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. 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.

    Speaking only for myself, I have never bought into that argument that design would be perfect. The only place where I see perfect design, is in abstract mathematics. Anything physical requires pragmatic compromise, and this invariably falls short of perfect.

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

    No reason at all, as far as I can see.

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

    This one, at least, makes sense. In the real world, we never get to perfection. And if we did come up with something perfect, we would soon change what we mean by “perfect”, such that what we came up with could no longer be considered perfect.

  2. Her? God made male first and with greater status.
    Anyways.
    A original design would be perfect. However that would mean we would not have a immune system. Before the fall there was no chance of death/decay.
    the thing about what would beb perfect NOW is still based on a imperfect world.
    Then one must remember biology was to maintain itself in a decaying world and so must be able to roll with the punches. So its within biology to adapt.YET this ability is not gods creation but a secondary ability.
    for example.
    to stay warm biology must stay dry.
    So all bodies innately can grow hair to keep bodies dry, and so warm.
    few bodies grow hair for warmth although people think so.
    Thus humans have this ability. so we have hai, after puberty, in areas that the body decided were too wet. So our underarms make sweat , the body back in the day, reacts and grows hair. YET its useless . Thus showing the mechanism is from a triggering reaction. Not from a analysis mechanism.
    The body grew some hair but was not triggered to grow more.
    its not perfect or very good at all. its just a part of gods design after the need to ensure survival.
    However we never needed hair before the fall like this.
    Its very unlikely evolution would select for this hair or rather select against the hairy ape stage but leave this hair.
    What is more likely indeed.

  3. Neil Rickert: Anything physical requires pragmatic compromise, and this invariably falls short of perfect.

    What is the pragmatic compromise which led to Helium?

    What is the pragmatic compromise which led to Hydrogen?

    Why are Helium and Hydrogen not perfect?

    Or are Helium and Hydrogen not physical.

  4. Mung: What is the pragmatic compromise which led to Helium?

    What is the pragmatic compromise which led to Hydrogen?

    In those cases, we gave names to what we took to already be there. My remark about “pragmatic compromise” had to do with designing.

    Of course, you can argue that we designed the naming convention. And one of the pragmatic compromises there, is that we have heavy hydrogen (deuterium). And, for that matter, there is also tritium.

  5. Neil Rickert: My remark about “pragmatic compromise” had to do with designing.

    Your remark about “pragmatic compromise” had to do with anything physical.

    If you want to walk that back now it’s ok with me.

  6. This OP was motivated at least in part by claims by Rumraket that the genetic code ought to be perfect if it was designed.

    I never actually said this. What I said was was what Torley said, that of the 10^84 possible genetic codes, if the SGC had been intelligently designed we would have expected the genetic code to be the best possible one from that set wrt to error minimization. But as I also elaborated, the theology you think we are infusing in the science is actually yours. It is a response to how you generally think about your designer. And by you I mean ID proponents in general.

    And as Torley also said and I completely agree with, and which I happen to know for a fact because I have had arguments with ID proponents who literally thought the genetic code is the best possible code wrt error minimization, if the genetic code had been found to be the best possible code wrt error minimization, ID proponents would argue that this was evidence for intelligent design.

    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.

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

    I’m glad you’ve made it so far as to start to wonder about whether you can even have any expectations about what your designer would do, if you’ve never actually met it and found out what it’s purportedly trying to achieve.

    If you’ve really now come to the realization that you don’t have a clue, that immediately entails you have zero evidence for design from biology, because you have a hypothesis that makes no predictions, and as such can’t be observationally or experimentally tested. If it can’t be tested, there can’t be evidence for it (since evidence is what we would be testing it by).

    You can extend this reasoning to the universe as a whole and the cosmological fine tuning argument. What do you really know about what you designer is trying to achieve? Nothing at all. So the nature of the universe and the physical laws and constants we discover aren’t in any way predictions of the design hypothesis, because without actually knowing the designer and it’s goals, you don’t know what would be the nature of a universes such a designer would generally make.

    You have no evidence, in any field of science, that supports intelligent design.

