Re: What is the evidence that atheism is *true*?

Date: Sat Jan 22 2000 - 09:02:23 EST

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    > Again, the tie-in. I am not interested in proving design, such that I
    > a deductively impeccable argument. I am merely making an inference
    > to the best explanation, in light of the evidence derived from human
    >experience. And as far as the origin of life goes, intelligent design
    >looks like the best explanation to me.


    >Well, it would be, if it really *was* an explanation.

    Oh, I think the claim "intelligent design is responsible for
    the existence of X" is an explanation.

    >I've pointed out in a previous post that it leads either to an infinite
    >regress or to an assertion that is just as problematic as any claim of

    Yes, you've "pointed out" what you think you see. My problem
    with your approach is that you are tying to understand history
    with philosophy. I think that's a bad way of going about the
    study of history. If you come up with a priori expectations
    about the world, then history is simply a matter of fitting (forcing)
    the data into those expectations. Something I wrote to Howard
    a few months back if worth reposting:

    "But I do want to clarify two things about my position. I do not
    view "biotic evolution" as most people do. For most, biotic evolution
    is akin to some type of homogenous process, such that an understanding
    of one aspect permeates throughout the whole with equal relevancy.
    For me, biotic evolution is simply a label for life's history. That is,
    what is really at issue is *history*, not a process. What gets called
    "biotic evolution" is simply the sum of biotic events that have
    occurred since the beginning. Now, when you begin to view this
    issue as an issue of natural history (and not a process), the role
    of contingency begins to predominate and the ability to extrapolate
    in general terms is severely weakened. In other words, simple
    formulas like:

    -everything is the result of mutation and natural selection


    -everything was "created after its own kind" by God

    look like the old Marxist attempts to reduce history to the
    simple formula of economics.

    We know from human history that simple formulas don't
    work and if one is truly a naturalist, human history is simply
    one subset of natural history. To understand history, one
    should tie each claim to the evidence at hand. And I think that
    natural history may involve a whole range of causal factors,
    including chance events, processes of self-organization, mutation
    and natural selection, and yes, intelligent intervention. Yet
    after all is said and done, like you say before, it boils down
    to a judgment call.

    Secondly, since we are dealing with history, it makes no
    sense to frame the issue in terms of what is possible and
    what is not possible. To explain history in terms of what
    was possible and not possible is sure to lead one astray.
    George Washington was the first president of the United
    States. Was this because it was impossible for anyone else
    to be? It is possible that Pat Buchannan will be elected
    president in 2000. Does this mean in 2002, this election
    will be history? Since the frame of "possible vs. impossible"
    is so bad when trying to understand human history, I fail
    to see why it becomes so good when trying to understand
    natural history. What this all means is that whether the
    universe was designed in such a way to make biotic
    evolution possible is not relevant. It's a question of
    what happened and the non-necessary causal factors
    behind what happened."

    We clearly approach history differently. You interpret
    evolution as some type of process that is akin to a
    physical law. I interpret it as a series of contingent
    events. You demand facts that *require* a non-naturalistic
    cause, while I think the issue of what is possible and
    impossible is a bad guide to history (which is why I
    look for facts that are best explained with or without
    intelligent intervention).

    Furthermore, as I have spoken about before, I find
    the whole issue of an "infinite regress" to be an
    emotive "tempest in a teapot." I don't view it as any
    thing other than a sophisticated tantrum that demands
    we be able to explain and know all of reality. For example,
    I can validly use A to explain B even if I don't have an
    explanation for A. I can explain the sequence of letters
    I am responding to as the consequence of the intelligent
    intervention of a mind, even though we can't explain
    how it is that mind puts together a sequence of letters.

    In the end, I have yet to see you "point out" anything
    which proves that ID is not an explanation.

    >Evolution is reductive. It makes problems *smaller.*

    My focus is on abiogenesis, which is different from
    evolution. And the problems have expanded immensely
    with the proposal of abiogenesis. For example, it
    now looks like we need to propose at least three
    different scifi worlds to explain the origin of life
    as we know it: the pre-RNA world, the RNA world,
    and communal world of Woese/Doolittle (due to
    the recent appreciation that the molecular evidence
    can not detect a universal last common ancestor).
    How many more worlds will this reductive approach
    spawn? In fact, it would seem the skies the limit given
    the manner in which an infinite number of universes
    is also being taken seriously by scientists.

    >Design theory makes them *bigger,*
    >by relocating them into an undetectable non-natural realm where pretty much
    >anything goes (on a completely ad hoc basis).

    This complaint easily translates into the realm of abiogenesis, where
    imaginary worlds full of imaginary creatures are imagined to
    have the properties to undergo the imaginary changes needed
    to spawn life-as-we-know-it. No undetectable, ad hoc claims
    there, right?

    >Even from the Design Theorist's point of view, evolution makes
    >problems smaller. Now, instead of having to explain *everything*
    >about the development of life on Earth, we only have to explain the
    >origin and macroevolution (those occasional pieces of evolution that
    >are claimed, sans proof, to be outside the capacity of sustained
    >microevolution channeled and restricted by selection). The
    >Designer thus becomes yet another "God of the Gaps" (with a vested interest
    >in maintaining the gaps, because any naturalistic theory that was
    >*obviously* adequate (even to the Design theorists) would eliminate
    >*everything* of their theory).

    First of all, the god-of-the-gaps claim is not what ID is about
    as far as the origin of life is concerned. It is not merely the
    fact that abiogenesis is plagued with numerous and deep gaps
    that exist if one proposes abiogenesis happened. There is
    positive evidence that ID applies, where we find features
    of life that are both intrinsic to life and that which most
    commonly (always?) stem from intelligent intervention.

    Secondly, the god-of-the-gaps claim is not an argument
    against ID. That is, if life is indeed the result of a mind's
    intervention, we would expect there to be a gap. Thus, a
    true example of intelligent intervention can always be
    interpreted as "god-of-the-gaps." Well, if we interpret
    god-of-the-gaps to be an argument against ID, then we
    simply blind ourselves when it comes to questions of
    whether or not ID exists.

    Thrirdly, I have no vested interest in maintaining a gap.
    As I have talked about before, I can easily adopt the
    theological views of Howard and Glenn. The problem
    is that since I am unwilling to flippantly dismiss ID,
    I need more than imaginary and vague musings to fill
    those gaps. I'll need good evidence that abiogenesis
    happened and good reasons why what I view as positive
    evidence of ID is really an illusion. Attempts to short
    circuit this with philosophical hand waving won't work
    for me.


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