Friday, February 09, 2007

Blog Visits, 6: On the issue of "broughtupcy" in online and public commentary; also related misconceptions and misrepresentations on design theory

Over the past few weeks, I have visited ID in the UK blog, and have commented on two threads, on thermodynamics and origin of life and on issues and accusations relating to ID research.

In so doing, I have seen a characteristic pattern of slanders as I commented on in previous visit reports. Partly in response to what came out, the blog owner has now posted on reasonable standards for civil, responsible commentary -- only to be met with a wave of more of the same distortions, distractions and questionable accusations. On being informed by him of this thread, I have made some remarks there, and the below shows my responses to the "answers" received overnight.

The following remarks address several issues, and allow us to understand the rhetorical strategies we are likely to encounter as we stand up on issues related to the Christian Faith in the market place of ideas, under that aspect of our Great Commission [Mt 28:18 - 20] that requires us to address repentance and reformation of the nations under the teachings of Jesus.


Andrew et al:

I have no intention to engage in a long dragged out back-forth on points and rabbit trails in this thread. However, some remarks are in order as follows:

1] TJ: Distractor on Gish etc

I am not going to get into a long dragged out discussion of a claimed rogues gallery. [Gish et al, who I do not claim to speak for, can speak up for themselves. I would not at all be surprised, on long observation of the rhetoric at work, that there is a very different side to the story that we are not hearing about, which would put matters in a different context. But, I have no intention to try to go dig up remarks and engag in a back-forth on this one. That would be a secondary level rabbit trail off this rabbit trail from the principal point of this thread: abusive commentary, and on that I speak as a victim. So, I refuse to lose focus. Not least, observe carefully: Gish is a leading debater for Biblical Creationism, so why is his name being dragged into a discussion over a different movement, Design thought and now theory?]

My comments regarding H and his ilk were highly specific, with links to cases in point. Look them up, and see if H has treated Professor Bradley fairly. Or, a long list of others.

Finally, has he treated me fairly [starting with giving out my name without my permission, in a context in which I am using a moderate degree of concealment to minimise exposure to abusive spam and to possible identity theft etc. while allowing responsible people to contact me through appropriate mechanisms]?

Or, is it that he and his ilk – as Aristotle warns of -- immediately switch topic from the matters on the merits, to asserting accusations that are too often ill-founded and uncharitable at best, slanderous or willfully deceptive at worst? [In the case of a distinguished professor such as Walter Bradley, it turned out that H has not got even a first level in Thermodynamics but set out to assert based on a selective and misleading citation from his online resume, that the professor was a layman speaking out of his depth on thermodynamics. I spoke up in the first instance as one who has studied physics and knows about of the likely background of such a man with such a resume, as well I have read his major work on the subject, TMLO. All too soon, I was labelled a liar and others were dragged in too. The back-forth is there for all to see. Nary an apology in sight.]

We see there at minimum a habitual resort to slander and the epithet "liar" as soon as issues of disagreement come up, plainly tied into the slanderous Dawkinsian agenda that any one who disagrees with the secularist evolutionary materialist view is/must be "ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked." And if the first three do not apply, the the last must and liar is an easy epithet.

Such behaviour is uncivil, and is a distraction from discussion on the merits.

2] U: Aren't you conflating the notion of design with theory, which has a clear definition as something that has successfully made many, many predictions?

First, this is of course a side-point and an intended distraction from the point. (It is also intended to imply that I am just as bad as those whom Andrew is trying to regulate.)

Second, it reflects a fundamental misunderstadning of the nature of science and of explanation and prediction in that context in science. Here are a couple of relevant classic dictionary definitions, which if you track back to the threads in which I did engage in a back-forth, were already addressed:

>>science: a branch of knowledge conducted on objective principles involving the systematized observation of and experiment with phenomena, esp. concerned with the material and functions of the physical universe. [Concise Oxford, 1990 -- and yes, they used the "z" Virginia!]

scientific method: principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses. [Webster's 7th Collegiate, 1965]>>
In that context, I have echoed and amplified the common summary, namely:
that science seeks to describe, explain, predict and influence or control the world using empirically anchored observation, abductive inference to [provisionally] "best" explanation, deduction and testing of consequences, inductive generalisation and applications of the findings, including critical dialogue in the community of informed peers. [I discuss in slightly more details here, with onward issues. U should do some serious reading in phil of sci to see that all is not as cut and dry as s/he may think. Try out names such as not just Popper but Kuhn, Lakatos, Feyerabend, Laudan, Rorty and many, many more.]
In short, prediction is not the defining be-all and end-all of scientific theories or the scientific enterprise generally; nor are those trained only in science but not in the history and phil of sci the best to speak with expertise on the thorny issues connected thereto. Indeed, since philosophical sophistication is not now common among scientists [it once was – e.g. Bohr!], such men are often laymen out of depth on matters here, including Mr Dawkins in particular. Similarly, there are several secularist philosophers of science or related fields who give highly misleading one-sided, caricatured and agenda-serving views on design theory that exploit the general ignorance on the subject to poison the mind and distort the discussion, starting with Ms Barbara Forrest, who is of course also an atheist activist.

Back on this point: it is IMHCO – and that of a lot of those who are far more learned on the subject than I -- better to view prediction as a species of explanation, i.e. Using models/dynamics to work out the forces and constraints acting thus project likely outcomes of future situations to be explored empirically; with predictive success/failure having the capacity to eliminate those theories that fail, as a true explanation can only properly imply true predictions. But there is an asymmetry: predictive success does not entail truth or even understanding.

Further to this, accuracy of prediction is not at all a criterion of ultimate truth, even when it is found. For instance my home discipline has in it the most famous single theory in science, Newtonian Dynamics. For 200 years from the 1680s on this was the best confirmed theory in all science, the very benchmark of scientific success. Then, from about 1880 to 1930, the limitations were sharply exposed and now this is viewed as an approximation for large, slow moving bodies; Quantum and Relativity and their derivatives coming into play when the Newtonian model breaks down. In that context, Newtonian Dynamics still makes quite accurate predictions, but there is no claim for ultimate truth in it! (In the ancient world too, quite accurate predictions of eclipses etc were made without any proper understanding of the underlying dynamics; indeed, the link to occultic astrological thought was of course quite heavy.]

And, like it or lump it, design theory is a partly re-emerging paradigm in science which is legitimate in the context that we seek causes/explanations rooted in: [1] chance, [2] natural regularities and/or [3] agency depending on the circumstances at work.

U seems to be concerned on its predictive track record.

The competitive explanatory track record must first be constrained by accuracy to what we know about the sources of functionally specific, complex information. Namely, in all cases where we do know the causal story directly, such a phenomenon traces to an intelligent agent. Thus, the inference thereto, is based on what we do know based on a massive empirical database.

Such empircally anchored accuracy in explanation is far more relevant to understanding why it is proper to make reference to design theory as a re-emerging paradigm, especially as we are in large part engaging in retrodictive explanation on the aspects where design theory and the broad evolutionary materialist programme – cosmological, chemical, macro- and miceo biological, socio-cultural – both address origins. [Note that origins science is rather special, as it addresses the unique, not directly observable and obviously unrepeatable past; through plausibility of descriptive and explanatory scenarios and presently observed data. Such a history-linked explanatory enterprise is always even more provisional than scientific efforts that address situations we can directly observe and experiment with today; so humility and open-mindedness are even more important – but, due to the linked worldview issues and agendas, too often are missing in action.. (I need not elaborate on a pet peeve of mine: computer models and simulations are not experiments or observations -- save of algorithms and their underlying data and assumptions at work.)]

U may therefore find the discussion of "the positive case for design" here of interest as a first brief step, and the wiki here on design theory and research, also of interest.

But, again, this is in rhetorical effect, again a distraction from the issue at stake for the thread: the need of basic broughtupcy in commentary. That should not be ducked, if any serious progress is to be made.

Worse, the distraction is in fact a case in point of the abusive attitude that Andrew has tried to address. This is revealed in stark details by:

3] empirically anchored" falls far short of real science. One has to test predictions from the inference to be doing science, and to date, every ID proponent on the planet lacks the courage/faith/integrity to do so.

Again, this is a further diversion, and embeds not only a misunderstanding of the nature of the scientific enterprise, but also an irresponsible misrepresentation that Design theorists are not doing empirically based research, joined to a slander against men who ARE doing such research, starting with say Mr Scott Minnich and others. I excerpt from the onward linked on this researcher:
>> [DI]Biochemist Michael Behe used the flagella to illustrate the concept of irreducible complexity and Minnich takes the argument to the next level crediting the design paradigm to leading to new insights in his lab research at the University of Idaho . . . . [ISCID] Dr. Minnich's research interests are temperature regulation of Y. enterocolitca gene expression and coordinate reciprocal expression of flagellar and virulence genes.

Scott Minnich is widely published in technical journals including Journal of Bacteriology, Molecular Microbiology, Journal of Molecular Biology, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Journal of Microbiological Method, Food Technology, and the Journal of Food Protection . . . .

[Uidaho] Selected Publications . . . . Monday S.R., Minnich S.A., Feng PC. 2004. A 12-base-pair deletion in
the flagellar master control gene flhC causes nonmotility of the
pathogenic German sorbitol-fermenting Escherichia coli O157:H-
strains. J Bacteriol. 186:2319-27 . . . . Ely B., Ely T.W, Crymes W.B. Jr, Minnich S.A. 2000. A family of six
flagellin genes contributes to the Caulobacter crescentus flagellar
filament. J. Bacteriol. 182:5001-4.>>

In context, Minnich has addressed the iconic bacterial flagellum and the related Y pestis etc TTSS injection pump, which uses in effect a subset of the genes for the flagellum to create a toxin injector. As Peterson discusses at popular level, this lab based research is highly relevant to the debates over design theory:

>> Behe's most famous example [of irreducible complexity in empirically observable action] is the bacterial flagellum . . . If you take away the driveshaft from the flagellar motor, you do not end up with a motor that functions less well. You have a motor that does not function at all. All of the essential parts must be there, all at once, for the motor to perform its function of propelling the bacterium through liquid . . . . that is precisely what Darwinian evolution cannot accomplish. Darwinian evolution is by definition "blind." It cannot plan ahead and create parts that might be useful to assemble a biological machine in the future. For the machine to be assembled, all or nearly all the parts must already be there and be performing a function. Why must they already be performing a function? Because if a part does not confer a real, present advantage for the organism's survival or reproduction, Darwinian natural selection will not preserve the gene responsible for that part. In fact, according to Darwinian theory, that gene will actually be selected against. An organism that expends resources on building a part that is useless handicaps itself compared to other organisms that are not wasting resources, and will tend to get outcompeted . . . .

Behe the biochemist . . . search[ed] the relevant scientific journals, books, and proceedings of meetings to find out what the Darwinists had really proven about the origin of complex biochemical systems . . . . "There has never been a meeting, or a book, or a paper on details [key operative word -- just so stories and/or hand waving will not do] of the evolution of complex biochemical systems" . . . Behe, recalling the "fierce resistance" he encountered after the publication of Darwin's Black Box, remarks that much of it came from "internet fans of Darwinism who claimed that, why, there were hundreds or thousands of research papers describing Darwinian evolution of irreducibly complex biochemical systems." Except that there aren't.

Well, this sent the Darwinians scrambling. Kenneth Miller, a biologist at Brown University who argues in favor of Darwinian evolution, made a splash when he announced (and he bolded the language in his article) that "the bacterial flagellum is not irreducibly complex." Miller cited a cellular structure known as the type III secretory system (TTSS) that allows certain bacteria to inject toxins through the cell walls of their hosts . . . .

But . . . the bubonic plague bacterium already has the full set of genes necessary to make a flagellum. Rather than making a flagellum, Y. pestis uses only part of the genes that are present to manufacture that . . . injector instead. As pointed out in a recent article by design theorist Stephen Meyer and microbiologist Scott Minnich (an expert on the flagellar system), the gene sequences suggest that "flagellar proteins arose first and those of the pump came later." If evolution was involved, the pump came from the motor, not the motor from the pump. Also, "the other thirty proteins in the flagellar motor (that are not present in the [pump]), are unique to the motor and are not found in any other living system." . . . In short, the proteins in the TTSS do not provide a "gradualist" Darwinian pathway to explain the step-by-step evolution of the irreducibly complex flagellar motor.>> [This is of course already discussed in my linked introductory survey.]
Go to the relevant Wiki, onlookers, and look around. Ten see if there has been a responsible engagement of the facts on the ground before making global, accusatory assertions like:
>>U: . . . every [so also each and every one!] ID proponent on the planet lacks the courage/faith/integrity [such are alleged to be dishonest cowards by direct implication] . . . >>
On facts such as excerpted, this should be apologised for and such inflammatory statements should be avoided in future.

I gave more details on this as it shows the pattern we are discussing, though at a more subtle level: implications instead of direct accusations. This too, is unacceptable and irresponsible.




9:48 AM

The persistent pattern of careless, ill-informed or willfull misinformation, and associated attitude of contempt and want of civility on the part of advocates of secularism, are highly revealing. Indeed, sadly, in my earlier comments I had occasion to observe that the mythical "moral and decent atheist" is too often missing in action, especially as the moral restraints of Christendom wane in an ever more militantly apostate Western Civilisation. That accords far better with Rom 1 - 3 than it does with the typical opinions broadcast in our media, education syste,ms amnnd increasingly on our streets and verandahs!

We must be prepared to handle it, and especialy, to nip it in the bud before it becomes so deeply entrenched that many thingk that uncivil, often false accusation is their "right."

Similarly, it is all too easy for slanderous and willfully deceptive misinformation to become entrenched in the public mind as the truth on a matter. Then, it is very hard indeed to break down the walls of misunderstadning and mistrust -- and that is often exactly what was intended. But by God's grace, Him who is the Truth himself shall prevail.

No comments: