April 27, 2004


DEALING WITH THE BACKLASH AGAINST INTELLIGENT DESIGN (William A. Dembski, April 14, 2004, Design Inference)

Ten years ago, the Quarterly Review of Biology (December 1995) gave the following plug to the book Darwinism: Science or Philosophy?
The editors deserve credit for a very fair book. Without editorializing or bias, the book lets everyone have their say... In fact, it has a nice tone of “give and take,” mostly polite, but in places amusingly peppery.... Moreover, the book is a readable primer on scientific philosophy, and provides a relatively sophisticated and invigorating philosophical challenge.
It is a measure of the success of our movement that no biology journal would give our books such respectful treatment any longer.
Why is that? The stakes are now considerably higher. Darwinism: Science or Philosophy? is the proceedings of a symposium that took place at Southern Methodist University in the spring of 1992. The focus of that symposium was Phillip Johnson’s then recently published book Darwin on Trial. At the time, Johnson was a novelty -- a respected professor of criminal law at Cal Berkeley who was raising doubts about evolution. All harmless, good fun, no doubt. And Berkeley has an illustrious history of harboring eccentrics, kooks, and oddballs.
Ten years later, any amusement about Johnson’s critique of Darwinism has long since vanished. All sides now realize that Johnson was, from the start, deadly earnest, not content merely to tweak Darwin’s nose but intent, rather, on knocking him down for the ten-count. Johnson is, after all, a lawyer, and lawyers think contests are not simply to be enjoyed but also to be won.
This has not set well with the academic community, which thrives on irresolution. I once discussed with some philosophers the difference between mathematics and philosophy. One philosopher remarked that whereas in mathematics one finds a problem and solves it, in philosophy one finds an itch and scratches it. It would have been one thing if Johnson had raised doubts about Darwinism and then gestured at some ways of supplementing or reinterpreting evolutionary theory to take the materialist edge off. But Johnson was convinced that Darwinism had become a corrupt ideology that was being enforced by a dogmatic and authoritarian scientific elite, and that the proper course of treatment for Darwinism was not refurbishment or reformation but removal and replacement.
Thanks to Johnson, we now have a cultural, intellectual, and scientific movement that gives voice in the academic world to multiple millions of people who find it plausible, or even self-evident, that the world and its living forms were brought about by a designing intelligence. That movement is now so effective that evolutionists have to spend a lot of time writing articles and even whole books attacking intelligent design (and, in some cases, like Robert Pennock, they even make an academic career attacking it).
In contrast to the respectful review of Darwinism: Science or Philosophy? a decade ago, we now face an academic and scientific world that is increasingly hostile to intelligent design and that seeks to crush it rather than engage it as a serious intellectual project. This may seem unfair and mean-spirited, but let’s admit that our aim, as proponents of intelligent design, is to beat naturalistic evolution, and the scientific materialism that undergirds it, back to the Stone Age. Our opponents, therefore, are merely returning the favor.
We have this going for us, however, which the evolutionary naturalists don’t, namely, the evidence and arguments are on our side. It’s therefore to our advantage to discuss intelligent design and naturalistic evolution on their merits. Conversely, the other side needs to delegitimate the debate between intelligent design and naturalistic evolution, casting intelligent design as a pseudoscience and characterizing its significance purely in political and religious terms. As a consequence, critics of intelligent design engage in all forms of character assassination, ad hominem attacks, guilt by association, and demonization.

Darwinists increasingly act like folks under whom the paradigm is shifting.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 27, 2004 7:12 AM

The case against Intelligent Design is bolstered by innumeracy: the inability of people to really grasp the mathematical improbabilities we're being asked to believe inanimate matter "surmounted" in getting to the first cell.

The case for Intelligent Design is bolstered by Molecular Biology: one wonders if Darwin wouldn't have had second thoughts if he knew the cell was as complex as much as Michael Behe knows today. Couple that knowledge with increasingly sophisticaled mathematical tools to quantify improbability, and you have to ask yourself what the odds have to be when the rare becomes improbable, and the improbable becomes impossible.

I've not read the book, but I hear that all Johnson uncovered was a lot of sloppiness in the writing of biology textbooks. Evolutionary biology needs to be a bit more rigorous and demanding in the quality of the textbooks. What'll happen is that they'll revise the texts and hope nobody asks who found the mistakes and pointed them out.

