Monday, February 11, 2008

Bad Design in Nature - an argument against evolution

Note of explanation: this post is an entry of mine on a discussion board for my Scientific Apologetics class regarding some of our reading. I'm trying this out as a method of integration for my studies and my blogging (actually, this is my first attempt to find a way to keep my blog alive in the midst of juggling the new demands of being back in school whilst trying to fulfill all my other commitments). We're having pretty good discussions in our online class forum, so I thought I'd bring some of that here to kick around. Expect to see more of these.

What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander (or something like that...)

In The Panda's Thumb, Stephen Jay Gould worked hard to show that less-than-ideal design in nature is an argument against a divine designer and an argument for evolution (Dawkins' "blind watchmaker"). I think his argument is horribly circular, and so is quite invalid, though it is often rhetorically effective. My claim, on the other hand, is that less than ideal design is just as much an argument against evolution. Here's why:

Dembski, in arguing against the need for larger brains for human intelligence in The Design of Life, made note of the evolutionists' answer to the problem of anomalies in relation to brain size - that the brain must contain tremendous amounts of redundancy. He then made the following counter-argument:

If the brain is redundant, then why didn't we evolve the same cognitive abilities without developing larger brains? Redundancy carries hidden costs. Big brains make it difficult for humans babies to pass through the birth canal, which, historically, has resulted in heavy casualties - many mothers and babies have died during delivery. Why should the selective advantage of bigger brains with lots of redundancy outweigh the selective advantage of easier births due to smaller brains that, nonetheless, exercise the same cognitive functions, though with lowered redundancy?(p. 12)

The point is a good one, and not only in response to the specific argument in the text. This "design" is less than ideal enough to argue against the likelihood of its evolutionary origin. Natural selection would have weeded out such a considerable cause of high infant mortality long before it became the norm for our species.

There are many examples touted by the mainstream bioscience community as evidence of the "tinkering" of evolution rather than design by immeasurable intelligence. One problem seems to be that there are examples of poor and harmful design that seem statistically incompatible with the proposed evolutionary process. Proponents of evolution sometimes even use these (ironically) as evidence against a creator. In fact, I've heard the "big head vs. small birth canal" used in just this way before.

An adaptive, "tinkering" approach to design as an answer to such things as, say, Gould's panda thumb, seems a lot more rational to me than holding the statistical demands of evolution in tension with obvious counterexamples.

Am I on to something here, or am I missing something?

15 comments:

Doctor Logic said...

Aaron,

I agree that the argument from flawed design has more rhetorical value than anything else. But that's because religion evolved just as much as we ourselves did. In formulating a story of God, ancient folk had to account for our flaws (like unpleasant childbirth), so they wrote that into God's design specification.

While the brain has redundancies, it's not big just so it can have redundancy. It's big in order to give it its processing power, and it is a necessity for the survival advantage that it gives us. When people say we only use 10% of our brains, they really mean only 10% at once. If we used all our brain at once we would be unable to think at all because thinking is a matter of firing one network rather than another network. So female pelvic structure is relatively poorly designed if it were designed to accommodate big brained humans. (As I say, ancients redefined the design spec to make this "ideal".)

On the other hand, the idea that flaws are a signal of design by an omnipotent, omniscient being is completely nonsensical, and I don't see that at all.

Here's the real argument that shows design is not the case. There's a virtual infinity of ways to design life, and the overwhelming majority of those ways do not involve common descent. In contrast, evolution requires common descent. Therefore, the discovery of common descent effectively rules out design after the origin of life.

Here's why. If I have two decks of cards, one is sorted by rank and suit, the other is shuffled. At random, I place a deck in front of you and you start to deal cards off the top. You get 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 of clubs. Is it likely that you are looking at the shuffled deck? No, it is overwhelmingly unlikely (311 million to one against) that you are working with the shuffled deck.

