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Date: 2005/03/28 17:31:29, Link
Author: Michael Finley
A question about the notion of "transitional fossil": Criteria for being a "transitional fossil," I presume, are (1) lying between (i.e., temporally) two related animals, and (2) having a significant number of structural similarities with the two related animals.

Could you elaborate? Are (1) and (2) sufficient, or could there be a fossil that satisfied these and was, nevertheless, not transitional? What is the measure of significant? Etc.

Date: 2005/03/29 10:54:00, Link
Author: Michael Finley
Mr. Elsberry (or is it Dr.),

Thank you for the excerpt from Cuffey and Moore. The excerpt, however, does not provide a definition of "transitional fossil," but assumes its meaning throughout.

For example:
First, some groups have been so thoroughly studied that we know sequences of transitional fossils which grade continuously from one species to another without break, sometimes linking several successive species which cross from one higher taxon into another. We can say that situations of this kind display transitional individuals.

Here "transitional fossils" are associated with "continuous grades," but it is unclear whether such grades are a defining characteristic of transitional fossils or what exactly is meant by "continuous" and "grade."

Could you provide a definition, i.e., necessary and sufficient conditions, for "transitional fossil"?

Date: 2005/03/30 01:21:03, Link
Author: Michael Finley
I would like to have a discussion on the evidences for common descent as presented in Douglas Theobald’s 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution on Talk.Origins. In particular, I would like to investigate whether each evidence (i.e., confirmed prediction) is not equally an evidence for common design. I propose to treat the evidences one by one in the order they are presented.

1.1 The Fundamental Unity of Life. According to the theory of common descent, modern living organisms, with all their incredible differences, are the progeny of one single species in the distant past. In spite of the extensive variation of form and function among organisms, several fundamental criteria characterize all life. Some of the macroscopic properties that characterize all of life are (1) replication, (2) heritability (characteristics of descendents are correlated with those of ancestors), (3) catalysis, and (4) energy utilization (metabolism). At a very minimum, these four functions are required to generate a physical historical process that can be described by a phylogenetic tree.

If every living species descended from an original species that had these four obligate functions, then all living species today should necessarily have these functions (a somewhat trivial conclusion). Most importantly, however, all modern species should have inherited the structures that perform these functions. Thus, a basic prediction of the genealogical relatedness of all life, combined with the constraint of gradualism, is that organisms should be very similar in the particular mechanisms and structures that execute these four basic life processes.

That is, common descent predicts that all organisms are similar with respect to basic function and structure. And as function follows from structure, the prediction primarily concerns the basic structural similarity of all organisms.

It seems to me that similarity of structure is equally a prediction of common design. Consider the works of a common artist (e.g., paintings). It is a reasonable prediction that these works will share a basic structural similarity that differentiates them from works by other artists. Accordingly, an expert will be able to distinguish works by the one from those of others.

These are preliminary remarks, but should be enough to start discussion.

Date: 2005/03/31 12:32:45, Link
Author: Michael Finley
If the end result is some measure of clarity, even if only for myself, then I would not count the time wasted. And given your concern, I appreciate your reply.

The unity of life is an evidence for (i.e., confirmed prediction of) common descent. Is it equally an evidence for common design?

To this question you object:
Without some constraint upon the "designer" that supposedly is behind "common design," I don't see any sensible way to derive "predictions" from the concept.

Let's return to the example of the artist. I stated that "It is a reasonable prediction that works [by a common artist] will share a basic structural similarity that differentiates them from works by other artists." Do you disagree? If so, on what basis does the expert attribute works to artists (cf. handwriting experts, philologists, etc.)?

I do not deny that an artist could, for whatever reason, produce radically dissimilar works, but that would be abnormal in some objective sense of abnormal, i.e., it is usually the case that works by the same artist are similar. Otherwise, the notion of a work being characteristic of an artist would be incoherent, and it clearly is not.

Date: 2005/04/01 10:32:56, Link
Author: Michael Finley
My take on that is that different forms wouldn't have to be "radically dissimilar" in order to be enough different to conflict with what one would expect from descent from common ancestry.

Agreed; though counterfactuals are not relevant to my question. I am assuming that the actual unity of life is an evidence for common descent, and asking whether it is not equally an evidence for common design. Or more generally, are the evidences for common descent and common design coextensive?

I also think the artist analogy is too loose to consider an inference from it to be reliable.

Perhaps it is, but it articulates an intuition everyone shares, viz., that the products of a person are more similar to each other than to the products of another. I think that intuition is correct, and am attempting to "tighten it up."

Date: 2005/04/01 10:53:09, Link
Author: Michael Finley
I would say that the elements under discussion represent engineering solutions more than artistic style and so the comparison is not very appropriate. How could we decide that these particular elements were stylistic rather than purely functional?

For the purposes of my question, the distinction between art and engineering is not relevant. If we use the broader sense of "art," every product of design is an artefact, e.g., a painting and a jet engine are both artefacts. Accordingly, the products of a single engineer will be more similar to each other than to those of another.

