General Question

orlando's avatar

Why is evolution more scientific than Intelligent design?

Asked by orlando (624 points ) March 16th, 2014

While evolution [as in the process] itself is a well established fact, the theory behind the mechanism of evolution is not. Many people [myself included] believe it is highly unlikely that life in all its complexities could have occurred without the guidance of a higher intelligence. This line of thought does not dispute the definition of evolution as “change over time” or that living things are related by common ancestry. However, we do believe that the natural world is too complex and diverse to have occurred through random processes.

On the other hand, many scientists and a large segment of population in Western industrialized countries believe that evolution is a random and not a guided process and that life spontaneously emerged from [again] random interactions of inorganic matter.

To quote Elie Wiesel Foundation Nobel Laureates Initiative: ”...evolution is understood to be the result of an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection… In contrast, intelligent design is fundamentally unscientific; it cannot be tested as scientific theory because its central conclusion is based on belief in the intervention of a supernatural agent.”

Now, the problem as I see it, is that both of these theories [random evolution and guided evolution or the so called intelligent design] cannot be tested as scientific theories as both of them stand on a central metaphysical assumption or beliefs, and not on observable scientific facts.

Or am I missing something and there really exists hard, replicable scientific evidence acquired through experiment and observation that proves evolution is random and unguided? If so can you direct me towards it? Thanks.

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

52 Answers

jaytkay's avatar

Why is electricity more scientific than intelligent design?

If you want to believe that God guided evolution in a way consistent with observed reality, that has nothing to do with science. Science is not trying to disprove your belief. Or prove it, either.

bolwerk's avatar

You’re abusing the word “theory,” using it as we use it in day-to-day language. A “theory” is not supposed to be a well-established fact. In science-speak, a theory is a framework of generalizations that describes how things work. Theories are informed by facts, observations, laws, and experimental data. Sometimes we even have theories pretty much work that we know are wrong because the information informing them has changed.

You’re also torturing probability. Just because things happened a certain way doesn’t mean it was ever probable for them to happen the way they did. Nothing about evolution says things had to turn out the way they did. You’re really unlikely to get four coin flips on heads in a row, but you can’t pretend it can’t happen after it did happen. After the fact, probability collapses.

Intelligent design is not “scientific” at all. It’s not a theory. It’s a belief. It’s an assumption, usually. There is no evidence for it other than the people who want it to be true want to find reasons why it could be true, so they employ rationalization. Its proposition, while not even necessarily contradicting evolution if taken charitably, makes a claim that is completely beyond the tools of science to investigate.

Here’s the best thing they got: I guess nobody has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that God doesn’t exist. However, it was once noted that it would be better for his reputation if He didn’t. But intelligent design doesn’t belong in a science class anymore than medieval medical literature about humors does.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I’ll leave it to others to go through the same explanations. None will convince you to change your opinion, so I won’t try. I will, however, give you a little different view.

If it was “intelligent design”, and life in all its versions was sculpted and controlled by a higher power, you have no idea what is coming next. It is out of your hands.

If you believe in science and the creativity of man, you have hope for a better life. Better foods, better medicines, gene therapy, viruses delivering payloads to cure diseases, etc. Read about the latest CCR5 gene work to cure AIDS. Yep. I said it: CURE. Look up Timothy Ray Brown. If you want to say the intelligent designer guided the hands of the scientists that did the work, and arranged for the government funding that paid for it, fine. That is open for discussion not certain. One thing is certain, the scientists were not looking in an ancient tome to figure out how to make that gene modification. They used scientific method. Fortunately for all of us, they will continue to study and develop techniques so we can be helped when the next disease or antibiotic resistant bacterium evolves.

I just presented you with two world views: one takes fate out of your hands, and one presents hope. I know which world view I prefer.

NanoNano's avatar

I have no disagreement with your first paragraph.

In regard to your last paragraph: There is evidence against randomness in evolution, and Darwin’s initial theory is no longer considered entirely valid. The theory has undergone changes.

Evolution is a very broad theory and some aspects of it are solidly founded on factual evidence and other aspects are largely wishful thinking (ie.fantasy).

But I’m not going to get into the debate here. If you want to discuss it privately that’s fine.

orlando's avatar

Let me repeat my statement and question as you all seem to have missed it or are avoiding it.

Based on the criteria of scientific method, the theory of random [non-guided] evolution is as scientific as the theory of intelligent design [guided evolution] is.

We could also say that both of these are merely metaphysical assumptions and neither of them has been proven or disproven by scientific inquiry. Therefore we could also say are both just two competing beliefs.

I support the scientific method and research and think we could resolve this issue by applying scientific method and show that evolution is or was indeed a random and un-guided process. I think this would be extremely important as randomness is a central claim and assumption of this theory.

But this research has not yet happen or has materialized. There is no scientific evidence or research supporting it [if there is, can you please direct me towards this research]?

Therefore, if this basic assumption of random evolution cannot be scientifically tested and proven it is by its very nature unscientific. So why would this theory be any more scientific or less of a belief then the theory of guided evolution is?

NanoNano's avatar

No theory is ever fully proven. The goal of science is to gather evidence. A theory can always be overthrown in the light of new evidence.

The scientific method is also only one way of acquiring knowledge. There are many others, equally as valid.

How many people use the scientific method to find someone to fall in love with? But would you discount love as being a myth, or something of no inherent value?

In terms of “randomness” you are getting into statistics and probability and that comes up against the same kind of limits that scientific research itself will always face.

That is, you can only validate the liklihood of something with a very large sample base to draw upon. (Randomness and probability have no predictive validity whatsoever if you are considering one or two individual choices where anything can happen). Ask a poker player about this and you’ll get a lecture on “variance.”

In evolutionary theory for instance, much of what we know is based on the fossil record. But again, in some respects the fossil record is very revelatory. In others, conclusions drawn by evolutionary biologists from what they haven’t found, are pure fantasy.

bolwerk's avatar

@orlando: You’re still torturing scientific concepts. There is absolutely zero evidence for any “guided” evolution. There is observable evidence that evolution has occurred over time; shrugging off “randomness” and insisting there had to be a “guide” is injecting something not supported by any, well, anything.* Scientific method and observation have both supplied adequate evidence for the presence of natural selection without any need to depend on anything spooky or mysterious.

Scientific method (experiment) is one tool for discovery of information and, yes, it has limited, but still far-reaching, application to evolution. If you have an experiment in mind to test intelligent design, let’s hear it! Or at least have some other empirical evidence. Otherwise, be satisfied that intelligent design belongs to the realms of theology or maybe philosophy. Notice I’m not saying “intelligent design” is not true; that’s a completely different discussion. It’s just not science, and it should not be treated as science in classrooms. Likewise, natural selection/evolution says nil about God for good reasons.

* What are you proposing here? That God is watching us, doing things like making volcanoes erupt when a population of people with undesirable genetic traits lives nearby? What a nice Guy. Er, Guide!

NanoNano's avatar

orlando:

These are closing remarks for me and if you want to continue this discussion I will do so in private. But these online debates get out of hand.

There are basically two levels to evolutionary theory now as regards species emergence. One is a sort of “micro-evolution” that many in the creationist/ID camp would simply call “adaptability.” This is what Darwin witnessed in the Galapagos. Birds of the same species growing different lengths of bills etc. to accomodate different types of flowers on different islands.

The second kind of evolutionary species emergence is the larger aspect one, evolving from the lower levels to the more advanced stages. In the fossil record, there is absolutely zero evidence for this.

There is evidence in the fossil record, well documented, of how species have similar structures (you can compare a whale to a fish to a bird to a human at the embryonic stage and at later stages and there are very similar biological components there…) This is well documented.

But there are no transitional fossils in the fossil record. That is, failed mutations – and there needs to be literally trillions of them, showcasing random failures over millions of years as one species adapts and transitions into a new one.

Instead, what we find in the fossil record is fully intact, fully functional fossils with no failed, vestigial organs or structures of any kind.

In terms of the evidence, in regard to the origin of species as this particular aspect of evolutionary theory, the fossil record is actually strongly against. such a process.

What we see in the fossil record is in fact a connection between all species on the planet, a similar base from which they are built you might say. (Just like we can look at anything human beings build whether cars, houses, washing machines, you name it, and regardless of the corner of the globe from which they are manufactured, they all have similar base structures and technologies). This is what supports intelligent design. This evidence is blatant, and obvious. But it is denied by many evolutionary biologists because they believe it them means they will have to “get religion” so to speak.

I’m done.

Will check in later.

ragingloli's avatar

There are A LOT transitional fossils in the fossil record.
http://www.transitionalfossils.com/

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
LuckyGuy's avatar

No. There will not be a debate, either privately or publicly.
The next time you are sick from the latest disease look for solution in whatever ancient text you trust.
I will thank a scientist.

By the way, I am looking at a test plot of genetically modified switchgrass that was intelligently designed by scientists at Ceres Inc. Look up Ceres E1102. It has the energy equivalent of 800 gallons of oil per acre. In a few years you might be heating your home with it. That crop did not come over on the ark. It was created in the lab by scientists who studied biology, chemistry, and physics and believed they have the power to make a difference the world.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@LuckyGuy Your arguments on this thread are all coming from an appeal to authority. They do nothing to explain why intelligent design is not scientific.

Now, if you want to explain that the reason bacteria become resistant to antibiotics is because of evolution, then you have a case.

And can we please stop talking about macroevolution and microevolution as if they are two different things? This is a creationist red herring. The processes are exactly the same.

gasman's avatar

First off, you confuse the origin of life with evolutionary biology. Darwinian evolution explains how life—once the first reproducing cells arose—developed into the diversity of organisms seen today. Evolution does not concern itself with the origin of life, which remains one of the major unsolved problems of science (abiogenesis). Even so there is no doubt that the emergence of complexity (life from non-life, in this case) violates no laws of physics.

Random variation (now understood at a molecular level) is a central mechanism of Darwinism. Natural selection, another key feature, is driven by survival of genes (read, e.g., Dawkins’s books) and is anything but random! The beauty of Darwin’s theory is how a simple mechanism effectively explains all of biology. “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” (Dobzhansky 1973). Meanwhile mountains of evidence have validated the theory beyond question—except by those who don’t or won’t understand it—even by the time of the 1925 Scopes trial.

As for “intelligent design,” @orlando, you should recognize that this is by nature an unscientific concept. This buzz-phrase was invented by latter-day creationists because “God did it” wasn’t working. However you invoke religion, pre-supposing the existence of a deity capable of pulling off all of creation by snapping his fingers is a bold claim indeed considering a complete lack of evidence. Who created the creator? Where did all THAT complexity come from? We descend in an endless regress of intellectually bankrupt questions. In the end believers must accept on faith alone, including the notion that God planted phony evidence to deliberately mislead the unfaithful.

