Still struggling against evolution

Daniel MacIntyre is mad at me again, though it’s hard to say why exactly, since he has to make up the things he accuses me of.

The professor is getting stretched thinner and thinner on his points. First he tries to defend his extremism in the most peculiar way – instead of addressing the fact that I’m NOT advocating creationism or id – merely questioning Darwinism as a necessary explanation – he AGAIN attacks me as if I am a creationist!

If you click on the link above, however, you can see for yourself that I did not say anything about MacIntyre being a creationist. I am simply pointing out a couple of purely factual observations. Number one, that evolution is such a practical, essential, elegant and ingenious mechanism for maintaining life on earth that any “design” which failed to include it would necessarily be less intelligent than one which included it. Notice I’m not making any kind of speculation about who believes what. I’m simply pointing out that, in terms of practical, biological functions, it would be more intelligent to include Darwinian evolution in one’s design for life than to exclude it–especially considering the extra work it would take to circumvent the natural biochemical properties while give rise to mutation, genetic drift, natural selection, and other aspects of evolution. So it’s silly to try and claim that Intelligent Design theory in some way invalidates evolution. (Not that I’m saying that anyone in particular would do that–I’m just making the observation!)

Secondly, I’m pointing out the fact that evolutionary theory is the only scientific explanation that is consistent with the currently available evidence. The difference between a scientific explanation and a superstitious one is that a scientific explanation not only attributes a particular effect to a particular cause, but also gives us enough information about that cause that we can work out what real world consequences would be produced by that cause–or fail to be produced if the proposed cause does not actually exist and function in the real world.

Superstitious explanations like ID merely attribute an observed effect to some purported cause, without being able to show any real-world connection between the two, and often (as in the case of ID) without even being able to describe what such a connection would be if it did exist. Who is the Designer? Officially, we don’t know. How did He design life on earth? No answer. How did He implement His design? Again, no response. ID is superstition, not science.

But again, notice that I am not pointing any fingers at Mr. MacIntyre or making any claims about what he does or does not believe. If it makes him feel better to call people “extremists,” well, then I hope he feels better, but it doesn’t alter the facts above. And if Mr. MacIntyre thinks he can prove that the above are not facts, then I’ll gladly sit back and listen to his explanation for why an “intelligent” design for life on earth would go out of its way to make life more fragile, less adaptable, and less innovative than what it could be in an evolutionary system. Or if he’d rather provide us with a scientific means of objectively identifying the Designer and objectively quantifying the process by which “design” created the life we find on earth today, I’d be more than happy to examine his conclusions in the light of his evidence.

Meanwhile, instead of responding to the above points, MacIntyre tries to make me sound like an advocate of dogmatic “Darwinism” because I said he was confusing skepticism with a reluctance to embrace the truth.

First I need to point out a phrase “reluctance to embrace the truth” – no talk of data, the model or investigation here – for the professor, Darwinism is “The Truth.”

However, if you read what I wrote–and what MacIntyre quoted before responding–I stated specifically which verifiable truth I was referring to. I said, “Evolution has the unique distinction of being the only currently proposed scientific theory which proposes a mechanism with specific, predictable consequences that correspond to the data we find in the real world.” If MacIntyre wants to dispute this fact, he needs to come up with a scientific theory with specific, predictable consequences first of all, and then secondly he needs to show that the specific consequences match what we find in the real world. ID does not do that. There’s no way to predict what an unknown intelligent designer would design because there’s no way to know what an intelligent designer would want to design. Behe uses the example of Mount Rushmore versus the Matterhorn as an example of a mountain with design features versus a mountain without them–but how does he know that the Matterhorn was not also designed?

MacIntyre comes up with an even greater flaw in ID, though he tries to portray it as a flaw in evolution:

The professor goes into great detail explaining the consequences of Darwinism and how it “predicts”Hierarchies etc… There’s only one problem with these predictions – the theory “predicted” them AFTER they were observed. Taking existing data and using it as a conclusion that your theory “predicts” is not a proof – it is at best justification for the consideration of the theory and at worst, simple rationalization to justify your own beliefs.

This is the pot calling the snow black. Remember, science is based on the principle that the truth is consistent with itself. If you want to determine whether or not a hypothetical cause is really consistent with the truth, you need to be able to determine what consequences would result in the real world if your hypothetical cause were to actually exist and function as described. In other words, we’re not talking here about looking at what the end result is, and then just arbitrarily deciding that yeah, um, that’s what we predicted. ID does that: they look at the end result and say, “Oh, well, obviously the designer must have intended it to be that way, and therefore this is what ID ‘predicted’ would be the result.”