This is the analogy with evolution. There are many more ways God could have designed life on this planet, but only one way evolution could have done so. We've turned over a lot of cards, and they all show common descent. It is certainly possible that God used evolution to design life, but in the same way that it is possible you are looking at the shuffled deck in the card analogy. It's just highly improbable that of all the trillions or googols of ways of designing life, God would have chosen the one way the evolution needs to do it. No human designs use evolution apart from genetic algorithms. 99.9% of our designs have no inheritance whatsoever.

Aaron Snell said...

doctor(logic),

Thanks for the lengthy reply (where DO you find the time?), but I'm having trouble seeing how what you wrote addresses most of what I wrote. First, I don't think that you at all addressed the main point of my argument, which was: why, given Darwinian evolution, did big brains in humans develop at all, when statistically the infant mortality rate would put a serious damper on that trait being passed on to become the dominant trait of the species?

I agree that the argument from flawed design has more rhetorical value than anything else. But that's because religion evolved just as much as we ourselves did. In formulating a story of God, ancient folk had to account for our flaws (like unpleasant childbirth), so they wrote that into God's design specification.

I'm sorry, but you're going to have to show me how your second sentence follows from your first. How exactly is Gould's argument rhetorical because religion purportedly evolved? I don't see the connection here.

While the brain has redundancies, it's not big just so it can have redundancy. It's big in order to give it its processing power, and it is a necessity for the survival advantage that it gives us. When people say we only use 10% of our brains, they really mean only 10% at once. If we used all our brain at once we would be unable to think at all because thinking is a matter of firing one network rather than another network. So female pelvic structure is relatively poorly designed if it were designed to accommodate big brained humans.

I know you didn't do the reading I did, so my passing comment of "anomalies" was probably vague for you. It is actually not the case that the processing power had by average humans requires a big brain - the "anomalies" are the many documented instances of drastically reduced brain size in cognitively normally functioning people (Pasteur is one example; this man is another, more recent one). This was directly related to the whole point Dembski makes, and is the necessary background info to understand my comments (sorry for not making mention of it in the original post). On account of this, I'm probably not going to accept this line of argument you offered.

(As I say, ancients redefined the design spec to make this "ideal".)

On the other hand, the idea that flaws are a signal of design by an omnipotent, omniscient being is completely nonsensical, and I don't see that at all.


Besides clearly begging the question, this views the designer rather monoptically. The design argument has historically appropriated various very different kinds of design, and these suggest several different models of God as Designer, listed by Moreland as the following:

1. God as engineer (e.g., in the order, efficiency and complexity of the world)
2. God as speaker and author (e.g., in the information content in DNA)
3. God as playful artist (e.g., in the aesthetic aspects of the world)
4. God as mathematician (e.g., in the mathematical character of the world and the different laws that describe it, as well as teh usefulness of mathematics as means for discovering new laws describing reality)
5. God as provider (e.g., the beneficial aspects of reality, in the suitability of the senses and intellect for gaining knowledge of the world

Efficiency may or may not be as high on God's priority list in certain circumstances as you assume it should be, and another model for God as designer may be more applicable. There is certainly no reason to limit Him to just one.

Furthermore, the design argument posits God as not just the designer of individual kinds of organisms (i.e., species) but also of complex ecosystems. What may seem like a flaw from an individual species perspective may be an intentional check-and-balance in an overall ecosystem design. Even if this is not actually the case, the possibility precludes the idea that the design assertion in light of "flaws" is "completely nonsensical."

No human designs use evolution apart from genetic algorithms. 99.9% of our designs have no inheritance whatsoever.

You're whole preceding argument surrounding the decks of cards analogy (which you've used before) hinges on this, I think, so I'll want to take a closer look at it. In these types of discussions, precursors come in two types: physical and conceptual. A physical precursor to the bike in my garage would be the the two-wheel velocipede of the early 1800s (i.e., a form that must be developed in stepwise fashion from modified preexisting parts); a conceptual precursor would be a two-wheeled cart (i.e., a form that can be conceptually connected and blended together with another form into a single continuum, but the latter cannot arise from modifications to existing parts in the former). When you talk about "inheritance," to which of the two are you referring? I would very much question your 99.9% estimate. I see inherited design all over the place, but I want to make sure we're not talking past each other.

