Saturday, September 14, 2013

Man is Wolff to man


As a follow-up to my series of posts on the critics of Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos, let’s take a look at philosopher Robert Paul Wolff’s recent remarks about the book.  Wolff is not nasty, as some of the critics have been -- Nagel is Wolff’s “old friend and one-time student” -- but he is nevertheless as unfair to Nagel as some of them have been. 

Most of his post is not about Nagel at all, but consists of an anecdote about Edward O. Wilson and some remarks about the wealth of knowledge Wolff has found in the biology books he’s read.  The point is to illustrate how very meticulous good scientists can be, and how much they have discovered about the biological realm.  All well and good.  But so what?  What does that have to do with Nagel?

Well, Wolff’s complaint is:

Tom Nagel undertakes in his slender 128 page book to show that "the materialist Neo-Darwinian conception of nature is almost certainly false," and yet in those pages, there is not a single chapter, a single paragraph, a single sentence, indeed not a single word about all of this extraordinary science.  On the face of it, that just cannot be right.

End quote.  This is, of course, a common complaint about the book.  Indeed, some of Nagel’s critics seem to think that in order to justify dismissing Mind and Cosmos, it suffices merely to note that it doesn’t read like a Scientific American article or pop science book -- without, you know, engaging Nagel’s actual arguments at all.  As Wolff would say, on the face of it, that just cannot be right.

It seems right to these critics because “the materialist Neo-Darwinian conception of nature” concerns biology, biology is a science, and therefore (so these critics conclude) any criticism of that conception had better be hip deep in the scientific details.  But this is fallacious, because while “the materialist Neo-Darwinian conception of nature” concerns biology, it also -- as the word “materialist” should make blindingly obvious -- concerns metaphysics.  And it is that aspect of the conception, rather than the biological aspect, that is Nagel’s main target in the book.  No one who’s actually read the book and is trying to be fair to Nagel could leave that fact out, and it isn’t a small point.  It’s the whole point, as I’ve shown in my series of posts on Nagel’s book and its critics.

The expression “materialist neo-Darwinian conception of nature” rather obviously covers several distinct theses, including the following (the list is not intended to be exhaustive):

1. Species arise from earlier species via evolution.

2. Evolutionary change is gradual.

3. All species share common ancestors.

4. The key mechanisms of evolution are natural selection operating on variations resulting from mutation, gene flow, and sexual recombination.

5. The first living things arose from inorganic precursors via purely material processes.

6. Matter and material processes are devoid of any irreducibly qualitative, intentional, or teleological features. 

7. Evolution interpreted in a materialist way suffices to account for every aspect of the biological realm, including consciousness, intentionality, and value.

As anyone who has read the book knows, Nagel’s main concern is with theses (6) and (7).  He does not deny (1) - (3), nor even necessarily (4) and (5), though he would certainly qualify the latter in light of one of the alternative, non-materialist conceptions of matter he entertains.  But it is definitely the “materialist” rather than the “Neo-Darwinian” part of the expression “materialist Neo-Darwinian conception of nature “ that most exercises Nagel.   It is the nature of the basic material substrate of the evolutionary process, rather than the process itself, that he thinks is the problem with trying to account for consciousness, intentionality, and value in “materialist Neo-Darwinian” terms. 

That is why he devotes attention to ideas like panpsychism, neutral monism, and Aristotelian teleology.  And that is why he does not, and need not, devote attention to biological details of the sort cited by Wolff.  Nagel’s critique goes far deeper than anything evolutionary biologists have much to say about.  For again, it is, for the most part anyway, materialist metaphysics rather than evolutionary biology that he is concerned with.  And I have explained what his arguments actually are, and how certain critics persistently misinterpret them, in the series of posts linked to above.  In particular, many critics ignore the fact that Nagel’s arguments against materialism in Mind and Cosmos are essentially just brief summaries of arguments he has presented in more detail in earlier works like The Last Word and “What Is It Like To Be a Bat?”  And they falsely suppose that the arguments are concerned with weighing probabilities, when in fact they are mostly concerned with what is possible in principle.

Hence it is no good for Wolff to complain that Nagel has failed to “trac[e], step by step, the neurological development of species that appear to be located somewhere along the continuum between consciousness and non-consciousness.”  Nagel and other very prominent philosophers have developed arguments which purport to show that no amount of neurological evidence could by itself even in principle explain consciousness.  These arguments are extremely well-known in academic philosophy; more to the present point, they are surely well known to Wolff.  Wolff may disagree with the arguments, but insofar as he pretends that they don’t exist, it is he rather than Nagel who is guilty of “philosophical malpractice.”

As I say, all of this should be pretty obvious to any fair-minded person who has read the book.  It should be especially obvious to a philosopher trained to make careful distinctions and familiar with the sorts of metaphysical issues Nagel addresses.  Any philosopher should also see the glaring problems with another example Wolff offers of the purported ineptness of philosophers when addressing scientific matters.  He writes:

Consider a different example, this one from the medical field of neurology.  One of the bits of philosophy put forward back in the day when I was actually reading philosophy was the notion of "contrast terms."  It was said that pairs of terms such as "left/right" or "up/down" were defined in relation to one another in such a manner that it was impossible to understand one without understanding the other.  Nobody offered any evidence for this claim.  Its truth was taken as self-evident.  Well, along comes the wonderful neurologist Oliver Sacks, who reports the case of a woman who, having suffered a massive cerebral stroke, lost all understanding of the concept "left" while retaining a complete understanding of the concept "right."  She ate only the food on the right half of her plate and complained that the portions were too small.  When she made herself up, she only put lipstick on the right half of her lips.

End quote.  Well, did the woman in question really lose the concept of “left”?  Maybe.  Or maybe she still had it but lost the ability to apply it.  Or maybe her problem was merely visual rather than cognitive.  And maybe she could focus on the right side of things after her stroke only because she had had the concept of “left” to contrast “right” with before the stroke.  On the other hand, maybe all this is wrong.  For example, maybe there’s no sense to be made of having the concept unless you can apply it.  (Though what does “can” mean here?  “Can” in practice or only in principle?)  Maybe there’s no way neatly to distinguish the perceptual and cognitive here.  And so forth.

One thing is for sure, though, and that is that neuroscience by itself is not going to be able to answer these questions, because they are philosophical.  In general, neuroscientific results never tell you anything absolutely straightforward about philosophical issues like free will, perception, consciousness, and the like.  Typically, the lessons purportedly read off from the neuroscience were in fact first read into it, by neuroscientists and others unreflectively making highly challengeable philosophical assumptions.  We’ve seen in earlier posts how true that is when neuroscience is claimed to shed light on free will, introspection, “mindreading,” and the mind-body problem.  M. R. Bennett and P. M. S. Hacker have, in their book Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience, shown how permeated with fallacies is the literature purporting to shed neuroscientific light on philosophical problems.  (If Wolff were still “actually reading philosophy” he might know this.)

One of the ironies of the Nagel affair is how some of the same people who can easily see vulgar scientism for what it is when peddled by an arrogant ignoramus like Lawrence Krauss suddenly lapse into an equally vulgar scientism when the topic is evolution.  Some physicists think their discipline can show how something might come from nothing?  Oh dear, let us count the fallacies.  Some biologists claim to be able to explain consciousness and intentionality?   Have mercy on us o high ones!  How low do you want us to bow?  Someone in our ranks disagrees?  How high do you want us to hang him?

This is a phenomenon whose explanation should be looked for not in philosophy but in social psychology -- specifically, the black sheep effect.  All you have to do is put the words “Darwin” and “disagree” in the same sentence and a certain segment of the herd collectively freaks out, tripping over themselves to report the errant sheep to the wolf.  And you know what wolves do to sheep.

220 comments:

1 – 200 of 220   Newer›   Newest»
Crude said...

All you have to do is put the words “Darwin” and “disagree” in the same sentence and a certain segment of the herd collectively freaks out, tripping over themselves to report the errant sheep to the wolf.

I think the problem is that evolution - really, an extrapolated-beyond-science version of evolution - is regarded as the bulwark against a wide variety of religious and related social and political claims. Not 'a' bulwark, but 'the' bulwark. A lot has been invested into it emotionally, socially and even politically, for close to a century. Even modest criticisms, like the kind Nagel and even Fodor delivered, panic a lot of people to an extreme, because they draw a direct line between those criticisms and the intellectual success of various political opponents. You just have to look at the various reviews that complain Nagel will embolden (fill in the blank) by saying what he did.

Here's a good quote from, I think, Fodor's co-author from What Darwin Got Wrong:

Some months ago an American philosopher explained to a highly sophisticated audience in Britain what, in his opinion, was wrong, indeed fatally wrong, with the standard neo-Darwinian theory of biological evolution. He made it crystal clear that his criticism was not inspired by creationism, intelligent design or any remotely religious motivation. A senior gentleman in the audience erupted, in indignation: ‘You should not say such things, you should not write such things! The creationists will treasure them and use them against science.’ The lecturer politely asked: ‘Even if they are true?’ To which the instant and vibrant retort was: ‘Especially if they are true!’ with emphasis on the ‘especially’.

Glenn said...

The wonderful neurologist Oliver Sacks writing of the woman who has, according to Wolff, "lost all understanding of the concept 'left'":

[S]he has worked out strategies for dealing with her imperception. She cannot look left, directly, she cannot turn left, so what she does is to turn right—and right through a circle. Thus she requested, and was given, a rotating wheelchair. And now if she cannot find something which she knows should be there, she swivels to the right, through a circle, until it comes into view. She finds this signally successful if she cannot find her coffee or dessert. If her portions seem too small, she will swivel to the right, keeping her eyes to the right, until the previously missed half now comes into view; she will eat this, or rather half of this, and feel less hungry than before. But if she is still hungry, or if she thinks on the matter, and realizes that she may have perceived only half of the missing half, she will make a second rotation till the remaining quarter comes into view, and, in turn, bisect this yet again. This usually suffices—after all, she has now eaten seven-eighths of the portion—but she may, if she is feeling particularly hungry or obsessive, make a third turn, and secure another sixteenth of her portion (leaving, of course, the remaining sixteenth, the left sixteenth, on her plate). ‘It’s absurd,’ she says. ‘I feel like Zeno’s arrow—I never get there. It may look funny, but under the circumstances what else can I do?’ (See under Eyes Right! in The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat right here.)

What else can she do?

My goodness, I can think of two things right off the bat:

a) she can agree with Wolff that she has "lost all understanding of the concept 'left'"; or,

b) she can recommend to Wolff that he read Adler's How to Read a Book.

Will Dunkirk said...

"Consider a different example, this one from the medical field of neurology. One of the bits of philosophy put forward back in the day when I was actually reading philosophy was the notion of "contrast terms." It was said that pairs of terms such as "left/right" or "up/down" were defined in relation to one another in such a manner that it was impossible to understand one without understanding the other."

I'm waiting for Mr. Scientist to make good on his promise and actually go ahead and define the left or the right without any reference to their opposites.

Scott said...

Another possibility is that she lost the concept of "left" and, perhaps in consequence, the concept of "right" as well. The fact that Sacks says she retained the latter concept (if he in fact says that) isn't sufficient to show that she did retain it. And the fact that she turned to what we out here would call "the right" doesn't in and of itself show that she understood it that way.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I think I've been beaten to it, but what can the concept right mean without the concept of left?

Scott said...

@Will Dunkirk:

"I'm waiting for Mr. Scientist to make good on his promise and actually go ahead and define the left or the right without any reference to their opposites."

As I'm sure you suspected, you'll be waiting a long time. Strictly speaking, Mr. Scientist can't define them at all. Mathematically, any such definition is symmetrical in the terms "left" and "right" (and thus remains the same if those terms are interchanged), so it can't be used to nail down which is which. If you can tell your left hand from your right, you can do something that all the science in the world has thus far been unable to capture non-question-beggingly.

Thursday said...

They're mostly all trying to refute the subtitle of the book, and indeed the subtitle is rather misleading as to the actual contents of the book.

Thursday said...

From a comment I posted elsewhere:

"Nagel is a big name in philosophy, he thinks intelligent design raises important philosophical issues even if it’s junk science, and he put an extremely polemical subtitle on his book. In fact, he’s more opposed to the “neo-Darwinian” philosophy of people like Dan Dennett than he is to neo-Darwinism as a science, but the tribes are at war, so we can’t have any hints of doubt."

jeronim said...

OFFTOPIC

William Lane Craig vs Lawrence Krauss, the final, third event in Sydney finally out!

Life, the Universe and Nothing: Why is there something rather than nothing?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V82uGzgoajI

By the way, something very, very interesting I ran into:

The Real Jesus: Paul Maier presents new evidence from history and archeology at Iowa State, Veritas Forum, few months ago

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAN3kQHTKWI

Dr. Paul L. Maier is the Russell H. Seibert Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University and a much-published author of both scholarly and popular works.

Crude said...

In fact, he’s more opposed to the “neo-Darwinian” philosophy of people like Dan Dennett than he is to neo-Darwinism as a science, but the tribes are at war

The very act of divorcing those two things would lead to the same outcries. "Neo-Darwinism" stripped of the extraneous philosophy and metaphysics is practically toothless with regards to the issues that get everyone worked up. They should have never been so closely associated to begin with, and the fact that they were is going to end up laid at the feet of 'naturalist' philosophers and biologists.

Hallvard N. Jørgensen said...

Thanks for this post. I'd just like to recommend Conor Cunninghams's "Darwin's pious idea" to you all. Brilliant and important book which shows the problems not only with "new atheist" philosophy and metaphysics, but also (even) their biology and understanding of evolution.

Tony said...

But if she is still hungry, or if she thinks on the matter, and realizes that she may have perceived only half of the missing half, she will make a second rotation till the remaining quarter comes into view, and, in turn, bisect this yet again.

What Sacks has done here, of course, is prove beyond any doubt that she has retained the CONCEPT that is opposed to "the right", in spite of the fact that her physical sensibilities don't let her acknowledge it directly. The fact that she can determine, with her mind, that there is something missing after she has had the right half of her food, means that her MIND is still capable of the concept. And the fact that she can regularly, unerringly eat the RIGHT SIDE of the plate of food means that her mind is actually distinguishing right from left. And doing so on the basis of concepts of right and left. Sacks has simply mis-identified the problem.

Thursday said...

"Neo-Darwinism" stripped of the extraneous philosophy and metaphysics is practically toothless with regards to the issues that get everyone worked up.

No, there's still plenty to fight about.

Daniel Smith said...

There have been several non-Darwinian theories of evolution postulated over the years: Leo S. Berg put forth his "Nomogenesis", Richard Goldschmidt and Otto Schindewolf both had their own saltational evolutionary theories, as well as several others. All of these theories failed to catch on, not because they didn't fit the evidence (they actually fit better in most instances), but because of their metaphysical implications. They all found evidence of 'patterns' and 'jumps' in evolution and therefore had explanations that hinted at something beyond unguided causes.

So, even when the topic is strictly scientific, Neo-Darwinism must be adhered to. It's no surprise that a book attacking the philosophy of Neo-Darwinism would come under attack as well.

The Deuce said...

Some physicists think their discipline can show how something might come from nothing? Oh dear, let us count the fallacies. Some biologists claim to be able to explain consciousness and intentionality? Have mercy on us o high ones! How low do you want us to bow? Someone in our ranks disagrees? How high do you want us to hang him?

It's especially funny when you consider the actual difference in analytical ability between your typical physicist and your typical biologist.

Corrigan said...

But this is fallacious, because while “the materialist Neo-Darwinian conception of nature” concerns biology, it also -- as the word “materialist” should make blindingly obvious -- concerns metaphysics. And it is that aspect of the conception, rather than the biological aspect, that is Nagel’s main target in the book.

This appears to imply that materialists are arguing what they want to argue and ignoring the bits of Nagel that they find troubling.

I'm shocked.

Untenured said...

Wolf writes: "Tom Nagel undertakes in his slender 128 page book to show that "the materialist Neo-Darwinian conception of nature is almost certainly false," and yet in those pages, there is not a single chapter, a single paragraph, a single sentence, indeed not a single word about all of this extraordinary science.

I can think of some similar remarks that, oddly enough, never get made in contemporary book reviews.

"Philosopher X argues that nominalism is true, and yet does not write a single word about all of the extraordinary developments in number theory"

"Philosopher X argues that the logical problem of evil is insoluble, yet does not write a single word about all of the extraordinary developments in religious anthropology"

"Philosopher X argues that procedural liberalism should be the political norm, but does not write a single word about all of the extraordinary developments in 20th century European history"

Maybe I should dust off my copies of _Science Without Numbers_, _The Miracle of Theism_, and _Political Liberalism_ and crank out some book reviews.

Think they will taken seriously?

Crude said...

No, there's still plenty to fight about.

Not really.

Strip 'neo-Darwinism' of the extraneous metaphysics, and you're left with a process that is utterly silent on the question of God's existence, on whether particular instances of evolution were or were not designed or intended, and more. Yes, you still have some people who wouldn't believe in an evolutionary process - but at that point quite a lot of the stuffing comes out of that 'fight'.

Either way, they only have themselves to blame for the predicament they're in. Evolutionary biologists didn't complain when metaphysics started to get attached to evolutionary biology. In fact, a good number of them enthusiastically endorsed that kind of mixing.

To compare, look at Krauss. He's walking around making demonstrably absurd claims about his field. I see some philosophers calling him on the carpet about it. Where are the physicists?

machinephilosophy said...

"lost all understanding of the concept "left" while retaining a complete understanding of the concept "right."

Oh really? Then what's her freakin problem, if the concept of left is really absolutely and simply gone?

Is she missing the jealous phenomenon of non-existent leftness? Is it hiding?

Which way shall we turn in the absence of blikness?

Maybe the right hand is forgetting what the right hand forgot.

And maybe Wolff is forgetting that he doesn't have a brain.

". . . if I only had a braaaain . . ."

Anonymous said...

Strip 'neo-Darwinism' of the extraneous metaphysics, and you're left with a process that is utterly silent on the question of God's existence on whether particular instances of evolution were or were not designed or intended, and more.



This is not really true.



While evolutionary science does not prove any metaphysical propositions, it certainly does remove some of the explanatory value that God used to provide. Technically this is called "explaining away" in causal reasoning. IOW science doesn’t disprove God; it just removes the some of the need to postulate him as an explanatory factor.



This may not even apply to you folks; as far as I can tell you mostly want to prove God as some kind of necessary condition of existence and consciousness; rather than as an explanatory factor of the actual structure of the world.

Thursday said...

Crude:

Lots of people are incredibly uneasy with predicting and controlling too exactly the behaviour of human beings.

Crude said...

This is not really true.

While evolutionary science does not prove any metaphysical propositions, it certainly does remove some of the explanatory value that God used to provide.


Not in the slightest, since the "explanatory value" God provided was never a question of mechanism, but of responsibility. "God created the animals" doesn't offer an explanation of how animals were created, just that it was God's doing. Evolutionary explanations don't conflict with that claim.

As I said, the problem here isn't evolution - it's the extraneous metaphysics that do not follow from the science, nor are they scientific themselves. 'Common descent is true' and 'Reproduction, variation and selection are (broadly) the mechanisms by which species diversified' is on one side of a huge chasm, while on the other side is 'The outcomes of these mechanisms were not pre-ordained or determined by God/gods/etc'.

Shave off that second part, and it takes a major intellectual bulwark against theism and "religion" generally along with it. Which is why you have guys like Coyne insisting that those entirely metaphysical, unjustified, unscientific claims are science.

Thursday,

Lots of people are incredibly uneasy with predicting and controlling too exactly the behaviour of human beings.

Maybe, but that's getting pretty far afield from 'neo-Darwinism'. Nor do I see how it's guarded against even on the view that A-T is true. It certainly doesn't seem to be something Nagel took aim at.

