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Saturday, 01 October 2005


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David, Well, that was a good, interesting start! A few meta-points, if you will. You claim that you have no view of the existance or not of God (defined here in your sense: i.e. some super-intelligent, super-powerful being, but not necc. the God of Christain, Islamic, Hindu or whatever faith). However, suppose that ID is true. By this, I specifically mean the following statement is correct:

"There is no way that life on Earth could have started without intervention of God".

I assume an immediate corollary is:

"There is no way that life, anywhere, could have started without intervention of God".

Certainly I'm not aware of any IDer who argues the first but not the second (although, e.g. Fred Hoyle might have done, although he was talking about a level of life a couple of orders of magnitude simpler than that usually talked about in pro-ID arguments). If one accepts the 2nd claim, then one is *forced* to believe in the existance of God, and is also *forced* to accept that we can never possibly know how God came into existance. Hence, in this sense, one *has* to be a weak-theist to believe in ID.

Now, you claim to have no view of the existance of God: it's an untestable hypothesis, and comes down to faith. That seems reasonable (I have a lot of faith that God doesn't exist, but I fully agree that I cannot "prove" it). A central tenant of ID seems to be some sort of "irreducible complexity" or, more widely, the existance of some biological structure that is just too complex to have come about through any other way but ID. This is an incredible strong claim however, as it requires us to argue that *there is no possible explaination* other than a creator.

A weaker statement might be that, say, evolution does not currently adequately explain biological fact X, and hence we must be agnostic about whether fact X is infact a consequence of evolution. This seems much closer to your view about God, and I wonder if you would be willing to leave the door open to evolution currently not explaining something, but for some clever scientist to come along in the future and give an adequate explaination?

Evolutionary theory is obviously full of holes: if it wasn't, then there wouldn't be the small army of scientists still doing research in the area (compare, for example, basic mechanics, where the theory is almost completely worked out, and research is into applications). I don't see that the fact that evolutionary theory doesn't explain everything perfectly as a reason to dismiss it out of hand. All pro-ID arguments I've read, however, seem to take exactly this line.

Matt, it seems to me that what the IDers have done is two-fold. First, they have pointed to the equivalent of biological fact X, as you put it, and claimed that this is inconsistant with Darwinian theory. Second, they have offered their own hypotheses which explains fact X, to them, at any rate. My position is this, within the (severe) limits of my knowledge of biochemistry, they appear to have a point concerning apparent inconsistencies, however, I cannot accept their solution, but neither can I disprove it. Perhaps, if you will be patient, I will deal later with the reasons for my non-acceptance of the God solution which may please you.

David, if you can point to ANY place that any IDist has said "Here is an ID hypothesis that explains fact X," please show us. I can find nothing of the sort, not even in the ID tracts those wankers leave at my church.

Second, Latham came to distrust science as he got more religious? My experience, as a scientist and a Christian, tell me that generally happens as one takes leave of one's senses. There is nothing in Christianity as 99.9% of Christian sects state it which has any truck at all with anything in biology. It wasn't Darwinism that Latham was leaving, nor is there evidence in Christianity to cause any rational person to leave science behind in such a fashion.

Finally, let's acknowledge that there are plenty of laboratories on the Earth, and a huge variety of natural places one may use to observe what nature does. The simple fact that ID advocates have taken advantage of none of these labs nor any place in the wild to do experiments or observations to provide data to distinguish "intelligent design" from "superflux embroidery" should tell us something, specifically that there isn't a gram of science in the movement.

So, if you want to discuss intelligent design, you can't discuss it on the basis of scientific observation -- no observation supports it. If you rule out discussions of God, that rules out all the claims of intelligent design.

What did you plant to discuss?

I'd like to second what Ed and Matt have said, and I'll add a couple of things.

I don't believe in god (though I've nothing against agnosticism or deism or even paganism), but I do believe that it's possible that I'm wrong. See (I'm not able to summarise this more conscisely). If something like that were found, or if there were some kind of "signature" in junk DNA, or we found "Slardibardfast woz ere" on the side of a fjord, I'd reconsider my position. In short, I consider my non-belief in ID refutable. I'm not sure the same can be said for most ID supporters.

Now let's consider a review of Latham by an ID supporter.
Chapter One draws on Martin Rees. I've read Martin Rees, and I think he's describing the fact that our universe is suited to sustain life in lots of ways (including the strengths of the various fundamental forces). That's a worthwhile thing to do, but it doesn't prove anything. If the universe wasn't this way, we wouldn't be here.

Chapter 2. Stanley Miller’s experiment. Oops.
"There has been a recent wave of skepticism concerning Miller's experiment because it is now believed that the early earth's atmosphere did not contain predominantly reductant molecules. Another objection is that this experiment required a tremendous amount of energy. While it is believed lightning storms were extremely common on the primitive Earth, they were not continuous as the Miller/Urey experiment portrayed. Thus it has been argued that while amino acids and other organic compounds may have been formed, they would not have been formed in the amounts which this experiment produced."
Occurred very soon after the right conditions were formed? This tells us nothing. It was very long ago, and relatively soon may be 100s of millions of years. You could argue that that is an eyeblink to god, or that he's not in a hurry. But because you can argue that, these don't show anything.
3 The Cambrian Explosion. As I remember my Gould, he believed that there was a period when entirely different phyla covered the earth, but these were wiped out in some natural disaster we know little about. Explosion implies speed, but the spread would almost certainly have been over geographical time -- very slowly indeed. Also, life reacts chemically with the atmosphere. The earth only provides the elements -- the compounds we see are the products of various chemical reactions. The atmosphere changed, so the conditions life arose under disappeared.

Finally, here's a Latham quote (same source). "The gaps do not, in fact, go away but become more mysterious and the problems seem insoluble on a purely random materialistic basis." The gaps don't go away in any science. What do you know about fractals? Isaac Asimov once suggested that science was like looking at a fractal pattern (or a coastline). You can zoom in as much as you like, but the wiggliness remains. I rather like that idea. It certainly seems true of physics. You'd think that if physics were soluble, that the only experimental physicists left would be in high-energy fields. They're not. Scientific discovery is endless.

'Dave', thanks! Please read my comment in 'Darwin 2' above and you will see why I am not quite, shall we say, in the mood to respond sensibly to your comments now. However, like MacArthur, "I shall return!"

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