Friday, October 21, 2011

Intelligent Design’s Big Issue

Interesting is this post on Uncommon Descent quoting Origin Of Life researcher, Jack Szotsk, as saying “ We’re half way there”. At this optimistic outlook I couldn’t help but quip in the comments:

I think I’ve heard about this kind of “half way there” before: Viz: “We want to get to 10^40 Mev. We can currently do 10^20 Mev so we must be half way there”. Exponentials; who’d have them?

After all, in the past I have been rather prey to optimistic visions of the future state of science and technology, so a measure of skepticism about that kind of claim is in order I feel.

But in spite that, as I think I have made sufficiently clear, this blog is sympathetic to the conjecture that cosmic physics is the very rare precondition (i.e. a high information condition) which considerably enhances the chances of life arising via some kind of evolution: Conceivably there exists in platonic space systems of succinct mathematical functions (although presumably an extreme rarity) which limit the possible histories available to physical systems to such an extent that the class of life generating histories has a statistical weight high enough to confer upon life a realistic probability. If this is the case it is certainly wrong to caricature the products of evolution, as Cornelius Hunter has done, (see “Darwin’s God” blogspot, entry dated Oct 19th) as follows:

…Everyone knows biology is full of complicated designs, but evolutionists think it arose spontaneously, as a result of the play of natural laws. In other words it happened to happen. First there was nothing, then there was something, then that something became very complicated. All this just happened to happen.

If evolution has happened, indeed if it is mathematically possible, it is an injustice to describe its efficacy in the language of the fortuitous (as does Hunter), for it is likely that very rare preconditions (in terms of the selected physical laws and boundary conditions) would have to be selected for it to work.

Having said that, however, I have to admit to intuitive doubts about conventional evolution. As an illustration: The rules of chess considerably limit the number of game histories that can occur, but if one were to move the pieces on a chess board at random but within those rules I doubt if the result would be a game worth watching. In this connection Hunter may have something for us worth taking to heart: In this blog post I give Hunter credit for giving us a feel for the exponential problems that evolution has to solve if it is to work. It is certainly not immediately clear that even our very constraining physics eliminates those exponential intractabilities.

So, does standard physics require something extra for life to develop? Is that extra something so called “Intelligent Design”? No, because it seems that ID, the way it is currently defined by William Dembski, is almost unavoidable: As I have so often tried to make clear, the conditions that lead some people to identify the existence of ID are very difficult if not impossible to avoid in the positing of physical models. The rarity of those conditions, such as the selection of those conjectured life generating laws, have the effect of triggering Dembski’s design detection criterion (That is Dembski “Explanatory filter”). I myself long ago reached the point of accepting that the a priori existence of very rare/unique conditions is an unavoidable truism in the physical sciences, whether those conditions be generating functions, boundary conditions or just brute fact configurations. The physical sciences have an inevitable incompleteness about them, an ultimate embedded logical hiatus that cannot be banished. More likely than not people fail to see this, because they conflate conditional probabilities with absolute probabilities; conditional probabilities may be relatively high, but absolute probabilities, if one is to accept the principle of equal a-priori probabilities (Assuming those probabilities are definable and quantifiable) are extremely low. Ergo, the concept of ID which metaphysically hooks on to the pervasive Logical Hiatus and improbability in physical models is less an ancillary extra needed to help the world go round, than it is an ever present substrate in the day to day running of the world.

The difficulty of excluding rarity/uniqueness/improbablity from proposed physical models means that if one were to simply define ID to exist whenever extreme rarity/uniqueness/improbability is encountered ID almost becomes a logical truism. The question then is less whether ID exists, and more a question of how ID expresses itself in terms of just which rare preconditions have been selected for in our cosmos.

Few writers and correspondents on Uncommon Descent would go along with the young Earth buffoonery we see at “Answers in Genesis”. Most UDers (and hope I am right) would at least accept Earth’s story as it is currently told by academia, if not the Darwinian mechanisms that are thought to govern it. Thus evolution in the trivial sense that life on Earth has changed over billions of years, is accepted by most UDers. (It is no surprise, to hear AiG’s buffoon in chief, Ken Ham, claiming that William Dembski is a theistic evolutionist.)

The big question, then, is just what physical regime describes the patterns of natural history. Did the selection agency give us a unique/rare system of law and disorder that generates the right configurations or did that agency simply grant existence to (living) configurations that no elegant system of law and disorder could generate in anything like a realistic time? Is natural history, in the final analysis, a narrative intense pattern of change that simply cannot be described as the execution of short time algorithms?
"What those deistical chumps don't realise is that I not only have to design it, but sustain it as  well. And don't give me  any of this 'turtles all the way down' stuff"**

** This "turtles all the way down" references alludes to the regress I speak about in the following blog posts:
 I notice that in this blog post on Uncommon Descent Barry Arrington has also picked up on this regress

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