Saturday, April 30, 2011
... by Naturalism we mean the doctrine that only Nature -- the whole interlocked system -- exists. And if that were true, every thing and event would, if we knew enough, be explicable without remainder (no heel-taps) as a necessary product of the system....
One threat against strict Naturalism has recently been launched on which I myself will base no argument, but which it will be well to notice....Some modern scientists seem to think...that the individual unit of matter (it would be rash to call it any longer a 'particle') moves in an indeterminate or random fashion; moves, in fact, 'on its own' or 'of its own accord.'...Now it will be noticed that if this theory is true we have really admitted something other than Nature. It would be, indeed, too great a shock to our habits to describe them as super-natural. I think we should have to call them sub-natural. But all our confidence that Nature has no doors, and no reality outside herself for doors to open on, would have disappeared. There is apparently something outside her, the Subnatural; it is indeed from this Subnatural that all events and all 'bodies' are, as it were, fed into her. And clearly if she thus has a back door opening on the Subnatural, it is quite on the cards that she may also have a front door opening on the Supernatural -- and events might be fed into her at that door too.
I have mentioned this theory because it puts in a fairly vivid light certain conceptions which we shall have to use later on. But I am not, for my own part, assuming its truth. Those who like myself have had a philosophical rather than a scientific education find it almost impossible to believe that the scientists really mean what they seem to be saying. I cannot help thinking they mean no more than that the movements of individual units are permanently incalculable to us, not that they are in themselves random and lawless. And even if they mean the latter, a layman can hardly feel any certainty that some new scientific development may not tomorrow abolish this whole idea of a lawless Subnature. For it is the glory of science to progress. [Emphasis mine] I therefore turn willingly to other ground.
Notice that Lewis has made it clear that he will not base his apologetics on science, since science can change, but for those who accept the "truths" of science, clearly it can pose serious challenges to metaphysical positions, in this case Naturalism.
Well, if it can pose challenges to metaphysical positions, then there's no reason to think it cannot provide support for metaphysical positions. Thus we saw previously that Lewis thought scientific evidence provided support for the Christian doctrine that the universe had a beginning.
So there is no reason why Lewis would necessarily reject evidence of Intelligent Design as being unable to provide evidence that supports a Theistic worldview.
Next time we'll consider what Lewis would have thought about the "God-of-the Gaps" argument.
Friday, April 29, 2011
"...I would like to clear up certain points about the actual relations between Christian doctrine and the scientific knowledge we already have. That is a different matter from the continual growth of knowledge we imagine, whether rightly or wrongly, in the future and which, as some think, is bound to defeat us in the end.
"In one respect, as many Christians have noticed, contemporary science has recently come into line with Christian doctrine, and parted company with the classical forms of materialism. If anything emerges clearly from modern physics, it is that nature is not everlasting. The universe had a beginning, and will have an end. But the great materialistic systems of the past all believed in the eternity, and thence in the self-existence of matter. As Professor Whittaker said in the Riddell Lectures of 1942, 'It was never possible to oppose seriously the dogma of the Creation except by maintaining that the world has existed from all eternity in more or less its present state.' This fundamental ground for materialism has now been withdrawn. We should not lean too heavily on this, for scientific theories change. But at the moment it appears that the burden of proof rests, not on us, but on those who deny that nature has some cause beyond herself."
Notice how Lewis briefly mentions a scientific discovery (the universe had a beginning) in order to score a point for Christianity. But then he advises us not to "lean too heavily on this, for scientific theories change."
So yes, Lewis has no problem using science to support his apologetics. But he never made it the major part of his argument and always cautions that science can change.
So would Lewis have used ID arguments in his apologetics? Since ID is still very controversial, Lewis would have been even more cautious, but I have no doubt that in the right context he would have referred to them.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
"I am speaking, so far of theological reading. Scientific reading is a different matter. If you know any science it is very desirable that you should keep it up. We have to answer the current scientific attitude toward Christianity, not the attitude scientists adopted one hundred years ago. Science is in continual change and we must try to keep abreast of it. We may mention such things; but we must mention them lightly and without claiming that they are more than “interesting.” Sentences beginning “Science has now proved” should be avoided. If we try to base our apologetic on some recent development in science, we shall usually find that just as we have put the finishing touches to our argument science has changed its mind and quietly withdrawn the theory we have been using as our foundation stone."
So would Lewis have rejected ID? No. Would he have made ID a major part of his apologetics? No, but he would have mentioned it "lightly" and claimed that it was "interesting."
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Monday, April 25, 2011
Michael Peterson argues that C.S. Lewis would not have supported ID. I think Peterson is mistaken.
First, I think he's mistaken in categorizing Lewis as accepting the classical philosophical arguments for God: cosmological and teleological. I know of no instance where Lewis argued for God's existence using either of those arguments, nor of any instance where he commended either or those arguments.
Second, I would have to look to find the passage, but somewhere Lewis wrote, "Whatever my objections to the theory of evolution, they are not theological in nature," or words to that effect. In other words, though he has no theological beef with evolution, he is willing to countenance empirical evidence against it, should it arise.
Third, we know that Lewis's general view of using science to support theological positions is a very tentative one. For example, he cites the evidence of quantum physics as evidence of a "subnature," and argues that if there is a subnature or backdoor, then there may also be a supernature or frontdoor. But then he writes, "but it is the glory of science to progress," and moves on to other arguments for the supernatural. In another location he does the same sort of thing with the new evidence that the universe had a beginning.
So Lewis is willing to use scientific evidence to bolster his arguments, but only in a very tentative way. He relies on more philosophical arguments for his main case.
So with that in mind, how would Lewis deal with ID arguments? Assuming that he thought they had any merit, he would say something like, "There seem to be some indications that science may have it wrong regarding the origin and evolution of life. It will be interesting to see how the debate continues to develop. But since I had a philosophical training, not a scientific one, I gladly leave that debate to others more qualified than myself, and turn to other arguments."
Friday, April 22, 2011
The passage I find most critical to the debate:
And he [Feser] reflects on the inadequacy of materialist explanations of DNA and the genetic code, that
seem teleological through and through. Descriptions of this famous molecule make constant reference to the "information," "data," "instructions," "blueprint," "software," "programming," and so on contained within it . . ."
He then speaks of DNA as "directed toward" a sort of "goal" or "end."vii
The ID theorist might sense an ally, but Feser quickly clarifies:
It is important to note that this has nothing whatsoever to do with the "irreducible complexity" that "Intelligent Design" theorists claim certain biological phenomena exhibit; the Aristotelian need not take sides in the debate between Darwinian biologists and "Intelligent Design" theorists (who generally accept the mechanistic view of nature endorsed by their materialist opponents). Final causality is evident in DNA not because of how complex it is, but because of what it does, and would be equally evident however simple in physical structure DNA might have been.viii
I think Feser may have a point. The argument that DNA is specified may be enough to establish teleology. The argument that it is complex may establish how God did it (through secondary causes or immediately).
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Regarding AIDS, Margulis says,
There is a vast body of literature on syphilis spanning from the 1500s until after World War II, when the disease was supposedly cured by penicillin. Yet the same symptoms now describe AIDS perfectly. It's in our paper "Resurgence of the Great Imitator." Our claim is that there's no evidence that HIV is an infectious virus, or even an entity at all. There's no scientific paper that proves the HIV virus causes AIDS. Kary Mullis [winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize for DNA sequencing, and well known for his unconventional scientific views] said in an interview that he went looking for a reference substantiating that HIV causes AIDS and discovered, "There is no such document."
And she dismisses neo-Darwinism, even saying, " The critics, including the creationist critics, are right about their criticism [of neo-Darwinism]." And then this:
"Population geneticist Richard Lewontin gave a talk here at UMass Amherst about six years ago, and he mathematized all of it -- changes in the population, random mutation, sexual selection, cost and benefit. At the end of his talk he said, "You know, we've tried to test these ideas in the field and the lab, and there are really no measurements that match the quantities I've told you about." This just appalled me. So I said, "Richard Lewontin, you are a great lecturer to have the courage to say it's gotten you nowhere. But then why do you continue to do this work?" And he looked around and said, "It's the only thing I know how to do, and if I don't do it I won't get my grant money." So he's an honest man, and that's an honest answer."
Both PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne have reacted strongly to the interview, with Coyne giving the post detailed critique. He even fact-checked the Lewontin reference:
"I called up Dick [Lewontin] this morning and read him Margulis’s quote. He said that it completely mischaracterized his views and what he must have said at Amherst. Lewontin said that he thinks that purely mathematical models of population genetics have largely failed to help us understand the distribution of gene frequencies in nature, because those models often make assumptions that are either incorrect or untestable. So while mathematical theory in population genetics has had some successes, he said, it hasn’t been nearly as useful as we hoped. That’s why, Dick claimed, he stopped doing pure equations and started doing computer simulations, which he considers a more realistic way to see what can happen in nature. In simulations one can vary the parameters more easily and check the models’ sensitivity to varied conditions. In fact, Dick said that ages ago he stopped submitting grants that proposed purely mathematical approaches. So Margulis’s characterization of Lewontin as a dishonest huckster trying to fund work that he knew was bogus is inaccurate and unfair.
Lewontin wanted me to add (for I have permission to quote him here), that his purpose in getting grant money was not simply to fund designated projects described in his research proposals, but to “run an institution”: to “fund a group of creative people to do what they want.” And indeed, that’s what he did—and that’s what many grant-funded investigators do. We can’t always predict how our proposed research will turn out; in fact, we know it will turn out differently from the projects we describe in our proposals. And the granting agencies like the NIH also know this well. In many ways, grants are not just given for proposed projects, but for demonstrated accomplishments of a group of investigators. For many years Lewontin ran one of the most productive groups in modern evolutionary genetics. I was proud to be a part of it.
When I read him Margulis’s statement, designed to denigrate population genetics, Lewontin didn’t recognize at all the caricature she had drawn. Margulis simply distorted his views, which I’ve just described, as another way of dismissing modern evolutionary biology."
