Tag Archives: Inference to the Best Explanation

William Dembski reviews a new book by two theistic evolutionists

From Patheos, an opening statement by William Dembski. This is the first part of a four-part debate with two scientists of the Biologos group, which advocates for theistic evolution. (And not to be confused with the Biologic Institute, which is supportive of intelligent design).

Excerpt:

Throughout their book, Giberson and Collins overconfidently proclaim that Darwinian evolution is a slam-dunk. Thus one reads, “There has been no scientific discovery since Darwin–not one–which has suggested that evolution is not the best explanation for the origin of species” (21-22). No theory is that good. Every theory admits anomalies. Every theory faces disconfirming evidence. Repeatedly readers are informed that mountains of overwhelming evidence support Darwin’s theory and that the authors are “unfamiliar with any premier scientists who reject evolution.” And just so there’s no doubt, in that same paragraph, they reiterate, “There are certainly a few scientists who reject evolution . . . But these are never premier scientists.”

Oh, you reject Darwinian evolution; you can’t be a premier scientist. What counterexample would convince Giberson and Collins to retract such a claim? How about Henry Schaefer’s signature on a “Dissent from Darwin” list? Schaefer heads the computational quantum chemistry lab at the University of Georgia, has published over a thousand peer-reviewed journal articles, and is one of the most widely cited chemists in the world. Then again, Giberson and Collins look askance at this list (according to them, it has too many emeriti professors and not enough biologists). But why engage in such posturing about scientific pecking order in the first place? The issue is not who’s doubting Darwinism, but what are the arguments for and against it and whether they have merit. Giberson and Collins’ constant drumming of mainstream and consensus science is beside the point–science progresses by diverging from the mainstream and by breaking with consensus.

Because Giberson and Collins assert that natural selection is such a powerful mechanism for driving evolution–and one that admits no reasoned dissent–it’s worth recounting here briefly why the intelligent design community is so skeptical of it. It’s not, as theistic evolutionists often suggest, that we have a desperate need to shore up faith and morality and are using ID as our instrument of choice to accomplish that end. Rather, it’s that natural selection is, in essence, a trial and error tinkering mechanism for which all evidence suggests that its power is quite limited. Trial and error works fine when you have something that’s functional and are trying to enhance it or adapt it to a new situation.

But for natural selection, as a trial and error mechanism, to traverse vast swatches of biological function space, we need to see an extended series of small gradual structural changes (under neo-Darwinism, these are genetic mutations leaving effects at the phenotypic level) that continually improve, or at least maintain, function, with evolving functions and evolving structures covarying and reinforcing each other. But we know of no detailed testable (macro-)evolutionary pathways like this in any field, whether in the evolution of living forms or in the evolution of language or in the evolution of technologies. In fact, when we can trace such evolutionary pathways, we find that significant change happens in creative leaps, not via trial and error tinkering.

Everyone who has read Dembski’s opening remarks in this four-part series is raving about the quality of what he’s written. I was hoping to wait for the response before publishing his opening salvo, so we could balance it, but no reply has appeared yet. For me, there is only one issue in the debate about the origin of life: if natural causes can create life from non-life with the time and resources available on the early Earth, then show me the mechanism. That’s all I want to see – the evidence that natural causes can do the creating that the naturalists say that it can do. I don’t want to hear about feelings, possibilities, what God could or couldn’t do, philosophy, what church you attend, your favorite hymn, the way you were raised, your religious experiences, etc. I just want to see you prove that nature can do all the creating that you say it can do.

William Dembski debates Lewis Wolpert about intelligent design

It’s the latest debate from Unbelievable, courtesy of Justin Brierley!

The MP3 file is here.

Details:

William (Bill) Dembski is an American mathematician, theologian and professor of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, TX. He debates the issue of ID with atheist Lewis Wolpert, Emeritus Professor of Biology at University College London.

For Bill Dembski see http://www.designinference.com/ or his blog http://www.uncommondescent.com/

For Lewis Wolpert’s Wikipedia profile see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_Wolpert

Intro:

  • Bill Dembski’s religious background (Catholic-raised atheist/agnostic, later Protestant)
  • Dembski’s view of the interface between science and religion
  • Lewis Wolpert’s religious background (Jewish-raised atheist)
  • Wolpert’s view of whether God exists

First half:

  • Dembski explains the mathematical foundations for detecting design
  • Wolpert asks whether designs can emerge without intelligence
  • Dembski asks whether anything in biology could be like SETI signals
  • Wolpert says that it is impossible to recognize design in biology
  • Dembski asks whether the Darwinian hypothesis is falsifiable
  • Wolpert says that it is never warranted to rule out chance as an explanation
  • Dembski says that you can set limits on what chance can do within a certain time
  • Wolpert says that chance can do anything regardless of time, etc.
  • Dembski says, what about the work of Doug Axe published in the peer-reviewed JMB?
  • Wolpert says those calculations must be wrong!
  • Dembski says then you’re just a dogmatic reductionist
  • Wolpert agrees that he is a dogmatic reductionist

Second half:

  • Dembski explains why intelligent is not repackaged creationism
  • Dembski explains why intelligent design isn’t an argument from ignorance
  • Dembski talks about whether evolutionary mechanisms can create more information
  • Wolpert asks whether chemistry requires intelligent design too
  • Dembski says that there is a fine-tuning argument for cosmological constants too
  • Wolpert agrees that the origin of life is unexplained naturalistically
  • Wolpert asks if everything after the origin of life is explained
  • Dembski says that there are still problems like the Cambrian explosion
  • Wolpert asks Dembski if anything could falsify intelligent design
  • Dembski gives an example of something that could falsify intelligent design
  • Dembski asks whether naturalistic explanations of life are falsifiable
  • Wolpert asks whether intelligent design affects the way that people do science
  • Dembski asks whether it is possible that the resources of naturalism are adequate to explain life
  • Wolpert says that you can’t explain anything in nature as the result of intelligence
  • Dembski says that it happens all the time in other sciences like engineering
  • Wolpert says that he doesn’t want a Designer
  • Dembski says we should just follow the evidence and who cares what people on either side want

And then there are closing speeches.

I am not sure if I had anything to do with this, but I did send Justin Bill’s e-mail address recently. I’m pretty happy that Justin managed to get Bill and Lewis to debate on this topic. Justin says that Bill will be back next week! He’ll be discussing his new book “The End of Christianity” which is about the problem of evil.

Did you miss Lewis Wolpert’s last debate with the professor of nanotechnology?

UPDATE: Justin says that it was indeed my e-mail that helped him to contact Bill, and what’s more we should expect a show that features Stephen C. Meyer soon, too!

MUST-READ: New peer-reviewed paper argues against chance-of-the-gaps

Story from Evolution News. (H/T ECM)

The peer-reviewed paper is here:

Here’s the thesis:

The question for scientific methodology should not be, “Is this scenario possible?” The question should be, “Is this possibility a plausible scientific hypothesis?” One chance in 10200 is theoretically possible, but given maximum cosmic probabilistic resources, such a possibility is hardly plausible. With funding resources rapidly drying up, science needs a foundational principle by which to falsify a myriad of theoretical possibilities that are not worthy of serious scientific consideration and modeling.

Suppose that the odds of forming single protein composed of 100 amino acids are 1 in 10130. (I got the odds from this slide show presented by John C. Walton, a professor of chemistry at the University of St. Andrews). Let’s say you take all the atoms in the universe and react them at the highest possible rate for the whole history of the universe. How many tries would you get to create the protein?

u = Universe = 1013 reactions/sec X 1017 secs X 1078 atoms = 10108

Soooo, you only get 10108 tries but the odds of getting even one protein are 1 in 10130 so it is unlikely that you would get even one protein by chance. Now an atheist may jump at this remote chance and say “but it’s possible!”, and cross their arms like they have a solid explanation of where DNA came from. But this is just insanity cloaked with scientific-sounding language. No one runs their life in a way that is so ignorant of what probabilities really mean.

To make the point clearer, you can just watch this video of an atheist pleading that just because the odds of fine-tuning are incredibly small, that this is no reason to ascribe the design to an intelligent agent.

It’s funny because it’s true!

MUST-READ: Doug Axe defends intelligent design at science conference in Germany

Doug Axe got his Ph.D from Caltech and did post-doc research at Cambridge University, and published some of his findings in the peer-reviewed Journal of Molecular Biology. He was trying to see whether it is easy or hard to shuffle amino acids randomly in order to make functional proteins. Those JMB publications show that the number of functional amino acid sequences is tiny, compared to the number of possible sequences.

Doug Axe’s research likewise studies genes that it turns out show great evidence of design. Axe studied the sensitivities of protein function to mutations. In these “mutational sensitivity” tests, Dr. Axe mutated certain amino acids in various proteins, or studied the differences between similar proteins, to see how mutations or changes affected their ability to function properly. He found that protein function was highly sensitive to mutation, and that proteins are not very tolerant to changes in their amino acid sequences. In other words, when you mutate, tweak, or change these proteins slightly, they stopped working. In one of his papers, he thus concludes that “functional folds require highly extraordinary sequences,” and that functional protein folds “may be as low as 1 in 10^77.”

And now let’s see what he was up to in Stuttgart, Germany.

Story here from Evolution News.

Excerpt:

While there have been many events to discuss intelligent design sponsored by the scientific establishment this year, few have dared to invite an actual design proponent.

But on the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species, Biologic Institute Director Douglas Axe was invited to the National Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart, Germany, for a panel discussion titled Design without a Designer? where “the ‘bold generation’ of young thinkers turned up in droves, listening intently as the discussion went well beyond its advertised ninety minutes.”

Here’s the official description of the event (in German), and a translated excerpt:

On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the first publication of Darwin’s theory, this high-caliber panel discussion between evolutionists and Darwin critics will consider the question of whether the evolution of life on Earth is based solely on blind and unguided natural processes, or whether there is non-religiously based, verifiable evidence of meaningful and purposeful acts of creative intelligence in the natural world. This meeting at the Stuttgart Museum of Natural History aims to contribute constructively and with clarity and objectivity to this important debate. A public debate between evolutionary biologists and evolutionary critics at this high level is very rare in Germany, and therefore can be expected to be a very exciting evening.

You can read more at the Biologic Institute. They even have excerpts from Doug’s opening statement. It’s short and to the point.

Excerpt:

William Dembski and Stephen Meyer have both framed the design argument in terms of functional information, meaning information that specifies a significant functional outcome.  Since this fits well with my own understanding, I offer the following three-statement summary of the design argument:

First: Living things contain within their genomes large amounts of functional information.

Second: The only cause known to be capable of generating large amounts of functional information is intelligence.

And third: It is therefore reasonable to infer that the functional information in living things must have an intelligent source.

Here we have not a pronouncement but an argument based on evidence and logic.  It is perfectly fair to argue against it, of course, but it is hardly fair to dismiss it as dogma.

I like this, because I am a software engineer. This is what we do.