinely observed and experienced FACT, as I took time to outline yesterday.

    2 –> We, per capital example, are intelligent creatures. [We may have debates on whether the intelligence is an expression of merely physical-chemical etc effects, perhaps through coded information, but that is debating explaining the nature of intelligence, not recognising that it is.]

    3 –> So, intelligence is possible, as it plainly is. And, it leaves identifiable characteristic traces that are [per experience backed up by probabilistic resource exhaustion issues] not left by chance and/or mechanical necessity — cf 400 dice dropped on a table at random and arranged in a functional, coded pattern.

    4 –> So, when we see such traces as functionally specified complex information, we have good empirical reason to be confident that intelligence is at work.

    5 –> Indeed, this is routinely written into scientific work and statistical studies.

    6 –> Now, on certain matters, we see such signs of intelligence in contexts that are distinctly uncomfortable for evolutionary materialists. Their response, sadly, has not been to show that chance + necessity do generate FSCI, but to try to beg the question by definition. That is all too telling on the merits.

    GEM of TKI

  63. 63
    kairosfocus says:

    Atticus, again:

    Re, 56: Dembski says that the only way more than a small amount of complex specified information is manifest in a material event is if non-material intelligence creates it.

    First, last I checked, this was a reasonably credible definition of ID as a scientific endeavour:

    Intelligent design is the scientific investigation of intelligent causation and subsequent novel data, hypotheses, experiments, and practical applications that are derived by viewing specific phenomena in the universe as designed. Intelligent design is a scientific hypothesis that seeks to explain a very large range of scientific data, and so has a general definition, and then subsidiary definitions for use within specific disciplines . . . .

    ID scholars consider what the scientific data tells us about the types of physical effects that are known to be produced only by intelligent causes. A few examples of effects of intelligence are novel and independent functional information, novel functional machines, and highly constrained goal-oriented processes. In this way, design theorists are investigating which effects can only be caused by intelligence. In order to determine this, a scholar must have a great deal of scientific knowledge about what chance processes can do, and an objective evaluation of what chance processes (unaided by intelligence) cannot do . . . . By consulting the cause-and-effect structure of the universe, and considering which causes result in which effects, it can be clearly seen that, in fact, many phenomena found in nature are only known to be caused by intelligence. When these facts are considered, it is then seen that there is a great deal of scientific evidence that strongly suggests there are effects in the physical world that can only be caused by intelligence. Scholars open to intelligent design propose that specific physical phenomena in nature are better explained, and scientifically studied, as being designed by intelligence.

    Simply stated, ID begins by asking, “Can we scientifically detect if something was designed by intelligence?” Detecting design is a scientific possibility, and ID scholars think this ability is essential for a proper contextual study of the universe. Intelligent design seeks to find natural objects that contain the same final conditions, or physical histories, as objects that science knows were intelligently designed, based upon our observation of intelligent agency in the natural world. An important goal of research from a design perspective is to understand intelligence working in the context of the physical world, and infer intelligent activity by observation and analysis of data.

    Equally or more important as the above explanation, is what follows from it: ID also proposes that specific physical phenomena in nature are better studied as being designed by intelligence. Because of this, intelligent design has been applied in the form of working scientific research programs by which novel data, hypotheses, experiments, and practical applications are derived by hypothetically viewing phenomena in the universe as designed, whether the researcher holds that the objects of study are actually designed or not.

    So intelligent design is an inference, from the strength of empirical knowledge alone, that specific phenomena are caused by intelligence, and that these phenomena are better studied as instances of design.

    Second, I think you will find in this discussion, nowhere any claim that intelligence is material or non-material in nature.

    Third, the issue is that as one instance, as a matter of fact, once we see an entity that shows functionally specific, complex information, it has only been observed to be caused by intelligence. As a matter of empirical observation, so supporting a strong induction to the cause of FSCI. And, the practical threshold of such required complexity is of order 500 – 1,000 bits of information storing capacity.

    It is the CONTEXT of certain cases in point that raises the onward question as to whether the intelligence responsible for say the origin of the observed cosmos as usually estimated at 13.7 BYA, with its multidimensional fine-tuning relative to supporting cell-based life, was embodied or not.

    Please, note the direction of the chain of inference . . .

    GEM of TKI

  64. 64
    kairosfocus says:

    Atticus, yet again:

    Re, 56: Pointing to outcomes of human behavior and saying “everyone knows that intelligence is what causes that” does not wash as scientific definition.

    1 –> Here, we start from a basic fact: we are intelligent, living creatures.

    2 –> I highlight the “living” as there is just as much no accepted general definition of life as there is no globally accepted definition of intelligence. Would you therefore wish to argue that the science that studies life — biology — is thus not a [proper] science? (Hold back the physicists out there who think anything less than physics is not a true science, please . . .)

    3 –> In fact, we recognise plain cases of life, and look at he characteristics, then examine other cases that bear more of less of a family resemblance.

    4 –> On pain of selective hyperskepticism, if we can study life and its traces and characteristics with profit as an empirically based scientific endeavour, we can similarly study intelligence, its characteristics and its traces as a scientific endeavour.

    5 –> So, if we can find cases of known intelligent action, and find certain distinguishing characteristics that reliably empirically mark it apart from what chance and mechanical necessity can do, we have credible criteria for identifying the presence of intelligence as an active cause.

    6 –> From the debates that surround so simple a matter, this is already revolutionary, even though it is a matter of extending techniques that are routine in many experimental and observational studies and associated statistics.

    7 –> Beyond this, perhaps we can seek to identify whether physical embodiment is a necessary condition of intelligence, or what are the ways in which intelligence enters into the process of cause.

    But, these are onward questions.

    Already, simply to recongise that intelligence, chance and mechanical necessity are possible causal factors in a situation, and to seek tracers that mark out which is responsible for what, has proved revolutionary for science.

    This revolution has obviously bled over into the culture wars over worldviews and agendas — which seems to be driving much of the opposition from evolutionary materialists who hitherto have thought they owned the copyright on the term “Science.”

    But, sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

    GEM of TKI

  65. 65

    Paul wrote:

    “I don’t think Matzke is bluffing. I think he is a true believer that is putting his best case forward, and that sometimes he accepts inadequate explanations because he is credulous, and that there are some major holes in his case. But bluffing implies that he is saying things that he doesn’t believe in order to persuade others, and I think he really believes his case.”

    You make a fair point, Paul. I am generally quite unimpressed with Matzke’s posturing, primarily because he has been exposed to this entire debate for so long and can’t seem to get over a couple of conceptual humps. For example, he still fosters the ID = creationism nonsense every chance he gets, despite numerous explanations and corrections to the contrary made to him personally by many of the leading ID proponents. On that specific point, I have a hard time judging whether he is incompetent or purposely deceptive. I also have a hard time telling whether he really believes what he writes some of the time, such as his “explanation” for the bacterial flagellum, or if it is mere posturing for the worldview.

    As the second definition of “bluff” my dictionary has the following: “to impress, deter, or intimidate by showing more confidence than the facts support.” In that sense, I think Matzke is most definitely bluffing, now as usual, and that is the sense in which I made my comment.

    However, there is another definition of “bluff,” namely to “mislead or deceive,” which implies (at least in the latter case) some intentional malfeasance. You are right that I can’t read Matzke’s thoughts and I don’t know his true motivation. Thus, in the spirit of civil discourse and reasoned debate I should — and am happy to — take him at face value and assume that he believes what he says. In that sense then, it is not clear that he is bluffing and I should have been more charitable in my choice of words.

  66. 66
    allanius says:

    It’s modern science that “reifies” the problem of intelligence in nature, not ID. And it’s the Darwinists, not the IDers, who now find themselves in the awkward position of having to ascribe intelligence to nature for its own sake.

    Everyone now knows that Darwin’s spontaneous generation explanation for the origin of life was little more than wishful thinking. Things don’t just happen when it comes to life. The cell is astonishingly complex and probably irreducibly complex.