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

    Finite population size and finite time. Basically, the drift barrier hypothesis.

    Evolution actually explains (and predicts) why adaptation has not, and never will reach a state of perfection. The populations are not large enough and they will not persist for long enough for all the best possible combinations of allele to arise and fix in any population.

  8. Natural selection simply can’t build on its inherited genetic material a perfectly adapted organism. This should be clear to anybody with a glancing knowledge of evolution. Bats don’t get feathers. That’s because they’re mammals, and there’s no intelligent being transferring feathers to bats or any other mammals.

    Of course it’s completely false and contrary to much that is written here to pretend that we assume that the designer would make perfect organisms. What would that even mean, by the way? Should they be nuclear powered? Anti-matter powered? Then again, why aren’t they anti-matter powered, if some far more intelligent being actually designed them? But who knows, you have no candidate designer so we hardly know what to expect.

    Except for one thing, of course. We have every reason to think that an intelligent designer would at least design intelligently, and not be limited to the genetic material inherited in a lineage. It is supremely idiotic to think that any designer intelligent enough to work through the intricacies of making cells and of development of birds from single cells would then be incapable of going past the limits of evolutionary processes. But that is what the IDists constantly imply, and refuse to hold the Designer to any actual standard of intelligence or of design capability whenever inheritance limits the organism’s possibilities.

    There is no reason why birds can’t have the earbones of mammals, or mammals have the lungs and eyes of birds–unless evolutionary processes simply are incapable of providing them. The designer of life certainly wouldn’t be that limited. With design, mammals could have the testes of birds, capable of taking high body temperatures. There’s no design reason at all to make bird wings by fusing them out of the bones that were articulated in terrestrial dinosaurs, while evolution simply doesn’t know any better.

    It’s convenient, of course, to once again trot out the caricature of the problem that pseudoscientific BSers make of this problem, as if it’s really about imperfect design or the like. It’s actually about non-design. Structures and parts simply are not chosen in order to fit the needs of animals, rather they are made again and again out of what evolution has at its disposal. Bats don’t get bird wings, they instead have modified mammal forelimbs for their wings. A real designer would take a bird or pterosaur wing (or perhaps would just make an entirely new one using first principles, if extremely intelligent) to fashion a bat wing, because that’s a whole lot smarter than morphing a new wing out of mammalian forelimbs. Evolution doesn’t have the choice, it has to make a bat wing out of terrestrial forelimbs.

    The point isn’t that life is imperfectly designed, it simply isn’t designed at all. A designer thinks, and yet IDists/creationists are perfectly happy to have a host of features in “designed” organisms that display no more evidence of thought being behind them than evolutionary processes exhibit.

    Glen Davidson

  9. GlenDavidson: The point isn’t that life is imperfectly designed, it simply isn’t designed at all.

    I object to you (and I and scientists and others arguing for evolution vs “Intelligent Design”) being backed into a corner and having to reject a perfectly reasonable description of selection because Creationists jump on the use of the word as some sort of admission of a spooky intervention from another, well, who’s to say.

    A designer thinks…

    A human designer thinks, probably. I really don’t see why we allow this semantic game to be played. The use of the passive voice allows ID proponents to avoid answering the obvious question, who, what , when, how did this designer design anything. Regarding Geology, , why can’t we say erosion designed the Grand Canyon? In Biology, why can’t we say the niche environment designs organisms?

    …and yet IDists/creationists are perfectly happy to have a host of features in “designed” organisms that display no more evidence of thought being behind them than evolutionary processes exhibit.

    That passive voice! “Designed” by the niche.

    Anyway, where’s the conflict between theists who can think that the Universe was designed by God and for non-theists to doubt that and wonder about more compelling explanations?

  10. Neil Rickert: This one, at least, makes sense. In the real world, we never get to perfection.

    Indeed, selective “pressure” might be said to reduce asymptotically as a local maximum is reached

  11. Mung,

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

    You are mistaken. Or pick a university level textbook and tell me the page number where the perfect designer God is used to make a case for evolution.

    You won’t because you can’t.

