“Randomness” in Discussions About Evolution

This short vignette from the BioLogos Foundation is a very helpful discussion about what is meant when we use the term “random” in relation to evolution.   Often times this term can be misused in a pejorative sense in discussions surrounding science and faith.  This video helpfully clarifies what is random and what is not in the evolutionary process.

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  1. Hey Steve! It’s James H. encore. I’ve still been checking out your blog and have enjoyed the content so far! I’ve finally entered the world of blogging myself. You can check it out at thoughtsontheline.wordpress.com if you so desire. If sure you’ll have some great input.

    I thought this video here was interesting. I do find though that in discussions about evolution the real issue is always avoided (I understand this video wasn’t designed to address it though). That issue is “what is the key element to producing a new species or new system in an organism?”

    Of course, we now know it’s genetic code. DNA needs to have not only a rearrangement of it’s [digital] information, but it eventually needs to have new information added. And that’s the issue – can natural selection acting on random chance mutations create more genetic information than it looses? Ie. Is the ratio of new / deleted information in favor of the newly created and added information? That is what evolution needs in order to create new forms of life or even create new systems.

    Personally, through my own research I’ve found that the ratio is totally unfavorable to the creation of new information (which has to work together as well – not just random bits of information).

    You may or may not be familiar with Michael Behe’s latest work. In an article he published around February he (in summary) found that all evolutionary experiments [that he checked out – which was most of the big / important ones] performed have shown that the vast majority of mutations either mix the information that’s already there or just delete it. New information is hardly ever created. The ratio is basically way less than a percent of a percent for the newly generated information.

    Now that being said, one may say that God is continually creating that information, but I personally don’t even think that evolution happened in the first place (for other reasons as well).

    The biologic institute has been doing alot of great work in this area as well –

    http://www.biologicinstitute.org/

    Keep up the blogging Steve!

  2. Hey James,
    Thanks for dropping by again. I’m glad to hear you are putting some thoughts online now. I’ll have to go check them out. I looked at biologicinstitute. I’m glad intelligent design is spending time now doing some research to try to forward their position. It will be good for them if they hope to have a sustained life in the debate. I am aware of the RNA/DNA debate and I think there is much work that needs to be done in that area. For me, the sheer amount of data in geological timescales and the growing number of transitional fossils filling the gaps of evolutionary periods makes me reticent to dismiss evolution as a key development in speciation and adaptation. I understand some of the intelligent design arguments but I think there is a weakness in their position regarding emergent properties as it relates to the development of complex organisms. They argue for direct causal sequences which isn’t always the way things develop, at least from the limited amount of research I have been able to do. I think intelligent design is a possibility for Christians who are seeking to sustain an interventionist view of God’s divine action. For me, I can’t see it escaping the God of the gaps accusation. That’s why I’ve preferred biologos and their approach. I think its important to emphasize that both are viable positions for Christians to struggle with. I am weary of some forms of argument out there that try to poison the well with atheist claims against scientific Christians. I have seen too many Christians lose their faith over this issue in particular that I am trying to make a broad appeal for this position as a viable alternative to others out there. I appreciate your comments and I’ll continue to research this topic. Welcome to the blogosphere 🙂

  3. I agree in the point you made about some proponents of ID who are themselves evolutionists. I’ve seen this sort of reasoning: “Mutations ala natural selection cannot produce information to the degree that it needs. It cannot produce enough information to have even made one functional protein in the course of history (which I agree with). But, evolution still happened thus the intelligent designer had to have infused that missing information every step of the way.”

    So basically what we have is “if” evolution did happen, it would basically have been a miracle every single step of the way.

    I agree that this would have to have been the case, other than the fact I don’t think evolution even happened at all. I wouldn’t call it God of the gaps, since we know that intelligent minds can produce information and that (as some would posit) chance nor necessity can produce the information we need.

    But none-the-less, it is kinda a strange view. Although my own view, admittedly, would be called even stranger by others (I’m sure lol).

  4. I’ll add a bit more. I think the God of the gaps accusation can be made, and fairly reasonably, depending on the argument in question. I think one can get the point where an intelligent mind being the source of the information in the genome is the best inference available. However, that doesn’t mean “it’s God”.

    But then the question can be asked, “Who was that intelligent designer?” One could compare hypotheses and see which one is the best explanation. In this sense, one could argue that God was the intelligent mind.

    Just to point out, as you most likely know, ID only gets one to the idea that there was an intelligent designer – but who that designer was (alien, God, etc.) is not a question ID seeks to address. But like I said, one may be able to conjure up an argument in the fashion I just presented (although I haven’t done so myself! It would be interesting to do though).

    Till next time Steve!

  5. Hey James,
    I think I would affirm intelligent design arguments that focus upon cosmology and the fine tuning of the universe. I’m not so sure those kind of arguments hold however in biological systems. To argue for DNA would be an interventionist approach and you have DNA existing millenia before human beings exist. So the argument is still problematic as you have to argue for genetic material being created periodically over exceedingly long periods of time or at least acknowledge common descent after an initial creation. One could make this kind of argument but it seems to beg the question. I know the creation of new genetic information is not impossible although I have seen some data that suggests it is very difficult. That seems like an argument that is simply going to be dealt with as time and research continues. My main problem with intelligent design as it relates to evolutionary systems is that it has no system or method. It is ad hoc and selective. That suggests to me that we’re picking and choosing our battles. That may work initially, but the absence of a robust alternative suggests that it is simply a stop gap. William Paley made the same kinds of arguments a hundred years ago when evolution was far from the dominant position in scientific circles. I just don’t see a lot of development in the general argumentation except for specific pieces such as the genetic argument. As I said, I know that is a major thrust for argumentation right now, but I think there is data out there that at least proves it is not impossible, albeit difficult or unlikely. Given enough time and opportunity, those things can bear themselves out and specific conditions can skew the unlikely towards more favorable of an outcome. Complex dynamic systems show that the smallest changes can drastically affect the system as a whole, which suggests to me that the probabilities can change rapidly. Those are my thoughts on it. I’ll be doing a lot more research on complex dynamical systems in the near future here so hopefully I can share more details as I get a better grasp of the material. Thanks for sharing.

    Steve

  6. I completely agree with you in that cosmological/cosmic teleological arguments are great arguments.

    If you haven’t checked out Steven Meyer’s book “Signature in the cell” I would highly recommend it for what I think is the best argument I’ve seen for arguing design from genetic information, or DNA. I think he presents a great argument in that he used the method of multiple competing hypotheses which as I’m sure you know is a staple in historical inquiry.

    I think it can be used as a good supplementary argument (if one think it’s a good one) along side other theistic arguments – because, as you pointed out, it doesn’t really get us necessarily to an intelligence that transcends humanity/the universe, so those types of arguments are definitely preferred.

    I hope you’re having a good week Steve! May the Lord bless you and keep you fruitful!

  7. Hey James,
    I have read several reviews on “Signature” and I’m not sure its worth the read. Using historical forms of inquiry to argue for biological systems seems like a mismatch to me. Can you give me a good explanation for his position? What I’m wondering is, why argue for DNA when evolution occurs anyways afterwards i.e. gene mutation, genetic rearrangement etc. At what point are they saying genetic information was created and how does this avoid common descent? If its at the start of life, then evolution holds true for the majority of biological history. If its at various phases of timescales then you have to explain genetic markers from previous periods and again one is arguing for an interventionist view. Can you clarify the position for me?

    Steve

  8. Stephen Meyer’s book basically tackles the issue of the origin of life. That’s really it. It doesn’t deal with biological evolution at all. It doesn’t deal common decent at all either (other than stating at the end of the work that Meyer’s theory is compatible with both).

    I suppose the basic thesis is that the origin of DNA can only be explained by an intelligent agent/source.

    The vast majority of the book is dedicated to explaining how the cell works, namely how proteins and DNA work together, and then explaining what theories of the origin of life have been (and does it in a chronological way to demonstrate the kinda “evolution” of these theories and how they have shifted in their focus as to the things which needs to be explained. Very interesting sections).

    He gives a critique of each method of explaining the origin of DNA (the origin of life) and comes to the conclusion that nonr of them are adequate to explain the origin of DNA.

    The final part (which comprises maybe a fifth or less of the entire book) explains why intelligence is the best explanation.

    It seems that maybe the reviews you have read are of people who didn’t really read the book, since all of the concerns you brought up about the book are things that aren’t really mentioned or dealt with, other than the fact he explains what some of these positions are (common decent, interventionist view, a “front-loading” view, etc.)

    I hope that helps to clarify the book for you Steve. Take care man!

  9. Thanks for clarifying James. From the sounds of it, its just the same argumentation that ID has been making for the last decade. As you pointed out, it doesn’t do anything to undermine evolutionary theory. I wish ID would deal with the implications of genetic information existing over long periods of time and the incontrovertible fact of mutation. Currently its simply a rival to the seeded earth theory and other origins of life debates. Its this kind of picking and choosing that kind of makes it a hard sell for me. I appreciate the quick summary. Thanks for your comments 🙂

    Steve


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