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“Intelligent Design” theory and mechanism

From an Aristotelian-Thomistic point of view, one of the main problems with “Intelligent Design” theory is that it presupposes the same mechanistic conception of nature that underlies naturalism. ID theorists, including William Dembski, sometimes object to this characterization of their position. But Dembski’s own work makes his commitment to mechanism unmistakable, as I show here.

Comments (222)

Ed,
Is this the best you could come up with?

Dembski does no violence to the A-T position whatsoever. He merely appropriates Aristotle’s arguments for his own purposes, as he should. ID is not metaphysics, nor is it natural philosophy. It is an empirical science. Its purpose is not to make philosophical arguments or to prove philosophical theses, but rather to use sound philosophical principles to elucidate its own hypotheses and the empirical data which support them, which is precisely what Dembski does with Aristotle.

This is how empirical science is supposed to use philosophy.

Your Darwinist buddies, on the other hand, simply dismiss A-T as a bunch of fairytales, leaving themselves free to posit whatever insane principles suit their psychotic purposes.

George R., whenever we discuss this subject on W4, I always wish I agreed with you about more _other_ stuff, too. :-) (That's meant to be a compliment, hopefully not too backhanded.)

"ID is not metaphysics, nor is it natural philosophy."

The Enlightenment called, they want their neutrality back.

George R., what, exactly, are the Aristotelian principles which William Dembski appropriates in order to support Intelligent Design?

Dr. Feser quotes Dembski as saying that natural objects (whatever that means to him) are to be understood as being like artifacts, and it is precisely their being artifacts which requires them to have a designer.

Are you willing to admit that this is conceptually different from the Aristotelian and classical conception of nature? If it is not, then where am I mistaken in thinking this is so? If it is, then either Dembski is right or Aristotle is.

Also, how can merely empirical data support the existence of a being which cannot be sensed? Metaphysical arguments begin with what can be called empirical premises, but the conclusions cannot be limited to empirical reality because the conclusions do not apply to things as sensible but as existing. No matter how well my eye can see it cannot see God. To understand that he exists eventually requires an different mode of understanding, one that cannot be limited to sensation.

George,

I gave specific citations from Dembski's work which clearly show that he is committed to a conception of the natural world at odds with the A-T one -- not just different from or neutral with respect to, but manifestly at odds with it. And in response you have simply asserted, yet again and without argument, that I am misinterpreting him. In particular, you have not shown how I have misunderstood the passages in question. I am starting to think that Dembski himself could show up in your living room and say "It's true, George, I'm committed to mechanism," and you still wouldn't believe it.

I am well aware that Dembski claims that "ID is not metaphysics, nor is it natural philosophy. It is an empirical science. Its purpose is not to make philosophical arguments or to prove philosophical theses" etc. etc. But what matters is whether this sort of claim is consistent with other things he says, and as I have shown, it is not.

Re: my "Darwinist buddies," I have no idea why you think that what I have said has anything to do with Darwinism. Since you like to accuse others of committing fallacies, you might want to check the beam in your own eye: The statements "Darwinians are critical of ID" and "Feser is critical of ID" do not entail "Feser is a Darwinian." That's called the "Fallacy of the Undistributed Middle Term," also known as "Guilt by Association."

Lydia,

Since you're in the mood to make nice with George, maybe you can help him explain exactly where I've gotten Dembski wrong, since he's done nothing to show I have. Or maybe you could tell us why you think I have, since you haven't explained why you think so either.

Well, I'm a little lost in the weeds here and don't quite have a dog in the fight, but I'm friendly to arguments of ID proponents; and as for the charge that ID is mechanistic, I think flexibility is an advantage here. A big tent of examining lots of ways at trying to see what God has done in Creation.

I may be wrong, but I don't believe Ed Feser is saying mechanisms don't exist in nature and biology, is he? Or does ID say there is no such thing as randomness in biology, that everything is directed by an invisible hand?

God may be aware of every particle in the universe, but is A-T saying he directs each and every one all day every day?

I'm still trying to digest this, but the way I understand it is this:

Some people maintain that Prof. Edward Feser's (excellent!) work is the result of a two-year-old cutting and pasting words from random Google searches ("no intelligence involved"). Some people don't agree ("there is intelligence involved").
The IDists agree that they will not prove that it is, in fact, Prof. Edward Feser who did this work, but rather that an intelligent, erudite adult philosopher with Thomistic leanings is involved.

Now, if Thomism is somehow against what the above-described IDists are doing, because it somehow "gives the game away, by assuming that Thomists can be deduced to be acting and existing, based merely on simple, mechanistic forensic methods" or for some other reason, then this is why Thomism is wrong, and irreparably-so. If Thomism is not against that, then I do not see why there is this seemingly-fanatical tendency amongst the Thomists to want to beat up the above-mentioned IDists. Does A-T philosophy somehow define a PC standard ("philosophically-correct") outside of which it is a thoughtcrime to operate? I hope not. At any rate, if there is any tension between Thomism and deciding, with ("mechanistic") forensics alone, that this killing was a murder rather than a manslaughter accident, that this area was inhabited by humans 10,000 years ago, that the gospel of John is an eye-witness account, that life required an intelligent guide, that humans are not just heavily-mutated bacteria, that the Mona Lisa cannot be by Picasso, and so on and so forth, then this is why Thomism is irreparably-wrong. (Of course, I think that there is no such tension, outside of the loyalties of the people arguing on both sides, and such tribalism is, in fact, what is giving the game away.)

For what it's worth, even the anti-ID people use ID to defend the absence of design. In other words, they too detect design -- negated. We only know ("scientifically") if something is random because we know non-random just as well ("scientifically"). And, of course, non-random is what we call design when we are not trying to sound respectable to the world. The IDists are trying to formalise a part of science that the mechanists themselves would rather not have formalised, because it would expose the clever foolishness of that project better (to them) than have four centuries of carefully-worded philosophical arguments. There is nothing quite like a confession of incompleteness by a system of thought, to wake up the tenants of that system of thought. Russell's Antinomy, Goedel's Theorems, Intelligent Design ...

The IDists, it appears to me, are saying that even within the mechanistic conception, it is obvious that we can infer the incompleteness of this conception (as in Goedel's incompleteness theorems); that mechanism itself displays things that are not accounted for by mechanism. Those who, like me, oppose mechanism and the like are supposed to use such things to demonstrate to convinced mechanists why they are wrong. For instance, my own cheapest way of showing people that scientism is wrong is to ask for a reliable scientific experiment that verifies what a reliable scientific experiment is. The problem of the question-begging is quickly made apparent even to those who are imperviously-scientistic.
ID, it would seem, is doing the same thing. If Thomism is against this, in any way, for some reason, it is because Thomism is irreparably-wrong.

I'm not sure, after my last exchange with Ed in the other thread. I think the take away is that from an A-T perspective there isn't anything wrong with ID understood as an empirical forensic investigation. Or at least, I don't think there are any A-T objections to ID conceived of as a scientific programme that don't apply with equal force to neo-Darwinism conceived of as a scientific programme. I guess it still bugs me that the guys who know A-T really well don't just make that absolutely clear and explicit. It would be helpful, assuming it is true, to see some very clear statements to the effect that from an A-T perspective neo-Darwinism and ID are in the same boat, assuming that is true. (And if it isn't true, the puzzlement I expressed in the other thread remains).

In short, the question is whether the truth of A-T metaphysics as understood by philosophers like Ed requires that ID be wrong in ways that neo-Darwinism is not wrong. I don't think that is the case, but if it were the case I would have a hard time avoiding the conclusion that that reflects a problem in the particular conception of A-T metaphysics.

I should add that I don't think focusing in on metaphysical mistakes of various personalities is particularly helpful.

If we look at Werner Heisenberg's or Albert Einstein's philosophy there are many things to object to, but quantum mechanics isn't defined by Heisenberg's or Einstein's philosophical mistakes. It wouldn't be sensible to say "if anyone knows what quantum mechanics is, Einstein does; Einstein makes philosophical mistakes when he talks about QM; therefore QM is discredited".

I wonder if anyone actually cares what Dr.Feser is saying, exactly. So far, most of the comments have demonstrated no real attempt to understand the basic principles involved. What we do have is a pseudo-inquisition determining whether Ed is a double agent for Darwinism and a simple ideological refusal to understand him on his own terms. Hasn't he earned a little more than that from all of you?

If you are a Catholic or at least a traditional Christian, then Intelligent Design as a proof for the existence of God is worthless. If it has any merits whatsoever it is not on these grounds. If the claims of ID are successful at making serious challenges to neo-Darwinism then great, but it is not a serious attempt to establish the existence of the God that Christians have worshiped for 2000 years.

What we do have is a pseudo-inquisition determining whether Ed is a double agent for Darwinism and a simple ideological refusal to understand him on his own terms.
That may well be some of what is going on with some people. But it isn't what is going on with me, and I don't think it is with Lydia either.

What I am interested in is the relative A-T evaluation of neo-Darwinism and ID. Conceived of as mechanistic metaphysical programmes, both are unsurprisingly problemmatic. Conceived of as empirical forensic investigations, neither is specifically problemmatic from an A-T perspective. It is their equivalence - or not - from the A-T perspective which interests me, and that seems to be the hardest thing to pin down. I agree that the inference from any kind of agency implicated in ID to God is metaphysically a problem, precisely because the "agency" we know is only analogous to God's agency, and also because God is just as knowable as the creator of all things not merely living things. I agree with Ed's arguments about all of that, and am interested in a natural follow-on question which arises: what, if anything, given all that, does A-T philosophy have to say about the relative merits of neo-Darwinian evolution and ID? I think the answer is "nothing: neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory and ID are, from and A-T perspective, not problemmatic as empirical investigations; they are problemmatic in terms of the mechanistic metaphysical baggage which often comes along for the ride".

As Lydia mentioned in the other thread, if A-T is really completely agnostic on (say) the empirical claims of modern chemistry, it ought to also, and in precisely the same manner and with the same qualifications, be agnostic on the empirical claims of ID; in each case understood as empirical claims, separated from the mechanistic metaphysics many or even most people erroneously bring along for the ride.

The reason I find this of special interest, by the way, has little to do with the ID-Darwinism battle, which I grew rather tired of a few years ago. I suppose what residual interest I have in the matter has to do with the fact that materialism attempts to rule out a priori the causal efficacy of any agency at all, including human agency; and ID, with apologies to Laplace, doesn't see any need for that hypothesis. But the larger reason I find it of interest is because I want to understand what it says about A-T philosophy as understood by Ed, Frank, and others who have spent a lot more time studying A-T philosophy than I have.

What does an Intelligent Design separated from a mechanistic conception of nature look like? It seems to me that if we throw out the second we have already philosophically undermined the first.

EtL:

What does an Intelligent Design separated from a mechanistic conception of nature look like?

The Mona Lisa.

But I may have an answer to my own question, upon further reflection. (I realize that I am probably just 'catching up' to a bunch of folks here, but that's the story of my life, so bear with me).

Suppose that the empirical conclusions of ID are right. This implies that life - our own living bodies, in fact - are the product of intelligent design, where "design" is understood univocally as the same kind of agency in play when Da Vinci paints. Rather than proving the existence of God, this actually demonstrates the existence of the designer-Demiurge - which is to say, it proves design of life on earth by a being like ourselves, with our kind of designing capacity as agents. Now, for a strictly Aristotlean philosopher this isn't a problem, I don't think. But for a Christian Thomist empirical demonstration of design by a Demiurge is a far worse theological conundrum than spontaneous emergence from dust to bacteria to Man. Not insoluable, perhaps, but far more tricky.

So the "extra" hostility heaped on ID vs. neo-Darwinism may be a matter of these further theological complications.

What that leaves me wondering is how strong the implication from empirical proof-of-design to a Demiurge has to be. It seems to imply some logical limitation on God's own agency - which while only analogous to ours is nonetheless an agency of a more perfect and superlative kind - which would limit God from (say) miraculously creating the Mona Lisa.

Still, as a matter of tendencies of thought rather than strict logical implication, I can see how a Thomist might see ID as requiring a Divine miracle in a sense in which neo-Darwinism doesn't. With neo-Darwinism the emergence of life is kind of "built into" the world in a way in which it is not with ID, and the less "appeal to a miracle outside of the A-T framekwork" required the better, all other things considered. So maybe the various hostilities are a reflection of these kinds of considerations. There is a sense in which neo-Darwinism and A-T both view ID as an appeal to a miracle: the miracle for neo-Darwinism is any agency at all, while the miracle for A-T is God choosing to act via an agency like our agency.

However, a wise man recently said that we shouldn't invoke erroneous thinking in support of good results. So the empirical conclusions of ID or neo-Darwinism ought to stand or fall, as empirical conclusions, on their own merits.

In short, the question is whether the truth of A-T metaphysics as understood by philosophers like Ed requires that ID be wrong in ways that neo-Darwinism is not wrong.

Well, as I've often said, in presupposing mechanism ID theory is presupposing the same basic model of nature that naturalists, including Darwinian naturalists, presuppose. So to that extent they are both wrong in exactly the same way. They may or may not be wrong in other ways too, but I haven't been addressing that question. In general, I've said nothing whatsoever in these ID-related posts in defense of Darwinism, or in defense of any other view either other than A-T metaphysics. George may think I've done so, but as usual, George is living in his own world where what's on the page or computer screen never seems to match up with what the author actually wrote.

Part of the trouble here is that, as Edward indicates, too many people respond to this sort of discussion by emoting rather than thinking. They also fail to make crucial distinctions. I'll say "ID theory as presented by Dembski et al. is mechanistic and mechanism is false" and they'll respond by thinking "But I've heard Dembski say some interesting stuff about the fossil record!" or "But what about the fruit fly experiments?" or whatever. Well, when the hell did I ever say anything about the fossil record or fruit flies? That stuff is just not what's at issue here. Part of the trouble is that "ID theory" covers so many different things in people's minds; that's why I've repeatedly focused specifically on the two points I noted in our exchange on the other thread, Zippy (i.e. mechanism and anthropomorphism), but it doesn't seem to have done any good because certain people keep changing the subject to Darwinism or whatever. But then, "Darwinism" too is a word used in all sorts of different ways. All some poeople here seem to "know" is "ID theory, good!" and "Darwinism, bad!"

Well, if you want to say that the standard Darwinian mechanisms cannot account for every aspect of life, then as I've said before, I agree with that. Dawkins, Coyne, et al. are just doing metaphysics, and doing it badly, when they insist otherwise, and too many "theistic evolutionists" are naive if they assume that "Darwinism" as it is presented by such people is just "science" that has to be swallowed whole. But what does that have to do with what I've been saying in these posts? Nothing at all. Moreover, the deficiencies of this or that Darwinian argument by themselves lend no credibility to e.g. Dembski's notion of "specified complexity" or all the mathematical hoo-hah he thinks we need in order to "detect" "design." (There's a case, BTW, where I do think his "scientific" method is dubious -- in part because if the ambiguities in his use of the term "information" I noted in the main post -- but that has nothing to do with A-T specifically, and it is not what has been at issue here.)

I've been away from the computer for a number of hours, and the conversation may have left me behind, but I've been thinking out some comments. Decided to put them here but cd. have put them in the other thread. May come in several parts, so be patient.

Part I:

Ed, I don't want to speak for Zippy, but going back to his "anti-science" comment in the other thread, I want to express what I see as a kind of appearance of a double standard. I think it would help you to understand some frustration that ID-friendly people like me feel with your objections if you understood the appearance, to me, of a double standard. On the one hand, you insist that you can assimilate and interpret in your own terms all actual empirical results of modern science, that these _cannot_ and _do not_ refute your Aristotelian metaphysics. So your A-T metaphysics is not subject to empirical refutation. But on the other hand, ID arguments are empirical arguments about the best explanation of the origin of some given living organism or structure. And you appear to insist that these empirical arguments about the best explanation of the origin of an organism or structure can be *rejected out of hand* on the basis of your A-T metaphysics!

Now, it would be helpful if you could at least see how that appears to be a double standard. If your A-T metaphysics isn't refutable by empirical results of modern science, and if the ID arguments make a good case for an empirical proposition about origins, then your A-T metaphysics should be able to assimilate that. If your metaphysics requires you to reject it out of hand, then, I'm sorry, but that makes you look like you just won't look through the telescope. It has a definite "anti-science" appearance.

If you want your metaphysics to be relevant to an empirical argument about origins, then you need to be willing to make your metaphysics vulnerable to empirical refutation.

If, on the other hand, you want to insist that your metaphysics isn't thus vulnerable, then _great_. Look at ID arguments on their own terms and, as you do with the other facts of biochemistry, physics, etc., _all of which were developed and are understood by modern scientists in mechanistic terms_, embrace them and reinterpret them in your own metaphysical terms.

Part II

You need to realize and just come fully to terms with the fact that ID arguments are supposed to be about the best explanation of origins in particular cases. It is kind of frustrating when you keep saying, "When the heck have I said anything about Darwinism?" or whatever. Well, if you're going to talk about ID, you _should_, because the ID arguments are arguments that intelligent design is a *better explanation* of a given structure's existence than 1) abiogenesis (in the case of the origin of life) and 2) non-directed mutation-plus-selection in the case of the development of other structures. You shouldn't _not_ talk about this if you're going to purport to criticize ID, because this is what ID is about on its own terms.

Consider the following proposition:

Creature of type A, which did not have a blood-clotting cascade, developed by undirected neo-Darwinian mutation-plus-natural-selection into creature of type B, which did and does have a blood-clotting cascade.

Now, a certain ID argument says that this proposition is _false_ and that instead some sort of direction or involvement of an intelligent being was part of the causal explanation for the development of creature B with the blood-clotting cascade.

You can say anything you like, but nothing you say can change the following fact: This is an empirical dispute about how creature B with its blood-clotting cascade came into existence. That's what it is. You can't decide between these two explanations for creature B's blood-clotting cascade without looking at empirical details and deciding which, in fact, is the better explanation. If you want to speak of it theologically, you can say that the neo-Darwinists are asserting the action of a certain set of secondary causes as the full explanation for creature B's features, and the ID theorists are asserting that intelligent agency was necessary in addition, that those secondary causes are _not_ the full explanation.

If there is something about A-T metaphysics that means that we can't debate that question on its merits, then there's something seriously wrong with A-T metaphysics. But that should not be the case. It's an empirical, forensic question, and if you can handle all the other empirical questions that science examines, you should be interested in this one as well and should be able to deal with and appreciate the force that ID arguments have with regard to this one.

And by the way, complexity _is_ relevant to this debate, again, say what you will, because it is relevant to the question of whether the proposed set of secondary causes in the set-off neo-Darwinian proposition above is likely to have produced creature B with its blood-clotting cascade. It is, that is to say, relevant to the probability of the blood-clotting cascade on that hypothesis.

If you see a rock in the desert that _sort of_ looks like a face, you conclude that it isn't really a sculpture in part because of its crudity, which makes it a sensible explanation that it did in fact just develop by the blowing of the wind. You do not do that for the Mona Lisa. Complexity is relevant to origins questions and competing origins explanations.


Part III

Isaac Newton was a mechanist, yet you don't disbelieve in the law of gravity. The scientists that have been telling us for the past hundred years all manner of wonderful and amazing things about the way that every cell in your body operates and the way that those operations are related to the properties of the molecules and, ultimately, atoms of which your body is made are mostly mechanists, yet you say you have no problem with their factual conclusions.

Why will you not grant the same possibility to the discoveries of ID?

I'm a modernist mechanist (of sorts) and make no bones about it, so I may not do a very good job of this, but here is a shot at an attempted A-T-style assimilation of an ID argument:

Empirical evidence indicates that creature B has a different essence from creature A--specifically, an essence that involves a blood-clotting cascade. That empirical evidence includes the improbability that creature B would have developed by undirected neo-Darwinian processes from creature A. Therefore, it makes sense to conclude that a Being capable of creating essences and whole animals with their top-down interrelations made creature B with its essence, including the blood-clotting cascade and all the wonderful relations that bears to the other organs and processes of creature B.

If anything, your top-down approach to understanding organisms ought to make you _extremely_ ID-friendly, because the entire point of ID is that we should think of organisms as made by someone who thinks in top-down terms, who thinks of wholes and of the parts in relations to wholes, whereas the non-ID approach is to take it that these things merely have the _appearance_ of design but in fact have developed by a bottom-up process that takes no forethought for wholes and the relations of parts to wholes.

Ed:

I think one of the problems--especially among apologetics-oriented Evangelicals--is that they really don't have a metaphysically rich tradition by which to assess these issues. Hence, you have among them everything from the neo-positivism of my professor, John Warwick Montgomery, to the late Stanley Grenz's postmodernism to Gregory Boyd's incorporation of process thought in his philosophical theology. But as long as everyone believes in "inerrancy," then everything's cool. What they don't realize is that the philosophical assumptions ultimately are the undoing of (or serve as the infrastructure of) the theology they maintain is orthodox.

Take, for example, Montgomery's evidentialism. Perfectly fine, as it goes, except that John is enamored by the Early Wittgenstein and his neo-positivism. So, instead of rejecting this troubling epistemology (as the Reformed Epistemologists have ably done), he revels in it, and claims that Christianity can be proved under the strictures of neo-positivism since we can offer probable evidence for Christ's resurrection, and since Jesus claimed to be God, this proves he was God. And since he is God and said the Old Testament was inspired, then the OT is inspired and inerrant. And since Jesus (God and thus perfect) promised his disciples that the Holy Spirit would guide them, we have the grounds for the New Testament. Now, we have the whole Bible--and sola scriptura to boot--and abra cadabra Christianity's proved. And since other religions are considered "nonsense" by Wittgensteinian criteria of meaning, Christianity wins.

The ID guys are a lot like this. Instead of challenging the philosophy of nature handed to them, they accept it but then say, "But we can show materialism does not follow from it," just as Montgomery tried to show that atheism does not necessarily follow from neo-postivist evidentialism. In neither case does it mean that a Dembski or a Montgomery may not be offering a plausible argument. But what troubles me--and I suspect troubles Ed as well--is that the first step gives away the store. In both cases, the thinkers in question do not consider what the first step implies for a variety of other issues and beliefs within the Christian narrative. Sure, you get your probable resurrection and your probable design inference, but you permit Christianity to be held hostage to two hostile points of view: neo-postivism and ontological mechansim. And that means that other things, such as mystical experience, infused grace, dysteleology (which, in my judgment, as St. Thomas points out, can only by solved by appealing to Providence), etc. become marginalized from the tradition, since they must be assessed under the rubric of neopostivism or ontological mechanism. Hence, Montgomery makes fun of personal piety throughout his writings as hopelessly subjective. And Dembski must hope for future science to remove things like junk DNA. This is what happens when you hitch your theological wagon to metaphysically hostile star.

The pragmatics of ID should not matter for Christians. What should matter is whether the whole project undermines or advances a Christian philosophy of nature consistent with both Scripture and tradition. If Behe's argument shows that is improbable that Darwinian mechanisms can account for the bacterial flagellum, more power to him. But that's not a philosophy of nature. It is, to be sure, interesting. But the best that it accomplishes is to provide evidence that a sliver of evolutionary biology cannot be accounted for by neo-Darwinian theory and seems to exhibit attributes we associate with designed artifacts. That's pretty thin gruel, if you ask me. Yes, the "Face on Mars" may be the result of alien engineers, but the fact that it has not been explained naturally does not make it so.

It took me between 2000 and the end of 2004 to begin to figure this out. (Which means that I am far more dense than even my enemies have imagined). (See my BioLogos pieces: http://biologos.org/blog/author/francis-beckwith/ ).

The pragmatics of ID should not matter for Christians. What should matter is whether the whole project undermines or advances a Christian philosophy of nature consistent with both Scripture and tradition.

So, Frank, you say the pragmatics should not matter and then proceed to make a pragmatic argument. God forbid we should get excited about something that might turn out to be false. Makes Christianity way too vulnerable. Let's just not talk about arguments based on empirical premises that might turn out to be false.

Again, I give Ed credit: He hasn't done this.

No, the pragmatics should not matter. That first sentence, unlike the follow-up, is right. What should matter is what is true. If you think neo-Darwinism is true and are a theistic evolutionist who believes that those secondary causes are the true explanation of all the living organisms we see around us, okay, that's your empirical conclusion. But it _is_ an empirical conclusion, and yeah, it's darned interesting if it's false. And it's subject to further empirical investigation and, perhaps, to being defeated empirically.

Frankly, Frank, I don't think you mean it when you say that the ID conclusions are "interesting." Sorry, but I really don't. Because every word you say goes on to dismiss them as trivial and uninteresting ("pretty thin gruel"), as well as, somehow "giving away the store" from the outset. Maybe that's because you think they're _false_. But there are a whole lotta naturalists who think it would be a big, big deal and a lot more interesting than you appear to think it would be if ID turned out to be true.

Oh, and by the way: Stop characterizing ID arguments solely as negative: "But the best that it accomplishes is to provide evidence that a sliver of evolutionary biology cannot be accounted for..." "has not been explained..." You know as well as I do that an eliminative approach is not the only way to construe ID explanatory arguments.

Lydia:

I don't want to speak for Zippy, but going back to his "anti-science" comment in the other thread, I want to express what I see as a kind of appearance of a double standard.
FWIW I'm becoming increasingly convinced that "Thomism versus ID" is a social phenomenon based in historical contingencies and such, rather than some fundamental incompatibility. I suspect that Thomism is no more incompatible with ID than it is with quantum mechanics or the Big Bang. Heaven knows that QM and the Big Bang have given rise to all sorts of weird metaphysical disputes and errors.

"So, Frank, you say the pragmatics should not matter and then proceed to make a pragmatic argument. God forbid we should get excited about something that might turn out to be false. Makes Christianity way too vulnerable. Let's just not talk about arguments based on empirical premises that might turn out to be false."

That's not what I'm saying at all. What I am saying is that some arguments--though seemingly helpful in the short run--put in place premises that serve to undermine rather than sustain a community's faith. Take, for example, the case in which the social conservative offers evidence against Planned Parenthood that contraception dispensed to high school kids is ultimately ineffective. But the social conservative's view is not that premarital sex is wrong because it has bad physical consequences and that PP's measures don't alleviate them. Rather, the social conservative's view is that premarital sex is wrong regardless of the bad physical consequences, since a person is more than just a material collection of urges needing to be fulfilled. But by offering the social science data as one's public argument the social conservative's case is now vulnerable to the eventual perfection of contraception distribution to teenagers. For once that occurs, then the social conservative has lost the public argument, since he or she, by offering such an argument, "gives away the anthropological store" to his or her adversary.

Making one's position more vulnerable to irrelevant criticism is not a virtue, and it is not pragmatics that leads me to that conclusion. What leads me to it is the nature of what I believe and the sorts of premises that would, in the long run, undermine it. So, I locate "vulnerability" at a different of level of abstraction than you do. Yes, there are reasons and arguments that may count against my point of view, but it is not wise to needlessly multiply them by putting forward something that is not quite my point of view. If, for example, the Dembski-Behe project teaches people the wrong lessons about Christian theism, it actually hurts Christian theism when the Dembski-Behe project in the short run is successful, just as the social conservative position is hurt when in the short run its advocates can show that PP's ways to be ineffective in the goals they want to achieve.

I hope that example clarifies what I was trying to communicate.

Zippy, I agree with you insofar as Thomism or Aristotelianism is regarded as a metaphysical view that has not _already_ been refuted by other scientific discoveries. My own _guess_ is that if Aristotle could be brought back from the dead he would treat his views as empirical and scientific in nature and would therefore have to admit that those demmed atomists turned out to be right after all and would happily revise his views: In other words, that it's probably better history to regard Aristotelianism as science and hence as refutable and to no small extent refuted than as pure metaphysics.

But _since_ that is not Ed's version of Aristotelianism or his view (and I hope what I have just said won't be incredibly annoying to him), what you have just said should be regarded as correct. _That_ sort of Aristotelianism/Thomism should be as compatible with ID as it is with the scientific discovery that, e.g., a vacuum is possible in nature.

Well, Frank, not to derail the thread, but I tend to think that one of the reasons that PP's methods are ineffective is _because_ they fail to take human nature into account. So actually, pointing out their ineffectiveness is connected to pointing out that they go against God's plan for mankind.

But in any event, I still believe that you are changing the subject from what is true. If intelligent design is the best explanation for the existence of creature B with the blood-clotting cascade (and note--that's a positive statement, not just a "cannot account for" negative statement), then that's what's _true_, and that's a very interesting and important truth. And if that truth can be justified in important measure by knowing about the details of the blood-clotting cascade, then that's an important and very interesting argument. It's not "thin gruel," it's not "giving away the store" to point to those interesting facts and to draw justified conclusions from them, and it's an argument worth making and paying attention to.

" If intelligent design is the best explanation for the existence of creature B with the blood-clotting cascade (and note--that's a positive statement, not just a "cannot account for" negative statement), then that's what's _true_, and that's a very interesting and important truth."

But here's the problem: if and when in the future a natural mechanism is discovered, the naturalist, along with Dembski and Behe, will concede that the object in question is absent of final causality. In that sense, ID becomes the default position if chance and law fail. Of course, I know that Dembski offers an explanatory filter in order to exclude those two options. (I wrote a law school dissertation on the darn thing!). But if one believes, as I do, that nature's final causality is not to be found in the arrangement of parts, then the filter winds up excluding T-A as well. I know that Bill would say, "No it doesn't." But that's not good enough in today's academic culture which elevates "scientific knowledge" as the king of the hill. Bill, unfortunately, reinforces that narrative by suggesting that "ID is science too."

The T-A says, to paraphrase the country singer, Johnny Lee, "You're looking for design in all the wrong places."

As for my PP example, I think you are underestimating how powerful the consequentialist narrative is in our culture. By employing social science arguments, and ignoring anthropological ones, we reinforce that narrative and grant it legitimacy. Remember, the AIDS crisis did not result in wide-spread judgment of the immorality of homosexual acts. It resulted in more funding to help those suffering from AIDS. The argument that because unprotected anal sex is the most efficient means to contract AIDS, then anal sex is immoral does not work in a culture that has rejected formal and final causality on matters of philosophical anthropology. This is why the anti-PP social science argument is doomed, and may actually make it more difficult for our legacy to make the principled arguments in the future.

At the end of the day, you and I just see the intellectual and cultural landscape much differently. But that doesn't mean I don't like your pasta! :-)

A clarification:

I wrote, "It resulted in more funding to help those suffering from AIDS." I was not implying that I didn't agree with this. I did and I do. I think helping those suffering from a fatal disease is a good and noble thing, required by Christian charity.

Lydia,

One of us is missing the point, and I don't think it's me. Either a living thing is to be analyzed holistically a la Aristotle or it isn't; or, to go back to the Aristotelian distinction Dembski himself alludes to, either a living thing is to be regarded as "natural" or it is to be regarded as "artifactual," in Aristotle's technical senses of these words. Now, if a non-holistic, "artifactual" analysis is correct, then the ID approach is (to that extent, anyway) correct. But if a holistic, "natural" (in Aristotle's sense) approach is correct, then both ID theory and naturalistic reductionism are wrong; they just misconceive from the get-go the question of how to think about the nature and origins of a living thing. That's the basic issue, and it's very simple. Where this "double standard" you keep bringing up comes in, I have no idea. What exactly is the standard I'm applying to one view but not the the other?

Certainly it has nothing to do with any results of modern science. I have never said e.g. "Here are some results of modern science that ID doesn't explain very well, but BTW, no such results are relevant to evaluating A-T one way or the other, so nyah nyah." The only thing I've said about modern science is that A-T will interpret its results differently from the way a mechanist (whether that mechanist be a naturalist or an ID theorist) would. But that is not a matter of appealing to modern science as evidence in favor of one view or against the other.

At the same time, that doesn't mean that empirical science is not relevant at all to the overall evaluation of A-T; you keep saying that I've made that claim, but I haven't. The point is rather that the specific issues I've been addressing vis-a-vis the specific topic of the difference between A-T and ID does not require getting into that; it suffices to talk about the differences between general metaphysical approaches, which is what I've been emphasizing.

Keep in mind also that the point of these posts has been to highlight these differences rather than to provide a case for A-T. I have not been saying "Here are the reasons for thinking A-T is true" -- I've done some of that in other places, as have other A-T writers -- but rather "Here are the ways ID is at odds with A-T, so if you accept the latter you should reject the former."

Again, that's all I've been concerned with, but everyone wants to talk about other things. For example, in the post above what is at issue is whether Dembski is committed to mechanism and thus at odds with A-T. And I gave evidence to show that Dembski is committed to such an approach. George says I'm wrong but never explains why, and you endorse what George says without explaining why either. And now here we are discussing whether A-T is true, and how does this fit in with Darwinism, and what about Newton and gravity, and now I see that Zippy's waxing eloquent about "social phenomena based in historical contingencies," or whatever.

Forgive me for saying: "What the hell are these people going on about?"

My own _guess_ is that if Aristotle could be brought back from the dead he would treat his views as empirical and scientific in nature and would therefore have to admit that those demmed atomists turned out to be right after all and would happily revise his views: In other words, that it's probably better history to regard Aristotelianism as science and hence as refutable and to no small extent refuted than as pure metaphysics.

But _since_ that is not Ed's version of Aristotelianism or his view (and I hope what I have just said won't be incredibly annoying to him),

Well, sorry to disappoint, but yes, it is incredibly annoying. To say the very least.

If you don't see why it is, shall we say, rather tendentious glibly to suggest that the whole apparatus of act/potency, form/matter, final causality, etc. etc. has simply been refuted by some empirical discovery or other (which ones exactly?) -- and it is, BTW, not merely "Ed's version of Aristotelianism" that denies this -- then, well, I simply don't know where to begin. Other than to suggest that you might want to read some actual Aristotle scholars and modern Aristotelians, who take a different view, and not all of whom are stupid or uninformed. But since I've got about 302 other things to get done today anyway, I'm afraid you'll have to rest content with that. Bye for now.

Ed, now I'm confused again. Let me ask a simple question.

In your understanding, is ID more compatible with A-T than quantum mechanics, less compatible, or the same as compatible?

Your previous posts had me convinced that the answer was "the same as", but now I don't know anymore.

Ed, I already wrote a much longer comment, much of which I feel you've ignored. I know it _was_ long, so in a way, I understand, but I think I made a lot of sense, so I'd sort of rather not repeat myself too much.

_I_ think that living things are artifactual. I'm a happy mechanist. But it seems to me that if you can accommodate within your metaphysics the _facts_ on which ID arguments are based--for example, the fact that atoms and other sub-living structures have no natural tendency to form into living things all by themselves, or the fact (if it is shown to be a fact) that undirected neo-Darwinian mechanisms are highly unlikely to produce a creature with a blood-clotting cascade from a creature without one--then you ought to be able to accommodate the inference _from_ those facts to design within your metaphysics as well. I've even tried to give an example of how that might be done.

Now, it may be the case that ID makes use of facts which happen to sit less comfortably with Aristotelianism construed as science than do other facts. For example, the large-scale fact that cats have kittens probably sits more comfortably with Aristotelianism construed as science than do the far more detailed facts about the biochemical process of blood-clotting within a cat. But that's not my problem. If it's anybody's problem, it's the Aristotelian's problem. If the modern Aristotelian has no problem with those details, then he ought to be willing to consider, as an explanatory matter, what explanation those details support as to the origins of the mammalian blood-clotting process.

Like it or not, _that's_ what ID is about. You want, instead, just to say, "Well, Dembski's a mechanist, and living things aren't artifactual, so ID is just wrong, wrong, wrong." To tell you the truth, this just looks to me like changing the subject from the empirical argument. The empirical argument is about the best explanation for the origins of particular entities. That's what you should be dealing with if you want to say that ID is wrong.

If the facts on which ID is based make living things look artifactual when you think about them too long and too hard, argue with the facts. If you can deal with those facts metaphysically, then deal with them metaphysically, put in a footnote to your own version of the ID arguments saying that living things aren't _really_ artifactual, and start asking whether there's a good inference to the best explanation here or not. Because if there is, there is, and all the Aristotelian metaphysics in the world can't change it.

And by the way, I've now read most of your _Aquinas_ and liked it. But I'm no closer to being an Aristotelian than I ever was.

Frank, you say,

But here's the problem: if and when in the future a natural mechanism is discovered,...

First of all, if there wasn't a natural mechanism, then a natural mechanism won't be "discovered," will it? "Discovered" is a success verb. And if we're concerned about _truth_ (which is what I was talking about in the part of my comment that you quoted), then we should want to know the truth about that, shouldn't we?

Second, what Behe or Dembski or anybody else will concede depends on what else they happen to think. Either they have other arguments or they don't. Some given person, we'll call him "Edward Michael Dembski," might have _both_ types of arguments in his arsenal--both empirical arguments for design and completely different metaphysical arguments. But Behe's or Dembski's arguments are what they are and have the force that they have. We shouldn't ignore them out of fear that they _might_ turn out to be wrong. I'm afraid it continues to sound like that is what you are saying--all the more so in this most recent comment.

By the way, Frank, it's a trifle...tactless for you to make a connection among a) ID arguments, b) the historical argument for the resurrection, and c) arguments that "give away the store."

Do you think the historical argument for the resurrection "gives away the store"? Is there some specific premise in Montgomery's specific version of it that is false because of his other views on, say, religious experience? (That's a rhetorical question. You and I both know that there isn't.)

"Do you think the historical argument for the resurrection "gives away the store"? Is there some specific premise in Montgomery's specific version of it that is false because of his other views on, say, religious experience? (That's a rhetorical question. You and I both know that there isn't.)"

I wasn't dealing with Montgomery's resurrection argument. I like it, and have used it. My problem is his acceptance of neopostivism that requires him to reduce all Christian apologetics to empirical of a crude sort. The resurrection argument and what it entails was meant to my illustrative of the limitations of this approach.

"I'm a happy mechanist."

My feelings exactly.

Sorry, Mr. Computer. Descartes says you don't have a mind, and I agree with him.

I'm trying to follow these arguments, but thus far, I still have no clear notion of what A-T itself says about how a universe and the creation of living things comes about. So I can't compare it to ID or my own metaphysics.

I agree with Mr. Beckwith that ID may very well undermine tradition and Scripture, but haven't we already crossed that line some time ago?

As I have patiently proposed, our very real knowledge of natural history disposes with the the Adam and Eve explanation for the human condition. No Fall, then no necessary Sacrifice by God on the Cross.

That's a pretty devastating criticism on our religion, right there. ID is quite tame compared to that. And what matters is what is true, regardless of how it might harm tradition. Truth trumps religion every day of the week. (But the concept has to be true. People bring up things like Quantum Mech., the Big Bang and such, but the fact is that our present physics is not a very good description of reality. It can't even tell us what gravity is. I wouldn't trust physics any more than I trust neo-Darwinian biology.)

Anyway, at this point I have no idea what A-T metaphysics actually looks like. If I had a quarrel with ID, it's that I'm not sure that its main assertions can be proven like irreducible complexity and such.

There is an interesting attack on Darwinism I came across that some might care to read. "Why Everything You've Been Told About Evolution Is Wrong"

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/mar/19/evolution-darwin-natural-selection-genes-wrong

Did you know that your happiness could affect your offspring's happiness purely through gene expression (if, say, your offspring was raised by other happy and good people)?

Apparently, our present lives affect the gene expression of our offspring. All that so-called junk DNA seems to be involved.

Friends, all - chill, please.

I thought Frank and I had chilled to the point of making philosophy jokes.

Lydia - sometimes the intensity of the discussion here kind of scares me.

"Lydia - sometimes the intensity of the discussion here kind of scares me."

Steve, do you want to read you a bed time story? :-)

Zippy and Lydia, let me respond to your latest remarks together, since they are related. But first, I want to note the following. Consider the following two claims:

1. ID theory, as presented by Dembski, is committed to a mechanistic conception of nature (as Aristotelians define "mechanism").

2. ID theory is therefore incompatible with A-T.

Sound familiar? Maybe not, given that no one seems to want to address them. But they were, you know, the actual themes of the post above. What is interesting, though, is that (almost) everything Lydia says on this subject seems to me to indicate that she agrees with these two propositions. It's just that she also thinks that:

3. A-T is false.

I say "almost" everything because she earlier expressed agreement with George. The trouble is that while Lydia seems to think 1, 2, and 3 are all true, George says they're all false. So why do George and Lydia think that on this issue, they're allied? Heck if I know. But it would really help things, Lydia, if you'd just tell us straight out whether you do in fact assent to 1 and 2 (I know you assent to 3). And if you don't assent to 1 and/or 2, please explain (a) how I've misunderstood the Dembski quotes I gave and/or (b) how all we A-T types who are critical of ID are somehow misreading our own position, or that of ID theory, when we assert an incompatibility. Because, again, these are the issues the posts have been about.

Now, on to the other issues. As a general background point, keep in mind that one of the beefs A-T has against the conception of nature taken for granted in the centuries since the mechanistic revolution is the obsession with those features of nature which can be modeled mathematically. There is simply more to nature than that, from an A-T point of view. All the same, A-T does not deny for a moment that the models are correct; A-T claims only that they don't tell the whole story. But the story they tell is fine as far as it goes. And since the hard sciences more or less confine themselves to such models, they are bound to require less in the way of comment from an A-T metaphysician. The A-T metaphyscian can simply say "Your methods don't get at everything, but they are fine as far as they go and their results are therefore correct." Said results nevertheless require fitting withing a correct metaphycial framework, but everyone already knows that anyway, as the debates within philosophy of physics and philosophy of science show -- it isn't only A-T types who would say that.

Things are different where biology is concerned, though, for here we see more than merely the mathematical modeling characteristic of physics and the like. Here we see as well certain metaphysical assumptions often presented as if they were empirical or "merely scientific" as opposed to philosophical, when they are nothing of the kind. You don't need to be an ID theorist to see that naturalistic metaphysics is doing much of the heavy lifting in the arguments of Darwinians. (Though some ID theorists define "ID" so broadly that I guess it's no surprise if they think otherwise.)

But the whole point of what I and other A-T types have been saying vis-a-vis ID theory is that it too makes such metaphysical assumptions, such as the assumption that life ought to be understood mechanistically (as A-T understands the term "mechanistic"). Yes, ID theorists claim they make no such asumptions -- just like Darwinians claim not to -- but the ID theorists are as wrong as the Darwinians are. Both parties ahve so deeply imbibed the mechanistic prejudices of the age that they have mistaken them for "scientific," when what they really are is just a contingent metaphysical gloss on the actual results of science, or so we A-T philosophers would claim. And we would also claim that the metaphysical assumptions both parties are making are false.

So, it simply misses the point entirely -- and begs the question -- to compare ID to quantum mechanics (as Zippy does) or Newton's laws (as Lydia does) and say "But Ed, if you don't have any beef with those, why do you have one with ID?" As if ID was "pure science" as opposed to (bad) metaphysics -- which is precisely what is at issue. And that's why I said your long-ish earlier post missed the point, Lydia, and why I didn't respond to the details.

Finally, Lydia, when you say things like this:

For example, the large-scale fact that cats have kittens probably sits more comfortably with Aristotelianism construed as science than do the far more detailed facts about the biochemical process of blood-clotting within a cat. But that's not my problem. If it's anybody's problem, it's the Aristotelian's problem

I am honestly, and with respect, at a loss. I simply do not understand what you are basing such a bizarre claim on.

If anything, the sorts of facts Darwinians have trouble accounting for are exactly the sorts of thing A-T philosophers would point to as favoring their position over mechanism. That's why you find writers on biology and phil of biology like the sort I've cited in the past -- such as Grene, Ariew, and Turner -- appealing precisely to Aristotelian notions in the face of the weaknesses of the standard mechanistic assumptions about life.

Part of the trouble here, again, is that you, like George, seem insistent on reading what I write as if it were an A-T apologia for Darwinism. It is nothing of the kind. To take one of your examples, and as I think I said in an earlier exchange we had on this topic, I agree that the origin of life cannot be explained in naturalistic terms. My problem with ID types is not that they make this claim; my problem with them is that they give bad arguments for it. The impossibility in question derives from the correct (A-T) metaphysical analysis of what life is, not from an "argument to the best explanation," the weighing or probabilities, an appeal to "specified complex information" with all the pseudo-rigorous mathematical razzle dazzle, etc. etc. Indeed, as I've also said before, ID theorists themselves no doubt make important points on issues like this here and there, but said points get buried in so much pseudo-scientific bad metaphysics that their effectiveness is undermined.

Oh, and thanks for your kind words about my book, Lydia. I hope that, like you and Frank, you and I can now chill to the point of making some philosophy jokes too. Only my brain is too fried right now to think of any...!

"The empirical argument is about the best explanation for the origins of particular entities. That's what you should be dealing with if you want to say that ID is wrong."

This is simply incorrect. Intelligent Design makes certain assumptions about the way the world is, and it needs these assumptions in order to justify itself. Dr. Feser's point is that a mechanistic conception of nature is the philosophical foundation of Intelligent Design, and since the mechanistic conception is wrong, the thought that is birthed from it will be wrong as well.

I think this discussion has reached a point where it will no longer be fruitful (if it ever was). I have followed many of the discussions at this site dealing with Thomism and modern philosophy, and, to be honest, I have never seen someone repeat themselves as much as Dr. Feser has. It is a waste of time. I would say that now it is a flat out refusal to understand, and I do not mean a refusal to reach an agreement; no one is compelled to accept the thought of either Aristotle or St. Thomas. What I mean is simply making the effort to understand fully what he and the tradition he represents says about these topics. Criticism without understanding, what is going on here, and the motivation for it is what I think accounts for the apparent intensity and borderline hostility of these conversations which Steve has noticed. But, frankly, it is not Dr. Feser who is behaving this way.

1. ID theory, as presented by Dembski, is committed to a mechanistic conception of nature (as Aristotelians define "mechanism").
Well, I'm repeating myself in suggesting that personalizing this to the philosophical mistakes of one person taken as 'archetypical' isn't helpful. One of two things seems to be the case: either I don't know what A-T philosophers mean by "mechanistic", or the same thing can be said with equal force of quantum mechanics if we frame it in the same way, that is, "QM as presented by X" where X is some QM bigwig taken as an archetype. Specifically, say, either "QM, as presented by Niels Bohr, is committed to a mechanistic conception of nature ..." is also true, or I don't know what A-T philosophers mean by "a mechanistic conception of nature". (The latter is certainly possible).

If ID conceptually stands or falls based on Dembski's personal idiosyncracies then Lydia has already rejected "ID" herself, since she has criticized Dembski's approach. So again - perhaps Edward the Lesser will express outrage at me having to repeat myself as well - I think there is a lot less here than meets the eye if it all hangs together only as a personal criticism of Dembski.

I've recommended it before, but the book Quantum Mechanics: Historical Contingency and the Copenhagen Hegemony by James Cushing makes an interesting read for a number of reasons at least obliquely on topic to this thread.

Dembski is the main theorist of "ID" and rest tend to follow his lead. It seems to be impossible to have a theory of "ID" that is not mechanistic. As a theory it presupposes the idea of nature driving by Mechanism. "ID" is a Philosophical theory on how to interpret Evoultionary data, it states that other theories of how to interpret nature are wrong and Feser's point is that "ID" suffers from the same problems as Darwinism in this area, with its relience on mechanism to explain organisms, and its failure to see organism's as more than just mechanics.

Also Quantum Mechanics doesn't deal with organisms so most of the arguments don't apply to it. In the Qunatum Aspects of Life its mainly about how Quantum Mechanics (and Newtonion mechanics applies as well) create the conditions for life to take place, and how exteral effects lead to the specfic ways in which the organisms evolve (Gravity for instance effects the size and shape of the animals on the planet through the force and pressure it puts on them).

Ed, I'll respond as directly as I can to your 1, 2, and 3.

Your #1 is

1. ID theory, as presented by Dembski, is committed to a mechanistic conception of nature (as Aristotelians define "mechanism")

The quotations you give from Dembski do appear to be contradicting Aristotle as Dembski interprets Aristotle and, apparently, as you also do. The trouble is that when Dembski says something like (I don't have the quote up in front of me) that the material of which living things is made does not have a tendency on its own to make living things, or something like that, and that therefore the "information" (I don't like that term, but he does) has to be supplied from outside, he seems to me merely to be referring to a fact that, as far as I can tell, you _agree_ with--namely, that the subcomponents of living things do not have a tendency all on their own to, as I put it in the other thread, jump up and form living things. And it also appears to be true that the sub-components of one sort of living thing do not appear to have an intrinsic tendency to "morph" on their own, "guided" only by unguided mutation and natural selection, into another sort of living thing with a new, complex system or biochemical cascade.

Now, if I understand you correctly, you have no problem with those facts. Yet you also seem to be saying, if I'm understanding you, that they also do not contradict Aristotle, while Dembski appears to think that they do. If Dembski is merely saying what I take him to be saying, and if you have no problem with that, then he is apparently not committing what you call mechanism, and the matter between you is merely one of Aristotle interpretation. If he is committing what you call mechanism, then apparently your position is that it must be the case that the sub-components of living things have a tendency to form them by themselves, that therefore the information doesn't have to be "added from outside," and so forth. Yet you have said that you don't think that and in fact think that the origin of life (for example) is an argument for an act of God! So either you and Dembski are both mechanists, or neither of you is, or I'm misinterpreting Dembski.

But if I'm misinterpreting Dembski, then what I am taking him to say certainly is something that I'm sure he and many ID theorists would also be very comfortable with. That is to say, "Aristotle was wrong" is not something that they are just dying to say as ID theorists. Contradicting Aristotle as an historical matter is not an important part of their program! So take them instead to be saying, "Living things and sub-components of living things are composed in such a way that their sub-components do not have a natural tendency to form living things all by themselves or to form certain new complex systems within living things acted upon only by secondary causes as posited by neo-Darwinism."

And if that isn't mechanism, then we're all A-OK.

This addresses #2 as well.

Yes, I'm not an Aristotelian, so I think that #3 is true, but that shouldn't be a problem here.

You keep insisting, Ed, that arguments in this area will have nothing to do with probabilities and best explanations. Here I feel that you are being too quick and facile, particularly as regards changes from one type of living entity to another. I understand the "non-life/life" distinction a bit from your perspective and understand why you say that the design argument (!) you make there, for which I once before offered you an ID Club membership card :-), is in some sense metaphysical rather than probabilistic. I still disagree with you there, because I think complexity is being implicitly invoked even to see that a living cell is really living and would not have formed spontaneously.

But let that go for the moment. When it comes to deciding where the blood-clotting cascade, the visual cascade, the bacterial flagellum, etc., came from (and I believe Behe could have written whole libraries of books about things like this, by the way), then I think that if you _looked_ at the arguments you would see that origins arguments on these matters really do have to invoke nitty-gritty stuff about complexity and inference to the best explanation in order to decide whether these systems evolved in a neo-Darwinian fashion from simpler creatures or not. I, and the ID folk, as well as many anti-ID biologists and lots of other ordinary folk, find those types of things to be interesting questions. Perhaps you find them uninteresting questions, but I think you should not be so quick to say that they can't have anything to do with probabilities. Indeed, you yourself say that the Aristotelian's interpretation of biological reality will involve details, that the "devil is in the details." I have already suggested that arguments such as Behe's could be relevant, from your perspective, in distinguishing among creatures and types of creatures with different essences. No doubt you could do a better job than I can at discussing how your A-T theory would deal with good empirical arguments that the blood-clotting cascade was the result of intelligent agency rather than purely non-intelligent secondary causes "morphing" one type of creature into another. But for some reason you seem to think you can judge what type of argument cannot be made there a priori, which I think is puzzling and frustrating.

Three problems with A-Tism:

1. It assumes that intellectual justification is philosophical at the root. It isn't. It's theological. A-Ters are playing the wrong game with the wrong rules. They don't have the right tools for the job. Apart from an articulate God, no one can even begin. Only if the articulate God himself begins with a revelation aimed at the mind and senses He himself has designed as suitable receptors for his revelation can we begin. Begin there or not at all. In other words, intellectual justification starts with an articulate and gracious revelation from God or it does not begin -- just like the world about which we want to know. Knowledge and the world have the same Origin - a speaking God. Apart from Him, neither of those things is possible -- neither the world nor our knowledge about it. To quote Dorothy Sayers in a different context: "begin here."

2. It assumes that theology is just philosophy you do about God. It isn't. Theology is reasonable reflection upon the Word of God (and not upon nature considered apart from God's words). A-Ters think they are doing theology even when they aren't.

3. Because we are habitually and willingly suppressors of the truth -- Aristotle and his system included -- reflection upon nature, reflection unaided by the Word of God, is hopeless. We can't begin to extricate ourselves from this morass until we understand that Aristotle's system is a suppression of the truth, even at its best, and even when it is filtered by Thomas Aquinas -- perhaps especially when it is filtered by Thomas Aquinas because he has baptized that suppression and made it seem more Christian than it is or ever could be.

The Phantom Blogger writes:

Dembski is the main theorist of "ID" and rest tend to follow his lead.
Well, if I were a nominalist I might buy into the notion that QM is just what Niels Bohr says it is, nothing more, nothing less, and that ID is just what Bill Dembski says it is, nothing more, nothing less. But I'm not a nominalist, so I don't.
It seems to be impossible to have a theory of "ID" that is not mechanistic [in the Feserian A-T meaning of "mechanistic"].
Well, that is what I am trying to determine. If it is true that an empirical conclusion that some particular life form was, univocally, brought into being by volitional design, would - that empirical conclusion would - falsify Feserian A-T philosophy, that is pretty interesting. It is interesting both because it explains the vehemence with which some A-T philosophers attack ID, and it is interesting because it means that A-T philosophy is subject to empirical falsification, which I thought was not the case.

Zippy, ID cannot, by definition, establish the existence of the God of classical theism. That is why it is "attacked" by Thomist philosophers. It is sorely lacking precisely because of the false philosophical assumptions from which it proceeds.

It is also attacked because, in contemporary popular discourse, God lives or dies depending on whether evolution is true or not. This entire dichotomy, though, as Dr. Feser and many others have pointed out, is utterly ridiculous. This is, in part, due to the rampant scientism and naturalism in the modern West which says that something must be empirically verifiable in order to be known. This philosophy (not science) is dangerous and incoherent and must be displaced because it is false. By the natural light of reason, man can know that the material world is perpetually dependent on an immaterial Creator who is Pure Act, Absolutely Simple, Goodness Itself, Being Itself, etc. These conclusions cannot be reached by purely empirical means although they, like all human knowledge, begin with empirical premises.

The reason why Intelligent Design fails is because, on a Thomistic account of nature and reality in general, it is just another theory which accepts the scientism against which Christianity has been at war for centuries. It goes against both reason and tradition and will never be able to demonstrate that the God of Christianity exists. If people are interested in it for other reasons, so be it. But do not fool yourself; no Aristotelian is worried that their philosophical foundation will be falsified by empirical findings. This is not why ID is wrongheaded.

If it is true that an empirical conclusion that some particular life form was, univocally, brought into being by volitional design

I don't think this could ever be trully proved, because it would always be based on a presumption. You could make a good case for it, but could not produce a unequivocal definitive proof.

It is interesting both because it explains the vehemence with which some A-T philosophers attack ID, and it is interesting because it means that A-T philosophy is subject to empirical falsification, which I thought was not the case.

What I mean't by "It seems to be impossible to have a theory of "ID" that is not mechanistic" is that in order for ID to make sense people (and our bodys) are nothing more than a collection of mechanisms that make up a whole person (like in Darwinism), but under A-T philosophy the mechanisms are just part of the whole organism that can't be explained purely through empirical and scientific enquiry. A-T philosophy doesn't deal directly with the study of science, it deals with the areas that it feels science can't explain, through a rational analysis of organism's, that is metaphysical in nature. I think A-T philosophy, all though not subject to empirical falsification, could be made redundant if we could explain, what it trys to, through empirical enquiry alone (but I think this is unlikely and probably impossible).

I don't think this could ever be trully proved, because it would always be based on a presumption. You could make a good case for it, but could not produce a unequivocal definitive proof.

PB, I don't know what "presumption" you're talking about, but as far as "definitive proof," I'm making a _probable_ argument that the comment you just wrote was not generated randomly by your computer. It's _enormously_, _incredibly_ probable, but it isn't a deductive, metaphysical proof.

Edward the Lesser wrote:

ID cannot, by definition, establish the existence of the God of classical theism. That is why it is "attacked" by Thomist philosophers.
And yet the attacks continue when it is explicitly acknowledged that, yes, a forensic empirical inquiry cannot establish the existence of God. All you are telling me here is that Thomist philosophers are attacking a straw man. Quite vehemently and relentlessly. Which is very curious indeed, and makes people like me wonder just what the heck is going on.

The Phantom Blogger wrote:

in order for ID to make sense people (and our bodys) are nothing more than a collection of mechanisms that make up a whole person (like in Darwinism)
As far as I can tell that is just another straw man. Neither a Darwinist nor someone who believes the truth of ID, as empirical conclusions, must as a matter of necessity think that people are nothing but a collection of mechanisms.

Lydia,

I wasn't criticizing you, it was just that specific statement that Zippy addresed to me, you could make a probable case as I point out in the sentence, just not a definitive one, and it would be based on a presumption of God (as Zippy pointed out in another post, people have stated the case, that the intelligent designers who created and designed the Origins of Life could have been some form of alien life. Now, although it sounds insane, many people have repeated this idea including Fred Hoyle and Richard Dawkins).

PB:

it was just that specific statement that Zippy addresed to me, you could make a probable case as I point out in the sentence, just not a definitive one...
I really don't know what I've said that you are addressing now. I am not aware of anyone claiming that a "definitive" case for the truth of, say, quantum mechanics or some other scientific theory can be established. That just isn't the way empirical conclusions - any empirical conclusions - work. You seem to be attacking a standard you have made up yourself, rather than one that has been asserted by some other participant in the discussion.

