Monday, November 28, 2005

Genuine Rocket Scientist On ID

Here's an absolute tour de force. Some of the best writing on the ID/Evolution debate I've ever come across. Dr. Psiaski is a professor of aerospace engineering, who has written some great prose as he deconstructs Cornell President Hunter S. Rawlings' recent anti-ID address.


The answer is that intelligent design is not valid as science, that is, it has no ability to develop new knowledge through hypothesis testing, modification of the originaltheory based on experimental results, and renewed testing through more refined experiments that yield still more refinements and insights.

(MLP: This paragraph distorts the nature of science. The observed fact that the elements are fixed, chemically-immutable entities is open to the same criticism of being unmodifiable. The elements either are or are not fixed quantities in chemical reactions. Does President Rawlings propose that we not teach this observed fact of chemistry? The ID assertion that certain biochemical processes and biological mechanisms (BioP&M) are irreducibly complex is closely analogous to the observed fact of the chemical immutability of the elements.

Another reasonable analogy presents itself for the Darwinist attempt to explain how these BioP&M came into being by purely natural, gradual processes of mutation and selection. Unfortunately for the Darwinists, the appropriate analogy is with alchemy. Just as at proved impossible to turn lead into gold by chemical reactions, so it may well prove impossible to explain by naturalistic causes how these BioP&M came into being. Remember that even Isaac Newton believed in and worked on alchemy. Many smart people believe that all BioP&M have been created by purely naturalistic causes that work gradually through mutation and natural selection, and they work to prove that this belief is true. Unfortunately, the fact that they believe and the fact that they are smart do not combine to guarantee that their beliefs are true, just as Newton's reputation does not combine with his pursuit of alchemy to confer legitimacy on alchemy. Rather, it is a shame that such an intelligent man wasted so much time on a vain pursuit.

It is entirely within the realm of science for the ID community to assert that certain BioP&M are irreducibly complex and to test this assertion. Prof. Michael Behe of Lehigh has asserted that certain specific mechanisms and processes are irreducibly complex, one of which is the blood clotting mechanism in mice. Researchers who oppose him have sought to disprove this assertion by reference to laboratory work in which genes have been knocked out of mice in order to reduce the complexity of their blood clotting mechanism. In his lecture here last spring, Prof. Behe talked about an article by a leading researcher in the area of blood. The article was written to refute Behe's claim of the irreducible complexity of this biochemical process and referred to the mouse gene experiments. The article claimed that the blood clotting function remained sufficiently intact to yield viable mice even after two pieces of the original blood clotting mechanism had been removed by knocking out genes. Unfortunately for the ID opponent, his paper was based on a mis-reading of one of the main works that his article cited. It seems possible that he failed to read much of the cited article at all. The mice with reduced blood clotting mechanisms all died prematurely. The mode of death changed depending on whether one or two genes were removed, and the ID opponent misinterpreted this change in the mode of death as a change from non-viability to viability.

This episode shows that ID is falsifiable in its assertions about the irreducible complexity of specific mechanisms. Unfortunately for the Darwinists, the attempt to falsify ID failed because the laboratory evidence supported the assertion that the mouse blood clotting mechanism is irreducibly complex.

This paragraph of President Rawlings’ speech overlooks an important aspect of science, which is the search for counter-examples. As in math, just one counter-example to a theorem is enough to prove it wrong. If the ID folks do nothing more than pose challenging possible counter-examples to evolution, then they are serving an important scientific function.

Even Darwin endorsed the importance of possible counter-examples when he wrote in The Origin of Species: "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find out no such case." One of the main points of ID is that we have achieved enough understanding at the micro scale to enable us to find the cases that Darwin couldn't find.

When I was an assistant professor, I had a friend in OR&IE who worked in computational geometry. He told me about a certain researcher who worked at Bell labs. His one job was to review theory papers and to look for counter examples to the proposed theorems. My friend told me that no one wanted to have this particular person picked to review his or her paper. I was shocked that my friend could say such I thing. In effect, my friend was saying that no one wants the flaws in their theorems to be found out. Such people value career advancement over the pursuit of knowledge. They don't mind if their career advancement comes at the expense of knowledge.

An honest researcher would definitely want the Bell labs person to review his or her work. An honest researcher only wants to publish work that can stand the test of severe critics. If there is a problem with a given work by an honest researcher, then that researcher wants to be the first to know about it.

The Darwinists should welcome the challenge from ID researchers. The resulting duel, conducted in the laboratory rather than through spin in the speeches of university presidents, should serve to strengthen support for macro-evolution if macro-evolution is true. Those who wish to avoid the duel are like my friend, and as a fellow researcher, I am shocked at their attitude. Do they have so little confidence in their theory? Why should they be afraid to have their theory tested in response to the challenges of critics?

President Rawlings’ speech fails to recognize the important contributions in science, engineering, and mathematics of negative assertions. Proofs of "it can't be done" are important technical contributions. For many years mathematicians tried to develop an analytic solution to a general 5th order polynomial. There exist general solutions for linear, quadratic, cubic, and quartic polynomials. Finally, after years of fruitless research, some clever mathematician proved that there cannot be an analytic solution for a general polynomial of degree 5 or higher. This was a purely negative result, but it was nonetheless important because it warned other mathematicians away from wasting time on pointless efforts to develop formulas which cannot exist.

I know of 2 other examples of this type of negative result in my own area of expertise, system dynamics and control. Earnshaw, who also served as an assistant minister of a parish in the UK, proved that a static arrangement of magnets and electric charges could never produce a stable levitating device. This result kept engineers from wasting their time seeking to develop such a device. Bode developed a relationship between the gain and phase of feedback circuits that proved the impossibility of making the "perfect" stabilizing feedback mechanism that had high gain at low frequency, low gain at high frequency, and a very fast gain transition between the two frequency regions without an accompanying large destabilizing lag in the phase of the response. Again, Bode's result kept engineers from wasting their time in the search for something that does not exist. Engineers, scientists, and mathematicians have a nasty habit of dreaming up new "philosopher's stones", and it is an important function of research to expose their non-existence.

The duel between Darwinists and ID proponents over irreducible complexity must be conducted carefully in order for it to produce a sensible conclusion. The ID proponents must not be allowed to endlessly propose new BioP&Ms as being irreducibly complex if the Darwinists are successful in proving that a representative set of reasonable contenders can be reduced in complexity. At some point, if the ID proponents are proved wrong about the irreducibility of a number of significant BioP&Ms, then the debate should conclude in favor of the Darwinists. Similarly, the Darwinists must not be allowed to endlessly explain away failures to demonstrate the reducibility of a particular BioP&M as being the fault of limited time or resources. If they fail time and again to prove the possibility of reducing complexity while retaining sufficient function to maintain viability, then they must eventually admit the truth that some BioP&M are irreducibly complex. In this duel, it will be important that the contestants choose their battles wisely. The ID proponents must be careful to choose good examples of possible irreducible complexity for the Darwinists to try to contradict. The examples will have to be amenable to experimentation, as was done with the mouse blood clotting, and they will have to be highly likely not to be reducible in the event that the ID claims are correct.)

H. Allen Orr, writing in The New Yorker last spring, noted: "Though people often picture science as a collection of clever theories, scientists are generally staunch pragmatists: to scientists, a good theory is one that inspires new experiments and provides unexpected insights into familiar phenomena. By this standard, Darwinism is one of the best theories in the history of science. It has produced countless important experiments … and sudden insight into once puzzling patterns…."

(MP: The statement "Darwinism is one of the best theories in the history of science," is pure rubbish. It has made no significant predictions that havebeen fulfilled. It makes almost no predictions that are testable. One has to wait too long for a new species to arise that has any significant new structures or genetic information [Note, speciation can be said to have been observed if one includes reshufflings or multiplications of genetic information that cause the organism to be reproductively isolated from its parent stock. These changes, however, involve the introduction of no significant new biological information and may, in fact, involve information loss], and the long wait precludes the experimental testing of macro-evolution in the laboratory.

Many dyed-in-the-wool Darwinists will protest that evolution has predicted the mutations of microbes which allow diseases to become resistant to antibiotics. This, however, is a prediction of micro-evolution, not of macro-evolution. It is unreasonable to accept the observed occurrence of micro-evolution as a fulfilled prediction of macro-evolution that proves the latter’s validity. To do so would be the equivalent of saying that the main proof of Newton's laws of motion and gravitation is their ability to predict that apples fall from trees. Wow!

The power of the macro-evolution theory, if it has any power at all, is that it reasons from the obvious truth of micro-evolution to the non-obvious proposition of macro-evolution. This is similar to Newton's reasoning from the fall of the apple (though it is probably a legend that the fall of a particular apple inspired Newton) to the explanation of the orbits of the planets around the Sun. The problem with this clear analogy is that Newton then went on to conduct experiments, develop calculus, solve a very difficult nonlinear differential equation, and show that the solution matched Kepler's laws, which were based on Brahe's observations of the planets. Even then, Newton was not fully believed until Halley used Newton’s laws in order to successfully
predict the time of the return of the comet that bears his name.

Darwinists have done none of this. The state of Darwinism, as best I understand, would be equivalent to Newton if Newton had stopped at the assertion that the apple falling and the planets orbiting were caused by one and the same thing, but had never successfully proved the connection by his great labors. It is as though we hailed Newton as a great physicist, and as proof of his greatness, said "Look, don't you see that apples fall from trees, just as he predicted? You have to trust him that this also explains the orbiting of the planets around the Sun. It is unreasonable to demand more proof than the falling of the apples."

Stated another way, the main complaint against macro-evolution is that it is a huge extrapolation from micro-evolution. Other scientific theories make huge extrapolations, Newton being a prime example, but they go on to prove that the extrapolations are true by making successful predictions. One cannot merely make an extrapolation and assume its truth. We know that extrapolation does not work in going from micro-economics to macro-economics or in going from quantum physics to cosmology. Why should we assume that it works in the field of biology? It is bad science to accept huge extrapolations without the requirement that they offer convincing proof, but this is what has happened to Darwinism's claim of macro-evolution.

Darwin deserves recognition as the proposer of micro-evolution, which is animportant biological theory. As far as I know, he was the first to propose it. Note, however, that once he proposed this idea, it must have seemed self-evident to those who read his works. In fact, it must have been the self-evident nature of micro-evolution that gave credence to the rest of the theory, to macro-evolution. Similarly, the obvious phenomenon of apples falling gave enough credence to Newton's theory to motivate him to put in the hard years of work needed in order to fully develop and finally prove the theory. Unfortunately, the subsequent developments in the theory of macro-evolution have not taken a similar positive course.


Consider an additional contrast between the two theories. Suppose that tomorrow, or 10 years from now, the scientific community decided that ID was true and that macro-evolution was not able to explain how life came to be. Suppose that it could be proved or demonstrated in a lab that there could be no purely naturalistic explanation of how the different species came to be. If this happened, then this seemingly radical change in science would have very little impact on the actual practice of most scientists. It would not affect any of the work that I do with spacecraft or the GPS system. It would not affect physicists or chemists. The surprising thing, though, is that it would not even affect many biologists. They could go about the experiments and studies and analyses that they are doing with little or no change of course. The only significant change would be that biologists would no longer have to dream up explanations for why a particular experiment or set of evidence was consistent with macro-evolution when, "on the surface", it "seemed" to contradict the theory [The following is an example of the type of explaining that currently needs to be done by biologists. Consider so-called "convergent evolution." A better term would be "non-evolution" evolution. One of the basic tenants of macro-evolution is that commonality of appearance/form/function arises from commonality of ancestry. Unfortunately, there are cases where this is obviously not true. There exist pairs of species that have commonalities that are not shared by other species that Darwinists consider to be more closely related to one or the other of the pair. The evolutionists "explain" away this phenomenon as being a process where evolution took two separate paths to arrive at the conclusion that the same "design" for a particular organ/mechanism/process was the best one. The problem with this "explanation" is that we are left with the tautology: commonality of appearance/form/function arises from commonality of ancestry except when it arises for some other reason].

