Thursday, October 02, 2008

Dembski on Design Arguments

23 comments:

Edward T. Babinski said...

DEMBSKI: "...by showing that design is indispensable to our scientific understanding of the natural world..."

ED: Has I.D. actually "shown" that?

Nature shows us living things starting out as single cells including humans in the womb. We all start out ignorant, and have to work to gain knowledge and an education, and we continue to struggle our whole lives to separate wisdom from ingrained prejudices, and then our mental powers decline with age or lack of use or ill health and we die. That's what nature shows us.

Nature also contains a record of how life on the planet started out as a single cell, then filled the seas and land, and experienced extinctions galore along the way (including species of early apes, hominds and even human species that have gone extinct in the past), and how our sun, our planet, and the life on it will one day end, quite naturally, via a variety of natural ways and means.

That's what nature shows us.

I don't think "I.D." hypotheses at present are as universally agreed upon, nor as explicit and undeniable as what nature itself has shown us.

This doesn't mean I think atheism is a proven fact either. I'm just making a distinction between more plain and less plain observations of nature.

Ilíon said...

Edward T. Babinski re ID: "la-la-la-la-la! I ca-an't he-e-ar you!"

Blue Devil Knight said...

That document will be useful at the next court case. :)

The inference (and observation) that something is an artifact (i.e., designed) is made fairly frequently in archeology and physical anthropology. They have to determine if a chunk of stone is a spear head, for instance.

Not to give Dembski any credit: such credible reasoning is not captured by Dembski's laughable 'explanatory filter.'

Of course in biology the ID ideas are useless unless your goal is to amputate your scientific creativity.

Steve Lovell said...

Ed,

You write: Of course in biology the ID ideas are useless unless your goal is to amputate your scientific creativity.

I can't say I've followed all the heated discussion about ID, so my comments here may be misdirected but I can't see why ID ideas are useless in biology, and even if they were useless it wouldn't make them false.

I'm not sure exactly what you are counting a "use" for an idea. The main thing about ideas is their truth or falsehood. If they are true then we want to believe them whether or not they are useful, and if they are false we want to disbelieve them whether or not they are useful. So the main issue is truth not usefulness (I'm shamelessly borrowing from Lewis's "Man or Rabbit" here.)

If you are saying that ID will prevent progress in the sciences then I think I disagree. I can see why you might think that ... The idea would be that if "God did it" then we needn't look for a material cause/explanation. But ID could equally motivate the scientist to see "how God did it", and lead them to look for certain types of explanations and causes: efficient and elegant explanations which a rational designer would have implemented. Now you might say that if they do that they're going to be out of luck when the evidence is in, but it doesn't seem like bad science or an impediment to scientific progress to me.

Just thoughts.

Steve

Steve Lovell said...

Ed / BDK

Oops.

Apologies to both of you for saying my last comment was for Ed and then quoting BDK saying "You write ..."

It's been a long week.

Steve

Blue Devil Knight said...

Steve: I was being a bit provocative. In my experience the ID-steeped students are not as good at creatively coming up with hypotheses in biology because the God Hypothesis short-circuits their creative engine. This isn't logically necessary, for reasons you spell out, but for some reason it is the common outcome. Instead of thinking about how to test hypotheses about origins, delving into the literature about how well X is understood even at the basic physiological level (much less development/evolution), the complexity of biological systems overwhelms them and they have a seeming compulsion to use God as their first explanation rather than a logical possibility that we shouldn't turn to until the science is better developed (where the science is well developed, ID has never been vindicated).

Randy said...

Steve,

But ID could equally motivate the scientist to see "how God did it", and lead them to look for certain types of explanations and causes: efficient and elegant explanations which a rational designer would have implemented. Now you might say that if they do that they're going to be out of luck when the evidence is in, but it doesn't seem like bad science or an impediment to scientific progress to me.


It is fine if some particular scientists are motivated by their theological beliefs to help them understand the world better. But I don't understand why you would wish to try and inject those beliefs into the methods of science. Science is an empirical enterprise and we simply have no empirical tools to help us determine the role some putative supernatural being might play in shaping the world around us.
It certainly would be detrimental to science if scientists wasted their time engaged in theological disputes.

Steve Lovell said...

Hi Randy,

You write: I don't understand why you would wish to try and inject those beliefs into the methods of science.

I'm not sure what you're driving at here. How are ID advocates injecting their beliefs into the methods of science?

You again: we simply have no empirical tools to help us determine the role some putative supernatural being might play in shaping the world around us.

