Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Deistical, God of the Gaps Thinking

In a blog post here evangelical atheist Larry Moran criticizes a web article by Intelligent Design guru Kirk Durston.  I know that Larry Moran is apt to call people like Durston “IDiots”, but looking at Moran’s post I’m not surprised. Below I quote both Durston and Moran as they appear on Moran’s post. As is my usual practice I add my own comments.

Durston: In the neo-Darwinian scenario for the origin and diversity of life, the digital functional information for life would have had to begin at zero, (Wrong!) increase over time to eventually encode the first simple life form, and continue to increase via natural processes to encode the digital information for the full diversity of life. An essential, falsifiable prediction of Darwinian theory, therefore, is that functional information must, on average, increase over time.(Wrong again!)

My Comment: This statement tells me that Durston is unfamiliar with the kind of the issues I raised in my series on Joe Felsenstein’s and Tom English’s post on Panda’s Thumb (see links below). If evolution is to work as currently understood, it must start out with a full complement of information. This burden of information is found in the abstract “sponge” structure that occupies configuration space: It is this structure that acts as the “rails” which guide the evolutionary/OOL diffusion processes. The "sponge" is conjectured to be an implication of physics.  As such evolution is not a process that creates information as Durston claims: Rather evolution is a process which transforms information from an abstract structure in configuration space to reified organisms. Of course, I must qualify all this by registering my reservations about the existence of this spongey structure: How I see evolution/OOL is another story which I tell in my Melencolia I series. (I’ve got no illusions that my own attempt to handle the OOL/evolution question would be laughed off by pure secularists, but at least I won’t get censorious insults about courting divine displeasure from them!)

Bellow I quote a section of Moran’s post and add my comments at the end (My emphases).

Moran: Contrast this [i.e. real evolutionary theory] with the Intelligent Design version of creationism. Apparently its followers understand the mind of the "intelligent designer" because they are prepared to make predictions about what he/she/it/them intended. Here's how Kirk Durston describes it…..

Durston: Interestingly, a prediction of intelligent design science is quite the opposite. Since information always degrades over time for any storage media and replication system, intelligent design science postulates that the digital information of life was initially downloaded into the genomes of life. It predicts that, on average, genetic information is steadily being corrupted by natural processes. The beauty of these two mutually incompatible predictions in science is that the falsification of one entails verification of the other. So which prediction does science falsify, and which does science verify?

Moran: If I understand this correctly, the Intelligent Design Creationists all agree that all the information required to make complex organisms was written into the genome at some time in the past (3.5 billion years ago according to many ID proponents). Since that time, the intelligent designer has allowed that information to steadily degrade so that eventually all species will become extinct. (I don't know how Durston came to understand the mind of the gods.)

Durston: This is the first problem for neo-Darwinian theory. Mutations produce random changes in the digital information of life. It is generally agreed that the rate of deleterious mutations is much greater than the rate of beneficial mutations. My own work with 35 protein families suggests that the rate of destruction is, at minimum, 8 times the rate of neutral or beneficial mutations.

Simply put, the digital information of life is being destroyed much faster than it can be repaired or improved. New functions may evolve, but the overall loss of functional information in other areas of the genome will, on average, be significantly greater. The net result is that the digital information of life is running down.

Moran: Isn't that interesting? Intelligent Design Creationists believe that over the past 3.5 billion years the genetic information in simple bacteria has been steadily degrading at a rate 8 times the rate of beneficial mutations.

Aside from the fact that Durston's statement is ridiculous, it says something very weird about the intelligent designer that these creationists believe in. Those gods intelligent designers don't resemble any human engineers or computer programmers that I've ever met. Humans would have done a better job of designing in the first place and they would make sure that crucial systems get frequent updates and repairs to keep them working. (My emphasis)

My Comment: Moran is right: Durston is making implicit assumptions about the way his purported intelligent agent works. This has lead the de-facto ID community into an inconsistency: On the one hand IDists will claim  that the function of ID science is only detect the presence of intelligence and make little or no assertion as to character of that intelligence. And yet whenever the IDists attempt to make predictions we find they are working from an implicit raft of assumptions about the way that intelligence works (as does Durston above). In fact I would submit that even to make sense of the works of an intelligent agent requires a background knowledge of just what intelligence is and the kind things it does.  I made a similar point to Moran’s “Apparently its followers understand the mind of the "intelligent designer” in this post. Viz:

And yet the ID community claims to be able to make predictions such as economy of design and absence of Junk DNA. I suggest that they cannot make these predictions unless they are actually making implicit assumptions about the nature of the intelligence they are dealing with; there is therefore an inconsistency in Torley’s thought: He can’t make claim to knowing so little about the nature of the intelligent agent and yet at the same time try and pass on predictions that contain implicit assumptions about that intelligence. After all, motive, that is emotions, are a huge part of any practical intelligence and we need some inkling of those motives to make predictions. But when we do hazard postulating something about the nature of the intelligence involved the resultant science is far from exact, in fact it is a science that is a lot softer than archaeology (see also: http://quantumnonlinearity.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/does-intelligent-design-make-testable.html).

Durston, as other IDists, is very naturally interpreted as a dualist God-of-the-Gaps thinker. This is what comes over to Larry Moran and it certainly also comes over to me. As Moran says Durston conjures up a picture of a God who, on occasion, downloads a piece of his mind into molecular matter and then steps back and allows it to degrade. This is a classical deist conception of God. No doubt the ID community will try to deny this, but the fact is whenever they attempt to explain ID to themselves they appear to fall into the dualist and desitical trap of god-of-the-gaps style thinking. Part of the problem seems to be down to their explanatory filter epistemic (See here) but a lot of it may be down to a default Western dualist philosophy of God.

As is the way with communities who have become the target of general disdain, marginalisation and insult, the de-facto IDists have reacted with an insular embattled mentality. We therefore find Durston simply repeating the fallacies of his IDist peer group. As I’ve recently expressed in this blog post the de-facto ID community have been a huge disappointment to me: They have screwed up in several issues and don’t seem to have the self-critical back bone to dig themselves out of the hole they are in. There is one advantage of the secular community (and “secular” does not necessarily equate to “atheist”) that some insular Christian sub-cultures are unlikely to benefit from: Viz: the secular scientific community is less a community than it is a disorderly free for all. Although the dangers of nihilism and postmodernism are ever present among pure secularists, disagreement at the price of unity is not something they lose sleep over. On the other hand closeted and sectarian Christian communities do lose sleep over it and end up forming a tight-knit penguin cluster who are very easy targets for the machine gun fire of criticism. That the ID community have so badly failed in the area of apologetics is, for a Christian like myself, disquieting; on the whole they are some of the most intelligent and reasonable evangelical believers around*. But if the de-facto IDists are performing so badly on the apologetics front that doesn't bode well for the anti-science Christian fundamentalists.

Safety in numbers? Not when there are Maxims about!

Relevant links:

* But beware; because of their personal certainty about their moral convictions and pilgrimage they can turn "nasty".

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