Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

On the poverty of scientific naturalism as an explanation: A reply to my critics

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In my recent post, On the impossibility of replicating the cell: A problem for naturalism, I argued that naturalism, even if true, cannot be shown to be true or even probable – in which case, I asked, why should rational people believe it? The responses of my critics reveal a real poverty of thinking on the part of those who believe evolution to be a totally unguided process.

The “naturalism” that I criticized in my post was not methodological naturalism (which makes no claims about the nature of reality, but merely states that non-naturalistic explanations of reality don’t properly count as scientific ones). My target was a more robust kind of naturalism, which I termed “scientific naturalism”: namely, “the view that there is nothing outside the natural world, by which I mean the sum total of everything that behaves in accordance with scientific laws [or laws of Nature].” Defenders of this view – whom I’ll call “scientific naturalists” – not only claim that their view is true; they also claim that their view is rational, and that everyone should be a scientific naturalist. That arrogant assertion gets up the noses of a lot of people, and I thought it deserved to be taken down a peg.

The thrust of my post was that before a viewpoint can be shown to be rational, it must be shown to be true or at least probable. And if the viewpoint in question depends on other assertions being true, those assertions must be backed up in the same way. Scientific naturalism requires us to accept that life could have arisen from non-living matter via totally unguided processes – in other words, that the theory of abiogenesis is true. However, there are good grounds (which I summarized in my post) for believing that it will never be possible, even in principle, for scientists to construct a model demonstrating that abiogenesis is true (i.e. that a feasible pathway leading from inorganic chemicals to the first cell actually exists) or even probably true (i.e. that such a pathway probably exists). Nor is it a truth of logic or mathematics that life must have arisen via an unguided process. This is an important point, as scientific naturalists are also prone to asserting that there are two and only two reliable sources of knowledge: all knowledge claims, they say, must be supported by either a rational demonstration from the axioms of logic or mathematics, or empirical facts which scientists can investigate. But we have seen that abiogenesis cannot be demonstrated in either fashion. That being the case, I concluded that since abiogenesis is a presupposition of scientific naturalism, it necessarily follows that scientific naturalism cannot be shown to be true or even probable – from which I drew the conclusion that scientific naturalism cannot be described as rational, in the sense of something we ought to believe.

Readers will notice that I did not argue that scientific naturalism was false. I merely argued that even if it were true, there can be no way of showing that we ought to believe it to be true. A scientific naturalist who was impressed by my demonstration could still go on believing naturalism to be true, but (s)he could no longer argue that scientific naturalism is a more rational worldview than its rival, supernaturalism.

It should also be noted that although I remarked in my post that a detailed model of the cell – assuming one could be built – would be a very effective way of making the idea of Intelligent Design appealing to people, I made no attempt to argue that the theory of Intelligent Design was more rational than scientific naturalism. Consequently, even if someone could show that Intelligent Design was no more rational than scientific naturalism, that would still leave the possibility that neither view was rational, and that in the end, one has to make a fundamental choice to either accept or deny the reality of a supernatural Being. That’s a viewpoint known as fideism, and it has its defenders. Alvin Plantinga, for instance, has argued that even if someone had no good grounds for believing in God, it would still make sense for that person to adhere to a belief in God, as a “properly basic” belief. (By contrast, belief in a “Great Pumpkin” or a “Flying Spaghetti Monster” doesn’t qualify, as pumpkins and spaghetti are by definition natural objects, and are therefore incapable of explaining the existence of the natural world.)

Does my argument commit the “Tu Quoque” fallacy?

Keith S, a well-known ID critic from The Skeptical Zone, responded that my argument could be used equally well against Intelligent Design. After all, if scientific naturalism shouldn’t be called “rational” because it can never be demonstrated, even in principle, then by the same token, its contrary, supernaturalism, shouldn’t be called rational either, because it can never be demonstrated either. As he put it (see here, here and here):

I keep offering free advice to IDers that they never accept. I tell them “if you think you’ve found a whiz-bang argument against your opponent’s position, stop for a minute and ask yourself a simple question: Could this argument be used against me?”…

I replied (briefly) to Keith S by pointing out that I wasn’t attempting to argue for Intelligent Design, but against scientific naturalism, and I added that my reductio only worked if we assume (as scientific naturalists do) that logic and empirical facts were the only two valid sources of knowledge. Intelligent Design theorists don’t make this restrictive assumption, so the same argument cannot be deployed against them. Keith S was not impressed. He contended that if I believed there were other valid sources of knowledge, then I needed to justify them, and he demanded to know precisely how the Intelligent Designer had made the first cell. Where, he asked, were the nitty-gritty details? In his own words (see here, here):

You evade your own argument only if you can demonstrate the existence and reliability of your third source of knowledge. Merely believing in it is insufficient…

Says Barry [Arrington], who of course can supply all the “steenkin’ details” about how the designer designed and implemented the cell. Right, Barry?…

Do you think that naturalism and theism are both false, since neither can supply the “steenkin’ details” you require?…

In reply: I believe there are at least two additional valid sources of knowledge: metaphysics (which is not required in order for Intelligent Design arguments to work, but which is often appealed to in the classic philosophical arguments for God’s existence) and abductive logic, or inference to the best explanation, which is commonly used in law courts, in detective and forensics work, and by scientists formulating hypotheses (especially in the field of archaeology). The justification of metaphysics is that the scientific enterprise presupposes the truth of certain basic facts about the world which cannot be tested by science, but must be assumed by it, in order for scientific investigation to work at all. These metaphysical truths, which are presupposed by science, imply the existence of a Creator of the cosmos (see here for a post of mine explaining why, with reference to the problem of induction). The justification of abductive logic is that scientific methodology – and for that matter, law – relies on the practice of inference to the best explanation (see here for a discussion).

Another commenter, Learned Hand, offered a similar criticism:

Come to think of it, we also can’t model an intelligent being creating a cell. No intelligence we have ever observed is capable of it. If we apply your standards, why would we prefer that impossibility over any other?

Now, it’s certainly true that no intelligent human being has ever created a cell from scratch, or even a complete simulation of one. But there’s no reason in principle why a super-intelligent being outside our universe couldn’t do so – especially if that being had a big enough computer! And for that matter, scientists have managed to put the synthetic copy of DNA into a living bacterial cell from which the natural DNA had been removed, although that is still a long, long way from building life.

A metaphysical illusion?

Another commenter, RDFish, weighed in with a critique of Intelligent Design methodology:

The essential confusion of ID is the assumption that there are two different types of causes in the world. ID calls the first type of cause “natural causes”, meaning “causes that proceed according physical law”. The second type of cause it calls “intelligent causes”, which is supposed not to follow physical law. ID attempts to show that certain features of the universe cannot have arisen by means of “natural causes”, and this supposedly justifies the conclusion that these features are best explained by “intelligent causes”.

The mistake, of course, is the assumption that there is any such thing as a cause that somehow transcends physical cause. ID often refers to physical processes as “unguided”, implying that in contrast “intelligent causes” are guided” by something that is not itself a physical process…

Once you remove this metaphysical assumption from ID, what ID is left with is “Certain features of the universe cannot currently be explained by means of any known cause. Therefore, some other, currently unknown cause must be responsible”.

First, even if this criticism were correct, it would have absolutely nothing to do with the question I posed in my original post, which was: if we cannot know that scientific naturalism is true or even probably true, then why should we believe it?

