Darel Rex Finley in 888

The Edge of Religion

2007.06.21   prev     next

MICHAEL Behe’s followup to his sensational hit Darwin’s Black Box of a decade ago is the just-released The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism. Behe delivers — far from a rehash of old material, this book crystallizes a vital topic barely scratched by other ID writings: Given that some examples of evolution are undisputed (e.g. antibiotic resistance) and others massively in doubt (e.g. bacterial flagellum), where precisely lies the line between what evolution can do and what it can’t? Using mutually reinforcing, from-the-field data, Behe is able to show that the “edge of evolution” tentatively lies somewhere between Orders (at best) to merely Species (at worst).* Locating this edge gives a measure of predictive value to the theory that it lacks in its popular form as a catch-all explanation of any biological adaptation or division. Well-written and to-the-point, Edge of Evolution is a must-have for anyone interested in the ID concept or controversy.

But..

Since, as everyone knows, ID has controversial philosophical implications, no ID book would be complete without a discussion of what its findings mean for philosophy or worldview. Behe here takes what I consider a big step toward truly non-religious ID, but leaves another untaken and without good reasons:

To his credit, Behe avoids delving into the subject of free-will and true choice, which suggests that they are not tied to ID in any necessary way. (Dembski seems to think they are.) Behe also openly tackles the issue of self-reference and the paradox of verifying one’s own reliability (pp. 224-27) and arrives at the same conclusion that I did in Mechanism (pp. 58-76) — that we must simply presume our own rationality and proceed from there. This is another departure from Dembski, who apparently believes that Christianity paves a path out of the self-reference jungle (Mechanism p. 69). And Behe is unafraid to speculate directly (or at least entertain the possibility) that we were designed by something far less than omniscient and perfect.

But Behe is apparently not willing to consider the scenario of multiple designers. Even when defending the intelligent design of the malaria organism against Darwin’s own dysteleological claim that such parasites prove by their evil that they were not designed (p. 238) — a perfect time to bring up the possibility of multiple designers — Behe abstains, going so far as to allow that “the designer” may possibly be “bungling,” “incompetent,” “fallible,” “a dope,” or “a demon” — but not plural. That possibility is not discussed; not even mentioned.

Might our designer(s) be experimenting with life as they create new forms of it? Behe snidely dismisses this possibility as an “amusing fantas[y] of overgrown science geeks” (p. 229), then gives it no further consideration.

And while Behe pays some service to the idea of designer(s) who interfere with the laws of physics after they started this universe, he makes it clear that he prefers to think that just as this universe’s physical laws had to be fine-tuned to permit life (and to permit scientific discovery by that life), so the designer(s) may also have fine-tuned the universe to produce otherwise-extremely-improbable events that conspire to bring about a life-friendly planet (Earth) and then various lifeforms on it.

Is this idea really viable? I suggest that it isn’t. It’s one thing to say that the laws of physics (and the starting state of the particles) were fine-tuned to make a universe compatible with life and scientific discovery. It’s quite another to suggest that the initial state of that universe could be fine-tuned to the degree necessary to create spontaneous, freak assemblies billions of years down the road. How much precision in particle positioning would that require, given that the butterfly effect plays havoc with fine details of even the near future? If, hypothetically, each fundamental particle has 256 bits of data behind it, how much time would that allow for even one fine-tuned protein assembly to occur, in a universe that steps 1045 fps? Not much, I’m guessing. How much extra (and otherwise unnecessary) resolution per particle would be necessary to allow all the design of life to be fine-tuned from the start? Millions of bits? Quadrillions? Why not just interfere later?

Pesky Pool Balls

And even assuming the staggering resolution that would be required to fine-tune events from the start, there’s still the conceptual problem of how. Let’s use Behe’s pool table analogy to illustrate. Suppose I have a computer program that makes balls bounce around my large computer screen, as if the whole screen is a pocketless billiard table. The balls bounce according to straightforward, Newtonian, elastic collisions, much as billiard balls do, and the rules that control their movements are strictly deterministic. No friction rule is applied, so the balls never stop. Now suppose I invite my friend Jim over and say to him, “Watch this.” I start the balls bouncing. They appear to be bouncing around at random, about a thousand of them. He watches the balls ricocheting off each other, and off the sides of the screen, for about five minutes. Then a funny thing happens — without violating their rules of motion, about a hundred balls just happen to fly together into an extremely tight cluster and (of course) immediately smash off of each other and scatter. Jim realizes that the probability of that happening is freakishly low, and that I must have made it happen on purpose.

