Review of Mike Gene, The Design Matrix: A Consilience of Clues (Arbor Vitae Press, 2007).

I hope that no one who knows my views and reads my blog with regularity will experience heart failure, or even more mild ill effects, when they realize what this post is. It is an essentially positive review of a book (The Design Matrix: A Consilience of Clues) whose author Mike Gene considers himself a proponent of Intelligent Design. This is not to suggest that I find all of the author’s points and arguments persuasive or satisfying. But what Mike Gene (a pseudonym – see pp.xiii-xiv) offers that other design proponents do not is an understanding of “intelligent design” that (1) does not try to deny the overwhelmingly strong evidence in favor of evolution and common ancestry, (2) does not claim to offer proof of design, (3) does not view design as an alternative explanation or viewpoint to evolution, (4) does not attempt to undermine or deal dishonestly with scientific arguments in order to win the less well informed to support ID, (5) invites people to listen carefully to the views and arguments of those who disagree with him, (6) doesn’t think ID should be taught in public schools, (7) doesn’t think ID is science (p.xi), (8) doesn’t think evolution and belief in God are incompatible, and (9) likes cute bunnies. What’s not to like?

I frequently encourage those who judge Christianity on the basis of fundamentalists to listen carefully for the other voices being drowned out by the noisemakers at the extremes. Gene seems to be doing something similar for ID. In the current debate, is there a place for those who wish to explore something that might legitimately be identified as “intelligent design” but do not understand by it the pseudoscience that some proponents of a form of ID are advocating? I will not, at this point, get into the question of whether it would be better for Mike Gene to abandon the term “intelligent design” and call his distinctive viewpoint something else. I get asked that about my Christian faith all the time. At any rate, whatever else may be said about the book, Gene’s honesty impresses me, and as I present the main points in the book, I think you will agree with my assessment, even if you remain unpersuaded by his conclusions. He explicitly aims to identify middle ground, something to which I too am highly sympathetic.

The Design Matrix begins with the example of the “face on Mars”. Design is something that one may initially perceive or suspect, but which may, on closer analysis or higher resolution may vanish, as in the case of “the face” (pp.7-8, 12). Paley’s argument about the eye and about living organisms in general now competes with Darwin’s natural explanation for the appearance of design. On closer inspection, the appearance of the eye having been designed by a mind vanished, as the possible steps for a natural evolution, and the cobbled-together look of the blind watchmaker’s handiwork, became apparent. What happens when one looks at life more closely, at the molecular level? Does the appearance of design become greater or less? The question cannot be settled only by looking at the way parts fit together, and the “matrix” referred to in the title will be offered later as a spectrum and a set of questions that may allow some assessment of the plausibility or likelihood of design in a given case.

Before getting there, however, Gene sets the stage remarkably well by showing that in fact the current debates over design are a manifestation of an ongoing disagreement over the nature of life, stretching back to ancient Greece. Then too there were those who explained the order in the universe as a result of ultimately random interactions, and those who attributed these features in some way to mind or design or reason (pp. 19-22). Quotations from Socrates, Lucretius, and Cicero sound remarkably like the points of view in the current debate. Indeed, the same point as is usually made about “monkeys and Shakespeare” was made by Cicero using letters scattered at random and the Annals of Ennius (pp.21-22). It is unfortunate that the debate is not more frequently introduced by way of this historical precedent and framework, not least because it might make clearer that the question of design is a philosophical one rather than a scientific one. As Gene points out, the notion of “intelligent design” need not by definition indicate anything about evolution (p.22). For instance, life might be “designed to evolve”. Likewise there is a sense in which the dogs and flowers we have produced through selective breeding may be considered “designed” as well as “evolved”. Teleology and evolution may in theory be different levels of description, rather than alternatives.