Second, RDFish’s assertion that ID proponents assume that intelligent causes are non-physical is factually mistaken. What we assume is that intelligent causes have the distinguishing property of being able to create highly improbable patterns which can, nevertheless, be described very succinctly in words. That’s an assumption that has been repeatedly validated by experience.

Finally, the conclusion we draw is not that “some other, currently unknown cause must be responsible” for the specified complex patterns we find in Nature, but that an intelligent cause capable of describing these patterns, representing them to itself, and constructing them in accordance with its own specifications, must be responsible for their occurrence in Nature.

Building the cell: Problem solved?

Keith S provided an interesting topic for discussion when he claimed that scientists had already built a simulation of a simple bacterial cell, thus refuting my claim that we can’t build a replica of the cell, down to the atomic level:

As others have pointed out, it’s rarely necessary to simulate at the atomic level, and in fact it’s usually wasteful to do so. Smart modelers adjust the granularity of the simulation to fit the problem they’re tackling.

In any case, computational biologists have already managed to do some amazing things with their simulations. See this New York Times article from a couple of years ago:

Software Emulates Lifespan of Entire Organism

The simulation, which runs on a cluster of 128 computers, models the complete life span of the cell at the molecular level, charting the interactions of 28 categories of molecules — including DNA, RNA, proteins and small molecules known as metabolites, which are generated by cell processes.

“The model presented by the authors is the first truly integrated effort to simulate the workings of a free-living microbe, and it should be commended for its audacity alone,” wrote two independent commentators, Peter L. Freddolino and Saeed Tavazoie, both of Columbia University, in an editorial accompanying the article. “This is a tremendous task, involving the interpretation and integration of a massive amount of data.”

I’d like to make three brief points in reply here. First, the skeptical question I posed for scientific naturalists in my post was not, “Can we model the cell?” but “If we have no hope of ever proving the idea that the cell could have arisen through unguided natural processes, or even showing this idea to be probably true, then how can we possibly be said to know for a fact that this actually happened?” and finally, “Since we cannot know that scientific naturalism is true unless we know that abiogenesis occurred without intelligent guidance,… then why should we believe it?” Not even Keith S claims that scientists have shown how a bacterial cell could have arisen from non-living chemicals; all he claims is that scientists have simulated the workings of such a cell. Even if that were true, it doesn’t address my skeptical question about abiogenesis and about the rationality of scientific naturalism.

Second, Keith S’s claim that scientists have built a simulation of a bacterial cell turns out to have been grossly exaggerated. I’m not blaming Keith S; in this case, the fault lies with the New York Times, whose sloppy reporting trenchantly criticized by Professor Jonathan A. Eisen, of the University of California, Davis. Professor Eisen’s research focuses on the “phylogenomics of novelty” in microbes. On his blog, Eisen attacked the New York Times report:

Umm – claims of first full computer simulation of an organism seem, well, way way overhyped…

one of the worst NY Times science articles I have seen in a while…

I do not think they made a complete model …

Another commenter, Steffen Christensen, voiced his agreement:

Aye: a model is NOT a complete simulation…

There are what, 1000s of molecule types in a typical cell, and their model tracks <30?!?

They might’ve done a better job of it. You know, modeled spatial interactions, 1000s of moieties, etc…

As it is, I just feel… disappointed. At science reportage, mostly.

Finally, Keith S’s contention that it’s not necessary to simulate the cell at the atomic level invites the obvious retort: “What level do you think is required in order to demonstrate the chemical feasibility of abiogenesis, and why?” The chemists I have met are not shy of talking about atomic interactions. Nor are the scientists who get their names published in the New York Times for describing a plausible chemical route to the synthesis of a nucleotide (itself consisting of a mere couple of dozen atoms) shy of talking about what goes on at the atomic level. Where else could one begin, if one is addressing the problem of how life could have formed spontaneously, via a step-by-step unguided series of processes?

I’d now like to discuss the various ways in which a sophisticated scientific naturalist might have responded to the argument in my post.

Scientific naturalism as a provisional working hypothesis?

One way in which a sophisticated scientific naturalist might have answered my argument would have been to respond: “You’re right: scientific naturalism is not something we ought to believe to be true. Nevertheless, it is quite reasonable for a scientist to adopt it provisionally, as a working hypothesis.”

That’s not a bad response, but there’s an obvious objection to it: another scientist, who was impressed with the arguments advanced by Dr. Douglas Axe regarding the astronomical unlikelihood of a Darwinian explanation of protein folds, might well decide to adopt the contrary hypothesis of Intelligent Design as a provisional working hypothesis. (After all, we do know that intelligent designers are capable of creating complex structures which fold up in a very specific way.) Which scientist is behaving rationally? Or are neither of them being rational?

Is agnosticism a viable scientific option?

Another response that a sophisticated naturalist might make would be to suggest that scientists should conduct their investigations of the riddle of life’s origin in a spirit of agnosticism. One commenter who argued for this view was Alicia Renard, who wrote (see here, here and here):

Who is claiming that life on Earth got started via purely physical and chemical processes is a fact? Being only able to detect material processes ourselves we cannot rule out the possibility that something goes on “invisibly”, “in other planes of existence”, immaterially” of which we are completely unaware… As soon as you postulate a material effect from an immaterial source, you have an observable phenomenon that you can look for. If the unmoved mover moves something, at that moment, the physical laws of the universe must be violated – an apparently uncaused cause – a reaction without an action…

Perhaps one day, an ID proponent will move beyond the mantra of “I can see no possible physical pathway for this phenomenon to arise, therefore design” to some suggestion of modus operandi. Until then, we are all left with our uncertainty. “I don’t know” is always a possible answer…

Remember the theory of evolution makes no prediction about how life on Earth got started, it merely proposes a mechanism (or suite of mechanisms) for how life could have diversified subsequently.
Even spawn-of-Satan Richard Dawkins does not rule out the possibility of God’s existence. He only gives his certainty level as 6 out of 7….

I don’t know exactly how life got started on Earth. No matter how hard we look we can’t seem to find that spark, that élan vital that, according to some, we should find in vivo but not in vitro.

Current research leaves you, me and everyone to speculate as wildly as they wish.

I would like to commend Ms. Renard for her intellectual honesty and her spirit of scientific modesty. She is to be applauded for not ruling supernaturalism out of court, as a hypothesis which scientists might adopt. Incidentally, I should point out in passing that if an Unmoved Mover were to move something, the physical laws of the universe would not have to be violated: that would only follow if we envisage the Unmoved Mover as pushing particles around. In a universe where Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle holds sway, we could imagine such a Being imposing patterns of arrangement on a particular group of particles in the cosmos, while maintaining statistical randomness – e.g. an equal number of particles being scattered in this direction by a colliding photon as in that direction – for the cosmos as a whole.

Regarding Ms. Renard’s proposal: one could certainly imagine a community of scientists carrying out their investigations in a spirit of open-mindedness, as Ms. Renard envisages. In practice, however, scientists are flesh-and-blood mortals like the rest of us, searching for practical answers to life’s big questions: “Whence came we?”, “What are we?” and “Whither go we?” Scientists are also as liable to “group-think” as the rest of us are. So it is hard to envisage a scientific community remaining in a state of total agnosticism for very long. Sooner or later, a methodological bias would emerge in the hypothesis they tended to favor – naturalism or supernaturalism – when investigating life’s origins. And eventually, one suspects that this methodological bias would harden into a metaphysical bias: either scientific naturalism or supernaturalism would become the default scientific worldview.

