Tuesday, October 15, 2013

North American ID’s God of the Gaps Theology in the Spot Light at Last.

I was fascinated to read this post on Uncommon Descent referring to the criticisms of the de-facto Intelligent Design movement by a theologian David Hart. Essentially he’s taken them to task for their God-of-the-Gaps theology and how, if “law and disorder” science should fill the gap that this form of ID claims to exist, then at the very least embarrassment ensues. A critique of this “god-of-the-gaps” theology has, of course, been one of the themes of this blog and I give a list of relevant links below. I’m glad to see someone else taking this line of criticism against the “homunculus ID” paradigm.

However, I must qualify myself by saying that it doesn’t then follow that the engine of evolution as the academic establishment understands it is correct. Moreover, it is just possible that “evolvable” replicators are one of creations givens; after all something has to be accepted as a providential given and whatever that given is, it’s very, very cleverly contrived! I’m less concerned about the science of the North American ID community than the dualistic philosophy which motivates it.


Addendum 18/10/2013: Barry Arrington Screws Up
In a post dated October 17th and entitled “Newton’s Snow Flake Error” we find that Barry Arrington of Uncommon Descent has suddenly latched on to the “Gap-of-the Gaps” critique of his version of Homunculus ID . Here is what he says:

ID proponents are often accused of making a similar “God of the gaps” error.  They are accused of reasoning along these lines:  “Living things are too complex to have evolved through natural processes; therefore God must have done it.”

And below we find his answer:

First, ID posits that natural forces are not, in principle, capable of generating the complex specified information found in living things (more precisely, ID posits that the chances of CSI arising through natural means is so vanishingly small as to be considered impossible as a practical matter).  Therefore, it is not just a matter of science not yet having found the answer.  ID argues for good reason that looking for a natural cause of a super sophisticated digital semiotic code is a fool’s errand.  Second, while natural forces cannot generate CSI, we do know of a cause that produces CSI routinely – intelligent agents.  Indeed, intelligent agents are the ONLY known source of CSI where the provenance of the CSI has been actually observed rather than inferred.  And while our digital code is not as sophisticated and elegant as that found in DNA, it is the same sort of thing.  Therefore, concludes the ID proponent, intelligent design is the best explanation for the data.

Here "natural forces" are habitually and implicitly identified with "law and disorder" physics; this identification is taken for granted. Notice that Arrington claims that these so called “natural forces” cannot in principle generate the complex specified information found in living things. This (never proved) in-principle-objection to law and disorder processes generating life is very important to the homunculus ID paradigm, as I have said before. This is because this paradigm’s implicit theological dualism makes a sharp distinction between “natural forces” and the “supernatural powers” of God. The logic of Arrington’s dualism means that these “natural forces” are seen as a kind of god-pretender to creation; it is no surprise that many of Arrington’s atheist detractors hold a similar dualist mindset although they are, of course, routing for“natural forces” as the agent of creation.

Arrington’s theological dualism means that it doesn’t occur to him that a physical regime capable of generating life would clearly be complex, specified and contingent: Viz: To locate the suite of algorithms capable of generating life is a problem with a high algorithmic complexity, so much so perhaps that it is beyond even human computational resources. Therefore you don't necessarily need a "gap" in the physical regime that governs our cosmos before you start proposing the operation of intelligence. I have never seen this issue addressed by the Homunculus IDiers; they appear to be unaware of  it except perhaps William Dembski.

Arrington goes on to betray that he is in thrall to “materialism” as a valid category of thought, a woolly metaphysical idea he habitually and unthinkingly equates with the well defined category of law and disorder physics:

The application of this type of reasoning is universally unobjectionable in certain areas of inquiry (e.g., forensics, archeology).  In other words, when an archeologist finds CSI in an arrowhead and concludes the patterns were created by an Indian and not natural weathering, his colleagues do not ridicule him for making an “Indian of the gaps” argument.  Only in biology is a straightforward inference based on sound premises ridiculed.  Why?  It is not the data.  Is not the reasoning from the data.  It is a Lewontinian insistence on a priori materialism – and that, ladies and gentlemen, is not science.  It is a faith commitment to a metaphysical position (which is often called “religion”).

The foregoing sums up the kind of naive homunculus ID theory that Arrington stands for; that is: “God as a-kinda-Indian”. If I wasn't a Christian liberal I’d be accusing Arrington of blasphemy at this point! His mitigating circumstance is that dualism suffuses Western religious thought and this includes atheists thinking;: Western atheists may not believe in God but that doesn't stop them having a concept of God as a "supernatural" homunculus to be contrasted against "natural" causes.

Caveat: It is possible, as I have already remarked above, that God directly provisioned our cosmos with, let’s say for the sake of argument, “evolvable replicators” rather than generated them from an observable physical regime. But if prototypical biological structures are a given, I would certainly not justify this as Arrington does by arguing from his implicit theological dualism; this is a case of arriving at the right conclusion but for the wrongs reasons.

Addendum 23/10/13
Two articles have recently appeared on Uncommon Descent asking "Is Intelligent Design Bad Theology", one by Barry Arrington and the other by V J Torley: 
They both start off by making one very fundamental mistake:  They implicitly assume an identification of their "God-of-the-Gaps" view of natural history with "Intelligent Design". This is, of course, wrong. Many Christian evolutionists, like say John Polkinghorne, who are not committed to logical gaps in natural history, would nevertheless admit a commitment to Intelligent Design were it not for the fact that this term has become blighted by a polarised contention. (See here: http://quantumnonlinearity.blogspot.co.uk/2010/04/polkinghorne-creationist-and-id.html)

V J Torley's article is long and I may deal with it at a later date.

God of the gaps thinkers hope believe the missing bits can't be found.

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