Doctor Logic said...

Aaron,

There may be outliers in brain size, but generally, brain size is correlated with higher intelligence.

Intelligence is worth the added risk of death during childbirth because it provides adaptability to change. Monkeys and crocodiles are far better adapted to their environments that we are. However, neither species is nearly as good at adapting to the unknown as we humans are. That's the advantage provided by genuine rational intelligence. We are adapted to adaptation. We can migrate to a new environment and adapt within a generation. Though we may be assisted by genetic variation, genetic variation is less significant a survival factor than in any other species. That means that it does not take us multiple generations to adapt to change.

You may have heard the argument that evolution is just as likely to produce fake rationality as real rationality if fake rationality adapts us better to our environment. Of course, this doesn't work because fake rationality doesn't adapt you to new environments.

So the survival advantage of this adaptability more than offsets (at least, so far) the risk of death during childbirth.

How exactly is Gould's argument rhetorical because religion purportedly evolved? I don't see the connection here.

I think your response illustrates my point. A good design can only be judged good if it meets design goals, and when it comes to God's goals you get into theology. Theologians argue (I expect the Bible says it explicitly) that God's goal was not to make childbirth easy. Therefore, excruciating pain during human childbirth is a feature and not a bug. See what I mean?

If humans could have been better off without an appendix, then the presence of an appendix is only bad design if you think a designer would have wanted us to be free of appendicitis. And I'm guessing most theologians will argue that this was not one of God's design goals. Rather, God wanted us to be frail with limited lifespans, so his design was perfect.

While you can accommodate design by changing the goalposts this way, I fail to see how such thinking will lead to "flaws" as proof of design.

Furthermore, the design argument posits God as not just the designer of individual kinds of organisms (i.e., species) but also of complex ecosystems.

God doesn't have to make ecosystems at all. God can add energy, raw materials, new designs etc from outside the system to keep it operating at the right level. He doesn't need to make ecosystems.

The space shuttle is not an ecosystem. It is a designed, artificial environment, and if we cease to supply it with what it needs, it dies. In contrast, it is evolution that "designs" ecosystems, not intelligences.

You have a very long way to go if you want to show that the highest form of intelligent design looks exactly like evolution.

You then go on to discuss conceptual inheritance. I really don't think that makes much sense for God. God, being omniscient, has no need of conceptual inheritance because he gets every generation of conception all at once. He doesn't even have to design in the human sense at all.

But suppose he did use conceptual inheritance. God knows exactly how each design will perform before he implements it. That means he can design the whole world before making any part of it. So you won't end up with evolution.

Most definitely, you don't get common descent. Hammers are not descended by sexual or asexual reproduction from ancient mallets. Even if the concept is recycled, there's no reason why we ought to have a physical chain of common descent from one invention to the next. No need for a Buick to be physically descended through reproduction from a Model T.

Indeed, that's a lot more effort and a lot less efficient. Imagine that we had to breed cars. Would it be better to try to breed a Humvee from a Jeep and a VW Beetle over millions of years? Or would it be better to just take the concepts from each and build the Hummer from scratch without breeding? Clearly, the latter is a better fashion of design in terms of time, efficiency and adverse side effects.

To sum up, you argued that human brains could have been much smaller, but I don't think the statistics show that. At least not in any line of evolution from our primate ancestors. With technology, we will be able to realize human intelligence in much smaller packages, but that is by defeating evolutionary mechanisms and employing human design.

You also argued that the "flaws" we see are necessary (and ideal) trade-offs for life in an ecosystem, and not the result of accidents of history and evolution. I see no evidence for your claim, and it makes no sense on the face of it because God didn't need to make ecosystems at all.

Finally, you argued that conceptual inheritance should be regarded as the same as physical, evolutionary inheritance. I responded by showing that a) God doesn't need conceptual inheritance, and b) conceptual inheritance eliminates the need for physical inheritance. Thus, in evolutionary biology, you need physical inheritance to do the work of design, whereas physical inheritance impedes conceptual design.

