Cell biology Darwinism Intelligent Design

Seeing past Darwin: What’s wrong with life as “machine”

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A series of articles by philosopher of biology James Barham on key new thinkers, collected together on his blog.:

His first reflection concerns

The gradual crumbling of the Darwinian consensus, and the rise of a new theoretical outlook in biology is one of the most significant but under-reported news stories of our time.

It’s a scandal that science journalists have been so slow to pick up on this story. For, make no mistake about it, the story is huge. In science, they don’t come any bigger.

Aw, in that case, the typical pom pom-wavings pop science writer would be the last to know.

The story is this:

The official explanation of the nature of living things—and therefore of human beings—that we’ve all been led to believe in for the past 60 or 70 years turns out to be dead wrong in some essential respects.

What have we been so wrong about? It’s complicated, but in a phrase, it’s this:

The machine metaphor was a mistake—organisms are not machines, they are intelligent agents.

What does that mean? That’s what’s hard to explain in a brief compass, but here’s one way of putting it:

We are finally beginning to realize, on the basis of irrefutable empirical evidence, as well as more careful analysis of Darwinian theory itself, that purposeful action in living things is an objectively real phenomenon that is presupposed, not explained, by the theory of natural selection. More.

In summary, for the Darwinian explanatory framework to make sense, we have to suppress all the toughest questions about living things and simply take their adaptive capacity, their robustness, and their very existence for granted. Then—and only then—does natural selection make sense.

But in that case, we are just assuming that organisms are intelligent agents. We are not explaining how there can be such a thing as intelligent agents.

Natural selection acting on random mutation as a form of magic that produces complex, specified information has mainly been good for TV’s airheads and bimbos, pressure groups, and third/fourth rate unionized science teachers. Not for science.

Discuss.

See also:
Part II: James A. Shapiro

Part III: Mary Jane West-Eberhard

Part IV: Some Experiments

Part V: Life and Emergence

Part VI: F.E. Yates’s Homeodynamics

Seeing Past Darwin VII: Some Physical Properties of Life

35 Replies to “Seeing past Darwin: What’s wrong with life as “machine”

  1. 1
    bFast says:

    I love the third way movement. They are sooo right, they are sooo wrong.

    Nice to say, “hmmm, evidence of intelligent activity here. Oh I know, the organism itself, he’s the smart one.”
    Of course the third way offers no meaningful explanation at all about how on earth these intelligent microorganisms got to be so in the first place.

    But its not ID, its DEFINITELY not xod. No, definitely not! After all, “That is clearly unscientific because it brings an arbitrary supernatural force into the evolution process.” Definitively!

  2. 2
    Mung says:

    What’s wrong with life as “machine”?

    Wait. I think I know this one. We are not machines.

    Random mutation is no better then goddidit, and is even more of a science stopper than goddidit.

  3. 3
    RDFish says:

    Hey, this is weird! I agree with a Discovery Institute poster:

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....99081.html

    And I even agree with Mung:

    Mung: “Random mutation is no better then goddidit” (‘godditit’ is also known as “Intelligent Design Theory”)

    Nobody knows how biological systems came to exist. Just as the Disco’ ‘tute says, let’s proclaim our ignorance with great intellectual integrity!

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  4. 4
    Box says:

    I like the following argument a lot:

    How can living systems be so robust (dynamically stable), when they consist of thousands of chemical interactions that must all be coordinated precisely in time and space? From the point of view of physics, cells (not to speak of more complex organisms) should not exist, and yet they do. How is that possible?

    The only suggestion Darwinism has to offer is chance: those systems that just happened to be stable are the ones that we see today. But no one imagines this sort of explanation would ever do for a moment when it comes to something much simpler, like the stability of the atom or the stability of stars. And yet in evolutionary biology, which deals with objects many orders of magnitude more complicated than atoms or stars, invoking chance is accepted as an adequate explanation.

  5. 5
    Box says:

    Next Barham offers the exact same (excellent) argument that Talbott has made several years ago.

    Barham: Finally, we now know that living systems are autonomous agents, capable of highly flexible intelligent behavior. For example, even the simplest, single-celled organisms, such as bacteria, are able to adjust themselves to altered circumstances in a purposeful way. And they can do this even if the circumstances are unlike any ever encountered by their ancestors during their evolutionary history.

    Here is Talbott:

    Talbott: Scientists can damage tissues in endlessly creative ways that the organism has never confronted in its evolutionary history. Yet, so far as its resources allow, it mobilizes those resources, sets them in motion, and does what it has never done before, all in the interest of restoring a dynamic form and a functioning that the individual molecules and cells certainly cannot be said to “understand” or “have in view”.

