Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

FYI-FTR*: Part 2, Is it so that >>If current models are inadequate (and actually all models are), and indeed we do not yet have good OoL models, that does not in itself make a case for design>>

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Further for record* on the case for a designer:

EL, here: >> . . . What undermines the “case for design” chiefly, is that there isn’t a case for a designer.

If current models are inadequate (and actually all [the?] models are), and indeed we do not yet have good OoL models, that does not in itself make a case for design. It merely makes a case for “our current models are inadequate”.

Even if it could be shown that some observed feature has no possible evolutionary pathway, that wouldn’t make the case for design. What might would be some evidence of a design process, or fabrication process, or some observable force that moved, say, strands of DNA into novel positions contrary to known laws of physics and chemistry.>>

This was in reply to WJM, as cited:

My point is that if you’re going to argue that the case for design is undermined by the the weight of the pattern of vertical inheritance and horizontal transfer, then you must concede that the existence of genetic information which cannot be accounted for (as yet) via vertical inheritance or horizontal transfer supports the design case, and that a sufficient quantity or “non-pattern” of suddenly-appearing genetic information reasonably useful in its current at-the-time-environment supports the case for design.

First, it is obvious that WJM is cogently arguing on a premise of observationally grounded inductive inference to best of currently known possible explanations. In such a context, where there is a limited circle of serious candidates, evidence that points against one factor automatically points in other directions. Where, it is notorious that design — per trillions of cases in point — is the only empirically observed actually seen to be adequate cause for functionally specific, complex organisation and associated information, FSCO/I.

In such a context, the simple observation of such FSCO/I is already a strong inductive sign pointing to design as credible cause, whether one is looking at the exploded view parts assembly diagram of an Abu Ambassadeur 6500 C3 fishing reel:

abu_6500c3mag . . . or the process-flow nodes and arcs layout/”wiring diagram” of a petroleum refinery:

Petroleum refinery block diagram illustrating FSCO/I in a process-flow system
Petroleum refinery block diagram illustrating FSCO/I in a process-flow system

. . . or the far more sophisticated process-flow metabolic network for a living cell:


. . . or, just a more detailed view of the D/RNA genetic code-controlled protein synthesis process in the top left of that metabolic network:

Protein Synthesis (HT: Wiki Media)
Protein Synthesis (HT: Wiki Media)

So, immediately, it is not that we are looking at a strange, unfamiliar phenomenon and are utterly at a loss for ideas as to how it comes about. No, we see FSCO/I and we have good reason to see that there is a well-known inductively based, logical, causal explanatory inference framework that we may apply:


The “problem” of course, is that when such is applied to OoL, it points to the blatant FSCO/I as just seen, and leads to the conclusion that well known features of the cell such as the digital genetic code used in protein synthesis, the process-flow system involved in the synthesis, the implied communication system required for that synthesis:

Yockey's analysis of protein synthesis as a code-based communication process
Yockey’s analysis of protein synthesis as a code-based communication process

. . . and the wider metabolic network all point to design as best current empirically warranted causal explanation.

Von Neumann kinematic self-replicator [vNSR] architecture, with integrated universal computer
Where, as was discussed by Paley long since, the objection that cells replicate and so can evolve runs into the problems that:

(a) in OoL that is part of what needs explanation,

(b) the code using von Neumann kinematic self replicator facility (vNSR) involved is itself irreducibly complex and FSCO/I rich, and

(c) hypothesised self replicating molecules spontaneously forming in plausible pre-life environments are both hard to justify empirically and would then have to bridge to the vNSR.

In short, the major problem with EL’s attempted dismissal arguably starts with in effect selectively locking out a major candidate explanation.

Next, the suggestion of demanding to see an observable force that manipulates DNA strands “contrary to known laws of physics and chemistry” — an apparent demand to observe miracles — directly fails the Venter et al test. For, genetic engineering is a fact in our day, intelligently directing and using the forces and materials of nature to create purposeful functional configurations. That is, there is no need to appeal to “breach” of laws of nature for there to have been design or convincing evidence of design.

