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James Shapiro: Bill Dembski asks the question we’ve all been dreading …

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Is Shapiro really a design theorist but doesn’t want to admit it? (Evolution News & Views, January 12, 2012)

For proponents of intelligent design, James Shapiro’s constant dancing in the DMZ between Darwin and design can be frustrating. On the one hand, Shapiro is as dismissive of Darwinism as any ID proponent. On the other, he constantly gives public notice that he is not on the side of ID. And yet, methinks he protests too much.

Or not enough.

Shapiro is a molecular biologist on faculty at the University of Chicago. When it comes to ID, Shapiro admits that it has identified some legitimate problems, such as Michael Behe’s irreducibly complex biochemical systems (in this he is light years ahead of Richard Dawkins and Kenneth Miller, who deny that any problem exists). Shapiro admits that these are unresolved in Darwinian terms.

Some Darwinism sounds like such nonsense as to cast grave doubt on the intelligence of the persons who utter it.

Fast forward to two days ago, January 8, 2012. In the Huffington Post, Shapiro wrote an insightful article on the mechanisms involved in antibiotic resistance, rejecting the standard Darwinian picture of antibiotic resistance being conferred by the gradual accumulation of slight adaptive modifications. Appealing to lateral gene transfer as a way of bacteria quickly acquiring complex biological structures and functions, and then appealing to natural genetic engineering to adapt those structures to new circumstances of life, Shapiro offers a picture that seems utterly congenial to intelligent design.

And yet, intelligent design is anathema in the circles in which Shapiro moves, so he must utter the mandatory denunciations:

Well, every form of refuge has its price. Some would find that stuff humiliating.

Like, placating the Darwin tenure bore, the Darwin lobbyist, the government Darwin stiff, the reverend who found Jesus n’ Darwin …

There’s a great relief in telling them all to just go to blazes, but we can’t pretend that it translates into interest from TV hair models or Arianna Huffington – once they realize that you must know what you are talking about, and no compromise.

To get anywhere with these problems, you have to be more embedded in this planet than they are.

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89 Replies to “James Shapiro: Bill Dembski asks the question we’ve all been dreading …

  1. 1
    Neil Rickert says:

    I am not a biologist. And I have never met Shapiro. My knowledge of his work is limited to an Internet video, some Internet reports, and his recent book, which I reviewed on my blog.

    That said, no I don’t think Shapiro’s work is at all supportive of ID. If anything, I see it as being a problem for ID proponents, for he provides an alternative explanation for what ID proponents see as requiring an intelligent designer. Quoting the Evolution News and Views site:

    In place of Behe’s design hypothesis, Shapiro proposed that organisms evolve through what he called “natural genetic engineering.” Briefly, organisms are intelligent and guide their own evolution.

    For myself, I agree with that “natural genetic engineering” view, though I thought Shapiro overstated it a bit in his book. But I don’t see that as at all helpful to the claims of ID proponents. Perhaps I am projecting my own view onto Shapiro.

    Dembski writes:

    At the time, I asked you about the origin of such “natural genetic engineering” systems. As I recall, you indicated that this was not really the problem you were addressing. Have you thought any more about this problem? Specifically, how do such systems arise that can take over their evolution? And how much complexity do they require? Are you confident that non-teleological mechanisms can account for the rise of natural genetic engineering systems, and if so why?

    Dembski thinks that Shapiro evaded the question. However, it seems to me that he at least hinted at the answer.

    It seems that Dembski sees nature as entirely mechanical, so anything complex and function would require something outside of nature to have intervened. But Shapiro does not agree with that view. He sees natural intelligence at work, right down to basic levels of nature. With a “metabolism first” view of the origins of life, presumably there would be some natural intelligence already present in the most basic metabolic processes, and that would be enough intelligence to start the natural engineering project that led to the living things that we observe.

    Again, I might be projecting some of my own views onto Shapiro. But what Dembski reports about his comments in that ENV page seems consistent with my view of what Shapiro is saying.

  2. 2
    Joe says:

    Well the origin of nature needs something outside of nature…

  3. 3
    Petrushka says:

    Depends on your definition of nature. I define nature as that which exists.

  4. 4
    Joe says:

    Science defines nature as this observable universe.

  5. 5
    vh says:

    Neil….Shapiro’s “natural genetic engineering” opens up the floodgates for the miraculous: As Richard Dawkins, who mulls over lamarkian change in “The Blind Watchmaker,” puts it:

    “By what mysterious, built-in wisdom does the body choose to mutate in the direction of getting better rather than getting worse?” pg. 306

    This is why ToE is a theory of population: because natural selection (of random variants) does away with the need for miracles. Today’s scientists are not interested at all in vitalism or lamarckism. It’s materialism or bust. As soon as one introduces wisdom, intelligence, miracles — or even mystery — into science, then the institution loses its whole purpose and meaning.

    Add this to the fact that even “genetic engineering” doesn’t produce new anatomy or new molecular machines, then what science is stuck with is the reality that life forms have no real explanation as to their existence — only that they change with the environment via mysterious, seemingly-miraculous internal mechanisms and respond physically to what the mind perceives.

    hardly a problem for creationists.

  6. 6
    johnnyb says:

    “It seems that Dembski sees nature as entirely mechanical, so anything complex and function would require something outside of nature to have intervened. But Shapiro does not agree with that view. He sees natural intelligence at work, right down to basic levels of nature.”

    You are quite mistaken. The view that you just articulated *IS* intelligent design. ID has *never* been tied to a theistic designer. If the organism itself is acting as an agent (rather than as a machine), then that is ID. This is what drives me up a wall. THE ONLY THING ID SAYS IS THAT DESIGN REQUIRES AGENCY. IT IS VERY INFURIATING FOR SOMEONE TO POINT TO AGENCY AS A CAUSE AND THEN SAY, “See! ID is false!”

    If you want to explore the idea of agency in daily life further, you should check out the upcoming “Engineering and Metaphysics” conference.

  7. 7
    Petrushka says:

    Shapiro’s view isn’t ID for the simple reason that mutations don’t exhibit foresight. Mutation rate may increase due to stress, but the mutations are not targeted to need. It’s in the book, clearly stated, exactly as I have described.

  8. 8
    johnnyb says:

    I haven’t read Shapiro’s book yet, but his previous comments elsewhere lead me to think otherwise. In any case, we know of many mutations for which the location *is* targeted to need. Not precisely, 100%, but that the cell looks towards the areas which are likely to generate benefit in the present situation.

    For instance, the adaptive immune system, when generating mutations, skips over 99.99% of the genome, and targets the mutations on the correct gene which needs mutating. Not only that, it ONLY targets the PART of the gene which attaches to the antigen, and DOES NOT mutate the part that attaches to the cell. This is not a unique situation either, and I highly doubt that Shapiro is unaware of it.

  9. 9
    Neil Rickert says:

    If the organism itself is acting as an agent (rather than as a machine), then that is ID.

    Then ID proponents should embrace standard evolutionary theory, or perhaps theistic evolution.

    People who understand evolution (as distinct from the strawman version that is often “debunked”), understand that biological organisms and biological reproduction are what drive evolution.

  10. 10
    Neil Rickert says:

    Neil….Shapiro’s “natural genetic engineering” opens up the floodgates for the miraculous

    That’s a question you should take up with Shapiro. It seems to me that he is being careful not to depend on anything miraculous.

    Biological organisms are doing genetic engineering. Meiosis is experimentation in recombinant DNA. But it is the population that evaluates the results of that experimentation.

  11. 11
    Jon Garvey says:

    Neil, whenever I see a phrase like “people who understand evolution” I know someone’s going to shift from one standard definition of evolution to another description. See here and here. Like “we now know” it’s no more than a cheap debating trick. But Jerry Coyne says James Shapiro is “heterodox”, so clearly one of them doesn’t understand evolution either.

    After one reading of Shapiro’s book I was uncertain whether he regarded mutations produced by “natural genetic engineering” as random with respect to fitness, so I read it again together with his online stuff, and concluded that he regards them as at least severely constrained, that is, intelligently designed, so selection is merely used to fine tune purposefully produced (ie teleological) changes. Therein lies the heart of his stated antagonism to the Modern Synthesis.

    I also concluded that, as per Dembski’s blog post, Shapiro has, in effect, merely pushed the design problem one step back – he proposes no serious mechanism for the arrival of organisms-capable-of-engineering. He expressly regards the standard ND model (including neutral theory) as inadequate to produce the organisational complexity of current life, but in order to do so requires (and gives evidence for) much greater organisational complexity still. So how can ND be an adequate explanation for that?