As far as I can tell that is just another straw man. Neither a Darwinist nor someone who believes the truth of ID, as empirical conclusions, must as a matter of necessity think that people are nothing but a collection of mechanisms.

I'll admit that the term "nothing more than a collection of mechanisms" made it sound like I was calling them all hardcore materialists and I apologise for that (they would obviously believe in a immateral Soul for instance).

I get back to you with a reply in a little bit though.

Zippy,

"If it is true that an empirical conclusion that some particular life form was, univocally, brought into being by volitional design, would - that empirical conclusion would - falsify Feserian A-T philosophy"

It was this statement I was talking about.

Dr. Fesser said:
“please explain (a) how I've misunderstood the Dembski quotes I gave and/or (b) how all we A-T types who are critical of ID are somehow misreading our own position, or that of ID theory, when we assert an incompatibility.”

I think the misunderstanding arises because you fail to take Dembski’ rejection of mechanist metaphysics seriously. Of course he talks about mechanisms, because that is what contemporary science deals with. But a basic belief of nearly all ID theorists is that the genetic code is a blueprint of the entire organism. Unfortunately our knowledge of genetics in this area is still limited. At this point in time any mention of the formal causal relationship between DNA and the structure of the organism is rejected because there is not enough empirical evidence to support the claim. The result is that those ID theorists who want their ideas to be taken seriously by the scientific community do not talk about formal or final causality, because then they would be accused of doing metaphysics.

My conclusion is that A-T metaphysics is compatible with ID metaphysics and only appears to be in conflict with ID science because of the way in which science restricts itself to matters that can be empirically verified.

Perry Marshall helps bridge this division between science and metaphysics. I found his article “The Case for Intelligent Evolution” to be a step in the right direction. http://www.cosmicfingerprints.com/atheists_riddle.htm

"And yet the attacks continue when it is explicitly acknowledged that, yes, a forensic empirical inquiry cannot establish the existence of God. "

It is not merely that it cannot establish the existence of God, Zippy. The entire historical genesis of what has come to be known as "Intelligent Design" was birthed from the universal modern agreement that only empirical inquiry can yield true knowledge. Without this assumption, Paley would never have made his argument, and something like Intelligent Design would never have even gathered popular momentum as a means for proving that God exists.

Also, I do not think that ID is being attacked "vehemently and relentlessly," but only decisively. The reason it appears to be so relentless is because of the ideological backlash it has been receiving. Again, because most people think that ID=Theism and Evolution=Atheism, anyone who says that ID is built on sand is immediately places in the second camp. The truth, though, is that both camps were built by the same erroneous philosophical thinking.

I'm doing to stick my foot into the water here as a sort of useful fool, since I'm trying to understand these issues from the beginning and in the way that Einstein said any good theory should be understood: if the theorist understands his theory well, he should be able to explain it to a barmaid (no offense to barmaids - they represent the everyman). Since I cannot explain what is going on in this discussion to a barmaid, I clearly do not understand the issues. When faced with this situation, instead of going on and on, I will do what any self-respecting idiot would do: I will ask questions. So, for a refreshing change of pace, I will simply ask a few starting and I hope easy questions. If we all can't agree on the answers, then I will assume that we are not speaking from the same basis of knowledge and perhaps therein lies the problem.

1. Take a point in three-dimensional space:(1,2,5). Connect points to it to form two objects: a cube and a donut-shape (a torus). Now, it is clear, a priori, is it not, that the point is the same in each object, but the relationships to other points within the objects is not only different, but irreconcilibly so, since a cube cannot be transformed by any process into a torus (they are different topological genuses).

Let us call the point within the cube Pcube and the point within the torus Ptorus. Now, is it correct to say that a mechanist would say Pcube is identical to Ptorus, while an A-T theorist would say that they are not, since their inherent tendencies must be topologically different.

In other words, is the difference in the nature of relationships of part to whole? In mechanisms, is the relationship hierarchical and parental with mere equivalence of parts required for a swap-out; in A-T is the relationship embedded within each part of the object, much as each cell in the body shares the same DNA?

End of first simple question.

The Much-Confused Chicken

Prisoners of the A-T paradigm: Throw off your chains.

There is a world of thought outside A-Tism, one to which Jesus himself belonged. You'll notice that while He could have done so, He did not accept or employ its rubric or its methods. Whatever else the mind of Christ is, it is not A-Tism. Rebuttals of ID theory on an A-T basis are not yet Christian thought, even assuming they are rebuttals -- something I do not assume.

Yes, this thread is a hopeless misfire from the beginning.

The truth, though, is that both camps were built by the same erroneous philosophical thinking.

EtL, it would be nice if you could give this, and the rest of your rhetorical comment, some "cash value" for a question like, "Where did the blood-clotting cascade, specifically, come from?"

Ed gets frustrated with what he sees as people changing the subject. So do I. ID is about those kinds of specific questions. Lofty talk about "scientism" really doesn't tell us that ID is wrong about the correct answers to those questions, does it? Nor that its arguments for its own answers are not cogent? No, it doesn't.

Zippy writes:

Well, I'm repeating myself in suggesting that personalizing this to the philosophical mistakes of one person taken as 'archetypical' isn't helpful.

If I just make claims about ID theory in general, people say I'm misrepresenting it. Then, when I give specific examples to back up my claims, I'm "personalizing" things. I can't win!

It is interesting both because it explains the vehemence with which some A-T philosophers attack ID, and it is interesting because it means that A-T philosophy is subject to empirical falsification, which I thought was not the case.

If what you are saying here, Zippy, is that ID is just plain old empirical science and thus, if truly incompatible with A-T, must be held by A-T thinkers to be empirically falsified (lest A-T itself be empirically falsified) then you are simply begging the question yet again, and I guess I have to repeat myself yet again. The whole point is that ID is not (whether or not it claims to be) just plain empirical science; rather, it embodies non-empirical metaphysical assumptions -- namely, mechanistic ones -- and assumptions that A-T holds are false.

But Lydia, this was my point all along. The specific question you have asked is certainly an interesting one, and I do not doubt you or others (people with more biological knowledge than myself) who strongly question whether or not the mainstream evolutionary position is equipped to satisfactorily answer a question like yours.

My only objection, and I think this is also Dr. Feser's although I do not want to speak for him, is to the particular philosophical assumptions that are built in to the very questions asked. I do not think that you would deny that ID would look very different if it did not assume that final and formal causality, substantial forms and essences, and the general irreducibility of life to mere material components in motion did not exist. In fact, I would submit that most science would undergo a sort of conceptual revolution.

Perhaps the road to this topic must be reached more slowly with more expounding of first principles. A discussion of nature in general seems fitting. If we ask questions like "What is Nature?" perhaps we can draw out more fundamental agreements or disagreements which make our contrasting opinions more easily understood.

Stupid question #2:

With regards to the blood-clotting cascade, what we are really discussing, here, is morphogenesis and I think I see the problem. There are two camps, here:

1. The blood-clotting cascade (BCC) is a development originated from some outside interaction with the original organism's environment (taken in the broadest sense to include mutagenic agents who either have their own sentience (a designer) or not (a random factor))

2. The BCC developed strictly within the context of the original organism, where context is taken to mean the organism and whatever external to it that is required to support its "organismness".

In other words, one side posits an external bifurcation and the other an internal bifurcation. Here's my problem: how to properly define such words as environment and context and here is the key point: is the organism its own context? I think A-T would say, yes; ID would say, no.

Let me know when I hit a question that is worthy of a response, since I assume at this point that they they are far too worthless to be worth anyone's time to respond. As I learn more about the guts of the matter, hopefully, my questions will become less naive. Nevertheless, if more people asked questions, there would be fewer wars, since almost no one can can keep a war going while asking questions.

The Chicken

I do not think that you would deny that ID would look very different if it did not assume that final and formal causality, substantial forms and essences,...did not exist

Actually, I am inclined to deny that. Certainly, _if_ the details of the blood-clotting cascade (for example) are compatible with the A-T view, and _if_ they do in fact point to intelligent design, then it ought to be possible rather easily to give an A-T gloss on/version of the argument.

Let's put it this way: _I_ am inclined to think (because I'm not an Aristotelian) that talk of the "soul" of a plant does no empirical work and has been rendered pretty much irrelevant by modern science. But modern A-T people insist that this isn't true and thus claim not to be threatened by findings in, say, biochemistry showing how the processes of growth, reproduction, photosynthesis, etc., in a plant occur _because of_ underlying, detailed, incredibly complex biochemical reactions and processes. Okay, from my perspective for the present discussion, great. If you're not threatened by that, then you also shouldn't be threatened by an inference that says, "These detailed processes are like this. These detailed processes would be far more likely to come into existence in the first place by the action of an intelligent Being capable of foreseeing the whole and thinking of these processes in relation to the whole than by some set of secondary causes that included no such being's action. Therefore, the action of such a being is a better explanation of the existence of these entities..."

Ed writes:

If I just make claims about ID theory in general, people say I'm misrepresenting it. Then, when I give specific examples to back up my claims, I'm "personalizing" things. I can't win!
That is a perfectly fair point about Internet discussion in general. But _I_ don't _care_ if Dembski personally makes metaphysical mistakes. I care about the inherent compatibility - or incompatibility - of A-T philosophy with an empirical conclusion that life forms are, univocally, the product of design.
The whole point is that ID is not (whether or not it claims to be) just plain empirical science; rather, it embodies non-empirical metaphysical assumptions -- namely, mechanistic ones -- and assumptions that A-T holds are false.
And again - yet again - to the same extent that is true of ID, which allows the consideration of agency as a cause, it is even more true of neo-Darwinism.

I'll be the first person to affirm that the demarcation problem hasn't been solved, and is probably insoluable. But sauce for the goose, and all that: to the extent A-T has problems with ID as empirical investigation it must also have at least the same or perhaps greater problems with other domains of empirical investigation, perhaps not _per se_ but as "radiators" of bad metaphysics, if you will.

TFB:
By "falsified" I simply meant "falsified by the empirical evidence", as I hope would be clear from the context. Much as Lydia "falsified" the proposition that your posts were purely random characters rather than something produced deliberately by an intelligent agent. How you got from that to some other standard of falsification remains unclear to me.

Edward the Lesser writes:

The entire historical genesis of what has come to be known as "Intelligent Design" was birthed from the universal modern agreement that only empirical inquiry can yield true knowledge.
Well, that is an historical claim which, even if true, is beside the point of what interests me. What interests me is this relentless resistance on the part of (some) A-T philosophers to the forensic investigation of the possibility of design by an intelligent agent in life forms.

Zippy, the point I was criticizing was the idea that you could prove beyond doubt that something was designed, as a way to falsifie A-T Philosophy.

... the point I was criticizing was the idea that you could prove beyond doubt that something was designed, ...
Then, again, you were criticizing a proposition nobody advanced. Empirical conclusions - like "The Phantom Blogger is a person not a random character generator" - in general don't admit of the kind of "proof beyond doubt" you are setting up as the standard.

That does mean that the A-T philosopher can, in a technical sense, cling to his belief no matter what; just as I could obstinately cling to a belief that you are just a random character generator in the face of all empirical evidence to the contrary. So if you don't like the term "falsify" I'd be fine with a phrase like "undermine to the point where only willful intransigence or insanity would permit continued belief".

So I might rephrase the question, "would an A-T philosopher have to be nuts to persist in his beliefs if he were faced with overwhelming empirical evidence that life on earth is the product of design?" -- if that is what it took to make you happy with the question. It is a bit more wordy than "falsify", but I'm OK with that if it helps.

I don't think the answer is "yes" by the way, or even "well, that would seriously undermine A-T philosophy", though I don't want to speak out of turn in the presence of folks who know A-T philosophy a whole lot better than I do.

Masked Chicken, I myself would be inclined to say that an organism with a radically different blood-clotting mechanism, or with none at all (say, a single-celled organism that doesn't have any blood) is probably not going to be "the same organism" as an organism that has blood and a blood-clotting cascade. Hence, the BCC isn't going to develop from "within the organism," because it isn't "the" same organism. I think, myself, that A-T folks should join me in this. In fact, I'll stick my neck out here and say that insofar as A-T metaphysics has anything to say about origins at all (which perhaps it doesn't), I would think it would be _most_ at home with a rather strong version of special creationism according to which _all_ species were made, with their essences, directly and individually by God.

If an organism previously without a BCC developed a blood-clotting cascade under our noses and within our own observation, from "within" its own resources as an organism (whatever exactly that would mean), the Darwinists would _definitely_ claim this as evidence of their own position, even if it were "too fast" for their proposed mechanisms of change to have operated.

But I can't get the A-T folks to say _anything_ about the BCC. Not here or elsewhere. Instead, it's just "hypothesis non fingo" combined with, "But ID is mechanistic in its essence and hence is wrong and irredeemable."

If it is true that an empirical conclusion that some particular life form was, univocally, brought into being by volitional design

Look, I think there's a major misunderstanding here, I thought in your statement (the one above) you said that if it was possibly to prove something is designed, this means A-T is wrong (I may have been wrong in my interpretation of your statement).

Now what I was trying to say, was that you could not empirically prove something was designed (How do you measure design?), or at least you couldn't have a strong enough proof of it (and the idea that you could prove it was God doing the designing), as to refute A-T.

(Or at least I think thats what I was trying to say I'm a little confused about what you think I'm saying, and I can't remember what I was originally talking about at that specific point in the conversation).

George R., what, exactly, are the Aristotelian principles which William Dembski appropriates in order to support Intelligent Design?

From what I read, Dembski makes good and profitable use of the Aristotelian principles of potency, act, form, and matter. He also appropriates to good effect Aristotle’s division of things between those that come to be by nature and those that come to be by intellect. Dembski himself makes the division between those things that are by nature and those that are by design, which amounts to the same thing. However, while Aristotle classified as by intellect only human artifacts, Dembski includes some natural things among those things that are designed. So, for example, he might classify the acorn under nature and the human eye under design. And this is the source of the denunciations of “mechanistic” thinking from Ed Feser, et al.

However, Dembski and (more importantly) the ID movement as a whole do not maintain that the human eye is not natural. Nor do they hold that the acorn is not designed. (Nor, for that matter, did Aristotle maintain that nature did not necessarily imply a prior intellect, which Ed Feser erroneously asserts numerous times on his blog. But I digress.) No, all they are maintaining is that information, i.e., that which makes the thing what it is, must come from somewhere, either from within (nature) or without (design), whereas the Darwinists are left to argue that it comes from nowhere.

Nor, for that matter, did Aristotle maintain that nature did not necessarily imply a prior intellect, which Ed Feser erroneously asserts numerous times on his blog. But I digress

Yes, you digress. And obfuscate. As usual.

Of course Aristotle maintained that "nature implies a prior intllect" -- namely the Unmoved Mover -- and I've never denied that. What I've denied is that Aristotle thought that the existence of final causality, specifically, required an explanation in terms of a divine intellect. And he did not; his argument for God appeals instead to motion viz. the reduction of potency to act.

Every Aristotle scholar I know of says this, but George, for some bizarre reason, likes to pretend it's some weird thing I came up with. And I've repeatedly explained how George misinterprets the texts he likes to appeal to and pointed to texts which show that his own novel interpretation of Aristotle can't be right. He never answers any of these arguments. Instead he drops the subject for a while and then later -- as he has here -- simply dogmatically re-asserts his view, ignoring all the arguments made against it, as if our earlier exchanges had never happened. All the Aristotle scholars are wrong, and George, some guy in a combox, is right, even though he can't explain what's wrong with what the Aristotle experts say.

Well, this is apparently George's standard MO, because he's doing the same thing here. Thomists commonly criticize ID theory for being mechanistic. I point to specific texts from Dembski showing that he is committed to a mechanistic view of living things (as A-T defines "mechanistic"). George continues to assert dogmatically that the Thomists are wrong and that Dembksi isn't really saying what he seems to be saying. And once again, dogmatic assertion is all we get. Still no explanation of what, specifically, is wrong with what I said about the specific Dembski texts I cited.

It is a waste of time trying to have a discussion with you, George. A complete waste of time.

Lydia, I will be replying to your comments a little later -- got to run to class.

If an organism previously without a BCC developed a blood-clotting cascade under our noses and within our own observation, from "within" its own resources as an organism (whatever exactly that would mean), the Darwinists would _definitely_ claim this as evidence of their own position, even if it were "too fast" for their proposed mechanisms of change to have operated.

Why? I guess my problem is that part of my background includes working with non-linear dynamical systems, which are notorious for suddenly developing new behaviors when some control parameter (which may be within the system) suddenly reaches a bifurcation point. For instance, what causes a neurotubule to form in a developing fetus? Clearly, there were no neurotubules in the original egg. What causes the formation of leaf gaps in plants? There were no leaves in the original apical meristem. To say that it is complicated biochemistry is only part of the answer. Yes, such growth factors as auxin and giberillin are responsible for the elongation of the meristem, but to predict exactly where the next leaf gap is going to occur depends on a series of coupled time-dependent differential equations that show a bifurcation point. When that value is reached, a bifurcation to a new equilibrium state occurs and a leaf gap begins.

These things have been known since Waddington's idea of the epigenetic landscape which was later developed by the famous French mathematician, Rene Thom, to show how it is possible for structure to spontaneously develop within living organisms via symmetry-breaking processes know as "catastrophes". Towards the end of his life, Thom became a proponent
of a type of Aristotelian hylomorphism (similar to what Ed has been saying about trees and ships) using the different types of catastrophes. In fact, Thom was very interested in Aristotle (the article I linked to is well worth reading).

I do not know how much the proponents of intelligent design understand non-linear mathematics - many seem to be biologists (I have my problems with ID for other reasons than the science, which I have not studied in detail). It is possible to develop extremely rich structure from very simple principles. Much of what they call intelligent design is inherent in the structure of the so-called time-dependent evolutionary equations (evolution in a mathematical sense, not a biological sense) which govern the biochemical processes within a living organism. So, it is possible that, without invoking either an Intelligent Designer or Darwinism, to explain pattern formation and morphogenesis in many cases. For example, the strips on zebras may be explained by a reactive-diffusion type equation first proposed by Alan Turing in the 1950's (this, does not, however, exclude God from the process).

So, in short, there is no contradiction between the spontaneous development of a new characteristic in a biological species and A-T.

The Chicken

Opps. My cut and paste from Google was to a too general link. Here is a link to the correct article.

The Chicken

Why would a Christian want to tie his metaphysical cart to the ID horse? As soon as the chance/law gaps go "poof," so does your God.

If I were a shrewd atheist, I'd be cheering on ID. It's the A-T people that would scare me.

Lydia writes:

The quotations you give from Dembski do appear to be contradicting Aristotle as Dembski interprets Aristotle and, apparently, as you also do.

Well, the sharp distinction between “art” and “nature” isn’t an “interpretation” of Aristotle – mine or Dembski’s – if “interprets” is meant by you to imply that there might be some controversy here about how to read Aristotle on this point. There isn’t. That’s just what Aristotle says, and I know of no Aristotle scholar who denies it. But anyway, thank you for acknowledging that Dembski at least “appears” to be contradicting Aristotle’s view. No doubt George will now accuse you of distorting what Dembski says.

The trouble is that when Dembski says something like (I don't have the quote up in front of me) that the material of which living things is made does not have a tendency on its own to make living things, or something like that, and that therefore the "information" (I don't like that term, but he does) has to be supplied from outside, he seems to me merely to be referring to a fact that, as far as I can tell, you _agree_ with--namely, that the subcomponents of living things do not have a tendency all on their own to, as I put it in the other thread, jump up and form living things. And it also appears to be true that the sub-components of one sort of living thing do not appear to have an intrinsic tendency to "morph" on their own, "guided" only by unguided mutation and natural selection, into another sort of living thing with a new, complex system or biochemical cascade.

Yes, I basically agree with that. What I disagree with is the move to “Now, let’s consider how probable it is that a naturalistic process might have done it anyway” or “Now, let’s think of this in terms of how an artificer might put together parts to form a whole, as in the design of a watch or mousetrap.” It’s not a matter of “probability,” and only someone with a bad metaphysics would think it is. And it’s not a matter of watch-making either – again, a “watch-like” living thing would be an instance of “art” rather than “nature” in Aristotle’s senses, and that’s just not what living things are. That’s just the wrong model to bring to bear on the empirical data. The trouble with Dembski – and you – is that you both think it is the right model to bring to bear. You are both saying more than merely “Non-living matter cannot of itself generate living matter” – that much is fine – but you’re also both saying “The reason has to do with improbabilities, complexity understood in quantifiable terms, etc., and the way it really happens is correctly understood on the model of an artificer who takes pre-existing parts and sticks them together as a watchmaker might.” This second part is, from an A-T perspective, just bad metaphysics. That’s not at all how God creates.

And I don’t for a minute deny that the sorts of biological questions you refer to are interesting; they’re absolutely fascinating. The point is that they cannot fruitfully be discussed unless we approach them with a correct set of metaphysical assumptions. And as I’ve said before, some of the points you and ID theorists make about the examples in question are fine and important; the problem from an A-T point of view is that they need to be expressed in terms of holism, hylemorphism, etc. rather than in terms of complexity understood purely quantificationally, in terms of artifice, and so forth.

Now if you’re going to say “Oh well if that’s what you mean, then it is perfectly compatible with ID theory!” then the problem is that “ID theory” becomes totally vacuous – it’s just a marketing label to lump together different theists and/or critics of naturalism who don’t agree on anything other than their theism or anti-naturalism. In which case ID theorists should stop calling it a “new science,” a gigantic breakthrough in human thought, a “revolution,” and all this other crap. They should also stop going on about the wonders of “specified complexity” and the other pseudo-rigorous stuff that we A-T types (and not just us) regard as bogus – if, that is, what they “really” mean by ID theory is something so vague that it includes A-T. On the other hand, if all that stuff really is definitive of ID, then they should acknowledge that ID and A-T are incompatible.

It is a waste of time trying to have a discussion with you, George. A complete waste of time.

Ed, you’ve got to relax. I wasn’t on WWWW at all yesterday, and I had to work today. I had no time to read all the posts.

You say that Aristotle did not deny that nature implied intelligence but that he proved the existence of God through motion? Okay, I can live with that. See how reasonable I can be?

Having looked over Mr. Feser's blog and past articles on Thomism, does it not seem that his approach or philosophy is rather a Procrustean Bed?

Perhaps, putting the cart before the horse, too.

I ask myself, if Jesus were alive today (as he was in 20 or 30 AD) would he be an A-T fellow such as Mr. Feser?

I'm a fan of Aristotle and Aquinas, I think they have some rather sharp and fine tools for examining reality with, but are they the paramount tools, the ultimate paradigm?

Well, you have to accept every basic posit about God that Aquinas makes, and that seems to be Mr. Feser's position; and thus he finds the proponents of ID are out of step with those basic God posits.

From what I've read, he's right. ID proponents aren't interested in looking at the universe and life as he's interested in or the manner in which he most identifies with.

Heck, I'm not interested in looking at everything the way he looks at it. He states that as a Catholic convert (me, too), he intends to support every jot and tittle of Catholic dogma and doctrine (me, too, at one time), and that means Thomism is the main program for that.

Thus, as a Catholic, of course he's going to find problems with ID proponents and thinking since it will rarely correspond with Mr. Feser's project of defending classic Thomist theology as an essential church discipline and bulwark.

ID proponents are a broad lot and mostly Protestant (I think) apart from Behe and some others.

This also means that Mr. Feser is probably never going to debate my hobby horse on the paradox of a dogma that insists on a Fall caused by Adam and Eve, and a natural history that demonstrates no such thing ever could have occurred in reality on Earth.

This is something the Church can't bear to think about just as it can barely think about Darwinism and evolution or ID.

But what good is Thomism or religion if it can't face facts?

One of the things I love about American Protestantism is it's continual process of paring away the unessential from religion. (Harold Bloom's book calling American Christianity a new gnosticism has a point, but it strains at conclusions since Bloom has no faith at all and wants to trivialize wherever he can).

When my daughter was attending a non-denominational church, I noticed that the brochure listed about five things it takes to be a believing Christian there. This is quite a paring down from the RC church, of course; and for me, they could have pared down further, and I believe that eventually, people will try to get it to where Paul understood it in his letters.

A lot of people have already looked at The Didache and thought that's the place where the church ought to be.

There was a time in Christendom, though, when the Catholic Church was the cutting edge of science, mathematics, theology, jurisprudence, banking, and moral development (slavery disappeared in Europe as it became more Catholic).

That can't be said today when the Church is trying to be a fortress against both the attacks of modernism and a museum of ancient perceptions, some wise, some culturally determined.

The RC and Orthodox Churches are ghettos, now. They can be lavish, rococo, graceful, spiritual, nurturing, beautiful, safe, and something of an oasis from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but they cannot be said to be leading any sort of charge of evangelism or dynamism through it's belief system.

It's Evangelicals who lead the charge in missions, who lead as proponents of liberty and free markets, who lead as ID supporters, who lead in creating evangelical communities, who work in biology, pharmaceuticals, physics, music, theater, film, television, radio and so on.

Evangelicals made Mel Gibson much richer by supporting his movie all the way while so many Catholics were ringing their hands hoping that Jews wouldn't be made at Christians for faithfully reproducing their faith text.

Remember all the pogroms that were going to follow from a movie inciting emotionally insane Christians to attack Jews?

My Catholic parish put on a "dialog" with some rabbis complaining about the movie and begging us not to hurt Jews as a result of being inflamed.

So then somebody makes a movie about Mary (nor great but not horrible with some commendable moments) and Catholics don't bother to see it. Or Bella, and Catholics don't bother to see it.

But Fireproof, made for 500K makes 50mm. Who made it? A couple of guys in ministry at an evangelical church. One church did it. The entire Catholic Church does what? Nada.

Anyway, the point is not about movies but about message, energy and dynamism.

Ed wrote:

And it’s not a matter of watch-making either – again, a “watch-like” living thing would be an instance of “art” rather than “nature” in Aristotle’s senses, and that’s just not what living things are.
OK, now I have a new (to me, I apologize if it has been answered elsewhere) question.

Suppose we built a brand new organism in the laboratory from non-living raw materials. Not a Frankenstein put together from dead parts of old organisms, and not something built by bacteria or whatever, but an actual new organism built from non-living raw materials using electrical, mechanical, and chemical processes.

How does the A-T philosopher respond to this (at least at the moment, though perhaps not for long) hypothetical?

1) It is impossible in principle.

2) The thing we built is not a living thing, no matter how much it seems like one. Indeed even if the thing we built is identical physically in every respect to some other living things, it is still not itself a living thing.

3) Some other move I haven't thought of?

Suppose we built a brand new organism in the laboratory from non-living raw materials. Not a Frankenstein put together from dead parts of old organisms, and not something built by bacteria or whatever, but an actual new organism built from non-living raw materials using electrical, mechanical, and chemical processes.

Put me squarely in the, "it's impossible," category. I guess it all depends on one's definition of life. Cellular automata, which are made of fairly simple (and sometimes complex) computer programs, seem to mimic the behavior of some living things. Are viruses alive or are they biochemical cellular automata? No one has really come close to producing living things from non-living matter. The Miller experiment from the 1960's has been shown not to really work. More recent experiments building on Miller's ideas have produced, if I recall correctly, some atypical proteins from uncommon biochemical pathways, but we are so far from producing a living organism that we can't even see the letter O.

I suspect that the universe will shatter before mere man is allowed to create life on his own from lifeless parts. I can't prove that, but if I am right, there will be no time to gloat. If I am wrong, then I suspect no on will want to gloat. Sheesh, haven't you guys seen any zombie films :)

The RC and Orthodox Churches are ghettos, now. They can be lavish, rococo, graceful, spiritual, nurturing, beautiful, safe, and something of an oasis from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but they cannot be said to be leading any sort of charge of evangelism or dynamism through it's belief system.

Give us time. We are recovering from the damage done by the mis-implementation of Vatican II.

The Chicken

"Mr. Feser is probably never going to debate my hobby horse on the paradox of a dogma that insists on a Fall caused by Adam and Eve, and a natural history that demonstrates no such thing ever could have occurred in reality on Earth."

I don't understand this. How did "natural history" "demonstrate" that there not only was no Fall caused by Adam and Eve, but also that there "could not have been" such a Fall?

I can see someone saying that natural history gives us no reason to believe in a literal Adam and Eve (i.e., an aboriginal pair of humans from whom every other human descends).
I can see someone saying that natural history gives us reason to believe that there probably was no Adam and Eve (if, that is, we take the position that the only reliable source of information about the past is natural science rather than revelation).
I cannot see why anyone would believe that natural science shows that there was no AND COULD HAVE BEEN NO Adam and Eve.

Alternatively, perhaps butterworth isn't concerned about Adam and Eve but rather the Fall, where "the Fall" is understood to be some event that is responsible for why there's animal suffering, earthquakes, and the like. If that's what the Fall is, then I think there was no such Fall. On the other hand, if the Fall was our original ancestors falling away from God, then I have no idea how natural science proved that there was AND COULDN'T HAVE BEEN a Fall.