Aaron Snell said...

DL,

So the survival advantage of this adaptability more than offsets (at least, so far) the risk of death during childbirth.

Thanks, this answers the point of my post much more directly. This (and the previous paragraph) are more what I was looking for - an account from within the evloutionary paradigm for the problem I noted. For the purposes of this discussion, I'm not all that interested in getting into the validity of the evolutionary paradigm itself. I just want to test this point.

I originally wondered why, if as you argued, adaptability was an advantage for our ancestors on the evolutionary view, other species didn't also evolve in this way. Upon reflection I suppose you would say that our evolutionary ancestors were the only species poised to make these changes due to the accumulation of previous adaptations. Is this a fair guess?

I still have problems understanding how adaptability actually works as a evolutionary tradeoff for bigger heads/brains when (presumably) a sizeable percentage of those who inherited the trait would die (or their mothers would die) in childbirth. I say "preumably", though, because I suppose I'd need to have some empirical data in the form of numbers to properly assess the probability, and I don't have those at the moment.

I think your response illustrates my point. A good design can only be judged good if it meets design goals, and when it comes to God's goals you get into theology. Theologians argue (I expect the Bible says it explicitly) that God's goal was not to make childbirth easy. Therefore, excruciating pain during human childbirth is a feature and not a bug. See what I mean?

Well, I see what you mean in as far as, in theory, theological systems can account for supposed anomalies (nb, this is similar to theoretical science). But I still don't see how this makes Gould's argument rhetorical. What would make Gould's argument rhetorical would be, say, a use of powerful emotional or intuitional appeal that disguises poor logic. See what I mean?

While you can accommodate design by changing the goalposts this way, I fail to see how such thinking will lead to "flaws" as proof of design.

Well, I'm not arguing for "flaws" as proof of design, so you might have missed my point. Note the title of the post - "Bad Design in Nature - an argument against evolution". I'm simply arguing that, if it can be used as evidence agaist design, this "flaw" can also be used as evidence against Darwinian evolution. I'm making a negative argument, not a positive one.

God doesn't have to make ecosystems at all. God can add energy, raw materials, new designs etc from outside the system to keep it operating at the right level. He doesn't need to make ecosystems.

An artist doesn't need to use watercolors, or charcoal, either, which was the point of me broadening the scope of what we mean by "designer" beyond the engineer model.

You have a very long way to go if you want to show that the highest form of intelligent design looks exactly like evolution.

You're absolutely right. It's a good thing this post wasn't at all about that. So why bring it up?

I think you misunderstand the distinction between physical and conceptual precursors when applied analogously to non-living designed objects. Physical precursorship entails that latter forms can only arise by modifying existing parts. In biology, this would happen by reproduction. In non-living objects, by analogy, this happens when human builders modify the existing parts of an object to achieve a desired end.

I think you've run a little too far afield with this, though, and since my time is limited right now and I don't want to wander off into the tall grass here, I'll point you back to the main point of what I said. I see examples of inheritance all around me, all the time - obviously not by the same mechanism that organic life may use, but analogous in a design sense. To ask that non-living designed objects must reproduce in something like the process utilized by biological life seems a bit of a stretch. They don't say, "you don't have to reinvent the wheel" for nothing, so I'm going to reject your claim that 99.9% of our designs have no inheritance whatsoever. Of course the mechanism is going to be different, so it seems to me to be beside the point.

To sum up, you argued that human brains could have been much smaller, but I don't think the statistics show that.

Thanks for trying to intentionally address what I wrote by summing up. I appreciate that. Again, this is why I said I'd need to see some of those statistics, so you'll forgive me for withholding judgment and not taking your word for it here.

You also argued that the "flaws" we see are necessary (and ideal) trade-offs for life in an ecosystem, and not the result of accidents of history and evolution. I see no evidence for your claim, and it makes no sense on the face of it because God didn't need to make ecosystems at all.

Actually, I didn't argue that the "flaws" are necessary trade-offs, but that they may be trade-offs, and I mainly said it as a rational possibility to answer your charge of being "completely nonsensical." If I had said the latter rather than the former, I would have presented evidence and an argument, but that was not my point. Even if it is untrue (and I'm not going there right now), as long as it is logically possible, my overall assertion cannot be nonsensical.

Finally, you argued that conceptual inheritance should be regarded as the same as physical, evolutionary inheritance.

No, I didn't (I actually tried to argue that they should be regarded very differently), but I'll take the blame here - I probably was't clear enough. The misunderstanding here is your equation of physical with evolutionary - this is not the way I'm using this term. Go looks at my definitions again. The velocipede is a physical precursor to the modern bicycle, but the bicycle is not a physical precursor to the motorcycle - the latter is more than just a modification of the existing parts of the bicycle.

I've gotta go for now, but thanks for the contributions!

Nicholas Jenkins said...

Hey, what the heck, I'll throw my two (insignificant) cents in.

I've never been too sure about Evolution as a means of explaining where humans came from. Natural Selection makes sense as its own theory, but Evolution (strictly) has some issues. Humans just don't quite fit into the ecosystem very well.

My problem has always been that of labeling a divinity (a specific one no less) to the exact cause of... well, us.

This has, of course, always put me in the gray area of discussions. I don't really believe in one side or the other.

Doctor Logic said...

Hi Aaron,

I originally wondered why, if as you argued, adaptability was an advantage for our ancestors on the evolutionary view, other species didn't also evolve in this way. Upon reflection I suppose you would say that our evolutionary ancestors were the only species poised to make these changes due to the accumulation of previous adaptations. Is this a fair guess?

Yes, this is a good guess. I don't think the question is definitively answered, but there are a lot of good theories. One is that social interaction benefits from higher intelligence, and even more so when a species' primary competitor is itself.

Up until recently, monkeys were doing just as well as they ever had in their own niche. Of course, there are probably new monkey species that appeared in the last two million years with new adaptations to their environment. There are lots of ways to evolve without evolving towards higher intelligence.

Well, I see what you mean in as far as, in theory, theological systems can account for supposed anomalies (nb, this is similar to theoretical science).

No, it isn't because theology doesn't need to make any predictions. If God wanted us to evolve into whatever we discover ourselves to be, that's not an explanation. Science is about specific predictive models to account for things, not merely the possibility of accounting for them.

What would make Gould's argument rhetorical would be, say, a use of powerful emotional or intuitional appeal that disguises poor logic. See what I mean?

I think so. I think Gould's rhetorical argument cancels the kind my mother would make. Suppose we discover that, say, humans cannot drink blood without vomiting, and that this prevents us from dying from certain diseases or injuries. My mother would say "Isn't that amazing?! Isn't it so wonderful that everything is put together so well?!" As if to commend the designer on a very nifty design. On the other hand, when we find that males can die from breast cancer or that a significant percentage of people would die of appendicitis, the original rhetorical claim is not retracted.

So, I think that by itself, the flawed design argument is broken because it fails to define what good design is. When good design is hailed by theists, it generally favors the health and longevity of humans. That same definition of good design is being applied by Gould. Both are weak arguments unless you explicitly define what good design consists of, but Gould's argument effectively counters the design arguments of many layfolk. If theists counter that God did not intend humans to live forever or have pleasurable childbirth, then that deflates my mother's argument that certain human immune responses are good design. It means that either my mother is wrong, and God forgot to hose us in some way, or else it means that God intended for us to be just as flawed as we are, no matter how flawed we happen to be (which makes the whole exercise completely empty from an explanatory perspective).

(It is inane to say that "force X conspires to make the world as it is, no matter how it turns out to be." It's a non-explanation.)

I'm simply arguing that, if it can be used as evidence agaist design, this "flaw" can also be used as evidence against Darwinian evolution. I'm making a negative argument, not a positive one.

Sorry. I understand you now. I don't think it works, though. You are assuming that evolutionary design should result in perfection. However, it only has to result in a net benefit. The large brains lead to a survival advantage in spite of the risk of death at childbirth. On the other hand, there's no real explanation for our flaws in theism beyond non-predictive statements like "God wanted it that way".

