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ID: How might one argue for it?


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#1 davidm

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Posted 17 October 2008 - 06:16 PM

How might one argue for “intelligent design,” in a way that is not disingenuous and outright dishonest, which seems to be the currency of the realm for so many (but not all) ID advocates?

We have seen the double D’s right here at this board, by two members who are no longer members.

I think there is nothing illegitimate about presupposing ID as a metaphysical stance. If that is illegitimate, then it’s also illegitimate for scientists to presuppose a fully materialistic and unplanned or undirected world as a metaphysical stance.

The question becomes, how does one extend ID from metaphysics to science?

In the case of biology, I think the challenge is daunting. The question I ask is: what could possibly count as evidence for intelligent design in biology?

The problem for the IDist in biology is that we already know through empirical evidence and a highly confirmed theory that descent with modification happens; this means that organisms that look as if they are intentionally designed are not intentionally designed.

Behe and Dembski have sought to attack “evolution without plan or purpose” through their concepts of irreducible complexity and specified complexity, respectively. I’m not going to go over those two concepts here, except to say that they have been impressively rebutted by scientists.

One might take issue with these rebuttals (Behe and Dembski do), but let’s suppose that the rebuttals are valid. What then for ID in biology?

If I wished to honestly argue for ID and not argue disingenuously, I might first suggest that the intelligent design advocate simply hold on to the concept that at least some aspects of life are intelligently designed, even if we have no good scientific evidence for such design at the present, and even if it might seem particularly difficult to find such evidence.

I would do this first on the basis that the metaphysical presumption of design in life, or in the cosmos at large, is far from a priori ridiculous; indeed the presumption that God created and governed the world was a powerful motivating factor behind the research of Newton and many others.

It could be the case, after all, that God or the designer set up things in such a way that there can be no clear scientific evidence of its/his/hers handiwork. There is nothing outrageous about the idea that the designer employs descent with modification as a design strategy. That is, the designer sets the initial parameters and then lets descent with modification happen to produce a tree of life.

Computer programmers already do this, with some results that are strikingly life-like even if they are “merely” digital. Some have speculated that such computer created “artificial life forms” could really develop consciousness; and if they did, how could they ever know, in their digital environment, that there was an environment totally outside of them in which an entity called a “programmer” programmed them into existence? They could speculate about such a possibility, but it does not seem feasible, from within their digital programmed environment, that they could ever obtain empirical evidence for this idea.

Lest this sounds far-fetched, a number of philosophers, probably most prominently the Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom, have speculated that we ourselves are simulated beings in a simulation being run by an outside programmer. Bostrom has developed an argument in which, if a couple of (plausible) premises are accepted, then the odds of this being the case are better than even.

Perhaps the IDist could relocate the concept of design away from descent with modification and toward abiogenesis. To do this, the ID advocate would first have to stop disingenuously conflating evolution with abiogenesis, as they so often do. This strategy is probably also weak, as it smacks of a “God/Designer of the Gaps” sort of argument; but until there is some evidence for how life began in the first place, it’s not outrageous to think that perhaps life was “started” by a designer.

Of course, even if the IDist argues in the way, he will then have to address the question of who designed the designer. The larger point being that until the IDist is upfront about his/her arguments and not merely disingenuous (as many but not all of them are), then they are not going to be taken seriously by serious people and will sooner or later find themselves banned from serious message boards, among other sanctions arising from “human social thought,” to quote a phrase that recently we have heard far too much of.

Another possibility is to abandon the idea that ID must be found in life altogether and to situate it in some other promising realm, like the “fine tuning” of the universe. I won’t go into a rehash of fine-tuning here, having at least a couple of threads that I need to return to myself to hash out the implications. But I will say that the fine-tuning argument for the existence of an intelligent designer is far from as bad as some materialists make it out to be, and indeed, trying to answer the fine-tuning conundrum (if it is a conundrum) has been among the motivating factors in inspiring various scientists to promote multiverse version of reality, to explain the fine-tuning of our reality (the point being that if the free parameters of the universe were even slightly different, it is argued that complex structures of any kind would be impossible; life, being a complex structure, would also be impossible).

Perhaps another strategy would be to locate the possible domain of design within the field of quantum physics or quantum consciousness. I think Steve Petermann suggest something like this, and I invite him to elaborate if he so chooses.

That’s all I’ll say for now, as this post is long enough. The main thing I think that ID advocates have to do is to be honest, unless they are not interested in honesty; and it’s my impression, unfortunately, that many of them are not. That is, I often get the distinct impression that they really don’t care whether ID is true or not. What they actually care about is the ”noble lie”; they think it’s important for something very like ID (God) to be accepted as true, whether true or not, or else culture will slip into nihilistic oblivion. The former  member Gregory invoked the dire prospect of nihilism in one of this posts; unfortunately when I asked him directly about the “noble lie” possibility, he ignored that question as he did virtually every other question I put to him.

Another good strategy for the ID advocate would be to answer the questions of others directly and upfront, with honesty and integrity and in good faith; and when they don’t know something, say, “I don’t know.”

I am editing this to add a very relevant and recnet observation from one "Godless Sodomite" which puts things better than I have been able to:

Quote

There are two forms of discourse of knowledge: mythos and logos. Mythos is about origins, the context that gives the meaning of life, the timeless elements of man, and logos is about the rational, pragmatic thought that allows us to make tools and reason discursively. The theory of evolution is obviously a candidate of the latter, and creationism is obviously another candidate of logos, but this is due to the logos-dominated culture today. In our age of modernism, mythos lost its equal status with logos, which means the attempt to talk about the meaning of life has to be forced through the filter of logos. That is why the theory of creation is not at the same level as the theory of evolution. Any attempt to turn Christian doctrine into scientific fact ends in a mutant discourse that is neither good science nor good theology.

Edited by davidm, 17 October 2008 - 06:27 PM.


#2 The Heretic

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Posted 17 October 2008 - 09:08 PM

Thanks for quoting me david :)

However, I'm more interested in the anthropocentric aspects of the design argument, that our universe was a worthwhile effort before the universe was created, and this idea appeals to our anthropocentrism. In order to defend against this charge the design proponents need to presuppose a theory of objective value, or an independent rationale why an intelligent entity is likely to design our universe.

Because anthropocentrism relies on a worldview that is premodern (Geocentrism was a natural result of this worldview), it is no wonder modernists who want to legitimize certain aspects of religion are still comfortably embedded in this lapsed paradigm.
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#3 Steve Petermann

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Posted 17 October 2008 - 09:52 PM

davidm said:

The question becomes, how does one extend ID from metaphysics to science?

I lost interest in this question (as phrased) some time ago.  This first thing I think that any argumentation regarding ID should do is leave out entirely the term science.  It's such a loaded term that using it inevitably leads to all sorts of unproductive tangents.  However, that does not mean that the rigors commonly associated with the scientific endeavor should be ignored or discounted.  To the contrary.  What interests me is how to adjudicate the question of design/non-design within the rigors of reason, interpretations of observation, testing, reasonable falsification, etc.  However, having said that I am not convinced that the results of such investigations can lead to a definitive answer, either pro or con ID.  There are certainly clues that can be explored, suggesting one or the other but absent some drop-dead formal means of detecting intentionality or non-intentionality in evolution all that one is left with (at least at this point) is some intuitive hunch. To date scientific explorations into the ultimate causes of events has floundered. Quantum theory is the fundamental physical science and still has not been able to reach beyond a certain point to ultimate causes and their characterization.  The proximate characterization of these events stochastically does not offer an answer.  Many events we commonly associate with agency and intentionally have stochastic features. So what I think those who find some form of ID empirically appealing should do it is leave out the science terminology, admit the lack of certainty, and let the evidence and arguments be what they may for others to decide. My own view is that, at least for now, I find the empirical evidence compelling for some form of teleology. However, any arguments based on the data absent some formal detection scheme one way or the other, end up with some intuitive sense that this or that looks designed or not designed. Evidence for descent with modification only offers a convincing rebuttal for certain ID approaches, not teleology itself.

If one takes this approach what I have invariably found is that the final end to argumentation, for or against some form of teleology ends up being parsimony or some theological redirection. But as I have argued in the other thread, parsimony against ID is weakened considerably by the fact that organisms appear to be the product of design.


davidm said:

Perhaps another strategy would be to locate the possible domain of design within the field of quantum physics or quantum consciousness. I think Steve Petermann suggest something like this, and I invite him to elaborate if he so chooses.

Actually, I don't really know what to make of physics accept that there appears to be both order and novelty in the structure of the universe. Quantum physics is the queen of reductionist science but as some prominent thinkers i.e. Robert Laughlin, Stuart Kaufmann, P.W. Anderson propose that reductionist explanations are likely not the whole story.  If this is the case then the ultimate cause of things is much more nuanced and complex than earlier thought.  

Several years back I began to question the de facto materialist ontology that prevails in the West.  As early as around 600 B.C. the Carvakan philosophers in the Indus valley claimed that everything was made up of small "things" that had svabhava or "self-natures". This caught on in Greece about a hundred years later in the form of atomism.  That eventually became the prevailing view of science in the West so that the endeavor became to discover the "self-nature" of the universe.  But since this, once again, becomes a question of ultimate cause, one need not accept that the symbols of science represent a self-nature at all.  In fact, recent scientific and philosophical inquiries into phenomenal consciousness have raised profound questions as to the sufficiency of materialist explanations.  The ontology I find to most completely and reasonably answer the deep questions in science and theology is an absolute idealism.  Under that framework since the cosmos is fundamentally mind, the "hard problem" melts away. Things like agency, free will and some form of ID (i.e. teleology) fit in rather nicely.

Edited by Steve Petermann, 17 October 2008 - 10:43 PM.
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#4 davidm

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Posted 17 October 2008 - 10:45 PM

You see, this is why I wish you would post more often, Steve. :mrgreen:

#5 Hugo Holbling

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Posted 18 October 2008 - 08:18 AM

It's good to see you back, Steve. :)

Steve Petermann said:

... any arguments based on the data absent some formal detection scheme one way or the other, end up with some intuitive sense that this or that looks designed or not designed. [...] If one takes this approach what I have invariably found is that the final end to argumentation, for or against some form of teleology ends up being parsimony or some theological redirection.

I don't think the inference is based on parsimony so much as the best explanation, although there's probably crossover. Moreover, the inference is currently (not necessarily always) against teleology for this reason. That is, evolutionary theory provides a way to understand how many things that originally "looked designed" came about without agency, so the biologist, presented with an example of something new that also "looks designed" can infer that there is probably an evolutionary explanation to be found because the best explanation of apparent design is evolutionary processes. On the other hand, characterising the best explanation as one involving teleology has no pedigree, so to speak, because it lacks any framework to back it up.

The situation is actually more complex because of course a theological framework exists. If we have scriptural accounts of creation then the assumption of design will trump the possibility of evolutionary explanation unless or until that explanation becomes plausible enough, which I suppose is why religious people with a sufficient understanding of evolutionary biology - including many ID advocates - accept evolution to one degree or another, invoking design only for those phenomena where an evolutionary explanation is either implausible outright or not yet plausible enough to defeat the assumption of design.

I appreciate that this dichotomy will not get at everything involved (including non-religious teleologists, obviously) but I think looking at matters in this way helps to understand how we "adjudicate the question of design/non-design" at the moment. Although it may be a bias of my own to view it in this way, I think the difference in boundary conditions used by Galileo and Bellarmine (see my Galileo and the Bible) is at work; that is, presupposing a natural explanation and reinterpreting religious texts accordingly unless we have reason not to, or presupposing creation of some kind and reinterpreting scientific results accordingly (etc). Thus our search for a means to adjudicate probably involves more than just a demarcation or methodology to identify design because the judgment may be between interpretive frameworks rather than single instances.

I just want to add, finally, that dissatisfaction with stochastic answers suggests that I was right to point (before) to an assumption of realism on the part of everyone involved in this debate, unless we move to idealism as suggested here.
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#6 Steve Petermann

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Posted 18 October 2008 - 03:19 PM

Hugo Holbling said:

That is, evolutionary theory provides a way to understand how many things that originally "looked designed" came about without agency,...

But what is the basis for "came about without agency"?  Is there a framework that non-teleologists utilize to support this conclusion?  Seems to me this is either an assumption or based on some intuitive sense that the evolutionary process doesn't look like a design process.  Even in Darwinian theory there is a consistent extrapolation that stochastic mutations = unguided mutations.  Why the extrapolation?


Hugo Holbling said:

On the other hand, characterising the best explanation as one involving teleology has no pedigree, so to speak, because it lacks any framework to back it up.

Actually, I think it is the other way around.  I'm unsure what you mean by framework but since there is a long pedigree of philosophical arguments for design, I assume you mean an empirical framework.  If that is the case, as far as I can tell the only available framework for detection of design/non-design is coming from ID proponents.  Of course it is in its infancy but at least it is an attempt to create a formal framework for evaluating empirical observations relative to the design question.

#7 Parody of Language

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Posted 18 October 2008 - 04:22 PM

I think the question this thread has offered has revealed, to me at least, analytical problems with the framework of this debate.

First, is there really a mutually exclusive dichotomy between evolution and design?  The main thing I take away from the theory of evolution as it contributes to my overall world view is a rather algorithmic view of the world.  For instance, there must be a relationship between trees and insects, or between other species of organisms that suggests that in the long run organisms have had a partial role in designing each other.  Now, maybe this isn't considered design because it can't be attributed to a solitary agent, yet even if we attribute the design to a transcendent being it is the very transcendence of such a being that give us little confidence that "solitary" is applicable to this being.  Even further, if even human beings are considered to be intelligent and practice design, and if we are products of evolution, then the two theories are certainly not in contradiction of each other.  So to me it seems we lack clarity of what exactly "intelligent" or "design" means, which really says everything to me about ID's failure as a scientific hypothesis.  This is why davidm's question is really unanswerable unless someone takes the time and effort to mold this theory into a clear hypothesis.

Second, it seems that davidm makes theological assumptions about the nature of a possible intelligent designer for his question, "Who designed the designer?" isn't necessitated by either concepts of intelligence or design.  In any case, if the intelligent designer is a transcendent being, then the question is moot since causality need not apply in transcendence.  The question only applies if the designer is immanent.

Third, I think the irreducible complexity argument against the theory of evolution really is the meat behind this particular kind of objection against the theory of evolution.  The thinking, I think, rolls along the lines that beings with lesser complexity can only be caused by beings with greater complexity, so this appeals to a form of the old notion of causal efficacy.  It used to be believed that in any causal relation the cause must be of greater "power" or "efficacy" than the effect and, in this case, "complexity" takes on the role of efficacy.  That this is a fallacy I think has been clearly demonstrated; but it is also uncharitable to say that those who find sense in this line of thinking are simply deluded by religion.  (Not that I'm saying that anyone here is doing this, I'm more thinking of the militant atheists.)

Dawkins does make the important point that the process of evolution by natural selection isn't a random or arbitrary process, as is often conveyed.  I prefer the term spontaneous to speak to the idea that evolution happens on it's own, which can fill the role of a contrasting term to "purpose".

And the last thing I wanted to add is that, for me, the most persuasive argument against intelligent design is that it seems plausible that if the world was constructed with some kind of design there would hardly be any reason for change.  We wouldn't see "kinds" of species developing into species that break the boundary of essential features that characterize that kind.  It would be possible to take any given feature of the world and determine it's ultimate reason or purpose.

Look at it this way.  If you were born in a vast plastic doll house, would you eventually be able to determine what the purpose of that doll house was?  I think it's possible.  And maybe this is my primary complaint against the ID advocates.  They hold that everything happens for a purpose, as a part of god's plan; yet they hold it impossible for us to establish, with any certainty (beyond faith), what the purpose of various items in the world are.  God's plan is considered a mysterious feature of the world that we mere human beings can never truly appreciate.  So, if this is the case, then ID becomes not just an unscientific, but an empty hypothesis.  It has no use to human intelligence at all.

Edited by Parody of Language, 19 October 2008 - 09:19 AM.
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#8 FreedomOfThought

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Posted 23 October 2008 - 12:27 AM

Perhaps I'm missing the point of this discussion and perhaps this company needs no review on this issue, but some of what has been said gnaws at me because I think science has been unjustly misrepresented at several points (here and elsewhere), although well represented at many other points. Without dissecting the discourse, let me express what is on my mind.

In addition to my formal training in physics and the usual accompanying scientific fields, I have spent a lot of time over my many years reading various college-level textbooks and even some professional publications on various fields of science. I have never encountered a case where any author(s) have ever suggested that any preassumptions regarding non-direction or non-planning were at the core of any scientific inquiry. Perhaps such suggestions or claims are to be found in their individual, non-scientific writings or in some Philosophy of Science, but I've never found such claims in any legitimate, professional sources by the work-a-day scientists. Nor have I ever been taught that in any of my science classes. In fact, quite the contrary. However, I have seen such claims from those offering an alternative "theory" to the mainstream views. Indeed, it is the fundamental approach of the proponents of Creationism/Intelligent Design and largely their entire argument. It is by this mechanism that science obtains its unwarranted disreputation of harboring unjustified preassumptions.

Science preassumes nothing beyond the rules of reasoning, the scientific method, and the notion that we can trust our eyes and our instruments to accurately record the values of the observable quantities (which does preassume some form of materialism). Science observes, it collates and correlates, and it tries to offer interpretations of the observations. Copernicus didn't say, "I absolutely believe the sun is at the center of the universe. Now let me find some evidence to prove it". And Darwin didn't say, "I absolutely believe Genesis is wrong, let me find some evidence to prove it". (And even if they did, they shouldn't have.) They said, "Here's some interesting observations. Let's see how many different explanations we can find for them and then see which explanations survive the tests". With all due respect, when Steve Petermann says on his web site that he is: "Developing a theistic religious framework that I hope is existentially compelling and at the same time systematically sound, "naturalistic", and science friendly", he is not doing science. If he said that he is: "Gathering the facts and developing a consistent interpretation to try to understand as much as we can about how everything works", then he would be doing science. If the result of Steve's consistent interpretation is that there is some "intelligent designer" driving the whole thing and that claim can be tested in laboratories all over the world, then that would be science. That's not to say that Steve should not pursue his goal of developing such a framework, and I hope he will, but if he has reached his conclusion and is just casting around for ways to support it, then the result will be philosophy, or faith, or perhaps religion, but it won't be science. Of course, that may be exactly what he intends, and there is nothing at all wrong with that...as long as no one attempts to conflate it with science. (I don't mean to pick on poor, olde Steve, he just happened to be in the line of fire. I look forward to reading his posts and browsing his website. I just felt I had to speak up on this issue while I was able to steal a moment away from my other duties even though I have not yet had time to fully appreciate Steve's undoubtedly brilliant discourses.)

Science does not care whether god exists or not. If the question could ever be put in a form that science can approach, and if the conclusion reached after appropriate analysis of the data were to be "Yes, god exists", then science would ask the next question: "What are the mathematical formulae that describe how much and at what rate god interacts with matter and energy?", etc. This has been the hardest thing for the IDists to understand. Even if we can show that god exists, science isn't going to drop to its knees (so to speak) and start worshiping the thing. It's going to try to figure out how the thing does what it does. Science is self-correcting and never quits asking questions. There is no "final cause" in science because there is no "final question". These are not pre-assumptions; they are consequences of using the scientific method.

Another point that continually dismays me is that the only alternative ever offered to modern evolution is ID. Any scientist that deserves to be so called should be able to offer at least a few alternative hypotheses and criticisms of his or her pet theory. Even if we merge all the supernatural/mystical suggestions into one teleology, there are still competing alternatives. For example, perhaps life can actually modify the environment to suit its needs, or perhaps all organisms contain within themselves all possible forms and it is changes in the environment that solicit well-adapted forms to emerge. The point is, how honest is the attempt to explain the observations if only one alternative is pursued? (Modern evolution already confronted its alternative theories and survived all the tests so far.)

Parody of Language said: "I think the question this thread has offered has revealed, to me at least, analytical problems with the framework of this debate." and then goes on to explain why. I agree. I also think my points above support his points, and perhaps illuminate a few more.

I'm not defending science as I would defend my political or religious views as purely a matter of opinion where you are wrong and I am right. I have some first-hand knowledge of the scientific method in action and a good bit of formal training in it and I have seen for far too long, too many misrepresentations and/or misunderstandings of what science is and how it actually works. I offer this post in an attempt to avoid such misunderstandings in such an otherwise promising discussion.

Ok, you may return to your discussion. Sorry for the interruption.

Hugs & kisses to all (especially poor, olde Steve),
FreedomOfThought.

Just for fun, let me include a few pithy quotes (directed at no one, just some things I've come across):

Science is self-correcting. Religion is self-promoting.

In science, the question is more important than the answer. Science does not care what the answer is, it just wants to know. Whatever the answer is, science will always ask the next question. In religion, on the other hand, the answer is the most important thing. It does not matter what the question is, the answer is always the same. Why is the sky blue? Because that's the way God planned it. Why are there so many different kinds of animals in the world? Because that's the way God planned it. And so on.

Biological evolution is the physical mechanism God chose to bring about the diversity of life we see in the world today.

Physicists are closer to knowing the mind of God than are theologians.

If God had wanted me to understand, He would have given me some brains and a bit of curiosity to drive them.

Edited by FreedomOfThought, 23 October 2008 - 05:31 AM.
Fix clumsy blunders regarding materialism.


#9 Angakuk

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Posted 23 October 2008 - 12:49 AM

FreedomOfThought said:

In science, the question is more important than the answer. Science does not care what the answer is, it just wants to know. Whatever the answer is, science will always ask the next question. In religion, on the other hand, the answer is the most important thing. It does not matter what the question is, the answer is always the same. Why is the sky blue? Because that's the way God planned it. Why are there so many different kinds of animals in the world? Because that's the way God planned it. And so on.

This reminded me of an old joke.

The Sunday School teacher asked her class the following question.

What is small, gray, furry, has a bushy tail, lives in a tree and eats nuts?

There was long silent pause until finally one student tentatively raised his hand.

"Yes, Johnny, do you know the answer?", asked the teacher.

"Well, teacher", replied Johnny, "it sounds an awful lot like a squirrel, but I know the answer is supposed to be Jesus".


Sorry folks, I just couldn't resist.

Angakuk
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#10 Parody of Language

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Posted 23 October 2008 - 05:35 AM

FreedomOfThought said:

Another point that continually dismays me is that the only alternative ever offered to modern evolution is ID. Any scientist that deserves to be so called should be able to offer at least a few alternative hypotheses and criticisms of his or her pet theory.
What about Lamarckism?  You could contrast the theory of evolution by natural selection with the theory of evolution by acquired characteristics.  The real poverty of this debate is the lack of any historical context, that the modern theory of evolution didn't all happen at once.  And I don't think the modern theory of evolution can be properly understood unless it is seen in contrast to the theories in which it has had contest.  So, at one time, I suppose, you had two equally compelling scientific theories: Darwinism and Lamarchism.  They were both proper abductions based on the evidence, but when you have two contesting theories that can explain the evidence then you just need to perform a deduction to determine at what points do these two theories differ.  If there are no points at which the theories differ, then they aren't clear and distinct ideas, and it may not even be possible to distinguish between them at all (they lack distinctness).

So, one way to understand the modern theory of evolution is as the negative of theories in the past that have been proposed in contest with the modern theory: so evolution is not-Lamarckism, not-species-essentalism, not-orthogenesis and not-saltationism.  (The latter two I just found here.)  So I think understanding the rival theories is helpful, if not essential, to understanding the currently accepted doctrine as it now exists. (A thought experiment: Does being not-intelligent-design tell us anything at all about what the current theory of evolution is?  What features of the world would be different if intelligent design were true or false?)

And understanding the historical lineage of the current theory I think also defeats many of the claims that the belief in the modern theory of evolution is ideological or agenda-driven.

"FreedomofThought" said:

I'm not defending science as I would defend my political or religious views as purely a matter of opinion where you are wrong and I am right. I have some first-hand knowledge of the scientific method in action and a good bit of formal training in it and I have seen for far too long, too many misrepresentations and/or misunderstandings of what science is and how it actually works. I offer this post in an attempt to avoid such misunderstandings in such an otherwise promising discussion.
I think you're talking about the differences between inquiry and faith, which are fundamentally different approaches to the pursuit of knowledge.  And I think many religious people are confused about what faith is.  Faith really isn't a means to knowledge, at best it is the acceptance that one can't make a claim to knowledge.  Faith is a way of attaining belief when one realizes one is ignorant; inquiry is the other.  And there's always plenty of room for faith on matters that don't permit further inquiry.
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#11 FreedomOfThought

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Posted 23 October 2008 - 05:46 AM

PoL: As usual, it will take me a bit of time to digest your wonderous post. You always leave me at a point where I have to think more than I thought I would. Its 2AM here and I need to get back to bed before my wife wakes up, finds me gone, and beats the crap out of me for being up so late, but I did want to just say that I did mention that "Modern evolution already confronted its alternative theories and survived all the tests so far". Your points are good and deserve more reflection than I can offer at the moment. For now, good night (or morning as the case may be). Fot.

#12 Parody of Language

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Posted 23 October 2008 - 05:50 AM

I also wanted to add that in my first post in this thread was hinting at what I think would be a plausible candidate to supplant the rather unhelpful methodological naturalism.  Does anyone here see any potential objections to a sort of methodological immanent-ism instead?  That is, if scientists are to undergo inquiry at all, doesn't it make sense that only immanent beings could suffice as possible explanations for phenomenon?  So, in this case, the problem with intelligent design isn't that the intelligent designer is supposed to be supernatural, but that the overall design is supposed to be transcendental*.  Something transcendental is, of course, beyond comprehension, so it seems clearly contradictory to me to employ something beyond comprehension to explain phenomenon.

And, in turn, the debate might turn more fruitful for we'll probably understand quite a bit more about science and religion at the same time.

Strategically, this would simply put religions on the defensive and would actually end up promoting atheism.  But my tactics are far more subtle, and it will take some time for people to figure this out.  Wait, was I not supposed to say this out loud? :)

* Sorry for the Kantians here, I know I'm probably misusing the distinction between transcendent and transcendental.  I wonder if the theological idea and the Kantian idea overlap in some way.
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#13 Mathsteach2

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Posted 26 October 2008 - 12:09 AM

My apologies for not responding to what has already been said in this thread, I am working on it :-). My motive is quite open, I just want to get my own oar in!

Some time back I began to write some contributions to other threads on the topic of ID, but never finished them! This thread has now prompted me to have another attempt, and I will begin this post here by just including my earlier attempts. I wrote:

"For a quick reply to you, Davidm, I am trying to answer some of your requests in this post of yours for evidence regarding ID. My latest reading is in this link, and I am still reading it and trying to follow up its links. There is an attempt here to provide evidence for ID, I think, but of course I stand to be advised otherwise!"

http://www.evolution...proponents.html

and :

"I will go along with pretty well everything you have said in your post, Parody of Language, but I do feel that you use the word "faith", or some meaning of it, in a rather restricted sense. You seem to be identifying it solely with religious faith. My old dictionary (Garmonsway, Penguin, 1965) gives first that faith is "reliance, trust, confidence;" and then says,  "belief, esp. in religious doctrines". I guess we are all familiar with the Bible reference: 'To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.' (Heb. 11.1), and I notice, bearing in mind that I am taking the scripture out of its context, that there is no reference to a specifically religious faith. I feel there are faith aspects in all of our human endeavours, including science."

I do not wish to interrupt this thread with any diversionary tactics, and certainly not dishonesty or disingeniousness. However, I am hoping to engage in this conversation, attracted by the title of the thread, but let me state again my own position at the moment, and I am still searching. I beleive in God, and try to be a good Christian (!) and am willing to engage with anyone even if their views are contrary to mine, or even downright weird (in my opinion). Many of my wife’s family here in Barbados are Seventh Day Adventists, and there are amongst them highly qualified (in science and engineering, as well as in theology) men and women who are also Young Earth Creationists. Concerning the teaching of science in schools, I think Michael Reiss advocated a sensible approach, and The Royal Society did itself no favours with its reaction to him. I have never seen anything wrong with looking at the scientific investigation of all sorts of phenomena. The paranormal, astrology, water divining, whatever, all come to the attention of our students, and they do ask questions in their science lessons. Mostly they are not answered well because as science teachers we say that we do not have the time as we must get through the syllabus in preparation for their examinations, or we simply say, “It’s not science”.

Well, I do argue, (but am open to listen to alternative views) that science comes into all of our human activities by focusing on our spiritual development. Spirituality is a cross-curriculum topic in schools and holds a place in the curricula of all of the developed countries of the world. I remember well the derision I received in a rather abusive teachers’ website in the UK, when I suggested that there should be a spiritual element in our science lessons. One science teacher asked if that meant that we should use black candles whilst we were studying burning! (I think I have given that little tale elsewhere in this site, sorry!). I have always taught the theory of evolution as precisely that, a theory, along with the electron theory of metals, or the theory of gravity, for instance. Well-supported empirically, but not necessarily convincingly, and perhaps not as well-supported as some of these other theories in science. Intelligent design, I personally see only as an interesting, but certainly scientific, hypothesis, as it has yet to produce the empirical evidence to qualify it as a theory. I claim it is scientific, because I feel that our understanding of science should include some recognition of its spiritual manifestations, as required by the cross-curricula aspects of all of our teaching.

That is my pre-amble to my post. I now want to address directly the title of this thread. My link above may well now be out-of-date, but my most recent reading from the ID brigade is this:

http://www.discovery...ownload&id=3241

I am not one to read lengthy tracts on a computer screen, so I downloaded the PDF file and then printed it out, so I could read it at my leisure on our patio here in Barbados, with a rum punch in my hand! These are my observations:

1. Throughout, S. C. Meyer sometimes says hypothesis for ID, but mostly he calls it a theory. I understand even the Bible has a problem in this respect with words, sometimes it says soul and sometimes it says spirit, and often conflates/confuses the distinction.

2. I found no fault with his historical survey of the development of ID, and I now am intrigued by this website, which I have recently found:

http://www.pssiinternational.com/

3. I would like to quote this: " (a book by Thaxton, Bradley and Olsen, entitled 'The Mystery of Life's Origin') also made the radical claim that intelligent causes could be legitimately considered as scientific hypotheses within the historical sciences, a mode of enquiry they called origins science."

4. I personally cannot yet find any faults in Meyer's critique of methodological naturalism/materialism, and the latter's implied containment of the scientific endeavour.

5. I was impressed by Meyer's references to C. S. Peirce, and the support thus gained from his philosophy for an inference to the best explanation.

This brief presentation is intended to address the title of this thread. I am quite prepared to be shot down in flames on each of the five points which I have noted concerning my reading of this quite recent contribution from the ID brigade. Their motives may well be dishonest and disingenious, but as I have said above, as a Christian I am prepared to engage in dialogue with anyone.

#14 mitchellmckain

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Posted 26 October 2008 - 12:58 AM

davidm said:

The question becomes, how does one extend ID from metaphysics to science?
Impossible. ID is an attack on the foundational motivation of science by people who do not want a scientific explanation for how the species and life itself came into being. It seeks to tear down that which defines the difference between modern science and theology because of a perceived threat to these people's philosophy of life. But however much I can sympathize with their reasons, I will fight them because they are still a force of ignorance.

Steve Petermann said:

My own view is that, at least for now, I find the empirical evidence compelling for some form of teleology. However, any arguments based on the data absent some formal detection scheme one way or the other, end up with some intuitive sense that this or that looks designed or not designed. Evidence for descent with modification only offers a convincing rebuttal for certain ID approaches, not teleology itself.
I see design in the laws of physics which suggest to me the universe was created specifically for the purpose if giving birth to life. However, this like all perceptions of a teleological element in the universe is a subjective perception. It is inseperable from how we react to the experience of life in general (as in the "all is vanity" thread).


Steve Petermann said:

But as I have argued in the other thread, parsimony against ID is weakened considerably by the fact that organisms appear to be the product of design.
I have been strongly opposed to the claim that living organism are a product of design, believing that the process of life is by its very nature is incompatable with design. However, I realize that in doing so I impose a specific meaning upon the word "design" but one which is typical of the great watchmaker conception of God, who creates from perfect knowledge of what he does. There is however another aspect of design by human beings where we just try things and see where it gets us and that is a very organic process of design quite reminiscent of evolution itself. So I would say that if life has a designer it is in that sense and that the designers are the living things themselves, for contrary to some materialistic characterizations of evolution this is very much an intentional process.

Now for to those of you who know that I am a Christian I would answer your inevitable question concerning where I see God in all of this. For would assert that God is the creator of non only the universe and its laws but also everything living. I think the fallacy of the great watchmaker concept is that watches are not alive and to suggest that God creates living things in this manner is to assert that there is no difference between living organisms and machines which I very much deny. But we do have examples of creators of life in our experience, the farmer, shepherd and teacher, and it is these which are applicable to the role of God in the creation of living things. For this is a role which does not contradict the idea that living things "design" themselves, via the choices they make. This would be as a species in the case of plants and animals, for only in the case of the human being does the individual organism becoming a significant part of the learning process by which they develop.


Steve Petermann said:

Actually, I don't really know what to make of physics accept that there appears to be both order and novelty in the structure of the universe. Quantum physics is the queen of reductionist science but as some prominent thinkers i.e. Robert Laughlin, Stuart Kaufmann, P.W. Anderson propose that reductionist explanations are likely not the whole story. If this is the case then the ultimate cause of things is much more nuanced and complex than earlier thought.
Yes quantum physics is better described as the end of reductionist science. But the other side of the picture that physics has been revealing to us in General Relativity and M theory is that everything in the universe is part of a single geometric whole and that what we are (physically) is not exclusively a matter of what we are made of but the relationships that we have to everything else as parts of a greater whole.

Edited by mitchellmckain, 26 October 2008 - 01:35 AM.


#15 davidm

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Posted 26 October 2008 - 03:02 PM

This has certainly "evolved" into a most interesting thread, and I thank everyone for their participation in it.

I do notice some trepidatons and apologies for posting this and that. You shouldn't feel the need to do this at all. If some of you are concerned that a couple of ID advocates were banned (and which advocates prompted me to start this thread), I hope it is abundantly clear that they were banned NOT for advocating ID, but rather for continuously evading points and questions that I and others put to them; for asking questions and ignorning responses; and in general for a persistent disingenuousness that suggested they were more interesting in employing talking points than they were in engaging in genuine discussion and dialogue.

I don't detect any of that in this thread; quite to the contary.

#16 Steve Petermann

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Posted 26 October 2008 - 04:42 PM

mitchellmckain said:

I have been strongly opposed to the claim that living organism are a product of design, believing that the process of life is by its very nature is incompatible with design. However, I realize that in doing so I impose a specific meaning upon the word "design" but one which is typical of the great watchmaker conception of God, who creates from perfect knowledge of what he does. There is however another aspect of design by human beings where we just try things and see where it gets us and that is a very organic process of design quite reminiscent of evolution itself. So I would say that if life has a designer it is in that sense and that the designers are the living things themselves, for contrary to some materialistic characterizations of evolution this is very much an intentional process.

I don't care for the watchmaker metaphor either.  I don't even like the term "design". See here.  In theology this stems, in my view, from the adoption of the Greek atomistic ontology into Western theology.  This led to the classic theism we find in the Abrahamic religions.  In the East there are holistic ontologies. The ones which I find appealing are Visishtadvaitism and Sri Aurobindo's religious philosophy.  I don't agree with them that the purpose of life is to attain perfection and coming from the Hindu tradition they often have lots of philosophical excess and strange aspects. However they espouse an ontology I find appealing.  They are based on a "qualified monism" or what I call an aspect monism. In this ontology there is no ontological distinction (as in classic theism) between God and the cosmos.  Instead the cosmos is an aspect of God. Also the cosmos is fundamentally mind (absolute idealism) or as Sri Aurobindo claims, Supermind. This has similarities to some forms of panentheism in the West and in Christianity.  "Design" in this framework is not interventionist because there is no ontological divide (distinct self-natures as in atomism) between God and the cosmos, but rather a "self-telos" of God and God's aspects.  

I offer this to show that ID as a teleological exploration need not be limited to a Christian theology as is often thought.  Instead it can be seen, at least I do, as an interesting form of empirical theology.  I shared some of my thoughts on this here.

While I don't agree with most of the goals of the ID movement, I do appreciate that major proponents affirm that ID, per se, is theologically neutral (the designers could be aliens).  This leaves open the possibility for theological interpretations that even challenge Christianity (which most prominent proponents claim to accept).  However, one thing that is interesting about this debate is how empirical and theological arguments intermix so regularly and muddle the discussion.  To my mind there are two relatively distinct questions.  Can design/non-design be empirically detected relative to evolution? And if so, what does the empirical evidence and its interpretation suggest theologically?

#17 maddog

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Posted 27 October 2008 - 12:10 AM

I have problems with the notion of "intelligent design" from the beginning, because of problems with vocabulary, language, semantics.  

In some ways, "intelligent design" is redundant or a misnomer, because the word "design," by itself, connotes the notion of the intentionality of an actor.  The word "intelligent" in that case does not add anything to the concept of "design."  The "intelligent design" movement, I think, historically takes its inspiration from Paley's found watch hypothetical.  I've described elsewhere the problems I have with the "found watch" argument.  In short, the argument tries to use "what's DIFFERENT about a watch compared to everything where you find it" to argue that "therefore everything that is around the watch that is DIFFERENT from the watch is the SAME as the watch."   It's logically incoherent to me.  It destroys the very distinction between "design" and "nature" that it is trying to draw in the first place.  

But then, besides "design," there is a problem for me with the word "intelligent."  "Intelligence" is attributed only to live animals with brains.  But the live animals with brains are what are supposed to be "intelligently designed," in contradistinction to recognizing any possibility that life, animals, animals with brains, or intelligence manifested in such animals with brains, could ever have developed naturally without the intervention of some designer.    For this argument to hold water, "intelligence" must thus logically precede "design."  But "intelligence" has only ever been observed in things that exist after "design" has already occurred.  

The argument for "intelligent design" is largely carried on by human beings with a particular religious agenda.  It is a religious statement which is linguistically and logically, so far, incoherent and self-contradictory.  

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#18 Parody of Language

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Posted 27 October 2008 - 08:53 AM

I find you arguments solid maddog.  But, just in case, lets try this one on for size:

Let's say you're walking along the beach and you find a universe lying on the sand.  When you inspect the universe, how do you know if it was designed?  What if there was a watch in that universe?  Maybe our universe is really just a big watch?  But if the universe is all that is, and is a great big watch, how would you know if it kept the right time?  And if it wasn't meant to keep the right time, then whatever can it mean to say that it was designed?

I'm kidding; I'm kidding.  No one believes this stuff.
"Equally opposed to both light and darkness, we have become more gray." --Who Are the Discontent?

#19 davidm

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Posted 27 October 2008 - 01:26 PM

Let’s take a look at the paper by Steven C. Meyer that Mathsteach2 linked here.

He begins by mentioning that the philosopher Anthony Flew had repudiated his lifelong commitment to atheism, based on some design argument. (I believe Flew has subsequently gone back to atheism, but I could be wrong about that). I am afraid that the paper already gets off on the wrong foot. What difference does it make if Flew rejected atheism based on a design argument? If a prominent theist were to reject theism because he decided that the theory of evolution was correct, would this constitute an argument against the existence of God, or for the theory of evolution?

This sort of flaw crops up repeatedly in the paper: appeals to popularity and to authority. Yet such appeals have no bearing on anything.

He goes on to survey the history of the design argument and its impact on science and philosophy. No one disputes this history, yet again, its relevance is questionable. His biggest appeal to authority is to invoke Newton on design:

Quote

How came the Bodies of Animals to be contrived with so much Art, and for what ends were their several parts? Was the Eye contrived without Skill in Opticks, and the Ear without Knowledge of Sounds? [...] And these things being rightly dispatch’d, does it not appear from Phænomena that there is a Being incorporeal, living, intelligent, omnipresent [...]. (Newton 1952: 369-70.)

I don’t dispute the value of a survey of the history of the design argument, but what does Newton’s quote tell us? Nothing much, except that Newton was unfamiliar with Darwin; unsurprisingly, because Darwin lived after Newton. The above quote, in essence, is nothing more than an argument to incredulity; one wonders whether Meyer thinks that such an argument is any less fallacious for being uttered by one of history’s greatest thinkers. It isn’t.

He goes on to discuss Hume’s objections to design arguments, the advent of Darwin and then the neo-Darwinian synthesis. He then goes on to say that in recent decades, doubts have arisen about the efficacy of the synthesis to account for the complexity of life, and then he cites a number of books that raise these doubts. This again is an appeal to authority; he is citing the very authors with whom he agrees. Because someone might write a book casting doubt on something, is that an argument that the doubt is justified?

