Good arguments and straw men

We seem to have quite a number of posters here who are happy to defend  ID, as well as a number (myself included) who are happy to defend evolutionary theory.

I’m posting this as a kind of straw poll for people to state what they think the major claim of their own position is, and why they find it persuasive; and also what they think the major claim of the opposite position is, and why (if they do) they find it flawed.

It might be interesting to count the straw men standing by the end 🙂  More to the point, it might stop us talking past each other quite so much, and perhaps understand the other side’s position a little more.

Full disclosure: I don’t think myself that the two positions are symmetrical.  But I am constantly brought upn short by the realisation that ID proponents also perceive an assymmetry, but see it as the mirror image of mine.  So I wait enlightenment 🙂

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108 thoughts on “Good arguments and straw men

  1. I disagree with lots of people on both “sides” of the debate. Here is what I believe:

    1) Although modern evolutionary theory accounts for a great deal of what we observe, there is reason to believe that our understanding of the origin of biological features is fundamentally incomplete. (People who share this view include James Shapiro, Stuart Kauffman, Brian Goodwin, Simon Morris, etc).

    I believe this because (a) it is not at all obvious that biological systems could have arisen in the time available via mechanisms we currently understand, and because (b) computer simulations have thus far failed to demonstrate designs of comparable complexity can arise given the resources (time X number of organisms) available.

    So I think there may well be surprising future breakthroughs that reveal aspects of nature that we don’t currently understand that are involved in the production of the complex form and function we see in biology.

    2) Offering “intelligent cause”, without further qualification, as the missing explanation is meaningless.

    3) Other hypotheses such as that life on Earth “arose elsewhere in the universe first” or “was designed by living things elsewhere in the universe” have no empirical support.

    4) The hypothesis that life on Earth was designed by an immaterial, conscious entity is meaningful, but also lacks empirical evidence, and in fact contradicts our experience-based understanding of conscious entities.

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  2. 1] As an ‘evolutionist’ I note that organisms are not optimal in their function/form ~ it is easy to make a wish list of improvements. This is to be expected in ‘evolution world’, but not in ‘ID world’
    2] Evolutionary theory has predictive power ~ it makes claims that are supported by the evidence from many scientific disciplines. Whereas the supporters of ID appear to have no laboratories & do not work in the field ~ their ‘scientific method’ is to comb science papers looking for holes & claiming this is evidence for ID. Of course IF a biological feature was ever discovered that could NEVER be explained by the evolutionary process that still doesn’t mean that ID is the solution, but IDists assume that it is because that fits with the one book by which they judge evidence.
    3] Some IDists claim that the world is fine tuned for life & posit this as evidence for a Creator, but most scientists would argue that the universe is vast & it is to be expected that WE find conditions fine-tuned for us where WE happen to be. This puddle fit perfectly in this pothole.

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  3. I see an approach ultimately based on empirical observation (and thus forever incomplete and subject to improvement), struggling against an approach based on theological conviction, to which empirical observation applies only to the extent it can be represented as supporting theological doctrine.

    I see the concept of evidence as the fulcrum. To one side, evidence is what conclusions are drawn from, and explanations must go wherever evidence leads. To the other side, evidence is whatever fits foregone conclusions. If it does not (or cannot be misrepresented to do so), then it simply is not evidence. The evidence must go where the conclusions lead.

    (What’s interesting is the very narrow scope within which we talk past one another. Even the most ardent creationist lives moment to moment by fitting explanations to observation. If he did not do so, he couldn’t survive – couldn’t eat, couldn’t walk, couldn’t function. In our daily lives, we work by constant feedback so as to tailor our behavior to our observations. And so the very concept of evidence undergoes a sea change when we cross that invisible line demarcating religious conviction. Suddenly, evidence CANNOT play the same role, because it would undermine emotional needs that must be defended. I’m always fascinated by the sometimes fantabulous extent people will go to “discover” that reality supports the insupporable – but ONLY within the purview of religion. Cross back over that line, the fun-house glasses come off, the logical mind kicks back in, and all is ducky again.)

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  4. The major claim of my position is that experiments trump ideology. Theories are interesting and useful for pedagogy, but meaningless. If I can go to Walmart and pick up a purple-ray player and the remake of the remake of Spiderman on a purple-ray disc, then I can go home and satisfy myself as much as I want that it works. That the purple-ray format was based on a well worked theory about the crop rotation habits of Norwegian garden gnomes makes no difference to anything.

    The major claims of the Design and Dice are roughly “it didn’t happen naturally” and “it didn’t happen unnaturally”, respectively. Or that’s the primary awareness of them both whatever the formal definition of ‘naturally’ may be. Within that context it relegates both of them to creation myths. Both fine theological issues, but not valid science.

    The major future predictive claims of both are that we have not observed an unambiguous macroevolutionary event yet, and that we cannot expect to do so in this or any other lifetime. Which is not to bring the Lottery Paradox forward, but the prediction is that we won’t see anything. But my theory of carrots, peas, and wee people states we won’t see anything either. I daresay none are so stupid as to believe what I state about garden gnomes because of that empty prediction

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  5. Maus: The major claims of the Design and Dice are roughly “it didn’t happen naturally” and “it didn’t happen unnaturally”, respectively.

    I am afraid the latter part is wrong. Can anyone spot the error?