    He’s under no obligation to address this personally, but it causes severe problems for materialist, ateleological, views on both OOL and evolution. The only real suggestion is some kind of (non-evidenced) chaotic self-ordering, aka tornadoes in junkyards, unless one goes for Eugene Koonin’s “in a multiverse all is possible” cop-out, which is falsified by the lack of unicorns and flying pigs in the world.

  12. 12
    gpuccio says:

    Neil:

    For me, it’s very simple. Shapiro is making the right questions(exactly those that so many are avoiding), but he is not, at least until now, giving the right answers.

    As, IMO, questions are always more important than answers, I am perfectly fine with his position.

  13. 13

    As many of us having been saying for years, evolutionary processes form an intelligent system.

    In that sense, and in that sense alone, ID is demonstrably true.

    But there’s nothing supernatural about it, any more than human intelligence is supernatural. Indeed, the two are quite similar in many ways.

  14. 14
    gpuccio says:

    Elizabeth:

    Let’s try to make some order here.

    a) Evolutionary processes, if unguided and not designed, in no way form an intelligent system.

    b) ID is demonstrably true in a completely different sense.

    c) There is nothing supernatural in ID (the true ID), or at least any more than human conscious intelligence is supernatural.

    As many of us having been saying for years… 🙂

  15. 15
    Jon Garvey says:

    Oh dear – “intelligent” looks like it’s going to be added to the long list of undefined words like “selection”, “fitness”, “random” and even “evolution” itself!

    But if life, as per Darwin, Mayr, etc, has the illusion of design, it’s presumably because it was produced by the illusion of intelligence, for which we could adapt the dictionary definition to mean, strictly: “false appearance of capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; illusory aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc.”

    No doubt we’d literally mean a chaotic self-ordering system having these properties, so we would still have to avoid carefully the use of teleological language, even when the illusory intelligence was shown to be acting teleologically.

  16. 16
    Joe says:

    Elizabeth:

    As many of us having been saying for years, evolutionary processes form an intelligent system.

    Truly clueless. The question is are “evolutionary processes” designed or stochastic?

    Do organisms evolve by design or do the just evolve?

  17. 17

    a) Evolutionary processes, if unguided and not designed, in no way form an intelligent system.

    So you are saying that only designed systems can be intelligent? That intelligence must be designed by intelligence?

    I disagree, but in any case, that is what we are arguing about. It can’t be a premise.

    b) ID is demonstrably true in a completely different sense.

    Again, I disagree.

    c) There is nothing supernatural in ID (the true ID), or at least any more than human conscious intelligence is supernatural.

    Well, yes. That’s what I said.

  18. 18

    Evolutionary processes are not designed. They are stochastic.

    Organisms just evolve.

    Hope that helps.

  19. 19
    Joe says:

    Elizabeth:

    Evolutionary processes are not designed. They are stochastic.

    How did you determine that? Bald declarations are meaningless.

    Yse it helps- you have just admitted that your position is nothing more than a bald assertion.

  20. 20
    Joe says:

    Elizabeth,

    You can disagree all you want but until you have some evidence for any alternative, like your position, all it is is whining.

  21. 21

    There is plenty of evidence, Joe, but it seems to be invisible to you.

    Sorry about that.

  22. 22
    Joe says:

    I have seen it and it doesn’t amount to anything, most is equivocation and the rest is assumptive.

    IOW Elizabeth just because you are gullible doesn’t mean I missed something- I was an evolutionist and still would be if the evidence was there.

  23. 23

    No, I haven’t “admitted” that, Joe. Certainly I have made a bald assertion.

    But as all evidence for my position is invisible to you, there seems no point in presenting any.

    But I’d point out that there are two assertions there, not one.

    The second is clearly true. The first is not, and could be incorrect. Unfortunately there is no way of falsifying the converse. We will never know whether evolutionary processes were designed, or intended. We can only establish that they need not have been.

  24. 24
    Joe says:

    Look at Talk Origins and the alleged 29+ evidences for macroevolution- I can take that and make a strong case for common design. And not only that the alleged evidences for macroevolution don’t even include any mechansism.

    And BTW you have already admitted there isn’t any way to test the claim that the bacterial flagellum evolved via accumulations of random mutations.

    So what is this evidence you speak of?

  25. 25

    Exactly, Joe. You have seen the evidence, and have decided it isn’t evidence.

    That’s your prerogative. Clearly I disagree.

  26. 26
    Joe says:

    Elizabeth,

    It isn’t that the evidence is invisble to me. It is that the evidence doesn’t exist.

    I was once an evolutionist and still would be if the evidence was there.

    And both of your assertions are bald and unsupportable. And no one can establish that evolutionary processes need not have been designed. That is another bald assertion.

    It appears that your position is full of bald assertions and promissory notes.

  27. 27
    Joe says:

    Right I have seen the evidence and it is nonsense and the best part is not one evolutionary scientist can produce positive testable evidence for their position’s grand claims.

    You disagree because you are gullible- no other reason.

  28. 28

    Right I have seen the evidence and it is nonsense and the best part is not one evolutionary scientist can produce positive testable evidence for their position’s grand claims.

    You disagree because you are gullible- no other reason.

    Your assertions are noted 😉

  29. 29
    gpuccio says:

    Elizabeth:

    I disagree, but in any case, that is what we are arguing about. It can’t be a premise.

    Sure. And neither can “evolutionary processes form an intelligent system” be a premise. I was just trying to set it stright that rules are the same for both parts.

    ” b) ID is demonstrably true in a completely different sense.” Again, I disagree.

    I know. And I am waiting for an anwer, and a continuing discussion, here:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....selection/

    Well, yes. That’s what I said.

    Not exactly. What I mean is: there is nothing supernatural in the idea that a conscious intelligent designer designed biological information, any more than human conscious intelligence and ability to design is supernatural. I don’t believe that’s exactly what you meant.

  30. 30

    Sure, but your meaning is true too 🙂

    Will catch up with your other post now! Thanks for the link.

  31. 31
    Petrushka says:

    Evolvability is under investigation by mainstream biology. It isn’t ID. It’s no more mysterious than any other biological mechanism. It isn’t a special case. And regardless of how you try to stretch Shapiro’s words, he States explicitely that neither the immune system nor mutation anticipates specific need.

    Perhaps it would be useful to step back and consider that prior to medicine, lots of people died of infectious disease, and that when multicelled populations are confronted with the need for a specific adaption, the most likely outcome is extinction.

  32. 32
    ScottAndrews2 says:

    Evolvability is under investigation by mainstream biology. It isn’t ID. It’s no more mysterious than any other biological mechanism. It isn’t a special case.

    Interesting how the comments always straddle the fence between ‘it’s the known explanation’ and ‘it’s under investigation.’ That’s obviously not a logical contradiction. But it always conveys the idea that the certainty is there and the basis for that certainty is always coming soon.

    ‘No more mysterious than any other biological mechanism’ leaves a whole lot of room for mystery. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a darwinist or not, how geckos got wall-climbing feet and how birds got avian lungs are both total mysteries.

  33. 33
    Eugene S says:

    Petrushka,

    Neither bona fide control (driving search for solutions towards increasing utility), nor formalism, nor prescriptive information, nor self-organisation per se is capable of arising spontaneously. This observation is well warranted empirically by the sheer absense of evidence of the contrary. The only empirically warranted causation of all the above is choice contingency, and warranted massively. Apart from life, all these are present only in functionally complex artefacts. Until it is demonstrated that the above can arise spontaneously, it is absolutely scientific to argue by induction that life is an artefact.

    Matter is incapable of organising itself spontaneously. What can spontaneously emerge is mere low-informational redundant regularity (sand dunes, fractals, standing waves, autocatalytic cycles) that are constraints rather than controls. And this does not lend any grounds to mental constracts similar to Kauffman’s “crystallisation of life”. Even less so does evolvability.

    Neither Kauffman’s edge of chaos nor Prigogine’s dissipative structures nor Eigen’s hypercycles are adequate to explain how spontaneous emergence of control is possible. In practice, only those systems that have been programmed to evolve, do so. To assert spontaneous evolability of function is self-contradictory. This is why, in particular, that the so called genetic algorithms are conceptually oxymoronic if you assume unguided evolution.

