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Signature in the Cell 8 (RJS)

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Stephen C. Meyer has published a (very long, but readable) book, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design,
outlining
his argument in favor of intelligent design. We will wrap up this series today looking at Ch. 17 “But does it explain” and move on to new topics next week.

In this chapter Meyer answers his critics – those who say claim among other things that ID is an argument from ignorance, and uses failed analogies. I will put forth some of his argument, a critique, and open the floor for comment.

Is Meyer’s argument for ID an argument from ignorance?

Meyer claims that it is not an argument from ignorance (pp. 378-379):

In short critics claim that ID proponents argue as follows:

Premise One: Material causes cannot produce or explain specified information.

Conclusion: Therefore an intelligent cause produced specified biological information.

If proponents of intelligent design were arguing in the preceding manner, they would be guilty of arguing from ignorance. But the argument made in this book does not assume this form. Instead it takes the following form:

Premise One: Despite a thorough search, no material causes have been discovered that demonstrate the power to produce large amounts of specified information.

Premise Two: Intelligent causes have demonstrated the power to produce large amounts of specified information.

Conclusion: Intelligent design constitutes the best, most causally adequate, explanation for the information in the cell.

According to Meyer, ID is not an argument from ignorance because it includes a premise providing a positive reason for preferring design (premise two). (added later – and it takes the form of inference to best explanation because of the way premise one and the conclusion are reworded.)

Meyer sidesteps the problem with his argument for ID. The problem isn’t with the logical structure or form of the argument. None of us doubt that intelligence can produce “specified information.” We write books and computer programs, and design combination locks. Some – such as Dawkins – will argue against the presence of a supernatural designer, against the existence of God. But Meyer and I stand on the same side in that argument. Meyer’s case fails because premise one is not correct. Meyer’s case for ID is fundamentally an argument from ignorance because of premise one not because of the presence or absence of premise two.

Premise one has two major problems:

First, the concept of “specified information” is ill defined in the context of DNA in the cell. Meyer uses analogies to make comparisons with texts and computer programs. But these analogies are of limited value, there are similarities and dissimilarities.  Meyer realizes that arguments by analogy are weak – and goes on:

Although a computer program may be similar to DNA in many respects and dissimilar in others, it exhibits a precise identity to DNA insofar as both contain specified complexity or specified information.

…The argument does not depend upon the similarity of DNA to a computer program or a human language, but upon the presence of an identical feature in both DNA and intelligently designed codes, languages, and artifacts. (p. 386)

Meyer’s argument fails in part because the “identity” he asserts does not exist in any meaningful way.

Second, Meyer’s argument for ID fails because he has not demonstrated that purely physical and chemical processes cannot generate the kind of “specified information” found in the cell performed a thorough search to discover material causes having the  power to produce large amounts of specified information and he has ignored evidence that contradicts his premise. We can divide this into two parts – the growth of “specified information” and the origin of the “specified information” in the first cell.

Meyer did not look explicitly at the growth of  “specified information” in this book – but the case for evolution is overwhelming. There is no reasonable doubt but that natural chemical and physical processes can result in an increase in the amount of “specified information” in a cell. This alone breaks the identity relationship with human languages, and artifacts. It leaves only an analogy with certain kinds of computer programs.

On the question of the origin of the first cell, Meyer has not carried out a thorough search evaluating the evidence – he has presented a cursory search and he has not done justice to the current state of knowledge and understanding. His book contains more loosely related analogies and anecdotes than detailed consideration of the data and the ideas. But more importantly the field is not at a dead end – or anything near a dead end. For this reason the negative assertion inherent in the argument for intelligent design, that purely physical and chemical processes cannot generate the kind of “specified information” found in the first cell, is unfounded. Now I don’t think Meyer is looking for a gap and then inserting God into the gap – I think he is trying to construct a positive argument for design but has failed to do so.

And a final reflection. The post on Tuesday asked why Intelligent Design is an intriguing idea. I didn’t give an opinion there – but I will here. I think ID is popular for several reasons …

It is viewed by some as a way to undermine evolution and leave open the door for old earth progressive creationism or even young earth creationism. If Meyer and Dembski are right – and specified information cannot grow – then evolution cannot account for the diversity of life we see. This is an unfounded hope. The origin of life is an open question. We are still learning more about the mechanisms of evolution. But there is no reasonable doubt but that there is an evolutionary history that connects all organisms in a “tree of life.” Common descent is not an open question, nor is the general scheme of evolution.

It is viewed by some as a way to combat the scientific secular naturalism so pervasive in our educated society. But the way to combat ontological naturalism is not by concocting weak arguments for design or against evolution. These have the opposite effect, and a devastating effect upon many who continue on to study biology and chemistry and the other sciences. 

As a Christian there is nothing wrong with approaching the problem of the origin of life with a mind open to the possibility that God may have acted in direct fashion. Because we believe that God exists and acts it must remain a possibility. But I don’t see how it influences the practice of science. The practice of science by necessity approaches the problem assuming that the natural laws of chemistry and physics will hold. The search is not for any natural explanation – no matter how improbable, but for a probable explanation. Personally I think that when the problem is solved (if the problem is solved) our response will be along the lines of “of course, it had to be” and it will leave us marveling at the elegance of the inevitable process that produced life. We are not contingent accidents.

Finally I don’t think that God planted the seed and then stood back and watched it unfold (a deist view). Nor do I think that God is continually intervening to give supernatural nudges to creation. Both of these ideas have serious theological flaws. Rather God created and creates, everything is through Him and in Him. We detect the presence of God through relationship, awe and wonder, not through empirical evidence for design. Miracles, supernatural interventions, when they occur, are for a specific purpose as part of this ongoing interaction of God in relationship with his creatures.

What do you think?

Is Meyer’s argument for intelligent design convincing? Why or why not?

If you wish to contact me, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.



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Your Name

posted February 18, 2010 at 7:21 am


Wow, a whole series on a book and you never address the main argument of the book. You never explain why Meyer’s explanation is not the best explanation or why that is not the question we should be asking. You need to show what explanation is better than Meyer’s. Instead you merely throw out unsubstantiated conclusions like “Meyer’s argument fails in part because the “identity” he asserts does not exist in any meaningful way.”
Should we be looking for the best explanation? What do you think is the best explanation based on the evidence we have now?



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 18, 2010 at 7:24 am


Another great post.
The 1st premise (in premise one, premise two, conclusion) is erroneous. It should read:
Premise One: Despite a thorough search, constrained as it is by our present level of understanding, no material causes have been discovered that demonstrate the power to produce large amounts of specified information.
Science always holds open the possibility better understanding. The most a scientist can say based purely on science (because of the need for methodological materialism) is “We don’t know.”



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pds

posted February 18, 2010 at 7:32 am


The way Meyer and ID have been misrepresented and attacked on this blog and elsewhere deeply saddens me.



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RJS

posted February 18, 2010 at 7:33 am


Your Name and pds,
How have I missed Meyer’s argument?
I have tried hard to interact fairly with what he has written in his main ideas and I have avoided getting bogged down in errors of detail. I have provided explicit quotes to avoid twisting the ideas.
Meyer says that intelligent design is the inference to best explanation based on premise one and premise two above. But premise one is fatally flawed. Therefore intelligent design is not inference to best explanation. At best it is one explanation that must remain on the table.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 18, 2010 at 7:36 am


#1 Your Name
“Should we be looking for the best explanation? What do you think is the best explanation based on the evidence we have now?”
Your “evidence we have now” are the operative words. Science is self-limited to studying the material world. The best explanation science has on some of these issues is “We don’t know yet.” Postulating a designer is “God of the gaps.”



