ID Censors Their Own

(Peaceful Science) #1

Hello all. I wanted to draw your attention to an excellent and thoughtful review of Doug Axe’s book, Undeniable

This review was written by our friend @vjtorley, an ID proponent, on the Uncommon Descent blog. It created such a stir, that it was ultimately taken down.

One of the more brilliant passages:

As Professor Tour pointed out, what makes the puzzle of life’s origin all the more baffling is that even if you had a “Dream Team” of brilliant chemists and gave them all the ingredients they wanted, they would still have no idea how to assemble a simple cell:

All right, now let’s assemble the Dream Team. We’ve got good professors here, so let’s assemble the Dream Team. Let’s further assume that the world’s top 100 synthetic chemists, top 100 biochemists and top 100 evolutionary biologists combined forces into a limitlessly funded Dream Team. The Dream Team has all the carbohydrates, lipids, amino acids and nucleic acids stored in freezers in their laboratories… All of them are in 100% enantiomer purity. [Let’s] even give the team all the reagents they wish, the most advanced laboratories, and the analytical facilities, and complete scientific literature, and synthetic and natural non-living coupling agents. Mobilize the Dream Team to assemble the building blocks into a living system - nothing complex, just a single cell. The members scratch their heads and walk away, frustrated…

So let’s help the Dream Team out by providing the polymerized forms: polypeptides, all the enzymes they desire, the polysaccharides, DNA and RNA in any sequence they desire, cleanly assembled. The level of sophistication in even the simplest of possible living cells is so chemically complex that we are even more clueless now than with anything discussed regarding prebiotic chemistry or macroevolution. The Dream Team will not know where to start. Moving all this off Earth does not solve the problem, because our physical laws are universal.

You see the problem for the chemists? Welcome to my world. This is what I’m confronted with, every day.

What the Dream Team story seems to suggest is that life built, even by a team of very intelligent agents, by a process of reasoning backwards from its higher-level functions to the lower-level components (or ingredients) required to support those functions, which would undercut the whole case for top-down Design. That leaves us with two choices. We could say that life was designed, but that the Designer used a stepwise process to create life, which is why a high-level, purely top-down approach by a team of chemists is doomed to failure.

Alternatively, we could say that God is not a Designer at all, but more of an Author, and that He somehow created life holus bolus - which means that Intelligent Design movement (most of whose members believe in God) has an identity problem: it would have to rechristen itself the Intelligent Author movement.

Which option is correct? Honestly, I don’t know. But I do know that the field of Intelligent Design is in for an intellectual shake-up over the next few years. Somehow, it will have to wrestle with these questions and figure out its own approach. Perhaps it might be best if the Intelligent Design movement splits into two wings: an “incremental design” wing, which tries to build life in a manner that combines top-down and bottom-up thinking; and an “ideal” design wing, which envisages life in a more Platonic fashion, as an Idea in the Mind of an Author. Time will tell which approach turns out to be more fruitful. I would suspect that front-loaders and believers in common descent in the ID camp would tend to favor the “incremental design” approach, while Old Earth and Young Earth creationists would favor the “ideal” approach. But a little friendly competition might reinvigorate the movement.

I also want to remark on @vjtorley honesty here. This could not have been an easy article to write. He is certainly taking a great deal of flack for it. And he regularly tells of changing his mind in response to good arguments from the opposite side. I have a great deal of respect for this track record. I hope the same would be true of me, and all of us.

With that, would the ID proponents here give there thoughts? In particular, do you think it was right for this post to be censored by the Uncommon Descent? @Eddie and @deliberateresult, I’m very curious your thoughts here.

(Joe Palcsak) #2

Dr. Swamidas…

I feel very honored that you are soliciting my opinion here, and since you asked in particular about Uncommon Descent taking the article down, I will address that first:

UD is a site that I do not visit frequently, but I recall reading some very anti-ID pieces there and I’ve certainly seen some very spirited comment threads. I do not know what sort of criteria or policies they enforce, so my opinion is (at least at this time) one of ignorance. I am both surprised and disappointed that they have done that.

That said, I have begun to look at the review you linked. In all fairness, I have not read the whole thing (it is a very long piece and my time is very constrained). I made sure to read into the part devoted to objections against Axe’s work. Nor have I read much of the book, though I have started to read it as well. I will try to read more of both as time permits and perhaps offer a more informed response. Not wishing to ignore you for now, I think I can safely make the following observations:

  1. Before going into the objections to Axe’s book, the reviewer makes it clear that, as you point out, he is an ID proponent. As he notes, the case for design makes itself. Furthermore, he finds a lot to like in the book and apparently holds great admiration both for the book and the impact it is destined to have. He also expresses optimism that a 2nd edition is all that is needed to make an already wonderful book truly special. In fairness, I think these things should be acknowledged.

  2. Dr. Axe is no stranger to objections. Of course, this is to be expected when one is going against the grain. Nonetheless, he has dealt with objections very skillfully in the past, and I would like to see how he handles the objections raised here. Having read the objection concerning rain, diamonds, and snowflakes, I have my suspicions on a couple of different ways he could handle it, but laying no claim to be inside his head, I will anxiously await what he himself has to say. I also skimmed down to the charge that pointing out NS has no creative power is the silliest claim in the book. Well I guess, when one makes claims, one of those claims will inevitably be the silliest, huh? Nonetheless, I will boldly take the initiative and offer a rebuttal to this one: Early in the piece, the reviewer is gracious to acknowledge that Axe is writing to and for the layman, first and foremost. In calling this a silly claim, he seems to forget that. I regularly contend with darwinists who insist that NS is far more powerful than it is. Axe is right to acknowledge this and deal with it, given the format of the book.

  3. At one point, the reviewer laments that “all Axe really needs to do in order to render belief in ID reasonable, is [to show] that the case for a Creator is stronger than the case for naturalism.” Sigh! If only it were so. And in a perfect world it would be. But the truth is that ID proponents - especially in the relevant scientific fields - are mocked, persecuted and threatened. Moreover, (and I blame silent Christians for this), we have somehow disqualified a-priori any evidence that could point to a Creator God, and taxpayer funded organizations are allowed to lobby to keep dissenting views to darwinism out of any classroom discussion. No, its sad but true that the bar for Axe and others is much higher. it’s ironic that the “appearance of design” in biological systems has never gone out of vogue, yet the suggestion that perhaps we are looking at actual design is regularly greeted with ridicule and vitriol even as we discover deeper and deeper signatures of design in living systems.

  4. Finally, I need to make the obvious point here that the section you quoted deals wholly with a talk by Dr. James Tour. Even if it is cited by Axe, this part is almost exclusively Tour. I have seen the talk referenced and it is brilliant. Tour is brilliant. He is, from what I understand, one of the world’s few synthetic chemists. But one thing he is not - and he makes this very clear - is an ID proponent. While there is much in his talk for an ID proponent to love, then, it should be apparent that Tour goes in a different direction. It’s not hard to take away a problem for ID from a presentation by someone who is not an ID proponent! For what its worth, I do not whole heartedly agree with Tour’s take away (in other words, his pure opinion) for the future of OOL studies, though his practical, empirically supported analysis of OOL studies is right on target; nor do I agree with the reviewer’s fiat conclusion that Tour’s talk undercuts top-down design.

Thanks again for seeking my input.

(Peaceful Science) #3

Can you point me to, say, two anti-ID pieces at UD? I have not found even one.

(Joe Palcsak) #4

like I said, I dont visit the site often. Let me add that I don’t catalogue my visits either. So this is from memory, as I said, but if it makes you happy, I can easily drop this point.

(Peaceful Science) #5

No problem. Just clarifying that UD is the second most important ID sight after Evolution News and Views. VJ is one of their regular contributors.

I know it is a lot to read. So I’m not going to press you on an immediate response, and I’m thrilled you have expanded beyond your original thread =).

At the same time, some of your comments here might be missing the point…

For example, I think you missed his point. We all agree (including evolutionists) that Tour is right in that quote. VJ is making a different point from Tour here. Rather, he is saying that this is evidence that there is something different about biology and human design. No one (not even you) disputes Tour here. I’m just saying VJ’s point is lucid. The fact that it is inspired by Tour has nothing to do with whether or not Tour is ID or not. Why would that matter?

I would add to this. Biological life is ver little like human designs. This is just made more clear by this story. The facto of the matter is that we really never see humans designing anything like biological systems.

There are similar confusing objections you make in all your points. That isn’t too surprising as there really is a lot of content there. So no harm. I’ll be curious your take as you get to make it. I’ll leave you with another very helpful and salient quote…

Nevertheless, it seems that we have arrived at an odd epistemological impasse. The fact that emerges from the foregoing discussion, after the dust has cleared, is that neither the theory of Intelligent Design, nor the hypotheses of abiogenesis and unguided macroevolution, can be mathematically demonstrated to be true, or even probable. What’s a person to do, when faced with a situation like that? For my part, I find the STOMPS principle which I discussed above to be a sensible one. Dr. Axe does a brilliant job of showing, in chapter 10 of his book, how the design of life is far, far superior, technologically speaking, to anything that our top scientists can create. The prudent conclusion to reach is that life was designed, after all. And that should be enough for us.

Of course, as a Christian, I believe God designed us through evolution. So I find a lot of agreement here.

Sadly, ID math does not prove this. Sorry.


This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.

(Peaceful Science) #7

The second one. Do you know of any cases like that? I’d be curious to see them.

Look at the reason I made this point. UD is and ID site so I do not expect there to be anti-ID articles there. That is fine. But @deliberateresult wrote…

I was asking him to present some examples. As far as I knew, there are no articles like this. I think that is fine. UD is and ID site, and I am fine with that. I’m just clarifying for those that may not know this.

I agree. Which is why I would say I have not found anti-evolution articles on BioLogos.

@Eddie, what exactly is our disagreement here? Don’t we both agree that UD is an ID site that does not generally (or ever) publish anti-ID articles? I was just bringing @deliberateresult up to speed.

(Peaceful Science) #8

And more to the point @eddie, if UD does encourage intra-ID debates, why did they censor @vjtorley’s article. Do you think that was the right move?


This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.

(Vincent Torley) #10

Hi Professor Swamidass and hello everyone,

If you’d like to see an anti-ID piece on Uncommon Descent, then you can find one here, in which physicist Sean Carroll argues that the notion of God is scientifically redundant:

My own piece was taken down because the moderator felt that Uncommon Descent should not be used as a platform for advocating positions contrary to Intelligent Design. My statement in my review of Axe’s book that I could no longer find any really good mathematical arguments for Intelligent Design, and that neither ID nor the theory of unguided evolution can be mathematically demonstrated to be true or even probable, must have been the last straw for the moderator. I continue to argue for ID on the basis of the STOMPS principle which I described in my review, but that’s more of a philosophical argument. Additionally, it was thought that my criticisms of the book’s reviewers (whom I accused of negligence) was not constructive.

I hope that clears up matters, and I’d like to thank Professor Swamidass for his vote of moral support.

(Jon Garvey) #11

Vincent’s position, as far as I can see, is the healthy one of coming to a different conclusion from others with whom he otherwise agrees. It shouldn’t, in my view, be taken as scoring any points in the culture wars between EC and ID.

That’s because the positions can so easily be reversed. BioLogos is comfortable with cosmic fine tuning arguments, which are in essence mathematical: yet William Dembski, the mathematical face of ID par excellence, in Being as Communion, doubts the validity of the arguments on the basis that we have no knowledge of any other universe with which to compare statistics.

Who’s right? I’m not sure the answer is clear, but surely it wouldn’t be that significant if a BioLogos writer allied himself to Dembski in this matter rather than BL’s public position on CFT.

The best thing to come out of this, in my view, is that the two positions are engaging, at least to some extent.

(Jay Johnson) #12

I thought @vjtorley’s review was excellent. For the sake of those intimidated by its length, I’ve taken the liberty of pasting some of what I thought were the highlights, just to kick-start some more discussion.

"What bothered me most was that the book misrepresented Darwinism, and exaggerated the strength of the case against it, by appealing to a series of poor analogies. In the end, these errors provoked me to such a degree that they made me want to take up the cudgels on behalf of Darwin - something I have not done for a long, long time.

"After all, there’s no need to disprove a naturalistic account of origins; all Axe really needs to show, in order to render belief in Intelligent Design reasonable, is that the case for a Creator is stronger than the case for naturalism. One thing Axe does very well in his book is to demonstrate that there are no good naturalistic explanations for the origin of systems with a high degree of functional coherence, such as are found in all living organisms. Another thing he does very well is to describe the mind-boggling complexity found in living things, in language accessible to laypeople. He doesn’t really need to argue the case for design when he does this: it makes itself.

"If he had stuck to his strengths, Dr. Axe could have written a book that evolutionists would have found very hard to attack. Unfortunately, he aimed too high. Reading and reflecting on Axe’s book has convinced me that while the case for Intelligent Design is a very powerful one, it is far from being undeniable. From this point on, I will be playing devil’s advocate in the role of a Darwin defender, even though I am deeply skeptical of the possibility of abiogenesis and very much in sympathy with the thinking behind Axe’s Universal Design Intuition.