He then quotes Gould: “The neo-Darwinism synthesis is effectively dead, despite its continued presence as textbook orthodoxy.”

It’s this sort of out-of-context use of quotes that troubles me, and which seems to arise so often among ID advocates. One would think, absent further information, given the context of Meyer’s discussion, that Gould was rejecting descent with modification and assenting to some design hypothesis. Nothing could be further from the truth, and yet the quote just sits there on the page, stripped of context.

Just before the Gould quote, we get this from Meyer:

Quote

…prominent spokesmen for evolutionary theory must now periodically assure the public that “just because we don’t know how evolution occurred, does not justify doubt about whether it occurred.”

This quote contains a footnote, which directs the reader to the following:

Quote

“There is absolutely no disagreement among professional biologists on the fact that evolution has occurred. [...] But the theory of how evolution occurs is quite another matter, and is the subject of intense dispute” (Futuyma 1985: 3-13). Of course, to admit that natural selection cannot explain the appearance of design is in effect to admit that it has failed to perform the role that is claimed for it as a “designer substitute.”

That’s simply incorrect. Futuyma was not denying that natural selection accounted for the appearance of design. He was simply pointing out that there are a variety of mechanisms operating within evolution and there exists debate over how much weight should be given one over the other. This is another out-of-context quote.

So, six pages into his paper, Meyer has devoted most of his time to a survey of design hypotheses in history that every educated person is already aware of, peppered with appeals to authority and to popularity, and seasoned with out-of-context quotes. But where is the science?

It begins with his discussion of DNA and likening it to a code. He writes, “…further discoveries made clear that the digital information in DNA and RNA is only part of a complex information processing system – an advanced form of nanotechnology
that both mirrors and exceeds our own in its complexity, design logic and information
storage density.”

My own impression of this sort of approach is that discussing DNA as a code is a kind of fallacy of analogy, in which an analogy is taken to be identical with what it represents. When Meyers talks about the “code” and an “information processing system” and “nanotechnology,” he is in effect begging the question: He is saying that the DNA structure really is “nanotechnology” rather than like nanotechnology. If that were true, then the structures in question really would be designed, because nanotechnology is designed technology. But that’s precisely the point that needs to be proved! So far he hasn’t done it, at least not up through Page Seven.

He then goes on to trace the roots of the intelligent design hypothesis. He traces them to the 1960s, when “mathematicians, engineers and physicists were beginning to express
doubts that random mutations could generate the genetic information needed to produce crucial evolutionary transitions in the time available to the evolutionary process.” The gist of  this argument is that there are so many possible combinations, most of them useless to life, that evolution by random mutation would simply not have enough time for life to start, or for crucial evolutionary jumps to be made (this section of the argument seems to equivocate between abiogenesis and evolution.)

Now, I’m not anything like an expert in this sort of mathematics, but I’m a pretty good reader, and I notice that this entire discussion precludes, until the very end of a long paragraph, a key point. And that point is bolded below, taken from Meyer’s text:

Quote

And they insisted that a similar problem confronts any mechanism that relies on random mutations to search large combinatorial spaces for sequences capable of performing novel function – even if, as is the case in biology, some mechanism of selection can act after the fact to preserve functional sequences once they have arisen.

Yes, that mechanism is natural selection. Prior to nodding at this rather important point, Meyer’s whole sense of the issue seems to be that evolution is entirely random, but it isn’t. And yet – others with much more expertise in these sorts of combinatorial math issues might wish to address this point; I know Hugo has written on some of this before – even if the process had been or is entirely random, there is nothing startling about something with exceptionally low probability happening. Exceptionally low probability events happen all the time. The next time you pick up the paper and read about someone winning the lottery, you know that person has beaten astronomical odds.

It must also be pointed out that in an infinite universe (and the evidence suggests that the universe is infinite), any event with a non-zero probability of happening, no matter how unlikely, will happen, and will happen an infinite number of times! See discussion on this point by the philosopher Bradley Monton, one of the people interviewed in our Manuscripts section right here at the library.

I will stop now; I have only touched on the first eight pages of a 33-page paper, so I will break up my discussion into several posts. More later.

#20 Parody of Language

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Posted 27 October 2008 - 06:37 PM

Great post davidm.  Your central points are well-argued.  But the comments near the end of your post I found interesting, though they are more about probability than evolution.

davidm said:

Yes, that mechanism is natural selection. Prior to nodding at this rather important point, Meyer’s whole sense of the issue seems to be that evolution is entirely random, but it isn’t. And yet – others with much more expertise in these sorts of combinatorial math issues might wish to address this point; I know Hugo has written on some of this before – even if the process had been or is entirely random, there is nothing startling about something with exceptionally low probability happening. Exceptionally low probability events happen all the time. The next time you pick up the paper and read about someone winning the lottery, you know that person has beaten astronomical odds.
I think there's a modal shift occurring.  You're right that the odds of that person winning the lottery is astronomically low; yet, the odds of someone winning the lottery is actually quite high, in some cases 100%.  So the question is, given the universe as a whole sitting for an eternity, is the probability of life occurring or evolving in an extropic way more like that one lucky winner in the lottery, or more like the chances that someone will eventually win.  If it was astronomically unlikely that an eye, a hand, or a hoof would develop, that would be problematic for the theory of evolution.  Evolutionary scientists, as I see it, need to establish that the chances are actually quite good.  "Exceptionally low probability events happen all the time," doesn't cut it.

But I think evolutionary scientists have fulfilled this burden, and that's the substance of the modern theory.  They can predict that between two individuals of a species that X% of their offspring will bear trait P, and that (100-X)% will not.  They can also predict that Y% of individuals with trait P will not survive.  And through models, and I don't know the details, they can determine why individuals without P will eventually predominate in an area.  To tie into the PoS thread I posted recently, this is a pretty straightforward deductive model that derives from the theory of evolution.  And does the evidence support this model?  It certainly seems to.

Quote

It must also be pointed out that in an infinite universe (and the evidence suggests that the universe is infinite), any event with a non-zero probability of happening, no matter how unlikely, will happen, and will happen an infinite number of times! See discussion on this point by the philosopher Bradley Monton, one of the people interviewed in our Manuscripts section right here at the library.
I disagree.  If you look at our universe as just one possible universe and, for the sake of argument, you divide each possible universe (for the division is merely arbitrary) such that each possible universe has the same probability of being the case, then if the odds of an event occurring in this universe were very slim then it is possible that in this universe that the event will never occur.  No matter how many times you roll a die it is always possible, no matter how improbable, that the die will never in eternity roll a six.
"Equally opposed to both light and darkness, we have become more gray." --Who Are the Discontent?

#21 mitchellmckain

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Posted 28 October 2008 - 01:15 AM

davidm said:

It must also be pointed out that in an infinite universe (and the evidence suggests that the universe is infinite), any event with a non-zero probability of happening, no matter how unlikely, will happen, and will happen an infinite number of times! See discussion on this point by the philosopher Bradley Monton, one of the people interviewed in our Manuscripts section right here at the library.

As much as I may agree with the rest of your post, with this I must completely disagree.  At most you can find many scientists who will say that we do not know for sure.   But from my own studies of General Relativity and Big Bang, the general pesumption is the the universe is finite.  Thus I think the predominant view is that the universe is finite but unbounded.  This is after all the simpler explanation.  I do suppose that one might make the theory working with an infinite universe, but evidence for it?  Not only is there no such evidence for this but I cannot even see how there could be such evidence.  We might one day find evidence to verify that the universe is finite but I don't see how we could find empirical evidence that it is infinite.  You cannot even take the lack of evidence for a finite universe to be evidence for an infinite universe because we have a reason to believe that the visible portion of the universe is decreasing rather than increasing.

#22 Timothy

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Posted 28 October 2008 - 06:52 AM

Yeah... even a spatially infinite universe doesn't guarantee either that matter is infinite, OR that it is organised in an infinite number of combinations. There's nothing inconceivable about an infinite universe of uniformly distributed molecular hydrogen, say with laws of physics slightly different such that any heavier atoms cannot form.

Really, the whole infinitely varied universe thing is just a silly idea. I'm open minded enough to see that even silly ideas shouldn't necessarily be just binned out of hand, but we should probably keep in mind that, yeah, they are a bit silly and not get carried away, you know what I'm sayin?

#23 Timothy

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Posted 28 October 2008 - 07:18 AM

I should add that the idea that we can use this concept of an infinite universe in which everything happens to 'save' the theory of natural selection, would be most extremely unsatisfactory to pretty much everyone involved, creationists/IDers and biologists alike.

#24 davidm

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Posted 28 October 2008 - 12:53 PM

Before resuming my own look at the paper in question, I did want to stress that I don’t think that we need an infinite universe in which everything that can happen, does happen, to defeat the claim that the evolution of life was too improbable to happen. I think Dembski’s “specified complexity” case against evolution fails to hold up for more prosaic reasons.  My mentioning of the infinite universe objection to Dembski at the end of the last post was actually rather tangential to the whole argument, but I find it interesting nonetheless.

By “infinite,” it should be noted that the argument assumes a spatially infinite universe, not necessarily a temporally infinite one. A spatially infinite universe is compatible with the Big Bang. Moreover, we do have solid empirical evidence that the universe is spatially infinite; i.e., that the universe is not limited in extent to that which we can observe. That is, we have empirical evidence against the idea that the universe is finite but unbounded.

For those interested, the full argument for anything with a non-zero probability happening infinitely many times in an infinite universe is in the following paper: The Infinite Universe and Dembski’s Design Inference.

It’s true, of course, as the author, Bradley Monton, explains in the paper, that even in an infinite universe, certain assumptions must hold for the argument to go through; e.g., that matter is distributed more or less uniformly throughout the universe (and evidence suggests that this is the case). I will quote one passage from the paper about the empirical evidence for an infinite universe:

Quote

The evidence from physics is strongly in favor of the hypothesis that the universe is spatially infinite. This is not just my own opinion; I’m describing the mainstream view of contemporary cosmologists. I will discuss two sorts of evidence, observational and theoretical.

The observational evidence consists of various experiments all of which suggest that on a
large scale space is not curved. In other words, space is not like the surface of a sphere, it’s like a plane – it goes on forever. For example, as one looks further and further out in space, one is looking backwards in time, since it takes time for light (or other forms of electromagnetic radiation) to reach us. The Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) is the part of the universe that we can measure furthest back in time. We see the CMB whichever direction in space we look; how the CMB changes as we look in different directions gives insight into the structure of space. Recent measurements of the temperature fluctuations in the CMB strongly suggest that space is flat, and hence infinite.

The most important measurements were done by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy
Probe (WMAP), a satellite that NASA launched into space in June 2001. In February 2003, the first set of data was released, and that strongly confirmed that the universe is spatially infinite. Specifically, before the WMAP results the universe was predicted to be spatially infinite with a 15% margin of error; WMAP has reduced that margin of error to an impressive 2%.1

The theoretical evidence for the universe being spatially infinite comes from inflationary
cosmology, which is now the most widely accepted theory cosmologists use to describe the evolution of the universe after the big bang. Inflationary cosmology predicts that the universe is spatially infinite. (See for example Guth 2000, p. 571 or Garriga and Vilenkin 2001 for details.)

There are various motivations for inflationary cosmology; it explains various features of the universe (like the large-scale-uniformity of the universe, and the density of photons in the universe) that are left unexplained given a non-inflationary picture. I’m not going to go into the details of the motivations for believing the inflation theory, in part because the issues are complicated, and in part the argument for inflation is an indirect theoretical one. The fact is that the inflationary picture is widely accepted by cosmologists, and it predicts that the universe is spatially infinite. Moreover, the detailed empirical data gathered from WMAP strongly suggests that the universe is spatially infinite. I conclude that the universe is probably spatially infinite.

I should add, just as a point of interest, that the physicist Max Tegmark accepts the idea that the universe is spatially infinite and that matter distribution is more or less uniform throughout it. That part of the universe which we can observe is known as its Hubble volume. According to Tegmark, a mathematical calculation shows that four Hubble volumes – i.e., a distance four times greater than the observable universe – is the maximum distance that you would need to travel to meet an exact duplicate of yourself on an exact duplicate of the planet earth.

However, if anyone wishes to discuss this astonishing claim, I would say do it in another thread; you might also check out TGL’s interview with Bradley Monton.

#25 davidm

davidm

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Posted 28 October 2008 - 01:01 PM

Parody of Language said:

I think there's a modal shift occurring.  You're right that the odds of that person winning the lottery is astronomically low; yet, the odds of someone winning the lottery is actually quite high, in some cases 100%.  So the question is, given the universe as a whole sitting for an eternity, is the probability of life occurring or evolving in an extropic way more like that one lucky winner in the lottery, or more like the chances that someone will eventually win.  If it was astronomically unlikely that an eye, a hand, or a hoof would develop, that would be problematic for the theory of evolution.  Evolutionary scientists, as I see it, need to establish that the chances are actually quite good.  "Exceptionally low probability events happen all the time," doesn't cut it.

Right, see my latest post. I wanted to make clear that I don't think the "infinite universe" argument is needed to account for the appearance of life; the point was mainly made as a parenthetical aside.


Quote

I disagree.  If you look at our universe as just one possible universe and, for the sake of argument, you divide each possible universe (for the division is merely arbitrary) such that each possible universe has the same probability of being the case, then if the odds of an event occurring in this universe were very slim then it is possible that in this universe that the event will never occur.  No matter how many times you roll a die it is always possible, no matter how improbable, that the die will never in eternity roll a six.

Acutally, Monton discusses this point too in the paper that I linked to in my post before this one; we have even discussed this with Monton here at the library.




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