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Is the Intelligent Designer an interventionist? A reply to Felsenstein and Liddle

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In a recent post over at Panda’s Thumb, entitled, Does CSI enable us to detect Design? A reply to William Dembski (7 April 2013), Professor Joe Felsenstein, an internationally acclaimed population geneticist who is one of the more thoughtful critics of Intelligent Design, takes issue with the claim made by Professor William Dembski and Dr. Bob Marks II that Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, far from solving the problem of where the complex information found in the cells of living organisms originally came from, merely pushes it further back. The thrust of Dembski and Marks’ argument is that even if we grant (for argument’s sake) that Darwinian evolution is fully capable of generating the life-forms we find on Earth today, we haven’t explained the origin of biological complexity. For it turns out that Darwinian evolution could only work in a world that had very special properties, allowing evolution to work in the first place. In a 2006 paper (The Conservation of Information: Measuring the Cost of Successful Search (version 1.1, 6 May 2006), later published in IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man and Cybernetics A, Systems & Humans, 5(5) (September 2009): 1051-1061), Professor Dembski argues that worlds like that are very rare, as they require Nature to possess certain specific properties, which we can easily imagine that Nature might have lacked. These special properties that Nature would need to possess in order for Darwinian evolution to work can themselves be viewed as a kind of information. Thus we get an information regress: Darwinian evolution has to assume the existence of information in the properties of Nature herself, in order to explain where the complex information in living creatures came from. However, this begs the question of where Nature got its information from. Only if we posit a Designing Intelligence which chose to make this universe out of a vast range of possible alternatives can we resolve the problem satisfactorily, argues Dembski. For intelligence is the only thing that is capable of creating information from scratch. In the end, we are led to posit “an ultimate intelligence that creates all information and yet is created by none,” as Dembski puts it in his 2006 paper.

Professor Felsenstein is dubious of Dembski and Marks’ claim that Darwinian evolution could only work in a very special kind of universe, but his chief objection is that “Dembski and Marks have not provided any new argument that shows that a Designer intervenes after the population starts to evolve.” As I’ll argue below, Intelligent Design advocate Professor Michael Behe discussed this objection several years ago, and responded to it in his book, The Edge of Evolution. Interestingly, ID critic Dr. Elizabeth Liddle puts forward her own model of how Intelligent Design might work without the need for intervention, in a recent post over at The Skeptical Zone, entitled, Is Darwinism a better explanation of life than Intelligent Design? (14 May 2013). Her proposal bears some resemblance to Behe’s, and what both have in common is that they allow the Designer to make a very large number of selections from among possible worlds that He/She could have created [Liddle’s Designer is of the feminine sex], but without having to make any interventions. Neither proposal is restricted to front-loading; both proposals explicitly allow the Designer of Nature to make selections that alter the course of evolution long after the first appearance of life on Earth. What’s more, both proposals envisage that these selections should be scientifically detectable, making design inferences legitimate.

What kind of information are Dembski and Marks talking about, when they claim that information is conserved?

Before we address Behe’s and Liddle’s speculative hypotheses regarding the Intelligent Designer’s M.O., or modus operandi, let’s review Dembski and Marks’ Law of the Conservation of Information, and how it points to a Designer of Nature. Dembski explains the thinking behind this law in a recent article over at Evolution News and Views entitled, Conservation of Information Made Simple (28 August 2012). First of all, the concept of information that Dembski is employing here is a very straightforward one. Information can be defined broadly as anything which assists a search to locate its target:

Conservation of information, as we use the term, applies to search. Now search may seem like a fairly restricted topic. Unlike conservation of energy, which applies at all scales and dimensions of the universe, conservation of information, in focusing on search, may seem to have only limited physical significance. But in fact, conservation of information is deeply embedded in the fabric of nature…

Search is a very general phenomenon. The reason we don’t typically think of search in broad terms applicable to nature generally is that we tend to think of it narrowly in terms of finding a particular predefined object. Thus our stock example of search is losing one’s keys, with search then being the attempt to recover them. But we can also search for things that are not pre-given in this way. Sixteenth-century explorers were looking for new, uncharted lands. They knew when they found them that their search had been successful, but they didn’t know exactly what they were looking for…

Another problem with extending search to nature in general is that we tend to think of search as confined to human contexts. Humans search for keys, and humans search for uncharted lands. But, as it turns out, nature is also quite capable of search.

(As an aside, I’d like to point out that Dembski’s “target” metaphor is similar to that used by Aquinas in his celebrated Fifth Way, where he uses the example of an arrow directed by an archer in order to illustrate how all things tend towards their respective ends.)

Why evolution itself is a search, even if it’s blind

This brings Dembski to his next point, that evolution itself can be considered as a search, even though it is commonly conceived as a blind process:

Evolution, according to some theoretical biologists, such as Stuart Kauffman, may properly be conceived as a search (see his book Investigations). Kauffman is not an ID guy, so there’s no human or human-like intelligence behind evolutionary search as far as he’s concerned. Nonetheless, for Kauffman, nature, in powering the evolutionary process, is engaged in a search through biological configuration space, searching for and finding ever-increasing orders of biological complexity and diversity…

Mathematically speaking, search always occurs against a backdrop of possibilities (the search space), with the search being for a subset within this backdrop of possibilities (known as the target). Success and failure of search are then characterized in terms of a probability distribution over this backdrop of possibilities, the probability of success increasing to the degree that the probability of locating the target increases.

The generic structure of an alpha amino acid. Image courtesy of Yassine Mrabet and Wikipedia.

To illustrate his point, Dembski cites an example which should be familiar to all Uncommon Descent readers: the formation of the first proteins on Earth. Proteins are sequences of amino acids (typically, over 100) which are all L-amino acids (unlike those found in non-living things, which come in two varieties, L and D) and which are joined by chemical bonds known as peptide bonds. Only a tiny proportion of all the possible sequences of 100 amino acids that could exist, actually fold up and do a useful job. These are the ones we call proteins. Thus if Nature were capable of building a protein without any outside intervention, it would be like finding a needle in a haystack. Hence the “search” metaphor. As Dembski puts it:

For example, consider all possible L-amino acid sequences joined by peptide bonds of length 100. This we can take as our reference class or backdrop of possibilities — our search space. Within this class, consider those sequences that fold and thus might form a functioning protein. This, let us say, is the target. This target is not merely a human construct. Nature itself has identified this target as a precondition for life — no living thing that we know can exist without proteins. Moreover, this target admits some probabilistic estimates. Beginning with the work of Robert Sauer, cassette mutagenesis and other experiments of this sort performed over the last three decades suggest that the target has probability no more than 1 in 10^60 (assuming a uniform probability distribution over all amino acid sequences in the reference class).

The next concept we need to grasp, in order to grasp Dembski and Marks’ argument, is the notion of a fitness landscape – a biological term which is helpfully explained in an article entitled, Evolution 101: Fitness Landscapes, by Michigan State University postdoc student Arend Hintze and MSU graduate student Randy Olson, and posted by Dr. Danielle Whittaker on the Beacon Center blog. A fitness landscape can be understood in terms of the genotypes which comprise it. (Professor John Blamire defines a genotype as ‘the “internally coded, inheritable information” carried by all living organisms.’)

If we enumerate every possible genotype (and every genotype has its own fitness value), we can start drawing a fitness landscape, where the height of the landscape is defined by the fitness, and the place on the map is defined by the mutational distance from the original genotype…

There are peaks and valleys, and by examining this landscape you can imagine the direction a genotype may evolve. Every time the genotype mutates, it alters its location in the landscape a little, and experiences the fitness value assigned to its new genotype. The higher the fitness value, the better the genotype performs, and the more likely it will create offspring into the next generation. By continuing this process over many generations, the genotype will eventually end up on a peak in the landscape… The shape of the landscape and how far mutations can move the genotype across it will determine the evolutionary path and the final peak the genotype will end up at.

Sketch of a fitness landscape. The arrows indicate the preferred flow of a population on the landscape, and the points A and C are local optima. The red ball indicates a population that moves from a very low fitness value to the top of a peak. Image courtesy of Claus Wilke and Wikipedia.

In his essay, Conservation of Information Made Simple (28 August 2012), Professor Dembski quotes a passage from theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman. Kauffman is no friend of Intelligent Design, yet he is happy to describe the process of evolution as being engaged in a search for higher and higher levels of biological complexity and diversity, as it explores a vast space of possible configurations. Unlike Darwinian biologists, however, Kauffman is prepared to acknowledge that there is a problem with the claim that the Darwinian mechanism of random variation culled by natural selection is capable of generating new biological information. As he puts it in his Investigations (Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 19):

If mutation, recombination, and selection only work well on certain kinds of fitness landscapes, yet most organisms are sexual, and hence use recombination, and all organisms use mutation as a search mechanism, where did these well-wrought fitness landscapes come from, such that evolution manages to produce the fancy stuff around us?