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  6. olegt: I am afraid the latter part is wrong. Can anyone spot the error?

    Yep, the error is reading comprehension: “Or that’s the primary awareness of them both whatever the formal definition of ‘naturally’ may be.”

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  7. olegt on February 23, 2012 at 1:05 am said:

    Maus: The major claims of the Design and Dice are roughly “it didn’t happen naturally” and “it didn’t happen unnaturally”, respectively.

    I am afraid the latter part is wrong. Can anyone spot the error?

    What’s wrong is that Dice has a positive position, .i.e, “It happened naturally and here’s how”.

    Design says, “It didn’t happen naturally but we don’t know how it happened either.”

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  8. The major claim of my position is that experiments trump ideology.

    So far, so good. So long as we recognize the insideous nature of ideology, which induces us to perform often unsuitable experiments, reject others, and inform our interpretations of the results of others, usually noncongruent with the experimental results.

    Theories are interesting and useful for pedagogy, but meaningless.

    Bingo, we have a loser! Experiments are generally thought up within the context of theories, either support or refute theories, leading to modified theories or better-supported theories. Theories are primary. No experimental observation can possibly be meaningful, except insofar as it supports or refutes some theory, hypothesis, or model. Theories provide the context within which experiments make sense.

    The major future predictive claims of both are that we have not observed an unambiguous macroevolutionary event yet, and that we cannot expect to do so in this or any other lifetime.

    And here, we have an illustration of exacty this. One theory holds that “macroevolutionary events” do not exist, and the very concept simply doesnt apply. Another theory holds that the first theory must be wrong because it is falsely ASSERTED to claim what it does not. And so this statement about “macroevolutionary events” is DERIVED from a theoretical model, or perhaps from a deliberate, theory-derived misunderstanding of a nonexistent theoretical model.

    And so, as usual, I have never ever seen a creationist critique of the scientific understanding of evolution. Always, it’s a critique of an ideologically inspired misrepresentation, often (as in this case) WILDLY inaccurate. And I appreciate the deep irony of someone rejecting an ideologically-based misrepresentation after claiming ideology is secondary, and then basing the misrepresentation on a theory after rejecting the importance of theory in supporting an understanding.

    Classic.

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  9. Maus: The major claims of the Design and Dice are roughly “it didn’t happen naturally” and “it didn’t happen unnaturally”, respectively.Or that’s the primary awareness of them both whatever the formal definition of ‘naturally’ may be.Within that context it relegates both of them to creation myths.Both fine theological issues, but not valid science […] The major future predictive claims of both are that we have not observed an unambiguous macroevolutionary event yet, and that we cannot expect to do so in this or any other lifetime

    This is so vague as to be almost useless. In the first half of the bit I quoted you seem to be writing about creation rather than evolution since you mention creation myths. Evolutionary theory makes no claims about creation i.e. getting from non-life to life. In the second part you use the term “macroevolutionary event” & this is bollocks of course because Evolutionary theory doesn’t require there to be such a singular event to do its work. Besides, you really need to define “macroevolutionary” I have this idea you are referring to “hopeful monsters”, but your verbiage is so meaning-free it’s difficult to know for sure.

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  10. As a geologist and amateur astronomer, both my work and play are rooted in deep time. One of the things I do at work is follow the processes of environmental change as recorded in the rock record — not just changes in fossil communities, but changes inthe conditions that the rocks reflect: orogenies, basin development and filling, connections and separations between adjacent zones, and the affect of the Earth’s internal energy in moving, dissolving, precipitating, and trashing previously extant rock formations.

    Once you understand the concept of inherent genetic variation, it becomes obvious that evolution and diversification of life through deep time is as inevitable and unstoppable as plate tectonics itself.

    I have little patience with those who believe their personal prejudices and wishful preferences should trump the actual study and observation of nature.

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  11. Maus: So if it’s only “it happened naturally” without stating “it only happened naturally” then ID is Darwinism.

    Wrong again! Here is Michael Behe:

    Before I begin, however, I’d like to emphasize that the focus of my argument will not be descent with modification, with which I agree. Rather, the focus will be the mechanism of evolution—how did all this happen, by natural selection or intelligent design? My conclusion will not be that natural selection doesn’t explain anything; Rather, the conclusion will be that natural selection doesn’t explain everything.

    He clearly says that natural processes do not explain all of evolution. That’s the ID position.

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  12. Maus,

    Maus: “So if it’s only “it happened naturally” without stating “it only happened naturally” then ID is Darwinism. If you state that “it only happened naturally” then “it didn’t happen unnaturally” is perfectly correct and certainly less ambiguous. Reading comprehension, people.”

    I’m addressing you own statement that doesn’t contain any “only”‘s.

    Are you saying your original statement is not comprehensible the way you worded it?

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  13. Meaningful ideologically.

    Not at all. Amazing as it may sound to the neutral ear, proposed and testable explanations for phenomena are not “ideologies”, at least outside the ID tent.

    Despite that, if you don’t have a metaphysical theory of computers you nonetheless are typing on one. If you wish to state that if we are strictly within the framework of occupational science then I agree with you. We should focus on slaying the wrong-headed nonsense. But that then means that we should be putting efforts into ID rather than producing knuckle bone the Saints (Lemurs?) for the faithful.

