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Some Thanks for Professor Olofsson


I’m halfway through mathematics Professor Peter Olofsson’s essay titled Probability, Statistics, Evolution, and Intelligent Design which originally appeared in the journal Chance.

The first thing I want to thank PO for is stating this early on:

Although [religion] is of interest in its own right, in fairness to ID proponents, it should be pointed out that many of them do not employ religious arguments against evolution and this article does not deal with issues of faith and religion.

The second thing I’d like to thank him for is describing ID as a valid scientific hypothesis in the discussion of the explanatory filter and the flagellum. PO brings up the same argument I’ve always pointed out when he talks about the rejection region for biological applications of the filter and the inability to bound it without doubt. I describe the same problem as that of, I think, a better term also used by Dembski called “probabilistic resources”. How can we ever possibly know some undiscovered pathway for law and chance to have assembled the flagellum doesn’t exist? The short answer is we cannot. We don’t know what we don’t know and we can’t calculate a probability for an unknown. This is in fact employing a valid “chance of the gaps” argument by PO.

The thing of it is there are lots of theories and hypotheses in science that are not provable because it is impossible in principle to rule out the unknown or the unobserved. Karl Popper famously stated how something cannot be provable but remain a valid scientific hypothesis. He illustrated it famously with a then mythical black swan. He gave the hypothesis “There are no black swans in nature.” He said this was a valid hypothesis because while it could never be proven true, that it was impossible to say all of nature was searched and no black swan possibly overlooked, the hypothesis can be disproven (falsified) by the observation of just one single black swan. In the meantime it was a valid hypothesis because it explained the known facts – millions of swans observed and none were black. A black swan in fact was eventually observed and science worked as it should – the black swan hypothesis was falsified.

So we have the ID hypothesis for the flagellum stated as “There are no unintelligent processes which can produce a complex machine (like a flagellum) in nature”. I have stated the ID hypothesis this way many times here. It is a perfectly valid scientific hypothesis which cannot be proven but can be falsified by observing just one unintelligent process producing such a machine. In the meantime we know that intelligence can produce complex machines. You’re reading this on one example of a complex machine which the explanatory filter would also predict is virtually impossible to have come about by law and chance alone.

I just glanced at the second half of the PO essay which addresses Behe’s “The Edge of Evolution”. I trust it rests on the same argument that the failure to observe any novel complex machines arising in the malaria parasite does not prove anything. I agree that it proves nothing. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t offer more evidence in favor of the ID hypothesis stated in the paragraph above. ID predicts that no complex machines would originate in even 10^30 reproductive opportunities for mutation and selection. Law and chance handily explains what was observed and what was observed fell far, far short of producing any significant machine-like complexity. What this represents is what Behe describes as probably the biggest real world test of evolution by chance and necessity ever witnessed. It validated microevolution by producing some small useful novelties but failed utterly to produce anything greater than what was predicted by known law and chance. No unknowns showed up. No black swan was observed.

The observations surrounding the malaria parasite could have, at least in principle, falsified the ID hypothesis. But it didn’t. So chalk up a successful prediction for ID.