# Responding to Intelligent Design

There have been a lot of scientific responses to Intelligent Design. But it is important to articulate theological objections as well. The quote above is based on a comment I made here on this blog. The point is a simple one: Either God can create a universe that can organize itself, in which case the claim of ID fails; or God cannot create such a universe, in which case the proponent of ID ought to be asked to explain why they view God as limited in this way.

Here’s another version I made, in case someone prefers a different background:

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• Gary

Therefore, God is negative entropy, by definition. God, I wish there was a football game on TV. I’m relegated to watch golf on TV, or read blogs. I wish March Madness would start.

• Will

No, that does not hold up.

Entropy, whether positive or negative, is something defined mathematically. Here is the entropy equation: . It is defined by this equation, not by some intuitive “increase of disorder,” and it is also not a being. Negative entropy would not be the Necessary Being upon whom the 1st Cause and Modal Arguments conclude.

God may have created a state of negative entropy, and perhaps you could imply that by somehow combining the entropy equation with one of the various Big Bang equations. Even if true, however, that is different from your numerical identity claim that God “is” negative entropy, and I have already shown how that claim fails.

• Will

Please ignore the previous version of this reply. I had no idea the Website would automatically delete a copied-and-pasted equation.

No, your statement does not hold up.

Entropy, whether positive or negative, is something defined
mathematically. Here is the entropy equation: S=kB*Ln(W). It is defined by this equation, not by some intuitive “increase of disorder,” and it is also not a being. Negative entropy would not be the Necessary Being upon whom the 1st Cause and Modal Arguments conclude.

God may have created a state of negative entropy, and perhaps you could imply that by somehow combining the entropy equation with one of the various Big Bang equations. Even if true, however, that is different from your numerical identity claim that God “is” negative entropy, and I have already shown how that claim fails.

• Gary

“No, your statement does not hold up.” Yes it does. At least for me. I know what entropy is. Your W, # of microstates/# of macrostates. Math, or the entropy equation, is abstract and represents God to me. You may have a different interpretation of the abstract. Maybe an old man, with a white beard, floating on a cloud. I prefer entropy.
But whatever you are comfortable with, is OK with me. I just look at things a little differently.

• David Evans

As I understand it, W is the number of microstates which the system could be in, consistent with its macroscopic description. Negative entropy would mean that the number of possible states is less than 1. I can’t get my head around that. The number of possible states must be a natural number (1,2,3…) unless the description is impossible. In that case I suppose we could say that the number of possible states is zero, giving an entropy of minus infinity.

• Gary

When I say entropy being negative, I think the usual convention is to mean delta Δ entropy, that is entropy is decreasing. Whereas the usual condition is increasing entropy in a closed system, like the 2nd law of thermodynamics. So decreasing entropy in a closed system is an anomaly. I’ve never really dealt with static entropy. Anyway, an equation just represents something observed, or used to predict. So God as negative (decreasing) entropy means to me, order out of chaos. But it is all rather abstract. Correct me if I am wrong. But then again, anything used to visualize an abstract God is up for interpretation.

• David Evans

Yes, decreasing entropy would go well with God dividing the light from the dark and the land from the waters.

• Sean Garrigan

The sort of self-organization you describe is itself an example of intelligent design.

• http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

Not the sort of Intelligent Design that is promoted by the Discovery Institute, which actively tries to undermine attempts to understand biological features in terms of the processes we see at work in the universe. There is a good reason why many physicists invoke God and design and it isn’t felt to be antithetical to the scientific endeavor, while those who try to insert it into biology despite the evidence are viewed as seeking to undermine science.

• Sean Garrigan

Sorry, ID proponents argue for design because of the evidence, not despite the evidence, whereas scientists have admitted that intelligent causation is excluded as “a matter of principle”, and that they have no Darwinian accounts of the evolution of ANY biochemical or cellular system.

• http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

I am sure you believe that. But your final statement is simply false, and your earlier one is presumably what Paley and his supporters would have said in a bygone era: they claim design because of the evidence of the eye. But that episode illustrates that lack of current natural explanation for something does not constitute positive evidence for design of the sort that cdesign proponentsists promote.

• Me, who else.

I think this is an irrelevant way of putting the problem and a most unfortunate one.

There can’t be any theological objection to ID. And there can’t be any theological support for evolution. They are empirically equivalent scientifical theories and supernatural revelation is silent about them.

ID and evolution are totally irrelevant to theological matters because they are scientific hypothesis that have to be dealt only scientifically.

God could have used either way since He is a Free Agent.
Unless there is clear univocal Supernatural Revelation that He did it one way, rather than another, all you who try to summon up dissention in the body of Christ, are doing a great diservice to faith by unwarranted speculation.

Calm down with your invented objections, and let only the scientific arguments take their course.

• LorenHaas

Nonsense. Theological objections to ID are the only ones possible, since ID does not fall into the realm of science. Objecting to ID by appeals to science, as we have seen, are irrelevant being as ID is not science.

• Just Sayin’

If Dr. McGrath doesn’t supply theological objections, then the fence-post sitter will be demanding them, claiming that the science is just too complicated for him to figure out.

• Patrick

ID cannot be called a scientific theory, or even a hypothesis, simply for the fact it makes no testable predictions. It makes no predictions about phenomena that can be empirically measured. The only “evidence” ID ever claims are experiments that are not actually designed to test any ID hypothesis. At best, that kind of evidence is indirect and circumstantial.
Until an experiment can be designed that actually supports ID, it will be nothing more than philosophy/theology and can easily be discredited with similar objections.

• NeilBJ

Both ID and evolution are historical sciences. There is no experiment that can be constructed to directly verify either hypothesis. Of course, many investigations have revealed how complex life really is. The operations in the cell have been compared to the operations of complex computer programs. The cell contains a code that specifies the construction of proteins, that is, it contains information.
If someone were to describe the operations of the cell without revealing that he was talking about the cell (if that is even possible), the listener would come to no other conclusion that a designd system was being described.

• Patrick

Your first point is flat out wrong. Darwinian evolution has been shown to be true countless times. He had a small mountain of evidence already when he published Origin of Species, and that evidence has only grown exponentially since then, especially since the advent of genomic sequencing technology. Evolution by Natural Selection has been reproduced many times in many labs, and observed directly in the wild. Any claims that it cannot be experimentally verified show a complete lack of understanding of the facts of evolution or the principles of experimental design.
If you like, I can outline a simple experiment that tests Darwinian evolution. Can you come up with one that tests Intelligent Design?

Your second point is based on a highly over-simplistic model of how cells actually work. Sure the cell contains coded information in its DNA. The accessibility of that information can depend on factors like cell type, age, current metabolism, past metabolism, inflammatory state, or even environmental conditions from years ago. That information is transcribed on to RNA. How long this intermediary is functional depends on internal code elements, expression patterns of other RNAs (which depends on everything I mentioned for DNA, plus things like cell signaling and expression of transcription factors), the cell’s current fuel source, etc. Even when this code makes it to protein, there are many factors that dictate whether the protein actually does anything, sits around idly, or gets immediately degraded. If someone had consulted me about this kind of design, I would have suggested something simpler.
If cells are machines, they are the most messy, convoluted, counter-intuitive, overly complicated, inefficient, psychotically designed machines there are. The only way their design makes sense is if it started out simpler and added layers as environmental conditions changed and generated new challenges that needed to be overcome. Rather than start over, life could only add a new layer. After repeating this process for eons, cells reached the perplexing level of complexity we see today.

• NeilBJ

Evolution produced in the labs is “controlled” natural selection, but nevertheless is valid for understanding the processes at work and I will agree that evolution or rather micro-evolution has been observed in the field.

When I refer to evolution as a historical science I am, of course, referring to macro-evolution. I somehow don’t think that a one million year long experiment can be conducted in the lab.

I don’t know where the scientific community is at with respect to at least an outline of how a series of random variations can change one body plan into another.

I know David Berlinski has discussed the evolution of the whale and the some 50.000 changes ( a speculation to be sure) that are required to change a land mammal into a whale. I know there is one transition that challenges my thinking and that is the development of an underwater lactation system. There is no reason for it to evolve on land, but once the animal becomes ocean bound, it is too late for it to evolve, one would think.

Your observations about the messiness of the cell’s machinery are non-scientific arguments and do nothing to illuminate the discussion.

You do state the cell contains coded information. We do agree on that. That is a topic that needs to be discussed in more detail. Can the four fundamental forces of nature account for the creation of a code and the creation of the physical medium in which to implement it?

• Patrick

I would actually argue that the macro-evolution experiment you mention has been done. The results are called dogs. Think about the differences between all the different breeds of dogs. Now, admittedly, those breeds came about through selective breeding, thus representing the results of artificial selection rather than natural selection. Still, it does show how you can get very large changes in an animal population when certain traits are selected for, even when only over the course of a few centuries.
I’m not vastly familiar with the evolution of whales, but I recall hearing that they were originally land predators like wolves, whose descendants became amphibious, like otters. Later generations became primarily aquatic, like seals, before their descendants become fully aquatic. It didn’t happen in one fell swoop, but depending on their environmental conditions, the successive generations could easily have become more and more dependent on the ocean for food, which would have made returning to land increasingly more of a burden.
As to your four fundamental forces question, I would have to say yes, given enough time. Those four were sufficient to result in the earth, sun, and everything else. The laws of chemistry are all ultimately derived from them, and the laws of biology are ultimately consequences of the laws of chemistry, so I’m going to say yes.

• Patrick

By the way, what exactly is the conceptual difference between micro and macro-evolution? Micro-evolution experiments show how the genetics of a population changes in response to selective pressure. Comparative genomics has mapped out those differences in different species and created evolutionary family trees. Is it really that big a leap to think that two animals whose genomes are largely identical are related and got those differences the same way we see differences accumulate in small scale experiments?
Oh, and I’d still be interested in hearing what your design for an experimental test of ID would be. For sake of discussion, imagine you have unlimited time and resources.

• NeilBJ

One way to put it is that micro-evolution can be observed, the example being the change in the size finch beaks on the Galapagos Islands. Macro-evolution would involve major morphological changes such as the land mammal to whale transition. That obviously can’t be observed.

I don’t consider dogs an example of macro-evolution. Dogs are still dogs. True, there some significant morphological changes: shape of the snout for example. I somehow doubt that the changes that dog breeders get would occur naturally in the wild. It’s a case of intelligent selection versus natural selection.

The only tests that comes to mind for intelligent design are the tests that show that a random mutation has an extremely low probability of forming a new protein. I know Douglas Axe has performed such tests. Granted, this is not a definitive proof of intelligent design, but it sure casts doubt on Darwinian mechanisms.

Your question cannot be answered definitively for evolution either. What test can be performed to show that the land mammal to whale transition is possible? It would be interesting – but very tedious – to document all the morphological changes required, how many genetic changes are required to effect those changes, in what order and how fast those changes need to occur.

I still have a mental block. Here is an animal that is fat, dumb and happy on land and surviving quite well, supposedly and now just the right series of mutations comes along to gradually change the creature to adapt to the sea. Nothing is driving those changes – just one coin toss after another, so to speak. I just can’t wrap my mind around that.

• Patrick

If that’s the kind of proof you would need to see, then you’re right, that will never happen. Are you similarly skeptical of other slowly moving processes? Do you require similar evidence for plate tectonics or the ability of rivers to create canyons?

I was not implying that dogs represented an example of natural selection, but as an example of how genetic variations can accumulate over generations to generate substantial variation. Consider the differences between a Husky and a Chihuahua. Both breeds came from the same ancestor, and are still the same species, but are radically different from each other.

Your proposed experiment does nothing to test intelligent design. Nothing at all. At best, it shows something to be very improbable, which is completely consistent with evolutionary theory. Regardless, poking holes in an alternative theory does not actually make a hypothesis any more valid. You can say there are problems all you like, but until you propose an alternative that can be experimentally tested and produce a quantifiable result, you got nothing.
To be fair, the fact that ID depends on outside influence by unknown parties makes it impossible to be reproduced in the lab. Its only real hope of proof would be if some animal were discovered that had some trait that was only found in a completely unrelated animal. For instance, if a mammal with feathers or a lactating reptile were discovered, ID would be a far more likely possibility.

As far as your mental block goes, I can help with that. You’re assuming that the mammal is happy and surviving well. It could be facing some stiff competition from other animals, possibly even other members of its species. It may have hard time finding food on land, but if it goes down to beach, it might have better luck catching fish than it does rabbits, for example. It has kids. Some try to go back to hunting rabbits, others keep hunting fish. The ones that tried to go back to rabbits don’t have any better luck than their parents did, so they die. The fish hunters, though, do fine, because they don’t have any competition. Jump ahead a few generations and now there are lots of fish hunters. Now, the ones who are having the easier time are the ones who are naturally better swimmers, or the ones that can swim further from shore to expand their territory. Rinse, lather, and repeat long enough and you’ll get a generation that’s spending all its time in the water. It does depend on environmental conditions. If some disease killed off all the other rabbit hunters, those first parents might have been able to stop going after fish. But as competition for resources increases, the organisms that can best compete for them become the ones more likely to survive. Does that help at all?

• NeilBJ

You are telling me a just so story. You seem to be suggesting that an animal’s behavior encourages the right mutations to occur. I would say that is more indicative of intelligent design rather than random mutations.

Rather that tell me a just so story, provide an account of how a series genetic mutations can alter a body plan. I want something that goes beyond the random mutation and natural selection mantra and the superficial. I suspect that such information is not yet available, but until it is I will remain a skeptic.

As an aside, I am continually amazed and dumbfounded by what scientists have discovered so far. I am especially amazed by the animations showing how the DNA is unraveled and how the code in the DNA is used to specify the construction of protein.

I am interested in the history of life as a layman, and I have yet to see a comprehensive description of how evolution really works. If a random mutation merely creates a new protein – as improbable as that is – then that is like delivering a different brick to a construction site. It is bottom up design that I have learned from personal experience doesn’t work very well.

