It’s a tendancy among us as Americans to think that we’re the center of the world. Evolutionists take this tendency to the extreme when they’ve claimed frantically and repeatedly that the intelligent design evolution furor is just an outcrop of the American Christian Right Wing Republican Agenda. However that idea might need reconsideration from the thoughtful among us :-). (If reconsidering ideas is allowed in academic circles, sometimes I wonder . . . ) Evolution News reports that last year there were a couple lively lectures on intelligent design in Japan, with researchers coming from as far away as Mongolia to participate. (A cartoon that appeared in a Tokyo daily newspaper paints the this ID-Darwinism debate in all it’s military glory here.) The ID-Darwinism debate is not only active in Japan though. The Municipality of Istanbul in Turkey sponsored a conference on intelligent design just a couple weeks ago (see here and here).
March 11, 2007
October 15, 2006
PBS’s Think Tank hosted an discussion between Steve Meyer (of the DI) and Michael Ruse (philosophy of science, Florida State) this past week. The transcript is here. It was one of those discussions where you never get to the interesting bits because you aren’t given a chance to get past the basics, but my favorite section was a rather interesting link Meyer made between the work he and other ID’ers are currently doing and Darwin’s original methodology. He begins by explaining how he became interested in the issue, and defending himself from the often-heard "antiscience!" charge…(more…)
September 26, 2006
Midterm papers and problem sets take precedence, so I’m officially giving up on writing those two long posts– on our summer and on our upcoming semester. Suffice it to say we had a wonderful time in the Evolution & Design class. We managed to cover a great deal of ground and consider many issues; and I think demonstrated unequivocally that a course on intelligent design is fully in line with what the University– and Cornell in particular– is about, and need not equal indoctrination from one side or other.
Things are busy now as we go into round one of prelims, but we’re stealing little bits of time to think and read about intelligent design, and every so often to talk about it. We meet every week for discussions– 7 pm Wednesdays, at the Music Room in Willard Straight Hall– and so far have looked at irreducible complexity and specified complexity. This Wednesday we’re going to be discussing testability again, especially as it applies to this debate.
There’ll be a student debate soon as well, but details of that are still to be determined.
July 12, 2006
How would we build a really complex system — such as a general artificial intelligence (AI) that exceeded human intelligence?
That is the question Steve Jurvetson addresses in yesterday’s Technology Review. He considers it as a choice between two options: evolutionary search algorithms or design, and his summary of the problems with each are illuminating:
… designed systems also tend to break easily, and they have conquered only simple problems so far.
In fact, biological evolution provides the only "existence proof" that an algorithm can produce complexity transcending that of its antecedents.
But evolved systems have their disadvantages. For one, they suffer from "subsystem inscrutability." That is, when we direct the evolution of a system, we may know how the evolutionary process works, but we will not necessarily understand how the resulting system works internally.
If biological evolution provides the only proof that evolutionary algorithms can produce complexity transcending that of its antecedents, but biological evolution happened by virtue of evolutionary algorithms producing that complexity, are we in some slight danger of circular reasoning?
Another question: how much inscrutability does positing unknown/unknowable evolutionary processes for a system add– in particular, processes we only know of because we assume that that system was produced by evolution? Is design or evolution more likely to be a science stopper in going into further research?
The article (available here) is worth reading and thinking about.
Update: ID the Future has a post up on the problems with Jurvetson’s analysis.
June 26, 2006
1. Human intelligent agency is a distinct type of causation which can be recognised and is recognised successfully as an integral part of our normal lives. The evidence left from some human acts is indistinguishable from other animals. The evidence left from other human acts is distinguishable from all other known animal activity. eg writing books and using a complex language.
2. Human intelligent causation can be recognised as having occured even in situations where we know nothing about the individual agents concerned. We believe in their existence solely on the basis of the recognition of human like intelligent causation.
3. Human intelligent causation is currently our only physical model for the whole field of intelligent causation…we have no other material intelligent agents to study yet.
4. It is possible to concieve of other different intelligent agents from ourselves. It is not impossible that such beings may exist.
5. It is legitimate to use human intelligent causation as a model for the whole field of possible intelligent causation-
(a) from different time periods
(b) from different planets.
(c) from other non-material/hyper material intelligent agents.
6. It is possible to come to a correct conclusion of intelligent causation when examining
(a) the universe as a whole
(b) particular instances of intelligent design e.g. a living cell or a flagellum.
June 13, 2006
Fellowship of the Ring, pg. 43:
Sam Gamgee was sitting in one corner near the fire, and opposite him was Ted Sandyman, the miller’s son; and there were various other rustic hobbits listening to their talk.
‘Queer things you do hear these days to be sure,’ said Sam.
‘Ah,’ said Ted, ‘you do, if you listen. But I can hear fireside-tales and children’s stories at home, if I want to.’
‘No doubt you can,’ retorted Sam, ‘and I daresay there’s more truth in some of them than you can reckon. Who invented the stories anyway? Take dragons now.’
‘No thank ‘ee,’ said Ted, "I won’t. I heard tell of them when I was a youngster, but there’s no call to believe in them now. There’s only one Dragon in Bywater, and that’s Green,’ he said, getting a general laugh.
‘All right,’ said Sam, laughing with the rest. ‘But what do you say about those Tree-men, these giants, as you might call them? They do say that one bigger than a tree was seen up away beyond the North Moors not long back.’
‘My cousin Hal for once. He works for Mr. Boffin at Overhill and goes up to the Northfarthing for the hunting. He saw one.’
‘Says he did, perhaps. Your Hal’s always saying he’s seen things; and maybe he sees things that ain’t there.’
‘But this one was as big as an elm tree, and walking — walking seven yards to a stride, if it was an inch.’
‘Then I bet it wasn’t an inch. What he saw was an elm tree, as like as not.’
‘But this one was walking, I tell you; and there ain’t no elm tree on the North Moors.’
‘Then Hal can’t have seen one,’ said Ted. There was some laughing and clapping: the audience seemed to think that Ted had scored a point.
June 10, 2006
In the comments of several recent posts PvM has brought up the question of vacuity. The issues he raises are important ones. Is ID simply a theory which labels whatever is currently unexplained by evolution "unexplained by evolution"? Has it any substance? Can there ever be such a thing as a serious "intelligent design research program"?
To me ID is not just an eliminative game, a theory of "detecting design" in molecular machines by ruling out chance and necessity. It’s a far greater study of design– in engineered systems, in nature, in our universe. It’s a heuristic which can help us in future discoveries. And it’s a field in which very little research has been done, and so it’s wide open to advances from the next generation of researchers.
It was a milestone in scientific thinking when Newton showed that the laws of the heavens and the laws of the earth were the same; the forces we were accustomed to in our own limited experience were the same as those making the planets turn. ID makes an equally bold step in another direction, suggesting that hypothetical design in nature can be studied in the same way as the design we are familiar with in art, architecture and technology.
Think of it this way. One piece of the ID research program– intelligent design theory at it’s most basic– is the science of detecting design. We study things which we know are designed, those which we know weren’t, and we look for "hallmarks" of one versus the other– attempting to come to a rigorous way of differentiating the two. This can then be brought to bear on the thing we don’t know about, such as the machinery in living cells or life itself.
But that’s not all ID is; and the "design paradigm" has far wider reach. Suppose we come to the conclusion that certain aspects of the universe were designed, or suppose, for heuristical purposes, we decide to assume that. What then?
PvM makes the point that those who used the "design paradigm" in their scientific research most productively– Newton and Kepler, for instance– were working with much that is not available to us as scientists today. Kepler had no problem starting from the idea of a perfect God who wanted the best for his creatures. Such a notion has far more room for prediction then the puny "designed, all else unknown" we get from basic IDT today.
So are we stuck between a rock and a hard place? Must we choose between unwarranted assumptions on the nature of a designer, based perhaps on religious thought, or a theory that has so little predictive power it could almost just as well be ignored?
I don’t think so. In the basic, first step of ID we’ve stripped design down to it’s most basic components, searching for hallmarks of design that are independent of the nature or motivation of a designer. This is important for detecting design. But when we’re working forward in the rest of ID’s research program we have a universe full of other data open to us. We don’t need to bring in religious assumptions on the designer, giving up the chance of rigorous science; rather, we can use the basic knowledge of design from our detection program to build up a full-scale model of design. A model weighty enough that it can make predictions.
We’ve a long way to go, but I’m optimistic about the future. To me, ID is what happens when a student looks at that famous sentence of Dawkins’, "Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed." and says: Well, maybe it has only the appearance of design– but then again, maybe it is something more. Why decide a priori that your senses are decieving themselves? Let’s leave out the assumption for a moment, shall we, and see what we get then?
And there are enough students tired of the unjustified assumption that we ought to be able to make a difference.
Allen MacNeill has posted a more detailed syllabus for this summer’s intelligent design course, Evolution and Design: Is there purpose in the universe? and includes a link to the course blog. It is still in the process of being set up right now, but after June 27 will be a good place to look for information on the course. Ofcourse this website will also continue to be updated by IDEA’ers.
May 24, 2006
"When everyone is against you, it means that you are absolutely wrong — or absolutely right."
- Albert Guinon
Critics of ID abound, which as I have pointed out in a previous post on The Design Paradigm, can be a very good thing for ID. How is an intelligent design researcher supposed to approach critiques leveled against ID? What kinds of critics are out there and how can one tell which are helpful and which are simply belligerent? This essay is intended to lay out a few helpful definitions and pointers for those seriously researching intelligent design.
A significant problem in tackling this issue is that, as Steve Fuller observed, "Every new theory is born refuted." (more…)
May 19, 2006
The late philosopher, Willard Van Orman Quine, who was for many years probably America’s most distinguished philosopher …. told me about a year before his death that as far as he was concerned, Darwin’s greatest achievement was that he showed that Aristotle’s idea of teleology, the so-called fourth cause, does not exist.
(Ernst Mayr, interview with Edge.org, 10.31.01)
And then again… did he? There is an interesting discussion going on at Telic Thoughts and the Evolution List on telic, teleomatic and teleonomic processes. Mayr’s position is that the appearance of design in nature is fully explained by Darwinian processes, and he chooses to describe the apparent purposefulness of living things as teleonomic, defined as "[a] processes or behavior which owe its goaldirectedness to the operation of a program". This is as opposed to teleomatic or deterministic forces such as gravity.
The "purposefulness", then, of biological organisms is an emergent property produced by natural selection; the writing of programs based on bits of information supplied by the environment.
Mayr defines a program as "coded or prearranged information that controls a process (or behavoir) leading it toward process (or behavoir) leading it toward a goal." and states that it contains "not only the blueprint of the goal but also the instructions of how to use the information of the blueprint." It is material and exists prior to the initiation of the telenomic process.
But do those definitions even begin to solve the problem? Is it reasonable to conclude that the emergence of teleonomic processes is explicable simply by reference to evolutionary mechanisms? As Allen states
Clearly, if the overall theory of macroevolution is valid, then there must have been a transition from teleomatic causation to teleonomic causation in biological organisms.
He suggest this transition takes place during the origin of the genetic code; a likely choice, given that necessay origination of a program there. Certainly the simple molecules of a hypothetical prebiotic soup would have been only teleomatic, and yet the first functioning cell contained a complete program. Somehow in the interim we have managed to build not only the program itself, but also a machine with the capability of reading the program and turning it into action.
The only emperically known source of programs are already-teleonomic entities, and the only observed causes of machines capable of turning instructions into action are intelligent, purpose-driven creatures. In Cell Biology International Abel suggests that the origin of life is theoretically irreducible to chance and necessity, and Yockey has argued similarily in other papers. Is this indeed demonstrable, or will we always be able to insert our favorite cure-all– natural selection, fairies– into an ill-defined gap?
[All definitions from "The Idea of Teleology", Ernst Mayr, Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 53, No. 1. (Jan. - Mar., 1992), pp. 117-135; avalable here if you are in the Cornell network]
May 17, 2006
It is now abundantly clear what the vast majority of intelligent design critics think. They see little to nothing that can come scientifically from design-theoretic research.
Many critical of intelligent design would claim that not even a single solitary tittle of independently derived information can result. And even if ID did ever generate anything scientific, that novel use could be had more parsimoniously by current methods. This is because ID is seen as a "science-stopper." According to our critics, ID is scientifically vacuous, as has been claimed at this blog, and in many other venues. Critics claim that all intelligent design researchers can say is, "Yep, that’s designed," followed by dead silence, coupled with crickets chirping in the background. Peter Ward, in his recent debates with Stephen Meyer, basically said that ID cannot be tested, and therefore cannot be useful to science. Additionally, Ward and other critics claim that ID actually discourages scientific curiosity.
- Curiosity and “the ID Effect”
I see clear sociological patterns emerging in the public discussion surrounding ID. Here I will call these patterns “the ID Effect.” Independent of intelligent design, it seems to me that people are curious about science in general. Pictures from the Hubble space telescope, the Mars Rover, and Tiktaalik roseae are a few recent news bites that come to mind. But this general interest is not enough to get many prospective ears into the scientific dialogue.
- "The ID Effect" Postulate 1: Piquing Curiosity
April 30, 2006
Scientists and engineers are increasingly turning to nature for inspiration. The solutions arrived at by natural selection are often a good starting point in the search for answers to scientific and technical problems. Equally, designing and building bioinspired devices or systems can tell us more about the original animal or plant model.
Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, the essential new journal from IOP, will publish research involving the study and distillation of principles and functions found in biological systems that have been developed through evolution, and application of this knowledge to produce novel and exciting basic technologies and new approaches to solving scientific problems.
The requisite bow to Darwin doesn’t do much to spoil the fun of looking closer at these complex systems. It all reminds me of last fall’s Cohen/Fuller debate at Warwick University, where Fuller went into ID’s value as a heuristic and reminded listeners that they didn’t need to believe there was a designer… just working with the idea of design in nature as a sort of model might be immensely productive.
In the first issue, Yoseph Bar-Cohen gives a through introduction to biomimetics. Quoting:
The term biomimetics, which was coined by Otto H Schmitt (Schmitt 1969), represents the studies and imitation of nature’s methods, mechanisms and processes. Nature’s capabilities are far superior in many areas to human capabilities, and adapting many of its features and characteristics can significantly improve our technology (Bar-Cohen 2005, Vincent 2001).
Finish reading the entire article here.
April 26, 2006
This morning there was a pretty decent article by Nadia Chernyak in the Cornell Sun about the new intelligent design class offered here this summer.
. . .MacNeill first came up with the theme for the seminar when brainstorming with Prof. Will Provine, ecology and evironmental biology, for topics for this summer’s seminar class. MacNeill says that the idea was inspired by the Kitzmiller v. Dover case, in which the Dover Area School District in Dover, Pa. was sued for requiring the teaching of intelligent design in high school science classes.
"Given the Dover case, [Provine and I] thought it’d be interesting to teach [this year’s seminar] on Intelligent Design," MacNeill said.
We’ve started a website to catalog some of the false statements and propaganda techniques Randy Olson uses in his documentary, Flock of Dodos.
The whole website can be found here. We’ve included information on the argument from suboptimal design that Olson uses a lot.
In one of our more interesting pages we investigate Olson’s claims that Jonathan Wells lied. As we write:
In Randy Olson’s pseudo-documentary Flock of Dodos, Olson remarks that he has problems with some of John Calvert’s sources. To demonstrate, he asks Calvart about the faked drawings that Jonathan Wells says appears in several evolutionary textbooks. After a prolonged ransacking of Calvart’s library they finally do find Haeckel’s faked drawings — in an old 1914 book whose covers are falling off.
Okie dokie, so Wells is a liar. . . or maybe not. A couple of us had taken evolution classes where we had seen those fake drawings– was Cornell using 1915 textbooks or something more recent? We decided to check out a few biology textbooks to check who was twisting the truth.
Evolutionary Biology (3rd edition © 1998) Haeckel’s faked drawings are actually reproduced without any note to show they are fake (see below). Although there is some discussion in the text of problems with Haeckel’s biogenetic law, the drawing is presented as factually correct.
Read the rest here.
Over on Nobel Intent John Timmer blogs the recent NYAS conference on "Teaching Evolution and the Nature of Science", and describes a talk given by Glenn Branch (of the NSCE). Branch had some funny comments on the oh so very insidious IDEA Clubs :) But by far the most interesting part of his talk was focused on the place of apparently requisite self-censorship in biology departments. (Drumrolls please) Timmer concludes his description:
Branch’s final topic was how to handle a situation where a biology department winds up with a creationist as a graduate student. This was both of general interest, as creationists tend to use their degrees as rhetorical weapons, and of personal interest, as I was part of the Berkeley class that produced the noted Discovery Institute fellow Jon Wells. Unfortunately, his conclusion was that there are no easy answers. He did, however, note that graduate departments exist to serve the scientific community by providing qualified individuals to perform research and teaching services. There is no ethical requirement for graduate faculty to be complicit in the training of someone who is ultimately going to actively harm the field.
