Goodenough Gismo

  • Gismo39
    This is the classic children's book, Goodenough Gismo, by Richmond I. Kelsey, published in 1948. Nearly unavailable in libraries and the collector's market, it is posted here with love as an "orphan work" so that it may be seen and appreciated -- and perhaps even republished, as it deserves to be. After you read this book, it won't surprise you to learn that Richmond Irwin Kelsey (1905-1987) was an accomplished artist, or that as Dick Kelsey, he was one of the great Disney art directors, breaking your heart with "Pinocchio," "Dumbo," and "Bambi."



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» ID Loses. Party At Darwin's House. from The Mighty Middle
From the freshly-minted decision in the Dover, PA Intelligent Design trial:Jones blasted the disclaimer, saying it singles out the theory of evolution for special treatment, misrepresents its status in the scientific community, causes [Read More]

Comments

Donna B.

"I am unable to believe that a purely random process could have generated the exquisitely fine-tuned complexity of life that we see,"

How strange that I come to the exact opposite conclusion. I see intelligence, as we humans understand and define it, as severely limited compared to any random process, given the random process has time (as we understand time)on its side.

Granted, an intelligence of the type ID proposes should defy human definition, but then... that's pretty much always been my problem with organized religions - that they presume not only to know God, but can also explain the workings of his/her/its mind.

Elyas Bakhtiari

"I am unable to believe that a purely random process could have generated the exquisitely fine-tuned complexity of life that we see,"

The question, though, is whether a hunch or doubt belongs in a science classroom. The entire ID "scientific theory" seems to be based on the presumption that: If A is too complex to have randomly evolved, then it must have been designed. And I didn't just pull this formula out of a shady nether-region. I have heard it articulated exactly that way by ID proponents.

But arguing design implies a Designer. This Designer, according to the ID formula, would necessarily be too complex to have randomly evolved, so IT, too, must have been designed. The theory in itself is a paradox.

It's not a new question. For years people have asked, "If God created the Universe, who created God." It's a wonderful question to ponder while gazing up at the stars or in a religious setting, but not a science classroom.

karen

I would never ask *who created God* or *Where does God come from*. He just IS. You know- is, was and ever shall be.

it amazes me, that for all the preaching of acceptence- some cannot accept the fact that not all questions have answers- or the answers one wants to hear.

I didn't realize it was an alternative to evolution- I just thought it was along w/evolution. And rather than or. I never studied ID or even Creation in science class. And, I went to a Catholic school. I just figured everything comes from God... the stars, my cows, evolution...

amba

"the random process has time (as we understand time)on its side."

Donna: saying that given enough time, purely random mutations (errors or spontaneous changes in the digital DNA code), sifted by natural selection, could create the fantastic adaptations we see, is like saying that enough monkeys with enough typewriters for enough millions of years would produce a Shakespeare play (as long as you rewarded the monkeys with bananas whenever they inadvertently created a word).

That said, it's a huge jump, and a jump purely of faith, to say, "Well, God did it." The problem with ID is it jumps over the whole question of what kind of intelligence? located where? how does it operate? and goes straight to "God," which from a scientific point of view is a giant cop-out, a fancy expression of ignorance.

The best thing IDers have said is that it isn't a matter of invoking a supernatural cause but of better understanding how nature really works. I have wondered if there is an intelligence inherent in nature that perceives, "thinks," innovates, and solves problems, in a time frame we cannot perceive. The genome would be the material correlate of that intelligence, just as the brain is the material correlate of ours. Calling that "God," at this point, just closes off inquiry. The word "God" is too encrusted with anthropomorphic and authoritarian associations.

amba

In other words, I'm trying to say that everyone, both pro and con ID, assumes life had to be designed by an intelligent agent "from the outside." But what if it designs itself "from the inside"?

Winston

"But what if (life) designs itself "from the inside"?"

Like, I'm my own grandpa? Or a form of creationary masturbation? Yeah, lets give it that name and let the fundamentalists grind themselves into a pulp for a couple of years.

amba, I was about to celebrate that we may have one somewhat sane member of the judiciary still sitting, about to comprehend this post and all the comments, and then you dropped the "from the inside" question. In all the late night debates of such questions in college, in all the reading and thinking and discussion I've had since -- this twist has never come up! You've given new meaning to the phrase that best describes me: terminally confused...

Thanks...I think...

Elyas Bakhtiari

"[It's] like saying that enough monkeys with enough typewriters for enough millions of years would produce a Shakespeare play (as long as you rewarded the monkeys with bananas whenever they inadvertently created a word)."

