Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Dembski’s Designed Duplicity

On his blog, William Dembski is trying once again to argue that the intelligent designer need not be God: Everyone knows he doesn’t mean it, of course, but this is the pretense that they must maintain for purposes of their legal strategy. Unfortunately, their own words keep tripping them up in the attempt. He writes:

In those programs, Stewart & Co. had some lines that were not only funny but also memorable. The one that sticks out poked fun at ID: “We’re not saying that the designer is God, just someone with the same skill-set.” That line is now being reused on the debate circuit, with Eugenie Scott, for instance, deploying it this November at a debate at Boston University (go here).

Although the line is funny, it is not accurate. God’s skill-set includes not just ordering matter to display certain patterns but also creating matter in the first place. God, as understood by the world’s great monotheistic faiths, is an infinite personal transcendent creator. The designer responsible for biological complexity, by contrast, need only be a being capable of arranging finite material objects to display certain patterns. Accordingly, this designer need not even be infinite. Likewise, that designer need not be personal or transcendent (cf. the “designer” in Stoic philosophy).

Now let’s look, for the umpteenth time, at how the Discovery Institute – where Dembski is a senior fellow – defines intelligent design:

The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

And bear in mind the argument put forth by the DI on cosmological evolution in The Privileged Planet and other material, which argues that the physical laws of the universe itself, cosmological constants, and the positions of planets and stars are all evidence for intelligent design. The designer, then, cannot merely be a being capable of “arranging finite material objects to display certain patterns”, but is responsible for the laws which govern the behavior of matter and energy itself and for the creation of that matter with the known physical properties and laws that govern its behavior.

But in fact, we don’t even need to do this analysis to show that, by Dembski and the DI’s reasoning, the designer must be transcendant and supernatural. Dembski himself did the analysis for us in The Act of Creation: Bridging Transcendence and Immanence when he wrote:

“The fine-tuning of the universe, about which cosmologists make such a to-do, is both complex and specified and readily yields design. So too, Michael Behe’s irreducibly complex biochemical systems readily yield design. The complexity-specification criterion demonstrates that design pervades cosmology and biology. Moreover, it is a transcendent design, not reducible to the physical world. Indeed, no intelligent agent who is strictly physical could have presided over the origin of the universe or the origin of life.”

This is yet another example of the Janus-like nature of the ID movement, presenting one face to one group when it is convenient to do so, then the opposite face to another group when that is convenient. The thing that astonishes is how brazen Dembski is about it.

Comments

  1. #1 God Fearing Atheist
    November 30, 2005

    You dont understand, Ed. This was all just a bit of street theater.

    Dembski remains as honest and consistant as ever.

  2. #2 STSmith
    November 30, 2005

    My favorite is Dembski’s theological definition of ID using the unrelated mathematical field of information theory:

    “intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory”

  3. #3 llDayo
    November 30, 2005

    I fail to see how natural selection can be considered undirected. The direction is towards better survivability according to the environment. So isn’t the environment directing?

  4. #4 fake ed brayton
    November 30, 2005

    About an hour ago, I made a new registration, from a new computer, and commented on dembski’s blog:


    #

    No, I don’t think it’s right to say that ID does not require a supernatural designer.

    William Dembski himself said: “The fine-tuning of the universe, about which cosmologists make such a to-do, is both complex and specified and readily yields design.” (in The Act of Creation: Bridging Transcendence and Immanence)

    Are you tell me that creating a universe does not require the supernatural?

    Comment by steve2005 — November 30, 2005 @ 10:50 am

    as you can imagine, that comment is already gone.

  5. #5 MaxOblivion
    November 30, 2005

    If anyone is in any doubt Dembski Censors even reasoned debate. Hes just banned PuckSR for simply posting a different (but rational) viewpoint.

    http://www.fortress-forever.com/upload/dumbski-censor.png

    Sorry for the large screen grab ( composed of two webviews) But we all know how he likes to hide his dirty secrets by wiping blog comments. So I felt a screen grab was better.

  6. #6 Jim Ramsey
    November 30, 2005

    Actually, maybe we should take Dembski at his word.

    Given the level lying and deception required for the advocacy of ID, maybe he’s not working for God.

    Maybe he’s working for the OTHER SIDE entirely.

  7. #7 PaulC
    November 30, 2005

    The designer responsible for biological complexity, by contrast, need only be a being capable of arranging finite material objects to display certain patterns.

    This is truly bizarre. To rescue ID from charges of being Christian creationism in disguise, it sounds like Dembski is proposing a pantheon of gods with limited power (or if you don’t like gods per se, he’s repackaged the Raelians).

    Such a designer, while “finite” would clearly be more powerful than we are. Does this being arrange matter with his super nanotelekinetic powers? Or is it done with technology. Then where did the technology come from? From another intelligence? Then where did that intelligence come from? Dembski’s proposal opens up more questions then it could ever possibly answer, because the support structure for such a being would be so complicated that you might as well just say God did it.