In other words, Kauffman recognizes that Darwinian evolution can only work in special kinds of fitness landscapes. Dembski uses this insight of Kauffman’s to illustrate his point (which has been rigorously proved in his and Marks’ paper on the Law of the Conservation of Information), that any information we see coming out of the evolutionary process must have already been contained in the “fitness landscape” in which evolution occurs.

Bulgarian Orthodox Easter eggs. Image courtesy of Ikonact and Wikipedia.

An Easter Egg hunt provides a useful analogy that helps us understand why evolution cannot hit targets such as functional proteins, or complex life-forms, simply by following a blind search. Some sort of “guided search” is required, but the information that guides the search still has to come from somewhere:

Take an Easter egg hunt in which there’s just one egg carefully hidden somewhere in a vast area. This is the target and blind search is highly unlikely to find it precisely because the search space is so vast…

The Easter egg hunt example provides a little preview of conservation of information. Blind search, if the search space is too large and the number of Easter eggs is too small, is highly unlikely to successfully locate the eggs. A guided search, in which the seeker is given feedback about his search by being told when he’s closer or farther from the egg, by contrast, promises to dramatically raise the probability of success of the search. The seeker is being given vital information bearing on the success of the search. But where did this information that gauges proximity of seeker to egg come from? Conservation of information claims that this information is itself as difficult to find as locating the egg by blind search, implying that the guided search is no better at finding the eggs than blind search once this information must be accounted for…

Most biological configuration spaces are so large and the targets they present are so small that blind search (which ultimately, on materialist principles, reduces to the jostling of life’s molecular constituents through forces of attraction and repulsion) is highly unlikely to succeed. As a consequence, some alternative search is required if the target is to stand a reasonable chance of being located. Evolutionary processes driven by natural selection constitute such an alternative search. Yes, they do a much better job than blind search. But at a cost — an informational cost, a cost these processes have to pay but which they are incapable of earning on their own…

[C]onservation of information says that increasing the probability of successful search requires additional informational resources that, once the cost of locating them is factored in, do nothing to make the original search easier…

The reason it’s called “conservation” of information is that the best we can do is break even, rendering the search no more difficult than before.

The thrust of Dembski’s argument should by now be clear. Let’s imagine (for argument’s sake) that there’s an evolutionary process that leads from a simple cell to the dazzling variety of life-forms that we find on Earth today, via a series of small transitional steps. What the law of conservation of information tells us is that increasing the likelihood that this evolutionary process will succeed in reaching its various targets, can only be achieved by reducing the likelihood of evolution’s being able to occur in the first place. In other words, the more successful we make Darwinian evolution, the less antecedently likely we render it:

…[D]esign proponents have argued that even if common ancestry holds, the evidence of intelligence in biology is compelling. Conservation of information is part of that second-prong challenge to evolution. Evolutionary theorists like Miller and Dawkins think that if they can break down the problem of evolving a complex biological system into a sequence of baby-steps, each of which is manageable by blind search (e.g., point mutations of DNA) and each of which confers a functional advantage, then the evidence of design vanishes. But it doesn’t. Regardless of the evolutionary story told, conservation of information shows that the information in the final product had to be there from the start.

It would actually be quite a remarkable property of nature if fitness across biological configuration space were so distributed that advantages could be cumulated gradually by a Darwinian process. Frankly, I don’t see the evidence for this… The usual response to my skepticism is, Give evolution more time. I’m happy to do that, but even if time allows evolution to proceed much more impressively, the challenge that conservation of information puts to evolution remains.

If biological evolution proceeds by a gradual accrual of functional advantages, instead of finding itself deadlocked on isolated islands of function surrounded by vast seas of non-function, then the fitness landscape over biological configuration space has to be very special indeed (recall Stuart Kauffman’s comments to that effect earlier in this piece). Conservation of information goes further and says that any information we see coming out of the evolutionary process was already there in this fitness landscape or in some other aspect of the environment or was inserted by an intervening intelligence. What conservation of information guarantees did not happen is that the evolutionary process created this information from scratch.

In this passage, Dembski describes the Intelligent Designer as “intervening” and as having “inserted” information into the fitness landscape, but as I’ll argue below, Behe and Liddle both show that there is no need to envisage an actual insertion of information; a selection made by the Designer, outside space and time, would do the trick equally well.

In any event, the key point that Dembski makes in the foregoing passage is that when it comes to the biological information we find in the genomes of living things, you can’t get something from nothing. Information doesn’t create itself.

Citing the work of Simon Conway Morris, a Christian evolutionary biologist who maintains that the information which guides the evolutionary process is embedded in Nature, Dembski goes on to argue that the very metaphors invoked by Morris to describe the manner in which this information is stored in Nature point to Nature’s having been designed. Even if we grant that evolution is capable of “climbing Mount Improbable” (to use a phrase popularized by Professor Richard Dawkins, the world’s best-known contemporary atheist), it is still a very remarkable
fact (unexplained by Darwinism) that evolution possesses the tools required to get it to the top of the mountain and generate such a variety of complex life-forms:

If evolution is so tightly constrained and the Darwinian mechanism of natural selection is just that, a mechanism, albeit one that “navigates immense hyperspaces of biological alternatives” by confining itself to “thin roads of evolution defining a deeper biological structure,” then, in the language of conservation of information, the conditions that allow evolution to act effectively in producing the complexity and diversity of life is but a tiny subset, and therefore a small-probability target, among all the conditions under which evolution might act. And how did nature find just those conditions? Nature has, in that case, embedded in it not just a generic evolutionary process employing selection, replication, and mutation, but one that is precisely tuned to produce the exquisite adaptations, or, dare I say, designs, that pervade biology…

…This is the relevance of conservation of information for evolution: it shows that the vast improbabilities that evolution is supposed to mitigate in fact never do get mitigated. Yes, you can reach the top of Mount Improbable, but the tools that enable you to find a gradual ascent up the mountain are as improbably acquired as simply scaling it in one fell swoop. This is the lesson of conservation of information.

At the conclusion of his 2012 essay, Conservation of Information Made Simple, Professor Dembski addresses the question of where the information we find in the fundamental properties of Nature ultimately comes from: an Intelligent Designer Who was not designed by anyone else.

One final question remains, namely, what is the source of information in nature that allows targets to be successfully searched? If blind material forces can only redistribute existing information, then where does the information that allows for successful search, whether in biological evolution or in evolutionary computing or in cosmological fine-tuning or wherever, come from in the first place? The answer will by now be obvious: from intelligence. On materialist principles, intelligence is not real but an epiphenomenon of underlying material processes. But if intelligence is real and has real causal powers, it can do more than merely redistribute information — it can also create it.

Indeed, that is the defining property of intelligence, its ability to create information, especially information that finds needles in haystacks.

Professor Felsenstein’s beef with Dembski and Marks’ Law of the Conservation of Information

Felsenstein writes:

I think that ordinary physics, with its weakness of long-range interactions, predicts smoother-than-random fitness surfaces. But whether I am right about that or not, Dembski and Marks have not provided any new argument that shows that a Designer intervenes after the population starts to evolve. In their scheme, ordinary mutation and natural selection can bring about the adaptation. Far from reformulating the Design Inference, they have pushed it back to the formation of the universe.

I’d like to make a brief comment here on Felsenstein’s critique of Dembski’s claim that evolution only works in a very unusual fitness landscape. The basis for this claim is a mathematical one: the Law of the Conservation of Information, which Dembski established by a process of rigorous logical argumentation, in his paper with Marks. Since there has been no credible critique of the mathematical reasoning contained in this paper since its publication, I shall take it that the result stands. Consequently, if Felsenstein wants to argue that evolution would work in a much larger proportion of fitness landscapes than Dembski claims, then he should do one of two things: either critique Dembski and Mark’s mathematical argument for the Law of the Conservation of Information (LCI), or attempt to argue that it doesn’t apply to evolution. Felsenstein does neither. Instead, Felsenstein puts forward an argument that evolution isn’t sensitive to tiny changes in the fitness landscape (as Dembski maintains it is), based on an appeal to “ordinary physics”, which is simply irrelevant to the case in question. If LCI is true, and if it applies to biological evolution, then evolution must be a fine-tuned process. it’s as simple as that.

The other part of Felsenstein’s critique relates to the modus operamdi of the Intelligent Designer: Felsenstein thinks that Dembski and Marks need to show that the Designer intervenes after the population starts to evolve, but what they’ve shown instead is that He fine-tunes the universe at the very moment of its formation. In other words, the Designer doesn’t intervene in the history of the universe; He just winds it up, like a cosmic clockmaker. At best, contends Felsenstein, that’s an argument for Deism.

The persistence of the fitness landscape over time is a fact which needs to be explained

A cul-de-sac in Sacramento, California. Image courtesy of The Mentalist, LeaW, Indolences and Wikipedia.

