We have seen that the first criticism of FLE has failed completely. So let us now turn our attention to the second criticism. As it turns out, the second criticism is not really an argument against FLE, but is instead just a complaint.
they have to accept that those front-loaded genes had different functions in earlier species (which effectively makes front loading synonymous with exaptation, rendering the idea meaningless)
Once you recognize we are in the realm of ducks and rabbits, this complaint becomes meaningless. It’s like arguing that because you see my half-full glass of water as being half-empty, it is meaningless for me to think it is half-full.
Recall that an exaptation is simply the non-teleological perspective reframing the concept of preadaptation. And such preadaptation is something we would predict from front-loading.
Brayton is, of course, free to view all possible examples of preadaptation as exaptation (things that “just happen), but his ability to perceive as such is not an argument against FLE nor does it render FLE meaningless.
MacNeill takes a slight different angle with the same complaint. He begins by claiming
This evolutionary argument is now being strongly supported by findings in the field of evolutionary development (“evo-devo”), in which arguments based on “deep homology” are providing explanations for at least some of the seemingly amazing convergences we see in widely separated groups of organisms…..However, as should be obvious by now, this in no way provides evidence for the currently popular ID hypothesis of “front-loading”, except insofar that it states that the hierarchical control of overall development evolved very early among the metazoa.
Wrong. Since FLE predicts deep homology, of course it is evidence for front-loading (at the very least, it is evidence for the plausibility of front-loading). If there was no deep homology to be found (as conventional evolutionary theory once expected), then front-loading would have been fatally wounded so much that it could never get off the ground.
Then again, it all depends on how people define the often slippery concept of “evidence”:
It provides no empirically testable way to distinguish between an evolutionary explanation and a “design” explanation. Indeed, all of the evidence to date could be explained using either theory.
As you can see, it’s not only that there is no evidence against FLE, but that FLE is as well-supported as conventional views of evolution. So why is it that I am supposed to abandon and ignore the hypothesis of FLE?
And so, by the rules of empirical science, since the evolutionary explanation is both sufficient to explain the phenomena and does not require causes that are outside of nature (i.e. a supernatural designer, that is neither itself natural nor works through natural – i.e. material and efficient – causes), evolutionary biologists are fully justified in accepting the evolutionary explanation (and disregarding the “front-loaded ID” explanation.)
I have no problem with evolutionary biologists disregarding FLE because of ground rules. In fact, this sociological observation makes sense since science cannot process a teleological hypothesis such as front-loading. This simply means that if evolution was front-loaded, it would remain in science’s blind spot. But since I am interested in what happened, and not interested in shoe-horning teleology into science, one does not refute the hypothesis of front-loading, a hypothesis about our history, by noting it violates a convention.
That front-loading violates a convention and evolutionary biologists are thus justified in disregarding it is not an argument against the validity of the hypothesis.
To summarize, the second “argument” is not really an argument; it is merely a complaint and statement of preference. Thus, it fails as an argument against front-loading.