Frontloading, maths and logic

After our worthwhile diversion into the christology of creation for three posts, I want to drop back briefly to the previous discussion on frontloading, natural v supernatural action in nature and so on. A post on Uncommon Descent about scorpion burrows prompted  one of my infrequent comments there.
My main concern was to note (as I have here from time to time) how it is just impossible to deal with evolutionary matters without invoking teleological language. From the press release:

The researchers found that the burrows followed a very sophisticated design

The design was common to all the scorpion burrows studied, which suggests that burrow building in scorpions has evolved by natural selection to meet the animals’ physiological needs [my emphasis].

But I also raised once more the question of how it is that such a “sophisticated design”, and the behaviour needed for different scorpions in different terrain to construct it consistently, could possibly be coded by even the total number of the ridiculously few coding genes in the genome, let alone be developed by the accepted processes of random mutation and adaptive selection:

And given how few genes are now thought to be coding, how many are tied up governing all the digging, mating, feeding, fighting and fostering behaviours at the expense of making the claws and nerve cells to carry them out?

A skeptical (towards design – anything but towards Neodarwinian evolution) interlocutor called Piotr helpfully invoked spandrels and neutral evolution as being more significant than selection here, in all probability. They hardly seem to help the sums.

One of my biggest hang-ups about current evolutionary theory, when I started looking at it in earnest five or six years ago, was that it didn’t seem to pan out mathematically. I’d read about the famous 1966 Wistar Conference several years before, and been somewhat nonplussed at how the biologists present had reacted to mathematical objections.

One of the key papers there was this one. I don’t think the biologists fully appreciate the strength of the case he is making (much like Dawkins’ failure to see the elephant in the room of his “METHINKSITISAWEASEL” algorithm). Note in the discussion how more than one of the commenters smuggles teleology (“meaning”) in to get evolution off the algorithmic hook.

And why does it seem so contemporary that, towards the end of the discussion, the Chairman suggests that the author, mathematician and doctor Marcel-Paul Schutzenberger, can be dismissed as merely a propagandist for special creation? the suggestion that classical Neodarwinianism is the only possible scientific alternative to miracle is problematic at more levels than the merely mathematical, but even 50 years on still seems to govern the discussion.

Since that time, nothing I’ve studied convinces me that Neodarwinian theory has any valid mathematical foundation, and on the contrary willfully sidesteps any attempt to put things on a quantitative footing, whilst trying to sell itself as incontrovertible fact. This is not the way of science.

Behind the actual viability of the maths of mutation, selection, drift and so on (note how Schutzenberger did not consider these materially affected his argument) is the global situation of what one might call the philosophy of maths, the logical basis of the science. We discussed in recent posts the question of whether it would be feasible for God to use just the fundamental laws of nature, which could be summarised on an envelope, to create, specifically, all the diverse lifeforms and their burrow-digging behaviours that we in fact see, including humanity, and including you and me as individuals.

One website helpfully gives such a summary of laws on a webpage rather than an envelope. You can see that, their sophistication aside, they’re pretty information-lite. Are they then naturally capable of generating life (whatever the mechanism, Darwinian or not)?

Kurt Gödel is said to rank with Aristotle as one of history’s greatest logicians. He was particularly interested in proving the solubility or otherwise of mathematical problems. He’s the guy who corrected Einstein and corresponded with von Neumann. And he said unequivocally that natural laws lack any such capability:

The formation in geological time of the human body by the laws of physics (or any other laws of similar nature), starting from a random distribution of elementary particles and the field is as unlikely as the separation of the atmosphere into its components. The complexity of the living things has to be present within the material [from which they are derived] or in the laws [governing their formation].
As quoted in H. Wang. “On `computabilism’ and physicalism: Some Problems.” in Nature’s Imagination, J. Cornwall, Ed, pp.161-189, Oxford University Press (1995).

So the fundamental laws are just too simple – the principle being (as I stated in previous blogs) that mathematical laws cannot generate more information than they already contain. Certainly that’s so when, as in life, that information involves complex organisation rather than complex order (the difference between a sonnet and 14 lines of “NoNoNoNo…”).

