Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Another Darwinian bites the dust


Ach so. I suppose I'll take your words for that and be done with it. :)

Needless to say, however, I think that despite the inflammatory language I find it difficult to imagine a valid refutation to most of his statements, since they are, stripped of fighting words, thoroughly unconroversial.


If you can't imagine a valid refutation, that means you've only been reading one side of the argument. What intelligent design theorists have you read?


I didn't say you'd agree with them. I was responding to your claim that you can't "imagine valid refutations" to the canned objections raised by Boris. And, thus far, you've just treated us to to some rhetorical finery.

Jorgon Gorgon said...

“Indeed. But the problem with intelligent design is that all of its basic principles (appearance of desing, irreducible complexity, specified complexity) are artifacts of observation and knowledge about the system and are not inherent to the system (despite Dembski's attempts to formalize them, a mathematical in-joke by now). Hnece, no specific claims are made beyond ‘It looks like it has been designed, from our current vantage point; and we cannot imagine how in Hell it has been designed (again, with our current knowledge)’.”

All scientific theories are theories of appearances. Theories based on how things appear to our senses. You can never get beyond the perception of the observer to the raw datum as it exists apart from our perception. The scientist is, himself, a percipient. At most, science can uncover deeper layers of phenomena. Higher and lower scales of magnification. Chemical analysis. Correlations between one event and another. But that will always come down to how the evidence appears to the sensory-processing system of the outside observer. There is always a gap between the distal stimulus and the proximal stimulus.

“Of course, evolutionary biologists are in a privileged position, in a sense: we do not have to show that a specific system evolved in a specific way, we only have to present a plausible pathway in which evolution acted upon by natural selection.”

Of course, that’s viciously circular. Unless you already know that evolution is true, then you can’t take for granted that there is an evolutionary pathway in the first place. If you can’t show it, then you don’t know. Your theory should only be as specific as the level of your evidence.

“The emergence of specific features at specific times in geological record, for example.”

i) You’d need to have a continuous series of fossils to draw that conclusion. The fact (assuming it is a fact) that you can discover a datable fossil remnant with specific features hardly means said feature emerged at around the time that organism happened to be fossilized. Even if you can date an isolated fossil, this doesn’t tell you at what point the specific trait emerged (assuming it did); rather, it just tells you that, as of that date, that organism had said trait.

ii) Moreover, the emergence of specific features doesn’t begin to prove macroevolution or common descent. You’re equivocating.

“Or--a major prediction of evolutionary theory--the presence of exapted traits, as well as in general the evidence of blind tinkering (the construction of mammalian eye? giraffe's laryngeal nerve?).”

If you think that’s a design flaw, give us a working model of a superior design. And test it in a real world setting. Show us how your new and improved design confers a survival advantage on the organism in its natural environment.


"Oh, and on Boris: it appears to me (and I cannot test the appearances since the original posts have been removed! :) that you are quibbling between metaphysics and epistemology: while methodological naturalism is indeed a principle in the latter sense, it is not metaphysical at all. In fact, many of my acquaintances have no problem pursuing methodological naturalism in their work (laudable!) while holding all sorts of wacky metaphysical beliefs outside of it (pointless, but often quite lovable)."

There is no presumption in favor of methodological naturalism unless you presume metaphysical naturalism. Unless reality is like what metaphysical naturalism postulates, there's no prior reason to apply the interpretive grid of methodological naturalism to our scientific or historical investigations. The only reason to limit ourselves to this restrictive methodology is in case we already expect reality to be purely naturalistic in its causes and effects.

Therefore, methodological naturalism is a disguised version of metaphysical naturalism. It's a question-begging filter which screens out any and all supernatural explanations in advance of the evidence.


“And Steve...what can I say? I am embarrassed to have to respond.”

Given the inadequacy of your response, your embarrassment is justified. .

“Just a couple of notes: we knew that evolution (in the sense of change of living forms through time) was true long before Darwin.”

