Monday, December 01, 2008

Against Sophistry

From the comments here:

Ribczynski’s reply to Barry Arrington (#2 above), which was meant as a refutation of the possibility of design inference in biological cases, actually harms neo-Darwinism at least as much, if not more, than it harms intelligent design theory.

Ribczynski wrote:

“To answer question #2, you need to know how likely it is that a particular structure could have evolved via NDE or any other unintelligent natural process. As in the fine-tuning case, we just don’t have accurate estimates for these probabilities, so there is no basis for design detection.”

This pretty well gives away the store, as far as neo-Darwinism is concerned. Neo-Darwinism asserts a huge claim, i.e., that unguided processes can produce complex, integrated biological systems. Since the processes are unguided, they ultimately (even when all due weight is given to natural selection) depend upon chance. This means that, for neo-Darwinism to be plausible, probabilities that are not ludicrously low must be assigned to the chance events which are alleged to have generated complex integrated systems.

It is not enough for neo-Darwinism to say that somehow, in some way, chance events produced useful mutations, and accumulated them in the genome in just the right sequence to create complex integrated systems which had never existed before. That’s not science; that’s storytelling. If neo-Darwinism is going to claim that it is a scientific hypothesis, it has to be able to put numbers to its hypothesis. (And this is not just for the general reason that science must be quantitative. There are also very real time constraints regarding the fossil record. It is not good enough for chance to be able to turn a primitive primate into a man in a billion years. It has to be able to do so in 10 or 20 million years, because that’s all the time the fossil record allows.)

So if neo-Darwinism cannot provide even rough probability estimates, it is not science; and if it can provide rough probability estimates, then the design alternative cannot be discounted. Mr. Ribczynski is caught on the horns of a dilemma. Which alternative will he choose: to say that the design inference in biology is as scientific as the inference of unguided causes made by neo-Darwinism, or to say that neo-Darwinism, unable to adequately quantify itself, is no more scientific than design theory?


Is it possible that life was designed? If no, support your answer. If yes, then evolution based on chance & necessity alone is on the same footing as the explanatory filter. If they are both on the same footing of possibly producing false positives why should we prefer one over the other when the only demonstrated way for complex machinery to come into existence is through design? Even if design might not be true it seems that until some other mechanism is shown to be capable of the task that we should prefer the known mechanism.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It always seemed to me that chance theory and intelligent design theory were both primarily philosophical leanings, undeserving of the name "theory." Really, neither stance has any place in a scientific discussion except, perhaps, as a footnote.

Neither is demonstrably true or untrue without making the kinds of assumptions that have no place in science.