Steve Fuller

On Wednesday night I chaired a talk by Steve Fuller at the Bristol Festival of Ideas. Fuller may be known to many of you as the guy who gives credence to Intelligent Design theory through the obfuscations and scepticism of Science and Technology Studies. He is famous for speaking as a witness in the Kitzmiller trial, over the teaching of intelligent design in schools, on the wrong (i.e ID) side of the debate.
Well, talking to Fuller it was clear that whatever you think of him, it’s just not at all obvious that in the battle of reason against nonsense, he’s on the other side. Here are a few reasons why.
First, in the trial he was what is known as a rebuttal witness. Although called by the ID team, his job was not in any way to support ID but to rebut claims made by the other team. The reason he agreed to do this was that he thought those claims were weak, poorly argued and certainly wouldn’t pass muster in say, a peer reviewed journal. Now it seems to me that if you are committed to sound reasoning, this is perfectly respectable thing to do. Indeed, not to speak out against bad arguments because they come from the right team is deeply antithetical to the pro-reason cause. (Regular readers will be reminded of something here.)
Fuller was advised not even to read the textbooks the ID side were promoting before the trial, and he didn’t. When he eventually did, he could see they were bad as clearly as anyone else.
You might say that Fuller was being naïve as this debate is deeply political. Fuller would certainly agree with the latter part: part of his programme as a professor in STS is to uncover the various different, often political agenda, that underly what are on the surface, officially purely intellectual debates. Should he not then have realised that by giving evidence at the trial he was giving succour to the creationists and fundamentalists who were using ID as a trojan horse? If you think this should have stopped him exposing bad reasoning, then already you’re committed to an at best sophisticated and at worst contradictory pro-truth attitude. It seems that a committment to truth can be tactically suspended in the name of the greater campaign for truth to prevail in the end.
As it happens, Fuller is sanguine about the people behind ID, reminding us that Darwinism had some pretty unsavoury advocates in its early days. The fact that dodgy people are behind an idea is not reason enough to dismiss it, and indeed to do so is a recognised fallacy (guilt by association).
Fuller wasn’t always convincing. He argued that even evolutionists use a design-infused language. I thought this was a red herring: the key issue is whether people talk of design with the implication that an external, supernatural intelligent agent is required to intervene to bring about evolutionary change. For all his examples of evolutionists using design-laden language, I just didn’t think he showed that, or could. Since this point looks like its central to his forthcoming book, Dissent over Descent, that looks pretty serious.
But overall, Fuller is clearly a guy committed to arguing things through in an intelligent way. Like many people who are of the “wrong school” – social constructionists, deconstructionists, post-modernists or whatever – I think that he turns out to be just as fundamentally committed to the values of open rational debate as anyone else. For that reason, even if he is wrong, I don’t like him or people like him being branded as enemies of rationality.

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117 Comments.

  1. I would challenge him to give examples of the design-laden language used by “evolutionists” that CAN’T be restated in terms that don’t use design at all without changing the concept/argument. People talking about evolution often use design as a short-hand metaphor. It’s quicker to say “Natural selection designed us to do x” than to say “the indiviudals who did x, or proto-x” in the ancestral environment, had a slight advantage in life because of y and z, and x-doing was at least partly (genetically) heritable, so individuals doing x left more offspring, proportionately, in the next generation, because they lived longer/were better at rearing offspring/had healthier ofspring/were preferentially selected as mates/were better at getting mates for themselves”.

    The use of design as a metaphor in this way has been pretty commonplace in the literature (at least until ID came along), and authors often point out that that’s what they’re doing, and restate you their last claim in “non-design” language to prove that the design language is only a metaphor. I could dig you out a few examples (say from Dawkins) if you especially needed them. And of course you don’t need the original author to do the restating; you can test out any such proposition to see if it realy relies on design yourself, in your head, if you are clear about the actual mechanism of natural selection.

    If Fuller claims that evolutionists use design-laden language he either (a) doesn’t understand this point (in which case he understands so little about the topic that he has little claim to be listened) to or (b) is being deliberately disingenuous or (c) believes that in a substantial proportion of cases, the metaphor CAN’T be restated in non-design language (ie evolutionary biologists are muddled, or cheating), in which case he had better adduce convincing examples.

    Unless (c),your proposition that he is clearly a guy committed to arguing things through in an intelligent way looks doubtful to me. Unless the description can encompass people who open their mouth on a subject without even a very basic knowledge of it.

    BTW, I don’t know how much you are into this debate, but the use of the word “evolutionist” marks out whoever used it as someone who doubts evolution, even is anti-evolution. Kind of like calling an American liberal a moonbat or a Republican a wingnut (if I have that correct and I’m sure Ophelia will help out if not).

  2. Fuller could have made his points in printed articles, a blog, etc. Instead he participated in a court case. Now a court case such as Kitzmiller is a battle in which those giving testimony are taking sides. Fuller fought on the wrong side. It does not matter that he was making valid points because by not examining the arguments of those on his side his truth-telling was partial and therefore suffers from the same failing as lying by omission – it allows an untruthful picture of the situation to emerge.

    I should also point out that the judge in this case found Fuller’s side guilty of the lie direct when they claimed that ID is not creationism in a disguise designed to get around previous court decisions.This was pointed out repeatedly in many places before the case was heard. Fuller had ample opportunity to discover this and draw the obvious conclusion. I find any claim that he has a love of truth risible.

  3. I’d like some evidence — from anyone– for this claim made by Potentilla:

    >

    In particular, please provide the original ‘design’ version and the ‘non-design’ translation. It would be interesting to see whether design language is truly eliminated.

    Thanks

  4. Somehow my quote from Potentilla was erased. Here it is again:

    {Evolutionary) authors often point out that that’s what they’re doing, and restate you their last claim in “non-design” language to prove that the design language is only a metaphor. I could dig you out a few examples (say from Dawkins) if you especially needed them.

  5. I’m confused. What is wrong with “design influenced language”? Does such language necessarily entail references to a supernatural and/or intentional designer? If not, what’s wrong with metaphysical naturalists or evolutionists using it in a sense that makes no such reference?

  6. It’s very weary to read Fuller’s testimony in Kitzmiller; I got bored about halfway through the second page. His philosophical confusion is pretty evident in this answer, though:

    Q. Okay. Well, let’s see. Where were we then? Do you regard the, which some asserts to be, the failure of intelligent design at this point in time to produce experiments along those lines to disqualify it from science?

    A. No.

    Q. Why is that?

    A. Well, I mean, it’s too young basically at this point. And it hasn’t really done all of the theoretical elaboration or the recovery of the appropriate history to set itself in a proper tradition that then would kind of field the imagination to come up with the right kinds of experiments.

    This answer directly contradicts his repeated assertions that testability is the sine qua non of science. Everything has to be testable, except that which is “too young.”

    He’s conflating science as “the things that scientists do” and scientific theories which have established testability. Keep in mind that Kitzmiller is not about whether college professors or professional scientists should or should not investigate ID, but rather whether speculation that is “too young” to have established any sort of testability should be taught in high school on the same footing as natural selection, which has established testability. Even as an expert witness, I think it’s irresponsible to testify in a context very different from the actual issue in question.

    He also conflates the supernatural with the paranormal and the unexplained:

    But, of course, a lot of the things that were called supernatural include things like, well, Mendel’s genes or atoms, right. Before it was possible to actually detect empirically the motion of atoms and so forth, Atoms were regarded as cult entities.

    After a page and a half of his sleep-inducing testimony, I saw no evidence that he was addressing ID as expounded in Of Pandas and People, the textbook at issue. Rather, he seemed to be referencing a version of ID that doesn’t seem to be in use by any actual scientists.

    His support of Behe is particularly puzzling. On the one hand, Behe does offer “irreducible complexity”, an hypothesis which is, to an extent, testable. However, at the time of the trial, what was testable about Behe’s hypothesis had already failed the tests. As I recall (and I’m too lazy to look up the reference for a comment), Behe simply made the testability of IC beyond the bounds of practicality, requiring that each evolutionary step be actually established to falsify the “designedness” of an IC structure.

  7. Steve Fuller’s query on this website seems odd: if it’s his assertion that design language can’t be restated in a non-design way, I think he should be the one coming up with some examples for us to shoot down, not the other way round.
    A legal trial, the outcome of which will affect the eduction of children, is not the forum for impartial scientific debate.

  8. OK, so McNaboe admits he can’t perform the simple task I’ve asked of you ‘philosophers’, namely, to come up with a clear example of what Potentiilla said was patently obvious — namely, that a design-based explanation in biology can be restated in a non-design-based way without remainder. I’m not asking for original thinking here, simply for an excerpt from someone — Dawkins will happily do, if you can state the quote — where the deed is done.

    I am not interested in rehearsing my reasons for saying what I said. The points already raised here doesn’t break any new ground from what I said in various blogs (The Valve and Michael Berube’s were most prominent) two years ago. I was just hoping, especially given JUlian Baggini’s introduction, that I could receive some proper enlightenment on this topic from the people on the list. Shifting the burden of proof is neither big nor clever — but if it makes you feel good, hey, I know the value of emotive discourse just as much as A.J.Ayer did!

  9. It would be nice to have a clear example of a design-based explanation in biology. I suppose there are some in the popular literature, but the actual papers in the scientific literature are usually too narrowly focused to see any sort of coherent higher-level explanation for or against design.

    The absence of a rebuttal doesn’t seem particularly damning if there’s no coherent argument to rebut in the first place.

  10. I’m also skeptical whether simply “design” language does anything at all to establish specifically intelligent design. It its loosest sense, design can simply denote fulfilling a particular function: wings are “designed” for flying, legs for walking, and eyes for seeing. It seem uncontroversial that specific structures do in fact fulfill particular functions, and organisms with increased efficacy of those structures for their corresponding functions will actually reproduce more often.

    But I don’t at all see how one goes from this sort of mindless selection to anything specifically intelligent.

  11. Another problem, of course, is that any counter-example (i.e. my comment above) offered by an opponent of intelligent design (i.e. me) can be dismissed as “trivial”, and perhaps justly so.

  12. I am not interested in rehearsing my reasons for saying what I said. The points already raised here doesn’t break any new ground from what I said in various blogs (The Valve and Michael Berube’s were most prominent) two years ago.

    As a public service, here are the threads at Michael Bérubé’s blog –

    http://www.michaelberube.com/index.php/weblog/comments/783/

    http://www.michaelberube.com/index.php/weblog/comments/789/

    Steve Fuller replies in the comments, so it’s worth scrolling through even though there are a lot of comments. It’s worth it anyway really; P Z Myers replies, etc.

  13. The Barefoot Bum raises an interesting point. I should say — and did say it at the talk in Bristol — that I came to wonder about the eliminability of design-language from biology by looking, not at Dawkins but the technical biological literature itself. INdeed, I read some of the articles cited by anti-ID scientists like Kenneth Miller (star witness for the plaintiffs in the Dover trial). These appear in the Journal of MOlecular Evolution. If anything, such articles proliferate design-language, conjuring up images of ‘evolution’ (used as the subject of sentences) as ‘optimising engineer’ and ‘opportunistic tinkerer’. If you hold on to stereotyped views of ID as implicating a God who creates everything according to an a priori plan, then you should look at the subtleties that supposedly anti-ID biologists manage when they talk about design in nature.

    People trained in positivistic philosophy of science — and it sounds like some people here might fall under that category — are taught to believe that as science becomes more advanced, the sort of anthropomorphic language associated with ‘design’ will drop out of technical explanations. The figurative will become literal, etc. I’m afraid it ain’t so in the stuff I’ve examined. So, I’m asking for clear examples where in fact design-based language has been superseded. If this challenge proves impossible — or even very difficult — to meet, it would say something important about what scientists need to assume in order to do their work. Scientists may unwittingly assume ID while they officially deny it.

    When I read the phrase ‘intelligent design’, I simply see the reference to intelligence as drawing out an implication of the concept of design, not as a special case of design. That’s because, to be honest, Dawkins notwithstanding, ‘design without a designer’ is like any of the mysterious paradoxes traditionally attributed to God — who knows what that means, let alone how it would be demonstrated? I suppose that Dawkins deserves credit as a rhetorician for convincing people that the phrase has some determinate meaning. It worked wonders at the Dover trial, I can tell you!

  14. @Steve Fuller – OK, a deal: I will find you a published example of a biologist saying something using “design language” as a handy metaphor and then restating it in non-design language, if you will find me a publshed example of an evolutionary biologist saying something in “design language” which you believe CANNOT be restated in non-design language.

    That is, if we aren’t all wasting our time by using the verb “to design” differently. I am assuming that the word requires a deliberate proces by some agent. That is, you can’t have design without a designer, and that designer must be intending some particular end or ends in making its design. That is, when BB says above wings are “designed” for flying, legs for walking, and eyes for seeing, he is in fact using a metaphor; it truth, it is as though wings were designed for flying etc.

  15. Sean Anderson

    Interesting post… It’s easy to brand believers in intelligent design crackpots like Kent Hovind. If anyone is interested in a somewhat chilling laugh there’s a video of him on YouTube explaining why the Universe cannot be more than 4,400 or so years old.

    Also, this site http://www.kent-hovind.com/matson/proofs.htm points out some of the many, many fallacies in his reasoning in case you start of believe some of the stuff 😉

  16. To Potentilla: There is no need to up the ante. I am not Michael Behe, in case you hadn’t noticed. I never said categorically that design language was ineliminable. I simply don’t know of a case in which it has been eliminated successfully from biology. Your post suggests you can actually provide such a case. OK, let’s see it, and then we can talk about it. This really should be a no-brainer for evolutionists who think ID is so absurd.

  17. (D) Evolution designed wings to be good at flying.

    (E) Those organisms with things growing out of their shoulders that were marginally better than their siblings’ at flying has more offspring; wings that are good at flying are the result of the accumulation of these improvements.

    You have your example of elimination. Do I get a cookie?

