Thursday, December 10, 2015

2001 Space IDyssey

The de facto IDists I've come across believe the configurations of life have been patched in as might an artifact against a  backdrop "natural landscape" and therefore life is regarded as entirely anomalous against the background physics of the Cosmos. 

The following post has recently appeared on Panda's Thumb. It's a comment by Nick Matzke on  the debate between Panda's Thumb posters Joe Felsenstein and Tom English (FE) and IDists William Dembski, Winston Ewart and Robert Marks (DEM).


Game over for antievolutionary No Free Lunch argument
By Nick Matzke on December 4, 2015 10:58 PM | 121 Comments
This has been obvious from the start, but as far as I know it has taken 10 years for the ID guys to finally admit it. Winston Ewert writes at the Discovery Institute blog:
However, Felsenstein and English note that a more realistic model of evolution wouldn’t have a random fitness landscape. Felsenstein, in particular, argues that “the ordinary laws of physics, with their weakness of long-range interactions, lead to fitness surfaces much smoother than white-noise fitness surfaces.” I agree that weak long-range interactions should produce a fitness landscape somewhat smoother than random chance and this fitness landscape would thus be a source of some active information.
GAME OVER, MAN. GAME OVER! The whole point of Dembski et al. invoking “No Free Lunch” theorems was to argue that, if evolutionary searches worked, it meant the fitness function must be designed, because (logical jump herein) the No Free Lunch theorems showed that evolutionary searches worked no better than chance, when averaged over all possible fitness landscapes.
Emergency backup arguments to avoid admitting complete bankruptcy below the fold, just so I’m not accused of leaving out the context

We disagree in that I do not think that is going to be a sufficient source of active information to account for biology. I do not have a proof of this. But neither does Felsenstein have a demonstration that it will produce sufficient active information. What I do have is the observation of existing models of evolution. The smoothness present in those models does not derive from some notion of weak long-range physics, but rather from telelogy as explored in my various papers on them.
As always, the ID objections to evolution, when stripped of pseudo-technical camouflage, boil down to “I just don’t buy it because (gut feeling).”
See also: recent PT posts and Jason Rosenhouse at EvolutionBlog.

FE did a good job of demonstrating the plausibility (but admittedly not "proof" as Ewart points out) of the idea that by means of fitness surfaces physics provides the information needed for evolution to occur. Although like Ewart I have reservations about fitness surfaces (doubts which I express here) I don't have an in-principle objection to the notion that physics (even if has to be modified) is implicated as the agency of biological information. This is where I differ from the view of the average IDist. They are likely to have an in-principle objection to any idea that physics could be the providential means by which evolution has been directed (And for standard evolution to work it must be channeled). But for the IDists I have featured in this blog the default view appears to be that the information for life has been patched-in ad hoc by God (and let's make no bones about just what de facto ID really means by "intelligence"). This divine ad hoc activity is not dissimilar to the way the intelligence behind the 2001 Space Odyssey monolith patched-in an artifact on the otherwise "natural" lunar landscape. The 2001 Space Odyssey ID paradigm treats biological structures as bolt on extras in the cosmic scene, extras that can only be explained by the activity of an auxiliary intelligence, much like alien artifacts. This view is at least in part driven by the explanatory filter epistemic. This epistemic leads to a very suspect theology where God works on the natural order rather than in the natural order.

There's not enough information in the above quotes to know whether Ewart's take on teleology leads him away from this god-of-the-gaps ad hocery or not. However, I suspect  that behind his rejection of FE's work lies de facto ID's standard false dichotomy of God vs. Natural forces. God works the way he works: If God works through the physics of fitness surfaces (leaving aside my doubts) then that's the way he works and we have to get used to it; I see no point in apposing biologists simply for the sake of it.

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