    I’m not evn going to try to guess what this might mean.

    That is, there should be opposed advocates to keep the whole process honest.

    There always are, as I understand it. Any new finding, discovery, or hypothesis is sure to meet determined resistance, which can be overcome only by unambiguous empirical evidence. The scientific process is kept honest by genuine scientific investigation into competing explanations, until only one is left standing on the ground. “Opposed advocates” are NOT people waiving their hands and claiming their notion of supernatural, untestable delusions can’t accept what empirical investigation indicates.

    But perhaps you could tell me what the ‘proper’ scientific understanding of ‘evolution’ is.

    Have you considered that evolution is simply the observation that biological organisms change over time, and that the theory of evolution is nothing more than a set of suggested mechanisms which taken together CAUSE such changes? The “proper scientific understanding” of ANY observation, is the tested, validated, replicated mechanisms causing the observation.

    We are here talking about the entirety of every mutually inconsistent theory that falls under the theological umbrella of evolution after all.

    You may be, but nobody outside the ID ghetto seems to be. Foir everyone else, there is a single, consistent, fully explanatory theory supported by all known observations without exception.

    Various theologically-based crackpot emotional notions are indeed mutually inconsistent, inconsistent with empirical reality, and have nothing to do with evolution beyond the religious insistence that SAYING their theology is “evolution” somehow makes it come true.

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  14. olegt: Wrong again! Here is Michael Behe:

    He clearly says that natural processes do not explain all of evolution. That’s the ID position.

    And of course we see that Behe produces a false dichotomy — in keeping with the “Strawman” theme of this thread. Certainly natural selection doesn’t explain everything. There is drift, of course, and there are environmental catastrophes that wipe away their victims at random. And recently there’s been artificial selection.

    But all of these remain natural processes, which our astrologer-scientist seems to prefer to ignore.

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  15. olegt: He clearly says that natural processes do not explain all of evolution. That’s the ID position.

    Well, that can’t be right as stated, although surely the right thought is there.

    The ID position, as I understand it, is that macro-evolutionary and mega-evolutionary patterns are best explained in terms of purposive guidance by something analogous to an intelligent being.

    So one can deny the teleology of the process and still be hospitable to all sorts of hypotheses outside the purview of the Modern Synthesis. For what it’s worth, my money is on some eventual integration of evo-devo with ecology and with self-organization theory. Not being a biologist, I have to rely on popular treatments by scientists who are decent writers — Sean Carroll, Brian Goodwin, and Stuart Kauffman being those who have influenced me the most.

    Best,
    Carl

    [P.S.: As a philosopher, my picture of “the metaphysics of life” is most strongly indebted to Aristotle (of course), John Dewey, Hans Jonas, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. I only add that in case it helps others to figure out where I’m coming from.]

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  16. Michael Fisher: Evolutionary theory makes no claims about creation i.e. getting from non-life to life.

    Let’s make that distinction. Then it gets from one-life to all life. And this, somehow, is not a creation myth about where all life came from?

    Michael Fisher: Besides, you really need to define “macroevolutionary” I have this idea you are referring to “hopeful monsters”, but your verbiage is so meaning-free it’s difficult to know for sure.

    On this we agree: “macroevolutionary” is particularly meaning-free and I would sorely like to see a different term used. Sadly, I’m not the one that coined it. If you have a preferred definition for then let me know and I’ll recast the statement in a manner that is cognizable to you.

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  17. olegt: He clearly says that natural processes do not explain all of evolution. That’s the ID position.

    That’s one ID position, sure. But let’s try to bone you up on reading comprehension again — here’s the part from me you quoted:

    olegt: Maus: So if it’s only “it happened naturally” without stating “it only happened naturally” then ID is Darwinism.

    So if Evolution is not “it only happened naturally” then evolutionists accept Behe’s position as being within evolution. Kindergarten stuff, though this is one of your better dodges.

    Toronto: I’m addressing you own statement that doesn’t contain any “only”‘s.

    If it did not happen unnatrually, then it is impossible for it to happen unnaturally. What does that leave? Again, basic reading comprehension.

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  18. Dear Liz,

    From my point of view, the notion that complex, functionally-integrated information-processing systems and the associated machinery, with error-detection-and-repair algorithms, were engineered by the introduction of random errors, with the bad errors being thrown out and the good errors being preserved, strikes me as being irrational, illogical, in contradiction to the evidence, and based on a philosophical precommitment.

    On the other hand, you and most of the contributors to your blog consider my inference to design to be irrational, illogical, in contradiction to the evidence, and based on a philosophical precommitment (although my original philosophical precommitment was yours and that of most of your contributors).

    I thus return to the theme my original post, which is that there is an unbridgeable gap.

    Thanks for the opportunity to post here. It was fun while it lasted.

    I’ll check in from time to time.

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  19. Flint: Amazing as it may sound to the neutral ear, proposed and testable explanations for phenomena are not “ideologies”, at least outside the ID tent.

    It need not be in the perjorative, certainly. And yet, for being a skeptic at ‘The Skeptic Zone’ your conclusion is that I believe Jesus rode velociraptors and that the Earth is, what, 6000 years old? This idea that if it’s not good it’s bad, and that if you’re not with me then you’re against me is known as ‘Splitting’. It’s a pathology that’s commonly symptomatic of such things as Borderline and Naricissitic personality disorders. That is: It is insane. Seeing as we take things on Faith here you certainly should take it on Faith from an apostate. Ask Petrushka to chime in if you need, as he’s both a professional and one of your coreligionists.

