Thursday, October 26, 2006

David Hume on Intelligent Design.

The whole frame of nature bespeaks an intelligent author; and no rational enquirer can, after serious reflection, suspend his belief a moment with regard to the primary principles of genuine Theism and Religion.

(David Hume )

This is the third sentence of his “The Natural History of Religion” 1751

ID Optimism

I think that the optimism of IDers is related to how they think about the following diagram:

1. represents the total of all possible proteins that could be coded for in DNA.

2. represents all possible proteins with a selectable function.

3. represents all actually existing functional proteins.

4. represents proteins essential for the simplest living membrane bound organism.

IDers tend to think that the huge size of 1 and the comparatively tiny size of 2,3 and 4 points clearly to some other solution to random testing of possibles until we get the working examples that are needed.

IDers tend to think that even our present knowledge of genomes indicates the need for some other mechanism than random testing to find the necessary tiny needles in this vast haystack. Do the genomes we know look like efficient testing machines to find rare useful proteins?

IDers tend to think that the little orange circle is too big to allow chance to be a realistic explanation for the origin of life. Chance is just the wrong sort of explanation for what we see. It is a little like thinking that random selection of notes in sequence can produce a great symphony.

With objects like the rotary motor function of the flagellum the contraints upon so many proteins at once for selectable function tends to breed scepticism that this object can occur without a designer. This problem is compounded many fold whenever we then begin to think about the origin of life. If it is a real snag that we are struggling to deal with in the flagellum then it is infinitely worse for the origin of life. To reject other explanations outright says more about the rules we impose on our bank of possible explanations than about the real origins of the objects we are examining.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Off Topic.

If you live near Durham or are visiting near the area do take a trip to see a ridiculous sight in the cathedral. Close to the cloisters near the restaurant there is a bookshop with the title "Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge" on display you will find a book by Richard Dawkins entitled "The God Delusion." When asked about this the manager replied that it was done to "avoid discrimination."

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Liar Liar!

We were all told the story of the young lad who cried wolf too often as he ran down the hill from the sheep pen. I suggest that the anti-ID movement needs to recall the story and apply it carefully to the current debate. I think if we are to have productive debate we ought to bite our tongues on the temptation to use the “liar” word.

A liar is not someone who has made a mistake or repeated a false claim from someone else in good faith.

A liar is someone who tells a lie. A lie is an intentional false statement. In other words the liar knows that what he is saying is false but goes ahead and says it anyway seeking to give the impression that it is true.

Wesley Elsberry of the NCSE has suggested that using the “liar” label for ID supporters is a good strategy:

If you want to drive a wedge between an audience of evangelical Christians
and the professionals in the ID movement, you need a third approach: show that
the ID advocate on stage with you has been lying to his followers. Show misquote
after misquote; demonstrate error after checkable error, and make the audience
understand that if the ID advocate claims that the sky is blue, their next step
had better be to look out the window to see for themselves. Evangelicals do want
to take Christ’s message to the world, but they also have a deep loathing of
liars. (here)

I would entirely agree with him with one important condition. You had better be sure that the label fits... otherwise this strategy is going to seriously backfire!

One example of an attempt to attach the “liar" label to the writers and supporters of “Truth in Science” has been made on this blog.

The accusation was made with regard to the following quotation from this document:

“I ‘know’ that Tutt’s differential bird predation hypothesis is correct because
I ‘know’ about peppered moths… However, for those who do not ‘know’ the peppered moth, whether they are scientists, teachers or members of the public, this
should not, indeed it must not be enough."

(This quotation has apparently since been replaced by the following:

“I know the peppered moth, and I know that J.W. Tutt was essentially correct in
his explanation of the rise of carbonaria [the dark form]. However, for those
who do not ‘know’ the peppered moth, whether they are scientists, teachers or
members of the public, this should not, indeed, it must not be enough.”

[see here])

The purpose of the quote in its original context was to establish that there are real problems with the Kettlewell data which was originally presented in support of the differential predation hypothesis. The quote was to establish the point that Marjerus recognised that further data was needed to demonstrate unequivically that the differential predation hypothesis was correct.

The original quotation was made of two sections of text:


"I ‘know’ that Tutt’s differential bird predation hypothesis is correct because
I ‘know’ about peppered moths…

The paragraphs in between deal with Marjerus’ love of moths and life time study of them. In other words they are a defence of his statement “I know about peppered moths.”


However, for those who do not ‘know’ the peppered moth, whether they are
scientists, teachers or members of the public, this should not, indeed it must
not be enough."

The “However” of the beginning of the second part of the quotation is clearly linked to the stem of the argument which formed the first part of the quotation. It is entirely legitimate in my view to put these two parts of the argument together and indicate the deleted section with the ellipsis mark.

The quotation does not seek to mislead people it simply establishes the point that Marjerus recognises that the evidence for the differential predation hypothesis needs to be improved.

To seek to attach the label “liar” as a result of the use of this quotation is an example (in my view) of where the “liar, liar” strategy is backfiring badly.

[Apologies for the truncated appearance of the quotations... I can't seem to make the blogger do them nicely! Any free education on this would be gratefully recieved.]

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The definition of “Irreducibly complex.”

Definition 1. (From Darwin's Black Box)
A single system which is composed of several interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning

Definition 2. (Behe's "pathway definition")
An irreducibly complex evolutionary pathway is one that contains one or more unselected steps (that is, one or more necessary-but-unselected mutations). The degree of irreducible complexity is the number of unselected steps in the pathway.

Definition 3. (Dembski's definition)
A system performing a given basic function is irreducibly complex if it includes a set of well-matched, mutually interacting, nonarbitrarily individuated parts such that each part in the set is indispensable to maintaining the system's basic, and therefore original, function. The set of these indispensable parts is known as the irreducible core of the system.

I had put my definition here.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Black Shadow.

I had been aware of this organisation for quite some time but did not think that their website justified them being taken seriously. They have now taken the rather grand title of the "British Centre for Science Education" and are collaborating with their US friends from The NCSE. To be honest I would have thought that the NCSE would have wanted a rather drastic overhall of the whole set up before there was any public acknowledgement of a link.

MP Graham Stringer apparently has no concerns about the nature of this organisation or the contents of its website and has tabled the following early day motion:

"That this House shares the concerns of the British Centre for Science
Education that the literature being sent to every school in the United Kingdom
by the creationist religious group Truth in Science is full of scientific
mistakes and fails to disclose the group's creationist beliefs and objectives;
and urges all schools to treat this literature with extreme caution."

This motion it seems was tabled before the BCSE had actually seen the literature sent to the schools which is rather a back to front way of going about things in my view.

A new Blog has been established with the purpose of finding out a little more about the "Black Shadow"!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Questions on IC and ID.

Matt Inlay posted these as a comment but I thought they were excellent questions so I will answer them here:

1. Do you feel that science has made progress understanding the origins of these systems since the publication of DBB?

2. Do you think science will continue to make progress understanding the origins of these systems? (Regardless of whether the final result of the research will ultimately satisfy Behe's requirement.)

3. Do you think that it is impossible (or implausible) for any IC system to have evolved?

Can I try and ask the question in a few different ways to explain my answers to different ways of understanding the question.

Do you think that there are complex systems in biology which unintelligent causes cannot produce?


Do you still believe that there are such unevolvableIC systems within the immune system?

Yes. I would not use the complement example nor would I be confident in using any of the examples in DBB but I still have a hunch that ultimately there is need for intelligence to cause this system and that this will become clearer as more work is done.

Do you consider that it is more helpful in terms of the discussion for and against ID for IC to be used for systems which a person believes cannot be produced by unintelligent causes?

Yes. I think it confuses the debate to speak of IC systems evolving. If they can evolve by the usual processes then they are not IC. I think for the purposes of argument IC should be reserved for systems which a person believes cannot evolve.

4. Do you still consider it reasonable for Behe and company to conclude intelligent design based on the existence of IC systems in biology?

I consider that IC to ID is a fascinating argument. It is an interesting hypothesis well worthy of further investigation. I do not consider that it has been demonstrated that unintellegent causes can explain everything in biology. It is reasonable to infer design but it has not been clearly demonstrated in a rigorous way that I am aware of as yet. The terms of the calculations necessary need to be clarified in my view.

5. What do you see as to the future of the IC-to-ID argument? Do you think IDists will be able to further develop the concept, or will evidence against it continue to accumulate? In other words, will the IC-to-ID argument improve over time, remain the same, or decrease?

I am convinced that ultimately the IC to ID argument will prevail. I think ID will be developed and evidence for it will accumulate. I expect it to become a demonstrated fact at some point.

6. Do you think it is important for IDists to develop their own theory of origins, with "detailed, testable" models, or do you feel that the evidence against evolution is sufficient to take a pro-ID stance?

