Thursday, August 21, 2008

lame ID stuff

Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute (intelligent design collective) wrote this article in response to how some new evidence suggests that the prevailing idea as to what Endogenous Retroviruses are still around for.

Endogenous Retroviruses are derived from ancient infections of germ cells in humans and animals such that their proviruses are passed on to the next generation and now remain in the genome. It is also widely assumed that they place a role in driving the evolution of their host. So, it could already be said that they have a ‘function’. According to Luskin:

“ID predicts function because the basis for ID’s predictions is observations of how intelligent agents design things, and intelligent agents tend to design objects that perform some kind of function.”

In response to this I’ll simply quote David Sloan Wilson in his book ‘Darwin’s Cathedral’:

“Thinking about an object or an organism as if it has a purpose can be called functionalist thinking. Functionalist thinking can be highly effective when applied to things that actually have a purpose, but in other contexts it can be misleading. Wondering about the purpose of your neighbor’s behavior can help you discern his intentions, but wondering about the purpose of the moon leads only to a folk tale.”

To identify function in a sense that something functions for the sake of something else one must know it was created or altered by that which it is functioning for. This thing is arranged top-down in order to function to the extent it was intended to.

When considering ourselves intelligent agents that have designed things to perform some kind of a function it seems like it is easy for some to superimpose this on everything they see. The ID people do this to uphold their belief in a god who created everything. They claim that their central prediction is that everything has a function. However, every time something that seemed functionless at first turns out to have some sort of a function they wish to claim this as evidence to their idea. In this article, Luskin focuses on the possibly newly found function for ERVs which have been considered ‘junk’ functionless DNA. What Luskin mentions then ditches immediately is that there is still the prevailing hypothesis that”if we find the same ERV’s in the same genetic loci in different species of primates, Theobald concludes they document common ancestry.”

There are thousands of adaptations which proved useful over time and thus survived natural selection. They were not created, they developed. These things that developed generally are considered the ‘processes of nature conflicting with design’. The example commonly used is a truck with rust on it – we designed the truck but the rust is of a natural process. However, one could assert that the function of the rust is to destroy the truck to make more room for people. As it can be understood, we could superimpose function on both the natural stuff and the stuff that has been deemed designed. So where does the distinction lie?

The most used (and now used up) idea is complex specified information (CSI). The basic idea is that if anything with a less than 1 in 10150 chance of occurring naturally. However, this number was assigned almost arbitrarily by William Dembski (ID advocate). The idea has been rejected by the scientific and mathematical community. Although Dembski is very well informed and smart, his belief in a designer (god) leads him to make very simple logical mistakes and the overuse of rhetoric. So, I guess whether he truly is informed or smart is up to you.

Furthermore, assuming the CSI were true, it must be admitted that the designer must be more complex than its design, because within the designer must exist the capacity to think about the design as well as be complex enough to create it, or create the means to create it. Then this designer, being as complex as it is must have had its own designer which was even more complex…….ad infinitum.

I’m getting too far into ID and I need to cut this off now. Basically, ID people are creationists in a new suit who are using rhetoric and weak philosophy that does not stand up even to simple logic to push their religious beliefs into the education system under the guise of science.




Steve said...

This is an older post but I don't think you mind about that kind of thing.

I have some confusion about this sentence: "Although Dembski is very well informed and smart, his belief in a designer (god) leads him to make very simple logical mistakes and the overuse of rhetoric. So, I guess whether he truly is informed or smart is up to you."

You can mean a few things here (& I'll only address two), so I'll ask which you meant. If I were to take this very basically, it would appear as if you were saying that as a direct effect ("because") of holding a belief in a god makes one more apt to make logical mistakes & much more loquacious. The second sentence seems to imply that because of these faults (&, following it out, because of his religion) Dembski is not truly "informed. . . or smart". If this is what you are saying, I think you are simply wrong. To characterize all those with a god belief with this kind of talk could, as well, be construed- & perhaps fairly so- as bigotry.

However, I'm not sure you mean that, as it's a rather extreme statement. One alternative to the above meaning is that you meant that Dembski makes illogical claims & substitutes rhetoric for argument in defense of his belief, or because he feels his belief threatened. This kind of dishonesty then makes you question whether he is all he's said to be. I do not know if I would agree with the psychological aspects of this claim, but it would not be plagued with the problems I see in the above interpretation.

Steve said...

You also bring up creationism & intelligent design (& their relation, including re: their implementation in public schools), which I will write another comment on sometime. It's an interesting topic.

David Plumb said...

Although Dembski is very well informed and smart, his belief in a designer (god) leads him to make very simple logical mistakes and the overuse of rhetoric. So, I guess whether he truly is informed or smart is up to you."

Steve.... wow

You definitely assumed far too much and took that line way too far.

Here's what I meant by that,

This is no logical reason to believe in a god, so maintaining belief in a god is illogical. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to say that Dembski may make mistakes that stem from this break in logic.

Now, that statement may seem, at first, insulting to someone who believes in a god, but I argue that it is not. By logic, I mean pure, armchair, philosophical type logic. I am by no means advocating that a belief in god is necessarily irrational or unintelligent or anything of the like. What I am saying is that one cannot arrive at a belief in god by logic alone – it is required to take that extra step of faith, to accept the idea as true, or however one wants to frame it. It is a decision who’s final step is not supported by logic. And in some religions, to abandon that faith is one of the worst things you can do – so one must continue to, and must face the fact, that their belief is illogical and that they hold that belief for other reasons other than a philosophical proof. (If anyone disagrees with this and actually has a pure logic proof of the existence of god that is undefeated, I would be very interested in seeing it).

So, when Dembski, like other ID advocates, create logical and mathematical structures in an attempt to confirm that which that believe – the error is inherent. This is of course my own conclusion about why there are simplistic holes in Dembski’s work, and is a conclusion specific to Dembski, and his colleagues who do the same sort of thing (such as Behe). Just as much, the use of the word ‘logic’ in saying “his belief in a designer (god) leads him to make very simple logical mistakes” is very specific as well – as it pertains to his ‘logical/mathematical proofs.’

So you were definitely getting at what I was trying to say when you mentioned that this is a psychological assumption – because it is. I was ending this post with a brief comment on Dembksi, and only Dembski.

--As I side note I would like to say that since that post – actually within the past month or so – Dembski has recanted about 50% of his pro-ID arguments.* I was shocked, but very impressed and must say that I give him respect for that. As a skeptic, I believe very much so in admitting your are wrong in order to be more accurate in the future – and I find this to be a positive quality in anyone who exerts it. Although he is continuing to blaze a trail of cheap rhetoric and is continuing to skew research in his favor to unknowing audiences – I certainly give him the respect he deserves for withdrawing his arguments which were almost instantly shown to be false.

*The arguments I am talking about are, and stem from, his list of criteria that, if satisfied, are evidence of design – and thus a designer. He may as well take 1 or 2 of his biggest books out of print because of this – because this is all they were about (especially ‘no free lunch’).

Steve said...

Your clarification is understandable & welcome.

If you mean "this" as in the CSI falsity, I would agree with you, as that does not seem like a substantive reason to maintain belief in a God. However, we might disagree at one point here, but then again we might not. I think there is possibly logical argument for the existence of a god which is logically valid, this being Alvin Plantinga's rephrasing of the ontological argument in modal logic. However, an argument being valid does not mean the conclusion of that argument has extension. That is, as I'm sure you're aware, a logical argument being valid does not mean that its conclusion has a correlate in reality. It is reasonable ("rational") without invalidating evidence to have some amount of belief that the conclusion might be represented in reality, I think. That is, if the argument is valid, to accept or voice support for the conclusion is a rational act. If this step is what you're calling illogical, then I would make a slight comment- a step such as this appears to beon the a-logical of illogic.
Sorry for the somewhat poor source (this section has the argument right, but it's not especially well-written), but SEP didn't reference this specific form of the argument & I thought you'd be interested in the small discussion of some objections to it. It gives you a few names to look into. The problem- if there is one, of course- does not appear to be with the logical structure of the argument, but with a certain premise Plantinga uses.

David Plumb said...

However, as all ontological arguments do - his falls apart at the premise.

His argument has been defeated for a long time.



Steve said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve said...

I had some problems getting across what I think I want to. Second try!

I do not think it would be right to say that the premise of the modal form of the ontological argument suffers from the same problems as that of the ontological argument when cast in other logic systems. This is for the simple reason that it is in another logic system which is quite different & quite specialized. There is difference enough that the objection must be different.

What is important (& more interesting) to me is not this. I can accept that the argument founds religious belief as a rational process. What seems most important to me is that if I accept this, the argument does not speak on whether or not that belief is justified. The argument cannot prove the existence of God, nor can any logical argument; a valid expression of logic does not necessarily reflect reality & certainly does not create it. Furthermore, I do not think that religious belief can be justified at all. It seems to me to be a conclusion for which no proper proof or evidence can now be provided.

I think atheism (as in making the statement that "God does not exist," or something equatable) is also not a justifiable position. One cannot, so it seems, possess certain knowledge regarding this. Logic does not say that what we have no evidence for we must declare to be non-existent. Instead, what we have no evidence for remains simply unknown, unless negative evidence is supplied (which, in this case, I do not think has been done to even near a sufficient extent). One could perhaps legitimately qualify an agnostic position towards either theism or atheism. This is the kind of atheism many atheists now support & the kind of theism that many theists now support.

Perhaps I place a high degree of value on certainty here. This seems like a rather important question, & as such I think that to commit to either of these conclusions is not right. It can be done with intellectual honesty, but I do not think it is the most correct position to take.

David Plumb said...

atheism is simply not believing in a god - not the belief that there is no god. but the sort of thing you're talking about (believing that there is not a god) is something that I agree with completely. It takes just as much of a leap to say 'god exists' as it does to say 'god does not exist.' However, not believing in a god leads one to live their life as if a god does not exist, therefore they live their life as if they believe a god does not exist. So, implicitly an atheist believes god(s) does(not) exist - however, if the proper evidence is provided I find it likely that most atheists would be honest about it and admit there is a god. Explicitly it seems a lot of atheists take the position of nonbelief with the qualification: 'pending further evidence.'

I don't have any empirical evidence of this - and I don't think you do either - but my guess would be that most atheists aren't the kind you're talking about, and more the kind that don't believe in a god rather than the kind who outright believe there is no god.

Steve said...

I don't believe I said that most atheists thought the way I criticized; in fact, I believe I said pretty much the exact opposite. See: "One could perhaps legitimately qualify an agnostic position towards either theism or atheism. This is the kind of atheism many atheists now support & the kind of theism that many theists now support." I'm not criticizing atheism at large here, just one rather assertive manifestation.

This kind of atheism & theism- that is, a qualified agnostic- is something I've always found interesting. I'm not entirely sure, outside of mere gutwork, that people base their inclination on. Many speak about probability, from atheists (Dawkins) to theists (Swinburne), but it seems rather obvious that there is no real scaled probability regarding a thing's existence at a point in time. It seems to me that existence poses a real dichotomy: 100% or 0%, existence or non-existence. Also, I've seen no argument on either side which convincingly demonstrates how it increases the probability for one side & by exactly how much it does. Of course, most do not say something like "I believe the probability for a god's existence is 30%", but I think the majority who do hold this kind of atheism or theism think that their position (& I know Dawkins & Swinburne have both said this) more likely than not. I'm not sure how one would address this but it has always seemed interesting to me.

David Plumb said...

My bad, sometimes I read this stuff too fast - I've been busy with holiday stuff this week - sorry.

I know what you mean - and whenever I hear people say '30% chance of existing' type stuff, I take it as they are trying to gauge their gut feeling - the very thing that inclines them to their position. I agree that it seems to be a gut feeling sort of reaction.

I also agree that nothing really seems to sway the probability one way or the other - especially if you get into the nitty gritty of it. For example: Pascal's wager - to me this is a ridiculous way to think about a god existing.

I suppose that everything, no matter what, has some probability of existing if you begin with an assumption that anything is possible - even if its in some strange parallel universe with different laws and constants of physics.

However, since we don't know whether or not these sort of things exist we can never really assign probabilities to their chance of existence.

Also, with the agnostic thing - I have come to think that agnostic is not a very good identifier, or even a very useful concept. This is because a person can not simultaneously hold the positions:

1.) I'm unsure if a god exists


2.) I believe a god exists

but, a person could simultaneously hold the positions:

1.) I'm unsure if a god exists


3.) I do not believe a god exists

Ultimately, it may be possible to conclude that #1 and #3 and equivocal.

This is going back to what you said: 100% or 0%, existence or non-existence.

So, the problem with my idea is if there is a way to answer 'yes' to the following question: Can someone believe a god exists while simultaneously being unsure that that god exists?


Steve said...

Since belief is often not a rational process, I think one could believe a god exists while having a great deal of reservations. That is, one could (I imagine) claim that you are unsure a god exists, but believe such a being does.

Also, not having certain knowledge (being "unsure") does not preclude belief. I'm not even sure that possessing certain knowledge is even possible, to speak more broadly. Considering this, I personally don't see a necessary contradiction there.