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 18, 2010 at 7:47 am


pds #3
I haven’t read the book but if RJS is quoting Meyer in the two premises and conclusion, then I don’t see your complaint. Unless you are willing to stipulate that everything that can and will be known is now known, the first premise is false. Limited as it is to methodological materialism, science presses on looking for understanding.



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RJS

posted February 18, 2010 at 8:51 am


Your name (#1),
I would be happy to be more detailed in the assessment that the identity doesn’t exist in any meaningful way. But in order to do this I would need to know precisely what the identity is, and I cannot get this from the book.
It appears that the identity is the fact that useful information is encoded in the DNA sequence through the three base “words” that code for amino acids. If this is true there is no identity. Consider a text such as the cuniform text I placed at the top of the post, the strongest evidence for design is not in the information but in the nature of the object (grooves and lines). Even without information content (a translation) the conclusion would be creation by an intelligence; even if the tablet was a random doodle the conclusion would be that it was created by an intelligence. But the nature of DNA is entirely consistent with its environment and the “specified information” is an intrinsic part of the system, not an external imposition. I use this example – because it is the parallel Meyer uses to open the chapter. Suppose an inscription such as this cuniform tablet was found in Antarctica and reliably dated long before the appearance of humans anywhere. We would conclude that it was evidence for the existence of some level of intelligence in a creature existing at that time. But I don’t think that the reason for this is first and foremost in the information – it is in the medium.
If you want to argue that the complexity of life inspires awe and leads us to God — I agree. I think He designed the world and did so intelligently and for a purpose.
If you want to argue that direct supernatural intervention was required to produce the “information content” of the DNA. There is no convincing argument that this is the best explanation for God’s method of creation.



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james-michael

posted February 18, 2010 at 9:37 am


“There is no reasonable doubt but that natural chemical and physical processes can result in an increase in the amount of “specified information” in a cell.”
I believe there is MUCH “reasonable doubt”, especially among ID proponents! Might this be a case of using “weasel words” in order to sound definitive? Your overall critique of Meyer’s book has been charitable and fair thus far. Why end with such bald assertion of a circular argument? Regardless of whether or not one is persuaded, Behe’s latest book “The Edge of Evolution” is a quite reasonable argument of the limitation of observed natural chemical and physical processes in increasing the amount of evolutionarily advantageous information in biological systems.



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james-michael

posted February 18, 2010 at 9:40 am


“If you want to argue that direct supernatural intervention was required to produce the “information content” of the DNA. There is no convincing argument that this is the best explanation for God’s method of creation.”
But is this what Meyer (and other ID proponents) have actually argued? Or have they argued that intelligent design is an observable feature of certain biological systems?
To anyone interested, here is an ID response to common mischaracterizations by ID critics, particularly those of Stephen Barr: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2010/02/how_to_completely_misunderstan.html



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RJS

posted February 18, 2010 at 9:47 am


james-michael,
As far as I can tell Behe argues that natural processes cannot account for all the increase in complexity – not that natural processes account for none of the increase. I am willing to stand corrected on Behe’s argument.
There is doubt among ID proponents, specifically Meyer and Dembski, that “specified information” can increase. But their conservation law is asserted not proven.
The assertion that “specified information” cannot increase at all has been disproven.
The assertion that natural increase is enough to account for all we see is not proven. But the assertion that it is not enough has not been proven either.



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dopderbeck

posted February 18, 2010 at 10:04 am


In general, RJS, I agree with your take on why ID seems important to many people.
However, I’m not sure I want to battle over whether Meyer’s argument is an “argument from ignorance” or not. To some extent, any thesis about almost anything is an “argument from ignorance,” because as human beings we don’t have exhaustive knowledge of everything. We always have to say, “this is the best explanation given what we think we know,” with varying degrees of confidence. So, the mere fact that an argument is based, in part, on the fact that there are no better explanations on offer, is not necessarily a problem.
It seems to me that the bigger problem here is with the first proposition. As you note in #10, there are various potentially viable theories about how “information” emerges from lower-level processes. Moreover, I’m not sure how we can say “despite a thorough search,” when all of this research, historically speaking, is in its infancy. Maybe in a few hundred or thousand years we’ll be able to say something like “despite a thorough search,” but at this point, such sweeping conclusions seem premature.



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Keith

posted February 18, 2010 at 10:35 am


RJS,
Your Final Reflections section brings to mind a pet peeve of mine that I think is applicable to this discussion. I dislike they way we (Christians) throw the word miracle around. It’s as if we think we must call natural events miracles (e.g. childbirth) in order to give God the credit. Childbirth is NOT a miracle if by miracle you mean a supernatural event. Childbirth is a wonderful blessing from God, but it is one that occurs naturally, not supernaturally.
I think this misuse of “miracle” leads us down that path that “God interacts in our lives through miracles” when, in my experience, he USUALLY interacts in my life quite naturally. God is not confined to interacting with us only miraculously. 99% of my interaction with my maker is quite natural, so I must assume this is his usual operating mode and I require evidence to the contrary to believe otherwise. The is why I find natural explanations for origins more convincing, all else being equal. That God creating through a natural process is no less spectacular; possibly more so.



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Eric

posted February 18, 2010 at 10:57 am


“For this reason alone, asserting that purely physical and chemical processes cannot generate the kind of “specified information” found in the first cell is an argument from ignorance.”
This clearly isn’t his assertion. His assertion isn’t that chemical processes CANNOT generate the kind of “specified information” found in the first cell but rather that we see no evidence of this happening. He specifically said that he wasn’t saying that “Material causes cannot produce or explain specified information,” but that this is what his critics mistake him to be saying. I guess you’ve shown him to be correct on that point at least …



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Vaughn Treco

posted February 18, 2010 at 11:08 am


Assertion: “As a Christian there is nothing wrong with approaching the problem of the origin of life with a mind open to the possibility that God may have acted in direct fashion. Because we believe that God exists and acts it must remain a possibility.”
Response: Why is the Christian worldview’s interpretative potential limited a priori in this manner?
Assertion: “But I don’t see how it influences the practice of science.”
Response: Is it possible that your presumption regarding the limited value of the interpretive potential of the Christian worldview (including its assertion that supernatural forces are in play in the universe) has weakened your capacity to adequately address this question?
Assertion: “The practice of science by necessity approaches the problem assuming that the natural laws of chemistry and physics will hold.”
Response: Is this not one of the very notions that is being scrutinized?
Assertion: “The search is not for any natural explanation – no matter how improbable, but for a probable explanation.”
Response: But, the search – as understood by you – is ONLY for probable natural explanations, is it not?
Assertion: “Personally I think that when the problem is solved (if the problem is solved) our response will be along the lines of “of course, it had to be” and it will leave us marveling at the elegance of the inevitable process that produced life.”
Response: Pray tell me, what is the ground for this unqualified confidence in the interpretive power of a scientific methodology that has closed itself off to an entire aspect of reality that the Christian faith claims to exist?
Assertion: “We are not contingent accidents.”
Response: Certainly not, but – in your scheme of things – it appears that we are the inevitable product of undirected natural processes.



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RJS

posted February 18, 2010 at 11:09 am


Eric,
Have you read the book? I don’t have it with me, so I paraphrase from memory and will fact check when I get home – but Meyer has a section in this chapter where he addresses the “never say never” issue. In this section he says that ID is challenged because it makes a negative assertion that purely physical and chemical processes cannot generate the kind of “specified information” found in the cell. He argues that science often makes negative assertions and bases inference on these assertions. He uses the example of the laws of thermodynamics and perpetual motion machines to make his point. The problem I have here is that I can provide a rigorous proof of thermodynamics based on a few defensible postulates, but Meyer and Dembski never provide a proof of their negative assertion and it is phenomenologically falsifiable in certain limits.
Their argument relies on this negative assertion – they must provide a rigorous defense of this assertion and they do not.