What Professor Felsenstein is implicitly assuming in his critique is that the fitness landscape, with its smooth surfaces that permit incremental Darwinian evolution to occur, persists over the course of time. But why should it? The Earth has been through several major cataclysms since its formation: huge meteorite impacts which destroyed nearly all living creatures; having its entire surface frozen for tens (and possibly hundreds) of millions of years (according to some geologists); mass extinctions caused by a sudden soaring of global temperatures; and the sudden release of oxygen into the atmosphere, which proved toxic for many anaerobic organisms on the early Earth, to name just a few. Throughout all these upheavals, we are supposed to believe that the fitness landscape that makes gradualistic Darwinian evolution possible maintained its smooth contours, making incremental improvements possible. But that, in itself, is a huge assumption. Who is to say that a fitness landscape, once set up, requires no further maintenance, other than the continued survival of life on Earth? For instance, what’s to prevent radical environmental changes from pushing all terrestrial organisms into an evolutionary cul-de-sac, where no major improvements are possible, even over the course of billions of years? And why couldn’t that have happened on the early Earth?

If the maintenance of a fitness landscape which permits the evolution of complex organisms over the course of time is not a foregone conclusion, then we can no longer rule out an ongoing role for the Designer simply by appealing to the efficacy of “ordinary mutation and natural selection” to bring about adaptations, as Felsenstein contends. Rather, we need a Designer Who can guarantee at every stage of the development of life on Earth that the path leading to sentient and sapient beings remains open.

Behe and Liddle on the possibility of design without intervention

Balls breaking in a game of pool. Image courtesy of No-w-ay, H. Caps and Wikipedia.

In his book, The Edge of Evolution (The Free Press, 2007), Professor Michael Behe writes:

How was the design of life accomplished? That’s a peculiarly contentious question. Some people (officially including the National Academy of Sciences) are willing to allow that the laws of nature may have been purposely fine-tuned for life by an intelligent agent, but they balk at considering further fine-tuning after the Big Bang because they would fret it would require ‘interference’ in the operation of nature. So they permit a designer just one shot, at the beginning – after that, hands off. For example, in The Plausibility of Life Marc Kirschner and John Gerhart hopefully quote a passage from an old article on evolution in the 1909 Catholic Encyclopedia: ‘God is the Creator of heaven and earth. If God produced the universe by a single creative act of His will, then its natural development by laws implanted in it by the Creator is to the greater glory of His Divine power and wisdom.’

This line of thinking is known as ‘Theistic Evolution’. But its followers are just kidding themselves if they think it is compatible with Darwinism. First, to the extent that anyone – either God, … or ‘any being. . . external to our universe responsible for selecting its properties’ – set nature up in any way to ensure a particular outcome, then to that extent, although there may be evolution, there is no Darwinism. Darwin’s main contribution to science was to posit a mechanism for the unfolding of life that required no input from any intelligence – random variation and natural selection. If laws were ‘implanted’ into nature with the express knowledge that they would lead to intelligent life, then even if the results follow by ‘natural development,’ nonetheless, intelligent life is not a random result (although randomness may be responsible for other, unintended features of nature). Even if all the pool balls on the table followed natural laws after the cue struck the first ball, the final result of all the balls in the side pocket was not random. It was intended [via the specific arrangement of the balls on the pool table before the shot was made].

Second, ‘laws’, understood as simple rules that describe how matter interacts (such as Newton’s law of gravity), cannot do anything by themselves. For anything to be done, specific substances must act. If our universe contained no matter, even the most finely tuned laws would be unable to produce life, because there would be nothing to follow the laws. Matter has unique characteristics, such as how much, where it is, and how it’s moving. In the absence of specific arrangements of matter, general laws account for little.

Finally, a particular, complex outcome cannot be ensured without a high degree of specification. At the risk of overusing the analogy, one can’t ensure that all the pool balls will end up in the side pocket just by specifying simple laws of physics, or even simple laws plus, say, the size of the pool table. Using the same simple laws, almost all arrangements of balls and almost all cue shots would not lead to the intended result. Much more has to be set. And to ensure a livable planet that actually harbors life, much more has to be specified than just the bare laws of physics. (2007, pp. 229-230)

Behe then proceeds to address a “theological” objection to Intelligent Design on the part of some religious believers:

Some people who accept design design arguments for physics, but not for biology, nurture an aesthetic preference that our universe should be self-contained, with no exceptions to physical laws after its inception. The prospect of the active, continuing involvement of the designer rubs them the wrong way. They picture something like a big hand flinging a Mars-sized orb at the nascent earth [in order to generate the moon – VJT], or pushing molecules around, and it offends their sensibilities. (2007, p. 230)

An artistic depiction of the multiverse. Image courtesy of Silver Spoon and Wikipedia.

In order to assuage the concerns of these religious believers that belief in Intelligent Design commits us to a demeaning view of the Designer, Behe then provides what he describes as a “cartoon example” of how an Intelligent Being with a perfect understanding of physics (or an uberphysicist, as Behe calls Him) might design the evolution of life down to the last detail, without having to intervene in the history of the cosmos. At the beginning, Behe envisages that the uberphysicist has “a huge warehouse in which is stored a colossal number of little shiny spheres,” where “[e]ach sphere encloses the complete history of a separate, self–contained, possible universe, waiting to be activated.” Behe explains that “the warehouse can be considered a vast multiverse of possible universes, but none of them have yet been made real.” Most of these possible universes will be inhospitable to life, but a tiny proportion will be life-friendly:

One enormous section of the warehouse contains all the universes that, if activated, would fail to produce life. They would develop into universes consisting of just one big black hole, universes without stars, universes without atoms, or other abysmal failures. In a small wing of the huge warehouse are stored possible universes that have the right general laws and constants of nature for life. Almost all of them, however, fall into the category of “close, but no cigar.” For example, in one possible universe the Mars–sized body would hit the nascent earth at the wrong angle and life would never commence. In one small room of the small wing are those universes that would develop life. Almost all of them, however, would not develop intelligent life. In one small closet of the small room of the small wing are placed possible universes that would actually develop intelligent life. (2007, p. 231)

From among the (relatively few) life-friendly universes, Behe’s uberphysicist then makes a selection: He brings one of them into being, in a single creative act, thereby setting in motion the entire course of evolution, culminating in the appearance of intelligent human beings. The mutations that occur during the evolution of life may appear random, but in fact, they were deliberately selected by Behe’s uberphysicist. Behe argues that this selection amounts to an act of design, without the need for any interference.

One afternoon the uberphysicist walks from his lab to the warehouse, passes by the huge collection of possible dead universes, strolls into the small wing, over to the small room, opens the small closet, and selects on the extremely rare universes that is set up to lead to intelligent life. Then he “adds water” to activate it. In that case the now–active universe is fine–tuned to the very great degree of detail required, yet it is activated in a “single creative act.” All that’s required for the example to work is that some possible universe could follow the intended path without further prodding, and that the uberphysicist select it. After the first decisive moment the carefully chosen universe undergoes “natural development by laws implanted in it.” In that universe, life evolves by common descent and a long series of mutations, but many aren’t random. There are myriad Powerball–winning events, but they aren’t due to chance. They were foreseen, and chosen from all the possible universes.

Certainly that implies impressive power in the uberphysicist. But a being who can fine–tune the laws and constants of nature is immensely powerful. If the universe is purposely set up to produce intelligent life, I see no principled distinction between fine–tuning only its physics or, if necessary, fine–tuning whatever else is required. In either case the designer took all necessary steps to ensure life.

Those who worry about ‘interference’ should relax. The purposeful design of life to any degree is easily compatible with the idea that, after its initiation, the universe unfolded exclusively by the intended playing out of the natural laws. (2007, pp. 229-230, 231-232)

In her post, Is Darwinism a better explanation of life than Intelligent Design? (14 May 2013), Elizabeth Liddle puts forward a similar theory, although it is somewhat less detailed than Behe’s:

Here’s an ID theory that any IDist who likes it is welcome to:

Let’s say that a Designer (and I’m going to assume a divine designer, because, as Dembski says, any material designer just moves the problem back a notch, as it would itself require a designer) wanted to create a universe in which life would appear. This designer knows that of the trillions of possible universes, only one will unfold according to the Divine Plan and bring forth life and human beings, and yet such beings are her Divine Purpose.

And so she causes to exist just that one in a trillion universe, in which each event unfolds as she intends. From within the universe, all we observe are natural causes, which, nonetheless, against all apparent odds, happen to result in us. And so the only way of inferring the Designer is to apprehend just how many possible universes might have been created, and how few of those would have resulted in us.

Nothing has occurred that is not possible given the rules we infer about this universe. But the probability that of all possible events, the ones that lead to intelligent life are those that occurred is infinitesimal, unless we posit that we were intended – that of all hypothetical universes in the Divine Mind, the one she chose to actuate was the one that would lead to us.

We will find nothing but apparently fortuitous chemistry in the formation of novel proteins – but such unlikely chemistry that trillions of alternative chemical reactions must have been considered and rejected as being not on the path to us.

There. I think I’ve presented myself with a more convincing ID argument than any I’ve read so far.

UPDATE: Proteins would be a search target, too

The protein hexokinase, with much smaller molecules of ATP and the simplest sugar, glucose, shown in the top right corner for comparison. Image courtesy of Tim Vickers and Wikipedia..

In my recent post, The Edge of Evolution?, I drew readers’ attention to the work of Dr. Branko Kozulic, who, in his paper, Proteins and Genes, Singletons and Species, points out that there are literally hundreds of chemically unique proteins in each and every species of living organism. These “singleton” proteins have no close chemical relatives, making their origin a baffling mystery. Dr. Kozulic contends that the presence of not one but hundreds of chemically unique proteins in each species is an event beyond the reach of chance, and that each species must therefore be the result of intelligent planning. In his paper, Kozulic listed various estimates of how much fine-tuning there is in a single protein molecule. Only a tiny proportion of all possible amino acid sequences is capable of folding and functioning as a protein within a cell. And remember, each species has hundreds of chemically unique proteins (called singletons):

While scientists generally agree that only a minority of all possible protein sequences has the property to fold and create a stable 3D structure, the figure adequate to quantify that minority has been a subject of much debate. (p. 6)

In 1976, Hubert Yockey estimated the probability of about 10^-65 [that’s 1 in 100,000 million million million million million million million million million million – VJT] for finding one cytochrome c sequence among random protein sequences [48]. For bacteriophage λ[lambda] repressor, Reidhaar-Olson and Sauer estimated that the probability was about 10^-63 [49]. Based on β[beta]-lactamase mutation data, Douglas Axe estimated the prevalence of functional folds to be in the range of 10^-77 to 10^-53 [50]. A comparison of these estimates with those concerning the total number of protein molecules synthesized during Earth’s history – about 10^40 [9, 51, 52] – leads to the conclusion that random assembling of amino acids could not have produced a single enzyme during 4.5 billion years [48, 53]. On the other hand, Taylor et al. estimated that a random protein library of about 10^24 members would be sufficient for finding one chorismate mutase molecule [54]…

Let us assess the highest probability for finding this correct order by random trials and call it, to stay in line with Crick’s term, a “macromolecular miracle”. The experimental data of Keefe and Szostak indicate – if one disregards the above described reservations – that one from a set of 10^11 randomly assembled polypeptides can be functional in vitro, whereas the data of Silverman et al. [57] show that of the 10^10 in vitro functional proteins just one may function properly in vivo. The combination of these two figures then defines a “macromolecular miracle” as a probability of one against 10^21. For simplicity, let us round this figure to one against 10^20. (pp. 6-7, p. 8)

The frequency of functional proteins among random sequences is at most one in 10^20 (see above). The proteins of unrelated sequences are as different as the proteins of random sequences [22, 81, 82] – and singletons per definition are exactly such unrelated proteins. (p. 11)

The presence of a large number of unique genes in each species represents a new biological reality. Moreover, the singletons as a group appear to be the most distinctive constituent of all individuals of one species, because that group of singletons is lacking in all individuals of all other species. (p. 18)

Dr. Kozulic argues that there simply isn’t enough time available during the Earth’s history, for literally hundreds of new, singleton proteins to have originated through the processes of random and natural selection. Thus the appearance of hundreds of new proteins in each and every new species means that there is plenty of room for conscious selection by an Intelligent Designer, in the unfolding of the cosmos!

Is this the clockwork universe by another name?

Tim Wetherell’s Clockwork Universe sculpture at Questacon, Canberra, Australia (2009). Image courtesy of OpheliaO and Wikipedia.

It is important to note here that neither Behe nor Liddle envisages a deterministic universe: both of them posit scenarios in which mutations occur. To a naive onlooker, these mutations might appear random, but in fact, the outcome of these mutations has been carefully planned by the Designer. In other words, we are not dealing with a front-loading scenario here, in which the outcome of each and every mutation could (in principle) be predicted from a knowledge of the laws and initial conditions of the cosmos. Rather, what Behe and Liddle envisage is a Designer who selects not only the laws and initial conditions of the cosmos, but also the outcomes of indeterministic events, such as mutations.

This is an important point, as physicist Dr. Robert Sheldon has argued in a highly persuasive article entitled, The Front-Loading Fiction (July 2, 2009) that front-loading wouldn’t work. The clockwork universe of Laplacean determinism, which endeavors to specify all future outcomes simply by selecting the laws and initial conditions of the cosmos, won’t work because in a quantum universe like ours, “no amount of precision can control the outcome far in the future,” as “[t]he exponential nature of the precision required to predetermine the outcome exceeds the information storage of the medium.” Nor will it do to suppose that the universe unfolded according to a cosmic computer program, since “Turing’s proof of the indeterminacy of feedback; the inability to keep data and code separate as required for Turing-determinacy; and the inexplicable existence of biological fractals within a Turing-determined system” would all render the outcome of any such program inherently unpredictable. In fact, the only kind of universe that could be pre-programmed to produce specific results without fail and without the need for any further input, would be one without any kind of feedback, real-world contingency or fractals – and hence, one devoid of organic life.

For his part, Sheldon envisages an incessantly active “hands-on” Deity, Who continually maintains the universe at every possible scale of time and space, in order that it can support life. That’s perfectly fine by me. But what Behe’s and Liddle’s thought experiments show is that a Deity can be actively involved in the history of life, without necessarily being an interventionist. All the Deity needs to do is select a cosmos with the history He intends, from among countless alternative possible universes.

Would design detection be possible in a non-interventionist universe?

Dr. Liddle, in her thought experiment, makes it quite clear that a Deity’s acts of design could still be detected in the “non-interventionist” cosmos which she envisages. Design could be inferred from the extreme rarity of possible universes that lead to intelligent life:

From within the universe, all we observe are natural causes, which, nonetheless, against all apparent odds, happen to result in us. And so the only way of inferring the Designer is to apprehend just how many possible universes might have been created, and how few of those would have resulted in us.

We will find nothing but apparently fortuitous chemistry in the formation of novel proteins – but such unlikely chemistry that trillions of alternative chemical reactions must have been considered and rejected as being not on the path to us.

This kind of reasoning accords very well with the design inferences that Intelligent Design theorists make by invoking Professor Dembski’s “design filter” – not that I would accuse Dr. Liddle of being an Intelligent Design theorist for one moment, of course! Nevertheless, the scenario she proposes should allay any concerns that people living in a cosmos that was not subject to acts of Divine intervention could never infer the existence of a Designer.

Would a designed universe satisfy the requirements of quantum randomness?

Professor Felsenstein may be inclined to object that the non-random outcomes in the universe selected by Behe’s (or Liddle’s) Deity are at odds with the inherent randomness of quantum physics. In response, I would argue that an act of selection by an Intelligent Designer need not violate quantum randomness, because a selection can be random at the micro level, but non-random at the macro level. The following two rows of digits will serve to illustrate my point.

1 0 0 0 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 1 1
0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 1 1 0 1 1 1 0 1

The above two rows of digits were created by a random number generator. Now suppose I impose the macro requirement: keep the columns whose sum equals 1, and discard the rest. I now have:

1 0 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 1
0 1 0 0 0 1 1 0 1 1 0

Each row is still random, but I have imposed a non-random macro-level constraint. Likewise, when the Designer makes a choice of which world to create from among various possible worlds, there is no violation of quantum randomness at the microscopic level.

Could the foregoing scenario actually be true? A philosophical evaluation

It seems to me that the question of whether the scenario proposed by Behe and Liddle is viable or not ultimately hinges on the philosophical question of whether this universe would still be the same individual universe, if its history were different. Philosophers often like to talk about possible universes (although many of them prefer to speak instead of “possible worlds”, which is a somewhat broader term). Disagreement exists as to whether these possible worlds are concrete or merely abstract. But the question of how these worlds should be individuated is a vexed one. It makes sense to say that this world could have been different from the way it is; consequently, not every feature of this world can be essential to it. The question then boils down to this: which features of the cosmos we live in are part-and-parcel of its individual identity?

If we accept that “pure randomness” (i.e. events which “just happen”, without being either causally determined or selected by an intelligent agent) is philosophically impossible, then that seems to entail that there can be no universe whose micro- or macro-level outcomes are not fully specified in some fashion. That, in turn, would seem to imply that when God selects a particular universe to create, God must select one whose history is specified too – at least, up until the arrival of intelligent beings like ourselves, who are capable of making additional specifications by their acts of free choice.

At any rate, we are now in a position to respond to Professor Felsenstein’s objection to the Law of the Conservation of Information, that “Dembski and Marks have not provided any new argument that shows that a Designer intervenes after the population starts to evolve.” As we have seen, no intervention is necessary; a Designer Who is outside time and space could select the entire course of evolution, without needing to intervene even once, if He so wished.

Felsenstein objects that Dembski and Marks’ Law of the Conservation of Information would make evolution a foregone conclusion, from the moment of creation:

In their scheme, ordinary mutation and natural selection can bring about the adaptation. Far from reformulating the Design Inference, they have pushed it back to the formation of the universe.