David Anders said...

Greetings,

I have a question for lurking Thomists. It's off topic, but I can't think of a better place to pose it.

I am struggling with an aspect of the Thomist doctrine on phantasms. Specifically, when I am engaged in reasoning that is very abstract - higher order mathematics for example - many layers removed from sensible reality, in what sense is it true that I advert to phantasms?

Thanks,
D

Brandon said...

David,

It can vary from person to person; but words (for instance, talking oneself through the topic), notations, diagrams, and sensible examples are all ways in which one could be doing so.

David Anders said...

Hi Brandon,

Thanks for the thoughts.
It seems to me that in such cases, I am engaged largely in the manipulation of symbols - of symbols - of symbols - of phantasms of sensible reality. So, I don't advert to the phantasm directly, but indirectly through symbols which, in turn, advert to phantasms. Does this seem correct?

-David

Brandon said...

It depends on what you mean. Symbols can be quite as sensible as anything else. A diagram in category theory is a sensible thing, and when someone establishes whether it commutes, they are establishing a very abstract point on the basis of something quite apparent to the senses -- it's just that the abstract point is not itself sensible, and that understanding the point of the diagram as diagram requires quite a bit of abstraction. The same would be true of someone who didn't actually make the diagram but thought of a problem along the lines of the diagram -- the imaginary diagram is a phantasm, however abstract the understanding of what it means might be. So that would be a direct turning to the phantasm.

It's worth noting that there is conversion or adversion to phantasms not in the sense that it 'turns' or adverts to the phantasms not in the sense of turning toward them but in the sense that it is turned toward them, always considering them. Thus it's not a breakable turn; rather, if (like a Neoplatonist) you think of a complete account of an act as a complete circle, the being-turned-toward-phantasms is part of that circle. So we have to avoid interpreting it as saying that the phantasms have any one particular role that they serve; they can be involved in the act of understanding in any number of ways. But the idea is that in understanding the intellect has to be using the phantasms available to it somehow.

Unless you had a different sort of symbol in mind?

Brandon said...

Sorry that should be:

It's worth noting that there is conversion or adversion to phantasms not in that it 'turns' or adverts to the phantasms in the sense of turning toward them but in the sense that it is turned toward them, always considering them

David Anders said...

Brandon,

Thanks for the dialogue. In the diagram example, the use of phantasms is clear to me. I guess I'm thinking of something like this.

Let's say I arrive at some transcendental property of being - one, thing, something, true - that I get to through considering phantasms of sensible reality.

From that consideration - I arrive eventually at a logical judgment - like modus ponens, and then begin to reason on the basis of that judgment.

I can imagine a situation where I am many, many stages removed from my actual sensible contact with the existent that enabled me to arrive at understanding of the transcendental concept that, in turn, enabled the judgment.

So, I'm reasoning only in terms of logical relations, symbols, etc. Granted, I needed reality to get the whole process "off the ground" as it were, but I I think I can conceive of situations where I'm just spelling these symbolic and logical relations without any immediate turning to sensible reality, i.e. phantasms.

But, I'm sure I must be missing something here.

any thoughts?

Thanks,

david

Chad Handley said...

Crude:

I think the problem is that evolution - really, an extrapolated-beyond-science version of evolution - is regarded as the bulwark against a wide variety of religious and related social and political claims. Not 'a' bulwark, but 'the' bulwark. A lot has been invested into it emotionally, socially and even politically, for close to a century. Even modest criticisms, like the kind Nagel and even Fodor delivered, panic a lot of people to an extreme, because they draw a direct line between those criticisms and the intellectual success of various political opponents. You just have to look at the various reviews that complain Nagel will embolden (fill in the blank) by saying what he did.

We have our disagreements, but this is spot on.

Brandon said...

David,

I suppose I'm not sure what's counting as the actual symbol here. Is it the notation? But notations themselves are sensible, so you can have phantasms of notations (although they need not be phantasms of them as written -- e.g., they can be verbal or even kinaesthetic, in which it's like we're moving from left to right or back and forth in the equation rather than imagining how it looks on the paper -- people often seem to use kinaesthetic phantasms to distinguish different steps in reasoning and so to mark their place).

On the other hand, if what's the symbol is the original judgment, then the phantasm seems to be just the original phantasm you used to get the judgment, even if you are no longer paying much attention to it -- we don't actually pay close attention to most of our phantasms, which are constantly changing at a rapid pace and never stop, but that's different from saying that they play no role in our thought.

I think it's pretty clear that even the most abstract thinking has phantasm-involving potential (e.g., you could imagine writing down in words or diagrams or notation what you're thinking, to help you think), so the only real question here is whether there are forms of abstract thinking that don't in fact involve the phantasms in some way.

There are other ways phantasms play a role -- they are how we mark mental time, for instance, since understanding itself does not do it except insofar as we connect it to our physical sense of time, which is the flow of phantasms in the imagination plus our memory plus our estimation of how they are related, so our ability to tell that one step in our reasoning occurred before another is always phantasm-based. (You need a change to measure time with, and the mental change that is most immediately obvious to us is the flow of imagination.) But I take it you're really asking a question about high-level abstract conception and judgment in and of itself, not just about how phantasms are involved in abstract thinking some way and some how.

Donald said...

"Not in the slightest, since the "explanatory value" God provided was never a question of mechanism, but of responsibility."

Um, not for you and other philosophically sophisticated people, but in the world of evangelical Christianity there are plenty of people who think that "God did it" is the opposite of saying "natural selection did it". Of course, quite a few atheists think this too, which is what makes the creation/intelligent design/evolution debate so exasperating for those of us who think both sides are wrong (in different ways).

Tony said...

I think it's pretty clear that even the most abstract thinking has phantasm-involving potential

Right. When I studied topology, studying e.g. compactness which cannot really be drawn, we would often start the proof off with "take a set S" and then draw an amorphous blob on the board. The drawing was a very remote symbol for the concept "set S", and the words spoken were a very close sensory correlate in our usage for the understood concept "set S". Neither the visual referent on the board nor the audio sound of the words "set S" mattered in the least in a specific way to the concept being used, but certainly the words spoken were irretrievably part of the mind's being able to come to grips and actually think the thought "set S" in that setting. That's the phantasm.

Of course the phantasm is far removed from any sensible THING that is a "set S" itself. That's OK, there is no need for the phantasm used when the mind thinks the thought to be a close correlate to a sensible thing that is an instance of the concept being thought. I can think the concept "airplane" under the sound "Piper Cub" even I though I cannot distinguish a Piper Cub from a Cessna from a Citation.

Anonymous said...

Um, not for you and other philosophically sophisticated people, but in the world of evangelical Christianity there are plenty of people who think that "God did it" is the opposite of saying "natural selection did it".

Well, that's true but a) the fact that some people believe silly things about religion doesn't mean religion is silly any more than the fact that some people believe silly things about science means that science is silly and b) it means that we philosophically sophisticated people have to do a better job of presenting a more sophisticated version of theism as an alternative to both Christian and gnu atheist fundamentalism.

Thursday said...

Maybe, but that's getting pretty far afield from 'neo-Darwinism'.

Ever hear of evolutionary psychology?

Thursday said...

Thomisim is incompatible with materialism, but is it incompatible with determinism?

Crude said...

Thursday,

Ever hear of evolutionary psychology?

Yeah, I have. Have you seen how controversial that is, even among evolutionary biologists? Or how distant the sort of claims you're making are even from the field?

Really, I get what you're saying, but the areas you're pointing out happen to be pretty distant from the core "Neo-Darwinism" claims that happen to be A) the most metaphysical, and B) the most 'controversial'. Evolutionary psychology isn't exactly part of the core.

Donald,

Um, not for you and other philosophically sophisticated people, but in the world of evangelical Christianity there are plenty of people who think that "God did it" is the opposite of saying "natural selection did it"

Yeah, because "natural selection" is often explicitly defined as (at least in part) "God did not do it, or even foresee it". That's some of the metaphysical baggage that has next to nothing to do with science, but which has pretty well been bolted to the theory.

Which is why I say - you strip that away, and there's next to nothing thing that's going to be problematic. It's the equivalent of utterly defanging the theory of any (in a religiously / theologically relevant sense) importance. And that would explain why there's some supreme reluctance to ever clear that up.

Anonymous said...

crude: Not in the slightest, since the "explanatory value" God provided was never a question of mechanism, but of responsibility.

You obviously didn't understand what I said. Not sure if its due to obtuseness or if its deliberate, and not sure if I care. Try reading it again.

Crude said...

You obviously didn't understand what I said. Not sure if its due to obtuseness or if its deliberate, and not sure if I care. Try reading it again.

I re-read, and my reply seems entirely on target. I think you're confusing 'Didn't understand you' with 'disagreeing with you.'

God offers no 'explanatory value' in the context of what you're suggesting. To say "God created the animals" is not an explanation of how the animals were created. At best, it's an assignment of responsibility or authorship - and identifying the processes that actually played a role in the origin of species doesn't remove that responsibility or authorship.

Now, you can say, 'Yes, but, by explaining the origin of species via evolution, we have an explanation that in principle doesn't require God. Maybe it was entirely chance/brute/uncaused/etc!'. First, that's going to depend on what 'in principle' means, since various arguments for God's existence point at a conclusion that God's existence is necessary for the universe's existence moment to moment. But more importantly: any conclusions along those lines aren't scientific. They're metaphysical. There is no scientific test for the presence or lack of God's activity, immediate or historical, in a process. There's not even a scientific inference to work with - unless you want to jump on the ID bandwagon, in which case, you're more than welcome to.

Now, you can make some explicitly metaphysical and philosophical arguments on that front. ('God wouldn't use evolution because...' 'God is not involved in evolution because...') But that's going to leave the actual science aside as largely irrelevant, and it's likely going to end up melting into other familiar arguments (Problem of suffering, problem of evil.)

There's more wrong with it, but I'll leave it at that for now. Though in passing, I wonder if the introduction of various fundamental forces in the history of science can be considered 'instances where one more thing for God to explain showed up'. (I imagine the reply would be, no, because we can just say it's a brute fact. But you can say that with anything, so...)

machinephilosophy said...

Naturalism, determinism and other reductive theories should be used by criminal defense attorneys to get their clients off, especially since judges as well as juries are so blind to their fallacies.

Anonymous said...

Crude: man, I have rarely seen such tortured gyrations in service of avoiding understanding a very basic idea.

machine: the way the legal system treats responsibility and its lack is very interesting, because they are forced to take a pragmatic view (that is, even if there is no free will, it is the responsibility of the legal system to act as if there were). Thus we have things like the M'naghten rule which attempts to draw a bright line between the sane and those insane to the point of not being in control; and an entire new discipline of neurolaw.

Anonymous said...

"man, I have rarely seen such tortured gyrations in service of avoiding understanding a very basic idea."

Like Crude said, you seem to equate disagreeing with not understanding.

You do realize it's possible to understand you completely and still disagree right? Seriously, we get what you're trying to say. I mean that. We got it. Guess what? Crude disagrees.

I've never seen such tortured gyrations in service of avoiding understanding the fact that Crude disagrees.

Crude said...

I have rarely seen such tortured gyrations in service of avoiding understanding a very basic idea.

Was a mirror involved?

Here's a possibility: a common statement about the relationship between God and science is wrong. I could well be wrong about that, but showing as much will require a response beyond what you've given so far.

Scott said...

"Crude: man, I have rarely seen such tortured gyrations in service of avoiding understanding a very basic idea."

We all understand. Crude just disagrees. So do I, and for pretty much the reasons he's given.

Anonymous said...

me: While evolutionary science does not prove any metaphysical propositions, it certainly does remove some of the explanatory value that God used to provide.

Crude: Not in the slightest, since the "explanatory value" God provided was never a question of mechanism, but of responsibility.

Where did I say anything about mechanism?

Anyway, the plain facts of the matter are that people used to think that the only possible explanation for the intricate structure of living beings was an intelligent designer. Darwin showed how it could arise without an intelligent designer, which of course does not prove there isn’t one. It also doesn’t prove that God didn’t set all the machinery of evolution in progress, and it doesn’t prove that the entire universe didn’t pop into existence 5 seconds ago complete with a fake billion year history. But those last two unprovable propositions have the quality of being unparsimonious and uninteresting.

Anonymous said...

"But those last two unprovable propositions have the quality of being unparsimonious and uninteresting."

I think they're interesting. I'm fairly certain you do as well. You're here aren't you?

Perhaps you think you're the Darwinian Messiah to finally open our eyes to all the things we've gyrated so tortuously against in hope of avoiding understanding.

Oh save us Darwinian Master from these horrible gyrations!!!

E

Crude said...

Anon,

Where did I say anything about mechanism?

When you're talking about how 'God explained (x), but actually operations Y explain (x)', you're dealing with mechanisms implicitly.

Anyway, the plain facts of the matter are that people used to think that the only possible explanation for the intricate structure of living beings was an intelligent designer. Darwin showed how it could arise without an intelligent designer, which of course does not prove there isn’t one.

The plain fact of the matter is that people made the claim that God created living beings (along with everything else originally) - putting aside day to day Creation. What they did not offer was an explanation of how God did this beyond 'He did it', at least in the cases of the Abrahamic faiths. So no, offering up evolutionary theory doesn't supplant God in that case - it's just one more way by which creation can be accomplished.

Now, you say 'Darwin showed how it could arise without an intelligent designer'. First off, that's way too generous - Darwin helped build the groundwork to a theory that attempts to explain the origin of species by a selection of such and such processes. This is incomplete, to say the least. It may be that the nature of the field, dealing with operations over deep time and who-knows-what particular events such as it does, means it must forever remain incomplete. That's fine.

But the presence or lack of an intelligent designer's efforts or intention is not a scientific issue - it's a philosophical and metaphysical one, at best. There is no scientific test (unless you subscribe to ID being science - I dissent on that one) for design in nature. If you disagree, I'll simply ask you to show me the peer reviewed research purporting to examine nature to determine whether or not it was designed by God - or even by a powerful agent. That'll be a fun read, if you can find one.

Now, you can say 'Okay, but we have this process - we can just say the whole apparatus magically poofed into existence and it all happened by chance, metaphysically at least!' Great, go for it. Try to defend the claim if you wish. But at that point, it's the metaphysics, not the science, doing the heavy lifting.

But those last two unprovable propositions have the quality of being unparsimonious and uninteresting.

First, I don't think the naturalistic theory of 'poofing' becomes less magical or silly simply by setting the 'poofing' date back further in time.

Second, metaphysical proofs are offered and defended for God's existence. I find them to be more interesting and parsimonious than naturalistic magic.

Third, even without the metaphysical proofs, I think reasoning and evidence favors assent to a designer. But at least I'm aware of just what role science - actual science - plays in any reasoning about such a thing, whether accepting a designer or not: shockingly little.

Now, if you insist that science has shown that (say) evolutionary processes are not the product of design - or are even made less likely to be the product of design - again, my request is simple: show me the research papers. Some nice, peer reviewed, scientific research testing for the presence or lack of 'design' in nature, by a supremely powerful being. If the response on this front is silence, it's going to be telling.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Darwin gave a particular model, but what he said was nothing new. If you reject vertical, non-naturalistic causation in the development of life, then you are left with horizontal, naturalistic causation, which is ultimately the only stable definition of evolution. Darwin simply gave a particular model of how this kind of causation could operate.

So, Darwin didn't do anything new in claiming the complexities of life came from naturalistic causes alone.

Anonymous said...

Oh well, repeating myself didn't help, you still don't understand what I'm saying, and still repeat the same irrelevant responses, so I give up. (and no, you are not disagreeing, you are failing to understand the point -- which is not that complicated, so I assume it is a conscious or unconscious form of evasion).

Crude said...

Oh well, repeating myself didn't help, you still don't understand what I'm saying, and still repeat the same irrelevant responses, so I give up.

Great. I stand by what I've said, and I don't think your replies have helped your response in this case. Entertain the possibility that the confusion is on your end rather than mine.

Sometimes an oft-repeated 'obvious' claim isn't all that obvious - much less true - when it's actually analyzed.

Scott said...

"Oh well, repeating myself didn't help, you still don't understand what I'm saying, and still repeat the same irrelevant responses, so I give up. (and no, you are not disagreeing, you are failing to understand the point -- which is not that complicated, so I assume it is a conscious or unconscious form of evasion)."

What's the big mystery here? You're responding to Crude's statement about the scope of evolutionary theory by saying that at one time people thought life required an intelligent designer, but Darwin showed why one might not be necessary. Crude had dealt with this objection before you ever raised it.

Anonymous said...

(and no, you are not disagreeing, you are failing to understand the point -- which is not that complicated, so I assume it is a conscious or unconscious form of evasion)."

So, understanding you requires agreement with you? Wow.

Yeah, you probably should give up.

I agree with you on your point not being complicated. That's why it's so amazing that you think we don't understand.

I recognize our disagreement is probably frustrating since you seem to think understanding demands our agreement.

E

machinephilosophy said...

One problem is that you have to either have an eternal structure or order or mechanism as originating source of all future development, or else say that structure or order came from non-structure or non-order.

The former is Aristotelian deism, the latter is the same thing but viewed as having popped out of nothing.

The other problem is that you have to have a belief-adjudicating structure of principles to carry out the analysis itself, and this is indistinguishable from an ultimate mind due to its invariance and universality in being used to evaluate the total reality.

Aristotelian Thomism seems to be the only philosophy going that faces up to these issues, even aside from the question of whether or not it's successful as resolving them (and I'm very suspicious that it is), while naturalism/materialism wants to hand wave and pull inferential universal rabbits out of hats of undifferentiated material goo.

Jeremy Taylor said...

To say that Darwin showed how life could orginate and develop without a designer is also not true in the sense that evolution has not proven this. It hasn't proven that naturalistic, horizontal causation is alone responsible for life. This is especially obvious in terms of consciousness, which is just what Nagel's work is about.

This anon, also, seems to have some crude view that any role for God must be through direct creation, and in a very anthromorphic way. He seems to be quite ignorant of theism, except for crude fundamentalism. This is, of course, quite usual for Gnus.

Together these misunderstandings of his seem the only explanation why he is presenting a simplistic dichotomy between evolution and theism.

He tries to make up for his ignorance with an aggressive manner.

Jeremy Taylor said...

-anthropomorphic

E.H. Munro said...
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E.H. Munro said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
E.H. Munro said...

Oh well, repeating myself didn't help, you still don't understand what I'm saying, and still repeat the same irrelevant responses, so I give up. (and no, you are not disagreeing, you are failing to understand the point -- which is not that complicated, so I assume it is a conscious or unconscious form of evasion).

Not only do I understand what you're saying, I actually understand your arguments better than you do. So does Crude. The problem here is that you can't seem to conceive of a non-anthropomorphic god, and likely because in the YouTube videos that you educated yourself with didn't address the concept in any other way.

Learning is not a disease, there are many very intelligent theists that comment/post here that have taken the time to understand the conversation, even though they disagree. So, no, understanding does not require acquiescence. Despite your insistence that those of us that "disagree" with you just don't understand (and the reason for the scare quotes is that most of us actually agree that ID is bunk and that's precisely not what Crude is discussing).

On a related note Blogger needs to allow you to edit comments.

Anonymous said...

Not only do I understand what you're saying, I actually understand your arguments better than you do.

That's pretty funny, since you go on to attribute a bunch of stuff to me that I never said, such as an insistence on an anthropomorphic god and that understanding demands acquiesence.

Yes there are intelligent theists, and I guess I come here hoping for a good discussion with them, but you people can't even understand plain English.

Scott said...

"That's pretty funny, since you go on to attribute a bunch of stuff to me that I never said, such as an insistence on an anthropomorphic god and that understanding demands acquiesence."

Both of which are examples of E.H. Munro's understanding your arguments better than you do—much as Crude did earlier when he distinguished, as you had not, between mechanism and responsibility.

If you came here hoping for a discussion with intelligent theists, you should be very happy, because that's exactly what you got.

E.H. Munro said...

That's pretty funny, since you go on to attribute a bunch of stuff to me that I never said, such as an insistence on an anthropomorphic god and that understanding demands acquiescence.

Actually you did. Crude just disagrees with and that's it. Really, that's all. He understands you, I understand you. We all understand you. And you can deny that you're addressing an anthropomorphic concept of deity but you start out by writing this...

While evolutionary science does not prove any metaphysical propositions, it certainly does remove some of the explanatory value that God used to provide.

That statement is only true if you believe in god as some sort of demiurge, whose active agency is necessary for each stage of evolution (and to be clear we're granting that many people do believe as such, hence our reference to the IDers). But the statement isn't universally true. It's only true for god as demiurge. It actually has no relation to the Thomist conception of deity and doesn't actually have anything at all to do with god as necessary existent.

So you either need to present a cogent argument for why the only legitimate conception of deity can be the anthropomorphic one or go back and address his actual point (and to date in this debate you haven't even attempted to, you've just complained "You don't understand!").

Crude's point is fairly simple, if the neo-darwinists would stop trying to piggyback all the non-empirical baggage onto the actual science then a huge portion of the evolution debate goes away. Sure, there'd still be young earth creationists, but there are also still logical positivists and people that think Sam Harris is rational. Not much you can do about those sorts.

George R. said...

Yes there are intelligent theists...

There are some very intelligent atheists, too. The problem is that all the intelligence in the world can't help you if your heart is set on believing crap.

Anonymous said...

As far as I can tell, you are pretending that theists have never engaged in the argument from design, so that the fact that evolution provides a naturalistic explanation for apparent design has no impact at all on their beliefs.

This is obviously untrue historically, and according to Wikipedia the teleological argument (aka argument from design) is part of Thomism.

If you want to retreat from that position and posit a God that is incapable of explaining anything (and hence of being explained away), well, go right ahead if it makes you happy, but obviously it has no interest for or impact on normal people.

Scott said...

"[A]ccording to Wikipedia the teleological argument (aka argument from design) is part of Thomism."

Oh, dear. It's even worse than I thought.

No, Aquinas's Fifth Way is not in any way the same as the argument commonly called the "argument from design." The latter has to do only with artifacts, the former with anything that behaves in any sort of lawful fashion. See here, here, and here.

Crude said...

As far as I can tell, you are pretending that theists have never engaged in the argument from design, so that the fact that evolution provides a naturalistic explanation for apparent design has no impact at all on their beliefs.

This one may set me apart from others in this thread - but no, evolution does not provide a 'naturalistic explanation for apparent design', full stop.

First, evolution provides a framework for explanations. Saying 'evolution did it!' explains about as much as 'God did it!' You can discover explanations within that framework - 'these moths are now predominately dark winged because of variation X and acts of selection Y'. There's still one hell of a lot of work for scientists to do, a lot of explanations the science lacks (or lacks beyond some pretty vague handwaving), and changes the theory will have to go through. I say this as someone who accepts evolution, common descent, etc.

But more importantly - evolution, as a science, does not provide 'naturalistic explanations for apparent design'. Science can't identify what is or isn't apparent design, nor can it say that any explanation rules in or out the foresight, intent or act of God, or even just a very powerful being. What it provides is explanations for phenomena, and even then, incomplete explanations. If you want to get to 'naturalistic' in the relevant sense, you have to go outside of science and into metaphysics and philosophy. Science alone leaves that question radically open. (Back to, 'Let's see the research where the presence or lack of design was tested, and wasn't involving the Discovery Institute.')

Now, does evolution impact peoples' beliefs? Sure, I never said otherwise. Some people get drilled in their head 'If evolution is true then God doesn't exist!' by both sides. Others think evolution amplifies or reduces problem of evil concerns. People come to believe or disbelieve in God for a variety of reasons, some of them bad or weak. Not really a concern of mine here, and not exactly what you were taking aim at.

Some arguments from design are at least impacted by evolution, absolutely. On the other hand, every relevant argument from design I know of - whether Intelligent Design or William Paley - is incredibly open-ended. Neither ID nor Paley's argument concludes 'God'. They conclude, 'intelligent agent'. In the case of ID, they explicitly admit the possible explanations for identifiable cases of design include 'things other than God' and their argument can't, and isn't intended to, solve that. So any claims of 'evolution gives a mechanism which undermines these design arguments, and one could imagine God isn't involved with!' doesn't do much - the design arguments themselves had possible conclusions that both affirmed the design argument, yet still didn't conclude God's existence.

So yes, I think evolution has had an impact on theistic thought. Just not the impact you seem to think it had.

Anonymous said...

But more importantly - evolution, as a science, does not provide 'naturalistic explanations for apparent design'. Science can't identify what is or isn't apparent design

I am beginning to think that the failure to understand plain english is a function of some systemic brain bug.

To wit: 'naturalistic explanations for apparent design' does not mean that science can distinguish design from non-design. It means that if there is apparent design, that is, something that seems designed to the naive human eye (such as the human eye), science can provide an account for how that arose without a designer.

And for the umpteenth time, you may disagree with any part of this you like, but you have to understand the meaning of the words first.

On the other hand, every relevant argument from design I know of - whether Intelligent Design or William Paley - is incredibly open-ended. Neither ID nor Paley's argument concludes 'God'. They conclude, 'intelligent agent'.

I fail to see how that has any relevance to my point, which is equally valid no matter what name you want to call the purported intelligent agent.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser, here is a rather interesting article I think you would find enjoyable. It basically takes atheists to task for claiming David Hume and Jean Paul Sartre were lifelong atheists. Apparently Hume really was a theist, and Sartre renounced atheism as untenable later in life.

http://voices.yahoo.com/icons-atheism-no-more-12313624.html?cat=37

Scott said...

"To wit: 'naturalistic explanations for apparent design' does not mean that science can distinguish design from non-design. It means that if there is apparent design, that is, something that seems designed to the naive human eye (such as the human eye), science can provide an account for how that arose without a designer."

And how does "science" show that no designer is involved without distinguishing between design and non-design? Surely the conclusion This arose (or even the more modest could have arisen) without a designer requires precisely that distinction.

Crude said...

Anon,

I think you believe 'misunderstand' and 'disagree' are synonyms.

It means that if there is apparent design, that is, something that seems designed to the naive human eye (such as the human eye), science can provide an account for how that arose without a designer.

Except "it can't" is exactly what I'm claiming. Again: you may want to consider the possibility that the misunderstanding is on your end.

The moment you start talking about designers in the relevant sense - their presence or lack - you're outside of science. Period. Let's say you have a step by step description of every stage of the eye's evolution, every selection pressure and related evolutionary process that played a role, taking you from whatever your starting point is to 'the human eye'. Science cannot say 'Aha! See? Here's the account of how it arose without a designer.' Because there's no, zero, nada, zilch way for science to determine whether that process carried on without the orchestration - however remote, however front-loaded, however direct or indirect - a designer. Just as if I personally created an eye from an initial collection of bare material parts, my act did not 'provide an account for how the eye arose with a designer'.

Here's a way to think about it: what's the difference between artificial selection and natural selection? Ultimately, the presence and act - however remote - of an intelligent agent. And 'intention' doesn't show up under a microscope. (Unless you accept ID or some variation of it.)

Again - you say science provides accounts of how things arise without a designer? Then provide me with the research articles showing as much. Let's see an evolutionary biologist controlling for acts of not just God or gods, but various powerful, hypothetical intelligent designers, in their accounts of the eye's creation. You won't find any. Or, if you manage to, I promise - they will be hilarious.

Science can get you to processes and laws. Whether those processes or laws were or were not the result of a designer's efforts and intentions is another matter. There's not even the beginning of a way to test for that - unless you subscribe to some form of Intelligent Design as Science. I don't. But that's what you'll need.

The best you can get is 'well it's logically possible God wasn't involved' or 'according to these metaphysical arguments...'. Reasoning about bare logical possibilities and metaphysical arguments isn't exactly science. More than that, in the realm of bare logical possibilities, *successful design arguments* already had responses that didn't strictly require 'God'. So what's new?

And for the umpteenth time, you may disagree with any part of this you like, but you have to understand the meaning of the words first.

I do understand. You? I'm not so sure you understand.

I fail to see how that has any relevance to my point, which is equally valid no matter what name you want to call the purported intelligent agent.

I explained it pretty clearly: the 'design arguments', such as Paley's watch, and intelligent design, already have possibilities other than God. Entirely 'natural' (as if that word means anything anymore) possibilities. So 'we have an explanation now, and it means that God isn't necessarily involved!', as a response to design arguments in question, is moot. God wasn't necessarily involved even with *successful* design arguments, of the sort Paley, etc, discuss.

Now, the Fifth Way is another matter. But the Fifth Way isn't threatened by evolutionary ponderings, so that's moot.

And before you respond, 'for the umpteenth time', that I don't understand - entertain the possibility that you are repeating a very common bit of reasoning that may well be mistaken. The relationship between science and God may not be what you think.

Crude said...

Just as if I personally created an eye from an initial collection of bare material parts, my act did not 'provide an account for how the eye arose with a designer'.

To amend this - I'm talking historically. "My creating an eye in a laboratory does not demonstrate that the eye arose by someone creating it in a laboratory in and of itself."

George LeSauvage said...

Crude said, replying to one of the Anonymous guys (I guess he should be called "Arrogant Anonymous"): "I think you believe 'misunderstand' and 'disagree' are synonyms."

While this seems true, there's another problem here. AA doesn't seem to get the notion that, when confronted with (what you believe is) misunderstanding, the responsible thing to do is to rephrase, elaborate, clarify. You address specific statements the other guy has made, and show how his version differs from what you meant to say.

But some seem to think doing so is one of the Gnu Deadly Sins.

Anonymous said...

I think you believe 'misunderstand' and 'disagree' are synonyms.

Think it all you like, that won’t make it be the case. I just got done explaining precisely how you were misinterpreting what I was saying and inviting you to disagree with what I was actually saying rather than your misinterpretation. I don’t know how much clearer that can be, and now I suspect you are taking the piss, as the Brits say.

The moment you start talking about designers in the relevant sense - their presence or lack - you're outside of science.

I guess this is some fixed idea of yours, since you keep repeating it like an article of faith no matter how irrelevant or false it is in context. In this case it is both.

Science cannot say 'Aha! See? Here's the account of how it arose without a designer.'

Once again you are demonstrating an utter failure to grasp my original point, which I am not going to repeat since you can go and read it.

The best you can get is 'well it's logically possible God wasn't involved' or 'according to these metaphysical arguments...'. Reasoning about bare logical possibilities and metaphysical arguments isn't exactly science.

The original point was not about logical possibility but of probability/plausibility under causal reasoning (for a loose definition of causal). Go back and read the page I linked to if you are actually interested, but I suspect you aren’t.

And before you respond, 'for the umpteenth time', that I don't understand - entertain the possibility that you are repeating a very common bit of reasoning that may well be mistaken.

It’s certainly possible, but so far you haven’t managed to successfully understand the reasoning much less poke holes in it.

Jeremy Taylor said...

One wonders what this arrogant anon thinks he is achieving with this bluster and braggadocio?

Does he think that those here will not see through it to his basic mistakes in reasoning and lack of proper points?

Why is he wasting everyone's time?

Jeremy Taylor said...

The original point, such as it was, carried with it the implication that theistic alternatives to naturalistic evolution must either rely on anthropomorphic, direct creation or be a God of the gaps where God acts through an otherwise completely naturalistic evolutionary process.

The errors in this point were made clear to you, repeatedly. I have yet to see you make a proper response, oh all knowing one.

Mr. Green said...

Crude: I think you believe 'misunderstand' and 'disagree' are synonyms.

I don't think Anonymous believes that at all. Maybe he's misunderstanding you, but that means it's time for both sides to step back and explain their respective positions a little more clearly and expansively. This poster is clearly neither a Scholastically trained philosopher, nor a jerkish troll of the sort we often get, so I think a little more care is warranted — on all sides, mind you. In practice, many people do misunderstand God's place in explanation, and for that matter, lots of people do in theory also; from an A-T perspective, they're simply wrong, but it didn't strike me as egregious for Anon. to point this out. (But I'm still not entirely sure I understand Anon.'s point either.)

George LeSauvage: While this seems true, there's another problem here. AA doesn't seem to get the notion that, when confronted with (what you believe is) misunderstanding, the responsible thing to do is to rephrase, elaborate, clarify.

The conversation here is usually of quite a high calibre, but people on all sides are apt to forget this.

Jeremy Taylor: One wonders what this arrogant anon thinks he is achieving with this bluster and braggadocio?

He just sounds a bit peeved to me. Maybe it's all the people calling him arrogant?



P.S. Anonymous posters — use the "Name/URL" option and just make up a name! I don't know if psychologically that will subconsciously encourage people to take you more seriously than the usually anonymous trolls of whom we get our share, but if nothing else it will help chaps like me keep track of who the heck is saying what.

Anonymous said...

Anon does not seem to understand classical theism. He is also unwilling to entertain the possibility that he could be wrong and is not keeping an open mind. That's a most unscientific attitude to take, and I say that as an MD who works in infectious diseases research, who also struggles to understand classical theism.

E.H. Munro said...

I don't think Anonymous believes that at all. Maybe he's misunderstanding you, but that means it's time for both sides to step back and explain their respective positions a little more clearly and expansively. This poster is clearly neither a Scholastically trained philosopher, nor a jerkish troll of the sort we often get, so I think a little more care is warranted — on all sides, mind you. In practice, many people do misunderstand God's place in explanation, and for that matter, lots of people do in theory also; from an A-T perspective, they're simply wrong, but it didn't strike me as egregious for Anon. to point this out. (But I'm still not entirely sure I understand Anon.'s point either.)

I am going to have to respectfully disagree here. The anon is clearly trying to do battle with people defending Paley's watchmaker, and getting frustrated because we aren't IDers. He also clearly seems to think that Crude is, so he really doesn't understand.

In one of his last responses he writes, "As far as I can tell, you are pretending that theists have never engaged in the argument from design, so that the fact that evolution provides a naturalistic explanation for apparent design has no impact at all on their beliefs," with no understanding that these beliefs were a spinoff of mechanism and a relative latecomer to theism. In that same response he confuses teleology with intelligent design, the sort of error that all gnus make, because they heard it in a Rockin' with Dawkins! or Hitchslap! video. I'm guessing that he's been poisoned in the same way. And he's shown no willingness to actually listen or unlearn.

If he responds again it will be with more "Why can't you guys understand plain English!" rubbish. But the real problem is that in neo-scholastic philosophy many common words carry technical connotations. When you're serious about learning you learn the terminology. But he isn't.

Crude said...

Mr. Green,

I don't think Anonymous believes that at all. Maybe he's misunderstanding you, but that means it's time for both sides to step back and explain their respective positions a little more clearly and expansively.

Really, what else can I do other than what I'm doing? It's not like I haven't been explaining my reasoning on this points, and really - while normally I'd understand if someone just weren't grasping some complexity of Aristotilean thought or classical theism, that's not what's being discussed here. And I think I'm being reasonably restrained in the face of what has long been a display of contentless "No I'm right, you just misunderstand or are being mean, didn't you see how I linked to a page about Occam's razor and everything?" responses and general testiness.

This isn't even really a classical theism versus personalist theism confusion, since most of what I've said here applies in the personalist case too. If you ask me, what I think is going on here is that this particular claim - 'Science hasn't disproven God, but has made Him more and more irrelevant, particularly in the case of evolution' - is something a lot of people reflexively agree to, even Christians. Thomists may say 'You're thinking of the theistic personalists - down the hall, first door on your left, have fun', anti-ID Christians who aren't classical theists will often cop to it to prove they're on the science bandwagon, and most of the Christians who fight it tend to do so by way of attacking evolutionary theory.

I'm giving a different response. The argument not only doesn't touch the Thomists - I think it doesn't even touch the theistic personalists, at least not in any meaningful intellectual way. It may strike in an emotional way, it may strike due to some serious misunderstandings about either God or science. But in and of itself? There's just not much going on with it.

urban jean said...

Crude says (September 18, 2013 at 4:25 PM)
Let's see an evolutionary biologist controlling for acts of not just God or gods, but various powerful, hypothetical intelligent designers, in their accounts of the eye's creation.
This is, I'm afraid, a bit confused. An explanatory account can exist in splendid isolation of all other accounts. It's only when we come to do experiments that test one account against another that we have to 'control for' alternatives. If you can set things up so that alternative B cannot occur, but A can, and you get the predicted result, then it's suggestive that account A is right, or at least, not wrong. A small point, perhaps, but it may be giving Anon a false impression.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Crude. Well said, as always.

ID Anon.
(Infectious Diseases ;-))

Glenn said...

>> Strip 'neo-Darwinism' of the extraneous metaphysics, and
>> you're left with a process that is utterly silent on the question
>> of God's existence on whether particular instances of
>> evolution were or were not designed or intended, and more.

> This is not really true.

> While evolutionary science does not prove any metaphysical
> propositions, it certainly does remove some of the
> explanatory value that God used to provide. Technically this
> is called "explaining away" in causal reasoning. IOW science
> doesn’t disprove God; it just removes the some of the need to
> postulate him as an explanatory factor.


Anonymous ("This is not really true...") calls attention to a particular kind of reasoning, and how (when that particular kind of reasoning is employed (and a person is speaking from the context of that particular kind of reasoning)) something may be said to have lost 'explanatory value' when a certain condition obtains (which certain condition is that a single one of two or more possible causes has been confirmed).

As mentioned in the paper for which Anonymous provides a link, "Explaining away is an example of intercausal inference, that is, reasoning between two causes with a common effect[.]" **

Let's say I wake up in the morning, casually glance out the window and, noticing that my neighbor's lawn is glistening in the morning sun, think, "Either it rained last night or Bob's sprinkler was on," and then catch a snippet from the radio in the kitchen: "...it rained last night..."

Say the authors in their paper:

"Suppose prior observation of wet grass had led to the defeasible acceptance of sprinkling. In a default reasoning scheme, confirmation of rain should lead to a retraction of the hypothesis that the sprinkler had been on. In a probabilistic reasoning scheme, it should lead to a reduced probability of the sprinkler hypothesis, even though the possibility of simultaneous sprinkling and rain is allowed."

The tenor of Anonymous' comments, subsequent to that of his quoted above, seems to suggest that he subscribes to the unfounded belief that no one here is capable of multi-tasking, i.e., that no one here is capable of knowing what is a 'probabilistic reasoning scheme', while simultaneously:

a) knowing how to draw conclusions consistent with the application of that scheme;

b) recognizing that -- as the authors' of the paper he himself linked to make clear -- other 'reasoning schemes' exist which may be brought to bear on a matter;

c) agreeing with the authors that, "Although explaining away is often intuitively compelling, there are cases in which it appears inappropriate"; and,

d) taking a stance which holds that the 'probabilistic reasoning scheme' is inadequate when brought to bear on certain matters.

- - - - -

** I find it interesting that Anonymous should have tacitly asserted, even if somewhat remotely, that God and evolution are different causes with a common effect.

Glenn said...

** I find it interesting that Anonymous should have tacitly asserted, even if somewhat remotely, that God and evolution are different causes with a common effect.

His guerilla tactics notwithstanding, and despite the lack of any overt acknowledgement, perhaps Anonymous does entertain some notion which, though not yet well-formed, does have, roughly speaking, God as first cause and that which gets labeled as evolution as a kind of efficient cause.

