Paper #2

Paper: Augros

Respondent: Olson


(Tape not turned on for the first question.)

Augros: The distinction I was making was not between two different kinds of matter but between two different kinds of form--i.e., two different sorts of results that come about. Can matter by physical and chemical means alone produce this kind of form? That is the question. For example, take this piece of chalk. In terms of matter, it's just a piece of calcium carbonate. It can perform certain activities; it reacts in certain ways chemically; it responds to gravity. All these things the chemist or physicist can tell us. But a study of the material make-up of the chalk, its material structure and properties, cannot tell us about the words this piece of chalk will write on the blackboard. Those words are not in the chalk. Words written on a blackboard consist of chalk, they are visible because of the physical properties of the chalk, but they would not appear except as the result of an intelligent cause.

The intelligent cause is separate from the chalk. There is a double causality here, which we have mentioned here before: a primary cause and a secondary cause. In this case, the chalk is the secondary cause, the instrument. Without the instrument it would be impossible to write words on a blackboard. The secondary cause is a genuine cause. But it is not the whole picture. The words on the blackboard represent information, meaning, intelligence. Yet there is no intelligence in the chalk. So the chalk cannot be the entire explanation of the words that appear on the chalkboard.

What I'm saying is that a material thing can act in two ways. It can act on its own, or it can act as it is moved by a superior kind of cause. Even if I build a machine that can pick up a piece of chalk and write sentences on the board, still we cannot ignore the role of intelligence because it is I who design and construct the machine.

Bossard: As a mathematician, I object a bit to the quotation by Max Born brought up earlier. It may be true in atomic physics that you can't discuss anything without reference to the observer. But if you carry that to its logical extreme, you end up saying that there is no such thing as objective truth--that mathematics, for example, is a matter of consensus. I happen to believe that mathematical theorems are not true by consensus, they are true if they can be proved. The idea that some take to be the conclusions of quantum physics--that there is always an unremovable component of the observer--is philosophically repugnant to me.

Another point. I sort of have the feeling this discussion is being overrun by a herd of empiricists. For example, the definition of a probability of something happening only if the occurrence is a possible outcome of repeatable observation. I think that's a typical conceit of empirical people; that our ideas are all the results of observations. Probability happens to be my specialty, and I'd like to point out that you can talk about probabilities of things that are not empirically observable.

Yockey: What you are addressing is called the frequentist approach to probability. The trouble with the approach is that it is circular. That is, you flip coins and you get frequencies. And you call these probabilities. Then you calculate the probabilities and they are frequencies. This is unsatisfactory to mathematicians. So in the thirties, the great Russian mathematician Kolomogorof wrote The Mathematical Foundation of Probability and he did what mathematicians do, and that is he set up axioms. You start like Euclid from a set of axioms and draw up theorems. There are at least three different types of interpretations that you can get from these axioms. One is the frequentist approach, which is the most primitive. The second is a degree of belief, and the third is the testing of hypotheses.

Let me illustrate these three meanings of probability. First, the frequentist approach. Let's suppose we flip coins and watching are three people: a guru with a turban, a believer in this guru, and then me--I'm the practical man. So we flip the coin, and sure enough it comes up heads ten times. I'm immediately suspicious; I think it's possible that something is not quite fair, that it is a two-headed coin. But the follower of the guru says, Ah, my guru is able by mental processes to make this thing come up heads every time. He could just as well have made it all tails. The frequentist would say, well, this sequence is just as probable as any other sequence. Therefore, there is no problem. And if you accept either of those, I'd like to play poker with you. As this continues, I, the practical man, will walk away because I know without looking at this coin that it is two-headed. But the others will continue to believe.

The second meaning of probability is degree of belief. Every day we have to base choices on degree of belief. When lunch comes I am going to eat lunch. That lunch could be poisoned. But my degree of belief is that it isn't. So I am going to eat it. I am going to eat supper. When this conference is over I am going to go to the airport and fly back to Baltimore, in spite of the fact that a lot of people are killed when airplanes fall out of the sky. My degree of belief is that I am going to get there.

