Tuesday, June 13, 2006

All quiet on the ID front?

Having established a reputation and a readership on this blog through talking about ID, I have said almost nothing about it for some time. Perhaps any readers still around think I have lost interest. Well, I haven't – though I have come to the conclusion that the debate here wasn't necessarily achieving anything, since the fundamental disagreement was evidently over presuppositions – and if people weren't prepared to accept that their presuppositions had an impact on their interpretation of evidence, then there was little I could hope to achieve in terms of moving the debate on - that is, on to the validity or otherwise of those presuppositions.

However ...

1)I still believe that “design is detectable”, even if it hasn't been rigorously detected yet. Despite the keenness to refute ID as a concept amongst its opponents, I think that the information content in biological systems is significant; I think that irreducible complexity hasn't been shown to be a flawed concept; I think that the link between habitability and observability (Privileged Planet) is significant. I also think that there are other areas which can be explored, though I don't know how yet – I'm not sure that evolutionary processes are sufficient to allow the development of language that can deal with abstraction, for example. Also, one idea that has been teasing around the back of my mind recently – evolution is a story of gradual process, and yet humans are so strongly selected for that with an evolutionary history of 3.5 billion years, they have come to completely dominate the entire planet, and comprehend pretty much the entire universe, in the course of around four thousand years. If this is a consequence of evolution, then frankly its predictive power is negligible. We are told that nothing in biology may make sense except in the light of evolution – but since it seems that evolution couldn't foresee the biological event that has transformed the entire planet in a geological instant, it seems reasonable to argue that evolution has little of use to tell us about humanity.

2)I still believe that much of the opposition to ID is lazy, complacent, arrogant and uninformed. In the sidebar are links to papers that I have critiqued in the past, for various of these reasons. For example, I believe that Lenski et al. have failed to show that irreducible complexity of the level seen in biological systems can evolve, despite the claims of his paper in Nature otherwise. Monton's paper that claimed to discredit Dembski's Universal Probability Bound looks as though it is fundamentally flawed. And the evolution of such features as antibiotic resistance and antifreeze glycoproteins in fish are instances of microevolution rather than macroevolution. Beyond this, the fact that opposition to ID is prepared to resort to judicial processes, and sing the praise of Judge Jones for his clear insight into the issues, rather than successfully refute it on scientific grounds, is very telling. (A judge opposes ID? I mean really, so what?! See also my initial remarks about presuppositions above.) Furthermore, the charges of laziness, complacency, arrogance and lack of informedness are added to by the fact that these flawed attempts to demonstrate the invalidity of ID receive so much promotion and support in the anti-ID community.

3)I believe that this is fundamentally a religious/philosophical debate. Not in the sense that most ID opponents mean this – that is, that ID proponents are only ID proponents because they want to establish a theocracy, or whatever. But that if you reject the idea of external agency, then the whole idea of ID will not be acceptable. If you accept the possibility of external agency, then ID is plausible. The significant things are your religious/philosophical presuppositions. I know that the case of the philosopher Flew is only one, and it probably bears more weight than it deserves, but the significant thing here is at the level of presuppositions - not the conversion to ID, but the shift from atheism to some form of external agencyism.

I still hope to return to the model that I started working on at some stage. In the meantime, I have been interested to find out about another attempt to model evolutionary processes, carried out by Henrik Jeldtoft Jensen and others in the Department of Mathematics at Imperial College, London. Their model is called “Tangled Nature”. It looks at large numbers of digital interacting “species” evolving over hundreds of thousands of generations, and they have used their model to show various things that can be seen in evolutionary history – explosions of new species, for example, and patterns of extinctions. It looks computationally heavy, but interesting nonetheless. Quite a few of these papers are available in arxiv.org – search for “Henrik Jensen” in the maths and quantitative biology sections for more details.