But how did I do it? Simple. Before Jim came to my house, I manually arranged a hundred balls in a tight cluster, set out 900 other balls in random places on the screen, gave all 1,000 balls random velocities, then started the whole thing running. After five minutes I paused the program, reversed the direction of all the balls, and waited for Jim to walk in the door. What he saw as the starting position was actually the ending position. Due to the deterministic nature of the rules, the 100 balls were destined to return to their tight cluster after five minutes.

Great, you might say, So it can be done! Well, not quite. What if you wanted to make that same thing happen twice, first after five minutes, then again after another five minutes? How do you do that? Answer: You don’t. You can’t. The End. If anyone out there has any idea how to make that happen, please do tell. (Or better yet, make a computer program that demonstrates it.) In the meantime, I will simply repeat my intuitive hunch (Mechanism p. 79) that Dembski’s Law of Conservation of Information rules out the fine-tuned-freak-accident scenario.

And that’s just how bad the situation is for a series of fine-tuned mutations over the history of life on Earth. What about the wholesale rearrangement of code across multiple lines of descent? Behe says that design is “fully compatible with the idea of universal common descent” (p. 232). Does the platypus fit into that statement? Is its DNA being sequenced and studied? Strangely, I haven’t heard much interest in this subject from the ID leadership. If the platypus turns out to be at the genetic level what it appears to be at the morphological level, it screams of experimental design.

Who Was That Masked Engineering Team?

Put together the three ideas above, each irrationally skirted by Behe, and what do you get?

  • Multiple designers

  • Design by experimentation

  • Design by ongoing interference

Looks a lot like human design of cars and computers, doesn’t it? And that’s exactly what you get when you apply the design inference championed by Dembski. The current ID leadership prefers to use that inference to get to design, but gingerly sidesteps the three, above-listed items, though those items actually follow along with the inference. Why would they want to sidestep them? It’s pretty easy to guess — just look at the opposite:

  • One designer

  • Design by prescient knowledge

  • Design by from-the-start fine-tuning, via nearly infinite resources

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Any “pretty conventional Roman Catholic” (p. 228) could tell you what this is describing.

With Edge of Evolution, Behe comes closer to the edge of his religion than does Dembski. But he’s still careful not to cross, even if he has to resort to a triad of omission (of multiple designers), ridicule (of experimenting designers), and untenable scenarios (fine-tuned events) to stay inside the circle.

 

Update 2007.06.24, 2007.11.08 — grammatical improvement of final sentence

 

Update 2007.10.29 — Very nice summation of Edge of Evolution’s key point:

“All the negative reviews I’ve read of EoE nitpick at minutae while dodging the big picture. The big picture is that ... p.falciparum under intense scrutiny for billions of trillions of generations did exactly what ID theorists predicted — next to nothing. In contrast the ID deniers tell us over and over that the same evolutionary mechanism (RM+NS), in orders of magnitude fewer generations, turned a lizard into a lemur.”
     —DaveScot, on UncommonDescent.com

 

*Update 2010.02.16 — Looking back with a few years’ hindsight, we can see that Behe was actually giving evolution the great benefit of the doubt. He assumed that antibiotic resistance could be adequately explained by mutation-selection evolution, but now it’s looking like there’s a complex mechanism in the bacterial cell specifically for dealing with antibiotic chemicals.

 

prev     next

 

 

Hear, hear

prev     next

Best Recent Articles

Method of Implementing A Secure Backdoor In Mobile Devices

When Starting A Game of Chicken With Apple, Expect To Lose

How I Clip My Cat’s Nails

Seasons By Temperature, Not Solstice

It’s Not A Criticism, It’s A Fact

Features (Regularly Updated)

A Memory of Gateway — news chronology of Apple’s ascendancy to the top of the technology mountain.

iPhone Party-Poopers Redux and Silly iPad Spoilsports — amusing litanies of industry pundits desperately hoping the iPhone and iPad will go away and die.

Embittered Anti-Apple Belligerents — general anger at Apple’s gi-normous success.

RSS FEED

My books

Now available on the iBookstore!

   

Links

Daring Fireball

The Loop

RoughlyDrafted

Macalope

Red Meat

Despair, Inc.

Real Solution #9 (Mambo Mania Mix) over stock nuke tests. (OK, somebody made them rip out the music — try this instead.)

Ernie & Bert In Casino

Great Explanation of Star Wars

Best commercials (IMO) from Superbowl 41, 43, 45, 46, and 47

Kirk & Spock get Closer

American football explained.

Sonos and Opalum — awesome sound stuff I saw at CEDIA.

TV: Better Call Saul; Homeland; Survivor; The Jinx; Breaking Bad; House of Cards; Inside Amy Schumer

God’s kitchen

Celebrity Death Beeper — news you can use.