Doctor Logic said...

Nicholas,

Natural Selection makes sense as its own theory, but Evolution (strictly) has some issues. Humans just don't quite fit into the ecosystem very well.

What do you mean by "don't quite fit into the ecosystem very well"?

Every successful species changes the ecosystem that preceded it. They each cause extinctions and create niches for new species, thereby creating new ecosystems.

The difference between humans and other successful species is that we can adapt much faster through the use of technology. The rest of the ecosystem cannot keep up.

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David Nilsen said...

Well, I see that the last (non-spam) comment was posted on February 15, so hopefully everyone is still reading.

Doctor Logic, you said three things in the last few comments that I feel deserve a brief response.

You said, "God doesn't have to make ecosystems at all. God can add energy, raw materials, new designs etc from outside the system to keep it operating at the right level."

I'm sure you know this already, but Ockham's Razor was originally developed (by a priest who was also a scientist...yes, this is possible!) to counter this kind of notion. In William of Ockham's day, people were literally postulating ideas like angels pushing the planets through space to explain their motion. But William, based on theological considerations, argued that God wouldn't create a universe where He needed to cry every time it was supposed to rain. God is certainly an efficient God, even if efficiency is not the ONLY criteria by which we ought to judge His design. In other words, ecosystems are precisely what we would expect to find if the God of the Bible did indeed create the universe.

You also said, "You also argued that the "flaws" we see are necessary (and ideal) trade-offs for life in an ecosystem, and not the result of accidents of history and evolution. I see no evidence for your claim..."

Actually, the human body is a marvelous example of this. Let's grant your assumption that bigger brain equals more intelligence. Why wouldn't God give us bigger brains? Well, for a biped of a certain size, increased brain function would mean decreased functioning elsewhere (eyesight, hearing, motor skills, etc.). So, it's a trade-off.

Now, you might still be wondering why God couldn't just make us all like Superman. But one thing that hasn't been brought up in this entire discussion is the Christian emphasis on the Fall and sin. Those theologians that you're thinking of, who argued that God "wanted" childbirth to be painful, are more likely arguing that childbirth became painful as a result of sin entering the world (this is from Genesis 3). So, in a very real sense, the Christian story includes an aspect of progression toward a higher state, different but too far from evolution. You have to remember that just because Christians argue for design, we're not arguing that everything is perfect.

Lastly, you said, "(It is inane to say that "force X conspires to make the world as it is, no matter how it turns out to be." It's a non-explanation.)"

Very true. But Darwinian evolution is quickly becoming (and in many respects already is) your "force X." The recent responses to design theory are a case in point. Many scientists observed evidence that lead them to reject Darwinism, because they felt it could not account for this evidence. Why? Because Darwinism ought not have the signs of design (since it's the very antithesis of design). But Darwinism is now (supposedly) able to account for something that it shouldn't have been able to account for...by calling it an illusion.

Forgive us detractors for not being able to see the unshakable logic in that response. :)

One other thing. You said, "You may have heard the argument that evolution is just as likely to produce fake rationality as real rationality if fake rationality adapts us better to our environment. Of course, this doesn't work because fake rationality doesn't adapt you to new environments."

Here's the rub. Many evolutionary biologists are now arguing that belief in God was produced in us by evolution (in response to the fact that belief in God is basically universal to humans). But if naturalism is correct, then we have an example of a major, worldview-shaping, action-orienting belief that was created in us by evolution for the purpose of our survival (in other words, it apparently helped us quite well in adapting to new environments), that is also false. In my opinion, this revives the argument that the conjunction of evolution and naturalism is just as likely to produce false beliefs as true ones.

Doctor Logic said...

Hi David,

I don't see any predictions here.

You're saying that theology predicts humans will be as intelligent as they are, however intelligent we happen to find them. If humans had been twice as smart and half as irrational, you could say the exact same thing.

Theology does NOT predict ecosystems. For an infinitely powerful being, there's no such thing as efficiency. It takes negligible effort to perform any task. You only need efficiency when you have limited resources and you have conservation laws that impose such a limitation.

You also say, in effect, that God is as efficient in his implementation of nature as we happen to find nature to be. That's not a prediction. It's a non-prediction. Why shouldn't life be twice as efficient? Half as efficient? Your claim is just a restatement of whatever you happen to observe.

We don't see a priori predictions coming out of theological seminaries. For that matter, we don't even see true predictions coming out of DI.

Beyond this, the notion of efficiency assumes a purpose. What is that purpose? Because surely we ought to be able to make real predictions based on purpose and the limitations of the creator/creation.

Yet the only predictions we ever see are based on known natural laws. We scientifically find laws A, B and C, then predict that D will be the case.

While you might find some ad hoc, post hoc theological justification A, B and C, you only theologically predict D on the basis of A, B and C which were determined scientifically.

Moreover, Christians routinely disclaim the mere possibility of predicting God. And it's clear why such disclaimers are made. If comprehensible purpose and limitations are assumed, we easily make predictions, and those predictions invariably turn out to be false. It has happened numerous times by fringe Christian sects (e.g., predicting the end of the world, deaths on the supreme court, and what not). So mainstream Christian theologians disclaim predictability altogether.

Now, I'm not your average naturalist. By my definition, God is natural if God is predictable in the same way that a person is predictable. So I'm not saying a priori that God is impossible. I can easily be convinced that God exists if evidence is produced. Alas, Christian conceptions of God are a delusion. They look like explanations when they're not. They disclaim the possibility of me making a rational inference.

The Fall is a universal excuse. It's an easy way to counteract God's perfection so that the theology is predictionless.

Many scientists observed evidence that lead them to reject Darwinism, because they felt it could not account for this evidence.

I'm sorry, but this is a gross distortion. A tiny handful of scientists in biology (cranks to a man), reject evolutionary biology. Most of the people on DI's list are physicians or electrical engineers and such, and there's very few of them too.

Because Darwinism ought not have the signs of design (since it's the very antithesis of design).

This is false. Evolution is a form of design. In human design, we simulate designs, select the ones that will work, then we implement them. In evolution, designs are implemented, tested (instead of simulated) and then selected. It's less efficient than the simulation-based design used by humans, but just as functional.

Please don't take this personally, but I've spent the last 3.5 years intensely blogging/debating with Christians and ID advocates. In the last couple of months, I realized that ID advocates and evolution deniers simply don't know or don't understand the science. At best, they possess a simplistic, one-dimensional, single-environment understanding of mutation and natural selection. Unfortunately, this doesn't stop deniers from pontificating and propagating outlandish conspiracy theories about the scientific community.

Many evolutionary biologists are now arguing that belief in God was produced in us by evolution (in response to the fact that belief in God is basically universal to humans). But if naturalism is correct, then we have an example of a major, worldview-shaping, action-orienting belief that was created in us by evolution for the purpose of our survival (in other words, it apparently helped us quite well in adapting to new environments), that is also false.

Of course, we are not totally rational. Everyone knows that humans are only partially rational, and often act and think illogically. However, the practice and discipline of logic amplify our rational abilities. This is plain to people of all philosophical persuasions. So evolution need only make us rational enough for this kind of amplification. The imperfections in our rationality are not contradictions.

David Cox said...

Dr. Logic
I recently stumbled onto this blog and part of your last response caught my attention.

Doctor logic wrote:
So I'm not saying a priori that God is impossible. I can easily be convinced that God exists if evidence is produced. Alas, Christian conceptions of God are a delusion. They look like explanations when they're not. They disclaim the possibility of me making a rational inference.

Rational inference is very important for one to have a sound understanding of who God is. Faith and reason must work to gether if one is to have a balanced understanding of who we are, how we got here and where we are going.

When we look at our universe, we see things in motion. We also know that anything that is in motion must have been put in motion by another. What was the first mover? All effects have a cause. What was the first cause? If you are looking for good logical evidence for the existence of God, look no further than the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas. http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1002.htm#article1

David N said...

Doctor Logic,

I don't think I said anything about predictions, so I'm not sure what you're trying to argue against in your first few paragraphs.

My point was that William of Ockham developed a principle that science still uses today, but he did so because of theological concerns. The order is reversed from what you're saying. He didn't come up with a good scientific axiom, and then retrospectively say "and of course my theology also accommodates this axiom very well, because I can accommodate it to anything!"

Of course, the main point I wanted to address was your assertion that ecosystems don't make sense when God can just push everything around with his finger (in your words, add energy). This is not a scientific or even philosophical claim on your part, but a theological one. In effect, you said: God is like x. x would do y. Therefore, God would do y. What I'm saying is that there are theological reasons to deny either your interpretation of God (as being like x) or your assumption that x would do y. These reasons are shown quite clearly in the example of Ockham's Razor.

Just as a side point, by the way, all of your comments about theology not being able to predict things and science being able to predict things seems to miss the point entirely. I have no problem relegating all the work of "predicting natural phenomena" to science, since modern science was essentially founded by Christians operating within a Christian worldview. I reject any dichotomy between science and theology, such that I have to choose either one or the other to explain all of reality.

As another side point, Christian theology has, in a sense, "predicted" that the universe had a beginning for at least the last 4000 years. The Big Bang is striking scientific confirmation of that prediction. I know this isn't exactly what you mean, but it's close enough to be relavent to the discussion. (NOTE: I'm not arguing that the big bang actually proves that the universe began to exist at one point [as opposed to continual expansion and collapse], but it makes that belief highly plausible, especially when added to a "cumulative case" argument that includes other plausible theological and philosophical concerns).

You said: "In the last couple of months, I realized that ID advocates and evolution deniers simply don't know or don't understand the science."

Here's the thing. I don't understand the science well enough to get into the dirty details, and I imagine most bloggers don't either (sadly, this is the one big drawback of the new media age). However, I know enough actual, practicing scientists who reject Darwinism (and here we have to be careful to note that they don't simply flush every word he said, they merely reject some of his conclusions, and those of subsequent Darwinians who take his findings too far) and support ID, that I find it highly implausible that everyone who criticizes the current scientific status quo and is somewhat convinced by ID "just doesn't get it." In order for that kind of argument to hold, you have to start saying that intelligent people with PhDs in Biology, Chemistry and Physics are either just lying, or they're self-deceived, or all sorts of other implausible ad hominems.

You said: "Of course, we are not totally rational. Everyone knows that humans are only partially rational, and often act and think illogically."

Ok, but what I want to know is why I should think that any belief I currently hold is true, given naturalism and atheism. You said that it isn't true that evolution would produce a fake rationality because that won't help us to adapt to a new environment. But now you seem to saying something different, that evolution actually DID take the whole human race through a period of fake rationality, and is slowly bringing us toward greater and greater truth, or better and better rationality. But the question remains, if belief in God and the entire web of beliefs that follows from it (indeed, the entire theistic view of reality) is not only false but irrational (as many atheist pundits are contending today), AND we are meant to believe that said beliefs/view of reality were selected by evolution because it was best for our survival, why on earth should I believe that the belief in the non-existence of God and the whole naturalist view of reality is any less a selection of evolution somehow meant for my survival? Why should I think it any more true? Appeals to reason won't do, because Christian theists did and still do appeal to reason to demonstrate their beliefs.

Aaron Snell said...

David and David,

Thanks for coming by and taking the time to post comments! Sorry I can't participate in the conversation right now due to time constraints, but feel free to continue to post here.

(David Cox: are you still teaching at Sequoia?)

David Cox said...

Aaron
I am still at Sequoia. I stumbled onto your blog the other day. I look forward to your schedule freeing up to the point of being able to enter the "fray" once again. I just entered the blogosphere myself. It is a wonderful platform.
God bless you in your studies as well as family and teaching responsibilities (not necessarily in that order.)