Eric Anderson at Uncommon Descent: what ID is and is not

Eric Anderson, over at Uncommon Descent, gives what is IMO a very concise and lucid account of what ID does and does not do:

 

You may be disappointed that ID doesn’t identify the designer. You may complain that ID doesn’t provide a bright-line definition of mind, or consciousness or other things that scientists and philosophers have struggled with for centuries. You may be frustrated that ID doesn’t provide more answers than it does. But these are frustrations borne of your own desires and expectations, not a problem with ID itself.

 

ID is not a theory of everything. It has never claimed to be. ID does not seek to identify the designer. It is not a philosophy of mind, or consciousness, however interesting those topics may be. We may wish to pursue those topics as follow-up questions to ID, but it is not a failing of ID that ID does not have answers to everything. I’ve said it and will say it again: ID is a very simple and limited inquiry, and can be understood and explored and addressed with a very basic common every-day understanding of what we mean with words like ‘design’ and ‘plan’ and ‘intent’ and ‘purpose’. There is no need for definitional plays or semantic deep-dives. If someone wants to go beyond that and ask philosophical questions or speculate about mind, consciousness, the nature of reality, and so forth, great. Those are valuable inquires in their own right.

 

However, by the same token it seems to me to highlight what, IMO, is wrong with ID, without muddying the water with extraneous claims.

It is certainly not a failing of ID that “not a failing of ID that ID does not have answers to everything”, any more, I would say, that it is a failure of Darwin’s theory that it does not have answers to everything, not least being an answer to the question of how life began.

Nor is it a failing of ID that it does not “provide a bright-line definition of mind, or consciousness or other things that scientists and philosophers have struggled with for centuries”.  But where Eric is wrong, I think, is where he says:

ID is a very simple and limited inquiry, and can be understood and explored and addressed with a very basic common every-day understanding of what we mean with words like ‘design’ and ‘plan’ and ‘intent’ and ‘purpose’.  There is no need for definitional plays or semantic deep-dives.

Yes, there is such a need, if ID is to be regarded as a testable scientific hypothesis.  In order to test a hypothesis in science you need to operationalise it, and to operationalise it, you need an operational definition of the terms used to express that hypothesis, in this case, words that include “design” and “plan” and “intent” and “purpose”.

And to quote the linked definition on Wikipedia:

An operational definition defines something (e.g. a variable, term, or object) in terms of the specific process or set of validation tests used to determine its presence and quantity. That is, one defines something in terms of the operations that count as measuring it.[1]

And that, to me, is where ID falls down.  Dembski, to his credit, does provide a reasonable operational definition of intelligence (“the power and facility to choose between options“), but does so in a way that excludes “intention” (specifically, in fact) and so inadvertently covers natural selection (a point that I made, not originally, in my first doomed foray on to UD).  But if IDists do invoke “intention” as a necessary attribute of “intelligence”, it seems to me that their argument no longer holds anyway, as “choosing systems” that are nonetheless not “intentional” can be readily demonstrated to produce precisely the kinds of patterns that Dembski, ironically, rightly, given his definition, attributes to “intelligence”.

Moreoever, Eric’s post also reveals what I think is a more fundamental flaw in ID: the fact that it is a default conclusion without a specific hypothesis.  It is arrived at (at least in Dembski’s formulation) by rejecting a null.  Which would be fine, if what is usually called “H1″ was defined.  But it isn’t, not even using “very basic common every-day understanding of words like design”.  It is the default conclusion to be inferred if a pattern cannot be accounted for by “Chance”.  The problem here is that not only is H1 not defined, but H0 (the null), namely “Chance” is not defined either.  The implication seems to be that “Chance” stands for “drawn from an equiprobable distribution of patterns”.

But the theory of evolution (in any formulation) does not state that complex life forms equipped with all kinds of fancy gadgets that promote not only their own persistence in a environment full of resources and threats, but the persistence of their kind, came about because certain configurations of organic compounds happened to be drawn from some cosmic hat. It provides a whole series of mechanisms (involving both choosing mechanisms and mechanisms that provide options to choose between) by which such forms will tend to arise, given some starting conditions.

And this is why ID is essentially vacuous.  If all it does is what Eric rightly says it does, then it fails.  It can only succeed if it tries to do what Eric rightly claims it does not try to do: actually propose mechanisms by which a designer might not only have designed biological life, but implemented it, and derive testable hypotheses from that proposal.

This is why I was delighted to see Genomicus’s series of posts (here, here and here) on “frontloading”.  I think his ideas are a long way short of a viable program still, but he’s on the right lines.  But then he’s also going well beyond what Eric claims is ID’s remit.

65 thoughts on “Eric Anderson at Uncommon Descent: what ID is and is not

  1. A simple thought experiment reveals some big problems.

    Let’s say you are a disembodied spirit, but not God and not omniscient. Life does not yet exist.

    How do you know life is even possible? How do you go about finding the supposedly isolated sequences that code for functional molecules? How do you know such structures are even possible?

    Now I know why ID advocates don’t think about this. It isn’t necessary, since their Designer is God. At least Behe is honest enough to admit it.

  2. The problem I’m addressing is sometimes called emergence, but I might call it the problem of construction or the problem of invention.

    We assume that designers invent things because we see new inventions. So far so good.

    But invention is incremental. One does not invent iPods in the 19th century. Writers of futuristic fiction have trouble even imagining future inventions, much less detailing the necessary technology. And even when a visionary like Tesla imagines something like a world powered by alternating current, he gets important details wrong.

    If we imagine a designer with a “quantum” imagination, who can see all possibilities simultaneously, we have a designer capable of imagining life. But we would for all intents and purposes, be talking about God.

  3. Moreoever, Eric’s post also reveals what I think is a more fundamental flaw in ID: the fact that it is a default conclusion without a specific hypothesis.

    In this regard, ID is more a humanities discipline than a scientific one. In the humanities, I’m thinking of literary studies in particular, the scholar asks, “what happens if I understand X in this particular way?” The goal of doing this is to develop a cogent argument. It’s to generate more discussion, and it’s even to find/make problems–new problems are new inquiries, after all!

  4. However, by the same token it seems to me to highlight what, IMO, is wrong with ID, without muddying the water with extraneous claims.

    It is certainly not a failing of ID that “not a failing of ID that ID does not have answers to everything”, any more, I would say, that it is a failure of Darwin’s theory that it does not have answers to everything, not least being an answer to the question of how life began.

    I think this misses a fundamental distinction for ID. It’s not that ID is not holistic, a “theory of everything”. Evolution is no more a TOE than ID is — neither account for galaxy formation, or fundamental physics, or even abiogenesis.

    But ID is crucially separate from science, where evolution is part of the overall, integrated framework. The problem is not that ID is incomplete, but that it is not integrated with the rest of science, that it does not avail itself of the rest of the hard sciences stack that does make up the “theory of everything” so far as we have it.

    Think about any chemistry project, where a new hypothesis or theory is being developed. It’s chemistry, yes, but it’s also implicitly physics. It sits on top of the physics fundamentals, and integrates with physics. A theory that violated the SLoT, for example, no matter how successful it appeared on its own, would represent a major conflict to resolve; either the chemistry model has to be refined, or the underlying physics has to looked at.

    ID doesn’t even attempt to integrate into the stack, and this is the major problem, rather than ID just being limited in scope, itself. Critics bring a good case in pointing out how alien and detached and… casual ID is.

  5. If ID could come up with a clear way of distinguishing between designed things and non-designed things, I would consider that at least the beginnings of a fledgling scientific program. But this cannot just be an assertion. It would need a program of empirical research that could make the distinction, and do so reliably (different researchers need to reach the same conclusions about particular things). I doubt that Dembski’s “specified complexity” does the trick, because I don’t see how to make that into a useful empirical program. But let the research program begin, and convince me that there is something useful there.

  6. “Moreoever, Eric’s post also reveals what I think is a more fundamental flaw in ID: the fact that it is a default conclusion without a specific hypothesis.”

    In this regard, ID is more a humanities discipline than a scientific one. In the humanities, I’m thinking of literary studies in particular, the scholar asks, “what happens if I understand X in this particular way?”

    The goal of doing this is to develop a cogent argument. It’s to generate more discussion, and it’s even to find/make problems–new problems are new inquiries, after all!

    {Apologies if this is a double/multiple post. I couldn’t be sure if the comment was submitted or not!}

  7. Quoted from Eric:

    You may be disappointed that ID doesn’t identify the designer.

    In fact, I have never been disappointed that ID proponents don’t identify the designer(s), because I’ve never asked an ID proponent to identify the designer(s). However, I have repeatedly asked ID proponents for some independent evidence of the presence, or even existence, of the purported designing agent(s). And I have asked for testable hypotheses about the capabilities of the designing agent(s). Is there anything it(they) can’t do? Scientific theories are exclusionary. They tell us what cannot happen, and then we go look in laboratory or field to see whether it happened. That’s called “testing” a theory. But absent excluded observations, we have no way to test the ID conjecture.

    I have also asked for independent evidence of the manufacturing process by which the purported designs were instantiated in matter and energy. Back in my anthro days I myself found a debitage field where Native Americans manufactured flint tools, and from properties of the debitage–the distribution of sizes of fragments, the shapes and marks on fragments, and so on–one can make plausible inferences about the manufacturing process. Anything along those lines would be welcome from ID proponents. But we get nothing.

  8. It is not possible to discuss ID adequately without knowing its history. That history has its roots in Scientific Creationism, which was formally started by Henry Morris back in the early 1970s when he founded the Institute for Creation Research.

    During those years before the court decisions of MCLean v. Arkansas and the 1977 US Supreme Court decision on Edwards v Aguillard, creationists engaged in an organized attack on biology and evolution by using caricatures and taunts in order to draw scientists into highly publicized campus debates.

    After Edwards v Aguillard, Scientific Creationism morphed into Intelligent Design in an attempt to get around the court decisions.

    There has always been a central, contrived conflict running through Scientific Creationism and it’s spin-off, ID; and that central conflict was articulated by Henry Morris as early as 1973.

    The very terms themselves express contradictory concepts. The word “evolution” is of course derived from a Latin word meaning “out-rolling”. The picture is of an outward-progressing spiral, an unrolling from an infinitesimal beginning through ever broadening circles, until finally all reality is embraced within.

    “Entropy,” on the other hand, means literally “in-turning.” It is derived from the two Greek words en (meaning “in”) and trope (meaning “turning”). The concept is of something spiraling inward upon itself, exactly the opposite concept to “evolution.” Evolution is change outward and upward, entropy is change inward and downward.

    A more complete description of what Henry Morris’s Institute for Creation Research taught is provided in this video by Morris’s protégé Thomas Kindell.

    To ID/creationists, evolution is impossible according to their caricature of natural processes as understood by science today.

    Dembski, Abel, Sewell and all the other “theorists” pushing ID are working under the misconceptions and misrepresentations already set out by Scientific Creationism.

    One has only to read their papers to understand the misconceptions about science that they are working with. For example, Dembski’s assumptions about how complex systems are assembled betrays fundamental misconceptions and misrepresentations of what is already known from physics and chemistry about how matter condenses into increasingly complex systems. Abel and Sewell are even more explicit in their misconceptions and misrepresentations.

    It does no good whatsoever to chase one’s tail on philosophy or on whatever “methodisms” one thinks will “solve” the “issue” when one is working with mischaracterizations of science and cannot even articulate the works of ID writers and what “issues” they “solve.”

    In the 40+ years that I have been following this, I have yet to see an ID/creationist articulate what matter and energy do in the universe without mischaracterizing it. The same goes for their descriptions of biology and evolution. And I have never seen an ardent follower of ID who is able to articulate and justify ID concepts and why they “solve” the purported “problems” in science that they are copying from the Scientific Creationists.

    Unless one can get ID/creationist followers to actually dig into a publicly available paper and discuss and justify point-by-point and concept-by-concept the notions in that paper, all that will happen is a ping-pong volley of unsupported assertions bandied about without comprehension of either science or of ID concepts.

