Friday, October 31, 2008

Reasons: III. Markers of Intelligence

In response to a friend who asked, I recently wrote an essay entitled "Reasons for My Belief". The full essay can be found by clicking here. This post is the third in a series in which I single out the five evidences from the essay. The earlier post did not allow for comments. As I repost these sections, I am seeking readers' comments. So, please, join in the discussion ...


3) markers of intelligence (in the origin of life)

Hume was right! When the eighteenth century philosopher David Hume argued so effectively against the arguments of design, he did so by suggesting that nature designs itself! And ever since Hume, science has been confirming that to be the case on many fronts. Matter is marvelously capable of self-organization. We understand the principles by which the universe structured itself, how matter coalesced following the big bang into stable star systems and galaxies, etc. Built into the chemistry and physics of the universe is an uncanny capacity to bring organization out of chaos, despite the laws of entropy which might predict otherwise. Built into life itself is a principle of self-design. Darwin helped us to see how random processes have resulted in variations subject to natural selection giving rise to the marvelous diversity of life forms on our planet today. Dawkin’s “blind watchmaker” is truly stunning in his ability to generate both diversity and functional complexity. But all these natural explanations for the amazing design and beauty we observe fail to answer the ultimate question: Why would a universe possess these remarkable characteristics in the first place? Why is the universe so full of the capacity to self-design, to self-organize? Why is it that everywhere we look, we find a cosmos busy crafting itself?

The skeptics, in their zealousness to write God out of the script, may have inadvertently stumbled upon the very genius of the Creator. The stronger the argument for a self-organizing universe, the more cogently is the case made: this universe has the fingerprints of intelligence all over it. In the self-designing attributes of the cosmos, I see not an argument against God, but the most compelling argument for a greater Creator than we imagined, one whose intelligence and wisdom are seen in these very built-in processes. The intuitive sensibility of Paley’s argument has never been fully dispelled; it has only been pushed back in time, relegated to the deep mysteries of the Mastermind who first set it all into motion.

Nowhere is this proclivity toward self-organization more spectacular and compelling than inside the living cell. Michael Denton speaks to the design implicit in the living cell in Nature’s Destiny:
“From the knowledge we now have of the molecular machinery that underlies some of their extraordinary abilities, it is clear that cells are immensely complex entities. On any count the average cell must utilize close to a million unique adaptive structures and processes—more than the number in a jumbo jet. In this the cell seems to represent the ultimate expression in material form of compacted adaptive complexity—the complexity of a jumbo jet packed into a speck of dust invisible to the human eye. It is hardly conceivable that anything more complex could be compacted into such a small volume. Moreover, it is a speck-sized jumbo jet which can duplicate itself quite effortlessly.
“The fitness of the cell for its biological role in the assembly and functioning of the multicellular life gives every indication, as with so many of life’s constituents, of being unique. In the case of many of their key properties and abilities, it is difficult to imagine how these properties and abilities could be actualized except in a material form with the precise characteristics of the living cell. In other words, if we were to design from the first principles a tiny nanoerector about 30 microns in diameter with the capabilities of the cell—with the ability to measure the chemical concentration of substances in its surrounding medium; with the ability to measure time, to move, to feel its way around in a complex molecular environment, to change its form; with the ability to communicate with fellow nanoerectors using electrical and chemical messages and to act together in vast companies to create macroscopic structures—we would end up redesigning the cell.”
Denton uses the term “directed evolution” to help answer the inevitable questions about how complexity of such staggering proportions could ever come to self-organize. Mike Gene suggests another term, which I prefer: front loaded evolution. Both of these theorists have proposed that the incredibly elaborate machinery inside the cell, machinery composed of variously shaped protein molecules specified by RNA blueprints, demand a designer. Not the designer of the Intelligent Design theorists who propose a designer for complex organisms. Rather, the designer of the DNA process which is capable of building such organisms over time through the processes Darwin described. Denton writes, "the evolutionary process of tracing out the tree of life becomes a perfectly natural phenomenon; the inevitable unfolding of a preordained pattern, written into the laws of nature from the beginning." (Nature’s Destiny, 282)