Making things for the web.

My vote for best commercial ever. (But this one’s a close second, and I love this one too.)

Recent commercials I admire: KFC, Audi

Best reggae song I’ve discovered in quite a while: Virgin Islands Nice

Pinball Arcade: Unbelievably accurate simulation of classic pinball machines from the late ’70s through the ’90s, with new ones added periodically. Like MAME for pinball — maybe better.

d120 dice: You too (like me) can be the ultimate dice nerd.

WiFi problems? I didn’t know just how bad my WiFi was until I got eero.

Favorite local pad thai: Pho Asian Noodle on Lane Ave. Yes, that place; blame Taco Bell for the amenities. Use the lime, chopsticks, and sriracha. Yummm.

Um, could there something wrong with me if I like this? Or this?

This entire site as a zip file — last updated 2017.11.02

Previous articles

The Ultimate, Simple, Fair Tax

Compassion and Vision

When Starting A Game of Chicken With Apple, Expect To Lose

The Caveat

Superb Owl

NavStar

Basic Reproduction Number

iBook Price-Fixing Lawsuit Redux — Apple Won

Delusion Made By Google

Religion Is A Wall

It’s Not A Criticism, It’s A Fact

Michigan Wolverines 2014 Football Season In Review

Why There’s No MagSafe On the New Mac­Book

Sundar Pichai Says Devices Will Fade Away

The Question Every Ap­ple Naysayer Must An­swer

Apple’s Move To TSMC Is Fine For Apple, Bad For Samsung

Method of Implementing A Secure Backdoor In Mobile Devices

How I Clip My Cat’s Nails

Die Trying

Merger Hindsight

Human Life Decades

Fire and the Wheel — Not Good Examples of A Broken Patent System

Nobody Wants Public Transportation

Seasons By Temperature, Not Solstice

Ode To Coffee

Starting Over

FaceBook Messenger — Why I Don’t Use It

Happy Birthday, Anton Leeuwenhoek

Standard Deviation De­fined

Not Hypocrisy

Simple Guide To Pro­gress Bar Correctness

A Secure Backdoor Is Feasible

Don’t Blink

Predictive Value

Answering the Toughest Question About Disruption Theory

SSD TRIM Command In A Nutshell

The Enderle Grope

Aha! A New Way To Screw Apple

Champagne, By Any Other Maker

iOS Jailbreaking — A Perhaps-Biased Assessment

Embittered Anti-Apple Belligerents

Before 2001, After 2001

What A Difference Six Years Doesn’t Make

Stupefying New Year’s Stupidity

The Innovator’s Victory

The Cult of Free

Fitness — The Ultimate Transparency

Millions of Strange Dev­o­tees and Fanatics

Remember the iPod Killers?

Theory As Simulation

Four Analysts

What Was Christensen Thinking?

The Grass Is Always Greener — Viewing An­gle

Is Using Your Own Pat­ent Still Allowed?

The Upside-Down Tech Future

Motive of the Anti-Ap­ple Pundit

Cheating Like A Human

Disremembering Mi­cro­soft

Security-Through-Obscurity Redux — The Best of Both Worlds

iPhone 2013 Score Card

Dominant and Recessive Traits, Demystified

Yes, You Do Have To Be the Best

The United States of Texas

Vertical Disintegration

He’s No Jobs — Fire Him

A Players

McEnroe, Not Borg, Had Class

Conflict Fades Away

Four-Color Theorem A­nal­y­sis — Rules To Limit the Problem

The Unusual Mo­nop­o­list

Reasonable Projection

Five Times What They Paid For It

Bypassable Security Certificates Are Useless

I’d Give My Right Arm To Go To Mars

Free Advice About Apple’s iOS App Store Guidelines

Inciting Violence

One Platform

Understanding IDC’s Tablet Market Share Graph

I Vote Socialist Be­cause...

That Person

Product Naming — Google Is the Other Microsoft

Antecessor Hypotheticum

Apple Paves the Way For Apple

Why — A Poem

App Anger — the Supersized-Mastodon-In-the-Room That Marco Arment Doesn’t See

Apple’s Graphic Failure

Why Microsoft Copies Apple (and Google)

