[asa] Another Approach

From: Nucacids <nucacids@wowway.com>
Date: Fri May 22 2009 - 09:51:28 EDT

As I have noted elsewhere, something I call the Traditional Template shapes the way most minds approach the issue of design in biology. Basically, the Traditional Template builds on the false dichotomy of "evolution vs. design," where both sides seem to agree that in order to find evidence of design, we need to disprove the evolution of some feature.

I have suggested an alternative approach.

1. Instead of approaching the issue like a philosopher trying to establish design in one step, approach the issue as a detective looking for clues.

2. Instead of taking a negative approach that revolves around skepticism about evolution, take a positive approach that seeks out signals we might expect to see if design occurred.

3. Recognize that we cannot objectively measure design, as "detecting design" is akin to detecting another mind.

Throughout all of this, we need to strive to remain open-minded and intellectually honest, trying to strike the balance between confirmation bias and disconfirmation bias.

To this end, I propose four criteria that, on balance, represent a positive approach - Analogy, Discontinuity, Rationality, and Foresight. Is a feature analogous to something known to be designed. Is the feature something that is not explained by non-teleological processes? Does the feature contain elements that strike us as being smart? Does the feature contain elements that anticipate? If "detecting design" is akin to detecting another mind, these are the criteria we use to detect others minds. This is how we know there is another person communicating to us on the other end of the computer and not a blind program. What's more, I did not invent these criteria. Throughout the years, they have been used to argue against design. So there is no reason the street cannot run both ways.

However, it is important to remember that these criteria are not intended as tools to serve the Traditional Template. For example, no argument about analogy or rationality is intended as a means to disprove evolution. These criteria are not "other ways" to stab at evolutionary theory. On the contrary, the criteria work best if used as follows.

First, the criteria should be used as independently as possible by simply applying the criterion to the feature. For example, do not mix Analogy and Discontinuity. Just as analogy is not evidence against evolution, evidence for evolution is not evidence against analogy. By keeping the scores independent, we steer clear of the Traditional Template and keep our focus on a positive approach to detect signals of another mind. Furthermore, by keeping the criteria independent, it is easier to focus on areas where the case can be strengthened or weakened.

Second, the criteria can be used to the score features along a sliding scale (much as a patient might score his level of pain for the doctor). I set the scale to range from - 5 to +5, where 0 represents an agnostic position (+ means the criteria applies; - means it does not apply; the numerical value represents the level of conviction). The scale is a crucial ingredient because it steers us away from posturing, allows us flexibility in our convictions, and brings yet more focus on where the case can be strengthened or weakened.

After a feature is scored along the four prisms of Analogy, Discontinuity, Rationality, and Foresight, the scores are fused to provide an average score. This fusion gives us a more holistic positive perspective that short-circuits attempts to pose evolution against design by removing the God-of-the-Gaps approach, along with the attempts to rule out design by invoking evolution.

The score is, of course, subjective. But that is an irrelevant point if detecting design is akin to detecting another mind. What matters is that it is an informed, subjective assessment that is open to further modification in light of new data or a new appreciation for old data. And in the meantime, such an approach may help us uncover new things about biology.

-Mike

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Received on Fri May 22 09:52:18 2009

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