Edge of Evolution

by Brian 7. August 2010 21:40

I recently finished The Edge of Evolution by the author of Darwin’s Black Box, Michael Behe. Although I enjoyed the book and learned more about the debate; Behe will appear to readers to have wandered further into no man's land between literal Creationism and neo-Darwinism. As such, I suspect he will not find much company there. I say this realizing full well Intelligent Design (ID) from a theoretical standpoint is agnostic regarding the Designer and therefore wandering from Creationism is somewhat of a non sequitur. We have to remember the theory itself is coincidental to Behe’s theology, and his Christianity. Dembski’s explanatory filter, a core component of ID, is a mathematical approach to detecting design causation. We use it all of the time without even thinking about it. It’s when the filter is applied to microbiology things get dicey - and that is what ID proponents like Behe are trying to unravel. When skeptics conjoin ID and Creationism, the debate gets muddled – and that is what the critics are doing.

I went online to find a single reasonable critical review of the book and was disappointed by all of the ad hominem rubbish out there. As much as I don’t care for Dawkins, his review was the best I could find, and it was poor to say the least. The bottom line: There are gaps in the Darwinian synthesis. Darwinists say Behe appeals to God, and they appeal to current evidence and future scientific discovery. Behe appeals to probabilities too insurmountable for current Darwinian mechanisms to ever overcome, and says Darwinists wave-off the problem with “just-so” stories. Apart from Behe appealing to God (which he does not do in this book), both sides show verisimilitude. I just wish Darwinists would put forth a well-argued critique of work like Behe's instead of mere bad-mouthing.

Behe’s book read like a slight retreat from "Black Box" by moving the beachhead a little closer to orthodox Darwinism. I think everyone was a bit surprised by his position on common descent which is clearly more at home with Darwinists than many ID supporters. For those open to theology where the Creator front-loads design at the singularity, Behe’s view is workable. But integrating such a theology into the Christian worldview is not trivial. Where do material processes stop and design start? Behe tries to answer this question in the book by looking at real-world examples of evolution in action and showing how ineffectual material mechanisms are in obtaining significant change. His arguments are forceful, but not conclusive in my opinion. The real theological challenge remains open for Christians like myself. Where does episodic-supernaturalism end and God’s creative unfolding process begin.

 

A Test for Unguided versus Guided Mechanisms

by Brian 30. January 2010 21:22

Darwinists falsely accuse Intelligent Design (ID) theorists of promoting non-science. ID proponents have shown certain evolutionary theories lack the hallmarks of a good scientific theory (i.e. verifiability, falsifiability.) They ask how large-scale change in complex specified information can be shown in a lab if by definition the material mechanisms require small change over vast time periods. Darwinists point to the fossil record and put their science on par with forensics. Yet interestingly, design theorists appeal to forensics as well, yet somehow this is unacceptable science. It seems to me the methodologies for testing the opposing views need improvement. I propose a possible candidate for testing unguided and guided (designed) mechanisms. As an electrical and software engineer, this test would have to be adapted by experts in the field. But essentially, the test would require cataloging functions and associated schemas into two categories:

1.       Independently arising function employing different schemas: examples catalogued in this category support the unguided view

2.       Design-reuse function employing comparable schemas: examples catalogued in this category support the guided view

A conclusion drawn from the results would be inductive. If one category received far more examples cataloged than the other, one could reasonably assume the associated view was the better explanation. The terms used in this test are as follows:

1.       Complex Function: biological systems requiring input and producing beneficial output for the survival of the organism. Optimal candidates would be more complex than mere building blocks (e.g. individual proteins) and less so than large-scale systems (e.g. an eye)

2.       Difference in Complex Function: a methodology would have to be developed to quantify function so they could be compared and identified as “minimally different.” For example, comparing the human eye with the eye of an eagle would show sufficiently large differences in function (size, acuity, articulation, spectral response, etc.) to rule out as functions with minimal difference.

3.       Schema: this refers to the information originating a function (e.g. sequence of genetic information)

4.       Difference in Schema: difference in the information originating a function. Here again, a methodology would have to be developed to quantify this.

5.       Common Ancestor: for the sake of this analysis; this would be the current scientific genealogy of organisms employing functions under test. In other words, one would suspend any sort of spontaneous creation assumption and instead assume something akin to the neo-Darwinian account.

 

Cases catalogued here would support the unguided view. The assumption: Unguided mechanisms should lead to the origination of novel schemas for minimally-different complex function. Since natural selection is blind to engineering best-practices, one should expect to find random mutation producing varying results for minimally-different complex functions. Now, some may argue there are yet-to-be discovered affinities and constraints within the material universe limiting the gambit of possible schemas. Two things can be said here:

1.       These affinities and constraints have not been discovered and one should not appeal to future scientific discovery.

2.       If found, the metaphysical implication smacks of purpose (telos), and would likely harmonize better with a guided view anyway 

 

Cases catalogued here would support the guided view. The assumption: Guided mechanisms should lead to the reuse of novel schemas for minimally-different complex function. From the perspective of the proponent of the guided view: The lack of schema reuse in comparable function ought to indicate poor design skill or showiness on the account of a designer. Of course the Designer reserves the right to be showy! But, it seems reasonable to grant the unguided view the benefit of the doubt here. Furthermore, it seems highly unlikely, random mutation should lead to the same or very similar complex schema in independently arising function. Natural Selection cares nothing about schema, only function.

Of course as I noted, a test like this would not be definitive but could be part of a cumulative case for a particular view. And, having very little expertise in this field I cannot tell you if this test has been tried and if so, what the results might be. I hope someone out there reading this might shed some light.

 

About the author

I am a Christian, husband, father of two daughters, an owner of ISC, lead architect of MapDotNet, armchair apologist and philosopher, writer of hand-crafted electronic music, and a kid around anything that flies (rockets, planes, copters, boomerangs, hot air baloons, lawn furniture)

On Facebook
On GoodReads