Friday, March 16, 2007

Dialogue With Atheists on the Evolution of the Eye, Irreducible Complexity, and Intelligent Design (vs. Steve Conifer)

The following series of dialogues took place on an Internet list devoted to the question of God's existence, in May 2001. It was initiated by my first comment, which was actually just a passing analogy made within an entirely different discussion. After that it was off to the dog races . . . :-) Steven's words will be in blue. The words of Sam Dunham will be in green. Another short-term conversationalist, Beth, will have her words recorded in red.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I. My Initial Analogy and the Ensuing Exchange

II. The Basic Hypothesis of Biological "Irreducible Complexity" (Michael J. Behe)

III. Phillip E. Johnson on the Behe / Intelligent Design Controversy

IV. Michael Behe's Replies to Critics of His Book Darwin's Black Box

V. Steve Conifer and Dr. Massimo Pigliucci Counter-Respond

VI. Fellow Intelligent Design Advocates Analyze the Debate Thus Far

VII. Exhaustive Explanatory Detail and an Unexpected Analogy to Noah's Ark (!!!)

VIII. Round Two: Steve vs. Dave on the Interpretation of the Biological Data

IX. Thomas Kuhn on Scientific Paradigms / Stephen Jay Gould on Scientific Dogmatism

X. Steve's Renewed Counter-Offensive: Explanation and Epistemic Rationality

XI. Science and Religion: Perfect Objectivity and Reason vs. Blind Faith?

XII. Are God's Alleged Creative Acts Empirically-Testable? / Evolution of Complex Systems: Ten Famous Evolutionists' Opinions

XIII. Wrapping Up: Steve Conifer's Summarizing Comments


I. My Initial Analogy and the Ensuing Exchange

Furthermore, if we must refer to storytelling and "magic"; well, nothing is a greater fairy-tale than the more fantastic elements of the theory of evolution. As I've stated more than once, hard-nosed, skeptical atheists manage to believe in a number of concepts within the sphere of macroevolution which provide absolutely no explanatory value whatever. They think an eye can evolve from a "light-sensitive spot" or a brain from organs exponentially-less complex, or DNA from the initial gasses of the Big Bang, or life itself from the same initially homogeneous conditions, or mammary glands, hair, warm-bloodedness, a different way of hearing, and an expansible thorax in mammals from their alleged ancestors, the reptiles.

That poses no problem, because they can chant the mantra "evolution" or "chance" and all is explained and answered and all difficulties removed. How is that any different from us positing "God" at the point of a complete lack of explanation (and we have far more serious philosophical proofs than biologists possess demonstrable proofs for macroevolution)?

My first opponent refused to allow his words to appear on my site, so I will summarize what he wrote. First he asked me if I was aware of even one piece of evidence that formed the "overwhelming case" for Darwinian evolution. His guess was that I was not aware of any of that, so he recommended that I visit a library to get up to speed. When I cited several scientists (themselves evolutionists) to support my contention that this is a difficult area to make a conclusive judgment upon, he dismissed them, based on the fact that they were mostly from 20 years ago. This sort of condescending reply angered me, so I wrote back:

Okay, hot shot. :-) I'll call your bluff. If you are so knowledgeable about the "explanatory" processes of macroevolution, then please explain in a straightforward manner (to take but one example) the step-by-step evolution of a light-sensitive spot to an eyeball (which was my point about dearth of demonstrable, empirical evidence).

My opponent then asserted that nothing about the eye was contrary to Darwinist evolution. To which I replied:

What it does do is present evidence that evolutionists have no clue as to the alleged process of the evolution of the eye (and similarly complex structures).

He asked me what I was "after." I responded:

It would help if you would read my writing much more carefully: in this case, another analogical argument - I am very fond of them. It isn't really that difficult to understand (and you are a sharp fellow), but I'll summarize it once again:

1. Sue [Strandberg] made the point that theism was an appeal to "magic."

2. I replied that if anyone was appealing to "magic" it was atheists who fully accept macroevolution.

3. Why? Because evolutionists (and atheists) offer no empirically-verified explanation for the process of evolution of complex structures, including, e.g., the eye.

4. Atheists, however, manage - without any felt difficulty - to believe in these (literally imaginary) processes which no one has ever explained, with the utmost "faith."

5. Theists have faith in God.

6. Faith in theism is not irrational in light of the fact of many solid arguments amounting to a cumulative proof.

7. Evolutionists, likewise, exercise faith in aspects of their theory which offer no explanatory value whatever, because they believe the cumulative case for evolution is also compelling (as you nicely demonstrate with your ten proofs).

8. Conclusion: both sides accept things they cannot explain, due to their place in larger perspectives which are supported by various evidences.

Since then, it has been contended that there is experimental, verifiable empirical evidence for the evolution of the human eye. But I have yet to see it. You have not answered my challenge at all, but you have spectacularly upheld my original point, as have my accompanying posts [lengthy citations below from Behe and Johnson].

My opponent then wondered aloud whether I wanted "detailed information" of "hundreds of thousands of intermediates" between a light-sensitive spot and the human eye, and admitted that he could not provide that. I retorted:

And this is the clincher. Why? Because you admit that you believe in this even though it hasn't been explained adequately. You believe in something which has no explanatory value (a major point Sue made, to which I was responding). You try to explain the validity of that belief by appealing to evolution proper and the common proofs adduced for it. But that is already off-topic, because my argument was only trying to show that both sides are on equal epistemological ground, in terms of eventual lack of explanatory content, and the need to simply accept unproven and unprovable propositions with a sort of "faith."

Then my atheist dialectical nemesis argued that because eyes don't generally become preserved fossils, that we can't hope to find the intermediates in the fossil record.

Whatever the reason might be, the fact remains that the process has neither been explained, nor empirically demonstrated. Yet you believe it. That is my point. This is no different from belief in God, Who also cannot be absolutely proven to exist.

At this point I was informed of "countless intermediates" [I guess that's less than 100,000 +] such as the flatworm with a "simple eye spot," insects with focusing lenses, and various mammalian eyes, as if their mere existence explains the alleged process or mechanism or course of evolution from one thing to another. The answer to this "explanation" is obvious:

But this is Darwin-type, antiquated 19th-century biology, as Behe points out [below]. His whole argument is that one needs to understand the latest advances in biochemistry and incorporate them into a more detailed explanation, and he says this has not been done. Nothing you or anyone else here has shown me thus far leads me to believe anything differently. Quite the contrary: I am more confident in my position on this than I have ever been (thanks).

Paradigm shifts in science (as in politics) are always a messy affair. When dogmas are overthrown there are inevitably many reactionary people (the Old Guard) who cling to them despite any and all evidence to the contrary. Steven Jay Gould makes much of this, as well as Thomas Kuhn, in his classic, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. We need to remove this sort of dogmatism from science, where it is most unseemly, hypocritical, and ludicrous.

My opponent then absurdly claimed that my original request of him was to produce [I must quote this to show precisely what he actually wrote] "detailed information about every single one of the hundreds of thousands of intermediates between the human eye and a single photosensitive spot" (which he would obviously never be able to do). This was going much too far, again:

Nonsense. I don't appreciate your rhetorical flatulence in trying to caricature what I was asking for, so as to render it absurd and full of straw and to dismiss it as impossible to fulfill (all because you are unable or unwilling to comply with my request).

Here is my actual request to you (for the memory-impaired):

. . . please explain in a straightforward manner (to take but one example) the step-by-step evolution of a light-sensitive spot to an eyeball (which was my point about dearth of demonstrable, empirical evidence) . . .

This no one has yet done. Kenneth Miller was cited, as well as some other source, but neither remotely accomplished what I was asking for, and what Behe claims does not exist in scientific literature.

If you can't provide the above then my point stands victorious. Thanks for being honest enough to admit it! You're supporting my views and you're not even aware of it. :-)

So data and demonstration of actual causation and developmental process are irrelevant as long as some proposed fairy-tale (no matter how unsubstantiated or fanciful) is the "best" explanation offered. Are you serious? So, lessee: If one person thinks the moon is made of green cheese, and the other thinks it came from pixie dust thrown off of some goddess's hair, we immediately adopt the green cheese hypothesis, because it is a "better explanation" than the other, because, well, because we can't prove that there are either goddesses or pixie dust, whereas we know that there is green cheese (albeit relatively rare, and not very tasty). Why does someone have to always adopt the "better" hypothesis? Why cannot he be allowed to question both as ultimately unsubstantiated (even though one has relatively more evidence in its favor)?

This will be a wonderful post for my website. I couldn't be more delighted, because this illustrates very well the bankruptcy of alleged macroevolutionary "causal explanations." Don't worry; I'll not include your words (but I will paraphrase your arguments).

Undaunted, my opponent claimed that I was demanding "100% information" for the steps of the alleged evolution of the human eye.

Hogwash. I am asking for any causal explanation at all. But even if I did do that, how would it be different from your extreme skepticism about God, so that nothing whatever can convince you of His existence?

My alleged demand was then "analogously" compared to a call for "100% information" of every single event of World War II.

LOL Quixotic, silly, though I grant that it is clever as a rhetorical, sophistical tactic (if one is impressed by that sort of thing; I am not; I'm much more interested in the question at hand). It's one thing to not be able to provide "100% information on 100,000 intermediates," etc., quite another to fail to provide any causal explanation. I have never asked for the former, and you have never provided the latter, which I did request.

II. The Basic Hypothesis of Biological "Irreducible Complexity" (Michael J. Behe)

Engrossed as I was in my profound (invincible?) ignorance, I cited (somewhere in between the above dialogue) molecular biochemist Michael J. Behe, author of Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, and a leading proponent of the Intelligent Design school of thought. The following excerpts are from Dr. Behe's Internet article: "Molecular Machines: Experimental Support for the Design Inference":

. . . Somehow, for Darwinian evolution to be believable, the difficulty that the public had in envisioning the gradual formation of complex organs had to be removed.

Darwin succeeded brilliantly, not by actually describing a real pathway that evolution might have used in constructing the eye, but rather by pointing to a variety of animals that were known to have eyes of various constructions, ranging from a simple light sensitive spot to the complex vertebrate camera eye, and suggesting that the evolution of the human eye might have involved similar organs as intermediates. But the question remains, how do we see? . . . When discussing the eye Darwin dismissed the question of its ultimate mechanism . . .

In science there is even a whimsical term for a machine or structure or process that does something, but the actual mechanism by which it accomplishes its task is unknown: it is called a 'black box.' In Darwin's time all of biology was a black box: not only the cell, or the eye, or digestion, or immunity, but every biological structure and function because, ultimately, no one could explain how biological processes occurred.

. . . Although to Darwin the primary event of vision was
a black box, through the efforts of many biochemists an answer to the question of sight is at hand.

. . . In order to say that some function is understood, every relevant step in the process must be elucidated. The relevant steps in biological processes occur ultimately at the molecular level, so a satisfactory explanation of a biological phenomenon such as sight, or digestion, or immunity, must include a molecular explanation. It is no longer sufficient, now that the black box of vision has been opened, for an 'evolutionary explanation' of that power to invoke only the anatomical structures of whole eyes, as Darwin did in the 19th century and as most popularizers of evolution continue to do today. Anatomy is, quite simply, irrelevant.

So is the fossil record. It does not matter whether or not the fossil record is consistent with evolutionary theory, any more than it mattered in physics that Newton's theory was consistent with everyday experience. The fossil record has nothing to tell us about, say, whether or how the interactions of 11-cis-retinal with rhodopsin, transducin, and phosphodiesterase could have developed step-by-step. Neither do the patterns of biogeography matter, or of population genetics, or the explanations that evolutionary theory has given for rudimentary organs or species abundance.

"How a nerve comes to be sensitive to light hardly concerns us more than how life itself originated," said Darwin in the 19th century. But both phenomena have attracted the interest of modern biochemistry. The story of the slow paralysis of research on life's origin is quite interesting, but space precludes its retelling here. Suffice it to say that at present the field of origin-of-life studies has dissolved into a cacophony of conflicting models, each unconvincing, seriously incomplete, and incompatible with competing models. In private even most evolutionary biologists will admit that science has no explanation for the beginning of life.

The purpose of this paper is to show that the same problems which beset origin-of-life research also bedevil efforts to show how virtually any complex biochemical system came about. Biochemistry has revealed a molecular world which stoutly resists explanation by the same theory that has long been applied at the level of the whole organism. Neither of Darwin's black boxes--the origin of life or the origin of vision or other complex biochemical systems--has been accounted for by his theory.

