Sunday, September 25, 2005

Ave, Bill!

Bill Keezer recently wrote a fantastic post on the Intelligent Design debate, which I recommend to all interested parties. If you want to leave comments, you'll need to go here. Some highlights from Bill's post:

So what constitutes design? Already we have two parts to it, the object and the purpose. Generally we consider the object to have been created to meet the purpose for which it is to be used. So whenever we talk about design there is always the concept of purpose contained within it. As we shall see below, we often include function as a proxy for purpose when discussing design. If something functions in some way, we often accept the idea that it was designed to function that way. Yet, as I will show there are cases where there is no purposeful design in the function, or else we are led to consider everything is designed. So yes, the appearance of design does not entail design.

There is one other problem with using the word design. It often brings up an image of metadata controlling the assembly of parts, i.e. some super blueprint that states precisely the location of each component in the assembled organism. Even scientists use this analogy when explaining to laymen how DNA is the master code for the body. Actually it is not an analogue of a blueprint.

All genes do is code for the creation of proteins. These proteins in turn are either enzymes that create other biochemicals, or form part of the structure of the organism. What is also needed is a timing mechanism, that turns the genes on and off. Nature is very parsimonious. There is a constant reuse of some protein or structure on larger scales for new purposes in new species. The various mutational and gene replication and mixing processes create the opportunity for totally new processes and proteins and constantly new combinations. Survival is then the means by which these are weeded out. As noted above those things or combinations that create a slight advantage will, over time, become fixed and dominant in a population.

And here, regarding Dr. Vallicella's use of the phrase "cosmic accident":

The connotations of cosmic accident are taken into a normative context, when they were defined in a factual context. Here there is an equating of an accidental collocation with an evolutionary process. The two are not the same at all. A collocation of rocks is a truly random process. Nothing selected for the collocation, it just happened. An evolved organism has been subjected to constant pressure to survive. That it is the sum of events that occurred randomly once and now are conserved and controlled by the internal environment of the organism places it in a different category altogether.

It's a post that deserves careful study. Bill is a theist while I'm a nontheist, but we both agree that Intelligent Design is on shaky ground. As a buddy of mine used to say in response to the creationist contention that evolution is "only a theory": "No, evolution is a fact. The theories all deal with the mechanisms of evolution." I think that about sums it up.


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