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Is showing gaps in the abiogenesis model enough to make Intelligent Design into science?

Post of the Month: May 2014


Subject:    | Question for
Date:       | 16 May 2014
Message-ID: |

An ID proponent known as "anonymousgeniusdesigndefender" addresses Bill Rogers:
> ... I am interested in your take on the arguments by Dr. Fuz Rana in this video:


In this part of the video Dr. Rana spends 15 minutes presenting examples of insoluble problems encountered by researchers when testing various models for abiogenesis.
> He begins talking at the 31:30 mark and within 5 minutes or so addresses his main points.

> I have no doubt that you will disagree with his conclusions and have valid scientific
> reasoning for doing so. My specific question is: Is his analysis simply religion
> disguised as science or does he make valid scientific points?

Setting up this Post of the Month by Bill Rogers:
You bring up the question as to whether Intelligent Design or "genius design" is a religious or scientific view. I think it's pretty hard to make "design" non-religious, but not impossible. I'm just talking about the arguments themselves, as I am not interested in judging anyone's motivations for making a particular argument.

Here's a definitely religious version. Cells (eyes, brains, flagella, what have you) are so complicated that there is no conceivable path for their evolution. We have no idea how it could have happened. Therefore they must have been designed and created by God. That's clearly God of the Gaps, and a religious, non-scientific approach. You say repeatedly that that is NOT your argument. OK.

The start of a potential scientific design argument would be the one you made. Cells and man-made machines have some striking similarities (I think they have even more striking differences, but no matter). The similarities are so striking that it is reasonable to hypothesize that, like man-made machines, cells were designed and built by some designer. And given the complexity of cells, that designer must have been a genius. Nothing wrong here yet. It is perfectly fine to use an analogy to motivate scientific questions or experiments. But if you want this to be something more than a disguised version of God of the Gaps, you have to move on from here. You have to think in detail about your designer model. There are many questions to think about.

  1. Is your designer supernatural? If yes, then no experiment can refute his existence or role in the origin of life. That might be fine if you have a prior belief in an omnipotent God, but it takes the whole question back to the realm of religion.

  2. If you designer is not supernatural, who is it? Is it biological? That takes you to the super-genius aliens type of designer. To me that just pushes the problem of the origin of life to another planet. If it's too hard for cells to evolve, isn't it even harder for genius designers to evolve? So you don't really get anywhere by plunking for a non-supernatural designer. So for me, you're either stuck with a religious claim of a supernatural, untestable designer, or a designer of cells whose own cells would have had to evolve somewhere else. But never mind, let's keep asking questions.

  3. If you have a non-supernatural designer, ie one within the realm of science, what exactly did he do? Do you think he built a single Archaea cell somewhere several billion years ago? Where did he live while he was working? What sort of tools did he use? Was his design based upon his own structure? Or, did he just build some very simple imperfect replicator knowing that a cell would eventually evolve from it? If he was active only several billion years ago did he implant the future course of evolution in the first cells he built, so that he designed the human brain to show up billions of years later? Or has he been hanging around somewhere adding complex features to whole clades of organisms over the last millions of years? If so, where is he living? How does he do it? If you had been there to see the first cell designed and built what would you have seen? Ditto for the first human brain? These are, among others, the sorts of questions any scientist would have upon entertaining the idea of a genius designer responsible for all the many nifty features of living organisms (and as I pointed out in an earlier post, I really am familiar with those nifty features in a lot of detail).

  4. Virtually nobody arguing for design seems to me interested in these obviously interesting questions, which is why most design arguments seem like God of the Gaps to me. But then, you might be different.

  5. Finally, in earlier posts, I've agreed that we definitely do not understand the details of the origin of life. But even so, contrast the attitude of people working in that field to design advocates. Design advocates seem utterly uninterested in testing any ideas about who the designer is or how, in detail he designed and built life. People working in abiogenesis develop and test models all the time. Of course, they are incomplete. But if someone says, "Maybe it was an RNA world first and catalytic and structural proteins came later," then they also say "But if that's true, RNA would have to be able to catalyze reactions like RNA cleavage or elongation," and then they go to the lab and find out whether that is possible (it is). It's still a puzzle in bits and pieces, but people make hypotheses about the details and test them to see if they are plausible. For all the study of the origin of life is at an early stage, it acts like science, it asks questions, makes models, tests them, rejects one's that don't work. Nobody does that with the "genius designer."

To sum up. I do think that the design argument is generally just a dressed up version of God of the Gaps. There is, however, nothing intrinsically unscientific in hypothesizing that life was designed. It's just that nobody making that claim seems remotely interested in asking scientific questions about exactly how it happened.

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