    This complexity points north to intelligence. Nature is now described in engineering terms in science journals. Which raises the question—how do we account for signs of engineering in nature?

    Now for IDers, it’s so easy a child could do it. Those signs are attributed to an intelligent designer, not to nature itself. If there was an intelligent designer, then it makes perfect sense that his handiwork would show signs of engineering.

    Things are not so easy for the poor Darwinists, however. They cannot deny that the complexity of nature indicates intelligence, but they continue to cling to Darwin and refuse to allow any inference of a designer. Thus they have no choice but to attempt to ascribe intelligence to nature itself—to physical causes

    At that point they find themselves falling on a two-edged sword. They were eager to embrace Hume when he conked Newton’s God on the head with his billiard balls, but the same deconstruction of causes also applies to any attempt to make nature a cause of intelligence. All we see is the effect; our notions of cause are pure speculation.

    Hume argued that theists cannot reason back with certainty to first causes or discover their nature through the effects observed in nature—but then it is also certainly true that Darwinists cannot obtain any degree of certainty with regard to the causes of the signs of intelligence seen in nature.

    In fact the Darwinists are in a worse position than Newton, in Hume’s analogy, since they cannot even see one ball strike the other. Not only are they incapable of making any final judgment about causes, but they cannot offer any tangible proof that the proximate causes they invoke really do exist.

    So it seems Hume’s dream is coming true in a way he never considered. Modern science is in the process of undoing itself and its devotion to Darwin, which leaves philosophers free to reimagine a happiness that goes far beyond the limitations of Modernism.

    Darwinism leads to the annihilation of all value except the will to power—but it seems the door is still open to articulate something fresh and new. Life itself has overturned the smallness of human thinking and the vanity of those who are wise in their own thinking.

  67. 67
    kairosfocus says:

    Allanius:

    RE: Hume argued that theists cannot reason back with certainty to first causes or discover their nature through the effects observed in nature

    In light of the issue of inevitability of “first plausibles” with associated “basic beliefs”, and in light of our finitude and fallibility, can we be “certain” — beyond moral certainty — of ANY major worldview commitment?

    In that context, does it not make better sense to dismiss teh quest for “certainty” in reasoning as the pursuit of a mirage, then accept that we live by worldview level faith commmitments?

    Thence, is it not immensely well warranted — note the shift from terms like “proof” — to accept that the existence of agents who act intelligently and volitionally to cause events in the world of our collective experience is a matter of general practical consensus and self-evident reality?

    Thus, we come back to the points that

    1 –> agency is actual in our cosmos, so

    2 –> it is possible for it to have been “there” at the point of the origin of life on our planet.

    3 –> Therefore, when we see well-tested, reliable signs of intelligence at work in cell-based life,

    4 –> it is reasonable to conclude that such life, per best — and provisional — explanation, is a product of intelligent action.

    5 –> Further to this, since there is a competing explanation based on chance + necessity, if its advocates can show empirically that FSCI can plausibly be generated through non-intelligent mechanisms, the inference at 4 is provisional and subject o empirical test. [Big if, of course . . .]

    6 –> Thus, the design inference is properly scientific.

    GEM of TKI

  68. 68
    Paul Giem says:

    kairosfocus, (67)

    You are exactly right that science is provisional, and the word “proof” is not appropriate for science without qualification. That is why I argued that believers in (unguided) abiogenesis were faith-based against the evidence, rather than that they were wrong. Their faith is not irrational; it is just against the vast weight of the evidence.

    If I understand Hume correctly, he argued that we cannot perceive cause and effect, just paired actions. He then went on to ague that a miracle must be less likely in all cases than a naturalistic explanation. But if we cannot be sure that there is such a thing as cause and effect, how can we be sure that a “cause” will always produce the same “effect”, in other words, without a cause-effect chain, how can one exclude miracles confidently? This appears like verbal gamesmanship, and it appears like Hume lost the game.

    It is fascinating to note that, although there have been multiple vigorous philosophical challenges to the propositions that began this thread, there have been very few, and very anemic, attempts to challenge the scientific claims themselves (the 11 obstacles and relatives). It appears to me that in this area, once one clears the field of philosophical objections, there is no contest regarding the weight of the scientific data. It could be fairly said that believers in naturalism must resort to trying to win before the argument is started, because once it is joined, naturalism loses hands down.

  69. 69
    StephenB says:

    ——Paul Giem: You make an excellent point. All the objections to your 11 points depend either on unduly strong faith in materialism or unduly weak faith in reason. To challenge the principle of causality is to challenge reason itself.

  70. 70
    jstanley01 says:

    Thanks to BarryA, Paul Giem and all of the posters on this thread. This one I’m going to have to print up as a hardcopy, to read and reread.

    Most often, I lurk here at UD. As an educational exercise. In that, the subjects discussed are so often too far out of my depth for me to have much worth contributing.

    I rehearse this disclaimer so that, should anyone detect any penchant in the following for sticking my foot in my mouth, it can be seen in its proper context.

    1. On a humorous note, regarding Paul Giem @57:

    Ordinary scientists know, without always knowing exactly why, that we do know quite a bit about the universe.

    Could it have been all that studying they had to do and all those tests they had to take in college?

    Sorry. 🙂

    2. On a theological note, regarding one of the points in Paul Giem’s most-excellent canvas of the epistemology of miracles @33:

    Third, before one comfortably accepts a miracle, it should make some kind of theological sense. Intelligences generally do things for a reason, and if no reason is apparent for a miracle, it should make us wonder whether we have the facts straight.

    I wholeheartedly agree, with added acknowledgment that, within most Biblical theologies considered sound by most Christians, there are two (dare I say) nonmaterial intelligent causes for miracles. One performing them for genuine reasons and the other for counterfeit reasons. Namely God and the Devil. Compare Acts 2:22 and II Thessalonians 2:8-9.

    3. It seems to me that Paul Giem’s point 11, in the original post, also destroys the multiverse angle that materialists resort to when cornered into acknowledging the finely-tuned universe in which we live. Viz:

    11. Reasonable requirements for the specificity of RNA required for the origin of life are vastly beyond the probabilistic resources of the universe.

    Here’s my logic, and please, someone shoot it down if it’s wrong.

    It seems to me that, anybody resorting to multiple universes to overcome these odds, makes the same mistake as the coin-flipper. The one who, after the improbable event of 1000-straight heads, assumes that there has to be a better than a 50-50 chance that the next flip will be tails. When the odds, each flip, are always 50-50.

    So when it comes to flipping multiple universes, if instead of the probability being 50-50, the probability of our particular finely-tuned universe turning up is “beyond the resources” of each particular universe being flipped (each having to be a coin “just like ours” in all its basic physical laws, in order for “ours” to have turned up as-is), then, no matter how many of universes are flipped, the “reasonable requirements for specificity” always remain impossible to meet.

    That would make the odds of an infinite number of universes no better than the odds for one. And in fact, multiplying the universes, just like multiplying the coin flips, makes the results revert more and more toward the mean.

    4. Regarding Rude @53 regarding: “…it’s ‘turtles all the way down’.”

    What? Never heard that one before. Gladly on Wikipedia, Hawkings is cited where he relates the story in A Brief History:

    A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”

    ROFLMAO!!!

  71. 71
    kairosfocus says:

    Hi JS:

    Some interesting — and at points funny — comments.

    A few remarks:

    1] we do know quite a bit about the universe.

    Two senses of know are at work there. First, book- and lab- learning. But the more deep sense is, whether our claims to know are well warranted and credibly true.

    This last is what PG was driving at.

    Never mind how funny it seems!

    2] the same mistake as the coin-flipper.

    This one is interesting.

    The key issue is that it is assumed that if there are enough sub-cosmi out there, one is bound to come up trumps on facilitating life and then also having something like us. (Odds on a per universe basis are very low, but if the distribution of possible universes is wide enough and there are enough chances across a random distribution, then somewhere, someone will win the lottery.)

    But, therein lurks the next issue: where did the universe-generating machine come from?

    Robin Collins:

    we begin by noting that in all currently worked-out proposals for what this “universe generator” could be, the “generator” itself is not only governed by a complex set of physical laws that allow it to produce the universes, but also requires a set of fine-tuned parameters. . . . it seems that the “many-universes generator” would need to be fine-tuned, and hence it seems to transfer the problem of explaining cosmic fine-tuning up one level to that of the many-universes generator itself.

    In support of this claim, we begin by noting that in all currently worked-out proposals for what this “universe generator” could be, the “generator” itself is not only governed by a complex set of physical laws that allow it to produce the universes, but also requires a set of fine-tuned parameters. Even the so-called “chaotic inflation” many-universes model, which attempts to eliminate some of the fine-tuned initial conditions of the standard inflationary models by hypothesizing that these initial conditions vary at random over the superspace of Higgs fields, cannot avoid the fine-tuning of its parameters. As philosopher John Earman has recently pointed out, “The inflationary model can succeed only by fine-tuning its parameters, and even then, relative to some natural measures on initial conditions, it may also have to fine-tune its initial conditions for inflation to work.” (1995, p. 156) . . . .

    even my bread machine has to be made just right–fine-tuned, if you will–in order to work properly, and it only produces loaves of bread, not universes! Or consider a device as simple as a mouse trap: it requires that all the parts, such as the spring and hammer, be arranged just right in order to function. Thus, at present it seems doubtful that the atheistic many-universes hypothesis can provide an adequate ultimate explanation of cosmic fine-tuning. Nonetheless, it is at least conceivable–though I think unlikely–that in the future a many-universes-generator model could be developed which does not require a fine-tuned set of parameters. This hypothesis of a non-fine-tuned many-universes generator, however, seems to face two major problems, which we will now examine . . . .

    The hypothesis of a non-fine-tuned many-universes generator, however, not only fails to be a natural extrapolation of any well-established theory, but actually goes against what we know regarding the need for fine-tuning in all currently developed many-universe models and what we know about the need for fine-tuning from common experience . . . .

    Even if such a many-universes model could be developed that dispensed with the need for fine-tuned parameters, the atheist would still need to account for the apparent fine-tuning of the laws of physics: just as the right values for the parameters of physics are needed for life to occur, the right set of laws also seem to be needed.

    In short, we are looking at a regress. [The article is well worth reading.]

    Which brings us to:

    3] Turtles:

    The issue is really a quesiton of chains of cause-effect or ground-consequent.

    We basically have the choices:

    1] Turtles all the way down — infinite regress

    2] Turtles in a ring — circularity, which on causality side comes down to things [absurdly] causing themselves, and on the logical side, assuming what was to be proved.

    3] A final/first turtle, the basis of all other turtles — the (logically) necessary being that sustains all contingent ones in a contingent cosmos. [If we are in a contingent cosmos (cf big bang), then, necessarily, there has to be something there that grounds it!)

    So, which is it, why?

    GEM of TKI

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    Frost122585 says:

    KF,

    You know I was thinking about all of this yesterday. I have recently picked up guitar and was trying to recreate the sound of a particular artist. I have discovered that no matter how simple a riff is it is imperative to use the same set up as that artist. That is sound is a very precise thing even as simple as it may seem. This lead me to think about the specificity of form through the apparently designed universe. These tight fine tuned characteristics cant be the result of pure change because chance is not only incapable of producing matter motion and event- but chance cant even purchase itself= that is chance is not a mechanism that is self contained- it is not a set of all sets- it is a description that has form but cannot describe form as such.

    Chance describes but cannot design.

    When I was trying to find that perfect sound- in retrospect- it seems quite insufficient to say that all that was happening was chance methodologically trying to mimic itself. A chance realty is an absurd grouping of sets.

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