Note that he’s not just saying, “We can’t explain it by the laws we know”, but that any simple laws describing nature’s regularity would be unable to produce life in principle. Gödel was adamant that the information (complexity) had to be in actual existence prior to the life that exhibits it, either in matter (which has been pretty well-investigated and shows little sign of such a level of complexity) or in the specific laws that govern the formation of life – and as far as I am aware, no such laws have yet been discovered, still less information-rich laws of massive complexity, which would hardly be laws so much as recipes – remember that the shortest algorithm that can code a genome is as big as or bigger than the genome itself.

Since natural selection is actually supposed to be the effect of the environment on the organism, perhaps the organised complexity resides there, it has been suggested. That would, of course, require that the inanimate world is as specifically designed as the life it’s supposed to explain, which rather begs the question being asked. If simple laws can’t produce information-rich life, they cannot produce information-rich environments either. As somebody on a blog I read recently, responding to that claim, said: “Good luck with that one.”

I’ve never heard a biologist answer Gödel’s criticism mathematically at all – or, in fact, just “at all”, apart from the bare assertion that natural selection, like perpetual motion or energy from vacuum fluctuations, can do anything. Indeed, there’s a certain kind of disdain for logic and maths in biology, which no doubt accounts for the failure to engage with philosophy and metaphysics as well.

One more quote will take this as far as I want to take it at this stage: Wolfgang Pauli  was no amateur science-watcher either:

In discussions with biologists I meet large difficulties when they apply the concept of “natural selection” in a rather wide field, without being able to estimate the probability of the occurrence in a empirically given time of just those events, which have been important for the biological evolution. Treating the empirical time scale of the evolution theoretically as infinity they have then an easy game, apparently to avoid the concept of purposiveness. While they pretend to stay in this way completely “scientific” and “rational,” they become actually very irrational, particularly because they use the word “chance”, not any longer combined with estimations of a mathematically defined probability, in its application to very rare single events more or less synonymous with the old word “miracle.”

Now this touches on what I wrote about recently on contingency. We’re so used to hearing about incredibly rare events in evolutionary biology (and even in theistic evolution publications – “chance” meaning “freedom” and all that) that we forget how unscientific invoking such things is. Clearly there are no simple laws of life – firstly because none have been found, and secondly nobody has managed either to create life or re-create speciation in 150 years of lab-work, and several decades of computer simulations (and computers are now powerful enough to simulate the entire history of the solar system). Life appears, at best, unlikely in probablistic terms.

I mentioned in a recent post that, to Darwin, geological time was essentially infinite, and the infinitesimal variations he conceived equally so. But genetics shows the latter to be untrue – only a limited range of almost entirely useless or dangerous mutations actually occurs – and the geological record suggests a pattern of stasis and rapid change. The fact that “rapid” means “below the measurable sensitivity of geological time”, ie anything from instantaneous to a few million years, doesn’t alter the fact that the time available is anything but infinite. Yet biologists still treat it so much as if it were that time need not be considered as an important factor. But it is, nevertheless.

I also mentioned how, in most science, “chance” is a statistical measure of relatively high probabilities. In medicine, for example, drug actions are distinguished from “chance” by 3 standard deviations. “Chance” here means <0.27% – ie 1:4 X 10^2. Such probabilities are common enough to have daily significance.

Very much smaller probabilities, like an asteroid hitting a particular location in the desert, are not considered of any scientific value, as they have negligible statistical significance. For ultra-low probability events that, against expecation, produce useful effects, one is in the realm of information theory and Pauli’s “purposiveness” – in the natural world, as he says, a vanishingly unpredictable (and unreproducible) effect like self-replicating molecules, DNA replication, and so on, is indistinguishable from “miracle”.

“Natural events” have properly to do either with law-likeness or statistical probability, measured in standard deviations and the other tools of statistics. If you cannot find a law that measures or explains their frequency, or if the probabilities are infinitesimal, then talking about “natural causes” is pure sophistry. If it turned out that there was a pathway from chemistry to life that could be replicated artificially, but that happened only once in nature under extraordinary circumstances, it is no more a natural event than a fish in the sea of Galilee swallowing a 2 drachma coin and Peter happening to catch it was – teleology and agency ought to be assumed, the alternative being magic and brute fact, which is simply to invoke the absence of cause as a cause.

Gödel, Pauli and other mathematicians see this, but evolutionary biologists not only don’t, but deny the competence of the mathematicians (because they’re not biologists! Biology is exempt from maths, it seems). Biologist Sir Peter Medawar at the 1966 Wistar Conference rejected the mathematical argument of The Manhattan Project’s Stanislaw Ulam about the prohibitive slowness of eye evolution thus:

I think the way you have treated this is a curious inversion of what would normally be a scientific process of reasoning. It is, indeed, a fact that the eye has evolved; and, as Waddington says, the fact that is had done so shows that this formulation is, I think, a mistaken one.

In fact Ulam’s model was a preliminary one based on asexual reproduction: later models using sexual reproduction were much more optimistic (and his models have proved valuable in describing genetic evolutionary pathways). That doesn’t alter the “curious inversion” of assuming as axiomatic what was being questioned by evidence.

One website puts the situation succinctly:

The evolutionary explanation of life is thus “top down”:

  •     Life exists
  •     Natural selection is the best (non-theistic) explanation we have for life
  •     Natural selection must therefore account for the complexity of life and all information systems no matter how improbable it seems.

By contrast the “bottom up” view can be summarised along these lines:

  •     The universe is described by a handful of dynamical equations.
  •     The probability of informational complexity arising as a result of any purely stochastic system of laws is vanishingly small.
  •     The observed informational complexity of life vastly exceeds anything a mutational model can deliver within the age of the universe.

The interesting question to me is what would unite these two views (the same question repeatedly asked by Schutzenberger, in fact). I suggest that only final and formal causation could do it – that is, Gödel’s information and Pauli’s purposiveness. “Design” and “meeting needs” would be another way to express that.

Both of those, of course, have metaphysical sequelae.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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23 Responses to Frontloading, maths and logic

  1. Ian Thompson says:

    Funny, I always previously got the impression that C.H. Waddington was a deep thinker and open to new ideas.
    Looks like that, after all, there was a limit to ‘new ideas’ beyond which after all he could not pass. Sad.

  2. I’ll inject a note of caution. The police established who committed the famous Brinks robbery before they were able to figure out how the robbery was committed. “If you think we did it, prove exactly how we did it” was not a defense for the Brinks robbers.

    I remember reading myself several decades ago in geology books prior to the Vine-Matthews hypothesis the mockery that some geologists poured out on Wegner’s theory of continental drift. How absurd to imagine that entire mountain ranges can go floating over the mantle as if they were soap bubbles. Not the slightest hint of a mechanism capable of accomplishing such feats of levitation has been discovered, etc., etc. Wegner simply cataloged evidence that was best explained if the continents in fact had drifted.

    Does anyone here doubt stellar evolution? Can teleology creep into talk of evolution of stars, galaxies, element formation and distribution via supernovae? Does the emergence of stars and galaxies via law-like regularities (assuming a case for that can be made) detract from the doctrine that God created the stars? Is it important to bore in on gaps of statistical logic in current theory about stellar evolution (and there are a few) in order to see purpose in the wonders of the night sky?

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


      Three things in reply. Firstly, the issue here isn’t so much science, as philosophy of science. There are principles in maths, particularly in computational science (and the current view of genetics is algorithmic), which preclude the generation of information that wasn’t already implicit in the algorithm. That’s even been suggested to be a law by some – if true, it’s ceratinly a foundational truth for the operation of the whole universe in computational terms.

      So the claim that, de facto, evolution by random mutation/selection/drift manages to buck that principle is to propose a mechanism (in the view of those mathematicians) that breaks natural law, rather than expressing it. If we’re to use the robbery analogy, their defence would be more like, “You know we were in jail – how could we have done it?” than simply, “Prove we were there.” The case would require a new theory of Doppelgangers.

      The kind of evidence needed for that would be, at least, irrefutable evidence that they were in two places at once, and that it was indeed they who robbed the bank. It would be essential then to explain how they could be in two places at once, rather than proceeed to court on the bare assumption it must be possible, excluding their duplication as legally irrelevant.

      The second point is about stellar evolution. Firstly, the question is nothing to do with the divine use of natural processes, which is uncontroversial. It’s about the adequacy of particular natural processes (but in this case at a fundamental, not a detailed, level).

