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Just Whose Science Is Todd Wood Stopping?


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Yours? His? Theirs? Anyone’s?

I’ve known Todd since we were graduate students in the 1990s, and have a hardbound copy of his UVA dissertation (Theory and Application of Protein Homology, 1999) sitting on my office shelves. Todd knows more evolutionary biology than many evolutionary biologists. Yet, perversely, or inexplicably, in the eyes of his critics and growing number of blog readers, Todd is also a young-earth creationist (YEC). What’s up with that?

But he’s not much of an admirer of ID. Think about it this way.

Suppose you visit Stonehenge with a group of “Stonehenge is naturally caused” theorists, who vigorously dispute that ancient humans built the monument. No intelligence was involved, they say; some yet-to-be-discovered evolutionary scenario did the building. Stonehenge-is-natural research (or science) thus consists of looking for the unknown natural mechanisms or processes, which shaped the monoliths, caused them to aggregate into a circle, and so on. No “intelligence of the gaps” need apply.

Now, on Todd’s view, an ID theorist would patiently reason with these Stonehenge-is-natural researchers, carefully showing them the insufficiency of natural processes to explain the effects in question.

And that would be a colossal waste of time, Todd thinks. “I’m not terribly interested in design as an inference,” he writes. “Design is obvious.”

Over at the Panda’s Thumb, this attitude — design is obvious — is seen as somehow stopping science.

But who stopped? Did you? Did anyone you know? If you’re an evolutionary biologist, or origin of life researcher, is Todd’s position going to stop you from looking for (say) the natural origin of the ribosome, pictured above? Really? Gosh, you are easy to dissuade. Pushover. (Just kidding.)

Eugene Koonin, considering the unsolved problem of the origin of biological information transfer, proposed a solution. I’d expect — we haven’t discussed the matter, but from long friendship, I can guess — that Todd finds this “solution” fundamentally irrational. Anti-science, actually, and just as irrational, in the end, as Stonehenge-is-natural research. On some questions, the sensible thing to do is to walk away.

Not to debate. Just walk away.

I think ID has more going for it than Todd allows, but I can understand his position. “Design is obvious.” And this:

Arguing to design seems fruitless to me, but trying to comprehend design? That’s a captivating idea. Begin with the (inescapable) assumption that design is real, and where does that take us?

hrun0815- The design inference leads to places your position doesn't even consider. Take Stonehenge as a perfect example- do you think geologists or archaeologists have a better chance at understanding Stonehenge? IOW would geologists, looking for a process not involving agencies, come to a better understanding of Stonehenge than archaeologists who look for processes involving agency? Do you think that forensic science is also a waste of time? Joseph
[...]but trying to comprehend design? That’s a captivating idea. Begin with the (inescapable) assumption that design is real, and where does that take us?
Now that's really the question. Does it lead anywhere that biology (sans design) leads not? I would say not... but examples could convince me otherwise. hrun0815
Re: Item 7 - apologies - I write too quickly and letters and words seem to get missed. But still despite the mutations I think the meaning is still readable. Andrew Sibley
No “intelligence of the gaps” need apply.
But wait, what if we, upon concluding something is designed, discover an artifact has secondary designs not yet detected. Often when looking at an ancient artifact, one begins to see if it suggests design that describes astronomical phenomenon. Design detection looks designs even in artifacts that are clearly designed. During some excavation, we uncovered some artifacts of gears and metal. But merely deciding that it was man-made (intelligently designed) was not the interesting question, but the identifying what the design was. It turned out it was an computer that predicted the motions of celestial bodies. ID theories formalize what is alread in practice for detecting man-made design. It might be useful for detecting other forms of intelligent design. scordova
Arguing to design seems fruitless to me
Part of Todd's inquiry is looking for patterns. We have to know whether the patterns are artifacts of our imagination or whether they really are there! How can we formally demonstrate our perceptions of Baramin are not artifacts of our own projection or imagination? Furthermore, there are some very important comparative genomics coming into the fray. We would like a methodology for determining if a design is actually there. But design detection is very much like pattern matching and reverse engineering linguistics. This could be important in making medical advances. See: How IDers can win the war scordova
Mr Sibley: In truth, all worldviews and arguments are subject to incremental infinite regress, so long as the skeptical objector is allowed to retain the initiative. And this runs into self-referential incoherence, right away. So, the real solution is to address warrant and proper basicality of core truths such as error exists and the first principles of right reason. In that context we may then look at things that are true beyond reasonable doubt in our experienced world, and then proceed to science as seeking to progressively accurately and reliably describe, explain and characterise [law, chance, art] the objects, events and states of affairs we experience. Within that context, art is plainly a causal factor that leaves empirically characteristic and reliable traces, just as do necessity and chance. So, we may create a legitimate and potentially fruitful science that studies signs of design. Such only becomes controversial because of the current institutionalised dominance of evolutionary materialism in our day. G'day GEM of TKI kairosfocus
This is the same point that Thomas Reid made, that design perceptions can be as real as trying to make design an inference to the best explanation. We look for marks of design, but those marks also have marks of design etc. So we have in infinite regress. Planinga has done some work on Reidian foundationalism in Warrant and Proper Function that is worth reading. The question is though, are naturalists willfully blind to design or they blind naturally ? How can we unlock their blindness? Andrew Sibley
Thanks for pointing out Todd's blog. Charlie
Excellent post, Paul. I think that precisely what Todd misses is that detection of design is merely the first step. In fact, having a reliable test for design actually helps us characterize what it is and what it means. But testing for design is really just a first-step in a design-oriented framework. Even from Todd's perspective - some things are designed and some things are just the contingent working-out of nature. Which parts, precisely, are which? Then, in my field of computer science, there is another interesting question - which processes require programmers and which processes can be automated, or performed by unsophisticated users? ID is the perfect method of research here. It takes a test for design, and help us to know where to apply such knowledge in engineering. Amazon's Mechanical Turk is an interesting application of ID in the computer world. Taking advantage of ID takes recognition of what kinds of processes are easily accomplished through programming, and which require an agent. And, using Amazon's Mechanical Turk effectively requires additional knowledge about the nature of agency. I agree with Todd that design is obvious and we should use it as a starting point. But the rigorous description and detection of design are no less required even when design is taken as a given. There are many applications to both biology and engineering from design principles. For starters, for an application of ID to biochemistry, see my paper on applying Irreducible Complexity to Biochemistry questions (also see my nontechnial introduction to the questions I was looking at, and an early lay-oriented version that I published here on UD). johnnyb
The strong appearance of design allows a disarmingly simple argument: if it looks, walks and quacks like a duck, then, absent compelling evidence to the contrary, we have warrant to conclude it's a duck. Design should not be overlooked simply because it's so obvious. ~ Michael Behe Design is obvious, but (as with all matters of theology/philosophy/knowledge) there are fine points that need to be worked out. This is an academic exercise -- apparently not the type of exercise Dr Wood finds profitable. Christians find topics such as the crucifixion or the existence of God to be obvious, still there is a place for academics who carefully consider the finer points of these topics. But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. bevets
And here's one by another scientist:
An Introduction to Systems Biology: Design Principles of Biological Circuits builds a foundation for the intuitive understanding of general principles in biology. It encourages the reader to ask why a system is designed in a particular way and then proceeds to answer with simplified models.
Principles of biological circuits. design principles. Mung
...theorists, who vigorously dispute that ancient humans built the monument. No intelligence was involved, they say; some yet-to-be-discovered evolutionary scenario did the building.
Too easy to pass up. Perhaps it was built by non-intelligent humans. I've met a few of those.
Design is obvious.
Design is obvious, as is teleology Both sides agree that the design is obvious. It's an argument over what suffices as an explanation. Once it's exposed that both sides agree design is there, the claim that design is not science is seen for exactly what it is. Here's a scientist making a case for the non-intelligent design of the human genome. Inside the Human Genome: A Case for Non-Intelligent Design Shouldn't this book be filed in the religion section? Mung
Todd: "...but trying to comprehend design? That’s a captivating idea. Begin with the (inescapable) assumption that design is real, and where does that take us?" It takes us to simmillar conceivable horizons that having an alien spacecraft in our posession might take us ;) I hope that is plain enough! As for Todd's argument that arguing for design is fruitless. I could not disagree more!!! Perhaps as it regards absolute materialists he is correct. I have wasted many hours attempting to emulate all of you with such persons. But not as it regards myself or countless others who have an open mind. Mr Nelson, you hold a special place in my own heart. I was driving through Sacramento Ca listening to Hank Hannegraff many years ago. He was interviewing you concerning the DVD 'Unlocking the Mystery of LIfe'. Up until that time, I had been wrestling terribly with a theistic evolutionary solution in my own feeble mind. I was not expecting the information you gave in that interview. I was blown away at just how distorted the conventional lens by which the poblic was being asked to view science is. For me, the implications for what you explained were immediately appearent. Anyway, the rest is history. I have never ordered a DVD faster in my life. Keep arguing for design Paul. At the risk of paying more honor to a man than any should receive, I have never heard a more objective, unemotional, or balanced voice of reason than yours, excepting that of Christ Himself. Keep it up... Lock

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