  12. Mung: Your remark about “pragmatic compromise” had to do with anything physical.

    From my remark:

    The only place where I see perfect design, is in abstract mathematics. Anything physical requires pragmatic compromise, and this invariably falls short of perfect.

    You cannot see the implied context of design?

    Okay, perhaps you misunderstood my point about mathematics. I was talking of design there, meaning the designs of human mathematicians. I’ve commented enough about my view of mathematics, that it ought to be clear that I see mathematical objects as invented.

    Kronecker famously said “God gave us the natural numbers; all else is the work of man”. And I see Kronecker as giving God too much credit.

  13. mung

    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?

    Creationism is just a more specific form of ID ,it proposes both a designer and a process of design.Making ID compatible with both evolution and creationism. All ID requires is someplace, somehow, sometime ,some sort of undefined intelligence is involved.And that is the inference to a better explanation.

    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.”

    I thought the argument was that if it was perfect that would be evidence for design.That design reflects the designer, intelligent design reflects intelligence. Design reflects the goals of the designer. A hypothetical designer incapable of anything other than perfection by its nature would reflect this in its designs. Creationism’s version of the design hypothesis proposes such a designer.

    “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

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

    What would perfectly adapted even mean anyway. If the tiger were perfectly adapted, and the gazelle were also perfectly adapted, does that mean the tiger would never catch the gazelle, or does it mean it would always catch the gazelle?

    In a perfectly adapted world, no organism has the ability to harm another, because the other would be too perfectly adapted to ever be able to be harmed? Even a virus couldn’t kill you. We would all live forever.

    The authors argument is not only a religious one, its a stupid one.

  15. Rumraket: Finite population size and finite time. Basically, the drift barrier hypothesis.

    I’ve downloaded Lynch’s paper and I’ll need some time to get through it, judging by the length. There is a handy glossary though which helpfully states:

    Drift-barrier hypothesis

    The idea that the ability of natural selection to refine a phenotype is ultimately limited by the noise created by random genetic drift, which itself is a consequence of finite population size and the stochastic effects of linked mutations.

    There’s a diagram (that Dr Moran likes) showing trait performance varying and approaching a limit with increasing effective population size.

    ETA note “…the noise created by random genetic drift…”

  16. phoodoo: The authors argument is not only a religious one, its a stupid one.

    Some might say that is redundant

  17. phoodoo: What would perfectly adapted even mean anyway. If the tiger were perfectly adapted, and the gazelle were also perfectly adapted, does that mean the tiger would never catch the gazelle, or does it mean it would always catch the gazelle?

    In a perfectly adapted world, no organism has the ability to harm another, because the other would be too perfectly adapted to ever be able to be harmed? Even a virus couldn’t kill you. We would all live forever.

    The authors argument is not only a religious one, its a stupid one.

    I have to agree that thinking things are perfectly adaped is pretty stupid. But I think you should tell this guy, who seemed to think everything is perfectly adapted to it’s environment and was acting all flabbergasted when he thought evolution couldn’t possibly explain pefect adaptation. Naturally I had to correct him and tell him that things actually aren’t perfectly adapted:

    Phoodoo:
    You see, the point is, in evolution, we start off with this assumption that everything adapted, without a plan, to end up perfectly suited to its environment. Everything is perfectly suited to its environment at any given moment. We never seem to describe a living organism as not well suited for its environment.

    So how could what you are saying NOT be true, either by chance or design. Would a whale do well grazing on grass in Iowa? How well would a Tiger do at the bottom of the Marianas trench? But this is what is so funny about evolution. We are to believe that all of these major adaptations to physical forms happened, because some animals were NOT well suited to their environment at some time, so change was virtually inevitable. And yet, we never see these sea creatures struggling to swim. We never see Animals dragging around these worthless limps, just waiting to finally get some mutations that will sculpt that awkward fish tail into an amazing flying rudder.

    Because everything we see has use always and at all times. I mean, just look at that gazelle, trying to run away from that cheetah, but constantly tripping over its gigantic nose that always gets caught in its three front legs. Thank goodness in a few million years evolution will finally disperse of that.