Glenn said...

** I find it interesting that Anonymous should have tacitly asserted, even if somewhat remotely, that God and evolution are different causes with a common effect.

His guerilla tactics notwithstanding, and despite the lack of any overt acknowledgement, perhaps Anonymous does entertain some notion which, though not yet well-formed, does have, roughly speaking, God as first cause and that which gets labeled as evolution as a kind of efficient cause.

Anonymous said...

"His guerilla tactics notwithstanding, and despite the lack of any overt acknowledgement, perhaps Anonymous does entertain some notion which, though not yet well-formed, does have, roughly speaking, God as first cause and that which gets labeled as evolution as a kind of efficient cause."

This might well be the case. All the more reason to attempt clarifying your thoughts on the issue.

Instead, we're treated with the "you don't understand" defense. In my experience, this is the preferred tactic of the "gnu" atheist.

I don't know where anon stands, but I'd hope his comments would be embarrassing theists, deists, agnostics, and atheists alike.

E

Mr. Green said...

E.H. Munro: The anon is clearly trying to do battle with people defending Paley's watchmaker, and getting frustrated because we aren't IDers.

If you got that out of the same comments I read, you're definitely misunderstanding him.

he writes, "As far as I can tell, you are pretending that theists have never engaged in the argument from design, so that the fact that evolution provides a naturalistic explanation for apparent design has no impact at all on their beliefs," with no understanding that these beliefs were a spinoff of mechanism and a relative latecomer to theism.

So what? Did he ever claim they weren't spinoffs and latecomers? Just as there's a lot of space between "no secondary causes" and "only secondary causes", so there is a wide field between "orthodox Thomist" and "quasi-Darwinian atheist fanatic". I have seen a lot of the latter in my time here, and this Anon. is not those Anons.

Mr. Green said...

Crude: Really, what else can I do other than what I'm doing? It's not like I haven't been explaining my reasoning on this points

Well, you weren't name-calling, but I guess the thing to do is back up to a point where both sides agree (to a common understanding, if not agreeing with the claim itself), and work up to exact point of contention. It usually helps to state what you think the other person's claim in your own words... to be honest, I'm not quite clear on what the disagreement is about on either side. (I understand your points and basically agree, but of course I'm familiar with you and where you're coming from.)

This isn't even really a classical theism versus personalist theism confusion, [...]- 'Science hasn't disproven God, but has made Him more and more irrelevant, particularly in the case of evolution' - is something a lot of people reflexively agree to, even Christians.

I thought that was largely Anon's point. He already acknowledged that it "doesn't touch the Thomists", but lots of people are going to fight over the whole Darwinian thing (regardless of whether they're wrong, from the A-T perspective), and not just because they think God and evolution are opposites. (E.g., some people really object to the idea that great-great-greatgreatgreat-granddad was an ape. Maybe their philosophy is still wrong, but not [necessarily] because they don't understand secondary causality.)

Anyway, Mr. Anonymous has also failed to make his point clear. It doesn't matter how correct his point might be if it were "properly" understood; if so many people are apparently misunderstanding it, then it clearly needs to be expressed in a better way.

Step2 said...

First, it would be much funnier given the context to say "His gorilla tactics notwithstanding…”

Second, a timeline of evolution seems appropriate to the discussion.

Third, as the timeline indicates, there were multiple mass extinction events on the planet long before humans evolved. Does God take responsibility for those as well?

Mr. Green said...

Step2: First, it would be much funnier given the context to say "His gorilla tactics notwithstanding…”

It would! (Great-granddad used to go ape for puns.)

Does God take responsibility for those as well?

Now that indicates a lack of understanding of primary vs. secondary causation.

Step2 said...

I confess I don’t understand why there is a responsibility gap between primary and secondary causes. If God gets credit for both, which appears to be the consensus opinion, God should take the blame for both. Innocent people or animals died in a natural catastrophe, don’t blame God instead blame it on secondary causes that God created with perfect knowledge of the consequences.

machinephilosophy said...

I'm sure glad blame itself gets a pass in that scenario.

Where would we be without arbitrary exemptions for our own reductive universals, anyway?

Anonymous said...

nor a jerkish troll of the sort we often get

That’s the nicest thing I’ve heard all day!

He is also unwilling to entertain the possibility that he could be wrong

Um, I explicitly said a couple of times that I might be wrong, the only thing I am insisting on is that my argument be understood and accurately represented. I’ve said that a couple of times too.

All this is very very very boring. I am going to try hard to drop it.

Here’s a quote from one of the pages Scott pointed me to:

Christopher F. J. Martin, Thomas Aquinas: God and Explanations, pp. 180-82:

The Being whose existence is revealed to us by the argument from design is not God but the Great Architect of the Deists and Freemasons, an impostor disguised as God, a stern, kindly, and immensely clever old English gentleman, equipped with apron, trowel, square and compasses...The Great Architect is not God because he is just someone like us but a lot older, cleverer and more skilful. He decides what he wants to do and therefore sets about doing the things he needs to do to achieve it. God is not like that.

If by “God” you mean something that is not an agent, not a person, without casual powers, but something abstract like The Ground of Being or The Absolute or The Conditions of Existence, then no atheist up to and including Richard Dawkins. would have any objection to It (“him” seems inappropriate). But then there are no useful conclusions to be drawn from such an abstract non-beings ontological status one way or the other. You’ve also removed anything distinctly religious from the concept of God.

Anonymous said...

"But then there are no useful conclusions to be drawn from such an abstract non-beings ontological status one way or the other. You’ve also removed anything distinctly religious from the concept of God."

You just don't understand.

E

Mr. Green said...

Step2: I confess I don’t understand why there is a responsibility gap between primary and secondary causes. If God gets credit for both, which appears to be the consensus opinion, God should take the blame for both.

God doesn't get credit for both. When you do something, or rock rolling down a hill does something, God is the primary cause in making you and the rock even exist in the first place (as well as in the second, third, .... etc.). At the same time, you really do cause whatever it is as a secondary cause, and so does the rock — God is not the secondary cause, and does not have "secondary responsibility". You are responsible for your actions because they really are your actions; as the rock is "responsible" for its behaviour.

Some background in Scholastic philosophy is necessary to appreciate fully what primary and secondary causation is all about, but here is a brief and approximate example: Agatha Christie, as author, is in some way responsible for everything happens in her novels. But if you were to ask, "Given all the killing in this story, is Agatha Christie a mass murderer?", one would suspect that you do not understand what it means to be an author. God is in some sense not unlike an author or dreamer: our existence at any moment depends on Him; but He is not responsible for actions in the same way that secondary causes (such as people, or rocks) are responsible.

Anonymous said...

"If by “God” you mean something that is not an agent, not a person, without casual powers, but something abstract like The Ground of Being or The Absolute or The Conditions of Existence, then no atheist up to and including Richard Dawkins. would have any objection to It (“him” seems inappropriate). But then there are no useful conclusions to be drawn from such an abstract non-beings ontological status one way or the other. You’ve also removed anything distinctly religious from the concept of God."

I was right that you don't understand classical theism. You also don't understand that you don't understand. You don't entertain the possibility that you could be wrong. Classical Theism is not easy to understand, it's not embarrassing to say one does not understand it fully, and then perhaps some of the guys and girls here can explain it to you or point you somewhere where you can read up on it.

Anonymous said...

I take it you don't understand it either, or you'd be able to say what specifically I don't understand (certainly I did as much when explaining how you weren't understanding what I was talking about).

As far as I can tell, it's basically a shell game, where you use the word "God" to refer to two completely different things in order to confuse people.

Here's an example from an expert:

It entails that God is immutable or changeless, and therefore that He is impassible – that is, that He cannot be affected by anything in the created order.

See the trick? "He" suggest a person, but the rest of the sentence suggests something that is nothing at all like a person. Transparently fraudulent.

urban jean said...

The dispute between Crude and Anonymous hinges on how we understand designer. Under this concept Crude wants to include not just artisans with sketchbooks and pencils (think Leonardo, Starck), but also Paley's god, and even the theistic god. Anon allows the artisans and Paley but baulks at the theistic god. Crude sees how powerful an argument Darwinism is against artisans and Paley but can't let it undermine the theistic god. After all, they are all designers and it's design that Darwin attacks. So he needs an argument against Darwinism. He says

The moment you start talking about designers in the relevant sense - their presence or lack - you're outside of science. Period. Let's say you have a step by step description of every stage of the eye's evolution, every selection pressure and related evolutionary process that played a role, taking you from whatever your starting point is to 'the human eye'. Science cannot say 'Aha! See? Here's the account of how it arose without a designer.' Because there's no, zero, nada, zilch way for science to determine whether that process carried on without the orchestration - however remote, however front-loaded, however direct or indirect - [of] a designer.

Anon objects that it's prima facie obvious that the Darwinian account lacks an artisanal or Palian designer. What Crude is talking about in the above passage is the special kind of 'design' work that only the theistic god can do. The tension in Crude's thought is apparent in his next paragraph where he says

Here's a way to think about it: what's the difference between artificial selection and natural selection? Ultimately, the presence and act - however remote - of an intelligent agent. And 'intention' doesn't show up under a microscope. (Unless you accept ID or some variation of it.)

Artificial selection requires an intending, designing, agent. Natural selection doesn't. But the sense of 'design' here is the usual one that doesn't include God's kind.

grodrigues said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

"As far as I can tell, it's basically a shell game, where you use the word "God" to refer to two completely different things in order to confuse people."

Could you explain what you mean by two different things and how are they incompatible with each other?

grodrigues said...

@urban jean:

"What Crude is talking about in the above passage is the special kind of 'design' work that only the theistic god can do."

Besides giving credit to an uneducated and uneducable anonymous troll that throws around big expressions like "Transparently fraudulent", you are simply incorrect about what Crude is talking about. From September 17, 2013 at 4:00 PM (emphasis mine):

"But the presence or lack of an intelligent designer's efforts or intention is not a scientific issue - it's a philosophical and metaphysical one, at best. There is no scientific test (unless you subscribe to ID being science - I dissent on that one) for design in nature. If you disagree, I'll simply ask you to show me the peer reviewed research purporting to examine nature to determine whether or not it was designed by God - or even by a *powerful agent*. That'll be a fun read, if you can find one."

Thursday said...

Have you seen how controversial that is

You were the one who said there was nothing to fight about. Contradiction.

E.H. Munro said...

If you got that out of the same comments I read, you're definitely misunderstanding him.

You tell me I'm misunderstanding him, but then in a later post he calls Ed a "transparent fraud" for referring to god by traditional shorthand rather than by something impersonal like "It". (And now he's going to jump in with an "AHA! Gotcha!!!!" but screw him if he can't take a joke.)

Or preceding that we get this gem:

As far as I can tell, it's basically a shell game, where you use the word "God" to refer to two completely different things in order to confuse people.

He really wants us to play on the field where he's comfortable and is upset that we're not. So I'm sticking with my guns here. Guy frustrated that the debate isn't going the way that Matt Dillahunty told him it would.

E.H. Munro said...

You were the one who said there was nothing to fight about. Contradiction.

I'm not sure that it is, as he had mentioned before that that it was getting pretty far afield from the actual science of evolution. Evolutionary psychology is, presumably (or if it isn't is should be), part of what he's talking about when he mentions neo-darwinists trying to smuggle all sorts of non-empirical conclusions in atop the science.

Crude said...

EH Munro,

I'm not sure that it is, as he had mentioned before that that it was getting pretty far afield from the actual science of evolution. Evolutionary psychology is, presumably (or if it isn't is should be), part of what he's talking about when he mentions neo-darwinists trying to smuggle all sorts of non-empirical conclusions in atop the science.

My point was that evolutionary psychology is pretty damn far away not only from evolutionary theory itself, but even from the typically metaphysically extended and unscientific evolutionary theory. Hence, even among evolutionary biologists - even among atheistic evolutionary biologists - it's not some universally popular idea. It's pretty far away, certainly in terms of mental association, from the relevant parts of evolutionary theory.

Crude said...

urban jean,

Artificial selection requires an intending, designing, agent. Natural selection doesn't. But the sense of 'design' here is the usual one that doesn't include God's kind.

Grod already caught this - and for that I'm thankful, because sometimes no one catches this - but you're wrong. In fact, that goes against the thrust of that argument in this thread: not just 'God', but 'god' or even just 'powerful agent' can suffice to explain the instance of design you're talking about. That's not something you need to point out to me - it's something I emphasized myself repeatedly.

What Crude is talking about in the above passage is the special kind of 'design' work that only the theistic god can do.

This is just wrong.

A) If the 'special kind of design work' in question is in reference to the God of classical theism, then anon's point is in the hole anyway. Darwinism doesn't touch that whatsoever.

B) But if it's the God of personal theism (personalistic), then no - it's a God that intends and designs quite like those more mundane agents. 'Special kind of design work that only the theistic God can do' won't work so easily here. Even the example I gave doesn't require big-G 'God' to manage - just a powerful agent. Zeus will do. Hell, Geordi Laforge will probably do.

That was part of my point. Read what I wrote and you'll see that I wasn't only saying that 'God's design!' wasn't untouched by evolutionary theory (as least insofar as it can actually be said to be scientific) - but so was 'god's design' or 'powerful agent's design'. Hence all that 'powerful agent' talk. Hence my talk of how Paley's argument, even when assumed to be successful, still had an alternative to God built right into it. (And ID proponents, for the record, acknowledge this expressly. For some reason, it's an acknowledgment that drives their critics bonkers.)

urban jean said...

A reply to grodrigues (September 20, 2013 at 7:18 AM )

For me, one of the interesting aspects of philosophising is trying to understand how disagreements become so entrenched. We start, after all, with pretty much the same cognitive apparatus. One way the 'presence or lack of an intelligent designer's efforts or intention' could become a philosophical and metaphysical issue is through our varied understanding of the concept design. My experience of design is that it is a process of trial and error, of advance and backtrack, of making difficult compromises between competing values and of struggling with recalcitrant materials and techniques. One hardly needs a research grant to see that there is nothing in nature like this outside of us. But I guess one can see through all this to some limit notion of pure untrammelled inventiveness that we could ascribe to God.

urban jean said...

Could I ask that we don't load the term neo-Darwinism with spurious metaphysical content, please? The term is used by biologists to refer to the so-called 'modern synthesis' of Darwin's ideas with Mendelian genetics, today augmented with our understanding of the physical basis of genetics. Every time someone talks of 'stripping neo-Darwinism of extraneous metaphysics' I want to scream 'There isn't any there to begin with!' GRRRR!!!

Crude said...

urbanjean,

My experience of design is that it is a process of trial and error, of advance and backtrack, of making difficult compromises between competing values and of struggling with recalcitrant materials and techniques. One hardly needs a research grant to see that there is nothing in nature like this outside of us.

See, here it is again.

'Compromises between competing values'? 'Advance and backtrack'? 'Trial and error'?

Forget for a moment that this is only a partial description of design at best. How do you begin to determine the presence or lack of these things in nature? What values does science detect in the creation of the platypus? Was the kangaroo an advance or a backtrack? What was the trial for when it came to the gallbladder? What was the error?

It's not that you don't see these things in nature 'outside of us'. It's that there's no way for science to see these things when dealing with designers of relevant power or distance. You say 'you don't need a research grant', but it's worse than that: a research grant would be of no use to you here, in terms of science. That'd explain the lack.

But I guess one can see through all this to some limit notion of pure untrammelled inventiveness that we could ascribe to God.

Or Steve Jobs. Or Gabe Newell.

Or don't need 'pure untrammelled inventiveness', and that sort of thing isn't ascribed to the God of classical theism anyway.

When I see responses like this, I can't help but think if these people consider (say) Star Trek to be 'that series with all the supernatural stuff going on.'

Crude said...

Every time someone talks of 'stripping neo-Darwinism of extraneous metaphysics' I want to scream 'There isn't any there to begin with!' GRRRR!!!

Scream it all you like. But you should really start by screaming it at atheists who claim that that modern evolutionary theory shows that biological organisms are not only undesigned, but that science itself determines this, and that this is the mainstream neo-Darwinian notion of evolution.

Get ready to scream at some scientists. Including some evolutionary biologists.

Anonymous said...

My experience of design is that it is a process of trial and error, of advance and backtrack, of making difficult compromises between competing values and of struggling with recalcitrant materials and techniques. One hardly needs a research grant to see that there is nothing in nature like this outside of us

On the contrary, that is just what natural selection does: quite literally in the case of trial and error, somewhat metaphorically in the other senses. OK, "struggle" probably doesn't apply, but in a very real sense evolution is working to find innovative design solutions to the problems of life using the recalcitrant materials of living cells. Natural selection searches a design space through trial and error; humans have other methods available, but the idea is the same.

urban jean said...

Hello Crude,

In reply to September 20, 2013 at 12:41 PM

Yes, I should have been clearer, my use of 'God' denotes the god of classical theism.

I'm trying to understand your position and I'm afraid I'm having to guess a bit. At September 17, 2013 at 4:00 PM you claim there is no scientific test for design in nature. This claim seems prominent in your argument. But I'm not sure this is right. Hom. sap. has performed artisanal tinkering on the wolf genome to produce numerous breeds of domestic dog. If the Kennel Club vanished dogs would presumably revert to some mongrel form because the distinct ecological niches required to drive apart and separate dog populations do not exist non-artificially. So the varieties of dog is evidence of tinkering (not that we need it). If we were to find a species with radically different genes from existing species, that would look like tinkering. Or if we were to find a species with a genome so distant from existing species that we were unable to tell a story of how it derived from a common ancestor. What we can't seem to rule out is the possibility that a species could have arisen by Darwinian speciation, but was, in fact, the result of tinkering. Is this perhaps your key point?

urban jean said...

Hello Anonymous. I appreciate the metaphor. But the blind watchmaker doesn't curse.

Step2 said...

Mr. Green,
I know you said it was just an approximate example but I have to point out the glaring flaw. If all the characters in Agatha Christie’s novels were real people and they died at the exact moment and for the exact reason she wrote about, I would consider her a murderer. The deaths in her stories are unproblematic because we all know they are fictional creations, which I doubt you want to attribute to God. Even as fictional creations I think we would normally think of the author as being responsible for the story. As a related humorous aside, George R. Martin can use Twitter again because he didn’t “really” kill all 140 characters.

Furthermore if Darwinian evolution, as secondary cause, really does deserve credit for the diversity of life why is it such a surprise or concern that biologist treat it with a kind of reverence? You'll say only the First Cause deserves praise, but why should it when that cause has transferred responsibility?

Crude said...

urban jean,

Yes, I should have been clearer, my use of 'God' denotes the god of classical theism.

Alright, but Darwinism is utterly moot with regards to the God of classical theism - and THAT God is not a 'designer' in the necessary sense anyway. Paley's argument couldn't even make more likely the God of classical theism, at least according to what I understand of both the argument and that God.

If the Kennel Club vanished dogs would presumably revert to some mongrel form because the distinct ecological niches required to drive apart and separate dog populations do not exist non-artificially. So the varieties of dog is evidence of tinkering (not that we need it).

I don't think 'the varieties of dog' is evidence of tinkering. The evidence there is "Hey look, there's a bunch of people who breed dogs for specific reasons, and they make no secret of this, and we accept them as intelligent agents". We can certainly come to the conclusion that the pomeranian is an artificially selected breed. Science doesn't seem to be doing much work on that front, and all the crucial parts of reasoning are non-scientific. Valid and reasonable, but outside of science all the same.

If we were to find a species with radically different genes from existing species, that would look like tinkering. Or if we were to find a species with a genome so distant from existing species that we were unable to tell a story of how it derived from a common ancestor.

Says who? And where is the science in this claim?

Paul Davies and some other thinkers are speculating that there may be "shadow species" on earth that are radically different from regular life. They sure don't seem to be inferring design from that possibility. I recall a couple years or so back, NASA was making a big announcement about some bacteria or the like that was some kind of bizarre extremeophile in terms of diet or where it could survive. No inferences to design there.

Likewise - let's say we discover a species, and it seems entirely unlikely that it could be a common ancestor of other species. Let's go further: assume a scientific discovery is made that shows common descent to be false. Big stuff.

Where's the design inference? And more importantly: where did science show this design?

What we can't seem to rule out is the possibility that a species could have arisen by Darwinian speciation, but was, in fact, the result of tinkering. Is this perhaps your key point?

Not really. Certainly that's true too, and I don't think science has shown nearly what a lot of people claim it has shown on that front. ("Maybe natural selection did it all!" isn't exactly a scientific explanation. "But I think that's totally possible!" isn't either.)

But more than that, it's not even necessary to show that 'Darwinian speciation' didn't take place. For one thing, the only real barrier keeping 'Darwinian speciation' from being 'artificial selection' is the intention and act of a powerful agent at the relevant point(s). So right away, against an omniscient and omnipotent God, 'Darwinian evolution' in and of itself is helpless as an alternative. It gets subsumed, at least in principle, under 'artificial selection' straightaway.

But let's say you're not dealing with the omnipotent and omniscient - merely with the finitely, but considerably, powerful and intelligent. Well, the same exact problem obtains. Just about every tool in the 'natural speciation' box is available to a designer, given the right power and foresight.

And science is pretty well useless for determining the presence or lack of intention on the part of either of these 'designers'. Now, there are other arguments available. But scientific, they ain't.

Crude said...

Darwinism is utterly moot with regards to the God of classical theism - and THAT God is not a 'designer' in the necessary sense anyway

I'm talking here about the actual scientific theory and data at work in Darwinism. Not the popular and metaphysically souped up sort of thing you see with Coyne, etc.

Anonymous said...

"Natural selection searches a design space through trial and error; "

How do we know that that's what's really happening? Isn't that the sort of thing we would be looking for, and then upon discovering processes which give the appearance of that we label them as such? It's the same with knowing that these processes are random or unguided. How do we know? What can we compare evolution/nature against?

Anonymous said...

"So the varieties of dog is evidence of tinkering (not that we need it)."

It's one type of tinkering perhaps. But does it exclude all forms of tinkering, right from the most fundamental behaviours (that we can detect anyway) of sub atomic particles at QM level? And when you design a computer simulation and control/maintain everything in that world through assembler code, how can a game character conclude that something was not designed?

Anonymous said...

"I recall a couple years or so back, NASA was making a big announcement about some bacteria or the like that was some kind of bizarre extremeophile in terms of diet or where it could survive. No inferences to design there."

Or silicon based life....

urban jean said...

Hello Crude. Judging by your September 20, 2013 at 5:56 PM comment you are rather reluctant to accept that there can be circumstances in which design is detectable. Here is a somewhat longer exposition on the idea.

In the 1960s the British atmospheric scientist James Lovelock was invited by NASA to join a project to send a probe to Mars to look for signs of life. Lovelock's response was that there was no need. That the Martian atmosphere was in chemical equilibrium with the planet's rocky surface showed that it was lifeless. Earth is very different. The oxygen in the atmosphere, which would otherwise chemically combine with the rock, is continuously replaced by bacteria and plants. In a very loosely analogous fashion, we can have some expectation of what life-forms the Earth can support, in the absence of what I've been calling 'artisanal tinkering'. These expectations are based on our understanding of Darwinian evolution, and are to that extent, 'scientific'. An example might be the one from Aristotle concerning the placement of incisors and molars. We can see that a creature with cutting teeth at the front of its jaws and grinding teeth at the back is better adapted for eating its food than one with the teeth reversed. To find a species with teeth reversed would be surprising indeed. Another example, and here my biology is getting stretched, is that there is 'room' for just one carnivorous mammal species living on the African savannah and preying on the largest herbivores. It would be surprising to find lions and tigers in the same environment. And the Neanderthals did not survive competition for resources, or worse, from our own ancestors. Given these expectations, finding an apparent 'counterexample' species gives us pause. We would seek ways to revise our biological expectations. If we couldn't do this we might conclude that artisanal tinkering was taking place. An alien Darwinist, given a catalogue of the mammals, would be rightly suspicious of all those varieties of pedigree dogs. They ought to be mongrelising, as anyone who has taken a bitch on heat for a walk in the park well knows. From the fact that the varieties endure over time the alien can infer artisanal tinkering. Does that make sense?

I didn't understand at all your para beginning But more than that, it's not even necessary to show that 'Darwinian.... Are you saying Yes, Darwinian speciation could account for the varieties of life but so could a clever and powerful artisanal tinkerer who was careful to make just those species that Darwin can account for? This sounds just like what I'm calling your 'key point', but you tell me there is more to it than that. Help, please!

urban jean said...

Hello Crude, Reviewing your replies to me and other commenters I notice that you use the locution 'touches' or 'doesn't touch' of an argument or its proponents in relation to another argument or etc. Could you explain for me what you mean by this, please?

Scott said...

@urban jean:

"Hello Crude, Reviewing your replies to me and other commenters I notice that you use the locution 'touches' or 'doesn't touch' of[?] an argument or its proponents in relation to another argument or etc. Could you explain for me what you mean by this, please?"

To say that an argument "doesn't touch the Thomists" (no "of") means that it doesn't constitute a counterargument to their views because it has no logical bearing on them and thus leaves them "untouched."

Crude said...

urbanjean,

Judging by your September 20, 2013 at 5:56 PM comment you are rather reluctant to accept that there can be circumstances in which design is detectable.

Oh, no, not at all. I think there are plenty of circumstances in which design is detectable. Pretty well constantly. Science just doesn't have much to do with it.

That the Martian atmosphere was in chemical equilibrium with the planet's rocky surface showed that it was lifeless. Earth is very different. The oxygen in the atmosphere, which would otherwise chemically combine with the rock, is continuously replaced by bacteria and plants. In a very loosely analogous fashion, we can have some expectation of what life-forms the Earth can support, in the absence of what I've been calling 'artisanal tinkering'. These expectations are based on our understanding of Darwinian evolution, and are to that extent, 'scientific'.

First, I don't see what 'Darwinian evolution' has to do with Lovelock's inference about Mars. DE seems irrelevant there.

Second, sure - we have some expectation about what life forms Earth can support. But 'in the absence of artisanal tinkering'? Again, I don't buy it. Finding life thriving in arsenic went against a lot of expectations, and at first even started to look like an instance of 'shadow life'. But no one started to talk about 'arisanal tinkering' as a result.

I think what better fits what you're saying is, 'we have some expectation of what life-forms the Earth can support, in the absence of other data'. Now, we may well find some intelligently designed creatures, sure. We may well infer that they were artificially selected, or even crafted. But there is still no 'science of design', outside of what ID potentially is.

An alien Darwinist, given a catalogue of the mammals, would be rightly suspicious of all those varieties of pedigree dogs. They ought to be mongrelising, as anyone who has taken a bitch on heat for a walk in the park well knows. From the fact that the varieties endure over time the alien can infer artisanal tinkering. Does that make sense?

Again, I don't doubt one can infer design here and there. Certainly you can do it in the case of pedigreed dogs - you're just not using science in the course of it.

Likewise, I'm not sure an alien Darwinist would necessarily be suspicious. They could simply shrug their shoulders, say there must be selective or intrinsic factors at work that they have yet to understand, and life would go on. Especially if you're talking about a case of dogs failing to mongrelize, despite humans nowhere being on the scene. Something which, I admit, sounds pretty interesting.

I think the problem we're having here may be that you're thinking up examples that would show current Darwinian theory to be false or in need of some serious overhauling - and then taking that failure itself as, somehow, 'scientific evidence of design'. But I don't see how a mere falsification of or problem for Darwinism leads automatically to design, certainly as far as we're being scientific.

Are you saying Yes, Darwinian speciation could account for the varieties of life but so could a clever and powerful artisanal tinkerer who was careful to make just those species that Darwin can account for?

I'm saying that, when dealing with an omnipotent and omniscient being, and even non-omniscient and non-omnipotent beings who are still appropriately powerful and involved, every act of 'natural selection' either is or is potentially an act of artificial selection anyway.

And, Scott accurately replied to your other question on my behalf, so hey.

urban jean said...

. . .every act of 'natural selection' either is or is potentially an act of artificial selection anyway.

This is deeply mysterious, Crude. I can make sense of an act of artificial selection---the kennel owner decides which dog and bitch to breed from---but what would an act of natural selection be? Explain, please.

George LeSauvage said...

Crude, am I correct that you are arguing that each specialized science depends, for much of its understanding, on other disciplines? Here, that would mean that it is not scientific method which allows us to infer design, but other methods. Which may be history (we unearth a gladius), or technology, or even literature (Sing, Oh Muse, of the wrath of Achilles...).

Or do I mistake you?

BTW, I believe that the Labrador is more obvious a case of design than the Pom. Any breed which is so averse to piercing living skin, and to turn over its "catch" to another, is obviously "designed" by that other.

Scott said...

@urban jean:

"This is deeply mysterious, Crude. I can make sense of an act of artificial selection---the kennel owner decides which dog and bitch to breed from---but what would an act of natural selection be? Explain, please."

I don't see what's "deeply mysterious" about what Crude is saying. He pretty obviously means that anything that looks like natural selection could be artificial selection if a sufficiently powerful being were behind it, and that science has no way to tell the difference.

Crude said...

urban jean,

This is deeply mysterious, Crude. I can make sense of an act of artificial selection---the kennel owner decides which dog and bitch to breed from---but what would an act of natural selection be? Explain, please.

I don't think it's very mysterious at all - but, I'm confused now. You're asking me to explain what natural selection is?

If you're about to make the point the 'natural selection is not an agent, and therefore does not act with intention', believe me - already understood, and it's not a concern with regards to what I'm saying.

George,

Crude, am I correct that you are arguing that each specialized science depends, for much of its understanding, on other disciplines? Here, that would mean that it is not scientific method which allows us to infer design, but other methods. Which may be history (we unearth a gladius), or technology, or even literature (Sing, Oh Muse, of the wrath of Achilles...).

I'm not trying to make a point about specialized science, at least as near as I can tell. I certainly would agree that the 'scientific method' isn't what allows us to infer design. Your response to me was designed. I didn't need to use the scientific method to come to this conclusion. I didn't need to use any science at all, in fact. (Maybe I did, if the guys at the Discovery Institute are right. But no one seems to want to go down this road, myself included.)

I'm further saying that evolutionary theory, insofar as it remains scientific rather than gets loaded with metaphysical and philosophical and even theological baggage, doesn't disprove design or prove its lack (or vice versa). To say 'X evolved' is not to say 'X wasn't designed' - you can subsume evolution under design without problem, so there's going to have to be something more.

Now, you can say 'Yes, well, it's at least possible that these species came into being and God wasn't involved' (again, going with theistic personalism - this doesn't apply with classical theism), but that was nothing new. Even if you accepted the design argument, there were possibilities other than 'God' built right into it. And if you rejected the design argument, there were still other possibilities - species could have simply existed from eternity (I think some greeks believed this?), they could have come into being brutely, etc. Sure, some of these turned out to be wrong, and at best they were just logical possibilities - but logical possibilities are all we have now with evolution, so what was the big problem introduced?

And I know what I'm saying here runs counter to a pretty popular narrative. I used to accept it myself, though something always seemed funny about it. In the end, I thought about it, realized the narrative made zero sense and relied on a whole lot of intellectual smuggling to even get off the ground - so, out it went.

Hopefully that clears some things up.

Crude said...

Scott,

I don't see what's "deeply mysterious" about what Crude is saying. He pretty obviously means that anything that looks like natural selection could be artificial selection if a sufficiently powerful being were behind it, and that science has no way to tell the difference.

Bingo.

I should hire you as a translator. You've easily explained what I was saying multiple times now in this thread!

Step2 said...

For what it is worth, the coevolution of humans with friendly wolves may have been a small piece in the bridge between hunter-gathering tribes and the first farming communities.

Anonymous said...


I don't see what's "deeply mysterious" about what Crude is saying. He pretty obviously means that anything that looks like natural selection could be artificial selection if a sufficiently powerful being were behind it, and that science has no way to tell the difference.


I think you are confused about what science does. It does not prove anything, is is abductive rather than deductive. If you see a seemingly random distribution of events, it is impossible to prove that some supernatural being laid it out that way for some unfathomable purpose, but that is not the most likely explanation, which is what abductive reasoning provides.

So yes, science has no way to tell that random variation is not actually being driven by a cosmically powerful being (and I thought you sophisticated classical theists weren't into beings that actually do stuff, anyway). It is also impossible to verify that the universe didn't spring into existence 5 seconds ago with a false historical record, but that does not seem like the most probable explanatory hypothesis.

Scott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott said...

"I think you are confused about what science does."

I think I'm not . . .

"It does not prove anything[.]"

. . . and you appear to agree.

Scott said...

"I thought you sophisticated classical theists weren't into beings that actually do stuff, anyway[.]"

Why in the world did you think that? Classical theists are into a being that "does" everything.

Scott said...

@Crude:

Good, thanks—glad I caught your meaning correctly. I didn't think there was anything unclear in what you wrote in the first place, though.

Crude said...

Anon,

If you see a seemingly random distribution of events, it is impossible to prove that some supernatural being laid it out that way for some unfathomable purpose, but that is not the most likely explanation, which is what abductive reasoning provides.

'Seemingly random' is not a scientific statement, unless you're qualifying in ways that end up ruling out the very question we're talking about to begin with.

'Supernatural'? Who said supernatural? The being can be entirely natural, assuming 'supernatural' and 'natural' had much meaning to them anymore.

'Unfathomable'? Who says it's unfathomable, as opposed to not fathomed at the moment?

"Not the most likely explanation'? You have no way of estimating what explanation is or isn't likely scientifically. (Especially if you favor 'methodological naturalism' and also think the being in question is 'supernatural'. In that case you expressly can't do diddly - MN doesn't "do" supernatural. Again, whatever that is.)

The conclusion you're going for doesn't come from science. It doesn't even get off the ground.

So yes, science has no way to tell that random variation is not actually being driven by a cosmically powerful being (and I thought you sophisticated classical theists weren't into beings that actually do stuff, anyway)

You should A) note that I keep qualifying 'personalist God' and the like when discussing this - I do so for a reason (hint: it ain't the classical theist God), and B) I'm also expressly saying that not only is science helpless in the case of such a God, it's helpless in the case of the merely powerful beings.

It is also impossible to verify that the universe didn't spring into existence 5 seconds ago with a false historical record, but that does not seem like the most probable explanatory hypothesis.

Thanks for providing another example of a conclusion that science is pretty well helpless at getting to.

Now, you can argue whether or not the intent or action of God is or is not likely given evolution. In fact, I said more than once in this thread - that's entirely possible. Talk about how no good being (and thus no God) would ever use evolution to achieve an end. Talk about how you regard the platypus as a monstrosity, and perfect designers don't make monstrosities. There are arguments out there to be made. They just aren't scientific arguments.

Note: I'm not talking merely about science's inability to prove, with math-like certainty, the truth or falsity of X. It doesn't even give you an inkling, in and of itself. Again: give me that peer reviewed scientific research paper that was studying the presence or lack of God's will (or any will, period) in the evolution of the fruit fly, or much anything else.

It doesn't exist? In fact, nothing like that exists? What a surprise.

(I almost wish it did. It'd be fun to tear apart.)

Mr. Green said...

E.H. Munro: You tell me I'm misunderstanding him, but then in a later post

Well, of course I was referring to the earlier posts.


he calls Ed a "transparent fraud"

Sigh. Well, that's jerkish trollery.

Mr. Green said...

Step2: If all the characters in Agatha Christie’s novels were real people and they died at the exact moment and for the exact reason she wrote about, I would consider her a murderer.

Well, there are several problems there (and yes, it does stretch the example beyond its scope). If the characters are real, then the not-so-fictional killers would be directly and obviously responsible, so why wouldn't you consider Christie some kind of seer instead? But of course the whole point is that the fictional characters have a sort of "tertiary" causality to Christie's secondary causation — they exist on a different "level", just as real creatures exist on a different level from God. But to imagine that the characters were real is precisely to put them on the same level, which destroys any relevance the original example had.

Even as fictional creations I think we would normally think of the author as being responsible for the story.

Of course the author has responsibility — that's the point. It's just a different kind of responsibility than the characters have within the context of the story. Yet both "levels" of causation occur together, causing the same things at the same time, in different ways.


why is it such a surprise or concern that biologist treat it with a kind of reverence?

Seriously?

You'll say only the First Cause deserves praise

I will not; I don't know who would. Lots of people deserve praise [or blame]. Inanimate objects and abstractions don't. Rocks have a kind of "responsibility" in a purely causal sense (hence the quotation marks); you need free will to be held accountable or morally responsible.

Mr. Green said...

Crude: I certainly would agree that the 'scientific method' isn't what allows us to infer design. Your response to me was designed. I didn't need to use the scientific method to come to this conclusion. I didn't need to use any science at all, in fact. (Maybe I did, if the guys at the Discovery Institute are right. But no one seems to want to go down this road, myself included.)

Did you use science? Well, not if "science" means assigning detailed numbers to various variables. If it simply means a certain kind of reasoning from theory and evidence, then sure, you used science. If we do construe science very narrowly, we can end up not even having "causes" in science (as per a recent thread), because there is no "c" in the equations that stands for "cause". And maybe that's OK if we view science strictly as a methodology, an instrument wielded by the real discipline — that is to say, science can't do or mean anything strictly by itself, it always has to be applied in some context. Hence George's example of concluding that a certain object is a sword, by applying scientific methods in the context of history or archeology, and so on. Actually, that goes for a broader understanding of science too — if it captures inferences to "best explanation" in a more general sense, it still depends on a specific context; we're simply including some of that context into our wider definition of "science".

Now apparently this is the whole point of scientific Intelligent Design: sure, science cannot tell us what "design" is by itself, any more than it can tell us what a sword is absent any context. But given a suitable framework, we can use scientific methods to draw more or less probable conclusions. So if I find the letters in my alphabet soup spelling out Hamlet's soliloquy, I can follow my gut feeling that someone has been messing with my soup; or I can be more precise, and attach exact numbers to how many possible arrangements of letters there are, whether Brownian motion can account for their motion in the soup, etc., and come up with a percentage (im)probability that the sentences formed by chance.

We have no problem reasoning this way in daily life; so attempting to apply scientific precision should not be a problem. (It may be difficult in practice, but it shouldn't be a conceptual problem. I don't understand why so many people take so much issue, or at least so little interest, in going down this road. (Yourself included!)) Because the concept of design has to be imported from outside, ID conclusions can never be perfect, but no scientific result is perfect. And you can easily avoid the conclusions by disputing, say, that we have enough understanding of evolutionary mechanisms in any particular case to apply precise figures. (At least, that would seem to be an obvious way to shut down ID — but for some reason opponents don't seem to like claiming that our knowledge of evolutionary pathways is vague and flimsy!)

You could also try to define the outer context in such a way that "intelligence" does or doesn't apply the way you want it to... (e.g. whether you're willing to accept extraterrestrial intelligences or rule them out, or accept species existing from eternity, etc.); but that just gets back to your original point that these metaphysical issue cannot be settled by science per se because it's only a tool for dealing with concepts that are defined externally. (Once you have an external context, science may or may not be able to help refine certain conclusions, such as "design inferences", but that depends on whether the context makes them available to scientific equation-ising in the first place.)

Crude said...