    Dembski and Marks, for example, have a peer-reviewed paper that is easily accessible on the internet to anyone wanting to illustrate how Dembski thinks about information and how he thinks it applies to the assemblies of atoms and molecules. But not one follower of ID appears to have read it or comprehended it, let alone able to justify the concepts.

    The same goes for Sewell’s or Abel’s papers. All of the denizens at the Discovery Institute operate with the same fundamental misconceptions and mischaracterizations in their attacks on biology.

    One simply looks foolish attempting to smash their own caricatures of science using tools they can’t even articulate and apply.

  9. Elizabeth:

    In your criticism of ID, you say that it needs to be a testable hypothesis.

    Yes, there is such a need, if ID is to be regarded as a testable scientific hypothesis. 

    And you go on to say that it must present an operational definition. Leaving this requirement—which, in terms of forensic science I don’t think needs to be demanded—let me point out that we have already had such a “test”. I’m speaking of putative “junk-DNA”. The lines on that issue were clearly drawn. Darwinists invoked these seemingly functionless portions of the genome as proof of a trial-and-error approach, suggestive of RV+NS. ID said that while perhaps appearing to be functionless, its hypothesis that an intelligent being is responsible for the functioning of the genome almost requires that “junk-DNA” will, at the end of the day, be shown to have function of some kind.

    We know who wins here, and who loses. ID put its views to the “test”. So did the neo-Darwinists. And ID proved to be the correct understanding.

    Maybe the question that really needs to be asked is: Can Darwinism be falsified? Personally, if so-called “junk-DNA” turned out to be just that, ‘junk’, then I would have had serious doubts about the ID program. But this never seems to happen to Darwinists. Nothing slows them down. So, as a matter of scientific inquiry, is Darwinism a “testable scientific hypothesis”?

    Well, when we’re told that it is a “fact”, I suggest that it no longer is
    PaV,

    .

  10. Nor me :) I add plug ins from time to time,but I don’t always figure out how they work. Right now there’s an odd jumble of symbols in the tab of the reply pane that I can’t figure out, but at least the wysiwyg thing seems to work OK.

  11. ID is not a theory of everything. It has never claimed to be. ID does not seek to identify the designer. It is not a philosophy of mind, or consciousness, however interesting those topics may be. We may wish to pursue those topics as follow-up questions to ID, but it is not a failing of ID that ID does not have answers to everything. I’ve said it and will say it again: ID is a very simple and limited inquiry, and can be understood and explored and addressed with a very basic common every-day understanding of what we mean with words like ‘design’ and ‘plan’ and ‘intent’ and ‘purpose’.

    This is exactly why ID is devoid of any meaning. It has no substance, no coherency, it is simply an unprovable, wishful assertion of minds unwilling or unable to conceive and accept a tenable theory such as Darwin’s. ID is, as everyone knows, a purely religious assertion, and as such is out of the realm of the definition of science, and the reason ID’ers want to change the definition of science.

  12. Hi, PaV good to see you!

    PaV:
    Elizabeth:

    In your criticism of ID, you say that it needs to be a testable hypothesis.

    Well, I think to be science it has to generate testable hypotheses, yes.

    And you go on to say that it must present an operational definition.

    Well, a testable hypotheses has to be expressed in terms that are operationally defined.

    Leaving this requirement—which, in terms of forensic science I don’t think needs to be demanded—let me point out that we have already had such a “test”.I’m speaking of putative “junk-DNA”.The lines on that issue were clearly drawn.Darwinists invoked these seemingly functionless portions of the genome as proof of a trial-and-error approach, suggestive of RV+NS.ID said that while perhaps appearing to be functionless, its hypothesis that an intelligent being is responsible for the functioning of the genome almost requires that “junk-DNA” will, at the end of the day, be shown to have function of some kind.

    I think this is a bit muddled. First of all, I don’t see how the idea that “junk-DNA” must be “junk” could ever have been cast as a testable hypothesis because it is a negative, and demonstrating a negative is notoriously intractable to empirical testing. But secondly, it doesn’t arise from Darwinian theory. It’s perfectly compatible with it, because Darwinian theory doesn’t propose that things are optimally designed, but, if for example, there is a cost to unused DNA (after all, it does use resources that could otherwise be used for something else) you might also expect truncation of unused portions to be advantageous, in other words for any junk to be minimised.

    In other words, “junk DNA” is simply not a prediction of Darwinian theory, even though it is perfectly consistent with it.

    But I’d like to see an actual citation to any empirical paper that tested such a hypothesis. Do you have one?

    We know who wins here, and who loses.ID put its views to the “test”.So did the neo-Darwinists.And ID proved to be the correct understanding.

    Well, no. Neither wins this round, because you can’t demonstrate “no function” you can only demonstrate “function”. So the ID case that all DNA is functional (if that is the case) remains to be demonstrated, and the Darwinian case that it may not be doesn’t rest on whether it is or isn’t.

    Many things are consistent with Darwinian theory. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t make predictions, because it does. It’s just that junk-DNA isn’t such a prediction, and would be a useless one, even if it were.

    Maybe the question that really needs to be asked is: Can Darwinism be falsified?

    No, it can’t. This is generally true of theories. However, hypotheses arising from it can, and are (probabilistically anyway). For instance, the hypothesis that life forms a single branching tree arose partially arose from Darwinian theory (I say partially, because Darwinian theory was itself advanced to explain strong evidence of a single branching tree as noted by Linnaeus) . But it turns out that life is not a single branching tree, at least at the genetic level, because some genetic transmission is horizontal not vertical.

    However, I’ll stick my neck out and say that while falsifiability is a good litmus test of a scientific theory, it is not, in fact, how science generally proceeds. It proceeds by fitting models to data, and the better fitting models are retained while the worse-fitting models are discarded. So I would say that the real test of a scientific theory is: can we derive a testable model from it? “Some DNA is junk” is not, in fact, a testable model, although “some non-coding DNA is not junk” is (and is true).

    And the reason people describe the support for evolutionary theory as “overwhelming” is that it has generated probably hundreds of thousands of hypotheses that have made successful predictions, as well as some that have been falsfied, resulting in modifications to the theory.

    Personally, if so-called “junk-DNA” turned out to be just that, ‘junk’, then I would have had serious doubts about the ID program.But this never seems to happen to Darwinists.Nothing slows them down.So, as a matter of scientific inquiry, is Darwinism a “testable scientific hypothesis”?

    Darwinian theory is not a testable scientific hypothesis. It’s an explanatory theory, just as ID is. But from it we can generate testable scientific hypotheses. This is what ID needs to produce if it is to be regarded as science IMO. That’s why I was pleased to see Genomicus attempt to flesh out his front-loading hypothesis. In principle that is not only testable, but makes differential predictions to Darwinian hypotheses. But I don’t think he’s there yet.

    Well, when we’re told that it is a “fact”, I suggest that it no longer is
    PaV,

    Well, “facts” is not one of my favorite words”. I talk about data and models, and tend to regard “facts” as “models” at a lower level. For example, I regard the intensity measures that come off an MRI scanner as the “facts” i.e the data (literally “what is given”) that I attempt to model. But for the physicists who produce those intensity data, they are the “models” that they fit to their facts i.e. data, i.e. “givens”, which are something quite different and with which I thankfully have nothing to do.

    So no, Darwinian evolution is not a fact, although we have overwhelming evidence that it occurs, both from lab and field studies (i.e. that what you call “microevolution” and I would call “adaptation” occurs). It’s a model that fits the data so well that “fact” is a reasonable shorthand. But Darwinian evolution of eukaryotes from prokaryotes is not a “fact” because we don’t have a well-tested hypothesis as to how it happened, and probably never will.

    On the other hand, evolution in the sense of “changes in allele frequency over time” is a “fact” – we can measure it as directly as we can measure anything, although even then we are talking about means and standard deviations of samples, which are also a kind of model.

    And finally, I’d say that Darwin’s basic algorithm is neither fact nor model – it’s almost a syllogism, that says that if something self-replicates with heritable variance in reproductive success in a given environment, then the variants that tend to reproduce most successfully will become most prevalent.

    That can’t not be true. The big questions are, as I see it: what processes result in:

      a) self-replication
      b) variance that embraces increased rates of self-replication.
  13. PaV:
    And you go on to say that it must present an operational definition.Leaving this requirement—which, in terms of forensic science I don’t think needs to be demanded—let me point out that we have already had such a “test”.I’m speaking of putative “junk-DNA”.The lines on that issue were clearly drawn.Darwinists invoked these seemingly functionless portions of the genome as proof of a trial-and-error approach, suggestive of RV+NS.ID said that while perhaps appearing to be functionless, its hypothesis that an intelligent being is responsible for the functioning of the genome almost requires that “junk-DNA” will, at the end of the day, be shown to have function of some kind.

    ID requires no such prediction. Junk DNA is totally compatible with intelligent design. The genesis of the resistance to the (unfortunately named) “junk dna” finding is that scientists looking at that understood it to be massively redundant and chaotic, a “bad design” from the standpoint of “what I would do as a designer”.

    But they are not the designer, and don’t know any putative designer any more than the ID proponents know — officially at least, ID advocates proclivities for thinking Yahweh or Allah is the Designer notwithstanding.

    Take a minute, if you doubt this, and ask yourself how you would demonstrate that prediction from ID models. The resistance came because the religious impulse was offended by having their God-designer denigrated as a designer. To defend God’s honor, “junk DNA” must be discredited.

    That’s quite understandable from an emotional and apologetic standpoint for Christians (and Muslims and Jews, etc.), but it’s NOT an entailment, or even and indication of any ID model.

    That’s bad enough, but you’re wrong on the other side of the equation, too. Evolution does not require the kinds and amounts of non-coding DNA. It’s certainly compatible with such an outcome, but if, say, half of the currently designated “junk DNA” was declared functional based on new discovery, supporters of evolutionary theory just shrug. That’s a cool discovery!

    If you doubt this, then again, take a minute and try to produce the prediction from the model, to find where evolution requires this amount, or that percentage of “junk DNA”. Can’t do it, because it’s not implied or entailed in the theory.

    We know who wins here, and who loses.ID put its views to the “test”.So did the neo-Darwinists.And ID proved to be the correct understanding.

    Hang on. What is your current view on the status of junk DNA? How much of what has been (casually) called “junk DNA” remains “junk”?

    It’s a bigger problem that your “test” doesn’t test either side of the equation — ID or evolution. But even if it WERE a legit test, non-coding DNA is still a huge piece of the pie. That we’ve found, and will continue to find latent functionality that wasn’t previously identified in parts of the originally classified “junk” does not remove the rest that remains — and there are vast sections of massive, simple repetitions (for example).

    Kudos for venturing out of the UD perimeter to discuss, in any case!

  14. eigenstate:

    Kudos for venturing out of the UD perimeter to discuss, in any case!

    Yes indeed! And while some UD regulars may enjoy comparative peace now so many of us have gone, I do hope others who enjoyed the jousting may drop by from time to time, and even make themselves at home.

    Welcome, PaV :)

  15. PaV:ID said that while perhaps appearing to be functionless, its hypothesis that an intelligent being is responsible for the functioning of the genome almost requires that “junk-DNA” will, at the end of the day, be shown to have function of some kind.

    This winds me up….every time I hear the phrase “ID says….”.

    No, ID doesn’t say anything. ID does not have a working hypothesis and until it does absolutely any fact of the Universe is compatible with ID.

    The ID movement has been studious in distancing themselves from questions about the nature, abilities or motivations of this putative designer. And yet we constantly hear the refrain “ID says” or “ID predicts“.

    The ID hypothesis is that an unknown something designed some unknown stuff at some unknown point in the past. Not surprisingly this has been utterly fruitless as an experimental catalyst. There’s simply no science to be done with a starting point as devoid of content as that. And yet we hear “ID says….”. How can this be? Well it’s a lot easier when you smuggle in a few hidden assumptions to bolster your hypothesis!