It's not like we invented a security camera that's been keeping footage for the last few million years. Unless there's time travel or something, and we went back in time and recorded all the past and gave the tapes to mark butterworth. But if that's what happened, then I demand the tapes.

Chicken, I agree about the Miller experiment, but that's not quite the same thing, is it? Zippy was imagining literally taking sub-components and putting them together deliberately. I doubt it will happen in my lifetime or maybe in many lifetimes, but it isn't _logically_ impossible. And I've been curious about Zippy's question myself. What does a dyed-in-the-wool Feserian-Aristotelian hylemorphist say about a fruit fly that we know was made by Joe & Co. Labs last week but that is indistinguishable from a fruit fly that hatched out of an egg like all the other fruit flies from time immemorial?

Ed,

I said,

it also appears to be true that the sub-components of one sort of living thing do not appear to have an intrinsic tendency to "morph" on their own, "guided" only by unguided mutation and natural selection, into another sort of living thing with a new, complex system or biochemical cascade.

And you said that you basically agree with this. But you insist that it has nothing to do with probabilities. Why in the world do you continue to deny that probabilities are part of the way that we _find out_ that this is true? I mean, we _find out_ that this appears to be true by _looking_ and seeing what the evidence tells us, and that involves seeing how probable it is that this would happen in such an unguided fashion. We find that out by collecting data, not by sitting in an armchair. You have yourself stated that your own views are not an attempt to do armchair science.

You go on to say,

And it’s not a matter of watch-making either – again, a “watch-like” living thing would be an instance of “art” rather than “nature” in Aristotle’s senses, and that’s just not what living things are. That’s just the wrong model to bring to bear on the empirical data. The trouble with Dembski – and you – is that you both think it is the right model to bring to bear. You are both saying more than merely “Non-living matter cannot of itself generate living matter” – that much is fine – but you’re also both saying “The reason has to do with improbabilities, complexity understood in quantifiable terms, etc., and the way it really happens is correctly understood on the model of an artificer who takes pre-existing parts and sticks them together as a watchmaker might.” This second part is, from an A-T perspective, just bad metaphysics. That’s not at all how God creates.

I know, because you have said so elsewhere, that you are entirely open to the idea of special creation in specific cases or, at least, that your problems with ID are not per se a rejection of the hypothesis of special creation. I think you would agree that if God specially created a creature with a bacterial flagellum or a blood-clotting cascade, God foresaw all the details, how the different, yes, parts would, yes, fit together (because they do fit together, and they need to fit together and work together, and in a very specific way), and that he made the thing so that it would be able to live, flourish, move around, reproduce, heal wounds (if it's the kind of critter that heals wounds), etc. Right? Now, I cannot for the life of me understand what the problem is with using the analogy of a watchmaker for this kind of foresight combined with deliberate creation. You talk about not using pre-existing matter. Well, okay, maybe he made all the matter of which the creature was constituted ex nihilo at the moment the creature was made. Is _that_ supposed to be the only difference from the watchmaker? Somehow, I don't think it is. I don't think you'd be any more comfortable with the analogy of a watchmaker who also has the power to make the matter ex nihilo. So help me out: Imagine, just for the sake of the the thought experiment, that God specially created the first creature with a blood-clotting cascade, and that the incredibly detailed way in which it fits together and works just perfectly is an example of his incredible wisdom and knowledge at work in the world. Why must we not use the analogy of a watchmaker for that event?

Further: You keep saying that if we are going to discuss these questions correctly, we have to start with your metaphysics. Well, okay, what if we did? What would we then be able to say about where the first creature with a blood-clotting cascade came from? What would A-T tell us? Would it tell us that the way it came to be was _sort of_ Darwinian, only guided at points by God? Would it tell us that it was definitely special creation? Would it tell us that it had to be one or the other of these? Would it tell us that it had to be _totally_ neo-Darwinian with only secondary causes involved? If you say, "I don't know," then I'm going to have to ask: Then the ID conclusion--that it shows evidence of the involvement of a designing mind--may turn out to be correct. And would we not have to examine the empirical evidence to see?

I notice with some interest that you say,

They should also stop going on about the wonders of “specified complexity” and the other pseudo-rigorous stuff that we A-T types (and not just us) regard as bogus –

First of all, last I can recall (please correct me if I'm wrong), Rob Koons is a Thomist of some sort, and I heard him give a whole paper full of his own version of ID arguments with his own type of formalism and the like some years ago. I don't know if he ever did anything further with it, but let's not lump _too_ much.

Second, if you think that Dembski's ideas or Behe's ideas are "pseudo-rigorous" and "bogus," then you should critique them on those grounds--that is to say, on their own terms. And, you know, that's _exactly_ what I've been trying to get you to do for yea, these many moons: To discuss what is wrong or right with ID arguments on their own terms, not in this a priori, metaphysical way. As I have said times without number, I disagree rather strongly with Dembski's mathematical model because of its purely eliminative nature and because of the idiosyncracy and ad hocness in the model that his insistence on being purely eliminative generates. I believe that we definitely should look at this as a comparative, Bayesian inference to the best explanation. And Bayesian modeling can, I think, be considered sufficiently "mainstream" as a probabilistic approach to IBE. As for Behe, if you think he has simply been refuted, I encourage you to read his own responses to his critics. But again, this gets us into the actual guts of the argument, which so far, you have refused even to touch. I don't know whether to regard this as progress or merely as evidence that _in addition to_ your a priori rejection of ID is a so-far-unstated _a posteriori_ rejection as well which, I fear, may not be based on detailed investigation (which you have previously, by my recollection, disclaimed having made).

"To discuss what is wrong or right with ID arguments on their own terms, not in this a priori, metaphysical way."

First, because that's what metaphysicians do. Moreover, it is not "a priori." It is conceptual and philosophical. What you may mean is that it does not seem like experimental science. But not all non-a priori thinking has to model that particular sliver of the university's practices.

Second, suppose I am persuaded by Behe's argument for the bacterial flagellum being inexplicable by natural processes and that the relation of its parts to a particular end seems to exhibit certain artifacts we know are designed. I am also told by Dembski, “Naturalism is the disease. Intelligent design is the cure.” (From his book, Intelligent Design [IVP, 1999]). Now, suppose that I read some responses to Behe by respected people in the field. I know that these responses are often accompanied by auxiliary hypotheses, but I also know that in the history of science such hypotheses have been catalysts for greater research that result in discoveries and better theories. But I also know that such hypotheses may mean the beginning of the end of a theory. Nevertheless, I am also aware of Dembski's quote and similar claims made by ID advocates, suggesting that ID is the "cure" to "materialism." But, then I think, wait a second, if that's the cure, we are really screwed if any of these auxiliary hypotheses moves from mere ad hoc to showing promise. Because I know the history of science, and because I know that I can reject materialism without embracing ID, and for reasons that are far more stable and intellectually satisfying, why in God's name would I want to hitch my wagon to that star? I've evaluated "the arguments," in the same sense we evaluate all arguments having to do with issues that touch on other things we believe: we do so carefully, bringing all that we know to bear on the question.

Third, and thusly, ID arguments do not stand apart from everything else we know. And in that sense, we can no more evaluate them on their own terms than can we assess the argument against God based on evil without bringing to bear all the data of Scripture, common sense, moral philosophy, and philosophical theology. Just because universities are divided into departments, does not mean reality is. In the same way, the fact that we can isolate ID as a subject does not mean that we are obligated to isolate our assessment of it from everything else we know.

Dumb Beckwith. This sentence, in the above post:

Second, suppose I am persuaded by Behe's argument for the bacterial flagellum being inexplicable by natural processes and that the relation of its parts to a particular end seems to exhibit certain artifacts we know are designed.

Should have read:

Second, suppose I am persuaded by Behe's argument for the bacterial flagellum being inexplicable by natural processes and that the relation of its parts to a particular end seems to exhibit similar parts-to-end processes we find in artifacts we know are designed.

TMC:

Yes, I am aware of the Miller charade, I mean experiment, from the 1950's. A lot has happened since then. I'm probably more optimistic (or pessimistic, depending on the point of view) about deliberately creating living organisms in the lab than you or Lydia. (Not designing them from scratch, mind you, whatever that would be taken to mean: but synthesizing them from nonliving materials in the lab, yes). After all, we can already synthesize simple viruses from scratch, were already doing it when I was taking graduate classes in bioinformatics and biophysics several years ago. I can't remember if the particular techniques required e-coli hosts to 'amplify' the sample, or if it was something done in a polymerase or PCR-type bath or whatever - I've just forgotten the details of the technology circa the time I was taking the classes. And Heaven knows that synthesizing a prokaryote is a whole 'nother ball of wax; but I wouldn't be surprised to see it in my lifetime, and Lydia and I are about the same age.

In any event though the question wasn't a question of technological capabilities: it was a question of principle. Is it a problem in principle, for an A-T philosopher, to synthesize living things from non-living matter in a laboratory? This raises all sorts of other weird questions: e.g., to an A-T philosopher is a prion living matter, or not? Doesn't the categorical nature of the distinction require a definite categorical conclusion when it comes to prions, viruses, prokaryotes, eukaryotes, multicellular creatures, etc?

I'm kind of glad that the discussion went this way, because it really is the point (or a point) where I decide whether I get off at this stop or stay on the ride: whether I embrace the label "mechanist" (in the peculiar way A-T philosophers seem to use the term) as Lydia has (even though I am no reductionist or materialist of any kind), or shun it.

Frankly, if I have to believe that it is literally impossible in principle to synthesize a genuine bona fide living creature of any sort (e.g. a bacterium) in the laboratory from non-living matter in order to avoid the label "mechanist" - and that's what I'm asking - then "mechanist" is a ridiculously tendentious word to use.

How does the A-T philosopher respond to this (at least at the moment, though perhaps not for long) hypothetical?

I'm not sure I see what the trouble is supposed to be. Both Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas lived in times when spontaneous generation was considered not only possible but common; they thought nature itself created organisms "from non-living raw materials using electrical, mechanical, and chemical processes" -- well, electrical would not have been on their list -- every single day. That human beings can do the same thing would no more surprise them than that farmers can grow seeds into plants; and thus, naturally, there's nothing in either of their approaches to nature that rules it out. What it would show is that there is some underlying intrinsic and natural facility for certain things to come together under certain conditions so as to be alive; and art can, of course, take advantage of such natural powers -- there's probably no natural capabilities human art can't take advantage of, in fact. But, of course, precisely what is required by the hypothetical scenario is that exactly the same natural capabilities be involved in the laboratory case as in nature: what is done in the laboratory is, ex hypothesi, not the building of an artificial simulacrum but the cultivation of a natural organism by selectively accelerating/decelerating/encouraging/discouraging, etc., various processes by which natural organisms already can come about (whether they would actually do so rarely or for the most part makes no difference to the principle). It's only if this is supposed that there's a problem, since it's supposed to be the relative indistinguishability that causes it (no one would point to, say, the ability to make a pocketwatch as a problem here); but if it's supposed then it's already been conceded that it's really just an artificial eduction of the form of a natural organism, art as selective mimesis of nature for ends other than nature's ends, not an artificial imposition of an accidental form, art as introducing something extrinsic to the natures involved.

Zippy writes:

Suppose we built a brand new organism in the laboratory from non-living raw materials. Not a Frankenstein put together from dead parts of old organisms, and not something built by bacteria or whatever, but an actual new organism built from non-living raw materials using electrical, mechanical, and chemical processes.

How does the A-T philosopher respond to this (at least at the moment, though perhaps not for long) hypothetical?

Start with the following A-T metaphysical principles:

(a) There is a difference in kind and not degree between living substances and non-living ones

(b) A cause cannot give what it does not have to give

and we get:

(c) Non-living substances cannot of themselves cause living ones

Hence, if what the lab guys are doing is merely facilitating purely inorganic processes that could have occurred in nature anyway (no fudging with simple pre-existing organic bits) then no, it will be impossible in principle, metaphysically impossible – not merely unlikely, as Lydia says – for them to make an organism. (And people accuse me of being the running dog for Darwinism and think of Lydia as the anti-naturalistic purist. Go figure.)

No doubt Lydia will accuse me of unempirical metaphysical dogmatism. (But if so, which of (a) – (c) do you reject, Lydia, and why?) But what is it that leads people to think that life arising entirely from non-life really is possible at all – especially in the face of the well known and widely acknowledged difficulties with every proposed model – other than dogmatic naturalistic metaphysics? Mechanism makes for strange bedfellows, Lydia.

Brandon is right about what Aristotle and Aquinas said about spontaneous generation, but here's the crucial line from his comment:

What it would show is that there is some underlying intrinsic and natural facility for certain things to come together under certain conditions so as to be alive;

The presence of this "intrinsic and natural facility" is needed so that what I called principle (b) (a cause cannot give what it does not have to give) is not violated. And that means that life would have to be in the relevant "inorganic" processes "virtually" or "eminently" even though not "formally" (to use the Scholastic jargon -- see Aquinas for the rundown). Which means, in turn, that Aristotle and Aquinas did not mean by "spontaneous generation" or by "inorganic" what contemporary writers mean by those terms. Here, yet again, the underlying metaphysical differences between Aristotelians and mechanists are radical, and must always be kept in mind when we compare what each camp has to say about the subject at hand. In particular, where "spontaneous generation" is concerned it has to be understood that what Aristotle and Aquinas meant when they said this was possible is not what contemporary proponents of the view that life can come from non-life have in mind.

Lydia,

Yes, like you, I eschew armchair science. But “looking to see what the evidence tells us” does not entail “weighing probabilities.” It’s because we know through experience what organisms are like that we can provide a metaphysical analysis of them, and what we find is that they are to be given a holistic, hylemorphic analysis. That in turn tells us that certain scenarios are impossible, and not merely improbable.

(Compare the Aristotelian analysis of act and potency. We know through experience that change and permanence are both real, so that the extremes of Parmenides and Heraclitus are wrong. But we know through metaphysical analysis that change and permanence in the natural order would be impossible in principle unless the objects of our experience are compounds of act and potency. Hence we know that act and potency are real principles. BTW, it is via extension of the principles act and potency that we get the whole hylemorphic analysis of natural substances. But then, all of that has, you think, somehow been empirically refuted so decisively that Aristotle himself would convert to mechanism if he were alive today – though I’m still waiting to hear what the specific empirical discoveries are that show this. And it would be also be nice to know what the right, “empirical” response to Parmenides and Heraclitus is if it isn’t Aristotle’s response. But, as George says, I digress.)

Consider also that some people suggest that quantum mechanics should lead us to revise the laws of logic. Nozick, in his book Invariances, suggests that Darwinism should lead us to be less confident about our supposed knowledge of necessary truth. I take it you would regard these suggestions as non-starters; I hope so, anyway, because they are. It is, in any event, hardly an eccentric view, or a distinctively A-T view, to hold that there are logical and metaphysical boundaries within which empirical science must be evaluated and which said science itself cannot undermine. And if you reject this view, then all I can say is that I hadn’t realized you’d become a Quinean naturalist!

You say:

Now, I cannot for the life of me understand what the problem is with using the analogy of a watchmaker for this kind of foresight combined with deliberate creation.

Because (dammit!) as I’ve said so many times now, a living thing is for A-T not an “artifact” (and thus not analogous to a “watch”) but something “natural,” in Aristotle’s senses of those terms – where you seem to have acknowledged the difference in the senses, and have acknowledged too that Dembski also acknowledges it and disagrees with Aristotle’s position. Really, Lydia, this is very frustrating. It seems to me that in response to this point, all you keep saying is “I don’t understand why we can’t use the analogy, I don’t understand why we can’t use the analogy.” Then I explain why and you just keep repeating yet again, in response, “I don’t understand why we can’t use it etc.” If you acknowledge that there is a real distinction here, then it should be obvious why those who regard living things as “natural” rather than as “artifacts” are going to object, on metaphysical grounds, to “watchmaker” analogies. If you want to disagree with those metaphysical grounds, fine, but your repeated expression of bafflement at what the A-T objection to the ID approach could even possibly be is, frankly, itself baffling.

Well, okay, maybe he made all the matter of which the creature was constituted ex nihilo at the moment the creature was made. Is _that_ supposed to be the only difference from the watchmaker? Somehow, I don't think it is.

I already explicitly said it was not, in the original post on Dembski. Temporal considerations are irrelevant. Compare: When God makes a trilateral figure he doesn’t first make a triangle and then add trilaterality to it. And this obviously has nothing to do with temporality. That is, the reason he doesn’t make trilaterals this way is not because the way He makes them is by making a triangle while simultaneously superadding trilaterality to it. Rather, the reason is that there is simply no such thing in the first place as triangularity without trilaterality. The very idea of having one without the other is incoherent. Same thing with life. A living thing is necessarily an organic whole rather than a machine; that is to say, it is necessarily “natural” rather than “artifactual” (in the Artistotelian senses of these terms that Dembski himself cites), susceptible only of a holistic analysis. Thus the very idea of God making a living thing the way a watchmaker makes a watch is incoherent. He doesn’t create elements having of themselves no tendency to function together as a whole, while simultaneously engineering them into an organism, after the fashion of a cosmic mousetrap maker who makes the wood and bits of metal ex nihilo and simultaneously fashions them into a trap. If he did, the result would (even if simultaneous) be an “artifact” rather than a “natural” object (in Aristotle’s senses of the terms), which an organism isn’t.

So does that mean God couldn’t take a bunch of atoms and turn them into a living thing? Sure, He could. But not by virtue of leaving the atoms intrinsically exactly as they are, only organizing them into a new configuration as a craftsman might. Rather, He would do so by causing the prime matter underlying the substantial forms of the atoms to lose those forms take on a new substantial form, viz. that of a living thing. The resulting substance would have as components elements that have some of the same causal powers the original atoms did, and the potency to be removed from the organism and take on the form of free-standing atoms like the ones that existed before the organism did, but they would not be exactly the same atoms as before since they would have an inherent tendency to function as part of the organic whole, which the original atoms did not have.

Second, if you think that Dembski's ideas or Behe's ideas are "pseudo-rigorous" and "bogus," then you should critique them on those grounds--that is to say, on their own terms.

First, I didn’t say anything about Behe (much less our esteemed ex-RR co-blogger Rob Koons). And I’m not the one "lumping" people together; it’s certain ID theorists – and you too! – who want to say that anyone who’s a critic of Darwinian naturalism is “really” an “ID theorist.”

Second, the only reason I brought the subject of “specified complexity” etc. up was, not as part of the A-T objection to ID, but rather precisely in response to this suggestion that if A-T entails a critique of naturalistic accounts of life, then it is “really” a part of the ID camp. And the point was to say that if that were the case, then “ID theory” would be so vacuous that even people who reject all the stuff people like Dembski have been trumpeting so loudly as distinctively ID-theoretic scientific breakthroughs would count (absurdly) as “ID theorists.”

Bobcat,

". . .if the Fall was our original ancestors falling away from God, then I have no idea how natural science proved that there was AND COULDN'T HAVE BEEN a Fall.

It's not like we invented a security camera that's been keeping footage for the last few million years. Unless there's time travel or something, and we went back in time and recorded all the past and gave the tapes to mark butterworth. But if that's what happened, then I demand the tapes."

First, we have to know what we mean by original ancestors and by a Fall. In the continuum of hominid development, can we even identify original ancestors at any particular time and place? Can you, Mr. Bobcat?

Second, how do we describe the Fall and its results? By Scripture which says that sin and death (for humans, anyway) entered into reality, the world we know, by the actions of an Adam and Eve (or original ancestors, if you will). We find Jesus refer to Adam and Eve, and later Paul who more explicitly points to Original Sin caused by Adam and redeemed by a second Adam, Jesus.

This "revelation" seemed to work pretty well to explain how we got into this mess we're in for more than a millennium, but now with the advent of of modern sciences, we don't hear too much insistence on Adam and Eve, but we still get quite a lot about Original Sin.

As for Sin and Death, the result of the Fall, Christians somehow gloss over the fact that Death was on the planet long before modern man made an appearance.

But the "falling away from God" could be a unique event involving humans only, thus Original Sin remains valid.

The problem with this is that sin is not unique to humans. There has been much recent study into the moral nature of animals, particularly higher mammals and primates that illustrate that animals other than humans lie, steal, deceive, perceive injustices, and revenge themselves.

Other animals commit sins. They do this naturally as any two or three year old child will lie, deceive, feel mistreated or treated unjustly, or revenge himself.

Some might say that the three year old child hasn't attained the age of conscience and responsibility. Fair enough. My dog has no conscience in the same sense as I do. But that only accounts for a willingness to feel remorse or examine my behavior. It doesn't account for my actions or responses others' actions.

What we see in all living things is a process, a continuum of development (with many extinctions) with modern humans making a late appearance.

The Churches don't really dispute this, but cling to the notion of Original Sin. On what basis is that claim? Well, that everywhere we look, people suck and always have except for one, Jesus. Fair enough.

Sensible people in most churches don't demand the security camera tapes because the evidence of science is more persuasive than how-to stories from three millennia ago.

I mean, I'd love to have the tapes for the Last Supper, too, but I'm reasonably satisfied that something of that nature occurred on the hearsay evidence alone.

With good anthropology, we have a deal of eyewitness testimony of facts on the ground.

"Revelation" may be enough to convince and close the minds of a few, but I find that most Christians prefer to ignore any of the various paradoxes or contradictions that Scripture and forensic knowledge create. They ignore it because they intuit that examining with any rigor a number of doctrines will result in an unhappy recognition of error in belief.

How often do we hear Catholics defend the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Mary? About as often as we hear Catholic theologicans insisting that Adam and Eve really were in a garden and did us dirt at the start, betraying us all.

That's why I'm asking on what basis do Christians of various stripes insist on Original Sin to explain our condition?

Very interesting, thank you. I am virtually certain that life can at least in principle be assembled from non-life in this manner, and may already have been in practice if A-T considers viruses to be living matter.

Since it is supposed to be impossible in principle, doesn't that mean that A-T is empirically falsifiable: that is, if someone actually does this impossible-in-principle thing?

In any case, I guess I have to cop to being a "mechanist" in this peculiar sense. Though I still don't fully understand Brandon's reply, which on it's face seems to just moot the living/non-living distinction, in which case I am back to wondering where the beef is with ID.

IOW, if I understand Brandon's comment (which I am still absorbing) properly, an A-T philosopher who does not think it impossible to assemble life in a lab can distinguish between Creator and Cultivator, if you will; and what ID is attempting to show is that a Cultivator was required to kick-start life. Life as we know it is empirically incapable of kick-starting without, not only a Creator, but a Cultivator. Nothing wrong with that, especially if it is true, and it does create stumbling blocks for the modern materialist. It does make the "watchmaker" analogy slightly off, simply because watches don't have the properties of life -- reproduction, growth, and all that. But I think even Paley would cop to the fact that watches don't grow and reproduce.

No time for more at the moment, but in response to just this from Ed,

“ID theory” would be so vacuous that even people who reject all the stuff people like Dembski have been trumpeting so loudly as distinctively ID-theoretic scientific breakthroughs would count (absurdly) as “ID theorists.”

This seems strange to me just as a sociological statement. Take me, for example: I read Darwin's Black Box and have listened to absolutely fascinating talks by Paul Nelson, Mike Behe, Steve Meyer, and Jon Wells and have spent quality time with all these guys. As a layman, I'm convinced as an empirical matter, in no small part by their arguments, that living things show overwhelming evidence of being designed. Listening to their arguments and realizing that Darwinism doesn't have some sort of mysterious lock on Science with a capital S in this area has also freed me up to use my own layman's eyes and common sense so that I see, as far as I can tell, many more examples of such arguments regarding biological systems (e.g., in my daughter's senior Advanced Biology textbook this year).

Now, this makes me _incredibly_ ID-friendly. It makes me, in fact, so obviously part of the club that I don't think anyone would doubt that. And that not just in some accidental fellow-travelers way but because of empirical arguments made by prominent ID writers.

However, beginning about eleven years ago, I read Dembski's specific mathematical work on ID and evaluating it and spent _large_ amounts of time trying to convince Dembski himself and a number of the people I have just named that Dembski is wrong at crucial points about probability theory and that that probabilistic _model_ of the empirical, scientific argument should not become the sole one for ID. Tim worked with me on this. It was a major focus of our research for a while, and it helped to move us into all of our own other work and research in Bayesian confirmation theory.

Now it simply can't be right to say that I'm not convinced by "intelligent design" theory because I don't agree with Dembski! Nor that "intelligent design theory" is a vacuous phrase if it can include both my Bayesian models of confirmation in biology and Dembski's neo-Fisherian models.

So I think you really do need to ease up on the "Dembski's theories = ID or ID is vacuous" perspective.

Mark Butterworth asks:

In the continuum of hominid development, can we even identify original ancestors at any particular time and place?
I don't know if this is helpful to the discussion you are having, but the answer is "yes". Every human being alive today is demonstrably a direct descendent of an early human female dubbed (for that reason) Mitochondrial Eve.

When human beings reproduce, half of the child's genetic makeup comes from the father and half from the mother. But the original single-celled embryo gets all of its cytoplasm - the entire cell other than the DNA contributed by the father - from the mother.

Inside the cytoplasm are organelles called mitochondria which have their own DNA, independent of the DNA in the cell nucleus. These mitochondria reproduce asexually, so they maintain the genetic makeup of their single parent over time. All of the mitochondria in all human beings have the DNA of Mitochondrial Eve.

So while nobody can tell you exactly where or when Mitochondrial Eve lived, we do know (to the extent we know anything empirical) that she existed and that all human beings alive today are descended from her.

Again, I am not saying anything about the theological significance or insignificance of these facts.

But I suppose in Biblical terms Mitochondrial Eve could be Mrs. Noah. :-)

On the "life arising from non-life" thing, Ed, I think perhaps you are not giving sufficient credit to the notion of incredibly low probabilities. I would say that life's arising from non-life _spontaneously_ is so _overwhelmingly_ improbable that, for all practical purposes, we can use the term "impossible" of it, much as I would use the term "impossible" of a random quantum-tunneling event by which you were suddenly transported into my living room. (A welcome enough event, though we're doing the kids' school right now, but so overwhelmingly improbable as not to be worth talking about.)

Committed naturalists are going to be less comfortable with saying this. If they do admit it, they have to invoke some sort of "metalottery" (I have an article critiquing this approach) among all the planets. Dawkins does this. So it's like he admits the improbability of a spontaneous "lucky" origin of life from non-life but then says that there are so many planets that it was likely it would happen somewhere or other. But they have to believe that it _did_ happen, because they have no other alternative they can admit.

But it seems to me that none of this is relevant to the "making a fly in the lab" hypothetical that Zippy brought up, because there we are not talking about life's arising from non-life spontaneously! Precisely not. We're talking about its being designed. So in terms of your a-c, the "causes" involved include not simply non-living matter but also the minds, hands, and actions of the human technicians. And those causes, in the hypothetical, can "give" the necessary form to the materials.

I appreciate this answer:

So does that mean God couldn’t take a bunch of atoms and turn them into a living thing? Sure, He could. But not by virtue of leaving the atoms intrinsically exactly as they are, only organizing them into a new configuration as a craftsman might. Rather, He would do so by causing the prime matter underlying the substantial forms of the atoms to lose those forms take on a new substantial form, viz. that of a living thing. The resulting substance would have as components elements that have some of the same causal powers the original atoms did, and the potency to be removed from the organism and take on the form of free-standing atoms like the ones that existed before the organism did, but they would not be exactly the same atoms as before since they would have an inherent tendency to function as part of the organic whole, which the original atoms did not have.

How would this look different _to us_ from God's "leaving the atoms intrinsically exactly as they are" and organizing them into a new configuration?

Frank says,

Second, suppose I am persuaded by Behe's argument for the bacterial flagellum being inexplicable by natural processes and that the relation of its parts to a particular end seems to exhibit certain artifacts we know are designed. I am also told by Dembski, “Naturalism is the disease. Intelligent design is the cure.” (From his book, Intelligent Design [IVP, 1999]). Now, suppose that I read some responses to Behe by respected people in the field. I know that these responses are often accompanied by auxiliary hypotheses, but I also know that in the history of science such hypotheses have been catalysts for greater research that result in discoveries and better theories. But I also know that such hypotheses may mean the beginning of the end of a theory. Nevertheless, I am also aware of Dembski's quote and similar claims made by ID advocates, suggesting that ID is the "cure" to "materialism." But, then I think, wait a second, if that's the cure, we are really screwed if any of these auxiliary hypotheses moves from mere ad hoc to showing promise. Because I know the history of science, and because I know that I can reject materialism without embracing ID, and for reasons that are far more stable and intellectually satisfying, why in God's name would I want to hitch my wagon to that star? I've evaluated "the arguments," in the same sense we evaluate all arguments having to do with issues that touch on other things we believe: we do so carefully, bringing all that we know to bear on the question.

Frank, if that's how you "evaluate all arguments having to do with issues that touch on other things you believe," then I don't think it's very rigorous, and I think you should reconsider, especially when the arguments have content _in themselves_. For example, I notice that your procedure here involves a) reading Behe's arguments, b) reading some critiques, and then c) jumping immediately to questions about what the "cure for naturalism" is and whether you want to "hitch your wagon to that star" and whether you _need_ ID to reject naturalism.

I mean, seriously. _This_ is how you evaluate an _empirical_ argument? C goes off into considerations _quite removed_ from the question of whether, you know, the critics actually make _good arguments_ and whether there are _good answers_ to them. It's just "Oh, some respected people make these critiques, so..." So what, exactly? So the empirical ID arguments are _poor_? No, evidently not. Just some sort of irrelevancy about what Dembski says about ID's being the cure for naturalism. I notice that your procedure doesn't--that you mention--involve going back to Behe's writings and seeing what sort of answers he gives to the critiques. It doesn't involve trying to learn more about the scientific issues to see who appears to have the better of the argument.

Golly. Try that in New Testament studies, and you'll end up a respected member of the Jesus seminar. That is not meant to be a good outcome, in case you hadn't guessed.

Zippy writes:

I am virtually certain that life can at least in principle be assembled from non-life in this manner,

Yeah? On what grounds? Especially given that (unless you've had a conversion I don't know about) you are anything but a naturalist and thus don't buy into the naturalistic dogmatism that is, as far as I can see, all that gives other people such confidence that this is possible?

And as I asked Lydia, exactly which premises of the A-T argument I cited (which is just a sketch of a much more complicated argument but gives the basic idea) do you reject, and why?

In addition to Lydia's fine posts, I think WWWW readers will probably be interested to see VJ Torley's reasonable and informed response to Dr. Feser's anti-ID arguments:

http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/a-response-to-professor-feser/

Dr. Beckwith and Torley also have comments which are well worth reading.

Lydia,

Surely there is a middle ground between "Dembski = ID" and "Anything that is critical of Darwinian naturalism = ID." All the same, Dembski is probably the most visible booster of ID and is always presenting "it" as a gigantic breakthrough, a "revolution," etc. as if there were some generally recognized specific ID method that can now replace Darwinism. And sure enough, it always seems to have something to do with "specified complexity" and the "design inference" and suchlike. Moreover, Dembski, Behe, Meyer, and Co. are often lumped by ID promoters themselves as if they were all founding fathers of this new method, whatever it is. (Whether Behe and Meyer themselves are happy about this, I have no idea.) Nor do I hear many of these folks coming out and saying "Hey don't lump me in with Dembski's stuff! My approach is totaly different." If you find all this regrettable, than good for you, but don't blame me for it!

I'll be replying to Torley as soon as I get out of exam grading hell. Brandon's got a good reply to Torley too over at his own blog.

Yep, Dembski is a big leader, and Behe, being a biochemist rather than a probability theorist, has been happy enough to let Dembski model his arguments. Unfortunately, so has Steve Meyer with his excellent origin-of-life work, though Meyer is a philosopher. But philosophers of science ought to know well that a philosophical model of a scientific argument that explains why it works is a different thing from the argument itself. (Consider all the ink that has been spilled on explaining exactly why the Copernican model was better than the Ptolemaic one, for example.) Indeed, one big part of my objection to what Dembski has written and to the following it has generated is that his work rather consciously attempts to play the dual role of a probability-theoretic model and a scientific theory. I regard that as a serious source of confusion. I encourage you to study the hands-in-the-mud scientific arguments themselves.

The premise I reject is (a). I reject it based on the fact that we are already building viruses in the lab, and it is only a matter of time before someone builds something even more complex which is a bona fide living thing.

So as I said, I guess I'm a mechanist, given the way that I understand that term to be defined here.

And I should say, I suppose, that I reject (a) now that I understand the specific things it is supposed to imply. I do think living and non living substances are different in kind not merely degree, but not with the implication that it is therefore impossible in principle for an intelligent agent to deliberately build a living thing from non-living matter.

So I'm a mechanist in the (tendentious, it seems to me) sense meant here. I'm getting used to it already.

I have one question for you, Ed. And I believe whichever way you answer it will undermine your position:

In your view, does final causation imply intelligence per se?

If you say “yes,” then you are admitting the validity of ID theory; for ID theory holds that irreducible complexity, which is a particular kind of final cause, implies intelligence; and what is true for the universal is true for the particular. Thus, if any kind of final causation whatsoever is irreducible to an efficient cause, a fortiori is a final cause irreducible to an efficient cause which is moreover irreducibly complex even aside from consideration of that principle.

If you say “no,” then you are denying the principle by which St. Thomas’s fifth way proves the existence of God.

Indeed, one big part of my objection to what Dembski has written and to the following it has generated is that his work rather consciously attempts to play the dual role of a probability-theoretic model and a scientific theory.

So? So does quantum mechanics. So does statistical mechanics. This is not a problem at all.

If you say “yes,” then you are admitting the validity of ID theory; for ID theory holds that irreducible complexity, which is a particular kind of final cause, implies intelligence;

Tish tosh! Irreducible complexity is a very poor theory. As I tried to explain, above, it has been known since the 1970's, due to the work of people like Harken in synergetics, that complexity can be generated by fairly simple systems in an interconnected way. Rene Thom started the movement with his work on structural stability and people like Martin Golubitsky have done work on symmetry-breaking bifurcations. These techniques are used to demonstrate such things as the evolution of very complex visual patterns. J. D. Cowan has used this sort of approach to study how visual cortical patterns form from simple light striking cones and rods. Even as far back as the 1960's, Jacob Bronowski, of The Ascent of Man fame, developed the notion of stratified stability to explain the highly counterintuitive nature of the very high but stable entropy in living systems.

I repeat, in my opinion and the opinion of most scientists who study non-linear and statistical systems, complexity is not a sign, a priori, of intelligence. It may be a consequence of the action of intelligence, but the complexity can evolve naturally. That is not a problem for believers, however, since God can used secondary acts in order to create.

The premise I reject is (a). I reject it based on the fact that we are already building viruses in the lab, and it is only a matter of time before someone builds something even more complex which is a bona fide living thing.

Here is one problem with this notion: suppose one creates a "person" from spare parts. Would they not, then, being human, have a soul? If they have a soul, then it must be a soul without Original Sin, since the person is not a direct descedant of Adam and Eve. Imagine one creates a thousand such persons and places them on a deserted island and them wipes out every other person on the planet. Hey, ho, you've just recreated the Garden of Eden. More than that, you've just created a race that does not need a savior. By such a creation you have negated the need for Christ who came to save ALL of mankind. So, if you could create a person, you have, in a sense, made God a liar, or worse, unnecessary. Yet another reason why this is impossible.

The Chicken

I would be inclined pre-reflectively to accept Ed's premise a) as stated, but I would then not be taking it to have the consequence he takes it to have--namely, that finite intelligent agents in principle could not build a living thing in a lab. This probably means that my pre-reflective acceptance would be of a proposition with a different meaning from the one he intends to give to his premise a). I would also pre-reflectively take his c) to mean that non-living substances cannot _spontaneously_ cause living ones to come into existence, with the proviso that by "cannot" I mean something akin to, "I cannot jump over a house" where "cannot" does not refer to logical impossibility. Hence the entire argument from a-c would seem unobjectionable but would not be taken by me, pre-reflectively, to have anything to do with building living things in the lab by intelligent agency and intervention in the world.

This makes it clear to me that I'm pre-reflectively inclined to take _all_ of Ed's propositions a-c in senses different from his meaning.

Zippy writes:

I reject it based on the fact that we are already building viruses in the lab, and it is only a matter of time before someone builds something even more complex which is a bona fide living thing.

That's simply a non sequitur, since whether viruses are "alive" is, of course, extremely controversial, and by no means merely among A-T types.

I don't get it, Zippy. You seem to be indulging in the same lazy, unrigorous sort of thinking so typical of naturalists. "Well, you know, we've made some really complex stuff in labs after all, and gee whiz look how succesful science is what with all the high tech, and we used to think Ptolemy was right, and they all laughed at Jules Verne back it the day etc. Ergo we'll probably make life some day too."

So I'm a mechanist in the (tendentious, it seems to me) sense meant here. I'm getting used to it already.

OK, so you're down with Lydia's claim that the entire A-T conception of nature in terms of final causality, act/potency, substantial form/prime matter, etc. -- and it is all logically interconnected -- has somehow been empirically falsified (albeit in a way I'm still waiting for the explanation of). That is, Thomism is just wrong. And God is a cosmic artificer analogous to a human watchmaker. And somehow all this can be made consistent with classical theism. Very interesting view coming from "Zippy Catholic." But then, as I say, I don't think you're thinking this all through very carefully.

Indeed, one big part of my objection to what Dembski has written and to the following it has generated is that his work rather consciously attempts to play the dual role of a probability-theoretic model and a scientific theory.

You forgot: "And dammit, Ed, how unfair of you to take him at his word!"

I encourage you to study the hands-in-the-mud scientific arguments themselves.

Pardon me while I throw the coffee cup through the monitor.

Now, let me say it one more time, Lydia: I've got no objection at all to "studying the hands-in-the-mud scientific arguments themselves," if by that you mean the actual empirical evidence. Indeed, I insist upon it, as any A-T philosopher would. That is not what you and I disagree about. What we disagree about is what set of metaphysical categories and assumptions to bring to bear on the description and evaluation of the empirical evidence. That is something that cannot itself be settled merely empirically, unless you are a Quinean naturalist, which I assume you are not. So, please please stop it already with the point-missing, question-begging "Just look at the empirical evidence!" stuff.

Chicken,
How does the existence of reducibly complex systems preclude the existence of irreducibly complex ones?

Does the existence of the chicken mean that birds don't fly?

That is, Thomism is just wrong.

You know, Ed, I'm told that there _are_ Thomists who think that Thomism should not be taken to be as exactly like Aristotelianism as you are taking it to be.

I don't want to speak for Zippy, especially as this is apparently now becoming an argument about just how much of an Aristotelian a Catholic is obligated to be. But speaking for myself, part of my reason for thinking that your Aristotelian view does not and never will call into question the hypothetical possibility of finite agents' building life is what appears to me, as far as I can tell, the complete empirical vacuity of the distinction you make so emphatically above between God's

leaving the atoms intrinsically exactly as they are, only organizing them into a new configuration as a craftsman might

and his

causing the prime matter underlying the substantial forms of the atoms to lose those forms take on a new substantial form.

Especially as you acknowledge that

The resulting substance would have as components elements that have some of the same causal powers the original atoms did, and the potency to be removed from the organism and take on the form of free-standing atoms like the ones that existed before the organism did...

In other words, as I understand this, a carbon atom that forms part of a DNA strand is, for all we can tell, just like a carbon atom that doesn't form part of a DNA strand. But it has a completely indetectible but incredibly important difference, namely, that its underlying "prime matter" has a completely indetectible different "substantial form," which it apparently ceases to have when the body of the animal dies and is, say, burned, and the carbon atoms go back to being carbon atoms that aren't part of a living body. And _this_ sort of metaphysical assertion--coupled, presumably, with the further premise that finite agents do not have the power to give the atoms a new "substantial form"--is supposed to mean that finite agents can never, in principle can never, synthesize life?

That's just unconvincing.

But I continue to assert that this perspective of yours sits _extremely_ comfortably with a very strong version of special creationism, which, if you adopted it, would make you "more Catholic than the Pope"--in other words, more of a creationist than some ID theorists.

In your view, does final causation imply intelligence per se? If you say “yes,” then you are admitting the validity of ID theory

Oh brother, here we go yet again. "Anything that leads to God is itself 'really' just a version of ID theory!"

Tell you what, people: Let's just define ID theory as "everything good and wonderful"; that way no one will ever object to it again and we can all -- me, Lydia, George, Dembski, Dawkins, and PZ Myers -- skip happily hand in hand down Gumdrop Lane together to Lollipop Land.

Boy, "science" is fun! And so easy!

Now, let me say it one more time, Lydia: I've got no objection at all to "studying the hands-in-the-mud scientific arguments themselves," if by that you mean the actual empirical evidence. Indeed, I insist upon it, as any A-T philosopher would.

I know it's been a long thread, Ed, but I feel obligated to say: Whether you have an _objection_ to it, I don't get the sense that you have _done_ it. In fact, I seem to recall your once saying that you haven't. Moreover, every single time I ask you how you think the evidence points as far as, say, whether a critter without a blood-clotting cascade evolved by neo-Darwinian means into a critter with one, and what A-T is supposed to tell us about that, and what you think about that, you don't answer. I know, there's a lot of stuff that I say, and you can't answer everything. But you have to realize that it really comes across like you're saying, "I have no objection to investigating the evidence," but then you *never say what you think of the evidence*. You never answer questions about, say, whether the A-T theorist allows the evidence to point toward or away from purely secondary causes in the evolution of a creature without a certain complex system to a creature with one, for example.

Moreover, I suggested that if the evidence points away from such causes and toward intelligent agency, this could be interpreted by an A-T person as meaning that the critter with the BCC has a different essence from the critter without one. Again, it may just be the pure length of the thread and all the different topics and all, but you didn't respond to that.

Moreover, you are constantly telling us that this "will have nothing to do with complexity," but I get no sense whatsoever that you've actually read, say, Signature in the Cell or Darwin's Black Box and are saying that this will have nothing to do with complexity in response to arguments actually made from complexity. I ask again why an A-T person could not use complexity of sub-systems in different types of creatures to help him decide empirically which creatures have similar or identical essences to others, enabling them to evolve into one another by purely secondary causes, but that apparently rolls right off.

Finally, my reference to hands-in-the-mud empirical arguments was meant to contrast them with Dembski's mathematical model, in order to point out a principled distinction there. Those who are persuaded by the hands-in-the-mud empirical arguments made by ID people are obviously ID-type people regardless of whether they accept Dembski's mathematical model. I was, once again, trying to shake this attempt on your part to say that somehow any ID tent any bigger than Dembskian specified complexity is unprincipled, ridiculous, absurd, or whatever.

You know, Ed, I'm told that there _are_ Thomists who think that Thomism should not be taken to be as exactly like Aristotelianism as you are taking it to be.

And how "exactly" is that, Lydia? Please tell me which parts can be chucked out while leaving Thomism intact. (I'm not saying there aren't any, mind you. I'm saying it won't do just lazily to toss out the vague suggestion "Oh, well, you needn't be 'exactly' an Aritotelian to be a Thomist.")

I don't want to speak for Zippy, especially as this is apparently now becoming an argument about just how much of an Aristotelian a Catholic is obligated to be.

I never said a Catholic has to be an Aristotelian. My point was that Zippy seems to me to be far too glib in rejecting a complex tradition of thought that has been extremely influential in the Catholic tradition, to the point that its conceptual apparatus is very hard neatly to disentangle from the traditional expression of Catholic theology. As if saying "Gee, I guess I'm a mechanist in the sense under discussion" might not have any serious repurcussions down the line in ways Zippy has not considered or even imagined. The point wasn't "You must agree with such-and-such specific philosophical claims"; the point was "You really need to think this through more before making these kinds of statements."

"Anything that leads to God is itself 'really' just a version of ID theory!"

No, Ed, I'm merely suggesting that metaphysical proofs that lead to God can help confirm ID theory.

...but why don't you answer the question?

Chicken:

Here is one problem with this notion: suppose one creates a "person" from spare parts. Would they not, then, being human, have a soul? ...
That is an interesting question, but it isn't a problem in terms of the conclusion that I am, under the terms of this discussion, a mechanist. As I understand it all it takes to be a mechanist is to be open to the possibility in principle of building a bacterium from non-living materials in the laboratory. I am indeed open to that possibility: I don't rule it out as a priori impossible. Therefore, under the terms folks are using in this discussion, I am a mechanist.

Ed:

You seem to be indulging in the same lazy, unrigorous sort of thinking so typical of naturalists.
While I always appreciate the value in third party assessment, my opinions on this particular point are formed at least in part by some relatively recent graduate study in biophysics and bioinformatics. Generally speaking though folks are free to form whatever opinions they will about the laziness and lack of rigor in my thoughts.

It is possible that you may be conflating two very different things here, though of course I'm just guessing. One thing that nobody has any idea how to do, and there doesn't seem to be any prospect of ever doing, is to make inorganic materials in some plausible primordial state of nature give spontaneous rise to a living cell. That is a different matter entirely though from having technologies capable of synthesizing a living cell. One certainly need not be a nut to allow for that possibility in principle, particularly given that we are already synthesizing viruses.

I take it from your latest comment that you do not consider viruses to be "living matter"?

Lydia:

I don't want to speak for Zippy, especially as this is apparently now becoming an argument about just how much of an Aristotelian a Catholic is obligated to be.
A Catholic isn't obligated to be an Aristotlean at all, nor even to know the name "Aristotle", so that needn't be a worry, and I'm certain Ed didn't mean to imply anything of the sort. In fact there are a number of things the Church teaches which are contrary to things St. Thomas taught.

Mind you, I'm not convinced myself that from the premise "it is possible in principle to build a bacterium from non-living matter in a lab" we get the conclusion "Thomism is wrong"; but what do I know? I am by no means qualified to debate the matter with Ed.

Right, and I'm not qualified to do so, either. But my impression from people who know a lot more than I do is that St. Thomas was not as committed to entirely immanent teleology in living things as Aristotle was, and this partly for the obvious reason that Aristotle thought the world eternal and didn't have a creator-God, whereas Aquinas knew that the world wasn't eternal, and Aquinas did have a creator God. Thus, the creator God's idea of the thing and the way it works could be (forgive me if I misuse a technical term here) an extrinsic formal cause of the thing's structure and order after it is created. Which, I'm sorry, sounds _an awful lot_ like a watchmaker and his thoughts about how to make the watch to me.

Lydia writes:

And _this_ sort of metaphysical assertion--coupled, presumably, with the further premise that finite agents do not have the power to give the atoms a new "substantial form"--is supposed to mean that finite agents can never, in principle can never, synthesize life? That's just unconvincing.

Well, no, of course, there's a lot more to it than that. There is, for instance, the whole A-T analysis of what life, specifically, is, which I've said nothing about here. As I already said, all I was doing was giving a thumbnail answer in response to Zippy's question.

Really, I'm getting a little tired of this attitude of "If Ed can't convince me in whatever combox remarks he can squeeze in between classes or between driving the kid to the piano lesson and dinnertime, then I guess A-T isn't worth much." I'm simply amazed at some of the remarks I'm seeing here and elsewhere -- the manifest ignorance of what A-T actually says coupled with glib assertions about how I've got this whole issue wrong. I advise people to follow Lydia's advice and do some "down in the mud" research. That is, actually read some A-T stuff before pronouncing on its compatibilty with ID theory. I know it's hard to believe, but you simply can't learn everything you need to know about these things from comboxes.

...the complete empirical vacuity of the distinction you make so emphatically...

Well, I guess the substance/attribute distinction is "empirically vacuous" as well, right, since the empirical evidence will look the same whether we believe in substances or not. Out with "substance" talk! Also, talk of an "external world" is "empirically vacuous," since the empirical evidence will look the same whether we believe in an external world or not. Out with this empty "external world" talk! And so forth.

So, the reason you're not a Quinean naturalist is that you're a positivist. Is that it? Surely not. In which case you acknowledge that metaphyscial questions are legitimate. In which case, since that sort of question is what is at issue here, why do you keep insisting on changing the subject? The reason I don't get into discussions about the blood clotting cascade and such is that such specific cases are simply irrelevant to the issue at hand. Very important and interesting, just not relevant to the general question of whether living things should be thought of as "artifacts" or as "natural," in Aristotle's sense. Certainly I've seen you give no non-question-begging argument to the contrary. And we've digressed from the actual subject of these posts far enough, thank you very much.

Frank, if that's how you "evaluate all arguments having to do with issues that touch on other things you believe," then I don't think it's very rigorous

I disagree.

Zippy says:

I'm not convinced myself that from the premise "it is possible in principle to build a bacterium from non-living matter in a lab" we get the conclusion "Thomism is wrong";

I never said that, Zippy. I said that accepting mechanism in the sense in question here would entail judging that Thomism is wrong.

Lydia says:

But my impression from people who know a lot more than I do is that St. Thomas was not as committed to entirely immanent teleology in living things as Aristotle was,

Interesting. And who might these commentators on Aquinas be?

Ed writes:

I never said that, Zippy. I said that accepting mechanism in the sense in question here would entail judging that Thomism is wrong.
By all means feel free to help me re-interpret this:
Hence, if what the lab guys are doing is merely facilitating purely inorganic processes that could have occurred in nature anyway (no fudging with simple pre-existing organic bits) then no, it will be impossible in principle, metaphysically impossible – not merely unlikely, as Lydia says – for them to make an organism. (And people accuse me of being the running dog for Darwinism and think of Lydia as the anti-naturalistic purist. Go figure.)
... in a way which allows for the synthesis in a laboratory of a bacterium starting from strictly non-living raw materials.

No, Ed, I believe in the external world because it's really the best explanation of the data. I'm still working on modeling that probabilistically, but as I've said before, probabilistic models are not equivalent to object-level arguments.

Why do I keep "changing the subject," on your view? Because those specific examples, like it or not, are the stuff of ID arguments, and you propose to chuck out ID arguments, lock, stock, and barrel (as far as I can tell) because of their supposed "mechanistic assumptions" rather than dealing, apparently in any way, shape, or form, with their empirical data and giving a verdict on that data--including in that verdict, no doubt, your A-T interpretation thereof. Also, I brought it up again this last time because of your annoyed repetition that you "have no problem with" empirical arguments. But you won't talk about them. In fact, you regard them as subject-changing and are really annoyed when I keep bringing them up.

Look at it this way, Ed. Suppose that you said that quantum Theory is wrong, wrong, wrong and must be rejected ab initio because of the metaphysical wrong-headedness of the Copenhagen school. And suppose that somebody came along and said, "Okay, how do _you_ interpret the two-slit experiment?" Would that be "changing the subject"? Would that be question-begging and invidious? No, obviously. That would be smack in the center of the relevant subject. Because "quantum theory" refers, inter alia, to certain sets of empirical data that seem to refute classical physics and to arguments from that data against classical physics. No, the Copenhagen interpretation isn't the only possible interpretation, but if you're going to go on and on about rejecting "quantum theory," and how that type of "theory" is wrong from the get-go, you need inter alia to talk about the data that quantum theory purports to be about and give your own take on it.

I think this is a darned good example, by the way.

Chicken, I think God has to create the soul. So the problem you raise about making persons isn't a problem. When I was talking about the hypothetical possibility of synthesizing life, I was talking about some working biological entity--e.g., a bacterium or a fruit-fly. Not a human person. Human persons aren't just working biological entities.

mark butterworth,

I still think your claims are too strong; I think the claim that science has refuted the Fall and shows it could not have happened is akin to the claim that science has refuted miracles and shows they could not have happened. I'll agree that we have strong reason to be suspicious of any given purportedly supernatural occurrence; but of course, we can have evidence that runs counter to it as well and that can be strong enough to override that suspicion.

Now, regarding the Fall: I think that Peter van Inwagen's view on this is fairly suggestive. Namely, that there were certain benefits that accrued to living in harmony with God's commands that we lost when the original generation of people turned away from God. This means that I don't believe there was a single Adam and a single Eve from which everyone descended, but I don't think I'm too far from the doctrine of the Fall.

As for how death entered the world, I read that metaphorically; I think that humans died to God when they fell away from him, and they died to their true selves as well.

I don't think animals do anything immoral, although they do trick each other. I think more is needed for immorality than that.

This is beyond tiresome, Lydia, and I am spending way too much time on it when I've got other pressing matters to attend to. When you say e.g.:

you propose to chuck out ID arguments, lock, stock, and barrel (as far as I can tell) because of their supposed "mechanistic assumptions" rather than dealing, apparently in any way, shape, or form, with their empirical data and giving a verdict on that data etc.

What can I say? Other than to note that you are attacking a ridiculous straw man. And other than to repeat -- yet again -- that my beef is not necessarily with specific empirical points that ID writers make but rather with the mechanistic "living things as artifacts" mode in which they describe and analyze the empirical evidence in question. Indeed, I have repeatedly said that ID writers make useful points about this or that specific issue, but that their arguments are weakened by the bad metaphysics their views are couched in terms of. How you see in that a "lock, stock, and barrel" and "no way, shape, or form" rejection is beyond me.

But then you say:

Also, I brought it up again this last time because of your annoyed repetition that you "have no problem with" empirical arguments. But you won't talk about them. In fact, you regard them as subject-changing and are really annoyed when I keep bringing them up.

Yes, I don't talk about them because to do so would be to change the subject. And your response every time I point this out is just to say "They are too relevant, they are too relevant!" without answering the reasons I've given for saying that they aren't. It's like that guy who sometimes comments over at my own blog who insists, every time and no matter what the blog post is about -- Aristotle, Obama, jazz, gardening, poached eggs, whatever -- that I address the "relevance" to the subject of Whitehead's process philosophy. And when I decline, he accuses me of "dodging the issue." Whatever.

You say:

Suppose that you said that quantum Theory is wrong, wrong, wrong and must be rejected ab initio because of the metaphysical wrong-headedness of the Copenhagen school.

I've already explained who knows how many comments back why the comparison of ID to QM in this context is, from an A-T point of view, a false analogy. Your response to what I wrote there is, apparently, just to say "I think this is a darned good example, by the way." That's an answer?

And to repeat something else yet again, the theme of the original post wasn't "ID is wrong, wrong, wrong" (or however many "wrongs" it is you like to throw in) but rather "The metaphysical assumptions informing the method of paradigmatic ID writers like Dembski are incompatible with A-T." That much we seem to agree about. So, I think we're done here.

I was particularly struck by MC's suggestion that an artificially created human would have no Original Sin, since it is apparently transmitted genetically. Really?

Regarding the Fall: Like most good stories there are multiple messages within it. The most basic being that when an authority tells you that a particular thing is forbidden there is a punishment for disobedience. The second is an observation about childhood development, before learning about good and evil (perhaps by being curious and punished for it) shame is unknown. There is also a rather strange implication about moral knowledge itself being a temptation away from innocent faith and towards existential anxiety.

Dr. Feser, why are you dodging the issue of the relevance of ID to Mayan doomsday prophecy? :)

Ed, in your view, does final causation imply intelligence per se?

Yes or no.

In my experience, I find that demanding an interlocutor you're having a heated discussion with to give a yes or no answer to a complex question always works.

In the midst of all the other comments, I missed George's gem at 4:56 PM: "...but why don't you answer the question?"

This from the guy who still won't explain how exactly I've misread the Dembski quotes I gave. ("Answer the question, George, answer the question...") This from the guy who wouldn't give a straight answer to the questions Bill Luse put to him back in the thread on Loyola. Chutzpah, thy name is George R.

I already told you why I don't answer the question, George. Because it's a complete waste of time trying to have a discussion with you. Also, because the implication of the question -- that anyone who believes that final causality leads to God is "really" a kind of ID theorist -- is too silly for words, for reasons I also gave (viz. that it makes ID theory vacuous).

Plus, everybody already knows the answer. Yes, yes, yes, since I endorse Aquinas's Fifth Way, naturally I think the existence of final causality leads to God. And no, that has nothing whatsoever to do with ID theory, since the Fifth Way proceeds from a non-mechanistic conception of nature, and ID theory does not.

We know the routine: Now you'll tell me I'm all wrong but keep to yourself your devastating reasons for thinking so. Save your breath.

Dr. Feser, why are you dodging the issue of the relevance of ID to Mayan doomsday prophecy? :)

Just call me the "art"-ful dodger, Step2. In Aristotle's sense, naturally...

Indeed, I have repeatedly said that ID writers make useful points about this or that specific issue,

Which one? Specifically.

Ed, the analogy to QM was not being made for the same purpose for which Zippy was making it earlier. Or at least I don't think so. I'm making an analogy concerning the issue of a critic's need to address the empirical content of a theory when he criticizes the theory. Think about the ambiguity on a phrase like "quantum theory" between, "Such-and-such specific interpretation of the empirical data" and "such-and-such a set of experiments together with some clear, concrete interpretation which accounts for the apparent conflict with classical physics." In this case, the similar ambiguity is between "ID theory" construed as including the unambiguous statement/interpretation that living things _are artifacts_ (which some ID theorists do make and which you reject) and "ID theory" construed as a set of data together with a clear, concrete interpretation that explains the apparent conflict of the data with mainstream biological theories about origins.

The point is not that QM is like biology. The point, rather, is that if you are going to say that "____ theory" is seriously wrong, where the phrase "______ theory" is usually taken to have something to do with a canonical and striking set of data or type of data, it is generally expected that you will say something about how you interpret that data. Just as a purported critique of QM that was merely a critique of the Copenhagen interpretation would be seriously incomplete, and just as a resolute and even angry refusal on the part of the self-styled "critic of quantum theory" even to talk about his interpretation of the two-slit experiment would be bizarre and puzzling in the extreme, so it is when you purport to criticize "ID theory" while merely criticizing the statement that organisms are machines and while also resolutely and even angrily refusing even to talk about your interpretation of the specific and paradigmatic data which ID theory brings forward.

I would add that this is all the more strange when you absolutely insist that arguments in this area can have nothing to do with complexity while not addressing the arguments that do use complexity and saying what is wrong with them as arguments. Please notice here that I have repeatedly distinguished between origin-of-life arguments and arguments about the change from one type of creature to another. I have said that I understand, though I do not agree with, your insistence that origin-of-life arguments are purely metaphysical and hence not probabilistic. I have yet to see you address the question as to why arguments concerning the change from one _type_ of living creature without a certain complex system or biochemical cascade into a type of creature with it are also non-probabilistic and have nothing to do with complexity. Yet you have made it, as far as I understand you, an important part of your sweeping critique of "ID theory" that arguments in this entire area should not be probabilistic and should have nothing to do with complexity. I fail to see how it can be changing the subject for me to point out that you have made this statement repeatedly, and apparently as an important part of your critique of ID, but have not addressed the "change from one kind of creature to another" type of argument or even said why, on your view, such an argument cannot and must not have anything to do with complexity. Remember that Darwinian theory claims to be able to account for these changes with only the appearance of design but no actual design taking place. Hence, if you think that this is wrong (which I do as well), yet you think ID people are also very seriously wrong to answer the Darwinian's explanation of creature-to-creature change by using probability and complexity, it would make a whole lot more sense for you to say why they are wrong to answer the Darwinian using complexity and how you would do it instead than for you to insist that they are wrong to do so without saying any more about why.

I have even given a stab at showing how such a complexity argument might fit into your A-T view, yet you, as far as I know, will go on asserting that arguments in this entire biological area should have nothing to do with complexity or probability, ever, without apparently giving even a moment's consideration to that suggestion. Since _you_ are the one who has insisted that complexity is utterly out of place in this area, I consider that I am making a counterpoint that is highly relevant to this aspect of your critique and rejection of ID.

Thanks, Ed.

We can now say with confidence that irreducibly complex systems imply intelligence both because they are irreducibly complex, as can be determined empirically, and also because they involve final causation, which we know metaphysically to imply intelligence.

Thus we see how ID after all goes with metaphysics like one babushka doll inside another.

Remember that Darwinian theory claims to be able to account for these changes with only the appearance of design but no actual design taking place

That's what the Darwinians claim of their theory, but that does mean that is what it delivers. If common descent is true, I don't see how this refutes "design" UNLESS you already believe that the only type of design that one can empirically know in Paleyan. But why would you believe that? Answer: because you maintain a mechanistic view of nature, one that treats design as a rival to law and chance.

However, if you maintain, for some good philosophical reasons, that final causes are inherent in nature, then the forward trajectory of common descent no more refutes design in nature than finding out that Paul wrote Romans means that it is not God's Word.

Virtually every heresy is the consequence of turning a both/and into an either/or. The ID/Darwin debate is a variation on the same theme. This is why the Catholic Church never got sucked into that distinctly American Fundamentalist blood sport.

The biggest regret in my career is that I wrote so much on it. It's been a colossal waste of my time, since nobody actually read what I wrote with an eye toward learning something. It was always just so much ammo for someone's culture war.

Every bit of misery I've encountered since 2003 has been the consequence of daring to write carefully and cautiously about the subject. I could have been saving babies and souls. I need a drink.

Yeah, Frank, and those questions, you know, about where these things actually came from, how they actually got here, they're "interesting," right? Doesn't sound like it, to you. But I really do think they're interesting, and I also think that nothing has been said to show why complexity has nothing to do with those questions.

I stand by my immediately previous comment.

Let me just add that I would have been quite happy to let this topic languish after our last go-round.

I was also quite pleased then that Ed had actually agreed (with me) that the origin of life actually constitutes evidence for special creation of the first living thing--rather surprising news, I would think, to those familiar with his disagreements with ID. I'm very sorry that now, apparently, that point of agreement has become a reason for Ed to claim that the ID big tent makes ID "vacuous."

But in any event, since Ed decided to do a new series on it, I decided to give it my best shot. I still don't think that was wrong, but I want to make it clear that I'm not in any way "spoilin' for a fight" on this topic.

I encourage you to study the hands-in-the-mud scientific arguments themselves.

I do, too. They do not support Behe. At all. May I suggest starting with Steve Matheson? He gets good and muddy.

http://sfmatheson.blogspot.com/2010/04/behe-and-probability-one-more-try.html


Lydia asks:

Which one? Specifically.

Well, for starters, they are right to raise questions about the plausibility of this or that Darwinian just-so story, the fossil record, etc. But as I've said when addressing these issues in earlier combox threads, I don't think these sorts of issues pose fundamental challenges to naturalism or even to evolution, only to one rather doctrinaire version of the latter. And they are issues that have been raised by others before, of course, including by naturalists themselves (e.g. David Stove, Robert Wesson).

More importantly, they are certainly right to emphasize the difficulty of accounting for the origin of genetic information in naturalistic terms. This is a fundamental challenge to naturalism. The reason it is, though, is that such information is an instance of irreducible final causality, and the "difficulty" it poses to naturalism is an insuperable one, a difficulty naturalism cannot in principle deal with. And the reason it can't is precisely because of its commitment to mechanism, and thus to the rejection of immanent final causality. (This is, of course, a big theme of The Last Superstition.) But going on about probabilities, "specified complexity," etc. just muddies the waters and distracts attention from this central issue.

Re: the QM analogy, two points:

(a) Not all issues surrounding the philosophical interpretation of a scientific theory require getting into the details of various specific cases. For instance, in the QM example, the claim that QM requires a revision of logic is, I submit, not an empirical dispute.

(b) I agree that in the case at hand it is reasonable to ask how A-T would describe biological phenomena in a way that differs from a mechanistic account. But I already did that in the example about atoms, proteins, prime matter and substantial form, etc. What is needed is an illustration of the kind of analysis at issue for purposes of facilitating understanding of the concepts, but once one has that one needn't go on to repeat the general approach for example after example, at least for purposes of the present discussion. There's nothing about the blood clotting cascade, for example, that poses some special challenge to A-T over a mechanistic model; certainly you haven't shown how there is. Hence there's no need to get into it.

Re: complexity, I did try to make clear at least a couple of times that what I objected to specifically was treating biological complexity in purely quantificational terms, which is another reflection of a mechanistic approach. A-T theory is of course happy to allow -- indeed insist -- that biological phenomena are irreducible to non-biological phenomena, and if you want to call this "complexity" that's fine as long as what you mean is "susceptible only of a holistic analysis" or the like, rather than "intricate to an extent that makes it very unlikely to have come about by chance." "Likelihood" is not to the point where the reducibility or otherwise of products of "nature" vs. "art" are concerned.

All the same, re:

yet you, as far as I know, will go on asserting that arguments in this entire biological area should have nothing to do with complexity or probability, ever,

The claim, just to be clear, isn't that we should "never, ever!" appeal to probabilities in biology. The claim was that a specific issue like the question of whether life could be given a natualistic explanation is not a matter of probability. Of course there might be probabilistic issues vis-a-vis other biological matters.

I was also quite pleased then that Ed had actually agreed (with me) that the origin of life actually constitutes evidence for special creation of the first living thing

Not quite what I said. Someone could, of course, hold (as Aristotle did) that life has always been around, or at least that processes having life within them "virtually" or "eminently" rather than "formally" (to allude to the Scholastic jargon from earlier) have always been around. I don't believe that myself, but I don't think that avenue is the most fruitful one to pursue in an argument for God's existence. The best and most to-the-point arguments are the ones that work whether or not the world, or life, had a beginning. Off hand, there are Five good ones I can think of...

I would have everyone read Frank Beckwith's last comment before posting again:

"That's what the Darwinians claim of their theory, but that does mean that is what it delivers. If common descent is true, I don't see how this refutes "design" UNLESS you already believe that the only type of design that one can empirically know in Paleyan. But why would you believe that? Answer: because you maintain a mechanistic view of nature, one that treats design as a rival to law and chance. However, if you maintain, for some good philosophical reasons, that final causes are inherent in nature, then the forward trajectory of common descent no more refutes design in nature than finding out that Paul wrote Romans means that it is not God's Word."

The very large head has just been hit by an even bigger nail.

What he and Dr. Feser have been saying this entire time, something Lydia seems to refuse to seriously consider, is that the very idea of searching for design is flawed. The people defending ID have asked for a consideration of the empirical evidence. The problem is that I, and others, do not even accept the questions that you believe require answers. "Where did the human species originate?" This is a biological questions that will, in all probability, have an answer that is biological in nature. However, for the Aristotelian/Thomist, the answer to the question literally does not matter at all when deciding whether God exists or whether humans are specifically different from everything else in the known universe. Let me put it this way:

If creation consisted in merely a single atom with electrons orbiting a nucleus of protons and neutrons, all of the Five Ways would still hold as complete metaphysical demonstrations of the Existence of God. This is because almost the entire philosophy of Aristotle and St. Thomas would remain utterly intact. The four causes, the act/potency and existence/essence and form/matter distinctions. The difference between nature and art, final causality, everything would still hold as true of reality.

God's Existence does not depend in the least on whether modern notions of "design" apply to anything at all in the known universe.

In conclusion, if you want to know where a Thomist would object to Intelligent Design theory: it is not in looking through microscopes, analyzing biological specimens or any other empirical scientific investigation. It is the question you ask before you even step foot inside the lab.

I meant to write hammer, not nail.

Zippy,

Does humanity begin with mitochondrial Eve? 3.6 mm years ago a family of small hominids crosses a muddy plain. Volcanic ash settled in the footprints and preserved 3 sets of prints. A male, a female and a child (judging by the sizes). The male and female walk side by side. The third set of smaller prints are in the male's footprints.

The child has got to take very long steps to match his prints inside the males. Where do we see that same behavior? Among primates? Never, that I've heard of. But we see it every time we go to the beach and there's a couple with a small child.

The hominid's behavior is very human seeming, so is that when Mankind began?

Left in volcanic ash 3.75 million years ago by a pair of erect-walking hominids (a third hominid possibly walking inside the footprints of the larger individual), known as “The Laetoli Footprints.” Late Pliocene, Tanzania. Kenya National Museum.

http://www.kingtutexhibit.com/cenozoic_era.htm

Bobcat,

A watcher of chimps in the wild observes monkey behavior one day. Chimps spread out in the forest to forage and are often out of eyesight of each. When one chimp finds food, they make a particular call so everyone will come and eat.

The chimps have favorite fruits, and so one day, a lone chimp comes upon a tree with the very favorite of all chimp fruit. Does he make the special call that tells everyone he's found their favorite fruit? He does not.

Instead, he runs opposite to where the tree is for some distance and then he makes the call. As the other chimps hurry to his call, he high tails it back to his find so he can hoard and gorge on his treasure, so to speak.

The chimps depend on one another as a society. That chimp betrayed them. He lied and deceived.

If that isn't a combination of sins and selfishness aforethought, what is?

The point is that our sense of what's moral and not came, as things in us have to come us through a long process of development. Consciousness, love, intelligence, reason, logic, morality, emotion are all built into life from the start, the first cells. Development simply allows for greater awareness and expression not just of instincts (What are they really?), but of being.

Language, reason, logic, humor aren't things that were freshly minted in Mankind, but development of qualities already present in previous life.

And it is competition, cooperation, and death that makes us possible. The tree was in the acorn. And we haven't got a great idea of how big the tree can get.

For example, are we an arrow that God is aiming at an ever greater consciousness or no? A mortal race stuck with a few high IQ people and a great number of folks at a low average? Does IQ matter regarding the spirit and its progress in faith?

If life is progressive and appears aimed greater self-awareness, consciousness (whatever you want to call it), is humanity progressive? Will or can we make moral and spiritual progress, or are we doomed to endless cycles of civilizations rising and falling and leaving us no better than before?

Individually, we're all capable of progress or self-improvement through faith. Can that not apply to cultures and societies.

I think America was a great leap up in social progress and sets a standard for ages to comes, just as Rome once set a standard in the West after it fell.

... the very idea of searching for design is flawed.
Oh, I get that, believe me: being open to the possibility that causes other than mechanism have had real empirical effects in the world as we actually find it makes one a "mechanist". Forensic investigation of agency behind real events is necessarily "mechanist", while forensic investigation which rules out agency is not necessarily "mechanist".

Just realize that from my perspective that represents a reductio ad absurdam.

Ed, when I spoke of your agreeing with me formerly that the origin-of-life issue is an argument for special creation, I was referring to this comment of yours from last November 7:

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2009/11/the_trouble_with_william_paley.html#comment-84323

Now, when, given all that, are we faced with a question of whether such a thing was created? Well, one case is when we ask: Though we know where today's plants come from (i.e. other plants) where did the first ones come from? Aristotle himself didn't face this question because he thought the world had no beginning, but Aquinas, like us, knew Aristotle was wrong about that. So it's a real question for us.

So, where did they come from? Well, if plant life, construed very broadly as that which carries out only the functions associated with nutrition, growth, and reproduction, is (as A-T theorists held traditionally) irreducible to inorganic processes -- because organic wholes (substances where the parts ore inherently ordered toward the good of the whole) are irreducible to inorganic processes -- then it's hard to see how you're going to get from non-life to even simple plant life. And that leads to an argument for special creation. [Emphasis added]

So actually, you did agree with me before that the origin of life is an argument for special creation. And, indeed, your insistence in this thread that it is a matter of metaphysical necessity that life could not arise spontaneously from non-life also goes in that same direction.

I realize that you don't see why I think the question of some later-developing entity like a creature with (e.g.) a blood-clotting cascade is something you haven't addressed. The reason I think it is because your general comments concern only whether life _at all_ could have developed from non-life on its own, not whether more complex creatures could have developed on their own, by purely secondary causes of the sort neo-Darwinism describes, from creatures without those systems. This is one major focus of ID arguments and, as I suggested, could potentially be assimilated by an AT theorist as an empirical approach to whether the later creatures are, in fact, of different natural kinds from the earlier creatures, having different essences, perhaps even requiring special creation as in the case of the origin of life. And I do not see how probabilities and complexity can be avoided in that discussion. It's not like you can just stare at a creature and tell that it did or didn't develop from a far simpler creature by purely secondary causes. But as there's nothing more I can say on that topic, I'll leave that statement at that.

I appreciate Edward the Lesser's candor about the unimportance of questions of origins from his perspective. In other words, they're not "interesting" and we shouldn't even be looking into them.

I associate myself with Zippy's 7:16 comment.

John Farrell, thanks for the link. I thought EoE was interesting but speculative. Not as speculative, heaven knows, as plenty of "evolutionary biology" that goes on, but not as concrete as I prefer. I also thought (and told him so when he sent me the chapter) that Behe tried unnecessarily hard to accommodate people who don't like intervention by emphasizing so strongly the possibility of front-loading. He gets no credit for his pains in that regard from his critics, and I don't, myself, find such massive front-loading terribly plausible (nor I suspect do most other people otherwise impressed by his arguments), so why bother?

Regarding the question of whether Behe must be saying that he's calculating the probability that two independent mutations would take place simultaneously, I'll have to chew over what, if anything, rides on that. I hadn't followed that particular blog debate and am right now having trouble figuring out why Matheson is so triumphant about the conclusion he draws that Behe must have been discussing the probability that two independent mutations would take place simultaneously. After all, what if it _were_ necessary for the effect in question that they take place simultaneously? But there's entirely plausibly something there that I am missing. As I say, I don't base a lot on the specific calculations in EoE.

Thanks, Lydia. Steve's blog is well worth keeping an eye on.

Mark,
Consciousness, love, intelligence, reason, logic, morality, emotion are all built into life from the start, the first cells.

One thing that is supportive of your point is that the time between the first cellular life and the first animal life is approximately five times longer than the time between the first animal life and human development. So integration towards a higher mode of being took much longer to stabilize and runs far deeper than rationality.

Now that we are making corrections.

In my comments here, http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2010/04/intelligent_design_theory_and.html#comment-108717

I said: "That's what the Darwinians claim of their theory, but that does mean that is what it delivers"

What I should have said was, "That's what the Darwinians claim of their theory, but that does NOT mean that is what it delivers"

Ed the Lesser nailed it, or hammered it, whatever the case may be. :-) He gets it!

Lydia,

Re: special creation, what I meant in my more recent comment is that the move from "no life from non-life" to "special creation" is not direct but indirect. It requires further argumentation to get to that conclusion.

Re: the blood clotting cascade, again, the subject at hand is not how this or that biological phenomenon came about, but the logically prior question of how to conceptualize biological phenomena in the first place.

One thing that is supportive of your point is that the time between the first cellular life and the first animal life is approximately five times longer than the time between the first animal life and human development. So integration towards a higher mode of being took much longer to stabilize and runs far deeper than rationality.

That's good stuff, Step2. You've avoided "mechanism," and that's all that matters. Your Thomist membership card is in the mail.

Here, I suppose, is a really simple and brief way of putting an interesting (to me) question, Ed. Suppose that one did "conceptualize biological phenomena in the first place" exactly as you do. And suppose one were interested further in the question of "how this or that biological phenomenon came about." Would it follow from that prior conceptualization that questions of probability and complexity _could not_ be crucially important to the further question about "how this or that biological phenomenon [such as the development of particular types of creatures] came about"?

I'm interested in your answer, but will leave it at that.

mark butterworth wrote,

"A watcher of chimps in the wild observes monkey behavior one day. Chimps spread out in the forest to forage and are often out of eyesight of each. When one chimp finds food, they make a particular call so everyone will come and eat.

"The chimps have favorite fruits, and so one day, a lone chimp comes upon a tree with the very favorite of all chimp fruit. Does he make the special call that tells everyone he's found their favorite fruit? He does not.

"Instead, he runs opposite to where the tree is for some distance and then he makes the call. As the other chimps hurry to his call, he high tails it back to his find so he can hoard and gorge on his treasure, so to speak.

"The chimps depend on one another as a society. That chimp betrayed them. He lied and deceived.

"If that isn't a combination of sins and selfishness aforethought, what is?

"The point is that our sense of what's moral and not came, as things in us have to come us through a long process of development. Consciousness, love, intelligence, reason, logic, morality, emotion are all built into life from the start, the first cells. Development simply allows for greater awareness and expression not just of instincts (What are they really?), but of being.

"Language, reason, logic, humor aren't things that were freshly minted in Mankind, but development of qualities already present in previous life.

And it is competition, cooperation, and death that makes us possible. The tree was in the acorn. And we haven't got a great idea of how big the tree can get."

You're assuming that since chimps trick each other that they have the same kinds of thoughts going through their heads when they do so. I don't know what's going through their heads, but I would hold a chimp no more morally responsible for doing that than I would a three-year old. That is, I might discipline the chimp, but I don't ever expect the chimp to refrain from doing such things out of anything else ever than habit. (P.S.: I don't think the chimp knows it's doing something wrong; I think the chimp just knows that it's taking a risk and might get a beating from its brethren.)

The second thing you're assuming is that intelligence developed slowly from single-celled organisms to us. This is a version of Leibniz's principle (and much earlier Albertus Magnus had a similar principle) that "In nature everything happens by degrees, and nothing by jumps."

But I'm not at all sure that's true. I think, in fact, that there is a big jump to rationality. I think this because I've heard evolutionary biologists tell me this was the case. Finally, I've heard (from Ruth Millikan) that the great leap forward to rationality might involve simultaneously getting language, mathematics, and music (none of which chimps or any other animal besides humans have).

The reason I think it is because your general comments concern only whether life _at all_ could have developed from non-life on its own, not whether more complex creatures could have developed on their own, by purely secondary causes of the sort neo-Darwinism describes, from creatures without those systems.

In the statement, "The reason I think it is because your general comments concern only whether life _at all_ could have developed from non-life on its own, not whether more complex creatures could have developed on their own, by purely secondary causes of the sort neo-Darwinism describes, from creatures without those systems"

the words, "on their own," and "from secondary causes," are not the same thing. Can more complex creatures develop on their own? The answer is, very likely not, in the sense of a final forward thrust development. In a completely closed system, the best that can happen is either an equilibrium state can be reached or an oscillatory state between more evolved/less evolved would be reached, or the species can die out. This is a direct result of the Brouwer Fixed Point Theorem.

In an open system, creatures can develop into other things, but the ability to calculate the probability of such is impossible without knowing the effect of the environment in every possible way on the creature. One cannot normalize the probability function. So, while random mutations from environmental factors such as cosmic rays can cause changes in creatures that might then be selected out (assuming that there aren't other, competing selection factors), the IDers simply cannot calculate the probability of a random mutation in an open system as Dembski has attempted to do. As such, the best they can do is assume a quasi-closed system and hope for the best, but such systems can be chaotic and as such, they would display sensitivity to initial conditions. Even the ninth decimal point might be enough to cause a change. The end result is that such calculations become meaningless and worse, show not an intelligent design, but either a hidden designer or mere randomness.

Chicken, How does the existence of reducibly complex systems preclude the existence of irreducibly complex ones?

I have no idea what you are talking about. My point was that most of the so-called irreducibly complex systems mentioned, so far, have been straw men. Complex systems (in a Kolmogorov sense) can arise spontaneously from simple systems. It has never been proven that there is an example of an irreducibly complex system and I am suggesting that the people making the arguments are using insufficient LINEAR arguments based on the concept of Shannon Entropy. I have yet to see someone who understands either actual mathematical complexity theory or dynamical systems theory at an expert level who does not see massive holes in Dembski's ideas. Sorry.

The Chicken

Complex systems (in a Kolmogorov sense)

That, I'm quite certain, is not what any ID-friendly person is talking about. To put it rather crudely, it's something more like complexity-relative-to-function.

I would point out, Chicken, that if you are/were right about the impossibility of getting any fix whatsoever on the probability of neo-Darwinian means' producing the outcomes in question, because of the necessarily inscrutable probability of mutations by sun rays or whatever, this would seem to make evolutionary biology itself a rather bald postulate, probabilistically speaking. "How likely is it that this would have happened the way I'm saying it did? Oh, I have no idea. We can't possibly tell."

George R.,
You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you might find you get what you need.

That, I'm quite certain, is not what any ID-friendly person is talking about. To put it rather crudely, it's something more like complexity-relative-to-function.
That's exactly what I mean. The whole idea of complexity-relative to-something is open to the possibility of seeing what one wants. In real physical systems, as opposed to imaginary informational systems, Kolmogorov entropy, not Shannon entropy, is the correct type to use. Change in information content in DNA is not the same as modification of the physical systems connected to the DNA. We now know that environmental factors can modify protein expressions, the so-called epigenomic hypothesis. Identical twin mice can be made to become radically different (things such as hair coloring, if I remember the example, correctly), even though they share the same DNA, through epigenetic modifications.

To correctly calculate the effects of random mutations or even to calculate their occurrence, one has to take into account many factors, OF THE ENVIRONMENT, not just serial effects in information transfer. For instance, in calculating the possibility of two random mutations that was mentioned above (I have not read the article in question), was any consideration given to such things as the mean solar flux or cosmic-ray flux? The possibility of two random mutations is radically different in the physical environment of Venus, with its dense cloud layers (if one could live there) than on Mercury, which has no shielding. This is the difference between thinking like a scientist who has to deal with actual data and a mathematician who doesn't have to worry so much about the real world (gross overstatement, but I know both theoretical mathematicians, applied mathematicians, and theoretical scientists and I don't think they would disagree, much).

The reason that neo-Darwinism is a better theory (I am not saying it is correct, mind you) in terms of the physical sciences, is because it has made some attempts to grapple with actual experimental data. It has proposed experiments and carried them out. Even people who study artificial life on a computer have done more experiments than the IDers. I do not reject the ideas of IDer because they might not be useful in a restricted sense; I reject them because they do not correspond to the way scientists are taught to do science. I am not rejecting the theory (how can any believer, since, in fact, there is a God), but I am rejecting the methodology.

Neo-Darwinism is not a mathematical theory. It is an observational theory. I submit that we do not, as of yet, have a really good handle on the mathematics necessary to describe it in detail, but not having a good handle on the mathematical theory of the organ pipe (something that was only developed in the 1960s) did not stop organ makers from making good organs.

I suspect that Dembski, Behe, et. al are trying to do what they consider due diligence to St. Paul's admonition in Romans that God's hand can be seen in his creation, but St. Paul is calling for a hands-on approach, a decidedly empirical approach, from the observer. Surprisingly (and sadly), that is why Neo-Darwinism is actually close to what St. Paul had in mind than ID theory, at least in my opinion. If the neo-Darwinists will be honest in their research, I have no doubt that at least a murky outline of a guiding hand will eventually emerge. The problem is that they have a stake in defending their own turf, as well, and they might not see it staring them in the face. Welcome to the wild world of academic in-fighting.

I am scarred in this area because I was around when chaos theory was first being developed by Li and Yorke and explained by Smale. It is a great mathematical theory, but John Guggenheimer (a mathematician of no mean talent and an expert in real chaotic systems) wrote a long article in Review on the Progress in Physics showing how real quantum systems cannot exhibit chaos because of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. This is the difference between idealized mathematics and real-world systems: in order to have chaos in a mathematical sense, one needs to have a knowledge of each infinitesimal point in the system (a so-called C-infinity space), whereas, in the real universe, at the quantum level, information gets smeared out below (depending on the system) about 10^-20 meters.

The same applies in the case of IDers. There is a profound difference between talking about information content of DNA independent of the environment of the DNA and talking about information content in an environment that has an influence on it. Both theories may be right, but only one corresponds to the physical universe and is meaningful for science.

In fact, in physical systems, we have found evidence of complexity (in the correct Kolmogorov measure) arising from simple systems. Physical scientists do not know how to define a notion of irreducible complexity and Dembski has not helped them out, at all, since his concept is not based on measures that are used in physical sciences.

The Chicken

P. S. Have you noticed that I seem a tad argumentative, tonight. I don't exactly know why that is. Maybe poor sleep or tax fright? I don't know, but don't take my passion in the above too seriously. I probably have no idea what I'm talking about.

Lydia, my thoughts exactly: if the probabilites are inscrutable, what is it that makes mutation plus selection a probable cause?

The claim that the probabilites involved are inscrutable has always struck me as proving too much. Though mind you, I've always considered the position "we have no idea how this happened and certainly no way to adjudicate between design and neodarwnism" to be an acceptable answer.

.

If the neo-Darwinists will be honest in their research, I have no doubt that at least a murky outline of a guiding hand will eventually emerge.

Pigs will fly first. Not before there is evidence of a guiding hand, but before that is expressly admitted in those terms. Vague talk about God's "setting up the whole Darwinian process" or something like that is Politically Correct. "Guiding hand" talk, decidedly not.

By the way, Behe would be very happy to say that his research supports a partially neo-Darwinian process cojoined with a (genuinely detectable) guiding hand. Most definitely so. Probably even happier with that conclusion than I would be.

The claim that the probabilites involved are inscrutable

Read my comment about chaos theory, above. There is more than one way to define a system. Using Shannon-type probabilities can, at best suggest certain things. To really prove them, one does need access to the total information. Which theory does the better in following up on what the data actually suggests: neo-Darwinism or ID. I am merely suggesting that neither one can be, at this point, anything more than a theory, but IDers put way too much claim on the mathematics, which is not suited for the conclusion they are trying to make (which I think was Lydia's point some eighty posts ago). If neo-Darwinists wanted to make a similar mathematical argument, it would be subject to the same criticisms (they really would need all of the data). One can reach quite strong tentative conclusions about physical systems on the basis of limited math and data, but to provide a mathematical theory, the theory must fit the system (and be predictive) and the mathematics of ID do not, as far as I have read (admittedly, not much), fit real-world systems. Neo-Darwinist, like Zeno's turtle, are content to merely run the race simply by looking at the empirical evidence and ignoring the fact that there are an infinite number of points they have to cross.

For the record, I have not now, nor have I ever been ever been, a neo-Darwinist. I am a believer in Intelligent Design, but not in the current (in my opinion) cowardly theory that refuses to to admit that the Intelligent Designer is God. I would have much more respect for them if they would simply quit trying to beat scientists at their own game. One should stand up for God and not try to work him in through the back door. Who cares what the Supreme Court thinks about God (which is, if I am not mistaken, the genesis of the ID movement). I am sure that God doesn't.

