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Apples and Oranges: A Response to Geisler
The first reaction William Thwaites and I had upon reading Geisler's response was that it was riddled with strawmen. For example, we never claimed and never would claim that disagreements over the time it took to carve Mt. Rushmore argues against its being carved, that river deposits could form Mt. Rushmore, that the existence of souvenirs of Mt. Rushmore argue against Mt. Rushmore being designed, that because we had never seen a pyramid built that the Great Pyramid did not have an architect, that though watches have watchmakers Mt. Rushmore did not have an "information giver," or that sculptors are themselves sculptures in need of a sculptor.
But, on asking ourselves what could lie behind Geisler's use of such strawmen, it became obvious what Geisler's point has to be. He must be arguing: "If it is absurd to say these things about the origin of Mt. Rushmore, then, by the principle of uniformity, it is absurd to say these things about the origin of DNA or human beings." By the same token, "If it is reasonable to say something about the origin of Mt. Rushmore, then that reasoning applies equally well to life forms." He therefore challenges us to demonstrate a nonintelligent origin for Mt. Rushmore in order to demonstrate a non-intelligent origin for life. Such an approach assumes we depend on his weak analogy for our own arguments, but, more importantly, it assumes that Mt. Rushmore and life forms are really that comparable.
Geisler's only comparison of Mt. Rushmore to life is to argue that both show "marks of contrivance" in the form of "information." And from this he concludes that both are therefore comparable in origin. He may as well conclude that both are therefore products of a sculptor's chisel!
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Though Geisler defines the uniformity principle to mean, "similar causes produce similar effects," common experience often shows us that different causes can produce superficially similar results and similar causes can produce different results, as was argued before with the examples of dubious artifacts. This is why the principle of uniformity is not described by scientists in the way Geisler describes it. In science, uniformity means that natural relationships are assumed to apply throughout time and space. That is, once scientists develop confidence in a relationship, they assume it applies in the past and future and in other parts of the universe. Using the principle of uniformity properly, then, we can confidently declare that Mt. Rushmore was carved, even in the absence of the sculptor or any knowledge of him. We have seen other sculptors carve other things before. But the relationship between DNA and a supernatural creator or creators is unknown. In fact, we have no empirical evidence at all that allows us to state with scientific confidence that a supernatural creator is the cause of any result. In order for the principle of uniformity to demonstrate that a supernatural creator was behind the DNA code, we would have to have already established scientifically at least one relationship between such a creator and a result and then assume that other such results, when we found them, were produced by such a creator in different places and times.
To support his unique use of the uniformity principle, Geisler argues that the information conveyed by human intelligence is "mathematically identical" to the information content of a play by Shakespeare and of DNA. This is so, but such a fact actually destroys his case. For in order to equate the information content of carved faces to a Shakespearean play or DNA, this information must be encoded in some way. That is, a descriptive set of symbols is defined for various features along with a prescribed way of scanning these features. But carved faces are encoded in the same fashion that snow crystals are encoded. No mathematical distinction can be made between the information contained in the messages of life and of inanimate crystals (Yockey, 1981). Scientists can't simply look at coded information and see if it has significance. They must see what are the results of such information—whether the coded information is that of a living or a non-living entity. So Geisler's argument collapses. If information content is a similar result demanding a similar cause, then a snow crystal must have a cause similar to that of Mt. Rushmore. But we know from experience that the immediate causes for each are not similar.
In his original article, Geisler attempted to make a distinction between snow crystal information and DNA information by arguing that the former is "redundant." But how is "redundancy" defined scientifically? It could equally well be argued that repeating patterns in a DNA molecule are "redundant." "Redundancy" is not a scientific distinction, and therefore Geisler's argument requires that he posit special creation of each snowflake that falls.
Even if we ignore the snowflake problem, we are still dealing with only a single similarity. Isn't this superficial? How do other features compare? Let's ask some relevant questions.
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Does Mt. Rushmore gather nourishment from the environment? No, but an amoeba does. Does Mt. Rushmore reproduce? No, but an amoeba does. Do mutations appear in Mt. Rushmore that can be passed on? No, but this happens with the amoeba. Can Mt. Rushmore die? No, but an amoeba can.
We could go on, but it should be apparent that Mt. Rushmore and a life form are not sufficiently comparable for us to assume comparable origin. This means that Geisler lacks a legitimate reason for applying his analogy in the first place. He is comparing apples and oranges.