  34. 34
    Timaeus says:

    Elizabeth:

    “Evolutionary processes form an intelligent system.”

    “So you are saying that only designed systems can be intelligent? That intelligence must be designed by intelligence?

    “I disagree”

    Elizabeth, if all you mean is that evolutionary processes, though themselves completely lacking in intelligence (e.g., mutations are aimless, natural selection is not the selection of a mind), can simulate the results of intelligence, then, if we assume for the sake of argument that evolutionary processes have such powers, your usage of “intelligence” is, well, intelligible.

    But if you mean what is normally meant when we say that something displays “intelligence,” then to say that evolutionary processes form an intelligent system is to say that there is intelligence behind the evolutionary process. It is to imply that the evolutionary process is in some sense designed. I do not think that you believe that the evolutionary process is in any sense designed. Thus, your words would not convey your true meaning. The question, then, is why you would use words that might mislead us as to your meaning.

    T.

  35. 35
    johnnyb says:

    Why should they embrace standard evolutionary theory? Standard evolutionary theory says that the information originated from random mutations. If, instead, the information originated from the intentionality of the organism, that’s a completely different beast. That’s where metrics such as Dembski/Marks’ “Active Information” comes in – it allows you to see how much the organism is contributing to its own evolution.

    It is in fact the “standard evolutionary theory” which is rejecting the notion that beings can act as agents. That’s why PNAS can have a paper which simply asserts “you have as much free will as a bowl of sugar”, and the only ones to complain is us.

    It is precisely materialism that we are objecting to. We disagree with standard evolutionary theory because it is founded on materialism which rejects the notion of agency altogether. When standard evolutionary theory incorporates agency as an official cause, then ID will have officially won.

  36. 36
    johnnyb says:

    There are many of us that consider human intelligence supernatural, at least in the meaning that it is not materialistic. In fact, that is the entire basis of the design inference. The reason we have the ability to recognize design in nature is because we have in ourselves an example of it occurring. If at least a similar type of cause did not occur in us, we would not be able to make the inference.

  37. 37
    Petrushka says:

    RI’ve been following this for some Time, and I think it is clear that intelligence is a special case of evolutionj. Thinking is composed of conjecture and feedback.

    When we are solving a problem we imagine various solutions and their likely consequences. We are not born with the ability to solve complex problems. We acquire thinking tools through observing others, through training. And through experience.

    Major breakthroughs are always incremental. Even Einstein borrowed mathematical equations from earlier thinkers.

  38. 38

    Elizabeth:

    “Evolutionary processes form an intelligent system.”

    “So you are saying that only designed systems can be intelligent? That intelligence must be designed by intelligence?

    “I disagree”

    Elizabeth, if all you mean is that evolutionary processes, though themselves completely lacking in intelligence (e.g., mutations are aimless, natural selection is not the selection of a mind), can simulate the results of intelligence, then, if we assume for the sake of argument that evolutionary processes have such powers, your usage of “intelligence” is, well, intelligible.

    Well, that is certainly true, but I was taking it a little further than that. If, for example, we use Dembski’s definition of intelligence, namely “the power and facility to choose between options, then evolutionary processes do not merely mimic intelligent systems, they are an intelligent system. If, however, we include “intention” in the definition (which Dembski explicitly excludes) then, no, evolutionary processes do not fall within the definition.

    Nonetheless, evolutionary processes have a great deal in common with intelligent processes, to the extent that “neural Darwinism” is one description of the way cognition works in human brains. Both are learning systems. The big difference between the two is that human brains can simulate before they act – in other words they can choose between two options on the basis of the likely consequence of each. Evolutionary processes are, in contrast “blind” – they do not simulate, then choose.

    But if you mean what is normally meant when we say that something displays “intelligence,” then to say that evolutionary processes form an intelligent system is to say that there is intelligence behind the evolutionary process.

    No, I’m not saying there is an intelligence “behind” it – I’m saying it forms an intelligent system.

    It is to imply that the evolutionary process is in some sense designed. I do not think that you believe that the evolutionary process is in any sense designed. Thus, your words would not convey your true meaning. The question, then, is why you would use words that might mislead us as to your meaning.

    Are you suggesting that I tried to deliberately mislead you? Why on earth would anyone want to do that? I am trying to be clear. I hope I have made myself clearer. The last thing I want to do is leave people in doubt as to my meaning.

    I find the suggestion bizarre.

  39. 39
    johnnyb says:

    In addition, if agency were part of standard evolutionary theory, Irreducible Complexity should be embraced, as it should be taken as at least initial evidence that a feature evolved via agency rather than by mechanism.

  40. 40
    ScottAndrews2 says:

    Petrushka,

    That has got to be one of the most bizarre, out-there things I have ever heard.

    But it at least it can be tested. Unlike events in the distant past the evolution of which cannot be traced, your previous post originated with you. You are intimately familiar with the process with which it was formulated. You could explain to us what it began with and the process by which it evolved into its most recent form.

    But seriously, this is what happens when we forget that evolution is about incremental genetic changes and specific selections and spin narratives about how a light sensitive patch formed in an indentation. People start imagining that anything can be an increment for evolution to select. A thought is an increment. A partial solution is an increment. Any two states in which a thing exists as it changes are increments.

    But that’s not how it works. An increment, as it applies to evolution, is a very specific term, not a plastic one.

    If intelligence is a form of evolution then what exactly are the increments? You cannot call intelligence “evolution” without determining that.

    Such a statement shows a fundamental misconception, not of intelligence, but of evolution. Even though the mechanics of evolution are individual genetic variation and selection, evolutionary transitions are inevitably painted in the broad strokes of phenotypic change. No wonder it seems so simple that its principles can be broadly and vaguely applied to anything.

  41. 41
    lastyearon says:

    I believe Scott’s accusation that you are misleading comes from his inability to conceive of intelligence as a verb, instead of a noun. So when you say evolution is intelligent, he automatically processes it as “evolution was designed by an intelligent entity”.

  42. 42
    lastyearon says:

    I think most of the arguments on this blog are about reductionism. Most IDers don’t grasp the idea that complex things are not just the sum of their parts. Hence, here, evolution, which is “just” differential reproduction and genetic variation, can only simulate intelligence. It cannot actually be intelligent, because we know its parts.

  43. 43
    ScottAndrews2 says:

    LYO,

    I believe Scott’s accusation that you are misleading comes from his inability to conceive of intelligence as a verb, instead of a noun.

    If that’s to make any sense at all, I think you mean adjective, as in “intelligent” which is comparable to the verb and adverb “acts intelligently.” Assuming that’s the verb you mean, then you’re really referring to the adjective, in which case intelligent is an adjective, so no, I’m not unable to conceive of it as such.

    (Pop quiz – is there a verb in this list: intelligent, intelligence.)

    That being said, what is the difference between that which is intelligent, that which possesses intelligence, and that which acts intelligently? There is a difference, but the verb is the worst choice to make your case because it is either synonymous with the other two (why bother making the distinction?) or it suggests something caused to act with intelligence by something which actually is intelligent/has intelligence.

    If you’re going to waste time splitting hairs and telling me what I think, at least have a point and do so accurately.

  44. 44
    kairosfocus says:

    Muy interesante . . .

  45. 45
    ScottAndrews2 says:

    he big difference between the two is that human brains can simulate before they act – in other words they can choose between two options on the basis of the likely consequence of each.

    Is that really the big difference? What about that evolution must explore countless random possibilities before happening upon a beneficial one?

    If I’m locked out of my house, I might simulate in my mind throwing a rock through the window, knocking the door down, looking for an open window, and waiting five minutes for my wife to come home.

    If this process were anything that could be called darwinian I might also try running in circles pretending to be injured, standing on my head, poking my finger in my eye, and I might quite likely put my head through the window or kill myself before happening upon an effective solution.

    Evolution doesn’t narrow down to two or three choices. It has to try everything. That’s a much bigger difference. That’s one reason why intelligence is not the same as evolution. It’s almost as if we’re looking for reasons to use the word “Darwinian” where they have no application.

  46. 46
    Petrushka says:

    Biological evolotion is about the creation and spread of alleles, but evolution in the broader sense is about feedback steered change. The fact that you find my post bizarre just means you are unfamiliar with learning theory. I accept the possibly that my terminology might be flawed, but the concept is mainstream.