  6. 6
    Virgil Cain says:

    RDfish:

    Nobody knows how biological systems came to exist.

    True but the evidence says Intelligent Design was involved. ID isn’t about the “how”- that comes later.

  7. 7
    ppolish says:

    “Random mutation is no better then goddidit, and is even more of a science stopper”

    Exactly, Mung. Great Scientists driven by how Goddidit. Random is a how stopper.

    “How did you win the lotto?”
    Gotta play to win, that’s how.
    Oh thanks. Great Science right there.

  8. 8
    Mung says:

    RDFish: ‘godditit’ is also known as “Intelligent Design Theory”

    To you, maybe. But not to anyone I know who is an advocate for Intelligent Design.

    But don’t let that stop your little crusade.

  9. 9
    tjguy says:

    RDFish admits:

    Nobody knows how biological systems came to exist. Just as the Disco’ ‘tute says, let’s proclaim our ignorance with great intellectual integrity!

    RD, wow! I’m a creationist and I agree with you! This is a historical moment.

    That is why even scientists have beliefs when it comes to evolution! You think it happened by totally natural forces – even though you can’t explain it well and whatever “explanations/hypotheses” you do have cannot be tested.

    Great. That is what you believe based on your interpretation of the evidence through your worldview.

    IDers see the evidence and have a different interpretation of it. Looking at what we DO know, they see evidence of intelligence, purposeful design, a Mind, planning, etc. Can they prove it? No. It is what they believe based on their interpretation of the current evidence/data.

    Creationists have the same evidence/data as you have and we have yet a different interpretation of it, although it is similar to ID in that we see evidence of intelligence, purposeful design, a Mind, planning, etc.

    Since this is something that no one knows, have beliefs, faith, opinions, etc. Welcome to the Belief club! If you want to arbitrarily say that a supernatural Being could not be responsible for such things, that is your opinion/belief.
    We think our beliefs are more rational and better account for what we actually see in life, but none of us really “knows” in the scientific sense of the word.

  10. 10
    Robert Byers says:

    The point is that many other science thinkers are questioning evolution . YEC already know its wrong but the rest are figuring this out.
    A actual theory of science would never have this problem.

  11. 11
    bFast says:

    RDFish, “Nobody knows how biological systems came to exist. … let’s proclaim our ignorance with great intellectual integrity!

    Wow, I agree with RDFish! Wow! However, I am very sure that RM+NS is by no means adequate as an explanation.

  12. 12
    RDFish says:

    Ok, you all missed the point.

    Again, nobody knows how living systems came to exist. The intellectually honest answer to the question of origins, then, is “We do not know”.

    But few people are actually brave enough to give this answer. Rather, for whatever reason, people are afraid of their own ignorance and choose to believe stories whose truth cannot be determined, such as abiogenesis, panspermia, Darwinian evolution, extra-terrestrial ancestors, extra-terrestrial bioengineers, gods, multiverses, and so on.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  13. 13
    Box says:

    RDFish,

    The only known source for information is intelligence. This combined with the fact that we find tremendous amounts of information in all life, tells us that life is designed.
    This conclusion comes from inductive reasoning, so there is room for doubt. However “room for doubt” is not synonymous to “we haven’t got a clue”, as you seem to believe.

  14. 14
    Axel says:

    No, Box. Sorry to have to disappoint you…. but it’s randomness.

    Just a random thought I should perhaps have allowed to randomly escape unnoticed….!

  15. 15
    Box says:

    Yes, Axel, with me the horrid doubt always arises whether information cometh from randomness 🙂

  16. 16
    EugeneS says:

    RDFish,

    I certainly agree with you that we have to be intellectually honest.

    But that is precisely why we should go as far as where scientific evidence leads us. Evidence suggests that biological systems have intelligent origin. That is so far what we can scientifically establish. This evidence is two-fold:

    – direct evidence consists in the fact that biological systems are linguistic machines in that they are organized based on code and its interpretation. All other linguistic machines we know of invariably trace back to intelligence.
    – indirect evidence is that there are no known examples of linguistic machines arising out of chaos via non-intelligent naturalistic causation (chance and law-like necessity). Observably, out of chaos come only low-information redundant regular structures or chaos.

    Our ability to scientifically establish intelligent origin of biological systems is on the demarcation line between science and philosophy.

  17. 17
    Virgil Cain says:

    RDFish misses the point:

    Again, nobody knows how living systems came to exist.

    We don’t know the SPECIFICS but the evidence screams Intelligent Design.

  18. 18
    Mung says:

    Scientists can’t even tell us what the difference is between living and non-living. Well, they could, but most just don’t want to go there.