There must be epigenetic information somewhere in the organism that somehow coordinates all the processes that are necessary to build a body. It seems to me that it is that epigenetic information that must be modified to create a new body plan.

Your next assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to describe how the life cycle of the butterfly developed. There is no gradual growth from egg to adult. There is a radical transition along the way as you well know. This is not to mention how the monarch butterfly learned to navigate from all over North America to the mountains in Mexico, Other butterflies survive quite well with a long migration.

Then there is the arctic tern that flies from pole to pole and back again. Why does evolution create behaviors that seem so unnecessary for survival?

• Patrick

I see how you could get the impression that behavior encourages mutations from my whale example. That’s not what I meant, but I could have gone into more detail. Let me try again, with a little artistic license.
Let’s say 10 predatory mammals are born with short legs. It happens. Because they have short legs, they can’t run as fast as other members of their species, and therefore have a hard time catching prey on land. Two of these short legged animals, through simple trial and error, find that even though they have short legs, they can swim just fine (biomechanically, long legs tend to interfere with swimming). These two animals suddenly have a more reliable source of food, so they survive, while the other 8 short-leggers die of starvation. The two have four babies. Two try catching prey on land for food. They inherited short legs from their parents, so they don’t have much luck on land. That same trait, however, means that the two that continue to rely on fish for food survive. Now those two have four babies. Not only do these babies have short legs, but because of some mutation, two of them are hairless. Because of that mutation, they have less drag when they swim and can therefore catch more fish. So while the two hairy ones might be able to have another 4 babies, the hairless ones can spend less time fishing and more time mating, so they have 12 babies. At any point in time, one of these animals could try going back to hunting on land, but the fact that they have short legs means they will have a hard time competing against long legged competitors. Actually, let’s imagine that some disease wipes out all the prey that the long leg predators depend on. By trial and error, some of them could try catching fish the way the short-leggers did. When the long-leggers do this, however, they have to start competing with the hairless short-leggers, who because of their short leg, no hair mutations can swim twice as fast as the long-leggers. Because of this, it’s easier for them to get food and the long-leggers die of starvation. Now it’s just the hairless short-leggers around, and the only food available is fish because there’s no prey left on land. You can imagine how, once this becomes the only food source, mutations that result in bigger lungs could help with fish catching, but ones that result in smaller lungs will result in an animal who starves. One of these animals might have a mutation that results in no hind legs at all, which as previously mentioned, would actually make it a better swimmer. If one was born with longer legs, though, and there was still no food on land, it would have a harder time getting by and would probably starve.

I hope that’s enough detail to be a little more illuminating.

• NeilBJ

Unfortunately, your additional detail is not more illuminating. It is just more story telling that assumes evolution is true.

I do accept that natural selection works. How can I not? There is observable evidence for it. Yes, finch beaks get bigger and smaller depending on the size of the food that’s available.

For me the devil is in the details. I lack understanding about the basic programming of life. And it is my impression that this problem has not been solved yet. I have alluded to this in my previous post.

What exactly must change in order to produce an animal with shorter legs, for example. And that may be the simpler part of the problem, since we can breed dogs with long and short legs. There has been no fundamental change in morphology.

The problem gets more difficult if one pair of legs must develop into fins. With my limited knowledge, I see that the following must occur. Bones have to be redesigned. Muscles have to be reconfigured. Blood vessels have to rerouted. Nerves have to be rerouted. The brain has to be retrained to move flippers for swimming rather than legs for walking.

I hope you understand what I am trying to say with my simplistic description. I need more than the standard generic description of evolutionary change: mutations do this – mutations do that.

• Patrick

I understand what you’re saying, but that is way more information than can be fit into the comments section of an article. That’s probably more information than can be fit into a single college-level course.
The details you’re looking for have been worked out by scientists. I don’t know all of those details off hand, but I’m sure that information is out there, probably in the developmental biology field.
I do have to give you credit for being willing to admit the limits of your understanding on the subject. Most of the time, I just run into people with no clue what they’re talking about but who are completely convinced they’re right. It’s nice to discuss the subject with someone more reasonable and self-aware.

• http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

You’re in luck! There are thousands of peer-reviewed scientific articles by scientists documenting the process of evolution by natural selection. It would take you years to read them all (unlike the number of articles by ID proponents – which you could get through in less than a day).

• Patrick

I think your concept of how new proteins are made is missing a critical intermediate step. Mutations don’t create completely new proteins from scratch. What usually happens is that an entire gene, or part of a gene, gets duplicated during DNA replication. The original gene can be left intact by this process, leaving a cell with an extra copy of the gene. If that gene was something so essential that any mutation would kill the cell, this extra copy relieves that pressure. The copy is free to mutate without killing the cell because an essential function has been lost. The same principle applies to partial copies of a gene. The copy or partial copy might pick up additional information depend on where it gets copied to.

I’m not familiar with how butterflies evolved, and I’m not sure if it’s really known. With whales, we have fossils of the transitional species, so we have a better idea of how that happened, but there aren’t many insects in the fossil record. As far as terns go, I think their migration is because of seasonal differences in where they can find food and what places are safest for them to lay eggs. Again, not vastly familiar with them. My field is molecularly focused.

• \$41348855

There is a very easy way of testing the theory of intelligent design. The fossil record shows new species appearing consistently over hundreds of millions of years. Anatomically modern humans appeared about 200 thousand years ago. So we have no reason to think that the designer has been at work for all that time and suddenly stopped now. It would be reasonable to expect a completely new species to appear from nowhere in the present day.

In fact, ID has a big advantage over the theory of evolution. As you say, evolution is too slow to allow us to see major changes during our lifetime but that isn’t the case with ID. ID predicts very big changes which should happen immediately. So where are they?

• Patrick

Whoa now, are you actually suggesting ID is coherent enough to make predictions with measurable results? Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. You might be seeing order and consistency where none exist.
I’m trying to break myself of that habit myself. I blame my PhD program for it. I spend too much time trying to determine logical consequences of statements and designing experiments to test them that my brain can’t handle incoherent systems without trying to impose some level of sanity. Don’t assume it exists.

• \$41348855

I’m in two minds about this. The fact, for example, that all organisms use the same genetic code is clearly evidence for evolution. If it wasn’t the case then it would argue strongly against evolution. Creationists, of course, claim that that is how God would have designed things. So there are two “theories” claiming to explain the evidence. Normally, when we test a scientific theory we don’t do it by comparing it with an alternative supernatural explanation. If a scientific theory fits with the evidence and there is no *scientific* alternative then the theory succeeds. Evolution is the only theory that is challenged to defeat a supernatural competitor.

So I sympathise with your inclination to just dismiss ID. On the other hand, I do think that ID is testable in some ways. For example, we can imagine ourselves in the role of the designer and ask ourselves whether we would have done it that way. Would we have created the recurrent laryngeal nerve? And the answer is obviously no. So ID has shown that it can be tested by actually failing the test.

• Patrick

Oh, I completely agree that if living systems has been designed intelligently, they would make a lot more sense. I’m not familiar with the recurrent laryngeal nerve, but there are an absurd number of examples of poor design in biology. As King Alfonso the Wise once said “If the Lord Almighty had consulted me before embarking upon Creation, I would have suggested something simpler.”

While my above comment was certainly mocking, I was completely willing to evaluate it like any other scientific idea when I did my initial research into the subject. In my reading, however, I could not find any concepts that had the specificity necessary to qualify as scientific hypotheses. For instance, ID hinges on the idea of “irreducible complexity”, but I couldn’t find any scientifically meaningful definition of the term. For it to mean anything, a scientific term needs to describe something physical and measurable. After reading up on the subject, I reached the conclusion that ID ideas lack the specificity and coherence to scientifically describe anything physically observable, let alone make predictions, and therefore it is not a science.
My personal opinion is that no one wants ID well-defined enough to be proven, for then it could be disproved. So instead, they use rhetoric and analogy to confuse people who don’t understand evolution and cover up the fact that there’s no possible way to call ID a science, at least in its current form.

• \$41348855

“I reached the conclusion that ID ideas lack the specificity and coherence to scientifically describe anything physically observable, let alone make predictions, and therefore it is not a science.”

“no one wants ID well-defined enough to be proven, for then it could be disproved.”

I think those two quotes hit the nail on the head. I don’t know if you noticed a recent post that James did on the recurrent laryngeal nerve.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/2014/01/contracted-out-creation.html

• NeilBJ

There is also a very easy way to predict when a great artist will paint his next masterpiece. There is also a very easy way to predict when a great artist will decide he will paint no more.

• \$41348855

I think the point is that the proponents of ID want it to be seen as scientific. In that case, trying to understand ID in terms of the whims of an artist would be self-defeating.

By the way, in an earlier comment you said that you were interested in exploring the role of information in living creatures. Information seems to play a key role in the ideas of ID proponents but I’m not quite sure what their point is. You seemed to suggest that the presence of information in DNA is a mystery. I don’t think that it should be seen as mysterious. The answer is that information can flow from the environment into the gene pool.

You say that you accept micro-evolution, of the kind that we see in the Galapagos finches. So information about the environment – the size and hardness of the seeds etc. – can flow into the gene pool of the finches. The environment selects which genes in the finch gene pool will be passed on to future generations, so the environment is programming the gene pool of the finches – hence the idea of information flowing from the environment into the gene pool.

If you accept this example of evolution – and you have said that you do – then you must also accept this example of the transfer of information.

• NeilBJ

When talking about predicting the actions of artists, I was using irony in case you missed that.

We need to clear up the definition of information. I have been using “information” as it has been defined on Wikipedia:

“Information, in its most restricted technical sense, is a sequence of symbols that can be interpreted as a message. Information can be recorded as signs, or transmitted as signals. Information is any kind of event that affects the state of a dynamic system that can interpret the information.

“Conceptually, information is the message (utterance or expression) being conveyed. Therefore, in a general sense, information is “Knowledge communicated or received concerning a particular fact or circumstance”, or rather, information is an answer to a question.[citation needed] Information cannot be predicted and resolves uncertainty. The uncertainty of an event is measured by its probability of occurrence and is inversely proportional to that. The more uncertain an event, the more information is required to resolve uncertainty of that event. The amount of information is measured in bits. Example: information in one “fair” coin ﬂip: log2(2/1) = 1 bit, and in two fair coin flips is log2(4/1) = 2 bits.”

By that definition, the environment cannot transmit information, which is not to say there is no cause and effect relationship between the environment and something in the environment, e.g., when the temperature drops below 32 F, water will freeze. There was no sequence of symbols to cause that to happen.

There should be no question that at the core of life there is information: life depends on a sequence of symbols instantiated in amino acids. The sequence of amino acids specifies which of many proteins shall be built. The sequence of the symbols is the key; physical laws merely allow the system to work.

I would suggest that this system satisfies the definition of “irreducible complexity.” There are so many parts that must exist simultaneously for the whole system to do its job, it boggles the mind (my mind, at least.).

Furthermore, some time ago scientists determined that of all the possible codes that could be used, the optimum code was “chosen.” I’m not quite sure how optimality was determined, but this is certainly an interesting observation.

• \$41348855

Thanks for the reply. You said, “By that definition, the environment cannot transmit information..” We have already agreed that the kind of evolution we see in the Galapagos finches can occur. The genome of a finch contains information about the shape of its beak. And that information has got there through an unguided evolutionary process. So either we are justified in saying that information has flowed from the environment into the finch gene pool or we have to stop using the language of information in this case. In other words, the finch’s genome doesn’t contain information about the shape of its beak.

• NeilBJ

I am using the word “information” in the technical sense of the term as defined in Wikipedia:

“Information, in its most restricted technical sense, is a sequence of symbols that can be interpreted as a message. Information can be recorded as signs, or transmitted as signals. Information is any kind of event that affects the state of a dynamic system that can interpret the information.

“Conceptually, information is the message (utterance or expression) being conveyed. Therefore, in a general sense, information is “Knowledge communicated or received concerning a particular fact or circumstance”, or rather, information is an answer to a question.[citation needed] Information cannot be predicted and resolves uncertainty.

“The uncertainty of an event is measured by its probability of occurrence and is inversely proportional to that. The more uncertain an event, the more information is required to resolve uncertainty of that
event. The amount of information is measured in bits. Example: information in one “fair” coin ﬂip: log2(2/1) = 1 bit, and in two fair coin flips is log2(4/1) = 2 bits.”

There can be no question that living organisms contain information according to the technical definition of information. That information can be changed by random processes. A particular change can be detrimental, neutral or beneficial. If the change is beneficial, presumably the organism will have a better chance of survival.

No information is transmitted from the environment to the organism. Evolution is a trial and error process, wherein the random changes in the information in the organism keep testing the environment.

The fundamental question is is where did the information in the organism come from in the first place? Next, can enough random mutations occur in a reasonable amount of time to effect the morphological changes that are observed in nature?

The question for me is analogous to asking if random changes in the text of a book can bring about a completely new novel.

Until the fundamental question I have posed above is answered, I will remain a skeptic of the theory of evolution.

• \$41348855

Yes, on reflection I think I need to modifty my point. Information isn’t directly transmitted from the environment to the gene pool. Rather, the information undergoes a transformation. Information about, for example, the size and hardness of nuts is transformed into information about the shape of a finch’s beak. This transformation can be seen as a computational process. So evolution is a computational process whereby information from the environment is transformed into information stored in a gene pool.

Now the key question is whether this is really going on or whether this is just our way of looking at what’s going on. Are information and information processing in the eye of the beholder? The point is that we can explain how the genome comes to be the way it is in terms of natural processes, whether or not we regard it in terms of information.

• NeilBJ

Until we agree on a definition of information, then we cannot have a fruitful discussion. Where is the sequence of symbols in the environment? The DNA chain certainly contains a sequence of symbols beginning with the four nucleotides which, in groups of three, code for amino acids. The amino acids are also a sequence of symbols that specify the construction of a protein. Then we must consider that of all the infinitely possible sequences of amino acids only a small subset are used to specify the construction of proteins.

