Posted tagged ‘Intelligent Design’

Appreciating what intelligence can do that evolution can’t

December 11, 2008

One problem for pro-science forces today is that we’re bored with progress and the “miracles” of technology.  Or at least, mentioning the many ways in which intelligent design far outstrips what “nature” has produced has been done to death, and we have instead turned our minds to contemplating what evolution has done and which design still cannot match.

This is not all bad, of course, since the celebrations of industry, technology, as well as the scientific hubris, of progressives and futurists  tended to ignore the mysteries and exquisite dexterity and control of biological organisms, like the hummingbird.  Computers blow us away at any number of tasks, yet simply driving along the road safely is at best at the limits of today’s computer technology.  And it is nearly certain that no computer enjoys the consciousness that a human knows.

So this post is in no way meant to suggest that we can equal or better evolution in general, let alone can we create the kind of intelligence and creativity that produces our wonderful machines.   As I noted previously, it appears that intelligence evolved to handle what evolution could not directly address, matters of space, time, and rationality. Even then, evolution does not so much give us a rational brain, as to supply the material and organization that allows development, sensory experience, and learning to shape our minds to do what evolution (or God, if you’re an IDist) cannot do directly.

So, while we must appreciate the manner in which evolution deals with tremendous complexity of the sort that our intelligence combined with computation still cannot properly organize, it would do us some good to contemplate once more how much our intelligence has outstripped “nature” in handling materials, in controlling fire, and in producing extremely fast machines and computers that have given us capabilities that “God” either could not or would not give to us.

Even something as simple as fire seemed to be a god-like “element” to the Greeks, as the Prometheus myth tells us.  The cheetah is fast, but topping out at around 60 mph, it runs at less than 1/10th the land speed record.  No bird powers itself to over 100 mph, while experimental hypersonic craft have reached 7500 mph.  New Horizons managed to hit 42,000 mph on its mission to Pluto.  And the internets connect the whole world in what is to humans a virtual instant.

That is what happens when minds make connections between concepts, empirical knowledge, and the recognition of what is needed and/or “cool.”  The simple reason why these phenomena never appeared prior to the evolution of human intelligence, plus a (humanly, not evolutionarily) long learning period, is that there is no intelligence behind biology.  One does not disparage the hummingbird, the ape, or the human by noting that the abilities supplied to these organisms in many areas pale in comparison with the abilities possible through scientific and technological progress.  Indeed, the fact that we now can harness genetic algorithms to partially mimic the capabilities of evolution only enhances what intelligence alone can do, and it does so by recognizing both the possibilities and limitations of the process(es) that gave rise to life, including ourselves.

Surely our understanding of evolution itself speaks well of our intelligence and of our ability to make creative leaps, something that is absent from the various records of evolution.  We have proven ourselves able to extrapolate evolutionary principles into a set of predictions that fit taxonomy, the fossil record, and genetic information (which speak to evolution beyond mere taxonomy), and to recognize how life does not fit with design principles and characteristics.  The proper use of intelligence seems to be what IDists desire to diminish, at least far enough so that we can no longer do proper life science.

Evolutionary theory is the product of intelligence.  ID is the product of anthropomorphization, anthropocentrism, and of superstition.  We have intelligence, no question, but evolution also bequeathed to us the propensities to avoid the use of our evolved intelligence.  Sadly, this is also what we would tend to expect of evolution (precise scientific predictions to this end do not seem likely, however) and not, say, of Alvin Plantinga’s god. 

The evolution of intelligence provided us a kind of “transcendent” capability, which may be seen in our technology, but by no means could it ensure that evolved organisms would make proper use of this capability.  That is the dilemma of evolution, for we only evolved to deal adequately, and often quite falsely, with the world, and not to delve carefully and honestly into what really happened to give us our world.  We have to watch to see if the best that evolution gave to us will win out over the worst that it produced, to see if the lure of intelligence will largely supplant the laziness and lack of thought found in ID and in the other pseudoscience.

