Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Bob Murphy, an economist, has an article at the thoroughly loathsome LewRockwell.com (please don’t try and tell me the people who write for that site are libertarians; that collection of southern nationalists and whackos is anything but libertarian) about what he terms “typical objections to intelligent design.” Much like Orson Scott Card’s article, however, this one relies upon the old tactic of beating up straw men. Rather than engaging the strongest objections to ID he only engages the easy ones, the clumsy attacks on the character of ID advocates rather than the serious and substantive criticism of the validity of ID itself. Let’s take a look at them one at a time.

Time and again, neo-Darwinists (the somewhat poor term I shall use to describe the defenders of the orthodox view) have accused Michael Behe and other IDers as completely ignorant and/or deceptive. Obviously I can’t speak for the entire movement – there are liars associated with every group of people – but from my limited investigations I don’t get the sense that Behe is either.

He goes on to quote Behe himself saying that, given his education and training in the subject and the fact that he has consistently received major grants for research in biochemistry, he probably deserves the benefit of the doubt on accusations that he is ignorant about biochemistry. I fully agree with Behe and Murphy here. I don’t think Behe is ignorant. At the very least, he knows infinitely more about biochemistry than I will ever know. But frankly, I think this is a straw man. If someone merely pronounced Behe ignorant in any general sense about biochemistry, they are hardly worth taking seriously in the first place. You’re likely dealing with some message board or chatroom loudmouth taking his ego for a walk rather than a serious argument by someone who knows what they’re talking about. I’ve been involved in this issue for years and I know nearly all of the major critics of ID in one capacity or another and I know not a single one who would make that general statement about Behe.

But there are perhaps some related charges that are not so lacking in credibility. The fact that Behe is well educated in biochemistry and deservedly credentialed does not make his arguments correct, nor does it insulate him from the sort of confirmation bias that haunts all sorts of people in similar situations, perhaps even most of us at one point or another. It is a reasonable argument, I think, to point out that Behe dismisses out of ignorance most of the scientific literature concerning the evolution of the systems he claims are irreducibly complex – and when I say “out of ignorance” I mean “without bothering to read them in the first place.” At the Dover trial, upon being shown dozens of books and articles concerning the evolutionary development of the three primary systems he says could not have evolved – the flagellum, the immune system and the blood clotting cascade – he admited that he had not read most of them but that he was still certain that they would not contain any reasonable explanation of how those systems developed. This is an argument from ignorance in the most literal sense and pointing that out does not mean that one is calling Behe ignorant in a general sense. Murphy does attempt to deal with the question of whether ID is an argument from ignorance in the logical fallacy sense:

Admittedly, at times it seems as if the ID people are merely saying, “I can’t imagine how a cocker spaniel could’ve evolved from a prokaryote, so it must be impossible.” To this (straw man) objection, neo-Darwinists have glib retorts such as, “Your ignorance isn’t a strike against my theory.”

But let’s change the discussion to any field other than biology, and see how puny this defense now sounds. Mathematician A offers a conjecture, and Mathematician B says, “I don’t see how you can get that result.” Mathematician A responds, “Your lack of imagination isn’t a strike against my theorem.”

This is, of course, a terrible analogy. Mathematical formulas follow a rigid type of proof – a literal proof, not in the same sense that an emprical explanation is “proven” by examining the evidence. If you can’t demonstrate the precise formula by which you came to a conclusion in math, you haven’t done anything at all. Explanations for empirical phenomena don’t work that way, indeed can’t work that way. Here again I think Murphy is phrasing the “typical objection” in the weakest possible manner so it is easy to defeat (indeed, easy enough to defeat that he thinks it is defeated by his obviously simplistic and weak analogy). Let me offer a much stronger version of the argument from ignorance objection to ID:

When Behe points to, say, the blood clotting cascade as an example of a complex biochemical system that cannot have developed through a step by step evolutionary process, we have to evaluate this argument not only on its premises (that the system is indeed irreducibly complex and that there is no good evolutionary explanation for how it could have developed) but on whether the conclusion he draws (that therefore it must have been designed) is logical as well. In each case of the three systems he holds up as examples, nature itself tells us that those systems are in fact not irreducibly complex – that is, we have examples of animals in nature with less complex versions of those systems (systems that do not have all of the components that are present in the most highly developed examples in the animal world) that are still entirely functional. Not perfectly functional, perhaps, but they get the job done, certainly well enough to confer a survival advantage on the organism that contains them. The textbook example of this is the blood clotting system of dolphins, which lacks one of the key factors (factor XII) that Behe says is absolutely necessary for the system to function (remember the standard he sets up for an IC system – remove a single component of the system and the system fails to function completely).

Evaluating the second premise of Behe’s argument is equally important. If a system is irreducibly complex, that is, if it has multiple interacting parts that are all required for the system to function, is it really necessary to conclude that the system could not have developed through an evolutionary process? I don’t think so and here’s why: because there are lots of biochemical systems that meet his definition of being IC that Behe himself accepts as having evolved naturally without any need for intervention. He has said several times, for example, that he accepts the conventional explanations for the evolution of the hemoglobin system, an explanation involving the well understood mechanisms of gene duplication and cooption of superfluous duplicate copies resulting in what is now a complex interacting biochemical system that works together to distribute oxygen through the bloodstream. But this leads us to two reasons why the IC argument is, in essence, an argument from ignorance.

First, because there was a time not so long ago when the evolutionary development of hemoglobin was not so well understood. The ability to sequence genomes and make chromosome to chromosome comparisons is relatively new. Had Behe written his book 20 years ago, he might well have pointed to hemoglobin as an example of irreducible complexity and pointed out how the cooperative oxygen-binding capacity of 4 different chains interacting could not have evolved by chance. But with new research capabilities come new explanations, as science shows us every day. 20 years ago, Behe might well have said that our ignorance of how such a complex biochemical system could have developed step by step is evidence that it must have been designed. And that is why we often describe his argument as a “science stopper” – had we stopped at the point of ignorance as evidence for impossibility at any point in the past, we would have explained nothing.

Second, the fact that there are systems that fit his definition of an IC system but that he nonetheless accepts evolutionary explanations for suggests that it’s not really the IC nature of the system that leads him to his conclusion but the fact that we don’t yet have a well understood account of their development. That is, it suggests that IC is not really an objective measure of the nature of the biochemical system at all. If that’s true, then all we are really left with is the argument from ignorance that Murphy refers to – “if we don’t understand how this happened, it must have been designed”. But again, had we stopped at that point in this or any other field of science at almost any point in the past, we would have given up before finding productive explanations for virtually every complex phenomenon under the sun.

Another typical objection is that the IDers have no peer-reviewed research. The IDers come back and say that they do, and then the critics say that stuff doesn’t count, etc. etc. I think this argument is silly for two main reasons. First, it basically reduces to: “The mainstream scientists overwhelmingly reject ID.” Everybody already knows this, including the ID people. So it’s not really a separate argument to add, “And no journals publish your stuff, either.”

