Re: Critique of ID & No Free Lunch

From: Howard J. Van Till (
Date: Wed Sep 04 2002 - 14:05:41 EDT

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    >From: "John Burgeson"

    > HVT: I presume ID would still hold on to the (wholly unwarranted) claim that
    > it could demonstrate the inadequacy of the "chance hypothesis" (a term that,
    > strangely enough, means "all hypotheses, postulates and theories concerning
    > the natural causation of events") to account for the actualization of
    > particular biotic structures like the bacterial flagellum.>>
    > JB: I had not thought of that argument. I agree that it is, and would be,
    > still simply a variation of a GOTG. But put it aside for the moment, for that
    > is not where I was going.
    > The fact is that, as far as we can understand, naturalistic evolution is
    > capable, in principle at least, of accounting for every known feature of the
    > natural world, with the possible exception of human consciousness, which one
    > might argue is not part of the natural world.

    I would state that quite differently, something like, "Granted the
    existence of a universe equipped with a robust formational economy of the
    particular sort that would make biological evolution possible, minimal
    naturalism (and thus maximal naturalism as well) is capable, in principle at
    least, of accounting for the formation of all types of organisms on planet
    Earth. (I'll leave the question of human consciousness unanswered for now.)
    What minimal naturalism cannot do is account for the existence of any
    universe, let alone one equipped with a robust formational economy. And
    maximal naturalism takes the existence of a robustly equipped universe as a
    given, period.

    > Assume, however, that the ID
    > movement continues, accepting methodological naturalism as an assumption for
    > its scientific claims.
    > It would seem to me that their claim could still be that an IA, whose
    > nature, origin, and mode of operation is unspecified, is a possible
    > alternative to naturalistic evolution as far as the e-coli rotor is
    > concerned.

    They could choose to that, but they could in no way demonstrate that an
    Intervening Agent is necessary. ID's claims to have proved that such
    structures could not have been formed naturally are, so far, utter failures.
    That was one of the principal points of "E. coli at the No Free Lunchroom."
    Dembski's "demonstration" that the bacterial flagellum displays "specified
    complexity" is completely bogus..

    > IOW, there is no a priori reason to rule out an action by an IA
    > for this feature. All they would need to do to their programme is to begin
    > avoiding words like "unembodied" and "non-natural" and simply ignore
    > questions as to the nature of the IA. To change "possible" into "plausible"
    > would be their primary goal.

    Once again, ID's argument is at best, an appeal to ignorance: "A causally
    specific account for the formation of X, consistent with minimal naturalism
    and convincing to advocates of ID, has not yet been published. Therefore we
    ID advocates have a right to propose that X was formed in a way that
    required the form-conferring action of some unnamed Intervening Agent."

    > Now consider a scenario -- say -- ten years from now. SETI is suddenly
    > "successful." That is, the SETI researchers present credible evidence of one
    > or more extra terrestrial intelligences. And suddenly the ID folks "have"
    > their IA identified. The "possible," which in 2002 looked so far fetched, is
    > now not so far fetched, and "plausible" looks as if it may be within reach
    > as an alternative to naturalistic evolution.

    Addendum to your scenario: By the time SETI has these fascinating positive
    results, a causally specific account for the natural formation of X is
    found, making SETI's result no less fascinating but irrelevant to the
    question re the formation of X.
    > The theological perils of this happening concern me, of course.
    > Note that I am speaking here ONLY of OOLOE, the Origin of Life on Earth. The
    > question of "where did the extra terrestrial intelligences come?" from is
    > wholly another issue.

    They would, of course, be the INTELLIGENTLY DESIGNED intelligent designers
    of outboard motors on the bacteria in my intestines. (Pardon my gut

    > I follow the adventures of the SETI project on a casual basis. Every year
    > their search capabilities appear to increase by a factor of ten. I would
    > not bet much on the position that they will NEVER report positive findings;
    > I think it is almost certain that they will. Whether or not those findings
    > are a false positive is a secondary issue.

    One of my mischievous hopes is that positive SETI results will be known
    before I die. It would necessitate some fascinating adjustments in theology.

    > When they do, I will predict that the ID movement will, in some respect,
    > claim their findings as additional evidence.

    "Additional" to what? So far ID has NO conclusive evidence.

    Howard Van Till

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