Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Cordova on Campbell

Yesterday I offered up this account of John Angus Campbell's presentation at James Madison University. Salvador Cordova was also in the audience, and he has offered his account here.

Cordova describes his blog entry as a competing account to what I wrote, but he actually only challenges one thing that I said. Cordova writes:

Campbell argued that Darwin’s idea can’t be fully understood without understanding the idea Darwin was seeking to replace, namely (using today’s jargon) intelligent design. Thus to learn about Darwin correctly, one must learn about intelligent design.

Darwin explicitly points out he’s going after “special creation”, “plan of creation” or “unity of design”. (See Chapter 14.)

It is so easy to hide our ignorance under such expressions as the `plan of creation,’ `unity of design,’ &c.,

This grand fact of the grouping of all organic beings seems to me utterly inexplicable on the theory of creation.

What is the proper relationship of special creation to intelligent design? Intelligent design is a necessary but not sufficient condition for special creation. This logically implies that if one can negate the design argument through a designer substitute (Darwinian mechanisms), one can destroy not only the design argument, but also the case for special creation.

To illustrate, a typical car needs fuel to run. Fuel is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for a car to run (a lot of other things like electricity and oil are needed to make a car run, not just fuel). But if there is no fuel, the car doesn’t run.

In like manner, if there is no intelligent design, there is no special creation. In fact, since intelligent design is a necessary condition for theories like Front Loading, PEH, etc., they (in addition to special creation) would be swept away if Darwin’s hypothesis were true.

Total poppycock, I'm afraid.

First off, since Cordova presents this as an account that is competing with my own, I assume he thinks this is a counter to what I wrote in my blog entry on this subject:

Another point that arose in our conversation was the role of ID in the Origin. I pointed out that Darwin did not contrast evolution with ID as that term is understood today. Instead he contrasted the idea of common descent with the idea that species were fixed through time. That is a specific hypothesis with different predictive consequences from common descent. Consequently, it was not a good argument to say that we should present ID in science class because that is how Darwin did it in his own work. (Emphasis added)

ID as that term is understood today. Salvador seems to have overlooked that part.

When Darwin spoke of the theory of creation, he had in mind the idea that each species was a separate and independent creation. To put it another way, he was contrasting the idea of descent with modification with the alternative hypothesis that species were fixed through time. This is made clear throughout the Origin, including in the few sentences that precede the one Cordova so selectively quoted:

This tendency in the large groups to go on increasing in size and diverging in character, together with the almost inevitable contingency of much extinction, explains the arrangement of all the forms of life, in groups subordinate to groups, all within a few great classes, which we now see everywhere around us, and which has prevailed throughout all time. This grand fact of the grouping of all organic beings seems to me utterly inexplicable on the theory of creation.

This fact is made even clearer in this statement, from earlier in Chapter 14 of the Origin:

On the view that species are only strongly marked and permanent varieties, and that each species first existed as a variety, we can see why it is that no line of demarcation can be drawn between species, commonly supposed to have been produced by special acts of creation, and varieties which are acknowledged to have been produced by secondary laws. On this same view we can understand how it is that in each region where many species of a genus have been produced, and where they now flourish, these same species should present many varieties; for where the manufactory of species has been active, we might expect, as a general rule, to find it still in action; and this is the case if varieties be incipient species. Moreover, the species of the large genera, which afford the greater number of varieties or incipient species, retain to a certain degree the character of varieties; for they differ from each other by a less amount of difference than do the species of smaller genera. The closely allied species also of the larger genera apparently have restricted ranges, and they are clustered in little groups round other species -- in which respects they resemble varieties. These are strange relations on the view of each species having been independently created, but are intelligible if all species first existed as varieties. (Emphasis added)

The ideas that each species was specially created and that species are fixed through time are manifestly not ones that the leading proponents of ID attempt to defend. In fact, they typically distance themselves from them, pointing out that one can accept both common descent and ID. Darwin's only comment about things like irreducible complexity or complex specified information, the pillars of modern ID, was to note that we shouldn't be so cavalier about saying that this or that complex structure could not have evolved gradually.

No one objects to showing how common descent provides a better explanation for the facts of nature than the rival hypothesis of species fixity. More than that, I agree with Campbell that it is almost impossible to present evolution effectively without making this comparison. I don't know anyone who disagrees with this. That Campbell seems to think that is what is at issue suggests to me that he doesn't really understand the modern evolution/ID debate. That is why I said in my previous entry that he should stick to talking about science education, where his ideas have some merit, and stay away from evolution, where they do not.

If Darwin is correct then the idea that each species was created in its present form, in a puff of smoke, with one waggle of God's finger, is out the window. This has nothing to do with front-loading, or the PEH, or any other idea that takes a more nuanced view of God's action. Mind you, I think front-loading and the PEH are silly ideas for other reasons, but they are not ruled out by accepting the hypotheses of common descent and natural selection. Indeed, the PEH is the brainchild of John Davison, who accepts common descent. Likewise, front-loading has been seriously proposed by Michael Behe, who also accepts common descent.

We see, as usual, that Salavdor is talking through his hat.

Incidentally, let me note that Salvador's headline for his blog entry was:

Rosenhouse Praises Discovery Institute Fellow John Angus Campbell.

Pretty misleading, don't you think? I praised certain aspects of Campbell's remarks about science education, but also criticized much of his take on evolution and ID. And considering that I specifically singled out our differing views of the Discovery Institute as one of our main points of disagreement, it was rather poor form to imply that by saying something nice about Campbell I was liekwise praising his involvement with the DI.

One suspects that if I had written a slash and burn post ripping in to Campbell, but then paused to note that he had good taste in clothes, Salvador would have used the same headline.


At 6:09 AM, Blogger Ginger Yellow said...

"The ideas that each species was specially created and that species are fixed through time are manifestly not ones that the leading proponents of ID attempt to defend. In fact, they typically distance themselves from them, pointing out that one can accept both common descent and ID. "

Yes and no. Many ID proponents are at least ambivalent about special creation in their explicit statements on the subject, but it is implicit in the concept of irreducible complexity. If irreducibly complex systems are unevolvable, then every single one of the millions if not billions of irreducibly complex systems in the natural world (every different blood clotting cascade, every different eye, etc) must have been specially created.

At 1:13 PM, Blogger Jason said...

ginger yellow-

In terms of their publicly stated positions, the leading ID proponents take no stand on the issue of precisely how God intervened in nature to bring about complex structures. But they definitely do not (publicly) defend the idea of the special creation of each species, which is what Darwin had in mind.

Privately the ID folks are split on exactly what God did when, but that is a separate issue.

At 11:24 AM, Blogger Doppelganger said...

"Rosenhouse Praises Discovery Institute Fellow John Angus Campbell."

That is what Cordova and his ilk do.

Devoid of rational thought and evidence, they rely on distortions, misrepresentations, fabrications, and spin.
Many of Cordova's claims will make good fodder at the next 'Teach the controversey' trial...

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