Finally, Ms. Renard apparently regards the inability of Intelligent Design theorists to suggest a modus operandi for the Designer as being just as great a difficulty for supernaturalism as the inability of biologists to come up with a plausible chemical pathway leading to the emergence of life is for scientific naturalism. While both of these problems are indeed difficulties for their respective hypotheses, the difficulty facing naturalism is much, much greater than that facing supernaturalism. The reason is that natural processes are inherently constrained in their range and magnitude, whereas intelligence per se faces no such constraints. For instance, there is no finite set of all possible ways of designing an object. But there is a finite set of all chemical processes existing in Nature. As our scientific knowledge steadily advances and continually fails to uncover any new chemical processes that might plausibly have led to the emergence of life, the hypothesis of scientific naturalism has fewer and fewer “unknown processes” left, to which it can appeal. Naturalists can run, but they cannot hide. With the hypothesis of a supernatural Designer, on the other hand, we are positing the existence of an Intellect which is far greater than our own, given our inability to model life in all its complexity. It is hardly surprising, then, that the modus operandi of such a great Mind should continue to elude us. Or as Charles Darwin himself memorably put it in a letter to Asa Gray: “A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton.”

Can scientific naturalism be justified without appealing to abiogenesis? Two tactics

Another, more subtle response would have been to attack my claim that scientific naturalism presupposes the truth of abiogenesis. If one could demonstrate the truth (or probability) of scientific naturalism on independent grounds, without having to address the question of life’s origin, then this would be an effective rebuttal of my argument. There are two ways in which a scientific naturalist might go about doing this.

(a) Are there any good a priori arguments for scientific naturalism?

First, one might argue that the very concept of a supernatural Being – by which I mean a Being Who is not subject to the laws of Nature – is logically absurd and incoherent, or alternatively, that there is something logically flawed in the enterprise of invoking such a Being as an ultimate explanation of Nature. Second, one might try to argue that we already have strong empirical evidence – either positive or negative – which tells heavily against the hypothesis that a supernatural Being exists, and because this evidence is so conclusive, we don’t need to first address the question of how life arose in our cosmos.

Taking the first tack would have meant constructing an a priori argument against the possibility of a supernatural Being or alternatively, against the possibility of such a Being serving as an ultimate explanation of the natural world. Such a move is highly risky: there’s no a priori argument against the very possibility of a supernatural Being that currently commands general assent among philosophers. And while many philosophers reject supernaturalism on the grounds that the classical arguments for theism strike them as unpersuasive, few philosophers would argue that it is logically absurd to suppose that the natural world might have a supernatural Creator (or creators).

Seversky was one of the critics responding to my post who tried this first tactic, by appealing to Richard Dawkins’ “Who designed the Designer?” argument. As he put it (see here and here):

If complexity implies a designer, who designed the designer, who must be more complex than the designs we observe? Or is it designers all the way down?…

Anyone who thinks the dilemma of Infinite Regress (IR) versus uncaused first cause (UFC) (or “Who designed the designer” or “What caused God”) has been settled does not understand the arguments.

In the case of Infinite Regress, although our minds instinctively rebel against the concept because it is impossible to grasp, there seems to be no logical contradiction involved…

“Who designed the designer?”, “Who created the Creator?”, “What caused God?” are all perfectly good questions. Many clever people have worked hard to answer them over the last couple of thousand years or so but, the fact is, so far no one has managed to nail it.

Seversky’s reply actually refutes the very argument he is making. For if (as he maintains) there is no inherent impossibility in an infinite regress, then it is perfectly reasonable to suppose that there really are “designers all the way down,” as he humorously suggests. Why not, after all? Such a solution neatly answers Dawkins’ question, “Who designed the designer?”

I should add, however, that I believe there is a certain kind of infinite regress which is impossible: namely, an infinite regress of explanations (as opposed to prior conditions, which might go back to infinity). It seems obvious that an infinite regress of explanations explains nothing: if I were to ask, “Why did Jones murder Smith?” I would not be satisfied until I arrived at an explanation of the murder – e.g. Jones wanted Smith’s money – that made perfect sense in its own right, without needing to appeal to any further underlying explanation. If the continued existence of the cosmos is a fact that requires an explanation, like a murder, then that explanation requires an explanatory terminus. Now, Seversky might reply that one can imagine an infinite regress of partial explanations, with each explanation E having a prior explanation which is more general and hence “bigger” in scope. In that vein, one might imagine that we live in an infinite “Russian doll” cosmos, with each universe being embedded in a bigger one having more general natural laws, but with no “biggest universe.” However, it seems to me that we can still speak meaningfully of the total set S of all universes – each embedded in a larger one – and ask, “Does the set S have a property (call it P) which requires an explanation?” For instance, are there laws of Nature which apply to the set as a whole, and are these laws fine-tuned? I might add that Dr. Robin Collins makes a powerful case in his essay, The Teleological Argument, that a multiverse would still need to be designed, in order to generate even one universe like ours.

If an infinite regress of explanations doesn’t work, then we are back with the question, “Who designed the Designer?” One commenter, called Logically_speaking, attempted to counter this question by asking, “Who painted the painter?” However, I have to say (reluctantly) that I don’t think this move works. Seversky’s argument was that any Designer of the cosmos would necessarily possess the very trait – complexity – which we posited the existence of a Designer in order to explain. By contrast, the reason why we assume that paintings have a painter (as opposed to a designer) is that the material called paint has no built-in tendency to arrange itself into a picture. All we can conclude from this is that the painter of a picture cannot be made of paint. But the design argument isn’t an argument about this or that raw material; it applies equally to all materials, and indeed to anything composed of parts arranged in an astronomically unlikely fashion.

A better reply to the “Who designed the Designer?” argument is that the supernatural Designer of the cosmos is not complex in a way that warrants an inference to its having a Designer. Seversky argues that such a Designer must be more complex than the designs we observe. But the notion of complexity he is appealing to is not a probabilistic one – which is the notion that Intelligent Design proponents appeal to – but a structural or functional one: presumably he thinks that a Designer would have to have a Mind composed of multiple parts and/or capable of multiple functions. That may be so, but if such a Mind exists outside space-time – as it would have to, if it designed the cosmos – then by definition, the probability of its having originated via unguided processes (i.e. its probabilistic complexity, as defined by ID) cannot be computed, because such a Mind would have had no origin in the first place. Seversky might reject the notion of a timeless (or atemporal) Designer as absurd, but to quote his own words against him, “there seems to be no logical contradiction involved” in such a notion. The contemporary philosophers Paul Helm and Katherin Rogers are two doughty defenders of the doctrine of Divine atemporality. If Seversky finds their arguments unconvincing, he needs to explain why.

Another critic, Evolve, argued for a different kind of fatal flaw in the hypothesis of supernaturalism: it explains nothing. As he put it:

The supernatural designer is a purely fictitious, undefined entity. One can fit him into any scenario one wants! Such a designer has zero explanatory power.

Now, if Evolve had wanted to argue that the hypothesis of a supernatural Designer has zero predictive power, then he would have had a valid point – unless, of course, we could make a shrewd guess as to what the Designer’s motives were. (And if the fine-tuning argument is correct, then our guess might be that the Designer’s motive was the creation of intelligent life-forms, in which case we would predict that the Designer would try to prevent these life-forms from becoming extinct, by designing a cosmos in which such an eventuality was very unlikely or impossible.) But even in the absence of a motive, it is simply incorrect to assert that the hypothesis of a supernatural Designer has zero explanatory power – just as it would be incorrect to assert that the hypothesis that an unknown designer produced a giant, mathematically regular monolith discovered on the Moon had zero explanatory power. Whoever the designer of the monolith is, or was, we know that he/she/it has an understanding of mathematics. One can make the same argument for the Designer of the cosmos: the Designer’s intelligence is what explains the mathematical beauty of the cosmos.

(b) Is there any empirical evidence for scientific naturalism?

The second argumentative tack that a scientific naturalist might adopt in order to circumvent the requirement that abiogenesis must be shown to be true or at least probable – namely, that of appealing to strong empirical evidence telling against the hypothesis of a supernatural Designer – was also deployed by Evolve, who wrote (see here and here):

Scientific naturalism is not an assertion, it is an observation. We have never observed any supernatural force tinkering with nature, past or present. On the contrary, we have copious data supporting naturalistic evolution and the evidence keeps on growing by the day as predictions made by the theory are confirmed by multiple disciplines of science. All supernatural alternatives to evolution, including ID, have spectacularly failed to propose testable hypothesis that can de-seat evolution.

Natural evolution best explains the data. This is what school kids must be told about in science classes…

Science HAS NO EVIDENCE for anything OUTSIDE nature —> Scientific Naturalism.

Why should we disregard claimed miracles? Because we have naturalistic explanations for the said miracles. Simple. Done.

The short answer to Evolve’s claim that “Science HAS NO EVIDENCE for anything OUTSIDE nature” is that the emergence of life on Earth is the very evidence that he is looking for. I have many times cited the work of Dr. Douglas Axe (which I recently summarized in non-technical terms here) and of evolutionary biologist Dr. Eugene Koonin (an atheist, whose his peer-reviewed article, The Cosmological Model of Eternal Inflation and the Transition from Chance to Biological Evolution in the History of Life I discussed here and here) as evidence for my claim that the emergence of life on Earth – or for that matter, anywhere in our universe – was an astronomically improbable event. That’s very powerful prima facie evidence against scientific naturalism – especially when combined with Dr. Robin Collins’ argument that a multiverse capable of spitting out even one life-friendly universe like ours would itself need to be fine-tuned, and hence designed. Life itself is the miracle that Evolve is demanding, and try as he might, he cannot disregard it, for it exists everywhere on Earth.

Finally, Evolve’s appeal to “copious data supporting naturalistic evolution” is also irrelevant, as the probabilistic hurdles involved in microevolution – which is the only kind of evolution scientists have actually observed – are much lower than the hurdles involved in the astronomically unlikely emergence of life on Earth.

A final objection from Keith S

I’d like to conclude this post by responding to a question by Keith S, who attempts to rebut what he sees as my argument:

His argument amounts to this:

1) Assume design by default.
2) If you can explain every single detail of, well, everything in terms of natural processes, then accept naturalism; otherwise stick with design.

The obvious question is: Why should design be the default?

Vincent hasn’t justified this unparsimonious move.

I’ll keep this simple. I have listed papers by respected scientists – including an atheistic evolutionary biologist – who have calculated that the emergence of a simple life-form, or even a folding protein, as a result of unguided natural processes, was an astronomically improbable event. On the other hand, we know that intelligent human agents are capable of understanding how living cells work. Although building an atomic replica of the cell is beyond the capabilities of human scientists, they are presumably capable of making a cell from carefully selected ingredients, via an intelligently guided series of pathways. By default, then, we should assume that the first living cell arose by a process of intelligent design, since it is the only process known to be up to the job.

Keith S may not like my “design default.” But if he wants to change the default, it’s up to him to specify an unguided process that is capable of doing the job. Simple as that.

Keith S adds:

Vincent is being unfair by demanding naturalistic explanations of everything before agreeing to accept naturalism.

Science is a long way off from being able to explain everything. In the meantime, we should accept the best available explanation, even if it is incomplete. And since unguided evolution is trillions of times better as an explanation versus ID, any rational person will choose it over ID.

I’m not demanding “naturalistic explanations of everything” before agreeing to accepting to accept naturalism. I’m asking why Keith S thinks we should accept naturalism, notwithstanding the fact that there is a huge probabilistic hurdle confronting the hypothesis of scientific naturalism, which scientists have no hope of ever resolving. Moreover, Keith S’s outlandish claim that “unguided evolution is trillions of times better as an explanation versus ID,” by his own admission, does not apply to the origin of life but of the nested hierarchies that we find in living things today. Citing the evolution for common descent – even unguided common descent – as evidence for abiogenesis manifests fundamentally mistaken thinking. Finally, the “best available explanation” for the origin of life is intelligent design. At least that’s an adequate cause for the job.

Comments
Quest writes:
It took you 7 days to answer an illogical to YOU QUESTION…???
Posting comments at Uncommon Descent is not my sole aim in life.
NOW YOU really seem to know the “why”…
I really don't know the answer to life, the universe and everything. I don't think anyone else posting at UD has any profound answers either.
Well…I’m not going to be as rude as you have been…
I challenge you to find any comment of mine where I have been rude to anyone. On topic, I see you have been commenting at Larry Moran's blog e g
I have written on uncommondescent.com "...our Ann Gauger..." and now Larry wrote "...my Ann Gauge..." Whatta heck is going on...? Freudian slip...? Huh... It has been proven wrong more than right...
Insightful! :) As there is a newer thread about Ann Gauger and evolution of enzymes, I suggest we move there if you want to take Gauger's line of argument. You have still to confirm whether common decent is an issue for you. @ Vincent Torley, When you get chance, I think discussion on whether Axe and Gauger have found an "edge" in protein evolution may be interesting, although the ground has been covered elsewhere in considerable detail.Alicia Renard
December 6, 2014
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Alicia Regard, I was naïvely hoping... but I was brought to reality... I don't know where to start or where to end... It took you 7 days to answer an illogical to YOU QUESTION...??? NOW YOU really seem to know the "why"... Well...I'm not going to be as rude as you have been... The rest of garbage you are referring to.. is actually contradicting your faith... but.. you had already made up your mind anyways... so... what is the point...?Quest
December 5, 2014
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Proteins form nested hierarchies, i.e. families.
So proteins consist of and contain other proteins? Really?Joe
December 5, 2014
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Quest writes:
I have noticed that you have decided to link some “experts” comments on D. Axe and Anne Gauger experiments… I have to admit that I’m disappointed a bit but not surprised… It was so difficult to me to find anybody’s even attempts to refute Axe and Gauger experiments… but it was soooo much easier to find responses to those apparent refutations once I googled the names you provided of the so-called “experts”… You could have easily done it yourself… find out the other side of the story… I know you are smart enough… but for some reason you decided to dump the burden of proof on jvtorley.
You must have heard Einstein's response to a 1931 polemic, One Hundred Authors Against Einstein'
If I were wrong, then one would have been enough!
The point is that Axe is claiming a pathway that nobody has proposed as an explanation is impossible. It hardly needs a hundred authors to point out Axe is attacking a straw man.
I’m just curious why…?
Let me quote Todd Wood
Instead of ancestral reconstruction, Gauger and Axe focused directly on converting an existing enzyme into another existing enzyme. That left me scratching my head, since no evolutionary biologist would propose that an extant enzyme evolved directly into another extant enzyme. So they're testing a model that no one would take seriously? Hmmm...
You know who Todd Wood is, I guess. BTW, Quest, if you reject common descent out of hand for religious reasons, as Todd Wood does, what is the point of discussing stuff with you. I assume Gauger and Axe, like Michael Behe, accept common descent. They only dispute that evolutionary processes are sufficient to account for all the changes involved.Alicia Renard
December 5, 2014
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Quest writes:
You didn’t even ask about any details regarding the machinery found on Mars; what it looked like, what it was made of or how complex it was etc… There was no need for that because every logically thinking human, even a child, knows that any machinery-from the simplest to the most complex-is designed and there is not need to ask additional question for the “yes” or “no” answer… You knew right away what the logical answer should be…
There's really no logical answer to an illogical question. And there would have been no point in asking you for more details of your unentailed hypothesis because you could have supplied none. "Is designed" is a content-free clause.
Now… here is the most important point of my thread: Now imagine that the machinery found on Mars appears to be alive; it has all or most of the properties that we as humans perceive it to fit the criteria as being alive…
How has this been ascertained?
Is this additional information going to change your answer to my question..?
I happen to think terrestrial organisms are designed. They are designed by the niche environment and evolutionary processes.
Will you now say that since the machinery appears to be alive you will say that it wasn’t designed…?
No. I say hypothetical questions about alien beings and alien artifacts just demonstrate the paucity of human imagination.
If yes, please elaborate as to “why” now…
I haven't the faintest idea about alien life-forms and neither has anyone else. There is no evidence whatsoever available to us to suggests intelligent life exists elsewhere other than on Earth. So our imagination, limited as it is, is free to form any unentailed conjecture we want. I support SETI and hope that some day, they find something of interest. At this moment, talk of alien machinery is wishful thinking.Alicia Renard
December 5, 2014
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Quest
Please reassure me you have not put you entire faith in this… I have no word to describe it but I can’t swear either…
Please don't tell me you haven't read the full paper.Please reassure me.Me_Think
December 4, 2014
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Zach, Please tell me you are not referring to this...I just hope you don't... "E.A. Schultes, D.P. Bartel Science, 289 (2000), pp. 448–452 Abstract We describe a single RNA sequence that can assume either of two ribozyme folds and catalyze the two respective reactions. The two ribozyme folds share no evolutionary history and are completely different, with no base pairs (and probably no hydrogen bonds) in common. Minor variants of this sequence are highly active for one or the other reaction, and can be accessed from prototype ribozymes through a series of neutral mutations. Thus, in the course of evolution, new RNA folds could arise from preexisting folds, without the need to carry inactive intermediate sequences. This raises the possibility that biological RNAs having no structural or functional similarity might share a common ancestry. Furthermore, functional and structural divergence might, in some cases, precede rather than follow gene duplication." Please reassure me you have not put you entire faith in this... I have no word to describe it but I can't swear either...Quest
December 4, 2014
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Quest: Proteins have a common ancestor Some do. Others may have separate origins. Quest: The common ancestors “structure” is unknown… therefore Axe and Gauger’s experiments are invalid.. Not being able to find a pathway between two derived structures isn't a falsification. Quest: That proteins have a common ancestor which you can’t prove.. Proteins form nested hierarchies, i.e. families. Meanwhile, we have Schultes & Bartel, One Sequence, Two Ribozymes: Implications for the Emergence of New Ribozyme Folds, Science 2000, who showed a pathway from one functional fold to another functional fold even while maintaining the original function.Zachriel
December 3, 2014
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Zach, I have not been even attempting to change the subject of the discussion...I have pointed out that your beliefs are based on two assumptions; 1. Proteins have a common ancestor 2. The common ancestors "structure" is unknown... therefore Axe and Gauger's experiments are invalid.. Once again I emphasize that the issue is not with what the common ancestor was... but with the mechanism that would make the common ancestor to evolve... The mechanism you believe in is flawed because you make too many assumptions... 1. That proteins have a common ancestor which you can't prove.. 2. Proteins Axe and Gauger were experimenting on have gone beyond the time of the existence of the universe past 6-7 mutations... Get it..? You are dealing with so many unknowns that you may as well become a believer of the evolutionary faith... because it requires more, and more faith than the belief in ID...Quest
December 3, 2014
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The last comment should be attributed to Quest.Zachriel
December 2, 2014
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fifthmonarchyman: The fact is… and not an assumption, that the mechanism of evolution fails at least in one and essential aspect; the timeframe… Changing the subject isn't much of an argument. If evolution predicts that A and B have a common ancestor C, the evolutionary path is from C to A and from C to B, not A to B. Not finding a direct path from A to B is therefore not a falsification. In any case, we have Schultes & Bartel 2000, which does show how a protein can evolve a new function.Zachriel
December 2, 2014
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I still think that one of the most recognizable faces in the world of biology/origins should have made a statement ... Well... what can I do...?Quest
December 2, 2014
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Zach, The fact is... and not an assumption, that the mechanism of evolution fails at least in one and essential aspect; the timeframe... You can propose all the ancestors you want... even the ones that supposedly or must have existed as it HAD TO BE THE CASE OF ENDOSYMBIOSIS...This is a joke because I'm having a few drinks with one of the most respected scientists in this field... He tells me to back off... I wish I could put his name here... But in the end the mathematical facts are that there is simply not enough time since the BEGINING OF THE EARTH for these supposed by you processes to take place... It there was another mechanism that sped up the "protein evolution"... such as another explosion into the theory of no facts... there has to be some proof or we area all floating in the Greek Mythology Books...Quest
December 2, 2014
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Quest: The assumption is that genuine conversions can be achieved only if you start from just the right ancestral protein. The evolutionary assumption is that if A and B have a common ancestor C, the evolutionary path is from C to A and from C to B, not A to B. ETA: As for moving from one protein directly to another, see Schultes & Bartel, One Sequence, Two Ribozymes: Implications for the Emergence of New Ribozyme Folds, Science 2000, who showed a pathway from one functional fold to another functional fold even while maintaining the original function.Zachriel
December 2, 2014
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Alicja Renard, I noticed that you have not responded to my last comment #53...? I was hoping you would... but then again... I have noticed that you have decided to link some "experts" comments on D. Axe and Anne Gauger experiments... I have to admit that I'm disappointed a bit but not surprised... It was so difficult to me to find anybody's even attempts to refute Axe and Gauger experiments... but it was soooo much easier to find responses to those apparent refutations once I googled the names you provided of the so-called "experts"... You could have easily done it yourself... find out the other side of the story... I know you are smart enough... but for some reason you decided to dump the burden of proof on jvtorley... I'm just curious why...? BTW: Here is our Ann Gauge herself responding: "Ann Gauger: “The reason for our choice was not ignorance. We knew that the enzymes we tested were modern, and that one was not the ancestor of the other. (They are, however, among the most structurally similar members of their family, and share many aspects of their reaction mechanism, but their chemistry itself is different.) We also knew that in order for a Darwinian process to generate the mechanistically and chemically diverse families of enzymes that are present in modern organisms, something like the functional conversion of one of these enzyme to the other must be possible. We reasoned that if these two enzymes could not be reconfigured through a gradual process of mutation and selection, then the Darwinian explanation of gene duplication and gradual divergence to new functions was called into question. Our results indicated that a minimum of seven mutations would be required to convert or reconfigure one enzyme toward the other’s function. No one disputes that part of our research. What Paul McBride and others claim is that because we didn’t start from an “ancestral” enzyme, our results mean nothing. They say something like, “Of course transitions to new chemistries between modern enzymes are difficult. What you should have done is to reconstruct the ancestral form and use it as a starting point.” Have you noticed the assumption underlying this critique? The assumption is that genuine conversions can be achieved only if you start from just the right ancestral protein. Why is that? Because conversions are hard. McBride said as much in his post, tacitly acknowledging the legitimacy of our results, in the following quote: Mcbride: “Any biologist or biochemist could imagine useful new molecules in a given species that would aid their survival. Little imagination is needed, as many examples are found in other species. A simple example: an enzyme that breaks down cellulose into simple sugars would be immensely beneficial for virtually any heterotroph, yet such cellulases are only found in a handful of organisms, restricted to certain clades. Evolution is not a process that is capable of producing anything and everything, at all times in all species. It is, conversely, a greatly constrained process. A developmental biologist such as PZ Myers knows the minutiae of this constraint in particular models. Much of the process of evolution is guided by purifying selection - pruning those mutants that are at relative disadvantages to the general population - and most of the genomic change that does spread through populations is neutral and escapes selection altogether. Yes, transitioning between different enzyme functions is hard, but this is evidenced by it being relatively uncommon. In a broader sense, and to reiterate, many of the possible variations on life that we could imagine to exist do not exist.” The problem then becomes, where did the diverse families of enzymes come from, if transitions are so hard, evolution is so constrained, and selection is so weak? Were the ur-proteins from which present families sprang so different from modern ones, so elastic that they could be easily molded to perform multiple functions? If so, how did they accomplish the specific necessary tasks for metabolism, transcription, and replication? More than that, how did the proteins necessary for replication, transcription, translation, and metabolism arrive at all, if evolution is so constrained? Those processes are much more complicated that a cellulase enzyme. We have ribosomes, spliceosomes, photosynthesis, and respiration. We have hummingbirds and carnivorous plants and even cows who make use of cellulose-degrading symbionts. The things that have not arrived or arrived very rarely, like cellulases, seem trivial by comparison to the things we see around us. Our results argue that only guided evolution, or intelligent design, can produce genuine innovations from a starting point of zero target activity. But McBride argues that we are the product of happenstance. McBride: ” Evolution is a process without teleology and long-term targets or goals. Natural selection can provide relatively short-term direction along ‘local’ fitness gradients, which may be helpful or unhelpful; escapes from selection are also predicted to be important in many evolutionary paths. This could be a problem to neofunctionalisation where teleology is invoked, except that no particular enzymes were ever mandated to evolve. Life would have been different if particular enzymes that do exist had not arisen, but some other suite of enzymes would undoubtedly exist instead had the dice been rolled differently. Life would very much go on. It is a fairly safe conjecture that only a small number out of all the possible enzymes exist, and many of these exist only in small clades in the tree of life. “ McBride argues against teleology and opts for chance. He is more sanguine than I about a new “suite of enzymes” evolving, given the apparent difficulty with which they evolve. Life is inherently teleological, and the needs of an organism cannot be met by whatever happens to show up. I would say, rather, that his faith in the unending creativity of evolution, in spite of the limitations of natural selection, the rarity of paths, and the functional needs of organisms, is itself a form of religion. This is an interesting turn in evolutionary thinking. People have been saying for years, “Of course evolution isn’t random, it’s directed by natural selection. It’s not chance, it’s chance and necessity.” But in recent years the rhetoric has changed. Now evolution is constrained. Not all options are open, and natural selection is not the major player, it’s the happenstance of genetic drift that drives change. But somehow it all happens anyway, and evolution gets the credit. All around us we see marvelous examples of successful, even optimal design. If evolution is constrained to just a few paths, and you have to start with the right ancestral form to get anywhere, and fixation of useful new traits happens by accident, how did anything ever happen at all? Were the paths of adaptation “preordained”? Paul’s choice of words, not mine. If there are only a few ways to solve any problem set by the needs of the organism because transitions are hard, then either the deck was stacked in our favor, or the process was guided, or we are incredibly lucky. That might be called preordained, I suppose. " http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2012/07/still-more-fun.html#comment-panelsQuest
December 2, 2014
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"the claim that an omnipotent supernatural being wanted above all that everything in nature be purple. This claim is obviously testable: we can see that since some things are green, the claim must be false." Obviously? But what about the fall? Original plan vs. current state? Or is everything in nature really purple? Maybe our pitiful worldly eyes deceive us?REC
December 1, 2014
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Steve Matheson takes a sober look at Axe's work.Alicia Renard
December 1, 2014
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vjtorley (comment no 47 November 30, 2014 at 4:10 am) writes:
Are you aware of anyone who has published a serious reply to the paper by Dr. Axe which I cited above, arguing against a Darwinian explanation of the origin of protein folds? I’d be interested in seeing a reply, if one exists.
Whilst most mainstream biologists and biochemists seem blissfully unaware of Douglas Axe's work at the Biologic Institute, there have been a few criticisms. Todd Wood for example.Alicia Renard
December 1, 2014
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VJ:
I note at the outset that if your argument succeeds in ruling out appeals to the supernatural as we cannot observe it and perform tests on it, it would also rule out hypotheses regarding the multiverse, which cannot be observed and experimented on, either.
“Experimenting and performing tests” is too restrictive. The question is whether a supposed casual explanation has empirical entailments, in the sense of implication, that give rise to testable predictions. As an example, relativistic view of gravity predicts that we will find gravitational lenses, an observational entailment that may be tested without performing any direct experimental operations on anything (other than gathering photons). I don’t know enough about the multiverse hypothesis to say whether it has such entailments or not. I do know that supernatural entities have no necessary entailments - as illustrated by Sober’s example vis the color purple. As in his illustration, we could just as easily postulate a deity who has a predilection for chartreuse, or any other color scheme, as there are no necessary constraints upon such speculation. So speculation about deities doesn’t get you anywhere in a scientific context. Best to leave them out. At any rate, I am not arguing for or against the existence of a supernatural deity (nor does methodological naturalism) - just as you claim that your posts are not arguments for or against ID. I am simply arguing that there are modes of “naturalism” that are rational to pursue in a scientific context, including investigation of the OOL, contrary to the thesis of your posts.
