Thursday, April 21, 2011

Uncommon Descent update

My readers should know that Vincent Torley has added a disclaimer to his recent post, apologizing for any misrepresentation of my views contained in the post.  I appreciate this, and I apologize if the tone of my original response to Torley and his fellow ID defenders Jay Richards and Denyse O’Leary (which I have since replaced) was excessively harsh.  Torley has also put up another post, as has Thomas Cudworth.  I will reply to them as soon as I am able.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

I notice our old friend Ilion is still taking potshots at Feser in the comboxes down at Uncommon Descent.

Anonymous said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJTBPdVpdMc

IlĂ­on said...

Feser: "... and I apologize if the tone of my original response to Torley and his fellow ID defenders Jay Richards and Denyse O’Leary (which I have since replaced) was excessively harsh"

"IF"?

That's not an apology, and you know it isn't.

And, by rights, Torley should not be apologizing to you, in any event, for it is you who are in the wrong, start to finish.


Anonymouse: "I notice our old friend Ilion is still taking potshots at Feser in the comboxes down at Uncommon Descent."

I notive that like most anony-mice, you're a fool.

BenYachov said...

I am no longer being killed.

Thank you VJ.

PS Happy Birthday to me I am 43 today.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough, I apologize for using the word potshots, which definitely has insulting connotations. That was wrong.

But I'm not quite sure how you figured out I'm a fool on the basis of one comment in a combox that doesn't even actually take a look at any of the arguments, just points out that you don't like Feser. Which you don't.

Granted, I said it in a more or less rude way, and for that I apologize, but...going on a bit of a limb there, huh?

BTW, when you're calling somebody ELSE a fool, at least try and spell "notice" correctly

Anonymous said...

Is it just me or does Ilion seem to have a melodramatic love/hate relationship with Dr. Feser?

Anonymous said...

Ilion is a good guy. He's just misunderstood Dr Feser. Let's hope we can let bygones be bygones. :-)

Anonymous said...

Happy birthday to BenYachov! Mine was on the 18th, I'm 36 now. :-(

Bilbo said...

I read Jay Richards' part III, and I think Feser may have a point.

Billy Blue Boots said...

Hi Bilbo,
good to see you posting at your blog again. It's been many years...
Regarding the post you link:
I don't think that specification and complexity even have anything to do with it.

Unless by specification you simply mean "directed towards a specific end".
It's just that when I read Dembski's description of specified and complex information I think he has something very different in mind than what Thomists have in mind.

Dembski would probably say that a string of characters have specification because they are directed towards something. But it seems from reading him that the specification comes from without; external to the actual "stuff" that makes up the string of characters. Something that is imposed upon that string of characters in a secondardy step.

Bilbo said...

Hi BBB,

Yes, I meant something like "directed towards a specific end". Jay Richards seems to have something like that in mind, also, when he talks about specificity being qualitatively different, not quantitatively.

Mr. Green said...

Bilbo: I think Feser may have a point. The argument that DNA is specified may be enough to establish teleology. The argument that it is complex may establish how God did it (through secondary causes or immediately).

Prof. Feser does have a point there — but I think it is the wrong one. That is, he is of course right that complexity is irrelevant to final causality; the fact that DNA "does" anything in particular, indeed, that a single particle in an otherwise empty universe would behave in a specific way, is enough to determine final causality, because the very A-T definition of finality is (loosely put) just to behave in some certain way. If you so much as have any "laws of phyiscs" in the first place, then you've already got A-T finality, and that's all you need to get straight to the God of classical theism. No point beating around the bush with the complexities of DNA or anything else (especially if all you're going to end up with is some half-baked desistic god!).

While that is all true, it is missing (at least part of) the point: even granting the fundamental level of finality, there is something else going on with DNA. It's not just following the final causes of physics; there is indeed more, an extra level or layer of intention at work, the "programming" of the DNA. Or, as you said, the complex stuff may establish further details about how God is doing things.

In fact, I really think your comment is important, so I'm going to quote it all here: 'I think the best way to approach the question of origins is to pretend that everyone believes that God created the universe and life, and then all we're trying to do is figure out how. That way we avoid the whole "How to prove God" thing, and just have fun exploring how He did it.'

That is largely my perspective. Even if we can demonstrate that DNA has a separate layer of intentionality, the people who manage to ignore the simple intentionality at work in basic physics will find a way to ignore this level too. But for those of us who aren't looking for a proof of God, it is still a most excellent question as to whether or how this layer plays out. The goal isn't to make someone else believe something, the goal is simply to learn more about the reality that God has created. In other words, it's worth investigating simply because it's true. That is why I think it's a shame that more Thomists aren't interested in ID — nobody has to be interested in any particular field, but I know that Scholastic philosophy has much to offer when it comes to meaning and intention, and could usefully contribute to explicating some of these truths. Oh well. (Folks on the ID side don't help in the way they tend to be sloppy about switching from science to philosophy to politics (where by politics I mean dealing with people, such as using scientific and/or philosophical arguments to lead people to belief in God, etc.).)

Mr. Green said...

Actually, to be fair to the Profeser, perhaps I ought to say rather that there are two points and he is addressing only one of them. I think that in general, he is more careful than his ID-critics to state specifically what he is responding to when he writes these articles. (And to be fair to the ID side, the whole attempt to make something rigorous out of these insights is a very recent endeavour, so it will hardly be as polished as thousands of years or ancient/Mediaeval philosophy... but boy, I really wish there were some solid Scholastics in the mix to bring some old-fashioned boring categorical precision to the discussion!)

Mr. Green said...

A word on complexity (again relating to Bilbo's post): it's also worth pointing out that ID does not claim that DNA has finality because it's complex (whereas a single particle or whatever that is simple does not); the point is rather that we can be justified in concluding design for certain instances of complexity that we otherwise could not. Consider this example: you are walking along a trail in the woods and come to a fork where the path diverges to the east and to the west. There is an arrow-shaped twig lying on the ground pointing down the westward path. Is that twig a message telling you to take the westward path? Now consider a similar scenario, except this time instead of a twig you find some pebbles spelling out the words, "Go west, young man".

Clearly in this second case, you are justified in concluding that somebody deliberately arranged the pebbles to spell out the message. (There are many further questions that arise, such as why and for whom, but I don't care about that for our current purposes.) And surely you are not justified in concluding that about the twig — even though it could be just as deliberately placed. The specification is the same in both situations: either the twig or the pebbles could carry the same intention. But the complexity is different: it's possible the the twig just happened to be arrow-shaped and just happened to fall pointing west. It's not possible that the pebbles just "happened" to spell out their message, though (or is so unlikely as to make it irrational to so believe, anyway).

That is where the complexity comes in. The twig exhibits final causality simply by behaving in its twiggy way (falling under gravity, etc., etc.). But if it was deliberately positioned as a message to go west, then it has an additional, separate layer of intentionality. The problem is, we can't tell just by looking (we'd need additional evidence, such as seeing somebody deliberately choosing that twig for its shape and deliberately positioning it on the path). We can tell that the pebbles were arranged deliberately just by looking at them, though — because of the complexity. (Well, and the specificity — you could arrange the pebbles in a distribution that was just as complex as spelling out letters, but that doesn't signify anything at all, and that could possibly "just happen", of course. That's why you need both complexity and specificity.)

Bilbo said...

Mr. Green: "even granting the fundamental level of finality, there is something else going on with DNA. It's not just following the final causes of physics; there is indeed more, an extra level or layer of intention at work, the "programming" of the DNA."

Yes, this is where I get confused by Thomism. Would Prof. Feser admit that there is an extra layer of intention?

Bilbo said...

Let's suppose that anytime there was a fork in the right, there was an arrow shaped twig, and if one chose the way that it was pointing, it would resulted in some sort of goodness, and if one chose the other way, then it resulted in some sort of evil. I think we could say that we had evidence that the twigs exhibited telos.

Likewise, if the "programming" and functions of the cell were simple, and explainable by physics, yet resulted in living organisms, I think we would have evidence of telos. The complexity and inability to reduce it to physics is what then compels us to ask how God did it: Direct intervention? "Programming" the Big Bang somehow?

And for a materialistic reductionist, who rejects Thomistic arguments, it becomes one more obstacle to be overcome.

Mr. Green said...

Bilbo: Would Prof. Feser admit that there is an extra layer of intention?

I seem to recall that he did in one of his articles (somewhere!). I think it has to be, since the intentionality at work at the biological level is separate and distinct from that at the physical level (e.g. electric charge, gravitation, etc.).

As for the paths pointing to some good or evil, I agree that that gives the evidence more weight (though not being conclusive — it's still believable that the twig just happened to fall that way). If life were simple, then it would be easier to say, "Well, it might point to some telos, but I think we just got lucky!" After all, sometimes surprising things do happen by luck (e.g. a cloud that looks a lot like Socrates).

Of course, even the shape of a cloud is (fore)known and controlled by God, so what I wonder is: how much meaning can we read into clouds, etc.? I don't expect there to be any useful scientific-ID inference, but doesn't the Thomist (or other traditional philosopher) have to say that even such slight and tenuous meanings are intended by God? (That doesn't mean we would be able to know exactly what God meant, of course!)

The skeptic can of course shrug off the simple examples, but as you point out, because of the complexity and sophistication of biology, it's just one more obstacle.

Mr. Green said...

Bilbo: Let's suppose that anytime there was a fork in the right, there was an arrow shaped twig

Oops, I missed the "anytime". Yes, that would definitely make it teleological according to Aristotle or Aquinas. (And I guess it would increase the complexity for Dembski.) Anytime something happens regularly (without being specifically impeded) then we have a final cause, and every additional twig cuts down the skeptic's credibility in claiming that it's just luck.