And indeed, long since, from the beginnings of the modern design theory movement in the early 1980’s work of Thaxton et al, it was clearly identified that evidence of design in the world of life does not in itself suffice to distinguish whether a relevant designer is or was within or beyond the cosmos. In short, on inferring design on the phenomena of the cell, an adequate cause could be a molecular nanotechnology lab some generations beyond Venter et al.

Inferring design on the evidence of the world of cell based life is not equal to inference to miraculous, super-natural causation.

Indeed, ever since Plato in The Laws Bk X, 2350 years ago, it has been well recognised that not only may we draw the contrast:

I: Natural vs supernatural

. . . but also:

 II: Natural (= blind chance and/or mechanical necessity) vs the ART-ificial

 That is, one may patently infer from signs of design to design as a relevant, inductively supported causal process without necessarily inferring to any particular designer within or beyond the cosmos. As UD contributor StephenB often points out, we may and routinely do infer burglary or arson on known reliable signs without having any short-list of suspects in mind.

All that is required, is willingness to entertain the possibility of design and therefore of the known adequate cause of design: designers.

But, that is precisely the problem:

(a) as a possible designer of life on earth would be the Creator-God of ethical theism, and

(b) given a strong worldview level prejudice against God that likes to dress up in the lab coat,

(c) there is even an imposed methodological constraint that tries to rule out “inference to the [possibility of the] supernatural” on alleged grounds that such would reduce science to chaos and irrationality.

Harvard Biologist, Richard Lewontin’s notorious 1997 NYRB article, “Billions and billions of demons”– a review of Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World —  sums up the attitude:

demon_haunted>>. . . to put a correct view of the universe into people’s heads we must first get an incorrect view out . . .   the problem is to get them to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world [–> note the rhetorical equating of irrational and supernatural], the demons that exist only in their imaginations, and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, Science, as the only begetter of truth [–> NB: this is a knowledge claim about knowledge and its possible sources, i.e. it is a claim in philosophy not science; it is thus self-refuting] . . . .

It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes [–> another major begging of the question . . . ] to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute [[–> i.e. here we see the fallacious, indoctrinated, ideological, closed mind . . . ], for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.   [NB: If you are tempted to believe the talking point that this is “quote-mined” kindly cf the already linked fuller annotated cite.] >>

Quite an admission.

No wonder, Philip Johnson replied as follows, in the same year in a First Things article:

>>For scientific materialists the materialism comes first; the science comes thereafter. [Emphasis original] We might more accurately term them “materialists employing science.” And if materialism is true, then some materialistic theory of evolution has to be true simply as a matter of logical deduction, regardless of the evidence. That theory will necessarily be at least roughly like neo-Darwinism, in that it will have to involve some combination of random changes and law-like processes capable of producing complicated organisms that (in Dawkins’ words) “give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”

. . . .   The debate about creation and evolution is not deadlocked . . . Biblical literalism is not the issue. The issue is whether materialism and rationality are the same thing. Darwinism is based on an a priori commitment to materialism, not on a philosophically neutral assessment of the evidence. Separate the philosophy from the science, and the proud tower collapses. [Emphasis added.] [The Unraveling of Scientific Materialism, First Things, 77 (Nov. 1997), pp. 22 – 25.]>>

In short, once the selective hyperskepticism imposed by a priori evolutionary materialist scientism is seen for what it is — a mind-closing fallacy of ideological bias — then the force of the inductive argument from tested reliable signs to design as cause can then be acknowledged.

Absent that, we are back to EL’s position.

Having been forced to face the notorious fact that there are no good naturalistic, a priori evolutionary materialist models or theories for OoL, the conclusion imposed is that we must lock out the possibility of design by imposing an unreasonable demand for proof of miracle or else separate, direct evidence of a designer (seemingly, presumed to be supernatural).