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.

How could the molecular clock work with design happening?

October 30, 2008

The molecular clock has been vigorously debated since it was proposed, and many issues surrounding it are still contended.  Overall, however, it remains a viable possibility.  Michael Behe, DBB, 174

He is right both about questions remaining, and that it is a viable possibility.

But how could it be, if ID were correct?  From Aristotle, down to Paley and the creationists, τεχνη or design has always been marked off from “nature” (nature in the exclusive sense) or “physis”.  Indeed, Behe and most of the other prominent IDists like to suggest that the “Cambrian Explosion” is an obvious time when “design” was effected (DBB 27-28).  And yet the molecular clocks (mostly DNA, now) tick through the “Cambrian Explosion” without marking any break from the usual processes, even though it is possible that more refined methods could yet capture an uptick in change (not the break that most would expect from a designer intervening, however).

For so long the various sorts of creationists have tried to argue that intervention by God would be obvious.  Since it never has been, however, Behe increasingly writes as though no intervention can ever be observed, from any sort of mark of design, to any break in the molecular clocks.

This criticism has nothing to do with the accuracy of molecular clocks, which may in fact not be as reliable as some have claimed.  It is that Behe never expects any of the effects of intervention to be visible in life (if these were found, you can be sure that most IDists, probably including Behe, would quickly adopt them, though).  This, perhaps, is the most important change that ID has produced, since the older IDist Paley, and traditional creationists, always expected design to be observable–and generally not by christening complexity as “evidence for design,” like Behe illegitimately does.

As it happens, we could easily apply Paley’s criticisms of the evolutionary concepts of his day (before Darwin came up with a scientific theory) to Behe’s evidence-free designer/evolution-tweaking God, because a major argument of Paley’s book was precisely that design has positive evidence in its favor (arguable then, but not now), while evolutionary ideas were lacking in evidence (not entirely true, since common ancestry did comport well with evolution).  Really, anyone who wanted to show conclusively how ID avoids all legitimate tests (falsification being the best rule-of-thumb) would do so by comparing Paley’s attempts to show that design is falsifiable, with Behe’s never-ending attempts to avoid all reasonable tests of ID.

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.

Unsurprisingly, the DI gets philosophy all wrong

October 2, 2008

Well, if the Discovery Institute (DI) could get philosophy right, chances are that they would be able to do science. Considering their near-total contempt for evidence, it would be a shock if they could portray philosophy intelligently.

Logan Gage comments on the DI blog regarding Steven Weinberg’s essay “Without God,” then attempts to fault atheistic philosophers such as Nietzsche with all of the ignorance that we have come to expect of the IDists’ science statements.  Here is the main portion of his incomprehension of Nietzsche:

As a young man, I was enamored with Jean-Paul Sartre and the existentialists. When I got to college, I found that Nietzsche was greater than them all. Even though by this time I had come do disagree with their metaphysics, I admired their courage to live intellectually honest, consistent, and honorable lives. 

But one day it dawned on me—as I believe it will one day dawn on Dr. Weinberg—that speaking of honesty, courage, and honor as though they were actually objectively honest, courageous, and honorable was inconsistent with naturalistic metaphysics. If you asked Nietzsche why one should forge his own way rather than follow herd morality, I believe he would have answered: “Are you kidding? Think about it. Which one would you prefer? Wouldn’t you prefer this noble enterprise of making your own way? Oh, well maybe you wouldn’t, Gage, you wretched sheep! Baaaahhhhhh!”