Furthermore, the many machines that are required to create new proteins are made of proteins themselves. Where did the first proteins come from to create the additional proteins?

I see an infinitesimally small probability that an entire genome can be created merely from the interaction of the laws of nature. If there is paper that answers this problem, please direct me to it.

• \$41348855

Neil, you do realise that defining information is a very tricky business. Consider the definition that you cited, “Information is a sequence of symbols that can be interpreted as a message.” So is a sequence of mRNA a message that the ribosome interprets? Or is it the case that all the atoms in the ribosome are arranged in such a way that when it encounters a strand of mRNA it adds a certain amino acid to a chain in a blind mechanical fashion? Are we the ones who are interpreting what goes on in terms of a message being read?

What if the elaborate machinery that “reads the message” didn’t exist? In that case the mRNA sequence would no longer be a message; it would just be a collection of atoms. So whether or not it is a message depends on the context.

To return to the example of the evolution of the finch’s beak: we have agreed that this can be explained in terms of Darwin’s theory. Now what if you say,”OK, you have explained how the beak evolved, but you haven’t explained how the information got into the genome.”

This would miss the point. Once you have explained how this example of evolution occurred there isn’t anything left over that needs to be explained. The explanation that might be given in terms of information is just an interpretation of what we already know.

• NeilBJ

Superficially, the change in the size of the finch’s beak has been explained, but since when does a scientist stop there? I would want to know what changes in the genome occurred so that I could have a full understanding of the process. In other words, how was the information in the genome changed to build a larger or smaller beak?

The only time defining information is a tricky business is because of the implications information has for the theory of evolution. What is even more astounding is the discovery that the genome uses two meanings simultaneously. Some codons, called duons, affect both protein sequence and gene control.

As a retired logic design engineer, I see no fundamental difference between the truth tables I have constructed and the truth table that shows how the four nucleotides grouped in combinations of the three to specify amino acids. Information is information!

• \$41348855

If we couldn’t explain what was happening at the genetic level then it would be entirely unsatisfactory. You are right about that. Remember that when Darwin formulated his theory there was no understanding of genetics. But we do have that understanding now. When you ask how the information in the genome changed to build a bigger or smaller beak the answer is the standard one in evolutionary theory. Certain mutations occur in a population of birds. Some mutations cause a beak to become bigger. This enables the birds with the mutation to eat a kind of seed that others can’t eat. As a result those birds are more likely to survive and pass on the mutation to their offspring. And as a result of that the mutation spreads through the population.

If you are asking how the mutation affects the size of the beak then this leads to a new field called evolutionary developmental biology – evo devo for short. This kind of detailed understanding is only just emerging. An interesting book on this subject is “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” by Sean Carroll. People working in this field wouldn’t have to know anything about information theory.

I repeat my earlier point: if they can tell you what is happening at the molecular level you don’t say to them, “Ah, but now tell me what’s happening in terms of information.” As an expert in the field, you should be explaining it to them!

• NeilBJ

We have finally reached a point of agreement. Until the molecular mechanisms of morphological change are finally understood, there will be no complete theory of evolution.

Even then, the more difficult problem remains. How did the machinery of life come into existence in the first place? All that was available were atoms and forces. How clever those atoms and forces must have been to create the machinery of life!

Materialists will be dragged kicking and screaming to the conclusion that life indeed is the result of intelligent design.

I will make this my last post by saying that I have great respect for the scientists who put in the long hours and dedication to uncover the microscopic mechanisms of life. I would hope that debates would proceed as ours has. We have fundamental disagreements to be sure,
but there have been no ad hominems. Ad hominems will never solve the tough problems in this or any other discussion..

• MattB

I am a Theistic Evolutionist

• Zarquon5

Huh, a theistic evolutionist, I’ll be jiggered. So you accept the evidential position of evolutionary scientists and then you make a leap of Faith over the matter of whether there was a Deity involved. Are there any Atheist Creationists on here?

• MattB

My objection is not scientific but philosophical. To claim that Theistic Evolution is a contradiction, would be a huge mistake on your part.

• Zarquon5

Well, if it’s not scientific then who cares? You have a philosophical justification for Theistic Evolution, good for you. But it’s just going to be a rhetorical flourish isn’t it? Anyway, it is a contradiction. If God set Evolution in motion, as opposed to using Intelligent Design, then where did what he was setting in motion come from? Oh look, says God, here’s a bunch of stuff I could set in motion, I didn’t create it, but setting it in motion is better than nothing! Or even if he did create everything except the processes of Evolution, and then set only the processes of Evolution in motion(why would he bother having gone that far) then Creationism is still happening to the extent of everything that’s not Evolution and you’ll have cosmologists as opposed to biological scientists to contend with. Or, if Evolution is true but God set it in motion, that still doesn’t solve the problem of where God came from. Did he evolve? Was he created? Which of the thousands of the different Gods is he, seeing as so many religions have a Creation myth for their followers to get disillusioned with? Or could it be that there very probably is no God? http://www.atheist-experience.com

• MattB

“Well, if it’s not scientific then who cares? You have a philosophical justification for Theistic Evolution, good for you. But it’s just going to be a rhetorical flourish isn’t it? Anyway, it is a contradiction.”

It is scientific because I’m not denying the evidence or that it happened. I”m simply disagreeing with you on philosophical grounds. If your going to disagree with me, then you have to give a philosophical argument, not a scientific argument.

“If God set Evolution in motion, as opposed to using Intelligent Design, then where did what he was setting in motion come from? Oh look, says God, here’s a bunch of stuff I could set in motion, I didn’t create it, but setting it in motion is better than nothing! Or even if he did create everything except the processes of Evolution, and then set only the processes of Evolution in motion(why would he bother having gone that far) then Creationism is still happening to the extent of everything that’s not Evolution and you’ll have cosmologists as opposed to biological scientists to contend with.”

Your argument is really not an argument against the existence of God. How do you know what process an all-powerful being will choose to create? Are you saying that God can’t use evolution? How would you know that unless you’re God?

“Or, if Evolution is true but God set it in motion, that still doesn’t solve the problem of where God came from. Did he evolve? Was he created? Which of the thousands of the different Gods is he, seeing as so many religions have a Creation myth for their followers to get disillusioned with? Or could it be that there very probably is no God? http://www.atheist-experience.com

God by definition is the uncreated creator of the universe, so the question ‘Who created God?’ is illogical, just like ‘To whom is the bachelor married?’

• Zarquon5

I did give you a philosophical argument, it was reductio ad absurdum. This thing you have about needing a philosophical argument from me not a scientific one, I don’t buy that. I think that’s just moving the goal posts because you know that with a scientific argument you’re nowhere, but with a philosophical argument you can claim any airy-fairy stuff. So your position is sturdy only to the extent that you can distract people from how little real support there is for it.
I’m not saying I know what process an all powerful being would choose. I’m saying the idea of an all-powerful being sounds stupid and you should back it up with some evidence rather than just plonk it on the table and expect a round of applause.
Asserting something doesn’t prove it. Prove God is the uncreated creator of the universe. Hell, prove God. Besides, saying “God didn’t create life he just set Evolution in motion” is pretty much the same as Creationism, since at some point back in time you are still visualising the Guy with the Beard hunched over the world conferring his magic touch, it’s no less laughable. So I don’t get or accept your Theistic Evolutionism; if someone’s smart enough to be embarrassed by Creationism then the concept of a God should make them pause for thought too.
Still, why waste your time on me? Call in to the Atheist Experience sometime. Who knows, your shtick might be something they haven’t already heard a million times.

• MattB

“I did give you a philosophical argument, it was reductio ad absurdum. This thing you have about needing a philosophical argument from me not a scientific one, you see, I don’t buy that. I think that’s just moving the goal posts because you know that with a scientific argument you’re nowhere, but with a philosophical argument you can claim any airy-fairy stuff. So your position is sturdy only to the extent that you can distract people from how little real support there is for it. So your position is sturdy only to the extent that you can distract people from how little real support there is for it.”

The reason I asked you for a philosophical argument instead of a scientific argument, was because we both agree with the science. We wouldn’t get anywhere in our conversation. We both agree that evolution happened, there’s no point in arguing about that. But what we disagree is what caused it to happen. That’s the focal point of our conversation. In what way is there “little support for it?”

“I’m not saying I know what process an all powerful being would choose. I’m saying the idea of an all-powerful being sounds stupid and you should back it up with some evidence rather than just plonk it on the table and expect a round of applause.Asserting something doesn’t prove it. Prove God is the uncreated creator of the universe. Hell, prove God. Besides, saying “God didn’t create life he just set Evolution in motion” is pretty much the same as Creationism, since at some point back in time you are still visualising the Guy with the Beard hunched over the world conferring his magic touch, it’s no less laughable. So I don’t get or accept your Theistic Evolutionism; if you’re smart enough to be embarrassed by Creationism then the concept of a God should make you pause for thought too”

Saying an all powerful being sounds stupid is not an argument. You need to show how God is illogical. I believe God exists because he has revealed himself through his son Jesus. Creationism is the idea that the earth is 6-10,000 years old, which I do not believe. Therefore, you have misplaced me in the wrong category.

“Still, why waste your time on little ol’ me? Call in to the Atheist Experience sometime. Who knows, your shtick might be something they haven’t already heard a million times.”

Why would I waste my time on a cable-acess show who thinks Jesus never existed?

• Zarquon5

Oh, we disagree on what caused science. Because you think there’s something other than science and I don’t.
It seems we have different standards of evidence before we start believing things.
And it’s the Christian God you put in charge of the universe. Why that God in particular?
Why waste your time on that show? You’re happy to tell me I’m wrong, why not them? Confidently bring your message of Theistic Evolution to more people. And that’s not the purpose of the show; it puts across the Atheist position in a media saturated with Christian shows. Thanks to TAE, people wrestling with losing their faith feel less alone.

• MattB

Because the Judeo-Christian God is the only God proved himelf to humanity.

It would be a waste of my time talking to Matt Dillahunty since he doesn’t care about evidence. Besides, why would I go on a show that only gives callers a few minutes to debate, in order to mock and ridicule them? I would rather debate Matt Dillahunty in a real debate, in front of real people.

• Zarquon5

“The Judeo-Christian God is the only God [that] proved himself to humanity” Well, if you don’t believe that you’re not a Christian. And that’s the point; it’s taken on Faith, not proof, that God proved something.

• MattB

I take that on evidence as to what Christ did.

• Zarquon5

It’s a great story but it’s only a story.

• MattB

No, it actually happened

• Zarquon5

Prove it.

• MattB

The Burial. The Empty Tomb. The post-resurrection apperances of Jesus, are historically verifiable. Also, Jesus’ resurrection verifies his claims to divinity.

• Zarquon5

Are they? Where are they verified? The Bible says in Matthew 27:52 that a whole load of dead people arose from their tombs and walked into town. Isn’t it odd that nobody else, like the many historians working at the time, noticed that happening and considered it noteworthy? No, it’s only in the handbook of the Christian fanclub.

• MattB

It’s still not clear whether Matthew 27:52 is meant ot be read literally or metaphorically. But that in of itself isn’t proof that the resurrection didn’t happen. The narratives for each account of Jesus after his death are subtle and pretty straightforward. I would understand if you objected to the women finding angels at Jesus’ tomb, but I couldn’t see how you could object to women discovering the tomb being found empty or the fact that Jesus’ body was missing. Also, the apperances of Jesus to his followers and skeptics contain historical information.

• Zarquon5

I object to you asserting that stuff is historical information instead of demonstrating that it is. A transcribed oral history is likely to be full of whimsy. Especially when it was done in an age of low standards.

• MattB

That’s not the case with the resurrection/passion narratives of Jesus. These are early and multiply attested sources that go back to 1-20 years after Jesus’ death.

• Zarquon5

You are asserting it. If they are early and multiply attested sources, then you will have to prove that they are. Otherwise it’s just circular: It’s true because it’s in the Bible, and everything in the Bible is True because it says in the Bible that everything in the Bible is True.
Flavius Josephus, for instance, wrote a lot about Herod being mean. He didn’t write anything about Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, though. Which suggests that that was made up.
There’s “his” record of Pilate’s trial of Jesus. The forged bit.

• MattB

Each gospel’s narrative for Jesus burial/empty tomb is different, which means their sources are different, thus making them independent. If they were dependent on each other then we should expect them to be the exact same.

We don’t have records of Pilate’s trials, nor almost any Roman authorities trials from the 1st century. What makes you think we should expect to find a lot of records in Jesus’ day when much of the 1st century records are lost?

• Zarquon5

Nevertheless, the big fuss you would expect over Jesus doesn’t hit the historians working at the time. That’s 39 historians.

• Zarquon5

They are independent. Whether they are independent about a real event, or just independent about memorialising a tradition is the point.
I was talking about Josephus since the “Testimonium Flavianum” talks about Jesus being hauled before Pilate. Then you find out that that part of Josephus was forged. There were scholars who viciously argued for Jesus, at a time when the original Josephus manuscript was available. That’s how we know it was forged; the scholars could have used that part of Josephus’s work but they never did. They couldn’t, since the forging was added after their time by an editor.

• MattB

They are independent about an historical event because the NT is a historical document. That’s what the Criterion of Multiple Attestation is. It’s basically source criticism that it used for any ancient document to verify an event.

The first mention of Jesus by Josephus is partially forged but not wholly forged. Josephus said something about Jesus including his execution under Pilate and his followers that stayed with him. But it wasn’t till later on did a Christian scribe add other stuff to it(Like calling Jesus the Messiah). It is not wholly forged as you say

• Zarquon5

As I say, if Josephus wasn’t forged the scholars of his day would have used him as a source in their pro-Jesus arguments.
And why do believers always end up saying “You have to have faith”, if it’s all proven? Multiple attestation is one thing, but this is multiple attestation of the downright absurd. The Salem Witch Trials were multiple attestation; mass hysteria, everyone jumping on the bandwagon. It doesn’t make witches real.

