Saturday, May 09, 2015

Algorithms, Searches, Dualism and (Possibly) Declarative Computation. Part I

Western Dualism just doesn't make sense..

In this post on Panda’s Thumb Joe Felsenstein and Tom English continue the work of challenging the de facto Intelligent Design movement. This latest series of mine is going to be all but a rerun of my previous posts on Felsenstein and Dembski which can be read here and here. However, in this latest post on Panda’s thumb Felsenstein and English (FE for short) address a more recent paper by Intelligent Design theorists William Dembski, Winston Ewert, and Robert J. Marks II (DEM for short). FE have done a lot of hard work in not only understanding and explaining DEM's results but also helping their readers appreciate the status of their work and its limits. I trust FE’s expertise enough to proceed without reading DEM. This saves me a lot of time and brain strain, so many thanks to FE for their very competent efforts.

Let me say this to start with: As I have said before I have great respect for someone like William Dembski who seems to be one of the leaders of the de facto ID community. He is a moderate evangelical Christian who by no means stands in the tradition of the nasty heretic hunting fundamentalists that so often grab center stage in the evolution/creation debate and discredit not only themselves but Christians in general. Nevertheless, the polarization that afflicts this subject means that even evangelical moderates like Dembski are positioned very much on the opposite side to the likes of FE. But even though I’m a Christian myself I have to say that I’m not at all sure I could side with the dualistic God of the Gaps philosophy which seems to be the habitual mode of thought behind the de facto ID community; in fact, my observations suggest that this community are bound to interpret DEM in terms of God of the Gaps ID.  In contrast FE are atheists but nevertheless as Westerners they will inevitably share a Western dualist conception of God. That is, they will conceive 'God' and 'natural forces' as two very distinct categories. Of course, FE as atheists have done away with the uneasy and tense relationship between God and 'natural forces' by denying that there is any such thing as 'God'. Consequently they obviate the problem of two classical categories that don’t sit well together. This is not to say, of course, that their atheistic monism harmonizes with our deepest religious impulses.

Although I would ultimately take issue with the philosophy underlying the de facto ID movement, I nevertheless believe that not only are DEM’s results mathematically sound, but that they also present an enigma. Viz: Why should the world behave in such an ordered fashion as to have the capability of generating life in so short a time? DEM's work suggests that unconstrained/unbiased/random 'searches' simply can't get the required results quick enough. So, the debate really revolves round the question of the enigmatic organization of a cosmos that must, it seems, be very evolution friendly (I’m using the word 'evolution' here in the very general sense of life generating).  But on this question I probably have more in common with FE’s monism than the de facto ID community's residual Western dualism; for like FE I find myself committed to the scientific endeavor of finding out just what it is about 'matter' which gives it that providential fruitfulness referred to by Sir John Polkinghorne, a fruitfulness which means that the cosmos has generated the complex organized structures we call life.  In effect I reject the 'explanatory filter' epistemic of the defacto ID movement when it is used theologically; for this epistemic superimposes on the debate a sharp distinction between sentience and matter, thereby bringing about a false dichotomy between God and 'natural forces'.  This binary category has the effect of curtailing investigations into the proactive fruitfulness of God’s world of matter by attributing living structures to the inscrutable “interventions” of an unknown intelligence, unknown in power, motive and method. The upshot is that de facto ID is not unlike the science of archeology; a science which  assesses material artifacts and tries to guess the motives and methods of human ancestors. But as archeologist Francis Pryor has said, archaeology is not an exact science. And so it is with de facto ID, except that ID is likely to be an even softer science than archeology; for the sentience envisaged to “intervene” in the natural world is far more alien than human!

…to be continued.

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