  47. 47
    lastyearon says:

    First of all, I apologize, Scott. It was not you, but Timaeus that made those remarks I was referring to. So this is to Timaeus (and you, since you responded)…

    No I mean a verb. Intelligence is the result of interaction of parts in a system (neurons in a brain, or organisms in an environment). When Elizabeth says “evolutionary processes form an intelligent system.” She is saying that the actionof the parts in the system is the intelligence. When Timaeus said this..

    But if you mean what is normally meant when we say that something displays “intelligence,” then to say that evolutionary processes form an intelligent system is to say that there is intelligence behind the evolutionary process. It is to imply that the evolutionary process is in some sense designed.

    I think he is not grasping that.

  48. 48
    Petrushka says:

    Variation doesn’t start at ground zero. It starts with what has been working. Solving any problem begins with what you already know. People locked out of their house will differ in the range and quality of their solutions due to their past experience.

  49. 49
    Timaeus says:

    Elizabeth:

    I think that your distinction between choice and intention is of no value for our purposes here. I doubt very much that Dembski would think of Darwinian processes (random mutation plus natural selection), or even an expanded set of evolutionary processes, to include “drift” and “horizontal gene transfer” and a bunch of other things, as having any power of “choice.” I think that he would reserve the word “choice” for a decision made by an intelligent entity, i.e., one possessing a mind, and he doesn’t believe that “nature” possesses a mind, and I don’t think you believe that, either.

    But even if Dembski would use the word “choice” as something that could be exercised by “nature” or by “evolutionary processes,” I certainly wouldn’t. For me, “choosing” involves a combination of intellect and volition which I would never impute to any set of evolutionary processes, any more than I would impute it to any set of chemical or geological or cosmic processes.

    “Evolutionary processes form an intelligent system” may seem clear to you, but it won’t be to a large number of people. How can a system be “intelligent”? A system can be intelligently designed, but a system, not having a mind, can’t possess an intelligence, and therefore cannot be intelligent, as the word is normally used.

    I would say the same about your phrase “learning systems.” To say that nature or evolutionary processes (or whatever is supposed to be the subject of “learning” in your view) can “learn” may seem to you to make a rough sense — learning by trial and error, I suppose, is what you have in mind for Darwinian processes, with natural selection pruning out the errors — but “learning” is normally associated with an agent who is doing the learning, and the agent is normally conceived of as a subject, an “I,” a mind. I don’t think you believe that nature or evolutionary processes have any “I” or self or mind that is capable of the subjective experience of learning as we normally understand the term.

    In short, I think you are using terms like “intelligence” and “choice” and “learning” ambiguously. The ambiguity could be deliberate, or it could be accidental. If accidental, I assume that you simply do not see how your language could confuse people. If deliberate, I assume you have some reason for wanting to blur the distinction between the action of unguided natural processes and the sort of thing ID people talk about when they talk about intelligence, intention, choice, etc. But I can’t imagine what that reason would be.

    T.

  50. 50

    Is that really the big difference? What about that evolution must explore countless random possibilities before happening upon a beneficial one?

    It’s the really important difference – because we can simulate, we can look ahead, and re-input what we see into the decision making process. This is the core of intentional behaviour.

    If I’m locked out of my house, I might simulate in my mind throwing a rock through the window, knocking the door down, looking for an open window, and waiting five minutes for my wife to come home.

    Exactly.

    If this process were anything that could be called darwinian I might also try running in circles pretending to be injured, standing on my head, poking my finger in my eye, and I might quite likely put my head through the window or kill myself before happening upon an effective solution.

    Yes indeed. However, you are confusing levels of analysis. The analog of you in evolution isn’t a single organism, but an entire population of organisms, just as your brain is an almost infinitely vaster population of possible connectivity patterns.

    In a population of organisms, many variants are incompatible with life, so they die out quickly, just as firing patterns that receive re-entrant input from your forward model that says “that won’t work” or “that might hurt” also fail to thrive. But in both cases, as Petrushka says, variants that appear will be closely related to previous variants. So a population of small, furry, seed eaters isn’t going to “try” being a large scaley seed eater, because that’s a huge distance from where it’s already at. Evolution “tries” neighbourhood solutions, as it were, just as you do.

    Evolution doesn’t narrow down to two or three choices. It has to try everything. </blockquote.

    No. It doesn't. The system is very conservative. Most offspring are very similar to their parents. In fact another consequence of our simulation ability is that we can try out weird combinations of things, and occasionally one works out. Evolution can't. It just sniffs around for what already works, and "tries" slight variants of it, keeping when they improve matters, and rejecting them when they don't.

    That’s a much bigger difference. That’s one reason why intelligence is not the same as evolution. It’s almost as if we’re looking for reasons to use the word “Darwinian” where they have no application.

    No, actually. The reason “neural Darwinism” is used is because it’s such a close fit to what actually happens in brains – what gives them their plasticity. “What fires together, wires together” is a closely related algorithm to “what breeds successfully will be replicated more often”.

    Firing patterns that lead to good results will tend to be replicated. Ones that don’t will go to what is actually called “extinction”. It’s the basis of Hebbian learning, and learning is a key component of intelligence.

    The really clever part, though, as I said, is the forward modelling. Evolution can’t do that, so it’s not as intelligent as we are. As is apparent from its relative lack of flexibility, and complete lack of “lateral thinking”.

  51. 51
    Petrushka says:

    What about that evolution must explore countless random possibilities before happening upon a beneficial one?

    Evolution always starts with a working solution. the population wouldn’t exist if it weren’t reasonably well adapted to current conditions. The exploration of new solutions always hovers around a working solution.

    Thinking about problems also hovers around current working solutions. (Why else would people need to be told to “think outside the box? Trying ideas that are not conventional is counterintuitive and often costly in terms of time.)

  52. 52
    lastyearon says:

    Timaeus,
    Your reductionism is interfering with your ability to understand her argument, and it’s leading you to circular reasoning.

    I think that [Dembski] would reserve the word “choice” for a decision made by an intelligent entity, i.e., one possessing a mind,

    But to a materialist, a mind is a bunch of stuff doing complicated things, and it’s much more than the sum of its parts. And our biological system is in some ways equivalent.

    For me, “choosing” involves a combination of intellect and volition which I would never impute to any set of evolutionary processes, any more than I would impute it to any set of chemical or geological or cosmic processes.

    So intelligence is supernatural in your opinion? Then in that case evolution is clearly not intelligent.

    A system can be intelligently designed, but a system, not having a mind, can’t possess an intelligence,

    Again, what if the system is a mind? If you shrunk yourself down to the size of a cell and traveled through a living brain, you would be just as incredulous that the stuff around you was intelligent.

    but “learning” is normally associated with an agent who is doing the learning, and the agent is normally conceived of as a subject, an “I,” a mind.

    This is just a lack of imagination on your part.

    In short, I think you are using terms like “intelligence” and “choice” and “learning” ambiguously.

    No. You are just not understanding the argument because your stuck in a reductionist vitalist framework.

  53. 53
    Neil Rickert says:

    But Jerry Coyne says James Shapiro is “heterodox”, so clearly one of them doesn’t understand evolution either.

    Clearly, Shapiro is heterodox.

    So what? Science is not a religion. Disagreement is a tradition within science.

    He’s under no obligation to address this personally, but it causes severe problems for materialist, ateleological, views on both OOL and evolution.

    I suspect Shapiro would deny that is view is ateleological. He seems to see purpose at work. But it is an entirely natural purpose within biological systems.

  54. 54
    Timaeus says:

    lastyearon (4.2.3.2.4):

    I never said anything that was the slightest bit “reductionist.” Either you are misunderstanding what I am saying, or you’re misusing the term “reductionism.” (And in a worse way than Elizabeth is misusing “intelligent.” At least one can imagine her usage as a logical extension of normal usage, even if the result is ambiguous and therefore to be avoided. But your usage of “reductionist” to characterize my remarks is out in left field.)

    On another point, take a look at your third paragraph. How did you get from my understanding of “choice” as involving “intellect and volition” to “intelligence is supernatural”? Wouldn’t you say that you’ve missed one or two steps in your exposition?

    Your fourth paragraph confuses “mind” with “brain.” Have a look at the writings of neurologist Mario Beauregard and pediatric brain surgeon Michael Egnor.

    My definition of “learning” does not proceed from “lack of imagination” on my part, but out of respect for the everyday usage of words, which is generally sane and should be maintained unless there is strong reason to depart from it. I’m an Aristotelian in that respect.

    (I already granted the crude analogy between learning and the evolutionary process that Elizabeth was indicating, so there is no failure of imagination on my point; it’s just that the analogy misleads more than it helps — at least in the current discussion — as you can see, by the fact that so many are challenging Elizabeth’s expressions.)

    “Reductionist vitalist framework?” Yet another misuse of terms! Vitalism is inherently opposed to reductionism. Sheesh! I don’t think even Wikipedia (the lazy man’s source used by most Darwinists, so they won’t have to read proper scholarly books on philosophy, theology and history) would make a blunder like that. Where are you getting your philosophical terminology from?

    T.

  55. 55
    ScottAndrews2 says:

    This is really quite simple. If intelligence is an iterative process like evolution then take an intelligent act you’ve performed, like typing a post, and show how it even begins to relate to an incremental set of changes, random variation and selection, from any starting point.

    We can add the word “darwinian” to anything, but any relationship between intelligent problem-solving and darwinian evolution is contrived at best. They are night and day. It’s as if credibility can be lent to darwinism by placing an observed process, however radically different, under its label.

  56. 56

    Elizabeth:

    I think that your distinction between choice and intention is of no value for our purposes here. I doubt very much that Dembski would think of Darwinian processes (random mutation plus natural selection), or even an expanded set of evolutionary processes, to include “drift” and “horizontal gene transfer” and a bunch of other things, as having any power of “choice.”

    I’m sure he wouldn’t. Nonetheless, he attempted a rigorous definition, and apparently forgot that “choose” and “select” are synonyms. He also specifically ruled out consideration of “intention”.

    And that’s my point: yes, things “look designed by intelligence”, where “intelligence” is defined as Dembski defines it. That’s because they are designed by intelligence as Demski defines it. Dembski is absolutely correct when he says that living things look as though they have been designed by something “with the power and capacity to choose [select] between options”. That’s exactly what evolutionary processes have the power to do. They don’t have the power to look ahead, but you don’t actually need that to design something that serves a function – you just need to incrementally adapt what you’ve already got.

    I think that he would reserve the word “choice” for a decision made by an intelligent entity, i.e., one possessing a mind, and he doesn’t believe that “nature” possesses a mind, and I don’t think you believe that, either.

    Yes, I’m sure when he wrote that definition he had in mind something with a mind. But he ommitted to notice that the properties he (correctly) specified that an “intelligent agent” must have in order to produce Complex Specified Information are possessed by systems without minds. And systems without minds – specifically evolutionary processes, are capable of choosing between options, and do. That’s why we actually use them for designing things (GAs).

    But even if Dembski would use the word “choice” as something that could be exercised by “nature” or by “evolutionary processes,” I certainly wouldn’t. For me, “choosing” involves a combination of intellect and volition which I would never impute to any set of evolutionary processes, any more than I would impute it to any set of chemical or geological or cosmic processes.

    And I’m sure Dembski would agree with you. But you’d both be wrong. And where Dembski was absolutely correct was in noting that the key property necessary to produce CSI is the ability to “choose [select] between options”. That’s where the information comes from. But it doesn’t have to be intentional choice [selection]. The reason natural selection (which could just as well have been called “natural choice” works is because it is a choosing system. Except that instead of the choosing being done by humans (as in the case of artificial selection) the choosing is done, in effect, by the environment – instead of long dogs being chosen because they can go down tunnels, long ferrets are “chosen” because longer ferrets go better down tunnels, and thus catch more mice, live longer, and produce more offspring.

    Doesn’t matter whether the chooser is a human or the environment itself – what matters is that a choice is made. If you have a choosing system, you will get CSI. That’s why living things exhibit it. He was right.

    “Evolutionary processes form an intelligent system” may seem clear to you, but it won’t be to a large number of people. How can a system be “intelligent”? A system can be intelligently designed, but a system, not having a mind, can’t possess an intelligence, and therefore cannot be intelligent, as the word is normally used.

    A system can be a mind. That’s exactly, IMO, what minds are, in my view. Organisms with brains are systems, and those systems form a mind. The mind is not a thing added to the system – a mind is the name we give to an intelligent system – at least to the particularly intelligent system we call human beings.

    I would say the same about your phrase “learning systems.” To say that nature or evolutionary processes (or whatever is supposed to be the subject of “learning” in your view) can “learn” may seem to you to make a rough sense — learning by trial and error, I suppose, is what you have in mind for Darwinian processes, with natural selection pruning out the errors — but “learning” is normally associated with an agent who is doing the learning,

    Yes indeed. And in this case, the “agent” is the population. Populations “learn” what works. The reason I insist on this model is that, interestingly, learning models (Hebbian learning, Pavlovian learning, Skinnerian learning) can be modeled mathematically as Darwinian algorithms. Now, we wouldn’t, I agree, normally say that a population “learns” to survive in a changing environment, but what it does is so closely analogous to what humans do when they learn that you can use the same algorithm to model it. So at some essential level, whatever word we use, there is a profound similarity.

    and the agent is normally conceived of as a subject, an “I,” a mind. I don’t think you believe that nature or evolutionary processes have any “I” or self or mind that is capable of the subjective experience of learning as we normally understand the term.

    No, I don’t. That’s because I think, as I said, that it actually doesn’t make a lot of sense to talk about “intelligence” without considering intention even though Dembski (wrongly) ruled it out of consideration, regarding it as not a proper suject for scientific enquiry. It most certainly is. I certainly do not claim that evolution is an intentional system, but I do not think it has to be to produce CSI (and nor, apparently, did Dembski, he just seemed to think that if it was intelligent, as he defined it, it would, necessarily have to be intentional).

    And I think it is only when we bring in an intentional process, i.e. a forward modelling process, in a system, that we can even start to think of agency at all, but once we do, then by the same token, we can also think of ourselves as agents – to have a coherent referent for the word “I”. I do not think evolutionary processes have an “I”.

    In short, I think you are using terms like “intelligence” and “choice” and “learning” ambiguously. The ambiguity could be deliberate, or it could be accidental.

    It is neither. I’m pointing out that the word, as defined literally by Dembski, both makes his point AND shows how evolutionary processes can produce what looks like the products of intelligence as normally defined. With the exception of the ability to intend, and thus without foresight.

    Which is, literally, for once, the exception that “proves the rule” because organisms, though finely designed, show obvious signs of being designed without foresight, exactly as you would expect. That’s why the phenotypic hierarchies are so rigorously nested, whereas the phenotypic hierarchies of the products of intentional design (ours) show frequent violations.

    If accidental, I assume that you simply do not see how your language could confuse people. If deliberate, I assume you have some reason for wanting to blur the distinction between the action of unguided natural processes and the sort of thing ID people talk about when they talk about intelligence, intention, choice, etc. But I can’t imagine what that reason would be.

    Nor can I. That’s because there isn’t one, because it isn’t what I am doing. What I’m doing (or attempting to do) is to demonstrate that the commonality between human intelligence and evolutionary process is something that not only is like intelligence itself, except for the forward modelling (intentional) component, but is actually the aspect of intelligence singled out by Dembski as the relevant property of “intelligence” for the purposes of considering the origins of CSI.

  57. 57
    ScottAndrews2 says:

    I see what you mean. But if we want to express a verb we must use a verb. Rather than using “intelligence” as a verb we might say that the parts of the system behave intelligently or act with intelligence. Then there’s a verb.

    But to say that something is intelligent and to say that something acts intelligently are almost the same, are they not? The only exception I can think of is when something – a chess program, for example – acts intelligently, when it is actually unintelligent, acting out the instructions of its intelligent designer.

    So I’m not sure how expressing it as a verb changes anything. A thing is either intelligent or it is not.

    Deciding whether to label evolution as intelligent seems irrelevant. If darwinian evolution can start with a cell and billions of years later produce a frog, then it’s a genius as far as I’m concerned. I guess it’s more intelligent than I am.

    But there’s no evidence that it can do that. Deciding whether the process, if it does what someone thinks it could do, would be intelligent seems irrelevant. Whether or not it can do it is relevant.

  58. 58

    This is really quite simple. If intelligence is an iterative process like evolution then take an intelligent act you’ve performed, like typing a post, and show how it even begins to relate to an incremental set of changes, random variation and selection, from any starting point.