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RJS

posted February 18, 2010 at 11:17 am


Vaughn,
I don’t understand your first response. How am I saying that the Christian worldview’s interpretative potential is limited a priori in some manner?
dopderbeck,
I don’t particularly want to battle over whether his argument is an argument from ignorance or not. I do want to take issue with the idea that his premise two actually helps his argument at all. The problems with his argument are in premise one – premise two is unimportant.



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Darren King

posted February 18, 2010 at 11:38 am


Interesting discussion so far.
I’d just like to make a quick point about intellectual honesty. I am trying to give people like pds the benefit of the doubt, but I grow tired of reading, in thread after thread, vague comments such as:
“The way Meyer and ID have been misrepresented and attacked on this blog and elsewhere deeply saddens me.”
This feels like a deliberate distraction; as if you, pds, are trying to undermine RJS’s point by merely insinuating, without providing evidence, that RJS is misrepresenting both the author and the ID movement.
Please, if you’re going to say such things, provide examples, be specific. Otherwise you add absolutely nothing to the exchange of ideas.



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aiguy

posted February 18, 2010 at 11:40 am


“None of us doubt that intelligence can produce “specified information.” We write books and computer programs, and design combination locks. Some – such as Dawkins – will argue against the presence of a supernatural designer, against the existence of God. But Meyer and I stand on the same side in that argument.”
Meyer claims that his argument is grounded in our uniform and repeated experience. But according to our experience, intelligence is a property of living organisms, and not something that exists as an independent causal force in the universe. While mind/body dualism may be true, it certainly is not an empirical fact; on the contrary, every intelligent agent in our experience requires a highly complex, physical mechanism in order to perceive, reason about, and act on the environment. Moreover, theoretical results in physics and information theory (e.g. Rolf Landauer) have formally tied all information processing to physical mechanism.
If Meyer’s second premise is claimed to be an empirical fact rather than a philosophical conjecture, then, it must be stated as follows: Living things have demonstrated the power to produce large amounts of specified information. Since we logically cannot attribute first life to the actions of a living thing, Meyer necessarily is appealing to something outside of our shared experience, viz. something that is not itself a life form but still possesses the physical and mental abilities of a living thing. Many of us doubt that such a thing can exist, and without supporting evidence, ID cannot claim to be an empirically supported inference.



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Eric

posted February 18, 2010 at 11:40 am


No, I haven’t read the book. I was going by what you quoted above where he says that critics claim that he is saying “Material causes cannot produce or explain specified information. Then he denies that that is what he is saying but is instead saying that “no material causes have been discovered that demonstrate the power to produce large amounts of specified information.”
If he says something different elsewhere in the book, that’s fine. I was just looking at what you quoted him saying and comparing it to what you were claiming he was saying.
I just did a quick Amazon search for this section of the book and I have to say that this “never say never” section of the book is pretty unobjectionable from a philosophy of science standpoint. All he is arguing is that science makes negative claims (“X doesn’t happen”) all the time. This is undoubtedly true and the arguments he gives for why this is true are pretty standard.
If “their negative assertion … is phenomenologically falsifiable in certain limits” then THAT is the reason that ID is wrong, not BECAUSE it is an argument of ignorance or BECAUSE it is making a negative claim. These sections are addressing these later points and on the whole are correct in what they say.
Regarding your reply to dopderbeck … if you think premise 2 is unimportant, then you don’t understand what he is saying. The form of his argument is very important, because if it isn’t a logically sound form of argument, then it doesn’t even matter what the empirical data says. You are objecting to the content of his argument on empirical grounds (which is great) but Meyers concern in these 2 sections is to objections that attack the form of his argument, not the empirical content. As far as I can tell, the form of his argument withstands these objections.



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Unapologetic Catholic

posted February 18, 2010 at 12:29 pm


“Premise One: Despite a thorough search, no material causes have been discovered that demonstrate the power to produce large amounts of specified information.”
There are major definitional issues with this premise. What does “specified information” mean in the biological context? What are the units of measure? What is the measured specifed compelxity of, for example, DNA or a baxcterial flagellum? Inthe absence of any quatifiable definitionof “specified” and “informaiton” in biology, the premise can’t even be addressed meaningfully.
“Premise Two: Intelligent causes have demonstrated the power to produce large amounts of specified information.”
Now we need to define “intelligent causes.” Don’t we mean “humans?” Have any examples been offered where non human intelligence produced anthing at all? Premise two is also meaningless.
“Conclusion: Intelligent design constitutes the best, most causally adequate, explanation for the information in the cell.”
The conclusion leaps from no foundation at all. The actual fact is that cells replicate and create complex structures all by themselves all the time and this fact is observed on a daily basis. We call it reproduction, not intelligent design.



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RJS

posted February 18, 2010 at 12:33 pm


Eric,
My point is two-fold.
First – the form of the argument only matters if premise one holds. If premise one doesn’t hold then the result is the same whether the form of the argument is correct or not.
Second – Meyer addresses an objection that deals with the form of his argument, but he does not address the objection that sinks the premise. In doing this he neatly sidesteps serious interaction with his critics, the majority of whom do not care about “form of argument.” He does not address what scientist are referring to when they claim it is an argument from ignorance – i.e. an argument dependent on gaps in knowledge.



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Eric

posted February 18, 2010 at 12:54 pm


No, you are wrong. It doesn’t matter whether premise 1 holds if the form of the argument is invalid! That’s basic logic.
If the majority of his critics are claiming he is arguing from ignorance but at the same time they do not care about the form of his argument, then something is majorly wrong with his critics. Arguments from ignorance take a certain form (as Meyer clearly shows in that section) and his argument takes the form of an inference to the best explanation (as he also clearly shows in that section). This is not an argument that is dependent on gaps, it is an inference to the best explanation.
It is fine that you think premise 1 is empirically wrong, but you have totally missed the point of this section of Meyers book.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 18, 2010 at 1:00 pm


Vaughn #14
If I read you correctly, I think you characterizing both Christianity and science as worldviews. Christianity is (and there are varying worldviews in Christianity) a worldview but science is not. Scietism is a worldview”
From wikipedia:
“The term scientism is used to describe the view that natural science has authority over all other interpretations of life, such as philosophical, religious, mythical, spiritual, or humanistic explanations, and over other fields of inquiry, such as the social sciences.”
Science is a self-limited form of study and knowledge. It is limited to the study of the natural world. Methodological materialism … assuming natural causes in your investigation and looking for evidence of how they work … is essential to science. Science can not speak to supernatural realities because they are beyond the scope of science. Science alone can’t form a comprehensive worldview.
Philosophical materialism (scientism) … the faith commitment to the idea that there are only natural causes … is an all encompassing worldview (ex. Dawkins et al).
What we have is two worldviews … Christianity and scientism … trying to appropriate science for their own ends. The commonality between ID and scientism is that they have not respected the boundaries of science.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 18, 2010 at 1:07 pm


#22
“This is not an argument that is dependent on gaps, it is an inference to the best explanation.”
But science is not about founding the “best explanation.” It is about founding the “best empirical natural explanation.” If IDers are right, then scientists will never be able to get to a natural explanation. In that case, always and forever the most science will be able to say is “we don’t know a natural explanation.” To postulate a designer external the system is to leave the realm of science.



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RJS

posted February 18, 2010 at 1:18 pm


Eric,
This is not a court of law or a philosophical debate. Technicalities do not create truth.
If the form of the argument is wrong it can be corrected. If it cannot be corrected then there is a fundamental flaw in logic. So Meyer shows that the form of the argument can be made correct – perhaps a necessary, but far from sufficient condition. A lot of total garbage can be expressed in proper form. In fact, it is a trivial correction that he makes – and one which his most of his critics would have conceded ahead of time.
If premise one doesn’t hold, then it doesn’t matter if the form of the argument is correct or not. If premise one doesn’t hold, then his conclusion is not inference to best explanation.
But here is the real problem – Meyer spends pages dealing with technicalities and never meets the real arguments of his critics. He gives the impression that he has answered their objections – but recasts the objection into something different.
So consider this argument:
Premise one: Despite a thorough search, no bibles written in anything other than English have been found that cannot be traced to a direct translation from English.
Conclusion: Therefore the Bible was originally composed in English.
Ok – the above was an argument from ignorance by a technical definition – so it is logically unfounded.
Is this any better?
Premise One: Despite a thorough search, no bibles written in anything other than English have been found that cannot be traced to a direct translation from English.
Premise Two: People can read and write and compose new texts in English.
Conclusion: Therefore the Bible was originally composed in English.
Have I answered my critics and demonstrated that the conclusion that the Bible was originally composed in English is the inference to best explanation? Of course not – now you are all complaining about the stupidity of my example.
Unfortunately this is how most of us who understand the science feel when we read Meyer’s book. Total frustration.



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RickK

posted February 18, 2010 at 1:40 pm


“This is not an argument that is dependent on gaps, it is an inference to the best explanation.”
If the existence of divine magic had just once been demonstrated, in all the thousands of attempts to do so throughout history, then this statement might be valid.
But the fact is irrefutable – evidence demonstrates quite clearly that the BEST explanation is that natural phenomena have natural causes. It is has been thus for everything that’s ever been explained, including many thousands of cases originally explained by divine or supernatural causes.
And RJS is exactly right – Meyer does NOT effectively dismiss the ability of natural mechanisms to create “specified information”. After all, we’ve SEEN natural mechanisms create “specified information”.
So… RJS did NOT misstate or mistreat Meyer. RJS gave Meyer a HECK of a lot more respect and attention than I think he deserved.



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RickK

posted February 18, 2010 at 1:47 pm


Why do I say Meyer’s book didn’t deserve such attention? RJS outlines the reasons when he discusses why ID is popular:
1) “It is viewed by some as a way to undermine evolution and leave open the door for old earth progressive creationism or even young earth creationism. ”
2) “It is viewed by some as a way to combat the scientific secular naturalism so pervasive in our educated society.”
Meyer has openly stated that his goal is #2, and he and his organization are funded by people who wish #1.
Meyer’s whole enterprise with “Signature” is anti-scientific and fundamentally dishonest.



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Jeff Doles

posted February 18, 2010 at 1:48 pm


I don’t think it is an argument from ignorance. It looks more like the principle of parsimony (a.k.a. Occam’s Razor) — one should not unnecessarily multiply assumptions. IOW, all other conditions being equal, the simplest explanation is the best one.
In this case, one does not have to assume that intelligent causes can account for large amounts of specified information — it can be demonstrated.
OTOH, it cannot be demonstrated that non-intelligent causes can account for large amounts of specified information — it can only be assumed, and lacking any evidence, it is an unnecessary assumption.



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Eric

posted February 18, 2010 at 1:55 pm


Meyers argument – and he very clearly lays this out in that section – is not of the form that you gave in your second Bible argument. If it were, I would be in agreement with you. I think you should re-read that section.
I’ll repeat what this section is about. Meyers (or ID in general) apparently has some critics who say they are arguing from ignorance. Meyers points out that the argument from ignorance takes on a certain form. This form of argument is an informal fallacy. Meyers says that he isn’t arguing from ignorance, but rather ID uses an inference to the best explanation, which isn’t a fallacy. He then shows the form of argument that ID makes and how it is different than the form of an argument from ignorance. Whether the premises of his inference to the best explanation are true or not are not discussed in this section. Overall, I see nothing to object to in this section.



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Unapologetic Catholic

posted February 18, 2010 at 1:59 pm


“In this case, one does not have to assume that intelligent causes can account for large amounts of specified information — it can be demonstrated.”
How so? define “large” “specified” and “informaiton” so we can “repeat your work.” Give a single non-human intelligently caused example of a “creation of large amounts of informaiton.”
“OTOH, it cannot be demonstrated that non-intelligent causes can account for large amounts of specified information — it can only be assumed, and lacking any evidence, it is an unnecessary assumption.”
Same objection: Define “specified” and “information.”
Please take a look at the followign object:
1 Calculate the “information” content of the object in any manner you choose. Show your work
2. Is the object intelligently designed? Yes or no. Why?
Object: http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2010/02/image-of-the-day-the-cygnus-bubble-natural-or-artificial-object.html?cid=6a00d8341bf7f753ef0120a867859f970b



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RJS

posted February 18, 2010 at 2:11 pm


Eric,
I have read every word of this book carefully up to this point in order to try to deal with his argument fairly. I have tried to stick only with the main points and not argue trivia.
How is his argument different from the one I put forth in my last comment?
As far as I can see you are arguing that he spent this chapter dealing with trivial details – and I should have ignored it. That could be the case.
I say trivial details – and they may not be trivial from some perspectives – because they are trivial to the ultimate defensibility of his argument for intelligent design.
He has not carried out a thorough search, he has not dealt fairly with the data, he has not demonstrated that what he calls “specified information” cannot be produced by “purely” chemical and physical means, he has not even given a good definition of “specified information.” His definition has relied primarily on poor analogies.



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R Hampton

posted February 18, 2010 at 2:13 pm


Reminds me of a conversation I had with an ID advocate. When pressed to specify and/or precisely determine CSI, he responded that:
To decide what is intelligently designed and what isn’t refer to William Dembski’s explanatory filter as laid out in The Design Inference. The filter is mathematical and provides a method for inferring design for effects that are composed of multiple parts conforming to an independent pattern. E.g. – compiled software code is composed of a 2 character alphabet that performs software functions, and DNA is a 4-character alphabet that provides biological function. The amount of functional information in one of out cells is more than the Encyclopedia Britannica, and evolution is not able to account for the origin or growth of this information.
My Reply.
Again, not an answer. ID should be able to say something like (either by prediction or with evidence):
All members of the Family Canidae have evolved naturally from a basal form (an example of “variation”) but the originating animal of Canidae was itself intelligently designed and thus did not evolve from the Suborder Caniformia (e.g. a Miacis or Miacis-like animal).
Not only can this be illustrated, but it can be tested; for example, by finding the irreducibly complex structure common to Canidae but missing in all other animals. This is exactly what the evolutionary theory provides by way of a phylogenetic tree. So theories offer not only an explanation of the chemistry, biology, mathematics, et al. involved, but specific answers that other scientists can try to duplicate or challenge. [Ironic that ID theorists challenge Evolutionary theory because of this very mechanism, yet do not reciprocate.]
Thus Intelligent Design theory must be able to present in clear, unmistakable language theintelligently designed animals. Considering that the method to empirically answer the question has been around for 12 years [as you cited by William Dembski’s explanatory filter, circa 1998] what explains the neglect? More importantly, if intelligent design is so obvious to the naked eye, then a preliminary map of life – given that it would be acknowledged as speculative – should have been produced by ID theorists long ago.



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Eric

posted February 18, 2010 at 2:22 pm


How is answering people’s objections “trivial details?” The answer he gave was a perfectly reasonable answer to the objection he was addressing. The only way it would be classified as “trivial” is if the objection he was addressing was trivial.
But anyway Meyers argument is of the form (this is a direct quote from his book):
Premise 1: Causes A through X do not produce evidence E.
Premise 2: Cause Y can and does produce E.
Conclusion: Y explains E better than A through X.
Your second “bible argument” is not of that form. And as I said above, if you don’t understand why the form of these two arguments matters, then you do not understand Meyers point in this section. I stand by my suggestion that you should re-read the section.



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RJS

posted February 18, 2010 at 2:32 pm


So are you saying that my argument should be:
Premise One: Despite a thorough search, no evidence is found for the direct composition of texts in any language other than English
Premise Two: Evidence is found for the direct composition of texts in English.
Conclusion: Therefore the Bible was originally composed in English.
And answering people’s objections is trivia when he only answers selected objections, ignores the hard ones, and allows his readers to accept unchallenged his assertions without providing a coherent argument for them. He allows them to infer that he has met the important challenges.



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R Hampton

posted February 18, 2010 at 2:32 pm


Eric,
Meyer doesn’t scientifically explain CSI, thus his claim that “Causes A through X” (e.g. DNA, Single Cell life, Eyes, etc.) belong to a set excluding all other Causes (e.g. Sugars, Amino Acids, Prions, etc.) has no real meaning. Meyer fails because he can not scientifically define the crux on which he builds his argument.



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dopderbeck

posted February 18, 2010 at 2:38 pm


RJS (#25) — the Bible example gets muddied because you could look at the etymology of certain words and ideas in the text and figure out the text wasn’t originally written in English.
How about this:
Premise One: despite a thorough search, 90% of the matter in the universe, as described in mathematical models, is unobservable “dark matter,” the properties of which are unknown
Premise Two: Therefore, the best explanation for “dark matter” is that it is the Spirit of God
Here we have the kind of “argument from ignorance” that obviously is unacceptable.
In contrast:
Premise One: despite a thorough search, 90% of the matter in the universe, as described in mathematical models, is unobservable “dark matter,” the properties of which are unknown
Premise Two: The amount of energy released at the Big Bang is generally consistent with the amount of dark matter predicted by mathematical models of the universe
Premise Three: Therefore, the best explanation for “dark matter” is that it is a presently unknown form of matter and/or energy resulting from the Big Bang
Here we have a form of an argument from ignorance that seems perfectly acceptable.
The difference is partly in the form of the argument and partly in the factual predicates of the argument.



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Dave

posted February 18, 2010 at 2:45 pm


Meyer is making the argument that the information in the cell must have a designer because there is no way for the information to exist without a designer. Therefore, there must be a designer. But can?t that same argument then be used for the existence of the designer?
For the designer to exist he must have been designed. It strikes me to be a better argument for atheism than for God.



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Eric

posted February 18, 2010 at 2:51 pm


RJS,
I don’t see any straightforward way to translate your argument into the form of his argument. Perhaps you could pick a better example?
Anyway, it doesn’t really matter since the objection has little to do with the content of the argument and everything to do with the form of the argument.
“And answering people’s objections is trivia when he only answers selected objections, ignores the hard ones, and allows his readers to accept unchallenged his assertions without providing a coherent argument for them. He allows them to infer that he has met the important challenges.”
As I said, I have little familiarity with Meyers – only this small section that you quoted and then I read up on. If this is in fact what he is doing, then I fully agree with you. If you would have written that in the first place, I would have read it, said to myself “that seems about right” and probably wouldn’t have commented. But anyway, I hope you can now see how you’ve misread his argument.



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RJS

posted February 18, 2010 at 2:52 pm


dopderbeck,
Problem is, I think that Meyer is constructing an argument that is correct in form – but where the first premise is completely unjustified on many levels. More than this he will not really interact with criticisms of the first premise. He spends his time and ink interacting with other issues (like the logical form of the argument).
He also deals with an argument of Hume dealing with analogy – and asserts that he is not making an error because the specific feature of interest is identical not merely similar. Unfortunately he does not provide enough information to evaluate whether his claim of identity is true – and it seems likely from what I can tell that it is not true.
He spends another large section dealing with the “who designed the designer” objection. But he and I are on the same side here – who designed the designer arguments miss the point.



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Eric

posted February 18, 2010 at 2:54 pm


dopderbeck,
“Here we have a form of an argument from ignorance that seems perfectly acceptable.”
That isn’t a form of an argument from ignorance. It’s an inference to the best explanation. There IS a difference.



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Eric

posted February 18, 2010 at 2:57 pm


“Problem is, I think that Meyer is constructing an argument that is correct in form – but where the first premise is completely unjustified on many levels. More than this he will not really interact with criticisms of the first premise. He spends his time and ink interacting with other issues (like the logical form of the argument).”
But the objection that he is talking about is an objection about the form of the argument! Why would he talk about the content of the argument when the objection is an objection to the form of the argument? And why is this so hard to understand?



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RJS

posted February 18, 2010 at 3:03 pm


Ok – try this one:
Premise One: Despite a thorough search, no evidence has been found for the intelligent construction of bridges.
Conclusion: All bridges are produced by natural material cause.
This is corrected to:
Premise One: Despite a thorough search, no evidence has been found for the intelligent construction of bridges.
Premise Two: Natural material cause has been demonstrated to form bridges through the erosion of soft rock underlying harder rock.
Conclusion: Bridges are produced by natural material cause.



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RJS

posted February 18, 2010 at 3:07 pm


Eric,
You are helping me understand it – I would like to know if the vast majority of people who read this book actually read this chapter in the limit sense of form of argument.
Perhaps they do and I am just dense because I can’t get past the idea that form is irrelevant to his case if premise one is not justified.



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Eric

posted February 18, 2010 at 3:42 pm


Let me try this way. If I say “There is no good evidence to suggest that presents can appear under trees by themselves, therefore Santa must have put them there.” That is an argument from ignorance. I could have just easily said “There is no good evidence to suggest that presents can appear under trees by themselves, therefore my mom and dad put them there.” That is also an argument from ignorance. Arguments from ignorance take this form. Notice that even if the premise is true, the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premise. It doesn’t mean the conclusion is false, just that the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premise.
If, however, I wrote:
There is no good evidence to suggest that presents can’t appear under trees by themselves.
Also, I have good evidence that Santa put the presents there.
Therefore, Santa putting the presents there is a better explanation than the explanation that the presents appeared there by themselves.
Unlike the last argument, this one isn’t an argument from ignorance, it is an inference to the best explanation.
Here’s another:
There is no good evidence to suggest that presents can’t appear under trees by themselves.
Also, I have good evidence that my parents put the presents there.
Therefore, my parents putting the presents there is a better explanation than the explanation that the presents appeared there by themselves.
Again, this isn’t an argument from ignorance but rather an inference to the best explanation. It is the form that matters, not the content.
Inferences to the best explanation are used all the time. Philosophers of science often call this abductive reasoning, if you want to read more about it.
If somebody were to object that I can’t conclude that Santa put the presents there because the form of argument I was using was an argument from ignorance, I’d do much like Meyers did in that section and show how the form of my argument was different than that of an argument from ignorance.
If the objection was “Well, that doesn’t prove that Santa delivered the presents under the tree” I’d reply that you were right but that it is the best explanation I have now.
If the objection was “Well, there is evidence X, Y, and Z that your parents delivered the presents, not Santa” then I might have to reconsider my conclusion.
If the objection was “Well, there is evidence that presents CAN appear spontaneously under trees” then I might have to reconsider my conclusion, also.



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Curt Cameron

posted February 18, 2010 at 3:52 pm


Like you said, it’s absolutely, positively true that we KNOW that natural processes result in increasing information in the genome. With gene duplications and errors, it’s inevitable. It’s like Meyer is sticking his fingers in his ears and ignoring everyone who keeps pointing that out.



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james-michael

posted February 18, 2010 at 4:23 pm


“it’s absolutely, positively true that we KNOW that natural processes result in increasing information in the genome.”
But is that what Meyer and ID proponents are actually denying? Or are they denying that any “specified” or “evolutionarily advantageous” information is observed as having been created by *unguided* natural processes?
RJS,
I would be interested if you were to do a review of Behe’s “Edge of Evolution.” I haven’t come across many ID critics who are familiar with it or have interacted with his claims presented there (which are not the same as the ones presented in “Darwin’s Black Box”).



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dopderbeck

posted February 18, 2010 at 4:29 pm


RJS (#39) — right. I think you and Eric are now agreeing about the form of the argument but disagreeing about its substantive merits.
But I also think there’s some missing of the point going on both from Meyers’ side about what the “argument from ignorance” complaint is all about. I don’t understand that ordinarily to be a complaint about the rules of formal logic.
The bottom line is that Meyer’s Premise One assumes that the search for “material causes” that can produce “large amounts of specified information” is for all practical purposes complete. I think most scientists would say OOL research, in historical terms, is only in its infancy. Therefore, it’s not appropriate to jump to Premise Two. There is yet very much work to be done on this question of “material causes.” (Setting aside also that OOL and “specified information” are loaded and at the end of the day quite different concepts).
Further, Premise Two is a highly problematic argument from the analogy of human intelligence. Among other things, it assumes there are such things as “intelligent causes,” which begs the question being asked. Therefore, Premise Two may be invalid and/or Premise Three does not necessarily follow from Premise Two.



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RJS

posted February 18, 2010 at 4:29 pm


Ok – I struck the sentence about argument from ignorance from the original post. Meyer uses Lipton’s discussion of inference to best explanation to develop his argument. He devotes the better part of a chapter early on to this.
The problem with the argument Meyer presents in the chapter fall in the justification for premise one, which was my main point in the original post.
With respect to his defense against critics in this chapter, I think he is in error when he asserts that his analogies are justified because they involve identities not merely similarities. His analogies do not involve identities in any significant fashion.



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RJS

posted February 18, 2010 at 4:33 pm


james-michael,
I’ll try to get Behe’s book and interact with it. Not for a month or two though as I need a break from the ID argument.



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R Hampton

posted February 18, 2010 at 4:47 pm


But is that what Meyer and ID proponents are actually denying? Or are they denying that any “specified” or “evolutionarily advantageous” information is observed as having been created by *unguided* natural processes?
Which leads us back to the initial problem: Meyer doesn’t scientifically explain CSI so Meyer’s “theory” fails because he can not scientifically define the crux on which he builds his argument. By way of analogy:
If I we can’t determine a natural cause for X, then Foobar must be the cause. Foobar is defined by FBI (Foo Bar Information). Examples of Foobar are chocolates, pizza, and ice cream. Salt and water are not Foobar!
But a scientist can’t accept this “logic” because Foobar does not have a definition with any scientific meaning. What makes one thing Foobar but not another? What is Foobars’s empirical measure (e.g. foobars/second)? How do I objectively test for, or mathematically model, Foobarness?



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Eric

posted February 18, 2010 at 4:49 pm


dopderbeck,
“… but disagreeing about its substantive merits.”
Really? I haven’t said anything about the substantive merits of the argument. I happen to think ID is a crock of BS and that premise 1 – as far as I can tell – is false. The only reason I chimed in here was because RJS quoted Meyers saying one thing and then claimed that Meyers was saying the exact opposite!
RJS,
You still don’t quite get Meyers point. He wasn’t arguing for the truth of premise 1 in that section because he had no need to. I tried to get that across in my last post … showing that whether it is an argument from ignorance or not doesn’t depend on the truth status of the premises. I would also cross out a couple more sentences:
“Second, Meyer’s argument fails because he has not demonstrated that purely physical and chemical processes cannot generate the kind of “specified information” found in the cell.”
He doesn’t need to demonstrate this because this isn’t part of his argument. This is part of the argument from ignorance that he is explicitly rejecting.
You should also cross out this: “For this reason alone, asserting that purely physical and chemical processes cannot generate the kind of “specified information” found in the first cell is an argument from ignorance.”
Again, he isn’t asserting this. This is part of the argument from ignorance. He is not making that argument.



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RJS

posted February 18, 2010 at 4:50 pm


dopderbeck (#47)
Well – I know that within my sphere, which includes scientists, but not philosophers, when people claim that ID is an “argument from ignorance” they mean that it is an argument arising from ignorance about science or an argument based on a gap in the current state of understanding. They do not mean that the argument has a flawed formal structure.
But I learned something from this discussion.



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RJS

posted February 18, 2010 at 5:31 pm


Eric #51
I reworded the section.
In Ch. 15 Meyer has a section where he asserts that no “natural” causally adequate explanation for the origin of life, specifically for the origin of the specified information required for life has been found.
Reading some of this section again in light of this discussion I can see where some of his argument relies on formal logic, not on science or the validity of his premises. So the assertion is not an “argument from ignorance” but it is an argument that is rooted in today. No causally adequate explanation may be true today but may not be true in a decade or a century. It is an argument based on a gap in our understanding which may or may not persist. This alone does not influence the logical structure of his argument, although it may influence the amount of reliance we want to place on his conclusion. More importantly – his case for the absence of a natural causally adequate explanation is built in several chapters that do violence to the science involved.



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Jim

posted February 18, 2010 at 5:37 pm


RJS,
I was interested in your last paragraph. In particular, I’m intrigued by your statement “Rather God created and creates, everything is through Him and in Him. We detect the presence of God through relationship, awe and wonder, not through empirical evidence for design.” and was wondering how this differs from the idea that God continually intervenes to give supernatural nudges to creation.
Thanks for this series. I really appreciate it and how you’ve handled yourself in the face of some of the criticism that crosses the lines into personal attacks.
jim



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Jim

posted February 18, 2010 at 5:46 pm


pds (#3)
I don’t see how RJS has attacked and misrepresented Meyer in this series. Can you give some examples? Perhaps some commentators in the blog have crossed the line into personal attack, but I don’t think that the general approach that RJS has taken has done this at all.
In fact, I see this series as similar to what goes on in a more formal manner in the academic community. When someone publishes an article/book/etc., the publisher invites referees to read and comment on the article/book/etc. This process is valuable for many reasons. The author gets feedback and can then strengthen the article. Or, if mistakes are found, the author has a chance to correct them before publication. And the end result is something that the rest of the community can have confidence in.
So the fact that some of Meyer’s arguments are being taken to task in this forum can be a healthy thing. If his argument is ever going to be taken seriously and have impact in the broader academic community, this process is necessary.
Pointing out problems in his arguments are not an attack, they are necessary to bring credibility and strengthen his argument or to show that it is weak and should be discarded. Both of these outcomes are good things.



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Unapologetic Catholic

posted February 18, 2010 at 5:54 pm


I think you conceded the “argument from ignorance” too readily.
Meyer’s “inference to the best explanation” is a roundabout way of framing an argument from ingorance in every case when all possible explanations have not been identified.
How do you know what inference IS the best explantion when you haven’t determined all of the available inferences?. To do so without determining all of the available ifnerences is a “disguised” argument from ignorance, even if not framed in that exact language.
In essence he is saying, “I dont’ know all of the possible inferences and so I’ll pick the one I like even though I can’t tell how plausible it is.” That’s an argument from igorance.
To address the santa claus analogy, it’s an argument from ignorance to say Santa brought the presents when we don’t even know if relatives could have brought presents, the neighbors, Kris Kringle, Fedex or other plausible present delivery possibilities.
If the only two possible sources of presents under the tree were either (1) santa) or (2) parents, then an inference to the best explanation would not be an argument from ignorance.
Meyers, howver, has no idea of all of the possible “present sources” in biology, so his argument is indeed an argument form ignorance.
he’s hoping we won’t notice.



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RJS

posted February 18, 2010 at 6:00 pm


Eric,
If the essence of Meyer’s argument is that the best explanation for the origin of life is a designer – most Christians will go along (even most Christians in the sciences). It is an argument that should be held loosely because it is based in current scientific understanding. There may be a causally adequate explanation for the first cell in a decade or a century or a couple of centuries. As he expresses it in its strongest form this is all he argues. In part this is why I cannot get a handle on Meyer and his position.
On the other hand – the analogies he uses in the book to make his point are weak and only bring ridicule down on his argument. Many of his readers take them literally and turn around and make truly stupid statements. The violence he does when interacting with the science and the state of research on the origin of life raises hackles for anyone trained in the sciences. And his arguments against causally adequate natural explanations fall to pieces when we move beyond the origin of life.
There are causally adequate explanations for the diversity of life following the first cell. Does this mean that an intelligent designer is not the “best explanation?” Personally I think that God is the best explanation for everything – including the natural mechanisms of evolution. Natural explanation and God are not opposite poles.



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RJS

posted February 18, 2010 at 6:04 pm


Unapologetic Catholic,
Meyer’s is an argument based on gaps in knowledge. No question.
All I conceded is that given that “argument from ignorance” is a technical term relating to the specific construction of an argument – Meyer’s argument doesn’t fall into that category.
That is not conceding that his argument is correct, or even that if correct today it is one we should place much confidence in.



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RJS

posted February 18, 2010 at 8:08 pm


Jim (#55)
Thanks – this is the point isn’t it? To move forward a proposal has to deal with the evidence fairly, deal with the opposing views fairly, put forth an argument and stand ready to learn and adapt. Criticism tests and sharpens the ideas and statements. The point isn’t affirmation or deferral to experts. I would argue ideas put forth by a Nobel Laureate in the same way if I saw (or thought I saw) a flaw in the logic. Eric’s conversation with me is a good example of the process. I wish those who want to defend ID would interact with the ideas.
With respect to #54 – maybe my answer in 57 gives part of my thinking. Fundamentally I think that everything we learn in science, including evolution and cosmology, is an elucidation of some part of the method/mind/work of God – not because there are supernatural nudges, but because he sustains all. We make a category mistake when we separate natural from act of God. But this is a theological statement not a scientific one.
For this reason I don’t see the growth in understanding in science as something that threatens faith. The world is as it is as God created it, life originated as it originated as God intended, species developed as they developed in the way God intended. I think that the pervasive ontological naturalism, materialism, relativism, and individualism in our society are threats.



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Hrafn

posted February 19, 2010 at 5:44 am


Same ol’ same ol’ — it’s depressing to see the same tired, debunked and/or unsubstantiated arguments from previous threads trotted out again.
1) ARGUMENT FROM IGNORANCE
Meyer’s second, two premise, argument is still an unambiguous argument from ignorance, EVEN IF you accept his premises.
(And the premises are not accepted: a number of scientists have questioned the ‘thoroughness’ of his search, the inability of natural forces to produce specified complexity has been simply asserted, not demonstrated, and Meyer/Dembski have presented no method to unambiguously distinguish between specified and ordinary unspecified information, and thus it is unsubstantiated that there is a “large amounts of specified information”, as opposed to just ordinary information, requiring an explanation.)
For Meyer’s argument to be formally correct, and not an argument from ignorance, he would not merely have to account for and dismiss all “DISCOVERED” natural causes, but also all UNDISCOVERED ones. Lacking a time machine, the latter cannot be true. That it is current science’s ignorance, rather than personal ignorance, that is being purported does not change this — ‘current science does not know how it could occur naturally, therefore it could not occur naturally’ is the same fallacy as ‘I do not know how it could occur naturally, therefore it could not occur naturally’.
As well as being an ‘argument from ignorance’, it is also a ‘false dilemma’ (in that it fails to account for said undiscovered natural causes) and a ‘God of the Gaps’ (in that it attempts to insert a supernatural ‘intelligent designer’ into a purported ‘gap’ in the natural account).
2) INFERENCE TO THE GROSSLY INADEQUATE EXPLANATION
As I have pointed out in previous threads, ID explains almost none of the facts that the Theory of Evolution does, and does not come even close to meeting the requirements of Lipton’s ‘Inference to the Best Explanation’ (and is very close to a textbook example of the sort of explanation to avoid under that paradigm).
Having just started reading ‘Here Be Dragons’, I’d like to give one more example of a large set of facts that evolution explains but a designer doesn’t: Biogeography. Why is this field relevant? Because the book’s author suggests it (and particularly comparisons and contrasts between the species in Galapogas Islands and in Cape Verde versus their relationship to their neighboring continents, Africa and South America), was one of the major major factors in leading Darwin to reject the designer of Paley’s Natural Theology (which he previously held in great regard) in favour of formulating an evolutionary theory.
So, in spite of the fact that IDer like to present ‘design’ as a ‘new’ scientific theory supported by ‘What Darwin Didn’t Know’, it is in fact an old hypothesis, rejected by Darwin himself in favour of evolution basis that it failed to explain what he DID KNOW.



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Hrafn

posted February 19, 2010 at 5:47 am


Michael W. Kruse’s (23):
I think your conflation of philosophical naturalism with scientism is incorrect. Scientism appears to go well beyond denial of the existence of the supernatural, to making claims of science’s superiority over philosophy and “humanistic explanations, and over other fields of inquiry, such as the social sciences”, as opposed to just “religious, mythical [and] spiritual” explanations.



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Hrafn

posted February 19, 2010 at 6:02 am


Eric (19):
There is a world of difference between stating the following:
1) The existence of X (e.g. perpetual motion) violates a known law of nature (in this case the First or Second Law of Thermodynamics), so X cannot exist.
…and stating…
2) We do not know how X happens so X cannot exist (in this case, X being the creation of the information that Meyer asserts is ‘specified information’, by natural causes).
Science makes the first type of statement all the time, and is justified in doing so. The second type of statement is an argument from ignorance (whether it is the ignorance of an individual or the whole scientific community), and thus logically invalid.



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RJS

posted February 19, 2010 at 8:54 am


hrafn,
Meyer counters four claims by his critics in this chapter – (1) that he makes an argument from ignorance; (2) that he argues a negative proposition; (3) that he uses analogies wrong; and (4) that he doesn’t explain the origin of the designer. (I may have missed something, these are all I remember without the book before me.)
I claimed that he made an argument from ignorance and Eric patiently explained why this was not true – Meyer correctly frames his argument as inference to best explanation. Part of the problem here is a confusion between the idea of an argument that relies on a gap in knowledge (a kind of ignorance) and an argument that is incorrectly posed. Premise one in Meyer’s argument does rely on a gap in understanding and thus at best his conclusions are provisional. But his argument is correctly framed.
Meyer’s argument also relies to some degree on a negative statement – that purely physical and chemical processes cannot result in an increase in specified information. He argues that reliance on such a statement is not, in and of itself, an error in logic. Here again he is right – thermodynamics and the argument against a perpetual motion machine is such an argument. But – while thermodynamics has a strong mathematical foundation and statistical thermodynamics an even stronger foundation, Meyer and Dembski (particularly Dembski) have not managed to put together a rigorous argument for their negative statement. There are several problems here – but one of them is the definition of “specified information,” how to measure it and how to investigate an increase. Until they can cast this problem in an acceptable fashion there is no basis for their negative assertion. As far as I can see – this is what they should be putting their time into. For one thing – as with entropy we know that local entropy can increase, it is only the entropy of the universe that cannot increase. They need to pose the argument and demonstrate that it applies locally and globally. But I suggest that we already know it doesn’t apply locally – with the caveat that Meyer has not presented a sound definition of specified information.
The argument presented by Meyer and Dembski also relies on anaolgy and they have been criticized by the claim that arguments from analogy are flawed. Analogies have similarities and dissimilarities and the dissimilarities invalidate their use. Meyer counters that his use of analogy rely on identities not similarities. If he was right he would have successfully countered his critics. But he is wrong. He has presented no convincing argument that his use of analogy relies on identities in any meaningful way. I think his analogies are flawed because of the important dissimilarities. One of the dissimilarities is the fluid nature of chemistry in a cellular environment and the ability of molecules to replicate and reform. This is not the only important dissimilarity though.
I have no desire to quibble over the who designed the designer question because I think this is the weakest part of the argument against the existence of God. It misses the point of who and what God is. It is a bigger problem for ID because they claim nothing about the designer – but it is still an argument that doesn’t interest me.



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RJS

posted February 19, 2010 at 9:21 am


There is another serious problem with Meyer’s book – a problem that is unrelated to the validity or strength of his actual argument.
His style of writing and presenting his argument is unfair to his “opponents” and is designed to tickle the fancy of his supporters. As long as he writes in this fashion he will make no inroads on the broader dissemination of his ideas.
He fails in the following places (and there are more)
He uses rhetorical constructs to play up those on his side and diminish the importance of those who disagree or take differing positions. This is a common technique (Dawkins uses it in “The God Delusion” to dismiss the positions taken by Francis Collins and NT scholars such as NT Wright). But the use of the technique will be guaranteed to tick off those who actually know the people and context.
He uses analogies and demonstrations to make points in ways that give the impression of a much stronger argument than actually exists. My twist on his combination lock demonstration is one such example. The opening of Chapter 17 where he presents an parable of a cuniform like text hypothetically found in Antarctica and dated long before the appearance of humans is another such example.
He is misleading in his presentation and discussion of the actual science – particularly in his discussion of origin of life research, but in other places as well. He is not fair to the science, the scientists, or the process.
Finally he uses ridicule to bring his readers along. The end of Ch. 14 on the RNA world is one such example – where he allows the implication that researchers are cranks to stand. Another example is in his use of the Cat in the Hat Comes Back illustration he continually refers to others as “spreading pink stuff” as though it is all smoke and mirrors and intentional prevarication concocted by charlatans, con artists and quacks.
We do not need this kind of culture war rhetoric – we need solid defensible Christian thinking that stands up to scrutiny, is subjected to review, and operates from the high ground that exhibits love and respect for all – even enemies.



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Hrafn

posted February 19, 2010 at 10:34 am


RJS (63):
My apologies, I should have looked at the second form of the argument more closely. It is not in fact an argument from ignorance, but is instead a (fallacy of the) Irrelevant Conclusion, in that the conclusion does not follow from the premises. The premises would only demonstrate that ID is the “best, most causally adequate, explanation”, if ‘specified information’ (which, even were it to have measurable existence, is the only purported fact that he is claiming that ID explains) is the only fact requiring an ‘causally adequate explanation’.
Unfortunatelty, this ‘explanation’ does not give a ‘causally adequate explanation’ for some of its own implicit premises, e.g.:
1) The existence of an intelligent designer hundreds of millions of years ago.
2) What mechanism the intelligent designer used (and as Robert Asher points out on The Times blog, science cares far more about how it was done than who did it — http://timesonline.typepad.com/science/2010/02/later-this-month-premier-christian-media-will-host-a-public-screening-of-the-anti-evolution-movie-expelled-no-intelligence.html).
Further it does not even attempt to provide a ‘causally adequate explanation’ for the wealth of facts that the Theory of Evolution explains, e.g.:
1) Pretty much the entire field of Biogeography
2) The fossil record
3) The genetic record
Thousands of papers have been written, demonstrating in considerable detail, how evolution explains these facts, to the best of my knowledge not a single paper has been written on how the hypothesised existence of an intelligent designer explains them.



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johnfouadhanna

posted February 19, 2010 at 12:28 pm


RJS, the points you make in #s 57 and 59 are vital. I realize for many [certainly not all] of the commenters here, they “go without saying.” Still, they need to be said.
As a matter of fact, I don’t think this is merely a case of God being accessible in and through beauty and awe. Though of course God is and significantly so.
God – ultimate, personal, transcendent, immanent, creating, sustaining, relating, revealing truth and goodness – is necessary in so far as every aspect of this conversation is concerned. In that respect, naturalistic explanations, though rich and substantial, are always woefully inadequate and incomplete. This is not because of some inexplicable gap, but because the entire thing is inexplicable otherwise. So it is not only the case that there are certain things that are outside and beyond naturalistic reductionism – being, life, truth, goodness, love, numbers, mathematics, languge, meaning, beauty, personhood, identity, etc. – it is the case that the naturalistic processes themselves depend on God.
In making these points, I have not offered arguments, as you can tell (though I of course commend these points), but simply clarifying the perspective I think a Christian brings to scientific investigation.
Vern Poythress rightly argues (whatever you may think of his concordism):
“Scientific law displays the attributes of God himself, such as omnipresence (the same in all places), immutability, immateriality, invisibility, transcendence (above the particular phenomena), immanence (touching on the particulars)…(some)scientists sometimes evade this testimony to God by trying to think that the laws that they investigate are impersonal, a kind of mindless mechanism… But (these) scientists still believe that the laws are fundamentally rational, and fundamentally language-like, so that they can be described in human language and thought through with human discourse. Rationality and complex language ability belong to persons, not to rocks and plants and worms. Scien(ce)clearly rel(ies) on the personal character of law.”
It is at this point (and others) that the theistic evolutionist must part company with his non-theistic colleagues in speaking of “undirected” natural processes having no evidence of a design or designer.



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johnfouadhanna

posted February 19, 2010 at 1:43 pm


I’m thinking Human Ape doesn’t agree with me. I, of course, only propose this as in inference to the best explanation.



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RJS

posted February 19, 2010 at 4:31 pm


johnfouadhanna,
I am uncomfortable with the term “undirected” natural process. But the counter isn’t directed in the sense of manipulated. I sometimes think that some people suppose that the action of God is something like the scene in Mary Poppins (Snap the job’s a game – about half was through A Spoonful of Sugar), that “natural” is separate from act of God, and that random means contingently dependent on luck. But Poythress makes an important point about natural laws – and processes that are random on one level can yield a predetermined result on another.
I gave Poythress’s book a positive review – and still would. My disagreements with some of his hermeneutical method and presuppositions don’t change that.



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Hrafn

posted February 19, 2010 at 10:29 pm


Addendum to #65:
In order to be valid, Meyer’s reasoning would have to add a third premise:
Premise Three: the sole criterion for judging whether an explanation is ‘good’ or not is how well it explains specified information.
I can see why he missed it out though — it is a bit of a give-away. Even a fellow IDer might see it as more than a bit blinkered.



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