III. Phillip E. Johnson on the Behe / Intelligent Design Controversy

Likewise, critic of Darwinism Phillip E. Johnson, in his article, "Climbing Mount Improbable and Darwin's Black Box," published in First Things 66 (October 1996): 46-51, states:

. . . The biologists who established the still-dominant Darwinian orthodoxy thought of the cell as an undifferentiated blob of "protoplasm." Like a child imagining he might construct an airplane out of cardboard boxes and pieces of wood, they could blithely propose materialist evolutionary scenarios for biological systems because they had no idea of how those systems actually work. The organism (and especially the cell) was to them a "black box" - a machine that does wonderful things by some mechanism nobody knows.

Behe explains that biochemists are now able to explore part of the insides of that black box, and what they find inside is "irreducible complexity." A system is irreducibly complex if it is "composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning." Life at the molecular level is replete with such systems, and biochemists do not even attempt to explain how any one of them could have come into existence by the Darwinian mechanism. The result of biochemical investigation of cellular mechanisms, according to Behe, "is a loud, clear, piercing cry of 'Design!'"

. . . Behe argues that there are many cases of irreducible complexity to be found at the molecular level, with more being discovered as the science progresses. What is more, he argues that the existence of irreducible complexity is implicitly accepted by the entire worldwide
community of molecular biologists.

. . . What molecular biology has to say is determined not by what the biologists say to a popular audience, . . . but by what they publish in the leading scientific journals. Behe reports that what they do not ever publish in those journals is detailed scenarios of how even a single complex molecular system could have evolved by a Darwinian process.

. . . Fossil experts like Stephen Jay Gould sometimes distinguish between "evolution" and "gradualism," primarily because they are trying to square the former with a fossil record that does not reflect a pattern of gradual transformations, but evolution has to be gradual when it is employed to explain how an unintelligent process assembled all that complex genetic information.

If the blind watchmaker thesis is true, there must be a gradually ascending staircase from the base all the way to the summit. To restate the metaphor in biological language, there must have existed a continuous series of viable intermediate forms between the first replicating organism (whose origin is another subject) all the way to every complex type of organ system and organism that has ever existed. Each step upwards in complexity has to be at least slightly fitter (at leaving descendants) than its predecessor, and the gap between the steps must be no wider than can be bridged by random mutation. On the whole that means tiny mutations because, according to [Richard] Dawkins, mutations large enough to have visible effects are nearly always harmful. The gradual steps have to be virtually omnipresent; a few plausible sections of staircase here and there up the face of the mountain are not enough.

. . . To move from Dawkins to Behe is like moving from the children's library to the laboratory.

. . . Darwinian storytelling simply doesn't work at the molecular level. Each biochemical system requires a stupefyingly complex set of components which affect each other in intricate ways. No component makes sense except as part of the system, and the system doesn't work unless everything is in place. That's irreducible complexity.

It is notoriously difficult to prove a negative. No matter how irreducible the complexity seems, a storyteller can always invoke concepts like "preadaptation" to bolster the materialist faith that a Darwinian solution is somewhere out there. Fervent statements of faith aren't science, however, and fact-free science doesn't (usually) get published in biochemical journals. The key point in Behe's argument is that there are no papers in scientific journals which set out detailed, testable scenarios of how these incredibly complex biochemical systems could be produced by Darwinian-style processes.

The very few papers that even attempt to speculate about this subject rely heavily upon what scientists call "hand-waving." The journals of molecular evolution are full of papers documenting sequence comparisons, showing closer or more distant relationships between molecules. What they don't contain is papers documenting the existence of a Darwinian staircase up Mount Improbable. Until somebody fills the gap with scientific papers rather than stories, the best explanation for this situation is that the staircase doesn't exist.

. . . the concept that the universe is the product of a rational mind provides a far better metaphysical basis for scientific rationality than the competing concept that everything in the universe (including our minds) is ultimately based in the mindless movements of matter. Perhaps materialism was a liberating philosophy when the need was to escape from dogmas of religion, but today materialism itself is the dogma from which the mind needs to escape. A rule that materialism should be professed regardless of the evidence, says Behe, is the equivalent of a rule that science may not contradict the teachings of a church. "It tries to place reality in a tidy box, but the universe will not be placed in a box."

Behe's fundamental principle is that "scientists should follow the physical evidence wherever it leads, with no artificial restrictions." Science has come as far as it has because scientists of the past were willing to describe the universe as it really is, rather than as the prejudices current in their times would have preferred it to be. The question is whether today's scientists have lost their nerve.

IV. Michael Behe's Replies to Critics of His Book Darwin's Black Box

Michael Behe responded to some criticisms of his book and credibility in postings to the Talk Origins Newsgroup (it seems that the charge of "ignorance" is a rather wide-ranging one, where Darwinists and their critics are concerned):

Reply to Robison and Ikeda
From: Mike Behe
Organization Lehigh University
Date: Wed, 16 Oct 1996 14:12:59 -0700
Newsgroups: talk.origins
Message-ID: <32654fdb.7a15@lehigh.edu>

[ . . . ]

. . . . Robison states:

That Behe is ignorant of these basic molecular genetic and biochemical facts is a depressing commentary on the level of research that went into his book.

In this group of posts I am repeatedly said to be "ignorant." That may be true, but I think there is reason to give me the benefit of the doubt. I have a Ph. D. in biochemistry from the University of Pennsylvania (received an award from Sigma Xi for "Best Thesis), postdoc'd for four years at the National Institutes of Health (as a Jane Coffin Childs Fund postdoctoral fellow), have been an academic biochemist for 14 years, have gained tenure at a reasonably rigorous university, have published a fair amount in the biochemical literature, and have continuously had my research funded by national agencies (including a five-year Research Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Health) and currently have research funds.

Well, perhaps I am a real biochemist, but am simply "ignorant" of work on the evolution of irreducibly complex biochemical systems? Perhaps. But I am not unaware that evolution is a controversial subject, and certainly tried to cover all bases when researching and writing my book.

I have no death wish. I do, after all, have to live with my departmental colleagues, a number of whom are Darwinists. So I searched the literature as thoroughly as I could for relevant information and tried to be as rigorous as possible. Perhaps there are step-by-step, Darwinian explanations in the literature for the complex systems I describe in my book, but if there are I haven't seen them, nor has anyone brought them to my attention.

My book has now been reviewed quite widely, including reviews by academic biochemists. Several of them were quite hostile to my idea of design, but all agreed that the systems I described are enormously complex and currently unexplained. The hostile reviewers were confident that the systems would eventually be explained by Darwinism in the future. I do not share their confidence. Neither did James Shapiro, a biochemist at the University of Chicago who reviewed Darwin's Black Box for National Review a few weeks ago. He, too, thinks Darwinism has failed for these systems, but hopes that they will be explained by some other non-intelligent mechanism.

. . . I think nearly everybody is ignoring the difficulty of understanding biochemical evolution. Certainly that seems to be the case when you examine biochemistry textbooks and the biochemical literature . . . I see no sign of a serious effort to explain specific, complex systems within a Darwinian framework.

. . . I didn't intend to "dismiss" the fossil record--how could I "dismiss" it? In fact I mention it mostly to say that it can't tell us whether or not biochemical systems evolved by a Darwinian mechanism. My book concentrates entirely on Darwin's mechanism, and simply takes for granted common descent.

And again, in his article, "The Sterility of Darwinism," Dr. Behe responds to H. Allen Orr's discussion of his book in the Boston Review, Dec/Jan 97:

As it struggles to comprehend nature, science sometimes has to completely re-think how the world works . . . Revolutions in biology have included the cell theory of life in the 19th century, as well as the slow realization in this century that cells are composites of enormously complex molecular systems.

. . . A mechanical engineer can't contradict a physicist on fundamental principles of matter. And evolutionary biology can't overrule biochemistry (1) on fundamental principles of life. It's not a question of pride--that's just the way the world works.

Curiously, some people seem offended by the way the world works . . . the evolution of biochemical systems is itself biochemistry. When a protein sequence changes, when DNA mutates, those are biochemical changes. Since inherited changes are caused by molecular changes, it is biochemists--not evolutionary biologists--who will ultimately decide whether Darwin's mechanism of natural selection can explain life. No offense--that's just the way the world works.

Orr hankers for the respect accorded physicists, and thinks evolutionary biologists can finally lay aside their "physics envy" because "we biologists have discovered the structure of DNA, broken the genetic code, sequenced the entire genome of some species . . ." Orr is like a podiatrist claiming credit for progress in brain surgery. Biochemistry made those dramatic advances; evolutionary biology played no part. I mean no disrespect, but this is not a minor academic turf war--the point is crucial. Anyone who wants to address questions about life's basic mechanisms has to do so from a molecular perspective. Orr does not.

Declining the opportunity to address my biochemical arguments, Orr questions the concept of irreducible complexity on logical grounds. He agrees with me that "You cannot . . . gradually improve a mousetrap by adding one part and then the next. A trap having half its parts doesn't
function half as well as a real trap; it doesn't function at all." So Orr understands the point of my mousetrap analogy--but then mysteriously forgets it. He later writes, "Some part (A) initially does some job (and not very well, perhaps). Another part (B) later gets added, because it helps A." Some part initially does some job? Which part of the mousetrap is he talking about? A mouse has nothing to fear from a "trap" that consists of just an unattached holding bar, or spring, or platform, with no other parts.

I do sympathize with Orr's muddling of the analysis. The concept of irreducible complexity is new, and can be difficult to grasp for people who have always assumed without demonstration that small, continuous changes could produce virtually any biological structure. Perhaps in the future that assumption will not have such a strong hold on the minds of evolutionary biologists.

. . . To test natural selection requires much more evidence than mere sequence similarity: it requires experimentation. In all of the scientific literature, however, no experimental evidence can be found that natural selection can produce irreducibly complex biochemical systems. To rebut my arguments Orr could simply have cited papers in the science literature where the systems I discuss have been explained. He didn't do that because explanations are nowhere to be found.

What has biochemistry found that must be explained? Machines--literally, machines made of molecules. Let's look at just one example. The flagellum is an outboard motor that many bacteria use to swim. It consists of a rotary propeller, motor, and stationary framework. Yet this short description can't do justice to the machine's full complexity. Writing of the flagellum in Cell, (2) Lucy Shapiro of Stanford University marvels,

To carry out the feat of coordinating the ordered expression of about 50 genes, delivering the protein products of these genes to the construction site, and moving the correct parts to the upper floors while adhering to the design specification with a high degree of accuracy, the cell requires impressive organizational skills.

Without any one of a number of parts, the flagellum does not merely work less efficiently; it does not work at all. Like a mousetrap it is irreducibly complex and therefore cannot have arisen gradually.

The rotary nature of the flagellum has been recognized for about 25 years. During that time not a single paper has been published in the biochemical literature even attempting to show how such a machine might have developed by natural selection. Darwin's theory is completely barren when it comes to explaining the origin of the flagellum or any other complex biochemical system.

The sterility of Darwinism indicates that it is the wrong framework for understanding the basis of life. As I argue in my book, an alternative hypothesis is both natural and obvious: systems such as the flagellum were intentionally designed by an intelligent agent. Just as in the everyday world we immediately conclude design when we see a complex, interactive system such as a mousetrap, there is no reason to withhold the same conclusion from interactive molecular systems. This conclusion may have theological implications that make some people uncomfortable; nonetheless it is the job of science to follow the data wherever they lead, no matter how disturbing.

One last charge must be met: Orr maintains that the theory of intelligent design is not falsifiable. He's wrong. To falsify design theory a scientist need only experimentally demonstrate that a bacterial flagellum, or any other comparably complex system, could arise by natural selection. If that happened I would conclude that neither flagella nor any system of similar or lesser complexity had to have been designed. In short, biochemical design would be neatly disproved.

Let's turn the tables on Orr. Is natural selection falsifiable? He writes, "We have no guarantee that we can reconstruct the history of a biochemical pathway. But even if we can't, its irreducible complexity cannot count against its gradual evolution. . . ." This is a dangerously antiscientific attitude. In effect he is saying, "I just know that phenomenally complex biochemical systems arose gradually by natural selection, but don't ask me how." With such an outlook, Orr runs the risk of clinging to ideas that are forever insulated from contact with the outside world . . .

Notes

1. By biochemistry I mean all sciences that investigate life at the molecular level, including molecular biology, much of embryology, immunology, genetics, etc.