    That’s exactly the kind of thing I do in my work (although generally not with anything as complex as typing a post). Interestingly, it turns out that the random component is extremely important for both learning and decision-making, because without a source of variance, behaviour becomes stereotypical, and uncreative. Which is not to say that the output (selected action) is arbitrary – but in order to sample a rich “solution space”, a certain amount of randomness seems to be necessary. Which is just as well, as our perceptual systems are necessarily noisy!

    We can add the word “darwinian” to anything, but any relationship between intelligent problem-solving and darwinian evolution is contrived at best. They are night and day. It’s as if credibility can be lent to darwinism by placing an observed process, however radically different, under its label.

    No, not at all. Obvioiusly you can only usefully use the adjective “darwinian” if what you are describing involves heritable variance in reproductive (or, in this case replicative) success. Which is exactly how Hebbian learning works, as does, it seems, decision-making.

  59. 59
    Upright BiPed says:

    Dr Liddle,

    I do not wish to enter the conversation between you and Timaeus, but only to offer a reminder.

    …must have in order to produce Complex Specified Information are possessed by systems without minds.

    You and I began a conversation many months ago over this very topic, in which you envisioned a untenable definition of the word “information”. The result of that conversation was that you had to retract your claim that you could simulate the rise of “information” as it is properly defined. If you’ll remember, information transfer creates observable physical entailments which must be satisfied in order for it to be actually confirmed to exist. Your own retraction, along an inability to produce evidence from any other researcher, suggests that evolutionary processes are not known to be capable of creating these physical requirements. Instead, evolution can only be shown to manipulate information that already exist.

    Consequently, (setting aside the issue of mind) your comment above must be qualified.

  60. 60
    lastyearon says:

    I never said anything that was the slightest bit “reductionist.” Either you are misunderstanding what I am saying, or you’re misusing the term “reductionism.”

    It seems from your writing that you don’t think that intelligence (real intelligence, not mimicry of it) can arise solely from a system consisting of interacting parts. And therefore you cannot see how evolution could be intelligent. So when Elizabeth mentioned that evolution displays intelligence, in that it has the ability to “choose”, you said this…

    How can a system be “intelligent”? A system can be intelligently designed, but a system, not having a mind, can’t possess an intelligence

    This strikes me as reductionist thinking. One of the definitions from Wikipedia:

    a philosophical position that a complex system is nothing but the sum of its parts, and that an account of it can be reduced to accounts of individual constituents

    I don’t believe one can explain the emergence of true intelligence from a system using a reductionist framework, since the system is “just” the sum of its parts.

    How did you get from my understanding of “choice” as involving “intellect and volition” to “intelligence is supernatural”? Wouldn’t you say that you’ve missed one or two steps in your exposition?

    Because you also said you wouldn’t impute intelligence to “any set of chemical or geological or cosmic processes”. What other natural processes are there?

    My definition of “learning” does not proceed from “lack of imagination” on my part,

    Well, just because we normally think of learning as a characteristic of human beings, doesn’t mean that other systems can’t learn, in much the same sense that we do. That’s what I was referring to as your lack of imagination.

  61. 61
    lastyearon says:

    Thanks for the reply, Scott,

    Rather than using “intelligence” as a verb we might say that the parts of the system behave intelligently or act with intelligence. Then there’s a verb.

    But the parts of the system don’t act intelligently. They just act, and out of that emerges intelligence. That’s why I was referring to intelligence as a verb. Intelligent is an emergent property of things doing things (acting).

  62. 62

    In the context of that post, UBP, I am using “CSI” as defined by Dembski in the relevant paper.

    I should have given the link. Here it is:

    http://www.arn.org/docs/dembski/wd_idtheory.htm

  63. 63

    “as it is properly defined”

    No – as it was defined by you in that context.

    There is no “proper” definition of words, there are simply usages.

    That is why operational definitions are so important.

  64. 64
    ScottAndrews2 says:

    LYO,

    If that were the case I wouldn’t split hairs disputing it. But there’s no indication of any property of intelligence emerging from them, any more than it emerges from an arrangement of letters, words, and sentences.

    Let’s agree that if darwinian evolution did, in fact, “invent” the frog, then it is intelligent. Or the property of intelligence has emerged from the molecules which formed the cells which formed the frogs. You word it and I’ll agree with it.

    But agreeing on what we could call it if it were true doesn’t have any bearing on whether or not it is.

  65. 65

    Scott, are you saying that brains are not responsible for intelligence?

    Or would you not count the brain as a system?

  66. 66
    ScottAndrews2 says:

    It’s rather evident that the neurons in the brain do form a system which behaves intelligently. Organisms in an environment? Yes, if you’re talking about people.

    Organisms in the environment at times appear intelligently arranged. That is not the same as being intelligent, just as the words of a book are intelligently arranged but not themselves intelligent.

    This is a drawn-out form of question-begging. First show that darwinian evolution has accomplished something that could be compared to intelligence, and then the discussion of what to call it will be more relevant and interesting.

  67. 67
    Timaeus says:

    lastyearon:

    Here is what I wrote:

    ‘For me, “choosing” involves a combination of intellect and volition which I would never impute to any set of evolutionary processes, any more than I would impute it to any set of chemical or geological or cosmic processes.’

    First, it was “choosing” (a combination of intellect and volition), not “intelligence” by itself, that I was speaking about here, so you didn’t read carefully; but as it happens, I would say the same thing about intelligence, so you’re off the hook on that point.

    Second, there are other natural processes. There are biological processes, many of which aren’t connected specifically with evolution. For example, cell division. But of course, I wouldn’t grant that most of those involve choice, either. On the other hand, what about a beaver building a dam? There is a biological process, which may very well, for all I know, involve a number of genuine choices — where and when to build the dam, what lengths of tree to use, etc. There is nothing supernatural about dam-building. So your leap from “intellect and volition” to “supernatural” is unwarranted, on the strength of such examples; but even if I couldn’t think of any examples offhand, there is no direct *logical* link between “intellect and volition” and “the supernatural,” so it was poor argumentation for you to make the leap without explaining. You shouldn’t make your conversation partner do your expository work for you.

    Regarding “learning”: I understand perfectly well the analogy you and Elizabeth are making, and I already said that I saw the parallel. The point is about the usage of words. I’m unwilling to use the word “learn” where the subjective aspect is lacking. Where there is no “I,” no “self,” there is no learning in the strict sense. You might as well say that a river “learns” not to try to bore through a hard boulder on its way down the mountain to the sea, because that hard boulder won’t let it through, and so “learns” to wend around the rock and flow through the soft earth intead. If you choose to use “learn” in such a sense, I cannot stop you; but to make sure I am not misunderstanding you, I am going to have to question you to ask you what you mean. It would be more efficient if you would simply use the word “learn” as it (with its corresponding terms in other lands) has been used in the overwhelming majority of cases in Latin, Greek, French, Italian, German, etc., for thousands of years. Perhaps “adapt” or some other verb would serve to express your meaning without confusing me and others by imputing subjectivity to a process where there is none.

    On reductionism, I don’t know any ID proponent who would say that living things can be reduced to the sum of their parts. Indeed, that is the whole point of ID, that there is something “holistic” about living things — they originate in a vision of the whole which is greater than the parts used to achieve the whole. Darwinian thinking, on the other hand, explicitly denies that anything greater than the parts is ever necessary to achieve even the most exquisitely complex wholes. Origin-of-life research is the same: its whole point is to reduce the living to the non-living, and to show that the organic can emerge from the inorganic by steps that are wholly mechanical — entirely in accord with contingent combinations and physical-chemical laws, with zero left over that needs explaining. I suspect that you have read very little ID literature, or you would not be saying such things about what ID people believe.

    The definition that you got from Wikipedia captures some aspects of reductionism. Where you went wrong was in imputing that definition to me and to ID people. Was it also from Wikipedia that you got the idea that vitalism was a form of reductionism? This is the problem when philosophically untrained people try to make up for years of non-reading of philosophical literature by doing quickie look-ups on the internet. They have no ability to discern between reliable and unreliable information. Indeed, this the problem with internet debating generally; the mass of information out there makes it ever more possible for people to try to fake it, because they can look things up very quickly, and give the impression of massive erudition, but while one can look things up very quickly, one can’t understand things very quickly, especially terms like “vitalism” which have a complex history. Those of us who have studied the history of scientific and philosophical concepts for decades get a wee bit irritated when people who invest five minutes learning something are ready to argue about it vigorously, as if they are peers of those who have studied the subject for a thousand times longer.

    T.

