Posted tagged ‘ID predictions’

Causation without “naturalism” or “materialism”

November 14, 2008

Paley, of course, is to blame for not framing his arguments more tightly.  DBB, 213

Uh, yeah, Behe, then why have you backed away from all of the positive evidence that Paley adduced as being the effect of a mind similar to our own? That Paley lacked tightness of argumentation and exactness of fit between cause and effect I do not doubt, but it is the fact that Paley posited meaningful causation (that is, a mind similar to our own), which Behe completely fails to do, just as the “theories of origin” that Paley rightly criticized failed to do.  The reason glares out at us, of course, which is that evolution explains what we see in life, and design has nothing to explain the slavish copying evident in life, except that, wherever lineages break from each other, there is no commonality of “authorship” in any of the subsequent modifications.  The patterns are evolutionary, and unlike any design causation that we have ever observed.

The childishness, as well as the vacuousness, of ID is transparent whenever they whine about science’s devotion to “naturalism” or to “materialism”.  For, the fact of the matter is that mental causation was understood well before any “naturalistic” or “material” causes were known, and yet we still understand mental causes more commonly according to “non-natural” and “non-material” models than we do according to physics.  Most of the science-oriented types do not doubt that the brain operates according to physics, of course–and for very good reasons, especially the conservation laws, and small-scale cause and effect observations.  Yet we do not hesitate to understand causation outside of precise scientific understandings of the processes underlying our “theories of mind.”

This is all that we demand, all that we have ever demanded.  Let’s let Paley say so once again:

When we speak of an artificer or an architect, we talk of what is comprehensible to our understanding, and familiar to our experience.  We use no other terms, than what refer us for their meaning to our consciousness and observation; what express the constant objects of both; whereas names, like that we have mentioned, refer us to nothing; excite no idea; convey a sound to the ear, but I think do no more.  Natural Theology

How “design” means anything in the passage below I cannot say:

Features that strike us as odd in a design might have been placed there by the designer for a reason–for artistic reasons, for variety, to show off, for some as-yet-undetected practical purpose, or for some unguessable reason–or they might not.  DBB, 223

Yes, that’s why it’s called “design,” not “art.”  Paley was serious about design, which is why he discussed artificers and architects.  Darwin was also serious about design, which is why he noted that life does not look like anything we get from artificers and architects, but rather more like something that reproduced, faithfully for the most part, but with variations which were selected.

Partly I have been recapitulating the earlier, linked post.  But now it is for the additional reason that neither Darwin, nor most other competent scientists, ever hung the arguments regarding design vs. evolution on “naturalism” or “materialism”.  What is more, Darwin himself didn’t have a “natural” or “material” cause of the variations which “nature” selected, instead he was concerned about empirically-known causes matching up with empirically-discovered facts.  The gene fairy might have been responsible for inheritance and variation, for all he knew (by his time such fanciful “causes” were no longer taken seriously, however), but “survival of the fittest” explains (many of) the cumulative effects that we see.

And although he did not use this term, Paley hypothesized “rational choice” as being responsible for the “design” of organisms, exactly what we would expect of an artificer or architect.  His point was certainly not that the “designer” had to be “natural” or “material,” rather that it would be rational, and purposeful. And ultimately, Behe denies everything that we would expect of a designing mind, both purpose and rationality.

We just need causation of any hypothesized design, or in other words, we need to know the limits and peculiarities of a designer if we are ever to be able to identify such a cause.  That is all that Paley demanded of competing origination theories, and he rightly determined that they fell flat when they failed to explain anything by matching up cause and effect.  It hardly needs pointing out that Paley failed to explain much that he claimed to explain, let alone all that ignored.  Yet he at least claimed identifiable causation (or at least he analogized to identifiable causes–depending on what makes of God as a Cause) producing identifiable effects.  As loose as his argumentation was, it was indeed tight enough to be subjected to falsification tests, and thus it failed when organic articulations were shown to be explainable via natural selection, along with a host of data that design never could touch (although Paley tried get his readers to accept morphological similarities as produced by the “designer”).

No more of that from Behe, certainly.  He’s flailing away so badly that he’s bringing up art that is deliberately obscure, in order to avoid the fact that all of his “design” is lacking any of the expected marks of design–particularly rationality and purpose.  He knows that some of Paley’s arguments were poor, indeed, but he will not admit that his principal problem with Paley is that the latter invoked empirically-known causation which was falsifiable and falsified.  Worse, evolution is falsifiable, and has not been falsified, and it explains what his “design” deliberately avoids addressing–such as the aforementioned slavish copying along lines of vertical transmission, and no “common authorship” of modifications in lines which permanently broke away from each other.

