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  1. Profile Photo Member
    @Pseudodionysius

    Mike,

    I don’t know if you’ve read Etienne Gilson’s recently reprinted From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again, but I was wondering if the post Mechanistic era heralded in the lede is the faint stirring of teleology rising from the nearly deserted cathedrals of Europe.

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  2. Profile Photo Member
    @Antiphon

    Very interesting. I was wondering if Mike could explain a bit more about the implications that this new paradigm would have on heredity.

    Also, Claire, tell your father I read his book The Devil’s Delusion while on vacation and immensely enjoyed it.

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  3. Profile Photo Member
    @BrianWatt

    Dr. Denton,

    Intelligence Design presumes an intelligent designer. Apart from finding inconsistencies in evolutionary theory what scientific work has been conducted to discern what this intelligent designer is? Where does this intelligent designer exist? What makes this intelligent designer intelligent? Has this intelligent designer ever made mistakes during the entire evolutionary process? If so, what would those be?

    If life did not originate from molecular processes over billions of years then what is the alternate scientific theory of how life did emerge? If there is a theory, is it being circulated for peer review? Apart from ID in general, does this scientific theory have a name so I can research it on the Internet?

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  4. Profile Photo Contributor
    @Midge

    How is a person raised in the mechanistic worldview able to identify non-mechanistic explanations as truly different from mechanistic explanations? (For, to a mechanistic worldview, non-mechanistic explanations often seem amenable to mechanistic explanations themselves.)

    From about 6:20-6:50, Mike says something like this: western civilization used to believe that… life was imminent in nature, its order was part of the natural order itself…. we are imminent natural parts of the natural world, like a salt crystal, like a galaxy…. (not an exact quote) And he suggests that it was the mechanistic view of life that has changed this. But if you adopt a wholehearted mechanistic worldview, where nature itself is mechanistic, then isn’t mechanistic biology precisely what makes us part of the natural order (like a salt crystal, like a galaxy)? From a mechanistic perspective, wouldn’t it be a non-mechanistic view of life that would separate life from the rest of nature?

    Also, I don’t feel I understand the blueprint analogy very well. For one thing, having several engineers in my family, I know machines are quite commonly not built exactly to blueprint specifications — yet they remain machines. Is there another analogy?

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  5. Profile Photo Member
    @GoodBerean

    Dr. Denton,

    Do you believe that the “epigenetic vitalism” paradigm shift will result in a Judeo-Christian renaissance in western civilization or will the direction be shifted toward neo-paganism, a la “New Age” theology?

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  6. Profile Photo Member
    @SMatthewStolte

    It seems that the features of an organism inexplicable by nature’s mechanism are one and all teleological. But if this is the case, we don’t need to make “discovery after discovery” of features beyond the domain of nature’s mechanism. Organisms already manifest these features in every day experience. I can’t even conceive of an acorn apart from its being purposed to an oak tree, nor to ask the question: “What are leaves and roots of the oak tree ‘for’?” if I do not first of all incorporate teleological features into my concept.

    At least that’s how it looks to me. But if that were all you meant when you say that we cannot “explain” the origin of life mechanistically, then your point wouldn’t really be about empirical science (Aristotle’s physics) but metaphysics.

    So you must mean something more than that even the very questions posed by biology are beyond the domain of nature’s mechanism. You must really mean that some discovery can be made, which forms the answer to such questions. But what, beyond nature’s mechanism, do we humans even have the capacity to know? What would such discoveries look like?

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  7. Profile Photo Member
    @BillWalsh

    What’s the deal with epigenetic “information.” I’ve heard the theory that there isn’t enough information encoded in DNA to account for the massive permutations evident in complex life. Stipulating that for the sake of argument, where would the additional epigenetic information be? How might it be generated, communicated, and received? Is it ever present or encoded in a physical medium? Or is “information” here a computer-age metaphor for something else? If so, what?

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  8. Profile Photo Member
    @AaronMiller

    Does this model suggest (among other possibilities) that human anatomy might be more like an instrument (which requires a user) than a self-perpetuating machine? Is the focus of Denton’s theory on the origin of a body’s operation?

