Sunday, December 24, 2017

Yet Again! De facto ID gets lost in the false dichotomy zone. Part 1

It's been sometime since I've critiqued a post on the "Intelligent Design" web site "Uncommon Descent". There is probably little more I can say about the their dualistic "natural causes" vs. supernatural causes "Intelligent Design" paradigm. However, these two posts on UD here and here are such classic illustrations of de facto ID's  dualist tradition that I've just got to comment on them.  The first post is by someone  called "StephenB". (I have commented on his dualism before)  and the second post is by Barry Arrington. I will look at B's post here and Arrington's post in Part II.  


Before I start just a word or two about my own take on evolution. Evolution, in so far as it describes a natural history of life, is a settled science, so settled that many IDists of the Uncommon Descent persuasion would likely agree that the natural history of life isn't in question; the question is over the mechanism of change. In fact even an evangelical atheist like Larry Moran makes heavy weather of the actual processes driving natural history (See here and here). So, the only people left out in the cold when it comes to natural history are the toy town religious fundamentalists, Christian and Muslim. 

Any pattern generator (such as physics or a computer algorithm) has to start with an irreducible kernel of information; this kernel of "brute fact" information resides in the algorithms of the pattern/configuration generator.  Hence, even if the cosmos has the kind of physical laws which have the efficacy to generate the configurations of life with a realistic probability, there would still remain a big question as to the origin of this information kernel. So, given the inevitability of this Grand Logical Hiatus I suppose it's not completely unreasonable for theorists such as we see at UD to posit that certain aspects of bio-structures weren't generated by physics but instead are part of a more general inevitable logical hiatus which at some point must be acknowledged as the a-priori conceptual foundation of the cosmos.  For IDists, then, there is, as it were, a logical "edge" or "gap" in biology just as there is an inevitable logical gap in fundamental physics. 

Along with the IDists at UD I'm backing the horse that the cosmos has its origins in an a-priori intelligence. However, my own avenue of exploration is not the intelligence-of-the-gaps approach, but something I call intelligent creation. This notion identifies the processes of physics as part and parcel with the intelligence that creates designs. I'm not defending this notion of mine in this post; it is a highly speculative idea I am developing elsewhere

But I suppose it’s not unreasonable for Christian theists to entertain as a possibility that a grand logical hiatus (perhaps more than one!) is not only found in the generating algorithms of physics but also in the self-replicating, self perpetuating processes of life. Therefore I'm not unsympathetic to the "God-of-the-Gaps" biology at UD even if I think it unlikely; after all, I myself am pursuing the idea that mind is an a-priori phenomenon and therefore it seems just possible, from this perspective, that the biological "gaps" are there to be accepted as brute fact as are the equations of physics. But having said that, I have to acknowledge that I'm not a biologist: For a biologist with a knowledge of the evidence, the notion that some evolvable general purpose replicator is a given might be like postulating that star-light is created in transit (an assertion heard too often from the anti-science fundamentalists). Nevertheless, I am potentially sympathetic to god-of-the-gaps ID.  I'm afraid to say, however, that the de facto-IDists at UD have squandered my sympathy: I am now not sympathetic. The two posts I will be reviewing show just how much the IDists at UD are screwing up their own case.


Ostensibly B's post is an attack on the concept of Theistic Evolution as promoted at the Biologos web site (Started by Christian evangelical Francis Collins). Now, I can't speak for Biologos, but we don't need to know about Biologos to observe B's dualistic mind set at work. Below I quote his post and interleave my own comments.

Rather than sit at the feet of nature and learn her secrets, [Biologos] try to remake her in the image of their faith commitment. For them, there is one a-priori truth that must never be denied: God used the random mechanism of Darwinian evolution to produce His intended outcome of homo-sapiens. This absurd proposition, which defines the entire BioLogos project, is a direct assault on reason itself. Only a designed or purposeful process can produce a specified outcome; a random process can produce only indeterminate outcomes (surprises).

MY COMMENT: Firstly let's get a handle on the nature of randomness. In my book on Disorder and Randomness I define randomness as a pattern where all small space short time algorithms (Or SSST algorithms) which attempt to predict the pattern return a maximally disordered hit sequence. But there is a practical problem with this theoretical definition. The set of small space short time algorithms is just too big for us to be ever sure that there isn't some SSST algorithm out there which returns a better than random hit sequence. The best we can do is to test a pattern with our own limited algorithmic resources. Bearing this feature of randomness in mind it is just conceivable that there are unknown SSST algorithmic event generators behind "the random mechanism of Darwinian evolution" of which we are totally unaware. I don't think this is a likely scenario myself, but we need to proceed bearing this obscure possibility in mind. 

What B is effectively thrusting into the mouths of Biologos probably has less to do with Biologos than his subculture’s understanding of evolution. He portrays Darwinian evolution as a "random mechanism" without any further qualification. But this straw man resides purely in B's imagination and has little to do with Darwinian evolution as properly conceived. Darwinian evolution, if it is to work, cannot be just a "random mechanism" in spite of what IDists like B
 (and some atheists!) are claiming.

See the following posts where I consider the ideas of atheists Joe Felsenstein and Tom English. It is clear that it is far from Felsenstein's and English's minds that evolution is just a "random process". In fact Felsenstein obviously understands that the randomness in evolution plays out within a highly constrained process, where the origin of the constraints on this process, he says, is a question for physics. 

Felsenstein vs. Dembski
Felsenstein and English vs. Dembski, Ewart and Marks

Once again I must reiterate my usual disclaimer: I don't necessarily accept the standard account of evolutionary mechanisms. All I am saying here is that B thoroughly misrepresents that account.

A practical example should make the point clear:

[a] Designed process: I load the dice such that the number 7 will appear with every roll.. In other words, when I throw the dice, I can guarantee the outcome because it is the only one that is possible—all others have been closed off. If I had not closed them off, I could not guarantee the result.

[b] Random process: I use fair dice, in which case there are eleven possible outcomes. This is an open ended process that will allow any number from 2 to 12, including 7, to appear. On any given roll of the dice, I cannot guarantee that I will get 7 because I did not close off all of the other possibilities.

It is, therefore, logically impossible for any Creator, human or divine, to guarantee an outcome using a non-interventional, random process. In effect, Theistic Evolutionists violate the law of non-contradiction by trying to have it both ways: When they speak of God’s providence, they claim that evolution is purposeful, but when they speak of the process itself, evolution is random.

MY COMMENT:  Contrary to what B claims in the above quote one can have it both ways. An algorithm can usefully be a blend of predictability and unpredictability. For example take the diffusion equation. Viz:

The first term on the right hand side of this equation represents the dynamics of random walk. The second term on the RHS (the potential term) has the effect of putting a constraint on this walk. It is the information in this constraint which determines the probability of interesting configurations coming out of the mix. (This is not to say that I think this is how evolution happened). 

What the above equation tells us is that a process can be both usefully random and usefully ordered at the same time. We could simulate  the above equation on a computer in order to solve certain kinds of problem; the whole thing would then be a product of purposeful design and simply doesn't fit in either of B's polarized categories. In effect B violates the law of coherent thinking with his dichotomous views. 

Moreover, according to my proposed definition of randomness. it is a pattern which can be just as much a purposeful & designed "interventional" (sic) pattern as any other pattern: it's just that random patterns lie outside the computational resources of SSST algorithms. 

The broader point is that they have a firm and non-negotiable starting point. An omnipotent God, we are told, would never design nature by progressive stages since He could easily program nature to “create itself.” Thus, ID’s scientific evidence, which allows for a tweak or two, is inadmissible because it makes God busier than He needs to be.

This is nonsense because any world view is equally vulnerable to these kinds of speculations. One could just as easily argue that evolution is false because an all-powerful God doesn’t need to wait billions of years to achieve His goal. Note, also, that God spoke to the BioLogos Community about this matter many years ago: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if you have understanding.”—Job 38:4

MY COMMENT: I might not disagree with B here (although B could be misrepresenting Biologos). In trying to anticipate just how a divine intelligence might operate, then without further evidential revelation, who knows how that intelligence might work; perhaps via a purposefully designed mix of order and disorder where V(...) in the above equation is the given, or perhaps by designing a general purpose evolvable replicator. Or perhaps there is something else we haven't thought of, such as a hidden SSST algorithm.  But without that further revelation I have spoken of it is difficult to have any a-priori opinions on this matter.