"The final formulation of Axe’s Universal Design Intuition, on page 254, is the most precise one: “No high-level function is ever accomplished without someone thinking up a special arrangement of things and circumstances for that very purpose and then putting those thoughts into action. The hallmark of all these special arrangements is high-level functional coherence, which we now know comes only by insight - never by coincidence” (italics mine). What Axe is saying, then, is that when a functional hierarchy contains a sufficiently large number of levels, laypeople can instantly infer that it couldn’t have originated by chance, and their inference is a mathematically justifiable one.

"Fine, but what is this critical number? We are never told. Axe might respond that the number is context-sensitive, but that doesn’t help us much. How are we supposed to tell? Another response Axe could make is that the critical number of hierarchical levels is simply whatever number yields a likelihood in 1 in 10116. But how are laypeople supposed to figure that out?

"To his credit, Axe makes a noble attempt in his book to justify the inference we all share, that certain objects could only have originated through intelligent design, and he states his case with flair and panache, using illustrations that will appeal to readers. In the end, though, his case for the Universal Design Intuition remains unsatisfyingly vague. I don’t blame Axe for this: he is, after all, a scientist, not a philosopher. But there are a couple of trained philosophers among the fifteen people who reviewed his book, and I have to say I am very surprised that they didn’t notice these gaps in Axe’s argumentation and point them out to him.

"I’d like to make a modest suggestion. In my humble opinion, Dr. Axe’s Universal Design Intuition would be much more persuasive if it were formulated as follows: “If we find a level of functional coherence in living organisms which surpasses anything which our top scientists can create, then we should conclude that the systems displaying this level of functional coherence were designed, and that the accidental invention of these systems is fantastically improbable and therefore physically impossible.” This formulation of Axe’s Universal Design Intuition borrows from the STOMPS principle which I blogged about, a few years ago:

"So far I have explained why some people are open to Intelligent Design, but what makes them believe it? I think the answer consists in what I will call the S.T.O.M.P.S. principle (short for “Smarter Than Our Most Promising Scientists”).

"I now pass to Axe’s discussion of fantastically large numbers. … What Dr. Axe ignores, in his argument for the validity of the Universal Design Intuition, is that there is an important difference between an event which is extremely improbable (but still physically possible) and one which is fantastically improbable (and therefore physically impossible). Axe fails to demonstrate that the origin of new life-forms from a hypothetical Very Simple Replicator (the first life-form on Earth) would have been fantastically improbable, because he overlooks the fact that making something useful by chance is a lot easier than creating something meaningful by chance - say, generating a patent for a new invention by boiling up some alphabet soup (to borrow an example of Axe’s). Contrary to what Axe asserts, life is not at all like alphabet soup.

"In order for an accidentally generated string of letters to convey a meaningful message, it needs to satisfy three very stringent conditions, each more difficult than the last: first, the letters need to be arranged into meaningful words; second, the sequence of words has to conform to the rules of syntax; and finally, the sequence of words has to make sense at the semantic level: in other words, it needs to express a meaningful proposition. For a string of letters generated at random to meet all of these conditions would indeed be fantastically improbable. But here’s the thing: living things don’t need to satisfy any of these conditions. Yes, it is true that all living things possess a genetic code. But it is quite impossible for this code to generate anything like nonsense words like “sdfuiop”, and additionally, there is nothing in the genome which is remotely comparable to the rules of syntax, let alone the semantics of a meaningful proposition. The sequence of amino acids in a protein needs to do just one thing: it needs to fold up into a shape that can perform a biologically useful task. And that’s it. Generating something useful by chance - especially something with enough useful functions to be called alive - is a pretty tall order, but because living things lack the extra dimensions of richness found in messages that carry a semantic meaning, they’re going to be a lot easier to generate by chance than (say) instruction manuals or cook books. Hence it may turn out that creating life by chance is extremely improbable, but not fantastically improbable. In practical terms, that means that given enough time, life just might arise.

"Axe’s argument also misconstrues the nature of the evolutionary search, by focusing on the likelihood of this or that accidental invention. However, evolution isn’t a hunt for a single target; it’s a search with a fantastically large number of targets: the set of all possible life-forms - by which I mean: all possible configurations of matter in our cosmos that would qualify as being “alive.” [By “search,” Axe means any process that could potentially find something, regardless of whether there was a goal (p. 114).

"By now, readers will have detected a recurring theme in the foregoing criticisms. The real problem with Axe’s argument, on an epistemic level, is that human beings are not good at reasoning about fantastically large numbers - especially when these numbers are unknown, and when they are required to divide one fantastically large number into another fantastically large number (e.g. when calculating the very small proportion of organisms - out of a very large number of possible life-forms - that are reachable by a blind evolutionary search over a four-billion-year period). Additionally, humans are not very good at distinguishing between extremely large numbers and fantastically large numbers. Axe’s “layperson’s case” for Intelligent Design assumes that most human beings are capable of reasoning soundly about large numbers - and as we’ve seen, they’re not: the holes in Axe’s own arguments prove that. For this reason, a skeptic might argue that the widely shared human intuition that living things such as whales, tigers and butterflies are products of design should be taken with a very large grain of salt, and that science should steer well clear of making inferences to the existence of a Designer of life.

"In brief, the three major arguments put forward by Axe are: the astronomically low odds (as calculated by Dr. Eugene Koonin) of a coupled replication-translation system emerging by chance on the primordial Earth (pp. 227-231); the vanishingly small proportion of long amino acid chains (which are essential to life on Earth) that are functional (p. 57); and the enormous difficulty of converting one protein into another, similar-looking protein which folds up just like the first one (pp. 81-86). The first two arguments relate to the physical impossibility of abiogenesis, while the third is supposed to demonstrate the inability of natural selection to produce new forms (after all, if it can’t even build a new protein from a very similar one, how much less is it capable of building a new organism from a genetically similar one?) My opinion of these arguments has dramatically changed during the past three weeks, and I have come to conclude that all of these arguments are mathematically dubious, for reasons that I shall now explain. Their conclusion may well turn out to be right, but at the present time, we have no way of knowing that.

At this point, I’d like to introduce three professors, whom I emailed regarding Axe’s mathematical arguments. All of them are biologists of various stripes, all of them are well-published professors, and all of them are Christians. I promised the first professor I would not reveal his name, and the second professor would prefer to remain anonymous, so I’ll simply refer to them as Professors A, B and C. (I’ll say more about Professor C anon.) Professor A could fairly be described as a Darwinist, while Professor B has strong doubts regarding the possibility of abiogenesis, but adheres to the neutral theory of evolution. Professor C is sympathetic to the Intelligent Design movement and has vocally criticized theories of abiogenesis. In short: if these three professors doubt the cogency of Axe’s mathematical arguments, then it’s fair to conclude that the arguments don’t work. As it turns out, none of the professors was willing to endorse any of these arguments.

Now, let’s examine Dr. Axe’s second argument, that functional proteins consisting of 150-odd amino acids (which are required by all living things) are extremely isolated in sequence space (1 in 1074 is the figure he quotes in his book).

The importance of this particular argument to the case for Intelligent Design cannot be over-emphasized. Putting it succinctly: if it fails, then we’re back at square one, in terms of building a mathematical case for ID. Dr. Stephen Meyer’s two Intelligent Design best-sellers, Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt, are built on the bedrock foundation of this argument: their whole case would collapse without it. The same goes for The Design Inference, by Dr. William Dembski and Dr. Jonathan Wells. Speaking for myself, I can’t count how many times I’ve cited Dr. Axe’s argument in my posts on Uncommon Descent, and referred readers to his paper, The Case Against a Darwinian Origin of Protein Folds, as well as his follow-up article, Correcting Four Misconceptions about my 2004 Article in JMB. Whenever I’ve had doubts about Intelligent Design, this argument has always been my shining star.

So, what did the three professors whom I contacted think of Axe’s argument? In a nutshell: not much. Professor A thought it ignored the possibility that the first life relied on much shorter proteins; Professor B queried the 1 in 1074 figure and said there was no way we could be sure about that; and Professor C said that he had no idea, when I asked him about the argument.

Professor B added that that he was very sympathetic towards arguments against the natural origins of the first cell, and that of all the arguments raised by evolution critics, this argument had the most likelihood of being correct. He concluded by saying that he did not think that Dr. Axe was necessarily wrong about the unlikelihood of abiogenesis, but that Axe seemed to be trying to calculate the probability of an unknown process, and was therefore overstating his case…

The take-home message from all this is that Dr. Axe is trying to put a full stop where science leaves a comma. We don’t really know how rare functional 150-amino-acid proteins are in sequence space, and we don’t know that they couldn’t have been derived from shorter proteins.

Reviewing the comments by Professors A, B and C, I was struck by the fact that not one of them was willing to endorse Dr. Axe’s mathematical arguments against abiogenesis and unguided evolution, even though all of them are Christians, two of them are skeptical of abiogenesis, and one of them is sympathetic towards Intelligent Design. So where does that leave me?

On a final note: I believe that when you present a scientific argument to the general public, you have a responsibility to draw notify your audience about the uncertainties attending that argument. It seems to me that Dr. Axe has not done that. Each of the three mathematical arguments for intelligent design in his book is highly questionable. For that reason, I shall refrain from citing them as arguments in support of ID, in future.

But without a doubt, Axe’s silliest argument against natural selection is that it cannot invent. He calls this the Gaping Hole in Evolutionary Theory (p. 97). I would refer Dr. Axe to a recent post by University of Chicago Professor Jerry Coyne, in which he endeavors to summarize the entire theory of evolution in a single paragraph. His concluding point is as follows:

Finally, the “designoid” features of organisms–the features that make them look so well adapted to their environments and lifestyles–are the product of natural selection: the combination of a random process, mutation, that generates genetic variation without regard to whether it’s “useful” or not, and a deterministic process, selection, that winnows the variation by retaining those mutations that are better able to make copies of themselves and eliminating the worse copiers. There are other important processes of evolutionary change, like random genetic drift, but only selection can produce the design-like features that so excite our wonder.

There you have it. Natural selection doesn’t generate “inventions” (or biological innovations), because that’s not its job: that’s the job of mutation. It may be objected that Coyne is not typical of all evolutionary biologists; however, the respected evolutionary geneticist Allen MacNeill of Cornell University, whose perspective on evolution is very different from that of Coyne, agrees with him on this point. In a 2009 blog article titled, “Can Natural Selection Produce New Information?”, MacNeill points out that natural selection has three prerequisites, one of which is Variety, generated by the “engines of variation.” He continues:

…[T]he real dispute between evolutionary biologists and “intelligent design” supporters is not over natural selection per se, but rather the properties and capabilities of the “engines of variation”. I have written extensively about these here and here.

Yes, natural selection … is conservative not creative. It produces no new genetic nor phenotypic information, which is why Darwin eventually came to prefer the term “natural preservation” rather than “natural selection”. However, it is also clear that the “engines of variation” - that is, the processes the produce phenotypic variation among the members of populations of living organisms - are both extraordinarily creative and extraordinarily fecund. The real problem in biology is therefore not producing new variation, but rather limiting the production of new variation to the point that the “engines of variation” do not cause the inevitable disintegration of living systems.

(Joe Palcsak) #13

not really. My focus was simply different. But to address that point as you have phrased it here:[quote=“Swamidass, post:5, topic:5625”]
I would add to this. Biological life is ver little like human designs. This is just made more clear by this story. The facto of the matter is that we really never see humans designing anything like biological systems.

Very true. But the differences that do exist between human designs and biological systems all have to do with the fact that biological systems are far more technologically advanced than what we are capable of. Remarkably, I have known people to try to argue that this fact counts against the design argument for living systems. Surely you are too smart to fall into that? [quote=“Swamidass, post:5, topic:5625”]
I’ll leave you with another very helpful and salient quote…

Nevertheless, it seems that we have arrived at an odd epistemological impasse. The fact that emerges from the foregoing discussion, after the dust has cleared, is that neither the theory of Intelligent Design, nor the hypotheses of abiogenesis and unguided macroevolution, can be mathematically demonstrated to be true, or even probable. What’s a person to do, when faced with a situation like that? For my part, I find the STOMPS principle which I discussed above to be a sensible one. Dr. Axe does a brilliant job of showing, in chapter 10 of his book, how the design of life is far, far superior, technologically speaking, to anything that our top scientists can create. The prudent conclusion to reach is that life was designed, after all. And that should be enough for us.

thanks for the quote, and certainly I am in total agreement with the conclusion. The bit about the math, therefore, is little more than an intercollegial debate. Of course, ID cannot be mathematically demonstrated to be true, but probability is a function of math and concerning the absurd improbability of abiogenesis, I need only invoke the enemies of ID to make a strong case.[quote=“Swamidass, post:5, topic:5625”]
Of course, as a Christian, I believe God designed us through evolution

Can you flesh this out for me?

(George Brooks) #14


You expect @Swamidass to provide more detail than the Bible provides for the YEC version?

Gen 2:7
"And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. "

Compared to this Biblical description, the details of Evolution, and all the possible ways God could have participated in the process, is virtually infinite.

Your audience can see you “gaming” the discussion in an attempt to make our finite knowledge about the creation of life seem like some kind of fatal flaw - - when, in comparison, the Bible offers us no details for the competing scenario !!!

You cannot turn the multiplicity of ways for God’s involvement into a flaw.

(Joe Palcsak) #15

Jay: There is much to dispute in this paragraph. First, it could be argued (indeed, it has been argued) that biological information manifests not only code, but also syntax and semantics. I am happy to explore this position with you if you are so inclined. But to begin to make the case, consider that the genetic code is bona fide language by definition, no merely analogy. Crick and Yockey, both staunch evolutionists, were pioneers in recognizing this. And of course, it is “quite impossible for the genetic code to generate anything like nonsense words.” Here, Torley seems to be arguing against himself. Why can such a sequence not be generated? Because it contains no abstract meaning, the very condition he claims is not satisfied!

Second, to say that a protein need only fold into into a shape that can perform a biologically useful task, not only presupposes biological life, but also profoundly understates the problem of abiogenesis.

Finally, “extremely improbable” is a very generous description of the purely mathematical challenge to the chance generation of even a single protein. Scientifically impossible remains a much better description.

In many ways, this paragraph is the foundation to Torley’s entire position. If the paragraph does not hold up, neither do the claims. And there is very good reason to believe that it does not hold up. But the biggest point of the whole thing is that he does indeed see, in spite of the objections he imagines, that ID remains the superior explanation for the phenomenon of life. And in that, I rejoice in complete agreement.

(George Brooks) #16


Joe, other than this is a position that might be co-opted by YEC’s … a great many supporters of BioLogos would agree with the idea that God made these events possible. I am one of them.

(Jay Johnson) #17

Not sure that this is true, but I cannot offer strong arguments for or against it. My knowledge of genetics is pretty basic. I know enough to follow the discussion among the experts, and I certainly can make a “provisional” decision based on who I think has the best arguments, but my own position on this is fluid at the moment. Most of it is new to me, since I had no real interest in the debate until very recently. I will say, however, that in my experience, analogies can lead thinkers astray when they confuse the analogy for the reality of the thing. Wittgenstein pointed out the problem with this.

I find this very compelling. Remember that this is Torley speaking, not me. He was (and, I assume, is) a staunch proponent of ID who has written many words (maybe more than you! haha) in defense of the mathematical arguments for ID. He sought feedback from experts who are Christians, with no “ax to grind” against God or religion. All of them were dubious of the math. Hmmmm. Torley wanted Axe’s propositions to be true; he previously was invested in defending them; yet, he finds them wanting. (I should also add that this validates @Swamidass’s point in another thread that Torley is an intellectually honest thinker.) At the very least, Torley’s change of mind should cause us seriously to consider what he says.

I should say that I am not an ID proponent, but I also am not an opponent. I believe that God created the heavens and the earth; therefore, he is the “Designer” of all that exists. However, I am dubious of any efforts to “prove” that thesis, for theological and philosophical reasons. I believe that such “proof” will never be forthcoming because God does not will us to have such knowledge. That is my opinion, but it is just an opinion. I could be wrong (which frequently happens, according to my wife). In the meantime, I listen to the arguments of experts and adjust my understandings to get as close to the truth as I humanly can.

Actually, what I thought was most revealing about Torley’s review was the many instances when Axe seems to have knowingly put forth misleading and weak arguments. For instance, take a look at these quotes from the review:

“What bothered me most was that the book misrepresented Darwinism, and exaggerated the strength of the case against it, by appealing to a series of poor analogies.”

“Dr. Axe sent his manuscript out (in whole or part) to no less than fifteen people (mathematicians, scientists, philosophers and writers), soliciting their comments on his book… (NOTE: In the interests of journalistic accuracy, I feel obliged to state that: (a) at least one reviewer has since contacted me to let me know that some of the changes he proposed were rejected by the author; and (b) not all of the reviewers were eminent people.)”

“Axe seemed to be trying to calculate the probability of an unknown process, and was therefore overstating his case.”

“Professor B thought Dr. Axe was extending his work far beyond what the data currently indicates. He contended that Dr. Axe was over-interpreting his data…”

“At best, Dr. Axe’s arguments fall far short of being proofs; at worst, they are fallacious.”

“I believe that when you present a scientific argument to the general public, you have a responsibility to draw notify your audience about the uncertainties attending that argument. It seems to me that Dr. Axe has not done that.”

“The real question we need to answer is whether the chemistry that powers life could have arisen via an accidental process. And to answer that question, we need to perform some chemical calculations. There are precious few of these in Axe’s book, and as we’ll see, the calculations that Axe does provide are highly questionable.”

“Axe then proceeds to castigate natural selection as a process of “aimless wandering,” and he declares that “repetition is the only factor that can conceivably offset the improbability of stumbling upon biological inventions by accident” (p. 113). Reading these passages, a layperson could easily get the impression that natural selection is no better than a hit-and-miss random walk through evolutionary space. The only place in his book where Axe even hints that he thinks otherwise is a cryptic footnote (n. 3) to chapter 9 on page 283 (which very few people will take the trouble to read), where Axe acknowledges that blind attempts “need not be random.” And that’s it, folks.”

“Axe’s misrepresentation of natural selection gets worse when one examines his footnotes to chapter 7…”

“The list of errors and misrepresentations regarding natural selection in Axe’s book is beyond a joke.”

Back to my reflections. Consider just the following descriptions: overstating, over-interpreting, fallacious, questionable, misrepresentation, errors … This is a serious problem for the ID movement. In their zeal to “prove” that God created, some authors seem willing to overstate the case or (in the extreme) bend and ignore facts to make their case. This is not the way for Christians to make their case for the Lord. It dishonors him and discredits honest Christian intellectuals in pursuit of truth. My 2c, anyway.

(George Brooks) #18


If the Genetic Code were characterized as a bona fide language, you are stuck right in the middle of a swamp.

The ID position is advanced by those who point to the brilliant points of genetic “linguistics” (as you imply). But the problem is that much of the genetic code is corrupted and shows such more syntax you might imagine that God hasn’t graduated from elementary school!

ID will ever be stranded: genetic “perfection” that could only be intelligent … and lots of lots of genetic ineptitude, that contradicts the underlying argument that it is all brilliant.

(Jay Johnson) #19

This is a difficulty. Torley talks about it in his review:

"Axe’s case for Intelligent Design is built on the assumption that the Designer is very much like a human inventor, who goes through three stages (mental, methodical and mechanical) when searching for new ways of doing things (pp. 136-138)… Axe’s entire argument for Design presupposes that the Designer is very like us, psychologically: He is ‘someone who invested [in the cosmos] not just intellectually but also emotionally, just as we invest in our creations’ (p. 250), and He has a personality as well (p. 250). But if God’s Mind is not at all like ours, then Axe’s argument can never take us to the Mind of God. It will always fall short.

"How could Axe resolve a dilemma like this? Since his portrait of God is very personalistic, I would recommend that he try embracing the first option, and openly acknowledge that God does design things incrementally, and that He does reason His way from premises to a conclusion. (I defended the view that God’s knowledge is discursive, in a blog post back in 2014.) This may not be as shocking as it first seems: the fact that there is a logical progression in God’s thoughts does not mean that there needs to be a temporal progression, or that God requires lots of time, in order to think things out. A God Who thinks step-by-step could still be outside time. Interestingly, if this picture of God is correct, it would explain why He had to resort to the process of (guided) evolution in order to invent us, instead of just making us from the dust of the ground (say). Maybe God can’t make a man that way. Maybe the very notion of making any functionally coherent system that way is logically absurd. But if that’s right, then God couldn’t have made life that way either: He must have designed it by a stepwise process. And if that’s correct, then Axe shouldn’t be arguing against stepping stones: he should be arguing for them. There must have been a series of steps leading to the first living cell. In that case, the task of Intelligent Design would be to show that these were guided steps. How would one do that? Presumably, by showing that they were the fastest set of steps that would take us from simple chemicals to life itself.

“I discussed the question of whether God has to think in a bottom-up as well as a top-down fashion, in a blog post two years ago. All I’ll say here is that imputing complex ideas to God does not detract from the traditional doctrine that God’s innermost Being (or essence) is absolutely simple, even if His thoughts are not.”

Personally, I would like to see a philosopher make this case. Even though it is a philosophical/theological argument, which ID theorists seem to want to avoid, I think it could prove a much more powerful direction for ID than its present attempts to formulate scientific arguments for design. My 2c

(Benjamin Kirk) #20

No, it isn’t. It’s a metaphor. There is no abstraction involved, nor any symbolism.