    Flint: I’m not evn going to try to guess what this might mean.

    Sudden Onset English Incomprehension. It’s a terrible disease, really. Best of luck to you.

    Flint: The scientific process is kept honest by genuine scientific investigation into competing explanations, until only one is left standing on the ground.

    “Competing explanations”. That is, without competing explanations there is no opposed advocacy. Not a terrible hurdle to get over.

    Flint: The “proper scientific understanding” of ANY observation, is the tested, validated, replicated mechanisms causing the observation.

    Ah, so you can point me to the scientific literature in which we have repeatedly observed the nonreplicable (by definition) macroevolutionary events in living organisms? Of course you won’t. You will instead trot out the knuckle bones of the Lemur’s. Quite like Turin’s Shroud it says everything to the Faithful.

    Flint: You may be, but nobody outside the ID ghetto seems to be.

    Funny that. Since I do not happen to be the aggregate collection of anyone nor a proponent of ID. However, I failed to note your response as to ‘which’ theory in evolution it is I’m supossed to take as the religious canon. Or if we are still simply talking about the theological umbrella that contains a host of mutually exclusives religious apologia.

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  20. Maus: So if Evolution is not “it only happened naturally” then evolutionists accept Behe’s position as being within evolution. Kindergarten stuff, though this is one of your better dodges.

    Wow, that’s really impressive, Maus! Did you know that young-earth creationists, too, accept some of evolution? Just ask Joe G. 🙂

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  21. From my point of view, the notion that complex, functionally-integrated information-processing systems and the associated machinery, with error-detection-and-repair algorithms, were engineered by the introduction of random errors, with the bad errors being thrown out and the good errors being preserved, strikes me as being irrational, illogical, in contradiction to the evidence, and based on a philosophical precommitment.

    While there is no doubt about your philolsophical precommitment, I think your self-serving and misleading ideas of biology, combined with your careful omission of deep time and your rejection of observed adaptive feedback systems, inevitably lead you to reject reality. ESPECIALLY in light of your philosophical commitment to reject all known evidence for reasons having nothing to do with evidence.

    On the other hand, you and most of the contributors to your blog consider my inference to design to be irrational, illogical, in contradiction to the evidence, and based on a philosophical precommitment (although my original philosophical precommitment was yours and that of most of your contributors).

    You SAY so, but your relentlessly religious terminology and posturing says very much otherwise. Design (by a designer so incredibly clever He rivals the abilities of evolution itself!) can never be ruled out, but it rings in considerations not required to explain observation, provided one is open to understand observation. Your view does not contradict the evidence, it is simply an inferior, unnecessary, untestable, and ideological alternative. People have been pleading, begging, imploring you to operationalize it and demonstrate it for decades. So far, absolutely nothing. Meanwhile, every week new thoroughly demonstrated evidence for scientific notions of evolution are published in the sorts of journals ID proponents are so allergic to.

    I thus return to the theme my original post, which is that there is an unbridgeable gap

    The gap is exactly as bridgeable as you choose to allow it to be. The evidence is there; it fills whole libraries. It grows daily. It’s been growing in consistent consilient ways for well over a century. But if you choose to close your eyes, nobody else can open them. You can, as always, stick your tail between your legs and run back to your prayer group. Bless you.

    Oh, and nobody will be the least bit surprised that you have failed to support a single assertion with actual evidence, and failed to support your claim about calculating the impossibility of biololgical reality. I don’t think anyone expected THAT level of honesty from you, so don’t feel ashamed.

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  22. What’s always interesting to me is the religious posture toward evidence. Gil, like most such, seems to believe that ASSERTING is evidence. Asserting repeatedly is LOTS of evidence. This is how things come true in religionland. How things are false in religion land, is if they don’t fit comfortably into a religious model. Evidence NEVER plays a role.

    Which means Gil surely believes that his repeated assertions of the unsupported ARE support, he asserted them multiple times, how much more true can he make them? He claims he USED to believe in evidence, and I suppose SAYING this makes it true also. Yes, it’s pitiful. But also all too human. The scientific viewpoint is an acquired taste, very unnatural.

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  23. olegt: Wow, that’s really impressive, Maus! Did you know that young-earth creationists, too, accept some of evolution?

    And another beautiful strawman. The point is, of course, whether it is within evolution or not by the definitions. Not what YECheads think about the affair.

    Flint: People have been pleading, begging, imploring you to operationalize it and demonstrate it for decades. So far, absolutely nothing.

    Pot, meet kettle. This is precisely the problem with hopping from ‘interesting’ to ‘most truest thing eva’ with both camps.

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  24. Strange. Got an error message, lost the post, tried again, and got two of them. Still some weirdness in the system.

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  25. Maus,

    Maus:” If it did not happen unnatrually, then it is impossible for it to happen unnaturally. What does that leave? Again, basic reading comprehension.

    Do you really mean this or do you want to re-phrase?

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  26. GilDodgen,

    Why would you not want an opportunity to convince evo supporters to come to the ID side?

    I thought that was the whole point of ID, to show how wrong the evo side is.