Suppose, on the other hand, that Newton's mechanics were proved false. I don't mean false in the limit of high speeds or large masses. We all know that one needs to use the theory of general relativity in order to work in this regime, but relativity approaches Newtonian mechanics in the low-speed/low-mass limit, and much of modern science and engineering is based on using Newton's laws in this regime. Suppose that we woke up tomorrow and found out that Newton was all wrong even in this regime. Suppose that we discovered that all of our engineering achievements had been merely the result of clever tinkering and that Newton's laws and their application really had nothing to do with any of our many successes in aeronautics, space flight, etc. If that happened, then there would be a huge revolution in industry, academia, and government. A lot of people would be immediately out of work, myself included. My point is this: We are dependent on Newton in a way that we are not dependent on Darwin because Newton's work is far superior to that of Darwin.)

Orr notes that in the 10 years since one of the "I.D." movement’s chief theorists, biochemist Michael Behe (pronounced Bee-Hee), offered arguments about the irreducible complexity of cells as evidence for "intelligent design," "I.D. has inspired no nontrivial experiments and has provided no surprising insights into biology." And he adds, "As the years pass, intelligent design looks less and less like the science it claimed to be and more and more like an extended exercise in polemics….Biologists aren’t alarmed by intelligent design’s arrival in Dover [PA] and elsewhere because they have all sworn allegiance to atheistic materialism; they’re alarmed because intelligent design is junk science."

(MP: First, this statement is spin. It would be more relevant to note that Darwinists have been unable to disprove the irreducible complexity of even one BioP&M example that Prof. Behe proposed 10 years ago, even though they have tried. At the same time, Prof. Behe continues to publish non-trivial research findings that support ID -- e.g., see Behe M.J. and Snoke D.W. "Simulating evolution by gene duplication of protein features that require multiple amino acid residues," Protein Science, 13(10), Oct. 2004, pp. 2651-2664.

Second, Einstein’s theory of special relativity, which was published in 1905, inspired no experiments for more than 10 years. It was the theory of general relativity, published in 1915, that inspired an experiment, and it took until 1919 for that experiment to be performed. Thus, there were 14 years from the first relativity publication to the first confirming experiment.

For ID, the problem is further compounded by the great prejudice against ID in the science community. Near the end of this document, I describe the nasty reaction of some Darwinists to Prof. Behe’s lecture here during the spring semester. This type of reaction shows that any researcher who proposed to do experiments to test ID would immediately find himself or herself in the middle of a firestorm of criticism from Darwinists. Funding would be nearly impossible to obtain. Publication of results in refereed journals would be difficult to achieve. Tenure would never be granted, no matter how well the work was done. This very speech by Cornell’s president will serve to further dissuade any biologist from doing any such experiments. Certainly no biologist who wanted to work at Cornell would touch ID with a 10 ft. pole. Speeches like this serve the purpose of closing out debate on ID without giving it a fair hearing.

Then again, what non-trivial experiments have ever been done to confirm the Darwinist theory of macro-evolution? Darwin has had almost a century and a half, and yet no experiment has positively confirmed his theory in the way that the above quote demands of ID.)


Madison argued that government must be extremely cautious in employing religion as an instrument of civil policy. "I.D." is a religious belief masquerading as a secular idea. It is neither clearly identified as a proposition of faith nor supported by other rationally-based arguments. As we have seen all too often in human history, and as we see in many countries today, religion can be a source of persecution and repression. As Pascal, the great French philosopher, said, "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction."

(MLP: One of the major complaints of ID folks is similar, that Darwinism is a religious belief of philosophical materialism masquerading as science and thereby being given preference in public education and other endeavors. The philosophical materialist's creation story, i.e. macro-evolution, is given preference in the public schools even though it is fraught with scientific weakness. The philosophical materialist demands this public establishment of his religion because it would be a very weak religion without it.

It is wonderful that our founding fathers decided to exclude all religious beliefs from direct influence on the government based on religious authority. It would be wonderful if philosophical materialism were treated the same way. Philosophical materialists don't see it this way. They claim the right to special treatment under the banner of science because they present their philosophy as being a pre-requisite for doing science. Their assertion is false. In fact, their philosophy can lead to absurd conclusions, as will be discussed below in the case of free will.

The Darwinists have no evidence that life started from non-life by purely naturalistic processes or that all life descended from a single original cell. All they have is their assumption that for everything in the material world, including the arising of life on what we know was once a lifeless planet, there must exist a purely naturalistic explanation. Thus, it is a matter of faith with them that there exists a valid naturalistic explanation of how life came into existence. They have no proof that this explanation exists, only their faith. Other religious views admit that there may not exist such an explanation, just as there exists no chemical recipe for turning lead into gold.

Philosophical materialism has infected science to the detriment of the latter. The reason to fight against this infection is to improve science, not to improve religion. Science used to be more humble. It was happy that it could successfully explain some of what was observed in the material world based on rational, mechanistic laws. The original scientists, Newton etc., made no claims about being able to explain everything. As science progressed, the philosophical materialists became arrogant and claimed everything for science. They claimed that everything that affects the material world can be fully explained in terms of purely mechanistic principles. This change seems to have occurred during the last half of the 19th century. This is an assumption, a matter of religion. It is not something that has been proven using the scientific method.

The past 150 years of science have seen great advances, but they have also seen limits. We don't know the limits of science, but one instinctively knows that they exist. Freud tried to analyze the mind based on the scientific method and the implied assumption that the human mind and soul are merely a machine, yet today we seem to have more people who suffer from incurable mental= illnesses than ever. Why have other areas of medicine made much greater progress? The reason is that mental illness involves a person’s spirit, which is not some machine, some purely physical device, that can be completely analyzed using the scientific method.

The philosophical materialist’s view of science has led people such as Prof. Will Provine to deny the existence of free will, yet in the midst of his own denial he reaffirms his belief in its existence: He calls society to account for its acts of calling criminals to account for their acts. If criminals do not have free will, if they are just pre-programmed machines who should not be held accountable for their actions, then society, which is just made up of a group of "pre-programmed biological machines" in Prof. Provine’s view, also has no free will. It is just a collection of machines that punish other machines. Why should Prof. Provine be angry at society? He is angry because he actually believes that society has the free will to change its ways. The idea that society has free will is nonsense, however, if his worldview of philosophical materialism is correct. He has no basis for being angry with society or with anyone, for that matter. The problem is not Prof. Provine or society or criminals. The problem is with the over-reach of science that has been inspired by philosophical materialism. Human behavior cannot be reduced to a complex set of mechanistic laws, and Prof. Provine instinctively knows this fact even though he dare not acknowledge it intellectually [Prof. Provine has a strange way of denying his own perceptions of his own free will. He discounts them as being illusions. The one area where he has the most and best data is in the area of his own thoughts, yet he is willing to write off those thoughts as illusions whenever they do not agree with his theories. If one is willing to reject disagreeable data as being illusory, then there is virtually no limit to the zany theories that one can develop and espouse about reality].

A related topic is the meaning of the words “scientific” and “unscientific.” These terms get thrown around by philosophical materialists in a way that wins arguments through a subtle use of intentional confusion. In one sense of the word, “scientific” means something that can be explained mechanistically and tested in a laboratory or field experiment. This is what I would call science with a small “s”. This is a good use of the term “scientific”. In another sense, “scientific” is a synonym for “real”, and “unscientific” is a synonym for “un-real” or for “it has no bearing on anything of importance in the physical world.” This is what I would call Science with a large “S.” "Science" becomes a religion in this use of the terms; it ceases to be the methodology that has given us computers, cell phones, airplanes, and space flight. The philosophical materialist will label an assertion that he doesn’t like as “unscientific.” That label will be true in the first sense of the word, in the sense that the assertion is not about a purely mechanistic phenomenon which can be tested in a laboratory. What the philosophical materialist wants, however, is for the hearer to interpret the meaning in the second sense, i.e., in the sense that the proposition has no significant bearing on reality. If one challenges the philosophical materialist about this implied second meaning, then he immediately retreats to the first definition of the term “unscientific” to prove the validity of his use of the label, but he always wants the hearer to persist in the confusion of the two definitions so that he can win acceptance of his unreasonable point.

The philosophical materialist will make the following protest: but science must be able to account for everything that impacts the material world; otherwise, science can explain nothing. This is a false dichotomy. It is only necessary that science be able to explain some of the important things that impact the material world in order for science to be a sensible pursuit. Science is not the all-or-nothing proposition that the philosophical materialist makes it out to be. It is possible that the electrons in the computer on which I type this paragraph respond according to definite physical laws while my mind and soul do not.

It is even possible that there exist both physical laws that can explain some of the material world and that there also exists a Deity who sometimes intervenes to perform miracles that run counter to those physical laws. The existence of understandable physical laws is a presumption of all religions that claim miraculous wonders as proof of the particular religion's correctness or that describe a Deity who makes pronouncements such as "Thou shalt ..." or "Thou shalt not ..." Miracles are impressive only if there exist a set of physical laws that the miracles obviously violate. Recipients of commandments can be held morally responsible only if they live in a world where they can make rational predictions about the effects of their actions based on understood physical principles. Otherwise, a religious person could point a gun at some enemy, pull the trigger, pray for the bullet to turn sideways after it leaves the barrel, and feel no sense of moral culpability when the Deity fails to answer the prayer and the bullet kills the enemy.

Another protest of the philosophical materialist is: If science cannot explain all that has a significant impact on the material world, then how can one know what is and what is not a reasonable field for scientific inquiry? This is a reasonable question. The answer is the following: one cannot know until one has tried and, through trying, has achieved success in showing that the phenomena are explainable in terms of mechanistic principles. This demonstration often must include the ability to predict new phenomena that have never been observed or even imagined.

This onus to prove its ability to tread on new ground will be good for science. It will restore to science the humility that it needs. It will make researchers cautious about working in areas that are likely to prove fruitless, which is always a good type of caution to have -- remember the alchemists, and it will force a researcher to make a very strong case for any new scientific theory that he or she proposes.

In case anyone is in doubt of the proposition that science cannot explain all of the material world, consider the big bang. The singularity that started the big bang is the single most important physical event that has impacted the form of our universe. Yet, science cannot say anything about what led up to this event. In fact, science cannot even say anything sensible about what happened during the first few picoseconds or nanoseconds or so after the singularity. Therefore, science is known to have at least one limit. Given the nonsense that can result when other limits are not recognized -- e.g., Prof. Provine's condemnation of condemnation, which is discussed above -- it is self-evident that science has additional limits.

If we adopt this view, then macro-evolution is unsupportable based on current knowledge. The most significant support that macro-evolution has at the moment is the philosophical materialists' presumption. The Darwinists have no provable explanation for how the first cell began from non-life. They have no provable explanation for how all the species supposedly descended from a single cell. All they have is the knowledge that there once was no life and that there now is life. If we presume that science must explain everything, then there must exist some purely naturalistic explanation for the development of life and of the species, even if we don't know what it is. If we return to the classical assumption that science need not explain everything, then we have no reason to believe in the existence of a purely naturalistic explanation for life. It may or may not exist, but we are not forced to assume that it exists even when there is no proof.)

The United States, it is worth noting, where church and state are most rigorously separated, is also the country where churches, synagogues, mosques, and other houses of worship flourish, where a healthy pluralism predominates, and where everyone is free to worship as he or she chooses.

I am convinced that the political movement seeking to inject religion into state policy and our schools is serious enough to require our collective time and attention. Cornell’s history, its intellectual scope, and its current commitments position us well to contribute to the national debate on religion and science.

(MLP: Cornell has been at the forefront of injecting the religious viewpoint known as philosophical materialism into state policy and our schools through the teaching of macro-evolution as an established fact when it is a shaky theory. It seems plausible that this speech is motivated by a fear that this establishment of Cornell's preferred religion will end.)

As you know, Cornell is in the midst of a major investment in the new life sciences, the physical sciences, and computing and information sciences, and also in issues surrounding sustainability. These priorities have come out of a sustained academic planning process with strong involvement of the faculty and academic deans. Along with a focus on student aid and diversity, faculty recruitment and retention, they will figure prominently in the capital campaign, which in its quiet phase is already moving forward with great momentum. Yet I want to suggest that ultimately our efforts to position Cornell as the leading academic citizen of an interconnected world will fall short of their potential if we neglect the background conditions that have put rational thought under attack.

(MLP: An easy way to stop the attack on the rational thought of the ID folks is to stop making speeches like this one.)


Modern research universities have become segmented. We have scientists over here, humanists and social scientists over there. Knowledge is divided into ever-smaller categories; our specialization becomes ever more narrow.

I believe it is time to put the disparate parts of the modern research university back together. We have at Cornell philosophers expert at making fine distinctions and careful definitions. We have scholars of literature who have made the close reading of texts their life’s work. We have historians and scholars of American Studies who can identify and explicate the antecedents of the current controversy. We have economists, sociologists, political scientists and others adept at exploring linkages among science, religion and public policy and their relationship to broad societal themes like privilege, poverty, and inequality.

(MLP: Here I am, a rocket scientist, trying to comment on the problematic science and philosophy of the Darwinists' macro-evolutionary hypothesis. I can almost hear the cries against me that will say that I am not worthy of getting a hearing in this debate because I am outside of biology. I predict that Cornell will largely ignore the inconsistency between the foregoing paragraph and the University's likely dismissal of my arguments without even considering their merit.)


Anonymous said...

The analogy between chemical immutability of elements and irreducible compelixity is inapposite. Chemical immutability is a statement about the behavior of the system being analyzed. Irreducible complexity is a statement about our understanding of the system.

Take one of Behe's definitions of irreducible complexity: "By irreducibly complex I mean a single system 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."

Google for "reducibly complex mousetrap" if you want a counterexample from something that is often used as an analogy. However, evolution rarely successfully inserts a whole part into a system (for example, by a large transcription error), precisely because it tends to interfere with the workings of related parts, and this reduces the organism's fitness in its environment. Much more often is tweaking of related parts. To pick a mechanical example of tweaking, gear wheels work if the teeth are narrower or slightly shorter, but the mechanism is less efficient.

That definition of irreducible complexity, then, fails to inform whether any particular "BioP&M" could have evolved. If you generalize the definition in a way that reflects our understanding of observable BioP&M, it seems doomed to eventually take the form of "We know of no viable mechanism whereby X could have evolved" -- with "we know" being the operative term.

Contrary to Psiaski's assertion, there have been cases where biologists have proposed plausible models for the evolution of BioP&M that IDists have called irreducibly complex. The immune system, the eyeball, and cellular transport mechanisms come to mind.

[As a side note, it is hypocritical of him to suggest that ID should be given more than ten years to inspire or perform experiments, but to expect explanations for everything that IDists think is irreducibly complex much sooner.]

Or take his response to "I.D. has inspired no nontrivial experiments and has provided no surprising insights into biology." The Behe paper cited is not an experiment and is trivial -- it makes a key assumption with no better justification that it seems like a good idea to the authors (from the abstract, "we model the evolution of such protein features by what we consider to be the conceptually simplest route -- point mutation in duplicated genes"). Since "nontrivial" is so subjective, though, I will not try to cite any experiment as being non-trivial.

Instead, there have been many surprising and useful insights into biology made by assuming that evolution is the explanation for biological diversity: to pick just a few, why so few fossils resemble modern life, why different deer populations might have different codings within their immune systems (, and how a single base pair mutation can start speciation (

Matteo said...

Thanks for your well-written response. It seems to me that all such biological facts are at least open to various interpretations, and that Darwinists really should not be claiming to have a monopoly on The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing But The Truth.

I've read many counterarguments to the mousetrap analogy and have found them to be quite spurious...

Overall, we reasonably disagree, I think. It is possible to reasonably disagree with Darwinist accidentalism, yes? Am I allowed to do that?

Anonymous said...

I am not sure what you mean by "Darwinian accidentalism" -- neither Darwin's theory nor evolution in its more modern forms require that heritable mutations happen at random. Many scientists presumably think the mechanisms of mutation strictly follow laws of physics and chemistry, and by that token are either mechanical or random, but many religious people think there is divine influence in the mechanisms to lend purpose. Just like abiogenesis, the "reason" for particular mutations to occur is not something that evolution addresses.

In that sense, I do not think it is reasonable to claim that currently observable mutation mechanisms are insufficient to account for the Earth's current diversity of life. I do not think it is reasonable to say that speciation (at the species, genus, or any wider scope) requires mutation behavior that we cannot see today.

I think it is reasonable, and even good, to ask how various structures could have evolved -- and this is one of the (few) ways that ID proponents make useful scientific contributions. I think it is reasonable to disagree with strict naturalism as the explanation for physical phenomena, including genetic mutations. However, I do not think it is reasonable to claim that evolution cannot be the explanation for life's diversity.