Dec 09 2009

Some Craziness from the Disco-Tute

After writing my weekly post for science-based medicine, I decided to check out the rantings over at the Discovery Institute’s blog, the grossly misnamed Evolution News & Views. This anti-science propaganda blog offers a “target-rich environment” for skeptics – so much so that I must resist being drawn into their black hole of pseudoscience and maddening illogic. <obscure Star Trek reference>They could fry Norman in a nanosecond. </obscure Star Trek reference> (btw – if you combine a computer geek and Star Trek geek joke in one sentence, you get double points, sort of like scrabble.)

My problem is that the nonsense is so thick over there that it is a bit overwhelming. So I’m just going to do a quick fly-by of some of their posts.

Egnor is Back

My favorite creationist neurosurgeon, Michael Egnor, is back with a vengeance. He has written 27 blog entries in the last two weeks all about ClimateGate. Wow – I guess he has some time on his hands. These are among the most shrill and ridiculous opinions I have seen expressed on this issue, amid stiff competition. He writes:

I’m not sure that the scientific community can or will respond to this debacle in a courageous or ethical way. The ID-Darwinism debate clearly demonstrates that venality and shameless self-interest, as well as a toxic leftist-atheist ideology, runs very deep in the scientific community.

and

Ultimately, perhaps massive defunding of organized science, and a new system of support for research that demands utter transparency and maximal accommodation of debate, may be the only way to defend ourselves from an utterly corrupt scientific elite.

You might at first have wondered why a blog ostensibly about evolution published 27 posts about climate science in two weeks, but Egnor makes it all clear – it is all about attacking modern science as a liberal-atheist conspiracy. You see – just like with evolution and creationism. Egnor also has the following pattern – when he thinks someone has opened themselves up to criticism, he attacks with all the venom he can muster. Rather than trying to be fair and objective, seeing the subtlety and nuances of a complex issue, he simply gets more and more shrill and self-righteous. Right now he is in the midst of what we call a crankgasm, with no end in sight.

He is proceeding from the premise that there is ironclad evidence for the worst possible interpretation of the climategate e-mails. He is like a witch hunter who thinks he has finally – finally caught himself a real witch, and is just frothing at the mouth for a good witch burning (in fact he wants to burn down all of science, just to be sure). Or, alternatively, he (and the Disco-Tute) may just think that climategate is a golden propaganda opportunity and they are going to make the most of it. Forget about investigating what actually happened or putting the e-mails into any context.

Further, he is following up by attacking any scientists who are trying to take a reasonable “wait and see” approach as if they are defending fraud. No one is defending scientific fraud. Rather, it is simply fair and prudent to wait for an independent investigation.

The Great Debate

Recently Michael Shermer and Donald Prothero engaged in a debate with ID proponents Stephen Meyer and Richard Sternberg. Shermer gives his account of the debate here, read that then come on back.

These things always go the same way. The IDers/creationists try to play games with last minute changes in the debate topic or rules, they then ignore those rules and just snipe at “Darwinism”. On points those defending evolution usually win – because they have science on their side – but like in most debates, both sides declare victory.

But in this case I think the other Disco-Tute bloggers are in a contest with Egnor to see who can be more shrill. Seriously, you would think from their account of the debate that Shermer and Prothero did nothing but drool on themselves during the entire debate. Their disconnection from reality is astounding.

Robert Crowther tries to rebut Shermer’s main point – that ID essentially boils down to an argument from ignorance -”I can’t explain how complexity arose, therefore God, I mean the Intelligent Designer about which I will say no more, did it.” Crowther responds:

Not true. Intelligent design scientists like Meyer argue in favor of design theory based on the recognition of things like the digital information in DNA and the complex molecular machines found in cells. As Meyer patiently explained to Shermer in the debate, they do so because invariably we know from experience that complex systems possessing such features always arise from intelligent causes.

But that is essentially the same point Shermer is making just stated in a different way. We do not know, and therefore cannot take as a premise, that complex systems can only arise from intelligent causes – that is circular reasoning, assuming what they are trying to prove. It assumes that natural systems cannot create complexity (because they don’t understand how it can happen), and therefore intelligence must have. That is Shermer’s point.

Evolutionary science, however, is a successful and mature science that goes a long way toward explaining how natural systems can evolve over time, generating complexity and the appearance of design. In fact, you can say that life is designed – it the the product of bottom-up evolutionary design. It is not the product of top-down intelligent design. Any reasonable attempt to distinguish these two kinds of systems favors an evolutionary bottom-up design for life (the messiness and contingency of biological systems, for example).

But ID proponents do not want to rely on such an analysis – they want to simply assume that all appearance of design, regardless of its features, is intelligent. Any attempt they have made to argue that life has features of intelligent design have failed - irreducible complexity is not irreducible, and information theory favors evolution, not ID.

Conclusion

It seems to me, from my entirely subjective perspective, that the Disco-Tute is sliding a bit into obscurity. Their rantings are getting more and more disconnected from reality and desperate. It seems like they are pumping up their volume in a desperate attempt to be relevant, but it is failing miserably.

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73 responses so far

73 Responses to “Some Craziness from the Disco-Tute”

  1. Watcheron 09 Dec 2009 at 10:24 am

    Rather than trying to be fair and objective

    One might even say … fair and balanced? ;)

    Also, thanks for the Shermer link, good read.

  2. Justin L.on 09 Dec 2009 at 10:32 am

    This is a great post as usual. However, ( “Recently Michael Shermer and Michael Shermer and Donald Prothero” ) I had no idea that we had finally cloned Michael Shermer. That’s great!

  3. Steven Novellaon 09 Dec 2009 at 10:51 am

    LOL – copying error during edit. Thanks – corrected.

    But – if we could clone Michael and a few other skeptics, that would be awesome. I have often been accused of having clones of myself working away in the basement – if only it were true.

  4. Doctor Evidenceon 09 Dec 2009 at 11:23 am

    Its interesting that the Central Prediction of ID – the Intelligence – has not been observed. What kind of ‘theory’ is that?

  5. Eternally Learningon 09 Dec 2009 at 11:47 am

    When you talk about Robert Crowther’s rebuttal, I’m not sure if what he is saying is an argument from ignorance exactly. He doesn’t seem to be saying that, “I have no idea how this could come into being, therefore it must be whatever I say it is.” Rather, it seems more like arguing from false certainty in that they are 100% certain that complex systems with features like DNA have only ever come from intelligent designers. I may just be playing with symantics, but I think it’s important to recognize that they are not admitting any ignorance, but are rather falling into the trap that religion creates of thinking that any person can ever truly know something for certain and attempting to use that in their science and logic which, since the very idea of absolute certainty is at odds with actual science, means that their conclusions will likely always be flawed.

  6. daedalus2uon 09 Dec 2009 at 12:47 pm

    I think there is another reason why conservative Christians are also AGW deniers (other than crank magnetism that is), that run-away global warming looks a lot like the nebulous prophesies about the Apocalypse. What better way to bring about the End of Days than run-away global warming that makes the Earth uninhabitable. I believe their reasoning is that then God would have to intervene. or humans would go extinct.

  7. Ciananon 09 Dec 2009 at 1:00 pm

    “Ultimately, perhaps massive defunding of organized science, and a new system of support for research that demands utter transparency and maximal accommodation of debate, may be the only way to defend ourselves from an utterly corrupt scientific elite.”

    Last time I checked my Thesaurus of Demotic Synonyms, neurosurgeons, at the fore with rocket scientists, were the fuglemen of the scientific elite. Egnor’s rhetoric is redolent of those in national politics who are undeniably Washington insiders yet claim otherwise to exploit Real Americans. Well, the Real Americans in this case can have Egnor. He makes it explicit, by condemning “a toxic leftist-atheist ideology,” that, despite the medical and scientific training he is lucky, it seems to me, to have had, he has entrenched himself in the god-fearing, socially-conservative, moral high-ground. Inspiring his comments are ideological certitudes and platitudes, that are couched in cliché and clumsily written prose. Does he read what he writes? Could he not have avoided easily such a cacology as using “utter” and “utterly” in the same sentence? Or, likewise, suggesting that we cease bankrolling “organized science.” As opposed to what, Egnor, disorganized science?

    Calling for transparency in science is nugatory. Evidence is provided by nature; it is there for all who care to look. And, in all facetiousness, this “new system” of science, in which debate is a prominent tenet, makes Egnor, by his very language, an accommodationist (a word, by the way, that interjects politics into a subject where, in the case of science, the anti-vaccinationist’s retort of “No, no, not in my veins,” is best).

  8. CWon 09 Dec 2009 at 1:05 pm

    @ EternallyLearning – “Rather, it seems more like arguing from false certainty in that they are 100% certain that complex systems with features like DNA have only ever come from intelligent designers.”

    I think this is a subtype of the Argument of Ignorance fallacy though. Because ultimately, the crux of the argument is “because I don’t know, then it must be [insert unprovable/untestable cause]”

    @ Stephen – Thanks for the post. I appreciate your articles on their argument strategies, as it helps me to better debate/discuss these topics with friends and family.

    One particular strategy that I seem to have a hard time overcoming is when I make the arguments that evolution is starting to have predictive value (hypothesizing what transitionary fossils will look like, when discovered, that fill in the gaps)…to which the reply is, common sense can tell you what the fossils will look like if you have a before and after image. I think my argument is either phrased incorrectly, or just a trivial one that carries no weight.

  9. mschmidton 09 Dec 2009 at 1:31 pm

    The entire ID movement reminds me of my parent’s weird attempt at making me believe that Santa Claus was real. When I was 6 or 7 I said that Santa wasn’t real so they got my mom’s Uncle, who looked like Santa, to dress up as him and visit me therefore proving his existence. It was pretty impressive seeing a Santa with a real beard, but he didn’t explain how he traveled everywhere so fast nor did he have any flying reindeer. The entire process didn’t convince me, and ended up just making me think my parents were odd and didn’t know why they just couldn’t accept that it was them buying me awesome presents.

    That’s how I look at ID’ers. They are putting so much time and effort on an explanation whose premise is based on ridiculousness and, at the same time, there is ample evidence that explains how life really works which is evolution.

  10. artfulDon 09 Dec 2009 at 1:51 pm

    Any design of life’s various forms was in the form of engineering done by life itself, and any purpose, intent, or intelligence behind those “designs” was that of these evolving forms alone. And the designs were in all cases affected by the strategies developed and developing in these forms to deal with the immediate problems of survival.

    And there was no grand plan or blueprint involved – just the impetus to reengineer anything that could gain some short-term benefit in the process.

  11. Steven Novellaon 09 Dec 2009 at 2:12 pm

    EL – to clarify my point, you are correct but you need to back up one step. They are prematurely (putting is mildly) sure that all design is intelligent, but that certitude is based entirely on an argument from ignorance – not knowing a natural process that can result in design.

    It is false ignorance, because evidence shows evolution is that natural process. And they try to make their claims seem positive – every design we have observed results from intelligence. But they are simply ruling out, a priori, natural systems and so their argument becomes circular also.

    They want it both ways – they want to win the argument from the beginning by rigging the parameters – all design is intelligent a priori, life is designed, therefore it was intelligently designed.

    This argument fails on logic.

    The empirical argument is that life shows features of specifically intelligent design that evolution cannot explain – irreducible complexity and specified complexity (ala information theory). They fail here as well – these arguments have been demolished, ID proponents just refuse to understand or acknowledge it.

    And – they ignore the actual real question – is the design seen in life the top-down design expected from a designer, or the bottom-up design expected from a messy natural process. It is clearly the latter.

  12. lizkaton 09 Dec 2009 at 2:21 pm

    It seems obvious to me that everyone is in over their heads in this kind of a debate. The theory that life originated and evolved without any kind of intelligent guidance may turn out to be philosophical and impossible to prove scientifically. Similarly, the theory that life originated and evolved in the context of some guiding intelligence may not ever be possible to prove, or disprove, using the scientific method.

    There are just too many problems, including the problem of defining words like “intelligence,” “natural,” and “supernatural.” If we define “natural” as all that exists, then of course everything turns out to be natural, and nothing can ever be called supernatural.

    If we define “intelligence” as the activities of any complex system, then everything must be called intelligent.

    We also have the problem of defining “random,” as opposed to “meaningful.”

    It may turn out that, as physics and biology advance, we begin to see our world as far more complex than was ever imagined during Darwin’s time. We may eventually take for granted that there is some kind of “intelligence” or “purposefulness” operating in the universe. Or maybe not. But right now we are in the dark regarding this kind of question.

    So I think both sides in this debate ought to admit they are arguing over things that are utterly unknown at this time, and which may never be understood well, if at all. And, more importantly, that most of the terminology is woefully undefined.

    As a result, neither side really knows what the other is trying to say. Within each team, the arguments and the terminology seem obvious, but between teams the exchanges might as well be gibberish.

    My impression is that both sides primarily resort to insults and name-calling. I don’t see the “skeptics” being any more polite or respectful than the IDers. Scorn is heaped in both directions, and clear logic and scientific evidence are seldom to be seen. Naturally enough, since we cannot reason clearly about things that are so far beyond our current understanding.

    For example, the anti-IDers cite evidence for evolution as if it were relevant to the debate, when it is not. What you need to demonstrate that life can originate and evolve by a mechanistic, unguided, process.

    You need to show that there is no law of nature that drives complex systems to evolve in the direction of increasing complexity. And how could you ever demonstrate something like that?

  13. Dweller42on 09 Dec 2009 at 2:40 pm

    That’s not the definition of argument from ignorance, though – argument from ignorance is, at least for the purposes of debate, argument based on a premise that is held as true only because it has not been demonstrated as false – the substance of the argument itself isn’t known, not that the arguer doesn’t know about the substance of the argument.

    As an example, if I’m holding a brand-new chemical compound in my hand, and I argue that this compound is acidic without making any tests on the compound or knowing its structure, I’m making an argument from ignorance.

    If the structure of the compound is known and has been tested, and it is either neutral or basic in nature, then it’s more of an argument from incredulity – I’m either ignore the evidence or am not aware of it.

    It’s a minor distinction, and most would argue that the argument from incredulity is just a subset of argument from ignorance, but there are differences to them that are very important when talking to an IDer – the former person may simply be making an ill-informed argument and open to new information. The latter is a much harder sell because they may be consciously attempting to not know anything.

  14. Eternally Learningon 09 Dec 2009 at 3:09 pm

    Steve – I agree with you on that 100%. The point I was making however, wasn’t that they are not ultimately basing their arguments on ignorance of certain facts, or that their new arguments are any more valid, but was more that they are doing just what you are saying; trying to turn their negative arguments into positive by falsely claiming scientific certainty. It seemed to me that in sweeping their legs out from under them by bypassing their actual stated argument and attacking the unstated premises alone, we fail to point out the connection between their actual arguments and the arguments that we are attacking, thereby seeming to dodge the issue that they’ve presented. We can point out that their argument is basically unchanged, but unless we connect the dots for those that are on the fence of this issue (like you did in your response) and show how it is the same, then we risk appearing arrogant or oblivious.

    On a side-note, I’ve never heard the term “False Ignorance” before. I assume you are using that to refer to people who ignore or reject valid evidence or arguments that are right under their nose? Did you coin that? I kind of like it :)

  15. daedalus2uon 09 Dec 2009 at 4:17 pm

    CW, when people say that filling in the gaps is just “common sense”, you say “yes, exactly, that is exactly what evolution is, the common sense explanation for all life that we see fitting together.” It works with the gross anatomy of bones, the only kind that can be observed in fossils, it also works with the finest details of all the DNA of extant organisms, showing that we are all related.