But we do have empirical tools to help us detect the presence of design. We use them all the time. I see a display in a gallery and I infer an artist as opposed to an accident (at least sometimes I do). We decide in court that a person was killed deliberately rather than accidentally. ID-ist's have attempted to codify how we do this, and their codifications may be good or bad ... I think they are good in parts, but I've never been totally convinced.

But regardless of the codifications, the methods are certainly there. Now the deliverances of these methods are always defeasible (like the court decision), so we're never going to be 100% sure that some particular thing exhibits design, but we could, in principle be quite confident. Now from the fact that something exhibits design it doesn't immediately follow that there is not also another explanation of the item in question, but for the Theist, once the design is found, they wouldn't be worried if there is no further explanation ... but they still might look. They might like to see how God implemented his design. If the implementation itself looks undesigned they might revoke their original idea that the item was designed, alternatively if the implentation also looks designed, they'll be increasingly confident. Or if there doesn't seem to be an implementation ... the item just "appeared" without any further natural causal history, the ID-ist defeasibly concludes that the item was not only designed but was miraculous in origin.

That's what ID science should look like. Maybe it doesn't look much like that on the ground, but that's not a problem with ID itself. There's lots of bad non-ID science out there too.

You write: It certainly would be detrimental to science if scientists wasted their time engaged in theological disputes.

I assume you're no fan of Dawkins then? But I don't really see why scientists shouldn't discuss theological matters, as long as they do good theology and not the sort of thing Dawkins is responsible for. Indeed, there is a legitimate interplay between science and theology and the two can't be kept completely separate from one another ... or even if they don't interact, that would be a discovery about the relation (or lack of relation) between the two which might be legitimately be discussed by people who make their home in either discipline.

Steve

legodesi said...

"It certainly would be detrimental to science if scientists wasted their time engaged in theological disputes."

I think theological considerations help interpret the data, just as metaphysical considerations do now.

Ilíon said...

BDK: "Of course in biology the ID ideas are useless unless your goal is to amputate your scientific creativity."

BDK: "Steve: I was being a bit provocative. In my experience the ID-steeped students are not as good at creatively coming up with hypotheses in biology because the God Hypothesis short-circuits their creative engine."

To put the willfully blind and willfully ignorant BDK's accusation into English: "In [his] experience the ID-steeped students are" more *skeptical* -- both of the outputs of their own "creative engine[s]" and of his -- than are the sort of sheeple he prefers to deal with.

Ilíon said...

Steve,
I know this is terribly "impolite" of me to so bluntly say this, but the brute fact is that most so-called ID critics (and these, certainly) are simply not intellectually honest. They're not critics, they're would-be censurers, and when they get together they almost always morph into would-be censorers.

One Brow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
One Brow said...

But we do have empirical tools to help us detect the presence of design. We use them all the time. I see a display in a gallery and I infer an artist as opposed to an accident (at least sometimes I do). We decide in court that a person was killed deliberately rather than accidentally. ID-ist's have attempted to codify how we do this, and their codifications may be good or bad ... I think they are good in parts, but I've never been totally convinced.

We recognize design in these cases because we are in a location where we expect to see design (an art gallery) or because the features show an underlying simplicity (cut brake lines have smoother edges than those that have fallen apart). There is no generic design inference from complexity, because designers don't usually make things complex simply forthe sake of complexity.

Steve Lovell said...

one brow,

I quite agree that there is no inference from complexity. The favoured codifications have been not from complexity but either irreducible complexity or specified complexity.

I think there is something right about both of these, but ...

(1) the application of the former is particularly difficult and can only be applied defeasibly, so Behe's stuff is rightly a spur to further research
(2) the application of the latter is difficult as things exhibit specified complexity by degree and it's not an all or nothing matter. There are also difficulties is definition here. Complexity is most easily defined relative to a language but what is complex relative to one language is not necessarily complex relative to another. It's also not that straightfoward what constitutes a specification.

I tend to just end up thinking in Bayesian terms myself.

Also, the design inference isn't totally dependant on context, we can find design in unexpected places. Though context can of course be very important in our ability to detect design.

The claim that design is really inferred when there is an underlying simiplicity, is sort of correct and sort of incorrect. A "specification" may be simply stated, but to infer design it can't be too simple to implement, otherwise it might be implemented by chance or necessity. Cut brake wires may be smoother (and the concept of them a simple concept), they are complex in the sense that they are unlikely (a probability theorist can explain the connection there) in the ordinary course of events.

I agree that designers don't normally go for complexity for it's own sake. The ID point is that if something is sufficiently simple we can imagine it arising by chance or necessity (or their combination). We can also imagine complex situations arrising by these means, such as a random sequence of coin tosses. But if the sequence of results of coin tosses exhibits a pattern (specification) we may infer that the coin (or their toss) is not fair, but rigged ... designed.

That's the idea, anyway.

Steve

Ilíon said...

"Chance" has absolutely no causative power. To assert that "chance caused" thus-and-such is precisely to assert that thus-and-such has no cause at all.

To put this another way: there is no such number named "random."

Steve Lovell said...

ilion,

I agree that "chance" doesn't cause anything. But that doesn't change the fact that some things are accidental, coincidental, lucky or whatnot. Simple patterns like rolling three sixes, can occur "by chance".

Steve

Ilíon said...

Ilíon: ""Chance" has absolutely no causative power. To assert that "chance caused" thus-and-such is precisely to assert that thus-and-such has no cause at all."

Steve Lovell: "I agree that "chance" doesn't cause anything. But that doesn't change the fact that some things are accidental, coincidental, lucky or whatnot. Simple patterns like rolling three sixes, can occur "by chance"."

Steve,
While I'm sure you neither realize you're doing it, nor intend to, the fact is that you're equivocating with that word. And, also -- importantly -- you're conflating, or at minimum eliding, result (effect) and cause.

When we use colloquial (and sloppy) phrases such as "such-and-such chanced to happen"
or "such-and-such happened by chance," we're not talking about the cause of the event, we're talking about the event itself -- which is, of course, the effect of some cause or causes. And we're talking about our attitude towards the event in relation some other event or events. We're claiming either ignorance or a degree of disinterest in the cause(s) of the event; it is the event which interests us, at least at the moment of speaking, not its cause(s).


Steve Lovell: "Simple patterns like rolling three sixes, can occur "by chance"."

And, in any event, patterns can never be the results of "chance;" to speak of a "chance" pattern is utter an oxymoron. Patterns are lawful, they are the results/outworkings of some rule or law in some context; "chance" denotes the absence of lawfulness and correlation.

Now, as there is no law determining the results of honest rolls of honest dice, there actually and logically can be no actual pattern whatsoever in the results. Imagining a pattern which logically cannot exist doesn't cause it to exist -- if the three sixes in a row were actually a pattern, then the next toss would/must also result in a six. For, to say that the three sixes reflect a pattern is to say that the pattern -- the "law" which generated them -- is fully represent by those three sixes. It is to say that there exists a correlation beween those results ... and it is to say that the toss which hasn't yet been made is also correlated with the other three.


Steve Lovell (prior post): "A "specification" may be simply stated, but to infer design it can't be too simple to implement, otherwise it might be implemented by chance or necessity. ... I agree that designers don't normally go for complexity for it's own sake. The ID point is that if something is sufficiently simple we can imagine it arising by chance or necessity (or their combination). We can also imagine complex situations arrising by these means, such as a random sequence of coin tosses."

But, unlike the colloquial (and sloppy) usage discussed above, when we start saying things like this, we *are* claiming to be talking about cause-and-effect.

But, "chance" doesn't cause anything -- *cannot* be the cause of anything. For "chance" denotes precisely nothing. To assert that an event happened literally "by chance" is to assert that it happened without cause, that it was cause-less. To assert that *any* event happened literally "by chance" is to assert that *all* events are without cause.

The reason that silly "chance or necessity" formulation even exists is to allow 'materialists' to ignore the necessary and inescapable logical implications of 'materialism.'

Steve Lovell said...

ilion,

Sorry but I think you're being obtuse here. Suppose someone flips a coin and gets 5 heads on the run. This might happen by design. That is to say, the coin may be deliberately tampered with (or the flips may be controlled in some artificial way). It may happen by necessity, the coin may not be tampered with but biased not the less. But a coin may also happen to land heads 5 times in a row and this not be due to necessity or design. Now, I call getting 5 heads in a row a "pattern", and I call it this regardless of how it arose ... in the circumstance where neither design or necessity explains the pattern, I use the term "chance". I don't think there is anything underhand about this, and I don't think I'm giving the naturalist more than his due.

I agree, however, that there are dangers here, and that "chance" can sometimes be used as though it's a substantive form of explanation. It isn't, it's really just a place holder for the lack and lack of need of any substantive explanation. I don't think I'm implying anything else and that you'd have to be systematically (and perhaps deliberately) misreading me to think otherwise.

Steve

One Brow said...

I quite agree that there is no inference from complexity. The favoured codifications have been not from complexity but either irreducible complexity or specified complexity.

I think there is something right about both of these, but ...

(1) the application of the former is particularly difficult and can only be applied defeasibly, so Behe's stuff is rightly a spur to further research


Actually, the application irreducible complexity (IC), on the usual definition and the first one proposed by Behe, is extremely easy. The issue for ID proponents is that IC structures, under that definition, are an expected outcome of evolutionary processes. Behe has since provided definitions that try to exclude such structures, but can’t seem to find a positive way of doing such, instead providing descriptions of what is not IC (namely, anything that is evolved). That’s not a useful definition.

(2) the application of the latter is difficult as things exhibit specified complexity by degree and it's not an all or nothing matter. There are also difficulties is definition here. Complexity is most easily defined relative to a language but what is complex relative to one language is not necessarily complex relative to another. It's also not that straightfoward what constitutes a specification.

I think your analysis here is accurate, yet tentative. String complexity is a component of both the string to be translated and the translator, no string will contain a high information content against all possible translators.

Also, the design inference isn't totally dependant on context, we can find design in unexpected places. Though context can of course be very important in our ability to detect design.

Certainly. The point here is that the ID movement is trying to claim they can detect design using methods that humans generally, and scientists more specifically, don’t use to detect design.

The claim that design is really inferred when there is an underlying simiplicity, is sort of correct and sort of incorrect. A "specification" may be simply stated, but to infer design it can't be too simple to implement, otherwise it might be implemented by chance or necessity. Cut brake wires may be smoother (and the concept of them a simple concept), they are complex in the sense that they are unlikely (a probability theorist can explain the connection there) in the ordinary course of events.

A genuine probability theorist would reject the notion that “complex” and “unlikely” are related concepts in any fashion.

I agree that designers don't normally go for complexity for it's own sake. The ID point is that if something is sufficiently simple we can imagine it arising by chance or necessity (or their combination). We can also imagine complex situations arrising by these means, such as a random sequence of coin tosses. But if the sequence of results of coin tosses exhibits a pattern (specification) we may infer that the coin (or their toss) is not fair, but rigged ... designed.

That's the idea, anyway.


I’m aware of the idea they claim to be presenting. It’s just utter nonsense.

When we use colloquial (and sloppy) phrases such as "such-and-such chanced to happen" or "such-and-such happened by chance," we're not talking about the cause of the event, we're talking about the event itself -- which is, of course, the effect of some cause or causes. And we're talking about our attitude towards the event in relation some other event or events. We're claiming either ignorance or a degree of disinterest in the cause(s) of the event; it is the event which interests us, at least at the moment of speaking, not its cause(s).

We can also be discussing one other thing: the effect of the initial cause is not predictable from within the system that concerns us. For example, many of the usual causes of mutation (this might include chemical contaminants, atomic decay, radiation, etc.) are not caused nor controlled by any feature of the biological system, and therefore are random from the viewpoint of that system.

And, in any event, patterns can never be the results of "chance;" to speak of a "chance" pattern is utter an oxymoron.

Assuming Steve was using English in the vernacular, you can certainly have patterns arise from chance.

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pattern

4: a natural or chance configuration (frost patterns) (the pattern of events)


http://www.bartleby.com/61/86/P0118600.html

4b. A design of natural or accidental origin: patterns of bird formations.


In the vernacular, “pattern” does not require “predictability”.

The reason that silly "chance or necessity" formulation even exists is to allow 'materialists' to ignore the necessary and inescapable logical implications of 'materialism.'

No, it just means we can predict some things within the system (biology, in this case) and can’t predict other things within that system.

Steve Lovell said...

one brow,

Thanks for that helpful response. I haven't read the more recent stuff with Behe. The initial challenges to his work seemed to be suggesting that the complex systems he was finding weren't irreducibly complex, rather they either had some minimal function or had some other function which would explain selection. This is was I meant by it being difficult to apply the concept as it isn't always clear that an "incomplete" system would not have a useful biological function.

Find it difficult to get round to reading this stuff.

I still think the point holds that the inferences are from complexity alone, no?

Steve

One Brow said...

I still think the point holds that the inferences are from complexity alone, no?

Well, to the degree you can get a valid inference from complexity.

Steve Lovell said...

one brow,

Oh no! I missed out a "not" in the crucial sentence of mine you quoted. That's always the worst of omissions. So how about:

"I still think the point holds that the inferences are not from complexity alone, no?"?

Steve

One Brow said...

"I still think the point holds that the inferences are not from complexity alone, no?"

Well, that is the claim of Behe and Dembski regarding their work.