Even if we were to consider the designer a pure artist, pure artists can and do work in different media requiring different techniques. So why not a different form of life embodying different mechanisms for one or more of the elements under discussion?

It seems to me that two basically different mechanisms (i.e., structures) performing the same function (e.g., replication) is not analogous to different techniques in different media (e.g., brush and paint, hammer and chisel).

Date: 2005/04/01 16:42:56, Link
Author: Michael Finley
No, I think that we do have to consider that the actual observed unity is one of solutions and that it is not clearly an aesthetic preference.

The unity is a unity of structure, and does not concern aesthetic preferences. I am employing a basic metaphysical principle, viz., that sameness of cause produces sameness of effect. That principle is operative in common descent and common design.

The Common Descent explanation expects these elements to be highly conserved....

Conservation, here, is merely a reformulation of the metaphysical principle mentioned above. As such, it is proper to common design as well.

...the Common Designer explanation has no basis for choosing these elements over any others.

That is a different issue. Whatever the elements (i.e., structures) are, common design predicts that they will be common. That is, the same elements will be shared by all organisms.

Date: 2005/04/04 17:25:23, Link
Author: Michael Finley
To all,

I apologize for beginning a discussion and then ignoring it. The same topic came up on  PT, and I could not actively participate in both.

I have conceded defeat on "the unity of life" prediction. Perhaps we can discuss nested hierarchies in turn.

Date: 2005/04/05 11:45:54, Link
Author: Michael Finley
Dr. Elsberry,

I did not mean to imply that I would go about a discussion of nested hierarchies in the same way. As no predictions follow from a designer, no predictions about nested hierarchies follow from a designer. Thus, the conclusion I reached concerning the unity of life can be generalized to cover the other predictions of common descent.

I wanted to discuss this statement of yours:

(2) is out because it is a distinction without a difference. ...Whether one chooses to use "prediction" or "consistency with the available evidence" is pure semantics. There are possible states of the evidence that common descent would not be able to accommodate.

I think the distinction presents a difference. Common descent is the theoretical claim (sentence) that "all known biota are descended from a single common ancestor." A prediction of common descent is an observation claim (cf. Quine's observation sentence) that is logically deduced from the theoretical claim, e.g., "cladistic analyses of organisms produce phylogenies that have large, statistically significant values of hierarchical structure."

A prediction is a logical implication of the theoretical claim. Accordingly, the theory can be falsified using a modus tollens:

If [theoretical claim] then [observation claim]
Not [observation claim]
Therefore, not [theoretical claim]

That is, if the observation claim is false, the theory is false.

On the other hand, an observation claim is merely consistent with a theoretical claim if both can be true together, but the falsity of the observation claim does not imply the falsity of the theoretical claim. Statements that are merely consistent with a theoretical claim cannot be deduced from that theoretical claim. For example, observation claims concerning the unity of life are consistent with my previous theoretical claim that "all known biota are special creations of a single designer," i.e., they can both be true together, but the latter does not follow logically from the former, and its falsity does not result in the falsity of the thoeretical claim.

My question, then, is whether the observation claim that "cladistic analyses of organisms produce phylogenies that have large, statistically significant values of hierarchical structure" is a prediction of common descent or whether it is merely consistent with common descent? Is there a conceivable scenario in which common descent would be true and the observation claim false? If there were, the observation claim could not be a deduction from from the theoretical claim, and therefore, it could not be a prediction.

Date: 2005/04/14 10:46:52, Link
Author: Michael Finley
Consider the following example:

In the U.S. around 90% of blacks vote Democratic. Suppose I meet a black voter, and all that I know about him is that he's black and he's a voter. Can I reasonably predict that he votes Democratic, i.e., is it probable that he votes Democratic?

Of course he could vote Republican or third party. He could be among the 10% that do not vote Democratic. Nevertheless, if I do not know anything else about him other than his skin color and that he is a voter, isn't the reasonable (i.e., probable) prediction that he votes Democratic?

Date: 2005/04/14 12:47:15, Link
Author: Michael Finley
Dr. Elsberry,

Instead of prematurely jumping to the supposed end of my argument, you might let me establish the premises first. Usually that's how honest and fair discussions proceed. That is, unless your sole purpose is to make rhetorical comments. In which case, your participation is not required.

What's your answer to the question I actually asked?

Date: 2005/04/14 12:55:53, Link
Author: Michael Finley

You're correct, my sample was not adequately defined. Suppose I reformulate the example as follows:

In the U.S. around 90% of blacks vote Democratic. Suppose I meet a American black voter, and all that I know about him is that he's an American black man and he's a voter. Can I reasonably predict that he votes Democratic, i.e., is it probable that he votes Democratic?

Date: 2005/04/14 14:07:25, Link
Author: Michael Finley

I'll try to pick up the pace, but I needed your admission that "IF you know that 90% of a group have a particular property then a randomly chosen member of the group is 90% likely to have that property" in order to proceed.

We can put this principle in a slightly more general form: If a majority of a group has a particular property, then a randomly chosen member of that group probably has that property, and the strength of the probability is proportional to the size of the majority.

As I believe you anticipated, I want to extend this principle to the group "designers," and then apply it to a hypothetical designer of organisms on this planet. These are two separate steps, so let's focus on the first without considering the second.

Taking the group "designers" and the property "produces works that are similar to each other," it seems to me that designers are more likely to possess the property than not. Before we discuss possible ways to quantify that probability, do you agree with that statement?

Date: 2005/04/14 16:35:25, Link
Author: Michael Finley

1) The sample would consist of all known intelligent designers (and so would exclude non-human animals on this planet, e.g., ants, beavers, etc.).

2) With respect to unqualified designers, the description of expected similarities has to be general enough to include different sorts of designers (e.g., painters, engineers, etc.). For the purposes of defining the general property "produces works that are similar to each other," "similarity" means "partial structural identity" (i.e., to be "similar" is to be "partially different and partially the same"). For example, two different models of BMW automobiles are similar, i.e., parts of them are the same and parts of them are different.

No. 2 could use some more work, but the main idea seems clear enough.

Date: 2005/04/14 16:49:33, Link
Author: Michael Finley

The group is "intelligent designers" without any further qualification (cf. American, black voter without any further qualification). Human beings are known members of that group.

The question, then, is do a majority of the members of that group exhibit the property in question.

Date: 2005/04/14 17:34:39, Link
Author: Michael Finley
Granted, all presently known designers are human.

I am intentionally trying to avoid making any presumptions about "intelligent designers" other than that they are intelligent and designers. Both of these properties, it seems to me, have objective criteria independent of their instances in human beings.

Let me make the point using an uncontroversial property, "bipedality." Humans possess the property of bipedality. If I imagine a radically different species from humans that, nonetheless, is bipedal, the criterion for bipedality remains the same. In other words, the criterion for bipedality is species nuetral.

I want to argue that all properties are species neutral, including the properties "intelligence" and "designer."

Really you should be looking for the sorts of similarity expected from designers rather than other possible causes.

What if the same effects were expected from two different possible causes, say common descent and common design? Concerning the expectation that all organisms share basic structural similarities, both common descent and common design are possible causes.

I don't think that you can do better than stylistic and aesthetic considerations.

How are style and aesthetics relevant?

Date: 2005/04/14 17:44:29, Link
Author: Michael Finley
Presumably then your sample includes a large number of non-human designers, including at least one entity similar to whichever designer you would propose to have been behind biological life (hopefully they would be as well represented as humans).

The sample includes only all known intelligent designers, and does not include "at least one entity similar to whichever designer [I] would propose to have been behind biological life."

From that sample of unqualified designers, it can (in principle) be empirically determined whether, e.g., a majority of designers possess a certain property.

Then, because properties are species neutral, the property can be probably predicted of any designer.

Finally, a hypothetical argument of the following kind can be presented: If an intelligent designer created all life on this planet, then we can expect each creature (the works of the designer) to share basic structures. It then becomes a matter of observing individual species.

Date: 2005/04/15 11:50:35, Link
Author: Michael Finley
If the only black voters available to you happen to be American would it be an "assumption" that your sample of black voters consisted only of Americans? Would it somehow become a reliable sample of black voters worldwide if you simply refused to "assume" or even mention that they were indeed American?

Per my modified example, the group is not "black voters," but is "American black voters." Therefore, foreigners cannot be part of the sample. Doesn't this modification remove the above concern?

Rather in claiming that your sample of intelligent designers is automatically representative you are making the assumption that all intelligent designers are - in this respect - like humans. Which might hold for proposed extraterrestrials, but would hardly be safely applied to the Christian God who many (probably most) ID supporters believe to have been the "designer" of life.

I am not making an ad hoc assumption that my sample is "automatically representative." The sample is representative because any being that possesses "intelligence" and is a "designer" is indentical to human intelligent designers with respect to the properties of "intelligence" and "designer." This was the point of my "bipedality" example, i.e., properties are subject neutral (cf. functionalism's position on "intelligence").

Stylistic and aesthestic considerations are good examples of similarities that are associated with designers rather than any other mechanism. I think that the relevance should be obvious.

Could you spell out precisely what you mean by "stylistic and aesthestic considerations."

If you really want to argue that similarities are evidence of design you should look for the similarities that are best explained by design rather than those best explained by rival hypotheses.

The similarities I'm interested in are structural similarities, i.e., similarities in the parts and arrangement of parts of organisms.

Date: 2005/04/15 12:06:43, Link
Author: Michael Finley
Wes (if I may),

I'll read The Advantages of Theft Over Toil this evening, and get back to you with my thoughts.

Before I do, a couple of points:

(1) It seems to me that your statement that "the claimed analogy between known designers with whom we have experience and unknown designers operating in unknown ways is illegitimate" depends on a suppossed equivocity of meaning for predicates between known and unknown subjects of those predicates. I don't see any basis for the latter position.

(2) I agree with Nelson that suboptimality is not a concern, and that "theological themes" are irrelevant. Is your argument against Nelson in The Advantages of Theft Over Toil? If so, I'll take a look at it there, if not could you give the reference?