Second, ID is in its infancy as far as scientific theories go. Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that these people were right, and biology has been barking up the wrong evolutionary tree for 150 years. Isn’t this exactly what you’d expect to see, then? No journals publishing the work of Behe, Dembski, et al., so that these guys have to write up their views in books?

Again, I think he is offering up the simplest possible version of this objection to ID. And again, let me offer up a far more credible version of it. The problem is not that there is no peer-reviewed articles by ID advocates. Indeed, that was always a weak objection and bound to be proven wrong. There are a thousand obscure scientific journals in the world. It was inevitable that they were going to get an article in a refereed journal at some point, either through a like-minded colleague on the inside (Richard Sternberg, please pick up the white courtesy phone) or someone who genuinely thought the article raised interesting questions. In fact, there are several facets to this that contribute to a much stronger version of this argument.

First, bear in mind that the ID movement promised that the first step in their strategy was going to be “scientific research and publication”. The Wedge document lists this as phase one. Indeed, the document declares that this is “the essential component of everything that comes afterward” and notes that, “Without solid scholarship, research and argument, the project would be just another attempt to indoctrinate instead of persuade.” But here we are 10 years later and, as Behe admitted in the Dover trial, there is not a single piece of research published that confirms or supports ID. More importantly, no one has yet proposed any research that in principle could confirm ID because there is no positive theory of ID from which one might derive testable hypotheses, there are only a set of criticisms of evolution. That’s why Minnich admitted during the Dover trial that any test of irreducible complexity is really just a test of evolution, not a test of ID (which again goes back to the argument from ignorance objection – ID relies upon the failure of evolution in order to make an argument because it makes no novel predictions of its own).

Second, ID advocates have tried to make up for this lack of research by pointing to articles that don’t support ID and falsely claiming that they do. They’ve offered lists of peer-reviewed research and claimed that it supports ID when, upon examination, it clearly does not. For example, Dembski has often pointed to Douglas Axe’s experiments on perturbation as proof that “any slight modification” of the amino acid sequence in the protein in the experiment would “destroy the system’s existing function” and even “the possibility of any function of the system whatsoever.” But in fact, Axe’s research said no such thing. Axe’s paper actually found that you could make groups of 10 changes at a time in the amino acid sequences without significantly changing the function of the protein, you could make up to 30 changes at a time while retaining slight function of the protein, you had to make 40 changes at a time in order to destroy function entirely.

Another great example of this is the Behe and Snoke (2004) paper. The DI listed it as an example of genuine peer reviewed research that supports ID. William Dembski has declared that Behe and Snoke’s research “may well be the nail in the coffin [and] the crumbling of the Berlin wall of Darwinian evolution.” But under cross examination in the Dover trial, we found out that quite the opposite was true. Under oath, Behe admitted that their computer simulation had in fact shown that complex biochemical systems requiring multiple interacting parts for the system to function and that required multiple, consecutive and unpreserved mutations to be fixed in a population could evolve within 20,000 years even if the parameters of the simulation were rigged to make that outcome as unlikely as possible. So in fact, the argument about peer reviewed research goes far beyond the simple question of whether they get an article or two published in a journal.

INTELLIGENT DESIGN IS NOT SCIENTIFIC

Beyond being merely wrong, ID allegedly fails to qualify even as a scientific theory at all. Science invokes only natural causes to explain things in the natural world, and hence (the objection runs) ID is unscientific when it invokes an unseen “designer” to explain, say, the irreducible complexity of the human nervous system.

William Dembski has dealt this objection a decisive blow when he explains the potential for ID in bioterrorism forensics. At some point in the not too distant future, we will probably see outbreaks of genetically engineered viruses or bacteria. After a given outbreak, people will need to be able to determine whether the deaths were due to natural causes, or were instead homicides. Now whom should we ask to perform this task for us? Priests? Philosophers? Or scientists? And if you agree that it should be the scientists who figure it out, how should they proceed? Wouldn’t they, oh I don’t know, take samples of the viruses and see if they could’ve been produced by Darwinian processes, and then (if not) report to the government that we’ve got some terrorists out there designing killer microbes?

There are several problems with this answer. First of all, it relies on the same old analogy between human intervention and divine or supernatural intervention. Even if Dembski was right about this (and I doubt he is), it would tell us nothing about how to detect the actions of a supernatural designer, and that is exactly what Dembski himself admits is required by ID when he says, “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.” Second, I would argue that it is much more likely that the government will make its argument for a human source of such bioterrorism by reference to outside information – the disappearance of samples from a government lab, the ability to pinpoint where the agent was introduced into the water supply or wherever it was released, informants that tell us what happened, or any number of other things.

Moreover, this is still an argument from ignorance. Even if it was shown that a given bacterium was genetically engineered, that would not in any way indicate that evolution could not have produced the genetic diversity we see around us, or even that it could not have produced that particular trait that was engineered under the right circumstances. And regardless, the ability to detect human intervention, where we understand the tools that would be used and therefore may be able to trace their use in a particular situation, does nothing to help us detect the design work of a supernatural agent with the unconstrained ability to create anything ex nihilo.

A very popular (and ad hominem) attack is that ID proponents don’t really just believe in ID; they’re actually Bible-thumping Christians who pretend they don’t know anything about the designer in order to keep the classroom textbooks legal. I agree that the vast majority of ID proponents probably fit this description. However, one notable exception is philosopher Antony Flew. When Flew renounced his atheism because of the evidence of design, I recall prominent atheists reassuring their followers that Flew wasn’t a Christian, and that all he meant was that life didn’t arise purely by accident. So apparently (as even the atheists in this case point out with relief) one can be convinced by the empirical evidence that life exhibits design, without endorsing the God of the Bible.

It really is getting tiresome to hear people invoke Antony Flew over and over again without including his retraction of his statement. When he initially declared that he had become convinced of the need for a “first cause” kind of creator, he spelled out the “one and only reason” for that conclusion – “the only reason which I have for beginning to think of believing in a First Cause god is the impossibility of providing a naturalistic account of the origin of the first reproducing organisms.” But after being shown the actual research being done on that question and the promise that it holds, he wrote to Richard Carrier, “I now realize that I have made a fool of myself by believing that there were no presentable theories of the development of inanimate matter up to the first living creature capable of reproduction.”

Mr. Murphy, like Orson Scott Card, relies upon, if not actual straw men, at least straw versions of much stronger arguments in order to declare victory. But I think it’s clear that if one takes these arguments in their strongest version, they are far more compelling and difficult to answer than either of them are willing to admit.

Comments

  1. #1 Dave S.
    January 25, 2006

    It really is getting tiresome to hear people invoke Antony Flew over and over again without including his retraction of his statement.

    Indeed it is. Right up there with pointing out Popper’s claim Natural Selection was tautological without bothing to point out his retraction. Murphy’s point is that atheists can change their minds (apparently) based on the evidence….which of course would not be much of point had he bothered to point out that they can also change back when they realized they got it wrong the first time.