In the case of evolution, however, it’s not a question of assigning arbitrary post hoc “predictions.” The nested hierarchies are a direct consequence of the way inheritance works. If you have one ancestral species, and a sub-population splits off with, say, shorter legs, then it’s going to be possible to observe that the two species are almost identical, except that one has shorter legs. If a second sub-population also splits off of the original with, say, longer fur, then, you’re going to have two younger species that are almost identical to the ancestral species, except that one has shorter legs and the other has longer fur. And when you compare the two descendant species to each other, you’re going to see that they’re very close, except for variations in leg and fur length. So the “sibling” species differ in two characteristics from each other, and in one characteristic from the “parent.”

As each new species splits off sub-populations, the process continues. New species will share most characteristics in common with their immediate parent species, slightly fewer characteristics in common with sibling species, and still fewer with cousins, more distant ancestors, and more distant descendants. That’s a direct consequence of the fact that each new species arises by making small changes from its parent, and the fact that these changes accumulate along each line of descent independently from other lines. Using this knowledge, you can scientifically determine the hierarchy by comparing shared and differing characteristics.

It’s the same process Bible scholars use to trace the history of textual variants in the copying of the New Testament, or by anthropologists tracing the origin and development of myths and legends. Nested hierarchies are the natural and inevitable result of any process that introduces variations while copying information. We’re not just arbitrarily “predicting” that natural hierarchies ought to exist–these hierarchies are a necessary consequence of Darwinian common descent. If they were not present, Darwinian evolution would be inconsistent with the real-world evidence.

Contrast that with ID, which MacIntyre thinks is a valid competing theory. The nested hierarchies we observe in nature make the most sense when seen in evolutionary terms, because we see that related species share not only common characteristics, but common defects as well. Humans, for example, share a defective gene with other primates, a defect that prevents us from making our own vitamin C like most mammals do. Why would a Designer want to copy mistakes from one species to another if their design were coming out of His intelligent design skills instead of being inherited from earlier species? The ID answer is, “Well, obviously the Designer must have wanted to do it that way, therefore ID makes the (post hoc) prediction that we ought to find nested hierarchies.” But there’s no organic connection between the proposed process and the end result, as there is with evolution. With evolution, nested hierarchies are what you are going to get because that’s how inheritance works, but there’s nothing about ID that would lead you to expect the data we actually find. MacIntyre is right that arbitrary post hoc “predictions” are unscientific, but it is ID, and not evolution, that makes them.

In fact, if ID did make predictions, one would expect it to predict a situation similar to what we see in automobile design. Early automobiles drew design elements from the technology that was familiar at the time: horse-drawn carriages for the basic structure of the vehicle, for instance. As new design innovations became available, the new ideas were applied across all vehicle types and manufacturers: cars, trucks, motorcycles, Fords, Chevrolets, etc. Pneumatic tires, as opposed to solid-rim wheels with spokes, for instance, or fuel-injected engines as opposed to carburetors. This kind of across-the-board technology upgrade is typical of production under intelligent design conditions, but it doesn’t match what we find in the natural world. Nested hierarchies are a visibly different pattern from across-the-board technology upgrades, and what we find in the real world is the former, not the latter.

What does ID do about this inconsistency? They simply “predict,” post hoc, that the designer must have wanted to do it that way, for some unknowable reason. Even MacIntyre admits that there’s nothing scientific about that approach.

He closes with a clichéd dictionary drill about what “race” really means, and ends up coming to pretty much the same conclusion I did: that the term “race,” as popularly used–which is what dictionaries record–refers to a perceptual system that people use to categorize other people (unscientifically). From a strictly biological standpoint, however, ancestry is still a more useful term, because it doesn’t create shallow and naive distinctions that ignore the intermingled threads in everyone’s heritage. All of us ultimately come from African descendants, for instance, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t differences between us at the individual level, nor does it mean that you can’t find groupings of shared characteristics. What it does mean, however, is that the human race is still fundamentally all the same species, and racist attempts to misuse evolution to justify their bigotry are scientifically unfounded.

Not that I’m implying any racism on Mr. MacIntyre’s part, of course. Apparently I need to say that explicitly, or people might decide I’m some kind of “extremist.” 😉

Posted in Science. 1 Comment »

One Response to “Still struggling against evolution”

  1. Key Words: Still not happy « Evangelical Realism Says:

    […] that he is being unfairly portrayed as a creationist, even though I went to quite a bit of trouble last time to make it plain that I was not arguing that he was. Yes, the professor is not speculating who […]

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