But this objection presupposes that mutations occur deterministically. If mutations are indeterministic on the physical level, then there is nothing, in the absence of a Designer, which guarantees that the course of evolution will proceed as it does. A universe with the same laws and initial conditions as ours might still remain lifeless, even after 14 billion years, if “random” events happen to go the wrong way for the development of life. Hence the need for selection covering every stage of the history of the universe, on the Designer’s part.

I also argued above that the persistence of the evolutionary “fitness landscape” over the course of time is a highly remarkable fact, which needs to be explained. We are very fortunate that evolution did not get stuck in a cul-de-sac, at a time when the only organisms on Earth were one-celled bacteria. If that had happened, we would not be here today. The fact that we live on a planet where mutations lead to increasing diversity and complexity, over billions of years, requires an explanation, and the only satisfactory one is: design.

To sum up: Felsenstein’s contention that the Law of Conservation pushes the Designer to the very periphery of the picture turns out to be mistaken, and his assumption that design requires intervention rests on a misunderstanding of Intelligent Design theory. It is to be hoped that he will reconsider his views. I’d also like to thank Professor Behe and Dr. Liddle for having demonstrated that belief in an active Designer does not necessarily entail belief in an interventionist Designer.

Let me close with a quote from St. Augustine (The City of God v, 11):

“Not only heaven and earth, not only man and angel, even the bowels of the lowest animal, even the wing of the bird, the flower of the plant, the leaf of the tree, hath God endowed with every fitting detail of their nature.”