      Secondly, in Aristotelian terms, stellar evolution is teleological, because it tends towards ends (and that line of thought inspired Aquinas’s fifth way, which is an argument from inherent teleology, not design). Certainly the theistic treatment of stellar evolution is incomplete without final causation: we believe that God set up the process in order to get the result, not to see what would happen next. And indeed, teleological talk does creep into it, as soon as someone says that supernovae are necessary if there are to be heavy elements for life, that Mars has the building blocks of life etc.

      Thirdly, the case for stellar evolution is a fundamentally different one from that of life for the reasons put forward by Schutzenberger: the first case is about complex order, explicable by emergent properties of matter and fundamental laws. The second case is complex organisation, not explicable by emergent properties of matter or laws (or by Prigogine’s self-ordering theories, to allude to Ted Davis’ latest piece on Ted Peters @ BioLogos).

      The third point, while I think of it. Scientists were not wrong to expect evidence before accepting the movement of continents (which even school kids like me back in 1961 or so talked about by slotting Africa against South America)? Even the celebrated Copernican controversy reveals the skepticism to be well justified by good science even long after Galileo (this excellent series is a must-read in science history).

      • Lou Jost says:

        “There are principles in maths, particularly in computational science (and the current view of genetics is algorithmic), which preclude the generation of information that wasn’t already implicit in the algorithm.”

        I don’t think that this is true, though we have to be careful about what we mean by information. As you know, a now-common way to solve complex problems is to use “genetic algorithms” which are very simple to write down but which, given enough time, can find very complex solutions that are unknown to the writers of the algorithms (in this they differ significantly from Dawkin’s algorithm). The very same algorithm could then be used to solve other complex problems, and this could go on forever, each time generating new “information”.

    • Avatar photo Edward Robinson says:


      In response to your note of caution, here is a note of clarification.

      The conference to which Jon is referring, held at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia in April 1966, had the title “Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution.” The focus of the conference was not on whether or not evolution had happened; the focus of the conference was on whether the neo-Darwinian explanation for evolution, in its then-current mathematical expression (the population genetics of Fisher, Dobzhansky, Mayr, etc.), was adequate. The challengers were all mathematicians, physicists and engineering professors who knew their math quite well and who doubted the soundness of the mathematical formulations of the then-leading evolutionary biologists in the world.

      Thus, when Medawar and Waddington argued as they did in the remarks quoted above, they were missing the point. Even if it could be guaranteed that “evolution happened” it would not follow that “evolution happened because a series of random mutations was able to conduct a successful blind search for viable forms.” It was the latter claim that the physicists and engineers were challenging, not the bare fact of evolution.

      Regarding stellar evolution, stellar evolution is of course not observed — the entire human race has not been around long enough to observe it; it is entirely inferred, based on observational data and theory from nuclear physics etc. I find the theory of stellar evolution plausible and have no reason at the moment to doubt the reality of the process, but I remain aware that it is an interpretive conclusion regarding nature, not a datum or a fact in the strict sense.

      Your use of stellar evolution is in fact a very appropriate example, for this reason: scientists accept stellar evolution because they believe they have a mechanism — based on known principles of nuclear physics (we have, after all, achieved fusion here on earth, in the hydrogen bomb) — which can ground the process. If we did not have reliable knowledge of nuclear fusion, we would have no ground at all for affirming the speculation (that stars have developmental life histories) as fact. In short, the theory of stellar evolution depends entirely on the proposal of a plausible mechanism. No mechanism, no theory. No mechanism, and stellar evolution becomes a quasi-philosophical speculation, more poetic than scientific.

      In the case of biological evolution, then, if the belief in evolution depended entirely upon the demonstrated efficacy of a particular proposed mechanism, there would indeed be grounds for doubting that evolution itself happened the moment the mechanism was shown to be inadequate or non-existent. Then the conclusion “creatures have evolved” would be scientifically unwarranted. But if there were grounds, independent of any proposed mechanism, for suspecting that evolution happened, then the disproof of any particular mechanism (e.g., the neo-Darwinian) would not disprove the reality of evolution.

      Well, there are such grounds. The fossil record, for example, which in broad terms shows a development from very simple to very complex creatures over time, with no Cambrian rabbits. Biogeographical distribution of creatures. Etc. To explain all of this, Darwin postulated a particular mechanism — natural selection acting upon variation. But even if his proposed mechanism proved inadequate, even if it should turn out that Lamarck or Bergson or Darwin’s colleague Wallace had come up with a better explanation, evolution in the sense of a process of transformation could still be maintained as a generally plausible explanation of the geological and geographical data.

