Intelligent Design’s Blind Spot, Part 2

Michael Flannery reviewed Evolution 2.0. I replied in “ID’s Blind Spot.” Michael then responded to my post in his comment #36.

Thank you, Michael, for your thoughtful remarks. Below are Michael’s questions in bold with my answers:speaker_flannery

You seem to presume a lot about what “practicing scientists” hear and

what the “average guy” believes about ID.

While I can’t speculate on what other people may or may not believe about ID, I would say that if you’re correct it is only because William J. Murray (#31) is absolutely correct, “The general misapprehension of what ID is, is due largely to a concerted effort of misinformation by those that oppose ID.”

In essence you create a straw version of a “God-did-it” “science-stopping” ID and then tell everyone, based upon this false version, what they believe about it.

I am describing ID based on how non-ID people perceive it – through conversations with a number of practicing professional researchers who work at secular universities, whether they are religious or not; and how people at, say, Biologos perceive it.

ID is a big tent. Message is fuzzy. Maybe that’s inevitable with the realities of fundraising etc. But I don’t think I’m presenting a straw man in the book. I’m describing ID as it is actually perceived by outsiders.

One can see just from the comments below your article that some readers see ID as a theoretical framework and not an empirical science and they’re fine with that.

I am also presenting what I actually hear ID people saying, from on my perspective of knowing real-time evolutionary experiments and systems that few people hear about. I tend to hear ID as a case against evolution. I seldom feel as though ID people are trying to figure out how to make evolution work empirically from within an ID paradigm.

It’s never seemed to me like Michael Behe was hunting high and low for a system that can build a flagellum from genes that are currently used in other ways, and assemble it. Maybe he is trying to do that. I don’t know. It seems “Darwin’s Black Box” mainly tells you what’s not possible.

I’m pretty sure that when somebody makes that discovery, it’s not going to look anything you’ve ever seen on Richard Dawkins’ website.

What I find most curious is that through most of the book, you actually argue essentially for ID. Your real argument seems to be not against ID per se, but against its present marketing.

If that is, in fact, the case I think there would have been a far better, less divisive way of presenting your ideas. (I also think Andre #30 asks a couple of good questions.)

Since ID is a set of ideas and not an independent physical object like a car, there is no difference between what ID is and how it’s marketed. Whatever is marketed is what it is.

Andre asks: How does one model chance and unguided processes? How is it scientifically possible to repeat a luck event?

It’s not. Which is my point when I say: “Similarly, evolution can mean “chancedidit”… or… scientists can conduct repeatable experiments and re-construct the chemical, genetic and information pathways that transform one species to another.”

Forgive me if I misinterpret, but Andre’s question seems to presume that the only available choices are chancedidit or goddidit. There is a third possibility, which is that cells are ontologically capable of directing their own evolution.

I believe that over time, using a Systems Biology approach, we can build more and more accurate models of what cells do when confronted with unexpected situations, how they improvise and assemble new features that did not exist before.

When I look at the work of Margulis, McClintock etc., cell-directed evolution is the most rational explanation I can come up with. Somehow, cells are smart enough to do this stuff. I don’t know how or why. They just are. More about this below.

I didn’t “skip” chapter 17. Perry, I didn’t say you ignored Stephen Meyer’s books, I said you ignored one particular book, his Signature in the Cell.

You want to define Evolution 2.0 by the remarkable capacities of the cell. Fine. Then you need to more thoroughly engage with this book. It is not mentioned or cited in Evolution 2.0.

Duly noted. But Meyer still forgot to tell you the most impressive thing of all – that the cell rewrites its own genome and re-creates itself! Transposition isn’t explained in Signature In The Cell either. The word “symbiogenesis” doesn’t even appear anywhere in the book!

I don’t get the idea that Meyer believes in common descent. But if common descent is true, that’s a way more impressive engineering feat than the designer having to build new species from scratch.

It’s not hype when I say I’m the first person to come along and explain this stuff to regular folks in plain English. It’s the biggest untold story in the history of science. Discovery Institute wasn’t telling it. So I did. The average “pays attention ID stuff” type of guy will discover cool new stuff when he reads my book.

You think there is a 10% chance that someone will discover a “purely chemical process that produces codes.” Then I can only say that at best your book has a 10% chance of being utterly wrong. If this can be proven I don’t see how teleology and meaningful design hold up.

You seem to be assuming there are only two choices – chance or divine intervention.

Michael, what if the universe possesses properties that can create life? What if the universe possesses teleology? What if living things are truly free agents? What if consciousness can be created through some precision physical arrangement of molecules and quantum states? What if consciousness is an emergent property that can exist independently of life – and perhaps give birth to life?

