Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Vallicella on God of the Gaps reasoning

This is a a discussion from Vallicella on God of the Gaps reasoning. Check out his critique of Dawkins as well.

http://maverickphilosopher.powerblogs.com/posts/1126044454.shtml

13 comments:

Ahab said...

Firstly, the excellent article that Mr. Vallicella was critiquing can be found HERE here.


Secondly, can Mr. Vallicella read?
Here is a small portion of the above article:
"the claim that something - say the bacterial flagellum - is too complex to have evolved by natural selection is alleged"

And here's a small portion of Mr. V.'s response:
'Observe first of all that there is a difference between what Dawkins and Coyne impute to the proponent of ID, namely, "the bacterial flagellum is too complex to have evolved" and what they should have imputed to him, namely, "the bacterial flagellum is too complex to have evolved by natural selection." '

But that is exactly what Dawkins and Coyne did say: 'evolved by natural selection." Later in the same paragraph they leave off 'by natural selection' but that is quite understandable given that they did mention it at the beginning of the paragraph.


He then goes into a long thing about them accusing ID of circular reasoning, but that is not at all what Dawkins and Coyne are doing here.
He seems to have missed completely the point that even if evolutionary theory were proven to be completely false that does not mean that ID is correct. And he fails to understand the point about complexity. If one is going to reject evolutionary theory because it cannot explain the existence of a complex entity, why should we give ID a pass? It has to be able to explain (using the same scientific methodology) the existence of this so-called intelligent designer.

I've read enough of Mr. V's blog to see that he is an intelligent man who knows a lot about philosophy, but he would make a crappy scientist.

HV said...
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HV said...

Leaving ID aside, I am not sure I buy the idea that it is IN GENERAL wrong or problematic to explain something complex in terms of something more complex. The property of functional complexity that seems to require explanation is its low probability. But the low probability of living functional systems has as a condition the low entropy of the present universe. To say that the entropy is low is equivalent to saying that it is relatively improbable compared to thermodynamic equilibrium. So the low entropy requires an explanation. The explanation is the many orders of magnitude lower entropy of the Big Bang. So a low probability state is explained in terms of an even lower probability state. The low entropy of the Big Bang in turn requires an explanation, but that does not invalidate using it to explain the present low entropy.

Jason Pratt said...

{{Leaving ID aside, I am not sure I buy the idea that it is IN GENERAL wrong or problematic to explain something complex in terms of something more complex.}}

I quite agree, and still would if I was a naturalist. After all, I could hardly argue that the complexity of the most advanced biological organism is _more_ complex than the system of Nature on which it depends (and which must be sole cause of its production if naturalism is true.)

Ahab:

I have similar problems with Bill's analysis (at least the part you mentioned first); but if you think from _this_ he would make a "crappy scientist", then I suggest you consider that his mistake here was philosophical and not strictly scientific. (i.e. if he made a philosophical mistake, and from that you conclude he would make a crappy scientist, you'd better make sure the scientists aren't making philosophical mistakes in their analyses.)


Furthermore, knowing Bill as I do, I know very well he does _NOT_ think that proving evolutionary theory completely false (which I also know he isn't trying to do) will automatically mean that ID is correct. You're doing him an injustice by imputing this to him.


Speaking of philosophical topics, such as category errors (in relation to accuracy of claims by advocates of a scientific theory): it's a category error to claim that if NDT fails to explain a complex entity scientifically, then ID is in the same boat and would necessarily fail just as well because it would have to explain God scientifically.

A theory of process within a system may succeed or fail in explaining the production of an entity (complex or otherwise) by the system; but this is completely different from trying to explain the system itself (much less doing so by appealing to subordinate processes _of_ the system.) ID, per se, doesn't have to scientifically explain the existence of God (whether it succeeds or fails at accounting for production of subordinate entities), any more than NDT, per se, has to scientifically explain the existence of Nature (whether it succeeds or fails at accounting for production of subordinate entities).

Whatever actual mistakes an ID proponent makes, can be dealt with without resorting to such nonsense.


There _is_ good science (and quite a lot of it) on the NDT side of the aisle, even in Dawkins; but a lot of the distrust engendered concerning the theory comes because of sloppy logical moves such as Dawkins (as one example) commonly makes in order to try to protect and promote the theory. He _is_ a crappy philosopher, and this constantly leads to hamstringing his scientific claims. (Contrariwise, when he manages to get his basic logic right, his science comes out proportionately good, and so to that extent is worth accepting and even admiring.)

Not to play favorites: when the ID crew make _their_ mistakes, I can trace pretty clearly they're making them due to being (at those points) crappy philosophers. (e.g. errors in their foundational logic, or avoiding points to protect their position.)

Jason

Ahab said...

Jason wrote:
Speaking of philosophical topics, such as category errors (in relation to accuracy of claims by advocates of a scientific theory): it's a category error to claim that if NDT fails to explain a complex entity scientifically, then ID is in the same boat and would necessarily fail just as well because it would have to explain God scientifically


Well, I thought that the 'official' ID theory does not claim that the desinger is God. Isn't it a little strange how everyone in this discussion seems to assume that it is God?

But if God (or whoever this designer is) is used in a scientific theory then He would be subject to the same scientific study one would normally engage in. You can't have it both ways. You can't insist God is something outside of or apart from scientific inquiry and then try to slip Him in the scientific back door through something like ID.