Well, if you believe in evolution (guided by an intelligent designer or not), lots of monkeys didn't produce a Shakespeare play... one did.

realpc

"I am unable to believe that a purely random process could have generated the exquisitely fine-tuned complexity of life that we see, and I don't think Darwinians have proven conclusively that it did."

amba,
I agree that Darwinians (or neo-Darwinians) have not proven the process is purely random. But that is such an under-statement! They have not provided a shred of evidence that the process is even partly random.
ID is a confusing subject for everyone, but I think it's extremely important not to lose sight of what the whole debate is about.
Neo-Darwinism says all genetic mutations result from errors, which provide the basis of all evolution. Neo-Darwinism is therefore the foundation of contemporary scientific atheism. That is why the controversy is emotionally-charged.
Neo-Darwinism has no evidence, and it is based on the faith that life can be explained in terms of the forces and substances already known in physics.
The debate is between two very different worldviews, and reflects a very central and very important problem of our entire civilization.

sleipner

The problem it reflects is the tendency of Creationists to assume guilt until proven innocent on evolution.

Basically any tiny bit of evolutionary theory that isn't completely ironclad (and many that are) are maligned using methods similar to those the Bush administration uses to slam their political opponents. Misleading questions, falsified science, and outright lies are often used to create "the controversy" where none exists except in the minds of the creationists.

Amba - you state above the old story about the monkeys and typewriters. The truth is, they WOULD eventually create the collective works of Shakespeare, you can even figure out statistically how long it would likely take.

The thing most anti-randomness proponents never seem to realize is the sheer volume of the random incidents that occur every millisecond across the world. Not only that, but the interactions between the small, fast mutators and the large, slow mutators can accelerate mutations of the larger beasties. Viruses and bacteria are a well known and extremely important cause of mutation that many outside the evolutionary community never consider.

Think of the Black Plague in Europe - thanks to them those with European heritage are all centuries later still somewhat resistant to it. Sickle cell anemia is a mutation carried by thousands that helps protect from malaria if you only have one gene copy. More extreme variants include species with symbiotic bacteria inside their bodies, some of those cases neither species can live without the other, and eventually many will eventually merge and become a single animal. Many assume that increasingly complex organisms started out as different species of bacteria or smaller animals which formed symbioses. Humans themselves have a large collection of bacteria coexisting with us, especially in the digestive system, without which we would die or at least get very sick.

Another factor many ignore is the tendency of the genome to keep genes for old once-useful mutations that conditions no longer require. It is easier and faster for a species to readapt to a condition it previously adapted to, even if the gene it used is no longer dominant, such as mammals who left then returned to the sea.

Finally there's the timeline. It is nearly impossible for many to conceive of 4.5 billion years. Some of the more moronic ones can only picture 10 or 20 thousand ;) Since we have evidence of life (carbon traces) back to 3.8 billion years ago, and multicellular worm-like organisms to over 1 billion years ago, this suggests that innumerable random combinations tried and failed during that period, and that the various traits of DNA which are universal today were still in their embryonic (if you'll excuse the expression) stage. Some believe that the earliest forms of life were RNA based and DNA was developed later, but of course no direct physical evidence remains from that period.

The sheer mass of combinations that occurred during that period is staggering...(today's) bacteria can divide every 20 seconds if living conditions are optimal. So even just following a single bacteria from earliest trace to earliest multicellular trace and assuming one split per minute yields 1.5x10^15 splits - one and a half QUADRILLION - plenty of room for mutations. Then multiply this by the number of bacteria likely present across the world...one teaspoon can contain millions of bacteria...the possible number of mutations is staggering. Thus the version of DNA that eventually dominated was probably an extreme longshot - a monkey's Shakespeare, if you will.

No significant further evidence of multicellular life has been found yet until the Cambrian explosion 540 million years ago, when suddenly many species appear to have exploded onto the scene. It could also represent the fact that hard shells and bones appeared, making fossilization much more likely than before.

At that point, presumably DNA had matured to the point where it was better capable of responding to environmental stimuli, had evolved sexual reproduction (one of the primary drivers of mutation), could retain information about old adaptations, had evolved the capability of symbiosis, likely had developed the immune system, and various other capabilities that are almost universal among multicellular animals and plants, and are vital to facilitating mutation in response to environmental pressures.

An extremely powerful research tool supporting evolution is comparing internal workings of animals and plants from successively further branches on the world's Family Tree. When did hemoglobin evolve? When did hormones evolve? How about endoskeletons? The sense of smell? Color vision? These and many other questions are easily answered by analyzing the commonalities and differences between widely separated phyla, and provide powerful evidence for the evolution of species.

Sorry I wrote a book here, but I wanted to give some sense of an overview of the subject, and an idea of why randomness isn't quite as unlikely as many seem to feel.