  18. Up the ante?? I am really just trying to understand what you mean. I proposed a deal because reading through (or maybe flicking through) a chunks of my library to find an example of type I mentioned in my original post would be time-consuming and, to be honest, boring (actually, I just spent ten minutes on it and immediately found about 6 books that I wanted to re-read thoroughly for other reasons).

    Also, presumably it would not help you that much because an example of the sort I mentioned would be one that the author had thought about in detail. (Essentially, it would just be BB’s post above in more formal language).

    The reason I wanted an example back from you is to understand better the sort of thing you are talking about, and to have a go at restating it in design-free language. “Original thinking” would actually be easier, or at least a more interesting way to spend the time. Could you specify any of the articles in JME that you mention reading, so I could try to re-state the metaphorical language?

  19. Steve’s assertion is interesting in its own right: If it really were the case that there’s irreducible design language in biology, I’d really like to know about it. It’s definitely the case that any design language I myself have read has seemed obviously metaphorical and easily reducible, but that might well be the result of my own bias.

    So regardless of the implications specifically regarding intelligent design, I’d definitely like to hear more about this design language.

  20. I still can’t see why talking about design is essentially inconsistent with metaphysical naturalism; “design” seems a broad enough concept not to have to entail anything supernatural. The presence of ‘design language’ in scientific papers therefore seems irrelevant to the real debate about ID.

  21. G. Edwards’s point is the one that I was bothered by. Steve may well have an interesting point about ineliminablity of design-language (and in his posts here he hasn’t talked about how this language has infused discussions of evolution since Darwin) but it only has purchase in the debate about ID if it is the kind of design which requires an external, non-natural intelligence. I dont think (as someone who knows relatively little about this) that evolutionary theory ever uses this kind of design lanaguage. And if that’s the case, no matter what else Steve tells us, he should also be telling us that none of it actually supports ID as it actually is. Now, if he wants to, he could add that, nonetheless, it does mean we should consider the current vogue for expunging all talk of design as a political repsonse to ID and that, actually, there may well be a respectable role for deisgn in evolutionary thinking. But unless this is clearly distinguished from external-supernatural-intelligent-design, it mudies the waters.
    Good to see Steve prepared to enter generally hostile waters to defend himself.

  22. Barefoot Bum tried to provide an example of translating design into non-design terms:

    (D) Evolution designed wings to be good at flying.

    (E) Those organisms with things growing out of their shoulders that were marginally better than their siblings’ at flying has more offspring; wings that are good at flying are the result of the accumulation of these improvements.

    There are several problems here. The main one is that you make this appear to be a general law, when in fact it’s relative to a certain class of environments — i.e. you leave out the functional specificity of the reproductive success over time. The other problem, which you partly addressed, is that most of the things that we speak about as ‘selected for’ are defined mainly by their functions than their physical make-up. For example, ‘wings’, which may actually be configured in many rather different ways but they all enable the creature to fly. Sure, you can try to cash it out in terms of their anatomical character, but the design character creeps back in once you talk about ‘improvements’ across generations.

    So, I’m afraid no cookie today.

  23. Julian and some others here appear to miss a crucial point I’m trying to make — namely, that design language has not diminished but INCREASED since Darwin’s day. This is not what the positivists told us we should have expected. Below this message, I provide an example from the Journal of Molecular Evolution (1996), as requested, which is touted as providing a refutation of intelligent design theory. Behe says at one point that the Krebs cycle is irreducibly complex. This article purports to refute the claim. And it probably does — but only by introducing a different notion of design in its place, one made popular by Francois Jacob in the wake of the DNA revolution. Here is the penultimate paragraph of the article. The actual source is given below it:

    The Krebs cycle has been frequently quoted as a key problem in the evolution of living cells, hard to explain by Darwin’s natural selection: How could natural selection explain the building of a complicated structure in toto, when the intermediate stages have no obvious fitness functionality? This looks, in principle, similar to the eye problem, as in ‘What is the use of half an eye?’ However, our analysis demonstrates that this case is quite different. The eye evolved because the intermediary stages were also functional as eyes, and, thus the same target of fitness was operating during the complete evolution. In the Krebs cycle problem the intermediary stages were also useful, but for different purposes, and, therefore, its complete design was a very clear case of opportunism. The building of the eye was really a creative process in order to make a new thing specifically, but the Krebs cycle was built through the process that Jacob called ‘evolution by molecular tinkering,’ stating that evolution does not produce novelties from scratch: It works on what already exists. The most novel result of our analysis is seeing how, with minimal new material, evolution created the most important pathway of metabolism, achieving the best chemically possible design. In this case, a chemical engineer who was looking for the best design of the process could not have found a better design than the cycle which works in living cells.

    E. Meléndez-Hevia, T. Waddell and M. Cascante: ‘The puzzle of the Krebs citric acid cycle: assembling the pieces of chemically feasible reactions, and opportunism in the design of metabolic pathways during evolution’, Journal of Molecular Evolution, 1996, 43, 202.

  24. People here seem quite worried about whether we need to let in supernatural explanations if we allow for design in science. This strikes me as putting the cart before the horse. Why don’t you see whether you can do away with design language. If not, then what must we/scientists buy into, in order for design to make sense as a feature of nature. I know evolutionists like to talk about ‘design without a designer’ but I’ve yet to find any demystified explanation of this expression. Frankly, ‘blind watchmaker’ ain’t much better, since on its face it simply suggests a designer who starts with a lot of liabilities and may not be able to finish the job properly. Not the greatest of gods, to be sure, but I suppose it would still have to be classed as ‘supernatural’. In any case, a key component of design, agency, hasn’t been eliminated.

    My point is that evolutionists already use design language — in fact more creatively than ID people do — but they don’t want to face up to the presuppositions of the idea. Evolutionists think they get a free pass by saying design is ‘mere metaphor’. I’m surprised philosophers don’t nail them on this more. Instead, people like Dennett actually add to the metaphorical mystification.

  25. Professor Fuller could save himself and the rest of us a lot of wasted effort if he were to consult a dictionary.

    For example, the online Merriam Webster at http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary has the following definition, among others, for the noun design:

    “5 a : an underlying scheme that governs functioning, developing, or unfolding : PATTERN, MOTIF “.

    This is what is meant in the quote from Meléndez-Hevia et al in “its complete design ” and “the best chemically possible design” and “could not have found a better design “. The phrase “a chemical engineer who was looking for the best design of the process ” probably also means design in this sense.

    Neither “pattern” nor “motif” are perfect synonyms for biologists because they do not include any reference to action. “Wing design” inevitably brings to mind flying in the way “wing pattern” does not.

  26. Thanks for going to the trouble of typing out the JME extract. Below is my first go at a rewrite. It only took about 15 minutes, so I am sure it can be improved. I would have marked it up but I doubted that the mark-up would carry through to this comments box. Please let me know if you think there is still any design language and I will fix it.

    (I might have a go at BB’s wings too, if he doesn’t).

    The Krebs cycle has been frequently quoted as a key problem in the evolution of living cells, hard to explain by Darwin’s natural selection: How could natural selection explain the intermediate stages that led to the outcome of a complicated structure in toto, when the intermediate stages have no obvious fitness functionality? This looks, in principle, similar to the eye problem, as in ‘What is the use of half an eye?’ However, our analysis demonstrates that this case is quite different. The eye evolved because the intermediary stages were also functional as eyes, and, thus selective pressure was operating on the same functional advantage (that of registering emissions in certain wave-lengths of the electromagnetic spectrum in a more and more sensitive way) throughout the evolution of the eye to date. In the Krebs cycle problem the intermediary stages were also useful to individual organisms possessing them over time, but for different reasons than that for which the last (or current) stage is useful, and, therefore, the history of its evolution to date is a very clear case of opportunism. The evolution of the eye was really a case in which completely new functionality was useful (and was therefore subject to positive selective pressure) at every stage, gradually increasing in complexity and functionality, in its evolution, but the Krebs cycle arose through the process that Jacob, not anticipating the future confusion that would be caused by the use of design metaphors, called ‘evolution by molecular tinkering,’ but would have been more prescient if less snappy had he called something like “evolution due to the multiple potential utilities of existing structures to the fitness of lineages over evolutionary time” stating that evolution does not produce fully-formed novelties from scratch: It operates on what already exists. The most novel result of our analysis is seeing how, with minimal new material, the most important pathway of metabolism arose through natural selection operating on intermediate forms, achieving what appears to us to be the best chemically possible outcome. In this case, a chemical engineer who was looking for the best design of the process

    I dont think (as someone who knows relatively little about this) that evolutionary theory ever uses this kind of design lanaguage. Julian, no, I don’t think so either. I think evolutionary theory only ever uses design language as a metaphor. But do you agree with my definition of the verb “design” above somewhere; which has the result that the use of the verb EITHER implies a deliberate designer OR is metaphorical? There is no middle case? Your comment above sems to suggest that there might be some middle case, but I don’t understand what it is. There is not “a respectable role for deisgn in evolutionary thinking” although there may be (or may have been) a respectable role for the use of metaphorical shorthand design language in the exposition of evolutionary thinking, to make text less clunky that my redraft above.

  27. My comment crossed with Paul Power’s above. The definition he quotes is of “deisgn” as a noun. Whereas I think he is right, we would still need to deal with “design” as a verb, and in any case I don’t think it’s very hard to get rid of the word “design” completely, however grammatically applied, to avoid confusion.

  28. Let us assume that evolutionists cannot refrain from using ‘design language’ in their explanations (indeed, that their use of such language is on the rise); would this commit them to presupposing something other than a naturalistic process of chance variation and natural selection? I cannot (as yet) see how it does.

  29. Nicely done, potentilla.

    I think the big issue is that we have tens of thousands of years of linguistic history attributing functional structure exclusively to intelligent, teleological human or human-like activity. It’s a very strong linguistic bias. So strong that “design” has become a synonym for “functional structure” (as a noun) or “a process that results in functional structure” (as a verb); the connotation of intelligent teleology slips into the background. It is because we don’t have a “snappy” word other than “design” that denotes functional structure—especially structure highly optimized for a function—that this unwanted baggage creeps into scientific literature.

    (It’s amusing to note that on one hand, people in the humanities criticize scientific and engineering types for being literal-minded and deaf to metaphor; on the other hand when we do use a metaphor, we are taken literally. It’s no wonder we’re gun-shy.)

    Regarding your criticism of my example:

    I’m not at all sure how my exposition appears to be a general law: It’s an explanation of a series of steps that actually happened in actual environments. I don’t use “always”, “all”, “entails”, the present tense or any other linguistic signals that connote general laws.

    I’m not sure how I “leave out the functional specificity of the reproductive success over time.” I explicitly mention it: “…organisms with [structures] marginally better… at flying…”

    I don’t see how it’s problematic that selection operates on function rather than physical make-up. It is usually improved function that entails reproductive success, with improved efficiency at constructing the structure providing a function running a distant second.

    We can, I think, make a generalization about evolution: Once you have a structure that has offers even a small functional advantage, absent competing selection pressure, continuing evolution will result in a structure that is optimized (with constraints) for that particular function.

    It is the constraints on the observed optimizations (conservation of original structure, lack of high-level innovation and lack of global optimization) that give us the clearest picture of the process and really drive home that the process, although it does result in optimized structures, does not show evidence of teleology, planning, abstract representation, or any other feature particular to human or human-like intelligence.

  30. Let me sum up the counter-argument:

    We have only one word, “design”, that concisely denotes functionally optimized structure, or a process which results in functionally optimized structures. The connotation of “a product of teleological intelligence” is an artifact of a linguistic bias easily attributable to the fact that, for tens of thousand of years, every functionally optimized structure whose origin was known was the product of human construction.

    In the specific cases cited, “design” can be replaced by cumbersome circumlocutions which attribute the functional optimization of structures to random mutation and natural selection over time. It is not too hard to imagine that all instances of “design” could be replaced by such circumlocutions.

    We can explain both the presence of the metaphor and the paucity of “literalization” in the scientific and popular literature by appealing to a simple hypothesis: All scientists understand “design” as a metaphor which does not entail the literal meaning of “having an (intelligent) designer.” Since the word is snappy, adequately denotes the weaker meaning, and because there is no good alternative, the use of the metaphor is uncontroversial and its understanding common, no one bothers to re-explain the metaphor using language which eliminates “design”.

    Now that the confusion has been brought to the attention of scientists, I expect that “design” will fall out of fashion in both the scientific and popular literature, and scientists will be further mocked for their clumsy literalism.

  31. First, I think it’s bad form in philosophy simply to take the authority of a dictionary for the meaning of words. YOu should look at the meaning of the word in the context of usage and then see whether a putative synonym does the same work.

    In this case, ‘pattern’ has been suggested to replace ‘design’. The problem is that ‘pattern” drops some of the meaning of ‘design’. There are patterns everywhere — some mathematically and physically quite interesting — but they are not necessarily biologically interesting. Why? Because the pattern doesn’t define a functioning part of some larger organic whole.

    I’m also not persuaded by much of Potentilla’s good-faith translation exercise, especially the idea that design is somehow eliminated by making reference to ‘potential utilities’. The fact that it’s cumbersome for scientists — even in the technical pieces — to leave behind design language should be seen as more than a matter of laziness or word limits. The fact that design language is actually proliferating and becoming more sophisticated in evolution suggests that it’s integral to how the biological research agenda is conceptualised, problems identified, etc. That strikes me as a much more straightforward explanation that actually accords well with the cognitive power of metaphor in the history of science.

    In any case, to keep saying it’s all ‘merely’ metaphor is simply whistling in the dark, especially when it comes from scientists, who after all are not known for their deep understanding of alternative theories of figurative discourse. Sure, most scientists might say that ‘design’ is metaphorical but do you think these people mean the same thing by ‘metaphorical’, if they have any clear sense of what the term means at all (other than “not literal, ergo don’t hold me too responsible for what I say in these cases”)?

