Posted by: Dan | July 19, 2006

The Design Analogy

My response to Hannah Maxson (President of the Cornell IDEA Club and discussion moderator for Allen MacNeill’s summer course on Evolution and Design), specifically, the analogy and inference of design:

It distinctly seems to me that “Design” in nature is obvious – it’s what biologists refer to as a strong link between structure and function in all of biology. I’m of course most familiar with it in cell and molecular biology, but it’s applicable to any aspect of biology… the arrangement of parts is consistently a result of selection for a specific function, as well as being bound by heredity.

As humans, we’re inclined to see through human eyes and anthropomorphize the world around us. I myself do it all the time, referring to things of all sorts with words that imply that they were “meant” to be so, as if by an intelligent force. Yet, this is where the problem comes in – there’s rarely any evidence in natural history of any intelligent force other than ourselves. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that there’s never been such evidence, outside of the purview of religion – a view that has been brought to us by an oral history long before it was committed to paper. That, Hannah, is the limit of evidence for Intelligent Design.

Afterall, where does the notion of “God’s Creation” come from? Paley? Aquinas? The Bible? Or yet further back? Regardless, the preconception of Creation is a mythological view, and every cultural subgroup in our society has a different way of imagining how life originated – and these are valid within a religious and sociological framework I suppose, but not in science… if it were scientific, someone would be able to demonstrate the assemblage of parts in life’s features, and a logic in their arrangements other than exclusively descent with modification by selective processes.

So, my point is, that a useful arrangement of parts can be by natural means (the selection of features that successfully enable species to survive), or by pre-determined plan, and for the purposes of science and empiricism, the former has the entirety of the support.


Responses

  1. So, my point is, that a useful arrangement of parts can be by natural means (the selection of features that successfully enable species to survive), or by pre-determined plan, and for the purposes of science and empiricism, the former has the entirety of the support.

    I think that’s what Allen MacNeill was getting at with his stuff about teleonomy vs. teleology.

    Speaking of MacNeill, I see he’s got a piece by Salvador Cordova on front loading up on his blog now. Salvador is a load, alright.

  2. So, my point is, that a useful arrangement of parts can be by natural means (the selection of features that successfully enable species to survive), or by pre-determined plan, and for the purposes of science and empiricism, the former has the entirety of the support.

    This seems to be what Allen MacNeill has been talking about with his teleonomic vs. teleologic.

    Afterall, where does the notion of “God’s Creation” come from? Paley? Aquinas? The Bible? Or yet further back?

    Except that, back then, it was openly recognized as an argument for God’s existence. Only recently, since the court decisions of the 1980s, has the identity of the “Intelligent Designer” become a big mystery.

    The analogy argument is inextricably intertwined with the argument from ignorance: the reason it seems designed to them is that they can’t imagine it came about through natural causes.

  3. PvM hit the nail on the head when he described Salvador’s claims as “Argumentation by Assertion.”

    Perhaps Sal should actually read something accurate about science, as opposed to Dembski.

  4. Speaking of the argument from ignorance, J. Cosgrove has weighed in with a heaping helping of ignorance. I think they should start a separate thread on the weakness of the argument from ignorance.

    In a different thread, Lino D’Ischia gave me an opportunity to mention Michael Lynch’s rebuttal to Behe & Snoke.

  5. I noticed Hannah’s absense in the threads also – what’s up? I wrote this post specifically as a response to her post and a couple emails that we’d exchanged, but… nothing…

    Also, I admit that I’m disappointed that none of those wacky creationists – Salvador, Cosgrove, etc. – felt like venturing over here. They talk big about knowing a good deal of biology, but they never bother to write or confront any blog posts regarding real science. Likewise with the creationist on my rant a few days prior to this one.

    It’s just frustrating when they talk big about science, I offer to entertain their views on actual science being done, and they fail to engage.

    … vacuity and ingorance…

  6. Lino D’Ischia says:

    When it comes to ‘natural selection’ as an ‘analogical’ explanation for so-called ‘macroevolution’, one can demonstrate this very serious ‘dissimilarity’: you can breed dogs all you want, but you don’t end up with anything other than a cat.

    I should hope not.

  7. Well it’s July. She could be gone on vacation or some such, although MacNeill seemed to be saying that he was leaving the blog in her hands over the weekend while he vacations himself.

    Given the rules of engagement there, I try to do what I can to point out when a question has not been satisfactorily answered.