Hi VJ, Okay, I think your scenario A might avoid intervention. Some physicists think something like this has actually happened: The universe virtually worked through all its superpositions until it arrived at one where a conscious observer appears and caused it to collapse into one particular state. Likewise, God could be the observer who causes the universe to collapse into one particular state. Unless I can think of a problem with this scenario, I'll cede your point. I think scenario B fails, though, since God is determining each successive state of existence. So indeterminism would no longer exist. Bilbo I
VJ: I am not a physicist, but I think your probabilistic scenario about quantum events is not correct or complete. Wave functions in quantum theory are deterministic. Only when they "collapse", the result is probabilistically "derived" from the wave function itself. So, the result of a single collapse cannot be known in advance, but a great number of collapses will follow the probability distribution described by the deterministic wave function. Moreover, I believe that quantum probability is "probably" :) intrinsic. So, let's bring that to our brain. If a great number of quantum collapses, for example at neuronal level, can change critically some neuronal activity, it will usually do that according to the laws of probability. But if our consciouness can superimpose its represented order to those collapses, then something can happen that is in reality functional and in accord with our will. The same is true for a designer of a gene, for ionstance, if his consciousness and will can guide random mutations so that they, in short or long time, assume a functional form willed and represented by the consciousness of the designer. The point is, in this universe, with its laws, that particular form will never happen by itself. So, at time 0 we are in a context where a new complex functional sequence in a gene can never happen in the space and time of our universe. And then, at time 1 (whatever it is) that sequence is there, and it works. And all that seems to happen through mutations that, according to all known laws of our universes, should be described by probability laws that simply don't allow such a result. That is, IMO, design and intervention in space and time, whoever the designer is: God, aliens, humans, angels, demons, fairies, or anything else that is conscious and intelligent and can output something to matter. This for the science. Let's go to the philosophy. Why should God "select" and not "intervene"? Selection, after all, is intervention just the same. If a god selects between possible universes, he is still intervening. Maybe the reality he intervenes upon is not physical, but platonic, but what is the difference. A reality it still is. I think you can accept that God creates the universe. That is intervention, I suppose. Let's say the universe has a start in time and space (or, better, with time and space). And maybe a end. God is, I believe, beyond time and space. Time and space are. it seems, relativities of the created universe. So, let me understand well. God intervenes on the universe (He certainly creates it). Is there any reason in the world why it is more satisfactory to believe that His intervention (form out of time and space) should be detectable, or manifest, in the universe only at the beginning of time and space? Why? Another example. Let's say God is the sculptor of this universe. What does a sculptor do? Does he give a single blow to the stone with his chisel, hoping that the whole sculpture will come forth because of the consequences of that single blow? Or does he repeatedly, lovingly apply his intuition, will and purpose to the stone, so that the willed form emerges in time? Design is that way. Design is intervention. It is intervention motivated by love, will, purpose. Living beings are obviously designed. At some time in natural history, they did not exist. After some time, they came in to existence, and gradually new forms and purposes appeared. This is the simple truth. All that was designed. All that needed intervention on the material world. There is no other credible explanation for that. At least, darwinists try to give an explanation, although wrong. But philosophical ideas about selection between possible worlds are no help in understanding what happens here, in time and space. In all cases, they are no science. gpuccio
Hi Bilbo and gpuccio, Thank you both for your very thoughtful comments. I'd just like to address the issue of answering prayers at the outset. Like you, I believe that an interventionist model of God's response to prayer is the only way to go, as I accept libertarian free will. Our choices are not part-and-parcel of the individual identity of the universe God creates, for if they were, then we'd have a perfect excuse for wrong-doing: "I couldn't do otherwise than what I did, because if I'd acted otherwise, then it would have been a different world." Thus I am in complete agreement with gpuccio when he writes:
It is a common religious experience that, when we pray deeply, we feel some answer from God in us. That event certainly changes us somewhat, and our action will also be changed somewhat. Isn't that an intervention that will change the material course of things?
Yes, it is. But the fact that God is an interventionist when answering prayers doesn't necessarily entail that He's an interventionist when generating the various life-forms that we see on Earth today. Here, I argue that He could (for all we know) produce creatures by making selections from among possible futures, without actually intervening in the course of Nature. gpuccio, you write:
The problem is that we see dFSCI, original functional information, emerging in the course of natural history. That happens in space and time, inside the universe. And it violates the probabilistic laws (not the physical laws) not one, but thousands of times. Exactly like human design, and only human design, continuously violates those probabilistic laws because of our conscious intervention upon matter. This is an empirical problem, and it requires an empirical solution. This happens in our world, and a conscious intervention is the only credible explanation.
I would amend the last sentence to read: "...and a conscious selection is the only credible explanation." I may be entirely wrong, but I think it is possible for God to make a selection which determines the state of the cosmos, without actually making an intervention. (We can't do that, however; all our selections are also interventions.) And now we come to the nitty-gritty: probability. Bilbo, you write:
It's possible that if we tracked the results of each quantum particle, that it would follow the probability curve for that type of particle. But if ID is correct, then the combined probability curve for at least some particles would not follow the probability curve for those particles. In other words, God is cheating. He is intervening and making certain outcomes happen.
In a similar vein, gpuccio, you write that "an intervention at quantum level can violate probabilistic laws without violating physical laws." But it's my understanding (correct me if I'm wrong, but as far as I'm aware, this is what physicists teach) that in our universe, there is only a probability curve for each and every particle. Physics is silent on the question of whether combinations of particles have a probability curve or not. So if God wanted to impose His own probability constraints on certain combinations of particles, there would (as far as I can tell) be nothing in the laws of physics (be they deterministic or probabilistic) to prevent Him from doing so. Thus God isn't cheating, in making certain outcomes happen, and He isn't intervening either. To show in more detail why God isn't necessarily intervening when He makes a conscious selection that determines the state of our universe, consider the following two scenarios. Scenario A: God uses a kind of world-simulation machine in making this universe. He runs through various virtual simulations of events, up until the arrival of the first intelligent beings with free will, at which point His simulation stops. From among these virtual simulations, which still have no actual existence as universes, but exist only potentially, He selects one that He likes, and "breathes life" into it - that is, endows it with actual existence. That selection then becomes our universe. Scenario B: This time, God doesn't simulate the entire history of the universe (until the arrival of beings with free choice) before deciding which world to make. Instead He makes this world, one step at a time, via a piecemeal process: for each successive instant of cosmic time (i.e. each Planck unit, which is about 5 x 10^(-44) seconds). At each point, God chooses one from among an array of possible futures - namely, the one which conforms best with His overall long-term plan for the cosmos, which includes the creation of intelligent life. (Of course, from God's point of view, this process of selection takes place outside of time. On a practical level, what this scenario implies is that events happening in the early history of the cosmos are not only logically prior to later events, as in scenario A, but also ontologically prior to them - which is hardly surprising.) Which scenario is right, A or B? Or neither? I don't know. But I have out forward scenarios A and B as a way of showing that selection need not imply intervention as such. God doesn't need to tweak anything, if he doesn't wish to. Let me add, though, that I'm perfectly comfortable, theologically speaking, with the idea of God manipulating atoms in order to make proteins. If that's the way He did it, then that's the way He did it. The only scientific objection I can think of to the non-interventionist view which I've defended in this post, is that the existence of non-random correlations between combinations of particles would make it possible to send information instantaneously between them, thereby violating relativity. However, the correlations I'm envisaging are not between particles which are distant from one another (as in the EPR effect) but between particles which are spatially contiguous and chemically bonded to one another: the various atoms in a protein or in a neuron, say. I should add that if physics did require that combinations or aggregations of contiguous particles also had to exhibit randomness in their collective spins, then it's pretty hard to see how life could hold up. The large-scale specified complexity which is a characteristic feature of life would seem to conflict with this requirement. It wouldn't just be libertarian free will which would be impossible; life itself would be. There's one person who could help us out here, because he is a physicist: kairosfocus, what do you think? Would you care to comment? vjtorley
gpuccio- One long kick-start spread out over time... Joe
Bilbo: I completely agree with your reasoning. I think you have caught perfectly the way an intervention at quantum level can violate probabilistic laws without violating physical laws. Quantum organization, with its "non deterministic" window, is the perfect interface for such an effect. One last comment: even if God had created a multiverse, or simply many universes, still our specific universe with all those violations of probability laws would be utterly unlikely. Only if God had created an infinite number of universes, where all things do happen somewhere, a strong antropic discourse could justify what we observe. But, at that point, no true cognition would be possible. We could simply argue that objects fall to the ground because that's the way random things happen in this particular universe, up to now. Tomorrow, everything could be different just because in this particular universe that is the way. IOWs, an infinite number of universes, where everything happens somewhere, is the complete negation of law, consciousness, will, purpose. It is in itself a possible, but almost certainly false, and certainly useless, theory, like solipsism. And anyway, in that context the concept of a god becomes really useless. The conception of a non intervention of God in the universe is also, IMO, incompatible with most religious experiences (not beliefs!). It is a common religious experience that, when we pray deeply, we feel some answer from God in us. That event certainly changes us somewhat, and our action will also be changed somewhat. Isn't that an intervention that will change the material course of things? (A note to TSZers and others: this argument is based on personal religious experience, so it can make sense only for those who have those experiences and believe they are real. The argument has obviously no relevance for all the others). gpuccio
Hi VJ, Sorry, I'm still not buying your argument. Let's take the two dice that always equal 8 scenario. So we're in Vegas at the crap table, and this guy is throwing the dice. One of them is green, the other is red. If we tracked the results of the green die, we would notice nothing wrong: its results would always be consistent with random probability. Likewise, if we tracked the results of the red die, its results would also be consistent with random probability. Only when we tracked the results of both dice together would we notice that the results were not consistent with random probability. In fact, they would be highly improbable, since the outcome was always the same: 8. At that point, we would know that somebody was somehow cheating. And by "cheating" we would mean that somebody was intervening with how the dice came up. And it wouldn't matter if the somebody is another human being or God. They are intervening with how the dice come up. Let's apply this to an actual universe that God has created: It's possible that if we tracked the results of each quantum particle, that it would follow the probability curve for that type of particle. But if ID is correct, then the combined probability curve for at least some particles would not follow the probability curve for those particles. In other words, God is cheating. He is intervening and making certain outcomes happen. Someone might say, "But in a multiverse, we would expect this to happen once in a while." Very good. But then, are we saying that God has created a multiverse, and just waited for one of those special universes to come up with those special results? If so, then yes, God has not intervened. But if God has created only one universe, then I'm afraid that God has cheated and intervened. Again, Behe, Liddle and you have failed to show how a supernatural being could create an indeterminate universe with its special results and without intervening. Bilbo I
Joe: So many "kick-starts", I would say: OOL, eukaryotes, multicellular beings, the Ediacara explosion, the Cambrian explosion, each new body plan, each new species, each new protein domain, each new protein network, and so on. Kick-starts everywhere... gpuccio