    Yes, it will be hard on you, but the alternative is preaching to the choir.

    I think that most of us who were banned from UD would have liked to stay and argue our position but that opportunity is no longer available.

    You however have the chance to promote your side’s argument but you effectively want to “ban” yourself.

    How does that help ID?

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  27. Flint:

    What’s always interesting to me is the religious posture toward evidence. Gil, like most such, seems to believe that ASSERTING is evidence. Asserting repeatedly is LOTS of evidence.

    It’s true. Here’s Gil arguing for free will:

    The no-free-will thing is yet further evidence of the lobotomizing influence of materialist philosophy. Just the other day I was in the supermarket, and decided to treat myself to some ice cream. I like the Haagen-Dazs coffee and dark chocolate varieties. I thought to myself, “Self, which flavor would you like to purchase?” I chose the dark chocolate.

    A thoroughgoing materialist would argue that my choice was no choice at all, that my decision was determined by my brain chemistry and other such transparent idiocy.

    I make free-will decisions all day long every day, just as everyone reading this post does.

    The denial of this obvious fact, along with other absurdities and self-contradictions as mentioned above, leads me to conclude that materialists have indeed lost their minds.

    Nothing but assertion. No argument, no evidence. For Gil, his own perception is all the evidence he needs that his will is free. He chose dark chocolate. The choice felt free. Therefore it was free. What’s the problem with all these egghead philosophers and scientists who can’t see the obvious?

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  28. Maus,

    Maus: “Maus:” If it did not happen unnatrually, then it is impossible for it to happen unnaturally. What does that leave? Again, basic reading comprehension. ”

    Replace the word “unnaturally” with the word “Monday”.

    Does it make any sense now?

    Can it happen next week on on Monday?

    If it happens on a Tuesday, is it now impossible for it to happen on a Monday?

    Why does a single occurrence of “NOT A” prevent “A” from happening in the future?

    If a nominee does not get a Grammy this year, why is it impossible next year?

    Why wasn’t it actually “possible” this year as opposed to not occurring?

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  29. Toronto: Why wasn’t it actually “possible” this year as opposed to not occurring?

    That well exceeded my expectations. By this then you mean that evolution includes ID and you have cut the Gordian Knot. Or you didn’t, but won’t state what you meant on the basis of your definition allergy. It’s like peanut oil, but only deadly to sophists.

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  30. I’ve tried to engage Gil many times at UD and other forums, and he’s never responded to a single point.

    I for one would LOVE if there was some forum to engage in moderated debate.

    We all go around and around for years on these forums, talking past each other, being dragged off topic, enduring ad hominems, outright insults, blatant non sequiturs, censorship, and so on, all of which prevents either side from actually pressing an argument.

    There used to be some debates on ARN I remember, and maybe ISCID? How could we do this?

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  31. aiguy: There used to be some debates on ARN I remember, and maybe ISCID? How could we do this?

    The community has to police itself. Which requires friends calling out friends for committing fouls. Which requires a different social culture. And so we’re going to need to brew up a mankind we do not yet have.

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  32. I just moved a bunch of posts to Guano. They will remain visible, and if you want to repost some of the content here, that is fine.

    As usual, I repeat that the fact that I have moved the post does not mean that I think they, or the poster, are morally reprehensible! It just means that the reason I started this forum was to try to do something that may turn out to be impossible (which would sadden me, but I’m willing to accept it if I must), but which I hope is not: to hold discussions between people of wildly differing views in which we critique and defend those views strictly on their merits, and not on the perceived motivations of the holders.

    There are plenty of forums (UD is one, many evolutionist sites are others) where people are free to speculate on the motivations and moral failings of thoses they disagree with (and even those they agree with!). This site was planned as an alternative.

    I hope Gil will continue to post here, and I hope he will provide a more detailed rationale underlying his conclusion that life by means other than an ID is to improbable to be reasonable.

    I hope other ID proponents will also continue to post here, and explain why they have come to the conclusion they have. And, of course, I hope lots of people who those arguments fallacious and/or unpersuasive (as I do) will continue to say why.

    But the positions are so extremely different, that to get people round the table, as it were, is going to take a lot of self-discipline from everyone.

    Please demonstrate to me that this is possible!

    Thanks!

    Lizzie.

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  33. Maus: The community has to police itself.Which requires friends calling out friends for committing fouls.Which requires a different social culture.And so we’re going to need to brew up a mankind we do not yet have.

    Possibly. Let’s have a go. I have some eye-of-newt at the back of the fridge somewhere I think.

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  34. This site was planned as an alternative.

    to Pharyngula, perhaps? 🙂

    Picking up on aiguy’s comment, I am finding it very hard to keep up with comments as only so many are displayed. Elizabeth mentioned a forum as a possibility, which is easier to search and follow (Like ARN, as aiguy says). In parallel, you could even operate moderated debates and discussions and keep the blog for meta-discussion.

    I consider myself an outsider to most of these discussions except where science is the issue. Unless and until someone manages to imbue the concept of “Intelligent Design” with some rigour, some utility, some indication of a nascent hypothesis, it is very hard for a realist to take it seriously. Suffering mildly from internet addiction, I have had to follow the fortunes of ID since first learning of the concept in early 2005. I have yet to see anything remotely looking like an alternative explanation of the current and past diversity of life on Earth.

    Not to say that evolutionary theories are anything like complete explanations and agreed that the origin of life on Earth is still a complete mystery but the scientific, the realistic, approach works. Judge science on its usefulness. As Reg might have said: “What has ID ever done for us?”

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  35. I think Timaeus at UD pinpoints the heart of the problem for ID. He writes

    I am glad we agree that the project of working out an incarnational theology of creation need not be tied to the defense of Darwinian evolution, and that it should have its own independent theological motivation.

    Framing the problem is a start, I guess.

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  36. Yikes! Even a thread for simple statements of position cannot proceed without those statements being immediately chewed over …!

    But here goes …

    Evolution
    The case for evolution has, I think, been immeasurably strengthened by the discoveries of the mid-1950’s and beyond of the central role of DNA as the genetic material, and the means by which phenotype is implemented upon it. We were able to move from a theory based upon external phenotype to one based upon ‘raw’ genotype. The comparative ‘vagueness’ of phenotypic homology, due to the complexities of pulling phenotype out from genotype, and isues of heritability and epistasis, can be swept away in considering actual DNA sequence. Once one grasps the molecular biology, and properly understands the role of sex in populations, the ‘micro/macro’ issue simply melts away, while Common Descent is writ large in that raw sequence. IF there is a process that copies DNA imperfectly, AND there is a ‘memoryless’ stochastic sampling process (with or without bias) that tends towards fixation (elimination of variation) in a population, then anagenesis (change in lineage) and divergence (different change in isolated lineages) are inevitable and, in principle, indefinite. If one changes a single letter in a million-letter book even once every 10 years, say – 7 ‘micro’ changes in a lifetime – there still comes a point on a broader scale when one can no longer say one is looking at the same text. Make random changes in a parallel set of copies, and the two will reach a similar ‘point’ of distinctness in approximately half the time. And keep on going.

    Intelligent Design
    Suffers the fatal flaw, in my opinion, of relying upon argument from analogy for one part of its formulation, and then denying argument from analogy for its conclusion. The argument is advanced that phenotypic complexity can ONLY come from intelligent choice because all complexities of whose provenance we are certain come from intelligent choice (not, incidentally, true). Since intelligence MUST be involved (per the argument), then right back down to abiogenesis, intelligence WAS involved. The fact that all intelligence of whose existence we are certain resides in complex physical neural networks, most notably in a certain species of primate, appears not to be an issue – but for symmetry of argument, it should be.

    The other principal ID problem is pinning people down on what actually IS intelligently designed, and how that design was implemented. Some favour what amounts to repeat special creation, others directed mutation (with, presumably, directed survival/death also, because mutation alone is not enough). All appear to hinge upon an ‘essentialist’ view of species (not warranted IMO) and a belief that the mechanism of evolution boils down to ‘RM+NS’ – the mistaken belief that every change MUST be beneficial. The apparent reality (per population genetic theory) is that they need only be not-too-harmful, which dramatically increases the accessible regions of search space.

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  37. Maus,
    As you have changed the conditions of your initial statement to exclude creation there is no need for me to comment further other than to say that your comparison is no longer useful. End of chat on that one.

    Maus,
    As you have agreed that you’ve used a term you can’t define, but which is central to your statement & also since you haven’t (it appears) picked up on the importance of the word “event” in my original reply to you… I don’t feel obliged to do the heavy lifting & define terms for you! It is for you to frame your arguments & to embrace clarity. The ‘poeticals’ & analogies you use drain away the sense ~ if you want to write about the discipline of science as a form of theology (for example), then you had better explain why that’s a valid comparison/description or look daft.

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  38. Michael Fisher: As you have changed the conditions of your initial statement to exclude creation there is no need for me to comment further …

    One creation out of the countless in the myth. Oddly, I discarded it for the sake of having us avoid splitting hairs on a single issue that is “meaning-free” due dickering over just where it belongs. Pity that it has you splitting hairs.

    Michael Fisher: I don’t feel obliged to do the heavy lifting & define terms for you!

    Nor I you. Nonetheless I will shoulder the burden of teaching you to use a dictionary: Macroevolution and event. The reason these are “meaning-free” is not because they are so obscure that they cannot be found in common reference. It is because dishonest sorts raise meaningless objections and split hairs over their use.

    The manner to defray this problem is to allow them their preference of terms. The honest will provide such. Sophists, however, will never do such a thing as provide an acceptable definition. Now that you have learned to use a dictionary it remains to be seen which you are.

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  39. I must chip in here:

    Dictionaries are descriptive, not prescriptive. We are not obliged to use words according to their dictionary definitions, and if we don’t, eventually dictionaries will record the way we actually do use them.

    It is, IMO, the responsibility of the person using the word to make clear the sense in which s/he is using it, and if there is any ambiguity, it is up to the reader to ask for clarification.

    This is an important issue, I think, because so often I have been accused of “nit-picking” because I tend to insist on clear definitions of words, only then to be accused of misusing them!

    One think that is very important in science is the concept of the operational definition. A hypothesis has to be couched in terms that are clearly defined, not necessarily according to a dictionary definition, but according to a definition that holds for the purposes of the study.

    My hunch is that a lot of the missing-of-points that goes on in ID vs Evo debates is due to usage of key terms that differs between participants (and sometimes within participants….)

