Saturday, May 06, 2006

ID's Predictions

Tom Gilson at Thinking Christian has been hosting some interesting discussions about materialism and Intelligent Design (ID).

This post is taken from my response to Tom's defense of ID. Is ID's claim that it has predictions a true claim?

Two points.

The first is that design has not been scientifically well-defined by ID advocates. Design in scientific context involves modeling of the physical world, planning to goals, and manufacturing. So design as we know it is intimately related to goals and utility.

You can see this in the SETI program. SETI looks for narrow-band transmissions because narrow band transmissions are 1) easy to find if the receiver is looking for them, 2) energy efficient and 3) useful for communications. (1) may say something about us, but (2) and (3) say something about ET, namely, that ET doesn't have an infinite resource of energy, and ET communicates using EM radiation because alternatives are cost-prohibitive. There's an implicit assumption that it is expensive for ET to travel through the universe. ET would hardly waste time beaming us prime numbers at Hydrogen-times-Pi if it could instantly transport directly to our planet and speak to us in English. We are making many naturalistic assumptions about ET before we begin to detect him/her/it.

Second point.

ID is another one of those "third options" that theists love so much. Just as a naturalistic definition of determinism leaves only randomness as residue, a naturalistic definition of explanation leaves only unexplained things as residue. In science, you have to have naturalistic explanations.

Yet, the "tests" of ID proposed by ID advocates are that no natural explanation for life can be found. But this just means that life would be unexplained, or perhaps, improbable, if no probable natural explanations are found. There is no scientific meta-rule that says "ID is a default explanation unless you find an alternative." For ID to be a valid scientific theory, it has to make predictions of its own. It cannot just predict that everyone else's predictions won't pan out because that resorts to the illegal meta-rule.

I realize that ID advocates claim to make predictions, but true predictions have to follow from one's premises, and that's where things break down for ID. Without justified predictions, ID lacks explanatory power.

Let me give you an example. One so-called ID prediction is that there will be no junk DNA. Where does this prediction come from?

Evolutionary models don't say whether there will or will not be junk DNA. The models predict non-coding sequences, but don't leap to any conclusions about the regulatory function of non-coding sequences. However, it's likely that the cell environment is such that every non-coding sequence affects gene expression in at least some small way. Just like the non-functional ornaments in building architecture must subtly affect the people who work in and around those buildings.

But why does ID predict that junk has an effect? What is ID assuming about the designer that dictates the utility of junk DNA? Why does the designer care about the junk at all? Why can't the junk simply be a designed reserve of genetic material for future mutation? What, if anything, prevents the recurrence of junk since design occurred? Isn't it possible that junk DNA is a designed feature?

The ID web sites claim that their rationale is that a designer wouldn't create structures (our junk DNA) without their being functional. However, this is certainly not an inference from human design because human software applications generate plenty of junk and non-coding sequences, but remain functional due to their modularity. In contrast, DNA is non-modular spaghetti code. That is, not only does DNA not exhibit the hallmarks of human design, there's no reason why junk DNA could not have been designed to be junk (just like an aging defragmented software heap).

Of course, there are clear reasons why the perpetrators of the ID hoax would make this claim. Based on what we already know, it's a prediction that's certain to be true, even if only to some tiny extent.

The same goes for the other predictions of ID. They simply fail to follow from the premises because ID has no models with enough specificity to justify its predictions.


Holopupenko said...