    It’s fact, not a matter of conjecture, that Dembski has affirmed a belief in Christianity. Assuming he’s rational, he would have to reconcile whatever he thinks about origins with that belief. Numerous theologians have reconciled evolution with a belief in the one God of the Bible. That’s as easy as taking Genesis as allegory (and it’s difficult to take most of it as anything other than allegory).

    On the other hand, reconciling Christianity with a “designer responsible for biological complexity” seems a lot harder to me. Whatever you call him, you better not say he’s a god (but he sounds at least as powerful as a member of the greek pantheon, who were not only finite but fallible). He’d fit better into one of those hokey Hollywood angel movies (like It’s a Wonderful Life) where God functions as a sort celestial CEO. This kind of designer is less believable, less inspiring, and more thoroughly ridiculous idea than either monotheism or atheism. Unless Dembski’s gone completely off his gourd, I assume he knows this and is consciously misrepresenting what he really thinks

  8. #8 PaulC
    November 30, 2005

    Another thing I don’t get about ID on theological grounds is the lack of any direct evidence of a design event.

    A designer who didn’t care about being detected would have not gone to any effort to remove all traces of a design event. Given everything we know about the human process of design there is reason to look for direct evidence (e.g. initial sketches or waste material). Since we’re taking every other induction leap from what humans do, we should expect the designer to leave a mess unless there’s some good reason to expect otherwise.

    A designer who did not want to be detected would have erased any traces. But unless the designer was less intelligent than humans, he also would have anticipated indirect mathematical arguments that could rule out every possibility other than design. Either he would have proofed his design against this (making Dembski’s work futile) or if that was impossible, it’s not obvious why the design event should be hidden at all.

    I know we’re not supposed to make assumptions about the designer, but I’ve cover both logical possibilities above and neither seem to make much sense.

    We’re left with, what?, a designer who has hidden his work from all until his golden boy William A. Dembski discovered the secret mathematical proof that eluded others for millennia.

  9. #9 PaulC
    November 30, 2005

    Finally, if you want to propose a limited designer, why not just propose that there was simply a designerless design that front-loaded everything we observe in living systems including the ability to evolve.

    I don’t believe that we need any such thing, but there’s no statistical argument against it without placing unjustified a priori limits on the number of probabilistic trials. Dembski’s limits purport to come from cosmology, but there are plenty of unfalsifiable extensions to cosmology at least as reasonable as a “designer.”

    For instance, the “many worlds” interpretation of quantum events would be enough to insure the existence of some world in which any series of possible outcomes of quantum events occurred. One of these could easily have led to abiogenesis even through the silly “tornado in a junkyard” method.
    However, the only worlds subject to observation would be those in which intelligence had emerged to observe it. This would be indistinguishable from finding a designerless design.

    Note that I do not believe that this is the real explanation of intelligent life. (In fact, I think that emergence of intelligence is a high probability event in a wide range of complex systems left to go on long enough.) It’s also as unfalsifiable as ID, and therefore not a scientific theory. But it strikes me as at least as parsimonious as belief in a designer.

    Can I get this idea taught in schools as an “alternative” to ID and evolution?

  10. #10 Ginger Yellow
    November 30, 2005

    Ah, lying for Jesus. Dembski’s favourite hobby. Not only does he “forget” his own statements about the designer’s skillset, he has to lie about Stewart’s quip in order to rebut it. Stewart didn’t say the designer had to have the same skillset as God. He said it had to have the skillset to design the universe. That’s why the line was so funny and so cutting. For all the DI pretends the designer such a designer doesn’t have to be God, its statements about what the designer has done mean it must be “transcendent”. Obviously it’s just obfuscation, but if you follow their logic to the end, they’re arguing that a transcendent, life and universe designing being could exist that wouldn’t be God. Somebody should ask them exactly what it would be, and how come it’s not mentioned in the Bible.

  11. #11 improvius
    November 30, 2005

    What’s interesting is that this actually amounts to an argument against the existence of a god. The world as we know it could have been created by a finite, limited being (or beings). So now, armed with Dembski’s own words, we can say that even if the, um, hypothesis of intelligent design were true, it would in no way constitute evidence of god’s existence.

    That should be fun to use on the hard-core creos.

  12. #12 J-Dog
    November 30, 2005

    Dembski: “God, as understood by the world’s great monotheistic faiths, is an infinite personal transcendent creator.”

    What?!? “an infinite personal transcendent creator???? What the heck does that mean Bill? Is that like a personal trainer? Well pardon me Mr. Doctor Dembski, but I work for a living and don’t live off the gullable like you do, and can’t afford a personal trainer! I’m not sure I want a god that makes me sweat anyway.

    You want him, you keep him. I’ll just go to the gym and shoot some hoops.

  13. #13 Steve Reuland
    November 30, 2005

    Even if we accept that the designer logically doesn’t have to be God (or another supernatural being) I hardly see what difference it makes. Dembski et al. clearly intend the Designer to be God, and convincing people that there is empirical evidence of God’s existence is the entire rationale behind the ID movement. What sense does it make to have a movement whose stated purpose is to overthrow “naturalism” and “materialism” if your designer is natural and made of matter?

  14. #14 Steve Reuland
    November 30, 2005

    Shorter last comment: Even if the ID movement had been entirely consistent in claiming that the designer could logically be a natural being (such as an alien), this is completely at odds with what the ID movement advocates. Pointing out their inconsistencies concerning the nature of the designer is important, but even if they had been entirely consistent, it wouldn’t change the fact that ID is an exercise in theistic apologetics.

    Okay, maybe not shorter, but sweeter. :)

  15. #15 David Cerutti
    November 30, 2005

    This is what I don’t get with certain Christian evangelicals. The notion that their God is “personal” as opposed to, say, Brahma, or Odin, especially given the account in the Book of Job, is a bit weird. Furthermore, what does a “personal” creator mean? They all talk about having a personal relationship with Jesus/God, and they do insist that this is something you can’t understand unless you’re a Christian. Why, then, do they like to ask leading questions while evangelizing somebody, such as “do you think that there could be a Creator? A [i]personal[/i] Creator?” It doesn’t mean whatever you want it to–because if you’re not a Christian they can just impugn your definition. But, it is a meaningless feel-good term, so far as I can tell. I want a pH-balanced Creator, an effervescent, freedom-affirming Creator that stays the course, a down-home Creator bursting with the life-affirming goodness of nature’s own harvest.

    Seriously, I know that not all Christians are this way, but their will to oppose “materialism” (which Dembski himself rages about and blames on evolution) is doomed to failure if they don’t stop bottling and boxing their theology like this. ID is but another wing of this beast: just as these evangelicals make believe that they live in a world so hostile to their views that they must “go underground” and surreptitiously prosyletize in certain liberal venues, ID is the same thing, applied to the scientific profession. There’s some yoga/vegetarian society on my campus, and they sent out a student flyer advertising some roundtable discussion about spirituality. One of the most vocal ID people I know immediately called on his Christian brethren to join him in going to the meeting to ask a series of leading questions, rather than participating in the discussion with frank statements about their spiritual beliefs, which I’m sure could be stated with great precision.

    That’s when it clicked–evangelical hucksters have been chewing on ways to “reach out to libruls”–which really means circling their own wagons by spreading the notion that vast and powerful forces are arrayed against them–for decades. ID is nothing but the same tactics applied to the scientific profession. It’s not even intended to evangelize non-Christian scientists–obviously nobody’s buying it–but it is tailored for some in the scientific community who demand such validation. ID, like all other forms of evangelism, is for the faithful.

  16. #16 Tim Makinson
    November 30, 2005

    Although ID doesn’t require the Designer to be the (Monotheistic) God, it does require it to be a god (or the Devil, or fairies, or some other supernatural agent) because of the following logic:

    1) Intelligent Design states, as its central hypothesis, that life is too complex to have evolved spontaneously, and so must have had a designer.

    2) This designer can conceivably have been either natural (aliens, etc), or supernatural (God, a god, etc).

    3) But, under Intelligent Design’s own argument, any natural designer is likewise too complex to have evolved spontaneously (and even assuming that some other natural designer designed our first one still leaves us with an unexplainable designer).

    4) We are thus left with only the supernatural designer (God, a god, etc).

    Dembski & the Discovery Insitute keep repeating this obvious lie. I wish the news media would call them on it.

  17. #17 IDisaFraud
    November 30, 2005

    When the ID creationists say that the “designer” isn’t necessarily God(i.e.- it could be an alien creature/culture, etc.), they are also explicitly endorsing the Raelian religion-cult as a “scientific alternative” to organic evolution! One should mention this reflexively to any ID creationist supporters they encounter who use this argument.

    {For those unfamiliar with Raelianism, the movement’s leader ,Rael, claims he was abducted by a spacefaring culture, shown their home planet, and that they disclosed to him that life on Earth was the result of their genetic seeding and engineering. There approximately 30,000 members worldwide.}

    This is a big point to make against ID promoters (especially politicians) since it shows that ID’s “teach the controversy” tripe will introduce even worse(?) “subject matter” to science classes than their own!!

  18. #18 Treban
    December 1, 2005

    PaulC – I have to applaud you. I have long felt that the best argument against young earthers and many proponents of ID is that the God of the bible is supposed to be a God of truth. If this is so and if much of the bible isn’t allegory then why woudl he make it appear that the earth is several billion years old and also make it appear that evolution did in fact take place. That would be awfully tricky and dishonest of God now wouldn’t it? I realize that faith is supposed to be involved but why would God lie to us – set us up for failure? And if ID is valid then what were the proto-humans – mistakes? I would call the developement of proto-humans, even if they were all independently developed, evolution. Instead of natural selection it would be called product evolution. The automobile has evolved in many ways since the model-T. The telephone has evolved in huge ways since Bell called to Watson for help. It seems to me that ID is just a way to say that God screwed up – being a Christian I have to say I disagree. . .

  19. #19 Anti Fundi
    December 1, 2005

    This might help

    The Ontology of Private Myth creation
    the seduction of Truth and Beauty
    By Solipsistic Tautology

    or Dembski’s Whirlwind

    http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/prem/200512/lolita

  20. #20 Anti Fundi
    December 1, 2005

    This might help

    Practical Campbell
    Intelligible Design

    You will probably have to create/project/found a free associate account to read it, on the associate
    home page

    http://www.jcf.org/practical-campbell/Practical-Campbell_20051128_Intelligible-Design.pdf

    No More Horizons downloadable MP3

    http://www.jcf.org/media.php

  21. #21 Bombadill
    December 1, 2005

    Hi Treban,

    I think you raise some good questions. But, I think there are excellent answers. I think it comes down to the “lens” one uses to view the evidence with and also, understanding what the Bible does and does not say.

    You said:
    “If this is so and if much of the bible isn’t allegory then why would he make it appear that the earth is several billion years old and also make it appear that evolution did in fact take place.”

    I would say first, that the Bible doesn’t specifically speak to the age of the earth. The Genesis account of creation uses the word “day”, but the Hebrew word is “Yom” which was often used to describe an undisclosed period of time. So, an old earth is perfectly consistent with the Genesis account. That said, I think it’s also important to consider that there is still conjecture about the earth’s age and still conflicting results with Carbon and Potassium Argon dating. So, I don’t think the earth’s age is a closed case, even though the overall evidence does point to a old earth.

    As for the notion that God made it appear that evolution took place… I think it comes down to how one views the evidence. I look at the fragments of extinct hominids and simply conclude that they were animal species, now extinct. Just like any other extinct animal. Knowing that there is no empirical evidence for NS + RM producing anything more than trivial adaptive change within a genome, and knowing that there is no viable biochemical pathway documented, I don’t see why we should conclude otherwise. Hominids could certainly be non ancestral animals now extinct.

    Your examples of automobiles and the telephone demonstrate intelligent agents refining models.

  22. #22 Bombadill
    December 1, 2005

    I would also say that one could make an argument from the evidence that macroevolution did not occur. After all, you have the sudden appearance of phyla and then stasis, in every geological column.

  23. #23 ruidh
    December 1, 2005

    If the Designer isn’t God, then who designed the Designer?

    The designer must be sufficiently complex to have the necessary biochemical engineering skills to do the job. One might even say that the designer has specified complexity. Either the designer was designed by a meta-designer or by God.

    Logically, they can’t escape the identification of God with the ur-Designer.

  24. #24 Ed Brayton
    December 1, 2005

    Bombadill wrote:

    That said, I think it’s also important to consider that there is still conjecture about the earth’s age and still conflicting results with Carbon and Potassium Argon dating. So, I don’t think the earth’s age is a closed case, even though the overall evidence does point to a old earth.

    Conflicting results with carbon and potassium argon dating? You mean dating the same object using radiocarbon and using K/Ar and getting conflicting results? I’d love to see a study that attempted to date the same object using those two techniques. I’d love to see a geologist propose such a test to his colleagues and watch them laugh hysterically and wonder if he got his degree from a cracker jack box.

    The age of the earth is a closed case by any reasonable measure. Yes, all knowledge in science is technically provisional, but the evidence for the age of the earth is so overwhelming that it would be foolish to think otherwise. We have over 300 concordant radiometric dates all within 1% of the same figure using multiple radioisotopes and a variety of terrestrial and non-terrestrial objects. If it was not for the theological assumptions of certain people, no one would even consider questioning that the earth is ~4.55 billion years old.

    Knowing that there is no empirical evidence for NS + RM producing anything more than trivial adaptive change within a genome, and knowing that there is no viable biochemical pathway documented, I don’t see why we should conclude otherwise.

    This appears to be words put together without any understanding of what they mean. It makes no sense whatsoever. What are the limits of “trivial adaptive change”? We have observed new species coming into existence, which is clearly not “within a genome”. We have observed entirely new traits, like the ability to metabolize substances that didn’t exist a few decades ago and use it for survival, come into existence through mutation and natural selection. So what exactly is the standard for “trivial adaptive change” other than that you want to observe something that would take far longer than the 150 years we’ve been paying attention to such things?

    As for your claim that “there is no viable biochemical pathway documented”, this statement is utterly meaningless. No viable biochemical pathway documented for what trait? We have viable biochemical pathways documented for thousands and thousands of traits, developmental paths that are accepted entirely even by Michael Behe. Behe focuses all of his criticism on 3 biochemical systems that he claims don’t have accepted explanations for their development, but he accepts an entirely evolutionary explanation for virtually everything else. And by the way, by his own admission (under oath) he didn’t bother to read most of the scientific literature on those systems prior to concluding that there is no viable biochemical pathway for their evolutionary development.

    I would also say that one could make an argument from the evidence that macroevolution did not occur. After all, you have the sudden appearance of phyla and then stasis, in every geological column.

    Again, words that show major misunderstandings of the evidence. First, there is only one “geologic column”. Second, name a single phylum that appears and then shows stasis? The patterns that we see show quite the opposite, they show a branching pattern whereby once a new phylum appears it diversifies and forms multiple branches as it does so. All phyla begin with a single species and diversify as new species split off from them. Lastly, the notion of “sudden appearance” of phyla gets worse and worse with each new discovery of more precambrian fauna.

  25. #25 fake ed brayton
    December 1, 2005

    Bombadill, a creationist from Dembski’s site who likes to talk scientific-like, said:

    “I think it’s also important to consider that there is still conjecture about the earth’s age and still conflicting results with Carbon and Potassium Argon dating. So, I don’t think the earth’s age is a closed case, even though the overall evidence does point to a old earth.”

    Pray tell, mister creationist, how we are going to measure the earth’s age with carbon dating?

  26. #26 another_orphan
    December 1, 2005

    A very marginally related question…

    Dembski refers to the “great monotheistic faiths”. What, one wonders, are the less-than-great monotheistic faiths?

  27. #27 cleek
    December 1, 2005

    teaching Raelianism would be fun, as would teaching the Scientologists’ explanation of evolution, ex:

    The effort to explain life in terms of orgainisms adjusting to their environment leads to hopeless confusion. But when it is assumed that the orgainism is adjusting the environment to it, everything falls into place with great ease.

    -LR Hubbard

    and

    …but the truth of the matter is when you get horses on a planet, somebody came along and mocked up some horses! Now, they also mocked up these horses with the capability of growing hair or not growing hair. You’ve got adjustment factors, but not evolution factors. So you confuse the adjustment factors and prove the whole theory of evolution. And now you know man came from mud, and you can write a book like Pavlov and get the whole world poisoned. You see how this one goes?
    All of this is based on what? It’s based on errors in time. Errors in time. Because an individual has this incident: It’s a wrong time, wrong place, going wrong the whole way, and it took up two hours and actually looks like it takes up seven million, see?

    yeah. teach the controversy!

  28. #28 Bombadill
    December 1, 2005

    Hi Ed,

    The pointing I was trying to make regarding the earth’s age is that there is no conflict between the Genesis account and an old earth. This was in direct response to Treban’s comment. I myself, believe in an old earth.

    We have observed new species coming into existence, which is clearly not “within a genome”.

    I will grant that we’ve only been paying attention to such things for 150 years, but in this span of time, we have yet to uncover empirical evidence which demonstrably shows that a species can become an altogether different species, or that NS + RM can produce novel tissue and body plans. The evidence simply isn’t there. It’s an extrapolation to say otherwise. And yes, during the Cambrian Era, we see the sudden appearance of novel tissue and body plans that happened entirely too quickly to be the product of NS + RM, and then we see stasis.

    And Behe currently accepts common ancestry, but that it didn’t happen by NS + RM because the mechanism is insufficient to produce change on this scale.

  29. #29 Bombadill
    December 1, 2005

    pointing = point.

  30. #30 cleek
    December 1, 2005

    we see the sudden appearance of novel tissue and body plans that happened entirely too quickly to be the product of NS + RM

    can ya prove that assertion ?

  31. #31 Ed Brayton
    December 1, 2005

    Bombadill wrote:

    The pointing I was trying to make regarding the earth’s age is that there is no conflict between the Genesis account and an old earth. This was in direct response to Treban’s comment. I myself, believe in an old earth.

    That may have been your overall point, but you also made the empirical statement that “there is still conjecture about the earth’s age and still conflicting results with Carbon and Potassium Argon dating.” This is false. Carbon dating is not used to date the earth, nor is it used on the same objects that K/Ar dating is used on, so the claim that they conflict is patently false.

    I will grant that we’ve only been paying attention to such things for 150 years, but in this span of time, we have yet to uncover empirical evidence which demonstrably shows that a species can become an altogether different species, or that NS + RM can produce novel tissue and body plans. The evidence simply isn’t there. It’s an extrapolation to say otherwise.

    No, the fact is that we have observed speciation directly, both in the lab and in the wild. We don’t need empirical evidence of this happening in the past, we have seen it happen quite literally before our very eyes. We haven’t observed an entirely new body plan evolving, but it would be absurd to think that we would have seen that happen in a 150 year time frame. New body plans are quite rare in evolutionary history. There hasn’t been a new body plan appear in many millions of years, so why would any sane person think we should have observed it happening in just the last century and a half?

    And yes, during the Cambrian Era, we see the sudden appearance of novel tissue and body plans that happened entirely too quickly to be the product of NS + RM, and then we see stasis.

    False. There are in fact many lineages identified within the Cambrian, showing evolutionary development rather than “sudden appearance”, and as new fossil finds extend the origin of complex metazoan life well back into the precambrian, the time frame keeps getting longer and longer. Furthermore, none of the terrestrial animals alive today appeared suddenly in the Cambrian. They developed over very long periods of time, in a specific and invariant order. There are no vertebrates at all – no amphibians, reptiles, birds or mammals in the Cambrian, nor even any insects or terrestrial plants. There are only marine invertebrates. And among those marine invertebrates, as you compare them to earlier marine invertebrates from the precambrian, more of which are being found everyday, you can in fact see evidence of lineages as they developed and evolved. The notion that every kind of animal on earth just popped into existence in the Cambrian is utter nonsense.