Some will reject this argument on the grounds that it lacks the full array of material evidence. Denton sees the evidence coming in small bits, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle:
"Because the validity of the argument [biocentric design of the universe] depends on so many independent lines of evidence, the conclusion is not materially threatened because the whole picture is not yet complete or because this or that phenomenon such as the origin of life or the mechanism of evolution is not understood. Just as the meaning of a jigsaw puzzle may be obvious long before all the pieces are perfectly placed, so too my argument does not necessitate that everything be explained." (Nature’s Destiny, p xvi.)
Others will object that this argument merely proposes another god-of-the-gaps. I reject god-of-the-gaps approaches because I am convinced that gaps in natural evolution are diminishing as our understanding grows. It may be helpful to distinguish between the “gaps” which are temporary empty spots in our current knowledge, and “gaps” which extend beyond the reasonable limits of science. Abiogenesis may be just such a gap. Far from slowly closing, the gap of abiogenesis becomes more and more daunting as our understanding grows. The more we know about evolution, the more we know about DNA, the greater becomes the mystery of the first cell, and of the DNA alphabet itself. It is this widening gap which I believe is unlikely ever to be filled. In this regard, I am in alignment with Denish D’Souza who has said, “I'm not making a god-of-the-gaps argument arguing that because evolution can't account for it, therefore God did it. But neither should we submit to the atheism-of-the-gaps, that holds since science explains some things, it can surely explain everything.”

59 comments:

Psiloiordinary said...

Hi Cliff,

Just two points for this one really;

First of all - You may have picked the wrong target when looking for a really secure gap - Abiogenesis is making ever more rapid strides over the past few years. I think perhaps you have given up a hostage to fortune here.

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/abioprob/

I was going to suggest that you could chose the "cause of the big bang" but we now have a couple of avenues of research on this topic as well.

Everyone move down to the next turtle quick ;-)

Good luck finding a really secure gap.

Second of all you have not addressed why such complexity makes the existence of a god even slightly more likely. Nor any evidence that a purely natural cosmos would be less likely to have any of these characteristics.

You simply assume an argument without actually making it; "The stronger the argument for a self-organizing universe, the more cogently is the case made: this universe has the fingerprints of intelligence all over it."

Because . . .?

Regards,

Psi

Cliff Martin said...

Psi,

I read with interest of the on-going research into abiogenesis. But I do not share your confidence that meaningful “rapid strides” are being made. In the articles I’ve read, I note the pervasive use of language like “perhaps”, “somehow”, “mysterious”, etc. There are some interesting theories out there. But I’ll stand by my contention that the more we learn about the cell, the deeper become the mysteries of abiogenesis. Even a biologist on the order of Richard Dawkins finds he must hedge his bets with the admission that life may been planted here by aliens. Would he make such a statement if he felt we were on the brink of solving abiogenesis?

And there may be some “lines of research” on the cause of the big bang and the subsequent evolution of the cosmos. But as with abiogenesis, the more we look into this mystery, the wider becomes the “gap” of our understanding. See this ”article on the mystery of galaxy formation” posted last week in Science Now.

My point is not that these “gaps” will never be filled. It is possible that we will find the natural mechanisms for the big bang, galaxy formation, abiogenesis. I do not deny that, and I support the research to discover such mechanisms. Whether a Creator supernaturally intervened at the point of abiogenesis, or whether natural mechanisms kicked in to produce that first living cell, my argument remains. Admittedly, it is an argument from intuition. It is, as I have been saying, an “indication”. For me, it is a powerful indication. You contend that these process resulted from some kind of inanimate, non-intelligent, materialistic bootstrapping. That stretches credulity past the breaking point for me. I find it more plausible to posit intelligence in the formation of such processes.

JJS P.Eng. said...

A good post that got me thinking about a response to one of my commenters: "You are treating design as a mechanism, and any engineer can tell you that is patently false. Engineers make use of mechanisms in their designs."

So if I understood you right in this post, you are saying even if all mechanisms are discovered, their usage indicates design. (Your point is probably not that simplistic, but does seem to travel along those lines)

Psiloiordinary said...

Hi Cliff,

" I find it more plausible to posit intelligence in the formation of such processes."

. . . because . . .

Anonymous said...

Just found this blog, and I'm really enjoying it so far.

I was going to reply to psi's assumption that finding a mechanism somehow excludes or removes the need for a designer, though a good response to that has been given already. Twice, no less.

As for Dawkins, it's telling that he's willing to entertain aliens as a hypothesis for the OOL. In fact, you can look to Dawkins and Crick to find an interesting pattern: If ever it seems that there is an intractable problem in natural history such that it seems intelligent intervention may be necessary to explain what we see, either tremendous luck, coincidence, or 'intelligence, but it certainly isn't God' will be clung to.

And that's fine, within the realm of personal belief. I don't begrudge them that even a little. It's the attitude towards the beliefs of others where they lose me.

Anonymous said...

". . . because . . ."

I'll try a response for you, psi.

. . . . . . . because . . . . . . intelligence is the one thing we all of first-hand, undeniable, and certain experience of. While any intelligence behind what we see in nature (behind the origin and unfolding of the universe, behind the direction of evolution, behind the origin of life, etc) would naturally have knowledge and capabilities far beyond our own and/or be in a unique place in relation to ourselves, we already have experience with what minds are capable of when it comes to orchestrating and originating design. Our innate knowledge of minds makes mind-as-orchestrating-force plausible in principle, and is easily demonstrable to boot.

Meanwhile, the alternative - 'we all just got lucky, no mind preceded our universe / planet / OOL / etc whatsoever' - has nothing going for it at all. It's entirely assumption. Within the realm of philosophical possibility, sure. But there's no real evidence for it, except in an oddly circular way. "Well, planets orbit the sun, and they don't need anyone pushing them to do so! Totally naturalistic!" Wonderful. But whether our universe and what we see in it (galaxy formation being recently cited) was designed is exactly the question at hand - so assuming 'no' and then pointing at what you assumed came about sans-mind as evidence just doesn't work.

Which may well be the reason that even Dawkins will apparently cede that serious and reasonable cases can be made for deism, and why lately I've seen several other popular e-atheists follow suit with similar concessions.

- Nullasalus (who really needs to make an account for this blogger.com stuff)

Psiloiordinary said...

Hi All,

Welcome aboard anon.

Just a quick reply to this from anon for now;

"I was going to reply to psi's assumption that finding a mechanism somehow excludes or removes the need for a designer, though a good response to that has been given already. Twice, no less."

I am not claiming there is "no need" for a designer. Staying stricly on the is side of the is/ought divide I simply point out we have no indication either way whether one exists or not, and simply pointing out that we exist and that complexity exists does not make an argument for a designer.

Cliff has now made an answer to cover this gap and I will think about it and come back a little later on.

Regards,

Psi

Tom said...

Cliff,

Once again, I want to thank you for these thoughts. They show to me a very diligent effort on your part to not only legitimize your faith, but also for how believers can legitimize skepticism and science. I hope you have a lot of influence there!

JJS P.Eng, you have an interesting blog, and that particular discussion item is compelling. The knee-jerk response from Cliff and many of us is that ID is bad because it is not science. As you point out, however, assuming a design and then testing for it IS science.

The mechanism of design/function is part of the discussion here. The theist utilizing any gaps will say that God is the mechanism. When a natural mechanism is shown to be responsible, which removes the gap, then the theist has to change gears and explain how God uses that natural mechanism. This is often not a problem. We can loosely imagine how God works through nature to make something happen. When we really find out that it is some particular natural mechanism, then the theist can say, "Oh, so that's how God works." and then speculate the reasons why God would employ that mechanism. It then gets rolled into the theology. In the case of evolution, well, that's a toughy, and was a faith-breaker for me.

Now I'm what Cliff has dubbed an "atheist-of-the-gaps". This is fair. I've asked him before if God can be anything but a God of the gaps. I have shrugged off God because that belief and any theology surrounding it, I have not been able to reconcile with evolutionary and natural process. While there are obviously things that are unknown, and will certainly remain so in my lifetime, I have elected to be a materialist. Why?

I guess the issue is that I can accept deism and not theism, and deism, for all intents and purposes is atheism. That is, if you want to say there is some supernatural that has made and precludes what we know of the natural universe, I can live with that, especially if it is a force that no longer interfaces with us and that we worship in some way. To say that this force continues to interface with us is the difficulty. We can keep acquiring knowledge of our natural environment, and the more we do, the intentions and operations of a would-be designer and master planner become more and more questionable, especially when put into personal and anthropomorphic terms and judged against the God of ancient scriptures. Cliff asks, "Why would a universe possess these remarkable characteristics in the first place?" This question implies a designer with intent. With nature, scientists can be like the blind men describing an elephant, but will we ever be able to answer the question of why there's an elephant in the room? Such a "why" question may be out of the domain of science, but religion also offers no insight. What "why" question is there that religion can answer that science and materialism cannot (or will not)? If such knowledge can only be discovered through divine intervention, then the universe operates differently than I've observed or can make sense of theologically.

Cliff Martin said...

Tom,

Thank you for your comments. When you write ...

I have shrugged off God because that belief and any theology surrounding it, I have not been able to reconcile with evolutionary and natural process

... I wonder how much a lifetime of conventional Christian theology, coupled with the constant drumbeat of evolution's vilification play into your inability to reconcile evolution with Christian theism.