I’m afraid there is only one physical reality revealed to us by careful observation and logical inference, and God is not part of it.

kritiper's avatar

Before you ponder whether evolution or intelligent design is the final answer to your query, apply the same logic to how the intelligent designer happened to be designed or came to be.
Science looks at facts, or the most logical reasoning as can be determined by the facts. Intelligent design assumes (without questioning the designer’s origin or the designers ability to create or “design”) that the designer exists, and that is not scientific.

LostInParadise's avatar

As I understand it, you accept that evolution occurred. I think we can agree that the evidence for evolution is overwhelming in both the fossil record and in the examination of the comparative biochemistry of existing organisms. Evolution is not some fanciful idea that scientists speculate about. It is a highly useful tool that is constantly being used to make new discoveries.

The question is whether the mutations leading to evolution occurred through random processes or because God set up the universe starting from the Big Bang so as to cause mutations in such a way as to bring about evolution. I personally am an atheist, but if you are willing to accept evolution then I really do not think the distinction between our points of view is worth arguing over. It is curious though that if evolution was brought about by intelligent design that God has done such a good job of making things appear to be at random. For example, most of the species that have ever existed are now extinct, in line with the idea of random mutations. Why would God want to do that? Are all those many extinct branches of the tree of evolution mistakes?

stanleybmanly's avatar

kritiper hit the nail on the head. The effort to explain existence as the result of machinations by a being beyond explanation must be resisted, if for no other reason than it is ” the lazy man’s answer”. It’s always been the cop out for things not understood, and invariably proven not to be the case EVERY TIME. Once you assign divine intervention responsibility for the creation of life, you’re stuck with determining at what point things were set in order to achieve the story that science has struggles to uncover. It is rapidly becoming clear that no effort was required after “Let there be light”, and I have no doubt that even that frontier will go the way of Zeus hurling thunderbolts.

Vincentt's avatar

So I think your basic point is: what constitutes science, and perhaps related, what constitutes knowledge? Which I think is a very fair point to make, and something I think people should be thinking about more often, especially those working in science. So firstly, good job on asking this question :)

A theory that has resonated with me is Poppers, of falsifiability. According to him, science should primarily be falsifiable. In other words: a theory is not valid unless you can think of a way to disprove it. You should be able to set up an experiment of which you predict, using the theory, that one thing will happen, but where something else would happen if the theory was invalid. This means there is no absolute knowledge: we cannot know for sure there is gravity, as we might one day drop something and not have it fall to the ground, falsifying the theory. However, considering the enormous amount of experiments we have done to try and falsify it, it is very likely that there is something like it working.

Intelligent design, like, for example, Pastafarianism, is not falsifiable. There is no way you can prove there not to be some creator, who chooses not to reveal himself – because if you can’t find it, that just means it he doesn’t want himself to be found.

Evolution could, I think, be argued to suffer from the same to some extent – we by definition do not survive for multiple generations. However, experiments can be done on animals that reproduce quickly, that keep on showing the predicted results.

I would also like to add a personal anecdote. As a student of artificial intelligence, I have created models that adhere to the basic tenets of evolutionary theory. Time and time again, this has proven to produce complex behaviour without any form of guidance, and including a random element. These you could call the observable facts you are looking for. Although I would argue that this might not really allow for falsifying the theory, they are a nice touch of personal experience ;-)

LuckyGuy's avatar

@dappled_leaves I mentioned that I was not going to argue or even get into it. The believer’s decisions are already made and they will not be changed. I do not waste my time. I offered a couple of points that are not in the creationist/intelligent design playbook.

I choose science and I find it explains a lot more about how the world works than the “lazy man’s answer ” @stanleybmanly so eloquently mentioned above.

Of course you are free to believe what you want. I would never tell a 4 year old that Santa isn’t real or there is no Easter Bunny. On the other hand I would never let a 4 year old work in a laboratory developing the next generation drugs, food, and lifeforms that have made, and continue to make our world a better place.

Peace.

ragingloli's avatar

As for guided evolution,
Why would an allegedly perfect god create a system for the diversification of life (evolution), and create it so imperfectly, that it is forced to constantly intervene to get the outcome he wants?
Would not a perfect god set up the system of evolution in a way, that it would just have to start it, and the system would yield the desired outcome without any additional intervention?
It is quite curious.
By insisting that god had to create the universem and life via magical incantations, instead of the processes uncovered by cosmology and evolutionary biology, they make their god so much smaller and insignificant than it could be.
Is not a massive expansion of spacetime, followed by condensation of gas into stars and stars assembling into galaxies, supernovae spreading heavier elements into the cosmos, enabling the formation of our solar system, so much more impressive and grand than a mundane “let there be light”?

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
SavoirFaire's avatar

@orlando The short answer to both of your questions (your title and your final paragraph ask different things, whether you realize it or not) is that intelligent design fails in at least two important ways. The first is that it violates Occam’s razor. This is a fundamental principle of explanation, and a hypothesis is more scientific than some alternative if it better adheres to the principle. Thus the fact that we have no need for the entities posited by intelligent design is itself evidence in favor of the random/unguided model of evolution.

Second, intelligent design is inconsistent with the available evidence. Every bit of suboptimal design—cancer, vestigial organs, unnecessary blind spots in the eye, microbial invaders that kill themselves by killing their host—is observable evidence against the hypothesis. And even if intelligence were compatible with some level of suboptimality, it is not compatible with the sheer amount of suboptimal design found in the world. The best explanation for what we see is random, unguided evolution.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@LuckyGuy I see what you’re trying to do… I’m just saying that using a fallacious argument is probably not the best way to achieve it.

For the record, I am a scientist – not a 4 year old who believes in Santa.

