Occam’s Shaving Kit

Jerry Coyne’s first chapter of Why Evolution Is True begins with something of a patronizing quotation from Jacques Monod. “A curious aspect of the theory of evolution is that everybody thinks he understands it” (p. 1) Well, excuse us.

But after that, he starts at the right place, which is the appearance of design. Coyne quotes Paley’s form of the argument from design, which he then calls “both commonsensical and ancient” (p. 2). Beginning this way, Coyne acknowledges that evolutionists must walk up something of an incline until we all come out on the sunny uplands of enlightenment. That incline is the fact that the appearance of design is all around us. Coyne believes, however, that if we just define our terms properly, the problem evaporates.

Let me begin with his definition of evolution, followed by a brief definition of the six constituent elements of it.

“Life on earth evolved gradually beginning with one primitive species — perhaps a self-replicating molecule — that lived more than 3.5 billion years ago; it then branched out over time, throwing off many new and diverse species; and the mechanism for most (but not all) of evolutionary change is natural selection” (p. 3).

The six components of this are as follows — evolution, gradualism, speciation, common ancestry, natural selection, and evolutionary change by nonselective means (p. 3). Evolution means that genetic changes occur over time. Gradualism means that the time involved is a long time. Speciation means that different groups split, and go their separate ways, developing in different directions over time. Common ancestry is the “flip side of speciation” (p. 8), pointing out that all these variegated species didn’t used to be variegated — they came from a common source. Natural selection is what accounts for the appearance of design. It is that when there are genetic mutations in a group, and some of those differences provide a survival advantage, then those helpful differences will be passed on down the line. Survival-friendly genes have a “unfair” advantage. The last tenet is that some events may help out with evolution without using natural selection, as, for example, when different groups have differing numbers of offspring. This means that some changes “have nothing to do with adaptation” (p. 13).

Okay, so back to Paley. When we find a watch in the woods, we may infer a watchmaker. Not so fast, Coyne says, and then provides us with an alternative way of getting to the watch. Now most creationist critiques at this point show that it is not quite so simple as all that, and argue with the alternative way of getting to the watch. I am entirely on board with all of that, but want to make another point. But before getting to my different point, however, let me just tip my hat to the traditional critiques — which I will no doubt be offering myself later on in this book review. For one example, the chasm between inorganic and organic is enormous, and it is a gap for which Coyne’s six component parts of evolution have absolutely no relevance. So what happened there? For another example, why should any of the genetic changes confer any survival advantage at all? And so forth.

But here is the different point, one that grants, for the sake of the argument, that Coyne has offered us a way of getting to a watch without a watchmaker. That still doesn’t prove that there was no watchmaker . . . but Coyne thinks it does.

Once the mechanism of natural selection was pointed out, Coyne thinks the discussion is over.

“The more one learns about plants and animals, the more one marvels at how well their designs fit their ways of life. What could be more natural than inferring that this fit reflects conscious design? Yet Darwin looked beyond the obvious, suggesting — and supporting with copious evidence — two ideas that forever dispelled the idea of deliberate design. Those ideas were evolution and natural selection” (p. 3).

Now look at what he does here. There are two possible explanations for something, one kind of obvious, and the other far-fetched. Darwin, and Coyne after him, show that the far-fetched option is a possibility, yay, and Coyne therefore thinks this “forever dispelled” the other option. But to show that something with the appearance of design might have been the result of an impersonal process does not show that it had to have been the result of an impersonal process. How could that follow? To go from the possibility of no God to the certainty of no God is an exercise in wish fulfillment.

If Paley’s companion, arguing with him, showed (with copious evidence) that the watch could have assembled itself, why can Paley not still reply that he thinks it is simpler to surmise that somebody lost his watch. “Look. There is a name inscribed on the back of it. William of Occam. And here’s his shaving kit. It has a razor in it.”

This is to argue, in effect, that if there is the slightest possibility that there is no God, then we must conclude decisively that there is no God. But to go from “there might not be a designer” to “there must not be a designer” is a great leap — almost as great as the leap from inorganic to organic, and like that earlier chasm, there is no natural selection to help you get across it.

This is because bad arguments, being inorganic, don’t have any genetic material.

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58 comments on “Occam’s Shaving Kit

  1. Interesting that you can tell the watch(designed) apart from those things around it. If both were designed you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

  2. I am so looking forward to this. I just read this book and
    found it more convincing than most on the subject of evolution. It
    is convincing in a very focused and limited scope, and tries to use
    its more convincing first chapters to sell the less proven
    propositions at the end. It also doesn’t spend a lot of time with
    creationist or intelligent design-type arguments, which is not
    surprising, given the proposition that evolution is a “fact” and is
    “obvious”. I look forward to your take on this whole
    thing.

  3. Sounds like a reverse Ontological Argument.

  4. I will definitely agree with the main premise of this post. So many atheist evolutionists jump from “evolution removes one argument for the necessity to believe in God!” to “evolution proves their is no God!”, which I find a completely illogical leap.

    One issue with your statement: “the chasm between inorganic and organic is enormous, and it is a gap for which Coyne’s six component parts of evolution have absolutely no relevance. So what happened there?”

    I’m not sure if the issue is that you misunderstand the meaning of “organic” or if you are just unaware of the science. First off, I should mention that the separation between “organic” and “inorganic” is essentially arbitrary, which also suggests to me that maybe you want to mean something else when you say that.

    But many commonly considered organic materials have been shows to be created from inorganic through fairly simple means. The famous Miller-Urey experiment produced a multitude of organic compounds (amino acids, amines, and sugars) from nothing more than electricity applied to simple inorganic gases – carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia, and sugars. Most of the amino acids that form the building blocks of life and the sugar (ribose) that forms a major component of genetic material were among those created.

    I personally believe that the Miller-Urey experiment probably made some errors in terms of their assumptions about the gas mixture in the atmosphere of early Earth, but more sophisticated experiment using a mix of gases more likely to have existed in early Earth have also produced organic compounds. In fact, every RNA and DNA nucleotide has now been shown to be produced through a simple mixture of inorganic chemicals likely to have existed on early Earth within a reducing atmosphere.

    So if “inorganic to organic” is really the difficult step you want to propose as a dealbreaker, that hurdle has already been proven false. That makes me suspect that you may mean something else?

  5. “The famous Miller-Urey experiment produced a multitude of organic compounds (amino acids, amines, and sugars) from nothing more than electricity applied to simple inorganic gases – carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia, and sugars.”

    Sorry, when I said “sugars” at the end, I meant to say “hydrogen”.

    The more recent experiments have also included nitrogen, as well as some of the metals present in the rocks of the ground.

  6. @Jonathan:

    I think the disconnect comes in the leap from disassociated amino acids and sugars to functional cellular organisms.

    Strictly speaking, the Miller-Urey experiment proved only that you can synthesize amino acids and sugars by running current though a mix of gases.

    It does not even begin to explain how those products gathered into the form of a cell and began reproducing identical cellular members.

  7. Jonathan,
    One more correction. You said, “from nothing more than electricity applied to simple inorganic gases – carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia, and sugars.”

    Methane is an organic gas.

    - Doug

  8. I interpret the distinction between organic and inorganic to be between self-educating organisms and their chemical constituents. This is meant to include the metainformation of the interprative framework whereby DNA codes are taken to correspond to specific proteins etc. The information represented by the code is independent of the chemicals used to convey the information.

  9. Auto correct got me. Self-replicating.

  10. We can get from carbon dioxide, methane etc to amino acids. Also, we can make a good guess as to where this evolution of life could have occurred – between sheets of mica (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20558181). What I’m trying to say is that the gaps are shrinking – I’d be very careful to make theological claims based on gaps in scientific knowledge – what you’ll get is an ever-shrinking “God-of-the-gaps”.

    “Design” turns out to be much more of a philosophical argument. And often, very poorly constructed arguments follow – like Douglas Adams’ famous quip “This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!” (from the Salmon of Doubt). The arguments hinges on a fundamental misunderstanding of process – ie, it is a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

  11. @ Jonathan

    I suspect “organic” is meant in the biology rather than chemistry sense — i.e.: of or relating to an organism. I too look forward to elaboration of this point from DW.

    Thanks for the helpful post, Doug.

  12. Andrew Wilson wrote “Interesting that you can tell the watch(designed) apart from those things around it. If both were designed you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.”

    Are you able to tell the difference between a watch and a chair? Or between a watch and a pile of couch cushions? It’s not at all difficult to distinguish one designed thing from another.

    The same principle holds true even when the designed things are a watch and bunch of ferns on a mossy rock.

  13. I found this comment strange: “Interesting that you can tell the watch(designed) apart from those things around it. If both were designed you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.”

    Tell what difference? Are you suggesting that we couldn’t tell a difference between a designed watch and a genetically engineered tree, if both are designed? That’s a bit like saying that you wouldn’t notice a pocket watch laying in a manicured formal garden. Are you suggesting that a pocket watch found in an ancient Egyptian tomb would go unnoticed because both were designed?

    William Paley’s argument isn’t about “how can we spot something designed from something not designed”. Paley is challenging the instinct that the stone on the heath had simply “lain there forever”. Paley begins with common ground and assumes that people wouldn’t use such a cop-out to explain a pocket watch, so on what basis would they get to use it when faced with the surpassing intricacies of nature? The complexity and organization of the pocket watch is not a unique property distinct from that commonly found in nature. To suggest that, “only things that are known to be designed need an explanation”, is special pleading. Those who think that a watch needs an explanation, yet a tree doesn’t, are the ones who need to “tell the difference”.

    “Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation.” — Natural Theology (Paley, 1802)

  14. Klasie wrote, “We can get from carbon dioxide, methane etc to amino acids. Also, we can make a good guess as to where this evolution of life could have occurred – between sheets of mica”

    Clearly, all of the magic happens between the sheets, of mica.
    If only “good guesses” were the same as historical arguments. Wilson’s (apparently overlooked) point is that a postulation that doesn’t require intelligent agency is not the same as an argument precluding God’s acts in the history we actually live in. I think the positive case for God leaves everyone without excuse, but I just wanted to reiterate Doug’s point.

    In other words, even if a scientist could evolve a butterfly from an elephant, using only natural selection and cosmic rays, and even if they could do it repeatably every fifteen minutes, it might be powerfully persuasive evidence for something, but does anyone think this would tell us that butterflies actually evolved from elephants historically? Anyone?

    Science is a powerful idol in our day, no doubt.

  15. Klasie Kraalogieson Monday, June 10, 2013 at 1:35 pm said:

    “We can get from carbon dioxide, methane etc to amino acids. Also, we can make a good guess as to where this evolution of life could have occurred – between sheets of mica”

    That’s nice… but how does one go from random amino acids to fully functional and self-replicating cell bodies?

    The evolutionary arguments are being questioned purely on the merit of their own assertions..

  16. Good catch Doug Shuffield.

    @Arwen:

    “I think the disconnect comes in the leap from disassociated amino acids and sugars to functional cellular organisms.”