In claiming that Darwin never strictly speaking refuted Paley, but simply offered an alternative explanation, Gene is quite candid about why Darwin’s theory has gained the predominance it has: “The success of Darwin’s theory has nothing to do with proving design is impossible. The success stems from the manner in which Darwin’s theory has been successfully used to guide research and generates insights into biology” (p.26). Gene contrasts this deductive reasoning with an alternative Darwin might have tried, namely an attempt to prove design impossible. After showing the difficulty of making such a case to everyone’s satisfaction, Gene introduces the idea of inductive gradualism (pp.29-34). This is an explanatory continuum running from “X could not possibly evolve” to “It is certain that X evolved” with the three intermediate stages of X’s evolution being possible, plausible or probable (p.31). This attempt to define degrees of certainty and probability, rather than two alternative categories of certainty, seems more in keeping with the role of deduction and accumulating evidence in the sciences themselves. Although there are those on both sides of certain current debates that would like to declare an absolute victory, and do so immediately, recognition of degrees of evidence, of certainty or uncertainty, and a process of deduction involved in reaching a conclusion, all represent positive contributions to the discussion of intelligent design and of evolution. What matters, ultimately, is not what could have happened (since presumably there is nothing intrinsically impossible about life having either been created artificially or having evolved somewhere in our universe), but what did happen in the case of life on our planet (p.26).

Part 2 of the book turns attention to “the clues”, and notes early on the resemblance between the biological realm and that of human engineering. “The body echoes the design principles of our own technology” (p.40). The question I always find myself asking when I hear this point made is whether the resemblance does not indeed run in the other direction. How can we say that biological organisms resemble human technology, that molecular machines in living cells resemble the macro-machines we make, or that the genetic code resembles Morse code? In fact, it is DNA that has produced the makers and the users of Morse code, cellular machines that have ultimately created the metal machinery of our invention, and beings with eyes who have developed various sorts of artificial optical instruments.

Be that as it may, Gene suggests that when we refer to “molecular machines” (such as, but not limited to, the infamous bacterial flagellum), it is not simply a metaphor, in the way that talk of “hydrophobic” molecules is (p.44). A comparison of key words used in human engineering and in descriptions of molecular biology suggests that the language of “design”, at the very least, is indispensible (see the tables on p.48 and p.58). Chapter 4 then focuses attention on the genetic code and the ways it follows principles of coding and communication (including error-correction mechanisms) found in human artificial codes. The origin of the genetic code is, for Gene, the crux of the matter. DNA has clearly driven evolution across vast stretches of time on this planet, and Gene’s interest is not in any way to combat this understanding of the history of life. It is the question of origins, specifically the origin of the genetic code, that Gene is concerned with, and is convinced appears designed. At this stage, he is merely seeking to show that it is plausible to attribute the origin of the genetic code to design (p.60). Before proceeding, let us note what many opponents of evolution fail to understand: the origin of the genetic code and of life is not a question addressed by evolutionary theory. Darwin’s theory as developed and refined by scientists and discoveries since his time accounts for the development of life once it exists, not life’s origins. Indeed, it is for this reason that Gene’s book is not about Intelligent Design as an alternative to evolution, but Intelligent Design as an explanation for life’s origins. Many proponents of design hedge their bets in order to cling to supporters whose views are closer to young-earth creationism; still others are anti-evolutionists seeking to use design as a strategy. Since Gene is not in either of these categories, his views do not deserve to be lumped together with those of these aforementioned others. How to distinguish them in discussing “Intelligent Design” is not an insignificant issue. Perhaps the others should be called “cdesign proponentsists” and Gene should be allowed to keep “Intelligent Design”. The cdesign proponentsists, however, are unlikely to cede the term “Intelligent Design”, and so I’d recommend Gene using some other terminology – and will make a suggestion or two once we’ve considered his argument in all its aspects.

The question of life’s origins and the origin of the “Universal Optimal Code” that drives it and makes it possible cannot be answered by the study of biological evolution. It is a question of chemistry, regardless whether it originated through natural processes or was artificially contrived. In relation to the subject of the code, as in the case of molecular machines, I find the same objection coming to mind. Optimized codes that we regularly encounter are the products of minds. In making an analogy between the genetic code and the codes humans produce, isn’t Gene once again reversing the order of the analogy? The genetic code is the basis of life, and life is the basis of mind, and mind gives rise to communication and code-making. Our contrived codes resemble the basic stuff of which we are made. This is interesting, certainly, but how significant is it as evidence that life might be highly advanced nanotechnology (p.43)?

If Intelligent Design is a philosophical rather than a scientific hypothesis, then there are philosophical issues that cannot be avoided. While it may be a fair point to state that we can recognize design without being able to precisely identify or describe the designer, there is a sense in which appeal to design is an unsatisfying solution to the question of life’s origin. If life was designed by a mind, it must further be observed that the minds that we know of are based in precisely the genetic code for which design is being claimed. If one appeals to something as an explanation that depends on the thing being explained, then we end up reasoning in a circle, or in an infinite regress. Alternatively, we end up putting the cart before the horse, as it were. Since mind arises from life that is based in the genetic code, to claim that the genetic code is a product of mind seems akin to claiming that protons are a product of chemistry.

None of the aforementioned points is definitive. After all, sooner or later we get back to something that simply exists. Perhaps it will turn out that life, mind, design somehow does give rise to the same, in infinite regress or ending in some cause with these same features that simply is. There is nothing that is inappropriate, unprecedented or foolish about such notions – indeed, they have a long and respected history in philosophy, and in the context of that field of human thought and inquiry continue to be discussed and debated seriously. Furthermore, considered philosophically, it becomes clear that both teleological and non-teleological views of life ultimately are connected with teleological and non-teleological views of the nature of the universe and of existence itself. If it turns out that the genetic code at the basis of life can be demonstrated to arise through natural processes, this will simply push the design hypothesis back a step further for many, to a designer who “fine tunes” the laws of physics in order to produce a universe ideally suited for life to come into existence and flourish. In that case, talk of “God” is less controversial, since physicists and cosmologists are already aware that there are questions that arise from their field of investigation that lead to unanswerable mysteries. In a sense, then, if Gene is right to suggest that the genetic code indicates design, then we have in it a direct pointer to a deep mystery about our existence. If, on the other hand, a natural explanation for the rise of the genetic code can be offered, then this will simply make it an indirect pointer to the same mystery. Ultimately, the scientific data leads us beyond science to philosophical and metaphysical questions and speculations. But whereas in cosmology we are dealing with a field that leads into potentially unanswerable questions, in the case of the chemistry and code of life, it is by no means implausible that science may indeed offer a natural explanation of the processes involved. This is a fundamental difference between these fields, and presumably the reason why talk of “God” or “fine tuning” in cosmology upsets fewer specialists in that field than does the use of similar language in connection with biology.

Gene, it must be emphasized, does not favor science ceasing to investigate and seek explanations for phenomena. If we do not investigate fully the possible routes by which the genetic code could have appeared via natural processes, we may jump to the wrong conclusion, as thinkers have at times done in the past in relation to larger-scale biological structures. Yet even the long-term failure of science to explain how life arose could never prove that explanation in such terms is impossible. It may be that at some point we may feel that we have explored every conceivable scientific scenario. Even so, it may be that some natural process as yet unknown may have been involved, or that our life was designed by beings who exist because of natural processes on their planet which are not mirrored on ours. The scientific explanation of life’s origins in natural terms, or the failure to discover such an explanation, can change only what seems to us most probable. But as is emphasized by many theologians who are opponents of the majority understanding of “Intelligent Design”, the question of teleology is not about whether natural processes were involved that can be scientifically explicated. Design may be present as well as, rather than instead of, a scientific explanation.

Returning to Gene’s argument, his focus on molecular machines may resemble Michael Behe’s, but there are important differences. Gene’s design inference takes seriously the fact that previous design arguments were fooled by “designoid” organs. He states, however, that “Every feature that distinguishes a living organism from a machine fails to distinguish a molecular machine from other machines” (p.102). Yet this is difficult terrain to argue about, since unlike large-scale machines with which Paley and others made analogies, molecular machines can only be made from molecules, which are the same whether they arise naturally (if indeed they can) or are constructed artificially.