We have only demanded that causes should actually produce their expected effects, from Paley, through Darwin, and down to the present day.  The utter lack of rationality and purpose behind organisms is enough to invalidate any “designing mind” worthy of the name (actual reference, as Paley demanded), quite apart from the evolutionary evidence. 

What is more, evolutionary theory has no dependence on the dearth of evidence for “design,” rather it is the match of cause and effect in the patterns of life (“slavish copying along lines of vertical transmission, and no “common authorship” of modifications in lines which permanently broke away from each other”), wherein causes with deep “memory” and no “knowledge of what is happening in unrelated lines” produce just the effects expected (predicted) by those causes.

This is part of a series of posts that I am combining into one long post, which may be found at Darwin’s Black Box.


There’s a reason why all vertebrate wings are modified legs of their terrestrial ancestors

October 22, 2008

But don’t ask the IDists to explain it.  They can’t, and as usual, they avoid addressing anything (other than to complain that “it’s too complex too evolve”) that shows up their claims, which is just about every complex biological organ or system.

I am posting about vertebrate wings and how they are all as divergent from each other–and dependent upon unlikely “design” choices–as evolution predicts, in order to drive home the point of yesterday’s post, as well as many of the earlier posts.  The strangeness of the “designs” claimed by IDists are too often let go by without much argumentation, yet it is truly odd from a design standpoint that the two adaptive immune systems share none of the same parts except the genes inherited from the vertebrate ancestors from which the two lines diverged, and that evidence of “similar authorship” of subsequent change is completely absent (as predicted by evolution).  Vertebrate wings are just another example of the fulfillment of this evolutionary prediction, only the “physical precursors” (DBB, 45) are patently unpromising from a design standpoint–and clearly some vertebrate wings are rather better than are others.

Pterosaur, bird, and bat wings are all homologous, of course, but only through their shared ancestry of reptilian forelimbs and feet. Here is a source showing the morphologies of pterosaur, bird, and bat wings.  All vertebrate wings are analogous as well, but all had to evolve from legs, and not from the wings of unrelated animals.  Pterosaur wings evolved from archosaur legs, and bird wings did as well.  Only, by the time birds evolved, the archosaurs had evolved into dinosaurs (and other organisms), so that bird wings evolved from dinosaur forelimbs.  Bat wings evolved from mammal forelimbs.

And how does this compare with design?  Well, however strange it may seem to IDists, the Wright brothers studied bird wings, not mammal or reptile forelimbs, to assist their own attempts at achieving flight.  They also used “first principles” and empirical studies, so that their airplane’s wings were hardly mere modifications of bird wings.

Yet we are to believe that a “designer” capable of creating extremely complex systems–of the kind that humans cannot presently create–went back again and again to legs in order to design vertebrate wings.  Which is just as evolution predicts, in the tetrapod context.  Would anybody ever expect that of an alien?  Really, no, because it does not fit with our conception of rationality and intelligence.  Legs (forelimbs, anyhow) only have some of the musculature and skeletal strength needed for wings, they have none of the shape or detailed structural components needed for wings.

To be sure, birds were fortunate to evolve their own wings, rather than to copy the previously-existing pterosaur wings.  The latter were not at all bad structures, but they were unlikely to do well with a tear.  Even more importantly, presumably, the evolution of feathers provided birds the chance to evolve truly superb airfoils.  Birds have come near to optimizing aerodynamics, thanks to the fact that they inherited from dinosaurs the ability to grow feathers at varying lengths and in different morphologies.

Ah, well, maybe the designer was learning, after all.  However bizarre such an “argument” may be, IDists will try anything out to save their beliefs, so we’ll go through this “hypothetical” as well.  Pterosaurs came first, then birds, and last of all, bats.  The designer could have tried out pterosaurs, then bettered itself by inventing birds.

As anyone reading this must have anticipated, that is hardly the way to save “design” of bird wings, even if we neglect the unlikely starting points, namely, the unpromising terrestrial forelimbs.  Because, clearly, the bat wing is not an improvement on bird wings, in fact it is step back from the wonderful aerodynamics of birds with their feathers.  Bats fly well enough, but one reason they hang upside-down to sleep is because they do not have the flying power to simply take off from a perch, as a bird does (yes, birds also “jump” into the air, yet that is nothing mammals could not evolve to do as well).  Bats are not the fliers that equivalently sized birds are, not only because evolution deprived them of feathers, also because they do not have the efficient breathing apparatus that birds evolved from dinosaurs. 