Similarly, she imposes that actual proof of “no possible evolutionary pathway” does not bring up design as a serious alternative.

First, this is already selectively hyperskeptical.

We were not present when life originated or body plans originated, so we cannot have direct observational “proof.” And it is inherently the case that inductive, empirical reasoning cannot deliver proof beyond possibility of correction or alternative suggestions, however implausible. So, an unreasonable, obviously ideological demand is being made.

Second, once ideological lock-outs are laid aside, we do have a serious alternative, which does not necessarily require miracles to manipulate molecular level entities: intelligently directed configuration, aka design.

Third, one does not need to know fabrication or design process to infer to design on empirically reliable, tested signs such as FSCO/I. We routinely recognise artifacts as just that, designed entities, even when we neither know who made it, nor why, nor to what end or use, nor how.

Inference on reliable, tested sign — and FSCO/I has a trillion-member observational base — is enough.

Indeed, the logic here is backwards, cart before horse.

For, the scientific investigation of origins faces the challenge that we were not there to observe directly and must seek to reconstruct an unobservable deep past on traces in the present. And the key principle here is that before being projected to a remote past, a claimed causal force must show adequate capability in the here and now present.

Where, when it comes to FSCO/I, on a trillion-member base of observations, there is only one empirically warranted adequate cause: design. And, the ideologically favoured alternative, blind watchmaker chance and/or mechanical necessity in some cluster of circumstances, faces the issue of being a blind, needle in haystack search process, that especially for OoL has to account for the vNSR-based, irreducibly complex and FSCO/I rich code-using process that is the heart of cellular self-replication.

That is, this is the (often dismissed) needle in haystack search challenge that OoL models face:

islands_of_func_challThe adequate cause test has not been passed by proposed blind watchmaker mechanisms for OoL, but we have strong signs of design staring us in the face.

Likewise, for origin of Body Plans [OOBP for short], the same basic challenge obtains, but it is often argued that there is an incremental branching path from microbes to Mozart, mango trees, molluscs, etc. (That too, really needs to be shown . . . )

An immediate issue here is:

is_ o_func2_activ_info

Likewise, there are serious issues on population scale and generation times to achieve the sort of diversification involved, even if there were observed cases of major body plan feature origin by blind watchmaker mechanisms.

In short, it is at least patently reasonable to infer from FSCO/I involved in cell based life and in body plans, that life shows strong signs of design as causal process.

Where, it still remains so that:

P1: design processes call out for explanation, and

P2: the only reasonable explanation of such is that the functionally specific, complex organisation and associated information [FSCO/I] we see point to intelligently directed configuration as proximate, actuating cause and onwards to the intelligence and purpose of a contriver as the first, root cause. So,


C: such calls for the [Paleyan] explanation: “[c]ontrivance must have had a contriver; design, a designer . . .”

For, as Paley had argued (and as was cited in the just linked but was studiously avoided):

A Watch Movement c. 1880
A Watch Movement c. 1880

>>SUPPOSE, in the next place, that the person who found the watch, should, after some time, discover that, in addition to all the properties which he had hitherto observed in it, it possessed the unexpected property of producing, in the course of its movement, another watch like itself (the thing is conceivable); that it contained within it a mechanism, a system of parts, a mould for instance, or a complex adjustment of lathes, files, and other tools, evidently and separately calculated for this purpose; let us inquire, what effect ought such a discovery to have upon his former conclusion [–> on seeing a watch in a field].

I. The first effect would be to increase his admiration of the contrivance, and his conviction of the consummate skill of the contriver. Whether he regarded the object of the contrivance, the distinct apparatus, the intricate, yet in many parts intelligible mechanism, by which it was carried on, he would perceive, in this new observation, nothing but an additional reason for doing what he had already done,–for referring the construction of the watch to design, and to supreme art. If that construction without this property, or which is the same thing, before this property had been noticed, proved intention and art to have been employed about it; still more strong would the proof appear, when he came to the knowledge of this further property, the crown and perfection of all the rest.