Eustochius

Realpc, I think you're misunderstanding the scientific enterprise. Science works via hypothesis construction. Whether by insight or extrapolation from data, one assumes a hypothesis, and then derives consequences from that hypothesis. If those consequences are found to be verified in the real world, then that is taken as evidence in support of the initial hypothesis.

For example, I assume that this particular virus causes this disease. I give it to some animal. The animal develops the disease. I therefore infer that the virus likely causes the disease.

In the case of evolution, likewise, one assumes that mutation is random (and by looking at contemporary cells one can see that, as far as we can tell, mutation is random, at least today). And one then makes this assumption and looks at the data, and it seems to work out. For instance, the fossil record is full of dead-enders, meaning organisms that didn't quite make it. Also creatures such as ourselves are full of jury-rigged and vestigial structures like the appendix. IOW, it certainly looks a lot more like a random process than the work of infinitely intelligent being who made perfect, shiny creatures free of any design flaws. (You get sick, don't you?)

In addition, from what I understand, scientists have run computer simulations in which they just put in random mutation and natural selection and out comes particular features, such as the eye, in an amount of time consistent with the fossil record.

Further, if you think about it, natural selection has to occur, even if an intelligent designer did exist. That's why it's called natural selection. (Weak creatures will just naturally reproduce less.)
The real question is whether natural selection is sufficent by itself to produce all that we see.

Not being a evolutionary biologist, I'm not sure. I would have to carefully examine the data and especially the computer simulations. As I said above, natural selection has to occur, the real question is if it's sufficient by itself. Certainly it can do something, unless you think God has his hand in producing anti-biotic resistant bacteria, but can it do everything? Is there any wiggle room at all, or is there any necesssity for an outside force in the process to make it work?

But what is not a serious question is whether the evolutionary biologists have any evidence for their position. They do, and lots of it. Again, natural selection is necessarily part of the picture; the real question is whether it can account for the whole.

realpc

Eustochius,
There is evidence for evolution, and there is evidence for natural selection. Everyone gets confused because they think ID is trying to deny evolution and/or natural selection, but they are not. They are questioning the possibility of the mutations which are the basis for evolutionary change being random errors, without purpose or direction. No evidence has been provided for that by biologists.
The complaint that living things are imperfect is not really rational. How are we to judge what is or is not perfect? Have humans ever created perfection?
There is a natural drive towards increasing complexity -- it's hard to say exactly what we mean by complexity, but it's pretty clear that the complexity of life has increased.
Does increasing complexity imply increasing perfection? Probably not, and we are even less equipped to measure perfection than complexity.
Science understands very little about life. It does not even understand non-living matter, and in fact the more it learns the less it understands (consider the plight of string theory).
We need more humility, and more appreciation. Scientists cannot do what nature has done, but that doesn't prevent them from complaining about nature's sloppy engineering.
I love it when they call the DNA they can't decipher "junk," never imagining nature could be a great genius, much smarter than we could ever be. No, nature writes its progams mindlessly and randomly, so anything scientists can't understand has to be meaningless junk.

Eustochius

RealPc,

"Everyone gets confused because they think ID is trying to deny evolution and/or natural selection, but they are not. They are questioning the possibility of the mutations which are the basis for evolutionary change being random errors, without purpose or direction."

I'm not sure about that. Maybe the more responsible members of the ID community are doing that but some seem to have gotten in bed with young earth creationists and thus their message is blurred. I'm don't think ID has provided that kind of unified front.

"No evidence has been provided for that by biologists."

First, let's get clear about what kind of evidence we're looking for. If we graphed the distribution of mutations and it was just a flat line at a certain height--meaning all mutations were equally probable--then by definition the mutations would be random. Now if the mutations varied from that flat-line distribution in a statistically significant manner, we'd have to ask why and could start taking into account other variables -- shifts in the environment, an increase in UV radiation, etc. And if after taking into account all that stuff, we still have some variation unaccounted for, we COULD say that was God's doing, or MAYBE we neglected to take into account some other natural variable we hadn't thought of.

So it's a thorny problem. But what I believe evolutionary biologists have shown is that if we ASSUME that mutation is random, then at least in broad outline, we get the results we see in the fossil record. Furthermore, they have demonstrated, or at least claim to have demonstrated, that natural selection and random mutation are at least theoretically capable of producing the results we see in nature by using computer simulation. But I'd have to examine these studies more carefully because if they're strong, then at least they show that God wasn't necessary. If he decided to fiddle with it, well he could have, but it would have been superflous. I like to think of God gently pushing evolution in a certain broad direction rather than doing direct tinkering, evolution could have gone many ways, maybe God selected the way it did go.

You also have to remember that science uses Occam's razor. Meaning don't introduce anything you don't need to into your explanation. I believe Napoleon once asked the physicist Laplace why he had not included God in his treatise on the motion of celestial bodies. Laplace famously replied that he had no need of that hypothesis. That may sound snarky on the part of Laplace but it was true. Assume Netwon's mechanics and you can indeed explain a lot of celestial motion.

Thus, from a scientific point of view, one shouldn't invoke God just because you haven't worked out all the details.

To me there's only two ways of validating intelligent design.

(1) Show somehow that neo-darwinist assumptions really are at odds with the data or are theoretically unable to produce the results we see.
[even here, though, maybe another materialist non-neo-Darwinist theory would work]
Or

(2)Show some evidence for intelligent design. In other words, we should be able to catch God in the act, we should be able to see the DNA being tinkered with as if with an invisible hand.

Thus, until this happens, ID only remains a philosophical possibility and perhaps only a small one if it's assumptions predict things that just aren't so. (In that case, you'd have to improve your theory of ID to fit with the data.)

"The complaint that living things are imperfect is not really rational. How are we to judge what is or is not perfect? Have humans ever created perfection?"

I believe in some higher power, but I also believe in being very rigorously rational. You can't demand that of scientists if you don't do it yourself. First off, if we say God is perfect, that has to mean something, otherwise, clearly and obviously it's meaningless. I think it's best to say that God's notion of perfection, assuming he exists, at least transcends ours. Meaning God is more perfect than we could imagine. But if you try to say well we humans can't judge perfection, you're completely eviserating the term. You're just babbling. If we have no notion of what is perfect and what is imperfect, than saying God is perfect could have no meaning for us. It would be like saying God is "bzzizerflunk."

If you think being covered in parasites and being awash in open sores and tumors is perfection, if you think cancer is perfection, heck if you think myopia and cellulite is God's perfection, I want no part of your God. The fact is the world isn't perfect and we have to account for that in some way. I'm okay with the hypothetical scenario of us showing God something which we think is perfect, and he says no it isn't and then shows us something better, I can dig that. The point is God's vision has to be at least as perfect as ours, not less.

"Science understands very little about life."

Um, yes and now. I know when I crack a biology textbook I am astonished by how much it does know. But I believe there is much more to be learned.

"It does not even understand non-living matter, and in fact the more it learns the less it understands (consider the plight of string theory)."

Well not completely, but it understand parts of it pretty darn well, some of it to an astonishing accuracy, to like one part in a trillion accuracy. Even so, I think there's more to be uncovered.

"We need more humility, and more appreciation. Scientists cannot do what nature has done, but that doesn't prevent them from complaining about nature's sloppy engineering."

Well, there is an artificial life project going on at Caltech. It's true humility is good and that scientists think they know more than they do, but I think laypersons tend to downplay how much science does know. Think of your computer for instance and all the physics and chemistry that went into it.

"I love it when they call the DNA they can't decipher "junk," never imagining nature could be a great genius, much smarter than we could ever be. No, nature writes its progams mindlessly and randomly, so anything scientists can't understand has to be meaningless junk."

You're not being very charitable. From what I understand there are long stretches of DNA that are just repetitious, like two base pairs repeated a million times. So while it's possible that it could serve an unknown function, when you look at it, it just looks like genetic babbling. Just as you have a good sense of a well-structured english sentence scientists have the same sense of a well-structed strech of DNA, and parts of it just looks like well "junk." They could be wrong, but I think their case is at least moderately well supported.

amba

Eustochius,

Here's a post with links about that computer simulation of evolution you mentioned, and here's one that links to a critique of that simulation that claims the dice in the experiment were loaded to get the outcome its designers (ironically) wanted. Thanks for bringing it up. Must reading!

amba

For the record, those two posts are listed in the Intelligent Design link list in the right sidebar of this blog as Serious Challenge to Intelligent Design and Intelligent Design-ers Strike Back.

Eustochius

To state the obvious, in order to have something of irreducible complexity evolve it would seem that each step in and of itself would have to be advantageous; nature can't be rewarding things because "if you keep on going, you'll hit on something good." I'm not sure if biologists have shown that each little bit of a supposedly irreducibly complex structure is indeed beneficial.

But to make a comment on the "monkeys typing on typewriters producing shakespeare," as I've said before, my impression of biological organisms is that they're NOT shakespeare. Now this could be the result of bias in the texts or not enough study on my part, but when I studied neuroanatomy and molecular biology, the stuff was complex to be sure, but a lot of it seemed, as I said "jury-rigged." It wasn't like, wow the order is apparent but our minds are too feeble to fully grasp it, it was more like what the heck is this snurf-249 protein doing here.

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