Monday, March 05, 2007

Intelligent Design of Organisms Proof

Since intelligence has been acting on the design of species for at least a few million years (human intelligence), and since that is now accelerating, how do we know now and how will we tell the difference between those future organisms that are designed by natural selection as opposed to the imposition of human intelligent design.

Conversely, if we are able to reverse engineer the evidence of human involvement in the design of organisms, then we might be able to establish a proof regimen for evidence of supernatural design.

21 comments:

bernardo said...

As far as I know, all genetically-modified organisms are patented. Heck, even naturally-occurring genes are patented!

Other than for the records we keep (patents and other IP belonging to companies and labs that do genetics work), I don't see how you could be able to look at a genome and determine something like "This species has a genetic makeup that was clearly tampered with by deliberate intelligent beings".

Well, ok. I suppose that if some large chunk of one species' genome matches perfectly a large chunk of a fairly-unrelated species' genome (e.g. bacteria that make human insulin, or crops with anti-freeze or anti-insect proteins from other species, etc), then this is a pretty good indication. But the study of cladistics generates a tree through which all life could have plausibly evolved from common ancestors, without this kind of transplanting. What I mean is, there is no sign of bio-mixing in nature, and most natural (non-manmade) bio-mixing leads to sterile organisms.

The watchmaker analogy is not any more true of biotechnology than it is of mechanical design. It's even worse in biotechnology, because - unlike with the watch - it's not necessarily reasonable to look at an insulin-making bacterium and say "This must have been deliberately designed".

Randy Kirk said...

I'm not talking about even bioengineering or the watchmaker analogy. We have been intentionally splicing plants onto one another since at least Biblical times, and also doing herd culling and the like.

So, just as we agreed the other day that the future of humans is already today, and will in the future, be dramatically impacted by human tampering, truly we have been doing so for a very, very long time. So long, in fact, that one would think that it would have effected not just the organisms that have been specifically tampered with, but also others that are host or prey.

So natural selection has been designed around for a very long time. This has to have a measurable effect both historically, and by some form of modeling.

Randy Kirk said...

In other words, we created seedless watermellons by tampering with the natural process. We now have a designer plant. If we can't create a model for establishing without knowing in advance whether that watermellon became seedless as a result of natural selection or by human intervention, then how can we know what was totally or in part created by natural selection and what was done by design of some kind.

bernardo said...

This reminds me of a Seinfeld skit. "We now have seedless watermelon. Really. Scientists have created the seedless watermelon. I don't know how they do it. Are the melons humpin', now? Some scientists want to cure cancer, AIDS, but these guys are like 'No, I want to focus on melon!'..."

But seriously... Ok, you're not talking about transplanting genes. (Ancient plant splicing is, of course, where the word "transplanting" comes from, and in both occasions the deliberate design can be guessed at from the strong probability that the organism is a mixture of two other pre-existing species).

So, you're just talking about whether we can tell the results of artificial selection (breeding) from the results of natural selection. And you're saying that, if we can't, then natural selection might be deliberately guided towards a purpose, just like artificial selection is.

I'm not sure we could tell the difference. In either case, the environment exhibits a preference for certain traits, and organisms with those traits are more likely to reproduce. We like big sweet fruits and vegetables, fast strong horses, smart obedient dogs, meaty cows and pigs, etc. To say "these traits could only be selected for by an intelligent breeder with a deliberate purpose" is to say "No possible environment could benefit those traits", which is just a lack of imagination. If you say "No environment would favor fruits and vegetables to be much bigger and sweeter than their seeds need in order to grow", I'd say "Well, maybe the big sweet fruits and vegetables gor eaten by more animals, which caused their seeds to be more widely distributed" or something. Cows are slow and meaty, but I can see an environment with no significant predators and plenty of non-moving food selecting for such traits, traits which might cause meatier and slower animals to get hurt less and be less likely to get sick, I don't know. The point is, I think that there COULD be naturalistic causes that would cause natural selection for traits similar to the artificial selection traits we favor.

And besides, whether or not we can spot the results of artificial selection versus those of natural selection, this still does not prove that there is a creator. This really is the watchmaker analogy barely in disguise: Just because natural selection looks a whole lot like artificial selection, does not mean that natural selection was deliberate.