In the end, Evolutionists will say, "Despite the odds, we're here, thus we got here the way WE SAY we got here."

Posted by: Ptah at April 27, 2004 10:26 AM

The case against Intelligent Design is bolstered by innumeracy: the inability of people to really grasp the mathematical improbabilities we're being asked to believe inanimate matter "surmounted" in getting to the first cell.

Nonsense. I can calculate even more ridiculous odds 'showing' that diamonds are impossible, and they'll be just as wrong for the same reason. The fact that the ID people rant incessently on a half-baked understanding of thermodymanics irritates me no end...

Posted by: mike earl at April 27, 2004 10:37 AM


I posted a slight variation of this on another thread, but beware the logical fallacy of thinking that because something has happened that looks unlikely, it somehow couldn't have happened in an undesigned universe.

If everybody on Earth spends all day every day tossing a coin, the chap who gets 200 heads in a row may think hes special - "Im the Chosen One!" he might cry but hes not thinking straight. Because everyone around him is not tossing 200 heads in a row.

After a disaster, the only ones who can say "wow -how come I'm one of the few survivors?" are the survivors.

The only people who can say "Wasn't I lucky to be born an Englishman? What were the odds?" are the Englishmen.

The only reason you're able to state: "it's incredibly unlikely that we're here" is that you're here.

Meanwhile, there are lots of planets where no life has arisen. And there were several billions of years on this Earth where no life appeared.

You're clever, but you're not using your brain.

Posted by: Brit at April 27, 2004 11:03 AM

Such aggression! Why can't the debate be quiet, polite, collegial and mutually respectful like it always is here?

It is hard not to agree that the darwinist side is behaving like the Church when it was initially challenged in the Reformation or by materialism itself. Are we now seeing darwinism in its ultramontane period, complete with an Index of scorned and prohibited ideas? I suspect this has as much to do with epistomology and metaphysics as with scientific inquiry and is akin to the blind rage directed at President Bush when he talks in spiritual terms.

One sign of the intellectual corruption that too many darwinists have allowed to fester is David's impatience with the widening gulf between what intelligent darwinists like we see on this site say and the popular version a lot of ordinary folks and schools believe (or are led to believe). I have to wonder how many laymen understand that survival of the fittest and a teleological foundation are pretty much gone and that selection for fitness is far more hit and miss than used to be believed and I assume was believed generally at the time of the Scopes trial.

The scientific advances of the post-Enlightenment and universal education challenged religions by forcing them to confront the fact that faith as taught to children will not often satisfy adults. (The faiths that are usually attacked by materialists are the childlike versions). I have no idea who will "win" this debate, but darwinists should understand that the respectability they now enjoy will collapse under them when people realize they were knowingly encouraged to believe dated fairy tales.

Posted by: Peter B at April 27, 2004 11:10 AM

The odds of throwing a coin 200 times in a row is 1 in 1606938044258990275541962092341162602522202993782792835301376, or about 1.6x10^60. This is on the order of the number of atoms in the observable universe.

Innumerency indeed.

Posted by: Gideon at April 27, 2004 11:19 AM


Depends what you mean by 'which side will win'?

That assumes that Darwinists have a project to convert people and supplant religion. Well, maybe some of them do (Dawkins for one), but the crusaders are a minority. I hope that Darwinism is taught accurately - not the common misconceptions - but draw the line there.

Will Darwinism face change, challenge, refinement?

Of course, mostly by Darwinists.

Yeah but you get the point, wiseguy?

Posted by: Brit at April 27, 2004 11:20 AM


Yes, but if everybody on earth is flipping, quite possibly someone will fail to notice that he has a mis-stamped two-headed coin.


Posted by: mike earl at April 27, 2004 11:35 AM

Heh heh...

If Gideon prefers, let's assume that there are a trillion people on Earth, tossing coins at a rate of a million per second, over a time period of 10 billion years.

Now do you see the point? The numbers are irrelevant. Think about the survivors example instead if the numbers bother you.

Posted by: Brit at April 27, 2004 11:39 AM

That is a total of 315360000000000000000000000000000000 tosses of the coin. The probably of hitting 200 heads is still only .000000000000000000000000196.

Try again.

Posted by: Gideon at April 27, 2004 11:51 AM

Individual scientists may be dogmatic, rigid, and unbending when their pet theories (and reputation) is on the line, but science is still based on the scientific method. If ID has any merit, within a generation this issue will be settled just like plate tectonics or quantum mechanics.