      I don’t think that is the case with stellar evolution. If we go back to the time when we knew nothing at all about nuclear physics, say, to about 1870, what grounds would there be for a theory of stellar evolution? Merely that some stars are blue, some white, some yellow? The conclusion — that stars have physics-driven life histories — depends on a precise theory of nuclear fusion, whereas the conclusion that species have changed into new species does not depend on Darwin’s proposed mechanism in the same way.

      Finally, as a minor point, note the spelling of Alfred Wegener’s surname.

  3. Lou Jost says:

    Jon, I don’t understand your doubts about the mathematical sufficiency of the gene theory. Maybe you are imagining that one gene codes for one particular quality or trait. But there are several thousand genes, each with multiple states, all forming an interacting mess with zillions of available states. Let’s say there are only a hundred genes, each with ten distinguishable states (that is very much lower than the number of states available to most real genes). Then the number of different combinations coded by these genes is 10^100, more than the number of atoms in the visible universe (says the internet). The real numbers of combinations, for typical living systems with tens of thousands of multi-state genes, are vastly greater than that. So I don’t see why you think these gene numbers are insufficient.

  4. Lou Jost says:

    There seem to be at least two kinds of mathematical objections to evolution discussed in the post, and it helps to keep them separate. Pauli’s objection seems to be about whether there could have been enough time to produce the observed results. I think this is an interesting and complicated area for research. Godel’s objection belongs to a different class, as he seems to be saying that evolution is (nearly) impossible in principle if the laws of nature are simple. I think this can be (and has been) refuted just by exhibiting any successful genetic algorithm, even a biologically unrealistic one. This argument seems to be similar to the mistaken analogy often made by creationists between evolution and the “tornado in the junkyard” making a 747.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      Lou – long time no see.

      I’d completely agree on the mathematics of multiple encoding of one sort or another, not to mention the “non-coding” part of the genome and its control functions. But the “almost infinite” range of possibilities from relatively few genes creates a whole raft of new problems in terms of selectable function, surely? Select one function and you’ve monkeyed with hundreds of others, presumably deleteriously.

      The whole neutral evolution shebang bagan life with the theoretical limits of selection (maybe that informed Piotr’s invocation of spandrels and drift). That’s another reason for skepticism about fine tuning behaviours genetically, but the bigger one for me is that experience in compex human systems shows that the more interconnected they are, the lest robust to change. Saw 3 inches off a hammer and it still works. Saw 3 inches off a hard drive and it doesn’t.

      • Lou Jost says:

        Jon, I’m glad you agree about the coding. So maybe we can put to rest the argument you made in the post: “I also raised once more the question of how it is that such a “sophisticated design”, and the behaviour needed for different scorpions in different terrain to construct it consistently, could possibly be coded by even the total number of the ridiculously few coding genes in the genome…”

        Your statement that “experience in complex human systems shows that the more interconnected they are, the less robust to change” seems to me not necessarily true. Redundancy can make complex systems more robust if there are enough interconnections between the parts.

        • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

          Well, the robustness is yet another thing that needs to be investigated in detail before I’m willing to commit.

          In life the redundancy seems to operate by making the same “components” serve multiple functions, whereas in most human systems it comes from duplicating the same functions on different components.

          It can’t simply be assumed that the more complex the system the more robust it is – as those who tinker with the Windows registry find.

          • Lou Jost says:

            My point is that it is wrong to assume that increased complexity necessarily implies decreased robustness. It may or may not. There are many ways that complexity can increase robustness. I agree there are also ways that complexity can decrease robustness.

  5. Avatar photo GD says:

    It is so ironic (although it seems there is no general principle); GA would support a type of design/interventionist view, when we observe the many inputs and conditionals in GA, especially regarding the so called fitness criteria. Good for a smile or two me thinks.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      Previous comment to Lou appeared lower down than planned, so this is the reply on Pauli and Gödel.

      GD nails it on genetic algorithms, in my opinion: Gödel was right, before his time, in suspecting that they just, like all mathematical operations, process information inherent in the algorithm. He is a considerably better logician than those making great claims for their creativity.