The Chicken

A few years ago I emailed a following question to M. Behe:

…Is there a way to assess minimum number of discrete successive gene mutations representing the chain of transformation from the simplest one-cell life form to man?
I presented the question to a few friends of the “Darwinist persuasion” with some, (not too advanced) training in biology who, tentatively estimate it to be some hundreds of billions.
But if that is the case then given that life on Earth is roughly 3.5 billion years old and assuming a *conservative* number of hundred billion mutations (leading directly from bacteria to man) the result is 1 (one) relevant mutation in 36 days.
Providing that the number of mutations offered by my Darwinist interlocutors is acceptable, I would think it to be a very high “mutation frequency”.
It is accepted that homo sapiens has been around for some 200,000 years. If indeed an average frequency of “evolution promoting“mutation is 10 per year the modern human would be some 2 mill. evolutionary steps (mutations) ahead from the first representatives of our species. Is there any evidence for that?
I also think of the case of the “Cambrian explosion” when, according to the paleontological evidence, evolution accelerated to an extraordinary speed allowing for emergence of enormous number of new species within a period of some 10 million years.
One can’t resist musing that if the mutation frequency of that period exceeded ten in an hour then the intense mutation barrage kept poor animals constantly stunned preventing them from grazing, hunting and sleeping and eventually led to their extinction.
Well, I am of course, joking. Couldn’t resist it
Anyway, back to my question; has it been attempted to calculate the number of the evolution-promoting mutations beginning from bacterium some 3.5 billion years ago until the emergence of homo sapiens? If so what is the number?
If the number is proved to be in the order of hundreds of billions am I right my reasoning that since one “good” mutation per month does not seem to have occurred in our, (and probably many other species) whose past 200,000 years history is available to our investigation then it can not be a tenable assumption for the remaining periods of the evolution?
Or in other words, unless one insists that the average mutation frequency was much higher than 10 per year then 3.5 billion years was not enough time for a single-cell life form to evolve into human. …..

Mr Behe responded graciously with following letter:

…. The question you ask is a very good one, but a very difficult one to answer. The genomes of bacteria have a few million nucleotides, the genomes of humans have a few billion. So evolution would have to come up with a few billion nucleotides, each of which would have to be selected over a number of generations. However, there are some complicating factors. Some genes in our genome are duplicates, or near duplicates of each other. So the duplicate could arise in one step, when the original gene got copied twice during replication. Also, a large fraction of our genome seems not to code for anything we can identify. Whether or not it does is unknown. If it doesn't really do much of anything, then it might have arisen pretty quickly.

Nonetheless, the problem you are focusing on is a good one which, as far as I can see, the Darwinists don't consider. Best wishes.

Mike Behe

I admit, I don’t fully understand it. I am working on it. Perhaps there are others here who can express it in layman-friendly terms.
Also, I would like to hear if others have reasoned along the, I know terribly amateurish, line I did.

Surprisingly (and sadly), that is why Neo-Darwinism is actually close to what St. Paul had in mind than ID theory, at least in my opinion.

So let me get this straight. By basing a worldview on an assumption that affirms the exact opposite of what St. Paul said was evident by simply observing nature, the Neo-Darwinists come closer to what St. Paul had in mind than those who see in nature precisely what St. Paul said they ought to.

I need a drink worse than Beckwith.

T. Hanski, if I understand your post correctly, that is what the Edge of Evolution was about. It's somewhat speculative and therefore less my "bag" than Darwin's Black Box but interesting and makes a quite unexpected use of the sickle cell/resistance to malaria connection.

The following is from Fr. Benedict Ashley. You can find the original it here: http://www.morec.com/nature/evol.html

WHAT SHOULD SCIENCE TEACHERS TEACH ABOUT EVOLUTION?

By Benedict M. Ashley, O.P.

The evolutionists, creationists, and intelligent designers are battling in the public media in a very confusing way. Catholics need to understand the true issues clearly and promote a way out of the dilemma. To do this, we must face the following questions:

1). What are the intelligent designers claiming? They argue not one but two distinct theses. The first is that Neo-Darwinism is an inadequate explanation of what we know about the historical succession of species; the second is that a better theory of evolution would include an Intelligent Designer who guides evolutionary forces to produce something as complex as organic life and above all the humanity of the scientist himself.

The leading theorist in this movement, Michael J. Behe, associate professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, believes that evolution of species has taken place and that the causes on which Neo-Darwinism relies, namely, chance mutation of genes and survival of organisms better adapted to different environments, may play a role in evolution. He is also open to an alternative theory of evolution that grounds it in some law inherent in matter. But he argues that Neo-Darwinism as the total explanation of evolution has recently been made utterly improbable by our discovery of the extreme chemical complexity of life.

2). Leaving aside for the moment the issue of the need for an Intelligent Designer, is it or is not true that Neo-Darwinism is a satisfactory scientific explanation of the paleontological succession of life forms? Neo-Darwinism greatly strengthened Darwin's theory of natural selection by adding to it the Catholic priest Gregor Mendel's discovery that the genes transmit heredity and the subsequent discovery that genes can change by chance mutations.

This improved theory has been accepted by the great majority of modern scientists who therefore are no longer interested in views like those of Teilhard de Chardin, popular for awhile among Catholic theologians. Teilhard thought that there is a natural "law of evolution" inherent in matter, such as the natural laws of gravitation and electromagnetism, that would necessarily or at least with high probability predict that matter would evolve to produce life and ultimately Darwin! This type of evolutionary theory was proposed by St. Augustine who spoke of rationes seminales (seed principles) implanted by God in chaotic matter that would cause it to evolve to its present condition. Behe and other Intelligent Designers consider that a possibility.

Many people, even those who have studied some science, confusedly suppose that this is what modern evolutionists hold. In fact, for Neo-Darwinism what holds as the only law of evolution is what the popular advocate of that view, Richard Dawkins, calls "the selfish gene". When some gene or genes of an organism mutate by chance (but not by any necessary law) it may be able to reproduce and survive environmental changes better than its generators. Gradually these new variations become new species. But, as Behe argued, this leaves the question of whether in fact life would ever exist in our universe, or produce something as complicated as the human brain, completely in the dark. Thus another great advocate of evolution, the late Stephen Jay Gould, always said it was just as likely that the universe remain lifeless, or that nothing but bugs should have evolved, as that it should have produced life or man. All Behe adds to this is to conclude, as Gould did not, that since Neo-Darwinism is so inadequate, we ought to conclude that evolution is ultimately due to an Intelligent Designer.

3). What did St. Thomas Aquinas think? St. Thomas accepted the Genesis account of the six days of creation as literally true, but left room for St. Augustine's view. Aquinas (a) knew none of the scientific facts that today support evolution and (b) did not know the parallel texts of ancient pagan accounts of creation that to modern scholars show that Augustine was right in reading the Genesis account as metaphorical. Thus St. Thomas' famous Five Ways to prove God's existence in no way depend on the facts that support Neo-Darwinism or Intelligent Design, but are much more fundamental.

Intelligent Design, as Behe presents it, is a mathematical theory of probabilities, and as such itself is only probable and dialectical. Aquinas' arguments, however, and especially the First Argument from motion that he called the "most evident" of the five, follow logically from the simple fact that the world we live in is changing and that every change is the effect of some cause or series of causes that cannot be infinitely long but must end in an uncaused cause.

Since all scientific reasoning must be logically consistent, and be based on the principle of causality and the fact of change, Aquinas' proof holds for every possible scientific theory. The only important attempt to refute his argument was given by Immanuel Kant, but only at the expense of ending in idealism, which no scientist can seriously accept. The Aristotelian-Thomistic proof, however, does not directly prove the existence of a personal, intelligent God, but this becomes evident when we realize that since we, like the universe, are products of the First Cause, then It must be super-intelligent. Thus Christians need not rely on current Intelligent Design arguments, since belief in God is logically presupposed to the possibility of scientists or their science.

4). What then should our Public Schools teach about evolution in their science classes?

The truth.

What the teacher and the textbooks should make clear is something like this:

The great majority of scientists today hold that, on the basis of fossil evidence, an evolution of species, including the human species, has taken place. The best explanation they have yet found is that it was caused by the chance mutation of genes and the natural selection of organisms having particular genes in a changing environment. This explanation, however, like most scientific theories today, remains only probable, until we know the facts better.

Moreover, it can be reconciled with a belief in a Creator, although some Christians interpret the Bible to deny that species have evolved, and even give some scientific evidence for this, but not enough to satisfy most scientists. Other Christians (who do not interpret the Bible in this way), Jews, Muslims and the Eastern religions, may also accept evolution, yet hold that this is the way in which God has chosen to create the world, by using some parts of his creation to cause others to develop. Some, who accept the fact of evolution, use what is called the argument from Intelligent Design to argue mathematically that Neo-Darwinism is a theory that has too small a probability to be successful, unless there is an Intelligent Designer; but more fundamental arguments for the existence of God have much wider acceptance.

The fact that Neo-Darwinism is open to criticism does not, however, deny its scientific importance, since all science progresses by improving existing theories. It is the business of this science class to explain that theory. In other classes here, and in your churches or synagogues or mosques, you will learn about other views and be able to compare their arguments. That is what living in a democratic, multicultural society requires.

To believe in things that can't be proved is faith. To disbelieve in things that have been proved is obstinance.

"To believe in things that can't be proved is faith. To disbelieve in things that have been proved is obstinance."

Prove it.

How would The Sanity Inspector prove his aphorism? That disbelieving in things that have been proved is obstinate seems, most of the time at least, to follow definitionally from obstinance. As for the claim that believing in things that cannot be proved is a matter of faith, well, I don't accept that, but it's hard to see how one would go about proving this. Would you look at use? Well, most people probably use faith to mean just that. My own preference would be to think about what the proper relationship to God is, and then to figure out which parts of that relationship are best described by the word "faith", given how that word is used in the Bible and the Christian (and perhaps Jewish and Islamic) tradition.

I know you were offering up your response half-jokingly, or perhaps entirely jokingly, but I still think it's interesting to think about how one would go about proving that aphorism.

Thank you, Lydia.
I haven't read the book(s), but following your remark I peeked into excerpts from "Edge of Evolution" on the Internet but I doubt I will try to read it as it seems way over my head. Besides, if it in some way dealt with the question I presented to M. Behe, I'd think he would have referred me to it. Unless, of course, he too think it is way over my head.

Thanks, Frank, for that informative piece. I learned so much. St. Augustine believed in evolution and taught that Genesis was just a metaphor? Gosh, and I always thought he was a Catholic. I just wish that, (ahem), "Father" Ashley had cited passages.

Chicken:

Which theory does the better in following up on what the data actually suggests: neo-Darwinism or ID.
My opinion? Neither. Though I think neo-darwinism has done far more damage to rigorous thought, because it has acclimated folks to the ideologically-driven idea that "science" involves telling fanciful truthy-sounding fairy stories about things which supposedly actually occurred without the faintest clue how probable those occurrences are.

By basing a worldview on an assumption that affirms the exact opposite of what St. Paul said was evident by simply observing nature, the Neo-Darwinists come closer to what St. Paul had in mind than those who see in nature precisely what St. Paul said they ought to.

Ironic, isn't it?

My opinion? Neither. Though I think neo-darwinism has done far more damage to rigorous thought, because it has acclimated folks to the ideologically-driven idea that "science" involves telling fanciful truthy-sounding fairy stories about things which supposedly actually occurred without the faintest clue how probable those occurrences are.

IDers do the exact same thing with mathematics. Their statistics are truthy-sounding about things that supposedly can't occur. Worse, however, is that they then present their findings as science rather than mathematics. If they tried to present any of their findings in a mainstream mathematics journal, they would be subject to peer-review and the math would either stand of fall when presented to people who really do know what the math says.

I am not saying that neo-Darwinists are much better, as they make few predictions from their theories. Neo-Darwinism has a bit more established science behind it than ID because they can borrow from such areas as chemistry, geology, microbiology, etc., much in the same way that forensic scientists do. A CSI expert can, at best, present probable explanations for what happened. These are generally accepted in a court of law. I would be happy if neo-Darwinists could approach that same probability. Have they? Well, their time frame is much larger and so the need for a larger body of evidence is greater.

What I find suspect in both camps is that neither area is being scientifically honest in the sense of Feynmann in his lecture on Cargo Cult science: bending over backwards to explain how their theory might be wrong.

I am tempted to say a pox on both their houses, but origin questions are legitimate and someone has to try something.

The Chicken

as they make few predictions from their theories.

Right. They assume the theory and make up crazy nonsense when they have no idea. You should read some of the attempted Darwinian explanations of the origins of complex biochemistry that Behe quotes in DBB.

This approach, by the way, is seen as a virtue in some quarters. I was recently reading a paper by eminent philosopher of science Elliot Sober in which he says--apparently as a compliment--that Darwinian scientists do not test their theory against other theories but rather only test various neo-Darwinian sub-hypotheses against each other. This was, somehow, supposed to be a good thing.

The only important attempt to refute his argument was given by Immanuel Kant, but only at the expense of ending in idealism, which no scientist can seriously accept.

It seems to me a major distortion to say no scientist can believe in Transcendental idealism as esposed by Kant. In fact when Bohr first explained the The Copenhagen interpretation of Qunatum Mechanics he explained how similar some of the ideas where to Transcendental idealism. Transcendental Idealism is to quote Schopenhauer based on a "distinction between the phenomenon and the thing in itself, and a recognition that only the phenomenon is accessible to us" because "we do not know either ourselves or things as they are in themselves, but merely as they appear". Kants point, was that when we are studying reality, how do we know whats exists, and what is the unreal framework our brains use to make it easier for us to process information, do Time and Space exist independantly of ourselves, or do our brains create the apperaence of there existence so we can interpret the world.

Here is a link to a video that shows something like this with our eyesight and how we process information that is not real.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Oo4F5YaV2A&feature=channel


To Quote from a Article on Kant:

Kant's observations from a logical and philosophical point of view are supported in modern thought by some empirical findings that go beyond the science available to Kant in his time, are not based on what might be called a Kantian ideology, and yet support Kant's conclusions on the grounds of novel discoveries. Kant argues, essentially, that incoming data must be organized into a form that human minds can process. At the dawn of the computer age it was assumed that robots would soon be capable of taking over for humans in many tasks. Unexpectedly, it soon became apparent that pattern recognition was not an easy goal to attain. The human brain seems to be hard wired for pattern recognition. A very telling indication of organic structures for pattern recognition came to light when researchers discovered that the image of a moving object in crossing the retina is processed right in the retina and sends an almost instantaneous message: "Movement!" to the brain. So "movement" turns out to be an automatic processing of raw incoming data into a special signal having immense survival salience to the organism. Kant had to be satisfied with examining the functions of the mind and teasing out the functional dependencies without much if any help being derived from observable physical mechanisms in the brain. The mind imposes structures on incoming data. In the case of the rope perceived to be a snake, the initial structuring must be abandoned. The snake disappears from consciousness and is replaced by a rope. In various ways other philosophies have maintained this useful distinction between what humans conceive to be present and whatever may really be there. Important schools of modern philosophy of science, a field from which Kant drew much, speak in terms of "models" or "convenient fictions" rather than asserting actual knowledge of reality.

Chicken:

What I find suspect in both camps is that neither area is being scientifically honest in the sense of Feynmann in his lecture on Cargo Cult science: bending over backwards to explain how their theory might be wrong.
There is a similar problem in 'string' or 'M' theory right now, in my view. M theory is kind of the opposite of evolution: an explanatory formalism in search of real world data, rather than real-world data in search of an explanatory formalism.

I think your and my perspective on the science is identical, or at least very nearly so. If our views differ it is only in that you grant the neo-darwinists a "sympathy nod", whereas I grant that ribbon to the IDers, or at least to Behe.

Here is why:

Consider the case of big bang theory, which is another "extrapolate to origins" theory. Cosmology has a unifying mathematical formalism (general relativity) which has been rigorously tested and confirmed by empirical data to be tremendously accurate in the present day and in our present locale. While some folks quibble with extrapolating current data and general relativity to all places and all the way back to a Planck time after the singularity which arises from the mathematics, it is nonetheless a rigorous approach. While it may be "only a theory," it is a good theory founded on reasonably rigorous thought, reasonably rigorous data, and reasonably rigorous mathematics.

Contrast this to the neo-darwinian theory of biological origins. As I discussed in this old blog post, biology has no unifying formalism which can take current data and extrapolate in reverse time. For a hundred and fifty years we've been subjected to triumphalist fairy stories told by people who have no idea if what they are talking about is even possible (where 'possible', because we are talking about an empirical matter, usually has a probabilistic component). Behe's particular formalism he begins constructing in "Edge" may have all sorts of things wrong with it as a particular proposal; but at least he has made it obvious, to great wails of anguish and protest, that in order to be 'scientific' the materialist creation mythos needs to be more than fairy stories about things nobody has any idea whether or not are even possible.

I've been sympathetic to Behe's project since I first read him - in fact I was sympathetic to his project before I read him, since the first time this all came onto my radar was when I read The Science of God by Gerald Schroeder a decade or two ago.

A hundred and fifty years of materialist fairy stories, refuted time and time again in the particulars, is enough. It doesn't serve science, and it doesn't serve the truth. People hate Behe because they think he is attacking 'science', but that is only because their idea of science is ridiculous, and because while the particulars of his rough formalism might be completely wrong he has made it obvious what they are missing.

I would add, too, that the origin-of-life problem is rather different from Behe's own work, and that there I think we have rather more empirical data leading to an obviously _incredibly_ low probability for abiogenesis on earth. That design is a better explanation in that case ought to be, I think, very clear.

Perhaps this is why God prevented time machines from being realized to date: he wants us to learn to be humble in areas we can't know for sure.

The Chicken

I would add, too, that the origin-of-life problem is rather different from Behe's own work, and that there I think we have rather more empirical data leading to an obviously _incredibly_ low probability for abiogenesis on earth. That design is a better explanation in that case ought to be, I think, very clear.

Indeed, Lydia.

Zippy, I assume when you are attacking neo-darwinism you mean the modern synthesis. I'd be happy to agree with you if the state of the science was as static as you and Behe suggest. But it seems about three decades out of date (as does Dawkins' triumphalist adaptationism, which I took an axe to in the January issue of Catholic World Report), or as one wag at Uncommon Descent, put it: "As a familiar and comfortable opponent, it is fine to tilt at the windmill of neo-Darwinism. That sadly ignores the wind turbine now thirty kilometers offshore."

Allen MacNeill has a nice post on this at his blog.

His upshot:
The concept of natural selection as the foundation of evolutionary change has been largely superseded, mostly through the work of Motoo Kimura, Tomoko Ohta, and others, who have shown both theoretically and empirically that natural selection has little or no effect on the vast majority of the genomes of most living organisms.

However, ID supporters should find this sea change in evolutionary biology to be cold comfort. The overall effect of the advances in our understanding of how genomes and phenotypes change over time has had the same effect on evolutionary theory that the rise of quantum mechanics had on classical physics. Einstein famously asserted that “God does not play dice”, but a century of physics research has shown him to be more wrong about how the universe works at the quantum level than ever.

The same is true for the “evolving synthesis”. Rather than revert to a neo-Paleyan paradigm (as proposed by Behe, Dembski, and their supporters), evolutionary biology has gone in the opposite direction, the same direction that quantum mechanics has taken. According to the “modern synthesis” of the last century, the genome was “homeostatic”, “organized”, and “regulated” primarily by natural selection. Sure there were purely random processes also going on (such as genetic drift), but most evolutionary change was both adaptive and coherent over time.

Here's what Dr. Koonin writes (see above):

"There is no consistent tendency of evolution towards increased genomic complexity, and when complexity increases, this appears to be a nonadaptive consequence of evolution under weak purifying selection rather than an adaptation."


Kimura, Ohta, Jukes, and Crow dropped a monkey wrench into the "engine" at the heart of the modern synthesis — natural selection — and then Gould and Lewontin finished the job with their famous paper on “the spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian paradigm”. The rise of evo-devo over the past two decades has laid the groundwork for a completely new and empirically testable theory of macroevolution, a theory that is currently facilitating exponential progress in our understanding of how major evolutionary transitions happen. And iconoclasts like Lynn Margulis, Eva Jablonka, Marian Lamb, Mary Jane West-Eberhard, and David Sloan Wilson are rapidly overturning our understanding of how evolutionary change happens at all levels, and how it is inherited.

So, as I have said many times before, when ID supporters set their sights on “neo-Darwinism” as a target for criticism, they set their sights on a model that has been all but abandoned. The carnival has moved on and ID supporters are fighting battles that evolutionary biologists left behind a half century and more ago.

John, I'm waiting for Richard Dawkins's radical revision to his notion of the law-like "ratchet" of natural selection any day. (Not.)

By the way, I notice that the article doesn't say _what_ this radically new model is all about. But perhaps that's at the link.

Glad to agree with you on the ool.

A link to a essay on Evoultion. Its about the work of Carl Woese.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20527441.500-horizontal-and-vertical-the-evolution-of-evolution.html?full=true

"Just suppose that Darwin’s ideas were only a part of the story of evolution. Suppose that a process he never wrote about, and never even imagined, has been controlling the evolution of life throughout most of the Earth’s history. It may sound preposterous, but this is exactly what microbiologist Carl Woese and physicist Nigel Goldenfeld, both at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, believe. Darwin’s explanation of evolution, they argue, even in its sophisticated modern form, applies only to a recent phase of life on Earth.

At the root of this idea is overwhelming recent evidence for horizontal gene transfer – in which organisms acquire genetic material “horizontally” from other organisms around them, rather than vertically from their parents or ancestors. The donor organisms may not even be the same species. This mechanism is already known to play a huge role in the evolution of microbial genomes, but its consequences have hardly been explored. According to Woese and Goldenfeld, they are profound, and horizontal gene transfer alters the evolutionary process itself. Since micro-organisms represented most of life on Earth for most of the time that life has existed – billions of years, in fact – the most ancient and prevalent form of evolution probably wasn’t Darwinian at all, Woese and Goldenfeld say. "

I'd be happy to agree with you if the state of the science was as static as you and Behe suggest.
Forgive me, John, but that strikes me as a cute way of saying "yes, we've been completely wrong all along and now it is back to the speculative drawing board". Which is precisely the way I see it. So no, I don't suggest that the state of any science, including biology, is static, at all. I've never suggested that, and I am not aware of Behe ever suggesting that. I just have a rather different view of things from triumphalists, that's all. And if progress in moving away from fairy tales is going to be made, "edge" formalisms which can predict concretely what certain processes are and are not capable of achieving will need to be a core part of it.

My sympathies with Behe's project - I consider myself "ID friendly", remember, though I don't carry a card - arise from three things, to reiterate:

1) His correct rejection of more than a century of Darwinian fairy tales;

2) His efforts to actually construct some kind of formalism to account for what proposed evolutionary processes actually can and cannot achieve; and

3) His refusal to wet his pants when intelligent agency is suggested as a realio, trulio actually causal force of things in the world actually happening.

The carnival has moved on and ID supporters are fighting battles that evolutionary biologists left behind a half century and more ago.

"Carnival." That's the right word for it.

It would look a lot less like a carnival to me if Behe's vocal critics would just publicly admit - in the media, in the courtroom, and in textbooks, and without equivocation - that he is right about the facts: that they don't agree with his interpretation, perhaps, but it is true that the story we were all fed that random mutation and natural selection caused bacteria to evolve into apes and then humans is false. Scientists are busily speculating on other possible causes right now - as they have been doing for a hundred and fifty years without success - but that we just don't know what causal factors were involved and we may never know.

I'm not holding my breath though.

"There is no consistent tendency of evolution towards increased genomic complexity, and when complexity increases, this appears to be a nonadaptive consequence of evolution under weak purifying selection rather than an adaptation."

Which is what I said, above, about the dynamics of closed systems. This has been known since Poincare's time.

Kimura, Ohta, Jukes, and Crow dropped a monkey wrench into the "engine" at the heart of the modern synthesis — natural selection — and then Gould and Lewontin finished the job with their famous paper on “the spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian paradigm”. The rise of evo-devo over the past two decades has laid the groundwork for a completely new and empirically testable theory of macroevolution, a theory that is currently facilitating exponential progress in our understanding of how major evolutionary transitions happen. And iconoclasts like Lynn Margulis, Eva Jablonka, Marian Lamb, Mary Jane West-Eberhard, and David Sloan Wilson are rapidly overturning our understanding of how evolutionary change happens at all levels, and how it is inherited.

These biologists should read Rene Thom. The mathematical foundation (in part), goes back to his work on structural stability. I'll bet theoretical biologists take up an interest in the near future. This is a testable theory, however, but the consequences may be monsterous (as in the Island of Dr. Moreau), since figuring out all of the different types of interactions (which involves determining equilibrium states in a multi-dimensional phase space) is not easy and it might be very easy to wander into a verbotten land of genetic mutation by accident.

In any case, the idea of an epigenetically controlled morphogenesis (which I mentioned above) simply posits a different type of natural selection. One car uses gas (the old-fashioned neo-Darwinism), the other uses electric (evo-devo). They are both cars, however.

The Chicken

Yes, it is rather interesting that we are faced these days _both_ with the assertion that "evolution is a fact, not a theory" and that _the_ theory must be taught to children because it's a fact, and that students must turn to their "churches or mosques" for (presumably non-scientific) other explanations, etc., _and_ with the statement that, hey, all that mutation-plus-selection stuff is _so_ eighties, the carnival has moved on, and ID theorists are tilting at windmills. I mean, which is it? Is it a hard, clear-cut, scientific fact, shown to be true by "overwhelming evidence," or is it an ever-evolving amorphous family of highly speculative theories all going under the same high-prestige family name to prevent their creditors from coming down on them like a ton of bricks and demanding that they pay the gambling debt?

It would look a lot less like a carnival to me if Behe's vocal critics would just publicly admit - in the media, in the courtroom, and in textbooks, and without equivocation - that he is right about the facts...

Because he isn't. Of all places, Zippy, as you well know, it was IN THE COURTROOM that Behe admitted that, even going by the improbable standards he set in his 2004 paper with Snopes, an irreducibly complex trait could evolve purely by random mutations and natural selection.

As for coming up with a formalism, good for him. But I'm not holding my breath waiting for him or anyone else in the ID movement to come up with a real research program.

Behe admitted that an IC trait could evolve by RM + NS in the same way that all of the people in America could face west at precisely the same time. It wouldn't violate any laws of nature, but it would be overwhelmingly unlikely to happen by chance.

Regarding the quote above by Allen MacNeill, a few comments.

First, Flavius seems correct: To my knowledge Behe has never said that it's utterly impossible for IC traits to evolve by natural selection. Is it probable, given what we know and observe? That's the question he addresses.

Second, I notice that the Allen MacNeill quote basically adds up to 'Yes, Neo-Darwinism is defunct, but we can spin the new ideas into one that isn't design-friendly too, so nyeh!' This strikes me as along the lines of claiming the views of Simon Conway Morris (Which argues that the many and growing number of identifications of evolutionary convergence indicate evolutionary development is actually more predictable than previously supposed) should be "cold comfort" to ID proponents. It's less a statement of fact than a wish and a prayer. And it should be reminded that not every ID proponent opposes evolution. In fact, Dembski himself has said that Ken Miller and others (who speculate about God acting at the quantum level) would be ID proponents in his eyes, if they thought this design was possibly detectable.

John, really, that hardly sounds like a stunning and damaging admission. Good grief. And the knife _could_ have fallen into the victim's chest and killed him by accident, too.

Behe admitted that an IC trait could evolve by RM + NS in the same way that all of the people in America could face west at precisely the same time. It wouldn't violate any laws of nature, but it would be overwhelmingly unlikely to happen by chance.

It is also overwhelmingly unlikely that you or I will win the lottery today. But someone will. That is the better analogy.

But you highlight very well the basically negative thrust of ID. It proposes no positive scientific research program as to what better mechanisms can be shown to cause the origin of new species from previous.

(I find this oddly parallel to the essentially negative attitude that Lydia rightly laments among current NT scholars with regards to the possibility of finding more concrete evidence of the historical Jesus. For God's sake--can't anyone take their cue from Maurice Casey, whose work suggests Mark was written no later than 40AD; from Bauckham, etc. Talk about a field desperate for a revolution.)

The fact is, Darwinian evolution continues to be the dominant paradigm, if you will, because it generates cool research like this.

And this.

Note that the work of both these teams (which I've been slowly digesting for a writing project) proceeds from the essential principles of neo-darwinism. The dreaded random mutations, etc. But what they're finding about regulatory genes--and how it can drive quicker development of offshoot species--I think is fascinating. But they wouldn't have discovered it if they nurtured the level of skepticism about evolution that ID advocates--and said why waste our time, there's no proper formalism to the theory anyway.

That's why I'm not ID friendly. It's ultimately a science stopper.

I appreciate the discussion very much.

John Farrell,

It is also overwhelmingly unlikely that you or I will win the lottery today. But someone will. That is the better analogy.

John, your rendition of what Behe said was incorrect. Just owe up to it, rather than in playing this game.

The fact is, Darwinian evolution continues to be the dominant paradigm, if you will,

Note that the work of both these teams (which I've been slowly digesting for a writing project) proceeds from the essential principles of neo-darwinism.

Funny. You quoted Allen MacNeill who had this to say:

The concept of natural selection as the foundation of evolutionary change has been largely superseded, mostly through the work of Motoo Kimura, Tomoko Ohta, and others, who have shown both theoretically and empirically that natural selection has little or no effect on the vast majority of the genomes of most living organisms.

So, Neo-Darwinian evolution is the dominant paradigm. But natural selection as the foundation of evolutionary change (Isn't that Neo-Darwinian evolution?) has been largely superseded.