The fact that a lawyer and not a scientist is peddling this makes me think this will not be a case.

The fact that scientists are seriously debating this issue with ferocity does not mean ID is any more real than that Imamnuel Velikovsky was real when Carl Sagan slammed him for saying that mythology was based on real celestial events when Jupiter spit out Venus as a comet that devastated Earth. It only means they recognize that pseduo-scientific ideas gain an unhealthy credence if left unchallenged.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at April 27, 2004 11:55 AM


Holy moly, you've got a bigger screen than on my solar-powered calculator.

Ok Einstein - a squillion people tossing a kazillion coins each at a rate of a quinquambillion....!!!

...Like I said, perhaps you'd be better considering this example:

The only people who can ask "Wow, wasn't I lucky to be born in Boston - what on earth were the odds?" are the Bostonians.

Meanwhile, there are lots of non-Bostonians.

Posted by: Brit at April 27, 2004 11:58 AM

One thing I took away from the article was that Johnson wants Darwinism eliminated not because it is wrong, but because he doesn't like its implications.

I have taken the time to read some of what the anti-Evolutionists have to say. They are universally guilty of far worse than what Johnson and the author accuse Darwinists of.


"... that selection for fitness is far more hit and miss than used to be believed and I assume was believed generally at the time of the Scopes trial." How true. Far too little credence is given to the sh[stuff]t happens/cock-up bases of history.


The improbable is never impossible, unless at least one of the terms in calculating the probability is zero. Further, the odds of any one particular example of an occurrence happening are far different than than the occurrence itself. When you were conceived, the odds against you being you were pretty darn long, roughly 1 in 250 million. But, given the conditions, the odds of someone being you were 100%.

Molecular biology does not bolster the case for ID. First, even taking as stipulated that there is some "irreducible complexity" below which life could not exist, and could not possibly be attained by accident, that is an argument for ID causing the first instance of life. It says nothing about how life changed over time following its inception. Darwinism is solely about the latter, and is utterly silent on the former.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at April 27, 2004 12:04 PM


All right, let's think about the survivors. A slaving ship is in distress and the captain prays for survival and promises to reform if "saved". He is saved, goes on to lead an exemplary life (of self-denial) and writes a famous hymn that moves millions.

Is he a fool? Or just clever, but not using his brain? Why would he reject a natural explanation that would have been obvious to even a 17th century sea captain, or else he wouldn't have been a captain? What natural process can explain something so contra-intuitive?

The point I'm trying to get at is that your explanation about survivors and Englishmen is only simple and sensible from the perspective of the observor. Using Occam's Razor, the observor concludes natural chance. But from the point of view of the subject, he has to intellectualize mightily to talk himself out of the simplest explanation.

As coins aren't conscious, I'm persuaded by that one.

Posted by: Peter B at April 27, 2004 12:13 PM

>Darwinists increasingly act like folks under
>whom the paradigm is shifting.

And the Christians are GLOATING, GLOATING, and GLOATING SOME MORE...

Posted by: Ken at April 27, 2004 12:33 PM


Lawyers are superior at reasoning to scientists.

Posted by: oj at April 27, 2004 12:45 PM


Diamonds were designed.

Posted by: oj at April 27, 2004 12:49 PM


Yes, lots of people have difficulty seeing this. It's the mistake that Ptah makes above.

If you stipulate beforehand that of 1000 people aboard the ship there will be 999 deaths and one survivor, and everyone has an equal chance of surviving, then of course, it is unlikely (one in a thousand) that any particular person X will be that survivor.

But if you ask, after the event, what are the chances of me, defined as the survivor (and thus the only one able to ask the question), being the survivor, the answer is 100%!

The only reason we're able to observe the 'incredible unlikelihood' of us arising is becuase we arose! Meanwhile, there are countless other times and places where life did not arise.

You see?

Posted by: Brit at April 27, 2004 1:01 PM


Which is precisly the sense in which Darwinism is deterministic. It starts from the one of a thousand and then justifies it retroactively.

Posted by: oj at April 27, 2004 1:06 PM


"I was blind, but-ut now I see...mmm...mmm...mmm"

I actually don't have much of a problem with the operation of chance within darwinism, at least conceptually. But I have considerable problems with the fact that not only do we not experience so many of these kinds of things as chance, to do so is contra-fitness or contra-survival. Forgive me, but if I imagine you as Cpt. Jack Aubrey, I see you telling your crew that being English is not so special, that there is no rational basis to believe they would be any less happy as Frenchmen, so why not do the smart thing and surrender the smaller, outgunned ship. They probably had better grub on the French ship anyway.

But let me shift gears and ask a question I asked yesterday, as this thread is about the philosophy of darwinism. Stasis, dormant genes, randomness, no purpose, no direction, no sure fitness, no way of measuring who is higher or lower, who will survive, etc. Is darwinism heading towards being a scientific proof of chaos?

Posted by: Peter B at April 27, 2004 1:24 PM


Perhaps, but they were formed by natural processes.

Posted by: mike earl at April 27, 2004 1:28 PM



Posted by: oj at April 27, 2004 1:37 PM

"The odds of throwing a coin 200 times in a row is 1 in 606938044258990275541962092341162602522202993782792835301376, or about 1.6x10^60. This is on the order of the number of atoms in the observable universe."

I believe you meant getting heads 200 times in a row, but you are correct (I won't check your math). But those odds are the same for any unique combination of heads and tails. But you can flip a coin 200 times in a row, and the exact sequence that you get will have those same odds. So you will have performed a feat with the exact same probability as getting heads 200 times in a row. How can that be?

Posted by: Robert Duquette at April 27, 2004 1:53 PM

Start with the materialist/rationalist assumption regarding life and Darwinism does seem inevitable. Then again, much of the 20th century, with all of its social engineering gone awry, does as well.

Posted by: Tom Corcoran at April 27, 2004 1:57 PM

"Lawyers are superior at reasoning to scientists."

Incorrect. Lawyers are superior at rationalizing to scientists.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at April 27, 2004 1:58 PM


My comments in this thread are not about being English not being special - it is, damn it! :)

Nor is it about Darwinism especially. You can choose any example. What were the odds that you'd be Canadian and called Peter? This thread is about the logical fallacy committed by Ptah and other IDers above.

Of course, if you stipulate beforehand that the odds of life arising at this particular planet at this particular time are x billions to one, then only a fool would wager on it arising ...here! (wherever 'here' happens to be).

But life did arise somewhere, in all these planets in all this vast universe. We can only ask the question because it has already happened and we exist.

So the only ones who can say "what where the odds?" are those who are alive. ie. us. In all the other possible times and places where life might have arisen and didn't, there's nobody there to ask the question.

So when we ask: what where the chances that we, the living, would be the living, the answer is not billions to one, but 100%!


As to your other point - how about complexity, rather than chaos?

Posted by: Brit at April 27, 2004 2:04 PM


Reason is a cold impartial device. Rationalization is what science is engaged in to try and preserve the tattered remains of Natural Selection.

Posted by: oj at April 27, 2004 2:08 PM

My favorite problem at the odd intersection of relativity and statistics:

You are on "Let's Make A Deal." You are told that behind one of three curtains, there is $1 million. Behind another, there is a donkey. Behind another, there is nothing. You choose Curtain A. Monte has them open up Curtain C to show nothing, and gives you the chance to switch Curtains. Should you?

Posted by: David Cohen at April 27, 2004 2:12 PM


The answer is yes, but it took me a lot of pain to get my head around it, and you may have started something which will lead to fisticuffs.

Posted by: Brit at April 27, 2004 2:14 PM

It's a trick question--the donkey is Francis the Talking Mule and he's already been offered $3 million for his next picture.

Posted by: oj at April 27, 2004 2:19 PM


Fine, but does that not just substantiate Orrin's oft-repeated remark that evolution is history, not science. If darwinists always took care to say they were doing nothing more than describing what happened, then fine. But they often seem to imply they can both explain HOW life evolved and WHY a non-natural explanation is unecessary at best and even evil for the Dawkinists. That presupposes an ability to go back and then look ahead. If they didn't do that, they would stop well before man and say that they really don't have a clue why or how man evolved the way he did. But they don't, they conjecture about things on the basis that they are consistent with patterns established in other species well before they occured with man.

If you are a historian describing the fall of Rome decriptively, everything that happened just happened. But if you suggest the seeds of Rome's decline and fall were planted by Julius Caesar, then you are suggesting a casual connection over time and you can no longer say that it was a random occurance and that the chance of it happening another way were just as good as the chance of it happening as it did.