  19. 19
    Seversky says:

    Virgil Cain @ 17

    We don’t know the SPECIFICS but the evidence screams Intelligent Design.

    There are phenomena in the biological world that have the appearance of design because they look similar to things we design. Is that the signature of an Intelligent Designer? Possibly, but there are as many unanswered questions raised by that proposal as any other.

    For example, we cannot design the kind of life we see around as – not yet, anyway. This suggests the Designer is far more advanced scientifically and technologically than we are. So why should the Designer’s designs look like the sort of design that a more primitive intelligence like ourselves might make?

    Also, we can see that some of these so-called designs are far from perfect, that even from the perspective of our more primitive design skills we can see where they could be much improved. So why would this more advanced designer settle for what is apparently a sub-standard product?

    Finally, do Intelligent Design proponents believe it is the best scientific explanation on the evidence or do they need it to be true because it could provide support for their religious beliefs?

  20. 20
    scottH says:

    Seversky
    Couldn’t it be said that evolution needs to be true to provide support for atheistic beliefs? After all, theists have options when it comes to this. Atheists, not too many roads to turn down.

  21. 21
    scottH says:

    Seversky
    Couldn’t it be said that evolution needs to be true to provide support for atheistic beliefs? After all, theists have options when it comes to this. Atheists, not too many roads to turn down. Also, imperfect designs are always subject to change with future discoveries.

  22. 22
    scottH says:

    Sorry about the double post. Guess it didn’t delete it when I tried.

  23. 23
    RDFish says:

    Hi Box, (and Virgil Cain and EugeneS)

    The only known source for information is intelligence.

    “Intelligence” per se does not do anything, because “intelligence” is not a thing. Rather, it is a property of complex organisms. But clearly complex organisms cannot be the cause of the original complex organisms. So whatever produced life was not a “known source” or information. We need to discover this source of information.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  24. 24
    Sebestyen says:

    We need to discover this source of information.

    But first we need to establish that life was indeed produced. This has to be the initial step, because why would anyone try to identify the creator of something if it isn’t clear that this something was actually created. Hence ID…

    Sebestyen

  25. 25
    Box says:

    Shapiro speaks of “cell cognition” and “cell decision-making” and believes that these may well be “fruitful scientific concepts.”

    My question to Shapiro:
    Suppose that we find the exact same cognition and decision-making on the level of a metazoan organism as a whole — and there is little doubt that we do — what exactly is the bearer of “cognition” and “decision-making”?
    Let’s suppose that a multicellular organism consists of 10 cells and let’s suppose further that there is cell differentiation and obvious decision-making and cognition stemming from the level of the organism as a whole. What or who is having the cognition and doing the decision-making?
    Please don’t point at the — spooky — “organism”, because if you do, you would be pointing at thin air. On the physical level, we don’t have an “organism”, we have 10 individual cells.

  26. 26
    Box says:

    RDFish #23,

    RDFish: Rather, it [intelligence] is a property of complex organisms.

    You seem to labor under the assumption that intelligence stems from the purposeless interactions of non-rational blind material forces. Obviously I don’t agree with such madness, but I let that pass for the moment.

    RDFish: But clearly complex organisms cannot be the cause of the original complex organisms.

    Complex alien intelligent designers could very well be responsible for the “original complex organisms” on earth. If so, we obviously do not yet know what the origin of the complex alien intelligent designers is.
    Yours is a philosophical question rather than a scientific one. It’s up to philosophers to ponder about the coherency of an infinite regress of complex intelligent designers and other options.

    Cheers.

  27. 27
    Virgil Cain says:

    RDFish:

    “Intelligence” per se does not do anything, because “intelligence” is not a thing.

    Intelligence is a thing. Information is a thing. An Intelligent Agent is a thing.

  28. 28
    Virgil Cain says:

    Seversky:

    There are phenomena in the biological world that have the appearance of design because they look similar to things we design.

    Biology was designed so it should give that appearance.

    So why should the Designer’s designs look like the sort of design that a more primitive intelligence like ourselves might make?

    That’s not an argument.

    So why would this more advanced designer settle for what is apparently a sub-standard product?

    That’s not an argument either and your position doesn’t have anything to explain what we observe. If it did then we wouldn’t be talking about ID.

    Finally, do Intelligent Design proponents believe it is the best scientific explanation on the evidence or do they need it to be true because it could provide support for their religious beliefs?

    ID is all about the evidence. What religious beliefs would it support? People of any and all religions can be an IDists. People with no religion can be an IDist.