The third meaning of probability is the testing of hypotheses. Suppose we have the case of someone accused of a crime. If you've been reading recent issues of Nature you'll find that DNA is becoming very useful in forensics. Suppose it is a rape case. If you take a sample of the semen from the victim, and a sample of semen from the accused, they can now tell whether or not these are identical, to a certain probability. It's the same with fingerprints. A lot of people have been convicted on the basis of fingerprints. Why? Because you prove that the most probable reason that these fingerprints are on the weapon is that the weapon was used by the accused individual.

Each of these senses of probability is legitimate. If you want to read some more about this I'd recommend E.T. Jaynes, Phys. Rev 106, 620-630 (l937). A lot of scientists are not very good writers. Jaynes is brilliant. You'll find this is a brilliant article. Another good one is Phys. Rev l08, l7l-l90.

With regard to the application of this to the question of the origin of life, there is a brilliant young man who lives in my neighborhood who has written a paper, published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology on the degree of belief that DNA formed by chance in the hypothetical soup. That's Journal of Theoretical Biology, Vol. 67, 377-398. And an equally brilliant paper in Vol. 9l, l3-31.

Thaxton: What is the probability that that neighbor is you?

Yockey: Well, you'll have to figure that one out.

Pun: Dr. Augros suggests there has not been any observation documenting speciation in drosophila. I'd like to cite some articles that describe events in Colombia, where a single species, pseudo obscura, split into two reproductively isolated species.

Second, Dr. Olson suggested that DNA has never been synthesized in the laboratory. It has. They have come up with a DNA synthesizer in the lab I work in. You can make up to a 100 or so nucleotide links.

Olson: Starting with what?

Pun: Starting with organic chemistry, and template.

Nelson: I'd like to point out that the genetic code is not in fact universal. A nice review article is Annual Review of Genetics (1987) by Thomas Fox at Cornell documenting natural variations in the genetic code, particularly in certain species of ciliate protozoan. There are significant variations in the stop codons. So the genetic code is in fact not universal. It is quite a puzzle for evolutionary theory.

Mills: It is probably poor terminology to talk about "organic forms," particularly since historically organic compounds were not supposed to come from anything but living things. Obviously, this has proven to be untrue. You're talking about organic form at least at the level of DNA, whereas the term doesn't necessarily mean that. So I believe you would do better not to use a term like organic form.

Bradley: The paper argues at one point that the universality of the genetic code argues for a common origin. Though that is certainly one inference, it seems to me if we are going to have a biosphere that is interrelated in the way it practically has to be, the universality of the genetic code is a functional necessity. That's a comment from an engineer, not a life-science person. I don't see how you can take animal life and plant life and have them co-mingle in the interdependent way that they do unless they have a common way of processing both material and energy. I am curious if some of the people here who are from biology or other backgrounds would agree that this is perhaps a functional necessity. I certainly don't disagree that it can be the result of common origin but it just seems to me that that isn't the only possible reason.

Wright: The interaction of organisms in the biosphere is not a genetic interaction. It's an interaction of energetics. It's matter and energy being exchanged, so there is no necessity that a common genetic code be involved in the biosphere except as we look to the history of the organisms and how they might have evolved.

Wilcox: You could have plants and animals using the same amino acids, making the same proteins, but you could have a different set of transfer RNAs so that different codons coded for the amino acids, and plants and animals had different DNA sequence but read out to give you the same proteins. If so, the animal could eat the plant and gain the nutrients but you could not. One set of DNA reading machinery could not read the code on the other. It would be like two languages, like Spanish and English, that use the same alphabet and carry the same concepts.

Augros: Every species would have a different code and you could never cross-breed.

Mills: Dave Wilcox's point is well-taken, but I tend to agree with Walter Bradley that it is a virtual necessity that all plants and animals share the same genetic code to be an interdependent system. The point about stop codons--some of these might be different but I do not believe there is any major difference, though I'm not an authority on it.

Nelson: One of the many variations that have quite recently been discovered is that in certain ciliated protozoans the codon for stop, which is in the universal code, codes for glutamine. A number of authors who have examined these data, including Sidney Fox, are puzzled how this could have originated. If you change the code you change all the messages. Every protein in that organism is going to be different. I do believe it is a real paradox for evolutionists, particularly because if you accept the Frozen Accident Theory for the origin of the genetic code, many people argue that the code becomes necessary--once it is established, it has to be that way. If you change these codon assignments, you change every protein in the organism.

Thaxton: Toward the end of your paper, on p.12, you refer to a divine cause. You give two reasons for accepting a divine cause. One is when we know that something cannot be produced by natural causes. I have some trouble with that and one of the reasons I drew the distinction between natural and intelligent causes, as opposed to natural and supernatural, is precisely the Humean objection that all empiricists use: that to know there are no sufficient natural causes we have to be omniscient and explore all the natural causes that exist. As finite creatures, we never can say that natural causes are not sufficient. What we have to do is take a more limited position and say that on the basis of our current reservoir of experience, a natural cause does not fit our observations. We cannot affirm a natural cause on the basis of our knowledge at this point. Would you respond to this idea of whether or not we have to be omniscient to say these cannot be a natural cause.

Augros: I believe the archeologist would have the same problem then. Somebody could propose that some object is not an artifact at all. Mt. Rushmore was produced by erosion or something like that, or "John loves Mary" written in the sand was produced by waves. Or there is some other strange cause we don't know about. This is such a general appeal to ignorance that it is not really much of an argument.

Thaxton: But my point was that you argued specifically for a divine cause, not just an intelligent cause.

Augros: I believe it's in the same category. We identify intelligent causes first of all where it is best known, in human events, human activities, whether in the present or in the past. We can use those same standards if we discover what appear to be artifacts out in nature, to argue to a divine artist.

Thaxton: When the pyramids were discovered we didn't know what they were. But did people suggest a divine cause or a human cause? In other words, when you say the word "intelligent," it doesn't necessarily mean divine.

Augros: No.

Thaxton: Yet, in your paper, on p. 12, you specifically identified divine cause. You argue that a divine cause can be affirmed when we know natural causes couldn't have done it, or didn't do it.

Augros: Okay. I have to add that not only can physical and chemical causes not account for this--that's the negative standard--but there is evidence of intelligence in it. Then I guess we have to divide up intelligence into at least two categories: human and divine. We ask, Could it be human intelligence? I don't see any reason to doubt that's the source of the pyramids. If that turns out to be impossible, the only possibility is that there is another intelligence besides man's.

Ross: The argument that natural causes as we know them cannot account for the origin of some phenomenon is sometimes circumvented by suggesting that 4 billion years ago there was capricious physics and therefore things were radically different back then. A response to that is we can look back 4 billion years ago--for example, we see stars that are 4 billion light years away--and we can conclude that at least in what we observe there is no evidence of capricious physics. The burden of proof is on those biologists who claim that there is capricious physics. At least from the astronomical perspective there is no evidence that conditions back then were any different from what they are right now.

Stanciu: I may have missed the point why you concluded there was intelligence behind "John loves Mary."

Thaxton: On the basis of experience. I've seen that kind of message before.

Stanciu: But couldn't one also argue that though I've seen that kind of message before, I've also seen things like the Old Man of the Mountain, and so it is at least conceivable that waves washing on the seashore, or a clam scuttling along, accidentally produced "John loves Mary." I believe that's the kind of argument that Bob Augros was saying you've got to be very wary of. How would you counter that?

Thaxton: I believe I would use the same response Dr. Yockey gave. We have to get on the plane even though we know there is some probability that it will crash. I believe if I received a message saying, "Carole loves Charlie," I'd probably get more excited if ...

