Friday, August 19, 2011

Prediction by Negation

Evolution as a sense making structure joins many of the dots of observation (at least in a post-dictive sense), but my opinion about just where it lies between plausible conjecture and “fact” is reserved. (Although this reserve may be down to me having neither stake nor expertise in biology and paleontology). Therefore I’m prepared to give some space to the anti-evolutionists one finds on Uncommon Descent. And yet in spite of that I find myself frustrated by what I consider to be the unsatisfactory treatment of the intelligent design question on this web site. This post by Barry Arrington is an example of why I think the concept of intelligent design is  being mishandled by the out and out anti-evolutionists. In this post we read:

……the [Intelligent Design] hypothesis is, in principle, falsifiable. All it would take is even one instance of CSI or IC being observed to arise through chance or mechanical necessity or a combination of the two. Such an observation would blow the ID project out of the water.

… in fact it would do no such thing, because in its most abstract form the ID hypothesis is not a basis from which falsifiable statements can readily be made.

What Arrington refers to as “mechanical necessity” is not “necessity” at all, at least in the absolute sense. The outputs from mathematical functions/algorithms (Which I assume is what Arrington inappropriately calls “mechanical necessity”) are at most conditional necessities; that is, conditional on the selection of the particular mathematical functions/algorithms employed. Therefore information is implicit in such functions in as much as they are contingencies and not necessities. If “CSI” was ever found to have a realistic probability of output from the operation of such functions, then that information would be implicit in the selection of the appropriate functions. Ergo, the Intelligent Design question would then shift from the pattern itself to the selection of the pattern generating mechanisms. One would think from the way Arrington is talking that “chance and necessity” (sic) are logically self sufficient processes that answer the problems of Aseity and design. Further consideration of whether or not mathematical functions can generate complex organization can be found in the following links:

The difficulty in making predictions from ID stems from the fact that in most cases the posited creating intelligence is far too alien for us to be sure of its motives and methods; in particular the intelligence is usually envisaged to be a divine entity with omni-powers, transcending the physical status quo. Presumably such an entity would have “chance and necessity” (sic) at its beck and call. Attempting to anticipate just how such a hyper-alien entity operates is likely to prove unreliable. Separated from a specific theology of this Sublime Creator, ID in its most abstract form is all but irrefutable.

But what Arrington really means is that if an example of CSI was found to be sourced in a physical regime it would falsify anti-evolutionist expectations: ID has a more readily scientifically amenable content if it contains an implicit denial of evolution. In fact in North America "ID" is all but synonymous with "anti-evolutionism" and so called “ID predictions” are in many cases simply the negation of evilutionary predictions (I’m taking up the question of ID predictions in my “Can ID make predictions?” series). The implicit concept of ID most Uncommon Dissenters are working to seems to be that of a tinkering genetic engineer/programmer whose methods and motives are very anthropomorphic.
Prediction by Negation; "Oh no it isn't!"

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