Vincent Torley’s Disappearing Book Review

I guess many folks here are familiar with Dr (of philosophy) Vincent Torley as a contributor of many posts at Uncommon Descent now operated by one Barry Arrington.

Vincent strikes me as a genuinely nice guy whose views are very different from mine on many issues. Possibly one of his most remarked-upon idiosyncracies is his tendency to publish exceedingly long posts at Uncommon Descent but (leaving Joseph of Cupertino in the air for a moment) lately Vincent has become a little more reflective on the merits of “Intelligent Design” as some sort of alternative or rival to mainstream biology. His latest post at Uncommon Descent came to my attention after it mysteriously (in the sense of so far without explanation) disappeared from the blog. Hat-tips to Seversky and REC at AtBC for spotting it before it disappeared. I then happened to see Vincent’s response to a question, providing a link to his Angelfire site and his article, before that comment too disappeared.

Vincent’s post, entitled Undeniable packs a powerful punch, but doesn’t land a knockout is a review of Douglas Axe’s book Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed published earlier this year. I have to say, I missed the event and have only just read the excerpt provided by Amazon’s Kindle bookstore. The snippet did not enthuse me to buy the book, so I can’t say if Vincent’s review is a fair one. It is certainly comprehensive (OK it’s long!).

He starts with fulsome praise:

When I first read Undeniable, I was greatly impressed by its limpid prose, the clarity of its exposition, and the passion with which the author makes his case. Seldom have I seen such an elegantly written book, which people from all walks of life can appreciate. I have no doubt that it will sell well for many years to come, and I have to say that it makes the best case for Intelligent Design at the popular level of any book I’ve ever seen.

But then has some forthright criticism to make:

Nevertheless – and I have to say this – the book contains numerous mathematical, scientific and philosophical blunders, which a sharp-eyed critic could easily spot.

then proceeds to specific points in some detail.

I find it refreshing and a little surprising that Vincent was so forthright in his public criticism and I find it not at all surprising that Barry Arrington has deleted the article at UD and all references to the original that appeared subsequently. There are two related issues here; Axe’s book, Undeniable – its merits and Vincent’s review – and the suppression of Vincent’s article by Barry Arrington but perhaps this thread will suffice to accommodate discussion on both. I’ll email Vincent to let him know about this thread as he may like to join in.

[This post was a bit rushed as I was short of time. Please point out errors and ommissions as needed]

323 Replies to “Vincent Torley’s Disappearing Book Review”

  1. Stormfield Stormfield
    Ignored
    says:

    Mung:

    Vincent quote-mining Axe quote-mining himself, lol. What more could a “skeptic” want?

    A coherent argument in a respectable journal?
    Just kidding, I know it’s ID.

  2. OMagain
    Ignored
    says:

    Mung,

    All the more reason for me to ignore the calls for me to publicly denounce Barry.

    You therefore imply that you have admonished him in private. Is that the case?

  3. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    OMagain: You therefore imply that you have admonished him in private. Is that the case?

    What business is it of yours, exactly?

  4. vjtorley
    Ignored
    says:

    Hi Petrushka,

    Thank you for your comments. You write:

    I assert (and expect some dissent) that when you take on the establishment, you have to demonstrate that you know and understand the establishment position…

    It is at this point that I think ID advocates, including Axe, fail. When you are in a debate, you have to be able to express your opponent’s position to their satisfaction before presenting your counterargument. The fact that so many creationists and ID advocates quote Darwin against himself — I think — demonstrates that he understood the design argument.

    Actually, I’d agree with you here. You have to understand an idea before you can criticize it effectively. That’s especially true when the idea in question is part of the dominant scientific paradigm.

    You also write:

    The problem with DI is sterility. It suggests no useful or productive lines of research.In the 200 years since Paley, ID hasn’t devised a research program, hasn’t attempted to elucidate any route to biological design that does not emulate evolution. It hasn’t produced any evidence that biological design — in the sense of architecture or engineering — is even possible. There is no catalog of materials and properties and methods.

    This is one fault I attempted to remedy in my recent UD post at http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/origin-of-life-professor-james-tour-points-the-way-forward-for-intelligent-design/ , where I wrote:

    After listening to Professor Tour’s talk, I had a kind of epiphany. I suddenly realized that Tour had created a perfect research agenda for the Intelligent Design movement: that of reverse-engineering life itself. If life was intelligently designed, then there is no reason in principle why scientists cannot retrace the steps whereby the first living cell was assembled…

    What I’m suggesting here is that the scientific attempt to reverse-engineer life is a winner as an Intelligent Design project, no matter which way it pans out. If it succeeds, then Intelligent Design scientists will gain some well-earned kudos, as well as “street cred,” in the scientific community at large: they will have accomplished a feat that puts Watson and Crick’s discovery of the structure of DNA in the shade.

    But if it fails, then the Intelligent Design movement will have a ready response to a theological charge which is often leveled against the Intelligent Design movement: that the Designer it points to is not the God of classical theism, but a mere architect. The discovery that life was (in all likelihood) not assembled, step by step, but created in its entirety, would strongly indicate that the Designer of life is a Transcendent Being.

    In other words, what we have is a win-win situation for the Intelligent Design movement. All that remains is to get moving with the scientific project of trying to reverse-engineer a simple living cell, as soon as possible.

    I made a similar suggestion at the end of my review of Axe’s book:

    Perhaps it might be best if the Intelligent Design movement splits into two wings: an “incremental design” wing, which tries to build life in a manner that combines top-down and bottom-up thinking; and an “ideal” design wing, which envisages life in a more Platonic fashion, as an Idea in the Mind of an Author. Time will tell which approach turns out to be more fruitful. I would suspect that front-loaders and believers in common descent in the ID camp would tend to favor the “incremental design” approach, while Old Earth and Young Earth creationists would favor the “ideal” approach. But a little friendly competition might reinvigorate the movement.

    Finally, I would point out that ID is not really a theory but a family of loosely related theories. Front-loading is a theory. Continually guided evolution is a theory. Old-Earth interventionism is a theory, as is Young-Earth interventionism. Each of these theories makes predictions. Some of them are very difficult to test, but I see no reason in principle why they couldn’t be tested. Cheers.

  5. Joe Felsenstein Joe Felsenstein
    Ignored
    says:

    vjtorley: What prompted my query about beneficial mutations was this post at ENV:

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2016/08/a_billion_genes103091.html

    Ian Musgrave calculates that 238 mutations have been fixed in the human line since the human-ape split:
    http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2007/07/haldanes-nondil.html
    If we knew the approximate proportion of beneficial mutations that get fixed in the human population, then we could estimate how many beneficial mutations have occurred in the human-ape lineage since the split. Since we can also calculate the number of neutral mutations since the split, then that should enable us to calculate the percentage of mutations in human beings which are beneficial.

    I have looked back at Musgrave’s 2007 PT post. Its figure is derived, not from anything in the Haldane’s Dilemma literature, but from the 2007 paper by Bakewell et al. from George Zhang’s lab. I think that the conclusion that there were only 238 beneficial mutations fixed in the human lineage since the chimp-human split is not warranted. The method Bakewell et al. use is fine, but will miss beneficial mutations in many loci, where there are just a few per locus. So 238 is a lower-bound estimate.

    As for the ENV post (whose author is not given, so can be credited to an official spokesperson of the DI), it is ludicrous. It takes a large survey of exons in which no attempt was made to see whether substitutions were beneficial. It would have been hard to tell whether they were beneficial, so that was not an objective of the exon sequencing study. Then ENV declared that they had not seen any beneficial mutations. I’m not sure how ENV knows that they didn’t see any.

    Let me add one additional point. Discussion here has focused on new mutations as the means of bringing about adaptations in the human lineage. But there is also the possibility of changing the gene frequencies of existing mutations that are part of the genetic variability of the species. That must be an important source of beneficial genetic change.

  6. dazz dazz
    Ignored
    says:

    Hi Mr. Torley.

    vjtorley: The discovery that life was (in all likelihood) not assembled, step by step, but created in its entirety, would strongly indicate that the Designer of life is a Transcendent Being.

    How can a perfectly transcendent being transcend His transcendence to create material stuff? I would argue that we know already that life is in fact assembled in a step-wise process, but even if that wasn’t true, why would a “Transcendent Being” be a better scientific explanation than “appeared spontaneously” for instance? Both sound completely devoid of explanatory power to me.

    vjtorley: Finally, I would point out that ID is not really a theory but a family of loosely related theories. Front-loading is a theory. Continually guided evolution is a theory. Old-Earth interventionism is a theory, as is Young-Earth interventionism. Each of these theories makes predictions. Some of them are very difficult to test, but I see no reason in principle why they couldn’t be tested.

    What are those theories and what predictions do they make? Remember these prediction must follow from the explanations provided in the respective theories

  7. petrushka
    Ignored
    says:

    But testing is what mainstream science does.

    There have been ongoing projects to elucidate the origin of life at least since Miller. Before that if you count the synthesis of urea.

    There are and have been tens of thousands of people working to gain knowledge of the history of life and the processes of evolution.

    When I say Axe does not exhibit knowledge of the mainstream understanding of evolution, I contrast his lab work on modern protein to different protein transition.

    No evolutionary biologist thinks that is a useful experiment. Contrast what actual biochemists are doing by reconstructing common ancestors of different proteins. Even Behe does not think de novo proteins are over the Edge.

    So I have to ask, why is Axe wasting his time on irrelevant experiments that are doomed to failure? In my experience, it is rather easy to make stuff that doesn’t work. The universe of things that don’t work appears to be somewhat larger than the universe of things and ideas that do work.

    My limited imagination conjures up only two possible explanations. Axe understands the work of Thornton et al, and disregards it for reasons that are intellectually dishonest; or Axe does not understand how evolution works. There may be other reasons.

    But Behe finds not such limitations for evolution in general. He has looked long and hard for examples having no easy neutral or upward path. Such transitions seem rare.

  8. phoodoo
    Ignored
    says:

    petrushka: No evolutionary biologist thinks that is a useful experiment.

    Every time an evolutionist says these kinds of lines it makes me laugh.

    What they really mean is, “except for all the ones who do, but they don’t count, because look what they believe!”

  9. Alan Fox Alan Fox
    Ignored
    says:

    phoodoo: Every time an evolutionist says these kinds of lines it makes me laugh.

    What they really mean is…

    This tantamount to an accusation of lying, phoodoo. The rules here require that we do not claim that fellow commenters are saying one thing while “really meaning” something else.

  10. phoodoo
    Ignored
    says:

    Alan Fox: This tantamount to an accusation of lying, phoodoo. The rules here require that we do not claim that fellow commenters are saying one thing while “really meaning” something else.

    More comedy writing Alan?

    Well, I sure hope you will go back and move every post from every post here who has ever said that someone means something different than what they said.

    You know, like every time an atheist here claims that the reason why a non-atheist wrote something is because of their belief in God.

    You will get right on that I am sure. In the meantime, can you refer me to the nearest Pseudobulbar clinic? Its painful.

  11. Steve
    Ignored
    says:

    The problem with evolutionists is that they stole the concept of evolution from intelligent design proponents and repackaged it in non-teleological terms.

    Evolution has intelligence “written” all over it.

    Yet, here we are two centuries later having to whack countless non-teleological moles simply because a sliver of the population doesnt quite like the idea of an intelligent creator that could conceivably be watching from the corner of a third eye.

    Non-teleological evolution is a losing battle. But I do give you all points for tenacity.

    Petrushka sez: “The problem with ID is not that it is wrong, and it is not that its proponents don’t belong to the priesthood.

    The problem with DI is sterility. It suggests no useful or productive lines of research.In the 200 years since Paley, ID hasn’t devised a research program, hasn’t attempted to elucidate any route to biological design that does not emulate evolution. It hasn’t produced any evidence that biological design — in the sense of architecture or engineering — is even possible. There is no catalog of materials and properties and methods.”

  12. petrushka
    Ignored
    says:

    Tenacity R Us.

  13. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    Steve: Non-teleological evolution is a losing battle.

    Addy Pross agrees, but he calls it teleonomy. Same difference.

  14. Steve
    Ignored
    says:

    By the way Vincent Torley’s review is easily debunked. Im not sure if Vincent is just looking for air time and some sort of recognition but I am starting to lose any enthusiam (to put it politely) for what used to be good postings from Torley. Its not just because he is playing devil’s acvocate against ID (in this case) but simply because he seems to be overall, buying into the debunked (ad-nauseum) idea of non-teleological evolution as having ‘abilility’, “creative power”.

    It is so easy to show how every instance where a non-teleologist claims NTE (non-teleological evolution) exists, an intelligent system hides behind it.

    The most glaring example is natural selection. It is touted as having powers, yet we know without doubt that it is merely a component of a system driven by fecundity. The system that does the creating is fecundity+variation+natural selection. Natural yes, but not non-teleological. And no, it does not mean ID is the answer. But it IS the most promising alternative. THAT is what ID is about.

    Second is evolution programming. Regardless of how much they try, folks like Tom English cannot escape the fundamental requirement to design a foundation that will be able to run itself over time; precisely what the ‘intelligent’ in intelligent design is responsible for.

    A truy non-teleological evolution will start with ABSOLUTELY NO design of ANY kind (did I scream it out loud enough for those hunkering in the back of the room; these cyber-mics are shit). Let ethereal molecules bump into each other, add innumerable obstacles and twist and turns of cyber-natural phenomenon and see how they react. We all know the result!

    That’s why most if not all non-teleological evolutionists have this raw itch to ‘nudge’ the ‘speed freaks’ into some semblence of unity and order. NOTHING happens without the tweak, the wink of an eye, the fortuitous bump of the pinball machine.

  15. petrushka
    Ignored
    says:

    I think argument ad ALL CAPS is kind of cute.

  16. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    petrushka: I think argument ad ALL CAPS is kind of cute.