Stanciu: And you'd be very disappointed when I suggested a clam.


Stanciu: But Bob Augros I believe has a criterion for this, that's what he was suggesting for this case. The criterion is there's something that seems purposeful here; besides, it's representational. Matter by itself doesn't produce those qualities. You'd say we know that by experience, right?

Thaxton: I wasn't saying I disagreed with the ultimate conclusion. I was just saying that to argue negatively that natural causes cannot produce certain effects seems to require that you exhaust all natural causes. So I would stress the positive argument--we can argue positively from experience that an intelligent cause does produce certain kinds of effects.

Your criterion for intelligent cause was two-fold: representational and purposeful. My question is: Is purposefulness necessarily related to the idea of intelligent cause?

Augros: I believe when you have something aiming at an end there is an intelligence somewhere along the line. Either that thing itself understands and it is an intelligent being acting, or else it is directed by an intelligence, like a piece of chalk being used to write something on the blackboard.

Van Till: It strikes me that we've got to clarify the meaning assigned to some of the terms we're throwing around here--this intelligent cause/ natural cause terminology. Are you, Bob and Charlie, proposing these terms as operating on the same level? I gathered from Charlie's talk earlier this morning that these terms are mutually exclusive, that we have to make an either/or decision. You look at a particular phenomenon and you assign either an intelligent cause or a natural cause. On the other hand, from Bob's remarks I gather that the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. A phenomenon may be is wholly consistent with every natural law we are familiar with, but yet in the hands of a direction--a direction not in contradiction to natural law but above and beyond it. So, which is it? Competing answers to questions on the same level, or complementary answers to questions at quite different levels?

Thaxton: In terms of science, I would go with the former. Whether there is something beyond or not is something you cannot tell by empirical testing, by sensory experience. It is a metaphysical judgment. I'd also like to clarify one thing. I would not put all things that happen in the category of either natural cause or intelligent cause. I would have another large category called mystery: namely, that our reservoir (of experience) is not yet sufficient to assign a cause. We have to be tentative in our judgments, so that as more evidence accumulates, we consider it possible to change the assignment of cause from natural to intelligent, and vise versa. Where people in the past got into trouble was simply asserting an intelligent cause and then stubbornly hanging onto it even when sufficient experience accumulated to assign a natural cause (as in the case of eoliths). So it's a tentative judgment here.

Ross: On the question of probability, I'd like to suggest that the American Institute of Physics may have partially solved our problem. They've tried to define the difference between the possible and the impossible. Their conclusion is that anything that has a probability of less than one chance in 1050 of happening deserves the title of impossible. (Laughter). Something with a greater than that probability deserved the title of possible. I'm not sure we could do any better than the job they've done, but that is in print and is available for our perusal.

Thaxton: Certainly a sufficient judgment to get on a plane. (Laughter).

Frair: The matter of Sibley and Ahlquist's work on biochemical taxonomy has come up. There have been serious questions raised about the validity of some of their conclusions. I've done quite a bit of work on turtle biochemistry, as most of you know. We've tried to put this together with the gross morphological features in sorting these critters out and their possible phylogenetic relationships. We are finding that sometimes the gross morphology doesn't always go along with what the chemical results would suggest.

As an illustration--not with turtles but with the apes and some of the supposed ancestors of humans--when we look at the biochemistry of the apes, they come out very close to people. So close that based on their biochemistry we would expect these two groups to be virtually indistinguishable. But when you look at their gross morphological features, they're quite different. It's easy to tell an ape from a person when you look at him.

Sometimes the opposite problem occurs: organisms that are different in biochemistry will be similar when you look at the whole organism. In terms of chromosomes, for example, the gibbons are quite different from the apes whereas the organisms are similar. So I believe we are still trying to sort this out. We have to be cautious when we are dealing with some of the work of Sibley and Ahlquist.

