Monday, November 15, 2004

National Geographic and Evolution vs. Intelligent Design

National Geographic (NG) magazine has decided to throw its two cents in on the current tide of evolution and Intelligent Design (read “creationism” in all of NG’s writings). It is not that NG has not been solidly in the evolutionary camp, but it recently ran a cover story with the question ,”Was Darwin Wrong?” The answer comes in swift fashion on the first page of the article in one sweeping sentence, “NO.”

I don’t want to spend my time detailing too many of the issues raised in the article. New Covenant has done a fair bit of that and has dealt with many of the specific issues involved. Ultimately, I want to raise a couple of other issues with the evolution/ID debate, but I can’t pass up at least one specific jab at the article.

One of the favorite justifications of the evolutionary model, and one that is used throughout the article, is any kind of analogy to domestic breeding. Although this has been a favorite argument from the days of Darwin himself, I am frankly shocked that it has not been banished from the evolutionary world due to its clear ID-style implications. The argument is simple-domestically bred animals change over time into new breeds. The implication is also simple-an intelligent mind guided the domestic process to achieve a predetermined goal. Every time that argument is made by an evolutionist, they are cutting off the branch they are sitting upon.

One might wonder why this argument is still in play in evolutionary circles. I have a hunch. It is my theory that evolutionists lack the amount of evidence they need to get rid of bad arguments. Hence, they return again and again to arguments from similarity in shape and domestic breeding.

J.P. Moreland agrees when he writes:

The blind watchmaker thesis is crucial to the naturalist, and it is precisely this sense of evolution that has far less evidence in support of it than is often realized. Whether or not you agree with this statement, one thing seems clear: the certainty claimed for evolution and the ferocity with which it is held go far beyond what is justified by scientific evidence and empirical testing. No one could read Phillip Johnson's Darwin on Trial (Intervarsity, 1991), Michael Denton's Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Adler & Adler, 1986), or JP Moreland, ed., The Creation Hypothesis (InterVarsity, 1994) without realizing that a serious, sophisticated case can be made against the blind watchmaker thesis even if one judged that, in the end, the case is not as persuasive as the evolutionary account.

The curious reader could follow the trail of evidence and argument many places. I want to raise two philosophical arguments against the naturalism of evolution. First, if you are not familiar with the “argument from reason,” you should peruse these posts (here, here), which, if successful, undercut the paradigm of naturalism altogether. Here I want to briefly raise the problems of values and agency.

Values

If naturalism is true, then it would be hard, if not impossible, to account for values. If I noticed that, “the apple is green,” we would be able, in completely naturalistic terms, to account for all the portions of the proposition. We would be able to physically locate the apple, genetically prove it is an apple, and then verify through wavelength experimentation that it might be the most delicious of all apples, the Granny Smith. On the other hand, take a statement like, “love is a virtue.” In short, there is nothing in that statement which can be verified through naturalistic experimentation or verification. Neither “love” nor “virtue” are natural/physical properties or substances, and yet they are real.

The fact that we experience values and act on values stands as a strong argument against a universe which is wholly physical. Atoms and molecules cannot account for love, humility, courage, humor, fear, guilt, altruism, etc. For a fuller treatment, see this article.

Agency

This section is, in part, a restatement of the arguments from reason noted above. Kant was famously one of the more dominant thinkers to take naturalism to its natural conclusions regarding agency. He argued that the physical universe acted only as a matter of physical input and output and was hence deterministic. Output could be determined by input, and output could not occur without the right input. At the same time, he was struck by the inescapeable reality of human agency and ethical responsibility. In fact, agency and responsibility were such powerful and intuitive notions for Kant that he built another level into his philosophy to account for them. As a result, he argued that although the physical aspect of the human was guided by deterministic input/output, the non-physical aspects of the human were detached from the cycle of determinism.

Whatever is true or false about the details of Kant’s philosophy, he was right to conclude that we as humans simply cannot get rid of agency and responsibility. “Cannot” in this sense does not mean “we hope to keep these notions,” it means “it is a philosophical absurdity to get rid of them.”

Update

Thanks to New Covenant for the link.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think the ferociousness with which pro-evolutionists protect their theory is a sign of its weakness. Reminds me of a cult: that its leaders prevent you form leaving is reason enough to leave.

- ralphg

386sx said...

I think the ferociousness with which pro-evolutionists protect their theory is a sign of its weakness.Can we think of any other things that superstition has tried to destroy that "ferociously" should have been protected? I can't, because I'm a big dodo bird who likes to pretend whatever I want from one moment to the next! Squawk!

Phil Steiger said...

First of all...I don't even know what that means. Secondly, if that is an attempt to tell us that Christianity (myth) has tried to destroy science (reason) before, then it is indicitave of my very point: evolutionists are reduced to ad hominum and shallow attacks when their science is questioned. They seem to not respond to the science of ID with science. Woof!

386sx said...

I don't even know what that means.

"Protection" is not necessarily a sign of weakness. I would go a long ways in protecting my children, for example.

They seem to not respond to the science of ID with science.

What science would that be? "Evolutionists" aren't allowed to use evidence if it would be the same evidence a creationist would use? What kind of science is that.

Woof!

http://www.arcanewolf.com/wizard/sounds/meow.wav !

Phil Steiger said...

In keeping with the “protecting” theme-it is possible to protect your children by hiding them in a closet all their lives, but that would be bad. In the same vein, it has been my experience that naturalists/evolutionists are “in the closet” when it comes to science and Intelligent Design. That is no way to confront a theory that does make use of the “same science” everyone else does, but has a different take on it than has traditionally been touted by Darwinists.

I would suggest, if you want to interact with the science, beginning by looking at a couple of the websites I have listed in the blog: Phillip Johnson and Access Research Network. I would also suggest www.discovery.org/csc/ for some of the heavy-duty work.

To toss out one set of scientific facts that has different takes on it: The amino acids which make up human cells synthesize at various temperatures. In fact, about half of them synthesize at sub-zero temperatures, and the other half synthesize at boiling and above temperatures. All origin of life biologists agree that there is a minimal amount of amino acids which need to be in place before there is a cell capable of sustaining life, and that those amino acids are comprised of those which synthesize at both sub-zero and boiling point temperatures. The Darwinist take on it is one of two things; 1.that somehow a natural environment existed where the temperature was both sub-zero and boiling at the same time, or 2. alien amino acids were placed here on earth (no kidding). The ID movement has a different take on the data: An intelligence organized the amino acids to sustain life. It’s the way it is done in the modern-day lab, after all. Darwinism is long on theoretical chemical and genetic pathways for macroevolution, but short on actual pathways.

386sx said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
386sx said...

Mr. Steiger: All origin of life biologists agree that there is a minimal amount of amino acids which need to be in place before there is a cell capable of sustaining life, and that those amino acids are comprised of those which synthesize at both sub-zero and boiling point temperatures.


Where did you get that from? Anyway, it's false. (Do you care?)

http://wiki.cotch.net/index.php/Evolution_of_the_first_proteins

You know, as I'm sitting here, I'm having no problem at all imagining an environment where
hot meets cold. So I'm wondering what it is that you were trying to say?

Mr. Steiger: alien amino acids were placed here on earth


This meteorite, that fell near Murchison, Australia on 28 September 1969, turned out to contain a variety of organic molecules...


Mr. Steiger: Darwinism is long on theoretical chemical and genetic pathways for macroevolution, but short on actual pathways.


And I suppose ID is short on theoretical chemical and genetic pathways, but long on actual pathways. Where is the science, other than just saying, "them Darwinists ain't allowed to do that." What is it that you want? Do you want them to reach a certain point where they say "oh, that part is magic, we don't have to dig any deeper on that one"? Otherwise, what is the point of invoking the magic spell casting entity thingy?

Phil Steiger said...

I tried to open the link you sent and it failed to send me to a good page, so I am afraid I can’t interact with that information. But I do have two more careless thoughts about amino acids.