    It certainly adds to the veracity, which must surely explain why people here avoid it at all costs.

    😉

  17. Steve
    Ignored
    says:

    Here is one easy example of the low quality ‘debunking’ Torley exhibits:

    Torley seems to trying to explain how evolution gets around obstacles by ‘ulitizing’ available tools (like utilizing available tools is not an intelligent concept).

    So see, a white picket fence is absolutely no stumbling block for evolution. Because why? Well, didn’t you know that evolution has a trampoline tucked away in its back pocket ‘just’ for such an occasion.

    The take away here is that to debunk a teleological explanation Torley must envision a scenario that does not entail co-opting intelligent activity. Evolution has NO trampoline stash. It has no steroid syringe strapped to it thigh. It has no brain. It has no plan. Maybe enjoys a opiate binge every now and then. I dunno.

    We do have to ask, without Torley ‘placing’ the trampoline at just the right distance and timing for him to make his neighborly trip to the neighbor’s house (with a box of chocolate in hand no doubt), how does that trampoline get placed there by a hurricane, tornado, landslide, what-natural-event-have-you?

    Non-teleological answer: ” How the fuck do I know?” But I DO know it happened and since there is no ‘evidence’ of God placing it there, then ‘naturally’ I have to believe even the most outragiously irrational, illogical, non-sense answer out there. What am i supposed to do? Believe in ghosts? Ehrrr……..

    Torley: “The fallacy Axe commits in these passages is that of estimating the probability of reaching an end-point without looking at the intermediate points. This is particularly misleading when one of the intermediate points plays a critical role in boosting the probability of reaching the target. A simple example will suffice. Sitting in my upstairs study, I can see the fence separating my house from my neighbor’s, about ten meters away. It would be nice if I could jump over that fence from my study, but I can’t. Even with a long run-up, an assisting tail-wind and an open window that extends from the ceiling to the floor (which mine doesn’t), there is no realistic chance of my clearing that fence and landing in my neighbor’s garden. But now let us suppose that I place a large trampoline in my garden, between my house and my neighbor’s fence. All I have to do now, when I take a running jump, is land on the trampoline very hard, and bounce off it at a sufficient velocity to clear the neighbor’s fence. That’s difficult, but doable. I doubt whether I could do it myself, but a younger and more athletic man might manage it. “

  18. petrushka
    Ignored
    says:

    Do you have some argument in mind that invokes biology?

  19. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    petrushka: Do you have some argument in mind that invokes biology?

    Let’s assume his brain is biological.

  20. CharlieM CharlieM
    Ignored
    says:

    Allan Miller: One may as well postulate fish in the sun. How do you know there aren’t any?

    Interesting question. From the perspective of human perception and scientific understanding it would be infeasable that fish exist in the visible orb that we see as the sun. But if you can imagine beings with senses which are different to that of humans, say their primary sense was the sense of warmth or of magnetic fields then the sun to them would be an entirely different kettle of fish (sorry for the pun) and these animals would definitely be within it.

    Even some humans will tell you that the earth and all its inhabitants are within the sun

    People often don’t realize that the earth is in fact located within the outer atmosphere of the sun!

    There are other questions that have been put to me by you, Rumraket and Dazz. I think they are also interesting and I wouldn’t mind exploring them further, but I don’t wish to contribute any more than I have already to the derailment of this thread. If I can find the time to put something together I might start a thread on consciousness so that I can reply to some of these questions.

  21. Allan Miller
    Ignored
    says:

    CharlieM,

    […] if you can imagine beings with senses which are different to that of humans […]

    I can imagine fish in the sun somewhat more readily. There are organisms on earth with senses alien to us, but they remain coherent, localised entities whose nervous systems and perceptual input are tied to their own survival. I don’t see the coherence available to human consciousness (crammed into a cranial cavity and pressed into service to assist the survival of its vehicle), being available to some more dispersed collection of matter. YMMV, and obviously does. I await your OP.

  22. sean samis sean samis
    Ignored
    says:

    vjtorley: This is one fault I attempted to remedy in my recent UD post at http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/origin-of-life-professor-james-tour-points-the-way-forward-for-intelligent-design/ , where I wrote …

    This point is quite interesting, and important. If Creationists/Intelligent Designers (C/ID) want to be taken seriously as scientists, they need to do serious science.

    I’m not sure that reverse-engineering life will lead to the conclusions that you appear to hope for, but it’s certainly too early to say where it would lead.

    Are there any C/ID proponents working on this program? Even in early stages of it? Like seeking funding or grants?

    Or is this going to be another dead end for C/ID?

    sean s.

  23. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    sean samis: If Creationists/Intelligent Designers (C/ID) want to be taken seriously as scientists, they need to do serious science.

    As opposed to doing unserious science.

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