Saturday, July 28, 2007

A Basis for Intelligent Design Predictions

A comment at Telic Thoughts inspired this post. TTer Bilbo made the following remark (in red):

"If we have a property that is closely associated with intelligence, such as language generation, or (what appears to be) the purposeful assembly of parts, and the phenomena reaches such a degree of improbability that to deny intelligent causes is incredible, I think we can have justified belief that the phenomena was intelligently caused, regardless of a lack of hypotheses about the mechanisms used, or the nature of the designer."

It appears as if Bilbo is citing two phenomenon for which there are obvious parallels to intelligent causality namely, linguistic similarities between human languages and biological genomes and a purposeful assembly of parts common to man made machines and cellular structures.

This comment was made in response:

"If you aren't forming and testing empirical predictions that distinguish the claim from other such claims, then you aren't doing science. As the vast majority of scientists disagree with you that "to deny intelligent causes is incredible", you should look to your own position very skeptically."

The second sentence can be taken with a grain of salt. There is no data excluding intelligent causality as an explanation for the origin of life. When scientific data is inconclusive the statement of any scientist can be viewed as a personal opinion.

The first sentence is more compelling in emphasizing that a capacity to predict is an indicator that a proposed theory is scientific. That leads me to the point of this post. Any pathway to life, invoking an unguided series of chemical reactions that culminates in a cell, must envision a gradual, incremental process involving successive changes that approximate ever so closely a functional cell. This type of process, when combined with studies intended to determine the range of a minimal genome, offer clues as to what type of conditions would support the view that life was the outcome of an intelligently designed process.

There are cellular functions which are intrinsic to cellular viability. A capacity to replicate would be basic to an evolutionary process. That, in turn, would entail at a minimum, some sort of genomic structure able to store genetic information, mechanisms that ensure genomic integrity, mechanisms that allow for the expression of the genetic information, mechanisms that enable genomic replication and mechanisms enabling the metabolism of cellular constructs and a means of generating energy.

Minimal genome concepts raise the question of what level of genetic complexity would be sufficient to allow for genetic changes and environmental adaptation? A related question is could that level be attained through a gradual incremental process? Minimal genome experiments could provide empirical answers. The approach would be a top down one seeking an answer though the simplification of existing genomes. There have been studies with results of interest. 'Essential genes of a minimal bacterium' is an example as is 'The complexity of simplicity.'

Experiments indicating that life is not viable when the number of coding genes falls below a certain threshhold would constitute evidence that a gradual, incremental process is an implausible life generating strategy. That would also be evidence for intelligent design. Predictions of threshhold levels would constitute the empirical predictions demanded by the ID critic.

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