Now, I will admit that, when I decide to look at the world from a deist point of view, it makes sense that God would want for natural selection to favor things that would lead to intelligence, because it makes sense that the purpose of the universe was to see if God could set things up so that intelligence would naturally arise from, well, dirt (which indeed happened). So I am not unsympathetic to the idea of the Creator being a breeder of sorts. I just don't think that you can infer this from looking at natural selection, or from saying that the results of natural selection look like the results of artificial selection.

Natural selection, in general, selects for traits like strength, speed, endurance, and intelligence, since those increase the ability to catch food, the ability to make ingested energy last a while, and the ability to escape being eaten. On top of this, certain environments might favor the ability to stay warm, sensitivity/immunity to certain chemicals, etc. Artificial selection tends to select for the production of certain materials that humans like (meat, fruit matter, rubber, etc) or for the development of skills we find helpful (obedience, strength, endurance, intelligence).

One question we could explore is how similar the strength-endurance-intelligence that we like in our farm animals are to the strength-endurance-intelligence that most benefits animals in the wild.

But I still don't see how this proves that natural selection is a breeding program.

bernardo said...

From Wikipedia (which I know is not to be taken as absolutely authoritative, but in this case it does state something elegantly and concisely, and shows that I am not the only one who thinks along these lines):

...there is no real difference in the genetic processes underlying artificial and natural selection, and that the concept of artificial selection was first introduced as an illustration of the wider process of natural selection. The selection process is termed "artificial" when human preferences or influences have a significant effect on the evolution of a particular population or species.

Anonymous said...

Bernardo,

How do you explain the evolution of pleasureable experiences. Humans have pleasure mating, do animals? What purpose/ significance would humans have over animals in the evolution of pleasure feelings?
Kathy

Randy Kirk said...

Natural selection would not be trying for seedlessness, tough skins on tomatoes, cuter dogs, non-shedding breeds,grapes more likely to make good wine, horses that go really fast for 4/5 mile, and on and on.

Some of the breeding practices in the BC times was for the color of the coat of the animal, based on what was attractive. Docile dogs would not seem to be a benefit for anything but attracting owners to feed you; a higher level intelligence that only my personal dog is capable of.

And I'm not suggesting that there is a difference in the genetic process. But there is intelligent intervention.

bernardo said...

Kathy,

If a gene causes your nervous system to be set up in such a way that you get pleasure from activities that make your genes more likely to be passed on (activities such as eating, reproducing, etc), then that gene will probably be selected for, since animals with that gene will live longer and reproduce more. This is probably related to why we also get pleasure from figuring things out (and doing other mental things), from sacrificing for the welfare of our families, and other less-direct things that help the genes get passed on eventually. But, like I keep saying, remember the moth and the flame: Not every behavior is worthy of being selected for; Some harmful behaviors are side-effects of benefits that did get selected for. So just because we exhibit the tendency/desire to act a certain way, does not mean that this tendency/desire is beneficial or would have been selected for, were it not associated with some benefit.

"Humans have pleasure mating, do animals?"

Are you serious? Have you ever owned a male dog? In any case, we've stepped outside of natural selection lately since we can use reason to plan the best ways to do what we think is beneficial, rather than following every pleasurable-seeming impulse.

Randy,

"Natural selection would not be trying for seedlessness..."

Probably not, you're right.

"... tough skins on tomatoes..."

How about as protection from bugs, or from the digestive juices of animals that eat tomatoes and help spread the seeds?

"... cuter dogs ..."

"Cute" animals (with large heads, large eyes, certain facial features similar to those of the species to which the animals appear cute) are seen by the mammalian brain as baby-like and worthy of protection and special attention. Sounds like an advantage to me.

"... non-shedding breeds ..."

Harder to track in the wild? Does not need to eat as much?

"... grapes more likely to make good wine ..."

More attractive to animals that spread their seeds? Or to insects that have a symbiotic relationship with the plant by fending off harmful bugs?

"... horses that go really fast ..."

That one is obvious.

You can't know that nature WOULD NOT select for those traits. Maybe seedlessness, but not the other ones. Only if you can say "There are no possible imaginable circumstances inthe wild where this trait would be a benefit" can you know that the trait was artificially selected for. And even then, you don't know for sure, since someone else who is more imaginative might be able to think of those circumstances.

Besides, whether or not you can tell the effects of natural selection from the effects of artificial selection, this does not prove that natural selection was guided towards a goal. It's still the watchmaker argument.

Hey Skipper said...

Randy:

Viruses have been doing genetic engineering far longer than have humans.

Kathy:

You might as well ask that question of fear. It is the flip side of the same coin.

Anonymous said...

Bernardo,

What about homosexuals, how do their genes carry on the selection?

How does nature step in and out of natural selection? It shuts itself off once in a while and reverts to what?

Skipper,

yes, what about fear? How did that develop?
According to the bible when they disobeyed they hid themselves, why were they hiding? fear.

Randy Kirk said...

Bernardo,

Loved your answers to the various unlikely natural selections. I take issue with the obviousness of the horse however, since you left out my modifier - 4/5th of a mile.

In any case, I am ever-so-slightly inclined to agree with your analysis that this is like a variation of the watchmaker argument.

But I am so wiped out that I'm not sure I can make the points I have in my head. One would be what happens if designer organisms are returned to the wild. I had one cat that did pretty good when he ran away from home. We saw him for two years in the wild with no apparent new owner.

But seedless watermellon or thick skinned tomatoes? We know that the introduction of some kinds of designer organisms dramatically effect other natural organisms chances for survival. Sometimes that is even intentional to fight disease or disease carriers. We also know tha this act can create new strains that adapt to the designer version. What happens when these things get unwound.

As the influence of design gets more and more complex and pervasive, what will we call natural?

hey skipper,

Are you suggesting that the virus is intelligen? Intentional? That would bring us right back to the question of the logical characteristics of design.

bernardo said...

Ok, Randy, if you insist: Maybe the horse could have evolved in an area where its most common predator ran out of breath and gave up the chase after 4/5 of a mile... But, again, like I said at the end, my inability to come up with possible benefits for all those traits in the wild does not stop your argument from being the watchmaker analogy.

"As the influence of design gets more and more complex and pervasive, what will we call natural? ... what happens if designer organisms are returned to the wild..."

Those are good questions. Yes, the natural "fit"ness of an organism ultimately has to do with how well it survives in the wild and attracts mates. So if our domesticated animals could still do well in the wild, then this is a sign that we have not bred them beyond natural fitness, a measure for how much we "designed" them away from anything nature could have selected. (But how does that tie in with creationism?)

And yes, I cannot think of a way that nature would possibly select seedless watermelon. Maybe almost-seedless watermelon, if that makes the few seeds more likely to survive (just as some animals have one baby at a time, and others have hundreds).

"What about homosexuals, how do their genes carry on?
"

Homosexuality is probably not a genetic trait. If it is, then it is a recessive one. It is obviously one that makes it much less likely for an organism to pass on its genes. Most people will agree that homosexuality is caused either by psychological factors (somewhat like depression and suicide, which are also not good for survival or procreation), or by brain development in the womb (somewhat like a birth defect such as being born with an under-developed limb - except, in this case, it's being born with a brain structure similar to that of the opposite gender). In either case, it's not genetic.

"How does nature step in and out of natural selection?"

Nature does not step out of natural selection. Nature is always selecting. Selection is competition: Those that cannot compete as well, die off. We can decide that this competition is undesirable, that we want to cooperate as a society so as to preserve the life of every human. So once a species forms a society, this goes a long way towards minimizing the impact of natural selection on themselves. Sure, some drastic differences (certain birth defects, diseases, etc) will still cause early deaths or the inability to reproduce, but overall you no longer have to have strength and endurance and quick reflexes and an exceptionally strong immune system in order to live long enough to have kids. Nature is competition, society is cooperation. If the cooperation is powerful enough (as our society is), we may still compete for money and other things, but not for survival.

"yes, what about fear? How did that develop?"

If the possibility of harm coming to you makes you terrified and pumps adrenaline into your body, you will be motivated to escape any potential source of harm, and you will be able to do it in a focused and quick way. A gene for being afraid, for having adrenaline pump into you whenever something large is seen moving around nearby, for disliking even the thought of harm, is a gene that would lead towards survival. (Of course, if that gene is over-active, its owner will have a harder time finding food and mates, so there's a balance there).

"According to the bible when they disobeyed they hid themselves, why were they hiding? fear."

I thought they were hiding because of shame, which is a much more complex feeling, much less primal. Besides, the Bible says that the world was created in six days, and that we are less than 100 generations down from the first humans, as well as a few other things that are clearly mythological in nature, so I would not use it as an anchor or starting point when thinking about these things.

Hey Skipper said...

Anon:

yes, what about fear? How did that develop?

Because animals without fear get extincted.

Do you know of any mobile life form more complex than, oh, say, an amoeba that does not display a reaction identical to fear when threatened?


Randy:

Are you suggesting that the virus is intelligen? Intentional? That would bring us right back to the question of the logical characteristics of design.

No, I'm suggesting that your singling out human agency as being somehow unprecedented in the annals of genetic engineering is misplaced.

What about homosexuals, how do their genes carry on?

I presume you know that the template for all mammals is female, and that it is only through the proper expression of hormones that the female template becomes male.

There is a difference between genotype and phenotype, which Bernardo accurately pointed out.

Just as there is no gene for cleft palate, there is no gene for homosexuality. Nothing in nature is perfect; gestation sometimes goes slightly awry, leaving a male body with a brain more or less female.

The evidence for this is just about as thorough as that for cigarette smoking causing lung cancer, even if the details are obscure.

Which yields a huge oh bye-the-way: such a thing, if true, makes nonsense out of the Bible's and Q'uran's injunctions against homosexuality as being immoral.

Randy Kirk said...

I have chosen to stay away from the loaded subject of homosexuality. No one is willing to rationally debate this part of the issue as a thread of this subject or even in a completely secular realm.

The science is so far from conclusive, the politics are filled with lies and hype. So, even though I know I could probably double my incoming eyeballs by getting this issue going, I'd rather not.

bernardo said...

Regarding "technological systems vs biological systems", this talk is interesting and maybe relevant to this thread's discussion. It looks at the parallels between technological ideas/devices and biological evolution:

http://ted.com/tedtalks/tedtalksplayer.cfm?key=k_kelly

Kevin Kelly suggests that species go extinct, but technology does not die. Technology might become no-longer-popular when something better comes along, but even when most people think that we got rid of some technology, it never really goes away, and it can be (and often is) used to "parent" (inspire) new technology.

This also ties into how modernity slows down biological evolution, while many things in modernity actually speed up the rate at which we come up with creative ideas that can make our life better. "Technology" is not so much the catalog of those ideas, but the processes and environments that allow those ideas to be created (much like "science" is not just a catalog of models, but a process to come up with them).

Lots of interesting parallels. Check it out.

(And, while you're at it, check out the other TED Talks, most of which are extremely interesting. I particularly like this one, this one, this one, and this one. Bono, Burt Rutan, Al Gore, Michael Shermer, and Richard Dawkins also have TED talks, and this year's lineup also sounds very cool).

Randy Kirk said...

Thanks for the site. I visited and will be going back.

Hey Skipper said...

Randy:

The science is so far from conclusive.

It is no more inconclusive than the science substantiating cigarettes causing cancer.

So you may choose to avoid the subject, but only at the price of eliding previous statements about genes & homosexuality.

Randy Kirk said...

If you would like my views on homosexuality, and I was invited onto the Geraldo show as an expert on the subject, please visit http://ideaplace.blogspot.com and search for the subject. My pov is clearly spelled out there.

I personally don't wish to be dragged into that discussion here. It is too divisive.

Randy Kirk said...

The conclusiveness of any aspect of science that has come to any major fork in the road in the last 10 or 20 years, and chosen one fork or the other is totally suspect with me. So, global warming as an example. I've been through thousands of changes in science since I studied it in College and grad school.

Some would say that the self-correcting nature of science is one of its attributes. I won't disagree, but then we need to be a bit less strident in declaring the science conclusive, especially if the clock has only moved a few years on the latest "take."

bernardo said...

That's fair.

Randy Kirk said...

hey skipper, we can move on with the discussion of genes and behavior. Just use something less loaded.