    I agree, Arwen. And that leap has nothing to do with “inorganic” to “organic”. But that’s the sort of thing that leads me to question this whole exercise – someone who doesn’t understand the science is criticizing someone who does understand the science by trying to parrot things he’s heard from others, gets it wrong, and yet will probably have his wrong statements repeated by others.

    There are lots of legitimate scientific questions to ask of evolution. And scientists (including Christian scientists) should be asking them. There are lots of fundamental theological and philosophical errors that some atheists make under the guise of evolution. And theologians and philosophers (including Christians, of course) should be pointing out those errors.

    I would get Doug questioning the theological and philosophical assumptions of atheistic evolutionists. But every time I’ve seen him question the science (such as this post, and his positive review of “The Genius of Ancient Man”), he’s gotten the science laughably wrong.

  17. Krasie Kraalogies – I am in high agreement with your post. Back when I studied it (which, admittedly, was almost 15 years ago), I thought that clay-based life was a good candidate, though there are still several other viable possibilities.

    But the point is, the more we learn about science, the more we learn about how it is possible. As you say, this “God of the gaps” position is destined for failure.

    The really annoying thing is that creationists appear to think that evolutionists have gotten the theology right (“evolution must disprove God!”) and the science wrong. It appears much more likely to me that the scientists have the science right and the theology wrong. If we keep accepting their theological premises, while then having to fight their scientific conclusions to hold onto our faith, then we’re just going to be fighting a losing battle as more and more people realize that creationists preach bad science.

  18. Jonathan wrote:
    But that’s the sort of thing that leads me to question this whole exercise – someone who doesn’t understand the science is criticizing someone who does understand the science by trying to parrot things he’s heard from others, gets it wrong, and yet will probably have his wrong statements repeated by others.

    First Jonathan would need to show that Doug got it wrong. I’ve learned not to take Jonathan’s assertions at face value. Even the wiki page for inorganic compounds says this:

    Inorganic compounds are traditionally viewed as being synthesized by the agency of geological systems. In contrast, organic compounds are found in biological systems.

    This seems to be the straightforward sense that Doug is using the terms (since he isn’t claiming to be a scientist). No foul there. Of course the wiki page goes on to describe the modern technical usage of the term, which varies somewhat between organic chemists and biologists. Check for yourself and ask why Jonathan is so eager to shut Wilson down by argument ad hominem? This is the same behavior we see from unbelieving evolutionists who simply want to shout down creationists without due consideration. Why is Jonathan resorting to this tactic? He finds a quibble over the traditional use of the terms inorganic/organic, and offers it as the basis “to question this whole exercise”. What?

    It is Jonathan who toots his own horn on the sciences, but he had to be corrected that methane is actually an organic gas. Should we be mocking and laughing at Jonathan? Should we “question his whole exercise”?

  19. This is from the same wiki article on “inorganic compounds”:

    The distinction between inorganic and organic compounds is not always clear. Some scientists, for example, view the open environment (i.e., the ecosphere) as an extension of life and from this perspective may consider atmospheric CO2 as an organic compound. The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, an agency widely recognized for defining chemical terms, does not offer definitions of inorganic or organic. Hence, the definition for an inorganic versus an organic compound in a multidisciplinary context spans the division between living (or animate) and non-living (or inanimate) matter and remains open to debate according to the way that one views the world.

    It seems like Doug’s usage is simply the traditional usage. And what’s this about “remains open to debate”? Not according to Jonathan. He is already laughing.

    So who are we supposed to laugh at now? Perhaps science will tell us.

  20. katecho – the important fact you’re trying to obscure is that there is no definition for “inorganic” and “organic” compounds for which the “chasm” between them is enormous or insurmountable.

    You state:

    “Inorganic compounds are traditionally viewed as being synthesized by the agency of geological systems. In contrast, organic compounds are found in biological systems.”

    And the problem for you is that those organic compounds found in biological systems, such as amino acids and amines and sugars, have been shown to also be synthesized by non-biological systems. There’s just no chasm there.

    As has already been pointed out by multiple other people, there is a more difficult step, but that step has absolutely nothing to do with the difference between inorganic and organic, and no one, chemist or biologist, technical or traditional, calls it that.

  21. Slance, Arwen – you missed my point quite spectacularly – namely that a “proof for God” that relies on the gaps in the evidence / understanding / theory are only good for as long as those gaps remained unfulfilled.

    Furthermore, as I said, the ID argument is a philosophical one, and one that is very inadequate. As per my “post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy” comment.

  22. So… Anyone feed any poor people, or aid elderly widows recently? Just curious

  23. Oooorrr…Genesis 1:1-31 ;)

  24. Jonathan wrote:
    katecho – the important fact you’re trying to obscure is that there is no definition for “inorganic” and “organic” compounds for which the “chasm” between them is enormous or insurmountable.

    Is science done by observation or by definition? Jonathan is now simply asserting his faith commitment that all obstacles and gaps will be overcome. Just dandy. The venture capitalist feels exactly the same way about the perpetual motion machine he’s been investing in. Now what? Is it open season to shoot ad hominems at Doug in the meantime?

    Faith is a valid means to knowledge (when the object of that faith is true), but if evolutionists are going to push their faith commitments in everyone else’s face, why do they still think they get to call it science? The persuasive power of the scientific method only cashes out when the goods are put on the table for inspection.

    Jonathan has resorted to a dismissive tactic against Doug regarding terms that Doug has merely used in the straightforward traditional sense. It’s fine if Jonathan wants to disagree with Doug about the nature of the “chasm”, but Jonathan has repeatedly tried to ridicule Doug out of court by attacking his credentials. It’s a textbook example of ad hominem fallacy.

    Jonathan would have done better to address Doug’s actual point, which was that Coyne’s six elements of evolution do not operate prior to biogenesis, and therefore can’t be appealed to as servants of the Great Cause. Also, as with the butterfly-to-elephant experiment mentioned above, even if an evolutionist should produce a recipe for a self-replicating automata from scratch out of the same raw elements that operate in us, it would not establish that abiogenesis followed that recipe, or that God didn’t create the various kinds directly, as His Word describes. This fact may frustrate those who have put their faith in science as the one-and-only be-all means of everything knowable, but it is still the case. Some idols die hard.

  25. Jonathan wrote:
    And the problem for you is that those organic compounds found in biological systems, such as amino acids and amines and sugars, have been shown to also be synthesized by non-biological systems. There’s just no chasm there.
    Jonathan’s sentence parses as if he is saying that amino acids are examples of biological systems in their own right. I’m not sure where that notion comes from. Amino acids are referred to as the “building blocks” or “alphabet” of protein construction. Amino acids are simple molecules that have a structure that facilitates combination with other amino acids into peptide chains and proteins, much like Lego blocks have a structure that facilitates combination with other Legos. But is a Lego block a system? If it is, then the letter “e” is also a system.

    Jonathan seems to think that the chasm is found in the mere production of the alphabet of life, but logically that is only the beginning. Consider the analogy that your goal is to produce a novel without an author. You’d start modestly. You wouldn’t be limited to writing with paper, or ink, or e-books, but the entire world would be an open canvas. Letters could be formed with anything; fallen twigs, pine needles, worm trails in mud, etc, etc. As you begin to look around, your eyes see letters being formed all over the place. They aren’t perfect, or even right side up, but at least recognizable. The letter “I” is especially common, as is the letter “J” and “X” and “O” and “T” and “U” and “V” and “Y”. Is anyone really surprised by this? You can spot “S” and “C” and “L”, but you begin to notice that “Q” is less common, as are “B” and “E” and “G” and “R”. Now comes the task of writing the first author-less word. Things become difficult right away. Nature doesn’t cooperate. Sometimes you might spot a two-letter word, like “SO” or “IT”, but almost never any three letter words, and even then a letter might be mirror image or upside down. Forget about four and five letter words. But now it’s time for our first sentence. We are confined mainly to two- and three- letter words, but how will we get them to show up together to form our first sentence? I think you begin to see the problem. Notice how natural selection doesn’t come into play since letters and words are not mating with each other, do not pass on heritable variations, and are not competing under survival pressures. Synthesizing amino acids is like spotting random letters in nature, but what process will bring these letters together, turn them right side up, arrange them into words, and then into sentences with grammar? No abiological process is named by Coyne or by Jonathan.

    Jonathan continues:
    As has already been pointed out by multiple other people, there is a more difficult step, but that step has absolutely nothing to do with the difference between inorganic and organic, and no one, chemist or biologist, technical or traditional, calls it that.

    Who are these other people who pointed out this more difficult step to us? Have they ever visited Doug’s blog? Jonathan is probably referring to the chirality problem. He doesn’t bother to give us a testable solution to it though.

  26. Wilson’s point is that methodological naturalism is tacitly assumed at the outset by evolutionists, when it’s the very thing which should be open to question.

    This is the missing step, the hidden premise, the “leap of logic”.

    This is why if a naturalistic explanation is found to be merely possible, any explanation, no matter how unlikely, it is seen by these people as ruling out the creationist alternative.

    But methodological naturalism rules out in principle, for all they know, the true explanation. That is, methodological naturalism is not a friend of science: it destroys science.

    Suppose there’s a murder, and there’s an investigation. Suppose they start with an assumption: “At the very least, aliens from outer space didn’t do it. Haha! Let’s rule that out.” But what if hostile aliens from outer space actually did it? The police would never find out the truth. Yet theories that would explain the dynamics of the murder would no doubt be conceived and proposed. But even if a theory is found which does explain the facts without mentioning aliens — though perhaps in a complex, strained, creaky, ad hoc, roundabout and counterintuitive way — that would not correspond to what really happened, since the fact remains that the aliens really did it. It would be good to point out the weaknesses of the theory, but it would be really profitable to question the opening premise.

    Cornelius Hunter has written good stuff about this. Check out his books, and check this out:

    http://darwins-god.blogspot.com/2011/07/what-evolutionists-dont-understand.html

  27. Tony from Pandora,

    First of all, lol, nice troll.

    Second, in the amount of time it took you to comment on this post you could have sent the Red Cross multiple texts donating $10 to whomever. Why do you think arguing with people was more beneficial than that?

  28. Klasie Kraalogieson Monday, June 10, 2013 at 8:22 pm said:

    “Slance, Arwen – you missed my point quite spectacularly – namely that a “proof for God” that relies on the gaps in the evidence / understanding / theory are only good for as long as those gaps remained unfulfilled. ”

    It is possible that I missed the point of your post. But since your post missed the entire point of the current discussion, I’m willing to call it even if you are.

  29. katecho, all I can say is that your posts are still riddled with errors, and if I corrected all of them you’d just reply with more stuff you cut-and-paste from the internet riddled with errors, and we’d just go around in that loop over and over like we did when you tried to claim that the fact that the Mayans could build pyramids disproved all of evolution.

    So I’m just going to end it here. You will reply in the 3rd person with some snarky comment, and then at least it will be done.

  30. Matthias,

    Didn’t mean to offend… just a tongue-in-cheek way to put this discussion in perspective. I’ve followed several forums on this topic and they never fail to follow the same pattern… I just couldn’ resist… my apologies….

