Monday, January 09, 2006

An ID Shot at Legitimacy

I went looking for answers to a question that occurred to me while I was outside smoking a cigar. Namely: What purpose do mass extinction events serve in an intelligently designed world?

Googling for answers proved fruitless. If any of you out there know of any, please leave a link in the comments.

What I did find was a site proposing that there are testable predictions in Intelligent Design that indicate that ID is standing up better than evolution. I’ll re-format the questions, predictions and observations here for easier reading.
Single transcendent beginning: Anti-Supernatural - will be refuted; Christian ID - evidence will increase; Observation - There is no evidence for more than one universe or one creation event.
This argument is characterizing the naturalistic position as presupposing the theory of a multitude of universes each of which possessing a unique beginning. Some cosmological theories propose that a new universe is created in a Big Bang with the collapse of a black hole. By definition, however, no information about the new universe can reach us because of the gravity of the black hole. Most scientists just give up when this theoretical limitation is reached, so this is debate in theory only.
Fine tuning: Anti-Supernatural - "design" will be shown to be an artifact, due to incomplete knowledge; Christian ID - more examples of extreme fine tuning will be found, indicating true design; Observation - Examples of fine tuning continue to increase. Some parameters designed to within a part in 10^120.
This is the classic argument between the Weak Anthropic Principle (If things weren’t so fine tuned we wouldn’t be here to wonder at the fine tuning) and the Strong Anthropic Principle (Things were fine tuned so that we could marvel at the fine tuning). Even if String Theory manages to show how higher dimensions of space result in the state of the physical constants, it would only change the stage for the debate. That debate would be about whether a designer designed the shape of the higher dimensions so that life as we know it could come to be.

Additionally, the physical constants have to be the way they are for life as we know it to occur. Perhaps life as we don’t know it exists under other constants, but that type of thinking is just pure philosophy.
Uniqueness of earth: Anti-Supernatural - many rocky planets with oceans and continents will be found; Christian ID - earth-like planets will be found to be rare or non-existent; Observation - No other rocky planets have been found. Most planets found are large gas giants orbiting very close to their stars.
Uh oh, science hasn’t found any other rocky planets, and therefore, they don’t exist. The most prolific method of finding planets has been to measure the wobble of a star under its planet’s gravity. That method only detects large planets orbiting close by the star. To make an analogy: we only have a net that catches fish larger than two feet long. Since no fish smaller than two feet are caught, it follows that no fish smaller than two feet exist. Science is limited to its tools for collecting information. To hold it to higher standards of information is arguing disingenuously.
Existence of life in the universe: Anti-Supernatural - life will be found to be abundant in our galaxy, since it is simply the properties of chemistry and physics; Christian ID - extraterrestrial life will be rare or non-existent and advanced life will be found only on earth; Observation - No other life found. SETI has been completely unsuccessful.
The plentitude of life off of earth is a wide-open debate in science, so the above characterization is a massive simplification. As for not finding life elsewhere, we haven’t had the capability of looking for life. To conflate all searches for life down to SETI is to limit the definition life solely to intelligent life capable of sending radio signals. Even then, and giving SETI a generous fifty years of operation, we have only listened to a fifty light year sphere around the earth. That is a mere pittance of the whole of the galaxy, much less the whole of the universe.
Prebiotic chemistry: Anti-Supernatural - a naturalistic scenario for the origin of all biochemical pathways and replicative molecules will be found; Christian ID - the universe was designed to support living systems, but their creation required ID by God; Observation - It is impossible to chemically produce many basic molecules required for any living system.
Note the change in tense between the prediction and the observation: will be found/is impossible. Seems like the goal posts are set to move into the parking lot.
Origin of Life: Anti-Supernatural - Life emerged late, during ideal environmental conditions. Life began as simple systems (pre-bacteria); Christian ID - Life emerged early under adverse conditions. Life has always been complex; Observation - Neither the biochemical nor replicative pathways have been described. In fact, many scientists think that they could not have arisen by any naturalistic means.
See above. Once again we have the “Science can’t, therefore science shall never” fallacy. Add in the “Many Scientists” believe something fallacy.
New designs in nature: Anti-Supernatural - Complex new designs would be rare and develop slowly whereas simple transitions would be common; Christian ID - No restriction on designs with the possibility that new designs would be created "overnight"; Observation - Contrary to the expectations of evolutionary theory, the fossil record is replete with complex transitions and new designs whereas simple transitions (intermediates) are rare.
Evolutionary theory would expect the opposite to be true and to be reflected in the fossil record.
Evidently there’s no love for the punctuated equilibrium theory of Stephen Jay Gould. Additionally, the prevalence of simple transitions has been grossly mischaracterized. As for emergence of complex new species appearing, see below.
Mass extinction events: Anti-Supernatural - Slow recovery; Christian ID - No restrictions on "recovery" period as new species are created; Observation - Evolution predicts slow recovery following extinctions and that those recoveries will be filled by the species surviving the extinction event. However, the fossil record indicates rapid recovery with completely different designs and species appearing within a period of tens of thousands of years or less.
Evolution would hardly predict slow recovery. Immediately after a mass extinction event would be a great time to be a mutant. When the playing field is wide open is when natural selection is at its weakest. Vast variation from small sets of species is to be expected, even in a time frame as short as ten thousand years.

In short, nothing but mischaracterizations and expectations that science either knows now or never shall know.

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