    One needs to believe stories like this, to also believe the other evolution fairy tales.

    This is phoodoos best output. He’s at top performance here. 🙂

  18. Rumraket,
    Try reading again Rumraket. I said:

    “The point is, IN EVOLUTION, we start off with this assumption that everything adapted, without a plan, to end up perfectly suited to its environment….”
    See the part where I said “in evolution”?

    Reading, and reading for comprehension is two different things.

    At least I am glad you agree the authors point is stupid.

  19. phoodoo,
    Well, I do, provisionally, think that adaptive processes approach a limit asymptotically which means “perfection” is never achieved. But you’ll need to link me to the context before I could comment on your quote, especially if it’s in an abstract, where the problems are stated. Answers to those problems should appear in the body of the paper.

    ETA though why you think some random layman’s opinion particularly important, I don’t know.

    ETA2 Obviously you don’t. 🙂 I don’t know why I thought that was directed at me. Must be the heat! 🙂

  20. phoodoo: The point is, IN EVOLUTION, we start off with this assumption that everything adapted, without a plan, to end up perfectly suited to its environment….”

    “What would perfectly adapted even mean anyway. ”

    Since you claimed it was an evolutionary assumption, you should be able to answer your question.

    For creationists,the Garden of Eden

  21. As I read Sober, he’s primarily concerned with a problem of inferential content: how contentful must a theory be in order to have entailments?

    The nice thing about importing theology into the design hypothesis is that it gives that hypothesis quite definite content. From a set of assumptions about the nature of the designer, one can determine what is entailed by those assumptions, and those entailments can be empirically verified (or not).

    On the other hand, if one does not assume anything about the designer, it’s not clear to how to get any verifiable entailing statements.

    If one does not make any assumptions about the nature of the designer, what you’re left with is this:

    “At some point or some points in the history of the universe and/or history of life, something that was or is similar to an intelligence in some respects did something that cannot be described or explained, but which somehow produced phenomena that are highly improbable based on the laws of physics alone.”

    That is a statement so vague, so generic, that it doesn’t have any clear entailments at all, much less any that are empirically verifiable.

    Creationism is a scientific theory — but a bad one, and it would be unreasonable to maintain it in light of evolution (just as it is unreasonable to maintain geocentrism). Intelligent design isn’t even a theory.

    The main reason why I’ve resisted the “intelligent design is creationism in a cheap tuxedo” polemic is that it’s too generous to intelligent design. Epistemologically, creationism is in far better shape than intelligent design. Creationism has very definite entailments that can be (and have been) empirically tested, and they’ve all be disconfirmed. Intelligent design doesn’t have any definite entailments at all.

  22. phoodoo: What would perfectly adapted even mean anyway.

    Good question.

    Presumably, one measures adaptiveness in terms of the ability to achieve a purpose. People who deny a role for purpose should not be talking about adaptation.

    For that matter, people who talk about copying errors can only do so if they presume a purpose. Otherwise there are no copying errors. There’s just stuff that happens.

    Evolutionary biology is riddled with teleology. And biologists tend to be in full denial mode about this.

    This, roughly speaking, is why I say that I am not a Darwinist.

    No, I haven’t suddenly become a creationist. Organisms evolved. But the Darwinist account has problems.

  23. Neil Rickert,

    So are you saying that you have a problem with “Darwinism” because the provided explanations involve teleology? Or did I get it backwards?

    Because it doesn’t seem to make sense to throw a valid explanation out of the window just because others deny some aspect of it. Whether adaptations are purposeful and teleological or not seems irrelevant to the question of whether they happen or not

  24. dazz,

    I thought Neil was saying that he’s not a “Darwinist” because Darwinists deny that are talking about teleology, even though biological explanations clearly rely on it.

    For my part, I think of Darwinism as giving us a framework for making sense of teleology, not for denying or eliminating it. But I recognize that this is (even today) a controversial point. (There’s a heated debate between Dennett and Alex Rosenberg on precisely this point.)

