Nathan Lents: My Experience With Discovery

Beats me. :slight_smile:

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Well there must be some agreement regarding the meaning, because I see people say, quite often, that they don’t see evidence for design.

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The niche is the biological designer. Who designs the niche? Dunno!


At least in part, organisms carve out their own niches.


None more so than Homo sapiens sapiens. But I was just pointing out we skeptics shouldn’t worry about avoiding saying “design”. It’s conceivable that some omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, immaterial entity brought about the Universe with the properties that result in the terrestrial biota we see now and the myriad extinct organisms that have gone before.

The idea adds nothing to understanding but it’s essentially harmless.


I really appreciate what you are saying here, and I think that it really, fundamentally, changes the conversation. Many would disagree, I think, with your sentiment, though, so I’m interested to see how others respond.

Doesn’t it add potential explanations that otherwise would not be considered?

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Such as?

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It seems, and I could be wrong (often am), that once one opens the door to considering such a force who has brought about the universe with the properties you described, that the door would also be open for that same force to meddle.


Well, there are constraints. Another way of describing meddling would be a miracle. A miracle would, I suggest, violate the laws of physics. If God decided to help his favourite team play and win at soccer, he could miraculously deflect the ball into the net. Observing a discontinuity like this would be evidence something more is going on in our Universe. Look for a miracle.


You are certainly correct. I was thinking more about timing and not violating the laws at all. Rather just facilitating by ensuring that the proper processes occurred at the correct time and place.

I wasn’t intending to make a big deal at all about your comment, but really to state that your opinion is refreshing to me. I can see the hard evidence for evolution at work, now and in the past. I just struggle with the belief that these otherwise random events could have occurred when they have and how they have without some meddling.

Earlier in the thread (maybe its parent), there was a conversation about vitamin C and the GULO gene. The question was asked as to why God would create man with the inability to manufacture vitamin C when the ability was only a few mutations out of reach. This is a very good question and potentially problematic for the theist. However, it also seems that the ability to manufacture it was possessed by some common ancestor further back in the tree. I don’t know how long ago this was, but here were some details shared by @evograd:

It just seems to me that when we evaluate a minute, single aspect such as the GULO gene, the process moves so slowly that it’s very difficult for someone like me to accept that the overall process of evolution didn’t require some meddling. That complex ecologies existed as soon as we see multicellular life arrive on scene seems all too perfect. I’m not asking anyone to see things as I see them. It’s just that we all have our personal reasons for disbelieving something. For me, your willingness to crack the door open slightly to allow for something to have planned an environment that is receptive to this process, is helpful. It makes what I would otherwise believe to be an impossibility, believable.


I think that this is a potentially universally agreeable description, Neil. To carve out a niche says to me that the organism is feeling its way along, finding its place, but doesn’t go so far as to suggest planning and forethought as in “design”.


Yes, that seems about right to me.


2 posts were split to a new topic: Reckoning With Human Zoos

The best we can do is understand how ID proponents use the term:

“The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”
What Is Intelligent Design?

From what I can discern, intelligent design is “not evolution”.

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I don’t know about that, because Behe affirms common descent, and so does Denton.

I’d say rather that a valid position is

“God created us, and in this sense designed us all. God designed us through a process of common descent that is legitimately, though partly, described by evolutionary science.”

That wording takes the rhetorical winds out of the conflict’s sails. One does not have to agree to it, though I do. We just have to acknowledge this is a valid theological position that does not put one in conflict with mainstream science.

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“The logic was simple: since evolution is a gradual process in which slight modifications produce advantages for survival, it cannot produce complex structures in a short amount of time. It’s a step-by-step process which may gradually build up and modify complex structures, but it cannot produce them suddenly.”–Michael Behe

It is one thing to say that species share common descent (sort of), and yet another to say that all the differences between them are a product of evolutionary mechanisms.

The conflict would be the “though partly” bit.

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From a theological perspective (not science), evolution does not tell us if God inspired a mutation here or there or not. It does not tell us if he created events to guide selection of particular features. If he did either, even a complete scientific account of evolution is only part of the story.

From a scientific perspective, evolution does not tell us what gives rise to all the contingencies, like why precisely the asteroid hit us 65 million years ago. It does not tell us what gives rise the laws of physics, or even the first cell. Therefore evolution is not the whole story. It is only part of the story.

From both perspectives, it is a partial account of how we got here, even if it is 100% correct. Of course, it is not 100% correct, because research and knowledge advances all the time. It is our best account, but not a total account.

The real gap between Behe and mainstream science is that he has convinced himself that there is evidence of design. In the two points above, we would not expect to see evidence of design. Even in Behe’s scenarios, there is no evidence of design.

The features that Behe is talking about do not fall under the processes that gave rise to the laws of physics or the first life. What Behe is talking about falls firmly within the limited theory of evolution. Behe is saying that evolution could not produce certain features whereas a consensus of the scientific community thinks it can. Behe’s work on the flagellum and multiple residue adaptations certainly lead to this conclusion.

So I’m not sure how you want to characterize difference of opinion. Behe accepts that certain parts of the genome are the product of evolution, and others parts are not. Behe thinks the parts that are not the product of evolution were intelligently designed, whatever that might entail. It would seem that the splitting biology into “evolved” and “not evolved” is different from a more wholistic approach where God’s providence applies to the whole genome.

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If Denton is considered an intelligent design proponent then so am I. Most ID proponents are very Paleyesque but not Denton. He doesn’t advocate for any direct intervention. His is more of a fine-tuning argument. The laws of form/Type/Bauplans are built into the laws of nature, Darwinian mechanisms are trivial, etc.

I’m not making a defense of Behe.

I agree that there is no evidence against the consensus of the scientific community. Behe is wrong here, I have explained repeatedly.

I’d just say the key thing is common descent, and that the arguments from ID are not convincing. Science, however, is silent on God’s action. We can’t say whether He did or did not act. Here I am nearly quoting NSCE’s Eugenia Scott. That is all.