In part 3, Gene focuses much attention on the idea of “front-loaded evolution” (see e.g. pp.147-148), and it may be that this (rather than “intelligent design”) might be an appropriate label for his viewpoint, to distinguish it from others who have been criticized for fallacies that Gene does not appear to be guilty of. Using the analogy of the classic ‘duck-rabbit’ image, he suggests that the same data may be open to interpretation in two ways. Once again, Gene is not exploring an alternative to evolution, but the possibility that the original genetic code may have been designed in such a way as to make the appearance of certain outcomes later on more likely. In making this suggestion, Gene takes into account the recent work in evo-devo (evolutionary developmental biology) which shows how the same tool kit is reused throughout evolutionary history, with the same genes that exist in very simple organs being put to remarkable and impressive new uses in later evolutionary history.

One problem with this suggestion is that it seems both too risky and unnecessary. Genetic mutation seems to explore so many possibilities that it seems that even without front-loading, one might get equally complex organisms out of the mix. Moreover, it seems that the same case could be made from either sort of evidence – the ability of complexity to arise even though the first genetic sequence didn’t prepare for it could impress one as superb design, just as could the presence of genetic sequences in the earliest genome that would be put to important uses later on (see p.172). Heads I win, tails you lose. I also wondered whether a designer might not take delight in watching life explore its manifold possibilities, rather than stacking the deck in favor of a specific sort of outcome. Indeed, one other name for Gene’s point of view could be “stacked deckism” (or perhaps the less colorful “evolutionary design” or “molecular design”). That Gene’s view is different from that of other design proponents is made clear when he writes “Design can now come in two forms – the direct intervention comparable to human engineers in action and the indirect expression of such design through the medium of evolution” (p.179).

As we enter the fourth and final section of the book, Gene’s honesty continues to be impressive. He offers an honest assessment of evidence, nowhere more impressively than in assessing Behe’s claims about irreducible complexity. His discussion of the possible evolutionary explanations for such allegedly irreducibly complex phenomena appears to be fair, balanced, and accurate (pp.214-231). Although in the end he feels that the analogy of design retains its force, and that some of the proposed evolutionary accounts of the evolution of complex molecular machines through cooption of existing parts seem rather ad hoc, at no point does he try to pretend evidence is not there or cannot be interpreted in the way mainstream scientists suggest. His point continues to be that the analogy of design retains its force and, when added to the evolutionary scenario at the point of genetic origins, makes for a more plausible scenario.

It all boils down to the degree of certainty one feels one can have, based on the evidence, about design as an aspect of the explanation needed to account for existing phenomena. Gene’s focus is primarily on describing some of the phenomena that are relevant to the discussion, and to coming up with criteria whereby one can assess the evidence in relation to the question of design, in a way that facilitates conversation about the topic. His final chapter is about research and discussion questions, focusing in particular on analogy, discontinuity, rationality and foresight as characteristics of design. While one’s evaluation of the degree of analogy between human design and cellular molecular machines may differ, as this is not something objective (p.272), simply identifying the key points for discussion and proposing a scale for ranking are positive suggestions the book offers. He tests this “design matrix” on various artifacts and items, then applies it to the genetic code. Interestingly, he places the cut-off between the truly ambiguous and the apparently designed at the +2 marker, and on his own estimation the genetic code falls at +3, which is not that far over the border (pp.283-284). Here I found myself pondering what seems to be a characteristic of our universe more generally: its fine balance between order and chaos, which leads human beings to look at the same phenomena and see design or chance, contrivance or accident. If the proposed “design matrix” helps those with differing perceptions to have more fruitful conversations, that alone would justify the book’s publication and its value. This is all the more true because Gene himself acknowledges the limitations of what he offers: “It is important to again stress that the Design Matrix is not an objective, physical measurement that detects design. The Matrix is a scoring system and, as such, is ultimately subjective…Nevertheless, the Matrix focuses our thinking processes and helps clarify why people would and would not infer design in any particular instance” (p.286).

Other design proponents have (rightly) been accused of claiming scientists are ignorant about things that they understand or are working on understanding. Gene, to his credit, focuses his attention on things that are genuinely mysterious, on questions that are truly unanswered (p.288). Whether they are answerable in other terms is an open question, and one that must be fully explored. But Gene is not twisting evidence to make it seem to support a conclusion drawn in advance. For this he is to be applauded, and deserves to be taken seriously, even if in the end one draws a different conclusion than he does. For, unlike other design proponents, Gene invites you and encourages you to weigh the evidence for yourself and draw your own conclusion.