II. He would reflect, that though the watch before him were, in some sense, the maker of the watch, which was fabricated in the course of its movements, yet it was in a very different sense from that, in which a carpenter, for instance, is the maker of a chair; the author of its contrivance, the cause of the relation of its parts to their use. With respect to these, the first watch was no cause at all to the second: in no such sense as this was it the author of the constitution and order, either of the parts which the new watch contained, or of the parts by the aid and instrumentality of which it was produced. We might possibly say, but with great latitude of expression, that a stream of water ground corn: but no latitude of expression would allow us to say, no stretch of conjecture could lead us to think, that the stream of water built the mill, though it were too ancient for us to know who the builder was. What the stream of water does in the affair, is neither more nor less than this; by the application of an unintelligent impulse to a mechanism previously arranged, arranged independently of it, and arranged by intelligence, an effect is produced, viz. the corn is ground. But the effect results from the arrangement. The force of the stream cannot be said to be the cause or author of the effect, still less of the arrangement. Understanding and plan in the formation of the mill were not the less necessary, for any share which the water has in grinding the corn: yet is this share the same, as that which the watch would have contributed to the production of the new watch, upon the supposition assumed in the last section. Therefore,

III. Though it be now no longer probable, that the individual watch, which our observer had found, was made immediately by the hand  of an artificer, yet doth not this alteration in anywise affect the inference, that an artificer had been originally employed and concerned in the production. The argument from design remains as it was. Marks of design and contrivance are no more accounted for now, than they were before . . . .

Nor is any thing gained by running the difficulty farther back, i. e. by supposing the watch before us to have been produced from another watch, that from a former, and so on indefinitely. Our going back ever so far, brings us no nearer to the least degree of satisfaction upon the subject. Contrivance is still unaccounted for. We still want a contriver. A designing mind is neither supplied by this supposition, nor dispensed with. If the difficulty were diminished the further we went back, by going back indefinitely we might exhaust it. And this is the only case to which this sort of reasoning applies. Where there is a tendency, or, as we increase the number of terms, a continual approach towards a limit, there, by supposing the number of terms to be what is called infinite, we may conceive the limit to be attained: but where there is no such tendency, or approach, nothing is effected by lengthening the series. There is no difference as to the point in question (whatever there may be as to many points), between one series and another; between a series which is finite, and a series which is infinite. A chain, composed of an infinite number of links, can no more support itself, than a chain composed of a finite number of links . . . The machine which we are inspecting, demonstrates, by its construction, contrivance and design. Contrivance must have had a contriver; design, a designer; whether the machine immediately proceeded from another machine or not. That circumstance alters not the case. That other machine may, in like manner, have proceeded from a former machine: nor does that alter the case; contrivance must have had a contriver . . .>>

The issue on the table is first to lay aside selectively hyperskeptical anti-supernaturalist prejudice and strawman caricatures of the design argument on FSCO/I etc as empirically tested reliable signs pointing to design as cause. It will not do to beg questions and/or caricature and knock over misrepresentations of the actual case to be addressed.

Then, copious evidence of FSCO/I in hand we must squarely face the point made by Paley: Contrivance must have had a contriver; design, a designerEND


* F/N: Due to an unfortunate insistent current tactic of side-tracking the discussion into a pointless, distractive, patently ill-founded polarising debate over alleged censorship [cf. a thread where I had to abort commenting, here, yesterday . . . a thread, BTW, that from the opening words of its title, invited, “Let’s discuss . . . “], I am forced to put up responses for the record for this series of posts without direct access to a comment exchange; thus making the debate more like an old fashioned exchange of magazine articles. The bottom-line is simple: I will not tolerate incivility, abuse and enabling of stalking and worse as a demanded price of interactive dialogue. (Hopefully, the circle of objectors will eventually reconsider the side-track and polarise tactic.)