First, I made the classic blunder of confusing my amino acids with my nucleotide bases. If I’ve done it once I’ve done it a thousand times…

In actuality, the nucleotide bases adenine and guanine require freezing temperatures to synthesize, and the bases cytosine and uracil require boiling temperatures. The import of that information is that RNA and DNA (nucleic acids) require those (and other) nucleotide bases to be in place and in proper formation before they can form. One of the latest theories concerning what exactly makes up the simplest possible life form is RNA. Therefore, no RNA, no life, and if you can’t get the right nucleotides to appear all at the same time and line up properly, then you don’t get RNA.

You must be able to imagine a lot of wild things. I, for instance, can’t imagine a room that is both 100 degrees and 20 degrees at the same time. I can imagine a room that is 60 degrees, but that is neither cold nor hot. I will guess and say it is actually a physical impossibility for a spacial temporal point to be two extreme temperatures at the same time. I am aware that there is a point of pressure and temperature where a substance can exist in all three basic states (gas, solid, liquid) at the same time, but it is still at a single temperature.

Where did I get the idea that a large number of left-handed, information bearing amino acids need to be in place before a cell can function and “support life”? You might call it biology. For a cell to metabolize and reproduce it requires up to 20 protein strands, which in turn, are made up of up to hundreds of amino acids. Otherwise, a carbon based cell does not work.

What I think your link was going to tell me is that amino acids and proteins have an evolutionary explanation, but I wonder if it addressed the issue of information? Amino acids are produced with alacrity in the lab, but there are a couple of problems. Most of them are “junk” aminos because they lack the information necessary to form operating proteins, and they are created in a 50/50 split between left-handed and right-handed aminos. The only amino acids which are able to form proteins are left-handed.

This is getting too long, so one comment about meteoroids (and interstellar dust). The problem comes when we cannot find amino acids, sugars, or biotic compounds actually in space (maybe a matter of time and work), but we do find them on meteorites which have passed through earth’s atmosphere and hit the ground. Many believe they are too polluted with earth aminos to be trusted. Additionally, NASA and SETI did research on how well amino acids hold up to ultraviolet radiation (as that in space), and the poor aminos did not fare well. In their words, “amino acids have not been detected [in space] because they are destroyed before they can accumulate in the gas phase.” (Astrophysical Journal Letters 550, 2001).

And one comment on chemical pathways. There are lots of actual pathways in the lab, and there are lots of possible chemical pathways where prebiotic materials can turn into biotic materials, but given what we know about the chemical makeup of the early earth, there are no actual pathways in the real world which could have produced the materials necessary to begin life. Another source for the “Where do you get this stuff?” question is the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life, which held a conference on these issues in 2002. According to one of the organizers, Leslie Orgel, “It would be a miracle if a strand of RNA ever appeared on the primitive earth.” And to head off the next thought-the ISSOL has nothing to do with the ID movement or other wacko faith-types.

Ironically, one of the reasons alien biotic materials are of such interest is exactly because people recognize the difficulty (nigh impossibility) of life randomly generating from the primitive earth.

And finally, do I care? No. If I did, I might write a blog, or something.

386sx said...

You must be able to imagine a lot of wild things. I, for instance, can't imagine a room that is both 100 degrees and 20 degrees at the same time. I can imagine a room that is 60 degrees, but that is neither cold nor hot.


Well, let's hope the ID people have their way, then. That way we won't have to worry about it too much.

Amino acids are produced with alacrity in the lab, but there are a couple of problems. Most of them are "junk" aminos because they lack the information necessary to form operating proteins, and they are created in a 50/50 split between left-handed and right-handed aminos. The only amino acids which are able to form proteins are left-handed.


William S. Knowles, Ryoji Noyori, and K. Barry Sharpless won a nobel prize for doing just that.

http://www.google.com/search?q=%22asymmetric+synthesis

You can see some really evil evolutionists discuss the chirality problem here if you can stand it. Quote: "As with most anti-evolutionary arguments, the 'chirality problem' one has relied on what we don't know yet."

386sx said...

Additionally, NASA and SETI did research on how well amino acids hold up to ultraviolet radiation (as that in space), and the poor aminos did not fare well. In their words, "amino acids have not been detected [in space] because they are destroyed before they can accumulate in the gas phase." (Astrophysical Journal Letters 550, 2001).