2. Lucy Shapiro, "The Bacterial Flagellum: From Genetic Network to Complex Architecture," Cell 80 (1995): 525-27.

V. Steve Conifer and Dr. Massimo Pigliucci Counter-Respond

Now Steve Conifer chimes in, citing another scientist:

Evidently Dr. Massimo Pigliucci, Professor of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, feels somewhat differently. He writes:

[Michael Behe claims] that the eye is an 'irreducibly complex' structure, and could not therefore have evolved by mutation and natural selection.

But he also said that if someone demonstrated how such a structure could evolve, that he would accept that, which is the scientific attitude, unlike (in this instance) that of all these scientists who wish to ignore his argument, and continue to refuse to produce explanations for the hypothetical processes of macroevolution.

That is very strange on the face of the evidence.

Is it now? I must read on, then, to see how.

First, we know of many intermediate stages in the evolution of a complex eye in animals that are still alive today, which clearly demonstrates that simpler eyes than ours can work quite well and therefore that the structure is not irreducibly complex, whatever that means.

Not at all; all this shows is that there are different forms of eyes. It doesn't tell us diddly squat about the process by which one of these transforms itself into another sort of eye. That involves genetics and biochemistry, as Behe argues. But no one will touch that with a ten-foot pole, lest the bankruptcy of the fairy-tale of the mechanism of macroevolution be exposed.

Better to pretend one "knows" about all this mystical developmental "evidence" than to try to explain it and remove all doubt that one indeed knows nothing about it (which would be a bit embarrassing). Better to attack and pillory the person who has the unmitigated gall to point out the obvious lack of knowledge of these matters, rather than actually interact with his argument (God forbid!). But that is how the dogmatic "surer-than-thou" mentality operates.

So as soon as I (lowly scientific and philosophical layman that I am) dared to make this point, [name] immediately implied that I was utterly ignorant of evolutionary theory and that I would greatly benefit from a trip to the library, etc. When that sort of vapid silliness occurs, you know your opponent is desperate for a real reply. And the argument is obviously over, having been forfeited by sheer non-answer and resort to condescension and ad hominem attacks.

For example, gastropods (small invertebrates closely related to clams) of the genus PATELLA have an almost flat eye, while other gastropods of the genus HELIX have almost round eyes, with a much more complex structure and better visual activity.

Great. Now how does that tell us how one might have evolved into the other? Simply enumerating variety does not do a thing in terms of "proving" macroevolution of this sort. It is, rather, begging the question:

1. A and B have different sorts of eyes.

2. Therefore more complex eye B evolved from simpler eye A.

3. Why? Well, because macroevolution is true, and is an unquestionable dogma. Only troglodyte creationists question it.

Note that there is no empirical/scientific explanation whatever; simply a cavalier acceptance of what is assumed to be true from the outset. There is a huge gap in the reasoning process between 1 and 2. The conclusion occurs before there was any process of reasoning to explain it.

The respective nervous systems are also proportionally scaled to be able to handle the levels of sensorial input.

Wonderful, and a perfect non sequitur.

How would such observations be explained within the creationist mindset?...

Who cares? Creationist alternatives have nothing to do with the task and burden of explaining one's own "scientific" evolutionary position. But it makes for great rhetoric: "the despised Neanderthal creationist has no better explanation, so we can accept our pseudo-"explanation" lest we fall into fundamentalist William Jennings Bryan-type Bible-science." Very compelling . . .

[I]n fact the human eye is less perfect than we might think, and in particular it is not 'designed' as well as the eye of mollusks such as squids and octopuses.

Again, so what? What in the world does this have to do with the subject at hand? Exactly nothing. But that is how sophism works: obfuscation and diversion, hoping the reader won't notice the logical sleight-of-hand involved.

This is because of the fact that our eye has nervous termini and blood vessels located in front of the retina, which among other things causes blind spots. Squids and octopuses have their termini and vessels where one would expect them to be, in the rear of the retina, and therefore suffer from no related inconvenience.

Excellent zoological and anatomical education, but information which, unfortunately, has absolutely nothing to do with explaining the alleged process of macroevolution of these structures.

My conclusion would be that either God cared more for squids than for humans,

Again, the needless and merely rhetorical introduction of God . . . and it's a fatuous argument at that.

or that this result occurred by natural processes that are genuinely uncaring and 'blind' (no pun intended) in the sense of Futuyma.

How silly and stupid again. I guess he thinks that simply creating a false dichotomy and stating a scenario equals a scientific, empirical, falsifiable description of evolutionary process. Nice try.

TALES OF THE RATIONAL: SKEPTICAL ESSAYS ABOUT NATURE & SCIENCE (Atlanta: Freethought Press, 2000), p. 180.

This is about as "rational" as the rantings of a madman. He completely ignores his task - that which is required to overthrow Behe's thesis. And he feels he has done what he obviously hasn't done, merely by resort to ridicule of creationists and circular "argument". The misguided confidence is even more absurd than the non-reply.

Wait, I thought it was extremely rude and arrogant to suggest that those with whom we differ (for whatever reason) are insane? Or does that particular protocol apply strictly to my comments about people who believe in immaterial entities that are capable of performing actions within space and time (which, I should hasten to remind you, I've since disavowed)? Please correct me if I am mistaken here, Dave.

This was excessive, I admit. What I meant to say - strongly - was that these particular arguments thus far were not rational, insofar as they dealt (or didn't deal with) the question at hand. "Madman" was a poor choice of words. It was late and I was again frustrated by the non-answers I had been getting (which continue to this moment - hopefully other posts today will actually offer a relevant reply).

What you said - as you will recall - [in a previous, unrelated thread] was that whole classes of people (including Socrates, Descartes, etc., etc.) were not "sane and rational" if they accepted a certain tenet about immaterial beings. That is many magnitudes more serious of an attack than my excessive comparison, referring to one little old book. But you retracted it, so I want to acknowledge that as an admirable thing. And I retract mine.

Also, for a fairly comprehensive explanation of how eyes of several different varieties (incl. the human) have evolved many times, often in little more than a blink of geological history, see Richard Dawkins' article "Where d'you get those peepers?"

I'll save that for another post. I'm sure it won't offer much more than we got above, though.

You see, all the info. you want really is available.

If the above is an example of "info" (as you seem to think), then I am not optimistic at all.

It requires but the desire for truth and the willingness to open a book (or, in the case at hand, click on a link).

More resort to ridicule . . . critics of Darwin need to seek after dogmatic, fashionable biological "truth" to save their philosophical souls; they need to crack a book; I need to visit a library, etc.

And that, my friend, is quite a good deal, I should think. :)

The above "reasoning" is, rather, quite enough good humor and irony and folly.

Steven J. Conifer

President, Rationalists United for Secular Humanism (R.U.S.H.)

Dave Armstrong

President, Realists Unconvinced by Substanceless Empiricism (R.U.S.E.)

I'll refrain from commenting on this save to first question why you're
suddenly mocking ME (rather than Dr. Pigliucci),

Oh I see. I'm supposed to admire and appreciate the "brilliance" of George Carlin when he mocks God and Christianity [also part of a different thread on the list], but when I do a simple, humorous, harmless play-on-words, utilizing the satire that Carlin excels at (except when he gets onto serious topics he doesn't understand), then you get all on your ear. This is too good! LOL Lighten up a bit, huh? I know you have a sense of humor . . .

And by the way, the satire was referring strictly to the question of macroevolution of the eye (though I confess that that was not made clear). Unlike you, I try to stick strictly to the topic. The sentiment was not anti-empiricism (which would hardly be consistent with my overall outlook), but rather, "anti-attitudes claiming to be empirical when in fact they are nothing of the sort." That applies to the rationalizations, pseudo-explanations and fairy-tales of the evolution of the eye, masquerading as actual scientific, causal, "A leads to B leads to C because of D, E, F" sorts of legitimate scientific explanations.

and second, note in passing that in 1996 Pope John Paul II delcared the "Substanceless Empiricism" to which you here allude (viz., presumably evolution)

Well, you presumed wrongly.

part of God's "master plan for humanity." But then, being the devout Catholic that you are, I'm sure you were already aware of THAT, no?

Yes; for once you are correct about my state of knowledge.

Lest you were not (which, again, I seriously doubt), here are a few of his words on the subject:

Today, almost half a century after the publication of the encyclical [Humani Generis], new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as something more than just a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory.

- Pope John Paul II
October 22, 1996
To the Pontifical Academy of Sciences

Catholics are perfectly free to accept evolution, with only a few modifications or additional aspects, which distinguish theistic evolution from materialistic evolution. We are not so dogmatic or "narrow-minded" as to allow only the option of assent to evolution, for all "rational" persons. But, again, the atheist must accept evolution to account for the world. On the other hand, an atheist could conceivably take an agnostic position on some or all of the theory, as I do, and claim that we don't know enough to dogmatize. But, for some reason, that seems to rarely occur.

I continue to await a simple, straightforward explanation in everyday language, of the actual process and mechanism of the evolution of the eye. How did this happen (as opposed to "so-and-so happened," which is a bald statement, not a causal explanation). Until someone provides me with that, my original point stands, no matter how much obfuscation is thrown out in an attempt to make people forget my original challenge, and to overwhelm with perfect irrelevancies and non sequiturs (which is almost a stock-in-trade of evolutionists, in dealing with their critics).

It's as simple as that. You say such explanations exist? Then please cut-and-paste one of them. That would take you what, 5 minutes max?

Not a word of this [Steve's response, to which I respond, below] has to do with my original challenge, which was to produce an explanatory step-by-step evolution of the eye. So on we go with the foolish evasions . . .

Perhaps you should take up the matter with Dr. Pigliucci himself. His e-mail address is pigliucci@utk.edu. I'm sure that he'd be more than happy to hear from you on the subject, Dave, if you're truly interested in getting to the bottom of it.

I was simply interested in seeing people here back up their claims (primarily anonymous so-and-so above), so Dr. Pigliucci - I absolutely love that name LOL - is irrelevant to that goal. So far I have been severely disappointed.

(Please be sure to let me know if he fails to satisfactorily address any of your questions.) However, it might be a good idea to forgo accusing somebody of ignoring an argument when you've nary a clue as to who the guy even is, let alone read his work.

The remarks weren't directed at him, but at the general mindset of biological dogmatism. Keep ignoring my challenge, and that will keep reinforcing my views.

[By the way, Behe, unlike most of his old-earth creationist counterparts, accepts that the human eye evolved through purely natural (macroevolutionary) processes. He simply maintains that it is an irreducibly complex structure and thus lends support to Intelligent Design Theory (IDT).]

Whether he does or not is irrelevant to my analogy and challenge. In fact, it would help my case if he did accept macroevolution of the eye, because he is claiming that no one has yet adequately explained it. Nor is it even relevant what my own particular views are. The argument is valid whatever I or Dr. Behe believe on some particular tenet of evolution.

If the human eye were "irreducibly complex," then removing even one
component therefrom would result in a non-eye. But it is NOT the case that removing just one component from the human eye results in a non-eye. On the contrary, many eyes far simpler than ours (i.e., ones that lack several of the components of ours) function perfectly well. Furthermore, as Dawkins points out, 5% vision is significantly better than none at all (and thus it could hardly be said that 5% vision constitutes "non-vision"). Therefore [by modus tollens], the human eye is not "irreducibly complex." The reasoning goes through just fine, sir.

Non sequitur.

Moreover, your "ten-foot pole" comment appears to be in error. Not only
have myriad scientists touched it with just such a pole, but they have even grasped it firmly between their fingers. As Dr.Pigliucci observes,

[T]oday biologists know of several examples of intermediate forms of the eye, and there is evidence that this structure evolved several times independently during the history of life on earth (Gehring and Ikeo 1999)

(from his website @ http://fp.bio.utk.edu/skeptic). So, Gehring's and Ieko's work alone (not to mention Dawkins') would seem to handily refute this transparently bogus claim of yours.

Then please cut-and-paste one such explanatory explanation, which has some causal relevance. Why the extreme reluctance?

At whom are these remarks directed, Dave? Surely not Dr. Pigliucci,
since you know next to nothing about the man or his work.

At the mass of persons who attack Behe's work and offer nothing in the way of what he is asking for: explanations (just as is occurring here). It is the dogmatism and double standard which I attack, not any one person (though I would be glad to attribute these things to you and [name] if you continue to steadfastly ignore my challenge).

If you're truly but a "lowly scientific layman" (as you concede), then what could a trip to the library possibly hurt?

