Thursday, January 16, 2003

Something in the Details

The Access Research Network website promotes the ID (Intelligent Design) movement. Their discussion forums, surprisingly, are mostly free of the creation/evolution fights you find on many sites. Although the popular media has stereotyped IDers as creationists clinging desperately to some hope of a role for God, the reality is very different. Some ID proponents don’t even believe in God.

The following is a short interview with an regular ARN poster called “bertvan”, Berthajane Vandegrift, who’s postings come with the following position statement: Teleology is a part of nature. Whether that teleology is internal or external is a philosophical choice, and I defend anyone's right to define the "designer" differently than I do. Teleology, by the way, is the use of ultimate purpose or design as a means of explaining phenomena.

I have defined a Darwinist as someone who attributes all life on earth as the result of random mutation and natural selection (RM&NS) – a mindless, purposeless, algorithm of which man is a highly unlikely, meaningless result. Mutations are the agent for change and selection preserves ‘good’ change. Over time, RM&NS can account for the steady increase in information and complexity that takes us from primordial goo to human beings. This view has pretty much swept the field and has been championed by the popularizers of science - Dawkins, Sagan, Pinker, Dennett, Asimov and others. As Dawkins famously observed, Darwin makes it possible to be an “intellectually fulfilled atheist.” As a darwinian doubter who does not hold a belief in a personal god, what has been your experience in discussing and debating evolution with darwinists?

I haven't particularly liked most people who call themselves "Darwinists". On Talk Origins I was once called "an ignorant creationist pig". Most RM&NS defenders seem to have some adolescent obsession with denouncing conventional religions.

Any thoughts as to why that is so?

Materialism is a religion, and I suppose people are therefore aggressive in defense of it. I have resented their tactics -- the constant assertion that any skepticism of RM&NS as an explanation of life is due to ignorance and religiously motivated. (I believe Dawkins also considers it wicked.) I especially resent the fact that the news media has often been taken in by this assertion. I predict that when reporters realize they have “been had” on the subject, their resentment might exceed mine.

What is your view on how species come about?

I don't question evolution. I question that random mutation and natural selection is much of a factor in the process. I have no original thoughts on evolution. We live in exciting times with new ideas on the subject appearing daily.

So you accept the claim that self-replicating organisms arose on Earth from non-living matter and evolved into the complexity of life we see around us today?

I agree that life arose from non-life. Brig Kleiss’s panspermia may be correct that life arose elsewhere. Or perhaps life arises anywhere in the universe where conditions are appropriate. I suspect multi-celled organisms arose by symbiosis during the Cambrian. The number of multi-celled “common ancestors” -- how many evolved from each other and how many were different from the beginning -- is presently unknown. (Senapathy proposes that almost all were different from the beginning.)

If not much of a factor, is RM&NS any factor at all?

Sure, natural selection probably plays a role but I doubt any random mutation was ever “adaptive”. Random mutations in the genome are either age deterioration or environmental damage and never the origin of creative, adaptive change. Natural selection plays no role in creation of adaptive change, although it could help influence which adaptations proliferate. After being beaten over the head with RM&NS as the explanation for everything for half a century, I fear any recognition of a role for natural selection comes reluctantly.

If not RM&NS, how do you account for the development of complex biological systems?

All living complex biological systems have a limited ability to change and adapt to their environment during growth and development -- purposefully and intelligently, not randomly.

Such adaptations are inherited epigenetically [inheritance involves mechanisms other than DNA], and if persistent over generations, may become incorporated into the genone. Adaptation happens in the phenotype, not the genome, and the organism controls its genome as much as the genome controls the organism.

Do you mean that a single individual will change over its lifetime? You seem to be saying that the organism is pre-programmed and environmental pressures activate this programming.

I believe all evolutionary change occurs in individual, living organisms as they adapt intelligently to their environment. I don’t know if organisms are necessarily “pre-programmed”. I suspect developmental adaptation is creative, designed constantly, and on the spot, by the complex biological system. Volition and intelligence are a part of all living matter and perhaps of inanimate matter also, to some undetectable degree.

Volition would seem to mean a conscious choice. Wouldn’t this imply that mind preceded matter?


But you don’t see this ‘mind’ as God?

Some people's religion is sophisticated and other's are more naive, but all of us wonder about unanswerable questions. At the moment I'm inclined to view the purpose of the complexity universe as the evolution of volition. I call myself an agnostic, and have no desire to change anyone else's religion. I am comfortable viewing the volition/intelligence in living matter as a natural force, but participation by anyone's god cannot be ruled out.