    Take the junk DNA “prediction”. So ID predicts that junk DNA will be found to have function after all, does it? OK, just one question….WHY ?

    Why are we more likely to find that junk DNA is functional if ID is true? Given that we know absolutely nothing about the designer’s abilities, nature or motivation there is no reason whatsoever to expect a finding of zero junk DNA over that of tons of junk DNA…..either finding is 100% compatible with ID!

    To make such a prediction the ID theorist has to sneak in some hidden assumptions about the nature of the designer. Presumably along the lines that the designer isn’t wasteful. But if ID wants to posit a “frugal” designer (or a benevolent, immaterial, or careless designer) then it must be up front about it before predictions are made. If ID wants to use junk DNA as an argument in favour of ID then it must lay its cards on the table and declare that yes, they are in fact hypothesising a designer with the following testable attributes X,Y and Z.

    And until they do, any sentence that begins “ID predicts….” will remain a non sequitur.

  16. YEC here. Just found this place.
    YEC is spot on about who created the universe and lots of facts about origins.
    ID strives to show a creator is behind the universe and a creator’s fingerprints are on the natural world and evident. It also confronts evolution etc.
    AS a YEC I’m vague about ID folks being anti-evolution but not believers in Genesis.
    I accept they intellectually see evolution as wrong but don’t have a end game for right.
    YEC and ID are different species or even genus.

    ID is the most important big idea to have come along in the big ideas of origins ever.
    This because they are well degree-ed people who reach large audiences of well read people persuading them or not.
    I see everywhere the impact of iD upon those who teach the public about origins.
    Its truly impressive how ID has threatened the old guard. perhaps because they already deal with YEC Christian opposition and ID bringing very educated people into the mix is a serious threat.
    Anyways everything connected to ID becomes a famous thing.
    They are either going to change the world or be a great great flop.
    It is the former. YEC is along for the ride but was here first.

  17. Elizabeth wrote: “‘choosing systems’ that are nonetheless not ‘intentional’ can be readily demonstrated to produce…”

    What non-human, unintentional ‘choosing systems’ did you have in mind?

  18. Gregory:
    Elizabeth wrote: “‘choosing systems’ that are nonetheless not ‘intentional’ can be readily demonstrated to produce…”

    What non-human, unintentional ‘choosing systems’ did you have in mind?

    Natural selection.

  19. Elizabeth,

    So, are you suggesting that ‘nature has agency’ and also that ‘nature (it-/him-/her-self) chooses’?

    If so, how would you assess Michael Polanyi’s “Personal Knowledge” in that light?

    After all, ‘nature’ is not a ‘person,’ is it?

    When it comes to ‘systems’ approaches, there is actually a strong precedent for distinguishing ‘natural’ from ‘non-natural’ and/or ‘extra-natural’ systems.

  20. Gregory:
    Elizabeth,

    So, are you suggesting that ‘nature has agency’ and also that ‘nature (it-/him-/her-self) chooses’?

    If so, how would you assess Michael Polanyi’s “Personal Knowledge” in that light?

    After all, ‘nature’ is not a ‘person,’ is it?

    No, which is why I find the use of “natural selection” as the agent/subject of a verb tautological, and why I dislike anthropomorphizing uses of the word “Nature”.

    But “natural selection” remains a choosing system nonetheless – hence the word “selection” in there. Of course, for a choosing system to function, there have to be options, so the whole creative system consists both of option-creation, option selection, and criteria by which options are selected.

    Evolutionary theory posits all three: various mechanisms result in non-faithful reproduction, thus providing variants/options; the resulting variants vary in their ability to reproduce, providing selection; and the environment itself biases the variation in reproductive probability, providing a simple criterion: does this variant do better than its peers in reproducing itself in this environment?

    When it comes to ‘systems’ approaches, there is actually a strong precedent for distinguishing ‘natural’ from ‘non-natural’ and/or ‘extra-natural’ systems.

    Well, I would certainly distinguish intentional from non-intentional systems, which you might express as the difference between “artificial” systems and “natural” systems where natural is the antonym of artificial. But I wouldn’t distinguish between natural systems and supernatural systems because I don’t know how you would set about doing so.

  21. Gregory,

    Is it not clear that an “unintentional” choosing system has no quality of agency? At least, if I’m right in thinking that “agency” carries a context of “proactive”

    I don’t think organisms actively seek greater fitness for their environment; nor do I think that the environment actively kills off the less fit.

    The environment might passively change, becoming inimical to an organism. The organism might have in its population a mutant that can survive the change in environment. It might not, though, and become extinct.

  22. That’s fine, Elizabeth, as long as you realise that ‘natural-physical science’ is borrowing from (or piggy-backing on) ‘human-social sciences,’ the proper realm in which the verb ‘to choose’ and noun ‘choice’ belong. I respect your distaste for ‘anthropomorphizing,’ while noticing a reversion to that very theme in your words (technology is ‘natural’ according to your definition).

    A non-person cannot ‘choose’ (leaving aside animal/human distinctions). Again, yours is a rather limited and specialised definition of ‘selection’ without ‘agency.’ In my view, ‘selection’ is not a ‘choice-based’ story, but rather a merely probabilistic one. Simple natural science, borrowing terms from more complicated and complex social science.

    Darwin knew that his ‘selection’ analogy was problematic (and Wallace came back to bite him for this, after he died). This ironically marks the interdisciplinary component of his work, which makes ‘natural selection’ much less ‘hard’ or ‘rigourous’ and much more ‘ideological’ than other aspects of his historical-natural change theory of evolution.

    Thus, when Darwin wrote the following, you can surely see the influence of his ideology, can’t you Elizabeth?:
    “Natural selection works solely by and for the good of each being, all corporeal and mental endowments will tend to progress toward perfection.”

    I am curious: who (scholar name) do you adopt ‘choosing system’ from?

    “I would certainly distinguish intentional from non-intentional systems” – Elizabeth

    You and I are back on the same page then.

    “But I wouldn’t distinguish between natural systems and supernatural systems because I don’t know how you would set about doing so.” – Elizabeth

    This is because you no longer believe in ‘the’ supernatural and because you have expressed lack of belief in the extra-natural and non-natural. Basically, you’re in a tough bind, Lady neuro-scientist! Prayer might be an appropriate ‘doing so’ next step…

  23. Correction: In my view, ‘NATURAL selection’ is not a ‘choice-based’ story, but rather a merely probabilistic one

  24. Is prayer the only way to get help in distinguishing between “natural” and “non-natural”?
    I would hope for a method that had more of a verified track record of being fruitful.

  25. If ID is vacuous then your position is more vacuous.

    Look you are allegedly a scientist and science says that the ONLY possible way to make any determination about the designer(s) or the specific process(es) used, in the absence of direct observation or designer input, is by studying the design and all the evidence connected with it.

    Stonehenge- design determined and we are still working on the who, how and why.

    You have no idea how a knuckle-walker allegedly evolved into a upright biped. You have no idea how a prokaryote evolved into a eukaryote.

    Also it appears that you don’t understand the word “default”. Ya see if we consider necessity and chance FIRST then the design inference cannot be a default position.

    Also IDists can go beyond what ID is- again that is all in “No Free Lunch”.

    Nothing says that you don’t have any idea than this posts OP.

  26. woodbine,

    Your position doesn’t have any testable hypotheses.

    Your position has:

    Somehow, some things happened at some point in time, kept happening and keep happening to make things the way they are now.

    No predictions, nothing at all.

  27. Neil,

    We have a way of distinguishing between design and non-design- archaeology and forensic science rely on that.

    BTW YOUR position needs to be able to do that too…

  28. Joe G,

    Joe

    “default position” is NOTnecessarily synonymous with “starting position”. For example, my computer starts up in a configuration that is very different from its “default” configuration

    Similarly, your last sentence
    “Nothing says that you don’t have any idea than this posts OP.”
    is not synonymous with English!

  29. But ID maintains that the entire universe, and living things were designed. So under that assumption, it’s impossible to distinguish between designed and non-designed things. Everything was designed!

  30. Sholom Sandalow:
    But ID maintains that the entire universe, and living things were designed.So under that assumption, it’s impossible to distinguish between designed and non-designed things.Everything was designed!

    Exactly. That’s always puzzled me. I guess the argument is that everything was designed, but some things could only have been designed.

  31. Sholom Sandalow: But ID maintains that the entire universe, and living things were designed. So under that assumption, it’s impossible to distinguish between designed and non-designed things. Everything was designed!

    Yes, fair enough. But that makes “designed” a useless word and makes ID a pointless claim.

  32. What does choice mean? Do cats and dogs make choices? Monkeys? Chimps? Retarded humans? Mentally ill humans?

    From my point of view we start out life doing stuff that is only slightly biased from random. We get feedback and our actions start to coalesce around things that get attention. If Chomsky is correct, we have some built in general structures around which our language abilities develop.

    Choice is a name we give to the actions we take as a result of integrating all of our learning in a particular situation. There is a mysterious and poorly understood experience of being conscious of the situation and weighing alternatives. That is the inner experience of choice.

    But an external observer can sometimes predict behavior better than the conscious individual. that would be because many of the determining factors are visible to everyone.

  33. Is this really the case? This is NOT my field, but my understanding from what little I can understand, is that many (not all) organisms seem to lug around surprisingly large quantities of DNA whose purpose, if any, is not obvious. Much of this seems to consist of very large numbers of short repeating sequences. But I still understood that “this stuff does nothing” is quite different from “if this stuff does anything, what it does is yet unknown.”

    Strikes me that this is a question ripe for research, rather than ideological one-upmanship. Several possibilities present themselves – maybe some of it has direct functions not yet observed, maybe some of it indirectly enables other portions to function by acting as spacers or positioning agents.

    I should think such hypotheses could be tested, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find that some of it serves both these purposes, some of it does things I haven’t thought of, and some of it does nothing at all (or more accurately, no function has yet been discovered). And in the process, research would probably find that (1) inefficient or sloppy processes might “naturally” generate such stuff; (2) natural processes might also slowly discard anything truly useless; and (3) natural processes might FIND a use, even an indirect use to take up space so that other things get aligned better. Think of the bathtub drain being open (stuff constantly going away), the faucets full on (stuff constantly replenishing it), and the weight of the water itself helping to stabilize the floor.

    So this isn’t a matter of who “wins” or who “loses”, but rather a matter of developing a better understanding of what all is going on. I doubt it was ID “scientists” who have done the research determining that the answer is, LOTS of stuff is going on, but in any case “unknown” never meant “does nothing.”

  34. This seems like a semantic objection, as opposed to a substantive objection. When I use a strainer to get the water off the spaghetti, that strainer is CHOOSING to let the water pass but not the spaghetti. In fact, strainers were designed to make just such a choice, and it’s a very useful choice. The strainer need not be intelligent, or have any intentions itself. It merely needs to selectively pass the water and not the spaghetti.

    The problem Elizabeth has with the supernatural, as far as I read it, is that there is no operational definition by which the supernatural can be identified, isolated, or tested. There have been trillions of prayers to a posited all-knowing god, but there are at least two things that god has never told the supplicant: tomorrow’s winning lottery number, or that the supplicant’s opinion is wrong!

    Presumably there have been prayers asking for advice on how to distinguish the supernatural from the natural, but if so, the best God has come up with is “devise an inappropriate probability calculation based on a misunderstanding of what’s being calculated, and POOF you’ve found the supernatural!”

  35. A word of advice: DO NOT compose long replies in the little reply box. When you click submit, you get a page saying the connection was lost, and your post is lost forever. ALWAYS use a text editor so you keep a copy!

