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Ep. 303 Jonathan Bartlett Explains How Random Mutations Aren’t Always So Random

Jonathan Bartlett is a prolific software engineer and textbook author who has published peer-reviewed articles on the information embedded in biological organisms. He joins Bob to discuss two of his recent papers, highlighting a distinction in the term “random mutation” that has great relevance for the Intelligent Design debate.

Mentioned in the Episode and Other Links of Interest:

About the author, Robert

Christian and economist, Chief Economist at infineo, and Senior Fellow with the Mises Institute.

23 Comments

  1. Trevor Peck on 01/01/2024 at 4:01 PM

    I heard a couple of audio glitches. I wondered if the first one was bleeping something out, or if it was just random. Then I wondered if, being random from that point of view, it was by design in a bigger picture. I’ve determined that I’m being trolled, but I can’t tell if it’s by Bob, random chance, or God. So essentially the same as any other occurrence in my life, but with Bob ranked higher than normal in likelihood.

  2. Lawrence on 01/01/2024 at 5:36 PM

    This was a really good discussion; I’m listening to it in parts to grok it all.

  3. Dave H on 01/01/2024 at 8:20 PM

    Bob, you really need to stop falling for these ID scam artists. You’re a smart guy, and when you finally figure out that they’ve been lying to you, you’re going to have a crisis of faith.

    Jonathan kept saying how ID is supposedly a theory of causation, but the reality is that ID is not a theory at all. A theory must be *testable.* You cannot test claims of ID on biological life millions or billions of years ago. The fact that you bring up how common descent is consistent with ID should have clued you into this. *What* exactly would the world look like if ID were false? Maybe you’d say there’s no humans, or no life at all – but this is consistent with ID too. Maybe the designer doesn’t want humans or living things. It’s a complete non-starter, and it isn’t even used in fields where intelligent causation is a testable idea (e.g. criminology). Have you ever seen an ID “expert” called in to testify that he used ID to determine that the victim was in fact murdered rather than his death being an accident? It simply doesn’t happen. These guys make their money selling books to gullible Christians and promoting whackjob politicians, not by employing ID to advance technology or human knowledge.

    Surely you can see how Austrian Econ, despite also being a “fringe” theory, is not at all like this. You don’t study economics from an Austrian perspective in order to sell books to people, you study it to *apply* it to the real world and understand the effects of various policies, and then to profit by knowing how those policies will affect various markets.

    Mainstream economics, mainstream climatology, and ID all behave the same way. They have *political* goals rather than scientific or technological advancement goals. Just because ID happens to be fringe doesn’t mean it’s because it’s secretly correct. Some things are fringe because they are useless, and some things are fringe because they don’t support the current power elite.

    • clampeddler on 02/10/2024 at 12:46 PM

      Darwinism also was promoted to become ‘mainstream’ as part of the antichrist political agenda.

      The crux is that there’s stranger things going on than we can adequately fit in the concept of ‘random’. When we talk about huge tensor spaces, there are things going on we don’t even have language for.

  4. Richard S. on 01/02/2024 at 1:33 AM

    Dave wrote: “It’s a complete non-starter, and it isn’t even used in fields where intelligent causation is a testable idea (e.g. criminology). Have you ever seen an ID “expert” called in to testify that he used ID to determine that the victim was in fact murdered rather than his death being an accident? It simply doesn’t happen. ”

    This statement reveals intellectual unfamiliarity with the concept and underpinnings of ID thinking. LAPD Detective J. Warner Wallace describes in detail how the principles underlying ID are routinely used in his work as a cold case homicide detective. He’s written at least two books explicitly showing this fact.

    Dave’s series of attacks are readily parried and thwarted by the new book, Your Designed Body, written by an MD and an engineer. That book shows the presence of intelligent design at every level of human body physiology.

    Referring to Austrian economics strikes a chord as I’ve read several of von Mises’ books, especially Human Action and The Ultimate Foundation. Mises’ worldview assumes intelligent actors who are designed a certain way, which he takes as axiomatic. The pure materialist worldview fails to support Austrian economic axioms, let alone praxeology.

    • Dave H on 01/02/2024 at 8:10 PM

      > LAPD Detective J. Warner Wallace describes in detail how the principles underlying ID are routinely used in his work as a cold case homicide detective.

      Uh huh. So post the trial transcripts where he is called to the stand and explains how ID helped solve the case.

      > That book shows the presence of intelligent design at every level of human body physiology.

      Assertions are not evidence. “ID” is untestable. There are *no* set of observed facts that would make you rule it out. Thus, it cannot be science.

      > Mises’ worldview assumes intelligent actors who are designed a certain way

      No, it does no such thing.

  5. Richard S. on 01/03/2024 at 8:44 PM

    1.
    a. Dave’s dismissal of LAPD Det. Wallace’s nationally-known, highly reputed career and sustained scholarship, without addressing anything Det. Wallace has ever said, indicates a lack of knowledge in the relevant field. The demand for a “transcript” is a debater trick, especially given neither of Dave’s posts even defines what he or anyone means by “ID” or “Intelligent Design.”
    b. Dave’s first post brashly claimed to know what has ever happened in every criminal trial with every prosecution witness, and yet apparently he has never read Det. Wallace’s books that describe precisely what he did do using the principles underlying Intelligent Design.
    c. The second post’s demand for a transcript from a criminal case referencing ID misses the point, of course. Det. Wallace explains in at least two books how, as I phrased it, “the principles underlying ID are routinely used in his work as a cold case homicide detective.” The two most relevant books are immediately available and inexpensive.
    2.
    a. Dave’s post states “Assertions are not evidence.” It’s unclear which assertions are in mind. Dave’s whole first post was nothing but assertions, many of them on the spectrum from insult to libel, all without either evidence or argumentation.
    b. Dave’s post fails to concede that he has not read Your Designed Body, and that’s okay, except that it means Dave doesn’t know what was shown there using evidence and argument concerning biological and engineering analyses.
    c. Dave’s post states “ID is untestable.” Neither post defines ID, in Dave’s terms or in the proponents’ terms. A real critique would start with his opponent’s definition of the term or concept and then show why it is weak or wrong. Dave’s posts don’t do that and thus are not meritorious critiques of anything.
    d. Having never defined “ID,” Dave’s posts fail to make a meaningful claim about whether “ID” is testable. Interestingly, Ludwig von Mises himself rejected Popper’s claim that all science-based assertions must be falsifiable. Ultimate Foundation (2d ed. 1978), ch. 4, pp. 69-70.
    e. Having never defined the term “science,” Dave’s posts cannot make meaningful claims about what is or is not “science.”
    3. My previous post stated: “Mises’ worldview assumes intelligent actors who are designed a certain way.” Dave’s post states: “No, it does no such thing,” citing neither a source nor argument. Here are citations from Ultimate Foundation supporting my contention: Preliminary observations, pp. 6-9; Chapter 1, The Human Mind, pp. 15, 28-30; Chapter 2, The Activist Basis of Knowledge, pp. 34, 45-46, 47-48; Chapter 3, Necessity And Volition, pp. 53-54.
    4. Dave’s first post accused people like the guest of being “scam artists.” A scam is a fraud, and you can prove fraud by showing the accused intentionally and knowingly made false statements with intent to obtain a result from the alleged victim. Dave’s posts have offered no “knowingly false statements” made by an ID proponent, however. There is no indication Dave knows what “ID” even means. Therefore, to this point, the post’s “scam” allegation amounts to a factless insult designed to get applause from other people who know little about the subject but have taken sides.

    • John S on 01/05/2024 at 2:02 AM

      I’m in the middle of reading Your Designed Body now. Great stuff. The thing that Dave is missing is that showing something required intelligent design and assembly is actually very scientific and can be shown all over. It’s interesting that SETI may need only a little bit of information to say if intelligence is behind it. But a billion+ words of ‘executable instructions’ (our genome) with ‘compiler directives’ that turn on and off genes per cell differentiation, and wildly complex (yet elegant) ‘executable machinery’ that additionally considers several layers of directives (epigenetics) above the executable code that work seamlessly with both the genetic instructions AND the executable machinery – is somehow not intelligently designed! Both the manual to the fighter jet and the process of manufacturing the fighter jet both require great intelligence. By looking we know that cars were designed, and there’s some science behind knowing that. It’s not just blind faith. There are scientists who studied the situation have left evolution – based on the facts. They were taught evolutionary dogma first, not ID. It was long and hard path for them to choose another option. Read “The Stairway to Life, an Origin-of-Life Reality Check” coauthored by one such scientist, a biochemist.

      • Dave H on 01/08/2024 at 5:05 PM

        You have not engaged in science. You have just said “wow that’s complex. Must be designed.”

        This is not how science works. Your description of SETI is not even close to reality either, as it doesn’t simply say “oh look we found something, it’s designed.”

        SETI has found *several* things that nobody expected to find, and you know what they did NOT do? They did NOT just immediately announce that they found intelligent life! They studied what they found and discovered that it was produced by natural phenomena that were previously unknown. If the ID crowd were in charge, they’d have announced aliens immediately, and had egg all over their faces.

        Face the facts. You guys do not do science. You look at things you don’t understand and then make a conclusion based on your lack of understanding. Real scientists don’t understand something and then seek to understand it. That understanding may never come, but you can’t just make logical leaps to “it musta been designed” because of that.

        I’ll bet you any amount of money you’d care to name that if I sent you a bunch of random strings with a deliberately designed one mixed in, no amount of “ID theory” or any other pseudoscience will help you distinguish which is which. How bout it?

    • Dave H on 01/06/2024 at 7:43 PM

      Ironically, Bob’s episode after this one quotes Mises himself on why men are not designed.

      You are engaging in Gish Galloping and it is unbelievably transparent. Instead of saying “go read this book,” you could easily post an example from the book. But you won’t. Why? What are you so afraid of?

      You really ought to listen to the episode right after this one, in which Bob’s guest straight up admits that ID is untestable.

  6. Jonathan Bartlett on 01/07/2024 at 2:32 PM

    I find this discussion amusing. The reason why Dave views ID as non-testable is that it is non-testable in the same way that physics is. You can’t have a “test” that shows whether “physics” is true or false. You *can* have a test for *specific* physical theories. But physics as a whole actually can’t be tested. There isn’t a test that would tell us if we are right in doing physics altogether, or if it is a misguided enterprise. You can have reasons for thinking that physics is a good thing (and I think there are abundant reasons for this), but there is not a *test* that you can do for it.

    In the same way, ID is an approach that includes new causative factors that are ipso facto not present in physics. It is untestable in the same way that physics is, because it is an entire approach to causation, not a specific isolated theory. There are good reasons for believing that it is true, but there is not an “ID test” you can perform to see if this approach to causation is the correct approach. In fact, what ID often does is create the mathematical formalism to *generate* tests for other theories. What we are examining is whether or not specific theories of evolution have causal efficacy to do what they say. ID brings new tests to bear on previous questions.

    As an example, you should read George Montanez’s paper on Specified Complexity (“A Unified Model of Complex Specified Information”). It is entirely a mathematical work. There are no “tests” because it is mathematical. If you think it is wrong, you could demonstrate where his proofs are incorrect. But there is nothing to be “tested”. Because it is mathematical, it is used to *make* tests of other things.

    What I find really hilarious is the idea that people in the ID movement are doing this for money. Every person I know in the ID movement could be making a lot more money elsewhere. I have two ID books which sell (combined) at about 1-2 copies a month. My electronics book sells about 50 copies a week, *and* has a higher margin. If I spent more time writing electronics books instead of doing ID research I might be able to quit my day job. I do ID because I think it is both true and important, and that is true of literally everyone I’ve met doing this.

    As to Austrian economics, I personally believe it is literally built on the same foundation as ID. Mises actually called his program “methodological dualism”, and puts *choice* as the foundation of it. Choice is not an element of physics – but it is a causative element that we are trying to capture in ID theory. If someone wants to dig into this aspect, you should check out my contribution “Other Non-Naturalistic Methodologies in Modern Practice” as part of the volume “Naturalism and Its Alternatives in Scientific Methodologies”.

    • Dave H on 01/08/2024 at 5:12 PM

      That’s a whole lot of words to say “Dave is right but I still insist on engaging in pseudoscience.”

      The simple fact is that you cannot *test* your hypotheses. All you can do is point at something you don’t understand and then claim “yup, designed.” This is not science, it does not advance knowledge, it cannot be used to create technology. It’s useless non-content that people use to justify faith that they can’t otherwise justify, or worse, use to scam other such people.

      > What I find really hilarious is the idea that people in the ID movement are doing this for money.

      Not every scammer can be Sam Bankman Fried. What a silly argument. There are small time scammers all over the world, and the existence of big time scammers doesn’t mean the small timers aren’t actually scamming.

      > As to Austrian economics, I personally believe it is literally built on the same foundation as ID.

      Which is utter nonsense. Austrian econ takes humans as a given. We know humans exist. We can see them.

      • Jonathan Bartlett on 01/08/2024 at 5:26 PM

        The hypotheses are testable. But not every component of ID is a hypothesis. Some components are mathematical statements. Some components are broad-scope. If you would like to see specific testable ID hypotheses, you can read Ewert’s “The Dependency Graph of Life,” Hossjer’s papers on human origins, and Gauger’s and Axe’s work on enzyme origins. These are all testable hypotheses. But if your criticism of ID is that it can’t be tested as a whole, then that same criticism would apply to both physics and evolution.

        • Tyler on 01/08/2024 at 8:10 PM

          That’s a funny coincidence. I just recently found myself nagged by the thought that random, incremental mutation doesn’t seem to explain many complex adaptations like say a lung. There’s no survival advantage to a lung that doesn’t oxygenate blood, or which isn’t connected to a passage that exits the body, or which doesn’t have a diaphragm or some other mechanism to draw air into it. It all has to be in place at once to make sense and not be a dead-weight drag on survivability.

          I hadn’t heard anyone make that objection before, and arrived at it independently only recently, but here’s Bob bringing it up.

          • Robert Murphy on 01/09/2024 at 1:42 PM

            Hey Tyler, yes, in the ID literature they call this “irreducible complexity,” the term that Michael Behe gave it. Here’s a quick video intro to the concept.



          • Dave H on 01/10/2024 at 5:01 PM

            And again, this is literally “I don’t understand, therefore design.”

            How do you test this? How do you rule out design? You are treating design as some kind of default stance and if there is no current other explanation, well I guess design wins. But that’s not science. Your hypothesis must stand on its own. How are you TESTING it?



        • Dave H on 01/10/2024 at 5:00 PM

          They absolutely are not testable, and neither are any of the examples you mentioned. How do we test the designer? How do we get him into the lab? Can we put him on trial and have him take the stand?

          Again, literally all you do is say “I don’t understand it, therefore design.” This is not testable and not science.

  7. Wesley on 01/08/2024 at 5:44 PM

    ID seems to me to first be a philosophical system mainly through analogy. Once its validity and rationality have been established, the notion of design has been properly defined, only then can any sort of metric be developed to indicate the degree of probability that something has been “designed.” There are clearly innumerable examples of things that have been designed by an intelligent agent. There’s nothing incorrect in applying this to biological systems. Assuming that you can’t is circular.

    • Dave H on 01/10/2024 at 5:10 PM

      > There are clearly innumerable examples of things that have been designed by an intelligent agent. There’s nothing incorrect in applying this to biological systems. Assuming that you can’t is circular.

      Nobody is assuming that you *can’t*. What’s happening is that ID people are conveniently ignoring HOW we actually look at design hypotheses in actual science rather than their fantasy world. They want to insist that you can determine design merely by looking at the object itself and having no other knowledge from elsewhere, but this is just not the case.

      Every single analogy they bring up reveals this, if you just think about it. You know the watch is designed because you know about metallurgy, plastics, a history of timekeeping, etc. You can go track down watch factories where watches get made.

      Even with things like COVID, you can look at the current capabilities of genetic science and compare that with what we see in the virus. You can see sequences that do or do not appear in other lab experiments (similar to an author’s signature). But what you can’t do is look at the virus and only the virus and conclude intelligent design or not.

      So if you want to insist that a biological structure that is millions of years old is designed, you don’t get to just look at how much it baffles you and conclude design. You need to show that designers existed millions of years ago, and actually designed these things. What were their motives? Where are their factories? I understand that you want to pretend that ID doesn’t need to answer these questions because you are playing make-believe that only analysis of the object itself is required here, but you are just plain wrong on this. You CANNOT conclude design just by examining the object itself.

      If you think otherwise, take my challenge. I send you a bunch of text strings. One of them is designed and the others are random. You use your fancy dancy ID and tell me which one is designed. I’ll bet good money that you can’t do it.

      • Tyler on 01/13/2024 at 5:18 PM

        If you see something you can’t explain, why are we not allowed to assume it was designed without being able to explain how and by who, but we’re allowed to assume that it must be natural without being able to explain the cause or the process?

        • Dave H on 01/15/2024 at 9:46 PM

          You are committing the same basic fallacy that most “design” people always do. You are somehow imagining a dichotomy between “natural” and “designed.” This is why it is nothing but a scam movement and not science. Literally every “designed” thing you’ve ever come across in your entire life was made with natural causes. Every analogy you make, from watches in the sand to letters spelled out on a beach, are all done NATURALLY. Nobody has violated the laws of nature to make any of these things.

          The reason you are not “allowed” to invoke magical designers is because you cannot test them, no matter what you do. Any test somebody comes up with, you can just say “yeah but the designer magically evaded that.” That’s not how it works with either natural designers or mindless natural causes. You need to define what you think caused some phenomena – IN ADVANCE – and then see if the world matches or doesn’t match that explanation.

          And it turns out that when we do this, it works amazingly well. Whereas if we just say “some magical designer did it,” this doesn’t work at all, for anything. Your computer works because somebody sought out how electricity worked naturally. Nobody was able to build a computer based on the idea that electricity was a manifestation of Thor’s will.

          We KNOW that natural causes exist. We DO NOT know about magical designers. So you can’t just invoke things that aren’t in evidence at all.

          And lastly, to just say “you atheists just assume naturalism the way we assume supernaturalism” is just wrong. This is you projecting your fallacious attitudes onto us. We do not think this way at all. We don’t say to ourselves, “well atheism is my starting point, therefore I can only look at causes A B and C.” We look at TESTABLE causes and then TEST them. You don’t seem to even care that your ideas can’t be tested. But if they can’t be tested, then they’re not science. So please stop pretending that they are.

          • Tyler on 01/22/2024 at 5:26 PM

            There is a dichotomy between the designed and the natural.
            As with virtually all distinctions, you can dissolve it if you strip away the relevant context, but if an Astronomer is searching another planet for signs of intelligent life, everyone knows what they mean; it’s not an unscientific statement.

            Personally, I’m agnostic, but you’re right that I don’t care if my ideas are testable, because depending on your definition, Science is either much broader than the reductionist bromides we often hear – Science is measurement, science is numbers, science is testable, etc. or else it is those things, but is then much too narrow to have the monopoly to decide what is and isn’t true about physical reality. There are an infinite number of legitimate common-sensical questions about the universe that don’t deserve ridicule even if we can’t yet conceive of a way to test them. Not testable does not mean not falsifiable and not falsifiable does not mean wrong or absurd. Virtually every practical decision you and I make in life is based on untestable hypotheses, because there’s only 1 of me, and time does not run backward.



  8. Dave H on 01/24/2024 at 8:53 PM

    > There is a dichotomy between the designed and the natural.

    Sorry, but there is not. Literally every designed thing you’ve ever come across and could test the design hypothesis was designed via natural means.

    > if an Astronomer is searching another planet for signs of intelligent life, everyone knows what they mean; it’s not an unscientific statement.

    Intelligent life on other planets is… natural. The means that they would use to produce effects we can find them are… natural.

    > but is then much too narrow to have the monopoly to decide what is and isn’t true about physical reality.

    Science isn’t about “truth.” Not sure which scientist told you it is, but he was talking nonsense. If you care about what is “true,” take a philosophy course. And whatever you learn there, leave it out of science class. Science is about what we can test and how we can use that information. Nobody ever built a computer using philosophy. But plenty of science involved.

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