I make it very clear in the book that this would require a totally new law of physics. Or something even more earth-shattering than that. But how can you be sure such a principle doesn’t exist?

If it does, I want to find it – or find the person who finds it!

(By the way, you should read Biocentrism by Robert Lanza.)

And as for cells being “conscious,” I don’t know how we swim in these epistemologically deep waters. It seems to me you could easily get caught up in the whirlpools of Haeckel’s “cell-soul” monism and other philosophical dead-ends. You say “life can be free to develop its own purpose.”

Perhaps, but this just sounds to me like a reprise of old Biologos theology. I invite readers to peruse the excellent three-part series by Thomas Cudworth on “Theology at Biologos” from several years ago.

Do I know what “smart cell” truly means? Do cells brush their teeth before they say their prayers and go to bed?

I have no idea.

But I’m not afraid to embrace a view of the cell that’s philosophically troubling. Why does anyone have to be certain whether a cell is “sentient” or “conscious”? I can’t even define my own consciousness. I don’t know whether you, Michael, experience the color red inside your brain the same way I do. But it doesn’t keep me from being an empiricist.

Biology is as biology does. It sure looks like those white blood cells want to eat them germs. So… newsflash, it’s OK to say “cells want stuff.”

There. I just violated 150 years of holy writ by permitting teleology in science. But c’mon folks, we all know that living things want stuff. So let’s point out the elephant in the room and call a spade a spade.

Just as we can invoke dark matter and even gravity without truly understanding either, we can model cells as willful. And guess what, now biologists have the same problem economists have: How do you model willful, non-mathematical systems? Since I make my living as a marketer, I’m rather comfortable with that sort of ambiguity. Customers don’t always obey my neat little models either.

By the way, the solution to “where does new information come from to create evolution” is: cells make free choices. “1” or “0” is a CHOICE. Bits measure number of choices. If cells can make volitional choices, then the problem of information in evolution is fundamentally solved.

I suspect if someone solves the Origin Of Information challenge, they may have solved Origin Of Life AND evolution at a deep level. Two birds with one stone.

Given the importance you place in your book on concepts like science, miracle and consciousness, some analysis of these complex terms should have been given before going further.

For example, in what sense is consciousness bound up with intentionality and how is it distinguished from mere sentience? What exactly do you mean by miracle? What is its relationship to other phenomena? Here is not the place to go into these questions, but your book should have.

The colloquial use of the word miracle as “act of divine intervention” is adequate for my thesis. I do not expect scientists to use miracles as explanations of past events, however.

For the record I’m fine with miracles – so as long as you call them miracles. Two times, I’ve been in the room when someone who was deaf in one ear for 3+ decades got their hearing back in their deaf ear. The 2nd time, I was sitting right next to the lady when it happened.

I’m fine with that and I’m even public about it as you see. I don’t have any expectation of being able to reverse engineer what happened to those people, because I really think God healed them. That is far beyond the scope of the Evolution 2.0 so I don’t mention it there.

Nevertheless, I will challenge your view of science. You seem to suggest that science is just a sort of one-dimensional bench or field activity defined by the degree to which it is replicable. In fact, you say that on page 178, “Real science is based on inference from repeatable experiments. Anything less is abdication.”

I invite you to read Carol Cleland’s article, “Methodological and Epistemic Differences between Historical Science and Experimental Science,” Philosophy of Science v. 69, no. 3 (Sept. 2002): 447-451. You seem rather dismissive of historical science (p. 129), but as Cleland points out both are quite valid and useful in their own right, they’re just very different.

Acknowledged. My bias is hands-0n engineering. Which is the best way to thwart Darwinists. Want to watch a Darwinist flounder helplessly and excuse himself from the room? Forbid historical theories and demand functional experiments instead.

For example I see HUGE significance in the fact that David Prescott got ciliated protozoans to splice their DNA into 100,000 pieces and re-arrange them. That’s a major benchmark of what living things can do. I happily extrapolate that to what other cells might have done at any time in the past. It’s a repeatable experiment and it’s absolutely, fabulously amazing.

BTW where did I learn about Prescott? I didn’t learn about his work from the ID people. I heard about it from a paper by James Shapiro at the U. of Chicago. Dr. Shapiro is committed to methodological naturalism, and following the evidence WHEREVER it leads. He has no preconceived notions about what the cell can or cannot do. He’s the guy who discovered transposition in bacteria. Hats off to him for doing that – what a fabulous accomplishment.

The empirical stuff that “third way” people discover is more impressive, from an engineer’s point of view, than any actual miracle would be. Case in point: How badly PZ Myers scorns Barbara McClintock’s view of the cell. Like I say in my book: “Darwinists underestimate nature. Creationists underestimate God.”