In my first response to Geisler, I argued that there are two known sources for the "marks of contrivance" he presents, evolution and human intelligence. Life forms are the result of evolution and Mt. Rushmore the result of human intelligence. But I neglected to explain that one reason why the sources are so different is that life forms are "apples" while artifacts are "oranges." Geisler mixes the two, thinking them both "oranges," and ends up assuming similar or uniform sources for both. That is the flaw in his reasoning from which all others follow.
To carry this point further, we could apply Geisler's own criterion of "similar cause, similar effect" to argue "dissimilar effect, dissimilar cause." That is, since Mt. Rushmore is an individual artifact that just sits there, somebody had to come up and carve it. On the other hand, since an amoeba moves, grows, reproduces, proliferates, mutates, passes mutations on, and is generally part of a process, and since evolution is a process, then it is reasonable to argue that the amoeba evolved.
But, of course, the case for the evolutionary origin of life doesn't depend on the use of Geisler's misstatement of the principle of uniformity. Thwaites, in his response to Geisler, gave scientific support for the evolutionary origin of life. One of his points was that Eigen and his colleagues in 1981 showed replicating nucleic acids responding directly to natural selection. Geisler responds now by quoting Dobzhansky's statement that "prebiological natural selection is a contradiction in terms" and saying that "natural selection could work only after there are living things to select among." By this reckoning, nucleic acids must be alive. Since nucleic acids have been formed in the laboratory (Dolittle), Geisler's argument would lead us to conclude that the naturalistic origin of life has already been demonstrated, a conclusion he did not intend.
In any case, we see that there can be two very different causes for the "marks of contrivance" that Geisler sees both in life forms and in artifacts. "But," he seems to ask, "if there are two possible causes for the same thing, doesn't this fact lend support to the idea of teaching the `two models,' creation and evolution, in public school science classes?" It would do so only if we could scientifically argue for Mt. Rushmore in these two ways and life in these same two ways, a foolish hope as Geisler has helped to show. Therefore, there is no "bigotry" involved in teaching only science in a science class. Divine design theories belong in a comparative religion class. That there are few such classes in public schools is due in some part to creationist objection to them, and that would account significantly for the "bigotry" of the public schools offering "only one theory of origins."
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No doubt, Geisler would find this distinction unfair, since by insisting that creation is "religious," he would say the notion of intelligent design is arbitrarily declared unscientific in matters of biology while scientific in matters of archaeology. Aside from the aforementioned apples and oranges mistake here, there is another. Geisler does not posit a mere "superhuman intelligent being," such as an extraterrestrial, who is born, grows, ages, and dies just like all other intelligent beings we know of, and hence just as his argument from uniform experience would require. He really means a supernatural creator, which is quite another thing.
Now, if Geisler contends that supernatural intelligence can be scientific, let him make a smooth argument leading logically from the natural to the supernatural. Geisler knows he cannot, which is why his arguments so studiously stop short of a supernatural creator. He can offer only signposts because a smooth and complete argument from natural to supernatural, corporeal to incorporeal, cannot be made without the use of a non sequitor. Not wishing to get caught making such a leap, he takes , us only as far as the argument will carry us and hopes we will make the leap ourselves. All this renders his argument unscientific.
His attempt to begin from the naturalistic principle, of uniformity and thereby reach a supernaturalistic conclusion is logically self-contradictory. If Geisler disagrees, it can only be because his belief system doesn't recognize the distinction between natural and supernatural but holds both to ultimately be supernatural. This is another apples and oranges problem.
Geisler's argument is a modest one. There is no pretense that a scientific theory of design is being offered. An argument merely from analogy can't be stretched that far. All Geisler hopes to establish is that direct design is at least a plausible cause of life. So far, however, it is saying too much to suggest that he has succeeded even in this.
Doolittle, Russell, 1984. "Some Rebutting Comments to Creationist Views on the Origin of Life" in Awbrey, Frank T. and William M. Thwaites (eds.), Proceedings of the 63rd Annual Meeting of the Pacific Division, American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS Pacific Division Publications, p. 157.
Yockey, Hubert P, 1981. "Self Organization Origin of Life Scenarios and Information Theory." Journal of Theoretical Biology 91:17
I wish to thank Stanley Freske, Philip Osmon, and William Thwaites for their contributions of ideas to this response.
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.