    I prefer Compassion International to the Red Cross…

  31. Tony,

    No offense taken. I’ll just file this exchange under “Irony” and thank you for your tone in response :)

  32. Klasie, if the design inference is essentially a “post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy”, how is it that the omni-Darwinian argument is not?

  33. By “omni-Darwinian I mean, of course, the argument that says that all – or nearly – all of the APPARENT purposive design inherent in biological organisms are merely the product of Darwinian processes.

  34. Jay – because the “Darwinian processes” are blind, ie, it could have ended in any number of ways – or not happen at all. The fallacy implies “Since that event followed this one, that event must have been caused by this one.”. There is no “must have been” in Darwinian terms.

    If you really want to understand this, I’d actually recommend 3 popular-level books that have very little to do with evolution by themselves, but sheds light into cause, effect and the nature of natural processes:

    Two are by the same renowned author, James Gleick: “Chaos”, and “The Information: A History, a theory, a flood”. The other is Sync, by Steven Strogatz. The first two are brilliantly written, the latter one is generally good, though wanders a bit. If you are only going to read one, read “The Information”.

  35. Jonathan wrote:
    katecho, all I can say is that your posts are still riddled with errors, and if I corrected all of them you’d just reply with more stuff you cut-and-paste from the internet riddled with errors, and we’d just go around in that loop over and over like we did when you tried to claim that the fact that the Mayans could build pyramids disproved all of evolution.

    Speaking of errors and fallacies, I’ve never stated or implied that building pyramids disproved all of evolution. I don’t recall ever even mentioning Mayans on Wilson’s blog. Apparently Jonathan has graduated from ad hominem fallacies to outright falsehoods. Or perhaps he has me confused with someone else. In any case, his concern for my reputation appears to be as strong as his concern for Doug’s reputation, which is to say, not very.

    How we differ can say more about us than what we differ over.

  36. As far as I can tell, Coyne doesn’t actually think that Darwin showed that an undesigned world is merely possible, but rather that it is by far the most plausible option if one doesn’t assume a deity or some other supernatural force. Even if one does assume a deity, it is not unreasonable to say that it would have interacted with the world via natural forces (“natural forces” here being a kind of extension of divine will), rather than winking everything into existence magically. It also isn’t unreasonable to say that e.g. Jewish myths were not intended to nor could they possibly have been expected to capture the full complexity of this process.

    Which doesn’t mean any of that is necessarily true. So what is all this really about?

  37. Dear Merciful Savior, please make them all stop it.

    Nobody should be allowed to voice their opinion or thoughts or perspective on or arguments relating to organic evolution. Nobody. Ever. Anywhere. Except me.

    I think the indicative point here is that the fellow writing this book thinks that Darwin came up with the idea of evolution.

    Laughable. Darwin’s Grandfather didn’t even come up with the idea of evolution.

    (Although Erasmus Darwin was an acquaintance of Lamarck, who did largely construct the widely accepted model of evolution that stood until the days of Darwin and Wallace.)

    Pastor Wilson, please stop reading this book. Throw it in the rubbish bin where it belongs. Read “the Beak of the Finch” or something else instead. Or better yet, let me write the evolution articles. At least I won’t inflate my pompous, delusional attempts at intellectual competence with specious historical claims, pseudoscientific myths, and heavy-handed, obtuse dismissals of superior philosophies.

    And disable the comments.

  38. Since we are talking about what is or isn’t reasonable, I thought the standard naturalistic mythology was that everything (including “natural forces”) did wink into existence magically at the big bang.

    The naturalistic mythology sees the universe we live in as the kind of magical place where explosions produce debris that argues amongst itself about its origin, and who should be the next American Idol.

    That explosion debris should have conversations with other debris about what is or isn’t reasonable is what any self-respecting explosion debris would reasonably do in this situation. Right?

  39. Klasie wrote:
    “Design” turns out to be much more of a philosophical argument. And often, very poorly constructed arguments follow – like Douglas Adams’ famous quip “This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!” (from the Salmon of Doubt). The arguments hinges on a fundamental misunderstanding of process – ie, it is a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

    I appreciate that Klasie acknowledges design to be an argument, however design is no more or less a philosophical argument than the idea of “something from nothing”, or “effects without causes”. Design refers to intent and telos, and these are all very objective concepts. Our faculties of discernment vary, but every effect was either intended or it was not.

    I actually wouldn’t describe Douglas Adams’ puddle argument as poorly constructed. I think it is hilariously constructed. Of course it isn’t valid reasoning, but that’s what makes it effective as humor. The reason that the puddle argument isn’t useful as an analogy of creationist argument is because liquid water is known to be nearly infinitely malleable and easily conforming to the shape of any environment. Chemical life? Not so much. If life was springing up everywhere like puddles after a rain then evolutionists wouldn’t be having such a hard time coaxing it out in their labs, and SETI wouldn’t have such a hard time tuning into the twitter feeds from outer space.

    There are actually quite narrow naturalistic bounds, outside of which the chemistry of life simply won’t occur, and heavier atomic elements wouldn’t form, etc. Creationists are only pointing out the data at issue. Evolutionists have admitted them at various stages themselves, including Stephen Hawking:

    “…the remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers (the size of the electric charge of the electron and ratio of the masses of the proton and the electron, for example) seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life”

    “Moreover, the initial rate of expansion [of the universe] would have had to be to be chosen precisely for the rate of expansion still to be so close to the critical rate needed to avoid collapse.” (chosen by whom?)

    “It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as an act of God who intended to create beings like us.”

