Thursday, December 15, 2005

A Touching Faith In Magic

Just posting a link to this, for the record. Uber-atheist Richard Dawkins in Newsweek lays out his case against Intelligent Design. Whole books can (and have) been written to show why Dawkins, while a master of Darwinistic rhetoric, is simply wrong. But he does paint an alluring picture.

Note that he uses theological argumentation:

Intelligent design works as a short-term proximal explanation of cameras and cars, prize roses and poodles. But it is fatally flawed as an ultimate explanation for anything, because it miserably fails to answer the $64,000 question: who designed the designer? That is not a frivolous debating point. It looms menacingly and fatally over the case—such as it is—for intelligent design.

Yes, Dawkins, it is, in fact a frivolous debating point, and it is curious that you bring theology into the argument, rather than sticking to science. By the Principle of Causality, or Sufficient Reason, there is nothing in the effects that is not in the cause. Thus, if we find Design, then there should be a Designer (just assume for the sake of argument that this is true). The buck has to stop somewhere. There cannot be an infinite chain of designed Designers. There must exist an undesigned Designer, an uncaused Cause, an unmoved Mover. This is all basic Philosophy 101 stuff. I don't know why Dawkins thinks that theists must be sitting there slack-jawed and drooling when he brings up his "devastating" "who designed the designer" question.

Moreover, Dawkins already believes in an undesigned Designer. Namely, Natural Selection. If you asked Dawkins "who designed Natural Selection", his answer would be "no one (you idiot)". Therefore he really has no problem with undesigned Designers. Later in the article he says this explicitly:

Disingenuously, intelligent-design advocates try to disguise their religious motives by claiming that the designer's identity is left open. Not necessarily Yahweh, it could be an alien from space. Scientists would not object to that in principle, because the stellar alien, who might indeed be godlike from our humble viewpoint, presumably evolved by a gradual, cumulative process. You can roll the regress back if you wish, to a designer of the designer. But sooner or later you are going to have to forswear what the philosopher Daniel Dennett calls "skyhooks," and employ a solidly founded crane. The only natural crane we know is natural selection, and I have no doubt that if life exists elsewhere in the universe it will turn out to be, in the broad sense, Darwinian.

To the extent that creationists allow their un-evolved supernatural designer to have sprung into existence ab initio, they should allow natural agents the same dubious privilege. Intelligent design is not only bad science; it is bad logic, bad philosophy and even—as my theologian friends point out—bad theology.

Odd that he (by necessity) claims the same "dubious privilege", but then disparages it as "bad logic, bad philosophy, and bad theology". Quite odd.

Note also, another theological blunder and red-herring that Dawkins has introduced. No Christian theist believes that "their un-evolved supernatural designer [sprang] into existence ab initio". That's the whole point. God is self-existent, eternal, and uncreated. Being eternal and self-existent, He never "sprang into existence" at all. So, nice strawman, there, Dawkins. It is, however, apparently the case that the physical universe did "spring into existence" during the Big Bang. So, let's see: everything that begins to exist has a cause outside of itself for its beginning to exist. The universe began to exist, therefore...

He also says

The central (and virtually only) argument offered in favor of intelligent design is the Argument From Improbability. Some biological feature—an eye or feather, biochemical pathway or bacterial flagellum—is claimed to be too statistically improbable (irreducibly complex, information-rich, etc.) to have evolved by natural selection.

Yes. So what? If someone says that something is the result of a probabilistic process, the onus is on them to show that the probabilities are reasonable. ID'ists show (decisively IMHO) that the accidental evolution of life is so radically improbable as to be impossible. Dawkins denies this, but he has never offered calculation to establish this, rather than mere rhetoric.

So, if I understand Dawkins correctly, "who designed the designer" is supposed to be a theological coup de grace, but "you have failed to calculate the probabilities and show that your position is supported" is a scientifically spurious statement. Okay.

We also have this gem:

It is hard to imagine a more lamentably weak argument. The complex biological feature, in every case that has been examined in detail, always turns out to have a gradual-ascent path leading to it.

Quite disingenuous, given that our science has yet to examine complex biological features on the molecular level (rhybosomes, flagella, etc, as well as the complete metabolic pathways by which they are built up, regulated, and maintained) in sufficient detail to even begin to evaluate whether, in fact, there is a gradual ascent path leading to them. So yes, he has made a true statement on the principle that if the "if" part of an implication is false, then the whole implication is true. The sentence "The complex biological feature, in every case that has been examined in detail, always turns out to have a gradual-ascent path leading to it" is equivalent to the implication "If we've examined it in detail then it has a gradual ascent path". Since there are zero cases examined in sufficient detail, the "if" part is false, yet the implication itself is true. So Dawkins isn't lying. Kind of.

Finally we have that crowning jewel of argumentation, the ad hominem:

The United States is, by any standards, the leading scientific nation in the history of the world. Yet this unprecedented powerhouse of scientific achievement is being dragged down in derision, in the eyes of the entire educated world, by the preposterous antics on display at the Kansas Board of Education and threatening other boondocks of local democracy. A second-rate mathematician, a mediocre biochemist, a born-again retired lawyer and a Moonie have somehow succeeded in elevating themselves, in the eyes of influential but ignorant politicians, rich benefactors and duped laymen, to near parity with the entire National Academy. How has it been allowed to happen? When will this great country come to its senses and rejoin the civilized world?

I suggest that anyone interested in the debate check out what the second-rate mathemetician (Dembski), the mediocre biochemist (Behe), the born-again retired lawyer (Johnson) and the Moonie (Wells) have to say for themselves, perhaps by reading their works, rather than taking an embittered atheist's (Dawkins) word for it.

5 comments:

Michael Poole said...

The usual point of highlighting God as the only possible Intelligent Designer is to illustrate why ID is illegal to teach in school (namely, it implies a specific set of religious beliefs).

A secondary consequence is that it illustrates that ID advocates base their hypothesis on things that they know cannot be objectively observed and repeatably demonstrated, which is required for a thing to be hard science.

Matteo said...

Michael, thanks for checking in. So, I take it then that "scientific evidence for design would imply a specific set of religious beliefs, therefore there can be no scientific evidence of design" is the argument that carries the day?

Also, I take it that Darwinistic evolutionists have objectively observed and repeatably demonstrated the creation of new organ systems, body plans, clever adaptations, etc, through the accumulation of copying errors (and random-with-respect-to-fitness gene shufflings, recombinations, etc, etc)? It is indeed, a good hard science, that Darwinism.

Anonymous said...

Your arguments are pretty unconvincing.

Your point on undesigned designers falls apart because you lose track of the context of the argument/counter-argument in question. Dawkins is responding to the philosophical claim that ALL THINGS must be designed (i.e. by an intelligent being, not the equivocating sense in which you use the word to switch meanings mid-argument). He's pointing out that this principle cannot be universally true if the designer requires no designer. In terms of natural selection, it is not a "Designer," nor is it "Designed" in the sense you based your argument on, so the charge of hypocrisy simply doesn't work. And Philosophy 102, we learn that "Sufficient Cause" arguments cannot be so broadly and generally applied and still be meaningful.

So, point failed there.

As to the larger question of uncaused causes, we can't very well be suprised that when we arbitrarily label uncaused causes unnatural that we then go on to discover that we define them as "unnatural." But the physical laws we observe in the universe (the laws, by the way, which at present describe all manner of seemingly uncaused events on the quantum level) are solely within the context of the universe. Applying them to the universe is pointless. The universe might just as easily be the one uncaused thing. Certainly, given that time seems to be a construct of the particular character of the universe, the universe seems a good candidate for uncausity!

You seem to think that the mere fact that you can write out in words some things you think are counterarguments to what Dawkins argues proves that they have obvious merit and that he's a doofus. Unfortunately, the mere act of a response doesn't prove that your criticisms are on target.

Matteo said...

Anonymous--

You seem to think that the mere fact that you can write out in words some things you think are counterarguments to what Matteo argues proves that they have obvious merit and that he's a doofus. Unfortunately, the mere act of a response doesn't prove that your criticisms are on target.

But thanks for trying.

Anonymous said...

Excellent, love it! »