March 6, 2006

Biology as a Rorschach blot

One of the most odious, but important, tasks facing critics of creationism is the need to clarify the distortions of both scientific, and personal, observations of biologists put forth by creationists. It happens with regularity that provisional statements are interpreted as evidential, and ideological speculations are repeated as representative of scientific consensus.

Of course this all depends on convenience to the creationist argument. And ID creationists are no better than their less slick brethren on this score.

At Telic Thoughts, one of the contributors – “MikeGene” – has seen fit to interpret a recent Geerat Vermeij paper as supporting the notion of front-loading of evolutionary information (Michael Behe has been a proponent of this view, which appears to require an intelligent, um…loader?).

The entirety of the post follows,
Krauze first brought Geerat Vermeij’s paper to our attention. There is a nice summary found here. The best excerpt from the article?

“Most of the unique innovations — with the exception of human language — are ancient, more than half a billion years old.” (GV)

Now, now, I’ll bet its older than that. ;)

The plausibility of front-loading evolution continues to grow.
Of course there’s nothing in the article that would support the idea of the front-loading of information for evolutionary development, anymore than it bolsters the plausibility of an absent-minded maker accidentally knocking over a bowl of primordial soup and saying – “Okay, I’ll go with that.” It requires an a priori commitment to a particular metaphysical mindset to take such an extrapolation from what Vermeij is saying.

Nor is what Vermeij suggesting particularly earth-shaking. Though he apparently differs from Gould on the idea that if the tape of life were replayed the resultant iteration would be vastly different (with intelligence not necessarily even appearing), we should note that the difference is one of scale, not kind, contrary to the implications in the article. Though Gould’s stochastic argument was surely intended to shock our complacent assumption of inevitability...
“'We are an improbable and fragile entity,” […] “We are a thing, an item of history, not an embodiment of general principles,” […] “Homo sapiens is an entity, not a tendency.” (S.J. Gould, Wonderful Life)
...he never argued that during the replay natural selection might not hit upon similar adaptive solutions to environmental demands. This is the point made by Vermeij. True, he does appear to propose specifics,
“Vermeij argues that some innovations, such as photosynthesis, plant seeds, mineralized bones and even human language are just such good ideas that they would reappear, although at different times and in somewhat different forms.”
But the language is clearly provisional. And in the final analysis, if what he is suggesting is mildly provocative, it is recognizable as speculation, not evidence, “MikeGene’s” predilections notwithstanding.
"If we had an Earth-like planet, I think we'd see phenotypes and outcomes that parallel those on Earth."
There is no support here for the “plausibility of front-loading of evolution.” There is recognition here of natural law, the limits of biological possibilities, and environmental exigency.

It would be nice if proponents of creationism would have the integrity not to treat science as a gigantic inkblot, in which they are justified to perceive anything their presuppositions allow.

3 Comments:

Blogger Jim51 said...

This idea of "front-loading" is new to me. I have seen some discussion/mentions of it in blogs but I have not come across it in my study of Biology and origins. Can you point me (and others like me) to some material which would explain this idea? I would like to understand what people think this idea is and what it might imply.

10:04 AM  
Blogger RLC said...

jim51

Like most of ID "theory" front-loading is an ambiguous bit of jargon intended to suggest scientific credibility. It can be indistinguishable from theistic evolution or empirically detectable in molecular systems - depending upon who you ask.

Dembski discussed front-loading in No Free Lunch and others, including Behe and Jay Richards have lauded its usefulness to ID to one degree or another.

Of course as front-loading is merely another way of smuggling extra-natural agency into scientific inferences you will not find it in legitimate treatments of biological origins. But you can start a casual study of its value to the ID movement here - http://telicthoughts.com/?p=573

11:24 AM  
Blogger Jim51 said...

Thanks for the pointer. I have found some expanations of front-loading.
Without having given it a lot of thought or deeper analysis my first reaction would be that the "evidence" for front-loading would be difficult to distinguish from evidence of exaptation.

1:42 PM  

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