I do not consider that I am qualified to take a view on cosmological ID from fine tuning arguments because I have not got a clue about the physics and maths of them.
I think that in biology the argument has considerable appeal. A person's enthusiasm for it or antagonism against it is going to depend on their world view I think. I do not think that the argument is sufficiently well developed that all scientists should be convinced of it but I do not think that it should be dismissed from scientific discourse on the basis of the methodological naturalism argument.

I think a large number of ID supporters are pro-ID because of religious convictions. I think that there are however some people who are frustrated with "evolution only" explanations on the basis of the science alone but it is hard to distinguish between the two.

Unquestionably there is much work needing to be done if ID is to become convincing generally.

7. Do you think IDists will ever develop a "detailed, testable" model of ID?


8. Do you think ID is science? If so, why?

Yes. ID is a mixture of lots of things but I am convinced that to exclude the possibility of a design inference is an unecessary restriction on possible explanations for what we see in the universe. I like the sort of work that Douglas Axe and Scot Minnich have done and think that this is the correct way forward.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Conclusion - IC in Immunology?

My foray into immunology (here, here and here) was prompted by trying to work out who was bluffing when the large pile of books, essays and papers was used in the Dover trial. Behe maintained that there were no detailed explanations about the origin of the complex parts of the immune system. The anti-ID side maintained that there was plenty of evidence based research work sufficient to illustrate how the immune system originated.

Since the trial the argument degenerated into an argument over what constituted sufficient detail.

I looked at Matt Inlay's web essay responding to the immunology chapter of Behe Book and Matt Inlay and Ian Musgrove were kind enough to help me along through the maze of immunological complexity. (Thank you to you both.) My conclusion as a non-expert is that Matt's argument for the nonIC nature of these three systems is strongest for the complement system. (That is not to say that I think that his explanation is plausible but simply that the argument for its IC nature is not convincing.) I am less convinced by the arguments against the IC nature of the other two systems. I agree however that the arguments do need refining and that this needs to involve someone who is a professional immunologist.

I think that Behe’s points regarding the lack of detail in some of the explanations for the pathways to these complex systems are indeed valid.

Truth in Science.

This organisation states that its area of initial focus is to be the origin of life and the origin of the diversity of life.
Their concerns seem to include the following:

1. Teaching on this subject has been “dogmatic and imbalanced.” Darwinian evolution is presented as uncontroversial and the only credible or scientific theory.

It is clear that evolution is controversial amongst the general population and amongst a substantial minority of parents. In this situation it is important for science teaching to go no further than the clear evidence warrants. It is clear that the overwhelming majority of scientists in the relevant fields believe that the evidence for common descent is convincing. However the history of the development of evolutionary thinking is on a backdrop of special creation thinking. Students cannot really grasp the complex nature of how science develops without appreciating the difficulties that Darwin faced. So from a historical perspective it is important to understand the alternative ways of thinking from a purely naturalistic view.

Where science becomes a simple platform for atheism as Richard Dawkins, P.Z. Myers and Daniel Dennett and others advocate this is clearly going to cause signficant difficulties for far more people than evangelical creationists.

We actually know very little about the origin of life and it is important to stress this in science lessons. We actually know very little about the origin of the data required to build different types of living organisms and this should be stressed. It is crucial that parents should be confident that science lessons are focusing on what we know rather than what we hope will turn out to be true.

2. Other explanations of origins are sometimes misrepresented. Children should be given fair and accurate representations of alternative views.

It is hard to understand anyone objecting to this concern. Any fair minded person should want the truth to be told even about people they strongly disagree with. If creationist views are misrepresented those misrepresentations should be corrected as soon as possible. Attacking straw men is a waste of everyones time.

3. The way origins are taught in science lessons fails to address the concerns of a large minority of parents about a purely naturalistic view.

I have commented on this in my remarks above. There is plainly a large minority of UK parents who are unconvinced by the entirely naturalistic explanations of life and the universe and who believe that alternative explanations should be presented to their children. Science education is always going to be a collaboration between scientists and parents. It behoves scientists to tread very carefully in this area unless they want to risk the situation of a confrontation with strongly held religious views of a large number of parents. Compulsory education demands great sensitivity to parental concerns.

4. Some evidences presented for evolution in some texts are flawed and inaccurate.

I understand that this is a very sensitive area but it is clear from my own experience that bad examples of teaching and textbook materials persist in this area far longer that they should have done and improvement of accuracy here should be welcomed by all.

If I have understood the aims and objectives of "Truth in Science" then I am strongly in support of what they are seeking to do.