VJ: You say: "With God, on the other hand, it is different. God did create the world, and does maintain in existence. In making His selections, God is not interacting with a pre-existing object, but rather, making choices which give this world its essential character and make it this world, if Behe and Liddle are right. Are they right? I don’t know, but they certainly might be." In full respect of your opinion, I think I disagree. My approach to the design theory is completely empirical. If God interacts or not with His universe is maybe a philosophical point (and even there I certainly believe He does), but here the problem is not God. The problem is that we see dFSCI, original functional information, emerging in the course of natural history. That happens in space and time, inside the universe. And it violates the probabilistic laws (not the physical laws) not one, but thousands of times. Exactly like human design, and only human design, continuously violates those probabilistic laws because of our conscious intervention upon matter. This is an empirical problem, and it requires an empirical solution. This happens in our world, and a conscious intervention is the only credible explanation. If our consciousness can "activate some neurons in our brains and thereby cause a bodily movement", as you say, violating determinism and randomness, and conveying our conscious act of will to the physical world, probably interacting with the quantum probabilities of neuronal molecules at some interface, then certainly some other consciousness can activate some biological molecules in living beings, and thereby cause a new arrangement rich of functional information that previously did not exist, and that is the output of that consciousness'representations and will. That's what we see happening in natural history. That is intervention all the way. Consciousness interacts with matter every day. It is not even a miracle. It's how reality works. gpuccio
Hi tjguy, Thank you for your post. You write:
Frontloaded design that is never detected would violate God’s Word where He says clearly that His existence, power, and divine nature is evident to all men being seen in what has been made. So Romans 1:19-20, just those 2 verses alone, shows this is not a possibility IF the Creator is the God of the Bible, which almost all of us believe.
For the record, I don't believe in front-loaded design, and I do believe that God's design can be detected: among other things, the sheer improbability of the specified designs in Nature (e.g. proteins) arising by chance points to their having had an Intelligent Designer. And although it cannot be scientifically established at the present time that the Intelligent Designer is God, philosophy can tell us that in the end, it must be a personal God. I also believe that miracles are an even better argument for the existence of God, and I believe that they have happened in the past, as the Bible says. When it comes to Genesis 1-11, however, I am not sure how to interpret these chapters, so I proceed very carefully here. vjtorley
Alan Fox responds to my post 15: Just a kick-start for life on Earth and evolution after that.
That's what Darwin essentially said:
the first creature, the progenitor of innumerable extinct and living descendants, was created. Charles Darwin Origin of Species
And no, he didn't mean that creature just came into being since earlier he spoke of a Creator. For Alan to criticize your claim, he must also criticize Darwin. scordova
Hi gpuccio, Thank you for your comments. You might like to have a look at my reply to Bilbo above. In the case of a human person making a choice to act, which activates some neurons in their brains and thereby causes a bodily movement (e.g. raising one's arm in a game of volleyball), it could truly be said that they are intervening in the course of events, as they interact with their brains, which they did not create and do not maintain in existence. We might conceive of this interaction as a form of editing. To explain why, I'd like to use my earlier example of the string of 0s and 1s. There is a stream of all possible future outcomes, and what the mind does is "edit out" those outcomes which, when added together, do not match that person's desired total. Insofar as this editing "blocks" some future outcomes from occurring, it might be described as a kind of intervention. With God, on the other hand, it is different. God did create the world, and does maintain in existence. In making His selections, God is not interacting with a pre-existing object, but rather, making choices which give this world its essential character and make it this world, if Behe and Liddle are right. Are they right? I don't know, but they certainly might be. That's my two cents, any way. vjtorley
Alan Fox responds to my post 15:
Just a kick-start for life on Earth and evolution after that.
Evolution by design, as in organisms were designed to evolve and evolved by design. Also that kick-start could include multiple populations, including eukaryotes. Joe
Hi Bilbo, Thank you for your comment. Let me say up-front that although I've argued that a Designer could somehow determine the exact mutations needed in an indeterministic universe without the need for intervention, I have an open mind as to whether He did or not. I have absolutely no philosophical or theological problem with the idea of Divine intervention in the history of life on Earth. Now let's have a look at the example I discussed earlier, of the two rows of randomly generated 0s and 1s, and of keeping only those columns that add up to 1. I argued that this combined micro-level randomness with macro-level design, without the need for intervention. In reply, you wrote:
The resulting new rows have been determined by our selection process. Now was that selection process applied after the numbers were first randomly generated? In that case, we are intervening. Were they selected before the numbers were randomly generated? Then we are pre-determining, which is really just another way of saying determining. Or was the selection process part of the same system that also randomly generated the numbers? In that, we have natural selection.
I would respectfully disagree with your assertion that if the selection process was applied after the numbers were randomly generated, then we are intervening. That would only apply if the numbers were generated in the same world. But what about this scenario? Every time a probabilistic event occurs, there are several different ways that it might turn out. Consider these outcomes as different possible futures. Now let's consider two probabilistic events happening at the same time, in the same immediate vicinity. If we combine the outcomes, we have a large number of possible futures. (A straightforward example to consider here might be two dice being rolled together in a casino. Here, there are 36 possible outcomes.) Now imagine the Designer selecting, from among these 36 possible futures, one in which the numbers on the two dice add up to 8 (e.g. 3 and 5). Now let's imagine that He does the same again - only this time He picks 4 and 4. He does it again: this time it's 6 and 2. And so on. Could the Designer keep making these macro-level selections while preserving the randomness of each individual die, over the course of time? Clearly, yes: the macro-level requirement for the combined total imposes no bias or constraint on the numbers displayed on the individual dice. Is this an intervention on the Designer's part? No. What the Designer does is choose from among various possible futures. An intervention alters what is already there; what the Designer is doing is choosing from alternative possibilities that are not yet realized. In the process of making selections of this sort, the Designer is continually specifying the character of this world. If we use a single-letter subscript to denote the selection made at a time t, and another single-letter subscript to denote the next selection, we can see that over the course of time, the world we live in can be characterized by lots and lots of subscripts. What Professor Behe and Dr. Liddle are apparently arguing is that the identity of this world (as distinct from other worlds with the same laws and initial conditions) can be expressed in terms of the subscripts which characterize it. But the selections by the Designer that make this world what it is are not acts of intervention on the Designer's part; they're simply selections. I hope that helps. vjtorley
Joe: I agree. The first intervention is only more difficult to prove, at present. Luckily, biology is a more realistic discipline compared to astrophysics! :) gpuccio
Can other kinds of theories (front-loading, or simply universe-choosing, or any other variety) really explain the appearance of dFSCI in biological beings? In my opinion, absolutely not.
I, personally, wouldn't categorically deny the premise but I admit I don't understand how it would work. And with the advent of "The Privileged Planet" I don't understand how that would work wrt habitable planets. So I'm looking at at least two interventions- one for this habitable zone (just-so solar system) and one for Earth's living organisms. Joe
VJ (and others): My opinion. A human designer certainly intervenes to design things. The intervention starts in his brain, at the consciousness-brain interface, when conscious representations of will modify neuronal activities. The result, conveyed by the designer's body and tools, imprints the desired form to the designed object. That form originates in the designer's consciousness, but certainly needs a consciousness-matter interface to be imprinted to the final object. I suppose we can all agree that no natural law of physics is violated when one of us designs something. I can't see why anything should be different for the biological designer. Let's say the biological designer has no physical body (a sound possibility). Well, he still needs a consciousness-matter interface, if he is to design anything. The only difference is that, while in us humans the consciousness-matter interface is reasonably at the brain level, and the designing action are performed by our body and its tools, in the case of a non physical designer the consciousness-matter interface would be, reasonably, directly between the designer's consciousness and the things to be designed. But the process is essentially the same. Shall we call that scenario "intervention"? I believe we should. In no way is it essentially different from the intervention of humans in human design. How does the consciousness-matter interface work? We don't know. But it certainly works very well in human brains. So, that is a perfectly reasonable scientific problem, quite open to inquiry. Personally, I believe that the answer should be sought at quantum level. Can other kinds of theories (front-loading, or simply universe-choosing, or any other variety) really explain the appearance of dFSCI in biological beings? In my opinion, absolutely not. So, I stick to an interventionist designer for biological beings, in the sense already explained. But remember, no physical laws, as far as we know, need be violated in the process. The only "anomaly" in reality that only conscious design can explain is the appearance of new dFSCI. gpuccio
But, if we deny the Word of God in making our point, has anything worthwhile really been accomplished?
The Bible teaches that God doesn't expect unbelievers and doubting Thomases to begin their search for truth with the assumption that the Bible is true. The way you are framing your argument for truth especially for unbelievers and Doubting Christians is using the Bible being true as a starting assumption. That is actually unbiblical. You may not realizes, but the way you are arguing sounds like this "ID is true because the Bible says so, the Bible is true because the Bible says so." God didn't teach man to make such defenses of the faith, people like Ken Ham did. Look at Acts Chapter 17. Did Paul use the Bible as evidence that Bible is true when he spoke on Mars Hill. Now, in light of Acts 17 and the methods of "proof by contradiction" consider what a creationist might be trying to do for his Doubting Thomas brothers. The sort ill conceived defense of the faith that goes like this: "evolution is false and the Earth is young because the Bible says so", may not be as honoring to God as you suppose. The reason front loading is considered, is that even YECs who are top biologists see it. Letting the Darwnists accuse creationists of belieiving in the immutability of species was how they began to win the evolution/creation debate. It is exactly the way you have framed your argument that almost made me leave the church 10 years ago. But you'll be surprised how many people became Christians or returned to the faith because of books written by agnostics like Michael Denton and Robert Jastrow and how many have left the faith because of preaching like you provided. Why is that? If you read John 10:38, it might become apparent that Jesus expected that some people would come to Christian faith who did not at first believe His message. Ken Ham's approach to defending ID. Start off with the premise the Bible is true. That's actually unbiblical. God does not expect unbelievers and doubting Thomases to assume the Bible is true. The other reason front loading is defended is that Darwinists say ID = creationism, even though many of the architects of ID are not creationist but front loaders or some variant thereof. Even YECs are front loaders to some extent. Any time we can demonstrate that ID is not the same as creationism, we also demonstrate that Darwinists are willing to continue spreading falsehoods even after it is repeatedly pointed out they are spreading falsehoods. But, before you go around accusing others of being unbiblical. In light of the Acts 17 and John 10:38, you might reconsider whether your approach to defending creationist claims is Biblical. Otherwise, you're just preaching to the choir and demanding faith, not inspiring faith. scordova
Scordova said:
It seems they were trying to insist ID = interventionism. It is possible in principle that design is frontloaded that is never detected i.e. were intelligently designed, but we don’t evolve brains enough to understand or care enough to ask such questions!
I'm just baffled here as to why we humans feel we need to limit the Designer's interaction with His world to frontloading or some other method of non-intervention. If you read the Designer's record of how He claims to have interacted with His world, it seems there is quite a lot of intervention going on. I know that doesn't fit ID rules or evolutionary rules, but I don't quite understand why the Designer was bound to follow the standards and rules of non-intervention set up by evolutionists and IDers. Shouldn't the Word of the Creator Himself count for something? It seems all of ID is predicated on this arbitrary idea of "The Creator would use the path of least intervention". How do we KNOW this? Is it in the Bible? I've never seen it. If it is not in the Bible, why place your faith in that idea as opposed to what IS in the Bible? If we can't defend it scientifically, so be it. That fact cannot change the truth. Like it or not, miracles are very likely in the biblical scenario of creation. I seriously doubt the Designer cares one little iota about whether He intervened or did not intervene. Frontloaded design that is never detected would violate God's Word where He says clearly that His existence, power, and divine nature is evident to all men being seen in what has been made. So Romans 1:19-20, just those 2 verses alone, shows this is not a possibility IF the Creator is the God of the Bible, which almost all of us believe. Possible in principle? yes. Actually and truly possible? No because the Designer says that is not possible. This is the problem with ID. Most IDers believe the Designer is God, but they are not allowed to say that. Neither are they allowed to take into account the truths of God's Word in formulating their ideas. Hence they come up with ideas that do not agree with God's Word. But this can't be, so then they are forced to take those ideas and find a way to read them into the Bible so they can claim their ideas are biblical when they go to church on Sunday. But, if we deny the Word of God in making our point, has anything worthwhile really been accomplished? tjguy