• MattB

It’s apparent you don’t understand how history works or how historians arrive at their conclusions. Your argument from silence is a non-sequitir. What makes you think the scholars of his day used him at all? The point is that we have independent records from secular historians(Tacitus, Josephus, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger,etc.) That didn’t get their information from Christians but from non-Christians. The Gospel sources didn’t rely on each other in certain instances about certain things. This makes an event more probable than not. Your analogy with the Salem Witch Trials is a red-herring and not at all analgous to the documents for Jesus of Nazareth’s existence.

• Zarquon5

Well, it’s the argument the proper historians use. Which you would already know, since you claim better knowledge of proper historians than I have.
Here you go, it’s number 9 under “Arguments that the Testimonium is spurious”:
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/testimonium.html
Tacitus doesn’t say Jesus was God, does he? Nor does Pliny. Or Seutonius. They record that the faith existed, they don’t record that it was true. The bit that says that is the forged bit in Josephus.
You don’t say how Salem was a red herring.

• MattB

That’s not what the consensus of historians/scholars think. Scholars agree that the TF contains infomration about Jesus execution by Pilate and the movement that followed after his death. But then it was later reworked by a Christian hand. They don’t think the entire passage was forged. And second, there is another TF that mentions Jesus brother James being executed and that is wholly authentic which no historian disputes.

Why must Tacits Plin or Seutonius record the Resurrection? The resurrection narratives are early and based on historical fact.

Salem is a bad analogy because you tried to argue that it was multiply attested but misused the meaning of mutliple attestation.

• Zarquon5

That Jesus had a brother should tell you something about Mary and miraculous conception.
I did not misuse the meaning of multiple attestation. Here is someone using the phrase the same way with UFOs instead of Salem as the analogy: http://vridar.org/2011/04/17/multiple-attestation-and-the-usual-straw-man-polemics-from-a-certain-blogger
And you’ve jumped from Salem being a red herring to semantics over multiple attestation. You could have said that in the first place.
I am not prepared to go on with this. You are obfuscating, it is as clear as day that you are.

• Zarquon5

The historians of the day didn’t join in that multiple attestation.

• Patrick

How are you making any less of a leap of faith by accepting there wasn’t a Deity involved? There’s no evidence one way or the other about the existence or non-existence of the Divine before the beginning of the universe. How could there be? The only thing a good scientist can do is admit that such a question is beyond the scope of science to answer.
In the absence of any scientific data on the conditions of the pre-universe, anyone’s guess is as scientific as anyone else’s.

• Zarquon5

It is not a leap of Faith to say a Deity was not involved. There’s no evidence of a Deity being involved and so I’m left with the position that a Deity wasn’t involved.

• Zarquon5

Well, evolution is genuinely useful. I’d call that verification. It’s led to great leaps forward in medicine, genetics, epidemiology, palaeontology of course and, surprisingly, computer science(evolutionary algorithms are used to write software). Intelligent Design is good for what? Just teaching you to make tedious Powerpoint presentations, it seems. Can a bunch of Intelligent Design “scientists” sit in a room and pray a giraffe into existence?

• Amanda

I am in agreement that ID is not a scientific theory simply because it can’t be tested or proven. Unfortunately, there is not enough evidence to back up the theory for the public school system to teach it as a subject in science class. I think ID has more to do with faith than science and would probably be best taught in a private school where creationism is welcomed.

• David Evans

I think your dichotomy is too simple. There is a wide gap between

(i) a universe capable of self-organization leading to some kind of life

and

(ii) a universe certain to produce intelligent life

In view of quantum mechanics and chaos theory, (ii) may be impossible even in principle. It may be that a degree of tinkering is required to be certain of producing intelligent life.

• Sean Garrigan

Additionally, Stephen Meyer has considered the self-organization models and found that none of them have panned out. One must simply have faith that Darwinism can do the work attributed to it.

• David Evans

I’m not impressed by what I’ve seen of Meyer’s work. Do you have a specific example we can discuss?

• http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

Stephen Meyer is a philosopher, not a scientist, and his books have been completely discredited by the top biologists in the field.

• Just Sayin’

I don’t get the impression that he is rated very highly by philosophers either.

• http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

You’ve got that right.

• Jerry Wilson

In view of the multiverse theories, option ii is in fact the case. Not only does our universe contain intelligent life, but there are an infinite number of other universes that also contain intelligent life. In fact, there are an infinite number of universe IDENTICAL to the one we live in plus an infinite number of universes that each differ in some way. It’s mind-boggling to think that I am sitting at my computer at 2:26 PM typing this same message in an infinite number of other universes. But that’s what the math leads to.

• David Evans

Have you by any chance been reading Max Tegmark’s The Mathematical Universe? According to him that’s only the start of the infinities we have to consider. Very stimulating but, as you say, mind-boggling.

And I suppose we have to consider that God might not have chosen to make an infinite universe, given the complications it leads to. A universe small enough to ensure there was only one copy of you could still be much larger than we can ever observe.

• http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship Censored

Theology has become nitpicking over the significance and breadth of teleology.

• http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

Would any ID proponents object that God could create a self-organizing universe?

• http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

It seems to be the implication of their saying that the features we find in biological organisms could not have come about that way, does it not?

• http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

I think maybe what I’m resisting a little bit is the word “could.”

If we’re talking about God’s freedom and power, I doubt you’d find a YEC who would want to limit either. I think if you really clarified terms and pushed them, they’d be forced to admit that God can do anything God wants to do – including creating a world where biological evolution occurs, the universe self organizes, and so on.

I think what they’d say in response is not that God couldn’t do that, but that God didn’t do that (and we know that because of Genesis 1, etc., etc.).

Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re really great questions. I do think that YEC’ers have a way out of them if they really want one is all.

• http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

It’s the ID crowd (as opposed to the YEC’ers) who have already, to a degree, put aside a literally view of the Genesis creation account. They are the ones who are trying to limit God.

Their arguments for ID are entirely negative. They are trying to prove the existence of “Intelligent Design” entirely by trying to convince us that evolution could not produce structures that they call designed. They really show no evidence of design, they only think they are showing evidence of the lack of evolution.

• http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

There is always a way out if one is willing to posit arbitrary ad hoc things to attempt to explain away difficulties. The most we can do is point out the arbitrariness of such responses.

• NeilBJ

If you think the ID crowd is trying to prove the existence of ID by negative arguments about evolution, then you have either misunderstood their arguments or have only read the comments of detractors.
Cells are in reality complex computational systems that use information to construct the building blocks of life. Even Richard Dawkins admits that cells look designed. If cells look designed, is it beyond the realm of possibility that they are, in fact, designed?
It may be that some day evolution will turn out to be the better explanation for the history of life, but from what I see right now, intelligent design is the better explanation.

• http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

I don’t “think” the ID crowd is trying to prove the existence of ID by negative arguments; I know it. Have you read “Darwin’s Doubt”? “Signature in the Cell”? “Darwin’s Black Box”? These books are entirely composed of arguments against evolution! (Arguments based on faulty premises, and flawed, meaningless notions such as “specified complexity” and “irreducible complexity”.)

Apparently, though, you are the one who misunderstands arguments, You seem to be able to quote Dawkins on the the appearance of design, but missed his volumes on the evolution of life, and how that appearance occurs.

• NeilBJ

Of course, you cannot demonstrate the validity of ID by using negative arguments against evolution, but you can certainly point out where the theory of evolution is inadequate.

If the theory of evolution were fully explained then that would be the end of the discussion. Even many evolutions have doubts about the theory.

First, I would say this. Nothing in our uniform common experience would suggest that random processes can produce anything complex. This is not an argument; this is only a suggestion that we ought be to be very suspicious of a theory that depends on random processes as the primary factor in the theory. And don’t tell me that evolution is not random. What does random in the phrase random mutation and natural selection mean? Can scientists predict in advance whether any particular random mutation will survive in the next generation and eventually propagate through the population?

If there is description somewhere of how evolution really works, please direct me to it. A random variation produces a new protein. Many proteins have to organized into tissues. Tissues have to be organized into organs. Organs and tissues (and lots of other stuff) have to be organized into body plans. It seems to mean the random variation – whatever that is – has to somehow modify the plan that builds the body.

• http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

You can’t “point out where the theory of evolution is inadequate” by using subjective definitions of information that no mathematician recognizes, and by using completely debunked notions like “irreducible complexity” and “specified complexity” which depend on the same false definition of information.

Evolutionist don’t have “doubts about the theory” in the way you are describing. They may still be investigating the way that natural selection or self-organizing principles apply to specific biological systems. But that sort of experimental field science (you know, the sort that that Behe and Dembski never engage in) will never come to end. Just because we know how gravity works, doesn’t mean we have tested how it works in every planetary system in the galaxy.

“Nothing in our uniform common experience would suggest that random processes can produce anything complex”? That’s a completely false statement, as scientists constantly point out when dealing with ID pseudo science. The highly complex carbon atom (as well as all other elements) are produced through the random processes of gravity and fusion inside stars. Complex snowflakes, salts, diamonds, and countless other naturally occurring structures develop entirely through the random processes of crystallization. The ongoing emergence and sublimation of islands and continents on earth in our everchanging landscape occur through the random processes of continental drift. The rotation of the earth and moon around the sun, with the subsequent spin of the earth’s iron core creating a magnetic field blocking specific spectra of solar rays from the earth: this system develops entirely due to the random process of gravity. There are both random and nonrandom aspects to all scientific theory, not just evolution; ID proponents just seem to think randomness only occurs in evolution theory. Can scientists predict mutations in advance? Of course not, just as they can’t predict the weather, volcano eruptions, solar flares, and countless other nonbiological complex systems.

Need a book on evolution? There are more than you can possibly have time to read. I’d recommend Dawkin’s Climbing Mount Improbable, or The Greatest Show One Earth for a layman such as yourself.

• \$41348855

For anyone who might be taken in by the claim that there are no accounts of the evolution of any biochemical systems here is an entire book about the evolution of just one biochemical system: the blood clotting system.

The problem with trying to explain the evolution of something like the bacterial flagellum is that we don’t have a family tree of bacteria in which different branches represent different stages of the evolution of the flagellum. But we do have this for the evolution of the blood clotting system.

Another interesting aspect of the book is that it shows the importance of gene duplication in the evolution of new functions.

• bill long

“Either God can create a universe that can organize itself, in which case
the claim of ID fails; or God cannot create such a universe, in which
case the proponent of ID ought to be asked to explain why they view God
as limited in this way.”

Because God is limited. Duh. The problem here is so-called Christians inventing a God that doesn’t exist in the Bible. Yahweh was quite limited, had to “go down” to see things on Earth, regretted that he made humans, etc. Classical theism is false… if you believe the Bible.

• Nightlight

You are distorting or misunderstanding the position of intelligent design (ID). The basic ID assertion is that neo-Darwinian theory of evolution (ND-TOE) cannot explain (and in fact has not explained but merely handwaved) the observed complexity of the biological systems.

The ID argues (e.g. via Behe’s “irreducible complexity” or Dembski’s “specified complexity”) that ND-TOE is much too simple-minded to account for the kind of complexity observed. The only kind of processes known to be capable of producing artifacts with such levels of ‘irreducible’ or ‘specified’ complexity are actions of intelligent agents/processes (such as humans, animals, smart computer programs).

After all, evolution is a common phenomenon, not just for biological systems, but for sciences, technologies, languages, religions, arts, social systems, etc. But in all instances of evolution in which the mechanism is understood, the evolution is result of intelligent activity (anticipatory algorithms), not of random trial and selection. The latter is much too crude and inefficient algorithm to create even a static system with complex functionality, let alone such system which can also evolve and improve their fitness. Complex systems which can evolve require much greater intelligent input in their design than merely complex systems.

The ID does not require ‘part time’ designer, who comes in every now and then to help out the ‘natural processes’ when they hit their limits, as you imply.

The reason the particular kinds of examples of irreducible complexity are brought up (such as those by Behe, Dembski, Meyer, etc) is not in order to claim that it is the only kind of phenomena in which intelligent agency got involved (as you misunderstood it), but merely to point out the most extreme instances for which it is easily shown that neo-Darwinian algorithm of blind trial and error is insufficient by a long shot.

Hence, among others, the ID position is perfectly compatible with ontology in which intelligent agency is active at all times and in all places upholding everything that is going on, such as a computer computing our physical world as its virtual reality (e.g. analogous to Conway’s Game of Life).

• http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

Suggesting that evolutionary theory is about “blind trial and error” is the only misrepresentation or misunderstanding here. Once there are living things which have some ability to detect the outside world, that becomes a factor in evolution, one that is not blind. The peacock tail is intelligently designed, but by the intelligence of peahens that preferred ornate tails.

If Intelligent Design means only the making of a cosmos that can produce complex life through its natural functions, then that is a debate to be had in the domain of cosmology and physics, not biology. Metaphysically it is an option that can be taken seriously. But most proponents of ID are saying that only certain features in the cosmos are supposedly irreducibly complex, requiring the positing of a tinkering Designer.

You may not like this being pointed out, but it is the clear implication of the claims made by cdesign proponentsists.

• Nightlight

“Once there are living things which have some ability to detect the outside world, that becomes a factor in evolution, one that is not blind. The peacock tail is intelligently designed, but by the
intelligence of peahens that preferred ornate tails.”

You are going back to Darwin’s just so stories — desire or need for, or benefit of a prettier tail makes it somehow happen (changes the DNA and associated cellular biochemistry just the right way). That gives way, way too much credit to the least intelligent element, the peacock, in the full scheme that makes its tail, pretty or any kind of tail at all.

