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Tuesday, November 02, 2004


Evolution vs. ID Round 9 - Defining Victory

In an attempt to stay sane on this Election Day, I have been studiously avoiding as much political news as possible. So, here's what I've been thinking about instead...

In Round 5 I wrote the following:

Now we see systems to which we cannot ascribe intermediate states and so some conclude that they were actively designed by an intelligent force. In the future, we may very well find that intermediate state, disproving at least one example in support of ID. But would that really be the case? Would we really only be disproving one example in support of ID? I would argue that finding a single example refuting even one system previously 'shown' to be IC would destroy the entire system and relegate Intelligent Design to its own place in the trash bin of history. Why? Read on.
From there I basically argue that since ID has no positive arguments (only negative ones against Evolution, etc.) and so disproving any one of Behe's Irreducibly Complex examples would destroy the whole hypothesis. While there is some merit to that reasoning, let me revise that somewhat...

In remainder of this post I will try to define what Victory might look like if the Theory of Evolution wins. I'll hold off defining what an ID victory might look like for now. I'm interested to see what you IDers might think before polluting the discussion with my own thoughts. I should mention, however, that disproving the validity of Evolution does not constitute a Victory for ID. Not only must the IDers show that Evolution is lacking...but they must also show that ID is sufficient to explain Life (or at least the aspects of Life to which IDers would ascribe ID).

I think the best way to define victory for the theory of Evolution is to take on Michael Behe. Why? Simply put, I think Dr. Behe provides some of the best and most reasonable critiques and challenges to Evolution I have yet had the pleasure of encountering. Essentially, he seems to take the position that natural selection acting on genetic variation (a.k.a. Evolution) can produce many of the aspects of Life as we know it. His problem with Evolution is that there are some systems that, he claims, cannot be produced by gradual change. He calls these systems Irreducibly Complex because they are functional only as a whole and (apparently) have no function otherwise. Therefore, he reasons, these systems cannot have been produced by Evolution and must have come into existence via Intelligent Design. (See here for some further discussion of the potential pitfalls of the Irreducibly Complex argument.)

In his book, Darwin's Black Box, Dr. Behe goes into great depth about various systems he considers Irreducibly Complex (IC). The details are not important here, but only the fact that he identifies a number of these systems. Obviously, it is quite possible that any number of these supposedly-IC systems might turn out to be Reducibly Complex, and therefore able to be produced by Evolution. Such an example would not win the argument for Evolution, since there would still be other, supposedly-IC, systems that 'could not' be produced by Evolution.

However, proving that all of Behe's supposedly-IC systems in that particular book would not even definitively win the argument because someone might very well come up with more.

So, I suppose that I would be willing to settle for proving that just a few of Behe's example systems are non-IC. That would at least demonstrate that even someone as intelligent and dedicated as Dr. Behe is not able to definitely identify an IC system. That being the case, it would be safe to conclude that there are no solid criteria for inclusion in the list of IC systems and, therefore, the very existence of IC systems would be called into serious question. That being the case, it would be far safer to assume that all systems have the potential to be produced by Evolution and the only reason a system might appear otherwise is that our knowledge is currently lacking. That would be about as close to Victory as I can readily imagine.

I would love to hear from anyone with thoughts on this. I would especially like to hear from IDers concerned with defining what Victory might look like for their side. Feel free to email or leave your thoughts in the Comments.

Happy Evolving, IDing and/or Voting =).


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