ID, per se, doesn't have to scientifically explain the existence of God (whether it succeeds or fails at accounting for production of subordinate entities), any more than NDT, per se, has to scientifically explain the existence of Nature (whether it succeeds or fails at accounting for production of subordinate entities).

Evolutionary theory does not try to explain the existence of Nature. Nor does it rely on Nature (in the sense we are using it here) as part of its theory.

I think, Jason, that the above is the crux of any real disagreement we may have here. So I'm not going to go into the rest of your post except to make one clarification: I'm not saying that Bill is making the same mistake as the ID people by assuming that ID is automatically correct if evolutionary theory is wrong. I was trying to point out that he didn't adequately recognize (or missed) Dawkins' and Coyne's critique of that false assumption made by ID'ers.
I think you are quite correct in you assesment that Bill is too astute to make a silly mistake like that.

Mike Darus said...

Ahab wrote: "He seems to have missed completely the point that even if evolutionary theory were proven to be completely false that does not mean that ID is correct."
At first glance this appears to be unimpeachable. However, I am not so sure. If one answer to a question is proven false, it does not mean that a second answer is true if there is a third and fourth and fifth possible answer to consider. However, I think there is a real dichotomy behind the argument. Either the world we live in shows evidence of design or it is a result of naturalistic chance. There may be many origins that fit in the divine category (creator, aliens, demons...)and there may be many naturalistic explanations (Darwinism, neo-Darwinism, ???,...) but the dicotomy seems real. Help me out.

HV said...

An alternative outside of the dichotomy might be James Barham. Brandon, on his website branemrys.blogspot.com links to Barham, who is a naturalist, not an IDer, but who also believes that neo-Darwinian theory is an inadequate theory. An interesting philosopher, whether you buy his critique of NDT or not.

Steven Carr said...

Bill certainly seems to have reading difficulties.

Swinburne writes in his book
'The same laws of nature govern the most distant galaxies we can observe through our telescopes as operate on earth, and the same laws govern the earliest events in in time to which we can infer as operate today.

Or, as I prefer to put it, every object, however distant in time and space from ourselves, has the same powers and the same liabilities to exercise those powers as do the electrons and protons of which our own bodies are made.

If there is no cause of this, it would be a most extraordinary coincidence -too extraordinary for any rational person to believe. But science cannot explain why every object has the same powers......'

Any child of 4 can see that Swinburne is saying that something is causing electrons and protons to have the same properties throughout time.

In his entry 'Dawkins on Swinburne', Bill writes 'What S. is saying is that science must take it to be a brute fact that electrons (e.g.) have the same powers and liabilities everywhere and everywhen. He is not saying that their natural tendency is not to have the same powers and liabilities.'

So Swinburne claims something causes electrons to retain their properties, and Bill turns this into a statement that electrons natural tendency is to retain their properties.

Poor Swinburne. He tries to hit atheists over the head by saying that they have no explanation for why electrons retain their properties and Bill undermines him totally by claiming electrons would do so anyway.

HV said...

Steven, your comment makes absolutely no sense.

Bill said:

"(Swinburne) is not saying that their natural tendency is not to have the same powers and liabilities."

Nowhere can I find "their natural tendency IS to have the same powers and liabilities."

Steven Carr said...

'Nowhere can I find "their natural tendency IS to have the same powers and liabilities."'

Exactly! You have grasped precisely what Swinburne said.

Swinburne says there is a *cause* of the fact that electrons do not fluctuate in their powers.

Dawkins point is that Swinburne thinks God gave electrons properties *they would not otherwise have*, and Dawkins points out that there is no need at all to assume that electrons would fluctuate if it were not for God.

And a God who can prevent trillions of sub-atomic particles from fluctuating on a moment-by-moment basis is a very complex being.

HV said...

I think you missed my point. It is about what you attributed to Bill.

Bill said that Swinburne's position is not that particles have a property of not retaining their properties.

You said that by the above statement "Bill turns this (Swinburne's position) into a statement that electrons natural tendency is to retain their properties." Nowhere did Bill say this, nor imply it.

I believe the point is that Swinburne does not presuppose that particles have a property of retaining their properties, nor a property of not retaining their properties.

Steven Carr said...

You may believe what you wish about what Swinburne wrote.


I merely quoted Swinburne saying that there was a cause of fundamental particles retaining their properties over time.

This rather implies that sans cause, they would not retain their properties over time, does it not?

But if you want me to lose all respect for you, by denying what I can read with my own eyes, please feel free to start denying what Swinburne wrote.

Dawkins did not misrepresent Swinburne, when Dawkins claims that Swinburne believes that God sustains the properties of fundamental particles, almost as though something would happen to them, if they were not so sustained.

Ahab said...

Mike D wrote:
However, I think there is a real dichotomy behind the argument. Either the world we live in shows evidence of design or it is a result of naturalistic chance. There may be many origins that fit in the divine category (creator, aliens, demons...)and there may be many naturalistic explanations (Darwinism, neo-Darwinism, ???,...) but the dicotomy seems real. Help me out.




Your dichotomy seem invalid to me; it is another variant of how the ID or creationists folks would like to characterize this: a choice between the divine and the non-divine (naturalistic).

I don't see why God (or Gods) couldn't have made the universe so that all life that happened to develop in it would do so in accordance with natural laws. I know theists often assume that God had to actively bring about all the life forms we see on earth. But I think there is a danger here for theists if they assume God has to be or do in accordance with their theology. Or maybe I should say that there is a 'danger' here for Jews and Christians to do that: isn't it a violation of the 2nd commandment?