Posted by: Peter B at April 27, 2004 2:34 PM

Instead of 200 heads in a row, how about assigning heads = dots and tails = dashes, and having the coin-toss spell out the works of Shakespeare?

Sure, toss the coin X times and a sequence will emerge. But when the sequence has discernable meaning... or perhaps more accurately, when every time you engage in coin-tosses the resulting series has a discernable meaning, then I think discussions of "odds" becomes a bit silly.

Posted by: Roy Jacobsen at April 27, 2004 3:51 PM

No one mentioned Ptah's other big mistake, which is to presume that a modern single celled creatures are the same as the original single celled creatures, as if they had never evolved. But in fact modern single cell creatures are the result of billions of years of evolution.

Original life probably looked much more like viruses, many of which are capable of self-assembly. The exact same logic Ptah uses proves that such a thing is so rare as to be unobservable. Yet, there it is. Which is wrong, Ptah - your logic or the observation? So, contra-Ptah, molecular biology provides evidence in favor of evolution, not against it.

I suspect that this mistake is the result of the view that evolution is a stair case leading to humans, when in fact it's a process that applies to all living things at all times and has no "destination".

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at April 27, 2004 4:03 PM


In fact, it is a staircase, but we're at the top and then reason our way to the bottom.

Posted by: oj at April 27, 2004 5:05 PM

You are right, if you specify a single "meaningful" result beforehand, then the odds mean something. However, instead of specifying the exact sequence, suppose you specify the ratio of heads to tails? If you ask what the odds that the ratio of heads to tails will be 50%, or 100 heads & 100 tails, the odds go up considerably, as their are many different combinations that will give you that result.

So, you could ask "What are the odds that evolution produced us", or you could ask "What are the odds that evolution could produce beings that are like us". There may be many different evolutionary paths that could have led to an intelligent creature that is similar to us. The specific way that any historical progression unfolds will always be highly improbable, but the general characteristics of the result of that progression will fall into patterns that are far more probable.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at April 27, 2004 5:28 PM

In any case, this disproof is all based on idle speculation about the initial complexity threshold, so the anthropomorphic arguements (which I personally find unconvincing) don't need to come into it.

Posted by: mike earl at April 27, 2004 5:37 PM


Is it really a "process", any more than history is a process?

Posted by: Peter B at April 27, 2004 6:28 PM


I'm not sure. I think so. I find evolutionary theory much more compelling than OJ, but much less than the hard core Darwinists.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at April 27, 2004 11:50 PM

Not chaos, Peter.

Darwinism cannot predict what's going to happen everywhere everytime, because life is just too complex.

But I can, on Darwinian principles, predict what's going to happen to the fish if the pond dries up.

The chest thumping of the IDers is cute and reminds me of the same display at the Institute for Creation Research a generation ago.

I'll take ID seriously when it produces its first research paper on any topic in natural history.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 28, 2004 1:01 AM


"Is Darwinism a process?"

The difficulty here is with semantics and definitions, eg. of 'process'.

So here's what Darwinism is in as plain an English as I can muster: Darwinism observes that lots of things happen in nature. These include the things that genes do (replicate, mutate, inheritance), and they include the things that species do and that individual animals in species do (eat each other, choose mates, migrate, become isolated from each other, go extinct, become more populous), and they include things that happen in the environment (climactic change, ice ages, floods, continental drift).

Darwinism observes these things, and posits that these things, and the incredible complexities of their interaction, are sufficient to explain the way biology has changed over the course of history.

Darwinism also observes that things will survive if they are 'fit' for their environment. This is not a 'qualitative' judgement meaning things will get better, or more perfect. It is an observation that as the environment changes, so must the species that inhabit them.

Humans, elephants, and tapeworms are just as fit, and no fitter, as the dinosaurs were in their time and environment, and as the most primitive life forms were many aeons ago.

Some things are sometimes referred to as Darwinistic 'processes' - such as natural selection and 'allopatric speciation' (that's where small populations of a species become isolated and become founder populations for a new species).

But Darwinism is not a 'law' that floats around, acting on things, or telling species to do things, or insisting that things were driving towards a particular point.

Harry put it nicely somewhere: it just keeps score.

Finally, and crucially, Darwinism posits that because these things are sufficient to explain the changes in biology ('evolution'), no outside interference by a higher intelligence is necessary. There is no need for a Plan. ie. there is no need for teleology.


(Peter - note I'm not saying in this post that Darwinism is correct and ID is wrong or God doesn't exist - I'm just having a last bash at telling you what Darwinists think!)

Posted by: Brit at April 28, 2004 5:34 AM

Sorry, I forgot my conclusion:

So, basically, your analogy that Darwinism is a process like History is a process, is about right.

Posted by: Brit at April 28, 2004 6:31 AM


Yes, I understand that is all you are doing. I know very little about ID and somehow suspect I would find it no less troublesome than darwinism. I've never liked it on aesthetic grounds alone--sounds too much like some kind of celestial supercomputer.

But don't you see that it is the doctrinaire positing of no need for higher intelligence that ends up warping the whole project and may eventually lead to its collapse? Surely the need to make the evidence fit that paradigm is what has driven darwinism to increasing heights of complexity and, at times, implausibity. Is that not why the tales of man's evolution that sound so reasonable to you and Jeff sound so fanciful to others( as opposed to being because their minds are blinded by religion or because they don't "understand")? It is no doubt a harmless pastime to assume as a starting principle no non-natural influence and then to conjecture materialist explanations from whatever material evidence is available. But can you really call that science?

Posted by: Peter B at April 28, 2004 6:52 AM


"...it is the doctrinaire positing of no need for higher intelligence that ends up warping the whole project ..Surely the need to make the evidence fit that paradigm is what has driven darwinism to increasing heights of complexity and, at times, implausibity"

Interesting point, but it depends how you look at it.

For Darwinists and other people sceptical of religious explanation, "God did it" is not a simple explanation at all, but an explanation that requires a large number of assumptions and prompts a large number of further questions.

Here's an analogy: pre-science, the explanation for a thunderstorm might be "the God of Thunder" made it. Which seems a nice, simple, minimal explanation. But post-science, we all accept that thunderstorms are caused by natural processes. Yet talk of convection., condensation and unstable air masses and so on might seem absurdly complex - perhaps even "the heights of complexity and implausibility."

It takes a lot longer to give the scientific explantion of thunderstorms, and it's harder to understand than "the God of Thunder did it". But we all buy it, and we all call it science, and most of us would say that Ockham's Razor prefers it becuase it assumes no more than observable material processes.

To the question: "is Darwinism science?"

I would call it science, because I'd call plate tectonics a science. Some might disagree, and it might be a semantic question. It probably straddles a boundary between science and philosophy.

Posted by: Brit at April 28, 2004 7:46 AM

We observe weather changes and plate tectonics, not Darwinism.

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2004 8:02 AM


Darwinism allows those tales of evolution. Which is to say, Darwinism allows positing a hypothesis which may, or may not, be testable. My little tale of why women have secondary sexual characteristics from men is the result of applying game theory to natural selection.

It is not science, it is speculation. But it is from speculation that hypotheses, then theories, arise.

The difference between Darwinism and ID is that the former allows such speculation, while the latter shuts it off entirely. ID is the God of the gaps--ID becomes the all purpose response to every natural history question for which we don't already have the answer.

ID presumes the answer in advance, making any further questioning pointless. I certainly don't call that science.

The obvious answer is for IDers to identify where, and how, ID took place. Or, even easier, to demonstrate where a non-material influence must have occurred in order to explain natural history. So far, so bad.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at April 28, 2004 8:04 AM


That's the beauty of ID, and why it's just as silly as Darwinism, everywhere that you claim the magic of "Natural Selection" it can claim an intelligent intervention.

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2004 8:11 AM


So now Darwinism is just like History and Game Theory, after already being just like Economics and Language--is there any process that doesn't require Intelligence that it's like?

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2004 8:13 AM


Precisely. Darwinism is a series of undisputed observations and then a wholly unsupported speculation which appears less likely with every passing day.

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2004 8:19 AM


Does your wife know you use game theory to explain her sexual characterisitcs? You really are the last of the great romantics, aren't you.

I don't see anything objectionable about your critique of ID, although if Harry thinks I don't understand darwinism he should see me on ID. Why do biologists have such difficulty saying that this or that is a complete mystery and they really don't have a clue? I guess you don't get much follow-up funding for that.

Call me old fashioned, but I like my deities thundering from above and trying to keep humans in check, not wasting precious time messing about with some stupid fruit flies' gene mutations.

Posted by: Peter B at April 28, 2004 8:33 AM


Indeed, Darwinism can't predict anything.

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2004 8:43 AM


I think I agree with that definition, almost entirely.

Two qualifications:

First, I don't think that Darwinism has any implication for the existence or non-existence of G-d, not even an Occam's Razor inference.

Second, you say: Darwinism also observes that things will survive if they are 'fit' for their environment. I think that this is inexact, as it suggests that organisms will die but for being well-suited for the environment. I think that it is more nearly true to say that inherited traits will survive, unless (a) they are ill-suited to their environment or (b) they are unlucky. That may be no difference at all, or it may be massively profound.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 28, 2004 9:05 AM


Agree with your second qualification - bad luck is part of 'stuff happening in the environment'.

As to your first, Darwinism only has implications for one formulation of God: that is, a busybody God who directs evolution. And those implications are Ockham's Razor implications, if you accept that material processes are sufficient for evolution.

To put it bluntly, ask Ockham's Razor to choose between:

a) material processes (which are sufficient) are responsible for evolution
b) material processes (which are sufficient) are responsible for evolution, and God is as well.

and the Razor will always select (a).

Posted by: Brit at April 28, 2004 9:20 AM


Except that material processes obviously aren't responsible for creating the material world, so God.

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2004 9:28 AM

(which of course, is not even a disproof of a busybody God)

Posted by: Brit at April 28, 2004 9:28 AM


Maybe. It's an utter mystery to me how materialism itself came about.

But I'm incorrigibly sceptical, so my first question would be "so what does 'God' mean?"

Posted by: Brit at April 28, 2004 9:33 AM

What God means is beyond our ken--we aren't gods. All we know is the rules He established.

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2004 9:37 AM


Fine. So are you going to allow Darwinists to try to discover what those rules are?

Posted by: Brit at April 28, 2004 9:56 AM

Sure, Natural Selection could well turn out to be a rule. It obviously works within species. It just doesn't seem to have anything to do with larger scale evolution.

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2004 10:03 AM

You're right, gradualism alone probably isn't enough to explain speciation.

Which is why modern Darwinists buy into Mayr's 'allopatric speciation' (small isolated populations forming founder populations for new species) - which is the basis for the theory of punctuated equilibrium.

Posted by: Brit at April 28, 2004 10:10 AM

Yeah, that won't do it either. It's going to turn out to be something like periodic radiation blasts or something.

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2004 10:18 AM

You mean, like the Incredible Hulk?

Posted by: Brit at April 28, 2004 10:24 AM

In Stan Lee lies great wisdom.

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2004 10:27 AM

In the spirit of agreement washing over the blog, I accept that Occam would not choose a busy body god. But any number of other gods escape unscathed, including a G-d who intended this result, but simply set the machinery in motion; a G-d who set the machinery in motion, without intending any particular result; and even a G-d who, directly or indirectly, gives each of us a soul.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 28, 2004 11:36 AM

"But I'm incorrigibly sceptical, so my first question would be "so what does 'God' mean?"

"What God means is beyond our ken--we aren't gods. All we know is the rules He established."

Which is why you are an agnostic, OJ, and not a believer. What God means is an "intelligent, personal, omnipotent, omniscient being who created the universe but is apart from the universe and is himself uncreated".

If you can't say "I believe" to that, then you are an agnostic.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at April 28, 2004 12:35 PM

I do believe that. We don't know it though. I don't put much stock in the value of knowing things over having faith in them. On the day you prove to me that your life is completely valueless and that you are without a shred of Dignity, I'll still be prepared to defend you on the basis of faith alone. Screw what we "know".

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2004 12:46 PM

OJ, a while back you stated that you don't believe that God is personal. You also stated that you don't believe that God is omnipotent. What you do beleive in is something that is different from the commonly accepted definition of God.

Which is a common trait for American religiosity. The word is more important than the definition. It is like the word Coke in Texas. If you go to Texas and ask for a Coke, they will say "what kind of Coke? Orange Coke, Grape Coke, Root Beer Coke?" Coke means "soda-pop" in Texas. God means "whatever is responsible for the universe" in America.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at April 28, 2004 1:18 PM

God could be personal if He so chose--but He doesn't step in and intervene in each of our lives. He is not omniscient and omnipotent, as the Bible makes quite clear, else He'd not be suirprised by Man's Fall and by how much He has to suffer as Christ. There are arguments that He knew these things and they're necessary to His plan but He pretends not to have for our purposes. That's unobjectionable and if it's required Orthodoxy I've no problem believing it. It does not seem to be required though, nor the best reading of the texts.

God is freighted with more consequence than that even in the wide variety of Christianities we have in America. At a minimum, He Created us and imbued us with the dignity that the Declaration of Independence explicitly requires. Likewise, He set out certain moral rules that naturally flow from that Creation and that dignity and which we are required to adhere to in order to have sufficient virtue for the Republic to function. He came to Earth as Christ in order to experience what it is to human and what He found convinced him to forgive our sinfulness, though not to revoke the requirement that we struggle against it. Christ intercedes for us with God and offers us salvation thereby in the world to come.

Beyond that you are right that there are various interpretations and meanings of American Christianity but none of them are really central to the creation and maintenance of the society the Founders or God envisioned.

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2004 1:32 PM

As to whether to switch curtains, Brit is right. The chance that Curtain A has the $1 million is 33%. The chance that Curtain B has it is 50%.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 28, 2004 6:17 PM

David, I disagree. When you made the initial choice of curtain A, the probability was 33%. When curtain C was eliminated, it is true that the odds that Curtain B held the $1 million became 50%, but the odds that Curtain A held the $1 million also became 50%. Am I wrong?

Posted by: Robert Duquette at April 28, 2004 8:57 PM

So, faith is superior to knowledge, but doctrine is not important.

How do you know what to have faith in?

Anyhow, whatever replaces Darwinism, it won't be ID. Darwinism was a response -- not the only one, but the only one that stood up under the flood of increasing evidence about life that piled up during the 19th century -- to the failures of ID.

When Newtonian mechanics was found -- under the pressure of increasing evidence -- to be inadequate, physicists did not revert to Thomistic views of acceleration.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 28, 2004 11:48 PM


Yet physics leads right back to Thomistic doctrine and a Created Universe. The faith of our fathers is more than adequate for us.

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2004 11:57 PM


You are wrong, but don't feel bad about it because this problem (the 'Monty Hall' problem) is a real swine. And I can't claim any credit for knowing the answer as it had to be tortuously explained to me some years ago.

An assumption not explicitly made in David's question is that Monty knows which curtain the prize is behind. (Although, if you don't know whether he knows or not, you should still switch in case he does know!)

More here: Monty Hall

Posted by: Brit at April 29, 2004 4:46 AM

Just on the small chance that there's any misaprehension, I'll confess that I, too, needed it explained to me in painstaking detail, and then I only believed it after playing it out time and again (and again). The key, as Brit says, is the non-random nature of the information Monty is giving out.

It is so artificial, that it is of little direct use, but in showing how bad we can be in evaluating information we're given from the point of view of the giver and how bad our brains are at properly understanding probability, it's actually pretty profound, with implications for everything from evolution to the 9/11 commission.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 29, 2004 10:03 AM

And I see from Brit's link that I am still wrong. The chances of winning from switching are 2/3's, as opposed to 1/3 from not switching.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 29, 2004 10:11 AM

Yes, that's a ugly little puzzle, but quite apropos to the discussion:

Probability is in the eye of the beholder.

Posted by: mike earl at April 29, 2004 10:37 AM

Marilyn vos Savant, the allegedly world's smartest person, went through it all in, of all places, Parade magazine.

I've met two people who were able to figure it out on the spot.

In fact, it's pretty simple statistics, once you correctly describe the situation. So I would modify mike's remark a little to say that not everybody can behold the problem.

As for David's commment, I'd say it isn't specifically a problem with recognizing probabilities but with analyzing problems.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 29, 2004 11:20 PM

It's also about how our intuitions can be wrong.

And it's interesting to see how people's brains work in different ways.

The first person to explain the problem to me did so by asking me to imagine there are 1000 boxes, not 3. You choose, eg. number 468. Monty then opens all the boxes except two: yours and one other (say, 57). Do you switch?

Well, of course you do. Because your first guess was 1 in a 1000, so you'd be a fool to stick with it. But I still couldn't quite grasp that this logic applies when there's only 3 boxes to start with.

But then I came across a diagram similar to the one halfway down this page, and could understand the answer instantly:


Posted by: Brit at April 30, 2004 6:33 AM