I might add that that although one cannot perform tests that support or falsify scientific hypotheses regarding a supernatural Deity, we are likewise unable to perform tests on any intelligent agent whose intellect is vastly more advanced than our own.
I don’t think you have any basis for stating that. At any rate, I would regard a superintelligent agent as continuous with the natural world (as are we). It doesn’t follow from the fact that there are natural phenomena we find ourselves unable to investigate that no phenomena can be understood from within a naturalistic framework.
the reason why I concluded that it would never be possible to demonstrate the possibility of abiogenesis was not because I accepted Denton’s image of the cell as realistic, but because of the vast number of components that would have to be assembled: “Constructing such a model at the rate of one atom per minute, it would take fifty million years to finish,” as Denton himself put it.
By the same token, you must argue that modeling an small puddle of water is impossible, and therefore puddles cannot be understood from a naturalistic perspective. Assuming that our little puddle contains 16 grams of water by weight (i.e. one mole of water), it contains 6.02x10^23 water molecules, and we would therefore need to employ the same number of model water molecules to our macrophysical model. I’ll be charitable and assume we can mass produce these components at the rate of 1 per second because they are much simpler to manufacture than the modeled components of a cell. At that rate it will take something like 1.9076229*10^16 years - just under twenty thousand million million years - to build our model. Obviously such a model would outstrip any conceivable computational resource as well. So it would be irrational to insist that even this small bit of water can be understood from a naturalistic perspective. Right?
The reason why I set the bar at the atomic level is quite simple: that’s the level that chemists themselves use, when modeling chemical reactions and demonstrating their feasibility.
I hope from the forgoing illustration vis water that a convincing model (say of a small cup of water) needn’t represent every last component that composes the real thing.
If they can’t come up with any probability calculations, then they shouldn’t expect us to believe their assertions, and they shouldn’t deride people who don’t believe them as irrational.
I haven’t derided anyone as irrational for believing in supernatural deities. I do think that those who believe that supernatural deities should be included in scientific explanations are being irrational, as we agree that, from a methodological perspective, postulating such entities gets no scientific work done. It is you who characterize adherents of “scientific naturalism” as irrational, and it is that thesis that I am disputing. In light of that, I’ll point out that you haven’t answered my question: In light of your acceptance of methodological naturalism, and given that models are essentially highly formalized hypotheses, what is actually required of models, computational or otherwise, is that they suggest entailments that give rise to predictions that are defeasible by means of observational evidence, and therefore guide empirical research. Do you wish to claim that, in principle, no model can fill this role, and that it is in principle impossible for modeling and testing in this sense to result in the incremental acquisition of knowledge, and guide further theory, with respect to the origin of life?Reciprocating Bill
December 1, 2014
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Hi Quest, That's an amazing story you have there in post #52 about your two uncles. Worthy of a book, in my opinion.vjtorley
December 1, 2014
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Hi Reciprocating Bill, I now have some time to reply to your comment #10, so I will. Unfortunately my PC at home is broken, so I usually have to go to Internet cafes to put up posts, although fortunately there are a couple of other places where I can go as well. You wrote:
...[Y]ou don’t quite characterize MN correctly. It is not that non-naturalistic explanations don’t “count.” Rather, in a scientific context they can’t be made to do useful work. Scientific hypotheses must be defeasible by means of observation and evidence. Hypotheses concerning events outside the natural world aren't defeasible in this way. It doesn’t follow that they are not true, but it does follow that investigation of such hypotheses by scientific means is not possible. Therefore if one wishes to accumulate knowledge by scientific means it is rational to omit supernatural explanations from consideration, and irrational to include them.
I note at the outset that if your argument succeeds in ruling out appeals to the supernatural as we cannot observe it and perform tests on it, it would also rule out hypotheses regarding the multiverse, which cannot be observed and experimented on, either. I might add that that although one cannot perform tests that support or falsify scientific hypotheses regarding a supernatural Deity, we are likewise unable to perform tests on any intelligent agent whose intellect is vastly more advanced than our own. Or as Arthur C. Clarke put it in his Third Law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." The above objection, if successful, would rule out not only supernaturalism, but also the hypothesis that life on Earth was deliberately created by aliens four billion years ago, in an act of intelligently directed panspermia. A counter-reply might be made that in principle, one could perform tests on these aliens, if they were still alive and willing to co-operate. But one could make similar requests of a co-operative Deity: "Could we just see you create a cell, please, in slow motion?" And while there is no reason in principle why either the alien or the Deity could not comply, it would be very silly to expect either to do so. But the best reply to your objection is that it fails to distinguish between the being and the agency of a supernatural Deity. One cannot perform tests upon a supernatural Being as such; but one can certainly perform tests that support or falsify hypotheses relating to the Deity's mode of agency in the world - the "when", "where", "how" and even "why". For instance, one can attempt to identify periods in the Earth's past (e.g. the Cambrian explosion) when the complexity of fossil organisms increased relatively suddenly, and then inquire whether this increase was merely apparent or real. If it was real, one can ask whether these sudden bursts of complexity could have been front-loaded into the universe by carefully rigging the initial conditions at the Big Bang (thereby preventing the need for subsequent "manipulation"), or whether these relatively rapid jumps in biological information must have been "injected" into the cosmos periodically, at some time after the Big Bang. One can then inquire where these increases in complexity occurred, by looking for life beyond our Earth, and by performing tests as to what kinds of organisms can survive inter-stellar trips (panspermia). One might also attempt to scientifically verify or falsify the multiverse hypothesis, in order to ascertain whether life could have originated outside our universe. Finally, one might perform laboratory tests with the aim of identifying the easiest ways of genetically engineering any rapid increases in biological complexity that occurred in the past. This might shed light on the "how" of Intelligent Design. To identify the "why", one might list some possible aims that the Designer could have had in establishing the cosmos (e.g. the production of stars, or of life, or of intelligent life), and then identify which of these aims are the most sensitive to tiny variations in the constants of Nature or the initial conditions of the Big Bang. Finally, the philosopher Elliott Sober has also argued that some claims about supernatural beings are testable. Sober provides the following example:
the claim that an omnipotent supernatural being wanted above all that everything in nature be purple.
This claim is obviously testable: we can see that since some things are green, the claim must be false. Next, you wrote:
You offered grounds [for believing that it will never be possible to construct a model showing that abiogenesis is possible - VJT], but not good grounds. Your argument was built upon Denton’s image of a city-sized model of a cell. But Denton’s image doesn’t work because the individual components of the model cell, scaled up to the size of a city and composed of macrophysical objects, would be utterly devoid of the key atomic, chemical, electrodynamic, energetic and stochastic forces and interactions that mediate the functioning of the real thing... The fact that the simulation Denton envisions would require this additional work – and massive amounts of it – is indicative of the inappropriateness this approach to constructing a functional model of actual living cell. It fails because the model is inappropriate, not because no model is possible.
I am perfectly well aware of the limitations of building a scaled-up model of the cell. As Matt Chait pointed out, it would be a static model. But as I pointed out in my previous post, the reason why I concluded that it would never be possible to demonstrate the possibility of abiogenesis was not because I accepted Denton's image of the cell as realistic, but because of the vast number of components that would have to be assembled: "Constructing such a model at the rate of one atom per minute, it would take fifty million years to finish," as Denton himself put it. The question of how one would model the key atomic, chemical, electrodynamic, energetic and stochastic forces was a secondary consideration. Even if you could, the sheer size and complexity of the system would make it impossible to construct. I then added:
Based on the foregoing, I think it’s fair to say that we’ll never be able to construct a computer model of the cell either, down to the atomic level: the computing resources required would just be too huge. And in that case, it will never be scientifically possible to model a natural process (or a set of processes) and demonstrate that it could have given rise to the cell – or even show that it had a greater than 50% probability of doing so.