As I look at the Biblical principles of resurrection, firstfruits (see 1 Corinthians 15), the purpose of man in 2 Corinthians 5:4-5 (that mortality might be swallowed up in life), and the strong association of God with Life, I see evolution fitting into Christian theology splendidly. In fact, I have never been so enthused with the merging of concepts as when I fit Christian theology together with evolution. There is so much more to this picture, and I hope to discuss if further in future posts. I'm not trying to convince you of anything here. I simply find it fascinating that the very thing that energizes and revitalizes my theism is the theism deal-breaker for you.

I also smiled when I considered that Psi makes the case that theism is a subset of deism, and now you say that deism is a subset of atheism; this makes atheists of us all!

Tom said...

There is much, much, much that went into my decision of atheism, and I look forward to telling my tale, and why I'm also curious of your perspectives.

Regarding my atheist-deist comment. I agree with Psi that theism is a subset of deism, but if there is no worship of the deity nor assumption that the deity is intervening today, then functionally this is the same as agnosticism, which would have been the better word than "atheism".

JJS P.Eng. said...

Tom said:
"JJS P.Eng, you have an interesting blog, and that particular discussion item is compelling. The knee-jerk response from Cliff and many of us is that ID is bad because it is not science. As you point out, however, assuming a design and then testing for it IS science."

Thanks for the kind words, Tom. I would love to see a debate between you and Dave at EE :)

"The mechanism of design/function is part of the discussion here."

I'll reiterate that design is not a mechanism. Assuming design means assuming a designer (big D or little d; your choice) that manipulated or made use of the various mechanisms of genetics, biochemistry, physics, etc. The tricky part is demonstrating the mechanisms were manipulated, or to paraphrase Mike Gene: "Is the Myopic Tinkerer responsible or is a Rational Designer behind it?"

Isaac Gouy said...

Built into the chemistry and physics of the universe is an uncanny capacity to bring organization out of chaos, despite the laws of entropy which might predict otherwise. ... Why is it that everywhere we look, we find a cosmos busy crafting itself?

"... a natural outgrowth of the thermodynamic gradient reduction implicit in the second law: where and when possible, organizations come cycling into being to dissipate entropy as heat. Gradients, such as that between the sun and space, may be huge, and draining them may take literally eons."

Into the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermodynamics and Life

Tom said...

I found a couple interesting links:

http://www.overcomingbias.com/2007/09/burdensome-deta.html

http://www.overcomingbias.com/2007/11/an-alien-god.html

Tom said...

And this link just came up today:

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/11/entropy_and_evolution.php

Isaac Gouy said...

Does Nature Break the Second Law of Thermodynamics?

Roger said...

It's worth pointing out that scientific speculations about how nature's operations may tend towards the development of order and complexity tends to support the point the OP and Denton made, not speak against it.

"The stronger the argument for a self-organizing universe, the more cogently is the case made: this universe has the fingerprints of intelligence all over it."

If the best response to this is to argue that, if there was a creator, said creator must be an idiot because said person (namely, the product of these processes) thinks they could have done a better job - well, there's no response at all. One only has to think about what's being said in such an argument to see why.

Isaac Gouy said...

> It's worth pointing out that scientific speculations about how nature's operations may tend towards the development of order and complexity tends to support the point the OP and Denton made, not speak against it.

I'll try to bear that in mind if I choose to respond to that part of Cliff Martin's comment.

So far I've only responded to the "despite the laws of entropy" bit.

Isaac Gouy said...

After reading "Just as the meaning of a jigsaw puzzle may be obvious long before all the pieces are perfectly placed, so too my argument does not necessitate that everything be explained." seemingly quoted with approval, it's strange to read that "gaps" are any kind of concern - to be consistent shouldn't we shrug and say abiogenesis is just one of those pieces that aren't perfectly placed?


"It may be helpful to distinguish between the “gaps” which are temporary empty spots in our current knowledge, and “gaps” which extend beyond the reasonable limits of science. Abiogenesis may be just such a gap."
Why in principle would abiogenesis extend beyond the reasonable limits of science?

Roger said...

"So far I've only responded to the "despite the laws of entropy" bit."

The response wasn't directed at you specifically - one of the Overcoming Bias links prompted that.

Besides, by addressing the entropy part, you're dealing with the same thing. Your theme here seems to be 'if I can reference a material cause, the stench of a designer will go away'. But that's quite useless against what Cliff is pointing out.