Of course, that’s a bait-and-switch tactic. “Evolution” in that generic sense is hardly synonymous with macroevolution or common descent.

“Oh, and the classic trick of demanding an unrealistic level of evidence from evolutionary theory.”

It’s unrealistic to demand evidence specific to the specificity of the theory? How is that unrealistic?

If you lack specific evidence to corroborate specific claims of your theory, then your theoretical belief is evidentially unwarranted. All you’ve given us is your imaginary narrative.

“While settling for no evidence whatsoever to support one's own view is noted, and laughed at.”

You haven’t begun to show that my own view has no supporting evidence. Try to present an actual argument the next time around. Mere assertions pull no weight.

Feel free to keep laughing in your padded cell.


“Um, human eye can be easily redesigned to get rid of a blind spot.”

If that’s easy to do, then do it. Show us your working model. Show us your model in action.

Show how that’s an improvement. Show how you can make that adjustment while leaving everything else intact.

“Our spines, to use another immediate example, are engineered for quadrupeds, not so well for bipeds. These are elementary anatomical facts.”

You haven’t given us any elementary fact. You’ve given us elementary assertions masquerading as facts. Asserting X to be a fact does not a fact make. A factual assertion is not a fact.

Jorgon Gorgon said...

"And giraffe's laryngeal nerve does not have to traverse its neck multiple times."

How is that a design flaw? Is redundancy a design flaw? Is that your point? If so, how is redundancy a design flaw? If not, then what's your point?

BTW, according to you, the giraffe has been around for millions of years. It's managed to survive in a harsh, competitive, unforgiving environment. So why do you think the giraffe is poorly designed? Poorly designed in relation to what? Its ecological niche?

Jorgon Gorgon said...

“Your usage of the term ‘macroevolution’ with the connotation that it is somehow a qualitatively different process than ‘micro’ is duly noted and again, laughed at.”

i) “Laughed at” is not an argument. Is “laughed at” your idea of scientific evidence? If so, that would certainly explain what you’re prepared to believe.

ii) You’re free to disregard the distinction between microevolution and macroevolution, but you still need to furnish evidence commensurate with the specificity of your theory. If you believe in macroevolution, then you need to furnish specific evidence–on a case-by-case basis.

If you can’t furnish specific evidence, then your theory is based on something other than real evidence. What would that be? Secular dogma? Do you use methodological naturalism to putty in the evidentiary gaps in your theory?

“Your incredulity at the idea of common descent is also noted.”

In my response to you, I haven’t staked out a position one way or the other. I’ve merely noted your threadbare assertions and slippery equivocations.

“Your lack of response to my engineering questions is again not unexpected.”

Lack of response? In fact, I have responded. Where’s your counterargument?

“I suppose next you'll express doubts at radiometric dating systems, and we can go from there to cosmological time scales.”

Actually, you’re the one who’s changing the subject, not me. Shall we take that as a tacit admission that you couldn’t back up your previous claims?

“Octopuses, for example, have no blind spot. it is strictly a function of mammalian eyes.”

i) Of course, aquatic organisms function in a very different environment than mammalian land animals. The challenges are hardly comparable.

ii) Moreover, their eyes are not discrete organs which you can isolate from the overall requirements of their octopoid systems. Different designs have trade-offs. You may have to trade down in one department to trade up in another.

It’s simple-minded to focus on one organ or body part to the exclusion of the overall design. An engineer has to balance out all the competing variables.

iii) Show us a working model of how you’d adapt an octopoid eye to a human body. What corresponding adjustments would be required to pull that off? How would that improve on human vision, in our non-aquatic environment? How would that confer a survival advantage on human beings?

“You do realize that organs of vision evolved on multiple occasions and did so in different ways, thoroughly consistent with the blind process tinkering with pre-existing structures under environmental pressures?”

Actually, your faith in the miraculous ability of a blind process to independently hit upon so many feasible solutions is a tribute to your secular credulity.


“I realize that from what appears to be your point of view, all scientists are insane, but it is refreshing to hear it expressed so clearly.”

Sorry to disillusion you, but you don’t speak for all scientists–even if it seems that way from your padded cell.

“By the way, you do realize that Behe subscribes to common descent as well?”

Oh dear. Jorgon, Jorgon: you do realize that in my response to you, I haven’t expressed a personal opinion about intelligent design theory or macroevolution or common descent.

Thus far I’ve confined myself to shooting down your lame objections and tendentious assertions.

One of your many problems is an inability to listen. You assume you already know what your opponent is going to say, so treat us to your canned objections and your rote assertions.

And if I don’t play the typecast role you’ve assigned to me, then you’re at a loss.

You’ve dutifully copied down the little zingers from Stenger, Dawkins, & Dennett. You have all those zippy one-liners alphabetically indexed in your Rolodex of cue cards.

But as soon as you bump into a Christian who doesn’t play into your Hollywood narrative of the gap-toothed fundy, you have nothing in reserve.

And you’re doing no better on the historical Jesus. Trying to bluff your way through the debate doesn’t win you any chips here. You actually have to present real honest-to-goodness arguments.

And, yes, I’m aware of Behe’s arguments for common descent. I’m also aware of the counterarguments.


“Who said anything about redundancy?”

If the RLN doubles back rather than taking the most direct route, then why do you object to “redundancy” to characterize this feature?

And I ask, once again, how is redundancy a design flaw? For example, redundancy can sometimes preserve function or partial function in case of injury.

“It is a single nerve…”

Actually, from what I’ve read, the RLN has branches.

“It is not redundant, but only to be expected ifthe giraffe's ancestors had shorter necks. Capiche?”

Several problems with that assertion:

i) You dismissed intelligent design arguments as God-of-the-gap arguments. However, if that’s the case, then design flaw arguments are Godless-of-the-gap arguments. If you can’t explain the purpose of “suboptimal adaptations,” you fall back on blind evolutionary mechanisms. So your objection is simply the reverse of what you fault in ID-theory. But if appeal to intelligent teleology is a “cop-out” or “science-stopper,” then appeal to blind dysteleology is likewise a “cop-out” or “science-stopper.”

ii) The giraffe has a highly specialized circulatory system. You need to explain how a blind evolutionary process could synchronize the fortuitous emergence of these interdependent adaptations.

iii) But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the modern giraffe did “evolve” from ancestors with shorter necks. How would that disapprove intelligent design?

Dog breeders cultivate different subspecies of dogs with a variety of specialized features.

“As far as laughter is concerned: when one exhibits ignorance of itroductory biology while thinking that they may make protentious pronouncements on much more advanced subjects, laughter is the only answer. (BTW, I laugh at myself all the time: try it, it may turn out to be beneficial...:))”

It’s true that your ignorance of introductory biology makes you a laughingstock. That’s one thing we agree with on.

“Lo and behold! Steve takes a small albeit unwitting step towards understanding how evolution actually works. Will he realize this momentous breakthrough? I doubt it, but anything is possible.”

You’re dodging the issue, even though you were the one who choose to introduce that issue. I’m still waiting for you to furnish a working model of a functional human eye with octopoid improvements.

“Meanwhile, a hypothetical designer is not limited by preexisting structures, of course.”

i) You’re the one who cited the octopoid eye as your point of reference. Therefore, the onus lies on you to present a detailed physiological explanation of how you’d combine features of the octopoid eye with features of the human eye to produce a more optimal design.

ii) Use of preexisting structures is a mark of simplicity and efficiency.

“I wish I could apologize for my laughter; but no matter, no matter.”

No need to apologize. A buffoon like you makes an excellent foil. You’re like a clown we hire to entertain little tikes at the birthday party.