    The larger point I want to make though is, what if Flew hadn’t changed his mind? The answer is … SO WHAT? That someone changes their position is hardly an argument that they did so necessarily with good cause and even less so that others should be compelled to follow suit. Glenn Morton switched from being a YE creationist and publishing ad nauseam in the creationist quarterlies to berating them constantly. This fact hasn’t made much of an impression on his former collegues. They’re not sitting back and saying, “Whoa, Glenn switched over so there might be something wrong with out theology after all.”

    At least Morton has not changed his mind.

  2. #2 KeithB
    January 25, 2006

    It is also interesting that no one points out the mammalian ear as being IC. After all, what are the chances that you could get an eardrum and three little bones to all evolve together…

    But wait! We have fossil evidence that this system did evolve from more complex reptilian jaws.

    I am going to make a prediction about ID: None of the IC systems identified will involve bones or other parts that fossilize well.

  3. #3 BillySixString
    January 25, 2006

    Thank you! I read LewRockwell.com daily primarily for the anti-war and economics articles. They are good in those areas, but you are correct in calling them “southern nationalists.” I am from the south and their reverence for it is troubling.

    The other problem I have had with them for a long time are their anti-evolution views. I read this article from Murphy and it totally frustrated me because his views on economics are good. He supports the idea that the market process can emerge without a central designer (ala Hayek), but he fails to see how this can also apply to nature.

    After reading lots of articles from LRC, I am convinced that their Christianity is what makes them lean toward southern nationalisn and anti-evolution.

  4. #4 Wesley R. Elsberry
    January 25, 2006

    KeithB, if you listen to my presentation at the 2001 “Interpreting Evoluton” conference (available on counterbalance.org), you’ll find that during the discussion part of the presentation with Dembski and me, I did bring up the mammalian middle ear impedance-matching system as one that Dembski should attempt to apply his technique to.

  5. #5 Inoculated Mind
    January 25, 2006

    I would like to add to the part about detecting design in biowarfare agents. One of the primary factors I think will matter in determining who designed what is what we know about what different nations or organizations have access to and know how to do We could sequence strands of DNA in the pathogens and determine where the samples came from, like in the case of Iraqi anthrax – U.S. labs.

    Despite what B.Dembski claims, design detection is alive and well in the biological sciences. There’s an interesting controversy surrounding detecting human design (transgenes) in mexican maize which I plan on blogging about within a fortnight.

  6. #6 BobMurphy
    January 26, 2006

    BillySixString:

    I read this article from Murphy and it totally frustrated me because his views on economics are good. He supports the idea that the market process can emerge without a central designer (ala Hayek), but he fails to see how this can also apply to nature.

    Did you read my earlier stuff on ID? I specifically mentioned this about Hayek. Incidentally–as the title indicated–I wasn’t claiming in this article (or any other article I have every written on this subject) to prove that ID was right. All I’m saying is that many, many arguments I hear about ID are bad. You guys are saying the lack of peer reviewed literature is a straw man; well, that was the major item in the USA Today stories regarding the Dover decision.

    Anyway, I just received the URL for this page from a random emailer, so I would be pleased to see if any of you have responded to my latest article. Again, I’m not hoping to convince you of ID, but I would like to see if you agree that Pigliucci’s critique of it is pointless.

  7. #7 BillySixString
    January 26, 2006

    Bob,

    I went back and read a few of your articles on this subject and let me first say that it was presumptuous of me to claim that you fail to see how order can emerge unguided from nature. In none of your articles do you seem to take a firm stand either way.

    However, from the tone of your writing I do get the feeling that you are skeptical of evolution and that you lean towards ID.

  8. #8 Gretchen
    January 26, 2006

    Could you please elaborate more, either here or in a separate entry (since it’s not exactly on topic here), what you primary objections are to LewRockwell.com and why you don’t consider it libertarian? I’d be interested to hear since a friend of mine who is about the most hardcore libertarian I know (in person, that is) reads it daily and is quite devoted to it.

  9. #9 Chance
    January 26, 2006

    In reading you article as it pertains to the suboptimality of biological structures. You say:

    ‘As I say, such arguments are amusing, and I can remember that when I was a firm believer in evolution, I thought they were just more evidence of how ridiculous the creationist (I didnt know about ID theory back then) camp was.’

    You have several problems here. First there is no ID theory and to keep referring to it as such is simply, well, deceptive.

    To advance an argument and then call skeptics of the ‘grand design of humans’ credulous is again dishonest. Humans are a mismash of parts modified and advanced to keep our ancestors alive. That we have evidence for, you view is based on belief alone. Actually you said:

    ‘The other major problem I have with this standard evolutionist argument is that it once again relies on the personal incredulity of the skeptic.’

    Your actually making an argument here about credulity while being credulous. Your assuming knowledge you don’t have about a God and ignoring evidence easily available to anyone. The skeptic is entirely rational in pointing out that any potential designer would likely not produce a product with such obvious shortcomings UNLESS of course he had limited material to work with, such as that which evolution provided.

    ‘I understand that it is difficult for rational, scientific people to get in the head of a fundamentalist Christian, but keep in mind that we wackos have all sorts of strange beliefs.’

    At least you admit this, a good start. Look you do have strange beliefs. As strange or more strange than other religions. Doesn’t make them wrong but they are strange. Your simply being condescending here without turning the lense inward.

    ‘For example, for all I know maybe God designed human bodies this way because it was a neat solution to saving Daniel from being eaten by lions, and it allowed Jesus to walk on water, etc.’

    None of these mentioned activities are possible with our bodies. In fact both do rather poorly in either scenario. In fact since your proposing such bizarre notions why on Earth do you suppose our eye is built the way it is? Do you not understand your not proposing any answer at all other then ‘Goddidit’.

    And while yes it is possible God designed humans with so many flaws, the question is whether the evidence(and common sense) would point to that conclusion or a conclusion that humans are the way they are because they evolved from other organisms and coopted their structures along the way.

  10. #10 Jeff Hebert
    January 26, 2006

    Bob,

    The new article doesn’t seem to differ much in substance from the first one. Ed has done a very thorough job of answering your critiques of the basic subject very well above. As long as you’re here, why not address those specific responses? That seems of more value than reading the same arguments aimed at a different target.

    I did want to address one paragraph in your new article:

    In Behe’s usage, irreducible complexity means a machine that is sufficiently complex such that, if you remove one of its parts, it can no longer perform its original function. … There is nothing controversial or ambiguous about Behe’s definition; bacterial flagella (as well as watches and the Brooklyn Bridge) are definitely irreducibly complex. The controversial part is whether biological, irreducibly complex objects can arise without an intelligent designer.

    I have read “Darwin’s Black Box” and I think this interpretation of IC is incorrect. The key word missing in your definition is “any”. Here’s how you have it reading:

    … a machine that is sufficiently complex such that, if you remove one of its parts, it can no longer perform its original function.

    And here is how it should read to remain consistent with Behe’s definition:

    … a machine that is sufficiently complex such that, if you remove any one of its parts, it can no longer perform its original function.