  25. Kantian Naturalist:
    The main reason why I’ve resisted the “intelligent design is creationism in a cheap tuxedo” polemic is that it’s too generous to intelligent design. Epistemologically, creationism is in far better shape than intelligent design. Creationism has very definite entailments that can be (and have been) empirically tested, and they’ve all be disconfirmed. Intelligent design doesn’t have any definite entailments at all.

    You understand, this is by design! ID was inspired (or necessitated) by a series of court decisions such as Edwards, which held that if it involved gods it was religion and not science. So a means had to be found to leave the god part out, while making it clear that the god part is in fact still central and essential. You might say that ID isn’t creationism with a cheap tuxedo, it’s creationism through a dog whistle.

    In practice, the entailments are just as solid as they are in creationism, since they are the same one: goddidit! And furthermore, any proposed explanation that has no need of any gods cannot be correct. And even furthermore, the entailments have not been disconfirmed because the believers SAY they haven’t – and the only reason any religious claim becomes true is by SAYING it’s true.

  26. This is a wonderful discussion. A few thoughts:

    1. Biologists spend a lot of time concerned with the messy compromises resulting from natural selection, even when that selection is completely effective, even when we don’t take genetic drift into account. I love the example of the perfect tiger chasing the perfect gazelle. Sort of like the irresistible force meeting the immovable object.

    2. And of course, it all depends on what sorts of genetic variation are available. We have several examples of flying vertebrates that have front limbs converted to wings, but no examples of vertebrates that have four limbs plus an extra set of wings. (In insects, the wings are not converted limbs, though).

    3. There are two examples I can think of for assertions of perfection. One is the common practice of screenwriters for nature documentaries, who are always having the narrator gush on about how perfectly adapted this organism is.

    4. The other is creationists and ID advocates, who are very unhappy with the idea of Junk DNA. Why? Why should they care one way or another? Well, the Designer they had in mind for their Design Intervention wouldn’t be that inefficient.

  27. Flint,

    Yes, I understand why intelligent design is pitched the way it is. My point was that the very same move which allowed creationism to be safe from challenge under Edwards also emptied it of inferential content. They traded a bad theory for a non-theory.

  28. Kantian Naturalist:
    Flint,

    Yes, I understand why intelligent design is pitched the way it is. My point was that the very same move which allowed creationism to be safe from challenge under Edwards also emptied it of inferential content. They traded a bad theory for a non-theory.

    Yes, but the impetus behind ID was 100% political and 0% theoretical, so you are barking up the wrong tree. The basic goal was to get prayer back into public education, by whatever means works. And with DeVos, they might well succeed. Theoretical content is irrelevant to the point where dwelling on it undermines your position.

  29. Alan Fox: Indeed, selective “pressure” might be said to reduce asymptotically as a local maximum is reached

    Depends. If the contributions of heritable traits to fitness are additive, selection pressure decreases as fitness increases (I wouldn’t say asymptotically for a finite number of traits). If the contributions of heritable traits to fitness are multiplicative (i.e., having a trait increases the expected number of offspring of the individual by a factor of s), then selection pressure does not decrease as fitness increases. The latter is the norm in theoretical biology.

  30. dazz: So are you saying that you have a problem with “Darwinism” because the provided explanations involve teleology? Or did I get it backwards?

    It is more like you missed it completely.

    I gave a bit more detail in another thread HERE.

  31. Mung, is there any chance you could provide a citation to the excerpt you’re quoting from…and a link?

    Thanks.

  32. walto:
    Mung, is there any chance you could provide a citation to the excerpt you’re quoting from…and a link?

    Thanks.

    Apparently it’s from Sober’s book “PHILOSOPHY OF BIOLOGY”

  33. Neil Rickert: Good question.

    Presumably, one measures adaptiveness in terms of the ability to achieve a purpose.People who deny a role for purpose should not be talking about adaptation.

    For that matter, people who talk about copying errors can only do so if they presume a purpose.Otherwise there are no copying errors.There’s just stuff that happens.

    Evolutionary biology is riddled with teleology.And biologists tend to be in full denial mode about this.

    This, roughly speaking, is why I say that I am not a Darwinist.

    No, I haven’t suddenly become a creationist.Organisms evolved.But the Darwinist account has problems.

    Hey, we have at least one maverick thinker on this site!

    Maybe there are more hiding.

    On your point about teleology, because my job involves physical fitness, I often think about how many ways our bodies change themselves physically to meet whatever demands we impose on it. From muscles getting bigger when we need them, VO2 max increasing, from physiological changes to withstand cold better, and even to our brains making better connections where we need them through repetition, or just simple things like calluses.

    If you even just play a guitar often enough, your body will change in so many ways, your fingers will get faster, your coordination will improve, you will develop new flexibility, your fingers and forearm will get stronger, you will get calluses, your brain will make new connections, you will develop more consistent rhythm, and things will become automated in a way in which requires less conscious thought. This is just with one simple task, done over and over. The same thing happens in virtually every sport.

    If you even just take a cold shower every day, at first your body will have a difficult time tolerating it, but if you do it more and more, eventually it becomes no problem at all. How many physical changes have occurred to allow that? I have always felt Darwinism can not explain the amazing amounts of ways living things do this. And perhaps it is humans who experience this vast adaptiveness more than any other creature, which I think is also interesting. Just watch a good juggler or cirque de soleil performer sometime.

  34. Tom English: I checked. There are in fact gazelles in the Indian subcontinent.

    There have been tigers and gazelles and different types of antelopes all throughout Central Asia, Russia, Mongolia, and China, for a long time.

  35. Rumraket: The populations are not large enough and they will not persist for long enough for all the best possible combinations of allele to arise and fix in any population.

    The best combination, huh?

  36. phoodoo:If you even just take a cold shower every day, at first your body will have a difficult time tolerating it, but if you do it more and more, eventually it becomes no problem at all.How many physical changes have occurred to allow that?I have always felt Darwinism can not explain the amazing amounts of ways living things do this.And perhaps it is humans who experience this vast adaptiveness more than any other creature, which I think is also interesting.Just watch a good juggler or cirque de soleil performer sometime.

    While I agree with what you are saying, I’m not sure of your point. Yes, dogs and humans (and even cats and squirrels) can learn new tricks, often highly complex new tricks. Some species of birds are amazing at it. But I’m having problems relating the ability of an individual to adapt to circumstances, to the matter of biological inheritance.

    Neil spoke of copying errors, saying even mentioning them assumes a purpose. What I’d like to know is, what purpose does he have in mind. Let’s say that inexact copies have the effect of increasing the differences in DNA between individuals. Does this have an advantage? Probably, since it avoids the total wipeout risk that monocultures face. Now, let’s presume that there is some optimal rate of copy imperfections – too high, the individual doesn’t survive to breed, too low and the species too easily goes extinct when their environment changes even a little bit. So is the purpose of imperfect copying to make species more robust, or is it that the species that have survived and now populate the biosphere are those whose ancestors blundered upon a near-optimum rate of copying imperfection (which was then inherited)?

    I’m not sure biology is riddled with teleology, or whether human language tends to be constructed so that shorthand descriptions of processes often project teleological ideas for convenience. Organisms certainly have purposes, but if he is saying giraffes grew long necks for the purpose of browsing on higher leaves, this is an example of either wrong thinking or linguistic shorthand.

  37. Flint,

    So is the purpose of imperfect copying to make species more robust, or is it that the species that have survived and now populate the biosphere are those whose ancestors blundered upon a near-optimum rate of copying imperfection (which was then inherited)?

    Or is it coping errors degrade DNA performance but sometimes through serendipity these errors find a trade off that favors an environment challenge. How do new genes form from a process that degrades DNA.

  38. Flint: Organisms certainly have purposes, but if he is saying giraffes grew long necks for the purpose of browsing on higher leaves, this is an example of either wrong thinking or linguistic shorthand.

    What’s the evolution explanation for giraffes necks? Tell us the right thinking.

    I will let Neil answer as to his own beliefs, but I am not just talking about learning new things, I am talking about the physical responses that occur. The things that make my bones stronger, if I repeatedly stress them or hit them. The things that change our ability to endure cold or heat. The things that make my skin stronger, when I need it to be. The way muscles repair and grow, or the brain makes new connections. The way I can alter faster twitching or slower twitching muscle fibers.