    And Behe currently accepts common ancestry, but that it didn’t happen by NS + RM because the mechanism is insufficient to produce change on this scale.

    Actually, no. Behe accepts common ancestry and he accepts that evolution explains the vast majority of biochemical systems perfectly well without the need for divine intervention. He even accepts evolutionary explanations for innumerable systems that fit his definition of an irreducibly complex system, such as the antifreeze proteins in arctic fish and the hemoglobin transport system. It is only where he thinks there isn’t a good evolutionary explanation yet that he jumps in and says “Aha, that’s where God must have intervened.” But that’s nothing more than a god of the gaps argument, which is not just useless in science, it’s dangerous.

  32. #32 ruidh
    December 1, 2005

    Oh, I get it. Because we (supposedly) haven’t seen speciation in 150 years, then it could not have happened in 10 million. What makes you think you can extrapolate like that?

  33. #33 Bombadill
    December 1, 2005

    Ed,

    No, the fact is that we have observed speciation directly, both in the lab and in the wild. We don’t need empirical evidence of this happening in the past, we have seen it happen quite literally before our very eyes. We haven’t observed an entirely new body plan evolving, but it would be absurd to think that we would have seen that happen in a 150 year time frame.

    Please produce for me the documented evidence of bacteria becoming something other than bacteria, or the fossil evidence of a reptile becoming a mammal, or the fossil evidence of a mammal becoming a hominid. I’m interested in the intermediates and exactly what pressures caused the beneficial information-gaining mutations.

    False. There are in fact many lineages identified within the Cambrian, showing evolutionary development rather than “sudden appearance”

    Rather than engage in a long winded debate about phyla and what consitutes speciation, I’ll just throw some links your way…

    “The Cambrian explosion represents a remarkable jump in the specified complexity or “complex specified information” (CSI) of the biological world. For over three billions years, the biological realm included little more than bacteria and algae (Brocks et al. 1999). Then, beginning about 570-565 million years ago (mya), the first complex multicellular organisms appeared in the rock strata, including sponges, cnidarians, and the peculiar Ediacaran biota (Grotzinger et al. 1995). Forty million years later, the Cambrian explosion occurred (Bowring et al. 1993). The emergence of the Ediacaran biota (570 mya), and then to a much greater extent the Cambrian explosion (530 mya), represented steep climbs up the biological complexity gradient.”

    From:
    http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?command=view&id=2177

    Also:
    http://www.ideacenter.org/contentmgr/showdetails.php/id/1232

    “It is as though they [Cambrian explosion fossils] were just planted there, without any evolutionary history.” (Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker).

    “This compresses the origin of a very large portion of the genetic diversity ever to have existed on earth into an evolutionary instant, and the lack of transitional forms begs the question if common descent through natural selection had anything to do with this at all. Valentine and Erwin (referenced above) see typical microevolutionary processes as “implausible” to explain all of this. If this doesn’t fly in the face of evolutionary predictions, what does?” – Jonathan Wells, Embryologist

  34. #34 Bombadill
    December 1, 2005

    insert mammal after hominid, in my last post.

  35. #35 improvius
    December 1, 2005

    Thanks for clearing that up, Bombadill. I made an agreement with myself some time ago that I could automatically disregard anyone who takes Dawkins out of contet like that.

  36. #36 Jim Anderson
    December 1, 2005

    “Oldest Bird Had Dinosaur Feet” Something fresh for Bombadill to chew on, along with a heavy dose of stock items from the pantry.

  37. #37 Ed Brayton
    December 1, 2005

    Bombadill appears to be taking his cues directly from the creationist playbook. In the course of a few short messages he’s exhibited the Gish Gallop (make one claim, have it disproven, ignore the disproof and move on to a different claim), the quote mine and, most obvious of all, moving the goalposts. Let’s take them one at a time.

    ME: No, the fact is that we have observed speciation directly, both in the lab and in the wild. We don’t need empirical evidence of this happening in the past, we have seen it happen quite literally before our very eyes. We haven’t observed an entirely new body plan evolving, but it would be absurd to think that we would have seen that happen in a 150 year time frame.

    Please produce for me the documented evidence of bacteria becoming something other than bacteria, or the fossil evidence of a reptile becoming a mammal, or the fossil evidence of a mammal becoming a hominid. I’m interested in the intermediates and exactly what pressures caused the beneficial information-gaining mutations.

    There are two possibilities here. Either you don’t understand what the term “speciation” means, or you’re deliberately trying to move the goalposts. We weren’t talking about transitions between classes or orders or phyla, we were talking about speciation – the splitting off of one species from another. You made the claim that we had observed nothing but “trivial adaptive change within a genome”. I pointed out that we have in fact observed speciation, which is obviously not merely change within a genome. Now you’re moving the goalposts, demanding evidence not for speciation, but demanding that we had actually observed a transition between classes rather than species. But as I pointed out above, those transitions are quite rare throughout history. It would be astonishingly unlikely if we had observed a new class splitting off from an old one. The last major class to appear (birds) did so around 100 million years ago or so. So the question here is, did you just not know what a species was, or are you just playing games, demanding one thing and then moving the goalposts back when that standard is met?