In my latest post, I showed that claims that scientists had built a complete simulation of the bacterium M. genitalium were vastly overblown. I added that the skeptical question I had originally posed for scientific naturalists in my previous post was not, “Can we model the cell?” but "If we have no hope of ever proving the idea that the cell could have arisen through unguided natural processes, or even showing this idea to be probably true, then how can we possibly be said to know for a fact that this actually [or probably] happened?" The outstanding problem is quite simple. If scientific naturalists expect us to believe in abiogenesis, then it is up to them to demonstrate that it had a reasonable chance of happening on the early Earth. If they can't come up with any probability calculations, then they shouldn't expect us to believe their assertions, and they shouldn't deride people who don't believe them as irrational. Finally, you wrote:
As many have pointed out, you have set the bar for a computational modeling arbitrarily high (by demanding modeling of every detail down to the atomic level). But returning to your acceptance of methodological naturalism, and given that models are essentially highly formalized hypotheses, what is actually required of models, computational or otherwise, is that they suggest entailments that give rise to predictions that are defeasible by means of observational evidence, and therefore guide empirical research. Do you wish to claim that, in principle, no model can fill this role, and that it is in principle impossible for modeling and testing in this sense to result in the incremental acquisition of knowledge, and guide further theory, with respect to the origin of life? Such a rejection, in light of the history of science, would in fact be irrational.
The reason why I set the bar at the atomic level is quite simple: that's the level that chemists themselves use, when modeling chemical reactions and demonstrating their feasibility. If you don't like that, have it out with them. Modeling at any higher level would be tantamount to habd-waving. When two molecules react, you have to take their atomic constituents into account in order to ascertain whether the two molecules can even hook up the right way in the first place. Configurations are important. That's a vital consideration when you are dealing with organic chemistry - particularly the chemistry that led to the formation of life. Buildng an artificial model that represents molecules as black boxes with no internal structure just isn't going to cut it. That might be mathematics of a sort, but it's not chemistry,and no chemist worth his/her salt would take it seriously, even for a second. I hope that answers your objections.vjtorley
December 1, 2014
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VJT: But there’s no reason in principle why a super-intelligent being outside our universe couldn’t do so This is about language but I'm not convinced that "outside our universe" is appropriate since 'outside" refers to place which requires the universe to exist. It is similar to a phrase 'before the universe', referring to time which also requires the universe to exist. What about 'independence'. The super-intellect would be independent of the universe or independent of nature, thus super-natural.groovamos
November 30, 2014
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VJ Torley said: "The reason why the design explanation enjoys such an advantage is that it is the only process known to be capable of producing the distinguishing features of life on Earth – in particular, a digital code, developmental programs and highly functional but astronomically improbable configurations of matter. If there were some other process that were known to be able to generate these features, then the ID hypothesis would warrant a lot more critical scrutiny. But in this case, it’s the only scientific game in town. It’s a terrible pity that contemporary biologists are too ideologically wedded to naturalism to recognize that fact." In your dreams.Pachyaena
November 30, 2014
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Typo warning!!! septic = skeptic Sorry but my new tablet keeps correcting my typing... I couldn't even type Alicia's last name Renard because it keep reverting to Regard... Why can't the computer think...?Quest
November 30, 2014
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Alicia Renard, Thank you for you honesty in answering my question... Every other septic of ID didn't even bother to comment because the answer was so obvious and only one... You didn't even ask about any details regarding the machinery found on Mars; what it looked like, what it was made of or how complex it was etc... There was no need for that because every logically thinking human, even a child, knows that any machinery-from the simplest to the most complex-is designed and there is not need to ask additional question for the "yes" or "no" answer... You knew right away what the logical answer should be... Now... here is the most important point of my thread: Now imagine that the machinery found on Mars appears to be alive; it has all or most of the properties that we as humans perceive it to fit the criteria as being alive... Is this additional information going to change your answer to my question..? Will you now say that since the machinery appears to be alive you will say that it wasn't designed...? If yes, please elaborate as to "why" now...Quest
November 30, 2014
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vjtorley, Thank you, Forgiveness is just one of the many attributes that separate us from animals and make us so unique... Humans are... somehow... able to forgive (maybe not forget) the greatest atrocities and cruelties done to them or their loved ones by other humans... While I have not been a victim of any of inhumane experiences... my two uncles have during the II World War... They were captured by the Nazis, falsely accused of being part of a revolt and sentenced to death to be executed by the officer in charge himself in the public square of the town the following day... My uncles spent the entire night digging with the bear hands under the foundation of the shack they were kept in and guarded for execution... They were able to escape the death sentence but the scars of their experience remained with them until their death... The most unorthodox situation happened several decades later when my two uncles somehow came across the former Nazi officer who sentenced them to death… To make the long story short, the former Nazi officer was guilt stricken... He told them that after the war he realized how senseless the war and Nazi ideology were and told them that they were free to do to him what he did to them… My two uncles realized that the man was truly guilt stricken and repented and they were able to forgive him… How…??? I just don’t know… BTW: My sons and I have recently come to a conclusion that there is at least 4 different kinds of love… This fact probably doesn’t need a comment...Quest
November 30, 2014
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Me_Think, "Abracadabra cells form, Abracadabra IC structures form , Abracadabra Organisms form – this is your world. Go deal with it". Thus once again, when all is said and done, we see the complete lack of any actual scientific argument from your position.logically_speaking
November 30, 2014
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VJ: I'd appreciate your response to mine at 10, the essence of which you have now passed over twice without comment.Reciprocating Bill
November 30, 2014
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09:34 AM
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logically_speaking @ 48 Abracadabra cells form, Abracadabra IC structures form , Abracadabra Organisms form - this is your world. Go deal with it.Me_Think
November 30, 2014
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07:54 AM
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Me_Think, You: I don’t even know if you understand what is being discussed. You don’t understand probability, "because the figure you put as 0.001 % or any like number is arbitrary". I have already asked you to put your own number and check. My response: I don't have to, because I don't accept your premises, "Even if components of the complex structure have very low probability (arbitrary number based on what exactly?)" And, "The probability that the structure will form is 1 (Form? How does a structure "form" exactly?)" And, "Because of the huge number of trials in trillions of cells (That already have the mechanisms required to conduct the trials, but how many cells started the process in the first place?)." Your calculation has arbitrary numbers based on nothing. Doesn't take into consideration the exponential probabilities involved in the formation process. Starts at a point when all required elements are already in place. And finally, doesn't begin with one cell but trillions, also an arbitrary number. You: You don’t understand difference between thinking and concept- No ID proponent thinks all ‘machines’ in cell are irreducible…. So this statement by you is false then? “ID is only about probability. Design detection is probability”. Of Course Not. Can you name a single ID concept which is not based on probability ? My response: The concept of irreducible complexity is not based on probability. You have it backwards Me_Think, it is blind unguided evolution that is based on probability. When ID goes into probability, it is usually showing the inadequacy of blind unguided evolution. Infact Darwin himself understood that evolution is based on probability (Randomness and chance), when he talked about if anything can be shown to be made in any other way besides a step by step process (blind unguided evolution), it would destroy his theory. That theory is irreducible complexity. Irreducible complexity is the concept that an irreducibly complex thing CANNOT BY NECESSITY be built in a step wise fashion, probability has nothing to do with it. You: you don’t know biology - Do you know of any cell from the past that isn’t as complex as today to compare to? Are you questioning simplicity of earlier cells ?!. My response: I can question anything and everything, I am a true healthy skeptic. But why are you digressing, can you answer my question? You: I think I took you far away from your comfort zone of nebulous painter and paints. Sorry, please go back to your world. My response: I am quite comfortable in this, the real world. It is not my side of the debate that postulates nebulous multiple universe's.logically_speaking
November 30, 2014
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