XOIIO's avatar

Evidence vs blind belief. It’s as simple as that.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

One of the fundamental features of a scientific theory is that it can be (potentially) falsified. Intelligent Design is based on the belief that some unobservable presumed higher power directs change in species. The underlying premise of ID is impossible to falsify and thus it is not a scientific theory.

Darth_Algar's avatar

@NanoNano “But there are no transitional fossils in the fossil record. That is, failed mutations – and there needs to be literally trillions of them, showcasing random failures over millions of years as one species adapts and transitions into a new one.
Instead, what we find in the fossil record is fully intact, fully functional fossils with no failed, vestigial organs or structures of any kind.”

Lolwut? The history of the Earth is littered with ultimately failed mutations, as something like 95% of all species that have ever lived are now extinct. And there are many vestigial organs/structures on the human body alone. The appendix, wisdom teeth, goose bumps, the tailbone, nipples on males, to name a few. None of these serve any function in modern humans yet we still have them.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Because evolution is a scientific discovery. Intelligent design is a personal opinion.

Smashley's avatar

You’re doing the classic thing where you say “Your explanation is Explanation #1 but mine is Explantion A.” You imply that your position, which you interpret as being the only option besides the predominant one (it isn’t), must be considered to be equally valid. You then dispense any argument for either of them and shrug “Well, it’s just a coin flip then, isn’t it? A 50% chance I’m right.”

Random mutation happens now. We can observe it now.
Intelligent design has never been observed.

gorillapaws's avatar

The short answer is: Evolution is falsifiable. Intelligent design isn’t. Science ONLY deals with falsifiable hypotheses.

Also I think you’re conflating evolution and abiogenesis.

Bill1939's avatar

Because of the number of responses, I stopped reading after the first dozen or so. Therefore I may be repeating something others have said.

The problem I have accepting the notion of intelligent design is that it is dependent upon conceiving a creator that has the same form of intelligence that people (and other animals) have. While I tend to believe a spiritual force (see other posts by me for my definition of spirit) that is present in scientific laws known and unknown makes the ongoing creation of the cosmos possible, I cannot accept the idea that this force has an intent or purpose for creation.

orlando's avatar

Thank you all. This is becoming a very interesting an engaging debate and I very much appreciate the high quality of your argument and input. I hope we can continue to keep it civil and interesting.

***

@bolwerk you mentioned that there is absolutely zero evidence for any “guided” evolution, but can’t we on the other hand can say the same for un-guided evolution? There is zero evidence that evolution is random and un-guided. Saying that there is no need to depend on guidance in evolution is not the same as supporting this statement empirically. It’s only a metaphysical assumption without any empirical evidence and can therefore be put in the same category of theology or philosophy as guided evolution (intelligent design).

***

@gasman, what I am trying to show is that even randomness in evolution is a belief and a metaphysical assumption and not an empirically proven fact. There is nothing wrong with that, but I do mind being it sold as a superior concept to intelligent design. I would not mind if the superiority of it would be based on empirical evidence, but a closer inspection of this evidence (see also below) shows it is not.

***

@LostInParadise you assume that extinctions of species is an evidence for randomness but not for guided design. I could argue that the creator thrives on diversity, creating as many different life forms as possible and then destroying them to make place for new species to evolve. Therefore this ‘evidence’ IMO is not really solid. But good thinking.

***

@Vincentt great thoughts, thanks. You mentioned that Intelligent design is not falsifiable (true), but neither is the statement of non-guidance and randomness in evolution, as you also observed yourself. Experiments on animals that you mentioned and which show that they reproduce quickly and keep on showing the predicted results does not in any way show an empirical evidence for randomness in evolution.

And that is my claim through my question. That both of these theories are nothing more but metaphysical assumptions and therefore neither of them is more valid scientifically than the other.

Can you guide me towards more research in AI models that would support randomness in evolution? Thanks.

***

@SavoirFaire thanks. Very good arguments, one of the best! You stated that intelligent design violates Occam’s razor principle of parsimony and that the fact that we have no need for the entities posited by intelligent design is itself evidence in favor of the random/unguided model of evolution.

But a closer look shows that this is not really empirical evidence is it? It is again just a metaphysical assumption. If you read your Wikipedia link you will see that yourself. To quote: “In the scientific method, parsimony is an epistemological, METAPHYSICAL or heuristic PREFERENCE, not an irrefutable principle of logic or a scientific result.”

You also mentioned that intelligent design is inconsistent with the available evidence. Looking at that evidence we again encounter another metaphysical assumption and not really any empirical evidence. That “evidence” is an “Argument from poor design” that states “if ‘creation’ contains many defects, then design is not a plausible theory for the origin of our existence”. Again this is an interesting argument, but not an empirically supported one. It is again based on a mere metaphysical assumption that if creator existed it would have designed things ‘optimally’, and since things are not optimal, Creator does not exist. A good philosophical argument, but a poor scientific one.

Defects you mentioned (design—cancer, vestigial organs, unnecessary blind spots in the eye, microbial invaders that kill themselves by killing their host) is again evidence against hypothesis of a ‘perfect designer creating a perfect design’ but not really against intelligent or a guided design.

***

@Dr_Lawrence and @gorillapaws you mentioned that scientific theory is one that can be (potentially) falsified and/or make testable predictions with. I agree. But is it not randomness in evolution also impossible to falsify as much as guidance in evolution is? Therefore what makes this theory scientific and the intelligent design not scientific?

Again I’m not arguing against scientific theory of evolution, but against empirical evidence for randomness that is part of it’s claim. I’m arguing that this randomness is just as much a metaphysical assumption that cannot be proved, as much as guidance or intelligence in design/evolution is, therefore neither of these theories is really scientific.