  16. titmouseon 09 Dec 2009 at 4:26 pm

    A tragic side effect of any heated manufactroversy: people are tempted to distort the truth for the sake of the truth. Messy and ambiguous data that scientists normally find interesting and fun to talk about get swept under the rug for fear of the loons who might exploit it.

    Remember how we cringed when New Scientist ran the headline, “Darwin was Wrong…” Well, yes, of course Darwin was wrong about many things. Blah blah blah. Not what you think it means, Mr. Uninformed.

    Remember the Brownlee article in The Atlantic which pounced upon a valid question concerning the risk-v-benefit of seasonal flu vaccine among the elderly, and used this detail to represent the entire flu vaccine project as misguided?

    Given that people around the globe have been working on the climate warming issue for three decades, I’m inclined to believe that there’s something to it. I’m guessing the emailers had grown weary of the politics and simply cracked. They cleaned up some messy data sets in the hope of dodging time wasting challenges from the hacks. Major foot-bullet, sadly.

    Communication is very difficult when all parties are not working off the same basic map of reality. Or to put it another way for a few of you: when engrams all down the time track are being re-stimulated in the pre-clears. Or when the sheeple remain blind to the mind-control tricks of the Jew-controlled mass media.

  17. Steven Novellaon 09 Dec 2009 at 4:59 pm

    I agree – hard core ideological pseudoscience poisons the atmosphere of good science. It becomes challenging for scientists to function openly, and any attempt at shielding themselves from the crazies becomes part of the “conspiracy”. It’s a no win.

    All the more reason, however, that scientists need to be skeptics – they need to learn how to deal with the cranks without compromising real science. Or at least they need to appreciate those skeptics who are running interference for them.

  18. _Arthuron 09 Dec 2009 at 6:39 pm

    Why to put one chaplain or komissar in every research lab to ensure that science isn’t distorted by a political or atheistic agenda ?

  19. Watcheron 09 Dec 2009 at 8:48 pm

    Wow, I think this goes along with the whole “lets see if we can make ourselves meaningful.”

    http://www.hulu.com/watch/113891/the-colbert-report-andy-schlafly#s-p1-sr-i1

    What a blowhard. This is the type of person we debate against. To be honest, it’s quite scary to think that this man preaches fair, moral, and truthful … but in all reality it’s just to things he wants to believe in. Harkens back to the whole, I am the Holy Spirits mouthpiece. He wouldn’t let me say anything that’s wrong. It’s borderline insanity …

  20. Torgoon 09 Dec 2009 at 9:20 pm

    Steve writes: “And they try to make their claims seem positive – every design we have observed results from intelligence. But they are simply ruling out, a priori, natural systems and so their argument becomes circular also.”

    I’m on your side on this one, but couldn’t they say (and they do) that naturalists are simply ruling out, a priori, intelligent designers? Stephen Meyer is not a total idiot. If he’s careful, he’ll say that, yes, there may yet be a naturalistic explanation for the apparent design, but since intelligence is often the cause of design, and assuming there are some things we can’t/haven’t yet explained naturalistically, it’s reasonable to provisionally conclude that an intelligent designer is responsible.

  21. titmouseon 09 Dec 2009 at 9:52 pm

    …couldn’t they say (and they do) that naturalists are simply ruling out, a priori, intelligent designers?

    Wait that’s shifting the burden of proof. That’s cheating.

    You imply that we have but two choices: we must either accept a claim as true or reject it as false.

    In fact we have three choices: a claim may be proven, disproved, or unproven.

    All new claims are unproven by default. The burden of proof always rests upon the shoulders of the person asserting the claim.

    Intelligent design is unproven, just like Russell’s teapot. And just like the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

  22. bluskoolon 09 Dec 2009 at 10:18 pm

    Haha… crankgasm is the perfect way to describe what Egnor is doing. Great post Steve. I wrote about this same thing last week when Egnor started blogging about “climategate.” He had only written five posts on it at the time so I guess he was not even close to reaching climax yet. It seems that he’ll just take any opportunity he gets to attack science.

  23. Steven Novellaon 09 Dec 2009 at 10:29 pm

    Targo – no, in fact Richard Dawkins even said that if we saw intelligent design in biology we could hypothesize about superpowerful aliens or something.

  24. Torgoon 09 Dec 2009 at 10:35 pm

    Steven,

    Isn’t that what I said? If we see intelligent design in biology, we can hypothesize an intelligent designer–whether aliens or something else. I don’t think the hypothesis has been proven, and has in fact been largely disproved. I guess I’m in the camp that thinks there is some merit to hypothesizing an intelligent designer, but that the evidence is overwhelmingly against it.

    titmouse,

    I agree that ID is unproven, but I was merely addressing the criticisms of even raising it as a potential explanation.

  25. artfulDon 09 Dec 2009 at 11:52 pm

    Torgo writes,
    “If we see intelligent design in biology, we can hypothesize an intelligent designer–whether aliens or something else.”

    Why couldn’t that something else be life that has intelligently designed itself?

  26. bluskoolon 10 Dec 2009 at 12:01 am

    Why couldn’t that something else be life that has intelligently designed itself?

    Wouldn’t that be god?

  27. artfulDon 10 Dec 2009 at 12:27 am

    Not unless you have some credible evidence that god is alive.

  28. John Piereton 10 Dec 2009 at 12:49 am

    Not being a computer geek, I guess the name is for I, Mudd.

  29. Ciananon 10 Dec 2009 at 12:54 am

    Steve,

    This is off-topic, but I was just reading the new (December 10th) issue of Nature and was surprised to see your name pop-up in an article titled, “Centre turns away from healing herbs: US research hub on complementary and alternative medicine shifts towards symptom management.” (http://www.nature.com/news/2009/091209/full/462711a.html) It looks like the Institute for Science in Medicine has already become a go-to source and quotable-dispensary.

    From the article:

    ‘Many US researchers still say such funding is a waste of time and money. “You are doing scientific research on treatment modalities that are not being used or promoted by science-based practitioners in the first place,” says Steven Novella, a neurologist at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. “They never abandon a treatment because the scientific evidence shows that it doesn’t work. So what’s the point?”‘

    ‘Marcus and Novella are members of the Institute for Science in Medicine, a group of physicians and scientists newly set up to fight government policies promoting alternative medicine. [Marcus] contends that the entire NCCAM enterprise “has been a remarkable waste of money”, driven by Senator Tom Harkin (Democrat, Iowa), who authored the 1998 legislation that established the centre. “The best thing they could do with the NCCAM is to dissolve it,” Marcus says. “But that’s not going to happen. Harkin’s too powerful.”‘

    How neat is it to have your name in Nature?

  30. Rob Heberton 10 Dec 2009 at 4:42 am

    lizkat:
    You wrote
    “The theory that life originated and evolved without any kind of intelligent guidance may turn out to be philosophical and impossible to prove scientifically”

    Science operates under the principles of methodological naturalism. The phenomena that evolutionary theory is meant to explain (such as speciation and development that leads to complexity over time) do not require an intelligent designer, so therefore there’s no need to assume one exists. We understand how animals evolve the same way we understand how the sun can rise and set in the same place (well, about the same place ;) ) every day; saying a designer makes the evolutionary process go doesn’t add anymore knowledge than saying Helios’ chariot pulls the sun across the sky. Likewise, you don’t have to imagine that fairies push electrons through copper wires.

    We don’t know how life arose on Earth, and it’s possible we never will, but there are already a number of plausible, suggested methods through which it could have occurred; they all utilize basic physical and chemical reactions that occur every day. Again, no intelligent creator is necessary, and so we don’t assume one.

    You also wrote:
    “We may eventually take for granted that there is some kind of “intelligence” or “purposefulness” operating in the universe”

    Most people already take that for granted. That’s one of the problems; you can’t just “take it for granted.” People used to take it for granted that witches existed, they cursed your livestock, and the only way to get rid of them was with fire. That didn’t make it true.

    “Within each team, the arguments and the terminology seem obvious, but between teams the exchanges might as well be gibberish.”

    These aren’t teams. Science is not a sport where one group wins and the other loses. Science is an attempt to gain practical knowledge about the universe by systematically learning the ways in which it works. IDers, for personal or political reasons, feel challenged by this attempt, and have tried to undermine it (though only in certain areas) by injecting misinformation, appealing to others’ emotions, and manufacturing controversy. Not by doing science.

    “My impression is that both sides primarily resort to insults and name-calling”

    I sincerely implore you to re-examine the overwhelming evidence of evolution, truly understand how it works, and learn how we know what we know. Dawkins’ “The Greatest Show on Earth” is a great primer, but if you don’t like him there are many other useful books in this vein. If you truly think that evidence is not being offered in these debates, you have been viewing the wrong things or have simply misunderstood what is being said. If you think that scientists are being disrespectful, that’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it–but it is fallacious to think that their rudeness undercuts the merit of their scientific claims.

    “For example, the anti-IDers cite evidence for evolution as if it were relevant to the debate, when it is not”

    Evidence for evolution is absolutely relevant to the debate. That you refer to scientists as “anti-IDers” implies that you see ID either as the baseline or an equal alternative to evolution. ID is not evidence-based. There is no evidence for it because, as has been pointed out in other comments, the whole premise is a tautology: some things are designed, other things look like those things, therefore those things are designed too, therefore they require a designer, therefore a designer exists. Evolutionary theory explains robust sets of data from many, many disparate disciplines; though it is altered in a million tiny ways as new data is found, the primary mechanisms of mutation, selection, and replication remain the same; and it produces testable predictions that have been proven experimentally. ID can honestly claim none of these things. ID is not evidence-based, while evolutionary theory is.

    “you need to demonstrate that life can originate and evolve by a mechanistic, unguided, process.”

    Those are two different things, but as I’ve said above, evolution has been shown to work, both through observation and experimentation. The origin of life from inanimate matter is called “abiogenesis”; it’s different from biological evolution, but several believable hypotheses have been proposed using “bottom-up” approaches that are similar to evolution. Proving that abiogenesis is possible is fairly easy; proving that it happened a particular way is harder.

    “You need to show that there is no law of nature that drives complex systems to evolve in the direction of increasing complexity”

    That’s actually kind of backwards. As it stands, there does not appear to a singular driving force that generates complexity, but the phenomenon that evolution shows is generally development in the direction of increased complexity. To understand why this might be so, please see Gould’s “Drunkard’s Walk.” In a nutshell, the idea is that since life probably arose from simple, self-replicating carbon compounds, there was nowhere to go but up on the evolutionary ladder. Once we had a decent amount of complexity, evolution could send us up and down the ladder (ie, snakes used to have legs).

  31. eiskrystalon 10 Dec 2009 at 5:11 am

    -If we see intelligent design in biology, we can hypothesize an intelligent designer–whether aliens or something else.-

    We don’t see intelligent design in biology. We see a hell of a lot of crap, redundancy, poor use of mechanics and extinction. So the point is moot.

    Cmon, they had to bring in “the fall” just to get around how bad the design we see today is.

  32. JH-manon 10 Dec 2009 at 8:46 am

    eiskrystal: yup, exactly.

    Their entire idea of the concepts “intelligence” and “design” is informed by, and ONLY informed by, *human* intelligence and *human* design. That’s supposedly their measuring stick.

    Yet even a superficial look at the type of “design” found in nature (messy, too complex to ever be within our own design capabilities, yet surprisingly inadequate and sub-optimal in places) reveals that it looks NOTHING like the concept they base their idea on.

    The argument doesn’t even take off…

  33. BrianTanion 10 Dec 2009 at 10:14 am

    I’m reading Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson’s book “Mistakes were made, but not by me” now, and the attitude of the Disco’Tute over this debate fits exactly on what they’re are saying about cognitive dissonance. The amount of investment you put into a belief is inversely proportional to the willingness to admit you’re wrong.

    For this they cite a number of cases one of which is Leon Festinger’s When Prophecy Fails, which report the case of Mrs. Keech’s cult of apocalypse. The people that sold everything waiting the end, those that made the most public commitment, were the ones that when the prophecy failed actually bolstered their faith, thinking they’ve saved the world instead of admitting they were wrong.

    They also say that normally people wouldn’t believe outrageously crazy things, but it’s a process of action, self-justification, and further actions that lead the person to a position we on the outside find bewildering! :D

    Anyways, I’m just beginning to read this book, and couldn’t comment any further. However, it makes me wonder what would those processes of resolving cognitive dissonances have been to make the people of the Disco’ Tute hold such strange beliefs.

  34. lizkaton 10 Dec 2009 at 11:12 am

    “I sincerely implore you to re-examine the overwhelming evidence of evolution”

    As I said already, evidence for evolution is irrelevant to the debate. Evolution is a scientifically established fact, and there are no knowledgeable researchers who doubt it. So why do anti-IDers consistently point to evidence for evolution and cite Dawkins? That is one of the great mysteries.

  35. artfulDon 10 Dec 2009 at 1:52 pm

    lizkat sees intelligent design in biology. Why? Because the methodological naturalism that some so reverently refer to requires life to be an intelligent process. It requires that all cells think, for example. Cells know where they are and what they are supposed to do.  They have positional values. Even a single-celled organism chooses, changes, transforms its environment in particular ways. In other words, it designs intelligently.

    As to the purpose for that intelligence that some here deny as well, ponder on this:

    “Thinking about Life
    The History and Philosophy of Biology and Other Sciences
    10.1007/978-1-4020-8866-7_15
    Paul S. Agutter and Denys N. Wheatley
    Living organisms act purposefully, and their individual parts — organs, cells, organelles, molecules — fulfil purposes for the whole. Those purposes ‘come from within’; animals, for example, seek food and mates for themselves. In contrast, the purposes of technological products such as drawing pins, hat-stands and washing machines ‘come from outside’; they are defined by their makers and users. A washing machine does not wash clothes for itself.
    Ever since the Scientific Revolution it has been agreed that the inanimate world of rocks, rivers, stars, clouds etc. does not act purposefully. It is to be understood in mechanistic not teleological terms. An inanimate object is not for anything or anyone; whatever it does is a consequence of antecedent causes. That implies a basic difference between biology on the one hand and physics and chemistry on the other. If biology is to be wholly compatible with physics, that difference needs to be resolved. We must be able to make complete mechanistic sense of purpose in biology.”

    So lizkat, you have made some excellent commentary here, even if the usual and suspect denizens of this little mechanistic corner of cyberspace deny it.

  36. Watcheron 10 Dec 2009 at 2:30 pm

    So lizkat, you have made some excellent commentary here

    I agree. They definitely highlight the problem, which is basically semantics. It also illustrates how the commandeering of a word and changing it’s meaning can alter a conversation. Cosmic coincidence does not intelligence make.

    even if the usual and suspect denizens of this little mechanistic corner of cyberspace deny it.

    LOL I appreciate irony and hyperbole :)

  37. weingon 10 Dec 2009 at 3:05 pm

    “lizkat sees intelligent design in biology. Why?”

    Probably because he/she doesn’t know enough biology.

    We are dealing with the emergent properties of complex systems here. Both weak and strong. No designer needed.

  38. artfulDon 10 Dec 2009 at 3:27 pm

    intelligence |inˈtelijəns|
    noun
    1 the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.

    Cosmic coincidence or no, life forms are intelligent by definition.

    If you don’t understand that, you’re like weing, who thinks design can only emerge from a non-intelligent process. But then again, he doesn’t know all that much about biology.

  39. bluskoolon 10 Dec 2009 at 5:19 pm

    Not unless you have some credible evidence that god is alive.

    Haha… definitely not.

  40. weingon 10 Dec 2009 at 6:52 pm

    “If you don’t understand that, you’re like weing, who thinks design can only emerge from a non-intelligent process.”

