Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Designers are impossible?

This article was inspired an article on IdTheFuture by Paul Nelson that was rebutting some comments Richard Dawkins had made. This article is, in essence, a rebuttal of that rebuttal.

Dawkins wrote:
Given that chance is ruled out for sufficient levels of improbability, we know of only two processes that can generate specified improbability. They are intelligent design and natural selection, and only the latter is capable of serving as an ultimate explanation. It generates specified improbability from a starting point of great simplicity. Intelligent design can't do that, because the designer must itself be an entity at an extremely high level of specified improbability. Whereas the specification of the Boeing 747 is that it must be able to fly, the specification of "intelligent designer" is that it must be able to design. And intelligent design cannot be the ultimate explanation for anything, for it begs the question of its own origin.

Paul Nelson wrote:
Michael Ruse muttered to me darkly several years ago that Dawkins seems not to understand that this argument makes evolution by natural selection true by necessity -- hardly a happy position for any putatively empirical theory to be in.

Paul uses the analogy of a basketball game where it is only possible for the home team to win. The outcome of the game has been settled a prioi and the visiting team will loose even if they score the most points. But Paul is wrong; Dawkins argument does not make evolution true by necessity. Dawkins states above that "we KNOW of only two processes..." (emphasis added) and he then chooses one of the two KNOWN ones. What Dawkins (and most scientifically literate people) understand is that there could be more UNKNOWN processes. Future research might shed some light on these, but until that time, there is NO reason to consider any of them. If Paul's basketball analogy was to be correct, it should read something like: The home team has scored the most points and is therefore leading the game. However, other teams might join the game and it is possible that the home team will loose then (which doesn't make for a good analogy, really).

This hardly leaves evolutionary theory in an unhappy position.

Paul Nelson wrote:
When a philosopher hears that a theory about questions of empirical fact cannot be false, or that its competitors cannot be true, his tracking radar turns on. He also quotes NYU philosopher Thomas Nagel:

But God, whatever he may be, is not a complex physical inhabitant of the natural world. The explanation of his existence as a chance concatenation of atoms is not a possibility for which we must find an alternative, because that is not what anybody means by God. If the God hypothesis makes sense at all, it offers a different kind of explanation from those of physical science: purpose or intention of a mind without a body, capable nevertheless of creating and forming the entire physical world. The
point of the hypothesis is to claim that not all explanation is physical, and that there is a mental, purposive, or intentional explanation more fundamental than the basic laws of physics, because it explains even them.

Paul is possibly confused about what actually is true and what we can know scientifically to be "true". The two are not necessarily the same. There might, indeed, be a God as presented by Nagel, but since we have no empirical knowledge about it (and more to point probably never can), why should we even consider it? Some philosophers and religious people obviously do, but their resoning is not based on evidence and is from a scientific perspective, therefore, meaningless. So, Paul, it is not that some competitors can't be true, it's just that from a scientific viewpoint, some of them don't stack up.

Paul Nelson quotes Thomas Nagel again:
All explanations come to an end somewhere. The real opposition between Dawkins's physicalist naturalism and the God hypothesis is a disagreement over whether this end point is physical, extensional, and purposeless, or mental, intentional, and purposive. On either view, the ultimate explanation is not itself explained. The God hypothesis does not explain the existence of God, and naturalistic physicalism does not explain the laws of physics.

Apart from the fact that I'm not sure what naturalistic physicalism is (I've equivalated it with methodological naturalism), I have only one thing to say. If there is no way (as Nagel seems to imply) to know "the ultimate cause", why not just say "I don't know", instead of just making things up?


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