Or am I overlooking something?

dappled_leaves's avatar

@orlando I think you are confusing being “scientific” with being “right”.

There is no way to prove that evolution through natural selection is right.
There is no way to prove that intelligent design is right, either.

For this reason, I am always stunned that young earth creationists insist that evolution cannot be real. Intelligent design is an obvious, unassailable rationalisation for evolution for any theist.

However, you did not ask which was right. You asked which was scientific.

Evolution is the theory that has been built through careful observation and experiment. It is a mechanism for speciation that fits all of the evidence we have. This is a scientific theory.

Intelligent design, by contrast, is simply the theory of evolution with one extra requirement: that a deity set the thing in motion and guided it along the way. This idea did not come from observation or experiment. It comes from religious faith. It is not science.

If there were no such thing as Christianity, no science would or could have led to the conclusion that intelligent design were responsible for speciation. It is an utterly top-down approach, and no alternatives to the Christian god will be entertained by its proponents. Nothing about that is scientific.

SecondHandStoke's avatar

Is Krusty the Clown real?

Who can say?

He appears in so called literature but that doesn’t constitute proof.

Wasting scientific resources attempting to prove or disprove his existence is foolish and impossible.

God is omniscient. History has shown that humans will eventually know everything.

Then we can correctly consider ourselves to be God.

gasman's avatar

@orlando: …what I am trying to show is that even randomness in evolution is a belief and a metaphysical assumption and not an empirically proven fact.

Randomness a belief? We understand the scientific concept of random genetic mutation & genetic drift quite well. There is no mystery and no doubt that it occurs, and there’s a comprehensive molecular explanation for it. Belief and assumption are not required—it’s been observed since antiquity and understood since the 19th century.

The idea that science is “just another belief system” is a creationist mantra that betrays a lack of understanding of what we know and how we know it—the usual goals of science education unfortunately lost on many students.

bolwerk's avatar

@orlando: ”...but can’t we on the other hand can say the same for un-guided evolution…”: no, @SavoirFaire gave pretty good reason why. Since unguided natural selection is, in fact, observable, I’m not even sure why Occam’s Razor needs to be applied, which is why I didn’t mention it. Well, speaking of unprovable ideological handouts, it doesn’t apply unless you want to argue there is an invisible hand involved every time we observe natural selection in action. But, at that point, we’re getting silly. And that’s still not science.

“There is zero evidence that evolution is random and un-guided”: you’re overstating the importance of randomness all over the place. There may be a stochastic element to evolution in the form of gene selection and epigenetic changes, but natural selection is also driven by observable patterns in nature – which range from the weather to sexual behavior. And there are “random” events that will effect natural selection; in a drought, organisms with the best adaption for surviving without water will be most likely to survive to pass on their genes. Or are you saying God causes droughts, which in turn cause natural selection? Perfectly plausible!

Saying that there is no need to depend on guidance in evolution is not the same as supporting this statement empirically.”: again, at least some evolution/natural selection is observable. If there is some reason to think we need to establish the presence of a guide, the onus is on you to explain that reason for it to be scientific.

“It’s only a metaphysical assumption without any empirical evidence and can therefore be put in the same category of theology or philosophy as guided evolution (intelligent design)”: @gorillapaws probably gave the most succinct answer so far: intelligent design simply can’t be science because it is not falsifiable. Science isn’t the only form of knowledge, but there isn’t even a flimsy case to be made that intelligent design is science.

gorillapaws's avatar

@orlando Evolution is falsifiable. We could discover fossilized dino-poop with human DNA in it tomorrow and it would prove that dinosaurs and humans existed at the same time. All it would take is one verified find to upset the entire notion of evolution. Every single pice of evidence found to date, living and dead, has supported the hypothesis.

If God(s) were behind the whole thing, any contrary evidence to intelligent design could be explained away as he/she/it made it that way to deceive us. There is no way to argue against that, it’s not falsifiable.

Anything that isn’t falsifiable isn’t Science. It may or may not be true, but it isn’t in the domain of science (just like creative writing, philosophy and religion aren’t in the domain of science).

pleiades's avatar

“Let me repeat my statement and question as you all seem to have missed it or are avoiding it.”

OF COURSE EVERYONE ELSE IS WRONG!!! IT ALWAYS COMES DOWN TO THIS IN YOUR WORLD RIGHT?

Intelligent design as we know thus far cannot be measured in any way, size shape or form. Evolution is based on things we can measure, things that can actually be recorded as data to come to some sort of conclusion. The two nouns are on different spectrums of belief reality and reality it self.

Buttonstc's avatar

@orlando

I see a good deal of people talking past each other in this thread.

So, let me ask you one clarifying question: in addition to your belief in the phrase “intelligent design” are you a Young Earth Creationist?

If NOT then you really need to clarify more precisely what you mean by that term.

I am a Theist but I would never associate myself with the term “intelligent design” because that phrase is usually associated with those who not only deny evolution but insist that the Earth is less than ten thousand years old, ie: YECs (Young Earth Creationists).

Personally, I think the YEC scenario is quite simply untenable in light of all the scientific evidence to the contrary.

The YECs are the most loudly vocal contingent of those who are anti-science and anti-evolution and they have claimed for themselves the use of the descriptor intelligent design, unfortunately.

If you do believe in YEC, then that’s the end of the conversation for me because I’ve been down this road too many times before.

But, if not, then say so clearly and I think that might bring some clarity to exactly what is being discussed.

I think that both @gorillapaws and RealEyes have interesting comments regarding that.

Please clarify your stance re: YEC. Thank you.

orlando's avatar

Current evidence shows that evolution happens over successive generations through the mechanisms of natural selection, mutation and genetic drift. This is all completely scientific as it is also falsifiable. There is nothing to argue about here.

BUT again there is an implied and unproven assumption that all this is a random and un-guided process. Which is fine as a statement, but it is not a scientific one, but a metaphysical one. This is the only thing that I want to show here.

@bolwerk, the reason I’m ‘overstating’ the importance of randomness is because randomness is the only thing differentiating non-guided evolution from the guided evolution (inteligent design).

***

@gasman, the existence of random mutations as such do not prove that evolution is a random, non-guided event. Random mutations that represent the basic principle of neo-Darwinian theory of evolution are known to be in most instances harmful and are an unlikely source of advantageous changes. Moreover emergence of a new species would require a highly improbably combination of a number of very specific mutations. In many instances the transitional forms leading to new organs would not offer evolutionary advantages (Johnson 1993, Grof 1998).

Nature also often supported the emergence of forms that represent an evolutionary disadvantage. For example the beautiful tail of the peacock clearly makes the male more vulnerable to predators. As Philip Johnson (1993) pointed out, this situation is certainly more compatible with the concept of intelligent divine creation that with the Darwinian theory that gives all credit to blind material forces (Grof 1998).

***

@gorillapaws, yes evolution is falsifiable, but the claim that it is a completely random and un-guided event is not. And yes, I agree with you that anything that isn’t falsifiable isn’t science.

***

@Buttonstc, no I am not a Young Earth Creationists. What I mean by the term of intelligent design is that evolution is and has been guided by a higher intelligence.

bolwerk's avatar

@orlando: so you are saying all randomness is guided by a supernatural intelligence? Every coin flip? Every path of every bolt of lightning? Every splash?

Buttonstc's avatar

@orlando

I’m glad to hear that. Then there is room for discussion :)

Are you really aware of the degree to which such a simple term “intelligent design” has been almost totally co-opted by the YEC anti-evolution movement which is making so much noise about what is taught in schools?

I think that’s why you’re getting as much pushback as you have in this Q. That term alone tends to obscure your basic point.

The other point I’d like to make is that, although many atheists who obviously believe in evolution, do not believe that a creator is involved. there are many many evolutionists who are also people of faith and naturally assume a creator as part of it.

To try to persuade someone who does not accept the existence of God that evolution could not have taken place without a creator is an exercise in futility. Because evolution, in and of itself, can hum along just fine once begun.

Its the beginning of it all which you’re discussing rather than the process itself.

You’re speaking to the question of the ORIGIN of life more than evolution, per se.

And scientists, whether Theist or Atheist will usually freely acknowledge, as Neil D. Tyson did at the conclusion of the first episode of his reboot of “Cosmos”:
————————————————————-
“Life began.. some three and a half billion years ago on our little world. We still don’t know how life got started… The origin of life is one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of science”
————————————————————

That’s a direct quote from a reputable scientist.

But, just for balance:

“Rather than painting science and religion as diametrically opposed to each other, Tyson said that there are plenty of scientists who believe in God. “The issue there is not religion versus non-religion or religion versus science, the issue there is ideas that are different versus dogma,” he observed.

He continued, “If you start using your scripture, your religious text as a source of your science, that’s where you run into problems, and there is no example of someone reading their scripture and saying ‘I have a prediction about the world that no one knows yet because this gave me insight.

Enlightened religious people know this, and don’t try to use the Bible as a textbook,” he concluded.
——————————————————
All in all that’s a pretty fair assessment all around.

Our current culture is very fond of constantly pitting science and faith against each other. That isn’t necessary since each, by and large, answer different questions.

gorillapaws's avatar

@orlando Actually randomness is testable/falsifiable. There are statistical techniques for testing randomness so if mutations in DNA (as an example) don’t pass the test for statistical randomness, we can conclude with a high degree of probability that those mutations aren’t random (i.e. falsifying the hypothesis).

LostInParadise's avatar

The main problem with the argument is that it is just a variation on the God of the Gaps. Just because we cannot give a step by step description of how one species evolves into another does not mean that there is no such explanation. Saying that species evolve at the whim of God does not tell us anything. Did God create cats because he likes cuddly animals? Why then are there malaria carrying mosquitoes? The usual response is that, in some sense known only to God, the best of all possible worlds could only be arrived at by creating such mosquitoes. This is a completely vacuous explanation. Not only is it in principle untestable, it contains no usable information. There are no predictions that we can make and no leads to scientific discoveries and no practical applications.

orlando's avatar

@bolwerk, I am not implying that all randomness is guided by a supernatural intelligence. I am applying that ‘random’ mutations that represent one of the basic principles of neo-Darwinian theory of evolution may not be really random, but can be seen as directed or pushed into certain direction from a higher intelligence.

Now this may or may not be true, it is again only a metaphysical assumption, but exactly the same can be said for the claim that these mutations have been random and that therefore evolution is a non-guided event.

Neither of these statements is testable/falsifiable and therefore they are both by definition of scientific enquiry on equal footing = non-scientific and metaphysical. The problem is that first statement is seen as a metaphysical belief, while the second is being sold as scientific fact although it really isn’t (it is also just a metaphysical assumption).

***

@gorillapaws, again I like the quality of your answer. I also agree with you that randomness in certain cases can be testable/falsifiable. But again, the existence of random mutations in DNA as such do not prove (or disprove) that evolution is a random, non-guided event.