  29. 29
    EugeneS says:

    Observed sub-optimality of design may be due to various reasons:

    – genuine sub-optimality as opposed to the lack of our knowledge about the full system under investigation and its functions. E.g. Pareto-optimal systems are not necessarily optimal with respect to one particular criterion.

    – degradation of information/functionality over time in hostile environments.

  30. 30
    EugeneS says:

    As far as I know ‘intelligence’ has more than one meanings.

    Intelligence [property] is the ability to make decisions, plan ahead and learn on past mistakes in order to achieve a pragmatic goal.

    Intelligence [thing] is a (not necessarily conscious) agent having the property of intelligence.

    There is no evidence of the property of intelligence arising out of chaos or being a product of the laws of nature. The laws of nature at best can produce redundant regularity that is indifferent to pragmatic goals. Observably, the property of intelligence invariably traces back to intelligent agency.

    The absence of any evidence of the property of intelligence arising naturalistically allows one to hypothesize that naturalistic emergence of intelligence is impossible. This scientific hypothesis of irreducibility of intelligence to naturalistic causation can be falsified by at least one instance where it is provably otherwise.

  31. 31
    RDFish says:

    Hi EugeneS,

    As far as I know ‘intelligence’ has more than one meanings.

    That is a gigantic understatement! If you ask five cognitive scientists what “intelligence” means you will likely get seven different answers! This is why ID is vacuous – it offers “intelligence” as its sole explanation for everything, then fails to say what that word is actually supposed to mean.

    Intelligence [property] is the ability to make decisions, plan ahead and learn on past mistakes in order to achieve a pragmatic goal.

    In that case, what evidence is there, for example, that the cause of living things on Earth is capable of learning from past mistakes?

    Intelligence [thing] is a (not necessarily conscious) agent having the property of intelligence.

    So you believe that intelligence can be divorced from consciousness? I agree, but I’d say most folks here would disagree. Stephen Meyer would disagree with us, but Bill Dembski would agree. See what I mean about ID being confused about what its theory is supposed to mean?

    There is no evidence of the property of intelligence arising out of chaos or being a product of the laws of nature.

    You are talking about the laws of nature that we already know about; there may be other aspects of nature that give rise to what we would call intelligent behavior that we do not yet understand. There is no evidence that intelligence arises out of ontologically distinct mindstuff or anything else. In other words, we don’t know how human intelligence operates or came to exist.

    This scientific hypothesis of irreducibility of intelligence to naturalistic causation can be falsified by at least one instance where it is provably otherwise.

    And the hypothesis of reducibility of intelligence to known processes can be falsified by at least one instance where it is provably otherwise. Does that help? No – that isn’t how science works at all of course.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  32. 32
    Virgil Cain says:

    Intelligence, as it pertains to ID, is nothing more than the ability to manipulate nature for a purpose.

    You are talking about the laws of nature that we already know about; there may be other aspects of nature that give rise to what we would call intelligent behavior that we do not yet understand.

    Science is a tentative enterprise. The science of today cannot and must not wait for what the science of tomorrow may or may not uncover.

    Also saying something was the product ID tells us how to proceed with the investigation.

  33. 33
    RDFish says:

    Hi Virgil Cain,

    Intelligence, as it pertains to ID, is nothing more than the ability to manipulate nature for a purpose.

    Inferring purpose is subjective. Water manipulates the riverbed for the purpose of reaching lower ground. How can one objectively deny it?

    Science is a tentative enterprise. The science of today cannot and must not wait for what the science of tomorrow may or may not uncover.

    The science of today must wait for answers that are empirically justified. There are none available for the question of origins.

    Also saying something was the product ID tells us how to proceed with the investigation.

    No, it doesn’t. Please don’t rejoin with examples where we know the intelligent agent is a human being, thanks.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  34. 34
    Virgil Cain says:

    RDFish:

    Inferring purpose is subjective.

    No, it isn’t. Professional investigators do it all of teh time.

    Water manipulates the riverbed for the purpose of reaching lower ground.

    That is incorrect and proves that you are not interested in a discussion.

    The science of today must wait for answers that are empirically justified.

    Methinks you don’t know what “empirical” means. ID is based on the empirical.

    Also saying something was the product ID tells us how to proceed with the investigation.

    No, it doesn’t.

    Of course it does. Stonehenge is studied differently as an artifact than if it was a natural formation. Murders are studied differently than natural deaths.

    It matters to any and all investigations whether or not that which is being investigated was put there via intelligent agencies or mother nature. To say otherwise is to expose your ignorance.

  35. 35
    Virgil Cain says:

    Only intelligent agencies produce codes. We have empirical evidence that living organisms function due to at least one code.

    Empirical evidence for ID: The Origin of Information: How to Solve It

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