Coders Code, Bosses Boss

Droidfood For Thought

Investment Is Not A Sure Thing

Exercise is Two Thirds of Everything

Dan “Real Enderle” Ly­ons

Fairness

Ignoring the iPod touch

Manual Intervention Should Never Make A Computer Faster

Predictions ’13

Paperless

Zeroth — Why the Century Number Is One More Than the Year Number

Longer Than It Seems

Partners: Believe In Ap­ple

Gun Control: Best Ar­gu­ments

John C. Dvorak — Translation To English

Destructive Youth

Wiens’s Whine

Free Will — The Grand Equivocation

What Windows-vs.-Mac Actually Proved

A Tale of Two Logos

Microsoft’s Three Paths

Amazon Won’t Be A Big Winner In the DOJ’s Price-Fixing Suit

Infinite Sets, Infinite Authority

Strategy Analytics and Long Term Ac­count­a­bil­i­ty

The Third Stage of Computing

Why 1 Isn’t Prime, 2 Is Prime, and 2 Is the Only Even Prime

Readability BS

Lie Detection and Psy­chos

Liking

Steps

Microsoft’s Dim Pros­pects

Humanity — Just Barely

Hanke-Henry Calendar Won’t Be Adopted

Collatz Conjecture A­nal­y­sis (But No Proof; Sorry)

Rock-Solid iOS App Stability

Microsoft’s Uncreative Character

Microsoft’s Alternate Reality Bubble

Microsoft’s Three Ruts

Society’s Fascination With Mass Murder

PlaysForSure and Wikipedia — Revisionism At Its Finest

Procrastination

Patent Reform?

How Many Licks

Microsoft’s Incredible Run

Voting Socialist

Darwin Saves

The Size of Things In the Universe

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy That Wasn’t

Fun

Nobody Was In Love With Windows

Apples To Apples — How Anti-Apple Pundits Shoot Themselves In the Foot

No Holds Barred

Betting Against Hu­man­i­ty

Apple’s Premium Features Are Free

Why So Many Computer Guys Hate Apple

3D TV With No Glasses and No Parallax/Focus Issues

Waves With Particle-Like Properties

Gridlock Is Just Fine

Sex Is A Fantasy

Major Player

Why the iPad Wannabes Will Definitely Flop

Predators and Parasites

Prison Is For Lotto Losers

The False Dichotomy

Wait and See — Windows-vs-Mac Will Repeat Itself

Dishonesty For the Greater Good

Barr Part 2

Enough Information

Zune Is For Apple Haters

Good Open, Bad Open

Beach Bodies — Who’s Really Shallow?

Upgrade? Maybe Not

Eliminating the Im­pos­si­ble

Selfish Desires

Farewell, Pirate Cachet

The Two Risk-Takers

Number of Companies — the Idiocy That Never Dies

Holding On To the Solution

Apple Religion

Long-Term Planning

What You Have To Give Up

The End of Elitism

Good and Evil

Life

How Religion Distorts Science

Laziness and Creativity

Sideloading and the Supersized-Mastodon-In-the-Room That Snell Doesn’t See

Long-Term Self-De­lu­sion

App Store Success Won’t Translate To Books, Movies, and Shows

Silly iPad Spoilsports

I Disagree

Five Rational Coun­ter­ar­gu­ments

Majority Report

Simply Unjust

Zooman Science

Reaganomics — Like A Diet — Works

Free R&D?

Apple’s On the Right Track

Mountains of Evidence

What We Do

Hope Conquers All

Humans Are Special — Just Not That Special

Life = Survival of the Fittest

Excuse Me, We’re Going To Build On Your Property

No Trademark iWorries

Knowing

Twisted Excuses

The Fall of Google

Real Painters

The Meaning of Kicking Ass

How To Really Stop Casual Movie Disc Ripping

The Solitary Path of the High-Talent Pro­gram­mer

Fixing, Not Preaching

Why Blackmail Is Still Illegal

Designers Cannot Do Anything Imaginable

Wise Dr. Drew

Rats In A Too-Small Cage

Coming To Reason

Everything Isn’t Moving To the Web

Pragmatics, Not Rights

Grey Zone

Methodologically Dogmatic

The Purpose of Lan­guage

The Punishment Defines the Crime

Two Many Cooks

Pragmatism

One Last Splurge

Making Money

What Heaven and Hell Are Really About

America — The Last Suburb

Hoarding

What the Cloud Isn’t For

Diminishing Returns

What You’re Seeing

What My Life Needs To Be

Taking An Early Re­tire­ment

Office Buildings

A, B, C, D, Pointless Relativity

Stephen Meyer and Michael Medved — Where Is ID Going?

If You Didn’t Vote — Complain Away

iPhone Party-Poopers Redux

What Free Will Is Really About

Spectacularly Well

Pointless Wrappers

PTED — The P Is Silent

Out of Sync

Stupid Stickers

Security Through Nor­mal­cy

The Case For Corporate Bonuses

Movie Copyrights Are Forever

Permitted By Whom?

Quantum Cognition and Other Hogwash

The Problem With Message Theory

Bell’s Boring Inequality and the Insanity of the Gaps

Paying the Rent At the 6 Park Avenue A­part­ments

Primary + Reviewer — An Alternative IT Plan For Corporations

Yes Yes Yes

Feelings

Hey Hey Whine Whine

Microsoft About Microsoft Visual Microsoft Studio Microsoft

Hidden Purple Tiger

Forest Fair Mall and the Second Lamborghini

Intelligent Design — The Straight Dope

Maxwell’s Demon — Three Real-World Ex­am­ples

Zealots

Entitlement BS

Agenderle

Mutations

Einstein’s Error — The Confusion of Laws With Their Effects

The Museum Is the Art

Polly Sooth the Air Rage

The Truth

The Darkness

Morality = STDs?

Fulfilling the Moral Du­ty To Disdain

MustWinForSure

Choice

Real Design

The Two Rules of Great Programming

Cynicism

The End of the Nerds

Poverty — Humanity’s Damage Control

Berners-Lee’s Rating System = Google

The Secret Anti-MP3 Trick In “Independent Women” and “You Sang To Me”

ID and the Large Had­ron Collider Scare

Not A Bluff

The Fall of Microsoft

Life Sucks When You’re Not Winning

Aware

The Old-Fashioned Way

The Old People Who Pop Into Existence

Theodicy — A Big Stack of Papers

The Designed, Cause-and-Effect Brain

Mosaics

IC Counterarguments

The Capitalist’s Imaginary Line

Education Isn’t Eve­ry­thing

I Don’t Know

Funny iPhone Party-Poopers

Avoiding Conflict At All Costs

Behavior and Free Will, Unconfused

“Reduced To” Ab­sur­dum

Suzie and Bubba Redneck — the Carriers of Intelligence

Everything You Need To Know About Haldane’s Dilemma

Darwin + Hitler = Ba­lo­ney

Meta-ware

Designed For Combat

Speed Racer R Us

Bold — Uh-huh

Conscious of Con­scious­ness

Future Perfect

Where Real and Yahoo Went Wrong

The Purpose of Surface

Eradicating Religion Won’t Eradicate War

Documentation Overkill

A Tale of Two Movies

The Changing Face of Sam Adams

Dinesh D’Souza On ID

Why Quintic (and Higher) Polynomials Have No Algebraic Solution

Translation of Paul Graham’s Footnote To Plain English

What Happened To Moore’s Law?

Goldston On ID

The End of Martial Law

The Two Faces of Ev­o­lu­tion

A Fine Rec­om­men­da­tion

Free Will and Population Statistics

Dennett/D’Souza Debate — D’Souza

Dennett/D’Souza Debate — Dennett

The Non-Euclidean Ge­om­e­try That Wasn’t There

Defective Attitude Towards Suburbia

The Twin Deficit Phan­toms

Sleep Sync and Vertical Hold

More FUD In Your Eye

The Myth of Rub­ber­neck­ing

Keeping Intelligent Design Honest

Failure of the Amiga — Not Just Mis­man­age­ment

Maxwell’s Silver Hammer = Be My Honey Do?

End Unsecured Debt

The Digits of Pi Cannot Be Sequentially Generated By A Computer Program

Faster Is Better

Goals Can’t Be Avoided

Propped-Up Products

Ignoring ID Won’t Work

The Crabs and the Bucket

Communism As A Side Effect of the Transition To Capitalism

Google and Wikipedia, Revisited

National Geographic’s Obesity BS

Cavemen

Theodicy Is For Losers

Seattle Redux

Quitting

Living Well

A Memory of Gateway

Is Apple’s Font Rendering Really Non-Pixel-Aware?

Humans Are Complexity, Not Choice

A Subtle Shift

Moralism — The Emperor’s New Success

Code Is Our Friend

The Edge of Religion

The Dark Side of Pixel-Aware Font Rendering

The Futility of DVD En­cryp­tion

ID Isn’t About Size or Speed

Blood-Curdling Screams

ID Venn Diagram

Rich and Good-Looking? Why Libertarianism Goes Nowhere

FUV — Fear, Uncertainty, and Vista

Malware Isn’t About Total Control

Howard = Second Com­ing?

Doomsday? Or Just Another Sunday

The Real Function of Wikipedia In A Google World

Objective-C Philosophy

Clarity From Cisco

2007 Macworld Keynote Prediction

FUZ — Fear, Uncertainty, and Zune

No Fear — The Most Important Thing About Intelligent Design

How About A Rational Theodicy

Napster and the Subscription Model

Intelligent Design — Introduction

The One Feature I Want To See In Apple’s Safari.