Our friends at Telic Thoughts ponder over the questions of which standard and criteria are used to define a creationist. Although their points are valid, what’s frightening is this discrimination against creationists, however defined. Whatever happened to our first amendment? Or, as in the Indian caste system, must we leave our "caste" at the doorstep of our laboratories and put the veil on again once we enter the security of our homes? Whatever happened to bringing different viewpoints to a field? Whatever happened to diversity of thought in science? Were religious scientists, philosophers, mathematicians not scientists, philosophers, mathematicians simply because they were religious? Should they have been banned by the "foreguards of science"? Isn’t this blunt discrimination against religious people (creationists)? Mind you, I’m not of that faith either - but exactly what is the point of this ignorant statement? Correct me if I am wrong, but don’t universities abide by the Civil Rights Act? Where are the ACLU defenders - where are they now, are they standing by silently over this infrigment of our first amendment?
April 24, 2006
In Flock of Dodos, filmmaker and marine ecologist Randy Olson asks the question, who are the real dodos in the evolution/intelligent design debate: 1) the intelligent design (ID) advocates who disbelieve a purely mechanistic Darwinian explanation for the origin and development of life, or 2) the legions of Darwinist academics who seem unable to connect with and convincingly explain their position to the majority of Americans who stubbornly cling to beliefs in origins that are not solely Darwinian. Flock of Dodos (FOD) is intentionally light-hearted, reflecting Olson’s desire to avoid yet another dreary documentary of droning talking heads, a format which quickly triggers the “Where’s the remote?” reflex in most viewers. Olson is a trained filmmaker, and his stated intent is to connect with his audience on an emotive level. In FOD he succeeds in this, using a combination of often self-deprecating humor, animation and a Charles Kurault-like “on the road” motif.
However, the film is not the impartial assessment of the ID debate as it is sometimes billed. Whether by simply reflecting the filmmaker’s own leanings (he was a tenured professor of evolutionary marine ecology at the University of New Hampshire before turning to filmmaking) or through an intentional desire to do so, the film conveys both explicit and subtle messages that seek to steer viewers at an emotive level against the ID position. I am no expert in ID, having only recently begun to read on the subject. But I have seen enough to conclude that, for whatever reason, FOD mischaracterizes or omits pertinent issues in the ID debate. Some were evident during the film and subsequent audience interaction with Olson; others become more apparent on reflection. In no particular order, I will list some of my concerns:(more…)
Last February during Darwin weekend Randy Olson came to Cornell to show Flock of Dodos in one of the first screenings in the nation. In the documentary the narrator Olson interviews some of the participants in the evolution-intelligent design debate and tries to find out which side are the real dodos. Next week the movie is being screened in New York City as part of the Tribeca Film Festival. Our newest contributor, Sigemund, has also written a review on the film, which will be posted shortly.
April 19, 2006
Over on Panda’s Thumb PvM reaches some interesting conclusions from Prof. Psiaki’s guest post of 4/6. He seems particularly drawn to Psiaki’s final sentence:
The principle of irreducible complexity does not give one all of biology, but if true, it serves to divert the biologist from wasting time by trying to answer a question to which there is no scientific answer.
and the connection made in that post with Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Somehow this is taken to mean that ID theory is purely vacuous, a god-of-the-gaps argument, and a method for lazy scientists to avoid working on the problems they ought to be solving.
There are two important issues that seem to be misunderstood here. The first is that the Uncertainty Principle, while negative, is not in any way, shape or form an argument from ignorance. When we say "we are never going to be able to determine, simultaneously, the exact position or momentum of a particle" we are not saying that science today is sadly limited, and we have some gaps in our understanding of how things move. Rather we are saying there is a point where even the best research will get us nowhere; in Psiaki’s words: there are some questions to which there is is no scientific answer.
Moreover, like the principle of irreducible complexity in biology, the Uncertainty Principle may not give one all of physics, and yet is critical. When quantum mechanics was still new and untried, this annoyingly negative prediction made physicists like Einstein wish very much the theory wasn’t true. But that does not change the fact that today it is a robust and highly productive field.Can we choose our science based on what is most comfortable to work with? Or are we really interested in what matches reality?
April 16, 2006
In particular, all critics and debunkers of the probabity arguments used against naturalistic abiogenesis. . . I want your perspective on an argument I’m reading.
As a disclaimer, I do know the general course of the proposed chemical origins of life, and am cognizant of the research being done in that field, so please don’t repeat this particular ‘rebuttal’ :).(more…)
April 14, 2006
We will make an attempt to get back to regualar IDEA’ish discussions here soon (it looks as if there has been too much in the way of "news" these days!), but Allen wrote a bit of commentary on the background to this summer’s class that seemed worth linking to.
And for those who have asked– yes, I expect both this blog and the Evolution List will be regularly updated this summer.