Neither Myers not Coyne comment on her reference to Kary Mullis and HIV. It's worth finding out.
Of course, I hope Margulis isn't a crackpot for another reason than ID. She's also a 9/11 truther.
When Theory and Experiment Collide
Even if Axe's results are correct, I'm not sure this rules out Mike Gene's front-loading hypothesis. What if we discover that all the supposedly new protein folds actually are quite ancient? Then it seems possible that they were part of the original design at the origin of life, and that the Darwinian process had them at its disposal for future evolution.
Update: The paper that the "simple" explanation is based on: here.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
But if you're looking for snarkiness, Nelson isn't your man, I'm afraid:
" If you accuse someone of quote-mining, you actually have to read the source that supposedly was mined, to understand the context. If Myers had done so, he would have seen immediately that Wolpert makes exactly the same argument that I presented in the OD series: natural selection, at least as the process is conventionally modeled, cannot explain the origin of differentiation.
Myers has refused to say whether he read Wolpert 1994 before accusing me of quote mining the publication. As I'll show below, the evidence indicates he did not read the article. Given that my argument and Wolpert's are largely identical on the key point in question, Myers' charge of quote-mining amounts to slander."
That's about as nasty as Nelson ever manages to get.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Sunday, April 10, 2011
Ed Feser has argued against ID on the basis of Thomistic arguments. And so one way of trying to refute him is by using a Thomistic argument.
In Thomism versus the Design Argument, Feser says:
"As I have said many times, it is its eschewal of immanent final causality that makes ID theory “mechanistic” in the specific sense of “mechanism” that A-T philosophers object to...."
If I understand it, the point is that God created the universe so that it had the ability to produce life, and that no intervention by God was needed to make this happen.
Anyway, Aquinas writes in his Summa Theologica, Question XCI, "The Production of the Body of the First Man," Second Article, Reply to Objection 3:
"The movement of the heavens causes natural changes, but not changes that surpass the order of nature and are caused by the divine power alone, as for the dead to be raised to life, or the blind to see; and the making of man from the slime of the earth is a work of this sort."
It seems clear that Aquinas thought that it required divine intervention in order to create man from preexisting material. Therefore it does not seem that there is any barrier to thinking that divine intervention may have been needed to create the first living cells. So there does not seem to be any legitimate Thomistic objection to ID.
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Understanding Ontogenetic Depth
"I was supposed to do this a year ago -- well, long before that, too -- but a glacier passed me on the interstate, and then I ran out of gas, got so depressed that I threw my notes into a box, and...oh, never mind. Let's get started....
....The theory of evolution by natural selection does not explain the origin of animal form, because natural selection cannot account for origin de novo of the developmental stages required to construct (i.e., evolve) animals. The concept of OD [ontogenetic depth] helps us to understand why."
I'll be busy reading what he has to say.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Mike Gene takes the Challenge
"Y’see the start codon has an important job not shared by any other codon – it sets the reading frame. If you want a translation system that does not encode an amino acid for its start codon, you’ll need a completely different mechanism to set the reading frame. Has anyone ever proposed such a mechanism? And if so, is there any evidence that such a system would do a better job at setting the proper reading frame? Until those questions can be answered, no problem has been demonstrated with using the start codon to code for an amino acid.
But what about your claim that “methionine often interferes with the correct folding of the protein?” Really? How often is often?
The second process that removes the methionine from many proteins is known as methionine excision and depends on the protein methionine aminopeptidase. You say that it seems needlessly inefficient, but again, think design tradeoffs and remember that efficiency is not the sole criterion of good design.
So at this point I would direct your attention to something called the N-end rule. Here is a review paper written by the scientist who uncovered this rule.
It basically states the N-terminal amino acid plays a key role in determining the half-life of a protein. If you look at table 1, you’ll see that a protein whose first amino acid is methionine has a half-life of 30 hours. If it was tyrosine, it would be 10 minutes. And if you check out figure 1, you’ll see that methionine is considered a stabilizing residue (one of the three universal stabilizing residues). So the start codon represents a default state for giving a protein a long lifespan. By cutting away the methionine, the cell can in effect set the lifespan of the newly made protein that is shorter. Looks pretty elegant to me.
But there is more meaty stuff to get out of the N end rule."
Let's hope he writes about the more meaty stuff.
Monday, April 4, 2011
Here's hoping for clarity for those of us who know next to nothing regarding Thomism.
Sunday, April 3, 2011
Saturday, April 2, 2011
Where I disagree with Collins is that he thinks that there can be no reasonable evidence that God has intervened in the universe to produce life or influence its evolution. For him, such evidence wouldn't be scientific and therefore should be ignored.
But Collins is adopting his own version of scientism that insists that only evidence that gives us scientific conclusions must be used to determine questions regarding God's relationship with natural history. And since science cannot determine anything for certain about the supernatural, then conclusions about God intervening in nature must be excluded.
The problem is, what if God has intervened in nature in order to create life or guide evolution? Then our scientific conclusions will be mistaken. And Collins allows for no way to correct those conclusions.