  8. I posted to MacNeill’s “Headed North” thread along the same lines you did, but I specifically mentioned “Gish gallop”. My post seems to have been censored.

  9. Huh… well, regardless, I threw my two cents into the conversations…

    I’m outta here till Sunday afternoon though – have a fun weekend!

  10. Likewise with the creationist on my rant a few days prior to this one.

    Interesting take. When I tried to engage you in a conversation in a thread that you apparently created for that purpose, you tell me to go another section of the blog.

    Could it be that the lack of ability to engage is on your end?

  11. Thanks for your response, and sorry it took me so long to make it over here…

    …where does the notion of “God’s Creation” come from? Paley? Aquinas? The Bible? Or yet further back? Regardless, the preconception of Creation is a mythological view…

    So if someone in the past believed something for superstitious or methodological reasons, it is automatically ruled out as a possible scientific explanation? Surely an analysis of who rejected or accepted a particular idea in the past can give us no certain knowledge of its scientific (in)validity.

    So, my point is, that a useful arrangement of parts can be by natural means (the selection of features that successfully enable species to survive), or by pre-determined plan, and for the purposes of science and empiricism, the former has the entirety of the support.

    No-one is making design inferences based on simply a “useful arrangement of parts”. I have no problem agreeing with you that such may come about by natural means, and if that one property (useful arrangement of parts) is all the information we have, we would have no reasonable support for inferring design.

    Yet, this is where the problem comes in – there’s rarely any evidence in natural history of any intelligent force other than ourselves.

    That is where we might disagree…. if biological organisms do contain CSI, a type of information which, to the best of our knowledge, only comes about by design, that would count as evidence of some sort of intelligent force working in the past. Circumstantial evidence, yes; but when you get into historical science all evidence is by necessity circumstantial.

  12. No-one is making design inferences based on simply a “useful arrangement of parts”.

    And yet Michael Behe has been making a lot of use of the term purposeful arrangement of parts. Perhaps you could explain which definition of purposeful he is using, how it effectively differs from useful; and if he is using it to mean designed, how it is not question-begging.

  13. Roger,
    You misunderstand my point – if you, as a creationist, want me to acknowledge that you are not inane, ignorant with regards to biology, or otherwise have something valuable to contribute to scientific discourse, you might actually want to demonstrate such a capacity.

    This goes for all of ID, not just creationism – rather than making metaphysical arguments about demarcation, etc., IDers should be conducting empirical scientific research in the lab or in the field, and intelligently refuting the peer-reviewed literature with their own reviewed data, if they ever wish to be thought of as not-ignorant with regards to biology. Merely claiming that this is a democracy and you’re opinions are as valid as mine, who’s profession is in science, comes of sounding like whining and foolish.

    So instead of whining about how you really do have something intelligent to say, why don’t you just say it?

  14. So if someone in the past believed something for superstitious or methodological reasons, it is automatically ruled out as a possible scientific explanation?

    No, not automatically. But if more recent evidence and insightful review of old evidence is formulated later, and a theory is conceived that better explains the new evidence, this new theory will supercede the old. Surely you, Hannah, who I know has read a good deal of Kuhns, Popper, and others, understands the reasons and mechanisms for paradigm shift.

    In Paley’s time it was Centers of Creation that was the accepted explanation of the biogeographical distribution of species, but it was Darwin who first realized that this was an inadequate explanation for the diversity and distribution of life, and Darwin established a theory which better explained that evidence. But it was imperfect, because it failed to explain plausible mechanisms of variation and heredity. The Modern Synthesis revised and improved upon Evolution, and now EvoDevo and Molecular Biology are improving upon that.

    To go backwards in this is the equivalent of returning to the Flat-Earth or Geocentrism paradigms.

    if biological organisms do contain CSI, a type of information which, to the best of our knowledge, only comes about by design, that would count as evidence of some sort of intelligent force working in the past. Circumstantial evidence, yes; but when you get into historical science all evidence is by necessity circumstantial.

    Why don’t we call CSI what it really is, shall we? – an estimate of (im)probability for a given process.

    And what processes is CSI referring to? – processes for which there is scant information at all.

    I’m sure you remember my post some months ago where I commented on Creationist Abiogenesis? CSI is the same thing, but referring to obscure examples of biocomplexity that arose well after the origin of life: find a feature with minimal step-by-step explanations, and claim that it more likely happened in one big step instead. It quickly is refuted by the eventual discovery of logical and plausible intermediate steps – IOW, CSI shrinks in the face of newly acquired data.

    And what CSI has proven (nothing) aside (i.e. if CSI claims are well-founded), what does that say about the history of life – that it evolves naturally most of the time, and then every couple million years over the last 3.8 billion years, an omnipotent biological engineer stops by Earth, leaving not a trace?

    So “circumstantial evidence”??? Sure, but only in the most superficial sense.

  15. No, not automatically. But if more recent evidence and insightful review of old evidence is formulated later, and a theory is conceived that better explains the new evidence, this new theory will supercede the old.

    Sure. But all such changes are “tentative” in an important way; as new evidence comes which challenges the now-accepted theory, it may in turn be superseded by a newer one. And this newer one may be, in a way, a reincarnation of the old.

    To go backwards in this is the equivalent of returning to the Flat-Earth or Geocentrism paradigms.

    I’d say it would be the equivalent of reviving heliocentrism after it had been abandoned for many years :)

    Why don’t we call CSI what it really is, shall we? – an estimate of (im)probability for a given process.

    It isn’t. (Im)probability is a factor, but not enough to infer design.

    CSI is the same thing, but referring to obscure examples of biocomplexity that arose well after the origin of life: find a feature with minimal step-by-step explanations, and claim that it more likely happened in one big step instead.

    No; the issue isn’t with minimal (or not) step-by-step explanations, but with mechanisms that are inconsistent with the data. The thing is we have empirical evidence for exactly one cause for CSI, and that is intelligent agency.

    …leaving not a trace?

    Leaving not a trace?

  16. Hannah,
    You should know enough biology to know that no such new evidence has come along to challenge Evolution – sure, there have been revisions to the theory, but nothing remotely of the sort to refute descent with modification or common ancestry by means of a few well-studied mechanisms (Natural Selection chief among them).

    You may hope that that is the case, and Darwinism is dead or that there is a legitimate controversy, but such is not the case.

  17. Dan Says:

    You misunderstand my point – if you, as a creationist, want me to acknowledge that you are not inane, ignorant with regards to biology, or otherwise have something valuable to contribute to scientific discourse, you might actually want to demonstrate such a capacity.

    Then I guess the misunderstanding runs both ways. Since I’m only a “creationist” because you have labeled me as one, I don’t feel the obligation to fulfill any particular role for you. I couldn’t care less what you do or don’t acknowledge about me. Let me quote what you said above:

    Also, I admit that I’m disappointed that none of those wacky creationists – Salvador, Cosgrove, etc. – felt like venturing over here.

    When you’re challenged, you quickly try to change the subject. Maybe the folks who haven’t shown up are looking for a little more intellectual challenge.

  18. I have noticed Hannah has a tendency not to answer questions when the answer does not agree with her. This trait is not particularly compatible with honest intellectual inquiry.

  19. Roger,
    How am I changing the subject?
    1) I ranted about IDers and how most appear to be creationists that don’t understand biology and/or have nothing to contribute to real science discussions (e.g. those discussions in my Mol. Evo. category).
    2) You disagreed, and I assumed this meant you were a creationist (if you’re not, please say so).
    3) You accuse me of changing the subject.

    Nope, the subject has been the same all along – creationists don’t understand biology and have nothing to contribute to discussions of biology.

    The point about “those wacky creationists” is even more of the same – if they’re going to purport to claim anyting about biology as they do, why is it none of them ever has anything to say about actual biology – it’s all just bogus arguments from Dembski et al. that don’t pass muster.

    But please, for the 4th time, if you have something intelligent to say about biology, go ahead and say it – otherwise I’ll assume you’re just as ignorant with regards to biology as the rest of the creationists.

  20. 2) You disagreed, and I assumed this meant you were a creationist (if you’re not, please say so).

    Doesn’t that capture it? One challenges your illogic rants, and you immediately assign them a position on the issue that doesn’t follow from anything they said.

    And yet you keep waiting for me to say something “intelligent”. Methinks I already did, and you missed it.

  21. So are you a creationist, or aren’t you?

    And please point me to the comment where you had anything to say about science (I went back over your various comments, and nothing about biology) – methinks you’re just whining “Oh, but I have something to say. Really I do! And if you’re nice to me, I’ll say it.”

    Sure. Maybe you do. But I don’t believe you until you actually say something intelligent about science.

    And, note: I haven’t said you don’t have anything intelligent to say. I said you don’t have anything intelligent to say about science. And you keep proving me right by blathering on about my intolerance for the modern equivalent to Flat-Earthers.


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