Tuesday, November 25, 2008

An Atheist Who Supports Intelligent Design?

Yep. His name is Bradley Monton, and he is a professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado. He's definitely a clear thinker (and an honest one at that) and so his arguments, in my opinion, are the most worthy of consideration of any other ID proponent I have yet come across. What follows is a commentary on some of his ideas.

From his paper on Judge Jones' decision:

1. He argues that science could, at least in principle, detect the existence of God. He imagines that scientists discover a pulsar which communicates with them in morse code, and answers questions which they had only thought to themselves, and provides the human race with information that only God (or a super advanced alien race) would have known.

My response: I am in full agreement. We could discover scientific evidence for God. But, as far as I have seen, the evidence for God which philosophers and IDers have presented is just not adequate for the claim being made.

2. He argues that the debate shouldn't center around whether ID is science, but only whether it is true.

My response: This is a fair point, but I would respond that

1) ID has no place in science class because it has not passed the scientific rigor that other ideas, such as Cell Theory, Atomic Theory, etc. have. In every case I can think of, an idea has won over a signifigant percentage of experts before it hits the classroom. Why should the standard be lowered for ID? If it is true, why does it not win over more adherents in the realm of biology? Monton brings up the so called "fine tuning" of the physical constants of the universe and how this is something being discussed by scientists. In this case I would agree that ID should be discussed since a good many scientists seriously consider this to be, at very minimum, a plausible answer (if not the best answer). On the other hand, I am not sure when the discussion of something like this would ever come up in a high school class.

2) Since Evolution concerns the history of life, it follows that what we can infer about its history should be from processes which we can observe (or prove possible) in the present day. If we start calling on the unobserved (namely aliens and/or God) then we stop doing science: We would have reached a point where anything goes. Note that this assumption is taken so that one can find out what is true, it is not an assumption that would hinder discover of truth, as methodological naturalism does. Intelligent Design could be perfectly compatible with this principle, but it simply needs to do demonstrate one or more of the following:
a. Give an observed example of aliens/God/Etc. designing something in the present day.
b. Give some examples of things which could never, even in principle, be explained by Evolution but which are expected (perhaps exclusively) from ID. Irreducible complexity won't work here: We know that evolution can produce IC. Neither will 'Complex Specified Information': We know that evolution can produce this too.

Finally, I disagree with Monton's thought that ID actually has some good supporting arguments. A page about his new book lists four arguments for ID which he finds "somewhat plausible":

1. The fine tuning of the physical constants.
I'll admit that this is an argument I find to be the most persuasive of all the arguments for God and/or a designer which I have heard. However, it still rests on some shaky assumptions which I feel undermine it as a successful argument for God. I also think that, even if only one kind of life is possible, and even if there are no other life friendly combinations of the values of these physical constants, God (or some other type of designer) still falls short of having as much explanatory power as Lee Smolin's theory of 'Cosmological Natural Selection'.

2. The Universe had a beginning.

I have no problem with this being discussed in a classroom. Nor would I have a problem with students being introduced to different explanations for the origin of the universe: Some think that God started it all, others think our universe is a product of quantum processes, others believe that the beginning wasn't really THE beginning (as they believe in one of the cyclic models of the universe), etc. etc.

3. The improbability of life coming from non-life

I emailed Monton about this, and he agreed with me that we do not really know what the odds of life originating are. In this case, I think students should simply be given a brief overview of what scientists think about the origin of life and nothing more. Sure, the first life may have been the product of some type of design, but only a handful of scientists espouse this view, and, from what we actually do know about the origin of life, it appears just as one would expect it to if it happened naturally.

4. An argument that we are living in a computer simulation

No comment. lol.

19 comments:

island said...

I don't really disagree with the main thrust of your post, but I would say that your argument, and/or Stenger's arguments against fine-tuing is/are very weak.

In the first place, I am proposing that the "constants" of the universe were determined at random.

This only becomes a consideration if we bail-out on the causality-responsible first principles that physicists expect will explain the otherwise completely unexpected configuration that is observed.

We do have a most natural expectation that isn't observed, in other words, so randomness isn't a factor until we give up on traditional physics:

http://arxiv.org/abs/hep-th/0512148

The biocentric orientation that is observed causes a number of highly reputable agnostic and strong atheist physicists to say stuff like, "it looks like a fix", and, "the appearance of design is undeniable", so if I were an IDist I'd laugh in the face of anybody that proposes that "randomness" is more plausible than exactly what it looks like.

By far the strongest argument is the one that we expect but don't have that resolves the problem from first principles.

SirMoogie said...

You said:

"I am in full agreement. We could discover scientific evidence for God. But, as far as I have seen, the evidence for God which philosophers and IDers have presented is just not adequate for the claim being made."

I suppose this hinges on what one means by "God". If one takes that standard definition of a non-physical, intelligent being that created* time and space, then it seems impossible to actually determine whether the pulsar is being manipulated by a timeless, nonphysical being, or a physical being that exists in time that is employing some sophisticated technology. It also seem unintuitive to choose God, as how does a nonphysical being interact with physical things? How does a timeless being perform durative actions?

You also said:

"I'll admit that this is an argument I find to be the most persuasive of all the arguments for God and/or a designer which I have heard."

I think Kevin tackled this well**. Basically, the power of this argument goes away once you start questioning the "universe" of the creator. If that universe is subject to the same cosmological constraints ours is, then it is a physical universe. If it doesn't, then there are other universes that can support intelligent life, without our "fine-tuning".

** - "God Would Be Dead, if He Existed in the First Place (Part III)", http://intelligentuniverse.blogspot.com/

I think one possible response is that God doesn't exist in a universe, but is rather everything outside of our own. This would seem abandon the anthropomorphism of God, in favor of some "magic stuff" that sustains our universe, but is still intelligent***.

*** - That timeless sort of intelligence... you know the kind that can perform the durative act of thinking without time. =D

island said...

I think that it's a lot easier to simply point out that we have precedence for natural causes, but we have none for supernatural causes, so they aren't a factor until and unless...

Every effect that we know the cause for is natural, so there is no reason to break this continuity just because the physics indicates that we might possibly not be here by accident and we don't know what the mechanism is that makes it that way.

That's where the plausibility factor takes over, as AIGBusted pointed out, the distance that has to be overcome to make a sci-fi-like ID realistically plausible makes the idea very weak science from the standpoint of empirical support and feasible practicality.

That would require one seriously advanced civilization, and we have zero evidence for them, so until that happens, it's just another Star Trek episode, but it is not something that scientists should take seriously at this time, and certainly not the school system!

AIGBusted said...

Hi Island,

Proposing that the values of the Universe's constants were determined at "random" is something that most physicists think is true (My page references Brian Greene). What I mean is that the values fluctuated rapidly after the big bang before becoming what they are today.

When I say "random", I don't mean truly random, I mean apparently random, just as the toss of a coin is random.

My point on that page was that many different combinations of values lead to an apparently life friendly universe, and so, even if the constants were determined at "random" we would still have a good chance of living in a life friendly universe.

Steven Carr said...

SO Bradley Monton did not put forward the idea that any species of animal had been intelligently designed?

Steven Carr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AIGBusted said...

Hi Steven,

No, he doesn't seem to think there is a strong case for intelligent design in biology.

island said...

My point on that page was that many different combinations of values lead to an apparently life friendly universe

Really?... then your point is no better than bogus hypothetical speculation, without a complete theory to justify it.

AIGBusted said...

Island, stop being a dumbass. You haven't even read anything about my explanations for the anthropic coincidences.

First, you attribute my answer to the fine tuning argument as just being "randomness". It is not.

Then you accuse me of just speculating, when in fact there are peer reviewed papers which support the FACT that you can get life friendly universes when several constants are varied simultaneously.

Chris said...

An Agenda?? Recently I was blessed with the opportunity to see Expelled by Mr. Ben Stein. I loved it!! I cannot imagine that it would be a best seller on Richard Dawkins or Paul Meyers list. Yet in this movie it exposes the real agenda that the evolutionist have. I have to wonder why is it that they will not even begin to allow Intelligent Design to be taught in schools? I am a youth minister and I have worked with kids extensively for several years now, and let me tell you these kids are intelligent (this due to random chance and dumb luck of course). Yet I wonder why both evidences are presented and let the student decide where the evidence leads them.
The theory of evolution is one that is built on sinking sand! First of all you have people like Stanley Miller who could not produce life in a test tube, or men like Haeckal who lied about his "embryos". Yet these 2 are still in science books today, now the one man failed and the other lied and yet they are still deemed credible??? Or what about the Nebraska man which turned out to be a pigs tooth and something like 50 scientist got their P.H.D's from this. What does that say about their degrees? They are as good as a kleenex on a cold day!!
Yet with all of this evidence against evolution they still say that creation is not science. Let me ask you then what defines science? It certainly cannot be evidence because there is none for evolution. It has to be opinion. Be careful because behind every opinion there is lurking an agenda somewhere in the midst.

Let God be true though every man a liar
Romans 3:4

island said...

I can assure you that it isn't me who is the dumbass.

You referred this link:
http://www.godriddance.com/Anthropic_Coincidences_Cosmic_Version.php

Which you seem to think proves that the creationists argument "rests on some shaky assumptions".

Now, the word "Spontaneous" in "Spontaneous Symmetry Breaking" implies an element of randomness.

I am proposing that the "constants" of the universe were determined at random.

Prove it, because that isn't what it looks like, so fantastic claims require fantastic proof.

And now you say:
Then you accuse me of just speculating, when in fact there are peer reviewed papers which support the FACT that you can get life friendly universes when several constants are varied simultaneously.

LOL... *can* doesn't mean that it's true, and it is also a fact that these papers are purely speculative without a final theory to validate them, so you are pitting this bogus theoretical hype against the implications of the observed universe and calling that an answer to creationists.

BOOOOOOOOOOOOSHIT!

;)

Robert Morane said...

"the FACT that you can get life friendly universes when several constants are varied simultaneously."

You are making the same mistaken assumption than god believers, that is you're assuming somehow that life is special, and so something had to be done to the universe in order to bring forth life.

But as an atheist, it is an illogical position. For an atheist, the only logical position is that life is not special, that it's an accident, and therefore no fine-tuning was necessary. Just like you and I and everyone else are accidents and nothing forced our parents to meet, to fall in love and to want to have kids. We are all the result of a chance encounter between two people.

The same applies to the Universe: if there's going to be a universe, it's going to have to have paramaters, and those parameters are going to have to produce something. Why not life? What is so special about life that you want it to be the result of non random processes?

The problem with the fine-tuning argument is the hidden assumption that life is special, and so it is not likely to be random. The question is why not? The Christian will respond "because life was created by god". But then, he is reasoning in circle:

- Hidden assumption 1: Life is special;

- Hidden assumption 2: Because it was wanted by god;

- Therefore something (god) had to fine-tune the Universe to allow for life;

- Therefore god exists.

Now we have come full circle: god created life therefore life was created by god!

I hope you all can see more clearly now the fallacy of the fine-tuning argument.

To atheists: always remember this - we and god believers do not start with the same premises. So look for the premises (particularly the hidden ones) and you'll destroy the argument before it's even started.

island said...

But as an atheist, it is an illogical position. For an atheist, the only logical position is that life is not special

No, that's not necessarily the only logical position for an atheist to take, you narrow minded dink, and it certainly isn't what the evidence appears to indicate, you ideologically warped fool.

Hidden assumption 1: Life is special;

No, the non-evidenced assumption is that it isn't, since the evidence indicates that it is.

Do you know for a fact that this empirically evidenced good reason for us to be here, is wrong?

http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2004/09/30/2003204990

You think like a politician.

AIGBusted said...

OMG island. You've just misunderstood Rob as well. What he is saying is that there is no particular reason for life to be considered "special" in the sense of having some intrinsic value. Let me give an example: Let's say I were to prove that our universe was fine tuned for black holes. Would anyone get excited and say it was the will of God? No, because no one considers black holes to be anything special. Rob is saying that life is like that. It might be improbable, but it shouldn't be considered something that the universe was "aiming for".

island said...

OMG Busted, you haven't understood a single word that I've said, because the biocentrically pointed nature of the anthropic physics DOES NOT indicate that there is "no particular reason for life to be considered "special" in the sense of having some intrinsic value" and duh.

The strong atheist physicist, and "father of string theory", Lenny Susskind DOES NOT tell us that "we will be hard-pressed to answer the IDists" if his theoretically projected "Landscape" of possible universes turns out to be the bogus hype of over-extended string theorists, because there is "NO particular reason for life to be considered "special" in the sense of having some intrinsic value"... and duh.

If the landscape "turns out to be inconsistent - maybe for mathematical reasons, or because it disagrees with observation"
-Leonard Susskind

Agnostic, Paul Davies does not tell us that the apparent UN-natural configuration of the universe "looks like a fix" because there is no reason to think that we might be special, as in, "entropic preference", which is what my linked example clearly illustrated.

John Wheeler didn't produce the Participatory Anthropic Principle because he didn't see "specialness" in the physics.

Brandon Carter didn't call his esteemed peers a bunch of 'dogmatic anticentrists' because they were consciously ignorant of the fact that they are in direct conflict with observation for thinking that "our position cannot be preferred in any sense".

And Robert Dicke did not say that "the forces are constrained by biological factors" because there is no reason to think that they are!

You've bought into a bunch of hype from washed up old creationist haters, like Vic Stenger, when in fact, it is only the "anticentrist dogma" of ideological predispositioning that causes them to willfully ignore the real evidenced plausibility that we are "intrinsically" connected to structure mechanism of the universe in the form of a biocentrically oriented dynamical cosmological structure principle, that explains exactly why the universe is configured in the completely unexpected AND POINTED manner that is observed... FROM FIRST PRINCIPLES, which will ALWAYS supercede theories that abandon them for the pathetic sake of using random probabilities as a "non-causal mechanism".

You also don't seem to realize that Smolin's idea defines a Blackhole Cosmological Principle, which is the same thing in terms of "specialness", since the universe is "optimized" for black hole production in this case.

What a lame copout on science you choose to defend your position with, and as I said, were I a creationist... I'd laugh straight in your face for thinking that the "undeniable appearance of design"", (Susskind), is "no particular reason for life to be considered "special".

And DUH!

Olorin said...

You give Monton and ID too much leeway. How can _any_ evidence demonstrate the existence of God (or of His proxy, the Designer) unless we define what we mean by “God,” unless we agree upon the attributes, capabilities, and purposes of God? It is this lack---or refusal---of creationism/ID 5to define their subject matter that prevents it from being scientific.

Science cannot even begin to weigh the evidence for or against God until science has determined what evidence would qualify. Science cannot determine what evidence would qualify until science has characterized God. When do you think that will happen?

AIGBusted said...

Island,

You are being incredibly rude and you are making zero sense, what with all the sentence fragments you've quoted:

If the landscape "turns out to be inconsistent - maybe for mathematical reasons, or because it disagrees with observation"
-Leonard Susskind

If? Where is the "then"? What if the landscape turns out to be inconsistent?

Again, you are being a hard headed dumbass and not understanding anything I have written.

Brandon Carter calculated that if some of the laws of physics are changed ever so slightly, then the universe would not be habitable, correct?

Well, Carter (and many others as well) have made the fundamental error of varying one constant at a time. But if you vary several constants at a time, you find that the universes described by the equations appear to be life friendly. This is no more speculative than Carter saying the universes described in his equations aren't fit for life.

"You also don't seem to realize that Smolin's idea defines a Blackhole Cosmological Principle, which is the same thing in terms of "specialness", since the universe is "optimized" for black hole production in this case."

What are you talking about? If black holes produce new universes, it follows that our universe should be "fine tuned" to produce black holes.

island said...

I give up. What a freaking airhead.

You don't have a clue, son, and you call me rude for saying the same thing that you did.

OMG Busted, you haven't understood a single word that I've said

Call me when you learn what a cosmological principle means.

AIGBusted said...

Here is something hilarious I just found:

http://scienceblogs.com

/pharyngula/plonk.php

Island was banned from PZ Myers blog for "Insipidity and Stupidity". PZ describes him as a "boring crank" and links to the same stupid blog he linked us to.