Steve, you know exactly what I meant, and what he meant. The way he put it, the insinuation was that I didn't know a thing about evolutionary theory at all. He immediately concluded that, simply because I questioned one aspect of it in the course of a dialogue on a different subject. This happens all the time: to question any aspect of the grand theory is to be immediately labelled a simpleton, ignoramus, heretic and what not. Isaac Asimov almost made a career out of doing that (at least on the popular level). But I am obviously not daunted by that sort of condescending tactic. It is no substitute for rational argument, and I will always point that out, out of respect for same.

I have publicly debated evolution and read a substantial amount about the subject, but I am by no means anything near an authority thereon and I certainly wouldn't suggest that I needn't frequently research it so as to both refresh my memory and keep abreast of major developments as regards it. In other words, I should think that we could ALL benefit greatly from such a trip at least every once in a while. Wouldn't you agree, Dave?

Absolute non sequitur. See my last comment.

[several examples of Steve's utter refusal to interact with my comments deleted]

Dr. Pigliucci is anything but a sophist, I assure you, and he scarcely
engages in either obfuscation or diversion. Again, maybe you should check out his website and buy his book before you so flippantly spout such serious accusations as these. And please retract that last statement, Dave.

As throughout, I was making general observations. This is done all the time with regard to theists and creationists, yet you cry "foul" when the tables are turned (which is always to be expected; no surprise at all here). It is not I who am attacking personally here. That was done by [name] (my supposed incredible ignorance of evolution). My statements are general, directed at the ideas and the tendency to dogmatism amongst "orthodox" evolutionists.

If there are "hundreds" of such explanations out there, how hard is it to simply go get one and paste it to this list? This is becoming surreal and ludicrous. But that's what happens when someone won't or can't answer a simple request and has to rationalize and obfuscate to account for that fact. Put up or shut up!

[more non sequiturs deleted]

There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance- that principle is contempt prior to investigation.

- Herbert Spencer

Amen! Hey, all I'm doing is maintaining a hard-nosed, skeptical, agnostic attitude concerning macroevolution. I don't think the evidence is sufficient to warrant belief in it. I should think that approach would be honored here amongst those who apply the exact same perspective to the question of God's existence, miracles, Christianity, etc. Why am I not permitted to withhold my assent on these grounds, whereas you are all quite justified (in your mind) in applying it to the question of God? And how is it "contempt of investigation" when I am merely asking for a simple explanation and you are refusing to give it (even though you say it has been offered "hundreds" of times?).

Ted [Drange], e.g., has no trouble dissenting from Big Bang cosmology and positing a "hyper-universe" even though that is far-removed from the present consensus of physicists and astronomers. Why can I not dissent from evolutionary dogma, decreed as infallible by the powers-that-be in the scientific church, er, community?

I submit, then, that this observation - if it applies at all in the present circumstances, and I doubt that it does -, characterizes your attitude far more than mine, because you refuse to move the scientific process along; instead resorting to any number of obfuscations in order to avoid a very simple request for information on my part.

That's okay, though. Faith doesn't always have to explain. My problem is the double standard, whereby you guys deny that you are exercising faith (or, inductive leaps, if you prefer more philosophical terminology), whereas we freely admit it. What we do not admit is that our faith is contrary to reason, whereas your faith is ultimately contrary at key points to the scientific method at whose altar you obviously worship.

Clearly, what you need is a Commandment, "ye shall have no other gods [irrationality, gullibility, unseemly and unwarranted dogmatism] before me [true scientific method]."

It is absurd for the evolutionist to complain that it is unthinkable for an admittedly unthinkable God to make everything out of nothing, and then pretend that it is more thinkable that nothing should turn itself into anything.

-- G.K. Chesterton --

Finally, here is a letter Steve posted from his friend Dr. Pigliucci:

The best reference for what you are looking for is: Nilsson, D.-E. & Pelger, S. A pessimistic estimate of the time required for an eye to evolve. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B256, 53-58 (1994).

The only thing that this article assumes is mutation and natural selection,both of which are demonstrable experimentally. Also, one of the references cited in that article is a paper co-authored by E. Mayr in which the authors show a series of animals with intermediate - and perfectly functional - eyes.

If someone has a problem with that after reading these papers there is absolutely nothing you can do about it, and you should not waste your time. They are obviously too blinded (he he) to see beyond their ideological commitment.

VI. Fellow Intelligent Design Advocates Analyze the Debate Thus Far

Another Christian on the list, Eric Smallwood, then showed that he perfectly understood what I was trying to argue (whereas my opponents - and even a Christian evolutionist on the list - seemed to have little clue):

. . . I 'think' the fundamental question that is being asked is, "Describe to me the evolutionary development of X, without simply assuming that evolutionary process is true." In other words, the question is asking for a substantiation for the very claim that things can evolve (to the extent of X), instead of simply assuming that this is true and then using that
assumption to build a model for how X supposedly did evolve.

As long as the articles presented are based on evolutionary assumptions, they won't actually address the question. Suppose an article says that there are five steps involved in the evolution of X. In each one of those steps an assumption is made that one step can/does lead to the next step. But merely 'saying' that each step follows, and thus the constructed model for X is sound, doesn't mean anything apart from those assumptions.

When the believer in evolution points to web pages or sections in books that speak of the evolution of X, those articles aren't seeking to prove that evolution proper is true, rather they already operate according to that assumption. Anyone who already agrees with that assumption will naturally consider that there's nothing wrong with the articles and that they are addressing the question and that there are mountains of evidence for (a belief in) evolution. But this will mean nothing to the person who doesn't agree with the basic assumption of evolution, and that's the subject of the question.

It's like a non theist requiring proof for (a belief in) the existence of God, and the theist hands him a book on theology. The theology book already assumes the existence of God, and its goal is to describe God and His activities. A book on theology has a different topic from a book on apologetics. I think the question is looking for evolutionary apologetics, not evolutionary theory.

Likewise, with a second Christian on the list, Samuel Marzioli (marzioli@tdl.com):

. . . I continue to have to point out the limits of scientific investigation, speculation and even knowledge itself. Methinks the world at large has fallen into an illusion of certainty, unmatched by the harsh reality that much of what we say is "knowledge" is really a perception at best and a question begging speculation at worst.

. . . The point Dave made is obvious, and to state it a little clearer, empirical evidence of most novel complexly organized systems and morphological structures are rare . . .

. . . unless we were witnesses to the transitions on a macro and micro biological level we are only guessing what could have occurred . . . By intimating what was, one is saying quite clearly that that is how it is, and if one is of such certainty one requires a great body of evidence, including a mapping of the processes of evolution that occurred by which each state was generated. Obviously, no such thing exists.

. . . Lastly, as science writer Robert Wesson points out, "the existence of viable stages on the way does not explain how it was possible that many very unlikely genes came along in the right order to direct all the details, while at the same time an immensely larger number of continually occurring deleterious mutations were continually being eliminated."

All in all, the explanation is weak because it relies on ignorance to gain a foothold within the imagination. The question of what did happen is not answered, rather a speculative statement of what could have happened is offered in its place. However, Dave was requesting those explanations that rested upon empirical evidence, that rarity called (macroevolutionary) explanations based on empirical evidence. Surely Darwin doesn't count, not even Mayr and Eldredge, and most certainly Dawkins.

In matters of faith, they are superb. As high priests of a religion, of sorts, they are able to give answers where otherwise there would be none; never mind if it's true or not. However, for true skeptics, for true men and women who ultimately find a basis for truth in empirical facts and not mental fictions, no matter how creative, macroevolutionary explanations of many things, including the eye, will always remain science fiction. That is, until it gains the support of empirical evidence to match true science, such as its microevolutionary counterpart . . . And thus, we always must remember . . . :

A consistent fairy-tale is a different thing from the truth, however elaborate it may be.

- Bertrand Russell

VII. Exhaustive Explanatory Detail and an Unexpected Analogy to Noah's Ark (!!!)

A comparable request might be to demand that he provide an inventory
of everything taken aboard Noah's Ark, and account in exhaustive detail for the necessary food storage, water purification, sanitation, ventilation, and special needs of each species taken aboard. I have not asked that, because it is a comparably unfair question.

It's not a matter of being "unfair." This is no analogy at all:

1. Biblical accounts of historical events (or even of possibly fictional ones, such as that of Job) are just that: narrative accounts. Detail is not of the essence. E.g., I could say "Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address" and this would be a true statement, and there would be no intrinsic need or "intellectual duty" to give more detail. I could also give the entire text of his speech, the temperature that day, how many people heard it, what he was wearing, how people reacted, what the people were wearing, how many people coughed or fainted during it, how many hands Lincoln shook afterwards, etc. That would be true, too. But that wouldn't make the simpler account any less true. Likewise, with the Bible.

2. With macroevolution, however, we are dealing with science, or more specifically, empiricism. By its very nature, scientific data (i.e., physical phenomena) is verifiable, replicable, experimental, observable, falsifiable. Here we are dealing with the claim that the eye evolved from a light-sensitive spot, and this claim is made quite dogmatically, as if no intelligent person could ever dream of questioning it.

But when Michael Behe or I come along and simply ask (what unmitigated gall we have to dare question current biological orthodoxy!) for the explanation of how this remarkable eventuality came about, we are told that this isn't necessary in order to believe that it happened. That simply isn't true, because - again - we are dealing with science, not history or metaphysics, where causal detail and cause-and-effect explanations based on existing empirical knowledge are not of the essence.

We have a science of genetics. We know there is such a thing as a mutation. We know there is microevolution. What I claim we don't yet know (or, more accurately, which hasn't been demonstrated to my satisfaction: a far less ambitious claim) is how any of these things we know can add up to extraordinary macroevolutionary changes, such as that entailed in the human eye and its correlating biological mechanisms and structures, or the reptile-to-mammal transition or any number of other remarkable changes.

It is, therefore, incumbent upon evolutionary biologists to EXPLAIN how mutations can create what we have in the human eye; to tell us something about the actual developmental process.

I think Steve has provided just that [referring to endless posting of biological minutiae which did no such thing]. He explained how it 'can' very conceivably happen. The actual data is not available to us, but I would like you to explain how Steve's explanation is -less- plausible than is a god who creates eyes for animals that do not need nor use them.

I don't have to talk about God in order to be skeptical of an unsubstantiated sub-thesis of a larger theory. Speaking of God in that way necessarily involves non-scientific philosophy and (usually) theology. So the scientists would say that is discussion "out of the ballpark" in the first place.

It's not enough (at least not for me) to simply jump up and down and triumphantly proclaim that "well, we have a million other evidences that evolution is true, therefore, the evolution of the eye is true!"

Is that an unreasonable inference? If so, why?

It's not unreasonable per se, but it is an unjustified inference due to scarcity of hard evidence, I would say. But if it is deemed as justifiable belief, I say that belief in God is - analogously - just as justified.

I think that belief in god is 'reasonable,' but not because I believe
that any real evidence exists for one.

Okay; fair enough. That's how I look at the evolution of the eye.

It's not enough to look around and find different kinds of eyes and then conclude that they are all in a single or multiple line of descent. That's not science proper; it is what I call a "fairy tale." It assumes what it is trying to prove from the outset. But that's the sort of thing that happens when a dogma is considered infallible and incapable of disproof.

But if it is insisted that the latter procedure is valid, then this supports the analogy I made which began all this, viz., that belief in God is also legitimate based on a "million other evidences" even if none of them is an absolute proof. The cumulative argument is what becomes compelling. If we can believe in the evolution of the eye, yet lack much knowledge of particulars, so we can believe in God on the same epistemological basis. And if we can be an agnostic with regard to God, due to lack of comprehensive knowledge, so we can be with regard to the eye and other "macroevolutionary" marvels, where little is known about the actual processes of their development.

Likewise, with the statement 'evolution is the best explanation
currently available that fits the observed data and facts.' If
you can demand of Nick and Steve irretrievable data as a precondition
for tentatively accepting 'macro' evolution, then I can demand
of you a detailed accounting of Ark provisions, accommodations
and sanitation that overcome the numerous logistical and physical
objections that can be leveled against the flood account.

However, as the necessary information for Ark technology is missing
from the Bible, the necessary information for detailing the evolution
of the human eye is missing. Eyes do not fossilize.

That's irrelevant. As I said, we (including myself) accept genetics, mutations, and microevolution. That is enough "technical stuff" to be able to hypothesize some sort of scenario for the evolution of the eye. Yet no one seems to want to do that. What I'm looking for is "x changed into y, because of z, which in turn was influenced by a, which is in a symbiotic relationship with b; which created new and improved situation c," etc. Evolutionists have certainly shown themselves willing to posit any number of scenarios, such as the ubiquitous trees (which Gould has said were largely fictitious), the horse series, and the ape-to-man chart. Why is it that they stop here, yet disallow any dissent from belief in such remarkable macroevolutionary "inventions"? And why am I not allowed to disagree with part of evolutionary theory? Is that the cardinal/unforgivable sin of biology or something?

Historical narrative has no such responsibility because it is event-related rather than natural laws-related, which allows replication and experimentation of some or all of its components.

The question that logically follows, then, is which of the two
(and there are many more than two) explanations is more plausible?

Between the Ark account and macroevolution? I would say they are apples and oranges and have no relationship to each other, so that a comparison is meaningless.

Let us put the 'which is more plausible' test to work.

Here are two possible explanations.

1. Evolutionary processes encouraged the development of eyes suitable
for each species' use, building upon or altering existing eye
structures in the process. The theory of evolutionary progression
proposes a very reasonable and logical explanation for the fact
that most blind, cave-dwelling animals have eyes -- the eyes, which
have since lost all or nearly all of their function, remain genetically encoded in these cave-dwelling species, as the evolutionary pressures toward eliminating the eye structures entirely have been negligible.

2. God chose to create, for each species, an absolutely unique
eye structure. God also, for mysterious reasons, created eye structures for animals that have no use for eyes.

Which explanation is more plausible, once all personal ideological
biases have been set aside?

This is a false dilemma, as there are all sorts of intermediate positions, including intelligent design within an evolutionary framework, or simply theistic evolution, where God is creating by means of evolution, whose potentialities He set into motion at the outset. For myself, I simply assert that God is Creator, and that what we see is very difficult to explain on wholly naturalistic premises. As I wrote elsewhere, it is the materialism to which I primarily object, not evolution per se, as some sort of "evil, godless" theory. That is the true "either/or" question here, as I see it.

There is nothing wrong with questioning scientific orthodoxy. Albert Einstein did it. However, a true lack of bias should leave you receptive to all reasonable explanations.

Indeed.

I may be mistaken, but I sense an extremely strong bias against entirely naturalistic
explanations.

Of course, being a Christian. I'm not opposed to explanations which are in accord with the laws of science as we know them. Rather, I oppose the unlimited potentiality of the Goddess Matter, considered entirely separately from God or "spirit," as Einstein described this mysterious "other," which went beyond the matter in the universe. But of course you have an equally "extremely strong bias" against theistic explanations. So what? We would expect these biases on either side. What is truly silly and foolish is for either party to deny them and put up a pretense of complete objectivity.

Exactly what -is- macroevolution? I understand the general concept,
but I am concerned that some theists use 'macroevolution' as the
ultimate in sliding equivocators -- it can always be defined as
that degree of evolution beyond that which you accept to have
taken place.

That evolution which involves the "creation" of entirely new structures and new categories of organisms. The peppered moths do not involve that. Fruitflies do not involve this either. The transformation of a reptile into a mammal does. The alleged evolution of creatures resembling pigs creeping into the ocean and turning themselves into dolphins and whales does. I think the qualitative difference is obvious.

For instance, is it microevolution or macroevolution when a gull
that once lived in Siberia evolves into the Herring Gull and the
extremely similar Lesser Blue-Backed Gull?

Microevolution, as they are all gulls.

Is it microevolution or macroevolution when a Homo Habilis is
believed to have evolved into a very similar Homo Sapiens?

Microevolution.

In other words, is 'macroevolution' any evolution that you do
not yet believe? :)

No, it is as I have explained. As I describe it, it does represent what I don't accept, but it isn't circular argument, as you are implying.

It is almost impossible -not- to try to interpret and analyze the universe in terms of our own wishes, tendencies, abilities, and ratiocinations, thus the rather sardonic slogan 'god was created in man's image.' Though not exactly well intended, I believe that slogan has a lot of truth.

And the materialist evolutionist or macroevolutionist has his or her own set of biases, equally as determinative, as Gould pointed out quite ably. It's not as if all the theists are profoundly biased, while the atheists have none. I think this is patently obvious.

If there is an intelligent life form inhabiting some other world that
depended on magnetic induction and electrical current rather than
carbon-based chemistry, I would fully expect that life form to
conceive of a god with a magnetic personality.

Then why would the Jews, the precursors of Christianity, conceive of God as a spirit, with no body at all (indeed, God could not possibly have a body in Judaism)? How is that projection, given that Steve has argued that we can't even comprehend a spirit? With Christianity, you have the incarnate God, but even so, His powers were not like those of ordinary mortals. He could walk on water, heal the sick, raise Himself from the dead bodily, ascend to heaven, return bodily and walk through walls, make Himself present in a mysterious fashion in Holy Communion; and He is to return bodily in the Second Coming from the sky. Now how are those things projections of our desires, experiences, etc.?

But I could easily build up a similar case where the atheist projects his or her wishful thinking onto the universe. The atheist (in fact, all of us) oftentimes doesn't want a God to interfere with their freedoms and radical autonomy, or the moral and lifestyle systems they set up for themselves. The Christian God screws up hedonism, narcissism, Machiavellianism, excessive materialism, lust for power and fame, adultery, promiscuity, governmental tyranny, and any number of things that human beings have shown themselves to become quite attached to. Why would the theist, then, create a God "in man's image" who mitigates against many of the things we desire most, in our humanness? Why would sex in particular be so restricted? I certainly wouldn't have created such a God, if I had a choice to do so. I would probably choose hedonism as my lifestyle if I didn't think God existed. :-) It makes no sense to me.

But then, in my opinion, believing that the earth and human beings
are the center of god's attention throughout the entire universe
of trillions strikes me as a little vain and preposterous.

Trillions of what? We haven't found other life yet. Unless you think that round rocks and gaseous globes are equally or more important than people, then I don't see any vanity or absurdity in God placing us in the center of the universe.

VIII. Round Two: Steve vs. Dave on the Interpretation of the Biological Data

Steven, at this point, posted a huge amount of material to the list supposedly demonstrating the process of evolution of the eye, but in my opinion it did no such thing (material from evolutionist Kenneth Miller posted earlier by another list member was of a similar nature), so I have not included it in the dialogue.

I'm still wading my way through this material, thus far absolutely irrelevant to my request. The following is the closest Steve has gotten to fulfilling my request for a straightforward explanation of the evolution of the eye (via his author):

Take for example the substance that forms the crystal for the lens of the eye - this is nothing but a common enzyme that happens to have very nice crystallization properties - not necessarily a "tailor made" protein specifically (and ONLY) for this particular use (for a recent review of the lens crystallins, see http://www.cbs.dtu.dk/dave/eyelens_ref.html
J. Piatigorsky, Ann N Y Acad Sci, 842:7-15).

So the substance in the crystal for the lens of the eye is a common enzyme. Big wow. This is supposed to be an explanation for the causal chain and actual mechanics of the entire evolutionary process of the eye?????!!!! I will continue to observe further examples of "fulfillments" of my request with great interest . . . I suspect that Steve thinks that all his wealth of information about biochemistry is somehow relevant to my challenge.

Meanwhile, [name] (whom I originally challenged, lest anyone has forgotten) has offered no satisfactory reply, either, and is now claiming victory. This is rather amusing: not having any answer, rather than simply claiming ignorance or inability, one claims victory instead and beats the dead horse of biochemical (and methodological) minutiae, in an appearance of "strength" and in an attempt to obfuscate the original issue, in hopes that no one will notice what has happened. And again (as always) I don't say that he does this deliberately. Most intellectual folly and obscurantism is unconsciously or sub-consciously undertaken by quite intelligent people. But intelligence and "book-larnin'" doesn't always add up to either true knowledge or wisdom.

Eric and Samuel, on the other hand, understood precisely what I was asking, and how and why no one here has succeeded in answering my challenge. Why? Not because they are brilliant and insightful scientists, but because their biases and prior commitments do not blind them to the very question asked and problem posed, nor to the analogy originally made.

One gets tired of this after a while. If you can't answer something, just say so. I have no trouble doing that, and have done so, here (and in many other places) many times. A little bit of "intellectual humility" is in order, I think. It is all the more amusing and ironic since in this instance I am applying skepticism and a strict criteria of scientific demonstration. One would think that approach would be respected here [on a list dominated by atheists], but I guess it depends on where one applies it.

One is - apparently - supposed to be as skeptical and cynical as they can be when it comes to God, or miracles, or Christianity, or the Bible, but when we deal with macroevolution, suddenly all things are possible and faith in endless unproven probablities and possibilities reigns supreme, with the omniscient and omnipotent twin goddesses of Mutation and Natural Selection sitting on dual thrones, abjectly worshiped by "skeptical and scientific" atheists, while the true God is banned from the Scientific Kingdom (at least the more "advanced, sophisticated, progressive" portions of it) from the outset.

But I'll keep reading, searching in vain for what I asked for. If Steve's "answer" is simply pasting a book here, then I will go read the book and unsubscribe from the list. But the book had better have something to do with what I am asking (I wasn't attempting to defend Behe's entire thesis; I merely mentioned the eye in passing and used some of his arguments to back myself up, after having been accused of profound ignorance). This book does not have any relevance to the topic I introduced, thus far, but hope springs eternal . . . Maybe Steve will stumble into a relevant reply, just as even an unplugged clock gets the time right twice a day. LOL

More remotely-relevant citations from Steve's never-ending Quote-Machine:

- we DO understand now the mechanisms by which evolution work, at the level of molecular genetics, as for example the evolution of the eye. But this does not at all counter the evidence of evolution from numerous observations at the species level.

If you guys understand it, then why is it so difficult (I'm not asking for the formula to attain nuclear fusion) to provide me with a straightforward descriptive scenario of the mechanisms IN THIS INSTANCE? TELL ME (in less than 500 pages; preferably one or two) WHAT HAPPENS TO MAKE THE HUMAN EYE COME ABOUT (?). Or is your only answer that I ought to soak in orthodox macroevolutionary dogma like a sponge (unquestioning, awestruck, and wide-eyed, like a precocious 15-year-old), and then somehow become "scientific" and come to believe in the entire theory by some sort of osmosis (in other words, blind faith), with no contrary heretical evidence or counter-example or anomaly ever allowed to be considered for a moment?

I'm quite familiar with religious faith (both the rational and the irrational variety). But I don't understand how that point of view becomes confused with empirical science.

IX. Thomas Kuhn on Scientific Paradigms / Stephen Jay Gould on Scientific Dogmatism

Perhaps Thomas S. Kuhn gives us a solution for the inability of the atheists on this list to understand where I am coming from on this:

Philosophers of science have repeatedly demonstrated that more than one theoretical construction can always be placed on a given collection of data . . . But that invention of alternates is just what scientists seldom undertake except during the pre-paradigm stage of their science's development and at very special occasions during its subsequent evolution . . .

Though they may begin to lose faith and then to consider alternatives, they do not renounce the paradigm that has led them into crisis. They do not, that is, treat anomalies as counter-instances, though in the vocabulary of philosophy of science that is what they are . . . once it has achieved the status of paradigm, a scientific theory is declared invalid only if an alternate candidate is available to take its place . . . The decision to reject one paradigm is always simultaneously the decision to accept another, and the judgment leading to that decision involves the comparison of both paradigms with nature and with each other . . .

It has often been observed, for example, that Newton's second law of motion, though it took centuries of difficult factual and theoretical research to achieve, behaves for those committed to Newton's theory very much like a purely logical statement that no amount of observation could refute . . . the chemical law of fixed proportion, which before Dalton was an occasional experimental finding of very dubious generality, became after Dalton's work an ingredient of a definition of chemical compound that no experimental work could by itself have upset. Something much like that will also happen to the generalization that scientists fail to reject paradigms when faced with anomalies or counterinstances. They could not do so and still remain scientists.

{The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Univ. of Chicago Press, 2nd ed., 1970, 76-78}

Colin Patterson wrote:

Is the theory of evolution by natural selection proved? Some may be disconcerted by a negative answer . . .

The theory is not scientific by Popper's standards . . .

Popper warns of a danger: 'A theory, even a scientific theory, may become an intellectual fashion, a substitute for religion, an entrenched dogma.' This has certainly been true of evolutionary theory.

{Evolution, 1978, 144,149-50}

Stephen Jay Gould has written much about the biases, subjectivity, and, sometimes, dogmatism of scientists:

Science [is] a human activity, motivated by hope, cultural prejudice and the pursuit of glory, yet stumbling in its erratic path toward a better understanding of nature.

{The Panda's Thumb, NY, London: W.W. Norton & Co., 1980, 115-116}

Concerning the Piltdown Man fiasco:

Scientists [were] so anxious for such a find that they remained blind to an obvious resolution of its anomalies.

{Ibid., 111}

Gould offered four reasons for the 40-year acceptance of Piltdown Man (a hoax, as it turned out):

imposition of strong hope upon dubious evidence . . . reduction of anomaly by fit with cultural biases . . . reduction of anomaly by matching fact to expectation . . . prevention of discovery by practice.

{Ibid., 116-118}

Gould points out that an article in Nature, dated 13 November 1913 gave the correct interpretation of the find:

The correct explanation had been available from the start, but hope, desire, and prejudice prevented its acceptance.

{Ibid., 124}

I am an advocate of the position that science is not an objective, truth-directed machine, but a quintessentially human activity, affected by passions, hopes, and cultural biases. Cultural traditions of thought strongly influence scientific theories, often directing lines of speculation, especially when virtually no data exist to constrain either imagination or prejudice.

{Ibid., 225}

Orthodoxy can be as stubborn in science as in religion.

{Ibid., 243}

Most 'good' stories turn out to be false, or at least overextended, but debunking doesn't match the fascination of a clever hypothesis. Most of the 'classic' stories of natural history are wrong, but nothing is so resistant to expurgation as textbook dogma.

{Ibid., 288}

So perhaps our current struggle to understand each other and failure to find any common ground from which to build derives from the fact that I am operating not (methodologically) as a scientist (bound to a particular paradigm, as Kuhn explains), but as a philosopher of science, who believes that (on a sub-paradigm or sub-theoretical level) "more than one theoretical construction can always be placed on a given collection of data," as Kuhn also states. The scientist, according to this strain of thought, places an implicit "faith" in particular well-established theories, as an axiomatic starting-point to undertake fruitful research. I have not yet done that, since I have never fully accepted Neo-Darwinist evolutionary theory, but remain skeptical of it on these grounds and several others.

Summarizing then, most atheists here seem to think that macroevolution is in effect a dogma and undeniable fact not to be questioned, because no alternative theory at present has better explanatory value (as Kuhn explained always happens amongst scientists). Therefore my particularistic skepticism is regarded as out of place and impermissible and "unscientific." But I don't have to (from my philosophical outlook) have another theory worked-out before I reject the currently fashionable one. I reserve the right to be an agnostic both with regard to macroevolution, and also concerning any creationist alternative scenarios, due to a lack of sufficient empirical proof, just as an atheist might be an agnostic with regard to both Christianity and Islam, even while he might regard the former as the superior, more "explanatory" worldview of the two false choices.

According to my broad philosophical approach, science is not the be-all and end-all of truth and knowledge, but merely one (albeit highly successful) means of discovering the truths, facts, and realities of the natural world. I reserve the right to question any aspect of any scientific theory which I find to be unsubstantiated by empirical experimentation and observation. One might say, then, that I have a stricter criterion as to scientific data, and place more emphasis on the importance and implications of anomalies and unknown processes, whereas my opponents apply a stricter criterion of acceptance of overall theories, with correspondingly less emphasis placed on possible falsifying implications of anomalies and unknown aspects.

X. Steve's Renewed Counter-Offensive: Explanation and Epistemic Rationality

Dave, the unavoidable fact of the matter is that one must ultimately either decide which of the following two explanations is more reasonable or else remain undecided on the matter. Moreover, it can be demonstrated that only embracing the first of the two explanations is epistemically rational, viz., that even withholding judgment on the matter is epistemically IRRATIONAL.

Please do demonstrate that it is "irrational" to even withhold assent towards the macroevolutionary theory on this question of the eye. Darwin himself didn't agree to that (and he was thrown at me as an "answer" to my challenge on the eye).

What makes you think that Darwin held that evolutionary theory cannot explain the evolution of the eye?

I didn't claim that. You really need to read things more carefully. Please read my response above again. Darwin acknowledged the difficulties and denied (or so it seems to me) your suggestion "that even withholding judgment on the matter is epistemically IRRATIONAL." For he wrote:

I have felt the difficulty far too keenly to be surprised at others hesitating to extend the principles of natural selection to so startling a length.

{Origin of Species, 6th ed., ch. 6 ["Difficulties of the Theory"], p. 171 in Mentor ed., 1958}

Why would this procedure not also apply to agnosticism about God (note: agnosticism, not atheism)? If we are to say that one must select one of two choices with regard to anything at all, then that would include the God-question, in which case withholding assent would be irrational, and agnosticism also irrational and impermissible.

With that having been said, here are the two competing explanations regarding the evolution of the human eye which I should like to broach for your careful consideration:

E1: The eye evolved via purely natural processes which are in principle observable, testable, and replicable.

But the observable data is woefully insufficient in this case. And I will try to look up that article [one which Steve claimed demonstrated the mechanism of the evolution of the eye].

E2: God, a timeless, nonmaterial, immutable, and infinite entity whose existence and actions are in principle unobservable, untestable, and unreplicable,

The results of His existence and actions are certainly observable and testable, just as is the case with many questions in biology or physics, such as the Big Bang itself. So you have presented a false choice. Also, you have defined "God" from the outset as provable and understandable only by scientific rationales, which, of course, begs the question. You sit here and present an alleged logical dilemma (which is "non-empirical" philosophy), yet when it comes to God, all of a sudden you switch to a strictly empirical epistemology. I would expect this of you, but I would also expect you to be more familiar with the obvious flaws in your own reasoning.

intervened in the natural course of events and in some mysterious way (which humans cannot fully understand)

. . . as if many elements of macroevolutionary theory are not also "mysterious". LOL

brought about the state of affairs of there existing humans with eyes. Furthermore, for some unknown reason (and, again, in a way which humans cannot fully understand),

Do you find it difficult to admit that human beings don't "understand" everything (even in biology!!!!), and that there are many mysteries still to be resolved? I would hope you are not that intellectually naive and over-confident.

he intervened in such a way that their eyes came to operate much less efficiently than those of (at least) squids and octipi.

Of course the "efficiency" judgment is highly subjective. How does one make such a judgment? "Efficiency" is relative to the organism, and the purpose of a given organ for the organism, in a particular environment, etc. So you smuggle in pure subjectivism into your supposedly "objective" portrayal of God in order to make your case for the superiority of "objective" macroevolutionary theory.

As any good philosopher of science will tell you, the worth of an explanation is determined by how much understanding and illumination it yields, and the amount of understanding and illumination an explanation yields is determined by how well it systematizes and unifies our knowledge.

Sure, but if its content is either lacking or suspect, and lacks provability or falsifiability, then the explanatory value and "illumination" is diminished by the same degree.

If one brings in all the various historical arguments, claimed miracles, revelation, and so forth, even more "testable, observable" evidence for God is available.

This has not been shown.

I didn't say it was, nor have I attempted to do so here. There is such a thing as a "statement in passing." Not every sentence is an airtight philosophical argument. That may be the world you live in, but it is not mine. I recognize other realms of knowledge besides philosophy.

Certainly purely natural processes are far more readily comprehensible from a human perspective, at least) than is divine intervention. Do you deny that?

No, but of what relevance is it? Since when does "understandability" determine truthfulness of a proposition?

The extent to which an explanation systematizes and unifies our knowledge is in turn measured by various criteria of adequacy such as:

Systematization is a great thing, and very useful, but it is not infallible. Remember Newton's Laws? Remember geocentrism?

I never claimed that "systematization is infallible" (or anything similar), so this point is irrelevant.

No, but in your relentless "scientism" you clearly think that that sort of thing renders scientific explanations better than any other. I simply point out that decent scientific theories can be proven wrong eventually, just as other sorts of beliefs can be disproven.

(i) simplicity (the number of assumptions made);

There are a host of gratuitous assumptions made concerning the evolution of the eye. So many that they are usually ignored when the topic is described, as we have seen in your supposed "demonstration" posts. This is a major part of Behe's thesis, that the thousands of variables involved in biochemistry are ignored by most evolutionists. So they "simplify" all right, but it is the simplification of blissful ignorance, not elegant, satisfactory scientific explanation.

These are all mere assertions. You shall need to offer some kind of support for them before they can be accepted. For instance, please state just one "gratuitous assumption" which evolutionists make concerning the evolution of the eye.

This thread is near its end. I'm not gonna put in a tremendous effort at reviewing all my arguments for you now, knowing it is a perfectly futile effort, anyhow.

(ii) scope (the types of phenomena explained);

Your sources have explained quite a bit of various biological and biochemical phenomena, but not a bit of how it all works together to construct the human eye.

This is amply refuted by both the step-by-step description (of the evolution of a toad's eye) that I provided, numerous articles in the Journal of Molecular Evolution, Dawkins' article (to which I supplied a link), the excerpt from Mayr's THE GROWTH OF BIOLOGICAL THOUGHT that I cited, and, especially, the article by Drs. Nilsson and Pelger (to which I have referred you and which you have said you will make an effort to read at your earliest convenience).

You pasted nothing here which provided what I asked for. And I won't rush to the library to find the spectacular, profound, salvific Nilsson and Pelger article, knowing my own repeated experience with reputed macroevolutionary "evidence" - one becomes as disappointed time and again as a Detroit Lions fan . . . LOL But it will be a fun diversion one day when I run out of things to do.

(iii) conservatism (how well it fits with existing theories); and

Macroevolutionary theory is "existing" because it is the present dogma, but that doesn't prove that it is true in and of itself, anymore than the mere fact of the prevalence of creationism or Catholic theology in former times proved that they were superior to the current (materialist-dominated) Darwinian infallible dogmas.

You have offered one possible account of why macroevolutionary theory
is at present so widely accepted among scientists (as well as the general public). However, that in no way whatever militates against the fact that E1, which fits nicely with said theory, is much more conservative than E2, which unnecessarily multiplies entities and is INCOMPATIBLE with said theory.

(iv) fruitfulness (its ability to make novel predictions).

Let's start with explanations of the eye before we start looking at "predictions." First things first. :-)

The fact remains that E1 is much better able to make novel predictions than is E2. Your statement here does not change that fact.

Here again you are forcing God to be subject to empirical testing, when He simply doesn't have to be. You can't get out of your own head. You're like the proverbial fish in water.

Now, consider the following argument:

(1) E1, above, is simpler than E2, above.
(2) E1, above, is greater in scope to E2, above.
(3) E1, above, is more conservative than E2, above.
(4) E1, above, is more fruitful than E2, above.
(5) Therefore [from (1)-(4)], the only rational position on the matter of which of the two explanations at hand is more reasonable (or which of the two is superior) is that E1 is more reasonable than (or superior to) E2.

I claim that this argument is sound. Do you deny that claim?

Yes.

If so, which of its step(s) do you reject and on what grounds?

See above.

Thanks! This was much more fun than reading reams of your irrelevant pastings. :-)

XI. Science and Religion: Perfect Objectivity and Reason vs. Blind Faith?

Pardon my butting in (though I guess that's what mailing lists are for), but I think you are confusing a couple of things here. The first being that the Big Bang is still a theory. Granted, it's a generally accepted theory, but a theory nonetheless.

As is the theory of evolution, so I don't see how that is relevant.

If creationists were to relegate God to a theory, they'd probably catch less flak. Of course, this is on the edge of impossiblility given the nature of religion.

If one believes in God, then obviously God's existence is more than a mere "theory," just as you and I both believe in sub-atomic particles and black holes, etc. Atheists and scientists accept axioms and unquestioned presuppositions, too. There is no ultimate difference here. But many atheists seem to confine themselves epistemologically to empiricism, which - if strictly followed - would rule out God by definition rather than argument (hardly compelling).

We (theists, whether evolutionists or some sort of creationist) simply respond by pointing out that empiricism itself involves unproven axioms, such as that we must trust our senses to be accurately perceptive, that matter really exists and is not an illusion, that uniformitarianism is a true fact of the reality of matter, that stasis rather than constant flux is normative (thus allowing for the compilation of experimental data and replication), etc.

I think the biggest difference between science and religion is that science (good science) is always prepared to say, "We don't know" or, "We were wrong" or "We think." Religion doesn't leave room for that sort of human error. And all humans are error prone.

