Tag Archive | Intelligent Design

Bio-complexity And Incest

Shocking title for a blog post, isn’t it? Don’t worry, this isn’t about what you may think. It’s about a journal called “bio-complexity”.
(http://bio-complexity.org/ojs/index.php/main/index) On the About page for this journal, we find the following statement under “purpose and scope”:
BIO-Complexity is a peer-reviewed scientific journal with a unique goal. It aims to be the leading forum for testing the scientific merit of the claim that intelligent design (ID) is a credible explanation for life.

Ok, fair enough. It’s even peer reviewed! That’s great; peer review is very important. But in looking at some of their papers, I noticed something odd – many of the authors are on the editorial board. So, I decided to look at every paper (there’s only 8 as of this writing, and their archives go back to 2010). Here is what I found:

The Case Against A Darwinian Origin of Protein Folds
author: Douglas Axe (managing editor)

Reductive Evolution Can Prevent Populations From Taking Simple Adaptive Paths To High Fitness
authors: Ann K Gauger, Stephanie Ebnet, Pamela F Fahey, Ralph Seelke (2 on editorial team)

A Vivisection of the ev Computer Organism: Identifying Sources of Active Information
authors: George MontaƱez, Winston Ewert, William Dembski, Robert Marks (2 on editorial team)

The Limits of Complex Adaptation: An Analysis Based on a Simple Model of Structured Bacterial Populations
author: Douglas Axe (managing editor)

Can the Origin of the Genetic Code Be Explained by Direct RNA Templating?
authors: Stephen C Meyer, Paul Nelson (0 on editorial team)

The Evolutionary Accessibility of New Enzymes Functions: A Case Study from the Biotin Pathway
authors: Ann K Gauger, Douglas D Axe (2 on editorial team)

A Stylus-Generated Artificial Genome with Analogy to Minimal Bacterial Genomes
authors: Douglas Axe, Philip Lu, Stephanie Flatau (1 on editorial team)

Climbing the Steiner Tree–Sources of Active Information in a Genetic Algorithm for Solving the Euclidean Steiner Tree Problem
authors: Winston Ewert, William A Dembski, Robert J Marks II (2 on editorial team)

So, something to point out here: out of 20 total instances of authors of papers for this journal, more than half of them work for the journal (11 out of 20)! It’s also worth pointing out that 7 out of 8 papers have at least one author on the editorial team.

This is what’s known as an incestuous journal, meaning that it creates and reviews its own work. Of course, this sometimes happens with other journals which we all consider reputable, especially ones dedicated to very narrow fields (Bio-complexity is quite broad – check their purpose and scope), but never with this frequency. The problem with this is simply that people are often biased in favor of their coworkers as well as their own career affiliations; and thus we should at the least be wary of the strength of Bio-complexity’s peer review process.

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I.D., Cosmological Arguments, and Epistemic Tension

Some proponents of Intelligent Design claim that it is not inherently theistic. Here I argue that Intelligent Design probably reduces to theism given defenses of cosmological arguments, and that any attempts to avoid a reduction to theism do not work; and thus I.D. is not on identical methodological footing with naturalistic evolution. I further argue that a proponent of both nontheistic Intelligent Design and most cosmological arguments must drop one of these things to avoid epistemic tension. I do not argue here that either Intelligent Design or naturalistic evolution is likely true or false, that one methodology should be preferred to the other, or that we should be neutral with respect to methodology*.

Consider the following thesis of Intelligent Design:

ID1: The cause of the first life (self-replicating organism) on Earth is best explained by Intelligent Design.

If true, this conception of I.D. implies that the first life was caused by some sort of intelligence not originating on Earth. This alone is not necessarily theistic, but if I.D. best explains life on Earth, what best explains life not on Earth? Maybe it’s some form of intelligence (aliens, A.I.) that arose naturally elsewhere in the universe. But then we must ask, what best explains that?

The reasoning behind I.D. is that life is best explained by intelligence because of information content in the genome, specified complexity, or something similar. This hypothetical otherworldly life would almost certainly also exhibit these traits. So I.D. must explain that as well.

This move can be made for every natural form of life in the universe: earth life to alien life 1, alien life 1 to alien life 2, etc. But once these jumps are exhausted, and all natural life is accounted for via a natural intelligent agent(s), the only place left to go is to the supernatural.

This again does not necessarily imply theism; there are several possible moves here. One is an appeal to abstract objects as a cause of an intelligent agent. But this has implications for the cosmological argument. William Lane Craig, in responding to some objections to his Kalam cosmological argument, argues that abstract objects are distinguished from concrete objects by their inability to stand in causal relations[1]. If this response to objections is dropped, then it is a trivial matter to object to the KCA by positing an abstract object as the cause of the universe. If it is not dropped, then an appeal to an abstract object as the cause of the first life in the universe cannot be made.

Another possible move to “save” I.D. from theism is to posit a contingent supernatural intelligence (i.e. an angel, a ghost, etc.) But this has implications for liebnizian and thomistic cosmological arguments, which require causal principles that state every contingent thing or instance of coming into existence must have a cause.[2] If this principle is accepted, these arguments conclude that there must be a god. To drop this for the sake of non-theistic I.D. means that such arguments don’t go through.

A further concern for positing either abstract objects or a contingent supernatural intelligence is that they are ad hoc – they are being posited solely to “save” nontheistic I.D., and have no other basis. This has implications for Robin Collins’ fine tuning argument. His argument relies on a restricted version of the Likelihood Principle (“an observation e counts as evidence in favor of hypothesis h1 over h2 if the observation is more probable under h1 than h2”), which adds that LP can only be applied to cases where a hypothesis is not ad hoc.[3]

In conclusion, nontheistic Intelligent Design has no viable options for explaining the first life in the universe which to not also undercut various cosmological or fine tuning arguments for God; thus there is epistemic tension between positing both a nontheistic Intelligent Design and such arguments; and perhaps even between nontheistic Intelligent Design and theism due to the case for theism being greatly weakened by nontheistic I.D.

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*These debates are, I believe, separate issues.

[1] William Lane Craig, “The Kalam Cosmological Argument”. The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. pg. 193
[2] Alexander Pruss, “The Liebnizian Cosmological Argument”. The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. pg. 25
[3]Robin Collins, “The Teleological Argument”. The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. pp. 205-206