Mrs. Brabner Smith: I have a question about design and purpose. If I look at what human beings do that clearly shows design and purpose, there is one added element there, and that is aesthetic or beauty, which has nothing to do with design or purpose. I can make something that is very purposeful and has a good design, but then I add something that has no other reason than that it pleases me. I give it color, I put a design on it. I've been doodling back there, that is what led me to this. (Laughter). Isn't there evidence that in creation aesthetics plays a part--that we see not just utilitarian design and purpose, but also a sort of joy in creation?

Augros: The point is well taken. If you look at human activity, we create things that are not only functional and utilitarian but that are beautiful. We decorate our cars, our clothing, because we want them to be pleasing aesthetically. The savage in the bush doesn't just make a spear that works, but he puts ornamentation on it. If that's true of the human mind, then we shouldn't be surprised that the same thing occurs in nature. I think there is marvelous testimony from physicists and many other natural scientists that nature is full of beauty. It's everywhere you look, at every level--there is not only beauty that pleases the senses and but also intellectual beauty: rationality, harmony, elegance.

In our first book, The New Story of Science, George Stanciu and I argue for the existence of this beauty which permeates all of nature. It is not something manufactured by the observer. Then we try to show the theological implications. Beauty could not arise by necessity or by chance. It's too common, permeates everything too thoroughly, to be chance. It would be a fluke. It doesn't arise by necessity for the reason you give. It is gratuitous. It is something joyful and marvelous that didn't have to be there. So I think it's a marvelous point you brought up.

Wiester: If any of you haven't seen it, the latest issue of Christianity Today has an editorial at the end by Philip Yancy called "The Problem of Pleasure." He says we theists have the problem of pain, but an atheist has the problem of pleasure. Where did it come from?

Ross: I'd like to respond with a quote, that "the beauty principle is a presupposition, that the correct description of nature is that which manifests the greatest degree of simplicity, beauty, elegance, and consistency." And so far this principle has been an unerring guide to new insights in theoretical physics. I wouldn't hesitate to say that extends beyond theoretical physics to other fields of science.

Pun: I'd like to bring up the distinction Charlie [Thaxton] has drawn between operation science and origin science. You may prefer to talk about empirical science and historical science. In operation science, or empirical science, we work experientially and try to look at mechanisms and natural processes. For example, the theory of spontaneous generation was disproved by empirical science through the work of Pasteur and his cohorts. Everybody accepts that and it is a consensus. But when you talk about the origin of the DNA code, you are dealing with a historical question. It was a one-time event that cannot be repeated. You observe what happens today and you extrapolate it back into the past, but there is necessarily an element of metaphysics involved. I think this is a useful distinction. Scientists often present conclusions in historical science as though they had the same direct evidence as the findings of empirical science.

John Johnson: First, I'd like to give some additional information on that reference about the DNA code. It's from Thomas Fox's article in Nature, l4 March, l985, vol. 314. Fox's point was that the UAA codon and the UA6 codon encodes the amino acid glutamine, whereas in the usual universal code they are a stop codon.

I also want to make a comment on information theory. One of the things we are concerned with in information theory is correlation between patterns, or pattern recognition. We use Bayesian theory, that says if you use enough repetition a pattern eventually emerges. Information theory allows you to say there are fewer and fewer candidates for a common pattern. Say you start out with a thousand candidates, and each time we get a pattern from a candidate we try to match it against the object; it matches maybe a hundred objects fairly well, ten not so well, and then maybe even fewer. As you repeat that process over and over again eventually the correct object emerges.

For example, in anthropology you may find a broken arrowhead or piece of pottery. When you find enough samples, you'll detect a degree of commonality, a common pattern. Information theory suggests this is due to intelligence--and in fact anthropologists would credit the common pattern to a common culture. If you do a dig in another part of the country and find a similar sequence of pottery or arrowheads, you can ascribe it to the same culture. You are arguing on the basis of repetition, common pattern. If you found only one arrowhead, you could say its form was just a matter of chance. It's finding several objects embodying the same pattern that is evidence of intelligence.