Isaac Gouy said...

roger > Your theme here seems to be...

Please don't put words in my mouth.

Roger said...

isaac,

I'll call them like I see them, so get used to it. And mentioning what your theme seems to be - accent on the "seems to be", because it clearly implies that I'm giving my impression - is not 'putting words in your mouth'.

Don't get testy. Or actually, do get testy. I'm not in charge here after all.

Cliff Martin said...

Tom and Isaac,

I think you may have both read too much into my comment about entropy. I did not mean to imply that organizing systems violate the laws of thermodynamics. I merely meant what I said: a cosmos driven by entropy, the tendency toward disorder, might seem an unlikely place for the constant self-organizing that we observe. I do understand how entropy in fact assists in the development of order within a closed system. And Tom, I think you know that would never forward the ridiculous creationist notion that evolution violates entropy.

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > I merely meant what I said: a cosmos driven by entropy, the tendency toward disorder, might seem an unlikely place for...

"... the laws of entropy which might predict otherwise ...

The puzzle is that you say might seem and might predict when you know better - why put forward what you know to be a mistaken understanding without any correction?

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac,

From this wikipedia entry on "Entropy, Order and Disorder ...

"Thus, if entropy is associated with disorder and if the entropy of the universe is headed towards maximal entropy, then many are often puzzled as to the nature of the "ordering" process and operation of evolution in relation to Clausius' most-famous version of the second law, which states that the universe is headed towards maximal “disorder”. In the recent 2003 book SYNC – the Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order by Steven Strogatz, for example, we find “Scientists have often been baffled by the existence of spontaneous order in the universe. The laws of thermodynamics seem to dictate the opposite, that nature should inexorably degenerate toward a state of greater disorder, greater entropy. Yet all around us we see magnificent structures—galaxies, cells, ecosystems, human beings—that have all somehow managed to assemble themselves."

Yes, there are proposed and generally accepted answers to the riddle, but "ordering" aspects in the cosmos are nevertheless baffling in light of entropy's inexorable march toward disorder.

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > Yes, there are proposed and generally accepted answers to the riddle, but "ordering" aspects in the cosmos are nevertheless baffling in light of entropy's inexorable march toward disorder.

Do you accept those "generally accepted answers"?

Cliff Martin said...

You're driving this into the ground! I merely made the point that the "self-ordering" of the universe, and life itself, is counter-intuitive in a cosmos driven by an overall march toward disorder. I do understand how things organize within the laws of thermodynamics in open systems. But that does not change the fact that, on first blush, even to many scientists, entropy would tend to predict otherwise. To my mind (and I am no scientist, so I may be mistaken) that makes the tendencies toward self-organization all the more remarkable. If you don't think so, that's fine. But it is pointless to belabor this point further. So be my guest and have the last word ...

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > You're driving this into the ground!

When you write "baffling in light of entropy's inexorable march toward disorder" we should wonder if you've rejected or misunderstood something basic - closed system / open system, statistical nature of the second law, how expansion of the universe effects entropy,...

The laws of arithmetic might state that 1 + 1 = 5, but they don't.

The second law might state that in any system entropy must increase, but it doesn't.

If we're baffled about that we're baffled by half-truths.

Isaac Gouy said...

Denton writes, "the evolutionary process of tracing out the tree of life becomes a perfectly natural phenomenon; the inevitable unfolding of a preordained pattern, written into the laws of nature from the beginning."

Where in "the inevitable unfolding of a preordained pattern" do we account for the catastrophes that eradicated entire ensembles of life - 435mya 355mya 252mya 215mya 65mya ?

Cliff Martin said...

Good question. Of course, I could just say, "Ask Denton" who is not even a Christian, but sees evidence of some level of pre-planning or front-loading in the genetic code. But the answer is quite obvious, if you understand Denton. The "preordained pattern" he speaks of has nothing to do with a tight control over the way history would play out, but rather with the DNA language built into the very earliest forms of life. In this case, you could even say that an intelligent being may have accounted for those inevitable speed-bump catastrophic events, and front-loaded life with sufficient resiliency and hardiness to survive them, and to thrive in spite of them. And, here we are!

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > Of course, I could just say, "Ask Denton"...

Not when you have already put forward Denton's views as part of your "most convincing lines of evidence".


cliff > In this case, you could even say that an intelligent being may have accounted for those inevitable speed-bump catastrophic events, and front-loaded life with sufficient resiliency and hardiness to survive them, and to thrive in spite of them. And, here we are!

No, here bacteria are!

"And, here we are!" is contingent on the dramatic extinction of myriad organisms in arbitrary catastrophes over aeons - on "the way history would play out".

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac,

When you lift a quotation from a third party and state your problem (which is not problematic to me), then "Ask him" is an entirely appropriate response if you sincerely wish to know how he factors in your issue.

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > When you lift a quotation from a third party and state your problem...

You'll find that you wrote "Denton writes, ..." followed by that quotation in paragraph 6.

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac,

I must be not write clearly enough for you. I am amazed at how often you misunderstand. I meant when you (Isaac) lift a quote (Denton) from my (Cliff's) essay and state your (Isaac's) problem, you (Isaac) are questioning his (Denton's) statement, a statement which I (Cliff) have no issue with and accept at face value. If you (Isaac) have a problem with his (Denton's) reasoning, logic, or other consideration, then your (Isaac's) issue is not with me (Cliff) but with Denton.

All of which is moot, because I went on to give you my answer anyway.

When I said "Here we are", I am speaking of all life forms which have survived to this day, including of course, bacteria.

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > I must be not write clearly enough for you. I am amazed at how often you misunderstand.

The blame game holds no interest for me - I work to find your meaning.



cliff > When I said "Here we are", I am speaking of all life forms which have survived to this day, including of course, bacteria.

When I said "No, here bacteria are!" I was speaking of what you had termed "the very earliest forms of life".

As you are speaking of all life forms which have survived to this day, for you are these specific life forms inevitable or are they contingent on the dramatic extinction of myriad organisms in arbitrary catastrophes over aeons - on "the way history would play out".

Cliff Martin said...

Here is my view about contingency verses inevitability. I believe the life forms we see today are mostly inevitable. The evolutionary principles of contingency and convergence are in constant tension and together produce a somewhat predictable result. Natural selection drives life forms to fill in the niches of adaptive space. These niches are defined by environmental conditions, conditions which are also evolving. So there is interplay. Precise outcomes may not be predictable. But the general course of evolution is. Do you agree?

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > But the general course of evolution is. Do you agree?

(I need to read the fine print.)

What do you consider "the general course of evolution" to be?

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > I could just say, "Ask Denton" who is not even a Christian...

As we've seen, Denton may actually be a theist.

Have you read "Nature’s Destiny"?

Isaac Gouy said...

Unlike "Nature's Destiny" the science in Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe was at least reasonably up-to-date when the book was written - and there'll be no need to speculate about the religious beliefs of the author, a Christian.

Perhaps worth noting some referenced scientific results have changed - Historical contingency and the evolution of a key innovation in an experimental population of Escherichia coli


As for the general course of evolution -

"Evolutionary success can be measured in various ways, and by some criteria bacteria, traditionally regarded - rather inaccurately - by us as exceptionally simple organisms, are the most successful in terms of biomass, the variety of metabolisms utilized, and the range of environments occupied. No obvious progress through time is either discernible or likely." p211

"...the more general patterns of change seem more likely on present evidence to be controlled by contingencies relating to perturbations of the physical environment..." p213

Catastrophes and lesser calamities

Cliff Martin said...

No obvious progress through time is either discernible or likely.

Do you understand this to mean that, without a struggle to survive (that is, without resistance, calamity, hardship, etc.) an organism will not "progress" along an evolutionary line? This is interesting. Bacteria are already well adapted and very successful ... life is easy. So there is not much pressure upon these organisms to evolve, to change. Am I reading this correctly?

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > Do you understand this to mean that, without a struggle to survive (that is, without resistance, calamity, hardship, etc.) an organism will not "progress" along an evolutionary line? This is interesting.

I understand the author to mean that even with a struggle to survive an organism will not "progress" along an evolutionary line - as he says, "No obvious progress through time is either discernible or likely" - no "evolutionary line" along which to progress.


cliff > Bacteria are already well adapted and very successful ... life is easy. So there is not much pressure upon these organisms to evolve, to change.

No - there's always another organism trying to eat your lunch.

"Knowledge of bacteria leads us to understand that the evolution of life is not fated always to produce complex organisms. Evolution need not systematically lead to multicellular, large, intelligent species. Among bacteria, more than 3.5 billion years of evolution, often very rapid, has led them to remain miniscule, though very diversified in the way they function, and spread all over the Earth. Adaptation to such diverse habitats has been internal, achieved by modification of their cellular biochemical factory in the interior of their isolated, microscopic cells."

p63 How Life Began: Evolution's Three Geneses


Incidentally, if the idea that the mitochondria powering each and every ordinary cell in your body are bacteria remains is new to you then for that reason alone you'd find "How Life Began" fascinating.

