Last week, one of my comments relating to the KS “bomb” argument was made the subject of an OP, which can be found here.
In that comment, I had offered a few preliminary thoughts on Keith’s argument (originally found here, and summarized by him here) and asked a few questions to better understand the assumptions informing his argument. Unfortunately, the issues raised in my OP comment, as far I can tell, were never actually addressed. Instead, the ‘responses’ in the ensuing conversation revolved almost entirely around what the participating ID proponents considered obviously false analogies, which invoked “Planetary Angels”, “Rain Fairies”, “Salt Leprechauns”, and “Toilet Whales”.
Regarding these analogies, Keith, Zachriel, and other ID opponents, seemed to be arguing as though ID claims a designing agent is necessary to explain the shape/pattern of the ‘Objective Nested Hierarchy’ (ONH) into which living organisms are claimed to fall, when the production of an ONH can be explained by a natural, unguided process of branching descent. Thus, they claimed, there is no difference between the ID position and one that claims planets are moving in elliptical orbits because angels are choosing to push them around in such orbits, or one that claims salt falls from a salt shaker into a pile on the table because the falling salt is being guided by invisible leprechauns who like making salt piles. The idea here is that in each case we have some superfluous explanatory entity being posited to directly guide some process that looks exactly like it is not being guided, does not need to be guided, and is explained perfectly well by law-based processes.
During the course of the thread it was pointed out to them innumerable times that, even granting the existence of an ONH for life, ID does not and would not cite the shape or production of such an ONH as being an example of something that requires an explanation by reference to an intelligent cause. Rather, in identifying the need for an intelligent cause to explain certain aspects of biology, ID points to the evident infusion of significant amounts of biological information into the world of life, as well as the novel introduction of complex, functionally-specified biological systems and molecular machines. In other words, for its evidence, ID points to aspects of life that do not seem obviously explicable by reference to purely natural processes, whether stochastic or law-based, but that do contain hallmarks that we habitually and uniquely associate with conscious, intelligent, intentional activity. In yet other words, the previously mentioned analogies to “Planetary Angels” and “Salt Leprechauns” are horribly and obviously misguided and entirely off the mark.
Unfortunately, the distinction never seemed to get through to them. And even more unfortunately, the thread was eventually derailed and shut down while a number of conversations were still in progress. Aspects of the discussion, however, continued here.
In that new thread, the Rain Fairies, the Salt Leprechauns, and their most recent common ancestor, the Plantary Angels, have again reared their head, being invoked in response to the objection from ID proponents to the description of microevolution as being “unguided”. The point of the ID proponents in this case relates quite closely to one of the claims in Keith’s so-called “bomb” argument, with which I myself took issue in the previously mentioned OP. In Keith’s summary of his argument, he says that even “the most rabid IDer” admits that “unguided evolution” exists, with the ultimate intention of extrapolating what ID proponents admit happens into what they say does not happen.
Now, when Keith refers to “unguided evolution” here, he is referring to the relatively minor microevolutionary changes that take place within a population, but on the view of ID proponents, these are not the kind of phenomena that could, even in principle, be extrapolated to account for the macroevolutionary innovations that would be necessary to account for the full content of the alleged ONH “Tree of Life”. And in taking issue with the characterization of microevolution as “unguided”, the ID proponent is taking issue with the fact that a phrase that might be uncontroversially applied to a subset of these phenomena is, within the context of Keith’s argument, being over-generalized in a way that implicitly suggests an acceptance by ID proponents of propositions they do not actually accept, and so is a case of illegitimately stealing ground en route to the argument’s conclusion.
In addition to my comments in the original OP, I expanded on them somewhat in a recent comment, which I’ll duplicate here to fill out the remainder of this post and hopefully spur further discussion.
Now, when it comes to this business of proving that microevolution is unguided, I think there needs to be an understanding of what it would even mean to suggest that it is “guided”. I’m reasonably certain that the majority of people who would dispute claims that microevolution is unguided do not mean that a designer is actively, in the moment, effecting a specific microevolutionary change. Nor would they dispute that random mutations happen. Rather, they would likely dispute that all mutations are random. And they would also likely argue (as I did in the previous thread) that the constrained allowance for – and even rapid increased initiation of – mutations and general genetic and epigenetic changes are a purposeful aspect of the design of organisms to allow for diversification and adaptation (which is sometimes very rapid). If the random variation or shuffling is too large, however, it kills the organism, makes it sterile, or at the very least reduces its reproductive potential, decreasing the chances that the significant defect will be passed on or largely affect subsequent generations of a population.
In other words, the argument is not that random mutations allowing microevolution look unguided but are actually being directly manipulated by some designer. Rather, the argument is that 1) the RM/NS mechanism is a constrained feature of organismal design, and that the Neo-Darwinists are looking at a design feature of a system that makes use of randomization and illegitimately extrapolating it to explain the entire system itself; and 2) that not all mutations/changes are random at all, but some are internally directed in a purposeful manner for the benefit of the organism.
So, it seems to me that, from an ID perspective, saying something like, ‘even IDists admit unguided evolution exists’, is either A) a case of making a trivial claim that cannot be legitimately extrapolated from the kinds of microevolutionary changes that are seen (overwhelmingly degrading genetic information and/or narrowing genetic variability; breaking or blunting existing biological function for a net fitness gain) to the kinds of macroevolutionary innovations that are theorized (the introduction of complex, functionally-specified systems and molecular machines), or B) a case of making an unwarranted and unsubstantiated claim that the system that allows for and makes use of the RM/NS mechanism for the benefit and diversification of the organism does so by fluke, in a way that is fully unconstrained, and is itself undesigned; or C) both.
Of course, as I’ve said numerous times before, I think this is only one of many issues with Keith’s argument, but it has become quite clear that it is difficult to get even just one criticism seriously addressed in a comment thread, so it would likely be useless to draw in any others at this point. I’m hoping that the nonsensical false analogies about Rain Fairies and Planetary Angels can be left to the side to allow for some kind of substantive discussion of the issues, but I’ve been given little reason to suspect that my hope is grounded.