Both sides have their dogmas and both sides admit that they err. The pope is - right now - traveling around Asia Minor, Greece, etc., and apologizing to the Orthodox and Muslims for past errors in Catholic conduct. He has also apologized for aspects of the Galileo fiasco and many other things. But various dogmas are non-negotiable, just as many fundamental scientific laws (e.g., laws of thermodynamics) are also not up for grabs in any practical sense. The very fact that the atheists here won't even admit the possibility that the eye didn't evolve from light-sensitive spots looks every bit to me as a dogma, as, I'm sure, the Trinity or the Resurrection of Christ looks to you. I readily grant the possibility that it did do so.

False. I grant the POSSIBILITY that that is so. I just think it is incredibly slight.

And that those who believe in your "incredibly slight" possibility are quite ignorant of the scientific data here and of science and its methodology generally, right Steve?

Likewise with the existence of the God of Christianity. Now, do you grant that there is even a REMOTE possibility that the eye DID evolve (via strictly natural processes) from light-sensitive spots?

Yes; I believe I already stated that in another recent post. Of course I would favor the theistic evolutionary option, if I went that route, but even your scenario is REMOTELY possible.

Similarly, do you grant that there is even a REMOTE possibility that GC [the God of Christianity] doesn't exist?

Yes; I've also stated this in the past; that theoretically my view could be overthrown, which intellectual outlook allows one to remain open-minded, and always willing to learn and to be corrected where necessary.

If "no" to either, then you adhere to at least two dogmas to whose antitheses I do not.

Now what say ye? But what I find interesting is that I have already stated these things, and you didn't notice it (or have forgotten). In fact, on the question of atheism I even made the joke about the possibility of me going atheist being as likely as my circumnavigating of the moon, naked, on stilts. LOL You responded to that with humor, thus showing that you read the post, and therefore saw that I allowed some very remote possibility of atheism being true.

Granted, a lot of material flows through this list, and you are not unique in this; it is a common failing for people of any given belief-system. People seem to find it exceedingly difficult to get into the head ("behind the eyes" / "into the shoes") of their conversational and ideological opponents. I think it is a little easier for me to do because oftentimes I used to believe myself what I now argue against. I wasn't an atheist, but I was what you might call a "practical atheist" and a thoroughgoing pagan, pretty much up till I was 19. I used to be a political liberal and an evolutionist and "pro-choice" and in favor of radical sexual freedom as well, and received a completely secular education, majoring in sociology and minoring in psychology, so I think I am quite familiar with how advocates of all these viewpoints think.

As to the argument of the results of God's existence being observable, this is circular reasoning. "Does God exist?" "Yes." "How do you know?" "Because the universe exists." "How does that explain the existence of God?" "Because God created it."

One compares the materialistic explanations of complex phenomena to the theistic, creationist hypotheses (cosmological and teleological arguments; Intelligent Design) and chooses which is more plausible. In either case, one is extrapolating from the physical data. It becomes circular only when one rules out the possibility of spirit or a God or a personal God or a creating (perhaps omnipotent) God from the outset. But that itself is arguably dogma (or very close to it) and not open-ended reasoning, willing to follow evidence wherever it leads.

The fact that the universe exists no more proves the existence of God than the truth of the Big Bang.

As I've stated many times, we can all play the game of being skeptical of everything whatever if we like. There are absolute proofs for almost nothing (perhaps nothing at all, in some schemas). But we feel there is a world out there, and that we exist, and that we think. Given that, some of us think that the universe is best explained under the God-hypothesis. No single proof for God is compelling or airtight, but we contend that the great variety of good evidences leads to a practical, cumulative proof; or at the very least shows that theism is rational, not irrational, not impossible, and every bit as epistemically justified as atheism.

Science could just answer (though it wouldn't) that because the universe exists, there was the Big Bang. That's not what science does. Instead, science observes phenomena and trends and extrapolates the cause of those. It then tests these hypotheses continually constantly attempting to understand more about the phenomena.

Sure. But it cannot inform us that there is no such thing as spirit. Philosophy and religion simply take off from the end-point of the limitations of scientific knowledge.

Religion simply states that this is the way things are and that's that.

Sometimes it does. But it is not without reason or logic or evidence (nor contrary to same), at least not in historic Christianity. That's why there are such animals as apologists, which is what I am. What you present is the caricature. Don't feel bad, though. It's very common, because Christians so often present a lousy witness of the intellectual respectability of Christianity. And non-Christians usually don't read the best defenses of Christianity.

Incidentally, there is empirical evidence that suggests that the Big Bang occurred.

But none as to why, and that's where it is proper to believe that God might have been involved.

There is still no empirical evidence that God exists.

There is in the sense I have explained. But if one rules out the possibility of a Spirit Being, then there would be "no" evidence. Very convenient!

Strange for a being that wishes to be loved and worshipped. Don't you think?

It is strange, and also untrue. You see no evidences at all; I see a host of them. Strange, don't you think?

I agree that agnosticism with respect to (at least) the God of Abraham is irrational, as I maintain that there is excellent evidence for nonexistence of that (kind of) deity.

So you think all agnostics are as irrational as theists? Or are you creating a loophole and restricting the irrationality to agnosticism as to the biblical God, but not more abstract deist or "minimalist" "gods"? . . . LOL

However, until you can back up your claim that said data is "woefully insufficient," you have no grounds for making it.

I did that with the Behe material, and your inability to find a simple explanatory description on the entire Internet strongly suggests it as well. You guys claim the proofs are so overwhelming and plentiful, yet you can't produce any for us to see with our own eyes on this list. One senses that there is a certain "disconnect" there. The dots just ain't connecting . . .

First, at this point I have expounded no reasoning in which flaws might occur. I have simply offered (the first part of the first sentence of) a theistic explanation for the evolution of the eye. Second, I have set up no "false dilemma" inasmuch as either E1 or E2 must be true, as is demonstrable by mere appeal to the PEM: either God (or some supernatural being) intervened in the process by which the eye came to be or else he did not. There is simply no other alternative.

Okay.

Third, saying that the RESULTS of God's actions are observable and testable is NOT the same as saying that God's actions are THEMSELVES observable and testable.

But that's no different than the Big Bang or the origin of life or any number of past events which can't be replicated at all or at least not exactly replicated. So this is a distinction without a difference, insofar as you are trying to maintain that God's actions cannot be tested at all, and showing that scientific explanations are inherently more epistemologically justifiable. God's alleged actions can be tested, just as non-replicable originating natural events can be tested, by their results, assuming a certain hypothesis from the outset (as the theist also does with regard to God's role in creation.

So, in that respect alone a hypothesis which posits purely natural processes (which are at least IN PRINCIPLE observable and testable), as E1 does, rests on substantially more solid footing both empirically and explanatorily.

This is begging the question. First of all it involves the flaw in reasoning I just explained, by drawing a distinction which does not, in fact, exist. Secondly, it assumes (with logical circularity) that naturalism or materialism is a better "fit" with empiricism than dualism, which is also manifestly false. The fact remains that empiricism simply tells us about natural processes, PERIOD. By its very definition, then, it cannot tell us anything about non-natural, or "spiritual" processes. Therefore, your claim that naturalism is "on substantially more solid footing . . . empirically" is absurd and radically question-begging.

XII. Are God's Alleged Creative Acts Empirically-Testable? / Evolution of Complex Systems: Ten Famous Evolutionists' Opinions

Both theism and atheism (whether the theist is an evolutionist or a creationist) involve prior unproven assumptions or axioms, upon which are built hypotheses, and both can be tested empirically. There is no absolute absence of ability to be tested in the theistic hypothesis. If a theist is an evolutionist, he believes certain things about design and the abilities put into matter initially by the Creator which cannot themselves be proven empirically, but which are not contradictory to empiricism. But both outlooks can be tested.

Is this simply my own opinion? No; it has also been stated by well-known evolutionists:

1) George Gaylord Simpson:

Although the metaphysical cannot be directly invetigated by the methods of science, its results may be.

{The Meaning of Evolution, rev. ed., 1967, 128}

The origin of such an organ as the eye, for example, entirely at random seems almost infinitely improbable.

{This View of Life, 1964, 18-19}

It would certainly be a mistake merely to dismiss these views [i.e., those skeptical of Darwinism] with a smile or to ridicule them. There proponents were (and are) profound and able students.

{Ibid., 199}

2) Kenneth Miller, apparently much-respected on this list and elsewhere, concurs:

Both evolution and creationism are scientifically testable.

{Creation/Evolution, Issue 7, Winter 1982, 5}

The theory of evolution is not inconsistent with the belief in a created universe per se.

{Ibid., 3}

Notions of how the universe originated are altogether outside the province of science. Such questions of first cause properly belong to the realms of philosophy and theology.

{Ibid., 5}

Evolution is not really a concept of origins. A creator could have created life and then everything could have evolved from there.

{Ibid., 8}

3) J.B.S. Haldane:

We must give up the idea that an organism could have been produced in the past, except by a similar pre-existing organism or by an agent, natural or supernatural, at least as intelligent as ourselves, and with a good deal more knowledge.

{in S.W. Fox, editor, The Origins of Prebiological Systems and Their Molecular Matrices, 1965, 12}

4) Garrett Hardin:

. . . If even the slightest thing is wrong - if the retina is missing, or the lens opaque, or the dimensions in error - the eye fails to form a recognizable image and is consequently useless. Since it must be perfect, or perfectly useless, how could it have evolved by small, successive, Darwinian steps?

{Nature and Man's Fate, 1961, 71}

That damned eye - the human eye . . . which Darwin freely conceded to constitute a severe strain on his theory of evolution. Is so simple a principle as natural selection equal to explaining so complex a structure as the image-producing eye? Cab the step-by-step process of Darwinian evolution carry adaptation so far?

{Ibid., 224}

5) Ernst Mayr:

The basic theory is in many instances hardly more than a postulate and its application raises numerous questions in almost every concrete case.

{Animal Species and Evolution, 1963, 8}

6) Charles Darwin:

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one . . .

{Origin of Species, 6th ed., 1872, final paragraph, p. 450 in above-cited edition}

Concerning Paley's Natural Theology:

I do not think I hardly ever admired a book more than Paley's. I could almost formerly have said it by heart.

{Autobiography}

7) T.H. Huxley:

With respect to the origin of this primitive stock, or stocks, the doctrine of the origin of species is obviously not necessarily concerned. The transmutation hypothesis, for example, is perfectly consistent either with the conception of a special creation of the primitive germ, or with the supposition of its having arisen, as a modification of inorganic matter, by natural causes.

{Darwiniana, 1893 - ch. 2 comment orig. from 1860}

The present antagonism between theology and science does not arise from any assumption by the men of science that all theology must necessarily be excluded from science.

{"Mr. Darwin's Critics," 1871, in Darwiniana, ch. 5}

8) Karl Popper:

The real difficulty of Darwinism is the well-known problem of explaining an evolution which prima facie may look goal-directed, such as that of our eyes, by an incredibly large number of very small steps, for according to Darwinism, each of these step is the result of a purely accidental mutation. That all these independent accidential mutations should have had survival value is difficult to explain.

{Objective Knowledge, rev. ed., 1979, 269-270}

9) Colin Patterson:

There are some features of plants and animals which can hardly be imagined as arising by gradual steps . . . For example, what use is a lens in an eye unless it works? What use are feathers unless they are 'proper' feathers? What use is a lung that is half-developed,and cannot give you enough oxygen?

{Evolution, 1978, 142}

10) Robert Jastrow:

The eye appears to have been designed; no designer of telescopes could have done better. How could this marvelous instrument have evolved by chance, through a succession of random events?

{"Evolution: Selection for Perfection," Science Digest, Dec. 1981, 86}

It is hard to accept the evolution of the human eye as a product of chance; it is even harder to accept the evolution of human intelligence as the product of random disruptions of brain cells in our ancestors.

{Ibid., 87}

If I am irrational for taking an agnostic stance on the evolution of the eye and other complex structures, and for believing that God is the Creator, then I am in some pretty illustrious scientific company.

Fourth, it is not at all clear that the results of God's actions are either observable and testable. You need to explain what one is to look for so as to reliably ascertain when and how God has acted, i.e., what sorts of observations might be made and tests conducted in order to corroborate the occurrence of a divine act.

G.G. Simpson seems to think so. But this sort of specificity is not what we mean. We simply mean that the hpothesis of a God at the beginning of the process is not unthinkable, even within the evolutionary paradigm. So if God is assumed (on other grounds), then in a sense all of science is "thinking God's thoughts after him," as Kepler said.

Fifth, and finally, I do not see that I have "defined 'God' from the outset as provable and understandable only by scientific rationales." Where does E2 stipulate any such thing? Nowhere, so far as I can see. In any case, if you would like to formulate your own definition of "God" (or even your own version of E2), please feel free to do so.

The way you approach the whole question presupposes this, as in, e.g., your statement three paragraphs above ("Fourth, . . . "). That is a straw man which is irrelevant to the discussion, because in fact you are treating God as if He is a natural materialistic event. So you're talking out of both sides of your mouth. I think you're too clever for your own good, and don't even realize the flaws in your logic which you habitually present. That's why I and others are here, to gently correct you and set you back on the right path. LOL

. . . there exists an ENORMOUS (if not infinite) qualitative difference between the types of mysteries which may remain in, e.g., biology and those that surround divine actions and motives. Put another way, both the nature and scope of the former are fundamentally different from those of the latter in that the former are at least in principle fathomable by the human mind, whereas the latter are inherently UNFATHOMABLE by the human mind, for by definition they originate in the mind (or volition) of God and thus ipso facto transcend our ken.

That's where revelation, of course, comes in.

While certainly rather poetic, such mysteries tend to greatly diminish the explanatory force (or potential for illumination) of those hypotheses which appeal to them. Do you deny THAT?

No, but it doesn't concern me, as it does you, because - again - I am not confined to science and empiricism in my approach to reality and knowledge. "Explanatory power" is not the be-all and end-all of knowledge and wisdom. There is also faith, plausibility, speculation, etc.

Here the point is that mollusks' eyes are far better suited to THEM than are our eyes to US.

Great. And dogs can hear better than us, and most animals can smell better than us, etc. Does that mean you would rather be a mollusk or a beagle than a human being? Who cares????

E1 provides a highly plausible account of that phenomenon (namely, that evolution, being "blind" as it is, is anything but human-centered), whereas it seems unlikely that E2 (or any variant thereof) could offer ANY account whatever for the given phenomenon. Can YOU think of any such account?

I don't have to, in order to believe that it occurred, due to the sheer inability of the evolutionary hypothesis to account for the eye, etc. Again, all of reality is not science.

. . . E1 lacks neither provability nor falsifiability, and I fail to see that its (viz., macroevolutionary theory's) content is wanting in any significant way.

Great. You go your way on this and I'll go mine, then. LOL

It would appear that none of your objections to the above argument is any good, Dave. And certainly you have failed to show that E2 is more reasonable than (or superior to) E1. You shall need to try again if you wish to refute said argument.

Is that so? I will let readers decide that, when they read this on my website.

Steve then responded at length and with typical excruciating philosophical detail once again, but completely ignored the 19 citations from the ten scientists above, on grounds that they were off the topic. That was sufficient to make me decide that this dialogue was over, and had ceased to be constructive. But anyone can write to Steve and receive his final installment if they wish - see his address at the top of this page. I am also allowing him to add additional final comments (in the next section), to be fair to him and his viewpoint. If he wishes to edit this exchange differently, then - by all means - I encourage him to put up his own website and to spend the hours editing that I have devoted to this. And I will gladly link to his web-version also.

XIII. Wrapping Up: Steve Conifer's Summarizing Comments

I won't respond in depth to the numerous inaccuracies in the following, as this has to end somewhere. I can't resist noting, however, that if a step-by-step, scientifically-detailed explanatory description of the (empirically-demonstrated) course of the evolution of the human eye exists within the papers at the URL's he has provided, then Steve could have easily pasted this to the list, as the reply to my initial challenge. What he did post was so irrelevant that it didn't even make it into this paper (and anyone can tell I am willing to let my opponents have their say on my website, provided they are on-topic). As time and motivation provides, I may take a look at these papers and analyze them in terms of whether they have any explanatory value in the sense in which I and Michael Behe are demanding. If not (as I am almost certain - I'd bet my last dollar on it -, given past experience in discussing these matters), then Behe's point about the utter paucity of scientific literature in this regard stands.

Obviously, Dr. Behe and Steve are utilizing different definitions of "scientific explanation," so that Steve thinks "an abundance" of such explanations exist, while Dr. Behe denies that there are any. But we would expect this, given the status quo. Critics of Darwinism are well-used to seeing several evolutionists describe the state of knowledge with regard to some evolutionary sub-topic as "entirely absent" or "an utter mystery," etc., while simultaneously many others contradictorily assert that there are "countless proofs," etc. We often see this, e.g., in descriptions of the fossil record in various particulars, with one party of evolutionists claiming "numberless intermediates" and the other denying that there are any, or not many at all (these being questionable).

Although the above dialogue scarcely reflects it, the issue which Dave
Armstrong and I debated on the GODEXIST list was primarily that of which of the following two explanations of the eye is more reasonable (or superior):

E1: The eye evolved via purely natural processes which are in principle
observable, testable, and replicable.

E2: God, a timeless, nonmaterial, immutable, and infinite entity whose
existence and actions are in principle unobservable, untestable, and
unreplicable, intervened in the natural course of events and in some
mysterious way (which humans cannot fully understand) brought about the state of affairs of there existing humans with eyes. Furthermore, for some unknown reason (and, again, in a way which humans cannot fully understand), he intervened in such a way that their eyes came to operate much less efficiently than those of (at least) squids and octopi.

[For a reference regarding the latter part of E2, concerning the efficiency of mollusks' eyes relative to that of humans', see Massimo Pigliucci's TALES OF THE RATIONAL: SKEPTICAL ESSAYS ABOUT NATURE AND SCIENCE (Atlanta: Atlanta Freethought Press, 2000), pp. 179-80.]

I first presented the following four criteria whereby scientists (and
philosophers of science) typically evaluate the quality of an explanation, and then a corresponding argument which makes use of E1 & E2:

(i) simplicity (the number of assumptions made);
(ii) scope (the types of phenomena explained);
(iii) conservatism (how well it fits with existing theories); and
(iv) fruitfulness (its ability to make novel predictions).

(1) E1, above, is simpler than E2, above.
(2) E1, above, is greater in scope than E2, above.
(3) E1, above, is more conservative than E2, above.
(4) E1, above, is more fruitful than E2, above.
(5) Therefore [from (1)-(4)], the only rational position on the matter of
which of the two explanations at hand is more reasonable (or which of the two is superior) is that E1 is more reasonable than (or superior to) E2.

Dave's argument against premise (1) could be constructed thus:

(A) There are a host of gratuitous assumptions made concerning the evolution of the eye.
(B) Evolutionary theory cannot account for thousands of variables in
biochemistry (and evolutionists routinely ignore them).
(C) Therefore, E1 is NOT simpler than E2, and, furthermore, evolutionary theory is grossly incomplete.
(D) Hence, premise (1) of the above argument is false.

This is a fine argument with the exception of its two premises, neither of which Dave managed to prove. They are mere assertions in need of support, but that was something that Dave was apparently unable to supply. Moreover, E2 obviously makes far more assumptions than does E1, all of which are at best unsupported and at worst downright dubious (if not altogether unintelligible). There can be no doubt, then, that premise (1) of the above argument is true and that Dave's argument against that premise does nothing to scathe it.

His argument against premise (2) could be formulated as follows:

(A) Evolutionary theory cannot explain how the eye evolved.
(B) Therefore, E1 is NOT greater in scope than E2, which makes premise (2) of the above argument false.

Not only is (A) transparently question-begging, but it is flat-out FALSE. First, evolutionary theory certainly CAN explain how the eye evolved. A quick search of the Internet yields an abundance of resources on the topic. Here is just a handful of them:

http://www.spacelab.net/~catalj/peepers.htm
http://www.cs.colorado.edu/~lindsay/creation/eye.html
http://www.arce.ku.edu/book/eye/evolve.htm
http://www.2think.org/eye.shtml
http://www.onthenet.com.au/~stear/evolution_of_the_eye.htm
http://www.cbs.dtu.dk/dave/eye_evol-ref.html

Second, E1 provides a highly plausible account of why mollusks' eyes
operate much more efficiently than do ours, namely, that evolution, being "blind" as it is (no pun intended), is anything but human-centered. However, it seems unlikely that E2 (or any variant thereof) could offer any account whatever for the given phenomenon. Therefore, E1 can explain a phenomenon which E2 probably cannot, from which it follows that E1 is indeed greater in scope than E2 and thus that premise (2) of the above argument is TRUE. Clearly, then, Dave's argument against that premise is bogus through and through.

If Dave had an argument against premise (3), then it appears to have
been something like this:

(A) Evolutionary theory is an existing theory only because it is the
prevailing dogma among biased (secular) scientists.
(B) So, the fact that E1 fits much better with evolutionary theory than does E2 is irrelevant and we should therefore ignore it.
(C) Ergo, premise (3) of the above argument is moot.

The two main difficulties with this argument is that there seems no
reason whatever to believe its premise (A) and its step (B) does not clearly follow from (A). Why suppose that virtually all present-day scientists accept evolutionary theory merely because it is so prevalent within both academia and civilized societies generally? Moreover, what grounds might there be for holding that said theory is a "dogma"? What seems a far more plausible hypothesis for why just about all scientists (and the overwhelming majority of the world's population) now accept evolution as fact is that there exists excellent objective evidence for it which derives from myriad and diverse fields (e.g., biology, genetics, geology, paleontology, archaeology, biogeography, etc.). At any rate, Dave seemed unable to muster any support for premise (A). Accordingly, it (and the argument of which it is part) can be reasonably rejected.

As for (B), even if (A) were true, it does not seem at all clear that
the former follows from the latter. As I wrote in my response to Dave's
allegation that evolutionary theory is a "dogma": "You have offered one
possible account of why macroevolutionary theory is at present so widely accepted among scientists (as well as the general public). However, that in no way whatever militates against the fact that E1, which fits nicely with said theory, is much more conservative than E2, which unnecessarily multiplies entities and is INCOMPATIBLE with said theory." The point here is that premise (3) of the above argument is true irrespective of why it is that evolutionary theory is today by far the most popular explanation for the origin of species (including their eyes) among scientists and laypersons alike: E1 fits much better with existing theories than does E2. It follows that his argument against premise (3) is a failure.

Alas, Dave had no argument whatever against premise (4). He simply
requested that we "start with explanations of the eye before we start looking at 'predictions.'" Needless to say, that hardly constitutes a cogent objection to the given premise. As I pointed out to him in our dialogue on the list, "The fact remains that E1 is much better able to make novel predictions than is E2. Your [ostensible effort to avoid confronting the matter] does not change that fact."

To be sure, then, we can rightly conclude that Dave's case was
exceedingly weak. He had no good objections to any of the premises of the above argument and no tenable replies to any of my counterarguments. Thus, the only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn here is that, for all Dave was able to show, the above argument is sound and hence E1 is definitely more reasonable than (or superior to) E2 as an explanation for the human eye.

One final point: in section VII ["Exhaustive Explanatory Detail and an
Unexpected Analogy to Noah's Ark (!!!)"], when quoting Beth for the second time, he snips part of her sentence and inserts in its place the following: "[referring to endless biological minutiae...]." However, I do not believe that Beth was referring to anything of the sort. Rather, she was apparently referring to the Internet article "How Could an Eye Evolve?" (the URL for which is the second in the above list), which I cited during the dialogue and which includes a detailed though relatively elementary step-by-step description of the evolution of a fish eye from a light-sensitive spot. (It includes corresponding graphics.) That essay in itself refutes both Michael Behe's woefully misguided claim that evolutionary biologists cannot adequately address the question of how the eye evolved and premise (A) of Dave's second argument, above.

[It is also worth noting, briefly, what immediately preceded the Herbert Spencer quote which comprises my second-to-last contribution to section V ("Steve Conifer and Dr. Massimo Pigliucci Counter-Respond") as that quote was cited in the dialogue on the list:

Steve: "Also, for a fairly comprehensive explanation of how eyes of several different varieties (incl. the human) have evolved many times, often in little more than a blink of geological history, see Richard Dawkins' article 'Where d'you get those peepers?'"

Dave: "I'll save that for another post. I'm sure it won't offer much more than we got above, though."

This is what Dave refers to in brackets as "more non sequiturs deleted."]

Steven J. Conifer
President, Rationalists United for Secular Humanism (R.U.S.H.)
Marshall University
writer11879@aol.com
http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/steven_conifer

Uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 6 June 2001 with the permission of my dialectical opponents.

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