Hunt's 2007 Critique of Axe

This part is reasonable. However perhaps we understand more than you currently realize.

This part is the part with which we disagree. Perhaps you could separate them.

Do you agree @art?

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As I see it, I believe these statements might be reversed. In particular, even though we are in the glory days of molecular biology, so far no “conscious intelligence” has managed to create, completely de novo and from first principles, even a modicum of what ID theorists identify as functional information in the context of the life sciences. Nary a single IC complex, complicated multifunctional system (such as T-urf13), even a long polypeptide with high catalytic efficiency. The progress made in these fronts has utilized decidedly evolutionary principles and approaches.

Given the abject failure of “conscious intelligence”, why does one cling to the notion that intelligence is behind life as we know it? Especially since, contrary to what you are claiming, Bill, so-called unguided* processes have been shown to accomplish things that “conscious intelligence” simply cannot. I would be interested in the thinking behind these claims.

*I will admit that I don’t like the term “unguided”, partly because it is such a nebulous and undefined one that changes as discussions about ID evolve.


I entirely agree. This is not an argument against God, but it certainly is an argument against the analogy between man’s intelligence and God’s intelligence and what nature can accomplish. I wrote in a review recently:

Another exception is James Tour’s chapter on the Origin of Life. Ironically, his parable about a “dream team” of scientists clarifies that life is not like any human design, and in this sense does not appear designed (p. 190).
Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical and Theological Critique - The Gospel Coalition

Here is his parable, which seems to unintentionally undermine the ID argument for design:

The world’s best synthetic chemists, biochemists, and evolutionary biologists have combined forces to form a team — a dream team in two quite distinct senses of the word. Money is no object. They have at their disposal the most advanced analytical facilities, the complete scientific literature, synthetic and natural coupling agents, and all the reagents their hearts might desire. Carbohydrates, lipids, amino acids, and nucleic acids are stored in their laboratories in a state of 100% enantiomeric purity.

Would the dream team — please — assemble a living system?

Take your time, folks, take a few billion years.

Nothing? Well, well, well.

Let us assume that all the building blocks of life, and not just their precursors, have been made to a high degrees of purity, including homochirality where applicable — the carbohydrates, the amino acids, the nucleic acids, and the lipids. They are stored in cool caves, away from sunlight, and away from oxygen. These molecules are indifferent to environmental degradation.

And let us further assume that they are all stored in one comfortable corner of the earth, not separated by thousands of kilometers or on different planets.

And that they all exist not just in the same square kilometer, but in neighboring pools where they can conveniently and somehow selectively mix with each other as needed.

Now what? How does the dream team assemble them without enzymes?

Very well. Give the dream team polymerized forms: polypeptides, all the enzymes they desire, the polysaccharides, DNA and RNA in any sequence, cleanly assembled.

Ready now?

Apparently not.
On Prebiotic Chemistry, Synthetic Chemist James Tour Urges an Admission of Ignorance | Evolution News

Actually, I do not believe that “we don’t know everything, therefore design” and “we don’t know but science will eventually figure out” are equivalent statements. The former is a behavior that, in essence, draws the ID advocate to the darker corners of the room of knowledge, corners that shrink inexorably as time passes. The latter is a behavior brightens the entire room, and affords positive and clearly-articulated mechanisms and understanding.

Will we ever know everything? No. But, if one were a betting sort, one would be wise to bet on the latter over the former when it comes to increasing our understanding of the world around us (including the origins of species and of life itself).



Just to be clear, “these claims” are the claims that “conscious intelligence” is behind the processes we see in living things.

Sorry for the confusing prose.


Are you assuming your conclusion here?

Let me emphasize first that I am not an ID advocate.

I agree that we know much more than non-experts and polemicists give us credit for. We know quite a bit. However, this statement deemphasizes how much we do not know too. Yes, our knowledge is increasing, but our knowledge also brings light to increasing domains of ignorance. It is not not really valid to present our perception of knowledge and ignorance as a zero sum game. Our increase in knowledge is also increasing our knowledge of our ignorance.

