Evolution v. Intelligent Design Watch: Can Natural Selection Acting on Random Mutations Account for the Origin of Species?

Catholic biochemist, Michael Behe, thinks not, and Evangelical philosopher, William Lane Craig, in this YouTube clip, clearly and admirably sets out, in broad outline, Behe’s doubts:

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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25 Responses to Evolution v. Intelligent Design Watch: Can Natural Selection Acting on Random Mutations Account for the Origin of Species?

  1. josefjohann says:

    This is exactly what I am concerned about. We know that evolution works, while the mechanisms involved in selection continue to be refined and their details debated. But dualist mushiness turns into creationist mushiness turns into the philosophical establishment lending badly needed credit to a discredited theory. The effect is to make a lack of respect for empiricism mainstream. In other contexts, this has been devastating. This is one of the reasons why it’s important to take naturalism seriously.

  2. santitafarella says:

    Josefjohann:

    That’s a good site you directed me to. I’ll look it over. What little I saw looks interesting. If you are one of the people maintaining the site, then you are doing the work of the angels (or non-angels, if you prefer).

    I don’t, however, buy your domino theory. I think that, if you’re going to do careful thinking, you need to make distinctions. It’s not fair (for example) to conflate an Intelligent Design advocate like Behe with young Earth creationists, or assume that one leads to the other. Behe respects empiricism and reason, as does William Lane Craig. You don’t have to be an atheist to respect empiricism and reason. Not everyone, however, starts with philosophical naturalism. Not everyone assumes that the whole of existence can be accounted for on a “one world” hypothesis. That’s not mushiness; that’s looking at the world and drawing different inferences from you.

    Also, I don’t think it follows that atheism gives people a longer life. I believe that the last statistic I saw put Seventh Day Adventists ahead of all other subgroups in longevity (by about 7 years). The reason? Probably their vegetarian diets. Also, if you want to talk about deaths from atheism, I think you can point to free love advocacy. Think of how many people in the world, listening to atheist arguments about abandoning religious sexual mores, end up with diseases. There’s lots of ways to get yourself into health trouble, not just from being religious.

    I’d also ask you to look at the death and destruction of women’s lives that followed in the wake of the atheist poet Shelley. Maybe add the suicide of one of Shelley’s mistresses to the site you directed me to.

    I’m not a blue nose, by the way. I’m just saying that a lot of our choices (sexual and philosophical) can have disasterous consequences to our lives, and lead to illness and death. More than a few people, concluding that God does not exist and that life, therefore, has no ultimate meaning, have killed themselves in existential despair. Many a poor soul in this world has drunk or drugged themselves to death because they ceased to believe in God, and absorbed the nihilism that atheism makes way for. Let’s not pretend that if the world was full of atheists that, suddenly, we’d find the mortality rate of the general population trending down.

    —Santi

    • Santi

      When I first read this, I thought it was written by somebody else, now I realized that it was you. What a shame!

      Also, if you want to talk about deaths from atheism, I think you can point to free love advocacy. Think of how many people in the world, listening to atheist arguments about abandoning religious sexual mores, end up with diseases.

      What The Frank!? Now AIDS is in the account of atheism? Do you really think that or are you just trolling your own blog? Because this is stupid at best, offensive and insulting at worst.
      I’m not a blue nose, by the way. As I have no idea what a “blue nose” is….<blockqoute I’m just saying that a lot of our choices (sexual and philosophical) can have disasterous consequences to our lives, and lead to illness and death. That’s OBVIOUS so what? And why only “sexual and philosophical” choices, that’s a bit narrow it isn’t?

      More than a few people, concluding that God does not exist and that life, therefore, has no ultimate meaning, have killed themselves in existential despair. Many a poor soul in this world has drunk or drugged themselves to death because they ceased to believe in God, and absorbed the nihilism that atheism makes way for

      More bullshit (sorry but I haven’t a better word for this), and no I won’t even ask you for the evidence, as it’s clear that that’s not the point, although it’s educative. It shows the real face of your so proclaimed ‘agnosticism’.
      I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be a troll, I just thought this was really very offensive, and insulting, so I’m done.

      Tchau

      • santitafarella says:

        Gato,

        No offense taken. Your view is interesting. I’m surprised that you would downplay the downside to the sexual revolution. As a liberal I’m simply acknowledging it, not wishing for its reversal. Obviously, rejecting religious taboos concerning sex has its hazards. As for the hazards of atheism, I think that they are obvious (including temptations to nihilism).

        —Santi

      • I don’t downplay the downside of anything. It’s just that things are much more complex than you seems to think. It’s reductionist to put it in the account of atheism and the rejection of sexual taboos. To keep it short as I have to go home (my daughter have just fone me “where’re you!”, etc), sexual taboos or not, men have been having sex with other men, AND other animals (in fact almost anything, living or not, with a hole in it they could find) almost since the beginning.

  3. josefjohann says:

    First, god no, it’s not my site.

    Second, I’m not saying the slippery slope is the inevitable course of any and all dualism, only that the door is creaked open and anyone is free to walk through, whereas the alternative philosophical schools have it slammed shut, bolted and locked, with several heavy pieces of furniture placed in front of it. (In case this gets misinterpreted, the metaphorical “door” one is walking through is a lack of respect for empricism that leads to death, disease, injury).

    Also, I don’t think it follows that atheism gives people a longer life.

    What on earth?!?! Wha.. was there a claim in there somewhere about atheism leading to longer life spans? Did the word atheism appear anywhere in my previous comment? I could simply point out this isn’t light years near any thought of mine. But is it too much to ask that you at least hesitate before attributing ridiculous claims to me? At least as a principle, if you are going to refute me could you only attribute things to me that you could later back up with a quote if you really needed to?

    You don’t have to be an atheist to respect empiricism and reason.

    I agree.

    Not everyone, however, starts with philosophical naturalism.

    I agree.

    Not everyone assumes that the whole of existence can be accounted for on a “one world” hypothesis.

    I agree.

    That’s not mushiness; that’s looking at the world and drawing different inferences from you.

    That’s mistaking disagreement for intolerance. I assert that mushiness is being gullible enough to sympathize with a discredited movement which you wouldn’t otherwise sympathize with, because it makes common cause against standard naturalism and gives you space to exercise that ambivalence you cherish.

    Behe respects empiricism and reason

    That’s demonstrably false. Behe denied that science had any explanation for the evolution of the immune system. He was then presented a stack of peer reviewed articles and text books over a foot high on exactly that question. Behe, who hadn’t read them, asserted that they were not relevant to his point. His lack of respect for empiricism was proved in court to the satisfaction of Judge Jones in the Dover trial.

    And William Lane Craig has openly admitted that if he was presented with irrefutable evidence against, say, the historical accuracy of the bible, he would think it was right to continue believing in the face of the evidence. So no, neither Behe or Craig actually care about evidence. And those are just the two most obvious reasons why. That’s not a boat you want to jump on.

    As for creationism vs ID or ID vs creationism- I think you are right in a sense. But I could replace creationism with ID in my previous comment and the point would be the same, so its ultimately immaterial. Anyway- what’s dangerous is not dualism itself, but the open door from it to a lack of appreciation for empirical evidence.

    • Jared K says:

      If the criticism of Behe and Craig is that they fail to consistently yield to evidence, and only evidence, then this doesn’t jibe with your radical commitment to materialism. Materialism is a philosophical presupposition, not something that can demonstrated by either science or philosophy. So a commitment to materialism is a commitment to something other than what the evidence merits.

      How is this different from Behe and Craig in that sense?

      Why would anyone believe that the only meaningful type of evidence or justification is derived from what can be shown through empirical verification? Indeed, the vast majority of philosophers of science and epistemologists reject this passe, positivist theory of knowledge. One glaring problem is, the proposition “only those things that can be empirically verified should be believed” cannot be empirically verified!

      • josefjohann says:

        Sorry, but when you characterize me you are trying to smuggle in a straw man extremism that I don’t actually harbor and have no responsibility to answer for. And I am going to call it out every. single. time.

        If the criticism of Behe and Craig is that they fail to consistently yield to evidence, and only evidence, then this doesn’t jibe with your radical commitment to materialism.

        Based on what I’ve said here, you know nothing more about my commitment to materialism, than that I believe empiricism saves lives and that’s why it’s important to respect evidence. What’s radical is if you think that has anything to do with a hard unwavering commitment to materialism, rather than common sense. And I don’t know what you mean by “and only evidence,” but it’s clearly not supposed to be good, as though something else could be germane to empirical questions regarding disease, health, and evolution (which is, for my purposes here, the limit to my endorsement of materialism).

        Materialism is a philosophical presupposition, not something that can demonstrated by either science or philosophy. So a commitment to materialism is a commitment to something other than what the evidence merits.