In their scheme, ordinary mutation and natural selection can bring about the adaptation.
In our scheme, especially a front-loading scheme, the mutations are not ordinary. Again I refer you to "Not By Chance" by Dr Lee Spetner. Joe
I just started Howard J. Van Till's entry in "The Nature of Nature"- he addresses this very topic- ie intervention or front-loading. Oh and he uses extra-natural, from outside nature and supernatural, having power over nature. Joe
With the case of the Genetic Algorithm and the 500 "random" number generators, it can be seen that design can be detected that was frontloaded a "random" generator. Formally speaking, the design emerged and was detected without any interventionism. If in principle (and it is debatable) that design could be front loaded into the universe, the statistical behavior of the laws of physics are analogous to the random number generators that behave normally and the emergence of creatures via the rigged "random" generator is analogous to the generator that evidences design. It is possible that the designer disguise the design so as they avoid detection and thus the question of design doesn't come up. ID however asserts that emergence of life is inconsistent with the statistics that we see in the lab and the statistics predicted by accepted physics and chemistry. Further, Trevors and Abel demonstrated that the emergence of life via random chance would be inconsistent with any future discovery of physics and chemistry since information systems, by their nature, must have features that transcend physical and chemcial law, and can only exist in environments that make them possible but simultaneously improbable. The question of interventionism is formally separate and would not be a valid inference from purely design detection methods. Actually interventionism is a theological speculation and label. What do I mean. If God was determined for us to be shocked and surprised is that shocking event an intervention or not? Determinism depends on the observer. What looks determined to one (like the creator of a random number generator) is random to another observer. Most computer "random" number generators are deterministic at heart, they only look random. So is a predestined miracle an intervention or not? It's a philosophical question, not a scientific one. Interventionism cannot be scientifically demonstrated, what can be demonstrated is when something violates what we presume is normal behavior. Whether a violoation of the ordinary is a miracle or intervention is a matter of philosophical debate. What can be empiricially or theoretically argued is that historical events didn't follow what we might typically expect. Whether God was behind such atypical events is a theological question, the scientific question is if we are dealing with something that inconsistent with law and chance (chance as in the way we perceive chance). scordova
Hi VJ, Sorry, but I don't accept your argument that a designer could somehow determine the exact mutations needed in an indeterministic universe without intervention. There's something fishy about your example of the two rows of 0s and 1s, and keeping the columns that add up to 1. The resulting new rows have been determined by our selection process. Now was that selection process applied after the numbers were first randomly generated? In that case, we are intervening. Were they selected before the numbers were randomly generated? Then we are pre-determining, which is really just another way of saying determining. Or was the selection process part of the same system that also randomly generated the numbers? In that, we have natural selection. In my opinion, Behe, Liddle, and now you have failed to show that a supernatural being could design at the micro-level in an indeterministic universe in some way besides through intervention. But so what? Robin Collins already showed that intervention at the quantum level would not be a violation of Conservation Laws. Bilbo I
Sal @6, yes it is thought provoking. I hadn't seen it before. I'll query you more on low algorithmic complexity on the other thread, but is it related to low Kolmogorov complexity, as in "1 tails in 500 heads"? (It seems to me that randomness is unlikely to produce any long sequence with low entropy but I'll leave that for later.) Chance Ratcliff
chance elimination via low entropy sequences,
I presume you mean low algorithmic entropy. :-) That is one route. The example in the Siding with Mathgrrl thread of 500 coins heads is an example of a low algorithmic entropy string with a high shannon entropy that can yield a design inference since naturally occuring strings have high algorithmic entropy. It is not a universal method -- only works in some contexts. But the Randomness by Design article is pretty thought provoking isn't it? scordova
Sal @1, thanks much for the link to the Dembski article. I'm finding it helpful, and seems to be supportive of chance elimination via low entropy sequences, which is one of the points I was trying to illustrate on your thread about objective specifications. Low uncertainty effectively eliminates chance at some reasonable threshold. Randomness By Design I may take another stab at understanding what's going on there but probably not today. I'll post on the Siding With Mathgrrl thread if I decide to reexamine the issue. Thanks again. Chance Ratcliff
And just why would we expect a designer of life to not intervene in the history of that life?
It seems they were trying to insist ID = interventionism. It is possible in principle that design is frontloaded that is never detected i.e. were intelligently designed, but we don't evolve brains enough to understand or care enough to ask such questions! scordova
And just why would we expect a designer of life to not intervene in the history of that life? Eric Anderson
very nice article Dr. Torley, I've always been kind of mystified by this imaginary 'fitness landscape' that mathematicians play in, for in the 'real world' we find that the cell is in severe thermodynamic disequilibrium with the environment: Here is the information content that is derived to be in a 'simple' cell when working from a thermodynamic perspective:
“a one-celled bacterium, e. coli, is estimated to contain the equivalent of 100 million pages of Encyclopedia Britannica. Expressed in information in science jargon, this would be the same as 10^12 bits of information. In comparison, the total writings from classical Greek Civilization is only 10^9 bits, and the largest libraries in the world – The British Museum, Oxford Bodleian Library, New York Public Library, Harvard Widenier Library, and the Moscow Lenin Library – have about 10 million volumes or 10^12 bits.” – R. C. Wysong http://books.google.com/books?id=yNev8Y-xN8YC&pg=PA112&lpg=PA112
of note: The 10^12 bits of information number for a 'simple bacterium is derived from the tightly integrated relationship between information and entropy,
"Is there a real connection between entropy in physics and the entropy of information? ....The equations of information theory and the second law are the same, suggesting that the idea of entropy is something fundamental..." Siegfried, Dallas Morning News, 5/14/90, [Quotes Robert W. Lucky, Ex. Director of Research, AT&T, Bell Laboratories & John A. Wheeler, of Princeton & Univ. of TX, Austin]
Empirical confirmation of this long suspected relationship between entropy and information was achieved in 2010
Demonic device converts information to energy - 2010 Excerpt: "This is a beautiful experimental demonstration that information has a thermodynamic content," says Christopher Jarzynski, a statistical chemist at the University of Maryland in College Park. In 1997, Jarzynski formulated an equation to define the amount of energy that could theoretically be converted from a unit of information2; the work by Sano and his team has now confirmed this equation. "This tells us something new about how the laws of thermodynamics work on the microscopic scale," says Jarzynski. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=demonic-device-converts-inform
Here are calculations, from two different perspectives, that land in the same 10^12 bit ballpark:
Moleular Biophysics – Information theory. Relation between information and entropy: - Setlow-Pollard, Ed. Addison Wesley Excerpt: Linschitz gave the figure 9.3 x 10^12 cal/deg or 9.3 x 10^12 x 4.2 joules/deg for the entropy of a bacterial cell. Using the relation H = S/(k In 2), we find that the information content is 4 x 10^12 bits. Morowitz' deduction from the work of Bayne-Jones and Rhees gives the lower value of 5.6 x 10^11 bits, which is still in the neighborhood of 10^12 bits. Thus two quite different approaches give rather concordant figures. http://www.astroscu.unam.mx/~angel/tsb/molecular.htm
And please note that this thermodynamic disequilibrium of the bacterium is in severe disconnect with the environment. It is not as if the 'simple' 10^12 bit cell is a towering skyscraper protruding from solid ground. To see it as it really is it would be much more appropriate to see it as if the cell were a towering skyscraper of thermodynamic disequilibrium just floating on a ocean of relative thermodynamic equilibrium with no real foundation to explain to us what is really holding that skyscraper up nor to explain to us how it got there. As to incrementally changing a genome, I simply do not see a way around the extreme integrated complexity of a genome as to changing it incrementally:
Simplest Microbes More Complex than Thought - Dec. 2009 Excerpt: PhysOrg reported that a species of Mycoplasma,, “The bacteria appeared to be assembled in a far more complex way than had been thought.” Many molecules were found to have multiple functions: for instance, some enzymes could catalyze unrelated reactions, and some proteins were involved in multiple protein complexes." http://www.creationsafaris.com/crev200912.htm#20091229a 'It's becoming extremely problematic to explain how the genome could arise and how these multiple levels of overlapping information could arise, since our best computer programmers can't even conceive of overlapping codes. The genome dwarfs all of the computer information technology that man has developed. So I think that it is very problematic to imagine how you can achieve that through random changes in a code.,,, More and more it looks like top down design and not just bottom up chance discovery of making complex systems.' - Dr. John Sanford http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YemLbrCdM_s
I mean really why bother? Would a computer programmer try to change one code into another code incrementally bit by bit to design a new program and system or would he design a new system for a new purpose top down?,,, Moreover, the fossil record does not lend credence to a gradual scenario... my 2 cents,,,
Inspired Bicycles - Danny MacAskill traversing a fitness landscape :) - video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z19zFlPah-o
Music and verse:
Life (Vida) - BBC / Discovery Channel - The Prayer (A Prece) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7Qh-d0axQA Isaiah 6:3 And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory."
VJTorley: But this objection presupposes that mutations occur deterministically
Yes, but even on that assumption I can show that mutations won't necessarily look "ordinary" even in a front loaded universe.
Joe Felsenstein: In their scheme, ordinary mutation and natural selection can bring about the adaptation.
[First off, we're honored that Dr. Felsenstein is posting. He's one of the top population geneticists in the world. I'm grateful for his willingness to engage us.] We can analyze his assertion by first seeing illustrations provided to us in the world of computer Genetic Algorithms. We take a random number generator to mutate computer respresentations of an "organism", and then it evolves toward the target. We could in theory just front load the random number generator with the right mutations and thus the system short cuts its way to the target solution in no time. In like manner, a designer could frontload in a Deistic sort of way mutation. In fact, if that's the case one doesn't even need natural selection since the right answer will just poof into existence! But there are other things in nature that help us to look at what random ought to look like. As Dembski pointed out, for observers to perceive "random" behavior, the "random" behavior has to be designed. See: Randomness by Design by Bill Dembski Suppose things were Deistically front loaded, the Designer could still give us clues in nature as to the way real randomness behaves. This would be like me giving you a Genetic Algorithm and 500 sets of "random" number generators. When you run the genetic algorithm with one "random" number generator vs. another, you realize one of the 500 "random" number generators had to be rigged. So let us suppose that biology had no intervention but was wound up like a clock, could we detect design? Yes if we have the auxiliary provision that the observers have access to how randomness ought to behave. That is, we will have access to building DNA string and randomly mutating them and seeing how quickly we come up with new DNA that can build novel proteins. We can then extrapolate whether in geological time such a process will create what we see today. Thus under the Deist model, design could still be detected because it would be at variance with other behaviors deemed to be random, i.e. Doug Axe's experiments. We would be able to deduce that the mutation in evolution were not consistent with the behavior of what we see in our lab experiments. Hence, in terms of the contrast with what we see in out labs and our theories, the mutations would in no way look ordinary. If Dr. Felsenstein amended his claim to this it would be acceptable:
In their scheme, mutation and natural selection can bring about the adaptation.
But mutation would not look at all ordinary. So interventionism isn't required, it just looks like it. :-) FWIW, Ken Miller, no friend of ID, think God could influence quantum statistics and give us the right mutations providentially. See: Physics has rescued religion scordova

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