      I think you’ve mischaracterised Pauli’s main issue, here. It’s not simply “insufficient time”, but the fact that recourse to infinitesimal probabilities is unscientific, and indistinguishable from miracle except that “Time” replaces “God” as the agent. And that’s true: if anything is possible, given infinite time and the assumption that it is creative , then science is no longer about patterns, but … well, anything.

      By the way, Lou, our old conversation on Pentadactyly, by a circuitous route involving S J Gould’s essay and mucho artistic licence, ended up in a highly non-scientific song There’s an anonymous nod to you in V2.

      • Lou Jost says:

        First Pauli: I cannot imagine that he would be bothered by infinitesimal probabilities per se, since his entire career is based on writing equations expressed as infinitesimal changes in the (conjugate) square roots of probabilities. As he says in the quote you posted, it is really the lack of infinite time that makes biological use of infinitesimal probabilities unscientific. Of course, we now have rough estimates for these probabilities, and they are not excessively small given the amount of time available. For example, apparently the observed mutation rate in humans is consistent with the number of differences between humans and chimps in those DNA regions, if separation happened 6-10 Mya.

        • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

          Once again, the jury is out. The differences between apes and man ought to be far lower than the mutation rate, as far as selectable traits goes, since the vast majority are more or less deleterious. For neutral mutations it’s a different matter of course. But in both cases, mutation rates are derived from a model, not measured absolutely.

          Other estimates vary – Chaitin’s upper bound for his algorithmic model of evolution was well ouside the age of the earth: but again, the model is simplified, the work doesn’t exist to find the lower bound, and it’s non-Darwinian anyway.

          But note that Pauli was bothered by infinitesimal probabilities in this case mainly because they seemed to be invoked in an unwarranted bid to avoid teleology.

          • Lou Jost says:

            Jon, there are now ways to fairly directly measure mutation rates, and those are high enough to explain the amount of genetic differentiation between chimps and humans, given the observed time of separation. The vast majority of these should be neutral.

            Yes, Pauli didn’t like the use of infinitesimals to avoid teleology, but Pauli seems to think they are unscientific in that application primarily because time is treated as infinite.

      • Lou Jost says:

        Now Godel:
        “Gödel was right, before his time, in suspecting that they just, like all mathematical operations, process information inherent in the algorithm.”

        This answer of yours just ignores my point. I said that the same algorithm can be repeatedly applied, without limit, to new problems. Genetic algorithms generate complex accurate solutions to real problems not because the solution is somehow coded in the algorithm, but rather because the simple, general algorithm creates a correlation between the code space and the external system. This is just like what happens in evolution. It transfers the complexity of the external world into the code space (DNA sequences in living organisms, or binary code in computers). In this sense it creates information in the code space; ultimately this comes from the complexities of the external world. The algorithm is just the means by which these two spaces become correlated.

        I’ll check out the polydactyly song!

        • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

          I’ll check out the polydactyly song!”

          Don’t expect to learn any science. Currently I’m trying to learn to do it live for the Lyme Regis Folk Festival (can’t pass up a chance to do something on evolution at the heart of the Jurassic Coast). It’s a pig playing in 5/4 whilst doing a monologue that doesn’t scan. I could use a few more fingers…

  6. My apologies for misspelling the name of Wegener, an observer with such a remarkable combination of imagination and tenacity.

    A quick follow-up on stellar evolution. Astronomers observe stars in various stages of development, even the birthing of stars in dense cosmic dust clouds. Just as in Arches National Park nearby to my home in the U.S. southwest one can see sandstone arches in various “stages of life” and infer their development and demise over time.

    Concerning snapshots in biological history, Ernest Mayr gives the example in one of his books of fish subspecies at various points around the coast of Japan, where each variety is capable of breeding with the neighboring one but those most geographically remote are incapable of interbreeding. (Unfortunately I read this so long ago I can’t remember which of his books it was.)

    There seem to be characteristics in the genetic material that strongly suggest long histories of mutation and rearrangement–artifacts of reshuffling and splicing over a great many generations, although I don’t pretend a technical mastery of the subject. God may be working outside the pattern of lawlike regularities in countless irregular nudges of the genetic code, but given how many of these nudges there seem to have been it becomes difficult to distinguish them from lawlike regularities.

