Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Yet Again! De facto ID gets lost in the false dichotomy zone. Part 2

 From the comfort of his sumptuous leather clad chair IDiost and Lawyer Barry Arrington argues against Theistic Evolution. 

In part 1 of this two part series I looked at a post on the de facto Intelligent Design web site Uncommon Descent by "StephenB" (whom I call "B"). This post was another clear demonstration of de facto ID's paradigmatic dichotomy, a dichotomy which effectively posits an irreconcilable difference between "natural forces" and God "intelligent agency".

In this second part I will be looking at this UD post titled A Conversation With a Theistic Evolutionist. In this post UD supremo Barry Arrington imagines a conversation with himself and a Theistic Evolutionist. Particularly revealing was this bit of the "conversation" (My emphases):

IDist: Dawkins goes on to say that the impression of design by an agent is an illusion, because the apparent design of living things can be accounted for on the basis of blind natural forces.

TE: Yes, that’s what Dawkins says.

IDist: As a TE you essentially agree with Dawkins on this point.

TE: Correct. The appearance of design by an agent is an illusion. Darwinism is reductionist at its core. The properties of all living things (except the human spirit) can ultimately be explained by the operation of blind natural forces, which St. Thomas would have grouped in the category of “secondary causes” were he alive today. [Editor's note: I wonder if Arrington has ever read this from  Augustine: "When such a thing (a miracle) happens. it appears to us as an event contrary to nature. But with God it is not so; for him 'nature' is what he does." I think I'd follow Augustine here rather than Aquinas]

IDist: It seems that as far as material bodies are concerned (i.e., setting aside the human spirit) there is no daylight between your position and the position of someone like P.Z. Meyers, a radical atheist materialist reductionist. Am I wrong?

MY COMMENT: Yes, Mr. Arrington when it comes to real Theistic Evolutionists I think it is very likely you are wrong!  There's no telling where or from whom Arrington is getting his ideas, but I can say with fair confidence that Theistic Evolutionists such as Denis Alexander and John Polkinghorne are very unlikely to agree with Arrington's assertion that evolution ("Darwinism" sic) is driven by the operation of "blind natural forces" and that the appearance of design is an illusion. As I made clear in these posts here and here, Denis Alexander simply doesn't accept "blind natural forces" as a valid category for an evangelical Christian. And I agree. 

As we saw for B in part 1, "blind natural forces", as a conceptual category, largely resides in the imaginations of IDists like Arrington (something they may have in common with Richard Dawkins). It is even doubtful that Arrington is speaking for an atheist like Joe Felsenstein who, as I made clear in part 1, certainly doesn't see evolution as being a blind random process, but highly constrained by the laws of physics, a constraint he believes gives evolution its realistic probability. 

Arrington goes on to quote Christian TE Stephen Barr who attempts to make a distinction between "horizontal randomness" and "vertical randomness". This is how Arrington tries to explain Barr's views:

You see, a process that to us appears to by haphazard and random may actually at a deeper ontological level be the product of design. In Chance, By Design, Stephen Barr argued that “horizontal randomness” should be distinguished from “vertical randomness.” Horizontal randomness is what we perceive empirically. If I roll fair dice fifty times, each roll has a 1/6 chance of being 7. But at a deeper level, what Barr calls “vertical randomness,” God can fix the game so that the roll comes up 7 as many times in a row as are necessary to accomplish his purposes. Therefore, if the dice come up “7” 50 times in a row, the series of rolls nevertheless remains the product of a stochastic process. This is “horizontal randomness.” But God willed the result in an empirically undetectable way to come out as it did (“vertical randomness”).

MY COMMENT: I can't vouch as to whether or not Arrington represents Barr fairly here. This is Arrington's interpretation of Barr and frankly it's a complete mess. If two die came up with 50x7 one might just start to wonder if there is some kind of systematic constraint on the dice. But whether one wanted to seriously pursue this hunch would depend on further observations on the dice. Ergo, what Arrington claims to be empirically irrelevant isn't the case. However, dice generating 50x7 is one thing, but life emerging from a background of pure randomness is quantitatively, in terms of improbability,  in another realm altogether. 

Arrington appears to be telling us that TE, as he conceives it, is just a matter of God contriving the necessary number of improbable events needed for life to emerge from a sea of randomness. His conception of TE is that empirically it looks to be just an almighty fluke and nothing more, but in the background God is fiddling the statistical books. Arrington thinks that with this conception of TE we can't be absolutely sure about God's statistical fiddling because in absolute randomness the emergence of the organised patterns of life is possible even if highly improbable. But the irony is that this divine interference with the statistical books, or whatever is the origin of the bias, is detectable with a fair probability: If we use Bayes theorem at this point the evidence points to the probability that the process has been rigged or skewed in someway - contrary to what Arrington says it is therefore detectable in a probabilistic sense.  

Arrington's concept of TE looks most unlike that of Christian evolutionists such as Denis Alexander and John Polkinghorne, or even atheists like Joe Felsenstein and Tom English. As we saw in part 1 Felsenstein would claim that the cosmic physical regime contains implicit information so as to systematically slant natural history in favour of evolution; that is, it is not a random fluke. (Although the origin of this information is left unsaid by Felsenstein). 