For example, if you were take all of molecular biologists, biochemists, chemists, physicists and all their science in the world, and give them all the funding and technology they ask for, to just to make one live cell of the peacock’s tail from simple molecules, they wouldn’t know how to even begin making one live organelle of that one cell, let alone whole live cell. To say nothing of constructing billions of such cells and organizing them into feathers and then full tail, then finally making that tail prettier than one shown to them before.

In other words, the intelligence behind the stuff that’s going on in the tiniest elements of live systems is far beyond anything we can conceive or imitate with all of our intelligence, knowledge and technology, without relying on the cellular nano-technology itself. The contribution of our, let alone peacock’s, intelligence, collective or individual, to the optimization process behind evolution (micro or macro) is a minor correction in the 20-th or 30-th decimal place of the real smarts unfolding underneath, that make it all happen.

“But most proponents of ID are saying that only certain features in the cosmos are supposedly irreducibly complex, requiring the positing of a tinkering Designer.”

I agree that this rings true for some of the more visible Discovery Institute fellows, such as Stephen Meyer, who have shifted the ID presentation into the realm of philosophy and theology (especially with their consciousness and mind talk), then complain why ID is not being taken seriously as a natural science explaining life and its evolution.

But the fundamental position from those with backgrounds in hard sciences or mathematics (such as Behe or Dembski as opposed to philosophers, theologians and lawyers from DI), is far more nuanced and similar to that indicated in the earlier post. Some others, such as Cornelius Hunter, express themselves in a YEC language appearing in their blogs to rail against (some kind of unspecified, generic) “evolution”, even though when pressed for clarification, turn out to have a perfectly sound ID position above.

I think that DI’s ID position would come through much better if they were to translate their ‘intelligent mind’ to ‘anticipatory computational process’, such as that of James Shapiro or researchers at the Santa Fe Institute for Complexity Science. But, DI fellows may have had to compromise or hedge their language to suit those who are sponsoring their work and wish to hear something different. After all, even James Shapiro and SFI researchers had to nominally distance themselves from ID label, even though their position is real ID in all but name.

So, my main objection is that you are using overly broad brush in your painting of the ID position, which seems to based on its scientifically less qualified or financially more constrained exponents (philosophers, theologians, those expelled from academia and forced to rely on creationism motivated funding,…) as your ID template. You are just not giving the ID perspective a fair hearing.

• http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

This comment is very odd indeed, and illustrates the failure to comprehend the basics of evolution that is typical of those who jump on the ID bandwagon. Who but someone very confused would suggest that a peacock cell ought to pop into existence in this way? Or that what evolution posits is beginning with the assembly of individual peacock cells and then the combination of them into a complete peacock? Perhaps you ought to ensure that you understand the basics of a subject before discussing it publicly? There is a good reason why even many educated people who have sympathies with design arguments find the Intelligent Design movement to be something to distance themselves from rather than associate themselves with. You are perpetuating those reasons here.

We have genetic evidence of the fact that more complex organisms descend from earlier simpler ones. It is not a “just so story” it is what the evidence supports.

Consider for instance the reecurrent laryngeal nerve in giraffes. It would be a “just so story” for cdesign proponentsists to claim that a Designer made it so long and loop so far around for his own inscrutible purposes. Explaining it in terms of the gradual lengthening of an organism’s neck is not a “just so story” but a logical deduction given the evidence.

• Ian

Always amusing when the evidence that creationists demand of evolution is an act of special creation.

• Nightlight

Ian, you are arguing against your own strawman since there is no such demand in what I wrote above.

• Ian

For example, if you were take all of molecular biologists, biochemists, chemists, physicists and all their science in the world, and give them all the funding and technology they ask for, to just tomake one live cell of the peacock’s tail from simple molecules,

• Nightlight

That is not “special creation” but merely an observation of a factual situation about what would it take to replicate the allegedly “dumb” process. Similarly, back in Darwin’s time, the origin of life wasn’t considered a problem at all since the conventional “scientific” wisdom was that cells were simple protein globules that can easily come together in a warm pond via “dumb” random process . Then, when “new synthesis” was created in 20th century, the proteins were understood to be “random” strings of amino acids with no particular order or protein shape.

Even the so called “random” mutation, the imagined magical source of the evolutionary novelty in neo-Darwinism, has repeatedly morphed and semantically rejiggered over decades, aiming most recently to encompass somehow the “natural genetic engineering” of James Shapiro (which is an ID in all but name), while still maintaining aimlessness of transformations for ideological reasons. Then the whole disgraceful saga with the so called “junk DNA” which is increasingly turning out ever less junky by the day.

The neo-Darwinism, with its ideologically motivated ‘nothing to see here randomness and aimlessness’ no-go postulates, has shown itself to be the worst kind of fundamentalist science stopper in every major discovery of the 20th and 21th century. In contrast, the search for (extremely intelligent) designs underlying the previously opaque biological phenomena, became the most fruitful heuristics for those same discoveries.

• Ian

I love the way, the more you say about evolution, the less you reveal you know about the claims of scientists. We get a lot of creationists here who passionately argue against their own invented fantasies of what scientists do and claim.

• Nightlight

“We have genetic evidence of the fact that more complex organisms descend
from earlier simpler ones. It is not a “just so story” it is what the
evidence supports.”

Here is your ID strawaman again, substituting YEC or some such for ID. ID doesn’t claim that evolution (as a process of transformations across generations) didn’t occur. After all the evolving complex systems require much greater intelligent input than the non-evolving ones. It is easier to design one model of car that runs, than to keep designing models that not only run but that improve over the previous ones.

Evolution also exists in sciences, technologies, languages, arts, religions, etc., not just in biological systems. But in all cases where we understand the mechanism of evolutionary novelty generation, it is always result of actions by intelligent processes (i.e. of anticipatory computational process). Hence, the most plausible explanation for emergence of biological systems (origin of life) and their evolution is some anticipatory computation (intelligent process).

Unlike the creationism, the existence of biological evolution is one of the best supporting evidence for ID position. Your whole argument against ID is based on equivocation between creationism and ID. While there are people whose positions straddle the two, picking them as the representatives of ID position is not an intellectually honest way to evaluate relative merits of ID vs neo-Darwinism.

Regarding the giraffe anatomy, if you analogously examine different versions of say Windows OS, you will find that the newer version is not some ideal perfect OS puffed into existence ab ovum, but rather a modified copy of the old one, often fixing some old problems while creating new ones (the latter being especially numerous, for some reason, in the even numbered versions of Windows).

But that doesn’t imply that the differences between the OS versions came about by someone randomly changing the source code of the old versions, then compiling them and running them, discarding those that crash, while keeping those than appear to run (longer) or look prettier, then randomly modifying the source code of ‘survivors’, etc.

The neo-Darwinism with its “random mutation” as the source of evolutionary novelty amounts to that kind of dumbest of all conceivable algorithms for such task.

The core statement of ID is that the biological artifacts (which are far more sophisticated than any software or any other technology humans have ever designed, let alone by mating peacock’s, or giraffes straining to reach ever higher leaves of a tall tree) point to a much greater intelligent input into the underlying processes than what the neo-Darwinism postulates tobe sufficient (without any empirical or theoretical proof for the presumed “random” attribute of the mutations underlying novelty generation).

• http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

If your stance posits the “front loading” of the cosmos or of the first living thing to make evolution possible, I have no objection to that view in principle. But it is not what most ID proponents think. The movement that uses that label to identify itself is adamantly antievolutionist.

• Nightlight

@jamesfmcgrath:disqus

Well, yes, it is a front loading but not with what we currently understand as “laws of physics” augmented with fancy initial conditions (by Laplace’s demon) but rather a front loading of a simple computational substratum similar to neural networks as the pregeometry at Planck scale underlying our physical laws (such as NKS models by Stephen Wolfram or their variations by researchers at Santa Fe Institute for Complexity Science).

Such systems which are distributed self-programming computers (human brain is an instance of such system), have additive intelligence which increases as the number of simple nodes and links are added to the network, as well as via simple local adaptations of the links by each node to some “punishments” and “rewards” of the node. Such networks operating as unsupervised learners, create their own anticipatory algorithms seeking to optimize overall punishments and rewards for the whole network using sophisticated and far sighted collective strategies which were not front loaded but were computed by the network itself (only local rules for cell and its links need to be front loaded).

The kind of front loading that you seem to assume is the non-computational front loading of the initial conditions of the Laplacian mechanical universe operating by the existent physical laws. That begs the question about the nature and origin of the intelligence (or computational capacity) behind such vast, unimaginably finely tuned setup of those initial conditions. That then leads to the infinite chain of ever smarter designers each fine tuning the initial conditions of the descendant designer.

In contrast, the computational perspective front loads only the very simple computational elements with capability of additive intelligence (such as adaptable networks) and self-programming (via simple, local link adaptation rules). The outcome resulting from the anticipatory computations which spontaneously arise in such networks appears intelligently designed because it is intelligently designed. The resulting algorithms are far more sophisticated than anything we could ever dream of producing with our brains and computers. Namely the pregeometry at Planck scale yields distributed computational substratum which is 10^80 times more powerful computer than any computing technology made of our ‘elementary particles’ we could pack in the same volume.

There was a long thread at UD where the computational ID perspective and its implications were described in more detail (along with references i.e. this not my theory, I merely explained it there as a more scientific and more precise realization of the ID heuristics). The hyperlinked TOC of those posts (Q&A from the discussion) is in the second half of this post.

• Vincent Torley

I am a long-time ID proponent, and I believe in common descent. Front-loading is a legitimate viewpoint within the ID community, but there are some scientific problems with it, as physicist Rob Sheldon points out on his blog:

• http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

Unfortunately for Behe, every time he poses one these “extreme” cases in which a structure shows “irreducible complexity” (a flagellum, for example) biologists point out those supposedly “irreducible” structures in unmistakably reduced forms in other organisms. Behe repeatedly shows himself to be embarrasingly uninformed about the latest biological research, and his made-up term “irreducible complexity” has failed to gain any ground in scientific research of any kind.

As for Dembski’s “specified complexity” and his made up “law of conservation of information”, both have been completely demolished by the very mathematicians on whom Dembski depends for his fuzzy calculations, the inventors of the “no free lunch theorem.” His hubristic terms have had even less success than “irreducible complexity”, because they are based on undefined and assumed probabilities, arbitrary limits, and basic misunderstandings of information theory.

Stephen Meyer depends upon these two crackpots for his own foray into the evolutionary biology for which he was never trained (he is a philosopher), and together the three make a fine display of circular arguments which answer no biological questions, make no impact on biology, are easily shredded by the top scientists in the fields of biology and information. Behe and and Dembski are so far removed in experience from their critics, their own research agendas are jokes by comparison.

• Nightlight

Dembski’s work is perfectly adequate for refuting imaginary powers of “random” mutation as the source or mechanism of evolutionary innovation.

Buit even wit5hout Dembski’s argument, neo-Darwinists have never demonstrated the claimed “randomness” attribute (it is a parasitic, non-functional add on with ideological purpose, the promotion of militant atheism). The “random” mutation is the most primitive search algorithm (random guessing), the 19th century concept transplanted into 20th century by so called “modern synthesis.” The neo-Darwinist merely claim its powers, but have never demonstrated it, theoretically or experimentally.

Dembski merely shows that such algorithm is much too limited for constructing the observed degree of harmonization between the DNA structure (‘complex information’) and the corresponding environmental fitness (the ‘specification’ for the DNA’s ‘complex information’). In any case, it is up to neo-Darwinists to demonstrate that it can do what they believe it can, regardless of Dembski says can or cannot be produced by such crude algorithm.

After all, the evolutions in technologies, sciences, languages,… exhibit the same kind of phenomenology as those in biological systems (e.g. languages are dated by distance techniques of the same kind used for genetic distances in biology), that neo-Darwinists claim are proof that “random” mutations are the source of novelty. Yet in all other instance of evolution for which we know the mechanism behind evolutionary innovation, it is always via actions of some kind of intelligent agency.

As for Behe’s irreducible complexity, his alleged debunkers have merely handwaved some more analogy based just so stories and the usual wishful leaps that mislabels the benefits of a desired change as the mechanisms of the change.

• \$41348855

Dembski’s work is certainly adequate to refute his own caricature of evolution. He imagines that all the parts of a system have to come together in one go, without considering the possibility that a part may evolve for one purpose and be co-opted for another. It’s no surprise that he concludes that evolution is impossible.
You are right that we can’t prove that mutations are random. There may be some benevolent intelligence that controls mutations. In that case, it is pity that the intelligence doesn’t exercise its control over the mutations which cause cancer in children.

• Nightlight

“He imagines that all the parts of a system have to come together in one
go, without considering the possibility that a part may evolve for one
purpose and be co-opted for another.”

He has several variations of his ‘no free lunch’ proof, and covers case that corresponds to ‘natural selection’ acting as complexity ratchet. Like similar contrivances in thermodynamics (Maxwell’s demon) , it doesn’t work — any additional accumulation of complex specified information (CSI), no matter whether it starts from nothing (no initial CSI), or baseline level, must be smuggled in from an ‘oracle’ which knows the final results. I.e. the searchers with random generator of states to try cannot improve themselves and become better searchers.

“There may be some benevolent intelligence that controls mutations. In
that case, it is pity that the intelligence doesn’t exercise its control
over the mutations which cause cancer in children.”

We can know that the biological artifacts are produced by some anticipatory algorithms far (far…) smarter than the random trial and error novelty generation algorithm of neo-Darwinism, but we don’t know what is the final objective or the utility function of such process. The local objective is optimization of the fitness. But the fitnesses may conflict between organisms or between different levels in the hierarchy (e.g. between cells and organism in the case of cancer, or bacteria or parasite and infected host).

For all we know, it may well be that humans are not the (ultimate or even just a long term) objective of the algorithm. After all, almost entire life on Earth got wiped out when cyanobacteria arose and poisoned nearly everyone via its oxygen ‘pollution’. Yet without those ‘evil, genocidal polluters’ we wouldn’t have been ‘computed’ eventually.

