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Location: St. Louis, Missouri, United States

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Intelligent Design and Panspermia

I was over at The Paragraph Farmer and Patrick O`Hannigan linked to a piece on Intelligent Design Theory. Since I haven`t had anything for you in a while (my loyal Darwinian friends) I thought I`d throw in my two cents worth.

First, let me go on record (for the umpteenth time) and state that I suspect ID will prove no more viable than Darwinian Evolution as a falsifiable scientific theory-and for the same reasons. Natural Selection is a model of circular thinking; a mutation survives because it is better adapted to survive, it is better adapted to survive because it survives, it is selected by nature because it it is better adapted to survive. In all of this there really isn`t any quantifiable rationale, and Darwinists use the survival of a species as ``proof`` that Natural Selection works-they are making the classic mistake of using an outcome to prove that very outcome. I suspect that the Intelligent Design theorists will find themselves in a similar situation when trying to falsify their theory; it will not be possible to prove or disprove a Designer, and will end up falling back on similar circular arguments.

But that is neither here nor there; the point of this essay is to illustrate the connection between ID and Panspermia. Darwinian defenders (like the Panda`s Rectum crowd) turn purple whenever the topic of Intelligent Design is raised, and immediately try to shout down the opposition, yet they have been strangely silent about a corollary proposition-one advocated by such men as Francis Crick and Fred Hoyle. Panspermia is the theory that life on Earth came from elsewhere. It either drifted here by accident via comets or somesuch or it was intentionally engineered. (The latter was advocated by Francis Crick, who realized that life on Earth could not have evolved in the fashion Darwin believed.) Directed Panspermia argues that some alien intelligence seeded the Earth (and probably other places) with specially tailored genetic packages to produce a biological explosion. This fits with what we know about the development of life on Earth; there seems to have been a sudden explosion of life during the Pre-Cambrian (which is at odds with the view of Natural Selection, which says life should have been steadily evolving.) The Pan-Spermers (to coin a phrase) would argue that this point in time is when the seed-ship arrived. As Robert Zubrin has pointed out in his book The Case for Mars, astronauts have actually carried bacteria to the Moon and back-and the bacteria was fine! Evolution argues that developing new characteristics requires mutations while organisms retain old characteristics in their genetic makeup, and these Earthly organisms seem well adapted to space travel. Suggestive, no?

The point is, ID and Directed Panspermia, or Cosmic Ancestry, both argue the same point; life on Earth is the result of intelligent design of some sort. ID, unlike old fashioned Creationism, does not go beyond that point (although it is likely that many proponents of Intelligent Design carry the thought through to it`s logical conclusion) while DPS argues for creatures not unlike ourselves being the designers. This does, of course, simply kick the can down the road, but at least the DPS crowd is willing to admit there are problems with classical Darwinian theory.

The hardcore Darwinist will argue that life still evolved here on Earth, and that all that was delivered was a biological black box with some shake and bake bacteria. This, of course, defeats the whole purpose of the theory by bringing the argument back to Earth, which is the whole point for many of the more militant materialists; they refuse to lose an inch of ground, since finding out what actually happened is secondary to the religious implications of Darwinism, and they do not intend to weaken their hand. Their faith is touching, but at odds with the observable Universe, and so destined for the ashbin of history. The logical thing to believe is that, if Directed Panspermia is true (something I don`t believe myself) then we must assume that these erstwhile aliens wouldn`t go to the great trouble of sending matter across interstellar space without some plan, and logic would dictate that they would specially tailor their biological payloads. We certainly would do it that way; why rely on random chance? Far better to splice and dice, creating a genetic package which would follow a pre-ordained path. THAT could be the answer to Behe`s irreducible complexity; these organisms didn`t evolve at all, but were designed. See my point? DPS and ID are arguing along the same lines, and those arguments are there because Classical Darwinism has failed to hold up under scrutiny.

I don`t believe in DPS, and until we find life beyond our own little oasis it will be absolutely impossible to either prove or disprove. Of course, I don`t believe in Natural Selection either, at least not as the primary mechanism driving the development of life on Earth, and I at least applaud the attempt to break out of the fossilized mindset which has pervaded biology for so long. We need something new.



Blogger Torbjörn Larsson said...

"Natural Selection is a model of circular thinking"

As opposed to philosophy circular definitions are fine in science. For example, Hooke's law states that some materials or system are "linear-elastic" and obeys Hooke's law F = -kx. What is a "linear-elastic" material"? It is a material that obeys Hooke's law...

That was a deterministically circular model. But natural selection is not deterministically circular. The individuals with good enough properties tend to procreate - but it is not assured. (Shit happens. :-)

"The latter was advocated by Francis Crick, who realized that life on Earth could not have evolved in the fashion Darwin believed."

Not true:
"Steyn's critique of Crick ignored the fact that Crick never held a belief in panspermia. Crick explored the hypothesis that it might be possible for life forms to be moved from one planet to another. What "drove" Crick towards speculation about directed panspermia was the difficulty of imagining how a complex system like a cell could arise under pre-biotic conditions from non-living chemical components. After ribozymes were discovered, Crick became much less interested in panspermia because it was then much easier to imagine the pre-biotic origins of life as being made possible by some set of simple self-replicating polymers." ( ; with thanks to "prismatic so prismatic" for the link.)

And of course panspermia theories only postpone the inevitable, since regressing it back 13.7 billion years will meet the bigbang.

"We need something new."
Not according to the scientists who do the science, instead of blogging erranous ideas.

8:39 PM  
Blogger Torbjörn Larsson said...

And of course panspermia has nothing to do with evolution but concerns abiogenesis, see the citation. Evolutions is the observation of phylogenetic lineages such as in fossils and in DNA, and the selfconsistent collection of theories that explains that and related phenomena on already existing life.

9:37 PM  
Blogger Timothy Birdnow said...

Hi torbjorn!

Thanks for a curteous reply.

First, let me state that I disagree with your use of Hooke`s law to prove circular reasoning in science; Hookes law is a mathematical formulation based on actual experimental data, not a vague theory based on untestable hypotheses. There is nothing circular about it; it is a description of a physical principle. You can use it to make predictions of the future behavior of a material. Darwinism fails to do that. Darwinism differs in that it starts with a base assumption which it uses to prove that assumption; the whole point of a theory such as Natural Selection is that speciation occurs along logical lines, that the species which survive do so because it is beneficial to do so. The circular logic employed in this case is damaging to the theory because it makes prediction impossible-it is a dogma, not a scientific theory. There is no explanation of the pathways being taken, except that those particular species survived, so they must be more fit to survive. They are more fit to survive because they survived. O.K., fine; but why are they more fit to survive? The point is, the theory fails to answer these types of questions. It is as if Mr. Hooke argued that materials are ``linear-elastic`` without providing the f=-kx. In short, we are to trust him that what he says is true. If the theory essentially answers ``because`` it has no real use. These are two different things; Hooke`s law is about a fundamental physical principle-Darwinian Natural Selection claims to illuminate a process, yet fails to explain that process except by an appeal to itself.

Here is the Encyclopedia Brittanica definition of Hooke`s Law for my readers.

Crick spent his last years working on neurobiology, and he never disavowed his Panspermia. You (and the Wikipedia author) are making an assumption by concluding that he was satisfied with the discovery of ribosomes. There is no real evidence of that, as far as I can find. Drop me a quote if you locate one.

I agree with you; the Panspermia theory kickes the can backwards in time, and does not offer any real solution to the problem.

There ARE scientists who disagree with Darwinism (see below) on scientific grounds, and their criticisms are very powerful. Where are the transitional fossils, torbjorn? Darwin predicted that we would find them all over the place. Darwin also predicted that life would evolve at a steady rate, and the Cambrian explosion flies in the face of that prediction, as does the appearence of every species on Earth. The success or failure of predictions based on a given theory is the measure by which that theory is falsified, yet Darwin`s personal predictions have never panned out. How many other theories would be clung to so dogmatically with such a high predictive failure rate? Darwinism is clung to for religious reasons, to justify a philosophy of life. Of course, there are many biology researchers who cling to it because of political pressure; you aren`t going to teach biology without kowtowing to the established dogma (how many Calvinists taught at Catholic Universities in 1700?) and, of course, anyone interested in Biology will have been fed Darwinian dogma through his entire academic life, and it is doubtful he will even question the assumptions. The Jesuits claimed that, if given a boy to train for a few years, they would have him for life. The same principle applies.

THAT is my principle beef with Darwinism; it is a 19th century theory taught as Gospel, while the many flaws in the theory are dismissed as ``creationist attacks``. There is no pursuit of anything but detail, and attempts to fit detail into the model, rather than an honest evaluation of the model itself. The model has become sacred. The science has ossified-something science should not do. Granted, we have had neo-Darwinists who have advanced amended versions of Natural Selection, but there is an unwillingness to question the core principles. That is not science.

I half agree with you; Directed Panspermia (as opposed to the other types of Panspermia) is about abiogenesi (the origins of life, for my readers), but it also suggests intelligent design insofar as the genetic development may well have been pre-planned, and not subject to random evolution. That`s the whole point of DPS; it allows for evolution somewhere else and thus avoids the pitfalls of classical Darwinism. It`s actually about both. Of course, if you read and understood my piece, you would already know I don`t agree with it.

"We need something new."
Not according to the scientists who do the science, instead of blogging erranous ideas.

I direct you here for a list of scientists who also blog ``erranous ideas``.

Thanks again for a thoughtful and reasonable discussion.

8:11 AM  
Anonymous torbjörn larsson said...

I can't see if my first reply has been logged yet; meanwhile I stumbled on what seems to be an update of the Wikipedia article:

"In the early 1970s Crick and Orgel further speculated about the possibility that the production of living systems from molecules may have been a very rare event in the universe, but once it had developed it could be spread by intelligent life forms using space travel technology, a process they called “Directed Panspermia”[38]. In a retrospective article[39], Crick and Orgel noted that they had been overly pessimistic about the chances of life evolving on Earth when they had assumed that some kind of self-replicating protein system was the molecular origin of life. Now it is easier to imagine an RNA world and the origin of life in the form of some self-replicating polymer besides protein."

The paper [39] is available and confirms the above.

I also note that the list you referenced to needs to be updated with this information on Crick in the footnote on evolutionists with doubts on mainstream ideas.

Which BTW mean that they have participated in the normal scientific process, not that they managed to refute the theory.

5:22 PM  
Anonymous torbjörn larsson said...

Obviously now, my first comment didn't make it. New try:

"There is nothing circular about it; it is a description of a physical principle."

Exactly. A model may be circular in the philosophical sense, since we break the proposed circularity by making observations. In this case we observe that many materials or systems obey a linear law for elasticity and call those who do linear-elastic. I believe there are a few exceptions.

In evolution we observe that organisms obey variation and selection before procreation and call those who do having properties of the fit. (And note that some organisms that have similar properties die before procreation (shit happens), while others that have dissimilar properties all die (the unfit).) We see no exceptions. And no circularity in the observational sense.

We also note that variation and selection obviously imply phylogenetic trees such as the observed fossil lineages and DNA lineages. And that are the basic observations the theory was proposed to explain.

"Crick spent his last years working on neurobiology, and he never disavowed his Panspermia. You (and the Wikipedia author) are making an assumption by concluding that he was satisfied with the discovery of ribosomes."

Yes, and by that he stopped publishing on his old theory. There is little point to revisit theories that have been debunked by new science.

"Where are the transitional fossils, torbjorn?"
I'm not going to expand my discussion outside the frame of the post needlessly. If you are interested in biologists answers to creationistic canards such as this, see talkorigin web.

"I direct you here for a list of scientists who also blog ``erranous ideas``."
That list is short on biologists, especially those who studies evolutionary biology.

5:25 PM  
Blogger Timothy Birdnow said...

Tjorbjorn, I can`t find this retrospective; could you send me the link so I can read what Crick had to say? I would appreciate it.

In terms of the circularity of science, I think you are mixing apples with oranges; there is a fundamental difference between relying on actual observations of the physical universe as your watermark and an hypothesis to prove your the validity of your hypothesis, which is what Darwinism is doing. Darwinism claims to explain the process of Evolution, yet offers no insight into the process except that the life-form is somehow ``more fit``. In physics, say, you can make predictions based on a theory; explain observable data and guide those looking for proof of that theory in a given direction. Darwinism fails to do this, and the predictions made by Darwin himself have not panned out.

Einstein, for instance, explained the out-of-step movement of the planet Mercury with his Theory of General Relativity, and his other predictions-the gravity lens effect, for instance-have panned out. Einstein didn`t invent the physical laws, he gave a new explanation for what was until that time unexplainable by traditional science. Darwinism is different; it explains everything as a result of Natural Selection i.e. it justifies itself with itself while failing to explain why the Duck Billed Platypus would survive ahead of it`s competitors. The answer is always simply ``Natural Selection``, but this is a non-answer; you may as well say the devil did it! Natural Selection answers no questions, makes no testable predictions. Too many are enamored of it`s scientific elegance-but does it actually mean anything? Does it actually describe reality?

Does anybody remember the Ether? (For those of you who do not know, the ether was supposed to be a massless, immaterial substance which propogated light.) Sounded wonderful, but was about as substantial as, well, ether.

We also note that variation and selection obviously imply phylogenetic trees such as the observed fossil lineages and DNA lineages. And that are the basic observations the theory was proposed to explain.

I may be nitpicking, but I disagree with this statement; Darwin knew nothing of DNA lineages and little about fossil records; he proposed to explain the similarity between differing species based on evolutionary principles. What he offered new was a mechanism to explain how this evolution occured, and he did it with the idea of Natural Selection which argues that random mutations drive the evolution of all species. Either the mutations offer survival benefits, or the mutants die. If there are greater survival traits resulting from the mutation, the mutant creature will breed successfully and it`s offspring will be better adapted to survive.

This absolutely presupposes a steady state evolution where species are created along a smooth curve. It also presupposes that we would have complete fossil records (countless) of one species becoming another. That these two major predictions have failed is indisputable.

Just ask Stephan Jay Gould; hardly a Creationist, Gould created his theory of ``punctuated equilibrium`` precisely because those two major predictions were unmet. He understood that Darwinism in the classical sense was a failure, and so he needed an variation which explained the fossil gaps and the suddenness of speciation.

Torbjorn, why did everyone get so excited about that Tiktaalik roseae, the alleged crossover from fish to amphibian? Because, if true, it is totally unique; there haven`t been any crossover fossils found, despite what has to say. (I`ve seen those lists of missing links-they show one species and the other, then infer the connection; they aren`t based on actual fossil discoveries. If they were, the media would trumpet them to the Heavens.) These is not ``Creationist Canards``-the fossils just don`t happen to be there.

"I direct you here for a list of scientists who also blog ``erranous ideas``."
That list is short on biologists, especially those who studies evolutionary biology.

Biology, especially evolutionary biology, is completely dominated by advocates of Darwinism, and nobody who wants to have a career in that field will buck this establishment thinking. Answer me this; why did Copernicus wait till his death to publish his Heliocentric theory? Was this concensus in favor of Geocentrism correct, because the scholars of the day believed it so?

Evolutionary biologist wouldn`t be evolutionary if they didn`t believe in evolution, by the way. Of course, they could be non-Darwinian evolutionary biologists-which is something that science should explore.

Thanks for an interesting discussion; I doubt we`ll come to an agreement, but it was stimulating. I`ll give you the last word.

3:53 PM  
Anonymous Peter Gegenheimer said...

A few passing comments -- (not for argument but to clarify some basic facts):

First (essentially as Larsson said), Crick invoked panspermia at a time when he thought that the origin of life would have taken longer than the age of the earth. However, he always thought that life on earth evolved via normal (neo-darwinian) means.

Second, arguing over distinctions between "explanation" and "theory" -- especially theories as in physics or chemistry -- is besides the point. A scientific theory is *NOT* an "explanation" in the popular sense -- it is (in one of the better definitions) a conceptual framework which scientists in a given field use to design and interpret experiments.

Third, since the concept of natural selection is not an *argument*, it cannot be "circular". Natural selection (as Darwin used it) meant only that if there are any heritable traits which enable one individual to produce more offspring than another, then--other factors being equal--the descendants of the first individual will be more numerous than the descendants of the second. This is an easily-observable, experimentally-reproducible, fact. If this statement seems like a tautology (which is different than a circular argument), that is not to its detriment! In fact, we know experimentally that everything from molecules to multicellular organisms obey this law.

The concept of natural selection _is absolutely *not* required_ to provide any details of what kinds of variation might provide a reproductive advantage, nor how the variation would work. In fact, a great deal *is* known about the molecular genetic mechanisms which generate diversity and cause the formation of new species. (In fact, the genetic features necessary for formation of separate "biological species"--two populations whose members cannot mate to provide fertile offspring--is understood almost perfectly.)

My background: 30+ yr active research in molecular biochemistry of RNA; familiarity with molecular evolution and genetic mechanisms of speciation; early background in history and philosophy of science, in particular the role of theory in data analysis & interpretation.

9:00 PM  

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