Who are thinkers who have recently influenced or helped buttress your views?

I particularly like Mae Wan Ho’s “The Biology of Free Will.” When I say that I suspect volition, or free will, is a limited, perhaps undetectable, aspect of all matter I am speaking of Quantum effects.

I recently read “The Mindful Universe”, by Henry Stapp. However I didn’t understand what Stapp was up to in much of the book. I suspect the significance of quantum unpredictability is difficult for many scientists, and perhaps they devise all sorts of stuff -- such as multiple universes -- rather than merely accept the obvious. The obvious significance of quantum theory is that mind is a component of reality, especially living matter.

You seem to be open to a variety of options – God, panspermia (life transplanted from other planets), volition and intelligence as some innate property of matter. Would it be fair to say that the only option that you do not entertain is the widely held darwinian RM&NS model?

RM&NS is the Darwinian model. It is the only detailed proposal darwinists offer for the creation of adaptive biological complexity. "Drift" or "other mechanisms" are meaningless without specific details. "Duplicated genes" are merely another version of random mutation so long as the duplication performs some new function accidentally and without purpose. I'd be really interested in hearing how "self-organization", "gene expression" or "gene suppression" might occur randomly -- (accidentally and without purpose).

It may be possible, in broad perception, to separate darwinism from evolution, but not usually in the way discussed above. Darwinism and evolution are wedded for some very specific reasons. More on that later.

In regards to the concept of evolving volition or how mind can be a component of matter, I’ll have to take bertvan’s word for it at this point. Although I don’t pretend to fully grasp these ideas, I admire an intellectual pursuit based on a reasonable evaluation of evidence and circumstance and not on a philosophical preconception.

Thursday, January 09, 2003

Entropy and peer review – A cautionary tale

There are many, many bad arguments against Darwinism and one of them is the appeal to the 2nd law of thermodynamics – often made by those with little or no education in the subject. Of course, darwinists repeatedly trot out some groaners of their own – the peppered moth, finch beaks, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria – as proof of darwinian evolution. In any event, it’s always a good idea to research your subject and, if possible, run it by someone more knowledgeable than you in the subjects involved.

David Heddle is a physicist who publishes a Christian-oriented blog. As you might expect, he’s especially interested in topics that involve both his science and his faith. Recently he took on the evolution violates the 2nd law of thermodynamics argument:
Oh Lord, save us from foolish Christians who think that science is your enemy! And save us from the well-meaning but self-deluded who think that they understand enough science to use science against itself.

…the second law of thermodynamics and the concept of entropy are not trivial. In physics they are defined in a precise manner, and if one applies the second law without understanding the details, then the results one obtains and the conclusions reached are meaningless.
David’s argument doesn’t lend itself to selective quoting so I’m not going to post much of it here. It needs to be considered as a whole. If you are not up for studying the whole thing, understand that basically those who use the 2nd law against evolution claim that the natural progression of things is from a state of order to disorder (increasing entropy). This would seem to disallow the Darwinian notion of increasing order and complexity coming about by purely naturalistic mechanical means.
To summarize: the second law, when applied to an open system, does not demand nor preclude the possibility that either the system or the surroundings experiences a decrease in entropy. It might happen, or it might not. Whether it does depends on the details of the overall system.
What would make complex, ordered biological systems come about?
It requires something that the second law doesn’t deal with, something in the details of the processes. The second law speaks in broad terms and provides broad constraints, it says little about what happens under the hood.
Even though the second law argument does not harm darwinism, this statement is interesting. Darwinists cannot supply such details and fall seriously short of plausible descriptions about what happens under the hood.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003


It may be a little odd to link to a site linking back to me, but there's a good thread at following up on my last post on Michael Shermer at Skeptic magazine:
Not all ID [Intelligent Design] critics are obsessed with a Dawkins-type crusade against religion, but Michael Shermer of Skeptic Magazine has sometimes rivaled Dawkins as evangelical atheist
It is worth noting that the author of these words is a self-described agnostic. More on that later.

Sunday, January 05, 2003


I am reasonably sure that this is not a parody, attached as it is to the Scientific American website. Still, this makes me wonder:
Self-organization and emergence arise out of complex adaptive systems that grow and learn as they change. As a complex adaptive system, the cosmos may be one giant autocatalytic (self-driving) feedback loop that generates such emergent properties as life. We can think of self-organization as an emergent property and emergence as a form of self-organization. Complexity is so simple it can be put on a bumper sticker: life happens.
Michael Shermer, the author of the article and editor of Skeptic magazine, seems a little selective in regards to where he aims his skepticism.