Intelligent Design

Zoom call with biochemist James Shapiro on the re-release of Evolution: A view from the 21st century

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James Shapiro, author of Evolution: A view from the 21st century is holding a zoom meet March 8, 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM PST (Time zones.), celebrating the re-release of his 2011 book on natural genetic engineering:

From the classroom to the laboratory, conventional wisdom still paints evolution as the passive result of mutational accidents and natural selection. A modern vision of evolution recognizes that all living beings, from the simplest organisms to humans, actively modify their read-write (RW) genomes as they evolve.

In an unpredictable world, the ability to evolve actively is essential to survival. Today, understanding evolution is equally critical to our shared future…

James A. Shapiro, Professor in the University of Chicago’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, is a leading bacterial geneticist, the discoverer of transposable elements in bacteria, and the key researcher involved in first organizing the field of mobile genetic elements. The earliest proponent of “natural genetic engineering” as a basic feature of evolution, he has been a leading scientific critic of orthodox evolutionary theory for 20 years.

A friend writes to say that’s good because it’s hard to get a copy of the 2011 edition new and even the second-hand copies are expensive.

You may also wish to read: University of Chicago biochemist: All living cells are cognitive James Shapiro’s recent paper points out, with examples, that bacteria meet the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of “cognitive.”
Future debates over origins of intelligence, consciousness, etc., may mainly feature panpsychists vs. theists rather than materialists vs. theists.

9 Replies to “Zoom call with biochemist James Shapiro on the re-release of Evolution: A view from the 21st century

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    Silver Asiatic says:

    Future debates over origins of intelligence, consciousness, etc., may mainly feature panpsychists vs. theists rather than materialists vs. theists.

    That seems true. I notice it even here. More anti-IDists don’t want to be called materialist-atheist, but rather deists or at least believers in immaterial forces of whatever kind. ID can’t really touch on that debate at all, since ID does not require theism. Any kind of designing intelligence is sufficient for the ID case. After that, it’s a philosophical battle between deism and theism..

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    chuckdarwin says:

    Future debates over origins of intelligence, consciousness, etc., may mainly feature panpsychists vs. theists rather than materialists vs. theists.

    Panpsychists claim that the constituents of all living and non-living things have consciousness. That is not what Shapiro is saying. He is saying that all living things exhibit cognition. Consciousness and cognition are not the same thing. It is not that surprising that biology is beginning to find basic cognition in all life forms.

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    Seversky says:

    Silver Asiatic/2

    That seems true. I notice it even here. More anti-IDists don’t want to be called materialist-atheist, but rather deists or at least believers in immaterial forces of whatever kind. ID can’t really touch on that debate at all, since ID does not require theism. Any kind of designing intelligence is sufficient for the ID case. After that, it’s a philosophical battle between deism and theism..

    Science has no problem dealing with immaterial forces, It has worked with gravity, electricity, magnetism and the nuclear forces for many years. Their effects are observable and measurable and do not depend on any particular religious presuppositions.

    And it is not true to say that any kind of designing intelligence is sufficient for the ID case. What are speculated to be designed phenomena in the biological world are unlikely to have been the handiwork of a Stone Age designer of flint arrowheads or a Renaissance scholar or a Victorian natural philosopher. Even we do not have the knowledge or the technology for that. So ID is left with some sort of advanced alien intelligence as the putative designer. And, as an atheist materialist, I have no problem with that possibility.

    But for those looking for a more esoteric explanation of the origins of life itself, the possibility of an advanced alien intelligence is not really of much help. It would only mean that we are not the only intelligent life in the Universe. It would not tell us any more about how intelligent life or life of any king originated.

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    Silver Asiatic says:

    Seversky

    And it is not true to say that any kind of designing intelligence is sufficient for the ID case.

    True. What I meant was, “any kind of designing intelligence that meets the required criteria for designing the universe” (or designing life on earth, it depends on what the focus is). ID would consider stone age human intelligence and rule it out because it lacks the power and transcendence. But that’s true also of material-alien life when considering the material universe. Aliens could be considered a source of ID for life on earth (panspermia) but not as the cause of the universe.