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac,

Thank you. That is fascinating ... I was not aware that the mitochondria are bacteria remains. Wikipedia only goes so far as to say "[mitochondria] DNA shows substantial similarity to bacterial genomes", but that would build a strong case.

I understand the author to mean that even with a struggle to survive an organism will not "progress" along an evolutionary line.

So, how does he account for evolutionary progress? And what of convergent evolution, the idea that certain "adaptive spaces" precede the development of life forms, and that organisms are driven by evolution to fill these spaces? If bacteria continue to find workable adaptive spaces at their (relatively) simple organic level, wouldn't that be in keeping with convergence?

Psiloiordinary said...

Hi Cliff,

Stephen Jay Gould wrote some HBOS stuff on this.

In a sentence we see some increase in complexity because of evolutions random walk whch starts off right next to a wall of non complexity I.e. Non life.

Think of the incredibly highly adapted parasites which are incredibly simple. Think of some species of Barnacles (a favourite of Darwins. Which are not much more than a penis and spend most of their lives physically attached to the female.

Think of a drunkards random walk away from a wall. He will eventually hit the gutter even though his walk us entirely random.


Hope this helps,

Regards

Psi

Psiloiordinary said...

HBOS????

I meant good.

Psi

Cliff Martin said...

Psi,

I figured Gould did some specials on HBO.

I don't know if that helps my understanding or not. Has the drunk "progressed" when he went from standing by the wall to laying in the gutter?

I'm not trying to be disagreeable. Just trying to understand the mechanism that produces an unguided upward evolution. The concept of niches, or adaptive spaces and convergent evolution make sense to me. I suppose that randomness eventually fills those spaces. Is that how you see it?

Psiloiordinary said...

No worries Cliff.

No purpose. We have lots of examples of evolution going in the opposite direction to "complexity" and "progress".

So a very small part of the whole kingdom of life is more complex now than it was.

But this is not a part of evolution in the sense that complexity and simplicity are evolving all the time. The bell curve created by such random developments is spreading out it's "tails". One of the tails hits a wall in the direction of simplicity which we can call non life. The other tail is sticking out in the direction that you and I think of as progress.

This is an elegant, beautiful, awe inspiring and humbling insight and it is also difficult to grasp despite the ultimate simplicity of the subject. Gould wrote a great book on it, I am on a train or I would give you the title;-(

Psi

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > Wikipedia only goes so far as to say...

If you sign in with a Google account you should be able to read the relevant pages in How Life Began - similar story for chloroplasts and photosynthesis.


cliff > So, how does he account for evolutionary progress?

This is becoming repetitive - as he says, "No obvious progress through time is either discernible or likely".


cliff > the idea that certain "adaptive spaces" precede the development of life forms, and that organisms are driven by evolution to fill these spaces

For every "human" cell in your body there are 10 times more bacteria cells in your body - do you think those "adaptive spaces" (whatever that means to you) existed before bodies existed?

Are we back to Voltaire? - "Observe how noses are designed to hold up eyeglasses, and therefore we have eyeglasses."


cliff > If bacteria continue to find workable adaptive spaces at their (relatively) simple organic level, wouldn't that be in keeping with convergence?

What do you think "in keeping with convergence" might mean in this case that's different from organisms adapt to their environments?

Isaac Gouy said...

"As an unabashed supporter of convergence - and not withstanding the fact that, while nobody denies its existence, by no means everybody is persuaded of its importance ..."

The Deep Structure of Biology seems to be a book that would appeal to you.

Cliff Martin said...

Thaks Isaac, I think I will get a copy of that book. I see its an anthology, and several of the chapter titles fascinate me.

Isaac Gouy said...

When you read "... I predict with absolute confidence that if any large, fast-swimming organisms exist in the oceans of the moon Europa ... swimming under the perpetual ice that covers their world - then they will have streamlined, fusiform bodies; that is they will look very similar to a porpoise, an ichthyosaur, a swordfish, or a shark" (p20) just try and imagine a body that isn't streamlined moving fast through a fluid - and then wonder if we're dealing with trivial generalities.

It might strike you that streamlined really means movement needs less energy, and for many sharks (and other marine organisms) the important thing is movement needs less energy not speed.

Physics trumps Biology, or as John Bonner contends "size rules life".

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > So, how does he account for evolutionary progress?