The above quote from Arrington really reflects the de facto ID community's fixation that evolution is a random and "blind natural process", a fixation encouraged by their philosophical dualism which in turn influences their dualist epistemic, an epistemic which forces a choice between "natural forces" and God "intelligent design".

But what does Barr say?  Arrington quotes Barr as follows:

By itself, the doctrine of divine providence only tells us that everything unfolds in accordance with God’s plan. It does not tell us what that plan is, either in its general features or in its particular details. It does not tell us the mix of law and chance, or of necessity and contingency, that God chose to use in his plan. Evolutionary history may have unfolded entirely in accordance with natural laws, natural randomness, and natural probabilities, as the great majority of biologists believe, or there may have been some extraordinary events along the way that contravened those laws and probabilities. In either case, evolution unfolded exactly as known and willed by God from all eternity.

MY COMMENT: On the basis of this quote alone I would say that Barr doesn't display Arrington's fixation with randomness and "natural forces". Barr is saying that God could have created life via the standard concept of evolution which calls on both law and disorder to work. But Barr also admits that there may have been some extraordinary divinely ordained events along the way that contravened those laws and probabilitiesThe irony is that the latter sounds more than a little like the de facto IDist's design interventions! But note that here that Barr doesn't claim these extraordinary events are somehow a manifestation of a "natural" random process! I suggest that the concept of "natural" in de facto ID is a figment of a dualist imagination. 

By way of commentary on Barr, Arrington continues by putting his words, his categories, his arguments and his reasoning into the mouth of his imaginary Theistic Evolutionist, thereby contaminating the argument with his dualism and therefore, as we shall see in due course, arriving at a paradox. I have added my emphases in the following quote: 

Barr says God willed events to happen such that the biosphere as we now see it arose no matter how statistically improbably those events might be.
 Another way of looking at it is that as the title of Barr’s article suggests (Chance, By Design), what appears to us to be random is actually, at a deeper level, designed. 
That puts the TE in a peculiar position..... [becuase] the TE says that the apparent design of living things is an illusion. 
He also says that the illusion of design is explained by the working of random events and mechanical processes, i.e., reductionist Neo-Darwinian processes.
But then the TE goes a step further and says that the “random” processes at work in the Neo-Darwinian process are actually “random” only from our horizontal perspective. From God’s vertical perspective they are not random at all. They are infallibly willed, and another way of putting that is from a vertical perspective the events are designed to occur, no matter how improbable they appear to us.
 So the TE says that the appearance of design is an illusion, and the reality that explains the illusion is random natural processes. 

MY COMMENTIn the above quote Arrington makes much of his belief that Theistic Evolution entails that the apparent design of living things is an illusion and that the illusion of design is explained by the working of random events. Arrington simply reiterates his view that Theistic Evolution is a case of randomness coming up with improbable outcomes by divine design, a view which, as I have said, would normally trigger a Bayesian based investigation as to whether pure randomness is actually operating in such a case.

I have to add my usual disclaimer that I can't answer for Barr, but it is apparent here that Arrington has no concept of how standard evolution would have to work. Like any serial seek, reject and select algorithm a practical realization of evolution would require a considerable burden of up front information in order to secure a reasonable probability of success; it does no justice to this necessarily highly constrained process to refer to it only as "random events". As I have repeatedly said, an atheist like Joe Felsenstein clearly understands this, although he would be diffident about the origin of this information. Moreover, as we have seen Arrington certainly doesn't answer for Theistic Evolutionists like Polkinghorne and Alexander. 

Finally Arrington says this:

But the reality that explains the illusion is itself an illusion, because from God’s perspective what appears to be the product of random processes is in fact designed.

So the reality behind the illusion is itself an illusion, and the ultimate reality behind that illusion is what you declared to be the initial illusion. If “design” is the ultimate reality would it not be more parsimonious to simply affirm it from the outset?

MY COMMENT:  Here we have Arrington's paradox: On the grounds that he thinks of evolution as a predominantly "natural" random process Arrington stuffs into the mouth of his imaginary TE the phrase "the appearance of design is [therefore] an illusion!". He then goes on to say that this illusion is itself an illusion because God is behind the scenes contriving (i.e. designing) an improbable set of outcomes to emerge from randomness. So, the TE conceived by Arrington is both random and not random!  This incoherent mess is largely sourced in Arrington's and other de facto IDist's 'imaginations; it is a straw man concept of Theistic Evolution.  

The problems go back, I submit, to Arrrington's idea of randomness as a "natural force". As we have seen a Christian evangelical and Theistic Evolutionist like Denis Alexander (rightly) doesn't recognize such a notion as "blind natural forces". As for the concept of randomness itself I doubt Arrington has the first clue what it really means: As we have seen in part 1 true randomness is beyond human resources to design: That requires divine resources! In short randomness is as designed as it comes!

No comments: