Monday, January 03, 2005

Witty World: Ducking the debate

Since Witt seems to have disabled comments to his blog I will continue my comments here.

Witt: Valentine is a Darwinist who does raise serious problems with the Darwinian model for the origin of phyla. He does not do this in the preface. He does this in journal articles and in the body of "The Origin of Phyla."

Let's revisit the issue here. Meyer suggested in his 2004 paper that

Meyer: Though Gilbert et al. (1996) attempted to solve the problem of the origin of form by proposing a greater role for developmental genetics within an otherwise neo-Darwinian framework,1 numerous recent authors have continued to raise questions about the adequacy of that framework itself or about the problem of the origination of form generally (Webster & Goodwin 1996; Shubin & Marshall 2000; Erwin 2000; Conway Morris 2000, 2003b; Carroll 2000; Wagner 2001; Becker & Lonnig 2001; Stadler et al. 2001; Lonnig & Saedler 2002; Wagner & Stadler 2003; Valentine 2004:189-194).

Thus suggesting that Valentine doubts the efficacy of the Neo-Darwinian framework. While Valentine may address the problems surrounding our understanding of the Cambrian explosion, it is incorrect to portray his book and papers as doubting the adequacy of the neo-Darwinian framework.
I also provided a Meyer quote of earlier work by Valentine about CSI and complexity where the paper actually contradicted Meyer's assertions.

Confronted with these examples all Witt can do is try to distract with unsupported accusations.

That he begins his book with a eulogy to Darwin is little wonder. Look what the Darwinist community did to evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg when he sent out for peer review, edited, and published Stephen's Meyer's review essay arguing against the Darwinian model for the origin of the Cambrian phyla. Sternberg was attacked and slandered from many sides.

Witt is totally speculating as to why Valentine made his comments in the preface. In addition his portrayal of how Sternberg was treated seems biased.

I can't pretend to know Valentine's motives. I assume he has a genuine respect for Darwin. But notice that very few people are attacking Valentine for raising serious questions about the present adequacy of the Darwinian mechanism as an explanation for origin of phyla. Intentionally or accidentally, Valentine cleared a space for himself in the preface to do dispassionate analysis of the Darwinian explanation in the body of his book.

Valentine may raise serious questions but does not seem to consider Darwinian mechanisms as being inadequate in explaining the origin of phyla. Of course unlike some ID proponents, Valentine is not suggesting that Darwinism is a theory in crisis.

Witt may take notice of Professor Richard Colling's wise words

Prof. Richard Colling wrote:
In his new book, “Random Designer,” he writes: “It pains me to suggest that my religious brothers are telling falsehoods” when they say evolutionary theory is “in crisis” and claim that there is widespread skepticism about it among scientists. “Such statements are blatantly untrue,” he argues; “evolution has stood the test of time and considerable scrutiny. [1]”

(Sharon Begley in Tough Assignment: Teaching Evolution To Fundamentalists, Wall Street Journal, December 3, 2004; Page A15 )

Witt continues to accuse critics of Sternberg of slander.

Witt: As for Sternberg, the rumor mill even floated the slander that he had made up his peer reviewers. However, this slander was shot down when Sternberg produced the relevant evidence for his bosses at the Smithsonian Institution. The best the naysayers can do now is claim that the peer reviewers were surely not from prestigious institutions and surely lacked relevant degrees. As proof they point to the supposed errors in Meyer's article. The central "error," of course, is that Meyer broke with the dogma of Darwinism.

The central error is that Meyer's paper is full of errors and unsupported assertions. Given the arguments of Meyer's paper, it is indeed surprising that it passed peer review. But then again, the journal in question was not really specialized in the topic raised by Meyer.

As Sternberg explains, the reviewers are from reputable institutions and do have relevant degrees. The Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington is morally and legally obligated to preserve the anonymity of the peer reviewers. That's how peer review works. Moreover, why would the peer reviewers want to get trashed like Richard Sternberg has been trashed? Is it any wonder they haven't "fessed up"?

Give the poor arguments in Meyer's paper, I am not surprised that the reviewers have not 'fessed up'. They would have a lot of explaining to do.

Witt: Finally, I want to return again to the ongoing attempt to eliminate intelligent design by labeling it an eliminative argument. Is the design inference we make when we see Stonehenge an eliminative argument? We can label it whatever we want, but it's still a reasonable inference. It's based, in part, on what we know about what intelligent causes have done.

I'm aware of the contortions some enter into to counter this common sense approach to science. But at some time it's best to lay aside the mental games and merely follow the evidence wherever it leads. At the beginning of the 21st century, that's where the real scientific adventure lies, not with definitional games.

Unwilling to address the claims, Witt resorts to ad hominems: making unsupproted accusations such as 'contortions', 'mental games' etc. What Witt however has failed to show is that Dembski's filter has any relevance as to how archaeologists infer design in case of Stonehenge. It is based on what we know about intelligent causes and designers as Witt correctly points out, which is totally opposite from the explanatory filter as proposed by Dembski. Through conflating the explanatory filter with 'common sense approaches', Witt gives the impression that there is a similarity between these methods when such similarities seem far fetched at most.

An interesting sidenote is that on the one hand ID proponents argue that ID adds something to science while on the other hand admitting that science already deals with design. In other words, ID is superfluous... Will the real ID argument please stand up... Witt is correct to observe that science does perform design inferences, he is however wrong that such inferences have much similarity to Dembki's proposal.

Let's indeed follow the evidence wherever it may lead but let's also not pretend that the design inference is more than an appeal to ignorance based on an eliminative approach.

Del Ratzsch, a well known ID proponent observed

Del Ratzsch: So typically, patterns that are likely candidates for design are first identified as such by some unspecified (“mysterious”) means, then with the pattern in hand S picks out side information identified (by unspecified means) as releavant to the particular pattern, then sees whether the pattern in question is among the various patterns that could have been constructed from that side information. What this means, of course, is that Dembski’s design inference will not be particularly useful either in initial recognition or identification of design.

and a warning to ID supporters (are you listening Witt?)

Del Ratzsch: “I do not wish to play down or denigrate what Dembski has done. There is much of value in the Design Inference. But I think that some aspects of even the limited task Dembski set for himself still remains to be tamed.” “That Dembski is not employing the robust, standard, agency-derived conception of design that most of his supporters and many of his critics have assumed seems clear.

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