You probably understand this already but let's spell it out - they don't talk of evolutionary progress because they see bacteria as the dominant organisms on Earth: by area, by volume, by global mass, by number, by population of species...

"...the invisible world of bacteria is a magnificent subject for meditation on the absence of a predetermined direction of evolution toward complexity or progress (to remain minuscule is the preponderant path of evolution, because small size is favorable to growth in all terrestrial habitats), and on our humble and uncertain status on Earth, where we are threatened by bacteria, which are assured ultimately to survive our disappearance."

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac,

Thanks for the information.

btw, I was viewing a video about Evolution at
http://scienceandcreation.blogspot.com/
which opens with a 30 second or less disclaimer ... the very sort of disclaimer that I think would be useful in the H.S. biology class. I'm not trying to resurrect our (now tired) debate, but to offer an example of the sort of statement I would favor.

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > ... the very sort of disclaimer that I think would be useful ...

Do you notice a difference between that and your proposed statements?

It stops at saying what evolution is.

It doesn't go on to tell "students that evolution does not rule out the possible existence of a Designer and Creator".

It doesn't go on to tell students "the possibility exists that some supernatural super-intellect may be responsible for some aspects of the evolutionary rise of life, or the Big Bang"

It doesn't go on to tell students "some mysteries may never find natural explanations, in part because of the possibility of supernatural causation..."

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac,

You know that I was very open about the nature of the disclaimer. Yes, I threw out some specific ideas that go beyond the statements on the video. But remember, I also suggested using S.J. Gould quotes only. I've always remained open about how the disclaimer is worded. I kept weakening and simplifying proposed statements in an effort to get you to agree to the principle of using such a disclaimer. You never agreed.

Rather, as I recall, you remained firmly opposed to any such statement. I assume that you would still say the disclaimer used in the video is not "teaching biology" and hence has no place in the H.S. science class room.

I remain convinced that such a statement would help to disarm resistance to evolution science among theistic students, and that can only be a good thing.

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > I also suggested using S.J. Gould quotes only

Gould wrote about many things not just evolution - some of the things he wrote would be just fine in the biology classroom; some of the things he wrote wouldn't, they're personal philosophy.


cliff > I kept weakening and...

It's interesting that you consider taking out "Designer and Creator" to be weakening the statement - do you want to make a statement about evolution or a statement about religion?


cliff > I assume that you would still say the disclaimer used in the video...

Did I say that or did I draw the contrast between it and what you'd suggested?

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > ...would help to disarm resistance to evolution science among theistic students...

Elsewhere you were very clear - "The preachers are Creationists, or did you not know that?" so it seems unlikely that by "theistic students" you mean Catholics or Episcopalians, it seems likely that you mean students with more fundamentalist beliefs - do you?

Rich G. said...

Isaac:

I've been following this thread silently, and want to know: What, exactly, is your problem with a simple introductory disclaimer? Public school teachers are constantly sending off-topic messages and philosophical digressions in their classes. Sometimes they are openly antagonistic to viewpoints that don't agree with their personally-held views, especially when a poorly understood 'separation of church and state' doctrine is in apparent conflict with a student's questions that may peripherally touch the metaphysical or spiritual issues.

I support a statement that would set some form boundary condition as to what the science says and what it does not say. That would still allow room for the off-topic diversions and discussions, but they would be known as interesting ideas that are outside the scope of the class.

Isaac Gouy said...

Rich G. > Public school teachers are constantly sending off-topic messages and philosophical digressions in their classes.

Are you suggesting that the fact something is done should persuade us that it ought to be done?


Rich G. > What, exactly, is your problem with a simple introductory disclaimer?

See "The problem with Intelligent Design ...", comments March 25, 2009 8:51 PM

Rich G. said...

Isaac:

Are you suggesting that the fact something is done should persuade us that it ought to be done?

In this case absolutely. It would serve as a framing reminder for both the students and the teachers.

Isaac Gouy said...

Rich G. that's questionable logic and bad ethics but the more immediate problem is that the argument is self defeating - the fact that Cliff's statement is not read out in biology classrooms, by your argument, should persuade us that Cliff's statement ought not to be read out in biology classrooms.



cliff > I remain convinced that such a statement would help to disarm resistance to evolution science among theistic students, and that can only be a good thing.

We all tend to find our own ideas particularly convincing, and they can remain convincing while they remain generalities - the problems only start to become obvious when we flesh out the particulars.


cliff > can only be a good thing

Remember "the law of unintended consequences".