  32. The Barefoot puts things in a way that interprets evolution very broadly and design very narrowly. This is very characteristic of the debate. Consider what he says:

    >

    Optimisation within constraints IS a design notion that modern evolutionary theory seems to depend on. That doesn’t make it any less design-based. Sure, evolutionists don’t depend on God operating with a preordained plan with nature modularised for all time into irreducibly complex units. But then, most intelligent design theories in the history of science have not had this radical apriori character. Even Newton held there had to be some divine intervention along the way, and Leibniz — while he found divine intervention logically suspect — ended up with a God who optimises within constraints, just like the evolutionists do today.

    Moreover, there’s nothing theologically weird about this: The God of Genesis struggles to get his plans realized in matter — even before Adam hits the scene. Why do you suppose it took six days? If Michael Behe’s God is better than the God of Genesis, then God bless him. But then it seems to me that proponents of ID need not be stuck with just one very extreme version of intelligent design.

  33. For some reason my quote from Barefoot Bum didn’t come out. Here is what I’m referring to:

    We can, I think, make a generalization about evolution: Once you have a structure that has offers even a small functional advantage, absent competing selection pressure, continuing evolution will result in a structure that is optimized (with constraints) for that particular function.

    It is the constraints on the observed optimizations (conservation of original structure, lack of high-level innovation and lack of global optimization) that give us the clearest picture of the process and really drive home that the process, although it does result in optimized structures, does not show evidence of teleology, planning, abstract representation, or any other feature particular to human or human-like intelligence.

  34. I found this set of comments by Barefoot Bum kind of funny — perhaps this is a ‘two cultures’ difference. I’ll put my response (SF) after his comment (BB):

    (BB) I think the big issue is that we have tens of thousands of years of linguistic history attributing functional structure exclusively to intelligent, teleological human or human-like activity. It’s a very strong linguistic bias. So strong that “design” has become a synonym for “functional structure” (as a noun) or “a process that results in functional structure” (as a verb); the connotation of intelligent teleology slips into the background. It is because we don’t have a “snappy” word other than “design” that denotes functional structure—especially structure highly optimized for a function—that this unwanted baggage creeps into scientific literature.

    (SF) I would have thought, from an evolutionary standpoint, long persistent forms of language — especially at this relatively basic level of categorisation — would be treated as truth-tracking to some extent. At least that’s what naturalistic epistemologists would be inclined to say . If design language seems to flourish in both ordinary and scientific settings, and indeed improves the conduct of science with its increased use, then maybe it’s getting at something true about nature — e.g. that it only makes sense as intelligently designed. At least, a naturalist should take seriously BB’s evidence as pointing in that direction, loathsome as that may seem.

    (BB) (It’s amusing to note that on one hand, people in the humanities criticize scientific and engineering types for being literal-minded and deaf to metaphor; on the other hand when we do use a metaphor, we are taken literally. It’s no wonder we’re gun-shy.)

    (SF) There’s no contradiction here. Scientists and engineers are indeed deaf to metaphor, which is why they don’t realize they cause more problems for themselves when they don’t explain what the metaphors are for. Unsurprisingly, then, taking the metaphor literally is the first step to try to make sense of what the scientist is saying.

  35. A series of questions on your comments, numbered for ease of reference:-

    1.First, I think it’s bad form in philosophy simply to take the authority of a dictionary for the meaning of words. YOu should look at the meaning of the word in the context of usage and then see whether a putative synonym does the same work. At whom is this comment aimed? If at Paul Power, I think his point was that a common usage of the noun “design” does not involve a deliberate designer, and he cited Merriam-Webster as a source to support his contention that it is indeed common. In this case, ‘pattern’ has been suggested to replace ‘design’. The problem is that ‘pattern” drops some of the meaning of ‘design’. No – some of the menaing YOU ascribe to deisgn; PP’s point was precisely that not everybody DOES ascribe this meaning to design.

    (2) I’m also not persuaded by much of Potentilla’s good-faith translation exercise, especially the idea that design is somehow eliminated by making reference to ‘potential utilities’. I’m glad you recognise that it was good faith, but I think you need to do a little more than to say you’re not convinced, without further detail, other than a reference to one phrase I used once (on which, see (3) below). Why are you not convinced? My contention is that I have restated the JME quote in terms which do not at any stage refer to or rely on “design” as a verb requiring a deliberate designer (except in reference to the hypothetical chemical engineer at the end). Do you disagree? Why?

    (3) …..especially the idea that design is somehow eliminated by making reference to ‘potential utilities’ I used this phrase once only, in the context of rephrasing Jacob as “evolution due to the multiple potential utilities of existing structures to the fitness of lineages over evolutionary time”. If the phrase worries you, how about “evolution due to the multiple potential ways that a particular physical characteristic might increase the inclusive fitness of individuals of a particular lineage over evolutionary time”?

    (4) The fact that it’s cumbersome for scientists — even in the technical pieces — to leave behind design language should be seen as more than a matter of laziness or word limits. Why? Necessarily? This seems to me to be something you need to demonstrate in some way, not merely assert.

    (5) The fact that design language is actually proliferating Your evidence that it is?

    (6) and becoming more sophisticated in evolution What do you mean by “becoming more sophisticated”? (I can’t tell whether I agree with your contention that “design langauge….is becoming more sophisticated” without knowing what you mean).

    (7) suggests that it’s integral to how the biological research agenda is conceptualised, problems identified, etc. That strikes me as a much more straightforward explanation that actually accords well with the cognitive power of metaphor in the history of science. A much more straightforward reason than what? Than that it’s a convenient metaphor? Why?

    (8) In any case, to keep saying it’s all ‘merely’ metaphor is simply whistling in the dark uh….and you intend what, exactly, by this opinion?

    (9) especially when it comes from scientists, who after all are not known for their deep understanding of alternative theories of figurative discourse. I don’t have a deep understanding of alternative theories of figurative discourse, either. Suppose you try to explain simply the problem with my doubtless very unsophisticated understanding that a metaphor is a figure of speech which describes something which is not literally true but resembles in some way something quite unrelated which is literally true.

    (10) Sure, most scientists might say that ‘design’ is metaphorical but do you think these people mean the same thing by ‘metaphorical’ The same thing as you? I don’t know, unless you tell me what you mean.

    (11) if they have any clear sense of what the term means at all (other than “not literal, ergo don’t hold me too responsible for what I say in these cases”)? Why is “not literal” inadequate?

    (12) I would have thought, from an evolutionary standpoint, long persistent forms of language — especially at this relatively basic level of categorisation — would be treated as truth-tracking to some extent.. Then you would have thought wrong. The time-frames over which the human species has been discussing these issues are far too short. Furthermore, there is an obvious reason why until recently design language predominated in discussions of (say) why eyes existed; until Darwin, there wasn’t any other theoretcial framework which could be applied.

    (13) At least that’s what naturalistic epistemologists would be inclined to say . Your evidence for this dubious claim?

    (14) If design language…..improves the conduct of science with its increased use, What do you mean by this?

    (15) Scientists and engineers are indeed deaf to metaphor What, all of them? So is the corollary that they shouldn’t use metaphor, or that they can’t be trusted to know when they are using metaphor? Are you arguing that the authors of articles like the one in JME, although they think they are using metaphor in the simple (simplistic?) sense of using words in a way which is not literally true are in fact wrong? (And incidentally, i don’t think the particular extract of JME can be taken as evidence of scientists being deaf to the possible confusions caused by non-explicit metaphor, since in 1996 nobody had invented ID).

    As a footnote, I mentioned to Julian above that the use of the word “evolutionist” marks you out as someone who is “on the ID side”. You may think that’s silly, but you may as well argue that the use of the word “nigger” is not racist (there not yet, as far as I know, being a functional equivalent of the word “niggah”). I mention this only in case you wish to preserve your reputation as an impartial commentator in this debate.

  36. Scientists and engineers are indeed deaf to metaphor, which is why they don’t realize they cause more problems for themselves when they don’t explain what the metaphors are for.

    That’s a very dubious assertion. In my field, software engineering, metaphor is one of the strongest tools used to make complex abstract concepts manageable and they are used in a very deliberate way. The ‘Desktop’ on my computer is not the literal desktop it sits on, and the people at Xerox Parc who invented that metaphor knew that and knew what they were doing with it and why. Papers and entire books are written about the appropriate use of metaphor in software engineering and computer science.

    Why are you uniquely placed to understand the use of metaphor and I am not? Are you saying scientists and engineers are somehow different creatures with stunted minds incapable of using metaphors appropriately?

  37. Since potentilla has done the heavy lifting, I will confine my comments to a side issue.

    In the most general, abstract sense, I think there’s at least a bit of merit to Steve’s suggestion that the use of a word is superficial* evidence for the truth of the literal meaning of that word. However, superficial evidence is not the only story; an explanation must account for all the evidence, not just the evidence which supports one’s favored thesis.

    * I have been stung in the past using the term prima facie; it has not only the sense of superficial, but also the sense of “irrefutable”, which I do not intend in this context.

  38. One disadvantage I have over the rest of you is you all know who I am – or can easily find out – whereas the rest of you (except Julian) are anonymous to me. I have been presuming you’re philosophers for the most part, perhaps with some scientific background. More likely, I now guess, it’s the reverse. Or not???? While I think there are some genuine disagreements here, part of the problem is that I’ve been presuming things I shouldn’t have. I also realize – after having been long scrutinised on blogs – that they lead to diminishing returns after a while. But let me try to clarify what I think is worth clarifying here.

    I don’t promise responding to anything after this point because I’m off to Vienna for an EU project meeting on ‘converging technologies’ of which I’m the UK partner. We are currently running a cyberconference that might interest you:

    http://www.converging-technologies.org/cyberconference/tabid/37/UserID/42/Default.aspx

    I’ll stick to Potentilla’s points, using his numbers. Some I’m happy to let stand.

    (2-3) I’m sorry you feel short-shrifted here but, as far as I can see, you’re still operating within a broadly functionalist framework, which presupposes design-based thinking. Again you’re trying hard but you still can’t get rid of phrases like ‘selection pressures’ and ‘inclusive fitness’, which presuppose some functional relationship between the organism and the environment. Who or what defines the system in terms of which functionality makes sense? In the experiments like the ones cited in the JME article, functionality is established by laying down certain constraints – either in a lab or on a computer – within which hypothesized evolutionary processes can then unfold. In other words, a lot of ‘intelligent design’ of the human variety has already been frontloaded before the experiments even begin. Of course the outcomes are not preordained but they are heavily guided. It seems to me that when it comes to eliminating design, you have two options, both of which simply push the problem elsewhere: either design lies outside the observed system (i.e. experimenters who set up an experiment to let the designed system play itself out) or it is distributed inside the observed system (this seems to be what Jacob had in mind when he replaced an entire organism’s teleology with specific biochemical ‘teleonomies’).

    (4-6) Shifting the burden of proof is boring, whatever field you’re in. I focussed on the article from JME because it was originally cited by a biologist as a definitive refutation of Behe’s irreducible complexity. So I take the article as one of the better examples of contemporary biological research. Is that so unreasonable? To be honest, I too expected that the design language wouldn’t be so blatant. By ‘sophisticated’ I mean what I said earlier: namely, evolutionists have learned that there are different conceptions of design – optimising engineer and opportunistic tinkerer being the two flagged in the article. So, my argument is that if this is the best that it gets, then design is ineliminable. The authors effectively refute Behe’s conception of intelligent design by relying on another such conception. What I don’t get is why you guys are so keen to eliminate design language in the first place, especially given that all of biology before Darwin and much of it after him has relied on it. Is your fear of religion so great that you can’t stand the idea that biology might flourish with conceptions of life that are easily open to theological interpretation? I hope not.

    (7-11) Here, you’ve really got the wrong end of the stick. There is a vast philosophical literature on the cognitive role of metaphor in thought, especially scientific thought. I doubt if professional scientists pay much attention to it, and so whatever hazy views they might have about metaphors are bound to be various. This is why I say that one shouldn’t trust the mere fact that all scientists can agree that a certain phrase is ‘metaphorical’. If you want to learn something about this topic, a classic is Andrew Ortony’s anthology, ‘Metaphor and Thought’ (CUP 1979). There are radically different views about the role of metaphor in science – but you need to keep in mind that metaphors interact dynamically with scientific inquiry: i.e. they are not simply PR gimmicks for the ignorant but they move scientists in certain directions. A relevant dimension for this discussion is whether metaphors are models for the literal (e.g. atoms were originally a metaphor that 2000 years later was shown to be real once scientists figured out how to render the metaphor testable) or, as people here have been presuming about design-talk, they are things we expect to be replaced by something expressible in a pre-existing scientific discourse. As you can see, I am inclined to the former view.

    (12) Wow, this is weird: Are you saying that people have been discussing whether there’s design in nature only since Darwin? (Mr Aristotle may wish to have a quiet word with you.) Or are you saying that truth can be only revealed over the course of geological time? (So much, then, for naturalistic epistemology as a humanly doable enterprise!)

    (15) I see, so YOU equate the label ‘evolutionist’ with ‘nigger’? This says a lot about how you think about these matters. I would have never made such an association. Just so you don’t feel bad, I get told much the same thing when I call people who are anti-ID ‘Darwinists’. So, what then is the politically correct term for the anti-ID side: Oh, I know: ‘reason-loving, reality-hugging, truth-seekers’…

  39. Just for the record: I am not anonymous: I’m Larry Hamelin. My name is listed prominently on my blog, which is linked to on all my posts. Since I am not in fact a professional philosopher, I suppose I have no standing here, and I will refrain from further comment.

  40. I am neither a philosopher nor a scientist in the sense of earning my living as either. I have about equal knowledge of and interest in the two, in the broadest of senses. The “knowledge” part is not inconsiderable, although doubtless not to be compared with that of someone who has made (part of) either their life’s study. If you especially want to know who I am, I am the female half of this partnership; I quite often put the website in the available field when commenting, and had not noticed that I had not done so on this occasion.

    The fact that I’m a lay-person may, of course, cause you to feel that I am not very interesting to debate with. On the other hand, perhaps I am an interesting test case? I am not committed emotionally to any particular view, partly because I have not invested my professional life in the area. I agree I would not be interesting to debate with were I being unclear or engaging in any of the usual blogosphere debating techniques. I am certainly trying not to do either of those things. Perhaps the blog proprietors could be impartial judges of whether I am achieving this.

    (2-3) This is the crux. ‘selection pressures’ and ‘inclusive fitness’……. presuppose some functional relationship between the organism and the environment. Who or what defines the system in terms of which functionality makes sense? NO-ONE and NOTHING “defines the system”. We can explain everything back to the question “why does a replicator (ie, a thing that replicates itself) exist at all?” without a designer, or definer. We don’t have a seriously strong theory about the replicator question yet (AFAIK, as a lay person), only hypotheses. However, if we assume replicators exist, everything else follows without any designer, including the evolution of the Krebs cycle. Is this something you accept, or should I – would you be interested if I – explain it further?

    (4-6) Shifting the burden of proof is boring Possibly, but I wasn’t, was I? (4) and (6) require explanation of your meaning, not proof, and (5) is your assertion – that “design language is proliferating” and therefore the burden of proof lies with you. No, it’s not unreasonable to focus on the JME article for the reason you cite, but it is not of course evidence by itself for the proliferating claim. my argument is that if this is the best that it gets, then design is ineliminable It seems to me very probable (subject, of course, to your correction) that the article was actually cited because it explains how the process of natural selection results in a particular feature even if not all the intermediate forms of the feature have the SAME selective advantage as the present form. Not because of the language. So your argument fails if the paper can be restated in language which eliminates the concept of a designer (whether it can or not being a separate matter, see above). Do you agree? What I don’t get is why you guys are so keen to eliminate design language in the first place Because other guys use design language as evidence that the arguments of evolutionary biologists rely in some way on a designer – something purposive – and evolutionary biologists don’t think they do so rely. I would hate to think you are approaching the ad hominem with your little crack about fear of religion. There are plenty of scientists who have religious beliefs and STILL don’t think that evolution requires a purposive designer. Myself, I don’t have any “fear” of religion. In fact, I think it would be rather nice if it were true. If you are not Behe, as you say above, then I am not, as it were, Dawkins or PZ Myers, and certainly not Sam Harris. I just don’t think, on the evidence, that it is true. Part of the evidence is that there is a plausible mechanism by which the living world can end up as it is without needing to be designed. Hence my interest in getting to the bottom of your claims about the role of design in biological explanation.

    (7-11) I will continue (with slightly gritted teeth) to observe the philosophical presumption of charity and not take this as a Courtier’s Reply and I will add the book to my extensive backlog. But meanwhile, do I understand from your explanation about atoms that one view about scientific metaphor is that it will necessarily turn out to be literal? Is that what “models for the literal” means? I’m quite happy to believe that some metaphor may turn out to be (something like) literally true, eventually, but surely this is not necessarily the case? There seem to me to be many counter-examples, such as the concept of the heavens as crystal spheres. In which case, surely we are left in a position where we need to consider each example of metaphor as a specific case?

    (12) No. I took your statement (italicized in my quotation) to mean that you believe that “evolutionists” would treat something “long-persisting” as having some possible evolved (genetic) substrate, or alternatively being something which would have been selected against were it not to some extent true (was this an incorrect reading?). I was merely pointing out that the use of design language is not “long-persisting” in terms of the time-frame over which the evolution of large mammals takes place. (Furthermore, something which is not “true” is not necessarily something is selected against. An example would be people’s belief in their own powers of judgement in various respects, which is frequently considerably higher than reality (there is extensive evidence in the literature of experimental psychology for this claim). But this was not the point I was originally making).

    (15) No, I don’t. I don’t care two hoots, in fact. I merely observe that many people think of “evolutionist” as a necessarily pejorative term (“moonbat”, my original example, would be a much better parallel than “nigger”, and in any case my comment above doesn’t, in fact “equate the label”). And if you use the pejorative term, you immediately alienate some of the people whose views might, in fact, prove interesting, and make it that much less likely that you can engage in constructive debate with them. A good term for “the anti-ID side” might be, say, “evolutionary biologists”?

    I suppose I can see why this last comment has caused you to get in a sarcastic strop. Mentioning the N-word was ill-judged on my part, and in fact only caused by a Person from Porlock ringing as I was finishing the comment. I take it back. Please consider the case of “moonbat” instead. Would you expect avowed Democrats to bother engaging intellectually with you if you referred to them consistently as “moonbats”? It’s not that the term is (AFAIK!) insulting in itself, it’s just that it was invented by and is only used by “the opposition”. And note I don’t ask whether you think Democrats OUGHT to behave this way, merely whether they WILL.

  41. Larry, keep on posting. Fuller can’t type ‘language’ and is here guilty of the worst sophistry it has been my misfortune to encounter in a good long time. In my view you have the greater standing. If Fuller has ever read Harry Frankfurt on ‘Bullshit’, he obviously reinterpreted the language because of its heavy leaning towards ‘truthy’ words……

  42. potentilla: I think the best analogy for the “evolutionist” term is Republican’s use of “Democrat party”. Not insulting per se, but put-down nonetheless by virtue of its dissonance and external origin.

  43. Mike: I’ll wait for a ruling from the editors, but since Fuller has withdrawn from the conversation, the issue is presumably moot.

    I will say that I share your poor opinion on the quality of Fuller’s argument, but what do I know? It’s not like spending thirty years writing complicated computer programs would give me the slightest insight into logic and reason.

  44. BB – right; being British I don’t have a good ear for American political language. (‘Moonbat’ came from reading Pharyngula too much) and at first I did not realise that Prof Fuller now works in the UK so a UK example work. The equivalent in the UK might be the term “NuLab” as an adjective for a policy of the current Labour government. It is not per se insulting, but it is only ever used by people who disapprove of the policy and probably the party in general, or its policies in general.

  45. And I don’t know that Fuller has necessarily withdrawn; he might just be having a Vienna pause, which is fair enough. Let’s wait a few days and see.

  46. Prof Fuller writes:
    “First, I think it’s bad form in philosophy simply to take the authority of a dictionary for the meaning of words. YOu should look at the meaning of the word in the context of usage and then see whether a putative synonym does the same work.

    In this case, ‘pattern’ has been suggested to replace ‘design’. The problem is that ‘pattern” drops some of the meaning of ‘design’. There are patterns everywhere — some mathematically and physically quite interesting — but they are not necessarily biologically interesting. Why? Because the pattern doesn’t define a functioning part of some larger organic whole”

    1) I took the authority of a dictionary to show that the meaning I inferred in the article is (at least potentially )correct. The definition I found shows that there is a meaning of “design” that does not require a designer and that this meaning fits perfectly in the context of the quotation. Prof. Fuller’s reading of the article is therefore invalid.

    2) I explicitly said why “pattern” is not a perfect synonym for “design” here: ‘Neither “pattern” nor “motif” are perfect synonyms for biologists because they do not include any reference to action’. So to what straw man of his own devising is the Professor’s second paragraph above responding ?

    Professor Fuller can kick up as much sand as he likes to attempt to confuse the issue, but the reality is that his interpretation of his own quote is incorrect. The only interesting question left is whether this is because of an error on his part or bad faith.

  47. BB – Well I certainly hope that you’ll stick around.

    FWIW, I think that Prof. Fuller is a little too ready to drift towards ad hominem (even if disguised ad hominem).

    I’m also a little baffled as to what is at stake with all this stuff. I thought the whole point about natural selection was that it allows (what appears to be) design without a designer. And if it is true that we find it hard to translate design-type language into non-design language this only means we find it very easy to think in terms of things being designed. But so what? We all know this already, don’t we?

    (Which is not to say that I don’t think it can be done: I think Potentilla did a pretty good job with her example).

  48. I thought the whole point about natural selection was that it allows (what appears to be) design without a designer. Yes, that is the point. But Prof Fuller is arguing that it doesn’t; that the design language (which evolutionary biologists think is only only a convenient metaphor) is actually symptomatic that of the fact that their theories do not eschew a designer.

    See Julian’s post:[Fuller] argued that even evolutionists use a design-infused language. I thought this was a red herring: the key issue is whether people talk of design with the implication that an external, supernatural intelligent agent is required to intervene to bring about evolutionary change. For all his examples of evolutionists using design-laden language, I just didn’t think he showed that, or could. Since this point looks like its central to his forthcoming book, Dissent over Descent, that looks pretty serious.

    And I’m not just relying on Julian’s summary of what Prof Fuller’s book is going to say. His views seem clear from the comments above. He says So, I’m asking for clear examples where in fact design-based language has been superseded. If this challenge proves impossible — or even very difficult — to meet, it would say something important about what scientists need to assume in order to do their work. Scientists may unwittingly assume ID while they officially deny it.

    This seems to me to be an enormous issue at stake. Look at that last sentence. If scientists did “unwittingly assume ID” obviously that would have big consequences for evolutionary theory. So big that, to be honest, I was quite surprised that neither you nor Ophelia had jumped into this discussion, given “Why Truth Matters”. Maybe you have read more than I have of the vast philosophical literature on the cognitive role of metaphor in thought, especially scientific thought and have views on my various questions above about the definition of metaphor?

    Hence my desire to continue to deal with Prof Fuller’s arguments (and assertions) in painstaking detail. So far he has not given me any reason to believe that he is not simply wrong about the supposed unwitting assumptions of scientists, but he has not actually got deeply into the topic in this comments thread.

  49. Thanks, Jeremy.

    I think potentilla has raised all the objections I would have, and more. I’ll be looking forward to Prof. Fuller substantive defense, and feel entitled to respond… if I can beat potentilla to the punch!

    I would like to make sure I understand the gist of Prof. Fuller’s argument:

    The word “design” occurs increasingly often in serious, scientific biological work. The word “design” at least strongly connotes a designer; the phrase “intelligent design” can thus be seen to use “intelligent” as an intensifier rather than to distinguish intelligent design from unintelligent design. As an intensifier, “intelligent design” can thus be seen as a legitimate category of evolutionary biology.

    The actual use of “design” in scientific biology does in fact entail that some entity is making choices, a necessary (if perhaps not sufficient) condition to call this entity a “designer”. The scientific work becomes incoherent if this choice-making condition is removed.

    If we’re loose about our definition of “entity” (if, perhaps, we’re allowed to refer to “the laws of physics” as an “entity” in some abstract sense), I think Fuller’s point is, if not proven, at least in play.

    The question becomes about whether teleology is a necessary condition for intelligence, either in addition to choice-making, or as a required precondition for choice-making.

    If “intelligent design” means specifically teleological design, then “intelligent” does differentiate ID from the stated position of most biologists; there is a qualitative difference between ID and mainstream scientists, not just an extension or difference of degree.

    Unfortunately, I’ve read nothing from those who explicitly self-identify as “intelligent design” proponents that offers a rigorous, precise definition of “intelligence”. The vast majority of ID proponents (notably Behe and Dembski; present company, of course, excluded) seem to have an only barely-hidden theistic agenda, which does not seem to dispose them to clear, precise definitions.

  50. Does it help if ‘even evolutionists’ explicitly disavow the implication that an external, supernatural intelligent agent is required to intervene to bring about evolutionary change? Or is it Fuller’s contention that even explicit disavowal doesn’t do the trick.

    For what it’s worth, here’s Dennett on the subject, from DDI (p 184), quoted in Breaking the Spell (p. 243):

    We began with a somewhat childish vision of an anthropomorphic, Handicrafter-God, and recognized that this idea, taken literally, was well on the way to extinction. When we looked through Darwin’s eyes at the actual processes of design of which we and all the wonders of nature are the product to date, we found that Paley was right to see these effects as the result of lot of design work, but we found a non-miraculous account of it: a massively parallel, and hence prodigiously wasteful, process of mindless, algorithmic design-trying, in which, however, the minimal increments of design have been thriftily husbanded, copied and re-used over billions of years.

  51. It appears to be his contention that explicit disavowal doesn’t do the trick. He says above Scientists may unwittingly assume ID while they officially deny it..

    And also Sure, most scientists might say that ‘design’ is metaphorical but do you think these people mean the same thing by ‘metaphorical’, if they have any clear sense of what the term means at all (other than “not literal, ergo don’t hold me too responsible for what I say in these cases”)? It’s almost as though explicit disavowal especially doesn’t do the trick because it means they aren’t thinking.

    He appears to be saying that evolutionary biologists have all fooled themselves into not realising that purposive design is still necessary for their theories. A sort of mass self-hypnosis. (Or I suppose maybe he thinks that some of them do realise and are just dishonest; he hasn’t said).

  52. So it’s the Freudian maneuver, essentially – confirmation is confirmation, and denial is confirmation. So one wonders what, exactly, would falsify this hypothesis.

  53. OK, I see you people are angry. My apologies. It sounds though like you are simply shoring each other’s confidence at this point. I’ll wade through this stuff to see whether there is something of substance worth responding to at length. I must confess though Dennett’s historically illiterate comments don’t bode well. (No, Ophelia, not another webpage denouncing my arrogance!)

    Also, I always find it interesting when in this debate I get accused of ad hominem comments — as if the rest of you don’t do the same. I’m routinely accused of being all sorts of things I’m not by people who can’t bother to read anything that isn’t on the web. I actually believe ad hominems are inevitable in a forum that isn’t restricted by peer review. Part of it may be intentionally nasty but part is simply to get a fix on people they can’t quite figure out. In my more charitable moments, all the webpages that Ophelia has devoted to criticising me looks like this. It’s a coping mechanism on her part (oops, there goes nasty Dr Freud again!).

    I appreciate some of you admitting who you are and where you’re coming from. I’m genuinely surprised and it helps me understand your response. One thing participation in web debates teaches me is that this is no ideal speech situation. Even partial ignorance of one’s interlocutors causes no end of misfiring because, like it or not, people are always making inferences beyond the words they see in order to fill in what they don’t know about the other party.

  54. Potentilla

    If scientists did “unwittingly assume ID” obviously that would have big consequences for evolutionary theory.

    Ah. I confess to having not read all his comments! My mistake.

    I guess it hinges on exactly what he means here. He doesn’t actually say it would entail the truth of Discovery Institute type ID. And I guess it also depends on what he means by the “intelligent” bit (and whether that entails some kind of conscious entity).

    I’m still not convinced he’s saying anything that startling. But I think you’re right that it’s worth trying to nail down exactly what it is he is saying.

  55. It’s a coping mechanism on her part

    Yup. Otherwise I scratch until I bleed.

  56. Devin Carpenter

    I just read this whole thread, and…I still don’t understand Fuller’s argument, and he won’t reply to many of the substantive critiques.

    No, Ophelia, not another webpage denouncing my arrogance!

    He’s just digging himself in deeper.

  57. For what it is worth, I have emailed one of the co-authors of the Krebs cycle paper from which Professor Fuller quoted, to see what they all meant be “design”. Is this not the way to settle that part of the debate ?

    I find Prof. Fuller is always blurring necessary distinctions, to his advantage. Consider that I provided a dictionary definition of “design” that both matched the Krebs quote and did not implyv a designer. He countered that dictionaries cannot be used in philosophy to fix the meanings of words. note the blurring: the quote was of professional biochemists writing a technical paper in biochemistry for their peers. What they meant by “design” is therefore a matter of biochemistry, if it’s a technical use, or else a dictionary, if it’s non-technical. Philosophy has as much to do with it as garbage -collection.

    For the record, I am full of animosity towards Professor Fuller. As far as I am concerned, he is an intelligent man peddling stupidity, an educated man pushing ignorance.

  58. I’m still not convinced he’s saying anything that startling.

    Maybe. But if his claim has any substantive content at all, it seems that it must entail purposive design (by a not-very-bright deigner perhaps?). That’s the only thing that can distinguish it from “design” used as metaphor. AFAIK.

    I am still trying not to be full of animosity towards Professor Fuller. Being full of animosity allows him to write you off as he has in his comment at 10.33pm Sat, which has certainly not been drafted with the aim not alienating people.

    Dear Professor Fuller, I have not made any ad hominem remarks (and I have no need to have my confidence shored). I entered this debate with a mind willing, indeed wishing, to understand your point. You have not yet made much substantive reply to my various questions, despite the closing paragraph of Julian’s original post. I realise that “wading through” the arguments of those who currently disagree with you is a boring task and that you a busy person. Nevertheless, it seems to me to be something an academic should do if they wish to retain credibility – unless you consider me not “a foeman worthy of your steel” in which case please just say so. I am not asking you to distract yourself from your important Vienna commitments. I shall in any case be offline myself and not able to read any response you care to make from Thursday morning for a week. But I hope that, at your leisure, you will see fit to respond to my two comments here with numbered paras, in a substantive way and applying the princple of charity (and some concentration) if you don’t think I’ve expressed myself clearly.

    I have absolutely no interest in the silly little concerns of one-upmanship which indeed characterise much internet debate; possibly because I have incurable cancer, as you may have discovered from our website. I am – really – just interested in learning more about the truth.

  59. Whilst I fully support Julian’s point in the opening article, I think that far from being a nonpartisan champion of truth and enemy of poor argument, Fuller has since demonstrated a penchant for ‘tu quoque’ (you too!) argument, and an enthusiasm for obfuscation which makes him very much at home in the ID camp.

    But we shouldn’t be surprised – let’s not forget that the purpose of the ID project is not to explain the fact of evolution but to discredit the theory of evolution by natural selection. In this respect, ID enthusiasts like Fuller need not actually say anything substantive or even meaningful to achieve their goal.

    Since evidence is not generally high on their list of priorities, we also shouldn’t be surprised when they leap at the opportunity to present some when they think they find it. Here, Fuller is clearly trying to pass off the use of ”design-laden language” in Darwinian theory as evidence that there’s some kind of design stuff going on whether or not Darwinian theorists know it or are prepared to admit it themselves! What kind? What mechanisms? What source? Don’t hold your breath – it is enough to raise the question.

    Whilst in these environs he won’t get away with simply saying, “evolutionists use design-laden language all the time” without getting called on it, out in the real world where controversy hungry journalists will fall over themselves for anything that will prop up a sensationalist headline, the implications of that statement are all that matters. It’s not science or philosophy, it’s PR.

    Having said that of course, Fuller has been good enough to grace us with his presence and fight his corner rather than simply leave the implication out their for an uncritical media to make the most of it. So, Professor Fuller, I’m prepared to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you’re not merely trying to carve out some elbow room for creationism by casting unsupported doubt on Darwinian theory. If you do indeed genuinely believe that the design-laden language of Darwinian theory is pointing at some deeper truth that current theorists are blind to, then tell us what it is. At the very least you should be able to sketch out some possible mechanisms, a search for which more enlightened, less dogmatic theorists might begin. As it stands, all you’re arguing for is at best some abstract meta-principle of design/purpose – very much at home in anthropocentric theological thought, but not much to offer in the way of science.

  60. I’m still waiting for Fuller’s substantive defense of his position. I must confess, however, that my eagerness is flagging and I am not actually holding my breath.

  61. Patience, BB! After all, Fuller is clearly a guy committed to arguing things through in an intelligent way, and just as fundamentally committed to the values of open rational debate as anyone else. Therefore he will inevitably pony up, one of these days.

    (By the way…are you aware that your handle has a certain hilariously enigmatic quality to UK readers? Who wonder how a bum can be barefoot, and then imagine a bum with feet, and then become helpless with foolish giggles?)

  62. Actually…to speak less frivolously/ironically, I did think Fuller might live up to Julian’s description of him. Description often has that effect, as is well known. But…so far, the description and the performance seem widely at variance.

  63. Ophelia: I’ve seen all too many professional philosophers—even otherwise sensible ones—completely unwilling to address substantive criticism from amateurs. Whether such an attitude is legitimate is really up to the academic community, and whether Prof. Fuller shares this unwillingness, of course, remains to be seen.

    And yes, I’m aware on the various cultural interpretation of my handle. You should see some of the searches which lead to my blog! I chose my handle to emphasize my disdain for (and lack of) official credentials, and the UK reading seems to extend my intention.

  64. Give the guy a break, he’s at his Viennese conference (have you looked at the link he gives above? well worth it) and as I type is actually (billed to be) online doing live chat in this context.

    I daresay the amount he has been execrated for Kitzmiller has put him well on the defensive; if you did something in good faith in the first place it must be depressing to be attacked in a personal way for it. I haven’t read the links provided by Ophelia above because for some reason they’ve only just appeared (caught as spam?) but I am well aware what some of the more combative of the Pharyngula habitues can achieve in this regard.

    And Fresno Bob – Fuller says above that he is not Behe, so let’s assume that your characterisation of the famous IDers (with which I agree) does not extend to him.

    It’s OK, we in the UK are bilingual in respect of bums. Too much American TV or plenty of American literature, depending how you look at it. If O’s hypothetical British reader has any base in reality, I hope the person concerned was about 8 (have my nephew in mind)

  65. Hey guys, wherever this blog picks up its timestamp from is not in BST. That comment I just left was at about 6.42pm.

  66. If O’s hypothetical British reader has any base in reality, I hope the person concerned was about 8

    Noooo, it was one of the venerable and highly dignified proprietors of this very blog. Well, and the even more venerable and dignified me; I laughed too.

  67. michael reidy

    There is a failure to distinguish between the Argument from Design and design talk in general which is really just an example of the use of analogy. The god-feariing commentors seem to think that there is an equivalence between the two. Daniel Dennett has no problem with the design stance which he allies to the intentional stance.

    “Design-stance prediction works wonderfully on well-designed artifacts, but it also works wonderfully on Mother Nature’s artifacts – living things and their parts” (pg.39, Kinds of Minds)

    The difficulty with analogy arises when it is treated as an homology or parallel. An analogy works in a narrow fixed way, it has a focus and the analogues are not like each other in every way. One could say that the Argument from Design is a sort of homology while the design stance/analogy works on the narrow fit to purpose band.

  68. Oh no, I withdraw the implication then. it’s just that after a session of video Skype yesterday, I have had bum jokes up to here.

  69. Oh no need to withdraw the implication. I’m not going to pretend it was sophisticated laughter!

    I googled Fuller, out of curiosity, and turned up this long article with many comments at Crooked Timber

    http://crookedtimber.org/2006/03/27/if-there%e2%80%99s-a-war-please-direct-me-to-the-battlefield/

    Just the one link; more than one does get blocked as spam.

    It’s several million words, but interesting reading, and relevant to some of the questions asked here. Almost none of the commenters found his replies (let alone the article itself) satisfying though.

  70. I’m glad I could give you a chuckle. 🙂 I’m, if not a devotee, at least an admirer of Steve Gimbel’s Comedism.

    I’ll have a look at Fuller’s article when I’m done reading War and Peace. Say what you will about the guy, there’s no doubt he can type.

  71. Steve Gimbel? Now there’s a coincidence. I’ve published a couple of articles of his at Butterflies and Wheels.

    Yeah, Fuller can type all right; he’s right up there with Kerouac.

  72. potentilla:

    And Fresno Bob – Fuller says above that he is not Behe, so let’s assume that your characterisation of the famous IDers (with which I agree) does not extend to him.

    Fair point – but if I’ve characterised him unfairly, it’s because he’s doing a bloody good impression of the likes of Behe. As I see it, either he has something to contribute besides simply implying that Darwinian theorists are merely kidding themselves, or he’s just engaging in barely plausible sophistry.

  73. Ophelia: The world of online philosophy is on the smaller side. IIRC, I found Steve’s blog through B&W (or the other way around).

  74. Sorry for being away so long but I am really at a conference, and so let me put down a few thoughts about the doubled length of this blog since I last participated. I dont’ pretend to have read everything here.

    Let me recap my position on evolution and design-language: Evolutionists want to have their cake and it with regard to its use: They want to keep a pretty rich concept of design in their talk while denying some of its semantic (or ontological) consequences, which includes the idea of a designer. This is because the concept of design implies ‘agency’ (which is where it differs from a word like ‘pattern’). Thus, evolutionists resort to cute turns of phrases like ‘apparent design’ and ‘design without a designer’ (which Paley originally coined to point out its absurdity but after Dawkins is now read straight).

    Of course, this says nothing about where the agency of design comes from. So I don’t think it offers a proof of God’s existence. However, theology offers one way of thinking about the agency behind design that has proved inspirational to science in the past. (And here we shouldn’t underestimate the variety of conceptions of God, even within the monotheistic framework, that have been proposed.) In the experiments and simulations where evolution is most clearly demonstrated to be a product of ‘chance-based processes’, the design is built into the experimental design and whatever constraints the computer programmer introduces at the outset. The outcomes of such experiments and simulations are certainly not DETERMINED by the intelligent designer (in this case, one or more humans) but they certainly are constrained simply because the experiments and simulations had to be designed in a specific way to have even a chance of working.

    (It would be interesting to hear what you make of this observation: Humanists routinely discount social science experiments precisely on these grounds – here ‘intelligent design’ comes in the form of ‘experimenter manipulation’. The results of the experiment are said not to generalize beyond the lab because of the intervention of the experimenter.)

    If you follow the ID literature, you’ll know that people like Dembski are trying to define (using mathematical information theory) ‘intelligent design’ as this middle realm – halfway between pure chance and pure necessity. I am not saying that he’s nailed it but the project is not at all stupid. In fact, it is an attempt to give some rigor to the sense of agency in the concept of design, which in turn is a key way in which ‘life’ is distinguished from other physical phenomena. And the fact that he tries to cash this out in terms of mathematics opens him to enormous criticism: The errors are easy to detect. But that’s not a sign of the project’s stupidity – simply of its easy testability and hence falsifiability. No one has shown that Dembski’s overall strategy is flawed – simply his particular execution of it. (I would say something similar about Behe on the identification of ‘irreducible complexity’ in nature.)

    Of course, evolutionists (especially after Jacques Monod in 1970s) have talked about evolution as some emergent product of ‘chance and necessity’, without the need to postulate an ontologically separate category of ‘design’. But what exactly does that mean??? You might think that the work coming from the Santa Fe Institute, inspired by Stuart Kauffman, is getting at this with its computer programmes. But these programmes don’t organize themselves through chance-based processes – they require very intelligent human computer programmers to set the relevant constraints in place within which the chance-based processes can occur. If these activities are to be treated as models of nature, then we need to model not simply what happens inside the programmes, but also what makes them possible: What is the nature-based analogue of the human computer programmer? At this point, God appears as a plausible alternative. Of course, you can continue to say that any prior intelligence is merely apparent and take comfort in the billions of years that chance-based processes are able to take to reach our current state. But this too is a metaphysical hypothesis, not something definitively implied by the data – and certainly not something we’re in a position to observe first-hand. Yes, I know most respectable biologists believe that ‘design = chance x necessity’ but that’s just an argument from authority. It’s here that philosophy can play some useful role by refusing to give credit to overstatements of scientific knowledge claims made by professional scientists.

    Many seminal figures in the history of biology have been devout theists, such as Linnaeus and Mendel. We’d nowadays call them special creationists. But we are also capable of separating their metaphysical commitments from their empirically valid claims. Well, I’m saying the same thing, mutatis mutandi, for contemporary biologists who think their empirically valid claims about life today implies a metaphysical position that removes intelligent design from the picture. My point here is based on more than a positivistic open-mindedness about the metaphysical implications of science (i.e. science can’t be used to justify any particular metaphysics and hence anything is permitted but nothing proven – this is how you get from Carnap to Feyerabend, for those who care). It is also based on the persistent failure of scientists to eliminate design language from their discourse – even in the cases they themselves offer to refute intelligent design, like the article from JME that I cited earlier.

    I understand that people here may be looking for a ‘slam dunk’ (US basketball jargon) against ID and creationism, but I’m afraid it’s not so straightforward. And I would say that the confidence displayed by the likes of Dawkins and Dennett in these matters comes from their failure to understand just how intimately interconnected the histories of science and religion have been in the West – it is not simply a matter of one gradually purging the other. To be sure, their ignorance is shared by much of the literate public and so this creates a presumption in their favour, which is obvious here. I’m sorry, my own ignorance does not extend to this collective ignorance. To me this simply looks like prejudice motivated by possibly legitimate political worries (i.e. the increasing power of the religious right, etc.). But in a philosophically minded forum that point should be made explicit – i.e. the promotion of strategically placed prejudice.

    Finally, if you think I’m an arrogant self-regarding expert who doesn’t take lay people seriously, why do you suppose I’m responding to you? You won’t find the likes of Dennett and Dawkins participating in this sort of activity – except perhaps only under highly managed circumstances. Why do you suppose that’s the case?

  75. For mine, ultimately it is precisely “things” like intelligence and design, or, intention if you will, which require explanation.

    Given that, postulating a designer obviously begs the questions in this regard, I think that, rather than arguing as though we already know what it is that we’re (fairly) certain isn’t behind it all, Darwinists should simply ask them… and, keep on asking them.

    I fail to see how anybody, who takes the fact of evolution seriously, might, not-wonder whether these concepts aren’t completely vacuous in the first place, anyway!

    But then, maybe that’s just me….

    Cheers

  76. @Professor Fuller; many thanks, I now much more clearly underatand your position. I have a number of follow-up queries and comments, but, in the interests of lucidity, I will postpone them until this evening or possibly tomorrow, as I have to hit the road shortly.

    Finally, if you think I’m an arrogant self-regarding expert who doesn’t take lay people seriously, why do you suppose I’m responding to you? Your responses before this latest one had been relatively dismissive. I was hoping that you weren’t an a.s-r.e., but just busy, as indeed you have now demonstrated. You won’t find the likes of Dennett and Dawkins participating in this sort of activity – except perhaps only under highly managed circumstances. Why do you suppose that’s the case? I would like to think that either would respond to substantive and polite comments addressed directly to them in good faith (subject to the courtesy of recognising shortage of time that I have extended to you, and also perhaps another one about not being obliged to repeat arguments that they have already made in widely-available print, absent substantive new points). Dawkins did in fact respond helpfully quite recently on Ed Brayton’s blog; I could probably track down the reference. It certainly wasn’t a “highly-managed circumstance” since as I recall half the thread was baying for his blood, although I forget now why. The answer to your question is that internet discourse relatively seldom fulfills the conditions I outline.

  77. I’m pleased that Prof. Fuller is willing to engage substantively with us here.

    Fuller brings up two substantive themes in his latest post: The language of design in mainstream biology as well as the scientific plausibility of intelligent design. (The quotations are out of sequence; I’ve reorganized them slightly by theme.)

    Evolutionists want to have their cake and it with regard to its use: They want to keep a pretty rich concept of design in their talk while denying some of its semantic (or ontological) consequences, which includes the idea of a designer.

    I don’t see this as a necessarily a contradiction or even a problem: The whole point of using a metaphor is to employ a rich concept without fully committing to the semantic or ontological consequences of that concept. One could certainly argue that the concept of “agency” is necessary to make sense of the actual experiments, but arguments from language seem weak: I don’t see that the use of a metaphor by itself entails a full ontological commitment to the literal truth of the metaphor or entails bad faith by not committing to the literal truth.

    I would definitely like to see Fuller’s definition of “agency”; it seems to imply a clearly teleological character.

    The counter-argument seems pretty straightforward: “design” is employed by mainstream scientists to denote “functionally optimized structures” or “to end up with functionally optimized structures.” It seems obvious that the position of mainstream scientists is that no teleology, no “knowledge of the future” is actually required to create such structures.

    Of course, evolutionists (especially after Jacques Monod in 1970s) have talked about evolution as some emergent product of ‘chance and necessity’, without the need to postulate an ontologically separate category of ‘design’. But what exactly does that mean???

    I’m surprised by Fuller’s confusion here; the words “chance” (changes uncorrelated to outcome) and “necessity” (mechanical, non-teleological physical law) seem entirely unambiguous.

    But [billions of years of chance-based processes ending in our current state] too is a metaphysical hypothesis, not something definitively implied by the data – and certainly not something we’re in a position to observe first-hand. Yes, I know most respectable biologists believe that ‘design = chance x necessity’ but that’s just an argument from authority. It’s here that philosophy can play some useful role by refusing to give credit to overstatements of scientific knowledge claims made by professional scientists.

    Fuller seems himself to be making a giant overstatement here. The entire research program of mainstream evolutionary biology is about showing how specific structures, both anatomical and molecular, did in fact result from an interaction between uncorrelated mutation and mechanical physical law.

    In the experiments and simulations where evolution is most clearly demonstrated to be a product of ‘chance-based processes’, the design is built into the experimental design and whatever constraints the computer programmer introduces at the outset. The outcomes of such experiments and simulations are certainly not DETERMINED by the intelligent designer (in this case, one or more humans) but they certainly are constrained simply because the experiments and simulations had to be designed in a specific way to have even a chance of working.

    This is a puzzling point. It is a characteristic of all experiments, not just experiments in evolution, that they are designed (in the full teleological sense of the word) by scientists. Does this fact entail that Fuller is committed to agency in astronomy, given that telescopes are clearly designed?

    (It would be nice to have Fuller reference some details of his allusion to criticism of experiments in the social sciences; it’s one thing to criticize an experiment because the experimenter has a direct causal effect on the specific outcome; it seems less justified to criticize an experiment just because the protocol was designed by a scientist.)

    If these activities are to be treated as models of nature, then we need to model not simply what happens inside the programmes, but also what makes them possible: What is the nature-based analogue of the human computer programmer? At this point, God appears as a plausible alternative.

    Fuller here seems to be redefining “intelligent design”; his definition differs at least from Dembski’s and Behe’s, who assert that mechanical constraints plus uncorrelated mutations cannot by themselves produce at least some kinds of structure. It’s seems an entirely separate question whether the constraints themselves were designed by a teleological agency, which would seem to move the argument away from biological evolution to cosmological Fine Tuning.

    If you follow the ID literature, you’ll know that people like Dembski are trying to define (using mathematical information theory) ‘intelligent design’ as this middle realm…

    I’m unaware of any guys like Dembski, only Dembski himself, working on this topic in any consistent way. In spite of Dembski’s obvious theistic bias, his work has been, as Fuller notes, substantively examined by the mathematical community, and found wanting.

    I have to concede the point to Fuller that all scientific theories start out as speculation promoted by obviously biased proponents. By itself, neither Dembski’s theistic bias nor his bias in favor of intelligent design, nor even the presently speculative character of intelligent design, warrants its a priori exclusion from serious scientific consideration.

    But that’s not a sign of the project’s stupidity – simply of its easy testability and hence falsifiability. No one has shown that Dembski’s overall strategy is flawed – simply his particular execution of it. (I would say something similar about Behe on the identification of ‘irreducible complexity’ in nature.)

    Granted. But if intelligent design is to be awarded the status of an actual scientific theory, the onus of creating a successful “execution” of the ID paradigm, showing that one can create specific theories that are both testable and can actually pass those tests, is on its proponents. Until such time, ID is still speculation, and all the linguistic arguments in the world do nothing to establish its scientific validity.

    Let me go back to a previously quoted statement:

    What is the nature-based analogue of the human computer programmer? At this point, God appears as a plausible alternative. Of course, you can continue to say that any prior intelligence is merely apparent and take comfort in the billions of years that chance-based processes are able to take to reach our current state. But this too is a metaphysical hypothesis, not something definitively implied by the data

    This statement is enormously puzzling: Is the “intelligent design” vs. “chance + necessity” debate about a scientific point or a metaphysical point? Is it purely a matter of contextualizing the same sort of descriptive theories, or is there a testable scientific difference between these theories?

  78. I fat-fingered the HTML; the comments in the previous post:

    I’m unaware of any guys like Dembski, only Dembski himself, working on this topic in any consistent way. In spite of Dembski’s obvious theistic bias, his work has been, as Fuller notes, substantively examined by the mathematical community, and found wanting.

    I have to concede the point to Fuller that all scientific theories start out as speculation promoted by obviously biased proponents. By itself, neither Dembski’s theistic bias nor his bias in favor of intelligent design, nor even the presently speculative character of intelligent design, warrants its a priori exclusion from serious scientific consideration.

    are my own, not Fuller’s.

  79. michael reidy

    Is it possible that there might be a defensible thin view of the design analogy? We have arrived here from rocks and gas and before that where there was not even mass (?). The design aspect of these primal states is pretty exiguous but they have a nature and interacting as they will, being in the same room, they inform each other according to their several natures. Now the thing is: is having a nature as such, the equivalent to having a design? We have to ask the Aristotelian type question; could a thing be at all without being some specific thing? For being to be predicated must there be a something of which it is predicated? If beings interact they inform each other, change each other and constantly reconfigure the universe of which they are a part. In that sense they are designing their own space and each other. There is no consciousness involved still in any of this. There is no teleology because each successive state is an ‘end’ state.

    Perhaps people rely too much on the power of philosophical arguments to persuade. Van Inwagen (Quam Dilecta) is bemused by the fact that philosophers can agree on nothing but he notes that the bar is raised much higher for religion than for other forms of commitment. If Clifford’s rule (Ethics of Belief)were to be applied to everything with equal strictness then a great many things that we cheerfully differ on would become critical. This nonsense is not to be borne would be declaimed about politics, basic particulars, etc, etc and every discipline would produce a Dawkins strutting smug as a rook with his glittering eye.

  80. but he notes that the bar is raised much higher for religion than for other forms of commitment.

    That’s interesting. Is that not because religion combines ‘forms of commitment’ with truth claims about the world? Is that not because the forms of commitment depend to a considerable extent on those truth claims? Is it not because when all else fails, when backed into a corner, religious believers cite ‘God’ as a defender of their commitments in a way that people with secular commitments can’t and don’t? (Which is not to say that people with secular commitments don’t cite their guts or their intuitions or their ‘just knowing it’s right’ – but it is to say that those citations are more nakedly subjective and debatable than citations of God, provided God is given some credit, and that that is why the bar is adjustable in that way.) Is it not the case that it is this last-ditch citation that motivates the upward adjustment of the bar?

  81. michael reidy

    Hi Ophelia.
    ‘Quam Dilecta’ is on the web, google it if you wish. van Inwagen is one of those scandals to the Greeks but as far as I know no one ever called him stupid. You may find it interesting to trace the trajectory of his ‘delusion’. As to raising the bar, I would have thought that your position was that religion is the high jump without any bar whatever in that there is no objective gauge as to whether you’ve cleared anything.

    Says William James: “In concreto, the freedom to believe can only cover living options which the intellect of the individual cannot by itself resolve; and living options can never seem absurdities to him who has them to consider.” (from The Will to Believe)

    van Inwagen thinks that the argument from design is a good one. I’m inclined to think that it’s not, yet it might be useful to consider as to whether there is any tolerance which allows us to say, that although something falls short of a knockdown proof by a long margin; it might at the same time be part of a number of intuitions that all have the same tendency. We may arrive at an intellectual comfort zone by a sort of abduction. As in Science, first the hypothesis then the confirmation.

    Where is Fuller with intelligent design really? Partially it seems to play the part of a listed idea or heritage that is part of the history of science.

  82. Hi Michael

    Stupid? Delusion? I wasn’t calling Van Inwagen stupid! I really did think the higher bar was interesting (because I think in other ways the bar is set lower rather than higher, but I thought I could see what was meant). I was just wondering why that might be if it’s true. I thought it was interesting also because I’m interested in the relationship between religion and commitment. I wasn’t calling anyone stupid…

  83. One of the co-authors of the Krebs cycle paper, Professor Waddell, has given me permission to quote the following from an email he sent to me:

    “In our article, we in no way implied a designer – in
    no way. I am not a philosopher, scientific or otherwise. But it seems clear that the process and mechanism of natural selection have given rise to
    complex sytems that are being interpreted as requiring a designer.”

    Surely that should be the end of it ?

  84. PP – sadly, not. Professor Fuller cliams that Scientists may unwittingly assume ID while they officially deny it.. And later Evolutionists……want to keep a pretty rich concept of design in their talk while denying some of its semantic (or ontological) consequences, which includes the idea of a designer. This [ie the denial] is because the concept of design implies ‘agency’

    So, as I understand it, and subject to Prof Fuller’s correction, he claims that

    (1) Using “design language” NECESSARILY implies the retention of a purposive designer; the claim that it is “just a metaphor” doesn’t cut it
    (2) “Design language” in academic biology is “proliferating”, so
    (3) The entire community of academic biologists, plus non-academic non-biologsts like me who have read a lot of the work, is collectively fooling itself into believing that is does not need the concept of design (and/or maybe some more clear-sighted members of the community have realised this but are choosing to keep quiet for their own reasons).

    This is quite a big claim, as its truth requires a large number of apparently exceptionally intelligent people, all of whom have thought much more about the subject of the mechanisms of evolution than Professor Fuller, to have missed a fundametal point, or to be dishonest.

    It hinges on (1). (2) is an empirical claim which I think is implausible except in the trivial sense that since the amount of writing about evolutionary matters has grown by several orders of magnitude since Darwin’s time (not least because the amount of writing about ANYTHING has so grown), and such writing sometimes employs design metaphors. (Also, I bet the volume of design metaphor has reduced since ID hove into sight, as biologists become for parsimonious with its use having become politicised in respect of the issue). Prof Fuller has not so far given any evidence for his empirical claim. However, it doesn’t matter much if (1) is wrong.

    After some more coffee and medical administration, I intend returning to trying to explain that evolution doesn’t require a designer.

  85. For the avoidance of any possible doubt; I omitted a comma. However, it doesn’t matter much if (1) is wrong. should read “However, it doesn’t matter much, if (1) is wrong.”

  86. michael reidy

    Hi Ophelia,
    I’m essentially agreeing with you. Some time ago you expressed wonderment at philosophers who were obviously very good and were at the same time theists. Dummett and Anscombe were I think mentioned. I’m offering van Inwagen as another to add to your scrap book of ‘clever people who disagree with me’. As to delusion, would confusion or illusion be better?

  87. Oh that scrap book. Right, because I think it’s cause for wonder any time someone clever disagrees with me. I forgot about that.

  88. Devin Carpenter

    Potentilla, Paul Power, and Barefoot Bum. I just wanted to say that it has been really interesting reading your comments. Keep them coming!

  89. The dictionary definition I provided shows that people use the noun “design” when there is no designer.

    Therefore it seems to me that Prof. Fuller must be claiming one of the following:

    1) The definition is wrong because it is a logical impossibility.
    Then the solution is to to invent a new term to replace the word “design” in these cases. There is, after all , no designer in the detailed description of the process so this whole debate becomes a semantic quibble.

    2) The definition is wrong because although it is not a logical impossibility and one can imagine the existence of a possible universe in which there is design without a designer, our universe has some property that necessitates the designer in these cases.
    Again the problem is a semantic quibble with the same solution.

    3) It is possible to have design without a designer in our universe but our human minds have a psychological failing that means we cannot handle it, so that we can only see design when there is a designer no matter what we think about the existence of the designer in this case.
    I think this is ridiculous on its face.

  90. I think he’s claiming that 4) even if there is a non-designer sense of the word, evolutionary biologists aren’t using it, even thought they think they are. Posibly even 5) Merriam-Webster is empirically wrong.

  91. potentilla:

    Your point 4) is in the same area as my 3). It’s difficult for me to express this point because when I work through the consequences I always end up with the refutation that we can conceive of my point 1)

    Your point 5) matches my point 2).

    Apologies for being unclear

  92. Hi Professor Fuller, I do hope you are still reading (and that Vienna was successful). When you are done responding to BB’s long substantive comment, maybe you will come back to me. I just re-read your long comment (May 15th 6.26am) and I have a whole host of questions about why you are focussing on computer simulations of evolution rather than observation in the field (eg peppered moths, if you know the reference) and the precise relevance of history. And of course I already have some outstanding questions above.

    But then I thought, let’s go back to basics. I will explain, as simply as I can, how evolution by random mutation and natural selection works. Then you tell me where the purposive designer is hidden. Here goes:-

    There is a population of a species of bugs living in a puddle, reproducing away like mad. The original bugs got there by being randomly blown in from some other puddle on a leaf. It doesn’t matter whether they are big bugs (say like rotifers) or little bugs (say bacteria); nor whether they are sexually-reproducing or parthenogenetic.

    The bugs are not all exactly the same; sometimes, random copying errors occur during reproduction, which produces bugs that are a little bit genetically different. Lots of these bugs are non-viable (because the random change disrupts their body chemistry too much, say) and they die. Many of them are pretty similar phenotypically to all the other bugs (ie the underlying genetic change is not expressed phenotypically).

    But just occasionally, a mutation happens that makes its possessor just a little bit better at coping with the conditions in the puddle. Maybe it can suck in puddle nutrients a little bit faster, or is a little bit more resistant to drought so it can live at the edge of the puddle where it has less competition for nutrients. All other things being equal, this bug might live a little bit longer, or have a little bit more spare energy available for making copies of itself. The copies inherit the mutation (all of them or some of them depending whether is is a parthenogenetic or sexually-reproducing bug). In the next generation of bugs in the puddle, the proportion of bugs with this new mutation will be higher. The process continues. Over time, the proportion of bugs with the mutation may become significant. It may even near 100%.

    Of course, all other things might not be equal. The bug with the original mutation might get predated randomly. Lots of potentially beneficial mutations go nowhere for entirely random reasons.

    Then conditions in the puddle change because of some random external event. Maybe some volcanic ash from a nearby eruption falls in the puddle and changes the pH. Some of the bugs die pretty quickly. Maybe all of them do. But maybe some of them have some minor differences in their genes which produces some consequent change in their body chemistry which means they can cope OK with the new pH. So they are more active, or achieve better uptake of nutrients or whatever, and produce more offspring and…

    All evolutionary biology is based on this story. I would go so far as to say that all scientific papers in the field are a specific instance of it or some part of it.

    ***Professor Fuller, where is the purposive design in the bug story?***

    You might say, why did the original bugs have particular characteristics? You can take this right back, through a series of puddle stories, back to the beginning of life. The puddles story explains all of life on the planet right back to (but not including) the first replicator (which would have been so simple that the word bug is inappropriate). There is no strong theory of the origin of life as there is of all subsequent evolution, but there are hypotheses. I direct you to the chapter of Richard Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale” entitled “Canterbury”; it is pretty up-to-date, readable, authoratitive, and I have no time this morning to attempt a paraphrase. (You can buy the book for £2.77 plus postage on Amazon as I type).

    Please, if you have limited time, I would be grateful if you focus on the asterisked question. But if you have a bit more time, here are a few more questions based on one para of your comment.

    Many seminal figures in the history of biology have been devout theists, such as Linnaeus and Mendel. We’d nowadays call them special creationists. But we are also capable of separating their metaphysical commitments from their empirically valid claims.Yes indeed, and we wouldn’t even be surprised that they were theists, since they didn’t have the theory of natural selection to apply to their own biological knowledge Well, I’m saying the same thing, mutatis mutandi, for contemporary biologists who think their empirically valid claims about life today implies a metaphysical position that removes intelligent design from the picture My point here is based on more than a positivistic open-mindedness about the metaphysical implications of science (i.e. science can’t be used to justify any particular metaphysics and hence anything is permitted but nothing proven – this is how you get from Carnap to Feyerabend, for those who care). .What contemporary biologists are saying is that that there is a mechanism for the evolution of all life which does not require a designer. Not that the existence of a designer is disproven; merely that one is unnecessary. It is also based on the persistent failure of scientists to eliminate design language from their discourse – even in the cases they themselves offer to refute intelligent design, like the article from JME that I cited earlier. You use of the phrase “they themselves” is inexact. The article in JME was written to explain a specific instance of the bug story. Not to “refute intelligent design”. So the presence in it of design metaphor does not prove much of anything. It was cited, separately, later. I have hypothesized above about why it was cited.

    The claim that the theory of natural selection does not disprove a designer is uncontroversial. The claim that the theory of natural selection requires a designer to work iscontroversial, and, IMHO, just wrong. If you wish to make the latter claim, as your comment Scientists may unwittingly assume ID while they officially deny it. implies, you need to address my bug story.

    I’ll be offline for a few days now, but I hope I get to read your response next week.

  93. Sorry, I messed up my html for italics in the last couple of paras. (Dear Jeremy, would you consider adding a preview mode to this blog?). Here – I hope – is a clean version.

    Many seminal figures in the history of biology have been devout theists, such as Linnaeus and Mendel. We’d nowadays call them special creationists. But we are also capable of separating their metaphysical commitments from their empirically valid claims.Yes indeed, and we wouldn’t even be surprised that they were theists, since they didn’t have the theory of natural selection to apply to their own biological knowledge Well, I’m saying the same thing, mutatis mutandi, for contemporary biologists who think their empirically valid claims about life today implies a metaphysical position that removes intelligent design from the picture My point here is based on more than a positivistic open-mindedness about the metaphysical implications of science (i.e. science can’t be used to justify any particular metaphysics and hence anything is permitted but nothing proven – this is how you get from Carnap to Feyerabend, for those who care). .What contemporary biologists are saying is that that there is a mechanism for the evolution of all life which does not require a designer. Not that the existence of a designer is disproven; merely that one is unnecessary. It is also based on the persistent failure of scientists to eliminate design language from their discourse – even in the cases they themselves offer to refute intelligent design, like the article from JME that I cited earlier. You use of the phrase “they themselves” is inexact. The article in JME was written to explain a specific instance of the bug story. Not to “refute intelligent design”. So the presence in it of design metaphor does not prove much of anything. It was cited, separately, later. I have hypothesized above about why it was cited.

    The claim that the theory of natural selection does not disprove a designer is uncontroversial. The claim that the theory of natural selection requires a designer to work is controversial, and, IMHO, just wrong. If you wish to make the latter claim, as your comment Scientists may unwittingly assume ID while they officially deny it. implies, you need to address my bug story.

  94. Let me amplify potentilla’s comment, “The claim that the theory of natural selection does not disprove a designer is uncontroversial,” according to my own understanding.

    That some teleological intelligence (cough God) intentionally set up the mechanisms of evolution to achieve a particular end (or meta-end) is an untestable, unfalsifiable metaphysical position. This is the position, I believe, of theistic evolution. It’s unfalsifiable because anything we found out about evolution would be accommodated as, “Well, that’s how God did it.” At best, we might use some version of the Fine Tuning argument to establish this position as testable, but the Fine Tuning argument has problems of its own.

    It is also possible that some evolutionary “decisions” could have been made only by a being who had deliberated the future consequences of those decisions. This is, however, a “Russell’s Teapot” sort of assertion.

    After having read my share of Intelligent Design proponents (although surely not as many as Fuller), it’s my understanding that those advocating ID do not adopt the “theistic evolution” position at all, and those adopting the “some decisions” positions have—to their credit—identified actual candidate structures. So, in a sense, ID is a fully scientific paradigm: it has real scientific hypotheses, in exactly the same way that philogiston and the luminiferous aether are real (i.e. testable) scientific hypotheses. Of course, to the extent that they are scientific hypotheses, they are also failed hypotheses: They fail the tests. In the same way, to the extent that ID has proposed tests, those tests have in fact failed.

    Of course, the failure of the actual hypotheses put forth by specific proponents is not itself absolute proof that the ID paradigm is definitely wrong: The failure might be due to the incompetence of the proponents or the subtlety of the underlying problem.

    But the political component of science cuts both ways: Yes, all theories are initially propounded by outrageously biased advocates, some of them operating on astonishingly thin evidence. On the other hand, this political component places the burden of finding successful tests squarely on those selfsame proponents.

  95. BTW, potentilla, the <blockquote> element works in these comments:

    This is an embedded block quotation

    See!

  96. BB – agreed – and my thought was something even simpler tha theistic evolution. There coulod be an intelligence that would potentially have been capable of designing the world, but in fact didn’t. The theory of evolution doesn’t disprove the existence of such a “designer”. It just renders him/her/it entirely irrelevant to the actual problem of why we’re here.

    Now I do really have to leave. To see some lovely Precambrian rocks. I leave you with the last thought – does Prof Fuller also think that the geologists are fooling themsleve about not needing a designer?

  97. does Prof Fuller also think that the geologists are fooling themsleve about not needing a designer?

    Do Prof. Fuller’s views on design in biological evolution entail the same views on geology? I would have to say no: I’m aware of no instances in geology of anything even remotely resembling functionally optimized structures; it is presumably the existence of such structures that prompts the use of “design” by mainstream scientists. No such structures exist in geology, and geologists thus do not appear to use “design” in even the most rarefied metaphorical sense.

  98. correction: “… it is presumably the existence of such structures that prompts the use of “design” by mainstream biologists

  99. Well this has gone disappointingly quiet. Do we yet have enough evidence to support, or refute, Julian’s original contention about Prof Fuller’s committment to arguing things through in an intelligent way?

    (BB, see what you’re saying, but the more I think about it the more I think we are at different places on the same scale here. I suspect we could dig out some refs to (for instance) God having put minerals, and water, on the earth for Man’s use, and mountains for their beauty. Furthermore “functionally optimized structures” is a dodgy description of much of biology.)

  100. Furthermore “functionally optimized structures” is a dodgy description of much of biology.

    How so? I mean, it’s clear that almost a lot of biology is structural, collections of interacting parts, and these parts have properties that are locally optimized for the function for which the organism primarily employs the structure as a whole. It seems very obvious that evolution is indeed doing what I do professionally as a (more or less) intelligent designer of computer software.

    I think it’s important to concede this point to Prof. Fuller, because I think other observations about biological organisms, such as lack of global optimizations, lack of lateral transfers, obvious design flaws, and the sheer time demonstrated by the fossil record, are more powerful arguments than quibbling about how to label organisms’ specific anatomical and biochemical structures.

    The attribution of purpose you mention in geology is very different from the attribution of functional optimization (or functional specificity if you prefer) in biology. Purpose is clearly metaphysical; there are no statements about the composition, history or any other observable characteristics of a structure that change if one assigns “purpose” to that structure. Functional optimization/specificity, design, and intelligent design all have (or could possibly have) actual observable consequences.

    I think as I noted earlier Prof. Fuller’s remarks could be interpreted to an extent as equivocating between a metaphysical and scientific interpretation of “design”; his comments are at least sufficiently ambiguous that the equivocation is not obviously uncharitable.

    I hope that Prof. Fuller will clarify his position if he returns to this discussion.

  101. Evolution is optimising (and I use the present continuous advisedly, see below) based on a limited number of available possibilities. The possibilities are limited by (a) what went before and (b) the random mutations which occur. So it not infrequently ends up down blind alleys from which it sometimes does not succedd in retreating before that particular lineage goes extinct. Furthermore, it is seldom able to produce radical changes in design.

    You, on the other hand, are (presumably) starting from a defined set of required functionality and designing the most efficient way of meeting those needs (including, probably, the need to be able to add future as-yet-unspecified functionality easily). Evolution doesn’t do that. Biological structures are often not optimised to a function, or at the least the term is a misleading one, because the structure that prevails is one of an extremely constrained set which may well not include all sorts of variations which would do the job better.

    Insofar as software design is a good metaphor for evolution (which it isn’t, very), it only applies to monolithic products like (maybe) Microsoft Office, where development of new functionality is constrained by the design of what has gone before. And even then, you don’t have to wait for a convenient sub-routine to appear randomly.

    On the geological issue – yes, you may well be right, I haven’t thought about it much yet. But I will continue to do so, after my comments on the term “functional optimisation”. After all, a the route of a stream to the sea could be said to be functionally optimised, if the term is used in the restricted sense which is applicable to evolution.

  102. That’ll teach me to say, see below……the bit I forgot to add is that there is never an end state to evolution (until a particular lineage goes extinct). I suppose it’s true to say that there’s never an end state to software either, but at least you have a formal choice whether and when to give way to the new requirements!

  103. Evolution is optimising… based on a limited number of available possibilities.

    No question about it. Evolution does optimize, but (as I mentioned earlier) the constraints on the kinds of optimization that we have observed place severe constraints on the nature of the process these optimizations result from.

    (Let me add that I am not using “optimized” in any sense of “perfected“; I merely intend the sense of “especially conducive to one particular function.”)

    I offer computer programming both to compare and contrast it to actual evolution. Both processes produce functionally optimized structures (bhat I suspect Prof. Fuller would call “design”), but vast differences in the observed results highlight the utter lack of intelligence in evolutionary processes.

    After all, a the route of a stream to the sea could be said to be functionally optimised.

    It actually is functionally optimized, revealing important truths about hydrodynamics. But it is not a structure (or not much of a structure), a composition of interacting parts.

  104. First of all, sorry for not intervening more in the discussion. Part of it has been a practical problem. For some reason, my home laptop does not scroll down this one ever increasing webpage very effectively. Part of it, of course, is that life goes on, and this is not the last time these issues will be discussed. Also, I should point out for the record, Julian simply informed me after the fact that he had posted about my Bristol talk and some criticisms had been already posted. (The same applies to my involvement in the other blogs related to the evolution-ID controversy.) I say this only because it does colour my sense of accountability to the rest of you. Had I agreed in advance that this was going to happen, I would have probably made a point of sticking with the discussion more. This is not meant as any disrespect but it’s easy to lose sight of the context in which people say what they say.

    Having said that, no one here seems to know how ‘chance’ and ‘necessity’ are supposed to work together in nature to produce something that at least has the appearance of design. Yes, we have ways of showing this in the laboratory but that involves the scientist as the intelligent designer providing the opportunity for both to operate in a specially designed experiment. The same applies to the computer programmer in the case of simulations. Moreover, no one has ever provided – or is ever likely to provide – an even reasonably complete account of how natural selection (genetic drift and whatever other evolutionary forces you wish to add) actually resulted in the emergence of a new species. Yes, you can induce species change in the laboratory – perhaps even massive species change, given the potential of biotechnology.

    However, insofar as what’s at stake in the disagreement between Darwinians and ID theorists is a historical point about the actual metamorphosis of life on earth, it seems to me that the issue is undecidable – at least until we develop a time machine. And where matters are undecidable, one ought to be tolerant of alternatives, as long as they can generate science that’s interesting even to those who don’t share their starting point. Intelligent design has done this in the past, and I believe it will do so in the future – and, for all we know, it may well have already, but the likes of Dawkins have driven the relevant scientists underground.

    Much of the confidence displayed here may be based on an impoverished understanding of theology, whose intellectual resources are much richer than you think. Saying that God is the intelligent designer is only the beginning – not the end – of the argument. One branch of theology is especially relevant: theodicy, which attempts to fathom divine justice in light of the existence of ‘evil’. And here ‘evil’ should be understood broadly to encompass not only, or even primarily, malice but also senseless death – of the sort that Darwin would come to associate with extinctions. Christians have generally NOT believed that God created a perfect universe. (However, the universe’s perfectibility remains an open question, and here the role of humans – especially in a scientific capacity – has played a historically important role.) This is evident from the accounts of creation in Genesis, which imply that God struggles against a recalcitrant matter to realize his intentions.

    I am not necessarily asking you to believe the Genesis accounts but they were in the back of the mind of the philosophers and theologians who came up with the idea of ‘optimization’ in the 17th century – that is, doing the best you can under a set of constraints over which you have limited control, which was thought to capture God’s design problem. Of course, this doesn’t answer questions about the actual units of design – what Behe would regard as ‘irreducibly complex’ about nature. On the contrary, it opens the door to many different interpretations, not just Behe’s. After all, God may be a global optimiser who tolerates considerable imperfection along the way. In that case, ALL of creation may be one big mousetrap (Behe’s favourite metaphor), any part of which – however imperfect in its own right – may figure in an overall optimal design strategy.

    But then I don’t recall that consensus was ever reached on the units of ‘selection’ (not to be confused with ‘design’, allegedly) in evolutionary biology.

  105. Prof Fuller, thanks for reappearing. There are, again, a number of claims in your post with which I would take issue; it is increasingly difficult for me not to conclude that much of the confidence displayed here may be based on an impoverished understanding of evolutionary biology. However, to keep it simple, as you have (for understandable reasons) limited committment to a continued debate, may I reiterate my question from my post of 17 May 9.34am:-

    ***Professor Fuller, where is the purposive design in the bug story?***

  106. I must say, given Prof. Fuller’s latest comment, that I am entirely at a loss as to how to proceed. Fuller raises issues that go far beyond mere evolutionary science and strike to the heart of scientific epistemology. And if Fuller is not convinced by the work of scientists regarding speciation, I don’t see that I can add anything meaningful to this conversation.

    I’m grateful to Prof. Fuller for clarifying his position. I would have to consider his professionally published work in detail to have anything further to say, and blog comments do not seem like the most efficient venue for the resulting discussion.

  107. Googling “steve fuller intelligent design” has proven quite enlightening, and does little to encourage my continued participation in this discussion.

    Most notably, the first couple of pages of results lacks a link to any coherent account in Prof. Fuller’s own words supporting the concept of Intelligent Design. This absence is especially surprising in light of what I have been able to glean of Fuller’s notions of “social epistemology”: My admittedly naive understanding would suggest that the Internet would be the ideal place to discuss the concept in an open, democratic manner, free of a priori power structures dominating the discourse.

    Of course, one might well argue that Google is itself a power structure and is marginalizing non-canonical discourse. Even so, this effort is easily subverted: If Prof. Fuller would be so kind as to link to any of his work here, I would be happy to link to it on my own blog entirely uncritically, and do my best to present a neutral summary of his thoughts.

  108. (Note that the promise of uncriticality would apply only to the post linking to and summarizing Fuller’s work; I would reserve the right to make a critical analysis in later posts.)

  109. I am getting kind of bored with being alternately ignored and sneered at.

    First, at Prof Fuller’s request, I restated his quoted exerpt from JME in non-deisgn language. The only response this elicited was I’m also not persuaded by much of Potentilla’s good-faith translation exercise, especially the idea that design is somehow eliminated by making reference to ‘potential utilities’ with no futher expalantion as to the reasons for the non-persuasion.

    So I got rid of “potential utilities” and the reply came ’m sorry you feel short-shrifted here but, as far as I can see, you’re still operating within a broadly functionalist framework, which presupposes design-based thinking. Again you’re trying hard but you still can’t get rid of phrases like ‘selection pressures’ and ‘inclusive fitness’, which presuppose some functional relationship between the organism and the environment.

    Rather than get into a debate in the abstract about why a functionalist framework presupposes design-based thinking, or why the phrases he quotes presuppose a functionalist framework, and paticularly because Prof Fuller explained that he was short of time, I set aside the numerous points in his various posts that I would have liked him to explain and/or provide evidence for, and went back to fundamentals. I described evolution by random mutattion and natural selection as simply as I could (the bug story) and asked Prof Fuller to explain where the purposive design came into it.

    That was on 17 May. So far, I have received no response to the question, despite it being politely reiterated, but instead more unsupported claims (eg about speciation) and condescension (the assumption that I haven’t read any theology).

    Julian, I think that your contention that Fuller is clearly a guy committed to arguing things through in an intelligent way. is looking extremely problematic. Do you agree?

  110. First of all, you guys overestimate the ability of this medium to resolve the world’s intellectual problems, especially since participation is self-selecting, which is not a synonym for democratic, I’m afraid. Some people have more time on their hands and easier access to the medium than others. But I also appreciate that you can’t get where I’m coming from. And if you think I’m sneering at you, well, sorry. Real democracies have strong traditions of sneering, which I honestly thought was welcomed here.

    However, Potentilla is right that I owe him an answer. Basically the purposive design in the bug story appears in the choice of the puddle as the selection environment. Why do you treat the puddle as an ecoystem in terms of which evolution is played out? You tell the story very much as if you were a scientist staging a laboratory experiment, where you control what counts as inside and outside the relevant ecosystem. (For example, a puddle might be manufactured in the lab, and then the differential reproduction patterns across several generations can be observed.) However, I suppose you really mean to be talking about nature ‘in the wild’, and indeed perhaps talking about something that might have also occurred milllions or billions of years ago. But here it seems to me that you are simply arguing by analogy from the lab to the wild — in other words, you’re seeing the natural through the eyes of the artificial.

    People who study the rhetoric of science often comment on the role that Dobzhansky’s Genetics and the Origin of Species (1937) played in persuading field and lab biologists to see things the same way, as I’m suggesting here. It was by no means obvious before then — or perhaps should it be — that situations that are clearly the product of intelligent design in the laboratory can be presumed simply to happen without intelligent design outside the laboratory. (Note I’m not saying that your bug story doesn’t work in the wild; rather, it works in the wild because intelligent design is involved there too, just as in the lab.)

    Barefoot Bum is right that I’m questioning some fundamental assumptions of scientific epistemology. But questioning of a related sort occurs in psychology and the social scientists, when one tries to relate what happens in the lab with what happens outside the lab.

  111. But here it seems to me that you are simply arguing by analogy from the lab to the wild – in other words, you’re seeing the natural through the eyes of the artificial.

    Really Prof Fuller – That’s a straw man if ever I saw one!

    In the example she gave, there is no sense in which Potentilla is constructing an experiment. This is evident in your own choice of words, “You tell the story very much as if you were a scientist staging a laboratory experiment.” She isn’t and she wasn’t, and even if she was why would the choice of an environment that might be replicated in a lab condemn her to working in a “a broadly functionalist framework, which presupposes design-based thinking.”

    Might you be swayed if the chosen hypothetical environment was not replicable?

  112. And if you think I’m sneering at you, well, sorry. Real democracies have strong traditions of sneering, which I honestly thought was welcomed here.

    Sneering is not so bad, in my opinion… so long as one follows up with an actual argument. Sneering as a substitute for argument is pretty boring.

    I’m not sure how you’re interpreting “democratic”; I’m the only commenter who’s used the word, and I explicitly specified my meaning: “free of a priori power structures dominating the discourse.” I don’t mean that truth should be the outcome of a vote; I mean the sense that one’s academic or scientific credentials do not confer automatic or uncritical legitimacy; if anything, academic credentials impose a more stringent duty to directly justify one’s remarks with argument.

    And I remain puzzled that I cannot easily find a clear exposition in your own words regarding your ideas about evolution and Intelligent Design. Surely democracy in any sense must begin with the widest possible dissemination of an idea for it to gain popular acceptance.

  113. situations that are clearly the product of intelligent design in the laboratory can be presumed simply to happen without intelligent design outside the laboratory. (Note I’m not saying that your bug story doesn’t work in the wild; rather, it works in the wild because intelligent design is involved there too, just as in the lab.)

    I must note that this example is not precisely clear. As I mentioned earlier, the “Intelligent Design” which occurs in the laboratory in these sorts of experiments is not the sort of interventionist design which seems to form the fundamental claim of Behe and Dembski’s work. Rather, it is more along the lines of the “Fine Tuning” argument, which, while interesting in its own right, is a horse of a different color.

  114. I’m glad you think sneering is OK.

    I do indeed mean to be talking about nature in the wild, and the choice of puddles and bugs were intended to make the story widely applicable across time and space (in fact I think I may have had Douglas Adams in the back of my mind). If you think that the “choice” of a puddle (or presumably any other bounded entity) makes some difference (the nature of which I must say eludes me), than please replace the puddle with any piece of terrain of any size and nature and degree of boundedness of your preference; it makes no difference to the story at all.

    Or do you thinking that “choosing” the Earth would still demonstrate the need for design?

    Or perhaps, to put it the other way, given the Earth 4.6 billion years ago as a starting assumption (analagous to “choosing” the pond, and therefore the part you see as having design involved), are you able to agree that everything thereafter could have happened with no further purposive design input?

    (Note I say “could have”; I am merely concerned to get to the bottom of your claim that evolution requires purposive design input, not to discuss whether in fact it had it or not).

    You claim the bug story is just an analogy from the lab. In fact you appear to contend in general that evidence for evolution comes from the lab. Does that mean you are unaware of any scientific literature relating to evolution observed in the wild? Or do you have some way to discount it?

    (PS I am still not a “him”).

  115. Any answers to these further questions? They seem fairly fundamental to your book as described by Julian. “Short of time” is a reasonable excuse, but “computer doesn’t work very well” seems a bit feeble coming from a middle-aged academic.

    you guys overestimate the ability of this medium to resolve the world’s intellectual problems But if you’re writing a book making a particular claim, you ought already to have easy answers to the questions about this claim in my post above, right?

  116. helmintholog - trackback on October 7, 2007 at 8:18 am
  117. Hi All,

    Whilst this particular conversation may have run its course, those who participated may be interested to note that Steve Fuller will be appearing at the IOI’s “Battle of Ideas” in London later this month.

    He’ll be speaking on, “Academic freedom under threat” and “Debating Darwin – Should evolution be taught as the only truth?”

    I can highly recommend the event, but don’t just take my word for it:

    The Battle of Ideas is like a huge intellectual fair where a bewildering number of thinkers set out their stalls. – Julian Baggini

    Further details here:

    http://www.battleofideas.org.uk

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