    My own bête noire is the word “random” which can mean all kinds of things, and is often a major source of misunderstanding, not least of Darwin’s theory!

    [/rant]

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  40. Elizabeth: My hunch is that a lot of the missing-of-points that goes on in ID vs Evo debates is due to usage of key terms that differs between participants (and sometimes within participants….)

    Don’t mind us here. For all the years we’ve known each other Michael plays the ‘no habla’ troll and I snark him about the dictionary. We’re both perfectly aware of the terms used here and each other.

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  41. Maus: Don’t mind us here.For all the years we’ve known each other Michael plays the ‘no habla’ troll and I snark him about the dictionary.We’re both perfectly aware of the terms used here and each other.

    OK, as you were 🙂

    But my point about dictionaries still stands.

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  42. Maus: One creation out of the countless in the myth.Oddly, I discarded it for the sake of having us avoid splitting hairs on a single issue that is “meaning-free” due dickering over just where it belongs.Pity that it has you splitting hairs.

    Nor I you.Nonetheless I will shoulder the burden of teaching you to use a dictionary: Macroevolution and event.The reason these are “meaning-free” is not because they are so obscure that they cannot be found in common reference.It is because dishonest sorts raise meaningless objections and split hairs over their use.

    The manner to defray this problem is to allow them their preference of terms.The honest will provide such.Sophists, however, will never do such a thing as provide an acceptable definition.Now that you have learned to use a dictionary it remains to be seen which you are.

    so reconstruct your original post & explain what a “macroevolutionary event” is & why you think a “macroevolutionary event” (or series of “macroevolutionary events”) plays a part in biological evolution. I can think of no evolutionary scientists today (outside of the speculative fringe with a mainly religious agenda) who consider macroevolution to be essential to the process. That is NOT hair splitting Maus ~ I’m asking you to make statements that are true & accurate. Even Gould wasn’t contemplating a giant one-step “macroevolutionary event” for his punctuated evolution idea.

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  43. Maus,

    “Maus:” If it did not happen unnatrually, then it is impossible for it to happen unnaturally. What does that leave? Again, basic reading comprehension. ”
    Maus: “By this then you mean that evolution includes ID and you have cut the Gordian Knot.”

    You asserted event “X” did not happen at time “T1” and therefore it was “impossible” for it to happen at “T1” or for that matter, “T2,T3,T4, etc.”

    Just because something “didn’t” happen, does not mean it was impossible “to” have happened.

    If I buy a lottery ticket and don’t win, it doesn’t mean it was “impossible” to win.

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  44. The major claims of my own position and why I am persuaded are:

    * Complex life is descended from much simpler forms – quite possibly one such form. This seems to follow from the well established facts that once upon a time there was no complex life and all complex life has at least one parent.

    * Biologists are by a process of observation and experiment gradually discovering the processes that underly this pattern of descent with modification. There is no reason to suppose any teleological or supernatural forces are involved. There are still many questions to be answered but they are just that – questions to be answered. I am not a biologist but I am persuaded by individual successes I am aware of e.g. the many observed instances of microevolution, and accounts of the evolution of haeomoglobin plus the more general success of science in explaining what is apparently supernatural.

    The major claim of the opposite position is that is that it is possible to identify characteristics of phenomena that indicate design without making any prior assumptions about the designer ‘s motives and methods and that these characteristics are found in life. I think this is faulty because if analysed carefully the characteristic turns out to be equivalent to “all known natural causes are insufficient to explain this phenomenon”. So the design inference becomes “We can’t explain it. Therefore it was designed.” which is clearly a fallacy.

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  45. Elizabeth: OK, as you were

    But my point about dictionaries still stands.

    Lizzie I have no idea who “Maus” is & I am unaware what other nyms he uses elsewhere on blog comments. I have no relationship with any commenters on any blogs that matches the description of the relationship that “Maus” writes I have with him/her. Since I never post anonyMAUSly I conclude that “Maus” couldn’t have confused me with someone else. Therefore he’s…

    Lying or
    Stupid [no] or
    Deranged

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  46. GilDodgen:
    Dear Liz,

    From my point of view, the notion that complex, functionally-integrated information-processing systems and the associated machinery, with error-detection-and-repair algorithms, were engineered by the introduction of random errors, with the bad errors being thrown out and the good errors being preserved, strikes me as being irrational, illogical, in contradiction to the evidence, and based on a philosophical precommitment.

    I think that is simply wrong, Gil. It is not a “philosophical precommitment” on which I base my view, but, as I would argue, logic and evidence!

    So here is my logic, and it is very simple:

    On the assumption (and it is a substantial assumption) that you have in place a population of self-replicating entities, and that those entities reproduce with variance (note that I do not say “error” because all we are talking about is non-faithful reproduction, and that lack of fidelity could result in something better, worse, or the same as the parent at reproducing itself; note also, that I do not say “random”), then, as I think you agree, those variants that reproduce more readily in the current environment will become most prevalent.

    And the evidence that this works is from lab work, field work, and genetic algorithms, all of which show populations of self-replicators adapting to their environment. And most ID proponents agree that this actually works, although they may consider it has “limits”.

    Now I’m more than willing to discuss both the logic, and the evidence, but it is on that logic, and that evidence, that my view is based, not on some “philosophical precommitment”. I simply have no dog in the hunt.

