Evolution News and Views (ENV) provides original reporting and analysis about the debate over intelligent design and evolution, including breaking news about scientific research.

Evolution News and Views
Evolution NEWS
 

Darwin Apologists: "We've Got It All Figured Out." Astronomer Martin Rees: "Not So Fast."

Lewis Chessmen.jpg

Here's a refreshingly humble statement on the limited extent of current scientific understanding of how life came together. Martin Rees, cosmologist and Britain's Astronomer Royal, inoculates himself against the implications of what he says by reminding readers that "most educated people" are "fully aware that our biosphere is the outcome of several billion years of Darwinian evolution." And if by that he merely means that life has been kaleidoscopically shifting forms for that long, of course he's right.

However, in the same article for Newsweek about the implications of revealing the Higgs boson, Rees gives an apt comparison between science and learning the game of chess:

The very large and the very small -- cosmos and microworld -- are two great frontiers of science. Twenty-first-century scientists may successfully unify them....

But this unification would not be the end of science; indeed, we could still be near the beginning. Consider an analogy -- suppose you'd never seen chess being played, you could, by watching a few games, infer the rules. But in chess, learning how the pieces move is just the entry gate to the absorbing progression from novice to grand master. The beauty of that game lies in the rich variety that the rules allow.

Likewise, the greatest scientific challenges are not to discover nature's building blocks, but to elucidate how they combine together into an immense variety of materials, and -- above all -- into the complex structures of life. This is the challenge that engages the 99 percent of scientists who are neither particle physicists nor astronomers.

It may seem incongruous that scientists can make confident statements about remote galaxies, or about exotic subatomic particles, while being baffled about issues close at hand that we all care about -- diet and common diseases, for instance. But this is because living things embody intricate structures that render them far more mysterious than atoms or stars.

Will scientists ever fathom all of nature's complexities? Perhaps they will. However, we should be open to the possibility that we might, far down the line, encounter limits because our brains just don't have enough conceptual grasp.

His point is that for all the excitement about perhaps finding the Higgs particle, that would be pretty much as nothing compared to the still outstanding and far vaster mystery of how matter's constituent parts have come together to form the world around us, and in particular the wonder of life.

In considering life's origin, Darwinists constantly make the mistake of assuming that if you've shown how the ingredients of life might have been present in the early Earth, it's a no brainer to get from there to the formation of information-coding molecules needed to advance creatures from the simple and primitive to the increasingly, mind-bogglingly complex. As Stephen Meyer emphasizes in Signature in the Cell, the real magic lies in this coding, analogous to composing a book or newspaper article, not in the physical components used to convey the code, analogous to the typesetting equipment that used to be employed to print books and newspapers.

Thinking that you understand life's evolution because you understand all the material ingredients is like watching a few games of chess, inferring the basic rules and then assuming that you've got it all figured out and can confidently go and challenge the world's reigning chess master. There are levels of intelligence, art, and intuition, genius almost beyond comprehension, whose existence you haven't even sensed.

This is like another analogy that we noted here the other day. Instead of chess, Biologic Institute director Doug Axe drew a comparison to writing. A Darwinian's approach to understanding life is like someone trying to appreciate the art of writing but instead getting stuck checking the writer's spelling.

You can think about it in terms of the difference between mastering spelling versus mastering the art of writing. One could be a very good speller and a miserable writer and vice versa. In one case you're looking at the micromechanics of how you put letters together to make words but in the other you are looking at higher-level principles that allow good writing to take place, the principles you have to master in order to write well.

We feel that biology has been stuck, looking at the mechanics -- like spelling -- and it really has to move to a higher level where it embraces principles, and these principles are manifestly design principles.

The Darwinist rap has it that evolutionary biologists have got everything all figured out. Their kind of talk is exactly in the spirit of Lord Kelvin who is quoted as summarizing, in 1900, the view of many physicists when he said, "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement." That was, of course, 15 years before Einstein revealed the theory of general relativity.


15 Comments

Thanks all for the comments. In response to Andrew Feinberg, he writes:

"There is currently no theory other than evolution which fits the evidence and is useful to science."

In reply, I would respectfully disagree. Intelligent design is a scientific theory which fits the evidence and makes many useful predictions. As explained here, some of the useful scientific contributions include:

• ID directs research which has detected high levels of complex and specified information in biology in the form of fine-tuning of protein sequences. This has practical implications not just for explaining biological origins but also for engineering enzymes and anticipating / fighting the future evolution of diseases.

• ID predicts that scientists will find instances of fine-tuning of the laws and constants of physics to allow for life, leading to a variety of fine-tuning arguments, including the Galactic Habitable Zone. This has huge implications for proper cosmological models of the universe, hints at proper avenues for successful "theories of everything" which must accommodate fine-tuning, and other implications for theoretical physics.

• ID has led to both experimental and theoretical research into how limitations on the ability of Darwinian evolution to evolve traits that require multiple mutations to function. This of course has practical implications for fighting problems like antibiotic resistance or engineering bacteria.

• ID implies that there are limits to the information-generative powers of Darwinian searches, leading to the finding that the search abilities of Darwinian processes are limited, which has practical implications for the viability of using genetic algorithms to solve problems.

• ID thinking has helped scientists properly measure functional biological information, leading to concepts like complex and specified information or functional sequence complexity. This allows us to better quantify complexity and understand what features are, or are not, within the reach of Darwinian evolution.

• ID serves as a paradigm for biology which helps scientists reverse engineer molecular machines like the bacterial flagellum to understand their function like machines, and to understand how the machine-like properties of life allow biological systems to function.

• ID causes scientists to view cellular components as "designed structures rather than accidental by-products of neo-Darwinian evolution," allowing scientists to propose testable hypotheses about causes of cancer.

• ID explains the cause of the widespread feature of extreme degrees of "convergent evolution," including convergent genetic evolution.

• ID explains causes of explosions of biodiversity (as well as mass extinction) in the history of life.

• ID has quite naturally directed scientists to predict function for junk-DNA, leading to various types of research seeking function for non-coding "junk"-DNA, allowing us to understand development and cellular biology.

Thus, I respectfully disagree with you when you say, "As far as ID being scientifically useful, it hasn't been thus far."

Andrew also writes: "If you believe that a scientist or group of scientists are claiming to have a scientific theory of the supernatural, please, by all means, share with the group."

In reply, intelligent design does not claim to be a scientific theory of the supernatural. Intelligent design simply infers intelligent causes because we have observation-based experience with intelligent causes. It's quite a simple exercise to know and understand the actions of humans, who happen to be intelligent designers. For example, by studying the actions of humans in the world around us we can construct a variety of testable predictions about intelligent design. So intelligent design simply refers to intelligent causes, not supernatural ones. Many ID proponents may believe that the designer is God, but this is not a specific conclusion of ID.

Andrew also wrote:

I think only the proponents of ID actually believe that ID isn't creationism in a new wrapper, and even then I have my doubts.

I reply: This comment is incorrect. In fact, some honest critics of ID recognize that it isn't creationism. As philosopher Jeffrey Koperski writes in the journal Zygon:

In my view, labeling those who doubt the efficacy of genetic mutation and natural selection "creationists" is a rhetorical strategy, what some logic texts call "stereotyping." Cable television provides ready exemplars for both the creationist stereotype and its cousin, the fundamentalist. Critics try to shape the debate by connecting ID to these templates. If successful, little work needs to be done. The labels tell us who represents the side of rationality over and against the side of ignorance. Having sorted us and them, what they actually say matters little, whoever they happen to be. We must recognize that although this is a common argumentative strategy in talk radio and presidential politics, it is not itself a logical critique. Placing the black hat on one's opponent is no substitute for an argument.

(Jeffrey Koperski, "Two Bad Ways to Attack Intelligent Design and Two Good Ones," Zygon, Vol. 43(2):433-449 (June, 2008).)

Thus, there are at least 2 major differences between ID and creationism:

• (1) Creationism holds that a supernatural or divine power created life. ID merely refers to an intelligent cause, and does not attempt to address religious questions about the identity of the designer.

• (2) Creationism starts with a religious text, such as the Bible, and tries to fit the findings of science to it. In contrast, ID starts with the empirical data and relies only on the scientific evidence to detect design.

Andrew also wrote: "Honestly, as long as they [ID proponents] keep referring to the theory of evolution as 'Darwinism', I don't see how you can fault me for calling ID creationism".

In reply, this comment indicates that Mr. Feinberg is unaware of the myraid of cases where evolutionary scientists regularly use the term "Darwinism." Thus, there's a big difference between using the term "creationism" to describe ID vs. "Darwinism" to describe the theory of evolution. The difference is that mainstream evolutionary scientists regularly use the term "Darwinism" (it's an urban legend that they don't), whereas leading ID proponents make it clear that their view is not "creationism."

So if you want to play a game of rhetorical "tit for tat" here, then your strategy fails because your own side uses the term "Darwinism" to describe its own dominant view. Please see here for some documentation of some (of a great MANY) examples of evolutionists using the term "Darwinism".

Finally, Andrew writes that even if evolution "were inaccurate in detail, which doesn't seem to be the case, it makes no sense to abandon it." I'm not sure what "in detail" means,. But it sure seems like he's are saying that even if Darwinian evolution were inaccurate ("in detail," whatever that means), we should not abandon it. This shows how many evolutionists treat evolution in an unfalsifiable manner: they're not willing to let it be challenged. I would argue that based upon the evidence presented here, neo-Darwinian evolution has flaws if you look at the big picture, or the little pictures "in detail." For example:

There are a number of scientific problems with neo-Darwinian evolution. They include:

• The failure of evolutionary biology to provide detailed explanations for the origin of complex biochemical features. (For details and documentation, please see: “The NCSE, Judge Jones, and Bluffs About the Origin of New Functional Genetic Information,” “Do Car Engines Run on Lugnuts? A Response to Ken Miller & Judge Jones's Straw Tests of Irreducible Complexity for the Bacterial Flagellum,” or “Opening Darwin's Black Box”.)

• The failure of molecular and anatomical homology to provide evidence for universal common descent. (For details and documentation, please see: “A Primer on the Tree of Life".)

• The failure of the fossil record to provide evidence for gradual neo-Darwinian change. (For details and documentation, please see “Intelligent Design Has Scientific Merit in Paleontology” or “Punctuated Equilibrium and Patterns from the Fossil Record”.)

• The failure of developmental biology to bolster common descent. (For details and documentation, please see: “Evolving views of embryology,” “A Reply to Carl Zimmer on Embryology,” or “Textbooks misuse embryology” or "Challenging the Precious Pharyngula" or "Three Flawed Evolutionary Models of Embryological Development and One Correct One.")

• The failure of neo-Darwinian evolution to explain the biogeographical distribution of many species. (For details and documentation, please see “Biogeographical Challenges to Neo-Darwinian Evolution”.)

• A long history of inaccurate predictions inspired by neo-Darwinism regarding vestigial organs or so-called “junk” DNA. (For details and documentation, please see: “Intelligent Design and the Death of the ‘Junk-DNA’ Neo-Darwinian Paradigm,” “The Myth of Junk DNA,” “The Latest Proof of Evolution: The Appendix has No Important Function,” or “Does Darrel Falk's Junk DNA Argument for Common Descent Commit ‘One of the Biggest Mistakes in the History of Molecular Biology’?”)

Thanks and happy new year.

Sincerely,

Casey

Patrick,

"The problem with science today is that it appears to be trying to make metaphysical claims that can't be empirically proven!"

"I'm quite aware that 'Science' does not make any sort of metaphysical claims."

I did accidentally mistake what you meant by metaphysical there, and for that I apologize. It looks like my statement is still correct, however. Philosophy is not science, nor is metaphysics. There is no scientific theory of metaphysics any more than there is a scientific theory of flying rainbow unicorns.

"Those questions do not fall inside the scope of Science but all of these Materialistic scientists certainly are trying to claim them."

Then clearly these are matters of opinion, and not science. Scientists may speak on the metaphysical, the supernatural, and the outright absurd. It's their right as human beings to do so. The fact that a scientists says it or it's in a book doesn't make it science. Please define or clarify "trying to claim" a question.

It seems clear that you realize that science is not trying to con you into believing that there's a working theory of abiogenesis or metaphysics or the supernatural. Yet your initial post insisted that was the case, and implied that this was somehow a black mark against science and possibly the theory of evolution.

"How would you empirically prove that science is the only conduit for objective truth?"

You'd start by showing that science is one conduit for empirically provable objective truth, and then proceed by process of elimination. To the best of my knowledge no enterprises outside of science claim to deal in empirically provable objective truths, so then you just add the caveat "currently known to humanity" at the end and you have a decent little proof. Bear in mind, however, that I said it "may or may not be" the only conduit for objective truth. That's my subtle little way of indicating that I have no interest in arguing the point.

Scott,

What I am saying with regards to this article is that the core claim it makes that science wants us to believe that there is a working theory of abiogenesis is both intentionally misleading and transparently false.

In reply to Ralph Westfall's comment that we should discard the theory of evolution, I pointed out that doing so makes no sense. It's like deciding that one doesn't much care for car tires that are made of rubber, and then discarding them, despite the fact that one does not have a replacement available, the wherewithal to obtain a replacement, and no suitable replacement exists. Patrick Lind and yourself took up the argument from there and it proceeded off on a tangent which really had no relation to the article, other than Patrick's first post which employed the same sort of misdirection that the article uses.

Andrew,

In response to my post you wrote: "In any event, neither the comment I made nor the comment to which I was responding involved evolution directly, so I wasn't attempting to conflate science and evolution."

But in your earlier post that I was responding to, you wrote: "There is currently no theory other than evolution which fits the evidence and is useful to science."

So what then is evolution if not a "useful" science? Please help me understand what you are saying and how it applies to the gist of this article.

Patrick,

I think only the proponents of ID actually believe that ID isn't creationism in a new wrapper, and even then I have my doubts. Honestly, as long as they keep referring to the theory of evolution as "Darwinism", I don't see how you can fault me for calling ID creationism.

As far as ID being scientifically useful, it hasn't been thus far.

"There is currently no theory other than evolution which fits the evidence and is useful to science. Creation theories have not shown any utility for scientific research, and given the nature of such theories, it's doubtful they ever will."

Also reveals another bias.... That being said, a lot of the research ENV is pointing to about ID IS useful to science. You are being the good little Darwinist and lumping the ID movement with the silly Creationists. There are many clear distinctions between the two.

Scott,

I really don't see the point of separating theoretical science from applied science except, maybe, as a rhetorical device. Logically speaking, one can't function without the other. Likewise, medicine and engineering are just applications of science, and all of it started out as or was facilitated by theory at some point.

In any event, neither the comment I made nor the comment to which I was responding involved evolution directly, so I wasn't attempting to conflate science and evolution.

Andrew,

You made an interesting comment: “Science may or may not be the only conduit for objective truth, but it is certainly the most successful mechanism of progress known to humanity.”

This depends on how you measure progress. If you mean that science has added largely to our understanding of our world and how it works, and you are speaking specifically of the small minority that have a significant amount of scientific training, then I might agree. Beyond that, theoretical science has limited value. If you mean the huge advances in medicine and technology that have transformed our world and benefited humanity in general, then you are speaking of the different but associated fields of medicine and engineering. People often take the huge practical benefits of the applied sciences and try to ascribe them exclusively to the theoretical sciences, and then by association to Darwin’s theory of evolution, as if it has given us much the practical applications that we see. I don’t agree.

There is currently no theory other than evolution which fits the evidence and is useful to science. Creation theories have not shown any utility for scientific research, and given the nature of such theories, it's doubtful they ever will.

Step 1, by the way, would be more along the lines of "Stick to the observable, quantifiable, and provable facts." That's kind of the opposite of assumption.

Science does not make any metaphysical claims. If you believe that a scientist or group of scientists are claiming to have a scientific theory of the supernatural, please, by all means, share with the group.

Science may or may not be the only conduit for objective truth, but it is certainly the most successful mechanism of progress known to humanity. The value of subjective, unverifiable, and unquantifiable information in a scientific framework is dubious at best, and very few non-scientific sources of information meet those criteria.

Andrew,

You say that there is no reasonable alternative to the theory of evolution because you, as ENV often points out, have blinders on.

Step 1 is always: Assume a materialistic universe.

And then you move on from there. So you are correct, if you make the philosophical assumption of scientism/materialism, then there is no other reasonable explanation.

The problem with science today is that it appears to be trying to make metaphysical claims that can't be empirically proven! You can't even empirically prove to me that Science is the only avenue for truth! If science isn't the only avenue for truth... then well you know where that leads.

There is currently no reasonable alternative to the theory of evolution, and the theory of evolution works. Even if it were inaccurate in detail, which doesn't seem to be the case, it makes no sense to abandon it.

Evolution doesn't deal with the origin of life, or abiogenesis. There currently isn't a solid scientific theory of abiogenesis available, and the scientific community is aware of this. I'd be interested to know which "Darwinists" are claiming that they have a working theory of abiogenesis, and whether or not they form a scientific majority or, really, any significant scientific group. I highly doubt that there is any sort of consensus among actual biologists that the origin of life is nailed down, which is the position this article seems to be rebutting.

Which is why I suggest that we should all "forget evolution!" Or less rhetorically, focus much more attention on the problem of the origin of life, as I argue at forgetevolution.com.