Sunday, June 13, 2010

Is intelligent design a possible cause of the origin of biological information?

In his 7th chapter Meyer discusses the nature of “historical sciences” such as geology and paleontology and evolutionary biology and argues that they use different methods to “experimental sciences” such as physics and chemistry.

He states that Stephen Jay Gould accepted this distinction and argued that historical scientific theories were testable by analysing their “explanatory power” (Gould, “Evolution and the Triumph of Homology”) Gould describes the process of testing in historical sciences as seeking “consilience”. Consilience is the situation where many facts can be explained well by a single proposition or theory.
Gould argues that historical sciences depend upon the knowledge of the laws of nature to make inferences about the past.

Meyer then asks whether a design hypothesis can be formulated as a historical scientific theory about what happened in the past.

Historical scientists cite the occurrence of an event or series of events in the past as the explanation for some observable phenomenon in the present.

Historical scientists use a distinctive mode of reasoning. Using their knowledge of cause and effect relationships historical scientists “calculate backwards” and infer past conditions and causes from present conditions and causes.

This type of reasoning is called “abductive” reasoning as opposed to inductive (in which a universal law is established from repeated observations) or deductive (in which a particular fact is deduced by applying a general law to another particular case.

Abductive logic was first described by Charles Sanders Pierce.

Despite the tentative nature of abductive reasoning we do make conclusive inferences about the past.

A conclusion of abductive reasoning is certain if we cannot explain the currently observed facts without the past cause.

An abductive conclusion is established by showing that it is either the best or the only explanation of the effects in question.

To address this problem in geology Thomas Chamberlain proposed a method of “multiple working hypotheses. This is also known as “inference to the best explanation”

Peter Lipton is associated with this way of reasoning arguing that it is used both in science and ordinary life. Discovering certain particular marks in fresh snow we infer that a person with snow shoes has passed this way. Lipton argued that the ability to explain particular facts sometimes mattered more than predictive success in the evaluation of a particular hypothesis.

The problem with this method of assessing explanations is exactly how we judge which is the best explanation as opposed to the explanation we like the best.
What makes an explanation the best?
1. A good explanation is causal.
2. A good explanation for a particular event is something which provides a “causal difference” in the outcome.

Historical scientists use the principle of causal adequacy. Causes that are known to produce the effect in question are better explanations. Charles Lyell expressed this as – “explanation of the past by causes now in operation.” Michael Scriven described this method as “retrospective causal analysis.” The candidate cause must provide independent evidence showing itself able to produce this effect on other occasions.

When there is only one possible cause for a particular effect the solution to the problem of what really happened is easy. This situation is where historical scientists can infer a uniquely plausible cause. For example an archaeologist who knows that scribes are the only known cause of linguistic inscriptions will, when they find a tablet containing ancient writing infer scribal activity. Where a particular past cause is known to be necessary to produce a subsequent effect, the occurrence of the effect is taken as sufficient to establish the occurrence of the cause.

Where there is more than one possible cause the situation is more difficult. In this case scientists will look for additional evidence that can help distinguish the explanatory power of the remaining explanations. They will look for additional facts for which there is only one adequate causal explanation. In practice the process of determining the best explanation involves examining a list of possible hypotheses. These will be compared for their known causal powers against the relevant evidence and then, like a detective, the scientist will progressively eliminate inadequate explanations until only one is left.

A second way of addressing this problem is to ask which of the adequate causes was actually present at the time of the event in question. Thus two criteria are needed:
1. causal adequacy
2. causal existence
To meet the second criteria historical scientists must show that the proposed cause is not only able to produce the event in question but that it was actually present at the right time and in the right place.
There are two ways of doing this
1. Showing the presently acting course must have been present in the past because this cause is the only known cause of the effect in question.
2. By examining a wider class of facts to show that only one other possible cause explains the whole collection.

Michael Scriven summarises situation. To establish a causal claim a historical scientist
1. needs to show that his proposed cause was present
2. that his proposed cause able to produce the effect under study
3. there is an absence of evidence of other possible causes.

Many scholars think that Charles Darwin structured his argument in the Origin to show that natural selection was both causally adequate and had causal existence. His theory of universal common descent could not be tested by predicting future outcomes under controlled experimental conditions. It could be demonstrated to be right by showing that it could explain already known facts in a more adequate fashion.

The question is now whether a case for an intelligent cause can be formulated and justified in this way. Is intelligent design a possible historical scientific explanation for the origin of biological information? Is it possible to formulate a case for intelligent design as an inference to the best explanation for the origin of biological information?

It is possible to conceive of the purposeful acts of an intelligent agent is a causal event. This clearly represents a known and presently acting adequate cause for the origin of information.

Our uniform and repeated experience indicates that intelligent agents produce information rich systems.

What causes now in operation produce digital code or specified information? Is there a known cause of the origin of such information? What does our uniform experience tell us?

Intelligent design must qualify at least as a possible scientific explanation for the origin of biological information.
Is intelligent design the only known or adequate cause of the origin specified information? If so then the past action of designing intelligence will be established as the strongest and most logically compelling form of historical inference.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Cedric Katesby said...

14/June/2010

Discovering certain particular marks in fresh snow we infer that a person with snow shoes has passed this way.

That's because we know what snow shoes are. And that people wear them.
This has been observed.
They could have been made by a vampire but...nobody knows what vampires prints in the snow would look like.

For example an archaeologist who knows that scribes are the only known cause of linguistic inscriptions will, when they find a tablet containing ancient writing infer scribal activity.

Yep.
Scribes. As in people. We know that people write.
That's been observed.

His theory of universal common descent could not be tested by predicting future outcomes under controlled experimental conditions. It could be demonstrated to be right by showing that it could explain already known facts in a more adequate fashion.

Biologists test all the time in the lab and in the field. Plus the fact that it was falsifiable and useful and made predictions and was added to and supported by a host of others.
The Theory of Evolution works.
It's useful.
It's helpful.
You can DO STUFF WITH IT!

The question is now whether a case for an intelligent cause can be formulated and justified in this way.

What do you mean when you say "intelligent cause"?
A vampire? Zeus? Your next door neigbour? Santa Claus? Magic pixie dust? An alien artificer?
Formulate as much as you like.
Science won't stop you.
Science will look on in great interest if you can do any real work.

Our uniform and repeated experience indicates that intelligent agents produce information rich systems.

"Intelligent agents?"

You mean people wearing snow shoes and writing things down?
Fine.
Of that we do indeed have uniform and repeated experience.
Pixie dust, aliens, vampires, mysterious undefined "intelligent agents"? Not so much.

What causes now in operation produce digital code or specified information? Is there a known cause of the origin of such information? What does our uniform experience tell us?

But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer I had before given, that for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there. (...) There must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed [the watch] for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use. (...) Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation.

Intelligent design must qualify at least as a possible scientific explanation for the origin of biological information.

Intelligent design doesn't "explain" anything.
It's a meaningless buzzword.
I have yet to see any evidence that there is anything scientific going on.
There is no work.
It's all just Natural Theology and an endless series of flabby, fluffy analogies.
The Discovery Institute has lazily repackaged Paley's Watch and made millions doing so.
No actual science though.

5:30 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrew Rothewell: You summarise Meyer’s new book well. I’ve seen some of the points in past essays he wrote with Dembski & Behe. The logic is very clear. ALL opposition is not based on logic but metaphysical and, unfortunately emotional pre-dispositions. The latter manifest in emotive language & political tools by the opposition. The simple point is illogicality of any ideas can easily be demonstrated without emotion or political clout.

Meyer makes a statement the opposition has never refuted (aside from rhetoric & ad hominem). It's this: ---“Our uniform and repeated experience indicates that intelligent agents produce information rich systems.”---

I’ll add that ONLY intelligent agents produce intelligent systems. Everyone will understand that the following example operates very intelligently: Imagine a flying that computes its speed & orientation in 3-D. It matches it with ambient pressure, temperature & earth’s magnetic field. Its 360-vision detects size, speed & direction of other moving objects using polarized light. It does on-board repairs. And what could this machine be – an Alien space craft? Possibly. Whatever it's origin, as Anthony Flew said, to believe it was unintelligent requires suspension of reason. He is right. This craft, it happens is your average insect. Argument from incredulity? Perhaps so, let’s now return to Meyer.

What he describes is coded (functional, complex-specified, call it what we like) information. In ALL our experience, ALL codes or languages whose origin we know ALWAYS traces to intelligence. Perry Marshall has a standing challenge never refuted i.e. give ONE example of language whose de novo origin is BOTH known and not from a mind.

I’ve heard answers like the only intelligence we know is human but we can’t say it produce life. Superficially, this sounds reasonable. Actually it makes the case for naturalistic evolution worse. What it really says is that producing languages requires *at least* human intelligence. What then of the intelligence that produced life? I don't think ID opponents would want to go there.

In summary, if I see ONE instance of matter-&-energy ALONE producing a language, I will believe they can. As yet, I haven’t. To believe they can is unsupported & can only be held to through blind faith.

2:15 pm  
Blogger Undisclosed Blogger said...

On Cedric Katesby's comment.

Hi, correct me if I am wrong but to date there has been NO new species emergence observed even for the simplest forms. The number of new generations of bacteria observed is equivalent to that of the supposed anthropogenesis. No new species for the simplest, even considering the very fuzzy borders between species in bacteria.

One must be very careful in distinguishing between observed microevolution and unobservable macroevolution. Please be aware of this fine line in making statements.

As to reverse forecasting power of macroevolution, there is evidence suggesting that the fossil record is inconclusive. Macroevolution is poor at explaining the Cambrian explosion. In addition, macroevolution CANNOT forecast into the future.

Macroevolution theory has grown increadibly complex as new experimental data becomes available, which is an indication it is time to replace it with another, simpler theory. Bio-complexity is a real blocker to it, see the recent works of Douglas Axe, Gauger et al. for an example of how mathematically improbable preadaptation is.

2:06 pm  
Blogger Undisclosed Blogger said...

To Anonymous,

This is excellent! I haven't come across this reasoning, although I am somewhat familiar with ID. However, scientifically, I'd be cautious with statements using the ALL quantifier. On the other hand, we can redefine life as something that uses a language i.e. is involved in semantic information processing. This ends up with a theory that incorporates your statement as a tautology.

On one particular point regarding humans not seen so far producing life. What about computer viruses? Yes, it is artificial but it falls under the definition of life by Stuart Kauffman, i.e. anything that can replicate itself. And they do communicate with othe rcomputer systems (hosts or fellow parasites). So it is life under our definition as well.

2:51 pm  

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