    When did I ever say that?

  41. artfulDon 10 Dec 2009 at 8:13 pm

    weing,
    Someone purports to see intelligence involved in the design of biological structures, and you indicate this is because she doesn’t know enough about biology. You then add, “no designer needed.”
    Which would infer that she didn’t see the intelligence she thought she saw because biological design was not a product of intelligence.
    Leaving some form of a non-intelligent mechanism as the responsible evolutionary apparatus.

    Or are you know holding that intelligence could have been a factor in the emergence of our biological complexities?

  42. weingon 10 Dec 2009 at 8:31 pm

    Or intelligence and design are emergent properties of a complex biological system?

  43. artfulDon 10 Dec 2009 at 8:47 pm

    That wouldn’t make lizkat wrong then would it? Because it doesn’t rule out that these would be interactive properties. Or rule out the evolution of such interactive evolvability.

  44. weingon 10 Dec 2009 at 10:56 pm

    Of course these are interactive properties. Like Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” in economics. But that’s not what lizkat said.

    “So I think both sides in this debate ought to admit they are arguing over things that are utterly unknown at this time, and which may never be understood well, if at all.”

    I do not think these things are utterly unknown and see no reason to stop research in an attempt to not know. Weakly emergent properties may not be expected from the micro scale but are explainable and capable of being understood in contrast to strong emergence, like consciousness.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I understand that you think consciousness exists on the individual cellular level and is not an emergent property manifesting on the macro scale?

  45. Rob Heberton 10 Dec 2009 at 11:53 pm

    artfulID, you wrote: “[methodological naturalism] requires that all cells think, for example. Cells know where they are and what they are supposed to do.”

    No it doesn’t. Cells are not self-aware, they don’t exhibit intent, and in no way does methodological naturalism require that they do so.

    I also don’t think you understand the argument of the piece you quoted:
    “Living organisms act purposefully, and their individual parts — organs, cells, organelles, molecules — fulfil (sic) purposes for the whole.”

    The tautology of the above statement aside (organisms act purposefully because they fulfill purposes?), you shouldn’t equate purposeful action with intentional action. The purpose of my heart is to pump my blood, but the heart doesn’t “intend” to do so any more than a rock “intends” to fall to the ground when I drop it.

    “If biology is to be wholly compatible with physics, that difference needs to be resolved. We must be able to make complete mechanistic sense of purpose in biology.”

    You don’t seem to understand that the upshot of that last part is an attempt to show that biological systems are more mechanistic, not that non-organisms are intelligent or that they act with intent.

  46. artfulDon 10 Dec 2009 at 11:53 pm

    weing,
    Now you’re moving the lizkat commentary goalpost, but I’ll defend lizkat there as well to the extent that both sides are arguing over proposed mechanisms that neither can demonstrate are other than Ozlike in the wizardry performed by their respective apparatuses.

    Did she say or imply that research should be stopped accordingly? If you recall, she said “unknowable at this time” from which I drew the opposite inference.

    Now as to whatever analogy you’re trying to draw by reference to consciousness as an emergent property, it’s hardly comparable to the functional purpose served by intelligence. Much of our (or any organism’s) intelligent choice making is a relatively unconscious process.

    But while an organism need not be “conscious” of the assessment process, it does need to be aware of whatever its sensory apparatus had contributed to that function.

    You can call such awareness a weak or nonexistent form of consciousness and then hope to find a line in the evolutionary spectrum where your so-called strong consciousness kicks in, but it’s all on the awareness continuum nevertheless.

    Any other non sequitur you’d like to pursue while we’re about it?

  47. Rob Heberton 11 Dec 2009 at 12:11 am

    lizkat:

    If you agree that “Evolution is a scientifically established fact, and there are no knowledgeable researchers who doubt it,” then what exactly is the claim that us “anti-IDers” don’t accept? Are you making a semantic argument that the process of evolution is intelligent? Or that evolution happens more or less according to the current theory, but you want to leave the door open just a crack so god (sorry, the intelligent designer) can get in there and check to make things go smoothly? Or get things started?

    “So why do anti-IDers consistently point to evidence for evolution and cite Dawkins? That is one of the great mysteries.” If that’s a mystery, you aren’t thinking very hard. We point to evidence of evolution because ID attempts to undermine the science or pretends that the evidence isn’t there. When the most prominent ID organizations say “there are no transitional fossils” we point out that all fossils are transitional, and list some, to show that the IDers are lying. How is that mysterious?

    I know that you didn’t claim there were no transitional fossils; I was using that as an example. But you did say “clear logic and scientific evidence are seldom to be seen.” So which is it? Is the evidence we point to “irrelevant to the debate” as you said earlier, or have we been spending all our time on “insults and name-calling”? Not enough evidence or too much irrelevant evidence?

  48. artfulDon 11 Dec 2009 at 12:39 am

    Rob Hebert,
    Everything I wrote in that post was either a paraphrase or direct quote from an evolutionary biologist. Especially these items: “Cells know where they are and what they are supposed to do. They have positional values. Even a single-celled organism chooses, changes, transforms its environment in particular ways.”

    And by the way, the equation between purposeful action and intentional is direct and absolute. (The terms are used metaphorically as are almost all our terms when applied to biological functions.)

    Maybe you’re mixing purposeful with purposive, but in any case you’ve got it all backwards. The actions are purposeful. The organism’s parts are expected to fulfill the purposes of those actions. The actions were purposeful to satisfy a need that the organism as a whole shares with one or more of those individual parts. You left out the purpose of the purpose in your tautological scenario.

    And by the way, the purpose of your heart with regard to pumping your blood is not analogous to the rock purposefully falling to the ground, or did I get that wrong too?

    Reminds me of the old argument made by some who should know better that the goal of water is clearly to run down hill, and therefor its purpose is to always make that choice.

  49. Rob Heberton 11 Dec 2009 at 3:34 am

    artfulD:
    Can you tell me where you heard that quote and from whom so that I can see it in context? Specifically the part that “Cells know where they are”?

    And, yes, I agree that the terms are being used metaphorically. That’s what I was trying to point out with the heart example. Sorry if my intention was unclear.

    Back to the metaphors: I’ve heard people referring to the process of a stem cell becoming a neuron say that it “chooses” to become that type of component; but that’s just a metaphor–nobody really thinks the stem cell is sitting there pondering what it wants to be when it grows up. The way I read your argument above, you seemed to be conflating the use of the term “purposeful” (in the sense of “being useful”) with “intentional,” as if cells possess intent or self-awareness.

    You state: “Even a single-celled organism chooses, changes, transforms its environment in particular ways. In other words, it designs intelligently.” You’re imputing choice to the fairly simple mechanistic reactions of cells and then calling it intelligent design.

    If you’re simply using “purposeful” as a synonym for “useful,” then I don’t have a quarrel there; same thing if you’re also using “choose” metaphorically. But it looked to me that you were using those terms to bolster your assertion that cells were exhibiting intelligence.

    Are you also using “intelligently” as a metaphor? Isn’t that obfuscating the actual issue, then?

    To get to the heart of the matter (I apologize if you think these questions overlap):
    1. Do you think that cells actually think, as in deliberate and choose, or are you using that term metaphorically?
    2. Do you think that cells are self-aware, as in, they have a sense of identity or a consciousness?

  50. artfulDon 11 Dec 2009 at 5:04 am

    1 & 2: Cells learn. They have the rudimentary ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. They have a rudimentary memory function which holds a form of programming (similar to an instinctive process) and can add the results of recent and relevant experience to that memory. Their programming reflects optional behaviors to be taken relative to sensory input. They are aware of the receipt of that input and its relationship to their optional choices.
    This awareness is self-aware to the extent that they do know where they are in relation to their immediate surroundings. They “deliberate” or “assess” as any choice making entity must, and we’re discovering their options are not as limited as we would have expected even a year ago.
    To the extent of all of the above, they are intelligent. The use of that term as a metaphor is our way of clarifying these issues – exactly the opposite of obfuscating them.