     You know I’m opposed to including ID in the family of modern empirical sciences (at least for now). As a critique, however, of any of the various Darwinian theories—but especially those with unwarranted and undemonstrated presuppositions of metaphysical naturalism—it’s great. We’ll leave the latter aside for another discussion.
     You key in on “prediction”—something you hold to be sacrosanct in order for a scientific theory to merit serious consideration.
     Okay, well let’s see if Darwinian theory has any predictive efficacy. Since Darwin’s time, could you name one concrete prediction made and confirmed by any of the Darwinian theories of your choice? To be clear: please provide the following: based on data x, y, z I have TODAY and based on Darwinian theory A, B, or C, I predict Q, R or S will take place at such-and-such SPECIFIC future time and may be confirmed by the following observables (list to be provided).
     I’m waiting.
     It seems to me there are plenty of examples of Darwinian theories predicting just about everything… but only after the fact. I’ve read of predictions that “people will be selfish” or “people will be altruistic” or “people will laugh,” etc., ad nauseum. Then there’s the interesting sleight-of-hand whereby humor (as only the latest example) is “explained” (yeah, right) by Darwinian theory, and therefore—presto-chango—Darwinian theory made a prediction! Oh dear… except the fact that humans have been laughing far longer than the various Darwinian theories have been around…
     Isn’t it true that predictions must precede what they predict? Darwinists purport—literally—to explain everything about life on earth… but end up predicting nothing, and hence explain nothing. I wish I had a dime for every time a Darwinist said: “Wow! I’ve just observed something… so, yep, it’s definitely due to evolution per Darwin.” WHERE is the prediction for a FUTURE event rather than a self-congratulatory slap on the back allegedly recognizing Darwinism at work in the PAST or NOW?
     If Darwinist claims itself to be a science, well let’s have at it: Have a Darwinist PREDICT some future event. And no, simply repeating the throw-away, unspecific mantra of “descent with modification will occur” is NOT a prediction unless a Darwinist shows that a certain entity today will turn into the following concrete entity tomorrow with the following properties/characteristics empirically observable. You claimed that “The [Darwinian] models predict non-coding sequences.” Are you speaking generally to avoid confirmation, or can you provide confirmation of a concrete, specific non-coding genetic sequence that was predicted to have arisen?
     A Darwinist may claim, of course, that such-and-such animal developed into a horse (let’s leave aside the fight over whether or not there is adequate evidence for this), but can a Darwinist PREDICT what a horse will become in, say, 10,000 years? Well, he may, but it’s not testable is it?… because you and I and the Darwinist won’t be around. Okay, then let’s make it easier on him: make a PREDICTION, Mr. Darwinist, what specific, observable molecular changes (in concretely specified somatic or genetic cells) of a horse will we be able to gather empirical data one year from now in order to confirm your prediction. Oh, I see, you can’t do that because “randomness” is an alleged “mechanism.” Well, if quantum mechanics can do it for large populations or precocious particles, why can’t you do it for a few horses? Accurate predictions of the occurrences of solar eclipses can be made for many, many years into the future for celestial bodies that are very far away from us… and yet you, Mr. Darwinist, can’t predict what molecular changes will occur one year from now for the horse in your own backyard? Oh dear… prediction… prediction…
     Okay, okay. At this point I’ll even settle for you relying on fossil records to PREDICT a general direction horses may develop towards in about 10,000 years… Oh, I’m sorry, you can’t do that either because you don’t know what environmental pressures will influence the process… Oh, and worse, even if you could predict a general direction of development then that nasty little thing called “developmental trend”—with its nasty teleological import—has to be explained or explained away, doesn’t it?
     What was it that you said about in order to qualify as a science something has to be able to make observably-confirmable predictions?
     I’m still waiting.

Doctor Logic said...

Holopupenko, you show a lot of temerity posting here, given that you've been exposed as a fabulist.

Instead of waiting, you should crack a book and do some reading because, by your standards, the cosmic microwave background doesn't qualify as a prediction of the Big Bang model.

Then you can go follow your own advice and leave the sciences to people who have the bona fides to conduct it.

Peg said...

Happy Spring Doc! And that she is, indeed!! :-0}

Doctor Logic said...

Hi Peg,

Nice to see you here!

Holopupenko said...

     I didn’t touch upon the Big Bang or other sciences because I didn’t need to do so. It wasn’t my point. You're trying to avoid the challenge I posed by deflecting to other issues. Stay on track.
     As usual, through many previous comment sections at other blogs, I’m taking you to task for YOUR comments—with which you seem not to be able to stay on track given your response below.
     So, again, we wait, and wait, and wait—apparently in vain—for you to support your own assertions employing ONLY your own personal criteria—in this case the alleged predictable efficacy of Darwinism.
     To repeat: you categorically claimed that ID fails as a science because it makes no predictions. That’s fine—I happen to partially agree with you (for now). But, especially given of your obessive, yet formally-admitted uneducated position, the onus is on you to apply that SAME CRITERION back upon Logical Positivism AND Darwinism.
     DO IT! Please show all of us a Darwinian prediction of a future event that can (and has been) empirically verified. Choose any time frame you like... just do it, or keep your personal OPINIONS about what counts as science to yourself... or...
     ... suffer the consequences: because of your own MO (“sneering approach”), you’ve YET AGAIN been “excused from commenting” at another blog ( You’re gaining quite a negative reputation as a closed-minded individual who lectures other people to fall into line in thinking about the world, and yet (based on your openly-declared moral relativism) you excuse yourself from being criticized and applying your own opinions back upon yourself.
     We’re still waiting…

Doctor Logic said...

I didn’t touch upon the Big Bang or other sciences because I didn’t need to do so. It wasn’t my point.

But it was mine. Cosmology is a predictive science because it predicts future observations that were caused by events in the past. Likewise, plate tectonics is scientific, despite our inability to say exactly what continents will look like in 200 million years, or to say what caused the specific continental shapes we see today.

So if I predict that a future analysis of DNA across animal species will display a specific distribution of mutations as a result of evolution, then I have made a future prediction based on the theory about a past event or process.

Not that postdiction isn't also a form of validation when you can predict one subset of data from another.

So, I did respond head-on to your criticism, and wasn't changing the subject to comological ID.

If anyone were looking for a sneering approach, they could see no better examples than your comments here or on your blog. Or do you not see your own posts as sneering? Calling atheists "village atheists"? Saying that being raised positivist is child abuse? Or uncivil comments like "I'm waiting"?

It's time you learned to be an adult. If you want to post here, adopt a civil tone. I don't need to tolerate ad hominems (yes, that's what your posts are) on my own blog. I don't write my ideas down in public to isolate them, but to expose them to criticism. If you have a criticism of my ideas, state what you think the specific problem is with my claims. If your question/statement is focused and respectful, I will be happy to respond in a civil tone. Otherwise, your comments will be deleted. If you're not sure how philosophical discussion is supposed to proceed, go back to Tom's blog and see how it's done.

Holopupenko said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.