Moreover, take the T-urf13 example. The changes you see are all readily explainable by biochemical mechanisms. This is a strong argument against Axe and most ID arguments about functional information and irreducible complexity. I agree with you there. Honestly, I will probably be pointing people to your excellent work here.

Prove to me, however, that God did not guide any of those biochemical mechanisms? You really can’t. It is very possible that what you call an example of natural evolution is not purely natural. There is really no way to know from science whether or not God providentially did something here. That is a question far outside the bounds of science, a question for theologians, not scientists.

So we cannot really say this is an argument for purely natural processes. It is rather an argument that it “appears” to be natural processes (and that is certainly true), leaving ample ignorance of the total system for God’s action. It is not we know God acted from evidence (we do not). If He did act, He would not be actively hiding Himself, but would still be hidden. We do well to acknowledge that our scientific knowledge is not an argument against God. There is not much room left for ID, but nothing here threatens well through through theological understanding of God.

Do you agree with this?

This may be a subtle distinction, but it seems to be at the heart of confusion here.

It does not really seem justifiable to argue that we know that evolution is purely known natural processes. However, it does seem true that there it certainly appears to be natural processes, and we have not scientifically detected any non-natural into the process (nor do we know how). This more reserved claim is much more correct, and does not create unnecessary conflict with people like @Ashwin_s and @Michael_Callen.

@art, why not just say that it looks like natural processes, but there is no way to for us to rule out divine intelligence in either the part we understand or the part we do not? Science after all does not include claims about God.

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Not really. He is point out that you are assuming yours.

There is no evidence that conscious intelligence can produce the complexity we see in life. We have never seen it done. In this way, we should be certain that life is nothing like a human design. Just look at Jim Tour’s parable.

We have common ground here :slight_smile:

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There is on the other hand evidence that conscious intelligence can produce a complex sequence.

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There is zero evidence conscious intelligence can produce anything like the complexity of DNA.

We have common ground here also :slight_smile:

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I think Art’s work here is very interesting without question.

The caution is exploring whether this small protein improved or hurt the organism. I appears that it hurt the organism and had a detrimental impact on fitness.

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It depends on the question. If it is about the creation of biological complexity, this is strong evidence against Axe and Behe and Dembski’s arguments. The question of fitness is not relevant, because the processes behind Turf can increase complexity whether or not fitness changes.

I would agree that it increase complexity but it was detrimental to the basic design. This is a fascinating case study.

I may see if Mike Behe would be willing to join this discussion. I have never seen him on any blog cite before except his own.

Can you please help me to understand this? I could be taking it completely out of context, but to me the point that there’s a lack of evidence that any “conscious intelligence can produce anything like the complexity of DNA” is completely irrelevant.

There is zero evidence that a non-intelligence can produce the same.

It seems as though the complexity came about from either intelligence or non-intelligence and that probability is the key. Is it more likely that complexity came from intelligence or non-intelligence? It seems that the burden of proof is entirely on the side of evolution proponents to explain such complexity apart from intelligence. Am I seeing this incorrectly?

Except that there is evidence that it can produce this complexity. Look at the example of T-urf13. This is very strong evidence that natural processes can produce the exact complexity that ID argues is impossible.

What is confusing here @Michael_Callen is the meaning of “complexity” which you likely mean in an intuitive sense. The ID movement has given very specific definitions. So in this context we are talking about complexity by these metrics and mental models. They are not going to map to your “intuitive” sense. It is important to remember also that life is a different category than human design. Even if our intuitions are ultimately correct, the analogy you are making in your argument really does fail.

Arguments about shifting burden are not worth entertaining. That just shifts the debate to presuppositions instead of evidence. As it is, there is no clear scientific evidence for or against God’s design of life. It looks like natural processes, but this does not mean He was not involved.

Thank you!

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@art, didn’t you find that T-urf13 was helpful in pathogen resilience? What was it’s positive effect on fitness?

Also, on what grounds do you call it small @colewd? It seems to be a fully functional protein with more evidence of function than most of the ENCODE data. It is clearly not “junk.”