    “The Cambrian explosion represents a remarkable jump in the specified complexity or “complex specified information” (CSI) of the biological world. For over three billions years, the biological realm included little more than bacteria and algae (Brocks et al. 1999). Then, beginning about 570-565 million years ago (mya), the first complex multicellular organisms appeared in the rock strata, including sponges, cnidarians, and the peculiar Ediacaran biota (Grotzinger et al. 1995). Forty million years later, the Cambrian explosion occurred (Bowring et al. 1993). The emergence of the Ediacaran biota (570 mya), and then to a much greater extent the Cambrian explosion (530 mya), represented steep climbs up the biological complexity gradient.”

    Meyer’s statement here made me laugh when I read it the first time over a year ago, and it still makes me laugh. It’s so loaded with nonsense that it’s hard to even know where to begin. Let’s just take it one part at a time:

    “The Cambrian explosion represents a remarkable jump in the specified complexity or “complex specified information” (CSI) of the biological world.

    This is a real howler. Meyer actually pretends that one can measure the “complex specified information” in the genomes of organisms that exist only in fossil form (and sometimes only trace fossil form). I would argue that there is no coherent way to measure it even in existing animals, even with all of our ability to sequence genomes. What is the unit of measurement? The total number of base pairs? The total number of chromosomes? The total number of genes? The total number of nucleotides? It’s a useless pseudo-measurement even in living animals; it’s totally preposterous in extinct ones.

    Let’s try a quick test. Let’s look at some animals from the precambrian and the cambrian and you tell me, by looking at the fossils, which ones show more “complex specified information”. Here are several fossil species from the precambrian:

    Arkarua
    Tribrachidium
    Spriggina
    Dickinsonia

    And here are several fossil species from the cambrian:

    Gogia
    Helicoplacus
    Archaeocyatha

    Can you tell from those fossils which ones have more “complex specified information”? The answer is no. And Steve Meyer can’t either. This is simply an empty, utterly meaningless, and totally unsupportable claim.

    For over three billions years, the biological realm included little more than bacteria and algae (Brocks et al. 1999). Then, beginning about 570-565 million years ago (mya), the first complex multicellular organisms appeared in the rock strata, including sponges, cnidarians, and the peculiar Ediacaran biota (Grotzinger et al. 1995). Forty million years later, the Cambrian explosion occurred (Bowring et al. 1993).

    Think about this for a moment. For decades, the argument was that complex multicellular life just appeared at the beginning of the Cambrian period. Since that time, multiple major fossil beds have been discovered that have pushed back the origin of such life back at least 40 million years, along with trace fossils of multicellular life going back an additional 40 million years or so (back beyond 600 million years ago). Which means that rather than the sudden appearance of multicellular life 540 million years ago, at the start of the Cambrian, we now know that complex multicellular life appeared nearly 100 million years earlier and developed throughout that entire period of time. So where exactly is the “explosion” at this point? Does Meyer really think that there was one “explosion” 570 million years ago, resulting in the Ediacaran fauna, then nothing for 40 million years, then another “explosion” 40 million years later resulting in a bunch of brand new organisms? What, was God on a 40 million year cycle or releasing his latest products? This is hogwash. Complex multicellular life did not “explode” into existence, it developed throughout the entire vendian and cambrian periods, a period of over 150 million years. And there is clearly an evolutionary pattern to the appearance of the various forms of life. It was the development of hard parts around the beginning of the cambrian period that allows us to have a richer fossil record, for obvious reasons related to our well known understanding of fossilization. It makes the Wells quote seem patently absurd. 150 million years is an “evolutionary instant”? And bear in mind that that enormous diversity they’re referring to contains virtually none of the animals we see around us today – no birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish or even insects or land plants.

    I’m going to give you a challenge, Bombadill. It’s the same challenge I’ve given many others who argue that there is no good evidence for common descent. I’ve never heard a good answer to it; perhaps you’ll be the first. I’m going to give you a description of the patterns of appearance of various life forms in the fossil record. That description is absolutely accurate, and is accepted by creationists and evolutionists alike. Here it is:

    To me, the most powerful line of evidence for evolution is what is called biostratigraphy – the order in which life forms appear in the fossil record. As you go up the geologic column, dated both relatively (in relation to younger strata above and older strata below) and absolutely (via hundreds of concordant radiometric dates using a variety of techniques), all over the world, you find the same successional order of appearance. At the lowest levels you find nothing but bacteria. Even among bacteria there is a specific order, divided into prokaryotes and eukaryotes. That is all there was on the earth for about a billion years. Then the first multicellular life appears in the form of stromatolites and, along with bacteria, are all that there was for over 2 billion years. Then the first metazoic life appears around 600 million years ago, all marine invertebrates. These marine invertebrates become more diversified – trilobites, mollusks, brachiopods, echinoderms, etc, and after 150 million years or so we find jawless fishes, the first vertebrates. Vertebrate fishes become more and more diversified, then the first amphibians appear. Amphibians become more diversified for about 70 million years and then the first reptiles appear. Reptiles become more diversified over the course of about 80 million years and then the first mammals appear in very limited niches. Then the first birds begin to appear after another 70 million years or so. Reptiles dominate throughout this period, especially dinosaurs, and then 65 million years ago they become extinct. After that, mammals suddenly begin to diversify and appear in greater numbers and greater variety. 10 million years later, the first primates appear. Then the first marine mammals.

    This order of appearance is the same all over the world no matter where you look. And within each of these groups, you find an equally interesting order. The first amphibians to appear are nearly identical to the shallow marine fish they are thought to have evolved from and as you move forward in time they become increasingly less fish-like, more diversified and better adapted to terrestrial life. The first mammals to appear are virtually indistinguishable from therapsid reptiles and, again, as you more forward in time they spread out, become increasingly less reptile-like and more diversified and more like modern mammals. The first birds to appear are, quite literally, feathered dinosaurs and, once again, as new species appear they become more diversified, better adapted to avian lifestyles, they gradually lose many of the reptilian traits and look more and more like modern birds.

    This exceptionless order is a fact that requires explanation. Evolutionary theory provides that explanation. It seems to me that anti-evolutionists have two possible alternative explanations for this. There is the YEC explanation, which is that all of these forms of life lived at the same time and were killed off in the flood, which sorted them into this order (the hydrological sorting position put forward by Morris, Gish, et al). This explanation is astonishingly ridiculous when you compare it to the evidence. There is no difference in the hydrodynamic properties of eukaryotic bacteria vs prokaryotic bacteria, yet the flood somehow managed to sort them perfectly into the same order all over the world? Raging flood waters managed to sort trilobites by the suture pattern on the insides of their shells or by the number of lenses in their eyes? Marine mammals somehow got sorted toward the top while marine fish got sorted toward the bottom? Not to mention that if all of the microscopic life whose bodies make up the vast chalk and limestone formations around the world lived at the same time the oceans would have been so thick with them that you wouldn’t have had to be Jesus to walk across it. Or that we find surface features at every level that could not have been formed in the middle of a flood (nesting sites, terrestrial sandstones, trackways, burrows, mudcracks, etc). How anyone with any knowledge of geology can take such an explanation seriously is beyond me.

    The second explanation is that God created each of these life forms and did so in exactly the order that evolution would predict, putting them in exactly the right anatomical and temporal order so that it appears in an obvious pattern mimicking what one would predict if life evolved. Or perhaps that he was expirementing, creating new life forms trying to get to something novel and different until he got it right. Perhaps all of those hominid species that fall into the temporal and anatomical order evolution predicts to draw a line between the miocene primates and modern humans, with the signature human traits of brain size, dentition and bipedality gradually becoming more human-like over time, really represents a creator tinkering, making a series of almost-humans until he was happy with one of them and decided he had gotten it right. Needless to say, most anti-evolutionists can’t stomach the idea of a trickster God or a limited one trying to get it right.

    So the challenge is this: what possible non-evolutionary explanation is there for the successional order of appearance noted here?

  38. #38 MaxOblivion
    December 1, 2005

    Bombadil, notice you are free to post your ( admittedly false) statements on this blog, on dembski’s you woulda been nuked already.

  39. #39 JY
    December 1, 2005

    Great points Ed. With respect to prokaryotic v. eukaryotic bacteria, I think you mean, in general, ‘single-celled organisms’. All bacteria AIUI are prokaryotes, whereas eukaryotes are far more complex, and larger (and, indeed, most probably the product of symbiosis between prokaryotes). So the timeline is billions of years of prokaryotes (single celled organisms without nuclei, etc.) then eukaryotes appear, then metazoans, etc.

    When bombadil asks for observed instances of bacteria evolving into something other than a bacteria, he’s asking for the evolution of not just a new species, order, class, or phylum, but a new kingdom, or even ‘domain’. In real time.

  40. #40 Jim Anderson
    December 1, 2005

    Actually, MaxOblivion, Bombadill gets free rein on Dembski’s blog. You’re only bumped if you dare to disagree.

  41. #41 Dean Morrison
    December 3, 2005

    Seems Dembski is a bit upset about us snooty Brits making fun of him see:
    “December 1, 2005
    Darwinism and the Culture of Contempt”
    - he makes the mistake of asking his contributors for examples of snooty contempt and as a result posts the only sense on his entire site..

    One of his contributors even manages to come up with this:
    “Darwinism somehow manages to squeeze out the Frenchness within Brits. Vive William le Conqueror!” – erm don’t you lot share the same ancestors by common descent? – can’t tell him that though as he might think I was being snooty..

  42. #42 lhomer
    December 4, 2005

    I recall a writing by William Dembski in which towards the start he makes the observation that becauses of the success of natural science in explaining things once thought mysterious, there has been a fading belief in God. Can anyone recall the specific source. I think the writing was one comparing theism with natural science.