    Those two readings are completely different. By your definition, a human is IC because if you remove its heart the entire “machine” ceases to function. “Watches” and “the Brooklyn Bridge” are also IC by your reckoning. Under Behe’s definition, however, a human is not IC because there are some parts you can remove that won’t cause the whole organism to shut down (fingers, toes, etc.), and neither are the Brooklyn Bridge (you can remove some struts, rivets, the paint) or watches (crystal covering the face, every other number, the casing). It’s the “any” that makes IC even worth thinking about, but your dropping it renders your definition so all-encompassing it’s useless.

    I would further take issue with your definition using the word “machine”. Machine has an inherent connotation of design. Machines are made objects. Your definition assumes the very thing it is trying to define.

    Jeff

  11. #11 Ed Brayton
    January 26, 2006

    Bob Murphy wrote:

    All I’m saying is that many, many arguments I hear about ID are bad. You guys are saying the lack of peer reviewed literature is a straw man; well, that was the major item in the USA Today stories regarding the Dover decision.

    There are two forms of straw man arguments, a strong form and a weak form. You tend to use the weak form of a straw man argument, which is to take the most simplistic and indefensible version of an argument as the one you saw fit to answer rather than engaging the strongest form of the argument. I would suggest that if you really want to engage the arguments against ID, you should be engaging the arguments of Allen Orr or Ken Miller, not USA Today.

    Anyway, I just received the URL for this page from a random emailer, so I would be pleased to see if any of you have responded to my latest article. Again, I’m not hoping to convince you of ID, but I would like to see if you agree that Pigliucci’s critique of it is pointless.

    Having not read the Pigliucci critique, I’m not in a position to say. I’d much rather deal with your paper, which I have read. Let me also say that I did peruse your other papers on the subject and was impressed that you did at least recognize the weakness of some pro-ID arguments as well, and also that you seemed to understand the issue well enough to recognize that some of the labels so often used (“neo-Darwinist”, for example) are often used badly and sometimes paper over nuances.

  12. #12 Ed Brayton
    January 26, 2006

    Gretchen wrote:

    Could you please elaborate more, either here or in a separate entry (since it’s not exactly on topic here), what you primary objections are to LewRockwell.com and why you don’t consider it libertarian? I’d be interested to hear since a friend of mine who is about the most hardcore libertarian I know (in person, that is) reads it daily and is quite devoted to it.

    Oh boy. This really deserves at least one full post all its own, and I’ll try and do that soon rather than start a second discussion thread here. For now, suffice to say that the LewRockwell types are generally anarcho-capitalists, which in my view is a form of libertarianism that goes so far off the edge that the results are entirely un-libertarian. It also tends to be the home of a lot of serious Christian right wacko types like Gary North and Andrew Sandlin, who claim to be “Christian libertarians” but are in reality Christian reconstructionists – and I can’t imagine anything less libertarian than that. I’ll work on a longer and more detailed post on this subject.

  13. #13 Wesley R. Elsberry
    January 26, 2006

    Bob Murphy encourages us to have a look at his latest article. Well, OK. And I’m not far in when Murphy dings Johnson for using a comment on generating Shakespeare texts as too cryptic to let people know that… “Dembski has (in my opinion) a very sophisticated and powerful response, but you wouldn�t know this from Johnson�s sarcastic comment.” That response, Murphy says, is to Richard Dawkins’s “weasel” program.

    The problem is that Dembski’s responses to “weasel” are neither sophisticated nor powerful. Basically, Dembski scuttles his “specified complexity” idea by prepending the modifiers “actual” and “apparent”. I’ve critiqued Dembski’s claims before:

    http://www.antievolution.org/people/dembski_wa/19990913_csi_and_ec.html

    http://www.antievolution.org/people/dembski_wa/sc_resp_wre.html

    http://www.antievolution.org/people/dembski_wa/wre_id_proxy.txt

    http://www.antievolution.org/people/wre/papers/eandsdembski.pdf

    And Dembski’s “explanatory filter”, too:

    http://www.talkdesign.org/faqs/theftovertoil/theftovertoil.html

    Then there’s the several chapters critiquing Dembski’s ideas in “Why Intelligent Design Fails”, a chunk of “Unintelligent Design”, parts of “Tower of Babel”, “Finding Darwin’s God”, and “God, Darwin, and the Devil”. So I think a more pertinent question for Bob Murphy is whether he researched Dembski’s idea in a scholarly fashion (looking for both the exposition and the criticism), or simply read some of Dembski’s stuff, formed a personal agreement with the conclusions, and left it at that?

  14. #14 Gretchen
    January 26, 2006

    Thanks Ed. My own political philosophy could use some fleshing out, and I think it might help some with that.

  15. #15 Ed Darrell
    January 26, 2006

    Well, here’s the conundrum for people like Murphy: IDists don’t put their money where their claims of science are. More to the point, I suppose: They can’t.

    Economics and finance are nothing if not unemotional, sometimes at bad times (Paul Volcker complains that, had he known the war against inflation would require 21.5% interest rates, he would have hidden in a hole). And economics and finance have voted 100% against ID. If you go to the stock listings for the New York Stock Exchange, and you wish to invest in a company that relies on applied evolution theory applied to make money, you have several good choices: Genentech (which also encourages evolution be taught well in high schools, formerly with more gusto, but still), any number of other pharmaceutical companies, Archer-Daniels-Midland (ADM), Cargill, and pesticide companies like Monsanto (both insect and herbal pests), and probably other industries, too. In sharp contrast, there is not a commercial application available under ID hypotheses (let alone theory) for anything. If one wishes to back one’s claims with one’s money, one can only back the Real Thing, evolution. Of course, the same thing is true for NASDAQ, Amex, and every other stock exchange on the planet.

    Murphy, as an economist, should have noticed that. In his own field, ID is a non-starter.

  16. #16 Jeff Hebert
    January 26, 2006

    Ed Darrell wrote:

    In sharp contrast, there is not a commercial application available under ID hypotheses (let alone theory) for anything. If one wishes to back one’s claims with one’s money, one can only back the Real Thing, evolution.

    Granted it’s not listed on the NYSE but you have to grant the Catholic Church brings in a fair chunk of change. They even have their own country! Granted it’s the smallest country in the world, but still, I don’t see ADM hoisting a flag any time soon :-p

  17. #17 Ed Darrell
    January 26, 2006

    Not only does the church make no money off of ID as applied theory, the Catholic Church doesn’t even support ID. With the largest Christian organization on Earth, ID isn’t even good theology.

    Could an idea be much more bankrupt than that?

  18. #18 BobMurphy
    January 28, 2006

    My 14-month-old will undoubtedly wake up in a few minutes, so I have to be brief:

    (1) RE: The Pigliucci critique. I understand you may not have read his book; fair enough. But assuming that I have quoted him fairly (i.e. not omitted crushing arguments that he advanced against Behe), do you all agree that his critique is extremely bad? I claim he contradicts himself in the status of Behe’s mousetrap, then gives a complete non sequitur regarding redundancy, and tops it off with a totally question-begging argument. Do you all agree? I am open to the possibility that I am missing something fundamental.

    (2) Re: Flew. I had never heard about the retraction until now, so that’s why I conveniently ignored it. Even so, why is it so hard for you guys to understand the “SO WHAT?” of it? People keep saying, “ID is nothing but Christianity.” We point out, “No it isn’t; the ID arguments don’t rely on the Bible one iota.” Of course we are accused of lying, even though no one can actually point to an ID argument proper that relies on the Bible. So finally I actually give a counterexample (Flew), even though that isn’t necessary. Now unless he recanted because, “Oh gee, in retrospect I realized my flirting with ID committed me to believe in Yahweh, which I don’t,” then his retraction too isn’t really relevant (except that it makes me look ignorant when discussing it without mentioning the retraction).

    (3) The “put your money in ID” objection is silly. Michael Behe believes in common descent and the microevolutionary mechanisms that would be used in these companies. I strongly doubt, e.g., that if it turns out Behe is right and (say) an intelligent designer seeded the Earth a few billion years ago with a cell that had the information for all future organisms in it, that this would make today’s agricultural research impossible. That’s like saying, “If you don’t believe in the Big Bang, you can’t invest in a company that makes nuclear weapons.”

    (4) Re: Dembski. Yes, I’m familiar with Orr’s critiques of him. When I get a free weekend I’m going to analyze Wolpert’s new stuff (that Orr mentions in his New Yorker piece) that shows NFL theorems don’t apply when there’s coevolution, since Dembski has claimed his results can include that possibility. I hope this qualifies as not “simply reading Dembski’s stuff, finding [myself] in personal agreement, and leaving it at that.”

    (5) Re: the IC definition. You’re right, it’s possible Behe might slip if you asked him on the street, “Is a human being IC?” But even there I don’t know, because to apply the def. of IC you need to first specify the function, and a human body does all sorts of things. If you said to Behe, “Is a mouestrap with a ribbon on it IC?” I’m pretty sure he would say no, but that the smaller system not including the ribbon IS irreducibly complex.

  19. #19 Jeff Hebert
    January 28, 2006

    BobMurphy said:

    I claim he contradicts himself in the status of Behe’s mousetrap, then gives a complete non sequitur regarding redundancy, and tops it off with a totally question-begging argument. Do you all agree? I am open to the possibility that I am missing something fundamental.

    This was the first part of your critique and I thought it was extremely bad. I did not see how point B in any way invalidated point A.

    You seem hung up on the fact that there are organisms in nature which will cease to function if you remove any of their components, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that Behe then makes the argument that such an organism could not have evolved. Pigliucci is addressing the first part (determing IC is inherently subjective and relies on the imagination — or lack thereof — of the observer) then goes on to show that even if something is IC, it still could have evolved, using DNA replication as one mechanism. I assume he was less than smooth in making the transition between the two arguments, but one does not refute the other.

    I am restraining myself to just that one point, because I think it’s at the root of your misunderstanding. I will repeate it here for clarity:

    Even if an organism is Irreducibly Complex using Behe’s definition, that does not mean it could not have evolved naturally.

  20. #20 Ed Brayton
    January 28, 2006

    BobMurphy wrote:

    (2) Re: Flew. I had never heard about the retraction until now, so that’s why I conveniently ignored it. Even so, why is it so hard for you guys to understand the “SO WHAT?” of it? People keep saying, “ID is nothing but Christianity.” We point out, “No it isn’t; the ID arguments don’t rely on the Bible one iota.” Of course we are accused of lying, even though no one can actually point to an ID argument proper that relies on the Bible.

    Here again I think you are giving the weakest possible version of the argument you’re answering. Yes, I’m sure there are people out there who offer this version, simplifying the argument down to “ID is nothing but Christianity”, but let me give you a much more nuanced and credible version of the argument:

    “ID requires the intervention of a supernatural, transcendant being. ID advocates have admitted this many times, as when Dembski wrote that “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.” ID advocates are often dishonest when they claim that the designer could just as easily be an alien or a time-traveling biochemist because this clearly contradicts their prior statements on the matter and because neither of those possibilities is in any way consistent with their arguments for ID. They argue that the universe itself was designed with all of the physical laws finely tuned to support life; clearly that could not have been designed by an alien or a biochemist because both of those would be products of that design under their reasoning. And there is a clear contradiction between their statements that the designer could be natural rather than supernatural when they are constantly arguing against naturalism; if we were to take their claim about the possibility of a natural designer seriously, it would make all of their arguments about naturalism superfluous. No, it is clear that they can only be talking about a supernatural entity. And that is what makes ID essentially religious rather than scientific – science cannot evaluate or test supernatural causation because it is consistent with any possible set of data. On the question of ID’s Christian roots, it is certainly true that ID could be made consistent with other religions as well, but as I noted above the designer must be divine by their formulation despite their convenient protests to the contrary. And there is no doubt that in this country, the promotion of ID is motivated almost exclusively by the goal of furthering a conservative Christian agenda of “transforming the culture”. This is so self-evident that it is hardly worth quoting the innumerable sources from their own writings and speeches that confirm that. This is why Bruce Gordon, an ID advocate himself, laments that ID has become “an exercise in Christian ‘cultural renewal,’ the weight of which it cannot bear.”

    Now, why not engage the most serious form of the argument you are disputing rather than the weakest form of it?

    So finally I actually give a counterexample (Flew), even though that isn’t necessary. Now unless he recanted because, “Oh gee, in retrospect I realized my flirting with ID committed me to believe in Yahweh, which I don’t,” then his retraction too isn’t really relevant (except that it makes me look ignorant when discussing it without mentioning the retraction).

    See, this is where you begin to lose credibility, Bob. You are clearly distorting Flew’s statement. I quoted above exactly what Flew said in his retraction, which is that after being taught about current research on abiogenesis, he realized that he had been fooled into thinking that there were no plausible explanations for the origin of life. And you completely ignore that and claim instead that the reason for his retraction is that he realized that “flirting with ID committed me to believe in Yahweh”, which he neither said nor implied. You have no possible basis for this distortion other than what you prefer to believe. This is exactly why I’m not willing to give you the benefit of the doubt on having quoted Pigliucci’s book accurately and would prefer to read it for myself before commenting on it.

    The rest of your statements refer to the claims of other commenters. I’m still waiting for you to engage any of the well reasoned objections to your article that I detailed in the post above.

  21. #21 Gretchen
    January 28, 2006

    And you completely ignore that and claim instead that the reason for his retraction is that he realized that “flirting with ID committed me to believe in Yahweh”, which he neither said nor implied.

    Murphy didn’t claim Flew said that. He said “Unless Flew said….”

  22. #22 Ed Brayton
    January 28, 2006

    Oops, you’re right. I misread his statement about Flew’s retraction. I apologize for the mistake, Bob, and retract what followed that misreading.

  23. #23 Ed Darrell
    January 28, 2006

    Yes, Behe used to admit that evolution is correct — which would make him an outlyer in the ID community. In at least two places in his book he confesses he thinks Darwin got it right about evolution of animals and plants.

    But that’s always proven problematic for his sponsors. By 2003 and the Texas textbook hearings, when confronted with his writings he would hedge. In 1999 I saw him in Dallas under the auspices of the Campus Crusade for Christ and a Christian group organized around SMU, and in both places his handlers quickly shut down the Q&A sessions when Behe got close to saying what he said in his book, that Darwin got it right.

    In any case, now Behe says all the stuff necessary to keep in good with Phillip Johnson and others in the movement (and I use “movement” to denote a political enterprise rather than a science enterprise).

    But Behe’s challenge before his odd backtracking also would be crimped by commercial applications. Blood clotting is a key area of research, for several different applications. Behe’s claims that human clotting is irreducibly complex would change much of the direction of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), were it accurate. It would change the direction of research in commercial companies there, too.

    In short, the fact that there is absolutely zero commercial application for anything from the ID movement is a powerful indictment of its foundational philosophy. Biology is all about practical applications. One cannot “dine” at McDonald’s and get anything that would be impossible were evolution not valid and accurate theory. Luther Burbank’s work was entirely evolution-based — as is all crop development today. So is pesticide and herbicide development.

    And, to get to the meat of the matter, if there is ANYTHING that is intelligently designed, we need ID theories fast, to fight anthrax and other things that might be used as biological warfare, to stop an influenza pandemic, to fight HIV and other infectious immunity disorders.

    It’s entirely appropriate to let ID hang itself when we issue the requirement: Show us the money.

    There isn’t any in ID.

  24. #24 BobMurphy
    January 29, 2006

    Jeff Hebert said:

    You seem hung up on the fact that there are organisms in nature which will cease to function if you remove any of their components, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that Behe then makes the argument that such an organism could not have evolved. Pigliucci is addressing the first part (determing IC is inherently subjective and relies on the imagination — or lack thereof — of the observer)

    No, it isn’t inherently subjective. IC says if you take away one of the parts, the system no longer functions minimally. That is an objective state of affairs.

    For example, Brayton said that the blood clotting system isn’t IC because you can take away a component (that Behe alleges is vital) and it still works, as displayed in other animals.

    then goes on to show that even if something is IC, it still could have evolved, using DNA replication as one mechanism. I assume he was less than smooth in making the transition between the two arguments, but one does not refute the other.

    That’s not what he said though. He said we see no example thus far of an IC object in nature. So I’m asking you guys, what would an example of an IC object in nature look like? (Again, let’s ignore the inconsistency about what IC means. Pigliucci, and you, seem to think it means “intelligently designed,” but it doesn’t in terms of the definition.)

    Incidentally, BillySixString–since you say you think I’m good on econ stuff–can you see why it’s hard for someone to evaluate this debate? Of course you’ve got fundamentalists like Johnson who aren’t savvy on all the concepts, but even supposed experts (in my opinion) can’t keep something straight like the definition of IC when critiquing Behe.

    I am restraining myself to just that one point, because I think it’s at the root of your misunderstanding. I will repeate it here for clarity:

    RPM:Even if an organism is Irreducibly Complex using Behe’s definition, that does not mean it could not have evolved naturally.

    How does this quote demonstrate my misunderstanding? That’s exactly what you were lecturing me about above! :) I.e. above you were telling me that even if something were IC, it still could’ve evolved, and then to demonstrate how I must have missed this elementary point, you quote me saying that even if something were IC, it still could’ve evolved!

  25. #25 BobMurphy
    January 29, 2006

    Ed Brayton said:

    ID advocates are often dishonest when they claim that the designer could just as easily be an alien or a time-traveling biochemist because this clearly contradicts their prior statements on the matter and because neither of those possibilities is in any way consistent with their arguments for ID. They argue that the universe itself was designed with all of the physical laws finely tuned to support life; clearly that could not have been designed by an alien or a biochemist because both of those would be products of that design under their reasoning. And there is a clear contradiction between their statements that the designer could be natural rather than supernatural when they are constantly arguing against naturalism; if we were to take their claim about the possibility of a natural designer seriously, it would make all of their arguments about naturalism superfluous.

    Hang on, there’s two different things here. Yes, someone who is arguing that the universe is intelligently designed (because of charge on an electron, gravitational constant, etc.) isn’t going to be able to say “the designer might not be God.”

    But one could endorse every argument in Behe’s book without being a Christian, for example. Look, in philosophy someone could level critiques of utilitarianism. Those critiques are valid or not, regardless of whether the person making them believes in Christianity (and so can’t be a utilitarian).

    Now the second part of your argument is just wrong, I think. Someone who is opposed to a naturalist explanation doesn’t include human beings as part of that term. E.g. Dembski doesn’t deny that Steinbeck wrote some novels; he thinks they were intelligently designed and were not the product of natural laws.

  26. #26 Ed Brayton
    January 29, 2006

    Bob Murphy wrote:

    Hang on, there’s two different things here. Yes, someone who is arguing that the universe is intelligently designed (because of charge on an electron, gravitational constant, etc.) isn’t going to be able to say “the designer might not be God.”

    Do you know anyone who separates biological ID from cosmological ID? None of the major ID advocates do. Dembski endorses cosmological ID, as I quoted above. Behe likewise makes the same cosmological arguments that other IDers do (ARN offers a DVD of an interview with Behe called Intelligent Design: From the Big Bang to Irreducible Complexity where he argues for cosmological ID as well as biological ID). None that I know of claims a different designer for one and not the other. The official definition of ID offered by the Discovery Institute includes both biological and cosmological ID. There is no real distinction between the two and no one really pretends otherwise. Since every single ID advocate accepts cosmological ID, and you say that if they do so they can’t then say that the designer could be anything but God, is that then an admission that when Behe and Dembski and the others claim that the designer doesn’t have to be God, they’re lying?

    But one could endorse every argument in Behe’s book without being a Christian, for example. Look, in philosophy someone could level critiques of utilitarianism. Those critiques are valid or not, regardless of whether the person making them believes in Christianity (and so can’t be a utilitarian).

    I agree with this, of course, but no one is making the argument that ID is wrong because its advocates are Christians. This is, yet again, another straw man you’re building up in order to knock down. I have repeatedly given a far more compelling version of the argument and you have repeatedly ignored it. That’s beginning to look a lot like an admission that the non-strawman version isn’t as easy to knock down.

    Now the second part of your argument is just wrong, I think. Someone who is opposed to a naturalist explanation doesn’t include human beings as part of that term. E.g. Dembski doesn’t deny that Steinbeck wrote some novels; he thinks they were intelligently designed and were not the product of natural laws.

    I think all this means is that ID advocates use the term “naturalism” to mean entirely different things in their arguments. Human beings are as “natural” as anything else, we are a product of the natural order. ID arguments against “naturalism”, however, are aimed at the rejection of supernaturalism. Why else would Phillip Johnson pretend that methodological and metaphysical naturalism are the same thing?

  27. #27 Jeff Hebert
    January 30, 2006

    Behe gives several examples in Darwin’s Black Box of what an Irreducibly Complex (any system wherein if you remove ANY part, the entire system ceases to function) biological system would be, specifically the bacterial flagellum and the blood clotting system.

    I have no objection to his definition of IC whatsoever and I think anyone would agree that it is easy to imagine any number of specific biological or mechanical systems that would meet it.

    (Again, let’s ignore the inconsistency about what IC means. Pigliucci, and you, seem to think it means “intelligently designed,” but it doesn’t in terms of the definition.

    That is correct, the basic definition of the term IC does not connotate intelligent design. I don’t think anyone has a problem with the basic definition of IC, we have a problem with the fact that a) it’s a trivial observation and b) Behe uses it to springboard into the strange conclusion that anything that’s IC must have been intelligently designed. It’s not the definition, it’s the conclusion derived using that definition that’s so bad.

    I think the cognitive error made when discussing IC is that Behe uses a specific IC system in a specific organism and leaps to the implied statement that all systems of that type are IC. Although he’s studying the flagellum of a specific bacteria, he implies that no flagellum can exist that is not IC. However, we have seen in nature that this is not so. There are clear examples of bacterial flagella that do not have all of the components that make the specific system he studied IC.

    In fact, every system he has pointed out as an example of IC has been shown in nature to exist with fewer components than the specific one he holds up. So while IC can be determined for a very specific system in a very specific organism, it cannot be extended beyond that, thus making the observation trivial.

  28. #28 Nick Danger
    January 31, 2006

    “Economics and finance are nothing if not unemotional, sometimes at bad times (Paul Volcker complains that, had he known the war against inflation would require 21.5% interest rates, he would have hidden in a hole). And economics and finance have voted 100% against ID. If you go to the stock listings for the New York Stock Exchange, and you wish to invest in a company that relies on applied evolution theory applied to make money, you have several good choices: Genentech (which also encourages evolution be taught well in high schools, formerly with more gusto, but still), any number of other pharmaceutical companies, Archer-Daniels-Midland (ADM), Cargill, and pesticide companies like Monsanto (both insect and herbal pests), and probably other industries, too. In sharp contrast, there is not a commercial application available under ID hypotheses…”

    This argument seems silly to me. Even if IDers are totally correct (which I doubt), it is highly unlikely that anyone could create a business around guessing God’s next innovation!

  29. #29 Nick Danger
    January 31, 2006

    “”ID requires the intervention of a supernatural, transcendant being. ID advocates have admitted this many times, as when Dembski wrote that “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.” ID advocates are often dishonest when they claim that the designer could just as easily be an alien or a time-traveling biochemist because this clearly contradicts their prior statements on the matter and because neither of those possibilities is in any way consistent with their arguments for ID.”

    This ignores the possible view that the alien or biochemist might not be “strictly physical.”

    Indeed, I would suggest that IDers are wrong to entertain the notion of an intelligent agent who is strictly physical, because the “strictly physical” is best conceived as “that which lacks any intelligence.”

  30. #30 Wesley R. Elsberry
    January 31, 2006

    Indeed, I would suggest that IDers are wrong to entertain the notion of an intelligent agent who is strictly physical, because the “strictly physical” is best conceived as “that which lacks any intelligence.”

    I don’t see any basis for the conclusion. Is it to appear in a future installment?

  31. #31 BobMurphy
    January 31, 2006

    Ed Brayton wrote:

    The official definition of ID offered by the Discovery Institute includes both biological and cosmological ID. There is no real distinction between the two and no one really pretends otherwise. Since every single ID advocate accepts cosmological ID, and you say that if they do so they can’t then say that the designer could be anything but God, is that then an admission that when Behe and Dembski and the others claim that the designer doesn’t have to be God, they’re lying?

    No, they’re not lying. Of course (most) ID advocates think that God is the designer. They believe in God on other grounds, and so naturally (just using Occam’s Razor) if they believe there is evidence for a designer of life, they would think it is God.

    But that’s not the issue. One can conceptually distinguish evidence of a designer from his/her/its identity. Behe, Dembski, et al. have offered certain types of evidence of the former, and they of course haven’t used supernatural arguments (in that context) for obvious reasons. Now it won’t do to dismiss them a priori because “science can’t deal with God,” since those particular arguments need not rely on God.

    I would come up with an analogy (involving, say, people abducted by space aliens who showed them video footage of when they seeded the earth with life forms, and then the people when returned to earth tried to argue with the mainstream biologists who just dismissed their claims based on personal memories of unsubstantiated events) but it seems that analogies are always equated with straw men on this blog. :)

  32. #32 BobMurphy
    January 31, 2006

    All right folks, thanks for the time you put into dealing with my article, but I think this will be my last post. I realize I haven’t dealt too much with your original posting, Mr. Brayton, but that’s mainly because I am not familiar with the things of which you accuse Behe. E.g. (and I can check back to see if you post it here) I would be very surprised if Behe admitted that a system he conceded was IC had a Darwinian explanation. If you can give me a link to where he said that, I’d appreciate it.

    Jeff Hebert wrote:
    I have no objection to [Behe's] definition of IC whatsoever and I think anyone would agree that it is easy to imagine any number of specific biological or mechanical systems that would meet it.

    …the basic definition of the term IC does not connotate intelligent design. I don’t think anyone has a problem with the basic definition of IC, we have a problem with the fact that a) it’s a trivial observation and b) Behe uses it to springboard into the strange conclusion that anything that’s IC must have been intelligently designed. It’s not the definition, it’s the conclusion derived using that definition that’s so bad.

    OK, I’m with you so far. But now (again) it seems that you quite obviously contradict yourself; this is why I don’t feel these arguments are getting anywhere:

    I think the cognitive error made when discussing IC is that Behe uses a specific IC system in a specific organism and leaps to the implied statement that all systems of that type are IC. Although he’s studying the flagellum of a specific bacteria, he implies that no flagellum can exist that is not IC. However, we have seen in nature that this is not so. There are clear examples of bacterial flagella that do not have all of the components that make the specific system he studied IC.

    In fact, every system he has pointed out as an example of IC has been shown in nature to exist with fewer components than the specific one he holds up.

    OK, that last sentence there makes no sense. If it really is the same system less one component, then Behe is just plain wrong when he says the former system is IC. There’s nothing subjective about it, and it’s not that he’s using a false inference.

    So while IC can be determined for a very specific system in a very specific organism, it cannot be extended beyond that, thus making the observation trivial.

    Again, the issue isn’t that it may be trivial. If what you described above were really true, it would make Behe wrong, not just irrelevant.

    Now the actual case, I believe, is that there are systems that are not simply the complex system, with one component removed. Rather, there are systems with fewer parts, but they are structured differently so that the lack of the one part isn’t critical. Behe concedes this is his book; e.g. he says there certainly exist functional mousetraps with fewer than the 5 (or whatever) parts of his famous one.