  68. 68
    Upright BiPed says:

    Dr Liddle,

    As I said, I do not intend on entering this conversation, but your demonstrated lack of integrity forces a clarification.

    The physical phenomenon of information transfer was coherently described to you. That description was based entirely upon material observations. Over the course of months, and literally tens of thousands of words, you were unable to demonstrate a shortcoming in that description. You remain unable to this very day.

    Yet, here you are, again, wanting to imply that your failure was somehow tied to the description, when in fact, your issue was with the material evidence – and only the material evidence.

    You were wrong Elizabeth, flat out wrong.

    You are free to keep kicking the can down the road, but each time you do, you can do nothing but further demonstrate that material evidence is subservient to your ideology.

  69. 69
    Petrushka says:

    Are you ever going to answer my question as to whether your argument concerns the origin of life? Yes or no?

  70. 70
    Timaeus says:

    Elizabeth (4.2.3.2.5):

    I don’t want to extend this conversation very long, as it seems that we are agreeing on the substance and disagreeing mainly over the application of terms.

    I couldn’t find, either in the column above, or in the opinion piece to which it is linked, where Dembski uses the words “choice,” “choose,” or “intention.” You must be getting the definition attributed to Dembski from some other place.

    However, it seems to me that you are being “dictionaryish” in making a big deal out of the fact that “choose” and “select” can be synonyms. Yes, they can be. But “selection” in Darwinian theory is rather a special case. Darwin chose the metaphor of “selection” because he wanted to parallel the development of new breeds and the development of new species (see Chapters 1 and 2 of the *Origin*). He saw nature as capable of doing over a long period of time what breeders could do over short periods of time. In that sense, nature was like a breeder. So I’m not denying the force of your parallel, or Darwin’s. But note that Darwin many times pointed out that the language of selection was anthropomorphic and not to be taken literally; “Nature” was not a personal being who “selected” or “chose” anything, as breeders are and do. And when many critics seized upon the anthropomorphic language in Darwin’s evolutionary scheme (see the biography by Desmond and Moore), Darwin saw the advantages of replacing “natural selection” by Spencer’s suggestion of “survival of the fittest.” The latter phrase captured the truth of natural selection while eliminating any possible misunderstanding that any literal “choosing” was going on.

    That certain mathematical models, embodied in computer programs, may illuminate certain aspects of human choosing or selecting, I do not deny. But they do not capture the subjective aspect of choosing or selecting, and from the human point of view (and possibly also from the animal point of view, though it is hard to place ourselves inside the mind of animals), the subjective aspect is central.

    But let’s come back to intelligence. The primary use of the word “intelligent” is with reference to people, or to creatures that strike us as in crucial respect like people — e.g., apes, aliens from science fiction stories, angels, etc. We say that someone is intelligent, or that apes are intelligent, etc. When one says that a system is intelligent, the listener or reader has to adjust, and internally say something to himself such as: “This person does not mean that the system thinks, feels, has a soul, has a mind, has a sense of self, or has a mental quality called “intelligence”; this person means either that the system works as if it were intelligently designed to perform a certain function, or that this system resembles a human being in that it produces results that we would expect of a living creature that is intelligent.” And under normal circumstances I would gladly make such an adjustment to a reasonable extension of the meaning of a word. But in the context of the current discussion, the usage of “intelligent” came across as blurring crucial differences between ID and Darwinian notions. And as you know from our discussion of the term “Darwinian” and its (significantly misleading) application to Shapiro and Margulis, I’m always concerned to make sure that crucial distinctions aren’t blurred.

    Notice that I haven’t contested the substance of your claim, i.e., that Darwinian mechanisms can mimic intelligence as thoroughly as you (and Dawkins, and most evolutionary biologists) claim that they can. I of course have severe doubts about that. But my point had nothing to do with those doubts. If I thought that pure Darwinian or neo-Darwinian evolution were the complete truth about the origin of species, I still would not speak of evolutionary processes as “choosing” anything, or as “intelligent.” I understand the use of such metaphors, but I think it is better for the most part to choose different words. That’s all I will say here.

    T.

  71. 71
    gpuccio says:

    Timaeus:

    I fully agree with you. Thank you for the clarity about these fundamental points 🙂

    The recycling of terms that have always been used to describe fundamental subjective experiences to artificial and very “ad hoc” aspects of objective systems is a widespread “trick” that generates confusion in the discussion about consciousness, function, free will and so on.

    There is only one simple truth about those points: words like “meaning”, “purpose”, “intelligence”, “function”, “motive”, “pleasure”, “pain”, “joy”, “suffering”, “truth”, and many others, cannot be even defined without any reference to subjective experiences to which each of us has direct access in his own conscious experience. They just describe what we experience, and not an objective configuration of objects. If materialists only had the cognitive coherence not to “invent” new and useless “meanings” for words and concepts that have a very definite meaning of themselves, then many intellectual “frauds”, like compatibilism, would immediately cease to have any reason to exist.

    And yes, I have just said that compatibilism is an intellectual fraud, and I repeat it, and whoever wants to take offense is free to take offense.

  72. 72

    I’m not offended, gpuccio, but I profoundly disagree 🙂

    BTW Could I possibly ask you to give me that link again? I’ve gone and mislaid it.

  73. 73
    Eugene S says:

    I think it is useful, following Abel, to distinguish between selection of existing function and selection for potential function. While the first can be done by agents or physicality, selection for potential function is exclusively agent-based. When we have ‘automatic’ selection by physicality, it is purely eliminative and can therefore lead to nothing genuinely new functionally.

  74. 74
    Eugene S says:

    Wow! How can you ever prove it does and stay scientific?

  75. 75
    Jon Garvey says:

    “But it is an entirely natural purpose within biological systems.”

    It’s not clear what you think Shapiro is denying. But I’m even less clear what “natural purpose” means. Whatver it means, it’s not “random with regard to fitness” is it?

  76. 76
    Jon Garvey says:

    I agree johnnyb – if Shapiro’s evidence and views are valid, then as Carl Woese said, it’s a game changer. Why should the self-organisation not include irreducible complexity?

    But then, as I’ve already said, you still have to explain how the ability to exercise “natural purpose” (or I guess you’d have to call it “the illusion of purpose”) arose without purpose.

  77. 77
  78. 78

    Upright BiPed, if you don’t intend entering the conversation then don’t.

    If you do enter it, then, if you want a response, please stop impugning my integrity. You are perfectly smart enough to understand that when two people fail to understand each other, it is not necessarily because one of them lacks integrity.

    I freely conceded that I could not make good on your challenge. My original claim assumed a different definition of information from the one you have asked me to use.

    I hoped we could clarify it sufficiently to make it possible for me to attempt to rise to it (although I never claimed confidence that I could).

    We failed to reach a mutual understanding, so I withdrew my challenge.

    The failure reflects neither lack of integrity on my part nor, necessarily, error on yours. It does reflect failure in communication.

    I do not see a solution, so there we must leave it.

  79. 79
    Upright BiPed says:

    Dr Liddle,

    Your strategy of cloaking the issue in a fog has been noted by myself and others. It is a recurrent theme where you are concerned to cling to “miscommunication” as a defense.

    I first noticed your use of this tactic in our previous discussions, where we systematically took the issues being discussed one material step at a time over several months. At that time I began repeating back to you quotes from your own posts, showing where you clearly understood the issues at hand. Of course, repeating your words back to you had no effect whatsoever on your use of the tactic, and still doesn’t to this day. By “no effect” I mean that the charade is so blatant that you will complain of a “miscommunication”, then I will repeat back your own words indicating you understood completely, and you will then simply (without missing a beat) return to “miscommunication” as a defense. I have often wondered if persons on this board who refuse to interact with you, are not refusing for that specific reason – as it becomes cumulatively frustrating to deal with someone who practices such deception (even when their polite about it, and perhaps even more so). In any case, one would have to believe that when you characterized my definition of information as being “more defensible” than other ID proponents, you were complimenting a definition that you claim you didn’t understand. For a scientist, a mature investigator, that just doesn’t pass the smell test, let alone the direct quotes to the contrary.