At least bat wings are less likely to suffer badly from tears than pterosaur wings were, which hardly makes them equal to bird wings in flight ability.  Modifying legs into wings is as unpromising a “design strategy” as any unprejudiced person would assume at first, but it was the only route open to the evolution of vertebrate wings (unless we count “flying fishes,” but their “wings” are modified pectoral fins, from which tetrapod forelimbs evolved, so nothing substantively changes by imagining their evolution of true flight (surely it could happen)).

I have asked several IDists, including Paul Nelson, to explain this extremely odd “design strategy,” and of course I was met with absolutely no answers to the “riddle,” although I was often “treated to” irrelevant and repetitive ID claims.

I think that this particular focus puts the evolution of adaptive immunity into perspective.  At this point we really cannot point to either agnathan (hagfish and lampreys) or to gnathostome (jawed vertebrates) and say that one of them has the “best” adaptive immune system.  In fact, at the present time they appear to be fairly comparable, at least in numbers of recombinations possible to “adapt” to the threatening pathogen.  Vertebrate wings, however, are fairly easily compared, and the comparison produces a true winner in bird wings.  Furthermore, we know how designers have gone about making wings by looking at organisms, and they neither stuck anywhere nearly as rigidly to their organic “prototype” as IDists claim that their god did, nor did they look to legs as promising wing material.

This, then is the primary lesson of adaptive immunity.  The point is less what system is “better than the other,” but is more that organisms fit the only causes available to unguided evolution in every respect.  To put it in “authorship” terms, no designer could be convicted in a court of law for copying the design of one vertebrate wing to another vertebrate wing, or of one adaptive immune system to another one, for no similarities (other than limitations of inheritance and of physics–homology and convergence, that is) exist between them.  Adaptive immune systems and vertebrate wings share homologies, due to common ancestry, but no similar thoughts from the same mind is responsible for the modifications of their respective common inherited genes, in either vertebrate wings, or in the two adaptive immune systems.

If one were really interested in predicting that organisms were designed, one would insist that a common intelligence behind various designs would leave its mark upon organisms.  And it is because evolution passes all realistic tests of its predictions, including the lack of “common authorship” of the modifications occurring in divergent organisms, that Behe demands virtually supernatural knowledge of the specifics of evolutionary developments that took place so long ago, and for which so much of the evidence has been lost.  Behe’s problem with evolution is avoiding the fulfilled predictions of unguided evolution, along with avoiding any realistic predictions of design.

This is part of a series of posts that I am combining into one long post, which may be found at Darwin’s Black Box.

ID has problems with keeping its dogma straight

September 25, 2008

But in fact, DNA isn’t exactly like a blueprint.  Only a fraction of its sections are directly involved in creating proteins and building life.  Most of it seems to be excess DNA, where mutations can occur harmlessly.  Edge of Evolution, p. 66

The above is a rather unexceptional statement by Behe, a reasonable inference from past data, if possibly it is being superseded by later research results. 

But one of the more persistent, if typically bizarre (particularly in light of how IDists typically deny that “design” has any expectations, other than irreducible complexity and the like), claims of IDists is that ID predicts that most “junk DNA” has uses.  Somehow, one of their “leading lights” failed to recognize this “prediction,” quite possibly because it cannot be derived from the vague claims of “ID theory.”

Of course evolution doesn’t really make predictions either way about “junk DNA,” other than that nothing in evolution precludes junk DNA from existing in genomes (very little apparent junk DNA exists in most prokaryotic organisms, while tandem repeats, duplications, and transposons almost certainly produce some true junk DNA in eukaryotes).  This hasn’t prevented IDists from claiming that “neo-Darwinism” insists that much of our genomes has to be junk.  Here’s a recent example from the ignorant Casey Luskin:

Study Challenges Two Icons of Evolution: Functional Junk DNA Shows “Surprising” Genetic Differences Between Humans and Apes

These sources promoting the classic “junk DNA” icon of neo-Darwinism need updating, as a Yale University news release from earlier this month recalls the fact that “[i]n the last several years, scientists have discovered that non-coding regions of the genome, far from being junk, contain thousands of regulatory elements that act as genetic ‘switches’ to turn genes on or off.” In this case, the junk triggered genes that control human thumb and foot development.

Most studies that have claimed that humans and apes have nearly identical genomes have primarily looked at the gene-coding portions of the genome, not the non-coding DNA (formerly claimed to be “junk”). Perhaps as biologists study the non-coding regions of our genome, they will find evidence that challenges two icons of evolution: Not only does “junk” DNA have function, but humans aren’t as genetically similar to apes as was once thought.  [bolding added] Casey Luskin lying for the DI

I guess if you have nothing honest to say, just pick your favorite lie and call it an “icon of evolution,” never bothering to consider why it is that Behe repeats “the classic “junk DNA” icon of neo-Darwinism,” being oblivious both to its “neo-Darwinian” status and to any “prediction” of ID that “most junk DNA” will be found to have a purpose.

The only apparent reason for the constant drumbeat about how “junk DNA” really does have function, and that ID is supposed to predict that it does while “neo-Darwinism” is supposed to predict otherwise, is that IDists are desperate to come up with any kind of evidence for their claims.  That they have none is adequately shown by the fact that one of ID’s “leading theorists,” Behe, fails to recognize either assertion in his most recent book, in spite of his own eagerness to fault “neo-Darwinism” at every turn.

You’d think that people who just make up things as they go along would have the sense to get together to get their stories straight.  ID fails even to design its own propaganda intelligently.

This is part of a series of posts that I am combining into one long post, which may be found at Darwin’s Black Box.

So why were the Ediacaran fauna designed, then annihilated?

September 18, 2008

Darwinian evolution cannot pursue a future goal. The Edge of Evolution, 112

I recently wrote several posts regarding the evolution of photosynthesis, which released the oxygen that allowed the Ediacaran radiation. My last post (not counting yesterday’s post that I thought was lost) mainly involved how the extinction of the Ediacaran fauna plus the relatively high levels of oxygen appears to have facilitated the Cambrian radiation. Of course that is all perfectly reasonable under the evolutionary understanding, but what possible sense would there be to designing one radiation, to simply let it all die, and then to design the Cambrian radiation?

The truth is that such a scenario looks a great deal more like the flood story in Genesis than it does either a creation story or whatever “design strategy” is popular this week among the IDists. Even Behe, who tries his very best to make all “ID predictions” empirically indistinguishable from the predictions entailed by evolution, fails to even come up with a myth for why his super-powerful and super-intelligent Designer destroys as readily as it designs, and fails to repeat any of his designs once they have truly died out. Because, of course, it is evolution that predicts that the same organism as such will never rise again (it’s probabilistic, but the probabilities are heavily against), once it has become extinct.

This principle is called in geology “The Law of Fossil Succession,” and it was originally an empirical observation without explanation. The contingencies and accidents of evolution make any exact repetition–such that we could ever see Archaeopteryx evolve again–so unlikely as to be practically impossible. A designer, of course, should be able to make another organism so close to an extinct original as to be indistinguishable from it, if it indeed made the original. Ought we to be amazed that life is unrepeatable, as evolution predicts, and as ID does not? Indeed, one would expect a good extinct design to show up again, more than the poor adaptation of unlikely parts that is typical in transitional organisms.

If the Ediacaran fauna were made by some super-intelligent designer, how come we never observe any of the organisms seen here reappear in the fossil record? It is not certain that none of the Ediacaran animals have descendents or reasonably close relatives in the Cambrian faunal assemblage, of course. What we know most assuredly is that those particular species did not and could not appear again–we know this through the evidence, and our knowledge that they evolved and were not designed.

And it appears that the IDists truly depend upon the Cambrian “explosion” as one of their prime “arguments” against evolution, which surely makes one wonder why they care so little about the Ediacaran “explosion”. Could it be that even they wonder why these animals would be designed, then exterminated, only for the Cambrian “explosion” to repeat none of the exact designs, a non-repetition that only evolution predicts? Why design them in the first place, and why design the considerable number of the Cambrian taxa that also have gone extinct (fortunately, not all of us)? Why are Archaeopteryx and its fellow dinosaurs forever extinct, with only a much more evolved line of birds having descended from relatives of Archaeopteryx?

In fact, it is believed that at least 99% of species which ever evolved have gone extinct. Effectively, this too is a prediction of unguided evolution, for accidents and contingencies, plus the fact that Behe put into words in the opening quote–that Darwinian evolution cannot look ahead–means that organisms will radiate adaptively, only for the environmental conditions to which most species adapted to shift and to cause their extinction. Catastrophes, like meteoroid strikes, are a part of this process, although they differ in important ways from the effects of evolutionary and gradual ecological changes.

With respect to the Ediacaran radiation and extinction (as with the others) we have two predictions of evolutionary theory fulfilled, then–that many organisms will evolve only to go extinct, and that the same organisms will never appear on earth again. Similarly, Ediacaran fauna raise two crucial questions for ID, which is why huge numbers of taxa are “designed” only to go extinct, and why such “designs” never reappear again, unlike the practice of known human designers. I’m sure that we could find any number of fulfilled evolutionary predictions, and unfulfilled design expectations, but these are enough for now.

I simply did not think that I should go on, to where Behe wants to steer us, without asking the questions that he so carefully evades, hence this post.

I should note that I wrote this not realizing that I had not, in fact, lost the post that I wrote yesterday, on the same topic. I am still learning how WordPress works. This one, however, points more directly to evolutionary predictions, hence another post on virtually the same subject may be worthwhile.

This is part of a series of posts that I am combining into one long post, which may be found at Darwin’s Black Box.

What are the odds that designed entities would be composed only of “physical precursors”?

September 17, 2008

NOTE: This was first published here on 8.19.08, and is simply being re-published as a separate post now.

Behe does a great job of changing the subject to problems of evolution, and exaggerating them. What he never does at all well is to explain why things look as they do, why even his precious little “irreducibly complex” biochemical pathways are largely composed of demonstrable “physical precursors”, and are never demonstrably composed of any merely “conceptual precursors”. He produces good PR when he tries to suggest that evolution has questionable odds, but he never touches the odds against life being composed exclusively of physical precursors when it is supposedly designed–and for a very good reason, since that is far less likely than the odds against any evolutionary pathway whose details remain obscure.

Casey Luskin even gave us an ID “prediction” that is testable and falsifiable, and of course, it has been both tested and falsified:

(3) Intelligent agents ‘re-use’ functional components that work over and over in different systems (e.g., wheels for cars and airplanes):

“An intelligent cause may reuse or redeploy the same module in different systems, without there necessarily being any material or physical connection between those systems. Even more simply, intelligent causes can generate identical patterns independently.”

Mostly bogus “predictions” of ID, plus a falsified one

Why yes, C. Luskin and M. Behe, intelligent agents can re-use parts independently of heredity and lateral transfers. So if ID is responsible for life, why don’t we see bat wings on pterosaurs, bird wings on bats, or octopus eyes in vertebrates?

Luskin made a very big mistake there, just as Behe did in noting that designed motorcycles are not dependent upon inherited (or laterally transferred) genetic materials. There is absolutely no evidence of independent agents producing similar systems in organisms without there “being any material or physical connection between those systems,” unless you consider what humans genetically engineering organisms (although Luskin obviously doesn’t recognize that intelligent agents are a part of the “material or physical connection” between such systems).

So come on, Behe, tell us what the odds are that life would have all of the patterns expected of undirected evolution, including a continual reliance upon and limitation to “physical precursors,” if in fact life was designed? Astronomically against, is it not? And one can’t simply resort to the typical expedient that “we don’t know what the designer wants.” Clearly the only explanatory or scientific reason to ever bring in a “designer” would be to explain why life has evidence of design, such as organs or systems having some merely conceptual precursors. Both Luskin and Behe fail to come up with a single clear instance of such evidence, hence they owe us an explanation for why design does not immediately fail the test for “conceptual precursors,” which ought to exist in designed objects.

I will state more definitely now what is at stake here: Luskin and Behe need to supply the evidence that conceptual precursors (even if these are first principles) exist in organisms, as both of them have indicated that this would be expected from intelligent agents. This is a strong test for their ID claims. And, they need to tell us what the odds are of designed entities having purely physical precursors, as well as these existing in the patterns expected from undirected evolution. This is a strong test (actually, several tests summed up as one) of evolutionary theory.

Unless they can demonstrate that conceptual precursors (or re-used modules without “material or physical connections,” using Luskin’s botched phrase) exist in organisms, ID fails. And unless they can produce a “designer” that oddly “designs” only by using physical precursors, evolution wins–at least until something else comes along that can explain what evolution does, plus being able to explain even more. That is how science works. ID ends up being falsified using its own predictions, and nevertheless it continues claiming to be a “legitimate science” that is “persecuted” by being treated like every other hypothesis that the evidence has failed to support.

Too many replies to Behe are focused on responding to the framing (that’s about all that we get from Behe) that Behe builds in order to avoid the colossal lack of explanatory value, along with avoiding the glaring falsification of genuine prediction, of his own “ID program”. There is, in fact, nothing wrong with responding to his questions, for many of these do in fact touch on important remaining questions in evolutionary biology.

However, both Luskin and Behe should have their feet held to the fire over the enormous lacuna that ID is. ID is not something that has gaps, it simply is a gap, one that would like to replace what we do know with the bleat “God did it,” or in another version, “the Designer did it.”

One can make predictions with an “intelligent design” hypothesis. Both Behe and Luskin have done so (though Behe did so more implicitly than Luskin’s explicit prediction), and their predictions have been falsified. Were they actually interested in doing science, they would acknowledge this fact, and drop ID altogether.

This is part of a series of posts that I am combining into one long post, which may be found at Darwin’s Black Box.