    Hawking caught a lot of heat from the Ptolemaic guardians of evolutionary dogma for putting that stuff in print. I believe in his subsequent book, The Great Design, Hawking repented and confessed that gravity is almighty, and so avoided excommunication. Still, he is clearly aware of the problem. Creationists didn’t make it up.

    People are very good at noticing suspicious patterns. Two flat rocks stacked on each other in the forest may be a coincidence, but five rocks makes one suspicious of purposeful intent. This is called Bayesian Inference. Even though relatively few can explain the math, it turns out we are instinctively quite good at making this kind of inference. When we observe a universe with multiple features that just happen to be within the narrow band that allows us to be here, we logically begin to suspect that intent is involved. It’s reasonable to make this inference.

    So how do evolutionists avoid the Bayesian Inference suggesting an intentional universe? Easy peasy. They just change the prior probability by invoking theories of multiple universes. If there are billions of other universes besides ours, then we just accidentally happen to be in one that has the right balance to allow chemical life. Therefore, we don’t have to infer any intent. Simple, right?

    Simple and disturbingly unscientific. There is zero scientific evidence for other universes. It is pure philosophical necessity that makes them postulate it. In other words, their naturalistic philosophy has them by the nose. They are slaves to it, and they have abandoned repeatable scientific methodology. They have rejected parsimony and multiplied entities without warrant, and have gone mad into the wilderness. Their nails are like eagles’ claws and they eat grass like cattle. Their beard and hair are grown long like feathers because they refuse Occam’s shaving kit.

    But who cares what Occam thought, he was a Christian friar.
    And Thomas Bayes was a presbyterian minister of Christ, so we can ignore him too.

    You know your theory is in trouble when you have to feed it billions of universes to keep it alive.

  40. Reuben K. wrote:
    At least I won’t inflate my pompous, delusional attempts at intellectual competence with specious historical claims, pseudoscientific myths, and heavy-handed, obtuse dismissals of superior philosophies.

    It’s a bit hard to follow, but I think Reuben just acknowledged that naturalistic evolution is a philosophy.
    About time we moved it over to the philosophy department then.

  41. Klasie, you are correct that the inference to design cannot be strictly proven logically given the nature of the argument itself. However, you should also admit that the inference to design is a possibility – at least if you are going to be logically consistent.

    The non-ID theory says basically that we observe some natural selection, the rare survival/reproductive benefits of DNA/RNA transcription errors, Gene Shift phenomena, etc. (so-called “blind processes”) and extrapolate from these that all the astounding complexity we find today results from the historical accumulation of these sorts of phenomena – and are not the result of intelligent Agency.

    Put more simply:
    We don’t perceive an intelligent designer causing Bio-Complexity.
    We have observed that some apparently designed Bio-Complexity was caused by blind processes.
    Therefore all apparently designed Bio-Complexity was caused by blind processes alone.

    Can you not see how the argument above is just as fallacious – again strictly speaking – as one that says Bio-Complexity must be the result of purposive design?

    Still, we may find comfort in the fact that, while strict logical proof is impossible, inferences to probabilities are obtainable.
    So, given the data – and what we know about specified complexity, language systems, design, mutation, intelligence, breeding, etc. – can we not apply Occam’s advice and thus infer that something rather Fishy is going on?

  42. Katecho:

    I will readily and gladly profess that naturalistic evolution is a scientific theory (and therefore philosophical theory) that attempts to cram organic life into the biscuit tin of Naturalism.

    I will even more readily and eagerly profess that this biscuit tin of Naturalism is a philosophy, albeit an ultimately self-defeating, essentially anti-rational, exceedingly mystical, and even superstitious philosophy, when it is not being used simply as a mantra for meditating on the mystical doctrine of cosmic ego-centrism.

    The most disappointing thing about this biscuit tin is, of course, that very little fits into it, especially organic life. But that inconvenience is easily evaded; just substitute “data” for said life. Numbers will fit in anything, because they don’t have dimensions.

    Or wings.

    Or photosystems.

    Or really any of those other inconvenient appendages on organic life forms that made them so difficult to cram into the biscuit tin in the first place.

  43. If the notion of Design is circumvented by the prospect of Natural Selection and natural processes alone (which gave rise to nature, of which we are merely another part given evolution), then in what sense can we say that we humans are capable of “designing,” without conferring onto ourselves some super-natural status not afforded the rest of nature? Wishful thinking? Special pleading? Behold, the abdication of intelligibility!

  44. It is astounding that design theories and theorists are utterly ridiculed as pre-Cambrian proto vertebrates; but what is truly dumbfounding is the vigorous acceptance that blind undirected NON LIVING processes (that “could have ended in any number of ways – or not happen at all”) just so happened to assemble themselves into…
    A. A molecular instruction construction/maintenance/replication manual with coherent instructions (DNA)
    and
    B. A system that can interpret and apply the instructions (RNA)
    and
    C. The readily accessible necessary materials, systems, tools, and “workers” for building, maintaining, and reproducing organisms.

  45. Jay – maybe you should read and study a bit more… see my previous suggestion.

  46. Ye of little faith.

  47. Jay et al – try this general paper for instance: http://www.cs.mun.ca/~banzhaf/papers/article3.pdf

  48. I’ve read more than smattering of science, Klasie. (You’re right that Gleick is a good writer, BTW. “Faster” was one of my favorite pop science books back in the day. “Chaos” was also pretty interesting from what I remember.)
    Anyhoo… Self organization is a phenomena of nature. Complexity can be created from natural causes, reactions, etc. Chaos Theory might hold some explanatory power…
    -
    Well, if we laud and shout amen, so what?
    The stretch from the theory (with the admitted problems) as espoused in the paper to the SPECIFIED complexity of the sort we find in molecular language/interpretation/application systems requires a rather vigorous faith.
    Indeed, if the aforementioned theories had the explanatory power that you seem to derive from them, I find it difficult to see how almost ANY sort of sentient design (apart from direct observation, experience, history, etc.) could not also be explained by self-organization, chaos, etc.
    -
    Question: suppose we could travel to distant planets that once – but no longer – happened to house living organisms. How might we infer the presence of intelligent beings – even if the artifacts bore little resemblance to our own?

    Now, even the crustiest of the hard boiled atheists admit of millions of remarkable things in this magnificent creation that give the appearance of purposive design. So much looks as though somebody has been messing around out there. The world, in other words, looks awfully “Fishy”.
    “But it’s not!”, they cry.
    “How do you know?”
    “Because some stuff that looks purposively designed really isn’t.”

    Uh huh.

  49. Incredulity is not generally accepted as a stopgap in an otherwise (hopefully) logical argument.

  50. Klasie wrote:
    “Incredulity is not generally accepted as a stopgap in an otherwise (hopefully) logical argument.”

    It is if you are referring to science (and not some other field of knowledge such as history, theology, ethics, politics, art, etc). The scientific method is a show-me-the-money methodology. That’s what makes it science, and not politics.

    If someone has a testable theory about a blind undirected process that leads from non-life to life, or cold fusion, or perpetual motion, then show us the money. Otherwise scientific incredulity is rational. If one wishes to step into the scientific kitchen and wield scientific persuasiveness, they have to play by its rules.

  51. So what you’re trying to say is that any scientific process which would take millions of years, thousands of years, or even a couple hundred years to play itself out is unbelievable simply because it occurs over time periods that cannot be tested?

    Science deals with a great number of things, from astrophysics to geophysics to geochemistry to marine chemistry to hydrology to evolution to paleontology to biogeography to population ecology, even some segments of anthropology, archaeology, linguistics and history, which have aspects that can’t be directly tested in full due to the time periods involved. You can still develop theoretical models, test many individual aspects of those models, and compare them to the evidence we have of what had happened historically, and via that process learn more about truth. You don’t have to be able to replicate an event from beginning to end in order for it to be science.

    Heck, if you had to, then forensic science wouldn’t even exist, because no one can be murdered twice.

  52. Exactly Jonathan. What katecho is saying that any theory, any interpretation about the past cannot be proven. That assertion is essentially the same as Last Thursdayism (one of my favourite phrases, btw).

  53. Jonathan wrote:
    “So what you’re trying to say is that any scientific process which would take millions of years, thousands of years, or even a couple hundred years to play itself out is unbelievable simply because it occurs over time periods that cannot be tested?”

    No. I didn’t say that such things were unbelievable. I just don’t pretend that someone’s belief in historic events requires or carries the force of science.

    Some people like to label everything science, but this is an attempt to smuggle in the persuasiveness of the scientific method that certain fields of study have not earned and can’t earn. Calling it political science doesn’t make any of it repeatable, or particularly persuasive. Fortunately, not everything that is to be believed must be believed by means of the scientific method. That is the error of scientism. The hard sciences (that ones that really do have the persuasive force of the scientific method) are quite limited in their domain. Hard sciences deal with the class of general repeatable events that are carefully and narrowly defined, such that the same result can be independently obtained. The set of particular events of the past are not accessible by this method. Origin models are to be believed by other means of knowledge, such as faith, historic method, testimony, extrapolation. Those methods don’t carry the same persuasive force as the scientific method, but everyone relies on these methods for the majority of what they know and believe about the world.

    An atheist used to inform his debate opponents that proof is for math and whiskey, that Truth is for philosophy, and that science is about repeatable observation. He went down hill rapidly after that, because he couldn’t stick to his own categories.

    Forensic science can provide repeatable observations about the crime scene, such as whose fingerprint was last on the trigger, but a data point is virtually never a complete testimony, and rarely determines anything on its own. A narrative has to be constructed from the data points and this story must then be compared and contrasted with other testimony. For example, if the accused says they handled the gun after it was fired, then the fingerprint data is not a challenge to their narrative. The stories that are built around the forensic data may be quite damaging to the testimony of the accused, but the stories themselves are not the work of science proper.

    Evolutionists are amazingly prolific at spinning their own narratives out of even the thinnest of actual repeatable data, but if you know anything about actual science it’s not hard to separate the repeatable stuff from the story that was built around it. Only the repeatable bits have the weight of science. I think the reason evolution has captured people’s minds in our day is because folks aren’t being taught the difference. Scientific literacy is very low and people are browbeaten by those who pass their stories off as if they were the same as science.

  54. Klasie and Jonathan, just because we find good reasons to question the wild extrapolations of Omni-Darwinists does not mean that therefore all theoretical models that use limited historical data should be tossed aside.
    The impossibility of exactly repeating an historical Abiogenesis event is not the point either.
    The problem is that we have people invoking the mantle of science that cannot even provide, as Katecho so aptly put it, “a testable theory about (any) blind undirected process that leads from non-life to life”.
    All we have is a mere philosophical supposition that undirected “natural” processes brought about bio-complexity, period. It is literally faith that nature’s unguided forces and events have brought us life.
    This is held – and proclaimed – despite the empirical fact that many of the “Specified” complexities of even the “simplest” life forms correspond solely with the behavior and activities of sentient beings.

  55. jay niemeyer – I suggest you study the field in more detail. Scientists have provided quite plausable theories for every stage of the process, with many of those stages being testable and tested. What they haven’t provided in a tested linking of all of the stages from beginning to end, because some of the stage require a component – incredible amounts of time – which they do not have.