    If so, it seems to fit the Christian understanding of human existence, which can be divided into three parts: the soul, the body, and the breath of life. It is roughly analogous to a user, a machine and fuel.

    Like a vehicle left running, a body can survive while separated from the soul but cannot perform its higher functions without the user. A soul can exist without the body, but it is incomplete without the corporeal form (the “machine”) through which most of its actions must be realized.

    Animals do not have souls, but are likewise dependent upon the breath of life (fuel). Though ultimately indefinable, we call it “breath” because it is God’s continued power of Creation… like a singer sustaining a song. Christians understand themselves to be willful instruments of God. In that sense, a human body is like a machine with two users (ideally working in concert).

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  9. Profile Photo Member
    @AaronMiller

    I always bear in mind during discussions like this that humanity was completely unaware of most of the electromagnetic spectrum until fairly recently in human history. We had no means of directly detecting, measuring and studying energy which surrounded us and penetrated us every day of our lives.

    Scientists should maintain a healthy respect for what Donald Rumsfeld calls “unknown unknowns”.

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  10. Profile Photo Member
    @DavidWilliamson

    Ah, Intelligent Design – that explains why the young scientists were hiding from the camera…

    This is a good example of how Liberals and Political Correctness have pre-defined and restricted the debate. So, Intelligent Design is a quack, fundamentalist religion, according to Richard Dawkins (I wonder if he was at the conference?). Sarah Palin is stupid, bla bla bla.

    Many years ago I gave a talk on the Optics of the human eye, and finished with a question – when would we humans design such a wonderful camera? (we still haven’t). It is very hard to believe that the human eye/brain (and the eyes of many animals, e.g.eagles, flys) came about by random chance in the length of time that this Universe has been in existence.

    So that continues to be a question from me, and I have kinda given up on religion to answer it – so the Conference sounds great – I’m glad some politically incorrect scientists are still free to think about this :-)

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  11. Profile Photo Member
    @HangOn

    Why are you rejecting the gene as the blueprint? That isn’t at all clear.

    It isn’t strictly random mutations that “guide” evolution, but chemical thermodynamics as well. Random mutations do occur very, very frequently in nature and in new organisms, but are almost always nonviable for life. But occasionally they are. Am I wrong in thinking in these terms?

    Vitalism sounds much like something Lysenko and his guys were pushing to devastating effect. Again, am I wrong in thinking this?

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  12. Profile Photo Member
    @JosephEagar

    Hang On, genes are a type of computing network that generates proteins in response to cellular conditions. They aren’t a blueprint in the sense that they do not describe an organism directly.

    I agree there are signs of a revolutionary turn in biology (especially some of the research in neural science and the way electricity works in neural networks). Genes are definitely not the whole story (for one things, organisms have this odd ability to switch traits on and off and rework genes to adapt to new environments, far quicker then a purely random process would suggest).

    Genes are control networks; so are economies. Just like economies do not evolve purely randomly, genes are not random phenomena.

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  13. Profile Photo Member
    @SMatthewStolte

    Another question for Dr Denton: When you refer to an organism’s form, do you understand form to be a mere organization, or do you understand form to be an organizer as well?

    Also, is the vital principle of an organism something which can be understood by us, in such a way that, in knowing it, we could deduce various of the organism’s sensible features? Or is it something that cannot be known in itself but can only be thought of in analogy with human agency?

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  14. Profile Photo Member
    @LoFon
    SMatthewStolte

    In traditional Aristotelian language, the organism (substance) is a composite of matter and form. The matter (not the substance) receives the form, and the informed matter is the substance. But every matter that exists is informed by some form. Every existent is a composite. Hence, the matter that receives the form of an organism is already informed by some other form (which for Aristotle was either the form of semen (active and masculine) or of blood (passive and feminine)). I guess in modern terms, it would be sperm and egg, although the active/passive bit can’t survive modern science…. · Jun 14 at 12:34pm

    This is not my field. My questions may have missed the mark, so my questions should be disregarded. Nevertheless, when you say that “the matter that receives the form of an organism is already informed by some other form” it sounds like a never ending regression. Where does that original form come from? This is a rhetorical question pondered by the less intelligent, such as myself.

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  15. Profile Photo Member
    @BrianWatt
    Albert Fuchs: Brian: I was pretty sure that you and I would be on the same side of this one. I don’t mean that ID is a conspiracy theory. I mean that discussing it here will have the same drawbacks as discussing conspiracy theories: (1) We look like kooks and (2) We are discussing something almost certainly false. · Jun 14 at 12:45pm

    Yes, we’re in agreement. I was just attempting to clarify and may have done it awkwardly. I blame my awkwardness at times on Intelligent Design. :-)

    One of my chief concerns is that conservatives in general are painted as non-scientific Luddites and inconsistent ones at that – at one moment conservatives excoriate the bad science of Anthropogenic Global Warming, on the other hand some conservatives embrace ID which is just as non-scientific, flawed and spurious. It’s difficult for me to take any so-called scientist seriously who believes that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. I don’t think adherence to non-science or pseudo-science serves the conservative cause well and undermines our credibility in dealing with many issues of science and technology.

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  16. Profile Photo Member
    @SMatthewStolte

    Lo Fon,

    For Aristotle, this question is not quite so difficult. Each species is eternal, so there isn’t a first origin in time. But the heavenly bodies seem to play a role in preserving the existence of each form. The latter also seems to be the case for Aquinas, even though he believes (on faith) that the world (and therefore every species in the world) came into existence in time — that is, they aren’t eternal. For both, the ultimate origin is in the unmoved mover. For Aquinas, the unmoved mover is the Trinitarian God.

    I don’t mean to say, by the way, that Dr Denton necessarily must mean by ‘form’ what Aristotle and Aquinas meant. Further, despite my real interest in Aristotle and Aquinas, I don’t have the right disposition to be Aristotelian or Thomistic. So when I do my best to describe them, I fear I have a tendency to fall short.

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  17. Profile Photo Member
    @Mendel
    Bill Walsh: What’s the deal with epigenetic “information.”

    Bill,

    Epigenetics, as understood in molecular biology, is based on the fact that DNA in cells is packaged, or archived, in a semi-permanent manner, which allows sections of it to be blocked or readable. One analogy is this:

    Say I have ten copies of the Fannie Farmer cookbook, and in each copy I bookmark different pages, and staple other pages shut to each other, then give each copy to a different person and tell them to study it. After they are finished, each person will be able to cook a completely different set of meals, even though the all learned from the same source. So it is with different cells in the body, and in the same cell at different times of life.

    This field of biology is still young, but is revolutionizing our understanding the complexities of life, and why for instance identical twins can be so different.

    However, I’m not sure if Dr. Denton was referring to these findings, or a more abstract notion of epigenetics.

    Hope this wasn’t too deep into the weeds.

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  18. Profile Photo Editor
    @Claire

    Mike is still at dinner, but he’s promised to discuss all these questions tomorrow. I think he’ll be quite pleased to have received such interesting questions.

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  19. Profile Photo Editor
    @Claire
    Brian Watt. It’s difficult for me to take any so-called scientist seriously who believes that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. Edited on Jun 14 at 01:33 pm

    I’m really tired here after a long (but wonderful) day, so I’ll just answer quickly. I’ve been arguing over dinner with some of the people here. I’m trying to persuade them to let me say who they are. My argument: If you won’t say that you’re here, no less explain what it is, exactly, that you’re here to discuss, how do I prove that you’re not cranks? Their argument: If we say we’re here and that we find these ideas scientifically interesting, the world will call us cranks and insist that we believe the earth is flat–no matter what we actually say. That will reduce our ability to use our influence productively in other important arenas of science and politics.

    Help me persuade them that they should identify themselves. Assume that they are, indeed, people with some influence.

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  20. Profile Photo Editor
    @Claire

    By the way, here’s an interesting piece of dialogue from that conversation:

    X: I agree that it’s important to tell the truth. But it’s not the right moment to come out of the closet.