Gene has a site named for the book, as well as a blog. Unlike Uncommon Descent, different opinions seem welcome there. I encourage you to pay a visit and engage in conversation.

  • http://telicthoughts.com/ Joy

    Thanks for this review. It’s quite thorough, and highlights the aspects of Gene’s book I found most interesting.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01010178962574928062 Ian

    The problem with putting God at a specific point in the process (origin of genetic code, fiddling with the laws of physics, setting the universe in motion) is (a) is becomes yet another God-in-the-Gaps argument (there’s nothing to suggest that the origin of the genetic code is an intractable problem), and (b) it produces a small, and profoundly limited God.God-in-the-Gaps arguments ultimately hurt belief because they can be disproven. Setting aside whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, it’s ultimately a bad argument for God. It amounts to eating your seed grain.A limited, deistic God is ultimately uninteresting. We have shown that we can live quite happily without God. The difference between a non-existent God and one who only acts as if s/he is non-existent is trivial. Finally, the idea of front-loading doesn’t seem to make much sense. Assuming that there’s a single common ancestor, wouldn’t it need to have all the genes (or proto-genes) that all its descendants would have? Presumably, if species A gave rise to lineages B and C, A would have to have genes that B had but C lacked, and genes that C had but B lacked. If B and C had sister proteins (lets call them P(b) and P(c)), then A would have to have the genes for both P(b) and P(c), as would the very first living thing. If that were the case, then the gene trees for P(b) and P(c) would either point to divergence at the beginning at life (and so would the gene trees of all front-loaded genes) or you would need divine intervention to prevent mutation up until the point of divergence, after which the designer would choose to stop intervening. And that, as Douglas Adams (or rather, Ford Prefect) said, is the kind of person who puts bricks under hats (or hides behind bushes and jumps out and sayd “gotcha!” when you eat the apple; yes, I’m loosely paraphrasing from a book I haven’t re-read in a decade or more).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04995248485282697630 C. David Parsons

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  • Anonymous

    “A limited, deistic God is ultimately uninteresting. We have shown that we can live quite happily without God. The difference between a non-existent God and one who only acts as if s/he is non-existent is trivial.”If the difference is trivial, and we live quite happily either way, why does ‘well I say we can be just as happy as atheists’ matter at all? Sounds less like an observation, more like a plea.Besides, the point of MikeGene’s book isn’t to use God to solve any gap problem – in fact, MG goes out of his way to essentially discount the need for gaps with regards to God. It’s to argue for how a truly omnipotent God may have chosen to act with regards to creation – and why natural developments could and would be entirely in line with God’s action.After all, a deity doesn’t need any gaps – one could work through natural developments with just as much justification and effectiveness. And realizing that, it’s time we start asking ourselves if there’s any evidence for a rabbit around. ;)

  • elbogz

    I agree with Ian regarding the God of the Gaps part of his argument. But the point I was thinking about is if ID is true, and there is a designer, then why doesn’t the book written by the designer say so?The bible says, God spoke the universe into existence. To say God would have to think about it, the way a human would and design it, piece by piece, belittles who God is. Perhaps to God, speaking the universe into existence is no more a task than us ordering a coffee. We don’t need much design, we only need to know what we want. If you word search the bible, you will find that “design” or equivalent type words it is a concept related to man, and not to God. ID is creationism pure and simple. Or worse, ID is the God of the gaps. Each time we discover more things about our world, the God of the gaps gets smaller and smaller and smaller. It was not long ago we thought lightning was God striking down the unrighteous, but then Benjamin Franklin comes along and says, no, it’s just static electric discharge. The movement of the planets was a mystery, and only God could control it, but then we’ve learned that gravity can explain those lights in the sky.I’m opposed to ID, because it’s a lie. It’s a lie in the name of Jesus to get creationism taught in schools. I’m opposed to ID, because it belittles whom God is. I’m opposed to ID because, If God wished us to see the “proof” He wouldn’t have hidden it on the inside of a cell. He would have written it on each tree and each rock.We don’t need ID to explain a rock? No we have rules of science that does that just fine. We don’t need ID to explain a raindrop? We don’t need God to explain a cloud? No, we just need God to explain the inner workings of a cell With each new discovery, God gets smaller and smaller and smaller.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01010178962574928062 Ian

    If the difference is trivial, and we live quite happily either way, why does ‘well I say we can be just as happy as atheists’ matter at all? Sounds less like an observation, more like a plea.Not quite sure what you mean. What I was trying to say is that there’s no functional difference between “I am an atheist” and “I believe in a God who just set the world in motion and stepped back”. Saying “here’s a gap, let’s stick God in there” really doesn’t do anyone any good in the long run.the point of MikeGene’s book isn’t to use God to solve any gap problem – in fact, MG goes out of his way to essentially discount the need for gaps with regards to GodI haven’t read the book. But James writes:At this stage, he is merely seeking to show that it is plausible to attribute the origin of the genetic code to design…That’s a God-in-the-Gaps argument. The “gap” is our knowledge of the origin of the genetic code. Attributing anything to design “because we lack a better explanation” is God-in-the-Gaps. Only when you have stronger evidence for design than other causes is it a positive argument. But we can only do that when we have something with which to compare it. At this point in time we have no known examples of (divine) design with which to compare our putative example of (divine) design. Without that, it’s a matter of filling a gap…with God.It’s to argue for how a truly omnipotent God may have chosen to act with regards to creation – and why natural developments could and would be entirely in line with God’s action.After all, a deity doesn’t need any gaps – one could work through natural developments with just as much justification and effectiveness.Setting aside the paradox of a “truly omnipotent God”*, evidence of tinkering is the handiwork of a small God or a malevolent God. A small God might have no choice but to leave tool marks on his or her creation. A malevolent God might leave a few tantalising clues amidst overwhelming evidence to the contrary.*The idea of a “truly omnipotent God” in incompatible with Christian tradition and teaching, because even a self-limited God is limited, and thus not – or no longer – truly omnipotent.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03089281236217906531 Scott F

    I would agree that Gene has retreated to what he considers a safe “gap” from which he can inject God. He may appear nobly to accept all the criticisms of Beheistic ID but in the end he is just trying to shifting from blood-clotting to DNA. While one should ultimately acknowledge that certainty is not available and proof of a negative impossible, there are times when “I don’t know” is preferable to “it coulda happened!” I am reminded of people who give God the credit for recovery from cancer when a team consisting of hundreds of dedicated, educated and intelligent health professionals studied the cancer, developed treatments, detected the cancer early, and managed the treatment. When I point this out sometimes I get, “Well, maybe God created the doctors so that person could be healed.” Yeah, maybe.You should keep an open mind but not so open that your brain falls out.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03089281236217906531 Scott F

    Btw, is Mike Gene a pseudonym????

  • http://wondersforoyarsa.blogspot.com Wonders for Oyarsa

    Hi James,I’m so glad you liked Mike’s book – it is by far the best I have read on this entire debate. I too gave it high marks, though admittedly I am a little more friendly to ID then you are, it seems. It seems to me that the “God of the gaps” accusation is being made rather clumsily. One might say that any statement about God is “God of the gaps” in that we never have perfect knowledge of God, and thus God always has some element of the unknown. But Mike certainly avoids the genuine fallacy – that of using God as an explanation merely for areas we know little about. His theory is much more like a subtle understanding of providence, and thus is a “God of the process”.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14028120834167100615 Roger

    Not quite sure what you mean. What I was trying to say is that there’s no functional difference between “I am an atheist” and “I believe in a God who just set the world in motion and stepped back”. And then you inject ‘we have shown that we can live quite happily without God’. Forget that whether that’s an accurate assessment of the situation is a whole other argument – the point is that ‘Well, this view of God would lead to no distinguishing difference in regarding science than the view atheists have, therefore deists should be atheists’ is a plea, nothing more. If there really is no difference, perhaps atheists should be deists.The subtle point is that there really is a difference.Saying “here’s a gap, let’s stick God in there” really doesn’t do anyone any good in the long run.But the author isn’t doing that, and (as the reviewer, and others, have noted) has no need to do that. If the genetic code could be accounted for in a purely naturalistic manner, the suggestion towards design implications remains.Instead what’s happening is an evaluation of the (naturalistic, scientific) facts, and pondering whether those facts as they are can indicate anything about a designer who could have orchestrated them. This is no God of the Gaps – it’s an attempt to discern God where there really are no gaps.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07225890125470949454 Bad

    “Gene contrasts this deductive reasoning with an alternative Darwin might have tried, namely an attempt to prove design impossible. After showing the difficulty of making such a case to everyone’s satisfaction,”I hope he states it much more strongly than a mere difficulty, though if he did, I’d have a hard time seeing where he would be left to go from there.The problem is that as long as “design” includes “design by an unknown being of unknown capacity” then we cease to have an explanation, and have its opposite: an explain-all (i.e. something that is literally compatible with ANYTHING).Thus, saying that supernatural design is always an open possibility is really not to say much at all. If we have X feature to explain, then of course one of the philosophical possibilities for it is that it simply happened that way by the intervention of some force or being that can do things we’ve never heard of or discovered or which does not obey any known natural laws. But how is this substantively any different than simply saying that we don’t know how it happened?I think in this case, the word “design” is misleading. Design is a process we knew and understand from the very particular ways in which we design things. When we say that something is designed, we implicitly are providing some semblance of a function series of things that are happening, from conception to a particular execution. But the way ID has offered “design” piggybacks on that understanding in many way illegitimately. Front-loading is at least a bit more specific because it specifies some actual detail of “how” something was done. But I’d be curious to know if Mike covers the serious logistical problems with front loading in genetics: what you describe as his “same evidence different interpretation” seems a woefully incomplete summary of the issue.

  • http://wondersforoyarsa.blogspot.com Wonders for Oyarsa

    Hi Bad,Mike addresses all this and more in the book. He is quite clear about what sort of “design” he is assuming – a human-like intelligence. That is, the sort of thing we could see ourselves doing given a lot more experience and technological/scientific advancement than we currently have. I think this the most honest and fruitful sort of design hypothesis.Mike also does a good job of covering at least the basic considerations in how front-loading could be implemented logistically. It involves designing the essential cellular processes out of “template” genes that are meant to be repurposed for higher level tasks. That way you are assured your information will stay around for a long time (as losing one of these templates would kill the cell) but also be ready as soon as its needed in a key stage of evolution. In doing all this, Mike looks at it from the perspective of an engineering problem – how might we pull something like this off?

  • Anonymous

    Very nice review. You say that there is overwhelming evidence for common ancestry and evolution. Or at least you say that Gene doesn’t dispute that.So, could you list for me the 3-5 best examples of this based on your own knowledge? (in other words, don’t provide a link to some other website)

  • Anonymous

    James, you wrote:”(2) does not claim to offer proof of design,…”Science doesn’t deal in proof. Does Gene offer any evidence, and more importantly, does he have the integrity make any predictions?”(4) does not attempt to undermine or deal dishonestly with scientific arguments in order to win the less well informed to support ID…”That’s the opposite of what I’ve noticed him doing in multiple forms.

  • Anonymous

    That should be, “…integrity TO make any predictions.”As for the other anonymous, there’s no need to limit ourselves to 3-5 examples. There are literally tens of thousands of protein sequences that provide the evidence you are demanding.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Let me start with one, the one that leads Francisco Ayala to state that there are no longer any gaps in our knowledge about evolution. The genetic record, indicating the interrelatedness of all living things, is absolutely clear. The same sort of evidence that proves paternity in a court of law proves that all living things are related. Mike Gene gives some indication of this when he talks about the optimal universal code shared by almost all living things (and with the few exceptions appearing to be the result of mutations departing from this shared basis of life).The gaps in the fossil record are thus no longer the issue that they were. But add to the genetic evidence the paleontological finds like Tiktaalik, and you have as clear a case as one could hope for.I’d suggest for the third (or fourth or fifth) you ask a biologist or geneticist or paleontologist rather than a religion professor. My list so far is highly dependent on information I’ve got from reading what such experts have written. I’d recommdend going straight to a well-informed source, rather than someone like me who has his information second hand.

  • Anonymous

    James wrote:”The genetic record, indicating the interrelatedness of all living things, is absolutely clear…Mike Gene gives some indication of this when he talks about the optimal universal code shared by almost all living things (and with the few exceptions appearing to be the result of mutations departing from this shared basis of life).”Correct, which means that if Mike Gene is seeking the truth, he’ll hypothesize the time at which the frontloading occurred, and test the predictions of that hypothesis.He won’t. He’s afraid to, first for egotistical reasons and now for financial ones.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17986630130864617816 Wonders for Oyarsa

    “He won’t. He’s afraid to, first for egotistical reasons and now for financial ones.”I think we anonymous and pseudonymous commenters should keep the personal slander to a minimum.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05904417073935434187 Smokey

    So, if you’re so sure that the statement was “personal slander,” why don’t you direct us to Mike Gene’s empirical predictions, Wonders?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17986630130864617816 Wonders for Oyarsa

    Smokey,Mike does just that in his book: hypothesizes front-loading at the origin of life, proposes a mechanism for how it might work, outlines the sort of evidence one might look for, and plans future work for further investigation. The anonymous poster above assumed otherwise, and basically called Mike a greedy coward. In general, I think people are a little too free with personal attacks with the anonymity of the internet, and reminders of civility are often in order.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05904417073935434187 Smokey

    WfO wrote:”Mike does just that in his book: hypothesizes front-loading at the origin of life,…”We know that already. What EMPIRICAL predictions does his hypothesis make?”… proposes a mechanism for how it might work,…”You’re repeating yourself, apparently to deceive your readers, because hypotheses are about mechanisms. And what EMPIRICAL predictions does his hypothetical mechanism make?”… outlines the sort of evidence one might look for,…”You’re confirming that Mike Gene is afraid to make empirical predictions, which are about the evidence (not the interpretation of it) that one will find–not vapid weaseling about “the sort of evidence one might look for.””… and plans future work for further investigation.”More weasel words. What you need to show are the predictions. It’s simple. Why are you weaseling?”The anonymous poster above assumed otherwise,…”No, the anonymous poster did no such thing. The anonymous poster noted that Mike Gene had made no predictions, and you’ve confirmed it.”…and basically called Mike a greedy coward. “That’s precisely what I’d call someone who sells a book ostensibly about science, without offering a single empirical prediction. “In general, I think people are a little too free with personal attacks with the anonymity of the internet, and reminders of civility are often in order.”So, I’m still waiting for you to support your attack in claiming that pointing out that Mike Gene has made no empirical predictions as “personal slander,” Wonders.All you need to do is to quote one of Mike empirical predictions or retract and apologize for your personal attack.And remember, a prediction in this context is about what we will directly observe, not weaseling like “the sort of evidence one might look for,” “planning future work,” or “future investigation.” Do you think that you can take your political blinders off for long enough to see that this process keeps people far more honest than spinning data as other people publish them?Let me give you an example. The prion hypothesis (now a theory) is that prions are infectious proteins, and that nucleic acids are not involved. This hypothesis predicted that treatment of infectious material with nucleases will not cause a decrease in infectivity of the material.See? Simple, observational, and it started a process that eventually won its originator a Nobel Prize, except that he published no books, just hundreds of papers containing tests of his hypothesis.Mike Gene, OTOH, is an intellectual coward, as you’ve demonstrated.

  • Anonymous

    “So, I’m still waiting for you to support your attack in claiming that pointing out that Mike Gene has made no empirical predictions as “personal slander,” Wonders.”Read it again, Smokey. Wonders wasn’t labeling the allegation that “Mike Gene has made no empirical predictions” as “personal slander.” Rather, he was labeling the allegation that “He’s afraid to, first for egotistical reasons and now for financial ones” as slander.And now, I must say, your own allegation that Mike Gene “is an intellectual coward” seems rather snide and taunting to me. Is anyone and everyone who “makes no empirical predictions” an “intellectual coward?” Please state the evidence supporting the allegation that Mike Gene is “afraid to” provide evidence “for egotistical reasons” or for “financial ones.”Why turn this rather pleasant review of Mike Gene’s book into an occasion for character assassination? This, to me, is evidence supporting Mike’s preference for anonymity.


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