    On the other hand, you and most of the contributors to your blog consider my inference to design to be irrational, illogical, in contradiction to the evidence, and based on a philosophical precommitment (although my original philosophical precommitment was yours and that of most of your contributors).

    Well, I can’t speak for others, Gil, but no, I don’t think that. For a start, it is perfectly possible to hold a theistic, Christian philosophical stance and accept the evidence for evolution, and I consider those who argue that atheism is a necessarily corollary of Darwinian evolution simply wrong. But I do think (and it is at least partly the fault of those communicating it) that you have a straw-man view of evolution – that you are rejecting something that is not, in fact, what biologists propose, or, alternatively, something that a few vociferous publicists make inflated claims for.

    I thus return to the theme my original post, which is that there is an unbridgeable gap.

    And I remain incorrigibly optimistic that the gap can be bridged!

    Thanks for the opportunity to post here. It was fun while it lasted.

    I do hope that you will consider posting again, now I have fixed the spam flood! I wish I’d known that was an admin panel option. I thought it was a user setting, because I don’t get it. However, I now discover that I do, but it all goes to an email account I didn’t even realise I had 🙂

    I’ll check in from time to time.

    I do hope so 🙂

    Cheers

    Lizzie

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  47. This is probably essentially off-topic, but anyway:

    For myself, and probably most people posting or reading ID/NDE (neo-darwinian evolution) debates, we lack the scientific or mathematical education/background/training to make any formal scientific arguments about ID or NDE. The best we might be able to do is recognize logical challenges/solutions/problems involved in more specifically educated arguments about ID vs NDE.

    This is why I try to keep my contributions about the logic and philosophy involved, and not interpretations of technical data. I’m not qualified to parse the technical data on biological or mathematical merits. I suspect most those contributing here are equally unqualified.

    Which brings me to my point: those whom I suspect are equally unqualified to parse the merits of the data often make assertions about the explanatory power of NDE theory that is well beyond their capacity to know. It’s often (logically speaking) beyond the capacity of even experts in specific fields to know. Comments such as (from this thread):

    I note that organisms are not optimal in their function/form ~ it is easy to make a wish list of improvements. This is to be expected in ‘evolution world’, but not in ‘ID world’

    One only knows what “optimal form” is in terms of ID if the full intent of the designer is known, as well as the necessary parameters and specifications to be met by the design.

    For everyone else, there is a single, consistent, fully explanatory theory supported by all known observations without exception.

    I doubt even the most long-tenured, multi-discipline, research-practicing evolutionary biologist could meaningfully claim this. This is obviously a statement of faith, not first-hand investigatory knowledge about “all known observations without exception”.

    There is no reason to suppose any teleological or supernatural forces are involved.

    This in the face of hundreds of years of biology that has worked against the commonly held supposition of teleological forces involved, and is easily disputed by referring to Lewontin or many others who have written about the apparent design in nature. This is just rhetoric in the face of the history of evolutionary theory and thought.

    If one reads through much of the ID/NDE commentary on this site (or even on UD), from both sides there is much presentation of characterizations of ID, or of ID researchers, or of NDE, or NDE researchers, or of the state of research, or of what is known, or what has been proven or not proven, or what there is evidence of or not of, by those who really don’t have much of an idea of what they are talking about when it comes to actually evaluating data on the merits oneself and not just taking someone else’s word for what it means.

    Basically, the debate is 90% negative or positive characterizations & rhetoric, and maybe 10% qualified interpretation and criticism of data & the merits of an argument. So, I’d say that really, about 90% of us are, in terms of the scientific and mathematical evidence and argument, doing nothing more in that specific area of argument than cheerleading those who actually understand the science and/or the math.

    So the question I finally draw to is: Why have we chosen ID, or NDE, when we lack the necessary qualifications to do anything more, really, than appeal to authority when it comes to the actual science involved?

    Since I obviously do not understand enough of the science or math to reach a qualified decision about either, I must rest my choice on other considerations, which I think is what is behind how most people make the choice between ID and NDE (or between NDE and creationism); other considerations.

    So, I think the best populist argument for ID, for the 90%, has nothing really to do with math or science (or even logic) that is over our head anyway, but rather the hope, meaning, purpose and value that is conferred upon life & existence under the ID paradigm that is not available under the NDE paradigm.

    I think that it is also true that for 90% of NDE believers, that it is some populist or psychological reason that they have adopted NDE (as was historically said, Darwinism allowed one to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist), and attempt to characterize their belief as scientific or logical when it really is not.

    At the end of the day, most of what either side tries to do (outside of the players educated in the particular fields) is characterize their ID or NDE belief as being based on science or logic; but when it comes down to it, that belief is really – IMO – nothing more than a reflection of what they want or need to believe anyway.

    Personally, I choose to believe in god. I prefer believing in god (and yes, I’ve tried atheism). And unless there is some kind of logical contradiction or fact of my existence that contradicts ID, I will believe that our universe and life was designed by an intelligence. I prefer living under that paradigm.

    That doesn’t mean I cannot make logical arguments for ID, or for god; nor does it mean I can’t read papers and make sense out of some of the science and math; it just means that I admit my fundamental reason for belief is something other than that which I’m really not qualified to evaluate.

    And I think that this is probably true for most people involved in the debate.

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