    Claire: Come out of the closet? You mean, publicly admit that you think there may be some important questions we can’t answer within the neo-Darwinian framework?”

    X: Yeah.

    Claire: Usually that phrase means, “admit you’re gay.”

    X: Oh, that wouldn’t be a problem at all. People would say, “That’s nice, good for you.”

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  21. Profile Photo Member
    @AaronMiller
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Usually that phrase means, “admit you’re gay.”

    Help me persuade them that they should identify themselves.

    The advise should be the same in either case, right? Buck up.

    You might remain silent because you are uncertain of your beliefs; or because your beliefs are not important; or because you are afraid. Is there another possible reason?

    If you’re certain and it’s important that what you know be heard, then buck up. The more believers who speak up, the easier it becomes for others to join in doing so. You might surprised how many are hiding like you.

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  22. Profile Photo Member
    @BrianWatt
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.

    Brian Watt. It’s difficult for me to take any so-called scientist seriously who believes that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. Edited on Jun 14 at 01:33 pm

    … I’m trying to persuade them to let me say who they are. My argument: If you won’t say that you’re here, no less explain what it is, exactly, that you’re here to discuss, how do I prove that you’re not cranks? …

    Help me persuade them that they should identify themselves. Assume that they are, indeed, people with some influence. · Jun 14 at 2:23pm

    Claire – First, let me say thanks for giving us a virtual seat at this conference.

    Re: Coming out – You could tell them that even though they’re in somewhat close proximity to Rome that odds are they won’t be subject to house arrest for the end of their days. I have that on good authority.

    I understand the fear of jeopardizing their prospects for tenure and the ability to get grants, what have you…but at some point their ideas need to be peer reviewed and assessed by the larger scientific community. So, when?

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  23. Profile Photo Member
    @BrianWatt

    The story of the film so far: Claire Berlinski is at a secret conference somewhere in the Tuscan Hills. We’re not sure what the conference is called, what they are discussing specifically other than biology and mathematics or Richard Dawkins’ snarkiness. We believe the conference has something to do with Intelligent Design.

    Other than Claire we know the following are in attendance: David Berlinski, Paul Nelson, and Michael Denton. We have been led to believe that there are others in attendance but this has yet to be proven. Every time we attempt to observe these attendees with Claire’s videocam, their behavior changes…and they become as allusive as quarks. Hmm…what would Heisenberg say about that?

    We’re not sure if the conference has any national security implications and assume it is somewhat benign. We’re not sure if the intent of the conference is to completely overturn the Theory of Evolution or light an effigy of Darwin on fire and dance around it with reckless abandon or if that is simply an extra-curricular form of entertainment slated for later in the program.

    We await updates from our intrepid correspondent.

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  24. Profile Photo Thatcher
    @DoctorBean

    Claire: “I’m trying to persuade them to let me say who they are. My argument: If you won’t say that you’re here, no less explain what it is, exactly, that you’re here to discuss, how do I prove that you’re not cranks?”

    In science much of that doesn’t matter. I, for one, don’t care who they are. If they have an interesting hypothesis, I’d like to see their evidence. They could even remain anonymous and simply publish their data. Their prominence and reputations don’t matter. If they’re cranks, it’s not because of what they believe; it’s because of what they believe without evidence.

    Politics is about leadership, consensus, influence. In science little of that should matter. Eventually the data carries the day.

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  25. Profile Photo Contributor
    @Midge
    Albert Fuchs:

    II, for one, don’t care who they are. If they have an interesting hypothesis, I’d like to see their evidence. They could even remain anonymous and simply publish their data. Their prominence and reputations don’t matter.

    Then you have greater control over your passions than many scientists I’ve met (I do math), and I congratulate your example.

    Even in math, who’s “cool” and what theory’s “sexy” matters — and not just for funding, but for mentoring and collaborating. We can’t entirely help it. We’re human. Our passions — noble and petty alike — drive us.

    Albert Fuchs:

    Politics is about leadership, consensus, influence. In science little of that should matter. Eventually the data carries the day.

    Should. Eventually.

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  26. Profile Photo Member
    @JosephEagar
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake

    Thanks for the explanation. From what I know, I agree: genes respond to feedback in a way that we don’t typically conceive of blueprints as doing (though blueprint-makers do, in real life, often modify their blueprints in response to feedback).

    However, what prevents a control network from being purely mechanistic?

    And why can’t control networks “run on randomness” — that is, have their evolution driven solely by the laws of probability interacting with other natural laws? What else is needed?

    I admit, though, that it’s hard for me to envision an economy as being driven by anything other than human being with individual wills. · Jun 14 at 12:54pm

    Well, anything that responds to feedback can’t be random, by definition. Randomness is involved, but than it’s involved in pretty much everything.

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  27. Profile Photo Member
    @Beth

    I am not a scientist but have been an interested observer of the Intelligent Design movement. I have read the following books by ID types: Evolution: a theory in Crisis by Micheal Denton, Signature in the Cell by Stephen Meyer, The Edge of Evolution by Michael Behe, and Intelligent Design, No Free Lunch, and The Design Revolution all by William Dembski. I have not encountered the assertion that the earth is only 6000 years old in any of these works. I wonder whether Brian Watt has read any of the arguments made by ID theorists or just read about them.

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  28. Profile Photo Member
    @BrianWatt
    Beth: …I have not encountered the assertion that the earth is only 6000 years old in any of these works. …

    (Paul) Nelson featured on Claire’s other video – –

    From Wikipedia – was a contributor to the book Three Views on Creation and Evolution, edited by J. P. Moreland and John Mark Reynolds, in which he, along with Reynolds, represented the young Earth creationist position. In their discussion in that book he and Reynolds acknowledged that “natural science at the moment seems to overwhelmingly point to an old cosmos.” Young Earth creationism was abandoned as a mainstream scientific concept around the start of the 19th century, and it is viewed as a religious viewpoint, rather than a scientific theory, by both the scientific community and the courts.

    In a discussion with historian of science Ronald Numbers, Nelson made a distinction between his theological understanding of Earth history, which is informed by the biblical account as presented in the book of Genesis, and his advocacy for intelligent design. Nelson acknowledged that his young-Earth views are unpopular with many of his fellow intelligent design advocates.

    ———–

    If Dr. Nelson no longer holds these views he has every opportunity to correct his Wikipedia entry.

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  29. Profile Photo Thatcher
    @Instugator

    There are two issues I have with Young Earth Creationism, while taking the biblical account of creation as true.

    First, the creation of Eve, which is story distinct from the creation of Adam and it has to do with ‘does a day mean “day” in genesis.’ In the story of Adam, we are told he is created and that he begins to name every creature before God decides that he needs a helpmate and creates Eve. This passage of time is believed to occur on the same day (a 24 hour period). But, we are told that Adam names all of the types of livestock as though this happens in one day – yet Adam is not superhuman, he has to follow the same rules as anyone else. The thing about young earth creationism is that it precisely accounts for the passage of time as accounted in the bible, without addressing any ambiguities.

    The simple answer is that we do not know the dating between the creation of Eve and the Fall of Man, yet young earthers treat them as occurring at the same time. Nor do we know how long Adam and Eve lived in the garden before the rebellion.

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  30. Profile Photo Contributor
    @Midge
    Joseph Eagar

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake

    And why can’t control networks “run on randomness” — that is, have their evolution driven solely by the laws of probability interacting with other natural laws? What else is needed?

    I admit, though, that it’s hard for me to envision an economy as being driven by anything other than human being with individual wills. · Jun 14 at 12:54pm

    Well, anything that responds to feedback can’t be random, by definition. Randomness is involved, but than it’s involved in pretty much everything.

    Well, your answer makes perfect sense.

    So I guess my question must not’ve made sense.

    When I defined “run on randomness” to be “driven solely by the laws of probability interacting with other natural laws”, I must have meant feedback to be included among the “other natural laws”.

    That’s still not very clear, is it? Sorry about that. I’m having trouble verbalizing the picture of the question I have in my head…

    Maybe my question should be: is there any reason a probabilistic-deterministic system can’t evolve over time?

    I can’t see a reason.

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