Or at least that’s how I imagine him speaking. But, this is simply not convincing. The whole notion of an honorable and noble existence is a residue of Christendom that Nietzsche should have recognized and rejected.  Logan Gage writing for the DI

Sartre might well be tarred with the metaphysical brush (though he, with Heidegger, would deny it), but Nietzsche was no metaphysician.  Least of all did he adhere to “naturalistic metaphysics,” for the truth is that he doubted the very meaning of “nature,” as it was used by physicists of his day:


Forgive me as an old philologist who cannot desist from the malice of putting his finger on bad modes of interpretation: but “nature’s conformity to law,” of which you physicists talk so proudly as though— —why, it exists only owing to your interpretation and bad “philology”—it is no matter of fact, no “text,” but rather only a naively humanitarian emendation and perversion of meaning, with which you make abundant concessions to the democratic instincts of the modern soul! “Everywhere equality before the law; nature is no different in that respect, no better off than we are”: a fine instance of ulterior motivation, in which the plebeian antagonism to everything privileged and autocratic as well as a second and more refined atheism are disguised once more. “Ni Dieu, ni maitre[“Neither God nor master”]—that is what you, too, want; and therefore “cheers for the law of nature”!—is it not so? But as said above, that is interpretation, not text; and somebody might come along who, with opposite intentions and modes of interpretation, could read out of the same “nature” and with regard to the same phenomena rather the tyrannically inconsiderate and relentless enforcement of claims of power—an interpreter who would picture the unexceptional and unconditional aspects of all “will to power” so vividly that almost every word, even the word “tyranny” itself, would eventually sound unsuitable, or a weakening and attenuating metaphor—being too human—but he might, nevertheless, end by asserting the same about this world as you do, namely, that it has a “necessary” and “calculable” course, not because laws obtain in it, but because they are absolutely lacking, and every power draws its ultimate consequences at every moment. Supposing that this also is only interpretation—and you will be eager enough to make this objection?—well then, so much the better. —  Beyond Good and Evil

As I understand this, Nietzsche was faulting the notion of “law” as metaphysics in the above passage, not like science generally understands “laws” to be today, as mere statements of empirically-known (and thus always to be understood according to implicit philosophical and scientific caveats) regularities.  And for anybody who understands what metaphysics is about, the above quote is recognizable as a profoundly anti-metaphysical statement, for he uses his philological skepticism to question the sense that we even experience nature as “law-like.”

As far as “honesty” goes, Nietzsche questions the “will to truth” in the same book, asking why not the will to untruth.  To be sure, Nietzsche generally praises “honesty” in a way that he would not praise “truth,” and it is unquestionable that he also has a sense of what is “true” in the non-holy, non-metaphysical sense of that word.  Nonetheless, he is questioning what “truth is,” which no doubt undermines what Gage thinks of as “honesty”.  Yet even more so he does not praise, nor really write with, consistency.  If there are constants in his writings–and there are–he does not write consistently, and probably did not live “constantly” either.  The idea of a “single self” is anathema to his teachings.

Nietzsche did, of course, praise and strive for a kind of “nobility”–which I presume he achieved to a degree–as well as an honesty of which the DI types seemingly have never conceived.  However, Nietzsche does not ascribe his sense of nobility and honesty to any kind of metaphysics, and he was quite good at explaining how these differed from the Christian sense of nobility and honesty, let alone its belief in consistency which he considered to be so unlike what we actually know and experience (never mind some fiction like “nature”).

To the degree that he did come up with a basis for the values in his teachings, these were largely psychology and pre-Socratic (consequently pre-Christian) conceptions of nobility and honesty.  A crucial fact of which Gage seems to be utterly ignorant is that Nietzsche was essentially a German Romantic, heavily influenced by Kant and Hegel (though Nietzsche reacts particularly against Hegel, and against Kant in a way that seems odd, considering how much his thought owes to Kant).  As such, he was an extreme empiricist, taking his cues from what is observed and not what is theoretical, while being ever-mindful that he himself comes to conclusions that are interpretation, and not veritable fact.  That, however, is no barrier to understanding life psychologically, and indeed, (which often looked to pre-Socratic Greek though, as did Nietzsche) in his way of viewing the world psychology becomes the primary empirical basis for thought.

So that is primarily where consistency and “truth” come in for Nietzsche, via psychology and looking to how ancient people viewed things, before Socrates and Christianity reacted against “natural morality” (he does use that term, without subscribing to “nature” as a thing in itself, however).  This is why his “nobility” and sense of “honesty” are based more on how Aristotle and people like Heraclitus understood these to be, and of course Heraclitus (one of Nietzsche’s favorites, while he does not give Aristotle much credit for his rip-off of Aristotelian “nobility”) was the philosopher who denied constancy.

I can only give the gist of what Nietzsche is about here, and I hope that it is sufficient for people to understand how Logan Gage is nearly 100% wrong about Nietzsche.  Nietzsche is about as non-Christian as a man of his time and place could be, without, that is, either rejecting science or merely reacting against Christianity. 

Heidegger does claim that Nietzsche is the last philosopher, for Nietzsche does not reject Western philosophy and science in the way that he and many of his followers (like Sartre and Derrida–I should note, however, that Derrida makes an ill-defined truce with empirical practitioners) did.  Heidegger faults Nietzsche for being the last thinker of metaphysics, since that is about all that Heidegger characterizes Western philosophy as being. 

To the contrary, I do not know anyone who is more metaphysical, if in a reasonably novel manner, than Heidegger, who mostly remodels neo-Platonic thought (see Plotinus) to make the world “knowable” in a way that Kant and Nietzsche had indeed rationally shown it not to be fundamentally knowable (while both continued to accept science as honest interpretation).  Nietzsche does remain constant as an empiricist, then, and does not throw out the considerable accomplishments of philosophers and scientists.  He more questions the “truth” that many claim to be behind science (in a philosophical sense, truth in science would definitely be a holdover from metaphysics, and, to a considerable degree, religion).  He does reject metaphysics, only he need not, and does not, reject an understanding of the world that is consistent with observation.

Nietzsche did, however, reject Darwinian evolution, which would throw a wrench into the thought of Logan, if it ever achieved a consistent and knowledgeable status.

More proof that those who don’t know science can’t evaluate it

September 2, 2008

Prof. Thomas Nagel, a self-declared atheist who earned his PhD. in philosophy at Harvard 45 years ago, who has been a professor at U.C. Berkeley, Princeton, and the last 28 years at New York University, and who has published ten books and more than 60 articles, has published an important essay, “Public Education and Intelligent Design,” in the Wiley InterScience Journal Philosophy & Public Affairs, Vol. 36, issue 2, on-line at (fee for access US $29.95).

I wasn’t about to pay for access, so I have to respond to how the DI characterizes what he states in the article.  From their rendition, I can’t see that he understands at all well the issues he discusses.  According to them (Edward Sisson is the author):

Prof. Nagel applies this principle to the evolution/intelligent design debate. Assuming, for purposes of argument, even though he himself is an atheist, to label the intelligence “God,” he says “the purposes and intentions of God, if there is a god, and the nature of his will, are not possible subjects of a scientific theory or scientific explanation. But that does not imply that there cannot be scientific evidence for or against the intervention of such a non-law-governed cause in the natural order” (p. 190). In other words, Sherlock Holmes can use chemistry to figure out that an intelligence — a person — did the act that killed the victim, even if he can’t use chemistry to figure out that the person who did it was Professor Moriarty, or to figure out why Moriarty did the crime.

Already we have a colossal confusion on either Nagel’s or Sisson’s part.  Intelligent humans are understood in science, and anywhere else with decent intellectual standards, to be be law-governed causes.  We don’t know what a “non-law-governed” cause is in classical science, and (presentaly, at least) would be hard pressed to identify any such cause.  True, if it acted probabilistically, we could probably deal with it (as we do with QM), but lacking any examples in the classical realm we simply cannot say.  What is really stupid is to presume that intelligence is what the anti-science ignoramuses of ID claim it to be, a non-causal phenomenon (thus far we certainly have no examples of non-causal intelligence).

The article continues:

Therefore, Prof. Nagel says, it potentially can be scientific to argue that the data of DNA and life points to an intelligent designer, even if science cannot tell you the identity of the designer or what is going on in the designer’s mind.

Complete rubbish.  We might actually be able to identify breaks in classical causality in our environment without knowing anything about what causes these breaks, but we’re certainly not going to be able to attribute said breaks to a “designer” without having some knowledge about what kind of cause this “designer” is.  If Nagel really wrote such rubbish, he’s a waste as a philosopher.

The Professor then turns to whether any of the intelligent design proponents actually are presenting such a scientific argument. After all, just because it is theoretically possible that someone might present such a scientific argument doesn’t mean that any particular individual currently is actually doing that.

Professor Nagel has read ID-supportive works such as Dr. Behe’s Edge of Evolution (p. 192). He reports that based on his examination of their work, ID “does not seem to depend on massive distortions of the evidence and hopeless incoherencies in its interpretation” (pp. 196-197).

No, he just depends on bypassing science.  I already covered a good deal of that issue here.  Behe’s interpretation is fairly self-consistent, since it is almost wholly circular, based upon a priori assumptions, and it pays no attention to proper rules of inference.

 He reports that ID does not depend on any assumption that ID is “immune to empirical evidence” in the way that believers in biblical literalism believe the bible is immune to disproof by evidence (p. 197). Thus, he says “ID is very different from creation science” (p. 196).

Of course it depends upon being immune to empirical evidence.  There isn’t a single unambiguous criterion taken from experience or evidence to determine their proclaimed “design,” quite unlike honest and far more scientific attempts to identify design by Paley and earlier “natural theologians.”

Prof. Nagel tells us that he “has for a long time been skeptical of the claims of traditional evolutionary theory to be the whole story about the history of life” (p. 202). He reports that it is “difficult to find in the accessible literature the grounds” for these claims.

Moreover, he goes farther. He reports that the “presently available evidence” comes “nothing close” to establishing “the sufficiency of standard evolutionary mechanisms to account for the entire evolution of life” (p. 199).

First off, I see no reason to suppose that Nagel understands scientific evidence–and evidence that he does not from this article.  Secondly, evolutionary theory is an explanatory framework that works to organize and to explain reasonably well on all levels (such as in taxonomy), which is actually what is required for a theory.  Sufficiency “to account for the entire evolution of life” is a bogus criterion, one that he simply adopted because the IDists have tried to foist such a high standard onto evolutionary theory, quite unlike how they treat other theories, let alone their own non-explanatory claims.

We have never said that “it explains everything,” particularly believing that it does not explain everything regarding abiogenesis.  As far as self-organization and other possible additional ideas, we would most likely consider these to be a part of the evolutionary explanation if they were to be borne out by the evidence–much as endosymbiosis has been incorporated into evolutionary theory.  Our primary point is that evolutionary theory is the only explanation that we have thus far that is “based on experience,” and Nagel’s, plus the IDists’, bogus view that evolution must explain everything to be the accepted explanation at this time is so much pseudoscientific nonsense.

He notes that his judgment is supported by two prominent scientists (Marc Kirschner and John Gerhart, writing in the Oct. 2005 book Plausibility of Life), who also recognized that (prior to offering their own theory, at least) the “available evidence” did not “decisively settle[]” whether mutations in DNA “are entirely due to chance” (p. 191). And he cites one Stuart Kauffman, a “complexity theorist who defends a naturalistic theory of emergence,” that random mutation “is not sufficient” to explain DNA (p. 192).

Nagel is abysmally ignorant about science if he thinks that taking the current positive evidence (for random mutation) as the presently acceptable position is somehow faulty.  Science doesn’t in the slightest claim omniscience, it simply asks for evidence for claims which are made.  That is why claims of non-random mutation were not accepted, because we had evidence in favor of random mutations, and no evidence in favor of non-random mutations.  Decisive evidence in favor of the former is better, but science does not require it in order to use the evidence that existed prior to that decisive evidence.