Similarly, humans may be a transient lifeform, a stepping stone toward something more harmonious with the unknown objectives being computed behind every event we presently understand as ‘physical’ or ‘chemical’ process (in such matrix-like models, our present ‘natural laws’ are merely few coarse grained patterns analogous to ‘gliders’ computed in the Conway’s Game of Life). The problems being computed or objectives being sought by such computation, may not a have a solution book somewhere, and the only way to get a solution is to let the system run its course and compute it.

• http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

Rather than listen to you “expound” on Dembski’s use of the ‘no free lunch’ theorem, a more expert assessment comes from the mathematicians who actually invented the no free lunch theorem.

David Wolpert on Dembski’s math:

“Despite his invoking the NFL theorems, his arguments are fatally informal and imprecise. Like monographs on any philosophical topic in the first category, Dembski’s is written in jello.”

• \$41348855

If you are saying that the laws of physics have been designed to allow for the possibility of evolution then you are simply echoing James McGrath’s point. On the other hand, if you are saying that the first life form was programmed with the capacity to direct its own evolution then you are talking nonsense on a gargantuan scale. If neither of the above then you are left with a designer who has to intervene constantly to control the path of evolution, and this incurs the aforementioned theological problems.

• http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

It’s so funny to watch amateurs throw around “Discovery Institute” pseudoscience without having any idea what they are talking about.

Do you know how much new research, much less experimentation, Behe and Dembski have contributed to the field of biology to demonstrate their claims of “irreducible complexity” and “specified complexity”. Virtually none. If ID is the new wave of scientific research, where is the research? Where is the experimentation?

New theory has to earn credibility with research and experimentation. ID fails on all counts.

• Vincent Torley

Hi Dr. McGrath,

I put up a post on Uncommon Descent in response to your post, at this address:

http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/what-kind-of-universe-cant-god-make-a-response-to-dr-james-f-mcgrath/

• http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

Since I am not allowed to comment at Uncommon Descent, I am not sure why I should have any interest in reading your response, much less promoting it. That site’s inability to even allow discussion of counterarguments to the claims it makes speaks for itself. If you are interested in responding to what I have said, please do so here, where there can also be open discussion of your response.

Dr. McGrath,
Nothing prevents you from reading his counterargument there.
Nothing prevents you from replying here.

• http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

I take it you are not well acquainted with just what sort of site Uncommon Descent is? When there is a regular patterns of silencing any who disagree and other reprehensible behavior – especially coming from people who laughably claim that they are the ones being censored rather than the ones doing the censoring – it is best to give such sites a wide berth.

Here are some links to when this matter came up back in 2007:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/2007/06/uncommon-dissent.html

http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2007/11/banned-from-uncommon-descent.html

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/2008/02/uncommented-descent.html

Dr. McGrath,
What does any of that have to do with Mr. Torley’s counterargument?

Is Mr. Torely responsible for silencing anyone at that site?

• http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

If Mr. Torley wishes to engage me in conversation, I expect it to be done somewhere that allows for conversation.

Dr. McGrath,
You’ve not read nor addressed the content of Mr. Torley’s counterargument simply because you don’t like where he posted it. You’re not helping your cause much I’m afraid.

Those interested in your argument would have no problem toggling back and forth between web pages to follow the discussion. I’m one of the interested “those”, by the way.

Finally, a god who creates a universe capable of self organization via natural processes would be undetectable. But there is no difference between an undetectable god and no god at all.

It seems to me that the answer to this depends on the god you’re asking about. In the christian conception the answer would be “no”. What reason would you give for that being a limitation of any kind?

• http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

I’m not persuaded that refusing to link to a forum that thrives through bullying and censorship is detrimental to my cause. The very fact that I would be driving traffic there, but since those who support mainstream science cannot share a similar link there back to here, suggests that linking there would only be in the interests of the bullies and charlatans at Uncommon Descent.

People have said the same thing about allowing for natural causes such as gravity and weather patterns and plate tectonics to explain things that have traditionally been attributed to God. If your view of God is undermined by scientific explanations, then that isn’t unique to the origin of the universe or to evolution, and focusing on only those points as though you did not have a bigger problem is misleading.

Educated Christians have long found design arguments problematic, recognizing that they lead at best to an anthropomorphic sort of God and one who can be accused of being limited and inept on the basis of evidence of poor design in nature. Your suggestion that there is one single Christian view on this topic is thus either another attempt to mislead, or reflects a lack of awareness of the breadth of Christian thinking on this point.

Dr. McGrath,
Thank you for replying. I don’t believe I’ve asked you to link to UD. I have asked for a reply to his counterargument. That requires merely the reading of Mr. Torely’s post. You’ve refused to do even that because of what you believe to be unfair censoring at that site. I suppose a stand against censorship, for free speech and the like is admirable in most contexts. In this one, not so much.

I’m a layman at best. You are a teacher. If possible, please simplify the 2nd paragraph as you would for an average student. Make that “for a below average student”. As it stands, I’m not sure how it addresses my post.

I long to be among the educated anythings at this point: educated christian, educated immigrant, educated hamburgler. I’ll takes what I can gets. Currently, I’m just another joe lunchbucket who’s marveling at how quickly you devolved to name calling and insults despite your academic bonafides.

Either way, I do appreciate your replies. I’m learning something though I’m not sure what.

• http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

Luis, if you don’t understand why James is not willing to divert traffic to a site that engages in censorship – then you really have blinders on.

You are taking advantage of James’ blog to say all you like. Uncommon Descent does not offer him the same courtesy – why on earth should James be expected to browse a web site that censors him?!

• Vincent Torley

Do you believe God is capable of making a machine that is capable of writing a novel (such as Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies) via a simple process, without massive amounts of information being input either at the start or subsequently? And if not, then why do you think God should be able to produce living things, with their genetic code and developmental programs, via the operation of a few simple laws? More specifically: where did the highly specific information that enables living things to make themselves originally come from?

• http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

The same place that the highly specific information that enables planetary systems, atomic fusion, crystal formation, plate tectonics, and climate came from.

• Vincent Torley

Sorry Beau, but these are not parallel cases. Crystals are regular and ordered (low-information) while climate is low on specificity. Living things are not like crystals and they are not like tornadoes. They are more like novels – and novels don’t write themselves.

• Dorfl

Crystals are regular and ordered (low-information)

That depends on the crystal. The fundamental processes forming snowflakes are basically the same from one snowflake to the next. Even so, they end quite different from one another.

That is, however simple the underlying physical principles may be, the resulting snowflakes cannot be described in terms of a simple algorithm producing those particular snowflakes, meaning they do not have low information.

• Vincent Torley

Hi Dorfl,

Living things contain codes and programs. Snowflakes don’t. Codes and programs don’t write themselves; they require someone else to write them.

• Dorfl

Hello,

I think you’re taking a useful metaphor and pushing it far beyond the realm where it’s applicable: Referring to DNA as a ‘code’ is fairly common. For some very broad definition of ‘program’ you could even say it runs programs. But in the end the words ‘code’ and ‘program’ are just metaphors intended to connect the way the genome works to something we have a better intuitive grasp on. Assuming that the genome will share any particular property of program code, such as having a programmer, is simply treating a metaphor as a one-to-one mapping instead of a pedagogical device.

My point in bringing up snowflakes was mostly to show that even relatively simple processes* can still produce things that are both complex and orderly, for any intuitive definition of ‘complex’ and ‘orderly’.

* Well, compared to other chemistry. I’ve had a teacher who would go on at length about how enormously complicated and poorly understood pure water is.

• Vincent Torley

Hi Dorfl,

Have you heard of Dr. Don Johnson, who has both a Ph.D. in chemistry and a Ph.D. in computer and information sciences. Dr. Johnson spent 20 years teaching in universities in Wisconsin, Minnesota, California, and Europe. On April 8, 2010, Dr. Johnson gave a presentation entitled “Bioinformatics: The Information in Life” for the University of North Carolina Wilmington chapter of the Association for Computer Machinery. Dr. Johnson’s presentation is now on-line. Both the talk and accompanying handout notes can be accessed from Dr. Johnson’s Web page at http://scienceintegrity.net/ . Here’s an excerpt from his presentation blurb:

“Each cell of an organism has millions of interacting computers reading and processing digital information using algorithmic digital programs and digital codes to communicate and translate information.”

On a presentation slide titled “Information Systems In Life,” Dr. Johnson points out that:

the genetic system is a pre-existing operating system;
the specific genetic program (genome) is an application;
the native language has a codon-based encryption system;
the codes are read by enzyme computers with their own operating system;
each enzyme’s output is to another operating system in a ribosome;
codes are decrypted and output to tRNA computers;
each codon-specified amino acid is transported to a protein construction site; and
in each cell, there are multiple operating systems, multiple programming languages, encoding/decoding hardware and software, specialized communications systems, error detection/correction systems, specialized input/output for organelle control and feedback, and a variety of specialized “devices” to accomplish the tasks of life.

To sum up: the use of the words “code” and “program” to describe the workings of the cell is scientifically respectable. It is not just a figure of speech. It is literally true.

Crystals and snowflakes are nothing like living things.

• Dorfl

the use of the words “code” and “program” to describe the workings of the cell is scientifically respectable.

Using metaphors and analogies to everyday things as a way of making complicated concepts intuitively graspable is a respectable teaching technique, yes.

It is not just a figure of speech. It is literally true.

By giving the words ‘code’ and ‘program’ definitions much more broad than they’re normally given in everyday life you can make statements like “DNA is a code containing programs” evaluate to true, yes.

It remains a mistake to assume that your commonsense assumptions about the properties of ‘codes’ and ‘programs’ are still valid after broadening your definitions in that way.

• http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

One of the striking things about the natural world is that it has physical components which combine in interesting patterns as chemicals the structures of which then lead to interesting behaviors. By one definition, it would take a lot of information indeed to produce the diversity of snowflakes we see appearing in nature. But natural processes nonetheless are capable of bringing that about.

But you are once again begging the question. Humans think in terms of information, but we are products of DNA. That our reasoning should reflect our underlying makeup is probably not surprising. But that does not lead naturally to the infinite loop that human minds produced by DNA are the only sort of thing that could have produced DNA to begin with.

• Dorfl

I’m… not sure why you addressed this to me?

• http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

You had already responded to Vincent and so I was merely trying to keep the conversation flowing smoothly in linear fashion.

Apparently it didn’t work…

• Dorfl

Oh, that explains it

It’s awkward communicating in a medium where there isn’t any body language to show who is talking to whom at the moment…

“But natural processes nonetheless are capable bringing that about.”
That’s begging the question too, of course.

• http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

You find flaws in the scientific explanation for how snowflakes are formed?

Not in regards to snowflakes. In regards to natural processes alone being responsible for human DNA? Yes, though I may have completely understood your point which isn’t unlikely. Will you be replying to Mr. Torely now that he’s posted here?

• http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

Are you referring to his comments on the post about abortion in the Bible? I thought he had had something to say about Intelligent Design. To be honest, his approach to the former doesn’t show much awareness of the relevant linguistic and historical considerations. If he did in fact have something to say about ID, it would have to at least be something that one could discuss in a serious and rigorous academic fashion for it to be worth interacting with.

Nope. I’m referring to his reply to Dorfl a few posts up and his reply to you:

“Do you believe God is capable of making a machine that is capable of
writing a novel (such as Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies) via a
simple process, without massive amounts of information being input
either at the start or subsequently? And if not, then why do you think
God should be able to produce living things, with their genetic code and
developmental programs, via the operation of a few simple laws? More
specifically: where did the highly specific information that enables
living things to make themselves originally come from?”

I might’ve missed your interaction with either.

• http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

He just posted a set of questions which covers that same ground and more, and so the interaction you’ve been waiting for is now progressing!

• Vincent Torley

Dr. McGrath,

Thank you for responding. I’d like to keep this discussion as focused as possible. I have a few questions:

1. The genetic code is the set of rules by which information encoded within genetic material (DNA or mRNA sequences) is translated into proteins by living cells. Living things emobody a code; snowflakes don’t. Do you agree that this difference is a significant one, and if not, why not?

2. Living things, unlike snowflakes, also embody a program. As DNA double helix co-discoverer James Watson put it: “We know that the instructions for how the egg develops into an adult are written in the linear sequence of bases along the DNA of the germ cells.” (James Watson et al., Molecular Biology of the Gene, 4th Edition, 1987, p. 747.) And as Bill Gates wrote: “Biological information is the most important information we can discover, because over the next several decades it will revolutionize medicine. Human DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created.” (The Road Ahead, Penguin: London, Revised, 1996 p. 228.) In the light of these statements, would you agree that we can speak of the human genome as having not merely syntax, but semantics as well? If not, why not?
3. Do you agree that it would be impossible even for God to make a machine that could write a novel like “Ulysses” without massive inputs of information either at the start (front-loading) or subsequently (tinkering)? If not, why not? If so, then what significant difference is there between such a machine and a living thing?
Over to you…

• http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

Thank you for the clear and direct questions! Let me treat them in turn.

1) The processes by which life functions seem more significant to us, because they are the means by which our biological existence comes to be and perpetuates. But for something to be more significant, it does not therefore have to be completely different. And calling it a “code” reflects an analogy made by human beings. But living things have been around long before humans were there to provide such analogies, and so pressing such analogies too far seems ill-advised.

2) Here too it seems that you are putting the cart before the horse. We are beings who are based on DNA, but we have come along relatively late in the process. And we have developed languages with syntax. And so it is DNA which gives rise to minds which create language with syntax. To suggest the reverse is simply to create a loop. And while such a loop might be the way things are, it is not self evident in the way most ID adherents seem to simply assume, precisely because they have neglected to consider the order in which we find things appearing in the history of life on this planet of ours.

3) If we look at DNA, however much it is like a written human language, it is different inasmuch as it has only four letters, all words have three letters, and all combinations of letters mean something. And so if God were to create a world in which it was possible for more complex language to arise, making one in which such a simpler and almost infinitely flexible system could come to exist through natural means, giving rise to a process of evolution that could one day produce someone with the creativity to compose Ulysses, impresses me at least as much if not more than the front-loaded version, with Ulysses in view from the beginning, seems to impress you.

Over to you…

• Vincent Torley

Hi Dr. McGrath,

1. The definition of code which I used presupposed only the existence of a mapping function from DNA and mRNA sequences to proteins. No analogy there; either the mapping exists or it doesn’t.

2. Your explanation of genetic programs seems to be confusing the program with the code. It is certainly true that any triplet of bases will encode one amino acid or another (or a stop signal). But the program instructions go beyond this. In bacteria (to use a simple example), the DNA consists mainly of genes coding for proteins, separated by flanking sequences that regulate the expression of new genes. Errors can occur at this level, so it is wrong to say that every combination means something. Here’s Emeritus Professor Franklin Harold in “The Way of the Cell”:

“The unique mark of a living organism, shared by no other known entity, is its possession of a genetic program that specifies that organism’s chemical make-up. The program has two essential and related features: first, it is ‘read’ by the organism, and the instructions embodied therein expressed; second, it is replicated with high fidelity whenever the organism reproduces. Rare errors do occur during replication, these will be perpetuated henceforth and commonly alter the sense of the genetic program.” (Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 44)

3. You seem to be arguing that our ability to create language (and write novels like “Ulysses”) is a product of our infinitely flexible DNA, and that no special parameters needed to be input by God at the beginning. Evidently you think the universe is a giant machine capable of generating (among other things) novels, which possess syntax and semantics. In other words, you’re ultimately reducing our human capacity for syntax and semantics to a few simple biochemical rules: in this case, the mapping from DNA sequences to proteins, found in all living things. Four comments:

(a) You still haven’t explained the origin of DNA. Work by evolutionary biologist Eugene Koonin suggests that its emergence on Earth would be fantastically improbable;

(b) Arguing that DNA explains our capacity for language because it preceded it is a classic example of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, as well as begging the question that no intervention was needed to generate the human mind;

(c) If your argument that mind can be explained in terms of matter were correct, it would eliminate the need for God. I presume you don’t want to go that far, as you’re a Christian;

(d) In any case, your argument that mind can be explained for in material terms is a flawed one. Materialism cannot be true; it is demonstrably false. Here’s a brief quote from “Aquinas: a Beginner’s Guide” (Oneworld Publications, Oxford, 2009), by Thomist philosopher Edward Feser (a critic of ID, I might add):

“Another basis for the inference from the immateriality of the objects of the intellect to the immateriality itself is one suggested by James Ross. When you think about triangularity, as you might when proving a geometrical theorem, it is necessarily perfect triangularity that you are considering, not some approximation of it. Triangularity as your intellect grasps it is entirely determinate or exact. (Of course, your mental image of a triangle might not be exact, but rather indeterminate and fuzzy; but as we’ve seen, to grasp something with the intellect is not the same as to form a mental image of it.) Now the thought you are having must be as determinate or exact as triangularity itself, otherwise it wouldn’t just be a thought about triangularity in the first place, but only a thought about some approximation of triangularity. Yet material things are never determinate or exact in this way. Any material triangle, for example, is always only ever an approximation of perfect triangularity (since it is bound to have sides that are less than perfectly straight, etc., even if this is undetectable to the naked eye). And in general, material symbols and representations are inherently always vague, ambiguous, or otherwise inexact, susceptible of various alternative interpretations. It follows, then, that any thought you might have about triangularity is not something material; in particular, it is not some process occurring in the brain. And what goes for triangularity goes for any thought that involves the grasp of a universal, since universals in general (or at least very many of them, in case someone should wish to dispute this) are determinate and exact in a way material objects and processes cannot be.”

Then there’s the argument from intentionality, summarized in a 2008 blog post by Feser:

“Now the puzzle intentionality poses for materialism can be summarized this way: Brain processes, like ink marks, sound waves, the motion of water molecules, electrical current, and any other physical phenomenon you can think of, seem clearly devoid of any inherent meaning. By themselves they are simply meaningless patterns of electrochemical activity. Yet our thoughts do have inherent meaning – that’s how they are able to impart it to otherwise meaningless ink marks, sound waves, etc. In that case, though, it seems that our thoughts cannot possibly be identified with any physical processes in the brain. In short: Thoughts and the like possess inherent meaning or intentionality; brain processes, like ink marks, sound waves, and the like, are utterly devoid of any inherent meaning or intentionality; so thoughts and the like cannot possibly be identified with brain processes.”

Over to you…

• http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

Scientists do not have an explanation for the origin of DNA. There is really nothing to be said about that at present. But what is clear from all the available evidence is that, once DNA exists, life follows a course that is at least very close to that described by mainstream biology’s evolutionary theory.

Your statement “If your argument that mind can be explained in terms of matter were correct, it would eliminate the need for God. I presume you don’t want to go that far, as you’re a Christian” makes no sense. Within the Bible, we find both a Hebraic view in which human beings are an animated body, and a view borrowed from the Greeks in which human beings are an incarnated soul. Saying that one is “the Christian view” and that the other “eliminates the need for God” seems very odd indeed.

You seem to be concerned with materialism and so I wonder whether you’ve bought into the sort of thinking that some folks over at Uncommon Descent promote, which I blogged about here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/2007/10/the-spiritual-brain.html

• Vincent Torley

Hi Dr. McGrath,

Now I feel we are getting somewhere. I think the fundamental difference between us lies in our metaphysics. As I understand it, you see mind as an emergent property of matter, like the emergent properties of water.

I’d like to ask you a question: do you believe that the behavior of matter (including our own free choices) is totally governed by laws (even if we can’t always predict how this or that body will behave)? In other words, are you a determinist? Or do you believe that libertarian freedom is an emergent property of matter – i.e. a top-down property of the brain, making our behavior to some degree constrained, but not controlled by the laws of Nature?

I’d also like to ask: do you believe that God is a spirit (John 4:24) and that He creates and controls matter by immaterial acts of will? If so, then what’s to stop Him creating other beings with spiritual powers, capable of performing non-bodily acts (in addition to their bodily acts)? (I would like to make it clear that my dualism is of the hylomorphic rather than the Cartesian variety.)

As to why I think your view of matter makes God redundant: you seem to hold that having a mind presupposes having a body. But if that’s true, it would apply equally to God. But an embodied God would be composite, and in need of an explanation – in which case, He wouldn’t be God any more, as God is the Ultimate Explanation.

Also, if our behavior is determined, then we ourselves are novel-writing machines. In that case, you would have to say there is a machine that can write a novel: Homo sapiens.

• http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

Unlike you, I am not at all comfortable as a mere mortal to dictate to God under what circumstances God may be God.

The Hebrew and Greek terms for “spirit” also meant “wind” and “breath.” Their use ultimately stems from archaic ways of thinking about life that few today share. The attempt to develop the notion in a different direction, devoid of all corporeality, simply led to intractable problems caused by the seeming inability to explain how the incorporeal can interact with the material. And so it is that view that creates the serious problems, and not one that sticks closer to those ancient schools of thought in which spirit was a kind of thing, even if a very special sort of stuff.

But ultimately, there is a real danger in your reasoning that typifies the entire ID movement, namely the breaking down of the permanent and unsurmountable gulf between God and human beings.

• http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

Sorry, my iPad stopped responding to my typing and so I posted an incomplete thought. I was referring to the infinite distinction between God and mortals. To assume that, just because human personhood has certain characteristics, we can reason that God’s characteristics are essentially similar, leads one precisely to the potential criticisms of God’s design that ID invites, by anthropomorphizing God as though “he” were basically a very large human engineer.

I am not a determinist. How the mind works is mysterious to us even though we are minds. Thoughts emerge fully formed from recesses that we cannot look into directly. And so there is little we can do to get very specific about challenging problems such as free will, except to note that the only thing that we know with true absolute certainty exists is mind and thought, and we experience in the process that we have free will. To deny that based supposedly on observations of things that we can only know secondarily seems to me to be problematic. Keith Ward offers a good treatment of this.

I do appreciate that you are not pretending that ID is not about God and metaphysics – such honesty is refreshing compared to many ID proponents I have talked with in the past.

• Vincent Torley

Hi Dr. McGrath,
Thanks for your reply. It seems that you are willing to allow that God is physical in some broad sense of the word: unless we acknowledge this, you suggest, we are stuck with the dreaded interaction problem (how does spirit act upon matter)? But if it is true that “in Him we live and move and have our being,” as Scripture declares, then God’s interacting with creation is no problem at all, since God is on another plane of existence from us, “upholding all things by the word of His power.”

Also, if God is in some sense physical, then it seems that God cannot be the cause of the existence of the cosmos. Indeed, it is hard to see how God can be distinguished from the cosmos at all. A Pantheistic (or at least, panentheistic) conception of the Deity seems to suggest itself.

Re the doctrine of emergence: I put it to you that it is no explanation to say that a thing’s higher-level or holistic powers emerge from the lower-level powers of its constituents, unless you can explain how this happens. We can explain the chemical properties of water in terms of its components. This is precisely what we cannot do with our higher mental abilities. To suppose that we will one day explain these is what Eccles would have called promissory materialism.

Finally, regarding the universe’s ability to make itself: the definition of information used by Dembski and Marks in their paper on Life’s Conservation Law had nothing to do with specified complexity: it was simply anything that improves on a blind search. Dembski’s point was that you cannot explain a system’s ability to hit a target (say, conscious life) better than chance would, by going back in time. No matter how far back you go, you confront the dilemma: either the system itself is built with an internal bias to reach that goal, or something has to be added to it to bias it in that direction – and the level of bias required never decreases as you go back in time. That’s why you can’t start with a simple unbiased universe, and arrive at us.

• http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

Panentheism is a term that I find helpful. But as I said, I am persuaded that God is so beyond my ability to comprehend that such language is nothing but symbol and analogy. When it comes to human persons, however, your point about the inability of emerging properties to account for things like mind is mere assertion. Through combinations of wood and metal in particular ways, we can create an instrument that makes beautiful music. When hydrogen and oxygen combine, we get water which is wet even though neither hydrogen nor oxygen has that property. And we can see that damage to the brain seems to impair the mind. While we may not understand the processes whereby mind emerges, to insist that there must be another sort of substance which we understand even less is not progress.

As for hitting targets, unless one specifies the target not as life but as life with a particular form and in a very specific place, we simply don’t have enough information to assess whether the emergence of life in our universe is improbable, probable, or inevitable.

In view of all that we do not currently know, I object strongly to those who make sweeping statements that suggest that we know all we need to in order to provide definitive answers, and that the approach to science that continually provides us with important data can now be set aside.

• Vincent Torley

Hi Dr. McGrath,

Thank you for your response. I’m sorry for not having replied sooner, but I have been very busy during the last two days.

You argue that we simply don’t have enough information to assess whether the emergence of life in our universe is improbable. That may be true if one defines life very broadly, in terms of self-movement for instance. But if one defines life more narrowly (and sensibly) in terms of the features that distinguish it most from other forms of matter – namely, the possession of a genetic code, as well as a genetic program that specifies an organism’s chemical make-up – then we can indeed say that the emergence of a system exemplifying these properties is vastly improbable, in our cosmos. It should be noted that this is still a general definition of life, as it mentions only generic features, and makes no mention of particular molecules such as DNA or proteins. So it cannot be said that my definition of life is ad hoc. Nevertheless, life on my generic definition is still highly improbable: hence it is still a target that Nature needs to search for. And as Dembski and Marks’ paper on Life’s Conservation Law showed, going back in time does not solve the origin of life problem: the “bias problem” that I mentioned in my previous post still needs to be addressed.

Regarding mind and matter: your analogy between mind and water does not hold. The wetness of water can be understood quite easily: it’s a simple consequence of hydrogen bonding. Water is wet because it clings, and it clings because it contains charged particles. By contrast, some kinds of reduction are impossible, because they involve crossing from one category of discourse into another, which is illicit. It would be a category mistake, for instance, to explain the funniness of a joke in terms of the particles of paper on which it is written (or for that matter, the neurons in the brain of the comedian who relates it). I maintain that attempting to explain the meaningfulness of our thoughts in terms of the processes taking place in our brains is equally wrong-headed: it’s a category mistake. Before we make progress exploring the mind, we have to cut ourselves loose from the apron strings of materialism: it is a false solution, even if we don’t know what the right solution is.

I might add that since we can never step outside ourselves, the attempt to construct a general theory of the human mind is doomed in any case. It is a vanity on our part. The best we can probably do is construct a theory explaining certain kinds of mental acts.

Finally, I’d like to thank you for declaring your views on panentheism. You have been very open about your position. However, a panentheistic view is difficult to square with the Christian concept of God as Creator of Heaven and Earth. Even Charles Kingsley, whom you approvingly cite in another post as suggesting that a truly wise God would “make all things make themselves,” nevertheless acknowledged (in the very speech you cite) that “Scripture says that God created,” before going on to say that the term “created” is never defined in Scripture, and he also explicitly ascribes the laws of Nature to the mind of God. A panentheistic God could not be the author of the laws of Nature; being in some way physical, it could not exist in the absence of laws.

I might add that Jesus Himself also preached a God Who is distinct from His creation: “Our Father Who art in Heaven.” Panentheism rejects this view. So it seems that the God you are inviting us to worship is a post-Christian one.

I think I’ll let this be my last post on this thread. It has been an interesting exchange, and I’m happy to give you the last word. Thank you for your courtesy, and thank you for posting our discussion in a public forum. Cheers.

• http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

You say that explaining the funniness of a joke in terms of the substances used to print/write the joke are a category mistake, and I hoped for a moment that you were headed in the right direction. But then you go on to complain about materialism’s inadequacies as though you completely missed the force of your own point. To say that the material processes by which brains function invalidate mind is like saying that chemical analysis of paper and ink makes jokes not funny. You are making that very same category mistake.

As for the probability of life arising, what we know for certain is that there is life on one out of one worlds in precisely the range of distance from a sun-like star and with the specific kind of atmosphere Earth has. We have no basis for comparison at this stage.

Panentheism allows for a range of views – from a God who forms a world and interacts with it much as you envisage souls interacting with bodies, to other views such as radically emergent theism, or process thought which has God relating to the world akin to a soul and body, but never having been without a body. Even the latter is not inherently antithetical to Christianity since the rise of creatio ex nihilo in Christianity seems to have emerged in response to Gnosticism; Judaism did not understand Genesis 1 in that way until the Middle Ages.

I’ve enjoyed talking about this with you. I know you’ve said that you will bow out at this stage, but if you find that it is worth rejoining the conversation at some point, you’d be most welcome!

• http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

It’s so easy to argue by making false parallels. A DNA strand is like a computer code in the same way that a star is like a hydrogen bomb. But just because “intelligence” makes hydrogen bombs, doesn’t mean “intelligence” makes stars. Such barmy reasoning only exists in propaganda tanks like the “Discovery Institute”. Unfortunately, the “Discovery Institute” has never actually “discovered” anything of value.

• http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

To say nothing of the “emergent” properties of snow, packing into ice and transforming the landscape with ice flow, melting at regular intervals to feed the complex water systems running down from mountains all over the earth, collecting water and lowering sea level on the entire planet, reflecting sunlight back into space, cooling the earth and extending ice ages.

• http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

You are using Dembski’s completely discredited, subjective, and inconsistent notions about information. Crystals form highly complex shapes and geological structures that are emergent from the order of the original crystal. “Specificity” is a highly subjective notion with no mathematical way of valuing actual systems. To say that the climate is low on specificity is ridiculous. Annual climate systems fall within a continuum of highly complex long term climate systems such as ice ages and oceanic currents: systems so “specific” and complex, they far outlast most organisms on earth.

A star is a combination of ordered and random processes operating stably and interacting with planets, other stars, and the entirety of the galaxy for billions of years.

As many scientists and mathematicians have already pointed out, Dembski’s feeble attempt to define information is written in jello.

• \$41348855

Since the idea of complex specified information has no scientific validity why don’t we translate it back into plain English? You might say that a protein has complex specified information. What you actually mean is that it does something useful. Now you might say that a useful protein is unlikely because useful proteins are greatly outnumbered by proteins that aren’t useful and if you create proteins by chance then you are unlikely to end up with useful ones. In other words, you would be rediscovering an argument made over 200 years ago by William Paley and refuted 150 years ago by Charles Darwin.

It’s nice of you to translate this argument into modern pseudoscientific language but the result is the same now as it was 150 years ago. There is no reason to think natural processes are unable to create things which you describe as having “complex specified information”.

• Vincent Torley

So Charles Darwin refuted the notion that if you create proteins by chance then you are unlikely to end up with useful ones? That’s an anachronism if ever I heard one. He didn’t even know what proteins were made up of! Neither, for that matter, did Paley. I suggest you read more of the arguments put forward by Dr. Douglas Axe of the Biologic Institute. My impression of Dr. Axe is that he always manages to keep one step ahead of his critics, with a timely and highly readable response, and that he never loses his cool (unlike his critics). For those reasons alone, I’d be more inclined to believe him than his critics.

• http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

I would also recommend learning more about the Biologic Institute – what it is, why it was founded, and how much time it has dedicated to actual scientific research.

What it is, why it was founded and how much time it has dedicated to actual scientific research in no way addresses what they actually say. Surely you know that.

• \$41348855

Oh, dear. Were you assuming that I didn’t know that? Paley’s argument was that there are more ways of arranging parts of a system so that it doesn’t work than there are ways of arranging parts of a system so that it does work. Therefore, intelligence is required to do the arranging. Darwin refuted that argument. The argument remains the same if the system is a protein and the parts are amino acids. I used that as an example to illustrate the point. I apologise if this has caused any confusion.

On the subject of creating information, I gave this reply to Neil above:

Information seems to play a key role in the ideas of ID proponents but I’m not quite sure what their point is. You seemed to suggest that the presence of information in DNA is a mystery. I don’t think that it should be seen as mysterious. The answer is that information can flow
from the environment into the gene pool.

You say that you accept micro-evolution, of the kind that we see in the Galapagos finches. So information about the environment – the size and hardness of the seeds etc. – can flow into the gene pool of the finches. The environment selects which genes in the finch gene pool will be passed on to future generations, so the environment is programming the gene pool of the finches – hence the idea of information flowing from the environment into the gene pool.

If you accept this example of evolution – and you have said that you do – then you must also accept this example of the transfer of information.

• NeilBJ

My understanding of what self organization means would suggest that God is even a more clever intelligent designer than we ever could imagine. A contemporary example of self organization would be a fertilized ovum. That ovum, which is comparatively simple morphologically, contains all the information necessary to build an adult animal as well as the procedure of how to do so.

How much more complex it must be to infuse the first cells with all the information necessary to build all the animals that ever will be. Self-organization does not solve the perceived problem of intelligent design; it compounds it a thousand fold.

The bottom line is that it takes information to build organisms. Information is a construct different from and in addition to matter and energy. Information is always required to arrange matter in highly specific complex patterns. If an animal is not an example of a highly specific, complex pattern, what is? And information is something that the laws of nature cannot supply.

• http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

Your assertion that “information is something that the laws of nature cannot supply” is simply false, and is only argued by ID proponents. We see information generated in planetary systems, the formation of crystals, the formation of elements in the fusion of stars, and in countless other natural processes that have nothing to do with biological systems or evolution.

As expert mathematicians have already shown, Dembski’s and Meyer’s “definition” of information is imprecise, subjective, and bears no relation to the way actual mathematicians and biologists use the term information.

Dembski’s “specified complexity” depends on David Wolpert’s No Free Lunch theorem. Here is what Wolpert, a mathematician with far more expertise and publication than Dembski can ever hope to muster, has to say about Dembski’s use of NFL:

“despite his invoking the NFL theorems, his arguments are fatally informal and imprecise. Like monographs on any philosophical topic in the first category, Dembski’s is written in jello.”

And mathematician Jeffrey Shallit has demolished Meyer’s bogus use of the concept of “information”:

http://recursed.blogspot.com/2009/10/stephen-meyers-bogus-information-theory.html

• NeilBJ

A law, such as the laws that govern the formation of crystals, does not convey information. Knowing the precursor conditions, one can always predict the output. The concept of information entails a certain amount of uncertainty.

I find it extremely interesting that all of life is based on a code. I was a logic design engineer, and part of the process I used was the construction of truth tables. A certain pattern of “1’s” and “0’s” would yield a specified output of a different pattern of “1’s” and “0’s”. I was using digital information to construct a certain kind of logic machine, e.g, some subsystem of a computer or control system.

I see no difference between using “1′” and “0’s” to specify a desired output and using the four nucleotides arranged three at time to specify a particular amino acid, which, when strung together with other amino acids, forms the basis for building a protein.

In each case, a particular arrangement of symbols conveys information to effect a certain output. I fail to see why the first case would be considered information and the second case would not.

• Dorfl

Did you read the link that beau_quilter linked to? It explains quite well the problems with the way Dembski uses the word ‘information’.

The short version is that there are two definitions of the word that information theorists use, Shannon information and Kolmogorov information. Both are well-defined, but neither can be used for the kind of argument that Dembski wants to make.

Dembski instead uses something he calls ‘specified information’ or ‘specified complexity’. He has not given a rigorous definition of what he means by that, meaning it cannot be used to make a rigorous argument.

Other ID:ers will often be even less precise about what they mean by information, meaning that arguments they make based on information have even less weight.

• http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

NeilBJ

No one is arguing that DNA does not constitute information. In some ways it can be compared to computer code, but the comparison is by no means complete or perfect; there are many other biological and environmental factors that control the growth of an organism in addition to DNA.

The problem is that ID proponents falsely assert that information created by humans (such as computer code) and the information generated by living organisms (DNA) are the only sorts of information (which leads to their presumption that intelligence has to directly generate DNA). The fact is that according to any scientist or mathematician who studies information, information is generated by countless physical processes, such as climate progression, star formation, planetary systems, the fusion processes that generate elements in huge varieties of molecular forms, continental drift, the water cycle on earth, galaxy formation, and the list goes on and on. These processes are complex, stable over long periods of time, and cyclical.

In other words, complex and “specified” (to the extent that this designation is even a calculable value) information is generated constantly all over the universe without the action of intelligence. The only way that ID proponents can argue that information is always generated by intelligence is by changing the definition of information to something that no one in information sciences would recognize. And they “redefine” information using basic misunderstandings about the accumulation of probabilities in evolution theory, and vague, subjective assessments of what they call “specified complexity”, a phrase which is meaningless and arbitrary.

• Vincent Torley

Hi Beau,
It’s no use saying stars and snowflakes contain information unless you’re willing to say how much. That’s the critical question. The fact is that it’s a lot harder for Nature to make a living thing than to make a snowflake. Evolutionary biologist Dr. Eugene Koonin has argued that the chances of Nature giving rise to even a simple living system are so low (about 1 in 10 to the power of 1,000, in his mathematical toy model, which made some ridiculously generous assumptions, and was peer-reviewd in Biology Direct in 2007) that a multiverse would be required to generate life. Of course, as Dr. Robin Collins has pointed out in his essay on “The Teleological Argument,” even a multiverse would need to be fine-tuned. So there’s no escaping the need for information to account for life.

• http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

Hi Vincent

No, one needn’t calculate the vast quantity of information generated by stars to know that ID proponents have it wrong in claiming that only intelligence can generate information. If you really want to add information specialization to your philosophy PhD I would suggest that you take courses from actual specialists in information theory.

It always strikes me as remarkably funny when ID’ers quote evolutionary biologists to discredit evolutionary biology. You clearly love to follow the hacks at the Discovery Institute who come up with gems like:

“Evolutionary biologist Dr. Koonin (or whoever) has published a finding that proves evolution impossible! Of course, the rest of Dr. Koonin’s entire life’s work of findings about evolutionary biology are completely wrong. We reject those findings and promote this one!”

Koonin’s calculation is an a posteriori argument that makes many assumptions; DI quacks like to call them “generous” others have called them “conservative” and even “imaginary”. As any information specialist will tell you, it is impossible to determine a legitimate a posteriori probability when the number of unknowns are vast. Koonin’s modeling is new and worthy of study, but certainly not definitive. In any case, Koonin certainly doesn’t support your ID conclusions.

You are essentially saying, out of one side of your mouth: “Koonin is so smart about abiogenesis probabilities.”

And out of the other side of your mouth: “Koonin is so stupid about multiverses.”

ID proponents love to cherry pick their appeals to scientific authority.

• Vincent Torley

Hi Beau,

It’s not cherry picking to quote an evolutionary biologist as showing that the emergence of life on Earth is fantastically improbable. That’s the sort of thing I’d expect him to know about. But he’s not a trained physicist, so when he appeals to multiverses as an explanation, I’m perfectly entitled to cite Robin Collins’ essay, “The Teleological Argument” as a refutation of Koonin’s proposal.

As for unknowns: look, I can understand if someone tells me we can’t calculate the probability of a cell appearing on the primordial Earth. But Darwinists make the same argument with simple proteins, which are merely chains of 100 or so amino acids: they say we can’t calculate the probability of a functional protein arising on the early Earth – even in this age of supercomputers! Poppycock, I say. They’re obfuscating, because they know perfectly well that the calculations that have been performed undercut abiogenesis.

Finally, if we can’t demonstrate that abiogenesis is reasonably probable, then why should we believe in naturalistic Darwinian evolution?

• http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

Hi Vincent

I see, so you trust Koonin’s math, you just don’t trust his math.

Brilliant! You must have solved the problem of abiogenesis! Have you published your findings? Because the only way to reasonably come up with a probability for a process to take place is to actually know what the process is.

The complexity of a process is more than the enumeration of it’s final parts. Which is why actual mathematicians, such Dr. David Wolpert of the No Free Lunch Theorem, describe the ID “application” of NFL “written in jello”. You can say “poppycock” if you like, but your argument from ignorance doesn’t really carry any weight for those who actually know how to calculate probabilities.

• Zarquon5

DNA is not a fixed code that was “Written” with an end product in mind. If a species happens to be adaptive to the environment, it’s members are naturally selected for, the species survives and the DNA goes on to the next generation. It’s not like God sat down and thought “There should be cows, I’ll write a cow. There should be cats, I’ll write a cat”. No, cats and cows and everything evolved into their current form from wildly different ancestors, and in millions of years their descendants will be even more wildly different. You can’t live long enough see evolution go on for millions of years, that’s what we use the fossil record for. And the fossil record shows creatures gradually evolving over time. But at least you can point to DNA replication and say “finding out about that firmly demonstrates the mechanism behind evolution”.
Or, if you want to see evolution happening a different way, there’s bacteria with their high generational turnover and hence their ability to evolve an immunity to antibiotics.
Nothing wrote DNA. If the Urey-Miller experiment is anything to go by, the self-replicating system of the cell formed by accident in the primordial ooze millennia ago and then multiplied until it was everywhere and started evolving into all the different stuff we know today.

• Patrick

I believe what is meant by “self-organization” here is that there is some kind of natural or mathematical law that results in spontaneous instances of increased complexity. Intelligent design usually suggests that some being intervened on multiple occasions to create life and cause it to reach the level of diversity we see today. Self-organization is spontaneous and innate to the laws of the universe, but intelligent design requires both an outside influence and for the laws of physics to have been altered at least once, probably multiple times.
If you’re going to assume the laws of nature are not constant, intelligent design becomes as likely as the possibility that the universe was created 100 years ago but made to look like it’s been around for 15 billion years.

• Zarquon5

My response is that even if I grant that Intelligent Design is what happened, why should I think that the Designer was the Christian God?