Mr. Green,

Did you use science? Well, not if "science" means assigning detailed numbers to various variables. If it simply means a certain kind of reasoning from theory and evidence, then sure, you used science.

I really don't see this. 'A certain kind of reasoning from a theory and evidence' sounds broad enough to straight up include metaphysics. If we're going to define science so broadly that Aquinas is a scientist - I think Ed talked about this before - then science is pretty uninteresting. It's just another word for 'reasoning'.

We have no problem reasoning this way in daily life; so attempting to apply scientific precision should not be a problem.

And this, I really am suspicious of. 'We reason like this anyway, so applying scientific precision - and making the whole thing into a science - should be no problem'? Why should I believe this? And what kind of 'scientific precision' are we talking about? Probably something closer to sociology than physics. As I asked earlier - if I have a BA in political scientist, am I 'a scientist, of sorts'? My own answer is, 'Only if I'm trying to bullshit someone.'

I think it's far more reasonable to just recognize that 'science' is actually a pretty narrow field, that other kinds of reasoning are both non-scientific yet still valid, and go about our business. I'm not interested because, really - the one reason I see everyone (atheists and ID proponents) trying to get their speculations labeled 'science' is because, frankly, they feel as if that's the only way to get intellectual authority. Say you have a powerful philosophical argument and a lot of people won't care, and probably won't understand your argument. Say you have a powerful scientific theory, and... they probably still won't understand, but they may cop to it immediately on the grounds that smart people believe in scientific claims, and everyone wants to be (or, crucially, at least be thought of as) smart, therefore...

Not a game I'm interested in playing, and I don't think the sort of ID (or anti-ID) reasoning I see rightly qualifies as science. That said, I'm pretty content with a lot of ID reasoning - despite being far more sympathetic to classical theism than theistic personalism, I think the latter's more defensible than advocates of the former tend to think (You can sum up my view as 'either makes atheism pale in comparison, just one more than the other.') So it's not like I think (the positive side of) ID is nonsense. Just miscategorized.

I guess this is some of my idealism showing. ID proponents say, 'Look at all the automatic respect science and scientists and academics get! We should get in on that action.' I say, 'Look at all the automatic respect science and scientists and academics get. We really should put an end to that.'

Step2 said...

Thanks for providing another example of a conclusion that science is pretty well helpless at getting to.

Science concludes the universe didn't pop into existence five seconds ago by describing the symptoms of paranoid personality disorder.

If the characters are real, then the not-so-fictional killers would be directly and obviously responsible, so why wouldn't you consider Christie some kind of seer instead?

Because the killers are puppets for Christie, she controls their movements and motivations entirely just as she controls their existence.

Yet both "levels" of causation occur together, causing the same things at the same time, in different ways.

Only one “level” can actually be responsible in this scenario. I would suggest it isn’t the puppet.

...you need free will to be held accountable or morally responsible.

You were the one who deflected to secondary causes when I tried to place responsibility on God. This is just an endless equivocation.

Crude said...

Science concludes the universe didn't pop into existence five seconds ago by describing the symptoms of paranoid personality disorder.

Swing and a miss, since that leaves the actual claim utterly untouched - unless you love some nice, tasty fallacies.

urban jean said...

Thank you Scott. Crude's remark came at the end of a long comment (September 21, 2013 at 10:08 AM ) which I had found frustratingly hard to understand. Is there any significant difference, do you think, between your interpretation and the one I offered rather earlier, viz, What we can't seem to rule out is the possibility that a species could have arisen by Darwinian speciation, but was, in fact, the result of tinkering.

Crude said...

What we can't seem to rule out is the possibility that a species could have arisen by Darwinian speciation, but was, in fact, the result of tinkering.

You may be asking Scott, but I'll throw in my reply as well. Since really, this seems to be about my statements.

The problem with your statement is that it makes it sound like you're saying the following: "Sure, maybe this species could have arisen by these various processes of selection and mutation and, etc, etc. But maybe that didn't actually happen!" Or put another way, "Here's what the science shows - but maybe the science is wrong!"

Instead, what I'm saying is far closer to: "This species could have arisen by these various processes of selection and mutation and, etc. And if it did, there's no way for science to tell whether or not it was guided or orchestrated in the relevant sense." Or, "Here's what the science shows. And it doesn't answer, one way or the other, the question we're asking here."

Or put more succinctly, "Science is completely unable to determine whether a given process - including what goes on with 'Darwinian speciation' - is, in fact, guided with its outcomes and processes intended."

urban jean said...

Regarding criteria for science, I think what sets it apart is not so much a special kind of reasoning but a special kind of subject matter, viz, hypothetical entities, and their relations and processes, that are not available to ordinary sense perception by virtue of size or remoteness, but whose cumulative effects or whose effects on instruments that extend the range of our senses, can be sensed. Our ideas about these entities are initially inspired guesswork and hardly knowledge in the same sense as our knowledge of everyday objects. Yet the process of testing these guesses by observing their predicted macroscopic (cumulative or amplified) effects somehow turns them into 'scientific knowledge'! There are sociological aspects to this (there was a time when I never thought I'd admit this) but the primary mechanism I think must be psychological, something to do perhaps with the way we become confident in beliefs (about ordinary things) that are consistent with beliefs we are already confident in, and this extends to beliefs about extraordinary things. The contrast between science and metaphysics is stark. They can be seen as polar opposites. Science starts with a metaphysical leap and argues its way back to the quotidian. Consistency with the everyday validates the leap and the argument together. Correctly predicting an as yet unobserved, or better, unknown, effect is particularly convincing. Metaphysics, in some quarters, starts with the quotidian and argues into the empyrean with no independent means of validating the argument. Is this a good characterisation of science, or am I too influenced by that paradigmatic science, physics?

Crude said...

The contrast between science and metaphysics is stark.

All the more reason to keep those things separate, as they should be.

something to do perhaps with the way we become confident in beliefs (about ordinary things) that are consistent with beliefs we are already confident in, and this extends to beliefs about extraordinary things.

Who gets to determine what is or isn't extraordinary anyway? And 'consistency'? Consistency is cheap. You can be a full-blown Berkeleyan idealist and find consistency with science in just about every field you care to.

Metaphysics, in some quarters, starts with the quotidian and argues into the empyrean with no independent means of validating the argument.

I think you'll find plenty of philosophers and metaphysicians are more than willing to draw nice, crisp lines between metaphysical claims and empirical claims. You'll also find more than a few scientists who can't seem to tell when they've stopped doing science and started doing metaphysics and philosophy. And I think both fields have ways of 'validating their arguments' just fine, all told.

Is this a good characterisation of science, or am I too influenced by that paradigmatic science, physics?

You seem to want to talk about the minute dealings of a particular type of physics on the one hand, but then you bring that back to 'consistency with the everyday'. Doubly weird with physics, since a lack of consistency with the everyday is exactly what I hear cited about various parts of that field.

I'm more than happy with keeping scientific and metaphysical reasoning separate. That's part of the point of what I've posted here. The problem is that it seems to be a rude wakeup call for some to have that followed up with the realization that materialism, naturalism, and even atheism are metaphysical views.

grodrigues said...

@urban jean:

"Metaphysics, in some quarters, starts with the quotidian and argues into the empyrean with no independent means of validating the argument."

Like your anti-metaphysical "argument"?

urban jean said...

Everyone gets to judge for themselves what is ordinary and what is extraordinary. We are more confident of our understanding of the ordinary---familiarity breeds contempt. What needs explaining is how that confidence sometimes extends to the extraordinary.

By consistency with the everyday I mean making accurate predictions of macroscopic behaviour.

As the scare quotes suggest, it's not an argument at all. Merely observations offered in novelistic spirit. Everyone is free to judge whether as characterisation it rings true. And it may go some way towards explaining the respect scientists receive that Crude so bemoans.

Crude said...

Everyone gets to judge for themselves what is ordinary and what is extraordinary.

So much for the scientific aspect.

By consistency with the everyday I mean making accurate predictions of macroscopic behaviour.

So we shouldn't trust those fields that can't make accurate predictions about macroscopic behavior?

That's going to leave a whole lot of science on the cutting room floor. But, no complaints here.

And it may go some way towards explaining the respect scientists receive that Crude so bemoans.

Here, let me help you out by quoting what you're referencing: 'Look at all the automatic respect science and scientists and academics get. We really should put an end to that.'

Yes, I think automatic respect is a bad idea. Nowhere did I 'bemoan' the sheer fact that scientists are at times respected. In fact, I have quite some respect for Max Planck:

A scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

Planck knew that some skepticism of scientists was a scientifically healthy attitude, oddly enough. After all, scientists != science. The latter's pretty great. The former has a mixed track record.

urban jean said...

In reply to September 22, 2013 at 3:09 PM

And if it did, there's no way for science to tell whether or not it was guided or orchestrated in the relevant sense.

I'm afraid I still don't see a distinction from my way of putting it. Guiding and orchestrating involve interacting with or intervening in that which is guided or orchestrated, surely? Can you give an example of A guiding B without any interaction between them?

urban jean said...

So much for the scientific aspect of what, pray? I'm taking our knowledge of ordinary things through the senses for granted and wondering how we come to believe we have knowledge of extraordinary things that we can't sense. I'm not proposing a scientific account of this so I don't see what your remark means, I'm afraid.

I certainly think we should treat with caution the results of sciences that can't make accurate predictions of the behaviour of ordinary things. What sciences do you think my criterion is in danger of excluding?

I'm delighted to hear that you have quite some respect for the scientist Max Planck, but am disappointed you express this by quoting one of his non-scientific statements.

The former [scientists] has a mixed track record. That's a good point. Science is after all the product of fallible human beings. Even with the reality check of possible experimental falsification our reasoning can still go awry.

Crude said...

urban jean,

I'm afraid I still don't see a distinction from my way of putting it. Guiding and orchestrating involve interacting with or intervening in that which is guided or orchestrated, surely?

Not necessarily directly, and of course not in an obvious and detectable sense.

Can you give an example of A guiding B without any interaction between them?

Sure. For one thing, via A guiding C to guide B, or A guiding series D which culminates in guiding B. In neither example does A interact with B directly, and yet B is guided by A.

But even take the case of A interacting with B directly. There's nothing about mere interaction that makes the source of the interaction automatically detectable. This gets worse for isolated or isolated groups of situations taking place in the distant past.

I'm delighted to hear that you have quite some respect for the scientist Max Planck, but am disappointed you express this by quoting one of his non-scientific statements.

Why be disappointed? Non-scientific knowledge can be just as, or more valuable, than scientific knowledge. Planck is reporting something of interest based on his observations.

I'd be more disappointed in someone reporting 'scientific' knowledge from a supposed scientist that wasn't scientific at all. Doubly more disappointed if someone regarded only 'scientific statements' as valuable.

What sciences do you think my criterion is in danger of excluding?

Most of the soft sciences, and a fair chunk of what passes for evolutionary biology. Unless we get into the game of taking the most extremely modest predictions and extrapolating them to an absurd degree.

Mr. Green said...

Step2: Only one “level” can actually be responsible in this scenario. I would suggest it isn’t the puppet.

Then the scenario is not comparable to one involving primary and secondary causation, because again, the whole point of primary and secondary causation is that there is responsibility on both levels, but a different responsibility, each in its own way. If a character physically pushes over a table, he is the cause of that pushing in the story (i.e. at the tertiary level); Christie is also the cause of that, but she clearly didn't push anything over physically. (And if you don't find the example helpful, then oh well, it was just an example.)

You were the one who deflected to secondary causes when I tried to place responsibility on God. This is just an endless equivocation.

I don't know where you got the idea that secondary causation is a "deflection". Maybe you are thinking about moral questions, and thought that "primary causation" was some sort of technicality to get God off the hook. But as I explicitly said, God is responsible as primary cause, for everything. He is not responsible instead of secondary causes (not only would that mean people have no free will, but that they don't cause anything at all, ever!). Nor are primary and secondary causation duplicates, so that the "same" causality applies twice. If the question you really want to ask is a problem-of-evil-style, "Why isn't God culpable when bad things happen?", then that is not an issue of primary causality. You'll need to look into Thomistic accounts of morality, and figure out what it would even mean to, say, charge God with murder. In which case, look for Ed's previous posts on Thomistic morality — he has addressed these questions before.

Mr. Green said...

Crude: And this, I really am suspicious of. 'We reason like this anyway, so applying scientific precision - and making the whole thing into a science - should be no problem'? Why should I believe this?

Well, one reason is that I was basically agreeing with you: my point was that science isn't magic, it's based on everyday ingredients applied more rigorously. It's not some "new way of thinking", as it is sometimes presented. (I think it was Scott who noted recently that modus tollens has been around a long time.) If you try to figure out whether the batteries in your flashlight are dead by trying the batteries in different appliances and trying different batteries in the flashlight, are you doing science? Maybe... I guess... after all, science textbooks actually use examples like that to introduce the scientific method. In fact, I don't think we could draw an exact dividing-line for what counts as science. That's why "science" shouldn't garner automatic respect. If you do science really well, and improve our understanding of the world, then you've earned that respect; if you do science poorly, then you haven't — regardless of whether you were wearing a lab coat and holding a clipboard at the time.


the one reason I see everyone (atheists and ID proponents) trying to get their speculations labeled 'science' is because, frankly, they feel as if that's the only way to get intellectual authority.

That's true; and maybe that and the other reasons you mention are why these questions dealing with information don't seem to get the attention they deserve, from the philosophical side or the scientific side. I think those questions are interesting in their own right, and I wish I could see more work done on them that isn't all about pitting one side against another.

urban jean said...

Dear Crude, I'm trying to understand what you mean by 'guide' and you offer me as example a usage that itself involves the word 'guide'. Do you not see that this still leaves me in the dark? I need a concrete instance of which we can both say, Oh yes, A is clearly guiding B without any interaction between them.

You go on to talk about the 'source' of a (direct) interaction and its detectability. Let me interject straight away that I find no sense in this. I think of various cases that count as interactions but find they have no common feature that I can count as a 'source'. Again, concrete examples, please. Examples, examples, examples, else our words merely bombinate in the void.

Likewise, we are trying to demarcate science from other stuff. I offer a definition that you think is too exclusive. I ask for an example of what it excludes and you introduce another term, 'soft', which supposedly demarcates within science. Again, do you not see that this frustrates my ambition of finding out what you mean by 'science'? If you think I'm excluding stuff like economics or meteorology then do please say so and then I have a chance of figuring out what aspect of your example(s) it is I'm excluding.

I grant you offer me evolutionary biology, but do you not see how this example will just take us round in circles? It was concern over the scientific content of this discipline that got us into demarcating science in the first place.

Crude said...

urban jean,

Dear Crude, I'm trying to understand what you mean by 'guide' and you offer me as example a usage that itself involves the word 'guide'.

No, you didn't. In fact, you very clearly didn't. Here's what you asked for: "Can you give an example of A guiding B without any interaction between them?"

And that's exactly what I gave. You didn't ask me what I meant by 'guide'. So I gave you an example of how A could guide B without A interacting directly with B.

Now you're asking me a new question - what does it mean for A to guide B. Again, easy: A guides B if B reaches a state desired by A, due to the intention and act of A.

You ask for concrete examples? Alright. Hypothetical Adam would like to turn off the light in his living room. Adam constructs Bob, an automaton. Bob goes into the living room and turns off the light, as Adam knew Bob would. Adam interacted with the light, indirectly - he guided the state of affairs in the living room to be what they now are, despite not personally turning off said light.

Pretty simple.

else our words merely bombinate in the void.

Respectfully, Jean - what I'm saying is pretty clear and easy to understand. You've spent a lot of time - with much bombast - declaring indecipherable, mysterious, confusing and perplexing that which onlookers seem to grasp pretty fast. I don't think my words are the communication speedbump here.

Likewise, we are trying to demarcate science from other stuff. I offer a definition that you think is too exclusive.

Where did I say it was too exclusive? I pointed out it was a definition that would axe quite a lot of sciences. I didn't say I objected. Send sociology into the category of non-science if you please - believe me, I won't lose sleep. Neither will I if quite a lot of evolutionary biology ends up there too. Others, on the other hand, may object.

I ask for an example of what it excludes and you introduce another term, 'soft', which supposedly demarcates within science.

"Soft science" isn't a term I came up with - are you new to philosophy of science discussions? I assumed you weren't.

It was concern over the scientific content of this discipline that got us into demarcating science in the first place.

No, it... actually wasn't. Are you following this conversation? The concern was with the extraneous metaphysical nonsense that some evolutionary biologists - particularly, but not exclusively, "New Atheist" figureheads - unjustly overlay onto the field. You suggested a hallmark of science to be 'making accurate predictions'. I named some fields that, in large part, seem to fail to meet this criteria. (Psychology, sociology, if you want two more.)

And with regards to the original topic - whether science can detect the presence or lack of guidance, direction, etc, particularly in (evolutionary) biology - I consider that pretty well concluded, in my favor. I asked for the peer reviewed research that purported to attempt to detect design in evolutionary biology, in the relevant sense. None came, and I don't expect any to come. That's sufficient to bury the opposition here. Now, demarcation questions are fun to talk about, and more fruitful - but I don't think the 'science shows a lack of design' torch can hope to be re-lit at this stage. The most promising avenue to do that is an avenue that would baptize ID as science.

Crude said...

Mr. Green,

If you try to figure out whether the batteries in your flashlight are dead by trying the batteries in different appliances and trying different batteries in the flashlight, are you doing science? Maybe... I guess... after all, science textbooks actually use examples like that to introduce the scientific method.

Paraphrasing Philip J. Fry: "Alright, I'll fight the textbook. I think I can take him."

Really though, when it's hit the point where my decision to go to Wendy's is 'science' because I tried Burger King, McDonald's and Wendy's and decided I like Doug Thomas' offerings the most... well, let me put it to you this way. At that point, sure, ID is science. It's hard to think of anything that ISN'T science.

In fact, I don't think we could draw an exact dividing-line for what counts as science. That's why "science" shouldn't garner automatic respect. If you do science really well, and improve our understanding of the world, then you've earned that respect; if you do science poorly, then you haven't — regardless of whether you were wearing a lab coat and holding a clipboard at the time.

Sure, I agree that an exact dividing line isn't easily available. But I think we can draw enough of a line, between broad enough categories, that reasonable people should either be expected to adhere to - or we should admit that 'reasonable people' can accept a wide variety of disparate positions. Take your pick, I suppose.

I agree with most of what you say. I think my vision of how to approach the topic is different. For one thing, I think agnosticism should be an intellectual acceptable position when it comes to one's beliefs about scientific consensus one has not actually looked into on their own. A good share of people I've encountered regard that with horror. I find their horror horrifying, so it all balances out.

I'd also like a healthy skepticism of scientists and academics. It's probably only a matter of time at this point - people are cynical about everything else.

Anyway, again: when I say ID isn't science, I'm not saying 'ID isn't valuable' or even 'ID is wrong'. I just no longer kneel at the science altar. It's great, it's useful, but it's not nearly as great as a lot of people think, or even as useful. And a good share of very visible scientists leave me cold. Can you remember the last time you saw a mainstream scientist admit that there were questions outside of science's bounds, and that those questions were still important?

urban jean said...

Definition: A guides B if B reaches a state desired by A, due to the intention and act of A.

One can think of other senses of guides, including ones in which it is B's intentions that matter, as in Baedeker's handbooks guided Victorians around Europe, but let's go with this one. With this we can accept that A's act need not be directly on B, but there is an implication conveyed by 'due to' that A must act. B will not reach the state A desires without some act by A. Are we agreed so far?

Crude said...

With this we can accept that A's act need not be directly on B, but there is an implication conveyed by 'due to' that A must act. B will not reach the state A desires without some act by A. Are we agreed so far?

