Sunday, November 23, 2014


Not meaning to offend, and all that, but really, do the Intelligent Design folks have any arguments that are more robust than "isn't it amazing that my legs are long enough to reach the ground?"

Because when I run into this topic, it seems that I'm supposed to find the above position compelling, and if that's all they've got then it's even less sciencey than they think they want it to be.


billo said...

You want sciency? I'll give you sciency. Google on "superdeterminism."

The problem is that stochastic events and deterministic events are isomorphic. You can convert any stochastic description into a deterministic one, and any deterministic description into a stochastic one. See, for instance, Wendl C. "Are deterministic descriptions and indeterministic descriptions observationally equivalent?" Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 40 (2009) 232–242.

The bottom line is that saying something is a stochastic process (like evolution) is not actually saying that you know what's going on -- it's saying that you *don't* know what's going on, but you have a general idea of what the outcome will be in certain circumstances.

For instance, consider standing on top of a small hill pouring a cup of water on the top. We know in a deterministic way that the water will flow downhill. We may even know what side of the hill it will flow down. But we do not know the exact path that it will take, because we don't know where every pebble, grain of sand, root, etc. happens to be, in what condition they are in, etc. If we knew *everything* about the hill, we would know *exactly* where the water would flow. So, what do we do? We build probabilistic models based on observations.. That doesn't mean it's a stochastic process -- the water doesn't throw dice every time it hits a new piece of dirt. It means we don't know everything.

An acceptance of evolution does not negate the idea of intelligent design. In the early 20th century, a group of Christian academics wrote a series of books in response to european liberal theology called "The Fundamentals," that attempted to define the smalled possible set of "fundamental" concepts that made a Christian a "Christian." They were things like believing in the divinity of the Christ, resurrection of the dead, etc. From that, we get the term "fundamentalist," though the meaning has obviously changed dramatically. In the Fundamentals, the first "fundamentalists" specifically noted that evolution, per se, did not contradict the idea of creation or intelligent design, since it only proposed a mechanism through which it was achieved. Or, as one theologian who was a contemporary of Darwin noted, how wonderful was a God who made life, and how much more wonderful was a God who made life that could make life. The idea of creation changing in reponse to the environment did not originate with Darwin, but with early theologians such as St. Thomas Aquinas (or maybe St. Augstine, I forget which).

Thus, most "intelligent design" adherents do not have too much heartburn with "evolution" as an *implementation* of that design, nor do they argue that the complexity of creation is a "proof" of God. It is an *expression* of God, which is different. The 19th century "proof from design" arguments of Paley represent one relatively small argument from the Scots school of Protestant Natural Theology -- and was largely denounced by people outside of that area (which is why the Catholic Church has never said that evolution contradicted creation). This one explanation has become the bete noir of atheistic evolutionists simply because is it a straw man that allows them to ignore the real discussion.

And the reason they want to ignore that discussion is that it then boils down to whether or not evolution is an implementation (perhaps one of many) of God's plan, or is truly a random process that expresses no teleology. *That* question is one of faith, regardless of which side one comes down on, not of "science." And that's why the claim that one side is "scientific" and one is not is simple bullshit.

If you are interested in a more complete discussion, I'd suggest looking at "Darwinism and the Divine: Evolutionary Thought and Natural Theology" by Alister McGrath.

Atom Smasher said...

"An acceptance of evolution does not negate the idea of intelligent design."

Never said it did. What negates the idea of intelligent design as far as the scientific method is concerned, is that it presupposes a designer, and there is no proof of such.

There could indeed be such a designer, and it could have designed some or all of the reality we know, but you can't get there via science.

billo said...

Your last sentence is only partially true, and contradicts your second sentence.

First, science does not "prove" anything. There are two basic ways "science" deals with issues: verification and falsification. The modern "scientific method" only accepts falsification, which by definition, means that science can only disprove, not prove. In other words, for "science" to "negate" the idea of a designer, it would have to disprove it, not simply fail to prove it. As you note, it cannot do this. Interestingly, Karl Popper, the father of the modern "scientific method" noted that evolutionary theory was not falsifiable. He later "recanted" that position by noting that a very limited and dogmatic version of Darwinism was both falsifiable -- and falsified. Validation is an older standard, dismissed by adherents of modern scientific method (but done in practice). In validation, a theory is judge by how well it explains phenomena.

Second, the claim that you "can't get there by science" is simply incorrect. Since the scientific method only consists of testing hypotheses, not "proving" things, then I can easily create hypotheses that will withstand testing by the "scientific method." By the theory "There is a God, and He is go great that He will create a method where by His creatures can adapt to their environment" my prediction might be that there will be such a method. The existence of evolution represents passing this test, and thus, in terms of the "scientific method" represents a "corroboration" of the existence of God.

The weakness of falsification is that no theory is perfect, and can be "falsified." Adherents to a theory that is falsified simply argue that the theory needs a little tweaking. We see this in evolutionary theory when dealing with time issues, unaccounted for spikes in change, etc. The gaps are simply "filled in" as not explained *yet,* but by faith we believe they will be. The problem with verifiability is that almost any theory can be expanded by tweaking to explain anything. You see the same thing in evolutionary theory whenever something comes up that doesn't make sense. Immediately people start speculating on some *assumed* selection advantage, and as soon as one is advanced that makes any sense at all, it "proves" evolution.

What does one do in such as case? The almost unanimous answer among philosophers of science is that one determines which one to use based on utility. However, at that point, it no longer a "scientific" debate. Interestingly, while Popper noted that a general theory of Darwinism was not falsifiable, he still accepted it on the basis of verification as an alternative to intelligent design, acknowledging that he was, at that point, no longer using the "scientific method." He believed that it was important to maintain a counter theory to Paley's intelligent design, and since neither of these were amenable to falsification, the dialectic served a utilitarian purpose. Unlike those who followed him, however, he was up front about it.

Atom Smasher said...

You're right - I should have used "evidence", not "proof".

billo said...

But then you are no longer talking about "science" or the "scientific method." You are talking about inference and the weighing of evidence. The fact is that "complexity" in the Paley sense is "evidence" of God. You may not think it's *good* evidence to you (I don't particularly care for it myself), but we are now at the level of the old joke:

"“They are telling this of Lord Beaverbrook and a visiting Yankee actress. In a game of hypothetical questions, Beaverbrook asked the lady: ‘Would you live with a stranger if he paid you one million pounds?’ She said she would. ‘And if be paid you five pounds?’ The irate lady fumed: ‘Five pounds. What do you think I am?’ Beaverbrook replied: ‘We’ve already established that. Now we are trying to determine the degree.”

Once we are talking about weighing evidence and not whether or not something is "scientific," it's a different ballgame. Evidence is not either/or. The same evidence, such as the issue of complexity, can be easily considered evidence for any competing theories that invoke it.

As David Schum wrote in discussing evidence, "“The problem is that most inferences involve processes or
variables that are nonindependent in various ways, with genu-
inely interesting evidential subtleties... So we have no choice
but to do our best at capturing what we believe are avenues
of probabilistic dependence among processes of concern... I can think of no inference problem, outside the classroom, whose structure is either provided for us of immediately apparent. Constructing a network representation of an inference problem is a purely subjective judgmental task,
one likely to result in a different structural pattern by each
person who performs it.”

The problem that evangelical atheists and petty antichristian pseudointellectuals have is that they think that because some evidence can be construed to support an atheistic theory, it no longer is evidence for a theistic one. That's simply not the case. They are not making a "scientific" argument. They are engaging in thought-limiting cliche by replacing the hard work of thinking by simple labeling.

As Karl Potter noted "... I am on the side of science and and of rationality, but I am against those exaggerated claims
for science that have sometimes been, rightly, denounced as
“scientism”. I am on the side of the search for truth, and of
intellectual daring in the search for truth; but I am against
intellectual arrogance, and especially against the misconceived claim that we have the truth in our pockets, or that we can approach certainty. It is important to realize that science does not make assertions about ultimate questions – about the riddles of existence, or about man’s task in this world..."

"Scientism" is not science. It's just another faith -- and a particularly deceitful one at that. Once one can wrap one's mind around the fact that something can be evidence for both theistic and non-theistic hypotheses and stops playing the game of demading evidence that immune to multiple interpretations, one has started to become a "real" scientist.

Atom Smasher said...

Of course complexity is not evidence of a creator. It is evidence of complexity, nothing more, nothing less. And please don't misunderstand me: peoples' faith doesn't disturb me in any way - it's just not something that is bolstered or weakened by any scientific method.

billo said...

Heh. Sort of like the birds of the Galapagos Islands are just birds, nothing more, nothing less? Proof and evidence are two different things. The meaning of evidence is subjective. Simple axiomatic rejection of something as evidence is not "science." It is faith.

But acknowledging that there is no scientific "proof" for or against the existence of God does *not* mean that there's no evidence. The issue is not the existence of evidence, the issue is the interpretation of it. Your axiomatic rejection conflates the two by asserting that the rejection of the interpretation of the evidence means it doesn't exist.

Moreover, it's not "unscientific" to believe things on the basis of incomplete information or "unproven" theories. It is a necessary condition of life. What we do is use the information we have, make inferences and working hypotheses, and trudge forward.

And that's the bottom line. One can view all sorts of things as evidence for the existence of God. One can view most of the same things as evidence *against* the existence of God. It is *fundamentally* impossible to either prove or disprove the existence of God. The *only* "scientific" position is one of agnosticism.

Any step beyond simply saying "I don't know" is an act of faith and belief. And it's equally an act of faith and belief whether one decides to come down on the side of the existence of God, or one decides to come down on the side of the absence of a God. To deride one side as "unscientific" and the other side as "scientific" is nonsense. Both use the same kinds of inference to bolster their faith, and use the same evidence.

I'll give you another example, away from complexity. A "scientific" argument might be that if a Christian God exists, then being a Christian would provide many of the benefits that are predicted by Christian faith -- lower social costs, better marriages, greater happiness, etc., and conversely, that often nonbelievers will persecute and kill Christians. That's a "scientific" prediction using the "scientific method" if there ever was one -- and is even falsifiable.

And, sure enough, there is a stack of "scientific" literature that shows that Christians *do* benefit from their faith, with longer lives, less drug use, less alcoholism, better attitudes, etc. There are a number of significant life benefits of faith. A testable hypthothesis. Controlled studies. You can't get more "sciency" than that. And similarly, the persecution and murder of Christians for their faith is trivially demonstrated in today's headlines.

Of course, there are other explanations of that evidence, just like there are other explanations of complexity. And the same studies could be used to support *those* theories -- that are just as "sciency."

How you interpret that evidence into a belief system is simply not an issue of the "scientific method." And it is as incorrect, or correct, to complain about one side forming beliefs as it is the other side. This bullshit about one view being "sciency" and the other not is not "science." It is "scientism," and is a blind dogmatic faith like any other.

Atom Smasher said...

I would never make the claim that faith does not have overall beneficial effects. Plus it makes nicer people in my experience - a lot of my fellow atheists are whiny, joyless dicks.

And my overall objection to treating ID as a science is that it's not anything that can be falsified or tested. You can take Darwin's basics and compare them to the fossil record and say Yes - we see evidence of evolution within species and evolution of species into others. We look at the current biosphere and you see evidence of competition and landform isolation affecting form and function.

That's it. A process of evolution seemingly driven by something called natural selection.

ID looks at the same evidence and says "nothing that complex can happen without a designer". The universe is "uniquely tuned" to support life. Change a couple of physical constants and "matter wouldn't exist at all". I'm reading Gribbin's "In Search of the Multiverse" and it's full of that stuff.

But that stuff's not science. It's opinion.

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