Still, it is the unfailing faith in Darwin’s random mechanism that drives the BioLogos project. Occasionally, someone in the that camp will begin to sense the absurdity of it all and search for ways to bridge the gap between chance and purpose, following the lead of “divine action” theologians.

MY COMMENT:  We see here the same old fallacy driving B’s thoughts. Evolution as a "Random Mechanism". 

Yes, they say, the evolutionary process is random, but perhaps God provides the needed direction by tweaking it behind the scenes through trillions upon trillions of quantum events. Remarkable! They rejected ID’s hypothesis because it allows for a small number of tweaks, and now they have God tweaking every nanosecond. Already, they have forgotten about their impertinent command to God: Thou shalt use secondary causality and nothing else.

MY COMMENT:  I can't get into arguments between Biologos and UD about the "number of tweaks" God is supposed have used. But the point I would like to make here is this: Even if God should use secondary causality and nothing else, then according to my understanding of theology that still entails trillions upon trillions of tweaks because secondary causality simply won't work without continuous divine sustenance and direction.  Christian evolutionary biologist Dennis Alexander makes this point well in his book, a book I review here and here. So whether you believe that providence designed physical laws with the efficacy to generate life with a high probability or if you believe that well-designed  evolvable general replicators were the fundamental givens, either way trillions of trillions of divine "tweaks" everywhere and everywhen is theologically entailed. Thus, either scenario makes little difference in this respect. 

BTW the way, notice the theological intimidation used by B here. Biologos stand accused of the blasphemy of giving impertinent commands to God. I'm more used to this sort spiritual bad mouthing from fundamentalists like Ken Ham

They have also forgotten something even more important. If God must tweak or steer a “random” process to keep it on course, then God, not the process, is calling the shots; the process has merely come along for the ride and plays no role in the outcome. But according to Neo-Darwinism, it is the natural mechanism, acting alone, that determines the outcome. That is why BioLogos members refer to the “science” of evolution and rhapsodize over the “beauty” and “creative wonders” of natural selection.

MY COMMENT: Here we go again with the dualistic ID paradigm: Viz "Natural mechanisms" are contrasted  over and against God's action as if the natural world has a life of its own apart from God's sustaining and directing power. If you are a Christian theist this idea of “natural processes” acting alone should be anathema. No process can act alone: A process may act according to some algorithmically controlled flow; but as we know algorithms need a substrate to maintain and guide them - namely, computer hardware. Algorithms don't "naturally" run themselves as processes divorced from a controlling machine. Likewise it is theological nonsense (except for atheists who don't believe in God) for a Christian to talk of "natural mechanisms" in contradistinction to "divine interventions". B is starting to speak like a gnostic dualist!

Clearly the BioLogos project is a program of unjustified assumptions and irrational claims. Whether their mixed messages are intentional or not, the facts remain: They use the language of design, teleology and purpose, but they argue for chance, randomness and chaos. I encourage everyone, Christians and non-Christians alike, to reject this unprecedented assault on reason and common sense.

MY COMMENT:  Once again I can't answer for Biologos here and comment on whether, like B, they hold in their minds incoherent dichotomies such as natural mechanisms vs divine interventions. However, I encourage everyone, Christians and non-Christians alike, to reject B's unprecedented assault on reason and common sense with his woolly, incoherent, dichotomised thinking. 


You may be a young earth creationist who believes the cosmos was spoken into existence  by words of magic 6000 years ago; you may believe that evolution's constrained trial and error searching method is contrary to divine morality; you may believe that God injected the information needed to for biological replicators every now & then via a long natural history of design innovations; you may believe that sufficient providentially supplied  information is present in our current physical regime to generate life according to conventional evolutionary theory; or you may believe that some underlying SSST is doing it all.  But whatever creation narrative strikes your fancy we know that B's sloppy characterisation of evolution as a "natural" random process and his dualistic gnostic categories are completely misleading..

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