    Why is this relevant? Because the ones that are IC can’t have arisen from the other ones through a direct Darwinian process. (This doesn’t logically rule out the possibility of an indirect process; Behe relies on empirical arguments for that case.)

  33. #33 BobMurphy
    January 31, 2006

    WHOOPS–Sorry Jeff Hebert, I didn’t keep italicizing multiple paragraphs. In the post above, some of your original comments appear to be mine, since the italics didn’t carry over to the later paragraphs. You’ll no doubt understand the post, but others probably won’t…

  34. #34 Ginger Yellow
    January 31, 2006

    “Why is this relevant? Because the ones that are IC can’t have arisen from the other ones through a direct Darwinian process. (This doesn’t logically rule out the possibility of an indirect process; Behe relies on empirical arguments for that case.)”

    But this is just false, as Behe acknowledged under oath at Dover. The one modelling experiment that he has ever done to test his “IC equals unevolvable” hypothesis, performed under conditions designed to prejudice the test against evolution, actually did evolve an IC system, as defined by Behe. Furthermore, scientists have shown again and again and again how an IC system can have arisen from other ones through the use of evolutionary “scaffolding” and exaptation.

  35. #35 Ed Brayton
    January 31, 2006

    I’m going to try and combine all of Bob Murphy’s comments into one here rather than responding to them individually. He wrote:

    No, they’re not lying. Of course (most) ID advocates think that God is the designer. They believe in God on other grounds, and so naturally (just using Occam’s Razor) if they believe there is evidence for a designer of life, they would think it is God.

    I think you’re missing my point here. It’s not that they think it must be the Christian God that is important, it is the fact that they all advance cosmological ID as well as biological ID, which means the designer logically MUST be supernatural and transcendant. Thus, when they then subsequently claim that the designer could be an alien, they are either contradicting themselves or they are lying. Which is it?

    But that’s not the issue. One can conceptually distinguish evidence of a designer from his/her/its identity. Behe, Dembski, et al. have offered certain types of evidence of the former, and they of course haven’t used supernatural arguments (in that context) for obvious reasons. Now it won’t do to dismiss them a priori because “science can’t deal with God,” since those particular arguments need not rely on God.

    But they do rely on the supernatural. You are simply wrong to say that Dembski hasn’t “used supernatural arguments”. He has said quite bluntly that the designer must logically be supernatural. I’ll quote him again:

    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.

    Behe makes much the same argument and also advocates cosmological ID, which logically ties him to the same conclusion.

    I realize I haven’t dealt too much with your original posting, Mr. Brayton, but that’s mainly because I am not familiar with the things of which you accuse Behe. E.g. (and I can check back to see if you post it here) I would be very surprised if Behe admitted that a system he conceded was IC had a Darwinian explanation. If you can give me a link to where he said that, I’d appreciate it.

    I didn’t say that that he had conceded that a system that evolved was IC, I said that he accepts evolutionary explanations for lots of complex biochemical systems that fit his definition of IC, whether he admits it or not. But in fact, all you have to do is look at his 2004 paper on the computer simulation, where his own research showed that an IC system could evolve in only 20,000 years even with all of the parameters rigged against that result. Here’s the link to that testimony.

  36. #36 Dave S.
    January 31, 2006

    I think you’re missing my point here. It’s not that they think it must be the Christian God that is important, it is the fact that they all advance cosmological ID as well as biological ID, which means the designer logically MUST be supernatural and transcendant.

    And leave us also not forget their unremitting attacks on “materialism”, which must force us to conclude in no uncertain terms that the designer as they envision it is not a physical presence, which presumably even time travelling biochemists or aliens must be.

  37. #37 Wesley R. Elsberry
    January 31, 2006

    (4) Re: Dembski. Yes, I’m familiar with Orr’s critiques of him. When I get a free weekend I’m going to analyze Wolpert’s new stuff (that Orr mentions in his New Yorker piece) that shows NFL theorems don’t apply when there’s coevolution, since Dembski has claimed his results can include that possibility. I hope this qualifies as not “simply reading Dembski’s stuff, finding [myself] in personal agreement, and leaving it at that.”

    Orr’s critiques of Dembski’s ideas give a couple of points upon which the “power” or “sophistication” they may have is put in doubt. The resources I listed give many, many more. One of those resources is also one of the very few peer-reviewed articles available that directly treats the argumentation of “intelligent design”. And yet, in the words of one wag, “you wouldn’t know this” from Bob Murphy’s essay. Surely sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

  38. #38 Jeff Hebert
    January 31, 2006

    Bob said:

    OK, that last sentence there makes no sense. If it really is the same system less one component, then Behe is just plain wrong when he says the former system is IC.

    No, he’s right that the specific system in that specific species is IC. He, and you, are wrong to try and extend the concept any further than that. Whether or not species B can use 4 of those components to move around is irrelevant, as I read the definition of IC. It remains true that all 5 of the components that species A uses are necessary for function in that organism. It is NOT true that all 5 components are necessary for ANY species of bacteria to move around.

    I think you’re getting hung up on the broader concept of “system”. In some ways it’s irrelevant to the discussion, but since you keep claiming people contradict themselves I wanted to explain the way I understand the term to be used.

    To use a mechanical analogy, a three-legged stool is IC because, if you remove one of the three legs or the seat, it falls down. That specific stool is built that way, but it’s possible to build a stool that has only two legs, or one, or none and still use it as an object to sit upon.

    Thus the specific stool you looked at is IC. The general class of “things you can sit on” is not. Both statements are true and do not contradict each other unless you insist on conflating the terms “this stool here” and “all things we can sit on”.

    That’s why I call IC a trivial observation. It only really tells you about the one specific way that a given function is achieved in a specific organism. It’s impossible to generalize to a larger set of systems.

    Why is this relevant? Because the ones that are IC can’t have arisen from the other ones through a direct Darwinian process. (This doesn’t logically rule out the possibility of an indirect process; Behe relies on empirical arguments for that case.)

    This conclusion is not supported by the arguments used by you or Behe. Furthermore, as Ed points out, Behe has admitted that certain systems that fit his definition of IC have evolved naturally. For a specific example, check out Dr. Ken Miller’s excellent explanation of one of Behe’s prime IC-by-design examples, the blood clotting system, at http://www.millerandlevine.com/km/evol/DI/clot/Clotting.html

    At the end of the day, IC is trivial because it a) can’t tell whether or not something that’s IC is designed or naturally evolved and b) can’t tell you anything about broader classes of systems beyond the specific system in the specific organism under discussion. It’s useless, even for the use Behe originally proposed it for — deciding whether or not something is natural or designed.

  39. #39 Nick Danger
    February 2, 2006

    Indeed, I would suggest that IDers are wrong to entertain the notion of an intelligent agent who is strictly physical, because the “strictly physical” is best conceived as “that which lacks any intelligence.”‘

    I don’t see any basis for the conclusion. Is it to appear in a future installment?

    Perhaps you are strictly physical yourself?