    Trying to give a Darwinian take of greater reproductive advantages gained though accidental errors, causing all of our bodies to have these systems which self-repair seems pretty ludicrous to many people.

    I think its part of the subconscious reason why most evolutionists continue to use teleological language when they talk about how things occurred, even when they claim they don’t really mean that, but its just more convenient (Why is it more convenient to talk in teleological language, if the real meaning is that its the opposite of teleological?)

  39. phoodoo: On your point about teleology, because my job involves physical fitness, I often think about how many ways our bodies change themselves physically to meet whatever demands we impose on it. From muscles getting bigger when we need them, VO2 max increasing, from physiological changes to withstand cold better, and even to our brains making better connections where we need them through repetition, or just simple things like calluses

    The sweet hormones of youth

  40. Joe Felsenstein:
    This is a wonderful discussion.A few thoughts:

    1. Biologists spend a lot of time concerned with the messy compromises resulting from natural selection, even when that selection is completely effective, even when we don’t take genetic drift into account.I love the example of the perfect tiger chasing the perfect gazelle.Sort of like the irresistible force meeting the immovable object.

    2. And of course, it all depends on what sorts of genetic variation are available.We have several examples of flying vertebrates that have front limbs converted to wings, but no examples of vertebrates that have four limbs plus an extra set of wings.(In insects, the wings are not converted limbs, though).

    3.There are two examples I can think of for assertions of perfection.One is the common practice of screenwriters for nature documentaries, who are always having the narrator gush on about how perfectly adapted this organism is.

    4. The other is creationists and ID advocates, who are very unhappy with the idea of Junk DNA.Why?Why should they care one way or another?Well, the Designer they had in mind for their Design Intervention wouldn’t be that inefficient.

    I don’t care about junk dNA. Its a boring subject to me.
    As I said in my post. Its not the designer who is being sampled for efficiency by observation of nature.
    Or rather it should only be a option. Another option is creation was perfect but something went wrong and now creation has reacted to problems with existing mechanisms in the original creation. BUT not further involvement by a creator.
    The creator never created the immune system because perfection would never decay/or die. its perfect. The bible says this.
    Since/if the immune system is a later adaptation of the body to continue existence then a creationist should predict errors in its construction since its making itself from existing parts.
    Like my hair case.

  41. Robert Byers: I don’t care about junk dNA. Its a boring subject to me.
    As I said in my post. Its not the designer who is being sampled for efficiency by observation of nature.
    Or rather it should only be a option. Another option is creation was perfect but something went wrong and now creation has reacted to problems with existing mechanisms in the original creation

    If God is the cause of all things what could go wrong? If God made a repair process it sounds like God was expecting something to go wrong.

    . BUT not further involvement by a creator.

    Over budget?

    The creator never created the immune system because perfection would never decay/or die.

    He created the thing that created it, seems like He is at least indirectly involved.

    its perfect. The bible says this.

    But the process He made to create the immune system is not, is that not part of the design of the perfect thing?

    Since/if the immune system is a later adaptation of the body to continue existence then a creationist should predict errors in its construction since its making itself from existing parts.

    Existing perfect parts

    Like my hair case.

    You keep your hair in a case?

  42. phoodoo: What’s the evolution explanation for giraffes necks?

    Good question, what is the design explanation for giraffes? Whimsy?

  43. phoodoo: I think its part of the subconscious reason why most evolutionists continue to use teleological language when they talk about how things occurred, even when they claim they don’t really mean that, but its just more convenient (Why is it more convenient to talk in teleological language, if the real meaning is that its the opposite of teleological?)

    Time flies

  44. newton: Good question, what is the design explanation for giraffes? Whimsy?

    Gould asserted the selection explanation was a just so story.

  45. Just to attempt an answer to the question of where the quote comes from: Elliott Sober’s Evidence and Evolution, page 109.

    I don’t own a copy, but did this by indirect means by web searches. I might be wrong but that is a best guess.

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