Which one is it?

But they wouldn't have discovered it if they nurtured the level of skepticism about evolution that ID advocates--and said why waste our time, there's no proper formalism to the theory anyway.

ID is not committed to skepticism about evolution, period. It's not even committed to the denial that natural selection is ever a factor. ID proponents think they can detect design and guidance in nature, and that this detection is scientific. Yes, they do make 'negative arguments'. Are you honestly going to say that negative arguments are harmful to science? Come on.

I'm far closer to having a thomist view, or one which makes these questions largely moot. But it seems like you're throwing absolutely any charge you can think of at ID in the hopes that it will stick.

I read ALL of this thread. It jumps out at me that all the historical "experts" and otherwise respected thinkers are allowed to be fallible in some of their thinking. Same is true of us.

Science has done great things with Darwin's discovery of a biological theory of evolution. It is making our life on earth better. Nothing so revolutionary has occurred in philosophy.

Why not revel in our scientific advances and adopt a wait and see attitude about an afterlife. (After all, that is what amounts to our 'Ultimate Concern' about God). Hanging loose on the afterlife, we can all then become process theists.

Science has done great things with Darwin's discovery of a biological theory of evolution.

Like what?

It is also overwhelmingly unlikely that you or I will win the lottery today. But someone will.

Well, no, that's not a good analogy unless the development of an IC system is a "closed lottery" in the sense that the probability that an IC system will develop by purely secondary causes somewhere on earth is 1. I mean, that's the probability that someone will win the lottery.

I don't get the analogy you're making to NT studies, John, though I'm really pleased that you see NT studies as in need of a revolution. Boy, are you right on there! :-)

But I do agree that, while the (apparently) low probability of x or y on purely secondary causes is the driving force of the likelihood comparison for the design hypothesis (that's what makes what I would call the Bayes factor high), the _purely_ negative approach--epitomized by neo-Fisherian models--is mistaken. It should certainly be thought of as a comparative inference. This is why I have critiqued Elliott Sober in an article (published in, of all places, Philo!) in which I also express disagreement with Bill Dembski. The title of the piece when I originally presented it at a conference, a title which Ed Feser is welcome to pin on me, was "Likely Machines: A Response to Elliot Sober's 'Testability'."

Science has done great things with Darwin's discovery of a biological theory of evolution. It is making our life on earth better.

The eugenics movement made our life on earth better? Who's the "our" in that case?

Of course, I've heard it claimed that eugenics wasn't due to science, but an abuse of it in the service of philosophy and metaphysics. In which case...

Nothing so revolutionary has occurred in philosophy.

...the problem is made apparent here. Plenty of "revolutionary" things have happened due to philosophy, not all of them good. Of course, communists and fascists also had a habit of saying their actions were justified by science.

That so many people fail to understand the difference between science and philosophy - and incidentally, Darwinists themselves are tremendously guilty of this - is the root of a number of problems. Of course, I can only identify them as actual problems due to philosophy. Science makes no value judgments.

I don't get the analogy you're making to NT studies, John, though I'm really pleased that you see NT studies as in need of a revolution. Boy, are you right on there! :-)

Lydia, Let me try to explain it better: One thing that has always struck me about the obtuseness of the Bart Ehrman types is the lack of appreciation for what we can infer--not prove absolutely but very reasonably infer-- about the authenticity of the Gospels and Jesus etc on what may superficially look perhaps like skimpy evidence.

Case in point. The fact that Mark just happens to translate from its Greek back into word for word elegant Aramaic--and not just any Aramaic but the Aramaic of the Qumran scrolls (which physically date from the time of Jesus) screams loud and clear to me that, no, Mark is not some collection of pericopes that percolated orally for generations among native Greek speakers, but is more likely a very careful redaction of an Aramaic original. (The late Jean Carmignac argued for Hebrew, but I think Maurice Casey makes the better case that it was Aramaic, but I digress...) The Sydney Greenstreets of the current generation of NT scholars insist on nothing less than to find the ossified baskets with the leftovers from the feeding of the 5,000 before they grant even the slightest authenticity to the events described. That kind of skepticism I find research-stoppingly unreasonable.

But, I feel too that many ID supporters act the same way about evidence for evolution. The refusal, for example, to accept the importance of Doolittle's work on the bloodclotting cascade. Why? Well, he didn't show absolutely every single intermediate pathway? My feeling is, he doesn't have to. His inference is reasonable. The inferences that Cretekos et al make about evolution in their papers I find reasonable, too.

Now, it may not be a convincing analogy for you, admittedly, but it has struck me as I am reading in both subjects in parallel. (Odd, perhaps, but such is the way life can turn out for writing projects.)

:)

I guess I am first thinking of the grandeur in observing how species evolve. Also in applying what we learn from them about the meanings and purposes of our emotions, sense perceptions, cultural interactions, and even language/thought.

Is genetics a benefit resulting from Darwin?

I thought of communism when I wrote the previous comment, but could not think of any positive revolutionary philosophic advance in the last millennium or so.

The whole God question, if we are to be radically honest, is about our desire to live forever.

If not, then a perfectly decent paradigm of nature directed by God is in process thought.

Experiential events in process and relation to all others directed towards greater intensity of quality is not so bad a way to see the world.

Science and theists can get what they want from it. Alas tho', there's the desire for dogmatic certainty of afterlife...

Why not revel in our scientific advances and adopt a wait and see attitude about an afterlife. (After all, that is what amounts to our 'Ultimate Concern' about God). Hanging loose on the afterlife, we can all then become process theists.

Our scientific advances like the atom bomb, Sarin nerve gas, thalidimide, rap music (okay, I couldn't help myself)? What defines if something is an advancement? Thalidimide was seen as an advancement in the treatment of morning sickness when it was first discovered. The only thing that really indicates an advancement in science is whether or not the truth is served, but I've got a secret for you, Anon., the truth is not a what, it is a He. If you do not think that following life to a destination is not both a search for eternal life as well as the truth, then you have understood neither truth nor eternal life.

The Chicken.

If you do not think that following life to a destination is not both a search for eternal life as well as the truth, then you have understood neither truth nor eternal life.

Chicken, I am unclear on your wording.

PS

Listing the things that societies have done with scientific discovery, like gas chambers, etc., is more a condemnation of engineers than scientists. Engineers are just doing what they are paid to do.

And yet they tend to be more religious than scientists.

PS

Listing the things that societies have done with scientific discovery, like gas chambers, etc., is more a condemnation of engineers than scientists. Engineers are just doing what they are paid to do.

And yet they tend to be more religious than scientists.

Hmm...scientists have not know Original Sin?

Here is a quote from a book by Carl Sagan (he, no fan of organized religion). I cribbed it from a website of dubious merit (theologically-speaking, it appears to be a little New-agey, but it was the first example of the quote I found on the Internet), so I'll leave off the link to the page unless the blog-meisters want a link. I have corrected faulty spelling in the transcription on the blog site. I am assuming this quote falls under Fair Use (if not, blog-meisters, please remove it).

Sagan Carl 1996 The Demon-Haunted World Science as a Candle in the Dark, Random House, NY ISBN0-394-53512-X

When Scientists know Sin

In a post-war meeting with President Harry S Truman, J. Robert Oppenheimer-the scientific director of the Manhattan nuclear weapons Project-mournfully commented that scientists had bloody hands; they had now known sin. Afterwards, Truman instructed his aides that he never wished to see Oppenheimer again. Sometimes scientists are castigated for doing evil, and sometimes for warning about the evil uses to which science may be put. More often, science is taken to task because it and its products are said to be morally neutral, ethically ambiguous, as readily employed in the service of evil as of good. This is an old indictment. lt goes back probably to the flaking of stone tools and the domestication of fire. Since technology has been with our ancestral line from before the first human, since we are a technological species, this problem is not so [much] one of science as of human nature. By this I don't mean that science has no responsibility for the misuse of its findings. It has profound responsibility, and the more powerful its products the greater its responsibility. Like assault weapons and market derivatives, the technologies that allow us to alter the global environment that sustains us should mandate caution and prudence. Yes, it's the same old humans who have made it so far. Yes, we're developing new technologies as we always have. But when the weaknesses we've always had [join] forces with a capacity to do harm on an unprecedented planetary scale, something more is required of us-an emerging ethic that also must be established on an unprecedented planetary scale. Sometimes scientists try, to have it both ways: to take credit for those applications of science that enrich our lives, but to distance themselves from the instruments of death, intentional and inadvertent, that also trace back to scientific research. The Australian philosopher John Passmore writes in his book [,] Science and Its Critics,

The Spanish Inquisition sought to avoid direct responsibility for the burning of heretics by handing them over to the secular arm; to burn them itself, it piously explained, would be wholly [inconsistent with] its Christian principles. Few of us would allow the Inquisition thus easily to wipe its hands clean of bloodshed; it knew quite well what would happen. Equally, where the technological application of scientific discoveries is clear and obvious - as when a scientist works on nerve gases - he cannot properly claim that such applications are "none of his business," merely on the ground that it is the military forces, not scientists, who use the gases to disable or kill. This is even more obvious when the [scientist] deliberately offers help to governments, in exchange for funds. If a scientist, or a philosopher, accepts funds from some such body as an office of naval research, then he is cheating if he knows his work will be useless to them and must take some responsibility for the outcome if he knows that it will be useful. He is subject, properly subject, to praise or blame in relation to any innovations which flow from his work.

The Chicken

Is genetics a benefit resulting from Darwin?

No, It was discovered by Gregor Mendel independently of Evoultionary thought. He would have discovered it without the theory of Evolution.

He would have discovered it without the theory of Evolution.

With what implications about our existence?

I am new to this site. Is a religious fundamentalist belief prerequisite for contributing?

I am new to this site. Is a religious fundamentalist belief prerequisite for contributing?

Oh boy. Anon, bringing out the f-word shows a certain lack of sophistication in these circles. Just a hint to the uninitiated.

So there we have it. Did it do good? Science. Did it do bad? Engineers, or society, or something. Also, process thought! (Wow, this guy never gives up that chestnut.)

I don't understand your point, what did I say that has anything to do with religious fundamentalism. I said that when Gregor Mendel discovered genetics he wasn't directly working in tandem with the Theory of Evolution, he was doing independant work that wasn't related to it. What is there in that statement, that comes across as a form of religious fundamentalism?

Science has done great things with Darwin's discovery of a biological theory of evolution.

When you made this statement you seemed to be implying that many great things had been derived from the theory of evolution and I asked for examples (like Medical achievements that wouldn't have been possible without it). Now you could say the discoveries themselves are great things in the way they have opened up our view of life and existence, but you seemed to be implying that there was useful things that benefit us all, that came from Evolutionary theory, but then you failed to tell us them.

John, here is Behe's response to Doolittle:

http://www.arn.org/docs/behe/mb_indefenseofbloodclottingcascade.htm

I see nothing _remotely_ like excessive or carping skepticism there. Instead, it looks like Doolittle made a major, big-time, super-duper blooper in interpreting the experimental results he cites, and Behe skewers him on it and goes even farther, showing how the experimental results in question fit extremely well with what Behe was saying to begin with. And if a hand-wave in the direction of gene duplication is meant to be a reasonable explanation, I can only say that I cannot see how it is. A duplicate gene is (as far as my layman's understanding) like an extra copy of the wrong term paper which you're hoping might just morph into the right one, where you also hope for extra copies of several other term papers to morph into other just-right ones. Just because.

So, Neo-Darwinian evolution is the dominant paradigm. But natural selection as the foundation of evolutionary change (Isn't that Neo-Darwinian evolution?) has been largely superseded.

Which one is it?

Joseph, you've created a false either/or. Natural selection in combination with random mutation is the dominant paradigm of the modern synthesis. That more scientists think mutations, drift and other stochastic processes are as important (and indeed more important) than natural selection doesn't mean natural selection ceases to be an important factor.

Yes, the theory has evolved. But if I understand you correctly, should we chuck heliocentrism because Copernicus' initial theory got modified --i.e, we discovered that epicycles and perfectly circular planetary orbits were incorrect, or, as Zippy might say, turned out to be fairly tales? :)

No. The basic tenet of Copericus, that the planets revolve around the sun, is still the dominant paradigm. All theories get modified. And evolution is no exception. I'm with Allen on kissing the modern synthesis good-bye. But I still think he is correct in his charge that the ID movement would prefer tilting at windmills.

I have the feeling that Anon is going to say that accepting any of the following claims means you are a religious fundamentalist: (1) An all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing God exists. I mean, really exists, isn't just a way of life or something. (2) Jesus physically rose from the dead. (3) There is an afterlife wherein our consciousness continues. (4) Much of the Bible is divinely inspired, even if not all of it is literally true.

R1: (1) is fundamentalist because there is no reason to believe that such a God exists, and lots of reason to believe God doesn't exist, so people can only believe (1) on faith, because they are unsophisticated, or because they are afraid of the Truth. Also, maybe string theory has shown that everything is necessarily true? Or maybe an irrelevant bringing up of what caused God?
R2: (2) is fundamentalist because there is no reason to believe that any miracle has happened, and lots of reason to believe miracles don't happen, so people can only believe (2) on faith, because they are unsophisticated, or because they are afraid of the Truth. Also, maybe Jesus didn't exist?
R3: (3) Same pattern as (1) and (2). Also, maybe consciousness is an illusion?
R4: (4) Same pattern as (1)-(3). Also, the Bible is racist, sexist, and homophobic?

If he doesn't think that believing any of (1)-(4) constitutes religious fundamentalism for reasons R1-R4, then I have no idea how he got anything equating to religious fundamentalism out of the comment about Mendel.

It is also overwhelmingly unlikely that you or I will win the lottery today. But someone will. That is the better analogy.

First, the lottery example is not within many orders of magnitude of the kinds of probabilities involved with a single co-option event.

Second, it misses the point: Behe does not claim that MS + NS cannot produce IC as you had previously stated. When events become too improbable, we cease to take them as good explanations. That is the basic logic of Behe's IC. MS + NS are poor explanations for how IC systems have come to be.

I have seen that, Lydia, as well as Ken Miller's response (as he was included in Behe's rebuttal).

http://www.millerandlevine.com/km/evol/DI/Clotting.html

Behe's point (at both D and M):
As I explained above, simply chanting "gene duplication" does not show how a complex system can be built, since duplication does not explain how new enzyme properties and targets arise. Russell Doolittle knew all about gene duplication, and yet postulated as a model for an evolutionary intermediate mice that turned out to be severely disabled. Professor Miller simply tries to use the term "gene duplication" as a magic wand to make the problem go away, but the problem does not go away. Miller's assertion that natural selection would favor each additional step is made quite problematic by the fact that each step in clotting has to be strictly regulated or else it is positively dangerous, as noted by Torben Halkier in the opening quotation of this document. In other words, what Halkier calls the "central issue" of regulation is ignored by Miller. Miller's statement does not even say what the newly duplicated proteases are envisioned to be acting on--whether the tissue protease, the original mistargeted circulating protease, plasma proteins, or everything at once.

Such a brief story is of no use at all in understanding how the irreducible complexity of the clotting cascade could be dealt with by natural selection. It strikes me that the main purpose of the paragraph is not to actually contribute to our understanding of how clotting actually may have arisen, but to persuade those who aren't familiar with biochemical complexity to believe Darwinism has the problem under control. It doesn't.

Fine. Miller's response:
Behe asserts that the targeting of a protease, a digestive enzyme, to the bloodstream is a "potentially deadly situation," and tells the readers of his web document that we can tell how deadly this might be by looking at situations "where regulatory proteins are missing from modern organisms." In other words, Behe wants us to look at what happens when the highly-regulated current versions of clotting proteases are missing their regulatory factors. Despite this bluster, however, Behe has no evidence that the mistargeting of an inactive protease to the bloodstream would cause harm. Indeed, the recent discovery that antifreeze protein genes in fish arose from exactly such a mistargeting of proteases into the bloodstream (Chen, L., DeVries, A. L. & Cheng, C.- H. C. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 94, 3811­3816 (1997); and Chen, L., DeVries, A. L. & Cheng, C.-H. C. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 94, 3817­3822 (1997)) suggests that exactly the opposite is true.

Having made unsupported claims about the "danger" of such a mutation, Behe says that it would be difficult to see what "advantage" this would present to the organism. The answer, of course, is that it would provide a slight improvement in the organism's ability to clot blood - and that's the point. The clotting system doesn't have to work full-blast right away. In a primitive vertebrate with a low-pressure circulatory system, a very slight improvement in clotting would be advantageous, and would be favored by natural selection.

Behe then wonders how the circulating protease could become localized at the site of a clot, as if this were an insurmountable difficulty. It's not. As I suggested in my original draft on the evolution of clotting, a well-understood process called exon shuffling could have placed an "EGF domain" onto the protease sequence, and the "problem" that Behe puzzles over is solved in a flash.

Finally, Behe emphasizes that the real problem is not to generate a clot - it is to "regulate" that clot by means of an inhibitor of the protease so that it doesn't become destructive. But that's not a problem for evolution, either. As usual, Behe envisions a clotting protease that is just as powerful as the fully-evolved proteases in modern vertebrates. However, remember that this is the same guy who fretted a moment or two ago that the protease would not be strong enough to clot effectively. He wants to have it both ways. The answer to his objection is just what I wrote in the draft:

" ... a primitive clotting system, adequate for an animal with low blood pressure and minimal blood flow, doesn't have the clotting capacity to present this kind of a threat. But just as soon as the occasional clot becomes large enough to present health risks, natural selection would favor the evolution of systems to keep clot formation in check. And where would these systems come from? From pre-existing proteins, of course, duplicated and modified. The tissues of the body produce a protein known as alpha-1-antitrypsin which binds to the active site of serine proteases found in tissues and keeps them in check. So, just as soon as clotting systems became strong enough, gene duplication would have presented natural selection with a working protease inhibitor that could then evolve into antithrombin, a similar inhibitor that today blocks the action of the primary fibrinogen-cleaving protease, thrombin."

In short, none of the points raised by Behe are adequate to explain why the vertebrate clotting system could not have evolved. Furthermore, as Doolittle's work has shown clearly, the hypothesis of evolution makes testable predictions with respect to the DNA sequences of clotting proteins, and these predictions have turned out to be correct time and time again.

I wouldn't mind tracking down Doolittle to see what his work on the subject has been since 2000.

I'm with Allen on kissing the modern synthesis good-bye.

In other words, the whole mechanism we were taught as rock solid fact, which drove evolution from prokaryote to ape to man, is false. Behe is right on the facts, whatever one thinks of his interpretations of those facts.

That isn't like giving up epicycles in a theory of stellar motion. It is like giving up gravity in a theory of gravity.

I've also seen Behe answer Miller on the fish antifreeze example. It was in person. I would imagine he's put it up on the web somewhere but would have to chase it down. I notice in what you quote, John, that Miller ain't talking about Doolittle's big-time blunder on the knockout mice.

My comment on engineers was to say that scientists are not the only ones involved in using knowledge for bad things.

My question on genetics was just that, a question. The answer about Mendel was appreciated. The question about fundamentalism refers to “Anon., the truth is not a what, it is a He. “

By fundamentalist, I was thinking about an overly sensitive mistrust of science and even non-scientific thinking (like process). For the record, I am not committed to process as THE way to model reality, but I see it as a faithful attempt at an explanatory metaphysics.

I see advantage in taking a less than literal reading of process, one in which the mind is allowed to feel the implications w/o concentrating on the philosophical details (e.g., all the forms of prehensions).

I did answer the question of evolutionary theory's benefits by referring to our improving understanding of cognitive phenomena, especially animal emotion. Evolution shows us we are related to all creation and can use our intellect to learn more about ourselves by holding creation up as a mirror to ourselves.

As for the test of whether I am a Christian fundamentalist, I am afraid my agnostic tendencies result in my failing the test. (FWIW, I did speak in tongues some decades back while involved in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.)

I hope I addressed all concerns, if not, let me know.

I notice in what you quote, John, that Miller ain't talking about Doolittle's big-time blunder on the knockout mice.

That's because it wasn't really a blunder, Lydia. But as I am seeing Ken next week, I'm happy in all seriousness to follow this up with him and Doolittle.

I don't think any life can be explained by matter in motion.

John Cobb on ID http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbJ_XIKKd8Y

Thanks for the video heads-up.

There are actually 3 parts to it about God, evolution, science, and Darwin. I think the Process naturalist God would appeal more to scientists than to us religious people who need a supernatural God, so ID thus has more appeal.

Ed, Is this the best you could come up with?

Dembski does no violence to the A-T position whatsoever. He merely appropriates Aristotle’s arguments for his own purposes, as he should. ID is not metaphysics, nor is it natural philosophy. It is an empirical science. Its purpose is not to make philosophical arguments or to prove philosophical theses, but rather to use sound philosophical principles to elucidate its own hypotheses and the empirical data which support them, which is precisely what Dembski does with Aristotle.

When it comes to Aristotle, I think Thomists have exclusive rights.

When it comes to mechanistic thinking, I know of no theology that is more rigid and deterministic than that of Aquinas.

A request: could the several anonymous posters adopt a handle other than anon or anonymous? It helps sort out who is who.

The Chicken

Thank you, MC. I agree!

For what it's worth at this late stage, Behe and Doolittle's squabble deals with a very specific claim by Behe – namely, that you cannot have a fully-functional clotting system unless ALL of the components found in humans are present. Doolittle's much more recent studies of the lamprey genome (published since Behe's almost decade-old response) show that such a claim is false. Has Behe responded to this?

[Doolittle, Russell F et al. (2008) Genomic evidence for a simpler clotting scheme in jawless vertebrates J Mol Evol 66:185-96.]

It isn't just the science, btw, that contradicts irreducible complexity. Has Behe ever responded to the fundamental mathematical problems of IC? Mark Chu Carroll, another theist critic of ID, explained a while back why IC doesn’t work.

Anonymous 12:04

It seems as tho' Cobb is saying much the same thing as Ed Feser w/r ID accepting mechanistic metaphysics, which means God in ID would be supernatural. God is supernatural in Aquinas' system as well, but Ed argues that essentialism is better than mechanism.

John Farrell,

Joseph, you've created a false either/or. Natural selection in combination with random mutation is the dominant paradigm of the modern synthesis. That more scientists think mutations, drift and other stochastic processes are as important (and indeed more important) than natural selection doesn't mean natural selection ceases to be an important factor.

John, I am not the one who made claims about natural selection's role here. You did, by way of providing conflicting quotes on the subject. I just pointed out the inconsistency.

One more time, the relevant quote of Allen MacNeill:

The concept of natural selection as the foundation of evolutionary change has been largely superseded, mostly through the work of Motoo Kimura, Tomoko Ohta, and others, who have shown both theoretically and empirically that natural selection has little or no effect on the vast majority of the genomes of most living organisms.

And just to drive the point home, MacNeill again with my emphasis added:

So, as I have said many times before, when ID supporters set their sights on “neo-Darwinism” as a target for criticism, they set their sights on a model that has been all but abandoned.

Natural selection as foundation, largely superseded. Shown both theoretically and empircally. Little or no effect. All but abandoned.

You're the one who brought this quote out, and then took a stance which immediately contradicted it. Apparently you're suggesting that when Allen says that the concept of natural selection as the foundation of evolutionary change has been superseded, what he really means is that natural selection is the dominant paradigm. When Allen says that natural selection has little to no effect on the vast majority of the genomes of most living organisms, what he really means is that natural selection is very important.

Of course, there's a third option: The words "Darwinism" and "Neo-Darwinism" have been watered down to a point such that, if evolution occurs in any way whatsoever, and if natural selection is at all present (no matter how much or little it demonstrably matters), it will be called "Darwinism" or "Neo-Darwinism". In part because so much time and effort has been expended making a secular saint of Darwin and an intellectual investment of Darwinism that they're, as has been said of other things, too big to fail.

I think a quote from Massimo Piattelli-Palmari's article illustrates something important (regardless of what one things of his and Fodor's recent book):

Some months ago an American philosopher explained to a highly sophisticated audience in Britain what, in his opinion, was wrong, indeed fatally wrong, with the standard neo-Darwinian theory of biological evolution. He made it crystal clear that his criticism was not inspired by creationism, intelligent design or any remotely religious motivation. A senior gentleman in the audience erupted, in indignation: ‘You should not say such things, you should not write such things! The creationists will treasure them and use them against science.’ The lecturer politely asked: ‘Even if they are true?’ To which the instant and vibrant retort was: ‘Especially if they are true!’ with emphasis on the ‘especially’.

On to the rest.

Yes, the theory has evolved. But if I understand you correctly, should we chuck heliocentrism because Copernicus' initial theory got modified --i.e, we discovered that epicycles and perfectly circular planetary orbits were incorrect, or, as Zippy might say, turned out to be fairly tales? :)

John, again - I am not suggesting anything be chucked. I'm pointing out that you contradicted yourself in your quotes and claims here: Allen says neo-darwinism has been pretty much chucked (and rightly so, in his view). Then you turn around and say neo-darwinism is the dominant paradigm. If you don't see the problem there, what can I do.

I'll skip over the issue of what sense it makes to talk of any 'centrism' (outside of pragmatic modeling cases) given relativity. Instead, let me ask you this: What if I told you that there never was a heliocentrism? That there always was, and always has been, geocentrism as a theory. Everything that came afterwards - from Galileo to Einstein to otherwise - were mere 'evolutions' of geocentric theory. And that was in part because I watered down geocentrism to mean "the claim that earth exists and there's other things nearby and far away from it, and motion is involved". Would you suspect something was amiss? Even if I pointed out that for many pragmatic calculations, the earth would be modeled as stationary?

Incidentally - yes, it seems Behe has responded to Doolittle's work over at his blog. See Miller Vs Luskin, Part 2.

Of course, there's a third option: The words "Darwinism" and "Neo-Darwinism" have been watered down to a point such that, if evolution occurs in any way whatsoever, and if natural selection is at all present (no matter how much or little it demonstrably matters), it will be called "Darwinism" or "Neo-Darwinism".

That's funny since that's exactly the way I feel about ID. It is so abstract and vague that Ken Miller is a secret member of the ID club just because Dembski said so. Zippy managed to get it right about the type of agency, that the intelligent designer is making merely artistic additions by modern standards of technology. So the question becomes whether a part-time genetic engineer causes a supernatural intervention. That job description is explicitly the function of the intelligent designer.

Jeff,

Natural selection as foundation, largely superseded. Shown both theoretically and empircally. Little or no effect. All but abandoned.

You're the one who brought this quote out, and then took a stance which immediately contradicted it.

No,
What I said was:
"The fact is, Darwinian evolution continues to be the dominant paradigm, if you will, because it generates cool research like this."

And linked to those papers. They make no sense if natural selection is not still a major mechanism of evolution. There are still lots of research teams who are going by the dominant paradigm. Just as there are others, like Michael Lynch, who are interested in drift. It's not a monolith. But make of that what you will.

Irreducible complexity is not about detecting design. It's about arguing that natural selection cannot account for complexity. As for Behe's response "Miller v Luskin", I am not surprised to see that comments are not allowed. Or that he misreads Doolittle's data.

Nor do I see that he has addressed Doolittle's paper delivered at the 2009 Cold Spring Harbor Symposium on Quantitative Biology: "Step by Step Evolution of Vertebrate Blood Coagulation."

http://symposium.cshlp.org/content/early/2009/08/06/sqb.2009.74.001

Behe was in attendance when Pr. Doolittle gave his presentation.

Here is what Pr. Doolittle emailed me today: "As it happens, there has been very great progress made in the last decade with regard to understanding the evolution of blood clotting. Last May I reviewed much of the data at a meeting at Cold Spring Harbor devoted to evolution. Behe was in the audience. At the end of my talk, he asked one of the questions that I noticed in your blog: namely, how do new genes become integrated in an already existing system. I answered him fully and to the great satisfaction of the several hundred persons in the audience."

No doubt Behe has his own interpretation of this event. But he does not seem to have written about it, far as I can tell.

What I see is that in the ten and more years since Behe belittled his work, Doolittle has produced even more detailed research.

I'll end with this anecdote from Larry Arnhart, which pretty much sums up why I think ID is a scientific dead end:

"A few years ago, I lectured at Hillsdale College as part of a week-long lecture series on the intelligent design debate. After Michael Behe's lecture, some of us pressed him to explain exactly how the intelligent designer created the various "irreducibly complex" mechanisms that cannot--according to Behe--be explained as products of evolution by natural selection. He repeatedly refused to answer. But after a long night of drinking, he finally answered: "A puff of smoke!" A physicist in the group asked, Do you mean a suspension of the laws of physics? Yes, Behe answered. Well, that's not going to be very persuasive as a scientific answer. And clearly Behe and other ID proponents prefer not to answer the question."

Intelligent design is not just a luxury; it is a necessity for dumb human interactions, or for those who are distracted, negligent, etc.

Mankind has long needed innovation simply to avoid interference and collision with the growing number of other human beings on the planet.

Intelligent design has always been the cure for problem solving, and that which man is designed for himself to insure his survival. What else could brains be for?

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