    Of course they don’t sit there and think of what they will do when they grow up. Nether do higher order vertebrates to the best of our knowledge, so I find that sort of argumentation disingenuous at best.
    You seem to have a long way to go toward understanding the use of metaphor when it comes to understanding the mechanisms of life forms and their evolution. The analogous value of metaphor is well documented in this respect and you reveal yourself to be less well informed about this subject than you pretend when you denigrate the process.

    Want to really learn something here? Read this book for starters:
    The Life and Behavior of Living Organisms: A General Theory
    ~ Elliott Jaque

    Read the chapter on The Choice Making Functions of All Living Organisms on-llne here:
    http://books.google.com/books?id=QCGxxB85xDMC&printsec=frontcover&dq=life+and+behavior+of+living+organisms&ei=xwgiS76JBZCUkASO5e3kCw&cd=1#v=onepage&q=&f=false

  51. artfulDon 11 Dec 2009 at 6:25 am

    By the way, the particular “Cells know where they are” quote comes from a presentation made by LEWIS WOLPERT Professor of Biology as Applied to Medicine in the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology of University College, London.
    Go here to view it:
    http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/serpentine-edge09/wolpert_vid.html

  52. lizkaton 11 Dec 2009 at 11:17 am

    Rob Hebert,

    [If you agree that “Evolution is a scientifically established fact, and there are no knowledgeable researchers who doubt it,” then what exactly is the claim that us “anti-IDers” don’t accept?]

    You are misinformed about this controversy, as are most people. ID theory does not question evolution — people who question evolution are involved in a different debate. ID questions Darwin’s theory about the cause of evolution. Contemporary Darwinists believe that mechanistic random processes, plus natural selection, can explain evolution, and ID theory questions that belief. ID theory says the cause of evolution is unknown, although some minor aspects of it may be understood.

    There have been several competing theories about the cause of evolution, and Darwin’s theory ultimately became the accepted standard theory. However, recently there has been some evidence supporting something like Lamarck’s theory (acquired traits can sometimes be passed to offspring).

    There are dogmatic Darwinists, like Dawkins, who insist the question has been answered. They accept the simple Darwinian explanation for the origin of all species (some contemporary Darwinists insist the theory is not simple and that it has evolved, but it is actually essentially the same.)

    My personal belief is that evolution has not been fully explained. That doesn’t mean I am an IDer, but I can sympathize with some of their criticisms of strict Darwinism.

  53. Watcheron 11 Dec 2009 at 1:05 pm

    1 & 2: Cells learn. They have the rudimentary ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. They have a rudimentary memory function which holds a form of programming (similar to an instinctive process) and can add the results of recent and relevant experience to that memory. Their programming reflects optional behaviors to be taken relative to sensory input. They are aware of the receipt of that input and its relationship to their optional choices.

    But by your definition above, could we not also say that the cell is just the sensory apparatus of DNA, and that DNA is the actual place where decisions are made?

    I do see what you mean, i really do. And I think it’s an interesting approach and feel-good type of idea. I just don’t necessarily think a cell decides much of anything. In development a cell starts as a stem cell, then depending on how the cell divides, could stay a stem cell or start the differentiation process. Depending on the route the cell takes through the body, it could become one of many different types of cells depending on the signals it comes in contact with. They do what they’re told to do, not what they want to do is what it seems like to me. They react in a very stereotyped way, the same way a machine

    Although, you could make an argument based off of the pre-programming of the cell. A growth cone type of argument, where an axonal growth cone selectively follows the concentration gradient of one diffusible molecule over another. Or how about a Fixed Action Pattern like we see in a mother goose retrieving one of her eggs that rolled out of the nest. A stimuli (experienced by the goose, yes) initiates a cell cascade that causes this instinct to manifest and must go to completion, there is no stopping unless you stop the transmission of the signal. Each of those cells receives input and if it’s enough to push the neuron over threshold, it fires. Are these decisions though? If the cell is able to only react one way due to previous experiences, is that truly choice? Is that intelligence?

    I don’t know. Maybe I’m hung up on this whole decision thing now. Decision to me implies free will, which is something that cells (for the most part, disregarding cancer) do not have. A bacterial example maybe? A system lacking altruism … Who knows. It’s an interesting thought experiment at the very least.

  54. Watcheron 11 Dec 2009 at 1:23 pm

    Still thinking :)

    So one could state that these experiences that change the cell (ie following the concentration gradient of some neurotrophin signal guiding axon growth or cell migration), resulting in a fully differentiated cell are the learning processes? And from these “learning” situations, the result is a cell that makes it’s decisions based off of these past experiences?

  55. titmouseon 11 Dec 2009 at 2:00 pm

    …little mechanistic corner of cyberspace…

    So there’s a squibble above regarding where to draw the line between stuff that’s trying and stuff that’s not.

    The two tidiest solutions: “it’s all trying” or “none of it is trying.”

    The third option: “stuff with X pre-requisite(s) is capable of trying.”

    I reckon the pre-requisite that matters is the representation of mechanism.

  56. artfulDon 11 Dec 2009 at 2:51 pm

    Watcher, decision could imply free will, but even in a deterministic world or universe, decisions will be made by biological forms. And cells that are programmed to react only one way in a particular situation, nevertheless, by virtue of that very programming, need to make an assessment as to whether this or that reaction is appropriate to those particular circumstances. The “only one way” action is conditional, based on the assessment as to which of its options are the requisite response. It’s the assessment process that is “intelligent.” And that process includes sensory and learning capabilities that your average machines do not have.

    The learning part of the equation is essential to all life forms. They wouldn’t and couldn’t have evolved otherwise. Conversely, that learning cannot be dismissed has having no role to play in the nature of the selective process that wouldn’t have otherwise been posited as an explanation of how intelligent beings and intelligence itself have evolved.

    As to DNA being the actual place where decisions are made, first of all, there’s no reason to posit that the executive center of cellular computations is located there, and certainly no evidence to the contrary. That’s not to say that DNA has no computational duties or capabilities, because it surely does.

  57. sonicon 11 Dec 2009 at 4:36 pm

    artfulD-
    really cool stuff.
    Have you considered how (or if) this relates to von Neumann’s ‘process 1′ of physics?

  58. artfulDon 11 Dec 2009 at 5:02 pm

    sonic,
    Yes and no. But in the sense that biological actors and actions can have a feedback effect on the causative forces of nature, I’d agree.
    It would seem obvious that here are decision making entities elsewhere and if so everywhere in the universe – and perhaps less obvious, but nevertheless likely, that there always have been.

    And then consider the likelihood that the causative web in nature contains by necessity the memory of all prior causation.

  59. Rob Heberton 11 Dec 2009 at 11:26 pm

    artfulD:
    I just watched the video you linked to, and in it Wolpert is clearly saying that a cell’s growth and the creation of differentiated structures are based on the cell’s positional values amongst other cells, the chemical makeup of the cell’s environment, or the length of time that they are exposed. They can predict what structure a cell will form from these factors. That sounds pretty deterministic to me–no choice involved.

    “analogous value of metaphor is well documented in this respect and you reveal yourself to be less well informed about this subject than you pretend when you denigrate the process.” Thank you, artfulD, but I understand how metaphor works. That’s exactly why I was asking you about the way in which you were using the term. Metaphors help explain things, but they cease to be useful when people impute additional attributes of a metaphorical explanation to the actual process they’re trying to explain.

    That’s why I asked the questions I did; I wanted to know if you thought cells were actually intelligent, or just had behaviors that could be illustrated with an intelligence or choice metaphor. Your answer to the question seems to say that you mean they are actually intelligent–and that your use of “intelligence” is more than metaphor. I don’t think this is what Wolpert was saying, although I do think that’s exactly what Elliot Jacques’ book was trying to say.

    He writes, “What can be observed is that [an] ameba seems to be purposefully engaged in seeking things. It is surely not going too far to conclude that it has some sort of intention” (page 108). I think that might be going just a little too far, don’t you? Can we impute intentions to things just because they “seem purposefully engaged in seeking things”? My roomba explores my apartment selecting dust and dirt to consume, but leaves all my other stuff alone, before seeking out sustenance from its wall dock. If I came from a technologically primitive society, I might think that thing was alive–a sort of filth-eating, hard-shelled mollusk or something. My dog, whatever his level of self-awareness or intelligence, probably already does.

    Jacques states that “[the ameba] is using judgment and making choices” because it has feelers that push out into the environment and snatch yummy stuff but retract when they come into contact with gross or dangerous stuff. As you said previously, those reactions are “like” programming, or instinct. But the roomba has actual programming, and we don’t consider it to be alive or thinking. In fact, people rarely equate instinct or programming with intelligence. To the contrary, to say that someone or something is “programmed” or “instinctual” implies that deliberation isn’t happening.

    Jacques, it should be noted, was a psychoanalyst by training, a psychologist by occupation, and went to medical school briefly. He’s not a biologist or a chemist; he’s trying to explain behavior with the tools he was trained to use–notions of desire and disgust. The chapter makes several references to Freudian psychology and the role of the subconciousis in decision-making. He makes some mistakes in reasoning, like the statement “if an ameba has this behavioral (nonlinguistic) knowledge, then so do all living things.” The conclusion of that sentence does not follow from its premise. He offers arguments about Aristotle, Kant, and Karl Popper. He also outlines a system of “Laws of Behavior in Living Organical Systems” based on Newton’s “Laws of Motion in Mechanical Systems” that I really don’t have time to go into (if anyone’s interested, it’s on p. 114)–but it should suffice to say that you can’t just import wholesale behaviors from one class of things into another.

    The reason I bring all this up is to show that this chapter of the book (I haven’t read the other parts) is basically philosophy. That’s okay. If you want to argue that, yes, microscopic organisms think, and so do computers, and roombas, and chemical reactions, etc., then that’s fine. If you want to say amebae have knowledge because they react to their environment in a way that looks like their exhibiting discretion, but the roomba doesn’t, that’s fine as well. You’re making a metaphysical claim that I can’t disprove, because you’re saying that reactions to stimuli necessarily imply knowledge (the word Jacques is using) or intelligence (the word you were using). I don’t agree with that use of either term, because I think that renders it useless, having turned “intelligent” or “knowledgeable” into a synonym for “reactive.” It looks to me like a philosophical version of literature’s “pathetic fallacy.”

  60. Watcheron 11 Dec 2009 at 11:32 pm

    It’s the assessment process that is “intelligent.”

    I understand that aspect of your argument.

    here’s no reason to posit that the executive center of cellular computations is located there

    Could you speculate where would be more likely? The more I think about it, the more it makes sense by this line of reasoning that the cell is just the sensory apparatus of the DNA. Any decisions made by the cell, in order to manifest the proper response to a stimuli, would need to ultimately affect the area that gives direction to the cell would it not? Manipulation of transcription factors which changes mRNA production is the terminal step in the processing of stimulus and the beginning of the actual response. The types of genes that are turned off or on determine the learning that the cell has gone through. Thus, specific proteins are manifest in the cell that mediates the stereotypical behavior that is the result of it’s past learning. Could we not say that it’s actually the gene’s (or DNA) themselves undergoing the learning? Any computation that would take place in the cytosol would be enzyme/protein related in some aspect (protein kinases and phosphatases) which, in all reality, are just projections or avatars of the DNA which must reside in a specific area so as not to get degraded.

  61. artfulDon 12 Dec 2009 at 12:39 am

    Watcher, one of the best books on this subject is Wetware, A Computer in Every Cell, by Dennis Bray. Yet he doesn’t seem to specify any particular location for an executive decision center, the implication being that there are a myriad of computational processes that work in concert and seem to choose the cell’s responses to stimuli in concert as well.
    In What is Life, Lynn Margulis, who has a lot to say about a cell’s learning and choice making processes, and cell “minds,” hasn’t (as best I can tell) identified a single or a least particular location for an executive function either.
    Purely speculative on my part, but I suspect that the DNA has to be a participant in the assessment process, but not the final arbiter of its decisions. Most of these decisions would seem to involve the satisfaction of immediate needs, with the needs of the replicating apparatus subordinate to those interests – even if replication would be in a sense the ultimate goal.
    As we can see from a study of parasites in particular, some being single celled, some not, the organism will go through a series of goal reaching strategic operations before reaching the overall or final goal of self-replication. (A good article on the mysterious operations of parasites, TOXO, A Conversation with Robert Sapolsky is out now on Edge – he even throws in commentary on free will-http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/sapolsky09/sapolsky09_index.html )

  62. artfulDon 12 Dec 2009 at 1:28 am

    Rob Hebert, if you don’t respect the insights offered by Jaques, look into the books I noted above by Dennis Bray and Lynn Margulis Also check out the works of Eva Jablonka. All are saying much of what I have tried to outline here.
    And if you still don’t get it that computers and roombas don’t think precisely because they ARE reactive to outside stimuli, and outside programing, while organisms react to self induced stimuli and the expectations then formed by and through their own developing memory and learning processes – expectations that roombas and the like don’t and can’t form – then be my guest.
    And by the way, saying that “if an ameba has this behavioral (nonlinguistic) knowledge, then so do all living things” is not a mistake in reasoning. The mistake would be to reverse the order and use top down reasoning, attributing our behaviors as necessarily those of the amoeba.
    That’s what the pathetic fallacy refers to – and by inference would also refer to the way the school of thought you appear to represent seems to have everything backwards when it comes to choice and purpose in nature.

  63. artfulDon 12 Dec 2009 at 3:14 pm

    Watcher, here’s an article about “A Fundamental Decision-Making Unit Of Cells” that might help answer some questions about how cells make and activate decisions:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/10/001027073334.htm

  64. sonicon 12 Dec 2009 at 6:51 pm

    Panpsychism with a Bohmian twist!
    Go baby go…

    Are you aware of the experiments of Trewavas et. al.?
    Some of them seem to support what you are saying. (Experiment is always a good adjunct to philosophy/theory, no?)
    http://aob.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/short/92/1/1

    The attempt to divorce physics from biocentrism and/or panpsychism continues—but some of these experiments—
    http://arxiv.org/abs/0704.2529
    Arrg!!

    You seem on an interesting and potentially useful path-
    Life is wonderful!

  65. sonicon 12 Dec 2009 at 6:52 pm

    that last was intended for artfulD-
    oops

  66. artfulDon 12 Dec 2009 at 8:23 pm

    sonic, I don’t believe in the panpsychism doctrine or belief that everything material, however small, has an element of individual consciousness. The memory i speak of is comparable to a dent in your car’s fender representing a memory of the accident that caused the dent. The aerodynamic change in performance will be, in effect, the significant “recall” of that memory. In the same way the web of causation retains memory of prior causation.
    Some of that causation has involved conscious choice – such as our conscious pollution of earth’s atmosphere – and some involving unintended consequences of the “unconscious” interactions of natures forces. Which nevertheless have left what you might call a sense of awareness in the web.
    Yet in my view it would be wrong to infer that individual components of that web are necessarily conscious of that effect. Only entities such as our biological structures would conceivably be conscious at some point of the mechanistic nature of their awareness.

    The path that I’m on deals instead with the strategies that have arisen in nature as a result of it’s accumulated “memory” – so called natural laws seeming to have gained their strategic natures accordingly. Purposive perhaps, but not necessarily purposeful.

  67. JimVon 13 Dec 2009 at 10:58 am

    This is in reply to Torgoon 09 Dec 2009 at 9:20 pm, and to the discussion it generated (not all of which I have read).

    My perspective on this issue is that of a mechanical engineer who has spent 35 years designing large turbines.

    Design work isn’t magic. It consists mostly of the following:

    1. Trial and error, e.g. Edison’s famous 1000 failed light-bulb filaments before he found one which worked.

    2. Taking some existing mechanism and adapting it for a new use. A design team I was on spent several years designing new way to attach one turbine part to another. The key breakthrough was in a big brain-storming session with 20-30 people when one of the manufacturing engineers described the chuck of a lathe he had seen once. The wheel was probably invented after someone saw a log rolling downhill.

    3. Putting the result out in the marketplace and seeing if it survives.

    4. Adding incremental improvements over time. The first farm tractor (or one of the first) was invented based on a wagon used to transport a steam engine out to fields of grain where it was used to power a thresher. A team of six or eight big horses were needed to drag the wagon and its coal supply. Someone had the idea to add a bevel gear (like those used in water mills) to the steam engine output shaft and use it to turn the wagon’s rear axle. But they still needed two horses in front – they didn’t have any other way to steer yet.

    A creationist friend of mine once pointed to a car parked next to a tree and said to me, “Can’t you see that both those things were designed?” My answer was, I can’t personally vouch for the tree, but the car definitely evolved.

    In other words, that supernatural kind of “intelligent design” in which things just poof into existence, which IDers claim is responsible for the origin of every complex thing – I’ve never seen it, don’t know any examples of it, and don’t believe it exists. I use all the same tricks as natural evolution does, myself. I just do my iterations faster and have a better memory of what has and hasn’t worked before.

  68. Rob Heberton 13 Dec 2009 at 3:58 pm

    ArtfulD, you’re trying to make me out into a much more argumentative person than I really am–or are reacting as if I’ve attacked you in some way. I’ve been trying to understand your perspective, and have asked questions to that effect. I have also watched/read the sources you’ve sent me in an effort to understand what you’re talking about.

    It’s not that I “don’t respect” Jacques, I’m just saying that his claims are philosophical claims rather than scientific ones. The behavior that we see from an ameba can be explained with or without adding intelligence into the equation. I just still don’t understand what behaviors you think can’t be explained without referring to the intelligence of an ameba, or if there are no such behaviors, why you would say it has intelligence anyway.

    Also, saying “if an ameba has this behavioral (nonlinguistic) knowledge, then so do all living things” is just as illogical as saying “if an ameba has the ability of phagocytosis, then so do all living things.” You say: “The mistake would be to reverse the order and use top down reasoning, attributing our behaviors as necessarily those of the amoeba.” I agree, that is a mistake; the reason why I brought up the pathetic fallacy is because you seem to be imputing attributes of intelligence, problem-solving, and learning to an ameba, when there doesn’t seem to be any reason to.

    I assume you would agree that we’re talking past each other. I have one last question (well, it has a few parts, sorry), and I’d be grateful if you could answer it for me: What observable behavior of the ameba are you attributing to its intelligence? What is the definition of intelligence you’re using (or principle by which you’re saying what is and is not intelligent)? How does this definition include stuff like humans, dogs, and amebae, but exclude cars, roombas, rocks, and polypeptides?

    I won’t argue with how you answer those questions, I just sincerely want to know. Thanks for your time.

  69. artfulDon 13 Dec 2009 at 5:32 pm

    “if an ameba has this behavioral (nonlinguistic) knowledge, then so do all living things” is logical by inference to those who believe that we are all part of the same evolutionary tree (or bush as some see it) which grew from those ameba-like roots. You may feel evidence is lacking to that effect and that the inferential premise is untrue, but to those of us who accept this premise, the statement is logical.

    As to cars and roombas, they are structures designed by the choice making, predictive, self-replicating, and self-evolving intelligence that, in our world at least, has been found only in biological entities. Any intelligence these machines appear to exhibit is merely an extension and tool of that which engineered these structures.
    Why you have lumped rocks and polypeptides in with these machines as if they were all functionally intelligent in some similarly independent fashion, I’m not sure. Rocks have not exhibited any choice making capabilities that I know of.

    Polypeptides on the other hand can be a necessary element in forming the apparatus that assists and allows biological entities to make their independent choice calculations. They need a little assistance in return from the biological apparatus they help to form to gain the advantage that intelligence by definition offers to its makers.
    To repeat the definition I’m using that I had given here early on:
    intelligence |inˈtelijəns|
    noun
    1. the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills

    Rocks that come to possess this ability no longer remain rocks. Polypeptides need to join a commune to come into it.

    Machines may conceivably “acquire” the ability to acquire and apply knowledge in the future without the help and skills of the biological forms that they sprang from, but in that case will they also become a part of our evolutionary tree?
    If so, it may require the redefinition of biology if not also the redefinition of intelligence. And also the reexamination of the natural selection mechanisms heretofore proposed to exist. Because intelligence at that point will claim to have been clearly responsible for its own evolution.

  70. Rob Heberton 13 Dec 2009 at 10:16 pm

    Thanks for answering artfulD.

    For the record, I recognize that all living things are part of the bush of life, and that dandelions are related to humans, beets, amebae, viruses, and elephants–that doesn’t mean that the attributes or abilities of one living thing can be transferred or imputed to all its descendants. Whales are descended from land mammals, but they can’t walk. I don’t think it’s logical to say “these things are related, so they can do the same stuff.” If that’s not what you’re saying, my bad, but that’s how I’m reading it.

    “Why you have lumped rocks and polypeptides in with these machines as if they were all functionally intelligent in some similarly independent fashion, I’m not sure.” I think it’s clear I wasn’t saying that they were intelligent. That your definition of intelligence would include the behaviors of amebae but not cars and rocks would go along a way to showing that it wasn’t overinclusive (ie, it wouldn’t be applicable to things we can agree are NOT intelligent, like cars, rocks, and roombas). I agree with your definition of intelligence; I just haven’t heard anything that tells me amebae have it in any way that meaningfully differentiates it from things we agree are non-living, non-thinking, and non-intelligent.

    I don’t think you’ve addressed the points I’ve raised, but I thank you for your efforts. We’ll just have to agree to disagree. No big deal.

  71. artfulDon 13 Dec 2009 at 10:50 pm

    I repeat what I advised earlier, “look into the books I noted above by Dennis Bray and Lynn Margulis. Also check out the works of Eva Jablonka. All are saying much of what I have tried to outline here.”

    They all contend and agree with Jaques that “an ameba has this behavioral (nonlinguistic) knowledge.” Since you don’t agree with that premise, of course you won’t agree that dandelions also have cells that acquire and use knowledge similarly. Again, those that agree believe it’s a logical contention, because a cell that had that ability and evolved so as to lose it makes little sense, especially as we see evidence that plants do make a myriad of choices baed on assessment of sensory intake, learn from the results and adapt accordingly. (Some actually learn to outsmart and eat certain forms of animals.)

    So we aren’t in anyway saying all creatures do the same stuff – just that no creature would do any stuff if it couldn’t at least think as well as the ameba,

    Disagree as you will, but actually it is a big deal, because it’s not just me you will have been disagreeing with, it will be evolutionary biologists and philosophers in general.

  72. weingon 14 Dec 2009 at 9:47 am

    I still think artie uses language that smacks of the pathetic fallacy. Although, that may just be due to limitations imposed by language. I prefer to read journal articles, studies, and even textbooks as sources. Someone’s philosophical meanderings may just be a pleasant diversion, but I wouldn’t put much stock in it.

  73. mdcatonon 20 Dec 2009 at 2:48 pm

    Every time I see this old saw about leftist Darwinists I laugh. What about all the hard core fiscal-conservative libertarian atheist types? Like for example, Michael Shermer (or many of the readers of this blog, including myself)? Are we just being duped by leftists? Or are all actually crypto-leftists, hiding behind a veneer of capitalism? Surprisingly enough there’s no comment section on DiscoTute posts to ask this question to the rubes whose confirmation biases they’re working to reinforce.

    Regardless of which side of the political fence you’re on, this is a good question to ask when the IDiots pull out the “atheists = un-American leftist socialists” talking point.

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