The Problem of Predictive Equivalence

In the previous section I described the argument that many biologists have endorsed for thinking that the hypothesis of evolution by natural selection is more likely than the hypothesis of intelligent design. This argument considers the observation that organisms are often imperfectly adapted to their environments and construes the design hypothesis as predicting that organisms should be perfectly adapted. This version of the design hypothesis presupposes a very definite picture of what God would be like if he existed.

Actually, in the previous section Sober was primarily concerned with creationism. This is made rather obvious by the chapter title. It’s as if he was writing about Creationism and then Intelligent Design burst on the scene and he had to change things up to make it appear as if the two are the same. But what’s a philosopher of biology to do?

The point here is to demonstrate how evolutionary arguments are in fact theological rather than scientific. This is admitted by a major philosopher of biology. This OP was motivated at least in part by claims by Rumraket that the genetic code ought to be perfect if it was designed. Arguing that it’s not perfect, therefore it’s not designed. To quote Sober, “This version of the design hypothesis presupposes a very definite picture of what God would be like if he existed.”

What does this have to do with actual science, if anything?

Why do biologists (and Rumrakians) require the foil of a perfect designer God in order to make their case for evolution?

What reason do we have to believe that an intelligent designer would ensure that her organisms were perfectly adapted to their environment?

What reason do we have to believe that natural selection leads to organisms that are imperfectly adapted to their environment?

196 thoughts on “The Problem of Predictive Equivalence”

  1. newton

    Mung: ETA: Not that anyone here ever claimed that evolutionary theory is testable.

    I thought one tested specific entailments of a theory in the sciences. How does ID science solve the issue?

  2. Joe FelsensteinJoe Felsenstein

    Mung:

    Joe Felsenstein: When made by creationists and ID supporters, it is intended to persuade the audience that natural selection does not work to improve adaptation.

    Don’t blame Creationists and ID supporters Joe.

    Nope, I do blame them and will blame them. They are trying to persuade their listeners that natural selection is ineffective in bringing about adaptation. The only question is whether the creationists and ID supporters who make that argument are disingenuous or ignorant.

    [more Mung]:

    Is there a single evolutionist here who can distinguish natural selection as cause from natural selection as effect?

    For example, when a claim is made that natural selection is simply differential reproduction, is natural selection the cause or the effect? Both cause and effect?

    It’s totally irrelevant whether natural selection is a cause or an effect. It is a process which can be thought of as either. We do this all the time. Check out some others that are highly useful processes:

    1. Mendelian segregation
    2. Mutation
    3. Brownian motion
    4. Gravity

    You can quibble all you want that these are effects, not causes. But they will continue to be useful parts of scientific arguments, processes and phenomena that can illuminate what happens.

  3. RumraketRumraket

    Mung: phoodoo: The best combination, huh?

    He’s still looking for the best genetic code. And he’ll continue to be an atheist until he finds it.

    Even supposing the genetic code was the best one possible wrt error minimization, that would still not constitute evidence it was intelligently designed by a god.

    Reminds me of the guy who claimed he’d become a believer when he could breathe vacuum.

    At least he had a thing that would convince him, unlike those of you who believe for no other reason than because you were indoctrinated when you were children and now just refuse to let go, and rationalize away contradictory evidence.

  4. RumraketRumraket

    Mung: Rumraket: I am saying that given some constraints, there is going to be some combination of alleles that give some organism from some species the highst attainable fitness, and any possible genetic deviation from this combination of alleles, is going to result in lower reproductive success.

    You mean the genetic code didn’t evolve in isolation?

    You’re confused, I’m not talking about the genetic code there, but the general concept of the best possible combination of alleles for some species.

    Or maybe the genetic code is more perfect in some species than others, eh?

    Perfection doesn’t come in degrees. Something is either perfect or it is not. I don’t believe perfection is physically possible, exactly for the reasons phoodoo describes. So on that point I actually agree with him.

  5. RumraketRumraket

    Mung: And the reason Creationism cannot be taught in public schools is … ?

    It already is, in comparative religion class.

    In so far as it is an empirical claim testable by science, it is false, and as such does not belong in science class, like lots of other old and outdated “scientific theories” that the universe spins around the Earth, that witches can curse you and that black cats are bad luck etc. etc.

  6. RumraketRumraket

    Mung: Evolutionists simply have too much evidence for their theory. They can’t keep it all straight. A string in a software program can have the highest fitness possible, but that’s not evidence for intelligent design.

    What do you mean “evidence for intelligent design”? Intelligent design of what? The diversity of life, or the program?

    The program can’t constitute evidence for the evolution of the diversity of life, nor evidence for the intelligent design of life, because the existence and properties of the program, isn’t part of a hypothesis for either the intelligent design or evolution of life.
    There is no hypothesis of ID, or evolution, that posits that life evolved or was designed, therefore this program with these properties should come to exist. As such, it is evidence of neither.

    Nobody says “WEASEL – thefore evolution is true”. And nobody says “WEASEL – therefore life was intelligently designed”.

    The program, once again, is meant to constitute an analogy that furthers understanding of a process of gradual adaptation, aka cumulative selection. It is not necessary for it to be exactly analogous in all aspects, to real biology, to succeed at the goal of furthering understanding of this process. It is primarily a teaching tool.

    The only people who have a problem with it are religious nutjobs who get a mental short-circuit at the mere mention of anything evolution-related and who gets confused about it’s purpose and merits.

    How the hell did you come up with this idea that the program is “evidence” for intelligent design (or evolution, for that matter)?

  7. RumraketRumraket

    Mung: ETA: Not that anyone here ever claimed that evolutionary theory is testable.

    Yes and let’s not forget that when they have claimed that, they never bothered to elaborate on exactly which aspects were testable, and how to test them.

    /sarcasm

  8. RumraketRumraket

    Mung: Rumraket: Your retreat from this position here is so obviously ad-hoc. You would be positively hysterical had it been found to be the best version.

    All you’ve done is take a premise that was an assumption and add to it yet further assumptions. Congratulations!

    Your evidence that I retreated is nil. Your evidence that I would have been hysterical is nil.

    Hahah yes yes Mung, bla bla bla you would never take something from biology found to be somehow “optimal” in some respect as evidence for ID. You’d neeeeever do that. Maybe someone else would, but not you.

    Ironically your counter-argument was to invoke another fitness dimension for the genetic code besides error-minimization. The idea was that the code could then be the optimal compromise between several fitness dimensions.

    Somehow it’s always supposed to be optimal in some way, and if we find out it isn’t, then the ID ad-hoc rationalization is that we just don’t understand the entity well enough to see how it is in fact still optimal.

    ROFL.

  9. phoodoo

    keiths,

    When you link to an entire page, and claim it contains information in there that you are referring to, no one can know what information you mean. Is it this:

    “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.”

  10. keithskeiths

    phoodoo,

    It must suck to be helpless.

    Again, how do you think newton figured it out? Was it magic?

  11. phoodoo

    keiths,

    Maybe you are mistaken again, maybe Newton just thinks he figured it out. Or maybe you just think he figured it out. You seem to enjoy bringing up things no one knows what you are talking about.

    You don’t know how to paste?

  12. newton

    phoodoo: Maybe you are mistaken again, maybe Newton just thinks he figured it out.

    I definitely think I think I figured it out.

  13. Alan FoxAlan Fox

    Joe Felsenstein: It’s totally irrelevant whether natural selection is a cause or an effect. It is a process which can be thought of as either. We do this all the time. Check out some others that are highly useful processes:

    1. Mendelian segregation
    2. Mutation
    3. Brownian motion
    4. Gravity

    You can quibble all you want that these are effects, not causes. But they will continue to be useful parts of scientific arguments, processes and phenomena that can illuminate what happens.

    Hmm!

  14. Erik

    Joe Felsenstein: It’s totally irrelevant whether natural selection is a cause or an effect.

    When observing the nature of any kind of phenomena, it’s absolutely relevant what sort of metaphysics you have. Even those who claim to have none necessarily have one, because “phenomena” is a metaphysical concept.

    Joe Felsenstein: It is a process which can be thought of as either. We do this all the time.

    The processes that you mention, they are mechanistic frameworks. In mechanistic frameworks there’s a cause that deterministically leads to an effect. From the fact that “we do this all the time” with the mentioned sort of processes, it does not follow that all natural processes are of this sort or that these are the only sort of processes we can discern.

    For example consciousness is a different sort of process (if it can be called a process). It is non-mechanical. From the fact that there’s food around an individual animal, it does not follow that the animal will eat any time soon. The animal may be already well fed or the food may be vegetarian while the animal is not. Or if the animal is a human being, he may have made up his mind to starve himself to death for whatever reason. You may call his reasons “unnatural” but consciousness is an irreducible sign of biological life and if you talk about biological life without consciousness, you are not really talking biology, but physics or some such. At any rate, it’s conscious decisions that lead to outcomes, so consciousness is a cause in reality as we see it.

    Causes and effects are irrelevant only if you don’t care about biology in its complete sense.

  15. phoodoo

    keiths:
    phoodoo,

    You don’t know how to read?

    Yes, you said to consider you may be wrong. So have you considered?

    Or were you saying, Guano? You were contemplating batshit? And Newton got it? Because he often thinks of batshit?

  16. Joe FelsensteinJoe Felsenstein

    Erik: You may call his reasons “unnatural” but consciousness is an irreducible sign of biological life and if you talk about biological life without consciousness, you are not really talking biology, but physics or some such. At any rate, it’s conscious decisions that lead to outcomes, so consciousness is a cause in reality as we see it.

    Causes and effects are irrelevant only if you don’t care about biology in its complete sense.

    Thanks for the lecture. I would not agree with you on whether, say, a roundworm has “consciousness”, but then, we don’t usually define that term well. Anyway this discussion was not about consciousness.

    When discussing the outcome of genetic crosses, I use the phenomenon of Mendelian segregation. Of course someone might say that Mendelian segregation is an effect, not a cause.

    At which point I would say that you can have fun reducing it to the level of quarks (or attributing it to consciousness, I suppose). But if you want to solve that genetic problem, and figure out what fraction of offspring have what genotypes, you’d better invoke Mendelian segregation. Correct metaphysical understanding or no, you’re going to have to use it. Or get zero points on the test question.

    Recall that all this started when Mung complained about evolutionary biologists being confused about cause and effect, and I believe that Mung meant, when they invoke natural selection.

  17. GlenDavidson

    Erik: You may call his reasons “unnatural” but consciousness is an irreducible sign of biological life and if you talk about biological life without consciousness, you are not really talking biology, but physics or some such

    Not sure if that means (to you) that E. coli is conscious, or that microbiology is physics.

    Glen Davidson

  18. phoodoo

    keiths:
    phoodoo,

    You’re flailing away at the margins, as usual.

    I know. Because you keep linking to some margins that supposedly show your great self-awareness in showing you are able to admit your mistakes, by not admitting to any mistakes.

    Somewhere in the margins it says, keiths is afraid to admit things even to himself, little yet to others.

    So in answer to Joe’s question: More than keiths.

  19. phoodoo

    keiths:
    phoodoo,

    The only thing standing between you and the information you seek is your own incompetence.

    Reading in your margins (like looking for Amelia Earhart):

    keiths:

    Flint,

    I was mocking your need to be right at all costs…

    I don’t have that need. It doesn’t bother me to admit errors, as I’ve explained (and demonstrated) in other threads at TSZ. But I certainly won’t pretend to be wrong just to mollify an insecure hothead like you. That would be dishonest and counterproductive.

    …even if you must descend to linguistic acrobatics.

    I haven’t done so. The use of ‘variation’ to designate a process is perfectly standard in English (and in biology), and so is the use of ‘variation’ to designate the result of such a process. Aren’t you a native speaker?

    Usage examples are extremely easy to find. For example:

    ‘Variation’ as a process:

    In particular, the way in which facilitated variation produces phenotypic variants has three crucial implications for evolution…

    And in the very next paragraph, ‘variation’ is used to designate a result rather than a process:

    One of the most important contributions of robustness is that of storing up genetic variation as a resource for future adaptive phenotypic responses. A vivid, but by no means unique, example is found in the heat shock protein. HSP 90 acts as a capacitor for evolution, by damping down phenotypic variation and allowing genetic variation to accumulate.

    Flint:

    Using the same word to designate a process and the result of that process might be linguistically allowable, but it’s guaranteed to cause confusion.

    First, note that I did not repeat the word twice in the question you originally objected to, which was directed at Alan:

    How can you not understand that variation is what generates the positive mutations that selection favors?

    There was no good reason for you to object to my phrasing, and the reason you gave made no sense, as I’ve explained.

    Second, note that when I did repeat the word twice in a sentence, as I did here…

    Variation (the process) produces variations (the result),

    …I did so precisely to demonstrate that the word could fulfill distinct roles, which is the point you were missing, leading to your confusion.

    Despite this you are, as always, absolutely correct. Which you don’t need me to tell you.

    You made an error, and I correctly pointed it out. You dug in your heels and made more errors, which I also correctly pointed out. Why are you angry at me? The mistakes were yours, not mine.

    Your childishness has made this exchange unpleasant. Try to do better next time.

    Maybe you could just point an arrow, since you can’t cut and paste? Use a highlight pen? Rent a spotlight? Is it in between the lines? In invisible ink?

  20. Alan FoxAlan Fox

    keiths: What is wrong with you?

    He’s following your link. It’s the same link to a comment of yours that contains three further links. None of which fulfill your assertions.

  21. keithskeiths

    Alan,

    He’s following your link.

    No, he isn’t. The comment he quoted is not the one I linked to.

  22. keithskeiths

    Alan,

    Well, make it clear then!

    I did. Newton had no trouble getting it.

    You and phoodoo are the only ones having trouble here. August company.

  23. Alan FoxAlan Fox

    keiths,Well, help us then. Apologies for not following along. Be a bit clearer for those less gifted. Links to those mistakes you owned up to. The mistake, then the owning up. Pretty please!

  24. keithskeiths

    Alan,

    Well, help us then. Apologies for not following along.

    It’s a chronic problem with you.

    Be a bit clearer for those less gifted. Links to those mistakes you owned up to. The mistake, then the owning up. Pretty please!

    You don’t remember? You were the one who made the original false accusation, and you were the one who had your ass handed back to you. To refresh your memory, just follow the links, like newton did. You’ll see this:

    keiths, to walto:

    What’s with the reflexive dishonesty, walto? It continually backfires on you, yet you persist.

    Remember when Alan claimed that I don’t admit my mistakes at TSZ, and I easily disproved him (link, link)? I wasn’t just admitting mistakes there — I was admitting mistakes that you pointed out.

    Did you really think you could bluff your way out of this, Alan?

  25. newton

    keiths:
    Well, make it clear then!

    I did. Newton had no trouble getting it.

    You and phoodoo are the only ones having trouble here. August company.

    walto,

    There’s no reason to assume those answers must be predicated on that.

    Keiths:
    You’re right. They could be predicated on other rationales, like Stephen’s. Lizzie should have said that some people (especially some Catholics) predicate their answers on the idea that personhood begins at conception.

    This is keiths admitting a mistake,

    Most of the rest of the link was criticisms of everyone else’s dishonesty and keiths congratulating himself .

    Then miraculously I escaped the tar pit.

  26. keithskeiths

    newton,

    Most of the rest of the link was criticisms of everyone else’s dishonesty and keiths congratulating himself

    That’s odd. I’ve looked through the thread, but I don’t see all those instances where I’m supposedly congratulating myself.

    I did find this, though:

    Looks like my OP struck a nerve with some folks.

    That’s true enough. The thread certainly got a rise out of you as well as a bunch of other people.

    It certainly got a rise out of walto, to whom I commented:

    Have you noticed the pattern? When someone points out an error or flaw in your thinking or behavior, your first impulse is to lie about them in order to cut them down to size.

    It might make you feel better about yourself in the short run, but at some level you must realize that you’re lying to yourself, don’t you? That can’t be very satisfying.

  27. phoodoo

    keiths:
    Jesus Christ, phoodoo.The link points here, not to the comment you just quoted.

    What is wrong with you?

    Is the entire page you admitting to your mistakes in code speak? You ahven’t given out the code breaker.

    Were you linking to this line:

    There’s a lot of verbiage there, but what’s missing is a defense of your claim.

    Was that your code, and it means the opposite?

    Or was this the line you were linking to?:

    But I certainly won’t pretend to be wrong just to mollify an insecure hothead like you.

    Or this?:

    The mistakes were yours, not mine.

    Or is this you admitting you were wrong?:

    I am still pondering how one uses a screwdriver as a sex toy.

    You already knew, is that what you meant? Its an admission?

  28. keithskeiths

    That last one isn’t even from me.

    Just pray harder, phoodoo. God surely won’t leave you floundering, will he?

  29. phoodoo

    keiths:
    That last one isn’t even from me.

    Just pray harder, phoodoo.God surely won’t leave you floundering, will he?

    More code for your admitting mistakes?

    I wonder why you only do it in code.

  30. newton

    phoodoo:
    I am still pondering how one uses a screwdriver as a sex toy.

    You already knew, is that what you meant? Its an admission?

    Sorry phoodoo that was me. In my many years as a carpenter I must admit it had never occurred to me.

  31. phoodoo

    newton: Sorry phoodoo that was me. In my many years as a carpenter I must admit it had never occurred to me.

    Sure, you wrote it, but since keiths refuses to indicate what he is linking to, perhaps he is referring to your posts admitting he was wrong.

  32. MungMung Post author

    newton: I thought one tested specific entailments of a theory in the sciences.

    If “evolutionary theory” had any specific entailments perhaps “evolutionary theory” could be tested. But alas.

    It is important to recognize that the phrase “evolutionary theory” is too vague when the subject of testing is broached.

    – Elliott Sober

    That has to hurt.

  33. MungMung Post author

    The traits found in contemporary populations are present because those populations were descended from ancestral populations in which those traits were the fittest of the various available.

    Surely this is false.

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