    I warn you of being pigeonholed into a “God of the gaps” position here. I studied this field in copious detail about 15 years ago, and was very impressed both by the distance the field had progressed and the great distance it still had to go. But every decade more of the gaps are being filled, and those who rely on the scientists not having perfected a single model yet find themselves relying on smaller and smaller gaps to maintain their view of the world.

    Flat Earth? Geocentric solar system? Young Earth? No change ever in any species? No common ancestors? No abiogenesis event?

    Those who misrepresent the Bible keep finding themselves chased out of one gap after another. How many more gaps will they wait in before they see that their logical ancestors made this same mistake already many times before?

  56. Plausibility springs from a supposition that any sort of intelligent agency must be dismissed out of hand.
    Now, I might become a perforated pigeon in the light-sensitive spots of Blind Watchmaker proponents, but when it comes to the phenomena of bio-complexity, the merits of the argument for sentient agency vs chance+natural forces+time alone should suffice for more reasonable creatures.
    Again, contrary to your assertion of plausibility in the Sci -lit. out there, we find no theory that even approaches a reasonable explanation for the bare foundations of life itself. Again, we find that life contains a highly complex information system.
    DNA is a coherent three dimensional instruction blueprint and manual with specified directions for construction, maintenance, and reproduction of staggeringly complex systems.
    RNA, perhaps even more amazingly, reads, interprets, and applies these instructions.
    There are no plausible theories sufficient to explain how blind, undirected processes could design such phenomena.
    But where have we observed in nature the only known causal agents capable of manipulating nature and rationally communicating via similarly complex language systems, blueprints/instruction manuals for building, maintenance, etc.?
    Not only are such causal agents the only phenomena observed to create such things, but Intelligent Agency simply makes more rational sense as a theory.
    Now, if we dismiss God out of hand, we do have a problem in that we are incapable of saying WHO designed bio-complexities from non-life. That should not eradicate the design theory per se, but it is a problem.
    But if there is even the POSSIBILITY that God exists, we have the most rational explanation for the phenomena of life.
    -
    Now, this might just be a “God of the Gaps” argument. So be it. For, as we delve deeper and deeper into the astonishing complexities and wonders of the natural world, we are finding that many of these gaps – far from shrinking – look more and more like great chasms: unfathomable depths for the porous and unstable dinghy christened “The Blind Watchmaker”.

    “…those who rely on the scientists not having perfected a single model…”
    Who here is reliant upon that? Nobody I know says there has to be one explanatory model for everything. Just try and give us a theory or theories that approach a reasonable explanation.
    Compare that explanation with (even possible) purposive agency, and try again.
    Or just try experimenting with nature (thus accelerating the Time factor) and try getting it to form itself into something like a language system – see how that works out.
    We’ve done similar experiments with thousands of generations of fruit flies, bacteria, etc. – thus eliminating the need for observing the effects of millions of years of time and natural breeding/selection rates, right? Behold the plethora of new beneficial bio-complexities we’ve found with all those manipulated critters! Wait – did we find any? We’ve seen some informational deletions… some interesting (but harmful) mutations… maybe the bare possibility of one new protein binding site added where one did not exist before…
    These are representative of shrinking gaps?
    On the contrary…

  57. Jay, all I can say is that from my own reading of the research (and I’ve read over 70 published research papers on origin-of-life studies, though that was back in the late 1990s), I find the state of the field to be nothing like what you’re describing.

    I have no idea who gave you that impression of scientific research into origin of life and evolution. I suggest that you talk in detail with evolutionary biologists or astrobiologists who have a perspective different than the one that you’ve been getting. If you’re willing to see, hear them out, and maybe read into some of the work, then you can weigh the evidence they give you and compare to the other things you’ve heard.

  58. The Paley argument (watch and watchmaker) has always been problematic and is a flawed analogy. It is not a case of evolutionists arguing that a single watch, appearing from nowhere, self-assembled itself via a blind process. That, indeed, would be an unlikely and preposterous claim. What evolutionists argue is that, we don’t just have a watch, we have MANY watches (species) that self-replicate (reproduction), all share many similar characteristics with regard to their machinery (physiology; genes) with very slight variations in “style” (species differences), and, on top of that, if we look in the sand under the heath said watches have been found, we find traces of very similar watches that are simpler forms of the existing ones, that can be traced back in time to very simple time tickers indeed (fossils). This points to a process by which the watches could have self-assembled (keeping in mind, of course, that self-replicating watches here are animate beings that interact with their environment – again, a limitation of Paley’s analogy). Granted, Payley had no access to the kind of information we now have, so his analogy at the time had a poetic force that is very convincing. But it’s out-dated.
    Also, it is not fair to say that inferring a designer when there is the appearance of design is a more parsimonious explanation than the Darwinian process. It presupposes a designer. Sure, if you look around at nature, you see what looks like design, so the designer inference is easy. But then you’re stuck with proving the existence of the designer without the circularity of using “design in nature” as the proof. If another process can explain that appearance of design, then it is the more parsimonious of the 2 explanations because you don’t need to prove the designer when there is no empirical evidence for its existence.
    Now, I realize that many theists argue that God is beyond empiricism, that proof of his existence is in a combination of the experiential, in revelation, and (a la Feser) can be deduced through some form of Platonic reasoning. But then it cannot be compared to Darwinism, which is based on inference from observation.
    As for the leap from inorganic to organic; well, I do concede that that’s a tough one. My rationale above is not meant to refute the existence of God; only to refute the use of Occam’s razor and Payley’s watchmaker as arguments for Him.

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