And by the way I’ve had the same conversation with various Discovery staff as I’m having with you. In some cases I felt they understood what I’m saying. In other cases, they seemed to think this is petty hair splitting. It’s not.

This is why I insist there’s a major difference between my project and what the Discovery Institute is espousing. The fact that I have several mainstream academic scientists endorsing my book (Kwong Jeon of U. of Tennessee, Peter Saunders of King’s College, Sungchul Ji of Rutgers) is indication that I’m making some headway with traditional scientists.

Without going into the concept of what a miracle is, I’ll only relate back to your own concept of science. If the hallmark of science is repeatability, why wouldn’t miracles themselves be repeatable? I invite you to read Andrew Rein on “Repeatable Miracles?,” Analysis v.46, no. 2 (Mar. 1986): 109-112.

I have personally seen two deaf people get their hearing back, in real time. I guess that’s a little bit repeatable. However one lost their hearing from a loud gunshot, the other lost it by swimming in cold water. Not identical.

Having said all this, there a danger of highlighting our differences too much. Fact of the matter is, there is much to applaud in this book. I do, as you do Perry, invite readers to get the book and read it for themselves. In the end, despite my issues with it, it is a book worth having.

Thank you Michael. One last thought: How evolution actually works is actually the best argument for design that there is anywhere! NOTHING is more impressive than a design that redesigns itself. It’s MC Escher-like, and seen in real time, it’s far more fascinating than any abstract design concept or past event.

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4 Responses

  1. Joe G says:

    How ID is perceived by non-ID people is a testament to their own willful ignorance, their laziness or the blatant misrepresentations of ID’s opponents. Education cures all of that.

    But anyway- smart cells-> My view is that organisms were designed to evolve and evolved by design. That means they actively control their genomes, whether consciously or not.

  2. Perry Marshall has indirectly and directly called attention to the fact that energy is required for DNA repair. Now see: How the cell’s power station survives attacks

    Excerpt: “…when the cell’s power stations are disrupted, the amount of energy floating around a cell—ATP—is lowered. After just a few minutes, AMPK detects this reduction of energy in the cell and hurries to the mitochondria. Like a guard pulling a fire alarm, AMPK activates a receptor on the outside membrane of a mitochondrion to signal it to fragment.”

    In the article published in Science Magazine, the authors claim that “…AMPK emerges as a master regulator of mitochondrial homeostasis…”

    It would be interesting to see how a teleophobe links the emergence of energy from random mutations to evolution and homeostasis.

  3. Flannery suggests that Marshall “…start cooperating with your manifest allies. More is to be gained by working in concert than in conflict.”

    Have any of these so-called allies linked atoms to ecosystems via a pattern of cell type differentiation in all living genera? It would be nice to know about any allies who might be serious scientists. Their works could be compared to what Perry Marshall has learned from other serious scientists about biologically-based top-down causation and how biodiversity is controlled by chromosomal rearrangements.

  4. Joe G says:

    Testing your sense of humor:

    Poof, the magic Mutant (to the tune “Puff the Magic Dragon”)

    Poof the Magic Mutant, a-t-g-c
    And changed them just by randomness just to see what he could be.
    Little Richard Dawkins, loved that rascal Poof.
    And wrote him books to appease the kooks, oh what a silly goof!

    Oh Poof the Magic Mutant, a-t-g-c
    And changed them just by randomness just to see what he could be
    Poof the Magic Mutant, a-t-g-c
    And changed them just by randomness just to see what he could be

    Together they would mutate Poof into a beluga whale
    Richard kept a spectroscope trained on Poof’s mutating tail.
    Nobel things and atheists bowed whene’er they came
    Scientists would lower their flasks when Poof mutated a mane

    Oh Poof the Magic Mutant, a-t-g-c
    And changed them just by randomness just to see what he could be
    Poof the Magic Mutant, a-t-g-c
    And changed them just by randomness just to see what he could be

    Mutations can’t go on forever, just like little boys
    Antennaed wings and giant things doom nature’s mutant ploys
    One gray night it happened, natural selection said no more
    And Poof that Magic Mutant, mutated one last roar

    His head was bent in sorrow, his tears fell like rain
    Richard no longer went to write it gave him so much pain
    Without his life-long friend Dick could not be brave
    So Dick that evo-poofer sadly slipped in to his cave

    Oh Poof the Magic Mutant, a-t-g-c
    And changed them just by randomness just to see what he could be
    Poof the Magic Mutant, a-t-g-c
    And changed them just by randomness just to see what he could be

    (repeat chorus and fade…)

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