“Oh boy. Are you really trying to tell me that you do not see how a single nerve from larynx traversing the length of the neck, looping around the aorta and traversing the length of the neck again on its return path to the brain has nothing to do with redundancy (where is the backup system, my friend?)?”

i) You have a simple-minded grasp of redundancy. For example:


ii) Since a giraffe is a unified organism with a set of functionally integrated subsystems, you must detail how, exactly (and I do mean “exactly”) you could reroute the RLN without disrupting the delicate balance. Optimality is a property of the entire organism, in relation to its ecological niche, and not an isolated organ or body party.

BTW, you’re not my friend.

“Oh boy. I apologize.”

You have a lot to apologize for. Don’t stop now.

“I thought I was conversing with people with at least a freshman level understanding of basic biology; my mistake.”

Since I never mistook you for someone with at least a freshmen level understanding of basic biology, I’m unapologetic.

“BTW, regarding your earlier confusion between methodological and metaphysical naturalism: do not fall into Johnson's rhetorical cesspit: they are two different devices entailing quite different committments. I know of plenty people who are methodologically quite naturalistic (perhaps even more orthodox than me in that sense) while holding all sorts of metaphysically non-naturalistic beliefs: Miller, Gilberson, Collins, Abdus Salam (!) spring to mind instantly.”

I spelled out why your makeshift dichotomy is unstable. Methodological naturalism logically collapses into metaphysical naturalism. I gave reasons. You offer no counterargument.

Instead, you resort to biographical anecdotes. But what some people happen to believe is irrelevant. Name-dropping is not an argument. Collecting opinions is no substitute for reasoned argument.


“Steve: your claim that methodological naturalism is unstable is belied by many practitioners that use it without a problem.”

I give arguments, you give anecdotes. Needless to say, citing biographical vignettes doesn’t go an inch towards disproving my argument. You’re an irrationalist posing as a rationalist.

“(Your claim is akin to a crank-point from John Baez's list: 5 points for every mention of the sueriority of a thought experiment that contradicts well-observed empirical observation).”

That’s such a stupid comparison. There’s no analogy between the metaphysical/methodological dichotomy and the thought-experimental/empirical-experimental dichotomy.

Your anecdotes about methodological naturalists don’t count as observational facts about the concept of methodological naturalism. Rather, that merely tells us something about the mental state of the methodological naturalist. His opinions. That’s irrelevant to whether their opinions are true or false.

The truth or falsity of the metaphysical/methodological dichotomy is a logical issue, not a psychological or empirical issue. Are you too dense to figure that out?

“My grasp of redundancy may or may not be simplistic, but a single system is not redundant in any sense without another system fulfilling the same/similar task. Your apparent inability to grasp it does not bode well for future discussion.”

It’s redundant in the sense I gave. See the link.

“It could, easily, go directly from the brain to larynx.”

You say it but you don’t show it. Asserting something to be the case is not an argument, especially when you’re making counterfactual claims about optimal bioengineering. A real engineer needs to demonstrate his claims, not make promissory assertions about what’s allegedly easy to do.

You act as if we were dealing with an isolated system. What corresponding changes would be required to implement that particular change? Do you have any idea? We’re waiting to see your schematics.

“BTW, I assume you may be aware that the giraffe's engineering is quite faulty, for old specimen in any case: often they are not able to get up after drinking and die.”

Another stupid statement. It reflects your chronic inability to keep more than one idea in your head at a time.

Specialization has advantages and disadvantages. Which is a better design: A leopard, a tiger, or a cheetah?

There is no uniform answer to that question. A cheetah sacrifices power and claws for sheer speed. Speed is advantageous. But it comes at a cost.

A leopard is more flexible. More powerful than a cheetah. Can climb better than a lion or cheetah.

On the other hand, it lacks the power of a lion, or the speed of a cheetah.

What is a survival advantage in one situation, one environment, one ecological niche, may be disadvantageous in another environment.

Optimality is relative to other considerations. A cost/benefit ratio. There are tradeoffs to being a giraffe. Better in some ways, worse in others.

[JG] “What's more, your requirements of specificity are a classic ID/creationist canard: a demand for 100% specific and proven pathway/method/system from an opponent while themselves providing nothing but vague generalities (in fact, s vague as to be useless, as with IC, for example.”

Even if ID theory were guilty of the inadequacies you allege, shifting the blame to the inadequacies of the opposing position does nothing whatsoever to rectify the inadequacies of your own position. That’s just a diversionary tactic on the part of somebody who can’t back up his sweeping claims with comparable evidence.

“In fact, I am under no obligation to demonstrate anything to you that you cannot fiind out by perusing your local college library. Would you like a reading list? It can be provided, upon request. If you raised any interestig points, I would be happy to engage in a thoughtful dialogue (contrary to what you may believe, my training in relevant disciplines is quite real.”

Flaunting your epaulets like the head of a banana republic is no substitute for putting hard evidence on the table or presenting a counterargument.

I’ve been answering you on your own terms. When I do so, you respond with an abundance of bluster and schoolboy fallacies.

“Instead, you repeat well-worn non-points from Dembski et al, without betraying any knowledge of the current state of research in real biology.”

Once again, you have no argument. You talk about knowledge without putting the relevant knowledge on display. Stalling for time.

“I must say, I have not had this much fun since watching A fock of Dodos...”

There’s nothing behind your façade. It’s just a cardboard wall. Once we punch a hole in your facade, there’s nothing but air on the other side.

You’re long on scientific rhetoric, but short on scientific evidence.

Jorgon Gorgon said:

Um, human eye can be easily redesigned to get rid of a blind spot.

Are you referring to the optic disc of the retina? If so, how do you propose to redesign the optic disc in order to get rid of this blind spot without adversely affecting the physiology of vision?

And giraffe's laryngeal nerve does not have to traverse its neck multiple times. (Vagus nerve has the same problem).

Specifically, what do you find problematic about how the vagus nerve innervates the human body? For one thing, it's responsible for significant parasympathetic functions which would not be possible if it didn't innervate the human body in the manner it does.

Our spines, to use another immediate example, are engineered for quadrupeds, not so well for bipeds. These are elementary anatomical facts.

You can't simply take the spine in isolation and make such a sweeping claim.

What specifically is it about the human vertebral column that you believe to be poorly engineered for bipedal motion over and against quadrupedal motion?

How do you explain other skeletal features such as the clavicle which serves as a strut and keeps the humerus away from the thorax and allows it the range of motion it has (and which, as you'd claim, is one reason we're not quadrupeds)?

Not to mention that if you were to do away with the clavicle, then you'd have other problems such as deep inspiration because it wouldn't be possible for humans to elevate their ribs.

And we've said nothing of other anatomical features such as the various muscle attachments that are involved in bipedal motion.

Jorgon Gorgon said:

Mammalian eye is designed as a reflector. It did not have to be. Had it been designed by an intelligent and logical engineer, it most likely would have been a refractor. The fact that I cannot think of specific details of its design means nothing: I assume that such a designer would have much more advanced tools than any of us do. All I can concentrate on is function; and for a given function, better designs are possible.

Of course that assumes an "intelligent and logical" designer. It could have been Arioch the Duke of Chaos, and often it seems that way.

1. I don't know if this is what you're assuming but I'm not arguing for intelligent design. Rather, I'm simply asking you to make good on the claims you've made. If you claim x, then specify how claim x would work. And, yes, it does mean "something" if you can't make good on your claim.

2. You're simply wrong to say that the eye is designed as a reflector and not a refractor. How do you explain the refractive media of the eye: the cornea, aqueous humor, lens, and vitreous humor?

And I thought you understood "introductory biology" since you were the one who said the following:

As far as laughter is concerned: when one exhibits ignorance of itroductory biology while thinking that they may make protentious pronouncements on much more advanced subjects, laughter is the only answer.

1 comment:

  1. His blind allegiance to the equation

    "nothing + nobody = everything"

    is noted, and laughed at.