    Concerning information . . . The hydrogen atom is held together by two or three basic forces (depending how you count them) under formulaic mathematical descriptions. Take a soup of such atoms under the added force of gravity and you can come up with all the information represented by the periodic table–again, if stellar evolution is correct. You come up with the information represented by the properties of all the compounds formed in extraterrestrial space, including water, minerals, and even some organics, judging from carbonaceous chondrites. This is such a counterintuitive discovery in itself, at least in my perspective, that I would hardly be surprised if the same forces and conditions have been endowed with yet further latent complexity.

    Since there seems to be agreement with me that teleology can be evident even where God is creating through lawlike regularities, then the discussion over exactly what can and cannot be done through mutation and selection is merely technical. Our judgment about whether intelligence and purpose are evident in living things can be supported whether ID holds water or not.

    • Avatar photo Edward Robinson says:


      You say “astronomers observe stars in various stages of development” — but that is not an empirical statement. It’s a theory-laden statement. What astronomers observe is red stars, yellow stars, blue-white stars, large stars, small stars, etc. To see, e.g, a red giant as a star at a certain stage of development is already to be theorizing, is already to be classifying stars in accord with a conception of a historical pattern. I’m not saying the schematization is false, but merely pointing out its theory-dependent character. (As opposed to schematizing, say, the cats by their morphological characteristics, and distinguishing the cheetah from other cats by the non-retractability of its claws — not a theoretical but an empirical distinction.)

      You mention lawlike regularity. I don’t see any “lawlike” regularity in neo-Darwinism. Neo-Darwinism is based on contingency, chance, opportunism. No law determines what mutations shall occur, or what environment (favorable or unfavorable) they will find themselves in when they do occur. If someone introduced raccoon-skin caps today, would they do as well as they did in the 1950s? It’s all a question of timing, the fortunate blend of new variations with circumstances. (Of course, I’m not saying evolution works that way — but that is what neo-Darwinism postulates. It is not a lawlike notion, nothing like Newton’s Laws, Boyle’s Law, Kepler’s Laws, etc. For evolution to be “lawlike” it would have to work something more along the lines proposed by Stuart Newman, or Michael Denton.)

      I don’t understand your last sentence. If our judgment that purpose is evident in living things “can be supported” then ID of course “holds water.” You must mean something different from ID than what I mean. I suspect you mean that ID insists that God violates natural laws. But ID is about the detection of design in nature, not about the detection of violations of natural laws. Michael Denton sees all kinds of evidence for design in nature, but doesn’t posit any breaking of natural laws at any point in cosmic history.

      The detectability of design is the difference between ID and most forms of TE/EC. TE/EC denies that intelligence and purpose in nature could ever be detected by objective means; for TE/EC, intelligence and purpose are visible only to “the eye of faith.” Ken Miller, Karl Giberson, Darrel Falk, etc. see purpose and design in nature because they believe that God has told them it is there, not because of the evidence of nature itself. Michael Denton and Michael Behe, on the other hand, think that the design can be inferred from the facts, even by someone who has never heard of the Bible or any other revelation.

  7. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


    It seems ring-species have just been pronounced dead. Not that that alters the thrust of your post. It’s a shame, because my potted talk to grand-children about herring gulls and lesser black-backs when we go fishing is now defunct.

    Your final point confirms my core position: any disagreement I have with the mechanisms proposed for evolution are just that – doubts of adequacy. Give me some more plausible natural mechanisms and I’ll be fine to accept them with concurrence – except that any such mechanisms would inevitably be fine-tuned and information-rich to the point of silliness. I’d just wonder why the God of the Bible would feel himself so constrained by outdated Deistic arguments, but that’s his business.

    That’s the attraction of Darwinian evolution, and the reason it’s clung to so credally – it’s the only mechanism so far devised that could plausibly start from disorganised simplicity and pull itself up by its boot-straps to create people to invent it. Every other option, including frontloading, tends to point back indirectly or directly to design simply because teleology is evident.

    In that sense (and I think this is an important point, though I don’t identify as an IDist) ID holds water by your own criteria: it is, at heart, simply the claim that teleology in life suggests that intelligence and purpose are evident in living things.

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