        In the sense I was talking about, materialism works. It explains things and saves lives. If some alternative had the same effect, I would encourage it. That’s how its different from Behe and Craig- you could give Behe a stack of 58 peer reviewed articles on the evolution of immunology and he still won’t believe immunology evolved, because of his presuppositions. You could give Craig incontrovertible evidence that Jesus did not leave his tomb and Craig, by his own admission, would think it right to continue believing, because of his presuppositions. By my presuppositions I would instantly discard any claim I previously thought true- for example- I first thought quantum mechanics went against everything I thought I knew about the material world, but I have since accepted it.

        I’m not even sure why you are asking, as the difference should have been self-evident from my previous comment, unless it’s a tired attempt to corner me.

        One glaring problem is, the proposition “only those things that can be empirically verified should be believed” cannot be empirically verified!

        That’s true. But you can’t move from that to actively endorsing things which don’t have any purchase, empirical or non in the world we actually live in. And that’s precisely the pit you find yourself in when you try to defend Behe and Craig against their critics. It’s mistaking a battle against naturalists for your battle against naturalists. This is the door from dualism to lack of respect for empiricism that I am concerned about.

  4. Human Ape says:

    Who cares what a compulsive liar (Michael Behe) says about anything?

  5. santitafarella says:

    Human Ape:

    Is Michael Behe a compulsive liar, or are you a compulsive demonizer of people who happen to hold views different from yours?

    —Santi

  6. santitafarella says:

    Josef:

    I absorb your critique of me taking to hand anybody who puts forth a plausible anti-naturalist argument that keeps me in my agnostic abivalence. I like agnosticism. It gives me a space for irony and emotional range that I can’t find in theism or atheism. I like the Whitmanesque freedom of swinging all sorts of ways, and dropping into the shoes of others. It’s a personality thing. I think people who are atheists and theists also have personal motivations for their beliefs, and contingent (not just rational) reasons for arriving at their beliefs. And I agree that I am cherry picking from a Catholic and a conservative Protestant, and that a lot of the other things that they might say I might well hold to be ridiculous.

    But in my response to you I was also trying to get to the subtext underlying the site you directed me to. The site’s list of irrationalities that cause deaths are the easy ones (holistic medicine cranks, etc.). The implication is that religious worldviews will bring you to ruin. My question is: where, on the list, are things like Marxist political movements, eugenics, and free love advocacy? These are movements that have ideas underlying them (Marxism has Hegel, eugenics Darwinian survival of the fittest, free love Shelley-like poetic hippie Rousseauian atheism). You put those ideas together (all of them based on philosophical materialism of one sort or another), and you end up with one hell of a death toll as well.

    Ideas matter. Period. All ideas have system effects, some good, some bad. Some ideas are particularly noxious, such as 20th century eugenics based on Darwinian fitness. I want that one on the site’s list.

    —Santi

  7. michael296 says:

    While evolution is a wonderful theory, we need an evolution of thinking if we are to find a better working model.Evolution theory is like a car with no wheels, and no place to go.While scientists from both side of the debate spend much time debating details, I feel more time should be spent on looking at a much larger picture, taking into account many issues ,including history,religion, the capabilities of modern science now and in the future.One day scientists may fondly look back on the theory of Evolution in much the same way as they may look at history.Evolution II on the other hand has wheels and it is much quicker than Evolution I, not surprisingly.Instead of progressive evolution by nature we have progressive evolution of design by advanced science.At the moment the source of this advanced science is yet to be announced but possibly in the next few months this may become official.Then we can start to look at this revolutionary idea that the gods of our ancestors are in fact very advanced scientists.Would this be so difficult to accept.Then we can re-interrogate history in the light of this new idea rather than ignore it as so many fairy tooth stories as Evolution theory would have us believe
    It is not logical to exclude something simply because it is unbelievable – Sir Fred Hoyle.At the same time we can retain respect for the religious perspectives, but in a scientific context in the 21st century

  8. santitafarella says:

    Josef:

    Nobody disagrees with you (at least I don’t think Jared or I do) that you should not ignore empiricism and reality testing of theories. But in your response to Jared you suggested that Behe (for example) is resistant to empirical data. By contrast, I think that empirical data has to reach a certain point before most people relinquish a beloved hypothesis. Here’s how one scientist puts it:

    “In the book Magic, Science and Religion, Bronislaw Malinowski defines magic as beliefs based on confirming cases alone, and science as beliefs supported by a rigorous accounting of both confirming and nonconfirming data. In the actual practice of scientists, there is plenty of magic by this definition. It looks like this: “Yes, the data don’t look quite the way we predicted, but that’s because of other factors that we didn’t include or anticipate, and they don’t invalidate our overall theory.” Almost all scientists adopt this viewpoint at one time or another. Sometimes such an inference is correct, sometimes not. An excellent piece of journalism that shows scientists grappling with this dilemma, with regard to predictions and data on global temperature, appeared recently in Der Spiegel. Eventually, as long as people are honest about the data, the amount of non-confirming data becomes so large that most people abandon or modify an incorrect hypothesis. There’s a cynical joke among scientists that this process often takes a generation, because people will rarely agree that a hypothesis that they personally have proposed is wrong, so you have to wait until they retire or die. In any case, bias does exist and people do have opinions, but honest accumulation and reporting of data can eventually correct this.”

    The source for the quote is here: https://santitafarella.wordpress.com/2009/12/03/evolution-global-warming-and-how-scientific-sausage-is-made/

    —Santi

  9. josefjohann says:

    Hey Santi. I sympathize with some of what you’ve said. Especially this:

    I like agnosticism. It gives me a space for irony and emotional range that I can’t find in theism or atheism. I like the Whitmanesque freedom of swinging all sorts of ways, and dropping into the shoes of others.

    I will put up a post on my blog responding to your comments relatively soon.

  10. santitafarella says:

    Josef:

    Okay, I’ll look forward to reading it.

    —Santi

  11. I’d watched tis Craig’s clip, and it’s really wonderfull. A wonderfull example of sophistry, fallacy and bullshitness.
    Just at the very first minute Craig dismiss, without justification, common ancestry as evidence of Evolution, and just after that he says that the experience of breeders in producing new varieties of plants and animals, “obviously” cannot be extrapolated to nature, and that that experience in fact shows the limits of such mechanisms. It’s really so “obvious” for him that he feels no obligation to explain and justify why not, and also why all the scientists (who does actual research, publishing in the proper fields) disagree with him.
    Then he goes on misrepresenting Evolution, saying that “white colored moths never evolved to dark colored moths”. Of course they don’t. Individual organisms do not evolve, populations DO. The one who wants to critique Evolution Theory should knows and understand this very basic stuff, if he or she doesn’t want to be seen as stupid.
    Finally, Craig starts to quote Michael Behe, to argue that the ‘arms race'(not his words) between pathological micro-organisms and virus, like Malaria and HIV, and the human imune system and man made drugs, it is not Evolution in action.
    Behe’s claims have been extensively, and overwhemingly refuted. New experiments (yes the ones done in labs) have showed that Behe’s claims are false, and even a grad student could easily demolish Behe’s claims (the same ones Craig uses in his argument) about HIV.
    That’s why Behe is today nothing but an embarrassment for his coleagues at Lehigh University Departament of biological Sciences

  12. santitafarella says:

    Gato:

    I appreciate the links, and I agree with you that anybody who denies common ancestry is full of shit. I think that the mechanism of evolution can be reasonably questioned, but not the fact of common ancestry itself. Behe only questions the mechanism of random mutation acted on by natural selection. But I’ll look at your links (I haven’t yet).

    —Santi

    • The problem here is that there is no theory of Intelligent Design, there is not even an hypothesis as such. Look at any ID source (including Behe’s) and you won’t find out any definition of what ID actually IS, so we can look at Nature and rule out what ID IS NOT. So if there was ID, what we should NOT expect to find? That’s falseability.
      Whitout this Behe et al can claim that their “theory” is compatible with anything, even common descent.
      If someone want to propose other mechanisms of evolution, they should be backed up by reliable data, submited to the scrutiny of the proper scientific peer-reviewed channels, as anybody else. Wishful thinking is not enough.

      • michael296 says:

        Dear Gatprcambriano, there is a hypothesis for Intelligent Design, but I doubt even the Intelligent Design community are aware of it. This could be the classic example of scientists overlooking something, simply because it does not come from a scientifically credible source, as this hypothesis does. As I mentioned above it is about the progressive evolution of design by advanced science and NOT by nature or a super deity. Unlike evolution this allows for many issues to be contained in the same framework, rather than excluding issues such as history because it is not deemed relevant to the theory of evolution.If this hypothesis were correct, it would suggest that science has been in effect been retro-engineering what was done by advanced science over a considerably shorter period than evolution would allow, but much longer than that suggested by religious perspectives.So the evidence of progressive evolution of design hitherto presumed to be be nature, is in part is from from the work of these advance scientists and in addition to that from the many civilsations that have existed on this very ancient planet. Sounds incredible but as Sir Fred Hoyle said,’ it is not logical to reject something,simply because it is incredible’. Evolution theory has been an excellent way of breaking the stranglehold of the old understandings, however I feel we need an evolution of thinking, which allows for a logical connection between the past and what we are likely to be capable of now and in the near future. I have great confidence in science and the future ,with the work of Craig Ventner. He is near to becoming a creator of life. So now, with this new hypothesis we can re-examine old historical texts to find the traces of evidence, and in addition to consider the scientific predictions made by this hypothesis taking into account a much bigger picture. One can now, look at some of the information in those ancient texts as being intended for those scientists today,open minded enough to be able to understand, what is at stake.The condition of our humanity, and for that matter any humanity is scientifically predictable.When any humanity reaches the level of nuclear technology, in weapons of war, then that humanity enters that predictable phase of potential self-destruct. One can hardly argue with the current state of the world as it is, with population having grown by some 4.5 billions in 65 years, the number of nuclear weapons and the rapidly changing environment.I feel re the latter two points, this coincides with the same concerns as Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. So in the words of Montaigne ,’ Let nothing pass the sieve of understanding through mere confidence and authority’.

      • michael296

        I really have no idea of what you are talking about.
        No there is not, AFAIK, a positive definition of Intelligent Design. What is “design”? Why it’s “intelligent”?
        You say:

        the evidence of progressive evolution of design….

        And I don’t know what this means. In human design we see progress in the design of airplanes, for instance. They become faster, bigger, safer, all qualities related to what airplanes are for. There is nothing much like this in biological systems. In fact there is a huge amount of sub-optimal design in Nature.
        To clear things up: from a biological point of view we are not “better” than cockroaches, worms, or bacteria.

  13. michael296 says:

    With the theory of Evolution we have progressive evolution of design over time.Starting of with relatively simple plants and animals.The gradually over time through a process of natural selection over hundreds millions of years through more and more complex creatures we arrive at man. This hypothesis proposes that this evidence of progressive design we see evidenced by the the theory of evolution, is in evidence of progression of design by advanced science over a relatively short period of time compared to evolution but as I said much longer than that proposed in the Bible.If our scientists can create life they will over time create more and more complex creatures.
    Here we are dealing with designing an eco-system and as well as plant and animals to fit into that system over.I should add that the level of conciousness is also to be considered in the same. For myself we are sort of super-monkeys with a level of conciousness which distinguishes us from n all other animals.As far as I am aware ,monkeys are not yet party to this the debate on our origins.

    • michael296

      If I understand you progress = improvement, and complexity = progress = improvement, right?
      Well, I’m affraid it does not. You are misunderstanding what the Theory of Evolution is all about. More complex doesn’t mean bettter. So the increase in complexity we see in the Natural History of Earth, it’s not an evidence of progress, as improvement. In fact in human design (the things humans design) the criteria it’s the oposite: the simpler the better. So a complex design is not seem as improvement.
      It seems that you doesn’t botter to check out the link I’ve given to you. If you do you’ll see that even this idea that “we have progressive evolution of design over time” it’s naive at best, and wrong anyway.
      In saying that “conciousness” is an evidence of this “progressive evolution of design”, you are making the common mistake of pressuposing that we are in the top of an ascention, te final goal of the “evolution”.
      There is no such thing in the Theory of Evolution, and to see the process of evolution as a progressive one is a mistake.

  14. santitafarella says:

    Gato:

    The link is good, but the very fact that we die and eat each other suggest some design flaws to me. Who thought those were good ideas?

    In the council of the gods I imagine it was Uranus who said on one eternally sunny day in heaven, “Hey, let us make a universe where, on one tiny planet, off in some godforsaken sparse patch of one galaxy, we put intricate cellular machines on it that, to survive, eat each other! And let us give one group of those machines minds like our own so that they can contemplate, every day of their pathetic existence, the horrors and absurdities of what they find around themselves.”

    And the gods looked about the table at one another and laughed. They promptly voted, and it was so.

    —Santi

  15. In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.

    There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.

    Douglas Adams
    English humorist & science fiction novelist (1952 – 2001)

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