  36. Joe G: We have a way of distinguishing between design and non-design- archaeology and forensic science rely on that.

    Very true: Archaeology and forensic science do have a protocol of distinguishing between design and non-design—and that protocol is “formulate a hypothesis of how whatever-it-is was manufactured, and then test that hypothesis”. That is, the way real scientists detect design is critically dependent on knowledge of manufacture. This is in sharp contrast to ID, which asserts that one can determine that a given thingie is Designed even in the complete absence of any knowledge of manufacture.

  37. Woodbine,

    woodbine, again you are clueless as not everthing is compatible with ID and IDists have said what would falsify ID.

    OTOH your position has nothing. Go figure…

  38. Patrick: Please provide the list of these possible falsifications.

    All one has to do to falsify any given design inference is to demonstrate that necessity and chance are all that is required-> Newton’s First Rule applies.

    As Dr Behe said to falsify the deign inference wrt the bacterial flagellum all one has to do is demonstrate a flagellum can evolve in a population that never had one via blind and undirected processes.

  39. Joe G: All one has to do to falsify any given design inference is to demonstrate that necessity and chance are all that is required-> Newton’s First Rule applies.

    As Dr Behe said to falsify the deign inference wrt the bacterial flagellum all one has to do is demonstrate a flagellum can evolve in a population that never had one via blind and undirected processes.

    You seem to be assuming that intelligent intervention is the default, despite providing no evidence for any such intelligence or intervention. That is not a scientific theory.

    What is the scientific theory of intelligent design and what testable predictions are entailed by the theory and would serve to falsify it if proven incorrect?

  40. Joe G: Cubist,

    Cubist you don’t know what you are talking about. No one knows how Stonehenge was made.

    I didn’t mention Stonehenge, joeg. Instead, I said that the scientific fields of archaeology and forensic science do have a protocol of distinguishing between design and non-design. Since you, yourself, noted that such a protocol does, indeed, exist, it’s far from clear why you accuse me of “[not] knowing what [I am] talking about” here. And in the fields of forensic science and archaeology, you do test whether or not a given whatzit is Designed by formulating a hypothesis about how said whatzit was manufactured, and testing that hypothesis. If you disagree, I’d be interested in seeing if you can pony up any counter-examples, instances in which an archaeologist of forensics specialist has determined Design by any other protocol than ‘formulate a hypothesis of manufacture, and test said hypothesis’.

  41. All one has to do to falsify any given design inference is to demonstrate that necessity and chance are all that is required-

    I’ve never been able to tell whether an iterative feedback process is necessary (it doesn’t seem to be) or chance (it doesn’t seem to be) or design (it doesn’t seem to be this either).

    Which leads me to suspect that the universe of possibilities has not been enumerated very well.

  42. Patrick: You seem to be assuming that intelligent intervention is the default, despite providing no evidence for any such intelligence or intervention.That is not a scientific theory.

    What is the scientific theory of intelligent design and what testable predictions are entailed by the theory and would serve to falsify it if proven incorrect?

    You have no idea what “default” even means.

    What is your position’s testable hypothesis? And I told you how to falsify ID. Obvioulsy you have other issues.

  43. Flint: I’ve never been able to tell whether an iterative feedback process is necessary (it doesn’t seem to be) or chance (it doesn’t seem to be) or design (it doesn’t seem to be this either).

    Which leads me to suspect that the universe of possibilities has not been enumerated very well.

    Whatever Flint- your position doesn’t have a testable hypothesis nor does it make any predictions.

  44. Cubist: I didn’t mention Stonehenge, joeg. Instead, I said that the scientific fields of archaeology and forensic science do have a protocol of distinguishing between design and non-design. Since you, yourself, noted that such a protocol does, indeed, exist, it’s far from clear why you accuse me of “[not] knowing what [I am] talking about” here. And in the fields of forensic science and archaeology, you do test whether or not a given whatzit is Designed by formulating a hypothesis about how said whatzit was manufactured, and testing that hypothesis. If you disagree, I’d be interested in seeing if you can pony up any counter-examples, instances in which an archaeologist of forensics specialist has determined Design by any other protocol than ‘formulate a hypothesis of manufacture, and test said hypothesis’.

    Umm Stonehenge was an example that refutes your nonsense. And your position has nothing- no testable hypothesis nor any predictions.

  45. Joe G: You have no idea what “default” even means.

    What is your position’s testable hypothesis?

    We’re discussing ID here. If you want to learn about modern evolutionary theory, there are hundreds of textbooks and hundreds of thousands of peer reviewed papers available to you.

    And I told you how to falsify ID.

    You did no such thing. What is the scientific theory of intelligent design and what testable predictions are entailed by the theory and would serve to falsify it if proven incorrect?

  46. Patrick: We’re discussing ID here.If you want to learn about modern evolutionary theory, there are hundreds of textbooks and hundreds of thousands of peer reviewed papers available to you.

    You did no such thing.What is the scientific theory of intelligent design and what testable predictions are entailed by the theory and would serve to falsify it if proven incorrect?

    LoL! I have read about the ToE and it can’t even muster a testable hypothesis.

    And to falsify the design inference all one has to do is demonstrate that blind and undirected processes can account for it-> Newton’s First Rule and all.

  47. Joe G: LoL! I have read about the ToE and it can’t even muster a testable hypothesis.

    And to falsify the design inference all one has to do is demonstrate that blind and undirected processes can account for it-> Newton’s First Rule and all.

    Unless and until you provide an actual scientific hypothesis that entails testable predictions, nothing can serve to falsify intelligent design. “Somewhere, somehow, at some time, some entity did something” is not falsifiable.

    What is the scientific theory of intelligent design and what testable predictions are entailed by the theory and would serve to falsify it if proven incorrect?

  48. Patrick: Unless and until you provide an actual scientific hypothesis that entails testable predictions, nothing can serve to falsify intelligent design.”Somewhere, somehow, at some time, some entity did something” is not falsifiable.

    What is the scientific theory of intelligent design and what testable predictions are entailed by the theory and would serve to falsify it if proven incorrect?

    Well your position doesn’t have anything Patrick. No testable hypotheses and no predictions.

    But all that is moot because obvioulsy you are ignorant of science.

