Ann Gauger's latest salvo against Dennis Venema's arguments against an original pair of human beings


(Chris Falter) #378

Hi Jon - You know that I enjoy your many contributions here, but methinks you’re not familiar with the mathematical findings that underpin evolutionary nested hierarchies in biology.

How do those mathematics compare with, say, the mathematical uncertainties regarding the Higgs boson or the recent kilonova announcement, in your estimation? Why would you accept some science as settled-- e.g. I have the impression that you accept relativity and radiological dating methods–even though they have some mathematical uncertainties? But then you argue quite fierecely against other scientific findings like evolutionary nested hierarchies that have similar mathematical foundations?

What I’m saying is that the existence of protons, neutrons, and electrons us actually a judgement (note the correct spelling) on likelihood, rather than a question of fact. General relativity is a judgement on likelihood, rather than a question of fact. If we’re going to be dismissive of judgements on likelihood, then there’s no point in even trying to do science.

How closely have you examined the mathematical equations behind evolutionary nested hierarchies? Based on what you’ve argued in this thread, I have no reason to think you’re not just hand-waving. But maybe you have examined the numbers carefully and you’re just too modest to mention them, because you don’t want to look like you’re showing off. :slight_smile:

Bottom line, whenever someone says, “that scientific finding is actually uncertain, it’s just based on probabilistic reasoning,” I generally conclude that they haven’t really investigated the math. Such statements never make much of an impression on me, at least since I learned of the philosophical contribution of a certain clergyman named Bayes.

Grace and peace,
Chris


(George Brooks) #379

@sfmatheson,

Yes, yes… of course. But you are taking a sky-high view. When a YEC asks questions like this, he is looking for a specific case.

So which specific case would you consider to be the most compelling and/or most immediate demonstration of Speciation?

As you know, I’m rather enthusiastic about “Ring Species” even if - - technically speaking - - it is difficult to find a population that satisifes the technical definition imposed on the word “ring”.

But I believe you have put even more thougth into this than I have; I look forward to adding your “best case” example to my collection of evidence.


(Jon) #380

Handwaving is an excellent description. We’re getting theology, philosophy, and handwaving, but no actual science.


(Jon Garvey) #381

Hi Chris

My biological maths doesn’t go far beyond the Hardy-Weinberg equation, I’m afraid (though I read it in the literature in awe and wonder and understand more than I’m confident to discuss). The discussion here went a lot further than I’d intended by the single point I was making on nested hierarchies, which was this: for T Aquaticus’s hypothetical Coyne, having stopped his theological reasoning, to present the simple fact of nested hierarchies as proof positive of evolution would be inconclusive, because before evolution they were considered the strongest evidence for the former ruling paradigm, the Creation of plenitude.

I don’t know if any specific writing of Coyne was inTA’s mind, but that bare claim has often been made before in discussions here: “There are nested hierachies, for which common descent is the only possible explanation”. But that is simply not true.

Since the reply to me then was in essence “Creationism allows for anything so can be dismissed” I felt it necessary to give some of the history, and to add the qualification that, since nested hierarchies are never neat and tidy, the exceptions need to be explained under both systems, and further work has to be done to show why an evolutionary explanation is superior to that of Linnaeus and the entire scientific body of his day, beyond mere change of intellectual fashion.

(Let me expand that last bit: since naturalism has become the preferred metaphysical foundation for science, the principle of plenitude, based on non-naturalism, will always seem to make evolution the more plausible option now - but that’s to base a decision on a choice of worldview, not on empirical science).

I also thought it was of interest to share how much fruit the older assumption had born in giving rise both to careful taxonomic classification and even many of the foundations for evolutionary theory, including (in Larmarck) seeking to explain both the hierarchies and the environmental contingencies that break them, and (in Darwin) to his insistence on gradualism, using the very motto of plenitude, Natura non facit saltus, as his own watchword. In other words, saying “Creationists can believe anything as long as Goddidit” doesn’t answer the case at all.

Now, when one goes beyond saying that nested hierarchies themselves prove common descent, and come to mathematical treatments that give a good match, then one is into empirical science that may well setlle the matter - at least for those who understand the maths or accept the arguments on others’ authority. Even so, our hypothetical Coyne would, to make his case watertight, have to do the work to understand any mathematical implications of the principle of plenitude in the light of modern data, and show how it doesn’t work as well as the maths supporting an evolutionary explanation. You have to show how an old theory is less true than your own.

Nobody, as far as I know, is interested enough to do that - it’s hard to imagine Coyne himself being other than dismissive of an older paradigm based on a different philosophical and theological background to his own. I myself regard the principle of plenitude, and the chain of being from which it derives, as untrue on, mainly, theological grounds. For that reason I prefer the common descent explanation - but then I’m not Jerry Coyne seeking to convince opponents the Evolution is True, or (come to that) BioLogos trying to show Special Creationists they have the wrong explanation.

Yet if I refute explanation A simply by saying I prefer explanation B for such and such reasons, so I don’t need even to examine the case for A, I’m only persuading myself. I doubt any Creationists are likely to revive Aristotelian justifications in the near future, so in practical terms, the current climate may well make common descent the only sociologically viable explanation for nested hierarchies. But knowing there is an alternative explanation that has never been disproved ought to remind us how much science is linked to culture, and make us humble enough to think in terms of “best current option” rather than fact. One day, metaphysical fashions will change again, for sure.


(Jon Garvey) #382

I will just reply to this in terms of the ethos of BioLogos. If everything except science is handwaving, then the game is “scientism”, which BioLogos specifically rejects (and which could be called “flagwaving”). Greats like Leibniz, Buffon, Lamarck and Linnaeus did science from the base of one set of theological and philosophical presuppositions. It’s sheer positivistic ignorance to suppose that modern science operates without its own theological (or antitheological) and philosophical foundations.

If the philosophy and history of science has shown anything over the last fifty years, it’s demonstrated that this is a myth. I’m not surprised at all that atheists like certain names we’ve mentioned think that science is a dispassionate source of truth, if not the only dispassionate source of truth. But I would be surprised if I don’t get some support for a wider perspective from those here who agree with the BioLogos position on scientism. Otherwise I’ll start thinking that I’m the only true Scotsman.

I’m probably done on this thread.


(Stephen Matheson) #383

I posted a bunch of great examples in an earlier thread somewhere. I don’t have a particular favorite, but I also don’t think that examples of speciation are a good way to deal with the topic. The basic steps in speciation are so obvious and so undoubtable that a person should be able to understand how speciation is not only something that can happen, but something that must happen. Someone who doubts speciation is someone who doesn’t even know what it is, and so showing them examples won’t accomplish anything without an understanding of why it has to happen, and that requires a patient explanation of what it actually is.

In other words, confronted with a “speciation skeptic,” I would outline allopatric speciation (meaning I would discuss geographical isolation, in lay terms), then outline reproductive isolation (easy to understand), then listen for what still confuses them. In my experience, one will then hear some combination of 1) nonsensical platonic confusion in one form or another; 2) redirection to “macroevolution” in some way; or 3) a grateful response to some new knowledge. If I hear response 3, I can then excitedly overstay my welcome by talking about sympatric speciation and ring species and gene flow and genetic diversity and and and and… oh wow, look at the time.

[Edit to head off potential confusion: speciation must happen in general, because reproductive isolation of populations happens all the time. That’s not to say that speciation must happen every time two populations are separated—there are all sorts of reasons why it may not occur in separated populations.]


#384

Looking at the first paper you cited:

"Our hypothesis centers on a geological model that synthesizes RNA in a prebiotic intermountain dry valley (not in a marine environment). This valley receives high pH run-off from a watershed rich in serpentinizing olivines and eroding borate minerals. The runoff contains borate-stabilized carbohydrates, formamide, and ammonium formate. As atmospheric CO2 dissolves in the subaerial aquifer, the pH of the aquifer is lowered. In the desert valley, evaporation of water, a solvent with a nucleophilic “background reactivity”, leaves behind formamide, a solvent with an electrophilic “background reactivity”. As a result, nucleobases, formylated nucleobases, and formylated carbohydrates, including formylated ribose, can form. Well-known chemistry transforms these structures into nucleosides, nucleotides, and partially formylated oligomeric RNA."

Nothing in there looks like magic to me. The initial precursurs are formed in the atmosphere and are rained down on rocks where they are further modified. Concentration occurs through evaporation on the valley floor. The last sentence could be the sticking point since it doesn’t spell out the conditions for the “well-known chemistry” that further modifies the precursors on the valley floor. However, I don’t have access to the full paper so if you know what they are talking about I would love to see it.


(Stephen Matheson) #385

I think they’re talking about how the precursors can get assembled into larger macromolecules, and I think that chemistry is indeed pretty well understood. But I could be wrong, and I also can’t access that particular paper.


(Jon) #386

No one said everything except science is handwaving. What is being noted (by more than one person), is that your response to science you don’t like is to try and handwave it away. Citing philosophy on the one hand, and theology from Aquinas on the other, will not budge scientific facts.

Please try to understand that attempts to overturn scientific facts by appealing to philosophy and theology, are a waste of time; you only need to look at Galileo’s triumph to learn that.

When you can demonstrate what they are, and when you can demonstrate that they’re leading to inaccurate conclusions, then please start that conversation. In the meantime you can address the scientific facts. Why not do your own science, based on theology and philosophy, and show all those scientists using methodological naturalism, that they’re making a big mistake? Why not? Because it won’t work and you know it won’t work.

Methodological naturalism works. Bellowing “But Aquinas said” followed by speculation and personal theological preference, does not work. Your attempts to trump science with theology and philosophy aren’t credible because they have no evidential basis. They are no more credible than Cardinal Bellarmine’s arguments are today.


(Chris Falter) #387

Hi Jon,

I want to propose that you and I collaborate to fill the lack that the hypothetical Coyne has left. Let’s build a Plenitude Principle Model and compare its predictions to a evolution/common ancestry model. You’ve said this is what needs to be done, and I will gladly do the hard part: I will provide the probabilistic analysis of both the evolution/common ancestry model and the Plenitude model.

But I need your help, because I don’t know what the Plenitude Principle thinkers would predict. You have the expertise that I (and probably everyone else here) lacks in that school of thought. I don’t know what evidentiary predictions the Plenitude School would make. But you do. So let’s see if we can make a go of it. Shall we?

Two key types of evidence cited in biological nested hierarchy studies are:

  1. Appearance of body plans (and lower taxa) in the fossil record
  2. Locus of ERV insertions in the genome.

If you can tell me what Robinet’s and Linnaeus’ writings predict–or can be inferred to predict–about these classes of evidence, then I will do the mathematical work. We will use our fellow thread participants as an informal peer review.

What do you say?

Grace and peace,
Chris

EDIT: Grammar, typos


(Jon Garvey) #388

Interesting proposal Chris.

But you’re aware that as a “research program” plenitude hasn’t been pursued seriously for 200 years or so. They didn’t even have the germ theory of disease, let alone the concept of genes, let alone the concept of extraneous genetic material. Or a well documented fossil record from which to make chronological deductions.

It’s the equivalent situation of there arising evidence that there may be some traction in the abandoned orthogenic model - one would have to take it into account as an alternative theory, but it would take an army of new researchers to catch up lost ground, not a retired person who’d read about the theory and thought it interesting.

In principle, given that PoP is an alternative metaphysical foundation to that of naturalism, it could encompass a range of theories (witness Linnaeus’s special creationism v Lamarck’s quite developed evolutionary theories). But given that there are serious attempts to describe modern science in terms of basically Aristotelian metaphysics, in principle those guys or their students should have been able to account for any new data in some way or another on the principle of plenitude. But they would have required new scientific theories based on the principle to do so, and reconstructing an entire lost intellectual world to that end now is unrealistic.

And, as per my last post to you, it’s a long way from simply pointing out that the bare fact of nested hierarchies can be explained other than by evolution.


(Chris Falter) #389

Hi Jon-

You raked the hypothetical Coyne over the coals for not giving serious enquiry to the alternative framework of plenitude.

Now, given the opportunity to help said Coyne perform that enquiry, you sheepishly admit to Coyne that the framework has been dead for 200 years and any notion of reviving it is unrealistic.

Criticizing people you disagree with for not doing something, then conceding that the something was impossible, is perhaps not the strongest argument you have ever made on this forum.

Let’s move on. Would you agree, Jon, with this slightly modified statement?

The only valid scientific explanation for the nested hierarchies that we observe is evolutionary common ancestry. It is so well established that we can use the short-hand of referring to it as a “fact” in the same way that we refer to the orbit of the earth around the sun and the orbit of electrons around atomic nuclei as facts. Of course, we must remember that every such fact is really a probabilistic inference, and much important knowledge about the universe cannot be gained through the scientific method.

What do you think?


(Jon Garvey) #390

Chris

No - I still don’t think you’re connecting with what I’ve been arguing, and why. Scientific conclusions are never “facts”, but always “explanations of facts”. However good the explanation, it never becomes a fact, except in an empirical, practical sense as being reliable enough to build further work upon in a particular research programme. In fact, though, the explanation always remains bounded both by the philosophical assumptions of the explainer (or his hearers) and other cultural factors.

For example, as far as anything was certain in classical physics, Newton’s law of gravity was a “fact” in the sense you’re urging on me, and is still used as an example (“evolution is as much a fact as the law of gravity”). But although it’s often said that, under relativity, Newton’s theory remains “a fact” but a special case, Kuhn in Scientific Revolutions shows that to be false, in an argument made on pp 101-102 (2nd edition) if you want to check. He concludes:

Our argument has, of course, explained why Newton’s Laws ever seemed to work. In doing so it has justified, say, an automobile driver in acting as though he lived in a Newtonian universe. An argument of the same type is used to justify teaching earth-centered astronomy to surveyors. But the argument has still not done what it purported to do. It has not, that is, shown Newton’s Laws to be a limiting case of Einstein’s. For in the passage to the limit it is not only the forms of the laws that have changed. Simultaneously we have had to alter the fundamental structural elements of which the universe to which they apply is composed.

Newton’s “fact” of gravity then, was actually just wrong by present standards. Now, all that Newton lacked were some data and a new kind of maths (and the spark of Einstein’s idea, of course). In the case of Linnaeus, the issue is more fundamental - a different metaphysical foundation; the assumption that only God creates species, and (in some way to be investigated) creates all that are possible. But “Coyne” (merely to pick a name to contrast with Linnaeus) starts from the assumption that efficient material causes are a complete explanation for nature (which entails that all the species must have got from primordial chaos by change, even before you get to any evidence of evolution).

Given that this is the current metaphysical paradigm of science, the detailed outworking of cladistics, molecular evolution, etc, is likely to find the best explanation is common descent, and that may well be correct (as I agree).

But that is very different from the blanket assertion (which was all I challenged in the first place), in an argument intended to prove evolution against special creation, that nested hierarchies per se entail common descent as a fact and disprove special creation. That was the situation T aquaticus proposed, and in that particular case it’s relevant because the very theory “Coyne” was seeking to disprove by his argument had used the very same nested hierarchies as some of the best evidence for special creation (with plenitude).

Given that successors to Linnaeus are thin on the ground to reply, “Coyne” wins the argument by default - but he has still not explained why Linnaeus must be wrong in principle. So the best he can do is to say that, for reasons X & Y, nested hierarchies provide very good evidence for common descent. But not that they disprove special creation under a different set of fundamental assumptions, except by snorting that those assumptions are ludicrous, or engaging in philosophical or theological argument to invalidate them.

Time-wasting “angels on heads of pins”? Not if it gets readers here to see how those non-scientific, and often cultural, presuppositions colour the outcomes of science. Since we have to work from our presuppositions (science can’t bet axiom-free) that’s fine - except that it should (a) make us realise that science is as culturally-enshrined as any other form of knowledge and (b) as Christians whose “worldview” ought to encompass the whole of God’s time and space, it should encourage us to examine and critique the metaphysical assumptions we work from: do they match, or cut across, what God would teach us? If our brother in Christ Linnaeus was wrong about plenitude and “Coyne” is right about naturalism, do we understand why? Or could naturalism itself have insecure foundations?


(Ann Gauger) #391

@Jon_Garvey Time-wasting “angels on heads of pins”? Not if it gets readers here to see how those non-scientific, and often cultural, presuppositions colour the outcomes of science. Since we have to work from our presuppositions (science can’t bet axiom-free) that’s fine - except that it should (a) make us realise that science is as culturally-enshrined as any other form of knowledge and (b) as Christians whose “worldview” ought to encompass the whole of God’s time and space, it should encourage us to examine and critique the metaphysical assumptions we work from: do they match, or cut across, what God would teach us? If our brother in Christ Linnaeus was wrong about plenitude and “Coyne” is right about naturalism, do we understand why? Or could naturalism itself have insecure foundations?

Very nice, Jon. Might this actually be a place where different metaphysical frameworks can be tested against each other and reality? To see which if either has the greater explanatory power?


(Jon Garvey) #392

Hi Ann - thanks.

If by “this” you mean BioLogos, I’d agree it ought to be, not least because there is much work to be done on squaring “theism” with “naturalism”, to work out how “theistic evolution” actually differs from “atheistic evolution”, or “evolutionary creation” from “evolutionary non-creation.” If there is no substantial difference, the terms are redundant.

Whether the interest exists here I’m not sure. But it’s a major part of what we attempt on my own site The Hump of the Camel, and others have done serious some work on it - for example the quantum physicist Ian Thompson has gone back to basic principles on what “theistic science” means. His site is here.

On the question you ask, I’m not sure to what extent metaphysical assumptions can be “tested”, at least by the empirical standards of science, since they are prior to, and govern, scientific endeavour. We seem to have to judge them on a more basic human level - no differential equations can apply to ethical monotheism v polytheism, for example.

Yet they can be compared aginst the physical world by philosophical reasoning - for example, the harmony we see in the cosmos (including universal laws, etc) would seem less likely in a polytheistic system where creation happens by the struggles between deities, for example… unless the gods themselves are mere creatures of some larger, unexplained unity. Naturalism appears to have a similar problem of explaining cosmic consistency - but science can’t begin to deal with that.

The question of design is a case in point - there are good arguments to be made for design in nature, yet formally, as I’ve argued here in the past, anything attributable to design - even a frank and undeniable miracle - could be attributed to naturalistic chance: “we happen to live in the one universe of the infinity where fine tuning for life applies, where one man fortuitously rises from the dead, etc.” In the end, I don’t think anybody’s ever been persuaded to ditch naturalism for theism, say, except by some equivalent of “Oh come on - there just has to be a God behind this!” (that’s to speak of rational persuasion, rather than, for example, being morally persuaded to accept Christ for guilty conscience and finding your metaphysics has to change to match!).

That seems to be the line taken in another form by your colleague Bob Axe in his recent book.


(Chris Falter) #393

Contrast this…[quote=“Jon_Garvey, post:390, topic:36790”]
But “Coyne” (merely to pick a name to contrast with Linnaeus) starts from the assumption that efficient material causes are a complete explanation for nature
[/quote]
…with this…

I am not so sure that you have ever fully grasped what I wrote, Jon. Maybe it’s time for us to pursue a different topic.


#394

It is also interesting that you try to trace Plentitude back to ancient times when those same ancient cultures believed in the existence of creatures that would clearly violate a nested hierarchy. For example, the griffin was a combo of a bird and lion and Pegasus was a mammal with feathers. Therefore, I see no reason why the idea of Plentitude would predict a nested hierarchy.[quote=“Jon_Garvey, post:388, topic:36790”]
And, as per my last post to you, it’s a long way from simply pointing out that the bare fact of nested hierarchies can be explained other than by evolution.
[/quote]

I have yet to see another explanation that specifically predicts that we should see a nested hierarchy and only a nested hierarchy.


#395

Special creation was assumed to be true, and credited with producing the nested hierarchy. It wasn’t evidence for special creation because special creation never predicted a nested hierarchy, and it still doesn’t.[quote=“Jon_Garvey, post:390, topic:36790”]
Given that successors to Linnaeus are thin on the ground to reply, “Coyne” wins the argument by default - but he has still not explained why Linnaeus must be wrong in principle. So the best he can do is to say that, for reasons X & Y, nested hierarchies provide very good evidence for common descent. But not that they disprove special creation under a different set of fundamental assumptions, except by snorting that those assumptions are ludicrous, or engaging in philosophical or theological argument to invalidate them.
[/quote]

Then perhaps you could explain why special creation would produce a nested hierarchy and only a nested hierarchy. You would need to explain why special creation could produce species with a mixture of reptile and mammal features, but not creatures with a mixture of mammal and bird features. You would have to explain why genetic equidistance exists in phylogenies. You would need to explain why there are different divergence rates of exons and introns and why they correlate to the observed phylogeny. You would need to explain why the LTRs of ERVs recapitulate the expected phylogenies. There are just tons and tons and tons of observations that special creation needs to explain, and I have yet to see a single example where special creation predicts that we should see these patterns and only these patterns.


(Ann Gauger) #396

I should put you in touch with Günter Bechly. You’d find his journey most interesting.[quote=“Jon_Garvey, post:392, topic:36790”]

On the question you ask, I’m not sure to what extent metaphysical assumptions can be “tested”, at least by the empirical standards of science, since they are prior to, and govern, scientific endeavour.
[/quote]

I guess I phrased things poorly. I don’t want to test metaphysical assumptions but rather their predictions. Do you think it would be possible to test the predictions of plenitude vs. common descent? Was there enough prediction present in the idea of plenitude to make it testable?


(Jon Garvey) #397

Ann, that seems to me more or less the same question as Chris’s, except he offered to do the maths!

But do metaphysical assumptions ever make predictions? It seems to me they are ways of interpreting reality, not ways of predicting reality. So, for example, I mentioned above that one might doubt polytheism, because it seems less likely to account for a consistent universe. But the person committed to polytheism would reply that maybe the gods agreed on a set of basic laws - or maybe they were part of a natural order themselves, so couldn’t break its harmony arising from some primaeval state.

That after all is roughly what what materialism does: everything depends on natural laws governing the whole cosmos, and the laws just are, so they don’t need explaining. Some of us would argue, with the Thomists, that that’s not good enough - a First Cause is needed as lawgiver, of a kind that is itself not subject to change (and this we call “God”).

The materialists reject that, but neither materialism nor theism is a hypothesis giving rise to testable predictions (other than, perhaps, about finding materialism is wrong on judgement day!), but a assumptive framework by which to interpret all observations.

I think that’s a universal truth. For instance, suppose ID currently predicts that the whole genome will prove functional. Non-design people, for all the reasons familar, say that pervasive junk-DNA is predicted by the science, but wouldn’t be predicted by theism (a totally theological argument, of course). Suppose, in the fullness of time, function were found to be universal. Do the materialists then say “Ah, design after all!”? Well, a few might - convictions do suddely change, and are termed “conversions” - seeing the light, or inexplicably going blind, depending on ones own convictions. (Remeber Anthony Flew’s change of worldview was put down to senility or ghost-writing - anything but changing his mind). But I “predict” that those materialists would mostly say they got the theory wrong and adjust the science - not ditch the metaphysical materialism that might have been behind their original prediction.

Did you ever hear about the man who thought he was dead? His doctor said, “Do dead men bleed?” Getting the reply “No” the doctor pricked the man’s finger with a needle so it bled. “What do you know,” said the patient, “dead men do bleed!”

A “plenitude-creationist” could certainly defend his assumptions by developing whatever theories best accounted for the data according to his model. But that’s the work of someone living by such a conviction, not for some of us pretending to think like them. As a comparison, one could ask (as a believer) how a materialist would explain the Resurrection, with a view to testing his predictions, But as someone said well up the thread, the atheist might not think it worth explaining because self-evidently tosh. Or he might propose a swoon theory, or mass-hallucination - how can you know, unless you’re fired by the same convictions?