"Our results place constraints on the inventory of amino acids for exogenous delivery to the early Earth and thus on prebiotic evolution. However, this does not preclude the amino acids in meteorites having formed in the ISM. It simply requires that amino acids be shielded from UV in protected environments, such as in dust grains and meteorites and in the interiors of small bodies, i.e., comets and asteroids prior to delivery to early planets." (Ibid.)

And one comment on chemical pathways. There are lots of actual pathways in the lab, and there are lots of possible chemical pathways where prebiotic materials can turn into biotic materials, but given what we know about the chemical makeup of the early earth, there are no actual pathways in the real world which could have produced the materials necessary to begin life. Another source for the "Where do you get this stuff?" question is the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life, which held a conference on these issues in 2002. According to one of the organizers, Leslie Orgel, "It would be a miracle if a strand of RNA ever appeared on the primitive earth." And to head off the next thought-the ISSOL has nothing to do with the ID movement or other wacko faith-types.


If he thinks it's a miracle, then why is he still looking? I imagine that we could draw an analogy with his quest for solving the miracle of life to the quest for solving the riddle of how the angels push the planets around the earth, and I think your quote might sound a little different if it were put into the full context.

Ironically, one of the reasons alien biotic materials are of such interest is exactly because people recognize the difficulty (nigh impossibility) of life randomly generating from the primitive earth.


How would alien boitic materials increase the odds? For the ID folks, there is nothing that would increase the odds.

386sx said...

You must be able to imagine a lot of wild things. I, for instance, can’t imagine a room that is both 100 degrees and 20 degrees at the same time. I can imagine a room that is 60 degrees, but that is neither cold nor hot. I will guess and say it is actually a physical impossibility for a spacial temporal point to be two extreme temperatures at the same time. I am aware that there is a point of pressure and temperature where a substance can exist in all three basic states (gas, solid, liquid) at the same time, but it is still at a single temperature.

I'm curious, Mr. Steiger: why are you arguing that from a naturalistic viewpoint? Do you have some kind of bigotry against supernaturalism, or something?

Phil Steiger said...

My post was originally about issues besides the science, and I wonder what your take on those things is. Just a couple more comments on the science.

Why, if they colloquially call the appearance of RNA a miracle, would scientists still look for it? That is what scientists do. I don’t expect them to throw up their hands in large part because they are naturalists. Naturalists, by definition, have no other explanations.

Concerning your quote from the NASA and SETI article, that is exactly the kind of thing the ID movement wants to point out. From the inception of Darwinism, the scientific explanations have been a long string of possibilities. The quote furthers that: In actuality, we have not found extraterrestrial biotic life in asteroids, but there are hypothetical scenarios where it could happen.

I get the sense (because I am almost preternaturally sensitive-given a great deal of time and plenty of hints) that you assume that anyone who believes in the supernatural realm has the mind of a weevil. I encourage you, if this is honestly your desire, to interact with ID’s take on the science of things. The Intelligent Design movement does not “make up” science and then posit some kind of magical being to fill in the gaps.

But concerning the foundation of naturalism:
1. If Naturalism is true, then no absolute moral values exist.
2. At least some absolute moral values exist.
3. Therefore, Naturalism is false.

386sx said...

The Intelligent Design movement does not “make up” science and then posit some kind of magical being to fill in the gaps.

Still waiting for an example...

I'm beginning to wonder if you might be pulling my leg, Mr. Steiger.

386sx said...

you assume that anyone who believes in the supernatural realm has the mind of a weevil.

Not true. Charles Darwin himself believed in the supernatural realm, and so did Plato, and so did Newton, and so did... Mr. Steiger! I don't think any of those people have the mind of a weevil, and I don't think you really believe I do assume that. But I can understand why you would say it: I've been a bit mean spirited.

And so, I apologize.

Chris said...

Is it definitely the case that adenine and guanine *requires* freezing conditions for synthesis?

There seems to be research that states that freezing conditions are *not necessarily an obstacle* to adenine (and guanine) formation, but that's different from saying it is a necessity. The motivation behind the research was to determine whether or not it was plausible adenine could have formed in the Jovian satellite Europa.

As I understand the matter, Oro was able to produce adenine by heating ammonium cyanide at 70C for a while. Later experiments detected some guanine.

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