  49. Unless and until you provide an actual scientific hypothesis that entails testable predictions, nothing can serve to falsify the theory of evolution. “Somewhere, somehow, at some time, some thing did something” is not falsifiable.

  50. Joe G:
    Unless and until you provide an actual scientific hypothesis that entails testable predictions, nothing can serve to falsify the theory of evolution. “Somewhere, somehow, at some time, some thing did something” is not falsifiable.

    Tell you what, Joe.

    For each and every specific and risky prediction of ID “science” you can give me, I’ll match you with one from evolutionary theory.

    (Warning – googling “intelligent design predictions” is not too helpful)

    Your throw.

  51. damitall: Tell you what, Joe.

    For each and every specific and risky prediction of ID “science” you can give me, I’ll match you with one from evolutionary theory.

    (Warning – googling “intelligent design predictions” is not too helpful)

    Your throw.

    Nice equivocation. You need predictions based on blind and undirected processes.

    So for each and every specific and risky prediction borne from blind and undirected processes I will match you with two from ID.

    Good luck…

  52. Joe,

    If you change your mind and decide that you want to have a real discussion, I’ll be here. In the meantime, you should be aware that your unfounded claims are not exactly convincing.

    “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”
    ― Christopher Hitchens

  53. Patrick:
    Joe,

    If you change your mind and decide that you want to have a real discussion, I’ll be here.In the meantime, you should be aware that your unfounded claims are not exactly convincing.

    “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”
    ― Christopher Hitchens

    Patrick,

    What Hitchens said applies to your position. Your position doesn’t have any evidence so it is easily dismissed.

    So if you ever have anything to discuss I will be here.

  54. Patrick,

    What Hitchens said applies to your position- no evidence and that is why most people easily dismiss it.

    So if you ever have anything to discuss, I will be here.

  55. Patrick: You seem to be assuming that intelligent intervention is the default, despite providing no evidence for any such intelligence or intervention. That is not a scientific theory.
    What is the scientific theory of intelligent design and what testable predictions are entailed by the theory and would serve to falsify it if proven incorrect?

    No, ”intelligent intervention” is not being taken as the default. It is being inferred as the best explanation among competing hypothesis, which does follow the pattern of a historical scientific method that even Darwin used to formulate his theory of natural selection.
    I would like to point out that the OP makes some persuasive points, but unfortunately it is against a mischaracterization of what ID is. Eric’s quoted comments do not define what ID is (nor do I believe he was even trying to). The comments do touch on what ID does not do, as Elizabeth noted in her opening, but his comments don’t really mention what ID does do. So for one to argument against ID based on his comments, is not fairly representing ID.
    In addition, I am a little thrown off by what appears to be changing requirements. First in the OP it is stated:

    Yes, there is such a need, if ID is to be regarded as a testable scientific hypothesis. In order to test a hypothesis in science you need to operationalise it, and to operationalise it, you need an operational definition of the terms used to express that hypothesis

    but then in a response regarding evidence against “junk-DNA” it was said:

    However, I’ll stick my neck out and say that while falsifiability is a good litmus test of a scientific theory, it is not, in fact, how science generally proceeds…..
    ……
    Darwinian theory is not a testable scientific hypothesis. It’s an explanatory theory, just as ID is…..

    So which is it?
    I think for the sake of argument, I’ll go with the 2nd quote, which tends to put ID and Darwinian theory on a level playing field. And I think it is supported by the comments following the last set above:

    It proceeds by fitting models to data, and the better fitting models are retained while the worse-fitting models are discarded. So I would say that the real test of a scientific theory is: can we derive a testable model from it?
    …….
    But from it we can generate testable scientific hypotheses. This is what ID needs to produce if it is to be regarded as science IMO.

    Might I point out that “fitting models to data, and the better fitting models are retained while the worse-fitting models are discarded” is a restatement of that historical scientific theory of inferring the best explanation among competing hypotheses, and is precisely what ID is claiming to do.

    But to really evaluate that, you need a proper definition of ID. You could use the one from the UD site located here, but I prefer the definition stated on one of the Discovery Institute sites HERE. Part of that definition says:

    The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection. Through the study and analysis of a system’s components, a design theorist is able to determine whether various natural structures are the product of chance, natural law, intelligent design, or some combination thereof. Such research is conducted by observing the types of information produced when intelligent agents act.

    There. Your model.

    A lot of the evidence in support of ID comes from that last sentence in that statement. We infer the design in things every day, and it’s so obvious in most cases that people take it for granted. Recognizing the activity of intelligent agents constitutes a common and fully rational mode of inference. We do not need an ‘operational definition’ of “design” to make that judgment in most cases. But if you must have it, Dembski has provided definitions of CSI and even a mathematical representation that can be partially seen here.

    As for testable predictions (as stated on the definition page I referred to), one easy one (that was already mentioned in the comments with regards to the bacterial flagellar motor) is irreducible complexity, which can be discovered by experimentally reverse-engineering biological structures to see if they require all of their parts to function. And if you want to drop Darwinian theory from any predictions about Junk-DNA (which I should point out has not been the case for some prominent Darwinist supporters), that is fine. But ID to my knowledge happily WILL stake predictions around Junk-DNA, and did so very early on when there was much less information known on the subject.

    I would also like to point out that as part of the considering “competing” hypotheses, ID is doing this. I would suspect that when Elizabeth mentioned evolution as “involving both choosing mechanisms and mechanisms that provide options to choose between”, she was referring to natural selection and random variation. Pro-ID scientists don’t have any problem with that in concept, but where they may question things is how far the “mechanisms that provide options to choose between” can go. Recent examples are: Michael Behe deals with this subject in his book The Edge of Evolution,
    Behe’s comments on the data from Richard Lenski’s work with E. Coli, Douglas Axe experiments with proteins and amino-acid sequence space, Stephen Meyer in Signature In The Cell goes over chemical evolution theories extensively.

    There is a lot to ID theory if you just look. You can debate the experimental results and/or the conclusions reached by Pro-ID supporters as much as you want. But I think characterizing ID as essentially empty and vacuous is essentially arguing a strawman.

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