    So ID is left with some sort of advanced alien intelligence as the putative designer. And, as an atheist materialist, I have no problem with that possibility.

    We had an ID advocate here (Dave Scott) for years who supported the idea of alien intelligence as the source of biological life. In any case, yes – atheists can support ID at least at that level. The problem is where you look for ultimate origins – what is the cause of the alien life? That’s the cosmological ID and you can’t have a material designer that creates the material universe.

    But for those looking for a more esoteric explanation of the origins of life itself, the possibility of an advanced alien intelligence is not really of much help. It would only mean that we are not the only intelligent life in the Universe. It would not tell us any more about how intelligent life or life of any king originated.

    .

    At the very minimum, it refutes the standard materialist proposal that random chemical assortments caused life to accidentally emerge. We have, instead, an intelligent cause. Therefore, we could conclude that another intelligent cause created the alien life. Eventually, this gets pushed back far enough to the beginning of the universe and we have an "ultimate intelligence" – which is the first cause of life, timeless, spaceless, infinite with creative power.

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    Silver Asiatic says:

    CD

    It is not that surprising that biology is beginning to find basic cognition in all life forms.

    Do you think it’s not surprising that blind, unintelligent matter gave rise to cognition in the initial origin of life? So, not only the complex functions of cellular life and the language of DNA emerged from accidental chemical formation – but cognition emerged in bacteria from the same source?
    I’d find that far beyond just surprising, myself.

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    Silver Asiatic says:

    Seversky

    Science has no problem dealing with immaterial forces, It has worked with gravity, electricity, magnetism and the nuclear forces for many years.

    Yes, but science doesn’t deal with the origin of those immaterial entities. Even multiverse speculations just assume those forces exist and act upon whatever they propose. But you have to explain the origin of immaterial entities like logic and rationality as well – the regularity and order of physical forces had to have some origin.

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    chuckdarwin says:

    SA @ 6
    Any function or behavior that humans have as a result of evolution, should, in principle, be found in all life in lesser degrees contingent and co-extensive with what their ecological niche demands via natural selection. For example, I can observe my dog using sophisticated cognitive strategies to retrieve an object on the fly; She clearly can calculate the speed, distance, height, trajectory, etc. necessary to make a perfect mid-air catch. That is all cognition, i.e., learning, problem-solving and memory. All animals, no matter how “primitive,” have this capacity to some degree.
    I not only do not find the manifestation of cognition in “lower” life forms surprising, like I said, I think it is to be expected as an integral part of life. How “it all started” is a completely different question to which we don’t yet know the answer.

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    Silver Asiatic says:

    CD

    That’s an interesting way to look at it and would make sense in a pan-psychic or pantheistic way, that certain immaterial essences like cognition or rationality (why not consciousness?) would be found in all life forms. But it doesn’t follow from materialist evolution since every feature has to develop by mutation and selection, so the fact that humans have cognition doesn’t mean it has to be found in bacteria. It could have just emerged with the right mutations in the human species.
    But that view is nonsensical anyway, and that’s what I was getting at.
    How could inanimate matter through chemical reactions create the power of cognition in bacteria? It’s absurd.
    I read your response through the lens of deism. You posit an immaterial being in your worldview. That’s part of your philosophical system. But there’s a lot to explain there. You’re a deist, so you do have some answer for that part of “how it started” – you have a God with certain attributes.
    You never make any reference to this, that I can see. Why not just assert your deistic belief since it is a major part of any origin story you’d hold. It certainly could explain the origin of cognition, rationality, the laws of the universe, the laws of logic — just as all the major Deists believed.
    The masonic deist founders of America believed that God is a creator.
    So, on that basis God creates things. We call that “creationism”. That’s what Deism gives us. The question is, why does the deistic god have the power to create the universe, but no power to create life on earth? What limits God’s power? It can’t be something he created.

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