(1) Reading P.Z. Myers' criticism of the "pig-chimp" hypothesis, it stood out to me again that there is a correlation between gradualist arguments against human-chimp comparisons and gradualist arguments against protein-protein comparisons. There is an argument that it is worthless to compare two closely related proteins because the plausibility of them both having developed from a common, less functional prototype is fundamentally different from the plausibility of changing one highly adapted protein into another. There is a similar argument about comparing humans and chimps, though I think Myers forgets this when he discusses what a chimp is likely to do with a monstrous hybrid rather than what a proto-chimp is likely to do. If we were to imagine (within the neo-Darwinian construct) something with all the gentler nurturing primate instincts of humans, bonobos, and gorillas, say a homobo, maybe it would have a less Spartan attitude.
(2) One of the criticisms (there's a whole kitchen sink o' them) directed at ID is that it tells us too little about the sources of design: nothing about their nature and number. It would be natural for a theist to presume one designer, but as far as data is concerned I'm not sure there is anything gained by presuming exactly one agent or intelligence. I would rather presume a group of engineering intelligences (or alternately, formal causes) who may be conferring or developing according to a common plan/goal.
I was thinking about this in connection to the fact that ID proponents are not likely to talk much about the pig-chimp hypothesis. One reason (maybe the biggest) reason is that it is doesn't have nearly the acceptance or interest that either symbiogenesis or self-organization has. Dr. McCarty is more or less a side-show in the bio-theory marketplace.
But the other reason is that ID proponents tend to think, naturally, that the explananda are better explained by “a common designer, who re-used different components in the different designs that were made.” And certainly, the idea of an engineered humanity is, I think, consonant with theism, but the idea of evolution as a history of engineering experiments may be too New Age for many who are attracted to ID. However, as Dr. Behe has criticized Ken Miller, even if the idea of engineered predators and parasites are theologically problematic, that doesn't mean we stop following the data. We are all, however, materialists and non-materialists alike, influenced by our philosophical commitments.
For me, the inference to intelligence as causal explanation is more fundamental than inferring a particular purpose. Not that the data is completely silent on the matter – I think it is a rational inference that the human brain is designed for abstract and self-reflective thinking, for creative insight. Further inference (e.g. the why) likely goes beyond the biological facts into other areas of reason. But inferring an application of deep knowledge to genetic information doesn’t necessarily preclude a role for chance in history. Nor does thinking of the infusions of information at points of history (e.g. the Cambrian explosion) as “experiments” necessarily imply anything as capricious as Dr. Moreau’s horrors.
So the idea of engineers (extraterrestrial, interdimensional, or whatever) experimenting with biological diversity may well be an unpleasant characterization for ID proponents.
I suspect evidence of re-use is likely one of the most promising research activities. For me, “experiment” doesn’t exclude the teleological or purposeful, but it leaves as open issues what the design was meant to demonstrate and the degree to which chance co-exists causally with intelligence. It is a common ploy of the “science defenders” to demand that all evidence compel a sense of clear intention, perfection, and omniscience. As I understand the claims of ID, it doesn’t preclude (nor does it require) epochs of trial species coming about and going extinct. Whether each individual species were to play a perfectly anticipated/orchestrated role in history, is not essential to the validity of the general idea.
For me, the inference to intelligence as causal explanation is more fundamental than inferring a particular purpose. Not that the data is completely silent on the matter – I think it is a rational inference that the human brain is designed for abstract and self-reflective thinking, for creative insight. Further inference (e.g. the why) likely goes beyond the biological facts into other areas of reason. Inferring the application of deep knowledge to genetic information doesn’t necessarily preclude a role for chance. Nor does thinking of the infusions of information at points of history (Cambrian explosion?) as “experiments” necessarily imply anything as capricious as Dr. Moreau’s horrors.
Free will itself seems to me a kind of grand experiment (or adventure, as some might put it), whether or not a master plan can be perceived. Life is fraught with contingency.
I do appreciate your time, and also your wariness about both Eugene McCarthy and the connotations of the word “experiment.” I don’t think anyone is obligated to take Dr. McCarthy’s conclusions seriously even if he is an expert in backcrossing; as you point out, it’s a question of the meaning/interpretation of the evidence, not simply whether or not the evidence is significant. The bright side, I think, of the attention his theory is getting is that it draws attention to the uniqueness of the human body and to the inadequacy of selectionism to account for it. His data may be quite valid regardless of his conclusions. Then again, many people believe/assume that “all things are possible with” natural selection – so ‘absurd is as absurd does,’ as Mr. Gump might have said.
As bizarre a conclusion as it may be, the list of “not-so-primatish” traits in humanity seem remarkable, even if you don’t consider yourself cousin to bacon. I’m not advancing a theory that ancient alien astronauts engineered us to root for truffles, in case you were worried. J
have almost as much interest in the sociology of science as in biological explanation. Sociologically speaking, I think it will be interesting whether or not the McCarthy hypothesis (as implausible as it is) does get taken more seriously, since it’s superficial/seeming plausibility owes a great deal to the implausibility of natural selection. That is, it appears to answer some questions well because people know intuitively that in Natural Selection’s ability to hindsight-predict any outcome it predicts nothing. (This is more a hyper-selectionist problem, but you know what I mean.) I suspect the infamous monkey-pig might haunt the hallowed halls of science even longer than the aquatic ape. Monkey-pig does suffer from being less vague than general hand-wavings of horizontal transfer, but has similar appeal (and some similar problems) to that of “acquired genomes.”
Whether it is desirable to have people mention the monkey-pig hypothesis in the same breath as ID is an understandable concern. Not all heterodox ideas are equal. But I find it curious that P.Z. Myers didn’t bother to mention them in the same breath, and I suspect that he doesn’t simply hate the monkey-pig hypothesis for its impossibility but rather for exposing just how little explanatory power neo-Darwinism has. This alone makes me smile, even if I do believe in something more like the Garden of Eden than the Island of Dr. Moreau.