Random mutations that represent the basic principle of neo-Darwinian theory of evolution are known to be in most instances harmful and are an unlikely source of advantageous changes. So the hypothesis that evolution is “an unguided, unplanned process [of random variation and natural selection]” is not testable/falsifiable.

***

@Buttonstc, I’m not an American and therefore only marginally aware of the culture wars regarding evolution in your country. So yes, the term “intelligent design” was therefore probably a poor choice of words on my end. A guided evolution might be better?

I also agree that the question on the origin of life is spectacularly more interesting to ponder then the nature of evolution itself is. But I wanted to use this example to show that both the idea of un-guided and the idea of guided evolution are merely equally standing assumptions.

I also like the fact you pointed out that science and religion do not have to be diametrically opposed to each other. Many famous scientists were deep believers in God (Copernicus, Newton, Einstein, etc.).

***

@LostInParadise, a good science will take into consideration all possible avenues of research and will explore them using scientific methods of enquiry. A good scientist would therefore be willing to explore even such marginal issues as past life incarnation possibilities, God, spirits, etc.. while a “scientologist” would simply dismiss them upfront, because they would be in conflict with his mechanistic worldview [paradigm].

This is what is happening in theory of evolution as well. Any idea of guidance or higher intelligence is dismissed upfront, not as much on the weight of empirical evidence (again I’m talking about guidance in evolution not evolution itself), but simply because it contradicts the mindset and worldview of the majority of scientists who live by the credo that God does not exist.

Also, you’re implying that saying that species evolve at the whim of God does not tell us anything. But it can actually tell us a lot. It can tell us God loves diversity and complexity. That he/she/it is an incredibly ingenious artist and creator with fantastic imagination. It can tell us that he/she/it is not just benevolent but also destructive, that it contains both good and evil. It can tell us incredible amount of things.

To me the belief that incredible richness of forms of life on this planet emerged out of nothing, out of dead matter, for no apparent reason and then evolved through complete randomness and coincidence into incredible number of life forms, that live, love, compete, write symphonies… is a much more difficult thing to believe than to believe in some higher intelligence who created it all or at least guided its development.

And again, science has never proved evolution is a random, non-guided event. It is claiming this as a fact, but without any empirical evidence to really back it up. Therefore this is again just a belief.

bolwerk's avatar

@orlando: you can argue there are some metaphysical foundations to science, but the tools of science are not even designed for analyzing metaphysical questions. There is an absence of evidence that a higher intelligence guides or ever guided evolution. That leaves any assumption to the contrary completely unscientific, which covers the scope of your original question.

LostInParadise's avatar

Here is my argument boiled down as far as it can go. A requirement for something to be knowledge is that you can do something with it. Intelligent design does not pass that test. The problem is not that it is or may be untrue. The problem is that it is completely vacuous. It does not make an iota of difference. What do you or anyone else do differently because of belief in intelligent design? If you consider life extraordinary, which it certainly is, it is so on its own merits, with or without God.

As to the difficulty you have in believing complexity arise from randomness, I find it much more difficult to believe in an infinitely complex being than in believing that complexity can arise from simple mechanisms.

The effectiveness of the evolutionary paradigm is in fact a technique that is used in computer programming. Another example of complex behavior arising from simple causes is the way that ants use pheromones to find the shortest path to a food source You can consider these examples as proofs of concept.

Vincentt's avatar

@orlando The randomness in evolutionary theory is not that the direction something will evolve to is random. In fact, in AI simulations, the same (or at least: highly similar) results often appear. The randomness is in the mutations: sometimes, cells mutate, which lead to different behaviour. The trick of evolution is that there are a lot of these, which can be seen with animals that reproduce rapidly, or computational models. Those mutations that result in changes that make one more likely to reproduce are the ones that become more prevalent. This might very well mean that it’s always the same/a similar mutation to occur in a certain situation.

Now, I don’t know much about randomness, and how to prove whether something is truly random (and if that is even possible). However, mutation can be proven to at the very least be a chaotic process. Even if there was such a thing as intelligent design, it would merely ensure that more mutations happen, as we do not observe e.g. only the “right” mutation happening.

As for AI models, I think their main attractiveness is that they prove that evolution works (in fact: it works in situations where guided programming does not work, i.e. where we cannot play the role of the intelligent designer). If you want to see more examples of that, look into the field of evolutionary computing.

Also: really interesting thread. I think it’s great to make sure you stay aware of what is and what is not valuable science.

ragingloli's avatar

Mutations are random.
Natural selection is not.

Darth_Algar's avatar

The problem, @orlando, is that you’re basically asserting a non-observable, non-testable into the science. A random mutation is described and you’re basically saying “you don’t know it’s random, God could have done it, you can’t prove that he didn’t”. Such assertions are worthless scientifically.

orlando's avatar

I want to thank everybody for the extremely high quality of their contributions and for keeping the standard of this discussion on a high level of civility. It has been a very interesting debate and it got me thinking into various new directions which I always appreciate. This will be my concluding post for now, although I may drop by again later if I can find more time.

***

@bolwerk, I think we actually do have circumstantial evidence that would support higher intelligence at work. But this is being constantly dismissed, not as much on the weight of its logic, but more out of preference towards explanations that support evolution without a guide. Here are just a few;

* Random mutations are known to be in most instances harmful and are an unlikely source of advantageous changes.
* Emergence of new species requires a highly improbable combination of a number of very specific mutations.
* In many instances transitional forms leading to new organs do not offer any evolutionary advantage or even represent liability.
* Nature has often supported emergence of forms that clearly represent evolutionary disadvantage. The beautiful tail of the peacock clearly makes the male more vulnerable to predators.
* The “Cambrian explosion” with a sudden appearance of new multicellular organisms within a negligible period of 10 million years argues for a mechanism other than natural selection for its explanation (and punctuated equilibrium theory does not explain it well).

***

@LostInParadise, thanks. I find it quite interesting [in a good way] to know that some people have an easier time imagining that the enormous complexity and huge number of different life forms can arise spontaneously and randomly from simple mechanisms which arised out of non-material substrate, than to believe in an infinitely complex creator.

***

@Vincentt, thanks for the tip on evolutionary computing. I’ll look it up.

***

@Darth_Algar, If you’ll read my questions and answer you’ll notice that at no point I’ve been trying to assert the non-observable intelligent design into a science. I was trying to show that arguments for randomness as implied in evolution are non-observable and non-testable as well, and are therefore also non scientific.

Yes, we can observe random mutations as they occur in nature or laboratory, but as said they are known in most instances to be harmful and are an unlikely source of advantageous changes. So yes, we could conclude that mutations in evolution that lead to advantageous changes were not really random.

bolwerk's avatar

@orlando: if you read back, I did address the ones that are supposedly “circumstantial” (= not scientific, BTW) evidence for intelligent design. Random mutations that are not advantages would seem to be evidence against intelligent design and would undermine your argument (bullets 1, 3, and 4 on your list). The second bullet relies on a post hoc fallacy, which I and I think others have addressed.

The fourth bullet also ignores the possibility of a net benefit tradeoff; the peacock’s plume may attract some predators – though peacocks are fairly high on the food chain too – but that doesn’t override the benefit it affords the peacock with the nicest plumage: namely, the chance to blow a load in a lady peacock and pass on its genes.

And the last one uses absence of evidence as evidence of non-absence of something that isn’t shown to be needed in any other circumstance. I’m not even sure any of the “evidence” you offer even rises to the level of pseudo-scientific much less scientific.

Darth_Algar's avatar

@orlando “If you’ll read my questions and answer you’ll notice that at no point I’ve been trying to assert the non-observable intelligent design into a science.”

You did – “I am applying that ‘random’ mutations that represent one of the basic principles of neo-Darwinian theory of evolution may not be really random, but can be seen as directed or pushed into certain direction from a higher intelligence.”

“I was trying to show that arguments for randomness as implied in evolution are non-observable and non-testable as well, and are therefore also non scientific.”

Except that they are. This has been explained but you’re basically saying “nah, that doesn’t count”.

Case in point: “Yes, we can observe random mutations as they occur in nature or laboratory, but as said they are known in most instances to be harmful and are an unlikely source of advantageous changes. So yes, we could conclude that mutations in evolution that lead to advantageous changes were not really random.”

You’re making the assumption that mutation must necessarily be beneficial in order to count as evolution. And you’re making the assumption that any mutation that does have benefits must be the work of some higher hand (whether you call it “God” or whatever you wish), and you’re ignoring that mutations don’t necessarily fall along a nice, neat harmful/beneficial axis, but rather often have trade-offs, both pros and cons.

Vincentt's avatar

@orlando Although each of your points are perfectly well explained by evolutionary theory, which I’ll get to next, none of them would inspire you to posit an intelligent designer – that was posited first, and then the observations were made to fit in to that hypthesis. Then again, you weren’t arguing that to be scientific, so I’ll show how your points fit in with evolutionary theory and not with ID:

Random mutations are known to be in most instances harmful and are an unlikely source of advantageous changes.

Evolutionary theory needs this. If there weren’t random mutations, but mutations that would be beneficial always, that would suggest some premade plan. However, since it’s just a matter of trying a lot of mutations, there’s bound to be some (a really small minority) of them that will survive. That is when a species evolves.

If you were to enter this field with no preconceptions whatsoever, the above would certainly not prompt you to think: ah, there are harmful mutations, that must mean there’s some intelligent designer at work that causes the few successful ones?

Emergence of new species requires a highly improbable combination of a number of very specific mutations.

If the odds are one in a million, but a million mutations occur, that means it’s not that unlikely that it actually happened. Just as how finishing a game of othello requires a highly improbable combination of moves, but how you can have a computer play a lot of games using random moves and it will finally find out which moves allow it to win.

Likewise, it’d be weird to take this as evidence of some intelligent designer at work, as there are a lot of other improbably mutations that could have resulted in new species, but which did not happen. How to explain that other than by saying it was a random process?

In many instances transitional forms leading to new organs do not offer any evolutionary advantage or even represent liability.

If they’re not harmful to reproduction, that means there’s no reason for them to disappear. Perfectly logical when considering they’re random mutations.

But you’d have to give an example, as often, complex new evolutions (such as organs) appear to have been beneficial after all at some point in time.

This would also make a weird argument for ID, since why would a designer introduce useless organs?

Nature has often supported emergence of forms that clearly represent evolutionary disadvantage. The beautiful tail of the peacock clearly makes the male more vulnerable to predators.

Again, this made it more likely to reproduce, and thus for the mutation to proliferate.

The “Cambrian explosion” with a sudden appearance of new multicellular organisms within a negligible period of 10 million years argues for a mechanism other than natural selection for its explanation (and punctuated equilibrium theory does not explain it well).

The availability of little evidence should spur you to be cautious with theories. While it might be that this might not immediately trigger you to consider evolutionary theory, there is no reason to suppose an intelligent creator as well.

Answer this question

Login

or

Join

to answer.

This question is in the General Section. Responses must be helpful and on-topic.

Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
or
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther