Monday, November 27, 2006

Introduction to the Controversy - Part 2.

Contributed by Howard Taylor.

(Part 1 is here.)

My exposition of the convictions of the ID movement[1].

ID maintains that the origin, nature and development of life (the subject of biology) needs non-material and intelligent Mind as its source.

However it holds that in the final analysis materialist explanations for any physical phenomenon are inadequate. The answers to the questions ‘What is matter?’ and ‘What is energy?’ raise fundamental mysteries about the nature and the origin of the intelligibility of all material existence. Biological complexity is just one particularly striking example of this.

We can summarise the convictions under the following four headings:

I. Science.

* Science has revealed a biological world in its simplest form, (before the alleged processes of evolution could get started) that is full of information and complexity - a complexity that exceeds the complexity of the most intricate of man made machines. Intelligent mind is needed to explain the origin of life.

* ID also casts strong doubt on the orthodox theories of neo-Darwinism, believing that they are completely inadequate to explain the development of life. Intelligent mind is needed to explain the development of life.

* Alleged evidence for natural selection from ‘beneficial’ mutations in bacteria or viruses is not evidence for evolution because the changes only involve the switching on or off or shuffling of parts of the already existing DNA or RNA molecules and do not produce any new organs or features to the existing life form, or add and extra level of complexity to the bacteria or virus. On the contrary they do the opposite. As every computer scientist knows the transfer of information cannot produce more information only a change (usually a detrimental change) in the original.

II. Philosophical
ID rejects Philosophical Naturalism, which makes the false assumption (in principle an improvable assumption) that the physical world's existence and properties are self-explanatory.

* Origin of the physical world. Either the origin of all things is eternal impersonal particles/energy and laws of physics or the origin is Eternal Mind. ID holds the latter view because the origin or matter cannot be matter itself!

* Mind and Matter Interact.
Everyday we see mind and matter interacting.

* Human thinking (which cannot be completely material) affects the physical world and vice versa.

* Therefore solely material explanations for the behaviour of material things must be inadequate.

* Therefore the existence of Divine agency in the material world should not present surprises.

III. Theological and Biblical.

* The Bible teaches that it is Uncreated Mind or Word, who seeks to know and be known, who is the origin and sustainer of all physical things.

* The Creation was not one event.
There were a small number of stages. Among these were: (1). Matter-Energy, (2). Non-conscious life (3). Conscious life and (4). Conscious life that is capable of abstract reasoning.

ID concentrates on (2). - The origin and development of living things studied by biology and genetics.

IV. Ethical

* In the long term the conviction that human life is valuable cannot be sustained unless there is a belief in an overall purpose

* Morality and Ethics would be bound to disintegrate in confusion.
We see the effects of this all around us.


ID maintains that the origin and nature and development of life (the subject of biology) needs non-material and intelligent Mind as its source.

However it holds that in the final analysis materialist explanations for any physical phenomenon are inadequate. The answers to the questions ‘What is matter?’ and ‘What is energy?’ raise fundamental mysteries about the nature and the origin of the intelligibility of all material existence. Biological complexity is just one particularly striking example of this.
I. Science.
ID proponents hold that all of nature points to Mind. However its main interest is in two things namely
1. The origin of life or self replicating molecules.
2. The development of life.

1. Science reveals the inner workings of the simplest forms of life to be composed of intricate circuits, miniaturised motors and enough digital code to fill an encyclopaedia. All these things exist in a cell without any brain, nervous system, liver, eyes, ears, blood, lungs, leaves, feathers, bark, roots, petals, etc. Digital code is a form of language and all languages arise from mind. Writing cannot be accounted for from the chemistry of the ink and paper (say) but must have its origin in mind.
2. All the above must have been present before the alleged processes of evolution could get started.
3. ID people also doubt evolution as an explanation for the whole history of life. Random mutation through the sieve of natural selection may be able to account for small changes in living organisms. However sustainable mutations have their limits.
4. Therefore these changes cannot account for the huge changes from a simple bacterium to all the life forms (including ourselves) that we see around us.
5. ID proponents believe there are mathematical tests for design in the origin and development of life. They show that the type of complexity found in biological systems cannot be the result of mindless algorithms or the properties of matter but must have intelligent mind as its source. For example language needs a mind and we find codes (types of language) in all living things.

The inference of Design is used and universally accepted in several sciences. For example if someone falls off a cliff, forensic science determines whether he/she was pushed or she fell by accident. Was there a purpose (intelligent design) or was it an accident? Forensic science tells us which.

6. The world famous atheist philosopher, Professor Anthony Flew, has given up atheism for theism. What is the basis for his change of mind? The extraordinary complexity of the supposed 'simple' form of life discovered by modern biology. In a Philosophy Journal which interviews him he says: "It seems to me that Richard Dawkins constantly overlooks the fact that Darwin himself, in the fourteenth chapter of The Origin of Species, pointed out that his whole argument began with a being which already possessed reproductive powers. This is the creature the evolution of which a truly comprehensive theory of evolution must give some account. Darwin himself was well aware that he had not produced such an account. It now seems to me that the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design."
II. Philosophical
What exists? (Ontology)
Resistance to the ID view comes from (a). Those who deny that non-physical entities exist or (b) those who hold that non-physical entities may exist but do not affect the physical.
Since physical science examines physical things there could be no evidence to support the position (a).
Position (b) only could have support if it could be shown that the physical universe is a closed system of cause and effect - nothing non-physical affecting what goes on in it.
If physics provided us with a TOE (Theory of Everything) it would have gone along way to reaching that goal. However there are several problems:

1. The advance of science reveals more and more mystery.
2. Many have argued from Godel's theorem that it can be proved that the universe will never be understood from within itself alone.

It makes no sense to say that the origin of matter and energy is matter or energy.
Since personal beings (with minds) certainly exist in the universe, it is reasonable to believe that the origin of all reality, at least, must be Personal Mind.

Mind and Matter.
ID holds the view that non-material minds have effects in the physical world. Therefore we should expect that the Eternal Mind also to affect the physical world.

Thinking (what minds do) cannot be simply the sum of material processes. If we discover a physical cause (say a virus in the brain) for a belief or a thought then that belief and thought would lose its value.
If all our thoughts were exclusively the movement of physical entities in our brains, then there would be no way, by thinking, of determining which 'thought' was correct and which was incorrect since that determining by thinking, itself would be a mere physical process.

One difference between physical events and thoughts of the mind.
Any physical process, unlike a thought, is neither true nor false, it just is.
However thoughts may have the additional property of being true or false.
So thoughts cannot be identical to physical processes or a combination of exclusively physical processes.

For example a river running through a valley is neither true nor false (though thoughts about the flow of the river may be true or false). Its running through the valley just exists.

Thus there is a fundamental distinction between physical processes (such as the flow of water), which merely exist, and thoughts, which not only exist but also may be true or false. Thus thoughts cannot be mere physical processes.

Bertrand Russell said:

If we imagine a world of mere matter, there would be no room for falsehood in such a world, and although it would contain what may be called ‘facts’, it would not contain any truths, in the sense in which truths are things of the same kind as falsehoods. In fact, truth and falsehood are properties of beliefs and statements: hence a world of mere matter, since it would contain no beliefs or statements, would also contain no truth or falsehood. [2]

Messages, languages, and coded information ONLY come from minds. (Minds are conscious.) - minds that have agreed on an alphabet and a meaning of words and sentences and that express both desire and intent.

The atheist Richard Dawkins writes:

What lies at the heart of every living thing is not a fire, warm breath, nor a 'spark of life'. It is information, words, instructions . . . Think of a billion discrete digital characters . . . If you want to understand life, think about information technology.[3]

If we analyze language with advanced mathematics and engineering communication theory, we can say:

Messages, languages and coded information never come from anything else besides a mind. No-one has ever produced a single example of a message that did not come from a mind.

Languages etc can be carried by matter or energy (eg sounds, ink, electronic and radio signals) but they are none of these things. Indeed they are not matter or energy at all. They are not ‘physical’.
The physical universe can create fascinating patterns - snowflakes, crystals, stalactites, tornados, turbulence and cloud formations etc. But non-living and non-conscious things cannot create language. They cannot create codes.

Drusilla Scott tells us of Michael Polanyi's reaction to the claim that the discovery of the DNA double helix is the final proof that living things are physically and chemically determined.

No said Polanyi it proves the opposite. No arrangement of physical units can be a code and convey information unless the order of its units is not fixed by its physical chemical make-up. His example is a railway station on the Welsh border where an arrangement of pebbles on a bank spelled the message - "Welcome to Wales by British Rail". This information content of pebbles clearly showed that their arrangement was not due to their physical chemical interaction but to a purpose on the part of the stationmaster ... The arrangement of the DNA could have come about chance, just as the pebbles on that station could have rolled down a hillside and arranged themselves in the worlds of the message, but it would be bizarre to maintain that this was so ... [4]

Of course many committed to materialism (without evidence) insist that the mind is no more than an aspect of the physical brain/nervous system. We should remember the words of Gödel: That the mind is the brain is the great prejudice of our age.