    I remember back in the 1980s, there was a communicator/psychotherapist named John Bradshaw who wrote several books on human behavior, selling several million copies (as I recall). The Public Broadcasting System even picked up his work and produced several highly-rated multi-part documentaries of his works, which is how I became acquainted with him (being in the media). In one of his books, Bradshaw talked about the meanings of words in different languages, and commented that the English language was somewhat compromised because it only had a single commonly-used word for “shame”, whereas other languages had multiple examples for various meanings. For instance, there is the sense of shame, where a person has done something wrong (crossed a ethical or moral boundary for instance) and is externally shamed as a means of correcting the behavior. Another sense of shame is more of a internal protective emotion, where a person has a healthy sense of shame, and does not jump off buildings while thinking he has the capacity to fly. Other senses of the word follow thereafter. In any case, I bring this up only because when I read your post this morning (even after becoming well acquainted with your tactics) I was simply dumbfounded not only by your sheer lack of shame, but the incredible sense of sincerity you are able to muster in the defense of it.

    It is not I that impugns your integrity Dr Liddle, your own words do that themselves. This little spat between us is not about two people who have misunderstood each other, its about your position being totally undermined by the physical evidence, and your complete failure as an empiricist to own up to it (as in, alter your perceptions based upon the physical evidence). And you did not “freely concede” that you couldn’t demonstrate the rise of information. I cannot even begin motivate the Berlinski-esque level of dismay/contempt appropriate for that statement. Your concession was more akin to pulling every tooth in your mouth with a spoon, as evidenced by your poor choice to portray it otherwise.

    In the cause of defending yourself, you’ve entirely lost the real value of the challenge. You see, if you had been able to actually produce the rise of information, that would have had a profound impact on me (and maybe others as well). It would have shown that recorded information really can emerge from unguided material processes, and it would have stood in stark contrast to every other instance of information transfer ever observed, by anyone, anywhere. In other words, the challenge (as in, the competition between two persons) is of little concern – it was the evidence that would have been profound. Yet (as you have very clearly demonstrated) the complete lack of evidence – and more importantly, the physical reasons for it – doesn’t effect you in the least. You have no intentions of integrating that knowledge whatsoever.

    So you cover up this glaring problem with ridiculous comments like this: “We failed to reach a mutual understanding, so I withdrew my challenge” which is nothing but pure unadulterated cow squeeze. You withdrew because the observed physical entailments of information transfer is beyond even a conceptual unguided process, and you know it.

  80. 80

    Your strategy of cloaking the issue in a fog has been noted by myself and others.

    It may have been “noted”, but it that doesn’t make those observations accurate. I don’t have a “strategy” of “cloaking” anything. On the contrary, my “strategy” is to attempt to make all relevant matters absolutely explicit.

    Please stop impugning my integrity. As I’ve said, I will not discuss anything with you unless you are prepared to do me the basic courtesy (which I extend to you) of assuming that I am posting in good faith.

  81. 81

    As for the rest of your post, which I have now glanced at, it is pure cow squeeze (to use your colourful term).

  82. 82
    lastyearon says:

    Your so wrong, and so unaware you could be wrong, that any further discussion is hopeless.

  83. 83
    Timaeus says:

    lastyearon (8.1.1.2):

    Funny; I feel the same way about discussion with you. But before you go, maybe you could explain to me the syntax of “Your so wrong.” And maybe, after taking the time to learn what “vitalism” means, you could concede that you used the term erroneously, and promise never to misuse it again. (I would like to believe that all my efforts weren’t completely wasted, and that I taught you at least one thing, however small.)

    T.

  84. 84
    Upright BiPed says:

    Well Dr Liddle, there is one thing we can both be certain of; tomorrow the material evidence of information transfer will still be there, as will the documentation on UD of our extended conversation.

  85. 85

    Indeed it will, Upright BiPed.

    Although I am bemused by your apparent implication that I do not think that information transfer occurs (presumably you mean, within and between organisms).

    Just goes to show how little we managed to communicate to each other.

  86. 86
    Upright BiPed says:

    You invented that out of thin air; completely divorced from anything whatsoever exchanged in our conversation. I have never once suggested (even for a moment) that you don’t think information transfer takes place; as the entire challenge was based upon the transfer of information. If you’ll remember, it was the transfer of information which was the only operational method of confirming its existence and would validate your simulation (if you should be successful in creating it).

    I actually had to read your post again just to be certain you used those words in that sentence. It is simply baffling.

    Such a suggestion would make our entire conversation moot, so I can’t even imagine why you would say such a thing, except as a last attempt at grist for the mill.

  87. 87

    Good. In that case I misunderstood your last post.

    We agree then: information is transferred.

    And we shall probably continue to baffle each other.

    Peace

    Lizzie

  88. 88
    Upright BiPed says:

    Elizabeth Liddle, May 2011

    Well, my position is that IDists have failed to demonstrate that what they consider the signature of intentional design is not also the signature of Darwinian evolutionary processes.

    Elizabeth Liddle, June 2011

    All I am proposing to demonstrate is that Information (recorded Information, even symbolic information, as I think we now mutually understand it) can arise from a non-intelligent source.

    Elizabeth Liddle, July 2011

    I made the counter-claim that I could demonstrate that Chance and Necessity could indeed generate information, for any regular English usage of the word information … So what are candidate definitions? … Clearly, nobody is making the claim for Shannon entropy … However, Upright BiPed suggested something that in my view is much more interesting … This makes a lot more sense to me, as I’ve said … This definition invokes not only a pattern but some form of transmission protocol … the mapping has to be achieved via some kind of inert arbitrary intermediary (as is done by tRNA in mapping an RNA codon to an amino acid) … and so the the ID claim I aim to refute becomes: Chance and Necessity cannot generate information, where information consists of arrangements of something that produce specific functional effects by means of inert intermediary patterns.

    Again, there is no misunderstanding between us. All of your protests of me on this thread was nothing more than to gloss over the obvious. Did we have a contentious back and forth? Sure we did. If you were going to simulate a falsification of ID, then I was going to push for it be valid. But, as I have already stated, your issue is with the material evidence, not with me.

    An IDist “demonstrated what they consider the signature of intentional design” and you were unable to demonstrate that it “is not also the signature of Darwinian evolutionary processes.”

    Which by the way, this statement is one which you were asked repeatedly to retract given the outcome – and yet you have refused to do so, even given that outcome.

  89. 89
    RichardMorgan says:

    Timaeus : You say, ““learning” is normally associated with an agent who is doing the learning, and the agent is normally conceived of as a subject, an “I,” a mind.”
    and
    “That certain mathematical models, embodied in computer programs, may illuminate certain aspects of human choosing or selecting, I do not deny. But they do not capture the subjective aspect of choosing or selecting, and from the human point of view (and possibly also from the animal point of view, though it is hard to place ourselves inside the mind of animals), the subjective aspect is central.”
    René Descartes said, “Cogito ergo sum.”

    Indeed, we perceive that which is outside of ourselves in the light of, and uniquely in the light of that which is within. (Forgive me for stating that which is obvious to you, cher Timaeus. To many, it will be novel and/or repugnant.)
    When we observe structures or patterns that resemble those which allow us to function as human beings, we conclude, “A-ha! A human-like (intelligent) characteristic! Bonnie Bassler’s cells really are smart!”
    Now here’s the rub : as a general rule, when we recognize design or teleology, we are correct often enough that our survival is not jeopardized. But we can also be wrong in a non-life-threatening way. (Crocodile or log?)
    No matter.Survival is all.
    But is the survival imperative the result of a conscious choice? Does it sometimes appear to be a purposeful choice?
    To the materialist neo-Darwinist, survival just happens because it accidentally started happening one day and became the frozen chemical accident. (I recently tried that reasoning with the man from the IRS. It didn’t work. I had to pay.)
    Let’s face it, if survivability was intelligently designed, in spite of the fact that it appears to be a very hit’n’miss process (“Why is it that every time I look for something I’ve lost, I always find it in the LAST place I look?) it appears to be successful. Life still continues in spite of plate tectonics, ice ages and Walmart. Is this success a clear sign of intelligent design?
    Is my capacity to “recognize” and impute intentionality to the vast scheme of things just another survival mechanism?

    Timaeus, we need you to share more light on these issues.

    Dawkins says, “Reverse engineering has removed the need for God.”
    Wordsworth said, “We murder to dissect.”
    My postman (a very smart guy who operates a quantum delivery service – both my neighbour AND I receive my mail) said, “Merde!”

    What I’m saying, Timaeus, in a word, is, “Help!”

    (PS. I’m a 65 year-old Welshman living in the south of France, and a recent convert to Catholicism. Little, or none, of that will be apparent from my post.)

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