George Romanes' Argument Against Design

Parsimony eliminates design, as George Romanes so eloquently explains here:

Maybe 120 years ago this argument had some merit. The complexity of the cell that is now known to us has Darwins original reasoning on the outside looking in.

Rephrase for sense.


Only slightly better; still makes very little sense. But thanks for the effort, such as it was.

I appreciate you pushing me on clearer communication. I also enjoyed our conversation yesterday and realize your position has been consistent.

It still applies today.

I don’t see how that changes anything. Those complex parts fall into the same nested hierarchy.

One problem here is that “design” is ambiguous. You can’t equate common descent with lack of design, and you can’t equate design with lack of common descent. It seems that neither you nor Bill is clear on just what sort of design you’re criticizing or defending.

Whats changed is there is no longer a universally accepted known mechanism of change for building complex features such as natural selection. The complexity in the cell has put into doubt natural selection having the power to be an overall explanation.

Without a complete mechanistic explanation parsimony loses its power. The age old battle continues :slight_smile:

That’s like saying there isn’t a universally accepted shape for the Earth because Flat Earthers exist.

The mechanism of change is random mutation, as you have been shown many times. Your refusal to accept it doesn’t change its existence.

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This is the assertion you keep repeating.

No one can model how this results in a sequence robust enough to result in a complex feature. Before DNA was discovered, along with transcription/translation for protein synthesis, it was a much easier problem.

Rubbish. Ockham’s Razor, parsimony, call it what you will, is a rule of thumb for coming up with the most likely explanations, not a meter which tells us the truth about the universe. It is impossible to “eliminate” design, i.e., to rule that design does not exist or could not have happened, by appealing to parsimony.

I haven’t read William Hamilton, but note that Ockham, who was one of the major figures in the history of the principle of parsimony, did not phrase his principle in terms of “higher causes” versus “lower” ones. Nor did Ockham speak of any tension between “science” and “superstition.” Romanes’s modernist metaphysics and epistemology (and from the passage given, apparent hostility to religion) show through clearly here. And why on earth should anyone take Romanes as an authority on anything, anyway? Or Hamilton? These guys were mental midgets compared with Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, etc., who thought quite differently about these matters.

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Correct. He should have said that parsimony makes other hypotheses preferable to design.

Not sure why “higher” and “lower” need to be mentioned; it’s multiplication of entities that parsimony avoids, or a preference for the simplest workable explanation.

What are your criteria for mental stature?

That’s the problem. Design is not falsifiable. Even when we have a natural mechanism that thoroughly explains the pattern of diversity we are looking at it doesn’t falsify design.

If we were to apply your logic to other theories in science we could not rule out pink fairies pushing planets around the Sun in a manner that just happens to exactly mimic Einstein’s equations. We couldn’t rule out magical spirits that move clouds through the sky because they could exactly mimic the physics of meteorology. What you are proposing is that we throw out science.


Agreed. This is a point that Sternberg, Denton and others sympathetic with ID have made. Dembski, for example, writes (No Free Lunch, p. 314):

“… intelligent design has no stake in living things coming together suddenly in their present form. To be sure, intelligent design leaves that as a possibility. But intelligent design is also fully compatible with large-scale evolution over the course of natural history, all the way up to what biologists refer to as “common descent” (i.e., the full genealogical interconnectedness of all organisms). If our best science tells us that living things came together gradually over a long evolutionary history and that all living things are related by common descent, then so be it. Intelligent design can live with that result and indeed live with it cheerfully.”

Compare the genomes. The genetic differences are the mutations.

Dembski is a poor example, since he rejects most common descent as far as can be told from his vague statements. Behe and Denton accept it. Sternberg’s opinions are unknown to me. Note that Evolution News & Views commonly attacks common descent, especially of humans and other animals.

So technically, there’s no necessary conflict. In practice, the people who believe in ID most often tend to reject common descent.

Yes, that is what he should have said. I would have contested even that, but on different grounds. My complaint here is only that he appeared to give the principle of parsimony some sort of ultimate grounding in the nature of things, as opposed to a useful rule of thumb in thinking.


Hard to set forth in shorthand in this sort of forum. How would you explain why Mozart is greater than Bill Haley and the Comets? But I would imagine that when you read a serious work of archaeology and then read Erich von Daniken, you perceive a difference in scientific and intellectual ability between the authors. It’s pretty hard to read Romanes (most Victorians, for that matter) and then read Plato or Aristotle and not sense the difference in intellect. I actually regard Darwin as quite high in mental stature. Even people who are wrong can be very instructive and worth reading. :slight_smile:

I wasn’t speaking of Dembski’s personal view regarding common descent. I was merely indicating that his definition of intelligent design distinguishes the very two things that you distinguished.

Perhaps you could quote Plato discussing nested hierarchies and their application to the question of evolution and intelligent design?