Mind and Matter interact.
My thoughts (non-physical) may affect the physical river if I decide to have go for a swim in it. I make a splash. So our everyday experience of thinking (and deciding) can affect the physical world - making us move our physical bodies and other things too. Thus minds can and do affect physical reality. This was Karl Popper's argument. How mind acts on matter remains a mystery.

ID believes that not only the origin of matter comes from non-material mind, but that that Mind continues to act in His creation.

John Polkinghorne believes that God’s action in the material world does not involve and extra “push” but and input of information.

This means that the physical sciences are bound to reach points in their research when they come up against a brick wall. They are right to search for physical explanations, but they must have in the back of their minds the fact that all materialist explanations are ultimately inadequate to account for the existence and properties of the physical world.

III. Theological and Biblical.
The Bible teaches that it is not uncreated impersonal particles/energies/laws of physics that are the eternal origin of all things, but an Uncreated Mind or Word who seeks to know and be known. This is how the New Testament which Christians at least accept puts it:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.[5]

ID people may have different interpretations of Genesis 1, but they believe that the Creation was not one event. There were a small number of stages. Among these were (1). Matter-Energy, (2). Non-conscious life (3). Conscious life and (4). Conscious life that is capable of abstract reasoning.

This means that the sciences should expect to find discontinuities in their examination of nature.

1. The understanding of matter and energy cannot be reduced to 'nothing'.
2. The understanding of non-conscious life cannot be reduced to a complex form of matter and energy. (Biology cannot be wholly reduced to chemistry and physics).
3. The understanding of conscious life cannot be wholly reduced to a complex form of non-conscious life.
4. The understanding of abstract reasoning cannot be reduced to the consciousness of animals.

[1] This is my own summary of ID's beliefs and it does not necessarily represent other views from within people associated with ID.
[2] Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy, page 70
[3] The Blind Watchmaker, page 112.
[4] Scott Drusilla, 1995, Everyman Revived - the Common Sense of Michael Polanyi pages 116 and 117.
[5] John 1:3,14


Anonymous ah_mini said...

"As every computer scientist knows the transfer of information cannot produce more information only a change (usually a detrimental change) in the original."

This smells of Shannon's Information Theory, which was developed for communication systems. Shannon was talking about the transmission of a message from a sender to a receiver, where any deviation from that message was considered a loss of information. Not surprising given the context within which Shannon's ideas were developed (and are still used).

This misapplication of Shannon's work can be demonstrated by genetic algorithms. No, not the simple stuff that Dawkins produced once as a trivial example and is oft-quoted by ID suppoters. I'm talking about real algorithms that have no solution contained in the coding. For some reason, these programs manage to produce fascinating (and functioning) results, despite ID-supporters protests that they should not work. The reason they do work is because there is no "perfect message" to start with.

Lastly, on an unrelated note, I am often left confused by what ID supporters refer to as a "mind"? Presumably a "mind" is always intelligent? That probably explains why the word is often dropped in favour of the word "intelligence". Yet ID supporters can never tell me just what this intelligence *is*? Is it the ability to do well at IQ tests? The ability to produce CSI? What? And how can we measure these things in a scientific way? Once you go down that road, you realise that the terminology chosen by ID proponents is a scientific minefield. There is no general theory of intelligence, only a list of contentious operational definitions.

And that leads me to my final point. Forget about evolution. For a theory so dependent on evaluating intelligence, ID has not contributed anything to our understanding of this immature field of science. The nature of intelligence remains very much a mystery. Surely this is somewhere that ID can really take hold and push science forward?


4:52 pm  
Anonymous Hrafn said...

I second Ah_mini's suspicions.

Can Howard provide a reputable Computer Scientist or Information Theorist (hint: William Dembski is neither) who will substantiate the assertion that "the transfer of information cannot produce more information only a change (usually a detrimental change) in the original"?

11:40 pm  
Blogger Lepus said...

Blimey, a long post. Probably deserves a long answer.


So this is a statement of belief, and the definition of ID to work to for responses to this? OK, that's good.

I. Science.

Para 1. Intelligent mind is NOT necessarily needed to explain life. I'll grant that its one possible solution. But then that intelligence requires an explanation, or is it "turtles all the way down"?. Several hypotheses have been mooted over the years (the one that springs to mind is the Cairns-Smith one involving clay) Having said that, once a process involving reproduction, inheritable characteristics (no matter what they are) and selection, then evolution's pretty much a given. Sure we'd all like to know HOW it started, but I suspect that the best that'll ever happen is some extremely clever chemical soups that show we can start a biological analogue without involving a designer. The theory of Evolution doesn't preclude a manual start (maybe something like panspermia idea) but once it's running, no intervention is necessary.

Para 2. "ID casts strong doubt..."? No, it doesn't. I'll grant that proponents of the ID hypothesis strongly doubt evilution and darwinism, but the ID hypothesis fails to cast any (strong) doubt on the theory of evolution. So far, not one single paper with positive evidence for ID has been published. There's no concept of 'information' appears to have been universally accepted, and as far as I can see not one prediction has been made by proponents of ID. I've yet to see a proposed mechanism for how an intelligent mind can interact to produce these designed effects. All in all, ID looks pretty thin on the ground for an idea that's been around for 10 years and had $4 spent on research.

Para 3.

OK, so we're into information again. I think the only formal definition of 'information' that I've seen is the Shannon one, which I agree tends to indicate that an information stream will degrade depending on the circumstances. However this does not address other techniques that DNA has for jiggering itself about, like duplication and transposition. By shannon's definition, I don't think duplicating a DNA string counts as an increase in information, but it sure looks like an increase in potential information to me. (that's my argument from personal opinion should you be looking to criticise this post)

This also seems to presuppose that DNA is read in a linear fashion like a set of instructions, or a computer program. I'm not sure that this is the case either. This looks like going into the world of evo/devo (I think it's called) and I'll hold my paws up and admit I know nothing about that kind of stuff (yet)

This paragraph also seems to smack a bit of a straw man definition of evolution. Firstly a mutation doesn't have to be beneficial. A mutation can be actively harmful. As long as it permits an organism to survive long enough to reproduce, it will be carried on into the next generation. Bacteria don't really have any organs, so I'm not quite sure what the argument appears to be here. Perhaps in larger scale organisms, you'd like to see a dog with 3 ears, or maybe a set of gills spontaneously appear in a puppy? maybe that's a straw man of my own, in which case, apologies.

II. Philosophical.

whoah! Thought ID was a scientific hypothesis? Still, I've had some beer, so I think I'll have a go at this as well.

Para 1. Why is an improvable assumption automatically false? What's the reason for rejecting Naturalism and where can I find your evidence for it?

Para2. What's the origin of the physical world got to do with the price of cheese? Evolution posits that given some reproducing organisms, we can get a process that we call evolution going that will give rise to different species and other intersting stuff. Origin of the physical world and all the rest of it looks like you're way off scope for evolution. You want to find a physicist for this, surely?

The Bullet points...

1. Ok, I'll let you have this one. People think things and then cause stuff to happen.

2. "Human thinking" cannot be completely material? How so? I've got a couple of pounds of grey goo with chemicals and electrical stuff going through them. (evidence presented in this post notwithstanding) How's my thinking not material?

3 and 4. See, I don't think I can accept point 2, as such that renders points 3 and 4 totally invalid as far as I'm concerned. I may be prepared to accept them once you sort point 2 out to my satisfaction.

Oh, and point 4? Divine? Suddenly ID's mystery is revealed actually you think God did it all, and you want people to beleive that so you can sell more KJV bibles?

III. Theological and Biblical

well, pardon the pun but holy crap! Suddenly this ID thing isn't about science at all. All your 'evidence' has been there all along writ large at the start of John, and Genesis.

At this point, you IDists are going to have to sort your Acts, and possibly also your Ezekiels out and get your collective story straight, because there is nothing in the bible that can appropriately be taught in a science class, or even reproduced in a lab.

IV Ethical.

Personally, I disagree. Life can be valuable without a belief in an overall purpose. Even if I agreed, this isn't evidence for intelligent design, and it doesn't disprove evolution, so it's utterly irrelevant for the purpose of a blog pushing creationism in the UK.

Morality and Ethics? Again, utterly irrelevant for the purpose of this blog. ID doesn't predict much, and it certainly doesn't predict ethics or anything.

And I may have misunderstood this bit of the christian message (and I assume that you're all christians those of you supporting ID) but am I right in thinking that jesus died on a cross in order to atone for all your sins, thus guaranteeing anyone who accepts him into their life admission into heaven? Assuming I've got this bit right, why do you lot have any morals at all? You've got a carte blanche ticket, no matter what you do, so why not live a little?

At least evil materialistic science, using theories and algorithms from game theory has managed to predict, or at least posit an explanation for altruism and group behaviours, that could be interpreted as 'ethics'

Well, I'll scribble more wibblings later, feel free to disagree/agree/ignore/call godwin's law/whatever.

Have good evening's/mornings y'all.

11:44 pm  
Blogger distillated said...

Lupus - a most entertaining comment! Always nice to see people speaking on this subject with a little self-awareness and humour (and, by the way, I completely agree with almost everything you wrote).

1:43 pm  

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