Not totally, no. It could be entirely possible for B to reach the 'desired' state with zero act by A - it could simply obtain sans intervention. That wouldn't be guidance (at least, not guidance by A), but it's a possibility when talking about limited beings. If I really want to be dealt an ace and a king of spades at a blackjack table at 9pm, there's a whole lot of routes I could in principle engage in to make sure AsKs shows up when I want it to show up. Or, maybe it will just come up. Maybe no one foresaw or orchestrated that. Maybe God did. Maybe another being did. Maybe a million things, really.

And there's different grades of actions and outcomes. If being A wants his AsKs, first he needs a game of blackjack going on. He needs the game going at 9pm. He needs a dealer. If he provides these things, but the actual dealing of the AsKs is beyond his control, yet that's exactly what he gets - did he guide the result? Not in one sense. In another sense, certainly.

Scott said...

Just to help to clarify a possible misunderstanding here: what Crude is saying is that in order for A to be guiding B to a state desired by A, it isn't necessary that "B will not reach the state A desires without some act by A"; it might be that B could reach the state in some other way not involving A's guidance.

urban jean, your definition was okay; it's your elaboration that Crude is having a minor problem with. The point is, as you said, that B's achieving the desired state is in some way due to (that is, caused by) A's intention and action, not that it couldn't have happened any other way.

urban jean said...

Thanks, Scott. Crude says 'it could be entirely possible for B to reach the desired state with zero act by A . . . that wouldn't be guidance . . .by A.' That says to me that B's not going to reach desired state S unless A acts is a necessary condition for us to say A guides B. But you appear to deny this, I think.

Crude said...

Urban Jean,

That says to me that B's not going to reach desired state S unless A acts is a necessary condition for us to say A guides B.

It's logically possible for this response you're reading to be the result of a series of pebbles falling on a keyboard. Maybe extraordinarily unlikely, but it's possible. Putting God aside for the moment, that could be called an unguided event. Does that being a possibility mean that, if I in fact wrote this message (I guided the letters into a particular order, to communicate an idea, etc), that I did not engage in guidance, simply on the grounds that it wasn't strictly necessary for me to do so for the letters to be in the particular order they are?

That seems like a pretty absurd conclusion to come to.

Now, maybe you mean in a more total sense - not just logical possibility, but some kind of counterfactual situation/certainty. I think that's just going to make matters worse for anyone looking to science on this question.

urban jean said...

Does that possibility mean that...? No, because at least over some limited range of time we can be confident of what's going to happen with B. For this we need some theory of B (and its surroundings). Only then can we unpack what we mean by the 'due to' bit of the definition and ascribe B's state S uniquely to A's act. So the notion of guidance is relative to or dependent on or only makes sense in the context of some background theory. It's not absolute.

Scott said...

@urban jean:

"Crude says 'it could be entirely possible for B to reach the desired state with zero act by A . . . that wouldn't be guidance . . .by A.' That says to me that B's not going to reach desired state S unless A acts is a necessary condition for us to say A guides B."

Why in the world would it say that to you? It very clearly and obviously says that there may be cases in which B could reach the desired state without A's acting at all, and a case in which that actually happened wouldn't count as "guidance by A" even though it would count as "guidance by A" if the very same B reached the desired state because of A's actions.

The point, again, is that your restatement B will not reach the state A desires without some act by A is too strong. B's reaching the desired state is guided by A when its doing so is due to A's intentions and acts. That doesn't have to be the only way it could do so.

Scott said...

Let's return to Crude's earlier example:

Now you're asking me a new question - what does it mean for A to guide B. Again, easy: A guides B if B reaches a state desired by A, due to the intention and act of A.

You ask for concrete examples? Alright. Hypothetical Adam would like to turn off the light in his living room. Adam constructs Bob, an automaton. Bob goes into the living room and turns off the light, as Adam knew Bob would. Adam interacted with the light, indirectly - he guided the state of affairs in the living room to be what they now are, despite not personally turning off said light.


Now, it's entirely possible that just as Adam is finishing up the construction of Bob, somebody else happens to enter the living room and turn off the light before Bob can get to it. If that happened, the turning off of the light wouldn't count as "guidance by Adam" because it wasn't due to Adam's intention and action.

That obviously doesn't mean that Bob's turning off of the light wouldn't count as guidance by Adam. Of course it would; that's the whole point of Crude's example.

And that's the problem with your restatement (again, B will not reach the state A desires without some act by A).

In Crude's example, it's perfectly obvious that having Bob turn off the light isn't the only way the light could end up being turned off—and it's also perfectly obvious that it doesn't need to be the only way in order for Bob's turning out of the light to count as guidance by Adam. So it's also perfectly obvious that your restatement isn't what Crude meant, which was the point of Crude's reply to that restatement (It could be entirely possible for B to reach the 'desired' state with zero act by A - it could simply obtain sans intervention. That wouldn't be guidance (at least, not guidance by A)).

So it's very puzzling that when Crude says X isn't a necessary condition, you somehow take him to mean X is a necessary condition—especially when that makes nonsense of his own example.

Crude said...

Urban Jean,

No, because at least over some limited range of time we can be confident of what's going to happen with B. For this we need some theory of B (and its surroundings). Only then can we unpack what we mean by the 'due to' bit of the definition and ascribe B's state S uniquely to A's act.

Depends on what you mean by 'theory'. If it's 'scientific theory', we're back to square one: we're able to get some predictive theories, but the presence or lack of guidance of the relevant type is just not covered, and isn't really subject to investigation. Luckily you don't need to comment on that kind of guidance in the course of giving a theory.

urban jean said...

Thanks, Scott, I now see what you are saying and you are absolutely right. My condition is indeed too strong. But we still need to cash out 'due to'. I think we can do this if we have a theory that predicts (or at least constrains) B's path through its state space. Call this its 'natural path'. The necessary condition for saying A guides B is not that B's natural path does not reach S but rather that B follows a non-natural path. This, I think, captures the intuitive requirement that A interacts with or interferes with B. Examples: (1) our theory of boats holds that an unmanned boat naturally drifts with the current out to sea. If a boat finds itself safely in harbour we can infer that it has been guided by a helmsman. (2) Our theory of light switches is that their natural paths are dead simple: they stay in a fixed state. A switch that changes state is therefore guided. (3) According to Newton, a body moving inertially in one dimension with velocity v travels distance vt in time t. A body that travels distance vt in time t but undergoes acceleration follows a non-natural path and has therefore been guided. (4) The theory of Brownian motion holds that the natural paths of a particle suspended in fluid are such that the variance of the particle's displacement from some starting point is proportional to time. If a particle is found many standard deviations away from its start point we have probabilistic evidence that it was guided there by some agent. Is that any better do you think?

Step2 said...

Mr Green,
You are making appeals to a fictional character as if it is responsible at a different level of reality, but it isn’t a real level only an imaginary level. If the author through some unknowable power has control over every aspect of movement and motivation of a nonfictional entity, then clearly those real entities are puppets. Puppets are real things after all, they can have value - for example the Jim Henson puppets on display at the Smithsonian, but they can’t be responsible for any actions. The only way they can cause things is if they are directed to cause them by the puppeteer, who in relation to the puppet is technically both omnipotent and omniscient.

You'll need to look into Thomistic accounts of morality, and figure out what it would even mean to, say, charge God with murder.

Unleashing ten plagues upon a population to gain fame qualifies as murder. So does drowning the world in an enormous flood.

Scott said...

@urban jean:

"Is that any better do you think?"

What, precisely, is the argument, counterargument, or point you intend to make here—and, if it's a counterargument, to what argument is it a response? I can't possibly be alone in thinking that your questions, purposes, and overarching aims are not only unclear to begin with but subject to change from one post to the next.

Scott said...

@urban jean:

"The necessary condition for saying A guides B is not that B's natural path does not reach S but rather that B follows a non-natural path. This, I think, captures the intuitive requirement that A interacts with or interferes with B. Examples: (1) our theory of boats holds that an unmanned boat naturally drifts with the current out to sea. If a boat finds itself safely in harbour we can infer that it has been guided by a helmsman. (2) Our theory of light switches is that their natural paths are dead simple: they stay in a fixed state. A switch that changes state is therefore guided. (3) According to Newton, a body moving inertially in one dimension with velocity v travels distance vt in time t. A body that travels distance vt in time t but undergoes acceleration follows a non-natural path and has therefore been guided. (4) The theory of Brownian motion holds that the natural paths of a particle suspended in fluid are such that the variance of the particle's displacement from some starting point is proportional to time. If a particle is found many standard deviations away from its start point we have probabilistic evidence that it was guided there by some agent."

In none of your examples have you identified an A who is supposedly doing the guiding. At most they're examples in which we might infer that there exists an A who is doing the guiding.

I'll content myself with that observation and leave it to Crude to say whether he thinks it matters for present purposes.

Scott said...

(Nor, obviously, have you ruled out in any principled way that these examples occurred by unguided "chance." This point I also pass off to Crude.)

Crude said...

Urban Jean,

But we still need to cash out 'due to'. I think we can do this if we have a theory that predicts (or at least constrains) B's path through its state space. Call this its 'natural path'. The necessary condition for saying A guides B is not that B's natural path does not reach S but rather that B follows a non-natural path.

Not at all, because your initial description - your theory - at no point determines whether or not the 'path' of B is in fact guided. It's utterly silent on the matter. In principle, there's not a 'natural path' in all the universe - everything can be guided. To simply straight up call it unguided is question begging.

What you actually need here to say that the path is a 'natural path' in the sense you're talking about is a way to determine guidance from the outset - and you're not going to be able to, at least not with science. You're either into metaphysics and/or theology at that point, or you're trying to account for powerful agents. So your points on this front are scuttled.

But it's worse than that. Even if the path of B turns out not to follow the path a given theory suggests, you don't have 'guidance'. If you did, the whole history of science would be nothing but one long string of guidance discoveries - theories were proposed, they accounted perhaps for some data, but suddenly they didn't account for other data (It's not following the path it should!), and then it was discarded and (sometimes) replaced.

The problem's compounded by how far away from the accuracy of physics we get with evolutionary science.

urban jean said...

Hi Scott. I'm trying to understand guidance as defined by Crude. We were talking about design but I'm happy to talk about guidance. Until recently in the dialogue these were 'undefined terms', with each of us left to employ his own understanding. Now we have Crude's definition to work forward from. My contention is that an analysis of the definition of guides shows it to be dependent on a prior notion of 'natural' motion. The boat drifting on the sea is a natural motion; the boat smoothly gliding into harbour is an unnatural, guided motion. The switch staying put is a natural motion; the switch changing state is guided. I agree that the agent involved in guided motions is not identified. I actually think this does not matter very much for present purposes of thinking about Darwinian evolution. It suffices to be able to say that some agent guided the motion. Regarding chance, I think we derive this concept from experience of situations in which we recognise we are dealing with natural motions but do not know or cannot control their initial conditions with sufficient precision to make good predictions of outcome. We know that chance does not play a role in the boat example, if currents are steady, nor in the light switch example. Where chance does play a role we can sometimes factor it out by means of statistics, as I suggest in the Brownian motion example.

Hi Crude. When you say In principle, there's not a 'natural path' in all the universe - everything can be guided, I think you are using another sense of 'guided'. In our ordinary use of the term we make a clear distinction between guided and unguided motion. If a guided missile's guidance system is switched off it becomes an unguided missile, right? Water flows naturally downhill. It takes men with pumps to make it flow uphill. We know this without recourse to metaphysics or theology, surely? The history of science is of course a long history of encroachments of the unguided into the guided. You are asking, Once planetary motions were accepted as unguided, why weren't anomalies seen as evidence for guidance? Because in one famous case, at least, they could be explained by postulating an unobserved planet which was subsequently detected. Then Einstein came along. More on evolution later.

Crude said...

urban jean,

My contention is that an analysis of the definition of guides shows it to be dependent on a prior notion of 'natural' motion. The boat drifting on the sea is a natural motion; the boat smoothly gliding into harbour is an unnatural, guided motion.

And I think your contention is plainly mistaken, precisely because whether the boat drifting on the sea is a 'natural' (unguided) motion is exactly what your science can't tell you, at least not in the relevant sense.

Or, put another way - you're trying to contrast 'guided' motion to 'the motion predicted by such and such scientific theory'. But it's the motion predicted by that actual scientific theory that you need to establish as 'non-guided' to begin with - and that's what you're not only not doing, but what you can't do within science anyway. It's not like you get that for free.

Hi Crude. When you say In principle, there's not a 'natural path' in all the universe - everything can be guided, I think you are using another sense of 'guided'. In our ordinary use of the term we make a clear distinction between guided and unguided motion.

Our ordinary use of the term distinguishes between that which is guided by ourselves, and that which is not. The ordinary use never reflectively touches on guidance in the sense of God/gods/powerful agents. You'll see this in your own example:

If a guided missile's guidance system is switched off it becomes an unguided missile, right?

You're confusing 'no longer guided by us' with 'no longer guided, period'. If I roll a fair six sided die, I'll say that the outcome was 'random' insofar as I personally had no idea which number would show up. I'm saying absolutely nothing about whether God or other relevant agents knew what number would come up.

We know this without recourse to metaphysics or theology, surely?

No, we don't. Not when we actually stop to think about the issue.

The history of science is of course a long history of encroachments of the unguided into the guided.

Not in the relevant sense. This is a common thought that absolutely disintegrates once we actually look at what justifying the claim would actually entail.

You are asking, Once planetary motions were accepted as unguided, why weren't anomalies seen as evidence for guidance?

No, I'm pointing out that your standard of 'we infer guidance when a given object doesn't end up where our theories predict it should' would turn the history of science - one long list of theories that ended up failing for particular phenomena - into a huge string of guidance inferences. I'm rejecting that. In fact, I think it's self-evidently silly.

urban jean said...

Hello Crude. Let's not worry just yet about what science can or cannot tell us, let's look at our ordinary use of the term 'guided'. We say a drifting boat is unguided whereas a steered boat is guided. If we want to say that drifting boat is a guided unguided boat we are verging on the nonsensical. We have to distinguish two senses of 'guided'. As you say, The ordinary use never reflectively touches on guidance in the sense of God/gods/powerful agents. So can we agree that there are two senses of guidance in play here?

Crude said...

Urban Jean,

Hello Crude. Let's not worry just yet about what science can or cannot tell us, let's look at our ordinary use of the term 'guided'.

No, let's worry about exactly that, since it's pretty much the central topic here.

We say a drifting boat is unguided whereas a steered boat is guided. If we want to say that drifting boat is a guided unguided boat we are verging on the nonsensical. We have to distinguish two senses of 'guided'.

We say that the boat lacks a pilot, or we say it's not being steered - in both cases we're speaking in reference to humans. Not 'Oh no, there's a boat out there and I'm pretty sure God isn't paying attention to it at the moment. Yep, look at that, drifting out to sea - God is always super prompt with keeping his boats moored, man. He still hasn't gotten over how Noah had to build the ark twice because he got careless and it ended up being a rush job and that's why there was no space for a tricerotops.'

Better yet, let's say we did say that as a reflexive meaning. It still wouldn't matter, because we'd be back to the question of justifying the claim, and science sure won't be pulling that off.

urban jean said...

Hello Scott, if you are still listening. Could you decode that last for me please?

Crude said...

While you're at it, you may want to ask Scott again if what I'm saying is really all that hard to follow, or strange and mysterious - or if the repeated and strained call for translation is starting to come off as the passive aggressive acts of someone who feels cornered.

Scott said...

@urban jean:

"Hello Scott, if you are still listening. Could you decode that last for me please?"

From plain English into what language?

urban jean said...

Scott, I invite Crude to engage with me in a little philosophical spadework on the meaning of guidance. A reasonable answer would be of the form "Yes, I agree", or "No I don't agree because..." Instead I get a parable about God and boats and Noah in somewhat sarcastic language. Now sarcasm is a mode of speech in which you say the opposite of what you mean but you signal this by intonation. So it doesn't work very reliably when written. Worse, Crude's parable is preceeded by the word 'not', so we have a double helping of negation. This may be English but it's not plain. Further, his last paragraph uses 'that' and 'the claim' anaphorically but I can't tell what he's referring back to. Lastly, though I know what a reflexive verb is, roughly the object of the verb is the same thing as its subject, as in 'I wash' = 'I wash myself', I don't know what a 'reflexive meaning' is and can't see why reflexiveness is relevant. You've helped out in the past, so I'm hoping you can come to my rescue again. Many thanks, Jean.

Anonymous said...

urban jean, what Crude says is pretty obvious. I think people take it for granted that unless a boat is guided by some human pilot or maybe human derived computer program, the boat is unguided; but that's a practical choice. God, whether classical theist or Zeus like, is simply not relevant to them. That's what I think at least when I think of guided or unguided objects.

Crude said...

Instead I get a parable about God and boats and Noah in somewhat sarcastic language.

I believe what you have encountered is called 'humor'.

Now sarcasm is a mode of speech in which you say the opposite of what you mean but you signal this by intonation.

I think at this point your problem may not be 'understanding Crude' but 'understanding people'. While there's a subtle note of sarcasm in this immediate reply, the conversation's starting to feel like something out of the subplot of a Star Trek episode.

At this point you may really be perplexed, but considering you're the only one who seems to be so, I'm personally stuck at 'apathy'. Ah well.

urban jean said...

Thank you, Anonymous. I agree with you, though I think there is a tension between taking something for granted and seeing it as a practical choice. When we see the drifting boat, it is simply given to us that it is unguided. That's just what unguided means. As you say, we take it for granted. I don't think we weigh up the pros and cons of it and finally plump for unguided as likely to bring more practical benefits. That aside, do you agree with me perhaps that whatever guidance-by-God/Zeus might be, it can't be the same concept as ordinary guidance, on pain of contradiction?

urban jean said...

Joking apart, Crude, do you agree that guidance-by-God/Zeus cannot be the same concept as ordinary guidance?

Scott said...

@urban jean:

"Scott, I invite Crude to engage with me in a little philosophical spadework on the meaning of guidance."

. . . for the supposed purpose of understanding him better when there really isn't anything here that you could reasonably have misunderstood in the first place.

Crude's original point in this thread was as clear as daylight. He said that the neo-Darwinian synthesis—the theory of evolution by genetic natural selection—in and of itself says nothing about metaphysics and doesn't bear on the issues some of its proponents think it does. That it appears to have any such importance is the result of extraneous philosophical/metaphysical baggage that usually accompanies it in so much modern discourse, with the result that "an extrapolated-beyond-science version of evolution" is so often regarded as immune from even strictly scientific criticism: the proponents of the extraneous metaphysics simply have a lot riding on it. But that baggage is extraneous to the science and should not be treated as part of the theory itself. (Significantly, you somehow managed to take offense to this last bit even though you agree with Crude that those metaphysics aren't properly part of the theory.)

In support of this point he's argued that science doesn't have any principled and non-question-begging way to tell either (a) when an object is "designed" (or a process is "guided"), or (b) whether the possible "designer" (or "guide") is the God of classical theism or just some powerful-but-natural agent.

Now urban jean enters the discussion. "A reasonable answer," as you say, "would be of the form 'Yes, I agree', or 'No I don't agree because...' Instead [Crude] get[s]" a flat-out misinterpretation of his intent, as you make a misguided attempt to moderate between him and "an uneducated and uneducable anonymous troll" (with credit to grodrigues for this apt description).

In further discussion (of sorts) with Crude, at least three or four times you've found what seem to me to be perfectly clear replies somehow puzzling or even "deeply mysterious," apparently because you (a) weren't familiar with common ways of putting certain things ("touching," "soft science") and/or (b) weren't able to parse the grammar in the manner obviously intended. (I'm seriously starting to think that if you were to read the instruction SHAKE WELL BEFORE OPENING on a can of vegetable juice, you'd ask, "This is deeply puzzling. How long is 'well before opening'? If I wait an hour to open it after I shake it, is that long enough?")

[continued]

Scott said...

[continued]

In consequence, you've pulled the discussion so far off-course, and so thoroughly lost track of (if you ever knew) what was being discussed, that you're now telling Crude not to worry about what science can and can't tell us, even though that was precisely the point originally at issue—indeed the one that brought you into the argument in the first place.

And now you're confused yet again, this time by Crude's response to your suggestion that "there are two senses of guidance in play here." No, there are not two senses of guidance in play here, and so far as I can see, there's not the slightest reason why any sane reader of Crude's post would think that there were. All Crude said (in reply to one of your questions) is that ordinarily, when we unreflectingly use the word "unguided" in a practical context, we're not trying to rule out God or powerful-but-natural agents, or indeed even nonhumans.

And at this point I frankly don't even know why it matters. As Crude said long ago, the original issue has been pretty well settled in his favor. None of your attempts at "understanding" him (or demarcating the precise boundaries of "science") has the slightest bearing on that outcome.

You said earlier: "For me, one of the interesting aspects of philosophising is trying to understand how disagreements become so entrenched." If that's really what interests you, perhaps you should study your own posts here as an example.

Scott said...

@Crude:

"[T]he conversation's starting to feel like something out of the subplot of a Star Trek episode."

Or maybe this.

donjindra said...

"A senior gentleman in the audience erupted, in indignation: ‘You should not say such things, you should not write such things! The creationists will treasure them and use them against science.’ The lecturer politely asked: ‘Even if they are true?’ To which the instant and vibrant retort was: ‘Especially if they are true!’ with emphasis on the ‘especially’."

Maybe that 'gentleman' was an incarnation of Leo Strauss.

urban jean said...

A long reply Scott. The areas of contention are Crude's claims (1) that science has neither a way to tell when an object/process is designed/guided, nor whether the possible designer/guider is GCT or a natural agent. And (2) the concept of design/guidance is univocal across all agents. The rest is water under the bridge.

Without further qualification claim (1) is prima facie false. There are lots of objects that we have no trouble in identifying as designed. Natural objects, if 'designed' at all, certainly have not been 'designed' in any way we might recognise as design. If a natural agent had made some intervention in the distant past that led to present natural objects, then, depending on quite what that intervention was, there may be evidence of it today. Such evidence is what the ID people are hoping to find. I have seen no argument that rules this out. On (2), starting with Crude's definition, I have argued that 'guidance' cannot be seen as univocal across natural agents and GCT on pain of contradiction. This is a narrow philosophical point but it's part of the case against (1).

Scott said...

@urban jean:

"Without further qualification claim (1) is prima facie false. There are lots of objects that we have no trouble in identifying as designed. Natural objects, if 'designed' at all, certainly have not been 'designed' in any way we might recognise as design."

That's going to remain irrelevant no matter how many times you say it. Crude long ago asked you for the science in this claim, and you weren't able to produce any. Unless you've suddenly found some (and if so, links, please), I don't see that you have anything to say here that's any less beside the point than it was when you said it before.

"On (2), starting with Crude's definition, I have argued that 'guidance' cannot be seen as univocal across natural agents and GCT on pain of contradiction. This is a narrow philosophical point but it's part of the case against (1)."

No, you haven't, and no, it's not.

(a) You haven't made any such "argument"; you've merely claimed to find a distinction in Crude's own statements. And even there, the distinction isn't between guidance by God vs. guidance by "natural agents"; it's between reflective and unreflective usage (as Crude keeps pointing out to you and you keep pretending not to understand).

(b) Which means it's irrelevant to (1) anyway. (1) is about science science science (I say again: science), not about ordinary unreflective usage outside of science.

(c) And it would still be irrelevant to (1) even if you did manage to mount an actual argument that "'guidance' cannot be seen as univocal across natural agents and GCT." If anything, that would make science's job harder, as it would then have to have a principled, non-question-begging way to identify and/or rule out two forms of guidance. And (as Crude was clearly saying in the "parable about God and boats and Noah" that you claimed not to understand) if you don't have any scientific way to do that with guidance by natural agents, I think you're going to have an even harder time doing it with divine guidance.

urban jean said...

Well, Scott, though I say so with some trepidation, there's lots I don't understand in what you and Crude say. Why, regarding my claim as to the detectability of design, do you make a fetish of science? Mr G. queried this. It's like asking me questions about sport and insisting I use only my knowledge of golf, say. However, I'll have a go: Suppose we observe that the surface of the Earth is littered with pieces of aluminium (which it is). We use our knowledge of chemistry in determining that the pieces are indeed Al. We can infer that they were designed because our chemistry also tells us that Al is a very reactive element and that native specimens are rare and limited to extreme reducing environments. Does that suffice? Again, ducking behind parapet, what's the difference between reflective and unreflective usage of 'guidance'? I've thought about the drifting boat example for a few days and it still seems unguided. Crude talks about 'reflexive' meaning, not 'reflective'. He explains that, in my use of 'unguided', I'm confusing 'no longer guided by us' with 'no longer guided, period.' Whichever adjective it is, there have to be at least two meanings in play in order to get confused, No? Lastly, I claim to be able, sometimes, to detect only ordinary guidance, in which I include guidance by very powerful natural agents. I make no claims about divine guidance.

PS. A personal point. I don't use the philosopher's trick of pretending not to understand. If I say I don't understand then it's because I don't understand, or am confused between multiple meanings. It's frustrating. Hence the occasional rattiness, for which I apologise.

Scott said...

@urban jean:

"Why, regarding my claim as to the detectability of design, do you make a fetish of science?"

Because, again, Crude's original point was about science. What purpose could you possibly have in trying to counter his claim by arguing about something else?

"Suppose we observe that the surface of the Earth is littered with pieces of aluminium (which it is). We use our knowledge of chemistry in determining that the pieces are indeed Al. We can infer that they were designed because our chemistry also tells us that Al is a very reactive element and that native specimens are rare and limited to extreme reducing environments. Does that suffice?"

That depends on the nature of your inference. What's your scientific account of "design," and how do you plan to test for its presence against the alternative hypothesis of "extraordinary circumstances"? And if you don't have those things, what qualifies your inference to design as "science"?

"[W]hat's the difference between reflective and unreflective usage of 'guidance'? I've thought about the drifting boat example for a few days and it still seems unguided. Crude talks about 'reflexive' meaning, not 'reflective'."

He's used both, but either way the point is just to contrast the meaning of someone who hasn't reflected on what s/he's saying with that of someone who has. The point of his response to your "boat" example is simply that when someone says the boat is "unguided," s/he ordinarily hasn't reflected on the matter sufficiently to mean that the boat is unguided by absolutely any agent whatsoever—just by whoever it is that usually guides boats. There aren't two meanings of "guidance" involved, merely a smaller and larger set of possible "guides."

(The secondary point, again, is that even if someone did have in mind all possible agents whatsoever, that fact alone wouldn't give you any sort of scientific test as to whether s/he was right, especially about divine guidance.)

"I don't use the philosopher's trick of pretending not to understand. If I say I don't understand then it's because I don't understand, or am confused between multiple meanings."

Fair enough; I apologize for implying that you were deliberately pretending to misunderstand.

Scott said...

(Beyond the foregoing, I'm going to leave it to Crude to reply to your proposed example if and as he sees fit. I do agree with him by and large on this—but I don't speak for him, I don't claim to have said everything he would say about it, and I don't even know for sure that we'd agree on every precise detail although I think we'd be pretty close.)

Crude said...

Urban Jean,

Joking apart, Crude, do you agree that guidance-by-God/Zeus cannot be the same concept as ordinary guidance?

No, I don't. Certainly not when we're putting aside the God of Classical Theism and talking instead about Zeus or theistic personalism or the very powerful beings. There's no much of a difference between that God/gods guiding anything and 'ordinary' guidance, except capability.

And (2) the concept of design/guidance is univocal across all agents. The rest is water under the bridge.

I nowhere said design/guidance is univocal across all agents, or implied it. That's why I've been stressing 'personal theism'. I don't regard the concept univocal with regards to the God of Classical Theism.

Without further qualification claim (1) is prima facie false. There are lots of objects that we have no trouble in identifying as designed.

No, it's not prima facie false. You are mistaking 'We have no trouble identifying/agreeing that such-and-such is designed/guided' with 'science has identified such-and-such as guided/designed'. I've happily granted we can identify design, or agree that hypothetical thing X is in fact designed. Science is just almost entirely irrelevant to such identifications, unless we start loosening up 'science' to absurd degrees. "I saw a bird outside, that was an observation, science sometimes involves observations, so science shows me there's a bird outside."

Natural objects, if 'designed' at all, certainly have not been 'designed' in any way we might recognise as design.

Says who? Based on what? Good luck justifying this as a scientific conclusion, rather than as a baseless assumption or an importation of metaphysics.

Such evidence is what the ID people are hoping to find.

If you want to bite the bullet and call ID science, be my guess.

I have argued that 'guidance' cannot be seen as univocal across natural agents and GCT on pain of contradiction.

I haven't argued for that, and don't need to argue for that.

Scott said...

@Crude:

"I don't regard the concept univocal with regards to the God of Classical Theism."

Nor, for the record, do I, but nothing in your argument depends on making the distinction. So far as I can see, it's simply irrelevant (except, as I suggested, insofar as it might make science's job harder by introducing an analogical sense of "guidance" that would presumably require a different test). Your point is sufficiently made even if it applies only to powerful natural agents.

Crude said...

be my guess.

My guest, that is.

However, I'll have a go: Suppose we observe that the surface of the Earth is littered with pieces of aluminium (which it is). We use our knowledge of chemistry in determining that the pieces are indeed Al. We can infer that they were designed because our chemistry also tells us that Al is a very reactive element and that native specimens are rare and limited to extreme reducing environments. Does that suffice?

At no point in your example do you make a scientific inference to design. Instead, all you get is an anomaly - 'this isn't what we typically expect'. Where's the crucial step where science, and not some other form of reasoning, makes the design inference?

I have no problem with the claim that 'we' can infer design. I do it all the time, and I've given examples in this thread. I simply don't rely on science to do so.

Also - are you taking the position that Intelligent Design is actually science? If so, then I can easily see how you can at the very least believe 'science can identify design'. But at that point, you've already bitten quite a bullet. Even accepting ID, however, is going to lead to some serious trouble with the claims you're making - but before I talk about that, I want to hear decisively whether you call ID science or not.

Scott's on target, in my view, with everything else he's said so far.

Crude said...

Scott,

Nor, for the record, do I, but nothing in your argument depends on making the distinction. So far as I can see, it's simply irrelevant (except, as I suggested, insofar as it might make science's job harder by introducing an analogical sense of "guidance" that would presumably require a different test). Your point is sufficiently made even if it applies only to powerful natural agents.

I agree. I just wanted to be clear that I'm not singling out the God of Classical Theism here with my arguments, since UJ was making it sound as if I defended some 'univocal' understanding of how man and the GCT God 'design'. I don't, and I've explicitly made reference to those 'personal' gods/God and powerful natural beings too, which I know around here usually get set aside. The God of Classical Theism goes even further afield from science.

urban jean said...

Science and design. Scott asks me for a scientific account of design and how to test for its presence. I don't have one. I propose to test for its products. Lovelock shows that we don't need a detailed theory of life to detect its presence. We just look for an atmosphere far from chemical equilibrium. Life gets the planet into states it couldn't reach otherwise. Likewise, intelligent life that does design gets the planet into states it couldn't reach with merely unintelligent life. For example, sticking with chemistry, we have a pretty good idea of what biological and naturally occurring inorganic molecules look like. Significant quantities of substances outside this range signal intelligent life. CCl4, say. Crude says that I mistake We have no trouble identifying/agreeing that such-and-such is designed/guided for science has identified such-and-such as guided/designed. Now it's true that we are so familiar with the designed objects of our culture that we hardly need use scientific knowledge in identifying them as such. But this does not mean that scientific knowledge cannot be used to do this, as I have tried to show by the aluminium example. It may be that when the question is asking if living things carry designed elements then our intuition fails and our scientific knowledge may come to the fore. Regarding the 'intelligent design' programme, I confess I know very little. The approach due to Dembski, I think, is to try to establish an objective measure of complexity and to show that Darwinian evolution cannot exceed a certain level under that measure, in the hope that living things can be found that do indeed exceed it. A nice coup if he can pull it off. I see nothing unscientific in this, as I understand it. We have perhaps the beginnings of it in the concepts of information and entropy. But as far as I'm aware it's not within the mainstream of contemporary complexity and information theory. Nor has it achieved any results, as yet. If any breakthrough occurs I'm sure we'll hear about it.

Univocity of guidance. Scott says There aren't two meanings of "guidance" involved, merely a smaller and larger set of possible "guides." Crude rejects my summary of his position as the concept of design/guidance is univocal across all agents, saying I nowhere said design/guidance is univocal across all agents, or implied it. . . .I don't regard the concept univocal with regards to the God of Classical Theism. Which is it to be, guys?

Crude said...

Lovelock shows that we don't need a detailed theory of life to detect its presence. We just look for an atmosphere far from chemical equilibrium.

Lovelock doesn't show. Lovelock asserts, hopefully. Maybe he's on to something, maybe he's not. And frankly, it's just as open to question whether Lovelock's reasoning is scientific as well.

ow it's true that we are so familiar with the designed objects of our culture that we hardly need use scientific knowledge in identifying them as such. But this does not mean that scientific knowledge cannot be used to do this, as I have tried to show by the aluminium example.

You're off-target. The question isn't 'can scientific knowledge be used', it's whether science itself is what makes the determination of identifying design or its lack, particularly design of the relevant sort. Making reference to a scientific finding in the course of my reasoning does not suffice to make my reasoning scientific, even it's valid.

If any breakthrough occurs I'm sure we'll hear about it.

I see no reason to think so, particularly with so politicized an issue. Regardless, you seem willing to embrace intelligent design. I admire your consistency, but if the cost of saying that science can detect design or its lack is 'conceding ID is science', that's going to be a damn interesting result.

Which is it to be, guys?

There's no either-or choice to be made here, because there's no contradiction. Are you under the impression that, say... my embracing classical theism means I can't defend personal theism? I know it's pretty common around here to disregard 'personal' gods, and I can understand why. I don't adhere to that particular limit.

Scott said...

@urban jean:

"Which is it to be, guys?"

There's no contradiction. Both Crude and I would apply the word analogically to the God of classical theism, and Crude hasn't ever said otherwise. However, as both of us have been at some pains to try to make clear to you, the God of classical theism is not specifically at issue here, so Crude hasn't needed to make such a distinction for the purposes of his argument. Thus, as I said, there aren't two senses of the word in play here even though both of us would distinguish an analogical use of the term in another context if necessary.

Scott said...

(If you're still not convinced, you might recall that the context of my statement was as a reply to your own example of guided vs. unguided boats, and it was pretty obviously intended to apply specifically to that example. The range of possible beings who might be guiding an apparently "unguided" boat is pretty large, and hardly limited to the God of classical theism. And I don't see that any analogical sense is required in order to deal even with the God of theistic personalism.)

Mr. Green said...

Step2: You are making appeals to a fictional character as if it is responsible at a different level of reality, but it isn’t a real level only an imaginary level.

That's what makes it a different level. There is more to be said for the example than you allow, but it doesn't really matter because you have switched to a different topic, that of free will. Again, if that's the question you're really interested in, I can only recommend looking into the Thomistic view more closely. You will find that it is more complex and subtle than typical glib presentations.

Unleashing ten plagues upon a population to gain fame qualifies as murder. So does drowning the world in an enormous flood.

Thanks for that clearly defined and meticulously reasoned argument, but, uh, no.

Mr. Green said...

Crude: Paraphrasing Philip J. Fry: "Alright, I'll fight the textbook. I think I can take him."

Heh.

well, let me put it to you this way. At that point, sure, ID is science. It's hard to think of anything that ISN'T science.

Well, I would agree that we can draw an approximate line based pragmatic concerns — how useful it is to label some things as science and others as not. And of course mathematics isn't science, nor is golf (though you can apply science to it); and some things are not measurable, either in principle, or in practice; and so on. But yeah, that leaves lots of things that could be considered "approximate" science or "toy" science, and that's OK. If people thought of science more that way, they'd probably be less horrified at agnosticism about it. When Wayne Gretzky plays hockey, he isn't doing something radically different from what you do when you play hockey — he just does a lot better. Professional scientists should be respected in general because they do science better than our ordinary everyday science-like activities, but like any professionals, sometimes they make mistakes, sometimes the cheat, etc.

To clarify my point about ID, all I mean is that just as the scientific method can be applied to your golf game (because you can measure the direction of your swing or whatever), so it can be applied to questions about evolutionary likelihoods (because we can measure rates of mutation, etc., etc.). And on top of that, it may be that the answer turns out to be, "Science can't answer this question one way or the other given our current knowledge of biology." I just mean that there are relevant questions that can be phrased in scientific terms. But to return to your original point, we're only going to get a conclusion for or against design by situating any "scientific" results in some philosophical context in the first place.

(As for guidance, I'll observe that when the guidance system cuts out on your guided missile, it isn't really unguided; it doesn't start moving randomly, it's just guided by things like gravity. If we have a scientific theory of ocean currents, science can tell us whether the boat is moving in accordance with that theory or not. If not then something else is guiding it — and we may or may not have a scientific theory of that something else. And if it is in accordance, science cannot (in that context alone) tell us whether the currents are actually guiding the boat or whether the steersman just happens to be steering it in the very same way... let alone whether God is guiding something as primary cause in addition to the secondary causes. Usually, however, the context makes it clear which set of guidelines we're interested in (e.g. the programmed guidance system, not Newtonian mechanics). So — again given some philosophical setting — science may be able to tell us whether we can reasonably conclude that some effect fits some scientific theory, within that limited context. (I don't know whether this quite addresses Urban Jean's point or not.))

((And besides, for evolutionary ID in particular, it is so typically misrepresented from all sides, that I reckon there must be something to it!))

Can you remember the last time you saw a mainstream scientist admit that there were questions outside of science's bounds, and that those questions were still important?

I can... but only because I read things like Stephen Barr in First Things. Mainstream scientists in mainstream media? I'm not gonna hold my breath.

urban jean said...

Crude, a couple of quotes: . . . does not suffice to make my reasoning scientific./it's open to question whether Lovelock's reasoning is scientific. I think you are setting an impossible target here. Reasoning is scientific in so far as it's reasoning about entities falling under scientific concepts just as mathematical reasoning is reasoning about entities falling under mathematical concepts. I don't think there is any special mode or style of reasoning associated with science or mathematics or any other discipline. It's the same common or garden logic applied to different subject matters, surely? Tell me what for you would suffice to make a piece of reasoning scientific.

Two more: The question is . . . whether science itself is what makes the determination . . ./. . . saying that science can detect design . . . Again, what is this thing 'science' that makes determinations and detections? It's people who make determinations using whatever relevant knowledge comes to hand. I think sentences that use 'science' as a noun, expecially those that imply that science is an actor, are useful shorthand but potentially rather misleading. Can I suggest that we try to unpack the shorthand?

Guys, Can we agree then to put all consideration of GCT and his analogical guidance of the world off to one side? This leaves us with a univocal, ordinary sense of 'guidance' plus a set of agents consisting of people and intelligent aliens and little-g gods like Zeus who are people with immense but understandable intelligence and power. Where do you want to put the 'God of theistic personalism' ? Does he do ordinary guidance (so he's an agent for our purposes) or analogical guidance (so he's excluded along with GCT)? These are genuine questions---I have a rough idea of how GCT is conceived but am far less sure about GPT.

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