Furthermore, I do not know of anybody who actually claims that “random mutation” is sufficient to explain DNA.  Likely it is important in DNA arising from RNA, but RNA may very well have had to assemble by means other than “random mutation,” and indeed, RNA is thought by many to have arisen by some kind of self-assembly.  Of course Behe violated such distinctions in his Darwin’s Black Box, and Nagel seems (at least according to Sisson) to be accepting Behe’s distortions of science as his basis for considering Behe’s criticism of evolutionary theory.

Prof. Nagel acknowledges that “evolutionary biologists” regularly say that they are “confiden[t]” that “random mutations in DNA” are sufficient to account for “the complex chemical systems we observe” in living things (p. 199) — but he disagrees. “Rhetoric” is the word Professor Nagel uses to rejects these statements of credentialed evolutionary biologists. He judges that the evidence is NOT sufficient to rule out ID (p. 199).

If Nagel really said that, he’s evidently as incapable of judging testimony of scientists as he is of science.  There is indeed much evidence that evolution is responsible for most of the organization of complex chemical systems, but certainly at the very beginnings and bases of these systems there are serious questions about origination, as I noted above regarding RNA and DNA.  But the issue is not whether or not evolutionary theory is adequate to explain everything, it is whether or not it explains life in general and whether or not any other theories exist to explain what it does.  ID most certainly explains none of it.

He does not, however, say that the evidence compels acceptance of ID; instead, some may consider as an alternative to ID that an “as-yet undiscovered, purely naturalistic theory” will supply the deficiency, rather than some form of intelligence (p. 203).

Science says two things:  1.  That evolutionary theory is highly established and explanatory so far as we have any explanation for life.  2.  And that there is no evidence in favor of design.  

It never ruled out other explanations from existing at all, and there is no excuse for pretending that it ever did.

The whole article is found here

This article continues the same unreasonable claims of the IDists that evolution ought to explain “everything” if it is to be accepted instead of ID. If we can believe it, Nagel buys altogether too far into the DI’s mischaracterizations of evolution, science, and ID, and if this is true, Nagel is as culpable as they are in spreading utter tripe in the name of intellectual discussion.

ID’s true calling–inspiring fiction

August 28, 2008

It appears that ID has achieved one of its 20 year goals. It’s been able to influence wider culture, as the Wedge Document forecast:

We intend these to encourage and equip believers with new scientific evidence’s that support the faith, as well as to “popularize” our ideas in the broader culture.

On the flip side, however, science fiction’s use of ID has only underscored how extremely different this world would be if life actually were designed:

What these authors are doing is even more tricky, if you look at their work as a sneaky critique of ID theory. Essentially they’re saying, “Let’s invent a universe where ID is truth. Oh, that would be the universe that science will build for us.” And ultimately, in these novels, the Designer is not a God or even gods, but instead a whole bunch of sentient creatures harnessing the power of science and technology to design worlds and bodies intelligently.

This is the truly proscience version of ID theory: The notion that humans will eventually live in an ID universe, where our bodies and everything around us is designed. Only it will have been designed by us, in the service (hopefully) of bettering humanity. We won’t be the playthings of some third party entity whose motivations are unclear. In the end, we will become our own intelligent designers.

Sci-Fi tries intelligent design, finds it vastly different from an evolved world

That’s the trouble with trying to get people to take your pseudoscience seriously–they actually may do so.

I think this is a very positive development. On blogs and the like we often point up the fact that this biological machines, systems, and organs are not at all like what any intelligent designer would create, and this is all well and good. But your typical IDist simply runs straight into denial. Book-long stories about actual designed worlds, on the other hand, should get through to people who are immune to the science just the sorts of differences there actually are between the wide-ranging possibilities inherent in design, and the constrained world of heredity and limited change with which animal evolution was produced.

In other words, we have the arguments. Sci-fi writers can get through to people on an emotional level. And even if the IDists won’t read their stories, we can always bring up the fact that when people take design seriously and imagine worlds in which intelligence is responsible for complexity, the results are nothing like the life that we know now.