Tuesday, April 01, 2014

More God of the Gaps from North American ID.

In a blog debate between evangelical atheist Larry Moran and “IDiot” (as Moran calls them) Vincent Torley about the significance of the similarities between the genomes of humans and other primates, Moran succeeds in drawing Torley out on just how his God-of -the-Gaps version of intelligent design is supposed to work.

I’m currently doing a series of posts on one of Torley’s posts that appeared on “IDiot” web site Uncommon Descent. In that series I critique Torley’s dualist theology, a theology that leads him to posit a Natural forces did it vs God Intelligence did it dichotomy. However, in this particular post I want to show-case Torley’s own admissions on just how he thinks God might do his bit by tampering with the “natural” scheme of things. The following snatches of the dialogue between Moran and Torley are very telling indeed. 

First over to Moran:

Moran: The genomes of chimpanzees and bonobos are remarkably similar to the human genome. In terms of sequence similarity, they are more than 98% identical in the regions that can be aligned. This, of course, is due to the fact that they descend from a common ancestor in the recent past (about 5 million years ago).
Intelligent Design Creationists don't agree. Many of them do not accept common descent and macroevolution so they make up stories that account for the similarity based on what they think god might have been thinking when he created chimps and humans. (My emphasis in bold)

My Comment: Moran is right on there: North American ID is a soft science based on “what they think god might have been thinking when he created chimps and humans”. What compounds the problems of North American ID is that the “IDiot” culture Torley represents claims to not identify the more precise nature of the intelligence involved. Thus “God” is replaced with the apparently non-committal term “intelligence”. This of course could include “little green/grey man” intelligence; in which case we are explicitly dealing with a tinkering homunculus who is working very much within the physical regime of the cosmos. Who knows what motivates such entities and how they think? Soft science indeed! This is far from the immanent totalizing God of Christian theology.

Anyway, Torley claims to have some kind of insight into how this intelligence might think. This is what he says (as quoted by Moran):

Torley: In his post, Professor Moran (acting as devil’s advocate) proposes the intelligent design hypothesis that “the intelligent designer created a model primate and then tweaked it a little bit to give chimps, humans, orangutans, etc.” However, he argues that this hypothesis fails to explain “the fact that humans are more similar to chimps/bonobos than to gorillas and all three are about the same genetic distance from orangutans.” On the contrary, I think it’s very easy to explain that fact: all one needs to posit is three successive acts of tweaking, over the course of geological time: a first act, which led to the divergence of African great apes from orangutans; a second act, which caused the African great apes to split into two lineages (the line leading to gorillas and the line leading to humans, chimps and bonobos); and finally, a third act, which led humans to split off from the ancestors of chimps and bonobos.
"Why would a Designer do it that way?" you ask. "Why not just make a human being in a single step?" The short answer is that the Designer wasn’t just making human beings, but the entire panoply of life-forms on Earth, including all of the great apes. Successive tweakings would have meant less work on the Designer’s part, whereas a single tweaking causing a simultaneous radiation of orangutans, gorillas, chimps, bonobos and humans from a common ancestor would have necessitated considerable duplication of effort (e.g. inducing identical mutations in different lineages of African great apes), which would have been uneconomical. If we suppose that the Designer operates according to a "minimum effort" principle, then successive tweakings would have been the way to go. (Emphases in bold are mine)

My Comment: That really says it all: This concept of ID is of the tinkering, tampering One, whose thinking Torley thinks he understands and who makes the occasional appearances to solve the computational problems of the cosmic processes with a tweak of His magic wand. His is a black-box intelligence eminent to the processes of life. This leaves evangelical atheist Larry Moran with the easy job of making fun of Torley:

Moran: Interesting. One imagines the creator visiting Africa about 15 million years ago and fiddling with the genome of the ape ancestor so that two distinct species are formed. One leads eventually to orangutans and their extinct relatives and the other is the progenitor of the other extant apes and their extinct relatives.
Then the creator gets busy with beetles, or other planets, and lets things evolve on their own for a while, accumulating and fixing alleles at the rate we expect for evolution. Then the creator comes back for a visit about five million years later, having gotten bored with beetles. He (she?) tweaks the genome of some African ape so that a new species arises. The old one is the ancestor of modern gorillas and all the other related species that have gone extinct and the new species becomes the ancestor of chimps, bonobos and humans.
Now the creator turns his attention elsewhere for a few million years as those ape species evolve (insects need attention and his creation on Titan is in peril). Back he (she?) comes about five million years ago to tweak another two species into existence—one that will give rise, by evolution, to several species of Australopithicus, several species of Paranthropus, and several species of Homo (Homo habilis, Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, and Homo sapiens. The other will eventually lead to over-sexed bonobos, the main goal of the exercise, I assume.
I think that what Vincent Torley is saying is that this is all consistent with the data I posted because most of the time these species are evolving just as we would expect. That's why the sequence differences between chimps and humans corresponds to what we expect from evolutionary theory. The reason this is misleading is because it omits the key mutations that god inserted every five million years or so in order to make modern gorillas.
There is, of course, no evidence that Torley's scenario is true and no evidence that a creator exists. I thank Vincent Torley for showing us just how ridiculous the Intelligent Design Creationist movement has become if this is the best they can do.

My Comment: Clearly the foregoing is an elaborated caricature, but it is caricature justified by Torley’s view of the eminent tweaking, tinkering, tampering intelligence, who fills in when “natural processes” can’t do the job. One can almost see in Torley’s vision God flying around in a spaceship from planet to planet doing the kind of stuff that gods (or little green men) do.

For myself I reject Torley’s God vs. Nature dichotomy and see God’s intelligence as immanent rather than just eminent to the cosmic process. This immanence is expressed in as much as the cosmic process is intelligence in action; that is, it is using intelligence’s universal process of search, reject, find and select. This view of mine would, in Moran’s eyes, likely make me just as big an “IDiot” as Torley, but at least I would like to be hung for right kind of theological idiocy, and not for the kind of dualistic idiocy Torley represents.

Addendum:  03/04/14: I can live with being thought of as an "IDiot" by Larry Moran, but he can hardly be blamed for using an appellation like this: Christianity has become so extreme in some of its expressions (particularly in North America) and inseparable from right-wing and anti-science sentiments* that "IDiot" becomes a commensurate symmetrical response; recall that Uncommon Descent is not just a site that questions evolutionary theory but also hosts YECs. Moreover, it is likely that the extreme fundamentalists have also helped stir up and justify the indiscriminating atheist savagery we see amongst PZ Myers "raiders", with which agreement or treaty is all but impossible. But talking about indiscriminate savagery think also of the behaviour of the raging religious right which includes (and has included) characters like Alex Jones (Professional conspiracy theorist), William Tapley (End times conspiracy theorist), Barry Smith (Millennium bug conspiracy theorist, now dead), Kent Hovind (Right wing conspiracy theorist), Ken Ham (Conspiracy theorist by interest), John McKay (Ham's ex-business partner and religious crank), Glen Beck (Mormon conspiracy theorist) etc. From their number one will hear detractors accused of the most heinous sins, depravity and blasphemies. Doctrines of total depravity has given them a susceptibility to conspiracy theory. In their world to be a heretic is to simply question the divine authority of their opinions and therefore a profession of Christian faith doesn't proof one against these savage accusations! If I had a choice I'd much prefer being called a common or garden "IDiot"!

* The artificial distinction that some Biblical literalists try to make between observational and historical science is a reliable shibboleth for anti-science attitudes: They don't see that the real variable is not historicity but the degree of logical remoteness of the ontology being investigated.

No comments: